Monday, 11 January 2016


There will be millions of words written today on how David Bowie impacted upon the lives of millions more. That's a clumsy sentence but the world feels slightly less magical today and it's affecting me.

I was about 3 when I first saw Bowie. The gatefold sleeve of Aladdin Sane. My parents couldnt afford many records. So this one must have been one they needed to buy. And the sight of this naked silver andrgoyne with his proto-Potter flash of make up is a core memory, as Joy from Inside Out might have it. This image and the sounds that emanated from my dad's tinny Fidelity record player (4 speeds!) are enough - I am in love with pop music.

I find out that Bowie is from just down the road, my dad went to school with him. My mum sells his mum fags and newspapers at RG Haines. He had awful teeth, so did I. I felt a connection.

Ashes to Ashes goes to number 1, I'm 9 and the most terrifying, gripping, strangely upsetting pop video I have seen at this point of my life is Top of the Pops.

1983, I am 12. I've started getting pocket money and buy a new 7" single each week. Bowie is the first artist that I buy more than one record buy. Let's Dance, China Girl, Modern Love. Pop music. I can't tell the world how cool I am because that same year I buy records by Toto, Men at Work and Culture Club.

We grew apart, Dave and me. I discovered all the bands he inspired - Joy Division, Smiths, etc. I never get my teeth fixed and my indeterminate gender issues are a problem not worth sharing with anyone in the tiny Ceredigion village where I find myself as a teenager.

I left school and went to college. The kid in the next room to mine plays Queen Bitch continually on his guitar. One night, you and your mate The Monk, fed up with playing James records to student teachers, stick Low on and leave the album to play in its entirety. You are amused, no one else is.

You get older, Bowie songs get on the radio, you turn them up and sing along. Streaming allows the world to jump in and out of that glorious back catalogue. You make a mental note to see him live if he ever returns to the stage. You play Changes and Oh You Pretty Things to your little girl. She loves them.

One morning, you turn on your phone and Twitter tells you David Bowie is dead. 2 days after dropping a new LP. Cancer. He knew it was the end. Social media explodes with genuine heartfelt grief and you find yourself for the first time sobbing for a star you never met.

Bowie lived the most extraordinary of lives. Carpe Diem doesnt do it justice. His death robs us of an artist whose best work may yet have been to come. When I found myself crying to The Prettiest Star earlier I realised I wasnt crying just for him, but for me. All the times I could have reinvented myself, created something, done anything even remotely out of the blue and I didnt. I chose to live an ordinary life because only the brave do otherwise.

Rest in peace, David. Everyone says Bye.

Note: A personal Bowie playlist here

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

100 best songs of the 1980s.

Inspired by NME's list this week, I thought I'd give it a crack myself.

I set myself the restriction of only allowing myself one song per artist otherwise there might only be five or six groups in it.

Anyway, here they are.

A Perfect Circle – R.E.M

Ace of Spades – Motorhead

All of My Heart – ABC

Atomic – Blondie

Automatic – Pointer Sisters

Back to Life – Soul II Soul

Beat Surrender – Jam

Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

Blueboy – Orange Juice

Bone Machine – Pixies

Bow Down – Housemartins

Box Elder – Pavement

Bridge to Your Heart – Wax

Buffalo Stance – Neneh Cherry

Cattle and Cane – Go-Betweens

Destroy The Heart – House of Love

Don’t You Want Me – Human League

Eardrum Buzz – Wire

Electricity – OMD

Embarrassment – Madness

Everyday is Like Sunday – Morrissey

Fairytale of New York – Pogues

Fantasy Island – Tight Fit

Final Day – Young Marble Giants

Freak Scene – Dinosaur Jr.

