Monthly Archives: January 2014

MUSIC – January 6th – VAMPIRE WEEKEND @ Festival Hall, Melbourne

I was looking forward to seeing Vampire Weekend. I can’t believe it’s nigh on 6 years since I heard The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance totally by accident on a Community Radio Station. The very simple poppy-reggae lick, coupled with the Paul Simon-esque vocals got me scrambling to find more. I am not understating the fact that the debut album was a work of art. Even with my ska and punk leanings, it appealed to me, and to its ultimate credit, it still does!

I hadn’t been to a “screamy/squealy” gig for quite some time. I must send out a big thank you to the larger than life “tweener”, who clearly doesn’t get out that much as she seemed to scream directly into my left lughole (the one that does not suffer from punk-rock deafness!) at any opportunity she had. Unfortunately the gig was a sell out, so the vantage point I occupied was the best I was going to get so I couldn’t really move to anywhere more suitable!

IMAG2524_BURST003

This was also perhaps the most diverse crowd I have ever been a part of. The floor was amass with aforementioned tweens, complete with chaperoning dads that obviously had nothing better to do on a Monday night, except score brownie points with mum – and probably coolness factor points with said daughter and her friends! However saying that, there were a large number of 20 to 30 something couples on date night (and quite a few of the older set too), boys and girls nights out as well as the interested gig goer. Vampire Weekend’s appeal engenders the complete cross-section of society – and their popularity and success goes totally against the hype of hip-hop and glorified karaoke singers.

Festival Hall is a dinosaur of a venue. It is a traditional boxing hall with high ceilings, elevated seats to the side and rear of the room and that’s about it. It’s run down, looks ugly from the outside and generally lacks any modern amenities you would generally expect in a venue nowadays! But what do you really need to go and watch a band? As long as the sound is up to scratch and the toilets aren’t flooding, everyone’s a winner…. I can safely say that since I’ve been going to Festival Hall the sound quality has improved markedly, and it is now up there with any other venue in Australia.

The front man was doing his best impersonation of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I’m not entirely sure why you would want to wear a flight suit in the middle of an Australian summer, but I suppose he had his own reasons!

vampire w 1

Their stage craft is very understated. The most animated out of the four piece is the keyboardist! But that doesn’t get in the way of a decent show – it was a quality night. The blend of inoffensive melodic reggae infused pop and the odd injection of punk and  coupled with banging drum solos and rhythms keeps you bopping along. Vampire Weekend are far from sell-outs or hanging out for commercial success. I’m pretty sure they just play what they want to play, enjoy it to the fullest and hope that they strike a chord with their adoring, but quite squealy fans. However, there is no getting away from the fact that their music is catchy and you do end up singing along like some 10 year old primary schoolgirl does to Justin Bieber!!! Indispurced through the boppy foot-tapping, and waving hands in the air,  there were quite a few sing-a-long moments during the show especially the final tracks of the night.

Their latest single Hannah Hunt, One and Walcott finished the night off in grand style. Very little from the back catalogue was left out, and everyone left in that euphoric state, akin to the one you get when you’ve just stuffed yourself with that unsurpassed jalfrezi – you want more but you physically can’t fit any more in.

They exude a punk energy without that explosiveness you might expect from it. They do suck you in, even without the engagement you feel you may be entitled to. The true barometer of a good night though is that time old question – would you go and see them again – too bloody right you would. And, you never know your luck; it might even be date night!

Advertisements

SPEEDWAY – January 8th – Australian Championships, Undera.

speedway prog

In a town with only a couple of hundred people, in the middle of an agricultural area, amazingly Undera has a speedway track. Although, it is true that as Australian “country kids” grow up, they ride motorbikes. So, it is not entirely surprising that those urban metropolises (metropoli ?) such as Merbein, Appin and Pelaw Main produce world class speedway riders. All of these kids are desperate to follow in the footsteps of world renown Australians (but hardly known in their homeland) Billy Sanders, Jason Crump, Leigh Adams and of course one of my boyhood heroes, Newport legend Phil Crump (Jason’s dad!).

It seems that as a minority sport, speedway in Australia is proving quite popular with the younger “X-games” generation, as it is quite cheap to get into and is one of the only motorsports where you can get paid as soon as you hit the senior ranks. In near enough every other class, both 2 and 4 wheels, unless you are some sort of child protege, it could well be years before you generate any revenue whatsoever. Speedway has an advantage in that it is the only motorsport where there are teams that race against each other in fixtures (or league racing). These are primarily in Poland, Sweden, the UK and other parts of Europe, but it does give Australian kids a defined pathway into the professional ranks, if they so desire. All of the 16 riders riding tonight will be off to the UK in the next couple of months to get ready for the European season.

Aside from teams racing, there are individual honours up for grabs. Appin’s own Chris Holder was WORLD CHAMPION in 2012! Unfortunately his 2013 world champion season was ended abruptly when this happened;

Holder ended up with a broken shoulder, a fractured and dislocated hip, a broken pelvis and a shattered heel! Speedway is a cruel sport. With even the slightest of mechanical issues, or a bump or divot in the track surface, a rider’s season (sometimes his career, and sometimes their lives) could be over in an instant. What is more important is that when these guys get injured, their ability to earn goes out of the window. Holder could have earned anywhere up to a $ 1 million in his championship season, but spent most of it in and out of hospital! However, these guys are perhaps the toughest sportsmen on the planet. Holder was back on the bike just 4 months later, ready to win back his Australian title!

The Australian Championship is a 3 round affair with meetings in Kurri Kurri (NSW), Undera (Victoria) and Gillman in Adelaide (SA). It is over in the space of a week, and the riders will cover over 1600 kms, by road, just to compete (plus however many kms just to get home after – for someone like Josh Grajczonek who comes from Nome in Queensland, that is another 2,620 kms!!!!!

IMAG2529_BURST002_COVER

Speedway bikes can reach speeds of up to 150kph. They have NO BRAKES and the riders wear very little protective gear. They have immense trust in the other riders around them to be safe and not do anything stupid. There is generally more overtaking in one speedway meeting than there is in an entire season of Formula 1. The thrills and spills are second to none. The fact that you can get so close to the track and see the action right in front of your nose makes it a totally different experience. The smell of the sport is absolutely unique too – some people say it is addictive and that’s why they keep coming back!

And that’s just two reasons why I love speedway!

The Undera track was packed with close to 3,000 people who came for their annual dose of speedway. They brought their own fold-up chairs and picnic hampers and set themselves up for their evening’s entertainment. Except, they would have to wait for it. At Undera they have a prevailing issue with the setting sun which can blind the riders as they race into turn 3. I say it is a prevailing issue, but on this night there was quite a large amount of cloud cover so it shouldn’t have been a problem, right? You do have to remember that you are in the country and they do things at their own pace. Even though there was no impediment from the sun, we still had to wait over an hour past the scheduled start time for some racing!!! The first couple of rounds were fairly processional.

The major surprises were when Holder fell in his first round and then was beaten in his second ride by local youngster (450kms away!) Justin Sedgemen and Troy Batchelor. In his third ride, Holder was narrowly beaten by the man with one of the best names in sport Dakota North – Fanny Chmelar, Randy Bullock, Bernt Haas being the other ones in contention! Holder recovered to win his last two rides and scrape his way into the semi-final. He turned the tables on North in the semi to snag the last place in the main final.

IMAG2528

The racing got better as the meeting went on, but the incessant track grading cause it to drag on unnecessarily. There was over an hour wasted, watching the tractor rumble round. This was the only downside of a pretty decent event. There is just too much time being spent with nothing going on. Sports trends are for the “express experience”. A fast game is a good game is the saying. Speedway is no different. The quicker that a meeting can be run, the better it is for everyone. It’s just as well it was a pleasant night, as sitting around in searing heat would have been unbearable.

The final line up was Troy Batchelor (Swindon), Jason Doyle (Leicester Lions), Justin Sedgemen (Edinburgh Monarchs) and of course Holder (Poole – now released). Batchelor has been among the best 30 riders in the world over the past few years, and it was no surprise that when Holder out gated the other 3, that Batchelor tried to chase him down, all guns blazing. Heading into the first bend of the 3rd lap, Batchelor hit a hole that had been developing which shot him forward, crashing into Holder, causing a huge smash involving 3 bikes.

There’s no air fences in deepest rural Victoria, and Holder was catapulted into the wooden perimeter fence. He was down, shaken and received treatment for a good 15 minutes, before coming to his senses. He duly got up, limped back to the pits, acknowledged the applause from the crowd, got on his spare bike and got ready for the re-run of the final – which he duly won! Speedway riders are a unique breed of human being – it takes something special to get smashed up and then just get back on the bike and do it all over again. I’m not sure anyone will ever know quite what goes on under the helmet!

I don’t have any footage of the crash or the final itself, but I did get one of the heats to give some idea of the track and its setting!

ROUND 2 – AUSTRALIAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

WINNER: Chris Holder (NSW)

speedway prog2

CRICKET – January 3rd-5th – Australia v England (& Wales) @ SCG, Sydney

I was going to try to make this review somewhat funny and witty. And more often than not you have to see the funny side of sport. But every now and again there are times when the lighter side of events don’t do enough to relieve the pain and suffering you endure when following your team. Football and rugby only last 80-90 minutes and you can move on pretty quickly. Test match cricket is 5 days (or 3 in England’s case) and during that time, the disbelief and anger that builds can be enormous.

I’m not sure whether to laugh, cry or simply disassociate myself from the disaster that was the 2013/14 Ashes series. Luckily, being Welsh I could take the easy way out and avoid the public humiliation I expect to face for the foreseeable future living in Australia – I won’t, I will cop what’s coming. I have been since Day 2 of the series! I’m still clinging to the fact that it’s still November 21st, and I’m asleep and this whole thing has been the biggest nightmare I’ve ever experienced and we are just hours away from the first ball of the series in Brisbane. The fact that it was 7 years to the day that Australia also whitewashed England in Sydney, bore an ignominious resemblance to the events of that 06/07 tour, that incredibly lead England to win the next 3 series. I’m not so sure that feat will repeat itself. In fact, looking at the dross that this team have served up on this tour, unless the plane crashes on the way home or the selectors clean the slate lock, stock and barrel (the former being more likely!) there is no way that this team can possibly turn the tables in 17 months time.

Even at 4-0 down, the Barmy Army turned out in force for the Sydney Test. When I booked to go to this match (as well as Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne), it seemed like a good idea at the time….. before a ball had even been bowled. After Adelaide I wasn’t so sure; after Perth then Melbourne, I feared the worst!Putting the cricket aside, I had a bloody good time – I always do. It was just those bloody daylight hours in between drinking sessions that generally put a downer on things. The Australian hospitality industry always gets a major boost when teams from the UK are in town, although when you are paying around £6-7 a pint, it does make you think twice – and then you end up buying more drinks anyway! So, come Friday morning we all piled in to the SCG hoping to avoid the inevitable. I donned my traditional Day 1 attire of the (vaguely notorious satirical rap conglomerate) Goldie Lookin Chain edition Newport County shirt and initiated a worldwide game of “Where’s Beefy?”

IMG_3550“I saw some big bloke wearing an Amber shirt!” said my dad completely oblivious…….

It wasn’t long after we sang the traditional Barmy Anthem of Jerusalem at the start of play that the text messages came rolling in from across Australia and the UK. Frankly it amazed me that people back home were staying up late to put themselves through the ongoing torture, but I guess there isn’t much else to do on those wintry Thursday nights.

Anyhow, Cook finally won his first toss of the series but bowled anyway, more than likely trying to avoid a 3 day drubbing! With the Aussies at 97/5 (again on the ropes) it seemed as though England had the upper hand. But we all knew….. Haddin & Smith lead the recovery putting on 128 for the 6th wicket. When the Aussies finally fell with near enough half hour still to play on Day 1, it meant that England would have to face up and make a stand. After seeing England’s batting capitulate in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne (I didn’t go to Perth!) I didn’t think it could get any worse. Losing a cheap wicket before the end of play was unfortunate but all the same poor, but no words can describe the lack of fight or application shown by the top order next morning. The scorecard looked more like a phone number than the number 3 team in the world!

IMAG2500If you added +44 I wonder who you might get…. The Samaritans?

What encapsulated England’s farcical display perfectly for me, was that in ONE ball, Chris Rogers became equal highest scorer in the top 5 English batsmen – who had batted for a combined 2 hours to achieve it. A dab down to 3rd man (where Rogers scores the majority of his runs, which seems to have gone unnoticed by England’s management) resulted in a long chase, where upon the ball being returned to the stumps, whilst running their third run, England wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow hurled the ball at the bowler’s end whilst no-one was really paying attention, to gift the Aussies and Rogers a further 4 runs and a ultra-rare 7! Rogers, considering he is visually impaired, being both short sighted AND colour blind, is able to make the England attack look toothless sums it up really!

The cheers from the crowd when Ben Stokes made double figures was akin to those celebrating his ton in Perth! The Aussie crowds witty banter consisted of incessant chants of 4-0, 4-0, 4-0  and ……… no – that was it! It only changed to 5-0 when they needed 2 wickets to win – far too late! Gary Ballance fielded on the boundary for long periods and was subjected to “friendly” abuse for hours on end. All he could do was smile, because as we all know, the scoreboard doesn’t lie.

I don’t like to pick on individuals, but after witnessing the regular avalanche of wickets over the past 2 months I feel I am entitled to! Carberry flicked at one down leg side with a leg slip in place for exactly that – caught! Cook padded up without playing a shot – gone! Ian Bell after being dropped at first slip for a golden duck (that after a poor first ball dismissal in Melbourne too), scratched around for nearly an hour, for quite possibly the worst 2 I have seen at test level. I would describe it as Monty Panesar like, but that would be an insult to Monty, it was that inept. England did well to get to 166 after being 23/5.

Even in the second innings, the Aussies were 91/4, but survived in tact from there until the end of the day. Day 3 was Pink Day in honour of the McGrath Foundation. I hated him as a player, but there is no doubt that the work his foundation does for the treatment of breast cancer is superb. But, you do see some strange sights along the way!

pink day

Next morning a desperate Cook turned to Kevin Pietersen to try and make the breakthrough. Pietersen hadn’t bowled in the whole of 2013 and now was called upon in front of debutant Scott Borthwick; the man selected for his spin bowling! How’s that for a confidence booster from the skipper? The last 6 wickets did fall for 76, but not before Rogers notched his 2nd ton of the series. Borthwick in the end picked up 3 expensive wickets and with that achieved England’s best bowling average for the tour! Is it any consolation or indication that he collected 3 more wickets than Shane Warne did on his debut at this ground 22 years ago? I wish!

So, England needed 466 to win with 2 full days and a session to do so. Cook again went early as did Bell and Pietersen. Michael Carberry started off quite well when even the Australian bat makers seemed to be ambushing the English team:

At 87/3 at tea, there was a glimmer of hope. 11 balls later, England were 95/7. ELEVEN BALLS LATER!!!! Not even going to make a comment – the proverbial house of cards in a windy room springs to mind. Stokes and Broad had a good old fashioned midweek league slog, belting six 6s between them, but the whole debacle was over soon after. England had lasted a meagre 31.4 overs.

Brad Haddin again showed his flawed character when appealing for a catch off Nathan Lyon which cleared the bat by a wide margin. Snicko proved that the only sound was the ball hitting Haddin’s gloves. After the Melbourne incident when Haddin downright tried to cheat the wicket of Kevin Pietersen claiming he trod on his stumps when he clearly didn’t. Haddin is clearly a delusional type that consequently forgets that there are cameras and microphones around to catch wretched delinquincies like he constantly shows. It is amazing to think that Stuart Broad has been castigated by the Australian public, but Haddin remains a golden boy because he has bailed the team out on a regular basis.

The Australians have been aggressive in every aspect of play. England have been timid. Clarke has no doubt been a lucky captain, but you create your own luck. Cook has been reactionary, lacked any killer instinct by being tactically inept at best. In 5 tests Cook has only used the 6th bowler for 9 overs (4 of which were Pietersen’s in the second innings in Sydney). A total lack of variety on Cook’s part and an insight into his defensive nature. The Australians finally dispensed with their rotation system in favour of stability, playing the same team for the entire series – look at the results of that. England turned a club cricketer into a world beater in the shape of Nathan Lyon, but the Australian public must thank Mitchell Starc for his injury. Without that, the man of the series, Mitchell Johnson would not have even been in the squad. Johnson was in the last chance saloon before the series and is now the landlord!

There are no ifs and buts here. At the end of the day, or the series in this case, England didn’t just lose 5-0. They were trounced and showed about as much fight as a ticklish puppy. They hardly won a session, let alone be in any sort of winning position for a match. The most disappointing fact is the ease to which they have rolled over. They lost all 100 wickets in a series for the first time. They scored less than 179 runs on SIX occasions. On FIVE occasions England’s top 5 batsmen have been dismissed for a combined 20 runs or less. If the series was a dog, it would have been put out of it’s misery well before a last whimper in Sydney!

The only positive from this England display is that the Australian Cricket board has just lost well over $ 25 million in revenue from the lack of play on Days 4 & 5!!

FIFTH TEST MATCH

AUSTRALIA 326 & 276 def ENGLAND 166 & 155 by 281 runs

Australia win the series 5-0 (England lucky to get nil)

aussie win

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

FOOTBALL – Dec 28th – A-League – Melbourne Victory v Western Sydney Wanderers

I grew up with Boxing Day football. It’s a tradition that is a little different in Australia though. It used to be 3 or 4 degrees, with snow lashed pitches and cups of Bovril or Oxtail soup just to keep warm. The A-League has games in bright sunshine on picture perfect pitches and the fans are able to guzzle litres of beer (and now even cider and wine) whilst watching the game – a concept that is now so far gone at home, its like seeing someone smoking indoors!!!! So, what better way to celebrate the festive season than a top of the table clash? It was 2nd vs 3rd and the teams are their respective flag bearers for football in the two biggest cities in Australia.

The Wanderers have become a “heavyweight” in only their second season in the A-League, in the KPI’s that really matter – results and supporter numbers – both are good which usually means that the club is turning a profit. The impact the club has made since their inception has breathed life into a competition that nobody could have ever dreamed of.

So the scene was set. What seemed like a decent sized crowd outside the ground transpired into a seemingly average one inside! The authorities were expecting a sell out, and all tickets were probably accounted for, but due to a breakdown in relations between one of the largers supporters’ group collective and the Melbourne Victory’s management, an amazing 5,000+ season ticket holders (club members, if you speak Australian) did not attend. Unfortunately this robbed the game of the home vocal support needed to out-sing and out-chant the traveling hordes of Wanderers supporters. But when you start thinking about it, ultimately, what does this behaviour do? Yes, it makes a statement, but the stupid thing is that the club already has your money!!! The club will always play games, and more often than not, they will always win in disputes like this. And they stupidest thing is that they already have their money anyway!!! Supporters end up coming back, if they really love their football.

mvfc v wsw stadiumThe normally full “North Terrace” without the core home support

For so long, the Melbourne Victory has been the benchmark in putting bums on seats. The Wanderers have now eclipsed this. The away section was jam-packed and I have to be honest and say that they were the most enthusiastic and most full-on support I have ever been a part of – I’ve been part of crowds that are sporadically intense throughout games, but not for the full 90 minutes. They sang non stop from before the game to well after the final whistle, with only a break for half time, just to catch their breath and regroup for another 45 minute onslaught! Only at the end did they end up repeating their chants. It was truly a phenomenal effort and you have to say that if all of the A-League was like this, you wouldn’t be able to get a ticket for love nor money. The atmosphere was electric and infectious. It became a bit too infectious when the flares and firecrackers went off though. This is perhaps one aspect of European and South American football culture we can do without!!! It only takes one idiot to do something catastrophic – why put ourselves in that position?

The Victory “South End” (the ones that actually did show up) did their best, but struggled to make a dent in the noise generated by the RBB (Red & Black Bloc). The A-League is a far from perfect beast for away support. The sheer distance and expense it takes to travel make it difficult to generate decent atmospheres. So to turn up in numbers and participate en masse is true support.

On the field, the Wanderers were missing 3 or 4 regular starters as well as their Japanese superstar Shinji Ono – whilst the Victory kept faith with their strikerless formation – yes, you read that right; 4-4-2 without a striker!!!! 2 wingers; no striker…… I’m just going to repeat that in case you missed it. Flat back four; “Beefy’s Box Midfield©”; and 2 wingers. It’s not even close to a 4-2-4 either – and they play this every week. However confusing it may be for all and sundry, they actually dominated the early proceedings and should have been one up early on, when this happened:

Put beautifully by the mate I was with, “All he had to do was anything but what he actually did!” The passage of play beforehand and the final ball after belied the standard of the A-League, although the attempted finish more than made up for it! For all the Del Pierro’s, Heskeys, Gallas’s, Kewells and Onos, there are the Leigh Broxhams, Tarek Elrichs and Isaka Cernaks at the deepest depths of the bell curve – those guys that continually amaze you that they make the starting XI week in week out, even though they make the same basic mistakes time after time.

Melbourne Victory have recently appointed “football’s dirtiest player” as their manager. Kevin Muscat has been around football for a long time, and I’m not saying that he is few fries short of a happy meal, but halfway through the second half, Muscat replaces a centre back with a right back. Nothing much in that you say, but to compensate he moves his 5ft 8 defensive midfielder back to centre back, plays a young right back in defensive midfield and leaves the 6ft 4 right back at right back, only to substitute him off with a midfielder after conceding the opening goal (from a mistake in midfield!) just 15 minutes later. He then pushes the young right back into right back – does that make any sense? I’m all for trying things, but he drives me mad with his like for like changes and lack of any Plan B whatsoever!

The game itself was incredibly even. There was very little between the two sides. Both sides had their opportunities to take the lead, but lacked that killer instinct to do so.It was end to end stuff and only a world class save from Melbourne’s Coe kept it all-square. However with 20 minutes to go, a typical A-League midfield turnover saw the Wanderers capitalise and slot home with 20 minutes to go. to go 1 up. A few minutes later they really should have had a penalty when former Fulham player Adrian “Princess” Leijer made a flying tackle with his hands which was somehow overlooked by the referee! The Victory pressed forward but with little success.  I’ll let the video do the talking from here;

Never has a 1-1 draw felt so like a win. You really can’t accurately describe the feeling when your team misses chance after chance only to concede a sloppy goal and then literally with the last kick of the game, rifle a free kick into the top corner from 25 yards, sending the home crowd into rapture and silencing the hordes of away fans to scrape a draw at home! I guess that meant everyone went home not unhappy! It takes quite a bit of time to sink in that you realise you only managed to get a point at home!

This game was shown live in the UK and I dare say it provided some level of entertainment on a Saturday morning – and it was one of the better games to watch. However, even I would struggle to make a point of setting my alarm to watch it! It’s always better when you’re there anyway….. isn’t it? Well, not if you were one of the 5,000 that didn’t bother……..

HYUNDAI A-LEAGUE

MELBOURNE VICTORY 1 – 1 WESTERN SYDNEY WANDERERS

A-League Rd 12 - Melbourne v Western Sydney

%d bloggers like this: