All posts by Dave Cross

2012 in Gigs

Here’s an overview of the gigs I saw in 2012. I saw 36 gigs during the year. That’s quite a lot down on 2011, but that’s partly because I broke my leg and didn’t go to gigs for six weeks.

I saw some larger gigs than in the previous year. I saw Radiohead, The Killers and Elbow all at the O2. In all cases the bands were great, but the venue is horrible. I also went to Hyde Park to see Paul Simon, which was definitely one of the highlights of the year.

I think that I didn’t see anyone more than twice last year. But there were at least four acts that I saw twice – Antonio Lulić, Alessi’s Ark, Tegan and Sara and Suzanne Vega. I saw Tegan and Sara on two consecutive nights – their own headlining gig at the Forum and then supporting The Killers the following night.

I saw more than my fair share of unimpressive gigs. In particular, Dexys and Sparks (both, coincidentally at the Barbican) were two hugely disappointing shows.

Here, in purely chronological order, are the gigs I enjoyed the most in 2012. I wanted to list a top ten, but I couldn’t get the list smaller than twelve.

  • Sinead O’Connor – Haven’t seen her live since a Finsbury Park Fleadh about twenty years ago and I was worried that she’d be a bit rubbish. But she was so good that I’ve already booked to see her twice this year. Her latest album is really good too.
  • Suzanne Vega – As I mentioned above, I saw her twice during the year. I think the first one (playing acoustic in the Union Chapel) was just better than the other (with a band, playing the whole of Solitude Standing at the Barbican). But they were both great nights. She’s definitely now on my list of people to see whenever I can.
  • Amanda Palmer – An Amanda Palmer gig is always awesome. This gig at Village Underground was no exception. Her new band, The Grand Theft Orchestra, is great. It’s a shame that she has cancelled her 2013 tour because a close friend is really ill – but I completely understand why she did  it.
  • Paul Simon – It was the 25th anniversary of the Graceland tour and Simon got together as many of the original band as possible. This was a fantastic evening.
  • Kathryn Tickell – Something a bit different. Kathryn Tickell’s show pulls together lots of music and talk from her native Northumbria. It’s low key, but enthralling.
  • Kate Rusby – How has Kate Rusby been making records for twenty years? This show, celebrating that fact, was all kinds of amazing.
  • Amy Macdonald – This was a bit of a surprise. I knew I quite liked Macdonald. I’d bought her first two albums. I’d even listened to them a few times. So I bought a ticket on a whim. I’m glad I did, because this was a great night. I’m going to see her again at the Palladium later this year.
  • The Divine Comedy – The day after the Amy Macdonald gig I was back in the same venue for Neil Hannon’s 42nd birthday party. This was the second Divine Comedy gig I’ve seen and they’ve both been fabulous. I must really start listening to more of their records.
  • The Magnetic North – I saw Hannah Peel playing as part of two bands this year. She’s in John Foxx’s new band The Maths, but I much prefer The Magnetic North. I don’t know if this is a permanent band. So far they’ve recorded one album, inspired by Orkney, which they played at this gig.
  • Beth Orton – Since I got back into going to gigs a few years ago, Beth Orton has been top of my list of people to see. And to finally see her in a venue as lovely as the Union Chapel was incredible. This is probably my gig of the year.
  • Stealing Sheep – I saw Stealing Sheep four times in 2011 but for various reasons I missed most of their London gigs in 2012. So I was really determined to get to this gig at the Bush Hall in December. It was a year (almost to the day) since I had last seen them and it was really interesting to see how much they had improved in that time. I mean they were great to start with, but now they are phenomenal.
  • Antonio Lulić – Yes, Antonio is a friend, but even if he wasn’t I’m sure I’d still consider him one of the best live acts currently playing the circuit. At my local pub (which is also one of my favourite venues) he put on a great end of year show where he played for an hour. And the whole set is available to stream from SoundCloud.

