Rock Seen

I'm so pleased that I got to view Bob Gruen's collection that was being displayed by Liss Gallery in Vancouver during August.

The photographs on display supported his book Rock Seen and span some 40 years of capturing some of rock musics most notable performers. The bulk of the work displayed was from the 70's and 80's and to be honest, those decades resonate so much with me. Having travelled the road from glam to punk, I spent my viewing time reliving times and places that now seem so distant yet full of life.

As my photographic journey starts (or continues following a long delay) I wanted to look past the memories and the artist to think about what it was that made the image memorable for me. The mix of on and off-stage shots provided a glimpse of the transition from real life to entertainer/commentator. My biggest smile? The image of John Lydon in his Rotten guise on board an airliner with a rather bewildered child in the seat in front. My favourite image? It would be easy to go with one of John Lennon and yet I was transfixed by the power of The Clash on stage. This shot summed up "The Only Band That Matters". Energy and attitude partnered with authenticity and astute commentary. 

It was a real privilege to view this small part of the Gruen collection. An artist capturing musicians that are likely the true beneficiaries of the image as it freezes them in time and certainly prompts me to dive in to the vinyl collection again.




Nostalgic déjà vu with The Specials

If I’d closed my eyes I could have been back in the old country, 34 years ago.

Okay, I’ve no doubt that some would call me a musical dinosaur, however, when I noticed that The Specials, were heading to Vancouver there was no way that I was going to miss the gig. The wonderful, infectious ska beat flows deep within me and I cannot understand anyone that refuses to move to the music. Movement is obligatory. The period that spawned The Specials, The Beat, Madness, The Selector and others remains close to my heart. A period of my younger days that was spent taking in as many gigs as I could afford or get to. Despite my desire for live music, many bands slipped through the net and The Specials were one of those bands that had eluded me. Time to right that particular wrong.

Once the tickets were secured my mental clock hit rewind and I started to think about what could have been considered as the bands purple period. It was a time in the UK where a deeply unpopular government was in power. A time of recession. A time of class and racial tension. The fusion of infectious dance music with wry observation and acerbic lyrics proved to be a winning formula for the band. Life in grey urban landscapes, the far right in fighting mood and little hope of work could suddenly be danced to. I do wonder how many teens and early twenties of the period even listened to the lyrics. Why bother when it was so easy to be wrapped up in the rhythm. Fast forward thirty plus years and maybe it’s a case of what goes around comes around as I read similar stories of an unpopular Government, division and fraying social fabric in my home land. So, what would a night with The Specials bring, nostalgia or a sense of déjà vu?

A sold out Commodore awaited and after a promising support band, Little Hurricane, who I’m sure have already had enough ‘White Stripes’ comments to last them the rest of their career, the DJ ramped up the ska and reggae sounds to get the audience primed. Before The Specials appeared I have to admit thinking to myself that the Commodore must have been full of mid-life Europeans as I’ve not been to a gig there where at six foot tall I’ve only been the average height. Even though the age range was skewed high, there was still a decent spread of generations. The Specials endure.

Blinds down, curtain up and for me, a generation late, The Specials were on stage. The dance floor erupted, a sea of bobbing heads were in front of me and ‘Do The Dog’ became the first of over twenty songs that threw me back in time with a smile on my face. If I’d closed my eyes I could have been back in the old country, 34 years ago.

Even though the majority of the original band are back together, the absence of Jerry Dammers did leave a sense of not quite being able to check off this particular bucket list band. Having said that, the performance was simply wonderful, the energy is still there and it’s that zest that overrides musical maturity for me. I’ve not seen the floor of the Commodore move so much and I have to wonder how many Chiropracter visits were booked the following week. After all, time does take its toll on the body and there were some mid-lifers there who were absolutely intent on dancing themselves out, and who can blame them.

As the skank down memory lane continued I did have to question how the band felt about songs such as ‘Too Much, Too Young‘. I suppose rather than sing from a peer perspective it could now be sung, at least in part, from a parents point of view. I also found ‘Rat Race‘ somewhat confusing. How many of those on the floor, including myself, had been through the education sausage machine and had been working for the rat race for years. Suddenly a past dig becomes an opportunity to stop and consider where life should be heading rather than accepting the mid-life status quo.

As with all great times, the evening was over far too quickly. ‘Ghost Town‘ was an obvious encore and I’m once again thinking about how the UK is fairing through prolonged recession, particularly the high street. Clone town UK appears to have suffered from many retail closures and once familiar names have disappeared. Ghost town UK? That feeling of déjà vu again.

In the tranquility of post gig deafness I was left to reflect on seeing a band that in theory had no part in today’s musical landscape. However the reality of a struggling global economy and the growing disparity between those that have and the rest of us make The Specials very much in tune with the times.


No more two left feet

Despite the urban myth, white men can dance.

Okay, I have an confession. My name is Mark and I’m learning to dance. There, I’ve said it, I’ve come out and laid my secret bare. A great weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I’m now able to face life knowing that everyone reading this blog will be able to pose me the question ‘Strictly Ballroom?’

So, how on earth did someone leading a relatively quiet life in BC get involved in this shameless act of exhibitionism? This journey was certainly more of a slow, slow than a quick quick. From time to time I was reminded by my wife that before moving to Canada I’d for some reason promised that if we relocated I’d learn to dance with her (something my wife had mentioned she’d like to do on a not too infrequent basis). Well a couple of years in to this adventure with a settled job and finally some disposable income to hand my conscience couldn’t handle the pressure any longer. I had to do it, I had to cross the threshold from two left feet to meaningful movement.

And so it was that at the end of 2009 I booked a free (note the level of commitment here) introductory lesson at a local Arthur Murray dance school in Port Coquitlam. It was a life changing experience as I discovered the despite the urban myth, white men can actually dance. It only took 45 minutes to be hooked and there I was signing up to a basic course. Suddenly there was an outlet for me to express my lack of ability to play a musical instrument. I could move to music instead.

At the sockhop. Who's the guy in the background?

At the sockhop. Pic courtesy of Arthur Murray Studio, Port Coquitlam

The last 10 months have seen Lesley and I progress from absolute beginners to actually learning a routine and we’re now able to move ourselves around to Cha Cha, Rumba, Salsa, Swing, Foxtrot, Tango and Waltz. Okay, we may not be the most elegant folks on the dance floor (which is a bit of an understatement I suppose), however, the feet know what to do, the brain is willing and to a certain extent the body is able. No more two left feet.

I see so many different age groups at the studio we go to, some couples learning a routine for their wedding day, singles out for fun that doesn’t involve drinking and falling over and older couples which I guess includes the wife and I doing something together that involves co-operation, timing and lots of laughs. Dancing is certainly a mental challenge and for me at least a bit of gentle exercise, which obviously means I’m not putting the physical effort in.

Right, what advice would a new convert to the cause give those out there wondering and wavering? There’s a book entitled ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway‘ that I’ve yet to read, however, it says all that’s needed. Check out some local studios, get a feel for the people there, try an introductory session, just do it – you might just shock yourself and enjoy the experience. Rhythm is gonna get you – 80’s nostalgia anyone?

Jam Today

I like my live music and being close to Vancouver where a lot of bands and artists stop off has allowed me to gig on a regular basis rather than the once or twice a year it had become when living in Kent.

A few months back I posted an entry following Editors gig at Richards on Richards. Since then I’ve seen a few more bands, Athlete, Suzanne Vega, Maximo Park (surely the best support act I’ve seen since U2 supported the Bunnymen in 1980) and Travis.

Around Christmas I was chatting with my long time friend Mr C. He’d recently seen From the Jam playing and, despite my initial skepticism (could it ever be the same without Weller?), he convinced me that he’d had a fantastic night. So, when I noticed that messers Foxton & Buckler were rolling in to Vancouver early in the new year I decided to go for it.

I was still unsure about the idea of resurrecting that part of my younger days. There are occasions when maybe it’s right to leave things for that time, fond memories best left intact. As Richards started to fill up I realised that this could be an interesting night. This could be the ultimate ‘mosh pit’ for the late 40’s and over. I was about to witness multiple hernias, could the health care system cope? Would the lights have to be kept at a really low level to prevent the blinding reflections from semi-bald pate’s?

I noticed Richards were dishing out beer in plastic glasses. Was this to make the predominantly Brit crowd feel at home, or was it that the proprietors feared the worst from a drunken hoard of fun seeking 40 something blokes? Well, despite my concerns the evening was a resounding success.

I’d quite forgotten how well the Jam had bonded with their fans, and despite the absence of Paul Weller, I soon realised that it was actually about the songs. Musically, the back-catalogue has stood the test of time and with 2/3rds of the original band playing the gig had so much more going for it than a tribute band could ever hope to achieve. I can remember the fantastic energy generated at Jam gig’s back in the late 70’s and it was present again at Richards. The crowd, despite having the average age of a chartered accountants gathering, were in good voice throughout and the atmosphere was actually better than I’ve experienced recently for current bands. Impressive.

Full marks must go to Russell Hastings who’s had to step in to Weller’s shoes, an unenviable task, but he really delivered a passionate performance. As Mr C had said, ‘close your eyes and you’d be hard pressed to know the difference.’

The set was an unashamed stroll through ‘In the City‘ to ‘Town called Malice’ and even though so many great songs had to be left out, it was simply one memorable tune followed by another, every note transporting me back to various gigs – Rainbow, London, 1980, Going Underground straight in at No.1, Guildford Civic Hall, several times whilst living in the area, Poole Arts Centre warm up gig for the Sound Affects tour and so on.

As I previously mentioned there are times when the past is best left as it was. However From the Jam proved to be the exception, in fact they proved to be exceptional.

As a footnote I used my new Canon SD1000 (Ixus in Europe) to take the evenings pics. I’m still getting used to using a semi-auto digital and even playing with the manual settings struggled to eliminate blurring. Having said that it’s a giant leap forward from the Nokia pics.