Sunday 28 April 2024


I fell down a wormhole this week. Not quite literally, but pretty close. Let me explain. My Larson daily tear-off cartoon strip came up with one of his greatest hits on Wednesday. It was the one with a bird and a worm in its mouth showing a cutaway beneath the ground of an upended drum kit; the inference being that's how birds hear worms (the whole vibration thing). 

The aforementioned wormhole led me astray with all sorts of forums and conversations including who came first - Larson or Dr. Worm by They Might Be Giants? Well that's not opinion, that's just counting1 - Larson 1993, TMBG 1998. Also, why would worms advertise precisely where under the ground2 they actually were (seriously!)? And then that took me down a David Bowie related path: some gadgie said if you listen to Dr. Worm and the melody in the couplet 'They call me Doctor Worm/Good morning, how are you? it's the same as Bowie's 'Because my love for you/Would break my heart in two' in Let's Dance. I didn't even have to play Bowie's 1983 smash hit single to check; you, like me, just know it to be true. It's embedded in our brains. 

They Might Be Giants - Dr. Worm (1998)

1 ©James O'Brien.
2 In actual fact, the birds tap the ground to recreate the sound of rain, the worms then rise to the surface.

Thursday 25 April 2024

"I'd like to say thank you & I hope I've passed the audition"

Taylor in his interview suit

It's London, it's 1968, and a very nervous eighteen year old musician from America is auditioning in front of one half of the Beatles. James Taylor recalls being clinically nervous playing Something in the Way She Moves to Paul McCartney and George Harrison. They must have liked him - they signed him up to Apple there and then. George in particular liked the song, using it as the template for what would become the standout track on Abbey Road. Taylor has always been sanguine when asked about the 'lift'. After all, he'd borrowed flourishes from I Feel Fine in his song. What goes around comes around.

James Taylor - Something in the Way She Moves (1968)

Saturday 20 April 2024

We've got a handful of songs to sing you

"Can I have another piece of chocolate cake?" - ©Neil Finn

You may or may not be aware that I haven't written any new songs for quite a while. I guess over the years I've written between eighty and a hundred songs in total. Of those I'd say thirty or so are keepers. And of those, I've recorded around twenty. Yet, whenever I get up and play at various folk clubs, singarounds, floor spots and the like I bet I only rotate maybe ten songs maximum. Yep, I've got stale. I've taken my foot off the gas and have been happy to coast. I generally pad my repertoire out with one or two (select) covers and would admit, quite freely, that at some point I must have turned my songwriting tap off. 

Hopefully that's about to change. I was invited to a relatively new songwriters group that's sprung up in the town and who meet on the third Thursday (I love that alliteration) of the month. So I went along last Thursday. There were seven of us. We chatted, played a brand new song each and then critiqued what we'd just heard. It was lovely. It was inspiring. This may just be the kick up the arse I need to apply seat of pants to seat of chair - as PG Wodehouse once said. My song, 'The Ocean', which was really only in embryonic form, was received really well. I'll go away now - finish it, tart it up and, while I'm about it, try and get another new song ready for next month. Footnote - it was Dan's birthday on Thursday (Dan is one of the group's founding fathers) and we had cake. Chocolate cake. Matt's wife (Matt - who started the group) baked it specially. I think I'm going to enjoy Songwriters.

Tuesday 16 April 2024


Barrie (left) & Shawn at home

When producer & all round multi-instrumentalist Shawn Lee from Young Gun Silver Fox (my go-to yacht rockers) recently hooked up with Barrie Cadogan (he of Little Barrie and, sometimes, Primal Scream), you just knew that alchemy couldn't be far away. A lot of guitars. A lot of soul. A lot of surprises too. Together they're known as Ultrasonic Grand Prix and the resulting album is called Instafuzz. This is the opening track. It's groovy. No other word for it.

Ultrasonic Grand Prix - Seamoon Rising (2024)

Sunday 14 April 2024

Dymo Dymo Dymo

In the 1970s the only hand held device I owned (not counting my portable transistor radio) was a Dymo machine. I say 'machine'; it was, in fact, nothing more than a rudimentary embosser with a crude wheel - where you fed the tape - to find the correct letter and a 'trigger' once said letter had been located. You know of what I speak - chances you had one too. Er, well those of a certain age group perhaps. Those winter nights used to fly by.

I'd have been lost without mine. All my cassettes were badged up in this way. And as I was precious about not writing on the inlay card (all my tapes were logged in a liberated exercise book from school) it was the main means of cassette identification. As you can see from this Damned C90 (their first album borrowed from Riggsby and dubbed, plus an interview they did on the radio back in the day) the unique number (28) it was given meant I could locate it in a heartbeat. In addition to all this vitaldata, my exercise book also contained each track meticulously catalogued and searchable from the tape counter log ('New Rose' [525-614]) - this meant I could skip between tracks. Invaluable on Beatles albums when faced with the ubiquitous Ringo track. God, just writing this and I can see that the 15 year old me must have had way too much time on his hands.

In a house move a few years back I condensed my cassette collection down from over a hundred to just a select ten - the Crown Jewels, if you will. They and the 50 year old exercise book still reside in the bottom of a packing case somewhere in my garage. One of my Summer jobs will be (and I've been saying this since we moved into this house seven years ago) to retrieve them and reacquaint them with my Damned tape which somehow avoided being lost in the bottom of a removals chest. Watch this space for Time Team updates.

* Vital to me and precisely nobody else.

Tuesday 9 April 2024


With one foot in 1964 it's not easy to pigeonhole Fizzy Orange; sixty years on, bands that sound as good as this and as frenetic as they do are bound to cause a stir in 2024. And that's precisely what they're doing; both in their native Dublin and over here in the UK too. Their blistering indie sounding, soul infused, new six track EP, 'Fizzy Orange in Mono', is chock-full of tunes that will possibly, if played at the correct volume, cause irreparable damage to your speakers. Here's a taster of the lead single from it brought to you in a very Hard Day's Night kinda way...

Fizzy Orange - Choo Choo (2024)

Sunday 7 April 2024

Good Times Will Come Again

My excitement levels were off the charts in anticipation of last night's Megson gig. When the world came to an end in March 2020, so did my chances (I was convinced) of ever seeing them live; of seeing anyone live, ever again. Well, it only took four years but, blimey, what a four years it's been. The world's not quite the same as it was four years ago. I'm not sure I'm the same as I was four years ago. That being said, Stu & Debbie Hanna are - I reckon they've been in stasis since the first lockdown. Stu's hair is just as wild (in a good way) and Debs is just as, well, gorgeous. Am I allowed to say that? (Speaking to them both in the interval I can in fact confirm that both statements are factually correct.)

If I said they opened with Are You Sitting Comfortably and closed with a rousing version of Good Times Will Come Again and that they played The Long Shot and that they tore through their latest album (the terrific What Are We Trying to Say?), then I think you'll have a idea of how perfectly pitched the evening's set was. Their songwriting, their sense of timing, their interplay is flawless; no wonder they're all over the BBC folk awards. I have to say, and I think I told some old friends who I met in the bar (that I hadn't, bizarrely, seen in seven years), that this gig has gone straight into My Top Five Gigs Of All Time. And for those who don't know what it was up against, here's an idea of the competition. 

It goes without saying that if they come within a hundred mile* radius of your house you should make every effort to go and see them. Even if just to see Stu's hair!

Megson - Good Times Will Come Again (2016)

* Nottingham to Helmsley was just shy of 120 miles in case you were wondering.

Thursday 4 April 2024

The lunatic is in my hall

In 1986, following the acrimonious departure of Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour asked Colin Moulding to join Pink Floyd. He politely turned him down as XTC were midway through recording Skylarking. This is such a great story on so many levels; not least as XTC were twice the band Pink Floyd ever were (even if record sales might indicate otherwise - XTC just weren't into world domination.) And, anyway, Moulding had integrity and a sense of loyalty to Andy Partridge. As well as an inner belief that what was happening in Swindon could never be matched in London. Or Paris. Or even New York. Like I say, it's a great story. One he no doubt tells his grandchildren to this day.

A few years later, however, Moulding did record this for a Floyd tribute album. I love it. I'm also playing it all over the house on my acoustic. It's a great song to play on the guitar, it really is.

Colin Moulding - Brain Damage (2006)


Wednesday 3 April 2024

The Regeneration Game

Jon Pertwee (1919-1996)

Can it really be 50 years since Jon Pertwee shocked 13 million Saturday teatime viewers and transmogrified into Tom Baker in front of their very eyes? Yep, in 1974 the Third Doctor, in the shape of Jon Pertwee, bowed out for the last time, passing the sonic screwdriver to the fourth incumbent - yer man with the scarf. But not before he swung by Shepherd's Bush in November '73 and showed Peter Purves his new set of wheels. 

Pertwee also played fast and loose with the First Law of Time (whatever that is) before he absconded, ending up face to face with his predecessor, one Patrick Troughton (Doc #2). There's some classic badinage between the two thesps - listen out for the Beatles reference and also the only time I've ever heard anyone say "Mayn't I?" Different times. Quite literally.

Monday 1 April 2024

Why don't we do it in the road?

Welcome to April's Photo Challenge. I was looking for road crossings - zebras, pelicans, crosswalks. To say I was staggered by the response would be an understatement. A huge thank you to contributors old and new (this month I'm pleased to welcome a whole host of newbies) so without ado let's press the button and wait for the green man... 

Rol, take it away: "Hi John. So I drew a blank when I looked back through the files - no zebras or pelicans or Belishas in sight. Then I came to a wet Thursday evening football practice and, while I stood waiting for the lad to finish British Bulldogs Charge, I noticed this fella on the pavement. Best I can offer, I'm afraid. Take care, Rol." Perfect. He fits the bill and no mistake!

Tim's gone for a three pronged attack this month: "Hi John. Looked back through my phone pics and found a jettisoned flat pint waiting for a green light in Manchester."

"A rainy crossing viewed from the top deck of a bus in Clapham." You are the man on the Clapham omnibus, Tim!       

"And finally some Berlin street art requesting ‘more zebra crossings’." Thanks, Tim. You've understood the brief perfectly.

Talking about zebras - Ernie, what have you got for us? "Hi John, three offerings this month, two of which may be out of scope. The one I'm confident meets the brief is the first one. It's zebras crossing in the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa, and you mentioned both zebras and crossings in your message so it must be OK." Absolutely it is, Ernie. (And you may want to scroll down for more 'zebra action'.)

Ernie goes on: "I wasn't sure whether underpasses fitted the brief, if not then the other two are out. The first was taken from the towpath of the Hertford Union Canal, which is the easiest way to get across the A12 from where I live." Spot on. We're a broad church, Ernie. Underpasses certainly get the thumbs up.

"The second is the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. Obviously, the tunnel mostly goes under the Thames but it also passes under the westbound lane of the A117 in North Woolwich (unlike the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which doesn't go under any roads at all and which I therefore excluded). All the best." Thanks, Ernie. I see now that Photo Challenge was absolutely made for you!

David Cooper, our most travelled correspondent, for sure: "The sign for a pedestrian crossing in Australia. This pair was seen in Sydney." Thanks, Coops. A great spot.

C from Sun Dried Sparrows has an announcement to make: "Hi John, just back from an afternoon in Camden Town." Very tasteful, C. These Pride crossings are springing up all over the place.

Charity Chic is dodging the trains this month: "The level crossing on Grey Street, Broughty Ferry." Thanks, CC. I always get the jitters, quite irratonally, when I drive over these.

Say hello to newbie Andy, a.k.a. Mr. D. Andy is currently in Berlin where he snapped this rather lovely trio. I know the middle one is near the Reichstag and I particularly like 'the wave' in the last one. Welcome onboard, Mr. D - please come back next month.

Jo-Shreeve from Cornwall next. A 'home' and 'away' pair: " Nothing very exciting this time (I'll be the judge of that, Jo!) - St. Piran's Day Parade and a hotel in Majorca xx." As always, Jo, I love them. Thank you again for playing along.

Pete Zab: ''Hi John, here's my pic for April - taken in Sherwood on 3rd December 2023 - the only day it snowed this winter!" Thank you, Pete. I remember that day! 
Another newbie this month - my good friend Vaughan from Lincoln who was visiting Nottingham this weekend - "LED flashing Belisha beacons on this Daybrook zebra & a Union flag in the background." Thanks, Vaughan!

Alyson's been here from the very beginning of this project (January 2023) and for that I can't thank her enough. Here's a shot she took in Amsterdam some 10 years ago when she went over with her daughter -"It's a crossing in the grounds of the Rijksmuseum (home of the Dutch Masters). It was a very sunny holiday, I seem to remember."

Khayem has been patrolling the Cotswolds: "Slightly off the regular path from the Quays outlet centre to the Cathedral in Gloucester is this lovely Pride pedestrian crossing. I took a photo of it a couple of years ago and used it in one of my blog posts but I couldn’t find the original so I took a fresh photo in March 2024, this time from the opposite side of the road. To those that have pondered this question over the decades, I can exclusively reveal that somewhere over the rainbow is…Gloucester Academy of Music. Sadly, some bastard’s already nicked the pot of gold." Thanks, K - you & C were thinking along the same lines this month.

"About 30-odd miles away in South Gloucestershire sits the historic market town of Chipping Sodbury (or Sodding Chipbury, if you’re trying to find parking on a Friday night or Saturday morning). One of the main routes to the high street has not one but two sets of crossings, about 400 metres apart from each other, both adorned with Belisha beacons. I took a snap of one against a bleak skyline, with its strangely hypnotic and comforting light flashing periodically." Thanks, K. I think now would be as good a time as any to say thank you to one Leslie Hore-Belisha, without whom, this month's Photo Challenge may well have fallen on its arse.

Next up, Adam: "Road crossings and album covers. Top left, the most famous zebra crossing in the world with four Beatles (or three & an imposter, depending on your beliefs about Paul). Top right - Mick Jones and BAD 2 about to drink the Kool Aid and make some kind of hyperdelic crossing. Bottom left - Ian, Will, Les and Pete, crossing not visible but the Bunnymen always know where to cross the road. Bottom right - Don Letts as seen on the cover of Black Market Clash. 'Dread' doesn't need painted lines to tell him where to cross the road." Thanks, Adam. I half expected one of us to go down this path!

Time for The Swede: "Pausing for a photo opportunity while crossing a New York street is not something I'd usually recommend. It's a city whose impatient road users (not to mention fellow pedestrians) invariably have places to be and people to see - loiterers & slowcoaches are unlikely to be tolerated once the lights turn green. I took this shot looking north on Hudson Street, at the intersection of Duane, on a bright, crisp Sunday morning in March 2023, while the city that never sleeps was having a bit of a lie-in. A deserted series of usually bustling crosswalks stretch into the distance and the traffic signals shine red for no-one." Eerie stuff, thank you, TS.

Another newbie, Alan Dawson writer and local historian: "Taken on Goldsmith Street in Nottingham's (ever expanding) student quarter." It's a sentiment shared by many, I'm guessing.

A brace from California: Riggsby said he found this month's assignment one tough but managed to find these - including the crosswalk leading to his local Sushi restaurant. Thanks, Richard.

Remember we were talking about zebras earlier? My good friends Matthew & Samantha were recently in Cape Town and, lo and behold, found another real life zebra. Several, in fact. Very similar to Ernie's pic above, Sam said they 'cross' when they're resting. These are from Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve. Matthew panned out.

And Sam zoomed in.

Just time to whizz through some of mine. From 2013 this is James (middle) and a very young Frozen Gin 'doing an Abbey Road' in Pickering, North Yorkshire.

More Belishas on the Mansfield Road in Nottingham.

A yellow Beetle in Los Angeles. From our road trip in 2022.

The first of two crossings made by Matthew. This one is in Newcastle not far from our digs when we hit the toon last year.

We have loads of scary school crossings in Nottingham manned by zombie childlike creatures who scare the shit out of me whenever I drive past them.

This is the pelican crossing at the top of my road.

Bloody Matthew again. This one's in Hollister, CA. I took this in 2022.

Taken a couple of days earlier in LA.

And finally, while zebras may be thin on the ground in America we did spot this elk just outside Grand Canyon. I'd never seen one before so was very excite to see this beautiful creature crossing the highway like it owned the place.

So there you have it. Thanks again to everyone who took part; I love curating your photographs. Keep 'em coming! See you next time. 

Postscript 2.4.24

I know I've already given some of you an early heads up regarding May's theme - 'Revolving Doors'. However, I suspect some of you (not all) are struggling. That being the case I'm gonna bring forward what would have been June's theme and run it jointly with the doors. 
So, May's theme will be 'Mannequins/Showroom Dummies' and/or 'Revolving Doors'. Either or both, I'll take whatever you've got. By 1st May, please! J x