“You’ve got to earn the right for fans to buy your shirt…and hopefully I did that” – a feature with Nicky Southall

“Ah, here he is!” comments a Maidstone United player as an almost shy looking Nicky Southall enters the club’s Gallagher Stadium. As soon as the United players having cups of tea before training notice ‘Trigger’ entering, you can instantly see the respect they have for their assistant manager, who plied the majority of his trade as a player in the Football League – as well as a stint in the top flight once upon a time. The 44-year-old  turned out for Gillingham, Norwich City and Bolton Wanderers amongst others, but the topic of discussion on the agenda today is Nottingham Forest.

The Reds have been through a rather turbulent four years as the club has regressed in each season under Kuwaiti owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi’s reign, and while there is cautious optimism regarding the supposed takeover from Greek business tycoon and Olympiacos owner Evangelos Marinakis, the Al-Hasawi regime goes down as one of the worst in the club’s history – but not the absolute worst. That ‘honour’ belongs to the period when Forest fell into the Third Division – where they remained for three years – back in 2005 for the first time since the 1950/51 season.

Out of every darkness comes light however, and one of Forest’s lights then was midfielder Southall, who signed on a two-year deal from Gillingham in the summer of 2005. Ironically, Forest had relegated Southall’s Gillingham a few weeks prior to his arrival, and made the bold call to offer the then 33-year-old a two-year deal. “To get a two-year deal at that age, well, you wouldn’t get that kind of contract now,” Southall tells me. “I know it didn’t get off to the best of starts with Gary Megson, but he brought me to the club and made me feel welcome, as a lot of the Forest fans did.”

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Yes it could be worse…Gary Megson by the home dugouts at The City Ground (Credit: Nottingham Post)

Gary Megson is a name that still sparks hatred in Forest fans, and in some cases, former Forest players. Seen as arguably the worst manager in the club’s history, Megson’s 13 month reign was an unmitigated disaster for nearly all involved – players included. Southall refuses to lift the lid on what exactly happened with other members of the playing staff out of respect for his former team-mates, but instead, he tells me how he experienced no major issues with Megson, and made it his mission to become an established member of the dressing room.

“We got on fine, I was obviously one of his signings…he had his differences with certain players which stays in the dressing room as I don’t want to get into that, but for me as an individual, I used to go out there and give everything for the cause and I think if you do that, you become well liked in and around the dressing room, with the staff and with the fans,” Southall explains. “When I signed, it was one of those where people raised eyebrows, like ‘who is he?’ and this, that and the other, but I thought first and foremost that if I can win the respect of the players in the dressing room and obviously the fans, that would be key.”

It adds more depth to the respect shown to Southall as he emerged before this interview took place, as the Maidstone players know he’s essentially one of them, even if he doesn’t take to the field himself. Finding people you can trust in football isn’t easy as many players will testify, but by keeping issues regarding other players off limits, perhaps Southall is one of them. Given the nature of the issues in hand, you have to praise Southall’s integrity further.

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Southall in action for The Reds (Credit: Nottingham Forest CZ)

Forest fan favourites Alan Rogers and David Johnson both castigated Megson on social media, with their tweets recalling horrific bullying from a dictator who’d lost the plot. Johnson claimed he was once dropped for refusing to tackle Wes Morgan in an impromptu game of American Football – organised by Megson – in a car park the morning of a match, while for Rogers it was a lot more personal.

The left back insists he was greeted on Megson’s first day with a handshake and the words, “I will ruin your career” as Rogers once turned down an approach from Megson’s West Bromwich Albion. Rogers, a mainstay at left back in the disastrous 2004/05 season, played just nine times for Megson following the new manager’s arrival in January 2005 before being placed on gardening leave, with Megson even banning the popular defender from using the club car park. Perhaps understandably, the dressing room was divided before the new signings – including Southall – arrived, but the midfielder focussed solely on working his way into the first-team.

“I’d come in pre-season as a new boy with the other new signings so you tend to not really see it, but stuff did happen that I wasn’t aware of the season before,” Southall states. “Every manager has got his own ideas how he wants to play and what team selections he wants, and I think as a new player you’ve got to respect that and get your head down to try and get onto the pitch because that’s all I wanted to do.”

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Another action shot of Southall (Credit: Getty)

However, it was clear that Megson was on dangerously thin ice, and after a run of one win in 10 games, the already anti-Megson fans really cranked up the hatred. Banners started appearing demanding for his head as Forest – expected to challenge for promotion – found themselves just four points above the drop zone following a 3-0 defeat away at Oldham Athletic. Southall recalls that the players were more than aware of the animosity in the stands, and on a personal level, believed they were entitled to act the way they did, even though he’d rather they hadn’t.

“Obviously we were aware,” he tells me. “As a player it doesn’t help when there’s a lot of negative energy in the stadium, especially a very big stadium with a lot of fans there, but the fans voice their opinion and as they pay their money, they have the right to do that.” Megson’s fate was sealed after that loss and he left in February 2006 by mutual consent, with Ian McParland and Frank Barlow – Charlie and Frank – taking temporary charge. The change seemed to reinvigorate the club, and the players knew they needed to step up.

“As players, we knew we had to perform – and that’s what we did till the end of the season,” Southall declares. “You see it all the time, a manager gets sacked and the team seem to turn it around over the next few games – whether it’s because the new manager is sat in the stands looking down or players who weren’t in the team try to get a second chance with a caretaker manager.”

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Forest fans made their feelings known to Megson (Credit: Nottingham Post)

And boy, did they perform. The two games after Megson’s departure saw Forest score a whopping nine goals in two games, including one memorable encounter against Swindon Town at The City Ground, with Forest running out 7-1 winners. The man spearheading a rampant Forest that day by bagging a hattrick? Nicky Southall. When it comes to picking his best moment for the club, it’s little wonder Southall chose this – even if it got an old mate into some hot water.

“When I look back, it’s one of the standout performances of my career and the team performance – you don’t just look at yourself, but the team as a whole – was just amazing,” he declares. “Everything we seemed to hit or cross or head just seemed to go in that day. You get days like that, I’ve been on the end of results like that in the past and it’s not easy, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it. For me personally, it was a magical experience to score a hattrick in front of the Forest fans. However, in the dugout for Swindon was my ex-teammate and former Gillingham roommate Iffy Onuora, who lost his job not long after that game, so I feel a bit guilty on that one!”

Charlie and Frank oversaw 13 games with Forest, winning eight, drawing four and losing just one as the Reds narrowly missed out on the play-offs, eventually finishing seventh. On a personal level though, Southall’s debut season with the Reds was a resounding success and he came second behind Ian Breckin in the club’s Player of the Year awards following his exploits on the pitch. The new season saw Forest opt for yet another fresh approach, this time with Colin Calderwood, who was poached from his managerial position at Northampton Town. While it posed the challenge of proving yourself all over again, Southall had a good working relationship with the new boss.

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Southall celebrating finding the net against Swindon (Credit: Nottingham Forest CZ)

“He was great,” Southall exclaims. “I’d scored quite a few goals that season (8 in 43 from midfield) and claimed some assists too, so being a consistent performer who could play in various different positions in midfield and with my experience in the squad, I’d hoped he wouldn’t change too much. But yeah, he came in, he’s got different ideas like all managers do, and he did OK.”

Calderwood’s Forest had a flying start to the 2006/07 season, winning five of their first six league games, only – in recent typical Forest fashion – to win two out of their next seven. Following the embarrassing 4-0 home pasting by Scunthorpe United live on Sky, Southall essentially won Forest their next three games with four goals, as well as a strike in the Football League Trophy, taking his tally to five in four. The first came against Southall’s former club Gillingham in a 1-0 win, and he refused to celebrate after netting at his former stomping ground.

“It was in front of the end where the hardcore Gillingham fans go, and just out of respect I didn’t celebrate, which I think was the right thing to do,” he says. “Whenever I used to score a goal, I used to score them in clumps – I do remember than if I got one, I tended to get another couple in the next few weeks. It’s just the confidence in getting in those positions, trying to read the game as to where the ball will land and trying to get to the far stick. That’s one thing I did all through my career, try and get to the back stick, because that’s where goals are scored.”

