One of These Nights…..

Talon, Best of The Eagles

One of these nights….. we’ll stop and say hello at the end of the gig. Well, we’ve only been doing this for 19 years, relative newcomers, and pretty poor groupies by anyone’s standards. But we’re shy, retiring types, not ones to want to get in the way or make assumptions. And besides, getting out of the car parks afterwards is always a bit of a nightmare if you don’t look sharpish. Not that we ever miss the end, or an encore, or the opportunity to clap and cheer and stamp for more. We just know where the exits are by now, and get out quick. It doesn’t hurt that we’re still young and spritely (at least in our heads), and can race away thinking that we’ll do it next time. Next time we’ll stop and say hello and tell you it was a great set and thank you.

The Eagles need no introduction. As far as rock Gods go they’re up there with the very best of a generation, as performers, writers and musicians. The iconic Hotel California is backed up by a catalogue of equally brilliant work that spans a lifetime, another of those precious, prized bands that have become the soundtrack of my life. The Eagles are out of range though. On the rare occasion that there was the possibility of getting to a show in the same country, there were other, at the time insurmountable obstacles. And then there was Talon, Best of the Eagles.

For us, it started at a ropey, 70s styled club called Stardust (it was the 90s, it just seemed like the 70s with prawn cocktails and chicken in a basket) and a tribute band who literally took our breath away. A bunch of really talented guys, playing brilliant music and, seemingly, having a ball. So, for 19 years we’ve continued to go and watch, eating less chicken in a basket, enjoying more and more the banter between them on the stage, the additions of other hugely talented friends, the development over the years of their acoustic set, and a few twists and turns along the way. Ultimately, it’s about the music; their rendition of a body of work makes it all so much more accessible to so many more people who never got the chance to see the Eagles, but who now follow Talon in their own right just as religiously. They’re a tribute band and they do absolute justice to the music, but they’re more than that. They have their own personality and drive, a self-deprecating sense of humour and massive musical talent.

We’ve been to some interesting places to watch. We were at the Vic in Coalville when they played their acoustic set to about 6 people. How lucky does that make us? From old Theatres and Town Halls, to company cafeterias, and most recently another trip to the Pokey Hole at Conkers. We’ve already got our next tickets booked for this year and will be back next year a couple of times, no doubt. God love twitter, this time I tweeted about the show and got a reply. Now formally (!!) introduced, we’ve promised ourselves that next time we’ll take the bull by the horns and go say hello. Our ‘One of These Nights’ will be in Loughborough in November. Look out for two shy, quiet, unassuming, young ladies. That way, you’ll never know it’s us!

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Queen, Adam Lambert and Trains

 

Bloody hell, I’ve missed the train again. There’s something innately late about me always. I undoubtedly arrive after the event, both metaphorically and in reality. I miss the actual and have little choice but to turn up to the party belatedly, reactionary and reflectively, but while I kick myself, there’s always the old adage that it’s better late than never.

Like many thousands of others, Queen were the sound track to my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. I remember walking to school with my friends, every day, singing Bohemian Rhapsody, harmonies and all, making up the words that we didn’t know or understand as innocent nine and ten year olds, naively believing that we’d give Freddie and his mates a run for their money. We might not have understood all the lyrics (who does, even today?) but we had every nuance and synchronisation locked down, every lick, pause and beat, each phrase of the melody perfected, in our own little world as our voices hit the notes, and very possibly a lot of extra notes that weren’t supposed to be there.

Later on there were other songs that absolutely transcended my teenage and adult years, moments in time that Queen were a part of. Love and angst, with Love of My Life and Who Wants To Live Forever, the spirited, joy of life in Don’t Stop Me Now, the belonging and shared collective of Radio GaGa, social realism of Is This The World We Created, and the wide ranging emotional, political, learning, testing of barriers and beauty of their catalogue of hits. They were just there, constantly, on the radio, in my record collection or in my head, whenever they were needed, always relevant, comforting and encompassing.

Sadly, I had no awareness of the impact they had on me until Freddie died. There are few dates indelibly printed in my mind, November 24th 1991 is one. I remember where I was when I heard the news, saddened in a way I’d never really been, death and loss not having really touched me before that. Afterwards, they were all over the airwaves again, not that they’d ever been away, but there, sometimes in the foreground, often in the background, consistently available at the touch of a dial.

Easter Monday, 20th April 1992 is another of those permanent marker days, a day that, while it might not have changed my life, significantly changed my way of thinking. I very nearly missed that train too. I almost didn’t even make it to the station. I wasn’t going to Freddie’s tribute concert at Wembley until a couple of people I knew told me they had a spare ticket and I tagged along. I didn’t know them well, and, selfish git that I was, I didn’t really want to share this experience with them, so when I nipped off to the loo and couldn’t find them when I came back, well, that wasn’t entirely my fault, and whilst not completely planned, very convenient!  It meant I was able to live the evening for myself, absorbing and consummating exactly what it meant to me to be there.

