Feeling My Age

Getting older has its drawbacks – but it's a lot better than the alternative.

Bob Dylan 2002

Bob Dylan at Brighton Centre
The Guardian,  May 6, 2002

The air is fraught with expectation, the crowd largely comprised of characters you never normally see at rock concerts: smart middle-aged couples, grim-faced fathers dragging children, a glut of paunchy, balding men, faces glistening with anticipation. They look more like people at a garden centre, albeit one where dippy women hawk homemade books called things like Voice of the Nightingale: A Poetic Interpretation of Dylan.

What draws them to an artist whose live reputation is so erratic? Aside from their memories, it is his mythic status. Dylan started talking gibberish in the early 1960s, then gave up talking entirely. This tour has been heralded not with the usual interview blitz, but with rock mags listing their favourite barmy Dylan tales. No extant star boasts such an impregnable aura of mystery.

The mystery remains intact tonight. Looking trim in a cowboy hat, Dylan never speaks. His singing voice bolsters the enigma. On record it has deteriorated into a terrifying croak; live it is literally beyond language. “Hesh a sheeshuuh unna shezz,” he rasps. “Unwah a shusheshah heeesh.” Legendary songs – Tangled Up In Blue, It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding – go on for minutes without a flicker of audience recognition.

The true Dylan nuts cover themselves by applauding the first few notes of everything, regardless. Subterranean Homesick Blues is at least identifiable, but Dylan forgets the words and fills in with noises: “. . . heeesh shuzzz unnnuuh, carry round a firehose . . .” The crowd love it.

Intermittently, you see their point. Some songs suit his ruined voice. Tweedle Dee is bleakly menacing. Masters of War, sung in a husking death rattle, sounds more foreboding than ever. His onstage attitude is legendarily wayward – solos are included, timings changed, tracks altered without warning – but it’s gripping stuff. Watching Dylan battle his back catalogue is infinitely more entertaining than seeing another super-annuated star glide slickly through their hits. At the very least, he is one legend from whom you can expect the unexpected.

Alexis Petridis

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Trumpocalypse Now

November 24, 2016 Feeling My Age

Trumpocalypse Now - click to expand image in new window

“What all have foreseen
From the outset,
And yet in the end it takes place,
Is idiocy,
The fire it’s too late to extinguish.
Called Fate.”

MAX FRISCH, The Fire Raisers (1958)
Translated by Michael Bullock.

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Vote Brexit because...

With thanks to Twitter user James Melville, who describes the following as “a glorious summary of the Brexit debate in the Financial Times comments section.”
Original tweet here.

So this is how the debate reads so far. I kid you not. It’s practically verbatim:

Remainers (left holding the Brexit baby after the Leavers… left) “WTF? ”

Leavers “We voted Brexit, now You Remainers need to implement it”

Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

Leavers “The People Have Spoken. Therefore it is possible. You just have to think positively”

Remainers “And do what exactly?”

Leavers “Come up with a Plan that will leave us all better off outside the EU than in it”

Remainers “But it’s not possible!”

Leavers “Quit with the negative vibes. The People Have Spoken.”

Remainers “But even you don’t know how!”

Leavers “That’s your problem. We’ve done our bit and voted. We’re just going to sit here and eat popcorn and watch as you do it”

Remainers “Shouldn’t you do it?”

Leavers “It’s not up to us to work out the detail, it’s up to you experts.”

Remainers “I thought you’d had enough of experts”

Leavers “Remain experts.”

Remainers “There are no Leave experts”

Leavers “Then you’ll have to do it then. Oh, and by the way, no dragging your feet or complaining about it, because if you do a deal we don’t want, we’ll eat you alive.”

Remainers “But you don’t know what you want!”

Leavers “We want massive economic growth, no migration, free trade with the EU and every other country, on our terms, the revival of British industry, re-open the coal mines, tea and Vickers on every village green, some bunting, and maybe restoration of the empire.”

