Friday, 23 June 2017

Rattle Bap

For those who don’t know, a Battle Rap is a verbal joust in which competitors try to best each other with clever put-downs, boasts and wordplay.  This is delivered in rhyme and usually has the familiar rhythmic patterns of rap music, although it is not always accompanied by music.  It is decided either by the crowd in attendance, and/or by the duly appointed judge/s.
(Rattle Bap is a pun on Battle Rap which I used in the title purely for my own amusement.  Sometimes, in a long-running series of writings, one just needs to put in something purely for oneself, doesn’t one?)


This is one of the traditions established in the early days of Hip Hop, and like most of those forms of expression, is now recognised worldwide.

A few years back, I was invited to this type of duel for the very first time.  Challenged, if you will.  The Challenger was a young man of my acquaintance, who, as far as I am aware, was not (at the time) an accomplished, experienced, or even precocious rapper/MC.

Without wishing to speculate on the young man’s motivations or psychology: it started as a boastful joke, and his mates noised him up about a battle between us, until he asked me about it several times.  Having had enough, I simply told him that if I was challenged, I would have to respond to the challenge, one way or another. 
So, he challenged me and I accepted – and prepared to meet that challenge.

In a battle, anything is a target – good friends can say disgraceful things about each other in battle and still be friends after.  Nothing is taboo.  I’ve seen a mate of mine battling against someone he knows, who concentrated mostly on some very very racist and offensive attacks that would have been totally unacceptable in any other context; maybe even prosecutable…but that’s the whole point – you can say anything.  It’s real Free Speech.  That doesn’t mean there are no consequences, it just means MCs in that arena can say anything in the heat of the moment and their opponent is expected to come back at them just as hard – or crumble, and lose the battle.  They are really the only two options.

Like a lot of the original elements of Hip Hop, these kinds of battles (whether between crews or individuals) were a creative way of settling disputes and replacing/discouraging violence with friendly(ish) competition. 

The battle was to take place at a show we were both playing at The Thunderbolt in our native Bristol – outside (a capela), between the band’s sets (right after The Challenger’s set, and just before my set with GrayDog, in fact).  The landlord of the pub was hosting the battle, and after we explained to him what a battle is, we agreed on two rounds and went at it.

Oh, and my opponent’s favourite song was A Little Respect by Erasure, and he used to play it a lot at his early solo gigs.  The relevance of this vignette will become apparent.

So, here’s what I did on the day…..

 

 

ROUND ONE:

First off, I gotta be careful what I say – cos
It all ends up on his Facebook page the next day.
So post this: You better rap better than you sing, mate.
Don’t worry, you’ll lose the puppy fat someday,
Hope you’re enjoying puberty, by the way…
Come to think of it, what is your age, anyway?
Have you ever seen a girl naked –
One that didn’t have a pop-up advert covering her tits?
I know you failed your exams, kid, but it’s just good practice,
When you quote someone, to acknowledge your sources,
Otherwise you’re just biting
I’m not often telling people what to do, but….
Is all this about some girl at school that don’t like you?
You got nothing to lose, I got nothing to prove.
All offence and withering contempt is very much intended…
‘Cos this shit here is just theatre – And not the good kind, either:
You on some amateur, A level student thing – oh shit,
Sorry, you didn’t get to A levels, did you?
So you’re still on GCSEs
And yet, you challenged me, like Billy Big Bollocks.
I’ve got the looks, the brains, experience and talent,
And you’ve got…glasses.
I never ran away from a challenge,
And Tubby here invited me to say my piece
So he gotta deal with the consequences
I’m not here to sneer and cause friction,
But we need to talk about your addiction to my diction,
It’s a fiction, you keep takin the piss, but we’ll see
How many of my songs you play badly,
At your next gig - if there ever is such a thing,
We’ll see how much you nick my gig banter and lyrics.
Tonight you might get a couple of bitch slaps in
But when the student is out shouting and jabbering,
The master is busy mastering.
I should finish, ‘cos this is a bit embarrassing.
Truth is, I shouldn’t be battling this kid –
Cos I believe we shouldn’t criticise children in public.
We can talk later, if you’re ready for some learning
But for now, shut the fuck up while grown folks are talking.
 

 

ROUND TWO:

I believe education should be free,
That’s why I came here today to let you pretend to battle me,
Short jokes?  That’s funny,
No one’s ever noticed my height before,
You must be a uniquely observant and witty
Chronicler of the human condition…no, wait, that’s me.
You’re just like every gobshite that went to school with me.
You talk fast, but I think much quicker
I suppose you’ve had fun slagging off your hero on twitter…
It’s not a battle, it’s a massacre, I come as the teacher,
The adult world’s ambassador, I’ll batter ya
With these rhymes I’m really spoilin yer,
I know you won’t get some of the references,
But you can look it all up on your computer later.
Experience is a perfect teacher,
And I’m here to teach your flabby ass some humility.
You are weak in the execution of your talent
That Chemical Bomb song is your best one,
And you didn’t write it.
I’m an educator, so I stay on message,
This medium is a blessing, and I’ll be
Right here watching and takin the piss.
You’re in the right place, like an alcoholic, so
Keep on coming back,
And I’ll keep on showing what you lack, young paduan.
I’m surprised you can rap with your tongue up my ass –
Oh, that’s right, you can’t.
I used to sing: “When I grow up, I wanna be a drug dealer”
But he’s singing:
“When I grow up, I wanna be Clayton Blizzard” –
and that just ain’t happenin.
[Singing] You’re so in love with me,
You’ll be forever green – with envy
That you were not born me – you weren’t even born Dizzy
(That’s Rascal, not Gillespie, for anyone as old as me,
In case you’re wondering), So…
You have tried rhyming
But, Billy, please,
Give a little respect To yourself…..
Aaaaaaand
STOP.
 
 

 

Friday, 16 June 2017

First Thoughts On Waking, Vol. IV


RELIEF!
 
LIFE GOES ON.  Stokes Croft looks the same as it did yesterday.  Bristol is still cool.
Election Results Day is also Bin Day.
“Bin day for democracy.” – Mark L.
I couldn’t wait for this to be over, but that was tempered by the fear that everything might be Even Worse.
No one needs my thoughts on any of this, do they?  No. And yet, here they are anyway.
Election results are IN: New Labour lost.  Convincingly.
Other election night losers include the Prime Minister (whose party actually won on the narrow technicality that they got the most votes and the most seats – and yet, who, since she demanded a mandate for sticking it to the Europeans and didn’t get anywhere near a majority that might have allowed her to claim it, is a Giant Loser), The Sun and The Mail (who seem the same, and yet also more shrill, ugly and desperate than ever) and the 172 Labour MPs who voted No Confidence in their leader last year – the leader who has now delivered them increased majorities.  (And who, are therefore, also ironically, Winners.  Despite their best efforts.)) 
Yesterday I listened to You Can Have It All by Yo La Tengo.  I really like that song, but it seems a far-fetched, decadent promise…later I will tell people it was the last song I heard before voting, but that was actually I Know Him So Well by Elaine Page and Barbara Dixon, from the musical Chess.
One of the reasons representative democracy is so popular is that it allows us the space to not give a shit about anything that happens politically, because we vote for people we don’t know to represent us in a distant (in every sense) parliament.  That may be changing.
One of the reasons representative democracy is so unpopular is that it is distant from us, in every sense.  That may be changing.
In Stokes Park, overlooking the M32, there is a former psychiatric hospital which has been converted into luxury flats.  (In a neat parable of These Times.)  On the wall at its base, for anyone driving, walking or cycling past, someone has painted, in big letters: “VOTE LABOUR.” (In a neat parable of These Times.)  The graffiti was covered by a blue tarpaulin. (In a neat parable of These Times.)  And the next day, the tarpaulin was off and the painted message was visible again. (In a neat parable of These Times.)  And then, on the morning of Election Day, the blue banner was back in its place, taunting the people of Bristol. (In a neat parable of These Times.)  Following the election, the banner is gone, and the graffiti remains visible to all.  (In a neat parable of These Times.) 
The Centre cannot hold…A terrible beauty is born.
Corbyn lost, and is therefore clearly unelectable and should resign.  #satire
PM: Let me do what I want.
Electorate: Do what you're told.
PM: Give me a mandate
Electorate: No. Fuck off.
PM: Let me interpret the referendum result in the harshest possible way and use it to usher in an era of even greater neoliberal economics (ie, privatisation and spending cuts).
Electorate: No. Fuck off.
PM strongly and stably loses 20 seats to a terrorist-sympathising loony left pacifist. #worstcampaignever
PM strongly and stably begs for help from a bunch of terrorist-sympathising loony right wing Sectarian bigots.
Hang on, which is the one who’s supposed to bezzy mates with Irish terrorists?
‘Dazza Hygiene's match report’ (text message):
“The blues parked the strong and stable bus and relied heavily on counter attacks.
The reds put in a strong performance and are happy to have done better than expected.. But ultimately failed to qualify for the Champions league negotiating table.
The final group spot has therefore been given to relative minnows, DUP, whom neutrals consider to be a thoroughly wholesome bunch.........”
I preferred the David Cameron replicant.  A more convincing human than this new one, and not quite as disgusting-acting/sounding/looking.  How is the PM-bot technology going backwards?  This is technological regression.
This is a massive defeat for the government, on the government’s own terms.  #reasonstobecheerful
They hammer poor people, they cut spending, they privatise everything they possibly can – and it doesn’t even reduce the national debt.  Their only supposed virtue is stability/strong leadership, and they’re also clearly shit at that.  What, then, are the Tories FOR?
Paul Nuttall smirking as he gets his ass handed to him.  UKIP were obliterated, which is obviously great news….although, it might mean Farridge back....again.
Oh GOD WHY IS HE ALWAYS ON THE FUCKING TELLY? WHY IS HE STILL ON THE FUCKING TELLY?! 
WHY AREN’T WE STOMPING HIS GUTS OUT?!
Whoever has been booking guests at BBC News for the last 3 years or so should be roasted alive.  I’d vote for anyone proposing that.
From the off, this was a massive pile of bullshit: the PM lied about the reasons for doing it so brazenly that her grip on reality/hubris will be questioned, even by her own side.  Whoever is advising her on this should be in a queue for severely-cut employment benefits.  [UPDATE: Her two “top”/”closest” advisers have resigned, meaning they will not be getting any JSA…#SATIRE]
When the PM was asked the naughtiest thing she’d done, I’m surprised she didn’t say “contempt of court”, since she was convicted of that in 2012.
Peter Mandelson still absolutely repugnant, say humans.  Andrew Neil baiting Mandelson to admit New Labour is dead…good old Westminster entertainment from two of the smuggest faces ever to darken that cesspit of depravity.
IDS still the “absolute worst cunt ever” according to everyone.
Always a rare and strange experience when Westminster suddenly gives a fuck about Northern Ireland, and we all remember it exists.  #interestingtimes
The Parliamentary Labour Party is waking up to the fact that their leader is waaaaaaaaay more popular than they are.  (Two years too late, but we are all slow to realise these things sometimes.)
A man with a bucket on his head, calling himself a lord, is seen as considerably more sensible, both in policy and presentation terms, than the current prime minister. 
This is mostly regarded as a delightful development.
We are divided, we are confused, we are concerned.  We are SANE. 
Hating The Tories now right on trend.  #80sretro
The end of austerity sounds good, but talk of revolution and turning tides seems premature.  But it’s a start.  A good start.  A ray of light in dark times, if you will.  (You will, won’t you?)
That little ray of light is a chink in the armour of the neoliberal consensus that has dominated us politically for the last forty years.  If history has taught us anything – repeatedly – it’s that power concedes nothing easily….
The Work starts.  NOW.
It might not even be, of itself, a Big Thing.  But lots of little things make a big difference. 
Sometimes, I think We might just be alright.
 
 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Everything Is Happening At Once


Past

I am at/have been/will go to The Louisiana many times.  I will first play there in 1999, and I’ve seen several great gigs there.  The sound is/was/will be always superb. 
I am here “now”, watching The Dessert, Alba and Wovoka Gentle, presumably in that order.
When I watched this show, I will have already experienced it and described it on a recording which will not be available until after the show has happened.  When I watch the show, I will have not seen it having discussed it, but if you hear the recording, I will have seen it when you hear me discussing having seen it.  I am seeing it now.
Wovoka Gentle (no, I don’t know what the name means) have an impressive array of equipment; I understand none of it.  Hoppy gamely tries to talk me through it, but I’m quickly overwhelmed.  There are a lot of pads with buttons on, and a couple of synths.  I step up on to the stage to get a sneaky look at the most intriguing item: it looks like a sort of electric auto-harp, but could just as easily be a toy instrument.
(If I were writing a review of the set, I would have said that there are three members of the band and that two of them are twins who look a little bit like the comedian Bridget Christie, but that really isn’t important so I didn’t say it.  I won’t even write it.)
I will enjoy their set, but I did also think that the vocals should have been more prominent, but will find them just slightly too effected (yes, effected, as in Effects/FX Pedals), and, indeed, affected, to cut through the soundscapes they are creating.  The whole thing still sounds great, but it’s a shame not to hear more of the vocals.  Because they are great.
The group rectify this with their encore, for which they get off stage and walk into the middle of the room with an acoustic guitar.  They sing, in beautiful three-part harmony, a song written by someone else and subsequently made famous by John Prine (I think – as I say, they were off-mic at this point).
It is the perfect ending to the evening.  I think it happened at the end, anyway.  (Of course, after that I went home, so I suppose maybe that was the end of the evening.  Although, really, for me, the end was when I went to sleep, which was a while after I got home….there aren’t really any endings in real life, are there?)
When I am there I will re-experience/reimagine (you could call it remembering) being here as a spotty nineteen year-old with an arrow shaved into my head, clutching a microphone in my teeth and screaming.
For the record, The Dessert are here playing their first show, not that anyone could have guessed that from their lush sound and polished performance.  The drumming is sensitive.  Yes, sensitive.  The synth/guitar player has given himself a lot to do, but manages it all ably.  The singer’s voice sits on top of the soundscape perfectly.  It’s an unusual and pleasing mix of influences and sounds.
Alba plays with her band, and she is angelic.  She has, just like me, “always wanted to play here…”
“For Harry, as always.”
The love in the room is almost palpable; many of the crew are here, and supporting their friends; but no one is doing any favours.  The music, from any other mouths, would taste as sweet.
This will, at some point in the future, give me the experience of the past memory of someone else’s memory of someone else, who saw the infamous Radiohead performance at Glastonbury in 1997 (yes, that’s the one, just after the release of OK Computer), which I will not see and will not have seen, who describes it thusly: “Moving.  Very moving.  I cried.  Twice.”
I am experiencing being onstage here and feeling the love in the room just as I am experiencing the love in the room now as I watch the bands onstage, from offstage.  It was almost overwhelming, it’s like everything is happening at once.


Future
The day after this blog is published, Scotland will play England at Hampden. 
England will almost certainly win, probably comfortably.  If history is any sort of guide, England will win comfortably without being good.  And Scotland will try hard and be passionate without being good.  If there is any good luck to be had in the game, it will not favour Scotland.  But Scotland are getting better, and a lot of their supporters are enthused again.  And their manager is popular, espousing a traditional emphasis on teamwork and fairness for the postmodern game. 
England are offering the same old turgid shit as always, which has, depressingly often, been enough to see them beat their rivals.  But the England manager may just have over-stretched himself here, read his own press too much, been too arrogant about the chances of a Scotland team cheered on by their vocal and increasingly confident fans.  Anything less than the big win predicted by cheer-leading journalists will be seen as a failure.
And there will be lots of talk about the whole thing, with precious little insight troubling the mountain of bullshit.  And I am experiencing it already.  And I have experienced it already.  And I will be experiencing it. 
But I will also experience the time Scotland beat England at Wembley, when England were recently-crowned World Champions.  And Scotland ripped the piss out of them and stuffed them 3-2, and were therefore, definitely, by a long way, the best team in the world.  But even then, we knew, didn’t we, that that was not the end of it, that Scotland (best team in the world though they undoubtedly were, in 1967) could not rest on their laurels, that they would need to fight again – their fans could not simply stop turning up for games, having seen their team become – indisputably, remember – The Best In The World.  The fans needed to go again, didn’t they?  And every time, as they still do now, in remembrance of that brilliant day when they skelped the arses of the would-be World Champions. 
And that Scotland team went on to create the NHS and the welfare state, remember.
But I also will experience the nightmare of Euro 96, when the domestic abuser and alcoholic Paul Gascoigne scored to give England a thoroughly undeserved victory over a gallant Scotland side, Gascoigne having achieved an unassailable level of popularity by aping the humour and language of his Scottish opponents (having been playing his club football in Scotland), and delighting the tabloid press who had previously waged a smear campaign against him and his colleagues.
And Paul Gascoigne went on to launch the 2003 war in Iraq, remember.
It will be almost overwhelming, it’s like everything is happening at once.


Present
Toyface are demonic and angelic, sacred and profane, funny and dark, innocent and raunchy, florid and reserved.  They are playing at The Gallimaufry on Gloucester Road, where I have been and will be again.  And I will be having had many experiences here before.
(For example, I have experienced now the baffled cynicism of a teenage know-all at the excitement over the election of Tony Blair, who will go on to vindicate my low opinion of him.  I will later experience the resentful smugness of a university graduate know-all at same.)
This is their “last ever” gig, we are told (the veracity of this claim will be discussed but not resolved tonight).  I will be disappointed, in the future, not to see them play again.  I am not now, however, because I am watching and enjoying it.
If Radiohead were a jazz trio fronted by a cool woman who is a wee bit awkward instead of an experimental jazz-inflected electronic rock quintet fronted by a very awkward man who is a wee bit cool....they would sound like this.  One has to be oneself, though, doesn’t one?  That’s the appeal of both these bands.  (I’m not sure why I’m thinking about Radiohead, though.)
“This is about having an existential crisis in your mid-20s, but I’m nearly 32 so it worked out…”
I do not know much, Dear Reader, but I can confirm that The Frontwoman does indeed still exist.  And I can relate, being also a (materially, at least) existing being.
I am thinking “Moving.  Very moving.” but I cannot recall where I am recalling that from.
Come to think of it, I think it was at The Fleece, the time I screamed into a dentally-gripped mic…
"Just hope propelling our dreams...", The Frontwoman sings. 
Sometimes love can feel tangible.  Sometimes, I think We might just be alright.
It’s almost overwhelming, it’s like everything is happening at once.
 
 
 
 

Friday, 2 June 2017

Everything I Didn’t Say (On the 25th of May)

https://www.facebook.com/events/140398839834486/

I was stood outside the place, on St Nicholas Street, trying to get a quick bit of singing practice in before sound check.  Something caught my eye to the left – a young man, striding hurriedly down the street.  With no shoes on.  It was a warm day, but I wouldn’t fancy walking barefoot down a street full of pubs at any time of day/year…after noticing this, I look again and see that it’s:
The Drummer!
The Drummer doesn’t drink, so I knew that wasn’t the issue.  He’s also not really a shoes-off type of dude, so I was momentarily perplexed.  And he was a bit late, which is also not like him (safe to say that The Drummer is not your typical drummer).
“There’s a bomb scare at Cabot”, he says, breathlessly.  “I got evacuated out the gym.  I’d just stepped out the shower and the security guard came in and said ‘grab a t-shirt and get out!’  I left my wallet, my keys, my shoes, everything else…”
And yet, Dear Reader, he made it to sound check.  My Hero.
And I didn’t say so on the mic, during our set.  Didn’t even give him the shout out.
Fifty years ago to the day of the benefit gig, eleven lads from Glasgow pulled off one of the most momentous sporting victories ever, by beating the mighty Inter Milan to become the first British team to win the European Cup (that’s football, for the uninitiated).  The winning goal-scorer in that match suffered from a common disease as a child and was given three weeks to live.  The survival rate in his city had previously been 0%.
My Dad was three days shy of his twenty-first birthday on the famous day, and he still remembers it well, like every other Glaswegian/Celtic fan/person who was alive.  He was watching the game, in full, at our local Celtic pub on the fiftieth anniversary.  And I would gladly have joined him, and we would have enjoyed it a lot.
But what better way to represent the club, and everything that is good about it, my family and my friends, than to try to help people in need?  (For those who don’t know, Celtic was founded as a charity for poor people in Glasgow, with a strong connection to the Irish immigrant/descendant population of the city.)  As they sing up there:  “Let the people sing their stories and their songs.”
So, I was at this gig to try to help my friends help people in need, to sing my/our stories and my/our songs. 
And I didn’t say that on the mic.
And I was reminded of an anecdote I heard recently about the Choctaw Nation (Native Americans) who, having endured The Trail Of Tears, raised money to send to Ireland when they heard about the potato famine.  This was a group of people who had been forcibly evicted from their land by legal means (These days, it would be called “ethnic cleansing”, or genocide, or something like that), on pain of violence, and facing starvation – many of whom died on the forced march – whose knowledge of Ireland, given the state of mass communication at the time (1840s) must have been limited.  And what did they do, when they heard about suffering starving people, thousands of miles away?  They had a whip round and sent some money to help.  (See here for more details: https://www.choctawnation.com/news-events/press-media/choctaw-irish-bond-lives)
And I didn’t tell that story on the mic.
I learned the above anecdote in New York.  I’d been there visiting (more on that later…) and only arrived back in Bristol just in time for the gig, jet-lagged and tired.  And I haven’t been playing gigs for a while.  And The Boys From Marketing and I haven’t played together at all since August last year.  And, as we were all away in the weeks before the show, didn’t have time to practice.
All of these were reasons I might have turned down the gig, had it been for another cause, or no particular cause.  (Or other people, or no particular people.)
I didn’t say that on the night.
Our pianist had made a powerful plea for unity and for continuing efforts to help each other, in the wake of a terrorist bombing of a big gig in Manchester a few days before our small one in Bristol – and I agreed with his idea that this is not a time to withdraw from each other, or be cowed, or reluctant to help.  I appreciated his passion and agreed with the sentiment.
I didn’t say that on the night.
I even had a poem about refugees that I could, maybe should, have read. 
But I didn’t say that either.
I also didn’t say that there is an election coming up, in case you didn’t notice, and it is one where a bunch of hubristic millionaires, who have made lucrative careers out of attacking vulnerable people in need of help and generally conducting a vicious class war, with the state and corporate media almost completely onside, are floundering against a traditionally working class party, which is proposing helping people who need help, which is the only political party in the country with a large – and rapidly growing – membership, a membership which defied its own leadership to elect one of their own, who then didn’t get everything in the party manifesto that he wanted, and then didn’t lie about that when asked on television. 
(All of which looks startlingly like Democracy…..)
I didn’t say that the current state of despairing, hand-wringing, ill-informed, bigoted, unsympathetic, gerrymandered, hateful, violent and fundamentally dishonest political culture suits the incumbent millionaires and the people for whom they manage the economy.  Suits them very nicely indeed. 
But I didn’t say anything about that on the night.
I did sing, though.  I sang:
“A rush and a push,
And the land
That we stand on
Is Ours
It has been before,
So why can’t it be NOW?”
I did rap as well.  I rapped another quote, to finish:
“Our past is not glorious –
But we are
Gloriously
PRESENT.”
Big Thanks to all who were there, and to all who help people in need, regardless of where they are, where they are from, and where they are going.
PEACE
 
 

Friday, 26 May 2017

The Lost Art Of Letter Writing Vol. III

Subject:  A thank you, for the beauty of sound and word, that you have given
Monday, 31 October, 2016 13:54
 
Dear Clayton,

I moved to the Scottish Borders with my pregnant wife at the end of 2014, Angus J---- W----- was born May 2015, and life has not been the same since. I gave up work at the end of last year to look after Angus. Mary out earns me, and I was looking to change careers, so it seemed a good time to walk a way from the horticultural coal face I had laboured at for the past thirty years. It has been, as all worth wile endeavours are, harder and more difficult than expected. It's not helped that I became a stay at home dad in the Borders, even though I have met some great people, there is a strong streak of red neck here.
One morning a week I sculpt, I put on Analog is better than digital, stick it on repeat and work on creating 28mm model soldiers, fantasy stuff, Lord of the rings kind of thing. Like many others my musical tastes were shaped by listening to John Peel shows, my cd collection has the Smiths to Beirut , Portishead to Nirvana , Cat Power , Tricky, Massive attack, Loudon wainwright the third.
And so on, and you, I have all three of you albums, I have played them more than any other cd I own, your songs mean as much to me as any of the tunes by any of the artists above.
I lived in Cambridgeshire before coming north, and made it to the folk festival, 2011 to 2014. Most of my time there was spent at the people's front room or the Hub. I chose to watch Bombs , Toyface and Clayton Blizzard over anything on any of the other stages.
It was money well spent ! Sadly I have missed the last two Cambridge folk festivals , I hope to catch you some day as I have missed hearing you live , I watch on you tube but it's not the same!
When you sold me your CDs , you handed them over saying this was your life's work, I blanked you and simply handed over my money, I had nether the wit or charm to speak, to say how very much I had enjoy your music. Shabby poor of me. Truly a charmless man . Your work is art. I thank you for the beauty of it.

Best wishes, and kind regards,
Love from David

Sent from my iPad
 
 
Subject: Typo!
Monday, 31 October, 2016 17:53
 
Your albums! Not you albums.
If anyone should have half way eloquent, and adoring listeners, its you!
My thanks to you again, and I hope life is being kind.

Sent from my iPad
 
Subject: Typo 2!
Monday, 31 October, 2016 20:05
 
Enjoyed !
I'm Dyslexic , the spell check catches spelling mistakes , however sometimes I miss spell a word, and correctly spell a word I did not mean to use , or read what I mean as I write it , and not what I have in fact penned. It's a fucker when I try to convey my thoughts in the written form, also I have an odd turn of tongue at times, which often makes my missives wonky to read.
I am not sure why I should worry that  you might think I am a plank , but clearly I do , which makes me think I may be , which is a worry!
 
 
On Mon, 7/11/16, Clayton Blizzard <claytonblizzard@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
Subject: Re: A thank you, for the beauty of sound and word, that you have given
To: "david w-----" <-------@x.com>
Date: Monday, 7 November, 2016, 12:48Dear David,
 
Thank you for your letter.
It’s difficult to say how much your message means to me.  But I fancy myself a writer, so I will accept the challenge:
E-girl cried when reading it.
Usually feedback is instantaneous for a performer – the relationship is live, in the moment.  I haven’t been playing live much recently, so to get this was as timely as it was heartening.  Especially as I feel like I’m at a crossroads with all this, unsure which way to turn; doubtful.  And also because I sometimes feel that the albums are not as good as the live experience.  (And several people have told me so.  I am fortunate to know many very honest people.)
Many people use their music to say things people love to hear: you’re beautiful, this is the best town in the country, the best country in the world, that kind of thing.  I prefer to tell people shit (I imagine) they might not want to hear….so it’s amazing to get messages like yours, to know it’s appreciated.
I’ve been writing a song about an argument with someone who questions my lyrics and motivations….your email will help the riposte.  Or just convince me to put that aside and be more positive. 
If you are interested, I post a blog every Friday, here: http://claytonblizzard.blogspot.co.uk/
It’s been 200-and-something weeks since I started it, and I haven’t missed a week yet, which is pleasantly surprising.  The quality does vary, however, as we might expect from something so regular and deadlined. 
I also made this recently, which is a (relatively) new song you might not have heard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dklE-Zx9Qiw
I also love The Smiths, Beirut, Portishead and Massive Attack.  In fact, you have probably listed my biggest influences right there, in order.  (I quite like Loudon Wainwright (saw him at Cambridge – although I know his son’s songs better than his) and Cat Power.  (To be honest, I’ve always felt Nirvana were/are over-rated.))
I would like to ask if I can use a version of this exchange for a future blog post (not unvarnished and unedited, of course – that would be to reveal more of myself than I am accustomed to/comfortable with, and be uncharacteristically concise and explicit.  Although, as the video may show, I have been moving in that direction lately.  There is, surely, a finite amount of ways to say “everything is bollocks and we can do much better”.  Also, it’s not good for the spirit to keep repeating that, I have found.  Others have a different experience, I know.)  If you’d rather I didn’t, for whatever reason, I won’t do so and it won’t be a problem.
Enjoy the Border walks – Scotland is God’s own Country, according to my (Scottish) Dad.  I’ve always liked it.
To sum up:
Thank you.  It means a lot.
A person writes for their self, first
And maybe hopes they are not alone in the universe.
It’s good to know I’m not alone.
You are not alone.
Love to you and Mary and Angus.
Clayton Blizzard
 
Tuesday, 8 November, 2016 0:22
Dear Clayton,

Your Dad is not wrong, Scotland is God’s own country, and I have also found there is more than one Scotland, and that it’s beating heart is Glasgow and not Edinburgh! Less get off my land, than in the sunny south, People less cowed. I blame the Norman conquest, for English meekness.

Anyway, Please feel free to use my email to you in anyway you see fit. I am more than happy for you to do so.

I know what you mean about Nirvana, I bought Nevermind not once but twice and both times played it once, then took it to Oxfam. It was only after an old girl friend did me a mix tape, with Nirvana unplugged in New York on the B side that I got to like them. Their last album was recorded by Steve Albini, and though I do not love it, anything worked on by this man is worth a listen. The mix tape was a dear john, and looking back it was a kind way to let someone go.

Mary introduced me to Rufus Wainwright’s music, and I played her Loudon wainwright the third. I got the better end of that exchange, but if you do not know it, listen to ‘History’ and if you like that try the BBC sessions.

Have you ever thought about a Clayton Blizzard song book? With a vinyl album to go with it. A good idea, I think.

You are a writer, and the song of you voice shines in the word that you have penned.

Thank you for the links, and your kind reply.
Your time will come, and that time is now!

With love from the

David, Mary and Angus Complex
 
 
On Fri, 11/11/16, Clayton Blizzard <claytonblizzard@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
Subject: Re: A thank you, for the beauty of sound and word, that you have given
To: "david w-----" <-------@x.com>
Date: Friday, 11 November, 2016, 16:14
 
Dear David,
My (Glaswegian) family would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the Glasgow/Edinburgh divide.  As Billy Connolly once said, “there’s more fun at a Glasgow funeral than at an Edinburgh wedding”.
Thanks for letting me use your correspondence.  I expect this exchange will go under the recurring theme of The Lost Art Of Letter-writing, which I have visited in several previous blogs.  As I say, though, it may well be heavily edited and redacted to allow for my usual control-freaking/artistic license…(my mails, I mean – I won’t edit your words).  Recent events have made the need to talk seem more urgent, somehow.
Many a mix tape has ended and begun a relationship – it’s a good start and a good ending, I think.  (When I was seventeen, I bought the first Radiohead album for a girlfriend and then we split up, so I kept it.  And mix tapes were often a way to get the attention of girls at school…as well as a way of making friends.  It used to be a labour of love, before the ease of the playlist superseded cassette technology.  I’m not yearning for those halcyon days (yet – although I am sure to fall prey to this part of the aging process at some point), but the effort was a sign of care, of respect.) 
My third meeting with E-girl was at a gig I played; risky, innit?  But it all worked out well, I am very glad to say.  The first time we met, I was singing.  I am still singing. 
Music is so very important.
I saw Loudon Wainwright at Cambridge a few years back (maybe you were there, too), it was good.  But Rufus remains my favourite Wainwright.  (Although Alfred Wainwright was cool.)
I have made a songbook – as a Christmas present for a dear person, a few years back.  It had a selection of my songs in it, all with guitar chords and a few lead parts tabbed.  I may even make it make it available to a cold, indifferent world one day, just for the sake of it.
That project most certainly was a labour of love, it took a while – and I hope (I know, really) it was appreciated by the recipient who is dearer to me maybe than they could know/I could say.  (And that’s the point of making things (music, art), isn’t it – to some extent, at least?  To express the inexpressible, or the expressible-but-painfully-heartfelt-for-those-of-us-who-don’t-like-to-express-those-types-of-feeling-directly-and-in-person…?  It is to me, anyway.)
Thanks for the correspondence, and all your kind words.  I’m really glad you enjoyed the albums; it’s messages like yours that mean I can use phrases like “cold, indifferent world” ironically, without feeling that they are too close for comfort to say out loud.
As they say in Ireland: Tiocfaidh Ar La!  (You can’t say that in some parts of Scotland, mind – in England, no one knows what it means or where it comes from, so we can get away with it, down by.)
Peace Be
Clayton
 
 

Friday, 19 May 2017

RiotRiotRiot

I travelled to Cheltenham to play in a Brasserie on the basement level of a (relatively) posh hotel.  It wasn’t the sort of place I often played, or ever went, but I’d been asked by someone I knew who often put on really good gigs in ‘Nham (as the locals call it), in a variety of venues.  He was trying this place out for a couple of gigs and booked me in.  So, y’know, why not?  It’s only 40 minutes on a train.

Cheltenham is one of those places where all the creative people know each other.  Which is good.  But the reason they all know each other is that there’s not that many of them, venues for good live music are also few – and venues that will give unknown and/or unusual local bands a chance are fewer still.  It’s also a posh spa town, traditionally dominated by the old-school land-owning class, but with a significant proportion of very non-posh residents.
So, here I am in a basement restaurant under a hotel in ’Nham, being fed and watered in preparation for an odd gig.
Naturally, I decided it would be the perfect time to do my intimidating/charming opening: walking through the crowd singing, occasionally stopping to whisper in someone’s ear.  It’s a bold gambit, and it does grab attention, even in a bar/restaurant where everyone is sitting down and no one is there to see the music.  The year is 2011, and This Is My Life. 
Well, I say no one is there to see the music.  There’s actually a few people I know from Cheltenham, who’ve seen me play before and have made the effort to come to this unusual venue to see me again.  There’s also a youngster from Gloucester, who I have met once or twice before. 
The first time I remember meeting The Youngster was on Corn Street in Bristle, where I was sound-checking for a gig.  The show was an after-party for a demonstration in town (I don’t remember what for, it was a long time ago and I’ve played a lot of these types of things).  But that’s a story for another time.
Anyway, he says Hello and we speak briefly and he mentions he has come from Gloucester for the gig and I thank him for coming.  (Probably.  I don’t remember exactly, it was a long time ago and I’ve played a lot of gigs.)
So, I play the gig and it goes ok.  My Promoter mate is a wee bit apologetic about the venue, the lack of interest shown by the punters and the general unsuitability of the venue.  I poo-poo the idea, waving his apology away.  It’s fine, I assure him.  (I may have said “pish-posh”.  I can’t remember.  It was a long time ago, and I’ve used a lot of odd and/or archaic phrases.)
Anyway, speaking to The Youngster after, he asks if I’m going back to Bristol.  I am, of course, it’s where I live/d.  You may remember a time of rioting in the summer of 2011, in London and several other major cities of the divided kingdom.  Well, this is before all that – but there had been a riot the previous Thursday night in Stokes Croft in Bristol, with two tenuously-linked (but also proximate) flashpoints: one, a squat eviction attended by hundreds of police (including many from Wales), for some reason; the other, a newly-opened mini supermarket just opposite, the kind that tried to replace every local corner shop in the world. 
This particular supermarket had a particularly dubious history, involving some highly selective interpretation of planning laws and some serious popular opposition in the local area.  If opening a shop can be considered a political act, then this was one of the most provocative political acts of the time, and had the predictable effect of provoking people.  One might even say, inciting them.  (If one were at liberty to make such an allegation.)  The events were documented at the time – not well, mark you.  But that’s a story for another time.
This being the following Thursday, a demonstration was planned to protest, specifically, the Police violence of the previous week – as well as, more generally, the politics and economics behind it.  Those who would argue the Police are not a political organisation have, presumably, never seen them in action.  But that’s a story for another time.
Needless to say, it is a strange, and (for some, at least) worrying time in our city’s history.  But it is interesting.  The Youngster certainly thinks so, and tells me he is heading to Bristol to “check it out”.  I’m not sure what he means by this, but he adds that his sister lives in town so he is planning to meet with her, having assumed she will also want to take part in the demonstration, or at least “check it out”.  (He may not have used this phrase, to be honest, but it was a long time ago and I’ve told a lot of stories.  It conveys the true spirit of the occasion and personalities involved, even if it’s not empirically true.  If you follow.)
So, being on my bike, while The Youngster was on his feet, I raced down to the train station after the show.  Eventually he turned up and we got on the train.  We chatted on the way home, with him interrupting the conversation intermittently to send one of those “text messages” that the children of the time enjoyed so much.  He is At That Age, bless him.  He also speaks to his Mum on the phone, and she and I exchange “Hello!”’s. 
The Youngster does not, however, manage to contact his sister.  We arrive at Temple Meads and he still has no word.  Not wanting to leave him alone in a (relatively) unfamiliar city, I walk with him towards Stokes Croft, with The Youngster being at best vague about his plans for the evening.
We get to the St James Barton roundabout to find Stokes Croft completely closed to traffic, as indicated by police vans parked across the road on both sides.  We hear the noise of a crowd, but there is nothing much to see.  We press on, with me assuring The Youngster that I can find a way through, as I knew all the wee side streets and that, and him still making a show of trying to text his sister, who I am starting think doesn’t exist. 
We bump in to Ratman, who is surveying the scene.  “I just wanna see what’s goin‘ on.  It’s in my neighbourhood, but if you don’t see it, all you get is all the shit people chat about it innit.”  (He may have said that, I can’t be sure.  I think my paraphrasing is a fair summary of his point.  But it was a long time ago, and I’ve done a lot of summarising since then.  And not a little paraphrasing.)
We hang about with Ratman for a time, chatting while bottles (“projectiles”, they’d call them on the news) flew around.  And then we press on, The Youngster and I.  We have one dodgy moment when suddenly the wind changes and we are caught up in a surge by the police.  We duck down a back alley with other youths, try to get round the lane, before realising the police are closing in from the other end, and so head back up to the main drag to find things have calmed a bit, although the battle lines seem to have moved closer to us.  (I think that’s what happened.  It was a long time ago, and I’ve done a lot of rioting since.) 
Eventually, we reach the real flashpoint, which is, as the week before, at the junction of Ashley Road.  So, here I am, with my bike, my guitar, and a minor in tow.  In the middle of a riot.  I’m thirty years old.  How is this my life? 
The atmosphere is febrile, but seems to lack the chaotic urgency of the previous week – if the accounts of that are to be believed.  Which, as Ratman had wisely counselled, they are probably not.  I have several excitable accounts to go on, as well as the surprisingly sober, calm reflections of a friend who had taken a bit of a pasting off an officer of the crown who was most keen that my friend not find his way home.  The Friend, not being familiar enough with the area to know any alternative route, pleaded his case and inquired politely as to how he should get home.  The officer was apparently in no mood for a discussion, and put his training in intimidating young people into practice.
A riot is somewhere between a massive brawl, a tense stand-off and a carnival without the rides.  In political terms, it’s somewhere between a public meeting, a picket line and a party conference without the big speeches. 
The Youngster’s sister is still apparently off-grid.  My housemate Dez texts to say “Whoops: Riot Town’s kickin off again…fancy a pint?” (I think that’s what he texted; but it was a long time ago, and…).  I put it to The Youngster: “Let’s get a drink with my mate Dez, and then you can crash at ours, yeah?”  The Youngster seems happy enough with this, and I look at him to try to guage whether following me home from Cheltenham had been his only plan all along. 
No matter – we have a riot to get through.  The Youngster, by this point, seems less intent on getting involved with said riot, now that he’s seen it close up.  I’m not about to tell his Mum he’s been hurt in my company, so I bid him follow me and we make our way around all the backstreets I know so well.
Now we have a plan.  The world makes some sort of sense again.  We weave through the backstreets I know like the back of my hand, always able to see the action down the sidestreets that run parallel to each other, linking the one we’re on to the one where the action is – and come out at The Arches to meet Dez.  We tell him about the riot, about which he has the relaxed, almost blasĂ© attitude of a seasoned campaigner.  “I grew up in West Belfast.  This is fucking nothing”, he tells us cheerfully.  (He may have told us this, and he may have told us cheerfully.  I don’t remember exactly.  But it was the kind of thing he might have said, and says something of the situation and his character/background.  So, it’s true in a sense.  If you follow.  But it was a long time ago, and he and I have implied and understood each other a lot since then.)
In the more convivial atmosphere of our local cafĂ© bar, we assess the motivations of the rioters of that and the previous weeks and parse potential gains of This Type Of Thing.  With Dez quietly wondering what The Youngster is doing here, it emerges his sister actually lives waaaay out of town and there was no chance of him getting there tonight.  But that she therefore does exist.
So the three of us walk back to the house and round off a nice evening of restaurants, gigging and rioting.  Everyone asks me (very discreetly) what The Youngster is doing here.  I know by now, but don’t really want to admit.  (At least, I think I didn’t.  But it was a long time ago, and I’ve not wanted to admit a lot of things since then.  But this feels like a substantial memory, one that says something in the wider context of Memory and its place in our consciousness – both collective and individual – as well as managing to take in a discussion about history and rioting, with asides about police-community relations, opaque planning laws and the city council, the politics of shopping and the journey of a young man following his favourite Folk Rapper home.  If you follow.  Which you may not, since you (presumably) didn’t ask for my life story.  But that’s a story for another time.)
In the end up, no sinister motive was revealed on The Youngster’s part, despite all the jokes The Lads made about me waking up with…..well, you know what The Lads are like.  We all get up the next day and have a cup of tea and The Youngster skips off to whatever it is Young People do These Days, and I get on with whatever it is I do These Days.
And The Youngster?  Well, that little boy who followed his hero home for some reason, turned out to be…..
A Friend.

The End.