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22nd January - Keith TOTP, The Monarch
27th February - Part 1, Boston Arms (Another Winter of Discontent Festival)
7th March - Animal Nitwits, Buffalo Bar (Nuisance)
22nd March - Part 1, Green Note, Brighton
29th March - Keith TOTP, Deptford
3rd April - Quango, Hackney Oslo (supporting Howler)
11th April - Part 1, Archway Tavern (Dead & Buried)
2nd May - Keith TOTP, Monarch (Her Parents farewell gig)
9th May - Part 1, Paris (Unpleasant Meeting Festival)
24th May - Part 1, The Dome (Scumfest)
20th June - New Royal Family (Redux), Bingo Master's Breakout (karaoke gig)
24th June - New Royal Family, Buffalo Bar (Rik Mayall tribute)
4th July - Quango, Power Lunches
31st July - Quango, Macbeth
9th August - Part 1, Blackpool Rebellion Festival
16th August - Quango, The Gunners
13th September - Keith TOTP, The Windmill (Gracetonbury)
14th September - Keith TOTP, The Lexington (supporting Dream Themes + Davros!)
3rd October - Part 1, Helsinki
4th October - Part 1, Tampere
28th October - Keith TOTP, Guerrilla gig at Filthy's
29th October - Animal Nitwits, Guerrilla gig at Filthy's
31st October - Keith TOTP, Buffalo Bar
31st October - Dom Green's Fright Machine, Buffalo Bar
8th November - Famous Cocks, The Pipeline (Antlib Convention)
27th November - Keith TOTP, Buffalo Bar
13th December - Part 1, Gravesend, Red Lion

Schiele Take A Bow

As with just about anything of note in my life, my interest in Egon Schiele can be entirely blamed on Adam Ant. "I'm a friend of Egon Schiele, I'm a friend of Mr Spock" he fibbed, on his song Friends, a drab outtake from the flawed but brilliant debut album Dirk Wears White Sox. Admittedly, me and most other people of my generation would only became aware of the song - and by extension Egon Schiele - when he (Adam, not Egon) reworked the tune considerably as a bouncy discoed-up b-side to his unlikely 1981 Christmas hit Ant Rap. With me so far? Good.

Schiele is best known for being Gustav Klimt's unruly protege, getting booted out / quitting the Vienna school of art, possibly having an affair with his sister, certainly getting up to a bit of hanky panky with a 14 year old, cavorting with prostitutes, going to jail for indecency, getting married twice, painting lots of brilliant, vividly visceral pictures of ladies flashing their naughty bits, surviving the First World War and dying. All by the time he was 28. Phew.

His better known works, often reproduced as prints and postcards, are as familiar as Sunflowers or the Mona Lisa. So my gast was well and truly flabbered this week when I discovered that there are no Schiele pieces on permanent public display in the UK. I still can't quite believe this is true. (Hang on, okay no "major works" apparently). This knowledge has made me particularly grateful that I made the effort to run to the Belvedere in Vienna on the Keith Top of the Pops / Blood Arm tour of Europe a few years ago, while the rest of the minor indie celebrities were nursing hangovers the size of the city's ferris wheel.

As you can gather I was pretty blooming excited when I found out that London's Courtauld Gallery was hosting a major exhibition, especially as I was having it off this week and my plans for some kind of an adventure had come to naught. So excited in fact that I got there a bit early. "I'm afraid the exhibition doesn't open until tomorrow, sir!" Hey, at least it got me out bed, right kids?

When it did finally open, I was there, along with a curious mix of mostly young studenty types and retired couples. I guess they are the demographics most likely to have a Thursday afternoon in October free. The show is titled "The Radical Nude" and, as you might expect, focuses on some of the juiciest work for which he is best known: emaciated self-portraits in contorted, Christ-like poses, and various prostitutes, girlfriends and relatives hitching up their skirts. Given the looming horror of war and the fact that Sigmund Freud was hanging in the same circles, this obsession with sex and death is hardly surprising.

The works are mostly charcoal drawings with unorthodox washes of green and purple watercolour accentuating muscle and bone. Often the only colour is red; accentuating the lips, nips and lips again of the various ladies. Many of the works on display are still disturbing now so it's easy to imagine the rumpus they must have caused 100 years ago. One of the joys of the exhibition is listening to the reactions of the public. "I knew I didn't like Egon Schiele!" harrumphs one old fossil, "I'm going downstairs!", while his wife titters. I guess this is probably the first time he's seen female genitals in a while.

It's remarkable that a few sketches from a hundred years ago can still rouse such strong feelings. I don't know whether Schiele is a wicked child abuser or a champion of feminism (arguments have been made for both cases) but his skill as a draughtsman, in particular his mastery of line, is undeniable. He never used rubbers (no sniggering at the back please), nor did he try to disguise errors, instead incorporating these mistakes, so that hands occasionally look like tangled claws.

No doubt his pal Sigmund would have had a field day psychoanalysing the fact that Egon's self-portraits depict a skinny, twisted wreck, while his female subjects are, if not always beautiful, then at least usually bold, confident and defiant. Indeed, the look suggested by the women in one of the most famous pictures, the self-explanatory "Two Girls Embracing" is not so much "come hither" as "fuck off, you're not invited".

Several of the pictures are signed along two different edges, hinting that the works could be hung and viewed from entirely different angles. This provokes the curious spectacle of a gallery full of people tilting their heads to 90 degrees. Many exhibitions claim to be head-turning. This one really is.


Scotland the Brave

I have very mixed feelings about the referendum. Head says no, heart says yes, etc. Not that it matters since I don't even get a vote. Still, I've got a 100 pound bet on it being No, so I reckon I'll be happy whatever happens.

Meanwhile, here's two genuine messages I sent to the campaign leaders yesterday. They still haven't got round to replying. I expect they're a bit busy right now.

Dear Alistair Darling

As we reach the closing crucial hours of this historic campaign I feel it is up to every Scottish citizen to lend their weight to your noble cause.

Please therefore accept this sincere offer of my pop band, the New Royal Family's much loved composition Scotland The Brave (a modern twist on the old classic) as our contender for the official anthem of the BETTER TOGETHER campaign.

The song was composed way back in 1986 when I was just a naive schoolboy at Brechin High in the county of Angus, and yet it was not properly recorded until I had made my fortune in London, with the help of fine fellows and ladies from south of the border (and an American, but that's not particularly relevant to the argument I'm trying to make here). This combination of Scottish and English talents I think symbolises more perfectly than even JK Rowling's impassioned ramblings, the great things that the Scots and English have achieved together, and can continue to achieve if we just put our differences aside and stop squabbling about oil.

Indeed, the lyrics today are more relevant than ever. "SNP propaganda (SNP!)" we chant, before delivering the sucker punch "Like living in a verandah" - an indictment of the fairy tale economics of Alex Salmond and his Tartan Tories.

It is thus with great pride that I make this humble offering to the BETTER TOGETHER campaign and hope that, by uniting the forces of your functional grasp of macro economic policy and our catchy singalong, we can continue to reap the combined benefits of the United Kingdom.

I tried to send an mp3 but the form wouldn't let me, so here's our simple but effective video on YouTube:

Please let me know if you'd like an mp3 or CD version. If you're a vinyl man, you'll have to wait for our Greatest Hits, due next year.

Whatever the outcome, I hope our song raises a smile!

Lang may yer lum reek, Darling!

Yours in excited anticipation

David Barnett

Dear Alex Salmond

As we reach the crucial closing hours of this historic campaign I feel it is up to every Scottish citizen to lend their weight to your noble cause.

Please therefore accept this sincere offer of my pop band, the New Royal Family's much loved composition Scotland The Brave (a modern twist on the old classic) as our contender for the official anthem of the YES campaign.

The song was composed way back in 1986 when I was just a naive schoolboy at Brechin High in the county of Angus, struggling to pass my O Grades despite Mrs Thatcher's attempt to weaken our hardy Scots bones by her Great School Milk Robbery of just a few years earlier.

Yet the lyrics today are more relevant than ever. "SNP propaganda (SNP!)" we chant, in probably one of the earliest namechecks of your great party in song form, particularly in the 80s when no one took it seriously. "A third world country, flushed down the drain" we predict of the fate that awaits us if we continue to be dictated to from Westminster, pointing the finger of blame at the "Sassenachs (who) don't give a sh**".

It is thus with great pride that I make this humble offering to the YES campaign and hope that, by uniting the forces of your fine oratory and our catchy singalong, we can at last throw of the yoke of more than three centuries of English oppression.

An mp3 is attached, or you can watch our simple but effective video on YouTube:

Please let me know if you require a CD version. If you're a vinyl man, you'll have to wait for our Greatest Hits, due next year.

Lang may yer lum reek, 'Eck!

Yours in excited anticipation

David Barnett (A Scotsman living in London)
Astonishingly it is now more than a year since the the revamped edition of my book came out (and even longer since I bust a gut to hit the January 2013 deadline).

Commercial break: it's currently available in not very many good bookshops plus ON SPECIAL OFFER ON AMAZON RIGHT NOW! http://www.amazon.co.uk/Suede-The-Biography-David-Barnett/dp/0233003762

During this long interval the publishers have been suspiciously quiet. I really didn't want to have to beg for a free copy, but then I realised that this false pride was pointless and thought I'd get in touch. I endeavored to be as polite as possible ...

Hi Roland

Hope all is well with you. I was just checking in to see how things were going with the Suede biography as unbelievably more than a year has whizzed by since the publication date and I don't think I've heard anything from you or anyone at Carlton in that time.

For my part, I managed to secure interviews with UK and US publications (notably the Quietus), hosted a Suede quiz (with a concurrent one taking place on Twitter), formed a Suede tribute band called Animal Nitwits, squeezed plugs into a couple of gig reviews and led several Suede-themed walking tours of London. Please let me know if you'd like any further details on any of these activities.

Obviously it goes without saying that I'm more than happy to do anything else within my abilities to help promote the book. I realise the band have dipped out of the spotlight recently but a new album is in the offing so hopefully that will help to rekindle some interest.

Also, I still haven't received my complimentary copies yet (I believe this was supposed to be ten copies) so if you could give the relevant parties a prod that would be much appreciated, since I promised copies to various helpful people who gave their time to be interviewed for the update. It might be easier to have them delivered to my work address.

I think the new edition looks very nice indeed, although one major flaw that various people have pointed out is that their has been a bit of a cock-up with the timeline - in particular all or most of 1994 has gone awry, which is rather unfortunate as this is arguably the most important year in Suede history. Do you think it would be possible to have this fixed in any future reprints, or at least in the e-book version?

I'd be very grateful if you could update me accordingly.

Many thanks and best wishes


I received the following, not entirely satisfactory, reply. Still, at least it looks like I might get to see the bloody thing shortly ...

Hi David,

Good to hear from you again. I’m very well thanks, hope you are too.

Sounds like you have been busy Suede-ing it around!

I will order books from the warehouse for you today, sorry about that oversight.

Please can you let me know precisely what needs to be done to 1994 and I will get it sorted out for e-books initially and to make sure it’s ready in case of reprints.

With best wishes,


Blackpool Rock

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, although that very much depends on which bit of seaside it is. I've been to Blackpool a couple of times before, as a Suede groupie/lackey in the 90s, and remember it being a desperately sad place, not so much in need of a lick of paint as in need of being ripped up and started again. Perhaps that's why it's the perfect place for Rebellion, a festival in name, but in reality more of an AGM for punk rockers stuck in a weird timewarp - not as you might expect of the 1977 vintage, but more the fag end circa 1981 when the dwindling faithful scrawled "Punk's Not Dead" on the back of their leather jackets, the cool kids who liked dressing up had binned the bin liners to become new romantics or goths, and arguably the only decent punk band left by that time took a great big bite out of the rabid hand that fed by releasing a single called "Punk IS Dead".

Fast forward to last weekend and here I was again, this time as the bass player of cult death rock legends, the Google-flummoxing "Part 1". Don't worry if you haven't heard of them, I hadn't either until just over a year ago when they got back together to play Rebellion 2013, some 30 years after their last gig. The original trio had been joined by my flatmate and eternal teenager/anarcho drummer Chris. Then on the eve of this great comeback their bass player went AWOL and they were forced to perform as a bassless three-piece. I said I'd stand in if they had anything else coming up until they found a proper replacement. We've since played storming gigs in London, Brighton and Paris, with shows in Helsinki and beyond coming up shortly.

Nikki and Richard of Quango on merchandise duties:


Our Blackpool performance, sadly, was something of an anti-climax. An early slot, mediocre turnout, technical hitches, embarrassing gaps and some shoddy playing meant that my immediate impression was that it had been a total disaster, not least because my girlfriend was seeing us for the first time. But happily it seemed that we had just about gotten away with it. Despite having run over time and having to ditch half the set we were called back for an unexpected encore. Part 1 t-shirts, badges, patches and other goodies flew off the stall. Mark Perry of Sniffing Glue fame asked if we'd be interested in supporting his band, Alternative TV (yes please).

A grumpy Part 1 take to the stage:


Of course the best thing about getting the show over and done with by teatime was it meant we could enjoy the rest of the festival. I finally got to see Hardskin in the flesh and thoroughly enjoyed belowing "We are the Wankers!" along with their far more substantial crowd. I was a bit puzzled when, bizarrely, my old boss's ex wife turned up and started going on about how she didn't understand how some people didn't realise they were a joke. I didn't realise they were a joke, although they are very funny (see also the New Royal Family). Our great new showbiz mates ATV were excellent too, although Steve Ignorant's new band was a personal disappointment as I'd just read his autobiography and thoroughly enjoyed it.

As you might expect, the music all became rather samey after a while and I had much more fun just wandering about, gawping at the sights, drooling over some of the records and marveling at the venue. The Winter Gardens is an incredible art deco complex (although bits of it date back to Victorian times), reminiscent of what I imagine Alexandra Palace must have been like before it was bombed. Indeed the cavernous theatre where we briefly watched the UK Subs was more impressive than the band. After some 12 hours of drinking we skipped Killing Joke and popped into Ma Kelly's, packed with hen parties and karaoke style cabaret, to dance to Knock on Wood, along with We Are The Wankers probably THE song of the weekend.