Remainers “You’re delusional.”

Leavers “We’re a delusional majority. DEMOCRACY! So do the thing that isn’t possible, very quickly, and give all levers what they want, even though they don’t know what they want, and ignore the 16 million other voters who disagree. They’re tight trouser latte-sipping hipsters who whine all the time, who cares.”

Apologies for not crediting the originator of the above – couldn’t get behind the FT paywall to find out their name…


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Benji Kirkpatrick

November 16, 2016 Feeling My Age

Benji Kirkpatrick is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performs on guitar, mandolin and banjo although his favoured instrument is the bouzouki.

Born in Shropshire, England in 1976, he is the son of renowned English folk musicians John Kirkpatrick and Sue Harris, and his entry into the recording business suitably came about on his father’s 1994 album Earthling.

Benji Kirkpatrick - click to open full size image in new window

Benji subsequently formed the acoustic band The Hedgerows and toured around the UK and Europe, before launching his solo career in 1998 with Dance In The Shadow. Around the same time he co-founded the groundbreaking English folk trio Faustus (originally known as Dr. Faustus) and also worked with Magpie Lane, the Oysterband, and his father’s five-piece ceilidh band, Mr. Gubbins’ Bicycle.

In 2004 he helped co-found another seminal English folk group, the acclaimed big band Bellowhead. He also completed the recording of his second solo album, Half A Fruit Pie. After featuring on Seth Lakeman’s hit albums Kitty Jay and Freedom Fields, Benji played for three years in the Seth Lakeman Band – releasing his own third album, Boomerang, in 2008.

Over the years Benji has also worked with John Jones, Maddy Prior, Thea Gilmore and Joan as Police Woman. His fourth solo album Hendrix Songs saw him strip back the songs of his hero and set them in a new, acoustic light. In summer 2016, as part of the Shakespeare 400 celebrations, Benji was involved in The Fairy Portal Camp at the RSC in Stratford upon Avon. Musicians, actors and dancers collaborated to produce new works every day for a week, working up to a final performance which opened “The Fairy Portal”…

In the latter part of 2016 his energies have clearly been focussed on Faustus who just concluded a UK tour at the end of October promoting their latest and most assured release to date Death And Other Animals.

In the course of the year they have have been Artists in Residence at Halsway Manor, National Centre for the Folk Arts where they had unlimited access to the Manor’s extensive library. The album includes four songs unique to Halsway’s little-known Ruth Tongue archive. Halsway has been omnipresent throughout the process as the band also recorded the album itself in the Manor. It tackles head-on, we’re told, “subjects from the Dance of Death to the plight of the common man, sand-swallowed ships to mythical black dogs”.

The three tracks from Death And Other Animals below convey a strong sense of the band’s powerful instrumental sound and vocal mastery. The album can be bought direct from the Faustus Bandcamp page:

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1963 Radio

“One of the curiosities of the British music scene in the early ’60s was the so-called ‘needletime agreement’ that had been struck between the BBC and the Performing Rights societies and the Musicians’ Union. Only five hours of recorded music could be played per day. Everything else had to be performed live by a BBC ensemble or a band hired to play on the radio. It generated work for the musicians but also fed all the songs of the day through a strange filter of orchestras on the BBC Light Programme, the musical frequency that ran adjacent to the Home Service You could turn on the wireless in 1961 and believe that it was still 1935. You might hear the strings of Semprini playing light classics, or the polite dance music of Victor Silvester and His Ballroom Orchestra, or even a broadcast of someone playing happy tunes on a cinema organ for an entire hour.”

The BBC Radio Orchestra

“It seemed the BBC would do anything to fill up the broadcast schedule, and it was on the air only from early morning, with the Shipping Forecast, to just before midnight, when it closed with some improving thoughts from a vicar. I’d wait all week for Saturday Club, a two-hour show that featured live appearances by pop groups in between the records. Beat Groups, as they were now being called, would turn up on variety shows and have jokes made about their hair by comedians who might have only been five years older than them. The Joe Loss Orchestra may have seemed square to some ears – one famous beat group member once told me, ‘We used to call him Dead Loss’ – but they made a better job of playing the hits of the day than some of their contemporaries, due to their ingenious arrangements and having at least one very versatile singer. This was often the only may to hear your favorite songs, if not the original artists.”

From Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink
Elvis Costello
Paberback, May 2016

Elvis Costello

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Hipy Papy Bthuthdy

April 11, 2016 Feeling My Age

Owl by E H Shepard - from

Owl licked the end of his pencil, and wondered how to spell “birthday.”
“Can you read, Pooh?” he asked a little anxiously. “There’s a notice about knocking and ringing outside my door, which Christopher Robin wrote. Could you read it?”
“Christopher Robin told me what it said, and then I could.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what this says, and then you’ll be able to.”
So Owl wrote . . . and this is what he wrote:


Pooh looked on admiringly.
“I’m just saying ‘A Happy Birthday’,” said Owl carelessly.
“It’s a nice long one,” said Pooh, very much impressed by it.
“Well, actually, of course, I’m saying ‘A Very Happy Birthday with love from Pooh.’ Naturally it takes a good deal of pencil to say a long thing like that.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

From Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), by A.A. Milne
Chapter Six: In Which Eeyore Has A Birthday And Gets Two Presents
Illustration by E.H. Shepard

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Saw a preview of the new movie Pride – which is co-produced by BBC Films – and came away both tearful and uplifted. I vividly remember people collecting for Lesbians & Gays Support The Miners during the epic strike of 1984/5, but didn’t know at the time that The National Union of Mineworkers had been reluctant to accept the group’s support. The movie tells the story of how the activists ended up taking their donations instead directly to a small mining community in Wales, and how – despite some vigorous opposittion within their ranks – the villagers eventually came around to accepting and welcoming their support.

Most movingly of all, it shows how a large delegation of miners turned up to march in solidarity at the head of the 1985 Pride parade in London. I remember one of the miners’ wives coming onto the main stage in Jubilee Gardens to thank LGSM for the £20,000 they raised, and to say she would be proud for any child of hers to grow up gay. The following year a motion to enshrine LGBT rights in the Labour Party manifesto was passed, largely thanks to a block vote by the NUM.

Critics have complained that the story has been simplified and glamourised, and that the scene where villagers get up en mass in the Miners Hall to sing spontaneously in perfect Welsh Choir harmony is a tad sentimental. But screw that – the cast, acting and cinematography are stellar, and above all the story is a true one. This stuff actually happened.

Not a dry eye in the house – then or now.

Pride has its own excellent website and opens in UK cinemas on September 12th 2014.

Pride The Movie

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One of the more memorable TV advertising slogans of the last 20 years came from Murphy’s Irish Stout – whose main rival back in the 1990s was the hugely popular, though more bitter-tasting, Guinness brand.

Murphys brewery in Cork had been taken over by the Dutch giant Heineken, whose own lager famously “refreshes the parts that other beers cannot reach”. Heineken commissioned a series of 30 second vignettes set in Irish pubs starring a handsome young actor recovering from a series of humorous misfortunes with a comforting pint.

“Like the Murphys,” he would say, “I’m not bitter.” Take that, Guinness! The ads were launched during Channel Four’s Father Ted Christmas Special in 1996.But just who was this suave, twinkly-eyed star of all three ads, and why haven’t we seen more of him since then? It’s been extraordinarily hard to find out… [More]

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As mentioned in an earlier post about Wild Swimming, my wife is a member of the South London Swimming Club at Tooting Bec Lido. whose wintertime activities appear – to the casual observer – to be plain barking mad. Namely open air swimming in water just below 5C.

However in this gorgeous new video shot by a ridiculously fit SLSC member called Jonathan Cowie, his own dolphin-like grace and the beauty of the setting makes the whole ritual look truly graceful and enticing. It seems almost tempting to have a go. Almost.

