Latitude 2016

IMG_0033

Another year, another Latitude. My fifth. Three days when you shake off the daily grind and just relax, watch 30 bands, drink Tuborg and enjoy the sense of community that is all around. OK, if it rains there is a lot of mud, and you do have to sleep in a tent. But it’s worth it.

And this year it hardly rained, there were virtually no traffic jams coming up, and even the water pressure in the showers was marginally better!

We had a good gang this year. Me and Jon, his son Louis and his mate Mark, my son Kieran and his mate Adam, and my friends Shane and Ginette, dipping their toes into festival waters for the first time. And a few other friends around. We don’t spend a lot of time with the boys, who follow a different daily cycle. But from time to time our music choices overlap, or they might have a recommendation that we follow. And the morning is always a time to catch up, as no-one can sleep on in a tent once the sun comes out.

So, onto the music. Rather than plough through every band I saw, I’m going pick out ten highlights, plus another couple of crucial events. Then I’ll mop up a few other bands . Only bands: I saw nothing else all weekend, despite the tremendous variety on offer. There is just too much good music.

Starting with the best.

Chvrches – Obelisk (Main Stage), Saturday

IMG_0099

Chvrches were awesome. Second on the bill to The National. We saw them in the i-Arena, when they were just emerging, in 2013. I took to them pretty quickly that year, and have loved them ever since. And how they have changed, live. Lauren used to be pretty static, grasping her mic leads tight. Her vulnerable voice and stance on stage was a beguiling contrast to the blasting synths, especially of “Lies”. But all that has changed. Lauren never stops moving, except for the slot when Martin Doherty takes over the singing. Black dress swirling, arms aloft. Dynamic and engaging.

Just like the music. On Saturday night it packed a real drive and power. The set was uptempo – even “Tether” was dropped – with a focus on the second album and the poppiest ones from the first. Chrvches have honed their stagecraft through extensive touring, and a lot of festivals. They know their festival audience. Younger than usual, especially the front few rows, looking for an excuse for a bit of moshing. And they got it, all the way through. The bass did more than rumble. It bulldozed out of the speakers. I stood quite close (not quite in mosh territory) and that bass shook every bone in my body!

The atmosphere was electric. Exhilarating. Hard to pick out a highlight as the whole show was a highlight. I was impressed that the kids seemed to know all the words; they weren’t just jumping up and down to the bass kicks. Maybe Chvrches are now cracking that younger audience.  That way true stardom lies. And Lauren Mayberry is a star. No longer just the indie heartthrob.

But keep that indie spirit Lauren!

Slaves – BBC 6 Music Stage, Friday

Slaves have previous at recent Latitudes too. Two years ago they played the Lake Stage in the early evening sunshine. It’s quite hard to make an impression as people bask in the sun, or pass by to other places, but I remember being struck by the vehemence of their two man guitar and drum rants. Jon and I saw them last year on the NME Awards tour with Palma Violets, Fat White Family and The Wytches, and they were rousing. And now, second on the bill to Grimes, they were mindblowing. Basic, but unbelievably powerful. Punk, thrash, hardcore. How Isaac Holman keeps it up on drums and vocals – shouting – beats me. These guys are true to their Kent roots, but also really receptive to the audience. There was a real humility in Isaac’s words as he described their first Latitude experience and their appreciation of where they were now.

And then we had Harvey from Kettering! One lad at the front was obviously giving it some with his dancing, so they invited him on stage and he absolutely rose to the occasion. Bossed it! It was funny, heartwarming and in the true spirit of rock’n’roll.

IMG_0056

That’s Slaves for you. You probably wouldn’t want to listen to them on record too much, unless you are a young and angry man. But live they are life-affirming.

The National – Obelisk Stage, Saturday

IMG_0105

The National had a hard act to follow in Chvrches, but they did it with aplomb. And respect (see below). They headlined in 2011, the first year Jon went (I followed in 2012). Singer, Matt Berninger, had a lovely story about the band’s bond with Latitude. In 2011, the band were at a crucial juncture, short of money and equipment. Latitude making them headliners in 2011 transformed their finances and helped them make a tour of the UK. They borrowed equipment from the Cold War Kids on the night. It went well and the rest is history. On Saturday, the bond, the mutual respect, was there for all to see. A wonderful set, full of rich, plaintive but warm songs, soaring guitars, fantastic lights and graphics and Berninger his usual un-rock star self. His current look is of a rather long haired university professor I thought. But he can sing and move a crowd. It was an inspiring set and featured three lovely moments for me, as well as that story about 2011.

