That Certain Smile

ANYBODY who has played rugby for different clubs will understand how the game can be a stranger.

Different attitudes, different playbooks, different strengths and weaknesses.

So when I played my first game for Newbold on Avon back in the early to mid 1990s it was one to forget.

Pitched in at fly-half, where I’d been used to playing for a couple of Coventry clubs, I found the style of play a little different and I struggled.

Of course, I struggled because of nerves anyway. I think I kicked all my restarts out on the full for one, giving our opponents a win they didn’t really deserve. My kicking, once a strength, gave them a pass time and time again. I never did it again, in any game I played.

Desperate to make up ground, I ran with ball in hand when I spotted gaps. In my mind I was very unlucky not to score a couple of tries. In Lloyd Bale’s mind, I couldn’t pass off my left hand.

I cut a dejected figure after that defeat. I knew I could do better. I knew I’d let myself down, but more important the other guys in the team.

Lloyd was one of three Bales in the red and black that day, along with brothers Malcolm and Alan ‘Bish’.

And Lloyd let me know what he thought before buying me a beer. It wasn’t nasty, it was a joke, but it still speared me because while I knew it wasn’t true, my performance had made it look that way.

But one thing had happened, the Bales had welcomed me to Newbold.

What came to strike me, as I played more alongside them, was that they were a mischevious trio, always smiling, enjoying the sheer pleasure of playing the game. On the pitch, Lloyd at openside was a real annoying bugger for the other side. He got everywhere, got his hands everywhere, and smiled as if he’d just lifted the William Webb Ellis trophy. Or snuck it in his bag after the final whistle had gone.

Come rain, shine, snow, muddy bath of a pitch, Lloyd revelled in the game. Bish, at scrum half, had twinkling eyes that off-set his smile. You’d sometimes see him roused to what looked like anger, but with a wink, you’d know he was acting for effect.

While Malc, inside centre or restored at fly half when I was banished to the back of the field, reminded me of a schoolkid involved in playground games, ducking this way and that, doing outrageous, silly manoeuvres I’d rarely seen – and most of them coming off.

I’d like to say we became thick as thieves at times, although I rarely played with a smile. They were as hard-edged as I was, as disappointed in defeat as I was crushed, but they just loved playing. The smiles were never far from their faces, if they ever left.

Whether it was rugby, or just playing the fool, they were in the thick of it. I remember playing at Stewarts and Lloyds, Corby, and Lloyd and Malcolm pouring bubble bath on the ref’s hair in the showers.

I’m sure Bish was involved somewhere along the line. The ref, who had had a bloody awful game, spent quite a few minutes trying to wash the bubble bath out of his hair. It was hilarious, like watching the Marx Brothers at their devastating best.

Often, their own team-mates bore the brunt of their jokes and fun, including me.

I like to think that after a poor game, or poor performance, they went out of their way to lift their team-mates up. Nothing stayed too serious when they were around.

I was to play cricket with Malcolm, notably in a period of reasonable success in the 20 over midweek format, when Newbold managed some cup finals and top table finishes.

Even without Bish and Lloyd, Malc was a handful on his own. Young players coming into the first team had to be on their mettle. I stopped playing rugby for Newbold when serious illness meant an operation that took a chunk of my back away. The wound left behind took six months of cleansing and repacking and it was three years before I played rugby again, this time up in Yorkshire, as I’d started to move around work-wise.

I had a brief period at Hull Ionians, and one season at Norwich, but neither had characters like the Bales. They had great club men, which the Bales were, but no-one came clo to the madcap fun they brought.

I miss those days, but I have very fond memories. I’m glad they played a positive part in my life, added to my love of the game and proved great club men for a great club.

Bish, dearly departed a few years now, already had a starting berth in the Newbold past XV elsewhere. Now Lloydy has gone to join him.

I can just imagine the fun and the chaos and the smiles.

Do You Remember?

I WILL never forget the disbelieving smile on Scott McHugh’s face as he called me over to one of the small TVs in the sports department.

‘Some fuckin’ idiot’s flown into the World Trade Center,’ he said, shaking his head and beckoning me over.

Scott, who recently passed away at the untimely age of 47, was on the sports desk of the Hull Daily Mail, while I was crime reporter.

It was sometime after 2pm. I’d been in 13 hours earlier, preparing for an almighty edition to mark the biggest drugs raids outside London. Humberside Police had given us unprecedented access and we had teams of reporters – pretty much the whole writing staff – out with officers across the district.

I’d already done hours of interviews with everyone from top police chiefs, former victims of the drugs culture, unwitting burglary and robbery victims whose attackers had been desperate for drugs.

It meant we also had a paper’s worth of follow ups for the following day. So much so that, apart from the late duty reporter, I was the only one left in editorial, writing the bulk of copy.

When Scott approached, I was glad of the distraction.

On the small screen we saw pictures of one of the towers in flames, smoke billowing.

‘How could you not miss that?’ I pondered. I thought some private aircraft, a small light Cessna or such like, had lost control and plunged into the building.

Then I realised there was too much smoke, too big a fire.

‘Are you sure it was an aircraft?’

‘That’s what they’re saying,’ Scott replied.

As we both stood there struggling to comprehend, the second plane came into view. It was horrific. We were both stunned. I called the deputy editor over and tried to explain. I was known from my mischievous sense of humour, so at first he just smiled in a ‘not going to get caught out by you’ manner. Until he saw the replays.

The presses were already rolling, but there was time to halt them, put in a new page one and some more details on page four. And that was it. In common with many daily newspapers at the time, no-one really knew the impact those moments of terror would have.

We’d seen a terrorist atrocity as it happened on live TV. We’d witnessed a crime. We didn’t feel good about it.

As news came in of the other aircraft crashes, into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, I was on the phone to the Foreign Office, the British Civil Aviation Authority and then the Americans. It was utter chaos, but back then journalists still got information in real time, without the shutters coming down like today.

The CAA confirmed no British-bound or outward flights were involved.

The Foreign Office said embassy officials were already working to find out if any Britons were among the dead and injured. It’s the parochial approach of newspapers worldwide. Pick a tragedy, any tragedy, and newspapers will always strive to find a ‘local’ angle.

Back in 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 came down over Lockerbie, the Coventry Evening Telegraph sent a photographer and reporter up to get details before it emerged a local man and his fiancee had been on board.

As journalists we cover events because they’re important. The ‘local angle’ often makes the impact that much greater.

During my career I was involved in a number of tragedies. My involvement in 9/11 as a writer was brief, but no less tough.

Inevitably, we found a local Hull man and his sister had been among the victims in the twin towers.

That brings it home to the journalists involved. To a point, they share in the same wild, unforgiving emotions of those left behind. They, too, struggle to believe what happened.

I still struggle to comprehend that day. Not from a conspiracy theorist point of view, although there are still anomalies and questions to be answered in my mind.

For me, it’s the sheer horror of the attacks; the amazing bravery of the police, fire and ambulance crews who ran into danger, the deadly ‘Ground Zero’.

Then there’s the professionalism of the hospital doctors, nurses and other staff who coped with a glut of patients that stretched them beyond what they should have been capable of.

The lives saved, rather than the lives lost.

Years later, the ignorance and intransigence of politicians to take care of those same brave men and women in their ailing health, a direct result of 9/11, which led to former talk show host Jon Stewart giving the speech of a lifetime.

The fact that people are still dying today as a result of those attacks 19 years ago is a matter of disbelief, or horror.

I still feel a connection with 9/11 because I watched it happen. I feel I was a part of that horrific morning in New York because I was an unwilling witness to murder.

Some things you forget.

Some things you can never forget.

Some things you should never forget.

One of my favourite bands, Camel, wrote an anthem after founder and lead guitarist watched the ‘jumpers’ from the towers.

I saw a pearl of wisdom
in the spirit of a man
as he saved
the day he lost.

Time will say I told you so
if we look back in regret.
Never give a day away.
It won’t return the same again.

Nothing can last
there are no second chances.
Never give a day away.

Always live for today.

September 11, 2001, is a day we should never forget. And we should always live every day the best we can, make the most of this precious life we’ve been gifted.

Those who died that day should be remembered. Those who have died since should be remembered. Those who suffer because of that day should not be forgotten.

Mind Games

THERE’S always been an arrogance about rugby union.

The idea it was a game for thugs, played by gentleman, for a start. Despite the term, there was often nothing gentlemanly about those of a better education and social standing than their counterparts, the ‘common rabble’ following the round ball game.

Because, like it or not, that’s been a prevailing attitude.

Some people, seeing the mess the game is in, yearn for the good old days of amateurism, forgetting that there was a ‘professional’ angle in that, too. Clubs finding jobs for players, irrespective of whether they were suited to a role, pound notes stuffed into rugby boots and much worse.

But the current arrogance appears to be shameless. As I learned in Chaucer, the love of money is the root of all evil.

Saracens, found guilty of breaking the Premiership salary cap, have been relegated but are intent on keeping their stars, even if this means farming them out to foreign teams in foreign competitions.

The disdain shown for the second tier of English rugby union is telling. And I wonder if this is a clever way of getting round any further salary infringements?

Money, money, money
Must be funny
In a rich man’s world.

We’ve seen how cash has corrupted the round ball game, clubs in hock for hundreds of millions of pounds, profitable but yet loss-making. It defies the traditional ideas of business.

Now we’re at a watershed moment for rugby union. And I fear the game I loved is increasingly getting lost.

Money was pouring into the game, predominantly in England at international and premiership level, although Ealing Trailfinders have continued their upward arc thanks to the bankrolling of their patron. A journey trodden before them by Worcester, Exeter and Bristol.

American hedge funds, looking for their pound of flesh from English rugby’s foolish Antonio, may well be rueing their involvement, given the suggestion that the pay-for-play TV companies won’t be shelling out vast sums anymore.

The unrealistic inflation of fresh TV deals, a key tranche of CVC’s plan, may come unstuck in our Covid 19 changed world, the broadcasters are warning.

Which then leads to support. Thus far, the government in its confused  reaction to the worst pandemic in a century, has distanced itself from allowing crowds back in any meaningful numbers.

Tony Rowe, the millionaire benefactor of Exeter, the one Premiership club to make money in recent seasons, now admits it is haemorraghing millions.

‘If we can’t get some decent revenue coming in by the new year, we’re in serious trouble,’ Rowe was quoted as saying this week.

He said the banqueting and conference centre at Sandy Park, the erstwhile golden goose for Exeter, was now a millstone around the club’s neck.

A gloomy view, but take the microscope away from Devon and the other clubs are going to be in worse positions. Leicester was already up for sale and has struggled to keep hold of its star names.

Saracens will be fine, with Nigel Wray’s big pockets. Sale appear to have the cash behind the scenes to weather the storms and big-spending Bristol will probably not notice any shortfall, given that its billionaire backer has spent fortunes to get the club back into the top flight after years of bounce and near misses.

The others? Time will tell, but I fear even more money will be sought to truly distort the fabric of the sport. Or clubs will finally realise it’s pointless to try to keep up and stopping spending cash they haven’t got. History counts for nothing. The big clubs of yesteryear have nostalgia but it’s hardly a bankable commodity in rugby union.

If the game is already a shadow of its former self, then how will it evolve when money trumps players and supporters? We’ve seen so many tinkerings with the rules to make it a more attractive sell to TV and new audiences, to ‘speed the game up’, to encourage more tries…

I’m sure Tony Rowe will dig deep and help Exeter through its difficult times, but what about the others without a Sugardaddy?

I fancy Ealing to perhaps send a shockwave through Premiership ranks next campaign out, building the squad to rival Saracens. What will the administrators do if Mike Gooley’s men pip Nigel Wray’s side? Because I’m guessing he’d be able to sidestep the old demands of a Premiership worthy stadium, or answer them quickly.

It will be an interesting battle, but I guess ultimately will be decided by who spends more. That’s the sad fact of rugby union today. And more fool the clubs that overstretch themselves with the fancy they too could join the supposed elite. That simply helps the imbalance and puts more clubs at risk. We’ve seen in recent months that when clubs suffer, the true victims are the players and support staff, those with mortgages to pay and families to support.

How many professional rugby players are out of work now? And how many have finally had the courage to tell it like it is, that they’ve been treated as little more than pieces of meat thrown to gladiatorial games for the glory of spectators?

Former Scotland international Rory Hughes may have ruffled a few feathers in his outspoken criticism of his former clubs.

For Leicester, where he was on loan before Covid 19 struck, he says:  ‘The training was pretty poor and, being around all the coaches I’ve worked with, we’ve always done a lot of skills work, and when I went down there, there were some boys who were just battering rams.’

That speaks volumes based on the matches I watched on the first weekend of Premiership action after the enforced break.

We’ve a brand of rugby that is dreadfully boring in England. Players bashing into tackling walls like the aforementioned battering rams. It’s not pretty. Otherwise, at scrum and breakdown time, scrum-halves are booting the ball sky high. Again, not pretty for the purists.

Both techniques might be effective at times, and can be a source of glee for the fan. But I think they are being terribly overplayed. There were one or two moments of hope, of rugby magic, in the four games I had sight of. Seconds out of hours.

It’s social media, with tries of the week from the grassroots that suggest the imbalance of rugby union is growing. In those clips, sent out by England Rugby, you see players of every size and shape, fast flowing rugby, lovely passes and vision to make breaks we once saw a dozen or so times in a top flight 80 minutes.

People playing for fun and putting the fun into the game.

The very people that the RFU seems to be turning its back on, in favour of saving the Premiership billionaires some money. The very clubs that should have RFU money pouring into them to arrest the decline in the numbers of people playing the sport in England. The communities that need them.

I know both Saracens and Ealing do great work in their communities, to encourage people to take up the game and give opportunities, but it’s all built on big-spending. The message has moved from great rugby to great budgets.

Maybe another great schism for the union is coming. Maybe it’s already here. The haves and have-nots, the big spenders versus the clubs spending within their means and unable to compete.

The Bassanios and Antonios and Shylocks of Shakespeare, all looking for self-enrichment may well have their day, but it is bound to end in disappointment for some.

 

Stalling For Time While The Drummer Is In The Bathroom

BACK in the 1980s, when I first became a drummer in a band, it was a joyful time.
Pre-internet.
The CD was with us, of course, but things were still low tech. And human.
I remember playing a gig upstairs at The Pilot Hotel in Coventry. It was an old estate pub with a sprung dancefloor and particularly welcoming of live bands.
The landlords were, if I recall correctly, close family with one of the Moody Blues, so music ran in the blood.
Back then, you learned from your mistakes. Or you didn’t. Watching Top Of The Pops didn’t really teach you much about drumming. It’s almost as if the drummers just fooled along to backing tracks.
The Old Grey Whistle Test was much better, with its live performances, but how often did the cameras alight on the poor old drummer at the back of the band? So it was a question of listening to the old 33s and 45s, or rewinding cassette tapes, to try to learn a song.
I remember one occasion at another Coventry estate pub, with another sprung dance floor, when a chap came up to me after the gig and praised my performance. He then proceeded to take my drums and cymbal stands away from me and teaching me how to address the kit properly.
He sat me down and asked me to air drum. I duly obliged and he then pieced together my kit to suit what I was doing. I can’t remember his name, just that to the teenage me, he was an old man.
I’m still grateful for that time he spent trying to help.
But that was it. At gigs, you’d get drummers coming up and saying nice things, but learning? Nah.
A lifetime later, when I’d quit drums and could think of nothing worse than playing again, I stumbled across a dream kit, stumbled across the Mike Dolbear Forum and learned more in six months than I could have done in 60 years the way I had been going.

More importantly, it was a community that led to endearing friendships. For the most part, people helped each other out. They advised, they gently suggested and persuaded, they mentioned issues with playing that could be easily tackled with a tweak here or there.
What’s more, they inspired.
I remember meeting Mike Dolbear for coffee in London and discussing the forum. He said the people made it and he had nothing, or very little, to do with it. In that he was right. Back then it was a forum that offered so much to so many.
Yes, there were problems. I think some of the words used fell foul of their intended target, lovely people misunderstood in the message they were trying to get across. Because the forum had people from completely different worlds. The businessmen and women taking up drums as a hobby, the amateur hour players juggling sticks and skins with work and family life, the wannabes trying their best to crack the market as a professional musician and then the pros themselves and the teachers.
People that knew, people that didn’t.
There were bound to be misunderstandings. I’m still searching for my tremulating spad growler. I must have lost it in one of my house moves.

I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful people. I invited Strangeman, Jim Strange, one of the American bunch, to come and stay and we had our first Dolbear Coventry night, attended by a decent number of forumites.
The abiding memory that night was of grown ups looking like children under the gaze of Paul ‘Brookie’ Brooks as he explained some kind of alien language of drumming to them.
I met up with fellow Genesis fan Martin ‘Beez’ Vaughan and AltheDrummer Cottrell ahead of a Genesis gig at Twickenham in 2007.
I caught the train to Bicester to buy some 6 and 8 inch concert toms from Carl Pettman, met lots of great people, including Tam Rankin and Alan Hudson, at the National Drum Fair…then later the Jobeky Drum Festivals and superstar drum sessions organised by Kevin ‘Drumcrew’ Bosworth in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
In among that were clinics, such as the Stanton Moore one in Coventry, and another one at Cock’s Moor in Birmingham, where Benny Greb stole the show with chops and humour galore, while Jojo Mayer amazed, but left me cold. Forumites gathered like moths to a flame.
I walked away from the forum when it seemed insults became a daily occurrence. It was a strange divorce because it had been such a big part of my life for five or six years. It was one of the first things I looked at when I switched on my computers at work or home.
But I was lucky enough to keep in contact with a few. We had regular coffee dates in and around Coventry, including with WendyB, now Wendy Jones, and MrNoisy, aka Ted Duggan, by then organised and planned on Facebook. The days of the forum were numbered, I guess.
Since my first foray into drumming there’s so many resources out there at the end of fingertips for aspiring drummers to tap into. YouTube, various groups on social media, and now drumming tutors, like Richard Wilson and Colin Woolway, all within easy grasp. The pros, too, have realised that teaching can have its benefits and have harnessed the power of the interweb to help bolster players’ talents, techniques and profiles.
It’s a very different world to that ‘old drummer’ in a Coventry pub taking time out to help a young whippersnapper. I know more about drumming than I’ve ever done, but my playing is now perhaps the worst it’s ever been. It’s been a great voyage of discovery.
The journey was enriched by the knowledge and friendships of the Mike Dolbear Forum.
I’m proud to call myself a drummer. Even prouder to have been a part of that forum. And proud to see what a great job Mary, daughter of the esteemed Osama Bin Liner, has done in bringing people back together now the forum has deceased, rather than simply pining for the fjords.

 

Redemption Song

IN THE early noughties Pauline Black delivered one of the most powerful versions of Bob Marley’s haunting Redemption Song I’ve had the fortune to hear.

And that’s saying something. Marley’s version was pretty darn brilliant.

This was something else, though. A tour de force of singer and subject in a perfect storm of soul, spirituality and sensitivity. A spine-tingling, tear-jerking performance I was so glad to have witnessed.

It was part of the acoustic Three Men And Black project, which paired The Selecter’s first lady of Two Tone with heroes from Stiff Little Fingers, The Jam and The Stranglers, in a frustratingly short-lived musical hotchpotch.

With the subtle dynamics accorded by the acoustic set, Black’s vocals soared with the beauty and beast emotions of the subject matter – slavery, dreams of freedom, but, above all, hope.

In 2020, we have seen another resurgence in the debate about colour and history. Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t matter, it’s just that in predominantly white hierarchies there are clear inequalities that are long overdue to correct.

It’s shone a light on our past, the slavery that helped make Britain ‘great’ and the divisions that still remain.

Even the erstwhile emminent historian, David Starkey, voiced an outrageous claim that the despicable slave trade was not genocide because of the survival of ‘so many damn blacks’.

Sensible estimates show that up to 12.8 million Africans were shipped in awful conditions to the New World with about 2.4 million dying during the trip. Millions more died before even setting foot on one of the ships that would take them to a life of unbearable hardship. Millions died once they got there, worked to death.

If that doesn’t equate to genocide, I don’t know what does.

But I’ve learned more from a BBC series, first screened in 2015, and now on Iplayer, which documents facts I never knew.

.https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b062nqpd/britains-forgotten-slave-owners-1-profit-and-loss

The slave owners were richly rewarded when slavery was banned by the British government. They received £20 million at the time, £17 billion in today’s money. The slaves? They got nothing. The hopes of a movement squashed by the sad realities of greed and power.

A letter addressed to the Annual Convention of Free People of Color Convention due to meet in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by a Benjamin Lundy in 1833, is said to have inspired the heartfelt lyrics.

He wrote: ‘A new era has opened upon the world! The ‘dark age’ of African oppression is drawing to its close; and the happy ‘millenium’ of African redemption is near at hand! Let the inhabitants of that ill-fated continent rejoice, and her children wherever scattered, sing praises to the Most High, on the ‘banks of deliverance’.”

Of course, it’s bittersweet in that while slavery was abolished in British colonies, America, now fully independent from London, continued as a slave nation. It was one of the reasons for the American Civil War, and, as we’ve seen with the Trump presidency, divisions still exist in the supposed ‘land of the free’.

At a time when the current British government is wafting around high sums of money to help various sections of the economy survive the Covid 19 crisis, those Georgian reparations to the slave owners offer a stunning comparison of attitudes. Slavery is wrong, let us make you richer.

And I can never truly appreciate the horrors of slavery. My own family members were agricultural labourers, toiling hard over long days for little reward in Oxfordshire and County Durham in the 1700s and 1800s. But they still enjoyed a sort of freedom lost to generations of black Africans.

I can close my eyes and still be transported back to that concert and that beautiful rendition of a beautiful song, thankful that I am free.

 

 

Let There Be Drums

FOR THOSE of you of a musical bent, you’ll probably know about four on the floor.

But what about 14 on the floor?

A few years ago I happened to mention I was on the look out for a Premier 14 inch floor tom – which appear to be as rare as hen’s teeth. Unless you’ve oodles of spare pound notes floating about the place. I haven’t, sadly.

Drumming buddy Jeremy Peake, a tiger of the Fens, said he had an old Olympic model, built in the Premier factory at Leicester in the 1970s, and it was mine if I wanted it. As it used the same ‘Speedboat’ lugs as my Soundwave kit I knew I had to say ‘yes’.

However, there was a hole in the plan. Or rather a hole in the floor tom. We agreed a  price based on the fact that it had a large gouge in the side where one of the leg mounting blocks sat. It was a broken drum, as much use as a drummer without drum sticks. With more confidence than I should have had, I said I’d have a go restoring it myself.

And having taken ownership of the mahogany shell, it then sat in storage for more years than I care to remember. Drumming was on hold after I suffered a frozen shoulder as a result of a car knocking me off my pushbike, then health issues galore.

Until lockdown.

Now, I have to say that my skills with tools are awful. And that’s being kind. If I thought there was any real hope I’d have sent it off to one of the artisans of the drum world. But I feared the verdict would be terminal.

My advice to anyone with a vintage drum of any kind that has issues would be to contact a professional. For Premier drums, Mike Ellis at Blenheim Drums, has plenty of experience breathing new life into kits and orphans. I know there are other restorers out there, but Mike’s been responsible for several of my drums and I can speak from firsthand experience that he really cares about the brand and drumming.

So, this shell was cracked, the ply badly out of line and I had an idea I would take responsibility for the repair. If it didn’t work, I might send the shell on for it to be converted into a snare – way beyond my best abilities – but I had a hankering to have a go myself.

Because I also have a 20 inch bass drum shell, sourced from another drumming friend, Alan Eden, and eight and 10 inch concert toms, all Premier-made.

The plan has been to convert the bass drum to a ‘Soundwave’ lookalike, and the eight and 10 inch concert toms to double headed. What could go wrong? No, don’t tell me, I know the answer.

But this is about the 14in floor tom.

smart

The damaged area. This is where one of the leg mounting brackets is supposed to sit.

I wish I had taken a picture of the drum in it’s original wrap. It was a real pain in the backside to strip and if I hadn’t had to get at the wood from outside and in, I wouldn’t have bothered.

It seems this shell, probably dating from about 1975 or before, was wrapped initially in ‘sparkling’ silver, before being rewrapped over the top with ‘sparkling’ red. You can just about make out both wraps in the pictures above and below. Both were professionally glued and sealed. A nightmare to remove.

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If you look closely at the picture above, the crack can be seen on the inside left of the shell.

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The wrap mostly removed, I manouvred the splintered shell as much back into the round as I could. I glued the wood and then laid several 10kg weights inside overnight. This took two nights, one for the left side of the break, one for the right.

Then I used heavy duty wood filler to further bond the shell. This was easier said than done and took a little spread over many coats. Sanding was next, inside and out. The wood filler and glue had made the shell super strong.

Next it was a question of installing the floor tom brackets. Except, the six or so examples I thought I had were tom mounting blocks for L-rods. The blocks that came with the drum were the old 383-51 model not the 392-35 to match the rest of my kit. I had one of these, sourced another from Mr Ellis and Peter Aplin, from the Facebook Premier Drums and Percussion group, kindly supplied another.

The mounting blocks having all arrived, I nervously put the tom together and it works! Yes, it’s a butcher’s job and would have been done much better by someone with the skills, knowledge and experience that I lack. But I’m happy with it. I’ve probably broken some cardinal rules. But I’m happy with it.

This is a drum for me. Not to be sold on for a profit or disguised as something it’s not. It’s an Olympic floor tom brought back from the dead for a very grateful drummer.

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Obviously it will be rewrapped at some point in the not too distant. I’ve had a nice little play around on it. It sounds great and deep. It will fit in beautifully with my existing set up.

Now my next challenge is to source a wrap to go with my chromatic copper kit. That is going to be a lot tougher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shame And Scandal

THERE are several ‘journalists’ working for the national media that I once had the misfortune to call ‘colleagues’.

Quite frankly, they were awful and, in a previous age, would have been sacked without further thought.

Two people, in particular, stand to mind for their total lack of ability, laziness and desire to survive by smiling stupidly, apologising, nodding as if they understood and going back to their coffee and cake as if nothing had gone wrong.

One is in a senior position on a national. A man who could never work as part of a team is now leading one. It’s the way it is.

The other, taking the money, keeping his head down, a nodding dog of a ‘reporter’ who will write what he’s told to and make a hash of that. Before you know it, he’ll be promoted to a senior role, too.

The purpose of this blog isn’t to settle old scores. There aren’t any for me. It’s not jealousy, either, because I have had my opportunity to work for the nationals and refused. I’d rather be penniless and have my honour, than money and no integrity.

It is instead, a scene setter. For these are the people who mingle with the politicians and their spin doctors and press hawks and disseminate what is happening in and around Parliament to the great unwashed.

These are the people who are scared of losing their position, with the ‘glory’ and ‘bank balance’ it brings. Who aren’t holding politicians to account, as newspapers are supposed to do, because it could impact on their careers. Whose own bosses and owners are also involved in relations with the political classes and whose mission is not journalistic as the dictionary definition suggests.

And that’s where we are at. Like it or not.

In the past, catching anyone out mattered more to newspapers because shame and scandal drove up sales. Today, there are some newspapers that care more about safeguarding their pals as sales are nosediving and, with careers slipping away, they worry about their own futures.

The bigger selling UK newspapers, generally, focus on celebrity, or rather so-called celebrity. I was appalled to watch Joey Essex in action on a ‘celebrity show’ the other night. Is this what Great Britain has become?

So, lots of key issues affecting all of us, go under-reported. Ignored for the sake of what? Joey Essex and the Kardashians?

Because it’s all a magic trick. Donald Trump, across the Pond, is a truly dreadful person. An even worse president. But he is expert at the art of distraction.

Similarly, the incumbent government is proving all smoke and mirrors. It’s not so much a good day for burying bad news, as happened under Tony Blair’s Labour, but a good day to send up so much smoke that no-one can see what is happening.

And the journalistic integrity that still had traction when I started in the business has slipped away. ‘Journalists’ more focussed on their own enrichment than fact-finding are only part of the problem, though.

It’s the way society has become. One of entitlement, of rights not deserved or won, but by the big ‘yappers’. The people that think ‘road rage’ is acceptable. The people that will drive through a red light and argue they had a right. The people that drive through my village at 60mph and above, while the speed limit is 30mph. The people that know best.

Likewise, we’re in a divisive society and the politicians and media have clubbed together to provide the enemies. It’s the disabled, the unemployed, the immigrants. Never the billionaire tax dodgers, the company bosses crying for England and St George but employing people across the world at the expense of the British jobs they claim to champion, or the politicians engaged in self-enrichment schemes aplenty.

I’d like to think at one stage we had honourable politicians, but for many it’s always been a game. Once upon a time, the hypocrisy would have been exposed for a newspaper sale. Now? Like the politicians who appear to forget they’re supposed to be looking after our best interests, many journalists are looking after their own. Clickbait and celebrity is the safest option. Sod the truth, or matters of importance. No-one cares about them anymore.

The game has changed. The stakes are higher and we, the people, are the losers. We just exist to fill the bank accounts of the billionaires that bit more. But we have also been the architects of our demise, because we’ve sat back and taken the bait, ignored the warning signs and let the damage be done.

Going Back To My Roots

IF THERE’S one thing the Covid 19 lockdown has taught us is that top class sport is a financial lie for many clubs.

So maybe it’s time to go back to the grassroots and support sport for all of us.

If Rugby’s English Premiership clubs are struggling to survive despite a £13m shot in the arm for each of the 13 shareholders from new bedfellow, CVC Capital Partners, then what hope for the rest? Especially those the experts tell us are ‘languishing’ in the lower reaches of the sport.

Tell that to the guys, gals and youngsters looking forward to match day, whatever level they play. If rugby is truly a sport for all, as the administrators tell us, why in the next breath do they seem to downplay the importance of the amateur clubs and players in it for the love of the game?

Because amateur clubs are going to suffer from Covid 19 just like the big boys. Perhaps more. And their true importance in local communities goes a fair bit beyond what the bigger clubs can muster.

Take my home city of Coventry, where Wasps rest in the Premiership and Coventry sit in the Championship. Wasps’ finances have been parlous, on and off, for a good few years now. If you spend time on the Wasps unofficial supporters’ board, there is quite a bit of unrest among their fans at the big losses being made.

How the club will fare post-Covid 19 remains to be seen, but as some of its own supporters suggest, what if its business model is ‘unsustainable’? How will its owners tackle the problems posed by Covid 19?

Coventry RFC, an ambitious club which hoped to make it back to English rugby’s top table, has succeeded with an admittedly modest £30,000 crowd-funder to keep things ticking over. But don’t think life is that easy at Butts Park Arena, especially with the need for more cash should the club ever win promotion. There are still bills to be paid, wages to pay and budgets to be considered as sport recovers, not just from the lockdown but financial issues dogging rugby union across the board. Cov were among those set to lose out from RFU funding next term.

It is not that either club have done anything wrong, but that they have to spend – and lose – to get the supposed big rewards of Premiership status and the chance of European glory that comes with it. It’s the big gamble that has seen some famous clubs fold and return to the amateur game.

Both Cov and Wasps have been on the white-knuckle ride of being lost to the professional game in the last decade. At BPA, Jon Sharp has done wonders to turn the club’s fortunes around, but no-one could have expected the damage Covid 19 has done, especially with the dreadful stance of the insurers leaving clubs to struggle on.

So back to the amateur game, those without the big financial backers. These clubs, made up of people within their own communities and welcoming of others, are deserving of our support.

They will need every ounce of help that can be garnered from their own communities, too, because I’m not sure the RFU, on current evidence, will do much more than provide lip service.

What of Keresley, in the 10th  tier of English rugby, but playing a hugely important part in the sporting community locally?

Or Newbold-on-Avon, in the sixth tier, doing exactly the same in its corner of Warwickshire?

These are big clubs in terms of what they offer and their commitment to rugby and, indeed, other sports. They inspire a peculiar type of loyalty that is missing in the top echelons of the game. They provide opportunity across the board and further the love of rugby as much as an English Grand Slam winning team can. I am biased having played at Newbold in the 1990s and had some involvement at Keresley in recent years.

They are great clubs, run by great people, supported by great people, but are going to have great struggles, just like the rest.

So, support the likes of Wasps and Coventry all you like. But don’t forget the smaller clubs. If you only support Wasps and Coventry at home games, when they’re playing away take a trip to a local club and experience rugby up close and personal. If you’re a loyal home and away supporter to the professional outfits, take the spare weekends – and there are many – to go and cheer on your local club. They need it.

Buy a pint. Or two. And a pie. Or a plate of chips. See if there are opportunities to use your skills to help the club. Or just go back and buy another pint and pie. Even buying a pin badge as a show of support will help.

And while I talk of Coventry and Warwickshire, the same is true everywhere. If rugby’s not your bag and you follow Coventry City FC, then take the Saturday’s you aren’t cheering on the Sky Blues in person or in front of the pub telly to go and see local football in the raw.

Rugby, as a professional sport, has overstretched itself, spending more than crowds and other revenues provide, with the exception of clubs like Exeter, that invested carefully and built up businesses that were more than just about rugby or sport. That said, even Sandy Park accounts will struggle thanks to the lockdown.

And with the Rugby Football Union, which was proving miserly to a point when it came to funding clubs below the top level, now talking about huge, multi-million pound lossses and the potential need for government bailouts, it’s concerning.

Because, while the likes of Wasps are apparently struggling, and Cov could do with more investment, somehow, someone with big pockets will always come to the aid of the bigger clubs.

It’s the smaller ones, those playing a big part in promoting sport, team-work, togetherness in their local communities that deserve and need your support more.

 

 

 

 

No More Heroes (Part Deux)

SO, I’VE made my picks for the Charge of the Light Brigade (with the exception of Jonah!) now it’s time for the heavies.

These are the forwards that have made their mark on me down the years, whose quality at the time they played was beyond exceptional, although some in a very understated way.

Number Eight:

For my British Lions’ dream team, it’s not as tough a call as I imagined. Mervyn ‘Merv the Swerve’ Davies.  He was a stand-out player, enough to muscle his way onto the legendary 1971 tour to New Zealand and then to South Africa three years later.

Sadly, injury ended his glittering career at 29 when he was still getting better. Two Grand Slams, a Five Nations Championship win and a Triple Crown were among his international honours. And he played a major part in that success. A formidable captain of Wales, in his 46 internationals, including Wales and the Lions, he was on the losing side just nine times.

Opposite him, it’s a tough call for me between Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford and Zinzan Brooke. While Brooke is perhaps the all-rounder, Shelford was the more inspirational, the man who would put his body on his line that bit more – not forgetting his testicle incident (he tells it well on YouTube) – and was the greater leader. For those reasons, Wayne Shelford just edges it.

Flankers: Another two Lions on the flanks for my all-time Home Nations XV.

‘Iron’ Mike Teague and John Taylor. Another relatively simple decision, although Fergus Slattery wasn’t far off. There was something about Taylor. He covered every blade of grass and could tackle ferociously – everything you could hope for in a 7. What’s more he had a conscience, famously deciding against the 1974 South Africa tour because of the Apartheid regime.

Covering every blade of grass and tackling ferociously could also be said for Teague, the Gloucester builder, who often went under the radar. But he offered far more, as a supporting player, in rucks and mauls, and in open play. He carried well but made the others around him shine.

Opposite these two, three men, nominally openside flankers, are pushing for the two spots.

Jean Pierre Rives is an automatic choice, a brilliant footballer whose flowing blond mane helped him, and his heroics, stand out. He was lightning quick with a tackle few could resist. He seemed to be everywhere on the pitch and you would be forgiven for thinking France had cloned him and put a dozen doubles out there. He was, to be honest, a damn pest for the opposition.

Then, it’s a tough call between World Cup winning skipper Richie McCaw and his fellow New Zealander, Ian Kirkpatrick. The oddities of hemispheric differences meant that McCaw was a 7 despite being more in the mould of a Home Nations’ 6. But he offered so much more.

In the modern era, with so many more test matches to play, he broke record after record. The first All Black to 100 caps, the fastest rugby union player to reach three figures, setting the world record for international caps, two winning World Cup medals, both as captain, three times World Rugby Player of the Year. Just a few standouts.

His right for inclusion in a Rest of the World XV speaks for itself, but I’d still favour ‘Kirkie’.

While Kirkpatrick had a miserable time as All Blacks captain, he was also a record-setter in his day and it is tempting to consider how big a success he would be if he had been born around the time of McCaw.

He set a record for AB consecutive appearances, his 16 tries were then a record for a forward in international rugby and he was part of the Rest of the World XV when the RFU celebrated its centenary at Twickenham in 1971. Taking the captaincy mantle from Colin Meads was a big thumbs up to his characteristics, but his failure to oversee a disciplined squad was his undoing, coupled with the lack of backing from most around him.

So, it was the mental strength of the man, let down by his team-mates and management during his time in charge, but willing to pull on the famed jersey as a player and prove his immense worth until he was jettisoned in favour of youth in 1977, something he would have accepted because he was a 21 year old who forced his way into the touring ABs team a decade earlier.

Lock forward:

I was a big fan of Wade Dooley, Gordon Brown and Donal Lenihan, but two men are stand outs.

Willie John McBride and Martin Johnson. If you’ve spent five minutes in the presence of Willie John, you’ll know why. Even in his vintage years he is a tour de force. He possessed everything in his day, but it was his mental strength that stands head and shoulders above the rest. His brain and quiet, dry sense of humour, marked him out as Captain Fantastic on the Lions tour of 1974.

Johnson shared some of McBride’s strength and appetite for battle. As England’s World Cup winning captain he threw his body on the line time and time again. He refused to kowtow to Irish jiggery pokery in a key Six Nations game and strode the line between the amateur game and professional era, getting better by the season.

I remember when he worked for Alliance and Leicester and was visiting their Coventry branch in the High Street. I was talking to a friend in another building society nearby and it got dark as Johnson walked past, filling the window frame with his bulk.

It would take someone special to even contemplate taking this pairing on, but Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads is that person.

I read many top XV picks from time to time and mostly seem to include players from recent memory, as if those past giants of the game belong in the history books. Not so with Meads.

McBride said Meads was ‘the best, most aggressive, and perhaps the most totally committed player’.

Meads, in 15 years in an All Black jersey, set the standards for future AB forwards. David Norrie, in his book, Great Rugby Players, states: ‘Not only did they have to be able to win the ball, but be able to use it and chase after it as well. Their duties were no longer restricted to playing a full part in the line-out, scrum, maul and ruck; now New Zealand forwards supported attacks, showing that fragile handling and primitive running by those in the ‘boiler room’ was a thing of the past.’

With his fine rugby brain, Meads revolutionised not just New Zealand rugby but the game across the world. He was a thinker, an innovator, willing to listen to new ideas and concepts.

But he backed it all up with his performances. A true legend.

I’ve gone for a South African giant to pair with Meads, although Frik Du Preez was small for a lock forward at 6ft 2in tall. He made up for this with excellent understanding of line-out play, an appetite for attack and speed unrivalled among his forward peers.

There have been some talented locks since, but he offered something extra to most in his position, as well as being able to cover the basics well.

The front row is completely alien to me. In my rugby playing days I played anywhere from 10 to 15 – never a 9 despite my smallish stature – but, also, strangely, at blindside flanker. So I have an understanding and appreciation of the locks, back three and the backs division. But the front row? Hmm.

I am confident that Ian ‘Mighty Mouse’ McLaughlan would be a good call for anyone. At 5ft 9in tall, he was told he would never make it as a top level prop and delighted in proving his critics wrong. He was another keen thinker who helped change front row play and make it more important in games. The loose-head was a key figure in the victorious Lions’ tours of 1971 and 1974. Jason Leonard pushes him close, but McLaughlin makes the cut.

I remember interviewing Cliff Morgan 20-plus years ago and he talked of Welshman Bryn Meredith as the consummate hooker, among several who would grace the modern game with their presence.  A top notch player in Sevens Rugby, Meredith was mobile, a thinker and a gentleman who many suggest was among the standout post-war players.

He played on three consecutive Lions’ tours setting standards of play and behaviour that helped transform his native Wales into world beaters.

Fran Cotton, another former Cov player, makes up the Home Nations trio at the coal face. He was head and above the best prop of his era, tall (by the standards of the time at 6ft 2in and a great scrummager) and was a standout player on the Lions’ tours of 1974 and 1977.

Their opposition is an all New Zealand front row – Ken Gray, Wilson Whineray and Sean Fitzpatrick.

Whineray was in the mould of Colin Meads, a great captain, rugby thinker and innovator, and his prop partnership with Gray gave them a huge edge in the scrum. Fitzpatrick, a World Cup winner in 1987, embodied everything that his colleagues had established before. A true professional, a ‘Baby Black’ with skills and temperament to be the best in the game, and with 92 caps, he was a key figure in the AB’s side for more than a decade.

 

No More Heroes (Part One)

I’VE been reading with interest a lot of greatest XVs during the coronavirus lockdown.

And amazement, I hasten to add.

But sparked by a friend’s piece, which is well worth a read –  https://armchairfan75.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/thats-entertainment-or-is-it/ – I started wallowing in a sea of nostalgia.

Who would make my British Lions best? And who would be lining up against them?

It’s far to say that not many of the ‘modern era’ make the cut. Yes, you could argue, as Steve does in his blog post mentioned above, that standards are higher in terms of skillset and fitness, fewer mistakes with ball in hand, but if some of my picks were playing today how good would they be?

Of course, Cliff Morgan, that great Welsh 10 of the post-war era, stood 5ft 7in tall and weighed 12 stone. By contrast, George Ford, the lightest fly-half of the Home Nations today is 13 stone 10 and 5ft 9in tall.  Rugby has changed immeasurably, but would Morgan cut it today had he been born around the turn of the century? I’d like to think so.

Because in my list of players, they were the golden boys of their age. Yes, there’s a whole raft of factors at play comparing yesteryear to modern times, but I’d expect them to be golden boys of today.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the respective backlines.

Full back: JPR Williams.

For me, this is a no brainer, although it’s hard on Andy Irvine, the epitomy of Scottish flair. Yes, there have been other notable full backs in the Home Nations, but JPR had it all. He was a tackler par excellence, a gifted runner and support player, steady under the high ball and even kicked. But it was his courage, worthy of a Victoria Cross, in some of the toughest battles of his Welsh, Barbarians and British Lions career. He gave not an inch.
While other full backs have survived because they were excellent kickers, JPR had a wonderful read of the game.

Opposite JPR would be Serge Blanco for exactly the same reasons. There have been other great full backs in the Southern Hemisphere and for France, but Blanco was a major point of difference in teams. His involvement in a game would be worth the admission alone.

Wingers: For me, with a Coventry and English bias, it would be David Duckham and Peter Jackson. Both were extraordinary with the ball in hand, but also had a supernatural reading of the game.

In his book, Great Rugby Players, David Norrie writes of Jackson: ‘(He) was a world class winger who ghosted his way through packed defences with bewildering ease.’

Duckham? Look for a highlights reel on YouTube. He was just something else.

It’s hard on the likes of great wingers like Gerald Davies and Tony O’ Reilly,  but these two edge it.

Against them, what about a pairing of Jonah Lomu and David Campese? Other great wingers like Brian Habana and Patrice Lagisquet miss out, but how many tries would these two score in a game? And how exciting would it be to watch them in action?

Centres: Quite a bit of competition here, Clive Woodward, Ray Gravell, Jeff Butterfield, Ian McGeechan, Will Carling among them. For me it comes down to two from three: Jerry Guscott, Mike Gibson and Brian O’Driscoll. They’re all better known for their attacking play, but when you’ve got wingers of the calibre I’ve picked, they need the ball in hand.

These guys weren’t slouches in defence, but all had a magic when it come to unlocking opposition defences. I’d opt for Guscott and Gibson, but given the opposition, BOD would be right up there in the reckoning.

France’s Phillipe Sella would be an automatic pick for the Rest of the World team. He had everything and such a balance and strength in his running. My choice for his partner would be the All Black Frank Bunce. He was deceptively immense. He had all the attributes needed to thrive in a running AB’s team and was teak tough in defence.

Fly-Half:

Here we go. So many great 10s to choose from. As an Englishman, Johnny Wilkinson is the best fly-half we’ve had in more than half a century, since the days of Richard Sharp, but would I choose him over Cliff Morgan or Phil Bennett? No. Absolutely not. He was predominantly an excellent kicker who improved in attack over his test career. Defensively, he was probably the best of the options I’ve considered, but compared to the above pairing, or Jackie Kyle and Barry John? I’d want a fly-half to lead the attack. The King, Barry John, just about edges it for me, but it’s a hugely tough call. Also a shout out to John Rutherford and Olly Campbell, those 80s stalwarts, but John was the master, and not just for his heroics on the 1971 Lions tour.

So many great fly halves to choose in terms of opposition, but really one name stands out – Dan Carter. He had it all. Who can argue?

Scrum-half:
Again a tough call, but Gareth Edwards is head and shoulders above the following pack for me. Roy Laidlaw was a star for Scotland, Peter Stringer immense for Ireland and Rob Jones was a Lions’ number one for very good reason.

Edwards is one of rugby’s immortals.

Against him would be Joost Van Der Westhuizen, the South African who had it all on the pitch. New Zealand, Australia and France have had world class nines, but Joost, who sadly died from Motor Neurone Disease a few years back, was, like Edwards, in a different class. Nick Farr Jones, Sid Going and the sublime Ken Catchpole are worthy of mention.

The pack will follow soon.