July 9, 2008

My iPhone rang and I answered.  I was glad Ed had called me, because I was still getting to grips with the keypad and finding sending text messages to be a bit of a pain.  Still, the iPhone was a sleek and beautiful object that felt right in my hands and I was sure I’d get used to it.


“Eddie baby.”

”Yes, Morgan”.


“Are we playing squash later then, or what?”

”I did fancy watching the Chelsea game, though”, Ed said.  “I mean, I want to give Sky HD a whirl.”

”Hmm, but you’re not a Chelsea fan, are you?”


Ed was from Cheshire, so he supported Manchester United, in the sense that he watched their games on television.   To this end, he had recently purchased a Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX508D, with a 50’ plasma screen.  He had chosen this over the smaller, but heavily recommended Sony Bravia KDL-52X3500 (with 40’ LCD screen), because he felt that the plasma screen made a real difference to the quality of the visual experience. 


“You can really tell when you shut the curtains”, he told me. 


I told him that it was really just because he liked the idea of having ten extra inches.


I myself owned a Philips Aurea 42-inch HD TV, which I was thinking of getting rid of.  I just couldn’t get used to the ambilights that it projected onto the wall behind the screen.  During dinner at Antibo’s one night, Jared told Estelle and I that he felt it made the TV experience ‘more immersive’, so we bought one too, but I didn’t like it very much. 


“Listen”, I said.  “I’ll come round for the Arsenal – Milan game tomorrow.  Send the little lady off out somewhere.  In fact, she can get together with Estelle.  Get her to ring her.”

”Go on then.”


We then arranged to meet at the health suite at 6:30 that evening. 


I was on time, but Ed was late, so once I was changed, I sat in the bar, waiting for Ed and sipping a mineral water.  Ed finally arrived, ten minutes late, riding a small bicycle. 


I watched through the window in amusement as he attempted to fold the bike into a small metal parcel.  I was at the point of getting up to go out and help him by the time he finally worked it out and, looking relieved, packed it into its attaché case. 


He huffed and puffed his way into the bar, racquet in one hand, attaché case in the other.


“Sorry I’m late, this fucking thing just doesn’t go very fast.” 

”Really?  What is it?”

”It’s a Ridgeback Attaché folding bike.  I thought it would be good for nipping around on, maybe even sprinting into town with it, but it just dawdles.  I set off in perfectly good time, I assure you.”

I laughed. 


“It doesn’t matter.  So long as you’re good and tired now, so I can smash you all over the court.”


After the beating was administered, we ordered up a mineral water each at the bar.  The Chelsea game was playing on the normal-sized, normal television set in the corner of the bar.  We looked at each other, had the same thought at the same time and laughed. 

”I’ll get these.”  Ed said.


“Are you sure you want to cycle back on that thing after a couple?”

”Well, it doesn’t go very fast anyway.  Besides, it folds away, so I can walk home if I want.”


Ed ordered the drinks, two pints of German lager.

”So, how’s Estelle?”

I paused to take a sip of lager before answering.


“She’s fine.  Still fawning over that fucking dog I had to buy her for her birthday.”

”Oh yes.  What is it, a Yorkshire Terrier?”

”Bedlington.  Looks like a stuffed toy.  I couldn’t be doing with one of those fucking Yorkies yapping around the place, with a bloody bow in its hair.  Christ.  I didn’t marry Paris Hilton for a reason.”

Ed laughed, then winced.  “Fucking shoulder”, he grimaced, rubbing it ruefully.


“The amount that sodding dog costs to run, I’m starting to think it would have been cheaper to have had a kid”, I moaned.  “You know she went and bought one of those bloody Zoombaks the other day?” I told him.

”What’s a Zoombak?”  Ed asked, raising an eyebrow. 

”A Zoombak, get this”, I laughed bitterly, “a Zoombak is a device flogged to doting pet owners to ensures that they’ll never lose the bloody thing.  That dog now has a fucking GPS chip on its collar…”

Ed roared with laughter


“So if it runs off in the park, she can track it online, with her iPhone.”


“That’s insane.”


“I know.  Cost her £100.  Still, it’s her money, she can do what she wants with it.”

”True.”  Ed took another sip of his pint.


“I don’t know.  I swear it would be cheaper to have a kid.”  I stared out of the window.


“Do you think she wants one yet?”

”No, not yet, she says, at least she says that.  She says she doesn’t want to take a career break yet.  But I don’t know.  The dog’s a substitute, there’s no doubt about that.”

”Uh-huh.  Well, I mean, she must be, what,”

”Nearly thirty.”

”Yeah and I suppose there’s the old biological clock to think about.”


