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>Day 129: Blogjam!

23 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson

It’s no good going away for a week and then having to catch up on your self-imposed blogging discipline, especially when you’ve got so much to write about! I spent most of today getting up to date with my blog, pulling the final strands of my Latitude thoughts together and trying to get back into the swing of the daily routine. Eventually, I got there – and congratulations to you if you managed to get up to date with things as well!

Spent the rest of the day waiting for the phone to ring (which it did – once – a recruitment consultant kindly ringing up to see where I was up to, but also to admit that he had absolutely nothing for me) and trawling t’internet for this and that.

I also needed to sort out my antivirus protection. New computer came with a month’s free subscription to McAfee that was on the point of expiring, so I uninstalled that and searched for something both cost- and bloat-free. I have learned over the years that Norton, McAfee and their ilk are designed to completely take over your computer and slow it down to a crawl – whilst charging you for the privilege. There are a lot of free, sleek alternatives out there if you care to look. I’ve used AVG in the past, but have heard good things about avast! recently so I downloaded and installed that. So far, so good – although losing the McAfee spam filter has caused lots of crap to sit in my inbox rather than being seamlessly hauled off to junk mail. I’m sure that will sort itself out in time though.

Otherwise, it was interesting to read the Latitude forums to see what other people were saying – good and bad – about the festival. My, there’s a lot of moany people out there! Generally though, the festival seems to have been a lot more secure than previous years with very little crime reported and most (serious) gripes seem to revolve around the queue to get in on Thursday, the queues to get into the arena and the rain. Given that, I think the organisers can be pleased with a job well done.

On the back of the newer bands I saw at Latitude, I have ‘saved for later’ a number of albums in eMusic for when my next set of downloads kicks in, and ordered a couple of other albums from Amazon where eMusic doesn’t have the artist in its inventory. Also ordered – at rock bottom price – a few more series of The Shield, as Mrs W and I are ploughing through the current box set (the third) at a rate of knots. It’s not quite The Wire – what is? – but it’s not a million miles away in terms of quality and consistency.

Speaking of The Wire, I am still working my way through Homicide, the ‘year in the life of the Baltimore homicide unit’ written by David Simon, the creator of The Wire. It’s a really good read and I’d recommend it to you unreservedly.

Bit of jazz on the soundtrack today, although ‘Jack Johnson’ is as much a rock album as a jazz album. It consists of two tracks, one on each side of the original vinyl album (and both approaching half an hour long) and was originally recorded as the soundtrack to a documentary about the eponymous boxer. It builds upon Miles’ earlier recordings – Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way and, to my ears at least, is better than both – more focused and melodic. It helps that it ‘rocks’ and is a good way of getting into jazz from a rock perspective.

As well as the single album version, there is a five-cd box set that includes a lot more material from the sessions that I picked up from iTunes for the price of the single album – one of a number of examples of iTunes mispricing box sets as single albums. Five cds of outtakes is a lot to subject yourself to in a single sitting however – I’d stick with the original if you want to explore!

There’s a good article on the Jack Johnson Sessions here if you’re interested. And here’s the first ten minutes of ‘Right Off’ from the sessions. Jazz? This stuff rocks like a mother!

>Day 127: Latitude Monday

22 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s highlight: The early start

With all the entertainment over, all that remained was to get off site as quickly and painlessly as possible. Having dismissed the idea of leaving after the last act, the only other serious option was to get away at first light – ie before 6 o’clock.

So it was that I started packing at 4am, a process helped by the still-noisy campsite as last night parties continued into the early hours. We were both fully packed with tents folded and stashed before six, and made our way to the exits, along with a few other hardy souls with the same idea.

And what a good idea it was, as I was straight out of the gates and on the road without another car in sight. Putting my trust in the satnav, I picked my way round some small country roads before picking up the main A14 via Cambridge to Coventry, onto the M6 and then home, by a hugely respectable 10am.

On a roll, I then spent the morning drying the tent (sodden with early morning condensation), unpacking and washing both clothes and myself, and generally getting myself out of festival mode and – reluctantly – into unemployed accountant mode once again.

And also into cook mode. I thought I’d treat Mrs W to one of my specialities, a big fat lasagne. I enjoy a lasagne, but it takes a lot of cooking, but what the hell, I’d got all day! Dashed out to pick up some onions, spinach and mushrooms – and a nice bottle of red – and got to work.

Firstly, I fried off some onions with some decent bacon that was lurking in the fridge (ideally I’d use pancetta, but Mrs W is not a fan) then added a pound of good butcher’s mince, about three quarters of a large carrot (diced), the mushrooms and some garlic. When nicely cooked, I added some mixed herbs, basil and oregano, some tomato puree and a tin of chopped tomatoes. Just to make sure there was sufficient tomatoey goodness in the dish, I then added the best part of a jar of passata that was lurking in the fridge. When this was bubbling away nicely, I added the bag of spinach which, as spinach is wont to do, gradually disappeared into the sauce.

Plenty of time for this to cook gently, so I set it to a low simmer for an hour or so, allowing the meat to tenderise, the flavours to mingle and the sauce to reduce. You really want quite a dry sauce for a lasagne – with enough moisture to cook the pasta but not enough to make the dish sloppy.

When the meat was just about ready, it was on with the cheese sauce. A roux of around 50g of butter combined with a similar quantity of plain flour, cooked until it begins to brown but before it burns. Add around a pint of milk in batches, stirring as you go to ensure lumps don’t form, until you have a reasonably firm sauce, to which you should add a decent handful or two of cheese of your choice (think we were on Red Leicester today).

When the sauce is cooked, you can start constructing your lasagne. A layer of meat sauce in the bottom of your dish, followed by a layer of lasagne sheets. Another layer of meat sauce, another layer of pasta. Finally ladle your cheese sauce over the top and stick in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes.

Serve with garlic bread and plenty of ground black pepper and fresh grated parmesan. Oh, and that bottle of red wine you bought for the occasion.

Welcome home, Paul!

Categories: lasagne, Latitude, recipe

>Day 126: Latitude Sunday

22 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s highlight: Magazine (by a whisker)

Our early morning finish didn’t translate into a decent lie-in – one of the laws of camping dictates that you wake up when it’s light, whatever the quality of the previous night’s sleep. But we needed to be up pretty early today, to get into the arena before the inevitable crush for Thom Yorke. Plenty of activity around us, as quite a few people started packing up, obviously planning on leaving straight after the final act. Not me – I tried that plan last year and suffered desperately trying to keep awake on the journey back firstly to Wells, and then up North. No way was I doing that again!

So we wandered down to the arena with, we thought, plenty of time in hand, only to be greeted by a massive queue – everyone had, of course, had the same idea as us. Eventually the stewards realised that to retain a measure of control over the situation they would need to relax bag-checking duties and we started to move quickly.

Despite my vociferous protestations*, Simon again insisted we sit in the cheap seats for Thom Yorke, so we settled back for an hour of angst and misery from the lazy-eyed Radioheadista. Actually, Thom was quite chipper throughout, engaging in some hearty banter with the front row as he played a set of solo songs and unreleased experiments interspersed with a few post-Kid A Radiohead numbers (I spotted ‘Everything In It’s Right Place’ and ‘True Love Waits’ amongst others). The languid sounds caused Simon to ‘rest his eyes’ for a couple of numbers, but not before spotting Tom Robinson standing to our right, taking in the sounds.

And thanks to the wonders of YouTube, here’s Thom doing True Love Waits. Look! He’s smiling and everything!

Most of the set is up there – as he predicted – if you care to look.

After Thom, we drifted down to the Lake Stage and caught a set by a Scottish band called Alfonzo. Dreadful name, but quite entertaining in a no-nonsense heads-down rockin‘ sort of way. Worth a listen if you like your hair long and your guitars solo-ing rifftastically.

Time for food, and while Simon braved the Australian steak sandwich combo, Paul decided the time was right for pie. More to the point, for steak and ale pie, chips and gravy. Whilst in the queue, I called Mrs W to catch up, and to gloat about our luck with the weather thus far. Which kind of rebounded on me when the heavens opened on me mid-pie.

Eventually giving up before my pastry turned into wallpaper paste, we decided to raise our flagging spirits by indulging in some comedy. Now the Comedy Tent at Latitude plays host to a vast array of comedians/ennes over the course of the weekend, but unfortunately is too small to house all the people who want to see them. In order to address this, the organisers have installed two screens outside the main tent to cope with the overflow. Which is where we stood to watch Jamie Kilstein, an American comic with a concern for the gay community that verged on the graphic at times – cue the exit of some families with young kids, parental hands glued firmly to their tender ears. All the comedians are, in theory anyway, given a parental guidance rating in advance but Jamie seemed to have slipped through that particular net somehow. Jamie was ok I guess, generated a few titters but not so’s you’d actively seek him out at your local comedy club.

Jamie was followed by Brendon Burns, an Aussie comedian who did come with a ’15’ rating which was possibly a touch optimistic – but he was genuinely funny with it. Brendon comes from the ‘shout, swear loudly and often and berate your audience’ school of comedy, but with a charm that allowed him to get away with some genuinely outrageous stuff. I liked him a lot, actually.

Halfway through Brendon’s set, the rain that had been promised all weekend came upon us with a vengeance, and we were lucky enough to take advantage of a plea for people to make room in the Comedy Tent, allowing us to shelter from a vicious downpour for half an hour or so.

Leaving the comedy tent, we went back to the cheap seats (for the last time) to see The Rumble Strips. I was expecting good things from the ‘Strips, their first album is pretty good and the reviews for their second suggest a group that have grown and developed beyond their indie roots. Unfortunately it just wasn’t happening today though a combination of poor sound mix and, quite frankly, some pretty weak material. Simon showed what he felt about it by falling into a deep sleep for the majority of their set. Bless.

He did rouse himself for the wonderful Gaslight Anthem, and we made sure we were on the barriers for their set, incidentally stood next to a lovely old lady who is, quite possibly, the trendiest old lady in the country. She’d been ignoring all the established acts, choosing instead to get down with the kids at the ravey ravey end of the spectrum. Respect, old lady!

No Springsteen this time, but the Gaslight Anthem don’t need special guests to confirm their quality. No nonsense rock and soul, not a superfluous note anywhere and a real sense of joy in their music. They are a wonderful band and you should take them to your hearts immediately. Excellent tatts as well!

Time for more beers, drunk back at the Lake Stage watching Marina and the Diamonds. Sounding like a cross between Hazel O’Connor and Toyah, initial thoughts were mixed, but as the set went on, with a bit more variation and pacing in the set we warmed to her more. I won’t be rushing out to buy the album, but not a bad accompaniment to a sit down and a pint of Scarecrow.

So where next? I was looking forward to Magazine and Nick Cave, but what to see beforehand? We decided to get into the Uncut Tent early, which meant watching (albeit from behind a massive pillar) Saint Etienne. Not a band I’d have gone out of my way to see, but quite possibly the surprise of the day, as they were excellent. Another band who really seemed to be enjoying themselves, and genuinely surprised by the positive response they got from a huge crowd in the tent. I’ll definitely be exploring their back catalogue carefully on the back of this performance.

As the Saint Etienne crowd dispersed, I managed to get a decent spot for Magazine. One of my favourite bands of the post-punk era, I’d seen the reformed band in Manchester earlier this year and they were marvellous. Could they still deliver? Was the desire still there? Yes, of course it was. A slightly cut-down set still managed to incorporate all my favourites and Howard Devoto still manages to amuse, puzzle and provoke with his oblique pronouncements between songs. And what wonderful, wonderful songs. Performed by a band that has as much funk as punk in its make-up. Just about my highlight of the day.

So back to the Obelisk for the last performance of the festival from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. I’d sacrificed most of their Glastonbury set, safe in the knowledge that I’d be seeing them here. Looking back at their rather ‘polite’ performance at Glastonbury over ten years ago, the current Bad Seeds are a noisy lot indeed, due as much as anything I think to the influence of Warren Ellis, Cave’s Rasputin-like right hand man. Tonight’s set was a raucous affair, with some excellent performances – Dig, Lazarus, Dig, The Mercy Seat and Stagger Lee in particular delivering on all levels. Simon was a bit meh, but I loved it – the performance only let down by the absence of an encore, possibly driven by the Sunday night curfew.

Back to the tent then, with the intention of an early night, followed by an early start tomorrow to beat the rush off site. A decision that was made easier by the arrival of the final rainfall of the festival.

*Some of this might not be strictly true.

>Day 125: Latitude Saturday

21 July, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s highlight – Doves

Relaxed start to the day today, hanging round the tents until the Arena opened at around ten. After wandering around the Village we made our way into the Arena and had a quick coffee, sitting at one of the many picnic tables dotted around. Decided we ought to eat, so invested in the festival staple, the Aussie Steak Sandwich – combo version. A freshly baked baguette, stuffed to the gunnels with steak, bacon, onion and cheese. Delicious, although naturally I managed to lose half of it in the eating – unwieldy rascal, the combo!

After lunch, we hung around the Lake Stage, where we saw The New York Fund and The Cheek.

I’d seen The New York Fund last year, in a similar slot, and was very impressed by them. Essentially one Scottish bloke, supported by either his regular band (who seem to have a problem getting to Latitude) or, as in this case, his mate – who apparently had only learned the songs that morning (yeah, right). In any event, it was a good set of originals with a couple of interesting covers – good band, and I’d be made up if they gained a following. Find ’em on iTunes and MySpace – or below…check them out, they’re good!

http://cache.reverbnation.com/widgets/swf/15/widgetPlayer.swf?emailPlaylist=artist_243796&backgroundcolor=EEEEEE&font_color=000000&posted_by=artist_243796&shuffle=&autoPlay=false

The Cheek used to be called ‘Cheeky Cheeky and the Nosebleeds’ and were being touted in some circles as the Next Big Thing. They weren’t. So, regrouped and renamed, here they are near the bottom of the bill on one of the festival’s smallest stages. Not difficult to understand why – indie by numbers with nothing to set them apart from a thousand other bands.

I believe Beer was taken at this stage. Specifically, a wicked brew called ‘Scarecrow’, recommended by our neighbours, and which slipped down a treat, on this and many more occasions over the weekend. Hic!

So off to the Obelisk, where we caught the tail end of Datarock (European electro-stuff in red hoodies). We then sat in the sun listening to Broken Records from Edinburgh, who we liked a lot – a bit Arcade Fire-y (in a good way). We then caught the beginning of The Airborne Toxic Event, about whom I’d heard good things but who were a bit, well, meh, I think the expression is. So we wandered off for an explore, which took us into the Woods and to the Sunrise Arena, where we saw some of the DM Stith set. My God, he is so sensitive! A lot of Buckley pere et fils (but mostly pere), a lot of eyes closed, acoustic guitar (of course) and a bloody cello! He made Nick Drake sound like Motorhead.

Needing something a bit more meaty to listen to, we went back to the Obelisk stage for White Lies. Last year they opened the stage in front of about a hundred people, this year the stage was mobbed. They’ve come a long way in twelve months! Clearly influenced by Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, they do use these influences well and are well worth the price of admission.

Oh, before White Lies, we inadvertently caught the tail end of Patrick Wolf‘s set. Oh my. Did I mention how camp Of Montreal were yesterday? Well Patrick showed me there are levels of campness that I did not know existed. He made Of Montreal look as camp as….actually no, just look at the picture. Actually, the music was not half bad, once you got past the image. He might just yet be the next big thing…

At this stage I have a confession to make. You know me as a hardened festival goer, forged in the mud of Glastonbury 2007, prepared for all weathers and every eventuality, no matter how extreme the elements or the conditions. Well, reader, today I weakened. You see dotted around the Obelisk Stage are a small number of shiny blue plastic seats, arranged in four mini-stands, if you will. And yes, we sat in the seats throughout Saturday evening. With the old people and the little children.

Simon made me do it.

Anyway, Doves were up next. Saw them recently as well, as described here. Ace little band, a bit in the shadow of their good friends Elbow (who coincidentally had the same slot on Saturday last year) but with some great tunes and a stonking new album I have already pushed hard on the blog. Go out and buy it! They didn’t disappoint either, a great set that was well-paced and full of little gems. The final two songs – The Cedar Room and There Goes The Fear – were as good as anything else we heard all weekend.

So decisions – should we hang around for Grace Jones or should we do something more interesting and worthwhile? The latter, obviously. Caught the tail end of Bombay Bicycle Club on the Lake Stage, who were ok in a jangly, slightly twee indie way. Whether they justify the hype they are currently getting – I’m not so sure.

Wandered across into the Cabaret area to see a rather strange production involving dome tents that I’m sure was hugely meaningful and significant. If it was, it went way over my head. Fun though. Then the rain came, just as we went to catch a bit of Grace Jones, who seemed to be doing as much costume changing as singing (or, in her case, talking). Underwhelmed, we left to drink beer.

Finally we headed into the Guilty Pleasures tent, where an ’80s Prom night was in progress. Hung around for an hour or so, soaking up the ’80s vibe (Kevin, you’d have loved it) then back to the tent in anticipation of a quiet night. As it was, our neighbours had other ideas and we ended up sat around the fire chatting and drinking until about three.

Happy days!

>Day 124: Latitude Friday

21 July, 2009 1 comment

>Today’s highlight: Squeeze

Leisurely start to the day, as Simon was not due to arrive until after lunch. Filled the time by having a wander down to the ‘Village’ – a relatively small area of shops and foodstalls, where I managed to resist the siren call of the army surplus stall – it is an absolute given that at some festival in the future I shall buy some camouflage trousers or a flak jacket or somesuch nonsense – but not this one!

Still had some time to kill, so thought it best to start drinking the wine. That made the time pass rather more quickly and effortlessly!

Simon eventually turned up around half one, and after unpacking, we headed off into the main arena. After a quick wander round, it was off to the main (Obelisk) stage to catch the end of The Broken Family Band, about whom I’ve heard lots of good stuff. And they were…ok, I guess. I need to give them a bit more of a listen I think.

Simon then went off to see The Duckworth Lewis Method, a cricket-themed ensemble led by The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon. I stayed at the main stage to see Of Montreal. I picked up one of their albums on eMusic, and thought it was pretty good, and had heard good things about their stage show, which was…interesting, to say the least. In the campness stakes, they made the Pet Shop Boys (see later) look like Slayer. Unfortunately, the music failed to live up to expectations – pleasant enough, but some tunes would have been nice?

A quick break for some Argentinian chorizo and chips – not my most inspired meal choice of the weekend, I have to say – then back to the Obelisk for Pretenders, who rocked like a mother (or something). Chrissie Hynde (who is wearing pretty well for an old bint) got the mood of the afternoon pretty well bang on, playing all the hits albeit interspersed with some new stuff, and got the crowd going as well. Best performance so far.

Then to the Uncut Stage, to get a decent speck for Squeeze. But before them, we caught the full set from Mew, an electro-ish band from Denmark – who were pretty damn good, I have to say. With a small but enthusiastic crowd (especially the bloke stood two down from me at the front) roaring them on, they played a pretty eclectic set that had us both nodding in appreciation – another one to explore further when we get home I feel.

So Squeeze – highlight of the day for both of us, I think. All the hits, band tight as a gnat’s chuff, and they were really enjoying themselves as well. Only Difford and Tilbrook from the original band, but that’s all you need, really. Lots of singing along and big smiles from both the band and the audience. Top entertainment and very cool (for cats).

Simon then hung around for Bat For Lashes, while I dashed back the the Obelisk for the Pet Shop Boys. Good to see them again after the Manchester Apollo show reported on the other week – and that’s essentially what we got tonight – same set, same dancers, same little dance from Chris Lowe. Very, very good, but I’d seen it all before which kind of took the edge off for me.

So back to the tent, where any thought of a late night was stymied by the arrival of the rain that had been promised all day. Early(ish) night with the promise of more fun tomorrow!

>Day 123: Latitude Thursday

21 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s highlight: Good neighbours

Nice leisurely start to the day today, plenty of time to perform all necessary ablutions in a nice clean bathroom before entering the world of the wetwipe and the longdrop!

Firstly, a trip to the all-night chemist – no, don’t get the wrong idea, I needed a compact mirror so I could negotiate my contact lenses over the next few days. I borrowed one of Mrs W’s for Glastonbury, but had completely forgotten to re-borrow the mirror this time. Suitably supplied with a 99p mirror, it was off to Ocean Village for coffee and bacon butties with Simon – but more importantly to pick up his tent so I could secure his pitch – he was not arriving until the following day.

Finally got on the long (and winding) road to East Anglia around 10:30, and arrived on site uneventfully about four hours later. Parked up in the car park easily, and handily placed for the main entrance…along with thousands of other people who were patiently queueing up to get into the site. A change of policy this year meant the people picked up their wristbands on entry, rather than at their leisure at the ‘Wristband Exchange’ tent. Fine in theory, but in practice if you are going to do this on entry, you need enough staff on hand to deal with the massive influx as the gates open. Something Latitude dismally failed to do. It took me the best part of two hours to get onto the site – and for the people who were arriving behind me in that period, I dread to think how long it took them. Sort it out Latitude! Actually, the people in the queue were all incredibly relaxed about the delay – the weather was fine and the vibe was chilled, man. So not all bad.

Once on site, there are essentially two options. Pick a spot to camp close to the arena, to avoid long walks to and from the acts, or a spot close to the exits, to avoid long walks to and from the car. Since one involves a slim day pack containing camera and waterproofs, and the other a fully-laden sack trolley with all the weekend’s kit, there is only one thing Paul was ever going to do. Luckily, there was a nice flat spot tucked up against the fence, next to a big sign marked ‘Exit’ – so that’s where I headed.

An hour or so later, both tents were up, the folding chair was unfolded, and the cider was poured. Time to introduce myself to the neighbours, who coincidentally were from Southampton (albeit originally from Norwich) – Heather and Chris, who throughout the weekend were the perfect neighbours. As were Russell and John (from Ipswich, who pitched up the following day).

With nothing of interest happening on the Thursday night, I chose to ‘nest’ at the tent, watching the world go by. As the night drew in, Chris and Heather invited me over to their (palatial) tent where they had a little barbecue thing going where we sat happily eating and drinking….until the heavens opened in the early hours in a quite dramatic thunderstorm – lightning and allsorts!

Suitably chastened, we slunk off to bed, hoping for a dramatic change in the weather!

Categories: Latitude

>Days 120 – 121: Pre-Latitude planning

21 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Various Artists – 12″/80s/2

Final ‘merged’ post, I promise – and a quick one, as there are some full-length daily Latitude reports to come shortly for your entertainment.

Monday started with a bit of a shock – a call from my mate in Southampton, Simon. Simon’s coming to Latitude with me and my first reaction to his obviously subdued tone was that he wouldn’t be able to make the festival. If only that had been the reason for the call. Unfortunately he was calling to let me know that he was being ‘let go’ by the firm along with around 30 other partners. Yet more fall-out from the economic environment. Latitude might just have come at the perfect time for him then – a chance to get away, drink, be distracted by some quality music and ‘chill’. Here’s hoping.

Following that bombshell, it was off to the hairdressers for a light trim. Alison rather than Debra today, which has its plusses and minuses. Alison probably gives me a better haircut than Debra – but at the end of the day it’s about more than just the haircut, isn’t it? No? Oh. Anyway, we had a good old chat about festival experiences (Alison’s not long back from Download – rather her than me) and, with a head massage and coffee thrown in as well, it’s a nice way to spend half an hour or so. I should go more often.

Out of the hairdressers, and into the butchers, for pies. Pie, chips, beans and gravy for tea. Doesn’t get better etc…

Thence to Tesco’s, for last minute festival provisions. Given my poor experience at Glastonbury, the own brand Red Bull stayed firmly on the shelf, to be replaced by a gallon of Lucozade. And some cider. And white wine. Not, I should stress, to be drunk simultaneously. I also got some tomato juice and cranberry juice, to keep my vitamin C levels up. And to mix with the vodka, of course.

So to Tuesday. Off early doors to my parents, who had cards and gifts for Son No 1 and Wife No 1, who I was seeing the following day (more details to come above shortly!) And then to Warrington to sign on – and to make my excuses for my 13 week pep talk, which had been arranged on my behalf for the Thursday I was away down south. This is the one where they tell you to start spreading the job net a bit wider, and accepting that you ain’t going to earn what you want to earn, I think. I’ve also got to provide evidence that I’ve been actively looking for work, and not wasting my time sat in front of a computer screen typing pages of rubbish. Hmmmm.

Then back home, for my farewell meal of yet more homemade pizza before leaving Mrs W to her own devices for five days.

Did I mention yet that I am SO the daddy of homemade pizza? That I absolutely OWN this particular dish? Oh yes.

Today’s soundtrack – before we start getting all Latitude-specific – is from a 3-disc compilation of ’80’s hits released on 12″ vinyl. It is the second of two such compilations, which I hope explains the somewhat obscure title of the compilation. Anyway, it’s got some good stuff on it, including the Associates, Human League, Heaven 17 and Lloyd Cole, amongst others. It’s also got a track by Belouis Some, but we’ll gloss over that one, shall we?

So in tribute to the great Billy MacKenzie, here are The Associates performng ‘Party Fears Two’. Excellent beret sir!

>Days 115-116: Lights and Croques

10 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: The Felice Brothers – Adventures of the Felice Brothers Volume 1

A double-header today – I was too busy yesterday to do a single Day 115 write-up, and, sitting here now, I’m struggling to actually remember exactly just how I filled that day. Fannying around on the computer, probably.

116 days in, you will appreciate, and it’s getting just a touch difficult to come up with new things to write about – especially when the phone steadfastly refuses to ring and the website trawls reveal a continuing, disconcerting, lack of sensible jobs in sensible locations. Still, this is the challenge I set myself at the outset and it is, in part, the need to continually come up with something to write about that helps keep the brain ticking over.

So what to write about? Discussed this over lunch on Day 116 (of which more later) and there’s been a request for more recipes, and for more TV/film write-ups. And the ironing anecdotes are wearing a bit thin now as well. So I’ll see what I can do!

Oh, I remember what I did on Day 115. I dried off and re-packed my tent in readiness for Latitude, I hung a picture that my Mum had bought for Mrs W (two black kittens) on the staircase wall, and I fixed the kitchen lights. Fixing those lights is like painting the Forth Bridge – it’s a never-ending job. On the face of it, they look great – eight floodlights in two banks of four – but in practice they are an absolute pain in the backside. Barely a week goes by without one of the bulbs blowing – and they are the old-fashioned screw-in type rather than the bayonet fitting. Occasionally unscrewing the bulb leads to the bulb breaking and the ‘screw-in’ bit staying behind, necessitating a fiddly exercise with a pair of pliers to retrieve the broken bit. Also, there is at least one bulb that mysteriously manages to unscrew itself slightly, with complete disregard for the laws of physics, such that it flickers maddeningly while I’m trying to cook. We used to have the lights on a dimmer switch, which was fine until one day it decided to catch fire – turned out it was woefully underpowered to control the eight bulbs and decided to give up the ghost – luckily while we were in the house and able to turn the power off before the whole house went up!

Anyway, I did manage to get all eight lights working on Day 115. Of course, one of the bulbs blew on Day 116, so we are back down to 7/8 for the time being.

Out early on Day 116 to get the weekly shop done – nothing too exciting on the menu for the next few days I’m afraid – some tacos and the Guinness casserole for which you’ve already had the recipe, along with some ‘fried shite’ (also previously explained) for Sunday night. Tacos are a Mrs W favourite – I love the taste, but tend to find them a bit fiddly and messy for my delicate sensibilities. In an attempt to find a more ‘user-friendly’ variety, I picked up some taco ‘trays’ this time – they look ever so slightly genteel, but if I can eat them without spilling half a pound of taco meat and cheese down my front, I can live with that.

On the way back from the supermarket, I got a call from my old boss looking to rearrange the lunch planned for the following day, so we agreed to meet up at lunchtime for a bite to eat and a catch-up on things. ‘Things’ included dogs, cats, the fallibility of computers, festival toilets, the need for more recipes in the blog and, naturally, football. But we also got to talk about a few work-related matters, including some recent successes they have had in the marketplace which is keeping the team busy and stretched. No immediate use to me of course, but should circumstances change in the future, it is hopefully of mutual benefit for us to keep in contact. I’m certainly not going to burn any bridges or close off any opportunities for work, be that temporary or permanent. But in any event, he’s good company and it was a very pleasant way of spending a lunchtime.

Where did we eat? We went to Cafe Rouge, a pretty decent chain serving French-style food including decent baguettes and grills at lunchtime. I had a very pleasant Croque Monsieur with a Stella and a large espresso, since you ask.

After lunch, I called in at PC World in an attempt to find a solution to my immediate computer problem – how to get my machine to boot up successfully with a mouse attached! Solution came about with a new wireless mouse – made by Logitech rather than Microsoft – and, for now at least, the problem appears to be solved.

Home to rescue the loaf I’d started cooking this morning. Timings meant I had to leave the cooked loaf sitting in the breadmaker for an hour or so after baking – you are meant to take it out immedately it’s finished to cool. However the trauma didn’t seem to have hurt the loaf at all, other than to crust up the outside a touch more than usual. Which is not a bad thing, in our book. I then set some dough to mix for the bread rolls we needed to go with the sausages for the night’s tea – another success, I have to say, although I still have to get my head around the extent to which these things increase in size while they are ‘proving’ in the airing cupboard. Still, better too big than too small, eh?

Tea was consumed – naturally – watching the second instalment of the Celebrity Masterchef final. Initial predictions were thrown by a solid performance from outsider Iwan, and a stutter or two from frontrunner Wendi. Which means that all three contestants go into the final stage with everything to play for, as they say. Friday night’s garbage film is going to have to wait, I think!

Bit of ‘alt-country’ on the soundtrack today, from New York’s Felice Brothers. The Adventures of the Felice Brothers was recorded, I am led to believe, on two-track tape in a chicken coop. And the rough and ready charm of the album makes that very believable indeed…can’t hear any chickens, though. Generally only available at the band’s live shows, I picked up my copy through the wonders of eMusic, and very fine it is too, if you like that sort of thing – which I appreciate not many people do.

The three Felice Brothers are augmented by a friend called ‘Christmas’, who is described as a ‘travelling dice player’, and ‘Farley’, who plays washboard and fiddle. Honestly, what’s not to like?

Here they are performing ‘Whiskey in my Whiskey’ a year or so ago. I feel the song title tells you all you need to know!

>Day 114: Bye Glasto, Hi Latitude!

8 July, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: Doves – The Best of Doves

Yes, I know we’ve had Doves on the soundtrack before, but there’s nowt wrong with that. They’ve come up courtesy of my new iTunes ‘Latitude’ playlist, 826 songs of beefy goodness incorporating all the artist on iTunes that are playing at this year’s Latitude Festival. Including Doves, of course.

So why the focus on Latitude today? Well, two reasons really. Firstly, my ticket arrived today (yay!) which in itself is enough to set the pulse racing. But secondly, I have been emailed by an increasingly giddy mate who is soooo looking forward to the festival, and we have been swapping notes on itinerary, packing lists etc in advance of next week, when it all kicks off.

Up to now, most of my festival focus has been on Glastonbury, with Latitude too far off to get excited about. But now Glasto’s gone, and Latitude is rapidly appearing over the horizon.

So why is Latitude so good? Well essentially, it’s Glastonbury in concentrated format – smaller scale, fewer stages, but a really good ratio of quality to dross and a really good history of dropping a few gems quietly into the mix.

The big surprise this year was the announcement of Thom Yorke performing on Sunday lunchtime, completely out of leftfield that one. I was also (pleasantly) surprised today to see Tricky performing on the Uncut Stage on the Sunday – not sure when that was announced, but it had completely passed me by as well.

Some interesting headliners this year – I already know that the Pet Shop Boys and Nick Cave will be ace, having seen them both already in the last month or so – so Grace Jones will be the really interesting one. Similarly, I’ve seen Magazine, Doves and the Gaslight Anthem recently and know that there’s some real quality there. Then you have the likes of Squeeze and Pretenders – old favourites from back in the day – and quality indie from the likes of Editors and White Lies.

And that’s before even considering the bands on the smaller stages that I know nothing about yet! Last year, there were a number of bands I’d never heard before who made a big impression – White Lies, who opened proceedings on the Saturday morning, The Maybes?, The Beep Seals, Johnny Foreigner, Beggars, Nada Surf, I Am Kloot… if this year’s hit rate is anything like as good, it will be a great festival.

I might even find some time to spend in the comedy/theatre/literature areas this year as well!

Now, just need to start checking the weather forecast….

In other news, it was another domestic day today, baking (French rustic loaf, since you ask) and finishing the ironing. I also found time to finish my latest book – called ‘Man on Wire’, the story of a Frenchman who managed to string a high wire between the Twin Towers during the final stages of their construction back in 1972/3 and to walk between the two buildings. It’s a fascinating story, if wrapped up in a bit too much cod-philosophy for me. apparently there is a documentary on the walk that’s been released recently and will no doubt pitch up on DVD soon, which must be worth a look as well.

I’ve now started reading ‘Homicide’ the book written by David Simon, creator of The Wire, about the year he spent shadowing the Baltimore Homicide Department, and which provided a lot of the raw material that informed The Wire and made it as true to life as I am sure it is. Another fascinating read so far, but a long way to go!

So some more Doves for your enjoyment – Jetstream, recorded live at Delamere the other week. I must have been standing about six feet away from the bloke filming this!

>Day 86: The Men Machines

10 June, 2009 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack: John Fogerty – The Blue Ridge Rangers

Titling today’s blog ‘The Men Machines’ and then having John Fogerty’s Blue Ridge Rangers on the soundtrack is a touch incongruous, to say the least. The title refers to Kraftwerk, of course, and it is difficult to think of a greater contrast between their electronic music and the good ol‘ country pickin‘ that appears on the Blue Ridge Rangers album.

Still, we are nothing if not catholic (with a small ‘c’) in our music tastes, so there is definitely room for both in my music collection.

I mention Kraftwerk for two reasons; firstly, I’ve been reading the autobiography of Wolfgang Flur (there should be an umlaut in there but not sure how to do that…) called ‘I was a Robot’ about his time in the group and, latterly, his legal battles with the two main Kraftwerkers, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, to get the first print of the autobiography published in the first place.

Essentially there was a clear divide in the group between Hutter and Schneider, and Flur and Karl Bartos, the other key band member. To all intents and purposes, the former two were Kraftwerk, whilst Flur and Bartos were essentially hired hands, on a salary throughout their membership of the group. The legal battles seem to centre on Flur’s assertion that he was instrumental (sic) in the development of the group’s sounds -particularly its early experiments with drum machines and their design and construction…designs apparently patented by Hutter and Schneider without Flur’s knowledge.

Despite a rather idiosyncratic writing style (which mat be due to the translation from the German) it’s a fascinating read, and prompted me to download a few Kraftwerk albums that I didn’t already own, including the classic ‘Autobahn’ that introduced me to them in the first place, thirtysomething years ago. At the time, it sounded like something from another planet, and has aged reasonably well. Expect to see them popping up on the soundtrack over the next few weeks.

Fun and games continue with Pedro, the feline food processor, who definitely has a screw loose (in the nicest possible way). I can understand him climbing into the dishwasher to investigate the dirty plates and cutlery and scraps. I can even understand him climbing into the freezer when I was taking some stuff out for tea. However I have no idea what possessed him to jump feet first into the toilet this morning. Daft as a brush. But in a nice way.

Son No 1 duly turned up around lunchtime, ready to make friends with Pedro – easy when you are chomping on a tuna sandwich, it has to be said. He is up north for an interview on Thursday in Manchester, although some crossed wires with the agency means that we are still awaiting firm details of time and place and a distinct possibility that the interview may not actually happen. Still, he’s made a few phone calls and sent a couple of chasing emails, so we’ll see what transpires. In any event, details of his second interview, in Bristol on Friday, are confirmed so that one is a definite starter.

Son No 2 seems to have been lucky so far with the weather up in the Lake District, notwithstanding all the lousy forecasts, as he happily texted me from a pub in Coniston. Let’s hope his luck holds out for the rest of the week and for Glastonbury as well.

Following the announcement about Thom Yorke, further good news for Latitude comes with the announcement of Of Montreal, Maps, Lykke Li and Camera Obscura. Names that will probably mean little to you, but who are all bands worthy of your investigation and time. It’s a little gem of a festival, is Latitude, and a fine summer dessert after the Glastonbury main course. Tickets still available – £150 if you want to join us.

One of my favourite Glastonbury performances in recent years was John Fogerty, back in 2007. Fogerty was, of course, the leading light behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, responsible for some of the greatest songs (and albums) of the late ’60s and early ’70s – many of which he delivered to an adoring crowd. He retains a fine head of hair for a relatively elderly man, as well, which is nice.

Creedence imploded in the early ’70s amidst a welter of legal battles and recriminations, and for many years Fogerty was unable, and unwilling, to play his own songs – a situation that was gladly resolved in later years. In 1973, however, his response was to release today’s featured album – essentially a pure country album, mixing originals with covers. It’s by no means the best album of his career, but that said, it’s a fine example of early country rock and Fogerty’s too talented to produce sub-standard work, whatever the genre. Not a massive seller at the time, but worth a listen.

Here’s ‘Blue Ridge Mountain Blues’ performed in 2008. Check the hair out.