Sunday 21 November 2010

The Christmas story from hell - how I arrived at God's waiting room 30 years ahead of schedule

This is a true seasonal story which will make you all shudder.

About seven years ago, my now ex-husband, (this story should give you a few clues why) said he would be booking a Christmas break for himself, yours truly and his mother. How considerate, I thought. It sounded like a plan.

All was going swimmingly well until about three days before our departure. I was walking down Regent Street in London with a friend when suddenly I had one of my occasional "premonitions" which caused me to jack-knife. This holiday is going to be a disaster, the gut feeling told me which I told my friend by way of explanation to my slightly eccentric behaviour.

Well, the day arrived and we got a taxi into Winchester to pick up a mini-bus on the first leg of our journey. It sped down the A34 and onto the M4, where it turned off at Membury Services but not into the main public area; instead it headed around the back, where the full horror of the situation suddenly came into view. This was the Shearings Superhighway and there was no turning back.

For those of you not in the know, Shearings Holidays are coach holidays taken by people, who are, shall we say, in the autumn of their lives. True, I should have checked the booking forms beforehand, but then we would have been in a Mexican stand-off as I would have refused point blank to go and this was Christmas....the season of goodwill.

Well, there I was strolling among the assortment of Zimmer frames and walking sticks, thinking "Beam me up Scotty". There really was no escape. Then after folding up mother in law's wheelchair into the hold of the coach, we set off.....bound for Newquay.

Five hours later, we finally pulled up outside the hotel and that was not before I realised that coach drivers talk to more mature people in a completely different way to other passengers.

But a bad situation suddenly got worse when we were allocated our room. Now, I have to say at this point that my ex never understood why it was a totally weird idea for a mother-in-law to share the same hotel room as a married couple. That is all I want to say on the subject, but I had the pleasure a couple of times! However, the room they allocated us was immediately above the kitchen from which all manner of noises - voices and clanking pots and pans were coming -and we could not turn off the radiator in the room so we were evaporating in the heat. I think there were some complimentary miniature bottles of a certain liqueur on offer in the room which quickly disappeared -guilty as charged!

We had to tough it out for the first night but complained and got moved to twin rooms the next morning. (Phew)! However, the first evening also revealed the choice of entertainment would either be bingo or olde tyme dancing.

Well what can I say? I was rather conspicuous among the clientele - my ex was 12 years older than me so he blended in better having almost reached the qualifying age for one of these holidays. So the conversations with other patrons tended to centre on medical issues though one gentleman and I did have an interesting conversation about a piece of public sculpture in Manchester whose shards had a habit of becoming detached putting anyone walking underneath at risk of decapitation.

There were two day trips out to both Truro and Padstow, but at that time of the year, the latter proved to be an extremely bone-chilling experience.

One other slightly worrying factor was the food, which was rather rich and creamy; unlike the rather strict diet to which I now adhere.

So what happens? It is Christmas Eve and I am taken ill: Montezuma took his revenge that starry night in Newquay. I was absolutely wiped out that Christmas morning, so much so, that the hotel manageress thinks she has the makings of an epidemic as someone else in the establishment is also suffering.

So Christmas Day turned out to be one of the miserable experiences of my life: I was weak and the last thing I needed was the dinner "and all the trimmings".

Feeling a little bit better on Boxing Day, my ex, who was a sports journalist by profession, decided we ought to seek out a pub to watch a football match. I think I had probably lost my will to live by then, but oh no, there was one more final twist in the tale.

That was our final evening at the Bates Motel and we joined the rest of the happy throng for a session of community bingo. Unfortunately the radiators in the room that night were turned up to stun level and my mother-in-law who had an irregular heartbeat suddenly shorted out in the heat of the moment. She completely passed out and I distinctly remember my ex telling me to finish her bingo card while he single-handedly removed her from the room under the intense gaze of seemingly dozens of prying eyes.

Fortunately, she came to again about ten minutes after her fainting fit but she had no recollection of what happened. I wish the same had happened to me.

As we boarded the coach to return to the normal world, it turns out she also thoroughly hated her holiday and said it was a total shambles. So how to make two women unhappy simultaneously? Take them on a Shearings holiday.

Scrooge may have Marley to haunt him. I have Newquay!

Friday 8 October 2010

Air quality

It all started during a family holiday in Majorca when I was 12.

There, I met an "older man" of 15 called Andy from Watford with whom I subsequently corresponded by letter for several years (it was a long time ago) and met up with occasionally. He was into his music and kept mentioning a band called Curved Air which was his particular favourite at the time.

Now, I cannot remember the sequence of events which followed, but what I do know is that a copy of Air Conditioning (alas, not the valuable picture disc version) was passed on to me from him. Then I bought Curved Air 2 - my first ever album purchase - from the proceeds of six weeks baby sitting.

What I do know was I was totally hooked. Even at such a tender age, there was something special about their edgy art prog rock which struck more than a few chords with me. Like all great prog, its leanings were towards the classics so discovering Vivaldi through them was a revelation. And years later, I found out that the spoken sequence from CA 2's epic Piece of Mind was an extract from The Waste Land by T S Eliot.

The exquisite Sonja Kristina was my heroine: she was beautiful, sultry, talented and down to earth judging by a photograph of her I remember at the time in which she was wearing a pair of Scholl sandals! (To this day, men of my acquaint and of a certain age still sigh at the very mention of her name). On top of that, she was surrounded by a group of ethereally lovely men.

And then they had a smash hit with Back Street Luv in 1971 which resulted in the usually quite mainstream Jackie magazine publishing a pin-up photograph of them. That remained on my wall for months.......

Somehow, album three Phantasmagoria totally passed me by, probably because I had by then become infatuated with Yes. (Such is the fickle nature of teenagers!) But personnel changes then ensued and both wonderful violinist Darryl Way and guitarist/keyboard maestro Francis Monkman departed, so Air Cut, their fourth album, possessed a different kind of energy thanks to successors Eddie Jobson and Kirby. For my part, their first two albums remain the definitive testimonies to their brilliance and ground-breaking prog sound.

Anyway, fast forward about 25 years and I was getting over the break-up of my first marriage to a clairvoyant medium who lost his way by doing a David Icke, believing he was a modern day prophet who had come down to save us all. Another long story there.

A few weeks afterwards, I linked up with a group of friends who were going off to a New Age happening in West Sussex. En route in the car, I suddenly had one of my occasional premonitions and said to them I would meet someone there that I knew. My first reaction was that it was going to be my ex and nearly asked them to turn the car around.

