Manchester’s ‘Get Me There’ Continues To Get Nowhere Fast

I’m starting to hate my monthly Get Me There card renewal. Every 28 days I dutifully go online and log into my account the day before my expiry date (remember you can’t buy it for the day you want to travel) and every time I’m met with either a painful website or issues seeing or collecting my ticket.

This month though, was a whole new one. When trying to buy my new pass I received the on-screen error “You cannot buy any new tickets until you have collected outstanding purchases.” Firstly, this makes no sense anyway, why can’t you have a current and future pass on an electronic system/card? Secondly, I didn’t have any ruddy outstanding purchases anyway.

Fortunately, even on a Monday morning, the Get Me There Twitter squad are relatively quick to respond. A DM later and they advised my card was ‘full’ and that I needed to go to a tram stop card reader and hold it there for 10-20 seconds to delete some old tickets. Yes, dear reader, you read correctly, an electronic season ticket card is somehow full. As this was Get Me There, I actually wasn’t surprised so dutifully popped to Exchange Square and held it there for as long as possible despite the glare of an old lady waiting her turn and the reader’s own insistence that I should remove my card.

I checked my online account. I tried to buy a ticket. Unsurprisingly the same error appeared. DM’ing my new best friends once more, they came back shortly after to advise the issue should now be resolved following some cauldron-based spells at their end no doubt.

Success! I could buy my ticket!

Failure! Once purchased, both my current and new season tickets disappeared from my online account.

Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but not with Get Me There. That’s because once you buy a ticket you have to wait a few hours and keep checking online to find out when it’s ready for collection. Another DM later and all I’ve got now is the suggestion to message again tomorrow so a human being can check to see if it’s ready for collection.

There we have it gang, the latest from Manchester’s “smart” ticketing system. The one which leaves you wanting to go back and visit Jeanie in the Travelshop who would stamp a paper ticket like a disinterested librarian back in the ‘olden days’. I’m now left wondering whether my current or new ticket will work, whether a driver or inspector will accept the above in lieu of a ‘dog ate my homework’ and also wondering how less-tech savvy people are coping with such a crumbling set-up.

At least Manchester’s buses have contactless machines on board now…oh hang on, they don’t work with Debit Cards yet.

THE SAGA CONTINUES.

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Hats Off To The Insane – Therapy? Are Back In The Charts

Last week, Therapy?‘s new record Cleave entered the UK Album Chart at number 43. This might not seem impressive at first, especially when the charts in 2018 are such a confusing amalgam of on and offline sales, streams and other black magic. Nevertheless, this is a band with their 15th album, on the cusp of 30 years into their career remaining relevant enough to compete against the vast swathes of nonsense you hear across various aural media.

Throughout my life I’ve banged Therapy?’s proverbial drum, telling everyone about their passion, honesty and downright integrity, and for three decades now, they’ve delivered. Not everything has been a 10/10 to these ears but that’s the beauty of the band and of music in general. They’re caustic and aggressive. They’re confrontational and catchy as hell. They pull no punches, yet they’re also some of the nicest guys you could meet, grateful and proud. If, after 30 years of doing what I do, I’m that content with my body of work, I’ll be very surprised yet overjoyed.

The success of Cleave is certainly a reminder of what makes Therapy?‘s music great; the band have gone from media darlings to relative obscurity and back again and have retained a loyal fanbase throughout it all. They’ve toured the anniversaries of classic records, supported too many bands to mention and headlined their own fair share of shows pulling together intriguing setlists of old and new material, each of which have been blisteringly honest from start to finish.

To me, Therapy?’s commitment and perseverance is a testament to the human spirit; speak your mind, spread your message, but always keep that glint in your eye and that smile on your face.

Here’s to another 30 years!

Read my review of Cleave over at Pure Rawk!

A Commuter’s Dictionary – ‘On The Tram’

Metrolink Tram

In the latest of this very occasional series (seeing as how the last entry was nearly five years ago) we’re proud to bring to you our guide to that most modern of mechanical worms, The Tram. This should aid first time voyagers as well as experienced campaigners as they encounter all manner of mythical beasts on their journey.

Basil Brush
A person who attempts to cover their visage with all manner of powders and potions as the tram sways and swings through tunnels and around corners. These individuals are likely to go on to become talented darts players or midwives.

Penelope Pigpen
Those who fail to realise more space exists either side of the tram doors, preferring to stay as close to others as possible. Beware! These creatures are likely to tut upon a polite ask to get out of your way.

The Donald
The mysterious Trumper who insists on emptying their gas bowel on, ironically, the least breezy section of the line. Also likely to deny all knowledge of said parping despite remnants of the offending vindaloo from the previous night still being wedged betwixt their gap-teeth.

Ghettogospel
The act of preaching one’s R ‘n’ B favourites to all and sundry via the tinny speaker on your Nokia 3210. Likely to resist all attempts at either stopping or taking requests, even if it is for Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

BMXican Standoff
The short time between tram driver and youth disagreeing with each other over the concept of ‘no bicycles allowed’. Usually resolved by the tram refusing to move and the child realising it’s quicker to cycle anyway.

Turtle Power
The blissful ignorance of a backpack user oblivious to their shell having triggered the emergency alarm and calling the driver. Usually seen sprawled on the floor once the emergency brake has been activated.

Fumble In The Jungle
Said alarmist desperately pressing all the other buttons to sheepishly apologise to the tram driver and insist he’s not in any danger other than with his Mum who he didn’t inform he’d be out this late.

