Dave Windass

Um, sort of a review: Felix White’s It’s Always Summer Somewhere…

Ok, so this is weird. I don’t like cricket (there’s your earworm sorted for today, elderly 10cc fans). I don’t like autobiographies. I have very little knowledge of the music of The Maccabees, and I’m not sure I even knew who Felix White was until five days ago. Yet I heard Felix on the radio, on the only show on TalkSPORT that I can tolerate – the consistently amusing Hawksbee and Jacobs – on Friday of last week, talking about his autobiography It’s Always Summer Somewhere: A Matter of Life and Cricket which had been published a couple of days before, explaining what it was about, its themes, its style, talking about the death of his mother Lana when he was a teenager, and how dealing (or not) with that weaves around the extensive tales of cricket in the book and suddenly was overwhelmed with the urge that I must go out the following day and buy it. So I did. And a signed copy and £3 off to boot.

Weird. Until this purchase I had not one book that deals with any aspect of cricket on my bookshelves. It is not a sport that appeals. There might be a couple of reasons for this. My dad would take me to one day county cricket matches at The Circle, in Hull, where Yorkshire would visit way back when, and I was once publicly shunned by dour miserabilist, and eventual girlfriend beater Geoff Boycott when I popped in a request for an autograph. Fair enough, in retrospect, as he’d been bowled out of his usual grind a few moments earlier, and from what I gather he wasn’t that interested in ‘fans’ at the best of times, however much they may have looked up at him with little boy, 9-year-old, wide-eyed admiration. Wicket keeper David Bairstow did sign my autograph book a little later in the day and he seemed a nice gent.

The other off-putting incident was being hit by a corky after being popped in the outfield as the place I’d do least damage in a rare game at the fucking horrible senior school I attended. I was talking to some mates at the boundary, paying zero attention to the game and having turned my back on it because by then I’d decided cricket was a tedious waste of time, when I heard repeated shouts of my name from my somewhat more capable and attentive teammates, swung round to have a look at what the fuss was all about, and the ball hit me on the head above the eye.

Now, I often think about this, because cricket balls are not the kind of heavy-duty object that should hit you on the head without serious injury being inflicted. There is no way I should have walked away from this all-time low in my rather abysmal school sporting efforts with just an immediately apparent black eye and a gash above said eye. Actual cricket balls are lethal weapons – hence Felix’s oft repeated mention of his rational fear of a cricket ball – and I should at the very least have been knocked out temporarily or, had I not turned around amid the screams of my name to avoid the round red bastard hitting me on the back of the head, have been one of those kids killed on the field, remembered for a few weeks before someone got speared by a javelin.

I don’t even remember getting any medical attention. I still have a dent on my forehead above the eye and often think that the highly visible incompletely fused frontal bones of my skull – which under the wrong type of lighting make me look like a bad Alan Hansen lookalike – might be in someway related.

So those two events, coupled with watching my dad falling asleep on his armchair in front of televised extended three and five day Test matches during the 1970s, put me off cricket. I didn’t accept the trope that it was for the posh kids that went to the schools at the edge of the city; rather that it was an exercise in dragging a simple game out for way longer than was reasonable. Cricket was a lesson in boredom. And I was perfectly content in my own ability and never ending quest to bore myself rigid via other means. I gave the game another go when I was of an age when I could get a pint, but then hardly left the beer tent. Leaning on a temporary bar once, and about six pints in, me and a mate once knocked the entire thing over, landing on top of it, pissing off quite a few people. We were asked to leave the ground. That was as exciting as cricket got for me.

Reading the many cricketing adventures in Felix White’s 384 page effort have made me consider that I got the sport all wrong. He can write, that’s in no doubt. His long sentences (and I do like long, clausetastic sentences with plenty of commas) are always engaging and full of the lovely loopy stuff that was also the marker of his youthful efforts as a slow arm spinner. There are endless rewinds of Test matches, an insight into the personalities behind the names I know and have heard of but never given a shit about. Felix made me care about these people, makes their adventures – mostly resulting in losses – thrilling, and gets the adrenaline pumping. Having no idea what these matches were about, or their eventual outcome, and the active writing, makes these passages immediate and exciting. There are interviews with cricketers offering a greater insight into their psyche, most of which demonstrate that those that play cricket are a somewhat unhinged, broken and damaged bunch of people. International cricket seems to suck in and spit out talent at a rapid rate and cares little for the health and wellbeing of those that go through this sausage machine. Throughout, the author’s passion for his chosen sport shines through.

The book is a game of two innings. Part 2 charts the efforts of The Maccabees, rising from a love of Oasis and guitars once Felix realises he is not destined himself for cricketing greatness, although it appears a miracle that four albums were ever crafted, given that the author was often more keen to catch up on whatever cricket was taking place in whatever corner of the world to be fully present in studio sessions. That said, Felix also exerted extreme control over his band and its progress throughout their 14 years together, up until the point when Land decides he wants out.

This book is not really about cricket and not really about The Maccabees. It is about grieving and loss. It is about unresolved and unprocessed grief. It is about family. Felix loses himself in cricket as a coping strategy when Lana is diagnosed with MS and his obsession with the game and the people that play it increases when she dies. Music, and the band, serve the same function. His inability to process his mother’s death impact on his ability to form and maintain relationships. England’s losses and failings are his opportunity to shed some tears. As the team improve and start to behave like winners, he implores them to lose. He doesn’t want to lose his losers. He’s not ready for that. When the band faces the end, he doesn’t want to lose that either. The book charts Felix’s long journey towards a realisation that the game and his music career are proxies for emotional outpourings, and that he can no longer put off resolving and coming to terms with his actual grief for those he has lost.

No spoilers, but the book’s penultimate page, documenting David Bairstow’s son Jonny Bairstow’s on-field reaction to a stunning victory made me cry, in some part for Jonny, and that dad of his that seemed like a nice gent, but mostly for those that I have lost along the way.

Was I a cricket fan, I’d wonder what I’d make of all these emotional interruptions. If I were a fan of The Maccabees I’d wonder what I’d think of this guitarist’s behaviour, which appears from the outset destined to take the band to a premature conclusion. The fact that I’m neither probably benefits the reading experience. But for fans of either or both, this will be an incredible ride.

As a result of this read, I consider the cricket fans I know and wonder whether their love of the game is down to similar reasons to Felix. Thinking about sports fans I know, their lives intertwined with the sporting ups and downs of the clubs whose badges they wear, I realise that they, too, channel all of their emotions via odd shaped balls, round balls and seriously life-threatening red balls, and bats, sticks and rackets/racquets, and those men and women that kick, throw and hit balls. I wonder if I should ask them, these people that I love, if they are ok.

For the last decade, when giving friends a book that I feel might be important to them, I’ve handed over a copy of The Essential Rumi, a collection that can guide open-minded readers to an enlightened soul and deep thinking. I look forward to handing people copies of It’s Always Summer Somewhere in future. It feels like a very important book – not least given the unresolved grief that people have experienced during a global pandemic, where dealing with death has been postponed until circumstances are right. Circumstances are never right, as the book points out in Felix’s own entertaining, funny and moving way, and grieving takes as long as it takes, and takes place whenever it needs to.

What a beautiful book It’s Always Summer Somewhere is. If a book can do this to someone when it’s clearly in no way targeted at them, imagine the power it will have for those it is intended for.

It’s Always Summer Somewhere: A Matter of Life and Cricket, is published by Octopus Publishing Group.

Podcast school’s out for summer…

We’ve had a lot of fun (and more fun than we thought we’d have) recording our podcast – the hornily titled I’d Love To Turn You On – in the recent pandemically charged months and weeks, which has mainly involved doing what we (and we assume loads of other people) do anyway – playing music and trying to convince each other that our choices are the best. All we had to do was stick a mic in front of us and do what we normally do, only with less stuttering, umming and aahing and maybe some notes in front of us. I’ve noticed that I use the words ‘kind of’ a lot, as a kind of conjunction between random and ill-thought through critique. I think I’ve picked this verbal tic up from my co-host Sarah, who also says ‘sort of’ quite a bit, for the same reasons.

Having reached 20 episodes, plus a nice corny Valentine’s Day special – which equates to 168 tracks – and dropping off the regular posting of the podcasts due to life and other commitments, we’re taking the rest of summer off to recharge, get out and about, listen to some new stuff, and hopefully to take in some live music (future lockdowns allowing). So you’ll be spared the endless banging on about our pod in an effort to get you to listen to it, at least for a couple of months. During which time, I’ll be working hard at easing ‘kind of’ out of my go-to phrases. There’ll be a summer mix going up on mixcloud at some point before we come back with some more episodes from October, in what we’re already ambitiously and pretentiously referring to as our ‘second season’.

In the meantime, you can listen to the latest and last episode for now, here:

Playing tracks from UNKLEAldous HardingBattlesPalmSpace and more.

I’d Love To Turn You On #20

With tracks from Teenage Sequence, Battles, Lifetones, Palm and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #19

With tracks from Northside, Jean Philippe-Goude, Jimpster, The Herbaliser Feat. Wildflower and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #18

With tracks from Funkadelic, Clark, Thelonious Monk, Digital Underground, Self Esteem and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

A story that no one knows they are in…

Like all bookish, film, tv and box-set-loving, literary, narrative bores and writer-types, I am very interested in Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure the hero’s journey, or monomyth, as it sometimes goes (a word borrowed from James Joyce).

In the monomyth, just on the rare off chance that you had a hangover on that day it was covered in your media studies class, there are 17 (or 12 in a slightly simpler version) stages for our hero to go on. If we ever read or watch something that we can’t retro-fit these stages to, like the sophisticated narratologists and Soviet folklorist wannabes that we are, it often means that we have endured an unsatisfactory narrative.

Of course, one aspect of comparative mythology and morphology that is often pushed to one side in order to work out/grind into the dirt what constitutes a decent narrative is that, because as humans we are innate storytellers, we don’t really need to be mindful of all of these stages in order to tell a story, or ever to refer to them – that stuff just exists in our skillset. The hero’s journey is there, etched in the dusty recesses of our drink-addled brains.

Dan Harmon, the large, drunken, baggy-eyed, outrageously bearded creator of Community and co-creator of Rick & Morty, has done an exceptional job of simplifying Campbell’s approach. His 8-stage, Trivial Pursuit-lookin’ story circles, used in the writers’ rooms of the stuff he works on, are paired down, super basic versions of Campbell’s more wordy effort, ridding difficult to remember phrases such as meeting with the goddess, ultimate boon and atonement with the father and replacing them with the much more digestible You, Need, Go, Search, Find, Take, Return, Change.

When I wrote at a desk, back when I had better posture as a writer, I’d have a visual of Campbell’s 17-stage monomyth, alongside Harmon’s easier on the eye 8-stage version, hanging above me. Just in case. If you apply either to every character in your work, rather than just the main protagonist, as Harmon and his writers very successfully do, you can head into some complex labyrinths and miss loads of deadlines. But the end result is layers and layers of quality. Of course, I never looked up from the keyboard to look at either. In the same way I don’t pore over a copy of John Yorke’s Into The Woods while I’m writing. If you’re a writer, it’s not your job to know this stuff because you’ve read it in the various re-iterations that exist, it’s your job to know you already know it and to fucking relax, because it’s going to be there as a coincidental byproduct of your ability as a storyteller. Or just give up.

I do like to read and watch things that disrupt and question this whole hero-quest think. While it’s clearly and obviously everywhere in Western/Hollywood/Netflix narratives, beyond the West and the mainstream multiplex exists a whole world of alternative approaches that do their damnedest to tell stories in a different manner. Existential narratives, magic realism, indecipherable art house films, tragedies.

There are alternative structures to the hero’s journey. A lot of them are shit and nonsense, mind, and a lot of them are very similar, and a lot of them are just the dreadful guidelines and rigid templates that lead to unsatisfactory genre fiction (unsatisfactory for the reasons outlined in paragraph 3).

Get yersen away from Western literature, mind, and risk-averse blockbuster-fixated Hollywood, and you’ll find works of art that suggest there are other methods by which we tell and share stories, alternatives to crossing the threshold, descending into a mess and coming out (or not) of the other side, and other stuff that is equally stashed in the Imagination, Salience and Executive Attention networks within our fat and arrogant heads. Go read some Japanese fiction for starters.

I got to thinking about this – again – because I was reading an unlikely source (rather than getting down and dirty with Vladimir Propp or Phil Cousineau for fun) – John Higgs’ biography The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds, bought for some loose change from HMV. Where, as unlikely as it sounds given he’s attempting to get behind what made Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty tick, Higgs starts going on about Harry Potter and the peripheral characters in JK Rowling’s franchise.

For a page and a half, it said the kind of thing I wish I could have thought of as a response when someone or other – and there have been many – was giving me the bad dramaturgical questioning line that goes, “well, whose story is this?” Clearly, those asking the question are never looking for a response that is so complex and mind-curdling that they wouldn’t understand it and couldn’t convey it to a marketing department, or go on to make some casting decisions based on who’s playing the lead.

Anyway, I found it interesting and I am pondering, as Higgs was in 2012, if there is such a thing as a story that no one knows they are in, least of all the main characters. Here’s the bit in the book:

If you’re interested, you can read more about Dan Harmon’s approach to story structure here.

I’d Love To Turn You On #17

With tracks from A Certain Ratio, The Blow Monkeys, Floating Points, Tortoise and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #16

With tracks from Sons of Kemet, Noga Erez, Basil Kirchin, Courting and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #15

With tracks from Leon Vynehall, Osibisa, The Breeders, Life Without Buildings and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.

I’d Love To Turn You On #14

With tracks from Donna Summer, Outkast, Newen Afrobeat, LCD Soundsystem and more, all interspersed with silly conversation and efforts to articulate what we love about music.