‘Wooden trumpet’

Nihao/How do/Hello/S’mae,

Congratulations to Aberystwyth Town (founder members of the League of Wales in 1992) on avoiding the bottom two for 29 straight seasons. Alongside Newtown FC, both have remained ever present. Good luck to the Robins of Newtown as they chase a place in Europe. Further congratulations to Andy Morrison’s Connah’s Quay Nomads on retaining the Cymru Premier (previously Welsh Premier League/League of Wales) title. The Nomads ensured the title did not cross the border to England-based The New Saints.

To decide on something, as an individual is easy. To decide as a group, lesser so. As the world and its dog takes on China over various sensitive issues, I sit in relative freedom of Dongguan, thinking of the week ahead. I’m lucky. I’m working. Others around the world are not. Those last few sentences were written almost two months ago. They still apply now. They may still apply to some regions as variations of COVID-19 ravage and unravel around the globe. Good luck to all in the battle against the pesky persistence of coronavirus.

“This is how a democracy works. We talk to each other.” – quote from the dialogue of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

On April 11th 2020, Saturday Night Live featured Alec Baldwin playing Donald Trump. He was drinking COVID juice based on Clorox bleach talking as Covfefe-19. It referred to Donald Trump’s former Twitter account and a message he posted on May 30th 2017 (‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’). Now the world has staircase-fearing Joe Biden. Since Trump departed (on his own free will, with graciousness of course), President of the U.S.A. Biden has given a new hope to growing East and West closer together whilst keeping Russia and the European Union sweet. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are also cosy with U.S.A. after distancing itself from floundering Trump’s administration and its death throes.

I was born in a member state of the E.U. Now, I am a national of an independent U.K. in a world that seems to be simultaneously getting closer yet fragmenting. Our shared fate may be staring at the abyss making predicted violent struggling motions showing great pains but it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of having a standing competition to see who can urinate higher than the other, Biden’s administration could have headed to Alaska to talk to China constructively. Instead, a confident Chinese delegation showed no weakness. Across the table from Team America World Police, angry signals could be seen from the world’s 3rd of 4th biggest country (surface area) – depending on your source. Anyway without Trump, the world, even during COVID-19 and arguments between countries seems a much more pleasant place. It’s made me long for the path of optimism. Pumped up on my first vaccination against the 2019 version of the plague, I think borders will re-open sooner or later, and Euro 2020 football will join the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020 in 2021. With City claiming the EFL League Cup and the Premier League on their march to Istanbul Wembley Villa Park Porto in the UEFA Champions League final, why not have a cause of feeling positive? The Estádio do Dragão may be a stadium of dragons, but isn’t 2021 the year to banish beasts? And, I’ll be joining Shenzhen Blues at 3am one Saturday night-Sunday morning to hope that City banish their quest for Europe’s biggest title…

“Please take my hand. I give it to you as a gesture of friendship and love, and of faith freely given. I give you my hand and welcome you into my dream.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 167

Banishing beasts takes determination. Much like realising a dream. My dream of playing a musical instrument successfully is now. Now, I’ve paid for some classes, and I have two tools here. Terre World Instruments sent me my wind instrument. The didgeridoo (also known as a mandapul) can be found in plastic, redwood, yellow wood, bamboo and other wooden forms. Mine is made of Eucalyptus (a yellow wood). It’s tuned to D, I believe but can be tuned in other notes. It’s 180cm long and came in packaging longer than my body. The dense sound characteristics are fantastic. It booms from lineseed oil-finished wood, both inside and out. Luka, my teacher, also helped me get a wooden Didgebox .

“…don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it.” – Wonder Woman, comic episode 25

The spiritual instrument has always intrigued me. Stephen Boakes from The Levellers calls it a ‘wooden trumpet’. The former Klanger and the Soupdragons band member has featured over the years for folk rockers The Levellers yet not one mention of the lad can be found on their Wikipedia page (a reliable place of purity and facts). This is a travesty. Nor can the word didgeridoo be found. Boakes is a punky player of the norther Australian Aboriginal people. It’s been around roughly 1500 years and carries haunting spiritual sounds. The touring electrician from Brighton has fitted his take on the yiḏaki* wind instrument into the ethos of the band since at least 1993’s Levellers album. The mako* sounds at home on song, This Garden.

Djalu Gurruwiwi, Ondrej Smeykal (Czech), Ganga Giri, David Hudson, Mark Atkins and Shibaten may not be household names. Indeed to most, they’re just a list that I prepared for my journey into the spirit of the didgeridoo sound. Possibly one of the world’s oldest wind instruments doesn’t have a reed, finger holes or other hand-eye coordination pieces. The voice box is the key. Practice will be needed. I’m far, far away from kookaburra sounds or other Australian wildlife but David Hudson and Luka are explaining things and giving me techniques to help along the way. And it can also be a drum. I’m learning control before speed. Dubravko Lapaine has ample amounts of speed in his training instructions and technique tips but highlights the need for slow learning. That, and I need to get some beeswax to make a smooth rim. That will seal in the air better.

Sharp raspberries are needed for this instrument that has probably been around 1000-1500 years or so. Softly blowing the musical piece (with about 45 names) is needed. Twangs and wobbly tongues too. Every time you b low out, your nose must suck in air, which is not easy! And relax, that’s the advice. Each day means more practice and more air being pushed into the lungs and not just in the cheeks! It is hard! All the while, I am practising to inspirational combinations such as the Australian Youth Orchestra with William Barton (Spirit Gallery Didgeridoos).

Maybe in the future I’ll buy one of Charlie McMahon‘s didjeribones. These sliding version is closer to a trombone. He invented this instrument which has a modern twist on an ancient tool of sound. Early Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn featured a didgeridoo.

“I’m asking: Oh, when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?;
Now when you gonna learn? To stop it goin’ on?” – Jamiroquai song When You Gonna Learn

With that, goodbye, zai jian and ta’ra! I’m off to confirm that the 2005 British Medical Journal study about playing the didgeridoo has health benefits or not.

Hwyl fawr!

Stand #1

How do,

The steps leading up were worn and damp. The turnstile had swept me inside. The cool depths of the stand arched left harshly, then opened to a space aged yet far from antique. Brilliant white reflected harsh overhead lighting. Dad grabbed a match day programme. A chunky magazine booklet featuring the teams of the day. I tottered along on tired toes.

We’d strode at pace from the Clarence pub across streets far away. Eventually we swept up Kippax Street, around alleys and ginnels in to a brick wall gate. The rustic metal clanked and turned as a stub was ripped away. The darker than sky blue, yet far from royal blue panels fitted here and there gave a code to the area around. The bricks and mortar moulded to concrete and metal alike. The whole thing fitted together.

The steps into the stand opened up a tiny sliver into an outside world. Bright light forced its way in. It pierced all. The opening spread and unveiled line after line of seats. Wide to either side. Kippax blue. Glorious shades of blue, filled with those dressed in blue. Blue denim, sky blue football shirts and scarves of blue and white. Big bold lettering. Wonderful sounds. Waves of chants. The lullaby sounds sank and rose over and over again. The roof up above and the stands opposite bounced all the ambience back.

The smell of chicken balti pies reached me almost as fast as my Dad handed me the crusty sweet curry savoury snack. I gripped its warmth and shivered as the whole sense if occasion matched the cool air. I knew it at that moment that my place of worship was here.

The Maine Road home of Manchester has been missing since 2003 but the spirit goes on. We all long for those days and those feelings, but they live on, inside us. Sentimental as it is. I miss those feelings. That cool fresh Mancunian air. The longing for home is strong. But today, I feel something new. Only time can tell what it is.

Ta’ra for now.

Midnight at the last and found.

Hello, hello, we are the City boys… 你好

Sat in the passenger seat across from my Dad, the warm fans blasted heat into my legs and the windows were wound down. The cool Lancashire air drifted in. We were returning from Morecambe to Manchester. It was probably a Sunday night. Dad had been playing heavy metal from Iron Maiden, the early stuff with drums plentiful.

“You see you’re losing, yet you still try The game just a’watches your life go by You’re playin’ well, Oh you’re playin’ the game.” – Meat Loaf’s song Razor’s Edge

Now, in he popped a new cassette, and on played Meat Loaf. The smooth tracks mixed with electric and melodic blues rock took me beyond the car journey. I’d suddenly been transported beyond my pre-teenage self into a world of words sang at just the right tempo to catch my ear. Razor’s Edge is my favourite track on the often-ridiculed album. It has a frantic feel but is such a short song in terms of lyrical content. That’s considering it’s just over 4 minutes long.

“I can tell by the look in your tear-filled eyes;
You need somebody you can hold onto; If you really want to, I’d love to hold you;
If you really want to, then I’d love to be the body that you hold onto.” – Meat Loaf’s song If You Really Want To

I still remember looking at my Dad at the wheel. As a small kid, I looked up to my Dad. He was a colossus of a man with shoulders like bridges and arms like tree trunks. His chest stuck out like a rugby forward. His hands were like two shovels. He smoked casually at the wheel, eyes forward into the traffic and we talked a little. City this. City that. I gained my passion for Manchester City from my Dad. Stories of the ballet on ice, Kippax crowds, Uncle George and Grandad at the games. King Colin Bell, the floral named Summerbee, Franny One-Pen (took me years to understand that name), Tony Book, Trevor Francis, John Bond, Asa Hartford, Paul Powers, Gerry Gow and so on. Many other names were mentioned but times eroding effect on a kid’s memories can be harsh.

We talked lego, steam trains and finally Dad introduced me to Meat Loaf. With the finale of the Midnight at The Lost and Found album, Dad ejected the cassette and popped in Bat Out of Hell. The first Meat Loaf album I’d heard had been like a warm up act. Now I was spellbound by the range of vocals, the ferocity and energy, the theatrical length of several tracks and the tracks within tracks. The lyrics of Jim Steinman were sensational and to this day are poetry in musical form. A few weekends later Dad played me Dead Ringer on vinyl. Fond memories. I can’t wait to talk with my Dad again on a video call soon. If only the VPN would work with Messenger, Skype or something to make it. easy. Here’s hoping. Until then writing helps homesickness.

Goodnight from China. 晚安

Colin Bell MBE 1946 – 2021

Colin Bell: 1946 – 2021

Let’s drink a drink a drink a drink/For Colin the King the King the King/He is the leader of Man City/He is the greatest inside Forward/that the world has ever seen.

I grew up on Colin Bell stories from my Dad, Uncle, and Granddad. Our kid had some too, but his playing days were before his time. Met Colin Bell many times in the years that City moved to the cold new grey City of Manchester Stadium. Can’t say, I was blown away, but I will say that talking with Colin Bell, was like talking to any down-to-earth person. He was quiet, welcoming and warm-hearted. Me being shy, I didn’t get a photo, but I did get a signature on more than one occasion. His Maine Road folklore will last long into the future.

Colin Bell MBE played 501 games (scoring 153) for City. He played about 48 games (scoring 9) for England. He began his career in Bury, scoring 25 goals in 82 games. He had a short spell at San Jose Earthquakes. Nicknamed after a racehorse, Nijinsky had stamina and was soon nicknamed The King of the Kippax. He played in the days of Bell, Lee and Summerbee. Having scored at the Maracana Stadium (against a Brazil team featuring Pele), Wembley, Maine Road and countless other grounds, the crowds were won over by the skilful player who was forced to retire from the game all too early. He would later move on into coaching at City with the youth and reserve teams. Following that he quietly held club ambassador roles.

Number one was Colin Bell, number two was Colin Bell, number three was Colin Bell…

My condolences to his widow, family and friends.