Category Archives: Music

Hey ho, let’s go


By Tom Salmon:

I don’t know when or why the opening lines of the punk classic Blitzkrieg Bop became the rallying cry for a day out with the kids. But the Ramones’ most famous lines are now a part of a soundtrack of the weekend for our three under-fives. ‘Hey ho, let’s go’ they chant as we put our boots on.

We leave home with the kids packed up with their bikes and wrapped up for the chill in the autumnal Yorkshire air. As they clamber over each other’s car seats into the back of the car they play to another Blitzkrieg Bop lyric, “They’re forming in straight line, they’re going through a tight one, the kids are losing their minds, Blitzkrieg Bop”.

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Nostalgia, Portishead and the Spandau Citadel


Last week I visited the Citadel in Spandau for the first time. It is an impressive structure, built in the second half of the 1500s, although it is a little surprising to walk along a fairy busy street, past garden centres and car showrooms, and then suddenly come upon a medieval fort standing proudly in the early evening sunshine. We were there to see Portishead, part of a summer concert series that makes up the Citadel Music Festival, and from the moment we crossed the drawbridge and entered the fort through the thick stone walls it was clear that this was going to be a special venue for a special concert.

If I had to place Portishead in my personal music history, it would be in the years I was at Sixth Form College in Leyland, and their first album Dummy was on heavy rotation. There have only been a couple of albums since, and throughout the show I was continually taken back into my memories of hearing some of those songs, the strange music and haunting vocals, and I imagine that in that crowd I was not alone in experiencing the concert as something of an exercise in nostalgia.

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Death and Life on the Strand


By Phil Scraton: 

Throughout my childhood the coast had special meaning. The River Mersey did not offer its ports, Liverpool and Birkenhead, easy access. Shallow channels were dredged of their silt and sand to allow access to the Irish Sea and to the world. Ports built on the backs of slaves traded through the Atlantic triangle, on the last hopes of Irish migrants as they escaped the Great Hunger and on the wool, cotton and coal industries of Yorkshire and Lancashire whose labour was exploited in pursuit of Empire.

Where I lived they called it the ‘shore’, holiday-makers preferred ‘the beach’. I can’t remember the first time I heard the word ‘strand’ but wrongly assumed, as my German friends know so well, it had a Celtic connection. I can’t explain why, but for me ‘the strand’ has always evoked expansiveness; the power and vastness of the ocean, the constant movement of the tide – incoming, outgoing, only calm for fleeting moments each day, each night.

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The Road Not Taken, Amherst

By Phil Scraton:

I was 17 when I first heard The Dangling Conversation. The song’s simple beauty contrasted with the complex emotion of its lyrics. The mood, the characters, caught my imagination. Written by Paul Simon, recorded with Art Garfunkel, we are introduced to the lives of two lovers caught in the quiet solitude of a seemingly lost relationship. ‘You read your Emily Dickinson’ and ‘I my Robert Frost’; we ‘note our place with bookmarkers’ that ‘measure what we’ve lost’.

Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm,
Couplets out of rhyme,
In syncopated time
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs,
Are the borders of our lives.

In a ‘lost’ relationship, ‘out of rhythm’, ‘out of rhyme’ what was the relevance of the Emily Dickinson/ Robert Frost juxtaposition? I soon discovered that both were fine North American poets, two generations apart. Their personalities and lives had little in common; she a virtual recluse and a home-based correspondent, he an affable teacher with a love of the outdoors. Yet comparisons of their poetry have been endless – books, theses, articles, essays.

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Sonic Iceland: The end is the beginning is the end

Sonic Iceland is the story of a journey by Marcel Krüger and Kai Müller to discover the music of a country. They collected interviews, pictures and notebooks filled with texts, which became the basis for a website and what will be a book. Here is Chapter 0 – the short introduction for how the idea for Sonic Iceland was conceived.

It’s a cold and miserable winter morning in Cologne, and I am grumpy. It is the day after Boxing Day 2009, and in recent years Christmas has not been a good time for me, so I don’t feel very motivated as I walk up the stairs of the subway station in Ehrenfeld and towards the Weltempfänger-Café. I’m supposed to meet my friend and former housemate Kai, who is planning to visit Iceland. He wants to create some kind of documentary about Icelandic music, and has asked me to join his project. I have no idea of what this whole thing is going to look like, but besides my holiday-grumpiness I’m stoked about the idea of combining a visit to one of my favourite travel destinations with good music. I enter the café, and as I see Kai, beaming and sitting beneath a large map of the world, my mood lifts even higher. After a short shake-hands and catch-up (he lives in Cologne and I in Ireland), we set to work.

