27 November 2010

uninhibited hedonistic drunkenness is alas no more

ZeDHEads - Red Lion, Badlesmere, Kent.

A very cold and frosty November night beckoned. Luckily we were going to be indoors tonight. Louis and Josephine, in their massive people carrier, took us and our new chum Xav, deep into the Kent countryside. Louis was late and needed to be there before the band started so that he could record the set and was, consequently, driving like a lunatic in a Richard Curtis film as if his character had to reach the airport before the plane took off so he could tell the woman he really did love her. “I’ll be doing some granny driving on the way back”, Josephine reassures us. It doesn’t matter really because we are out and the thought of skidding off the road and hitting a tree added a frisson of terror to the car journey.

We were out supporting our 7th favourite Brummy and his band of merry Brigadoon’s and pranksters the ZedHeads playing at The Red Lion in Badlesmere. Just joking. He’s really our favourite Brummy.

A once mighty pub of untouchable local repute and respect - ah, back in the day - the Red Lion of today appears a beaten shadow of its former self. Blighted by neighbours abating the noise, the lock ins, the drugs, the weekend outdoor music fests, the uninhibited hedonistic drunkenness are alas no more; the packed standing room only times now reserved only for ex X-Factor finalist Ben Mills's ‘secret’ gigs. Ben’s days of hoping for a half decent pub full of locals with BenzEgo long behind him.

As frost forms on the car and clouds of breath hit the freezing air we hurriedly seek the welcoming and inviting warmth of the Lions two big, open fireplaces which we anticipate will be piled high with logs and roaring away. Not so. It is bastard freezing inside. The coats, gloves, scarves, hats, alas, shall remain on all night. The fires stubbornly unlit.

What got me thinking was Brummy John asking me to take down that little film off YouTube I’d shot of the ZedHeads first gig. They hadn’t even thought of their name yet; had just come out of a bit of a band reshuffle. The guitarist, singer, founder, of the then called Seren Deputies, decided to leave and the rest of the guys seemed rudderless. Time for a rethink. To carry on as the Seren Deputies? To change the name? To change direction? But who and what and when and would it work and could they recover from the turmoil?

All this in the air that night at Graveney Village Hall for Pete and Mary’s party and the subsequent gig at Deco 5; all captured on film. All them early gigs, the first two or three filmed. The tentative, fledgling ZedHeads reminded me of a new born lamb or deer unsure on their new legs, blinking in the headlights as they took their first tentative steps onto the musical ice rink. So unsure, nervous; in shock even.

Contrast that with their performance tonight at the Lion and you will see a different band; increasingly confident, definitely more self assured, musically tight, enjoying themselves, trying new ideas out, adapting and yes indeed; surviving. Lead singer Jackie on top stand up form as usual, humorous banter between songs, but mainly her beautiful voice holding it all together, floating, dancing, rapping, harmonies, dancehall, reggae, jazz, soul, mainly plenty of soul. The new drummer tentatively tapping out with his fingers. Good to have a real drummer in there now. Even confident enough to stop a song mid through; Jackie bellowed, “John’s told us to stop and start the song again coz apparently we’re shit”. They want things to be just right.

Guitarist Pete, understated, just the right amount of guitar to compliment everyone else, lovely, perfect. It’s like witnessing a band suddenly mature. They’ve had a great year or so developing at their own speed and now the eggshell has cracked. BJ himself providing solid backup, rolling basslines sooth and throb. At one point, with Tim their keyboard player, during a dubby reggae number the keys were so spot on I was transformed back to Augustus Pablo’s classic melodica from East of The River Nile. Beautiful. Pete, on sax, complementing, reminding us what a fantastic, sonorous instrument it is with and without amplification.

In typical gig down the pub fashion we did take our coats off to dance to the bands last two tracks. Body heat alone heating the air.

That proved it; the new songs standing out above the old. The band seemed so much more inspired by them; bringing an excitement and energy out in their performance; so fresh, they genuinely seemed more stimulated by the new ones. The old, too well polished tunes from the Seren Deputies days, from the earlier days, from a band whose radical transformation seem to have outgrown and left those old tunes far behind may well see a few of them destined for the history books.

If fact their new rig pissed on their earlier efforts from a year or so ago. They soo needed that fuller PA sound, a deeper bass and crisper top end, a wider range, that the music deserved. We could now hear it properly. Can’t wait to see a full blown gig out of the pub context to hear their sound rip open. They seem to have gelled so well as a band musically that the crowd forgave - indeed embraced -  the raw edginess of the new tunes and it was a joy to see them take more risks.

Was great to see such an enthusiastic turnout from the Whitstable shellbacks as well. A cold wintery night in November not the easiest of commitments. Those that did make the effort witnessed a band of supreme funkiness. Assured in their delivery; chilled yet danceable; unafraid to spread their musical wings across all their influences or soul, funk, reggae, deep house, rap. Indeed, a truly modern, eclectic funkronica band fit for our times. Funktronica is the wrong word. A made up word. Perhaps deep as fuck might sound better?

Chilled out sunny Sunday afternoon slots await them on the European festival circuit.

Louis pushed out from behind the table to join his bride to be on the dance floor for the last few numbers ending with a dance flourish and a 'ta-da' saying “I still got it baby”. You certainly have mate.

Was well frosty when we came out but luckily we had Granny to drive us home. Being tucked up in bed by 1.30am on a Friday night after a hard week at work and a good skinful of alcohol was such a surprise.

I think we pitched it just about right. Just like the ZeDHEads did.

23 November 2010

I was a fey, nerdy, Smiths listening, 20 year old student myself.

Life is getting harder for the aging Lothario. Remember the good old days when you were a professional 'player'? Still think you've 'got it' or are you slowly being put out to grass as the wrinkles set in?

Our man with the roving eye, TV cabbage correspondent Full Phat, tries it on for the night in Canterbury...

A visit to Studio 41: a social experiment

A young student at Studio 41 in Canterbury 
contemplates how the Hegelian idealist
account of reality as a whole revolutionized
European philosophy and how it was an
important precursor to
Continental philosophy and Marxism.
 Being fully cogniscant of how appalling Canterbury is at the weekend, particularly since Derrick “DP” Patterson lost his residency at The Loft, I had long been curious about whether Canterbury’s student scene had anything to offer. Was there a midweek niche for the tVC mission to convert clubbers to the new and old beats of deep house? I thought I’d use my occasional opportunities to work from home to facilitate solo scouting missions to Canterbury’s student “scene”.

It would also serve a secondary function: as my girlfriend recently barked at me, exasperated by my wandering eye, “why don’t you go out and do that on your fucking own”? An entirely reasonable request.

First on the list was the student night “Soap”, at Studio 41- a nod in its name to the classic New York palace of hedonism perhaps? I would go alone, as I could not imagine finding anyone foolish enough to join me on such a ridiculous mission. I had a quiet pint with my mate Rob Jones, a lucky man who’s off work for four weeks after a cycle accident. In the White Hart, it turned out the teenage barmaid recognized me from DJing at the Brewery Bar. I sounded her out on what I could expect to find when I got to Studio 41. She said, “well, it’s very young”. It turns out we have a mutual friend called Ruby, whom she said was “quite a bit older” than her. Ruby’s 21. So she must have thought I was her granddad. I thought even if I look utterly out of place, I would at least get to listen to some decent house music, as it was supposedly a dance event. And, I thought, students are generally OK, so it can’t be too bad.

I feared the worst when I turned up and the doorman said, “have you got ID? I mean, you’re obviously old enough, but it’s just in case any trouble happens”. He might as well have said, there’s a maximum age limit mate, and you ought to be in bed anyway. When I got in, I could see the potential for a great club - a massive bar, seating area and room 1; chill out area upstairs with comfy sofas, and a dark, medium sized classic main room reminiscent of the magnificent Rockshots in Newcastle. Nothing prepared me for just how young most people in there were though. Where were the mature students? The post grads? The other people who can work from home in the week?

Such an environment is not good for the ageing lothario. When I went to Ibiza two and a half years ago, tanned and happy, I got attention from the whole age range of women, 20 to 50. I was 38 and didn’t consider it inappropriate. Just flattering. It was a great feeling. When I started DJing it continued. I remember soon after coming back from Ibiza standing outside The Smack with my record box, waiting for a lift, when a car full of pretty girls in their early 20s drove past. I saw one point to me and say to her friend, “I’d have him”. I’d started a relationship with someone at this time, so never got the chance to put her words to the test. Few words, however, are finer to the player’s ear. They seem a very distant echo now as I watch the “students” (all of whom look like they work in Wilkinson’s) stagger into the club clutching each other for support.

I had started to suspect that my “Blue Peter presenter” looks were justifiably starting to fade after a long life of raising children who didn’t sleep well, and caning drugs and alcohol since I was 17. The girls under 30 still look but now look away very quickly - ticked off the list of whatever they might need to make them happy; be it for an hour or for a lifetime.

There is the odd exception - a very pretty 20 year old hairdresser tried to seduce me in front of my girlfriend in the Neptune in June, but that felt like the swansong of an ageing nightclub singer, or that someone had given her 50 quid to cheer me up. I have quietly grieved the loss of my broad appeal to the women folk of East Kent for over a year now, wondering how to cope with the desire to carry on going out, when by the very fact of going out you are constantly reminded that you’ve lost something that was dear to you. Suddenly feeling that awful self consciousness that the attention you used to give women, that was welcomed when you were desirable, is now an imposition, and compensating by suppressing any sexual desire within your self lest you expose yourself to the risk of humiliating rejection.

I hadn’t expected there to be so few people under 25, let alone 21. I felt utterly conspicuous yet invisible at the same time. This was the sort of youthful, sexually charged atmosphere that used to send me into a psychological tailspin when I was a fey, nerdy, Smiths listening, 20 year old student myself. Before E and contact lenses made me more extrovert and randy. The girls, who were totally underdressed yet somehow not sexy, either looked quizzically at me as if I had come in to tell one of them that their mother had had an accident, or right through me.

Without being conscious of it, whilst in a relationship I had imperceptibly crossed the threshold whereby any woman between 20 and 25 would relate to me as a sexual personality. It was the first time in 3 or 4 years I’d been in an environment which would expose that, or even make me think about it…like it or not, appropriate or not, 3 years ago, they did.

And the prospects for house music there? The musical and behavioural culture was utterly alien: I had expected, at the worst, electro house. Nothing could have prepared me for the awfulness of the atrociously mixed music that assaulted my ears. Bizarre electro mash ups with choruses that everyone knew the words to and sang. Badly mixed into soft rock tunes from my youth; Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Survivor. All sung by people in their late teens or early 20s. Then the occasional electro house remix of Dizzie Rascal and Wylie dropped in. It was by a long, long way, the worst music I’d ever heard in my life. These poor fuckers, I thought. If you were a student in Canterbury in the late 80s, you got tVC playing at the Works. This lot have got a coalition government ensuring that they’ll owe £20 grand before they’ve even got a job with their arse wipe degree; they won’t be able to get a house, even as a couple, until they’re 40, unless their parents are rich. And this is what they’ve chosen as their soundtrack.

My research done, I scrounged a fag off a spotty Nirvana fan, swerved my way through the girls screaming and stumbling towards the burger van, and drove home. A great club to do a great house music night in, but an utter impossibility. I left them to their problems and returned to mine - CSA payments, pending redundancy, and the inner lament of the player at the cusp of being put out to grass. But fuck me, the soundtrack to my problems is infinitely better :-) And I do still have an amazingly sexy woman as my girlfriend.

And for the younger girls and boys - Daisy, Charlotte, Dean and their mates - who sometimes come to our parties and say how much they love the music, surviving the sneers and askance looks of the older group members - I take my hat off to you. If that’s the dominant culture of your age group here, I’m not surprised you slag it off, and you come and seek out some deep house free party vibes as respite from the musical hellholes in Canterbury and the Brewery Bar. You’re always welcome in my house and our pub. And I’ll tell anyone who takes the piss out of you to go look in the mirror, bewail their wrinkles, and fuck off home to bed.

19 November 2010

running around in my brain


We are now top of the European rankings for cocaine use – which includes the minority pastime of crack-smoking which is creeping up in parts of London, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, but largely denotes the standard ritual whereby the drug is powdered and shoved up people's noses. It is now the second most commonly used illegal substance after cannabis with more than 3 million young adults using it every year. But Europeans' increasing fondness for cocaine is matched by a rise in related deaths: the number in the UK doubling from 161 in 2003 to 325 in 2008.

EMCDDA Report. November 2010
 Following analysis by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which reports that 6.2% of Britons between the ages of 15 to 34 said they had used cocaine in the last year, the US no longer has the planet's worst cocaine problem. We do. Britain's inexorable appetite for the Class A substance, perhaps inevitably, finally outstripped America's. This compares with 4.5% of Americans – the second biggest users – in the same age group. Almost 15% of all young Britons have tried the drug at least once. According to another report from Straight Statistics, each year, nearly a million Britons either give it a go or indulge a regular habit. A survey on the online dance music magazine Mixmag found that 22% of British clubbers reported having taken it. Also The European drugs agency say there are more than a million problem drug users aged over 40 across the EU, including 122,000 in Britain, who dent the widely held perception that drug use is a youth phenomenon. These older drug users are prematurely experiencing the health problems faced by people 20 years older and increasing all the attendant costs this implication has.

Drug Use Around The World

Explanation for UK use can be sought, in part, from the structure of its youth culture; its emphasis on hedonism and experimentation coalescing to create a voracious appetite among young Britons for substance use, certainly when compared to other European states. Cocaine use in the UK has become normalised, as a consensus on what substances are morally unacceptable becomes less defined. Twenty years ago most people understood cocaine as a distant, almost mythical substance. "God's way of telling you you're earning too much money," as Robin Williams once said. It was restricted “to metropolitan high-rollers or those in the higher reaches of the entertainment industry” (1)

This change in demographic drug use is due to the rapidly changing image of cocaine in the UK. In 2010 cocaine can no longer be construed as the ‘yuppie’ drug. It cannot even be considered a club drug. Mystique once surrounded cocaine, with many perceiving it a drug for "winners", but all that has gone. Now cocaine use permeates all classes, from top to bottom. Price is a factor; it's cheaper than ever. Experts talk of "child-friendly" prices, "beginners' offers" and "group discounts". (2)

For people lower down the social scale, the recreational pharmacopeia revolved around more affordable sources of enjoyment: cannabis, amphetamine sulphate; and, for those who had immersed themselves in Britain's seemingly unstoppable club culture, ecstasy – an illicit substance whose creation of a kind of delirious sociability arguably did Britain a great deal of good (discuss!).

In 1990, the average price of a gram of cocaine was about £90; five years later, it was closer to £60. Circa 2003, its price per gram came down to about £40. Latest prices indicate an average price is somewhere between £2 and £4 a line. With a £4 pint not uncommon and a glass of house white retailing at around £3.50, the temptation to young people is evident. The falling cost, though, has coincided with a plummeting purity – often below 10% – but as the market proves, people, particularly teenagers, are happy to pay for an inferior, cheaper product.

Experts warn that increasingly sophisticated techniques are being used to conceal and smuggle cocaine into Europe from South America. They cite one technique that involves incorporating cocaine into carrier materials such as beeswax, fertiliser or clothing; extraction laboratories then release the drug.

Mainly though, South American gangs are buying old jets (Ads on websites such as Planemart.com offer Douglas DC-8s – four-engined jets –for as little as $275,000 (£170,000) for example) and flying the cocaine across the Atlantic to meet European demand. (3) The UN Office on Drugs and Crime began warning about transatlantic drug planes after 2 November, 2009, when a burned-out Boeing 727 was found in the desert in Mali. Drug smugglers had flown in from Venezuela, unloaded the aircraft and then torched it, investigators said. There is a conspiracy to "spread vast quantities of cocaine throughout the world by way of cargo aeroplanes” says the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. So now at least we know where it comes from and how the huge surge in demand is met. President Hugo Chávez's decision to sever ties with most US law enforcement agencies in 2005 has made it a lot easier to bring cocaine to staging sites on the Venezuelan coast, said Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based thinktank.

Higher up the age range, this week's figures point up the blurring of our alcohol and drug cultures, and an underrated aspect of the British fondness for boozy excess. As any cocaine user will tell you, one of its main effects is the increased capacity for drink, which must substantially add to the takings of those great alco-sheds that now dominate our towns. If you read the shock-horror reports of those Friday nights-out that take in incredible volumes of booze and end in A&E, bear in mind that cocaine will often have something to do with it.

"Too many Europeans still regard cocaine use as a relatively harmless accompaniment to a successful lifestyle," said Wolfgang Götz, director of EMCDDA. "But we are progressively seeing that, as cocaine consumption grows, so too does its impact on public health. Not only can use of this drug escalate quickly, but it can also result in fatalities, even when intake is occasional and doses are low."

The annual report also highlights the increased use of two "cutting agents" to dilute, and thus increase the market value of cocaine. The EU drug experts are particularly worried about the health effects of levamisole, which is usually used to treat worms in cattle, and phenacetin, a painkiller that could cause kidney disease.

The most important point though is this. Cocaine is not a drug to plug you into the collective consciousness; instead it leaves you marooned on your own tedious island, little caring about what anyone else has to contribute. Unlike ecstasy, cannabis, or acid, it is not contemplative or mind-expanding. It tends to kill humour and camaraderie and render the collective mood brittle and anxious. All too often it fosters arrogance, anger, and even violence.

The inevitable conclusion is this: that if the idea of the caring, sharing 90s turned out to be a brief mirage, and we end the current decade more atomised and volatile than ever, the popularity of cocaine speaks volumes, embodying the spirit of our times while also feeding it.

12 November 2010

huffing and puffing in a dark corner

Been off the old blogosphere for a few weeks due to illness. Had more surgery on my detached retina, the fourth operation, and am just getting back round to joining life again and writing some more blog entries, or as Jenny Boo would call it; some “self indulgent, right up your own arse, rambling lies”.
BJ and Nicky make an effort
First up, at the end of October, was Brummy Jon’s moving in party. 
“You’ve got to come”, he says.

“I can’t mate. Just had my operation and don’t want to walk around with a patch on my eye attracting undue attention and having to explain my eye story 50 times to 50 different people throughout the night”.

“You won’t stand out”, he declares. “The party is fancy dress and the theme is zombie-pirate so everyone will have a patch or make-up or whatever”.
I agree so C, dear C, fashions me a pirate eye patch from a plastic one the hospital provided covering it in black felt and putting elastic around it. I wore a Bretton style shirt and my sailor coat. Not much of an effort I know as regular readers will be more than aware of my somewhat party pooping attitude towards fancy dress. To blend in I stood with the sailor girls for the better part of the early evening.
I know it’s society giving permission for various wardrobal malfunctional infactions; it’s giving a chance to people who love to express their creativity, it’s a chance to be whoever you want to be, including cross dressing; it’s something you can share with a partner, a chance for sometimes serious people to be just silly. Life is, after all, too short and fleeting and self-expression is an important aspect of life.
Fancy dress obviously annoys some people, like myself, and that can be fun too. As Seinfeld once said, maybe about fancy dress, have a go “because you’ll never improve your sense of style if your default look is “I give up”, which mine is. Because parties are a time to celebrate. You can be the change you want to see in the world. Everyone else can follow your fabulous lead. Darling.
Here’s a good one from Fashion Tips; “Because dressing up helps you make fashion mistakes and get past them.” Nope never got past that one. I’m one big fashion mistake. Another; “Because it’s a test of your confidence. Dressing unconventionally forces you to develop the self-assurance necessary to stand out from everyone else.” Looking at it through that lens I do not have the self-assurance nor motivation to dress up. Now why is that? Now that I’ve found a way in to some self-introspective naval gazing I feel a lot happier now. Analysing my own unhappiness, now that makes me happy.
If you’ve got it flaunt it. I ain’t got it so I don’t flaunt it. If by ‘it’ they mean great style, killer confidence, amazing legs then it’s a sorry ‘no’ from me.
said to have joie de vivre
Maybe, on my part, it is a lack of joie de vivre, "the joy of living". People do say to me ‘cheer up’ a lot. I have joie de vivre but not enough joy to make or hire a fancy dress costume. Joie de vivre "can be a joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… And joie de vivre may be seen as a joy of everything, a comprehensive joy, a philosophy of life, a Weltanschauung. Robert's Dictionnaire says joie is ‘sentiment exaltant ressenti par toute la conscience’, that is, involves one's whole being." (1) I really need to get over this somehow. Any suggestions? Maybe wearing fancy dress in an inappropriate situation? Making an effort? Relaxing? Dispelling some self-aware awkwardness and embarrassment? Fan the ever-growing costume hire business takings? Cultivate a DIY philosophy of making my own costumes?
“Everyone will be looking to the host for inspiration, so as such it’s essential that they put proper time and effort into their fancy dress costume”; and he sure did. BJ, resplendent in a pirate costume of such avuncular ostentation that even a disillusioned old cynic like myself could do nothing but smile and begin to warm to the fact that this particular form of self expression largely comes down to the simple fact that fancy dress parties are one of the best ways to relax and unwind. In the ‘current climate’, not too much politics in the old blog this week, people are always looking for ways to have fun, and it doesn’t get much more fun that dressing up in outrageous clothes. It allows people to let their hair down and enjoy themselves, and what could be better than that? By then though my second, rather large, dark rum and coke was kicking in nicely and my painful eye throbs were receding in the rear view mirror at a pace that even scared me.
By the time I came round from the first spliff I’d smoked for a month – huffing and puffing in a dark corner, looking rather ashen faced, eye patch on, with Jenny P on one side of me and the lovely Helene on the other shouting “Oz is having a whitey” to everyone that passed – I just had time really to find a nice sitty down spot in the tent, by the bar, next to Rosie in her cracking fancy dress costume, before The Zedheads got on stage and played a great chilled set of old and new songs before the pain kicked in again and I really had to go home at 1am for another pain killer administration session. 
Still, was nice to get out for the first time in weeks and I hope everyone had a jolly good knees up. Thanks BJ for a great if short, on my part anyway, party. Really had a good time while I was there. You’re the man!

(1) Humor Reference Guide: A Comprehensive Classification and Analysis  by Warren Shibles.

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