On a summer afternoon in 1990, I was playing volleyball for fun in north London. The location was 6 Fitzroy Park in Highgate, an awesome location with views over Hampstead Heath and Parliament Hill Fields. My friends were house-sitting a property that had belonged to a late relative called Ove Arup. He was a legendary engineer who had left his mark on major projects like the Sydney Opera House and Coventry Cathedral.
It was an open plan building in a Danish design, with expanses of wood and glass, a full library and a heavyweight chess set. And on that sunny occasion, I felt like a minor character in an F Scott Fitgerald story.
We were joined by Graham Gouldman, who was then enjoying some success with an act called Wax. That was essentially himself and the American writer Andrew Gold, and 'Bridge To Your Heart' had sold well. But that was hardly the major entry on his CV. Gouldman had been a founder member of 10cc and before that, his songs had sold millions for the likes of The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman's Hermits.
While his clothes looked discretely expensive, Graham was an affable chap, and when the volleyball started, he pitched in. That was when the goodwill started to fade, and the various players turned competitive. It just happened that my girlfriend was the referee and her decisions were terribly biased. The guy who had taken 'I'm Not In Love' to the top of the charts played gallantly and his eye-to-hand reflexes were impressive. But he was cheated out of victory and my abiding memory of this massively successful songwriter is his rather cross face on a Highgate lawn.
Maybe I should have felt guilty about such sportsmanship. But hey, it was just a silly phase I was going through.
Interesting to note that the opening ceremonies for the Olympics and the Paralympics both referenced The Tempest By Shakespeare. In the former, it was all about the displaced savage Caliban and his fabulous dreams. He had lost his liberty and been denied the run of his island but no-one, not even the magisterial Prospero could limit his capacity for wonder. Danny Boyle was sending out a note to the fringe-dwellers and political underclass. The dream was not over, and like a patient on one of those mythical NHS beds, it might even be restored to good health.
For the Paralympics, it was Miranda, daughter of Prospero, who carried the show. The daughter of the exiled magician, she sees the new arrivals on the island and her mind is blown. Her tiny horizons are expanded. Her dad's controlling style is overturned. And when she talks about the brave new world she uses the adjective in the way that the Ulster semantic has retained over the centuries. Brave meaning great, worthy of admiration.
Sure, there was a deal of sentimental warbling in the ceremony and perhaps too many people whizzing around on wires. But, blimey, didn't I hear Orbital and Stephen Hawking and some other excited souls performing 'Spasticus Autisticus' by Ian Dury? A song that was first released in 1981 in the International Year of Disabled Persons, but utterly shunned by radio programmers? Changing times, maybe. A braver world, perchance.
The internet recently turned up a testimony from Joe Strummer on the subject of Bruce Springsteen. Writing in 1994, he figured that "Bruce is great because he'll never lay down and be conquered by his problems, he's always ready to bust out the shack and hit the track." What a tremendous notion. Joe cites 'Racing In The Street' as a vivid instance of the American's style. That was a transcendent moment on the 'Darkness On The Edge Of Town' album, a story of speed and lonesomeness and thwarted chances on the highway. I love the song, admire the record and I'm especially partial to the out-takes collection. 'The Promise'. From this, 'Save My Love' is just one of the many open-hearted rousers.
Bruce Springsteen - Save My Love (Sony)
Calexico - Splitter (City Slang)
Hurray For The Riff Raff - Lake Of Fire (Loose)
Them - Could You, Would You (Decca)
Beth Jeans Houghton - Dodecahedron (Mute)
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti - Mature Themes (4ad)
Bob Dylan - Dukesne Whistle (Sony)
Cheek Mountain Thief - Showdown (Full Time Hobby)
The Heptones - Pretty Looks Isn't All (Soul Jazz)
Jason Lytle - Your Final Setting Sun (Anti)
Kathleen Edwards - Sidecar (Zoe)
St Vitus Dance - Trojan Security (Probe Plus)
Ian Dury And The Blockheads - Sweet Gene Vincent (Stiff)
Opossum - Girl (Fire)
Scott Walker - The World's Strongest Man (Fontana)
Michael Kiwanuka - Bones (Polydor)
Bobby Womack - Dayglo Reflection (XL)
Glen Hansard - This Gift (Anti)
Jerry Lee Lewis - It All Depends (Proper)
Maddox Brothers And Rose - Hangover Blues (Proper)
Houndmouth - Big Oil Spill (Rough Trade)
Ry Cooder -The Wall Street Part Of Town (Nonesuch)
Calexico - Epic (City Slang)
Larry Graham - Shoulda Coulda Woulda (Moosicus)
Portico Quartet - Steepless (Real World)
Ray Davies - Waterloo Sunset (choral version) (Sanctuary)
Cymbals - Like An Animal (Tough Love)
I met Jeremy Deller in Cardiff, November 1999. He already had form as a spikey artist, tuned into subversive pop. Acid Brass was one of his early works, featuring some boss tunes from Detroit and Manchester, reimagined by the Williams Fairey Brass Band. So as I watched him finishing off the Unconvention project at the Centre For Visual Arts, it was clear that Jeremy was onto something important.
