Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Far Off Places (Part Two)

Mozarmy Meet pin 2015
As I entered the Star and Garter pub for the Mozarmy meet, I was handed a Breakfast Champion button and I pinned it on! They were designed by Andy Barnett. He is a regular listener to Breakfast with The Smiths/The World of Morrissey  on and if you have been REALLY lucky you will have heard him make a phone-in request once.

Just like your average Breakfast Champion, The Star and Garter pub has character. It's an old building (1800s) that reminds me a little of the Adams Family house. When I walked in, I felt like I was walking into someone's living room. Just a warm atmosphere. I suppose, the people already there for the meet up, helped to fuel that atmosphere.

So again, kind of strange in a very GOOD way to see familiar faces that I had NEVER physically met. Just a familiar picture I had seen from a Twitter avatar. Or someone asked, "What is your Twitter handle?" And then I responded and they said, "Oh. Yeah. Nice to meet you." 

One of the first people I spoke to was Stefan Krix. Yes, I had met him at the pub the night before, yes, he was on the tour bus but I hadn't really had the chance to chat about much until then. I learned that he is from the Ruhr part of Germany and it probably took him quite a number of hours to get to Manchester. When he described where he was from, an industrial town, I could see (and he admitted) it was similar in some ways to Manchester. Maybe that is  one reason why he could relate so well to The Smiths and Morrissey.

I also chatted briefly with Adrianna. Maybe I should have been embarrassed when I noted that her best friend looks kind of like John Cryer during the Duckie years (Pretty in Pink). I probably wisely didn't mention the numerous times I had discussed Duckie and a teenage lust, and admiration for him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with other female Breakfast Champions. 

 In addition to faraway faces, we saw some from California, Mel Hidalgo and her partner were there and although we had never met back home, it was a treat to chat a bit with someone from Los Angeles and who was sharing in this new experience.

I brought my digital SLR camera with me to England for this trip in the hopes that I would be taking many high quality pictures. And the thing is, I got some great shots, but I think you really have to decide if you want to take pictures or socialize and be involved. Taking a lot of photos requires a bit of distance. You aren't as involved. But I wanted to socialize AND take pictures which basically meant that I was never any one place for very long. And I forgot to take my own picture with some great people when I had the chance.

Once sufficient time had passed meeting and greeting, things got started upstairs. The entertainment began with a brilliant dialogue between "cardboard Morrissey" (created by Andy Barnett, voice by Jose Maldonado) and Julie Hamill, followed by a wonderful, intimate acoustic set by Jose. 

After that, people were dancing and milling about. I went downstairs to get another drink and see what Stephanie was up to. While there, I got a good shot of Jose and Julie.

I think Jose was getting ready to perform with the Mozarmy house band-James Barton, Owen Burns, Conor MacCloughlin and Andrew Parisi was playing drums, of course. I was fortunate enough to be in the right place when Julie introduced me to Andrew and we chatted  awhile before they went on stage. He was a very down to earth kind of person. Very real. I was struck by the fact that he truly loves Morrissey's music. I didn't get the impression that he just played with Morrissey and that's as far as it went.  He's a fan.

After Julie told Andrew that it was time to go on and perform, she introduced me to Simon Wolstencroft. I bought a copy of his book,You Can Drum But You Can't Hide)  and we chatted a bit before and after signing it. He talked openly about his brief time playing with The Smiths and his time in the Manchester music scene during the 80s and 90s. He had a lot of fascinating stories to tell and much of it is included in his book. Just like Andrew Parisi it was clear that he too, is fan of Morrissey's music and lyrics. 

I suddenly realized I was missing Jose and the Mozarmy band playing so I ran up the stairs. I missed some of the set. But it was obvious to me they had taken the audience by storm and it was amazing to watch. A guy who I had overheard at the start of the evening say, "I hate cover bands." was dancing and singing and yelling for more in between songs. You COULD say it was the beer but I maintain that it was the music combined with Jose's stellar performance.

I'd be lying to you if I didn't admit to you that Jose was the star of the show. It's a privilege to be among the audience who has no idea really what to expect. Then to see them transform right before my very eyes. 

In between songs they even chanted "Morrissey, Morrissey, Morrissey!" 

So, what exactly does Jose do that makes his performance so damned special, you may ask? I could describe how he dances like Morrissey, how he has his moves down pat, I could also tell you that he puts in his own artful interpretation,I could tell you how much he actually sounds like Morrissey, I could tell you all those things that I am sure I have stated before in other posts. But one thing is most undeniable and that is Jose's passion for Morrissey's words and his love for the music are embodied in every move and song on the stage. I can't say it better than that.  

That love and passion is given to the audience who welcome it with open arms. It was special to be in a room blasting Morrissey's words in the land where it all began, echoing through those "streets where he was raised" from a man who is from my part of the world-in Los Angeles, and expertly sharing that connection we feel.

I am posting a few numbers I recorded that evening to give you the sense of what it was like to be there that special night.

If you really want a better set of video to watch, I'd highly recommend The Mozarmy YouTube page. "Asleep" with Conor playing keys was just beautiful, very emotional. "Staircase at the University" was another that really stood out but I just didn't get video.

During the Mozarmy band performance, at one point I noticed a guy behind me that looked like Matthew Whitehouse from the band The Heartbreaks (who opened for Morrissey during his 2011 tour ?). We made eye contact and he smiled and I smiled. Then I said to him, "You look like the guy from The Heartbreaks."

"I AM the guy from The Heartbreaks. I'm Matthew Whitehouse."


We laughed and I acted all star struck which is unlike me.I remembered all these weird facts like that they are from Morecombe, for example. I told him he was unusual-looking (in a good way). Then,  I walked away but I kept looking behind me and he smiled and I laughed and he laughed and it seemed like the joking was mutual, but I kind of think he must have wished he'd never made eye contact. Honestly. I think I looked at him more than would be considered normal.

I even dragged him over to meet Jose after his performance-even though he'd already met Jose. I think it was at the "I Love you, man" stage of the evening. 

As I tell this part of the story, I feel compelled to assume the fetal position and put a blanket over my head. If Matthew Whitehouse never goes to another Mozarmy Meet or Manchester, for that matter, it's probably my fault.

After the live music (and Matthew Whitehouse had left), the DJ played more and more of our favorite songs and dancing and merriment continued. Donna Bishop (from Manchester and another favorite Breakfast Champion) was there and was dancing in full force the entire night.

 I went downstairs and was getting ready to leave when I saw Julie and she said, "We need to have a dance." So we went back upstairs and when I turned around Julie was nowhere. She obviously was stopped on the way up for a chat with someone or other. So I danced with two lovely young men, George and Chris. I saw other people I know, like Vanessa and Euan and I danced with them briefly but just a mass of dancing people. Fun dancing people!

Stephanie and I had to fly home that day so I said a quick "Good Night" and walked out the door of The Star and Garter feeling happy that I was so lucky to be there. I guess next year I can get that dance with Julie.

In addition to a wonderful night had by all the sold out event raised quite a lot of money to help keep The Star and Garter going!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Far Off Places (Part One)

Mozarmy Meet poster

It's been a week since I attended the Mozarmy Meet in Manchester and I am simply overwhelmed with what I want to write about. In which case it is probably best to start at the beginning.

Firstly, I was exceedingly lucky to have someone to travel with. My friend, Stephanie, was even more excited than I was. This is hard to believe but she had never been to England before so it made it even more fun for me because she was so into it.

 We landed in Manchester on Thursday evening after a short layover in London. It took about 11-12 hours so we were pretty exhausted but giddy with excitement. We booked our own flat through Airbnb and we had to wait a bit to check in. We were lucky enough to be staying in a cool little area with small restaurants and bars close by. We went to a bar called Gorilla and had dinner and beer. Stephanie and I both felt quite welcomed there and wanted to return but we just never had the time. Great food and service there. 

Our flat was wonderful. If you have never booked a room through Airbnb, I really can't praise it enough. Basically, you are living in an apartment or house for less or close to the price of a hotel. Having a kitchen enables you to save so much on food. Also, you aren't confined to a small room with beds and a bathroom. You have space to hang out and relax. That's exactly what Stephanie and I did that first night. As you may have guessed, we fell right to sleep which worked out well as it was already 10 by the time we crashed. This was a positive in fighting jet lag as we were likely to wake up in the morning and jump right into UK time.

I did not bring any running gear with me because my idea was to do a lot of walking. So Friday morning Stephanie and I set out early to see some of the sights in Manchester. We started walking the wrong way towards the University of Manchester. But then received some help from the visitor's center at the University and we walked toward the Central Library, thinking that perhaps that might be where Morrissey's mum worked. 

It's actually an incredible building with beautiful stained glass windows and lovely ceilings rooms. We checked out the main study as well as the music room. We could not have asked for a sunnier day and the interior of the library was made more vibrant simply by the sun shining through.

We saw a "Big Wheel" and lots of people shopping, walked through Chinatown a bit and then I made Stephanie stand in front of a street vendor sign that said, "Manchester Tart," then laughed like I was 11 years old. I am not posting it here because that would just be mean.

We rested in the afternoon because our plan was to meet up with Dickie Felton (The Day I Met Morrissey, Morrissey International Airport) and also Ewan and of course, Vanessa and Conor. 

Dickie had the brilliant idea of meeting up at a bar high up high called Cloud 23. It was quite fancy as they served afternoon tea and had fancy beverages. Needless to say, we enjoyed the view and we skipped the tea and went straight for the beverages.

We went to a few more pubs and were joined by more Breakfast Champions before Dickie had to catch the train back to Liverpool. He could not make the meet up on Saturday because he had an important football game to attend the next day. Marine AFC. 

But wow, how wonderful was it to see Dickie and Ewan and Conor again? The banter, the silliness, etc. We kept laughing at the beginning because Dickie couldn't believe we were there, then we started laughing because WE couldn't believe we were there. Its so strange when you see someone out of the context in which you have first known them. But also wonderful and you sense how very lucky you are.

We met up with some fellow Breakfast Champions from everywhere after that. Stefan Krix, Julie Hamill and her sisters, Louise and Rose Ann, Jose Maldonado, Adrianna, Hugh, and Andy Barnett among others. It was indescribable to meet people you "know" but have never actually physically met. And everyone jumped on the dance floor as the DJ under our orders played song after song of The Smiths. 

 Of course, Saturday was a BIG day. This was the day of the Morrissey tour and the day I unwisely decided to wash my hair.

 We discovered that when you plug an American blow dryer into a converter plugged into a UK wall socket, you have yourself a blow torch. That means thoroughly drying your Southern California hair should be done with caution lest you burn your hair or face off. At arms length. For me, it meant partially dried wavy/curly hair. My hair was perfect for the 80's. Not so much for this decade.

Stephanie and I were pleasantly surprised that our tour was basically a van filled with all our friends. Stefan, Andy, and Adrianna were all on this tour. It wasn't hokey like I kind of thought it would be. It was cool because it had all the cool people on it. And when our tour guide blasted The Smiths, we all sang along. 

Of course, it hadn't rained at all until then. And when we took our picture outside Salford Lads Club, suddenly gale force winds and rain began. No hope for my hair at this point. So my iconic Moz fan pic which will live on forever is me and Stephanie with my not-so-great-looking hair. But hey, what can you do?

(I'm so vain I am including the group shot we took because my hair isn't as puffy).

While Salford Lads Club is THE spot, it isn't just a cool exterior. It is also like American equivalent of  a Boys and Girl's Club. They have great sports and outdoor activities available for youth. 

Some other key spots we stopped were The Iron Bridge (which I envisioned as a railway bridge), Strangeway's Prison, the cemetery of "Cemetery Gates," and Morrissey's house on King's Road. 

I guess the best way to explain being at all these places is that it's easy to imagine how Morrissey felt in those lonely early years. We, as fans, most likely get the "outsider" feel, the loner, being different, etc. I guess for me, I imagined him coming home from his horrible school day and walking over the iron bridge to get home, then climbing the stairs, going to his room and putting records on and dancing his cares away. Its important as a person who puts such value in Morrissey's writing and experience to look at his situation and imagine what it was like for him when those things were familiar, his every day. Each crack of the sidewalk was familiar to him. Each car parked on the road, etc.

I decided to continue Part 2 tomorrow. The Mozarmy Meet needs it's own post!