Geno – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Getting Away With It – Electronic

Ghost Town – Specials

Good Life – Inner City

Goody Two Shoes – Adam Ant

Greetings to the New Brunette – Billy Bragg

Hilly Fields (1892) – Nick Nicely

I Feel For You – Chaka Khan

IOU – Freeez

Just Making Memories – Black

Just What I Needed – Cars

Kennedy – Wedding Present

Left to My Own Devices – Pet Shop Boys

Let’s Go Crazy – Prince

Life During Wartime – Talking Heads

Like A Prayer – Madonna

Love Like Blood – Killing Joke

Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division

Manhattan Skyline – A-ha

Master Blaster – Stevie Wonder

Me, Myself and I – De La Soul

Megablast – Bomb The Bass

Mirror In The Bathroom – Beat

Modern Love – David Bowie

Never Understand – Jesus and Mary Chain

New Sensation – INHS

Our Lips Are Sealed – Fun Boy Three

Pacific State – 808 State

Paid In Full – Eric B and Rakim

Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode

Pump Up The Volume – M/A/R/R/S

Rebel Without A Pause – Public Enemy

Ride On Time – Black Box

Rush Hour – Jane Wiedlin

Sewing The Seeds of Love – Tears for Fears

Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye

She Bangs The Drums – Stone Roses

Shipbuilding – Robert Wyatt

Situation – Yazoo

Song to the Siren – This Mortal Coil

Sorry for Laughing – Josef K

Sorry Somehow – Husker Du

Straight Outta Compton – NWA

Strange Day – Cure

Talkin All That Jazz – Stetsasonic

Teardrops – Womack and Womack

Teen Age Riot – Sonic Youth

Temptation – Heaven 17

The Boy in the Bubble – Paul Simon

The Classical – The Fall

The Crown – Gary Byrd

The Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen

The Mercy Seat – Nick Cave

The Perfect Kiss – New Order

The Reflex – Duran Duran

The Sensual World – Kate Bush

The Show – Doug E Fresh

The Sun Rising - Beloved

There She Goes – La’s

Trumpton Riots – Half Man Half Biscuit

Two Tribes – Frankie Goes To Hollywood


Unsatisfied – Replacements

Veronica – Elvis Costello

Vienna – Ultravox

Voodoo Ray – A Guy Called Gerald

Waltz Darling – Malcolm McClaren

Wednesday Week – Undertones

What Difference Does It Make – Smiths

Where the Streets Have No Name – u2

White Lines – Grandmaster Flash

Who’s That Girl – Eurythmics

Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) – Scritti Politti

Wrote For Luck – Happy Mondays

You Made Me Realise – My Bloody Valentine

Friday, 6 November 2015

John Lewis and the Yewtree REM Band

YEWTR.E.M – Nonce on the Moon


Leon Brittan and the missing file yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Jimmy Savile is a paedophile yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Stylophone, Wobbleboard, animal vets,  yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Mister Stuart Hall in a knockout mess yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Let's blame Thatcher, let's blame Heath yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
We won’t do the inquest till you’re underneath yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

John Lewis did you hear about this one?
Tell me am I talking too much?
Noel are you going to get the royalties baby
Or do you have too much?

If you believed they put a nonce on the moon
Nonce on the moon
If you believe in paedo gravity
Then nothing is cool

Prophets lost Watkins for the next thirty years yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Cliff’s talking nicely to the Yorkshire police yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Talbot couldn’t jump off the island in time asp yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Mister Gary Glitter and his life of crime yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

John Lewis did you hear about this one?
Tell me am I talking too much?
Noel are you going to get the royalties baby
Or do you have too much?

If you believed they put a nonce on the moon
Nonce on the moon
If you believe in paedo gravity
Then nothing is cool

Here's a little rumour about Harriet Harman yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Here's a little clip of Jonathan King yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Here's a kids home in the Channel Islands yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
Another inquiry just got postponed for the winter yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah

John Lewis did you hear about this one?
Tell me am I talking too much?
Noel are you going to get the royalties baby
Or do you have too much?

If you believed they put a nonce on the moon
Nonce on the moon
If you believe in paedo gravity
Then nothing is cool

If you believed they put a nonce on the moon
Nonce on the moon
If you believe in paedo gravity
Then nothing is cool


Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Poem


Here's a poem I wrote about the clocks going back.

An extra hour in bed 

Midwatch for the night nurse, a chance to check
the traces, the heartbeats, the nil-by-mouths.
She moves in the torchlight, soft steps conspire
with the silent hymn of respirators.

Outside, two becomes one. Winter’s first gain.
Clocks are put back and pulses are taken.
A patient gives in, hands in his last breath.
Paperwork demands the time of his death.

Tender mercies of the nurse’s pen. For the alive
and the dead, an extra hour in bed.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Mouth of A Piggy

(to the tune of Survivor's Eye of the Tiger)

Now I’m up, on Downing Street
I’m in charge, knew I’d make it.
No resistance, it’s too easy for me
Just a man and his public school tie.

So many times it happens too fast
You fail to stay Mr Big
Don't lose your grip on those friends of the past
They’ve got pics of your cock in a pig.

It's the mouth of a piggy
It's the Bullingdon Club
Smashing up restaurants – its no biggie.
Give the homeless a fiver
Just to watch them breathe fire
And then we stick cocks in the mouth of a piggy.

Face to cock, meat to meat
Initiation ceremony
You never think of the secrets they keep
For the chance of revenge if they like.

It's the mouth of a piggy
It's the Bullingdon Club
Smashing up restaurants – its no biggie.
Give the homeless a fiver
Just to watch them breathe fire
And then we stick cocks in the mouth of a piggy.

Staying up, friends at the top
Had the cash, joined the Tories
Went to Eton, now I'm not gonna stop
Just a man and his public school tie.

It's the mouth of a piggy
It's the Bullingdon Club
Smashing up restaurants – its no biggie.
Give the homeless a fiver
Just to watch them breathe fire
And then we stick cocks in the mouth of a piggy.

The mouth of a piggy
The mouth of a piggy
The mouth of a piggy
The mouth of a piggy

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Apologies to Billy Joel

Spurred on by Sean Burns, I was inspired to write a national anthem that everyone can get behind. No wishing for theoretical deities to spare monarchs.

Anyway, here it is.

(to the tune of We Didnt Start The Fire)

Harry Corbett, Robin Day, Stuart Broad, Equal pay
Aldermaston, Willie Rushton, Mark E Smith
Paul McCartney, Harold Wilson, Hilda Baker, television
Northern Ireland, Scotland, Cymru am byth

Wetherspoons, Shakespeare, FA Cup, Warm beer
Orwell, Private Eye and "The books at Hay on Wye"
Dylan Thomas, vaccine, Freddie Mercury and Queen
Waterloo, Peterloo, And you wouldn’t let it lie

We didn't just invent the tyre
We were the island nation
That gave you vaccinations
We didn't just invent the tyre
There were other inventions
We’re too polite to mention

Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise, Golden Wonder, Mince Pies
Robbie Burns, David Beckham, Come on Eileen
Get it on, Bang a gong, Seamus Heaney, Ban the Bomb
Reggie Perrin falls, "Camberwick Green"

Shergar, George Best, Michael Rodd’s Screen Test
Billy Connolly, Simon Cowell, Charles Dickens, Isle of Man
Corbyn, Schnorbitz, Spice Girls, Smash Hits
Fatboy Slim, "Gordons Gin", some of the crowd are on the pitch

We didn't make The Wire
And we have no Arnie
But we made Dad’s Army
We didn't make The Wire
But it had our stars in
Which makes it kind of our win

Little Chef, Crackerjack, Tommy Cooper, heart attack
Cricket, BBC,” A slice of cake and a cuppa tea
Chicken tikka, NHS, Harold Shipman, Fred West
Shit weather, fox hunts, tax dodging rich cunts

Andy Pandy, "Gok Wan", Pontypandy, Fireman Sam
Hula hoops, Bisto, Sunday evening bingo
M4, Cheddar Cheese, Steptoe and shit degrees
Double deckers, Tenko, Teletext and Tesco

We’ve got the Mull of Kintyre
It’s a bit of Scotland
That was in that song and
We call a state a shire
And our pants are trousers
And ladies shirts are blouses