”How do you feel about it?”  Ed asked.


I shrugged.  “It’s inevitable.”  I said.


Ed nodded.


“I mean, I still love her”, I said. 


Ed nodded again, a little quicker this time.


I realised that I needed to change the subject.


“Good ball”, I said, nodding at the screen.  Michael Ballack had just played a routine square pass to Shaun Wright-Phillips.  Ed and I watched as Wright-Philips ran at the full back, his acceleration enough to force the defender to backtrack, before executing a sliding tackle at the expense of a corner.  From Lampard’s corner, Carvalho got up highest and the ball nestled in the corner of the Lille net.


I found myself idly wondering how many of the Chelsea players cuddling up to the lanky Portuguese defender agreed with me, that the Philips Aurea TV set with ambilights was a pain in the arse.  Then again, considering the amount they were on a week, they probably had 60’ screen HD plasma / LCD hybrid screens, which automatically selected the best configuration of contrast and brightness for whatever they were watching.  I couldn’t imagine how you could ever worry about anything if you earned  £100,000 per week or more.  Then I saw Ashley Cole’s ratty little face on screen and grinned.


Estelle must be ready to have a kid by now, I thought.  We’ve got everything we could possibly want.  She was ploughing on at work and didn’t want to stop, but the dog was an obvious sign that something was amiss, that something unnatural was happening to her.  She lavished so much attention on it that I wanted nothing to do with it, except for to kick it up in the air every time I thought about how much money was spent on its grooming products, its kennels, its gourmet foods and its Zoombaks. 


Driving home, I flicked on my new TomTom Go 720 Europe satellite navigation system, just to check that it was working smoothly.  A stray thought suddenly amused me, involving us chasing the puppy around the city, using the sat nav to track it down as it chased after a fox or a cat. 


When I got home, I was surprised to find Estelle vacuuming the lounge whilst watching music videos on the Aurea.  She turned the machine off when she saw me walk in and waved hiya.


“Why are you vacuuming?  I thought Julia came in this morning?”

Julia was the cleaner.


“She did, but I just fancied a go on this new Dyson we bought.  It’s a Dyson Baby DC22 Animal”, she said, gravely.


I laughed.  “Well, we could save ourselves a nice sum a month if you ‘just fancied’ having a run around with it every other day?”

”Don’t push your luck,” she said, smiling.  “How was the gym?”

”Oh, fine.  We were playing squash, actually.”  


“Ah-hah,” she sang, with that light, rising intonation that I loved to hear.


“You are a delight to behold.”  I said, admiring her curves.  She was wearing a long tight-fitting skirt and I was gripped by a sudden need to remove it.  She switched on the vacuum cleaner again. 


“The turbine head on this Dyson really does get Obama’s hair out of this carpet, you know”, she shouted.  “Money well spent.”


“Where is the little bastard?”  I said.


“What?”  Estelle shouted, over the noise of the Dyson.


“Where is Obama?”

”He’s in his bed upstairs, bless his little cotton socks.”  At least I think that’s what she said.  She turned away from me and continued to go at the skirting boards with the Baby Dyson.


“Turn that bloody thing off, would you, darling?”  I shouted.  “Let Julia do it tomorrow.” 


She didn’t hear me, so I slipped my arm around her waist.  She turned, involuntarily, smiling.  Those wicked brown eyes flashed at me.  I kissed her and gently removed the nozzle from her grasp.  I looked for the power switch, which wasn’t immediately obvious, so I bent down and pulled the power cord out of the mains. 


“For God’s sake”, I laughed, as the machine’s whirr receded.  “I come home after a hard day’s work to this racket?”


She laughed, wriggling girlishly in my semi-embrace, her full figure reacting to the pressure.  I wanted her now.  I encircled her fully.


“Why don’t we – “


I looked down to see the beady, stuffed-bear eyes of Obama locked rigidly onto mine.


“grrrrrrrr… RROFFF!”


“Oh, my angel”, cooed Estelle.  “What’s wrong?” 


My arms lost all power.  She stepped out of my suddenly neutralised aura and

bent down in front of the terrier, who wagged his tail furiously.  Delighted with his victory, Obama jumped up to put his paws on his mistress’ thighs and lick her giggling face.  I put my hands against the wall and closed my eyes momentarily, feeling my erection subside.

As she fussed over Obama, working out how best to indulge him – would it be walkies?  Would it be Bonios?  Would it be playing ball in the garden? – a thought suddenly installed itself irremovably, like a virus, in the forefront of my consciousness. 


