Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Musical 2015

After last year, I didn’t think that 2015 would improve in terms of musical discoveries and new material but the truth is that it has been an awesome year.

There have been discoveries, rediscoveries and lots of new recordings. I spent a lot of money on music this year and could have spent a lot more.


Arena are a British progressive rock band and, thanks to a free CD on a classic rock magazine, I had two songs by the band in my collection. At the start of the year, I decided to check the band out a little more thoroughly. I now have three albums by the band: The Visitor, Immortal and Contagion and I have to say that they are all excellent albums, particularly Contagion which has a superb driving rock song called Witch Hunt, the highlight of three brilliant albums:

Way back in the early 1980’s Gary Numan was one of the most popular pop stars of the time, and has influenced a lot of fellow artists over the years including Nine Inch Nails, one of my favourite bands. In 2015 it came to my attention that he was still active when I caught an interview with him. I discovered that he had released an album in 2013 so I searched for it and had a listen. I was amazed. The album, Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) is a triumph, dark, brooding and expresses the feelings of a mind in the deep throes of depression. Here is a brilliant song from the album called Love Hurt Bleed:


Thanks to a chance search on Google, I found a collaboration between one of my favourite artists, Steven Wilson and a Polish artist I had never heard of called Mariusz Duda, who is the lead singer and bassist of a Polish progressive rock band called Riverside, who are absolutely magnificent.

I now have their first three albums, Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome and Rapid Eye Movement all of which form a concept trio called the Reality Dream Trilogy. This band are and will be massive in my collection and I am amazed they are not more widely known in progressive rock circles. Here is a beautiful song called Conceiving You from the best of the three albums, Second Life Syndrome:

Old Favourites with New Material

A lot of old favourites have released new material this year and here are the cream of the crop. First, Joe Satriani, my favourite guitarist, is back with a cracking new album called Shockwave Supernova. Here is a great driving rock song from the album called On Peregrine Wings:

Old favourites Whitesnake also released a new album this year. Rather than writing new material, David Coverdale, the lead singer, went back to his days with Deep Purple and recorded cover versions from his time with the band in an album called The Purple Album. To be honest, I am pleasantly surprised at the result; he has brought them into the 21st century and they are superb. Here is their version of my favourite Deep Purple song with Coverdale at the helm:

Muse also returned with a great new concept album called Drones. The thing I like about Muse albums is that there is always one absolutely driving classic rock song on each album that I can use to drive Mrs PM up the wall with. Drones is no exception and that song is particularly annoying because it contains a lot of swearing. Here is the song, called Psychoreader discretion is required:

Psycho was very nearly my song of 2015 – but two pipped it to the post.

The band I discovered last year, Nightwish, released a brand new album this year called Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and it is a symphonic metal masterpiece. The band has a new female lead singer called Floor Jansen who has an absolutely amazing voice, able to reach operatic levels and deep growling heavy metal snarls. The last track of the album, The Greatest Show on Earth is a magnificent 24 minute symphonic metal epic, complete with orchestra that would fit snugly into a classical music connoisseur’s collection. If you fancy something new, look it up on YouTube – you won’t be disappointed if you like classical music with a hint of majesty and a generous helping of heavy metal. My second favourite new song of 2015 is called Yours Is An Empty Hope – a down to earth heavy metal opus backed magnificently by orchestral arrangements. Get your air guitars and violins out:

What can top that, I hear you cry. Sadly, for Nightwish, Steven Wilson also released a new album in 2015 called Hand. Cannot. Erase. This guy is a genius and I was lucky enough to see him live earlier this year, performing the album in its entirety. The album tells the deeply sad story, based on fact, of a young woman who was found dead in her flat and despite being popular, nobody missed her for three years.

The album is a triumph and, as the concept suggests, deeply sorrowful and thought-provoking. Perhaps the most poignant song on the entire album is a song about a woman who uses her daily household routine to keep her sane after suffering a real tragedy in her life. When this song was performed live, the beautiful animation you are about to see was played on a screen at the back of the stage and I am sure that there were a few years shed at the end of it. The song is called Routine and is a beautiful, yet deeply tragic song. Prepare to have your heart strings well and truly tugged:

I’m really looking forward to 2016 as it promises to be even better. New albums are due from Steven Wilson and Dream Theater and I have already discovered a new artist that will almost certainly feature heavily on my playlist when I next visit a music shop.

Here’s to a musical 2016 and I wish every single reader a wonderfully Happy New Year.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Goodbye 2015

Don’t the years just fly by? It seems like only yesterday that I was waving goodbye to 2014, and now here I am showing 2015 the door as it heads off into the sunset of the past.

I’m starting to feel old.

Anyway, tradition dictates that I simply must summarise the past year with a meme that I stole some time ago.

This could be a long one – so here goes – dive in with me:

1.What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?

I travelled to South America for the very first time, visiting a country that is absolutely huge – Brazil, As part of that trip, I also spent six hours in Argentina too.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

2015 was a very good year for achieving some of the things I have procrastinated about for the past few years.

Firstly, I took it upon myself to take up a few 30 day challenges and I completed every single one of them. Here are some of the highlights:

(a) Improve my photography (completed January).There is still a long way to go but I have learned lot of technical stuff.

(b) Creative writing (completed March). All I did was read a book about the subject. I just need to put it into practice.

(c) Learn basic Italian (completed April). I did this because we visited Bologna in May. I learned a few choice phrases and some basic vocabulary, which I have since forgotten.

(d) Japan travelogue (completed August). The travelogue is still incomplete but at least I put a massive dent into this unwritten travel diary for our visit to Japan a couple of years ago. Another 30 day challenge may just complete it.

(e) NaNoWriMo (completed November). I actually wrote over 50,000 words of a novel that I have had in my head for the past couple of years for National Novel Writing Month. And I won. The problem is that the novel will end up being about 80,000 words and is, in its current form, full of major plot holes and is in fact rubbish. However, I hope to have completed it by the end of January, to set about rewriting huge swathes of it later next year. This particular challenge is the best of them all.

I also actually cycled to work one day this year. Can you believe that??? No – neither can I!!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

A couple of guys at work became fathers but they didn’t actually give birth themselves.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thankfully.

5. What countries did you visit?

I visited friends in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates in April.

The Grand Mosque - Abu Dhabi
In May, I went for a weekend away to Bologna in Italy with a group of friends.

View of Bologna from the roof of our hotel
In June, we visited Prague in the Czech Republic to celebrate Mrs PM’s mum’s 70th birthday.

A busy square in Prague

Also in June, I visited Beijing in China for a week with work, where I gave a training course.

Finally, in October, I visited Brazil for the first time and also popped across to Argentina for the day.

A famous statue in Rio de Janeiro
6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?

I won several major battles in my war with procrastination this year so I would like a bit more willpower to gain the upper hand.

I think it’s achievable.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 22nd sticks in my memory because my beloved football team, Walsall, reached Wembley for the very first time in the Johnson Paint Trophy Final. I travelled to London with Mrs PM and my eldest lad and the atmosphere was fantastic.

The score at this point was 0-0 - so I was happy (briefly).
Sadly, we lost the game 2-0  – but at least I was there.

My eldest lad graduated from university on 10th July.

Like father like son?
Meeting old friends in a night of drunken debauchery in Liverpool on November 14th.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Without a doubt, writing at least 50,000 words of a novel.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Finding just enough willpower to cycle to work more often (i.e. more than once!)

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing whatsoever apart from the odd cold. In fact, I've just recovered from two particularly nasty ones that waited until I had finished work for Christmas before unleashing themselves onto my poor old body!

11. What was the best thing you bought?

I didn’t buy any gadgets this year. I would probably say that the holiday to Brazil was worth every penny.

 12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

As usual, I award Plastic Mancunian Knighthoods to those heroes who dedicate their lives to helping others without wanting the plaudits that many more famous people crave.

I salute you all - you know who you are.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

There are too many to mention. But I will.

Kanye West, as usual for declaring himself the biggest rock star on the planet at Glastonbury and then performing like an old has-been (who was never any good anyway).

Katie Hopkins for still being in the news and on TV despite the fact that she is attention-seeking little Miss Nasty.

Sepp Blatter for doing his best to destroy FIFA and football in general and then acting as if he has done nothing wrong. Finally (hopefully) his ban from having anything to do with football will remain. The sad thing is that he still thinks he is innocent.

Donald Trump for starting out as an outrageous clown and then proving that he is a bigoted idiot, I honestly worry about the possibility of this nutcase gaining any form of power.

There is also so much evil in the world but I don’t want to go into that. Nor the hypocritical politicians who continue to use and abuse us all.

 14. Where did most of your money go?

Mrs PM’s had to buy a replacement car after it suddenly died and, as mentioned above, the holiday to Brazil, as well as kids and mortgage.

 15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

My first trip to South America and Brazil; it didn’t disappoint.

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?

I will discuss this in more depth in a later post in due course. However, this is probably the song that weill remind me of 2015. Steven Wilson is a genius in my view, and his music is sublime and magnificent. Every song on his latest album Hand. Cannot. Erase. is perfect. However, the title track is probably the most accessible and, for once, more of a pop masterpiece than a progressive rock masterpiece.

Judge for yourself:

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

Happier, slightly fatter and perhaps a little richer.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I wish I had cycled more. Having dusted down my bike, removed the cobwebs and actually rode the thing to work, I put it back to gather dust again. Whoever thought that having national cycle to work day in September, just as the weather is descending into dark wintry horror, needs to be sacked. If the day had been in the middle of April, I would have taken it up – honestly.

And yes, I will try to cycle in April 2016.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

I wish I had gone to work less. Sadly, I have to work to live and sadly that is something I can do nothing about.

20. How will you spend New Year's Eve?

Exactly the same as last year.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?

I am already in love – so yes.

22. What was your favourite TV program?

Of all the hours I spent watching TV this year, I reckon that my favourite was – and still is – Dr Who. Yes, I am a sad geek.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Hate is too strong a word but all of the people I disliked last year are still disliked this year.

24. What was the best book you read?

I quite enjoyed Hunter by James Byron Huggins, not a brilliant book by any means but an enjoyable romp.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I will reveal all in a later post.

26. What did you want and get?

I wanted a kick up the arse to force me to write a chunk of a novel. Somebody or something gave me that kick.

27. What did you want and not get?

The power and means to quit my day job.

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

Avengers: Age of Ultron but honourable mentions must go to SPECTRE and Terminator Genisys.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I am now 53 years old. I spent my birthday exploring Salvador in Brazil.

30. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Sorry to mention it again, but actually attempting to write a novel.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015?

I reduced the length of my sideburns last month. Does that count? Also, I have been lazy for a couple of weeks and I now have a bit of a beard. Sadly, it is irritating and I can't see it lasting until 2016. Bizarrely, Mrs PM approves of it (apparently because beards are fashionable at the moment).

32. What kept you sane?

Mrs PM – apart from when she played her music.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

There are a lot of attractive female celebrities but nearly all of them are too young for an old git like me.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Lunatic extremists and the ongoing hypocritical antics of the current party in power in the United Kingdom.

35. Who did you miss?

Nobody leaps to mind.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Again, nobody leaps to mind.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.

Coca Cola is a disgusting sugar-filled sickly drink that doesn’t even taste nice – but it is a great hangover cure.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few
I'll be writing more in a week or two
I can make it longer if you like the style
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer
Paperback writer

Those are the ideal lyrics but the truth is more like my own version:

It’s a thousand pages if I finish it
And if the truth be known, it’s a pile of shit
But I’ve had a go and I’m proud of it
Even though I know that I’ll never be a paperback writer
Paperback Writer

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Top Ten Christmas Songs

Christmas is approaching and radio DJ’s will push aside their terrible playlists in favour of the same old Christmas songs that we hear at this time every year. Supermarkets and shopping malls will turn up the volume loud and play the same songs. Every pub will crank up the volume of their jukebox and play endless streams of Christmas dirges.

And worst of all, I will have to endure these songs at every Christmas party I go to, starting tonight.

I may sound like Scrooge in his deepest humbug moment but the truth is that most Christmas songs are dreadful.

However, I am not Scrooge really and there are a few of these seasonal ditties that I actually like. So here, for the benefit of readers who love their Christmas songs, are my top ten seasonal offerings.

10. The Pretenders – 2000 Miles

A Christmas song doesn’t have to be a happy clappy affair and that’s the main reason I like this song. It combines the seasonal feel with a hint of melancholy. Also, I like Chrissie Hynde’s voice.

9. Jonah Lewie – Stop the Cavalry

Continuing the theme of melancholy, Jonah Lewie’s song didn’t go down well in Walsall in 1980 with a guy I knew who was in the army. The line “Wish I was at home for Christmas” brought it home to his fellow soldiers who were away for Christmas. That said, I’ve added this to the list because it was played in every pub I went into in December 1980. I had just turned 18 and this was the first time I had the taste of true party atmospheres in the run up to Christmas. It holds a special place in my heart for that reason.

8. Queen – Thank God It’s Christmas

I’ve always loved Queen and when they finally released a Christmas song, I knew it would be a bit special, with the elements that make their songs memorable with a hint of the theatrical that the band loved to inject into their songs. Again, there is a hint of melancholy in the tune. I like that.

7. Elton John – Step Into Christmas

Now it’s time for a happier song with no hint of melancholy whatsoever, from the time when Elton was actually good, in the 1970’s, just to prove to you, dear reader, that I don’t just like songs with a dark and sad undertone. This song is a lot of fun.

6. The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bell’s End)

Talking of fun, let’s take a little bit of cheesiness, add a little naughtiness and a good dose of rock and the result is this daft little song from The Darkness, complete with schoolboy choir, electric guitar and a little innuendo. This is my kind of Christmas song.

5. John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War is Over)

I always get goosebumps when I hear this song, particularly at a time when there is trouble in the world. The message is absolutely clear and sums up exactly what Christmas should be about, people coming together with joy and happiness and not, for once, trying to blow each other to bits.

4. Greg Lake – I Believe In Father Christmas

Apparently this song was written as a protest to what Christmas has become over the years and was not really intended to celebrate Christmas but to point out how marketing has over-commercialised it. I don’t care; this is an epic progressive rock masterpiece and exactly what I would have expected from my favourite musical genre.

3. Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

Let’s get serious now. Way back in the early 1970’s, when I was a kid who really looked forward to Christmas every year, one of my favourite bands at the time were Roy Wood’s Wizzard. Their music had a distinct 1970’s feel that I still feel nostalgic for.

This song whisks me back in time to December 1973, when I was an innocent 11 year old.

 In my last post I described the inner youth within me and how I loved to unleash him on the world. This song, releases the child in me, stirring that excitement about waiting to tear the Christmas paper off all of my presents and tuck into a beautiful Christmas dinner. Another song has a similar effect …

2. Slade – Merry Christmas Everyone

There is no song that epitomises what Christmas meant to me as child, more than this wonderful song that was released at the same time as the previous one from Wizzard. Noddy Holder, the lead singer of the band, is from my home town of Walsall so it has a special significance for me. And what Christmas would be complete without Noddy screaming:


Actually, I suggested some alternative lyrics to the song a few years ago. You can read them here.

1. The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York

A Christmas song with swear words? Whatever next? When I first heard this song many years ago I thought it was a work of genius and I still think so to this day. I love songs that stir a little emotion, particularly at this time of year, and this one does just that, stripping down the cheese factor to a bare minimum to produce my favourite Christmas song of all time.

And Finally …

I hope you like my choices, dear reader. I will almost certainly post again before Christmas but if I don’t get chance to, I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. If I do get chance to, then you will be lucky enough to get a second “Merry Christmas” in due course.

Lucky you.

Now over to you.

What are your favourite Christmas songs – and why?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Meaning of Life - Time After Time

You will be pleased to know that this is the last post in the current series mirroring Karl Pilkington’s “The Moaning of Life”.

I think that this post needs a soundtrack – so here’s a good song to listen to while reading it.

Three weeks ago, I had a university reunion in Liverpool, the first one for twelve years and this included a man I hadn’t seen since leaving university in 1984, over thirty years ago.

Initially it was a surreal experience, seeing a bunch of blokes that I had been so close to. When I first met these guys I was 19 years old and, being young men, we were all desperate to make our mark on the world with a cocktail of alcohol, stupidity and a general sense of indestructibility that meant we were willing to do anything.

Of course, by the end of university we had matured slightly and were more prepared for life.

The problem is that when we all got together between 1981 and 1984, we did all of the stupid things that young men do.

Fast forward to a cold and rainy lunchtime November in 2015 at Lime Street Railway station in Liverpool.

I arrived first on a local train from Manchester and clutching a steaming coffee, I awaited the intercity train from London. Two of the guys got off the train and I recognised them immediately, a little greyer and a little chubbier but still the same guys I knew so well. I’ll call them Sam and Colin (to protect the guilty!).

We were expecting two more later, one from Birmingham and one from Liverpool  - this was the guy I hadn’t seen for over thirty years. I’ll call them Oscar and Andy (again to protect the guilty!).

Sam, Colin and I decided to be tourists and explore the city. I have been back to Liverpool often; after all it is only about 35 miles from Manchester. Sam married a Scouser (person from Liverpool) and he came back fairly regularly to visit family.

Colin had not been back to Liverpool since he left in 1984.

Oscar turned up an hour later. He had lost his hair completely apart from some grey bits at the sides. We didn't mention it.

The four of us spent the afternoon visiting the Tate museum, to avoid the heavy rain before having an afternoon snack in a coffee shop where we chatting about what we had all been up to, including, jobs, family, kids etc. over cups of coffee and tea. It was all very sophisticated.

We checked into our hotel and, as I was unpacking and freshening up for a mice meal, I was struck by one thing. Thirty years ago we were like rampant animals making fools of ourselves and acting as if we were indestructible.

Now, the four of us were talking about careers and kids, visiting museums and being totally sensible.

I felt a little sad; it was almost like being out with their dads.

Shortly afterwards, Andy rang and we arranged to meet him in a city centre pub that we had frequented as students.

It was still there and hadn't disappeared like a lot of the pubs from that time.

Andy turned up and he too hadn’t changed. It was really strange chatting to a guy I hadn’t seen for so long.

I looked at my watch as I supped that first beer. The time was six o’clock.

And this was the point that the sensibility disappeared.

“One more?” 

“Yeah – one more!”

Before I knew it, the alcohol had woken something up inside of all of us. We were sensible enough to find a restaurant but that’s about it. The rest of the evening descended into party time as five middle aged men wandered around the city centre, refuelling on beer, and becoming more and more boisterous. As more alcohol was imbibed, the years were stripped away and we became five young men again.  The dads were gone and my mates from the early 1980's were back.

I loved every second of it.

Tales of old were told and we guffawed like teenagers as we recalled the scrapes we got into all those years ago. Oscar's lack of hair was the main topic of raucous conversation for about twenty minutes. Don't worry - he gave as good as he got.

Thankfully, our ageing bodies protested enough to keep us in check – or at least I thought they had. We had wobbled out of the famous Cavern Club, where the Beatles used to entertain the Liverpool crowds, and into an Irish bar and somehow found a table where we could sit down. Before long, a barman came over and told us that the pub was closing. I checked my watch.

“It’s three in morning!” I yelled, although I think the words came out as “Ish three clocksh!”

We staggered back to the hotel and again I was saved by my body urging me to quaff as much water as my stomach could take before going to bed.

The next morning, we met for a late breakfast and, all a little fragile, made a pact to do exactly the same next year.

The whole episode made me think about time.

Although our bodies age around us, the deep inner core of our being remains. As we get older, our outlook on life changes but deep down inside all of us, the young person who wanted to unleash himself on the world, with a seemingly unlimited amount of energy, who existed all those years ago is still there.

The fire of my youth is definitely still  present under the sensible old git that I have become – and I’m delighted about that.

I can find him and I intend to take him out every so often for a breath of fresh air (though perhaps next time I will avoid using alcohol as the transport mechanism).

We can’t win the war against time – but we can win the odd battle - and have massive fun with our small victories.

How about you, dear reader?

Is there a young version of you hiding inside you?

Can you find him or her?

If so, how do you do it?