Station Vacation
The groups of feral younglings who spend their holidays sitting atop benches on platforms and staring into passing trams. Big fans of Gogglebox, these people are likely to end up on reality TV where they in turn will be watched. For 10 minutes.

Cantersaurus Rex
The light commuter jog (flailing dinosaur arms entirely optional) embarked upon when your tram is on the platform but you know the doors will shut in your face.

Button Gloom
The casual tap of the door button after running for said tram, on the off-chance the driver’s feeling generous. He’s not.

The Ting Tings
The noise of a ticket machine giving you change from your £20 note in as much shiny coinage as possible.

The Beep Test
The gamble of waiting for the final change coin or ticket to drop as the tram doors begin to close.

Feeling Doorly
Getting an item or body part trapped in the closing doors, thus failing The Beep Test.

Meals On Rails
The casual ingestion of random meals on board the tram. Included are scrambled eggs on toast, chicken chow mien and sushi with full array of chopsticks, soy sauce and ginger.

Rollerboaster
The winning feeling upon obtaining the seat directly behind the driver and pretending to be on a rollercoaster through some of the hillier sections of the network.

Risky Business
The unscrupulous hovering over the ‘buy’ button on the Get Me There ticketing app on the off-chance of seeing an inspector.

Ticketybooboo
Said hoverer suddenly realising the wi-fi has timed out and being removed from the tram to be given a fine.

Doubledown
The glee experienced when finding out your tram is a conjoined four-carriage metal centipede, giving you room to dance a celebratory jig.

Singledom
Finding the next post-delay tram is only likely to have room on it for your little finger and maybe half a toe.

Cornhole
The place where points go to die. Also the windiest place in the entire world. A rite of tram passage, every commuter must be stranded at Cornbrook station at least once in their lifetime.

The Woodpecker
The individual who believes tram doors operate by pressing the open button as many times as is humanly possible in quick succession.

We hope you’ve found this latest guide useful, and that you now feel well-equipped to embark upon all manner of tram-based adventures.

The Gender Pay Gap – What Does It Actually Prove?

I’m not sure what the reporting of gender pay gaps really proves. With no comparison over time, we don’t know if it’s better or worse than it used to be. Many of the current gaps appear to be historic causes eg more men at boardroom level but we don’t know that for sure. Women on the radio are now talking about avoiding companies with larger pay gaps, which will only make the situation worse.

No company I’ve worked for has had a separate pay scale for men and women. I know women younger than me who get paid more than I do. Similarly, I know older women who have taken career, travelling or family breaks and have therefore not accelerated in their careers as quickly. It’s a choice they’ve made, and in some ways a necessary sacrifice as there’s little that can be done over the nature of human birth. By the same token I’ve had both female and male bosses and gender doesn’t come into it in terms of respect.

So we now know which companies have gaps, largely driven by taking an average across the whole organisation where there are fewer roles at the top that pay higher vs a higher quantity of roles at the bottom paying less. Great. We knew all of this, and fining companies for not reporting it seems childish and petty. What do we do with this information moving forward? Is everyone going to apply for a job at Starbucks just because they have no gap? Of course not.

In a world where a perceived gender is becoming less and less relevant, why is this necessary now and how will we report on ‘non-binary’ salaries in the future?

All I’d say is do what I do, employ on attitude, experience, team fit and skills for the job. I don’t give a shit what sex, ethnic origin or whatever planet you think you’re from as long as you give 100%.

Ta.

The Best Albums In The World – EVER

The Facebook Top 10 albums of all time challenge that’s been doing the rounds recently got me thinking and made me realise how hard it is to pick out your favourite music from all genres, over four decades of listening to the stuff. In fact, it surprised me how many records that are over 20 years old still resonate with me today and that’s even when I’m avoiding a rose-tinted view of childhood. I’ve fallen in and out of love with bands over the years, discovered some records years after they were first unleashed and picked out new meaning from songs that I’d heard 100 times before. First and foremost though I’ve always been a supporter of British music, especially bands who deserve to be far bigger than they are, and I’m pleased that this list has ended up being reflective of that.

To give an idea of how hard a task this was, these are the album names that missed out, and I’ll think you’ll agree there are some bona-fide classics amongst them: Sixteen Stone, Demanufacture, Appetite For Destruction, Antichrist Superstar, Korn, In Utero, Metallica, Dookie, How To Make Friends And Influence People, Cruelty And The Beast, And Out Come The Wolves, Angel Dust, Chaos AD. Sorry all, but the competition was tough; you’re all still in my heart.

Anyway, onwards!

10) Tropical Contact: XS (2016)

There are a few modern classics that could easily have made this list, and it shouldn’t feel wrong to praise a record that has yet to pass the test of time. Ghost, Servers, Turbowolf and Creeper all very nearly hit this Top 10, but if I have to pick out one record from the most recent decade that can go toe-to-toe with the rest it has to be Tropical Contact‘s debut full-lengther. Talk about fulfilling potential, every single song on this one is a cracker, auto-biographical, funny and always catchy. XS was even better than we all expected and I challenge anyone who hears it not to be taken in by Hero Brigade‘s charm or to not shimmy a shoulder to the earworm that is 8/10.

 

9) Ginger Wildheart: 555% (2012)

So much of my life today is based around The Wildhearts and the extended family of associated bands but the group themselves never trumped Terrorvision, Therapy? and the Manics when I was growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Earth Vs and Phuq but I lost a bit of interest with the impenetrable Endless Nameless. Years later, this triple slab hit and reminded me what a great songwriter our Ginger was and it was only after this that I really got into Chutzpah! too. Forget About It is one of the best album openers ever, providing an insta-grin every single time, whilst songs like Lover, It’ll All Work Out and Deep In The Arms Of Morpheus add real emotional depth.

 

8) Iron Maiden: Brave New World (2000)

Perhaps a surprise that this is my favourite Maiden album rather than something from their 80s pomp, but (whisper it) I wasn’t that down with them when their classics were first released. I did however stick with them through the Blaze era, but Brave New World was what we all really wanted and it delivered in spades. The Wicker Man is a perfect statement of intent and the lighters-aloft call to arms of Blood Brothers sends a shiver down the spine to this day. This record also helped build a musical bond between my step-brother and me that made last year’s Maiden gig with him even better than it already was.

 

7) Offspring: Smash (1994)

This was the hardest pick of the list. Punk’s resurgence in the mid-90s saw a plethora of classic records, but there were also iconic grunge albums, quirky alt-rock efforts and some late 90s black and death metal to consider. I also feel really guilty about leaving Terrorvision out of my Top 10 but it’s the consistency of Smash that won through. With the band leading the charge when it came to mainstream modern punk Smash is packed full of classic tunes, from the furious Nitro to the shouty ire of Bad Habit and the iconic Self Esteem. Interestingly, I’m not really a fan of anything the band did before or since, but this record is brilliantly constructed and a singalong classic.

 

6) Ash: 1977 (1996)

I feel like I grew up with Ash, listening to Trailer on repeat, seeing them live for a fiver when they were essentially kids like I was and their first full record, 1977, is probably still their finest hour. There are actually some far from perfect songs on here, but that just adds to the charm; 1977 is full of Undertones punk ethos and teen angst. Kung Fu and Girl From Mars remain rock club staples whilst Lose Control is a hurricane blast of an opener. Even better was the ridiculous concept of having two bonus songs BEFORE the start of the album; an iTunes nightmare!

 

5) Pantera: Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

A lot of stuff on this list is British and pretty light compared to some of the other music I was listening to at the time, and none more so than the absolutely brutal Vulgar Display Of Power. From Walk‘s swagger,  A New Level‘s crushing hammer blows through to This Love‘s balladeering, each song fits brilliantly alongside the next and the combination of Anselmo’s snarl and Dime’s fretwork has arguably never been bettered in heavy metal. Far Beyond Driven was possibly more fully-formed but this for me is Pantera at their raucous peak.

 

4) Type O Negative: October Rust (1996)

When you’re an emo-teen, what better record to get you through life than Type O‘s paean to gothic romance? Already MTV darlings by this point, Pete Steele and co banged out an epic collection of blacker than black, tongue-in-cheek hits like My Girlfriend’s Girlfriend, Love You To Death and a great cover of Neil Young‘s Cinnamon Girl. Ingenious wordplay, big riffs and atmospheric keyboard work make October Rust a pleasure on each return visit two decades on.

 

3) Baby Chaos: Safe Sex Designer Drugs & The Death Of Rock ‘N’ Roll (1994)

When a support band is as good as Baby Chaos are you know you just have to get involved which is exactly what I did after I saw the band playing back-up to Terrorvision in 1994. The era was full of melodic and poppy bands all upping their game against each other but Baby Chaos managed to throw down an effortlessly brilliant record on their first attempt. Go To Hell‘s light and dark moments can still catch you out today and the lyrics to the beautiful Breathe are hanging on my bedroom wall for a reason. True story; Safe Sex… only just claimed its place in this list over most recent effort Skulls Skulls Skulls, the band are THAT consistently good at writing emotive pop rock.

 

2) Manic Street Preachers: The Holy Bible (1994)

They were my first gig, my first obsession as far as music goes and the self-destructive The Holy Bible was everything a Manics fan could ask for in 1994. Heavy in its use of dialogue samples, THB is a bruising, caustic effort, made all the more raw by Richey James’ cataclysmic state of mind. Die In The Summertime and 4st 7lb are given added gravitas by James Dean Bradfield’s never-to-be-bettered vocal performance yet the Manics still proved they could write chart-bothering classics with instant numbers like Faster and Revol.

 

1) Therapy?: Infernal Love (1995)

Troublegum is probably a perfect 10 album but the 9/10 Infernal Love has to be my top Therapy? record due to its middle finger waving place in the band’s career and in parts its drug-addled ridiculousness. There’s the Nick Cave-esque Bowels Of Love, the epic A Moment Of Clarity and Me Vs You, the catchy as hell Stories and Loose and the can’t-begin-to-count-the-times-I’ve-played-it heartbreakingly bleak cover of Hüsker Dü‘s Diane. Maybe not a starting point for a would-be T? fan, this is still a glorious summary of mid-90s excess and pop rock majesty.

Jailed Cells – Is It The End For Mobile Phones At Gigs?

Phones At A GigIt’s nothing new that people like to take photos and videos at gigs to remind them of the good times they’ve had. Often it’s simply an “I was there” willy wave but for some bands it’s a way of getting far cheaper publicity, promo shots and footage they can use to get themselves out to a wider audience. But is all that about to change? It’s been a rising trend in recent months, but as the debate has now reached these shores, it’s interesting to look at the increase in mobile phone bans at gigs.

Chris Rock and Jack White are proponents of the Yondr system for their shows in the UK this year. For those unaware, this sees punters give their phones over on the door to pouch-toting staff who gleefully pop your device in a lockable sleeve. Said sheath will only unlock after the show unless you take your device to a designated “phone zone” during the show. Obviously these artists are doing this to protect their material as well as everyone else’s experience but is this really the right way to go about ensuring a show is as enjoyable as possible?

I’ve posted a fair amount on Twitter about gig etiquette over the years; I’ve asked people to pipe down at acoustic shows a few times, much to their displeasure, for the crowd and the artists’ benefit and I’ve been stuck behind people who insist on filming pretty much a whole gig on their clapped out Nokia so they can be the first to put their fuzz-o-vision on YouTube afterwards. But really, locking a person’s phone away? I’m in no way a human rights activist but has it really come to this, that people need their phone to be physically prohibited for them to enjoy an outing? On the flip side, those protesting the ban by saying ‘what if there’s an emergency’ need to remember the early 90s when there weren’t any mobiles to take to gigs. And let’s face it, how many ACTUAL emergencies do you get on your mobile anyway? It’s like when people drop their phone down the khazi and go straight on Facebook to tell EVERYONE they can reach them on there if they need to. Anyone ever bothered? Nope. But I digress…

Yondr sleeve

The Yondr ‘solution’

I go to a fair few gigs by myself and I review them too. During the show I’ll take notes on my phone, always out of anyone’s line of distraction and always with brightness down to its lowest setting. No offence promoters, but if you start deciding I can’t take my phone in with me, and you want me to keep that much info in my brain after 39 years of muddlement, my reviews probably won’t be that thorough. I guess I could take a pen and notebook in but presumably ‘sharp’ objects would be frowned upon too. Also, in an age where we’re trying to reduce “drink culture” in the UK, is removing a slightly less harmful distraction between bands really going to help? Again, if you’re flying solo at a gig, what do you do with yourself in the 30-40 minutes in between sets other than a quick check of Twitter here, a move on Words With Friends there; probably better for you in the long run than a couple of extra pints.

So what is the solution? As ever it appears to be education. Schools and parents need to teach people from an early age that technology is a tool to take advantage of but also to respect. Encourage people to look up from their screens, and enjoy life through their own eyes and consider those around them, just like you would if puffing on an e-snout or dropping your litter in the street; there are much wider issues here around respect, dignity and common decency than just locking away a mobile for a couple of hours at a time. It might be slightly rose-tinted, but before the current boom, this worked for those who carried ‘compact’ cameras to shows with them; in typically British fashion a sign stage left or right simply stating “No Flash Photography” would be enough to put off even the most ardent of proto-David Baileys out of respect for the artists and fellow concert-goers.

To be fair, the current Yondr phase seems to mainly involve American acts and comedy ones at that and I’d say that theatre audiences in the UK are largely well-behaved when it comes to not recording shows. I saw staff at The Lowry Theatre tap a front row patron on the shoulder to remind them of the rules at a recent Bruce Dickinson spoken word show and that acted as enough of a deterrent to stop others following suit, but for how long will this be enough? And what about Smartwatches? I can do all my texting through that if I I like, do I need to take that off too? What if someone simply states they don’t have a mobile phone upon their person, will searches now class an iPhone in the same contraband category as booze and weaponry?

Needless to say, there are plenty of questions left unanswered around this topic, and we probably won’t find a one-size-fits-all solution. If I’ve got one thing to say to artists and gig promoters though, it’s to maybe focus on the real issues around rip off ticket resellers and snide merch hawkers before targeting actual fans who have paid with their hard-earned cash to do, within reason, whatever they see fit to do once they enter a live arena.

My My My… My Get Me There – A Travel Ticketing Travesty

There have been a few blogs and articles written in the past year or so regarding Manchester’s erstwhile attempt at Smartcard travel but having now battled with it for around six months, I thought it was high time to share my thoughts. If nothing else I need to for my own sanity…

Firstly, a bit of background. Back in 2007, yes over 10 years ago, trials of the Bolton Citizen Card were apparently that successful that Transport for Greater Manchester thought it would be worth rolling out a Smartcard system to the already-complex Greater Manchester public transport network. In fairness, it actually seemed like a good idea with so many companies operating across the network, both Victoria and Piccadillly Station began to install more and more barriers and ticket prices rose year on year, so getting the most cost effective ticket quickly and easily seemed like a plan.

Unfortunately we should have all seen the signs when the sack-the-marketing-agency levels of clunky “My Get Me There” name for the system was revealed in 2013. There was still a grand plan though, a way to shorten horrendous Travelshop queues and also a way to combat the variety of different companies, all with their own individual ticketing systems and prices that it was possible to encounter on a single, relatively short commute. A case in point, my 425 bus was run at one time by FirstBus during the day and Stagecoach in the evening, meaning I couldn’t get a cheaper First-only ticket, just in case. Anyway, we digress.

Fast forward to 2015 and disaster strikes! It turns out that Atos, the company charged with designing and managing the system are next to useless and can no longer do their job for the money TfGM were giving them. Having already installed smart readers at tram stops, TfGM pressed ahead with using concessionary pass holders as guinea pigs whilst quickly knocking together an app that allowed stop to stop, weekly and monthly tram tickets to be purchased; this might have also been a reaction to Metrolink ticketing machines located at tram stops being notoriously temperamental, but that’s pure speculation, of course.

The app was and is actually pretty good. Although you still officially needed to buy a ticket before boarding, you were now able to jump aboard an approaching tram rather than miss it and quickly buy a stop-to-stop ticket there and then rather than being stuck in a queue on the platform behind doddering dullards fishing through their purses for the right change as numerous trams come and go. Obviously people grumbled when caught by inspectors that they didn’t have any battery left and so couldn’t show their ticket, but that’s the general public, not Metrolink’s fault.

Get Me There Website

ttps://affs69.wordpress.com/2018/01/12/my-my-my-my-get-me-there-a-travel-ticketing-travesty/get-me-there-website/” rel=”attachment wp-att-1216″> What the Get Me There website professes the system can do.

[/caption]The only downside to all this was that you could only get tram tickets on the app so for me, it wasn’t that useful for my regular bus and tram combi-commute. Fast forward again to 2017. The My Get Me There card is unveiled and upon visiting a Travelshop to buy my normal bus and tram combination monthly pass for £112.50 I was informed I could get a whole Metrolink network card along with my bus pass for only £3 a month more rather than the named stop to named stop one I had currently. This sounded good on non-paper; I took the odd journey to Chorlton or on another tram line so this would save me the extra money in one trip. I could also renew it online each month so I wouldn’t have to visit a Travelshop ever again. Bonus! There must be a catch. Well, yes of course there was. In fact there’s more than one as I’m about to explain.

Firstly, despite my card having full network validity, I am still required to tap onto and off my tram. Not a huge hassle I suppose, but something I didn’t have to do with my paper ticket and an utterly pointless task when I’m not having money taken off me depending on the journey I’ve taken a la Oyster.

Secondly, what happens if the card or a reader fails? I soon found out when a bus driver told me my card was “empty” despite it having another two weeks or so to run. I phoned the Get Me There helpline after this embarrassing incident to be told the best thing to do was to keep my paper receipt with me at all times to prove the card’s validity. Yes, that’s right, keep a piece of paper with a new shiny paperless transport ticket. The mind boggles.

Thirdly, picture the scene. It’s January. The month when you’ve eked out the most cost-effective tickets in December to get you through the odd days you’re working. Remember kids, for no good reason you need to buy your new My Get Me There pass the day before you need it! Okay Dad, I’ll go online and buy it on the 2nd so I can use it on the 3rd. But wait! I’ve bought it, and now it says it will only be valid once tapped on a Metrolink card reader? But I use my card to get the bus to the tram stop where the readers are? What am I to do? Onto customer services again, “that’s something we’re looking at in the future”. How about looking into such a fundamental flaw before launching such an inept system?

Lastly, what happens when it ALL breaks down? Having had my card for about three months, it started being a bit temperamental when tapping in and out at Metrolink card readers. I spoke to customer services again and they could find nothing wrong with the card. I took it to a Travelshop (remember I thought I’d never have to do THAT again) and the woman scanned it and said it was fine. It may well have worked for her on that single occasion but there was no getting through to her that it only worked on about 50% of scans for me. Taking the hit, I asked to transfer my pass to a new card in case the physical item was the issue, and here’s the good bit; to do so would take a week. So, for that week, I’d not be able to use the pass I’d already paid for and would have to buy a separate weekly ticket. What on Earth is “smart” about that? Where do they send these cards to transfer an ELECTRONIC balance, Gibraltar?!?!?!? Obviously, an easy way for Get Me There to get around this would be to keep it all electronic, right? Then I could tap my phone or watch on a reader instead. The apps already live and working after all. No, that would be too easy – the app and the physical card are on two separate systems. You cannot see your card in the app, and you even need a completely separate account to use the app and the card’s top up/renewal website. Whoever dreamt that one up honestly needs taking out the back and putting out of their misery.

App hoverer

A Get Me There app hoverer in action.

And these are just my issues, believe me there are plenty of others. Take the exploiters. I’ve now lost count of the number of times I’ve seen people cue up a ticket on the Get Me There app, getting it all the way into their basket before hovering over “buy” in case of inspectors. Judging by my experiences too, inspectors have no way to scan a physical My Get Me There card for validity either so in theory you could just carry an empty one and wave it in their faces and get away with it time and time again. Oh and did I mention you can’t use it at all on trains? Yeah, that…

To be fair to the staff of the Get Me There/My Get Me There helplines and social media accounts, they are responsive and they do their best, but you can’t help but think they’re battling in similar ways to us commuters. As for the Travelshop staff, they seem so bitter that someone’s taken away their 1980s inkpads, they’ve reverted to computer-says-no levels of idiocy and denial just to make things even worse.

So, what are we left with? A system that doesn’t make sense. A system that was designed in 2007 FOR 2007. A system that leaves Greater Manchester public transport even more disjointed than before, and in a similar state of underfunding and complexity that the card was meant to eliminate. Hopefully there will be improvements, or it might be an idea to scrap it and start again, accepting contactless payments at readers instead. After all that seems to work okay for London, right? Either way, Manchester is a bit of a laughing stock over the whole thing and with 2018 price rises again, it seems only more and more frustrating to those of us having to deal with it day in, day out.

The Affs Awards 2017 – Album Of The Year

Breaking with tradition and shitting all over your OCD (and because it was such a close run thing), this year you get a treat in the shape of my Top 8 (yes, 8) records of 2017! Enjoy.