It was my cousin Scott who had introduced me to it.  The first game we got deeply into was Monkey Island 2, which he completed, in the end, or so he claimed.  After that, he was always looking for the most immersive games he could get his hands on.  Championship Manager was the one that did it for us.  At first, we tried to play together, but it soon became obvious that it wouldn’t work.  We had too many conflicting ideas about who we should sign, who we should pick, what substitutions we should make.  Then there was the problem of who had control of the mouse.  This was a one-player game.


Soon, homework was something to be derisorily, hastily disposed of as rapidly as possible, so that the Commodore Amiga could be switched on and, for a precious couple of hours until dad came in and yawped at me to get to bed, the school day, the lessons, the bullies and the incomprehensible girls were dissolved in a fug of formations, bids for midfielders, scrambled last minute equalisers and offside flags. 


As technology advanced, Championship Manager became Football Manager and its database grew exponentially.  As foreign players and money flooded into the English league, so they appeared in the game.  As hard drive space and computer speed increased, so the list of tasks for Connor Morgan, manager of Blackton United FC, to carry out became ever more labyrinthine.  In addition to the first team, there were now reserve and youth teams to worry about and a backroom staff to assemble.  There were pre-season friendlies to organise.  There was a training regime to design and implement.  There were scouting reports to consider.  There were free kick and throw in takers to nominate, fines for players who were sent off.  There was so much information to assimilate that suddenly, hours could pass at the computer before a virtual ball was even kicked. 


As my twenties dwindled, the demands of career and my relationship, all logic, all reason, demanded that the game, along with many other beloved vices, had to go.  I finally snapped the disk in two and threw it into the wheelie bin on the front drive when Estelle and I decided to move in together.  Estelle and I would be doing things together in the evenings and it would be impossible, not to say undesirable, to squirrel myself away in a corner and devote my valuable time to the pursuit of Marek Anchowsky, a virtual Czech international midfielder with stats that could make him a real scoop for the Pirates.  My job demanded ever more and more of me and had started to send me around the UK, even over to mainland Europe.  It would not do to be sketching 4-4-2 formations on the back of the compliments slip that came with the slick Glass-Anderson dossier forwarded to me by Jared, when I was supposed to be analysing the graphs inside. 


But now, I knew everything I could stomach about Glass-Anderson.  The days swam by in a lugubrious breaststroke and Estelle had left me for a Bedlington Terrier. 


Upstairs was my old Apple iMac (G4), which I was supposed to be selling, because I had recently treated myself to the new Macbook Air, but I didn’t need to sell it.  I could keep it for a while, I thought.  I could nip to Game in Blackton tomorrow.


“I’m just trying to fill a hole”, I said, suddenly realising, to my horror, that I had said it out loud.  I turned round and, to my relief, became aware of the fact that Estelle and Obama had left the room. 


Looking out of the living room window, I saw them, frolicking in the garden, Obama leaping to try to snatch a stick out of Estelle’s hand.  They were so happy.



Whilst they were outside, I formed a plan.  The plan involved retiring to the master bedroom, plugging the iPod Nano into its Tivoli iYiYi dock and playing some of my funk compilations on the stereo.  I would remain in manly repose, on the bed, until Estelle came in.   If Estelle did not come in, I would use one of the myriad communication devices she surrounded herself with to summon her.  Once summoned, she would be in my power, the door would be firmly closed and the funk would drown out any complaints that her puppy hound might choose to make about the matter.   I liked my plan.  Like all good plans, it had a certain elegant simplicity. 


Before I could carry this plan out, however, I was detained by a call to our landline from Ed.  I filled him in on my Football Manager idea, wandering around the room restlessly as I did so.  The handset was cordless, of course, a Philips VOIP841.  Estelle insisted that we bought it, because apparently, it could be used to make calls via Skype, whatever Skype was.


Ed wondered aloud whether we might ever see each other again, once I had entered into The Game.


“The Beautiful Game”, I crowed, feeling drunk with the impending indulgence.  “It’s perfect.  I’ve got to go to Brussels next Thursday and I can run it on the Macbook on the train.  Ba-da-bing.”


“You sad bastard”, Ed said.  “Anyway, back in the real world, you’ve got clearance from Caroline to come over tomorrow for the Real Thing.  Arsenal against Milan.”


“Ah, smashing.”


“Yes, she’s just on the phone to Estelle now, actually.  I think they’re going to Tiger for the evening.”



”It’s gonna look amazing on my new plasma screen”, Ed chuckled.  “I’ll get us in a pizza from Marco’s and”, he lowered his voice, “oh … I should think, potentially… some Charles?”  This last word was whispered, from which, I gathered that Caroline was in the room with him.


