In order to produce my Soul Man show for Radio Barnsley, I tend to spend huge periods of time playing through unknown songs from the sixties, looking for the nugget that will spark the show. I suppose it isn’t that much different to sorting through the huge volume of music that is made today – just fifty years or so! Look at this blog as a helping hand, narrowing down the perplexing array of new sounds to hand pick a small number each month that I hope you enjoy as much as I do.
Pole position this month goes to Jordan Allen. The four piece band, named after their main man are from Bolton and building a big reputation as a live band. 110 Ways To Make Things Better is out now a s a single. Catch them at Live At Leeds at the end of April when Jordan plays bar where he used to work – Lending Room at The Library. Follow on Twitter
Emma Ballantine, from Salisbury, is a singer-songwriter with a warm, pure voice and a gift for writing haunting melodies. The single Harmonise came out earlier this year. Twitter
Another band on the Live At Leeds lineup are London based White Kite. Louis, Tom and Will formed the band less than a year ago and Swans is their debut single and could be one of the sounds of this summer. The band have even attracted the attention of Conor O’Brien of Villagers whose remix has a sharper edge to it. Pay your money and make your choice! Twitter
Splitting her time between Bristol and Paris, Kate Stables is the driving force behind This Is The Kit. Having attracted the attention of many 6 Music presenters, including Guy Garvey, a summer on the festival circuit beckons, with an appearance at Green Man in August high on my list of must sees. Magic Spell is from the EP Rusty And Got Dusty from last year. Twitter
Higher Self was last year’s debut single by Los Angeles based Karmic. Fronted by singers Laura Baruch and Kyle Tkatch alongside drummer Samuel Murphy and multi-instrumentalist Peter Kastner. Twitter
Clock Opera’s second album Venn is out now. The intriguingly titled Whippoorwill is taken from it. The London based four piece band play Manchester’s Day & Night Cafe on Wednesday April 1st. Twitter
Bourbon soaked gypsy blues bop ‘n’ soul – that’s how the band describe their music on Facebook – what’s not to like. They describe themselves as a collective of shadowy, London based, ne’er do wells, led by Norwegian born songwriter/frontman Paul-Ronney Angel. Shattered Dreams is taken from last year’s album Hellbound Hymns. Twitter
If you were lucky enough to see them on their recent support slot on tour with the Fun Lovin’ Criminals you will know just how good a live band The Milk are. The Essex four piece – Rick Nunn, Mitch Ayling, Luke Ayling and Dan LeGresley have a great on-stage presence and strong catalogue of songs. Deliver Me / Overtime We Fight is taken from the album Live At Union Chapel. Twitter
Gaika looks set to make a huge impact in 2017. In Between 2 is taken from the Brixton artist’s third album in two years – Spaghetti. (In Between was on the album Security.) Twitter
In musical contrast to Gaika, A New Nowhere are a four piece rock band from Newcastle. Their single, You And Me, was released last month and makes the new playlist. Twitter
Come On Over is the new single from M I S F I R E S. The Swindon four piece have just come off a successful tour supporting The Sherlocks. The band play Leeds Oporto on May 14th. Twitter
Lisbon are a three piece band from Whitley Bay. The single Vice is insanely catchy and will worm its way into your brain for the rest of the day. The band play The Rocking Chair in Sheffield on April 14th. Twitter
There you go, twelve recommendations for the month and more to come soon.
A shorter list than usual this month as I have spent most of the last three weeks trying to get around technical problems with my Mac. I suppose Apple are very busy selling millions of phones so it is only right that I test their software and find bugs in the OS. OK, moan over. Here are six music makers that deserve more attention. Let me know what you think.
First off this month is Bella Goldwin, a superb, Canadian singer-songwriter / violinist. Can’t Forget was released in 2016. Hauntingly beautiful music, ridiculously mature for somebody who is not yet 20, you should be hearing more from Bella Goldwin in 2017. Twitter
This month marks the first anniversary of the formation in Stockport of Templars. The band consists of Glenn Coope (lead vocals, guitar), Scott Kincaid (lead guitar, backing vocals), Kenny Chiu (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Jack Keogh (drums, backing vocals). Great harmonies and melodies that worm their way into your head – great pop music. Guessing is taken from last year’s Inelegant Relations album. Twitter
Deep Throat Choir
One of the more intriguingly named acts announced for this year’s Green Man Festival in August are Deep Throat Choir. I, for one, can’t wait! Summed up on their Twitter account as “We are wimmin and we sing” – what more do you need to know? Well, formed by Luisa Gerstein in 2013 the choir can be 30 strong on stage, relying on vocals and drums to create a spell-binding sound. Ada is taken from their new album Be OK – released last week.
Based in Nashville, Carissa Leigh is a country singer and song writer worth investigating. Reap And Sow (with Katie Mae Smith) is taken from Leigh’s album Better Than I’ve Been – great close harmonies that make you yearn for summer! Twitter
Live At Leeds is just around the corner (well, a couple of months – 29th of April). Already announced on the bill is Yellow Days. For one so young George Van Den Broek, who is still a teenager, has a smoky, cracked and soulful voice that works perfectly with the synths and beats sound of Yellow Days. Gap In The Clouds is from last year’s Harmless Melodies EP. Twitter
The Big Moon
Juliette Jackson, Soph Nathan, Celia Archer and Fern Ford make up London band The Big Moon. Having already earned support slots with Ezra Furman and The Vaccines, the band are currently working on their debut album Love In The 4th Dimension- due in April. Formidable is taken from the album and is out now as a single. Twitter
This blog adds a little background to the new music playlist published on Spotify. Click here to listen. The aim of the playlist is to cover artists looking to get heard in a crowded marketplace and those more established bands that I think deserve more recognition.
Rotherham four-piece The Sherlocks look set for big things in 2017. Having just signed for Infectious, the two sets of brothers – Kiaran (lead vocals and guitar) and Brandon Crook (drums) with Josh and Andy Davidson (lead guitar and bass respectively), the band are about to embark on a major UK tour in support of the single Will You Be There? Catch them at Manchester’s Albert Hall on Feb 10th or Sheffield University on March 3rd. Twitter
Singer-songwriter Tom Ryder’s first single Silence Breaking Through Sound raised thousands for McMillan Cancer Support in 2015. Strings Attached is a mature song from such a young artist and is the title track of the follow up EP from 2016. Twitter
Kings Go Forth are / were a ten piece soul band from Milwaukee. High On Your Love is taken from their 2010 debut album The Outsiders Are Back. Having signed to Luaka Bop the future looked bright but they appear to have disintegrated! Would love to have more information. Facebook
Naughty Devils And Dirty Priests is taken from Kong’s debut EP 8 Ball Pool. Voted best unsigned band in 2016 by Exposed Magazine, you can see them on home turf at Sheffield’s Rocking Chair on January 27th. Twitter
London based reggae singer Kiko Bun’s 2016 release Sweetie is insanely catchy and sticks in the memory (be warned!). Taken from the EP Inna Piano Style which also shows the artist’s versatility with a cover of Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me. Twitter
Dirty $$$ by American duo, High Dive Heart is taken from their 2016 album HDH Vs MTR Pt 1. Again, ridiculously catchy, feel good, summer music. High Dive Heart are LA based Jason Reeves and Nelly Joy from Nashville. Twitter
The Weekend by Westward The Tide sounds like it was written to be performed at a sunny festival. Formed in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2012, the band’s first album, Sorry Soul, was released in 2014. The Weekend is taken form the 2016 follow up album Microphone Heart. Twitter
My first exposure to St. Paul & The Broken Bones from Birmingham, Alabama, was a late night slot on the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage last summer. In the tiny area set high above the main festival site, the incredible, soulful vocal performance left me hungry for more. Flow With It (You Got Me Feeling Like) is from their second album Sea Of Noise. Their appearance in Leeds on the 31st of January has been moved to the larger Irish Centre venue and I cannot wait. Twitter
The award for best band name goes to Canadian duoThe Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer. Black And Blue is taken from their 2016 album A Real Fine Mess. The duo, Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers, teamed up in 2006 and are currently supporting St Paul & The Broken Bones on their UK tour.
A.O.S.O.O.N. is London based songwriter and musician Manny. Already building a fanbase in London and New York, Something was released as a single in 2016. Twitter
Rookie Dreaming is the lead track on the new album, Honest Life, by Courtney Marie Andrews. The singer-songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona has a mesmerising voice and is now on album number six. She visits Leeds on February 27th, supporting The Handsome Family at Brudenell Social Club. Twitter
Canadian six-piece band, Royal Canoe play The Castle Hotel in Manchester on January 31st. Even without the great music it will be worth going just to see them cram onto the tiny stage! However, it is the music that will grab your attention. Walk Out On The Water is from their 2016 album Something Got Lost Between Here And The Orbit. Great vocals and clever songs should be a winning combination. Twitter
Whilst in no way wishing to sound smug (OK – maybe a bit smug) I am writing this from a rented holiday home in Florida. The sun, beer and grouper sandwiches may have influenced this month’s selections. The only cloud on the horizon is the amount of building work going on in the neighbourhood. I can put up with the sound of honest work but the loud radio that accompanies them is driving me round the twist. The preferred station has so far played nothing released after 1986. I may have to do a deal with them to at least play something new. They could do worse than start with this playlist.
Last month’s new music playlist kicked off with the Oh Hellos and this month we start with a band that have supported them in their early days. Cereus Bright hail from Knoxville, Tennessee and River Run is taken from their debut album Excuses. With hints of Fleet Foxes and War On Drugs, this is a real ear-worm that deserves (and gets) repeat plays. Touring the States through the winter months, it would be great to see them on the European festival circuit next year. Twitter
Ruth Berhe, better known as Ruth B, famously posted videos of herself on Vine, creating a buzz which led to a record contract. Her 2015 debut single, Lost Boy, made the Top 20 in her native Canada and just nudged the Top 100 in the UK. In My Dreams showcases a beautiful, clear voice with just a hint of Christine McVie. Twitter
Stranger is taken from Lynx Hollow’s 2012 album Harbors. Californian David Shane is the driving force of the band and has been recording under his own name in the intervening years. However, September 2016 saw the release of a new single under the Lynx Hollow – maybe a sign of great things to come. Twitter
In Yorkshire we tend to know a thing or two about Brass Bands (and every other subject for that matter). However, if “brass band” makes you think of Floral Dance, thank again. There are a host of jazz /soul / hip hop brass bands from the States with Brooklyn’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble being among the finest. Having witnessed them at first hand at the Wardrobe in Leeds a few years ago I am a big fan. Flipside is taken from their eponymous 2009 album. Twitter
AudioDamn! are a trio of Austrians currently based in the US. Their single Radar was released over a year ago and has started them on the road to fame in their adopted country, maybe Europe will follow in 2017. Radar seems like an almost effortless pop song – shades of Maroon 5 (?) ponting the way to bigger things to come. Twitter
World Music has long been a term that I have disliked – where else would music come from? These days it is rare for any music to not have some influences from outside the immediate home of the musicians concerned. Vaudou Game are a good example. African musicians from Togo, now based in Lyon, France, combining traditional Vaudou rhythms with US funk to produce an irresistible fusion. La Vie C’est Bon was released as a single earlier this year. Facebook
Another example of the fusion of African and American influences comes in the form of Fantastic Negrito – a musician of Somali / Caribbean descent who was brought up in an orthodox Muslim household. When the family moved to Oakland, California and the young musician was exposed to the likes of Funkadelic. His is a fascinating backstory – read more here. Scary Woman is taken from the latest album The Last Days Of Oakland. Twitter
Guy Baron, aka Semi Precious, is a writer and producer from South London. No Distractions is a track from this year’s debut album Ultimate Lounge. Often constructed from samples and loops but with a soft dreamlike vocal added the album invites further listening. Twitter
Formed in 2014, Resistant Hearts is a wonderfully melodic combination of British songwriter John Brandon and American vocalist Tre’ Nation (aka Monte Pierre). Turn This Ship Around was released s a single in 2015. Twitter
Bristol’s Bella Loka are husband and wife Tea and David Boothby. Now based in London and recording at Abbey Road, the duo are attracting the attention of 6 Music and BBC Introducing. There latest single, Well Done is a fresh, feel good, pop song that will worm its way deep inside your head. Twitter
Sheffield is a city with a vibrant music scene and rich tradition of bands making it big. Next in line could be Oddity Road, a four piece Indie Rock band poised for big things. Debut single Handshake is included here. Twitter
When I published the first of these playlists last month I had a list of around 20 songs I wanted to include but decided 12 was a good number. It has been good enough for most classic albums over the years so good enough for me. However, one mistake was to hold Human from that list, intending to lead with it this month. Of course, in the intervening weeks, Rag ‘N’ Bone Man has deservedly bagged a huge hit and sold out gigs across the country. A rich, powerful voice coupled with an assured performance on Later With Jools Holland has lead to a 2017 Brits Critics Choice Award. Rory Graham is going to be a huge star. Actually, just shy of 54m plays on Spotify suggests he may already be there! Twitter
This is the first of a monthly series of playlists featuring music from new artists and those that I believe deserve a wider audience. With the demise of the old major label model, there is now more music, in more formats, than ever before. Anything that can help to guide us through the maze of new music has to be a good thing – right?
Pride of place this month goes to the Oh Hellos. Formed by brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath in San Marcos, Texas. Currently touring the US, the band played a great set at last summer’s Green Man festival – despite the horrendous weather! Hello My Old Heart is taken from the self titled EP that is now five years old. If this has you wanting to discover more, their second full length album Hello Wormwood from 2015 is a treat. Check out the band’s website or follow on Twitter
London based, twenty-two year old Sam Folorunsho – alias XamVolo has an extraordinary voice, a very tight touring band and an exciting future. His new single, Money Store is out now. Having played a great set at the recent Off The Record showcase in Manchester I can recommend seeing the band live. If you are feeling really flash you can catch him in New York on December 1st. Follow him on Twitter.
Two more bands that lit up Off The Record were Caro and The Orielles. It has been an exciting year for Leeds based Caro. From the tiny back room of the Castle in Manchester to the wide open spaces of Roundhay Park (as opening act on the James / Primal Scream bill) is quite a contrast. Cold Comfort was released in June and the band are currently touring (including The Nation Of Shopkeepers in Leeds on November 30th). Twitter.
During the conference portion of Off The Record, The Orielles probably got more mentions than any other band appearing in the showcase. The live set did not disappoint. Their single Sliders was released in April and you can catch them live at the Fallow Cafe, Manchester on November 25th/26th with further December dates in Leeds, Manchester, Hebden Bridge and Sheffield. Twitter.
Motown legends Martha Reeves sets very high standards in her live performances, so a support slot is much prized. To be asked back for the next tour shows the high standards set by Leeds based Samuel S. Parkes. A thundering set featuring originals and storming northern soul covers (The MVPs Turning My Heartbeat Up a particular favourite) make this band a must see. Lock & Key was released as a single last week with Let Me Go the b side. Twitter.
Jodie Abacus has a voice in the mould of Luther Vandross. OK – a lot to live up to but a great live set (recently supporting Corinne Bailey Rae) as well as increasingly polished records such as She’s In Love With The Weekend, his third single, released in the spring of 2016. Twitter.
It is always nice to stumble across great music by accident. This happened for me at this year’s Green Man. Picking my way through the rain and mud I was drawn to the Courtyard stage by extraordinary harmonies. The sun came out and I was hooked. This was my introduction to I See Rivers, a folk trio from Norway, now based in Liverpool. Loved Ones is a beautiful song to get started with this band. More recorded music is promised shortly. Twitter
There are few better funk bands around than Leeds’ own Haggis Horns. Return Of The Haggis comes from the band’s 2015 album What Comes To Mind. Catch them live on New Year’s Eve at Band On The Wall, Manchester. Twitter
Another band that know how to get feet moving are New Yorkers, The Budos Band. Signed to the famous Daptone label. Up From The South is taken from the band’s 2005 debut album The Budos Band. Again, if you are feeling flash, catch them in New York on New Year’s Eve supporting Kamasi Washington. Twitter
Formerly based in Leeds, Ben Roberts relocated to London last summer. His farewell performance was supporting Eli “Paperboy” Reed at Headrow House. Looking forward to hearing more from Ben in the near future. Lovely Day was released in June and should have been huge! Twitter
Bolton’s best singer/songwriter Janileigh Cohen can often be found busking on the streets of Manchester. Her set on the Introducing stage at Green Man was mesmerising. Modest and unassuming yet extremely talented, this singer should be playing bigger venues and having commercial success. As A Child is the title track of a five song EP released last year. Twitter
Kath Edmonds, Tom Duffissey and drummer Lee Proctor make up Leeds power trio Kath & The Kicks. All My Time is taken from the band’s EP 20 Years Of Screaming and has been featured several times on Radio Barnsley shows presented by myself and Mick Malloy. Catch them live in Barnsley on December 3rd at The Underground. Twitter
Hope you enjoy the playlist. More to come next month.
I started this blog almost two years in a fit of enthusiasm and creative spirit. Then, as with 99% of blogs, it kind of petered out and I got on with other stuff. It was a time of great change in my life and I was looking for the next big thing. Over a few months it dawned on me that, having quit my job with no clear idea what to do next (just not what I was doing before!) I had, in fact, retired. At the very least, I had retired from IT and could now do things that interested me rather than what paid the bills.
Each time I tried something new I was meant to blog about it but somehow I was easily distracted and off to the next thing. My involvement with Radio Barnsley has continued. I now do two shows a week – Soul Man on Monday at 3pm (repeated Wednesday at 9pm) and Over The Hump with Mick Malloy on Wednesday at 7pm. I have redeveloped the Radio Barnsley website – www.radiobarnsley.org and maintain it. I tried my hand at rugby league commentary after a workshop with BBC Radio Leeds. A truly terrifying experience! However, I felt the fear and did it anyway. I wrote a few columns for a rugby league website, started a novel (which I will finish!) and even tried camping at a festival. OK, so somebody else put the tent up but I dealt with the mud, toilets and rain and already have tickets to do it again next year. I have project managed the refurbishment and move into our apartment and, sometime soon, I will sort out the stuff t hat has been in storage for the last ten years (at huge cost) and get on top of various pensions to work out my financial status! I have started, quit and started again my quest to learn to play the piano.
I have realised that the one thing that takes up most of my time is music – be it preparing for the radio shows, practising piano, digitising my vinyl collection or just plain listening. Thanks to social media and the radio shows I am now exposed to more new music than ever before. As with most people in radio, it is the love of music and the satisfaction gleaned from sharing it that gives me real pleasure. To that end, i will include in this blog a monthly selection of music I believe deserves a bigger audience. This could be new, young bands just starting out or artists who have been around a while without selling millions. I realise that other people provide this kind of output. However, form a vantage point of age (!) I may be able to add a different perspective. The music is available as a playlist on Spotify and, at some point, I may translate it into a new radio show. Hope you enjoy the first selection.
I am starting to believe that the madness attached to Leeds United is somehow linked to my holidays.It seems when we slap on the factor ten another manager is sacked. We were in Spain when David O’Leary was fired.Wales – Kevin Blackwell. Tenerife – Simon Grayson. Lake District – Dave Hockaday and this week Cyprus. You get the picture. Beware Steve Evans – planning Florida in February! Mind you, there have been so many it probably also coincides with me having eggs for breakfast or wearing my lucky grey tee shirt.
By far the best gag of the week went to Paddy Power for revealing that research suggests that, by the end of 2017, nobody would be more than 6 feet from a former Leeds manager.
I have never trusted people who suddenly switch clubs. If, in the extremely unlikely event (OK – let’s face it – it will never happen), Ronaldo were to switch back to Old Trafford, the hundreds of white Real shirts seen routinely in the UK would suddenly turn red. For me, for whatever reason you choose a club, once done, that is it. No changing. Ever.
However, recently things have got so bad I am now wondering if divorce proceedings should be introduced, even on a trial basis. I am not talking easy, modern divorce but something more out of the Sixties where proof of wrong doing is a major requirement. This week may have been the final straw. The fact that the owner can sack yet another manager just a few months after deciding he was the best man for the job is laughable. For him to sack a manager and not be sure if he is allowed to do it is worse – and he has done it twice. Having had to reinstate Brian McDermott for having sacked him before he owned the club, there is now a question mark against whether or not he is allowed to be in a position to sack Uwe Rossler having been suspended again by the Football League for being a bit dodgy.
So, what are the grounds for the case against Leeds United Football Club?
Certainly, any club that builds a massive stand and installs seats so close together that anybody over five feet tall is knee-capped for 90 minutes has to be unreasonable. Visiting Manchester City’s ground for the Magic Weekend for a couple of seasons made me appreciate just how comfortable a modern ground can be.
You may think that 20 years of stunning mediocrity, punctuated by periods of sheer Keystone style ineptitude would be unreasonable but I don’t think so. Part of supporting a club is the up and down nature. The years of second division tedium in the eighties meant that the Tuesday night return to Division 1 against Man Utd in 1990 was all the sweeter.
Although the club has been rogered senseless by successive owners over the years, maybe I am not entirely blameless in that respect. My real passion these days is rugby league and season ticket loyalty has long since passed to Bradford Bulls (now that is a lesson in ups and downs in sport!).
Believe it or not, this used to be a valid cause for divorce and the club certainly hasn’t helped in this regard over the years. Anybody would turn to drink with this lot in charge.
This could be the clincher. Any club that still gets almost 30,000 people turning up week in – week out to watch minimally talented, passionless, over paid Bentley drivers has to have some thread of insanity running through it.
I certainly qualify on this measure. I have just realised that it has been more than 15 years since I set foot in Elland Road for a Leeds game (having gone under protest for rugby league test). Maybe this would be the easy way. After so long, maybe nobody would notice of I turned up at a new club? The nightmarish scenario would be to take my place at another ground only for the crowd to rise as one and chant “Leeds fan, Leeds fan, out – out -out” (or worse!).
No, it would have to be done officially and above board. Maybe FIFA or UEFA would see it as a nice little earner, charging an “administration” or “consultancy” fee to smooth the way. They must be short of a bob or two as they haven’t fined Jose Mourinho yet this week. Having said that, the suggestion that they may fine Man City for their fans’ booing the Champions League anthem is beyond belief. The words corrupt, tinpot and dictatorship all spring to mind.
So, assuming I was granted my divorce – where next. Geographically, I live almost exactly equidistant between Bradford City and Guiseley. My first taste of professional football was seeing Bradford City play Plymouth Argyle in around 1970. They have always been the second result I have looked for (OK third having looked hopefully to see if Man Utd lost). Maybe they should stay second choice. There is something appealing about a small cub like Guiseley. Then again, the divorce hasn’t become law yet, new manager, maybe new owner to come and Bolton away to his afternoon…
The cab from Newark was magical! The driver could have doubled for Samuel L. Jackson. He politely welcomed us to his city before asking if we minded some music. We grinned in amazement as Bizet filled the air around us. I was like a child, pointing out Shea Stadium and signs for Hoboken and Queens. We held hands tightly as the first skyscrapers loomed. We were here for a week and very much in love.
Emma’s book was selling well back home. This was the second visit to a potential publisher for the American version. There was another reason but Emma didn’t know it yet. I had a plan. I could see different versions in my mind but they all ended with me on one knee and Emma throwing her arms around me and saying yes!
It was early on Saturday evening when we checked into the W. After a quick shower we launched ourselves into the bustle and headed for Times Square. The late summer sunshine had given way to a hot and sticky evening. We strolled for an hour or two, arm in arm around the biggest film set in the world. Tourists smiling and pointing, locals going somewhere quickly. It was intoxicating, everywhere buzzed and fizzed with exciting possibilities. Was this the place to ask my question? We gazed at the giant screen towering over our heads. I took a deep breath and pulled Emma closer. My heart was pounding. I had rehearsed this a thousand times. I looked down, straight into those beautiful, sparkling eyes.
‘Food! I must have food and a very large drink now or I will expire!’
I have to say, this threw me, but she had a point. I must have visibly deflated.
‘Are you OK?’
‘Yes, great, just hungry. Come on, let’s find somewhere.’
We headed east with a vague idea of finding a restaurant from the guidebook. As the streets grew quieter we turned a corner and there it was. A tiny Italian with a dozen tables – perfect! The waiter gestured at the full tables and shrugged. A swift handshake and I was five dollars lighter but the proud owner of the table in the corner.
‘What happened there?’ asked Emma, delighted with our new vantage point.
‘Just a bit of good old-fashioned corruption. It’s amazing what you pick up from films.’
In seconds the waiter flourished menus, martinis, water and bread. The very second that our choice was made he was back to take the order. Whether it was the infectious atmosphere or the second bottle of Chianti I’m not sure, but the evening passed in a blur of animated conversation. We were excited about the book and the endless possibilities it offered. We talked about the future, the past, our families. Emma put her hand on mine.
‘I love you so very much’ she said, just slightly slurred. I leaned across the table and kissed her. She giggled and stared deep into my eyes. Go for it! I cleared my throat nervously; pulse quickening again.
‘You know I love you too. In fact I …..’
‘Oh my god! I think that’s Billy Joel!’
‘At the booth in the back. No, don’t look now. Yes it is. Look now, quick.’
I half turned in my seat just as the waiter arrived and blocked the view. He and Emma had what seemed like an endless conversation about desserts before she settled on just coffee. I nodded that I would have the same. I composed myself and tried again.
‘As I was saying.’
‘Sorry darling, I need the loo. Back in a tick.’
As Emma disappeared through the door at the back the candle flickered and gave up. I knew how it felt! I slumped in my seat. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. Besides, what if she said no? That could put a real dampener on the week. Maybe we should be a bit more sober before I ask her? Emma returned as the coffee was being poured. She looked extremely pleased with herself but didn’t speak until the waiter left.
‘Look what I’ve got.’
She was clutching a napkin in her hands. Turning it, she showed me one corner. I stared at the scrawl before my eyes focused properly. “To my dear friends Emma and Fran. Keep the faith, Love Billy Joel.” My jaw dropped.
‘Not just like that. The woman he was with came into the ladies. We got chatting so I asked her. She asked him et voila!’
She smiled and waved towards the back of the room. I turned in time to see her new friend wave back.
‘And it gets better! Look at this.’
She pointed to the other corner of the napkin, which had the name and address of the restaurant printed on. Sure enough we were on Fifty Second Street – one of my favourite songs by the man himself. This triggered the game of coming up with song titles based on a theme. Me first.
‘Forty Ninth Street bridge song’
‘Walking on Madison.’
‘Good one, Chelsea morning.’
‘Cheat, that’s in London.’
‘There’s one here as well.’
We paid the bill and stumbled out into the night, still laughing and trying to think of song titles. The debate about whether Emma could have China Girl on the basis that there was a China town took us all the way back to the hotel. A couple of drinks in the bar ensured that we voted Sunday to be a day of rest rather than doing the tourist thing.
The day dawned warm, sunny and just a little hungover. We ventured north and west. Our trusted guidebook told us to ‘do brunch’ and even told us where to do it! Emma demolished the largest pile of pancakes and syrup I had seen. I was rewarded by the best scrambled eggs I had ever tasted. A gallon each of orange juice coffee and we were ready to face the world again. We strolled the half block to Central Park. We sat on a bench to consult the guidebook before deciding to just wander in a generally anti-clockwise loop. It wasn’t long before Emma gripped my hand tightly.
‘This is where Dustin Hoffman runs in Marathon Man’ she said excitedly. I knew what was coming. I was top dog at song titles but when it came to films there would be only one winner.
‘Come on then. Films made here!’
‘You can’t have that, I just said it.’
‘Yes, but that was before we started.’
‘Cheat. OK. One Fine Day.’
‘What was that?’
‘Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney. Come on, stop playing for time.’
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’
‘Barefoot in the park.’
‘When Harry met Sally.’
‘Sleepless in Seatle.’
‘Sneaky one! ‘
Again this kept us going longer than it should before I gave in and demanded ice cream. Emma wanted to see Strawberry Fields. Five minutes later we were sitting on a bench next to the “Imagine” memorial with ice cream round our mouths! We sat and watched the squirrels. I put my arm around Emma’s shoulders and she rested her head against my arm. We talked about how peaceful the garden was and what we were doing when we heard that Lennon had been killed; how we should live for today and always do what you really want to do. Then it was so obvious! This is where I should propose. Again the quickening heart rate, the sweaty palms. I started into my speech about owing it to ourselves to be happy. I was on quite a roll! I swivelled on the bench, ready to drop to one knee. ‘Take picture please!’
‘Of course. Fran you do it, I’m useless at taking pictures.’
The Japanese teenager smiled and bowed, handing me the tiny camera.
‘But. I was….’
It was no good of course. He was already proudly standing to attention with his girlfriend next to the mosaic. I stood on the bench to make sure I got the word ‘Imagine’ in the shot. My new friend was very happy as I handed back the camera, but Emma suddenly wanted to be artistic director.
‘Why not lie down on the sign and take the shot from above?’
‘Please?’ enquired the puzzled teenager.
The excited couple dropped to the pavement, chattering in Japanese. Emma began to stand.
‘You too please!’
‘OK, you’re on.’
So, instead of becoming the happiest man in the world, here I was, perched on a bench trying to take a picture of my intended lying on the floor with a couple of Japanese teenagers. After several poses, bowing and handshaking they disappeared towards the tee shirt stall and I prepared myself to start again.
‘Come on Fran, I need the loo.’
I gave in!
Late on Sunday evening I hatched a plan. I hadn’t considered buying an engagement ring but the film game triggered a mad romantic impulse! I managed to convince Emma that she should buy a new outfit for her meeting on Tuesday. If you’d met Emma you would know that this was not difficult! We agreed to spend the whole of Monday afternoon on separate shopping expeditions and meet back at the hotel for dinner.
She kissed me before launching herself into Bloomingdales. I watched her disappear into the throng before scurrying towards Fifth Avenue and Tiffany’s. It was too late to eat breakfast outside but there were plenty of diamonds inside. I made a quick circuit of the imposing ground floor, before homing in on my prey. Fifteen minutes later I needed a stiff drink! A whole month’s salary was now sitting in a tiny box. I said a quiet prayer that it would fit before hurrying to the nearest bar.
As Emma’s meeting was scheduled for breakfast time the following morning we decided on a quiet meal in the hotel and an early night. After dinner, she insisted on modelling the new suit that occupied one of several expensive looking bags. I lay on the bed flicking through the TV channels as Emma changed in the bathroom.
‘You look fantastic,’ I smiled as she emerged. She did her best catwalk pose and twirl.
‘Do you think I look like a successful international author?’
‘I think you look incredible.’ My pulse quickened slightly as she looked at me.
‘What about this?’
She slipped off the jacket and unbuttoned the white silk shirt. Pulse through the roof!
‘Fantastic, but make sure that if you do that tomorrow you get a good deal!’
‘Don’t worry, this is for your eyes only.’
I clicked off the TV as she dropped to the bed and kissed my neck. Making love to Emma was better than anything I had ever known in my life but this was another level, deeper, more intense. This was the waves crashing on the beach, fireworks, orchestra, the whole bit. We collapsed on the bed, my arms around Emma’s shoulders, her head on my chest. As our breathing returned to normal, I stretched out my left arm and quietly slid open the bedside drawer. My fingers closed around the tiny black case. I kissed the top of her head, breathing in the gentle perfume.
‘The last year has been incredible, the best of my life.’
‘It just keeps getting better, even this week. We never stop laughing, our careers are flying, it’s all perfect. It’s so perfect; I never want it to end. I want to be with you for the rest of my life. I want us to have little Emmas and little Frans. I want to sit on a beach when we’re eighty and make stupid lists of songs and films. I want to wake up every morning and watch you sleeping. I want to hold your hand when it thunders. I’ll even get rid of spiders from the bath – unless they’re really big, you’ll still have to deal with them obviously. What I’m trying to say Emma is; will you marry me?’
No reply. Had I blown it? I gently brushed the hair away from Emma’s face. It was then that I realised she was fast asleep. Had she heard anything of what I had been saying? I watched her sleep for almost half an hour before gently dropping the ring back into the drawer. I would try again tomorrow, once the meeting was out of the way. I flicked off the light and fell into a deep sleep.
We arrived at the editor’s office at 7.25 for a “power breakfast meeting”. Emma was wearing the new suit with an equally new and expensive yellow raincoat draped over her arm. The meeting would last a couple of hours. I was to be given a grand tour of the offices before being settled with coffee and newspapers. As Emma was ushered into the office she turned to me.
‘Wish me luck!’
‘You don’t need luck. Knock ‘em dead.’ I kissed her and she was gone.
She was on the 92nd floor when the first plane hit. No trace has ever been found. It’s like she was never there. That’s why I keep hoping and walking the streets of lower Manhattan. Maybe she got out and lost her memory. It happens, so they say. Who ‘they’ are I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything any more. I wander from street to street, building to building. Searching but not finding. A bright yellow coat glimpsed on a street corner; a flash of blonde entering the subway. I chase after her of course. ‘Emma, wait. It’s me!’ Then she’s gone.
Only yesterday, afternoon rush hour, I spotted her on the Brooklyn Bridge. I pushed through the crowds and caught her arm. At least I thought I did. The wrong woman stared straight through me as if I wasn’t there like only a stranger in a big city can.
It’s getting cold now. I pull the collar of my jacket up, useless against the icy wind, but still I keep walking. I head north through the maze of crowded streets towards Bowery. That’s the thing about this city – people. There are always crowds of people. Here it’s mainly office workers wrapped up warm and heading for home. I pass bars crowded with young professionals. Some are brightly lit and vibrant, others dark and smoky. All look inviting. We’ll go for a drink later tonight I tell myself. I’ll find her and we’ll sit in a bar with a big window seat and I’ll tell her all my news and she’ll get her memory back and we’ll laugh and hold on to each other and make plans and talk about babies and football and music and where we want to go tomorrow and we’ll get drunk, very drunk and she’ll have a cry and tell me how she’s glad that we’re back together and I’ll laugh and tell her I nearly stopped looking.
I push on through Union Square and onto Broadway. Emma loves the theatre, the lights and the excitement. That’s where she’ll be. My step quickens in time with my heartbeat. I pass the Flatiron and think of the time we took photographs here all that time ago. I count the blocks as I go; twelve to Macy’s. The hours we had spent in there or rather Emma had. I would leave her to it and grab a coffee, content to watch the world go by. Now there’s no contentment, just the numbing cold.
Ten more blocks and I’m crossing 42nd Street and into Times Square. No matter how many times I take this route, I’m always amazed by this place. Just like that first time, I stand in the shadows and look up. Everywhere bright, dancing neon, huge screens that scream ‘sell, sell, sell’. Of course there are people. Everywhere people. The theatres are starting to empty like streams into a river. The river swirls and drains into the subway. I join the torrent, scanning faces, walking against the tide. Time after time I plunge back in. Each yellow coat dashes my hopes, each blonde swirling and sinking.
Eventually the flood subsides and becomes a trickle. It is 4 am. I begin the long walk back to where it started. By six I am searching the streets of the financial district. Every few minutes I check my pocket. The ring is still there. I just need to find her and tell her everything I said in the hotel while she slept. Then I can rest. We can both rest, together. There was nothing I could do; I know that. You see I was on the 91st floor. There was a thump and a tearing noise. I started to fall through dust. Then it was quiet. I remember sitting in the road. There were people running everywhere, sirens, dust and debris. Nobody saw me. I just sat and watched, clutching the ring. When it got dark I stood and walked away. I started my search for Emma. I’m still searching.
In May I posted a blog on my exploits with South Leeds Media and the radio production course I had just completed. Within days of writing the pieceI got an email to say the studios would be closed for the week. Two similar emails followed by silence confirmed that funding had run out and the operation had folded. Talk about kiss of death. When I started out I had a vague notion that being involved as a producer would be the way to go. However, as a presenter, I was starting to improve and I had definitely got the bug.
By coincidence, I saw a post on Twitter about Radio Barnsley, an online, community radio station based in (you guessed it) Barnsley! The station is run by an enthusiastic, friendly and knowledgeable group of volunteers. I emailed the studio and was invited in for a chat. All went well and, as I had just completed a course with South Leeds, we decided I don’t need the full training that was on offer. After a couple of sessions to familiarise myself with equipment and software I was offered a show. At was at this point that I took my first gulp of air! Shows at South Leeds were pre-recorded and could be edited and redone. This would be live!! I was assured all would be OK and went off to compile my first playlist for the afternoon show.
This bit is my idea of heaven – trawling through my music collection and picking out which songs to play. The best bit is – I get to call it (unpaid) work! I quickly realised there was much more to planning a show than picking out your favourite songs.
An unexpected bonus in all this is that, as a member of a community station, I get affiliate membership with the Radio Academy. The Academy organises conferences, networking and social events. My first meeting was An Evening With Johnny Beerling at The Tetley in Leeds. It was all a bit daunting, not knowing anybody at first, but a stiff drink helped and I relaxed into it. The presentation was fascinating. Johnny Beerling was in at the start of Radio 1, working as a producer and then controller, racking up over 25 years of stories involving the pioneers and early stars of pop music radio in this country. One thing stuck in my head from that night. Johnny stressed that, for him, it was all about the music – not the presenter. That was music to my ears! I may not be the world’s best presenter but I do have a passion for music and love sharing that music – hence the radio shows.
If all of this rings any bells with you, as a passionate advocate of music or somebody with something to say on just about any topic under the sun, maybe community radio is for you. Getting involved couldn’t be simpler. Get in touch with Radio Barnsley. You will receive a friendly welcome. The training course assumes no prior knowledge and takes place in the evening. That may be enough for you or you may want to host on a show. You will be allowed to go at your own pace, guesting on another show if that is your preference. A small membership fee keeps the bank account happy and the station on the air.
Give it ago – I suspect you will enjoy it.
I am now doing two shows each week:
Monday 12-2pm Soul Man – a mix of classic and modern soul;
Wednesday 12-3pm The Afternoon Show – I play anything I fancy!
Both shows available on Mixcloud to listen at leisure.
Martha & the Vandellas – Nowhere to Run
Archie Bell & The Drells – Tighten Up
Detroit Spinners – Working My Way Back To You
The Invitations – What’s Wrong With Me Baby – Invitations
Karen Young – Hot Shot (Original Mix)
Gene Chandler – Nothing Can Stop Me
Leon Bridges – Twistin’ & Groovin’
Incognito – Always There
Barbara Acklin – Love Makes A Woman
Larry Williams & Johnny Watson – Too Late
Billy And The Essentials – Don’t Cry Sing Along With the Music
Junior Walker & The All Stars – Take Me Girl, I’m Ready
Major Harris – Love Won’t Let Me Wait
Marvin Gaye – Too Busy Thinking About My Baby
Margo & The Marvettes – When Love Slips Away
The Velvelettes – Throw a Farewell Kiss
Denise LaSalle – Trapped By A Thing Called Love