But then you remember thay on some days SLSC members have to break the ice before they can even get into the water for goodness sake… Fit and graceful or not, these people are crazy.

To be continued…

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Gilbert E. Hawker

January 6, 2014 Feeling My Age

Photo source: http://www.ww1photos.com
Photo: with grateful acknowledgement to ww1photos.com

From Dad’s diary:  “Gilbert E. Hawker, whom my mother May described as “a golden haired engineer and the joy of our year” was light-hearted, smiling and flirtatious. When he was fighting in France in 1918 May sent him by way of comforts for the troops a pair of socks she had knitted and a slab of home-made toffee. Later, on a visit to Flanders after the war, Hawker’s name was the first that caught her eye on the Menin Gate (below). My father once showed me a photograph of the college football team and said that none but he had survived. This is Hawker’s letter, written on cheap lined letter paper…”

My Dear May,

I am attempting to answer your epistle of loving cheer under somewhat trying circumstances. I am sitting next to a rather warm stove in a dark corner of a typical Flemish estaminet. The company talks Flemish, French and English, and are kicking up an awful row. A young lady of ample proportions is ironing sundry domestic garments on my right side, six Life Guards are blessing the service to my front and my friend is chattering vile French on my left flank. All over pervades the odour and noise of two small children and a dog. The usual glass of watery beer is at mine elbow so here’s to the fair May.

I have now gulped half a pint of water and a thimbleful of beer to you. The atmosphere is stifling hot and I can’t see the lines I’m supposed to write on, but being a soldier I’ll stick to my post and hope you can figure out the script. May, I’m simply awfully bucked to hear from you. The people from the college have all turned out aces and I absolutely love the place since it was my last link with the civilised world. The stout lady has just lit a vilely malodorous lamp so I’ll manage better by its dim light. The socks were charming and you must be a hero to have stuck through the monotonous period of knitting ’em. I washed my tootsies: the socks’ arrival coincided with my monthly ablutions and I put ’em on, and never felt better in my life. Considering what came with them I shall never part with them so long as this noble heart still works its revs per min. as usual.

Of course, I’m a real veteran by now, and when you’ve buried pals by night in a bleak rain under fire and picked up bits of chaps, there ain’t such a thing as horror. It’s called sport by the boys who won’t be killed. The fellows never get very excited about this because they’re in it, and Lord knows they may cart the corpse of G.E.H. to a convenient hedge some dark night. The toffee was really excellent, ’cause they can’t make toffee here, they’re all such mercenary idiots. The thing that does really worry us is this: who is looking after all the dear girls while we’re away? It haunts me day and night and spoils my appetite. Freda, like the brick she is, writes and keeps me alive occasionally. And now, May, I cannot hear myself write for the row and other things so au revoir, and for thy fair sake I’ll keep under the barricade.

Accept the heartiest thanks and best wishes from your old friend

Thomas Atkins aka G.E.H.

“…the letter is undated, but was sent from somewhere on the Western front in 1918, the year of his death

Menin Gate inscription, Ypres

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Child A Leaves Home

September 23, 2013 Feeling My Age

Baby Child A

Our son left home last month – where does the time go? He’s shared our roof ever since we first brought him home from maternity hospital back in 1990: the end of an era in our family life.

Child A Leaves Home

He graduated last year, got himself a decent digital job in Shoreditch and can at last afford to take on a flatshare in Docklands. Wife and Child K were away camping at the time, so there was just me to see him off.

They say you need to give your kids both roots and wings, but the theory’s easier than the practice. Standing alone in his deserted room after he’d gone I could have howled like a dog.

Leaving Home

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Steve Winwood

September 1, 2013 Feeling My Age

Steve Winwood - click to zoom image in new window

Photo of Steve Winwood in 1967 aged 19 – just after leaving the Spencer Davis Group to form Traffic. Young, modest, immensely talented and adorably goodlooking. What was not to like?

I saw Traffic when they headlined the Teespop Festival in 1968 and they were immense. Nothing on any of their studio albums ever came close to the freewheeling majesty of that band at the height of their powers. Wonderful groove-driven jams and memorable chorus – all achieved without a bass player.

Steve played bass pedals on his Hammond most of the time, and when he switched to guitar, Chris Wood would actually somehow play the basslines on his tenor sax. I’m not making this up – he had some kind of electronic pickup routed though a bass amp via – presumably – some kind of early state of the art electronic gizmo that dropped it down an octave and rolled off all the top end. Amazing.

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The Order of Things

August 27, 2013 Feeling My Age

From Acts Of Knowledge - click to visit site
Illustration & commentary used with grateful acknowledgement to Acts of Knowledge:
a collaborative project with John Morgan, Bill Macmillan, Lori Lee, Aschoy Collective

Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge is a Chinese Encyclopedia described by Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986), in which animal are categorised into 14 types:

(a) belonging to the Emperor
(b) embalmed
(c) tame
(d) sucking pigs
(e) sirens
(f) fabulous
(g) stray dogs
(h) included in the present classification
(i) frenzied
(j) innumerable
(k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(l) et cetera
(m) having just broken the water pitcher
(n) that from a long way off look like flies

This classification – says the Acts Of Knowledge website – explores the arbitrariness (and cultural specificity) of any attempt to categorize the world and  demonstrates an “other” to our system of thought. In Michel Foucault‘s book “The Order of Things“, he explicates an “archaeological” investigation of knowledge acquisition; he also comments on the fragility of our current means of understanding the world. For Foucault reasoning is the ultimate act of control, delivered through the power of representation to confirm an objective order.

Acts of Knowledge begins with a text found in an old social studies text used in U.S. classrooms. This educational text delivers a structural form of knowledge and a series of narratives about the similar and the other. Acts of Knowledge uses the primary forms of knowledge – the encyclopedia – to question the structure imposed by reasoning. In that context, the acts of estrangement and the visual structuring of the dictionary and the encyclopedias through collages questions the categorization, knowledge, and the arbitrariness of otherness.

To view more of the artworks, visit Acts Of Knowledge

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Rudy Narayan

July 28, 2013 Feeling My Age

Rudy Narayan

Back in the late 70s – or maybe early 80s – I was called to do jury service at the Old Bailey, no less. The case concerned an altercation at a London ‘Blues’ party – so nothing too grisly. The defendants and witnesses were almost all black, the jury was almost all white. The whole experience was a a valuable insight into other people’s lives: the witnesses and my fellow jurors were nearly all from backgrounds quite unlike my own. Also it was fascinating to see the way our legal system actually worked at the coalface.

A barrister representing one of the three defendants made a deep impression on me. His arguments cut straight to the crux of the case: that we could only reasonably convict his client if we believed the testimony of one particularly flaky witness whom everyone referred to as Brooksy. In cross-examination he forensically picked through and shredded the inconsistencies in the man’s testimony, and sat down with a cuert “no further questions” after extracting one final, blatantly obvious lie from the witness. “It’s Brooksy or nothing” he stressed in his closing speech to the jury. His client was acquitted – the other two were found guilty.

That barrister was Rudy Narayan who went on to become famous as an anti-racist campaigner, and to found the Society Of Black Lawyers. Tragically, according to Wikipedia, alcohol subsequently deprived him of his livelihood and, eventually, his life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudy_Narayan

Blue Plaque for Rudy Narayan

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Brilliant, engrossing, and in places extremely moving on treating London primary school children to the great outdoors made by Lotte Davies and posted on Vimeo by Jack Sloan from Hanover Primary School.

Best quote comes from the boy explaining what he enjoyed the most: “chopping wood – like with an axe and saws – ‘cos you don’t really get to do much of that in London…”

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