#16 – Lincoln in the Bardo

Reading Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders, brought to mind an elective general anaesthetic, of which I’ve had several. Your approach and your mindset at the time of reading it, may, however, determine whether this feels like receiving, or administering the mind and body-disabling drugs. For me, it felt like going through the whole procedure again, from rolling into the anaesthetic room to the waking up in the recovery area with somebody of smugly superior knowledge telling you why what you’ve just put yourself through was essentially a good thing.  

I’d read all over the place that it was a challenging read. It’s not the subject matter I found difficult – in fact it was part of the reason I liked the sound of it. Simply put, it’s about Abe Lincoln mourning the death of his son, who is trapped in ‘the Bardo’  – the state between death and rebirth. Lincoln visits his son’s crypt and is observed by a group of spirits who provide much of the commentary of the novel.  

It’s written in an exciting, innovative new format, according to some critics, with the name of the person/spirit who just spoke underneath the section of dialogue.  

Osian Powell 

There is so much of it that it becomes very difficult, or annoying, or boring to follow it. As an anonymous critic also said to me: 

By about half way, I couldn’t be bothered to read the name of who just spoke so I just read straight through. 

Anonymous critic  

I’m sure some revelled in the novelty of what is simply a different way of representing speech. 

Some who revelled in the novelty 

You get the picture. All I thought was that it showed why, over hundreds of years of writing, a few similar ways of presenting speech or dialogue by and large have been maintained and trusted. They work. 

I may of course be showing my limitations as a reader (and tendency to drink too-strong wine while I read chapters of tricky books and therefore sometimes lose the plot, literally. Although in hindsight I think I was drinking whilst reading this in an effort to make it more interesting.)  For too much of the book I was wondering what relevance the commentary/dialogue had to the story, how was it moving the narrative forward? By about page 75 I seem to recall I was basically willing it to end.   

What’s this got to do with anaesthetics?  

An anaesthetist will approach the task with seriousness, but in a calm, relaxed manner. This is probably the best way to think about Lincoln. They’ll be focussed throughout. It will be routine for them, require their attention, with little room for error (and no wine). There are parts of the process when anaesthetists can be less attentive, reliant on their automated machines to highlight any anomalies, but will be alert the whole time; interested. This is needed throughout this book. It’s different, needs alertness and attention as well as your automated instincts for good, intricate writing.  

If you’re a patient, however, it’s a different story. Arriving at hospital for planned surgery is an exciting prospect. You’re going to be ‘mended’. You generally think about it for a while, weighing up the evidence, people’s opinions, pros and cons. I’d done some of this before deciding to read this Man Booker Prize winning, “innovative” novel which is, according to The Guardian, “head and shoulders above most contemporary fiction”. As I started, I was still excited. It started confidently, like the assuring conversation between patient, surgeon and anaesthetist.

Unfortunately, after the initial excitement and intrigue, for large parts of the book, (possibly those read with the Viognier), I got lost. Bored. In parts, with the ghosts of the Bardo chattering away, it was like I was unconsciously floating through time with only the skill and consciousness of those (anaesthetists) who had clearly enjoyed and recommended the book being enough to keep me alive and reading it. They must be on to something, right? There must be something I’m missing? I shouldn’t be thinking that reading this book is a complete waste of some of the precious 44 million minutes I have on this earth, before I myself end up in the Bardo! In fact, the only difference I could ascertain between reading this and having a general anaesthetic is that at least at the end of an anaesthetic your life (hopefully) has been improved in some measurable way. This novel added little to my existence. And I write that as someone who truly loves great fiction and new innovative ways of treating subject matters, including the between-life-and-afterlife.   

Great literature should do many things. It should make us challenge assumptions, look at the world differently. Teach us, help us think about things from different perspectives. Appreciate skill and talent, yes, but also have a purpose. And for me, I want to enjoy a book as well, there has to be some level of entertainment, especially as life gets more serious as you get older. Most anaesthetists enjoy the whole event. If you enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo then I congratulate your skill and admire your ability to focus precisely on that which appears to be so imprecise.  

