Friday, December 31, 2021

Lunch of the month for December - The Pack Horse at Hayfield

Alright, so this is a slight bending of the rules. Lunch of the month was invented to give due credit to indie joints in Manchester when I worked there everyday. I revived it, post-lockdown, when I started popping into town again.

December has been a weird one. I didn't get out much, bizarrely because I had a lot of actual work to do from home and from Lancashire, Tameside, and the Peak District.

The winner then, by a mile, is the Pack Horse at Hayfield. I know the full experience rather busts the budget of a tenner, but the Manchester Egg doesn't. £7 of pure love.

Happy New Year. I promise a fuller foodie range in January. 

New cure for cancer still not as good as Succession

A few years ago one of those super smart spoof news sites, The Daily Mash, did a story with such searing insight it stopped me in my tracks. "New cure for cancer is good, says The Guardian, but still not as good as The Wire."

It can be easily updated today for pretty much any discussion of Succession. 

It is so universally, critically and publicly applauded that I'm expecting the ferocious public backlash any day now.

I make absolutely no apologies for being one of those people who wax lyrical about it to people who haven't seen it. Since the day I acted on my mate Andy Westwood's very firm instruction to watch Succession, I've literally become that person.

Rachel was a later adopter and by the time we caught up with the beginning of series three it felt important to start all over again and familiarise ourselves with the subtleties of Waystar Royco, the cruise liners, cousin Greg, Stewie and Sandy, and other bits we might have missed due to the whip sharp dialogue. Trust me, if you haven't started season three yet, watch seasons one and two again. It is like watching a new series, there is so much you can't take on board or remember. 

I keep having theories about where the main story arc might go - Logan for President, Tom or Kendall committing suicide. But if you think about it, nothing much has really changed from the very beginning. Logan is healthier than he's ever been and sort of still married to Marsha. None of the four appalling Roy children have come closer to fulfilling their own ambitions. It's like a horrible game of snakes and ladders without, er, any ladders.

This is a long way round of saying that Succession has been the best TV I've seen all year. Honourable mentions to: The Landscapers, Fargo, A Very British Scandal, The Girl Before, Time, The Terror, Line of Duty, Baptiste, Modern Love, The Investigation, Deutschland 89, Occupied, The Rain and Lupin. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Top ten Music Therapy tunes of 2021

When we set out to do our radio show, I honestly thought I would be delving into the past for our soothing Sunday soundtrack. But the greatest thrill of the last year of dispensing Music Therapy to Tameside has been discovering new music. So, here are my top ten new tracks of 2021, as featured on our show. And they’re all British artists. I Do This All The Time - Self Esteem. This isn’t the only end of the year list that will feature Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s spoken word lament, but it was a huge breakthrough track that propelled her album Prioritise Pleasure throughout the year. It’s raw, honest and superbly composed. Winter Solstice - LYR. A low key band fronted by the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, who also use the spoken poetic word technique overlaying intelligent pop music. I envisage this self-pitying plea to a lost lover to be the gaslighting response to Self Esteem’s agony. It isn’t, but I discovered the two in the same week, and I possibly love this because it borrows a line from Prefab Sprout’s Desire from one of my favourite ever 80s sophistipop albums. Feet Don’t Fail Me Now - Joy Crookes. Sometimes new music roots you in the present, but great music can also be timeless. This cracker from young Londoner Joy Crookes has all the glitterball uplifting joy of 1970s soul, with a touch of Amy Winehouse. Ritchie Sacremento - Mogwai. Manchester’s iconic Piccadilly Records had Mogwai’s album, As The Love Continues as their new release of 2021. For a largely atmospheric and instrumental band, this vocal track for me is the most awesome of a very hot batch. There’s also a version knocking about that’s been remixed by Stephen and Gillian from New Order. Pond House - Saint Etienne. Lockdown has been rubbish, but one of the unexpected pleasures has been how it has perversely unlocked the experimental in many artists forced to make do and mend. Saint Etienne’s 2021 album I’ve Been Trying To Tell You is a heady mix of samples and random memories, as is the glorious accompanying film made by fashion photographer Alasdair McLelland. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beautiful Pond House, featuring Natalie Imbruglia on loop with smatterings of Massive Attack’s Protection. Everybody Knows - The Specials. No stranger to the protest song, The Specials recorded a whole album of protest reworkings in 2021, and this Leonard Cohen cover is the cream of the crop. For covers to really work they have to respect the original and bring something new to the party. This does just that, with Terry Hall’s take just right. Heartlow - Jane Weaver. We call her the Kate Bush of Marple Bridge, but our near neighbour just keeps on producing incredible mesmerising music that pulses with energy and beauty. Hooked - Cobain Jones. Another local, this time the Tameside Troubador himself, young Cobain Jones. He’s had his diamond well and truly polished by the Coral’s James Skelly and this 2021 release is a delightful jaunty pop tune. Really chuffed for the lad, who got a record deal and a support slot with Paul Weller in 2021. Lover Undiscovered - The Coral. The whole Coral Island project lit up the middle of the year with a collection of conceptual pop songs that reminded us that the water supply of Liverpool has something special in it. Glad Times - Paul Weller. How the Modfather keeps delivering the goods after all this time, I’ll never know, but I’m so chuffed that he does. His sixteenth solo album sees him pushing the boundaries of perfect pop music again. This is a great track, but at a time when we’re told no one listens to albums anymore, this should be an entree into Weller world, and just a glorious way to make life feel better again. On our Boxing Day show I'll be reviewing our highlights of the year and adding a few gorgeous surprises to the mix.