Classic Albums 2012

I thought it might be interesting to have an index of the classic albums I reviewed in 2012. So here it is.

Album Artist Rating
A Night at the Opera Queen
Highway 61 Revisited Bob Dylan
The Harder They Come Jimmy Cliff
The Specials The Specials
LemonJelly.ky LemonJelly
Led Zeppelin 4 Led Zeppelin
Nevermind Nirvana
Machine Head Deep Purple
System of a Down System of a Down
Let it Bleed The Rolling Stones
Songs of Faith and Devotion Depeche Mode
Rumours Fleetwood Mac
The Joshua Tree U2
Green REM
OK Computer Radiohead

Week Notes 1

Let’s start the year as we mean to go on and get the first week notes post of 2013 out of the way.

Blogging

Yesterday I wrote a brief review of the year and started to catch up on classic albums. Other than that I haven’t written anything for three weeks.

Health

As expected, I put on a bit of weight on holiday and ended the year about half a stone heavier than the lightest point I reached in 2012. But it’s now a new year and I’m galvanised to repeat last year’s success.

Currently that involves being careful about what I eat. I haven’t galvanised myself into any exercise yet. I’ll probably walk to the cinema and back later today.

Speaking & Training

Lots coming up on the training front. It’s just over a month to Perl School 4 and I need to write that course. I also need to look at the marketing as I haven’t sold many tickets yet.

Then, soon after that is the two public Perl courses I’m running for FlossUK.

Dates for YAPC Europe have been announced and I’d be surprised if I don’t speak at that. It’s August 12-14th and this year it’s in Kiev.

Holiday

Did I mention I’ve been on holiday? We spent Christmas and New Year in South Africa. We had a great time. Photos and more detailed blog posts will hopefully turn up over the next few weeks.

Graceland

Still several weeks behind on the classic album front. But I wanted to leave this one until I cam back from my holiday in South Africa – it’s Paul Simon’s Graceland.

Some Historical Context

I’m not sure I can remember a time when I didn’t know this album. When it was released I was frequenting the kinds of pubs and wine bars where it was being played constantly, so it soon injected itself into my consciousness. This is very much the music that I listened to a lot at the end of the 80s. Not just this album but (as for many other people) this is the album that opened my ears to the possibilities of World Music. I have this album to thank for a lot of the music that I still listen to today.

I loved the album, but for some reason I didn’t buy it. Well, not until earlier this year when I wanted to listen to it again just before I went to see Paul Simon celebrating the album’s 25th anniversary with a gig in Hyde Park.

The rest of this post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. The Boy in the Bubble

There are so many strong songs on this album, but I think this is my favourite. I love the accordion on it. It’s just such a happy song that draws you into the album. The lyrics are infectious and positive too – “These are the days / Of miracles and wonders”. I can’t listen to this song without grinning.

2. Graceland

Anther great song. It’s probably the song that sounds most like Paul Simon’s previous work, but it has that great pedal steel guitar on it. Fabulous lyrics too.

3. I Know What I Know

When I listened to this album last summer, it was  probably the first time I had listened to it for about six or seven years. And I had completely forgotten about this song. Which is weird as I used to really love it. It’s a song that I used to play on the guitar. In some inexplicable way this seems to be a companion piece to Simon’s earlier “Late in the Evening”.

4. Gumboots

Every classic album must have a weakest track. And I think that this is Graceland’s. That’s not to say, at all, that it’s a weak track. It’s just that in amongst so many classics, this doesn’t quite cut it. On pretty much any other album, this would be a standout track. Never really understood that strange fade-out at the end though.

5. Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes

Is there any point in describing this? There can’t be anyone who doesn’t know exactly what this sounds like. And what a great song it is. Hearing it I always want to go out and buy Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s complete back catalogue.

6. You Can Call Me Al

This is the big hit single from the album. It must have been the lead single. Another one that everyone can sing along too. Do you remember Chevy Chase in the video?