NHS, Wordsworth, Countdown, Life on Earth
Lennon, Bowie, Paddington station
"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania
Bullseye, Five Live, Pogo Patterson
John Peel, Gay pride, British politician lied
Vernon Kay, Brian May, what else do I have to say

We rather like a choir
In the mines especially
And places like Llanelli
We like a crooked spire
But we don’t do church much
We tend to Sunday brunch now

Birth control, Green Cross Code, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Milk milk, Lemonade, Round the corner chocolate’s made
Britpop, Chipshop, Bad attempts at hip hop
Bannister’s four minute mile, Savile is a paedophile
Alton Towers, Glastonbury, Vic Reeves, Rich Tea
Richard Keys, refugees, Mars, Twix, knobbly knees
Lewis Collins, Martin Shaw, Food banks for the starving poor
Respect for those who died in war, I can't take it anymore

We didn't just invent the tyre
We were the island nation
That gave you vaccinations
We didn't just invent the tyre
There were other inventions
We’re too polite to mention

Sunday, 13 September 2015


(for SM)

World’s Smallest University Reunion

Between 1989 and 1993 I occasionally attended Trinity College Carmarthen. In return for using student grants as a means to fund a hedonistic and chaotic lifestyle, the college failed my degree. I read a lot of books. It wasn't what they wanted. They failed a few of us. I made some wonderful friends there. We’ve talked for years about meeting up again. A plan was recently hatched on social media. 7 or 8 of us were to rent a cottage nearby and go visit the old haunts and catch up. In the fortnight beforehand everybody cancelled. Suddenly remembered anniversaries, recently diagnosed illnesses. Finances. Kids. A long way to go. 
Except me and The Monk. This is what happened next.

“Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling
Sometimes I can't believe it
I'm movin' past the feeling again”
Arcade Fire, “The Suburbs”

70 miles to Carmarthen. 70 miles in the latest of the Monk’s cars, a Nissan Almeria that’s known happier millennia than this. I’ve packed an overnight bag with sensible shoes and old cassettes. The Monk has rigged the car's cassette player to play music from his phone. There’s leads that shouldn’t be there. It’ll be fine. The perfect vehicle for two badly out of shape middle aged men to travel back in time to when they were badly out of shape young men. 

Nostalgia is a terribly addictive exercise, a distraction from the worries of the present. But it’s a comfort too, a happy place to go to in times of darkness. Our journey needs sound tracking, I push a button on the Monk’s phone and we get the Arcade Fire’s Suburbs album. It’s almost too perfect – songs that combine a sense of nostalgia with regret and fear. As the car passes the industrial stench of Port Talbot, a childish excitement takes over us both. The Arcade Fire’s Wasted Hours is the song that kicks in as Carmarthen finally emerges into view, our Shangri-La, our Oz, our Narnia.

People don’t just go to university for degrees, they go to learn about themselves and discover something they might like. Certainly that was the truth in my case, though I only see that now.

Driving over Pont Lesneven and up through Johnstown. Remembering our old friend Geof (pronounced Joff). Joff was the manager of the Student Union bar, a huge fat man with a walrus moustache and a curmudgeonly reputation. But he was kind and loyal to regular customers who could handle their drink and so it was one Easter, that hearing we were in dire straits and at a loose end, Joff offered us work helping him landscape his garden.

We managed three days between us. The Monk smashed his face in falling from a rockery onto as yet uninvited rocks. I carried a cement mixer to the top of a hill. The wrong hill as it turned out. We looked at the hard earth we were supposed to dig away. We came to the conclusion that we were about as cut out for manual labour as we were for any other sort of work and were rewarded for our brief, fruitless efforts with 20 quid each and some lagers and sandwiches. Joff was a good man, far too old to be running a student bar and dealing with pricks like us. We had presumed him dead by now. We pass his house and think about calling in just in case but we decide that he’s either dead, moved or won’t remember us. Joff is dead. We’ve decided. We drive on up the hill towards the college.

Tim and Kim are definitely dead. We know this for sure. Tim had a heart attack visiting his father in a hospice. Kim had cancer. They will have to wait for college reunions. 

Towns can grow fat like people. The streets you remember bisecting fields are now just veins for sprawling estates of identikit houses. We go past the college because we want to visit the street where we once lived, the first home my son ever knew. A lump in my throat needs no explanation. The street looks the same as it did in 1993. But the children who played on the green aren’t there, probably taking their own kids to swimming lessons and bowling alleys. This grass is where my son took his first faltering steps. It’s not the same grass of course, but everything beneath the surface has remained the same. You were too young to put down roots so you threw some seed around and waited for time to catch up.

The view from here is astonishing, the hills stretch away towards the Cambrian Mountains, like a set of landmarks yet to be accomplished. Graduation, marriage, mortgages. Paperwork and bills. The great unknown at the horizon.

More time travelling. Drive down to the Monk’s old house. Which looks exactly as he left it. Some fresh garden furniture are the only clues to our failing in time travel. Walk around the old streets. Ghosts on every corner. Passers by look familiar because we want them to. Half the town has been swallowed by shopping centres that have transformed it from the ugly beautiful sprawl of disreputable pubs and independent stores to a retail experience just like any other.

What town planners don’t consider is the effect on people’s sense of themselves as it relates to place. The town we’d come to once had its own secret topography, a maze of emotional landmarks and psychic folly.
Let’s not drink alcohol until we can book into the hotel and park the car. Wise words from the Monk. Still only noon too. I want alcohol so bad it hurts. This town is a stranger to me. I’m not handling it well.

There used to be dozens of cafes and bakers in the town centre. Now there is a Greggs. A Greggs I am queuing inside because people prefer queues in chain stores to prompt service from someone whose grandad opened a shop in 1905. I ask for Hot Shit With Pastry. The Monk opts for Chicken Thing.

Eventually the hotel lets us in. It’s got wi-fi. Which seems wrong. I didn’t even know what the internet was when I was last here. Social media addict that I am, I notice my Facebook status from the place and time where I usually live has had some likes. I want Carmarthen to be the college town of 1990. I don’t want my mobile phone. I want my youth back. I want alcohol. I want Geof, Tim and Kim and everybody else I ever knew in this town to appear right now.

Looking back, it seems crazy that so many of us were running away from something. You don’t choose to take a degree as far away from the hubbub of things without good reason. Over the years the trust that comes with finding friendship stripped away the psychic borders we had each of us put up. We were survivors of mental, physical, emotional abuse. We had issues with sexuality, gender, diet. We didn’t believe in ourselves or anything much. We hid behind jokes, films and music. We formed a bond and created a language that only true friends can communicate in.

Carmarthen was an ugly town, but our eyes beheld something that people trapped there couldn't see, wouldn't see. This was the place where we lost our virginities, fell in love, had our hearts broken, discovered the things we cared about and the things we didn't. All the pubs that closed held memories, not all of them good. A vanished phone box where you gave up the name of your baby son to grandparents younger than you are now. The bench where you were first dumped. A room where a man tried to. Ah, the past.

When love is gone, where does it go?

We visit the Blue Boar. The bar staff used to live upstairs and, on one famed occasion, chucked the keys down to us so we could let ourselves in. A precious fragment of time gifted us forever.

Today a dozen or so old fellas are cheering on the Irish rugby team against England. Here is a place of disaffection.

I decide to order a Guinness.

An old fella asks us for a light.

“I don't smoke myself. Just cigars,” he says “and a few cigarettes.”

The non smoker goes outside for his non smoking fix. Me and the Monk are laughing, it's a good omen, our first proper encounter with a Carmarthen character.

To the Mansel. More rugby. A friendly but clearly nuts barmaid finishes her shift, introduces herself and leaves. More pints. They're going down too easily. My thirst is that of a 20 year old again. We spy a sign promising karaoke later. More laughter.

In one pub, a young lad comes over to talk to us. I worry immediately that he’s going to ask for cash, offer us drugs or a fight. But no, he’s young, pissed and friendly.

“Are you from round here?”

“Used to be, we went to Trinity years ago.”

“And you’ve come back? Why?”

“Just wanted to see the old places again. This pub included,”

“I would do anything to leave this town, its shit. I’ll probably join the army or something. I might get killed. At least I wouldn’t have died here.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, mate, or the town. Plenty of worse places on Earth.”

The kid points at refugees on the telly. “If only they knew eh?” and with this he smiles, shakes our hands and leaves.

We go to the Coracle chippy and take our tea to the park where I used to push my son on the swings. Some kids are playing basketball, or a version of it in which the idea is never to get the ball in the hoop. We're eating a local delicacy – a batch. A batch is a hollowed out bread roll, filled with chips and gravy and topped off with a slipper of meat product optimistically called a King Rib. My taste buds get the Proustian rush.

No sooner had the warm meat mixed with the chips touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. ... Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? ... And suddenly the memory revealed itself....

When love is gone, where does it go?

A summer’s day, 1992. I’m crawling backwards away from my year old son. This is the funniest thing Daddy ever did. The basketball court is where that patch of grass, that impossibly green square of legend, once stood. Each missed throw by the disgustingly young kids is a kick to my stomach.

I close my eyes as I screw up the greasy newspaper. This is no time for tears.

The futuristic bleep of a text message brings me back to the here and now. Sean, an old college friend who still lives nearby wants to meet up for a drink. This news livens us up.

Sean turns up. He can’t stay long as his wife is ill. We chat away about old friends, who’s still in contact with who. Richard teaches in Sakhalin Island. Joe teaches in Minnesota. Stump runs a school in Dubai. We learn that everyone is teaching. Sean leaves his big news till last.

Geof is dead.


Yes, couple of years back. He’d been very ill.

Geof is dead. He really is dead. Tears sting the eyes. 

I raise a glass.

To Geof. And to Tim. And to Kim. To all the old friends and forgotten friendships. All reunions get smaller. It is to be hoped that, though the numbers at reunions dwindle with time, they may be replenished in the hereafter. 
Handshakes and hugs punctuate the night. Sean, glad of his own escape, makes his way back towards the now.

What now?”

Let's get fucking wrecked.”

Back to the Mansel. The karaoke is in full swing. A group of kids who probably weren't even in school the last time I drank in this town are smashing Jaegerbombs and singing Killers songs. Their youth is enviable. We grab a seat in a dingy corner and set ourselves to the task of oblivion.

We need to do this more often.”

Yep,,,yep....” I agree, the drink is robbing me of conversational skills.

We last came in 1998. If we leave it another 17 years we'll be sixty...sixty two. Well I won't be, I'll be dead surely.”

The Monk is ill. Not terminally. Just ill. Just another big fella with cholestrol for blood and a broken heart trying to pump it around the wreckage around him. I'm smaller, but not much. 
Dont say that, man.”

It could all have gone downhill here but for a visit from an angel.

A malnourished Des Lynam lookalike grabs a seat next to us. His face lit by the luminous words of Dancing Queen. He mouths along with every song. Bowie. Rihanna. Buble. His face is lost in rapture, whatever joy me and the Monk were looking for, this man has found it already. 
I sing Wonderful World. Steve sings Freedom by Wham. Des Lynam sings You'll Never Walk Alone. A sad looking middle aged man sings a Tom Waits song in a voice higher than expected. The kids love us all. Hugs and selfies. More drinks. More drinks. And sleep. And drunken dreams.

You don't leave a town, it leaves you. I was smuggled out one Sunday afternoon in the back of a van with the few things I owned. There were no windows. I slid around with old books and records and a locket of my son's hair as we wended our way past unseen reminders of a town I thought I'd never leave. 

Sometimes I think I'm still making that journey, crashing around in the dark with memories and Pixies tapes.

Today, I'm in the passenger seat of a hungover car, negotiating badly a one way system that wants us to leave. We laugh about Des Lynam, we think about Sean, we think about all the fights, drinks, drugs and conversations we had in this town. The sun shines. Billy Ocean comes on the radio.

Carmarthen disappears abruptly in the wing mirror, the houses all gone under the sea, the dancers under the hill.