Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

When time becomes a loop

It takes something a bit special to get me out in Brixton after dark on a school night. The evenings comprising of dodgy deals on Coldharbour Lane & tops off acid-techno action at Club 414 are of a decade long gone. While even the more respectable memories of late nights at The Dog Starr and Mass are starting to dim from memory.

These days the only reason I have to be in the area is my weekly game of 5 a-side football and on the much rarer occasion a band is playing at The Academy that I like. And last week, for the first time in over a year, it happened, as Orbital came back to town.

I’ve never really been at the forefront of the music scene, nor any scene for that matter. The only time in my life when I felt part of whatever was going on was during the grunge years 1992-1994. It was a fleeting love affair. Then as university beckoned, I left most of my mates as they moved onto the dub trip, and moved into electronic music and hands in the air clubbing.

It’s a genre guaranteed to end a conversation in a pub. A few months back I was chatting with some workmates about our top five albums of all time. The obvious bands cropped up for people of our age and sensibilities i.e. The Smiths, Stone Roses & The Beatles. All of which provoked debate and sparked memories that we could all relate to despite growing up in different parts of the country.

But when I mentioned two of my choices, silence reigned. They had nothing to say. Because if you’ve never listened to electronic music how can you help me answer whether Aphex Twin’s ‘Selected Ambient Works 1985-1992’ made more of an impression on my life than Underworld’s ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’.

What wasn’t an argument was the choice of the number one electronic album to make my list. Orbital’s Brown Album was on constant loop throughout my first and second years at university. Hearing certain parts of that album still transports me back to 1994, lazily lying down on my bed, daylight streaming through the windows, a book or comic in hand, and a lecture going on somewhere without me.

Since those halcyon days I’ve seen the band seven times in total. Including what was supposed to be their final gig at Brixton Academy in 2004. That evening had been a bit of a disappointment and failed to stand up alongside the epic evenings at Glastonbury in ’99 & 00. While listening to ‘Chime’ on the stroke of midnight to welcome in 1997 is a memory I’ll try hard never to forget. And now a year after my other favourite band, Smashing Pumpkins were resurrected, Orbital were back.

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Tickets had been purchased months in advance and I met up with two old friends who had also spurned the majority and opted for dance over dancehall. I met up with Jamo and Dicky at a bar in Coldharbour Lane before we made our way to the gig. Walking briskly past the throngs we snaked our way in and were standing at the bar with minutes to go before the band came on.

It was great to be back at the Academy. I saw my second ever gig there back in 1989 when Transvision Vamp were headlining. Throughout the 90’s I spent the evening before my A-Level English exam watching The The, got trampled in a mosh pit before Rage Against The Machine had even started singing, got hooked on The Verve when they were supporting The Pumpkins and seen Orbital numerous times.

And now we were back. And though it might have just been because we hadn’t been to a gig for a while, but both Jamo and I noticed differences straight away. He had earlier remarked that his walk to the pub was notable for its serenity. For once it would have once been a ‘take your life in your own hands’ journey. But now the rude boys on the street weren’t quite so prevalent.

Similarly, inside the Academy the atmosphere was less edgy than in the past. Where were the hordes of punks fighting in a pile like they did during Faith No More back in 1993? This time, Jamo noted with a degree of regret, when you bumped into someone they immediately apologized rather than try and lamp you one.

It was all summed up rather neatly by an exchange I heard whilst waiting for the bar. Squeezed next to two chaps in their late 20’s I couldn’t help but overhear this depressing conversation.

Man 1: I’ve got a bit of an earache to be honest
Man 2: So what do you want to get then?
Man 1: Just get me a water.
Man 2: Okay
Man 1: Actually, I’ll just share yours if you’re getting one.
Man 2: Do they sell bottled water?
Man 1: Not sure
Man 2: Well if they do I’ll get one as well.
Man 1: Okay. Ooh, maybe I can get a single Martell on ice.
Me: (To myself) *Good grief*.
Man 2: Don’t think I’m going to stand too close to the stage. Feel pretty knackered.
Girl behind bar: What are you after?
Man 2: Two waters please.
Man 1: Oh, if you were getting one, I would have just had some of yours.
Man 2: Oh well.
Man 1: Do they sell earplugs?
Man 2: Do you sell earplugs?
Girl at bar: Yep.
Man 2: I’ll have two pairs please.
Bloke behind bar: (to guy standing to the right of me) What do you want mate?
Man 3: Nine pints of lager.
Me: Now that’s a round
Man 3: Yep.

To be fair I did then go on to buy myself a glass of red wine. But before I had a chance to group myself in the same bracket as those I’d spent five minutes silently slating, Orbital arrived.

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It might have been the red wine speaking but it turned out to be the most enjoyable Orbital gig I've ever been to. The first half an hour featured some absolute classics. And Brixton has sorted out its sound system so the place was literally vibrating. My nose included. We had a great spot close to the stage but with enough space to drink and dance around.

Indeed the positioning was so perfect Jamo had no trouble finding us after popping off to the loo and Dicky was able to get another round in without spilling it over half the crowd on the walk back. With the band playing a blinder it was a turning into a top night.

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Two hours later and with only one technical breakdown leading to a loss of sound, apology from a Hartnoll brother and the scratching of a roadies head, the night drew to a close. And despite an early start for us all we went to another bar round the back of Coldharbour Lane.

We were all in good spirits. And joy of joys it turned out that this place had a pool table. Has anyone else noticed the lack of pool tables in pubs these days? Dicky and Jamo had a quick game, then I took on Dicky, it would be unfair of me to mention that I 7-balled him. I’m far bigger than that. I then beat a chap who turned up and was giving it the big 'I am', before taking on a friend of his.

By this time quite a group of his friends had turned up and as they could see me winning took it in turns to try and put me off. I was taking it all quite good naturedly although the following day Jamo told me he was getting ready to fight them all.

It all went down to the black and to one of those shots that would normally have a part time pool player sweating. The black ball was positioned near the centre of the D, the white ball too close to the cushion at the other end for comfort. The balls too straight on to each other and I had a baying crowd in my eyeline. With chirping in my ear and Jamo behind me rolling his sleeves up I was thankful for those red wine confidence boosters as I smashed it in, drained my drink, walked off to pats on the shoulder from the vanquished and smiles from the gallery.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Dealing with swine flu; the NHS way

I found myself walking around the corridors of the legendary St.George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London this week. It’s the scene of some of the greatest births to have ever occurred in this country i.e. my sister and also my friends newly born son, Luca. And before I got myself hopelessly lost I stumbled upon this sign by the main reception.

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Nicely done NHS. At least we don’t pay for it I suppose. Is it possible to feel robbed when you haven’t lost any money? The whole thing reminds me of an old Muppet Show sketch. Statler and Waldorf are complaining about the show.

Statler: Well we certainly got what we paid for tonight.
Waldorf: But we paid nothing.
Statler: And that’s what we got!


However, if this method of healthcare proves successful and swine flu cases begin to drop the NHS might actually start implementing the same procedures for all forms of illness. Got a pain in the abdomen? Bugger off home! Got a dislocated shoulder? Put a plaster on it. Cancer? That’ll teach you for smoking.