Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ear Ere Records - the greatest record shop ever

Today is Record Store Day. Who remembers Ear Ere? You could listen on the headphones by the counter, get recommendations from the staff, especially Malcolm. And these plastic bags were such a status symbol around school. Remember nipping out at lunch from school to buy Going Underground by The Jam.Today is Record Store Day. It's brought back a flood of nostalgia for the greatest record store that ever existed.

Anyone who remembers 'Ear 'Ere In Lancaster knows what I mean. It was a cosier and friendlier version of the record shop in Nick Hornby's Hi-Fidelity. It was also where you could get tickets for gigs at all kinds of places around the North of England.

But from my early forays in there after school, to look meaningfully at prog album covers from the likes of Genesis and King Crimson, to the more serious record buyer I became it was the centre of my world.

I remember going in as a young teen one Saturday and looking through the racks. Some lad approached me and asked me what music I liked. He was probably just being friendly, but it seemed at the time to be the equivalent of the "got the time, mate?" question at a concert or football match. So I bolted and caught up with my Mum on Lancaster market. Back then there was a ferocious mob called the Marsh Mods who had lined up outside punk gigs and battered anyone in sight. Then there was the Morecambe Punks who would use belts and chains to mash anyone who crossed them. We developed myths and scare stories about the violence these gangs would inflict on you. Most of it wildly exaggerated, but it hung over you and was a caution not to stray too far from safety.

But in reality Ear Ere was safe neutral ground. As I became more confident (cocky?) I became a regular in there. You could listen on the headphones by the counter, get recommendations from the staff, especially one character who worked there called Malcolm. The manager was Roger, or to most of us "beardie". A nostalgic Facebook post earlier has elicited the comment from an old mate that these guys had as big a stamp on his musical DNA as John Peel.

You could put your name down to pre-order records and it was the first time I'd use a nickname rather than my surname with adults. I remember a few of us sneaking out at lunch break from school to buy Going Underground by The Jam in 1980. Swaggering back in with possession of the fastest selling single of that era.

I used to be in awe of people who would ask for rare records that they didn't have in stock, but would get the staff working hard looking through books and old stock lists and seeing if they could try and order it for you. They'd also sell fanzines,  a few t-shirts and badges, some they'd even give away, but mostly it was shifting units in the golden age of pop music.

And these plastic bags were such a status symbol around school.You'd cart your school books to lessons in an 'Ear 'Ere bag, the height of cool, but woefully impractical for such a purpose.

I don't buy much music these days, but I fervently stick to the principle that the local record store is a totem of a civilised culturally advanced society. So when I want a new album by a band I still follow slightly slavishly - Elbow, Manics, etc - then Piccadilly Records in Oldham Street, Manchester get my custom. I also love their devotion to new music and always sample something new from their top 100 of the year. It's hit and miss, but those moments of serendipity are what makes life interesting. It's what has always made life interesting - so on this day of all days, I raise a glass to the greatest record shop ever - Ear Ere in Lancaster. May perpetual light shine upon your memory.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kevin Sampson's Extra Time

All football fans have their own culture, their own stock of stories and their own memories. These drip through Kevin Sampson's Extra Time - A Season in the Life of a Football Fan, which has been lurking in my reading pile and I've just finished. His club is Liverpool.

First up, it's entertaining, honest, funny and really well written. You'd expect that from Kevin Sampson and I'm on record of liking the cut of his jib.

We've been reminded this week how much Hillsborough is etched on the psyche of Liverpool's loyal core of fans.
But reading a book that details the experiences of a group of fans through 1997 and 1998, I was struck by how little Hillsborough seems to feature in their thoughts and pub discussions. It was written 9 years after the tragedy and merits only a few scant paragraphs during the trip to watch the Reds at Sheffield Wednesday, where home supporters are wearing novelty hats produced by The Sun newspaper. On that observation the anger bursts through. The sense of injustice grows, then Jack Straw says there are no further grounds for an enquiry. But then no more. It simmers, one imagines, rather than boils over. I guess grief does that.

That we're only gripping the importance of justice now, 16 years later, is staggering.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Manchester's next generation of leaders

Leaders Lunch
We had a Downtown Leaders Lunch today. It’s part of a series of lunches where we ask leaders from the city to speak - that’s why there’s no apostrophe, my grammar pedant friends.
The speaker was billed as Sir Howard Bernstein, the chief executive of the city council, but he was unwell. He sent Sara Tomkins instead. Once I’d got over the disappointment and concern over Howard, I must admit I was really quite pleased. Not that Howard was ill - but that we can expose another civic leader to the very people who are drawn to the magnetism of Howard.
I wish I had a pound for every time I get told that Manchester would be lost without Sir Howard and Sir Richard Leese, the council leader. The theory goes that there is a talent vacuum beyond the two knights, and that their eventual retirement will expose a chasm. In a sense they are a remarkable double act, but I have hopefully seen enough to recognise that there’s something else going on.
It’s actually one of the mightiest forces of their leadership that they lead from the front. But also that they lead and inspire the small army of policy creators, delivery teams and political campaigners.
Sara is one of those. As the assistant chief executive for communications, customer and IT, her brief covers some crucial aspects of the council’s work. She spoke about the leadership of the local authority today - how a municipal culture of hard pragmatic politics (and Politics) encourages younger executives and officers to take risks and be innovative.
She also didn’t shy away from issuing a few challenges - property developers and planners need to think much, much more about the kind of digital infrastructure their buildings need. She also faced up to some tough questions over broadband vouchers, disruption caused by the Second City Crossing and traffic congestion.
I think everyone at the Grill on New York Street this lunchtime will have enjoyed what she had to say - they will have also left a little more confident that there are a generation of articulate younger leaders around with the right levels of intelligence and pragmatism to lead the city in the future.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Blue tape is strangling small business

This is an Audioboo of a blog I did on "blue tape" the rules, restrictions and bureaucracy that businesses put on other businesses.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Northern Rail franchise extended – why this may be good news, but probably won’t be


Happy commuters, pic stolen from Northern Rail's website
I am no fan of the shoddy service offered to commuters in the North of England by Northern Rail. The joint venture between Serco and Abellio has brought nothing to the experience or helped economic development in the region. But change is going to come – the clock is now ticking down towards the next franchise period, just as this one has been extended for a couple more years. Hopefully the terms of the next deal will look very different indeed – a longer period and the benefits of the Northern Hub investment.

The Rail North plan envisages a larger franchise integrated with the local transport authorities of Greater Manchester and  beyond – that should have the benefits of integrated ticketing, electrification, better rolling stock and more services – in short, a service fit for purpose. 

It is surprising how little political traction this has. It remains a bold move - an important devolutionary step. Longer term it could also lead to franchises being run by a consortium of local transport authorities. 

I do find it laughable that the Rail Minister Stephen Hammond has set Northern Rail short term targets for improved customer satisfaction. The first thing the management should do is measure peak time punctuality separately from the empty rattlers ambling along on time during the afternoon. Then they should massively rethink the brutal approach to ticket checking at most stations by their G4S bouncers – it is humiliating, unfriendly and intimidating.  But they will argue it catches fare dodgers effectively. I believe it is counter-productive.

I also worry when I read the managing director of Northern Rail, Alex Hynes, saying efficiency and service are his priorities and those dreaded words – “more with less”.

The Department for Transport must also insist there is no further running down of trains to the South as First TranspennineExpress have had to give trains to Chiltern. I have noticed more and more trains are made up of just two carriages in the evenings. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it has to stop.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Do you trust the press? and how far should they be tamed?





Sunday, March 23, 2014

The problem with the Co-op