REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at the Sheffield Leadmill

You could forgive Courtney Barnett if you found her taking sanctuary in her dressing room as the clock ticked down to show-time. A lot has been written about this beguiling 25 year-old since the release of her two debut EPs, paired together in ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’. Last week her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit’ piqued interest and gained rave reviews, no pressure then.

Yet instead of cowering under the weight of new-found expectancy she could be found just two deep from the front excitedly snapping away at opening support act and fellow endearing Aussie, Fraser A Gorman. This being Sheffield she was left unattended, probably best for someone who will later breezily describe how an afternoon’s gardening led to a panic attack.

The Leadmill was close to sold out, barely a surprise when you consider how much Sheffield has sound-tracked the banality of life with dry, witty, quick-fire lyrics. Consider Jarvis and Turner then you can easily slot in Barnett for deadpan delivery complete with her ever-so-cool-but-don’t-call-it-cool Melbournian drawl.

The current face and sound of slackerdom opened her set with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’. An unassuming, millennial anthem of meh which centres around the line ‘I wanna go out but I wanna stay home’. Thankfully, most in the room were glad they ventured out despite weather that daylight savings won’t fix.

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

There is an endearing charm to Courtney Barnett that is hard to pin down. Her patterned t-shirt, exuberant guitar licks and the way she gently disarms any loose heckling. Maybe it is the fact she quietly started her own record label, Milk Records, to take care of her and her musical chums. Maybe it is the playful sketches and homemade aesthetic that adorn her album artwork and merchandise. Maybe it is just her carefully selected points of view. Like many Australians I have met she shares her suburban status with a more far-reaching outlook. From my time in Melbourne I could picture the Swanston Street commuter captured so eloquently in ‘Elevator Operator’ catching the 96 tram. Mainly as this was my favourite route, taking in hipster Brunswick and ending at St Kilda Beach. I knew the troubles of house hunting away from all the coffee shops, even if I failed to venture as far as deceased estates in (De)Preston.

That she could then solemnly expand on the perils of big business, complete with knackered truckers and ‘taxidermied kangeroos’ on the Hume Highway was impressive enough during ‘Dead Fox’. However, in an age of distraction it was ‘Kim’s Caravan’ that showed Barnett’s real precocity and left the room floored. A tale of a dying seal and the Great Barrier Reef being dredged beyond belief set to an agonisingly heart-breaking delivery and a resounding finale. Not many slackers can show so much soul-baring concern for the environment.

That’s not to say she does not know how to have fun. While her debut album showcases a labour of love, song craftsmanship and anxiety, tonight she looked to let loose. You sense that the spotlight still offers a glimpse into her inner awkward and being Australian means she can brazenly dismiss it, jokingly renaming ‘Debbie Downer’ to ‘Debbie’s Fucking AWESOME’. At other times she seemed far more comfortable tapping a guitar pedal, turning her six-string into a weapon of mass distortion and shaking her mass of thick, brown hair, as during ‘History Eraser’. Close your eyes during ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and you could imagine the screeching guitar and snarling delivery as a female fronted Nirvana circa In Utero.

For the encore she delved into the silly love song set in a swimming pool that is ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and a whimsical cover of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. For someone who can belt out the line, ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, she may have found an audience happy to disagree.

As this blog post is all about my opinion, and partly about my time in Australia, I am submitting it in the All About You Party. Get involved!

Mama and More


“Got, got, NEED” – The View From A World Cup Stickers Swap

Daisy desperately needs Frank Lampard. If she leaves without him her father could take her for ice-cream at Disneyland and still not cheer her up. Gary only needs another five to complete his set while Scouse Dave is only here for ‘shiney’s and team photos. And I thought I had a problem.

It is midday on a Saturday afternoon and I am in The Common Room in Sheffield. In 12 hours time this venue will be rammed full of England fans struggling to see the match. Right now it’s full of football fans struggling to fill gaps in an album.

Tables have been set out and I take my time to figure out the room. This isn’t entirely out of shyness, rather I’m not too sure how this works. I take a few minutes to sort my swaps into order, then a few more listing my ‘needs’, then a few more simply buying myself some time. The mood feels familiar and I soon realise that this isn’t the first time I’ve been in a room full of nervous strangers that are forced to talk to each other. While this isn’t exactly as terrifying as speed dating there is a similar sense of in-trepidation.

To be frank, we are all here for the same sad reason – to swap stickers. While the parents may try to convince you that they’re here to complete their son or daughter’s album they aren’t kidding me. Mainly the room is filled with young men just like me of the ‘got, got NEED’ generation, only we’ve grown out of the playground and graduated into the sports bar. However, there is one more group which consists of the forty-somethings who started out with the football cards in the late 70’s, some men just never grow out of this obsession.

Gradually I look around, lock eyes with another lad and sheepishly ask if anyone wants to see my pile, which feels far less silly when said out in public. Soon enough I realise that my swap pile has been managed far better than most. For one, you can actually hold it in one hand and flick through while there is one girl who has clearly gotten far too excited, amassed far too many and is now stuck with a pile that has to be split twice. Some even go to the extent of sorting MY pile into order again to make the flicking through a little easier.

Inside an hour I’ve managed to swap around thirty stickers, a good day’s work. Part of the pleasure is found in helping someone else complete their album yet I’m more pleased to reduce my own pile of swaps. By the end my pile has halved and it’s pretty pointless trying to shift anymore.

With only 40 odd stickers left to go it’s become a numbers game, I’m not even looking at players’ faces anymore. Each sticker is simply another gap. While I’m pleased to fill a few more there are a few disappointed faces comes 1pm. Gary still needs five to complete his set, I still can’t get rid of Roman Shirokov (611 and judging by everyone else’s piles I’m not the only one) and Daily still hasn’t got Frank Lampard.

If you fancy doing a swap, here are my lists.

Doubles – 2, 11, 19, 37, 41, 57, 65, 79, 80, 84, 93, 97, 139, 216, 226, 232, 233, 236, 239, 240, 245, 321, 322, 326, 376, 377, 383, 384, 391, 517, 532×2, 537×3, 540, 542, 544, 611

Needs – 21, 32, 68, 109, 138, 142, 149, 152, 159, 164, 260, 276, 287, 288, 301, 303, 338, 369, 402, 446, 459, 465, 469, 470, 471, 474, 476, 495, 505, 546, 569, 573, 580, 583, 591, 617, 621, 628


Record Store Day 2014 : You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Good things come to those who wait. Great things came to those who waited from dawn outside a record shop for over three hours this morning.

It’s 5am and my alarm has just gone off. That’s an early start for anyone on a weekday, let alone a Saturday morning. Luckily for me I am staying at a friends in Crookes so my destination is only down the hill. 50 minutes later I am outside Sheffield’s prime vinyl emporium, Record Collector.

As I get closer to the shop I start hoping that the cold air has put off a few hardy souls, alas, I take my position on the corner of Fulwood Road and Crookes Road. This is ridiculous, it’s not 7am and already I’m panicking that I won’t be able to get half of what is on my wish list. I am not the only one, there are a few sneers at those at the very front. Part of me admires someone who can kip out in the cold overnight, part of me sneers that their hauls will soon be on Ebay and another part of me finds it a little sad.

Put frankly, they do not look like your average vinyl-buyers. That may sound judgemental but you can tell by the way someone wears a jacket and a pair of trainers that they have taste. Their clothes and haircuts betray a style, an indulgence that befits anyone with a record collection. They are willing to put in the effort and have a sterling record collection at home to prove it. You simply do not get to see much of that these days as MP3s and CDs are all too easy to come by and easy to play.

Further down the line there are fathers and sons, gig-goers, boyfriends and girlfriends. That’s more like it. These are people that actually LOOK like they enjoy watching bands and finding new music. They are also smart enough to kip in their own bed and head down early, people who have social lives and aren’t bothered about making a few quid selling on records. They value vinyl as keepsies, not commodities.

By 7.30am the queue snakes down Glossop Road which means there will be a fair few disappointed faces come 9am. That’s contrary to the incredulous looks from road sweepers and lorry drivers who wonder quite why there are so many people standing outside a shop at this time, in these cold conditions.


The queue snaking round the corner at 7.33am

The queue snaking round the corner at 7.33am

A few minutes later the lovely folk who work in the shop come out. This must be a second Christmas to them as each customer who enters the shop will likely spend upwards of £20, usually around £50 with one ahead of me in the queue spending £338. To show their appreciation they chat to regular customers and hand out drinks to those who have bided their time.

While everyone has their list those behind the counter are wary of supply and demand. For instance, Record Collector only have three copies of the Paul Weller single which is high in demand. Many in the queue are praying there will be a copy left by the time they get in the shop but as soon as they find out there is only such a paltry supply their heads sink. You cannot blame the shop, with the label divvying out records they cannot refuse as the hope alone brings out customers who will likely spend the money on something else anyway. Still, just three copies seems such a paltry amount to even bother with.

At 7.55am the doors open and the queue shuffles forward then the panic begins. We all check our lists frantically and chat about how the event gets more and more cynical year on year. The increasing queues and prices gain focus yet we still come out don’t we. One new aspect that I have noticed is the use of social media, not simply for taking photos of the queue but Record Collector’s own Twitter account which is refreshed minute by minute to check what’s already sold out. Every update brings it’s own groan of disappointment; Weller goes soon enough and after a slew of releases that aren’t on my list sell out I get as far as the counter.

