Cover Up

I had a private message from a user on Instagram this week, he said what disco song are you listing to at the moment. Now this may seem a random question to ask a stranger, but he’s obviously ready my mini bio on my account which says, “Englishman in Abruzzo working in Italian real estate who likes the occasional Aperol spritz and classic disco tunes.” So I responded saying I was listening to How Much, How Much I Love You by Love and Kisses, a group put together by European music producer Alec Costandinos and it was only after I’d responded that I looked at the album cover for this 3 track album which features the famous nude on a horse.

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Back in the 1970’s at the hieght of the disco movement the album covers were deliberately sexy with some almost bordering on soft porn, take the first Love and Kisses album with the ripped T-shirt and men’s hands.

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Looking at these album covers I think it’d be fair to say that they were more than likely designed by men. Back in the 1970’s these covers were seen as fun and saucy but would that be the case today? I doubt it, women’s groups would be shouting about exploitation and the negative messages these images promote.

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Whether you approve or not they’re a great piece of social history, they say much more about this period in our musical history than words can. They tell us that disco went hand in hand with sex. Dancing in itself is primal and all that bumping and grinding down the disco could easily put you in the mood for a horizontal bed sheet boogie.

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The flashing of flesh wasn’t solely reserved for the female of the species and back in 1977 Bobby Farrell was happy to get his chest hair out and don a golden thong for the cover of the second Boney M album. However it was deemed to be too raunchy for the U.S. and Canadian market and they opted for an alternative cover. It didn’t have the same impact somehow.

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However disco wasn’t the sole domain of the dodgy cover, back in 1965 Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass released their Whipped Cream album with its blatantly sensual if not rather naff cover.image

Disco was loved in the gay clubs and so there was bound to be a plethora of covers sporting homoerotic images. Men in leather, hairy chests and handlebar moustaches. One of the best was for the Italian/American band, Macho and their Roll album cover and I remember seeing it sat on the shelves of some record stores inside brown paper bags.

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There are examples out there of covers with hairy chested guys that make you just think,  ‘for goodness sake man, put a shirt on.’ Not to mention, ‘Where are you going to ‘Push Push’ that flute?’

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The disco backlash came and by the early 1980’s it was starting to fade, dance music became formulaic and homogenised and flesh was replaced by rah rah skirts and neon coloured clothing. Nudity became more about art than sex.

But I quite like the old covers and am happy to see them pop up on my iPod display as songs shuffle. But I can’t leave you without showing you one of the howlers out there. A cover that in my opinion should never have been released, but I’m guessing none of the band especially the guy top right saw this one before it was printed and dispatched.

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Why the Name Change?

I have noticed that my blog posts have changed and are less about the music playing whilst I write them and more about my new life in Italy. I’m certain that this is because it’s my life here in Italy that influences most of what I write about. Back in the UK it was things like lost parrots and badly spelled signs and the occasional run down of the Eurovision.

So why, Being Britalian, firstly because I thought it was a nice play on words being British and in Italy and second, because of my birthright I’ll always be a Brit in Italy and never an Italian. But as I’m adopting many of the Italian ways of life as time passes I feel quasi-Italian, so I guess I feel 70% Brit and 30% Italian.

My posts will still contain a mix of sensible info-blurb and mindless bonkers observations as before, and you can be sure that my musical tastes will still be mentioned as hardened readers already know my iPod is always on shuffle whenever I’m working. As I write this Contact in Red Square from the Plastic Letters album by Blondie is playing.

Another reason is I’m having an hiatus from writing for Italy magazine, (I don’t have the time at the moment) but I am putting together notes for a non-fiction account of the why’s and wherefores of my move here that may grow up to be a book and Bieng Britalian is the working title. This project is of course subject to vetting from the Renegade’s back in Stoke on Trent, who will advise, critique and inspire me should they feel the idea is worthy of a potential readership.

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So I’ll leave it for today with a photograph taken in the lane yesterday showing that despite today being the first day of spring, it had arrived earlier here in our corner of Abruzzo.

 

Flat Out

The magazine I work for is having a grand re-launch following a take-over and a make-over. The result being, my workload has increased, which isn’t a problem as with winter approaching I wont be subjected to the desire to go to the coast. Okay, I lie a little. Yes, there will be days when all I want to do is sit looking out over a throbbing grey sea rather than be tapping at my laptop, but these days will be few and far between though. so, (hopefully) I will be able to use my time productively.

My editor has asked me for my next three-month work schedule, this entails pitching all the new stories well in advance, discovering the ones the magazine wants me to write and setting my copy delivery dates in stone. I have finally organised a schedule and hopefully if I can follow this, I will know what type of feature I need to submit at any given time each month. The new regime means I can work out how much time I need to devote to each article each week, and maybe even build up a bank of non-specific date related features to help me out when procrastination creeps up on me.

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My OCD managed to have a hand in the planning, and categories soon became colour coded.

Non-Fiction writing is a fine balance between research and writing, too much research and you can become so bogged down that you delay the actual act of writing as you sift through all the facts that you have collected. Too little and your work will be flimsy and have no guts. So when do you know when you have enough research? – that’s a tricky one. For me it is when I have all the things I want to say at my disposal and looking for any more will over-complicate the story. For example, a piece I’ve just completed about visiting the catacombs in Rome features the important things readers need to know; where, when, how and who and yes a little history to colour the required word count.

Interviews can be tricky things, you have to initially ask some standard questions, then from these you can build up an idea of how you want the interview to go and ask questions that are specific to your idea and the client. Some people can be hard-work and you can be emailing backwards and forwards reams of questions before you get anything worthy of writing up. Some people however can be a joy, I have just interviewed a young man in Piemonte and it turned out he was a snowboarder and also enjoyed big Italian family gatherings around Christmas. Perfect for the December issue. The Only difficult thing about interviews is the restructuring of some sentences to fit them into the body of your piece without losing the meaning and truth of your interviewee.

Of course the iPod shuffles in the dock, I need the constant buzz of background noise when I’m working, for some reason it stops me being distracted, well that is until something like, Taste in Men by Placebo starts to play, and I have a stretch, remove my reading specs and sing along, as the dogs look at me as if to say, ‘the human has gone mad again’

Pasta Festa in Fara

August is festa time in Italy and every town celebrates something, Altino celebrates peppers, on the road down from Castle Frentano it’s fish and chips: Invented by the ancient Romans of course, and obviously in Fara San Martino it’s pasta. A few evenings ago it was the time for the pasta giant, De Cecco to host the celebrations and myself being a pasta snob, I had to go and see what all the fuss was about.

We arrived early and took a leisurely stroll up to the school where the evening’s festivities were going to take place. We paid our €10, received a yellow ticket and joined the queue waiting for the food that was ready to be dished up. Our ticket entitled us to a first course of pasta, a second course including side dish and bread and a drink. The first course pasta options were, tagliatelle three meat pasta of lamb, veal and pork, seafood linguine or chicken and asparagus penne. I opted for the former three meat option and had a second course of sausages with chopped fresh salad, bread and a glass of red wine.

The school playground had lots of benches set up at long tables and easily could accommodate 500 people, at the far end was a stage and there was a man on a keyboard accompanied by a lady singing. We took our seats and over good food we chatted as the air cooled to a pleasant short-sleeves and sandals temperature. As the venue filled up with diners the evening became full of shouts and waving as neighbours acknowledged each other and families welcomed friends old and new. The tables were attended by teenagers in de Cecco T-shirts and the transition from food to festivities flowed well.

I went to fetch a couple of bottles of wine for our table and my friend, Vivienne, introduced me to a man with no bottom teeth; he turned out to be the local dentist, we exchanged pleasantries and when the bill came for the two bottles of wine and one of water, the dentist nodded knowingly and we received a discount of €3.50. Other friends from the neighbouring town of Palombaro had joined us and as the wine flowed the urge to dance grew. We watched the locals doing some elaborate group dance and fuelled by bravado we decided to give it a go. Needless to say we failed miserably. I whirled Vivienne around the dance floor in a mish-mash of ballroom, tarantella/improvisation style of dancing. But we didn’t care as we were here to have fun, not be scored on our technique.

More wine was consumed, more jollity at the table was shared and the toothless dentist joined us at our table and handed me a De Cecco T-shirt, apparently Seppe had asked him if he could get one for me. That made my night, could it get any better? Yes, the music changed from traditional to pop and nothing could stop our tableful of Brits from rising from their seats and moving across the playground with haste to join the throng of Italians dancing to the Village People hit, YMCA. Well what did you expect it was a party after all, and a splendid one it was too.

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My De Cecco T-shirt.

Hell of a Distraction

Today I’m trying to organise myself. I have several ideas for future articles to pitch, research and upon acceptance write, I also need to crack on with my novel, ‘52’. But I’m being distracted. The source of this distraction is a five track EP from Stoke on Trent band, Moscow. I should be sorting files into folders and other interesting tasks, but listening to the EP titled Hell Fire is robbing me of my concentration.

