Suede – The Blue Hour tour at o2 Academy Bristol

The bank holiday Easter weekend probably broke some sort of British record for being almost exclusively made up of sun and not an iota of near-biblical torrential rain.

Fan video from “StringBeanJen”

Between putting our house on the market and making it to the beach I’d completely forgotten that one of my favourite bands we’d bought tickets for – months ago, you know how it is – were playing and to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Not that I don’t love the band (I do) and not even that I don’t love their latest album ‘The Blue Hour’ (it’s ruddy fantastic). It was simply such a sunny day and evening and the idea of cramming into a dark room to listen to a shoe-gazing band play an album that would be more befitting of a bitter, rainy February didn’t sit quite right. This coming from a man who has previously had the likes of ‘Dog Man Star’, ‘Absolution’ and ‘Antichrist Superstar’ on rotation while holidaying in Greece. And then the other thing (and perhaps more importantly) – it felt anxiety inducing. After all, I’d already been around people all day on a busy beach (had I consumed alcohol this would be an even more lethal cocktail). The last time we were at the o2 we saw Metric and some absolute off-her-tits-on-bad-attitude tosser repeatedly shoved my girlfriend out of the way just before the band appeared when we’d been at the front forever (Metric decided not to make an appearance for three hours after the doors opened). It escalated from there and even worse, the lead singer acknowledged the bint who was going mad as if she was a superfan. We eventually accepted defeat, gravitated towards a less antagonistic section of the audience and I’ve not really felt the inclination to listen to the band since. Going to this gig bore all the hallmarks of a bad idea and I anticipated wishing I’d stayed at home.

I check in on Suede every few months to see if ther’s new material on the cards (online, I dont have Brett on speed dial unfortunately). I wasn’t even aware of a new album – by the time I discovered ‘The Blue Hour’ was even a thing it was already three months old – but my girlfriend informed me she’d got an email newsletter from *insert faceless ticketing company name here* and that they were playing on our doorstep in Bristol.

‘As One’ opens the album (and the gig) and hooks immediately with its haunted chanting crescendo, representing the sinister side of Suede at their very best. Hoping the album would not be a one-trick pony nor a rehash of previous efforts I couldn’t believe the wonderfully disquieting and at times magical rural nightmare concept album that was to come. Every track works alone and as a series to form a dark narrative that’s open to interpretation (in the track-by-track interviews Brett won’t let on how it all fits together). For me, it’s their best and most cohesive work since ‘Dog Man Star’, although the two are so very different its hard to compare. It’s remarkable the band can still create such incendiary music after thirty years; especially since the middle albums received at best, a lacklustre response and you’d have been forgiven for thinking they had lost their spark back when.

The album makes sense to me. In my life and in my writing. The lyrics, the singing, the sweeping orchestrial sections of ‘The Invisibles’ and ‘All The Wild Places’, the unsettling interlude of ‘Dead Bird’ and the ongoing vox pops; the poppier but punchy ‘Cold Hands’ (it’s hard to actually think of any of this collection as pop songs, but there are slightly less-dark moments). It’s classic Suede and yet it’s uncharted territory all the same, taking us through forgotten, neglected and unloved places and people. It’s one of the few albums I’ve really wanted to hear in its entirety live, and though that didn’t happen on gig night, we were certainly in for a treat.

Back to the gig (and the dark room) and we got chatting to a mum who’d been seventeen when she last saw them on the Dog Man Star tour, fainted twice and cried at least once. She was with her daughter who’d presumably been brought up on Suede and told me how Bernard Butler (lauded guitarist on Suede’s first two albums) was now involved in teaching kids guitar. The atmosphere was stellar, and the fans had all assembled.

Like a zealot rebel preacher Brett pushed all the right buttons and roused into fervor early on with ‘As One’, followed quickly by hits including ‘So Young’, ‘Metal Micky’, ‘Killing of a Flashboy’ and ‘We Are The Pigs’ which had everyone inevitably bellowing: “We all watch them burn”. With the ensuing mix of old and new tracks it suddenly made sense that a pocket of society should be crammed into a dark room on a sunny evening – and for me as someone who has spent much of his life feeling isolated. Their music speaks to us all.