7. Under African Skies

When I think of this album, this is the song that usually pops into my head first. I mentioned that I’ve recently been on holiday in South Africa. And this is the song that I found myself humming most often.

8. Homeless

Another song that I absolutely love. The performance they did of this in Hyde Park last summer was just electrifying.

9. Crazy Love, Vol. II

This is another song that seems slightly ill at ease on this album. It’s a good song, but isn’t quite in the same league as most of the others.

10. That Was Your Mother

And this is another song that I had forgotten, but as soon as I heard it I remembered just how much I loved it.

11. All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints

Not the strongest track to end the album. I think that’s becoming quite a theme with these posts. Artists seem to push the better songs to the front of the album. I suppose that makes sense.

In Summary

An absolutely astonishing album. And it still sounds as good as it did in 1986. They don’t get much better than this.

Year Notes 2012

2012 was the first year that I tried writing weekly (although they often turned out to be fortnightly) “week notes” posts. This is a summary of what happened during the year.

Blogging

I’ve been a disastrous blogger this year. If you ignore the week notes and classic album posts I’ve written about thirty blog posts. I should be aiming at three or four times that number.

I’m still pleased with some of the posts I’ve written though. The three blog posts on Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s bizarre attack on marriage equality were pretty good. I liked my explanation of why you should never give your password to a third-party web site. And who can forget my battle with SeeTickets.

In July I celebrated the tenth anniversary of this blog and between March and September I resurrected Wasted Inches, one of my earliest experiments in blogging.

So, not a complete disaster. But nowhere near as successful as I’d hoped. I’ll definitely try harder this year.

Health

My health has been dominated by two stories in 2012. Firstly, right at the start of the year I slipped and broke my leg. I was in plaster for six weeks. And secondly there was my attempt to get fit and lose some weight. That was actually pretty successful. I took up jogging and carefully watched what I was eating. And over a period of a few months I lost over two stone. Over the last few months I stopped being quite so careful, with the result that I put about half a stone back on. But, hey, it’s now a new year so I’ll be trying again with renewed enthusiasm.

If I can repeat last year’s success and lose another two pounds then I’ll be really happy.

Training and Speaking

2012 feels like the year that my training business really started to take off. I’ve run a number of training courses for various companies. It makes a nice chance from the programming work that takes up most of my time. I’ve also run three successful Perl School sessions, with more planned for the future.

I haven’t been speaking as much as I have recent years. That’s partly because I skipped a couple of conferences that I usually attend. I’ll be aiming to go to more conferences this year.

Travel

I’ve seen more of the UK than I usually do in a year. That’s often been because of training courses. But I haven’t done that much foreign travel. I had a weekend in Berlin in August. And I’ve just got back from two weeks in South Africa.

I have nothing firm planned for this year yet, but I’m hoping to get to Kiev in August and we have vague plans to go to San Francisco at some point in the summer.

Gigs

I haven’t done a final count yet, but I suspect I saw fewer gigs in 2012 than I did in 2011. That’s partly because of the six weeks I spent with my leg in a cast, largely unable to get myself to the venues. I had to sell a few tickets to gigs that I couldn’t get to.

I’ll write another post summarising the best and worst gigs I saw in 2012.

Summary

A pretty good year all in all. And the week notes have been a really interesting and useful way to track what has been going on. I feel sure that I’ll continue the experiment during 2013.

Week Notes 49 & 50

Another fortnightly “week notes”. This will probably be the last one of the year as I’ll be on holiday for the next two weeks. I’ll try to do a final round-up when I get back early in January.

Blogging

I wrote a blog post. It was about equal marriage. People seemed to like it. Some people didn’t understand it. Other than that, I wrote two classic album posts. All three of those posts were written on the same day.

Health

In the run-up to Christmas my weight is slowly creeping up again. Currently I’m about five pounds heavier than the lightest I got to this year. My current target is to stay under fourteen stone until the end of the year and then start with renewed vigor in the new year. I managed to lose over two stone this year. If I can do the same next year I’ll be at my target weight.

Speaking & Training

Perl School 3 took place last Saturday. It seemed to go well and the feedback I’m getting has been positive. Didn’t sell quite as many tickets as I wanted to. If I want to continue doing this then I’m going to have to get better at marketing.

And that’s all the training finished for the year. I already have three training sessions booked in for next year. Looks like that side of the business is doing well.

Technology

Had a bad technology week. One of the hard disks in my main web and email server crashed early on Monday morning. That’s ok though, it was only a secondary disk in a RAID cluster. Had I just asked the admins to replace it, then things would have been fine and my sites would have been back in four hours. But I didn’t, I tried to take backups of some important data before doing that, which meant it was three days before I got the server back. And at some point during the process an important database file went missing and four or five of my databases became unusable. Two of them were really quite important. Nothing that I can’t live without for the time being, but there’s going to be some work to fix them in the new year.

This is why I’m not a sysadmin.

Holiday

As I mentioned last time, we’re off on holiday this week. Don’t expect any updates from me until early next year. I expect I’ll still be active on Twitter.

Gigs

I’ve seen a few gigs in the last couple of weeks.

  • Elbow at the O2: The band were great but, once again, I had a terrible seat.
  • Beth Orton at the Union Chapel: One of the gigs I had been most looking forward too all year. Rather too focussed on her new album, but she was great.
  • The Men They Couldn’t Hang at the Borderline: This was ok. I don’t think I was really in the mood for it. Probably won’t leave it another twenty years before seeing them again.
  • Stealing Sheep at Bush Hall: Another gig I was really looking forward to. For various reasons I’ve missed every gig they’ve played in London this year so it was a year since I had last seen them. They were great a year ago, but they’ve become so much better in the last year. If they don’t become huge stars then there’s no justice in the music industry.
  • Ellie Goulding at Brixton Academy: Another one I wasn’t really in the mood for. I seriously considered just not going. But I went anyway and it was alright. Don’t think I’ll be rushing back to see her again.

Films

Seems ages since I saw a new film. But this afternoon I’m going to see The Hobbit. Reviews have been mixed.

OK Computer

Attempting to get less behind on the classic albums… The next one is Radiohead’s OK Computer.

Some Historical Context

Like REM, I don’t really remember when I first heard Radiohead. I expect I was aware of things like “High and Dry” and “Creep” when they were released as I’m sure they both had lots of radio play. I know I had bought both of their first two albums before this one was released. And I’m pretty sure that I bought this soon after it was released.

I’ve carried on buying every Radiohead album since. But, to be honest, I haven’t enjoyed any of their newer stuff anywhere near as much as I enjoyed their first three albums. And I think that OK Computer is the best of the three. But I haven’t listened to it all the way through for a couple of years.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Airbag

Like many of these albums, I find that when I look closely at the track listing, there are many titles that I recognise, but that I can’t associate with a song. This is a good example. I knew the title, but I had no idea how it was going to sound. That’s true of about half of the tracks on this album. But, of course, I recognise it. And I like it. It’s an early indication that we have moved on substantially from the band’s first two albums.

2. Paranoid Android

This is hard to describe. It’s a 90s version of Bohemian Rhapsody. I don’t mean that in a bad way (overplayed and impossible to take seriously after Wayne’s World). I just mean that it’s a complex song that frequently changes its sound. When I first heard it fifteen years ago, it completely blew my away. Of course it’s now very familiar. And I have to say that the familiarity means that it has lost some of its power.

3. Subterranean Homesick Alien

Another “oh, it’s that one” moment. One of the tracks I really like on the album. I should really take the trouble to learn what it’s called.

4. Exit Music (For a Film)

Another good one that I always forget about.

5. Let Down

Like this one too. Not one of my favourites, but it’s enjoyable enough.

6. Karma Police

Best song on the album. Best thing that Radiohead have ever recorded.

7. Fitter Happier

I knew what this one was going to be. It’s the Stephen Hawking one. Probably my least favourite track on the album.

8. Electioneering

This isn’t that good either. Oh, it’s better than the Stephen Hawking thing, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.

9. Climbing Up the Walls

This one pretty much washed over me. It stopped played thirty seconds ago and I can’t really remember it.

10. No Surprises

That stuff I said about “Karma Police” being the best Radiohead song ever. I might have been wrong.

11. Lucky

This is nice. Very laid back. I recognise it, but I had no idea what it was called.

12. The Tourist

A lot of the albums I’ve been listening to recently end rather weakly. And this is no exception. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s not not a particularly strong end to the album. The album just kind of bumbles to an end.

In Summary

I still really like this album. It wasn’t anywhere near as disappointing as some of the other old favourites that I’ve been relistening to recently. But it’s still not quite as good as I remember.

Perhaps I should give some of those more recent Radiohead albums another go.

Equal Marriage

Over the last few days there has been a fair amount of heat and light coming out of the Tory party, generated by the discussion about equal marriage (or, as the tabloids like to describe it, “gay marriage”).

We’ve know for ages that David Cameron is in favour of it and that a lot of the Tory heartland isn’t. But at the end of last week Cameron said that he supported same-sex wedding ceremonies taking place in churches if (and that “if” is important here) the church is happy for them to take place. This hasn’t played well in the shires and various Tories have said a number of increasingly stupid things about it (for a particularly ridiculous example see Tim Fenton’s excellent piece on Nadine Dorries’ confusion over religious freedom and the ECHR).

The problem seems to be that all of the naysayers are illiterate. I said that the word “if” was important in what Cameron was proposes. To many of his critics it seems to be invisible. Where you and I are reading “churches may decide to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies if they want to”, Cameron’s critics are reading “churches will be forced against their will to hold same-sex wedding ceremonies”. They seem to be reading the story through some kind of middle-England auto-bigotry filter.

Some people on my side of the debate (in case that’s not clear, it’s the pro-equal-marriage side) have gone the other way – saying that churches should be forced to hold these ceremonies. I don’t want that at all. Here’s what I want.

I want churches to be stopped from marrying people.

Ok, that’s a deliberately attention-grabbing way of putting it. I should explain in more detail.

As I see it, there are two parts of a marriage. There’s the legal joining together of two people. And then, for some people, there’s a religious ceremony. What if those two parts were completely separated? What if churches lost the right to perform the legal part of the marriage ceremony?

This isn’t so strange. People do it all the time. If non-Christians want to get married, they have to do it in two stages. They go to the registry office to do the legal stuff and then they go to a mosque, temple or whatever to have a ceremony. What if all weddings worked like that?

So here’s what I propose:

  • In order to be legally married, you need to go through some process at a local registry office. This would be a purely legal thing. Bride and groom (or whichever permutation is appropriate) and a couple of witnesses. After this you would be legally married.
  • You then have the option to have some other kind of ceremony of any type you want. Many people would choose a church. Others would go to a mosque or a temple or whatever. You’d also have the option to do nothing else.

The advantage, as far as I see it, is that as the second part (the religious ceremony) now has no legal standing whatsoever, then the government would have no say at all about how it is run and whether or not churches or mosques or temples can run same-sex ceremonies. That decision would be unambiguously in the hands of the people running the organisation in question (but good luck getting a mosque to run a same-sex wedding!)

Of course, this is one of the areas where the religious playing field is uneven. Non-Christians are used to the set-up I describe above. The only reason that Christian churches get a special dispensation to carry out the legal part of a wedding is because they are the established church and therefore sometimes get to dabble in things that should completely off-limits to them.

All of which means that implementing my suggestion would be another step on the way to (or, at least, another very good argument for) disestablishment of the Church.

All in all, I can’t see the flaw in my suggestion. Can you?

Green

It seems that somehow I’ve got four weeks behind on the classic album write-ups. I’ll try to get through at least a couple today. The first one is REM’s Green.

Some Historical Context

I don’t remember when I first heard REM. I remember being aware of Document but I’m not sure how soon after its release I first heard it. I suspect that Green was the first of their albums that I was aware of as it was released.

I do remember that being into REM was a big test of someone’s cool back at the end of the 80s. And a knowledge of the albums before this one was a measure of exactly how cool you were.

In about 1997 a friend of mine met Michael Stipe in our local pub. True story.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Pop Song 89

Pretty typical bouncy REM pop to start the album. This was a single and therefore got lots of radio play (I suspect I was listening to, the sadly missed, GLR at the time). Still sounds good to me.

2. Get Up

Another single from the album. Not as instantly recognisable though. Short and sweet.

3. You Are The Everything

There are a number of tracks on this album whose titles I don’t recognise. I’m sure I’ll know them all when we get to them. This is the first. And, yes, I know it. It’s the one that sounds like it should really be on Automatic For The People – lots of jangly mandolin.

4. Stand

Probably the best known song on the album. Probably one of REM’s best known songs. I still like this a lot.

5. World Leader Pretend

Everyone knows this one too. It wasn’t a single, but got a lot of radio play back then. Still sounds great.

6. The Wrong Child

Here’s one I really don’t remember. It’s ok. Nothing special.

7. Orange Crush

A jolly pop song about Agent Orange. Lovely. The album is called “Green” and its cover is orange. When “Orange Crush” was released as a single, the cover was green.

8. Turn You Inside-Out

Another title that I don’t recognise. But I know (and really like) the song.

9. Hairshirt

Yeah. I quite like this. But it’s nothing special compared to some of the other tracks.

10. I Remember California

Same as with Hairshirt, really. The album doesn’t end on a strong note.

11. Untitled

An untitled song that really doesn’t go anywhere.

In Summary

This wasn’t as good as I remember. Sure, there are some great tracks. But a lot of it is just ok. In retrospect it’s just marking time between Document (the album that first brought them to most people’s attention) and Out of Time (the album that made them really famous). I’d far rather listen to either of those.

Week Notes 47 & 48

As the year draws to an end I seem to have settled into a rhythm of fortnightly “week notes”. I’ll try to do better next year.

Blogging

One classic album review here (I’m now three albums behind on that!). But I’ve written four blog posts over on my Perl blog.

Health

My weight is still stable at about two stone less than it was at the start of the year. I haven’t been doing much exercise and I’ve been eating a bit more cavalierly than I have for most of the year, so I’m pretty happy with that.

With the festive season coming up, together with all the eating that entails, I’ll be happy if I stay at this weight until the end of the year. I can then have a fresh go at losing another two stone next year.

Speaking and Training

Last Saturday was the London Perl Workshop. I seemed to be speaking pretty much all day. Everything went well with one exception. On one of my talks I broke the second law of presenting and forgot to plug in my laptop. The battery gave out about two minutes from the end of the talk. Not very professional.

Next weekend is the next Perl School. Tickets are going well, and I’ve almost got the course written.

I already have three public training courses booked in for next year.

That last one is a new experiment. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Holidays

A lot of the talk at my house over the last couple of weeks has been about our Christmas holiday. We’re going on safari in South Africa over Christmas before spending a few days around New Year’s Eve in Cape Town. It’s the first big holiday I’ve had for about five years, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Gigs

This has been a gig-free week. But I saw a couple of things the week before. On Monday 18th November I saw Gong at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. I’m glad I’ve seen them, but they went on a bit and I don’t think I’ll bother again. It was the least busy I’ve ever seen the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Then on Thursday, I saw The Magnetic North at the Purcell Room. If you haven’t heard their album then I highly recommend that you check it out. They were great live too, but I don’t think they have very many gigs planned.