First he duetted with no less than Lauren Mayberry on the beautiful “I Need my Girl”, from the latest album, “Trouble Will Find Me”. Not some cheesy harmonies (though that might have been nice too) but sharing the verses. Lauren sang beautifully, and the mutual respect is clearly strong. A wonderful moment.

IMG_0110

Second, just the marvellous “Pink Rabbits”. It’s taken me a while fully to get The National, but the first song to knock me out was “Pink Rabbits”. It’s a tortured lost love song (one of many) with lyrics on one level obscure, on the other conveying perfectly the mood. I’ve quoted this before, but I’ve never tired of this quartet, which sums up the hopelessness so well:

You didn’t see me I was falling apart – I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park – You didn’t see me I was falling apart – I was a television version of a person with a broken heart.

I know the lyrics so well, having learnt them to play the song on the guitar. So it means a lot to me, and I think the bloke standing next to me thought I was a bit weird belting them out! But I was living the moment.

And then the last song, when Matt turned the mic towards the audience and everyone (including all the band) sang “Cry Baby Cry”, actually known in Berninger-land as “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks”. Of course it was! A great and genuine moment of communion in the warm Saturday night air. We were blessed that night, until later, with perfect weather. As good as festival nights can get, I would say. Probably the best headlining act I’ve seen at Latitude, although there have been many excellent ones before.

These were the three standout moments, the ones that will be remembered for all time – with a fourth to come after the bands. But on to the next band in my ten.

Courtney Barnett – Obelisk, Friday

IMG_0046

I wondered how Courtney Barnett, with her grungy rock’n’roll, with lyrics to take notice of, was going to come across on the Obelisk on a Friday afternoon, just after British Sea Power had disappointed even Jon, a massive fan, with a somewhat underpowered set. I was left to enjoy her set on my own as everyone else was heading, quite reasonably, for Christine and the Queens. And, by all accounts, she was one of the hits of Latitude. But you have to stay loyal. I love Courtney’s music and I felt the need to support her. So I went quite close to the stage – it wasn’t difficult. And I’m pleased to say she rocked! One of the few who did over the weekend. This was a festival dominated by electronic sounds, which is fine, because that is where the cutting edge is these days. And there is a young crowd that needs to hear their own music, not just a load of stuff to keep the oldies happy (there is plenty to do that by the way).

I’m a bit useless at remembering Courtney’s song titles, notwithstanding the distinctiveness of the lyrics (a problem I have with many bands), but highlights, inevitably, were “Depreston”, “Avant Gardner” – the closing song – and the awesome “Pedestrian at Best”. Put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you!

Proper rock’n’roll, I cried to myself, as I joined in the accolades. The spirit of Nirvana wasn’t much to be seen at Latitude, but Courtney Barnett kept it alive.

Let’s Eat Grandma – Sunrise Arena, Friday

IMG_0032

The Sunrise Arena is the new name for the i-Arena, in the woods. The sponsor, the Independent newspaper, went bust and has a new owner. Sponsoring Latitude obviously isn’t in the business plan. The Sunrise Arena is the place where Jon and I will always start the day if there is nothing else we are desperate to see, and the place we always return to, to discover amazing new music. It’s also the place where most of the crucial DJ sets happen after the concerts finish. Our Latitude spiritual home.

Let’s Eat Grandma are two local 18 year olds – Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, from Norwich – who, you will know, if you read my review of them from a few weeks ago, play an intriguing mix of sounds which take in prog, electronica, dance, Kate Bush, Bjork and who knows what else. The recorder features. It’s great stuff – maybe not for everyone, but they really won over the Sunrise crowd, third on, on a Friday afternoon. They don’t engage with the audience yet, but that will come. I think they are exceptional and will go far. They have a new album out, “I, Gemini”. It will be mostly the live set and is well worth a listen. Not a discovery for me, as Jon put me on to them earlier; but one of the most exciting I saw on the Sunrise Arena this year.

