Thursday, 28 November 2013

My Christmas

As some of you might know over the last few years I have volunteered at Crisis Skylight Newcastle on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Crisis asked be to write a blog about my experience for an internal volunteers website. I thought some of you might what to have a read so I have posted it on my blog.

 "So Crisis have asked me to blog about my experience at volunteer at Crisis at Christmas and as I type I have no idea what I might say as a wave of emotions and memories have descended on me and it’s very hard to put them into the order as this year will be my 5th year of volunteering and therefore the events seem to have been filed into one big Crisis file so some of these events may be a bit mixed up, so you’ll have to give me some artistic license!

I started volunteering in 2009 purely for selfish reasons, just out of a long term relationship I was alone and Christmas and decided I needed something to fill my time in. I quick search of the internet for volunteering opportunities led me Crisis Skylight and that was the start an application form and a short induction later I was walking across the Tyne Bridge early on Christmas Morning ready for my first shift totally oblivious as to what was waiting for me.

Nothing anybody can tell you will prepare you for your first ever shift at Crisis it will so far removed from anything you can imagine however it will be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

I remember in my first year volunteering in the cafĂ©, one of the busiest areas at Christmas. I was front of house tasked with talking to guests and making them feel welcome and explaining what was available at Crisis over the Christmas period. After talking to a few guests who were really happy and full of the Christmas spirit I approached one guest why was sitting on his own and asked him if he wanted to talk and was told in no uncertain terms that he didn’t!  I didn’t give up and kind of saw it as a challenge. I suggested that he when to the clothes room as I noticed that he had no socks on and again his response was for me to go and talk to someone else. I got him a tea and just sat with him and eventually he began to speak, all he wanted was to be warm, he didn’t want to talk to anybody he just wanted to warm up, he was HIV positive and struggled to keep warm, he was too tired to walk to the clothes bank and really didn’t want to be sociable because quite frankly he didn’t feel like he had anything to be sociable about. I went to the clothes room and got him some socks and some jumpers and a fleece in the hope that this would warm him up and we encouraged him to have some food which he did. I would like to say by the end of the day he was joining in and have a great time like most of our guests but that would be a lie and in truth I never saw that guest ever again, however hopefully and maybe only for a few minutes I hope that he felt somebody cared and for a few hours at least he felt warm.

I remember being promoted to be a Volunteer Area Leader on Boxing Day of my first year on the basis that some volunteers hadn’t turned up and I said I could use operate a radio, in truth I didn’t have a clue but all boys think they can operate a radio! 'DO YOU COPY', 'ROGER OVER AND OUT', you see I can use a radio! Things don’t always go to plan at Crisis, volunteers don’t turn up, keys get lost we run out of toilet roll, all the guests arrive at the same time, volunteers decide they need to leave early and when these things happen we just have to do the best we can and that’s the fun of it. 

Over the years I have got more and more involved with Crisis at Christmas getting involved in planning and helping arrange the event prior to it happening, looking for donations and recruiting volunteers. I have always done 2 shifts one on Christmas Day and one on Boxing Day and I have to admit I usually sleep for a 16 hours after my Boxing Day shift as I’m shattered. I have done various roles on the day from volunteer to Volunteer Shift Manager. All roles are very similar in that the main purpose of being there is to make sure that the guests have a good time, I guess that the higher up the chain of command you get the little bit more responsibility you get until you can’t ask anybody else for help you just need to make the decision. The role of a VSM will be easy if they have a good set of volunteers working with him as then most of the decisions are already made for them. Sometimes being a VSM means you get to deal with all the problems and therefore it can have its moments of stress but when the final bus comes back and the key is turned on the door lock for another year the sense of achievement is huge.

Things stick out in my memory that remind me why I keep doing this, I remember in 2010 our first guest arrived at 7.15am in the morning (we don’t open until 8am) She was 18 and when I asked her why she was her so early her response was she had nowhere else to go. That same year an old lady from Byker came in on the bus, she was in her 80’s and was alone on Christmas Day she stayed for some lunch and got some new clothes and a Christmas present and got the bus home after a couple of hours. These guests show the wide range of people that rely on Crisis at Christmas for very different reasons both equally important.

I can’t pretend that it’s all fun watching some people walk away into the night on Boxing Day know that they have nowhere to stay doesn’t get any easier no matter how many years I do this. I have had unblock toilets, mopped up sick and sorted out the odd scuffle over the years, however every year I come back because it feels like I’m doing something worthwhile, and when I guest says to you that he cannot understand why anybody would give up their time in order to do something for them you understand exactly why you are doing it and why it doesn’t matter if you have to unblock a toilet or mop the floor because hopefully you have made a different to somebody and made them realise that somebody does care about them."







Thursday, 14 March 2013

Music Purchases February

The Webb Brothers – Maroon I’m pretty sure these guys are the siblings of Jimmy Webb, writer of Wichita Lineman, By The Time I Get To Phoenix and McArthur Park so they have so way to go to match their Father’s talents. All the review tell me this is a great album and it only cost me £1 so here is hoping....

