PUBLIC EMBARRASSMENT

My wife, Meegan, will tell you one of my best qualities is my innate ability to make a twat of myself. I don’t consider myself the smartest guy in the room, but I wouldn’t say I’m stupid either; there’s just something built into me that makes my public displays of embarrassment a fairly regular occurrence.

Monochrome Photo of People Sitting Inside Theater

The moment that prompted me to write about this was recently listening to ‘Turn It Off‘ from The Book Of Mormon musical. A few years ago Meegan and I travelled into London to catch the live show and after having the soundtrack on repeat for weeks, I knew every filthy word.

Being sat fairly close to the stage, I was blissfully unaware of the thousand-or-so other patrons in the theatre and set about belting every note as fabulously and loudly as I could.

After nearly three hours of word-for-word nailing every note, we were into the last song, ‘Tomorrow Is A Latter Day’, and I was ready for the glorious finale.

What I didn’t expect was for the live show to differ ever so slightly from the recording I had been rehearsing with. Critically, there’s a second-long pause just before the final note. The cast and audience apparently all knew this, but nobody told me.

Right on cue (or off cue, on this occasion), I triumphantly belted out the final note to a completely silent auditorium. Meegan shrank into her seat. There were gasps. The lead actor looked directly at me and pissed himself laughing. 

I’d like to say I won’t make that mistake again but I really can’t promise myself.

Monochrome Photo of Woman Singing

Then there was the time we were on a couples’ holiday in Barcelona with my friends from school and their partners. That trip warrants an entire post by itself.

Like how most good stories start, it was late, and I had been drinking. A dozen of us were sat by the poolside and a few were starting to lose their enthusiasm for alcohol.

A particularly worse-for-wear friend passed me their drink and asked me to pour it into the drain, but in my drunken wisdom I chose instead to belligerently chuck it over my shoulder onto the tiled floor.

white paper cup spilled on road

The rest of the story is not my recollection, but pieced together from everyone else’s account of the evening, which my friends have taken great joy in reciting every time I’ve seen them since.

Ten minutes after throwing the drink, I was returning from the toilet when I spotted the chance to scare one of the hotel staff, who was stood chatting with the group.

I ran at full speed towards her, timed my jump perfectly, slipped in the pool of beer I had created, and blacked out. Much to the amusement of my friends, my blacking out was unusual because I hadn’t hit my head at all, just my leg.

Now I’m forever known as the only person to ever get a concussion of the knee.

Peter Griffin from Family Guy holding his knee and wincing

In typical dramatic fashion I retired to my room that evening and closed the night by solemnly saying to Meegan before I went to sleep, ‘If anything happens to me tonight, I want you to know that I love you’.

As far as I know, no one has ever died of a sore knee, so you could say this was an overreaction.

In December 2016, we were on our honeymoon, a four stop trip around Europe that started in Florence. My love for visiting less-travelled countries then took us on a lengthy train ride and equally long taxi trip to the tiny country entirely surrounded by Italy. No, not The Vatican City, the other one.

san marino castle

San Marino is basically a town on a mountain with a castle on the top, right in the middle of Northern Italy. On the cab ride we had a hard time visualising how high we were because the fog all the way up the mountain was thick and the lighting was poor.

All we knew is we’d been driving up a steep hill for what seemed like forever and the air felt increasingly thinner.

We eventually pulled into the centre of town, right in front of our hotel. The narrow streets, lined with old stone buildings, were empty and the heavy fog limited our view to no more than the length of a Tube carriage.

The dim orange from the streetlamps gave the place a beautiful warm glow. It was like something from a fairytale. 

With a heavy, bulky suitcase grasped firmly in each hand, I opened the door to the hotel, stepping inside to the top of half a dozen beautiful marble steps. The smiling receptionist greeted us from behind her counter and invited us to come and check in. Tired from the journey, I took a relieved breath and obliged.

All relief was quickly extinguished as I slipped straight down the steps onto my arse, hitting each stone tread with greater force than the last. Our suitcases, however, had remained rooted to the top of the staircase. I’d been gripping the handles so tightly I hadn’t had a chance to let go, leaving both arms bent up behind my back, locked in place and leaving me staged like an art installation. 

contortionist

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Meegan laugh for as long. She was still fondly recalling the highlight of the honeymoon when we left for Venice two days later. Our Sammarinese receptionist however, was neither amused, nor immediately concerned. My joke that I’d now have to give a bad TripAdvisor review wasn’t met with the laugh or room upgrade I’d aimed for. 

Despite falling harder than that TV reporter squashing grapes, I was okay. Nobody ever died of a concussion of the arse.

Images by Luis Quintero, Marc Kleen, Lorenzo Castagnone,

HORROR MOVIES

Without question, horror is my favourite genre of film. Regular readers (hi Dad) will know that I tend to get deeply invested into new hobbies for around six weeks, but watching horror movies is one of those things that’s been a part of me for a long time now. It’s not been consigned to the scrap heap just yet.

I think I was probably first hooked to horror by The Blair Witch Project when I was about twelve years old. There had been a rumour around my school that the movie was a real documentary and that the actors had been missing since it’s release, so when I watched it for the first time and saw the events surrounding their disappearance, I absolutely pooed my pants.

Basement scene from The Blair Witch Project 1999
The Blair Witch Project – The scene often replayed in my teenaged nightmares

I quickly became fascinated by the feeling of being terrified. I guess it was cathartic to be scared of something that couldn’t actually hurt you. What ‘terrifying’ means to me has changed over the years, but initially, it was spooky ghosts and jump scares. Worth mentioning at this point there will be spoilers throughout this post.

One of my favourite scary films as a young teenager was House On Haunted Hill, a movie about strangers competing for $1m each if they could spend one night in a haunted lunatic asylum. I probably watched it about a dozen times and the ending always shat me up; there was something petrifying about the way the evil spirit of the house consumed everything in its path. I would later learn this evil spirit was called ‘The Darkness’, a fact which caused the movie to somewhat lose it’s scariness around 2003.

House On Haunted Hill villain, The Darkness
The Darkness – I Believe In A Thing Called 90’s CGI

Another banger from this era is Cube. It might not be a traditional horror movie and the acting is pretty atrocious, but the premise is brilliant. For those of you who haven’t seen it; a handful of strangers wake up in a cube-shaped room. They eventually learn they’re imprisoned in a giant trap, consisting of thousands of individual rooms which move around one another in a seemingly random order, making escape nearly impossible. Some rooms are booby trapped. People die in a gruesome ways.

It’s one of those movies that get their horror from asking you ‘what would you do in this situation?’. I watched Cube again recently and found it pretty entertaining, but the CGI has aged awfully. Still, worth a watch if you’ve got 90 minutes free.

Throughout my teens I worked my way through the classics; the likes of Halloween, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and Evil Dead. I’ve got great respect for these movies but they’re not really my cup of tea.

Whilst definitely entertaining, ground-breaking, and no doubt inspiring many of the films I love, they each possess a certain campness that I’m not a huge fan of. With the exception of The Thing, I think I’m just not a fan of overt-the-top practical effects in horror movies, even though artists have done some incredible things for the genre.

Freddie Kruger from Nightmare On Elm Street
Freddie – Edward Scissorhands’ less-friendly brother

Good horror to me now, is; great acting, situational dread, good characters, subtlety, and depth. It’s also not relying on cheap jump scares. A director that does this better than anyone at the moment is Ari Aster.

His most recent film, Midsommar, is two and half hours of slowly-accumulating terror and it’s absolutely magnificent. Arguably, it’s not a horror film, it’s a break up movie. But the way Aster tells the story and juxtaposes beautifully lit, gorgeously coloured shots with a nearly overwhelming soundtrack (in particular the strings at the end of the prologue and the eerie vocal harmonies of the Hårga choir) and a crippling sense of isolation makes it an incredible watch. Also, Florence Pugh’s performance is Oscar-worthy.

Will Poulter in Midsommar
Face/Off (2019)

When I saw Aster’s first movie, Hereditary, I was blown away too. There are so many scenes that give me goosebumps it’s hard to recount them all, but a couple that particularly stick with me are the reflection scene in the school and the finale. It’s been called divisive because people don’t like the ending, but I totally bought into it and loved it. If you haven’t seen it, watch it.

Unlike Midsommar, it’s definitely a horror movie, but just like Midsommar, it’s got so much depth to it that I spent hours over the following few days reading through the fan theories, hidden details, and subtleties that I missed, and then went back and watched it again. Hereditary is deserving of a place in my top three of all time, as is Midsommar. 

Hereditary flaming man scene
Hereditary – just one of the scenes that give me chills

Number one though, is of course, The Shining. Ari Aster has made two incredibly good movies, but I’m not sure anyone will ever touch Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said about this film, so if you’re interested in learning about just how deep this film goes, I’d recommend setting aside a few hours and getting stuck into YouTube.

If you haven’t seen The Shining and you like good movies, just give it a go, even if you don’t normally like horror. This isn’t a film that’s full of jump scares, nor is it not overly gory, it’s just an enthralling piece of cinema that has so much to offer and one that, I promise, will leave an impact on you for days and days afterward.

The Shining man in bear costume scene
The Man In The Bear Costume (The Shining, not Midsommar)

Like a lot of other things, I obsess over horror films. Spending hours researching films after I’ve seen them probably puts me squarely in the bracket of Film Nerd but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m looking forward to seeing Robert Eggers’ ‘The Lighthouse’ next (when it gets a UK release), he’s another modern horror director that’s up there with Ari Aster, in my opinion. 

For anyone that’s interested, here’s a list of other films I’d recommend if you want good horror.

  • The Babadook
  • Cabin In The Woods
  • Carrie (1976)
  • The Descent
  • Event Horizon
  • It (2018)
  • It Follows
  • Lake Mungo
  • Misery
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Saw
  • Train To Busan
  • The Witch (2015)
  • Wolf Creek

I DID IT ALL FOR THE NEWQUAY

I’ve always wanted to try surfing. Living nowhere near the coast and never holidaying near a beach with good waves has sort of got in the way though. Luckily, I had three weeks to kill before I started my new job, so I decided to go for it. I didn’t get to do the stereotypical Newquay summer trip that a lot of British secondary-schoolers do, so it seemed like the perfect place to go for a mini-sabbatical.

Sunset at Fistral Beach in Newquay

The train from London takes over five hours, minimum. If you want to do it on a budget, you can get a coach and it’ll be nearly eight hours. But I’d been on enough miserable Megabus trips to decide against the latter.

The train ride over is stunning, once you’re past Reading. There are rolling hills, beautiful woodlands, wild horses, and amazing views of the English Channel as you ride a few meters from the shore. I don’t have a polarising filter on my phone so this was the best picture I was able to take (on the way home).

View of the English channel from a train along the south coast of England

Then, way past Plymouth, you transfer trains at a station called Par and London starts to feel even further away. First, the train guard walks along the carriage and asks if you want to stop at any of the local stations, kind of like ringing the bell on a bus. Then, you pass through a village called ‘Luxulyan‘, which sounds like a housing estate in Mordor. Then there’s the strange sensations of being on a railway that passes practically through people’s gardens, so every once in a while you’ll be chased by a local dog.

I didn’t realise how far the South West of England stretches. It just seems to go on forever. I checked and found that from my London flat, Germany is only a few miles further than Newquay.

Eventually, we outran the baying hounds and arrived in Newquay. I walked for around 15 minutes to my hostel, St. Christopher’s, where I had a private room booked. These guys had a deal including accommodation and surf lessons for about £60 a night. Unfortunately I hadn’t paid enough attention to the small print and found out on arrival that the deal only applied to guests staying in one of the 10-bed dorms. Surf lessons were an extra £60. Fail. Still, this was the view from my room so it felt like the right decision:

Towan Beach Newquay

My first night was great. I pitched up at Belushi’s, a sports bar underneath the hostel, and settled in to watch the Wimbledon and England lose to USA in the World Cup. Later I was joined by a group of travelers (who had the reddest eyes I’d ever seen) and we chatted about our favourite travel destinations, until they abruptly left to find biscuits and chicken wings. Shortly afterwards I met an old couple from Sheffield on their holidays and we discussed the steel industry and the Royal Mail in great detail. Variety is the spice of life.

Being woken up every half hour by the noise from the dorm rooms was enough to convince me my costly mistake was worth it. The party quieted down by around 3am so I was able to get two solid hours until I was woken again. This time by my new mortal enemies. Fucking seagulls.