Pumarosa – Sunrise Arena, Saturday

IMG_0061

What I said about the Sunrise above is why we went to see Pumarosa first up on Saturday. The programme blurb mentioned Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and, bizarrely, in that company, The Cocteau Twins. Having seen them, it all made sense. They were excellent. They played with a confidence and scope that tells me that they are destined for big things. Maybe influenced a bit by the appearance of the singer and guitarist, Isabel Munoz-Newsome, I immediately thought Wolf Alice, and something in their sound kept that thought there. Maybe not quite as many poppy choruses yet, but great guitars, big sounds and some singing that definitely brought memories of Patti and Polly Jean. Good, good band. Staying for the whole of their set meant I missed most of Rat Boy in the 6 Music tent, so they can’t make the top ten. But Pumarosa were my discovery of Latitude 2016.

Roots Manuva – 6 Music Stage, Sunday

IMG_0127

After a pretty lively Saturday which resulting in getting to bed at about 4am, Sunday was a bit soporific at first. Jon and I enjoyed some mellow shows at the Sunrise Arena to start, of which more later. But basically we lay on the grass and took in the music in a chill-out style.

Roots Manuva got us back on form!

If you don’t know Roots Manuva, he’s probably the UK’s premier rapper, with strong roots in reggae, dance and British culture generally. He’s been making awesome sounds for years. He took hold of the 6 Music arena and turned it into a cauldron of rhythm and dance. The bassline- like Chvrches and few others – went straight for the solar plexus. Initially, I was planning to stay for 15 minutes and then go to see The Lumineers – a popular folky outfit, a bit like Mumford, I think – as I’d not heard them before. But I couldn’t. Roots Manuva was so good. He didn’t do my favourite, “Again and Again”, but he finshed with his awesome “Witness (1 Hope)”. Altogether now, Witness for fitness…

Lonely the Brave – Lake Stage, Saturday

IMG_0074

Another completely new one for me. Kieran’s friend, Adam, from university, is obsessive about them. They play a muscular rock, with big riffs and choruses, which remind me most of some of the early 2000s bands like Snow Patrol. But a bit more dynamic. The Lake Stage is a hard place to get people going in the afternoon, but they managed it. They’ve been going for a while and have even supported Bruce Springsteen. So Americans may respond better – and the European continent. But I think they have a good future. Their singer just needs to put himself a bit more upfront. They have a charismatic guitarist – he needs a rival. I’m sure it will happen. I will certainly be exploring their albums. Top of my Spotify homework list!

Mura Masa – 6 Music Stage, Sunday

IMG_0124

This was a recommendation from Kieran. When I listened to his music (he’s Alex Crossan from Guernsey) on Spotify, I thought a more dancey James Blake. Live, with a girl singer, I thought Disclosure with some more leftfield beats. Either way, they are recommendations from me! The singer did a bit of irritating exhortation of the crowd to respond more, even as the kids at the front were leaping about in mid-afternoon. I thought it was a good reaction, and by the end it was buzzing. Mura Masa comes from a different musical world to mine, but there is overlap, and I could appreciate the brilliance of his sound without thinking I loved it. He will be big, no doubt.

New Order – Obelisk Stage, Sunday

IMG_0141

Of course I have got to include New Order! The last signature show on the main stage. A show which featured “True Faith”, “Temptation” and the iconic “Blue Monday” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” in the last half hour. The Dads were rocking! But lots of other people too. I was with Shane and Ginette and we just missed Jon, who was near us. He is a massive fan. I acknowledge the greatness without getting misty-eyed. But that last sequence was worthy of a Latitude finale. Overall the show had great sound, lighting, and, like The National, superb graphics. The band are not strong personalities on stage, so the presentation was key. The bass of Tom Chapman, replacing Peter Hook, took centre stage, as it does with New Order and Joy Division. He was good.

I can’t say I didn’t look at my watch during the first hour, but the wait was worth it, with the string of classics at the end. Some of the greatest indie music ever.

Other bands who made a mark

On that restful Sunday start at the Sunrise Arena, I wallowed in the ambient jazz piano of Lambert, complete with impala mask. Rumours were it might have been Nils Frahm, and you could see hear it in the piano if you wanted to.

IMG_0119

Then Holly Macve, from Yorkshire, sang some beautiful country ballads. Her voice was tremendous. The songs reminded me a bit of torch song era k.d.lang, but Holly’s voice took us to different places. One to explore. And Cloves, from New Zealand, had a style that could take her into Ellie Gould territory. Later on Sunday at the Sunrise we saw a Norwegian band, Highasakite, who had great melodies and some big choruses. I really liked a song which I think was called “The Last Supper”. Kiran Leonard, on the Lake Stage, Saturday afternoon, drove all my friends away with his howls, but I find him engrossing, and he plays a spectacular guitar. Marc Riley, from 6 Music, adores him.

