Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Picture This?

Last weekend my buddy, Allan tagged me to post five black and white photographs over the next five days. I rarely take up any of the challenges that do the rounds on social media. Usually they involve having to posting snippets of a work in progress. These unanchored passages of writing serve no purpose and make little sense to anyone who reads them. This one was a little different and as such it intrigued me. Lord knows I’m no photographer, I don’t even own a camera, which kind of made me want to see what a rank amateur like me could achieve with nothing more than his phone.

Here are the results, only one of these was shot specifically for the challenge, the rest were found languishing on my memory card. I didn't use any filters or Photoshop trickery, just the software on the phone to convert color shots into black and white.   
Shelby Street Bridge, Nashville, TN
Day drinking on a Saturday afternoon

The OK Diner, Leominster, Wales

These people are my people, Alexandra Place, London

Midtown Manhattan
Those are my efforts, but if you want to see some really awesome black and white photography then check out the work of Jersey's finest, Mark Krajnak

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Nashville Skyline Rag

Back in July I was smoking a cigarette out on the fire escape of our vacation rental in downtown Nashville. It was late, or maybe early depending on what hours you keep. The heat of the day was radiating back at me from the old brickwork, the rust streaked metal still warm under my bare feet as I stood out there nursing my last can of Sam Adams and listening to the neon heartbeat of Lower Broad beating two blocks over. I think that was when I realized I had kind of fallen in love with the place. In an hour or so the sun would be up, the street cleaners hosing another rowdy night from the sidewalks outside the Honky-tonks and I would be sleeping it off, but that thought would endure.

Music City is just that. There must have been a dozen or more live bands playing within a five minute walk of where I was standing that night. While the bars of Lower Broadway and Second Avenue cater mainly for country-loving tourists, you can also find Blues, Rock, Jazz and pretty much everything in between if you care to look. There is a lot of history in Nashville, at least in musical terms. It might have once been a city that lived on that past, but now increasingly it lives in the moment.

Many who make the trip to the home of country music are on some kind of pilgrimage. That wasn’t why I came, I’m not really a fan of conventional country. I didn’t want to visit the hall of fame or the Opry, and I certainly didn't want to take a road trip out to Dollywood. My own personal hajji consisted of nothing more than maybe having a beer in the Tin Roof, the bar where Johnny Cash got loaded before famously kicking out the lights at the Ryman Auditorium (JR was many things and conventional wasn’t one of them.) Okay, so I guess the history played its part for me too, but it;s the kind of country present-day Nashville offers that interests me more. I was well aware of 'In the round' sessions at venues like The Listening Room and Bluebird CafĂ©. These have launched numerous careers and continue to showcase the wealth of local singer / songwriter talent, but what really surprised me was the quality of the acts playing the bars. These are accomplished and professional musicians in every sense except perhaps the most important one. Slots at the Honky-tonks mostly only pay in tips, or worse the bane of aspiring artists existence, exposure. 

Tom Petty once described modern country as bad rock music with a fiddle and once I might have been inclined to agree. It was Nashville based artists like Jason Isbell and Travis Meadows that changed my mind. I'm told that the city itself has changed too. Take a walk across the Shelby Street Bridge to the Eastside coffee shops and art galleries or wander around the artisan shops in the old Marathon Automobile factory and you can see this new vibrant Nashville for yourself. The town has a gravity all its own, which seems to be a draw for all kinds of creative people. Poets, artists, writers, and of course musicians now come from across the globe to work on their dreams by the banks of the Cumberland River. It might be the easy going nature of the place, or the need to be surrounded by like-minded people, who knows maybe it’s just the great BBQ. I’m not really sure what attracts them, but I know that whatever it is I felt it too.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Up and Down Colfax Avenue

They say you should never meet your heroes, that you’ll only end up disappointed. They could be right. For one thing I’m a little long in the tooth to have a hero in the first place. I’m also too cynical to believe I could have my heart broken by a book, but Willy Vlautin has done that at least twice. Last week I had the opportunity to meet him after a Delines gig in Newcastle and I wasn’t about to pass that up regardless of what ‘they’ might say.

If you have landed here by chance rather than design and don’t know who I’m talking about then allow me to enlighten you. Willy Vlautin is an author and a musician and one of the world’s best kept secrets. His band Richmond Fontaine have flown comfortably under the radar for years, and now his latest project, The Delines are rapidly becoming the best Alternative Country outfit you have never heard of. The combination of Willy’s story-telling lyrics coupled with the glorious world-weary vocal of Amy Boone produced one of the best albums of 2014 in Colfax. Given the fact that I’m unlikely ever to see Bruce Springsteen play a set at the Stone Pony then hearing those songs performed in a small, intimate venue like Newcastle’s Cluny 2 is about as close to perfection as live music is ever likely to get for me.  

But I digress, as much as I enjoy Willy Vlautin’s music, it’s his words that I really dig. I discovered his work by accident when looking for books set in my adopted state of Nevada. His first novel, The Motel Life (recently made into a darn good movie starring Emile Hirsch, Stephen Dorff & Dakota Fanning, which again went largely unnoticed) had a pretty big influence on my own stuff. His second, Northline is the novel I wish I could write. So when I noticed him hovering by the mech table after the gig I had to go over and risk both making a dick of myself and shattering my illusions of a guy I have admired for the best part of 10 years. I needn’t have worried, while I may have still been a dick, Willy was great. You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer, more genuine guy. We talked books for a while, discussed a mutual friend and to top things off I got a personally signed copy of The Motel Life.   

I’m not sure this story has a moral, but if it does then perhaps it’s that you shouldn’t believe everything ‘they’ tell you, or maybe just that it is still okay to have the odd hero, either way you should really go check out Willy Vlautin 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Help A Brother Out

I don’t know why it’s always the good people who seem to get dealt the worst hand, but they do.
Some of you who read this may know Craig McNeely personally, others will know him only as the man behind Double Life Press and of course most of you may not know him at all. No matter, you can take it from me that the McNeelys are good people. They are having a real tough time of it right now and they could really use your help. I’d like to ask you as a friend (because we are all friends here, right?) just to take a moment out of your day and read about Craig’s campaign and then consider making a donation.
If nothing else it will help to put your own troubles into some kind of perspective, at least it did for me.

Thank you, friends.