Friday, 20 April 2012

Ramble On - an obituary for Levon Helm

I've written this post over the last three days, and can't really articulate exactly what I want to say. Please forgive me if it's a little disjointed and soppy.

The first time I can vaugely remember listening to The Band was in a pushchair, being forced up Haverstock Hill to nursery. An early adopter of headphones, I was quick to commandeer my dad’s Walkman, and he wasn’t getting it back. I had managed to steal three tapes (in retrospect, they were probably just the ones I was allowed) and The Best of The Band was one of them. I didn’t know who any of the people were - reading liner notes wasn’t my strong point as a four year old - but I knew what I liked. Not long after, I got hold of a copy of Rock Of Ages - for my money one of the best live albums of all time.

"My biggest mistake was loving you too much and letting you know
Now you've got me where you want me and you won't let me go"

It was some years later that I discovered, to my surprise, joy and slight amazement, that the guy that sang all my favourite songs also played drums on all my favourite songs. Oh! The horse-gallop snare fills and precision ride cymbals came from the same place as that voice. Watching The Last Waltz only served to increase my wonder - sitting side-on, holding his drum sticks with a traditional grip and wailing into a microphone, this guy was it. He played drums with a real funk kick, and he sang like a bastard child of the blues and country music, and he managed to make it cool.

The Band’s break up is well documented, as is Helm’s first battle with throat cancer and recovery, so I won't go through it all again here. But his resurgence gave us his legendary Midnight Rambles (and their live recordings) and two studio albums, which have supplied much to enjoy. Anna Lee (a cover that appeared on 2007’s Dirt Farmer) in particular is a song that I have to be feeling particularly strong to listen to in order to be confident of remaining dry-eyed.

"I'll return to you, dear, in the dimming of day, as the sparrow returns to her nest
I'll return to you dreaming with each lullaby, hold your sweet weary head to my breast"

I could write for a lot longer, and I know I'll be thinking of things that I should have included in the post for the next few days, but I'm going to leave it. Suffice to say, in the passing of Levon Helm I feel I have lost one of my true heroes, and a musician who helped shaped my taste and identity as a listener and a performer. It is heartening to read all the comments from his friends, family and other musicians that paint him as such a kind, modest and talented man.

There were two tracks I had in mind for closing this post, but this one had to win out in the end. The joy you can hear in Levon’s voice, the band’s playing and the crowd’s reaction is infectious, and for me it’s one of those songs that after hearing once, will stick with me forever. Most important though, is the message - perhaps said in strong words - that today we can interpret with fitting sentiment: whilst we may have lost something wonderful, there is more to celebrate. The Battle Is Over, But The War Goes On.

R.I.P. Levon Helm, 1940 - 2012


Thursday, 24 February 2011

Not You Too?

I awoke this morning to the news that U2 had confirmed they were to headline Glastonbury. From the reaction that I encountered on the internet and from others around me, I garnered that they were going to be pushing the boundaries of what ‘headlining’ a festival entails.

U2 were to be the first band to headline EVERY SINGLE STAGE of Glastonbury AT THE SAME TIME.

Using a highly advanced set, made up of mechanical platforms, gigantic 3D video screens and two huge metal limes the size of zeppelins, Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and the drummer (the drummer is fine) will be whisked around the festival site whilst belting out over six hours of hits. Highlights are said to include The Edge playing a solo as he seemingly levitates between the Jazzworld Stage and the Stone Circle, and Bono performing with Chris Martin, whilst having full sex, in your tent.

I am, of course, joking. At least I hope so. But I am mystified as to how people are lambasting the festival as to its choice of headliners. I’ve heard phrases like “it’s the end of music” and the perennial “the festival has changed, man.”

Of course it has changed! So has Reading! So has the Isle of Wight festival! So has every single other major festival in the world! Get with the times granddad! You can’t operate an event of that size now without proper security and regulation. It’d be nice if it had been able to keep that hippy vibe, but it’s not possible, especially not in England. It is less than ten years since they were told the festival would be shut down unless they improved in several major areas, security being the main one. And it’s not like that culture has been wiped out of the festival. If you’ve spent a night in the Greenfields, you’ll know that locating people with long hair, strange clothes and drums to share bizarre concoctions of narcotics with isn’t exactly difficult.

Anyway, back to the music. I would say fairly confidently Glastonbury has the most diverse and decadent selection of music of any site in the whole world. For three days (or more if you arrive early) you can roam the vast fields watching performers from all arts and genres. You could watch one act every ten minutes and still not even scratch the surface of what’s on offer. You could spend the whole festival in the healing fields, eating well and getting massages and leave the festival feeling like you’d been to a spa. Or you could go and watch U2. It’s your call.