I looked out of the window again and saw Estelle, chatting on the phone.  She was waving away Obama’s frantic attentions, becoming increasingly irritated as the puppy bounced furiously and insistently against her legs.  Through the double-glazed window, I heard his muffled, indefatigable “RRROFFF” and smirked.

”Oh, for God’s sake, man”, I said to Ed.  “You know I can’t do that stuff any more.  Certainly not on a Wednesday evening, anyway.”

”Oh, come on…”

”No, No and No and that’s final, Ed, you fucknut.  A couple of bottles of beer is my limit.  Some of us have work to do…”  I actually had to meet with Jared and David Preece from Glass-Anderson on Thursday morning.

”Oh, alright.”  Ed grumbled.  “This weekend, then.”

”We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Once the phone call to Ed had been concluded, I spent five minutes fruitlessly scouring the room for my iPod Nano, before remembering that it was still in my leather case, from my trip to London the previous Thursday.


Just as this dawned on me, they came back in, Estelle laughing, Obama panting as he trotted cockily into the front room.  I glowered at him, with his stuffed toy, wiry good looks.  I was more of a man than he’d ever be.



MY BLOODY VALENTINE @ Manchester Apollo, 28/6/08 (£22.50)

Fate bestowed free tickets on Philange and I for this uncompromising set from Kevin Shields and a drummer.  There were other people on stage and they looked busy, but I’m not sure why they were there.


Another legendary group walk onto the Apollo stage.  This one features a man who owns at least fourteen speaker cabinets.  Two full Marshall stacks, one full Orange stack, a couple of Vox AC30s with extra cabs underneath them for good measure, plus a couple of other full stacks.  Tech nerds can enlighten me as to the exact make / model of each head and cab and, I’m sure, the contents of the Shields pedal board, which presumably takes up half the floor of the Apollo stage, just as his backline leaves little room for anybody else.  Belinda Butcher and Debbie Googe’s amps (one each) cower apologetically at the opposite end of the stage.  I have never seen so many amps in one place, apart from in Johnny Roadhouse, etc.  Denny says that when he saw Slayer, they had a whole wall of Marshalls on stage, but the majority of them were just props.  These are all real. 


As soon as they kick in to ‘I Only Said‘, you get hit in the head by the sound.  Drummer Colm O’Closoig keeps it steady for the Loveless numbers, then blitzes out on the more adventurous Isn’t Anything tracks, like the barnstorming ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’.

Many’s the occasion when, soundchecking for a Nightjars gig, we’ve had the soundman coming down to the front, looking askance at Phil and Dan’s humble 50W valve combos and saying, ‘I need you (points at Phil) and you (points at Dan) to turn
down ….’, slowing his speech in the manner of an English idiot talking to a waiter in Majorca (‘I want ham … and eggs…’).  I can tell you now that on this MBV tour, that this has absolutely not happened to Kevin Shields.  The soundman has not come down to the front and said, ‘Kevin, I wonder if you could do me a favour?  It’s just a small favour.  I wondered could you turn down a little?  Yeah… Maybe on all the amps, if that would be possible, actually?  Yeah… it’s just that I’m struggling to get the vocals out front.  OK… that’s magic, Kev.  Thanks.’


That simply has not happened on this MBV tour. 


Therefore, apart from on the ravishing ‘Lose My Breath’, when Shields switches to acoustic guitar, Butcher might as well not be on stage, as you can’t hear much of what she sings anyway.  I enjoy a lot of the songs from memory, more than anything.  I know that he big huge, blustering guitar squall corresponds to a bassline and to a lead melody, which I add to the noise on stage, close my eyes and enjoy it that way. 

Ultimately, this show is all about ‘You Made Me Realise’.  This is why they dished out earplugs on the door.  I stand calmly, arms behind my back, staring into space, whilst Shields thrashes out 35 minutes (Denny timed it) of feedback.  It’s oddly calming.  Soothing.  Overwhelming, of course.  Some down the front are waving their arms in the air and going crazy.  Others are standing, heads bowed, their fingers tightly pressed into their ears. 


I used to dance like a dervish to this song at the indie disco.  Me, Matt Soffe, Jay Dean, Moo…  now, I simply stand and watch.  I hear sirens screaming at the high end, I hear thunder in the low end (Googe is adding bass scree to the avalanche, too), I hear the hiss of a thousand pressure valves being opened simultaneously.  Wah pedal, I muse.  It isn’t as exciting when you understand what he’s doing.  It’s magical if you think the man on stage is some kind of shaman.  That he’s not wholly in control.