Brett swung his mic theatrically in a wide arc – thankfully it didn’t connect with any audience member’s faces – and eventually the chord wrapped around him. He danced and undulated, on his back, on an amp, down the coridoor between us and him, and then came out and danced with us. His shirt literally came apart at the seams but he soldiered on oblivious. He’s clearly done this before. We touched his sweaty back as he danced past and rallied his army. They continued with the highs of ‘Animal Nitrate’ and the slows and crescendos and sheer tension of ‘Tides’. Then more stompy, shouty anthems like ‘Trash’ and ‘Saturday Night’. They’re the kind of band who have such a rich back catalogue they could play three different sets and still miss crucial tunes. Towards the end of the set we enjoyed ‘The Big Time’ and ‘The Wild Ones’ played acoustic and without a mic; which felt touching and intimate.

The lofty, dreamy ‘Still Life’ esque ‘I feel I’ll Float Away’ from 2012’s Bloodsports (not a song about Stephen King’s evil clown) has been a personal favourite for a while now so it was great to hear them play it live.

By a couple of songs in Brett and co didn’t have to win me over and twenty-two epics later I’m not sure anyone was left wanting. He let us know we were a good audience and he liked Bristol – as everyone always does, but he did play three more songs than he had on the last few dates and I like to think he meant it. We felt like a good crowd!

An encore gave us two more songs: ‘Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Life is Golden’. “I’m a fifty one year old man,” he noted. “I’m allowed to be sentimental.” Brett, you have nothing to apologise for. Twenty-four songs. That’s still one more than even Brighton!

Fan video from “Rob Croft”

And I felt it. The endorphins of a great gig when they’ve gone all out and you’ve gone all out when the dust settles on the battlefield and you’re giddy, knackered and a bit deaf. We exchanged exclaimations with the mum and her daughter (they’d gone bonkers for it too) and then we were ejected onto the street through the back entrance and into the evening; highly convenient for the car park. It’s certainly up there as a gig to remember, and perhaps because we were in the front line and nobody in our vicinity was a jerk, its been my favourite Suede gig to date. Or perhaps because they turned things up to an electric eleven.

I’m really looking forward to the third part of Suede’s concept album trilogy (I feel like Brett wants to do one if we’re to believe his comments in The Blue Hour album interviews, but the rest of the band perhaps aren’t so keen).

If you’re interested in the setlist, you can view it here. If not –tough, and I’ve no idea why you’re still reading!

Keynsham Writers 2.0

After a busy few weeks (including a big question mark over wether we should move area, and how the workshops I helped facilitate for clients were going at work, etc, etc) I forgot all about the writers group kick-off meet I’d organised until on the day; which is not like me at all.

As it happened -and despite zero expectations- the venue worked out and the people worked out (as in they came – there was no exercise involved!). I’d picked the place I assumed would be quietest on a Monday night on Keynsham highstreet. OK, so there were only 4 of us, but nobody dropped out, and an extra person turned up. Plus, they all seemed nice and friendly, reciprocal, and two were already published! Chats and drinks ensued, despite no format imposed by moi. We set up a rough structure for upcoming meetups, had a few laughs and went on our merry ways.

I’ve tried Meetup dot com to organise the group before, but their business model seems to be an automated tool inviting a bunch of people to your new group (regardless of any real vested interest or commitment on their part) so you think you’re making it a success from day one. Very few of these “interested” parties communicate or turn up (I myself am a member of many groups I’ll probably never interact with). Once Meetup has invited folk its algorithms deem appropriate, they join (this can be as simple as clicking a link in an email). Meetup then warns you that you need to pay more when you inevitably max out your members on their lowest tariff. It’s already expensive, soooo no. Just no. I went for a Facebook group and page, which requires a bit more legwork and marketing, but they chucked me a free £5 budget (with the caveat that I could only trigger a “boosted post” about my writing group if I forked out £5 of my own cash to make it up to a tenner). I haven’t distributed any flyers/cards on the high street yet, but did ask for the updated group to go in the local paper, which is free to do and hopefully we’ll gain some more traction from it.