Man, pigeons can be annoying but they’re generally quiet about it. Seagulls are next level. Not only do they love to camp right outside your window, they are also the noisiest animals I’ve ever heard. Both mornings, around 4.55am, I was shook awake by Mrs Seagull shouting to her mate across the bay about fish or something. I later discovered that seagulls aren’t just assholes to you. Oh no, they’re assholes to each other too:

Seagulls fighting on top of a pub sign

I woke again at 7am. Sleep-deprived and with my ear drums in recovery, it was time for my first surf lesson. I can’t speak about the other surf schools in Newquay, but Escape were fantastic. It’s run by Mike Young and Reubin Pearce, both ex-professional surfers, champions, and all-round nice guys. The facilities were really nice and all the equipment modern and in good shape. I’d never surfed before, but as a wearer of skinny jeans, I was at least fully prepared for getting the wet suit on.

Surfing went well. It was even harder than I expected it to be and I fell off a lot. But near to the end of the two hour session on Towan Beach, twice I managed to ride a wave all the way back to the shore. The feeling of being completely at the mercy of the sea is amazing and I felt grateful to the waves for not body slamming me into the seabed again.

I had another two hour lesson the next day on Fistral Beach but the waves were nowhere near as good. Just like any hobby, if you want to get good at surfing you need to be doing it a few times a week. A twelve hour round trip to Newquay is probably going to be a barrier here. My burgeoning career as a pro surfer will have to be put on hold.

Surf students posing on the beach

That night I was absolutely knackered. Seagulls and surfing really take it out of you. But I was ready for food. I had read about a local restaurant called Wet Dog Pizza that had a 20″ pizza challenge and I was pumped for it. Fresh from my surfing glory, I headed confidently to their pizzeria to claim my inevitable victory, and found I chose the one day of the year they were closed for building work. Wet Dog Pizza team, if you’re reading this, your pizza looks amazing. Please post me one so I can be the first to complete the challenge remotely.

Tired and hungry, I headed back to Belushi’s where I had a burger and a salad and went to bed at 10pm. Rock ‘n’ roll, baby. Just before 5am, my feathered pals woke me up again to catch this sunrise outside my window.

Sunrise on Towan Beach Newquay

In the morning, after my second lesson, I had a few hours before my train was due so I waited until the tide was out and headed back to the bay. Excitingly, I found there were a handful of small caves and coves to explore. I spent the next hour as a nautical Indiana Jones, dipping in and out of pitch black caves, taking in the feeling of total isolation and the ever-present danger of the incoming tide or an unexpected cave-in. Then I got a woft of cigarette smoke and rounded a corner to find a half-naked fat guy puffing on a rollie. I was ready to go home.

Cave on Towan Beach Newquay
Weathered ancient steps on Towan Beach Newquay
Inside a cave on Towan Beach Newquay
Mansion on top of a cliff on Towan Beach Newquay
Cave on Towan Beach Newquay

Newquay was brilliant and I’ll definitely head back there again. Getting the train was easy enough but I think I’ll drive next time – there’s a lot to see in the surrounding areas and relying on public transport is only suitable for the most patient of people. For now, I’ll stick with being disappointed at waiting more than three minutes for a Victoria Line train.

SONGS THAT TAKE ME BACK

If you’ve read any of my blogs before, you might have noticed that music is my thing. I’ll probably never be invited onto Desert Island Discs, but if I were to answer the final question and request my one luxury item, it’d be a phone with Spotify Premium and a pair of Bose QC35 headphones. Yes, that’s more than one luxury item. Sue me, Lauren Laverne.

One of the many things I love about music is it’s ability to take you back to a certain moment, or time in your life. We can pin most songs to a year, or when we were a specific age, but some songs remind us of an exact moment. These are two of the songs that do that for me.

(sic) – Slipknot

I remember the first time I saw Slipknot on Kerrang! TV, it changed things for me. It was 1999 and seeing their Wait And Bleed video made me feel a combination of breathlessly excited and utterly terrified. Nine masked men in boiler suits playing heavier music than I’d ever heard before? Yes please.

Metal band, Slipknot, in 1999

There was just one problem. In a rare moment of agreement, my parents had forbidden me from listening to Slipknot. Despite living completely separate lives, they had both read in the news that Slipknot were evil and that little 12 year old Matt would likely turn to murder, or drugs and murder if he bought their album. Gutted.

Fast forward about a year and I was visiting my best friend, TJ, who had moved away a few months previously. I was dropped off at their house to have a week away and we had spent the first couple of days skating outside his house and listening to Marilyn Manson.

A few days later we found a creepy, abandoned school and built a mini skatepark in one of the classrooms that nature had started to claim back. Have you seen the photos of Chernobyl now? It was kind of like that, but with less radiation. If you consider ‘likelihood of being infected with Tetanus’ as a yardstick for measuring how cool somewhere was, this place was the shit.

Hallway of an abandoned derelict building

TJ and I had finished up skating for the day and were tearing through his new Lincolnshire hometown on our BMXs when we paused to down our energy drinks. Stopping for air, I asked if I could borrow his Minidisc Player. He obliged and chucked it over to me.

I had recently become a teenager, was clad head-to-toe in skater gear, had just trespassed in a dilapidated old building, and was unknowingly about to hear Slipknot’s debut album for the first time. To say this moment was formative might be an understatement. I pressed play and we tore off on our bikes again.

I had no idea what was going on when ‘742617000027‘ started playing, but I sensed that shit was about to kick off. And boy was I right. At the precise moment ‘(sic)‘ came on, I was changed forever. I felt like an absolute badass. Especially when I realised who I was listening to. Even though it was 100% accidental, I felt like the biggest rebel that ever lived.

Topless tattooed man wearing skull rings and holding fists up
Me at 12 years old.

Hot Dog – Limp Bizkit

Let me start by saying this is not a ‘favourite songs’ list. Limp Bizkit have written some absolute bangers (‘Nookie‘, ‘Rearranged‘, ‘Boiler‘, to name a few) but ‘Hot Dog’ is not one of them. It does hold a happy memory for me though.

My parents split up when I was very young and my dad moved abroad. For a while, my eldest brother Charlie and I rarely got to see him. This is a happy story, stay with me.

When Dad moved back to the UK we started to spend time with him a bit more. On one of our days out, Dad had taken Charlie and I to HMV and had bought me ‘Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water’. Like most super cool kids, I had ‘Rollin’‘ on CD single, loved ‘Take A Look Around‘, and ‘My Way‘ had been the theme music to the best Wrestlemania of all time. It was a smart buy and I couldn’t believe it when Dad said we could play the album in the car on the way back.

Album artwork for Limp Bizkit's 'Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Chocolate Flavored Water'

So here’s the scene. A beat-up, old, blue VW Polo. Thirteen year old me, ten year old brother, and Dad, doing his best to entertain us for the day and not give our mum any reason to complain about his parenting skills. Rather than skip to the hits, Dad insists the proper way to listen to any album is all the way through, from the start. Solid advice. We turn the volume up and hit play.

Intro‘ comes and goes. So far, so good. Next up is another song I’ve not heard before. ‘Hot Dog‘. If you’re not bothered about checking this song out, here’s a snippet of the lyrics from verse one.

‘Fucked up dreams
Fucked up life
A fucked up kid
With a fucked up knife’

The word ‘fuck’ appears 48 times in this song. I wanted the world to swallow me up.

Dad made it through an impressive 29 ‘fuck’s before Fred Durst broke into ‘You want to fuck me like an animal’ and his composure broke. The skip button evaded him for a few more excruciating seconds before he located it and I was able to narrowly avoid being the first ever person to cringe themselves to death.

To be fair, Dad handled the whole situation well. I’m guessing he was just hoping we could keep this innocence-ruining incident between the three of us. He was also probably bitterly disappointed at how his own flesh and blood could be into such shit music.

Every time I hear either of these songs, I’m taken right back to these moments. There are so many other songs that have some kind of special memory for me so I might end up writing another one of these blogs in time. In the meantime, what are some of your songs that take you back?

Images by Francesco Paggiario & Clem Onojeghuo

SIX-WEEK OBSESSIONS

I have a tendency to get carried away with things. I’m not the kind of person that goes out and buys all the kit for the hobby they’ve just taken up, but I do get very excited about new things and it can practically consume me. For about six weeks.

Sometimes things will stick, but more often than not, they’ll be the source of all my excitement, anticipation, hopes, and dreams, for forty-or-so days. These short-lived hobbies are pretty wide-ranging and they don’t follow a particular pattern.

Man reading a manga comic

Meditation, Mineralogy, Manga, Movie Music, there really is no rule of thumb. Sometimes a friend will introduce me to something new. Other times I stumble across one little thing that interests me and I end up getting sucked into another black hole. It’s kind of like falling in love over and over again.

While this doesn’t do much for my hopes of becoming a World Champion in many things, it has given me a basic understanding of a lot of subjects. It’s good social currency, like checking the football scores even if you’re not into football. I’ve found that having a little bit of knowledge on a lot of things helps me find common ground and make personal connections a bit easier. I’ve also learned a lot about myself along the way.

Getting really excited about things is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. I was having dinner with some friends recently and they revealed they always take my recommendations with a pinch of salt because I find literally everything amazing.

Person climbing up indoor climbing wall

Bouldering is something that I really got into back in 2014 when I was living in the Midlands. Meegan and I were working at different ends of the country for a few months and to cure the boredom I decided to buy a pair of climbing shoes (second hand, of course) and head to the local climbing wall.

I was instantly hooked (not to the wall, you don’t use harnesses). I’m slim and tall so was given a natural +5 in Bouldering from the off. I went every week. I got stronger and learned to climb with better technique. I made a few friends and we talked about going climbing in the Peak District in the summer. Then I got too confident and nearly took my kneecap off on one of the climbing holds.

Long story short, that’s the last time I saw my bouldering buddies as I moved away from Leicester shortly after. I’ve only recently started bouldering again so I guess technically it wouldn’t fit the usual six week bill, but I have plenty of examples where that hasn’t happened.

Black reading glasses and pen resting on sheet music

I’m impulsive, at times reckless, and I always give in to my curiosity. You might already know music is my passion and that I studied it at university. I’m also a big fan of film music. It’s those two things that led me to invest six weeks of my uni summer holiday into getting really excited about being a film composer.

I cycled to my local library every day and sat in the audio section for hours listening to Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and Vivaldi and picking apart their music. On reflection, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing. I knew how to analyse music but I didn’t know what I didn’t know about composing for film.

For weeks I sat alone in a cold library, carefully rewinding my massive iPod so I could figure out how the melody was moving, or what made a piece of music made me feel one way or another. Eventually, I spent enough time on my new passion that I came to a realisation. I loved film music. I deeply admired the skill of the composers. But I didn’t enjoy doing the composing myself. So that was the end of that.

Film and video game music are still things I take an interest in and I’d recommend checking out the amazing videos by 8-bit Music Theory if you’re interested in this kind of stuff.

Black and white photo of microphone in sound booth

A particularly strange one was developing a burning desire to write rap music. I’ve been into hip hop since I was about ten years old, when I bought Eminem’s ‘My Name Is’ on tape (the Radio Edit, before you break out the pitchforks).

To be fair actually, I couldn’t say I was really into hip hop until I was into my twenties and started to get into artists other than Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg, and D12. Still, I thought I was cool AF with Eminem and ‘Pretty Fly For A White Guy’ blasting on my bright yellow Walkman Cassette Player.

Anyway, I had decided to write a rap and could think of no better theme to base my first masterpiece on than my favourite film series, The Lord Of The Rings. Yes, I am indeed pretty fly for a white guy. I finished the first song and then the bigger picture set in. I could make a YouTube channel out of this. I could be famous. People love hip hop, people love Frodo Baggins, why not both at the same time?

I registered the channel name, secured all my social handles, and set about writing my first hip hop beat. Then I got bored. I just couldn’t get into it. No matter how hard I tried, all I really wanted to play is rock and metal. So I sacked it off.

Black and white photo of an emergency exit sign and door

I moved home a lot as a kid, lots of people came and went from my life, and I had to do a lot of leaving everything I knew behind. I’m no psychologist but I reckon this has had something to do with my tendency to get bored quickly. It has least made things interesting.

The fact that this blog has been going longer than six weeks is a miracle. But I’m enjoying writing about the things I care for, so who knows, maybe blogging will join live music, guitar-playing, retro gaming, and horror movies as lifelong passions.

If I were to offer one piece of advice for a better quality of life, it would be to always give in to your curiosity. I was at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly last week and outside, in the courtyard, they had one of those electric bollards that sinks into the ground to let cars through. I asked the security guard if it could lift a person. He said, ‘I don’t know, why don’t we find out?’ and gave the international sign for ‘be my guest’.

I stood on the sunken bollard, the guard clicked a button, and a small crowd watched as a giggling 30 year old man was slowly and triumphantly raised four feet into the air. Always give into your curiosity.

Images by Miika Laaksone, Jonathan J. Castellon, Dayne Topkin, Neil Godding, Michael Jasmund

WHICH VEGAN BURGER IS BEST?

Man, I can’t move for vegan alternatives these days. I work in the food and drink industry so am often at exhibitions in the UK and Europe. Walking around these trade shows last year was pretty interesting and there was plenty of mention of vegan this and that, but in 2019 it’s exploded. There’s just so much choice all of a sudden.

In the abundance of new meat-a-likes there’s always going to be some winners and some, well, not-so-winners. So I’ve decided to give my two cents on which vegan burgers I think are the best.

I’ve purposely chosen this bunch to talk about because they’re the most similar to meat burgers; my theory being that makes them more approachable for you if you’re not vegan. I could talk about the best quinoa and kale burger (it’s this one) but I reckon that’d be over-veganing it. Are you ready? Then let’s begin.

Moving Mountains vegan burger
Moving Mountains – 5/5

The burgers from Moving Mountains are insanely good. Hands down, the best vegan patties I’ve tasted. But don’t expect to rush out and buy them at your local shop anytime soon; they’re only available through caterers and restaurants like Ed’s Easy Diner and Harvester.

Seriously though, these are so good I’m considering a starting a business account with my local cash and carry and buying a box of 20. Anyone else fancy a five-pounder burger?

I’ve just remembered that I should technically have called this blog, ‘Which Vegan Disc Is Best?’. If you haven’t seen the power of the meat industry and it’s lobbyists, have a look here. Unfortunately this article was posted just three days too late to be an April Fool’s prank. This is, sadly, 100% real and 100% pathetic. Anyway, back to Vegetable Cylinders.

Linda McCartney Pulled Pork vegan burger
Linda McCartney Pulled Pork – 3/5

Good ol’ Linda. You can always rely on the McCartneys for good music and good meat-free food. It seems you can buy the brand in most stores now and that’s a great gauge for measuring how popular veggie and vegan diets have become.

For this review, I chose the Pulled Pork burger from their fairly massive range. It’s a pretty safe bet and I’d pick them up again if they were my only option, but they’re on the salty side for me.

The Meatless Farm Co. vegan burger
The Meatless Farm Co. – 2/5

I spoke to someone from The Meatless Farm Co. recently and was told they’re keen to avoid the word vegan because it ‘puts people off’. A small part of me wants to be offended but you know what? They’re probably right.

We’re not all V60-drinking, Toms-wearing, hipster vegan dirtbags (might be talking about just myself there) and to assume everyone accepts and isn’t put off by the word ‘vegan’ would be a mistake. The sad fact is that ‘vegan’ is often wrongly associated with flavourless, formless food.

I can see this changing in the future with the amount of fantastic alternatives coming out, but actually the Meatless Farms burger doesn’t taste that great and it’s more than a little too crumbly for me. Perhaps avoiding the word ‘vegan’ is best for everyone.

Quorn Hot & Spicy vegan burger
Quorn Hot & Spicy Burger – 3/5

The Quorn Hot & Spicy Burger is a bready, white meat alternative that, like Ronseal, is exactly what it claims to be. Hot and spicy. And Quorn. And a burger. It’s not winning any awards for it’s appearance; it’s firmly in the Beige Brigade and wouldn’t be amiss on the Ugly Vegan Insta. But for taste and texture, it’s a great choice. I mean, if it’s good enough for The Mobot, it’s good enough for me.

I’d like to see more vegan options from Quorn – it seems they’re lagging behind Linda and pals on plant-based options. On a related note, what are your thoughts on vegetarian brands bringing out new veggie options? To me, it seems fairly counter-productive now that vegan food tech is so advanced.

I mean, if you’re vegetarian, you’ll eat vegan food right? But it doesn’t work the other way, so why not just develop new vegan food instead? Setting aside the environmental and ethical benefits, does it not make good business sense too? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Iceland No Bull vegan burger
Iceland No Bull – 4/5

Who would have thought that Iceland would be up there with the top innovators in free-from? (That’s the Iceland full of freezers, not the island full of geysers). But here we are, in a world where they’re leading the way with their meat free range, ditching plastic, and leading the charge against palm oil.

Or at least they’re claiming to be but actually employing some pretty shady tactics to dodge their commitments. Iceland, your heart is in the right place and you’re miles ahead in some areas, but please don’t try to mislead the public with a technicality.

If you haven’t tried Iceland’s No Bull burger, you should. It’s got a great texture, great taste, and only narrowly loses out to the aforementioned Moving Mountains burger.

There are dozens more contenders I haven’t got around to trying yet, so maybe there’s an even better burger out there. If you think there is, let me know in the comments below. Now, I’m off to build that five pounder burger…

Images by Moving Mountains; Linda McCartney Foods; The Meatless Farms Co; Quorn; Iceland Foods

BEST COFFEE SHOPS IN LONDON

What would I do without coffee? It’s been a part of my routine for basically my whole adult life, making it’s grand entrance to support me through my dissertation like a hot, black, pair of crutches. Before that, it was builder’s tea. Strong but milky. But tea just wasn’t cutting the mustard anymore and I needed propping up with something stronger. Enter Arabica beans and their mysterious energy-giving, wallet-draining powers.

Coffee is such a big part of my day now that I’m wondering what my life would look like if those little beans never existed. Meegan and I had our first date at a coffee shop. I’ve made good friends over coffee. I had a big career move into the coffee industry. To be honest, it probably wouldn’t have been that different. I’d probably be writing a blog about where to find the best Earl Grey in London instead. Basically, I needed to find a way to share my heartfelt belief that life really is too short for shit coffee, so I’m writing this blog.

Let’s face it, there are too many London cafés for one person to write about in a lifetime. And I’ve probably been to less than 1% of them. But I’ve had okay coffee here, bad coffee there, and unbelievably good coffee in a certain few places. These are my Hall of Famers. And like my Vegan Food in London post, I’ve added the closest tube stations, ‘cause that’s just the kind of guy I am.

Friends Of Ours, Old Street

What is it about Australians and good coffee? I swear, if the barista serving me has an Aussie accent I’m almost guaranteed to get an amazing cup of joe. I spoke to a friend from Brisbane about this recently and they said bad coffee just doesn’t exist Down Under. That philosophy can’t come to these shores quick enough! When Brits do bad coffee we do not-fit-for-human-consumption coffee.

Back to Friends Of Ours; if you follow me on Instagram you’ll already know I love this place, if you don’t follow me, come say hi! FOO do a great Americano, their filter is always spot on, and their vegan options are cracking too. Also worth mentioning the front of their shop is a sun trap, making it the perfect spot for a brew and some Vitamin D.

Hucks, Walthamstow Central

Tucked away in Walthamstow Village is the coffee shop slash music venue, Hucks. By day it’s a cosy little hideaway in a quiet and idyllic part of East London. By night, it’s an intimate music space and cocktail bar.

The charm is certainly in the almost-Parisian vibe the building emits, but the coffee is well worth a trip too. I love taking my laptop here at the weekends and getting lost in work, powered by a conveyor belt of great filter coffee. They also do a mean veggie and hummus sandwich which is perfect with a bag of Soffles, the baked pitta bread chips that are waaaay better than a bag of standard crisps.

Roasting Plant, London Bridge

If you want variety and fancy yourself as a bit of a coffee connoisseur, Roasting Plant just south of the river on London Bridge needs to be on your visit list. The coffee menu behind the counter is bigger than I’ve ever seen and the beans are beautifully displayed in big clear tubes on the opposite side of the shop.

Place your order with the barista and a complex system of vacuum tubes running along the walls and ceiling transports your coffee beans straight to the machine where they’re ground and brewed into incredibly good coffee. The whooshing, tinkling sound of the beans shooting around the café is something of spectacle and the final brew is sublime. I had a cup of Jamaican Blue Reserve last time I was there and whilst it was pretty pricey, it was unlike any coffee I’d ever tasted before. Not to be missed.

Vagabond, Highbury & Islington

When I first came to London I worked in the north of the city. I was commuting from Sheffield at the time (it’s brutal, don’t try it) and Vagabond became something of an escape for me. The small garden at the back of the café is insulated from the hum of the busy main road out front and provided enough quiet for me to relax over a frankly outstanding caffeine hit.

This was the first coffee shop I found that did V60, my personal go-to. I remember watching the barista weigh out the coffee on a small digital scale, carefully get the temperature of the water just right, and painstakingly brew a phenomenal cup of coffee over about 15 minutes. The result was a naturally sweet, floral, coffee that completely changed my view on what great coffee was.

Dark Habit, Queens Park

Dark Habit is where science meets coffee. Never have I seen so much consistent care and attention taken over the coffee-making process; I’ve stopped here more than a few times and am always blown away by the quality. Everything in this small North-West London café is about the art of good coffee and it’s stripped-back, minimal decor gently reassures you to put your phone away, shut the laptop off, and get lost in a phenomenal cup.

Dark Habit really are all about the coffee and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They don’t do food so if it’s lunch you want, I’d recommend stopping off at one of the many brilliant food places on Salusbury Road. The falafel wraps at Mount Olive are my favourite. Head to the back of this unassuming convenience store for amazing deli-style wraps for less than a fiver.

So that’s it, my top places for coffee in London. If your favourite isn’t here, let me know where it is and I’ll try and swing by. Good coffee with friends is one of life’s simple pleasures and I’m looking forward to seeing where you recommend!

Images by The Standard, Ozone Coffee Roasters, brownguycoffeeconnoisseur, London Coffee Guide

EATING VEGAN AT CENTER PARCS

A few years ago I went to Robin Hood’s hangout, Sherwood Forest, to the secret hideaway in the woods known as Center Parcs. I hadn’t been back since I contracted veganism but last week, I found myself back among the geese and the pines.

I’m pleased to say that on the whole, it’s pretty welcoming for those following a plant-based diet. These are my tips for having a vegantastic time at Center Parcs.

Lots of avocados from above

Bring the essentials

The good thing about Center Parcs is that each bungalow / lodge / tree house has a full kitchen, so unlike a hotel, you can at least cook to a good standard at ‘home’.

If you’ve travelled light and not brought food with you, head to the onsite supermarket, Parc Market. It’s pretty basic but they’ve got a good Free-From section, fantastic hummus, and a nice range of alternative milks too.

The selection of fruit and vegetables is a bit limited but has enough to get you by. Availability is something to keep an eye on though, I bought six avocados on my first day and unknowingly must have bought the whole week’s worth of stock because they were out of stock every day afterwards.

Basically, if you want to eat like the king of vegans, bring your nutritional yeast and your silken tofu with you. If you’re fine without your jackfruit tacos, Parc Market will be just fine.

‘But what about eating out?’, I hear you say, ‘I go on holiday to get away from cooking and really don’t want to spend my break slaving over a hob.’ Well, Center Parcs have got you covered here too.

Red neon sign reading Spaghetti

Good food at the big chains

Bella Italia have some fantastic meat-free options. They might want to work on their customer service though. I mentioned I was vegan to our waiter and was dismissively told this wasn’t a dietary restriction.

We ordered our mains and a bunch of sides for the table and about 45 minutes later everything arrived, at varying levels of temperature. I was lucky enough to have one of the meals that hadn’t gone cold, but my Lenticchie, a rich, mushroomy bolognese, did arrive with our waiter’s thumb nestled comfortably in my spaghetti.

Despite having to eat around a big, manly, tomatoey thumbprint, the pasta was absolutely delicious. After I’d smashed through that, I got stuck into the fries we’d ordered for the table.

I was happily mopping up the last of my bolognese sauce with a few of the crunchier ones when I noticed our waiter grinning at me from the other side of the restaurant. I was slightly confused, but the service had been so terrible up to that point that I assumed he was hoping to get a tip based exclusively on having a winning smile.

He slowly made his way to our table, beaming from ear to ear, leaned in, and happily advised that I probably shouldn’t have eaten the chips because they’d been fried in the same oil as meat. What. A. Dickhead.

For a less infuriating lunch, check out Café Rouge. It was pretty good for a brand I was convinced went out of business a few years ago. Some good options on the menu but I couldn’t fault the spicy chickpea burger which was pretty tasty. Add extra avocado for £2? Yes please. A portobello mushroom for another £2? Go on then. Ironically the mushroom was about the size of a £2 so they lost marks there but all in all, it was a good lunch.

Vegan packed lunch with avocado, chickpeas, rice, and lemon

Take a packed lunch

Part of the Parcs experience is playing sports, going swimming, riding bikes, and generally being active. A lot of these activities are away from where the main restaurants are so your options are generally limited to the activity-themed bars and cafés.

Foresters’ Inn is lovely for a quiet, picturesque coffee by the lake after you’re done playing tennis, but if you want vegan food, you’re shit out of luck.

In a huge menu with over 50 options on it, the vegan choice was Fries, or Sweet Potato Fries, both of which were both cooked in the same oil as meat, so as our helpful Bella Italia Waiter had taught us, this made them technically not vegan. To be fair to them, the staff said they were getting a new menu soon which included actual vegan options so hopefully next time it’ll be a little better.

It’s a similar story with the Sports Café in the indoor sports arena and the pool-side Canopy Café, both of which offer zero plant-based food beyond Technically Not Vegan Chips. My advice is if you’re doing something active, pack a lunch.

Matt VO London eating vegan fajitas

Book your table in advance

On our last night we ate at Hucks, an American-Mexican Diner. Everywhere else was fully booked and luckily we got the last space available by showing up and begging for a table. If you’re planning on eating out in the evening, particularly your last evening, be sure to book in advance.

Hucks may not have a huge selection of vegan options, but the veg fajitas were tasty AF. My wife, Meegan, had the Mexican Salad which she said was great too.

Had we known about the booking situation a bit earlier we’d have also checked out the Indian restaurant, Rajinda Pradesh. A quick glance at their menu and we were gutted we’d missed it; a lot of their curries could be made vegan by opting for the wheat-based meat substitute, seitan. I obviously can’t comment on taste but for options, this place gets a big thumbs up.

On a separate but related note, I’d like to make a plea on behalf of all vegans – please, restaurant owners and head chefs of the UK, can you add vegan dessert options to your menus beyond just sorbet. I like sorbet but when you’ve got a dozen indulgent, deliciously gooey, cakey options on the menu and your vegan option is basically cold, flavoured water, it’s a bit demoralising.

Two toads piggybacking at night with one toad watching in the distance

Enjoy the wildlife, but avoid the Village pond

You’ll no doubt be ecstatic to see that wildlife is abundant at Center Parcs. Squirrels, ducks, geese, swans, pheasants, rabbits, and an army of road-crossing nocturnal toads roam freely, and often arrogantly, around the site. As I sat making notes for this post, a squirrel came knocking on my patio window in what I assumed was her way of asking for food. Then an angry crow chased her away. Needless to say it’s very far removed from the wildlife wastelands of East London.

On the other end of the ‘animals living free and happy’ scale is the koi pond. Right near the middle of the Village, where the main restaurants are, is a very small body of water containing some very big fish.

They seem well fed and the water is clean enough but seeing these beautiful fish cramped into this tiny pond was pretty upsetting. It would be similar to being kept in a tennis court-sized cage for your whole life. If we can get angry at SeaWorld, can we apply the same logic here?

I couldn’t find any information from Center Parcs on the welfare of their koi but I can’t assume that this is a healthy sized pond for fish that size, especially when there are so many crammed into a small space. Any koi experts want to help me out here?

All in all, Center Parcs is definitely survivable if you’re following a vegan diet and there’s a lot to love about this Nottinghamshire mini paradise. The carp pond left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth but with all the lakes around the site, this seems like an easy problem to fix. At least it does in my not-at-all-educated opinion.

Centre Parcs isn’t the perfect vegan destination but they’re making improvements constantly and for a traditional British holiday park in rural middle England, I think they’re doing a pretty good job.

All info correct at date of original posting. Images by Peter de Vink, Ben Neale, Ella Olsson, & meeganwith2es

EAST LONDON VEGAN FOOD

One of the big changes I noticed when I developed veganism was losing the spontaneity of going into any restaurant or cafe and finding something to eat. My wife and I ate out two or three times a week so it was tough.

In the two short years since, there’s been an explosion of new vegan places washing over London like a giant wave of hummus and while I haven’t been to every one of the now over 100 fully vegan places in the city, here are my favourite places for quick, tasty food. I’ve saved you the hassle and given the closest train station so you can get there quick too. First up, it’s the Eastenders…

Biff's Jack Shack Jackfruit Wingz on a pink and blue neon background

Biff’s Jack Shack, Walthamstow, Victoria Line / Overground

Biff is getting a big reputation for his amazing ‘Wingz’ which are hand-shaped from jackfruit around an edible sugar cane ‘bone’, deep-fried, then smothered with a variety of insanely good sauces and toppings. I’m a big fan of puns (for they are the highest form of comedy) and have to give the Shack top marks for their burger names too – if you want the spicy version you’ll be ordering a ‘Sam Hell Jackson’.

They only moved into their first full-time spot at the end of 2018 but 2019 has already got off to a flier with their Spar Eat 17 partnership up and running. An unassuming space at the back of this East London convenience store has been transformed into a pink and blue neon den of vegan food.

Get there first on the Victoria Line to Walthamstow Central (20 mins from Kings Cross St. Pancras), then a short walk to the picturesque Walthamstow Village, a place that feels like it’s been teleported to London from the sleepy hills of Derbyshire.

CookDaily chickn dish in biodegradable bowl

CookDaily, London Fields, Overground

CookDaily is arguably the most well-known casual vegan food place in London. Founder, King, and his team have been serving up innovative vegan food drawing influence from Asia, the Caribbean, and elsewhere since 2015.

Having started selling their wares from the place where England football fans struggled to hold onto their beers last summer (Boxpark, for the uninitiated), CookDaily now have their own super cool place under the railway arches near London Fields.

Expect hip hop music, celebrity diners, and food that you’ll keep coming back for. My go to is the House Pad Thai or anything with their soy-based ‘chickn’ in it, combine that with a few of their spring rolls and some High Grade sauce and you’ve got a trio almost as good as the Bee Gees.

Temple of Hackney seitan fillet with chips in a rectangular white and blue bowl

Temple of Hackney, Hackney Central, Overground
In what’s a perfect example of London’s melting pot of culture, you’ll find the 100% vegan Temple of Seitan sitting right next door to a butcher shop. Irony at it’s finest. As the name suggests, their patties are made from seitan, a lightly spiced and very tasty meat substitute made from wheat.

Controversially though, I don’t go to Temple for their burgers. Sue me. Yes, it’s their creamy, facon (fake bacon) topped mac and cheese that you’ll find me wrist-deep in. If you don’t fancy a trip on the Overground, there’s also the newer Temple of Camden that’s worth checking out; it’s right by the canal so lends itself well to lazy Sunday walks along the towpath, burger and chips in hand.

Genesis Shoreditch vegan tacos on pink plates

Genesis, Shoreditch High Street, Overground

With a menu longer than a Drake album, Genesis in Spitalfields is the place to go if you want great food and something different every day of the year (only exaggerating slightly). Their store is also very Instagrammable, if you’re into that kind of thing. The only downside is having to avoid being pistol-whipped by selfie sticks as you’re finding a place to sit.

The Smoked Chorizo Tacos are always spot on and it’s well worth getting the Yuca Fries with Garlic Mayo too – if there’s a tastier chip & dip in London, I haven’t found it yet.

Colourful vegan Indian food in metal bowls

SpiceBox, Walthamstow, Victoria Line / Overground

The UK’s first vegan curry house has recently opened its doors in The ‘Stow and it’s been fully booked since. And with good reason. Founder Grace had been tweaking her recipes for three years by selling food from her front door, street food stalls, and an evening pop-up at the Hornbeam Café (great place for a vegan fry-up) and the result is a menu of unbelievably good Indian food.

I tend to go for the Jackfruit Jalfrezi but the less spicy Chick’n Korma is sublime and well worth heading to the end of the Victoria Line for. If you can’t get a table, fear not, there are lunchtime walk-ins available on the weekend and if that fails, you can always collect your food and eat it from the comfort of a Tube carriage on your way home.

Regardless of whether you’re vegan or not, these places all serve up amazing food; I’ve taken non-vegan friends and family to each of the above and had nothing but thumbs up, high fives, and promises of bringing elasticated trousers next time. There are so many great places in London now I’m going to do another post for each area but in the meantime, what’s your favourite place for casual vegan food in East London?

Images by @kimburrowsvegography, CookDaily, healthista.com, SpiceBox, & Genesis

LIVE MUSIC

Crowd surfing, stage diving, moshing, rowing; there’s so much more to live music than the music. I’ve seen live hip hop, jazz, funk, reggae, classical, and pretty much any other top level music genre you can think of. But metal is my thing and most gigs I go to could be mistaken as a wedding between the Addams Family and the Hells Angels.

Black and white image of six Marshall speaker cabinets

My first gig was Killswitch Engage, a metal band that three friends and I drove 250 miles to see at the Wulfrun Centre in Wolverhampton. I remember ripping the sleeves off my band t-shirt before we got in the car because I thought it would look cool. I looked like Aladdin. I also removed precious material that could have shielded me from the brutal cold of a Midlands winter. I am not a smart man.

Killswitch were supported by a band called Johnny Truant, who burst onto the stage shouting the metal-approved, ‘Are you ready to fuck this place up?!’, followed by the singer spitting into the crowd. Not cool. Especially not for my mate, who caught the whole thing with his face. It wasn’t going very well.

A couple of hours later when the headliners were finally on, one of my other friends passed out from heat exhaustion and had to be crowd-surfed to the front of the hall, where he was carried off to a dingy makeshift emergency room to miss basically the whole main event. As first gigs went, it was pretty eventful.

Metal concert crowd with hands raised towards the stage

Despite the misfortune of my friends, I would learn that it was a pretty tame show. I was 16 then and now, 14 years on and over a hundred gigs later, I’ve seen some shit.

Like Babymetal, who play intense death metal and are fronted by three teenage girls in tutus; ho99o9, whose frontman performed in a white wedding dress and threw boxes of cornflakes over the crowd; or Alestorm, the pirate-loving party band that share the stage with a 7ft inflatable duck and encourage sitting down and rowing along to their slower songs. The latter are up there with my favourite live bands now; there’s something almost therapeutic about singing sea shanties with hundreds of pissed up pirates.

My top live band though, has to go to The Dillinger Escape Plan (RIP). I’ve never seen a group of people with such an emphatic disregard for their own safety before. Their fire-breathing, audience-running, set-climbing frontman Greg Puciato was just one part of a group putting Guns’n’Roses ‘world’s most dangerous band’ claim to the test. I’m hopeful they’ll regroup one day and I can be part of another one of their frankly insane concerts.

Guitarist crowdsurfing on his back

Not all shows are good. Some are terrible. I’d been desperate to see The Faceless for years and in 2018 I finally had my chance to go see a two hour headline set with my brother, Charlie. The usual pre-gig rituals were all in place. I’d listened to nothing but their music for around a week, checked out all the band interviews, read some reviews of their latest album. I was feeling pumped. To add to the excitement, the show was at Underworld in Camden, the venue of my first crowd surf and the only place I’d ever seen a mosh pit happen on stage. It’s very special to me.

Charlie and I decided to get to Camden early and do some catching up in the Devonshire Arms; if traditional British pubs could get skull tattoos and face piercings, this place would be the result. We stumbled out of the Dev a few hours later and made our way in to Underworld, heading straight to the centre of the crowd. Anticipation was high.

We then learned that The Faceless’ bassist had just quit and they’d decided to bring in a reliable performer they’d known for years; the guitarist’s MacBook Pro. I’d been to a few raves before so I knew the guy could play. No big deal. But when after just one song the lead guitarist’s amplifier broke, that was a problem. Especially since they clearly had no plan B and oh the MacBook is fucked now too. We’re watching an MTV Unplugged version of a technical death metal band.

Someone in the crowd summoned all their experience from the football terraces and started chanting ‘Bassless… Bassless…’, a song that carried on for the rest of the 40 minute set. Faceless, if you’re reading this, come back to London soon, we still love you.

Side view of music concert crowd with hands raised towards the stage

After being blown away by the tutu-wearing Babymetal and the swashbuckling Alestorm, I’m now a firm believer that before you decide you don’t like a band or artist, go see them perform.

I was at Alexandra Palace recently to see the five-piece metal group, Parkway Drive, who I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of. The show was a sell out. 12,000 people had just finished watching the support band (Killswitch Engage, ironically) and suddenly, the whole place went pitch black for a few seconds. War-like drums started booming around the hall. If you’ve seen the first The Lord of the Rings movie, think of the start to the Mines of Moria battle (just after ‘fool of a Took’) and you’ll have a good idea of what it was like.

In the darkness, at the back of the hall you could make out what looked like a small fire. As it got closer and the cheers from the crowd started building, the fire revealed itself as four masked men carrying flaming torches. They slowly made their way through the crowd and when they were close enough I could feel the heat burning my cheeks, I could see in the middle of the flames was Parkway Drive. The whole place was going nuts.

As the band made it onto stage and started playing, it became clear to me that I was about to have my mind changed. The rest of their set was unbelievable. I now have a few tunes of theirs on my Spotify playlist.

Rock singer crowdsurfing on his back

If you’re into music and your faves are still touring, go see them if you can. You’re almost guaranteed to have an amazing time, make new friends, and see some weird and wonderful things. Plus it really helps them out, especially the lesser known groups. Streaming has pretty much killed physical album sales and touring is one of the only ways for small bands to keep making music. Get out there and support your scene!

Images by Daniele Fantin, Sebastian Ervi, Thibault Trillet, & Edwin Andrade