On Monday, I completed the tenth of my charity challenges – one quarter (or 25%) of the way through the list, but only 55 days (or 15%) through the year. That makes me officially ahead of schedule!
The latest task was to sell a painting what (almost in the words of Ernie Wise) I had drawn. This was the first time I had attempted an oil painting... ever. And yes, I realise it shows, but this challenge wasn’t about becoming the next big name in contemporary art, simply to do the best I could and see if the charitable cause might make the end result a little more appealing than the painting itself.
I actually quite enjoyed mixing the colours and trying to recreate a sunrise that actually happened last December. The orange and yellow colours in the sky that morning were unusual, but wonderful. I might have succeeded in preserving the “unusual”...
I was pleasantly surprised that the finished picture didn’t look as bad as I’d expected – from a distance at least... a long distance... in the dark – but it was still a major relief when the first couple of bids were placed and I realised that Mind was going to benefit by more than £1.99!
I created a couple of spoof newspaper articles and a particularly convincing Fake or Fortune photo featuring Fiona Bruce to try and raise a bit of interest and, over the next ten days, nearly one hundred people visited eBay to have a look at the picture, and twenty-three bids were received.
When the auction closed, the highest bid was an incredible £20 – so much more than I could ever have expected. The “winner” (and I use the term advisedly) has asked to remain anonymous – presumably for fear that the painting might be targeted by the criminal under-world... or the binmen. All I will say is that the person concerned is a good friend, and that is just the icing on the proverbial cake.
The £20 has been added to the Just Giving fund, and I am just a few pounds short of the £200 mark, which is one fifth of the way to my goal. Unless something happens this weekend, the former Doctor Who companion Sophie Aldred is next, on 9th March. I’m really looking forward to meeting her, and to having a photo to prove it!
I watched Celebrity Pointless on Saturday —it was a repeat, but I’m often cleverer second time around. Amongst the eight contestants was the unfailingly unfunny Stephen K Amos, and a couple of singers from yesteryear in Cheryl Baker and Toyah. It is a piece of standard trivia in the Kirby household that Cheryl’s real name is Rita Crudgington—I don’t suppose there was much making her mind up to get that changed...
As for Toyah, I remember a number of her hits from the early 1980s, one of my favourites being entitled Ieya—which is also the sound I make when someone inflicts a Chinese burn. I watched the video on YouTube for old time’s sake, but my attention was then diverted to the list of suggested associated videos down the right hand side of the screen. Halfway down the list was Hand Held in Black and White by Dollar.
It’s no big secret that my all-time musical “guilty pleasure” is Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son, France Gall’s 1965 Eurovision Song Contest winner. It’s a catchy little tune, performed by a very attractive young lady (she was aged just seventeen at the time). Fast forward to 1978 and my taste for loud and fast punk-inspired music was rapidly developing, but a pretty young woman was also more than capable of turning my teenage head. Thereza Bazar was certainly right up near the very top of the list, and much as Dollar’s brand of commercial pop wasn’t my musical cup of tea, I was more than shallow enough to listen on the basis that the female half of the duo was a stunner.
None of which explains why I purchased a copy of their first single Shooting Star, without it being in a picture sleeve. Call it an aberration...
... although, having watched this video, I’m actually willing to forgive the thirteen year old me. It’s not the worst little tune, and, ahhhh, Thereza..!!!
Well we’re halfway through February, and now seems like an opportune moment to round up everything that’s happening with the 40Fifty Challenge.
Nine of the forty tasks have been completed—one of them twice— so I’m nearly a quarter of the way through the challenge. As far as fundraising is concerned, the total stands at £175 towards the £1,000 target which is brilliant, and a huge thank you to everyone who has been kind enough to donate.
A recent live interview on BBC Radio Tees brought home my reasons for doing all these tasks, when I spoke openly about some of my experiences to presenter Mike Parr, as well as to an unseen yet sizeable audience. It might not sound overly difficult in the scheme of things, just the same as throwing a few darts at a board might actually seem ridiculously easy to many, but we’re all different and in amongst the list of seemingly straightforward, even enjoyable tasks are a few that I know will provide a great personal challenge.
So far so good though, and hopefully there’ll be plenty more stories and pictures to come as the weeks and moths pass. In fact, here are a few details of some of the developments that have been going on behind the scenes.
No.5 – meeting a current or former Doctor Who companion looks like it’s going to happen on 9th March (see the top picture). Very excited!
No.6 – bowling at a county cricketer is looking promising. I might have retired ten years ago, but I doubt you ever lose the ability to bowl a batsman into form!
No.7 – recording a song… well it looks like it’s actually going to be a duet with a young lady who has a genuinely amazing voice. And patience to match I hope!
No.12 – having a photo taken with a London 2012 medallist. A number of e-mails have been exchanged, but I’m guardedly hopeful that this will happen in mid-March and may involve more than one medallist and a trip to Leicester—and that’s all I can say for now!
No25 – having a bird of prey fly onto my hand (not fly off with my hand) is another that looks likely to happen in March. Going to be a busy month!
No.28 – complete the novel I started in 2004. Actually, I’m getting quite close to completing a first draft. That said I’ve been close before.
No.31 – meeting a Saturday. I think I’m going to need plenty of help with this one, but a first e-mail has been sent, and who knows?!
No.36 – getting a photo with an international rugby league player. I do have someone in mind, and I’m hopeful that a long-standing friend from Gateshead Thunder days might just be able to pull a string or two. If all goes well, I’ll be back in the car and heading for West Yorkshire.
Finally, no.3 – selling a picture I have drawn. It will soon become glaringly obvious that I can’t draw, but here is my first ever effort at an oil painting. To the right is the photo overlooking the Eston Hills that I have tried to copy—albeit after a fashion.
The next step is to try and actually sell the picture, so I will be putting it on eBay later today in the hope that someone somewhere will consider making a bid. Whatever is raised will be added to my Just Giving account and the winner (and I’ll have to restrict this to UK only for postage reasons) will need to know that the picture measures 10”x8” and will fit easily into any modern dustbin.
Note to self… don’t consider a career in selling.
Every now and then, sport can throw up some truly wonderful moments. Of course opinion is subjective, but for me, this morning’s women’s snowboard slopestyle final at the Sochi Winter Olympics provided one such moment.
By now, most of you will probably have heard that Team GB’s Jenny Jones won the bronze medal—Great Britain’s first ever “official” Olympic medal on snow (skier Alain Baxter’s Vicks inhaler in 2002 notwithstanding)—to spark some emotional scenes of celebration.
Before yesterday’s men’s final, I knew nothing about this particular sport, but I now class myself as a bit of an armchair expert. First of all, a certain “ohhh!!” sound from the commentary team means that the competitor has spun round in the air quite a lot of times before landing safely. By adding a few decibels, or just an element of extra excitement to the delivery, that indicates either that an innovative move has been attempted, or there has been a spectacular failure.
Finally a massive “yessss” confirms that the final competitor Anna Gasser (the only girl left who could deny Jenny a medal) had made a huge blunder and could not better the Briton’s score. And that was the cue for those celebrations to begin in earnest.
Jenny's second run had scored 87.25 points, putting her in gold medal position at the time. She’d done a few twisty, somersaulty things and they looked pretty impressive to me, but clearly the important factor for the judges was a string of perfect landings. Use your hand to steady yourself and you were effectively out of medal contention (irrespective of the difficulty of the move being attempted)—using your head (as one poor competitor did during the second run of the final) was another effective way of guaranteeing a low score.
Jenny’s total was overtaken twice as the second round progressed, but in the most dramatic of finishes, she clinched that historic bronze medal by just a quarter of a point, with the eventual winner being USA's Jamie Anderson. The reaction from the commentary box was gloriously parochial and unprofessional, but arguably befitting of such an amazing achievement.
Unbeknown to Jenny, her parents had flown over to watch her compete, but it was clear from the television pictures that her father’s face had appeared on a big screen, so when Matthew Pinsent tried his impression of Surprise Surprise, Jenny was already
aware that her parents were there. If things fell a bit flat from a BBC perspective, the reunion of mother and father with their 33 year-old daughter, and now Olympic medallist, was very special indeed.
Perhaps it wasn’t right that the viewers should invade the family’s privacy, but it made for magical television. I’m sure I was far from alone in wiping away a tear, but sometimes that’s just what wonderful sporting moments can do…
Earlier today, I visited Middlesbrough’s Dar ul Islam Central Mosque as part of my 40Fifty Challenge. Although I was with a couple of friends in Imran Naeem (who had arranged the visit) and Zak Mahmoud, I will admit to feeling slightly nervous beforehand. It was to be a completely new experience and rightly or wrongly, I saw myself very much as the “odd man out”.
Imran, Zak and I had already talked at length about various aspects of the Islamic faith and my fence-straddling position as an agnostic, and what is great is that whilst I’m in an ideal position to respect their beliefs, I was afforded equal respect for the sharing some of the experiences that underpin my personal beliefs (irrespective of whether or not they conform to any “religion”). When such recognition is given by individuals whose lives are so strongly guided by faith, well that actually means an awful lot.
Anyway, with shoes safely removed, I sat at the back of the room, which filled steadily as the clock ticked towards half past twelve. On arrival, there was time for quiet individual prayer, the precise form of which seemed to vary, but it was apparent (and, if I’m honest, surprising) that there was a significant number of different cultural backgrounds or countries of origin represented, all brought together by a shared faith.
The Imam gave a sermon, the majority of which was in English— which helped! Whilst I’m sure his words resonated strongly with the majority of those in the room, I listened intently and was certainly interested by what he had to say. Due entirely to media stereo-typing, I had expected the sermon to be delivered forcefully, perhaps even aggressively, but that absolutely wasn’t the case. There were definite parallels with the style of delivery I would have heard in Church of England services when I was much younger, and there was something pleasing about having my preconceptions proved wrong.
I should also add that I got pins and needles in my right foot, and a particularly hot back caused by the pipe against which I was resting, but I stayed admirably still throughout!
After the sermon, there were more regimented prayers, all in Arabic, and I was struck by the contrast between the initial individual prayer
and reflection and the final group prayers, which clearly united those in attendance. I was also acutely aware that I was the only person sitting down amongst the rows of standing men—that feeling of self-consciousness increased sharply when everyone knelt down and my head suddenly appeared over the top!
Thankfully everyone stood up. Phew…
Then knelt down again. Drat…
Anyway, with prayer over, the room started to empty. Before he left, the Imam came over and greeted me with a traditional hug, which I certainly hadn’t expected. I thanked him for allowing me to come into the Mosque and listen to his sermon, and was duly invited to come back again in the future. Shattered preconception number two… a non-Muslim being so warmly welcomed by someone of such standing.
I have formed the impression that there are members of the local Islamic community who appreciate when genuine interest is shown in their culture and beliefs, that open, non-judgmental conversations can take place with non-Muslims, and mutual respect and friendship can grow out of outward diversity. If that is the case, then I think that’s fantastic.
It was a pleasure to be able to visit the Mosque. I’m really grateful to Imran and to Zak, and also to those who didn’t know me, but greeted and welcomed me nonetheless. Thank you!
And finally, just to tie off a couple of random loose ends from the car conversation: The legendary silent comedian Harold Lloyd did indeed lose his right thumb and forefinger following an accident with a prop bomb in 1919, and he also became a well-respected photo-grapher in later life. Hopefully I’ll soon learn some facts which will earn me a decent salary!!
Aged fifteen and at the dawn of the 1980s, my favourite band was Stiff Little Fingers. The Irish quartet, fronted by Jake Burns, released their second album in 1980, and SLF would eventually become the first band I saw play live—at Newcastle City Hall at the back end of 1982 as I recall. I also saw their “farewell” gig early the following year. On an undeniably emotional evening, the band made their final exit stage left to the strains of No Regrets by Midge Ure.
However, on the basis that the current line up—fronted by Jake Burns and with original bassist Ali McMordie back in the fold—is still touring three decades later, Midge’s version of The Walker Brothers’ classic was clearly not the most appropriate song choice all those years ago. I reckon they should have opted for the tune that was played at the end of each episode of the kids’ television series Here Come the Double Deckers when the characters gathered together, waved at the camera and sang “See you next week!”
The generic term “new wave” was applied to a lot of bands that were spawned by the short-lived, but undeniably hugely influential punk movement. Quite a few of these bands achieved mainstream chart success (of sorts) and I wasn’t averse to sitting next to my radio cassette, fingers hovering over the record and play buttons in the hope that the next song was by The Ruts, The Undertones, or the like and Kid Jensen wouldn’t go and spoil everything by talking over the end of the song. Actually, being able to hit the pause button before the DJ interrupted was an art—and one that I never mastered.
Away from the top forty, simmering away in the background, there was a vibrant indie scene and much as post-punk music pointed me in a new direction, it was some of the bands associated with the small independent labels that really resonated with me. To be considered for inclusion, a record basically had to be distributed outside the framework of the major companies. The first chart was compiled in January 1980, with the inaugural number one being Where’s Captain Kirk? by a punk band called Spizzenergi—well they were for a while: the group had a habit of changing their name on an annual basis.
Meanwhile, back in York, my father was a schoolmaster and I actually grew up living at the school I attended. It was an almost unique situation that is hard to try and explain, but in many ways, never being away from the school environment meant that my formative and teenage years were, at times, both difficult and lonely. I wasn’t without friends, but being the son of a teacher was never likely to make me universally popular—and what I desperately needed was something to spark my individuality.
I can’t pinpoint the specific moment, but there was a defining record, a four track EP by the New Mills-based outfit Blitz, entitled All Out Attack. I had never such a raw sound, brutal, distorted guitar and rasping, intimidating vocals and right from the opening chords of Someone’s Gonna Die, I knew I was listening to something new, something real. I was carried along on a wave of adrenaline the like of which I’d rarely experienced. I no longer felt like the outsider so many people had tried to make me. I didn’t need to conform to the pathetic stereotype that knew all the words to Wheels of Steel by Saxon. I might have been lonely at times, but now I had an identity.
The EP spent ages in the indie charts, peaking at number three. As usual, the press found a need to label the band, which comprised two skinheads and two punks. The record was the first to be released on the No Future label as Oi1—I don’t know whether this was the origin of the Oi! genre, but to be honest I don’t really care. All the mattered was the sheer power of the songs (Someone’s Gonna Die, Attack, Fight to Live and 45 Revolutions), and the profound effect they had on one particular teenager.
I acquired my copy (the blank labelled second pressing) from Red Rhino Records, an independent shop situated on Gillygate in York whose takings were boosted on a regular basis by my pocket money. Red Rhino is now long gone—I believe the premises is now a craft shop. Very rock ‘n’ roll.
The four-track debut EP was relatively common amongst the punk bands of the time. For starters there was Anti Pasti [now that it classic comedy] who released their Fore Sore Points EP including the original heavier and slower version of No Government and another memorable offering was Realities of War by Discharge, which was even more hardcore, or extreme—with a relentless drum-beat and lyrics that were often still indecipherable even if you had them written down in front of you!
I do recall a slightly awkward moment when I was sitting in my room with the song Always Restrictions playing merrily away in the back-ground. Dad opened the door just as singer Cal Morris launched into a tirade of expletives.
Dad beat a fairly swift retreat and no words were exchanged. Some-times a disapproving look is all that is needed!
As an interesting aside, after the original Blitz line-up had gone their separate ways, guitarist Alan “Nidge” Miller (who would tragically lose his life in a car accident in 2007) recruited new members and, using the name Blitz, released the 1989 album The Killing Dream. I did find an interview with Miller from that time, where he highlighted the following words, which were spoken during the song All You Want: “How many men of less worth than yourself have obtained so many of life’s rewards, whilst you who can imagine so much, have so very little.” I’m sure the quote was intended to make a strong statement, but whatever the sentiment, it lost a lot of its potential impact for me, when I had heard the words spoken by the character Sardo Numspa, the baddie from the Eddie Murphy film, The Golden Child!
Anyway, in November 2013, I managed to get in touch with Neil “Mackie” McLennan, Blitz’s original bassist, who was only too happy to (in his words) “ramble on about the good old days”—and I was only too happy to let him!
It might be helpful if I give you a bit of an insight to the background of the record. We [Blitz] had been trying to get interest to get a record released. We had a little bit of press through Sounds Magazine, who were the only music paper interested in “Streetpunk” or “Oi”— oh how we disliked that label, it was all just punk rock to us.
We had a full set of songs and decided to record the best four. Hologram studios in Stockport had an offer going on, where if a band block-booked a week’s session, the dead time—ie when the band or engineer had had enough, usually about seven, eight o’clock at night—you could use time through the night for a reduced rate, so we went in for a couple of nights, and recorded and mixed in just two sessions I think it was.
It was quite surreal to be stood on Stockport market, where the studio was based, at something like four in the morning, having a break from the studio with the waft of Robinson’s brewery in the air. So romantic!
We bashed out the four songs “live” as we would play them normally, and overdubbed vocals and backing vocals the next night, followed by mixing.
It was a great time for us, What I always loved—and still do—is going in a room with an idea, knocking it into shape and coming out with a new song, and to get to hear them recorded was the icing on the cake for me. It didn’t matter if no one liked our stuff, we had written and recorded it and were happy just to have done that.
As far as the inspiration behind the EP, it’s been pretty well documented that the early eighties were dark times for working class kids in the UK—the miners’ strike, three-day week, Tories fighting the unions, mass unemployment, you get the picture— and I suppose the songs were echoing the times, Listening back, there is a lot of violent imagery in the songs. There was a lot of violence around the punk scene back then, and this probably explains our mindset at the time.
Musically the bands we were into were the Clash, the Ramones SLF [Stiff Little Fingers], so I suppose it’s those bands we would be trying to emulate, but we were much more “raw” and it sound corny to say it now but more “street”—we certainly hadn't been to art school or university.
We replied to an advert we had seen in Sounds for punk band demos, and sent the demo tape cassette. The advert was for No Future records and they wanted to put the four tracks out as an EP, just as we had recorded it, warts and all. We agreed and it became the first release on the new label. Sounds got behind it and we got great reviews. It enabled us to get decent gigs and got our name to places we never thought we would reach. It had no real impact financially, or to us as people at the time, but it did change people’s view of us, and we didn’t realise at the time just how far reaching it would prove to be.
Back then the band meant everything to us, Cliché time again, but it was our way out, there were no jobs, we loved music and punk rock, so if we could use that to achieve something then great stuff. Listening back now it sounds raw, a blast of sound, a warts and all recording of a moment in time, we did it quickly on shitty gear, and pretty lo fi, but that’s what makes it.
Great stuff, and a truly great record.
Here are all four tracks - feel free to listen, but please be
aware the songs contain occasional strong language/lyrics.