We got to the parish hall where the event was being held and went to the kitchen to get a coffee. There, we were introduced to a particularly striking-looking couple, first Christine....then Florian. I heard myself gasp because my premonition was coming true. This was indeed Florian Pilkington Miksa, Curved Air's excellent drummer, last seen on my bedroom wall. And he was flattered when I said I knew who he was. As a result, we talked music on and off throughout the day in between the Reiki healing sessions. I also caught sight of him again a few weeks later at a Peace On Earth Day at Wembley Arena.

Fast forward again to last year and thanks to Facebook, I became a friend of Sonja Kristina. This proved very opportune because around the same time, the excellent Classic Rock Presents Prog appeared and in its first edition, there was an extensive spread about ladies in prog rock. And I was pretty mortified to find it only had a photograph and a brief couple of lines about Sonja, who in my humble opinion, was the first lady of prog.

So I wrote a letter to the magazine to this effect which subsequently appeared in the second edition....and I let Sonja Kristina know via FB.

To bring the story to a conclusion, finally after 40 years, I saw the current Curved Air incarnation play at the Brook in Southampton last Thursday. It was a very emotional evening to experience all those incredible, unique and powerful songs which formed the very early soundtrack of my life. I will never tire of hearing "It Happened Today" or "Young Mother" because they have such a resonance even now.

Sonja Kristina is as vibrant and lovely as ever, looking like a gorgeous gipsy queen with Florian on drums the only other original member. But again, she has surrounded herself with some very distinctive and gifted performers, none more so than Paul Sax on electric violin who attacked Vivaldi full-on while guitarist Kit Morgan provided some excellent fluid lines and flourishes. Bassist Chris Harris and Robert Norton on keyboards were also superb in bringing the Air tradition to life and it was fully justified that they were called back for three encores.

Afterwards, the band came out to sign autographs and having purposely hung back to last in the queue, I finally met the great lady saying I was Alison from Facebook - and she knew who I was! We talked about the band and then shook hands. Andy from our pub quiz team, (not the one from Majorca) who was also there brought along a programme from their gig at Southampton in 1971 which she happily signed.

A true heroine....

Sunday 22 August 2010

Fifteen Albums in Fifteen Minutes

As an obsessional user of Facebook, (understatement of the year), it is always interesting to participate in some of the viral quizzes and opinion-seeking notices that are posted, especially the musically inclined ones.

By the strangest quirk of fate, I bought a swanky new notebook a couple of weeks ago and decided to "christen" it by jotting down my top ten albums of all time with a reserve list of five. Amazingly, yesterday, a posting appeared initially from Mr Derek Dick, the piscatorial former lead singer of Marillion, asking for people to compile the 15 albums which will always stick with you - to be compiled in 15 minutes which meant instincts had to come into their own.

Well, as they say on Blue Peter, here's one I made earlier so with no apologies for being a tad self-indulgent, below are my fab 15 with the reasons behind them.

1) Fragile by Yes was the first album I ever heard by them and it totally changed my life - a tall order when you are only 13 and all your friends are into Slade, Elton John and the like. That made Roundabout my first-ever Yessong and I still consider it my signature tune. Then miraculously, I saw its words come to life three winters ago when we were en famille in the beautiful French town of Annecy which has the most spectacularly picturesque lake. Suddenly, there appeared the vision of "in and around the lake, mountains come out of the sky and they stand there." It was one of life's defining moments. My brother also has strict instructions for it to be played at my memorial service (along with the Ying Tong Song by the Goons).

2) Curved Air 2 was the first album I ever bought in 1971 from the proceeds of six weeks' baby sitting. A gentlemen from Watford whom I had met on holiday in Majorca told me about the band and got me enthused. So I got Curved Air 2 before Air Conditioning and then bought Backstreet Luv when it was a hit. Sonja Kristina was my heroine because she was probably everything I wanted to be then (and maybe still do even now) - talented, beautiful and surrounded by men! It is still an astonishing album especially Piece Of Mind and I only found out later from where the spoken poetry came (The Waste Land by T S Eliot).

3) Images at Twilight by Saga. I was originally going to select Silent Knight, but IaT was the very first album of theirs I heard which I received as a review copy when I was the "entertainment" writer for the brilliantly named Beds and Bucks Observer in Leighton Buzzard. I spent about three weeks just looking at the cover and one day, when washing up at a boyfriend's house (not a common occurrence), I put it on.....and literally dropped all the crocks in the sink. It was another eureka moment - the most stunningly sophisticated collection of prog rock songs with flashes of Yes and again, it all made perfect musical sense. I was so enamoured by them, I nearly started their British fan club.

4) Moving Pictures by Rush is the band at their very zenith with a wonderful pun of an album cover. Tom Sawyer is one of the best opening songs on any album with fantastic, mind-blowing lyrics, moving swiftly into a paean about an old banger, to a highly complex quicksilver instrumental, to a commentary on why being famous is not all it is cracked up to be, to a stunning musical snapshot of two cities, rounding off with two more superb standards majoring on prejudice and the human condition. That is just about the universe covered in one album!

5) Queen 2 is pure heavy metal heaven. Having seen the band on The Old Grey Whistle Test performing Liar, my initial thought what the hell is that!! Then along came Q2 with its black and white sides - totally overblown, magnificent and pretentious, with some absolute gems such as Ogre Battle, Seven Seas of Rhye, Father to Son and the marvellously silly Fairy Fella's Masterstroke. Check out the painting in Tate Britain. I saw them on this tour and then on the Night at the Opera tour where I had a front row seat. There will never be another Freddie - nobody did it better.

6) ELP 1 was another life-changing album from the early 70s with all that heavy duty, industrial strength jazz, rock and classical pomp and bluster alongside the more delicate spoonfuls of Take a Pebble and Lucky Man. This was taken in isolation because afterwards I did not get Tarkus at all at the time and only now finally appreciate its excellence.

7) Discipline - King Crimson only because it is the most stupendously difficult and wonderful album of all time, which takes my mind to some very complex places. I saw them on this particular tour and it was one of the best concerts I have ever attended because of all of the above and because it was the first time I had ever seen a Chapman stick being played.

8) The Whirlwind by Transatlantic has plugged a huge gap in my musical inventory because it has moved me on from my 70s timewarp, documented elsewhere. And it is all thanks to Martin! This album is the true essence of prog rock and the more you hear it, the more you hear. I cannot stop playing it (and as it is Martin's copy.....)!

9) Four Symbols by Led Zeppelin, another of my early album purchases along with a French single comprising Black Dog and Misty Mountain Hop. It is all the tracks which are not Stairway to Heaven which make it so memorable especially the ethereal beauty of Battle of Evermore and the pure, dirty blues of When the Levee Breaks, probably their finest ever.

