The Download Conundrum

  
Anyone who knows me, or who has seen my house knows I love STUFF. CDs. DVDs. Goblin bongo editions of video games. If it’s tactile, I love it.

However, in recent months something has changed. I now buy things that have no physical presence. No, not the long lost evaporated urine of JFK, more the latest recordings by some of my favourite artists.

So, what’s different I hear no-one ask. Nothing. Artists are still releasing records and I’m still buying them in all their cardboard glory. It’s just I now get the opportunity to share this stuff with people who wouldn’t normally have gone near it. Yes, it still pains me that some will just listen for free as music simply cannot survive like that. But at the same time, we, the community are creating new fans. And at some point they will go to gigs. They will buy merch. And then they’ll advocate onwards and upwards.

So yes, keep on downloading kids but hunt out the options that give the artists the most back. Do your bit and they’ll do theirs.

And if you need somewhere to get started try The Empty Page, VH-YES, The Dowling Poole, Servers, The Scaramanga Six, Eureka Machines, Baby Chaos, Tropical Contact, Love Zombies, Cleft, The Hyena Kill, God Damn, Heck, False Advertising and Vodun. These are some of the coolest bands you’ve never heard and if you’re not careful, never will.

Get on it.

Hawk Eyes + God Damn + Bad Grammar @ Sound Control, Manchester – 18th February 2015

Hawk Eyes @ Sound Control, Manchester

Hawk Eyes – everything’s lovely, thanks for asking.

Seven pounds

As far as gig reviews go, this one’s pretty fucking straightforward. I went to Sound Control tonight and saw three shit hot British bands for seven pounds. Time of my life. About 30-40 people did the same.

To find out why more didn’t join in, I had a think about what else seven pounds can get you.

A cheap cocktail
That’s right kids, modern day culture dictates that one shot of cheap rum combined with two of your favourite fruit juice, tossed rapidly over the shoulder of your favourite low slung-jeaned, tattooed bar-keep can be garnered for the cost of two proper man pints. So when the A-board outside indicates a special offer, you’re all over it like a tramp on chips. Sadly you’re going to end up with teeth furrier than an Angora-fancying Dracula so if I were you I’d steer well clear of such sugary malevolence.

A baby
I’m no expert but from seeing work emails flying about over the years it appears seven pounds is some sort of reputable figure for a miniature human. Yes they scream (horns up) but little scientific evidence has discovered much else they’re good at. If you fancy getting one for yourself, I’ve heard rapid intercourse or too many seven pound cocktails can help. You can have that one on me.

A peak time ticket to work
It’s important to get a job, don’t get me wrong, but for those who aren’t aware, cheaper tickets are available. The next time you wrench your flipper from your pocket, have a think about a season ticket, freeing up funds for something far less banal.

So, you could get a crap drink, a lifetime of never seeing your friends or a rocky ride on a four mile rattler.

Tonight, I chose Hawk Eyes (riffs, stories, Yorkshire) plus God Damn (riffs, all of the hair, deafness) and Bad Grammar (riffs, guitar issues, humility).

I know where I’d rather have been, time to have a think about where you were.

Slipknot + Korn @ Manchester Arena – 20th January 2015: Surfacing The Horrors Of The Arena Gig

Slipknot @ Manchester Arena

Slipknot – fanning the flames.

Those who know me are aware that I prefer a gig in a wardrobe rather than a cavernous hall full of halfwits. The coupling of Slipknot and Korn has however dragged this longhair out of arena retirement, so I thought I’d write up my experience. If you don’t want to listen to whingaholic Affs, look away now…

First off, let’s remember it’s cost me £45+ for a ticket (where ‘secure delivery’ was the only delivery option, adding at least another 10% to my night before I’ve even left the house).

Despite the customary touts (who both the council and police refuse to do anything about) to be fair to the newly named ‘Manchester Arena’, entry is quick. Having a 5.30pm door time has seen the vast majority of people spread out their arrival time and bag searches seem efficient.

Once in though, I queue for the standing area, on the stairs, for ten minutes of King 810‘s set, unavoidably blocking lower tier ticket holder’s views in the process. How hard can it honestly be to take a ticket and strap on a wristband? Very tricky it seems.

Once in the standing area it’s not too busy, the toilets are quick and relatively free of floor-based waste. But then there’s the bar situation. There’s one on the side of the toilets which naturally takes a hammering. Then there’s another which doesn’t offer the full range of overpriced beverages but is quieter on the other side of the floor. Choosing the latter, it’s again a quick(ish) option.

As soon as the arena fills up though, trouble starts. During Korn‘s set the smell of snouts and weed is ridiculous, a problem which the Arena staff appear chronically short staffed to deal with. At Academy 1, people are largely singled out with a torch flash and escorted away. Not tonight.

After Korn‘s set there’s a natural dash for the can. I leave it ten minutes, but even when I make my way over, Arena staff stand pointlessly impassive, doing nothing to stop the barging, sink-based urination or general anti-social behaviour. Again I wonder why I pay a premium for this experience.

During Slipknot‘s set all seems relatively civilised until one guy from the lower tier decides to hop the barrier to the floor. Ten out of ten for ingenuity, but when I’ve paid my way to be where I am, I expect others to do the same. No surprise that a half-hearted grab from a ‘Crowd Management Representative’ sees the jumper escape to the pit and a supervisor looking incredulously at Yellow Coat Derek who looks like the only thing he can stop is a dripping tap.

Of course this shows others it can be done, so it’s little surprise when a second jumper appears. Again, security do nothing, relying instead on a fellow gig goer behind me to smash him into the barrier and for me to attempt to wrestle the intruder to the floor. This isn’t a quick altercation but again the lack of any form of security is notable by its absence.

It doesn’t really get much better on the way out with people being misdirected by Arena staff to pick up souvenir tickets, collect bags, or even get to the exit. Couple this with a massive herd of snide merch hawkers immediately outside the venue (again, something both police and city council seem to turn a blind eye to) making it increasingly difficult to avoid getting a ‘Slipcot’ or ‘Koln’ poster thrust towards you, the night is rounded off in yet another unpleasant fashion.

To top it all off, I wait for my tram home for ten minutes on a platform with no information signs working, and alongside a gaggle of Metrolink staff who only indicate they want to see everyone’s tickets once the tram arrives. Efficiency knows no bounds.

I won’t be going to the Manchester Arena, or any arena for that matter for gigs in the future. I should really be reviewing the show, which in summary was absolutely chuffing excellent. Instead I’m here watching some inconsiderate clown on the tram chuck sweet wrappers everywhere.

I appreciate that some of these issues aren’t solely happening at arena shows and I’m not some killjoy trying to stop people having a good time, I’m just speaking as someone who wants everyone to enjoy a show not just a selfish few. Unfortunately, a chronically understaffed and poorly facilitated Manchester Arena has done nothing to help that tonight.

If I want a night of touts, ambivalence, rudeness, vulgarity, hawkers and incompetence I can go to the Printworks. Suddenly I’ve been reminded why I don’t do that either.

Tonight Manchester, you’ve been disgusting.

Manic Street Preachers @ Albert Hall, Manchester – 11th December 2014

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This is really hard for me. Obviously it’s far harder for the three remaining members of the Manic Street Preachers, but since The Holy Bible has sat proudly atop my albums podium for the past two decades, anticipation doesn’t quite cover it. I’m feeling want. I’m feeling desire. I’m feeling despair. I’m feeling every emotion under the sun as the Manics return to Manchester for two intimate gigs at the city’s Albert Hall to play one of the most passionate albums ever committed to disc.

For context, my first ever girlfriend ADORED Nicky Wire. A gangly rock legend, Wire was the poster boy for awkwardness, constantly grinning away in outrageous outfits. Then there was Sean Moore. An unassuming drummer at the best of times, when THB was unleashed he became a gloved destroyer. Then there was James Dean Bradfield. Effortlessly dextrous, the frontman turned hugely challenging subject matter into vocal beauty and it touched a 14 year old me like no other record.

But the author of much of the despair, Richey James hasn’t been there for almost as long as The Holy Bible has. Back in 1995 I had a letter published in Kerrang! which stated my hope that by choosing to see Terrorvision live rather than the Manics my decision wouldn’t come back to bite me on the backside. And how it did. I’d seen the full four-way force of the Manics in 1994. My first ever gig and indeed my first pint, but then Richey was gone. What followed never truly seemed to capture that spirit and I moved on, away from my icons. Until 2013.

Last year, the Manics played a set of intimate shows, the Manchester leg of which I was privileged to attend. An absolute tour de force of their career, the set encompassed everything I loved alongside all that I didn’t, but that night made me realise the beauty in all of their work both new and old.

So here we are in 2014 and the Manics announce The Holy Bible shows. I wasn’t anorexic in 1994. I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t even that nihilistic, but the political and emotional chord of the record had struck a nerve and I’d been unwilling to ignore it since. Come hell or high water I would see the whole thing played live.

And now I have. There is no support tonight, merely a few 90s classics over the PA and an excitable throng, so when a militarily-garbed set of Manics emerge it’s with rapture and adoration quite befitting of such crossover legends.

As we hit The Holy Bible, the words to each and every song come flooding back into my mind no matter how political or complex. As chart-bothering records go, I’ve heard happier, so when ‘Yes’ and ‘Ifwhiteamerica’ spit their bile, it’s almost shocking that such singalong euphoria can greet them, but it does, and fortunately the bouncing hardcore remain down the front throughout.

This is probably one of the strangest celebrations of live music I’ve encountered. The subject matter of the holocaust, genocide and eating disorders wash over us, and as one we celebrate not only the record’s importance in musical history but also in its fight to put right the selfish attitudes of the majority. ‘Revol’ is still full of spiky punk attitude, ‘4st 7lbs’ is heartbreakingly beautiful and ‘Faster’ slaps us in the face like it only emerged yesterday.

‘Die In The Summertime’ raises pretty much every hand in the old Wesleyan chapel and after a mesmerising ‘The Intense Humming Of Evil’, ‘PCP’ sees a mini wall of death amongst us, all of whom are old enough to know better.

After a break, the Manics hit us with a second set quite rightly majoring on new material. Most recent record Futurology is full of innovative Euro rock and although they might not be overly familiar to many, songs like ‘Walk Me To The Bridge’ and the instrumental ‘Dreaming A City’ sit comfortably alongside the usual classics. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ has been given a gradual makeover throughout the years and tonight becomes the fuller epic it’s always wanted to be, whilst ‘If You Tolerate This’ is suitably anthemic, and ‘You Love Us’ is as rabble rousingly frenetic as it was in 1992.

But then there’s the moment.

James Dean Bradfield purposefully moves his mic to stage right and into the previously empty Richey area and suddenly we’re cathartically feeling every joyous chord of ‘A Design For Life’.

This feels like closure. This feels like emotional outpouring. This feels like it. Richey has long been an anonymous part of Manics shows and in a way he always will, but for now he is gone. And we move on. But we celebrate every last second of life he shared with us and it feels incredible.

As the show ends we’ve got that usual sense of wanting more but we’re also happy that Richey’s most harrowing work has received the adulation it deserves. This might not be quite up there with last year’s show at The Ritz, but this is beautiful songwriting performed with dignity. And for that we salute you. All four of the Manic Street Preachers.

Red’s True Barbecue – Slow Not Just In Name

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I’m not a food blogger, there are enough of those in Manchester to destroy the world’s stock of semi-brioche burger buns, but now and again I do use this site to cobble together some thoughts on a recent chowing experience.

Being a fan of all things meaty and warm, I’d been looking forward to hitting Red’s True Barbecue since it opened in Manchester a couple of weeks previously. A combination of epic photography and decent reviews, amongst them a top drawer Manchester Confidential one, had got me salivating, so this week I finally headed on down.

The no booking policy is de rigueur at similar venues these days so I wasn’t surprised or put out to be told there was a half hour wait for a table by Red’s Employee Number One; as long as there’s booze, there’s a reason to hang around, so I grabbed a beer from Red’s Employee Number Two at the bar. Before finishing this pint we were called over to our table by Red’s Employee Number Three, revelling in the glorious smells emanating from the kitchen as we walked through.

Red’s Employee Number Four then came to take our drinks order and on returning took our choices for starters and mains. The whole menu is presented in a nice little biblical tome with accompanying faux-religious imagery and pun-filled terminology from which we opted for the Homemade Beef Jerky (£3.50) and the Hush Puppies (£3.95) followed by a shared main of the recommended Beef Long (£15.95) including a ‘Divine Side’ of Mac-N-Cheese as well as some Skin-on Fries and homemade Slaw (£1.95 each) from the ‘Humble Side’ section.

And then we waited. The restaurant was busy, so at first we weren’t too concerned, but as diners flowed out into the cold night we were left to look wistfully kitchen-wards hoping to spy our dishes en route.

Sitting right next to the aforementioned cooking area made things worse as we watched other meals flying out and inhaled the incredible barbecue smells and although we had beer and gin for company it started to become a little frustrating.

As you may have gathered, one thing Red’s isn’t short of is staff, but each one seems drilled to only perform certain tasks, so catching their eye is a nightmare. For example, Red’s Employee Number Five kept on stocking the bar from the drinks room right next to us but refused to acknowledge us, whilst the dishwashers in the kitchen (Numbers Six and Seven) loudly joked away which only increased our frustration as we nursed the dregs of our drinks.

Eventually, Number Three saw our plight and came to ask what the problem was but this was a good 45 minutes into our wait at the table. Upon informing him that we had yet to even see a starter, he apologised, told us they were experiencing issues with orders not being sent from till to kitchen and took our order again to check. On his return he reassured us that it was now processing and offered us a complimentary drink.

After half an hour in the bar and an hour at our table the food began to arrive courtesy of Employee Number Eight. The scratchings (on the second ordering I had mistakenly mentioned these rather than the original jerky) came presented in a fun paper bag and tasted crisp and rich. The jalapeño fritter Hush Puppies were similarly tasty with a nice warmth rather than an insane kick, all ready to be spiced up or cooled down by the impressive array of homemade sauces and ketchups on our table.

The Beef Long then arrived, comprising two large bones of perfectly flamed meat, juicy and tasty with spot-on seasoning. The Mac-N-Cheese looked dry and congealed but actually tasted incredible, whilst the chips were good but nothing extra-ordinary.

Again though, there were a couple of problems. When Number Three returned to check up on us, we had to tell him we were missing the ordered Slaw and when this was eventually brought over it was accompanied by another portion of fries which we hadn’t ordered but for which we were still charged.

Also, it was evident from early on that the staff were struggling to locate enough cutlery of all things, getting ours directly from the dishwasher, whilst the tin plates are pretty lightweight, skidding around on the wooden tables as you carve through your feast, but this is only a minor quibble; if you’re not in first date territory, you won’t be shy of gnawing straight from hand.

Since we’d spent so long in Red’s already we thought we’d make a night of it when Employee Number Nine came over enquiring about desserts and both choices, the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake and Mississippi Mud Brownie with Pecan Nut Fudge Snugbury’s Ice Cream (both £4.95) were suitably indulgent, although the former maybe wasn’t quite dirty and buttery enough.

Settling up with Employee Number 10, he seemed surprised to hear that the speed and accuracy of service wasn’t up to scratch, claiming Red’s was still getting things running properly which seems odd considering they’re dab hands at doing this over in Leeds.

After two and a half hours we finally left and couldn’t help but be disappointed that the quality of the food had been tainted by the horrifically slow service and the way the place is set up so you never really know who your waiter is. Because of this you end up not feeling looked after which is something so many other restaurants in Manchester currently pride themselves on.

The decor of the place is excellent, a combination of Almost Famous’ more neon moments and the galvanised steel of a Redneck cut-and-shut emporium, but they can have all the style in the world, if the basics of staff and systems aren’t right they may find repeat visits wain.

So why am I writing this? I’m certainly not in the habit of going all Trip Advisor on restaurants and slagging them off for no good reason, I’m just giving people a head’s up that they may need to allow a fair bit of extra time if they’re thinking of hitting Red’s in the foreseeable future. Hopefully things are set to improve.