Saturday, 30 July 2011

Tears Dry On Their Own

By all accounts Amy Winehouse was a warm hearted soul who loved her family and was generous to a fault. She also was an alcoholic junkie who had every possible opportunity to beat her addiction.

There can be little doubt that she was a talented individual but can she be described as a legend? She released two albums and died aged 27. Does dying young instantly catapult you into this exalted status or do you have to have produced a consistent body of work to qualify?

You could argue that a similar status has been conferred to the likes of Jimi Henrdrix (three albums), Janice Joplin (three albums) or Kurt Cobain (three albums). Would we be speaking about Simon Le Bon with such reverence if he died early in Duran Duran's career? Probably.

It was interesting to note that many of my friend’s first reactions to her death were to go out and buy her albums. It was as if her death had made those albums more worthwhile in the eyes of the public. They do say dying is a great career move.

I have been a huge fan of hers for a while and I was shocked but not surprised by last week's news. I, like the rest gawped at the car crash that had become her life never actually thinking that drugs would kill her. We still don't know for sure if they did as toxicology reports have proved inconclusive although when I hear her father Mitch say that she died because her body could not handle the shock of going cold-turkey with alcohol I fear he is looking through the kind of rose-tinted glasses only a grieving father could wear.

As a result of divorcing the junkie scumbag of a husband who opened the Pandora's Box of her drug abuse she was reported to have started cleaning up her act with the help and stabilising influence of new boyfriend Reg Traviss. However, the proof is in the pudding and recent Youtube footage of her comeback performances in Europe was embarrassing and upsetting. She was incoherent, stick-thin and booed off stage in Serbia. Such a contrast to the bright eyed voluptuous Jewish girl that emerged from the Brit School.

Amy has been on my radar since she played down at Brighton's Concorde 2 back in 2004. She was getting a lot of press at the time as debut album Frank, an assured mix of jazz and R'n B with some no nonsense lyrics concerning lacklustre boyfriends and slutty girlfriends, was receiving the sort of critical acclaim that eventually led to an Ivor Novello award. Frank is a solid album but her chemistry with Mark Ronson on Back to Black, the best selling album of the 2000's in the UK, transformed her into a bona fide superstar. It is a superb album from start to finish.

Before her death, Amy had been recording sporadically over the last three years and some of her unreleased songs are said to have a reggae influence reflecting her extended stay in St Lucia. The president of Island Records Darcus Beese suggest the tracks are so good they “floored” him when he first heard them. A lot of them are merely bare bones demos and would need a producer to flesh them out. I am willing to wager my house on them being released in the not too distant future. I would love to see Mark Ronson back in the saddle. Who else could better do her songs justice?

Maybe another storming album could justify the "legend" epithet and detract from the overriding image of her Billie Hollidayesque descent into the twin hells of drink and drugs.

With her body buried all that is left are the eulogies and the nagging sense of a wasted talent.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The English Disease

It was my birthday last week. I am thirty fucking five. I came in to the office on Wednesday to find my desk festooned with balloons and birthday banners from my co-workers. I hate birthdays and my colleagues know this. The balloons were ironic and made me smile for all of 30 seconds before I ripped them down.

I am not a complete misery though and braved the mean streets of Brighton for a conciliatory drink at the weekend with an old friend who was visiting from the US. He is English but has been out of the country for over 10 years so has been out of the loop with regards to what the kids get up to these days. We were both in for an eye-opener.

Walking around Brighton on a Saturday night in July is not something for the feint-hearted. Hordes of stag and hen dos swell the city's population during the summer months to claustrophobic proportions. Throw in some random day trippers and plagues of foreign students who visit in Brighton in the guise of learning English but are really just here to wear back-packs, chew gum and get off with each other and you have a volatile mix.

Throw in some booze and it all kicks off.

It is a sign of what is to come when the first bar we walk into has 10 glassed of Red Bull into which a bartender drops what looks like shots of Kahlua or some other sickly short. A man dressed as an extra from Top Gun downs the concoction and satisfyingly plonks his glass on the bar with a thump. Another group are nosily occupying a corner of the bar and are taking photos like the camera has just been invented. One of the group is wearing a shirt with a slogan that reads


I wish I could muster the same level of enthusiasm.

We head out to another bar this time nearer the centre of town and we people watch for a bit. A guy in his late-20's emerges from around a corner dressed in lurid pink leggings and a child's Mickey Mouse top with the nipples cut out. He is stumbling towards the entrance. He is obviously the stag and his mates usher him into the pub and make him down some shots.

A couple of streets along we see a guy in his 40's struggle valiantly to stay upright whilst leaning against a wall. He looks like an Elvis impersonator doing the hip swivel or an auditionee for Bambi On Ice as he totters about for a few seconds. He loses his battle with gravity and unceremoniously hits the deck. All his mates (men and women) laugh uproariously. No one offers to help him up.

I feel a visit to Brighton will not be complete if I don't show my friend the delights of West Street. This is Idiot HQ. For those unfamiliar with Brighton, West Street is a long road that runs perpendicular to the beach and contains such respected establishments as Yates Wine Lodge (wine served by the pint) Walkabout Bar and an assortment of tacky bars and clubs.