10) The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was the first Genesis album which I really wanted to play time and time again. It was a crazy, surreal story but with some classic songs like The Carpet Crawlers, The Lamia, Fly On The Windshield and the title track of course.

11) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the only Sabbath album that really cut it for me because it had sensational tracks like Spiral Architect and Looking For Today, which had fantastic arrangements and melodies.

12) Spectral Mornings just showed what Steve Hackett was really made of once he had cut loose from Genesis. His albums have always been full of variety and virtuosity, and this one had everything - a crowd pleasing anthem in Everyday, a beautiful acoustic ballad in The Virgin and the Gypsy, an achingly lovely instrumental in the title track and a total rhythmic riot with Clocks- Angel of Mons.

13) Olias of Sunhillow by Jon Anderson. I remember first hearing when on a stay with the then boyfriend in the wilds of Rutland. There had been nothing else like it before and with Jon playing all the instruments in this incredible tale from another galaxy about an alien race escaping to a new world, it just broke new prog musical ground.

14) Ra by Utopia was a work of genius and that genius just so happens to be Todd Rundgren. This album completely intrigued and confounded me, because it was such a rich cocktail of themes ranging from the edgy Hiroshima, to the quirky Magic Dragon Theater to the downright bizarre Singring and the Glass Guitar. And the production of the album is just sublime.

15) Audio-Visions by Kansas is one of those albums which has two huge plusses - there is not a duff track on it and the singer is the awesome Steve Walsh. An absolute gem of an album on which No One Together is the outstanding track.

So there it is and it deliberately includes only one album per artist (apart from the Genesis/Hackett and Yes/Anderson tie-ups). And not a Pink Floyd album in sight. We shall save that debate for another time.

Saturday 31 July 2010

High Voltage, the Withdrawal Symptoms

There is a certain emptiness which has descended, practically unnoticed within the past 24 hours. It is a feeling that something incredible has happened and now, nothing can even come close to filling the space that has been left behind.

This is what it feels like now that the High Voltage Festival has been and gone. So it is time to reflect and pick out some personal memories which I hope others will enjoy and maybe agree with.
For starters, we made a conscious decision to go on the Sunday only because of those three crucial letters - ELP. What emerged afterwards was a line-up of such utter quality and brilliance and that was just the Prog Rock stage!
So this blog is aimed in part at the unconverted or sceptical, many of whom have been watching me bounce around all week in a state of animated post-event hysteria for which I make no apologies!
This has been MY music since I was 12 when I first heard Curved Air 2, then Air Conditioning, moving swiftly on to Fragile and ELP 1. In its way, it provides you with a kind of existentialist framework to the way you view the world, no small matter at such a formative time in your life. (I still have nightmares about how life might have turned out if I had elected to follow the other "musical" path, which then comprised The Osmonds and The Partridge Family. As I said.....nightmarish).

And so to High Voltage. The other consideration to factor in is that prog rockers still think they are young and pretty cool. So the organisers provided the festival-goers with a selection of fairground rides, none of which appeared to be oversubscribed but then again, the main attractions were appearing on the three site stages. There was also an area in which to hone your air guitar skills, some classic cars and the legendary Ace Cafe. So there was an all-pervading cosy village feel to it. The clientele resembled an army of foot soldiers, most of them appreciably now over the hill, but there is never any self-consciousness among such fans. Just dig out the relevant band tee-shirt and go for it. So there were several Dad's Armies on parade, the biggest detachment being the ELP battalion closely followed by the Rush regiment, the Marillion militia and the Yes yeomanry.

With the weather veering on the muggy side of hot, the warmth of the atmosphere was palpable. There was an air of increduality that at last, someone had realised a trick was being missed in not putting together a bill of some of the greatest classic, prog and metal rock acts on the planet.
It was like your Fantasy Football team coming true and more importantly, it was also a collective celebration of the music which has shaped all of our individual lives.
From our perspective, we weighed anchor in front of the Prog Rock stage which had a cast list to die for. A posse of visions in orange also arrived close by to act as cheerleaders for the first band, the endearing and totally lovely The Reasoning who decided to completely go for it during the 40 minute opening slot allocated to them. They rock, they beguile and they entertain with the drop-dead gorgeous lead singer Rachel Cohen even promising to buy us a round. They had us all in their thrall. A great curtain raiser and mark my words, they are going to be a "must-see" band in the next year. It was wonderful to meet bass player Matthew Cohen later in the day as he was about to brave the bungee ride and pass on our appreciation and praise.

Quickly the arena in front of the stage started filling up for Wishbone Ash, about whom I have written in detail in a previous blog, so we shall let those observations stand as a true record. However, the length of their set did have something of a detrimental effect on the next which was the biggest regret of the day.

One of the biggest personal laughs I had during the day was telling three guys stood behind me to watch out of Steve Hackett's bass player because they might recognise him from Kajagoogoo! The looks of disbelief were priceless

But as usual, Steve and his Electric Band were simply immaculate starting with the anthem Every Day to Ace of Wands, Sleepers, Fire On The Moon from the new album rounding off with Los Endos. But then, well, absolutely nothing. We were limbering up ready for the great crowd pleasers, Slogans, Spectral Mornings and the always epic Clocks, The Angel of Mons but suddenly they were gone. One of the living legends of prog rock and he did not even clock up an hour onstage! That resulted in the first signs of unrest from the pilgrims.

It was time to draw breath but just when you thought it could not get better, along came two of the classiest bands in the business, first Magnum, whose singer Bob Catley not only has one of the most powerful and lyrical voices in the businesses, he is also one of the most expressive performers. He was mesmerising but as many fellow festival-goers have since pointed out, the repertoire comprised mainly newer songs rather than some of the great older crowd-pleasers. So a minus point for not giving the fans what they really wanted.

So off to do a quick recce to find the Classic Rock stage and back in time to enjoy another timeless album played in its entirety Demons And Wizards from the equally enduring Uriah Heep, who were right on the money. With the excellent Bernie Shaw on vocal duty, the veteran Micks, Messrs Box and Moody and company just completely nailed it.

Unfortunately, we elected to miss Argent and Marillion as like hundreds of others, we wanted to be up front for Emerson Lake and Palmer but again, the quality of the cast list just could not be faulted as Joe Bonamassa delivered the slickest, silkiest blues of the weekend. The man oozes star quality.

So then came the one unknown quantity with Joe Elliott giving up the day job with Def Leppard to perform with the Down 'N Outz comprising several Quireboys whose set was an extended paean to one of the all-time rock and roll greats.