IMG_0071

Sunrise Arena would have been his natural home. Bleeding Heart Pigeons, from Dublin, had a great guitarist too, though he hasn’t made his mind up whether he wants to be Hendrix or The Edge, with a Bono to provide the melodies, yet. I couldn’t quite make my mind up about John Grant, at the Obelisk, before Chvrches, on Saturday. Most people I talked to loved him. I find him just a bit contrived, with the music forced to fit the words. But I see the appeal. Also on the Obelisk on Saturday a bit earlier were Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats. They played an excellent set of good old fashioned American R&B that was very much in the spirit of Van Morrison in the 60s and good old Southside Johnny. Could have done with a bit more volume though.  Flamingods, first thing we saw on Friday (Sunrise Arena of course) played an energetic mix of percussive, funky, Latin, hard-rocking, anarchic beats that made me think of a Mexican Fat White Family. And finally Grimes. Could easily have been in the ten. Would be top of most people’s choices, if they saw her. After Slaves, another sonic assault, and visual too. Dance beats rather than hard rocking. But in the same camp. Only when she spoke did the squeakiness come through. I’ve never paid that much attention to her music. I think it’s a brilliant version of the type, but maybe not my thing ultimately. But I can’t deny it was an awesome show.

The other two highlights

First up on Friday, in the Film and Theatre Arena, comedian and commentator Adam Buxton paid a tribute, mostly based on YouTube videos, to David Bowie.

IMG_0049

It was heartfelt and very funny at times, especially some of the comments he’d dredged up from YouTube. Like the bloke who complained that Bowie dying had ruined his birthday. The show was book-ended by clips of Bowie doing “Jean Genie” and “Heroes”. Both emotional moments. The show brought out the love we have for his music, but also the humour in anyone’s situation. Masterful. Thanks to my colleague Annabelle (who was at Latitude too) for recommending it. Otherwise I would have been at Augustines – and I felt just a bit guilty about missing them. But you have to make difficult choices at a festival sometimes.

Finally, one of the great Latitude moments. David Rodigan’s journey through reggae, and all its relatives, at the Sunrise Arena. From 1am on Sunday morning to 3am. It was meant to be Friday, but no matter. Suggs was on at 11 pm, Saturday. He was disappointing – didn’t seem to know his way round the console and played a list of 70s and 80s disco any of us could have done. At least at the start. I left and went down to the Button Down Disco, an indie treat in the Comedy Arena, for about an hour. Then I returned to the Sunrise. Jon was still there. We watched from the back while jungle took its turn (it’s roots were in ragga) but then I just had to get involved. I immersed myself in the crowd – most unusual! – and found myself slowly moving forward. I just love reggae, and Rodigan is the master. He took us through so many phases, with heavy doses of Ska and Bob Marley near the end. Rightly so. The singing, the celebration, was exhilarating. God knows what I was doing there really, but I left at the close and made it back to the tents just after the boys, who had all been there, though I didn’t see them. Well beyond my bedtime, and it took Roots Manuva to get me going the next day, but it was one of the most memorable Latitude moments. Don Letts has provided them in reggae many times. He had a set on early Monday morning. I skipped it this year after Rodigan, but I’ll be back next year.

I’m sure I – we – will be back next year.

Like David Rodigan would say, Give me a signal for Latitude!

IMG_0079

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Massive Attack and Elvis Costello live, July 2016

Not together, but two of my all-time favourite artists played in London this month. Massive Attack opened the British Summer Time series of live concerts in Hyde Park on Friday 1 July. Elvis Costello and the Imposters played the Roundhouse on Wednesday 6 July.

I was there!

Two very different artists, but they had something in common at these two shows: they were both trying to find ways of addressing the self-destructive craziness that has overwhelmed Briatin – or should I say England? – these last few weeks. With more to come, sadly.

I saw Massive Attack earlier this year at Brixton Academy. It was an awesome show: atmospheric, bass reverberating, the beauty of the songs vying with the sometimes rather gauche, but powerful sloganeering. An event. You can read my scattergun review here.

I expected more of the same at Hyde Park, but maybe even more spectacular lighting to compensate for the inevitable loss of atmosphere playing in the open air, on a rather damp and chilly English summer evening. That didn’t really happen, and while the show was good, I was left slightly underwhelmed. The slogans were there, with more focus on Europe and the implications of the British vote to leave the EU. But they were all a bit obvious. And the lights were unambitious by today’s big show standards.

