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!

QUEEN, ADAM LAMBERT AND TRAINS – THE SEQUEL

Thursday 30th November 2017. Another of those pivotal days. It’s been a long and slow ride. The train went off the track sometimes, and that was only after I finally boarded, but I got there in the end. Brian, Roger and Adam surpassed themselves. The show was amazing, and took me way beyond the most heart wrenching, gut curling journey that has been my life. I went straight back there while I was watching, to all those feelings and thoughts from the tribute concert, the wonder and amazement of what Queen have meant to me. The sound track of my life. I shed tears at Bohemian Rhapsody, tears of thanks and gratitude because of the importance of that song, the impact that it had on me as a child all those years ago, and the feelings of awe and wonder as I remembered turning and looking around me 25 years ago when Queen and their peers paid homage to Freddie.

As I walked from the venue I had no words to describe what it meant to me to be there. To see again how music transcends our lives, fills our souls and makes us soar. This time, it wasn’t just about Queen and Adam, it was about me. It was acceptance and recognition of who I am. A testament to everything I’ve been and everything I’ve done. It was affirmation. It was validation.

Apart from the personal journey, the gig was supreme. The music…..well, the music transcends, and all that! The lighting show is enrapturing. At times beautiful. Freddie is there. In our memories, and in our hearts, and arrives on cue in Love Of My Life. The musicianship is fantastic and the effects enhance what is already a wonderful catalogue of hits, each one a pinnacle, each one deserving in its own right of encore after encore. But as well as all that, there is so much joy! Adam is a joy. To help recreate some of those memories, to sound so brilliant, to theatricalise and to just sing the way only he can, and most of all, to enable Roger and Brian to continue doing this, doing what they so obviously love to do.

I feel blessed to have seen this. Blessed to have witnessed so many forms of genius on one stage. Blessed to have followed careers and lives to this point. Blessed to have the memories to hold on to forever. And blessed to do it all again next week, when I can lose myself in the music again and just be.

It’s been a hell of a journey. I’ve been side tracked and detoured, but I finally made it beyond the station to a place of understanding. I know who I am and how I got here, and I know that my personal voyage of discovery, my life, has been a success. I’m good, thanks. There is no better feeling than to know that I have arrived. And Queen and Adam Lambert did that.

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.

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.

Syd

It’s all personal opinion, not factually based on anything other than my own feelings and perceptions.

REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG?  YOU SHONE LIKE THE SUN.

It was 1981 and I was 15 when I started to piece together the jigsaw that was the music that filled my head. I knew Echoes and Dark Side of the Moon intimately, had listened to them in darkened rooms, escaped to them when I needed to flee from the everydayness, or from the self-indulgent turmoil and angst that was my typically teenage life at that time. Like many of my school friends, a couple of years earlier I’d marched up and down the out of bounds main school corridor, outside the staff common room, singing the banned words,

“We don’t need no education. We don’t need no thought control.”

I was a good girl, I didn’t get in to trouble, but I think I may have been hauled in for a detention or two after that. No-one has the right to tell another living soul what they may or may not think, and I transcended that to music. Tell me I can’t sing something and I will. Thought police (or an over-zealous, controlling head teacher) be damned.

We were dance students and one of the English teachers was preparing an assembly for our year. He approached 3 or 4 of us, asked us to put something together for him and gave us the piece of music he wanted us to use. I’d heard it before. I already loved it. It was a poignant, evocatively familiar keyboard and guitar introduction, as always so expressively emotional and soulful, culminating in those four haunting notes that I knew so well, but only then managed to collate with the earlier stuff I’d listened to. I may have loved the intricacy of the music, the expressively affecting melody, the powerfully emotional lyrics, but it wasn’t until later that the poignancy and tragedy of the legend behind Shine On You Crazy Diamond became known to me.

At that time I was still focused on just the music. I’m ashamed to say I missed the hype of who they were and how they’d become. It was only later, while listening more, learning more, researching and finding out who made this music that so filled me, that I started to develop an understanding about their story. I seem to have a penchant for story. A thirst for legend, for narrative that develops characters, the descriptive account that introduces us, leads us to learn about, get to know, understand and fall in love with people we’ve never met.

That’s how I came across the enigma that was Syd. Roger Keith (Syd) Barrett, born 6th Jan 1946. Musician, composer, singer, songwriter, innovator, artist and founding member of one Pink Floyd. Described by those that knew him as beautiful, witty, wonderful, sharp, outgoing, charming, friendly, funny and massively, incredibly talented. As well as music, he was a gifted painter and artist, and, it seems, successful at whatever he put his mind to. I was just a little too young to see it first-hand. I only know what I’ve read and what I’ve seen, and I’ve heard the ruminations of others, some who knew him and many more who didn’t. I make only a very small apology that the rest is romanticised and made up in my head.

Syd grew up in the midst of a Cambridge riddled with friends and associates who would be instrumental in the development of Pink Floyd. He knew Roger Waters from a young age and the fundamental essentials of an artistic, creative and musical future were created. David Gilmour too, was a Cambridge protégé, and it’s clear that his path crossed with Syd’s in those early days and beyond, sharing a love for music and a flair for ingenuity and inventiveness, sometimes jamming and playing together.

Following Roger to London to attend college, it was inevitable that Syd and Roger would fall towards some outlet of creativity, and they, along with Rick and Nick, after various incarnations, became Pink Floyd. Syd is widely accredited as the mastermind behind their early originality and accomplishment, the instigator and initiator of new and unique sounds and experimental composition. They had initial success, foraying into the world of psychedelia and progressive rock with a new record contract, a successful single, See Emily Play, the production of their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and the establishment of a big, underground following as they became the house band at Joe Boyd’s UFO club. The one time producer of Floyd is recorded as saying that he couldn’t take his eyes off Syd, clearly feeling that the real creative shape of the group emanated from him.

And then it changed. Something happened and there’s no definitive for what was the real truth, just different versions of events, different takes and perspectives. Some speculate that it was a weekend episode with LSD that, quite literally, fried Syd’s brain. Some venture that it was a predilection or pre-disposition towards mental health and emotional well-being issues. Others hazard that it was a combination of many things, a mish mash of over-zealous drug use combined with a susceptibility for breakdown, and a propensity towards anti-establishment, a turning of his back on the sell-out of fame, success and celebrity. That there is no single version of a truth adds to the mythology, rhapsodises the legend. Whatever actually happened, it became clear that Syd could no longer function within the confines of this newly successful band. David was brought in to do what Syd at times couldn’t and other times wouldn’t do,F and Syd took to de-tuning his guitar on stage, refusing to sing or play, dis-engaging from any sort of meaningful conversation or exchange. Eventually, inevitably, the rest of the band simply stopped picking him up for gigs and functions.

But for me, that’s where the story becomes so mesmerising and fascinating and draws me in so completely. From that point, Syd’s imprint remained indelible on Floyd, the influence of both his genius and his demise an inspiration for their music. Without the initial influence of Interstellar Overdrive, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, and other early compositions, it’s difficult to comprehend where Echoes would have come from. Without Echoes, would there have been a Dark Side, and without Dark Side, Wish You Were Here? It’s not just the musical inspiration and stimulus, but the effect he had on them personally. They knew him, they’d grown up with him. He’d been their friend. They shared both childhood and adult stories and events with him, how could they fail to be shaped by him and the impact of his loss on them, personally, musically and lyrically. The continuous and key themes of their work, absence, loss, madness all point clearly at his hold on them. He’d gone from charismatic, talented genius, to reclusive and mal-functioning in the inexplicable blink of an eye.

That the remaining members of Floyd were the ones to help Syd write, record and produce his solo albums after this, is also a complexity. By all accounts it wasn’t an easy task to take on but surely it was about more than just feelings of guilt at how they’d ousted Syd. They had to have some deal of respect and admiration for his talent and genius to have the patience and understanding to work with him in such difficult and frustrating circumstances. I choose to think it was a hearty mixture of guilt, regret, admiration and love.

For me, Syd is as intrinsic to the later Floyd music as he was the early days. And that sentiment is perpetuated by the bizarre circumstances surrounding the recording of Shine On, many years later, when Syd showed up at Abbey Road studios, on the very day that they were working on the song that embodies him and his memory and is undoubtedly about him. The rational me believes it has to have been planned, that someone has to have known what would be happening in the studio and plotted and schemed to get Syd there after years of self-imposed isolation and estrangement from the band. The idealist romantic strives to see it as a mythological co-incidence, an aligning of the moon and stars, a fluke of epic proportions, that he would be there, on that day, in that studio, with those people. It’s a tragic detail, that no-one recognised their former friend, colleague and collaborator and that the once beautiful, talented prodigy had become an unrecognisable, erratic, distorted version of his early self. It’s the contrast between the two, the absolute ends of the continuum that confound me. From such beauty and potential to such nothingness.

His beauty, his talent, his tortured self is there, in all those Pink Floyd albums, from the start through to the end, sometimes more obvious than others, but there all the same. In saying that, I don’t profess to know what the other band members felt about Syd, what their thoughts were or how much he remained with them through their career. I say this all as a mere listener and a lover of the music. This is the influence he had on me, and my love of Pink Floyd is heightened enormously by the story and the mystery that surrounds him and it. It’s one more place that the mind can wander over, meander around, roam through and unravel against when listening to the sound.

I’m just another person flirting with facts, making up the mythology. He was a very private man, he wanted no limelight. His story has been widely and speculatively documented by many. He and his family chose to distance themselves from the glaring publicity and intrusive complexity of public scrutiny but he and his story will forever be enshrined by paradox and intrigue, puzzle and mystery. I desperately hope he was happy, that he made conscious choices to shy away and live the life he did. For me, I can’t listen to Floyd without thinking of them as a five. He is as intrinsically a part of the music as Roger’s drive and lyrics, Rick’s musicality, Nick’s drumming and David’s God like, soulful strumming. Rest in Peace Syd, you Crazy Diamond. Wish You Were Here.

The Film WINTER – A Personal Take

WINTER – A Personal Take

This is not a film review. I’m not qualified to talk about writing, acting, directing, cinematography, music, or any of the other thousand things that make a good (or bad) film. I’m a watcher, an audience member, lucky enough now to have seen this film (twice), in its fledgling circuitry of film festivals. I can only say what I like and what impacts on me, and this is just a description of that.

Written and Directed by Heidi Greensmith, the film Winter is about a father, Woods Weston (Tommy Flanagan) and his two sons, Tom (Tom Payne) and Max (Bill Milner) living and surviving the aftermath of the violent death of their wife and mother, Marie. For me, it’s about relationships; those between Woods and his sons, Woods and other people and, significantly, the one between Woods and himself, the voices in his head, the struggle of who he was, who he is and who he might be in the future.

Whatever thoughts I have about Winter centre around my own internalisation, my own processes and acceptance of the traditions and norms imposed on me by other influences within society. I am the sum of my experiences, which include being a white woman, from an immigrant background with one addict parent, and the other far too busy simply trying to survive with four children, with direct elements of race and gender inequality in my upbringing, who is a divorced, single parent, working in the social care/informal education field, and who is now an orphan.

And there-in lies the truth and the heart of Winter. It makes you think. So hard. If the job of an actor/writer/director is to influence, impact, effect, sway, prompt, impel, then these immensely talented ones have made a film that is a resounding success. Up there at the top of my list. It’s been described as a beautiful film. Beautifully filmed maybe. Beautifully acted. But I can’t say I found it a beautiful film. I found it hard-hitting, persistent, brave, stark, blatant.

