Originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk in December 2010
One Saturday morning in 2005, Blackburn were playing at Old Trafford and on a hung-over whim, I decided to go to the game on my own and buy a ticket for the United end.
In what I had previously perceived to be one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse, Blackburn won. Being a solitary Blackburn fan amongst all the furious United fans I stayed silent with a smug grin on my face.
Flash forward 5 years and I’m en route to a repeat of this fixture, this time at the hospitality of Manchester United for the VIP Europa Suite experience. In my previous forays into football fan espionage, this would be the furthest behind enemy lines I’d ventured.
I arrived at Directors Entrance where I was to be greeted by a club representative. As the other media guests arrived I was immediately outed as a Blackburn fan having forgotten that I’d admitted it in an email when making arrangements. With my cover blown, I was forced into plan B; adopt the guise of affable fan of the plucky underdogs fully expecting a heavy defeat. Little did they know that I’d secretly put a tenner on a Rovers’ victory that morning.
We were taken through the tunnel for a pitch side tour. As we stood in front of the United dug out, the guide treated us with an encyclopaedic knowledge of every possible fact about the ground, most notably that just below the away stand, United have a selection of cells for any wayward fans to be kept before being taxied to the police station after the match. We were advised that these were very seldom used.
It was then to the Europa Suite, a huge room laden with tables beautifully set out for the pre-match meal. The food itself was very good, four courses interspersed with helpful waitresses seemingly intent on getting me drunk. I shan’t fall foul of your ploy to soften me with drink, I figured, as I sunk my fourth glass of wine.
There was all sorts of entertainment put on with a compere, a pub-style quiz in which we performed abysmally. Just before we took to the stands, Gary Neville arrived, bizarrely through the gents toilets, to pose for photographs for all the adoring fans…. and me. Then it was time to take to our seats, with a great view adjacent to the half way line. A fantastic place to view a smash and grab Blackburn win.
Berbatov loves Blackburn Rovers
Ok, bit of a nervy start but I think…GOAL. Berbatov.
Ah. Well not a great start but at least..GOAL. 2-0.
With each of my fellow guests greeting each goal with a wry smile my way, I respectfully applauded whilst my confidence began to wilt away like ice in a kettle.
Well if we just get to half time 2 down then we can….GOAL. 3-0.
The only solace I took was that after each United goal, a secondary cheer from the home fans greeted one Blackburn supporter after another being forcefully ejected by police and taken down to the previously under-used cells. By half time it was 3-3 by my reckoning; 3 goals to them, 3 arrests for us.
Back to the suite for half time drinks where our preferred tipple had been laid out at our tables waiting for us, a lovely touch. In search of alcoholic reprieve, I sank my pint in less time than it took United to score another immediately after we’d retaken our seats. Big Sam obviously gave an epic half time speech.
Goal after goal passed by with my seated ironic applause as Rovers capitulated until the score board taunted me with the 7-0 scoreline. No more arrests either. With 8 minutes remaining, I joked that we could just score one goal per minute to grab an unlikely victory and ALAS, in came a corner as Samba rose to nod in at the near post. My loud jumping celebration would, under normal circumstances, earn me abuse at the very least, but the prawn sandwich brigade merely looked on with pitying smiles.
Back to the Europa Suite I trundled for post match refreshments, which equated to lashings more wine in an attempt to drown my sorrows at the expense of my victorious foes.
Finally, the Man of the Match arrived, again confusingly through the gent’s toilets, as The Count from Sesame Street (Berbatov) posed with fans to celebrate his Premiership record-equalling five goal haul.
My only consoling thought as a Blackburn fan was that at least I’d been well fed and watered as I was thoroughly humiliated. Small mercies maybe, but something to hold onto.
Article originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk
I’m a criminal. A no good criminal. It feels good to get it out there, but the absolution of my sins unfortunately does not end there.
No, like so many of the lawless renegades before me, it was only so long I could continue to flagrantly offend the laws protecting this fine nation before I was brought to swift justice.
On occasion, I have been known to sometimes, perhaps, drive a little bit faster than the highway laws would like. Naturally, I would only do this in emergency situations like trying to get to the old warehouse in time to pay off Russian kidnappers for the safe return of my family, or if the football was about to start. I can already sense the palpable disgust causing your eyes to vomit disgraceful tears of rage and, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.
My punishment? The Drivesafe Speed Awareness Course.
It’s hard to defend breaking speeding offences as the reality of causing someone else to suffer from your own selfishness in trying to get somewhere quicker shouldn’t be belittled.
As we arrived, there was a sign directing me and my fellow motor crooks to sit in a canteen to await the course. People sat in relative silence, exchanging bashful smiles and it regressed me back to school to the feeling of being sat outside the head teacher’s office awaiting punishment.
One thing I immediately noticed was that everyone else seemed to be holding copies of the Highway Code and I had nothing but my iPhone…I really should read letters every once in a while.
Not to worry, off to the classroom we went. “Right, welcome to the Drivesafe Course ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to be with us until 9.30 at which point you will have successfully completed the course.” It was 5.20. That’s four long hours ahead then…
The course was run by two chaps, both who admirably attempted to keep boredom from setting in with interactive questions and no doubt much-repeated gags befitting of a compare at the DVLA Christmas party.
We were taken through the process of different quizzes, educational monologues over a Powerpoint (with snazzy laser pointer), stringently dissecting every facet of safe driving and our lack thereof.
The attention to detail was astounding if not interesting. Much of it was common sense, other parts consisted of painstakingly mundane references to the Good Book (The Highway Code, that is), punctuated by little parables and mantras designed to capture attention and increase the likelihood of retention within our withering brains. Probably worked too.
Throughout all, my impulse to provide sarcastic answers bubbled away inside but with the warning that glib participation would result in being kicked off the course, £120 and 3 points in tow, I only cracked a couple of times.
“Does anyone see any potential dangers in this photograph?”
“Yes that crow looks a bit shifty to me”
“Mark, I’m not going to ask you again.”
“Sorry. Do carry on”
I did start to feel sympathy for both our tutors as we went along. The poor sods having to conduct a four hour lecture to a room of reluctant people about a dreary subject matter. A tough gig.
Nevertheless, I can’t deny that it was a bit of a shock as I realised how feeble my knowledge of basic road principles actually was.
The course itself is actually a good idea, introduced as a buffer of warning to the first time offender to retain a clean licence at the expense of an education in the implications of your indiscretions – the strong olive branch of the law. Seems fair and I’m glad I did it for the points if nothing else.
It’s important, however, to mention that my Grandmother, who I’ll call Mrs X for anonymity purposes, took this course recently due to amusing traffic offences and went on to get a speeding ticket a couple of months after.
Whether or not I’ll slip back into bad habits or give in to a possible innate genetic propensity to be a highway scoundrel will only become apparent through time, Your Honour.
Article originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk in March 2011
Not since Jon Bon Jovi’s little-known Gabba Techno album has there been such a gravitational change in artistic style as Plan B over the past 18 months.
From debut album ‘Who needs actions when you’ve got words?’ in 2006, his recent ‘Defamation of Strickland Banks’ has seen Ben Drew transformed from gritty London rapper to soulful falsetto vocalist.
Defamation is a concept album telling the tale of a man struggling to cope with being falsely imprisoned. Initially, this could have been perceived as a shameless attempt to pursue chart success, but for the small snag that he’s rather good. Consequently, his gig at the Apollo was a sell-out.
A mention must go to Nottingham-born support act Liam Bailey who was brilliant. Effortlessly cool, Bailey sang a range of self-penned soulful love songs. It was refreshingly unexpected from a British vocalist, with no attempt to ‘modernise’, autotune or any other form of audible travesty.
Also before Plan B was probably the most mind-blowing display of beatboxing I’ve ever seen, from FaithSFX. And I’ve seen Rahzel. Twice. Dubstep, sound effects, dance songs, pop songs… absolutely everything was performed immaculately.
Then to the headliner, who came on dressed as a French Sommelier. He started with a few album tracks, most notably the excellent ‘Prayin’ which was given both a reggae and drum n bass twist towards the end and ‘Hard Times’, a gospel number complete with a spiralling stained-glass patterned stage lighting.
It was at this point the show took a bit of a twist.
“I’LL STAB YOU IN THE EYE WITH A FUCKING BIRO,” came like a bolt out of the blue as Strickland switched to Plan B with the aggressive ‘No Good’ from his first album. The look on some of the older faces who had been merrily clapping along to the gospel was priceless.
It was surreal hearing an audience who had been singing along to motown, rapping the final line from Charmaine (“blud, that girl’s only fourteen”), a song about being lured by an underage temptress.
Switch back to Strickland as he performed hit single ‘Recluse’, perhaps the most uplifting song about prison incarceration you’re ever likely to hear, and a bluesy version of the catchy ‘She Said’, accomoanied by the entire audience.
The inevitable encore normally results in one or two tracks as a send off but Drew’s return to the stage was a bit different. He talked about his love for soul music before expertly taking on Smokey Robinson’s ‘Tracks of my Tears’. A beautiful moment. The medley continued with ‘Lean on Me’, and ‘My Girl’ with a ‘big fucking shout out to my boy Focus” in between.
Just as it teetered on the edge of karaoke, Faith SFX came out for a number of interesting beatbox/dubstep versions of soul songs before Plan B returned to rap for a rocky performance of ‘No More Eatin’ and a thumping version of ‘Stay too Long’ capped off the diverse encore.
Oh, and I’ve never seen a better example of ‘rabbit in the headlights’ than when a technical glitch shone the huge stage spotlight on a security guy, arms folded in the aisle. He stylishly opted for ‘terrified jazz hands’.
Plan B doesn’t seem an obvious performer, having a frosty yet assured demeanour on stage. But it was still a fantastic show.
His adept ability to switch between singing and rapping may seem like musical schizophrenia, but it works.
With talk of potential upcoming dubstep and reggae albums, it appears Plan B will continue to experiment with his different musical interests. I hope they are as impressive as the last.
Originally published on Manchester Confidential in 2011
Since scoring a number 1 debut single with ‘Pass out’ last February, double-Brit winning Tinie Tempah has enjoyed a meteoric 12 months.
The London rapper has racked up three number one singles, a chart-topping album, performed at Glastonbury with Snoop Dogg and toured with the likes of Rihanna. Not a bad start to a career, although he was also on the Graham Norton show, but nobody’s perfect.
Just a few days after he stormed the Brits, TT kicked off his Disc-Overy Tour at the Manchester Apollo.
Prior to the gig, I still had my reservations about him. Tinie has arrived at a time when British urban music has finally found a consistent route to commercial chart success through a fusion of hip hop and garage, which can often feel lyrically light on content.
The success of Tinie’s first two singles so far, Pass out and Frisky, have been largely thanks to the production of Labrinth, with Pass Out appearing on TV almost as often as Ant and Dec.
The first noticeable aspect of the evening was the admirable amount of effort the hordes of attending ladies had put into glamming-up for a gig. I’ve been to my fair share of hip hop shows in the past and it seemed the usual hoods and hi-tops had been exchanged for maxi dresses and vertigo-inducing heels – perhaps indicative of the crossover to mainstream.
Supporting Tinie was Katy B who, but for a tacit awareness of the name, was muddled in my mind amongst a seemingly endless glut of British female vocalists who have popped up over the last few years.
Backed by a live band including a saxophone, trumpet and bongos, her set was a pleasantly entertaining warm-up. For such a petit girl, she has a powerfully different voice and chirpy stage presence and belted through a surprisingly eclectic range of songs from slower dub-style through to bouncy club songs like ‘Louder’. ‘Lights on’ was the stand-out and got the crowd ready for the main man.
Ready though the crowd were, they had to wait. Both before AND after Katy B took to the stage, Tinie’s own DJ Charlesy performed excruciating half-hour sets, consisting exclusively of songs you might hear coming from the mobile phone of tracksuited youths on the top deck of a bus.
Each song ended with an annoying wedding DJ commentary, which genuinely included such classics as “all the single ladies make some noooise”, and “oggy oggy oggy…” (which was dignified with a cursory “oi oi oi” by the largely teenage crowd).
After what seemed like an ice-age, Tinie’s entrance was one of a man at the top of his game, with the crowd going absolutely berserk as he just stood as a motionless silhouette at the top of the stage. His presence was immediately impressive, bouncing straight though a number of songs including Snap and Wonderman, each performed with jumpy, energetic gusto and interesting videos and visuals on the giant screen behind.
He did a fair bit of talking between songs, engaging with the crowd, taking plenty of time to ‘big up’ Manchester, and gave the impression of a down to earth bloke who seems both thankful and surprised by his success.
He then rather curiously played a collection of videos from a number of artists he has collaborated with, providing a hype-man style voiceover. It seemed a bit of an odd inclusion and thankfully he mixed into his languid ‘Miami to Ibiza’ collaboration with Swedish House Mafia.
Then back to the crowd, where Tinie ‘randomly’ picked an audience member to join him on stage. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a fat, balding sweaty man but a beautiful young girl who was invited up to hold his two Brit awards aloft whilst he performed Invincible.“She’ll be going backstage later then”, I heard over my shoulder and, judging from the lengthy and touchy embrace she gave him upon leaving the stage, they were probably right.
With ‘Frisky’ and ‘Pass Out’ saved for the inevitable encore, the gig ended in suitably explosive fashion.
Despite the evening being somewhat dampened by the grating DJ Charlesy, who seems to be one of his mates along for the ride, Tinie was enigmatic and impressive, showing his wide appeal as one of the more prominent breakthrough acts of the last year.
Is he one of the best rappers in the UK? Not by a country mile, but his delivery, production, smart collaborations and likability reinforced his current standing as top of the pop crop.
Review originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk in Feb 2011
AS a 27-year-old single male, my sporadic viewing of X-Factor is thankfully of my own choosing and is probably fairly typical; watch the auditions to see a parade of hopeless jesters having their dreams shattered by Simon Cowell, then stop before the serious crying begins in the live shows.
An equally unenthused Smudge Jones was in tow – imagine Adam Ant clothed exclusively by Topman – for perhaps the least rock and roll Saturday night of our lives: we had a glass of Ribena each before heading to the Manchester Apollo for Alexandra Burke’s All Night Long Tour.
Our fears that we would stand out like a sore thumb in the crowd were verified when we arrived, with pretty much every other demographic except ours out in full force.
We took to our seats. Smudge took this moment to tell me he feared being out of his comfort zone amid the razzmatazz of a pop concert and might have an embarrassment panic attack. I wasn’t sure if he was joking.
Previous X Factor winners have suffered mixed fortunes over the years, for every Leona Lewis (currently fresh from ‘breaking’ America, apparently), there’s a handful of Steve Brooksteins (I just had to Google ‘X Factor winner man’ to find his name).
Aside from the underrated Beverley Knight, Britain has been lacking a soul diva for years and its clear this is where Burke’s record company have identified the role they want for her. Perhaps that’s cynical. It may well have been Alexandra’s own choice but in the back of my mind I can’t help picture Cowell, sat on his throne made from pulped money, stroking the head of Louis Walsh curled up on his lap like Blofeld’s cat. “Yes, the girls very ‘urban’ and ‘current’, perfect for the MTV Base market”, he cries, before sending a pantomime cackle around the velvet-clad walls of his homoerotic volcano lair.
The first couple of songs were exactly that. Bassy, racy and dancy soul songs with Alexandra joined on stage with a fleet of muscle-bound man-cubines dressed in alarming costumes (two camp centurions, two very merry-men from Sherwood Forest) gyrating around amid a hypnotic lightshow. It was definitely quite an entrance and one I may choose to adopt in the future.
We weren’t clapping and mum-dancing around like everyone else, but the performance was entertaining enough. She’s got a great voice and amongst the big production of a nationwide tour, she looked like a pop star, rather than a talent show winner clinging to stardom. I’m under no illusions that Smudge and I don’t really have the capacity to provide any knowledgeable critique of RnB/Pop. We’re far too gritty for that. Ahem.
Then came the Destiny’s Child megamix; this was not good. “She couldn’t want to be Beyonce any more if she tried,” was Smudge’s view and I had to agree. I do recall Alexandra hysterically crying when performing with Beyonce on X Factor. I knew how she felt.
It’s no crime wanting to emulate someone like Beyonce, but I would have thought that the main challenge facing Alexandra and her management is to cast off the shackles of being ‘the talent show winner’ and established as a pop star in her own right. It seemed counterproductive to perform no fewer than four Destiny’s Child songs.
There were a couple of dutiful ballads, one with acoustic accompaniment and beautifully sung. The other, a clumsy, wailing cover of Hallelujah sent shivers down my spine but not in a good way.
This is a song which should never have been covered by the winner of a reality television programme. This is not Alexandra’s fault, however, so we chose this moment to go out to get a beer.
Halfway through her set, we were left shell-shocked as a dizzying cloud of oestrogen and screaming enveloped the whole audience as Alexandra’s dancers performed a clothes shedding ‘street dance’ routine. This went down an absolute storm with the crowd but left me and Smudge momentarily sinking into our seats.
The tour comes off the back of the delayed release of her album, with Cowell confirming the hold-up was ‘to allow Burke to polish her skills and find the right songs for the album’ (thanks Google, again). She certainly seems to be a good performer, a great singer and suitably marketable to the pseudo-urban pop market, so good on her I suppose.
I may even contact her a couple of years down the line, for a collaboration when I am Smudge’s manager during his career as an unlikely Grime MC. I’m currently giving him some time to polish his skills and find a suitably marketable angle for a skinny-jeaned indie rapper from Failsworth on the grime scene.
Article originally written for and published on http://www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk
I’ve always felt that the night buses of Manchester offer a fascinating glimpse into the weird and wonderful after-dark inhabitants of the city. Sometimes shameful, sometimes endearing, sometimes hilarious, but most of the times I’ve got on a Manchester night bus, there’s never been a dull journey for the ardent rubbernecking passenger.
After a gig at the Apollo and with the heavens dutifully opening, the approaching 192 back towards Piccadilly Gardens seemed a great opportunity to avoid the rain and rediscover old delight.
Upstairs there was a fairly standard after-gig audience lolling around. Amongst whom was group of drunken girls a couple of rows in front clumsily howling their favourite song of the gig, a group of chaps to the left having a serious debate about the band being much better live. Disappointing there seemed no obvious contenders for a bizarre incident.
So we begin to discuss the gig ourselves, “I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them really, I think…” “RAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLPPPPPHHHHHH’ came a sudden blood curdling bellow from the two lads in front as one of them released a powerful stream of vomit tapering through his emergency (one-second-too-late) hand cover.
In my impish excitement at trying to locate who would be the one to illuminate the journey, half hoping for Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy to come shouting his way up the stairs, I’d failed to notice the couple of lads directly in front. They were about eighteen, fairly scally and I’d foolishly failed to see the telling head-drooping of the one sat by the window.
His last ditch attempt to cover his mouth had, fortunately, sent most of his produce down the back of the seat in front, but a rogue stream had funnelled in between the top of the seat and the handle, down the back of the drunken singing girls. The one directly in front was wearing a little lacy blouse.
“Eeeeeewww, Oh. My. Goooood!”, she squealed as she jumped up, craning round to assess the inevitable damage, her friends jumped up showing transparently false empathy, ‘thank God that was you, not me’, written on each of their faces.
“Bail! Get off the bus!” said the vomiter, frantically nudging his isle-blocking, equally drunk friend. After a couple of seconds of his drunken friend processing the information, they both sprang up and scampered down the isle impressively pressing each STOP button along the way.
Feeling like I’d had my night bus fill for the evening, I kicked back. With my mind adrift, I suddenly snapped back into the room as I became aware of a bizarre argument brewing on the seats directly behind. Jackpot. I’ll call them Carol and Phillip. (I’ve made few changes in the interests of, well, decency).
Heaven is a bus. And hell. Life is a blur.
Carol: I was waiting there for you for like, twenty minutes outside the toilets.
Phillip: It was loud, I thought you said meet outside, I now know you said meet at the toilets. We both have mobiles. We met, its fine, isn’t it?
Carol: That’s just typical. You don’t give a shit do you? Oh ‘whatever’, ‘wherever’, you don’t care. At all.
Phillip: Look, why are you kicking off for no reason? We met, we’re here, it’s fine.
(Seems reasonable, again).
Carol: You’re just so patronising and I’m sick of it.
Phillip: Patronising? Why? What did I say?
Carol: It’s not what you said, it’s your hand gestures.
Phillip: What? My hand gestures? What are you going on about?
(I was wracking my brain trying to think of any hand gesture which could be construed as so infuriatingly patronising.)
Carol: I’m sick of it. I’d have been Head of Department now if it wasn’t for you patronising me, I’m sick of it!
Phillip: What are you on about? Why aren’t you Head of Department? Oh yea, cos you cocked it up, didn’t you?
Carol: Yea, I fucked it up because…..stop doing that patronising thing with your hands, I hate it, and you’re even doing it now!
(Frantically, I’m trying to turn my head enough to catch a reflection of Philip’s condescending trotters.)
Phillip: I thought you were done with all this, when I took you back again last time. But here we are, you giving me shit again for no reason.
(Took her back again? I’m thinking this isn’t a first-time occurrence. Poor Phillip, but he should have considered his patronising hands more.)
Carol: I’m just sick of you patronising me with your hands.
Phillip: Let just get off the bus before you make a show of us.
Before? Like the chucking-uppie brothers before them they sprung up and shuffled down the aisle, pausing only to shoot a scathing glance back at the giggling passengers helplessly trying not to stare.
In the space of a ten minute trip back into town, there was magnificent drama for the rubbernecker and I felt my point had been well and truly made about the follies of the Manchester night bus. Magnificent. The cheapest, most honest entertainment around.
My email address is public on my blog, I got this email from a fan which sparked a lovely conversation...
From: John McCarthey
To: Mark Jorgensen
Subject: Your blog
You just think you’re funny don’t you prick. I bet your still a virgin.
From: Mark Jorgensen
To: John McCarthey
Subject: Your blog
Thanks for taking the time to email me feedback about my blog.