Sunday, December 17, 2023

Great weekend - crap football, closing in on the 92


Going for the 92 has become a genuine and real possibility. I've done all the clubs in the present Championship, having reclaimed Southampton yesterday. Previous trips to The Dell were pretty mixed to be honest, but there was nothing mixed about a 4-0 defeat. 

We were well beaten, as my pal Trevor summed up much better than I could: "They were better than us from the first minute to the last. 2-0 would have flattered us and I thought we’d got away with it when they missed the penalty. Hard to think of anyone who played well - maybe the keeper even though he was the blame for the fourth goal. Hill and Moran strikingly poor. Travis and Garrett improved things a little with more energy. JDT had written off the game when he took off A Wharton and Trondstat. Our season won’t be defined by games against Leicester or Leeds or Southampton."

We went down for a weekend in the most Tory town I've ever stayed in - Winchester. They even sell those wide rimmed felt hats that Tory ladies wear with a shawl, accompanied by a fellah in red chinos.

Seriously, it was a lovely weekend away, and even the experience of the poor Rovers performance was tempered by the whole stadium experience.

It saddens me a bit how far behind Southampton we are as a club. There were 27,000 on yesterday and a tidy 1300 from Rovers, but the scale of the operation and the crowd had a Premier League feel about it. I don't get that at Ewood. 

I've been to loads of these new out-of-town bowls and this was OK. Pie was pricey, but tasty, it wasn't too far away from the station and the centre, and the stewards were some of the most polite and helpful I've witnessed. 

Anyway, it was the 79th of the current 92, completing the Championship and needing only a trip to Brentford's new stadium to sweep the current top two divisions. It was also the 172nd ground I've paid to watch football in.

I reckon I'll try and get a few more done this season and keep hoping that crap southern towns in League Two drop out and get replaced by ones I've done. 

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Journalism mattters

I came back into full-time frontline journalism a year ago to do three things: 
  1. Write the truth about bad people who were getting away with it; 
  1. Do interviews in front of audiences with inspiring people (like I did at JMW yesterday); 
  1. Carry on some of my academic work examining the efforts of people who are determined to make this region better than they found it.
This story about Lawrence Jones was one I have wanted to write for ten years, or more. The legal process can be slow. But justice has been served on this man. Let us never forget the brave women who risked so much to bring him down. And for those who enabled him, there will be a reckoning.

Warning. This is a long read. Thanks to for supporting me and giving me the time to write it, and a huge thanks to all those who helped with details.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Three years of Music Therapy

Music Therapy started out as a bid to be better mates with Neil Summers.

Me and Neil have always got on well and we bonded over the untimely death and musical life of Mark Hollis, the driving force behind the band Talk Talk.

I came up with the initial idea, Andy Hoyle at Tameside Radio gave us the green light, and Neil came up with the genius name.

Music is therapy isn’t it? 

Our show started during the second lockdown, on a Sunday night, with both of us at the time mildly dreading elements of our working lives.

We were convinced there are plenty of other people out there in the same boat, for whom Sunday night held an uncomfortable dread.

Music Therapy was always for them, something different, not too taxing, but ultimately uplifting.

Our first hour was usually full of nostalgic disco, Europop and a genre of music I never even knew had a name - sophisti pop.

I just thought it was the things I liked - bands like the Style Council, Prefab Sprout, Aztec Camera, early Simple Minds, Roxy Music and lots of Talk Talk. 

The second hour we quickly christened bean bag blowpipe hour, typified by proper chilled out tunes you might imagine yourself listening to as you drifted off in Ibiza with your toes in the evening sea listening to the music of the iconic Cafe del Mar.

I’ve got plenty out of doing the show for the last three years, mainly a deepening of our friendship, but also an appreciation of whole new types of music and artists I never knew existed, from all over the world.

Neil also introduced me to mates of his like Blossoms, DJ s like Luke Unabomber and Justin Robertson and opened my ears to the magic of Colleen Cosmo Murphy, Leo Zero and Jason Boardman, who have in turn continued to curate incredibly inspiring sets of music that touched our souls.

I’ve taken a deeper interest in new music and had my eyes and ears opened to creative geniuses from the past who may well have passed me by had I not made such an effort with the show.

We are far from musical snobs though. 

Early on, Neil said our show had to have no such thing as a guilty pleasure. There must be no artist who was off limits. 

I wasn’t sure he meant that until the second week when he added Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits and something by Phil Collins. 

Trust me, in my snooty musical upbringing there is nothing as uncool as those two, and yet I had always secretly loved Romeo and Juliet. Lifting that cloak of snootiness, and appreciating a beautiful song for what it is, was a game changer for me.

Since then we’ve found a golden thread of glorious music from unlikely sources. AD/DC, ELO, Status Quo, Queen, we even did a Gothic special and dropped over 100 versions of True Love Will Find You In The End, which became our mental health anthem.

We’ve also been resolutely proud of being from Manchester, but without resorting to the increasingly tiresome nostalgia fest of banging on about what went on in a certain former yachting showroom on Whitworth Street, even though both of us were regulars at different stages of our lives. 

Along the way we’ve shared these with our loyal band of listeners all across Tameside and beyond. The power of technology and the internet means we have been able to prescribe our regular musical fix to Middle East, North America, Italy, France, Australia and Mexico.

So that’s it now. We’ve done three years at Tameside Radio and have called time on the regular Sunday slot. Alex Cann and John Dash have happily left the door open for us to come back and do other things in the future, but while we’re both up for doing other things together, we’ve also got to concentrate on some of our other creative projects for the time being.

It’s been amazing, thanks for listening, look after each other out there.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

John Niven's O Brother might be his best book yet


One of my favourite fiction writers has just published his best book yet.

The twist though is it’s not a novel, or a screenplay, of which John Niven has earned fame and riches, but a true life harrowing account of the most dramatic event in his life; the death of his younger brother Gary in a hospital in Ayrshire in the west of Scotland in 2010.

O Brother is astonishingly well written, a breathtaking and pulsating roller coaster. But here’s the thing that I really didn’t expect; it’s also really very funny in parts.

In no way is it a misery memoir, but it succeeds on so many levels because it weaves in so many themes about families, class, culture and the chaos of modern life. 

Before his writing career took off John Niven was a talent spotter for a record label, which provided him with the raw material for his outstanding breakthrough novel Kill Your Friends, the rip roaring tale of 1997 Britpop excess, which I bought for my son Joe as part of his essential reading list for studying the Music Business at University.

In that era Niven (as he’s popularly known) notoriously turned down the chance to sign Coldplay and Muse, thinking the world already had one Radiohead and didn’t need another. Instead he backed Mogwai to the hilt, but also Gavin Clark of Sunhouse, one of my absolute favourite British singer songwriters, but who was (to put it politely) way before his time and out of step with the crazy Britpop times.

I‘ve seen John do author events before, but last week at Waterstones in Manchester an packed audience including Badly Drawn Boy, heard John and the writer Dave Haslam open up about the book and the process of writing it.

I asked him a couple of questions and had a chat to him at the end.

Honestly, I could have listened to him all night, but as we were chatting after he’d signed my book I looked over my shoulder and saw a queue of about fifty people glaring at me and quietly urging me to jog along.

I think that such was the familiarity and accessibility of his writing that it feels like getting back in touch with an old pal.

It’s clearly not just me he has that affect on. A few years ago I took the eldest son to see him with the writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie and like the latest event, was a brilliant evening, full of great stories about the music business, the film industry and the dire state of the world. But we were at the back of the queue that night and had to bail as people really wanted to talk to him. 

That night I took home a copy of Niven's novel, Kill 'em All, the follow up to Kill Your Friends in that particular comic universe, which I really, really enjoyed, but I described as like a band cashing in on a greatest hits tour before getting back to the studio and banging out another classic.

The novels before that one had been getting progressively more ambitious and expansive, Straight White Male and No Good Deed, really impressed on me how he'd progressed as a writer - observant, dark, but not without sensitivity. 

Yet seeing him up close backed up the point Stuart Maconie made - how can this affable, kind, funny man I have before me, who I know well, create a dastardly character with such an authentic and believable inner narrative as Stelfox?

It’s the writer’s skill. Having a good ear, as the late great Martin Amis put it. 

He spoke at the event last week about the writer’s desk being the place where he has time to think and reflect, in the way religious people pray. An outlet for contemplation, but also to replay back at the world as observed by the writer’s eye and ear.

There’s a passage in O Brother where he describes taking out his notebook in the bathroom of the hospital having just witnessed Gary’s demise and recorded all the details.

Here’s a line I have written myself on more than one occasion: this is John Niven's best book and marks his real growing maturity as a writer.

Music Therapy column from the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle

Friday, August 25, 2023

Fun at the Fringe


The Edinburgh festival was everything I expected and more.

I went with a bunch of mates with the core aim of having a laugh.

I guess if you go to a comedy festival for three days you should expect to.

I also came away with the shock revelation that local Tameside MP Angela Rayner likes music, dancing, vaping and having a drink on holiday with her mates.

I was literally there in the room when she said this to one of my favourite comedians, Matt Forde, in a live recording of his Political Party podcast. 

“You've got to go with the music, the vibes. You've got to be in the moment and it takes you.” 

Naturally, the Daily Mail presented this as a gotcha. 

While the Conservative supporting paper was willing to accept the explanation that Boris Johnson was ‘ambushed by a cake’ and hard working Downing Street staff only partied during the long dark days of lockdown because of the pressure of running the country, the coverage of Angela’s holiday story was dripping with judgement and finger wagging. 

It also triggered all the worst people on social media.  

You want your politicians to be serious and capable and willing to address the challenges of passing laws to make our lives better. She did all of that, but unsurprisingly it didn’t make the cut of the article in the Mail. 

It did trigger over 4000 people to add comments. Some of them saying ‘good for her’ but most just joining the pile on.

But I think for the most part it made her come across as human, as she always does. I’ve known her for over 8 years when she was a trade union rep in Stockport and I have seen her grow in confidence and stature.

But she’s also the same Ange in many ways. Good for her.

We didn’t go to the festival to be outraged by this, and we weren’t, but to be entertained.

The highlight for me was seeing Failsworth born comic Josh Jones, the brother of one of my best mates Sam and the butt of much of his material.

As well as loads of hilariously filthy revelations that I couldn’t possibly share in a family newspaper, Josh also ripped through stories of growing up in Manchester as Sam’s younger brother.

His whole act is a celebration of being gay and Mancunian and it was a riot. More of this please, I can thoroughly recommend seeing him when he next goes on tour.

The best thing about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival though is the moments of chance.

We played a game called “Fringe Chicken” where you randomly pick something high risk and just go with the flow, possibly the next flyer you get handed. 

The joke amongst our group was that last year they’d been to see North Korean wrestling, and it was as weird as you’d expect. Some of them hated it. Some just embraced the oddity.

This year we saw The Dark Room, a bizarre one-man show with John Robertson and the world's only live-action, text-based adventure game. I know, sounds insane, but it worked. 

We also ran into so-called comedian Stewart Lee, who I had seen in Buxton last year. I am terrible at making conversation with celebrities and mumbled something about looking forward to seeing him in Buxton again next year. 

He said it wouldn’t be for a couple of years as he was there in March. 

I had to correct him and tell him his own schedule and that he’s starring there on Friday the 24th of February 2024. A bit cringe, but we’ll be there.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Picking a side in the culture war

The culture wars are playing out everywhere this summer, including on our chilled out radio show. 

I hinted at this last week when the horrible right wing press cried crocodile tears over the death of Sinead O’Connor. The same lizards that will have mocked her mental illness, decried her efforts to expose injustice and sneered at her appearance.

I want the world to be nicer. I want people to be kind.

I would much rather we didn’t boil the planet and left somewhere habitable for our kids and grandkids.

I think my politics are pretty middle of the road, and all of the things I marched against in the 1980s when I was called a loony lefty, are pretty much accepted societal norms now. 

You know, not being a nazi, a racist, or being horrible to someone because of who they love.

Or arresting Irish people and throwing them in jail for crimes they haven’t done.

For me, music represents an opportunity to promote harmony, as well as occasionally being a voice for the voiceless. 

But the people who are fighting the culture war now are the perpetually angry, the frightened and confused who ended up winning a referendum in 2016 and don’t know what to do with the Brexit they won.

Stripped of one enemy without - those dratted eurocrats and bureaucrats - they are now constantly on the hunt for enemies within. Refugees, trans people, protestors, students, Mick Lynch.

The Daily Mail even publishes a Woke List. 

None of whom have been responsible for putting our energy bills up, or pumping sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas, or bringing the NHS to its knees and swollen the waiting lists to 7 million people.

None of them have pushed kids into food poverty, a mental health crisis and prevented our housing stock increasing to meet demand.

In the 80s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister I had plenty of friends who were Tories because their parents had bought their council house, their Dad had started his own business and they thought they might make a few quid off British Telecom shares. 

She had a dream, however flawed and selfish, of people owning their own house or business.

Harry Enfield had a character, Loadsamoney, he symbolised the spirit.

Even bands and fanzines could claim an enterprise allowance to claw out of unemployment by another route. 

But what have we got now? 

A few years ago, the former local DJ and Peak District sauce seller Elliot Eastwick created a comedy character called Ged, as in ‘Get it Done’ (say it quickly). 

He wore a flat cap, drove a wagon and supported Brexit.

He thought Boris was great, because he would ‘get it done’. 

Whatever ‘it’ was.

But Ged was no more ridiculous than Lee Anderson, the Tory party deputy chairman. Railing at the “woke brigade”. 

Same with GB News, Nigel Farage, and that bloke from Stalybridge who writes long letters to this newspaper. 

As a conservative, what does Lee Anderson want to conserve?

What do they think is good about the country?  What does the party they support feel proud of after running the country for 13 years? 

But it’s worse than that, because the parody has become the reality. Spewing hate, like sewage into the sea, is all they’ve got.

I’m not laughing anymore. The culture war is real. And this radio show has picked a side.

And we’re going to win, do you know why? Because despite everything we’ve got the best artistic parodies, like Cold War Steve (pictured), the best comedy, which I’ll be enjoying in Edinburgh next week, and the best music. 

And what have you ever produced? Jim Davidson.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

No, not Sinead


No, not Sinead, we both said. Of all the deaths that Music Therapy has lamented, then the tragic, awful, desperate sad loss of Sinead O’Connor has hit us the hardest.

We slipped a couple of songs that featured her on last week’s show.

But she’s been a constant since we started the show. Not only the greatest ever cover version, the transformation of a beautiful buried ballad in the archive of His Purple Highness (Prince) but Sinead truly did such an amazing, heart-rending job of making Nothing Compares 2 U her absolute own, that most tributes absolutely led on it last week.

Whenever I put together a playlist for our show, and add it to Spotify, and the anoraks amongst you are very welcome to take a look, then the next song the Spotify Artificial Intelligence powered robots suggest is Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart, featuring Sinead O’Connor, singing ‘Visions of You’. 

Stockport-based Jah Wobble, or Jon Wardle to his family, described her input into the project as “a huge act of generosity”. 

In one of the many, many tributes to her he added: “Typical of her. Refused to take a penny for the session. That track had a massive positive influence on my life. From writing the track with her voice in mind, through to recording it was transcendental.”

Her own songs were incredible too, I Am Stretched on Your Grave and Thank You For Hearing Me, and not just her covers. Though as well as NC2U, her rendition of John Grant's Queen of Denmark is off the scale.

I saw her perform just once, in 2011 at the Manchester International Festival.  

She performed a mix of old songs and new and, yes she did do THAT Prince cover. 

I remember saying at the time that her voice was truly incredible, of that there is no doubt. 

Some of her lyrics are breathtakingly poignant and reflect her complex and confused life - abusive mother, sexual orientation issues, bipolar, relationships, her vacillating faith. 

She carried with her such brutal honesty - such baggage - which clearly brought many hazards. 

As she told her own stories between the songs she never tried to hide anything. It was all laid bare. 

She was really good and I came away slightly comforted that she seemed to have found a kind of peace, and had begun to appreciate the talent she possesses and the respect she still has.

To remind myself of the date I found a review from the Daily Mail. Sure enough they were brutally rude about her and horrible, frankly. Spare me your false tears.

On the evidence of the concert I thought she was on the brink of a bit of a comeback. Her band was very tight and her reggae influences show a varied musical style that nicely complemented her own powerful vocal strength.

Last year, however, she lost her youngest son Jake to suicide. I honestly can’t comprehend how any parent recovers from such a trauma.

But she was recording new material. It is heart breaking that it has taken her death for so may to express the admiration and love they had for her, and the understanding and solidarity with her struggles, be they against the deeply conservative and repressive forces of Ireland’s Catholic church, the patriarchy, the media and the music business.

There have also been re-publications of some of her most memorable open letters. One to Miley Cyrus was priceless and direct.  

I don’t even know if it’s real or fake, but her response to Piers Morgan to a request to come on his show was hilarious. I can't repeat it in a family newspaper, but look it up.

RIP Sinead O’Connor. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Andy Burnham on Northern Spin


I had that Andy Burnham on my podcast the other week.

The Greater Manchester Mayor spent a good hour talking politics, sport and culture in a wide ranging interview on the Northern Spin podcast that I do with a small c conservative called Chris Maguire.

But I fluffed my lines.

I was meant to use the opportunity to get a few lines for the Music Therapy show. A few musical tips and to ambush Burnham with a story I’d heard about a nickname he acquired at the South By South West (SXSW) music and technology festival in Austin, Texas a few years ago.

A very reliable informant told me that word had rippled around the festival, amongst women of a certain age and disposition, that the Manchester stand was the place to hang out. 

Not to pick up a brochure on how the city has become a tech hub, but because of the presence of ‘Hottie Mayor” with the big eyelashes and a charming smile.

Getting a selfie with “HM” became the thing.

I’m sharing this with you now, but though it was in my mind when we were doing the interview in the podcast studio, I couldn’t quite find a way to get it into a question.

We did talk about SXSW though, where he was earlier this year too, partly to launch Manchester’s very own music convention later this year - Beyond The Music, the brainchild of Rose Marley and Oliver Wilson, son of the late great Tony Wilson, who’s passing at the age of 57 in August 2007 we still mourn. 

Here’s what he said:  “Does it get any better than introducing New Order from the stage in Austin? 

“I think it is possible because it's actually well documented that South by Southwest took inspiration from In The City, which was a Tony Wilson music conference that ran in the early 2000s.

“Beyond the Music is going to be a parliament for music. It's going to be a sort of co-operatively owned event, and it's going to be about getting all voices in the industry coming forward. So it will bring something different.”

The Mayor has been a regular and consistent supporter of local music since he was elected. He picks an Artist of the Month and encourages people to get along and support live music.

He also goes to gigs for fun, not just for the photocall. It’s his thing.  

In a magazine aimed at lads like us, Paninaro, up pops Burnham again.

The Scottish blokes who put it together were equally as charmed, though they didn’t call him ‘HM’.

A totally phoney politician would come up with stories for this audience about dancing on the stage of a certain Manchester nightclub in the 80s and 90s. 

Burnham tells the story about being turned away from the door as a fresh faced townie from Warrington.

He plugs a few bands for Paninaro - Slow Readers Club are the latest.

“In a different era they would have been everybody’s band. Quality wise, they are right up there.

“The Mayor’s Artist of the Month is there because of my upbringing and the joy music has given me. But you have to be critical of the place you are from as well. There is a tendency to trade on past glories…you’ve got to take inspiration from that and fire up what’s next.” 


A few days after we recorded our podcast, the Mayor was on stage at the Kendal Calling festival introducing big favourites of this show, Blossoms, giving a big shout-out to Stockport in the process.

I can’t think of many politicians who could get away with something like that without getting completely slaughtered.

As music fans, I think we’re very lucky to have support like this.

To hear his views on cricket, Catholicism, northern values and Gary Neville check out the Northern Spin podcast on YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts.