Sunday 31 December 2023

Smashed It!

As I attempt to navigate the blogging landscape at the fag end of 2023 I find myself stuck in a nose-to-tail jam of Best Ofs, End of Year Round-Ups and all the other vehicles used to wrap the year just gone. Don't get me wrong, I love 'em - can't get enough of 'em; in fact, it wasn't that long ago when I'd roll my sleeves up and get stuck in myself. This year, however, has got a faint whiff of CBA about it. My back issues, which by the time of this going to press, amount to just 90 this year and, contained therein, are all the runners and riders (feel free to go diggin'): if I was banging on about it then and it made the 'precious 90', the chances are it's probably a belter. A choon. A nailed on classic. He/her/they smashed it. It's a winner. Even a chicken dinner.  

Someone who tick all those boxes is/are Girl Ray. I saw them three times this year - including their album launch at Rough Trade. And the album they were launching was Prestige. Which they signed for me afterwards. So if you wrap all three gigs up (2x Nottingham; 1x Manchester) and call it one then that was Gig of the Year. Making Prestige, which they played in full all three nights (and which is their best album by a country mile), Album of the Year. Ladies & Gentlemen, Girl Ray - my Band of the Year.

Girl Ray - Love is Enough (2023)


Once again, a huge thank you to everyone who frequents this part of Bloggerville; it's not the most celubrious part of town (there's some way better gaffs just up the hill) but it's safe round here. And, I'd like to think, welcoming. Come back again next year, won't you? Happy New Year! JM x

Saturday 30 December 2023


I don't know about a match made in heaven, but there seems to be a certain symbiosis whenever a can of spray paint meets a brutalist building. In July of this year my friend Steve and I went to see Generation Sex at the newly refurbished Wulfrun Hall. Between our digs and the venue is an absolute behemoth of Brutalism - Wolverhampton Station Car Park; so much so it's something of a Modernist icon.

However, at some point between when the above photo was taken (and now residing in my office - thank you, James - a most splendid birthday present), and the snap I took in the Summer, this happened; so much to unpack. Maybe another time.

Friday 29 December 2023

Mayo dressing

I love a flag. Drinking recently in a very welcoming boozer in Camden Town I noticed there were a number of green and red flags draped behind the bar - "Mayo GAA" the barkeep told me - "The owner's from County Mayo." Makes sense I thought (there's a strong Irish element in this part of north London).

Any Fontaines DC fans out there will probably have clocked that their bass player, Conor Deegan, can often be seen sporting one of the team's shirts, hailing, as he does, from Castlebar, county town of Mayo.


After reading Swiss Adam's exhaustive roundup of 2023 (he researches into the wee small hours night after night to compile these things so we don't have to) I thought I too would play you the Fontaines' version of Nick Drake's 'Cello Song. It's fucking brilliant, and you can quote me on that.

Fontaines DC - 'Cello Song (2023)

Thursday 28 December 2023

Birthdays can be brutal

It would appear that since December 28th last year the earth has managed to spin round the sun one more time; something apparently even the most right wing of governments haven't been able to fuck up. (Though if there was some some sort of cash incentive involved they'd have been on it like the proverbial car bonnet.)

Amongst my prezzies opened so far has been a meet and greet with one of the greatest broadcasters of the modern era: James O'Brien has, almost singlehandedly, been keeping me (and millions of others, I'm guessing) sane via his LBC morning show for as long as I can remember. And as you can see from the above photograph, my love affair with Sheffield's modernist architecture continues apace. I can see myself spending a lot of time up there next year.

Wednesday 27 December 2023

You can't say we're satisfied

Today's offering comes courtesy of Henry Normal (and his GLW) together with a little help from Paul Simon (and his brother, Ed).

Henry, a son of Nottingham, signed my copy of his recent anthology The Escape Plan a couple of years back and it remains one of my treasured processions. In his poetry Henry makes many passing references, both directly and indirectly, to his wife Angela - an award winning screenwriter in her own right.

My wife said nothing rhymes with orange 
But before despair could befall her 
I corrected Angela
Or Ange, as I call her

When Simon & Garfunkel released Anji (or Angie) on their 1966 album Sounds of Silence, Paul Simon was paying homage to his folk hero Davy Graham who'd written this fingerpicking bluesy classic the previous year. The story goes it was inspired by a young Soho waitress who knew all the bums, beatniks and young musicians riding the coattails of London's folk resurgence of the early/mid 60s.  
Here it is being played by Paul Simon and his younger brother Ed on a 1968 TV special. No, it's not camera trickery, it really is his near identical sibling on second guitar.

