Sunday, 23 September 2012

New Home

My blog is moving to Wordpress, you can find the new posts here. Thanks very much for looking at my site, I'd love if you dropped by the new place too! (I have cake and tea!)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hywel


I'm sad to hear that my friend Hywel Jones passed away yesterday, July 4th 2012. It's not an exaggeration to say that being friends with Hywel changed my life. I would not have run the London Marathon this year were it not for the inspiration he gave me; Hywel taught me a lot about bravery, determination, mental toughness and achieving goals in the face of difficult circumstances. He is a special person who helped and inspired others right until the end, without self-pity, often with his trademark dark sense of humour. Some cliches are cliches because they're true - there should be more Hywels in the world.
 
My thoughts are with Hywel's wife Cathy, son Luke, daughter Carly and the rest of their family.



You can buy Hywel's single on Amazon here to raise money for Tenovus Cancer Charity. 


You can read Hywel's blog here.






Saturday, 30 June 2012

Francois and the Atlas Mountains Review

This review will appear in Plugged In Magazine, a not-for-profit social enterprise with the aim of improving the literacy skills, confidence and educational/vocational opportunities of young people through workshops, practical experience and copy in a quality publication. The magazine is produced by volunteers and funding is gained to cover the print run only. I help out with the mag as a volunteer writer and sometimes organise workshops with Plugged In in music journalism, photography and event organising as part of my job in Community Arts. I am continually amazed by the dedication of the guys who run this venture, and the great results they achieve. Now they've been nominated for a National Lottery Award in the Education Category - please could you spare a moment of your time and vote here? If you'd like more information on Plugged In, you can find it here.


May 9th 2012
Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff

Listening to Francois and the Atlas Mountains’ 2010 record E VOLO Love made me a fan, but experiencing the French male foursome in the musical flesh was something quite different, an encounter which propelled me into SUPER fandom. Their live performance offered so much more than the already wonderful Gallic chamber pop tracks that the album presents. In person, their formula of layering keys, African percussion, glistening electric guitars, electronic sounds and intermittently upbeat and wistful vocals becomes magical. On this night in Clwb Ifor Bach, the floor was layered with bright blankets, the multiple leads and wires connecting amps to instruments were covered in coloured cloth, the drummer wore bells on his legs, no socks on his feet and a sequinned t-shirt. They looked great – pleasingly eccentric, likeable, vibrant - and the sound was out of this world. The bones of the tunes were fleshed out with tiers upon tiers of beats, jangles, and dance making morsels which collectively elevated this show to nothing short of fantastic. The sparkling crown on top of the kingly set came in the form of synchronised dance moves the guys suddenly broke into at regular intervals. Surprising, yes, appreciated and massively entertaining, definitely. My cheeks ached with the force of an uncontrollable happy grin all evening, and to not dance would have been impossible. I attended the performance on a very rainy Wednesday night with no expectations. I left with memories of my number one gig experience to date, in addition to confirmation of why I love live music and will never stop seeking its pleasures and life affirming benefits.


Japandroids Review

Thursday May 17th 
Clwb Ifor Bach
Cardiff

Packed, sweaty, pulsating with bodies and alt-punk/garage rock beats, Clwb Ifor Bach was bouncing with energy generated from this Pitchfork recommended Vancouver duo. They attracted a stack of gig goers despite this being a school night and were as noisy as a band double in numbers. Brian King (guitar/vocals) and David Prowse (drums/vocals) stated at the beginning, “We don’t do set lists or loads of talking, we play you as many tracks as we’re physically able to.” And that they did, tearing through fourteen with what seemed like every ounce of vigour they possessed, accepting requests along the way from fans who clearly knew their material well. Tracks played included 2009 Post Nothing anthemic favourites The Boys are Leaving Town and Young Hearts Spark Fire, mixed with material from the brand new release Celebration Rock such as The Nights of Wine and Roses and Younger Us,  and one of my favourites the heavy, sombre, insistent Darkness on the Edge of Gastown from 2010’s record No Singles. Japandroids’ music makes you ache for an American road trip and a reversal in time to be an early ‘twenty something’ forever; such is its emotive youthful power. I am positive that if a DJ set had not taken place immediately after Japandroids’ slot, an encore would have been demanded by the hungry-for-more crowd and the dancing uber-fans in the front row would have moshed until the sun rose. The boys might have left town to continue their tour, but I hope they keep their promise to return to Cardiff and share their passionate playing again later this year.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Swn Presents Canton Crawl - April 28th 2012



Entire days of Swn served music are usually reserved for early Winter time when the eagerly awaited annual festival takes place, so I jumped at the chance of attending a Spring taster. Little did the organisers or attendees know this particular Spring afternoon would come with arctic gusts fit to freeze even the hardiest of krautrock fans. Soon (Swn?) after arriving at the new not-for-profit art space The Printhaus, I realised my error in dressing for summer, so an early survival dash back home for hypothermia preventing clothes was essential.


H. Hawkline, R. Seiliog, Tender Prey, Stacking Chairs, and No Thee No Ess were amongst the literally super cool line up, with Fist of the First Man a particular highlight for me. The trio are a new project by Cardiff electro king Zwolf. Using his alter ego, composer Tom Raybauld can usually be found wielding a laptop to create his sound, but on this day he appeared with old school instrument in hand. Along with two band members walls of technical guitar were created, which were intense yet engaging with reverberating psych edges. I couldn’t help be reminded of Right Hand Left Hand in terms of their vocal free, almost mechanical style, but there is something warmer about this threesome which doesn’t just leave you impressed by their playing skills but fully captivates. It was a tiny set of three tracks, but a big sound and a taster of an album with a lot more to offer, including layered electronica, scratchy dance beats, and vocals ranging from haunting to the bluesy funk variety. A listen on Soundcloud is recommended.


Next up came much hand warming around mini-bonfires and drinking of hot drinks and alcohol at the onsite bar. A discount arranged at the nearby Chapter Arts Centre also proved popular as people ran across for between-band-hand-defrosting before gathering expectantly in fur coats, scarves and bobble hats to wait for Cate Le Bon. The weather seemed a perfect accompaniment to the Camarthenshire born performer’s set. Her penetrating glacial vocals and mix of quirky experimental spooky folk suited the wintry people huddle which had formed. Le Bon’s feels like music for the night and the dark, particularly when considering the often death-focused lyrics. Tracks including the title song from latest release CYRK were played, along with (my personal) old favourites from the 2009 Me Oh My. A few technical hitches didn’t annul the atmosphere, and as the sun set a magical set by Le Bon and band created a perfect full stop to the great Cardiff line up.


Thankfully this festival experience, as with all Swn events to date, culminated in the comforts of sleep in my bed rather than a shivery tent. The lingering campfire aroma which had secured itself to my hair continued to remind me of a wonderful day for the remainder of that weekend.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Leave the Valleys, MTV

MTV – The Valleys is a planned reality TV Show in the vein of The Only Way is Essex, which will seek to perpetuate negative stereotypes of Wales and its’ residents. I have discussed in detail below why I think this is the case. If you too object to True North Production Company creating MTV – The Valleys; please sign this petition and share it – you will really help to raise awareness of opinion. Likewise, please follow this Twitter account, and there is a Facebook page in the making which would be great to share far and wide. For more details read on…


MTV -The Valleys is described by its makers as, “The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore and Made In Chelsea - but Welsh”. The definition points toward another fake tan and stereotype saturated TV show in which combinations of individuals are purposefully plucked to maximise cohabitation catastrophe, outrageous behaviour and headlines grabbed in low brow publications. Or, as True North, the company commissioned to produce this programme state, “The True North team love what they do - they respect the people they work with and they put money on screen.”

I had the displeasure of watching an episode of Geordie Shore at a friend’s house. It was not pretty. Drunkenness, vomiting, ridiculous conversation, nudity and sex, no doubt edited to reveal ‘the best bits.’ Is this the content of a respectful TV company’s product? The quote, “they put money on screen” is the answer. Anyone else thinking money shot? The filmic term refers to the most expensive clip to produce or the most money making – particularly synonymous with climatic moments in pornography. So in reality TV, the money on the screen must be the most scandalous, the most pitiful, that which causes the most media furore, and is the most expensive to the individual unwittingly making money for the company. Perhaps he or she will pay with their dignity, their privacy, their pride.


True North - responsible for previous high-brow docu-gems such as My Fake Baby and My Mums Used To Be Men - want to put money on the screen from South Wales in this instance. The programme’s Twitter feed announces their late night presence in towns such as Merthyr Tydfil, Neath, Blackwood, Abertillery, and Bridgend. Potential show members are flattered with hand delivered postcards which read, ‘You’ve Been Spotted.’ This looks-based selection process taps into the idea that being a Cheryl or Ashley-Cole-Alike is a viable and aspirational goal. This is accentuated by the show’s aim of putting eight young people into a house in Cardiff for five weeks and allowing them to “work in any field they like.” Social work, teaching, journalism, engineering, molecular biology then? Nope. Not any field. “We're looking at the more glitzy, fun industries - fashion, music, modelling, events, promotions, acting, singing, etc.” All of these professions are valid in their own right - but they will be used in this programme to create spectacles of those involved, and fit in with the "glitzy" image of the show. I don't suppose it would be as justifiable to film a scientist in a bikini as it would a model.

Not only is the show advancing the empty ambition of celebrity, rather than championing the values of self-worth, skills and education amongst young people, it misunderstands and will no doubt misrepresent The Valleys. It is moving participants twenty miles along the A470, to a city the majority already frequent. Will they suggest people who live in Welsh towns and villages rarely leave them? This is true for some people – but I suspect they will press on with this generalised image regardless of individuals’ experiences as it fits with their premise.


The show’s Executive Producer Fiona O’Sullivan, who held the same role in TOWIE for Lime Productions said: “The Valleys is very exciting - I’m in no doubt looking at the casting for the series that the kids from the Welsh Valleys are huge reality stars in the making. It’s a fantastic little known world and will make a brilliant setting for a constructed reality show." Patronising, yes? “Huge reality stars in the making” smacks of a cannibal who has discovered a fresh batch of human flesh in a hitherto undiscovered pocket of civilisation. I bet O’ Sullivan is salivating over her incisors as I type. South Wales is a little known world in terms of ‘reality TV’ and it would be nice to keep it that way. The Valleys are scenically beautiful and abound with vibrant, welcoming, witty people. This programme, as the others in whose likeness it has been created, will not be looking for well rounded good news stories however.


The South Wales Valleys experience high levels of unemployment as a legacy of the mining industry closure, which created cyclical social problems such as low levels of educational attainment and high teenage pregnancy rates. There are many organisations working with communities in these areas to change this social landscape and correct the consistently negative press received. Colleagues of mine who work in Merthyr Tydfil Community Projects regularly receive calls from broadcasters asking for programme fodder. The answer is always no, the staff want to help improve and change, not exploit and exacerbate problems. On-screen coverage of South Wales often features the most run-down areas, opinions gleaned from the least broad minded, cumulatively leading to a negative, skewed vision of the area by those outside.


There is a surfeit of successful, highly educated, hardworking and eloquent people of all ages in and from the South Wales Valleys, who do not parade cleavage or chests and would not wish to appear drunk or naked on national TV. They aren’t the ones who will appear. The vulnerable or misguided will appear. They will have been creepily conscripted and cold-bloodedly cast by True North Production Company to make money and increase ratings. The South Wales Valley stereotype will be perpetuated. The Welsh stereotype will be propagated. The idea of vanity and fame as a career path will be given a helping hand, potentially inspiring a whole host of Welsh youngsters to avoid academia and concentrate on hair extensions instead.

Stripped down, MTV -The Valleys is about business people manipulating and exploiting human beings – and a nation - in order to make money – how can this be allowed to take place?


If you are approached by MTV - The Valleys, please realise what the invite to take part actually entails, and rely on your self-worth, hard work and talent to make you successful instead.


Anyone who objects to True North creating MTV - The Valleys, please sign this petition and share it – you will really help to raise awareness of opinion.


Thanks for your support.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Why I got a Taxi Home and Other Tales of Running.

It was Sunday afternoon when it happened. I was supposed to run fifteen miles. I expected to run fifteen miles. This didn’t go to plan.

The task ahead didn’t feel daunting. Training for a marathon has changed the way I view longer runs, and as the distances have increased, so has my confidence and acceptance in my ability to achieve more. I train lots, so am able to run further, and I attribute a large part of being able to run further to belief. The same applies to lots of life’s tasks and challenges – if you believe you can do something, and you prepare, then it is highly likely you can. If I can train for a marathon, then so can a lot of people, who at the moment, may not believe this is the case. I like this quote from Percy Cerutty, legendary running coach:

“To hell with the lot of them if you ‘feel’ you can do it.”

Quite.

I’ve gone off track and down a metaphorical windy lane into the woods here. Back to my original tale. So, on Sunday April 8th, I was prepared, I was not worried. But at 3 miles I already felt uncomfortable. I considered stopping at 5, but instead of heading home after a lap of Roath parks, I ran past Cathays cemetery toward Crwys Road. I paused at a bus-stop shelter, where I stretched and sat down. Another runner heading my way spurred me to start up again. My shins hurt. The other runner overtook me. I probably scowled at her and passing cars. I joined Whitchurch Road, and ran through the underpass onto Western Avenue, then through Bute Park. I acknowledged it was nice to take my time through Bute Park as opposed to the mad heart-attacky dash which is parkrun. But that’s as cheery as I got. My shins hurt. The scenery didn’t enthuse me on this day. I cut across Castle Street and ran along the Taff Embankment. I felt sick. I checked my watch. I stopped. I changed my iPod from the high bpm dance trash I employ to keep me going and put The (lovely) Cave Singers on instead. A bit better. I checked my watch. I felt sick. I pulled my earphones out. I ran to the sound of my stroppy breath and footsteps. I checked my watch. Ten miles. I walked for a bit. I tried to pretend the wind wasn’t freezing. People in padded jackets and bobble hats walked past me in the opposite direction. I tried to pretend I wasn’t freezing. I thought about walking through Penarth marina, along the Cardiff Bay barrage and back to Roath (approx 5 miles). I thought about phoning a taxi. I phoned a taxi.


Home and £11.20 poorer, I lay on the sofa underneath a blanket and contemplated what went wrong.

Some thoughts:

1. Within the previous fortnight, I had run approximately 71.78 miles.
2. Within the last month, I had run approximately 126.48 miles.
3. I had completed assignments and run fundraising events and not had much sleep for weeks.
Conclusion = I was cream-crackered. (Polite version used for parental readers)

I’ve since read up on this experience, and RealBuzz, a healthy living forum, assures me it was normal. Their article on marathon tapering suggests:

“Two weeks out from race day, your ‘long run’ should be just half the time/distance you achieved on your longest session. The week after, it’s cut in half again (so your 'long' run may actually be four to six miles).”

Ooops. I was aiming for 15 miles as a Runner’s World plan I read that week had told me. According to RealBuzz then, 10 miles was about right, as my longest had been 20 miles. There was more:

“It is not unusual to feel suddenly lethargic and heavy during the taper. This is partly because your glycogen stores are full (since you aren't continually depleting them with training), and each gram of glycogen is stored along with three grams of water. Your body also becomes accustomed to a large volume of activity, and taking this out of the equation can leave you feeling as if you could barely run a mile, let alone a marathon.”

Relief.

It’s obvious then, that no matter what training advice says, ultimately you need to listen to your own body. There are hundreds of thousands of marathon plans, but these have to be adapted according to how you feel.

I spent the next two days sleeping and lying on the sofa enjoying multiple films, and plan similar for the next fortnight, alongside a bit of running – but definitely no 15 milers!

The taxi tale will no doubt be re-told and laughed about.

So will the story about my covert running attempt. It was the beginning of my training. I ran at night to ‘avoid being seen.’ Outside Cardiff High one winter evening, I got swearily heckled by a car full of teenage boys who could see me clearly. I tripped over a bump in the road, ripped my trousers and cut my knee. I started to consider morning runs.

I have been overtaken during races by by a giraffe, and by Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

On the approach to a Merthyr Tydfil race start line, I was greeted along with several other runners by a group of drunk-and-drinking teenage boys. They'd obviously been up all night, and wished us luck whilst holding their bottles of lager aloft. 

I’m looking forward to firstly, resting. Secondly, to collecting some more stories at the London Marathon. I promise not to catch a taxi until I’m over the finish line.


My fundraising amount is now at over £2250. If you'd like to sponsor me to help raise funds for Tenovus Cancer Charity, you can do so here. Thank you!