6flashbacks : Everybody is Dead

Her face floated in the mesh of floating lights and shadows, like a painted ball under water. His hands reached to touch her fading vision but his right hand detached from his arm falling to the ground as a bloodied, beheaded magpie.

The woman from the newspaper bit her lip, waiting for the signal. Hazel has fussed around her enough: she had deadlines to meet even for a paragraph. “If you don’t get much from him,” Hazel said, accent thick with Lancastrian heritage, “don’t embarrass him. Just say it’s coz of whisky or, you know, summut like that, eh?”

Hazel smiled, nodded, signalled to the woman from the newspaper that now was as good a time as any. He had be positioned, for “was sat” would suggest a conscious decision on his part, near to the window facing out towards the gardens. A starling tucked its beak into the soil around a clutch of early blooming irises. “Alexander, she’s here now, the woman from the newspaper about your birthday.”

He was like no human the woman from the newspaper had ever seen. His face appeared hidden behind a loose, wrinkled cloth; his eyes as narrow as fountain pen nibs. She received a polite shake of the head from Hazel to her outstretched hand: she sat near by, leaned forward. “Well I am very proud to meet you, sir, Alexander. One hundred and twenty years old, that is some achievement.” Don’t say “lucky”, Hazel had warned with bitter sarcasm. Alex turned his head to the mass of colours forming the shape of a woman beyond the peripheries of his vision. An upturn appeared on the edge of his dry lips, highlighting his opening eyes with the sparkle of sunlight through leaves. “I am called Lucy,” said the mass of colours, words forming around the gap in the fog Alex had guessed was the best place to look at for a mouth. “That is a lovely name,” he said in his weary croak.

Lucy did not allow her hand to be taken until she was
assured of the inability of her mother to follow the two
walking away from the estate. “She can’t see us now we’ve
turned the corner, love,” she said. “Your ruddy mother
has a bloody periscope,” retorted Alex. He took his fiancees hand
in his, looking towards the incline up to Church Street
rather than glance at Lucy’s face.

At Harry’s Bar he pointed to a table away
from the only window. “Pint of bitter and
a half for the lady,” he ordered. “Hey Mike who’s
that queer sort over there?” “He ain’t
with anyone so until he is, he’s more cash
in the till, Alex, that’s who he is”

Alex knew the woman from the newspaper had no new questions to ask. Ten years previously he had name checked whisky and poetry for best kept secrets for longevity. Maybe he should think beyond the normal responses, he once considered, before his brain began to lose its spark. Bungee jumping and sticking chocolates up my nose and always ending prayers with the word “shit”, he thought, once, in front of a camera crew. Hazel jumped in as a precautionary measure; she swore later how certain she was that the response would be ‘a bit cheeky’. In the face of the same woman with even less humour he offered more general answers. Dutifully he posed for the standard old age photograph; the harsh flash turned his pale gray colouring sickly yellow and cream. For the second in such unnatural light his eyes could see only static and shadow, the most subtle suggestion of death he had experienced that day.

Lucy could not recall when their marriage
had turned sour. Not even ‘sour’, she considered, as
she maintained the straight, dry-eye facial expression
before Alex returned from work. For twenty years she ensured
every vow and promise wavered nowhere
far from their understood constraints. Maybe
routine had finally drawn everything from whatever
relationship had existed between them. Alex did not
lie much, not that she had caught him at any rate. He did
not drink to excess, though he had started to visit
the public houses every other night. Spending what was
always referred to as “our money”.

Lucy had been satisfied that her decision
was sensible, and reasoned, and the best, and
everything else explained and assured by friends who had
bitten their lips for twenty years. She did not
know how heavy Alex had turned to drink in the following months.
Why should she? Should she?

Don’t ask about friends, Hazel had advised with a hint of the condescending matron. All his friends are dead, if I can be so honest. Parents and family, too. Very sad, really, I mean, once you’ve lived all these years it can be very lonely. “He seems very nice, though, he talks to people very easily,” said Lucy, fitting a memory stick into the only computer in the building. “And I didn’t get any attention from the more mobile residents, story of my life,” she joked. Hazel cleared her throat, killing any of the jovial tone in the air. “Not that anyone of our residents have that form of…expression, I’m sure.”

Her name rested on his tongue and lips, touched them with a taste no greater than a sip of water. Clouds moved across the sky as drawn curtains, the blazing summer sun shrank into its shadowed cover. Alex repeated her name in a whispered croak, moving his hands together in prayer.

Lucy sat down next to the old man, his appearance
different to anything she had seen in many years. His expression
wore through her confidence and control,
bringing the spark of tears to her voice.

“Maybe the issues were entirely my own, love,
I don’t know certainly now as I did all those years ago.
Something altered in….Not you, not you at all, it changed
with the both of us. That’s how close we had become,
love, you know? I had no intention of…Nothing
in my heart ever wanted to hurt you, Alex, nothing.”

He moved his right foot to shake out cramp,
knocking over a glass by the side of his bed. His
mouth changed shape to begin framing a curse
before an apology, but Lucy had stood up to clean the mess
before he could start. He watched her through
the haze of afternoon drink walk towards
the kitchen. Two fingers padded the carpet,
moved towards his face where he could dampen
his flesh with the freshly dropped whisky.

Oh, he sighed, he loved her still. And loved
others since. It was not a terrible life, he knew that.
She was his first love, and the first heartbreak. The first
real heart ache ever suffered. She had brought him
the best of times and countless good enough attempts
with forgotten women had come to prove just

how good she had been.

A flick of thumb and finger brought Hazel over to the window seat. Alex took short, sharp breaths. “She seemed nice. Always a good judge of nice women,” he said, sitting back to take some more breaths. Hazel smiled, blinked dampening eyes, nodded. You daft old sod, she thought, patting him on the knee. Don’t you dare leave us yet, mister, you dare even trying.

I wanted to dream about you forever, love,
not to feel bitter or bad or lonely or anything,
honestly love. But sometimes you’d be in
my dreams, so beautiful and so perfect, just as I remember,
when you’d turn into a clown, or a devil, or something
horrible and I’d wake up and I’d hate it, I’d hate it.

I want to remember you forever, love. I want to
be reminded about you every day that I live. Forever, love.
I want to be reminded about you forever.

undeReview – BAFTA Television Awards

Unlike their film award cousins the small-screen championing BAFTA Television awards seem to be carried out with an air of slight embarrassment and knowing cynicism. Television has had something of a bad time of late but the lo-fi treatment given to congratulations suggest the ‘lesser relative’ is not given much respect even along the corridors of the Academy.

With Graham Norton’s many double entendres and jokes seeming to fall very flat – poking fun at a clearly nonchalant Jonathan Ross merely underscored the sense of the BBC being somewhat the old boy’s club – the awards themselves needed to carry interest. Curiously for a medium shadowed by the problematic fervour of producers wanting to ignore the actual will of the televoting public, BAFTA allow one award to be given from the telephone and email votes of the general viewing constituency. With great irony the winner of this ‘public award’ – grandly labelled and sponsored “Phillips Audience Award” – went to the teen sex drama Skins, clearly the result of tech savvy voting teens rather than the will of many millions of viewers who watch such rivals as The X Factor, or Coronation Street.

The Academy could have made safer choices than the unexpected winner of the audience vote but seemed to have been placing themselves in the same spoiler mindset as those ballroom fans who ensured John Sergeant kept clod-hopping around BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing. Given the mood building behind veteran Eastenders actress June Brown for her Talking Heads style maudlin monologue BAFTA chose the lesser known Anna Maxwell Martin for her role in Channel 4’s Poppy Shakespeare. As he seemed to admit in his acceptance speech, Harry Hill was the lesser and somewhat bizarre choice for another (third, would anyone credit it) trophy for Best Entertainment Performance. This clumsily all encompassing award is for, shall it not be forgotten, fronting a clip show of television highlights.

There may be only kind of programme to make a person laugh – comedy – but BAFTA manage to split the genre into three. Is it possible to explain how a Situation Comedy (won by The IT Crowd for Channel 4) is justifiably split from sketch shows (disgracefully awarded to the under performing and outdated Harry and Paul on BBC One)? Were BAFTA so willing to give only the best a place in their record books such differences would not be artificially carved. The third fork for celebrating comedy gave David Mitchell – agreeably one half of a comedy duo in The Peep Show – an award greeted with gritted teeth and embarrassment.

Far too often the concept of the award show is questioned but such industry back-slapping maintains at least the justification for those lesser known shows getting continued funding. It should be celebrated whenever Mad Men (tucked away on BBC Four and winner of the whimsically named Best International Show award) or White Girl (for BBC Two) gives necessary praise to lesser known producers and stars. However the overall sensation coming from the programme, which like so many televised award shows carried self-congratulation over the threshold of comfort for an ordinary audience to enjoy. With so few awards going to the expected recipient the British Academy possibly hoped to keep the audience watching through a contrived suspense. Ultimately the whole exercise just seemed somewhat lacklustre and disappointing, and how else has the very worst of television been described over these last twelve months?

6flashbacks : Michael

Margaret brushed crumbs of dried mud from her fingernails. Her visits to Michael’s grave was a regular habit, almost to the exact hour of each other day. She used her finger and thumb to pick away unusual looking sharp green weeds, keeping the tufts of what she thought to be clover through a sense of superstition. Silly girl, she chided. Streaks of silver-grey clouds dissipated over head, around which seemed to expand a deep and wide blue sky enhanced by the warming summer sun.

Your father and I….please….I know all this has come as something of a shock but…
Oh spare me all that, just get out! Get…out of my house!
Love….please just…we…all need to talk this through….

A cold presence tempered the gentle breeze, which Margaret understood as a suggestion of a message with her familiar superstitious sense. She brushed her coat and trousers, began her way under the overgrown trees which effectively created a tunnel through which she could walk with her head looking straight ahead, walking surely with her thoughts flickering without any facial feature to belie her confident stride. By the gates she was distracted by two bearded men standing in the gated section for Muslim burials. The men were standing opposite each other reading from a large book, their heads nodding occasionally reciting prayers. Lost in her own solemnity she did not notice the intensity of her staring at their private reflections; a shake of her head brought her back to the walk home.

This too was routing, habit, a walk with purpose tinged with the muddled senses of guilt and remorse. Walton Road, Dixon Road, Dalesfield Road, so familiar names which should trigger mundane reminders of daily tasks, Margaret thought. The bus shelter on the corner of Dixon Road had been smashed again; glass scuttered around in clumps of hailstones and shrapnel.

We thought it through a million times and of course it was a hard decision….
You make it sound like….a…bank account form or….For God’s sake please, can we talk about this at some other time?
But it’s all out now, sweetheart, I can’t think of anything else now. You’ve got to believe me…
Don’t start with what I must or should be doing…He wasn’t given a fair chance in life at all…

The recollections and occasional vivid hallucinations were increasing now, to such a degree as would knock Margaret into bewildered silence. She had talked through everything with Robert through weeks of debate and argument, straining every inch of her person and each facet of their marriage. Robert had been a bank manager, such hard-fought diplomacy was not in his character. Every clock in the house seemed louder when they clicked and ticked the march of time, the shoosh of cars outside thump-thumped over speed-humps with a harsh determination.

I always promised myself that you would be told, in time, I mean that…
He got nothing from life, Mum, nothing. That’s what I don’t…I can’t understand.

Past conversations and arguments were now recalled in her own voice, the rise and fall of the instant recall now faded by time. Margaret had spent the rest of the night lying on the bed in the spare room, eyes wide open, wanting sleep to wash away every last thought hurting her head and pushing pain through her fingers. When Robert tapped on the bedroom door their eyes did not meet, nor any words exchanged. He accompanied her downstairs into the kitchen where she rested her hands against the sink, stared into the water.

Yesterday was terrible, you know? It felt like…some form of rehearsal for what we were going to do. He just lay there…Led…down making this snoring sound and…My eyes were filling up, just thinking about…
Ssshsssh, please…
Everytime I close my eyes I can just see….He was so beautiful, I’ll never forget how….So beautiful.

Robert kissed his wife on her cheek, they nodded to each other an awkward wordless greeting. Somewhere else in the country Evelyn was happily living her life without parents in a house where abstract prints replaced family portraits. Michael lay in a cemetery 5 miles away in a well tendered plot under a clear summer’s sky, the soil around his grave marked by the impression his mother’s shoes walking to, and from.

floatness

Songs once had context. Closing my eyes would invite my imagination to paint new images to accompany whichever music was playing in the background. An implied audience, an assumed crowd, something close to self-hypnosis. So much repetition over the lonelier years has effectively re-written certain songs on a permanent basis. But after so many years the realisation of what is actually going on is pretty embarrassing. Singing to yourself if an empty room fitting alternative lyrics to music that no-one else will hear.

You’re too honest said a man, once, in a context of his own. My assumption was that our conversations were effectively pre-ordained. Something close to fate and fortune, I supposed then, and still do to some extent. The other quotes which slosh against the shore of night-time contemplation endanger any potential calmer dreams; you’re a very good liar, said a friend, which hurt. Not sure of the position at which I stand, now, or how far along this route I want to go at this hour. Or indeed within this month. Some dark shadow hides most of the year’s end, appearing in my mind as a darkness dissolving the calendar.

I don’t know how to take the implication that, as a writer, I can only be recommended if my work is limited to 140 characters. Polite laughter, then silence, eyes around the room and slight sips of drink. Polite smiles, voiceless mouthing of promises to sit down again but mingling needs to be done, it is a party after all, thanks, see you in a…Eyes front, inspect the fingernails. Always end on a handshake, says the old wise man, whose beard is a phone-pad scrawl and whose eyes are framed by the curves of magnetic fields. I cannot remember what became of the old wise man. Worryingly his voice remains clear but his face hides in fog and crackle. Worryingly I am starting to convince myself that he does not exist.

polling stations

My grandmother is dead. Has been dead since August. Some form of therapy in the writing of that, I suppose. A word is on the tip of my tongue, what it is….Catharsis? No…but why that word springing to mind? These things occur regularly. Such frankness is ostensibly refreshing insofar as it appears to suggest a “closure”. Nothing quite does close the feelings, though, so technically ‘closure’ is an insult. But yeah, this is a tangent. My grandmother is dead.

She would tell me how proud she was of the right to vote. I recall being taken to the polling station nearest to her house when I was very young and her breaking the law by taking me into the polling station. Preesall Court was not a legal building, it was formerly an old peoples home and was now some form of ‘drop in’ centre. Before her health faded I would always walk to the polling station with her, in which she would always cause a little scene of some form such as turning around with an unfolded completed ballot paper in her hand, waving it like a flag, asking if she had completed it correctly. My mum was not happy when I told her that gran had voted for the SDP, years ago now, when I was walking from school. Such clear memories are unusual; so matter-of-fact and dull but clear, if a little eaten and worn, green around the edges.

Like Offred describing visits to hotel rooms in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale I would journey around Preesall Court in the guise of both voter and party activist to search out every inch of the building. My first vote was there, in 1998, dressed in white t-shirt and army print combats. You could say this was typical fashion of the age or just of me, but again I note how strangely vivid the memory of that dress remains. The t-shirt had a design on the front of a woman in a bikini, I think, with a building behind her [the Taj Mahal, maybe, but something similar in design certainly].

Boredom had set in among the electoral staff who sat behind their tables playing with modelling balloons. For thirty seconds, if that, I participated in the little game we call democracy, and have played the game ever since.

Preesall Court had a wheelchair ramp, as standard, a black banister, black doors with ‘graph paper’ style glass. Inside the first room was a chair, no maybe two chairs, and a table on which leaflets and magazines had been placed. One magazine was a catalogue for meal-on-wheel customers, full of stews and curries and desserts and soups. The wallpaper of the first room had faded, maybe it had once been purple.

When my parents divorced the house move meant a change in polling station. The second for me to visit was a Methodist church directly opposite our house; I could see the place from the front room window. The layout was unusual from what I can recall; the ballot boxes were directly on the left, party activists had to hang around outside looking like greeters from rival churches hoping to persuade wavering members of the congregation to try somewhere else.