I would be the first to agree that it would have been nice to have Radiohead, Prince and the Rolling Stones headlining, but as a wise man once said (I forget who): “You can’t always get what you want.” Coldplay, although now a shadow of their former selves, were quite wonderful the first time they headlined the festival. Although now they seem to have lost their way, back then they were the small kids with something to prove, and that performance blew me (and almost everyone I’ve talked to who was there) away completely.

Say what you want about U2, but they’ve been one of the most successful bands in the world for over 20 years, with an army of devoted fans. I’m not saying this makes them a good by merit, but they’re obviously doing something right. And if you listen to their back catalogue with open ears, there are some fine songs in there. U2 and Coldplay are both bands that, whilst they maybe are more popular than their output warrants, both often fall foul of being acts that it’s fashionable to hate (though Bono does make it all too easy).

Beyonce will put on a hell of a show, and no mistake. Remember how Jay-Z deftly put the thousands that had spoken out against him in their places? I’m sure she’ll handle it with the same skill and panache. She’s got the tunes to back it up, and she can’t half sing and dance to boot.

Of course they could all be rubbish, but my main point is this – if you’ve ever set foot inside the festival, you’ll know that who is headlining doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. It’s great when there are good headliners, I’ve had a few religious experiences in front of the Pyramid Stage, but it’s not the making or breaking of the festival. There have been years where I’ve barely seen an act on the main stage. Go find some freaky afrobeat in a tent and get bonkered up like nutters on cans of warm lager. Munch some disco biscuits and meet likeminded people off their twats in one of the dance tents. Who fucking cares. Just go with a big group of mates and take the weekend off.

Glastonbury is one of the most special places on this earth. Don’t piss and whine about one tiny thing.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010


Finally The Beatles are available on iTunes. I'm very surprised at how many people (especially on Twitter) seem to be commenting on this like it is a boring announcement, that it's insignificant and irrelevant. In my opinion, that is a million miles from the truth. Rather than try and bat people off with various 140 character answers, I thought I'd stick my argument in a post here, in case anyone wanted to read.

The most significant part of today's announcement has very little to do with iTunes at all. The first line of this post may very well have read "Finally, The Beatles are available on the internet" because, up until today, they weren't. Even if you don't like The Fab Four, you cannot deny that they are one of the most successful bands of all time, and that their influence has shaped modern music in ways only a handful of artists have managed to. It must also be said the the internet is the most important new distribution tool for all media, and as we've seen illustrated by the industry's knee-jerk overreaction in the last ten years, especially music. Up until now, it was impossible to (legally) obtain any Beatles music on the internet. "Who care, I've got all the CDs" seems to be a popular argument, but I think we can all see that's very narrow minded. It is worth mentioning that iTunes is now the world's largest music retailer.

When did you discover The Beatles? I'm guessing the majority of you didn't catch them first time round. So when? 10 years ago? 20? 30? Was it on vinyl? Tape? CD? Just because we've all had their music for years, let's not forget about the children (and adults) who have yet to experience them. And everyone should give them a go. Some kids don't go to record shops anymore. To be honest, I don't go nearly as much as I used to. And a lot of people don't by music on physical media. Should they not be given access to the whole range of music out there?

The Beatles are part of our cultural heritage and rank among the most important artists Great Britain has ever produced. For once, Apple is right with all its fanfare - we should be celebrating the massively expanded availability of probably the most important body of work in popular music. Everyone should be glad that more people in more places will have the opportunity to engage with something so wonderful, not brushing it off as a boring announcement. If anyone out there thinks this is less important and exciting that the unveiling of a new Macbook or iPhone, then I'm sorry, but I think you're priorities are completely out of whack.

This is a great day for music. The only thing that anyone should be berating is that this catalogue has never been available over the internet up to this point.


Friday, 15 October 2010


I realise that the following could be seen as a gloat or a boast, but I assure you, it is not. I mean it to be encouraging. Maybe it isn't. Anyway, I can write what I want here, so shut up.

A year ago, I had recently moved back in with my parents. I had been living in London whilst attending university, and stayed on for some time afterwards, staying with kind friends and living off the dole/returned deposits. I did a bit of freelance work here and there, but nothing you could really call a job. I spent most of my time watching TV (I caught up with about 4 series of Doctor Who, among other things), writing music (none of which was particularly good because of very little focus) and drinking. Due to circumstances, I drank mostly string white cider. White Ace, Diamond White, White Dragon, you know the ones. Mostly 7.5% and at that point about 75p a can. I am good at drinking. It runs in the family somewhat. And coupled with years of the university lifestyle, I was managing to put on a bit of weight. Still, I made it through two sets of interviews to get down to the final two applicants for a job in charge of entertainments at a venue. Then I didn't get it*, then I didn't have any money, then I had to move home.