It was tight, organised and rolled along nicely but it felt like an eternity until they invited on all time great Ian Hunter to join them for a couple of numbers including Once Bitten Twice Shy. But unfortunately, it all ended in confusion as the organisers suddenly rushed on stage and cut them off in their prime. The sound just cut out, leaving Joe, Ian and Co completely caught between a rock and a hard place. A couple of heated exchanges ensued with the living legend looking as though he was about to wrap his acoustic around a stagehand's neck. Joe came back on to apologise and give thanks. Hmm, that was not meant to happen.

Anyway, it was getting decidedly cramped down the front and a couple of people tried to fill spaces which did not exist thus completely cutting out the view for one couple who had flown over from Fuertaventura especially to see the main event. To my right, a guy was actually sat down shielding his small child from the hurly-burly of the crush.

Well, there was frantic activity onstage and we were inwardly delighted to see the keyboard battery being assembled immediately in front of us. (We were about ten back from the front). There were a few technical challenges happening up there and stage right could be seen the Hammond hammerer joining in with the crew discussions to pinpoint the root of the problems and more importantly, how to solve them.

So we had to hang on another ten minutes but that is nothing when the overall wait has been more like 36 years.

Well, what can I say: they came, they saw and ultimately, they conquered.
In their 40th year, ELP are probably the most mythical of all prog rock bands and who in many ways have epitomised all its qualities and at the same time, all its excesses. However, no-one could ever doubt the sheer drama, diversity and dynamism of their music, which has always been the essence of prog because of its extraordinary and complex classical leanings along with a tasty slice of jazz. It has also been this classical thread which has set prog apart from the rest of the rock canon. And no-one, apart from perhaps Yes, has ever taken it to its classical extremes in the way ELP did.
Perhaps it was predictable that they should open with Karn Evil 9's 1st Impression, Pt 2 better known as Welcome back my friends. However this quickly ascertained that all three elements were still in good form.Greg Lake may have gone through a physical metamorphosis which now includes a Falstaffian girth but his voice still has that honeyed but urgent clarity and his bass lines are still as fluid and punchy as ever.
A still svelte Keith Emerson maintains that overriding air of intensity but no-one can attack a barrage of keyboards the way he can. The biggest regret was that some of those beautiful, spine- tingling chords from Tarkus just completely disappeared in the mix. He may have had surgery to correct problems with his most valuable assets, his hands, over the years, but the man is still the ultimate sorcerer when doing what he does best.
And Carl Palmer, let us just put a couple of facts into perspective. He along with Peter Trewavas was one of the only two musicians to play sets with two different bands over the weekend. Not even his contemporary Mike Portnoy with his current myriad projects could top that! Of the three elements, his was the most extraordinary contribution. If there were any aspiring drummers in the audience, then they would have done well to have observed the precision, power and exuberance of his playing. Remember, like the other two, he is now of "bus pass" age but is still right on top of his game.
There was some criticism of the choice of tracks but on reflection, it was only right they should draw from all their albums if only to showcase to those unfamiliar with the back catalogue and us purists were delighted they played Barbarian, Knife Edge and Lucky Man from the first album, all of which sound fresh and inventive.
Also seguing Take A Pebble from ELP 1 into Tarkus was an inspired moment and Pictures At An Exhibition also has stood the test of time well, (and the remastered DVD is out now).
But of course, those old flourishes of excess for which they are loved were all there. Greg was still parked on his Persian carpet, while Keith set about his Hammond with a couple of knives and upended it and Carl's drumkit started revolving and appeared to get stuck temporarily halfway around. His final flourish was removing his teeshirt for Rondo but give him his dues; not many 63-year-olds can boast a buffed and toned torso like his!
It was a pity so many people had to leave before the end because simply to have been there to witness the reunion of prog royalty for one night only was worth the admission money alone.
To reach the age of 52 and experience one of the greatest days of your life personally, musically and emotionally is mindblowing. Us old girls and geezers had the time of our lives, and it was so good to see so many people bringing along their sons and daughters even if a few of them were effecting Harry Enfield's "Kevin the teenager" stance!
There has been some talk about how it could be improved next year. I know most of us have our own wishlist for next year, headed by Rush, for my part their fellow compatriots Saga and Mystery, and maybe some elements of Yes and Genesis. Whatever happens, the critical mass is going to be the overriding consideration and finding a blend of bands who represent the past, present and future of rock is going to be a mighty task. They have set the bar very high this year. Next year, who knows to what new dizzy heights they can take it. We cannot wait! Sincere thanks and congratulations to everyone involved in making High Voltage the most sizzling festival this humble prog rock fan has ever had the privilege of attending.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

High Voltage: The Prologue. How I came to love Wishbone Ash

Every one of us must have a band we find difficult to love. Somehow, something trivial about them triggers a worm of discontent which starts burrowing deeper and deeper into your brain even though you tell yourself that they are exceptional musically, they have a huge following and it would be incredibly unhip not to like them.

Well, a seed of discontent was planted in my grey matter 34 years ago at Portsmouth Guildhall. I was training to be a journalist at a local college and was more than happy to blow part of the student grant on some of the excellent gigs the Guildhall was staging, such as Tangerine Dream, a concert which did not exactly have them dancing in the aisles.

However, yours truly and my then boyfriend, both great rock fans - but with one or two notable exceptions, had the opportunity to go and see Wishbone Ash playing there. This would have been the New England tour in 1976 by which time, the divine Ted Turner had been substituted on guitar by Laurie Wisefield.

Now, the significant other was very astute at spotting b*llsh*t which, around this time, made us probably the only people on the planet who found Peter Frampton coming alive very funny. It just did not work for us, but it did not make us bad people as a result. Each to their own.

Anyway, the evening at the Guildhall (and some of you might remember this) started with Supercharge, fronted by the splendid, eccentric singer/saxophonist, Albie Donnelly. They were rather fun and provided all the ingredients to get the old Victorian edifice rocking.

So it was all going well for the main event until a chap in brown overalls came on and started vacuuming the carpet on the stage. My close companion's radar was on full alert at the very sight of it as this was not very rock 'n roll; and anyway, Greg Lake had the monopoly on carpets (and I will revisit that in another blog).

It was Wishbone Ash-time, and the worm started to burrow. The music sounded fine, but it was just not happening for us. Ted, bless him, always seemed to play from behind his hair as proved by the recent reshowings of their brilliant Vas Dis on BBC4's "Prog at the BBC" programme.

