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.

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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.

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

This Is Manchester – We Do Things Differently Here

I’ve just walked through Manchester Piccadilly Station and there’s a sombre mood hanging over us all this morning, armed police at each entrance and on every concourse reminding us of the seriousness of what’s happened.

Exactly two weeks ago, I was at Manchester Arena seeing Iron Maiden. After the gig I remember being herded down long concrete corridors for what seemed an age as everyone shuffled along with Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life ringing out from the Arena speakers. I can only imagine how different a scene it was last night.

When the news came through last night we all thought, maybe hoped, that it was a false alarm. A blown speaker or some balloons popping alongside other social media reports of stampedes. It’s only upon waking this morning that the full horror is apparent.

After the Bataclan I raised a defiant middle finger in support of live music. I may have been horribly nervous going back into a crowded public event but I did what we all have to do again now, put our faith in those who protect us and in the vast majority of the human race. A lot will be asked again about how these acts can keep happening, how people’s minds work but there’s important things to remember, Live music will win. Manchester will win. Terror won’t.

At this truth we have arrived, God damn it’s great to be alive.

Greater Manchester Police has established an emergency telephone number in response to the attack. It is: 0161 856 9400.

Everyone You Meet Is Fighting A Battle You Know Nothing About

Depression isn’t something I’d really considered until recent years. Everyone feels a bit down now and again don’t they? The media just go all sensationalist on things. Surely contemplating taking your own life is selfish when there are so many things in this world that take loved ones from us unfairly and far too soon?

But it is a thing. It’s a thing you can’t see by looking at someone’s face. By looking into their eyes. By seeing them enjoy a seemingly innocent night out with friends. No, it’s something that can usually, frustratingly, only be truly experienced by the sufferer and this merely serves to cause more hurt, more heartache, more despair.

All I want to say is, don’t always assume all’s well. Check up on your friends. Will they confide in you? Probably not. Just be ready with an arm to wrap around a shoulder or the offer of a friendly drink as and when required. One day it might make all the difference.

http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/giving-to-mind/donate/

Peace, Love, Death Metal – How Live Music Can Live On

EODM - Jesse Hughes

Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes @ The Ritz, Manchester, 7th November 2015

It’s taken me a few days to come to terms with what’s happened in Paris. And when I say ‘come to terms’ I don’t think it will ever be the case that I’ll feel in any way accepting of the tragedy that has unfolded.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I’d been at exactly the same gig only six days previously. Eagles Of Death Metal were playing the Ritz in Manchester, and it was sold out to the tune of 1500 fans in attendance. As similarities go, it all still feels a little bit too close to home.

The show itself was one of the most enjoyable I’d ever seen in over 20 years of gig-going. I’d never seen EODM live before and I really wasn’t prepared for how much pure fun they brought to the live arena. Frontman Jesse Hughes in particular was instantly likeable and endlessly funny, the embodiment of hip-swaying, tache-curling boogie for a good two hours of incredible rock and roll.

The show culminated in a light-hearted duel between Hughes and guitarist Dave Catching that saw the frontman emerge from the Ritz’s balconies to throw down riffs at his partner in crime. The crowd lapped it up too, kids, adults, skinheads and folk on the hairier side of the spectrum all cheering each comedic battle with grins as wide as the stage.

Then only six days later, the Bataclan in Paris sees the most awful tragedy that live music has ever had to witness. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things which band was involved, but there’s something about the fact that it was such a good-time group like EODM and their fans that were caught up in all this that makes it seem all the more awful. I haven’t been able to listen to any EODM songs since, quickly skipping tracks if anything’s been coming up on shuffle. I’m not trying to ignore what’s happened, it just doesn’t seem right at the moment to try to get enjoyment from their music.

But life does go on. On Saturday I was fortunate enough to go over to Huddersfield to see Eureka Machines and Tropical Contact play at The Parish. I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, despite having seen both bands loads of times before. I knew that in attendance would be all the like-minded folk I see at so many gigs across the country and that if any combination of bands and crowd were going to help each other get over what had happened the night before it was these.

What ensued was every bit the group therapy that was required. From staff at the venue through to the bands, punters, even other people milling around in the pub out front, there was a good time vibe in that leaky room that simply would not be quelled by recent world events. Even when an obviously emotional Chris Catalyst (the Eureka Machines frontman) took to his mic to pay tribute to his friend who had died at the Bataclan (EODM’s merch man Nick Alexander) it wasn’t with a sense of revenge or anger, it was to encourage and enlighten, ensuring that the show went on and that expression didn’t die along with all of those who lost their lives in the French capital. Needless to say, that outpouring provided some of the biggest bouncing of the night as we all joined together in thanks that we were able to enjoy live music, freely and without fear of judgement or censure.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, as far as I’m concerned, killing innocent people anywhere in the world is wrong, tragic and heartbreaking. What I will say is that I hope live music somehow comes out of this stronger. It’s always been a place where people from all different backgrounds and of all shapes and sizes can come and forget all of their troubles for a couple of hours, united in a shared joy and euphoria that’s difficult to match and without these little pockets of escapism, the world would be a far, far poorer place.

Paul Spragg 1975 – 2014

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As of now, there are only four people left on this planet, still in my life, who I’ve known personally since birth. I lost the fifth this week and I will probably never fully understand why.

I am of course referring to my brother, Paul, who so suddenly passed away at only 38. I’ve lost count of how many things I’ve written over the years but this is the hardest piece and one I wish I didn’t have to write.

Growing up we were very close. Our shared allergy to the summer (or hay fever as it’s more commonly known) meant a lot of time together rattling through Final Fantasy books and hammering away at Dizzy or Horace on the Spectrum 48k. When we did make it outside, his sporting prowess (he won’t mind me revealing), wasn’t the best, but he still took great delight in kicking footballs in the general direction of my nether regions, admittedly with often quite accurate results.

Our play often took the form of TV show re-enactments, most frequently helped by a cardboard box TARDIS as I became the Adric to Paul’s fifth Doctor. We actually met Peter Davison at the opening of a Nailsea housing estate I believe when we were only five and eight years old respectively, neither of us realising quite how far that passion for Time Lords would eventually take him. But more of that later…

When you’ve got an older sibling it’s like having an extra parent. Paul ‘bought’ me (my parents may admittedly have funded it) a big fluffy cat that sat between my pillow and bedside table, pretty much from my birth, always there to protect me from banging my head on the wooden furniture. Little did he know that wouldn’t be the only time he looked out for me, whether it was finding me work experience or simply spoiling me rotten each Christmas, Paul always took great pleasure in my own happiness.

Of course, this didn’t stop him chasing me on holiday when I was about five and causing me to fling headlong into a chair, the scar from which still serves as a reminder today. Come to think of it, the one on my ankle from the see-saw incident has always been suspicious too… But I digress.

Did we fight? Of course we did, like any siblings who care about each other would. Whether it was playfully converting spring-loaded He-Man figures to fling mashed potato at one another over the dinner table whilst Mum’s back was turned or a more serious throttle here and there, my immaturity would wind Paul up just as some of his straight-laced attitude would me. But for every fight I always grudgingly knew he was right. Older and wiser, although obviously not as attractive (but he couldn’t hope to rain on my ENTIRE parade) Paul was always someone you’d want on your team in the battle of the intellectually superiors.

As an inspiration, I obviously had my parents there who both pulled out all the stops for the two of us, but I also had an older brother who would test-drive all those important life experiences for me. From hitting university to working in the big smoke, Paul did all the things that he could then handhold me through.

Over time I overtook him and not in a good way. I became the cynical one, always finding fault with modern society and the people within it. All the while Paul would retain the innocent joy that could be found in everything, from comics and radio shows to films and even an annual bag or three of Mini Eggs. He kept life pure, pulling the curtains on the badness out there in order to settle down with a board game and a Ribena.

Would I have gone down the journalistic route if it wasn’t for him? No. Would I be such a nerdy sci-fi and comic book guy if Paul hadn’t picked my Green Lantern comics up for me from Forever People and leant me his Target Dr Who novelisations to read? No. Would I be half the man I am today if Paul hadn’t been there? Of course I wouldn’t, because that’s what Paul always did; he saw the best in everyone and brought it out of them with patience, good humour and a childlike glint in his eye.

It’s these qualities which I’m so pleased others have seen in him as I read so, so many tributes to my big bro. His dedication, his passion, his enjoyment of life was so prevalent, he rarely let anything get him down. And of course, he always wanted to help others. Even as recently as last year whilst we were away on holiday at the Edinburgh Fringe, he’d still boot up his laptop each day to answer Big Finish customer queries because of his empathy towards others and his passion for the business.

Talking of the business, Paul’s career choice was a stroke of genius, combining hobby and salaried income in one fell swoop. Through the years of working with Visual Imagination and Big Finish he’d often message me a ‘look who I’m with’ picture of someone we’d grown up idolising on the telly together. He was so, so happy doing a job that he loved and I can only hope to find such gratification in what I do.

Paul got to meet his heroes and today I miss mine.

Edinburgh Fringe 2013 – The Cream of the Crop

Richard Herring

Blue Herring

Mildly delayed due to other writing commitments, better late than never, here we go with a round up of my top picks from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe!

NB – I’ll try not to give away too much in these summaries as each show will probably tour later in the year or in 2014, so feel free to read away spoiler-free.

Knightmare

Round the horn.

Knightmare Live

One show that I knew I had to get locked in before I even hit the country was Knightmare Live. The legendary children’s show that ran from 1987-1994 is one of my all-time favourites and I still remember having the show’s address written down on a piece of paper in a drawer in the living room table ready for mine and my brother’s application to take on the dungeon.

Grinning like an idiot, we queued up in the Gilded Balloon and took central third row seats for this live re-imagining. Hosted by nu-Treguard (Paul Flannery) the show obviously does away with the technical wizardry of the show (look, it was the early 90s, it looked like ACTUAL magic) and instead uses simple screens and ingenious props to recreate the dungeon feel. Flannery is an excellent dungeon master, slotting in all of Hugo Myatt’s catchphrases and ad-libbing brilliantly when things can and do go slightly wrong, never once breaking character.

Meanwhile, Tom Bell’s authentically-helmed Lord Fear is a delight, quipping his way through the show with lines that ooze with sinister sarcasm. Throughout the absolutely hilarious hour there’s no pause for breath as a dungeoneer is navigated by two comedians through doors, around obstacles and past a rogues gallery of supporting players. Faithful to the original but also brilliantly bonkers in its own right, you could watch this show every night and never have quite the same experience twice. An absolute joy.

Tim Key

The Masterslut

Tim Key

I’ve seen Tim Key twice before and was utterly blown away by how madcap but likeable the guy is, so it was a no-brainer to go and check out his ‘Work In Slutgress’ .

Entering the Pleasance Dome venue, Key is up to his usual trick of being there already, acknowledging the audience as they walk in with THAT cheeky grin and naughty wink. And this time, he’s lying on a bed in the middle of the stage, casually sipping a beer…

What then ensues is an absolutely hilarious, surreal show that combines Key’s trademark poetry, tales of bizarre experiences in the movie industry, audience interaction and even contemporary dance. This show really sees Key take it up a notch and is mesmerizing in both its material and its execution. One thing’s for sure, when it ends, we’re all left gasping for more.

Tony Law

The law (no pun intended) of the Edinburgh queue is an odd one. many people seem to get down to the venues super early and then pick not the front row, but maybe seats in the second or third section. Being perennial mid-queue people this suited us as it meant that the front was often free and for Canadian madman Tony Law we were literally in spitting distance. A regular on shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks, Law is another comedian who plays with surrealism, riffing off stories that begin based in reality before veering into utterly insane territory. Law is a whirl of wordplay, and to some may seem intimidating as he rants right into your face. But underneath it all there’s the grin of a true tease and Law is utterly infectious as he draws you into his darkly comic world.

