Saturday 31 December 2011

Happy 2012!

Just a few words as 2011 is drifting away.  I hope that 2012 will be a great year for you, I hope it will be happy and healthy and that you will have lots of whatever makes you content.  I have trips to Stoke, Manchester, Iceland, Dublin and Nice lined up so I'm pretty happy with that as travelling is one of my big loves and I appreciate that I am lucky in that I am able to travel that much.

As I get older I appreciate my health more and more, without good health life can be pretty difficult no matter how blessed you are in other ways, and I hope for continued health for all in 2012.  My diet/gym has been sidelined these last few weeks but I am getting back onto the wagon from tomorrow, I am determined to keep the healthier lifestyle doing!  Hopefully I'll be a shadow of myself this time next year.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I'm chuffed that I get so many people popping in to read my various musings and hope that you will continue to do so next year.  My very best wishes for 2012, and a couple of woofs from the longdog rascals below too!

Max and Pepsi

Thursday 29 December 2011


Looking forward to this new series starting on BBC One tonight.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Bono at Leopardstown Races 2011

Bono Pouring Champagne for the Photographers

Bono, Ali and their daughters went on their annual St Stephen's day out at the Leopardstown races yesterday. Bono was in a generous mood and handed out champagne to the waiting photographers.  Story and more photos here. Bono's daughters have grown into beautiful young women, but there is a big error in the article, the journalists have got Jordan and Eve mixed up in the photo captions. (PS they have now corrected the errors).

More photos here .

Saturday 24 December 2011

Update - Video of Bono Busking on Grafton Street

Lovely video of Silent Night from the busking on Grafton street earlier this evening.  Another song that was sung was Baby Please Come Home.

Bono Busking on Grafton Street - Again

Bono,  in what now seems be a Christmas Eve tradition, once more joined Glen Hansard, Mundy, Liam O'Maonlai,  Declan O'Rourke and others to busk on Grafton street this evening. The event was in aid of the Simon Community and Peter McVerry Trust, both charities working to help the homeless.  I've not heard what songs were sung but lots of other photos can be found here.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Siku the Polar Bear Cub - Major Cuteness!

If you want something to put a smile on your face watch the video below.  The cub is Siku (meaning ice in Greenlandic), just one month old, who lives at the Scandinavian Wildlife Park in Denmark.  He had to be taken away from his mother as she could not produce enough milk for him.  He is being cared for 24 hours a day by three keepers, what a wonderful job!  And what a sweetheart little Siku is.

U2 Christmas Party

U2 threw the Christmas party for their staff at Principle management on Wednesday 21st December at Harry's Cafe Bar on Hanover Quay.  As well as the staff, The Rubberbandits and Gavin Friday were there.  Apparently also attending were Gavin's dogs Ralph and Stan wearing Santa hats!  I'm sure a good time was had by all!

Photo:  Irish Independent     

Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Jean Genie, David Bowie 1973

This performance by David Bowie of The Jean Genie was first broadcast on Top of the Pops in 1973 and has never been seen since, the tapes having been wiped by the BBC. The footage belongs to John Henshall a cameraman who worked on the programme who kept copies for himself.  He didn't know the BBC had not kept a copy and also was unaware of how important the footage was, and it was only when he mentioned it on Johnnie Walker's Radio 2 show that it all came to light.

Mark Cooper, executive producer of Top of the Pops 2 said: "Bowie singing The Jean Genie is electric and the kind of piece of archive that not only brings back how brilliant Top of the Pops could be, but also How a piece of archive can speak to us down the years."

I loved Bowie in the 70's, he was so pushing the boundaries, mixing theatre with music and he was so different to anything else at the time. He was androgynous, almost alien, sexy, charismatic, unique. This performance is him at his best, it is indeed  "electric," every now and then an artist will do something special and this is an prime example, lost for 38 years (yikes!) and thankfully found again.  As Mark Cooper said, some performances are so amazing they can still captivate people decades later.

Apparently Henshall has hundreds of other tapes, what other delights could he have for us?

Monday 19 December 2011

Christmas Baking - Pfefferkuche

Been baking German Christmas biscuits - Pfefferkuche - for the first time today and they have turned out well.  There's a gorgeous smell of spices floating in the air! Thanks to Chris and Andy for sharing your "secret family recipe" and for sending the spices.


Saturday 17 December 2011

Candlelit Christmas Concert

My cousin Glen and I went to the Candlelit Concert in St Cuthbert's church tonight.  This is an annual event here, we don't go every year, but decided that we'd like to go again this year.  Rock music is usually my thing music-wise, but I have always liked some classical music.  Maybe that's because I grew up with a mother who loved, Strauss, Wagner, Verdi and Rossini. Classical music was part of my growing up, always being played on the record player.

We first had an Italian meal in Franco's, which didn't turn out as relaxing as we'd hoped.  Glen arrived twenty minutes late as she's forgotten the tickets and had to go back home to get them.  Then we had to wait a long time for our food (they were very busy.)  This meant we had to rush our main course (which was a shame as it was lovely) in order to get to the nearby church on time.

St Cuthberts dates from 1778 and is thought to be the fourth church on the site.  It's an Anglican church but set up more like a Methodist one, with an upper gallery around three sides.  The windows depict the life of St Cuthbert who was an important saint in the north of Britain. It was painted in white, turquoise and gold.

The altar of St Cuthberts
The musicians were The English Philharmonic Ensemble and the choir was The Beverley Singers.  During the concert the lighting was from two large candelabras hanging from the ceiling and four large candle stands, all filled with candles.  The only electric light was a few spots of light around the huge arch in front of the altar.

Some of the music I enjoyed some I didn't so much.  I did like Clark's Suite for Trumpet and Strings, sounded very of it's time late 15th/early 16th century.  Then there was Vivaldi's Winter was as dazzling as ever, amazing how someone can put winter into music, I could almost see the snowflakes falling!  Lovely.

In the interval we went out into the crisp, frosty night and walked the short distance to the Tithe Barn which is the church hall, where you could buy traditional Christmas Fayre of mulled wine and mince pies. I don't like either so I didn't buy any but i wanted to go into the building because it's such a historical place.  Dating from around 1480 it has had many uses over the many yea s of its existence as well as collecting tithes and by 1970 was quite derelicts.  But, thankfully, St Cuthbert's restored it and it is now regularly used by the church and other organisations.  It's a fantastic building with an impressive roof of oak beams and rafters, and you can "feel" the history of it.

Tithe Barn
A little Oriental girl came out to play Silent Night on the violin.  There were a few off notes but it was generally good and she was only five, she has some future ahead of her!  She looked cute in a scarlet dress with her hair in pigtails and was not fazed by performing in front of all those people.

I'm not a fan of hymns, but I do love the Christmas carols, they are uplifting and great tunes. The carols in this concert were Once in Royal David's City and O Come All Ye Faithful sung by the choir and audience, and made me feel all Christmassy.

The final performance was from Handel's Messiah.  It was brilliant, the "Hallelujah Chorus" made the hairs on my neck stand up, powerful stuff!  This was only a small orchestra and choir, seeing it on a bigger scale must be mind-blowing.  It was a great way to end an very enjoyable concert, I'm definitely in the Christmas spirit now!

(I wasn't having a good photography night, most of my photos didn't come out, but I've included the ones that did in the article.)

Bono in Surprise Appearance in Dublin

Bono made a surprise appearance on stage with Imelda May at the O2 in Dublin last night (16th December).  They performed Desire and Baby (Please Come Home) together, oh to have been in that audience! Bono looking and sounding good, great to see him spending some time back home.

Story and great photos here

Photo here taken from

Video of a very sexy Desire, sound is a bit dodgy, but it brings across the great atmosphere.

Friday 16 December 2011

Strange Friendships

Wonderful video of a pretty special, but apparently regular, event in Ireland, a labrador and dolphin swimming together.  Amazing to see these two animals frolicking together like this, the much bigger dolphin careful not to hurt the dog. I know labs are water lovers but that one is a really strong swimmer!  A truly beautiful friendship between two of natures most special creatures.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Pre- Raphaelites and the Little Black Dress

Brrr it's been cold today!  I met up with my friend Alison and we went to look round the Christmas Market in the town centre.  It's not really very Christmassy, it's just the usual continental market that comes here every now and then.  But I love pottering round it and taking in all the sights and smells of the varied foods available.  I was looking for a warm trapper hat with long flaps and found the perfect one there, just what I need in this nippy weather.

We then went round some of the shops in the shopping precinct, Alison bought a couple of tops but I didn't buy anything, still enjoyed pottering around window shopping though.

Then I gave Alison a tour of old Carlisle, she lives in the Scottish Borders and doesn't know the city well.  We first went to the cathedral, which, though small (it's the second smallest cathedral in England), has many special features.  It was established in 1133 and somehow has survived fires, wars and numerous border raids by the Scots - Carlisle, being a border city has had a lot of strife and has been both English and Scottish numerous times in the past.

The barrel vaulted roof of the cathedral dates from the 14th century and is painted sky blue with golden stars, it is generally quite dark building and looking up to the ceiling feels like looking at a bright blue summer sky.  The most famous feature of the cathedral is the east window.  It is in the most complex English Gothic style,  the Flowing Decorated Gothic. It is truly beautiful when the sun shines through it.  Much of the window still contains the original medieval glass.

 The choir has forty six black oak misericords - hinged seats.  The misericords are carved with various, often fantastic, scenes, hybrid creatures, angels, scenes from legends of the Apostles, St Cuthbert, St Augustine and others.  Some of the seats have traces of burns from where monks had fallen asleep in services and burned them with the candles they held.  A nice human touch!

From the cathedral we walked the short distance through the grounds to Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery.  First we went into the gallery (free entry) which has an extensive and nationally important Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.  These form part of the part of the museum's Emily and George Bottomley bequest, which came to Tullie House in 1949. I have always loved Pre- Raphaelite art - even years ago when it wasn't "in fashion", now it is appreciated as it should be once more.  As a young teenager I often used to go to the art gallery to look at these paintings and drawings.  As well as loving to see the exhibitions I've always liked the "feel" of art galleries and museums, it's like stepping into another world.  Tullie House itself is a beautiful building, with well preserved marble staircases, ironwork stair rails and gorgeous ornate wall tiles.
Madeleine by Arthur Hughes
We then went next door to the museum - once Carlisle's main library, another place I spent a lot of time in.  We went into the Little Black Dress exhibitions.  this is about the history of the Little Black Dress (LBD) from Victorian days until the present day.  I found it absolutely fascinating.  It looked at the psychology of black clothing to the influence of designers from Coco Chanel (who created the original "Ford" black dress in the 1920's). It looked at the role the LBD played in Hollywood with actresses such as Greta Garbo, Gloria Swanson, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.  In the background all the while was the moving, mournful singing of Edith Piaf, who, of course, always wore a LBD.

The exhibition was set out in decades and the ones that stood out for me were the 30's, 60's and 80's. The glamour and elegance of the 30's was captivating, the dresses were beautifully designed and would make you feel like a million dollars.  The 60's dresses were new, vibrant, young heralding a new age.  There was a photo of Twiggy in a little black Mary Quant mini dress.  It is easy to forget how mind blowing that was at the time.  I'm old enough to remember those times (I was VERY young though LOL!) and nothing like it had been seen before.  It was youthful and of the future, when anything seemed possible. The 80's stood out for me for the wrong reasons as the fashions were so awful then, even the LBD.  Dear me. 

Every woman knows a LBD is an essential part of any wardrobe. It can make you look fabulous and feel a million dollars.  No wonder it has been around in many versions for almost a century. If you can, go to see  this free exhibition, it's well worth seeing. It's on until February 26th. So that was our day out in Carlisle, we saw a lot and spent next to nothing, that's what I call a good day!

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Bah Humbug No More

I've been neglecting my blog this last couple of weeks, life has been hectic with the Christmas madness beginning.  I used to be a bit "bah humbug" over Christmas, but a few years ago I decided to try and be more positive about it, to make an effort to enjoy it rather than muttering "bloody Christmas" all the time and sinking into further apathy.  And it's kind of worked, I can't say I love Christmas now, but I certainly don't hate it anymore.  I decorate my apartment, up goes a six foot tree, silver and lilac baubles, lights, lots of candles around my living room.  On goes the Christmas music, I have a Santa in my car and even buy my boys special festive things.  I try to make things "Christmassy" as my mother did when I was young, she was German and she made it a magical time for me - Germans really know how to do Christmas.  My German friend Chris has sent me her recipe for traditional German Christmas biscuits, so they will be a new addition to the festivities this year.

I'm not neglecting the social side of things either, I'm going to the Christmas market in the city centre this weekend and a Candlelit Christmas Concert the following one, as well as some nights in and out with family and friends.  Sometimes if you learn to embrace something you don't enjoy, you find it's really not that bad after all......

Saturday 26 November 2011

New Look, Crown Court and Wild Wind

I decided to have a new look for my blog, hope you like it.  We're having wild weather here, gale force winds and rain, until now November has been very gentle on us weather-wise, so can't complain.  I'm glad to be at home all warm and snug.  This is my least favourite month of the year, but because the weather has been ok until recently and the fact I've had a little break away it hasn't felt too bad.

Last week I was on jury service at the Crown Court.  It was the first time I had been called up and it was a fascinating experience.  We were looked after throughout by the jury bailiff, Steve, who was great. About 16 of us were chosen randomly by the computer from the people that had been called in for jury service that week. We were taken down into the courtroom and names were called out, if your name was called you had to say "Yes" and then go to sit in the next available place on the jury bench. At this point if there were any objections to jury members, or jury members and witnesses/defendants knew each other objections are voiced. The remaining uncalled people were taken out of the courtroom back to the jury waiting area.  We were then sworn in and sat back and finally able to really take in the courtroom.

It was a huge big room with a very high ceiling.  To our right on a raised platform was the judge, he was a "red" judge, signifying he was a High Court judge, the red coming from the red robe with white fur facings he wore under his back gown.  He also wore a short fawn-coloured wig.  In front of him, on a lower level to the judge, was the court clerk who wore a wig and black gown.  At the same level in front and to the right of us and the clerk's bench was the witness box.  Opposite the clerk were the prosecution and defence barristers who also wore black gowns and wigs.  To our left behind the barristers was a secure, partitioned area where the defendant sat with a security officer.  Opposite the jury benches and to the right there was the court usher.  To the left were seats where the public could sit and also the press bench. There were some small windows very high up behind us, but otherwise there was no link to the city outside.  It felt very much a separate world, with its own protocol and rules.

We had very long spells in the court two and a half hours each in the mornings and afternoons with no break.  When we had the lunch break the jury was the first to leave court and then last to return.  And there was everyone, back in exactly the same place, and whatever had been happening before the break picked up again as if time had just stood still for an hour while we had been at lunch. Weird.

I was fascinated to watch the various members of the court working as the case continued, especially the Judge who was constantly writing.  Everything is done much more slowly than you see on TV of course! Things that at first seemed insignificant were shown to be important as the case developed.  It took two days for all the statements and cross examinations to be done. Then the prosecution and defence barristers gave their final speeches, in one case with a real flourish.  Finally the judge summed up and I realised why he had been writing so much.  His summary took almost two hours and he went through all the statements in detail, I was well impressed.  He also gave us guidance on how to approach deliberating about the case.

Then Steve, the jury bailiff, took us to the jury room for our deliberation.  In the room was a large table with 12 chairs (very comfortable thank heavens!) and toilets.  We could not leave the room at all (the door was alarmed apparently) except to go back into the courtroom. Our only contact outside of the room was via the jury bailiff who we contacted by pressing a buzzer.  If we wanted to have more information or guidance, ask about a point of law or give a verdict we had to write our request on a piece of paper and contact the bailiff who would pass the message to the court and judge. We would then be summoned back into the courtroom for the answer as everything, except the deliberation, is done in the court itself.

I found it hard work mentally, as you have to listen very hard to the evidence and take note of all you can, being a jury member is a very important role and not to be taken lightly.  Each night I went home with my mind buzzing and a headache.  After almost four days, the case was finished, and it was with some relief that we left that room and the rarefied world of the Crown Court for the last time and emerged into the real world of the city on a wild, windy November afternoon.

Thursday 24 November 2011

An Irish Eye - Colm Henry Photo Exhibition

Anyone who lives near Manchester and is interested in Irish music should pop along to an exhibition of photographs of Irish musicians by Colm Henry.  It features early U2, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher, The Pogues and Sinead O'Connor amongst others.  I'd love to go to see it, but unfortunately Manchester is a bit too far for me to go just to see an exhibition.  Full details here.  It runs until December 4th at the Manchester Photographic Gallery.

Friday 18 November 2011

U2 at HQ

Interesting little titbit in the Irish Independent today, seems U2 were at HQ yesterday.  I was surprised to hear this, Adam said they planned to be back in the studio in the New Year, so this was unexpected news!  I'm pleased to see that they are spending time in Dublin once more, it's the right place for them to chill, and, it seems, work. Nice pictures of the B-man, he's looking well, his post tour rest seems to have done him good.  Mmmmm makes me wish that we'd been a bit more motivated whilst in Dublin recently and checked out HQ, that'll teach us to be so lazy LOL!

By Edel O'Connell
Friday November 18 2011

U2 back in town with wall-to-wall support at studio

Bono at HQ
U2 were back in town yesterday to record part of the band's newest studio album at their Hanover Quay studio.
U2 frontman Bono was spotted signing autographs for fans outside the band's Dublin studio, where many of their best-selling albums were recorded after the band bought the studios in the early 1990s.
He even took time to pose next to some of the graffiti left on the studio walls by fans of the band.
Among the excited fans waiting outside the band's studio yesterday was Gary Paul from Parkwest, Co Dublin, who asked Bono to sign his miniature 'Achtung Baby' Trabant car, which had been earlier signed by The Edge.
Bono with his Niece Leah Hewson
He later attended the opening of an exhibition of art by his niece, Leah Hewson, at the KTcontemporary gallery in Donnybrook.
Leah graduated last year from Dun Laoghaire Institute of Design, Art, and Technology. Her new exhibition, 'What's behind the Magic Door?', uses multimedia to explore the importance of preserving imagination.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Chilling, Fine Dining, Champagne and Tracksuits

Saturday 12th November 2011

I got back from Dublin yesterday and it was as great as ever.  I was so ready for this trip, I find that after about three months at home I'm ready to go off somewhere else and it had been four months since my Canada trip in the summer.  Also, it had been 11 months since my last visit to Ireland, the longest I've not visited in well over twenty years! The long gap was U2's fault, their everlasting 360 Tour's last leg was in North America in the summer and, well, we just had to see some shows and have a holiday at the same time didn't we?  But it was expensive which meant this trip to Dublin had to be done fairly cheaply.

Debbi and I met up at Manchester airport and, as usual, we just picked up from where we left off last time we got together.  We got to the security area and had to get our little packs of liquids etc out of our cases (we only had hand luggage) and I discovered I'd brought the wrong keys for my case padlock!  They rang for someone to come down to cut off the lock.  Soon a man arrived with a huge bolt cutter which cut through the padlock like it was butter.  As he was walking away deb said.

"A man with a tool." And we both giggled, I was just going to add, "A very big tool!"  When he glanced back and we tried to be sensible LOL!

No more mishaps and after a 35 minute flight we landed in Dublin on a mild, bright day.  Our taxi took us to our Travelodge Hotel in Ballymun.  When I'd first seen rooms there I wondered whether to go for it as Ballymun was once a notorious area of the city.  But there had been a lot of regeneration and our friends in Dublin said it was not as it used to be.  So we booked our rooms for the grand total of 25 Euro per night, a snap!

Most of the area was new build with those odd empty areas and some roads leading to nowhere.  There were still a few of the old 60's flats and the shopping centre close to our hotel was a relic from the past, and very rundown and most of the shops were empty.  But we went there as it had a Tesco and we needed to get a few supplies in.  We noticed it was cheaper than other supermarkets we had been in which was a pleasant surprise.  We also noticed there were a lot of people in tracksuits around, often in lurid colours, the best we saw was powder orange with lime green stripes down the side.

We got a half price bottle of champagne, wine, nibbles (Tayto crisps yay!) and something for our breakfasts. There was a Macari's fish and chip shop right beside the hotel so that was dinner sorted.  I love how they make fish and chips in Ireland, they cook the fish when ordered and leave it to drain for a minute or two once cooked, so it is always lovely and crunchy, never soggy.  The big, fat chips too were yummy too.  We'd both been dieting for a while and it was such a treat to have a meal like this.  And the champagne went with it very well too.

The rest of the evening we just chatted and nibbled, finished the champagne and opened some wine.  All very relaxing, it was good to chill like that.

Sunday 13th November 2011

The Octagon Bar, Clarence Hotel
We tend to have very lazy winter holidays in Dublin and this one was no exception.  We've seen all the usual sights of the city as we've been going over for so long - though we did read about the new Fabulous Food Trails which sounds perfect for us and we've already made a note of it for our trip next year!  So, anyway, we had a lazy day and then got our glad rags on for our meal in The Tea Room Restaurant  at The Clarence Hotel in the city centre.

We first went into the Octagon Bar to have a cocktail as they were on special offer.  We each had a Cosmopolitan, our fave, and it was perfectly made.  At 8pm we went through to The Tea Room for our meal.  They have an Early Bird menu (which some days is valid all night) which is 25 Euro for two courses, 29 Euro for three courses, excellent value for such fine dining.

To start we had Duck Rillette which was slow cooked shredded duck made into a kind of pattie and placed on homemade rye bread.  It was accompanied by wild mushrooms, capers, beetroot leaves and dressing.  It was very good, though also very filling as the rillette was large.

For our main course we again both chose the same - slow cooked Irish loin of pork which was wrapped around pancetta flavoured with sage and parmesan, accompanied by sea asparagus, gnocchi, confit tomatoes and olive jus.  The meat just melted in your mouth, very tender and the tomatoes were so delicious we asked how they had been prepared. I'd never had sea asparagus before and it was delicious. To accompany the meal we had a lovely bottle of Chianti.

As usual the service was excellent from our two Eastern European servers, one, who was from Estonia, was especially attentive.  The atmosphere too, even though it was fairly quiet in the restaurant, was good, relaxed and comfortable.

We had no room for dessert (our stomachs must have shrunk with our diets LOL) so went through to The Study to finish off our wine, which was brought through for us by one of the waiters, and we just took our time finishing it.  It was a relaxing end to an excellent evening.  We've been going to The Tea Room for many, many years now and it has never disappointed.

Monday 14th November 2011

Deb in the Bridge Bar and Grill
Another lazy day and then another lovely night out!  This time we were trying out somewhere new, The Bridge Bar and Grill on Grand Canal Quay.  We've been to it's sister restaurant The Town Bar and Grill a few times and loved it, so we thought we'd try this place for a change - we have decided to try a new restaurant every time we visit Dublin.

The restaurant is built into the railway bridge on Grand Canal Quay in Dublin's Docklands, inside you can see one of the bridge's arches.  It is a bit out of the way and the part of the Quay it is situated on is not a through road, so not the best of locations, I thought it would be nearer all the other eating places further down the Quay.

We were seated in a booth at the window, though there was not a lot to see LOL!  The seating was comfortable, but, for me, the restaurant was too cold, though Debbi thought it was ok. Surprisingly, we did not hear the trains that passed over the bridge, very good soundproofing!

I had some Guinness bread while we were waiting, it was delicious, like a combination of soda bread, pumpernickel and, well, Guinness. For starters I had Katafi crab cake with roasted pepper and fennel compote, which was sooooo gorgeous, it looked fantastic too.  Deb had  roast butternut, chestnut and confit duck risotto, I tried a little and it was wonderful too, risotto cooked perfectly is so tasty.

Me and my halo in the Bridge bar and Grill
For the main course I had chicken supreme, garlic and chive mash, baby leeks and morel jus, delicious!  Deb had belly pork, butternut puree, spicy puy lentils and saffron aioli. I'm not keen on belly pork, but Deb loves it and said it was fabulous.

We had room for dessert tonight, our stomachs must be stretching LOL!I was in the mood for chocolate and had chocolate fondant with white chocolate centre and ice cream - it was to die for yum yum!  Deb had caramelised lemon tart with blackcurrant sorbet, it looked too good to eat, I've put a photo of it in this article (sorry the photos are a bit dark, the restaurant was dark and I was using my mobile to take the pictures.)

The food at The Bridge Bar and Grill was excellent.  But for me it lacking a little in atmosphere, it felt a bit cold, both  physically and psychologically. I prefer its sister establishment The Town Bar and Grill and of course, The Tea Room.

 Tuesday 15th November

Home time already.  We checked out and had a delicious, and very cheap breakfast in Macari's before heading to the airport.  Our flight back to Manchester was 30 minutes (we are so lucky to live so close to Dublin) and then we parted our ways, Deb to Stoke and me to Carlisle.  I had to change trains at Preston and the Glasgow train I needed to catch was literally pulling into Preston station as I was running over the bridge from the other platform, I sat down and the train left, that's how close it was.  That run was the most energy I expended in the last four days!  If I'd missed that train I would have been stranded in Preston for the night, I vowed then and there never to have to get the last train home again!  

It was a short but sweet visit.  Dublin is like a second home to me, from the first time I set foot in the city in 1989 I felt I belonged, "It's not where you are born, it's where you belong" some band said LOL. So true, and that has never changed for me over all those years.                                                                                  

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Ireland Bound!

Not long until I'm off to Dublin now.  This is my only trip there this year and I've missed the place so it'll be wonderful to be back.  These last few weeks have been very strange for me in some ways, and it'll be good to just chill in my favourite city.  Debbi and I have already got our meals out organised (well you have to get your priorities right.) The diet will be forgotten and my muscles will get a rest from the treadmill, swiss ball and weights for a few days, yay!

Friday 4 November 2011

Is it time for U2 to call it a day?

Good article from The Telegraph by Neil McCormick which brings up some interesting points for any U2 fan.

Is it time for U2 to call it a day?

The Edge and Bono have also contributed to the plot and dialogue (Photo: Getty)
There has been a lot of internet chatter about whether U2 are breaking up, following comments from Bono in Rolling Stone. He has been talking a lot recently about U2 having been “on the edge of irrelevancy for 20 years” and suggested “We’d be very pleased to end on No Line on the Horizon”. Despite a failure to deliver a hit single and a general perception that it wasn’t a classic, the album has recently reached the five million sales mark, and U2 have just completed the biggest, most technologically ambitious and highest grossing tour in rock history. Q magazine just presented U2 with an award for Greatest Act of the Last 25 years. Might it represent an opportune moment for U2 to bow out?
There is no set process for a band to break up. Usually it happens more or less accidentally and spontaneously, through internal conflict. Often it is accompanied by a decline in popularity and increasing creative divisions. But when you have been together as long as U2 (36 years and counting), and successful throughout your career, a kind of inertia can set in, where the band continues to exist just because, well, it continues to exist.
REM have been widely applauded for their recent decision to disband because of a sense that their best  days were behind them. The Rolling Stones continue despite of it, taking the critical flak to deliver music and entertainment for their massive fan base. You can’t say one is right, and one is wrong – it is each according to his own. But REM are close to U2, and belong to the post punk generation for whom an allegiance to rock bands came with high ideals and a sense of purpose. Talking about REM’s break up on Newsnight this week, Mike Mills explained that “It was an opportunity for us to walk away on our own terms. There are no external forces, no problems, we can walk away as friends and feel like we’ve accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish.”
U2 have certainly accomplished a lot, probably more than they ever dreamt… although they did dream big. I’ve got Bono on tape when Boy came out, in 1980, enthusiastically telling me that one day they would make a record as great as Sergeant Pepper. They’ve been the biggest rock band in the world for much of their career, they have constantly reinvented and reinvigorated themselves musically, done ground breaking and record breaking tours, and been at the centre of political and charitable campaigns that have helped shape the world we live in. I think this is part of the problem, actually, the very cause of the existential crisis the band find themselves in. Bono likes to be at the centre of things, part of the musical, political and cultural conversation. “Lots of people have U2 albums, why they would want another one is a reasonable question,” he admitted recently. “I don’t know if it is possible for us to make something that is current that is meaningful, not just to our audience but to the times we live in. But that’s kind of the job for me.”
U2 have recorded a lot of music over the past couple of years, with a lot of different producers, including new songs with Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton, the cut and paste wizard behind Gnarls Barkley), clubby pop tracks with Red One and meditative, quasi-ambient material with their established team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. I would like to hear those records. But there seems to be little sense in the band camp that this is music the world needs right now, something singular and original and powerful enough to stand up with their very best, as big and bold as the sprawling emotion of Unforgettable Fire, the rough hewn rock of The Joshua Tree, the industrial strength invention of Achtung Baby or killer tunes of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. And so they just keep chipping away, in search of that elusive creative breakthrough. But can a band of super rich middle-aged men ever achieve the creative heights of their youth, when making music really seemed like a matter of life or death?
Bono’s conviction that they have to create something world beating every time effectively creates a rod for their own backs. What bands have ever done their greatest and most resonant work in the middle age of their career?  When U2 made their early classics, they worked day and night in pursuit of an ideal, sacrificing personal time and private lives, giving everything to the cause of the music. Inevitably that is not the case any more. They arrange meetings and recording sessions to fit with their increasingly complex personal schedules.  Their fans may still like to believe that U2 live in Ireland and meet in the local pub or prayer meeting (hence the ludicrously inaccurate tax avoidance charge that keep being made against them). In fact, Bono lives mainly in New York now, The Edge in LA, Adam in London and only Larry remains a more or less full time resident of Dublin. They have all (apart from Adam) got wives and children who need time and attention. They have the kind of extreme wealth that ensures fabulous comfort. And Bono, their driving force, finds his time and energy much diluted by his sprawling range of extra-curricular interests and commitments, particularly political and charitable activities that inspire much antagonism in people who think a rock star should be in the business of making rock music. As Bono recognises, “We’re the most loved and the most hated band on Earth” and a lot of the reasons people don’t like them are actually about him – which he says he understands “because I have to live with me too.”
I was supposed interview Bono last week about the 20th anniversary re-release of Achtung Baby but he called it off because he felt he had done enough promotional work, and needed to take a break. He says he is becoming embarrassed by the amount of focus there is on him, as opposed to the rest of the band. It is a running joke that he sympathises with people who are sick of the sound of his voice, because he is too. And he’s plainly worn out. Or as he put it in an apologetic message: “Flat on my back from exhaustion.”
U2’s two year world tour may have finished in the summer but sometimes I think Bono just doesn’t know how to stop. He has continued his ceaseless globetrotting in connection with all his philanthropic, humanitarian and business commitments. He sang at Steve Jobs memorial in California on October 17, met Nicholas Sarkozky in Paris on the 19th as part of a lobbying group for the Global anti-poverty coalition One ahead of the G20, and was in London a few days later with the rest of U2 to pick up their award from Q magazine. It is hardly surprising that he told Rolling Stone his only future plans were to have some time off: “I want to take my young boys and my wife and just disappear with my iPod Nano and some books and an acoustic guitar.” Then on Monday, this week, he was in Dublin, as part of a delegation trying to convince foreign technology companies to invest in Ireland. He is the rock star who can’t say no.
Which is why, personally, I don’t think U2 are likely to do an REM and retire gracefully. If they ever do go, it will be in a blaze of glory or an act of outrageous folly, broken by their singer’s mad ambition. Right now, it is probably fair to say U2 need a break and the world needs a break from them. But U2 fans have heard these hints of disillusion and dissolution before – notably in 1989, after the excesses of Rattle And Hum, when Bono declared they had to “go away and dream it all up again.” They came back with Achtung Baby in 1991, probably their finest moment.
From my experience, what they tend to do is manufacture a sense of crisis to drive them. Edge refers to it as jeopardy, a constant buzzword in his discussions of their creative process. U2 need to feel that there are things at stake when they are writing and recording, deliberately using tension and risk to maintain focus. This, presumably, gets harder the more successful and comfortable individuals get. When Bono declares U2 to be on “the edge of irrelevance”, what he is really doing is raising the stakes for himself and his band, shoving them rudely out  of their comfort zone.
U2 are in temporary retreat while their leader recharges his batteries, but his own self-questioning is not actually an indication of disillusion, but an instigation to action. Fans worrying that Bono’s remarks suggest U2 are about to call it a day could not be more wrong. What he really wants to do, indeed what he feels he needs to do, is for U2 “to go away and create the album of their lives.”
I don’t know if it is possible for a band with their long history to reinvent themselves again. But, like millions of other fans, I want to hear them try.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Keez Bistro, Carlisle - Review

Cecil Street, Carlisle


Located in the cellars of a Victorian building, lots of nooks and crannies with natural and white painted brick walls and modern decor. Plenty of room between tables, comfortable chairs.  Very relaxing feel to the place and excellent piped music (U2, The Killers, Van Morrison....)

For my starter I had goat's cheese, with mushroom, wilted spinach and pine nuts.  It was absolutely wonderful and the herby bread provided was a delightful accompaniment.  My friend had the homemade pea and smoked salmon tart with dill creme fraiche and she thought that was excellent.

For the main I had pan seared duck breast with sweet pumpkin and sugar snap peas.  The duck was perfectly cooked with a hint of pink and very tender.  Pumpkin is an under used vegetable in the UK so it was a nice change, and it was very good - though I had to pick bits of red chili out of it as I'm not a fan of the hot stuff!

I nearly had chocolate chip cheesecake with mint ice cream for dessert, but I resisted!  Aren't I getting good?

Service was good and attentive, though waits were quite long, the comfortable ambiance of the place meant I didn't mind and it gave my friend and I time to have a good natter!  I was surprised that there was only one choice of red wine by the glass, surprising for a restaurant like that, not everyone wants to buy a whole bottle and more of a choice by the glass would have been good.  I was also surprised that they did not serve cappuccino, the only coffee available was a cafetiere.  But those things did not spoil what was a fabulous meal out.

Expensive.  But during the week the restaurant has reasonable special deals.

Northern Star Rating
Ambiance ****   Food ****

Adam Clayton Interview on BBC Radio 6

Adam with Huey Lewis at the BBC
There was a good interview with Adam on BBC 6 yesterday.  Nothing much new in it really, but he did say that U2 would be working again with Dangermouse from "The first of the new year."  Seeing that has come from Adam, who is generally more accurate than Bono in what he says, maybe it holds more credence.  There was also a first play Blow Your House Down, which is ok but didn't blow (haha) me away.

The interview is available for another six days on BBC iPlayer here.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Ahk-toong Bay-bi Covered - Review

I wasn't sure about this when I first heard about it.  I tend to hate covers of U2 songs and I wasn't really looking forward to this CD covering the songs from Achtung Baby.  But on listening to the CD I was pleasantly surprised, it is generally a good album.  For those not in the UK and haven't got the CD yet many of the covers are on YouTube.

And, for your interest, the related interview in Q Magazine is fascinating, seems the band are thinking just what us fans are, U2 are at another turning point in their career.  A time of being unsure about their place, relevance and ability to reinvent once more.  The guys are going to have to do a lot of soul searching and work in the next year or two.

The best quote in the article is by the author describes Bono sitting in his seat on the plane as "Compact, stocky and squashed into his seat as he is, he looks like a gothic SpongeBob."  Bet Bono's never been described like that before LOL!

Below is my personal opinion on the songs after the first listen:

  1. Zoo Station - Nine Inch Nails. I wasn't sure what to expect with this U2 done by Nine Inch Nails??  But, much to my surprise, I liked their version of this song.  Sung in a low, whispery tone with an almost Spector-like wall of industrial sound.  NIN made the song their own and it worked - except the ending seemed to go on forever.
  2. Even Better Than the Real Thing (Jacques Le Cont Mix) - The real U2   I'm not a fan of remixes and this one didn't win me over, it was just a typical, tedious remix like so many before.
  3. One - Damien Rice. A bit of a lacklustre, emotionless version of this classic.
  4. Until the End of the World - Patti Smith.  A very individual version of this song and what a voice!  Having said that I'm not sure about this song after only one listen, but have a feeling it's a grower.
  5. Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses - Garbage.  The verses were very low-key followed by a sonic blast in the chorus.  It was ok, but nothing special.
  6. So Cruel - Depeche Mode. Never has a title been so apt. Awful.
  7. The Fly - Gavin Friday.  The perfect performer for this song, Gavin sounds dark, sleazy and dangerous just as The Fly should be. A great discordant, cacophony of  industrial sounds blasts out around the vocals, wonderful.
  8. Mysterious Ways - Snow Patrol.  This is a brave version of the song, very stripped back and different from the original.  But, as much as I love Snow Patrol, I felt it didn't work, the song lost its swagger and sexiness and became tedious.
  9. Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around the World - The Fray.  Another very individual version of a U2 song.  Faster than the original, it sounded to me like one of the myriad of typical American-sounding songs around.  Not terrible, but not memorable either.
  10. Ultra Violet (Light My Way) - The Killers.  I lurrrrve Brandon's voice and here it was full of the passion within the amazing lyrics of the song.  Lovely!
  11. Acrobat - Glasvegas.  Sorry I'm not a Glasvegas fan, they bored me rigid on the 360 Tour and this punk version of Acrobat is, yes, different, but also bad, bad, bad.
  12. Love Is Blindness - Jack White.  They saved the best to last.  Wow, what an amazing cover this is!  Jack has made it his own and at the same time added to the original.  The emotion is there, and so is anger, screaming, raging anger both in voice and guitar.  It sent shivers up my spine, stunning!

Monday 24 October 2011

U2 Wins Q Award

(Photo: PA)
U2 were honoured at the Q Awards at The Grosvenor House Hotel in London today as the greatest act of the past quarter of a century.  The band was chosen by the magazine's readers,  the award was a special one to celebrate Q Magazine's 25th anniversary this year.  All four band members were there in person to receive the award.

Here's an interview done with Edge at the Awards.  Nice, but nothing new there.

Sunday 23 October 2011

The Rhythm of the Dance

My cousin Glenys and I saw this show at the weekend.  Even though I am a fan of anything Irish I've never seen any of the numerous Irish dance shows that are around and when this came to the Sands Centre in Carlisle I decided to go.

We had a lovely evening - there was even a bit of U2 in the pre-show music, With Or Without You.  What an amazing song that is.  The show was a mix of Irish dancing and singing by the three Irish tenors.  I was stunned by the dancing, it seemed like those people had no joints!  Irish dancing is different as most of the action is from the knees down.  The dancers were mostly very young and I think you have to be young to be able to dance like that!  They were supported by amazing musicians playing the Irish harp, flute, fiddle, uilleann pipes, guitar, accordian and bodhran.

There's something about Irish music that just gets your foot tapping and emotions racing.  I felt quite choked up a few times during the show, even during a song sung in Irish - I couldn't understand the lyrics but the feelings still came across nonetheless, that typical Irish bitter/sweet sadness of those far away from their place of birth.  That's what's special about Irish music, you don't have to understand the words to feel the emotions.  One song performed was Wild Mountain Thyme or Will Ye Go Lassie Go which really showed the brotherhood between the Irish and the Scots, it could easily have been a Scottish song too.There were also influences from other genres, for example Irish dance/music fused with the tango and charlton which made an interesting combination.

 This show is well worth seeing, a brilliant night out.  It seems to be touring all over so if you get the chance do go and see it.  All in all a great evening's entertainment which made me all the more impatient to get back to Ireland - but it's only three weeks until we go to Dublin, it'll be wonderful to be back in my favourite city once more!

Another U2 Crisis?

Below is a thought provoking quote from an article by Brian Boyd in the Irish Times.  My feeling  (and that of many other long-time U2 fans,)  that U2 are at another major crossroads in their career once more, seems to be confirmed in this article.  Over 20 years after their pre-Achtung Baby crisis can they weather this storm and come out with another classic album?  I'm not sure they can, but they often do their best work when under pressure, so they may just give us something special. Just don't be so obsessed with the "mainstream" Bono......
The article is from an interview in Toronto and also reviews From the Sky Down.  You can read the whole article here.
Back to the future: 'The app format brings you back to that world of gatefold sleeves' 
Looking back at the trauma of getting Achtung Baby on its legs and having to forge a new sound and identity, Bono says, “It’s actually worse for us now than it was when we went to Berlin.”
He shrugs off the fact that the band have just recorded the biggest-grossing live tour in the history of popular music and wonders whether U2 can still be relevant. “We can play the big music in big places. But whether we can play the small music, meaning for the small speakers of the radio or clubs, where people are living, remains to be seen,” he says. “I think we have to go to that place again if we’re to survive.
“There are so many U2 albums out there. We need a reason for another one. The whole point of being in U2 is that we’re not here to be an art-house band. Our job, as we see it, is to bring the art house to the mainstream; our job is to puncture the mainstream.”
Earlier, he was using an iPad with the Achtung Baby songs and videos on it. “That’s probably what our new album will look like,” he says. “I’ve been talking about this for the past four years.
“Our last album was the first album to be made available as an app with BlackBerry devices, but it didn’t work: the functionality was not what it could have been. New formats are going to happen. I’m always banging on about this. The app format brings you back to that world of gatefold sleeves, of being able to read lyrics – and [now of] being able to play the album at home on your plasma TV.”
Bono at the One foundation, in Paris, this week.
Photographs: Fred Dufour/AFP/ Getty Images

Sunday 16 October 2011

U2 at the Clinton Foundation Concert - Review

Half of U2, Bono and Edge, topped the bill at this concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Bill Clinton Foundation and Clinton's 65th birthday.  And what an eclectic acoustic set this duo played!  They opened with Desire, followed by I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, the latter was lovely really liked this slower version.

Then Bono announces that they were going to play a song that.
"We've never played before."  What?? "...... This a a song that takes as it's subject, the mysterious difference between a man and a woman"  Yep they played A Man and a Woman live for the very first time!  Not a personal favourite song of mine, but it was a very good version, complete with a Apple Macbook backbeat (which of course doesn't compare to Larry!)

The next song was the predictable Sunday Bloody Sunday, which I'm heartedly sick of, but it was well done, both Bono and Edge were in good voice.  Nice that it was sung with Bono on the narrow walkway in the crowd.

Calling themselves "Irish buskers"  Bono went into one of his ramblings.
"One of the bummers about being in a band .....really you just hang about with men all the time.... being in a rock'n'roll band is kinda  like being on an oil rig.  I was talking with the Edge about this and he said we should get a string section, they often have girls in them."  Only Bono could compare being in a rock band to being on an oil rig!

They were joined on stage by a string section, mostly made up of females and launched in a song that
"Should have been a very big hit .... that was before Jimmy Iovine was working with us.  Look what that did on the last one." Mmmm, not sure what was going on there.  Then they played Staring at the Sun, another surprise, so so long since I've heard that live, the strings sounded great in it.  Amazing that they chose to play a song from Pop which was totally ignored throughout the 360 Tour.

Next "You might know this one, it wasn't a hit either."  Bit of a hit obsession going there Bono?  One, did actually get to number one in Ireland!  It was a very emotional performance of the song, after seeing from the Sky Down, this song has become all the more special to me.  Bono added a little of Stevie Wonder's Happy Birthday at the end of the song.

Clinton got on stage thank both Bono and Edge for their various charitable works before they finished with Miss Sarajevo.  It was lovely, the strings were perfect with it and Bono's operatic part sent shivers down my spine, beautiful.

It was a set for fans in a way, most people know Sunday and One, most of the others would be new to a mainstream audience.  Great to see them doing this, keep experimenting lads, I'm still hoping to hear Walk to the Water and Luminous Times live one day.

Watch U2's set below.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

From the Sky Down Review

To be honest I've found it very hard to write this review, there is so much in it and it's hard to know what to write about and what to leave out.  So I suppose the best way to start is to say I really enjoyed the documentary.  I wasn't sure what to expect, knowing that U2 can be control freaks I thought it might be more of a promo for the Achtung Baby remasters released at the end of this month.  But, it was far from this, it was a, sometimes painfully, honest picture of U2 at a very vulnerable point in their personal and creative lives together. It doesn't focus on the making of Achtung Baby, but moreso on the difficult, personal transition from The Joshua Tree to Achtung Baby.

The format was a mixture of old and new footage of the band interspersed with excellent animation.  Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, Flood and Paul McGuinness also said their bit, but most of it was left to the band members to talk on and off camera.

There was more pre-Joshua Tree history and footage from previous documentaries than I would have liked, but, as not everyone watching would be an avid fan,  it was necessary to have some history of the band's career to set the context for what happened after The Joshua Tree Tour.

The honesty displayed was both touching and revealing.  The fact that they felt they were flying by the seat of their pants during The Joshua Tree tour was surprising.  They were not ready for the Big Time and felt they were not up to the mark and were full of self doubt.  Bono talked about how difficult it was to cope with certain sections of the gigs and they showed him having a rant about something that had gone wrong in a show.  He generally comes across as uber-confident, but this documentary shows he has his struggles and self doubts like anyone else.  So at a time when those outside of the band thought the tour was triumph, to the band members themselves it felt anything but.

The self doubt continued on into Rattle and Hum, though done for the right reasons, it turned out to be a huge mistake for the band.  Ironically, if they had been as honest as in this documentary in the Rattle and Hum film there is a good chance it would have been received better.  They were truly shocked by the negative reaction to it.  The documentary showed a little of the famous 1989 New Years Eve gig and the "Dream it all up again" speech from Bono.  

There was not much communication after the tour and Bono and Edge took themselves off and Larry and Adam felt a sense of abandonment.  They re-grouped in Hansa Studios in Berlin at the time the Wall came down.  Bono's more human, funny side does come across in this documentary and his impersonation of the British Airways pilot landing the last plane in a divided Germany was hilarious.  I can see why Hansa is a special place to record in, it is a beautiful space to be creative in.

It was a time of great change for Europe and that was echoed in the band.  As Alan Yentob said in his introduction, the city was seeking to renew and reinvent itself just as U2 were. Hansa had inspired numerous artists, but initially it wasn't happening for U2.  The Hansa sessions from twenty years ago were interspersed with their recent visits to record there for the Achtung Baby remasters.  There were also clips from footage recorded for the remasters in Winnipeg this year.  Plus there was even a little from "Dogtown" in Dalkey where they continued to work after the Berlin sessions. Sometimes that was a little confusing, but at the same time it was interesting to intersperse the four different recording environments.

There was a fabulous version of Love Is Blindness sung by Edge with acoustic guitar.  Sometimes you forget what a lovely voice he has.  Again, there was such honesty here as they talked of how this song was influenced by the break up of Edge's first marriage.  He said he was running away from his personal problems and was trying to find refuge in the music.  This created a huge resonance within U2 which until then had felt very stable and whole.  I think it was Bono who said that it felt like all of U2's community and music was cracking and falling apart.

The most captivating moment in the documentary is when One (working title Young Blood, I think it should have been New Blood) is born.  It starts in a section within Mysterious Ways (working title Sick Puppy).  And it is fascinating to see it form and develop in the footage from the original sessions.  Bono experimenting with the words and melody while the others tried to build the music around that.  You can feel that excitement of something special happening within the band, it is riveting stuff to say the least.  One is truly a song about the rebirth of U2.

It seems the band regains it's belief in itself after that and can move forward into a new U2 age.  Bono reinvents himself,  if he's going to be The Fly he  needs "some protection ... some armour"

Lou Reed's glasses
Jim Morrison's pants
Elvis's jacket - and a bit of his hair.

As Adam so succinctly puts it the band move "Into a brighter light."

Towards the end of the documentary the 1990's trips in the famous East German Trabants are interspersed with recent film of the band in the same cars in Berlin.  It is strangely touching to watch.  In new footage the band drive about in a Trabbie and then stop and get out of the car.  Adam, in the back, laughs as he initially can't get the seat in front of him to move forward so he can get out of the car.  Bono, holds out his hand to help him out of the car and they share a moment of laughter together.  It's a sweet moment, and I feel it's symbolic of why U2 survived the difficulties of the post Rattle and Hum trauma.  They fought to survive both because of their musical creativity and their friendship for each other, both were too special to lose.  And that is something that is special and still holds them close to this day.

This documentary gives us the truest insight into U2 I've seen, they should have done this a long time ago.  For fans like me it gives a unique insight and for people who are not fans, hopefully it will show them the human side of U2, how seriously they take their music and what they have achieved.

I don't feel my review has done the documentary justice, watch it and enjoy, you don't often get the chance to see this side of U2.