I have spoken elsewhere about how I’m continually fascinated at how the brain reacts and adapts to the collection of miseries that is Parkinson’s. Of particular interest and importance in my case is the role that Music plays in my daily life. Not as mere ‘background noise’ but as ‘brainfood.’
I believe that music, something I consider (and I speak as a Visual Artist) the highest, purest artform engages in a subtle and sophisticated dynamic with the brain that we are often unaware of.
“We listen to music with our muscles” Nietzche. Sacks (2007) p. xi
Indeed as I write this, I am coming out of an ‘off’ spell.* I am coaxing this return to a state of relative fluidity by swinging my good right leg in time with the off-beat accentuation of Reggae and Dub music. As it happens today, big favourites Aswad.
Of course, you could say all that is happening here is that the drugs are finally kicking in, bringing an increased feeling of well-being, CD happens to be playing and so I’m swinging along to it: End of story.
But how does that explain many occasions I have been able to fight away, or bring myself out of a particularly deep ‘off’ spell by listening and dancing to music.? (Okay, ‘dancing’ may be stretching it a bit … Let’s call it ‘moving’) when in theory I shouldn’t have been able to walk? No, something far more profound is happening here. I have a confidence, a freedom and range of movement normally absent. Plus I am able to dance – sorry ‘move’ – for longer periods than my medication would normally allow.
I’m not the only one of course:
“Some of them could not initiate a single step, but could be drawn into dancing and could dance fluidly” Oliver Sacks in his book ‘Musicophelia’ (2007) on post-encephalitic/Parkinson’s patients encountered in 1960s.
And what about the task I am hopefully about to accomplish? Which is insert the needle of a Graseby Winged Infusion set into my leg. The needle, which is 2cm in length (doesn’t sound much does it?) is attached by a short tube to a syringe, set in a battery-powered pump which I wear round my waist and gives me a constant, measured dose of the Dopamine Agonist drug, Apomorphine. The needle has to go up to the hilt into the sub-cutaneous (Fatty layer) beneath the skin at a 45 degree angle. It’s something I have to steel myself to do every morning, and is a task which is always accompanied by music: Music of power, dignity, self-belief: hence Aswad.
* ‘Off’ (or in our house ‘offline’) describes the periods (between 4 and 6 times a day, 30 minutes to 3 hours in duration when my anti-Parkinson’s drugs are not effective for whatever reason.
© Andy Daly 2010
Quotations from Sacks, O: ‘Musicophelia’ (Picador) 2007 by kind permission of the author.
Well, thank goodness Diff was awake – I knew he’d get it, and first too.
Dear reader, let me introduce you to Mr. Douglas Futers, Popular Music aficionado extraordinaire. He knows everything about everything and has been to more gigs than we’ve had collective hot dinners. He’s seen Hawkwind (‘Silver Machine’ Remember?) 742 times and is now deaf as a post.
Of course! It was Noddy Holder, the band was Slade and the record, the evergreen ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ a hit for the band first time around, Christmas 1973 (Flares, Strikes, ‘For mash say Smash’ and Advocaat)
If you didn’t know, and although you probably really couldn’t give a shit, I’m going to tell you anyway; the story is that this seasonal ditty which has etched its way into our national consciousness, along with Turkey, old St. Nick and Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’ was in fact recorded over a blistering hot week in New York, late summer of that year. Apparently, Lennon (that’s John, Liverpool, musician not Aaron, Spurs, winger) was in the next studio recording ‘Mind Games’ at the time.
The song was a hotch-potch of snippets that Nod and Jim Lee had lying around. They were given the final touch, it is reported when (I love this …) Nod “After an evening out drinking worked through the night at his mother’s house in Walsall to write the lyrics, which he completed in one draft.” You see? a genuine slice of British Popular Culture. Bowie, meantime, earnestly doing his Willliam Burroughs’ ‘cut-ups’ must have been wondering where he went wrong.
Anyway, it just so happens that last week I had occasion to be in Birmingham. We took our eldest up there so he could attend an Open Day at Aston University, which is, in case you don’t know slap-bang in the centre of town. Wouldn’t have been my choice personally, it has to be said. To me, Brum has always been where people speak with a speech impediment rather than an accent; A place to be avoided at all costs, using one of the myriad motorways which appear designed expressly for such a purpose.
Anyway, we drop Laddo off, and from where, when we’ve turned the corner, he makes for the lecture theatre to hear all about International Business with Spanish. Or, if he were more like me at that age, make for the nearest pub, to really start ‘getting the taste’ for the West Midlands and the good folk therein.
We’re left with a couple of hours to kill, and as we’re over the road from the ‘Bullring’ Birmingham’s infamous shopping centre we decide to nip in and take a look. Well: pleasantly surprised is the reaction. They’ve made a damned fine job of re-inventing the ‘old’ Bullring which I last saw in about 1979, and was, let’s face it not only an eyesore, but an earsore, armsore and legsore it was so bad. Not so today. In fact it looks like every other modern shopping centre in whatever city or town you care to mention.
I was still pondering this transformation in the Bullring gents toilets, whilst drying my hands. I was using one of these new-fangled blown air hand driers. Similar to, but not the Dyson airblade, it looked like an open letterbox in the wall. And, it was pretty pathetic: a brief vision passed before my eyes of the Facia of this thing being removed to reveal two wheezing old men blowing through it from behind. This nightmarish thought was soon banished by an awareness that someone was standing behind me…
I turned and looked. It was only Noddy Holder! The owner of the best pair of lungs this side of the Mississippi Delta!
What to say? I can’t come over all fawning fan – I’m nearly 50: No, no, no that won’t do. What about a ‘cooler’ approach? Drop in a ‘Blokey’ comment which might initiate a conversation.
That’s it! I figured.
Of all the things I could have said or asked him – such as ‘What was it really like to work with Dave Hill?’
‘Why the Mirror Hat, Nod? and how did you keep it on?’
Failing that, ”Ere Noddy, you know when Don Powell lost his memory, were there ever things you told him that hadn’t happened, just for a laugh?
No, of all the things … What do I venture forth with?
“These hand driers are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard”
He looked at me and snorted a snort which was somewhere half way between ‘Yeah’ and ‘What the **** are you talking about?’ – I’m still analysing it.
….and made his way out.
Moral of the story: Be prepared! Get a notebook, list everyone famous you would like to meet. Add 2 or 3 questions for each and carry it round with you at all times!
© Andy Daly 2010
On this day during the course of the 1960s (No, I’m not going to tell you which year) a little girl was born in an imposing ‘finca’ close to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (or town hall square) in Valencia, that glittering jewel in the Spanish crown. The youngest of five children, born into the family of a hardworking and respected couple, from Alcoy near Alicante. She grew up resilient and resourceful: hardly surprising considering the competition – three brothers, the eldest of which was 15 when she was born.
To have an apartment in such a sought-after area of the city was a measure of how far her parents had come as individuals, and then as a family since the end of the unbearably bitter Civil War. They had known hardship, privation, hunger, internment, forced labour, the pain of loss, not least, a brother commited to the opposition in the miserable frozen wastes of Teruel. Yes, this is Spain, everybody’s sunny summer playground. We tend to forget …
Of course, I knew none of this, when I made my first hapless attempts to get to know her better in the staffroom of a West London school. In contrast, yours truly was born later that same year in a particularly grim area of the industrial North of England. Our respective environments could not have been more different. Around the corner from the ‘finca’ the graceful Plaza with its palm trees and fountains, site of the ‘mascleta’ (You have to see and feel this. Calling it a ‘display of firecrackers’ or somesuch really doesn’t do it justice. It is immense) You don’t need to walk too far before you come upon the old dry river course, its bridges and boat moorings still intact. Quite different from the ribbon of brown slurry that passed for a river and was such a feature of my journey to school as a child. Then there is the ‘Micalet’ and the handsome central market and the smells! Of sea, the earth, the orange blossom.
The smells which characterised 1960s Huddersfield? I think we’ll draw a graceful curtain over that.
I could go on (and on)
And the point of all this? I just wanted to say that despite everything, I never forget, and
© Andy Daly 2010
HAMMERSMITH APOLLO 06/02/10
I went to see Todd Rundgren. Not everybody’s cup of tea I know, but his complete understanding of the dynamics of a three minute pop song, his ability as a producer sometimes to ‘get a lot out of a little’ (Meatloaf) and his longevity without sliding into self-parody suggest he’s doing something right.
Rundgren is a musician who has been a particular favourite of mine since the late ’70s. Funnily enough it was Alan (“Alright?!”) ‘Fluff’ Freeman who proved to be the link. Before Punk, like thousands of other ‘lost souls’ I used to listen to the mainly turgid shite that he played on his Saturday afternoon Radio One ‘Prog Rock’ show, bless him.
I say ‘lost souls’ because, at the younger end of his audience, I think many, like me listened, almost out of duty. There wasn’t anything else. We were just waiting … That’s why when Punk came along, we were off! Barclay James Harvest, Tangerine Dream and Yes? Fuck off! I want to listen to The Damned, The Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and the Pistols.
Well, anyway ‘Fluff’ had a jingle he used to play which I couldn’t get out of my head. It was a snippet of a song. It was clearly live: you could tell by the ambience and which featured what sounded like the chorus to a song sung a-capella, the audience joining in whilst clapping a slow heavy rhythm along to it. It fascinated me. As well as sounding ‘live’ it sounded ‘alive’ like real people at a real gig.
It took me a while. None of my mates were into Rundgren, so none of them recognised it, but eventually I did track it down. It appeared to be “One More Victory” on a live album, “Another Live”. So on the strength of ‘Fluff’s few snatched seconds, I bought it, second hand mail order from Cob Records in Wales, and that was it. I still have it. If you are able to stomach the bizarre band photos which seem to depict a group of cross-dressing Mafiosi and Rundgren’s occasional self-indulgences, is a great record. One which for me, sits comfortably alongside other favourites from the same period: “The Modern Dance” Pere Ubu, “Natty Dread”, The Wailers, “Never Mind The Bollocks”, The Pistols and “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Songs of Christmas”
And so, to Saturday night, when Rundgren performed his ground-breaking oddity “A Wizard A True Star” in its entirety (at the time, he was making his money producing, and was thus able to make the record he wanted to make rather than the record company.) It is an eclectic and ideosyncratic stream of consciousness. On tour here in the UK in 2008, his promoter mentioned that the album had been cited by a number of up and coming young musicians as an influence, and suggested a one off performance.
He was brilliant! A top drawer gig from a genuine Pop music genius. Moving, funny, sophisticated, absurd, tender. A night for the soul as well as the dancing shoes.
© Andy Daly 2010
Once upon a time, I was up in Camden Town at the Dublin Castle to meet some friends who had come down from the North for a spell in the smoke. We had a couple of beers together, before they had to shoot off to meet another party: I think, to go boozing up Highgate/Hampstead. I didn’t fancy it, so I went off down Parkway, towards the tube; as it was early, probably intending to head for home (Bromley-by Bow) and finish off in the Priory Tavern.
At the time, on Parkway, just below the Dublin Castle, was a no-frills English restaurant – I think also called ‘Parkway’. We used it a lot. They used to do a great all – week – round Sunday roast, and we’d often end up there for some nosebag if we’d been ‘getting the taste’ in Camden.
As I walked past the restaurant, I instinctively looked in the main window – I think I was a bit peckish and was half hoping that there might be someone in there I knew, who I could go join neck some scran. Well, whaddaya know, sitting at the window table: it’s only my best mate Aky and his girlfriend. I wave and grin like an idiot. Something approaching a smile briefly flutters across her lips, then her face hardens as she realises the possible implications of my sudden appearance (ie no more cosy meal for two) Aky, meanwhile is oblivious to this as he’s taking a big slug out of a pint glass and doesn’t see me. I do the honourable thing and walk on. However, he must have spotted something, or his girlfriend given something away, because he’s soon calling me from the restaurant door. I walk back up to and into the restaurant, ask for a third seat and join them; stressing that I do not wish to disrupt their evening together. While Aky says “Noooo, the more the merrier. Listen, we’ve just this minute ordered, what are you having?” his girlfriend’s eyes are suggesting that whatever it is, I enjoy it, because if she’s got any say in the matter, it will be the last meal I have.
“The usual, I reckon” That was roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roasties, two veg and gravy. “Yeah. Me too” says Aky.
So we order some beers and presently the food arrives. It is politely and efficiently served and we get stuck in. Aky, a real ‘trencherman’ is first to finish, wrapping up the proceedings by draining the dregs of his pint, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and giving me his familiar beery grin. I’m not far behind him, but I’m more in the skinny git with hollow legs mould.
“Ahhhhh …” I said, contentedly: “Y’know what … I could eat that all again”
“Why don’t we?” says Aky, mischievous glint in his eye. His girlfriend is horrified.
We call over the waitress.
“Can we have it all again. Just the same, one each, all over again.”
She didn’t seem to understand: “What? Was there something wrong with it?”
In the meantime, the head waitress had appeared. She seemed braced for trouble:
“Is there a problem?”
“No, not at all, we enjoyed it so much, we just want the same again, if that’s OK”
… and so off we went again! Everything was polished off, and I do believe we even – much to Aky’s girlfriend’s annoyance – had a pudding too!
A great night. If I tried it now, of course, I’d be crippled for days!
Andy Daly 2010
We were at the dinner table one evening, talking school with the boys. Thankfully, this has always been a thoroughly pleasurable experience: They do like to talk about school especially since they have both been at secondary – they tend to ‘bounce’ stories off each other. Occasionally, you get some utter gems, such as this one.
Ian told us this about his Year 9 Science teacher ‘Miss Houston’. Miss seems a bit dizzy from what he’s already told us. You get the feeling that she’s not really fully in control. She is Greek, apparently, talks in a high-pitched singy-songy voice, and asks the kids “Houston gotta problem?” (As in Houston, Texas, Mission Control: “Houston we gotta problem”) when she thinks they are stuck.
Well, it comes about it’s a hot, tedious afternoon, almost time for home, but that bell is just far enough away to make it feel like an eternity. They are studying human reproduction and are labelling diagrams in their books as she points out for them the various key features. They are scribbling away with the parts of the male reproductive system. They get to ‘Scrotum’ which she points out on the diagram and as they continue to write, heads down, suddenly, and to no-one in particular, she announces:
“Ahhh! ‘Scrotum’ I love the way it rolls off your tongue!”
(I swear this is true: we had the tale independently verified…)
The kids carried on writing, then it slowly began to dawn on…. first one or two…then a few more: what she had actually said. However, because of the directness with which she said it, coupled with the fact that the import of what she had actually said had only slowly made itself apparent to the class, right at the very end, there wasn’t a big fuss over it in the lesson. Many of them were packing away or had left the class, before someone or other said “Did she really say what I think she said?”
Well, after I’d recovered my composure (it was one of those cases where eventually you get to laughing at other people laughing. and Ian’s laugh is the most infectious ever..Oh God , I was in bulk…) Well, I was horrified and impressed in equal measure. Ian had, in fact already told my wife in the car after she’d picked him and James up. She nearly went off the road in hysterics, James thought she was having a fit, she eventually pulled up.
Well, as we got to hear more and more stories about her it became clear it was completely in character. Ian chose Chemistry, her subject (however not necessarily because of her, though I will strongly encourage James to do so….) For example, she taught them about the ‘Bonding’ of atoms, by getting people from the class to act out scenes from a nightclub where each participant was an atom, the majority of who were out for a few drinks and a laugh, but basically to bond with another. Then there were one or two ‘kinky’ ones who wanted to bond in twos and threes! I began to wonder. Is she a dizzy, daft old moo who doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going, or is she (and this is where my money was going) actually a very canny teacher who was using language, key words, vingettes, play-acting, kinaesthetic learning to make it fun, interesting and easy to remember.
I finally met her at his year 11 parents’ evening and we had such a laugh at Ian’s expense (she didn’t know I was a teacher and I didn’t let on) but we were on the same wavelength immediately. Ian will never have any trouble remembering, or explaining what ‘bonding’ is or how it works.
One very cool (if still slightly dotty) lady.
© Andy Daly 2010
This was a band formed from staff at the last school I worked at and in which I played bass – namely an exquisite, if battered natural (‘Butterscotch’) 1973 Fender Precision. Our main rivals were the 6th Form band at the time (I guess it was 1999 or thereabouts) who subsequently stuck at the music and now make up 66.6% of chart band ‘Scouting for Girls’
To be able to outplay/out perform them when it came to school concerts was one of the things that prompted us to get out and about and play ‘real’ gigs. Our first live appearance was at Eastcote Hockey club in Middlesex, A ramshackle late ’60s early 70’s affair which sported a mass of corridors and a labyrinthine collection of passages.
Russ our, guitarist, discovered these and was soon able to navigate most of the hockey club – in the dark In fact, most of the exits opened out into the changing rooms which were our green Rooms – Lovely! a pungent mix of mud, Deep Heat, sweat, lager and stale farts.
Well, to cut a long story short… Russ decided to go ‘walkabout’ for one of his guitar solos, using his ‘wireless’ guitar lead. He’d planned his route: Main Bar, Gent’s toilets (!) playing all the time, from there he was to go through the juniors’ changing room and up on to the back of the stage – except that on the night, one of the doors was locked so he had to go back. Meanwhile, as we continued to play on stage, no idea where he was, his guitar lead began to pick up the local cab service signal, the Police waveband, Heathrow Air Traffic Control and a Turkish Radio programme. He finally made it back after we had played 47 choruses of Oasis’ “Some Might Say” and ordered everyone’s taxis home for the night – A European record.
We were called the Crabs and actually played four weddings and a funeral (Well, not quite a funeral, it was a memorial service for a fellow member of staff who had died of Cancer.) We were asked to play something appropriate. (So that was ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’ out f the running) I suggested “With or Without You” by U2. It was very moving, definately the hardest gig I’ve ever done. In fact, Roy now lead singer with ‘Scouting For Girls’ Gave the speech.
© Andy Daly 2010.
Once upon a long time ago me and My Best Mate Aky entered the Scawfell
hotel, Seascale, West Cumbria (aged 19 and ¾ ) at about 10:00pm one evening. The pub was then run by a local ‘entrepreneur’ (ie Layabout/small time crook) called Joe Smith.
He had a wife who seemed to model herself on a mixture of Zsa Zsa Gabor and
Joan Collins, swanning from bar to lounge , carrying her stupid poodle and
bestowing her conversational benediction on her adoring audience (ie. her
foul-mouthed tales and bitchy gossip) Never fond of hard work, hubby Joe is
behind the bar ‘supervising’ clearly inexperienced (or inefficient) bar
Well, as me and Aky wait patiently at the public bar, nervously twitching
and eyeing the clock – remember, these were the days of a strict regime of
‘last orders’ at 10:30, out by 10:45 (11:00 on Friday/Saturday) unless of
course you were a local ‘entrepreneur’ or member of the constabulary,
in which case, ‘last orders’ was anywhere between 01:30 to 03:00am. The bar was busy, the number waiting to be served increasing all the
time. Reluctantly, poor old Joe dives into the fray as the clamour for
drinks reaches fever pitch and proves as feckless as his dopey teenage
barstaff. It’s close to 10:20 now, and already two people, have been served
before us. Aky and me are thinking the same: What can we order, when he
(finally) come to us, that will really fuck things up for him? ‘4 pints of
Guinness: 2 each?’ I suggest ‘Make it six’ says Aky. Well, you know how L – O
– N – G it takes to pour…… Joe’s face is a picture ‘Six pints of Guinness?!’
he repeats. You can see he’s on the verge of refusing to serve us. So at
last orders, 10:30 on the dot with 2 packed bars of drinkers waiting to be
served we watch with glee as he attempts to cope with our order. Wonderful!
Only one problem remaining….Well there wasn’t a problem with the first two
for me but I must admit, the third in 15 minutes was a bit of a struggle. Of
course ‘The Fish’ Atkinson, just glugged them all one by one; the downing of
the final dregs of each followed a wiping of his mouth with the back of his
hand and his familiar beery grin. What a laugh!
God, when I think how much I used to drink then…………….
© Andy Daly 2010
Once upon a time my Dad went to a service at Lancaster cathedral, where they happened to be renovating the doors. The congregation was swelled by a group of Spanish tourists from San Sebastian (in the Northern Basque territory) One of the priests is an ex-pupil and they were chatting watching people leave through the only available door, result of the works. The priest had noticed that the Spanish group had managed to clog the door as they filtered out, still taking photos.
A dry as you like, he says “That’s what you get when you put all your Basques in one exit!”
© Andy Daly 2010