8) The Idol DeadTension & Release

The Idol DeadIt’s been an emotional year for the The Idol Dead with plenty of tragedy and triumph but Tension & Release really is a cracker. It took me a while to get into it, with Happy Now? being a catchy if meandering opener, but when you hit the immediacy of tracks like Blackout Girl, Heart On Sleeve and Samsara, it’s clear that the band have nailed it, and to top it all off, these songs sound even better live. Polly is a naturally charismatic frontman and coupled with KC Duggan’s writing, the record gets plenty of that live energy onto wax. If you’re after some modern punky rock and roll, you can’t go any better than this.

7) MutationDark Black

MutationA cast of thousands have contributed to Ginger Wildheart‘s cathartic side project over the years but on latest offering Dark Black, there’s a more focused core, especially on the band’s first live outings which featured just Ginger, Scott Lee Andrews and Denzel alongside all manner of samples and effects. Yes, this is noise, but well-structured, vitriolic noise put together into a torrent of bile that really does work. Taking the catchiness (if you can call it that) of previous Mutation tracks like Carrion Blue, Dark Black pulls no punches as it unleashes the thrash howl of Authenticity, the distorted fury of Toxins and the industrial stomp of Devolution. Well produced, yet angry, Dark Black is concise, single-minded noise pollution, which to me can only be a good thing. It’s the sort of record you can put on during your Monday morning commute and it’ll set you up perfectly for the week or an album to play before a Friday night out that’ll help get you fully fired up and ready for action. Either way it’s a brutally beautiful set of songs, and the soundtrack to a shitty 2017.

6) BarrabusBarrabus

BarrabusAnd if ever you needed a companion piece to Mutation, Barrabus’ self titled release could be just that. A tour-de-force of unrelenting heaviosity, Paul Catten’s megaphone howl is brutal throughout as guitars and drums cascade around him. The singer still has the vocal gymnastics of Mike Patton, going from shriek to growl as he toys with former Medulla Nocte/Murder One bandmate Mark Seddon’s riffs. What really stands out on this record though is the variety. Yes it’s pretty heavy but there’s some thrashy stuff in there right next to doomier sludge; hell, there’s even an underlying Mastodon-style heavy prog in the mix if you listen closely enough to songs like Porn. If you took a chance on this one in 2017, you did yourself as well as underground music a massive favour.

5) Grave PleasuresMotherblood

Grave PleasuresIt’s taken a while but they got there in the end – after changing their name (and to some extent, outlook and most band members), Beastmilk were reborn as Grave Pleasures a few years back and released Dreamcrash. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite have the same apocalyptic hooks as the original band’s Climax opus and it slipped off the highly competitive death deck pretty quickly.

Fast forward to 2017 and singer Kvohst (Mat McNerney) has bedded in his latest Scandinavian cohorts and unleashed what could be seen as the true successor to Climax in the form of Motherblood. With all previous influences present and correct (think Danzig and Bauhaus having it off with The Sisters Of Mercy in a field of skulls, as Robert Smith from The Cure watches on), Motherblood is a scarily accurate realisation of how 2017 could have ended with twitchy fingers hovering over annihilation buttons. Doomsday Rainbows is suitably nihilistic in its imagery as it talks of toasting the apocalypse by getting high on mushroom clouds, whilst the surprisingly punky Infatuation Overkill is instant, yet still full of the futility of existence that permeated Beastmilk‘s songs. Other tracks such as Be My Hiroshima are strangely upbeat despite their lyrical content, but when delivered with such sexual swagger, they prove irresistibly cultish. As comebacks go, Grave Pleasures absolutely killed it by going back to their ‘party at the end of the world’ dark romanticism of times past.

4) AnathemaThe Optimist

AnathemaAnathema are often an easy choice in end of year polls, such is their ability to write consistently incredible material, so I toyed as to whether including their 11th studio outing was too easy an option; in actual fact it would have been churlish to leave it out. As soon as you put The Optimist back into your ears after a short break away from the record, it grabs you and pulls you under its waves of hypnotic prog like nothing else this year. A sequel of sorts to 2001’s A Fine Day To Exit and musically a thematic follow-up to 2014’s Distant Satellites, orchestration and Lee Douglas’ vocals are brought even more to the fore this time round, producing beautiful if melancholy melody on songs such as Endless Ways and Springfield.

Hauntingly stripped back (as was vocalist/guitarist Daniel Cavanagh’s debut solo album, Monochrome, also released in 2017), The Optimist is as emotionally affecting a record as any released these past 12 months.

3) The Scaramanga SixChronica

The Scaramanga SixI love the Scaras. They’re bloody nice people and put on hugely entertaining live shows. On their most recent Pledge Music campaign I even invested in their entire back catalogue as I had a lot of gaps in my collection. Despite all of this, I don’t think they’ve ever previously bothered my Top 3 records of the year. Until now.

You see, Chronica is the album that The Six have been threatening to make for years, and finally given the confidence to deliver a full double album of their insanity, they’ve put out not only a great modern prog concept bonanza, but a typically bonkers Scaras one at that. Song about a filthy motor vehicle? Check, see Dirty Subaru. Evil piano-led ditty about domestic bliss leading to horrific violence? Stabby Fork is present and correct. Faith No More-style lounge crooner required? Go and have A Cold One At The Wits’ End. There are so many influences at play across both discs of Chronica that you’re unsure it can all hold together, but like a tightly wound spring, it stays taut, dipping into all manner of avenues before returning to its overarching musical themes like any decent concept album should.

The beauty here is that Chronica is fundamentally British; humourous, bizarre, yet heartwarmingly eccentric, and also chock full of bloody good tunes to boot and I for one can’t wait for the Terry Gilliam movie adaptation…

2) Chris CatalystLife Is Often Brilliant

Chris CatalystI don’t profess to have jumped on the Eureka Machines funbus that early in the band’s career, but when I did it was impossible not to be swept along by the joyous white-tied antics of Chris Catalyst and co. Reinventing pop rock for the whatever-the-hell-the-first-two-decades-of-this-millennium-are-called, EM twisted pun-filled lyrics and DIY pop-punk ethos into a sharp suited batch of irresistibly lovable numbers.

Somehow Catalyst found a little downtime inbetween his various musical endeavours and pulled together a set of solo songs that materialised in 2017 in the form of the awesomely titled Life Is Often Brilliant. The first video released from LIOB, Sticks And Stones, was a bit of a grower for me, maybe because it didn’t quite hit the heights of the Eureka’s strongest material but also because I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Catalyst solo record. Let’s not forget, this is the guy who brought us the randomness of Robochrist not that long ago, so it took a bit of time for me to figure it all out. Fortunately, Same Old Sun soon followed and gave us an injection of summer-drenched likability and from there on in, there was no looking back. A combination of ELO, Floyd and Eureka Machines, Life Is Often Brilliant is the most life-affirming break up album you’re likely to hear and it sees Catalyst in typically irresistible form, switching from harmonies you’ll be humming for weeks on Yeah – Oh No to epic balladeering on Able Seamen and I Hope We Always Stay The Same.

There isn’t a duff track on this album and if the next Eureka Machines record is anywhere near half as good as this, we’re in for a very brilliant 2018 indeed.

1) CreeperEternity, In Your Arms

CreeperI remember listening to Type O Negative’s October Rust on repeat when it first came out back in 1996. Its darkness enveloped me, its ethereal gothic romance taking me far away from a Bristolian bedroom and into a crazily atmospheric world of vampiric blood and lust. Seeing the band tour said record was a once in a lifetime experience; or so I thought. Two decades later, seeing Creeper produce something equally jaw-dropping is testament to the strength of the Southampton crew’s debut album, Eternity, In Your Arms.

I keep thinking I really should be too old for it but Creeper’s first full-lengther seriously got me. From Black Rain all the way through to I Choose To Live, it’s a fantastic album full of angst, witticisms, intrigue and downright good storytelling, traits which you simply don’t get that often in today’s music scene. But don’t for one minute assume Creeper are style over substance; there’s ambition alongside the image and excellent musicianship in every pore of this record.

For those not in the know, since their formation in 2014, Creeper released a string of EPs and videos that created intrigue and a cultish following. Following the band’s staged disappearance, clues pointing towards the work of fictional paranormal investigator James Scythe and numerous other Internet-based rabbit holes, the band finally announced their debut full-lengther to rabid anticipation. And boy did they not disappoint. The band may owe a lot to AFI and Alkaline Trio but they’ve very much created their own brand too and quite rightly they attract hordes of fans because of their creativity. I saw the band recently at the Albert Hall in Manchester where I was probably one of the oldest people there (that wasn’t accompanying their child at least). Similarly to their gig at Academy 2 earlier in the year it took me a few moments to acclimatise and appreciate what was happening; the level of fervour and passion being displayed was staggering as were the merch queues that snaked out of the door. One thing’s for sure, Creeper aren’t just a band, they’re already a way of life and that’s only after a single album, so you can only imagine what they’re capable of in the future.

They’re also not resting on their laurels; their latest tour was more theatric than before and saw each member of the band grow in stature – in fact Eternity… has already grown legs and moved on, with Hannah Greenwood’s increased presence in its songs a particular live highlight. Take Crickets for example. Already an album hightlight, live it’s now so emotionally raw it’s capable of bringing a grown man of any size to tears, and if you can show me someone capable of resisting a fist pump or two when the full band kick in on Misery, I’ll give you a shiny 20p piece AND a chocolate biscuit.

In creating their cult and a whirlwind of melody, Creeper have managed to resonate with music fans of all age and genre, giving the UK scene the shot in the arm it needed. The Blair Witch of 2017, this record might not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t doubt they’ve taken some old-school mysticism and coupled it with modern goth punk to create something very very special indeed.

2017 – A Year In Review: Album Of The Year Part One

Album Of The Year2017 was a bit of an odd year for me and music. There were the usual bands sticking to their standard release cycles, a couple of uninspiring efforts by established artists and some surprisingly excellent records by new kids on the block, but it’s taken the full 365 days (plus a couple more) for me to figure out which were my favourites, with no real runaway winners like last year.

All Them Witches

All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War

Old stagers Marilyn Manson and Sepultura produced their finest efforts of the past decade in Heaven Upside Down and Machine Messiah respectively, both proving they’ve not lost the fury so prevalent in their earlier careers. Someone who seems to have never stopped meanwhile, Mr Mike Patton produced another raucous cacophony with new band Dead Cross, whilst the softer side of Americana saw Mark Lanegan produce another effortlessly amazing record in Gargoyle and All Them Witches fuzz us all up with the delirious Sleeping Through The War. Queens Of The Stone Age, Trivium and Mastodon all struggled a little this year with each of their new releases just failing to capture what went before; victims of their own success perhaps?

Blood Command

Blood Command – Cult Drugs

Cranking up the heaviness, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary both gave the new death metal generation a run for their money with a pair of crushing albums, whilst Behemoth frontman Nergal took a slightly different route, exploring country music alongside John Porter on the fascinating Me And That Man. Another new take on extreme music saw Blood Command turn many heads, their third album of deathpop, Cult Drugs, finally pushing them into the mainstream, something that Vukovi will be hoping to replicate as they grow their alt-rock sound off the back of their excellent self-titled debut.

Back over in Blighty, the UK scene continued to go from strength to strength with a reborn Pulled Apart By Horses leading the charge on the excellent The Haze. Frank Carter banged out his second, slightly tamer solo effort whilst much-touted Bristol punks Idles turned numerous heads with their vitriolic debut, Brutalism. There was still room for a few old hands to get in on the act though with Cradle Of Filth launching another grandiose platter in Cryptoriana, and Black Star Riders taking their sound another step further on Heavy Fire.

Iron Monkey

Iron Monkey – 9-13

If you’d told me five years ago that we’d see new records from Akercocke and Iron Monkey in 2017, I’d not only have looked at you like you were a mentalist but also been as giddy as the proverbial kipper. Although the Monkey were never likely to hit Johnny Morrow-era levels of brutality, 9-13 was still a solid outing and Akercocke proved they’ve still got that wicked Satanic glint on Renaissance In Extremis.

Paradise Lost also went back to their darker routes on modern doom classic Medusa with guitarist Gregor Mackintosh pulling double duty by banging out another crushing Vallenfyre opus, Fear Those Who Fear Him. In fact doom started to rediscover some real form with bands like Spaceslug, Pallbearer and Elder bringing the genre bang up to date with a trio of modern classics.

Of course there’s always a section on here for Ginger Wildheart-related releases and 2017 was no different with friends and former collaborators releasing a ton of new material this past 12 months. Chris McCormack and Tom Spencer helped bring a modern punk ethos to the latest outing from stalwarts The Professionals, 20 years after their last record. Role Models showed no signs of slowing down with the high-energy rock and roll explosion Dance Moves, whilst Hellbound Hearts pulled out all the stops on a modern metal classic in Film Noir. Ginger himself explored a more country vibe with Ghost In The Tanglewood, inspired perhaps by recent collaborations with Ryan Hamilton who himself launched his catchy-as-anything The Devil’s In The Detail. CJ Wildheart meanwhile went the other way, blasting out the heavy Blood with a new-found fervor after a difficult 12 months.

But none of these records quite managed to make my top picks of 2017. To find out what did, stay tuned pop pickers…

Patch Madripoor RIP

PatchI don’t like having to do this but sometimes words are the only way, and if they can offer just a crumb of comfort to others then it’s worth it.

In the grand scheme of things, I haven’t known Patch for a great deal of time, just a few years, but as a central part of the gig family, and due to his proximity to Manchester over those years, we’d often catch up at shows here or in Huddersfield, Leeds, London… anywhere that our shared love of live music would take us. The last time I saw Patch was in the notorious Wetherspoon in Wolverhampton on a quiet Sunday morning less than a month ago. I gave him a hug after another raucous gig, knowing full well I’d see him right down the front at the next one. Now I know that won’t happen, which seems brutally unfair, and wrong in so, so many ways.

Patch was a fixture. Just like Eddie at an Iron Maiden show, you’d struggle to get a gig featuring Patch’s favourite bands without him front and centre. Constantly singing the praises of bands like The Idol Dead and Dirt Box Disco long before many of the rest of us cottoned on, Patch was passionate to the point of buying the ticket and t-shirt for you to make sure you went along too. It was his passion for rock and roll that helped persuade me and many others to head that little bit further afield to gigs that normally would’ve been 50-50, always buying tickets first and asking questions later.

With Belinda perpetually waiting for doors to open, you’d normally find Patch in The Parish bar or in a boozer nearby with that sly grin on his face; we’d joke to Belinda that we’d babysit him for her, knowing full well he was more than capable of looking after himself whether we liked it or not. Okay, so maybe we had to bundle him into a taxi under protestation in between Marsden and Huddersfield or hurry him along down the road with the lad complaining his legs wouldn’t take him any faster, but he’d always be there, through hell or high water, if nothing else to select the 14 items of merch he had to get at each show.

In fact, Patch often was THE show, no more so than at his surprise secret Birthday gig at The Parish this year. So many people travelled from all over the country for it, honouring a true driving spirit of our little family in the only way we knew how – music, laughter and enough beer to see us through into the wee small hours. We even called ourselves the Parish Patch Kids in his honour and wondered how on Earth a couple of weeks before, he hadn’t seen his name in proverbial lights on the posters dotted around the venue advertising upcoming shows. It’s hard to imagine the place without him now, in fact many venues won’t be the same without him in the queue an hour before doors, getting his merch stash safely stowed by the unlucky vendor of the night or exchanging war stories with bands and fans alike, tales that you could timeline simply by his shall we say ‘extensive’ t-shirt collection.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There will never be a satisfactory justification for why something like this could happen, and I wish Belinda and his family all the love and support in the world. Sometimes though all we can do, as hard as it may seem, especially so soon after someone’s passing is to celebrate all that they believed in so that a person’s existence is never truly gone. When my brother passed away, it was pretty clear we could all “Be More Paul”, living life with more humour and to take things less seriously than before. To honour Patch it feels right that we should all be just as passionate for the underdog, keep on putting that extra effort in, and if we’re able to, spend our time and money travelling to support those who add that additional bit of pleasure to our lives. It won’t bring him back, but he’ll sure as hell be living on with all of us in spirit.

Rest in peace mate. You’ll get another hug off me one day.

Patch