Which goes to show that literally anyone can pull off setting up a group with a small amount of effort, especially in this technical age. OK, so it may all go belly-up from hereon in unless I pull up my socks and regulate it, but there you go. My choice, really. I’m sure you can do the same! If it does continue positively then I’ll post updates and tips on writers groups as my experience grows.

Keith Flint

For me and many others, things are not OK. Sometimes they are, but we don’t fit in and rarely feel quite right (whatever that is).

I get bouts of death anxiety. I always have. It got almost unbearable the year my childhood died, circa 2016 and early 2017. Death had taken my cool aunt and cleared out a chunk of my (and my peers’) childhood icons. In life I’ve felt underprepared for most things; anxiety and social isolation are like comfortable slippers. The kind that slowly cut into your ankles and shut down your vital systems one by one. So I was pretty fucked off to hear another one of ours, the tortured soul Mr Flint (apparently – I had no knowledge of his depression until this point) had taken his life.

It’s important to get things out in the open. Society does so much damage. We don’t talk about death (in the West), we ostracize and outcast people. Often by saying nothing or labelling the depressing shit as depressing shit we don’t/shouldn’t talk about. We only speak about pointless shit instead. We put up those fucking “Just be OK”/”Everything is la-dee-da all of the time” throwaway Social media posts that might as well have been assembled by the cat unicorn thing from the Lego Movie. We are ultimately discouraged from giving a balanced view of our world. I’m not saying we should mope all the time -and I for one do much too much of that already- but let’s put our thinking caps on and act appropriately.

Fuck you, death. And fuck our inability to cope with it. And you, depression. And the showing emotion thing we all know is frowned upon, especially if you’re a man. As a clever race, we’re still so backwards.

And another thing. I did not know Keith Flint personally, but he stirred me and a whole crowd up into rapturous togetherness in a way I have only felt a handful of times in my life. I felt a horrible knot in my stomach as my girlfriend had idolised him more than I*, and as she doesn’t subject herself to the news and was working from home, I knew I’d have to be the one to break the bad news. Plenty of people found The Prodigy and Keith vital before we had, but that didn’t stop his death being a nasty, gut-smacking blow. It’s OK to be sad about someone you’ve never met checking out, despite what society would sometimes have you believe. If you got something from that person – hope, inspiration, anything, then that counts. Here’s hoping that as decent human beings we can learn to admit. To cry and be lonely and fucking depressed without labels and stigmas. No, I mean it. Without labels and stigmas. That we can be accepted without being in such a shitty place we don’t want or know how to go on. That nobody will listen or care. That we may have the chance to turn things around when we’re standing on the precipice.

Anyway, here’s an awesome cruelty-free male grooming products company called Kings, whose founder mentors and champions men’s mental health and what I’ve been rabbiting on about. And here’s the man doing his thing. May you continue to shine brightly and inspire, wherever you may be:

“Normal” business will resume next blog.

*Keith singled her out in a gig, mouthed something she’s pretty sure was “I like you!”, kissed her on the lips and proceeded to lick her hand. Pretty rock n roll, really! She also spent most of sixth form drawing and painting him and plotting a stake-out outside his mansion.

2019 – the far future!

As usual, as much as I’d like to have had everything prepped for an arbitary date (like this post for instance), life had other plans.

2018 saw some big changes. One of the biggest was that we went and had chickens; the decision to have them spiralling us into a now Vegan territory.

I’m back up to five days after 9 months of free Fridays and I escaped a toxic, corporate hell and am now working for a small creative agency.

I jumped off a mountain (sort of) and swam with dolphins in the wild. I also did a bunch of charity work, had more thinking time, and landed some paid work on the side.

This year I want to be more social, and more social media-err-y. I want to draw, to animate. Most importantly though, after the best part of a year’s hiatus from writing I want to finally stop obsessing and just get the bloody book out there and run with it. Watch this space. Hopefully this time it’s not a 2 year long space!

If anyone’s reading this and cares and/or is a writer, give me a shout on the usual channels. Looking for writing buddies. Let’s talk. Updates soon. Promise.