Some walk out.  Without my ear protection, I couldn’t have stood it. 


It starts to feel as though we’ve been living in Shields’ soundworld forever… I start looking at the band, for the visual cue.  I mean, he must, at some point, signal to the others to kick back into the song.  That’s how it works, right? 




Suddenly, I notice that O’Closoig appears to be waving his arms in the air.  Oh, I think. He must be trying to get Shields’ attention.  Some chance…




I suddenly realise that he is, in fact, drumming.  Then, hilariously, I notice that Butcher has bothered to step up to the mic.  They’ve gone back into the song.  Kevin Shields may or may not be on the trip with them.  Maybe the decision was made arbitrarily by the others, as maybe, just maybe, Kevin Shields was never, ever going to stop.


He finally departs the stage.  Men come to switch off the amps.  The last couple of minutes are quite interesting, as amp by amp, the noise level decreases.  It all ends with a stark, staccato, oscillating bark, which I rather enjoy.  I enjoy the ‘silence’ that comes after, which is of course, the silence of all the people in the Apollo shouting at each other simultaneously. 


In the aftermath, Ange tells me later that she could smell puke.  Rumours that people have shat themselves abound.  I talk to Lee and Stu from The Longcut.  Lee is flabbergasted.  Stu shouts about how amazing it was.  He doesn’t realise he’s shouting.  Noone does, until their hearing gradually returns to normal.


Lee says, ‘everything we have ever done is just so… We’re pussies’.

DOT-TO-DOT FESTIVAL ’08, Nottingham City Centre, 24-25th May (c. £30)


Thirty quid well spent!

It was a slow start, the Saturday. The night before, Tomo had been working the Bless, so he’d not got home til god knows what time – and I’d run into some of the Plans & Apologies’ lot, ending up in Mosh and then… beyond. So I was slightly disorientated and somewhat sleep-deprived when I boarded the Red Arrow opposite Derby Town Hall, with the aforementioned Tomo, John Deegan and Wolves Ed. Leanne was meant to be meeting us, but no word from her as yet.

The band I’d bought the ticket for, Blitzen Trapper
, had cancelled, their name mysteriously disappearing from the line-up a week or so before the gig. So I was pretty much resigned to just mooching around with the chaps and seeing what happened. What was happening when we got to Notts was that the Coca-Cola Championship Play Off Final was just about to kick off, so we went to Walkabout to watch it, over burgers. I had a Kangaroo Burger, which I quite enjoyed. Nottingham Walkabout is a vast cavern, with many television screens in lieu of atmosphere.

Windass - provided pre-gig entertainment with terrific volley

Dean Windass - no Blitzen Trapper, but he did score a great goal at Wembley that day.

So, no music until a bit later in the afternoon. We started to get into Saul Williams at Rock City, but we’d already made the decision to catch a bit of his set, then go to see The Little Ones at The Rescue Rooms. I thought it might be worth giving The Little Ones a go, even though they annoyed me with their album cover – you know, the one that looks like a bad colour copy of The Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow. I could never understand that. Why? By all means, get the same guy to do something for you, but don’t let him repeat himself.

As we left, Williams was delivering a between-song harangue on race as a construct. He had already illustrated the intellectual divide between himself and sections of the audience by initiating a prank call and response routine, which hinged on the fact that he was asking the crowd to say nothing … ‘NOTHING!’ roared the front few rows. This went round a couple of times, before he finally started to say ‘Shut up’, before initiating the routine again. Still people chanted.

What are you listening to? What are you looking at?

So we left Saul and his earnest, jazzer musicians (they were such, although the cyberpunk dress sense did its best to cover the fact) to operate on the minds of a white crowd intrigued by hip-hop whilst we went off to see The Little Ones play to a white crowd who like indie. Only trouble being, The Little Ones had pulled out at very short notice, which meant we got a group called The Hosts, I think, instead. The Hosts come on in black shirts and white ties. We’ve seen this before, I think. The group play competently. I look at them. They look like local lads. Hard working lads. Committed lads. Dedicated lads. Grafters, they generate the odd gem, mining their talent earnestly. There’s a touch of glory about one song with a chorus, ‘don’t waste your time on me anymore / cos I’ll never be yours and you’ll never / no, you’ll never be mine’. I have respect for them as working musicians. But the sound is just that – workmanlike. The singer aims for that Lennon ‘a nod and a wink and your missus has creamed herself’ charm and I’m sure it goes down well in the smaller towns. As would the music. But Dot to Dot is aimed at people with a bit more savvy.

So we walk away from The Rescue Rooms. I am enjoying the air. Wrighty is drinking water, at this stage. I have tried to choke down beer… really, I’ve tried, but it has been awfully difficult. I’d been hoping Leanne would turn up with fags, but she is nowhere to be seen, god damnit. I complain to the lads about The Hosts. “The Vines, The Hives, The Strokes, The Fours, The Fives, The Nightjars…”.

See? That’s why we win. We have an extra syllable.

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

The Nightjars - so good, they've got an extra syllable...

We are off to see a band randomly at The Bodega. My mind is cabbage and the band is called Dag For Dag, I think. A Swedish combo, bass, guitar and drums, female guitarist and singer. She sings rather well. The guys get a round in. I do battle with a bottle of lager, quickly followed by half a coke. The guys aren’t impressed, either with me, or Dag For Dag. Contrarily, I start to quite enjoy them and mooch up to the front. There’s something glamorous about the rudimentary nature of their gear. The bass player is good, really solid. The guitarist can hardly play. The drums are dead simple – it’s like Joy Division, the needling riffs that can’t go very far. The tension that causes. The bass and the guitar spar – I’m drawn in further, but the lads have quickly seen enough. Amateurish. They’re right. We move on.

Woop-de-do, it’s the fucking Dirty Pretty Things at Rock City. These will have tempted a fair few Nottingham teenyboppers to part with their hard earned (‘dad, can I go to a concert please?). Great. On comes Barat. He has a certain musical style. One of the guitarists is wearing a Primal Scream T-shirt. Cool, man.

Barat takes regular vocal ‘holidays’, the bassist and guitarist covering for him as and when necessary. One or two of the songs are alright. I really don’t know what else to say about them.

I’m more excited about The Mae Shi at Stealth and have talked the lads into coming along. These were a Denny recommendation, way back. I remembered listening to the myspace, hearing a load of scratchy noise and not finding a way in. That was a year ago, perhaps. Wolves Ed buys a round, apologising for the fact that it’s Strongbow. I tell him not to be daft and thank him. I still haven’t smoked all day, although I did plenty of that the night before.

The Mae Shi are the highlight of a pretty uninspiring day of music by a country mile. They scream, they rock, they play intelligently. They send a white flag into the audience. The audience bear it aloft, they are under the flag. Then the guitarist is out in the crowd. He has a wireless transmitter, damn him. This means he can do things like jump on an audience member’s shoulders and be carried around, whilst still ‘playing’. The band are wrestling with some insanely good stuff. I can’t remember… just being faced by such an intense and singular group was refreshing after a bunch of British mulch, some mildly diverting pantomime, some Swedish amateurs and 39 year old Dean Windass volleying Hull City into the Promised Land, for Christ’s sake. This was more like it.

A guy jumps on stage. Security are lurking. The band wave security away. He’s OK. He’s one of them.

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

The Mae Shi - good messy, raucous fun and the highlight of Day One

A decision is taken to go back to Derby. I decide to eat a doner kebab first – from some dirty old Nottingham fast food joint. It’s great. Sometimes, you can’t beat a doner and I find that if I’m back in the East Midlands, it’s got to be done.

Then the Red Arrow arrives. Me and Ed chew the fat on the ride back. We get back to Derby and then it’s absolutely, irrevocably bedtime for me, much to Tommo’s disgust. I leave him in the doorway of the reopened Vaults, hurling abuse at me. “Too busy off taking MDMA with your real mates…” I know, I know, I’ve been bad. It was just.

I tell him I want to get to Nottingham for 2pm tomorrow, to catch Lovvers. He shouts that we will meet at the Standing Order at midday for breakfast. I nod. I tell him there’s no need for him to shout, I’m not that far away from him.

Walk home.

Blessed sleep.


Wake up at about half ten, having slept solidly for about eleven hours. Brilliant. Mooch around mum’s house. Watch TV for a bit. Postpone breakfast. Phone call from Tommo half elevenish, he’s just woken up. He sounds spangled. Turns out it was double vodkas in The Vaults until kick out time. Breakfast put back to 1pm. Too late for me, that, I tell him. I’ll miss Lovvers. Agree that I’ll head onto Nottingham in advance and the guys can catch me up later.

I get to Rock City at about half one and am pretty much the first person there. Buy an orange juice from the bar and stand about waiting for something to happen. Prowl around the auditorium. Vague memories of being here at tender age of 15, with Phil, The Prodigy on the soundsystem. Hoping we might, you know, meet chicks. But I don’t remember it well enough to feel nostalgic. It doesn’t feel as big as it did then, of course. Back then, it seemed like an enormous cavern of noise and exciting gothic rock menace.