My first house move away from parental control was on the other side of town. The polling station there was another church although I cannot fathom what denomination. The layout was difficult for party activists who had to sit on stairs behind the narrow doors which opened out into a square [vestibule? No…foyer?]. Electoral staff lay hidden in a hall-like-room to the right: they technically broke the rules by allowing me to take the torn-off stubs of voters electoral cards.

From here the next station in which to enjoy the game of electoral chance was a school set among terraced housing. I got to the door before polls opened, was met with some chortled surprise, and voted without much thought. Most recently was another church, and another 7am call from me in my typical style. The staff seemed slightly clueless about their role, asking someone for a signature if I remember. The ballot boxes were positioned directly opposite the doors.

For all my years as a party activist I have not seen to much difference in the buildings used as polling stations. I hear and read stories about fish & chip shops being used, and private estates, and pubs, but none of that here. Schools are the most common. Classrooms taken over for a day, so everyone has to navigate through wide corridors and spot the arrowed signs in cluttered noticeboards. Churches are popular and there seems no problem with any branch of Christianity. Temporary huts can be used, with poor saps sitting outside handing out ballot papers in rain and wind. I admire the constancy of it all; churches, schools, the stubby pencils. Something evocative, stable.

My gran always used to complain about politicians but also gave no time for those who did not vote. She admired the power of the cross in a box, the strength of the ballot box. Those little huts, rooms, ballot boxes, they all were symbols of her life. What is the word on my tongue now…paradigm?

The Empire State

Lancashire-based The Empire State release new EP When You Call full of a new found confidence as a stripped-down band sounding at their most genuine and contemplative. Their MySpace profile includes two songs from this in addition to those tracks which provide some clues to the development – dare we say “journey” – from rabble rousing Britrock to a more delicate, rounded band.

From the EP, “Awake” is looking out for closing film credits to accompany, as six minutes of anguish fall over orchestrated guitars recognisable in most choruses from Hope Of The States’ Left. Actually the very first notes gives the impression of a heavier track influenced by Interpol before taking its earnest route. “Awake” does have its issues – the length allows for a neat joining solo and expansion on some lyrical themes but when this is done another return to the chorus means the ending seems overwrought.

The title track is a real smiling assassin, tough lyrics delivered as softly as a love-letter wrapped in barbed wire. One rock’n’roll solo leads into an all out stomp of piano and guitars, working around a simple premise but delivering an intricate and clever song.

By way of further notable mentions, “There Was a Hero”, is melodic and sharp from the light-touch guitars to the neatest little chorus this side of church on a Sunday. “I Hear It’s Your Birthday” will warm your insides; the bridge “So what if it’s raining outside” is so perfectly pitched you will swear blind you’ve heard its crafted strength before not too far away from a Biffy Clyro acoustic set.

Worryingly it seems people are eager to label as “old fashioned” the concept of a band getting down to the simple pleasures of blues or rock’n’roll guitars, honesty in lyrics, and vocals which don’t want to be so irritatingly postmodern. There is more drawn from the lineage than the contemporary but openly and obviously; The Empire State hide nothing, their preference for part-acoustic songs emboldening all that can be made with few ingredients. If it is permitted to indulge in old fashioned puns there seems no chance of the sun setting on this particular Empire.

The Empire State are:

Joe Holden: Vocals, Guitars
Ben Titley: Guitars
Andrew Bamber: Piano & Keyboards
Gareth Woodfield: Percussion and Backing Vocals
Dave Sadler: Bass
Rob Marsden: Drums

Reus

As long as it doesn’t happen again, says a friend.

It is June, 2006. GCSE exam results time, and the last foreign holiday I have had to date. My mother, sister, and I, four years before the small print of the divorce was through and we all moved elsewhere. My memories from the day after the bombing is only patchy; heavily edited and bleached shots from the airport, and Moira Stewart.

My fingers dart across the news-stories of the time with a sense of unusual calm, almost disinterest. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center any reports of attacks featuring British tourists would be spread across four or more pages with endless analysis on television. In 1996 there was a matter of 24-hour news but far less erratic or hyperactive than now. Going home to catch the one news programme was one of the things on our mind as we made the way from Manchester Airport. A form of presspack had formed outside the entrance but some set-up had ensured those passengers who had travelled back could exit without being caught by camera lenses.

My sister was eating a packet of M&Ms. She finished the packet and looked across at a bin. Looking back through the constant repetitions of this anecdote I guess it would have made sense for me to explain the reasoning behind taking the packet and putting it in my pocket. I could have pretended to have seen a prediction or heard voices or something, either then or now, but nothing of the sort ever came to mind. A natural act against putting an empty packet into a bin already overflowing with rubbish: bottles, packets and bags, all flowing out of it onto the floor. Why else would I suggest not walking over?

The contemporary newspaper reports, so easily found by Google, have clearly been written from the same press release, so there is no emotion nor any celebration of the perpetrators. The bombers were ETA, the timing so perfect and clinical that only British tourists were targeted, the result was carnage. All the press reports are without named suspects, no blanked out photographs, no harrowing quotes from reels of injured. So unlike today. Do we build tributes to terrorists with our constant story telling?

The bomb was placed in the bin. The cleaning lady saw that a pile of rubbish had collected around the bin, but instead of clearing the problem she pushed the rubbish into the bin, which had caused the explosion. Or so I believe. In the reports she is described as being “seriously injured”. We all found out what happened as we camped out in the scrub land around the airport. She had lost at least one leg, maybe both.

I cannot remember what came first. The explosion or the rumbling thunderous shaking or the noise of the explosion or the panic in the crowd. I recall my mum pushing me really hard, and the crowd of people jumping over whatever came in their way; chairs, seats, other people falling. I turned to see my mum’s face framed by….was it smoke? Dust? Or just the static of panic surrounding my vision?

Reus Airport was the overspill airport for Barcelona, and perfectly designed for an attack. Passengers in and passengers out. Crowds of tourists. ETA had designs on destruction. My memory has faded a little, so its reawakening is a little strange, and unexpected. I don’t understand it. Therapy of some kind? Maybe. Some form of brain exercise. We sat down in the scrub land surrounding the airport. I cried a little. TV crews from TVE appeared to be upset that I was the only one crying, I think they wanted more than that. Demanded it, I seem to recall. Less V-signs, I know that.

There was a bomb at the airport, I said on the phone. My gran stopped for a bit, she exhaled. I feel a bit funny now you’ve said that.

Nowadays I could claim compensation. Perhaps. Sell my story. I was only sixteen. My memories are fading. Mrs MacDuff, my Head of Year, handing me my exam results said something about not being happy had I died. When I saw the photograph she had taken with me and my certificates, my eyes were closed.

pencil sketches

“What did you see?”
“Couple, the first bus-stop near Southgate, you know the one? He kissed her, got on the bus, she turned away smiling. But then I saw it, just the split second. Wish I had my camera. The crack in the smile, the downward look in the eyes. All women do it, that moment of truth in the face, it’s one of the newest twists of evolution.”
“Or indeed in evolution..?”
“If you will. But it was there. Felt like telling him, not that she was close at the point. Awkward traffic lights, those on Southgate. New sequence, I’d guess, tricky.”
“You get red lights all the way down, my dad used to say, I recall. Never got that, always thought how the lights knew which journey you were making. Anyway, any others?”
“Older woman on a train. Over-sized fur coat, hair to match, grey and in curls, dye growing out I’d imagine. Her hands were like….the fixed triangle of prayer but melted, softer, you know?”
“Grief?”
“Bit obvious, but likely. I read her face for a while, think she may have caught me. Something about her mouth, I think she had words she wanted to say…I flicked through one of those free ‘papers left on the seats. Altruism at its finest.”
“Any clues in the ‘paper? I should start that, actually, there’s a ruse, eh? Crossword puzzles from beyond the seas!”
“You’re too clever for half. A mouse knows what a trap is for, that’s why you never catch them with traps.”
“Give cheese a chance, you could say, hmm?”
“You’re not funny. At all.”

Disappearing clouds, ink-splots, the drizzle of rain meant for someone else. A bird, a changing traffic signal, a scrunch of crisp packet underfoot. Something about these mornings allow the hearing to become more acute, more precise. The earliest break of susceptibility. Crackling of the first fried egg of the day or the sudden, certain click of the kettle, the aroma of fat and tea and cigarette and the sour moist yeast smell from the underneat the bedcovers. Disappearing shadows behind the curtains and whoosing wet cars with their tinny radio beats, fading into a churlish form of realism. And then…

She was out of my league, as they say. God she was fit, not just sexy or beautiful or what-ever-the-Hell; she was fit. And like any bird worth her value she knew how to play it. God she could tease. Bring on some half decent green, Kula Shaker’s K on shuffle, and before long I had to sit with my legs crossed. And then she’d ruin it, which I suspect got her going, in a way. Would suggest we’d host a party at which everyone would have to take off their clothes so I’d be sitting there like a tool with all my mates embarrased at the sight of all the fat and blotched skin and wobbly bits we’d do so well to hide. Or else she’d get too whacked on cheap vodka and fall asleep, her face flat against the laptop keyboard, waking up at three with QWERTY across her skin in a faint reverse Cryllic pastiche. Or else she’d complain about being bored and fall into a strop and demand money for a trip to the pictures she’d never actually make. But FIT, that was the point. And she was here, on my carpet, rolling a joint and laughing and joking and flirting, all for her own benefit. And for all that I loved her more than I could ever admit.

Beats of Success

James Hodgson is one of the creative forces behind Preston’s Beats of Rage nights, run at the Coda nightclub. Known for bringing in some of the biggest and brightest names in dance music, Beats of Rage was recently selected by Mixmag magazine as one of the best club nights in the north of England.

Inevitable first question, then; how the devil are you?

I’m good. Just got up, and it’s midday. The life of a promoter is pretty sweet if you like lie-ins!

Being mentioned and so highly rated in Mixmag comes after a very long time working with Beats of Rage; just how steep an incline has it been from the start to now?

It’s been pretty crazy. I wouldn’t say we’ve been an overnight success, but I think we’ve been getting better and better as time’s passed. Everything’s been getting better, from the acts we put on, to the crowd. And now to get a bit of attention of national press for it is brilliant, proves we’re doing something right I hope!

What are your memories of the first BoR night; how did the expectations meet the reaility (if indeed you can actually remember the first night…)

It was at my mates house, above a florist, in the town centre. I convinced my mate to have a house party, and my band played. It was busy, actually, and the buzz in the air was incredible, even if my band was shite! We were kind of like the Klaxons/Hadouken!, but back in 2006. It was such a good atmosphere, that I knew I had to carry it on.

This kind of night would not work everywhere, why has Preston seemingly been so good to you?

Maybe because we’re the only people doing this kind of thing in Preston?!?! Haha, nah I’m not sure, but I think our transparency and attitude help a lot. It’s pretty easy to see that Beats of Rage is run by two chaps, who just want to have fun. I think people see that, and support us a lot more. It couldn’t be done without all the people at the front going mental.

The line-ups we’re getting are Manchester and London-worthy, in Preston. It’s insane.

Dance music, in general, and drug culture are often painted as walking hand-in-hand; is it possible to decouple the two at all? How serious a problem is it if Coda has a group of people bouncing off the walls?

I don’t do drugs, never have done, so drugs are a big issue with me. We operate a strict drugs policy at Coda, with searches and the full works. It’s not a problem unless you let it become one, and I think we do well to keep it out of our club.

I think the key problem is dealing in clubs, so people are taking all kinds of dodgy shit, and especially people who’ve never taken any before, but are a bit drunk and fancy it. That’s a recipe for disaster. It never happens in Coda, and we work ultra hard to keep it that way.

Did the younger you not just want to be a train driver or builder or something a little more predictable and ordinary?

I wanted to be a journalist! I did it at uni and everything. But I learnt the people are generally snakes who’ll kill their own mum to get a good story. Not into that at all.

Also, by the time I was in my 3rd year, I was doing BOR on the regular, and DJing on the radio, so by that time, I was just doing the work I had to, and having as much fun as I could. I fell into what I’m doing now though, just a series of fortunate events, and me being lucky enough to get given chances.

Actually, on that topic, can you put up shelves or fix plugs?

Haha, of course mate! I live with my girlfriend, so I’ve sorted everything out in our flat. When I put my bed together, I felt like such a man, it was pathetic. The boiler broke the other day too, and I found myself having a poke around the airing cupboard, seeing what was up. It was then I realised I’m basically my dad.

How far could Beats of Rage go; are any long-term plans set outside Preston?

Well we’re currently selling out and we’re booking some of our favourite acts from around the world, so I guess my hopes are that this continues! We’re getting some ridiculous acts on, and because we own the club, we literally spend all the door money on acts, meaning that the club is hosting acts that wouldn’t normally play in that size venue. It’s such an amazing situation we’re in, I think it’s incredible.

As for outside Preston, we DJ and stuff outside the city, but we don’t have any plans for expansion and stuff. No way man, Preston is my home. One lad couldn’t believe that we don’t have a night in Lancaster. Lancaster?!?! I’m from there, and it’s grim.

You’re known for your characteristic wardrobe, who are the names you prefer wearing?

Haha! I just wear what I like! My favourite brands, I reckon, are Bape, Stussy, Mishka, 10 Deep, Crooks & Castles, and most importantly, Kidrobot. I’m a Kidrobot freak mate. Their hoodies are done in batches of 256, so they’re a bit rare, but absolutely beautiful. They destroy my bank account though!

I wear hats, too. I love them. I have over 20 hats, so I think it’s a bit of an obsession.

Is the concept of a DJ being able to “read the mood” of a room total nonsense?

Not totally. I think it’s pretty easy to DJ these days. Loads of software to help, you don’t have to buy the latest vinyl and stuff. Everyone can get the records, and everyone can play them. I think the skill of DJ’ing more than ever lies in the tunes you play. I’ve heard some terrible DJ’s, who play the wrong tunes, at the wrong time. But I’ve heard warm-up sets where I haven’t recognised a single tune, but it was perfect for the time of evening.

All that DJ Rockstar stuff is bollocks, though. I play Xbox, and collect Vinyl Figures, and play Jackin‘ House. I don’t come off stage and take some smack off a hooker’s eye or whatever. I usually have a bit of a dance, and go to bed.

How many guilty pleasures are there in your CD collection?

Not many, actually. My girlfriend’s filled my iPod with all kind of incriminating material though. I’m a sucker for disco, And Soul. But I guess they’re kind of ‘cool’. But I hate ironic music. I don’t listen to my soul and disco records in public, because people start dancing to them ironically, and think I’m joking. I hate that.

Is there a frustrated song writer trapped inside you?

No, but there’s a crap producer! I was always rubbish at writing songs, but I like to produce and arrange songs with others. I haven’t got time these days, but me and [fellow DJ] Pish are trying to get producing again, make some delicious music.

Which band or DJ in Preston do you rate? Which Preston band should be making it this year?

No-one in Preston comes close to Joe. He plays everything, but last time I saw him he played Chicago House, which I’m a massive fan of. Lots of DJ’s are coming up at the moment, and it’s a bit easy to get into, so you have to separate the wheat from the naff. Bail, who plays Dubstep, is pretty dope, too.

It’s a night out, my round, what am I buying you?

What bar are we in? I hate it when people buy me drinks, because I don’t want to order something expensive and cost them a fortune! If we’re in Weatherpersons, I’d probably ask for a Magners, or some delicious gin.

If we’re in my club though, I’ll buy you one, because I’m nice. Sometimes. I’d suggest the Gin and Iron Brew. No doubt.

What be your plans for the next 12 months?

Get my nightclub to the standard and capacity where it’s the best club in the city, and carry on building on our nights.

Also, more realistically, witness Beats of Rage going mega, and having to build an extension on the back, to increase the capacity from 400 to 5000. And put on Daft Punk.

It’s been a pleasure, or hopefully it has. See you at Coda at some point…

Cheers Liam!

[Questions and editing – Líam Pennington]

Interview conducted by way of emailed questions, edited for clarity and space. James Hodgson can be found at http://www.myspace.com/j2theh.
For up to date details on all nights out in Preston, go to http://www.prestone.co.uk