BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Sunday, October 23, 2005

MEAN TIME: A stroll around Greenwich

Tom eating whilst admiring the capitalist beauty of Canary Wharf
After 3 hours kip, it was back up again. The fact that I had not started drinking till about 11pm meant that I was actually quite fresh, despite the late night. John went to open up his shop, then after a cup of coffee with Jackie it was off out to show my anarcho companions around Greenwich.

John is originally from Blaina, but has lived in Greenwich for 26 years. I could spend hours telling you about him, but I wont, it is my blog not his. I will say though that he runs a cracking little classic clothing shop, The Emporium, on Creek Road, Greenwich. I have been visiting him and staying with him for more years than I can remember, which means I have come to know Greenwich quite well.

Until a few years ago I would have described Greenwich as a hidden gem, cool and trendy, but friendly and ‘proper’ Eastend. There is the Cutty Sark, The Naval College, The Maritime Museum, The Observatory, a cracking park, some excellent pubs and a cool craft market. It is also famous, obviously, for the fact that it is the theoretical border between the east and west hemispheres and time through out the world is based on the time in Greenwich; a legacy of its former naval importance.

Then came the farce that was the Millennium D*me. With the D*me came the Docklands Light Railway, which has been a mixed blessing. Until the DLR, getting to Greenwich by public transport was a bit of a pain, and the only way to cross the river for several miles was the Greenwich foot tunnel. The DLR now means tourists and the yuppies working in Canary Wharf can get to Greenwich within minutes. As a result, business is good for the shops (including John’s), the market and the pubs; as a result prices have gone up, big business has moved in, local businesses have closed down, hotel chains have moved in and the area has somewhat lost its charm. That said, it is still a lot better than many other areas of London I can think of.

We set off on our mini tour and we soon started to develop a theme. Food. Tom seemed to be on a mission to eat everything vegan in town, luckily for him there were some nice little stalls in the various markets serving up vegan delights. We wandered around the craft market, then over to John’s shop.

John was busy out back and I had a chat with his assistant Paris (apparently he was on Fame Academy last year and for a while was drawing fawning young girls to the shop). John has had several minor celebrities working for him, including the son of Chris Difford (Squeeze); and numerous famous customers including Noel Gallagher, Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear), Kyle Minogue (who got checked out by Jackie’s late mum for eating chips in the shop) and most of the members of the Top Cats.

After a chat with John we took a brisk walk up to the observatory to clear the cobwebs and scan the views over London (and in Toms case, eat more food), then eventually we headed back to Wales. The weekend turned out better than expected, as Tom put it, “we fell on our feet there son!”

OLD PUNX NEVER DIE: They just stand at the back with a camera

After the fun and games at Whetherspoons, we jumped in the car and headed south of the river in search of the 4th Okupational Hazard Squatfest. All the flyer said was South London, and a phone number to ring after 8:30pm. By 8:30 we were south of the river, but the hotline merely stated “we are running a bit late, ring back after 10:30”. A mate from the festival scene I had bumped into at the Bookfair, said the word around the campfire was that Deptford was the place to be, so Deptford bound we were.

On reaching Deptford, there was still no help from the hotline, so we nipped into Greenwich, which is next to Deptford, to say hello to me mates John and Jackie.

I hate dropping in on John and Jackie unannounced, but as we were only a mile from their house it would have been rude not to! As we sat in their house catching up on things, like their trip to Italy (they had only been back a few hours) and the ins and outs of Blackwood social scene, we received a text from someone we knew that was involved in the Squatfest giving directions. A quick check of John’s local knowledge revealed that the party was less than a mile from his house. At this point, the plan was go to party, boogie till I could take no more and then drive home. On hearing how close it was, Jackie asked us to stay and John decided he was coming with us, it was after all his birthday!!!!

The ginger beer was promptly dumped and cider swallowing commenced, then it was a quick stroll up the road to the disused factory that was home to Okupational Hazard. We got there about 11:30 and word had already spread with about 1,000 already in and queues starting to form.

A quick recky revealed a building that looked like it had not long been ‘cracked’ with PAs still being set up. Downstairs was going to be punk central, 1st floor was the bar and a live drum ‘n bass thing going down and the top floor was chill out/acoustic.

After hanging around ‘the bar’ for a while we went down stairs to find a decent place to settle down for a marathon session of 21stcentury punkorama. It is a long time since i have seen so many punks in one place in the UK, it was like the '90s (and half the '80s) never happened.

No-one seemed to know what was going on, even the bands. I had a chat with old mates P.A.I.N., who have done about 5 Peppermint Iguana gigs for us in Wales; they were pissed and all they knew was that they would be on sometime between 5am and 7am.

At about 2am the first band, Dread Messiah, hit the stage. I had not seen them before and was quite impressed. Even John, who to be honest is more funk than punk, was rockin’. After Messiah, John was in full punk mode and bought himself a ‘Penis Lickers’ t-shirt, simply because he liked the name of the band. After some all girl noise merchants, whose name I never found out, John decided he could not wait all night to see PAIN, so headed off home. Just as well, ‘cos Chris and Ellie had gone out for fresh air and could not get back in.

At about 5ish, after blistering sets from Inner Terrestrials, The Restarts and some other band, it was announced that Flat Pig would be next. The party was showing no signs of calming down and there were still a couple of hundred queuing to get in. Although I was still feeling frisky and we had not yet seen PAIN or Headjam, the fact that I had to drive home at some point was in the back of my head so Tom and I reluctantly made our way back to the ranch… slightly pissed, slightly stoned, slightly deaf, but full of punky happiness.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

BOOKWORMS TURN: Met heavy handidness causes mini riot

Following the Bookfair, we (we now including two strays from the Cardiff Anarchist Network we had picked up) headed off to the nearest pub. The nearest pub was a Whetherspoons pub which, as you probably know, is a chain that does not allow music in any of its pubs. Some of those from the book fair had the radical idea of playing some music in the pub…. Outrageous I know, but this innocent little act kicked off a mini riot.

A few bods gathered in the middle of the pub and assembled a mini sound system and when they were ready, they pumped up the volume and started dancing. It was not exactly a block rockin’ sound system, but it p*ssed the bar staff off big time. After a few minor attempts to shut the system off the management decided to shut the bar, thus p*ssing off everyone in the pub, including the Arsenal fans that were having a post match drink (I don’t know how Arsenal got off, but I know they did not win 6:1!).

After a while, the forces of law and order arrived outside. The cheesy quavers that had set up the ‘sound system’, happily turned it off, stuffed the various bits in their pockets and started to disperse. This really should have been the end of it all.

The Blue Meanies had a different view on things and decided to nick someone with a bit of the sound system in their hand. Not a clever thing to do outside a pub full of people whose raison d’etre is to challenge authority. Reinforcements soon arrived, first in patrol cars, then in vans. Within fifteen minutes the riot shields were out and the Met’s Forward ‘Intelligence’ Team had arrived. The street was closed and for half an hour madness reigned, all because someone dared to play music in a Whethersp**ns. If they had sent a couple of bobbies to wag fingers at the naughty kids it would have all gone un noticed, but they juts had to nick someone. When will they learn?

I have no idea what was going through the heads of those that set up the music, maybe it was just a laugh or maybe it was some sort of radical Reclaim the Pubs type thing. What it did achieve was a small dent in the pocket of JD Whetherspoon, not a world changing action, not particularly big or clever, but satisfying in its own little way.

A BOOK IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A RIFLE: But it does help sharpen one's aim!

The weekend started with a drive up to London for the 22nd Annual London Anarchist Bookfair. The event, as you would imagine, involves lots of stalls selling… you guessed.. books, magazines pamphlets etc all with an anarchist theme. The event gets bigger every year, attracting around 4,000 people throughout the day.

Originally there were 5 of us going but on the day it was down to just two of us, me and me mate Tom from Newport. We cruised along and managed to find the venue without any wrong turnings and very little reference to the A-Z. This year the venue was a resource centre in Holborn, North London, near Arsenal’s Ground. It was by far the most modern venue of any of the Bookfairs I have been to.

There were three large rooms set aside for bookstalls, stalls covered just about every aspect of Anarchism; Confrontational (Class War), theoretical (Aufheben), grass roots housing co-op type stuff (Radical Routes), international (various international groups), local (Bristle and Norwich Anarchists), big(ish) dealers (AK Press) and stalls selling one particular magazine (SchNews/Black Flag). On top of that you had everything from animal rights and anarcho feminists to ‘anarchists in social work’ and much more.

Within and hour or so I had spent more than the ‘limit’ I had set for myself, on CDs, Books, Magazines, Pamphlets and DVDs, so I headed off for one of the numerous meetings going on. I went to ‘Where next after the G8?’; a meeting called by members of the Dissent Network. It proved to be a good opportunity to meet up with loads of old friends from the network from all over the country, but to be honest this was about the tenth meeting entitled ‘Where next after the G8?’ and as yet none of the meetings have come up with an answer. There did seem to be plans for a ‘consulter’ (Zapatista speak for conference) next February, which will hopefully finally come up with an answer of some sort, or at least something that we can work with for a year or so.

Whilst walking from one meeting to another, I got a text telling me City had slammed 6 in against Crewe Alexander, winning 6:1. I had to make a call to make sure it was true. It was. Nice one. A pleasant end to a pleasant afternoon.

Friday, October 21, 2005

CALM BEFORE THE CHAOS: couple of unremarkable days before weekend of anarchy

Nothing particularly eventful for a couple of days, I suppose the most memorable thing was going out to the car in the morning and finding a sheep by my car. Although there are lots of sheep in the valleys, there aren’t any near Iguana HQ, so it must have walked miles.

What else been happening? Well, been to my union branch committee, got landed with two disciplinary cases to deal with, and dealt with some flooding.

The highlight though was taking the iguana kids out for a meal on Thursday night. I had offered all sorts of lovely restaurants, but in the end I gave in and took them to Pi*za H*t. Not sure why they call it fast food, we were hanging around for ages and eventually walked out without desert ‘cos we were fed up of waiting. We went to the Cwmbran H*t, a charming little place in the middle of town, on a clear day you can see the A*da on the other side of the car park. This sounds like it was all dreadful, but I was with me gals, so it was great.

The reason I went to see them mid week is because I will not be able to see them again this weekend, I am off to London Tomorrow, for the London Anarchist Bookfair, then on to a squat party in the night.

To hear MP3s from some of the bands playing and pretend you are there with me, click on the links below, turn the volume up and tip cider all over yourself.

Dead Silence: Suicide Bomber
Head Jam: Ten Floors
Inner terrestrials: Movin Song
The Resarts: Genetic Code
Subsource: Skunk Burner
The Short Bus Window Lickers: Fuck Knows Maniac
Barba Luck: 101 girls

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

CITY 2 PRESTON 2: Frustrating end to exciting game

Went up market last night, watched the City from my mates seat in the Grandstand, he could not make it so he gave me his season ticket for the game against Preston North End. Fairplay, he has one of the best views in the ground, smack on the half way line, if the line were extended it would run between his legs. Possibly the best view of any game I have ever been to!

The draw back is that it is the Grandstand, a section of the ground not renowned for its atmosphere. No singing, no shouting, not even any swearing.

This was only the third time I have ever sat in the grandstand. The first time was Rotherham United in 1973, one of only two games I ever attended with me dad. The other game I attended with me dad was the first game of the 1973/74 season, City V Sunderland. At the time I was young and foolish and supported Leeds United, my dad thought it would be a treat for me to see the team that had just beat Leeds in the 1973 FA cup final. Actually that Sunderland game was the only time I ever sat in the Canton Stand.

Anyway, last night. As far as I could tell, it did not stop raining at all throughout the entire game. I was quite impressed that the pitch did not cut up. It was quite an exciting game, end to end for most of the 90 minutes. City went one nil up with a bit of a scrambled goal after a botched free kick, Joe Ledley getting his name on the score sheet. They held that lead for quite a while, but Preston managed to equalise. City went in front again with a cracking Jason Koumas free kick (the picture at the top of this post), but Preston managed to scramble back an equaliser in the 90th minute.

There must have been four corners and two free kicks, all in City's favour, in injury time, but despite the manic last five minutes, we only came away with the one point. No matter, that one point took us up to 8th place with a game in hand, better than at any time last season before we had to sell off our 'star' players. The guy on the radio announced that if we had won we would have been up to the play off places... frightening, this current team would get torn to shreds in the Premiership.

Then out into the never ending rain to meet up with Nipper and the rest of the riff raff from the bob bank for a lift home. All in all, not a bad way to spend a wet Tuesday evening.

Picture... if you look carefully you can see the ball streaking into the net following being wallopped by Jason Koumas

Sunday, October 16, 2005

GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN SAVED MY LIFE: A nonsensical CD makes me smile and raises me morale

I did the interview thang in Bristle, and then headed straight back to Newport for my union ‘Policy Weekend’. I had not planned on facilitating any workshops, but at the last minute I was asked to facilitate a workshop, with 5 minutes to prepare, without really knowing much about the subject. Then two minutes later I got the news that I did not get the job. Needless to say, as the workshop started my head was in a shed for a while.

I pulled myself together though and battled my way through it, coming out ok at the other end of the workshop. I ran the same workshop in the afternoon and it went much better.

In the evening there was a live band laid on after dinner. I did not bother, I guessed (correctly) that it would be a covers band and rather than sit there moaning I decided to sit in the bar. At first I was buying drinks in the bar, but at £3 a pint I soon found myself wandering back and fore my room to fill my glass from the cans I had there. Eventually I decided to just sit in my room and drink there and chill out. I had planned on going back to see a bit of the band but never got around to it.

My chilled out evening paid off, most others had heads like buckets in the morning. After some report backs from the workshops it was time for home and to listen to the new Goldie Looking Chain CD I picked up in Bristol. I thought it might be an anti-climax after the first 'propper' album (they released several unofficial bootlegs prior to the first album), but it is just as good and there were one or two moments that had me in stitches.

I must sort tickets for their Blackwood gig before they sell out.

Knows the score, smokes the draw, listen's to 'ardcore... you knows it!

The weekend was too crap to photograph, so the above picture is of those darlin's of the 'Port.. Glodie Lookin Chain

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Where’s Uncle Clint gone? Not had time to blog the last few nights. I have an interview in Bristol in the morning and have had to prepare a presentation as part of the process.

This has involved me brushing up on my project management techniques, going to visit a mate for some advice and teaching myself PowerPoint.

I don’t really need PowerPoint, they have made it quite clear that they are interested in my organising skills rather than my IT skills, but after a quick mess about with PowerPoint it was evident that it is a piece of p*ss to use and I wanted to use it instead of overheads and/or flip charts. I had to hold my self back from all the bells and whistles, i.e. the sound effects and animations, I am sure they would be a distraction.

This preparation meant that I had to miss out on going to watch Wales beat Azerbaijan two nil in the Millennium Stadium.

My football will also be interfered with over the weekend. I have to attend a three day long union committee meeting which rules out me going to Brighton for the weekend to watch the Bluebirds fly. I should not complain too much, I will be tucked up in a hotel, full board, with all expenses paid except the little matter of beer money… but there will be expenses that go some way towards cover that as well! It’s a hard life.

Anyway, I am now going to jump in the bath with me Ewan McGregor book and try to forget about S.M.A.R.T. targets, and Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for half an hour.

Picture, random shot of a steep valleys street taken by myself today

Monday, October 10, 2005

SHOW RACISM THE RED CARD: Launch event for 2005 Welsh DVD

left to right: Unknown blonde, Danny Gabidon, Robert Earnshaw, James 'The Ginger Monster' Collins.
This afternoon I went along to the ever so slightly posh Vale Of Glamorgan Hotel for the launch of a DVD for Show Racism The Red Card.

The hotel is temporarily the base of the Welsh international football team, as they hang out waiting for the World Cup (NOT) qualifying game against Azerbaijan on Wednesday. As I walked into the reception, three internationals, Danny Gabidon, Robert Earnshaw and James Collins, all ex Cardiff City players, were being mobbed by kids for autographs. It was nice to see the three of them together, they were part of the team that dragged Cardiff City from the bottom of the league up into the Championship (in old money that’s from the 4th Division up to the 2nd Division.. why do they have to mess with these things all the bloody time?), but they all got sold off last year when the club suddenly found itself a little bit strapped for cash. Earnie is now with West Bromwich Albion in the Premiership (the old 1st Divison) while Gabby and The Ginger Monster are now both with West Ham, also in the Premiership.

I then made my way upstairs to the room where the launch was taking place. The event kicked off with a screening of the DVD then kids from some local schools we given an opportunity to ask questions of a host of internationals who are so famous I cannot remember their names, except for Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, probably the biggest name on the Welsh team. John Tosahck sat back and let his boys get on with it.

The kids all seemed to be asking the same question without realising it (bless ‘em), which was basically “have you ever been a victim of racism” asked about ten different ways. There were a number of players giving their answer, including Giggs, who although he looks white comes from a mixed race background. Most of the answers were pretty predictable until one of the lads recalled the schoolyard and giving racists a bit of a slap. It was pointed out to the kids that this was good advice, but sadly this is sometimes overlooked in our politically correct society.

Show Racism The Red Card are doing some good work with schools and these high profile events are good to raise awareness among kids but there was a little bit of me that was thinking that all this black slapping is all well and good but at the end of the day it is on the terraces where the work needs to be done.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A PINT WITH LARRY LOVE: Interviewing the Alabama 3 frontman for Peppermint Iguana

Last Night the Artist Formerly known as Ginger John and I headed down to Newport for an evening of Acid Country; meeting up with the Alabama 3 to do an interview for Peppermint Iguana, then to check the band out live in the Newport City live Arena.

We arrived at the appointed time at the venue but were refused admission by the jobsworth bouncer until the doors officially opened. So we headed off to the Riverside for a swift pint.

I sent a text to the tour manager, Pablo, to let him know we were having a pint and he rang back to say that if we went to the Ivy Bush for a pint we would find him and Larry Love having a pint and we could do the interview there and then.

So we swiftly polished off our drinks and strolled down to the Ivy Bush. As we walked down I said to John “I hope they are wearing cowboy hats, otherwise I will never recognise them”. When we walked into the bar, sat in the corner was a dude with a joe boxer cap and sunglasses, with another guy with dreadlocks. A swift look around the pub led me to the conclusion that that must be Pablo and Larry Love. I walked up to Mr Dreadlocks and asked, “Are you Pablo?” He looked at me in amazement, “Are you Clint? How did you know who I was?” I told him if he had look around he would see that there was no-one else in the bar that looked as if they could possibly be in an outlaw acid country band.

When I sat down Larry was convinced he had met me before. This may be the case, I once had a very drunken conversation with him backstage at the J-Day Cannabis Festival in Brockwell Park, Brixton; but I doubt very much he remembers that (until John reminded me I had forgotten). Also, although being called the Alabama 3, it is fairly well known they are from Brixton, but slightly less well known is the fact that Larry love (real name Rob Sprag) was originally from Merthyr Tydfil. Although living in London, he comes back to Cardiff regularly and performs DJ sets as ‘The Alabama 3 Sound System’ and is very friendly with my mates Captain Paranoid and the Delusions, so our paths may have crossed at one of those gigs, but to be honest I don’t really recall knowingly talking to him.

After brief introductions the Dictaphone was switched on and we got down to business. Sometimes interviews can be hard work, I ask a question and the interviewee answers, but Larry love was perfect, asking a question was just a trigger to get him rambling on and he gave me loads of material to write up. He is both charming and witty, and we had quite a laugh. One thing that amazed me was his ability to keep up a fake American accent, apart from a few deliberate slips, for the entire conversation.

A mate of his arrived and somehow the converation came around to tattoos. His mate showed us his tattoo of a green 'Tweety Pie', he explained that the tattoo guy had run out of yellow ink so he had to have it done in green, but he had a discount.

After the tape was switched off we chatted for a while and it turns out we have several mutual acquaintances, other Merthyr ‘ex-pats’ now living in London and New York. Our chat was cut short by him having to head back to the venue. As soon as he was gone the management started setting up a karaoke where he had been sat, so we made a move shortly after.

This was the first time I had been to the Newport City Live Arena. I was quite impressed, it is a fairly new venue and is still looking quite fresh, it was formerly an Odeon cinema and there are hints of art décor about the place. It is a nice size; it would probably hold about 500 people, not much more. Big enough to attract ‘name’ bands but not so big to be impersonal.

The crowd was quite ‘mature’ and the evening turned out to be one of those nights when you bump into loads of people you have not seen for years, which made up for the fact that I was driving and unable to drink.

When the band eventually hit the stage they played a blinder. All stops were pulled out for the theatrical entrance, the band slowly coming on one at a time until eventually Mr Larry love himself entered the stage, complete with a carved skull on a stick. They pumped out all the ‘classics’ from the early albums, throwing in the best bits from the new album Outlaw, pumping up the techno elements to get the crowd bouncing. There was a long pause for dramatic effect before they came on for an encore of ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ and ‘Mao Tse Tung Said’. Awesome.

Anyway, I had better get on with typing up the interview and sort out this bloody Iguana website!

Photo: Larry Love (sat down) and bass player Segs (formerly of the legendary RUTS)

For more on the Alabama 3, check out

Saturday, October 08, 2005

A RAINY DAY ON THE BEACH: Southerndown with Tara and me camera.

Although winter has not yet arrived, the summer is most definitely over. But despite the fact that it was hammering with rain, I decided to take Tara Iguana to the beach today. We drove down to Southerndown, just east of Ogmore by Sea.

The journey was quite nostalgic; driving through Bridgend reminded me of the times I have made that journey to go to Bridgend College. I did two TUC Health and Safety courses, a NEBOSH Health and Safety Certificate, and started a degree.

When I say ‘started’ a degree, I suppose I mean I got a Certificate of Higher Education. I had originally started a course in Labour Studies through the TUC, at Bridgend College, franchised from University College of Wales Newport. The plan was that after two years we would be awarded a Certificate of Higher Education, then after 4 years we would get a degree.

The course was perfect for me; it covered politics, sociology, trade union studies and much more. It was all evening study, so I did not have to take time off work. Unfortunately, by the end of the second year there were only three of us that had lasted the distance, and one of them was now doing the course on a distant learning basis from prison! The university then turned around and said that they would not continue to run a degree for three students and unceremoniously pulled the plug on us. None of us were in it for a certificate, we all wanted a degree and we all felt sold out. If we had known we were not going to go the distance we might not have started the course in the first place (although on reflection I am glad I did, I thouroghly enjoyed it an learnt a hell of a lot). I now have credits I can take on to another course, but I am struggling to find one that does not involve taking time off work.

Anyway… after driving through Bridgend we made our way through the winding lanes that eventually take you down to the beach at Southerndown. I like beaches like this, there is a car park, a toilet and a lifeguards office and very little else. We met up with my friend Squirrel with her two kids, parking next to her car and talking through the windows of our cars to avoid getting out of the cars and getting wet.

Eventually I bit the bullet and got out of the car and went for a little walk in the rain, leaving Tara with Squirrel. I wandered out across the rocks, this part of the coast is legendary for its geology, there are some incredible rock formations here and in the summer I have spent many an hour walking across the rocks with the girls checking out the rock pools looking for crabs.

I started snapping photographs of the waves crashing against the rocks in the rain. Initially I used colour but as the weather was so grey and colourless I decided to switch to black and white. When I reviewed the pictures I could not tell the difference, proof of how grey the day was.

After the walk along the beach we all got umbrellas out and wandered up along the cliff top path to check out the views, getting thoroughly soaked in the process. I managed to get a few decent photographs, but again the mist was a hindrance, and eventually I had to give up because the lens was covered in rain.

Then, back to the car and home to dry out. Despite the weather I had a great time, it reminded me of one of my favourite sayings “there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”.

To veiw a selection of the photographs CLICK HERE

Thursday, October 06, 2005

BRECON TO MERTHYR: Taking a few photos on the way back from Builth Wells

Today was rather mundane, other than the fact that I had to go to Mid Wales for a union meeting. On the way back I stopped off to take a few photographs, the road between Brecon and Merthyr is a veritable goldmine of views for the photographer.

Storey arms to Brecon is one of the most picturesque journeys in South Wales, as you come over the brow at Storey Arms you are greeted by the vista of the Brecon Beacons set out before you. Unfortunately there was quite a heavy mist down which, despite being quite beautiful in its own way, is not much use for photography.

Storey Arms to Merthyr presents you with the sight of a collection of reservoirs, supplying water to the valleys and Cardiff itself. Again the mist was a bit of a hindrance.

I took a few snaps, but decided that in the near future I shall return on a clear day and spend a bit more time to get some decent photographs.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

MARK THOMAS INTERVIEW: A chat with the Mark on the balcony of the Green Room in Newport Riverfront.

Today was quite a busy day, which, among other things, included me interviewing activist/comedian Mark Thomas.

The day started off with me being in Court in Swansea as an expert witness as part of my job. When I got back to the office I discovered that I have been short listed for another job, so have an interview next week; when I got home I discovered that the Alabama 3 had agreed to an interview on Saturday and the CDs I had ordered from Words of Warning had arrived (as I sit here typing this I am listening to Bender’s last City of Dalston).

We arrived at Newport Riverfront at roughly the time Mark was expecting to arrive, but needless to say he was running behind schedule. “A nightmare journey out of London” I was later to find out. So, together with me mate Squirrel, I wandered over to the Murringer, the oldest pub in Newport and a self styled ‘oasis of sanity in a sea of super pubs’.

As I walked into the Murringer, I noticed a sign on the door stating ‘No Burberry’. I thought this was a little odd, given that there were signed photos of local lads Goldie Lookin Chain on the wall. Now I may not like Burberry myself, but I would defend to the death peoples right to wear it; not tonight though, I just wanted a swift pint. As we sat there we were slowly joined by members of Gwent Anarchist Network. I knew they would be there because I knew they liked Mark Thomas and I knew that the Murringer is the only pub in the area that sells vegan beer. I don’t think Ansells Brewery set out specifically to make vegan beer, it just happened that way. Anyway, after a swift drink, back over to the Riverfront.

Mark had arrived while we had been over the pub, but had nipped out to the shop. ‘Yeah right’ I thought to myself, ‘he’s gone for a pint’, but after hanging around for about twenty minutes, he turned up with a bag of groceries, a French stick and bits and pieces to go with it. Obviously the Riverfront had not sorted out any food backstage. SHAME ON YOU THE RIVERFRONT!

Mark then led us through the auditorium, backstage and through a maze of corridors till we eventually arrived in ‘The Green Room’. Not sure why it was called the green room, there was nothing green about it. What it did have though was a balcony, which is where we conducted the interview so mark could have a cigarette.

Sometimes you see someone and know straightaway that they are going to be cool. My first impressions of Mark were spot on, in fact, if anything he was even nicer than he comes across on stage. Actually, I think I should explain that; I know several people who think he is a rude, angry, loudmouth; but I think because my politics and his are so close (or at least I think they are) I feel some sort of connectivity with him when he is on stage. Whatever, he was really cool and bent over backwards to accommodate us even though he had just had a “nightmare journey”, without food by the look of things, and as soon as he finished with us he had to get ready to go on stage.

I had prepared about a dozen questions but his answers were generally so comprehensive I did not have time to ask them all. I got more than enough material to write up the interview but I could have stayed there talking to him for another hour. Most of the questions were based on politics, we hardly touched on comedy. I felt we had to bring it to an end though, he obviously needed to get stuck into his baguette and do whatever comedians do before going on stage, solo group hug or whatever, not to mention the little matter of his mate Rob Newman starting his set.

He showed us the way back out and we sloped in to the auditorium a minute or so after rob had kicked off. Rob has a slightly different style to Mark. For starters, he came on dressed like a cross between a merchant banker and a teddy boy, wearing a pinstripe suit with a knee length jacket. You can tell Rob comes from a professional comedy background, with a taste for old skool music hall. Long complex stories that fall into place as he goes along with themes developing; well rehearsed (mostly) and slick. He has moved on from his days hanging out with David Baddiel, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis, his set is now far more political, which is why he is touring with Mark. He obviously knows his stuff, as his retelling of the origins of the First World War demonstrates; and his description of non-hierarchical anarcho syndicalist organisation brought a smile to my face as it clearly came from first hand knowledge and was pretty spot on.

Mark is obviously far less of a tart than Rob, strolling on stage in jeans, t-shirt and trainers. His material is far more contemporary, focusing on what is going on in the world today and tales of direct action by himself and his mates doing their bit to disrupt the goings on of World Domination PLC. So many subjects are thrown at you it is difficult to remember it all at the end, but I am sure he touched on human rights, war, ID cards, the arms industry, religion, 4x4 off roaders and much more; although I do not recall hime mentioning Coca Cola, a pet hate of his. Having seen Mark a few times over the last few years, some of the material was not new to me, but on the whole, this is a set of fresh stuff so it was well worth the trip.

A set by Mark is far more than comedy, it is educational as well and if you come away from one of his shows without being angry and determined to do something about what is going on around you, you are pretty soulless.

Later, as Mark and Rob were getting into their Toyota people carrier, Squirrel and I headed off to the Taste of Asia for a Vegetable Biriani to wind up a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

My photographic skills in the dark let me down so my pictures are not worthy of publishing, so once again, above we have something taken from

Monday, October 03, 2005

BLOGS, WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR? Getting my head around why i am writing this blog

I liked the sound of a blog, but was not sure if I had anything worth saying. So I just started typing whatever came into my head. A few weeks on, are things making any more sense?

Well, I think we are getting there.

A friend sent me a link to a recently published pamphlet on blogs, ‘Handbook For Bloggers, And Cyber-dissidents’ . This will answer all my questions I thought, I am a dissident and I have a blog, this must have been written for me! After reading this I felt quite depressed, there are an awful lot of Bloggers out there who are in the front line of journalism, giving first hand reports from the front line, getting news out to the world from places where reporters fear to tread. These are exciting, dangerous, informative, cutting edge blogs; presenting the world with new and important information. OK, so I went to the G8 protests earlier this year, and, erm…I go to lots of festivals and watch Cardiff City.. and… mmmmm. I was starting to think my blog is not worthy. Salam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger I aint.

I looked up blogs in the wikipedia , things looked a bit better, but not much. I think this ‘ere blog falls into the category of ‘Personal Blog’, which is fine… but not very radical or cool. I know a lot of people (millions) have personal blogs cluttering up cyberspace, but I don’t want to be just another one of them, I want to stand out from the crowd and be noticed, I want people to set my blog as their home page because they want to know what I have to say today. Or do I?

Last night while I sat reading my book, I had to put up with my kids watching ‘The X Factor’. A constant stream of talentless no-hopers, desperate to be famous because it is the only thing they have in life, a desire to be famous. Not making music or singing because they love music, but doing it to be famous. Sad. People should make music because they love making music, any fame should be incidental. Too be honest, I think fame is generally quite poisonous; very few people can cope with it.

By an amazing coincidence, last night a friend of mine, Neil, called in on his way home (living next to a railway station I regularly get people calling in on the way to somewhere else). He used to be in a band called Terris. They were a pretty good local band, a refreshing change from the usual Manic Street Sweepers wannabies. Then out of the blue they were on the front page of the NME. “It was the worst thing that could have happened” he told me last night, “left to our own devices we could have built up a nice little following and still be going now, but once the NME put us on that pedestal it all went down hill, everyone wanted to knock us off it”.

I am not suggesting that my blog is ever going to get me on the front of Wire magazine, but watching X Factor made me think. Fame has never been a factor in why I write things. So why am I writing this blog?

I had another revelation last night. I finished the book I had been reading, ‘DIY: The Rise Of Lo-fi Culture’ by Amy Spencer. It is a history of do it yourself culture, as in creating fanzines, self publishing, making your own records, setting up your own label and putting on your own gigs (as opposed to fitting you own kitchen). I love that sort of thing; it is all about creating things to please yourself, not other people; it is about sticking two fingers up to capitalism and the music/publishing industry and saying “we can do it ourselves and we can do it with more imagination and originality than you will ever have”. It is mixing the creativity of art with genuine rebellion. Reading books on the subject reminds me that I am not alone in the world and helps me see that there are thousands of others out there doing it themselves; and it inspires me when I read about some of the things other people are getting up to. I suppose writing a blog fits in with that DIY ethic, as the final sentence of Amy’s book puts it, “There has never been a greater need, or a better time, to enjoy independent culture, boycott the mainstream industries and produce something more interesting yourself”.

When I put down Amy Spencer’s book, I made myself a cup of Café Libertad, coffee grown by the Zapatista rebels in Mexico (more DIY), carefully unwrapped myself a bar of fair trade chocolate and sat down with my next book, ‘The Long Way Round’ by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

Over the last few years I have grown out of the habit of reading novels, I tend to read books with titles like ‘Demanding the Impossible’, ‘Web Of Deceit’ and ‘Rich Media, Poor Democracy’. All fascinating books, books that make me angry, motivate me, inspire me and educate me. I love this sort of book but apart from a few notable exceptions, they tend to be quite dry and soulless. Picking up ‘The Long Way Round’, reading the passion and personality that goes into a book like that (two friends riding around the world on motor bikes, just because they can) reminds me of a side of reading that is often absent in the sort of books I normally read, I suppose I would best describe it as prose. Just reading about how someone can remember their first ride on a motorbike, the sights, the sounds, the smells, reminds me of the beauty of the written word. I love the English language.

Yes, I want to write about radical sh*t, yes I want to shout from the rooftops about what is wrong with the world, yes I want to open peoples eyes to what is really going on, yes I want to tell people about incredible music they are missing out on. At the end of the day though, I just love writing.

I love writing in a factual and formal style that informs and educates, I love writing in a humorous and irreverent style that has people in stitches, I love just playing with words. Some times other people appreciate what I write, sometimes they don’t, but I don’t really care, cos I enjoy writing. I suppose the law of averages means that the more I write, the more chance there is of someone else appreciating what I write, but as mentioned earlier, that is a bonus, not the aim.

And in this process of writing, I often straighten things out in my head; if I am battling to work things out I find writing can help me get my head around things. But I rarely find myself motivated to write something just for myself, writing for ‘publication’ is quite a driver, even if I know my audience is limited.

So this is why I am writing this blog, to sort things out in my head and because I enjoy writing. The fact that this blog has a limited readership in neither here nor there, I enjoy it and that is enough.

Picture of Tara Iguana taken by me yesterday as she came out of a ‘pound shop’ in Pontypridd with new glasses.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S NOT CHRISTMAS! It aint, it's only the Labour Party conference.

Called into the supermarket today and saw the headline ‘A WIN FOR WORKERS RIGHTS’ on the front page of the Morning Star. “What’s all this?” I thought to myself, and then I noticed that there were trimmings, party poppers, selection boxes and advent calendars on sale. I twigged it… it must be Christmas!

Of course, it is not actually Christmas. They also have Halloween and bonfire night paraphernalia on sale, but it aint neither of them either. That’s not really relevant though, in the 21st century these occasions are just themes to use as a marketing ploy. I am not much of a ‘Christmas person’, but to me, starting to stuff Santa down your throat in September makes the whole experience even less enjoyable, by the time it comes around, it is extremely boring.

Anyway, what about this Morning Star headline? Well, it refers to the decision of the Labour Party Conference to repeal legislation that outlaws secondary picketing. This is something I might actually get excited about; it would be a very useful Christmas present. Unfortunately the 21st century Neo Labour Party does not have much of a track record on following through conference decisions that Tony Bliar and the CBI do not like. Conference has turned into something of a media event for the spin-doctors and as far as changing anything it has become something of an irrelevance. I am not TOO upset about this, I have come to the conclusion that parliament is an irrelevance anyway.

So, it aint Christmas after all, it is only September (what’s the time? .. make that October!). Bonfire night soon though…. Gunpowder, treason and plot, now there is something to celebrate!

Photo, flying pickets at Llanwern Steel Works during the 1984/5 miners strike, taken by Martin Shakeshaft