But Wisefield just gave it the full-on, "look at me, I'm a rock star" routine "and what is more, I am playing barefoot." Pretentious? Moi? Aha! Hence the jobsworth with the Hoover. I am sorry but by the encore, we were both having an attack of the Peter Framptons and left in fits of laughter before the end of the concert. This is the one and only time I have exited a gig before its official end and of course, that left an indelible negative mark on my perception of the band.

Fast forward about four years, when I was working in my first reporting job for the local paper in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, home of Kajagoogoo, Bob Monkhouse and the Barron Knights. One of a cub reporter's jobs is to phone all the local Plod to find out if anything "interesting" had happened overnight like a cat getting stuck up a tree. One day, we heard there had been a burglary at a house in one of the outlying villages - at the home of a Mr Andy Powell, and I think it was even confirmed by the Bill that he did play with some kind of beat combo!

Well, as the compiler and writer of the paper's entertainment pages, it was my duty to follow this up. I somehow managed to secure an interview with the great man through his management company and went out with the photographer to meet him.

He and his wife could not have been nicer. He showed us around his home, his soundproofed studio and we got to meet the famous Flying V. I felt so guilty and I think I got as far as telling him I had seen the band - without drilling down too much into the detail of having not made it through to the end. But the feature was published and everyone was happy.

Which brings us right up to the present and High Voltage. Co-incidence number two happened early on the Sunday, when the hotel breakfast room got rather oversubscribed, so various festival goers were left waiting around before tucking into their croissants and fresh fruit. A guy turned up about ten minutes after us and was waiting in a dentist's chair for a table to become free. He stood out because he did have on a rather distinctive green patterned shirt, which suddenly reappeared in front of us about three hours later on the Prog Rock stage, this time, with an axe strapped across it. It was Danny Wilson, one of the Wishbone Ash guitarists.

I had said to Martin (my chap) that I really wanted to see Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash if only to lay to rest the ghost of Laurie Wisefield who had been mainly responsible for this 34 year Mexican stand-off. Also, several Facebook friends had been raving about this current line-up.

Well, what can I say? Theirs was the best set of the day, in my humble opinion. Hearing Argus again was an absolute revelation. It really was one of the greatest albums of the early 70s. The band really delivered. They were tight, they were fun, they rocked and really caught the spirit of the festival.....and that was even before Ted Turner joined them.

It was like seeing a piece of history being made as he joined his namesake to reform the Argus Two and launched into a magnificent Blowin' Free. Ted looked amazing, cool, composed and more importantly, he played like a dream. Martin Turner remarked that he had obviously been practising! Not 'arf, pop-pickers.

Anyway, as the day progressed and while there was an interval between Magnum and Uriah Heep, (happens all the time), Martin and I finally had a chance to sit down by the dodgems - (this was the funfair for the common man). Suddenly, I saw two familar faces walking towards us. It was one of those "I should know them" moments and the penny quickly dropped. It was Danny Wilson and the other MTWA guitarist, the ever-happy Ray Hatfield. I just grinned at them and blurted out "Great set"! They smiled back at us.

That was it. The ghost had been laid to rest and the worm had finally turn(er)ed!

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Countdown to High Voltage

Well, cometh the hour, cometh the prog rock fans. Here we are less than 48 hours from the start of the prog rocker's ultimate heaven, the High Voltage Festival. We have waited long and patiently for the final line-up to be confirmed, for the additional extras to be waved in front of us to generate what passes as middle-aged excitement and now the wrist bands have arrived; and they are not blue for the boys and pink for the girls.

The Tube stations of London have been the advertising hoardings for the event; Facebook has been the parish notices page while Classic Rock Presents Prog and Planet Rock have continued to drip feed us the golden nuggets of information onto which we hang. We have followed meekly and willingly to the Promised Land, or in this case, Victoria Park in east London.

So what is going to happen? The answer is, who knows? We have simply been guided by the ultimate star - the line-ups for the two days which have twisted and turned, beguiled and intrigued with the passing of each week.

In our case, three letters prompted us to hit the festival online hotline as soon as they were announced - ELP. This was like the Holy Grail, the ultimate prize in the world of prog rock. This was THE band both of us still had outstanding on the list of "must see before we die" (along with Zep but that is another story).

They are like mixing the three mystery alchemy ingredients and coming up with gold. Speaking as lady prog rocker, there was the handsome, sexy showman dressed in the armadillo jacket -so very Tarkus- attacking his organ with knives (love that imagery) and playing arpeggios, cadences and chords that most other mortal musicians could only ever dream of. And he made us love jazz.

Then there was the sensitive, no-nonsense bass player with the voice of melting honey, who could sound mean, moody and playful all in the space of one album. And finally, there was the pocket powerhouse behind the drumkit with his elaborate time signatures, liberal use of a cowbell and the syncopation of a god. In other words, what's not to like?

From the moment I heard the opening industrial-strength bars of The Barbarian when I was 14, I was hooked, line and sinker. They were the prog counterpoint to my burgeoning Yes fixation. They were mean, they were heavy and they provided me with an education in classical music and jazz that my failed music O-level never could. To coin a song title, they were there "From the Beginning".

I remember being terribly grown up and going to a Southampton fleapit at a very tender age to see their film Pictures at an Exhibition during which I fell in love with Mussorgsky - a serious classical composer made accessible by my heroes.

But I never liked Tarkus then. Oh no, while I had Tales from Topographic Oceans, I had no need of an armour-plated armadillo. It was too violent and alien. However, nearly 40 years later, I made my peace with the creature and for several crazy weeks, could not stop listening to the legend which is Tarkus.

Trilogy though, wow, now you are back in the groove. What a seductive album that was. From the plaintive opening bars of The Endless Enigma to the grandiose and slightly surreal Abaddon's Bolero, you ran the gamut of prog rock emotions from A-Z. There was humour, bravado, sexuality, sensitivity and sassiness on that album. It worked - and it still does.

And stashed away somewhere in my record collection, there is still the Brain Salad Surgery flexidisc, given away by the NME back the mid-70s. How futuristic, how simply mind-blowing was that? God, this was all cutting edge stuff.

BSS had everything. It had my hymn Jerusalem; it had Toccata which was the late and totally unique "Fluff" Freeman's soundbite of choice; it had Still... You Turn Me On for which I would gladly find Greg a ladder any day and then there was Karn Evil 9, the densest, most obscure, most perplexing, most brilliant, most mind-blowing epic example of prog rock excess ever created. Guys, you blew my head apart.

I have to say that the magic began to wane after that. Four incredible albums and I was already breathless. The patchwork of memorable tracks on Works I and II kept everything ticking over and you all looked amazing doing Fanfare in that snowy stadium. But by Love Beach, as Don McLean said, it was the day the music died.

There was no longer the sense of adventure, the improvisational magic and the touch of genius which had inhabited the first four of the masterworks. The essence of ELP had become diluted along with the stories of overblown excess on which many a punk and John Peel dined out for months afterwards.

But still.... you turned me on; and that is why I am making the pilgrimage on Sunday along with thousands of others. I believe you can still make magic on your guitar, Greg; that you can still Tank it Carl and Keith, you are a Lucky Man after years of suffering the condition which has affected your ability to play.

Guys, you are legends....

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends.

We really are so glad we could attend. Looking forward to coming inside.

Roll on Sunday.

Monday 28 June 2010

They thought it was all over: it is now.

Well, I am not going to say I told you so, but I did, I told you so! Martin and I were out taking a long relaxing walk along the River Itchen as the drama was being played out in Bloemfontein and we made it home (by accident) to watch the last ten minutes. I have to say, we both burst out laughing when we realised what had happened. Looks as though we made the right choice of activity in the end.

But watching the inaction replays of the four goals (and England's two - Lampard's by rights should count) just confirmed all one's worst fears. The defence was a total shambles in each - leakier than a sieve and not as useful.

The four wise men on the BBC were wringing their hands, trying to find positives to say about what appeared to be a rout. The simple fact was the Ingerlanders' heads and hearts were just not in it. Their heads should have told them the system being played was a stinker while their hearts should have told them that national pride is probably the strongest emotion of all even if it only does come around once every four years.

So what's to be done? Well, the manager was as culpable as the players and has just completely lost total credibility so far as I was concerned when he said they played well yesterday. Through which pair of rose-tinted spectacles was he watching? I was never convinced by Mr Capello anyway. I have always wondered what is to gain by appointing a manager who cannot speak the language of the team. Something must get lost in translation. And perhaps he was wrong stripping John Terry of the captain's arm-band last year as it appears Chelsea's thug-in-chief has never got over the demotion both in terms of his demeanour and his playing.

Capello did not quite know either how to run the show- as a boot camp or a holiday camp. And his decision to name the final team only two hours before the game must have played havoc with the programme printing schedules as well as overall morale.

If I was paid the amount of money he is on, I would feel obliged to perform a miracle rather than a post mortem- and this one is likely to last weeks or months rather than days.

I am afraid Capello has no option but to fall on his sword and make way for Roy Hodgson to try and salvage the pieces before he gets snapped up by Liverpool. Hodgson has a brilliant CV, has worked on the international stage and has earned the respect from enough people to be installed as the national team coach/manager.

As for the players. See previous blogs. All I will say is if they were paid less and had took bonuses on results, that might help. The real malaise in the game is a result of the players going where the money is. The Premier League is now ruled by foreign mercenaries who are robbing home-grown talent of regular appearances. To hell with all that badge kissing: it is all a sham. The game has lost its soul and has become an empty shell because mammon has taken over from manna as its motivation.

The national team over here does not count as much as it does abroad. We would like to think it does but until we put a cap on the number of foreign players, it is just not going to happen. The reason why Germany looked so good is that the national team comes first and the system allows promising young players to come through the ranks and excel.

Of course every fan wants to see their team do well- now- so wants to have the best players possible drafted in to achieve, excuse the pun, the short term goals. But it is never good for the long term if you are just bringing in a bunch of unloyal gloryseekers who will be off at the first whiff of the next best offer. Hate to say it is a sign of the times that they- owners, managers and fans want it all, and they want it now. The best teams of the past - the Uniteds, (Busby Babes included) and the classic Liverpool line-up had to be built on solid foundations. It is all just a house of cards now.

So forgive me if Martin and I go ahead and fly the Jolly Roger rather than the Cross of St George on our cars. It is a now a poignant symbol of how the hopes of a nation and the reputation of a team of overpaid underachievers both died on a South African field yesterday.

Monday 21 June 2010

World Cup musings.

I can stay silent no longer now that the World Cup is halfway through. I almost took a vow of chastity at the start of the tournament saying I would watch not one of the games out of principle rather interest because, well, the script would turn out to be so predictable.

I finally bowed to peer pressure on Friday night after being accused of being unpatriotic and not supporting the team. I had my reasons for not wanting to and how right I was. I think the whole nation let out a collective and humongous groan after that abject display of cowardice. I feel so sorry for the Algerians as they were expecting to play the fourth best national team in the world, not the fourth worst.

And now the French have imploded too. Quelle surprise! I think that the situation with both the English and French exemplifies all that is wrong in football now. (And please be assured I do have a partial handle on the debate. My great grandfather was a wing half for the Woolwich Arsenal and then assistant trainer at Chelsea, while a former husband was a sports journalist).

For starters, the English players were complaining about the pressure they were under to do well. At £90,000 a week, I would expect pressure to be part of the overall package of the checks and balances it takes to be a modern day overpaid entertainer, sorry, footballer. And it just goes to show that even if you have a group of world class players - Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney to name but four - gathered together in one place, it does not result in world-class team football. Far from it.

And the French? Sacre bleu. It would be Nicolas Anelka at the centre of the ructions, wouldn't it? He is one piece of work and I should imagine he would be a nightmare to work with especially as his closest family also double up as agents, PR people and general sycophants. I have yet to see an ounce of humility spring from within the man.

No, the real stories from this World Cup come from the little guys, the ones like New Zealand that are raising their games and creating the shocks against the big boys. This is because they have absolutely nothing to prove, so they can go out there, do their best and have some fun....and surely, that is the essence of football.

I was watching Paraguay against Slovakia yesterday. Apart from a vested interest because my sister in law is Paraguayan, they were an absolute joy to behold. They played for each other - as a team - never gave up, were gritty and determined, adventurous and created some fantastic chances in front of goal. That is how I remember the game - playing for fun as well as for the glory.

So on Wednesday, England have to recapture some of that joy and passion - even the Bishop of Croydon is writing prayers for them so desperate times call for desperate measures. You can be the best player in the world but unless it comes from the heart rather than the wallet, it is just not going to happen.

I will admit that I actually remember that incredible 1966 World Cup Final. I was a wee girl of eight and the match was watched on black and white television, but the enormity and emotion of the occasion has never left me. That is because England were the underdogs.

In theory, Brazil or West Germany should have won. But on this one brilliant summer's day, the team chemistry became pure alchemy. The balance was absolutely perfect - a mixture of superstars such as Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore, coupled with the grafters Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball, a sublime and confident goalkeeper Gordon Banks, some lethal finishing from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, plus a couple of solid yeomen George Cohen and Ray Wilson keeping a stalwart defence.

The manager Sir Alf Ramsey was not without fault, but the players never questioned him and just got on with the job. And their financial rewards for such an achievement were not stratospheric but mention their names now and there is still a celestial ring to them. This is because they simply exceeded all expectations.

We have the opposite situation now but really we have not learned the lessons of the recent past (the 44 years since the World Cup came to England) because the same scenarios keep cropping up - the goalkeeping conundrum, the injuries, the mindset, the blame culture -same old, same old. God forbid that will not also include the penalty-taking horror-show.

On this day too, the ultimate champion Roger Federer, facing a first round exit at Wimbledon of such magnitude as to be unthinkable, suddenly found that untapped well of reserve resources which turned the match around to such a degree, the fifth set ended 6-0 in his favour.

Without that self-belief, without that passion and above all, the reason why sports exists - for that sheer sense of achievement and fun - and irrespective of how much it pays you materially, well, basically, what's the point?

Friday 28 May 2010

44 years of hurt....

According to a report from a law firm which is no doubt getting ready to cash in on the fall-out, the divorce rate looks set to rocket over the next six weeks as the predominantly male members of the species prepare to chain themselves to a plasma screen near you for the full-on quadrennial orgy of international football.

This is an occasion which suddenly strikes at the heart of our national patriotism as every corner of the kingdom from Carlisle and Berwick to Penzance and Dover becomes bedecked with St George’s flags. And every other car heading down the M4 has those ubiquitous flags fluttering away at the rate of a humming bird’s wing-beat.

And again every newspaper headline will include either in full or in part that well-known call to arms from a certain hero of mine, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

So, how about it, O Ye Chosen 23? (Why 23?) That includes every man from the mature male model with a penchant for pink sweaters in goal to the Shrek impersonator up front! Can they really end 44 years of hurt?

Well, the way I see it is simply que sera sera. We whip ourselves up into an unsustainable frenzy every time we get a whiff of the golden ice-cream cone and then have to take a week off work to get over the disappointment of being also-rans for yet another four years.

I will not be paying too much attention, hate to say. I was married to a sports journalist for ten years so witnessed more than my fair share of the beautiful game in that time, both televised and live. One of the highlights was seeing Bournemouth losing to Grimsby in the Auto Windscreens Shield final at the old Wembley!

And as my ex is a fanatical Pompey fan while I was once a Southampton season-ticket holder - our wedding cake was covered in green icing with goalposts, Subbuteo players and the legend "Match of the Day" iced on it - it was all going to end in hurt.

Anyway, back to the plot. What are the chances without the odd dodgy metatarsal getting in the way? Well on paper, there is no reason why Ingerland 2010 should not make some significant headway in RSA. We keep being told what world-class players we have and on paper, it all looks pretty damn fine with that heady mixture of maturity and yoof.

And with Goldenballs there to inspire them from the touchline, what could possibly go wrong? Then the image of the petulant Blessed Tattooed One throwing his toys out of the cot against Argentina in France circa 1998 comes to mind.........

The biggest fear is that we could end up this tournament with a hat-trick of chokers which will vilify the fall guy on a much larger scale than either Chris Waddle or Stuart Pearce could muster. So if included in the final squad, Ledley King, Glen Johnson and James Milner need to start practising their pens as they are in my top three of those who could possibly chuck the championship for us.

So forgive me if I do not whip myself up into a frenzy over this one. I have the fortune of remembering the World Cup Final at Wembley in 1966 but I hope that everyone born in the interregnum will have the pleasure of seeing the boys finally doing it. There is nothing to stop them going all the way.

England expects......

Thursday 27 May 2010

Tripping the light Transatlantic

Last Friday night turned into the most wonderful self-fulfilling prophecy. This started about 18 months ago when a former work colleague and fellow prog rock aficionado was gently chiding me about the albums to which I was then listening, the latest of which probably came out in about 1980.

Haven't you heard any of the new prog rock bands, he asked, trotting out names like Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard - Marillion perhaps?

Erm, actually no - apart from a smattering of Marillion - because I have been more than happy living in the past courtesy of Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Saga and Rush. They have been my prog comfort blanket and I was quite prepared to continue covering myself in their respective back catalogues rather than moving on – progressing if you like - musically.

Fast forward to last August…..and this will no doubt be covered in a separate blog…if we are going to talk about whether love is sweeter the third time around - the answer to which is a resounding yes.

That was when Martin first made contact through Facebook when he asked to become a friend because of our mutual love of prog rock. Fair enoughski! So friends we became and to our amazement this has moved on swiftly to us being a full-blown item, significant others, other halves, partners. But it was not his bank balance or flashy car to which I was first attracted: it was his CD collection. Bet you have never heard that reason before!

His vast library of CDs is a who's who of music with about 70 per cent prog rock, much of it comprised the newer bands to whom I was advised to listen 18 months ago.

Earlier this year, Martin mentioned that Transatlantic was appearing in London and that we absolutely had to go because it was one of his favourite bands. Fine by me, thought I not really appreciating the pukka pedigree of this otherwise unknown band.

When their latest album The Whirlwind came out a few months ago, he played it to me and hey, these guys were good. I then got acquainted with their previous collection A Bridge Across Forever – extraordinary stuff with not one song coming in at under 14 minutes. My kind of band!

So last Friday finally arrived and there we were outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with the rest of the predominantly male Transatlantic coterie. Seriously, there must have been no more than about 100 women in a 2,000 strong audience. So you know what that meant? No queues for the ladies' loos!

Well, to cut a long story short (unlike the length of their masterpieces), it was an evening of musical greatness. The opening number was The Whirlwind played in its 77 minute entirety and had the audience totally pinned to its seats (well, at least upstairs in the balcony as it was all standing down below).

And without going into to much detail, let’s just make the following observations. Mike Portnoy, about whom I had heard so much, is a force of nature or at least some friendly demonic power as I have never seen a drummer possessed with so much passion who can play with such precision while at the same time conducting both band and audience.

Neal Morse is a prog rock legend, blessed the kind of sensitivity, power and artistry which can transform and shape any sound. Guitarist Roine Stolte is another towering presence with the divine gift of coaxing from his guitar some beautiful fluid licks and passages while Peter Trewavas is a pivotal player in the Transatlantic axis as part of the rhythm engine-room and also as singer/composer.

With Daniel Gildenlow also on stage adding texture, depth and muscle to the overall sound and dynamics, well, it made for nearly three hours of prog perfection.

The best feature of all though is the way they interact and play off of each other. They were having fun out there and that makes all the difference because while they were, we could too.

And I did not mention that Portnoy decided to launch himself into the mosh pit during the second half, literally got carried aloft and was then safely returned to the stage afterwards.

We lost count of the standing ovations they received in part two for the rest of the set which included most of the Bridge Across Forever collection. No surprises then that the final curtain call lasted nearly five minutes.

It was breathtaking and brilliant; and I forgot to add, my former work colleague was also there. I caught up with him afterwards and had to laugh. Because remember what he has said to me 18 months previously? It just so happens the day jobs of the four members of Transatlantic are with Dream Theater, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard and yes, you’ve guessed it – Marillion!

Sunday 16 May 2010


This instalment is about inspiration and who you view as your guiding light. This is the person who uplifts you at the very mention of his or her name and who you may admire for a variety of reasons; or if you know this person, want to go that extra mile because you want to do your very best simply because they are who they are.

Well, I am going to have to park Jon Anderson for now and come back to him at a later time as he of course, is a major inspiration. (Never thought I would see myself writing that -about parking JA!)

After a brilliant 1805 Club AGM and Members' Forum yesterday, let me tell you about someone who sadly is no longer with us, but whose spirit was so strongly felt yesterday because we were holding the meeting on his "home turf".

Dr Colin White was Nelson's representative on earth -his own words, eloquently chosen as always. He was an academic, scholar, author, lecturer, teacher, museum director, thespian, performer, broadcaster, bon viveur - and so much more. Perhaps the nearest character to him would be Gareth in "Four Weddings and A Funeral" - they certainly had a similar taste in waistcoats!

Colin was Deputy Director at the Royal Naval Museum when I was Public Relations Officer at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and was the one person who completely conveyed the essence of Nelson in such a way that anyone who ever heard him talk about favourite subject, either formally or informally, was completely and totally hooked.

But his qualities went beyond his role as Nelson's emissary. He was generous to a fault, kind-hearted, larger than life, a great conversationalist and a man of devout Christian faith who also had a devilish sense of humour. During a very successful re-enactment of the Battle of Trafalgar at the dockyard, he said he would volunteer for the role of Nelson if the actor playing Capt Hardy was good-looking enough to kiss him!

The most poignant memory of all was at the end of the last-ever reception held on board HMY "Britannia" before she was decommissioned which was in aid of the Museum. Three of us hung on until the very end- Colin, yours truly and Peter Warwick, the 1805 Club's Chairman. We stood silently on an upper deck, staring out across Portsmouth Naval Base in the mists of the night. It was one of those defining moments in life.

Colin was also the kind of person who made your job easy. The media loved him and most of his interviews were done in "one take". And when a PR stunt to project an image of Nelson on Portsdown Hill outside Portsmouth involving a live television broadcast went horribly wrong, it was Colin who kept the show going by engaging the bewildered journalist in continuous discussion, while the disaster-in-the-making was being fixed.

As its former chairman and a Vice-President, he was also always the star at any 1805 Club event as everyone wanted to be close to Colin.

So when he was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2008, he stoically underwent a potentially life saving operation and carried on business as usual back at the Museum where he was now Director. But within four months, it was discovered the cancer had spread. Very poignantly, he died on Christmas Day at the tragically young age of 57.

However, in his own inimitable way, he astounded us all yet again literally from "beyond the grave". For the museum forwarded to all his closest friends, a letter he had written only a couple of days before his death, thanking us all for all our thoughts and prayers.

Well, I think you can fathom the magnitude of this wonderful, totally irreplaceable, unforgettable and ultimately very humble man. Not surprisingly, Portsmouth Cathedral was full for his memorial service and at the Museum reception afterwards, you almost felt he would burst through the door at any time and revel at seeing so many familiar faces gathering there in his honour.

He is still so desperately missed and he always joked he would be "the fly on the wall" at any meetings he could not attend. He was definitely there yesterday - and he would have been loving every moment of it........

Friday 14 May 2010

Holding out for a hero

Tomorrow is the annual meeting of The 1805 Club, the only organisation which conserves monuments and memorials to Georgian naval heroes, including Nelson, on whose Council I proudly serve as Honorary Press and Media Officer.

This has occasionally resulted in my being seen lurking around graveyards armed with a camera and a tape measure- and probably looking a bit self-conscious/shifty. This is simply so the Club can identify those tombs of fallen seafarers which need a bit of tlc. And well, a girl has got to have a hobby!

It all started when for seven glorious years, I had the privilege of being public relations officer at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the best job ever, and while there, and countless press trips around HMS Victory, I heard his story so many times and well, the little chap really had something going on there.

The one thing which really inspired me was the fact he came from the wilds of Norfolk, which even now is a four and a half hour drive from Winchester. So it was not just a case of strapping the Ford Focus to his derriere and hotfooting it down to the Admiralty every time a call came through to do something spectacular in the Med. There are no motorways in Norfolk even now but then... well, 18 hour amble in a horse and carriage down to the metropolis was as good as it was going to get.

That's something of the background, but the man himself. Simply a mass of seething contradictions, which makes him incredibly human and there's the initial appeal. Brought up as a parson's son, he had a premonition early on that he was destined for great things and gave a polar bear a run for its money when he was 13.

Vertically and later optically challenged - and a bit of a weed, he never had to refer to "Leadership for Dummies": he just had that gift. And as for his love life. He would have knocked Katie Price off the front page of the Sun on a regular basis and no mistake. Got caught up with the femme fatale of the age, put her in the family way and ended up living in a menage a trois with her and her ageing husband in the affluent surroundings of Merton, south London. It has all the hallmarks of one of the great tabloid stories. And there was much lampooning of his circumstances notably by the caricaturist James Gilray... especially when he started believing in his own publicity after he kicked the French into touch at the Nile.

Anyway, I digress. Well, he certainly went out in a blaze of glory, bless him, and the theory still persists that poncing around on the poop deck in your full admiral's uniform in full view of some Froggy sharpshooter is not a good career move - as it proved on this occasion. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, I was looking at the man high on his perch in Trafalgar Square last night (having seen a mocked up pic of him hours before sporting a scarf which said "Back the bid"). And on that theme, imagine all the headlines about to be written for the World Cup. I think you will find every other one will be along the lines of "England expects"! So he provides us with the national strapline if nothing else!

And that isn't the half of it....

To be continued...

The first of many......

Welcome to the first of many postings which are just random observations, ideas, thoughts and anything else which floats by in life which might warrant a quick chuckle.