This month: two summers 20 years apart, why the new Rush album is so good, and a bit about Ted.
We had our twice-yearly burst of sunshine in May and I made the most of it. I knew it was coming – it’s been lovely in the late Spring in Manchester for the last five years running – so I was prepared. By the end of it I had gone a lovely brown colour and looked healthy for the first time since..... well.... last May!
The barbecue saw significant action. Friends came over and much laughter was heard, fun had and frolics engaged in. During the day I ensured all my work meetings were outside coffee shops, or in piazzas, or in scenic places. Anywhere but inside. It was a great fortnight.
One Saturday morning, whilst everyone else slept, I lay on a sunbed in the garden soaking up the warmth of the rays. I started to think of hot summer days from my past, and about holidays. As I drifted into that place between awake and sleep I remembered lazy days on the beach in Guernsey, playing with my children on the soft sand of Alcudia, and getting burned to a crisp in Minorca.
Drumming with Peanut Butter Spliff, Summer 1992
I dreamt of the summer of 1992, the very best summer of them all. I had spent three years working for a bank and a firm of investment managers and had turned into a City of London geek. Life was becoming too serious too quickly – and I knew I needed to stem the tide. So I applied to University and, being classed as a mature student, circumnavigated the UCAS system and landed a place at S. Martin’s College in Lancaster with the bonus of an automatic full grant. The sensible thing would have been to remain at the firm of investment managers over the summer and build up a stash of cash to take to Lancaster. But being young, foolish and excited I quit my job in the May and decided I would start my student experience early.
I needed some foolishness and excitement. My girlfriend and first proper love had disappeared off to Africa for six months and I was heartbroken. I sat around and sulked for a month then realised there was no point moping until she got back. Once I’d gotten a grip of myself the fun began.
The hubs of everything in the summer of 1992 were two pubs – the Phoenix & Firkin at Denmark Hill and the Crown & Greyhound (or the Dog as we all called it) in Dulwich Village. Turn up at one of them and you knew something crazy would come of it. The Phoenix & Firkin had the advantages of being opposite where I lived and selling the most lethal cider I’ve ever encountered, the legendary Dogbolter. Weekend nights would involve sitting on the steps outside having the crack before the designated driver (usually good old Andy Dyer or Toby Ashong!) would take us up to the South Bank beside the River Thames. Someone would get an acoustic guitar out and we’d drink cans and run riot. If there was no driver around we’d end up jumping the gate into Ruskin Park, 5 minutes walk from the Phoenix & Firkin, fearless and boisterous and full of ourselves.
Guernsey, Summer 1992
As the summer progressed I changed. I started growing my hair and wearing surplus army gear and Doc Martens. I got contact lenses. I turned from cider to beer, smoked a few joints before deciding I didn’t like them (I was always sick), immersed myself in grunge and partied whenever I could. Me, Mikey and Giles would hit the Venue in New Cross or head up town to the Web at the Astoria. There were so many house parties at homes across Denmark Hill and East Dulwich. Mark Ezekiel and I would go tearing around South London on our motorbikes before heading back to his house to drink by his pool. I went to some legendary gigs. If ever I needed a day off to recuperate I’d go see a film at the Prince Charles cinema in Leicester Square, or head to the Record & Tape Exchange or Reckless Records to buy second hand stuff. Camden Market became a regular haunt. The band I was in – Peanut Butter Spliff – played the best gig of our career in a rehearsal room and the set included the first (and so far only) song I ever wrote.
Midway through that summer Giles and I took off for Guernsey, staying at his friend Ella’s house in the South West of the Island. We hired a scooter which I managed to crash twice. The weather was awesome and many days were spent chilling on the beach, usually with a beer not too far out of reach. My friends on the island, Mike and Pearl, took us over to Herm on their yacht. I distinctly remember watching some incredible sunsets and never wanting to leave.
Soon after getting back to London my girlfriend arrived back from Africa. A few days later we were at the Reading Festival together watching PJ Harvey, Public Enemy, Ride, Mudhoney, Nirvana and a host of other great bands. Caked in mud and squeezing into the world’s smallest tent we were so happy to be together again. It was all so good, and the perfect way to end a landmark summer.
