Friday, 18 August 2017

Sorry, G

Dear G,

Thank you for your e-mail.
This isn’t the first time my big letter-writing pen has got me in trouble.  However, this is the first contrite e-mail I’ve sent in a while, so forgive me if I go off-topic.
When I was a cheeky wee boy, people often laughed at things I said, and I often didn’t know why.  When I tried to make jokes, I sometimes offended people by saying things I didn’t quite understand, in my childish innocence….my embarrassed parents would tell me to apologise, and I would.  I knew I had to tread carefully in future, but couldn’t be sure I would avoid repeating my mistakes, since I wasn’t sure what they were.
Now, of course, I don’t even have the excuse of being young and trying to grow up in public.  But like my opinions on most matters I know little or nothing about, a bit of knowledge on the situation soon calms the self-righteous anger…part of the tone of the blog was to be deliberately a bit belligerent, to remember myself as a twenty-something folk rapper, angry at everything in general and nothing in particular…hopefully I’m over that…
Anyway, I went ahead and posted the blog because I am on a deadline, and as the blog post suggests, not really sure what I’m doing any of this for (the blog, the music, anything creative).  I only realised recently that the single was available on Spotify (I had forgotten all about it for a long time before that), and intended to get in touch with them first of all, and your company as well.  The idea of the blog was to follow-up the official, professional way of dealing with the issue, with a more personal take on the whole thing.
I wasn’t trying to have a go at you, G, but we all sound off sometimes, without any expectation that the issues can be resolved – sometimes without even wanting resolution, just sounding off for the sake of it.  To get it out of one’s own head, to lessen its ill effects.  (And then when it is out, there’s the hurt/embarrassment of having misdirected anger.  (Which is the reason to repress that anger in the first place, isn’t it?))
As Aristotle put it:
“Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy.”
Clearly, I should have contacted you/Spotify – the fact that I didn’t is the reason the above jocular/serious approach didn’t work. 
I can assure you that even fewer people read my blog than have listened to my single online, so the damage to your company’s reputation will hopefully be very limited indeed.  (Hence, I never thought anyone involved would see it.)  I have updated the original blog post to obscure the full name of the company, but have otherwise left the post intact (or this one wouldn’t make any sense).
I’m not apologising for my feelings on the situation, but I’m sorry my response was immature and ill-considered.  I still have concerns, of course, but should have contacted you and not been a petulant child about it.  Shutting down the myspace page was not cool, (was/is that standard practice?  Did you know UMG were doing that to individual accounts?), and I would have appreciated a heads-up that the single was going on Spotify, so that I could make my own decision about whether it should or not, as I'm not sure it was covered under the original agreement. 
At that point, I wasn’t even sure who to contact, not being in the know about your arrangement with UMG. But this is less relevant than the more obvious (to everyone else) and troubling (to me) point:
I made the angry letter public before sending the polite one in private, which was a dick move.  I apologise for that. I will donate my comically small royalty payment to a charitable cause. 
As a self-appointed expert, I read your email as a masterpiece of restrained exasperation.  More than fair.  Thanks for removing the single from the online platforms and waiving the initial charge. 
In future, I will contact people I have a problem with/questions for, instead of slagging them on the internet.  (It’s the first time I’ve done that – in the professional sense, at least – and it will be the last.)
This episode seems another obvious reason why I didn’t “make it” in the Business of Music.
Life is for learning, as Joni Mitchell once sang.

Thanks & Peace

Clayton Blizzard



Friday, 11 August 2017

Dear G

Dear G******* Distribution,
I hope this finds you well.
First of all, I want to acknowledge that it’s not your fault: it’s not your fault that the arse fell out of the record industry, it’s not your fault that the biggest record companies continued to consolidate by buying up smaller labels, whilst pretending that they could just carry on as normal and everyone would pay £10/$15 for a CD that costs 20p/c to make, for which the creating artist was paid 15% at most.  Or that their outdated and exploitative business model could survive the internet age.
Anyway, here’s my story; take it however you like. 
In 2006, in an ill-fated and questionable attempt to launch myself as a “career” musician, a deal was struck with your distribution company to get my debut single out to the world through the internet.  Those were heady days, indeed, do you remember?  Ah, the noughties…
Anyway, my friend and manager found your company and it seemed like a good fit – the most important thing for me/us was that I/we would own the music, so it would never be sold without my express permission/used in an advert for an evil soft drinks company, or similar.  It would still be mine, and you would earn your cut by simply getting on all the platforms where people buy music. 
The idea of selling music (almost) direct, with the help of a distributor, seemed the perfect remedy to the agent system of record contracts, where gatekeepers make investment decisions based on their reading of the market.  A tentative, faltering step toward an economic arrangement allowing artists and audiences access to each other.  Utopian.  Naïve, perhaps?  Universal Music Group would presumably think so.  It appealed to me, though.
I thought we made a good deal, even though I was still wary.  I was/am so wary of big companies, and the music industry in general – to the point where someone famous once told a friend of mine that he wanted to help me/my “career”, but thought I didn’t want any help.  (He never said it to me, so I had no chance to refute or claim that perceived aloofness.  I reckon I would’ve accepted any help that person was able to give.  (I like/d him, apart from anything else, so I would have listened to any suggestions, at the very least.))
But I’ve made some art about all these things, and I enjoy ambiguity.  And, as KRS ONE (among many others) has said:  “Watch what you say, cos you’ll attract it.”
Like KRS ONE has also said:  “Don’t waste your time fighting legal battles – unless you’re a lawyer.”  That’s been my attitude, by and large, on these kind of matters. 
But this is my legacy, this is my life.  It’s got my name on it and everything.  And lately, at a festival, someone who enjoyed my set spoke to me about my music, and they specifically asked about Spotify.  I mumbled that there’s only one single on there, and I don’t really like it.  Because it’s very old, and not as good as all the stuff I’ve done since, and contains views from which I have moved on – I wouldn’t mind it being there if all the later stuff was there as well.  So maybe we can talk about that.
At some point after 2006, my myspace (yes, myspace) account was blocked for using copyrighted content.  Imagine my surprise: only my music was on there, for which I owned – and reserved – all rights.  It was all blocked, not just the songs from the single I had put out via your distribution.  When I checked, it appeared that Universal Music Group had claimed ownership of this music, and impelled myspace to block this “content”.  With the customary regard for due process/diligence, the social media giant acceded to this demand, without wasting time on legal battles, or asking me.  Or even telling me.
Luckily, by that time, myspace had outlived its relevance as a marketing tool, and had been replaced by a social media giant that had dispensed with all creative content to concentrate solely on banality and virtual stalking.  And articles about how stupid everyone is, except the writer of the article.
But really, G (can I call you G?  I do hope so), I’m at a crossroads here: I’ve been doing this a long time, I’ve withdrawn a lot from most of the music-making/performing etc I used to do, and I’m wondering what to do about it all.  I never set out to make money, but I really wanted people to have access to what I made; that the only thing so many people will find is a single I wrote in my late teens/early twenties, finally released in my mid-twenties, and for which I don’t even get paid, is disappointing.
I might as well have gone and begged UMG for a traditional album deal – at least I might have got an advance to buy some new instruments and been put on the cover of some now-defunct/embarrassing-shell-of-its-former-self music magazine.
Anyway, clearly there’s no need for you to care about any of that.
Obviously, I never really saw much money from that deal – or, in fact, any that I’m aware of – at least not since the very early days.  Apart from one windfall from PRS*, I’ve never received any real money from digital sales or anything online, other than my own direct sales through bandcamp (a business formed, much like your own, on the basis of taking a fair/small cut for distribution and reversing the 85-15 split favoured by older deals based on physical sales.  I assume the irony is not lost on you.  Is that ironic?  No, it’s not, not really).
I’ve been described as “hard to get hold of” by more than one person, even though any search engine will find my website as a top answer, and that has my contact details on it, and I’ve got social media accounts in my own name with no odd spellings or weird handles, also easily found by any search engine.  And I don’t hide my contact details from anyone.  And I’m on them social media giants, under the same name that’s on all the music and writing I do.  Anyway, maybe I am, in some mysterious way, “hard to get hold of”.  Perhaps that’s why you didn’t get in touch.
Or perhaps it’s because it was much easier to let Universal Music Group shut down social media accounts and distribute all the music on your roster however they saw fit.  In violation of existing agreements.  DIY, indeed.
As a naturally cynical person, I assume what happened is that UMG threw a huge net over everything you distributed, tied up the net and dumped it in the Spotify well.
Do I need to ask you/UMG to cease & desist, since I a) never gave consent for the release to be made available on Spotify (which, I think, didn’t exist at the time of the deal) and b) have not received any revenue from this?  (The single hasn’t had that many listens, but someone is getting paid what, to them, is probably a meagre sum, but which would be significant – and, more importantly, owed – to me as artist and copyright holder.)
What’s most galling about the above is that you/Spotify have used the single artwork which clearly states my copyright.  The single is called Ya Basta Hermanos.  It was from my debut album, A Criminal Record (an album which I sold independently, which in retrospect seems a sensible decision).  It has two b-sides: one is a remix, the other an acoustic version of a song that appeared (updated and improved) on a later album. 
G, as a former business partner, tell me straight: How does all this UMG fuckery fit in with your stated aim of “releasing indie records” and being all DIY and cool – is it just a re-working of the established relationship between majors and indies that was supposed to have gone out of fashion along with nu metal and baggy jeans?  (Your deal with Universal apparently meant you “could give other labels and acts the chance to do the same, and benefit from the Universal Machine by being part of the G******* family of distributed labels” (from your website)). 
Whatever integrity there has ever been, or may be left in the (big, Official, capitalised) Music Industry is being ebbed away by infinite versions of the above bullshit. 
Is there anything you would like to do about that?
So, I suppose all this leads to my central questions, which are two-fold:
1. Where’s the money?  And:
2. Give me the money.
Love or Something,
Clayton Blizzard
*To be really honest, G, I never even found out where that came from.  I thought it best not to ask too many questions at the time.  I had rent to pay.  Like I’m always telling the “I don’t care about money” promoters, I don’t care about money either.  But my landlord seems obsessed with it.  As do the council, HMRC, utility companies, drug dealers, shopkeepers and publicans.  It’s usually the first thing they talk about whenever I’m in contact with them.  So, I sort of have to care about it a little bit.
But clearly, if I cared about it all that much, I would have written this letter sooner.  And maybe for something other than a blog – an actual, proper, legal correspondence with you, or something.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Dear Mr Motivator,

I saw you at Standon Calling festival recently, and I am writing to thank you.

I assume I am now part of your cult group, and I would be relieved to have your assurance that this is a life cult, rather than a death cult (there are more than enough of the latter, and I hope yours is the former, as it appears).  As it seems to be based on light exercise and motivational platitudes, I gave the benefit of my doubt.  Forgive me, Father, for I am a sceptic.

In the lead-up to the festival, Mr, (can I call you Mr?  I do hope so) I was not well.  In my head.  I had strong feelings I did not recognise, and they were not positive ones. 

But the festival was a good experience.  There were lots of moments that transcended the erstwhile gloom in my brain: the private talk with My Good Friend, the return of another good friend, new friends, CT’s song that made everyone cry, the jam on Friday night that went from sublime to ridiculous and back again and back again, guesting on mandolin with Brother Bus, sharing a stage with AK, the Sunday night closing jam (in which I got to sing a soulful version of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea with a full band including horn section, which would, on most other occasions, be the absolute highlight of my day, but on the day in question was one of many transcendent moments, as this list shows), guesting with the excellent Snazzers and, on a whim, busting out some brand new verses from a brand new song I’ve recently finished writing, The Fatback lads (gawd blessem), who made more than one of my dreams come true, Big D & JC (The String Section) beautifying everything they touched, those assembled on Saturday and Sunday afternoon who indulged/enjoyed/endured all my amplified rambling, and people who even went so far as to buy a CD with my name on…and all the other great examples of PFR Love (in case you’re not familiar with the organisation, Mr, let me just sum up as briefly as I can: The People’s Front Room is a collective and a festival venue and it is full to the brim love and beautifully weird art and great music and wonderful, hilarious, talented people).

All of the above was quite wonderful.

There were low times as well, of course; it was indeed an emotional rollercoaster.  My Good Friend and I discussed some of the difficult feels, which I hope helped.  At one point, I was asked if I am/was Christian (and, regrettably, failed to say/sing “Man, I am tonight!”).
(You know, like in Walking In Memphis by Marc Cohn.  I heard Cher’s version recently.  IT’s fucking hideous, obviously.  The worst thing about it is that Cher pronounces Memphis “Mem-fuss”, which sounds ridiculous.  Even the backing singers echoing her saying “Mem-fuss” don’t pronounce it like that, which only serves to heighten the abject stupidity of it.  Ugh.))

Anyway, all of this led me to waking up at 11.30 on the Sunday and hearing your familiar voice drifting across the site from the main stage.  I don’t know why I came.  Somehow, I just felt it was the right thing to do.  Almost automatically, like a cartoon dog whose nose develops autonomy and drags the rest of the body along after a visibly wafting smell, I came.  Hungover, tired, fuzzy-headed, wondering what the fuck is going on in my head, I came.

I’m not in your usual demographic of middle-aged women at home during the day in the mid-1990s.  But I came along for exactly what I needed: your gently booming voice, uplifting slogans and gentle, arm-waving exercise regime.  It saved me.  You saved me.  From what, I am not entirely sure.  But it worked, and I am grateful.
I gyrated, squatted, marched, stretched and waved along with the crowd, as mesmerised as any other member of the congregation.  Afterwards, I was somehow tired and revived at the same time: spent and refreshed. 
Thanks for that.

So, anyway, Mr Motivator, whatever you need, be it positive sloganeering, calisthenics, proselytising, or the crushing of all opposition, I am your humble servant.

Clayton B.

Friday, 28 July 2017


Went to see Cars 3, 3 days ago, with a 3 year-old. 

Not just any 3 year-old, of course.  This one knows me by the charming nickname “Uncle”. 
And we play a brilliant wee game where he asks me a question like “Guess what I’ve got to eat?”
And then, even though I know it’s a Jaffa Cake, I say
“Duck a l’orange?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is iiiiiit….pan-fried sea bass with citrus-dressed broccoli?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is iiiiiit….buffalo mozzarella, braised tarragon, pickled celeriac and oak-smoked chicory?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is iiiiiit….Warm Mousseline of Sussex Chicken stuffed with Cave-Matured Roquefort and Fresh Harvested Walnuts in a Sauce of Sorrel Hollandaise on a bed of Julienned Russet Apples?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it a Jaffa Cake?”, and he says
“It’s a Jaffa Cake!”, and I don’t ask him whether a Jaffa Cake is a cake or a biscuit, and I don’t have the heart to tell him that it doesn’t matter either way because Jaffa Cakes are rubbish.

(Or, he might ask me something else, like
“Guess what we’re watching today?”, and I ask
“Is it the director’s cut of Betty Blue?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it The Day The Earth Stood Still?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it the Vietnam documentary The Year Of The Pig?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it every episode of Willow The Wisp starring Kenneth Williams?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it a new production of The Chairs by the absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, in which a mute orator’s tragi-comic inability to communicate a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom is used as an analogy for the human condition?”, and he says
“No!”, and I ask
“Is it Cars 3?”, and he says
“It’s Cars 3!”)

Anyway, on a rainy day in the Lake District, in Cumbria (that’s Up North, to you), we are going with aforementioned 3 year-old to see Cars 3.  (We are assured that not having seen Cars and Cars 2 will not hinder our enjoyment of this cinematic spectacle, although I admit to a little scepticism on this score.  Trainspotting 2 definitely needed the refresher-viewing of Trainspotting….)

The 3 year-old is tremendously excited, especially as we’re going for pizza first.  The 3 year-old is insistent that he has been to the same pizza restaurant chain previously, but this is disputed by everyone else.  He sticks to his story anyway, so I speculate that maybe he’s got a secret family, and I have to report that he is surprisingly coy in response to this.  I think I see a sort of wistful, enigmatic smile, just for a second.  There’s no smoke without fire.  (Except in a wood-smoker, or something like that.)

Cars 3 is an animated film, in which cars are used to represent people.  They’re not actual people, of course, they’re computer-generated images voiced by actors with recognisable voices.
Despite featuring computer-generated animation which posits a world in which cars are like people and headlights are eyes, Cars 3 is like Every Film Ever.  No better, and no worse than most I have seen.  The 3 year-old and I may see this a bit differently, but I don’t push the issue because I am tired and a bit cranky, and don’t want to say something I regret.  I don’t have any strong feeling against it anyway.

It’s not Citizen Kane, is what Mark Kermode or one of them lot would say.  (Interestingly (to me and possibly no one else), on the flagship BBC Film Review Programme on the radio last week, Kermode and his co-host Simon Salad Cream insisted that everywhere in the UK, trousers are trousers and are not called pants.  I can report that in Cumbria (or possibly just South Cumbria), trousers are indeed referred to as pants, by almost all locals/natives in almost all contexts.  So there.)

But it’s no worse than the Harry Potter films, is it?  Lots of adults watch those (or read the books), for reasons best known to themselves.  But Every Film is the same, isn’t it?  At the start, once The Protagonist has been (re-)introduced, the Ideal Status Quo is established.  Then the status quo is threatened by a new character (The Antagonist), whose presence derails The Protagonist, who must then go on a journey of personal discovery and rediscover his/her mojo, defeating The Antagonist and re-establishing a somehow-improved Ideal Status Quo, with the addition of a new sidekick.

We only get 2 3rds of the way through that in the case of Cars 3, because the 3 year-old gets a bit restless and a group decision is taken to sack the film off.  I am restless myself, what with my sore knee and everything.
So I missed Act 3 of Cars 3 because of the 3 year-old who was the reason I was watching Cars 3.
But you know me, I don’t complain – I didn’t make a big deal of it, despite missing the denouement, and even the preceding jeopardy…

We get on fine, we just don’t talk about Jaffa Cakes, or things I like that he finds dull and cardboard-like.  He didn’t seem particularly thrilled by my Top 5/Top 10 Films Ever discussion with the waiter at the pizza place, and didn’t even weigh in when the waiter expressed surprise that The Usual Suspects hadn’t made my Top 10.)  His favourite band are Kasabian, so we don’t dwell on that either.  A lot of people like them, who am I to judge?

(Seriously, though, Jaffa Cakes are made of cardboard, aren’t they?  How else could anyone make something that tastes like cardboard, orange jelly/marmalade and a thin layer of chocolate-coloured nothingness without actually making it out of those things?  They’re a total fucking misnomer, I won’t be told any different.  I know from experience!  Every once in a long while, I forget how shit they are and someone kindly offers me one.  And I eat it, and remember why I haven’t eaten one for so long.  And I wonder if it’s actually a mix of cardboard and some kind of sponge.  Not cake sponge, kitchen sponge.  And then the gap until I eat another is a bit longer than the time before.  That’s how we learn, isn’t it?)

As I say, we get on very nicely, he’s great fun.  (The next day, we will play a game where I am Darth Vader, and the 3 year-old will be very gracious about my sub-par, hungover David Prowse/James Earl Jones act.  I will be mortified by my poor oxygen mask noise/deep voiced Transatlantic accent and generally achy lumbering, but it will not seem to spoil his enjoyment of the game.  He is a class act.)

Anyway, here’s my review of Cars 3: The first 2 3rds aren’t 2 bad.  (It helps to have no/low expectations.)

Life is complicated.

Friday, 21 July 2017

So far this month, I have...

Seen a heron right up close.

Been to Tintern Abbey for the first time in many years.  
Considered legal action.
Considered whether to continue making music, given that I would definitely rather not be a social media content provider, marketing agent, publicist, booker, ticket agent, plugger, writer, runner, chauffeur, caterer, engineer or any of the other things deemed essential for musicians to do before spending any time making music, in this place/time where music and musicians are abundant and easily accessible, and yet respected so little.
Unwittingly attended a regular live music night I had meant to try for ages (and found it terribly disappointing.  (Which is why I resisted calls to get involved.)).
Seen possibly my favourite new Bristol graffiti: “DO NOT PARK HERE I WILL NOT PUT UP WITH CHEEK OR FREE LOADING”
Taken a picture of a dead bird, upside down in water (the bird, not me).
Wondered why characters in animated sitcoms wear the same clothes in every scene and episode, whereas human sitcom screen actors wear different clothes in every scene and episode.  Both seem oddly unreal.  Subsequently wondered if anyone else has ever had this thought, and thought some probably have but they would then most likely have dismissed it as too banal an observation to ever make it into the public domain.  TV producers will know the answers to these questions, but they aren’t telling.
Been run over by a car (to be fair, I wasn’t really run over, in the strictest sense.  But my back wheel was, in the literal sense.  While I was on the bike.  So, if I had been a few inches to the right of where I was at the time, it would’ve been my right leg looking like this, instead of my back wheel:
Luckily, the driver who caused this through negligence (and not having a wing mirror – which is also negligence, I suppose) zipped off immediately, which saved us a frank exchange of views.  (During which, I might have questioned why anyone would reverse quickly, without having checked who/what is behind, and without an off-side wing mirror (it was all wing and no mirror) to facilitate this; why, having done so, and hearing a cyclist bang a panicked hand on the back window in terror of being crushed, acknowledge this, only to reverse again, faster; Presumably, there was something important to which to rush.  To a garage, to replace a missing wing mirror, perhaps.)) 
Seen Mavis Staples (at the O2, which was a shame.  It was supposed to be at the slave-trade-sponsored concert hall nearby, but the ghost of a slave trader has haunted the place and it is unsuitable for music now…so, the gig was shifted to the mobile-network-sponsored Worst Venue In Town™.  To be fair, the sound was much better for this gig than most previous ones I have seen there.  (Some of the older audience members had their night spoiled by people talking loudly behind them.  Some of the younger audience members had their night spoiled by being told to shut up in the most passive-aggressive way.  Two of the younger audience members affected reached out to make friends, later in the set, while Mavis sang “reach out…make a friend”.  One was successful in this, enhancing the experience for all concerned.  The other was unsuccessful, having been rebuffed, spoiling the experience for all concerned)) without even writing a review of it.  (The support band were impressive.  (And Mavis was excellent.))
Interviewed a friend (who wrote the title track of the new Jay Z album….uh huh.  (The interview was for the PFR podcast.  (And our interview is an exclusive.  (The PFR is The People’s Front Room, a festival venue and arts collective that put on parties and use art to open your brainhearts and stuff them full of creative goodness – and the podcast is a growing part of that.  We play music you might not have heard and we talk about the role of art, among other things.  I’ve enjoyed doing it, have you been listening….?))))
You can listen here:
Been delighted for friends who have great things and exciting opportunities now and/or coming up.  Thought about how fortunate I am to know so many talented people doing great work and living well.
Wondered why the Orange Order still exists, where the political impasse in Northern Ireland will lead, and why picking up a bottle that has been thrown at you is a bookable offence.  Subsequently wrote a draft blog about the intersectionality of football, politics and sectarianism.  It’s the third or fourth attempt at writing about the July marching parades season.  None have been published anywhere.  (Or even finished).  (Subsequently remembered why the Order still exists.  None of the reasons are good, or even interesting.)
Written my one annual pithy facebook status/tweet which gets a respectable amount of likes.  (In case you’re interested, it was this: “Breaking news: children's TV show has new actor. In other news, women exist.”)
Written a blog with 23 sets of parentheses. (And wondered, subsequently, about my odd fetish for parentheses.  (What is it about?)) (And then wondered if anyone will read it.  And then wondered if any of that small number will like it.  (Estimated: No.  Published it anyway.))

Friday, 14 July 2017

NYFC Stories (2)

We wake up hanging, again.

It is waaaaaaay hot outside – and in.  Which doesn’t do the hangover any good at all.  Hard to sleep, apart from everything else.
It’s painfully hot out.  We spend the day eating, and trying to recover, and then retreat into a bar, mostly for the AC.  “My baawwss waaawnts to turn aawwf the AC an leave the fuckin windows open!” says the bar manager, incredulously.  We’re glad that hasn’t happened.  The outside world, with all its heat and smog and noise, is shut out and we are soon chilled like a couple of glass bottles in a fridge. 
The bar manager is interviewing for new staff and there’s a few tourists in.  It’s also Happy Hour, so we get a couple of cheap beers and some fries and get our hairy dog on. 
Dai, being more local than us, takes us out after he finally turns up.  We go to what he calls a “Country [& Western] bar”.  It’s a proper dive bar, not like them Hipster Dive Bars where it’s like a theme pub.  No, this place is real; it’s American, not really like New York at all, more of a Southern place.  But then what do I know, I’m not from round yer, am I?  Maybe it’s a theme pub after all, Country & Western/Southern-themed.  But it’s definitely not hipster.  They don’t do tabs (sensible, in a place like this), and it’s cheap (perfect).  There are bras hanging all over the place, for some reason. 
We’ve been here a while, and we’re thinking of moving – after the inevitable “one more”, of course – and then a fella at the bar starts talking to AK, heaving heard her accent.  He is a former London resident, and a big football fan.  His name is Seamus, he’s Irish(-American), of course, like 60% of America and 80% of New York.  He knows (exactly) where he is from, of course (“Counny Cworrk”).  He’s a very nice fella, and we’re all having a nice, relaxed time.
Seamus is some sort of banking consultant and has good sense/classic white guilt enough to be embarrassed about it.  “Bet you don’t get many banking consultants in yer”, I venture.  He agrees, with a shrug.
“If you’re embarrassed about it, why do you do it?”  Asks, AK, pointedly, living up to her name (it’s really just her initials.  Yeh.  I’m great fun, I am.  Love to tell a story.)
“Well, I guess…”  Seamus fumbles awkwardly. 
“Never mind dissembling awkwardly, mate, we’re the bloody Brits, alright.”  I tell him,
“You just do what you got to do, feed your family, same as everyone else does, and forget about it innit.”
“Yeah, I guess”, he smiles.
“And get your hand in your fuckin pocket, it’s your round, ya dodgy-banking bastard!”  AK roars, much to Seamus’ delight.
We’re havin a right good laugh here, it’s turnin into a good night.
AK also meets a composer who is very interested in Finland – Sibelius is his favourite composer, and he has some connections in the region – especially Estonia.  He tells us that Estonia and Finland are the only two countries in the world with the same tune for their national anthems (different words, of course).  I tell him I’m not sure about that, then we briefly discuss Northern Ireland politics, for some reason.  I will admit that things are starting to get slightly hazy, at this point.
AK and I have a little dance, at Dai’s insistence, twisting and jiving round the wooden floor, kicking up sawdust.  Well, it’s his dollar in the jukebox, fair play, I reckon.
I leave the table for a minute, and when I come back, my seat is taken.  There’s a new guy, and the first thing I hear him say is “Shots?!”
But that’s not the first thing I notice about him.  No, the first thing I notice about him is that he’s built like a shit brickhouse.  He’s very nearly square in the chest, roughly as wide as he is tall.  He’s got a big round Ross Kemp bald head and he’s looking a bit glassy-eyed, a bit glazed, if you know what I mean.  Takes one to know one. 
Over the next hour or so, this man will drag us along on his journey of emotional pain.
His name is Joe, he’s also Irish, of course (he also knows where from, of course, but I forget as soon as he tells me), and he is from New Jersey.
This is the extent of the personal information I will glean from our time together.
After Joe realises he is in my seat, and that AK is not up for a shot (if you’ll excuse the pun!), and that she is with me, he jumps up out of the seat and apologises to me.  Then he (physically – yes, literally, yes, literally, physically) drags me to the bar and gets the barmaid to line up shots. 
Looks like I’m doing shots, then.
Joe tries to get others involved.  In the end, Dai comes over and has a shot.  Then Joe starts talking about more shots and we say no.  Then he looks at me and asks if he is a bad guy, if he’s being an arsehole, or something.  I can’t remember the exact words he uses, but I remember his pleading, his plaintive expression.  He looks like a child who has been told he is not getting any presents this Christmas.
He honestly looks like he might cry, or prang out and hit someone hard enough that they won’t get up.
I tell him he’s not a bad guy and maybe should just calm down a bit, take it easy. 
So, the night has taken on a slightly worrying edge.  Darkness is seeping in, under the door, touching everything.  I ruminate on all this to Dai. 
“Christ, mate, who are you, Dylan Thomas?  Lay off the whisky, will you?”
Joe snaps out of his melancholy long enough to grab me and mutter something about the bouncer, something that makes me think he is suggesting that he and I could go and beat up the bouncer.
Obviously, I tell him as politely/firmly as possible that I want no part of that – after which he puts his arm around me and starts to pull me toward the corner of the room, where the toilet is.  His biceps are the size of my thighs.
Being as he is a bit aggressive (in a possibly, hopefully friendly sort of way), and I’m really not sure what it is he is trying to do or get me to do, I resist.  When Dai looks over, frowning, and says “Alright mate?  Should I get the bouncer, or something…?” (Apparently, I will learn later, in the expectation that he is probably over-reacting and that I will wave his concerns away), I say “Yes mate, that would be lovely!” very quickly.
The darkness in Joe’s mind is trying to infect us all.  Whatever put him in this mood, he is in no position to tell us about it, and we’re in no mood to find out. 
Dai gets the bouncer, who ambles over with the languid gait of the career doorman who has seen it all and is content to see how things play out before intervening.  The hands-off approach of the world-weary.  I understand it, but I’m struggling to stay upright with this huge bloke hanging on my shoulder, quite literally trying to drag me down with him.  I’ve met some hard nuts in my time, but back home, I usually know where I am with them – and how to easily get away…
But we’re visitors yer, I don’t know the place – and the last thing Dai needs is any trouble. 
The bouncer has a word, taking Joe away from us.  I relax a bit, and am ready to head back to our table to resume our drinks and our conversation with the other locals, but Joe emerges again. 
The bouncer is elsewhere, and Joe is all about shots and advances on AK and apologies for it (always to me, never her) and aggression and asking if he is being awful and looking plaintive and Bambi-eyed, and then we look at the situation and say “let’s just leave”.
We go outside, after pointing out to the bouncer (who is now on the door) that Joe is aggressive/a powder keg with a lit fuse/a total liability to all of us, himself and the bouncer included.  The Bouncer nods, and talks to us while wait outside for a taxi.
About this time, (a couple of minutes after we’ve left), Joe bolts out of the bar and charges down the road at a fast pace, apparently without having seen us.
The bouncer tells us that Joe has been here before, comes in every couple of weeks and is in this state half the time, or more.  (Apart from anything else, this goes some way to explaining the bouncer’s previously relaxed attitude.)
 “Well”, says Dai, “if I had to guess, I’d say that fella is a former US marine with PTSD.  Met a few in my time, yer, always in bars like that.”
“Sounds about right.  It’s like fuckin Watership Down one second, and Black Hawk Down the next.”
Watership Black Hawk Down!”
It’s not funny, mind, is it? 
“How is it like Watership Down?”  Asks AK.  I try to explain, but me and Dai get bogged down in a lot of reminiscence, and the point gets lost.
The bloke was clearly very intimidating, riled and upset, and we have no idea why.  Until you ‘ve walked a mile in another man’s moccasins….
But I genuinely believe he meant us no harm at all, for whatever that might be worth. 
Probably nothing. 
A few days after this encounter, I will see a report about Mosul, and I will think of Joe.
But as I say, I’m a visitor yer, and I’m tryin to be nice.  After all, all the bloke’s really done is buy us some drinks and try to be friendly, in his own sort of style….
Nice to be nice, innit.

Friday, 7 July 2017

NYC Stories (1)

“I fly into JFK – my heart goes boom, boom, boom
I know that Customs man
He’s gonna take me to that little room – oh, no, no…
I got the Paranoid Blues
From knockin around in New York City.”
Paul Simon, Paranoid Blues

Flying is amazing, isn’t it?
I am always amazed, and always look out the window at the take-off and landing.  This time I see Wembley in the distance as we take off, and see the Severn bridges below, about 15 minutes later.  It took two and a half hours to get to Heathrow and quarter of an hour to get back to Wales…

Flying is one of those things I never get blasé about (not that I do a lot, to be fair).  Because it is amazing.  I have no real understanding of how it works.  To me, we might as well be powered by farts and buoyed in the sky by our collective expectation of maintaining the usual altitude.  (I’m not an idiot, and if someone explained it, I’d get it.  But I prefer to think of it as some kind of magic.  As Karl Popper wrote, magic is simply unexplained science.  And since no one has explained aviation to me in any detail, that seems like the appropriate term.  Although my only knowledge of Karl Popper is from an Irvine Welsh short story.  So that’s unreliable.)
Anyway, flying is amazing.  

I particularly enjoy the sudden – and regular – shunts and whirrs and burrs that make it seem like any other form of mechanical mass transit…..which it probably is (we take off nearly 2 hours late, so it definitely is.)
I always look out the window and I always think of the Enclosures Act.  And so, here we are in a bus 30000 feet above southern England, watching TV and films and drinking for free.

It’s still public transport, so I’m still with the general public, naturally.  Sat in front of me is a Hasidic couple.  When the meals go round, the stewardess apologetically explains that, as they have not ordered a Kosher meal, they haven’t got any.  The woman had already been wearing such a pained, pinch-faced expression, that I can only imagine (she’s sat in front of us, so I can’t see) what consternation this causes.  Neither her, nor her companion (I’d say husband, if I was the type to make assumptions) smile at any point; he is merely stony-faced.  She regards everything around her as if it were smeared with excrement.

I get talking to a man sat near me, who is from Cardiff.  His name is Dai.  He likes a drink.  (Friends I tell this story to later will describe him as an “enabler”, which I will find apposite.  And amusing.  In equal measure.)
Dai seems nice, and keeps getting us drinks – enabling the drinking, if you will.  He will.  Even though there are staff to bring us drinks, and the drinks are free, Dai gets rounds in when he heads to the toilet.  (We’re right near the back, by the toilet and catering supply dump, so it’s easy enough and saves us calling staff to get us drunk.)
I try to take it easy on the drink, because I’m a bit nervous about going through customs/immigration…

Dai seems on my level, and his opinions are progressive (and/or interesting).  Then, in the middle of some schtick I’ve started, he makes a weird joke about gas chambers, apropos of nothing – at which point, I put my hand over my mouth and point to the Hasidic woman right in front of us….it takes Dai a minute to catch up, at which point he says “Sorry!” quite loudly and shrugs.  Oh well, his shrug seems to say.  It wasn’t a racist joke, just stupid.  I like Dai, so I’m inclined to let it go, although obviously I didn’t like it – and wouldn’t have liked it anymore whoever was hearing it.  (It wasn’t really about gas chambers per se, he just mentioned it, for reasons best known to himself.  More odd than offensive, in my book.)

I have a coffee to sober up. 

At one point, the Hasidic woman suddenly jerks her chair back, nearly spilling my drink.  Not a crime, but a bit rude without a heads-up.  Dai is in the same boat, but the woman in front of him moves it at his request.  He seems like the sort who would not stand for any shite.  The (excellent-throughout-the-flight-and-presumably-only-straight-male-ever-if-you’re-into-that-sort-of-joke-which-I’m-not) steward politely requests the Hasidic woman do the same.  Everyone is happy – except the woman, who still wears the expression of a bulldog chewing a wasp.  Or maybe it’s just the expression of a person who was hungry, having a shit time and then heard a very offensive joke.

I disembark, tired but sober/ing.  It is around 1 am on my body clock as I go to the visa check place – 7pm NY time.  Dai and I say our goodbyes without exchanging numbers or planning to meet.  This is the way I would usually want it, but in this case, I regret it just slightly because he does seem an intriguing character.

So, in the event, I’m in a queue waiting to see an immigration official (here they’re part of the Police dept. as well, so he’s technically a copper – and therefore, presumably, armed(!))

I know from experience that immigration officials/border guards are professionally humourless, gruff and do not respond positively to humour/humanity shown by entrants.  I have found this in the UK, but my (admittedly limited) experience of entering the US means I know that I will likely not be regarded as a person, and should not regard as a person the person not regarding me as a person.
Because I am not a first-timer, I do the first part pf this process on a machine, and print a receipt to show the border guard, which includes a black&white picture of me.

At this point, I see Dai being spoken to by one of the seemingly-endless succession of queue management staff.  He had been running around, confused and a bit drunk, ducking under barriers and generally behaving conspicuously.  I avoid him, giving him the widest berth possible. I don’t need this shit right now/ever.

I join the “line” (that’s what they call a queue here) to see the Border Guard, and assume the body language of an innocent person who is not at all nervous.  I wonder for a while what facial expression a person would show in this situation, if they had no paranoid fear of being discovered a liar and criminal and taken to a small room with no windows and confronted aggressively with proof of their lying criminality and frog-marched on to a plane and sent home, at their own expense, without even an opportunity to reclaim baggage, and subsequently barred from entering the USA for ten years.
And then I wonder if all of this calculation plays out on my face, in place of the weary nonchalance I am trying to affect/convey.
I notice the BG walk off with the person at the front of the queue, and this does nothing for my nerves.

Then I notice that the person being led away with the BG is Dai.  And my heart falls out of my arse.

I watch the BG noticing me noticing him after he returns.  And this also does nothing to help.
Having looked around at the queue, I am relieved to see a lot of white faces in line….for reasons with which I am not comfortable.
America is a very mixed, and very racially stratified society.  NY has a complex place in all this: most of the border staff are not white.  I wonder, briefly, how they feel about all the anti-immigrant feeling and crazy rhetoric and executive orders…and whether their race makes any difference to their feelings on this.
And then I go back to thinking about myself.

I briefly think, again, about the Hasidic couple from the plane.  And I see them go through, having completed their security checks.  I really hope they didn’t hear Dai’s joke.  I hope we weren’t assholes to them, and that they looked pissed off because that’s what they look like, or because they were pissed off about something else (going hungry, for example).
And then I go back to thinking about myself.

By the time I get to the queue for passport/visa checks, I have convinced myself to calm down a bit.  I have put on a zip-up hoody to cover my heart, so that it’s less obvious that it’s thumping out of my chest.
A Border Guard calls me forward, out of the queue...

I am in a state of nervous exhaustion.  There’s NO WAY they’ll send me back. There is NO CHANCE they’ll search my criminal records history and see…well, what’s there.
And even if they do, I know what I’ll say:  I didn’t lie, I completed that form to the best of my knowledge and belief, and that, because I am under no obligation to reveal my "criminal" past under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, I had forgotten all about it – it was all years ago, decades ago, for Chrissakes!  I will say that, even though it will not help (the ESTA application explicitly discounts the RoOA, but I will only mention it to corroborate my story of forgetfulness).  It will not help, but this is my only back-up plan.

The BG glances at my passport, and bids me also follow him.  At this point, my entire life flashes before my eyes.  The BG does not tell me why I should follow him and I am not inclined to ask.
I am led to a small waiting area, and invited to sit.  Next to Dai, it turns out.  He is smiling serenely to himself, barely acknowledging my presence – until the BG leaves the area.

Dai looks at me askance, as if recognising me for the first time.  “What you in for, then?”
I look around, furtively, and whisper “I lied on my ESTA…!  I think they know!
“Your fuckin what?”
“ESTA – the visa waiver thing!”
“Jesus, I’m surprised they haven’t got you in manacles, you despicable monster.” He chuckles.  “How would they know?  Say fuck all, you’ll be fiiiiiine.”
I am scared to ask him what he’s doing here, but my curiosity doesn’t have to wait long before he offers, blithely:
“Yeah, well, I got caught a few years back trying to get a backpack full of stuff in.  So now, I get hassle every time I come through.  Occupational hazard innit.”  His grin is oddly disconcerting, but I don’t know if this is because of my febrile state, or his strange calm.
I feel like a kid in school, relieved that there’s a worse kid than me waiting outside the Headmaster’s office – and then trying to play up my own transgression, trying to look hard to the hard man.
“Well, I got done in London a long time ago, I guess they wanna give me some shit for that, maybe…thought I was done with all this shit.”  I’m trying to seem cool.  I’m not proud of this, but it's what's happening.

After what seems like aeons, another BG, who I have not seen before, approaches us both, looks at a clipboard and looks at Dai.  Then he lowers his clipboard, looks at me as one would a rabbit in headlights – a combination of surprise, sympathy and pathos – and asks gently:
“Why are you here, Sir?” – and then, looking at the clipboard, “Mrrrrrrr….Davies?”
“Umm, I don’t know, they just asked me to come over by here.”  Ohfuckohfuckohfuckhowdoesheknowmynameohfuck

He shrugs.  He looks around.  The other BG, the one who bade me follow him to this purgatorial bench, is nowhere to be seen.  He, the new BG, asks my nationality, and I tell him.  He asks if I have an ESTA or visa, and I tell him I have an ESTA, brandishing the receipt in trembling fingers.
He thinks for a second, before turning to Dai to tell him:
“Could you please wait here a moment, Sir.”
And then, to me:
“Follow me.”

Dai nods, almost imperceptibly, being savvy enough not to let on that we know each other.  I’m very grateful for this, and acknowledge his help, displaying my gratitude with a slight nod of my own, when the BG’s back is turned.

I wonder how differently this whole scene would play out if he and I were not both white and entering a majority white country. 
And then I go back to thinking about myself.
The BG leads me away, and as my heartbeat threatens to deafen me, we arrive back at the queue I had been plucked out of, for reasons I now cannot fathom.  A few moments ago, of course, I thought I knew why.  Which was marginally better, and simultaneously much much worse.  This BG looks friendly, in spite of my expectations, and makes smiling small talk with the entrants.
So, anyway, I’m suddenly back in the main hall, and everyone behind me looks annoyed that I have joined at the head of the queue, and the new BG calls me forward.  His name is not Paul, but that’s what I’m calling him (all the staff have their names embroidered on their shirts, it’s an American thing).  He is a Person of Color (that’s how they spell it here), and I feel that this is a positive aspect.  I cannot explain why I think this.  Paul takes my passport, receipt with b&w photo, and Customs Declaration (which I have completed honestly, as I have no meat or vegetables on me – I even made sure to scoff all my yoghurt-covered banana chips and chocolate-covered brazils, just in case), and he directs me to press fingertips to a small screen for a scan, and while doing this, asks me if I am here on holiday.  I answer:

“Yes.  Yeah.”

He asks me where I am staying.  I say
“At my brother’s place, in Brooklyn.”
He says:
(The first time we came here, Brother C told us not to volunteer this information, as “I’m staying with family who already live here” is a red flag to a US BG.  My companion on that trip ignored this advice, cheerfully offering up the information without being asked specifically about it, and the humourless BG looked at him for a while that seemed very long, presumably to make absolutely sure we weren’t just a little bit Mexican-looking, before waving us through.)

Paul is friendly and goes about his work with laid-back professionalism.  He asks me about my job, and follows up with employment-based small talk.  This is not what I had come to expect from previous visits.
Paul asks me to remove my hat for a pic (I have already done the fingerprinting and picturing on the machines, before queuing), and asks me about the holidays I get from work.  I treat this like a conversation with someone who is not holding my fate in his hands, and respond.  I do not ask about his job/holidays.
He hands me back my passport and receipt with the b&w pic and says:
“Enjoy your holiday.  Cheers.”
And I say:

“Thank you.  Thanks.”

I note, but do not commend him on his use of British idioms, as I walk away, trying not to look relieved.
I haven’t felt so nervous/paranoid/subsequently relieved dealing with law officials since I stopped smoking weed.
I am sober now, that’s for sure.

After I collect my bags, however, I realise there is another layer of passport control, and my heart sinks and then starts to beat faster again.
Luckily, it’s just a cursory check that we’ve been through the proper visa process – what the staff at this particular checkpoint here laughingly call the “Welcome Commiddee” (that’s how they pronounce it here).  Thankfully, I kept my receipt with the b&w pic (even though no one told me to), and the copper/BG/whatever is happy with that.  I overhear one of the other officials telling a passenger who has asked why his brother was taken out of the queue and questioned:
“It’s a trial, they’re testing a new system, so they need people to go and do a body scan thing.  Maybe it’ll be quicker for everyone if they wind up using that – and anyone who does it won’t have to wait in line.”

And I’m out into the night, on an adrenaline high, grateful, tired and wired.  I jump in a yellow taxi, and I’m on my way into New York City.

I made it. 

If I can maaaaaaaaaaaake it there, I’ll make it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnywheeere,
It’s up to YOU!  NEW Yoooooooorrrrrk

Friday, 30 June 2017

Glassstories 2017

“Some stories are magical, meant to be sung…”
Paul Simon

“Life writes many stories upon us, stories that make us who we are.”
Harvey Denton
Some stories cannot be told chronologically.

You know where you aaaaaaaaaaaare
You know where you aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare….
“Well, that’s me done.  I’m finished.  Spent.  Emotionally.”
The Band are absolutely on it.  Graham Greene on keys, Langston Hughes on the tubs.  Literally Literary Motherfuckers.  The Rapper is grateful.  The crowd is live.  Emotions are high.  Life Is Real.
“Happy music is depressing”, he sighs,
“That’s why I always sing
These terrible things, in
Your Mum’s ear
At her birthday party
In her local social cluuuuuuuub…”

The Mandolin Player leans on the bar at the back of the venue, looking at his bandmates.  He is clear and loud, which is a novel treat for him.  He plays better as a result.  But he cannot use a microphone at the same time. 
The Messiah comes down onto the stage and a hush descends.  He surveys the crowd, although without his glasses, the assembled throng are a mere busy blur.  There are at least 26 billion people present.  “I am pretty great, but there will be one who follows me who is greater still.  And s/he will tell you what to do.  I am but a humble facilitator, here to organise His/Her People to be ready for His/Her Revolution of The Spirit.  For I have youth on my side!  HERE I AM, LORD!  I am your instrument!  Play a flattened 9th on me!  Invert the chord sequence!  Modulate, motherfuckers!”
Amid the delirium and chaos, a quiet voice in the crowd intones: “I hoped he’d do ‘I Am The Resurrection’”.

POLITICS:  Hope is absolute fucking bollocks.  I’ll take a reasonable plan over a vaulting hope any time…and we’ll take those alluring promises in writing, thanks.  On a legally binding contract.
ART:  Plans are absolute bollocks.  I’ll take vaulting ambition over a plan any time.  And I will promise everything and nothing and none of it will be verifiable or accountable.

For The Messiah did not come to tell us what to do!  The Messiah came to show us of what We are capable – that we even are capable!  It is written: “Solemnly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.   You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
And he held my face, my very face, and told me everything will be alright.  He told me everything will be alright if WE make it alright, and finally I understood.  And there were no plaintive whines, no cries of entitlement, not a snowflake in sight.  There was a massive crowd moving through itself, creating itself, inventing itself, becoming itself.  And some surprisingly wild reactions to some surprisingly mild rhetoric.  And then Run The Jewels came on.

Run The Jewels are one of those Rap Groups they have now.  One of them describes himself as a “chubby rapper”, which is funny because it’s true.  Their warm-up act was a well-known veteran politician making his Glastonbury debut, but for some reason, a lot of people leave after the support act and don’t stay for the Heavy Rap Shit.  Weirdos.
“You wanna hear a good joke?  Nobody speak – nobody gets choked!”
The end ends with There Is a Light That Never Goes Out, but it doesn’t really actually end there.  There are no endings In Real Life, are there?  But this isn’t Real Life, this is a Story.  And we can do whatever we want with stories.  So let’s just say the whole thing closed out thusly:

Ugly spectres loom among the revellers.  Darkness, having enveloped the just and the unjust, is cast off just as starkly, exposing every sin and every act of grace to full view.  The dulling effects of the outside world persist, despite the best efforts of the artists and Party People.  Eternal vigilance is the price of carefree superhappyfuntimes.  Ironically.
But, as in the outside world, the spectres persist, but need not be heeded or accommodated.  As in the outside world, those with love will find this easier.  Let’s look after each other, yeah?
Sunday’s quotes of the day:
“I’m gonna marry the fuck out of you – and it is not gonna be a dignified ceremony.”
“Singing along is not mandatory, but if you don’t sing along, you’re a massive bag of horses cocks.”
“I don’t mind paying premium price for a premium pint, right, but there is just absolutely no shitting way I’m paying nearly a fiver for a pint of Carlsberg.  The bloody robdogs.”

The Drummer joins in “for old time’s sake”. 
“For old time’s sake”, The Rapper smiles.
The Pianist smiles. 
The Drummer and The Pianist gang up on The Rapper – purely for comic effect, you understand.
“Just because we’re in the Circus Field, doesn’t mean youse pair need to be clowns!”  At the mention of the word “Circus”, the pianist immediately plays Entry Of The Gladiators.  The Band are indeed skilled acrobats, walking the tightrope stretched from the Platform Of Maximum Annoyance to the Platform Of Hilarity.
It’s a bit shambolic, compared to the other set they played, which was an angelic, uplifting, ethereal, out-of-body experience.  But it’s not bad, and everyone has a pretty good laugh.  It can’t always be so emotionally intense, can it?
Two very famous people are at the West Holts stage (it used to be the Jazz World Stage, do you remember?)  They are very, very famous.  So famous, that, as they have no obvious professional or personal connection, they presumably only know each other because they are both so Very Famous.  They are watching the singer on stage who is the younger sister of someone who is equally – perhaps even more – famous than they.
A young woman turns around and makes eye contact with one of the Very Famous People.  As she opens her mouth to speak, a handler appears from nowhere and ushers her away from the Very Famous People, speaking very quickly and very quietly, like the disclaimer at the end of a radio advert.  The young woman is told that she can absolutely say Hello to the Very Famous People, but must absolutely not take any pictures. 
The young woman is bemused as the handler melts back into the crowd.
Finally, she speaks to the Very Famous People:
“Hi….um…have you got a light, please?”

“What is the purpose of song, if not to get us singing along?”
The crowd sings along:
“Hold on, my heart is breaking, but
Life is so much richer with you in it
Thank you for staying
Thank you for being my friend.”

“Maintain all the love, all the fraternal feelings, all the joy, and take them out into The Real World, where they are so sorely needed.” Says The Rapper, and people look bemused. 
Hopefully because they didn’t need telling.
PHEW!  For a minute there, I lost myself…..