Kept updated via text whilst out in Manchester)

DERBY: Bywater; Connolly (c), Albrechtsen, Addison, Stewart; Barazite (Sterjovski – 74), Savage, Green, Teale (Villa – 64); Commons; Hulse
OTHER SUBS: Carroll, Nyatanga, Barnes

Not a game we’d expected to win, but by God, a draw would have been a good result.

Tommo was in Manchester and we were out at ‘No Point In Not Being Friends’, Chris Killen and Sally Cook’s spoken word night at the Deaf Institute.  It was a special one, because Chris’ debut novel The Bird Room came out last week – more on that later.

bird-room

We were having a drink in the middle bar when the text came in from Joe.  1-0.  Carsley.

As the night wound on, I was sure we would equalise (I always am), but then my dad called me, miserable, to tell me it had finished 1-0 and see how I had got on in London.  He rang just as the author Jenn Ashworth was launching into her reading.  She is incredibly softly spoken and the place was utterly hushed.  My ringtone, even from my pocket, was a huge embarrassment as I hustled outside in triple time.  Fortunately, I was stood very close to the exit.

(It’s only the standard issue tone, by the way – not ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, or anything like that.)

During breaks between readings, Tommo and I went outside, to moan about the state of the team.  It hit me with brutal certainty that the problem is goals – looking at the stats confirmed this.  We haven’t scored in four league matches now.  The pressure is on Rob Hulse to deliver big-time, because the rest of the strikers – Ellington, Villa and Varney – have six league goals between them.  Hulse has got seven.  That’s just not enough for the top scorer at this point in the season.

I never rated him when he was at Derby, but by God, he's had a good career

Carsley - I never rated him when he was at Derby. I was wrong.

Hulse is going to have to score a lot more league goals and the others are going to have to chip in too.  Varney, Villa, Barnes, Barazite, Commons, Ellington and Green all have what Clough Snr referred to as a ‘moral responsibility’ to score.

Clough Jnr has referred to a lack of willingness to go into the six-yard box.

“That’s where you get your goals, but it’s also where you get hurt”, he said, after the draw with Forest.

“Are you saying your players aren’t brave enough?” Colin Gibson asked him.

“They’ll get brave enough over the next few weeks,” retorted Clough.

Nigel - in for the long haul

Nigel - in for the long haul

They’re going to have to, because last night’s results conspired to dump us into the relegation zone.

The current system is a 4-4-1-1, with either Commons or Barnes in behind Hulse, although Villa was brought on to replace Teale after Carsley’s goal, which meant 4-4-2 again.  But still no goals.

Why no Barnes?

Tommo had to shoot off to get his last train, but I stayed out late at the Deaf Institute.  It was nice to congratulate Chris Killen on his achievement – getting his first novel published by Canongate, no less.  I just finished it and I’ll review it once the hangover has kicked out.  It was a good night – local luminaries Socrates Adams-Florou, Sally Cook, Sian Cummins and Joe Stretch (love him or hate him) read too, amongst others.  I missed Richard Milward, author of Ten Storey Love Song, because I’d been out for a cig with Anne-Laure (whose new shop is opening in Affleck’s Palace on Friday).  We came back in just as he was finishing his reading.  He had a huge orange box on his head.

Once I got home, I sat staring mutely, disbelieving, at the results and the table. The bastards had all won – Doncaster, Watford, Forest, even fucking Charlton.  Southampton had drawn with Norwich, was the only sliver of good news.

We were 22nd in the Championship.

It’s ugly and it’s painful and if there was ever a must win game, it’s our next league fixture – Coventry City, home, Saturday.

(Both televised, viewed in London)

Peckham’s scruffy, sprawling town centre is scruffier and more sprawling than I realised, when I gamely strode out of my cousin’s cosy home twenty minutes before Derby’s Carling Cup Semi Final Second Leg kicked off.  I still wasn’t quite sure how the hell the Rams – whose league form this year has been abject – had come this far. Certainly, it was an utter mystery as to how they had comfortably beaten the European and “World” Champions 1-0 at Pride Park two weeks prior, a result sandwiched between two desperately poor home defeats and an almighty scrape in the FA Cup, against non-leaguers Forest Green Rovers.

Still, we had done it – all the sweeter for my front room being full of Man United fans, who were obliged to watch my ‘victory dance’, as Man City and Liverpool-supporting “neutrals” joined in a boisterous round of “who the fuck are Man United?”

Krissy makes it Derby County 1 Manchester United 0 with a very special exocet....

Krissy makes it Derby County 1 Manchester United 0 with a very special exocet....

We would soon find out.  But first, I had to find a pub.

Following my cousin’s partner’s directions, I strode to the bottom of Peckham Hill Road and hooked a right, passing a decidedly down-at-heel looking pub, before seeing a (hardly more salubrious) Wetherspoon’s to my right, which had Sky Sports News flickering on its TV monitors.  I thought about ducking my head through the door, before an almighty waft of skunk smoke and the general air of dishevelled despair about the old degenerates on the doorstep dissuaded me.

On I walked, soon realising that I was leaving Peckham behind – and had gone totally the wrong way.

I ran back into the centre of Peckham.  My knowledge of the area was so limited that I didn’t have a clue where I could go next.  back at the bus station, the one node I knew,  there was a scabby old pub on the corner that claimed to show football – The Clayton Arms.  I entered and saw a TV screen showing a re-run of the Hull City v Arsenal game, which had taken place the previous Saturday.  Four old West Indians propped up the bar.  By now out of breath, I puffed my request for ‘the game’ to the barmaid, who told me in broken English, ‘we ain’t got Sky’.

By now, we were ten minutes from kick-off and I was utterly distraught.  I had spent the afternoon working like a bastard at The Independent, putting together a 1,000 word feature.  Left the office late, nipped in home, scrambled down a bacon sarnie and now, here I was, with not one clue how I was going to watch the game.  I saw a bus with ‘New Cross’ on the front and I remembered seeing a couple of (frankly iffy-looking) boozers in that area which showed football. Without any other options, I hopped on.

The bus ambled down rambling Peckham’s seeming endless high street of clothes shops, beauty parlours and chicken shacks, with nary a pub in sight.

Suddenly, a thrill of hope. I recognised my surroundings – I had reached Peckham Rye.

I saw a glimpse of a pub through the bus window.  Without a clue as to whether it might be showing a game, I hopped off.  Open-fronted, it was all but deserted.  Two men were sitting at tables, staring upwards, seemingly into nothing.  The tell-tale sign.  It had to be.

I ran in and lo, there it was, Old Trafford before me, its huge edifice teeming with people.  The majority had come to see their men devour the Championship offering.  But there were 10,000 Rams there, too.

Relieved, I staggered to the Nag’s Head bar, ordering up a pint of Webster’s.  £2.10.  I was in heaven.  A virtually empty pub, blissfully cheap and drinkable bitter, in time for kick off.

This fella attempted to sell me spoons at The Nag's Head, Peckham

This fella attempted to sell me spoons at The Nag's Head, Peckham


v UNITED (4-4-1-1) Carroll; Connolly, Todd, Albrechtsen, Stewart; Teale, Addison, Green, Davies; Commons; Hulse  SUBS: Bywater, Nyatanga, Hines, Savage, Barnes, Barazite, Villa

And Derby started OK, in a frantic opening 15 minutes which, whilst not exactly pulsating, was certainly fiercely contested.  Commons tried another of his specials which flew just wide of Ben Foster’s post, with the keeper worried.

Then it all went wrong.

The first goal, which Derby needed to protect for as long as they could, was shipped and all the good work from the first leg undone.  Luis Nani received the ball in a not-obviously-dangerous position on the left and moved forward.  Gary Teale, his nominal ‘marker’, scuttled away from him as though magnetically repelled.  Nani didn’t need a second invitation and simply sped past him, jinking inside and drilling a fierce shot across Carroll.  The ex-United keeper got a hand to it, but couldn’t keep it out, as it ricocheted in off his post.

Luis Nani celebrates the opener, as Man United turn the screw on Derby

Luis Nani celebrates the opener, as Man United turn the screw on Derby

It was a good hit, but stoppable.  A more redoubtable player than Teale would not have allowed a talented winger so much space on the edge of the box.

The Webster’s started to slide down more fluently.

Derby had one or two situations, as they say, but a second United goal was soon to follow and it was an atrocious one to concede.  United passed their way into the box, but the Rams defence had stepped up, leaving John O’Shea, the furthest man forward, well offside when the ball fell to him.  Or so they thought.  And even O’Shea thought.  He had a look at the linesman, before slotting the ball past Carroll, unable to believe his luck.  The man at fault?  Gary Teale, who had played O’Shea on, then stood lamely holding his hand up, just like the other boys.  It didn’t wash.

The end of everything good, the start of everything bad.

Rafael’s arcing cross to the back stick was headed home by Carlos Tevez, who was played onside by Teale about six yards from goal and couldn’t miss.

3-0 and the Webster’s was starting to flow like water.

Before the break, Steve Davies had time to toast Rafael and advance on goal, with Commons and Hulse both in great positions in the box, only to inexplicably, greedily and unforgivably curl a shot with the outside of his left boot over the bar from an ridiculously tight angle.  Teale also had chance to break away, but with Commons in the box ahead, he hit a panicky lame duck of a shot from 25 yards.

“What’s with all these wild long shots?  Your boys need to chill out and pick a pass”, thundered my Man United mate Trev, via text.  I concurred.  Not adding that they also needed to debag Teale, who was having, to quote a phrase, a shocker.

Tealinho got his act together later in the season, but by golly, he had a shocker at OT.

Tealinho got his act together later in the season, but by golly, he had a shocker at OT.

In fairness to him, he should not have been left marking Tevez for the third goal.  That was a centre back’s job.  But watching United for more than five minutes, you notice the fluidity of their forward players.  Tevez will drop deep, hook wide, pop up everywhere, making it impossible for a centre back to man-mark him.

A half-time fag ensued, with the chap from the next table, who proved to be an affable United supporter – and a mad old woman who clearly frequented the Nag’s Head and told me she knew about Derby, because she used to live in Burton.  She became a Derby supporter for the second half, occasionally rasping ‘Goo on the Rams’, or swearing at Man United players when they had the ball.   It must have made a nice change from airing much-loved topics, such as the price of cheese and the Peckham bus service.

Robbie Savage was introduced for Davies at half time, an eyebrow-raiser.  Why Teale didn’t come off was beyond me.  To be at fault for all three goals and offer so little going forward – anyway, on he stayed.  It later transpired that Davies had picked up an injury.

Robbie’s return was far from disastrous.  He was solid and got his tackles in. One marginal clip on Nani led to the Portuguese Thriller-era Jacko dead ringer performing a hilarious air kick – consequently one of Ronaldo’s free kicks, which swung wide.

Savage tried to hit the front men, Commons and Hulse, with early balls forward, which Derby had previously not done. They had tried, believe it or not, to play football.

On came Nacer Barazite for Todd, who had to hobble off.  That meant a return to the back four for Addison, with Nacer on the right.  Then Commons took a kick on the shin which left him bleeding profusely and off he came, for young Giles Barnes.

Derby pressed and harried, looking for a way back into the game.  Why – you asked yourself – were they utterly incapable of doing this against QPR, Ipswich, or Crystal Palace, to list just three of the embarrassing recent home displays?

Why.

From a half-cleared free kick, Paul Green, utterly blameless when it comes to the Rams’ recent shoddy league form, advanced to smash a shot on the rise just over.  Then Barazite got into space on the right and picked out Hulse with his cross; Hulse headed just over.  Then a ball tossed into the box eluded Jonny Evans, who had picked up a knock and was struggling.  Paul Green retrieved it and turned inside the Northern Ireland international, who certainly caught him. Down went Green with every right to do so – penalty.

Twelve minutes to go.

Who would take it?  The Duke was nowhere to be seen, his hamstring injury still keeping him out – and Davies was off the pitch.  Barazite had already missed one this season. Giles Barnes purposely strode forward, Green snapping at his heels.

Greeny will take one at some point.  He seems to have been second in the queue all season.

Barnes dispatched his right-foot shot hard to Foster’s right, the keeper going the right way, but beaten by the pace on the ball.

3-2 on aggregate and game on.

Barnes beats Foster from the spot

Barnes beats Foster from the spot

Derby pressed and Derby hassled.  Evans wasn’t right and United seemed strangely porous in the middle.  United defended and kicked and headed and Derby attacked.

Then, the final disaster.  Substitute Cristiano Ronaldo, who’d been introduced on the hour, got hold of the ball on the edge of the box and guarded it jealously, before slipping a pass through to Tevez.  Goal, surely.  Out came Carroll and as the Argentina international slipped past him, the keeper despairingly slid towards him.  Without a second thought, Tevez fell over and that was that.  Ronaldo strode forward to do what he generally does, with Carroll emphatically beaten from the spot despite heading in the right direction.

There was time, however, for one last Derby push and one little moment of quality from Giles Barnes.  He won himself a free kick about thirty yards out in a central position and planted the ball meaningfully before stepping up to whip it over the wall and low into the corner of a helpless Foster’s net.  What a mean strike.  Derby had scored two goals of immense quality across the two legs.

Impartial reports I have read since inform me that my consumption of Webster’s and bottled IPA in the second half fortified me against various Man United chances, including a Tevez goal ruled out for a marginal offside and a clumsy foul that was missed, which stopped Danny Welbeck from running clear through on goal.  Basically, the second half was far from one-way Derby traffic.  Still over the two legs, the Rams won two halves, drew one and lost one.

Webster's - very good for helping blot out the shock of watching your team get battered.

Webster's - very good for helping blot out the shock of watching your team get battered.

Booze-fortified, I got the bus back to Peckham, my cousin, her partner, their dog and their lodger, who racked one up.

*

A light hangover negotiated, I performed my duties as a work experience ‘kid’ at a national newspaper.  Home again to Peckham and a much-needed chill out.  Thursday, more work at the paper, then straight out to meet a friend and go sight-seeing.  Boozy sight-seeing.  This led to another, more insistent hangover and my final day at the Independent.  Rock and roll intern.

Internship done and successfully dusted, I accompanied my old mucker Simon ‘Jab’ Jablonski to King’s College, London, where he was interviewing Gaza protesters.  Soon, I needed to leave him there, listening to the college debate, because it was close to kick-off time.  Derby v Forest, at Pride Park, for the second time and final time this season.

The pre-match news was that new Forest manager Billy Davies (remember him?) would not be at the match – his son William (what else would he be called?) was poorly, having undergone an operation.  It’s only a game and so the Scotsman left his number two, ‘Ned’ Kelly, to take the team.

“Where do I go to watch the game?”  I asked Jab.

“Just walk down The Strand.”  Jab said.

I walked down The Strand. Got money out.  Looked left and right, saw only swanky bars and theatres, nowhere that would show a match.  Got advice, hooked a right into what I was told was Covent Garden?  Found a pub, they didn’t have Setanta.  Got directed to the Sports Bar, off Trafalgar Square.  Stormed down to the end of The Strand, hardly taking in the grandeur of the old Square, the Tate Britain, Nelson’s Column, which I would describe, but every adjective that comes to mind just equates it to a ginormous phallus when added to the name ‘Nelson’s Column’…Anyway, you know the score.

Never mind the columns, it's the East Midlands Derby!

Never mind the columns, it's the East Midlands Derby!

The Sports Bar.  Large, air-conditioned, screens everywhere.  The game.  A pint.  The Nag’s Head in Peckham it ain’t, a draught Heineken Export is £3.70.  Never mind, the match is on.

“There’s a big screen round the corner”, a fella tells me.

I wander round the corner and see the big screen – and a lot of Forest shirts.

Never mind, I think, parking myself by the table football, across the way from a perfectly serviceable smaller screen.

The teams flash up.  Teale is playing.  Not only that, he’s playing on the left.  The left?  Davies must be out injured.  Where’s Commons?  Benched.  Must still be feeling that gashed shin.

Savage in from the start, predictable enough, after he did fine at OT and Todd went off hurt.  Todd hasn’t recovered.

DERBY (4-4-1-1): Bywater; Connolly (c), Albrechtsen, Addison, Stewart; Barazite, Green, Savage, Teale; Barnes; Hulse SUBS: Carroll, Nyatanga, Hanson, Beardsley, Commons, Varney Villa

Interestingly, Carroll was dropped and Seb Hines, on loan from Middlesbrough, was beaten to the bench by our own kid defenders, Mitchell Hanson and Jason Beardsley.  Cloughie hasn’t given him any game time yet

(or Sterjovski, or Kazmierczak)

Three blokes park themselves next to me and get on the blower to their absent mate.  Five seconds later, I am fully aware that they are Forest as well.  I bristle a little.  I look to my left, where there are more screens and booths.  The booths are full of red shirts.  A guy walks past me towards the bar in a red and white scarf.

I might as well be in the Walkabout in Nottingham.

The game has kicked off by this point and nothing much has happened.  Not many songs are sung, no chances at either end.

I can’t really help but express my emotions when I watch the match, so I was fairly quickly marked out as a Derby fan by my near neighbours.

A middle-aged, working class bloke started singing songs, Derby songs.  There was a huge ring of empty space around him.  I gravitated into the space.

Once he established I was a Ram, he bought me a pint.  He was a bricklayer from Alvaston.  His name escapes me.  He was with his wife, Danielle, on a romantic weekend in London for their first wedding anniversary.  Danielle was blonde, jeans and leather jacket and quiet.  My new friend was not quiet.  He sang a lot.

Rob Earnshaw chased a ball forward which Bywater claimed.  Cut to a close up of the Zambian-born Wales international.

“Fuck off Earnshaw, you Welsh black b******d”, said my fellow Derby fan.

I fell silent.

Where was Jab, he was meant to be joining me.

Half an hour gone, Barazite attacked down the right, slipping the ball to Paul Connolly.  The overlapping right back hit a poor cross along the ground towards the near post, where Paul Green cleverly stepped over it, flat-footing the red defence and allowing Rob Hulse to gleefully smash it into the back of the net from close range.

As the daft racist celebrated, I made a bit of a mistake.  Rather than quietly enjoying the goal, before I knew what I was doing, I was walking towards the big screen.  There was a deathly hush.  I noted this by cupping my hand to my right ear.  My card was now marked.

It was foolish, irresponsible and it could have got me into serious trouble.

Jab arrived.  I updated him on the situation.  I was gleeful.

”How much have you been drinking?” He asked.  I wasn’t drunk.  I was just stupidly, childishly excited that I was, to all intents and purposes, in the Trent End – and we were winning.

Brothers, I beseech ye - can't we all just get along?

Brothers, I beseech ye - can't we all just get along?

Half-time came, 1-0, and I compounded my mistake by asking a Forest fan for a light outside.  He didn’t have one, he said, because I was a Derby County fan.  I tried to make a joke out of the situation, saying ‘Jesus, it’s like the City Ground in there!’ – but he was having none of it.

He offered the light to Jab, who had wisely kept his gob shut, so I gleefully sparked up after him and passed the light back, cordially thanking my new acquaintance.  Silence.

Early in the second half, the brickie from Alvaston left the pub.  I think Danielle had decided that he was likely to get himself, her, me, or all three of us killed  He shook hands with me warmly, wished me all the best and told me to ‘keep the faith’.  I said I would.

I saw an old fella in a black and white scarf and another younger bloke.

I didn’t want Forest to equalise.

Giles Barnes, who hadn’t had much of a shout in the game, came off for Luke Varney.  It made sense.  Much of the Rams’ game had revolved around breaking up the play and trying to hit Hulse early.  Hulse and Barnes hadn’t really linked up at all.  Fresh legs and a bit of pace up front might do the business.  It had certainly been working for Forest, who had come out after the interval like Kelly had lit a bomb under their collective red arse.  The Rams were struggling to cope with the pace of Nathan Tyson and Earnshaw.  Tyson had drilled a shot after a good long pass put him in the clear, but Bywater made a good parry.   Forest pushed.  Addison at centre back was looking a little bit leggy compared to the quick strikers.

Then Albrechtsen played a dubious back pass to Bywater.  Bywater got their first with a hurried clearance.  The keeper did well, but the ball ultimately ended up in the net.  Stewart didn’t stop a cross, Tyson stepped over, Addison lunged in, but didn’t get there, Earnshaw spun and whipped it into the net.  Cue his trademark somersault and then a florid bow to the Forest fans.  ‘At your service’.  But I only saw that on the replay, because as soon as the ball hit the net, a phalanx of Forest’s London army ran towards me, dancing around me in raw jubilation.  One of them deliberately pushed me, spilling my pint – he shouted something ending in ‘fucking cunt’ into my face, obliging me to push him away, present a middle finger and tell him to ‘fuck off’.

My £3.35 a pint Tetley’s, or what was left of it, was swiftly middled.  Another.

Now they were chanting at me.  There were a lot of them.  Stewart scuffed a shot horribly – ‘that’s why you’re going down’, they jeered.

‘Oh Nottingham is full of fun’, they roared, over and over again.  I’d never heard it before, only the black-and-white version, which pithily substitutes the word ‘fun’ for ‘shit’.

The game wound on.  We can’t lose, we can’t lose, we can’t lose… I had no idea what would happen if they scored again.  Every time they attacked, the full-blooded red roar went up.  I stood up ramrod-straight and prepared myself for the worst.  It never came.  Derby dealt with their buzzing attacks.  They played it on the ground, but were lightweight.

Late on they sparked up a new chant – “You’re just a small town in Burton”.  I laughed at that.  That’s the sort of banter I like.

Quite a few times, away fans at games have forced me to laugh, or just admire them.  I think once they saw me laughing at that, it calmed things down a bit.  The atmosphere in there had got incredibly, raucously hostile for a while.  By opening my mouth in the red lair that this London boozer had become, I had given them a channel, a vent for all their emotion.  I couldn’t help myself.  Even though I was outnumbered 100 to 1, I couldn’t keep it shut.

And in the end, we came so close to victory.  Commons, on for Barnes, was on the end of Stewart’s cross at the back post, only to lift the ball over the bar from close range with Paul Smith struggling to cover.  How the Forest fans loved that.  How did Commons miss.  He tried to make amends with a vicious shot from the edge of the area, which Smith pawed over.  Then Varney’s close range header was somehow clawed away.  Then Hulse met a deep cross from Connolly and Smith topped his previous saves with a brilliant reflex stop, tipping it over the bar.

There were seven minutes of injury time, because Forest’s on-loan winger Paul Anderson came off badly after a midfield challenge with Connolly.  He went down and after a lengthy, worrying delay, ultimately had to be stretchered off, wearing an oxygen mask.  It later turned out he’d broken his arm.

Seven minutes of stoppage time to endure.

The full-time whistle went.

“Let’s get out of here”, I instructed Jab, rapidly stalking out of the pub.  The red horde was happy enough with their draw and replay.

Shaking off the tumult and emotion, it was actually a damned good cup tie.  Derby were dominant in the first half without creating enough chances, but got a good goal.  In the second half, Forest suddenly came alive and for the first quarter of an hour, were the better side.  Their goal came just as it seemed that the Rams had weathered the storm and was a tough blow to take.  After that, Derby started to get more a foothold and if it hadn’t been for Smith’s heroics, would have won it late in the day.

'Ave some of that, from Hulsey!  The moment that temporarily silenced the Red hordes...

'Ave some of that, from Hulsey! The moment that temporarily silenced the Red hordes...

A recovery pint in a blessedly-cheap Soho pub, then off home, to Peckham, for a last night on the comfiest sofa in the world, before facing up to the trek back to Manchester and reality, a place where I don’t work at The Independent, don’t get shown the sights and sounds by glamorous and beautiful women, and Derby matches aren’t televised twice a week.

The latter is probably a good thing…

Hang on, hang on, hang on.

I started to crush violently on Deerhunter when I first heard ‘Strange Lights’ on myspace.  This beautifully judged, emotional pop, with big, star-scraping waves of guitar and artfully yearning vocals, was of a higher songwriting and musical calibre than anything else new I’d heard in a long time.  Here was a young band with genuine artistic talent and feeling for music – that rarest of occurrences in this Myspace era.

So within weeks, I had started to develop a concept of Deerhunter as ‘the new REM’ – surely, I reasoned, a band with this much ability were set for not only a lengthy career taking in many worthwhile records and doubtless some blistering live shows (see you at the Deaf Institute in March…).  I trolled off to Piccadilly Records to buy ‘Microcastle’ / ‘Weird Era Continued’.  The guy behind the counter told me reverentially that this was a brilliant album.

I knew ‘Cryptograms’, a generally ambient record with occasional, thrilling shots of more direct material – that was the ‘destined for stardom’ album – ‘Microcastle‘ had to be the ‘they deliver’ album.

And half of it is simply outstanding.  What a start to a record – ‘Cover Me (Slowly)’, a woozy, slightly staggering, short sprawl of an introduction to the truly beautiful ‘Agoraphobia’ – a guitar piece so perfectly judged, so intelligently restrained, so evocative, that the vocal (its lovely opening ‘cover me’ refrain aside) is almost superfluous.  Stop blathering, Bradford Cox, just listen to your band!  They’re incredible!  Then ‘Never Stops’, in which Deerhunter insouciantly steal the thunder of a whole generation of tremolo-arm bending bands of a sensitive disposition.  It’s my judgement call – they’re the best of any of them.  Then ‘These Kids’, which is really interesting – cutely assembled, shuffling, restrained (again – the musicians in the group don’t feel the need to impose themselves on every second of every track.  This leaves space and helps the overall sound).  From these four tracks, you get a clear picture of a band who are bursting with ideas, steeped in tradition, conscious and intelligent art-rockers.

Then they rather spoil it.  From title track ‘Microcastle’ through to ‘Activa’, not a great deal happens.  Effect pedals are utilised, fringes obscure faces, vocals are whispered, that consciousness appears to have become a defensive self-consciousness, a shyness about their own pop sensibility.

Jesus, lads, you’ve got it, flaunt it….  thousands of bands would crucify their own manager for a song as good as ‘Agoraphobia’, or the boisterous ‘Nothing Ever Happens’, or the supremely graceful, lilting ‘Saved By Old Times’ (with which brace they wholly redeem the album).  Less of the softly softly minutes of piano tinkle / echo box, I entreat ye!

‘Nothing Ever Happens’ – damn.  It’s arguably the only derivative number on the LP, with a blammo verse / chorus pattern ripped straight from the Robert Pollard songbook, then a bridge that must appear in a Buzzcocks song.  But then it just rips into a closing instrumental part that is all Deerhunter and no one else.  Fine, fine stuff.

‘Twilight at Carbon Lake’ is the LP closer and perhaps predictably for a band of this ilk, it starts slowly, dripping with melancholy before utilising the gift of the deranged guitar overdub to swell the song into a strong, sad end.  you can hear the songwriting underneath it – they never ditch that.

Some bands are song bands and should just do that.  Some bands are musicality bands and should just do that.  Some bands want to be greedy and do it all.  I personally believe that Deerhunter should focus on songs and leave the shoescapes to less able writers.

This album is half-perfect.

Here is a link to some features I wrote yonks ago – Bill Hicks, Pixies, Plans & Apologies, Johnny Domino, James Yorkston…

http://drownedinsound.com/users/owright

There were a lot more.

Tortoise “It’s All Around You”

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/3660/reviews/9476

Television live –
http://drownedinsound.com/events/1046/reviews/9905

I can’t remember what else.

But in the end, I stopped writing for them, for two reasons – 1) I’d formed The Nightjars and saw it as a conflict of interests.. 2) I fell out majorly with a guy named Colin Roberts, who was pimping Busted on the site. He turned out to become the next editor…  so I resigned!

I walk up to the Krobar to meet Ben, thinking, “I’ve had enough of this year.  A few nights out and some null and void days are all that’s left.”  I feel low on energy, physically and mentally drained.  It’s winter.

One of my favourite bands are playing at the Academy.  I can’t even remember the last time I went to a gig that I wasn’t playing at.  Can’t have been Jeffrey Lewis and Plans & Apologies in Derby, can it?  This worries me.

I’ve been listening to a lot of new groups, but not many are hitting me.  There seems to be a lot of screaming and shouting going on.  Crystal Antlers, the Holy Roar label.

Rock is back.

Retro is back.

Nah.

Not that these things ever go away.  To me, a bloke screaming and shouting and howling is by definition, retro.  It’s that same old ‘big bang’ explosion of expression, of excitement, anger, pain, of life.  The source, the origin.  It’s exciting for the performer, but it doesn’t excite me to hear it, particularly. I’m more interested in what happens after that – what they go on to do once they’ve stopped getting a kick out of that automatic process of spewing stuff.

Bob Dylan talked about coming to terms with the fact that he became self-conscious about what he was doing, and continuing to create in the face of that realisation.  He couldn’t just bang out ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ automatically any more.  But he didn’t stop.  The end of Black Francis came when he found that the process “of writing automatically wasn’t working so well anymore”, around the period of the Pixies’ final LP, Trompe Le Monde.

I don’t want to feel like I’m in a cul-de-sac, or a backwater, just talking about the same old stuff all the time.  There has to be progress.  Music doesn’t necessarily have to constantly get better through time – not that I believe in any sort of Golden Age – but there must at least be interesting offshoots all the way.  Intelligent individuals.

The Week That Was is Peter Brewis from Field Music’s new project.  I spoke to Peter after their set and gave him a copy of the new Nightjars album.  He was as charming and polite as he had been on the previous occasions I’ve met him.  Introduced himself with a firm handshake, didn’t assume that I knew his name.

The interviews I’ve read with them have always left me thinking, ‘these lads are the proper stuff’.  Musicians who are more interested in making music than being stars.  You see, they have the horse before the cart.

I’m not sure that The Week That Was is as good as Field Music was, but with Field Music, they could cherry-pick from years’ worth of material – and there are still gems aplenty within the WTW set.   In this incarnation, David drums and sings backing vocals, whilst Peter plays keys, guitar and sings lead, with accompaniment from a dedicated bass player and another guy who swaps between guitar and keys.  David’s drums are the best bit, skittering, formal patterns, accurately snapped out; his high-pitched backing vocals also add a lot.

The songs are largely meditative and thoughtful.  One or two are more up-tempo (see the myspace for ‘Scratch The Surface’ – whose drum intro reminds me of Simple Minds – and yet it’s not shit!  How?!)

My favourite was a slow, spacious and gracious, seemingly new song with the lyric:-

“There’s no one to take you home
The lights are on
There’s no one to take you home”

“One more”, Peter shouts to the group at the end and they roll around the coda for one last, welcome time, before David rather messily brings it to a close.

Peter told me he thought the new stuff was too different from Field Music to be Field Music, which was why they ‘split’ into The Week That Was and David’s School of Language – I’m not so sure about that.  Anyway, they struck me, as they have always struck me, as honest lads who work extremely hard on their music.

If the 18-year-old me saw me writing this, he would go insane – that’s not what it’s about. The 18-year-old me believed in something glamorous, something different.  He believed in another world, better than the one he inhabited and that golden illusion, the ambition to transcend his world, kept him sane.

Now, it’s threatening to drive me insane.

The Brewis brothers strike me more as crafters than creative genii.  There’s something very ‘process’ about their music.  It hasn’t been delivered to them in a bolt of lightning.  They’ve worked on it, honed it.  The original idea will be a simple motif on guitar or piano, then they play with it, construct something with it.  Try a different rhythm, to break it up.  Backing vocals.  They work hard, you can tell.  I respect them for it.

*

Stereolab line up in a half-moon formation around the suitably luminous Laetitia Sadier.  The band lurk in the shadows.  Tim Gane stands at the back of the stage, playing Fender Mustang through Fender amp.  No tech to bring on guitars and drape them round his neck, not even a change of guitar, in fact.  He sets his own pedal levels before the set.

Why do people need techs to wipe their arse for them?  What are they so busy doing backstage that they can’t check their own levels?  Well, we’re having an economic downturn, dontcha know, so maybe a few roadies might find themselves surplus to requirements in 2009.

Speaking of the downturn, the ‘lab make themselves some cash on the merch desk by the simple expedient of pricing their stuff cheaply.  £8 for a double vinyl LP is tempting enough to have those long-haired, denim jacket-clad record collectors clambering over each other to pay out fistfuls of notes.

Back to the stage and they kick off with ‘Percolator’ from Emperor Tomato Ketchup, before playing some of the new album, Chemical Chords.  Ben and I are down the front.  I feel slightly guilty for being so tall.  I don’t think Ben does.

An early set-highlight is a quite beautiful rendition of ‘Valley Hi’, which loses the recorded version’s motor-bass thrum and is instead propelled along beatifically by Andy Ramsay’s drums and the Nord Lead of one of the two keyboard players, neither of whom I recognise.

Tim Gane stands at the back of the stage, playing Fender Mustang through Fender amp.  His head goes from side to side as he chops out rhythm.  Everything he plays is rhythm, even the lead.

I am amazed when they suddenly kick into a song Sadier introduces as ‘La montagne’ – fuck me, it’s ‘Mountain’, from Switched On 2: Refried Ectoplasm.  One of the most perfect, focused blasts of guitar I’ve ever heard.  That song floors me every time – emotionally, I can’t get over it.  It is a truly beautiful storm.  The shitty sound in Club Academy doesn’t help, but I feel like those kids down the front at the Kaiser Chiefs must feel when ‘I Predict A Riot’ happens – it’s my song.

When you go to watch a band, you subconsciously assume that they must be enjoying playing.  Laetitia Sadier gives that impression, as do the rhythm section.  Tim Gane seems happy enough, lost in his guitar world.  The keyboard sidemen have their moments too, enough for me to forgive them for their general air of being slightly bored.  They seem to be a bit more extended and engaged when they’re asked to play the complex and soulful ‘Double Rocker‘, from Sound-Dust.  Poignantly, Mary Hansen’s backing vocal part is picked out on the Nord.  I find myself singing it in my head, moving my lips in time.  I don’t want to catch Sadier’s eye at this point.

For an hour and a half, I am happy.

It’s a strange business, being a fan.  You want the band to be happy doing what they do, because they make you happy by doing it.  Once they start rattling out ancient beauties such as ‘Mountain’ and ‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ (with a generous extra helping of Neu! repetition at the end), I feel justified in hollering for the galvanising rush of a song that is ‘Super Electric’, but Sadier says, “no, no, no.  We will play a new one.  Then we will play an old one.”

Someone shouts for ‘Crest’, which Tim Gane has a little run at, before semi-embarrassedly admitting that he can’t remember it.

“You can”, says the crowd member.

I feel slightly disgruntled that they were prepared to have a go at ‘Crest’, but not ‘Super Electric’.  But when Sadier goes on to announce another new one, I whoop my approval, to show that I am supportive of the new songs angle – that I want Stereolab to enjoy themselves.  I want to be a good fan.

The new song is a post-Chemical Chords one, as far as I know.  I don’t remember it now, but I do recall thinking it was really fucking groovy at the time.  Then they play ‘Revox’, of all things – and I’ve had three from Refried Ectoplasm, my favourite three at that.  Then ‘French Disko’, which makes four from Refried Ectoplasm! Jesus.  I thought I’d be lucky to get one – and wouldn’t have dared shout for ‘French Disko’.

I wonder who decides which songs are played – Tim?  Laetitia?  The rhythm section?  All of the above, via e-vote?

Stereolab seem like a more obliging bunch, warmer than I had imagined.  The bassist, Simon Johns, looks genuinely pleased with the crowd’s ovation.  Laetitia controls the crowd with short, friendly statements.  Tim Gane is lost in his own guitar world.  I wonder what the rhythm section do when they aren’t making Stereolab records or touring.   Maybe they’re sessioners, like the guy I spoke to who, when he wasn’t playing trombone for the Tindersticks, played trombone for Basement Jaxx and Madness.  Somehow, I doubt it, though.  They sound too specific.

Johns teases me by playing the chords from the start of ‘Super Electric’.  Laetitia has already dedicated another old song to “whoever asked for it.  You see?  It’s all in the asking.”  I decide against the instinct to petulantly reiterate my demand for ‘Super Electric’ and let them get on with it, seeing as they’re entertaining me so royally.

After the encore of ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ and ‘Metronomic Underground’, it’s back to Kro for a last pint with Ben.  We smoke and talk about the set, but my enthusiasm for life is already back on the wane.  The beer isn’t replacing the high from the set.

That doesn’t stop me from wanting another.

Ben sagely says no, it’s time for us to go home.  So, homeward I go, with my black and gold Stereolab t-shirt and a ten-second video clip of the band playing, Sadier mid-shimmy.

At the bus stop, two of the denim-suited long-haired, middle-aged music geeks stand, excitedly debating the evening’s set with an acquaintance of theirs, who isn’t denim-suited, isn’t clutching a handful of vinyl and has not, in fact, been “Stereolabbing” at all.  He has been to a pub quiz instead, with his girlfriend.

It’s nice to be a fan again.