Tag Archives: smiths

The life of an umbrella

Being British I know how useful it can be to have an umbrella in your bag, and though Brazil is a lot hotter than England, São Paulo in the summer gets a lot of tropical rain – it may be warmer, but it is just as wet.

For years I had always purchased umbrellas in an emergency. It rained, I wasn’t carrying one, so I would dive into any shop selling them and grab one – usually at a price that had doubled the instant it started raining. But these emergency umbrellas were never all that good.

So the last time I was in London, I invested over £70 in a nice solid German umbrella with a lovely wooden handle at Smith’s – the store near the British museum that has been selling umbrellas for over 100 years.

It was great, the best umbrella I have ever had, but on Tuesday I was on my way out and checked the umbrella basket on my porch only to find it had been snatched – someone had reached into the porch at the front of my house to steal my umbrella! It was pouring, so I had to grab my wife’s ‘London 2012‘ umbrella and use that to get to my meeting – a very masculine shade of pink…

When my taxi arrived at the meeting venue, I left the London 2012 umbrella in the back of the car – so I had my umbrella stolen and I lost one soon after. My wife bought me a cheap black one the next day just in case I lose it again.

The thing that is really annoying is that the opportunist who stole my umbrella, just because it was raining, probably has no idea that they have a handmade European umbrella costing about 15 times (over R$200 for an umbrella is outrageous) what a regular umbrella in Brazil would cost. At least I had an appreciation of it every time I used it and remembered visiting Smith’s and choosing that particular one.

It’s a good thing I am visiting London again next week. I’ll replace the London 2012 umbrella, but I’m undecided about getting another expensive one. If I bring it back to Brazil with me, I might leave it in the taxi from the airport…

James Smith and Sons - umbrella shop

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Strangeways, here we come

On September 28th 1987, The Smiths released their last ever album ‘Strangeways, here we come’. It’s hard to believe that this is almost exactly 24 years ago now as I can remember the day itself.

I was 17 and at Frogmore Sixth Form then, taking my A-levels. In those days new records and movies came out in London first and then dripped out to the provinces over the following days and weeks. Even though we were only just outside London, it would still be impossible to get a copy of the album on the day of release, so me and a mate – David Ovington – took off on a bus to London that morning.

We got out at Kensington High street and bought copies of the album at Tower records, before crossing the street and catching a bus in the opposite direction.

We both went directly back to the sixth form common room and played the new album, much to the interest of the other assembled teenagers who were impressed at our dedication to Morrissey.

I haven’t bought a physical album for years now. The last one I know that I bought was the Manic Street Preachers, Journal for Plague Lovers, and that was because I specifically wanted the artwork. Apart from that, everything is downloaded or streamed these days.

For that reason, it harks back to a very different age. A time when two teenagers would spend most of a day just travelling to get hold of a piece of vinyl on the day it is released – a romantic idea that is already history and to the kids growing up today will sound archaic and deluded.
Morrissey and flowers all over the pub...

Smiths Indeed

I spent much of the 1980s listening to The Smiths. Today they are eulogised as one of the seminal English bands, the Beatles of the 1980s, the only band of the era that managed to combine incredibly poetic lyrics with a bright sound that was at odds with the pop music of the time.

But I have vivid memories of the Smiths, buying ‘Girlfriend in a Coma’ on vinyl the moment it arrived at Our Price records, taking a bus to London to buy ‘Strangeways…’ because it would be quicker to go to London, rather than waiting for the album to get to stores in Surrey and Hampshire, spending an entire holiday in France listening to the first album, especially ‘Suffer little children’… I just regret never seeing them live. I probably could have managed it, but I was only 17 when they split – maybe if I lived in London I might have seen them on the final tour, but it was never to be.

So, it’s always fun to see a Smiths tribute band. I’ve seen the Smyths several times now and they are very good – also doing a lot of Morrissey solo material as well as Smiths – but last night I went to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire to see ‘Smiths Indeed’. I had never seen them before this gig, but if they had the guts to book a 2,000-capacity venue as a tribute act then they had to be worth seeing.

They didn’t fill the venue. When I arrived it was still quite empty, maybe 100 people were in there and I was worried it might be a disaster. The crowd filled out eventually to something like 500-600 (my guess), which was good enough to fill out the standing area in front of the stage. By the end of the evening, the crowd were having so much fun, it felt as though the venue was packed to capacity. In a pub that kind of crowd would have been huge, a packed pub heaving to the rafters, but in this venue it felt a bit empty until the crowd really got into the gig.

The smaller crowd meant they cut back a bit on security – there were several stage invasions, which isn’t really much fun for the band or the fans who want to hear the band as some loon runs around the stage trying to grab the mic.

They were really good though. They should have sold out the venue and I’m not sure why it didn’t happen. Maybe it’s too close to Christmas. Maybe it’s because The Smyths had just played in London at the weekend, so old Smiths fans chose that gig instead because it was on a Saturday night. Maybe they just did not do enough promotion – it’s always tough to promote gigs and when the venue is much larger than normal that just makes it even harder.

BUT, forget my moaning about the venue size…

If you closed your eyes, it could have been Morrissey and Marr up there. All four of the guys were very good, but particularly the ‘Marr’ who did a great copy of Marr’s style, and ‘Morrissey’ who really captured the voice and affectations, even if he only bore a passing resemblance to Mozza. They produced a really nice rich sound that was well mixed and sounded a lot better than many bigger gigs I have been to recently.

I’d definitely go to see them again, it was a really great night out!

Smiths Indeed @ Shepherd's Bush

Is it OK to throw bottles at artists?

In today’s edition of The Sun, Jane Moore argues that Morrissey was wrong to walk out of his concert in Liverpool last weekend. He had started the gig and was on to the second song when a bottle, thrown by an audience member, hit him in the face.

Morrissey walked off and never came back to complete the concert.

Moore claims that ‘in her day’ the Sex Pistols actively encouraged missiles, and when she once saw The Damned you could see saliva dripping from the face of Dave Vanian – and it was not his own saliva. Clearly Moore is a punk aficionado and believes that the artist should accept whatever the audience (literally) throws at them. She claims Morrissey protests too much.

But is it really acceptable anymore for an audience to behave like this?

Back in the days that Jane Moore talks about, Joe Strummer ended up with hepatitis after a fan gobbed in his face. Is that really the kind of concert atmosphere we should look on with rose-tinted glasses?

I remember once seeing Buzzcocks and witnessing a beer can narrowly missing the face of singer Pete Shelley. He stopped playing for a moment and asked everyone in the crowd who was thinking about throwing something at the band to ‘do it now so we get it over with’… hundreds, maybe thousands, of missiles suddenly rained upon the stage. Then the gig carried on… and there were no more beer cans lobbed at the band.

Because, in practical and rather obvious terms, it’s dangerous. The artist is usually facing lights and can’t see missiles as they approach. The crowd has an unfair advantage in targeting a singer on stage half-blinded by a number of spotlights. Most venues these days prevent glass from being brought inside or purchased, but a plastic beer bottle that’s mostly full weighs about half a kilo. Try getting someone to throw a half kilo weight at your face and see if it’s a laughing matter.

Add to that the fact that a concert stage is jammed full of electrical equipment and wires. It’s no fun for the roadies and engineers to try breaking up the show when all their equipment is covered in beer, water, and whatever else… and it may even be positively shocking. For a band lower down the food chain than Morrissey, that may be the only amplifier they can afford and to have someone chucking a pint of lager on it could be a financial disaster that messes up their next gig.

I understand Jane Moore’s sentiment, but I don’t think she has really thought it through. Or maybe she is commenting as someone who used to attend concerts and has not been to a gig in decades, so it would never affect her anyway.