A prisoner in my home…

Irrational fear/phobia is a funny thing. The other day a spider crawled over the top of a table towards me. Without second thought, I picked it up by a leg and calmly moved it to the garden. I have friends who would have been up on their tiptoes, cowering and screaming at such action. To me though, it’s only a spider. 

Last week, I was on a plane heading back to this villa after a fine time at Primavera Sound in Barcelona (review here). You can tell those people who are tense on a flight. They purse their lips, forget to breathe regularly and go an unfortunate shade of red. It’s easy to smirk about their misfortune because I’m not experiencing their fear. I enjoy flying. Kudos to them for tackling their phobia head on though.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it but I have a fear of strange dogs. Over the years, I’ve crossed streets to avoid yapping chihuahuas. When on walks in the country, I’ve cowered behind others that I’ve been with (awkward when that other is your son, ten years old at the time). It’s an irrational fear but it’s very real.

The stupid thing is that, by and large, I like dogs. Once I’ve got to ‘know’ a dog and to build up some rapport, I can see that they’re immense company. Truly they are best friends in the making. But strange dogs still do my head in. 

I know that many will smirk at this but this weekend I’ve been kept prisoner in the villa by a stray dog. Herbert (we’ll call him/her that even though I have no idea of his/her sex) came bounding up onto my patio early on Saturday afternoon. I had the French doors to the kitchen shut . Herbert made his presence known by howling intensely like you imagine a werewolf might. I then heard something scrapping at the kitchen glass. I went to investigate. 

I was taken aback when I saw Herbert staring through the glass at me. You probably could have knocked me down with a feather. I called Sarah. She’s good with dogs and would know what to do although, being back in England, any practical help would be out of the question. It’s not as if she could get on a flight to save me from my phobia (even though I would get on a flight to save her from spiders).

My problem was a very real one. Herbert seemed desperate to get into the villa. It’s all accessed by opening French doors and iron grills. By the time I’d unlocked everything to get out, Herbert would be in. And I was terrified of the ill-looking, desperate Herbert, even more so now after Sarah advised that he ‘probably has ticks and you don’t want to get bitten by one of them’.  We were entering into a stalemate and a battle of wills. I lowered the shutter to have a think. 

I had a scout online to try to work out what sort of dog Herbert is. His erect, pointy ears and long head were giveaways and I quickly derived that he was a hound (or a podenco in Spanish). There are different varieties of podenco but I’m not confident enough to say what type Herbert is. As Herbert scratched and howled on the steps of my villa, I felt all sorts of despair as I read about the plight of podencos. 

Podencos are hunting dogs in Spain. They’re not pets but tools of the trade. And when they are no longer of use to the hunters and farmers they are disposed of. The fact that the malnourished Herbert was on my doorstep was a good thing. His life could feasibly have been ended in ways too upsetting to write about in this post. Here, Herbert was safe from immediate harm (though I still baulked at the idea of heading out to say hello to him). Everything I’ve read about podenco’s says that they’re friendly, affable and loyal dogs which is quite incredible after what many have been through. 

I left a message on the answer-phone of the local animal rescue centre. When they called me back, they wondered whether Herbert had a previous knowledge of the villa. They suggested it was odd that he was showing such affinity to my patio. I was perhaps a bit too definite when agreeing with their assessment. I read about dogs who have travelled miles and miles with a sixth sense to get home. And I wondered if Herbert was a legacy of crazy dog woman. Appliances, cutlery, plates and pans had all gone but Herbert hadn’t. Silver clouds and all that. This was surely too far-fetched to be true. 

Time passed. Herbert’s howling became intermittent. He seemed comfortable to rest in the sun. I opened the shutters and that didn’t fail to get his attention. We had a stand-off with just a window-pane separating us. Herbert turned away and settled to rest again. This was a dual-edged stake-out; our negotiations were entering an intense period. I had beer and wine in the fridge. I was in no rush to leave (though I did feel very inadequate that I couldn’t take control of this situation like a ‘real’ man might).

Fast forward to Sunday morning. I’d been woken by Herbert’s howls earlier but it had now been some time since I’d heard him. I lifted the blind in the kitchen only to jump back. Herbert was still there looking in on me. More howls followed. I’m too frightened to go outside. I decide I’ve not had a sofa day for quite a while now and that’s what I do. I’ve got to sit this out even if Herbert’s howls do seem to get more desperate as the day passes and night again descends. 

It’s now Monday morning. There’s no obvious sign of Herbert but I wonder if he’s hiding in a spot I can’t see until I open the door. The mind plays funny tricks on you when you’re caged up for a weekend. But I had space to roam about in, food to eat and beer to drink. That’s absolute luxury compared to how many of Herbert relatives are kept. 

Herbert might have gone but I’ve got a feeling it’s not the last I’ve heard from him. I genuinely hope that some kind soul has found him and is helping him. Should he return, I really need to face my fear head on. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jonathan Bree – Boombox Serenade

“I think you’ll really miss being able to go to gigs every night of the week should the mood take you.”

That was the prediction of a few people when I told them that I was moving away from the hustle and bustle of Leicester city centre and heading to this remote Spanish villa. It’s true that the nearest small town is a three kilometre drive away and that karaoke and Michael Jackson tribute acts reign supreme but so far I’ve not missed the live gigging scene. To be fair though, I have been in the villa less than a week. 

And, despite the lack of gigs, it’s not as if I’ve had a live music drought in the weeks I’ve been waiting for crazy dog woman to vacate the villa. Before heading up to Lisbon and Eurovision, I spent a lovely weekend in Murcia for the ‘Warm Up’ festival. Kasabian and Alt-J were the bands at the top of the poster but it was probably the Spanish alt-indie acts that got the biggest cheers from the partisan crowd. Next week, I’m heading up to Barcelona for Primavera Sound. I’ll be reviewing it for eFestivals and fully intend to dig deep beneath the surface. Tomorrow, there’s a spring festival in Alicante that I might explore after getting my beard trimmed by a trendy barber with blue hair. 

Jonathan Bree travels from New Zealand to play his first ever UK dates in August. It’s an odd-looking three date mini-tour beginning at the Rough Trade store in Bristol and ending at the mightily-fine looking Visions one-dayer down in Hackney. Sandwiched in between these dates, Bree plays the Soundhouse in Leicester. As great a venue as the Soundhouse is, I still see this as quite a coup for the place. For Bree is brill and him and his band have an out-there image to boot – full white masked body suits and bowl haircut wigs. I let out a little yelp when I realised this was one show I wouldn’t get to see. 

His genius is more than evident in the recently released video for ‘Boombox Serenade’. Like a warped Magnetic Fields (if such a thing is possible), Bree plays with all sorts of iconic images as he rides in on a horse to woo the woman of his dreams (with a Boombox). The music won’t be too everybody’s taste (for some it’ll sound like the batteries on your Boombox are fading fast) but I find the combination of baritone croon and changing tone delightfully woozy. The awkward romanticism is right up Sonic Breakfast’s street. 

 

‘Boombox Serenade’ is the fourth track to be released from Bree’s forthcoming album, ‘Sleepwalking’. Each of the previous three singles showcase this man’s peculiar knack for skewed songwriting. From gallic glamour to more traditional electro-pop and all with the distinct voice, this is something to get excited about as summer settles. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afrikan Boy (featuring aJan) – Ancestry

I think that this terrace will be good for writing. That’ll be especially true in the mornings when the sun hasn’t quite moved around the villa to give the patio its afternoon heat. 

It’s been a waiting game the past couple of days; today, I’m having some furniture delivered – a comfortable sofa that’ll be perfect for World Cup viewing and a dining room table and chairs. The fabulous handyman (who fixed the electric gate yesterday)  returns to inspect the hot-tub that’s been out of action for years. And the pool man keeps an eye on his work in progress. The pool turns bluer by the day. 

I spent much of yesterday trying to catch up on Sonic Breakfast E-mails. With 7,000 unread in the inbox this is quite a task. I barely made a dent in the unread number but did listen to some fabulous tunes that have been sent my way. 

Ancestry by Afrikan Boy (featuring aJan) was one of the stand-outs. I’ll always be drawn to tunes with a message that are delivered with dollops of exasperated humour. Afrikan Boy ticks those boxes as he exposes the ridiculousness of the current ‘DNA’ fad, widely advertised on daytime TV. For an obscene amount of money, rogue scientists will analyse your blood, spit, sweat or faeces and tell you where your genes originate from. I guess that for some people this is the sort of thing that matters? 

What I do (sort of) like about ancestry websites is how such tests can blow the most fervent of racists out of the water. The mischief-maker in me would love to be a fly on the wall when your average UKIP supporter gets the devastating news that they hail from Europe. 

But these sites are pernicious. They’re selling a potential identity to people who aren’t comfortable with the one they have. I’ve got no such interest myself in knowing where my ancestors originate from. 

And it would appear that I share this feeling with Afrikan Boy who playfully experiences all sorts of identity crises within his banger of a tune before ultimately concluding that it’s hogwash. The accompanying website (here) is worth having a scout around as well. 

“I am not an Athenian or a Greek, I am a citizen of the world“, wrote Socrates many moons ago. And yet still that search for ancestry goes on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On moving into the villa

Regular readers of Sonic Breakfast might care to know that I’ve now moved into the Spanish villa. A mere seven weeks after crazy dog woman’s leaving date, she has now finally departed. The strong whiff of dog will soon be gone as well.

I’m thinking about this post from the terrace of my villa. Whilst I write, a troop of Spanish people work on cleaning and sorting the accommodation. I feel immense guilt. I think I should be helping in some way, offering cups of tea, strumming tunes on my guitar or being generally convivial. Instead, I silently sit outside like a lord of the manor.  Frankly, although I’ll be paying for their services, it’s an economic exchange that I feel uncomfortable with. 

This morning, the pool was a dark and dingy green. Two big barrels of chlorine expertly administered by Pool man Ed, a Welsh carpet fitter who came here to retire but realised he needed something to do, appear to have done the trick. That and a fair bit of fiddling with the motor, a trick I suspect was used to confound me into thinking that the role of pool technician is not for every Tom, Dick and Harry. 

I broke down in tears on this very terrace barely four days ago. Everything seemed so overwhelming and it has been a long couple of months. Yes, I’m prone to drama but I was absolutely moving into a shithole of a place. I blamed Sarah who could do nothing from England. I shouted at people who were only trying to help me. I looked around and could see no way forward. I could write words about how I felt. But, I couldn’t actually do anything practical. I had no way of turning the green pool blue. To clean the dog hair from this place would have taken me months of hard graft; to fit the new light bulbs or fill in the holes even more time. Some people are born practical and I envy them more and more each day. 

Something beyond magical happened two nights ago, the first night I stayed in this remote space. When I turned the lights off, I was initially puzzled. Something was missing. A dog barked in the distance and then an insect fizzed. I could hear trees swishing in the slight wind. All was black save for a bit of starlight. It didn’t take long to dawn on me as I lay still, quiet and a little bit scared. This is no metropolis – there is no artificial street light, no constant hum from the late night taxis depositing the drinkers home from their last orders. This is like wild camping but under a roof with wifi. I pulled down the fly-guard, opened the window and took a big gulp of air. 

This is my life for the next year. Let the writing of the novel begin.

 

Lisbon, Fado and Eurovision

I’ve had a lot of time to write on buses in this past week. But, a lot of time does not necessarily equate to a lot of output. Instead, I simply chilled and slept as I travelled from Murcia to Madrid and then onwards into Portugal and Eurovision.

I write this from a small terrace outside a tiny supermarket at the top of a hill in Lisbon. I’m drinking a can of Sagres, a treat having just walked up a monster of a mountain lugging my current life possessions as I go. Yes, it’s been over a month now that I’ve been living out of a suitcase. Mad-dog woman has yet to vacate the villa in Spain. It’s making me resilient but possibly a bit homesick. 

This little terrace is great though. I’m sat with old men who are chatting amongst themselves. Their skins are all sun-weathered and they are all smoking the dregs of roll-ups. They’ve been puffing on the same butt for twenty minutes at least. 

From across the road, I can hear a woman singing. The houses here are stunning, painted in beautiful pastel shades or artistically tiled. And I suspect this isn’t even a posh area. They all have ornate iron balconies and some sport flower baskets. Is this the famed Fado that the woman sings? It sounds sad enough; as if she mourns for a lost lover from her past. The men stamp their smokes out and clap as is customary when she finishes. 

Tonight I head to the first Eurovision semi-final. Current betting suggests we might all be heading to Cyprus next year. Every now and then, a fan of the contest, draped in the flag of their country walks by. It feels odd – two strong cultures clashing and not entirely meeting. I’m sure that the city of Lisbon welcomes the extra fame and tourism that the contest will bring. Fans of Eurovision could do well to take a minute to sit and watch the world go by. 

 

Workers’ Day, Showaddywaddy and Jendrix Rock Bar

Today is a bank holiday in Spain; indeed, International Workers’ Day or Labour Day appears to be celebrated on the first of May around much of the world. At least my friends back home don’t have to wait too long for their own May Day, even if, with routine avoidance of the rules of engagement, the British bank holiday is held on a different day from the rest of Europe. 

The result is the language school in Alicante is shut today and the city appears to be remarkably quiet. Knowing that things would largely grind to a halt, I went out and drank too many gin and tonics last night at the Jendrix Rock Bar. It’s quite a place; friendly, international and with the oddest mix of rock music I’ve ever heard. My smile was wry when ‘Under The Moon Of Love’ from Leicester’s finest, Showaddywaddy, was played without any sense of irony. More royalties for that man Bartram!

You meet characters in these bars. Characters who are travelling and escaping from their lives back home. Thomas is from Reykjavik. We’ll call him Thomas although that mightn’t be his name as I can’t quite hear him properly when he speaks. He has a sort of military swagger about him, a confidence that I suspect is partly put on to disguise his innate shyness. Thomas might well be quite high; his eyes are wide and his frequent trips to the bathroom see him returning with elevated glee. But it’s nice to chat to him about Alicante for a while. He loves the weather over here and the more regular day/night balance. He hardly sells Iceland to me though.

Daniel (and that is his name) is awkwardly sat at the bar. It’s fair to say that Daniel is quite likely on the autistic spectrum. A man in his late 40’s or early 50’s, he sports the most fabulous of bald pates; a monk cut with a tufty ring of hair sitting embarrassingly on top. Daniel tells me that his parents worry about him when he travels but that he likes to travel lots. He likes rock music and that’s why he’s in this bar wearing his ‘Hard Rock Cafe’ t-shirt. He once tried to write a biography about Freddie Mercury. He loves Queen and he loves the queen. From Downham Market in Norfolk, he tries to impress me with his heartfelt views about immigration and Brexit. I think he thinks that I want to hear his ‘leave’ rhetoric. I make it clear that I voted to remain and Daniel’s tune changes. I conclude that ultimately Daniel is decent and we head off for a game of pool. 

But Thomas monopolises the table. His buzz and energy ensures that he’s made friends with two Spanish chaps who are challenging him in a game. Thomas swaggers around the pool table as if he’s a world champion. He’s clearly not. He misses easy pots and fouls when it would be easier not to. He’s oblivious to the slight sniggers from those who are half-watching whilst they dance. Thomas inevitably loses and I play a game. 

And then I play another game.. And another.. It’s winner stays on and I’m in that zone where I’m making the most impossible of pots. I’m feeling invincible and I know that the gin is talking. I look across to the dancefloor and I can see Daniel’s glowing head, exuberantly bobbing up and down as he moves in stifled fashion. I realise it’s time to leave. 

Today, on workers day, I’ve not been productive. I’ve had a monster headache. 

 

 

 

 

Hailey Tuck – Alcohol/Junk

Until yesterday, Hailey Tuck was a name that had passed me by. Maybe I’d seen the label ‘soft jazz covers’ and thought that her music wouldn’t be for me. But how wrong I’ve been? 

 

She’s been around for a while, an American still in her 20’s who has spent the best part of a decade living in Paris and reconnecting with a time that was altogether more glamorous. Sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and giving the impression that she means every syllable that she purposefully utters, it was the video to a track from her forthcoming (and debut) album, Junk, out in May that got me foaming at the mouth. 

I’m a fan of The Kinks and firmly believe that Ray Davies is a songwriting genius. It’s fair to say though that his tune, Alcohol, from the Muswell Hillbillies album might never be considered a classic of their catalogue. However, Hailey Tuck has scrubbed the song down, added extra clarity to the slightly muffled vocal of the original and come up with a tune tinged with beautiful sadness. When she sings ‘who thought I would fall a slave to demon alcohol?’, you believe her every word. 

I had to get a copy of the album and promptly requested a preview copy. 

‘Why don’t you shut the door and close the curtains?’, asks Jarvis Cocker in Pulp’s fine tune, Underwear. In their version, it’s the sound of a seedy Sheffield, bedsits off Bramall Lane. But Hailey transforms the song and its meaning into a slightly skewed but perfect love song. Her voice is truly to die for.

 

Underwear falls towards the end of this most astonishing of listening experiences. I’ve never really been one for cover versions or tribute acts but on Junk, Hailey (and her fine band of jazz players) take us through an eclectic mix never once dropping a beat. From soul to folk originals, she turns Solomon Burke into Peggy Lee and Broadway musical-tunes into heart-wrenching ballads that you want to hear again and again. 

‘I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk’, sings Hailey in the opening track of the record, her cover of the Leonard Cohen song, ‘That don’t make it Junk’. Battles against addiction do surface from time to time, perhaps nowhere more so than in her exquisite cover of Colin Blunstone’s ‘Say You Don’t Mind’. Hailey knows that the word ‘wining/whining’ has double-meaning when she pleads to be forgiven for her wrongdoing in this classic. 

Ultimately, this is an exercise in taking old tunes from a range of genres and finding something new, immediate and exciting within. Her art form (soft jazz covers) might be as old as the hills but Tuck breathes and invigorates new life into it.

We’re at the final track of the album – a cover of Paul McCartney’s Junk. ‘Something old and new, memories for me and you’, sings Hailey and you suspect that sums up her modus operandi. 

Make no mistake though – this record is far from junk.