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“Try and get to the back stick, because that’s where goals are scored” – Southall scoring the winner against Gillingham (Credit: Kent Online)

Southall remained an integral part of the side which looked certain to finish in the top two, but when the team travelled to Carlisle for a midweek match at Brunton Park at the end of January with the Reds in fourth – three points behind leaders Scunthorpe with two games in hand – that all changed. With the end of the January transfer window fast approaching, and with his contract expiring in six months despite his agent’s best efforts, a telephone call resulted in Southall surprisingly departing Trentside with a heavy heart for a third spell at Gillingham.

“The move was a shock to myself,” he explains. “I was up at Carlisle at a hotel about to have my evening meal as we were staying overnight, and then I got a phone call. My agent was in talks with Nottingham Forest as I wanted a two-year contract as I felt I was playing well enough and giving everything for the team, but the club was only offering me a year. I felt a bit let down by that and then Gillingham came in and offered me a two-and-a-half year contract. I still had a house down there which I’d rented out, so I thought to have a two-and-a-half year deal aged 34 would probably see me out. I didn’t want to leave Forest, we were pushing to get promoted and I felt I was a key component for that, but I went for the guarantee of a two-and-a-half year contract thinking of my family’s future.”

Southall’s last game for the Reds wasn’t exactly a bad one mind, as he got to mix it up with some of the world’s best as Forest drew Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Predictably, Forest were comfortably beaten 3-0 with Andriy Shevchenko, Didier Drogba and John Obi Mikel finding the net, but for Southall it was a brilliant occasion, and he left with a top memento from it.

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Tussling with Wayne Bridge in the FA Cup (Credit: Back Page)

“I swapped shirts with Frank Lampard, so that was a good shirt to swap with!” he says laughing. “It was a great occasion playing against superstars, and it’s always good to test yourself against those players – household names and incredible footballers both individually and collectively. It was a difficult game, Drogba was unplayable, but I remember the thousands of Forest fans in the top tier of the stand. It was sad losing it, and we weren’t realistically going to win the FA Cup, but it would have been nice to get a goal for the fans.”

Without Southall, Forest’s automatic promotion charge completely fell apart. The club won eight out of their last 18 matches, which saw them finish nine points behind winners Scunthorpe and three behind second placed Bristol City. Not content with spectacularly blowing a great opportunity once, missing out on the automatic slots resulted in the ill-fated play-off ties against Yeovil Town, which Forest lost 5-4 on aggregate having won the first leg – away from home – 2-0.

The next season, Forest finally got promoted back to the Championship after finishing second on the final day of the season with – ironically – a 3-2 win over Yeovil at The City Ground. Meanwhile, Southall’s Gillingham were relegated to League Two, allowing him to cruelly wonder ‘what if?’ The midfielder hit 15 goals in 78 games for Forest, which is outstanding for a midfielder, and Southall hopes that he’s remembered fondly for his performances at a club he holds in immense regard.

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Eyes on the ball (Credit: Back Page)

“I’d like to think the Forest fans would say that I was a success, I felt I had the respect of the supporters and those around the football club,” he tells me. “You’ve got to earn the right for fans to buy your shirt, and hopefully I did that. I’d like to say on record that I loved every part of being at Nottingham Forest, I’ve still got a lot of friends there and wish the club every success.”

A few months after this interview was taken, and assistant manager Southall was celebrating back-to-back promotions with former Football League club Maidstone, as they reached the Conference. With United – a former Football League club until liquidation in 1992 – only reforming mere days after folding in ’92 to start again in the Fourth Division of the Kent County League, this is an incredible achievement and highlights that out of every darkness comes light. Not for the first time in Southall’s footballing career, he’s involved in ensuring that.

Glastonbury 2016 Review

A week has passed since the sun, mud and rain greeted festival goers at Worthy Farm for Glastonbury 2016, but the weather couldn’t prevent The Greatest Festival on Earth (TM) from dazzling brighter than Coldplay’s light show, because – as expected – it was a phenomenal weekend. Even from the comfort of the public’s sofa it was a resounding success, as viewing figures were smashed thanks to serious heavy-hitters of the live circuit leaping at the chance to perform at a festival attended by close to 180,000 people.

Due to the fact the site is essentially the size of a small city and it was a killer line-up, some exceptionally big acts had to be missed. While I have it on good authority by people whose musical opinions I trust that both Adele and James Blake were outstanding in their respective slots, unfortunately the laws of human physics render me unable to be in two places at the same time. To make up for such negligence, this review will have a few new features compared to last year’s edition. Enjoy!

Three Least Surprising Things

1) Adele had a crowd the size of a small continent

Spoiler alert (and as mentioned earlier) – I didn’t actually see Adele headline the Pyramid Stage on the Saturday night – instead, I saw M83 top the John Peel Stage (more on that later). However, as my tent was located near the Pyramid, I had to go past the main stage in order to reach my desired location, which proved something of a challenge as about 95% of my vision was human beings. The sheer volume of people that attended her slot was simply staggering, though unsurprising given her unrivalled success.

2) Hurts’ Theo Hutchcraft was impeccably dressed

Ever since Hurts formed in 2009, frontman Theo Hutchcraft has always been dressed to impress on stage with an array of suits, and Glastonbury was no different. Taking a huge risk given the mud, he strolled out onto the Other Stage in a cream white suit complete with a white shirt in a bold call, yet predictably looked brilliant.

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Hurts’ Theo Hutchcraft looking very…white (Credit: BBC)

 

3) Coldplay brought colour. Lots and lots and lots of colour.

Anyone who has seen Coldplay on tour since the release of ‘Mylo Xyloto’ in 2011 will be fully aware that they bring more colour than a Dulux paint chart to their gigs, but even by their standards this was something else. With LED wristbands emitting bright colourful light, the crowd was either red, blue, yellow, pink or green depending what time it was. It looked absolutely incredible.

Three Most Surprising Things

1) JME was absent from Skepta’s set

With this being arguably Skepta’s biggest ever gig, it was understandable that he had a tonne of support from fellow rappers and Boy Better Know (BBK) members stage-side, who were more than happy to stroll on and bounce about, but one surprising omission was self-proclaimed BBK CEO – and Skepta’s brother – JME. Maybe he didn’t want to take the limelight away from his brother, but a rendition of ‘That’s Not Me’ with JME’s verse would have whipped up a frenzy.

2) The 1975 have significantly matured as a band

Confession time – initially I had no plans to watch The 1975 when deciding who to see on the Saturday, as I didn’t really have much intention of watching a band playing to pre-pubescent females. However, along I went, and I was happily proved wrong. Matt Healy is an excellent frontman, and their new album – ‘I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It’ is a huge leap in a forward direction. Performances like this mean it’s time to take them seriously as a band again.

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“Wait, we’re not seen as an alternative One Direction anymore?!” The 1975 on the Other Stage (Credit: NME)

 

3) M83 weren’t the best part of their headline slot

Slightly misleading title as M83 were incredible, but they weren’t the true stars of their set. That honour belonged to French-Vietnamese singer Mai Lan, who collaborates with M83 on several tracks. She came out and performed three songs with the band – ‘Bibi the Dog’, ‘Laser Gun’ and ‘Go’ –  and those three songs were head and shoulders above anything else performed on the night, which considering the strength of M83’s set that night, is no mean feat.

Three Lowlights

1) Mystery Jets took half an hour of my life and I want that back

Hopefully most of you would have seen The Simpsons episode (22 Short Films About Springfield) where Apu leaves the Kwik-E-Mart for five minutes to go to Sanjay’s BBQ party, only to come back and realise he locked Hans Moleman inside. Moleman quips, “you took four minutes of my life and I want them back!” and that is exactly how I felt watching Mystery Jets on the Sunday, but for half an hour. Never have I seen such a bang average, boring, bland and beige performance from anyone at a festival, ever, and it speaks volumes that I willingly left halfway through. Never again.

2) Watching Madness really was One Step Beyond, for all the wrong reasons

I saw Madness at Reading 2011 and they were spectacular, a true joy to behold. Five years later, and they were spectacularly bad. When you sound like you’re the entire set for a dad karaoke night at the Dog and Duck on a Thursday, it’s probably time to pack it in – and sadly, that’s exactly how Madness sounded. Covering ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC was the straw that broke the camel’s back, with the audience still probably wincing now.

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Madness at the start of their Pyramid set…before the cringe (Credit: Somerset Live)

 

3) Coldplay went full Avicii and it was truly terrible

We’ve all accepted that Coldplay won’t be making songs like ‘Clocks’ anymore, which is fair enough. Bands evolve. However, while one of their newer – and better – hits, ‘Paradise’ was brilliant, the outro wasn’t so. Rather than finish the song when it was supposed to, Chris Martin and co played a live EDM remix instead, and the results were mortifyingly bad. From what I saw, this was the only blotch on an otherwise flawless performance – it’s just a shame that said blotch is rather large.

