Booze Books: My drunken writing experiment

April 9, 2013

“WhyIoughtta wiipe zat smile offa yeur face, yer smarrrmy lill weaaazzl,” he slurred, lurching forward, empty Advocat bottle in hand.

This fictional man is fictionally drunk in a fictional price of writing. I intend to turn this scenario on its head.

Inspired by the work of MyHarto in her Youtube series, My Drunk Kitchen, where she gets boozed then tries to cook, I am going to get sloshed/sozzled/binned/battered/muntered and try to write.



Gone are the days where journalists could get Geoff Hooned at lunch and return to the newsroom to finish the splash half-cut, so my experience of drunken writing is minimal. In fact, I actively try to avoid it. If I’ve had anything more than two pints, writing tends to be off the cards for I know it will end up aimless drivel (unlike most of my work, which is bang-on-the-money brilliant, yeh). So, this could be interesting.

This Saturday I have a few plans in the pipeline. Y’know, socially. And will have a few bevvies, like. After these bevvies, I will return to my flat in the dead of night and begin to write. Exactly how, who knows? Exactly what, I’m not sure. I’m not setting myself any guidelines or boundaries and will only consider the content when I plonk myself on my bedroom floor, laptop on knee, salt beef bagel in hand, and begin to write. Or pass out.

Anecdotally, musicians/artists/masseuses find their true creative soul under the influence of drink/drugs so maybe this drunk writing could be the key to success. Maybe. Just maybe. This will be my moment. My big break. I will find myself. I will become one with my writing. It will be like a big, literary, slightly squiffy, sexgasm.

Or. More than likely. It will be a misguided fumble in the dark with the ever-present risk of hurling.




Some of the albums I like that were released at some point over the 365 days of 2012

December 28, 2012

In our never-ending quest to categorise everything into genres, labels and pigeonholes, the end-of-the-year list is a powerful vehicle. It sorts the wheat from the chaff from a 365-day harvest – all that is picked up by the wind and carried away is left to the annals of time, all that falls to the floor will be later sorted into an end-of-the-decade list, then later into an end-of-the-century list and so on until the apocalypse greets us and we are left pondering a very small list of which of the four horsemen released the best post-electronica concept album. And with that in mind, here I add to the inane ramblings of many a list picker vying for a percentage split of the list-hungry wheat sorters. Or something. Before this list/wheat metaphor runs for thousands of words, accidentally turning into some sort of listless Crime and Punishment, I present to you some music records of this present year – 2012 – which I thought were quite good and stuff. They pleased my ears, let them please yours.

Tall Ships – Everything Touching

Tall Ships’ debut album seemed to be coming for years. And once it finally arrived, it did not disappoint. Full of infectious instrumentals, catchy hooks and snips of soft, indie vocals, Everything Touching is where guitar music should be, but never bothered to go. Inventive yet traditional, I want to call it post-indie but I’m worried somebody will find me and punch me if I do.

Twilight Sad – No One Can Ever Know

It’s dark, brooding and menacing. The Twilight Sad, who apparently fall into the shoegazer genre, have refined their sound from a wall of kick-you-in-the-face noise to a simpler construction with a much more electronic foundation.

Bad Books – II

I’m getting bored of my own list – never a good sign – so read what I wrote about this Manchester Orchestra/Kevin Devine hybrid here.

Plan B – Ill Manors

Aggressive, vitriolic and politicised. Plan B’s Ill Manors, released to accompany his film of the same name, is a zeitgeist collection of distrust and disgust. I never thought it would be my cup of tea but it’s hard not to be sucked in by the underworld Ben Drew creates with his tales of drugs, sex and death in “Broken Britain”. It’s by no means the slickest album – but if it was, it wouldn’t work half as well as it does as a modern-day protest album.

The xx – Coexist

It was almost written to feature on end-of-year lists. Simple, shy and ever-so sexy, Coexist is even more stripped back than the xx’s debut album, yet twice as alluring. Coexist sees Jamie Smith’s influence on the production increase with more of the sort of two-step percussion he’s fond of and the subtle anti drops that litter his remix work, whereas the vocals and simple reverb riffs remain the same. Perhaps the trio have done all they can with their sound and using Smith’s production values is a sort of get out of jail free card – but Coexist still makes for a brilliant album.

Right Away, Great Captain! – The Church of the Good Thief

The beautiful conclusion to Andy Hull’s side project – a trilogy charting the pain and anguish of a man who found his brother in bed with his wife, ran (swam. In a boat.) to sea, then returned and murdered his brother. Yikes. The Church of the Good Thief is songwriting at its best.

mewithoutYou – Ten Stories

I wrote a review of this on my own blog here so enjoy. It’s a cracking concept album centered on the derailing of a circus train and the subsequent adventures of its animals, including a bear and a fox who become friends, so much so that the bear throws himself of a cliff so that the fox might have something to eat. *sobs*

And some more…

The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives

Scottish music rocks.

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

I don’t really think I could say anything new about this record. But suffice to say, I enjoy it.

Deftones – Koi No Yokan

Deftones are one of a dying breed: bands founded in the alternative rock and heavy metal heyday who have retained their identity and managed to consistently put out solid music without abandoning the sound which made them. Immerse yourself.

Ben Howard – Every Kingdom

Brilliantly boring. Or boringly brilliant. Either way, it’s brilliant. And a little bit boring.


Biffy Clyro at iTunes Festival: Needs more discovery and invention

October 7, 2012

The Roundhouse shakes while 4,000 people inside shiver with goosebumps when Biffy Clyro are at their best at the iTunes Festival. In between these peaks of rock supremacy is the occasional moment of boredom and mediocrity. It’s no secret the Scottish rockers, as their pseudonym has become, abandoned the sound that made them great two albums ago, but that’s not to say they don’t still make great songs.

Openers Frightened Rabbit do a respectable job warming up the crowd with a perfect representation of Scottish indie rock in its prime but they’re not the band the masses are here to see. Biffy arrive on stage to a bizarre soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel before launching into a strobe-lit intro.

There are more bland ballads now than ballistic aural assaults, but tracks like The Captain and That Golden Rule still produce some of the best reactions of the night. Bubbles, complete with an impressive bubble machine, is one of the most best-executed pieces of live music this reviewer has ever seen. On top of the two additional live musicians, the bare-chested Biffy trio command a huge stage presence. Their energy is barely rivalled and their technical ability remarkable. They are widely regarded as one of the best live bands about – and with good reason.

But at the Roundhouse on Saturday, they try out too many new songs. So much so that even the faithful ‘Mon the Biff crowd lose interest. Songs such as Folding Stars and Many of Horror, so far removed from the frantic brilliance of their first three albums, rouse the crowd – but for the wrong reasons. Everyone loves a good sing-along. But people also like singing along to Wonderwall at 4am stumbling home from the city centre. Objectively, these songs do a gig no favours.

Strung To Your Ribcage and 27 were the only pre-Puzzle tracks on display, and herein lies the greatest weakness of the show. Biffy Clyro have a rich and varied back catalogue which could lay waste to any venue in 90 minutes, and though they perfectly demonstrate this strength with choice cuts, overall they disappoint by allowing weaker songs into their set. Any music fan should see Biffy before death, but do it quickly because album by album, the quality of an ever-diluted setlist is slowly waning.


Three years since Daisy: Why we’re prepared to wait for Brand New

September 22, 2012

Today a grim anniversary passes. It’s unlikely there will be many ceremonies, no minute of silence, no flags at half mast. There may be some tears, a hand held tight by a loved one, a melancholy head held in trembling hands – but these will be behind closed doors. Even those who do mark the day, uttering a quiet prayer to the heavens, will not wallow. They will pause, then move on.

September 22 marks three years to the day Brand New released their last album, Daisy. Scoff at my calender crossing if you like but worse bands have gone shorter periods of time without new material and had to suffer baying fans whining for more. And Brand New aren’t just any Tom, Dick or Harry, they’re the alternative music’s Lady Gaga. They too seemed to have developed a die-hard group of followers, a mature, music-savvy, discerning band of Monsters. Or Beliebers? No.

Brand New’s fans are not just people who like their music, but a cult. A flippin’ cult. Sort of. A cult that talks in lyrics and cuts its hair in time with Jesse. And these members of the cult have had three years of radio silence as far as tracklistings, artwork or studio time goes. But, while they might shed a tear or have a little sing-along to Bought A Bride, they would not dream of forcing Brand New’s hand prematurely.

This is not because they do not want more. God no, they want more. It’s because these fans (myself included, so, really it’s we)… It’s because WE are respectful enough of Jesse (Lacey, that is) and co and understand how delicate and intricate their musical progression has been from debut Your Favourite Weapon in 2001 to the present day that we would not dare ask for more than they have given us already. We are so smitten and feel so lucky to have been given a single album, a single song, a single note, of theirs that anything else is an invaluable bonus. Had Jesse (we are as close as we sound, sort of) decided to end YFW after seven minutes, we would have solemnly accepted his decision without protest.

But, with love comes fear. After 2006’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me, an operatic tour de force, we were anxious for Daisy. Now, after Daisy, we’re cautious. We, the fans and the band, are at a crossroad. All thousands and millions of us are huddled together at this junction of musical life waiting with baited breath for someone in the band to pipe up and say, “I think it’s this way.” We will move as one.

The passion of Brand New fans might look bizarre and pathetic, and silly, and a little over the top, to outsiders, but it is warranted. Though the Long Island band’s incredible musical progression is widely recognised – from basement punk rock to introspective geniuscore – and emotional attachment to lyrics and themes is not unusual in such a genre, it is Jesse’s sincerity and authenticity in anything the band puts its mind to which has kept fans enthralled. I could reel off the clichés about pouring his heart and soul into the music and all that jazz, but it’s true. When the Devil and God demos leaked, Jesse and the band were so upset they scrapped eight of ten of the tracks and started afresh. Little sneaky extra album there for us. Shhh.

This might sound like the transcript of a drunken 4am monologue, so let’s try and conclude. When Brand New decide their route, we will follow. But until Brand New have picked up the pieces left strewn across the musical landscape by the self destruction of Daisy, we can have little clue what direction it will be. So ferocious was Daisy, so unsure of footing, so raw and scared, it is impossible to say what the next step in this musical journey will be. It is this uncertainty, which makes us willing to wait.

In Daisy’s title track, Jesse sings “if the sky opened up and started pouring rain, like He knew it was time to start things over again”. Daisy was a biblical flood, drowning everything that came before. The band have now been rinsed clean. And though it has taken time, and it will take more, I, we, Brand New’s Monsters, are confident their next step will be devastatingly brilliant.


Run on, Rabbit, Run! mewithoutYou master a circus concept

June 5, 2012

I reckon it’s generally accepted concept albums are a dangerous venture. The story needs to be one which can be reasonably told by a set of 11-or-so tracks, then the execution needs to be perfect. The concept itself needs to be ever-so-slightly hidden from view so as not to be crude but present enough to be worth doing in the first place. It is by no means easy or even necessary.

As far as storytelling goes, mewithoutYou have nailed it several times in individual songs  – their allusions to bible tales and the goings on of various animals seem to be their favourite topics – but this is this is the first time they’ve tried it throughout an album. And they’ve only gone and bloody done it.

Critics of the Pennsylvanian five-piece will point to their last album, It’s All Crazy, It’s All False, It’s All A Dream, It’s Alright, as the moment the band relinquished their rage-filled, raw, damn-near apocalyptic, semi-religious spoken word. Post-hardcore to some. Furious volume to others. To some degree, those critics are right. Only occasionally in their last album can the distain and anger of A–B Life be heard – and I think it’s mainly when Aaron Weiss is singing about tomatoes – and the music certainly mellowed too. In their new offering, Ten Stories, the musical direction is midway between It’s All Crazy and Brother, Sister – in my view, the best place it can be. The guitars return much closer to the punchy riffs kicked along by purposeful drums than the etherial and arguably quirky melodies of before. More importantly, the anger and urgency has returned. It has returned to the structure of a beautiful tale of a circus train crash.

Ten Stories follows the tales (no pun…) of various animals – a rabbit, a fox, a bear, an elephant and some others – as they escape the flaming wreckage of this circus train crashed on a cold night in February, 1878. Weiss’s ability to paint such a vivid picture is incredible. Right from the off (‘February, 1878’), we hear the rabbit’s panting sprint from the nets of the policeman, the tiger’s hesitance and the elephant’s concerns over his age and physical strength to get away. Throughout, Weiss switches from his tuneful drawl to the spitting shouts which gave mewithoutYou their unique sound several albums ago.

Even on the first listen the characterisation of the animals can be picked up. The elephant, who charges the animal car to release them immediately after the crash, is then too old to escape and is caught. Come track five, ‘Elephant in the Dock’, the jurors in a courthouse call for him to be hung. These are stories you wouldn’t find in many albums. Arguably, they would not work in many other albums, but herein lies Weiss’s and the rest of the band’s ability to construct such a believable, tangible piece of storytelling. Like an over-emotive film  trailer, the tone of music provides the perfect backdrop to the vocals – whether cracking with fear or inaudible with power. The intricate imagery of the lyrics is translated almost faultlessly through each song.

The combination of the artwork, the stories, a return to the more forceful music and an increase in urgency in the vocals combines to make Ten Stories mewithoutYou’s most accomplished and well-rounded album. I’ve only had the cd a few days but already am picking out different notes of brilliance unheard on first listen and I am sure this novel will eventually go down as one of my favourite works.


Michael Rosen’s The Sad Book and the shared experiences of the ‘C word’

June 2, 2012

“This is me being sad. Maybe you think I am being happy in this picture. Really I am being sad but pretending I am being happy. I am doing that because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.” The Sad Book, Michael Rosen

At Cardiff School of Journalism we had to submit a feature, both the copy and as a layout on a page, as part of the final stages of the course. Mine was about the way people who have cancer use each other as pillars of support. I made a vague effort to offer it to the Liverpool Daily Post as all those interviewed were Wirral-based but I never heard back from them. I probably should have pushed it a little harder as I was really happy with how the feature turned out. I spoke to several people and heard some very touching stories – having to fight back tears on at least two occasions.

I will post the feature below but the reason I bring this up now is because I have just started following Michael Rosen on Twitter. He is a children’s author – his book, The Sad Book, is what makes him relevant to my feature. Rosen’s son, Eddie, died at 18. The Sad Book explains the grieving process as one might to a child. It is an incredible book and one which one of the subjects of my feature, Sue Byrne, used to help deal with the death of her two-year-old daughter, Penny. Months after Penny’s death, Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child. It was experiences like this which make this feature – though, I do not feel I could ever do the lives of these people justice in the words below.

I was put in touch with Sue, and given the idea for the feature, by my mum who was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009. The two of them, having never met before, became “cancer buddies”, if you will, as they talked each other through their own personal experiences of the illness. They both admit being able to speak to somebody else who had been through it was invaluable. Anyway, I do not want to discuss the issues too much here, I’d much rather advise you read Rosen’s The Sad Book and, if so inclined, take a look at my feature…

Cancer is like no other illness. Not medically but in the way people perceive it and react to its diagnosis, in themselves and people they know. For all the fun runs, fund-raising, campaigns, ribbons, t-shirts, badges and pink, there is a different kind of support network you might not find after the diagnosis of another illness. It is a bizarre club which binds patients together in a shared strength of experience. It is a club in which the illness can not be desensitised by a glut of media superlatives.

In 2007 almost 48,034 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the UK, in 2008 12,047 women died from the disease. Even as modern medicine advances to the point where the average life expectancy in the UK is almost 80, cancer rates show little sign of slowing – incidence rates have increased by 50 per cent over the last 25 years.

Awareness of the illness in Britain has never been higher and support from charities and campaigns is plentiful. Unfortunately, this can not have an effect on the individual experience of a cancer diagnosis.

Though more and more people are surviving breast cancer, it is still the second most common cause of death from cancer in women after lung.

Cancer, or the “C-word”, despite vastly improving care, is a life-threatening disease, and one which seems to carry more negative connotations than other illnesses. The impact a diagnosis can have on a patient’s life is unique – no person is the same and no cancer is the same.

While the media focuses on the work of major charities like Cancer Research UK, and special events like Cancer Awareness Month in October, the support used by many patients is not as institutional.

The value of such charities can not be doubted – Cancer Research UK raised £433 million in the 2008/09 financial year – but they can not always deliver a personal support to individuals. Though charities like Macmillan do offer one-to-one nurse services for patients, the inter-patient support network which might sporadically form after a diagnosis prove itself to be invaluable.

The way people deal with their diagnosis is fascinating. Like any bad news, there are different mechanisms for coping with it, and the sense of community created by a breast cancer diagnosis is extraordinary.

The amount of emotional and practical support offered from shared experiences is one underestimated and unappreciated by those unaffected by the illness. It is one seemingly overlooked by ribbon campaigns and fun-runs, yet it is the one that is invariably vital in coping with the illness.

Like no other illness, breast cancer brings patients together to learn from shared experiences.Cancer Research UK has recognised the need for such help and launched a Cancer Chat discussion forum for people to share advice, support, or simply their thoughts.

Kate Arnold, Cancer Research’s UK director of patient information, said: “From talking to patients we have found that there is a gap in peer-to-peer support affected by cancer.

“By providing an opportunity for people to share information and experiences about cancer we hope to meet that demand.”

The gap mentioned here can be one much lamented by patients. Sue Byrne found herself with almost unique circumstances making it difficult to find similar patients to relate to.

Mrs Byrne, 44, lost her two-year-old daughter, Penny, to a brain tumour months before being diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second son.

Though at first she had support to deal with the grief of losing her daughter, once diagnosed it was difficult to find someone in the same position as her.

She said: “One of my first thoughts when I was diagnosed was: ‘I have to speak to somebody in my situation’. I don’t like the term ‘fight for life’ – I don’t like the way journalists talk about ‘battles’ and ‘fights’, but in simple terms, that is what it was.

“I was in a very dark place. I didn’t want to get up but I had to. I had my eldest son, Tom, and I was pregnant at the time so I had to go on.

“My real rocks of support at the time were two other mums who had children who also had cancer. We all used to meet up regularly, and without them I do not know whether I would have got through it. Though they didn’t understand about my cancer, they knew about Penny and they were able to support me. Whereas some of my other friends, they couldn’t. They didn’t know how to.”

Mrs Byrne found because she could not find support from people who were unable to comprehend what she was dealing with, she shut herself away.

She said: “My friends were very good. But if I’m truthful, I pushed them away.

“I made a decision that I had to shut everyone away completely, even my cancer rocks. I just felt I had to dig deep. I didn’t feel there was anyone who could help so I blocked everyone out. That’s the only way I felt I could go through it.

“Nobody can help me. There is nobody at all out there who can help me. If I go to a counsellor how can they help me?”

Though the incidence rate of breast cancer has been rising over the past decade, the survival rate is also increasing. But however promising statistics appear to be, cancer is still a shock word. It evokes fear and doubt in patients and their friends and families, perhaps more than any other illness.

Mrs Byrne has found the way cancer is treated with pity and overly-emotive phrases by non-patients, by people outside the club, can often be detrimental. And it is only when speaking to other patients the illness can be approached in a practical, beneficial, matter-of-fact way.

“There are other illnesses out there that are dreadful but whatever cancer you have, somehow a new language comes into it,” continues Mrs Byrne. “For some reason, as soon as you have acancer diagnosis, they start throwing the ‘be positive’ and the ‘you’ve got to fight this’, and that is how some people get through it. But I’m a realist as well, and I know my situation is not brilliant. I like to be with people who share a similar philosophy for life – how to get on with it. I have no control over this disease. I can’t battle it.”

Only people who have been through the illness are able to simplify the experience into a concept that can be handled. Mrs Byrne had a GP break down in tears in her front room at her situation. People with the illness have no desire to wallow in self-pity – the product of self-pity is a negative outlook. When experiences are shared between peers an openness and understanding about individual circumstances is available.

There is also an almost perverse comfort in sharing bad circumstances with other patients which is absent from talking to unaffected people.

Mrs Byrne said: “People don’t know what to say. You get a bit envious of their normality. There are people who are insensitive but really, you want to be them – you don’t want to be in your situation.

“You want the normal worries but suddenly you haven’t got that.”

As with any bad news, there is no textbook way of coping with it. Less so from the individual’s point of view, but from the point of view of friends and family. There are very few occasions in life when a person is faced with something like cancer. For people who grew up when breast cancer mortality rates were 50 per cent, a breast cancer diagnosis can be a difficult thing to comprehend.

Helen Morris, 57, was diagnosed with breast cancer last in 2009. She lost her husband, Graham, to leukaemia 14 years ago and believed cancer would never affect her again.

She said: “I tried to convince myself it was a mistake. I thought it couldn’t happen to me. It wasn’t going to strike twice in the same family, so I tried to convince myself it was a mistake. Because I tried to convince myself it was a mistake, the diagnosis came as a shock.

“Your illness takes over your life. One moment you’re a businesswoman, you’re a lawyer, you’re going out to the gym, and you’re fit. The next day, everything has changed.

Mrs Morris had surgery followed by chemotherapy. Faced with losing her hair, she decided to shave her head for charity. This meant publicising her illness.

“You’re not a leper, you’re a human being who has an illness that needs to be dealt with,” she said.

“Once I decided to raise money, the whole world knew – that just opened the flood gates to support. Once I knew I was ill people had to know. I didn’t want to hide it because I needed people’s support.”

“I needed practical support – lifts, mowing the lawn. If I had been here on my own, and I didn’t get calls or letters, it would have been awful. I’d have been stuck here thinking about what a poor and sorry woman I was. Publicising it was the best thing I could have done.”

She was able to raise more than £6,000 for a cancer charity but perhaps most positively, it ushered in waves of support, as well as contact from patients she had never met before offering her support.

She was able to find support that Sue Byrne was not able to. Mrs Morris recognises the potential dangers in sharing experiences with other patients as every cancer is different and every person reacts differently.

If she were to speak to someone who had coped better with the chemotherapy or was out of hospital quicker, it had a negative affect of inferiority. Though she accepts this is not completely rational it is hard not to compare circumstances.

However, as treatment and survival rates have improved, peer-to-peer conversations can be a lot more positive.

She said: “I found once I was up-front about it, most people responded very well. And I think that is because a lot of people know people who had cancer and survived.

“It’s not like a bereavement where people don’t know what to say. I think had I been terminal, people might have found it more difficult, but because the prognosis is good, everyone can be upbeat.”

There is a practical side to patient interaction. Though chemotherapy can involve different drugs, and radiotherapy, different schedules, treatment from person to person can be quite similar.

Mrs Morris was dreading chemotherapy as she had heard nothing but horror stories, however, on talking to people who had had it, she was able to learn a lot more – practical details about whether she would lose her hair and nails, how long she would need to rest for after each dose, or how best to cope with tubes and scars.

She suggests the nature of treatment is what makes cancer an illness that brings people together.

She said: “There’s a sense of community because it’s not a nice experience. Physical mutilation, followed by poisoning, followed by being zapped by lasers. There is a definite bond between two people who have been through it.

“Because the ‘C-word’ historically has these horrible connotations because people didn’t used to survive cancer and because the treatment is so awful. I don’t think we give ourselves a pat on the back but there is a definite sense of community.”

Doctor David Galvani, an expert haematologist consultant at Murrayfield Hospital, rates the psychological support gained from peer-to-peer experiences as valuable as the treatment itself.

He said: “I have often thought the emotional support is as important, if not more important than the chemotherapy or surgery. I know many people whose treatment has gone well but the psychologist support has not been there, so their experience was much tougher.

“The stigma of having cancer is not quite what it was 10 or 20 years ago. I think people are a lot more open and aware to it now.”

He recognised although the National Health Service was good at treating cancer, when it came to emotional support there was a gap.

This makes informal support between patients all the more important. It is the kind of support that may seem ideological to the cynic, but the difference it has made to some patients, and the ways it has kept some people afloat is amazing.

To friends, family, and well-wishers the timescale of the illness can be seen in a finite manner. However this warps the concept of curing cancer, because, in reality, the chance of coming out of remission is ever-present. The fact of the matter is, for patients, cancer can never be forgotten.

Norma Webster, 70, has been in remission from breast cancer for years but the fear never goes away.

She said: “I’m still alive. I wake up in the morning and thank God I’m still alive. Every day is a bonus.

“I was very fearful. I was petrified. Absolutely petrified. I wasn’t going through it as if I was going to be alright tomorrow. I thought I was going to die.

“I think it is part of the norm to always have it at the back of your mind. It can come back. Some days I don’t even think about it, but every day, every newspaper, it is there. There is always a reminder. People have to be aware – to check themselves.

“I do think I am so lucky – and that’s important.”

That people who have not been through cancer are not aware of its perpetual nature demonstrates the importance of shared patient experience. It also highlights how difficult it can be for people outside the ‘cancer club’ to cope with their friends and family being diagnosed.

All three women have come across people, some friends and family, who did not know how to cope with the illness. Where Mrs Morris found one of the hardest parts of her diagnosis was telling her sons and the people she loved, Mrs Byrne shut herself away because the people who could not help her, could only make it worse.

Mrs Byrne found comfort from an unexpected source – a children’s book. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book came to be her bible.

Michael Rosen lost his son, Eddie, and uses the book as a way of explaining in the simplest terms how grief affects people. Some of the pages go a long way to explain how people might feel coping with a diagnosis, or in Mrs Byrne’s case, a diagnosis and the loss of her daughter as well.

The page she suggested represented dealing with sadness for her has a picture of a man smiling on it. Underneath it reads: “This is me being sad. You may think I’m being happy in this picture. Really I’m being sad but pretending I’m being happy. I’m doing that because I think people won’t like me if I look sad.”

Mrs Byrne expressed some of the difficulties in coping with sadness that is perhaps best dealt with my people who have been, or are, in the same situation as you.

She said: “You have a public face. People don’t want to hear bad news. You can’t keep talking about it. You can’t keep harping on about it.

“Friends will listen to a point, and I think that is why you need people who have been through that experience – been through a cancer diagnosis.”

When patients have radiotherapy they are marked with a tattoo where the laser needs to be aimed each time. This is a physical mark of the club which cancer seems to represent. Diagnosis, treatment, and the knowledge it is never really over create a strong community that can rely on each other for support.

It seems uplifting in a time of continued and prolific medical advancement, one of the best antidotes remains something detached from science, shared experience with another human being.


Top 20 songs of a sinister cult

April 27, 2012

Is “emo” a dirty word? The Daily Mail thinks it is. Well, it thinks it is a “sinister cult”. I do not portray the stereotypical characteristics of an emo (often) yet whenever I am called one, it is usually in a derogatory manner. Emos can often be sidelined as the pathetic, self-indulgent, effeminate dandies who detach themselves from the real world and instead bury their minds in a romanticised, death-obsessesed heartbreak coma. This isn’t really fair. I just like music with a bit of emotion in it. 

Anyway, this is not meant to be a dissection and dialectic on emo, well, sort of, no, this is a vague response to Is Thing On?’s top 100 emo songs. I think the author alextb3 probably knows his emo, screamo, post hardcore etc much better than I do but I thought I’d just put down what I consider my top 10 20 emo songs. While the aforementioned 100 list is thorough and varied and diverse and all the rest, mine is just going to be a big cryfest with lashing of fringes, screams and eyeliner. So, here goes. Let me know just how many genre “mistakes” I make and why I am wrong…

20. Panic! At The Disco – Time To Dance

I don’t think there could have been a list without Panic!. Their first album, A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, was a perfectly-executed portrait of modern emo. Agile and preposterously pretentious lyrics coined with an overuse of some sort of piano/organ imitator made for the perfect soundtrack for the revival of skinny jeans. They also represent the time when the Mail et al turned on emo – the poor chaps had bottles thrown at them when they played Reading in 2006. Bloody southerners. 

19. Thursday – Understanding In A Car Crash

Thursday seem to have a fascination with collisions and crashes. I can think of numerous songs across their various albums which involve some sort of smash… and I like it. There is little emotional subtlety here but there is a crap-load of punches to the throat. The chaos in the crash, the way nothing means anything when it is out of your control, the similarities between the physical and emotional damage, it all makes for a good car crash song. 

18. Bayside – They Looked Like Strong Hands

This song is in here because Bayside’s acoustic album is lovely – just how an acoustic punk-emo album should sound. This particular song is in here because it’s all about misinterpreting your own strength then buckling under the pressure of it all. If that’s not emo, I don’t know what is. 

17. Silverstein – My Heroine

This from my days as a teenage mosher. Silverstein still blend heavy rock (metal?) with the occasionaly delicate riff or vocals. My Heroine demonstrates this with a few lovely lines about drugs beginning to fade what goes on under the covers (another favourite emo topic). Yes, the shouting can be a bit lame but the passion is there and that’s what it’s important. AND, this bloke is singing somebody up, which is nice. See, it’s not all a big downer. 

16. Saves The Day – At Your Funeral

A friend once asked me how I could listen to this as it was so depressing: “He’s singing about drowning?!” What he could not comprehend was it was the strength of the feeling in a song which made  it. I am always a fan of really morbid, horrible things being sung in a fairly nonchalant way and this song ticks that box. Woo. 

15. O Brother – Oh Charitable Thief

A big, brooding nine-minuter with barely-audible lyrics and dark, threatening guitars. Nice.

14. Dashboard Confessional – The End Of An Anchor

I thought Dashboard Confessional deserved a mention somewhere in here as well. They represent that beautiful transition between pop and emo. This places it to the slightly more pathetic end of the emo spectrum but this offering and pain and self-guilt is enough to turn those frowns upside down and then the right way up again. He’s so grateful for another chance but he’s willing to sacrifice it because he’s so sad. That’s sad.

13. Bright Eyes – Landlocked Blues

He’s blue and he’s landlocked. Poor Conor. You have to feel for him. He doesn’t even know where he’s walking THEN some kid attacks him with a stick. It’s all going Pete Tong for him. Then he tries to do the sex dance with some girl and the war on tv keeps interrupting. Absolute nightmare. 

12. Meet Me In St Louis – I Am Champagne, You Are Shit

I reckon this song could kill you. If you were feeling particularly vulnerable and this hit you at just right the time and at the right volume, BOOM. DEAD. It is a bloomin’ powerful song, lyrically and instrumentally. And it’s about love. That’s nice. “And through your tangled hair, your eyelids are dancing. Pretending not to care, I’m guessing what you’re dreaming.”

11. Cursive – Dorothy At Forty

Now for the middle-of-the-road dream shattering part of the tour. So, you want a nice house, good car, 2.4 children and a decent job. Well, Cursive are going to blow your world wide open. And Dorothy’s too. I know this song and the big Cursive dream gun mainly targets Americans but I still love the imagery. “Dreams are all you have… dreamers never live, only dream of it.”


10. Mewithoutyou – O, Porcupine

Spoken word music shouldn’t real be anyone’s bag, especially if religion, nature and animals are strong components of that spoken word. But MeWithoutYou make it work. And their music is awesome given their name is a bit rubbish. I particularly like the line in this song: “O Porcupine, high in the tree, your eyes to mine: ‘You’d be well inclined not to mess with me.'” The religious motivation behind many of their lyrics actually give the songs a lot more oomph despite me not being at all religious. It’s all about the problem/solution ratio within emo. 

9. Death Cab For Cutie – What Sarah Said

We’re getting serious now. What Sarah Said might not be the first Death Cab song which springs to mind when you think of their emotional power and when you listen to the lyrics – the matter-of-fact reenactment of a hospital waiting room as a loved one clings to life – it will bring you to tears. The rolling piano which repeats throughout gives the song an eery sense of safety and optimism but that is dashed when Ben Gibbard sings “Love is watching someone die”.

8. Kevin Devine – Ballgame

K Dev normally toes the line of folk and rock occasionally pouring enough pain into his lyrics for me to be able to class it as emo. This song here is our political emo song for the list. Kevin is lamenting the war, lamenting his passive protest and lonely alcoholism. Ballgame is a perfect song in its original state but if you click the link ^^^ you will see it has been made even more perfect in Kevin’s most recent tour when he encored with an extended version. “She took the kid by the arm and said you piss away the things you love. We can fix ourselves up kids and we can learn how to love.”

7. Hawthorne Heights – Ohio Is For Lovers

“And I can’t make it on my own.
Because my heart is in Ohio.
So cut my wrists and black my eyes.
So I can fall asleep tonight, or die.
Because you kill me.
You know you do, you kill me well.
You like it too, and I can tell.”

‘Nuff said.

6. My Chemical Romance – Demolition Lovers

The Godfathers of modern emo. The band closest to its demise and ridicule. Yet the band whose first  (and second) album were excellent examples of the ferocity and imagery possible in noughties emo. Demoliton Lovers, the last song off their debut album, captures the destructive magnigifince in their vampire-tinged material. They were doing so well until The Black Parade came along and Gerard got a bit too big for his little emo booties. Still, I think it deserves to be this high up.

5. Alkaline Trio – I Lied My Face Off

I LIED MY FACE OFF WHEN I SAID THAT I WOULD BE OK. The problem with Alkaline Trio is they came to prominence after Stupid Kid and nobody thought to look beyond that. Their first one,two,three,four albums are excellent early goth punk – that said, From Here To Infirmary is a bloody good album too. Some of the self-loathing and abuse in those early albums is truly heart-breaking and I think this song is exemplary of that. They didn’t piss around, they moaned and whined and they did it very well.

4. Jimmy Eat World – Just Watch The Fireworks

Jimmy Eat World are often hailed – alongside Sunny Day Real Estate and some other band – as bringers of the emo music. Back then it was all about being a bit soppy and having some twinkly guitars as opposed to the black, black, black, death cries. This song from their epic Clarity album is just about the most beautiful thing they have done. Even the song title gives me the chills. Don’t worry about the world, baby, and the other thing and whether we might have left the oven on, just watch the fireworks. God, yes.

3. Taking Back Sunday – …Slowdance On The Inside

TBS may not deserve the number three slot but again, like My Chemical Romance, they represent the modern whiny emo I have come to love. Though this song is mainly at number three because I like the name and the line “This glass house is burning down.” Glass houses can’t burn down. Silly emos.

2. Brand New – Me vs Maradona vs Elvis

Aren’t Brand New just the best damn band out there? They have songs which are more likely to make you cry but I would hesitate before calling them emo because their music has progressed so far over four albums. But I need to put one of their songs in and this high up too, so opted for Jesse’s “if you let me have my way I swear I’ll tear you apart” and “I almost feel sorry for what I’m going to do”. This self examination is such a strong essence of emo, arguably because one of the greatest indulgences one can allow themselves is to moan about yourself and why you do what you do. Jesse and the gang do this brilliantly. I’m excited and scared in equal measure for their next album.

1. Manchester Orchestra – I Can Feel A Hot One

On first listen, or the second and probably third, you might not think of this as emo. And detached from the band entirely this probably isn’t. But I dare you to listen to this song and not let it bring you to choking sobs. The notes already sound like tears. Andy Hull’s voice seems to teeter on the brink of cracking throughout. The soaring chords later on. The subject of the song breaking down. God, it’s all there. I know it’s cheesy but I also love the line: “I prayed to what I thought were angels, ended up being ambulances.” So, yes, this is the top emo song of my spurious list.

Disclaimer: The basis for picking these songs has nothing really to do with emo though it might do. The  criteria also changed every half hour over a 48 hour-or-so period. 

I also found an old article I wrote about emo for a York Uni magazine – it’s page 45 or so here.