Kai and I have been fascinated by Icelandic music for a long time. It was always surprising how many different sounds and styles such a tiny nation produces, compared to Germany, for example. Plus we have watched the “Heima”-movie of Sigur Rós once too often. So the idea for Sonic Iceland was born: to go and talk to the Icelandic musicians in their natural habitat, record the interviews and document this with pictures and text. We set up a blog and started talking to people to help us get to Iceland.

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Beer and Waterproof Clothing at the Berlin Festival

Yes, the pun in the title has been done in one way or another a thousand times before, but then again I am not sure how often I will write about a music festival on these (virtual) pages so I will do it now. And it is somehow kind of apt. After all, it was my cagoule that kept me warm and dry whilst the kids got soggy as the sun went down behind the rain clouds, even if as an item of clothing it is about as cool as its 1930s fascist-leaning namesakes.

We arrived at Tempelhof early enough to wander around the half-empty Berlin Festival site and marvel at the fact that it was being hosted in and alongside one of the most iconic buildings in Berlin. Tempelhof stopped receiving flights in 2008, and it is one of my lasting Berlin regrets that I never took a flight to or from there, but it remains a symbolic location for – amongst other things –  its role in the Berlin Airlift following Stalin’s blockade of the western sectors of the city.

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Glory days at an (East) Berlin race track


“I want to tell you I’m not here for or against any government. I came to play rock ‘n’ roll for you East Berliners in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.” – Bruce Springsteen in Berlin, 1988

The race track in the north of Weißensee was once home to trap- and cycle-racing, but on July 19th 1988 it became the location for one of those events where even people who saw it on television felt they had been part of something special. Over a hundred and fifty thousand East Berliners packed into the Rennbahn – way over capacity – to watch a concert from Bruce Springsteen.

For the Communist authorities to allow the invitation of an American rock star to cross the wall to put a show on in the East might seem like a strange decision, but as a songwriter who often highlighted the plight of the working man it was felt that “the Boss” was ideologically sound. Unfortunately for the regime, and as this Reuters article marking the twentieth anniversary a couple of years ago shows, it did not quite turn out like that:

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Tramps like us…


 “If you’re here, and we’re here, they’re here…”

That was Bruce’s message from the stage at the Olympic Stadium, a refrain of recognition for absent friends that was one of the many memorable moments in what was described in the Berlin media as a “furioses Konzert,” and over three hours of “Gospel, Soul und Rock’n’ Roll.”

And it was. From the opening song of “When I Leave Berlin”, a 1973 song from Wizz Jones performed especially for the Berlin crowd (video above), through to the final bars of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-out” 28 songs longer, it was clear they had arrived in the German capital in top form. Everyone will have their own highlights from such an expansive set-list, that included many of the tracks from the new Wrecking Ball album (personal highlight was the foot-stomping “Shackled and Drawn”) as well as heavy collection of arms-aloft greatest hits.

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Levon Helm, music and place


We received an email from a friend of Under a Grey Sky, Chris Wright, who wanted to point us in the direction of an article in the Atlantic about the death of The Band’s drummer and vocalist Levon Helm. Chris wrote, “Perhaps you could find a space to link out to this one, as it does a very good job of celebrating the life and work of one of my all-time favourites and a mighty contributor to Rock & Roll, and his work has featured on your blog before.”

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On Morecambe Bay


by Phil Scraton:

It is often remarked that death knows no hierarchy: born naked, die naked. Yet how the living transform death’s meaning. Understandably when tragedy strikes we stand emotionally and physically alongside the bereaved as they mourn their loved ones. In the aftermath of multiple deaths the intensity is collective. The randomness of disasters, of who survives – who perishes, reminds us that it could have been me, my brother or sister, my mother or father, my son or daughter, my friend or neighbour. Towns, cities, villages become forever blighted by the deep sadness associated with their names.

Throughout the year, particularly in summer, the sands of Morecombe Bay, to the west of Lancashire’s coastline and the south of Cumbria’s beautiful Lake District, attract thousands of walkers. The most famous Morecambe Bay walk crosses the mouth of the River Kent, from Arnside to Kent’s Bank. Guides understand the complex movement of the tides and the channels they weave between and within the ever-shifting sand banks. What attracts walkers – the miles of flat sand against the backdrop of the northern mountains, the desolation and openness – is also its inherent, seemingly benign, danger. Continue reading