If the viewer comes to this film with any personal experience of the subject matter, and let’s face it, most have plenty of baggage, both claimed and otherwise, then it’s not always an easy film to watch. It asks difficult, tough and demanding questions of ourselves and our imperfect little worlds. It absolutely stimulates reflection, in the truest, widest sense of the term, for me, both personally and societally. I was so angry with the society that I live in that poor Maxi, in my real world, wouldn’t even be in the care system. He’d be out there, a casualty of austerity, in a family left to cope with the barest and minimum of support, trying to access insufficient, inadequate mental health services with forty week waiting lists.

I love the tosser in the care home. The front line worker with no idea of how to actually engage with people. We’re either brilliant, or we’re most definitely not. I’ve said those phrases. I’ve deliberated, considered, pondered my words and come out with the same crap. What a total spasm!  He probably went off to recommend anger management sessions for Maxi.

I love both Tom and Maxi, played brilliantly. Understated. Confused. Torn. In different parts of the film I was each of them. Utterly real, in my humble opinion.

Tommy is amazing. It almost seems redundant to comment on his acting brilliance, and the bravery of putting himself out there. There’s not a lot of hiding from this reality.  I knew he would be those things, but there are also very different things that I hadn’t considered before. He absolutely took me back to how I felt as a child. I regressed to that frightened, introspective introvert. He took me back to that fear like it was yesterday. Like it was five minutes ago. Not horror or fear of danger. Not a perceived or actual threat. Not the irrationality of a phobia. Just a twisted, knotted, gut wrenching, instinctive, intuitive dread, deep inside.

Fight, flight or freeze was never the issue. No desire to punch or rip, to lash out or battle, to struggle or argue. Not feelings of anger or rage, no fury or frenzy. I didn’t fly, I certainly didn’t stay and fight. I don’t think I even froze. That dread would just envelop me, wash over and through me, wrap me in its claustrophobic cocoon, entrap me in the repetitive, cyclical, recurrent attempts to be better, to be good. Every day, turning the key in the lock, I’d start to choke, to drown on the fear and dread that engulfed me, wishing I could be anywhere but there.

But I came out of that theatre so wanting to be like Woods. Not the tortured soul, but the funny, couldn’t give a shit, one finger up to the world, artistic, gentle, heart on his sleeve, angry, sarcastic, facetious, oh so human being. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve done a thirteen hour round trip to, in effect, go to the cinema. Who would do that, except someone who just wants to say, “Because I can”?

That’s the dichotomy that I can’t navigate yet, I so liked him as a person, wanted to love him, wanted to make him better, empathised, understood, identified with him somehow. Yet when that person’s in your life it’s a bit of a bastard. Everything comes down to that. Even the bits that you think you totally have under control, that you think can’t possibly be influenced by your past. Of course they are. How can they not be?

What most struck me, what remained as I walked back from the theatre, what was stuck in my head whilst I thought, and in my dreams while I slept, was the axiom ‘the sins of the father’. Not in a religious or biblical way, but how what we have/had affects us all, in such different ways maybe, but still intrinsically, inherently, fundamentally. And I struggled with redemption. I so, so, so wanted Woods to be saved and for him to save Tom and Maxi. But in whose reality does that sort of redemption exist?  In my experience, it rarely changes, seldom improves.  If we’re lucky we just learn to live it better.

I love so much about this film. I love the scene where Woods is frustratingly trying to find his inspiration to paint. No clever words or fancy one-liners, just a man, lost in his world, trying to find his way back. It made me want to ask him to dance. I love where he tells Tom he has to take his place at uni. How sane, and rational and right. I love when Tom jumps on his bike (literally), breaks down, then picks it up and carts it home – the absolute duality of how close he is to breaking, but how resolutely together he is. I love that, above all else, those boys know that they’re loved.

I think, maybe more than any other film I’ve seen, certainly that I can think of, Winter pushes those internalisation buttons. Whatever we think of it is shaped by our own reflections, how we recognise our own pasts and the influences on us as adults. Recognition, knowledge, understanding, empowerment, challenge. They’re all good words, difficult but necessary processes. Winter manages to grasp them out of our soul, shake them up a bit, and roll them out. Where they land, nobody knows. Powerful stuff!