Paul Simon (with Ed Simon) - Anji (1968)

Tuesday 26 December 2023


Is there a better way to kickstart your Boxing Day than with eggs, bacon, sausage and bubble? All washed down with a Bootleg Bucks? Nah, thought not. Team Medd, captained by on-loan striker James, played a blinder in the kitchen this morning with a breakfast/brunch combo that will certainly keep me going till the Number One Son and I spill out of Meadow Lane later this afternoon and make our way to the King Billy for a celebratory beer.

Sunday 24 December 2023

And the nominations are...

In response to the incredible take-up for my monthly photo-challenge this year (I've now got twelve perfectly formed individual collections under my belt), I promised I'd do an end of year roundup showcasing the best of the best. Excluding my snaps, I received - and posted - some 163 photographs from nineteen individual contributors. Thank you so much to everyone for sending me your amazing images. Give yourselves a pat on the back (and as it's nearly Christmas, treat yourself to a small sherry while you're at it!)

So, in no particular order, here are the photos that did it for me this year. (I've been persuaded to do it all again next year: January's theme is detailed at the foot of the page - get them to me by New Year's Eve, if you can.)

Each of the monthly themes can be found here to put the images in some kind of context. And what better place to start than at the beginning. The first. Number One. Our good friend, Alyson, sent me this way back in January.

Rol can always be relied on to pull something out of his locker; often buried very deep. This one dates back to the 90s I believe.

Rob shot these surfers on his local beach. (Rob was new to Photo Challenge at the time and I'm glad he's stuck around.)

K opened his account with this eerie stick man back in May; still gives me the shivers.

A lot of love came in for Adam and his steamy caff window.

Ben surprised everyone with this one; not a single phone box in sight.

Just when you think the standard can't get any higher, The Swede enters stage right.

Just looking at Charity Chic's Glasgow escalators gives me vertigo.

David snapped this beautiful stained glass skylight in an equally beautiful jazz club.

C, over at Sun Dried Sparrows, loves bees. Here's her bee-box.

Time for a bit of brutality. Martin's contribution to December's staircase theme.

Riggsby sees circles everywhere. His portfolio this year has been astounding. Here is just one of many typewriters he found this year.

I persuaded Jo-Shreeve to take part a couple of months ago; I hope we see more of her next year.

And finally, James. For our Splash of Colour theme in November he sent me this beautiful Icelandic waterfall.

What a set of photos, I'm sure you'll agree. I must admit it's hard to rank them - they're all brilliant - but I must confess, a couple really stood out at the time. I'd love to know what you think...

January's theme is favourite book (either of all time or recently read) and object*/artefact/trinket in your home. It can be anything at all. Either separately or in one photo, I'll leave it up to you.

All that remains is for me to wish you all Compliments of the Season. See you soon. J x


Wednesday 20 December 2023

Figaro! Figaro! Figaro!

Although it's been said many times, many ways (probably), I am not a petrolhead; yes, I like nice cars and yes, I have owned some nice vehicles over the years but I don't get off on them. And I certainly don't talk the blokey language that often comes with the territory.

Hence, when I saw my first Figaro I didn't even know what it was. It looked like some kind of kit car assembled in a factory somewhere east of Berlin. However, it was pink, so probably not East German. Then, a couple of weeks later, I saw one in brown. And that's when my interest was piqued: I asked on Twitter what the hell they were. The response was very non-blokey (i.e in a language I could understand*) and, with a bit more digging, I got a handle on what these unorthodox convertibles were all about.

A car made by Nissan c.1994/5 and in such small numbers (about a thousand found their way to the UK - and all in pastel colours) that I can't believe I've spotted three (that's right, I clocked another one this evening parked outside Aldi) in as many months (and all within a 10 mile radius of where I live). It also appears they are very collectable. 

I also found this somewhat random film on YouTube. Sorry, it is presented by a motoring journalist. But his wife isn't. Yes, she's gobby and yes, she's forthright, but her take on why she loves her Nissan Figaro is really quite sweet. If in a gobby and forthright way**.(She comes in at 0:47). Anyway, I just thought I'd share these funny little cars I keep seeing with you. Normal service will be resumed, I promise.

* Except the word chod.

** She's also desperate for you not to know how old she is.

Monday 18 December 2023

Close enough

Afternoon gigs - they're the way forward. Two of the UK's most endearing (and enduring) jazz musicians were playing Nottingham's intimate & acclaimed jazz club Peggy's Skylight on Saturday. However, in addition to their main set, the club decided, due to strong ticket sales, to also put them on for an hour, matinee style, at around six and bill it as a Twilight Show. Way to go, Peggy's. 
So, with a Negroni in my hand and Claire Martin all but sitting in my lap (so close are the tables to the stage) the trio (Adam King on bass nearly stole the show) played a mesmerising set and the hour absolutely flew by. Jim Mullen has been playing with Claire since her first album was released some thirty plus years ago and was in the form of his life. Out of total respect for the band I left my camera in my bag, so no pics I'm afraid. And if you want to know just how good they were - have a butcher's at this: - taken from a little session Claire & Jim did for Jazz FM a couple of years back.

Claire Martin & Jim Mullen - Close Enough for Love (2017)

Friday 15 December 2023

Sandy Beds

"This new addition is ideal for the inner city motorist"
My first road atlas, the one that lived in most of my early cars, was the one I bought the first time I ever flew solo to London. Getting to, through and back out of, the capital was, for a seventeen year old rookie, nothing short of a herculean task. Planning the route in advance only got me so far; the live plotting of the journey with said atlas open on my knee whilst simultaneously navigating the contours of the Great North Road and dodging the wagons, was a skill that had to be learned pretty fast (and in London the atlas was replaced with my trusty A-Z); that and checking oil and water gauges every five minutes on my (not so) trusty Vauxhall Viva Rockbox, whose dodgy radiator would overheat so randomly it placed the driver in peril more times then I care to remember. (Please don't talk to me about 'the Biggleswade incident, I beg you.)

No clockwise. No anti-clockwise

So the A1 became my most travelled road. Long before it was turned into an eight lane autobahn it was full of, roundabouts, traffic lights, discarded cassette tape fluttering in hedges by the roadside and glimpses of towns like Stamford and Sandy; or Sandy Beds as I have to call it. Then the tortuous crawl through Hatfield long before the Galleria and the tunnel beneath and then  finally into London. To younger readers who can't remember a time when the M25 didn't circle London, I grew up in a world where the M25 was just a glint in a town planner's eye. To get south of the river meant crossing Tower Bridge. But, hey as our good friend Alyson would surely say now, this is a music blog not a 70s Top Gear repeat with William Woodard - where's the bloody tune?

Well, in the same way that Sandy is always Sandy Beds, so Aylesbury (not on the A1 I grant you, but close by) is always Aylesbury Bucks. Don't ask me why, it just is. I guess I still have some obscure misplaced affection for the town I only remember visiting the once a million years ago. Which in a roundabout (groan) way leads me nicely to one of this year's finest long players, I Thought I Was Better Than You, Baxter Dury's 8th album. This was the first single he lifted from it:

Baxter Dury - Aylesbury Boy (2023)

Monday 11 December 2023

Bix, cool

Frankie Trumbauer keeping his head down

In 1927, when jazz legends Frankie Trumbauer (sax) and Bix Beiderbecke (cornet) pooled their immense talents on Crying All Day they created a little bit of magic. The sound they made together still has jazz critics (and jazzers) in raptures nearly a century later. I can't get enough of this; it's no good, I'm gonna have to watch the Beiderbecke Affair. Again. (Yes, this is the theme tune.)

Frankie Trumbauer & His Orchestra - Crying All Day (1927)

Frankie Trumbauer (1901-1956)
Leon Bismark 'Bix' Beiderbecke (1903-1931)

Sunday 10 December 2023

Twin Towers

I've spoken about Sheffield on here quite a lot over the years*: Richard Hawley, Tom Wrigglesworth; Def Leppard; Henderson's Relish; Kelham Island; Brutalism (can there have be a more Soviet looking UK city in the 60s & 70s?) Many of the tower blocks built between 1956 and 1967 still dominate Sheffield's skyline and as you can see from the photograph above taken in 1961, they gave the city an almost futuristic look. A look which was replicated with varying degrees of success all over Britain. I particularly love the fact that there is not a single car in the photograph. Not one.