Five Best Songs

5) The Scientist – Coldplay

As soon as Chris Martin started playing what is one of the best piano ballads written in the 21st century, the crowd erupted. Thousands and thousands of people bellowing, “NO-BODY SAID, IT WAS EA-SY!” in unison amidst a sea of red lights was a special moment by the Pyramid stage, and proof that Coldplay’s earlier stuff is still held in immense high regard.

4) Mr Blue Sky – Jeff Lynne’s ELO

For both hardcore and casual fans of ELO, this was the song that everyone knew, and while the skies were distinctly grey with rain falling from them, it didn’t stop this going down an absolute treat. Everyone in their chairs towards the back of the Pyramid leapt to their feet as fans, young and old, sang and danced along in great voice to what is probably ELO’s most well known track.

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Hello Mr Blue Sky! (Credit: BBC)

 

3) New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down – LCD Soundsystem

“A rock ballad!” exclaims frontman James Murphy in-between singing the opening few lines of a song best known in the UK perhaps for its feature in teen drama ‘Skins’ when – spoiler alert – lovable and eccentric  Cassie flies off to, you guessed it, New York. Beautifully performed by Sunday night’s Other Stage headliners, with Murphy belting out his song with everything in his body, while the song’s guitar-driven crescendo was staggeringly good.

2) Man – Skepta

You could be forgiven for thinking that Skepta’s hit single ‘Shutdown’ would, erm, shut down Worthy Farm, but it was the Boy Better Know member’s most recent release, ‘Man’, that rose above anything else played by the grime artist on the Friday afternoon. Eventually joined by Skepta’s whole entourage, ‘Man’ sounded like it was about to blow the Pyramid stage speakers such was the force of the track.

1) The Handler – Muse

Guitar feedback screeches through the PA system. Two hands with turquoise fingertips appear either side of Muse, the Friday night headliners, on the LED screens, before two demonic eyes of the same colour burst through the middle. And then, as the devastatingly ferocious spine-snapper of a riff nearly obliterates the Pyramid, light beams emerge from said fingertips and ‘latch’ onto both frontman Matt Bellamy and bassist Chris Wolstenholme’s backs. An outstanding visual achievement that had to be seen to be believed, and a performance so powerful it was a wonder Adele wasn’t singing on rubble the next night.

Top 10 Acts

10) Nothing But Thieves
Saturday, John Peel Stage, 11:50

It’s testament to Nothing But Thieves that at 10 to 12 on a Saturday morning after a heavy Friday night for the majority of festival goers, that they played to a rammed tent – and delivered a showcase performance that merited a much higher billing. Diminutive frontman Conor Mason proved his angelic voice on recordings can be replicated live, and this band are set for bigger and better things.

9) Skepta
Friday, Pyramid, 13:45

Big things were expected from grime’s poster boy on Glastonbury’s biggest stage, and big things were subsequently provided with aplomb. A stunning array of fluid beats and fiery lines, Skepta made the Pyramid his London playground when it could have been so easy for him to fall at the first hurdle. It’s hard to see how his upwards trajectory will be halted after a set like this.

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“My ones. My team. My stage” – Skepta on the Pyramid (Credit: NME)

 

8) Foals
Friday, Pyramid, 20:00

Performing in the slot Foals were asked to play in last year when a broken leg to Dave Grohl meant that Foo Fighters had to cancel their headline appearance, causing a line-up reshuffle, there was much intrigue as this year’s Reading and Leeds headliners took to the Pyramid. The results were very impressive, with Yannis Philippakis demonstrating just why he’s seen as one of the more talented frontmen on the live circuit at this moment in time, with a very energetic display, as Foals rattled through a selection of their back catalogue in brilliant fashion.

7) Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Sunday, Pyramid, 16:00

Maybe seen as a step down on Lionel Richie, who had the same fabled legends slot last year, but that didn’t stop Jeff Lynne’s ELO pulling off one of the sets of the weekend. As expected, the Pyramid was packed despite the rain, and ELO went about their business remarkably efficiently. Hit after hit after hit after hit wowed the crowd, and by the time ‘Mr Blue Sky’ came on, the audience was eating out of Jeff Lynne’s hands to the point no-one was mentioning Lionel anymore.

6) Coldplay
Sunday, Pyramid, 21:30

Being probably the biggest band on the planet – at least when U2 aren’t touring – you would expect something magical from Coldplay in their live performances. What is most surprising however, is not how breathtakingly brilliant the band is performing live, but how easy they make it and how they just take it in their stride without breaking proverbial sweat. Had I stuck around for the whole gig, they would have 100% shot up this list faster than one of their many fireworks.

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How to bring colour to your set, by Coldplay (Credit: Stuff.co.nz)

 

5) M83
Saturday, John Peel Stage, 22:30

Drawn the short straw in the sense they had to fend off headline slots from both Adele and New Order, but the French electronic band still pulled in a respectable crowd, and those fortunate to go were given an absolute treat. Face melting synths and stunning vocals aplenty, everything from the band’s visuals to their performance was top drawer, and the introduction of Mai Lan (as mentioned earlier) for three tracks was a masterstroke.

4) Chvrches
Saturday, Other Stage, 20:45

The first time I saw Chvrches at Glastonbury was two years ago on the John Peel Stage, and lead singer Lauren Mayberry barely moved from the centre of the stage as she was permanently clutching the microphone, almost in fear. Fast forward two years, and that same singer is skipping and dancing all over the stage, exuberating confidence, while both her singing and the band itself sounded immense amidst a glorious Glastonbury sunset. We are looking at future festival headliners here, without doubt.

3) Bring Me the Horizon
Friday, Other Stage, 19:20

“And there was me thinking Glastonbury were gonna be shite” quips frontman Oli Sykes after watching the usually tame and peaceful festival crowd descend into chaos at the front with mosh pits and flying bodies aplenty. The rowdiest band of the weekend didn’t take long to assert their authority at Worthy Farm with a blistering display, focussing solely on their last two albums, as they more than justified their selection on the bill – and arguably should have been pitted higher. If BMTH aren’t topping the bill at Reading and Leeds in the near future, I would be very surprised.

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Oli Sykes comes and meets the crowd (Credit: NME)

 

2) LCD Soundsystem
Sunday, Other Stage, 21:45

Similar to M83 in the sense that the recently reunited band had to compete with some seriously big names like Coldplay, Jake Bugg and Earth, Wind and Fire for a crowd on Sunday night, but those who went would have been left mesmerised by James Murphy’s band. With some of the best sound production, visuals and sheer showmanship of the weekend, this could have comfortably been a triumphant headline slot on the Pyramid, and closing up with ‘All My Friends’ was the perfect send off for Glastonbury 2016.

1) Muse
Friday, Pyramid, 22:15

The first ever band/act in Glastonbury history to headline all three days of the festival still went into the festival as underdogs of sorts, with much of the focus given to the other headliners in Adele and Coldplay. However, that didn’t stop the Best Live Band in the World (TM) make mincemeat out of the other acts on that weekend and raise the bar so high, only something truly magical could have been on a par, let alone beat them. People will have their favourites from the weekend, but from what I saw, nobody came remotely close to Muse – maybe LCD, but even then the gulf in class was massive. There is a reason why several reputable reviewers gave them five stars without hesitation.

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Matt Bellamy making the Pyramid Stage his (Credit: The Sound Bot)

 

Muse didn’t need to have fireworks for every other song to stand out like Coldplay did – just three uses in one song to demonstrate the end of the world was enough. They didn’t need to, as NME reported, turn into your favourite drunk auntie in-between songs like Adele did to captivate the audience. Why would they, when they have bone-shaking sound quality, genuine next level electronic visuals as demonstrated by ‘The Handler’, and a virtuoso electric guitarist so talented as a frontman in Matt Bellamy that this performance will only cement further both his and his band’s place in musical history as one of the greats? Following Brexit, no other band were as relevant last weekend as Muse, with so many applicable lyrics, it’s impossible to list them all, and this was a next level performance – make no mistake about it.

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All said and done, the bad news is we have to wait a whole year until the lucky 180,000 get to do it all over again – either as a fresh eyed first time attendee, or an experienced veteran hoping to add more tales to the exemplary sights they’ve personally witnessed on Worthy Farm. With the guessing game in full swing as to who will headline, for what it’s worth, my guesses are Foo Fighters, Radiohead and Drake to take to the Pyramid stage. In the meantime, roll on October for the first general sale!

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Muse – Mercy (Credit: The Guardian)

Why the English Media is Wrong When it Comes to Football and Needs a Revamp

“Nobody remembers who finished second, but the guy who finished second ” – Bobby Unser.

Variations of this quote have been repeated time after time after time, with people in all forms of life using it as a motivational tool to succeed. Ultimately, the point is forever relevant – no-one cares about the loser, only the winner. No-one cares about who Usain Bolt beat in the Beijing 2008 Olympics when he broke the Olympic record for the 100m sprint – just that he won gold. Nobody is interested in who came second in the Barclays Premier League last season, only that Chelsea won it. The list is endless. Merciless, cutthroat and ruthless it may seem, but these are ingredients for a winning mentality.

So, with all this in mind, tell me why English media outlets flooded their respective websites about the England women’s football side being ‘legends’, ‘heroes’ and ‘triumphs’…for finishing third at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Third. Aside from the fact it’s incredibly patronising for these female professional footballers to have failure – albeit in cruel fashion – paraded as a success, a pat on the back with a big gold sticker reading ‘you tried’ for their efforts which weren’t good enough,  it highlights just how pathetic the English media are when it comes to football.

An inconsolable Laura Bassett after her 92nd minute own goal ensured a 2-1 win for Japan, eliminating England

An inconsolable Laura Bassett after her 92nd minute own goal ensured a 2-1 win for Japan, eliminating England

It must be something ingrained in English culture, that if you try hard and show passion, this is better than actually succeeding. No-one can fault the Lionesses’ work-rate in Canada – they did put their bodies on the line and they did give it everything they had – but all they’ve got to show for it is a horrific own goal and a bronze medal. This also demonstrates how black and white sport can be, in the sense that while it was a great achievement for the women’s side to come third, it still can’t be claimed a success as nothing was won.

The same logic transpires to the men’s team. Hard-working players are favoured over footballers who don’t need to run 15 miles in a minute, but can do something out of the ordinary that can change a match in the blink of an eye. These flair players are in turn frequently castigated for not busting a gut, which seems absolutely ludicrous. Take Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling as examples, seeing as both are England internationals. Welbeck – an attacker – scored just four Premier League goals for Arsenal last season, in 25 appearances. Sterling – another attacker – essentially had to do the work of three players for Liverpool with the absence of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and ended up with seven league goals. Guess which player is written about as a ‘good pro’ and guess which one is described as a greedy, overrated forward?

'Overrated, unreliable and greedy' Raheem Sterling on the ball for Liverpool last season

‘Overrated, unreliable and greedy’ Raheem Sterling on the ball for Liverpool last season

Then comes the hypocrisy. Elegant midfielders who keep the ball ticking over while spraying balls left, right and centre that are English are criminally swept under the carpet – this is a fact. They don’t burst forward like Frank Lampard would before firing a missile from outside the box, they don’t fly into tackles which get the crowd on the edge of their seats like Steven Gerrard did on numerous occasions – they just do the simple things quietly yet efficiently and as such, supposedly aren’t needed. They’ve got to show passion, right?! Michael Carrick is the prime example at this moment in time, who can barely get a look in the national side despite excellent form for England’s most successful club Manchester United last campaign. Despite being amazingly quick to ignore our own, we’re even quicker to laud the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Xavi for doing exactly the same thing in context. How does that work?

The mentality needs to change. The media needs to be more patient with players like Carrick and his approach in midfield rather than resonate with desperate fan cries of “DO SUM’FIN!” in the hope a ball will aimlessly be pumped forward. The media needs to stop frantically praising hard-working, one dimensional, limited ability footballers for their quarterly season league goals and instead appreciate players who perform with style and grace while still rising to the top despite being given unrealistic tasks. Ultimately however, the media need to realise that coming third is not a success. It does not make you legendary, it does not make you a hero, and it certainly does not make you a triumph. All it indicates is that there are two teams that are better than you. It may seem ruthless, it may seem cold, but it’s true. Until a winning approach is adopted by not only the media, but The FA too – ala Germany – then we will get nowhere.

Here’s to wanting change.

The 10 Best Acts I Saw at Glastonbury 2015

As Worthy Farm closes its doors on the public for another year, forcing festival goers to adapt to normality once more, it’s time to reflect on what was yet another tremendous year for Glastonbury Festival by assessing the acts provided. Due to the size of the operation in place it is not physically possible to see everyone on offer, so this isn’t exactly a fair reflective – Florence and Alt-J fans may as well look for another list now – but, from what was viewed by yours truly (and there was a fair bit), this is a list of the 10 best bands and artists that I had the pleasure of witnessing.

  1. The Cribs
    Friday, 12:30 – Other Stage

Frank Turner can consider himself very unlucky for his 1697th gig to have missed out on this definitive Glastonbury 2015 list to end all Glastonbury 2015 lists, however the brothers from Wakefield  did just about enough to edge ahead of him. They may have been plagued with technical difficulties, with bassist Gary Jarman declaring before set closer ‘Pink Snow’: “I know a good worksman doesn’t blame his tools…but ours aren’t in great shape,” but despite that, they put on a riotous show to kick off the weekend in style, with ‘I’m a Realist’ and ‘Come On, Be a No-One’ in particular setting the crowd off.

  1. Slaves
    Saturday, 14:00 – John Peel Stage

A tale of contrasting halves is probably the best way to quickly summarise Tunbridge Wells duo Slaves’ set at Glastonbury, as the first half was a damp squib while the second half of their performance had the infrastructure of the tent they were playing in shaking to the core. The genuinely funny camaraderie between lead singer/drummer Isaac Holman and his band partner Laurie Vincent was just about enough to keep people satisfied during the first half, and the patient crowd were rewarded once ‘Cheer Up London’ dropped, as all hell broke loose. The final 20 seconds of frenetic finale ‘Hey’ was spine-tingling, while ‘The Hunter’  and ‘Feed the Mantaray’ saw circle pits emerge everywhere. Let them learn from this experience, as they grasp how to plot a setlist, and this band will fly up festival bills in the future.

  1. Charli XCX
    Sunday, 18:05 – John Peel Stage

22-year-old Charlotte Aitchson has come one hell of a long way since performing at illegal raves in her early teens, and she made Glastonbury her own with a truly blistering performance. The pop sensation’s energy was insurmountable as she whacked out an inflatable guitar for ‘Breaking Up’, constantly sprang across her surroundings  and enthusiastically danced in front of the three members of her band on numerous occasions. After powering through hits such as ‘Fancy’, ‘Boom Clap’ and ‘Break the Rules’ with such ferocity and brilliance, it became inevitable to everyone by that stage that this girl will go astronomical sooner rather than later.

Charli XCX with her inflatable guitar

Charli XCX with her inflatable guitar

  1. Run the Jewels
    Friday, 19:00 – West Holts Stage

It isn’t very often that two 40-year-olds can emerge from seemingly nowhere and take a genre by storm – especially one as congested as hip-hop, where people half that age set about trying to make a name for themselves – but that’s exactly what American duo El-P and Killer Mike have done as Run the Jewels. Their Glastonbury debut highlighted how they’ve become so successful in such a short amount of time, with a series of pulsating beats expertly rapped over in equal measure by the pair. ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’ will go down as one of the best individual song performances of the weekend, as the countdown for the pair’s third album intensifies.

  1. The Libertines
    Friday 20:20 – Pyramid Stage

It was a million miles away from the Hyde Park show in 2014, and a passer-by could have been forgiven for thinking that the majority of the crowd had attended the wrong event such was the lack of movement, but The Libertines left the Pyramid Stage knowing that they had been a success. The new songs sounded brilliant, Pete Doherty and Carl Barat were both on top form with each other and with the crowd, and when you can fall back on hits like ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ and ‘Don’t Look Back Into the Sun’, you’re never in danger of leaving an audience unfulfilled – even if they are doing their best statue impressions.

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of The Libertines

Pete Doherty and Carl Barat of The Libertines

  1. Jamie T
    Sunday 20:15 – Other Stage

It’d been five years since indie ragamuffin Jamie T last performed at Glastonbury with his band after going off the grid completely, and he didn’t disappoint on his return. Having been out of the public eye for so long before returning last year with third album ‘Carry On the Grudge’, one could be forgiven for thinking that people would have lost interest, but the reality was anything but as the 29-year-old fronted the biggest sing-along of the weekend. ‘Sticks ‘N’ Stones’, ‘Sheila’ and ‘If You Got the Money’ were all treated like the classics they are, but it was a newer release in ‘Zombie’ that stirred up the most noise, proving even after so long away Jamie T can still perform to a huge crowd in style.

  1. Enter Shikari
    Friday 22:45 – John Peel Stage

“This is an appeal…for the struggling and striving,” begins Enter Shikari frontman Rou Reynolds on opening track ‘The Appeal and the Mindsweep I’ as his band embark on what is arguably their biggest ever show – headlining the John Peel Stage at Glastonbury. They passed their test with flying colours, as despite leaving out crowd favourites such as ‘Arguing With Thermometers’, ‘Sssnakepit’ and ‘Never Let Go of the Microscope’, they performed as if their lives depended on it and subsequently proved they are more than worthy of stepping up to headline a smaller festival outright. One more solid album and Reading’s main stage could be calling.

  1. Lionel Richie
    Sunday 16:00 – Pyramid Stage

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?!” repeatedly exclaims 66-year-old musical titan Lionel Richie midway through his Sunday afternoon legend slot in front of well over 100,000 people – the biggest turnout of the weekend. After 47 years in the business, it was strange to see how bewildered and stunned the man born in Alabama was, but my how he delivered. As far as the eye could see, people were bouncing around to ‘Dancing on the Ceiling’ and ‘All Night Long’, while the decibel levels for ‘Hello’ were off the scale. Even at his age, Lionel made performing to a crowd of that capacity look easy like Sunday morning.

Lionel Richie mid pose

Lionel Richie mid pose

  1. The Who
    Sunday: 21:15 – Pyramid Stage

It seems slightly harsh to not have The Who topping this list after what could well be their last ever gig on UK soil – having just celebrated their 50th year as a band as well – but, such is the manner of this Glastonbury 2015 list to end all Glastonbury 2015 lists that they’ve picked up the silver medal rather than gold. However, it was a close run thing, and when you can start a gig with ‘Who Are You’, it’s going to a cracker. This proved to be the case as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend set about rocking the festival to the core with what was essentially a greatest hits set – Townshend’s guitar sounded pristine throughout, despite several audible complaints regarding sound from the guitarist, while Daltrey sounds as good now as ever before.

‘My Generation’, ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ all blew the crowd away in brilliant fashion, and as the closing notes of finale ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ rang out, they were received with a tinge of sadness knowing that this could be the last time this band of such legendary status perform live. If it is the last time, they’ve departed with a performance to be proud of.

  1. Kanye West
    Saturday 22:15 – Pyramid Stage

The single most divisive and controversial headliner ever to be booked by Glastonbury took to the stage at Worthy Farm with nothing but a ceiling full of lights…and put in one of the festival’s best ever headline performances. People want to hate Kanye West for his arrogant persona, and they are more than entitled to do so. Him screaming “I AM THE GREATEST LIVING ROCKSTAR ON THE PLANET!” before ‘Gold Digger’ or partially covering Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ will only anger those people further. Musically however, there is a reason why he’s won 21 Grammy Awards – and that’s exactly what was displayed on Saturday night.

Yes, ‘Black Skinhead’ had to be restarted. Yes, ‘Hold My Liquor’ was abandoned as Kanye got “lost” after a few lines. Yes, most songs weren’t played in full – however this is exactly what Eminem did at Reading 2013 as it means more can be crammed in, and there was nowhere near as much backlash for that. Ultimately, Kanye delivered hit after hit after hit with such precision and excellence, whipping the generally tame Glastonbury crowd into a frenzy – especially for ‘All Day’ – and all of this preceded him hopping into a crane to shoot upwards for ‘Touch the Sky.’ It was not without difficulty, but Kanye West proved long before he slammed his microphone down as he exited the stage that he is the best at what he does in that musical field. Maverick, talisman, genius – anyone who doubts his ability as a rapper after that performance does not truly appreciate showmanship or that genre of music, it’s as simple as that.

Kanye West under his ceiling of lights

Kanye West under his ceiling of lights

Now the dust has settled, all eyes will be on the Eavis family as we patiently wait to see who they’ve lined up for next year’s bill – with Emily Eavis already claiming that all three Pyramid stage headliners have been booked. Will it be Muse? Radiohead? Daft Punk? An Oasis reunion? Daring to dream, a Led Zepellin reunion?! Time will tell, but until then, the speculating and nostalgia dipping from this year’s festival will take over until something concrete is revealed. Until next time, Glastonbury.

Muse ‘Drones’ review

“This album is our best album – I haven’t been able to say that for a while, but this album is our best album.”

Strong words indeed from Muse frontman Matt Bellamy, speaking ahead of the release of the band’s seventh studio LP, which Bellamy also claimed would “get heavy” – a concept album named ‘Drones’, following the story of an unnamed soldier who is manipulated by powers above him to be a soulless drone handler, before he eventually rebels.

The tremendous ‘Dead Inside’ defies the heavy tag, delving into the beginning of the story with an electro-pop delight, explaining how the protagonist loses hope as Bellamy screams, “I gave you everything/I can’t give you anymore”, before ‘Psycho’ makes use of a head-banging, monster riff Muse have owned since 1999, as our comrade is brainwashed and turned into “a super drone.”

Stadium belter ‘Mercy’ is next with Muse again utilising an electronic sound, albeit with more guitar accompanying it, as the protagonist seeks a reprieve from the “Ghosts and shadows/Before they eat my soul”, while ‘Reapers’ shows producer Mutt Lange’s influence at its strongest with a six minute mash-up of Muse’s sound effects and darting riffs fit for Lange’s former colleagues, AC/DC.

It’s ‘The Handler’ however which steals the glory, with a riff set to devastate stages worldwide as our hero begins to fight back, with Bellamy referencing 1999 track ‘Showbiz’ as the protagonist “won’t let you control my feelings anymore.” A JFK speech about freedom splits up the album as the protagonist finally snaps on ‘Defector’, a track which sees Muse at their most Queen – vocally and musically.

The feel-good factor continues with ‘Revolt’, as Bellamy – somewhat cheesily – claims “You’ve got strength/You’ve got soul/You’re not afraid/You’re not a drone” on what’s certain to be their next single, as our comrade breaks free.

‘Aftermath’ meanwhile, is a beautifully crafted ‘lighters in the air’ song telling the tale of the protagonist walking away, with the battle over. Normally, that would be that – the happy ending. However, Muse aren’t a normal band, as the 10 minute epic ‘The Globalist’ sees our protagonist blow the world up.

With what Bellamy claimed was the sequel to ‘Origin of Symmetry’ hit ‘Citizen Erased’, the prog-rock behemoth starts with an almost western feel as it builds up to our protagonist – if he’s still that – building a nuclear state, before a gigantic riff hits as the destruction starts. World obliterated, a piano ballad ensues and ends with our defeated man realising his actions, claiming he “just wanted to be loved.”

If you think that’s ridiculous, title track ‘Drones’ goes five steps further, as Bellamy sings acapella over 16th century hymn ‘Sanctus of Benedictus’ in what is a massively awkward listen, as it’s a good minute too long.

This isn’t the heavy fest some expected, not by any stretch. It’s noticeably heavier than the previous two albums, but those hoping for another ‘Absolution’ will be left disappointed. What Muse have put together though, is a very good concept album – albeit slightly tainted by that extra minute on ‘Drones’ and that post ‘JFK’, the rest  of the album doesn’t quite keep up with what comes before. That said, this will stand the test of time, and as modern concept albums go, there aren’t – and debatably won’t be – much better.

8/10

Tracklist:

Dead Inside
[Drill Sergeant]
Psycho
Mercy
Reapers
The Handler – best song
[JFK]
Defector
Revolt
Aftermath
The Globalist
Drones

Why I Didn’t Vote Conservative

It was just after Big Ben started chiming and David Dimbleby revealed the exit polls for the 2015 General Election, and I thought aloud, “this is going to be a very long night.” The poll tipped Conservatives to claim 316 seats – 10 short of a majority – with Labour getting 239. It was unerringly accurate, but in the end even the BBC were surprised as the Tories took a narrow majority with 331 seats. For those that voted Tory, jubilation. For those that didn’t, disaster. I was one of those that didn’t.

The exit poll caused me to experience the five stages of denial – initially I dismissed the fact it was bang on in 2010 and highlighted how it had been wrong before, notably in 1992 when a hung Parliament was predicted, only for Conservative to win by a majority. Throughout the night, this soon turned to anger as I realised it was going to actually happen, then ‘what if?’ mode took over, as I pondered whether things would be different if the nation’s leader in David Cameron had actually taken part in a proper televised debate, rather than cowardly chickening out of them. Then, at around 6am came mourning as I realised all hope was lost as I slunk into bed, and at some stage the next day acceptance came in.

Since then however, a lot of Tory voters have piped up saying they’ve felt ‘victimised’ following attacks on social media, with some going as far as strongly implying that Conservative was a vote for intelligent people, and that intelligence won the battle. Now, I don’t condone abuse of any form. After all, we live in a democracy – though even that can be questioned seeing as Conservatives only got a 37% share of the votes yet won a majority – but the point remains. People shouldn’t be vilified or specifically targeted for voting for what represents their interests best. Even UKIP voters, just. However, my interests are certainly not represented by a Conservative government. Let’s go through some reasons why that is the case.

I didn’t like the way Iain Duncan Smith found debating the bedroom tax in Parliament hilarious. I didn’t like the way the Tories managed to create the worst A&E crisis for 12 years. I don’t like the way the NHS has seen a 76% increase in privatisation in five years, I certainly don’t approve of Conservative intentions to legalise fox hunting again, and the fact that the amount of food banks in the UK has gone from 66 to 421 is appalling. I haven’t even mentioned the levels of debt caused by the Tory regime – which has gone up from £0.76 trillion to £1.36 trillion under their stewardship – or the scandalous rise in zero-hour contracts which is in the region of 500,000, or the fact that companies like Amazon, Vodafone and Starbucks can get away with tax evasion.

I didn’t like the way the Tories decided that 500,000 less disabled people should get social care now, or the way the UK temporarily lost its triple A credit rating. I didn’t like the way the Conservatives thought trebling university tuition fees was a good idea, which has seen student debt double to over £55 billion in five years. George Osbourne borrowed more money in three years than Labour did in 13. The poorest 10% of the country were hit harder than anyone else when it came to cuts in income, suffering a 9% deficit – by contrast the richest 10% of the nation were hit with a 3.5% cut. Are you starting to get the picture?

I’m not ignorant to the fact that Labour didn’t exactly offer the best alternative – my personal belief is that Ed Miliband focussed too much on the very poor and the very rich, forgetting what lies in-between, though how anyone could formulate an opinion on the man and his party by his method of eating a bacon sandwich says a lot about the nation’s intelligence levels. As for the rest of the competitors, the Lib Dems didn’t have a leg to stand on after the coalition, the Greens proposed several good ideas but ultimately they were just that – good ideas, with no genuine realism applied – and as for UKIP, well…as Rou Reynolds – frontman of UK band Enter Shikari – put it, “You’re a twat? Vote UKIP.”

Unfortunately for Reynolds, nearly four million people voted for UKIP as they were the third highest supported party in the UK, despite winning just one seat and temporarily losing their leader, Nigel Farage. However, this isn’t about UKIP, this is about Conservative voters who feel they have some form of moral high ground. I’m not stupid enough to tar everyone with the same brush – I know full well not every Tory voter wants to see the disabled die, or that everyone that who ticks a Conservative box in a ballot definitely lives in a mansion with 15 maids while shooting foxes for fun. As I said earlier, people vote for interests which suit them – ranging from financial reasons, from a business perspective, or to just plain preference of who’s the leader.

But, for Tory voters to claim they’re ‘suffering’ or that they’re being ‘targeted’ on the basis of who they’ve voted for – why don’t you try living among the ever growing number of homeless people who rely on food banks to live? Or those unfortunate enough to be in the poorest 10% of the nation who need benefits just to get by? Maybe then you’ll have some idea what ‘suffering’ and being ‘targeted’ feels like, not because a few people are upset as to who you’ve voted for.

Five Things Learnt From #MuseBrighton

As the final piece of feedback rung round Brighton Dome following Muse frontman Matt Bellamy’s decision to throw his microphone in the crowd, the curtain closed on Muse’s mini tour. The road adventure only had six dates as Muse prepared themselves for their upcoming summer slots, including headlining Download Festival in June, so the sense of intrigue regarding their setlists was palpable. Would they be heavy? Would they bring out rarities? Would they play unheard tracks? The answer was yes to all three, as the band gave clues as to what their summer sets would bring. Here’s five things from last night’s show (23/03/2015) in Brighton that was noted.

1) ‘Dead Inside’ is actually pretty good…

The main talking point pre-gig was the new song, which was released at 7pm – to very mixed reviews across the board by Muse fans. Despite the band pledging they would strip back the electronic sounds, you wouldn’t know it after hearing the funk inspired album opener – described by some as Madness 2.0 and a mash up of Muse, Depeche Mode, Prince and U2. Brighton would be the stage for the live premiere, and it was taken very well by the crowd – especially the solo and the guitar breakdown towards the end. Muse’s first taste of a radio friendly song should go down very well among the masses.

2) …as are the other tracks from ‘Drones’

The way set opener ‘Psycho’ was taken in, you’d have thought it was a live staple for years as rows as far as the eye could see pogoed about to that monster riff. Well, technically the riff has been a live staple for years, but the crowd’s enthusiasm for the rest of the song didn’t wane in the slightest. ‘Reapers’ was also played, and you can hear the AC/DC influence in production from Mutt Lange come out, with a riff that wouldn’t look at all out of place on their ‘Back In Black’ album that he produced. With some trademark Muse guitar sound effects thrown in too, musically it’s a cracker. The only downside was Bellamy’s vocals were unclear at times, but from what was played from ‘Drones’, there is a lot to be excited about.

3) The oldies still sound pristine

While Brighton didn’t get to see ‘Hyper Music’, ‘Fury’, ‘Futurism’, ‘Dead Star’, or ‘Muscle Museum’ – all of which were previously played on Muse’s short road stint – the Dome still got its fair share of rarities. ‘Map of the Problematique’ made its first appearance of the tour, while ‘The Groove’ – the B side to ‘Time is Running Out’ – was also played. Most impressively was ‘Uno’ however, which the band started their encore with, and still sounds as dynamite as it did while sitting on ‘Showbiz’ in 1999. Bellamy also gave subtle hints to what could be played at Download, by playing a segment of ‘Assassin’ before ‘Uprising’, while also teasing that the song ‘Showbiz’ could feature “maybe next time.”

4) ‘Bliss’ is still the best live song they possess

Indisputably, undeniably, outrageously brilliant. The fact Muse call on something as immaculate as ‘Bliss’ so infrequently is baffling, as most bands would sacrifice body parts they don’t need in order to include a song like that in their set. The high notes are still there and are met tremendously, the Hullaballoons made an appearance as they descended on the standing area, and the extended outro threatened to remove some of the foundations the Dome was built on. ‘Knights of Cydonia’ and ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ weren’t far behind on the night, but the ‘Origin of Symmetry’ track was the clear winner.

5) They’re still the best live band in the world

After being asked how good Kasabian were, lead singer Tom Meighan replied, “we’re a fucking fantastic live band – we’re fucking Call of Duty, no-one can stop us. No-one can touch us on our day.” Clearly he’s never seen Muse, as if he had, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to make such a comment. In line with Meighan’s ‘Call of Duty’ reference, what Muse do to Kasabian is order an air strike on them, and then scatter the remaining bits away with machine guns. And I like Kasabian. There is simply no contest, as even with a stripped back show with just stage lighting, a backdrop, and five LED shaped spikes behind them, Muse put on a performance that was worthy of headlining the biggest stages in the world. What’s more, you got the impression at times they weren’t even trying – it was just effortless and comes naturally to them. The chance to see them in the summer is one that has to be grabbed with both hands.

 

Fans will have to wait until that Download show on the 13th June before bearing witness to the Devon trio on UK shores again, by which point ‘Drones’ will be available – albeit for five days. Until then, there will be more speculating as to what the band will play. Will anything from their sixth album, ‘The 2nd Law,’ be played, seeing as not a single song from that album featured last night? Will ‘Micro Cuts’ get a run-out, after Muse played the outro to that song after ‘Stockholm Syndrome?’ Ultimately, there are more questions than answers – but Muse are fast rivalling recent Glastonbury bill topper Kanye West for the award of ‘most anticipated festival headliner’ this summer.

Muse ‘Psycho’ single review

The anticipation had reached breaking point. Frontman Matt Bellamy’s tweets and Muse’s Instagram page had left fans impatiently twitching with excitement, as the band flirted and teased upcoming new material from their seventh studio album, ‘Drones’, similar to the way the proverbial blonde lady in a red dress sends a wink from across the bar while ever so slowly exposing more leg.

Bellamy had promised that, after two experimental albums, things would “get heavy” again. He’d drip fed  the topics the record would go over, claiming “deep ecology, the empathy gap and World War Three” were on the agenda. The biggest clue perhaps came at a gig in Helsinki in July, as Muse played ‘Agitated’ and ‘Yes Please’, stating this was a sign of things to come. Despite that, there was nothing concrete – the occasional slice of audio on Instagram amidst the creepy videos depicting the band with their eyes crossed out aside. Until now.

Via Twitter again, Bellamy had confirmed the first single would be called ‘Psycho’, and a video snippet of drummer Dom Howard sat in a studio as the final bits and pieces of the track were mixed was posted to Instagram. Before this, a video – which deliberately gave the album name away – was accompanied by a drill sergeant and a soldier speaking. Only now have we seen how that piece of the jigsaw fits, as Muse posted a video for the song yesterday (12/03/2015).

After a few seconds of build up, the drill sergeant now has a face and is having an exchange with the soldier.

“If you are not told to do, when you’re told to do it, you will be punished – do you understand?!”
“Aye sir”
“If you leave my base, without proper authorisation, I will hunt you down and throw your ass in jail – do you understand?!”
“Aye sir”
“I can’t hear you!”
“AYE SIR”
“Scream it!”
“AYE SIR!”
“Your ass belongs to me now!”
“AYE SIR!!”

Then it hits. Everything makes sense. Including B side ‘Agitated’ to their setlist in Helsinki was the biggest clue Muse could have possibly given, as the earth shuddering riff they’d play after that song from 1999 onwards, before using it as an outro for ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ on the live circuit, has now been put into a song. This one.

That staple in their live set has instantly become the most catchy and powerful riff of 2015. Despite sitting on it for 16 years, Muse have managed to make that musical thunderbolt sound fresh and new, as Bellamy delves into his belief that soldiers are being turned into human drones and killing machines. You also question whether Bellamy is getting in some of his thoughts regarding his recent split with actress Kate Hudson, as the opening verse starts with, “Love…it will get you nowhere/You’re on your own/Lost in the wild.”

Lyrically, ‘Psycho’ is more hit than miss, but far from immaculate. Bellows of, “Your ass belongs to me now” will take some time before it feels remotely comfortable for a crowd to scream back at them live, but other lines typify Bellamy’s genius. “Your mind is just a program/And I’m the virus” is just one reminder of his skills with the pen, while his chilling third person approach to a sergeant claiming, “I could use someone like you/Someone who’ll kill on my command/And asks no questions” has the Muse frontman at his thought-provoking best.

It’s fair to say Bellamy wasn’t lying when he said things were going to get heavy, nor was he when he tweeted that ‘Psycho’ would be “too offensive for radio.” There will be several producers who are still pulling their hair out as they try to find a way to secure a radio edit, as I don’t think the BBC Radio One daytime listener hooked on Sam Smith will take too kindly to Bellamy squealing, “I’m gonna make you a fucking psycho,” while emitting sufficient power from his Manson guitar to trigger an avalanche.

Ultimately however, this is a superb return from Muse. With Royal Blood creating a gap in the commercial market for snarling guitar sounds, Muse have taken full advantage with this beast of a track as the waiting for ‘Drones’ intensifies. While it’s impossible to gauge an album on one song – indeed Muse’s next single comes out on the 23rd March, which should offer a clearer idea – if this is anything to go by, ‘Drones’ will be monstrous to say the least.

Pearce’s Reign: A Counter View

It was May 1999, and I was five years old when I was given my life sentence of watching Nottingham Forest. My dad, who had been a fan since 1967, took me after several weeks of trying to convince me came off. Living in Kent, this wasn’t easy, as everyone my age who was into football supported the traditional big sides – Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. They had the likes of David Beckham, Patrick Vieira, Michael Owen and Dennis Wise to admire. There was even a Derby fan in my year remarkably, and Dad couldn’t have me being swayed by that.

What he used to do, was show me a video. It was a BBC Match of the Day special that focused on Forest’s history, covering all bases and narrated by John Motson. It would start off with the 1959 FA Cup Final, then Alan Hinton would smash one in the top corner against West Ham from the halfway line – all this in black and white, of course. It also showed his first hero, Ian Storey-Moore, score a remarkable hattrick against Everton where his winning goal in a 3-2 FA Cup quarter final was scored after his initial effort was saved, his rebound was nodded onto the bar, before Storey-Moore eventually sealed Forest’s progression.

Then it was the Brian Clough years, showing Peter Shilton’s miraculous save at Coventry to ensure Forest won the title, John Robertson’s magic in Munich and Madrid, John McGovern lifting numerous trophies, Trevor Francis’ diving header in Germany and a chap called Archie Gemmill putting United to the sword at Old Trafford in a 4-0 win amongst many others. Dad particularly enjoyed showing me that, for obvious reasons – especially as it was shown to me during United’s treble year. Then it would show Clough’s second side, containing Des Walker, Nigel Clough, Neil Webb and…Stuart Pearce.

Dad loved Pearce. He said he epitomised everything Forest was – hard working, classy, determined, passionate, brilliant. When the video showed Forest beating Chelsea 7-0, a game in which Pearce scored twice, he would exclaim, “he’s a left back! Look at him!” He would go on to tell me about how he put an ad in the programme offering his electrician services, how he played for England, how he later tried running off a broken leg when he left Forest, and that he was one of the fans. He really cared, Dad said. He got just as excited talking about ‘our number 3’ as he did reminiscing about Storey-Moore.

Then the video showed the 1991 FA Cup Final. Pearce, now bestowed to me as the best left back of all time wearing a red Forest shirt, stepped up and delivered that powerhouse free-kick. “Look at that!” Dad would say. However, as we all know, that game didn’t end well. It was Dad’s most painful moment supporting Forest as it was the only cup Cloughie never won. To this day, he still hates referee Roger Milford for denying Clough what he deserved by failing to send Paul Gascoigne off. That was how he learnt the hard way that there is no room for sentiment in football.

Which is probably why he was so concerned when it was announced in April 2014 that Stuart Pearce would be taking over as Forest manager. His time at Manchester City and the England U-21’s wasn’t great by any stretch, but ultimately that wasn’t his concern. His concern was that it would all go very wrong, very fast for one of his favourite ever players and a clear divide would emerge between supporters – those that understandably idolised him as a player, and those that would get on his back when things went wrong.

He would be proved right. It took a fair while after the opening nine matches, but then things did start to go wrong. Initially however, we weren’t losing games THAT badly – against Cardiff for example, we started off the stronger side, got punished for not taking chances, and then came back into it at the end. This soon changed however, and while losing Andy Reid and Chris Cohen were huge blows, there can be no excuses for the painful amount of aimless hoofball in the direction of Michail Antonio, in the hope he might do something magical.

After Cardiff, Forest had conceded 11 goals in just four games and were on a 10 game winless run. Despite this, I was largely on the fence. I believed a back to basics approach of getting the ball down and sorting the defence out would put an end to it. I mean, he was England’s captain, the best left back of a generation – surely he of all people could sort out a second division defence with more than capable players? For two games, that’s exactly what happened, as Forest defeated Norwich 2-1 at The City Ground in dramatic fashion, before turning over Wolves 3-0 at Molineux in an outstanding performance.

This had to be it. This was the turning point. Pearce had fixed the issue and was going to kick us on. Right? Wrong, sadly. Another long winless run was born, this one lasting eight games, and at this point, my patience snapped. Again we were lumping it. Again we were playing into the hands of the opposition, including League One side Rochdale. Again we looked a pathetic outfit, a flashback to the dark days of Steve Cotterill and Gary Megson. What had emerged, at least on social media, was the divide – and it was a pretty fierce divide too.

It genuinely seemed a case of people supporting Nottingham Forest FC against people supporting Stuart Pearce FC at times. Fans who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see the evident flaws that were becoming more and more visible as each game went by. When we lost, it was the players – always the players, never the manager. Good players became scapegoats. There would be constant reminders of Cloughie’s quote about tactics and dominoes. Anyone who had the audacity to slam Pearce for another inept performance wasn’t a ‘proper fan’ and ‘shouldn’t follow Forest’. It was a joke.

What infuriated me personally was that as a player, Pearce was Clough’s best captain alongside John McGovern. He was taught to play simple, to keep possession – not to give it a good whack and hope for the best. He was told to play to your strengths, not bypassing an entire midfield full of creative talent. It made no sense – we’ve all heard the phrase ‘great players don’t always make good managers, never mind great ones’, but at the very least you would expect some form of football ideology to have been passed on.

Then came the Derby fixture, and following the worst home performance of the decade the match before – a truly abysmal 2-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday – it was literally do or die. Several media outlets had implied owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi had got understandably twitchy, and that a loss could be the end. What happened was that in the second half, Forest showed up. They started playing with their manager’s fight, determination and grit – if not his ability. When Ben Osborn rifled in that 92nd minute strike to win 2-1, it was deserved and had given Pearce another reprieve. This was the perfect platform for Forest to recover, which Pearce even said himself.

The divide was still there, as the reaction suggested it was a win for Pearce rather than a win for Forest. Perhaps in hindsight this was understandable as he was on the verge of losing his job, but still, it felt strange seeing no players apart from Osborn and Britt Assombalonga – who’d equalised – receive credit. Incredibly, now  when we lost it was still the players at fault, but when we won it was all the manager. There was no in-between.

The perfect platform never materialised, either – unless going three goals down away at Fulham was what Pearce meant. Yet again, all of our good work was wiped clean by resorting to putrid football, and yet again we were punished. Nothing had been learnt, and Osborn wheeling away towards the away fans in shock was already becoming a distant memory. The second half was a major improvement as Henri Lansbury dragged Forest back into it, but it was too little, too late.

Then, the final nail. A 1-0 home loss to Millwall had even the most passionate of Pearce defenders realising it wasn’t going to work. The second Ricardo Fuller pounced on a horrific headed back pass from Stephen McLaughlin – who started the game out of position – there was a sense of inevitability that this was the end. Three months without a home win, seven points above the drop, double figures away from the top-six, a whopping twenty behind Derby and on a run of just three wins in 23 games – he simply had to go.

When it was announced the next day that he had been sacked, the initial feeling was relief. Mainly because it meant my football club could get back to trying to win football matches under a new boss, but that the left back I gazed upon as a starry eyed five year old on a VHS player was out of the firing line – from myself included. No-one wanted to see him fail, that much is certain. It was partially down to Pearce than when I entered The City Ground for the first ever time – before Alan Rogers and Hugo Porfirio gave us a 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the Premiership – and saw the stands, the pitch, the size of the place, I turned round to my dad and said, “Man United? Never!”

He’d looked like he’d aged about ten years since he first took the job, as it was clear he felt he was letting the supporters down and he just didn’t know how to fix it. He willingly jumped into the deep end perhaps without realising just how difficult the Championship is. Seven years without managing at club level is another story in its own right. What remains important however, is that his playing legacy – especially for those lucky enough to see him run out in front of the Trent End – has remained untarnished.

At the very least he can look back on the reception he got on the first day of the season against Blackpool, the continued vocal support, and that day in Derbyshire. All in all, it was one hell of a ride. That said, hopefully it is the last time we have to ride one like it.

Five FM Wonderkids That Never Made It

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One of the first things we all do before loading up Sports Interactive’s Football Manager for the first time is have a quick browse online to find out who the wonderkids are. Players who will change your fortunes, players you grow a strange emotional attachment too (I’ve signed Connor Wickham at least once on every FM since 11, regardless of whether I’ve needed him or not), and ultimately, players you keep an eye on for their real life progress. On FM10, there’s a Colombian chap named James Rodriguez you can sign for £2m. Similarly, on FM11 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can be picked up for around £1m if you swoop early enough.

However, not all of the players given the ‘wonderkid’ status by the head honchos at Sports Interactive end up reaching the levels of football brilliance they’re supposed to. For example, for every Mario Gotze winning World Cup finals, there’s a Mark O’Brien on loan at Motherwell. This blog looks at five players who would have transformed your team into title contenders on Football Manager, but didn’t go onto fulfil their video-game glories.

 

5) Yannis Tafer (FM11, Lyon, 19)

With an initial value of £2.3m, it would cost you at least double to prise him away from France, but would bring instant glory if you could pull it off. Some people found him to average better than a goal a game whether he played for Real Madrid or Crystal Palace, and at the very least, (injury permitting) Tafer always got at least 20 goals in all competitions. Tafer’s real life story isn’t so magnificent, however. Despite representing France at youth level and being top scorer at the 2008 U17 Championship, he only found the net once in 10 appearances at Lyon, didn’t score at all in a loan spell at Toulouse, and after two years with FC Lausanne Sport in the Swiss Super League, he’s still in Switzerland with St. Gallen.

 

Yannis-Tafer

Yannis Tafer watching a fellow striker in Robbie Earnshaw for Lyon

 

4) Keirrison (FM09, Cortiba, 19)

The answer to all of your problems. It didn’t matter if you were the worst FM manager of all time or had a defence like a sieve, because if you had Keirrison up front on FM09, you were guaranteed to win things. With an initial value of £4.5m, the Brazilian was worth breaking the bank for and frequently broke goal records irrespective of where he played. In reality, things looked to be going to plan when Barcelona signed him after his goal-scoring exploits at Cortiba and Palmeiras, where he hit 32 goals in 50 league games. But, in five years he didn’t make a single appearance for Los Cules and had loan spells at Benfica, Fiorentina, Santos and Cruziero before going back to Cortiba, who turned his temporary stay permanent this summer.

 

3) Danny Wilson (FM12, Liverpool, 19)

Patience (and finance) is needed to get the best out of Scottish defender Wilson. The former Rangers man starts the game on loan at Blackpool for the season and plays pretty much every game, but Liverpool demand £12m for him, which is a slight flaw. However, with the right managing, he turns into a quick, solid centre back that averages over 7.0 per game and proves to be a worthy stalwart for a top six side. In real life, his time south of the border wasn’t exceptional – making just two league appearances for Liverpool, six on loan at Blackpool and one on loan at Bristol City. Liverpool shipped him out on loan again, but this time back to Scotland with Hearts, who made his move permanent last summer.

 

Had the whole world in his hands on FM, not so much for Liverpool

Had the whole world in his hands on FM, not so much for Liverpool

 

2) Mark Ellis (FM08, Bolton Wanderers, 18)

The ideal defensive midfielder for a 4-1-3-2 on the 2008 edition, as he mops up pretty much everything and keeps the ball. On the game, he gets the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and AC Milan interested, all of whom happy to spend well above his £1.7m value, so you have to try and agree a fee/terms before you do anything else. In reality, he can say he’s won a match at Wembley Stadium…but for Crewe Alexandra in the 2013 Football League Trophy final, rather than an FA Cup victory for Chelsea. Ellis didn’t once appear for Bolton in the league when he departed for Torquay United, before going on to Forest Green Rovers on loan, Crewe, and as of this summer, Shrewsbury Town.

 

1) Michael Potts (FM10, Blackburn Rovers, 18)

Here we are at number one, with arguably the most contrasting fortune seen on a football game since Cherno Samba was tipped to dominate world football on Championship Manager 01/02. If you move quickly enough you can approach Potts directly due to his contract at Blackburn, but failing that he is available for around £1.5m and grows into one of the best attacking midfielders on the game. If you look at his profile, he is not only dubbed as a wonderkid, but as the ‘new Paul Gascoigne.’ Such is his talent that on one save, I rejected a £35m bid from Real Madrid for his services. The reality could not be any more different. After making zero appearances for Blackburn, he went to York City and helped them get promoted from non-league, subsequently helping to keep them in the Football League the following season. After that, he went to Guiseley, before furthering his non-league adventure to his current club, AFC Fylde. Of the Conference North. A player who became England’s saviour as well as a global superstar on a game, is plying his trade in the Conference North. Somewhat painful, isn’t it?

 

'The new Paul Gascoigne' on the right, signing a deal for AFC Fylde...

‘The new Paul Gascoigne’ on the right, signing a deal for AFC Fylde…

 

With FM15 hitting the shelves soon, it will be interesting to see how many of them turn into stars like Angel Di Maria, and how many make future lists like this…