IMG_0018

And the music? Again, a bit of a lost opportunity. They dug out an old song, “Eurochild” from the excellent “Protection” album, which they hadn’t played for over 20 years. A lament for the vote. And the emphasis throughout was on peace and harmony. And old colleague, Tricky, was brought back for one song. Reggae singer Horace Andy, who has embellished so many of Massive Attack’s great tunes, was literally wheeled out – in a wheelchair, as he has a broken leg – for one song, the mighty “Angel”. The band missed his fragile tones, which are such a lovely counterpoint to the power and darkness of the music. There were great versions of “Risingson”, “Inertia Creeps”, “Safe from Harm”, and a magisterial “Unfinished Sympathy” for the encore. But momentum was lost in the middle when they gave their good friends, Young Fathers, the stage for four songs. Now I like Young Fathers and they know how to put on a good show, but this interlude just didn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

So, yeah, of course it was good. My friends Jon and Shane were pretty enthusiastic about it. But I guess I hoped for a bit more from one of the great bands.

And then we had Elvis. And the Imposters, which was actually two thirds Attractions, with the inimitable Steve Nieve on any number of keyboards and Pete Thomas, ever-reliable on the drums.

IMG_3719

Elvis back with a band, after all the solo shows and the talk. And back to a version of his early self – intense, visceral, biting, angry. A man of few words, but an uncompromising stare through the shades. And rocking like I’ve never seen him before. On a rocket-powered version of “Beyond Belief” he played a lengthy solo that Neil Young or Robin Trower would have been proud of. “I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea” got similar treatment.

The setlist drew heavily on the 70s and early 80s catalogue. The best era, though he has never stopped doing interesting things. The era when he had something to say about the state of the world. And it wasn’t pretty viewing through Elvis’s eyes.  What he had to say was often brutal, vicious, but the tunes were so good, the music ever-mutating. And tonight, back with his greatest foil, Steve Nieve, he told us what he was thinking about the state of Britain and the world. Through his songs. “Sunday’s Best” (which segued into The Beatles’ “Polythene Pam”), “Oliver’s Army”, “What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and Understanding?”, “Green Shirt”, “Night Rally” (with blazing searchlights), “Pills and Soap” and, of course, the ever poignant “Shipbuilding”. Elvis sang the latter with just a restrained piano accompaniment from Steve Nieve. It really was a cry for help, a plea for change. He remarked that he’d hoped that he wouldn’t still be feeling he had to play it. But he probably always will.

Yes, this was what the media love to call a return to form. A delve back into the classics, but with a purpose. Entertainment, but not just that. A howl of anger at what is happening, from the man who dissected the crumbling 70s and brutal 80s better than anyone. Much more allusive, subtle, than Massive Attack. And more effective for that. I love ’em both, but Elvis won hands down this time around.

Music speaks volumes.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

lovelondonscenes 113 – Night view from Hungerford Bridge

A view I never tire of – the lights of London as darkness falls.

IMG_0021

Been a bit slack on the London photos recently. Too much work… and football on TV. Plenty stored up, and always something round the corner. We move on!

Posted in Photos - lovelondonscenes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sportsthoughts (152) – Why were England so bad against Iceland?

So we lost 2-1 to Iceland in the last 16 of the Euros. Had we won, we would have been up against France in the quarters, and didn’t have high hopes about that one. But it would have been par for the course – or at least the course until recently, when we have been losing much earlier (last two World Cups as well as yesterday).

I listened to a BBC 5 Live discussion tonight about what went wrong. As host Mark Chapman said, this is a biennial discussion. Every World Cup, every Euro.  Hope turns quickly to pain.

But why is that?

After the ritual slagging of the manager and the players, the discussion turned inevitably to the structure of football in England – the dominance of the Premier League, which is an international festival, the way the game is coached, the win at all costs mentality when the kids are young. The same themes as ever.

I don’t think it’s that bad.

We have good players, though it is true that some don’t get the chance in the big Premier League teams. But what the team seems to lack at tournaments is really basic stuff: a plan, a formation, confidence, leadership. That is in large part a managerial issue.