A link to the show is here.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Stockport is open

I mentioned last week how much I like living where I do. We've got to know a few retailers and cafe owners over the years and I'm really thinking about them at the moment.

I've recently joined the board of the Stockport Economic Alliance. Last week we were shown this video to try and inspire local people to support their local businesses. The presenter is Stockport-born actor Will Mellor, but the supporting cast are the real heroes; people from all over Stockport who wake up every morning to open their shop, business, or cafe, and hope, or pray, or both, that people will come through the door and spend. I am full of love and admiration for them.

I'm embarrassed to say there's a couple of shops and businesses on the clip that are right up my street (one literally) who I haven't shown enough love to. I'll do my bit. Rachel's just done hers at the fantastic Suburban Muse in Marple.

So, come on Stockport, do yours too. Show the love, why not make it a Stockport local Christmas. 

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Meeting Gary Neville for the Big Issue in the North

I met up with Gary Neville a couple of weeks ago. Everything we talked about is pretty much covered in the cover story profile I wrote for this week's Big Issue in the North. We talked about so many of my favourite subjects; football, politics, business, education, and personal motivation. But he didn't hold back on the anger and moral disgust he feels for this government. Reading it back, and listening to the recording is quite powerful and raw at times.

One of the things he said was that if you call out this government for what they are, eventually you will be proved right. 

Some comments work in the moment. Some stand the test of time, even in a fast moving news agenda.

He's such a fascinating character who has already lived an extraordinary life. But I was particularly struck by his humility, how he learns lessons from mistakes and setbacks. It may seem an odd thing to pick up on given his many achievements, but that quest for perpetual forward motion and the desire to do the right thing is quite special in the present climate.

He also told me: “You know, I am an entrepreneurial business person who's earned a lot of money. But I believe you can still act with compassion and empathy and be decent, but the people in charge of our government at this moment in time aren’t doing that."

Once again, I'd urge you to go out and buy it, support your vendors, and support quality print media.

Or if you can't get out to a Co-op store, or a vendor, and if you don't live in the North, then you can buy a digital copy online.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

What's the use in complaining? Rovers 1, Preston 0 in the Lancashire derby lite

We only have so many outlets to express our discontent as football fans. Not that beating Preston North End 1-0 at home gives me any cause to be angry. It really doesn't, I always enjoy a win in a local derby, even if it isn't really the full-fat version that may be about to return.

It doesn't mean I'm entirely happy though. Football is essentially a pastime where uniquely once we opt to partake in it, we are individually powerless yet collectively threatening. It's not like any other area of life where substandard aspects of the experience offer the possibility of redress. Let's cut to the chase. I was unable to get a pie before the match because they'd run out on the Riverside entrance, and the tills weren't working and the staff walked out in the one on the top of the stand, in the 15 minutes before kick-off. It's not an option to wait or go elsewhere. And these things are pretty critical to the whole matchday experience, even though I could go to Morrisons right now and buy the same pie for about a third of the price. That's a matchday experience, by the way, that Steve Waggott, the chief executive of Blackburn Rovers (salary £180k) valued at £30 a head today. He may be right that demand was high enough to justify charging that to walk-on home fans and for the 3000 visitors from Preston. Indeed they will have paid half his annual salary in one afternoon. But I can't help but feel, as my good friend Ian Herbert put it, that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

You might also think that as well as hiring and training the poorly paid catering temps, Waggott may have some responsibility for the groundstaff. Puddles of water made the game a tough watch in the first half, which rather suggests a pitch that lacks drainage and staff unable to fork enough holes before the game and at halftime. In the first half, Preston looked like they'd played on wet pitches before. Rovers looked for all the world like the Mauritanian badminton doubles team learning a new sport.

I don't know. I know nothing of maintaining grass pitches and team tactics.

I've raised 5 kids though. I think I've done OK. One thing I learnt is that when they were hungry, tired and upset, garnishing them with too much attention is probably the wrong thing to do. We also learnt that when they had run-ins with supply teachers, to let it go. The referee today, Gavin Ward of Surrey, displays all the control and charisma of a struggling stand-in, who learns all the worst lessons in lesson management, crowd control and dissipating authority by making literally even worse decisions. I am saying this today because we won. And I also think he got a bad call wrong that could have earned Preston a penalty. But it shouldn't be about him, though somehow, it always is. Who do I tell about this? Who do I write to? Why is he refereeing professional football matches and who says he can do so again?  

As an example of a fruitless protest a Preston supporter unfurled a bedsheet at full time with 'Frankie Must Go' on it. Unfurling bedsheets demanding hapless Scottish managers be sacked used to be popular in these parts, and to be fair I have observed that Frankie McAvoy, the North End boss, gives off Steve Kean vibes. But even that half-hearted howl took some foresight given that a week ago North End earned a draw against a team that recently beat Blackburn Rovers 7-0.

I'll take that today. I'll take the 1-0, the winning ugly, on a day when players of real artistry were quite literally stuck in the mud. Joe Rothwell and John Buckley will have better days. Though Rothwell may have more like that if he foolishly opts to play in the Scottish Premier League, as is rumoured.  It was a day for Darragh Lenihan, a day for Lewis Travis, both of whom got fouled without redress and booked without justification. I also observed it was possibly a day for a clever player like Bradley Dack. His return is getting closer. He will bring an intelligence and a versatility to a team that is beginning to frighten me. At Stoke last week, and today, I was concerned that Reda Khadra doesn't do enough to justify playing ahead of the incredibly gifted and energetic Tyrhys Dolan. But he only needs one moment of magic to turn a game, and his cross to a Sheareresque leap from Ben Brereton Diaz was enough. And I've got absolutely no complaints about that whatsoever.


Friday, December 03, 2021

Lasting Legacy of The Beatles

We were out in Liverpool last Friday and were reminded once again of the absolute enduring power of the Beatles.

We walked past two different bars where live musicians were performing. And yes, one of them was knocking out a passable version of Yesterday.

When I was younger I used to roll my eyes a bit at what I thought was a mawkish and nostalgic attitude towards the Beatles from our scouse cousins. If anything that attitude was just so typically English.

It’s 20 years last Monday since George Harrison died. And next Wednesday the 8th of December it will be 41 years since John Lennon was killed in New York.

I think the time, the distances between their passing and the ever-growing appreciation of Paul McCartney’s more recent output has given us a reminder that we need to cherish their memories a little more.

So much of their appeal in America was their humour. And the picture above of them in masks on a visit to Manchester is a bit of gentle ribbing about air quality down this end of the East Lancs Road.

Quite rightly, Beatlemania has taken root again.

Paul McCartney has a book out about his songs, the Lyrics, 1956 to the present. It sounds like a Beatles’ geek’s dream, including accounts of all of the songs he’s ever written, what he was thinking at the time, who he was with, what they were about, and what he thinks of them now.

I’ve also recently discovered a podcast series where different people basically talk about their own personal experiences and how the Beatles have shaped their own thoughts, lives and experiences. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. The last one I listened to was with the comedian Adam Buxton and it is just sublime.

A writer I follow called Ian Leslie has been commissioned to write a book about John and Paul. He mentioned them in a very good book he released earlier this year called Conflicted - Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart And How They Can Bring Us Together. You can see why he’d want to look closer at the dynamic behind the greatest songwriting partnership of all time.

He made the point in another long article about The Beatles recently that no single individual in the history of humankind has brought as much pleasure to so many people as Paul McCartney. 

On our show last week we opened with All My Loving, the first song played by The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in America in 1964. It started the lasting love affair that the rest of the world had with them.