The book scores 3.4 stars out of 5 on Amazon’s reviews with 169 reviewers. This however, is made up of mostly 5, or 1 star ratings. I wouldn’t recommend this book based purely on my opinion. But if you do tackle it, approach it like you’re giving someone an anaesthetic, and you might enjoy it.  

#15 – Jimi Hendrix, Red House

#15 – Jimi Hendrix, Red House


When did you last get angry? Like, raging. Breath held, sucking your sternum into your lungs until your collarbones snap. Just me? I doubt it. Think back and ask yourself, did it help? Did it achieve anything? Did it actually help the situation in any way whatsoever? Did it make you feel better? I doubt that, too.

We get angry at the smallest of things. Crazy, really. The damp cloth left unsqueezed in the cloudy, day-old dishwater in the sink. Divorces have been filed for less. The empty butter tub that’s been put back in the fridge, discovered only as your toast pops in the morning, ruining breakfast ahead of that big meeting. The amateur who waits until they get to the ticket barrier before hunting through half their belongings in their bag to only find last week’s stubs, who turns around and walks back through the queue against the flow. Against. The flow! 

Anger is everywhere, and it feels justified – politicians who are fools; professionals who are incompetent; Joe Wicks. Or worse, Olly Murs. Ok, these last two aren’t so small. But in most situations, anger doesn’t really get you anywhere. I’m not for a minute advocating a hug for dear old Joe or Olly, but I would say that as a general approach to living a happier life, speaking from personal experience as most could, there are better choices than anger almost all of the time.

Sure, Mike Phillips, the legendary Welsh No. 9 may have built his reputation on it, but it didn’t help him at 3am in the golden-arched burger establishment. Even Anthony ‘Angry Chef’ Warner, whose acerbic yet hilarious invective of pretty much every food fad & myth popularised over the past 20 years is borne of a desire to help people and stop them making bad decisions.

Imagine you could pause, just at the point the anger is about to boil over. You press hold on your surroundings, and everything…stops.

What would you do? Would you clench your teeth & fists tighter, slam the button and let rip? Or could you do something amazing?

You can tell from the intro of ‘Red House‘ that Hendrix knows what’s coming. He’s weeping, the writing’s on the wall. The senses are on high alert. His voice in the first verse tells you where it’s heading. We begin to feel his pain, then we realise. ‘Wait a minute, something’s wrong, the key won’t unlock this door‘. The big bends on the guitar fills contorting his heart as much as his torso. ‘My baby don’t live here no more.’jimi3

Oh Jimi. ‘She didn’t tell me nothin’ about it. But that’s alright I still got my guitar, look out baby.‘ And at that point, at 2 minutes 11 seconds  into the track, there is nothing but anger. Pure white rage flowing from this desperate agony.  What do you do?

Do you explode? Do you scream? All this hate & fury? At this point in history, faced with one of the oldest stories ever told, that’s happened for centuries gone by and will happen for millennia to come, a woman leaving a man, the story that has been the very essence of blues music since before Ms Johnson gave birth to young Robert in Hazlehurst, Mississippi back in 1911, what  would you do? Hendrix? Jimi Hendrix pauses.

What follows, is one of the most electrifying blues guitar solos ever to have been played, combining to make this one of the greatest blues songs ever to have been recorded. Its understated complexity & technicality. Its raw power. Expressing exactly what you or I would felt had we got home and our beloved had walked out on us. As storming a run through those 12 simple bars as could ever have been felt at the time or has ever been felt since. Genius is used to describe Hendrix for many reasons, but for me the simplicity yet emotional explosion of his talent has never been more evident than here. It is the perfect rendition of the most treasured of combinations – Hendrix, playing nothin’ but the blues.

And finally, like any man who’s been in this position can relate to, and as the blues instructs that it must, humour and lust come back to the fore. As the final verse climaxes, we know, with delight, that Jimi will be ok. ‘If my baby won’t love me no more, I know her sister will.’

Next time you feel the red mist rising, pause and think of ‘Red House’ instead. See if you can direct that emotion to something more constructive. Get creative. Get humourous, get some good out of it. Do something wonderful, something beautiful.  Make music, make love. Just try not to get angry.*

* Some may argue that Hendrix adopted a very different outlook when singing ‘Hey Joe’, encouraging cold-blooded murder as a response to a similar scenario. To those, I would remind them that in that he was singing about Joe, whoever that mad bastard was. Red House is about Jimi and what Jimi did.  


#14 – Hackney Colliery Band – Sharpener

#14 – Hackney Colliery Band – Sharpener  

The artists of Brick Lane. The curry houses, the creatives. Dives & designers; piss artists, musicians, usually the same. The painters & graffiti mob. You can smell the anticipation. A mixture of fresh roast Exmouth and the warm fuzz of the frying spices from Bangladesh and India. On a cold day in January it’s enough to light up your sinuses and put a smile on your heart.  

The critics condemn the closure of this or that local. The locals decry the mass gentrification and wave of hipsters taking over their home, understandably. But it’s still an inviting place for a midday stroll at the weekend.   

Old buildings make it clear you’re still in the heart of East London. The mix of accents, North American tourists to friendly local lilts of Asia, Europe and Landan, make it clear you’re still in the heart of East London, comfortingly so.  

The mighty Ladyfist

On to the music. I once saw Ladyfist at Vibe Bar before they both shut down, possibly due to artistic differences. Both were big cultural losses, but warm lager aside, it was an excellent gig.  

At midday the best you can hope for are the pulsing beats blaring from the various market record stalls, stores or kids with those portable speakers. I had my own Marshall speakers wrapped tightly round my head and had the Hackney Colliery Band tracking my every step back to the underground.  

I was bought their ‘Sharpener’ album as a gift by a very special person. And on coloured vinyl! I’d never heard of them before, which is shameful since I work in Hackney. Though not in a colliery thankfully. If only colliers had music like this to listen to. It’s an electrifying mix of big brass, beats and bass, playing like they want everyone to jump up and dance. Tuneful and melodic, the tracks range from happy big band party to sinister soundtracks, the opener, ‘Jump Then Run‘ being a fine example of both.   


The brass dominates the record but would be nothing without the thundering drums. If this were a soccer team the trumpets & trombones would be the world class strikers getting all the glory, but the drums would be the D keeping the clean sheet to win the titles. Listen to ‘When You Know‘ and you’ll know what I’m talking about.  

It’s a fine album from a fine band bringing big horns together with bigger beats. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and purists may bemoan this shift or that fusion. But they’re branching out and reaching out, giving old music to new generations. Similar to how Ladyfist did cutting their teeth before embarking on the big time.  It brilliantly melds trends with tradition and is sometimes all you need to bring about a smile on a cold winter’s day. Just like Brick Lane.  


#13 – Black Betty – Lead Belly / Ram Jam 

#13 – Black Betty – Lead Belly/Ram Jam 

“She really get me high, you know that’s no lie.” 

Manners can be interpreted differently. One tribe’s rude is another mob’s greeting. We recognise them as generally a good thing to have or exhibit, but often get it wrong. Done badly, we cringe or take offence. Done well, we’re put at ease, we smile and are made to feel slightly more human.   

If you believe the internet, the ‘Black Betty’ of this legendary folk song’s title could refer to at least any of the following: a woman, a weapon; a whip; a drink; a drunk; a vessel for a drink; a means of transport. The Wikipedia entry is worth a visit for the claimed stories behind some of these. But from the exciting (The Lost Fingers) to the completely bizarre versions (Tom Jones, or ‘TJ’ as he is on here), and everything in between (Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Meatloaf, Spiderbait, and so on), you can see it probably meant something different to each artist. And, like manners, all are generally well-intended but often don’t hit the mark, and likely to induce the odd cringe and grudge.  

Whatever your interpretation – maybe an entry in Benjamin Franklin’s 1736 ‘Drinker’s Dictionary’, or a prison wagon – you only really need to listen to two versions: Lead Belly’s early recording and of course, Ram Jam’s seminal cover. Raw power linking the two, coming essentially from the singer’s comfort to just riff with a beat.  

She’s From Birmingham

Why does something so simple make you feel more human? If you cross paths with a familiar face today and they’re rude to you, you’ll begrudge them for the rest of the day. If they have nothing materially important to say, but say it in the most endearing, fun way possible, you’ll take that with you always, that feeling of instant warmth and hope. These two versions – one will be familiar, the other maybe not – are everything you could want from an old drinker’s tale and a juiced-up rock cover.   

They also, brilliantly, meant that most covers after these, sound like they’re either trying to out-rock Ram Jam or over-simplify Lead Belly, both of which are just, if not rude, impolite to say the least, and don’t work. Admittedly, Ram Jam’s track runs out of steam a bit but the near-pointless instrumental bridge before the finale can be excused. It serves simply to tee us up for another cracking, rocking verse to sign off with. Birmingham, Alabama has never been pronounced with more verve.   jeffrey

I’d be surprised if anyone didn’t have a smile on their face and a jig in their hips after just 90 seconds of listening to Ram Jam’s classic cover, and may even want to get Black Betty’d as a result.    

Cover, imitate what you want. Interpret things however you please. But remember, mind your manners.  

What I’m reading:   

Jeffrey Eugenides, Fresh Complaint – a collection of short stories. Occasionally you come across prose so beautifully crafted it makes you wish you’d known about the author 10 years ago. Stories of characters we could easily have known, lives we could easily have lived, or wish we’d lived (or wished we hadn’t). ‘Baster’, the highlight for me, exemplifying Eugenides’ skill at handling dark and complex issues with humour and lightness of touch. Highly recommended. 

#12 Daft Punk – Homework

#12 Daft Punk  Homework 

File 05-01-2018, 22 02 51

One of my new year’s resolutions was to see things more, look at things differently: food; art; relationships; surroundings. Be aware. Breathe more. Be mindful.   

In all my years at all the Welsh train stations, I hadn’t noticed this before. I mean, obviously times, destinations, platforms and so on are always announced in Welsh and English. This pleases me but must mildly irritate hurried monolinguists trying to hear which platform the delayed 15:26 back to Llundain is going from.  

What I hadn’t noticed until last week, is that even if it’s the same word, the English announcements actually pronounce the Welsh station name in English. Even if it’s the same word! This makes no sense. Especially as the Welsh announcement goes just before it; there’s no excuse that the recorded announcer couldn’t pronounce it or didn’t know how to. It’s literally just been said. Copy it.

  ticketI’m not talking about Brecon/Aberhonddu or Bridgend/Pen-y-bont. That’s clear – one is in Welsh, the other in English. I’m talking about places that don’t have a translation – the Caernarfons, Llanellis. Llanelli FFS! Do they really think non-Welsh-speakers won’t know where or what Llanelli is, but will know exactly when to get off when the Welsh announcer, doing her best Nigella Lawson impression calls “all passengers for Claneckli”? This didn’t really annoy, more baffle me. When departing Berlin, I need to know where Schönefeld is, not Scone-feld. In Paris I want the Moulin Rouge, not the Mole-Inn Rogue, interesting as that may be.  

Thankfully nothing is lost in translation when it comes to Daft Punk’s incredible 1997 debut studio album, Homework. You may not speak ‘dance’ or know how to translate majestic techno beats, but it doesn’t matter. This is the ultimate cross-over, novice to maestro, veteran-introducing behemoth of an electronic dance album.   




You’ll know Around the World. Melodious and poppy, by now classic Daft Punk. Da Funk is a powerhouse that makes you want to ram your head inside the speaker for when the bass hits. The beats and genre-defining sounds are relentless – hi-hats on Phoenix making the most interesting 90-second drum intro you’ll need to hear.  

Rollin’ & Scratchin is a 7½ minute soundtrack to an epic game of giant Jenga, nerves falling like pine needles from a Christmas tree by the end. It comes as a mild relief in some ways that the back end of the album is marginally weaker in my view and doesn’t quite sustain the emotion of the charged first half, Burnin‘ being the intense exception.  

The entire feast is enticing and compelling. For a dance album that screams loops, samples and repetition there’s something new every time, on almost every track. I’ve listened to it straight through 4 times in the past few weeks including once in my living room, twice on a train, once in Llanelli.  

It made me think again about travel, and about music. Not much does that these days and this is 20 years old. It made me think about life, the mark of a great work of art. More than anything else, this album makes you feel like fun.   

It made me re-think all my new year’s resolutions. They could be simplified. They should be everyone’s.    

2018: Be daft. Be more punk. Listen to Homework.  


#11 East of Eden – John Steinbeck


East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I’m back. The real slim shady. Please stand up. Maybe not… 

I stopped blogging for about 6 months. I didn’t even reach my self-imposed, measly aim of 12 blog posts first time round. Why? Nobody read it. Or very few people read it. Which I took to mean that nobody liked it. Which surely meant it wasn’t any good. Shell dented, pride wounded, I withdrew. If nobody read my blog what was the point? Who was interested in what a 30 year-old album made a 35 year-old child feel like on a Sunday morning crying into his coffee, wishing he’d made less of his weekend and more of his ambitions of his artistic life? But that would be an excuse.

We can all suffer from hubris. It has advantages, but it can hold you back. I mean, seriously, what did I expect? To pour my heart out a few times over something that excited me but most people couldn’t give two damns about, and overnight turn into Deliciously f*cking Ella getting rich off 3 million hits?

The dream

Come on. Anyone who has done this, or tried this, or succeeded or failed at this will tell you getting any sort of interest in a brand new blog, even something as heart-racingly pant-soiling as “clean eating”, takes around 2 years. And I’ve just wasted 6 months feeling sorry for myself. Or being lazy. Or both.

Clacking away

In those 6 months I came to realise a wonderful thing. What does it matter? What does it matter if nobody reads this? What difference will it make to anything or anyone on earth if this gets read or not? I realised, too late, in my lonely, teary state that I’m not doing this for you. I’m not doing it for any money. I’m not even doing it as a wind-up or to annoy The Boss by clacking away at the keys while she’s trying to concentrate on her MiC catch-up, as amusing as that is. I’m doing it for myself.

So here I am, after a long holiday, writing something that no one will read and even fewer people will care about. Because it makes me look at things differently. It makes me notice, in a time when so little of value truly gets noticed. Because it connects me in a completely different way to some of the things I love. Records and writing.

I’m not normally one for biblical anything let alone unexpected parallels, so it may seem peculiar that I’ve chosen East of Eden to kick-start the second coming of the blog. But I only came to the book recently, and it took me on a journey. From the despair and anguish to wild ambition and hope. In a way, some would argue, that only religion, or passion, can. And sometimes that’s all we need. 

Steinbeck’s soft, tender tone belies the brutality of what’s at hand. Murder, betrayal, prostitution, depravity, family, place and love. And I was hooked throughout all 601 pages. 

His descriptions of the valley & the farms. The smells and sights of this stunning backdrop set you up for your ride and give you comfort, when perhaps you should be on your guard. 

Wonderful, exceptional characters. To despise, to love. Cathy and Caleb, Sam and Lee. Characters you wish would make different decisions. Some you wished weren’t quite as real or familiar as they seem, some you wished could be real.


In addition to all these contradictory emotions, it provides a poignant, simple philosophy that we could all do well to recall from time to time. Lee’s version of ‘Timshel’ – thou mayest. Not, ‘you must’, or ‘you shall’, but ‘you may’. And, therefore, you may not. It’s in your hands. Think about this next time you’re unsure of which decision to take.

And so back to the blog. You can take it or leave it. It really doesn’t matter. I’ll no longer agonise over every pointless word or worry that sentences don’t make sense, as I’m sure many won’t. I won’t pore over every fact or reference or worry that I’m making a fool of myself.

I got it wrong. The response to low readership should not be to withdraw, to write less, but to double down. Try harder, get better. So my aim now is simply to produce. To make something. To write.

So read it. Share it. ‘Like’ it. Laugh at it. Or don’t. Timshel.


#10 – Prince, Controversy

#10 – Prince, Controversy 

Life is just a game, we’re all just the same

Sex. Like booze, it’s a great leveler. Of class, of society. If you’ve ever wondered what links the aristocracy to the proletariat, ask them about their drinking habits and their sexual preferences. 

Will there be an individual as sexual as Prince to ever walk the earth again? I doubt it. I recently argued that ‘L.A Woman’ by The Doors could make you feel cool even if you weren’t. ‘Controversy’ on the other hand, will make you feel horny, desirable (to men and women, whether you like it or not) and just downright sexy. And not just from the track names that don’t leave much to the imagination – ‘Sexuality’, ‘Do Me, Baby’, ‘Private Joy’ and ‘Jack U Off’

What else could have followed ‘Dirty Mind’ as a 3rd album? Musically, it’s what we’ve now come to expect from the master whose brilliance should never be taken for granted – inspired fusions, limb-shaking beats, snaking and striking melodies, horns and synthesizers combining to make extraordinary music to make you feel extraordinarily sexy. 

Prince 2

The tone of his voice (urrrhhhh). The brashness of the lyrics. The production, the seduction. He has an inexplicable way of making you feel like he’s singing just to you, like he’s actually hitting on you, taking you home right there & then. The complexity of the rhythm on the title track makes you walk with just the right kick of knees. The funky-ass punch of the bass-line on ‘Let’s Work’ magnetises your hips back and for uncontrollably.

Incidentally, Prince and I have more in common than you might think. We both had unusual problems with our hips for our age – his apparently from wearing high heels, mine allegedly from…sports (I’m sticking to it). We were dependent on opioids to function and to sleep, for him, tragically, fatally so. We both play(ed) lead guitar. He supported the Rolling Stones on their 1982 tour, the year after ‘Controversy’ was released. I supported them by going to their 2015 tour.

As the name suggests, ‘Controversy’ dabbles in religion and politics. And with prayer, gun control, nuclear war and Russian relations it does so in a way that it’s as relevant today as it was 35 years ago. Prince sadly never lived to see Trump in the White House, but I suspect if he had he’d have done more than sing “Donald, Talk to Russia” in response, ironically or otherwise. 

One of the things I’ll always love about Prince’s music is the sudden insertion of the deep notes of his voice interjecting with the floating highs, hitting you like a slap on the arse, with just the right firmness and suggestiveness. The album oozes funk and soul while keeping it all highly sexual, as it should be – we’re mammals after all.

There are many noteworthy facts surrounding the album, the interest of which will depend on how much you love Prince or how in awe you are of him. For example, it was the album which began his association with the colour purple. He plays most of the instruments on here, with the exception of some keys and backing vocals (mainly on ‘Jack U Off’ because of course he couldn’t do that alone). It’s when you listen to how incredibly accomplished the musicianship is, you reflexively bow to what a talent we were graced with, and how sad and tragic it was that he passed away last year.

Whatever your politics, your background, your beliefs or your preferences, we could all do with having more music like this in our lives from time to time. And just be a bit more…Prince.

#9 – The Doors, L. A. Woman

    Motel, money, murder, madness,

Let’s change the mood from glad to sadness”  

Since Miles Davis’ 1957 seminal works, ‘Birth of The Cool’, the word ‘cool’ has best been used as a noun. It’s, well, just a bit more cool. When describing something, it’s should be thought of in the same sense as, say, a place name can sometimes, irritatingly, be used as an adjective. As in, “that sound is so Los Angeles.”  


I seem to recall a judge once said of pornography, “it can be hard to describe, but you know it when you see it”. When I say recall, I mean I read about it in a law book, rather than actually heard the judge say it. From the dock.  


I’d argue the same can said of ‘cool’ – you’ll struggle to pin it down in words or capture its meaning with any effectiveness. But as sure as you know you can’t be cool chasing a ping-pong ball down the street, you know that when you see it, you know something’s cool. And if you want to know what cool sounds like, then listen to The Doors’ exquisite 1971 record, ‘L. A. Woman’. The very quintessence of cool. 

Jim Morrison’s gravelly vocal laid against Robbie Krieger’s horn-inducing, seductive guitar lines and the beautifully minimalist rhythm accompaniments will make you melt or growl, depending where you are or who you’re with. In the coolest possible way.  

The roaring opener, The Changeling, sets you up for the groove-fest that follows. Been Down So Long is not just instrumentally spot on, but lyrically moving in a way that actually draws your gut in, but very slowly. The sheer class and quality continues all the way through, with belters like Crawling King Snake and The WASP keeping things raw, emotive and quite brilliant.  

The best blues 

Never mind being the best Doors album, I’d go so far as to say this is one of the best blues albums from non-pure-blues artists of all time.  

This blog is easy to write at times as all I do is listen to an album and write about how it makes me feel. And listening to ‘L. A. Woman’ just makes you feel cool, no matter how uncool you are, which is quite something.  

It’s being a nobody, strutting down Berwick Street feeling so confident you think you could take out Anthony Joshua in the 11th. It’s drinking a round with Brad Pitt, listening to his woes of divorce, thinking that if you’ve survived a bust-up or two with your partner and are still in a half-stable, half-happy relationship you’ve somehow achieved more in life than he has. It’s buying a blue denim jacket in your mid-thirties and feeling like you did when you wore one in the mid-nineties.  

I’ve done two of these three in the past week. And I know none of them are that cool. But if you do pretty much anything to a soundtrack of this, Morrison, Krieger & co’s finest hour then you may even feel like you were Brad Pitt taking down Joshua in the last and stealing his denim jacket after it just for the crack.  

At over 7 minutes long you’d think you’d want them to end, but the closing tracks of both sides of the LP – ‘L. A. Woman and ‘Riders of the Storm are so engaging, so gripping, so absorbing and so much fun you just want them to go on and on. 

Miles Davis may have given birth to it, but with ‘L. A. Woman’, The Doors epitomized cool for generations to come. A fitting send-off to and from the great, the legendary Jim Morrison, who died 3 months after the album was released.  



Howard Jacobson appears to be the first to have put pen to paper to satirise the horror show that is the post-election United States administration and has done so with a parody of Trump and various other unsavoury characters’ earlier lives in the run up to the vote. 

In his inimitable and unmatchable style, Jacobson uses precision of detail and beautifully crafted language to tackle the serious issue in a funny but devastatingly castigating way. And it leaves you thinking, thank god real life isn’t like this…until you remember what he’s writing about and it makes you wish some of the politicians society is offered as a choice were only a tenth as competent as Jacobson is a writer. Bravo, Mr Jacobson, your fury is shared. 

#8 – The Beatles, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 

“Yours sincerely, wasting away.” 

Abstinence. It’s good for the soul, they say. I once abstained from alcohol for 113 days about 10 years ago. It was for a bet – I wish I’d abstained from gambling instead. I’m pretty sure I once abstained from sex for just as long, though that wasn’t necessarily out of choice.  

Listening to a Beatles album today is like returning to a vice after years of abstinence, and Sgt Pepper is the dirtiest, most gratifying of the lot.  

“It was 20 years ago…”, actually it will be 50 years ago in June the album was released, so in honour of that and all the reissues, remasters, remixes and re-reviews of this masterpiece, here’s my blog about it.   

The best of all time?

I won’t dwell on the frequent claims that it’s the best album of all time. I find that view difficult to concur with as I just don’t believe such a thing exists. I would argue, however, that no album, has opened with 3 such mind-bendingly majestic tracks. The sequence of the title track, followed by ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ then ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’, if you haven’t heard them for a while, is the auditory equivalent of a twenty-something single lad ending a 9-month drought with Angelina Jolie. You want to fist-pump the world it’s that good, and the wait is forgotten  

And like Angelina, the album is stunning and spectacular in many ways, but not perfect. But then who or what is? A guilty part of you wishes they’d just left it as the classic pop album instead of interpolating harpsichord melodies and sitar nuances, but then music would be stuck where it was before this revolutionary art was made and we’d all be worse off.  

It’s been said George Harrison never played an unnecessary note or chord in his life and here is no exception. One of the joys of blogging on albums like this is it encourages you to listen to every note on every track; the subtle sparsity of the guitar for example on ‘Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds‘ or ‘Getting Better‘ are just what’s needed, no less, no more.  


The vocals and sheer musicality throughout remind you just how damn good these guys were, at everything. McCartney on Sgt Pepper…’ epitomises what the modern rock singer should aim for.  

The dancing melody of Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite perfectly teases you through the psychedelic story that you become immersed in. She’s Leaving Home is the weak link in the album but if you listen to Kasabian, whom I love, and their string-backed tracks immediately after listening to this you’ll still see how unavoidable the Fab Four’s influence continues to be.  

Within You Without You is an excess too far and drags like an erection after an orgasm – still pleasurable but you get the sense the Beatles are enjoying it more than you are.  

With the help of some irresistible clarinet When I’m Sixty Four beautifully paints a picture of the scene being described. The lyrics, the melody and the sentiment, even today, bring a lump to my throat. The near-perfect finale of ‘A Day in The Life’ is probably the thing that leaves people thinking this is the best album of all time made by undoubtedly one of the greatest producers of all time.  

What I learnt from my limited, but sorely memorable, encounters with abstinence is that the best thing about it is its ending – that’s where soul really lies. So go ahead and abstain, from anything, but be sure you have an end in sight. And when that happens, have someone, or something special there to enjoy it with you. And there’s nothing more special than Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 


 The Pregnant Widow

The overtly sexual references in this blog may partially be due to that fact I’m reading Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow at the moment. He’s one of my favourite authors and I would put Money, London Fields and Dead Babies all in my top 20 favourite books. I picked up The Pregnant Widow out of laziness more than anything as I didn’t know what to read next so reverted to MA without too much thought. It’s witty and biting, has an achingly-desirable female character named Scheherazade and a protagonist called Keith, so if you love Amis you won’t be disappointed. 


#7 – Blondie, Parallel Lines

"Once I had a love, and it was a gas,"
"Soon turned out, it was a pain in the ass" (Blondie, Heart of Glass)  

I saw a man breakdown on the Underground last week. Not on his train, as happens daily. And not one of those feeling-faint episodes that are a bit of an embarrassment after drinking too much the night before. No, this was a full-on heart-wrenching, emotional-outpouring of a breakdown.  

In my experience only a death or a woman can do that to a man, or maybe both. I hoped it was the latter. Especially as I carefully observed him getting out of his seat to wait by the doors, still sobbing, not really having any idea where he was. It’s an unfortunate truism that if one were to find oneself in that situation on the Underground, one is literally only 3 minutes from the next quick and presumably painless suicide opportunity. Or maybe 6 if you’re on the District Line. So I was concerned about this chap.  

But he gathered himself moments later. Breathed in deeply, and again, then gave a resigned smile. He wiped his face, straightened his headphones and got off the train, presumably back to, or away from the source of the pain, or the solution.  


I got home that evening and for no apparent reason other than I’d recently bought the record, I put on Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines. If you ever wonder why Blondie are as big a name as they are and can’t quite put your finger what made them so remarkable, listen to this album.  

It’s an absolute zinger of a pop album. It has it all – chest-filling energy; soul-lifting passion; guitars and bass to dazzle the ear and rock the globe; and of course, Debbie Harry’s exceptional vocal and raunch brining it all together.   

Obviously ‘Heart of Glass and ‘One Way or Another‘ stand out as the classics purely through the extent to which they’ve been played since. But the album as a whole is nothing short of a masterclass in composing and producing some of the best pop tracks that have ever been put together and evidence why the bygone format of a full album was so, so powerful.  

It is rhythmic, melodic, harmonic and dramatic. Boy, is it dramatic! Who knew Blondie told such great stories. Or rather, could tell the same story in such beautifully varied, witty and lyrical expressions. Because it’s essentially an album of serenely musical love songs. ‘Picture This’s‘ falsely assuring chord pattern; the classic bassline of ‘Pretty Baby‘ pumping your feet and your heart the whole way through; ‘Sunday Girl‘s’ soft melody perfectly capturing the song’s message.  The discordance and reggae-esque ending of ‘Fade Away‘ keeps you on your toes and the angularity of ‘Know But I Don’t Know‘ gives just the right jolt to what could otherwise be  almost too pleasant an album. Which brings me back to feeling… 

If you’re feeling in a slightly emotionally fragile state, as I imagine the man on the tube must have been, then beware – Parallel Lines will take you from heaven to hell, but possibly back again. 

And that’s the whole point of music for me, particularly pop music; and there is no better example of this than Parallel Lines. I don’t know what it was that made the man on the tube breakdown in tears, or equally what gave him the strength to compose himself before going on his way, but I suspect I felt the briefest of trembles of all those waves of feeling pass through me as I listened to Debbie Harry ride flawlessly through Blondie’s ultimate album.  

You may laugh, you may cry, but at the end of it, you’ll wish music today had even half an ounce of the emotion and brilliance of composition that Parallel Lines has.