Wembley brick

This summer’s London Olympics has reminded me of my family’s history with Wembley Stadium, which began when my dad attended the first FA Cup Final held at Wembley in 1923. I remember my Dad (born 1903) talking about ‘Watkin’s folly’, which was the tower built by the railway director at the end of the 19th century on the same spot. This was meant to be London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and when the first stage was completed it was opened to the public with the idea that the money raised would pay for the remaining structure. Not enough people came, despite the advantage of a local train station and the iron base stood idle for some years until demolished (I think in 1907). John Betjeman famously talked about the ‘folly’ in his legendary film, Metroland. (See the 12th minute for his reference to Wembley). There was a legend that a train used in the destruction of the tower (or possibly the construction of the Stadium) had been buried on the site. However, the Australians who built the new Wembley from 2000 sadly didn’t report of any such discovery.

My dad also attended, with my brother Ken, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 1948 and the famous England v Hungary match in November 1953. Ken remembers the crowd’s disbelief as the Hungarians performed tricks with the match ball before kick-off, plus the fact they actually passed the ball backwards when in the England half (unheard of at that time and previously thought akin to retreat). Although his favourite memory is when in the second half and with the Hungarians in total control, Billy Wright lumped the ball straight up in the air and my Dad – exasperated – thundered ‘Haven’t they learnt anything from the first half!’

I started going to Wembley in the late 1970s to support England, although one of my earliest moments of note there came at The Who, AC/DC, Stranglers and Nils Lofgren concert in 1979. This was such a rough and ready affair, I thought they would never hold live music events there again. Especially as most of the crowd were hammered on cheap cider (the only drink available) and fights regularly broke out from late afternoon.

How wrong I had been. Live Aid on 13 July 1985 was probably the best crowd atmosphere I have ever experienced. Buying face value tickets on Wembley Way (£25 each, with £20 going to the cause), it was hard to believe that only the week before my girlfriend at the time, Liz Fitzgerald, and I couldn’t gain entry to Bruce Springsteen’s gig, but somehow there we were at half eleven – at the back on the inside – as Status Quo got the throng bouncing with Rockin’ all over the world! What a day.

Supporting England live became a regular highlight for me during the follow years. Although there have been as many lows and highs. I particularly recall standing alone in a section at the old tunnel end while Terry Venables’ line-up beat Greece 5-0 as a warm-up match for the Greeks who had qualified for the World Cup in 1994. Where were all the supporters then who came out of the woodwork just two years later for the 1996 Euros? However, my wife-to-be Julie and I were present as we destroyed the Dutch 4-1 during the group stage that year.

With my long-standing England-going friend Peter Brown, I was present at the last major match at Wembley when we lost 0-1 to the Germans in the World Cup qualifier of October 2000. A Scholes foul and Seaman misjudging a long free-kick combined to see us defeated. However, despite England flourishing under new command and qualifying for the tournament, we were eliminated when the Brazilians benefited from another Scholes’ foul and Seaman misjudging another long free-kick in the quarter final! Didn’t we learn anything? I guess not.

I now take my son Ben to the new Wembley. We first visited for a Stadium tour in December 2011, when he stood alongside the FA Cup at the top of the steps – but the official photographer’s picture of this moment didn’t develop! We made up for this last month when Julie, Ben and I were there on 2nd June to see England beat Belgium 1-0 in the pre-tournament friendly with Danny Welbeck scoring right in front of us. A lovely afternoon in the sunshine.

Lost Arts

Lost Arts has been set up by eight unions whose members will be directly affected by cuts to the Arts: the MU, Equity, BECTU, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the NUJ, UNITE, Prospect and PCS. The group aims to make sure that the effects of these cuts are fully recorded and publicised.  In order to prevent the effects of the cuts being forgotten over time, the Lost Arts campaign and website have been established.  Anyone who wants to submit details about how they have been affected due to cuts in public funding, can do so and help maintain a running total of the money lost to the arts.

Music Supported Here

Music Supported Here is a web based community specifically focused on supporting grassroots musicians across all genres. Designed as a space for musicians to raise issues affecting their work, the campaign’s website is the home of valuable advice, information and opinions to help all musicians develop their careers.  The campaign evolved out of an initiative developed by the Musicians’ Union at the beginning of 2010, in response to the rise in internet piracy.  Visit the site and sign up to follow industry news and to show support for working musicians.

The Musician, June 12

The summer 2012 issue of The Musician contains a fascinating interview with the Gaelic singer and musician, Julie Fowlis. An extended audio version of this interview, conducted by Edi Stark, is available.  Other features include an investigation into the value of streaming services for musicians, reports on gender balance in the industry and composing music for the video games market, plus profiles of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and The Portico Quartet.

Playing live

Grassroots live music is the foundation and seed bed of so much that is vital, dynamic and joyful in British music. Having played so many of the small venues around London, in addition to having been to so many pubs, clubs and halls as a punter and for the industry, I tip my hat to the capital’s local venues that have nurtured live music and musicians since I moved to the city full-time in 1977.  The following are just a mere handful of these, some of which are still staging gigs, others just a wonderful memory.

Blue Nose Acoustic Café, Highbury
Bull & Gate, Kentish Town (first solo gig 27/3/89)
Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush
Cabbage Patch, Twickenham
Chickenshed Theatre, Southgate
Corks’ Bar, London W1
Crown & Bull, Chingford
Diorama, Regent’s Park, NW1
Flounder & Firkin, Holloway Rd
Gillespie Park Festival, Arsenal, N4
God’s Little Joke, Old Bull, SW4
The Grapes, New Barnet
Grey Horse, Kingston, Surrey
Kings Head, Fulham
Marquee Café, Greek St, Soho
Mean Fiddler Acoustic Room, NW10
Pitcher & Piano, Richmond, Surrey
Pop Bar, Soho St, W1
Roadhouse, Covent Garden
Spitz, Spitalfields, E1
Subterania, Ladbroke Grove
Taylors, Soho St, W1
The Albany, Gt Portland St, W1
The Borderline, Orange Yard, W1
The Orange, North Kensington
The Standard, Walthamstow
The Troubadour, Earls Court
Torrington, High Rd, Finchley
Upstairs at Ronnie Scotts, Soho
White Horse, Brentford

Plus a nod to those function/party gigs, which are the lifeblood of many working musicians, i.e. the Gloucester Hotel, SW7 and the Tara Hotel, High St Kensington.

My heartfelt thanks to Ian McConnell, Simon Gardner, Rupert May, Fiona Soe Paing, James Reynolds, Jimmy Cannon, Patrick Gilbey, Tina Barron, Marianne de Chastelaine, Alistair James, John Park, Matt McKay, Dave Williamson, Jim Hawkins, Joanne Ruocco.

PR

I have been quoted in print, broadcast and digital media in the last decade on a wide range of music related subjects. I have undertaken live interviews and been featured on, amongst others, Radio 4’s Today programme, Radio 5 Live, the World Service and local BBC radio. Here are just a few examples of my work, including coverage on behalf of the MU.

Live music

The Guardian (politics)
The Guardian (culture)

Licensing
BBC news
The Free Library

Instruments on planes
BBC news
The Guardian

On miming
Los Angeles Times

TUC
Music Week

Reviews

I have been reviewing CD albums and single download tracks since 2005 and over one thousand have been published in print or online. Each issue of the The Musician journal includes around 25 reviews and you can see a sample of these in the current magazine.  If you would like to see examples of where artists have quoted my reviews, please visit the pages below.

Singer/songwriter

Lucinda Sieger

Rock
Surfquake
Ghost in Mirrors

Folk/acoustic
Sharon King

Jazz
Derek Nash
Philip Clouts Quartet

Experimental
Celluloid Band

Classical
Edward Leaker (Blaze)

Composer
Benet Mclean
Laura Rossi

Guitar instrumental
Deirdre Cartwright & Kathy Dyson