These particular towers (situated in the Herdings, S14), constructed in 1958/9, were known locally as the Three Sisters**. Unfortunately one of the blocks (the one on the right) was sadly demolished in 1996 when major faults in its construction became apparent. Now, with their third sibling long gone, they are simply referred to as the Twin Towers.

I drove up to the capital of South Yorkshire yesterday to see for myself how they were holding up more than half a century later. The concrete and brick structures were re-clad in 1998 and the vacant plot vacated by their departed sister was redeveloped with, I have to say, unimaginative low rise semi detached housing in 2010. But at 38 metres tall (to the rooftop***) and sitting on a hilltop, they still loom large on the horizon.

The above shot is how it looked on a wet and windy Saturday morning in December 2023. I may have been standing a couple of feet away from where the original was shot 60 years ago, but I was quite pleased with the result. And as I was getting piss wet thru at the time I certainly wasn't hanging around.

* I wouldn't say I was in love with Sheffield but I've admired her from afar for most of my adult life. 

** Originally christened Leighton, Morland and Raeburn. 

*** When down to just two they were rebadged Queen Elizabeth Court (Leighton) and Queen Anne Court (Morland); Queen Anne has a radio mast on the roof thus extending her height to 55 metres.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Power of three

Together Pangea (great name; if you know, you know) appeared on a recent playlist with their super catchy
Money On It - a dazzling song in a jangly acoustic styley. And then, having played it a zillion times I was tempted to see what the original sounded like. Again, just as infectious with a fabulous video to boot. I can't quite place the Californian town it's filmed in but I know I've been there. I just know. So, now you've heard it twice, how about hearing it a third time, this time live for a Jam in the Van Session? This sort of investigative work on bands I have no prior knowledge is fascinating and a great 'in' to what they're all about. More of this sort of thing to come, I think: simple format - unknown band (to me); catchy song; three different takes on same.

Anyway, here is the combo in question. (Also, very quickly before I go, I absolutely love any band that play Fender Mustangs.)

Together Pangea - Money On it (2017)

Sunday 3 December 2023

"I guess there are never enough books"*

A busy week last week: Pool Club at Riley's, Girl Ray at The Bodega, Stuart Pearce at Chameleon, a friend's birthday curry at the Woodthorpe Tandoori. And Book Club (at The Abdication): Book and a Beer have just celebrated our 1st birthday - in the last twelve months we've read eight books and, as you can see from the above, are about to announce our ninth. With the exception of just one (I'll let you guess which) I've enjoyed them all enormously. Our meetings are lively affairs (not just because we meet in the pub) that always throw up lively debate. Thursday night saw us dissecting Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven. I can't recommend it highly enough. (If you're looking for a holiday read over the Christmas break, why not treat yourself?)

Lucy, our amazing BC host, has just issued our forthcoming dates for 2024; eight Thursdays falling six or seven weeks apart (leaving everyone plenty of time to read non BC books). Of course, they've gone straight in my diary; I tell you, I've never been so organised. If you want a heads up on any of the titles and fancy reading along with us remotely, I'll drop some links when the books are chosen.

* John Steinbeck

Saturday 2 December 2023

Steppin' Out (Season 1, Ep. 12)

Welcome to December's Photo Challenge. I think you're gonna like what I've got in store for you. I know I say it every month, but the 25+ photos below are staggeringly good. Give yourselves a pat on the back. Thank you so much. Right, let's crack on.

How great is it to have Alyson back? When this little feature kicked off back in January if it hadn't been for Alyson we'd never have made it to February, let alone the rest of the year.
"This is on a sloped street in the town with loads of cafes & restaurants. In the Summer they use the stepped areas for tables. Hands up, it's not my photo, but I've not ventured out yet, so scoured  my phone for favourite pictures. Hope I'm excused?" Of course you are, Alyson! Welcome home.

Our good friend Rol next. He tells me this is very near to where he was born: "Steps down the side of Deer Hill Reservoir in Marsden. I used to walk up Deer Hill every day. Rain or shine." 

Here's one I recognise. You will too if you remember that Hovis ad from the 1970s: "A famous hillside in Dorset." (Gold Hill, Shaftesbury.) Cheers, Rol. You didn't fancy cycling it, then?

Rob got a lot of love last month for his surfers' shot. I think the accolades will come pouring in for this too: "A spiral staircase in an abobdoned building I found; I liked the way nature has taken over."