During that amazing, electric night, I had an epiphany or two. I was gripped by those on stage paying tribute to this remarkable talent, captivated by those around me and the outpouring of love and admiration for this one man who had entranced us all in some way. I didn’t know that I knew every word to every song. I didn’t know that before that evening I’d been repressed, somewhat stunted by self-imposed restrictions about how I was supposed to live my life, what I was supposed to want and strive for. I think that was the first inkling, the first understanding that somewhere within me was a tiny spark that would grow into the ideals and mantras that became a new way of thinking, the beginnings of a more inspiring and less confined way of thinking.  It wasn’t a launching pad to strive for the extraordinary or remarkable, more the realisation of a ‘Why not?’ attitude that just allowed me a touch more freedom and expression – a passion for my own life and choices. Years later, as age and maturity allows us to grow into ourselves, I’ve become so incredibly thankful to have experienced that definable moment when I slowly turned a full 360 degrees and watched the spellbound enthusiasm and promise of infinite possibility that surrounded me.

Freddie and Queen’s legacy means that they’ve never really gone away, that they’re still as important today as they ever were, with every documentary, every piece of music, new old or re-mastered, every interview and every live show that any of them get involved in. Talents like Freddie, few and far between, come along a handful per generation, and how bloody satisfying that Roger and Brian found Adam Lambert, a massive talent in his own right, but one who can do justice to that legacy. He doesn’t have to try and be Freddie, because his own genius (it’s a considered, deliberate use of the word), showmanship and that amazing voice are more than adequate substitutes, but to walk in his shoes for a couple of hours (and what opulent and overstated shoes they are), and bring those memories of Freddie back to life for a while, well, I can’t imagine anyone, anywhere, capable of doing it better. He gets to tell the world, like Freddie did, that it’s ok to be yourself. In fact, that you owe it to yourself. It was difficult to do then, and it’s probably as hard today, but it’s a bloody important message.

Having missed that metaphorical train again, I haven’t seen the live show live. I’ve watched some live performances on the net and I’ve seen bits and pieces to try and satisfy my growing obsession. I hope I get another chance. My railcard application is in. If there are more destinations added to the timetable, I won’t be late again, I’ll be the one sleeping on the station so I get on that elusive train in plenty of time. The continuous kicking of myself otherwise is far too painful, and a less than gentle reminder of what I learned about ‘why not?’ all those years ago!

Brief Musings About Tommy in Ratcatcher

(Reflections of Tommy Flanagan in the 1999 Film Ratcatcher, written and directed by Lynne Ramsay)

One of Tommy’s relatively early roles was Da (George Gillespie) in Ratcatcher, a film set in 1970s Glasgow, against the backdrop of the bin men’s strike, a social commentary of that generation. Reflecting what little I know of his own life, it depicted what it was like to live in the grim housing tenements of the era, some with no indoor bathing facilities, running hot water or indoor toilets. Glasgow had some of the poorest schemes in Europe and Ratcatcher showed the stark reality of living in those bleak and harsh conditions. It told the story from 12 year old James’ perspective (played by William Eadie), a narrative of the austerity of the time, a political, social and economic statement, amidst the somber overtones of family life where abuse, addiction and struggle were rife. These schemes were the pre-cursor to places like Easterhouse, where Tommy himself grew up during a similar period to the one reflected in the film.

Although Ratcatcher never received a wide cinematic release, it was critically acclaimed, winning numerous awards for its debut director Lynne Ramsey. Once again Tommy played a selfish, arrogant man, father of the main character, with an inclination towards alcoholism and domestic violence. It was another powerful performance, a blatant, unadorned and telling insight into a flawed father, and a barren portrayal of a time and place. As a film, it caught my attention completely, resonating with its bluntness. Again, Tommy was amazing, and his depiction of that Da character hit home at least as strongly, possibly even more so, than his more recent characterisation of another Dad, that of Woods in the recently released film, Winter. Da was an unadulterated, undiluted exposé of the individuals who dominated an era. Once more, it completely took me back to my childhood, and struck a monumental chord with me. If I wasn’t in awe of him previously, when I saw this portrayal in Ratcatcher I felt a very real sense of wonder and respect for the actor and the power of his performances.

Ratcatcher affected me not just because it reminded me of what I’d experienced, of the feelings and emotions I’d had growing up through similar events, but it also transported me back to the time and place of my childhood. I could almost smell it. I became nostalgic for the era and familiarity of the surroundings. There’s a scene where the boys are talking about the mythical reputation and notoriety of the canal. They tell tales of a giant perch that inhabits the water, and Kenny looks to catch it with his fishing net, walking towards the canal with the net over his head. I wondered if the writer of those scenes had actually shared my childhood and had an invisible camera on my youth. There was a brook that weaved its way across the fields beyond the back of our houses. When I was about 12 our grubby little group of friends used to walk up there most days through the long, hot summer and on one such day, whilst jumping across the rocks, we saw a monster of a pike sheltering itself from the sun. We ran back home to get our nets, and returned, walking with them over our heads, to try and catch the mighty fish. That image on film, so captured the essence of my own childhood, and that of many others from the same era.  It was a spookily accurate portrayal of both the time and the mood, of our lives and our family relationships and dynamics.

When I tweeted about a personal history tour it was an intimate reflection of exactly where it felt Tommy’s performance had taken me while I was watching, and in my reflections afterwards.

Take Me By The Hand

You take me to the beach and you take me by hand
As I hesitate before you on the soft and warming sand
You lead me toward places that I’ve never been before
And each time that I stumble, you open up the door
You look beneath my eyes, into my very soul
And you make me understand what will help to make me whole
You challenge and persuade me to sample all that’s new
And you help me to discover the very heart of you
You lay me bare before you, confronting all my fears
And you gently kiss away my soundless, salty tears
As I search your words and eyes for your truth and honesty
My silent trepidation slowly fades away
Reality and fantasy are merged within my mind
And you recognise the anguish of what we both might find
Your faith in me rekindles what before had become lost
But still we have to ask the question, what will be the cost?

Lost

I’m lost without your touch
Without your smile to warm my soul
I’m lost without your words
Trapped in this wide and gaping hole

Without your strength I feel I’m falling
Without your love I can’t be free
Without you near I feel I’m drowning
Without your eyes I just can’t see

And I don’t know where I should go to soothe my silent vacant cries
And I don’t know what I should do to put an end to voiceless lies
And I don’t know how I can stop these tears and halt these empty sighs
I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough to say these last goodbyes

I’m going through the motions
Clinging on to fading dreams
I’m scratching at the surface
And I’m screaming silent screams

I’ll never be the same again
Nothing ever will be true
Because you looked into the heart of me
Nothing less will ever do

And I don’t know where I should go to shelter from the cold hard rain
And I don’t know what I should do to ease the sharpness of the pain
And I don’t know how I can stop myself from ending up insane
I don’t know if I can get back up and carry on again.

Time

Time – the enemy, tick, tock, tick, tock
Hand chases hand round the face of the clock
Constant and endless like the beat of a drum
Relentlessly banging till the mind becomes numb

Tracing the lines, furrowing deep
Dredging away at the secrets you keep
Greying the hair, uncaring, unkind,
Leaving unanswered the thoughts in your mind

It races along, hard hearted and cold
And doesn’t give in till your body is old
It drags you towards it, no way to resist
Till your dreams are all shattered, with one bitter twist

When you want it to sprint fast, and run far away
And soar through the night to the following day
It slows to a crawl and breaks down in the station
And laughs in your face at your utter frustration

Does A Place Shape Us?

 

It’s an old adage, an over-used cliché that fluctuates between telling a real story of growing up and coming of age, and a cop out that addresses no real, tangible, solid foundation of what makes us who we are.  But, in order to address our own constructs, the impact that our upbringing has on our adult life and the importance of recognising that impact, it’s a good place to start. How true is it, how much stock should we put on the phrase:  You can take the (wo)man out of the place, but you can’t take the place out of the (wo)man?

As recently as January 2016, according to a small internet poll of approximately 700 respondents, Easterhouse was identified as one of the worst places in the UK to live, with life expectancy much lower than the national average (according to the Glasgow Indicator Project).  Easterhouse, six miles east of Glasgow city centre, was originally built as an alternative to tightly packed tenement buildings that many people moved from in the 1960s, the new tenements having luxuries like double bedrooms and indoor bathrooms.  Although it was initially developed to house over 50,000, and did so throughout that decade, the population has steadily decreased and current statistics say that around 9,000 people still live there.  Although initially one of the biggest, with ‘more’ of most things, whether it’s Brixton or Toxteth, Hysel Green, Shelthorpe or St Annes, Easterhouses exist everywhere.

As with other estates of a similar structure all over the UK, the media often mis-represents the area, glosses over the facts for a good story, the word Easterhouse itself having become synonymous with terms like poverty, inequality, disadvantage and social exclusion.  And yet, such areas foster real communities, and in Easterhouse particularly, communities within communities.  To be attached to a geographical place can cultivate a basic human need of belonging which shapes a sense of ourselves and our identities.  But the relationship between a locality and culture refers to more than simply a geographical place, it inspires and infers shared thoughts, understanding and feelings.  It nurtures intricate complexities of networks and relationships.  Shared histories and shared experiences become common links that bind individuals together.  Simply put, people identify with each other.  A true community is bonded by those senses of significance, security and solidarity with others.

The impact of that sense of belonging can’t be underestimated if we’re looking at the extent to which coming from a certain place impacts on us as individuals.  The most prevalent issue in Easterhouse it seems, is a gang culture that’s widely reported on.  That gang mentality epitomises the two ends of a spectrum, the positives and negatives of the same issue, the black and white, truth and lie, good and bad.  You don’t have to be from a ‘bad’ place to experience ‘bad’ things, in exactly the same way as being from somewhere good doesn’t make you a good person.  What estate based culture, social housing estates and housing schemes do, is bring together many of those difficult issues into the one geographical space.  Put together issues of addiction, domestic abuse, family breakdown, unemployment, poverty, low educational attainment, mental health, crime and criminality, low aspirations, many of which are compounded because they are generational and cyclical, and it can be argued that we put together a blueprint for social exclusion and dysfunction.

What’s vital to recognise is that as individuals, we are the sum of our experiences, which shape our thoughts, responses and values.  We can’t hide from our past, it absolutely has to impact and influence our views and the decisions we make in later life.  But, it doesn’t shape everyone equally.  In fact, it impacts on us so very differently, even siblings within the same family.  What is it that builds resilience in some, but fosters doubt, insecurity, bad choices and helplessness in others?  How can two siblings who share the same upbringing, have such different takes on their situations and the possible outcomes? Where we’re from is intrinsically and fundamentally linked with who we become, but in a very personal and individual way. Some people exposed to domestic abuse will steer clear of anything remotely related to violence, whilst for others it becomes learnt behaviour.  That’s equally true of even those brought up in the same families.  Some, brought up in abject poverty will use it as their impetus and strive for financial independence and well being, for others it’s not a key motivator.  Some will use their experience of growing up in a particular place as their instigator to get out, for others it’s their home, their sense of community and belonging far stronger than their desire to leave.

Perception, it seems, is key.  To see the challenges that life throws at us as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop, as something that may affect us, may hurt us, but that ultimately won’t destroy us means that we move forwards with resilience.  On the other hand, if we view a challenge as threat, have a “glass half empty” mentality, it can fuel a self-fulfilling prophecy of negativity, inertia and the inability to cope. And that perception is developed partly through experience, through our disposition and nature, and largely through luck, that we have learned that we are resilient and that we are able to manage situations.

But it’s not one way.  Add to the mix the way individuals shape their community.  Every person who’s ever been involved in a social enterprise, a community project, a working or management group, everyone who’s ever visited the elderly gentleman down the street, or baby sat for the single mum next door, everyone who’s ever kicked a ball with the local scallies or joined the neighbourhood watch has had an influence on the society that in turn influences them.

Never has the contradiction been more stark and real than it is today. Never has it been both easier and harder to move through societal norms and constructs.  Depending on our characteristics and predispositions, our access to help and our luck, if we want to change, to move, to grow and develop, to understand and change those constraints, there are avenues that were never there before.  There may still be glass ceilings to what we can achieve, depending on who we are and where we’re from, but there is scope for movement at least in a way there wasn’t in previous decades.  But if we’re stuck, it seems that we might be more stuck than ever.  The gap between rich and poor is widening. Austerity is, at best, having a huge impact and, at worst, crippling local communities and individuals.

Those political and economic restraints have always been important, but what has changed beyond recognition is the growth of our expectations, of our exposure to other worlds, through the media, social media and the internet.  Where once we used to know what went on in our street, our estate or our town, we now see the rest of the world at the touch of a button.  Our insular lifestyles, the ones where we didn’t even socialise with people on the other side of a particular boundary have suddenly gone worldwide, our influences gone global.  For some, our aspirations have grown to match that.  For others they’ve remained stunted.

It impacts on us.  The geographical place and the experiences we are exposed to, are forged on our psyche, the ‘what and where’ imprinted on our being.  Our experiences of the place where and the people with whom we grew up shapes us beyond everything else.  But those experiences don’t define us, not if we don’t let them.  We do that ourselves.  We are from a place, and a place has its own life, culture and truth.  We can use it as a crutch, we can blame it, we can take inspiration from it and we can learn about ourselves from it.  One way or another, it intrinsically shapes who we become.  But we see far wider than that these days.  With learning, understanding, the acquisition of knowledge, free will and a massive dose of good luck, we become who we deserve to be.  Knowledge is power.  When we learn about something it increases our capacity, but when we learn about ourselves it liberates us. Yes, of course we can take ourselves out of a place.  If we want to, we can take the place out of ourselves, but the impact of what we’ve experienced, individual as it is, that doesn’t go away whether we want it to or not.