David Gray – The EP’s 92-94 Gray is one of those artists that if somebody asked me if I was a fan I’d say “ yeah I like him but I’m not a huge fan” well this is my 10th David Gray CD so I guess I have to revise that statement. An album of his early EP doesn’t dip in quality and shows you what the artist was producing prior to his escalation into the charts.

Julia Fordham – The Collection I thought I had a bit of a soft spot for Julia Fordham as I had a few CD singles but in the early 90’s. This purchase proves that maybe I had carried this fondness falsely. The songs aren’t that strong and the arrangements are a bit clunky, Fordham has a great voice but I understand now why we don’t hear from her now.

Roachford – Get Ready For those who don’t know Roachford they were a late 80’s early 90’s band that incorporated soul, rock and pop to have a string of hit singles the biggest I guess being Cuddly Toy. After the hits dried up lead singer Andrew Roachford released an album of nu-soul (Matters of The Heart Vol.1) before reforming the band of one last album before they gave it. This purchase is really just filling in the gaps in his collection for me. Andrew Roachford can now be seen fronting Mike & The Mechanics. A food note after playing this I understand why I didn’t have this CD it’s fairly ropey and has already disappeared into the charity bag.

Pearl Jam – Vitalogy - Filling the gaps of my Pearl Jam collection a band I love whether you think they are cool or not.

Phil Campbell – Fresh New Life - Saviour’s Song – Joy, Daddy’s Chair - Phil Campbell started producing music under the name of White Buffalo many years ago, he then released a number of critically acclaimed albums that didn’t really sell and a few months ago I was bemoaning the fact that he was properly pulling pints in some pub in Glasgow wondering what went wrong. Turns out I wasn’t far wrong however at the end of last year he decided to form a new band The Temperance Movement and who I think will be big this year. I have managed to pick up a couple of his old albums cheaply as I think there might be a rush on them soon....

The Temperance Movement – The Pride EP see my last note re Phil Campbell this is a great 6 track EP, shades of The Black Crowes, soul drenched blues rock is how I would describe their sound. Remember the name I think you might hear it a lot this year.

Simone White – I Am The Man chilled modern folk, I have been wanting to look this artist up for a while and this album doesn’t disappoint. 

The Swell Season – Pure Joy Bought after an amazing Glen Hansard gig this is a brilliant album which Glen has recorded under one of his many guises.  Top notch song writing from the Irishman who just gets better and better.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Music Purchases December and January

Various Artists – Silent Night, Tiny Lights another addition to my growing pile of Christmas albums this is an album released by a great North East label (Tiny Lights) and is 19 tracks of the great and the good of the North East music scene contributing with their version of a Christmas song. Highlights are The Futureheads – Christmas Was Better In The 80’s and The Lake Poets – Johnny Guitar but in truth this is a great album full of gems, get a copy now for next year you won’t regret it.

Bill Withers – The Complete Sussex & Columbia Albums this is a 9 CD box set which basically is all of Bills musical output before he turned his back on the music industry. I’m a huge fan and although I already had some of his albums this is worth every penny as you can’t buy a lot of these albums individually. If all you know of Wither’s is Lovely Day all I can say is there is so much more to his work aside then that slice of summer soul. His honesty of lyrics and his song subject matter is often very different than most soul artists, I Can’t Write Left Handed (written after meeting a wounded Vietnam war veteran) is a case in point.

Led Zeppelin – Celebration Day after catching an edited version of the gig on TV decided I only needed the CD version of the hallowed 2007 reunion gig (only so much of Jimmy Page’s sex face you can take) After listening to the album a number of times I’m kind of glad they didn’t reform, it’s good but not great, and just makes you wish you had seen them in the 70’s.

Tommy Bolin – Teaser I have been trying to track down an album by Deep Purple called Last Concert In Japan which included Bolin (he briefly replaced Ritchie Blackmore in Purple) playing a beautiful version of a song called Wild Dogs a haunting rock ballad, having given up trying to get the album I decided on a solo Bolin album as recommended by @fatfish59 on twitter. It’s an absolute gem of an album a mix of rock jazz and funk with Bolin’s guitar playing at the forefront of the music. A misguided soul who died of a drug seems to fit a lot of the artists I like but this guy was a guitar genius. Worth looking out for.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill I often think most artists get to a certain age and then their musical output seems to deteriorate in quality but not Young he keeps pushing out new music at an amazing rate and always seems to be pushing himself musically. Role on June when I get to see him live for the first time.

Porcupine Tree – Octane Tree live album by a band that are rockier end of my musical tastes. Complete performance of their album The Incident plus addition disc of ‘best of’ best listened to very loudly.

Van Halen – Van Halen 37 minute debut that introduced Eddie Van Halen and friends to the world. Over the last 30 years Van Halen may have changed forms a number of times and at times become a bit of a parody of themselves but this album had great tunes and a real energy to it.