As we make our way uphill we see queues of cackling hens dressed in learner plates and rubber willies chatting up the bouncers. Preening lads packing more hair gel then Superdrug desperately hope their fake I.D's will fool the gorillas on the door. The police presence is tangible as they know this is a trouble spot. It is a modern day freak show.

My friend noticed that the atmosphere around town was more threatening than the sort you would get in the States. Despite the fancy dress and high spirits an air of perpetual violence threatens to bubble over at any point.

I lived in Spain for a good few years. The Spanish like a drink and wine and beer is never far from the table yet in all my time there I don't ever remember seeing a single person staggering about or acting in an aggressive manner.

Unsociable behaviour is an English disease that sets us apart from most civilized countries. We can't just drink a couple and end it there. We have to get battered. To paraphrase one of my teammates at university

"If we don't pull we'll get into a fight"

I find the behaviour all a bit sad and embarrassing really. Perhaps my shock is just a sign of my advanced years and it has always been this way. I have the nagging feeling public standards are getting worse.

Just to ram home the point we stop off at a local kebab shop to get my friend some traditional English food. There is a young woman at a table outside quietly enjoying a meal with a friend. A shaven headed moron with a can of Stella in his hand leers over her table and burps out an

"Alright love" .

The woman wisely keeps her eyes down on her food and keeps quiet. There is a short pause and then the moron's mates give her a torrent of abuse

"Fucking slag!"

and then walk off laughing. I hold the gaze of one of the kebab shop owners who was possibly Lebanese. He rolls his eyes and waggles his hand under his mouth indicating the universal sign for drinking. What must he think of the constant stream of intoxicated pricks stumbling through his doors?

I nod back to him and pretend I'm foreign.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Brighton Sewer Tour - They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

As a Brightonian born and bred I'd like to say I have a pretty good knowledge of my fair city. I remember when Churchill Square was just a wind-swept concrete eyesore, when we had two functioning piers and when Brighton had a proper football stadium with atmosphere that you could walk to. Christ, I sound old.

Sure, shops and pubs may have changed hands over the years but essentially the town has retained a reassuring familiarity. Whilst, most of the changes have been for the better the one thing that hasn't changed is the Victorian sewer system dating back 150 years. I have walked over it all this time without giving it a second thought. This week I went on guided tour as I was curious to find out about this subterranean world.

Tours start at an inconspicuous gate by the Palace Pier. We are greeted by a avuncular Southern Water employee who is just the sort of salt-of-the-earth type I would expect on a sewer tour.

We are given a hard hat and a pair of latex gloves and made to watch a DVD with a hammy actress playing a Victorian bather explaining how the waters of Brighthelmstone (as it was then known) used to be famed for their medicinal qualities attracting visitors from miles around. Only they weren't so medicinal when bathers had to swim through tides of shit if they ventured to close to the outlet pipes. This forced the Victorian engineers to think up a solution to protect their precious asset.

As we enter the working part of the sewer the smell is not bad as you would imagine. In fact the toilet I went to in a post tour bar smelt worse. Our guide says it the tour isn't so fragrant on a Saturday after Friday nights beer and curry have taken their toll on the population's digestive system.

We are taken through the exquisitely bricked tunnels and its amazing to think that this marvel of civil engineering has needed virtually no maintenance since its was built. In fact one of the guides tells us the last time any work was done was just after WWII.

The sewer is still able to handle 100 million litres of water a day from the greater Brighton area. I was expecting to see turds bobbing up and down in the effluent but all the nasties are broken down to resemble nothing more offensive then a river of Minestrone. Looking up through vents you can see the cars rumbling over manhole covers just a few metres above you on the main coast road.

Health and safety legislation has even infiltrated underground as we can no longer be trusted to climb down ladders and are therfore prevented from going down a previously open section. A spiral staircase takes us down to the main tube which we are able to walk through. I can't help thinking you could make an atmospheric movie down here about mutant hordes who crawl out into the streets at night and devour drunken passers by.

As a kid I remember that on stormy days the sea would have huge areas of scum, condoms and tampons floating merrily along the surface as excess rain water would just mix with the sewage and pour out into the sea.

Southern Water put a stop to that in 2001 when they started work on Europe's largest storm water storage tunnel. Three miles long, six meters in diameter and thirty metres under the surface it is big enough to drive a double-decker bus through. It stores all the waste water that otherwise would flow into the sea and pumps it away to be treated. Further improvements are in the pipeline with a state of the art water treatment facility being built in Peacehaven that will be hidden underground.

At the end of the tour we climb up a ladder and emerge blinking by the Old Steine fountain. A drunken woman approaches the manhole curious to know who has just risen from the murky depths.

"We are mutant mole people and we have come to take over the earth!" I proclaim.

As regular street drinker she has obviously seen worse and unimpressed totters back to her bottle of White Lightning.

Brighton Sewer Tours cost £12 and run Weds and Sat from May to September. For bookings check out

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Who said modern MP's are faceless robots spewing out the party line surrounded by teams of handlers who will shock them with electric cattle prods if they violate their protocols?

Believe it or not the following video has not been edited to make Labour leader Ed Milliband appear any more moronic. He repeats virtually the same answer to ITV reporter Damon Green in five seperate questions.

It would be hilarious if it wasn't so pathetic.

Please put down your logic you have twenty seconds to comply!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!