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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

COVENTRY CITY AWAY PART TWO: Fancy dress, disco dancing and beer.

Fascist B@astards ensure our safety

We set off nice and early. Sparky thought too early, but it was not until we left the pub that he realised it was a 1:30 kick off. I was in the front by default, we tried it with me in the back but the other two were crushed (being big has its advantages some times).

Being in front also means being DJ, so we headed north as fast as Val’s new car would take us (not very) listening to selected highlights from ‘The Songs Of Cardiff City’, ‘F@ck Bush Volume 2’ and the free ‘Birth of Punk’ CD from this months MOJO.

On arrival at Corley Services, the allocated voucher exchange point, we were greeted by a Cardiff City Steward who tried to persuade us that we would be best using the park and ride that had been hastily set up once the law realised we were all going by car. We politely told him ‘No thank you’. The voucher exchange was remarkably quick, because they realised there would be so many people travelling independently they seem to have given up on the idea of checking everyone’s membership cards. We watched the coaches arrive and watched the Old Bill search all the coaches and film everyone on board, all the more bizarre because they were the pop and crisps coaches and the people on them posed no threat whatsoever.

Despite all the scare stories about lack of parking, we quickly found a fee parking space within walking distance of the ground, and with very little hassle found ourselves a pub full of Bluebirds. We sat in the beer garden and had a few pints under the watchful eye of the West midlands mobile CCTV unit, then wandered down to the ground. We walked past numerous bits of waste ground and works car parks that were being used as makeshift ‘match day parking’ at half the price of the official parking, we even saw someone trying to sell space on his drive for a fiver!

Scooby Do joins in the half time disco
The ground is apparently very similar to the new one planned for Cardiff, a soul less construction built into a shopping centre. I hope it takes along time to build our new stadium, cos Ninian Park has far more character than this sanitised place.

Apparently you could buy tickets on the gate, which made a complete mockery of the voucher scheme!

With our usual impeccable timing we found our spot on just in time to watch kick off. It was a bit surreal, just in the seats around us were Captain Hook, Elvis Presley, Scooby do, a squadie from Rawkes Drift, a Russian sailor, a Hawaiian dancer, a giant chicken and a huge carton of milk.. and that was just within a 5 seat radius!

At half time there was an impromptu ‘disco’ in the bar area, with beer flying everywhere. Riot police stood to one side this time; Cardiff old bill keeping an eye on things and with their ‘local’ knowledge they could see that there was no threat. The local Bill were quite bemused by it all, especially when a nun led a conga line around the bar then up to the terraces.

Close, but no cigar. It's points that make prizes
City played well, but it’s points that make prizes so it was the 3:1 to Coventry score line that counted. At this stage of the season there was nothing at stake so it did not really matter, but it was annoying that Dennis Wise, the only footballer I have ever REALLY hated, managed to score against us.

Captain hook don't care waht the score is
One of the best things about supporting City is the atmosphere with the away crowds. Even though we lost 3:1, the 1,000 away contingent (numbers down because of the voucher farce) we sang, chanted and cheered all the way through, when we pulled back a goal to make it 1:1 we even managed to out-sing the 22,000 home fans. I love the way that even when the home fans are celebrating a goal, Cardiff fans are sing at the top of their voices in a defiant ‘we don’t care’ gesture.

Goodbye from koumas?
At the end the City team came over to say thank you to us, though it was a little bit worrying seeing Jason Koumas take his shirt into the crowd, almost with a ‘see you lads, I wont be here next season’ look in his eye.

After the game we walked back to the car, mingling with the Coventry fans, proving that the police precautions had been on the whole unnecessary. We did see a vanload of Coventry jump out and attack a father and his ten-year-old son, but the other city fans that were around chased them off. No one was hurt and it was over in seconds, apart from that I am not aware of any trouble to mar a great day out.

We then sped South to the sound of a Paul Murphy mix I had downloaded and a Kinetic Records compilation. The only thing about travelling by bus I missed was the fact that they have a toilet on them!


"You look like you're in a party mood, we'll put a stop to that, go over there and we will strip search you."

Last match of the season is always a bit of a party, even more so if it is away. Today was going to be no exception, even if the West Midlands Police were going to do their best to dampen it down.

Unfortunately, it is not really possible to go into the happenings of today without a bit of a history lesson, so here goes. Back about 5 years ago Cardiff had one of the worst, if THE not worst, reputations for football hooliganism (or best reputation, depending which way you look at things). Then along came the Valley R.A.M.s (Rhondda Aberdare Merthyr, also top sheep shag*rs) supporters club. The RAMS were far more liberal than the official supporters clubs in terms of what you could do on a bus, hence the official busses becoming known as the ‘Pop and Crisps’ crew and tending to be for families. The RAMS became so popular that very soon a lot of ‘lads’ who would previously never have been seen dead on an official coach started travelling with the RAMs and the RAMS quickly became bigger than the official supporters club. The whole set up was to the benefit of all concerned, the boys could get to a game without the hassle of changing trains or someone having to drive and still partake of some ‘refreshments’; the majority would be on the coaches so the police knew where everyone was and could get us in and out of the ground without conflict with the home fans; and the local community did not have to put up with hundreds of cars parked everywhere.

Despite the fact that the RAMs were doing the police a favour, increasingly those travelling by coach were getting a rough ride, not allowed to stop off at pubs, having to meet at an RV point, coaches being thoroughly searched, escorts away from the ground (on a couple of occasions all the way back to Cardiff!) and generally being treated like cattle.

Then there was Wolves away a couple of weeks ago. West Midlands police (WMP) decided that the famous Cardiff City would not be allowed to have a drink at half time. The city fans made a bit of a song and dance about it… literally! The WMP riot squad quickly moved in and battered those that had been singing and dancing in the bar area, pushing everyone out on to the terraces and causing chaos which delayed the second half of the game. Initially the media was full of ‘Soul Crew cause chaos at Wolves again’, but it soon became clear that just about everyone involved blamed the police, and an official investigation was set up.
Western Mail coverage
Police: 'We don't want City fans here again'
Mum-of-three: Police gave me a black eye
City fans demand reasons for match violence

On to the Coventry game, again to be policed by WMP. They had wanted to make it a ‘bubble’, whereby you have to go by coach and have to go where the police tell you, when they tell you and you get a voucher to be exchanged for you ticket on the coach, so if you do not go by coach, you do not get a ticket. This makes life difficult for all the fans that travel from other parts of the country to see City. On this occasion the club brokered a deal whereby you could travel however you wanted but you had to exchange a voucher for a ticket at a service station on the M6, which would make life difficult for those not coming via the M6 and did not have a car (train boys for instance). The RAMs did not think a lot of this deal, it was the worst of all worlds and benefited no-one. It did not help knowing that the police were going to search all the coaches and generally treat everyone like cattle.

A meeting of the RAMs was held and it was generally felt that the police had had enough help off us and to prove a point the RAMs would not run busses to the game, everyone would travel independently and in doing so avoid having the vehicle searched, would be able to have a drink on the way, stop wherever we wanted and generally have a good day.

The police were not happy, they now had a situation where they would not know where we were, we would be spread out and we would be drinking. Their plan to contain us had resulted in the potential for mass unrest, but it was all of their own doing.

Watch this space to find out how it went!

For official RAMs statement >click here<

Saturday, April 29, 2006

JUST CAN'T HELP MYSELF: CD hunting in Cardiff

Went to Cardiff today. I set myself a target, I was going to come home with Leafhoud’s re-issued ‘Growers of Mushrooms’ and Headjam’s ‘Wizontic’, and if I could not find them I was going to come home empty handed. I failed on both counts.

I came home with:

FAT FREDDY’S DROP: Based On A True Story.
Beautiful blend of soul and jazz all mixed up in a reggae melting pot. This outfit bring reggae into the 21st century, mixing ska and dub with more modern influences but making it sound incredibly natural; this is classy chilled out vibes of the highest order. By listening you can almost see Wellington's Lyall Bay beach, The Drop, which is where this New Zealand outfit's converted basement studio den is based.

THE HEADS: Under The Stress Of A Headlong Dive.
Bristol’s number one stoners 7th album, released earlier this month. 19 tracks of heavy psyche garage kraut space rock with the guitar amps turned up to 11. Queens of the Stone Age eat your hearts out.

Possibly the two greatest drummers of all time pound out the rhythm for this amazing ‘big band’ and spar to see who can claim to be the greatest. Recorded in New York back in 1952, crazy man!

And…. This months MOJO. I would not normally mention that I had bought a magazine, but this issue comes with a particularly wicked free CD of stuff that influenced the first wave of punk, like the obvious New York Dolls and the not so well known stuff like the Count Bishops and Hammersmith Gorillas. Quite a few pages inside on the birth of punk, looks like this 30th anniversary is going to be quite interesting!

I think I will have to buy Leafhound and Headjam on line!

THIS WEEKS CD DELIVERY: Satan's Rats and Inner City Unit land on my doormat

What a Bunch of Rodents
A nice little package arrived on me door mat this week containing two CDs, ‘What a Bunch of Rodents’ by Satan’s Rats and ‘Pass Out’ by Inner City Unit (ordered recently from Voice Print)

SATANS RATS were one of the first crop of punk bands going back to 1977. They only ever released three singles, ‘In My Love For You’, ‘Year Of the Rats’ and ‘You Make me Sick’, but somehow we have here an albums worth of material, including both sides of the singles (oddly ‘Louise’ was the b-side twice, there was the original and a retake produced by Dr Feelgood and Fruit Eating Bears producer Vic Maile) plus loads of demos. Normally this could be seen either as a rip off or strictly a ‘historical document’, but some of the demos on here are as good as, if not better than the singles. There are some nice riffs tucked away in there and you can see why the man behind Dr Feelgood liked ‘em, they even try their hand at a bit of ska at one point.

Even by punk elitist standards, they were pretty obscure and are rarely name checked when people refer to punk’s heyday. I think this is a tragedy, they were a talented bunch and their singles stand up to anything else released at the time. The fact that their first single was released the same week as the Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’ probably did not help sales, nor the fact that the NME slated them. I loved ‘em, for me they were up there with Slaughter And The Dogs, The Vibrators and The Drones.

They gigged quite widely, including supporting the Sex Pistols, but internal feuds meant the band were doomed to be short lived. This collection gives a glimpse of what an album might have sounded like, but sadly it is too late to make 'em famous. A bit odd really, catching the release of an album by one of my favourite punk bands 29 years after most of it was recorded!

For the story of Satans rats as told by lead singer Paul Rencher, visit PUNK77

I.C.U. circa 1980 (image from ICU Website)

INNER CITY UNIT, meanwhile were punker than punk, but were not actually punks (!?). Fronted by sax player Nik Turner of Hawkwind fame, they played a mix of punk and rock ‘n’ roll, with the sax adding a jazzy edge on times. The whole thing was wrapped up in a trippy, spaced out, sci-fi package for all the acid heads out there. Following Hawkwind’s tradition, they were integral to the free festival scene, turning up at crusty gatherings from ’79 to ’86. They did not preach anarchy in the way crass did, they just lived it.

They recorded six studio albums, six singles and released several live offerings before breaking up. ‘Passout’ was the first album but this CD features several live tracks as a bonus.

In terms of musical ability, they were no great shakes, they were far more about attitude and good times, but then if your off you head on mushrooms and special brew in a muddy field in the middle of the night, you don’t need Pink Floyd to blow your mind. Throughout their career the standard of their recorded output was erratic to say the least, but they did have a few moments of genius and some of their stuff is well worth adding to your collection. Their best moments appear on ‘The Presidents Tapes’ and ‘The Maximum Effect’.

If you don’t fancy forking out on their albums, go to keyboard geezer Dead Fred’s webpage and down load them.

Their current status is a bit confusing (to me at least). A new version of the band appeared in 1997 and as far as I can tell are still around. Nik also performs with Nik Turners fabulous Allstars (a jazz combo occasionally featuring Nik’s daughters) and Nik Turners Space Ritual (Nik’s version of the Hawkwind thing, but he cannot call it Hawkwind ‘cos Dave Brock is using the name, I seem to remember there was a bitter row over who was allowed to use it, I cannot remember the details and frankly don’t care, personally i think Nik's version is better). There is also a new solo project Nik Turner's Galaktikos. If you go to a propper festival this summer (and i dont mean the big commercial things) the chances are at some point you will come accross Nik, even if it is only stood at the bar!

Fotr an interview with Nik go >here<

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

SO MANY FESTIES, SO FEW BODIES: Two more nice lookin' events for your diary

I love the festival season, but it gets frustrating because there are so many nice little gatherings about now it just aint practical to do all the ones I want to.

Anyway, here are two that have come across the Iguana radar in the last week; both of them look wicked.

SUNRISE SOLSTICE CELEBRATION: A wicked looking gig at a secret location ‘somewhere in Somerset’ (site revealed when you buy ticket) over the summer solstice. Excellent line up.

WORKHOUSE FESTIVAL: Nice little shindig in a beautiful location in Mid Wales. Zion train, Shooglenifty and Tony McPhee all on the same bill and it’s only £30 [just got MY ticket ;-)]

And…. In my previous listing (which can be found HERE) I did not mention the STRAWBERRY FAIR cos it is only a one dayer with no camping, but SAT has brought it up, so I will give it a plug. It has been around for years and pulls some nice bands in..and it is FREE. Never been myself, but it has a tremendous reputaion.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

NO FIT STATE: A21st Century circus

Hoola Hoops have never looked so funky

Never really been a big fan of circuses, but they have come a long way since the days of Billy Smart. I was impressed with Circus Archaos and their motorcycle stunts on top of the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury back in the ‘80s and there have been a few other nutters that have blown my mind at various festivals over the years. It is through the festival circuit that No Fit State Circus first came across my radar and I have tried to catch them a couple of times but shows do tend to sell out, so I was quite pleased when I managed to get tickets for them performing ‘Immortal’ in Barry.

They don’t do the usual circus ring and a ring master with a top hat, the crowd mix in with the performers and move around the arena as the show progresses. Rather than just performing death defying stunts at random, it is more of a ‘show’ with a loose plot, in the case of Immortal it tells the story of people living in the rooftops of a city and… well to be honest I could not keep up with the plot, but there appeared to be a party, a boxing match and a wedding in there somewhere. The whole thing is tied together with a narrator and a house jazz combo tucked away to the side provides a soundtrack.

Making hanging around look easy

There are no sword swallowers, people sticking their heads in tigers mouths or clowns in exploding cars, it is 99% acrobatics/aerobatics type stuff. I have to say even when I was a kid the acrobatics stuff was what bored me most about circuses but you had to admire how clever it all was. Most of it looked quite easy to perform, but that is a testament to how good they were, they just made it LOOK easy. One guy in particular was doing stuff half way up a lamppost that was too complicated for me to even try to describe, but it was only when he paused and you could see how strong you would need to be to do what he was doing (and he had not even broken sweat), that awe started to set in.

Most importantly, the kids enjoyed it and we will probably check them out again in the future.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Looking through a window into another dimension

Went to visit Coed Hills ‘Rural Art Space’ today. It is tucked away in the countryside just off the A48 near Cowbridge and is not the easiest place to find, but when you find it is quite a treat.

I was not quite sure what to expect, but it was certainly far more laid back than I expected. Their website makes it look very slick and professional and the Rough Guide to Wales even refers to a ‘wholefood shop’ and a ‘superb organic café’. Don’t be misled by any of this, there is no shop or café and there is nothing slick about the place. The car park will accommodate about three cars, there is not formal reception area or anything, you just turn up and have a wander, finding your own way around. But I think this laid back approach is what makes the place. Not really sure what the set up is but it seems like it is a bit of a commune and the people who run the place also live there.

Gerty, our guide for the day

There is a building that has a sign outside saying Café, but I think it is just their kitchen. When you go in they are more than happy to make you a cup of coffee and toast and have a chat with you. It is at this point that you discover how friendly and laid back they all are; there were no barriers at all and within seconds I felt like I knew them all. One or two of them appear to be ‘New Age Fundamentalists’ but even they were interesting to talk to.

The whole place is run on wind and solar power and next to the old farmhouse and barn there is a permaculture garden, complete with compost toilets, which the youngest member of the Iguana tribe found fascinating. Dotted around the site there are examples of alternative technology, such as buildings made from straw bails. There is also a bit of a playground with a slide and trampoline to keep the younger element happy.

The main attraction though is the 80 acres of woodland. We strolled into the wood taking Gerty, one of the sites many dogs, with us.

Beasts out of thier skulls

There is a path that leads through the wood to a pond which, at this time of year, is host to many tadpoles starting out on their journey through life. There a re a few sculptures along the path including wicker men playing tennis by the pond. Wandering off the path is the real treat though. The wood is full of hidden treats, pieces of ‘art’, sculptures and little wooden buildings.

Church windows, but no church!

We managed to find quite a bit but definitely got the impression if we had more time there would be more to find. I loved the aspect of getting lost in the wood and finding all these things. Someone told us that there are plans to extend the pathways so people can find their way around easier, I am not sure if that will be a good thing or a bad thing because I loved the mystery of it all and the thought that I had discovered something no-one else had ever seen before… apart from the people that built it and live there!

I been through the woods on a horse with no name, cos in the woods, there aint no body to give you no name

In the summer they have plans for workshops the kids can get involved in (pot throwing, wood turning, iron casting and yoghurt weaving type stuff) and there was mention of an exhibition of stuff that Rhodri Morgan (tosser) will be opening so no doubt we will be back down there before the summer is out.

Monday, April 17, 2006

CHOCOLATE BLORANGE: A mountain walk on Easter Monday

Look dad, I can see my house from here!
Today daughter number one and I parked by Keepers Pond and walked across Blorange Mountain.

The road from Blaenavon to Abergavenny, past keeper’s pond, reveals one of my favourite views in South Wales. As you come over the crest of the mountain you can see down into the valley with Sugar Loaf and Skirridd mountains rising up in the distance. Half way down the valley there is a little pub called The Cordell Country Inn, which derives its name from the fact that this is the land that inspired Alexander Cordell’s novels; tales of the old iron masters and the misery they inflicted.

The reservoir at keeper’s pond was originally built to serve the forge at nearby Garnddyrus. It is now a favourite venue for water sports and picnicking.

If you park by Keeper’s and stroll out across the ridge of the valley the view gets even better, you can see further up towards Ebbw Vale and across towards Raglan. As you come out towards the peak you have a brilliant birds eye view of Abergavenny itself.

Some people choose to start in Abergavenny and walk up the side of the extremely steep mountain, which is strictly for keep fit masochists, charity fund raisers and mountain goats; but if you park at keeper’s it is a reasonably easy, but invigorating little stroll.

Friday, April 14, 2006

SO NEAR YET SO FAR: Sheffield United guarantee going up while Cardiff stay down

The massed hoardes of Sheffield United go wild as they steal a goal against the run of play

This time last year city were battling against relegation, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that this year we would be disappointed not to get promotion to the premiership, but amazingly, that is the position we have been in. Despite major financial problems and selling off all our best players, City will be finishing higher in the league than they have for 30 years.

It was only in the last few games that we blew it and we now have to concede that statistically it is now impossible to finish in the play offs. For Sheffield united, today’s opposition, it is a slightly different story; three points today meant they are guaranteed to go up.

For some reason we decided to sit in the lower Grandstand today, first time ever for a competitive game. We sat as close to the away fans in the Grange End as possible. This is probably the only section of the grandstand that has any atmosphere, with lots of singing and chanting at the away fans. I still prefer the Grange End terrace, but the bar facilities are better; no queue, indoors etc.

City pretty much dominated the game and it looked like we were going to spoil the party for Sheffield, who up until Christmas had been runaway leaders of the Championship. But well into the second half they caught us napping and banged in the winner. The large vocal following from up north went wild and from where we sat we had a good view of their celebrations. It reminded me of days gone by when we had secured enough points to go up, but we have not been in the top flight (premiership or old first division) since long before I started watching them. Obviously there were a few city fans abusing the Sheffield massive, but I was quite happy, at least it meant Leeds would now have to suffer the hassle of the play offs before they go back into the top flight… IF THEY ARE LUCKY!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

FAREWELL AMSTERDAM: Some final thoughts

Sunday was our last day. We were not flying till late so we dumped our bags in the hotel and went for another wander.

All this wandering might sound a bit monotonous, but the fact that we had all the time in the world and were not rushing around was quite relaxing. Previous trips, which had focused around specific events, seemed rushed because there was always a deadline to be met to be somewhere. This time, because we had no plan we could do what ever we fancied. Also, previous trips had often involved being in a big crowd who would end up arguing about where they wanted to go, some would want to go to a pub, some would want to go to a coffee shop, some would want a sit down meal, some would want a takeaway, some would whinge about the quality of the coffee in a particular shop, some would want to keep going back to the same place, some wanted to try something different. This time there were only two of us, doing what ever we fancied. Because of that, plus the fact that my previous trips had meant I ‘knew the score’, and despite the fact that we did not really do anything in particular, I think this was probably the best trip I have had out there.

So Sunday just involved wandering some more, a few new coffee shops, some more markets and some more photographs. The one thing that will stay with me about the Sunday was just as I thought I was coming home with some money in my pocket I happened across a shop selling hemp clothing and found a particularly cool jacket, a Hemp Hoodlamb, irresistible and blew a large chunk of my coming home money. I am now hoping for a crap summer so I can get some use out of my new winter coat.

Eventually, it was back on the train to Schipol Airport to wait for our plane. This is one MASSIVE airport. The duty free area is the size of a large shopping centre, and we spent hour two hours wandering. We left the diamonds where they were, but I did bring home some particularly nice cheese!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

FINDING ANOTHER KIND OF RED: Last full day in The Dam

All my previous visits to The ‘Dam, bar one, have been with a purpose; going to gigs, to watch the Dutch football team hammer Wales 7-1. Apart from a half planned visit to the Paradiso to see Therapy?, which did not happen, there were no real plans for this trip. And on the whole we stuck to that plan.

Saturday, our last full day, started out with a wander down through the main shopping area on to Dam Square. Low and behold, we are met on the square with the sight of a rally of public service trade unionists protesting about the liberalisation (privatisation) of social (council) housing. We did not know this at first, all the manners were in Dutch, but a quick stop to chat with someone running a stall selling what looked like the Dutch equivalent of The Socialist Worker revealed all. We chatted for a few minutes, I explained that we have a similar campaign going back home and she mentioned that they had been keeping an eye on how we were getting on with our strike over pensions. Nice to know that someone is listening to our campaign!

After that we went on another wander. I could go on and describe this wander, but it was not that much different to the other wanders of the previous few days, so I shall just mention coffee shops, architecture, flea markets, head shops, coffee shops, buskers, canals, coffee shops, CD shops, photographs and coffee shops. I think it was today (although it might have been Friday) we popped into the Abraxas coffee shop, renowned for being one of the most beautiful of all the coffee shops in the city and apparently sells some of the best ganja and space cake. We did not spend too much time there because they do not sell beer, but it was certainly a pleasant little place.

In the night we went for a nice sit down Chinese meal in the red light district and went to some more coffee shops. We finished off the night by walking around the back of the railway station and sitting watching the boats in the harbour for a while.

Friday, April 07, 2006

GETTING LOST: Wandering off the beaten track in Amsterdam

After a few thoughtful hours in the Anne Frank museum, we took a walk down the canal to Liedesplien. I suppose this would be as good a point as any to give some general thoughts on Amsterdam.

Amsterdam has something for everyone, it is a sort of cross between Venice (romantic canally type place), Milan (centre for fashion, in particular diamonds), Greenwich (some nice little craft and flea markets), Glastonbury Festival (loads of music and drugs) and which ever red light district you want to compare it with (although I am not aware of any red light district as liberal AND as civilsed as Amsterdam's) .

You can taste a bit of everything wherever you are, but there are certain centres for everything; the sex industry is focused around the red light district, the shopping is focused around the Dam Square area, and so on. If it is live music and clubbing you want, it is Liedesplien you need to head for. This is where you will find the internationally renowned Paradiso Club (where we would have seen Therapy? If we had not been so coffee’d up) and the Milkweg. Both are cracking venues; I saw New Model Army in the Paradiso in 1989 for my stag party and saw Ozric Tentacles in the Milkweg in a different year that I cannot remember, but it was a long time ago. On this trip we did not get around to going into either club but we did have a quick look around the area in day light, which was a first for me.

The area is wall-to-wall restaurants, nightclubs and coffee shops. Dominating the main square is a huge Bulldog Coffeshop. Bulldog have been around since 1975, starting out with one coffee shop but now is a huge chain with shops all over Amsterdam, like a ganja smokers Whetherspoons. We called into a cool little coffee shop called Rookies which had quite a nice vibe, before wandering back towards the hotel but deliberately not taking the route we knew so we would hopefully come across something we had not seen before.

Amsterdam, as the rest of Holland, is flat. Therefore, the city is swamped with bicycles, which somehow manage to mingle with the trams and pedestrians without anyone getting splattered, not that we saw anyway. The network of canals also means you can get to just about anywhere by boat bus. I like walking though, it means you get to see lots of things you would miss using any other form of transport, and you can take the time to stop and have a butchers at anything that catches your eye.

This afternoon we walked and took photos and found a little art market and took photos and walked and checked out some more coffee shops.

After a siesta back at the ranch we went out again and walked, and went to more coffee shops (finding one that served Strongbow, the Wild Style) and eventually floated back to bed.

ANNE FRANK HOUSE: A little museum with a MASSIVE story

The Anne frank museum, towards the right of the picture with queues outside
Our second full day in The ‘Dam was a bit more focused, by lunchtime we were in the Anne Frank Museum.

The exterior of the museum is quite modern, which is a bit odd given it is the actual house that Anne Frank hid from the Nazi’s in. In side it is something of a multi media experience with lots of video clips from the era and interviews with people who knew Anne. Eventually you get up to the floors where the Frank Family hid during the war, going in through the bookcase that hid the secret entrance to attic rooms that were their home. There is no furniture in the rooms now but each of the empty rooms has photographs on the wall showing what it looked like during those dark days. The actual original diary itself is on display is glass cases.

Anne Frank, writng in her attic hideaway

The whole experience is very thought provoking and one cannot help think about the suffering the Nazi’s inflicted upon millions of people purely because of their religion. This museum brings it down to a more personal level though, reflecting the impact it had on one particular family, a family hid for most of the war but were eventually grassed up; Anne Frank eventually dieing in Belsen. Video footage of her father telling of how he first found out that Anne was dead and being handed the diary, which he had previously not known existed, were particularly emotional for me and brought tears to my eye.

As Primo Levy states, there were millions that suffered under the Nazis’ but this one story of one little girl captures it and personalises it all so perfectly it says more that a thousand stories could.

If you are going to visit the museum, go early in the day or late in the evening, as we came out there was a MASSIVE queue to get in, and it really is best viewed with as few people as possible around.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

COFFE SHOPS, PHOTOGRAPHS AND WANDERING: looking for something in Amsterdam, but forgetting what!

For our first full day in the ‘Dam we had a bit of a mission, to find tickets for Therapy? in the Paradiso Club. First stop was Boudisque records, just around the corner from the hotel. No tickets there, but I did come away with the new Killing Joke album and a copy of The Slackers: An Afternoon In Dub. Then to gather our thoughts and work out where to go next in our search for tickets we popped into our first coffee shop of the day.

If I remember rightly, that first coffee shop was called Free Adam, a reggae style place in the Red Light District (don’t expect me to be able to remember all the coffee shops we visited). For those of you that do not know, coffee shops in Holland are a bit different to those in the rest of the world. They all sell coffee, and many sell beer as well, but what makes them special is that they also licences to sell cannabis. It is all very civilised, next to the coffee counter/bar you will find another area where you can check out a wide range of different types of ganja sold quite openly. Very often you will be presented with a menu listing everything available, usually split into Hash and Weed sections, if the menu does not describe what the difference between the items on the menu the ‘waiter’ will be happy to advise. Because of the legal status of the shops the quality of the ganja is high and you aint likely to get ripped off for a lump of car tyre. There are often bongs and/or vaporisers available for those that prefer not to smoke and skins are often free.

You don’t HAVE to smoke in a coffee shop and you will often find people hanging out there simply because the atmosphere is so laid back and chilled, people are nice to each other, friendly and I have never seen any agro in a coffee shop. They usually have decent music playing, which can vary from chilled out jazz or reggae, through to heavy rock and techno. There are big coffee shops aimed at the tourists, which are still more relaxed than a UK pub but tend to be less friendly than the small intimate shops. In total there are over 200 coffee shops in the Dam so it will take more than a few days to visit them all. But be warned, coffee shop have a different legal status to the rest of the city, so do not expect to be able to walk down the road toking or to sit in an ordinary café/bar with a spliff. Prospective visitors may want to check out The Smokers guide to Amsterdam.

Anyway, after an hour sat in Free Adam we continued our search for Therapy? tickets. Our plan involved wandering around the city looking for record shops, taking photographs of canals and occasionally stopping off for a coffee. Having missed breakfast (who wants to get up early for a ‘continental’ breakfast?) the munchies eventually led us to a nice little Italian restaurant, then a few more coffee shops.

I am not sure if we forgot we were looking for Therapy? tickets, or if we just stopped caring, but we never found any and we did not make it to the gig, but it did not seem to matter, we enjoyed ourselves anyway.

Inside 'The Doors'

I can’t remember all the places we visited during the day, but I do remember that we finished off in a coffee shop called ‘The Doors’ which was covered in pictures of Jim Morrison and played a nice mix of Pink Floyd, Free, Santana type stuff before getting chucked out at stop tap in the early hours of the morning.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

AMSTERDAMAGE: First night in the party capital of Europe

How does one write a blog about Amsterdam without A) saying something that must have already been said or B) incriminating oneself? In addition, after four days in The ‘Dam, who on earth wants to sit down and write a blog? Well, it might take me a few days to get it done but for now I will start with the first night.

I have been to Amsterdam several times but this was the first time I had flown, so the hour or so on the plane was a pleasant change from spending endless hours on train/bus and boat. This meant that even though we did not land in the City till gone 11pm, we were fresh and ready to hit the town.

So after dumping our bags we set off in search of ‘coffee’ in one of the city’s many coffee shops. We found ourselves in the ‘Smoking bull’ a cool little place in the Red Light District and made ourselves at home. We had not planned staying there all night (although I am not sure we actually had a plan), but we eventually floated out of there at stop tap (1am) and went for the first of many walkabouts around the Red Light District.

I am no expert on Red Light Districts, but I doubt if there are many that are anything like Amsterdam’s. Yes there are little windows everywhere with ‘ladies of the night’ displaying their wares, and lots of gentlemen visitors wandering around, but the district is also home to some very nice restraints and the bulk of the city’s 200 coffee shops.

The famous Dutch liberal tolerance means that you are just as likely to bump into the MD of a diamond business walking home with his wife after a meal as you are a stag party or a ‘lonely business traveller’. You will find the odd drug dealer hanging around on the bridges but they do not pester you. To be honest the only thing that comes even close to making the district a bit leery are the gangs of drunken Brits who have not quite grasped the concept of café culture.

Even though I have no interest in the sexual delights on offer, a walk around the district is quite entertaining, and I suppose a bit of an education! Unfortunately, after several hours in the Smoking Bull, trying to keep the hand steady enough to focus my trusty Finepix was a bit of a problem, not to mention the possibility of getting the camera smashed if the lens wandered in the wrong direction!

Anyway, that is enough for now, I will now try to remember the rest of the stay and work out how to blog it without incriminating myself! Watch this space.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

FESTIVALS: Hidden gems surviving the corporate take over

Several things have brought festivals into my mind the last day or so. Firstly, the clocks going forward and lighter evenings; secondly, daughter number one wanting tickets for Re@ding.

Re@ding tickets went on sale last night and sold out within an hour, so number one is disappointed. I used to love Re@ding when I were a lad; the drinking to excess, the throwing up everywhere, the bottles of piss flying over head, the loud tasteless rock… those were the days. I have grown up a bit since then and expect a bit more than a couple of stages, a dance tent and a market, I also like to be able to see the band without binoculars, but I cannot knock anyone who wants to go to Re@ding, as I say, I used to love it.

Back then it was the Reading Festival, now it is the C@rling Weekend, and happens in Leeds as well. It is also now run by Vince Power and the Me@n Fiddler Corporation. Yes, the capitalists have well and truly got stuck into festivals; Tenants Lager run the T-In the Park in Scotland, Virgin run the V-Festival (all of which have also sold out this year) and even Ashton Court ‘Free Festival’ has been taken over by Orange Mobile. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Up and down the country festivals are being run by people who have no interest in the festival scene, just profits. Inevitably, going into a festival with this attitude means the festivals are pretty much sterile experiences.

Glastonbury managed to keep it’s spirit for a good few years but the sheer size of the event meant a more business like approach was necessary, impenetrable fences, fascist security, sponsored stages… it has well and truly lost its way. I kept the faith and kept going for over 20 years, but in 2004 I finally accepted that I was only going out of habit and decided to call it a day.

There were several pivotal stages in the decline of Glastonbury. The police being allowed on site (there was a time when literally anything was allowed), the various stages of the fortification and fence ‘improvements’, the exclusion of the ‘Travellers’, the BBC broadcasting from site popularising the event way beyond the traditional festival crowds, and Vince Power getting involved in the security.

Glastonbury was always a great festival, but it ceased to be the best festival many years ago. There have been traveller/ free festivals dating back to the late 60’s, but I did not start going to festivals till the ‘80s, so cannot comment on them. During the ‘80s a number of things combined; the Stonehenge scene, the peace movement, the punk ethos and the disillusionment of the Thatcher years. The result was bands of nomads in convoys partying all summer long wherever they could find space to set up a stage. As the rave and free party scene emerged and integrated with the traveller scene things started to get too big for the Authorities to allow it to go on, so we had the infamous ‘Criminal Justice Act’ which outlawed anything more than two people and a ghetto blaster from gathering together.

The festival scene is pretty resourceful though and more ‘together’ people started organising things on a legal basis. Sometimes they were disastrous, but often the more chaotic events were the most fun. The ones that spring to mind for me as being the best were the Treworgey Tree Fayre (where I had my honeymoon, romantic old fool that I was), the Forest Fairs in the Forest of Dean, the Harvest Fair in Haverford West and the Spring Fair in Mid Wales somewhere (which I will always remember for meeting a guy that everyone knew as ‘Stan the man who used to live in a van but now he lives in a bus’). There were a few good Severn Revels events but the heavy policing at the last event was nothing short of fascist.

Chaotic events like those mentioned above were doomed to never be lasting events on the calendar, but there are a few others about run by people who care about the festival scene and are worth checking out. The headline acts are inevitably less well known than the big events, but very often just as talented if not more so (definitely more original). They are generally friendly affairs where people treat each other with respect and on the whole do not try to rip each other off. Events such as Shambala (sadly not on this year), Larmer Tree (got my tickets today), and off the Tracks. I plan on going to Endorse it in Dorset this year, which is run by Pronghorn (all round good guys and nutters), and Beautiful Days (run by the Levellers, who I have serious reservations about, but it cannot be denied they have enough contacts to pull in some half decent bands). I have a few others in mind but if I get to those three I will be happy.

The absence of Glastonbury means a lot of people will be looking for alternatives (hence R@ding selling out so quickly), but hopefully (SNOB ALERT) the smaller events will be able to hold on to their cool and friendly vibes.

For a list of events i posted earlier in the year, click 'ere

Saturday, April 01, 2006

WHERE'S THE BEACH?: An afternoon on one of South Wales hidden treasures

Living in the valleys, it is often hard to forget that if you drive north for an hour you can be in the beautiful Brecon Beacons, or if you drive south for an hour, you can be on the coast. Today we drove south and found ourselves on the beach at Monk Nash. This is probably my favourite of all the South Wales beaches.

Hidden between Southerndown and Llantwit Major it is a massive beach, which very few people know about. It is about five miles from the nearest village, you have to park up in a field attached to a farm then walk about a mile down a track which would be too narrow and rugged for even a four wheel drive. When you eventually get to the end of the track you find the beach, which is completely untouched. No ice-cream vans, no toilets, no boathouse, no pier, nothing. I think that is why I like it.

The beach stretches for miles east and west and when the tide is out it is a fair old trek to get to the sea. Because the beach is so flat the a small rise in the height of the tide equates to the tide coming in by a huge distance, it is very easy to find your self stranded on the rocks as the sea rushes in and out with the tide. When the tide goes out it is possible to walk all the way to Ogmore, but you can guarantee you wont get back before the tide steals your beach towel from where you left it.

After a long walk on the beach you can call in to The Plough and Harrow pub, which you have to drive past to get to the beach. It is a cracking little pub on it’s own in the middle of nowhere, famous for its real ales, pub grub and live music; it has even had its own festivals in the past. Did not call in there today though, after our beach stroll it was straight back to Iguana HQ.