Here's Nikki with one of the many interesting characters we met:


Webby there actually made it into The Guardian too: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/aug/09/rebellion-punk-festival-blackpool-winter-gardens-in-pictures

Breakfast in Pat's Guest House was at 9 sharp so we were up earlier than was probably wise and teetered cautiously along the seemingly endless seafront. Blackpool Tower was wrapped in scaffolding. The three piers in various states of delapidation. And the famous "Pleasure Beach" took an eternity to reach as we passed a bamboozling assortment of shops, fast food outlets and Scooby Doo style fun houses that combined to create an assault on the senses that I think is popularly known as cognitive dissonance. Just when it seemed things could get no weirder a pink fairytale carriage would trundle by, drawn by horses with Barbie pink hair. Or the Red Arrows would roar overhead, spurting red white and blue graffiti over the grey sky. The whole experience was given a heightened touch of the bizarre by the random appearance of punks with multi-coloured mohicans on every corner. But I have to say, the people were all lovely, and there was something about Blackpool's defiant refusal to die despite being so obviously past its sell-by date that was actually rather charming and inspirational.

Nikki was determined to make the most of the theme park. We asked the man on the desk which ride he would recommend. "I wouldn't recommend any of them," he replied, quite seriously. "I've worked here five years and wouldn't go on any of them!" So Nikki dragged me on to some kind of bobsleigh contraption which cost 10 pounds and lasted for about that many seconds, which was more than enough given the punishment my poor old bones took. While she hung around for more of the same, I hooked up with Part 1 guitarist Mark and our skinhead roadie Richard who had been on a shopping spree. Richard's haul included a plastic dog turd, some smoke bombs, a fake parking ticket, and a CD of protestant anthems called "We Hate the IRA". Perhaps fortunately he had refrained from buying one of the golliw*gs displayed proudly alongside the Blackpool rock and candifloss in the myriad outlets of tatt.

As we hopped off the tram on our return to the guesthouse to pick up our bags, two biplanes flew overhead. There were people STANDING ON TOP OF THEM, flapping their arms about like demented semaphore signallers. I like to think they were waving us goodbye. Much to our amazement we had all had quite a splendid time after all. Thank you Blackpool. See you next year?

Walking like Akela

More than ten years have passed since, at the arse end of February 2004, the old Suede office on White Lion Street (or White Line Street as it was often referred for reasons I can’t begin to fathom) finally shut up shop. We went out with a bang with a suitably debauched party whose guests included members of Suede, the Jesus & Mary Chain and, um, hot new acts Luxembourg and The Boyfriends, as well as an impressive legion of industry bigwigs and hangers on - all of us squeezed into the hot confines of the claustrophobic concentrated complex of four tiny box-shaped rooms at a time when the smoking ban seemed a ludicrous proposition that would never be enforceable in liberal England. For some reason I decided Bailey's would be my drink of choice that evening.

Also in attendance was Lindy Heymann, director of Suede's first couple of suitably low-rent promotional videos who, in a nice piece of serendipidy had also recently directed the video to Suede's swansong, the largely forgotten but actually quite good Attitude. The video was filmed at the wonderful Wilton's Music Hall and starred Alien legend John Hurt. Had I known he'd be a future Doctor Who I'd probably have been even more impressed than I already was. Lindy and I got on like a pair of pants on fire, or at least I thought we did in my Bailey’s-fuelled state. When she revealed that she was still in ownership of the one-piece Veruschka-inspired body suit from The Drowners, we (or let’s be honest, I) hatched a plan to dig it out and have me wear it in the debut video of my hot new band’s yet to be released debut single. Perhaps fortunately for all concerned, that plan came to naught. But I also got her to confirm the whereabouts of the legendary “Drowners bridge” from the aforementioned vid – hidden, as I had suspected, in the no-man’s land between the notorious Maiden Lane estate and the sprawling abandoned goods yards of Kings Cross, which were only just being warmed up for redevelopment after a century of neglect.

Maiden Lane – a nod to the “unfortunate” ladies of the night that used to ply their trade up that road (since nudged just spitting distance away to Market Road) – is pretty much all that remains of Agar Town. The ugly sister of Camden Town or Kentish Town, it had more in common with the near-slum of Somers Town, some of which still survives squeezed between the leviathans of Euston and St Pancras. Agar Town was even less fortunate: dozens of streets, hundreds of homes and thousands of lives were demolished in the name of progress. Agar Town was quite literally erased from the map (Agar Grove is the only visible clue remaining) to make way for the vast railway lands of Kings Cross and St Pancras.

It was as I was explaining all this to poor Lindy that somehow the vital connection between Suede and psychogeography was made. At least, it was in my confused head. Obviously, it had always existed, in the backstreets that Brett’s endless hired cars drove him and his lanky heroines through. And not just those strange, almost gleefully teenage lyrics but also the perennial interviews about wandering mapless through the capital’s highways and byways that took an arcane knowledge to understand compared with the dull grid patterns of America.

As someone who had just found himself with a hitherto unknown large amount of spare time on his hands and feet, wandering mapless around London was something I did quite a lot of over the coming months, and not just in my largely fruitless quest for some kind of gainful employment for when the stash of Suede goodies I’d been stockpiling under the bed finally ran out. But how to combine this wanderlust and my unparalleled fountain of apparently now useless Suede knowledge (since the book had come out and they’d gone and split up with a whimper unbecoming of their influential cult status)?

And so, almost as a joke, the concept of Suedewalks was hatched. The formula was simple: get some fellow aficionados together, follow a route joining as many Suede-related dots together as possible and stop off in the odd watering hole to reminisce starry eyed about the good old days. “Suedewalks are and always will be free!” I declared, perhaps a little naively in retrospect. But hey, it’s good to give something back right?

The first one took us around those urban railway lands, to the pub where the Metal Mickey promo was shot, over The Drowners bridge and onto Camden where Morrissey came to scribble the words to My Insatiable One at the Camden Palace and Bernard ran along the high street in his pants for reasons best known to him. It seemed to be a success.

Since then I’ve probably led around a dozen similar tours around different parts of London – with the parties varying in size from one solitary confused fan to a dozen or more. Suedewalks even ended up being featured in the Guardian’s travel section once upon a time, but have become less frequent as the years have ticked on.

But of all these many arse-slapping perambulations, none have been as enjoyable personally as the one that took place last weekend, after a Portuguese Suede fan called Miguel casually enquired as to whether anyone fancied a Suedewalk. It turned out lots of people did. In fact, as we assembled outside the Boogaloo in Highgate, our departure was constantly delayed by news that someone else was on their way and would be with us “any minute now”. There must have been around a dozen of us when the landlord grew curious and after we’d all had a drink before even taking one proper step of our walk, armed us with a bag full of beer! This was undoubtedly the best start to a Suedewalk ever.

And so it continued, the wonderfully varied gang of Suedeheads of all ages, genders and nationalities, cooing at these now legendary sights and sites, taking photos of the trees that Brett was too Siamese to catch the leaves from and generally having a jolly good reminisce down Memory Lane via Brett Boulevard. Among the tenuously linked locations on this route were Holly Village where Steve Jones berates Tona de Bret (Brett Anderson and Johnny Rotten’s vocal coach) during his hunt for Malcolm McLaren (now buried next door in Highgate Cemetery) and the Dead End Street from the Kinks’ Dead End Street (er, Brett covered one of their other songs once). When I moved to London in 1995, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle was around 16 years old while that Kinks record had come out 30 years previously.

As we reached the scene of Suede’s first ever live performance at Hampstead’s White Horse I realised that that debut gig had taken place more than 24 years ago, and was therefore just as much a part of rock’n’roll history to this new generation of Suede devotees as those Sex Pistols and Kinks haunts had been when I first ran away to the big smoke. So their excitement was entirely justified and wonderfully intoxicating. Indeed, as we finally settled down in a Kentish Town boozer, and at least three of the gang eagerly presented their new editions of the Suede biog for me to sign (cough, dear publishers, where are my free copies eh?) I can truthfully say I don’t think I’ve had as much fun nattering about Suede since I grilled Brett for the book more than ten years ago.

“You know,” beamed Samantha, wearing a Dog Man Star t-shirt and possibly among the most enthusiastic of our troupe, “You’re not nearly as up your own arse as I thought you’d be.”

I’m hoping that goes on Trip Advisor.


ps: Looks like Miguel enjoyed himself too: http://strange-sound.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/suedewalk-2014.html

Never Mind the Balaerics

I'm approaching the end of my near week of much needed rest and recuperation at Nikki's parents' luxury retreat in Mallorca. Although I've been lucky enough to visit Prague and Paris recently I felt I could really do with a holiday doing bugger all.

We've both had a rum time of it at work recently. Nikki's dream job at the Jewish community centre turned out to be not quite as dreamy as she'd anticipated. Meanwhile I've increasingly come to the conclusion that although I enjoy my work very much, the organisation itself is decidedly suspect. My superiors are obviously aware of my discontent because the other day my big boss invited me for a "catch up" which seemed a bit fishy as I don't think he's ever spoken to me in a one-to-one sitch before. I reckoned I was either up for a much-deserved promotion or a much-undeserved redundancy and was quite excited at the prospect of either option.

He took me to one of those dreadful fast food chains masquerading as coffee shops and bought me a bowl of hot milk then started telling me that my work was among the best the company produces. You may find it hard to believe but I'm quite a sucker for flattery so I said that this was very rewarding to hear, although inwardly I was thinking that this was a bit of an indictment of the company since I have no idea what I'm doing half the time. He then said that it was as frustrating for him not to be able to reward talent as it was for me. I was not entirely convinced by the veracity of this argument. He asked if I had any concerns about the business. I cautiously said I didn't know how honest it would be wise for me to be. He said I should be completely honest. However, I got the distinct impression that he didn't like me being honest at all and he hasn't spoken to me since.


So, as I was saying, good to get away. Our first full day was spent lounging under palm trees. I read a novel about Caligula, which seemed suitably louche. I bought Nikki the first Adrian Mole book as she had never read any of them. It was nice to hear her giggling away. As you can probably tell, he has been a dead good inspiration on my journalistic development.

However, I'm not very good at relaxing. Lying around not doing very much gives one an awful time to think about things, which inevitably leads to worry and panic. Also, lying around not doing very much is terrible for my condition so all the relaxing resulted in quite a lot of pain. The fact that I had fried myself by the inept application of suntan lotion probably didn't help. So I spent most of Thursday in bed feeling sorry for myself and freaking out about stupid things like the fact that all the furnishings in the luxury holiday villa are exactly the same as those in Nikki's north London flat, even down to the plates and cutlery. This is why relaxing does me no good.

Thus with a steely determination to conquer my funk we set off for an ill-advised run in the mid-day sun on Thursday. It felt really good to move about. Renewed with fresh vigour I decided to swim across to the island across the bay. It's probably only a few hundred metres but it feels like miles and I felt a proper sense of achievement. Unlike my previous visit two years ago, I brought some flip flops with me to ease exploration of the jagged rocks. The island reminded me of the one in the novel of You Only Live Twice, populated by hazards. There were a lot of mysterious creatures darting across my path in the corner of my eye. They were probably newts but in my mind they were those tiny dinosaurs that terrorising the hapless bloke in Jurassic Park 2.


In the evening we caught the bus into Palma. Nikki looked at shoes and I didn't. But I did buy a pair of cheap sunglasses that looked exactly the same as the ones that were €192.01 more expensive. We got slightly lost in the narrow winding streets and I enjoyed that. Had another look at the massive cathedral. Nikki's dad claims it is so big you can see it from space. Then we went for a very acceptable Thai. The dessert took so long to arrive that they gave it to us for free. Another small but significant victory for our side.

Pumped with undeserved confidence I attempted a second swim to the island the following day. I manage to catch my knee on one of the rocks as I clambered onto the shore and then got a bit paranoid that the blood dripping from my knee might attract man-eating sharks or similar predators. I attempted swimming back to the mainland on my back with my injured leg raised out of the water, but this proved impracticable. Anyway, the good news is that the man-eating sharks didn't strike.

I still felt a bit restive after that so I decided to go on an adventure. Nikki enjoys lying about in the sun more than I do so I agreed to be back in time to make her tea. I had a vague idea to climb the hills to the big monument I'd spied on our run to the shops but actually getting to the hills in question proved problematic as there was a big motorway separating them from me. After getting lost in some woods, which smelled lovely and seemed very alien with their giant cacti and rocky foundations, I spent a lot of time walking up cul-de-sacs and along steep driveways that ended at a private residence or others that started off uphill then took a long wide arc and ended up back at sea level. However, after about two and a half hours I eventually reached my destination. I must say the views were absolutely cracking. From my elevated position, above the clouds I could see Palma and the cathedral that you may or may not be able to see from space. And also the king's holiday home - I guess the equivalent of Balmoral. They say he's bedded 1,500 women. That's loads. No wonder he's abdicating.

Getting home was much easier. I just headed down towards the sea then turned right. When I returned Nikki was almost in tears. She thought I'd only been intending to go for a half hour walk and assumed I must have fallen off a mountain to my doom. I made her a slap up mushroom and tagliatelle concoction to make up for it. We've been extremely lucky in that her folks filled the fridge for us the last time they were here so we've feasted like kings the whole time.

And now she is beckoning me to the pool again. Let's see if I can get any better at this relaxing business. Adios!



Knowing Me Knowing You Praha!

The last time I went to Prague it was less than ten years since the collapse of communism and only a handful since the Czech Republic had split from Slovakia. Despite inclement weather I was totally zapped out by it and had always meant to return but was put off by the endless warnings of how it had since been ruined by an influx of tourists and stag parties. It's probably true to say that there are more tourists and stag parties than there were in the mid 90s. However, the reasons for this are, respectively, IT'S AMAZING and CHEAP BEER, so complaining about Prague being full of tourists is a bit like grumbling about Paris or London for the same reason, except that beer costs a fraction of the price. Indeed, even the couple of times we felt totally ripped off by having to pay around 100 kr a pint, we later worked out that this was still only about £3.20. This compares pretty favourably with 10 euros for half a pint at Montmartre. The cheapest pint was 26 kr - less than a pound. The food is cheap too. In fact, our entire spending money for five days was a little over a hundred quid. Conclusion: Prague is brilliant for those who conform to the Scottish and Jewish skinflint stereotype.

So that's the cheap beer bit. The amazing bit is simply that everywhere you look is either stunning or bonkers. It looks like Disneyland made of marzipan. It's absolutely dripping with history. And unlike London where the history kind of fizzles out with the Blitz, here it's bang up to date. There are constant reminders of "The Totalitarian Regime" as it's referred to on various plaques. In the last hundred years alone it's been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then one of the most modern democracies of the early 20th century as Czechoslovakia, then part of Nazi Germany as the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia under arch-bastard Heidrich, then engulfed by the Warsaw Pact after "liberation" and consequently invaded by their own allies (!) during the Prague spring of 68, before the velvet revolution and independence of what feels like lunchtime last Tuesday. And that's before you get onto all the blind kings and chucking people out of windows that seem to be a national pass time.


The ironic thing is, it's due to all this desperately bad luck in the 20th century that so much of Prague's historic architecture remains. The fact that the allies sacrificed Czechoslovakia in order to buy a bit more time (Chamberlain's "peace in our time" scrap of loo roll) meant that the Nazis were able to march in and take it over without bombing the shit out of it first. And the consequent Soviet control for the second half of the 20th century meant that there was precious little in the way of gentrification or modernisation, other than a few tell tale brutalist living blocks on the edges of town. Thus you have this incredible living time capsule with gothic, baroque, art deco, art nouveau and pretty much every other architectural style you can think of (I couldn't think of any more) rubbing up against each other like giant pastel coloured wedding cakes.


They're also really big on weird modern art. There's an enormous metallic silver pregnant woman whose womb you can climb into. So obviously I did, inspiring an entire group of French students to do the same. Pas de problem. There are figurines floating on umbrellas like Mary Poppins, suspended from telephone wires. There are giant magic mushrooms and knights riding horses upside down in the 1920s shopping arcades. It was terribly fitting that one of the first things we discovered was a Tim Burton exhibition. The one major development from my previous visit was a bizarre outburst of segways. Everywhere we went, groups of tourists glided by like crap Daleks. The whole experience was like being in an outlandish fantasy movie. The fact that we were permanently in a state of mild inebriation probably helped.


Coming up next: what we did on our holidays.

Happy New Year?

Thundering typhoons, is that the time? Here we, three weeks into 2014 and my last proper brainshit here was in September. And that was about some run I did in May. I was going to do that end of year meme that always does the rounds at the end of the year, but now that it's no longer the end of the year, or even the start of a new one, it seemed a little futile. A nation shrugs.

One of the questions that always comes up is the Happier/Sadder than last year conundrum. I was alarmed to realise as I looked back on 2013 that I was distinctly less happy than at the same point a year previously. It's not like I was Suicidal "He's always trying to pop his cork" Syd from Viz, but I was definitely unsatisfied.

After some soul-searching I realised that this disatisfaction revolved around three things: work/home/relationship with the ever-present spectre of my degenerative physical condition lurking in the background. I also realised that it was really work that was impacting negatively on my relationships with my flatmates and my girlfriend, and that this was really the root of my ill-ease in other departments.

Now then, as Han Solo said, a man makes his own luck. Actually, I've just looked that up and apparently it wasn't Han Solo, it was somebody called Billy Zane from Titanic. Han Solo said: "Laugh it up fuzzball!" but that's not really relevant to this discussion. So as someone called Billy Zane from Titanic said, a man makes his own luck.

Therefore I decided that 2014's New Year Resolutions should be attempts to address the aforementioned concerns. I solemnly vowed to:

1. Be nicer to my girlfriend
2. Be more tolerant of my flatmates
3. But look for somewhere else to live
4. Join a union
5. Sign up for an online Excel course
6. Register with recruitment agencies
7. Attend the local Ankylosing Spondilitis support group

For 1 and 2, you'd have to ask them whether or not I've been successful.
3 has taken a bit of a back seat, mainly because I had the flat to myself for the first couple of weeks of the year.

But more measurable success can be found in points 4 to 7, all of which I have initiated. And it's incredible the peace of mind these have brought about. So already January, often the gloomiest month of the year, seems distinctly more promising than the arse end of 2013. The fact that I started it with a 5km run at 9am on New Year's Day, rather than a hangover the size of Ukraine probably helped too.

But enough of this navel-gazing, I've got a gig to play - the first of 2014. Back where I'm often happiest, as seventh guitarist in Keith Top of the Pops & His Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band. Camden Monarch. 10pm. It's free. Come on down. It'll be nice to see you ...

Marathon Man

So the German leg of our enormously enjoyable tour with Art Brut came to an end and a few days later I hopped on a train to Scotland to head for my first full marathon. One of the most wonderful things about the tour for me was heading out for a run in a strange city each morning. I say each morning, although predictably the runs got less and less frequent as the tour went on. But I still managed to run at least every other day and I was quite impressed with my commitment and resolve, which it has to be said are not the characteristics I'm renowned for.

Here's the run I did the morning after our first show:

Picture 12

A lot of people are put off of marathons because of the amount of training it's supposed to take, but I thoroughly enjoyed expanding the radius of my usual routes. I felt a bit like a pioneer, charging into the unknown. I didn't really pay much attention to any official training regime; I just tried to run a bit further than usual on a regularish basis. Most of my "long" runs were around the 2 hour mark, because I find it starts to get a bit boring after that and I don't ever want running to be boring or indeed hard work. I run because it's fun and it makes me feel good; the health aspects and fund-raising are simply happy by-products.

I love exploring anyway, so running beyond my usual comfort zones meant I discovered all sorts of brilliant new woods, nature reserves and other secret bits of north London. I very rarely set out with a definite route in mind but just had a look at a map beforehand and tried to head in a direction that looked predominantly leafy. One wood that confused me was just north of the Spaniards. I ran round in circles many times trying to find this mythical forest called Turners Wood. Only after much Googling did I discover that it is in fact a PRIVATE WOOD, with no public access. It's basically hidden behind these massive mansions around the Bishops Avenue. Apparently Liz Taylor used to play their as a child, which just added to the mystique for me. Another discovery which I was able to utilise regularly was the Dollis Valley Walk which goes from the Hampstead Heath extension all the way up to the real outskirts of London, sharing some of its route with the London Loop. You can go for almost ten miles through ostensibly urban areas without hardly ever seeing a car or even much concrete. On one of my longer runs I was trying to find High Barnet but got lost and ended up at Cockfosters, right at the end of the Piccadilly Line. It's pretty amazing that you can get to the end of the tube from central London simply by moving one foot in front of the other and repeating.

Anyway, I was reasonably confident of completing the marathon, but I was well aware that it would be much more of an endurance test - rather than a race per se - than any run I'd done before. One of the young chaps I run with at work had just done the Paris Marathon and really struggled, coming in at 4 hours 25 seconds. If he'd done each mile one second faster he'd have broken the 4 hour barrier - which was at the bottom end of my target finishing time.

So the big day came and I have never felt such a buzz at the start of a race. A truly terrific atmosphere. Due to Edinburgh having been wantonly vandalised by the never ending tram debacle, I was actually a bit late, but this worked out well as it meant there was no time to start fretting and I simply turned up and started running at the back of the very long queue.

While the city of Edinburgh is notoriously hilly, what with being built on the core of an old volcano etc, the Marathon is not. Only about two miles of it is actually in town, and downhill at that, and the rest is almost entirely flat, along the coast, through the satellite towns and villages like Prestonpans and other places I'd forgotten even existed but that I'd visited in my childhood. The vibe was really quite thrilling with well-wishers along most of the route. There were kids handing out sweets and plastic cups of water etc and it was really quite touching. I was careful to pace myself well, sticking to a steady 8 minute mile pace which is pretty easy going for me, but I knew I had to keep plenty in reserve. The biggest challenge in the early miles was not going too fast.

By about half way, I was on target to be on the right side of 3 and a half hours (my dream target) and I vainly started thinking "This is a piece of piss - I'm gonna smash this!"

However, inevitably, as I racked up the miles, fatigue began to set in. I wouldn't say I hit the legendary wall, it just gradually but increasingly got tougher and tougher. The route looped back on itself at about 16 miles and that gave me quite a boost as I saw just how many people were still miles behind. From then on, though, it became a proper struggle. To my shame I even stopped a couple of times. Not for long, just to down some water or squirt another energy gel all over my face, but starting again was a real effort. When I got to 22 miles I was telling myself, "Come on Dave, it's only four miles - you do that every lunchtime. Just get your head down and it'll all be over in half an hour!" But after a momentary spurt I slowed down to a snail's pace. Nevertheless, a cheer from my mum, her boyf and my old mucker Chrissy Boy gave me a much needed boost and I managed to pick up the pace just a tiny bit as I reached the outskirts of Musselburgh where the race ended. I knew I'd buggered my chances of getting inside 3.30 but I hoped I could still beat 3.45 and with my gangly lallies screaming as I charged towards the finishing line.

By the miracle of modern technology, a text message arrived almost instantaneously with my official chip time: 3.37.26. Not bad at all.

Picture 14

The great thing about running a marathon is that people can generally grasp the concept that it's quite a big deal. In my little cocooned indie world, people might be impressed by going on tour with the Divine Comedy or whatever, but for the wider public that sort of thing means very little - a marathon is something that pretty much everybody knows is, well, a marathon not a sprint. My mum was bursting with pride and that was worth more than all the gold discs in the world. Also my real dad, who I haven't seen for about 15 years, cycled all the way from the outskirts of Bathgate to cheer me on. He missed me, but I was touched by the thought. He was impressed by my time too - and he's a proper runner. So that was nice.

I also raised a staggering £1,150 for the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society - more than double my original target. A huge thanks to all my amazing sponsors. Without wishing to sound too wanky, the thought that so many people had given so generously definitely spurred me on during the moments when every fibre of my aching limbs was pleading with me to pack the whole thing in and have a nice lie down.

After the most delicious pint I have ever drunk, I got the train back to London later that evening. It was packed with fellow marathon runners and was like one big joyous party. I got talking to one guy who'd run it in some insane time like 3 hours 12. His mum had died of cancer so he was doing it to raise money for Cancer Research. I couldn't remember his name but I did remember his time so I was able to work out who he was later and sponsor him myself once I got back. That felt good.

Anyway, after all that excitement, the prospect of doing a measly half marathon in less than a fortnight seems a bit feeble by comparison, but I'm doing it nonetheless. I appreciate that many people will be suffering from compassion fatigue by now, but if anyone would care to chuck a few pennies my way, I would be immensely grateful:


And if anyone else has ever considered doing a marathon, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It's undoubtedly one of the most rewarding things I've ever done.

Good luck!