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Nottingham's Rock City - A place where I looked for teenage kicks in the 90s...

Lovvers take the stage, by which time, about 60 people have arrived to bear witness. Singer has bleached blond long hair and leather jacket, but reminds me more of one of the geezers who works in Johnny Roadhouse than a rock icon. Fast-forward fifteen years…. Guitarist has Fender amps set up on either side of the stage. They remind me of a baby Nirvana, they remind me of a baby Stooges. They remind me of the Vic Inn in 1998. They make me happy for 20 minutes. They please me my playing ‘Ex-Lion Tamer’ by Wire. I guess this also shows their naivety a little. They’re a good little garage proto-rock band, who would probably have been happier at The Rescue Rooms than on the Rock City main stage.

Downstairs, X-Box have set up a Rock Band stage. I object hugely to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I played Guitar Hero and it has to go down as the biggest waste of human time and potential since I started working as an admin assistant. You play Guitar Hero, you sit there, pressing buttons in time with a track you like, or maybe don’t even like, on a plastic fretboard. If you get it right, the crowd start to wave their arms in the air and your avatar starts to ‘rock out’. Mistime your key hits and the crowd start to boo. Your avatar starts to look somewhat confused. Panic sets in.

After the Lovvers set, I come across the lads, playing some X-Box in The Rig. Wolves Ed and Deegan are head to head on the new incarnation of Tony Hawk. A Rock Band employee is coaxing teenage kids to get up and have a go on the plastic computer instruments.

Rock Band – for fuck’s sake. Learn a real instrument! Join a real band! Get some exercise! Use your brain! Try!

On second thoughts, what am I talking about? I wouldn’t actually recommend starting a band to anybody. Rock Band is a great idea. You don’t have to deal with egos, move amplifiers, bother practising, read the considered thoughts of prissy wanker-bitches who really, really, ought to show me their record before delivering a verdict on mine. Don’t have to deal with incompetent soundmen and promoters, or bullshit members of other bands who you secretly hate (and who secretly hate you, too). You don’t have to stare jealously at the myspace pages of talentless bastards who don’t even like music and who are getting ahead whilst you languish in an obscure office job, seething day in and day out, brooding, staring blankly out of the window, mind full of regret – working out where it went wrong. Play computer games instead. There is no pain. Tony Hawk, not skating (you could break your ankle). ISS, not football (you might break your leg). Rock Band, not real music (you might break your – )

Play computer games instead of living. The parameters are a lot easier to deal with. You have a lot more control. The implications of defeat are nowhere near as serious. At least you’re not chasing chimaeras. You finish the game and you don’t have to drive back home from the other end of the country. There’s always a crowd in Rock Band. If you play well, they always cheer. You get Bonus Points and move onto the Next Level.

Have you any idea how many bands there are out there looking to move on to the Next Level? Some of them even email me. They say, we are looking to move on to the Next Level and we wondered if you knew anybody who could help us. I tell them, lads, just write songs. Write fucking songs. The rest of it is bullshit. I doubt they like that advice, because they want shortcuts. Also, there are no guarantees even if you do write a great song. It’s cheeky of them to email, actually, because they don’t know me. They just see that we’ve had a modicum of success and say ‘that’s what we want’ and email me, demanding the keys.

Anyway, Lovvers are doing the right things and I hope to get to see them in some sweaty little whites of the eyes club one night. But I’m not sure I will. I’m not cool anymore, see?

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Lovvers - the band for whom the word 'proto' was invented

Finally, I meet up with Leanne, at the Rescue Rooms. It is hammering it down with rain. Finally, fags! Yesssss. We drink Sol, despite the weather. The nice young man behind the bar gives us lime. We don’t bother with the bands for an hour or so, just have a bit of a natter. Watch about twelve seconds of a female-fronted band before deciding noooooo. Back to the bar. Consider going to the Trent Uni but the rain says noooooo. Rescue Rooms buzzing with people. Tommo, Deegan and Wolves Ed out there, somewhere. For the first time since I was in the club in Derby on Friday night, the beer starts to flow.

Leanne and I walk up to the Sir John Borlaise Warren and have an excellent Sunday Lunch. Is this rock’n’roll enough for you? Well, I’d rather spend a tenner on a nice, slow IPA and a good plate of food than on three cans of Red Stripe. Think of the profit margins. Festivals are a license to print money for somebody. Makes yer sick.