But the project that has got everyone excited has been the work of the film director Peter Jackson who has delved into the archives and released a three-part epic documentary film Get Back. It's presented in a proper fly-on-the-wall style, the encounters in the studio and the everyday mundane business of making a record are captured in beautiful celluloid glory.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen it describes it as time travel. More remarkable than this was a far less media-savvy group of people than they would be today, so are in a much more natural and relaxed mood. 

How a band so creatively prolific, commercially successful and capable of bringing so much to so many people could be overindulged was frankly ridiculous.

So, if anything, Liverpool hasn’t done enough to celebrate them.

(This is from my weekly Music Therapy column in the Tameside Reporter/Glossop Chronicle)

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

A guided tour of Marple

Last Friday (26 November) I was invited by a team of policy officers from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to show them around my neighbourhood of Marple. It's something they do once a month in places they may not know so well in this conurbation of 2.5 million people.  I got the impression they wanted to get a better sense of the place when they saw the name on policy documents.

Anyway, one of them said to me halfway around our tour that I'm obviously very passionate about my home. I never really thought of it like that, but I suppose I must be. It's been an amazing place to raise a family, we've seen steady change over the years, and though I do probably grumble a bit on here about traffic, trains, NIMBYs and scrotes, I actually really like it.

I invited a couple of local chums to join Rachel and me on the tour, not entirely randomly. Peter is involved in Our Marple Plan and the Friends of Marple Station group. Karen was involved in something called Marple Matters and is active in her kid's school. Like us, both of them have moved here and therefore have that incomers perspective. Some are born here, some are drawn here.

It all coincides with the window of opportunity for the Marple neighbourhood plan, which has been the product of a lot of hard work over the last few years. I was involved at the very start, but cleverer and more dedicated people than me have got it to this important stage.

There's nothing particularly special about the tour, but I hope the route I picked at least framed the identity of Marple for our guests. 

We met the team off the train at Marple where Peter was able to talk through the proposals for a new entrance and an upgrade to the waiting room and station building on the northbound side. Explaining the transport logistics is pretty integral to the whole identity of Marple and starts to focus the mind on what the town is for, who uses it, and who lives here, and how wealth is generated in the community.

From there we hiked up Brabyn's Brow to Lockside Mill, where I used to have an office, showing off the canal and Memorial Park. Again, the view out towards Mellor and Ludworth Moor and the canal show just how different this place is to anywhere else they may visit in Greater Manchester. Rachel had the muscle memory of a teacher as she recounted the local history of the canals, and of the role of Samuel Oldknow. We had a stroll around the civic buildings in the park and I was a tad disappointed that the consultation boards about the new leisure centre, civic offices and library have been removed. I maintain it's a great opportunity to reconfigure that space and solve a number of problems at once. Between us, I think we had enough to summarise the issues and options.

Next, I simply had to point out a couple of unique local businesses. Britain's first provincial Cambodian restaurant, Kambuja, and our wonderful little one-screen cinema, The Regent. We waved at William Wragg MP's office and moved along to The Hollins.

One of the regular features of a daytime Marple experience is the group of elderly characters who sit outside Greggs. I'm on nodding terms with a few of them, and one was involved in UKIP and the Leave campaign, so I was actually keen to get their alternative view of life. Sadly, they weren't around.

Crossing over to Market Street we chatted to Daniel, the Big Issue vendor, before checking out the bustle of the main drag, stopping for a photo outside new bar Aggie's. I pointed out how the retail balance has changed in the time we've lived here. Some significant retail has gone, but the multiples hang on in there (Boots and Superdrug) all four of the big banks have gone, only one traditional pub remains, but new barbers shops, fishmongers and several independent bars and cafes have sprung up.  It prompted an interesting discussion on the purpose and future of our local high street and the need for high-density housing balanced against the preservation of heritage assets, where there was a difference of opinion amongst the home team.

We then cut across to the derelict leisure centre, Marple's greatest current blight and in need of urgent attention and replacing. 

Stockport Road, like Market Street, has been transformed of late and we stopped to welcome the couple who have just opened Lentils and Lather, Marple's newest shop and got their take on what attracted them to expand here. I hope that was a useful insight. From there it was a quick jaunt downhill to The Railway pub for a drink and some food before our guests caught a train back to work from Rose Hill, pointing out a few local characters and landmarks along the way. 

All told, it was a real honour to host them. They were a super-smart group, as you'd expect from civil servants in Britain's most dynamic city region, and they all asked some very good questions and shrewd observations. It was light touch, informal, but hopefully useful. And yes, when I reflect on it, I am pretty proud of our town and more so for the passion of lovely people like Peter and Karen who want to make it even better.