Corralejo Grandes Playas, July 2012
This July I had a holiday to rival that: two weeks in Corralejo in northern Fuerteventura that seemed to last forever but now, a fortnight later, are already a distant memory. The second largest Canary Island, but with the lowest population of all of them, it is located 60 miles off the coast of Africa’s Western Sahara meaning the weather is always scorching. During that fortnight we saw no rain, very light cloud that always burned away by mid morning, and nothing else other than a minimum 30 degree temperature and wall to wall sunshine. The island benefits from a continual light breeze that takes the edge off the searing heat, allowing many stunning days on the sandy beaches catching rays and playing in the surf.
Whilst tourism is the island’s key industry Corralejo remains relatively untouched. Yes there were restaurants and bars and souvenir shops but they weren’t overwhelming. There was none of the skinheaded, tattooed, Union Jack shorts-wearing culture that marred Minorca for me. The locals don’t go into hiding in Corralejo, they are in the majority.
I make friends easily........
Taking aside the beach we did so many other things during that fortnight. We drove dune buggies through the volcanic hills to El Cottilo. We visited Isla de Lobos, a small island and nature reserve a mile off the coast of Fuerte, where Zoe and I walked the entire length of the thing. We spent two hilarious days at Baku Water Park, jumping off of castle battlements and tearing down water slides. We ate well and drank well, and made the most of the pool attached to our apartment complex. We listened to James Gillespie performing at the Rock Island Bar, and played pool at Clarkie’s Bar. I fell in love with Casper’s cocktail shack, and particularly their fine Mohitos. We had a barbeque with family, washed down with honey rum. It was all idyllic and chilled and perfect. We didn’t want to go home. But I know for sure we’ll be back there soon.
On 4th June I heard Clockwork Angels, Rush’s 19th full-length album, for the first time in the company of the Usual Suspects. It was truly fantastic to sit in the lounge that afternoon with Messrs Zedskin, Barchetta, Captain Ron and Terr Berr for our debut listen. Is it any good? Oh god yes. Closing song The Garden made three of them cry. First listens to Rush albums are always a bit surreal. There’s the excitement of hearing new material, the elation when bits of mindblowing musicianship jump out and take your head off, and the understanding and realisation that Rush albums take at least 10 listens to make any real sense. It was the same this time round.
Listening to Clockwork Angels for the first time, 4.6.12
Two months and over 100 plays later I now know the album inside out and am ready to declare it their finest release since 1989’s Presto. There is a certain je ne sais quoi that has been missing from their albums over the last 25 years, what Billy Gibbons once described as “special sauce”. The trio sound fired up, and the whole thing reeks of a desire to release a properly belting album in the autumn or early winter of their careers. Kudos to producer Nick Raskulinecz whose enthusiasm and willingness to challenge the band to up their game has paid real dividends. Clockwork Angels has it all. Rambunctious musicianship – Geddy Lee’s basslines motoring and his voice now a comfortable baritone, Neil Peart’s untamed drumming belying the fact he turns 60 next month), and Alex Lifeson’s continual exploration of sonic landscapes without which they couldn’t record a song as unique, different and downright barefaced as the title track. There are nods to Rush’s past in the form of earthshaking bass pedals and stolen snippets from songs they released almost 40 years ago. And yet Clockwork Angels is a thoroughly modern, and very brave rock album. The critics seem to love it, and the American public bought it in droves making it a Number 2 album on the Billboard 100. And most importantly, I adore it. They didn’t let me down. Roll on the tour!
Nick Raskulinecz, Genius. Oh, and Alex Lifeson......
So what else is new? Since that purple patch in May the weather has sucked as expected, and most of May and June was about holding it together until my much-needed holiday. There’s been some good stuff on the telly: HBO’s Veep and Christopher Eccleston’s Blackout to name just two. Filmicly I saw Ted at the cinema and rattled like a drain, and marvelled at The Dark Night Rises. I’ve started exercising and taming the lard intake a bit in an attempt to stem the tide of my increasing waistline.
I’m trying to make the most of what I’ve got. And that’s quite enough for now.