Sportsthoughts (138) – Goodbye England!

So goodbye England.

Against Fiji you were OK, but nothing more.

Against Wales you were strong but gave the game away. You lacked composure and discipline when it mattered.

Against Australia you lacked creativity and defensive nous. Your self belief looked gone. The Aussies had all three of those qualities and had sorted out their scrum.

In the end it looked like you didn’t have the big match temperament. Dropping George Ford for Owen Farrell before the Welsh game showed excessive caution – lack of self-belief again.

I guess the management resorted to the Saracens way as soon as the pressure was on.

You have to say that the tournament organisers showed great probity by having an honest draw that put the hosts in the Group of Death. The only group with three top teams. Puts FIFA to shame (not hard).

Commercially bonkers though.

You can’t fault the effort of the team. They gave their all. But their flaws – and those of the management – were cruelly exposed.

World Cups are like that. Football as well as rugby.

Maybe they should get Clive Woodward to advise them on how it’s done!

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Choosing a book cover

Tonight Brian Eno gave a brilliant talk at the BBC 6 Music annual John Peel lecture. His theme was the importance of art and culture and that it wasn’t just about contributing to GDP or getting a job. Early on he came up with a very telling phrase: “Art is everything you don’t have to do”. It’s the extra mile we go as human beings, beyond the necessary.

How true that is, and it justifies all the time I spend on this blog – and my music book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey”, which I have now finished. Just have to compile some kind of index, design a cover and find a printer. Then it will be ready to give to friends, though it’s still a way from any commercial publication.

I’ve been playing around with photos for the front and back covers. The front I’m quite set on. In 2014, I saw Fat White Family at Latitude, in the i-Arena. I took a few snaps on my iPhone which were completely distorted by the flashing lights. But they gave me a subject – the lead guitarist. I love the pose, the big hair, the rawness. I’ve distorted it further, with room at the top for the book title.

Here’s the sequence from the original…




For the back cover I thought about nicking the sort of thing Bob Dylan did on “Bringing it all Back Home” and Oasis did on “Definitely Maybe”. Other than themselves, a few iconic objects spread about the place. Albums to the fore. And my guitars, of course. So I tried some variations. Then I thought, what about me playing guitar? A bit pseudy, but why not?  I got Kath to take a few snaps on the iPhone.

So here are a few options. I’ve numbered them and would be interested in any views you have on what you think would work best.

1 and 2 – a bit of trim and fade.


3 and 4. Books, West Ham scarf and trainers make an appearance. Too much information, possibly.


5 – spot the cameraman


6 – Keeping it simple. But with whole of guitars and photo of Kieran at young age sneaking in. And Daddy’s little monkey, which Isabelle gave me one Father’s day.


7 and 8 – focusing in.


9 – Bowie plectrum on Radiohead box set cover. Sums up quite a lot.


10 – just the symbolic records.


11 – me! With beer.


12, 13, 14  – Me x 3! Without beer. I kind of like this and the original (12) is now on my Facebook and WordPress photos, instead of some crappy iMac shot I took in haste back when I started. Having said that, I make no claims about my guitar playing. I strum a few chords – that’s it.


I think I’m favouring 1 or 2 and 12-14 right now…

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Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy

The Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei’s exhibition opened at the Royal Academy on 19 September. I got to see a friends preview the day before, after work. It’s a must-see if you are in London. A fascinating insight into the artist’s struggles with the Chinese authorities and his campaigning for the rights of the people of China. He tackles the way the authorities have sought to destroy inconvenient history, the neglect and corruption which made school buildings so vulnerable to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, oppression in general. His own experience includes imprisonment, and that is well-documented too.

This is art as a political statement and a personal experience. Powerful stuff.

A few iPhone snaps – just a taster.

This one’s “Cao”, or grass. Also an internet term of abuse apparently. Each blade of grass and the supporting hexagons hewn from a quarry in which Ai Weiwei bought a share. Same marble as used for Mao’s mausoleum in Tianaman Square.


Surveillance cameras never far away. Not so different to London in that respect.


Reaching back into the past, and alluding to the way the authorities have reinvented history, Ai Weiwei takes ancient vases and modernises them.


There’s a story about an arts centre in Shanghai Ai Weiwei built at the local authorities’ request. The order was then countermanded and the building razed to the ground. Just before its brief opening, Ai Weiwei, who knew it would also be destroyed, arranged a party. 800 guests turned up to eat river crabs, a synonym of harmony, and also internet censorship. Ai Weiwei was put under house arrest, so he couldn’t attend his own party. But he rescued some of the rubble and reassembled it.


And he made hundreds (thousands?) of porcelain river crabs. These mass objects are a typical Ai Weiwei work. He filled the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with millions of porcelain sunflower seeds back in 2010.


Outside, in the courtyard, there’s “Tree”.


The exhibition is on until 13 December. Catch it if you can!

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Sportsthoughts (137) – 2015 Rugby World Cup predictions!

So the Rugby Union World Cup starts today with England, joint hosts with Wales, playing Fiji at Twickenham. Time to get excited!

Naturally the question I most want to ask is, can England win the World Cup? Most commentators don’t seem to think so; I think there’s a decent chance, but ultimately I don’t really believe they can. They have a promising, quite young team, with some pace in the backs and an inventive fly half in George Ford. The forwards are tried and tested, and few will be able to boss them, although France gave them a bit of a going over in one of the recent friendlies. But even now, after a few years of being promising, they haven’t developed the ruthlessness in the final phases, the clinical finishing that is so essential when chances are few and far between. Maybe the home support, the edge that real competition can elicit, will add those final touches. But in the end I can’t quite see them matching New Zealand or South Africa, who, as ever, will be the favourites.

Just to show that the draw from the groups isn’t fiddled in favour of the hosts, both England and Wales have been put in the same group as Australia. Veritably the “group of death”. Normally all three would expect a passage to the quarter finals; this time one must fall. England can beat both, but they could just as easily lose. Fiji won’t be pushovers either. Wales have had some injury setbacks – the loss of Leigh Halfpenny deprives them of the best goal kicker in the world. But they remain a strong, powerful side. Australia have better, more incisive backs than just about anyone, but their scrum usually lets them down when in the Northern Hemisphere. Apparently it has got better under Michael Cheika’s direction, but the jury is still out.

So all I can do really is say England can do it and hope for the best! It’s essential they come first: that way, they avoid going into the half of the knockout draw where New Zealand and South Africa will be lurking, assuming they both top their groups. If England come second, they will face South Africa, probably, in the quarter finals – a big ask. If they come top, they will most likely face Scotland or Samoa. That’s very winnable, though any match with Scotland comes with a special fire and passion. If they beat Scotland, there’s a good chance they’ll meet Ireland in the semi-final, if the Irish maintain their form as the best European team in the last two Six Nations (as opposed to their form in the last friendly against England). And then in the final it would be New Zealand or South Africa – or Australia/Wales… or France. You can never rule the French out in World Cups. They often spark to life against the odds: last time, in 2011, they made the final and were unlucky not to beat New Zealand, who seized up when the moment of glory approached.

To be honest, it’s only that possibility of nerves getting to the New Zealand in the final stages that gives anyone else hope of winning. They are the supreme team, solid and resourceful in all areas, with devastating pace and guile in the back three and ruthless when they gain possession in broken play.  Dan Carter, the best fly half of the last decade, gets a final chance to win a World Cup, having missed the tournament through injury last time, in his home country. And the awesome Richie McCaw, the world’s most-capped rugby player now, leads them out once more.

Amongst the European sides, you’d expect Ireland to be the best, with Johnny Sexton orchestrating them from fly half; but their World Cup pedigree is poor. Will they have the belief deep down? The same question could be asked of Wales, whereas both England and France have often done well, even when the team is not a great one (England 2007, France last time).

Argentina can’t be ignored either. They are now battle-hardened from regular games against New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. They could be heading for a quarter final against Ireland. Brutal.

Anyway, with a dash of wishful thinking, I will predict a New Zealand v England final, with the All Blacks winning. Ireland and South Africa losing semi-finalists.

Now is the time to stick your money on Australia or France!

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lovelondonscenes – 104

From the murk of a very wet Wednesday afternoon, with the City skyline struggling to make itself seen…



… to the beauty of a sunny autumnal morning today in Lammas Park, Ealing. Everything so lush and the sunshine burning off the accumulated dampness.





(My 500th post, by the way).

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Have you heard? – (67) Gengahr and This Is the kit


Over the summer, especially since Latitude in mid-July, the two albums I’ve been listening to most are “A Dream Outside” by Gengahr and “Bashed Out” by This Is the Kit. I’d heard both albums before Latitude and already liked them – I guess Latitude heightened my appreciation of both.

Gengahr’s is the best guitar-based indie album I’ve heard since… what? Royal Blood, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes? Yes, it is that good. It has grown and grown on me. At first I wondered whether Felix Bushe’s slightly spooky falsetto vocals could sustain themselves over a whole album, but they do. They are an integral part of the sound. There are rousing riffs, catchy beats and lovely melodies. The melodies work their way into your brain with repeated listens. And this is an album I found myself listening to repeatedly. Most unusual in this day and age.

“Powder” was the first track of Gengahr’s that I heard – must have been on BBC 6 Music – and I was immediately taken with it. It glides, the vocals are woozy, quite weird, and then the guitars kick in and it lurches into an offbeat chorus which seems to be in another key. It’s not a conventional progression, but it is an air guitar moment! Brilliant stuff – especially the solo towards the end.

Up there with “Powder” is “She’s a Witch”, second track on the album. This has become Gengahr’s most popular song so far, I think. It is what they played last at Latitude, and it got a fantastic reaction. It’s got a lovely, wistful, dreamy melody, with some sharp guitar rhythms as the song builds. As good as indie gets. I love it.

The whole album is great, but other highlights include “Heroine”, which has a guitar rhythm which reminds me of REM, though I’m struggling pinpoint the exact song (“Man on the Moon” feels closest, though it’s far from identical); the opener, “Dizzy Ghosts”, which gives you notice of the dreamy vocals and razor sharp riffs; and “Lonely Like a Shark”, which creeps up on you with its irresistible melody. Not sure where the shark comes into it!

I’ll be really interested to see how well the band do. It seems to me that they could appeal to today’s generation of music lovers who were attracted to The Smiths in the eighties. Or Radiohead in the nineties. But I guess it will depend on where they go to next with their sound.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing them again at the Scala, near Kings Cross, in October.


This is the Kit would be classified as Folk, but their sound ranges beyond that, especially live, where the electric guitar adds a wave of sound that heightens the atmosphere of the songs. I start to think of John Martyn live at that point. The first song I heard was the wonderful “In Cahoots” on Marc Riley’s BBC 6 Music show. It’s a minor key, melancholy, with some intriguing, quirky lyrics. Singer and lead person is Kate Stables and her words mix the everyday with the more mystical. Also in the band is Rozi Plain, who has made some lovely music in her own right. Check her recent album “Friend”.

“Bashed Out” is one of those albums that I’d describe as having a celtic soul. The songs have a melancholy, wistful air. The music is beautiful and atmospheric. And the lyrics have a quirkiness which makes you listen to them. What they mean in the end I haven’t really tried to figure out, but they feel like the words of a person who is grappling with the modern world, trying to make sense of it. Trying to keep it simple.

The whole album is wonderful, but highlights, as well as “All In Cahoots”, are the opener “Misunderstanding”, which has been in my head all the time recently, especially when I’m feeling thoughtful (if that makes sense) and “Silver John”, which is verging on rousing! And “Spores All Settling” has Kate rattling her banjo against a lovely melody.

I’m seeing This is the Kit again in November, also at the Scala. Going to be my favourite venue by the looks of things!


These two albums I can’t recommend highly enough. I can’t guarantee you’ll like them, but give them a try and you might just feel the same as I have.


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lovelondonscenes – 103. A walk from Erith to Greenwich.

On the Saturday just gone, Kath and I, with our friends Jon and Maggie, took a succession of trains out to Erith, in Kent, not far from Dartford, to walk back along the River Thames into Greenwich. Why? Well, the Londonist website, which I recommend for all things London, had featured it a few months ago, and it sounded interesting. And we thought it time to venture into south-east London, not our normal territory.

I had never heard of Erith before I read the Londonist article, which I attach here. Another suburban town; but when we got down to the river, it was awesome. Lowish tide. A beautiful expanse. A few photos of the trip upstream to Greenwich follow.

Looking upstream at the pier in Erith.


And downstream, into the sun. Dartford Bridge lurks in the background.





Across the way is the massive Ford plant at Dagenham.


Now this is a sludge generator. Human waste turned to energy. The sort of thing that happens down-river. The mass of seagulls in the following photo presumably has some connection!



As we headed into Woolwich, Canary Wharf (and the Shard as always) loomed, with tall ships in the foreground. Turned out there was a tall ships festival in Woolwich.



The Thames Barrier at Woolwich. Stops central London from being flooded when there are exceptionally high tides. Huge barriers rise from below. Only needed a couple of times a year normally.


Approaching the Dome. A great landmark. Early criticism forgotten.


The Emirates “Air Line” cable car.


The Dome is now one of London’s premier music venues, and has a complex of restaurants and a cinema too.


Mammon. Aka Canary Wharf.


There were a string of arty slogans attached to posts and walls in a stretch of the walk which was largely building sites. Maybe a protest against the fact that most of the apartments being built are high-end properties which will probably be bought by foreign investors, and many won’t be lived in. I agree this is a scandal and our political leaders in London need to be doing something about it.


We got to Greenwich, with the rain pouring – it started about 4pm. August in England! We stopped in a great pub called the Cutty Sark. This is a view from just outside. The smokers’ view.


The Londonist told me the trip was 13 miles. I’m not sure whether that was as the crow flies, or along the many bends in the river. But, with an hour’s stop for refreshments in Woolwich, it took about six hours.

Well worth the trip!



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