Marcus Brigstocke

A regular on radio and TV, it’s not that I don’t find Marcus Brigstocke funny, it’s just that he appears on the sorts of programmes I tend not to go out of my way to watch or listen to. Fortunately, at Edinburgh he had a couple of shows to pick from and on our very first night we went to see his ‘Je m’accuse – I Am Marcus’ outing. I probably wasn’t quite prepared for just how physical a comedian Brigstocke is, so seeing him hobble around following a recent foot injury, he initially appears a little frustrated before the adrenaline takes over. Telling hilarious stories about his life, from growing up in Devon to the bizarre jobs he’s taken on until now, Brigstocke is utterly engaging, brilliantly vulgar, honest and tear-inducingly funny. This is simply some great material performed brilliantly, but you can tell what a master Brigstocke is at doing just that.

Josh Widdicombe

A relative newcomer but one whose star is rising fast, Widdicombe is one of those comedians who can have you in stitches with the most basic of concepts. Taking a look into his seemingly banal home life, it’s when he hits that high-pitched incredulity that things become totally infectious and you’ll struggle to see a sombre face in the vicinity.

Love Hearts, Super Noodles and The Snowman are some of his targets as he meanders through old-school observational comedy that is delivered with so much warmth that it becomes bizarrely obvious, yet charming, despite some choice language that even your Mum would excuse him of spouting as she ruffled his curly hair. Belly laughs aplenty from the

Max and Ivan

The Wrestling II

Max and Ivan. Wrestling with comedy.

My surprise hit of the festival has to be Max and Ivan. I fully admit I hadn’t heard of the duo before this year’s shindig but after being advised to go and see them I was in no way disappointed. The pair echo the brilliant, bizarre characterisation of The League of Gentlemen in their latest show ‘The Reunion’ with all manner of wild and wonderful creations coming to vivid life despite being played solely by the energetic two.

Telling the tale of unrequited love re-emerging at, obviously, a school reunion, Max and Ivan throw themselves around an hour-long play that is full of hilarity and yet also utterly engaging. Helped by the relatively small size of the venue, the pair prove to be completely at ease with each other as well as the audience, and you will find yourself rooting for the good guy by the end. This kind of comedy is sorely missed on our screens at the moment and if this lot don’t have their own TV show by this time next year, I’ll eat a not inconsiderably-sized marsupial.

Extra props to the pair for participating in the annual Wrestling-meets-comedy show The Wrestling II where both proved themselves to be decent competitors both in and out of the ring.

2013 – A Year In Review

Black Spiders Brewery Tour

Fuck You 2013



So there we have it kids, another year has been and gone. Was it just me or did 2013 seem to fly by? I honestly can’t believe that my Vegas trip was in 2012 or that it’s time to compile my annual awards for album and gig of the year already, but there we go.

I’m not usually one for resolutions as Big Ben chimes 12, but it’s always useful to look back over a year to put into perspective just what has gone down and to make yourself realise that you didn’t just sit around in your pants thrapping like a spider monkey for the entire year.

For me, 2013 was the year I got closer than ever to music. Since I resumed my gig-going in October 2009, I’ve found myself uncovering more and more music I like as well as re-appraising some old favourites, and 2013 gave me all that and more. Helped considerably by joining the team over at Daily Dischord, I found myself listening to all sorts of new CDs and hitting more gigs than ever.

I even got to interview up and comers TesseracT as well as old-stager (and one of my favourite frontmen) Ricky Warwick of The Almighty fame. It’s been a number of years since my journalism degree, but armed with my little notebook and a paranoia over whether my phone would record, both chats turned out well and it was good to appreciate music with those responsible for making it in the first place.

I also chatted to a few other musically-minded people this year, bumping into the incredibly friendly Baby Godzilla and Hawk Eyes boys on more than one occasion, seeing Napalm Death legend Shane Embury in a toilet and most importantly getting royally sauced with Black Spiders.

Black Spiders Table Football

In a non-World Cup year, there was only one tournament worth talking about.

As many of you will know, I’m rather partial to the ‘Spiders‘ brand of good old rock and roll and when one of the options with their Pledge Music campaign was to go on a brewery tour with the band, I couldn’t possibly turn it down. And what a day it was. Not only was the brewery tour great fun, (there was more beer than anyone in their right mind could wish for) the fun didn’t stop there, instead continuing round some of Sheffield’s finest watering holes until we were all in various states of disrepair. The band themselves were brilliant fun, utter gentlemen and it was a great way to not only support the recording of their new record but to participate in a true one-off experience. Thanks guys!

Ginger Wildheart

Greetings From Shitsville

As well as the above mentioned rock star hobnobbing my biggest achievement of 2013 was meeting three idols of mine. By chance I bumped into Ginger Wildheart before a …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead gig, chatting to him and my old Turbowolf muckers for some time. Unfortunately this did mean I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to grab a photo like a fanboy, but the shit-eating grin suggests I had few regrets.

Tony Wright

Pretend Best Friends

Around the same time I got into The Wildhearts, I was also massively enthusiastic about Terrorvision. The Bradford scoundrels produced the soundtrack to my youth, so when it was quite frankly scandalous to NOT buy lead singer Tony Wright a pint and thank him for his work over the years, I had no choice. Again, cue ridiculously happy photo opportunity.

Tony is not only a comedic mastermind in lyrics as well as on social media, he’s also a hilarious guy in ‘real life’ coming out with all sorts of anecdotes during our drunken natter. Once again it was great of him after a sweaty show to want to bother mixing with the likes of me for a pint or two and I can’t wait until T’vision hit the Northern realms again.

Andy Cairns

Bad Mothers

Last but by no means least, my favourite band of all time; Therapy? had a decent year, producing a career-spanning boxset of epic proportions, but no doubt lead singer Andy Cairns’ highlight was going on his first ever solo acoustic tour and getting to meet the adoring rabble including me…

As for the gigs themselves; wow. Without giving anything away ahead of my Gig of the Year award I can reveal that I’ve witnessed some amazing shows including an astonishing Manic Street Preachers comeback performance in a relatively intimate venue which really took my breath away, and other shows throughout 2013, both big and small were nothing short of incendiary.

I’m not just talking about metal either, as the always reliably leftfield Manchester International Festival out-did itself this year with an amazing line-up. The spellbinding Adam Curtis Vs Massive Attack event was nothing short of astounding, whilst Rocket Number 9 and a triumphantly returning Neneh Cherry produced a mesmeric show. The whole atmosphere of the festival made a strangely warm summer even more enjoyable and it’s always sad to see it go.

In the comedy world, I hit the Edinburgh Fringe and had some banter with QI’s John Lloyd and Mitch Benn as well as taking in shows by more performers than I can actually remember. Another crowning glory of 2013 was when I finally got to meet one of my childhood comedy heroes, Rob Newman, who was a truly lovely man. Humble about the success with David Baddiel that made him a megastar, deep down, Newman is still that shuffling, slightly bumbling comic that drew us all in with The Mary Whitehouse Experience.

More recently I achieved another childhood dream of performing magic with Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee, and I rounded off the year by hitting Ginger Wildheart‘s 5th Annual Birthday Bash which featured guest appearances by everyone from Snow Patrol to Starz.

All in all then, you’d say it was a pretty eventful 2013 and with trips to Edinburgh, Munich and Belgium planned for 2014, the new year’s off to a promising start too…

The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 – Super Scotland Shines Through

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I often used to avoid attending major events as they seemed at odds with my dislike of the vast majority of the population. However, after thoroughly enjoying London during its most busy period, the Olympic Games, I decided this year to take the plunge and immerse myself for a week in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

2013’s Fringe saw around 3,000 shows take place across 300-odd venues all over the city and the first thing that hits a newbie is how well organised everything is. Bearing in mind that the city is also catering for the usual tourists as well as its local population during the Fringe’s run, it’s remarkable that the atmosphere doesn’t degenerate one bit whilst I’m there. Getting around is also made far easier than it has any right to be, thanks to numerous signs and helpful volunteers and even when veering off the beaten track you’ll still bump into something of interest.

Going for full immersion, I had booked some shows before even arriving in the city and each day I pretty much decided my itinerary for the next; an easy system and helped massively by the multitude of box offices spanning the city. For the uninitiated, there are key areas of the city that each hold numerous venues, mainly The Plesance, The Assembly, and The Caves, although the more traditional comedy club, The Stand, also expands out into its surroundings and hosts shows across four venues during the festival.

Udderbelly @ Edinburgh Fringe

The size of a cow – laughs galore in an upside down heifer.

These main venues each have their own set of bars, street food stalls and other entertainment, meaning that whether your wait for a show is ten minutes or an hour, you can quickly grab a beer and enjoy some Scottish sunshine. I was hugely impressed by the fact that I did not have to queue for a pint even once, as the bars are so plentiful and efficient there simply is no slowdown, unlike other large events with which I’m familiar such as the Manchester Christmas Markets, where even getting a half seems a chore to rival two week’s worth of laundry.

Pretty much every square foot of potential show-space is utilised during the festival, and unlike so many other cities where traditional boozers are closing down left, right and centre, here they use each upstairs room and cellar bar for shows of all shapes and sizes, with the artists themselves often running the technical aspects themselves.

The other beauty of this festival is that it is pretty much self-policing. Admittedly there were doormen at the drinking venues, but largely the venues are open, welcoming places with none of the frustrating bag searches that you get at so many other major events. The shows are so tightly packed in that the staff have to be ruthlessly efficient but they do so with a smile each and every time, whilst the comedians keep to schedule (knowing they get fined if they run over). The punters even take their rubbish with them meaning the venue is ready for the next set of show-goers without being deep-cleaned by a team of DustBuster wielding off-duty students. All of these aspects ensure that even the tightest of schedules can be planned and achieved with relative ease.

Something else you’ll see across the city are hordes of flyer-profferers, but unlike Las Vegas where the flick of a titty ad card is almost aggressive in its execution, those offering you one-sheets to shows you may not know about are friendly and are often the artists appearing in said show themselves unafraid of self-promotion.

Something you may be surprised to see is the sheer amount of comedians who potter around, largely unbothered by fans, checking out friend’s shows whether they’re performing at the festival themselves or not. Over the course of the week I ‘bumped into’ Jimmy Carr, Steve Pemberton, Tim Key, Daniel Rigby, Richard Vranch and many, many others, all of whom appeared to be enjoying things just as much as I was.

Is there a downside to the whole experience? Well, it is expensive. Let’s not forget this is a European capital city where the standard £4-a-pint minimum always applies, but there’s so much choice of food that you can pick up tasty bargains or even self-cater with ease. Shows themselves range from free (although a donation is always appreciated) up to about £20, so if you’re packing in a lot it all adds up. You may also struggle to fit in every last show you want to attend, even if going for a week, so be prepared to rank your key events and get them in early.

You can also expect to pay through the nose for accommodation, but if you hunt early enough in the year you might drop lucky like I did with a perfectly central, huge apartment that you can share with a few friends to cut down costs.

The city’s layout can also be baffling (especially to pig-headed idiots like myself) with its quite literal underbelly being on a level that often seems impossible to get to, so a day of familiarisation is going to be useful to the first-timer.

And then, what of the shows themselves? Having seen 35 shows over the course of the week, featuring a total of over 70 artists, I thought it would be impossible to write about it all. And with such massive variety within the programme of events I also thought it would be tricky to discuss my top picks. But being the glutton for punishment that I am, I thought I’d give it a go…

TO BE CONTINUED…