He was using the lyrics of the Manic Street Preachers to reflect on many shaker-makers from art, literature and politics. A Warhol portrait and Francis Bacon on the wall, a Kippenberger across the way and the first time that a Picasso had ever been exhibited in Wales.
There were Spanish Civil War images, some Don McCullin photos from Vietnam, and Kevin Carter's piercing reportage in the South African townships. All of these related back to the Manics' songbook, enhancing them, adding value to the vivid imaginations of Nicky and Richey.
Like the band, Jeremy was familiar with the Situationists, so the display cabinet featured the writings of Guy Debord and even his sandpaper-bound Mémoires, designed to destroy every other book it came into contact with. So many astonishing conversations in the room, from pop art and the Miners' Strike, Guernica, punk and the Society of the Spectacle. Understandably, Nicky Wire was beaming, vindicated.
Thirteen years later and I'm at Grove Park in Belfast, jumping on a life-size, inflatable Stonehenge. There's a kiss of sunshine, a load of families in motion and just a hint of sedition. Because this isn't simply an alternative, bouncy castle. This is Sacrilige by Jeremy Deller, another engaging take on folk art and the people. It's a piece of work that was launched in Glasgow before touring a bunch of cities, en route to the Paralympic Games. A concept that rocks, essentially.
Mott The Hoople had some reasonable chart action in 1974 with 'The Golden Age Of Rock And Roll'. The song was essential, fall-about boogie with some glam tendencies and there was a defiant line in the chorus: "gotta stay young, you can never grow old".
Ian Hunter, the former Mott vocalist and author of a wonderful book, 'Diary Of A Rock And Roll Star', is now 73 years old. He still has the corkscrew hair and the croaking vocal. He revived Mott for some emotional gigs two years ago, but he's also putting out solo records of some distinction. The latest is called 'When I'm President' and it chugs along nicely, recalling the likes of Tom Petty or Dylan. The title track is a sardonic put-down of political intrigue and the dirty compromises en route. Bless him, Ian Hunter still has it.
Once every five years or so, I meet with some kind of financial advisor, and they always ask when I hope to retire. I tend to laugh, knowing that my rubbish provisions will never result in a pension of any worth. But as a traveller in the business we call rock and roll, I also recognise that retirement isn't much of an option. I love the life. I can think of nothing better do to with my time. Sometimes I joke that I'll need a laptop and some Wi-Fi in my coffin in case there's a last minute commission or a worthy blog that needs posting. With the encouragement of rock and roll, I may never, properly, grow old.
Echo And The Bunnymen - Bring On The Dancing Horses (Warner)
Seven Summits - Sooner Or Later (white)
The Stone Roses - Ten Story Love Song (Geffen)
Fern Kinney - I'm Ready For Your Love (Oxford American)
Black Keys - Never Gonna Give You Up (V2)
Patterson Hood - Better Off Without (ATO)
Ani di Franco - Freight Train (Preservation)
Moon Duo - Sleepwalker (Souterrain Transmissions)
Gilberto Gil - Lively Up Yourself (Warner Brazil)
Seven Summits - Burning Heart (white)
Jerry Douglas - The Boxer (Membran)
Would Be's - Ivy Avenue (Fife)
Grizzly Bear - Yet Again (Warp)
The Doors - Hello (Elektra)
Crybaby - We're Supposed To Be In Love (Helium)
Ian Hunter - When I'm President (Proper)
The Lost Brothers - Hey Miss Fannie (Bird Dog)
The Time Jumpers - Yodel Blues (Rounder)
The Bootleggers, Emmylou Harris - Cosmonaut (Sony)
Antony And The Johnsons - Cut The World (Rough Trade)
Aaron Shanley - Sometimes People Just Fall Out Of Love (white)
Ralph Stanley - White Light / White Heat (Sony)
The Time Jumpers - Someone Had To Teach You (Rounder)
Jesse Boykins III - The Perfect Blues (white)
The Lost Brothers - Until The Morning (Bird Dog)
Tu Fawning - Wager (City Slang)
You need to be bold to run a music festival. The weather will mock you, the bands will be flakey and the punters capricious. You will rage against the latrines, the planners will thwart you, the Councilors may mither while the health and safety guys will see a fatal consequence in every twig and cowpat.
That's why I admire these intrepid organisers. They have various reasons for putting music into a vacant space. In recent years, there was a silly notion that festivals were a license to make easy cash. Oh no. Also, I've met a few guys who were motivated by ego - looking to present themselves as the homegrown Michael Eavis - but that's a cracked idea as well. However I tend to side with the music obsessives who start small and ultimately fill the giant fields. Paddy Glasgow in Draperstown is the fizzing exemplar of that, and it's also been the rationale for Pigstock, Forfey and others.
That's why Sunflower Fest in Hillsborough is moving high in my affections. Last year I reported on its budding charm. This year it was tangible. The campfire stage crackled, the Bonnevilles delivered some fierce boogaloo in the barn, Pocket Billiards clicked with the audience and the enchanted glade combined magic and yoga with Buckfast on ice.
I'd seen reference to the Crochet Circle ahead of the event and I figured it was some post-modern jest. But no, there was plenty of fetching knitwear on the site, and the wool was worn in earnest. Handy for that late night encounter with the Narnia recreation in the glade, or the nearby woodland film experience.
There was rain, mud and a bit of consternation, but we also witnessed a startling rainbow and a sunset to remember forever. We saw shenanigans in the Electric Disco Shed and we were in raptures to the Lost Brothers singing the Saturday night in.
It's not often you hear young people singing about mortality. That's normally the preserve of grizzled blues veterans, or burnt-up jazzers, musing about final days in St James' Infirmary. Or Bob Dylan, back from a life-threatening illness, bleating his way through 'Not Dark Yet'.
In an earlier age, the likes of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams were set to perish at 35 and 29 respectively, and many of their songs imagined their meeting with The Reaper. It was probably this spirit that inspired a young Van Morrison to get morbid with 'TB Sheets', 'Slim Slow Slider' and 'Mystic Eyes'.
Now there's a new set of songs for the canon. As we've noted before, Bridie Monds-Watson, is a 16-year-old from Derry with staggering talent. Recording as Soak, she has given us two amazing EPs this year, 'Trains' and 'Sea Creatures'. All of the songs this far appear to be edged with black. 'Fingers Crossed' for instance is about the trauma of imminent loss and some undefined illness. 'Sea Creatures' is about the intensity and pure focus of two people, living for each precious second. The outsiders are an interference and Bridie compares them to fish, cold-blooded and unfeeling.
That's also the deal with 'Doorstep', a meandering nightmare, wondering if that threshold is due. Haunting stuff, and the artist sings it with piercing intent. That's also the deal on the first EP. 'Trains' is a journey across fear and farewells, a companion to Van Morrison's mighty 'Madame George'. Listen to her repeatedly sing, "don't go" and grieve also. "Does everyone you know have to die", she poses on 'Numb' and the answer is withheld.
These are formidable songs, deep and measured. You wouldn't want her to stay on this theme forever, but it opens her songbook in a startling manner.
Do an online search on the significance of the number sequence 4-11-44 and some remarkable ideas appear. Most of these are connected to the illegal numbers racket in America and the seemingly mystical importance of these digits. Some of the other theories are plainly rude. Whatever the rationale, this sequence has been inspiring songwriters for more than 130 years. Some of these songs have made fun of African-American culture and others have been defiant with their jazz, blues and salacious fun.
Pete Wylie released 'Fourelevenfortyfour' on his 'Sinful' album in 1987. He was writing well at the time and he uses the numbers analogy to describe his girl - impossibly beautiful like Dylan's legendary Johanna and loaded with contradictions. You would bet on it, every time.
Blur - Girls And Boys (Parlophone)
Jack White - I'm Shakin' (XL)
Dr Feelgood - All Through The City (Grand)
Gaslight Anthem - Mulholland Drive (Sony)
Eugene McGuinness - Sugarplum (Domino)
Blur - Under The Westway
Cedric Has A Name - Empty Avenue (white)
Jimmy Cliff - Children's Bread (UMC)
The Wonderstuff - There, There My Dear (IRL)
Betty Wright And The Roots - In The Middle Of The Game (white)
Amidships - The One (white)
Deer Tick - Clownin Around (Loose)
Bobby Womack - Love Is Gonna Lift You Up (XL)
New Order - True Faith (Factory)
Flipron, Neville Staples - The Comet Returns (white)
The Flaming Lips - Children of The Moon (Bella Union)
Houndmouth - Penitentiary (Rough Trade)
Slim Gaillard - A Tip On The Numbers (Proper)
Wah - Fourelevenfortyfour (Castle)
Soak - Fingers Crossed (white)
Bobby Womack - If You Don't Want My Love (Charly)
Sean Rowe - The Lonely Maze (Anti)
The Specials - Do Nothing (Two Tone)
Van She - Idea Of Happiness (Modular)
Cocteau Twins - Heaven Or Las Vegas (4ad)
Kindness - That's Alright (Polydor)
It's been billed as the last ever Blur gig. All the people - over 100,000 of them in the centre of London, ready to send them off and to raise the last particles of Olympic cheer. Only a few hours before, we had followed the marathon runners around the embankment and past Big Ben. Every straggler was roused and none of the athletes was allowed to falter. There was a little poignancy in the air as the sustained fever was coming to an end. Hence this last party in Hyde Park and the up-for-it congregation.
Bombay Bicycle Club made the case for the new breed while New Order was all throbbing legacy. Even without the bass-straddling form of Peter Hook there was great stature in 'True Faith' and momentous heart in 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' . Likewise with The Specials and those undiminished songs about tolerance, togetherness and fun.
For Blur's appearance, the stage was transformed into a fantasy Walkway. Damon was less overbearing than his night at the Brits and while the setlist was occasionally awry, the hits were present. We roared for Graham and the static of 'Coffee And TV'. There was gospel power in 'Tender', a knees-up with Phil Daniels and such a finale with 'The Universal'. A billowing sayonara to the Games and a musical institution closing the company gates, maybe forever.
I'm not sure there are many lyrics about Olympic gold medals, but please let's not bring Spandau Ballet into this. Instead I've settled on an amazing song by Freakwater, called 'Louisville Lip'. This recording appeared on the 1998 album 'Springtime' and it finds the alt band from Chicago fixating on a particular award.
Cassius Clay won the Light Heavyweight gold in Rome in 1960. But when he returned home, he found the same old prejudice in the American south. The champ was refused food in a white-only establishment. So according to legend, the disgusted boxer threw his medal into the Ohio River.
'Louisville Lip' imagines the fate of that award, somewhere in the silt under the Second Street Bridge. Has the ribbon rotted and is the metal tarnished? Or was it actual gold? It's a peculiar song that imagines the journey from injustice to deliverance. The hand becomes a fist. Clay becomes Ali. And in Atlanta, in the 1996 Olympics, Mohammad Ali receives his replacement medal and a severely overdue apology.
The Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods (Polydor)
Kraftwerk - Tour De France (EMI)
Frank Turner - If Ever I Stray (Xtra Mile)
Ben Glover - Whatever Happens Will (white)
Ben Glover - Rampart Street (live)
Opossom - Girl (Fire)
So So Sailors - So Broken Hearted (No Dancing)
Animal Collective - Today's Supernatural (Domino)
Friends - I'm His Girl (Lucky Numbers)
Opossom - Getaway Tonight (Fire)
Elvis Costello - This Year's Girl (Demon)
The Lost Brothers - Bird In A Cage (Bird Dog)
Antony And the Johnsons - Cut The World (Rough Trade)
The Mighty Shamrocks - Cowgirls (Good Vibrations)
Freakwater - Louisville Lip (Thrill Jockey)
Mercury Rev - Little Rhymes (V2)
The Lost Brothers - Now that The Night Has Come (Bird Dog)
Antony And the Johnsons - You Are My Sister (Rough Trade)
Stubborn Heart - Need Someone (4ad)
Duke Special - Condition (Adventures In Gramophone)
Sparks - Beat The Clock (Repertoire)
Millions have been spent promoting sportswear at the Olympics, but one of the coolest brands made its point by stealth. You didn't see the logo on any medals podium, but still the media have been intrigued. It comes down to the clothing preference of famous cyclist, Bradley Wiggins, and the vintage lines of Fred Perry.
The Fred Perry brand originated with the tennis champ from Stockport and a shirt that was launched in 1952. A decade later and it was the apparel of choice with mods, skinheads and then the northern soul crews. Bradley Wiggins has worked with the company to design a shirt with a zippered funnel neck. However, when he appeared in the audience at the Olympic Velodrome on Friday, he wore the regular version with the button plaquet, accessorised with a burgundy cardigan, also bearing the iconic laurel wreath.
Last week, Paul Weller saluted him as "a fellow stylists" but journalists get it wrong when they say that Bradley has grown his sideburns in tribute to the singer. Rather, it's a homage to The Who's John Entwistle. Bradley actually owns one of the guy's old basses.
All of this makes him the most rock and roll athlete in London. Most sports people have awfully dull tastes in music, and traditionally, their expensive cars have resounded to Simply Red and M People. David Beckham may think that he's cool, but let's not forget that he married a Spice Girl.
Cycling chic has impacted on popular music a few times. Age Of Chance were there in 1986 (check out their 'Kiss' video') while Carter USM indulged on occasions. In the same decade, The Farm, via their fanzine The End, made sports casual acceptable and then Happy Mondays delivered the baggy anthem, 'Loose Fit'. It was hoodies and tracksuits all the way. And of course, Run DMC and a legion of homeboys also worked it with gusto.
Bradley Wiggins and Fred Perry are set to unveil a new autumn range. It should be rather popular. As the Merton Parkas once sang, you need wheels, if you wanna make deals.