Here’s an example of why it is so. The England rugby team, immensely talented, badly managed, had a disastrous World Cup in the autumn of 2015. Finally we got a good coach – the Australian Eddie Jones. He’s tweaked the side, with the awesome Itoje the key addition; but largely the same team as in the World Cup has won the Six Nations and just beaten Australia three times in Australia. The latter is unprecedented. Each game was so close, but England battled to victory each time. How did that change? It can only be organisation, structure, belief. Imparted by the manager, but quickly absorbed by the players, who were always good.

Contrast with last night. Credit to Iceland – they had a plan, a structure, and tons of belief. It won them the game with 30% possession. They are a good team – they knocked Holland out of the qualifiers. Undoubtedly we underestimated them – but we should still have beaten them.

Instead it was possibly the most embarrassing England performance ever. By the end, Harry Kane, a fine centre forward, top scorer in the Premier League last season, couldn’t trap the ball, hit a free kick ten yards beyond the awaiting players, and off the pitch. It looked like he’d had a footballing breakdown. Confidence completely shot. I feel sorry for him -what brought that about?

Well, I can only surmise, but it seems like clueless management. The players are good. But they need a plan, a structure. Need to have a plan B. need to know what is expected of them. It looked like no-one knew last night. And there are no leaders to take a grip on the pitch, if things are going wrong mid-half. That’s about confidence. Why weren’t Cahill, Rooney, Hart doing that? It was as if no-one knew what they should do.

That has to be traced back to Roy Hodgson.

His reputation when he became England manager was as a fairly conservative manger who favoured 4-4-2. And 4-4-2 is still what English players instinctively understand. But he bowed to the pressures and tried all sorts of different formations, and ended up not having a clue what he wanted. And so last night we played 4-3-3, with Sterling, whose confidence had gone, and Sturridge, a central striker, out wide. Guess what, it failed. The central striker, Kane, didn’t have to take corners any more, but was still taking free kicks, instead of being in the box to score. Rooney was converted to a deep midfielder at the last minute. He did it quite well, but it disrupted the system that worked well when we beat Germany and France in friendlies. And so I could go on. The point is, it was all improvisation at the last minute, and against the national instinct. Against the grain. With, clearly, little buy-in.

So with a classic 4-4-2 that everyone understood, what could we have done? Kane and Vardy could have done the business upfront. Kane the target man, Vardy roaming, exploiting his pace. Delle Alli or Rooney (not both) could have been the forward-lying midfielder, the No10. A couple of players could have patrolled the middle – maybe Lallana and Wilshere, or Henderson; and Dier could have provided the anchor. The full backs could still have bombed up and down, but with a bit more cover. The particular personnel aren’t the point. It’s the structure, the plan. Players knowing what they have to do – and how to adjust when things go wrong. It’s generally easier to adapt when you know what you should be doing in the first place.

So, maybe it’s the structure of English football that determines whether we can win a World Cup in the long term; but to make at least the semis of these quite weak Euros, it just needed good management and the confidence which would have flowed from that. We didn’t have it. Roy failed the test, just as he did at the Brazil World Cup. He should have gone then.

Of course the players – those pampered, obscenely wealthy players – must take the blame too; but in fairness to them, they need to know what they are supposed to be doing. They clearly didn’t.

So who should be the next manager? Who should we pin our hopes on? You know, I have no idea. I’d love it to be Jose Mourinho, but he’s just started at Man Utd. I’m erring towards an Englishman who really understands the heart of English football, even in these Premier League days. A man who is prepared to delve into the Championship if he can’t get the defenders he needs from the Premier League options (which are thin). My God, I’m almost talking myself into Sam Allardyce, although I hated having him at West Ham.  Some of the stars might object, but, you know why not just leave them out and get a team that plays with passion and discipline.

No, no, no, not Sam! But someone similar. Accept our limitations and build on our strengths.

It might get us to the quarter finals at least.

Posted in Sportsthoughts | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Oh England!

I live and die through England,

Through England,

It leaves a sadness.

(“England” by PJ Harvey)

It’s democracy for sure… but oh England, what have you done?

A vote for isolation, division, racism, hatred.

A deluded vote that doesn’t recognise that we live in an interconnected world. “Taking back control” simply isn’t an option. To prosper in the modern world you need to collaborate, cooperate.

A deluded vote that imagines we can or will stop immigration. We need immigrants for so many of our industries and services (including the beloved NHS), and to pay the taxes which will fund the pensions of all those old people who voted to leave.

A reckless vote that will probably break up the United Kingdom. Scotland will want another referendum for independence. Northern Ireland – at least the Catholic half – will say a UK government has no right to take it out of the EU, severing links with the rest of Ireland.

An irresponsible vote which may lead to the breakdown and breakup of the EU, the institution that has stopped war in the most war-like of continents.

OK, let’s not get too apocalyptic. We’ll probably muddle through, and maybe not much will change after the initial shock.

But this is the worst of England – aloof, uncaring, living in a mythological past of standing alone. It’s the voice you sometimes hear in the countryside: “You’re not from round here, are you?”

London voted massively to stay in. It’s a city state which thrives on diversity, and has increasingly little in common with the rest of the country. But its tax revenues subsidise the rest. Maybe London should seek independence and stay in the EU.

It leaves a sadness…

Posted in Random stuff | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Sportsthoughts (151) – Euro 2016 predictions!

Slightly slow off the mark, as the tournament started yesterday, but France beat Romania as expected, so nothing’s happened to change my views yet.

So here are my predictions for the tournament. Guaranteed to be wrong!

Winners : Spain

Second: France

Semi-finalists: Germany and Italy

Quarter finalists: England, Belgium, Switzerland, Wales

Top scorer: Olivier Giroud, and if not him, Dmitri Payet (genius). Both France.

Top scorer aside, these outcomes were derived by a highly scientific guess at the score in each game.

The semi-finalists are as boringly predictable as you could imagine, but I make no apologies. They are the best teams (with Belgium possibly vying with Italy right now) with the best track records. Belgium and Italy are in the same group and I have Belgium coming top, but that puts them on a collision course with Germany in the quarters. Auf wiedersehen!

Italy come up against En-ger-land in the quarters – fans already disgracing themselves in Marseilles, a city which has suffered from English hooliganism in the past. You’d just think they’d have a bit more sensitivity and respect for a country which has enough other security issues to worry about. But, no, not some of our lads. A big je suis desole to any French readers. Italy may not have a much-admired team at the moment, but they know how to progress in top tournaments, like few others. The opposite of England, who rarely play to their potential once serious proceedings start. We have an exciting young team at the moment, with real pace going forward. But central defence is suspect and the midfield untested at this level. And Roy Hodgson is still trying to work out how to play Wayne Rooney without disrupting the balance of the rest of the team. We’re in a kind group, which we should win, though I still approach tonight’s game against Russia with trepidation.

So fingers-crossed – let’s hope they can emulate the magnificent England rugby performance against the Aussies this morning (as opposed to their World Cup form last autumn!).

The other two quarter finalists, Wales and Switzerland, benefit from getting second place in weak-ish groups and then have last 16 games which could go either way. Wales have Iceland, who kept helped keep Holland out of the tournament, but ought to be beatable. And, of course, they have Gareth Bale! The big assumption about second place is that Wales will do better than Russia in Group B, England’s group. And Russia could be anything. I’m assuming that the loss of a couple of their midfield stars to injury is going to hurt them, but we shall see tonight!

Anyway, if Italy progress to the semis, which will require beating Portugal in the last 16 – the biggest clash in that round – they should come up against Spain, who seem to be over their 2014 World Cup wobble. A bit of new blood, but still the class of the last ten years, still playing a brand of possession football that no-one else can manage (or would want to manage). I think Spain will be too good for Italy (remember the last Euro-final?) and make it to Paris for a go at a Euro-hattrick.

Germany and France come together in the other semi. The Germans don’t seem quite the team they were in 2014, but still have class and power and, like, Italy, know how to play tournaments. France have huge potential, with an awesome midfield led by Paul Pogba, star of Juventus, once offloaded by Man Utd (good call there, Fergie! Goes with the one about Gerard Piquet). And there’s even West Ham’s hero Dimitri Payet, who scored a magnificent winner against Romania last night. Could he make all the difference at this relatively late stage of his career? France may be a bit vulnerable at the back, where they have suffered injuries. A team that relies on Koscielny for stability in defence – step forward Arsenal – always have the capacity to fall apart at some point. My son thinks I’m harsh on this point, but I’ve seen it too often in the past to rule it out as a risk.

Home support and an underlying quality might just take France past Germany in the semi-final, leaving a confrontation with Spain in the final, a repeat of the 1984 final, in which the great (but now disgraced) Michel Platini orchestrated a 2-0 French victory. The outcome this time will be very close. Are Spain really back to their best? Have France eliminated the self-destructive tendency? Can Spain weave their spells around France’s dynamic midfield? Can the French defence withstand the probings of Silva, Fabregas, Iniesta, Busquets, Koke, Thiago Alcantara – whoever plays?

I wish I felt confident enough to go for a patriotic punt on England, but fifty years of disappointment makes victory hard to envisage, with a team which shows promise, but isn’t the full works yet. Where are those English centre backs of yore?

Assuming England can’t win, my support is with France. They are an exciting side, and Dmitri Payet is playing for them. (England have ignored all West Eam’s English players, notably Mark Noble). And it will give a much-needed boost to a traumatised country, which I love and admire.

Allez les Bleus!

Posted in Sportsthoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Wembley Stadium, 5 June 2016

So, three years on from Bruce’s last appearance at Wembley, we were back on Sunday to enjoy the latest instalment. Last time, in June 2013, I concluded in my review that it was the best concert that I had ever seen. That was because he played the whole of “Darkness on the Edge of Town” all the way through. My favourite album of all time. We didn’t get anything quite like that this time – how could we? – but we did did get three and a half hours of glorious music that spanned most of his back catalogue. A celebration.

The tour is branded “The River” tour, because, early on, it was promoting that album, originally from 1980, which has been re-released in multiple forms. But tonight there were only six tracks from the album – one more than “Born to Run”, which in the end, was supreme, as it usually is.

There was an uptempo feel to much of the set, Bruce and the band celebrating their rock’n’roll and soul/R&B roots. “The River” was always an album of two halves, mixed up: one the straightforward rock’n’roll celebrations, the other a dark, restrained reflectiveness, which built on “Darkness” and presaged the pared-down bleakness of “Nebraska”. Sunday’s concert selected songs mainly from the first category – not only the staple “Hungry Heart” but lively blasts like “Out on the Street”, “Sherry Darling” and “You can Look (but you better not touch)”. Of course we got “The River” itself, but not “Independence Day” or “Point Blank”. No complaints about that; this was a communal celebration, focused on Bruce’s 80s output, and therefore well-received by the crowd, many of whom may have first come into contact with Bruce through “Born in the USA” or “The River”. The responses suggested that.

As ever there were so many highlights and moving moments, but here are a few that stood out for me:

  • The opener, “Does the Bus Stop at 82nd Street?”, just Bruce and his piano, a nostalgic return to his first album, “Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ”. We got a wonderful “Spirit in the Night” from that too.
  • Turning the whiplash sparseness of “Johnny 99” into a rockabilly, rocking, R&B celebration.
  • The double of “Candy’s Room” and “She’s the One”. Classics, both. We had “Promised Land” and “Badlands” too.
  • A pounding, incessant “American Skin (41 Shots)”, a powerful tale of injustice and brutality.
  • Bruce and wife, Patti Scialfa, cheek to cheek, singing the awesome “Tougher than the Rest”, from “Tunnel of Love”, his 80s breakup album. This was always one of my favourites from the era, and it was a truly moving performance. And it was followed by a searing “Because the Night”, with Nils Lofgren letting rip on the guitar. The  maestro.
  • And best of all, obvious maybe, a wondrous rendition of “Jungleland”, sung with depth and passion by Bruce. Those familiar words, the poetry, those images and the dreams amid the despair, expressed as well as I’ve ever seen. And as for the sax break in the middle, the peak moment of the song, played beautifully by Jake Clemons, son of the mighty Clarence, the Big Man – a moment of real emotion. The summary of so many things. And then “Jungleland” rolled straight into “Born to Run”. A crowd eruption. What more could you want? Well how about the last song of all, an acoustic version of “Thunder Road”. Bruce, guitar, audience, in unison.

There were dignified and defiant performances of two key songs from “The Rising”, the post 9/11 album – the title track and “My City of Ruins”. As well as the easy pop of “Waiting on a Sunny Day” – a real crowd favourite, especially given the weather. I find it a bit cloying, but can’t deny the catchiness and the unity it brings.  And who can deny the infectiousness of the closing three of the first encore: “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out”, the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and crowd-pleaser “Bobby Jean”? I think that last one really speaks to the crowd…

We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes…

That’s Bruce Springsteen in 2016. Grown up, at one with the crowd, speaking their language, articulating their feelings. Everyman and a spokesman. Still in love with music and its redeeming power. Still a fan, still a consummate performer, showman, cheerleader, musician, poet. A leader.

The Boss.

The full setlist, courtesy of the brilliant Setlist FM, is here.

Posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments