Friday, 21 December 2012

You know when everything you think you know is wrong?

When I was about 14 my Mum & Dad bought an upright piano. Not for me, you understand, but for one of my younger brothers, Phil. His music teacher said he had a real talent and an ear for music. Phil went for proper Grade lessons but hated it. You see, he didn't need the formality of it. He just wanted to play. And, boy, could he play. New Elton John song? Two listens. Nailed. He is just an wonderfully talented musician. Great guitarist, piano player, makes you sick! Anyway, this story isn't about him. By the time I was 16 and doing O Levels, we'd had said piano a couple of years. I got to going home if I didn't have a lesson on the odd afternoon, a two mile walk. One day, I turned into the drive and heard the piano. I remember stopping. Phil is 2 years younger than me, so he was still at school. Martin, 2 years younger still, was also a talented player (became a pro-songwriter) but he was also at school. I let myself into the house, quietly. The door to the room where the piano lived was slightly ajar. I listened as this beautiful piece of music drifted out of the room and filled the house. I knew the piece. Dad had it on an album and played the record frequently. I leaned close to the door and peeked a look. Mum was in a trance, eyed closed, as she delicately played the gorgeous music. She had no sheet music and wasn't even looking at the keys. I stood in the hallway for a minute and then quietly let myself back out of the house. I didn't tell her for 30 years. You see, she'd never let on that she could play. Not once. When Dad died and she moved to a smaller, chocolate-box cottage, she took the piano, "so that the boys can play when they come to visit." It was then, quietly, when we were alone, that I told her. She smiled. "Our secret, eh?" Yesterday, someone I follow on This Is My Jam and Twitter, AndyMack, posted the piece of music that Mum was playing as his Jam for the week. It caught me unawares. Actually, that's not true. It has never failed to catch me unawares, ever since that day. I weep everytime I hear it. Mum died nearly six years ago, but that's not why I weep. The music is beautiful and the fact that she kept her talent from us is so typical of a woman who gave up being a nurse to raise 6 kids and be a mother until her beloved husband died at 55. After that, once we were all grown, she travelled, had her own radio show, went hot air ballooning in Oz, sand belly-boarding and, near the end, took herself off to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley 'to see all the places in The John Wayne films.' So, thanks to Andy, and I'm raising a big fat glass of red to Betty Brannigan, my Mum. The music she was playing? Debussy's Au Clair De La Lune.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

I love The Famous Five.

I love great singers. I love singers who have pain and loss and soul in their voice. I have a Famous Five of great, British voices. Paul Rodgers of Free & Bad Company heads the list which is, of course, indisputable. The other 4, in time-honoured no particular order, are Frankie Miller, James Dewar, Jess Roden and Peter Cox. If you don't know them, go look them up. The first four are rooted in the 70's. Peter Cox is from the 80's but is still touring and making new music. I have loved his voice since Go West's 'We Close Our Eyes.' I own everything he has ever done. We go and see Go West at every opportunity. Peter has made a new solo album, Riding The Blinds, via Pledge Music. This where the audience pay for the album to be made by buying various gifts and experiences. I bought 2 VIP passes to the sound check at a gig on the tour. It was last night and it was one of the most wonderful experiences of our lives. He was just the nicest bloke you could want to meet. We got to spend 90 minutes with him and his band. After the gig he signed a copy of the set-list for us. As we were leaving I was gripped by the urge to tell him what he meant to me. So, I told him about The Famous Five. He nodded when I said that Paul Rodgers was number one but said he was amazed to be linked with Jimmy Dewar. We nattered about those early Robin Trower albums and then we left. This morning he tweeted me, thanking me for my comment, for putting him in a list with four of his heroes, and hashtagged the tweak #humbled. As I said, you couldn't wish to meet a nicer bloke. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, 30 November 2012

I bloody hate Camden.

I went to a gig at Dingwalls, Camden in that there London, last night. I was on my own, to see my current favourite band, Dawes. Train after work to Paddington, quick bowl of pasta then the Tube to Camden Town. A walk up a very cold Camden High Street, a pint and on to the gig. Don't get me wrong, nothing made me deviate from that plan, but.... Look,I'm 56. I don't do, student-chic. I don't do dog-on-a-string. I don't do macrobiotic lentils with poached cabbage. I went into 2 pubs and felt not so much 'ancient' as from another aeon! Even the bar staff were 12 years old. The place screams out "This is not for you. You are an old bastard and you don't belong." Luckily, Dingwalls was full of my kind. People with grey hair, trimmed beards and women drinking white wine. The gig was one of the best I've been to in 41 years of gigs. I went home to my wife, my warm, middle-class house in Berkshire and vowed never to go to Camden again. Unless there's a decent gig, obviously. Dawes and "A Little Bit Of Everything."

Saturday, 17 November 2012

One of my favourite days of the year.

I am married to an Event Organiser. Janet books conferences and company incentives, worldwide. She organises for a living. So it's no surprise that she is totally organised herself. Take Christmas. She buys next year's paper, tags and cards on Boxing Day. Wherever we are (and we travel a lot)she is always thinking of gifts for friends & family that then get stored in the wardrobe until today. Today is wrapping day. Today is a huge glass of wine, a 77 song playlist of Christmas songs on her iPod, rolls of Sellotape, rolls of paper and the kitchen table surrounded by bags and boxes. When everything is wrapped it will all get split into nice gift bags (bought last Boxing Day) for each person. In two weeks time she'll drive up to Mum & Dad's near Walsall and drop off presents there, at her sister's and her best friends. She absolutely loves the whole process and is extremely good at it, too. So, today is one of my favourite days of the year. Because it makes my gorgeous wife so happy. Nat king Cole. The Christmas Song.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Most things I worry 'bout never happen anyway.

We have friends in Lancaster, Philadelphia. When I say friends, we've met once. Dublin, May this year. We were on a travel package to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. So were Bill & Liz. They had combined it with a European trip. We were sat together at a fantastic gig and then stayed up in the hotel bar, for hours. You know when you just click with people? That was it. They flew back to the States, we flew back to London. I found Bill on LinkedIn (the only use I've ever found for it) and e-mailed him. Since then we've kept in touch quite a bit. Last night, watching the devastation of hurricane Sandy on the news, I suddenly had a horrible feeling of impending doom. I e-mailed Bill and got a scary reply. The town was being evacuated but they were staying put. They'd boarded up, sand-bagged, all the things we would do. They have a beach house on the Jersey shore which was being hit at that moment. I sent him our best and went to bed. Which just looks crap when you read it like that. I e-mailed again this morning and several more times today. Slowly, his replies got more hopeful until, this afternoon, he explained that, incredibly, they and their house, were fine. Even the Jersey house looks to have survived, although the water in the town is 12 feet deep in places. I joked back, told him how pleased we were, and signed off with a line that I have tried to live my life by, in the past few years. I used to worry about everything. I mean really worry. Then, 18 years ago, something happened which changed my world. By the time I got through it, my outlook had changed. We met Bill & Liz for 9 hours but I couldn't be happier that they and their family are safe. I don't know what that means but I shall raise a glass tonight. The sign-off line is the title of this blog entry. It's from this Tom Petty song, Crawling Back To You. Stay safe everyone.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

I used to be in the Beatles, you know.

My wife and I went to see the musical Let It Be last week. It's actually a live gig by The Beatles. No, really. Four lookalikes and brilliant soundalikes rock their way through just about every Beatles song you could want. It's a proper loud, live gig. I got caught up in the atmosphere and the whole feeling of being that close (third row) to people singing these great songs that I have loved almost all of my life. At one point Paul, George and John sit for Blackbird, Two of Us and then In My Life. I wept, quietly. Beautifully staged, crystal clear sound, the four actor/musicians play brilliantly. George's solo in While My Guitar Gently Weeps was wonderful. I had a really, really good time. My Dad used to work for the electronics and defence side of EMI. This meant that, through something called Staff Sales, he got early access to Beatles records the week before they came out. He would bring them home on a Friday night and for the whole weekend, my brothers Kevin and Phil and me would be The Beatles. Tennis rackets for guitars, (I was Paul so I had a left-handed tennis racket) and singing the new songs so much that, by the time we went to school on Monday, we could sing the new Beatles record before anyone else in the playground had even heard it. Let It Be was very, very good. For some of it I was 10 years old.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A week is a long time in.....

Back from a wonderful trip to Ireland, heavier but happier. My birthday was on the Sunday, a week ago, the 2nd day of the trip. We got back late on Wednesday, spent Thursday feeding the washing machine and slobbing before a couple of great days in London. My wonderful wife had tipped off the hotel that it was my birthday and they made a fuss, which she loved. We had lunch at The Wolseley and she had primed them, as well. The point is that she loves to make my birthday last a week, if she gets the chance. Birthdays never used to mean much before I met her. In the fifteen years of my previous marriage they were never a big deal. So, to find someone who just wants to make them as special as possible is fantastic. My life has changed so much in the last 18 years. When JB and I met I was a wreck, not looking forward to the next day, let alone looking for a new relationship. We'll have been together 17 years soon, 12 of them married. So, a week is a long time in birthdays. Long may it last.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beautiful Kerry

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos We're off to Ireland for my birthday, this weekend. This is the hotel in the Kerry Mountains. We discovered it 12 years ago, had our honeymoon there and have been back umpteen times. It's a beautiful, peaceful spot. This trip is important to me. When we are there I always remember my late Dad in a particular way. He introduced me to Guinness when I was a baby, sucking it off his finger. I love a pint but can't do more than two, these days. Anyway, at some point on the trip I shall go to the bar in some remote pub and buy a round. There are four of us going but I will buy an extra pint of Guinness. When we leave I'll write PB, his initials, in the head and leave it on the table for him to drink later. I've done it for years. It makes me very happy and my wife thinks it makes me who I am. I don't know about that but I know that this trip is important to me. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos It's especially important because of my Dad. That's him, at my 21st, in 1977. He looks great, happy. His Derry eyes are smiling and he looks well. Which is deceptive. He'd already lost one kidney and, less than 4 years after this photo was taken, he would be dead from cancer in the other one. On this night, he was 51 years old. He'd been grey since the age of 19, so we always thought of him as "old". I am Peter Brannigan's second son and, like all 6 of his children, I miss him terribly. So, this trip is important to me because, on Sunday 30th September, I will wake up and be able to say something my Dad never could. "Today, I am 56 years old." Slainte PJB.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Grief is not a competition.

Yesterday was the announcement of the findings of the Hillsborough Panel. A day of shocks, of sober reflection, anger and respect. Respect for the families and what they have gone through in the last 23 years. Respect for our system, much-maligned though it may be. Without it, the freedoms it brings and the eventual accountability, we might never find out when these kinds of injustices occur. We might as well be living in a suppressive, totalitarian state.

Social media was full of anger, some calm reflection and some links to great writing about the day, 23 years ago, when so many lives were needlessly tossed aside. Some friends and people I follow on Twitter wrote beautifully on their blogs about their thoughts and how the announcement had touched their lives. I went to bed last night, having re-watched the ITV documentary 'The Search For Truth', and found that it took a long while to clear my head and sleep.

This morning I checked Twitter and found a comment from someone stating that it was interesting that some regular tweeters had been very quiet yesterday. I followed the thread for a while. One of the replies noted 'there was a lot of Southern opinion missing.' At that point, I turned it off.

I had kept off Twitter on Wednesday and I live in the South. I kept off Twitter because I was too busy taking in the news, reading as much as I could and gathering my thoughts. I kept off Twitter because it seemed trite to vent my spleen on a day when the world I know and love had tilted off its axis, just a bit.

Grief is not a competition. The fact that Hillsborough was inflicted on people from Liverpool is irrelevant to me. I would feel the same if it had been people from Reading, Southampton or Tottenham. It was inflicted on football fans because they were an easy scapegoat. It was inflicted on football fans because that's the way they were treated, what they were used to. It was inflicted on football fans because they were football fans.

Grieving, caring and loving aren't part of some emotional It's A Knockout event. As I say, grief is not a competition.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Close to tears.

I've been close to tears for a long time. I first noticed it after my Dad died in 1981. I don't remember it being something that happened before that but, once the grieving had ended (if it ever really does),I could cry on a regular basis. The great American cop show, Hill Street Blues would set me off every week. Films, great photos, music and live concerts would have the same effect. As I've got older they have been joined by the paintings of Caravaggio, great tv documentaries and The Kerry Mountains, Ireland. This last few weeks has been a blub-fest as the Olympics and Paralympics have inspired, amazed and thrilled me. I suppose, at heart, I'm just a sentimental old fool. That doesn't make me a bad person. In fact, if there were a few more of us about, the world might be a less harsh and angular place. Here's one that gets me every time. A scene from 'Almost Famous' with Elton John's Tiny Dancer.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Things that make me happy

Yesterday evening I posted on the Afterword site 5 things that, at that moment, made me happy. It was an excuse to post a video of 'Roll On Babe' by Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, a song that always makes me happy. The 5 things were:

1. The Red Kites in the tree behind my house.
2. The glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo beside me.
3. My wife humming upstairs in the bath.
4. The thought of a long weekend with absolutely nothing to do.
5. Ronnie Lane singing 'Roll On Babe'

As with most of my posts that's all there is to it. As I type this we are up to 59 replies, many of which make me profoundly happy. One brave soul posted that, after years of depression and counselling, his wife was returning to the happy girl he married. This admission immediately became the 6th thing that makes me happy. Depression is a horrible condition that affects everyone around the sufferer and seeps into every pore of their collective life. Trust me, I know.
So, for Matt and his wife, I raise a glass. Stick with it. It gets better. 

Summer stars are in the sky

I am posting this as an explanation of the blog's title. Clare Island is off the coast of Mayo, in the West of Ireland. It is a magical place. So, I'm going to start rambling. Let's see what happens.....