Monday, July 21, 2008

Back in lovely sunny Bristol after a few days messing around in middle England. Our drive to Shrewsbury on Thursday evening was so traffic free that I think we must have stumbled upon a theme road which was aiming to replicate the driving experience of 1950’sBritain.

Friday saw a lazy wander around the timber framed buildings which cling to the various hills that this oxbow lake in the making of a town had us tripping up and down. When we got a bit tired in the afternoon, we nipped into a charity shop and picked a few of those film DVD’s which come free with newspapers these days, returned to our hotel and slipped “Defence of the Realm” into the laptop and rested our weary toes for a while.

Pre gig we met up with some people which Orynthia had been chatting with on the Camera Obscura forum and very pleasant it was too. Then off to the gig, housed in the old butter market, we had to endure a couple of support bands and DJ’s who favoured volume over all else, so we were forced to take refuge on the smokers balcony. Eventually “The Obscura” as I’m sure no-one calls them hit the stage and guess what, they didn’t need to blast us half the way to Wrexham with an overstretched P.A. as they have songs, wonderful, wonderful songs, even a couple of new ones to raise our hopes for the next album.

Post gig we caught up with band in the decidedly unglamorous dressing room area, and admired the plentiful amounts of Tea but no kettle, Wine but no corkscrew and Beer but no bottle opener. They did have a bottle of Gin which rather suspiciously was missing a third of it’s contents - someone’s drinks cabinet had been raided at the last minute I suspect.

The next morning we bumped into most of the band again in the excellent Alfie and Billy’s Café. Then after further hill walking we took the short trip to Weston Park a grand stately home on the way to Wolverhampton the location of the Saturday evening gig. Now Weston Park is a place that we have been meaning to visit for around 15 years or so as it has P.G. Wodehouse connection. Indeed many years ago we picked up a leaflet which described the place as almost being a P.G. Wodehouse theme park. Imagine our surprise then when we found no mention of Mr Wodehouse on the present day literature for the place. Indeed with the exception of one member of staff, none of the guides knew that this was the place that he used as his model for Blandings Castle the home of Lord Emsworth.

After a brief tour of the grounds on a child size train ride we drove into Wolverhampton and meet our friend Heather who had journeyed up from Bristol by train. Camera Obscura were playing in the bar at the Civic Hall, which contrary to what you would expect did not contain a working bar. Another top show from the band, who excitedly told us the new world which they had discovered in Wolverhampton - The dressing came equipped with a Jacuzzi, the crazy world of rock n’ roll eh!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

So the exciting news that I alluded to yesterday, is that Orynthia has been contacted by someone from Warp Films. They were asking if they could use some pictures of hers in a forthcoming film that they are making. The film will be a documentary about the All Tomorrows Parties music festival which we have attended a few times, however the thing that has sparked their interest is a website which Orynthia made about the forerunner of ATP, The Bowlie festival.

The Bowlie as I’m sure everyone who reads this site will know took place in 1999 at Camber Sands and was hosted by Belle and Sebastian. It was a brilliant weekend, as well as B&S we enjoyed performances from Camera Obscura (unknown to us at this point), The Flaming Lips, Cornelius, The Ladybug Transistor, Teenage Fanclub and many more. From this idea the ATP concept emerged and has been running very successfully ever since.

When Orynthia was in the early stages of teaching herself the web skills which would later pay her wages, she wanted a little project to work on. The idea of a site about The Bowlie was mooted, I wrote some text and Orynthia designed the look of the site and did lots of scanning of photo’s (pre digital!), tickets and the like, she then built the pages. It was never fully completed but that wasn’t really the intention. So there it’s has sat for several years, unknown to most people but with a special place in our hearts. Obviously the good people at Warp Films were looking around the web for any Bowlie related stuff and stumbled across the site. Looks like part of it could become part of music history!

You can see the site here

Strangely enough we are off to see Camera Obscura a couple of times this weekend, 1999 -2008 we haven’t really changed that much I guess.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Well I think the radio interview went well enough. Orynthia managed to record it and on listening back to it last night it didn’t sound too embarrassing. Don’t the global reach of the show is huge but it was an interesting way to spend part of an evening.

Tomorrow Orynthia, Carl and I are heading over to Cardiff to catch up with one of our newly discovered Welsh cousins and his girlfriend. We are also going to visit Spillers – the oldest record shop in the world! Of course with things as they are in the music world the future of the place is not very secure. Still we hope that this will be the first of many visits.

I’m not really sure how I managed to miss the place before, we’ve been to Cardiff on several occasions and I did work there for a few weeks whilst I was at BT. Somehow it always escaped me.

We might be heading out to The Folk house later on as the strangely wonderful Freeze Puppy is playing. Also on the bill is the interesting Stanton Delaplane, I’ve got one EP by him which is really hypnotic, he sounds like Morrisey being a chorister a unique and interesting voice.

Our house is a bit of a mess at the moment; we are having some work done in the house. Come Monday the bathroom, our bedroom and the dining room will all be in fairly major states of disarray. Those that know me will be relieved to hear that we are getting a man (or 3) in. My DIY skills are on a pair with the English Summers ability to produce endless clear sunny days!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

So Mr Collins and I are off to promote The New Parnassus Club via the exciting medium of Radio. We’ve been asked to go on to BCFM 93.2 tomorrow evening for a chat about the ideas behind the night. It’s only a matter of time before we are chatting to Mark Lawson on Front Row. Should you wish to listen we should be on at around 5:45 pm it will also be broadcast live worldwide on their website for those of you that don’t live in the Bristol area.

My new season ticket for Bristol City arrived today, in fact it’s not really a ticket, we’ve gone all 21st century and now have a swipe card! It’s strange really I had my first season ticket as a small boy all the way back in 1970. In those days we had a single card to show for the whole season as well. Guess those individual tickets will be a museum piece in the future like corded telephones, 78’s and skinny jeans – oh not those, they are hip again (I think?).

J –A- Double Zee, yes I’ve been listening to a lot of Jazz lately. Mainly mad stuff from the 1960’s and 70’s Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and the like it’s great to hear stuff that just blows wild and free. Perfect for lying on the floor and letting the strangeness wash all over you.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

One of the big tasks that we've had over recent weeks has been the clearing of books from Sue's house. The vast majority of these have gone to various charities and few others to friends however quite a few have ended up with us. Currently I'm about half way through one of these new acquisitions "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers.

At first I found the density of the language and pace of the book difficult to enjoy, then suddenly after around 50 pages the richness of the five main characters in the book leapt off the page and I was hooked. Through these very different personalities we get an insight in the hard world of a poor southern town in 1940's America. That's not to say that the book is without humour, there are some very entertaining set pieces within it. It's great strength though appears to be in observing the understanding or lack of it between people. The brilliant trick of the book is that the one person people choose to spend time with is a deaf mute, giving them a chance to release their hopes, dreams and frustrations to someone who will observe what they are saying without interrupting. The really sad irony is that the one person whose approval he really craves is taken away from him, leaving him as rootless and unfulfilled as the rest of them.

The need that my sister and I have to surround ourselves with books and music is obviously a blessing and a curse. I'd love to live in sparkling modernist house with clean lines and gleaming surfaces, yet how lovely it is stumble across something that you read 10, 20 or even 30 years ago and be captivated by both the item and the memories of that phase in your life. Our house is full of CD's, records and cassettes that will never trouble an amplifier to stir itself into action again but they remain stubbornly unwilling to leave the house.

To be honest some of them should never have been invited into our hose in the first place. Sometimes I just look at them and ask myself what was I thinking. For every Miles Davies there is a King Kurt, for every Nick Drake a UK Subs, for every Sufjan Stevens a Dead or Alive and so the list goes on. Well that's not actually true I've only got one single by both King Kurt and the UK Subs, as for Dead and Alive? They used to good once, before they discovered drum machines honest they did. Well at least I thought so at the time!

Monday, July 07, 2008

We have a little trip on the horizon, nowhere too exotic though. We shall be hading up to Shrewsbury in a few weekends time to see Camera Obscura our lovely friends from Glasgow. The following night they are playing in Wolverhampton, so we shall go to that gig as well.I hope to be able to hear them playing!

Heavy wax build up in my ears is quite a regular thing for me and the ear syringing trip has been something of a joy on many occasions in the last 20 years or so. The ritual in the week before a session takes place is part of the fun, in order to loosen the wax, olive oil needs to dripped into the offending ear when going to bed for around a week beforehand. It's a messy process and I tend to end up with pillows that smell like an Italian chief's apron. I'm hoping that the plus side will be beautifully preserved ears when the rest of me looks old and wizened.

So on the Friday before last I took the short walk to Logan Road, in anticipation that ten minutes later the world would be offering me a cornucopia of audible delights, rather than the the rather gloopy, muddled mess that had been reaching my brain. All started well, as the water sloshed around my inner ear and the nurse made complementary comments about the ease at which the wax was emerging, so my oiling technique is obviously pretty slick, if you'll pardon the pun.

Sadly when the process was finished, the change to the hearing in my left ear was minimal. Maybe some water was trapped which would dribble out later? The nurse said that I should "carry on oiling" (the least known on the Carry On films?) and if things were no better come and see them again next week.

Well the week came and went, and poor Orynthia still had to ensure that she was standing upwind when wanting to mention anything to me. So last Friday I returned with a degree of apprehension, what if all these years of listening to music has done serious, unrepairable damage and the rest of my life would be carried out with the equivalent of a cotton wool balaclava over my ears?

The nurse took a look into my ears and declared them to be in pristine condition, now I was worried. If there was no blockage why was I struggling so hard to make sense of the noises around me? After further questioning she deduced that their may be a blockage in the internal pipework in my head! No problem though, she advised take ibrobufen for three days inhale as much hot steam as you can an the tubes may open up. So that's what I've been doing over the weekend and thankfully it look like it's working.

Fortunate really, as Camera Obscura are not really in the Motorhead stakes when it comes to volume at their gig.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

One of the good things to come happen over recent weeks is that we have been seeing a lot more of Sue’s boys. Craig and his Girlfriend Anne stayed with us after the Funeral as they now live in Sheffield. We’ve spent sometime with Matthew and quite a lot of time with Carl.

Carl lived with Sue and it’s fair to say that they lived a pretty insular life. Over the past few weeks we’ve been enjoying seeing the world through his eyes and we introduce ourselves into each other’s worlds.

Yesterday for instance we spent the afternoon and evening in around central Bristol together, initially at The Arnolfini for the Far West exhibition. I had popped into see this the previous Sunday when I was dashing off to catch up with Orynthia, her mum and brother for Sunday lunch at The Louie. I though at the time that it was great and was itching to get back and spend more time in the place. Having done that, I’m not actually convinced that it’s as great as I thought it was on first viewing. It’s still an interesting mixture of ideas around the theme of consumerism and worth a visit if you are in the area.

After a wander around the shops of Park Street we then eased back to the waterfront. This time to the other cultural institution in this part of town The Watershed. We were here to meet up with my mum to see the film “The Edge of Love”. Dylan Thomas and his destructive ways are the centre point of the film, he is someone who has always figured in our family. I think that he was a touchstone for my mum when it came to her Welsh heritage.

One of the few holidays that I really remember us all being at, was a 1970 trip to Laugharne in West Wales. It was in this strange little town that Thomas lived and worked for many years. In those days there was no real Dylan Thomas industry so my parents were thrilled when a friendly local who happened to have the keys to the Boathouse, the place that Thomas called home from 1949 offered to let us have a look around. It was empty at the time, which somehow made it even more special. The refurbished Boathouse is now a splendid museum to Dylan and his works.

The film does capture the dank nothingness of much of this part of the world. At the time I wasn’t much taken with the damp underachieving countryside, with it’s scruffy house’s, shop’s that were always closed and cold damp rooms where the silence shouted out at you as you tried to fill the holiday evenings. These days I rather admire their ability to resist the lure of the conformity that has engulfed so much of the UK.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

So almost 4 months have passed and what a time it's been. Many good and and interesting things have taken place, included amongst them a thrilling end to the season with Bristol City, my first venture into the the world of being a classical music DJ/promoter, a chance to catch up with friends in France and a trip to the ATP festival in Minehead.

The bad things though have been really bad.Whilst we were at ATP my sister was taken into hospital following problems with her legs. Sue was struggling with cancer for many years and it had now spread into her spine. Within a couple of days she had completely lost the use of her legs we knew that her life span would be measured in months rather than years.

The rest of May saw Sue coming to terms with the changes in her life. Being forced to stay within the hospital was tough, overseeing the relocation of her pets and finally giving up smoking were also big hurdles which she dealt with. We were set to go off to France for a week on Saturday May 31st, spending half a week with our old friends Bob & Karen in their home in Southern France then heading to Bordeaux 4 days.

On the Thursday night before we were due to make the trip, Orynthia took a call from my mum, as I came into the room it was clear that something was wrong and I assumed that things had worsened for Sue. Orynthia passed the phone to me and said "Aunty Mair is dead".

Aunty Mair was my mums only sister and the one person in the family which Sue kept in touch with through all those years when she thought that family was too hard to deal with. Over the years the two of them kept in regular phone contact, although as they both had health issues and didn't drive actual meetups were few and far between. Just before Sue went into hospital we managed bring Mair and her son Robert over from South Wales for the day so that they could spend some time with her. I'm so pleased that we managed to do that, it was a lovely day.

On hearing the news from mum our initial reaction was to cancel the holiday, however we thought that we would sleep on things. The next morning Mum and I went into the hospital to break the news to Sue. She actually took it well although she was obviously shocked. We spent most of the morning with her and considering all the circumstances she was in very good spirits. It emerged that the funeral for Aunty Mair would take place the following Friday, so after talking to everyone we decided that we would still go to see Bob & Karen but would then cut our trip short and come back to Bristol on the Wednesday evening in order to attend the funeral.

The trip to France was a delight, Bob & Karen were the perfect hosts as they guided us around the ridiculously lovely countryside around their new home. We set off for home delighted that we had managed to get away for a few days.

We returned home in the early evening on Wednesday, I called mum to see how things were and she sounded very down about Sue's condition. It was getting towards 11:30 pm and we were just getting ready for bed after a long days travelling when my mum phoned. The hospital had called her, advising that she should come into the hospital as Sue's condition was very serious.We drove over to Staple Hill, picked up my mum and had a very apprehensive journey into town.

When we arrived on the ward, we waited in an office for the doctor to come and talk to us. I think that we all thought that Sue had already left us. After a short wait the doctor came in and and advised us that Sue was still alive but was not expected to make it through the night. We then went in and sat with Sue until around 5:30 in the morning, the staff were fantastic doing all that they could to make Sue and us as comfortable as they could. Come 5:30 we were exhausted and contemplated going home for a while. The staff said it was impossible to predict how long Sue would last, so we decided to take mum back to our houses and try to sleep for a couple of hours, which somehow we managed to do.

Just after 7.15am I was awoken with a start as the phone rang, It's strange to pick up the phone when you already know what the person on the other end is going to say. The nurse confirmed that Sue had passed away just after 7am. I went into our spare bedroom and woke my mum to give her the news. Within a short space of time we were up and dressed and heading back to the hospital, moving on autopilot as the rest of the city stirred itself for another busy day.

Once again the staff in the hospital were absolutely wonderful. We went in to see her body and the bed was covered with Sue's favourite blanket, she looked peaceful after the struggles of the previous evening. After a brief period we gathered up her possessions and headed away from the ward for the last time.

The next day Orynthia, Mum and Carl who was still living at home with Sue took the trip to Pontypridd for Aunty Mairs funeral. We met up up my cousin Robert and his family. No one knew who to commiserate with first! It was an emotional and tiring day but gave us the chance to find out that are family members that we really like even though we'd never met them before.

The following week was spent organising Sue's funeral. Sue had opted for a woodland funeral and the wonderful people at Heaven on earth helped us arrange a day which I think Sue would have wanted. Lot's of music, no religious content and lovely coffin made of Willow from Somerset. Again the funeral gave us a chance to catch up with friends old and new to mark the end of an exhausting period in our life.