Adam steps up next: "Hi John, I took this in the Summer in Hurley, not far from Henley on Thames. A ramshackle bridge over the river." I love ramshackle, Adam; like this blog.

K has a lovely trio for us this month: "This one is an unassuming set of steps up to a village high street and a church opposite. Bland by day, but at night bathed in the glow of some festive lighting."

"This is an escalator in the Eagle Shopping Centre, Derby c.1994. Quite what I was doing taken grainy photos of escalators in the mid 90s is anybody's guess." If it's any consolation, K, I've been doing precisely that for nearly all my adult life.

"My third one is the family cat (as opposed to The Family Cat; that would be awhile other proposition) staring down from her at Casa K. Eyes that say 'I dare you to go for that toy - I will get there forty and I will draw first blood.'' Probably." 

Bendy Ben goes next: "This is the nearest I get! It's pretty much the only photo I have with a ladder in it. Taken in 1995, that's nearly 30 years of leaderless shooting!" I love everything about this photograph, Ben. Not least our little Super Hero. And the ladder, of course.

Time for a newbie - Cooper Senior is an inveterate traveller. I can see that from his Twitter feed. He sent me this from Brisbane. Perfect, Coops.

The Swede has pulled out all the stops this month and has really, ahem, stepped up: "Southwold Lighthouse is 133 years old and stands slightly inland, rising 102ft above the rooftops of the Suffolk coastal town. There are 113 steps between street level and the lantern - I know this because I climbed them one damp Spring morning a few years back. It's not an adventure for the faint hearted, but the panorama from the top completely justified the nerve-wracking ascent, even on such an overcast day. Here's the view from the entrance looking up through the centre of the building, with the palpitation-inducing stairs winding around the wall." 
Thank you, TS. I've been to Southwold but have never been up these steps. I must rectify that.

Charity Chic is going up in the world. "My first entry this month is a bird's eye view of the escalators in Glasgow's Princes Square." Brilliant, CC. If a little vertigo inducing. 

"Entry #2 - tenament on Queen's Drive opposite Queen's Park." Thank you, CC. Your photos really do document modern day Glasgow.

I'm calling this next one from David a near miss: "I took this last week on a walk pulling in the magical Bennerley Viaduct, part of which is seen in the background. There are stairs to the left leading up to the less impressive nearby railway footbridge." Thank you, David. You tease us with your out of picture steps!

C, over to you: "Hi John - I couldn't find anything remotely current for this month's challenge I'm afraid but a delve back through some proper old-fashioned printed (!) photos turned up this one from a visit to Tintagel Castle over 20 years ago. After walking up, and then back down these steep steps, all 140 of them on a windy Summer's day that pint and a bowl of chips back at the pub certainly felt well-deserved. C x." I bet it did! Thank you, C.

Martin is a real sport: he sent me this: "Brutal,  in the best sense. (It's not really the picture I wanted but my phone ran out of charge when I got to the better staircase!)

So I said: ''Go back!'' And, to his eternal credit, he did just that. "Eleventh hour I know, but here are two angles of the other brutal staircase." Now that's what I call dedication! Thank you so much, Martin. And the sun came out for your return visit!

Riggsby next. And who thought we'd get two lighthouses in the same month? Not me, that's for sure. "Hi John, I took this at the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, San Diego bay."

"And a stairway of pebbles at Torrey Pines Beach." Thank you, Richard. As always.

And finally. Yes, it's that time in proceedings where it falls to me to wrap things up and to thank you all for your valued contributions. We've amassed one hell of a gallery this year and curating it has been an absolute joy. If you fancy doing it all again next year please I'll gladly keep it running.
Anyhoo, without further ado - my first one is taken in Rock City and is the staircase leading up to the main hall. 

The mask dates this one. It's the Blue Monkey pub in Canning Circus, Nottingham.

This rather impressive fire escape backs on to James' flat in Manchester's Northern Quarter. It's got that Physical Graffiti vibe all over it.

A recent visit to QMC - Queen's Medical Centre - and I saw this.

The next couple were taken in the Silver Lake District of Los Angeles. They are, of course, the 'Music Box Steps' - scene of Laurel & Hardy's 1932 classic film. They were a bugger to find and, no, I didn't bring my piano.

Well, that's about it. It just remains for me to say that I'll be compiling a 'Best Of' from this past year and will probably post them this side of the New Year. Thank you again and God speed.