One thing I do miss from England is the wealth of music I came into contact with. I’m not a fan of the radio, I can’t stand DJ chatter, so discovered new bands mostly by word of mouth. I miss having my office chats about new music with Becky, who has similar tastes to me. (I don’t miss the stress of having an office though). Here in Italy the music I get to hear is mostly pop from the UK charts, but it’s always about two or three years out of date. At a recent barbecue there was an Italian DJ, playing vinyl and every song played was English. We had a little bit of disco, some T. Rex and Bowie, a smidgen of northern soul and a blast of James Brown. Don’t get me wrong, I have quite an eclectic taste in music so can enjoy most offerings, I’m not partial to classical or instrumental music but do like a bit of opera. I’m not keen on musical theatre, for me it’s a bit twee, I much prefer music that has meat on its bones. I guess I’m essentially an indie kind of guy. My youth witnessed the emergence of punk, the new romantic scene with its androgynous images and the dark brooding gothic movement. Yes I was a safety pinned, lip-stick wearing, pink haired pop junkie. Honestly some days I’d emerge from my bedroom looking like the love child of Toyah Willcox and Steve Strange. (Sadly I never did grow out of the sticky-up hair stage.)

I have no one here in Italy to talk to about music, none of my friends have the same passion for new music that I do and the occasional message to Becky on Facebook doesn’t really quench my addiction to music related jibber-jabber, so I’m resorting to previewing music on iTunes and scouring the web for anything new and interesting.

Today I came across this EP by Moscow on Facebook, I’d heard a taster previously of one of the tracks Lizard Lords and it sounded promising. The four piece, made up of Matt – guitar, Nic – vocals, Tom – bass and Mark – drums have an edgy yet urgent sound; It’d be lazy to call them simply indie, rock or even post-punk, their music is a fusion of all these genres with touches of frenetic thrashing: epileptic music.

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I don’t really like comparisons, but can see how people could compare Nic’s vocals to those of Editor’s frontman, Tom Smith, but it’s not that simple, there’s something darker in Nic’s timbre, its almost menacing, daring you to listen. On the track Cold Hands, there’s touches of Echo and the Bunnymen singer, Ian McCulloch hidden between the lines, but Nic defies all comparisons on the track The Night, two minutes and forty-one seconds into the song and the music fades leaving Nic alone, his vocals become trapped: an inmate inside a musical asylum he calls out, giving the listener twenty-one seconds of uncomfortable joy.

But what makes one band better than another? That’s the rub. In my opinion it’s that mix of people that just works. It’s something evident in the music. It’s not image, stage presence or pretty boy looks that makes a great band, (apologies to One Direction), it’s something that you cannot define but you can hear it when you listen to the music they produce.

Being someone who makes a living out of words, I believe an essential ingredient any band needs is a clever wordsmith. Someone who can weave lyrics into something more than a formulaic format of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, etc. Bands like Scouting for Girls and dare I say it, Kaiser Chiefs all know the importance of getting the lyrics right. Back in the 1980’s Haircut 100 singer Nick Heyward was applauded in the music press for his clever phrases and wordplay, so much so he once said he was looking for a way to fit the word, Toblerone, into one of his songs. This is all rather excessive and a tad pretentious, you don’t need to use clever words and phrases like, Drifting apart like a plate tectonic, (Kaiser Chiefs), you just need the right turn of phrase. On Don’t Look Back, the track starts with a repetitive guitar riff and a bass line akin to a heart patient with arrhythmia: A simple introduction to the song, add to this the opening lyric of, ‘Don’t look back, you’ll see’  and you’re hooked, but simple is not the case here, words like, transmission and rearranged are tossed into the mix with phrases like ‘robot eyes never blink’ and ‘the most effective kind of cage, is the kind you can’t see’  and you can see why as writer I’m distracted by this band. In my opinion, I don’t believe this is four guys who just set up and jam in a mates garage, before sloping off to the local for a few pints, this is a band that think carefully about the important craft of song writing.

But don’t just take my word for it, check out Moscow at their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lizardlords?fref=ts and their Bandcamp page: http://moscowmusic.bandcamp.com/

Download Hell Fire, I dare you. But if you do I take no responsibility for your inevitable distraction.

Photo used with permission

Seppe and the Courgette Trumpet

Sunday evening was spent at a barbecue hosted by our friends Viv and Seppe.  As people arrived, ribs and sausages where deployed above the red coals, Seppe had glowing in advance, everyone contributed to the feast, I took a strawberry torte, a melon and grappa jelly and some coffee pannacotta, Graham took a rice dish and some chocolate and chilli cake and Gina brought an amazing artichoke bake she had made in advance; which everyone cooed over upon tasting. The evening passed by pleasantly, the children left the grown-ups and went to play in the streets: Something sadly children don’t do anymore back in England, mostly, in my opinion down to paranoia and playstation.

As the evening progressed Seppe showed everyone how to make a courgette trumpet, and before long we had put together a band: I say band in the loosest sense of the word, and it wasn’t long before adults, woozy with wine were projecting what can only be described as fart sounds into the evening air.

So I thought I’d share the method of making this innovative vegetable instrument with you:

1. Select a courgette/zuccini stem.

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2. Remove the leaf.

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3. Cut a slit into the stem about a centimetre long.

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4. Put stem into mouth and blow. I find it works better for me if the slit is vertical to my bottom lip.

The evening was rounded off by the children excitedly telling us there was a fox in the piazza, and sure enough there it was, a friendly, skinny fox begging for food, after Ben gave it a sausage it ran away, and the guests also started to depart, everyone agreeing it had been a marvellous evening of food, fun and friendship.

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Over the years playwrights and poets have written pieces inspired by the magic of Italy. Despite never actually coming here Shakespeare set many of his works here, the most obvious being Romeo and Juliet. Byron enthused about the country as did Shelley and Keates and why not, at times Italy can be truly magical. One of these magical moments occurred a few weeks ago, in fact it was so magical, I have put off writing about it for fear of not expressing myself eloquently enough.

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We were invited to the town of Fara San Martino for an evening of music. A stage had been assembled in the piazza at the base of Via Roma, and the musicians were tuning up as we arrived. We dropped in and had a pre concert drink with our friends Viv and Seppe, when we got there our other friends Graham and Mark were already there. We chatted for a while until we heard the music begin. So on a chilly evening we stepped outside and joined the locals who had gathered to enjoy the music.

A mist descended upon this mountain town and as the music played I left the audience and wandered through the narrow alleys. The experience was ethereal, shrouded in mist and lit by orange street lights with music filling the air the walk became magical. I felt like I was walking through a Federico Fellini film, and with these feelings of wonderment coursing through me I then understood why he favoured Italy for his backdrops. I remembered one of Fellini’s famous quotes, ‘Experience is what you get while looking for something else’, and it summed up how I was feeling, I just expected to listen to music on a chilled evening but instead I had an experience I’d never have imagined.

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Walking around a corner, heading back to the piazza I watched the band, resplendent in their orange uniforms beneath the lights erected for the evening. Just standing beside the barrier put there to keep traffic away and watching gave me a feeling of contentment I’ve not felt before. I stood for a while and to misquote Shakespeare, I was filled from the crown to the toe top-full of calm. I felt as if at last I was part of a community, that I had actually arrived. As the light had such a magical feel, I took a few more photographs before re-joining the others in the piazza.

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The second musical performance started, the first had been classical and this was more contemporary, even including a new arrangement of some pop songs into the mix. Children came over and took turns in walking Seppe’s dog, Ollie around the piazza, and we chatted to every person we were introduced to. We were four stranieri here at an intimate local evening festa, yet we were welcomed by everyone. The evening climaxed with a spectacular firework display, great booming stars of colour collided with the black inky sky and we all stood in awe, necks craning upwards.

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Photo © Graham Ward 2013

Paloma Faith and the Inexpensive Cauliflower

Everyone who knows me, knows that music is an important part of my life. I’ve always liked to be surrounded by it, and as my taste is eclectic my iPod is constantly on shuffle. One minute a track by Linkin Park can be replaced by the electronic sound of Kraftwerk and that then by the operatic timbre of José Carreras. Occasionally though, as it shuffles its way from punk to pop and rock to reggae, it seems to favour one particular artist or band. Yesterday was a day like this. As the coffee machined bubbled, I opened the doors to a wonderful Italian morning,  before turning on my iPod. The last few bars of Doctor, Doctor by Thompson Twins faded out, to be replaced by the hauntingly, wonderful acoustic version of, Just Be, by, Paloma Faith, from her 2012 album Fall to Grace.

I’ve always been drawn to unusual artists; I mean that in a positive way, and probably unusual isn’t the right word, maybe I mean different: different as in interesting. There’s been a few women in the music business over the years who have caught my attention because of their individuality, Toyah Willcox, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are four that spring to mind. Each one was original, with a desire to project their personality rather than become music industry puppets. Image is imperative in music and each of these women had a strong, definite look, and Paloma Faith sits very well within this circle. Like Willcox, Bush et al, Faith, has that rare ability to write a lyric that stabs you where it matters, add to this her kookiness and intriguing voice and you have the perfect pop package.

After breakfast, I’m driving through Perano on my way to the builders merchants where the handsome Pietro works, unaware of the 51 year old school-boy crush, he serves me with my twelve sacks of cement, and as I drive off the iPod shuffles again and this time, Paloma sings Agony. Oh how apt, I think.

I drop into the small fruit and veg store before the roundabout on the Atessa road. Every day there are cars parked outside, often double-parked like today. I go inside, curious why it’s such a popular store considering it’s within a few minutes of three supermarkets. It doesn’t take long to see why the store is popular, the service is excellent, the assistant smiles and chats as she helps people with their purchases and the prices are low. I pick up a cauliflower, it’s almost half the price of those in the supermarket on the roundabout, As i do this the radio in the corner plays Stone Cold Sober, I smile as another Paloma Faith song enriches my day. I leave with a bag of vegetables complete with some freebies thrown in by the smiling assistant and climb into my car and drive home.

Back home I’m sitting in the sunshine as I free broad beans from their pods, the pizza eating cat turns up calling for food and the iPod does it’s job sat in its dock on the kitchen windowsill. This time a Jamie Cullum song begins to play, I then move the track on while making a mental note to remove Mr Cullum’s album from my collection, as his voice is monotony to the extreme. I’m happy again as another song by Paloma plays, This time it’s Do You Want the Truth or Something Better.

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Sorry, as I don’t own the copyright on any photos of the lovely Ms Faith, and a snap of a cauliflower would be just boring, here’s the rainbow over our valley this morning.

Evening update: It would appear my iPod really does favour Ms Faith today, as later as I pour a glass of wine on a warm Italian evening she shuffles to the fore again, this time with My Legs are Weak. I raise a glass to Paloma and say, “A couple more of these and mine will be the same.”

Women with Wheelbarrows

Sunday morning arrived last week with a welcome burst of sunshine and I headed off down the road to the communal fountain at Perano to get my five cents of ice cold, acqua frizzante. As I drive ELO come onto the iPod with It’s Over, I turn up the volume and the multi-layered, rock music spills out of my open window into the Abruzzi countryside. I’m just coming around a bend in Altino when I’m met by the sight of five women walking along the road pushing wheelbarrows. They’re obviously off to work in the fields, but where are the men? Another bend is navigated and I have my answer, I pass a bar where all the men are chatting and drinking coffee: No self-respecting contadino would contemplate a days toil without a helping of gossip and coffee.

Our builder has Sundays off so the house is quiet, I take opportunity to make some melanzane parmiaganni and a batch of pasta sauce for storing in the freezer. After lunch we decide to take a stroll along the beach front at Fossacesia, just twenty minutes in the car and we’re enjoying the breeze coming off the Adriatic. The beach has a few people lying upon towels soaking up the sun, but no one is in the sea. The Italians have a fear of dying from all manner of influenzas and fevers that will come from swimming in the sea before June. I’m now wishing I’d packed some shorts as I’d like a dip, even if only to see the women gasp in horror and tell me that I’ll be dead before the next phase of the moon.

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We continue strolling when we notice two buffed Italian men posing as they walk along the beachfront. Obviously enjoying the attention they are getting whether in admiration or the sniggering, they slow to a snails-pace. It’s an odd sight, as the Italians are still wearing jumpers and top coats, shorts and t-shirts aren’t given an airing until April has passed. We let the parading gym-bunnies continue on their way and drop into Lu Trabocche 3, for a cold Peroni. There’s a steady stream of people coming to eat, so we make a note and say we’ll give the menu a try one day soon.

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There must be an important football match on, (isn’t there always in Italia) as many men have small radios pressed to their ears. We see a family enjoying some al fresco dining, children are doing what children do best, making noise and women are chatting loudly and occasionally scolding an errant youngster. On the periphery of the group sits an old man with his radio, it’s stopped working and I watch as he takes out the batteries and replaces them again, but to no avail, he’s missing the football commentary, so resorts to hitting the radio, beating it into submission until the sound flickers on and he’s happy. It’s nice to see that despite all of our different creeds and cultures, wherever a man is in the world he’ll always revert to that universal method of repair; if in doubt, bash it.

On the way home, with the windows open Siouxsie and the Banshee’s play Cascade, from the live album, Nocturne and I’m singing along as we sail down the lane that runs parallel with the strada statale, as we cross a small roundabout, the music changes and the Bee Gees pop up with, You Should Be Dancing. Again I sing along, this time doing my best Gibb brother falsetto impression, much to the amusement of the men sat outside a restaurant drinking beer. I wave, they cheer and I continue on my merry way wondering if the women with the wheelbarrows are on their way home too.