Yes –The Yes Album bought after reading an article on ‘How to Buy’ I thought the £3 price tag warranted the purchase. Not use if I’m a fan of Yes or not but enjoyed this album although not sure I’ll play it that much.

Kathryn Williams – Little Black Numbers adopted Geordie whose Husband runs a cafe in Newcastle Williams releases album after album to critical acclaim, file under nu-folk if yu want, but really just great tunes delivered without pomp or drama.

City And Colour – Bring Me Your Love this artist was recommended to me who saw them on One Tree Hill and I’m listening to them now as I type. I bought 5 albums today and yet have had this one on repeat since I put it on tells you all you need to know. A great album of acoustic tunes which has me searching for the rest of their albums. Subsequently bought Sometimes.

Band of Horses – Mirage Rock 4th album is a bit of a departure for the band and has a more acoustic feel to it. It hods to laurel Cnayon circa 1970 which isn't a bad thing for me.

Lucy Rose – Like I Used To an artist that passed me by for most of 2012 until I realised she was the female vocalist on Bombay Bicycle Club’s Leaving Blues. Now I realise this was a big mistake!

The Wallflowers – Glad All Over return to a full band for Jakob Dylan after a couple of solo albums. Mick Jones who features on a couple of tracks which is always a good thing. Jakob will never reach the heights of his father but he does write a good tune full of hook laden choruses.

Rufus Wainwright – Out Of The Game I lost track of Wainwright’s music after Release The Stars as he disappeared into a world of Judy Garland and Opera but this album produced by Mark Ronson brings him back to where he belongs in my opinion. Great tunes and intelligent lyrics all delivered with swagger and a glint in his eye.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

2012 My Year In Gigs

So the facts and figures for 2012 look a bit like this;
35 gigs and 2 (mini) festivals
24 headline artists seen for the first time
11 headline artists seen previously.
21 support acts that I can remember
11 different venues
2 Artists seen more than once Danny and The Champions of the World & Karima Francis (3 times each)
6 different towns/cities
£420 spent on gig tickets (excluding booking fees)
Cheapest ticket £6.50 Ellen and the Escapades (excludes a couple of free gigs/guest lists)
Most expensive ticket £55 Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band
Average ticket price £12 (you see live music doesn’t have to be expensive!)

Headline Artists Seen   (In no particular order)
North Mississippi Allstars                                                             
The Big Dish
Dr John
Explosions In The Sky
Boo Hewedine
James Vincent McMorrow
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins
The Smoke Fairies
The Trews
We Are Augustines
Cherry Ghost
Newton Faulkner
The Leisure Society
Danny and the Champions of The World (3)
Michael Kiwanuka
The Lake Poets
Simone Felice Group
Ryan Adams
Chuck Prophet
Karima Francis (3)
Alabama Shakes
Admiral Fallow
Bruce Springsteen
Vintage Trouble
Ellen and the Escapades
The Civil Wars
Jack Savoretti
Grizzly Bear
Alex Cornish
Father John Misty

Support Acts Seen
King Jim
Phantom Limb
Lanterns on The Lake
Prison Library
Bears Den
Colour The Atlas
John Grant
Billy Vincent
The Staves
Union Choir
Natasha Haws
Simi Stone
Jeb Loy Nichols
The Lumineers

Favourite Gigs of the Year.

Danny and the Champions of the World The Central Pub Gateshead. One of my favourite bands in one of my favourite pubs, the last gig of the tour on a Saturday night sold out and sweat dripping off the walls. A great gig from a band I have seen many times but this seemed special, final encore of These Days had the support band dancing with locals down the front of the stage. Great night.
The Big Dish – Glasgow O2 Academy I missed seeing these guys 27 years ago when they supported Big Country as I was in the pub and have regretted it ever since. Reformed for a one off gig as part of Celtic Connections I was front and centre for this gig and it didn’t disappoint. Playing to a partisan audience it was worth the wait.
The Alabama Shakes – Manchester Methodist Hall A trip to Manchester to see a band is always a treat and this was a great gig, maybe not perfect but there was a real buzz about seeing this band as they started to break the UK.  The trip was also noticeable for winning tickets to see the Olympics but that’s another story all together....
James Vincent McMorrow – The Sage Gateshead (Hall 2) My favourite venue in the North East and I nearly forgot about this gig as it was so early in the year. JVM just gets better and better and live with a full band was truly amazing. Can’t wait for the new album.
Efterklang and North Sinfonia – The Sage Gateshead (Hall 1) bought on a whim this gig made me smile from start to finish, Efterklang’s Piramida album played with the backing of a full orchestra was just awe inspiring. The support was John Grant which says a lot about the quality of this gig.

.....And The Biggest Disappointments
Dr John I have seen him many times and sadly he this will be my last, a little bit tired to many band solo’s left me looking at my watch hoping it would finish.
King Creosote and Jon Hopkins they admitted they were badly hungover and it showed.
Grizzly Bear not for the gig (it was great) their on line comments afterwards ended up with my tweets on the NME website but let’s not get into that again....