Anyway, I moved in with my parents. Two of my brothers still lived there too. It was a nice place to live, but tensions ran high - this was an environment I had left, and suddenly I was back there, as if I'd achieved nothing at all. I managed to keep up with a bit of work to do with music, but with London now on the end of an internet connection, it was much more difficult. I signed on to the dole. I spent all of my money on alcohol. I stayed in my room.

Now, this all sounds a little dramatic, I suppose. It wasn't. And a lot of good things came of it. In fact, everything came out of it. 

Firstly, I got to reconnect with friends that I hadn't seen properly for a long time. Trips to the pub with Ryan were better than going to any pub in London. Drinking ale or cider, buying roll-ups, stumbling up country lanes and listening to afrobeat, raiding wine stocks at our parents' houses, it was hilarious. Nights at Jack's arguing about whatever was the current topic, playing computer games or watching 80s action films into the early hours. Going dancing with Jess and Ed, making igloos with Johnny, Alex and Tom, we had an amazing time across the winter. But I still couldn't help but feel like I wasn't accomplishing anything. Mostly because I wasn't.

Anyway, the encouraging bit. I got a bit of work through a mate I'd met a few years ago and had helped out along the way a few times. There wasn't any money in it, but it was a couple of weeks driving around Europe working on gigs with a car full of nice guys, and because I wasn't paying rent or working, I could do it. As it turned out, it was a long, hard slog. It was great fun, and I met some wonderful people, but it was tough work, especially to someone who had essentially been a jobless drunk for the preceding six months. But I was professional, attentive and I did myself proud (there was an incident coming out of the Swiss mountains where everyone was nearly killed, but that aside, I aced it).

Due to being frugal, I managed to make a bit of money from the tour, which happily coincided with a friend having a very cheap room available in London. I moved in, paid the first month's rent and set about finding some work to tide me over. A couple of bits and pieces allowed me to just about get by in the city, even if things were tight.

Then, just as I thought any chance of more work with the company that organised the tour had disappeared, I got a call (whilst waiting for a bus) asking if I wanted to go out on another tour of Europe. The money wasn't amazing, but it was far more than I'd been used to earning in recent years, and this time there was no driving. I calmly accepted the offer, said goodbye and hung up the phone. I think I punched the air, in my mind looking like Rafa Nadal, in reality looking like a bespectacled man in South East London advertising himself as a prime candidate for mugging. I made a phone call to share my excitement and felt a whole lot better.

A few days after this, I was called into the office to go through the tour and also talk about 'something else'. I walked out of the office, in simple terms, with a job. It wasn't clearly defined, it wasn't salaried, but it was a job. A job in the music industry, no less. Happily, I had also arranged to meet a friend later that afternoon for a drink in a nice pub. That was a pretty bloody great day.

Anyway, here I am, I year after moving back in with my parents. I have been working in this job for about six months. It's not exactly what I want to do, but it's in the right area, and I've learnt so much this year that I couldn't even begin to tell you. I'm beginning to figure out how I might forge myself a career out of what I've been given. What I'm trying to say is this: my life was never awful, but just a year after feeling like my prospects were dead on the ground, I'm here. It's a lot easier to look back at being in that place than it is looking forward when you're there.

Just a thought.



* Incidentally, I recently ran into the person in charge of appointing this job (he has been a mate for a few years through an old workplace). He told me the guy they went for was an utter disaster and that he had been sacked fairly promptly. I'm much better suited to the job I have at the moment, and I'm not one to laugh at other people's misfortune, but it did make me feel a bit warm inside.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Life After Victor

Since Victor and George appeared on my blog, I've had over 1000 hits. To illustrate just how large this number is, before the two Ugandans emailed me, I'd had roughly 70 hits in total, which was an average of about four people reading each entry. Still, I suppose that's what happens when you post things that are a little more entertaining (and someone posting a link on bt3a certainly helped things along a bit).

Anyway, how do you follow up such an interesting exchange? I'm not just going to keep replying to email fraudsters in an attempt to keep my view count ticking along. Maybe I'll do it once a year. Maybe I'll get back in contact with Victor* every birthday, see how he's getting on.

I'm going to post regularly with stuff, like everyone sets out to do in the first place. See if 1000 people are still interested in what I'm saying if it doesn't involve thieves and taxis.

*Incidentally, I only yesterday had the sense to google Victor. I'd always assumed he was using a fake name, but it's hardly subtle when you choose Victor Uwaifo.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Beginning of the End

I know it's been a while since the last update, and I'm sorry Victor-fans, but I've been busy and in a strange kind of internet hell thanks to BT and the Japanese Embassy in Los Angeles. Don't ask. Over the last few days, I have thought a great deal about Victor and George, and have discussed this exchange with many people. ANYWAY, following Victors last email, I replied thusly:

Hello Victor and George,

I am very sorry, I have been away for the weekend! I went to see my parents, and they don't have the internet, so I did not get tour messages until I came back today.

I hope you are not upset George, I do not mean to make your angry or crying at all. I am very pleased that you are trying to help me get my prizes, and I am sorry that I have not been able to give you my banking details, but the bank that I am trying to open have not given me my account yet. I don't think they are a very good bank who treat people well. It is a shame.

You are right about London, I sometimes do like to enjoy a restaurant in the evening, if I can afford it. The pubs here are very good to, you can go there to meet people and to drink some beer, I am sure you like to do it too!

How could you help me to set up my own bank account?

Thank you very much George and Victor,

Dan Beames

My feelings after sending this became quite clear - firstly, this was not really fun (or funny) anymore. There is only so long you can mock someone's English and stall them from learning your true intentions. Whilst it had been a laugh gently mocking Victor and publicly airing his attempts at fraud, I now felt dishonest. And this whole thing has kind of run it's course really. I don't see how it could go further without some details or money being handed over, and that's just a bad idea. After a few days of silence, I figured the Victor had probably worked me out, and decided to stop replying.

Until Sunday.

There he is again, in my inbox. And as I read what I expect will be his final ever contact with me, I couldn't help but feel a bit emotional. I'm not sure how best to sum it up, so here is what he had to say:

Sir Beams,

Finally we are saying goodbye.  We can have been trying to help you all this time but we are noticing that you do not want help or prizes.  Think not sadly for George he is a happy man as are all men from Uganda.

And are computer records show that you are a guitar boy.  This is a fine profession and we are thinking you all the best in this.

And finally we say to you that when we travel through London we sometimes are traveling on the under streets railways, and we must always remember that this has many names and you, can find myself and George here for your pleasures.

Yours Sincerley,

Victor Uwaifo
Head of Goverment Tax Refunding

Sure, he spelt my name wrong. And I can't really work out what the last paragraph means. If anyone can shed some light on it, I'd be interested to hear your theories. I'm pretty sure he googled my name and found my music MySpace, it's the first thing that comes up. And I was very glad to hear that George was not upset. Like all men from Uganda, he is a happy man - "Think not sadly for George" actually strikes me as a beautiful turn of English phrase. I'm thinking about making it the first line of my one man play. That I'll never write or produce.

I feel like maybe I should write something back to Victor, and I may well do in the next few days. But whatever it is, it will be an epilogue to this tale. Finally Victor and I can look at each other in the light of day as what we really are: A Ugandan con-man and a guitar boy.

And I think we're both happy with who we are.


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Shit just got real

Guys, I think I might have to put an end to this. I thought it was just a bit of fun, but Victor's most recent email has made it painfully clear that I have been behaving in an inconsiderate and selfish way. Now, Victor is a tough cookie, he isn't bothered about all of this. He could take anything that I threw at him, and then some. He's a man. He'd just deal with it.

But George. Oh George. Poor, sweet George.

He is but a child in this brutal world of taxis, cattle and Sun Accountants. And I've upset him. Try to remain dry-eyed as you read the latest in this increasingly emotional journey:

Good morning Sir Beames,
We here at the head office in London are very unhappy that we still have not received your banking details in order for us to process your prizes for taxis.  We are upset to think that we have been all working so very very hard and yet we do not get the job completed.  George himself is so upset that he is not working so long that you have no taxis that he says we should give you more prizes.  We have so many other prizes to give away, that we cannot spend longer with your taxis.  this is in addition to it no still being your birthday, and as you know your name will be lower on our tax lists for prizes.  Do you remember our advise for spending the prizes?  Thinking that you could buy many things.  Our records show that you work in the days, so you will be able to spend your prizes in the nights, so restarants are easy for you or times at the night bars that we all sometimes enjoy in London.
We know that you are still wanting your taxis but are just a very busy man, and cannot always spend his time.  So please, so that we can process your prizes for taxis please send us your banking details and secret questions.  I am trusting on you not to upset George.
Yours Sincerley,
Victor Uwaifo
Head of Goverment Tax Refunding

This was received on Saturday, so It's been a while. I think Victor is starting to get nervous. I will reply later on today to continue the dialogue.

I wonder how long we can keep George off work for?