Then back into Nottingham, to the Trent Poly (as it was when I wor’ a lad and went to my first ever gigs there) to catch Caribou. Thank God for that, finally a band to really get into. Pastoral psychedelics, gentle burring melodies, bits of Stone Roses, Spiritualized, melodic quality – two-drumset rhythm patterns, instrument swapping. Slow building architectural music, not spectacular, but solid and becoming more impressive in gradations. I semi-dance, gradually drawn forward through the crowd. Really pleased with Caribou.

Then back to Rescue Rooms for Wild Beasts. Again, I don’t really know what to expect, but I’ve had enough good references (Domino Recs, Marc Riley approved, interesting artwork) to have a punt and persuade everybody to come. They’re intriguing. The look is deliberately, wilfully wrong (bumfluff moustaches, purple trousers, rollnecks), which is the first thing I like about them. Second thing is the musical competence – they’re sort of jazzers, I think. Rollneck guitar chap certainly plays jazz chords. Bumfluff ‘tache singer sits down and plays piano. Really uncool. Good. They finally win by delivering the moment of the festival. Bumfluffer sings, in a highly fruity, histrionic falsetto the line ‘take these chips with cheese / as an offering of peace’… Well done, sir. Lyric of the year. Everyone is well pleased with Wild Beasts.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Cheers, chaps! The Wild Beasts prove to be just the tonic.

Next is Spiritualized at the Trent. Beers are flowing. By this time, Gilly has joined the throng – it’s great to see him. He’s come all the way from Brighton.

Spiritualized are playing a bunch of new stuff which says little to me. Pierce has a new young band who play perfectly well. Then they do ‘Let It Flow’ from Pure Phase, replete with ‘wooaahhh wooaahhh woah’ backing harmonies and everything. I am reminded of how important this music was / is. The new stuff, with its lazy lyrics mining the gospel cliché seam for all its worth, is not really fit to share a name with the material from Lazer Guided Melodies, Pure Phase and Ladies and Gentlemen We leave about half way through, by which time, my Spiritualized yearning has been more than slaked by the magisterial ‘Shine a Light’, one of my favourite ever songs anyway.

Then what?

More beer. Tommo and all want to catch Glasvegas, so we go back to the Rescue Rooms and install ourselves on the balcony, before it gets too full (Leanne’s already missed Santogold, because by the time we got there, she couldn’t get into the room). I buy a sandwich from a stand. It’s a chicken sub roll. I stand there holding the sandwich for about five minutes before any bar staff come near, I fight off the temptation to steal the chicken sub. Then I go up to the balcony to wait for the band. On they come, to face an expectant throng. They are dressed all in black and have a female stand up drummer. They look a bit like The Clash, though, not The Velvet Underground. Then they start playing and I am bored shitless within about 8 seconds. Is this dour Scottish plodrock not just Simple Minds in brand (bland) new drag? He certainly sings with all the panache and style, adventure and range of Jim Kerr. Fuck this. We look down on the heaving mass of people. I move my foot and inadvertently kick a girl who is sat underneath me. The guy can’t sing. There are no songs. I decide to leave.

We consider going to Stealth to see about Tim Goldsworthy, who is DJing, but there are two different rooms and we don’t even know which one he’s in, or what time he’s on. I am offered a lift to Ilkeston (rather spicily rechristened Cracktown UK by the Independent on one of their sensaltional front pages last year) by Leanne’s mate Claire. This appeals more than the Red Arrow home, so I take it. End up on sofa cushions, listening to the denizens of Ilkeston’s superclub going home after another Saturday night of Woo Woo, Wkd, Stella, speed and fags. Who fucked who? Did Gaz, Baz or Daz go home with Shaz, Kez, or even Stella (Stez)? If I listened close enough, I would find out.

Thousands of nights out like this in hundreds of towns, every weekend. Spannered. Nothing else for it. Seeking community, seeking pleasure, seeking connection. My heart hurts.

Ilkeston High Street is a conservation area, would you believe, which means that back of the shops, there are tons of wonderful old flats that have never been messed about with. Apart from the noise from the superclub and the kids nicking the petrol out of your car, it must be a really nice place to live. Claire explains to me that the ‘Cracktown’ label is unfair and was more ‘lazy journalism’ than anything else. The statistics including crack usage figures in outlying villages without even taking their populations into account, artificially increasing the per capita crack abuse figure.

It’s still a bit cracky, though.

Leanne drives the hungover, sleep-deprived me back to Derby, where I loiter at mum’s, waiting for my sister to turn up with Carl and the kids. Ellie is a dancer and an ice skater now. Mason is a tank. Baby Reilly grabs my glasses, arms, fingers and locks onto them with a surprisingly strong grip for a baby. He must be in the grabbing phase.

And then it’s time to get the train back to Manchester after a whirlwind, whistle-stop weekend.