On: Meeting your idols

I’ll start by making a bold statement, I Am Kloot are the best band you’ve probably never heard of.

Unfairly passed over for the Mercury prize in 2010, losing out to one hit wonders “The xx”, I Am Kloot have been steadily releasing classics since 2001. The songs ooze personality and kinship, the musical talents of Peter Jobson (bass) and Andy Hargreaves (drums) fit John Bramwell’s lyrics, vocals and guitar to a tee.

I was introduced to I Am Kloot in 2009 by an ex-girlfriend, at the now defunct Cardiff Barfly when John Bramwell played a solo gig, as he regularly does between albums. Before the gig started we were smoking outside and she pointed out to me – after he had gone back inside — that the guy who had been enjoying a fag a metre from us was he who we had come to see tonight.

I Am Kloot were the 3rd most listened to band, 2011-2013 . 2,726 listens.— Last.fm, @charmingman

Since then the band has been a staple on my iPod, Spotify and have spent many drunk nights contemplating, commiserating and crying to. It’s perhaps ironic that the music somebody introduced me to also helped me through a lot of what I went through because of the relationship with that person.

So in December ‘13 John Bramwell announces another solo tour, a few dates dotted around the country at a leisurely pace, I get my tickets for Cardiff and Bristol — Bristol in February ‘14, Cardiff in March. I look forward to them mightily.

Finally the Bristol date comes along, I get on a train and make the hour journey there, to my second city. I had never been to the venue before, The Louisiana. As I walk there from the train station it starts to piss down, I run the final 200 metres. I get to the venue and taking cover from the rain, famililarly smoking a cigarette is John Bramwell. Smiling like a goon I say “Hey!”, he says “Hello” back and retreats inside, I caught him right at the letters.

The venue is small, 200 people or less. John and his support artist have to fight through the tightly packed crowd to get to the stage. For the first half I position myself as closely to the front of the stage as I can get. Did I forget to mention I went alone. It’s too much of a personal experience to take anybody who doesn’t know the music.

The second half starts late, I know my train home is at 11pm and the gig is supposed to finish at 1030. The songs keep coming, I’m entranced, it overruns, it’s 1030, I try to decide whether it’s best to be responsible and leave or stay and be gratified futher. I choose the latter.

I’m all caught up in a one man brawl

He comes off stage at 11pm. I’ve missed my ride home, but I have options, so I decide to wait until the 130am service back to Wales. John has a big queue of people waiting to sign albums, t-shirts and have photos taken with him. I stand at the bar drinking, just watching the queue disperse, watching how he interacts with fellow fans — a lot of them have met him before, talk about previous gigs, have their photos taken and leave the venue.

I buy my fourth pint and retreat to the outside, benches on the main road, to smoke and read, just passing the time until I can get home to my bed.

It’s coming up to midnight, closing time, I buy my fifth pint of cider and smoke what must be my 400th cigarette. I’m drunk enough now to talk to other people about what a great gig it was, the venue is emptying now, only about five people left. The Louisiana finally closes and John Bramwell emerges from the main doors. He lights a cigarette and says “Hello” to the small group I’m stood talking to, consisiting of a male/female couple and a drunk Bristol uni student originally from Manchester.

John and his manager join our group and get involved in our conversation, I think we’re talking about local venues and how they’ve been strangled, John agrees and talks about some of the brilliant, tiny places he’s played over the years. I offer him a cigarette. He fumbles around with the packet for a few seconds, takes one and I offer him a light.

He starts to talk about the gig, how well it went and the rain is “so pissing depressing”. The next 45 minutes pass quickly, we’re laughing and joking, John tells anecdotes about famous rock stars and poets — some which start with a disclaimer “Don’t put this on the internet! If this ends up on the internet I know where it’s come from!” to which I put my hands up and give him my word I will not repeat.

His songs are personal to him, but resonate with me. He puts to words what I feel but could never describe, and he does so with character and style, and now we’re laughing and joking like mates.

I finally succumb to the sixth pint, but I feel like it’s okay because he’s pissed too. I say “Your music has seen me through some shit, thanks”. He replies modestly and we move on quickly, for I am embarassed and we are men. I ask one question that had been burning, “How did you film the video “Over my shoulder” to which he gave an excellent answer — “I stood on a spinning platform in front of a green screen all day, feeling like a prick”.

It was coming up to 1am, we’d been talking, smoking and drinking for nearly an hour. The rain was screaming down, the bar was closed and I was dying for a piss. But I couldn’t leave. When would I get this opportunity again? I offer him another Marlboro red, he takes one and lights it up, thanking me on passing the pack back.

The owner of The Louisiana popped his head out of the door, John shouted at him “Can we get some wine to take back to the hotel?” and who could deny him? Wine was provided.

We talked some more, about music politics, bastard record companies, asshole music press and who are some of the best and worst “stars” to come into contact with.

Since John is from “oop north” and I am a massive Morrissey/The Smiths fan I decide to bung this into the foray. To my delight he tells an excellent story of being at one of the first Morrissey solo gigs in 1988, and agrees that despite sometimes being a bit of a cock, Morrissey is true musical royalty.

It’s 120am, we’ve been chatting for too long, if I miss this train I’ll have to spend 80 quid on a hotel — reluctantly I say my goodbyes, he says he has to leave too. I step into the rain, put my hood up and run to the train station with the biggest grin that has ever graced my face and he gets into his manager’s car.

I fell asleep on the train and almost missed my stop. I didn’t care.

Stop thinking it over and stick your suitcase in the van.

Originally published on Medium

Being “Daddy”

Me and Tristan at Cefn Mably Farm Park, September 2013.

First, some background. If you dig through the archives you’ll notice that there were some posts a few years ago about me having acquired a family. They’re here and here. They were written in 2010 and a lot has changed since then. We’re no longer a family; me and Tristan’s mother are both single parents as of a year ago. I moved out of the house we all shared and since then I have been on some kind of journey to discover what the fuck I’m doing and how to be the best dad that I can be, basically.

I’m not going to go into anything to do with the relationship, why it ended or how it’s been since then as I feel this is mostly irrelevant, but I will say that trying to start a new life when you have to see that person (almost) every single day muddies things quite a bit, to the point where sometimes I wish there was a network of pipes that we could package the kiddo into and he just plops on to my living room sofa.

The very first arrangement that we made was custody, and that we share as close to 50/50 as we could, so a plan was formed that we each have him every other evening, and weekends are alternated. A part-time dad was never what I wanted to be, but this was making the best of a bad situation; I get him Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday and Saturday or else on Sunday.

I’ve learned a lot about life as a single parent in the past 12 months, the biggest thing was that you need two bedrooms if you have a child over the age of two. I got my first apartment, it was very urban twenty-something year old with one bedroom and a lounge/kitchen. Perfect for the new bachelor. A pain for the father to a toddler. Tristan had to sleep with me, and he wouldn’t go to sleep without me in there with him, so that meant me having the same bed time as a 2-year-old every other day for 10 months.
We’ve just moved into a two bedroom house and everything is infinitely easier.
Sometimes he comes to stay while I’m working (I work from home), so we can’t go out, but with his own space he doesn’t demand all of my attention, he’s happy to play with his toys in his room while I get on with my business.

Finally, Tristan has his own room at my house.

I know that we have quite a unique situation, so working out my parenting style has been part of what I’ve been going through too. All parents I know that have split up seem to have an arrangement where mum takes full responsibility and dad pops in every now and again, mostly on weekends. I think that going the way that we did is the best for Tristan, but I get that it’s not available to everyone. I have however met a few that don’t think our agreement is a very good one. Some people (who I might add, don’t have children) think that being at two different houses throughout the week has the potential destabilise him and that it isn’t a long-term solution. The long-term part, only time will tell, but right now I can tell you that Tristan is happy, healthy and enjoys his time with both of us. There are no fits when it’s time to for him to go to his mother’s house, and I haven’t heard of any when he’s coming my way. He’s confident and comfortable when he’s at my house, even the new one. He’ll go to his bedroom or the living room to play, go to the bathroom to pee (he’s potty training), and he’ll go to the fridge to ask for something to eat/drink when he wants something. He isn’t shy, and doesn’t appear to feel he’s in unfamiliar surroundings.

For me, I’ll admit that having him around as often as he is has made things a little more difficult, particularly that part about working out what my new trajectory in life should be, and going through all the emotions a break-up brings; as well as moving out, moving in, and all while trying to keep everything else together. I’m lucky that my job has been very flexible, and that I don’t have to go to the office in Bristol any more. Dating is difficult, and Facebook appears to think that I should be dating other single mums. I won’t lay the blame on having a child for dating being difficult, as easy as that would be, I think that lies quite firmly in my corner, and being a difficult person. As for the social life, I now appreciate the times that I get to be with friends and to do things. Overall, this year has gained me new friendships, showed me who my real friends are and I’ve had experiences that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, all while keeping a healthy relationship with my son.

I look forward to when it’s time for us to be together, everything else stops and we hang out, it’s quality time unlike we had when we lived together. We go places, we do things; we walk in the park, we go for lunch at the pub, we go to soft-play, we go to the bookshop and the toy shop, and we just hang out at home playing with the great toy collection we’ve built up in the past year. I think we have a great relationship. I don’t think I’ve ever been mad at him, but I’m definitely not too soft on him, no way is he having Kinder Bueno before dinner and I’m not tidying up his toys on my own. Getting to watch him grow up from close proximity is something I’m thankful for.

Goofing around, as we do, October 2013.

We all love a good human interest story

I was contacted a few days ago by somebody at the South Wale Echo who knew we had recently had a baby and was asked if we’d like to be in this weeks “People” pages, of course I accepted.

Misia & I both wrote a little bit each about how things have gone in the first 10 weeks and it was published today, the 16th of December, and here it is. (Click for higher resolution, so you can read the words).

We were both sat in a very awkward position on the sofa, making it hard to hold the baby and not fall off the sofa ourselves, and also Tristan wanted to look at us rather than the camera, but it didn’t turn out so bad.

Tristan

It’s been two months since I blogged, and it’s no coincidence that it’s been two months since Tristan has been born.
It’s hard to think about yourself when there is another person in the world who is depending on you to get a start.
Everything I think about, day and night, since he’s been born, which is when it became real, is how I can make him into the most perfect person. I want him to have some of his fathers qualities, but none of his flaws.

This little person that I hold in my arms, he has no sin. None. He has done nothing wrong in his life. There is nobody that you could say of, of people you meet today.

My friends have been amazing. Jack Pascoe, Bianca Lepore; they come over all of the time, just to say hi, they understand that we can’t meet at the pub all of the time, so they come over and say hi.
Jack Pascoe and I had an awesome night in one Saturday; Jack and I watched a documentary and debated it, then when the baby became restless he rocked him to sleep. I’m glad I have friends like this.

Having a child has changed my life. I’m more conscientious now.

You can’t imagine how your life changes. From birth, especially. I knew things would change, from inception, but perhaps I didn’t take it seriously enough.
Tristan is a baby. But he and I get on, especially in the last few weeks. I can make him smile.
And the pinnacle came when my grandmother pointed out that he was following me around the room. He was, with his head and his eyes. He was following my voice and my movements. I moved right, his head and eyes moved right, I moved left, he moved left. He knows me. Someone depends on me.

It’s crazy, everything that I do is with my boy in mind. I have never been more selfless. I love Tristan more than anything. I’d die for him. He’s the most amazing person I know.
Everything I do is to further my boys development.

Not a hint of sarcasm

Having been online for 14 years, and having a active websites detailing my day-to-day life and thoughts for 13 of those years is a long time, I recently wrote about the history of my online life – the different iterations of those websites, the birth of the “blog” and how I had grown up, and how so had my writing.

There have been periods of controversy in response to some of the posts, times where I have had to seriously consider ethics before writing and some serious lapses of judgement, which I regret.

In the early days, when I was still a child, I was handed something that kids these days take for granted – the gift of being able to express oneself to everybody with a modem. It wasn’t as easy as it is today, where a blog can be created in seconds, in the case of Tumblr, by filling out three boxes on a website. I had to learn how to code in HTML and work out how to upload the files to webspace, but I was enthusiastic so it didn’t take too long.

Before long I had notoriety amongst other young teenagers in Cardiff, not just in my own school, as the kid who had a website and wrote about a school life like they had, they could identify with me.

Miss Jeffries almost had a breakdown in class today, she wants us to achieve but we aren’t interested. We are, but we’re teenagers, we have other things on our minds. We can do it and we’ve promised that we will, but I can see us not living up to her expectations somehow. This saddens me.

I had my picture up on the site; I was stopped in the street, I was occasionally pointed and laughed at, I made some friends that I still keep in contact with today. This was all pre-2001, before I left high-school and before blogging was popularised by people like Jason Kottke. Word of mouth was key at this time, Google was still really in its infancy and any kind of directory of people who wrote online was still a little-way off – I was in the minority, and this is why the website was popular.

As the years went by and website names changed, until I arrived at “Hint of Sarcasm” in 2003, my writing style changed from diaristic to columinst but I still use these back-posts to track my personal development.

I feel that I have come a long way, the last 10 years have been remarkable in places and at points so dire I seriously attempted to no longer continue. After many years of erratic behaviour – where one week I’d go out of my way to organise parties and to make new friends and the next I would lock myself in my bedroom, skip school or work and not switch the lights on, followed then by months of self-destruction with booze, drugs and week long parties, I was diagnosed with a condition called Bipolar disaffectedness disorder. This was after two life-threatening personally afflicted hospitalisations, and many more serious abuses of my own body, which I am still struggling to comes to terms with.

Writing has helped me along the way, having a blog can sometimes be seen as hedonistic, self-absorbed or self-appreciative but when I started, although consciously I may not have known it, writing was a form of therapy – therapy I so badly needed, like the therapy I would later seek from a professional when my real internal issues were realised.

Looking back at some of these posts help me to remember some of the critical and often catastrophic events that let to many of my eventual breakdowns, there is a clear pattern of depression and mania that proves to be a stern indicator of what was later to be officially diagnosed – sometimes I wonder how I could have missed the signs, but I wasn’t aware of such a disorder until a psychiatrist spoke to me; I’m not a worrier, I don’t head to the NetMD symptom checker for every little thing.
There are posts about power, paranoid delusions, thoughts of suicide and a significant post where I seem to not care about what had happened after I was discharged from hospital following one such episode. For me, it’s scary reading, and most of these memories have been repressed in my mind – I read them as if I hadn’t written them, they have been pushed back into my subconscious, I simply don’t remember.

I’m well now, most of the time. I don’t take prescription medication – against doctors advice, but I feel that I have learned to control the worst of  the disorder. I can tell when “episodes” are coming on and have routines to stave them off, although this isn’t always the case, and a break in routine can prove detrimental – I found that whilst I was living with my father this year, back in the family home, I could find a comfort zone and this threw everything off balance, I was acting very erratically.
Now that I have my own home, with Misia and very soon with our child, I am rapidly coming to terms with that and my balance is returning, for this I am glad.

This has been somewhat of a rambling post, let me assure you I do know this. It’s been more for me than for you, the reader. It started out as a history piece for Guardian Cardiff but as I was paging back through the posts I made a lot of realisations and it became something very personal. I don’t ask that you forgive me, only that you understand.

Thank you.