Month: December 2010

Hummingbirds truly are the jewels of the desert…

One of the many pleasures of a Palm Springs location is the variety of amazing small birds of every colour under the sun that visit our back garden.  Top of the pile for me however without any close competition is the hummingbird, as commonplace here as sparrows are at home.  I can still remember clearly the first time I ever saw one.  I was with a crowd of engineers in Silicon Valley – they didn’t seem too impressed & I then felt a bit embarrassed for making such a fuss and showing myself to be such a newbie in the Valley.  Out here I see them many times a day, but each sighting still stops me in my tracks & I watch them for the few seconds they remain in a single place, feeding or perching.  In flight, they’re harder to track than a golf ball on the tv, flying in short bursts at up to 60 mph.  They are like tiny bright jewels, moving at a million miles an hour in a blur of iridescent colour & wings, chattering away to themselves constantly. 

We’re staying at the historic Ocotillo Lodge in Palm Springs.  It’s one of the many examples that still exist out here in the Californian desert of fine mid century architecture.  Aloe vera plants line one edge of the champagne cork shaped swimming pool and the hummingbirds seem to love the orange trumpet flowers.  The one I’ve been observing this morning is a female Costa’s hummingbird.  She’s about 3½ inches long and after feeding on the flowers, perched for a couple of minutes on the fence around the pool so I could get a good look at her.  Last week I watched one taking a shower in the raindrops – it sat on the fence during a brief downpour & fluffed up its feathers.

Hummingbirds are territorial & fiercely aggressive for ones so small.  They will attack other hummingbirds that are encroaching on their territory (when I’m swimming, I can hear them angrily “buzzing” at each other) and also much bigger birds without hesitation or any evidence of fear.

If you’ve never seen one check them out on Youtube, follow @WeLuvBirds on Twitter and enjoy the great bird photos they post up every day or follow @craignewmark also on Twitter – Craig has a live webcam on his hummingbirds in San Francisco during the breeding season and provides enjoyable daily coverage of news about the babies.  Thanks Craig!

My camera isn’t good enough to capture a hummingbird in flight so I’ve borrowed this picture from the excellent site – I hope they don’t mind.


Reeling in the Years – a few gig stories


Over the past few weeks, as my journey home from Derry has got longer & longer due to the bad weather, I’ve started to devise new ways to pass the time I spend in the car.  A recent ongoing theme has been trying to first of all remember all the bands I’ve seen in the last 35 years and then to put them into chronological order.  I managed to remember the first & last bands (the late Desmond Dekker & Robert Plant’s Band of Joy for anyone that’s wondering) but I’ve mothballed the task pending future imprisonment (solitary confinement) or hostage seizure when I may have time to revisit.  What the exercise has done is remind me of many, many fun nights out over the years and here are a few of the highlights/oddities:

·         I saw all sorts of bands when I was a teenager in Doncaster.  My friends & I used to frequent the Outlook Club which sadly (?) no longer exists.  It had a very short space between the stage & the ceiling and that meant that Johnny Ramone had to do his entire set in 1977 with his head bowed & his hair hanging down.  The Ramones were supporting the Talking Heads or vice versa – that was a good night.  I’d never experienced anything like the Ramones.  We didn’t have the internet at school in the 1970s, no-one really travelled long distance and New York was to us like another planet.  I love the way that other bands have adopted Gabba Gabba Hey as one of their anthems and Belfast band the Sabrejets do a good cover.  Hearing those early Ramones songs now always reminds me of pogo-ing at university parties.

·         My friend & I hitchhiked from Nottingham to Leeds in 1982 to see the Rolling Stones in Roundhay Park.  It was a sunny day & we managed to get near the front.  We got a lift home with a VW transporter van full of hippies – which was great until the girl driving asked whether there was anyone else in the van who could drive but hadn’t dropped any acid.  Ah well – she was a trooper & managed to get us home ok without any mishaps.

·         Blondie played our Fresher ball in Lancaster – none of us had ever heard of them but they were good on the night.  Saw loads of great bands at university and some awful ones too (Bob Geldof’s dreadful Boomtown Rats stands out) but as it was the late 70s, there was always a lot of other stuff going on in parallel – mainly fighting it has to be said between the “posh” uni students & the punks from Preston who used to come up for gigs.  I kept out of the fighting but it always caused a lot of “noise”.

·         My friend sent me money in 1985 to buy Tom Waits tickets at the Dominion.  I failed to realise how popular Tom was likely to be & left ticket purchase to the last minute.  There were none left.  Obvious to me now!  I put upon all my London friends to ring everyone & anyone they knew with “music biz” contacts.  There were no Tom Waits tickets to be had for love or money.  It was ok though – I didn’t tell my friend, we turned up on the night of the gig & I blagged us in at the Dominion – although we had to stand at the back.  Yep – I must have always been manipulative.

·         Think the most surreal has to be Jayne (formerly Wayne) County at the Fridge in Brixton.  The men on the stage were naked except for policeman’s hats and they were dancing energetically.  As we were at the front that resulted in a lot of “movement” right in our eyelines.  We were truly spoilt for choice in Brixton between the Academy & the Fridge.  Mick Jones’ dad used to drink in our local in Brixton Hill.  Conversation went like this “My boy’s in a band – you might have heard of him”; us to middle aged man, “oh yeah – who’s that then?” (thinking to ourselves it was gonna be someone awful & we’d have to pretend whoever X was was ok) “It’s Mick Jones – he plays a lovely guitar – he used to be in a band called the Clash – have you heard of them?”  Silence fell as we gazed at the father of one of our gods…

·         Seen the late Link Wray at the Garage in London & self nominated King of the Surf guitar Dick Dale a number of times in various locations; also went all the way to Spain to see Davie Allan & the Arrows – which completes that particular holy trinity.  Caught both Slacktone and the Neptunes at a Hillbilly Surf Stomp in San Luis Obispo during the week following 9/11 when I was stranded in California – most memorable thing about that day apart from the music was the number of Americans that asked me why people in other countries hated them so much…which was a hard question to answer tactfully.

·         Saw Mark Lanegan & the Screaming Trees at the Astoria & attended the after gig party.  Whilst the band was on stage, someone had stolen all their credit cards.  Ah well – kept Mark out of trouble for that one night at least.  Along the same lines, we were on the guest list for Faith No More at the Astoria and one of the bouncers came by and told us we’d have to give up our seats if Eric Clapton showed up.  Lucky for him he didn’t as we weren’t for moving.

·         More recently moved furniture with Jonathan Richman when he was in Belfast, rubbed shoulders with Leonard Cohen in the Do-Lab at Coachella (he was the only person formally dressed), met Steve Earle in Derry with some of the Learning Pool team (that’s us all in the photo – Steve Earle looks almost like part of our team in this pic) and travelled down to Dublin with Janet Harkin to see Robert Plant’s Band of Joy.

Every one of them a good night – hopefully there’ll be many more.  Looking forward to reading your gig stories in the comments.