On a Good Day is changing

On a Good Day is coming to end. Well, its first phase in at least. When I started this blog, it was intended to be a personal blog about being a dad, a way of preserving of my thoughts and memories of fatherhood. But I love music as well, and so I thought, why not make it a blog about both fatherhood and music.

Problem was, I never really able to crowbar those two subjects together in a way that really worked. I was also constantly torn between blogging just as a hobby, and trying to make the blog ‘successful’ (whatever that means – lots of readers I guess). Eventually I came to realise that trying to make it successful was taking all the enjoyment out of it for me, and that at this point in my life I didn’t have the time or inclination for blogging as anything other than a hobby. I’ve learnt a lot over the last few years though, and now have dozens of others ideas for blogs and websites, some of which may even come to fruition in future years.

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El día de los Muertos

2015 has been a wonderful year for many reasons, not least watching my daugher grow from baby to child. I feel perhaps more contented this year than I ever have before. But it’s also been a year of loss, with death and mortality never too far from my mind.

The first piece I wrote this year was on Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, love and loss. My father, who passed in 1996 has been in my thoughts more than usual, now that I’m living back in Leeds, just round the corner from his old flat. A more than usually high number of friends and colleagues seem to have lost people close to them this year, although perhaps these things are just affecting me more now than they ever did before. Most significantly, back in March, my friend Nick Mann was killed in a tragic accident, and he and his death have been on my mind ever since.

Me and Nick, with beer unsurprisingly
Me and Nick, with beer unsurprisingly

Once you start thinking about death, you’ll find reminders everywhere, often where you least expect them. I remember sitting down with my wife to eat a takeaway the week after Nick died. We were searching for something light to watch with our meal, and settled on Series 2, Episode 2 of Inside Number 9. If you’re not familiar with the series it’s a comedy, dark and macabre at times, but essentially pretty silly. However, this particular episode proved to be one of the most devastating half hours of TV we’d ever seen, especially given the news we’d just had (I won’t spoil it, but it deserves to be seen if you haven’t already). By the end of the episode I was weeping into my falafel wrap, but also half laughing at what a spectacularly bad choice of entertainment we’d made.

Inside Number 9, Season 2 - Episode 2
Inside Number 9, Season 2 – Episode 2

Even watching Peter Kay’s Car Share, which is about as gentle as comedy gets, made me sad when they started talking of what song they’d have played at their funeral. I used to joke that I’d like the theme music to Johnny Briggs as it seemed the most jaunty and inappropriate tune imaginable for a funeral, but it’s not a subject I’ve wanted to joke about so much recently.

With mortality so much on my mind, I’ve found myself pondering more than usual what life would be like if I lost someone close to me. It’s not unusual or wrong, I think, to worry about these things, but I’d rather enjoy the company of those I love than spend time worrying about what would happen if they were no longer around.

The one person whose death I have never been able to think about is my daughter.  There’s no reason I would want to think of such a dark topic of course. However I now know a number of parents who’ve lost children in vastly different circumstances, from my friends who lost their son Theo, after just a few hours of life, to Nick’s mother, losing her oldest son completely out of the blue. So, in a way, it wouldn’t be surprising if I imagined losing her. However, when I say I it’s impossible to think about my daughter’s death, I don’t just mean that it’s difficult or tragic to do so, I mean I literally cannot. If my mind even begins to wander in that direction, it shuts off or changes tack completely, a protection mechanism of sorts, I guess. I’ve even found it hard to write this, feeling somehow that death, especially the death of a child, is a taboo subject, but the one thing that everyone I know who has lost someone close has said is that they want people to talk about it, to not be afraid to bring the subject up.

day of the dead

Today, in Mexico, is the Day of the Dead, a festival to celebrate and remember those we have lost, and that seems a much healthier attitude to death to me, even if it is an attitude that I sometimes struggle to hold. I’ve just read back the tribute I wrote for Nick back in March, and my main emotions are the time were sadness and anger. That’s still the case today, but I feel it’s starting to change.  Should I be sad that Nick is no longer around, or happy that I was lucky enough to know him for 15 years? The latter, of course, even if it is easier said than done.

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So today, and this day every year, I’ll be with the ones I love the most and remember those we have lost. I’ll remember Nick and smile at his ways. For some reason the time he chased two burly men who had stolen his chips up Oxford Road in Manchester always springs to mind, as do his fits of giggles at the clown college episode of The Simpsons. I’ll remember the good times with my dad, the trips to the seaside, the games of football in the garden, the staying up late watching Monty Python. I never met Theo, but I’ll remember his funeral, and how much love and support from friends and family was in the house of my friends that day. And everyone else we have lost, or will lose as the years roll on, I will remember them too, until I become one of those who is remembered.

Just as importantly, I’ll think of all those I love who are still here and how lucky I am to have so many people in my life who make me happy, even if I don’t see all of them as much as I would like. Some of those people will be reading this, and if so, I hope you know who you are, but if not I promise not to wait until it’s too late to let you know.

I hope I remember my daughter’s childhood better than my own.

I was having a conversation with my wife and mum the other day about folk singer Vashti Bunyan.  As I was talking about the one and only time I had seen Vashti play live in Brighton, my mum pointed out that we had in fact both seen her live together, on a bill with a few other folk and folkish singers almost a decade earlier.

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Nick Mann – a Tribute

I first met Nick 15 years ago, in my second year at university in Manchester. He houseshared with some other friends of mine, and we soon bonded over a shared love of music (our tastes were not entirely similar, but there was plenty of crossover). Over the next few years, we went to gigs together, shared drunken nights out at the rock clubs of Manchester and played five a side football with no great ability. One of the things I loved about Nick is that he was always so open. Unlike many men, he was always able to talk about feelings, to lay his heart on the line without fear of mockery.

Another thing I admired about Nick is that he would do things rather than just talk about them. He wanted to write about music, so he started a fanzine, A Short Fanzine About Rocking, which he kept going for 13 years and almost 40 issues. When he found bands he loved weren’t playing in Manchester, he decided to put on and promote the gigs himself, regardless of the time and money it might cost him. I was lucky enough to contribute a handful of reviews to most of the issues of the zine, which was the only thing that kept me writing through my twenties, and hence the reason I am still writing now. I always went along to the gigs he put on, regardless of whether I liked or had even heard of the bands, because I wanted to support him. I loved the fact that the gigs were such a family affair, with his little brother Rob in the audience and their mum taking tickets on the door. They always seemed such a close family, the three of them.

When Nick met his wife Jen, they moved just a few minutes walk away from me, and we and few other friends enjoyed many happy evenings and afternoons in the local pubs and beer gardens. Nick, in particular, was happier than I had ever known him. Soon work took Nick and Jen to London, and I moved onto to Brighton, and now Leeds, but we always kept in touch. We’d go the odd Shrewsbury game together, meet up for meals or drinks or day trips to the seaside. We were there for each other’s stag dos and weddings. We’d chat on Facebook about football and music. He was one of those friends you know you’ll never lose touch with, even if you don’t see them that often. Which is one of the reasons the news was such as shock.

Late Sunday evening, I had a message from one of my university friends asking me to contact her urgently, I immediately knew it was bad news, the only question was what and who? She told me she had heard Nick had been killed in a train accident, but the details were sketchy. I went to be bed in tears, but with still a tiny bit of hope that somehow the reports were wrong, that he was injured but still alive, but the next morning bought only the worst news. Nick had died attempting to save his brother who had fallen onto the track at Old Street underground station, when both were hit by a train.

http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/recap-london-tube-tragedy–8947304

I always knew Nick was brave, because he was prepared to take risky decisions in the hope for a better life, but I never knew just how brave he was until the manner of his death.

I always knew Nick was devoted to the things and people he loved, because he spent thousands of hours and pounds following Shrewsbury Town FC around the country, did everything he could to support his favourite bands, and had so much love for wife and family, but I never knew how deeply devoted he was until yesterday.

I knew Nick inspired people, because he inspired me to keep writing, but I never knew how many people he inspired until I saw all the messages on Facebook and Twitter, from friends and bands and other fanzine writers.

It is customary when a tragedy like this occurs to learn important life lessons from it but, frankly, fuck that. It’s still too soon and I’m still too raw. I want to rage and rail against his death, not accept it. I want Nick not to be gone, and for my Facebook feed to be once again filled with photos of his latest craft beer purchases, and his adventures watching bands and football. I want to stand with him on the terraces of some godforsaken, windswept, half-built, lower league football ground just one last time.  Most of all, I want Nick’s wife and brother and mother to not have to deal with this, because no-one should have to, especially them.

I last saw Nick last year, when he was up in Leeds for some festival or another. We spoke of fatherhood, mine impending, his potentially a few years down the line. Now we’ll never know, but I’m pretty sure he would have made a great dad. I’d been in touch with him more recently though, interviewing him by e-mail for a piece I’d been writing on Joy Division and Manchester. The last e-mail I sent to him was on Saturday, the day of the accident, letting him know that of all the people I interviewed, his quote was the one I would be using in the piece because, as always, he had expressed what everyone else had been trying to say, succinctly and beautifully. Whether he ever read it, I don’t know.

On Sunday, when I heard the news, I happened to be wearing my At the Drive-In t-shirt for the first time in years. They had been one of the first bands Nick and I ever saw together, and one of the best gigs I’d ever been to. Just a coincidence of course, but it seemed apt, as it bought back happy memories, but also as the most famous line in their most famous song is “I write to remember”. And that’s why I write this Nick, to remember you by.

Love you Nick.