The Haul including Oasis - Supersonic, Tame Impala - Live Versions, Chvrches - We Sink, Joy Division - Ideal For Living EP, Metronomy - Love Letters (Soulwax Remix)

The Haul including Oasis – Supersonic, Tame Impala – Live Versions, Chvrches – We Sink, Joy Division – Ideal For Living EP, Metronomy – Love Letters (Soulwax Remix)

Now I begin to panic. My wish list only consists of seven records, one of which is for a friend and another is a possible birthday present. My heart begins to race as another copy of Tame Impala’s Live Versions leaps off the shelf into someone’s bag. There are some that I should not worry about; namely the reissue of Supersonic by Oasis, the Joy Division EP and the Kings of Leon single. However, as I get closer I realise that two on my list are in danger, with me agonisingly close to getting them. Should I have bothered going to the toilet before leaving the house, should I have eaten cereal, could I have walked a little faster? It doesn’t matter now as the final copies of Jake Bugg’s Live EP and the Jagwar Ma/Temples split covers single depart the shelves into the lad in front’s bag. My heart sinks but I cannot complain with my haul. There’s always Ebay anyway.

Fitness, Lifestyle

“I’m a lover, not a fighter”. Part 1 – The Boxing Class

“I’m a lover, not a fighter”

Now that is a mantra to live by but not one that is going to help when someone is aiming their fist directly at your jaw.Like everyone, occasionally I find myself in situations where I wish I knew how to diffuse a situation without panicked rage peeking inside. As a human being I find it hard to hide my emotions, if something is annoying me it does not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that I am pissed off. My face scrunches up, my eyes turn into slits and I emit a deep sigh which really does not help when confrontations occur. If a situation ever came to blows I wouldn’t know how to defend myself.

Since returning to Sheffield a few weeks ago I have sought new ways of staying fit. This is partly caused by leaving my gym shirt and shorts at home yet after a couple of months I was already bored of the gym circuit punctuated by a midweek Kettlercise class. However, I was feeling the results but wanted to do something different, something challenging. On the weekend of my return a good friend persuaded me to come along to a boxing class with a housemate of his and I had nothing else on.

First impressions are… disconcerting. The gym lies in a rundown part of town with a door you can easily walk by. After watching various boxing films (Rocky, that one with Robert De Niro) I was well aware that boxing gyms are not glamourous buildings. They do not tempt you in with £10 first month offers or bevies of tightly wrapped girls. There is no water cooler or soft, white towels to soak up your sweat. They are invariably built and maintained by men concerned with an arena to endure in, this one was no different.

The walls seem soaked in sweat, old posters and newspaper clippings are yellowed and peeling. There are shrines paying homage to the greats with elaborate pencil drawings and warnings of how to correctly throw a knock-out punch. This is also a place of discipline, of course there is banter yet there is a whole load of underlying respect. Pay your dues, be gracious, choose the right kit, work til your body can take no more and everything will be fine.

Five minutes before and laughs are aplenty. Apparently I am supposed to ‘duff up’ my good friend Miles as we work for rival banks. My garish red t-shirt is drawing unappreciative glances in what could easily pass for a work environment. Swearing is frowned upon and black is a favoured uniform with pastel colours just about excusable. Lord knows why I decided on this t-shirt, this is certainly not the place where you wish to draw attention to yourself.

For a few spare minutes I work on my technique, specifically on my feet and learn a quick tip of keeping my feet grounded when landing a punch for maximum power. I try various combinations, keeping my hands up, facing forward and keeping side on. These are the building blocks that everyone needs to know.

At 11:05am Andy announces we are to start and half an hour of pain begins. After a minute of punching a bag there are ten Jumping Jacks then two of any sets ranging from Mountain Climbs (holding your body up on your arms then pushing one leg up after the other), deep squats, full burpees, the plank followed by holding up one side of your body then the other, press ups (Andy’s personal favourite) and sit ups. There are also stomach exercises which always cause me considerable pain. One is balancing on your arse and holding your feet up six inches off the ground, at a 45 degree angle then 90 degrees. Another is holding your feet six inches off the ground then rotating to touch your gloves on one side then the other. Suddenly that extra hour in bed seems criminal, especially when I should have been eating a banana in preparation. My stomach aches and refuses to hold up, the mind is willing but the body is not.

There are ten rounds of this cruelty before Andy tells us it’s over… after 50 press ups. It isn’t all that brutal, we are allowed ten seconds to catch our breath between rounds and he appreciates that ten ‘really good’ press ups are better than 50 rubbish ones. By the end I’m dripping in sweat and gleefully taking any liquid refreshment on offer. Apparently I’ll soon feel the benefit yet right now a sofa seems like bliss.