A.J. Walker

writerer

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

About five weeks ago or so I started riding a bike again for the first time in over thirty years. It’s been fine really. And I can definitely feel a fitness benefit in just four weeks – the small hill (well bridge) that I went over each day is now easier than it was (I don’t think the bridge has been lowered).

The bike I’ve been riding is an old BSA, which had been my dad’s – five gears and very basic (and not great brakes). Anyway last week my friend said I could have his old bike which he doesn’t use (he has another one of the same brand I think). It’s a lovely looking bike and after a few days I thought why not. I made the mistake of saying it out loud though. I think my current bike – aka
ZevonOne – overheard me. And while she understood, she had to show some degree of hurt. So it was than on my last scheduled ride on her before picking up my new buddy (ZevonTwo, of course) she presented me with a flat tire on a six mile ride back to my house. But, to be fair, she was good to me. The flat could have come at a much worse place over the six miles but she decided to make her point to me just a few hundred metres from home rather than a few hundred metres from the start. Thank you, ZevonOne. It has been a quite short but interesting journey with you.

The next day I picked up ZevonTwo from my mate – and it also had a flat tyre. It has been sat in a garage for a few years unused. I’ve taken the wheel off and tyre too – I found the inner tube had an awful small split just by the valve – and I’m now awaiting a delivery of a new inner tube before I can get out and ride ZevTwo. It’s got many, many more gears but I think possibly only half work at the moment. I suspect ZevTwo may need a service of some sort. But even with half the gears working it will still have double what I had with One. The build of the bike will be better too. I'm looking forward to getting out on it (even as the darkness of winter approaches).

Will have to report back on her once I’ve got out on it and seen how it goes.

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen.
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Tour T-Shirt

Up until last week I had only ever done Open Mic in one venue – the Sanctuary – on Lime Street. As of this week I have now played in THREE venues. Amazing really. Last week it was the great Head of Steam on Hanover Street when Jake hosted had their first OM event and this week I strummed through the same mumbled songs as last week (Oh My Sweet Carolina, Heart Breaks Like the Dawn, and You Couldn’t Get Arrested) at the Angus on Dale Street. This was the first Open Mic at the pub and I was keen to show support to it. It is always difficult starting new stuff in venues as so much is down to word of mouth and repetition. Well I’m okay with chatting to people sometimes and all too good at repetition too – so it’s easy to do my bit.

The night was hosted by a brilliant singer –
Ali Horn – who plays there regularly (on Friday nights if I remember rightly). He’s got a great knowledge of songs and those he doesn’t know he’s happy to use Doctor Google to find the lyrics then launch into it. Jealous of both his knowledge and ability. He writes his own stuff to. Definitely worth popping in to see him when you can. The sound system at the venue is really nice. They’ve set it up so the sound goes all around the pub without the need for speakers and amps to be lugged in by the performers. So Ali has an easy night in that respect anyway.

I made the mistake of going back up and playing a second time as there were not many volunteers this week (I missed the start of the OM but I think there were just four or five people who went up). This time I went with
Splendid Isolation (which went okay) and then Van Diemen’s Land (which was not). I don’t know what was happening, but my fingers wouldn’t get into the right position for the B minor (Bm) chord – every time. It was all very odd and maddening. Not sure what was the cause of that as I don’t usually have a problem with it. Don’t think it was MS related but I guess I’ll have to keep and eye on it: and keep playing the damn Bm chord as often as I can. I was lugging heavy weighted things around all day so maybe it was my hands saying enough is enough fella, give it a rest.

Anyway I had a nice evening, and on a school night too. Chatted to some people I know and some I didn’t know before. Survived standing on the stage (and even the Bm debacle). Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger they say – but
they know fuck all. But I had a boss night and hope to get back sometime. As people learn it is on (apart from on Liverpool Champions League nights of course) then it will become more popular definitely.

Now I’ve played in three venues I’m pretty much wondering about sorting out a Tour T-shirt:

Sanctuary
Head of Steam
Angus


What’s next? Maybe the
Denbigh Castle who have recently put their toe in the water with OM too. To think that until I played the Sanctuary – shit scared – that once a few years ago when I thought that maybe I’d give it a go and do it once…

I do need to do a few things going forward, namely; learn some different songs, and some strumming patterns. Oh, and see if I can play the Bm chord again. That’d all help.

Onwards and Strumwards.
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New Open Mic Voyage

Well in the last month or so Open Mics have returned – a little erratically – to the Sanctuary and I have gone to both of them for a wee strum. This week new ones began in two other excellent Liverpool pubs; the Denbigh Castle on Hackins Hey and the Head of Steam on Hanover Street. Both started on the same night - Thursday 7th October.

The Denbigh Castle OM wasn’t starting until 10:30pm after three or four bands played apparently. I opted for the less late (and stressful) idea of going to the Head of Steam. I’d got back home late so didn’t get in to early this time, so I missed some good performances (from clips I’ve seen) from several artists. The room was busy with nearly every seat taken. It’s the area of the pub I usually gravitate to when I’m there – and in fact is where I am writing this now. So it felt like everyone was in my front room. Jack, the organiser of the Mic, asked if I was going to play and I confirmed I would. At least once I’d bought a second drink.

He played a couple more songs on his semi acoustic and then I stepped forward to play. The set up was actually in the corner I usually sit in too. It must explain why I was relaxed enough to chat a bit on the microphone; I rarely chat between songs when I’ve done Mics before. Weird. So with my glass sat on the carpet I proceeded to play four songs. Usual suspects for me – I really need to get a new set or two – and they were, in order:

Oh My Sweet Carolina (Ryan Adams)
Heart Breaks Like The Dawn (Chuck Prophet)
Splendid Isolation (Warren Zevon)
You Couldn’t Get Arrested If You Tried (Green on Red)

HoS-om
Playing in my usual corner of the HoS - who'd have thunk it?

A couple of mates came in and caught me playing which was nice. Hadn’t seen either of them out for a while, and they’d been to a show down the road and popped in on the off chance. Went down okay for me I think. First time I've played an Open Mic in a different pub and therefore with a totally new crowd. Was nowhere near as nervous as when I played the first new Sanctuary one the other month. Got the usual comments I get with my use of these songs, along the lines of “Did you write those?” My CD collection must be a bit different from other peoples I guess. Still, as I said whilst I was playing, the use of songs that people don’t know is a good call as they can’t tell how badly you’ve interpreted them (or what verses you’ve inadvertently missed out).

The party for the Head of Steam moved off not long after I’d finished. So maybe I can become the official bell ringer for time gentlemen please? Me singing could be one way of emptying a place out.

Well done to Jack for arranging, playing and hosting the event. Think the next one scheduled for a months time (first Thursday of the month) and I hope I can make it again. Maybe with more of my excellent (apparently) obscure songs.


Onwards and Strumwards.
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What Is It With Thursdays?

Last Thursday the second Open Mic of the post lockdown era was on at the Sanctuary and I decided to go down again. The last one was packed, but this time there was only five of us there. But I enjoyed it as much – maybe even more – than the last one. Not because of not being busy but because the host, Barry Sutton, was good to talk to – and some of the evening was as much a guitar lesson as me playing a few songs.

To be fair they only announced on Twitter that they were having an Open Mic the evening before, which ain’t much notice for people who may need to organise anything or just plan their week. Hopefully next time there will be a bit more notice and it will be a bit busier. It's either that or I'll end up with another lesson.

SanctuaryOM1
Open Mic in the Sanctuary

Incidentally it is great to see that there are other places starting Open Mic events in the coming fortnight in – and in a couple of my favourite real ale pubs to boot: the
Head of Steam, and the Denbigh Castle. At the moment I understand that the Head of Steam one will – at least initially – just be a monthly event on the first Thursday of the month i.e. first one will be on October 7th. And coincidentally the Denbigh Castle one will also commence (downstairs in the pub) on the same date. The intention is that this one will be each week.

I’m not sure how often the Sanctuary one is intended to be. But just like the two upcoming ones it is on a Thursday too. What is it with Thursdays?
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Sofar

On Wednesday I went to my first Sofar gig in Liverpool. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them, that's not the name of a band, but the name of the events. It is a nice idea which has spread world wide and includes a few cities in the UK. The ethos is to go and have a nice time and actually listen to the music and not chat all the way through it about what’s been on the TV or the latest football: watch and listen to the band. And talk and get your drinks in between the sets, rather than disturbing the gig for those around you. Boss.

You pay your £10 for a ticket, and then the day before you get an email telling you where it will be. In this case the event was held in a place I hadn’t been before called ‘
Slate’ which is within Tapestry – a large building up behind TJ Hughes. There’s apparently always a bar onsite (unless they tell you otherwise) so it’s not a BYOB gig.

Met someone I knew who likes live music – and it turns out helps out with the event – and then went up the stairs to Slate, which turned out to be a nice space for some music – with a small bar at one end of the room and the area for the bands marked out with some simple lighting, and the instruments and amplification all laid out at the opposite end.

Sofar_Mix
The three Sofar acts - Liverpool 22.09.21

There were three acts who played, who I hadn’t seen before. Namely,
Christie a local singer songwriter and Ahmed Khwata a songwriter from London, with the last act being The Heavy North – a local five piece bluesy outfit. I really enjoyed all of them. Christie and The Heavy North were both playing the Smithdown Festival at the Handyman on Friday (with Heavy North being the headliner).

HeavyNorth
The Heavy North

The whole gig wasn’t that long (first act on around 8pm and last song finished around 10:15pm – okay for a school night) with the acts each only playing five or six songs. But it was a really intimate gig with an attentive and respectful audience and I really enjoyed it. And I’ll definitely be there again, well, not
there as I don’t yet know where there will be.

Rock on.

_____________

sofarsounds.com/liverpool
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Nearly 40 Miles

This week’s summary (ending 26/9): I hit 91,870 steps equivalent (i.e. adding the cycling to the walks), which is good going. And I can very much feel the difference between how the muscles are affected by riding compared to walking - and I’m getting faster. My thighs on Friday and Saturday were still feeling the effects of nearly 40 miles of cycling. Not bad work last week after going from no cycling for thirty odd years. Ultimately I may end up having days when most my ‘steps’ are equivalent ones from cycling rather than actual walking. This week the cycling made up about a third of my leg work. The actual steps last week were 28.4 miles (60,965 steps) and the cycling was about 39.5 miles.

Canal 1

Been riding along canal pathways mostly and trying to limit the roads, which at the moment has been okay. I dare say it'll be less attractive soon as the morning and nighttime extends. Haven't done wet weather yet. Some of the cobbled surfaces could be a bit fun on a wet or frosty day. May end up combining some rail soon.

CanalBridge1

Week’s details (steps equivalent with walking and cycling combined):
Distance: 42.8 miles
Steps: 91,870k
Average Daily Distance: 6.1 miles
Average Steps: 13.1k

One nice thing about the cycling – apart from added fitness – is seeing some nice countryside and wildlife.

Maghull Bridge1

Onwards and Alongwards.
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Back to Gigs

The Magic Numbers gig on Friday was just brilliant. Oops, I’ve gone straight to the end there. First things first: I walked into town to get my steps in (without my usual rucksack for a change) and listened to the Numbers all the way - on my really crap headphones. Had read so much about how poor the beer is in the venue: the Arts Club, on Seel Street – operated by O2 Academy (not to be confused with the Arts Bar on Hope Street) - and how expensive it is too. I hadn’t been in the Arts Club since it was the Masque, many moons ago.

So I walked the 4.8 miles from mine to the
Keystone first with the aim to get a nice pint and fill myself up with a burger from Boffo Burgers (who operate out of the Keystone from Friday to Sunday). Sat outside in the garden cooling down from the long walk and had a couple of pints of Chapter BrewingThe Hay is Waiting’ and a cheeseburger and fries from Boffo. Top choices both.

Whilst I was in the Keystone I discovered I needed to prove either a negative
Covid test or that I’d been double vaccinated. I haven’t had a test for a while, but I have been double vaccinated. Unfortunately I’ve never checked whether the NHS App was up to date with that - I’ve heard many people have gone on and found one or both of their vaccinations not showing. I had a fear therefore that if that was the case I wouldn’t be seeing the Magic Numbers at all. In the end I gave my app the appropriate answers so that it could find my results and hey presto both vaccines were showing so I was good to go. (I was a bit perturbed that this ‘all clear’ is only valid to sometime in October!?! What happens then with any gig going?

Said my farewells and headed for one in the
Coach House. Ended up rushing a second (hey, the gig venue was going to be crap for beer). The walk took me past the Grapes so I had to go for a quick pint of NeptuneEzili’ in there, didn’t I?

And then finally, after my pre-loading with beef burger & fries and some mighty fine ales, it was time to head to the
Arts Club. There some people queuing outside, some of who were going through the process I’d gone thru trying to dig out their ‘I’m relatively safe’ proof before showing a ticket too. Then I was in. Huzzah! This was my first post lockdown gig with a non-socially distanced requirement (I’d been to the post-lockdown gig of Frank Turner in Top Rope Brewery, but that was with a socially distanced exclusive ‘crowd’ of 60 people). I was unsure how it would be.

Obviously it felt a bit strange (somewhere between good and ‘oh should we be doing this?’). The fact that everyone has to show their vaccination or latest test status though is at least a bit reassuring. I walked straight past the queue for the bar and headed for a bit of space on the left hand side to watch the stage (my fullness with quick beers and meat & fries worked!). Ren Harvieu was playing with Romeo and Michelle from the Numbers. I caught three of her songs before they left and the Numbers came on. The atmosphere was lovely.

The atmosphere just grew and grew and became eye poppingly good. The vibe perfect. Chatted to a few people who were along a straight line measurement between sober and not so sober - but all were in an equally mighty fine place. I couldn’t wait for the Numbers. Which was handy as there wasnt long to wait…

The tour was arranged to celebrated the fifteenth anniversary of their first, eponymous, album which was released in 2005. As the gig was on its third iteration due to covid cancelations then it was really the 16th anniversary. But if we can have the 2020 Olympics and 2020 European Championship this year then I dare say another event with a stretched out date is neither here nor there. In any case it was very much a celebration of their first, much loved, album. In fact they played the songs from the album in the order of it.

The audience loved it. Raising hands, glasses and voices along with the all of the songs. It was joyous. And I’d forgotten to be ‘not quite sure’ about being in a crowded indoor venue. I’m not sure whether it was sold out or not. It seemed pretty full to me, though not too bad to get to the bar when I finally decided I was in need of hydration again. Choices for an ale drinker were limited (and they didn’t even have any
Guinness – my go to drink where ale is not about) so I ended up drinking Somersby pretend cider. Which did a job.

The music and atmosphere hardly took a dip; the album is one classic after another after all. And I enjoyed everything about it (if not the bar). They ended the gig (which included the hidden song at the end of the album) with a saxophone player joining them to play ‘
Sweet Divide’ which was a beautiful epic song to end with.

Yes, all in all, a mighty good night. Can’t beat live music, can you? That’s rhetorical. You can’t.

___________

Talking of live music I ended up getting a ticket the next day for a gig next week in Liverpool. It’ll be my first time going to a
Sofar gig. They don’t tell you who will be playing or where! All they say is that it’ll be arrive for 7:15 and it’ll be in Liverpool. Then 36 hours before the gig they inform you about the venue. You only find out who is playing when they step up to the microphone. An interesting concept. For £10 it is not much to gamble with and I am looking forward to this week’s event: and yes I know now I have a record of my double vaccination status. Huzzah!

If it sounds up your street (it is a worldwide thing) then take a look at the website to see if there is anything coming up where you are:

www.sofarsounds.com
www.sofarsounds.com/cities/liverpool
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Walk On & Ride On

Well last week became a bit different for me; because I started riding a bike as well as walking. First time in a saddle for decades. In any case I exceeded my weekly goal of 56k steps with just the walking, but together with the riding did even better. I had four days walking into Liverpool and those four days equated to between 12.8 and 13.9k steps per day. And there were three days when I did not get up to the 8k steps average goal. I’ve found a fudge factor to address the equivalent for cycling to steps so I could add the numbers up (I’ve used 110 steps/minute at this point).

This week’s summary (
ending 19/9) I hit c.74,589 steps, which is pretty damn fine. And I can feel the difference between how the muscles are affected by riding compared to walking - and day on day I’ve got faster on the bike without trying (though this may also be that the tyres were better inflated too). Initially I’m going to try going out on the bike three times a week. Let’s see how that goes. Ultimately I may end up having days when most my ‘steps’ are equivalent ones from cycling rather than actual steps. We shall see.

Week’s details:
Distance: 34.7 miles
Steps 74.6k
Average Daily Distance: 4.96 miles
Average Steps: 10.7k

Onwards and Alongwards.
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Magic Numbers Gigs

Tonight I'm going to a gig – the Magic Numbers at the Arts Bar in Liverpool. First time at a normal (not socially distanced) gig since Covid lockdowns.

Michelle_Angela_1
Michelle & Angela – and an interloper – in an Amsterdam bar

Romeo_2
Romeo and the same interloper (and a band member from Shout Out Louds) in an Amsterdam bar.

I've been to several Number's gigs in Manchester, Kendal, and even Amsterdam – as well as seeing them at music festivals like Glastonbury. I also went to see
Romeo Stodart at the Music Room in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, which was just two days before all gigs got cancelled due to lockdowns. I wrote a review of that gig for a website.

Romeo_1


Got some great memories – and stories – from all my gigs involving the Number's and am looking forward to tonight. Not looking to forward to the bar in the Arts Bar though. Truly horrendous prices for crap drinks. Ho hum. Not sure how it'll be in a none socially distanced environment either. But saying that, the music from the
Stodarts & Gannons – and from Ren Harvieu – will no doubt be fabulous.

Rock on.
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First Try Out on ZevonOne

A Bike

One of the items I picked up from my parents house was my dad's old bike. It's nothing special it's a BSA
'Westcoast' if it means anything to you. But it's not called Westcoast any more it is now officially ZevonOne. It has straight handlebars rather than road racing type which is better for me from a riding position perspective, as I'm not going to be doing anything for speed, and It has five speed gears.

ZevonOne_and_Me
First daylight ride on ZevonOne

I bought a set of lights, a pump and a lock; and yesterday I got the chain back on and oiled it. Sure it needs a bit a clean and more oil on the gears next, but it worked fine. The brakes are okay but not brilliant. Probably due to the cables not being moved much for many years as dad hadn't used if for a few years.

I'll have to get a
hi-vis belt or sash or some such next; I am not intending to get much (any) in the way of the cycling clothing – at least at the moment. I suppose I'll have a think about a helmet.

Last night at 11pm – after watching '
Help' (a great drama featuring the wonderful Stephen Graham & Jodie Comer on C4) – I went out for my first ride on a bicycle for something like thirty years. Only went on a circular route of 2.85 miles. It took me a bit under 22 minutes; around 7.8 mph i.e. not fast.

WHPgate
Pain in the neck gates at park

This morning I went out and rode on the route I've been walking previously around Walton Hall Park via the Loop Line. The main things I've noticed are that the legs get pretty tired, pretty damn quickly compared to walking. And my god, even short slopes were a killer. The movement of the legs is very different of course to walking and it is exercising them in a different way. The gates around the park are a damn pain to deal with too. Anyway it'll take a few weeks I'm sure for these legs to get used to this new thing.

Steps

Noticed of course that the exercise doesn't get picked up by watch, which means I'll have to turn the rides into steps by some factor or other. There's no clear cut way of doing it. I found several way of doing it on a writer's website (
link here) and am going to go for the lower one initially: namely, 130 steps per minute for a low intensity ride. But initially I'll lower it further as I'm going to be damn slow to start with. They have 'easy pace' as ten miles an hour and on my first two outings I've been closer to 8mph. So for the sake of argument let's say 110 steps/min for now and I'll up it to 130/min once I've got up to 10mph (assuming I ever do).

Once at Lake Toba

I say that it's been thirty years since I've been on a bike and that's almost true. But I did hire a bike on one day when I was in Indonesia at the stunning Lake Toba. The lack of practice and the hilly nature meant I didn't really cycle
per se though – I basically walked up the slopes and then freewheeled down them. Not really cycling at all then.

Going forward

Getting on the bike this morning I found the front tire had gone down since last night. So it seems I'll have to get new inner tubes next – along with the
hi-vis. It'll be first time changing a tyre for over thirty years too then. The other thing is that there are areas of rust, most obviously the handlebars. So at some point I'll have to de-rust and paint the affected areas. It's all a learning curve.

RustyHandlebars
The handlebars (and indeed the bike) needs some TLC/paint work.

Assuming I record the bike rides on
Runkeeper (which doesn't just do running, despite the name), then I can convert the cycling to steps and keep up with monitoring overall exercise in a consistent form.

Onwards and along wards.
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