The Hired Man

Girlfriend suggested we watch the Hired Man, merely described to me as “a musical”. Not much to go on, but it was co-produced by the mighty Oldham Coliseum, so I was up for it. Turns out it is a Howard Goodall musical (he’s done a lot of worthy things in music, but I mainly know him for composing the theme tunes to Red Dwarf) based on a novel by Melvyn Bragg. I love Melvyn Bragg. It’s historical, and given how long Bragg’s been presenting In Our Time on Radio 4, I’m guessing it’s well researched. 

This is definitely a musical of two halves. The first, which gives the show its name, is about poor people in Cumbria trying to get work each day: this could be in the fields or the mines, but they have to barter their prices and really graft. At this point, all I can tell is that it’s in an indeterminate “olden days”, and the specific time doesn’t really matter.

But it’s fun. You get a sense of the struggle that people went through (okay, not really fun, then, but you know what I mean), specifically centered about a family. My first issue is that we don’t really know until after the interval that this is a family with two (nearly) grown kids. For now, it’s husband and wife (John – played by Oliver Hembrough – and Emily, Lauryn Redding), along with a mischievous rolling stone – Jackson (Lloyd Gorman) – who comes between them with his amorous overtures.

The second half is concerned with what I presume is the first world war. The programme tells me the initial setting was 1898 Cumbria, so this is a leap forward in time. So maybe the kids weren’t yet born in the first act. I feel they could have done a better job of communicating the time, as they do it again at the end, when the war has been over, and a girl who was single before the interval has been married for 15 or so years, and John and Emily are returning to their village after a long time away. 

As well as the narrative leaps in time, the songs didn’t bowl me over. They carry the story along well enough, which I guess is the point, but the secondary – still important – thing is for the songs to be awesome. Some were pretty hummable, and you got one duet with nicely overlapping lines, and one or two songs with multiple simultaneous vocals, but this wasn’t West Side Story in its complexity of vocal arrangements. You did get some excellent lead-chorus interchanges, so maybe I’m being a tad harsh. The instrumental arrangements were pretty lush, being what I assume were popular instruments in Cumbria at the time: violin, piano, cello, double bass, oboe and clarinet. 

If the writing of the musical didn’t blow me away, the performance actually did. The cast balanced singing and traditional acting very well, performing with passion and chemistry. What’s more, the cast had their instruments on (the great revolving turntable) stage for the massed numbers. It’s not only impressive to see people playing and singing in a musical, but I’m in awe at the fact that someone can sing and trot about on a rotating stage while wielding a double bass. Good work Gorman. 

There were some slight technical hiccups. For the first half, it felt like the male voices were being drowned out by the instruments, something they fixed for after the interval. This did lead to an unintentionally effective moment where John is singing a song of woe as Emily and Jackson are drawn toward each other. John’s words being drowned out, though we miss the detail, does actually lend the scene extra poignancy. 

I also really like the fact that, much like Miss Saigon, this is a war-focused musical that hits you with some hard blows. Key characters die, and there are some fittingly dark moments. These, and other moments of peril, are communicated very well using what is a minimalist set. This is a co-production between Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, Hull Truck Theatre and the Oldham Coliseum. I don’t know who does what in this trio, but it’s pulled off with aplomb. I’ve seen a lot of excellent plays at the Coliseum, and appreciate that the group have put this on YouTube for now. Watch it for yourself:

(Eep. I might have been a bit late on the sharing!) And it might be worth donating to one or more of these, as obviously the arts are getting hit hard at the moment (here in Leeds, the council has threatened that museums, galleries and libraries could all get shut down as the city runs out of money. And this is apparently a city that’s doing well):

To donate to the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, visit 

To donate to the Hull Truck Theatre Future Fund visit 

To donate to Oldham Coliseum Theatre visit

The Replacements – Tim

Sire Records (1985)

In what won’t come as a surprise, I’ve got a new project. Inspired by the new pair of headphones I got (Shure SRH15400 for those who are intrigued), I decided to revisit some albums, find out what they sond like through these beauties.

(In a nutshell, these cans are very light and comfy, being part carbon fibre, with Alcantara pads. They are incredibly clear and detailed, and maybe a touch light on the bass. But where there is a lot of bass in the production, these can certainly communicate them. I suppose they just don’t over-hype the bass, like Beats or Audio-Technica might.)

Anyway, this became a project, in which I have listed my favourite albums for each year since 1970, and then added lists of albums I may not know so well, but might be in with a shot.

Which brings me to Tim. I used to listen to a lot of Replacements in about 2006 maybe. I was part of the now-terminated Sound Opinions Message Board (SOMB), and they had a fun series of album polls. Tim was a beauty I discovered during the 1985-1994 poll.

I thought that, while I am (re)discovering albums, I may as well make notes on them. Like my initial thoughts series, but on old rather than new records. Let’s see if I can keep this up.

The Replacements, if you don’t know about them, were essentially an 80s punk rock band. But not in the sense of Black Flag or Fear. They took the gruff earnestness of Bruce Springsteen and relocated it in the clubs from the stadia he was inhabiting by that point. Their final album was All Shook Down (the name of a SOMB member, as I recall) in 1990, after which main man Paul Westerberg went on a solo run.

I guess Tim is seen as their best album. That or Let it Be. Tim is from 1985, at which point they were a few albums deep and therefore pretty experienced. It shows on this record, as they vary their sound from almost retro rock ‘n’ roll (‘Waitress in the Sky’, which turned out to be very memorable judging by this revisit), very indie or singer/songwritery (‘Kiss Me on the Bus’), to relatively credible ballads (‘Here Comes a Regular’).

They’ve got a great sound on this album. Westerberg still sounds really young at times (he’ll have been about 25 at this point), but has a really fun, punky hoarseness which is a great counterpoint to his melodicism. The guitars are also punky and pretty abrasive, but more college punk than metal. That said, I think this kind of thing might have influenced Izzy Stradlin‘s rhythm guitar on Appetite for Destruction.

Really enjoyed this one. Compared to the computer speakers I used to listen to this on, listening to the “master quality audio” version on Tidal through my Shures revealed everything in the mix; it’s a lot less thin than I remember, but it doesn’t sound overly remastered (read: compressed). Not the best-produced album ever, but a really good example of mid-80s indie rock sound. I still see why this is such a highly regarded album.

UFC on ESPN 10: Eye vs. Calvillo

I’m glad I checked this was an ESPN show in America prior to writing it up. The card was a lot of fun, as it happened, but I can’t imagine anyone would have paid for it, had it been a pay per view. Given that it wasn’t a PPV, it was actually a really smartly put together show. Kudos to the UFC for that.

Cynthia Calvillo impressed, winning comfortably by decision over Jessica Eye in her flyweight debut. Nice skills and power on show. Not sure what it really says about Eye, mind you. But solid scrap to headline.

More impressive was Marvin Vettori taking out his frustrations against an outmatched Karl Roberson. There was some controversy heading into this one: they were supposed to fight a month before, but Roberson missed weight, then got sick, leading to Vettori losing his rag at him in a hotel foyer. Pretty embarrassing for both. Roberson spun it as Vettori being mentally weak for getting so angry in public and having to be physically restrained. Vettori vice versa at Roberson’s ignominious drop out.

As it happened, Roberson missed weight by even more for this fight but pressed on with it. Maybe he shouldn’t have! I don’t know if it was the yoyo-ing weight or whether Vettori was just too good for him, but it can’t have been a fun four minutes before Vettori choked him out from behind for an impressive stoppage win.

Also impressive was Mariya Agapova, who dismissed Hannah Cifers halfway through round one. Agapova was too *everything* for Cifers, who was having her worst night since getting blasted by Maycee Barber in late 2018… or maybe since Mackenzie Dern kneebarred her the other week. I guess she’s not top of the food chain, but Agapova still impressed, getting the tapout much like Vettori: with a sweet rear naked choke. Maybe you shouldn’t be asked to fight a few weeks after a loss…

Andre “Touchy” Fili beat Charles “Air” Jourdain by decision in the battle of the best ringnames. Sadly, the fight wasn’t as memorable as the names. Same for Jordan “Not Air” Espinosa judging the heck out of Mark De La Rosa. I wish I could remember something from that fight. Maybe these two were drowned out by the awesomeness of the…


Merab Dvalishvili vs. Gustavo Lopez

I like a nice scary fighter from the former Soviet Union, any day. Merab’s now based in Long Island, and he kind of looks like a Long Island guy. Lots of fence grabbing from Lopez, as Merab utterly owns him in the grappling. Slightly surprised this went the distance, though Merab rarely actually had Lopez close to a finish. I think that was good defence from Lopez, as Merab was trying a lot. He took Lopez down at will, really impressively, and had a decent side headlock/neck crank in the second. But he seemed to peter out in the third. Obviously he won, mind. Maybe all the grappling and sweet takedowns tired him out a bit. Very much one to watch, anyway.

Zaarrukh Adashev vs. Tyson Nam

Adashev comes in with everyone talking about how great he is at kickboxing, as we see a bunch of Glory Kickboxing highlights. Not many MMA fights, but lots of striking skill! Then unheralded Hawaiian Nam puts him to sleep with an overhand right after Nam eats a speculative leg kick. If this guy is such an amazing kickboxer, why were his hands flapping about after throwing a low kick? But yeah, never look past a Hawaiian in a fight. Sub-minute again.

Gina Mazany vs. Julia Avila

Avila big favourite here. We very clearly see why. Avila seemed to hit harder in the brief firefight, backed her up with a knee to the body, then just blasted on her while Mazany turtled. Impressive win. 

Christian Aguilera vs. Anthony Ivy

Christian Aguilera should probably have the ring name “Genie in a Bottle”, but is instead “The Beast”. Not very original. Anthony Ivy is “Aquaman”. I mean, come on: “Poison” was right there! He could have walked out to an Alice Cooper power ballad and everything. I suppose he likes water, or mediocre superheroes. Both were making their UFC debuts, and Aguilera did the business against Ivy, making him flinch and throwing a solid right to Ivy’s temple. He followed it up with a cursory combo, but mainly clubbing blows with the right hand like he was the Warlord on a 1991 episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge. Good sub-minute (-mariner?) stoppage though. 

End Hits

Today’s album: End Hits, by Fugazi (1998)

I don’t think I realised, back when I bought this, how life changing it really was. I also didn’t realise, when I saw it get full marks in magazines ranging from Kerrang! to Terrorizer, what it actually sounded like.

In my head, it was quite abrasive. Like Helmet or Biohazard. Shouty, but not metal. Not as far along the continuum as early Machine Head or Chaos AD-era Sepultura. I got it, and ‘Break’ came on: a brief, almost jolly, song that seemed not to be of much import. Ah, maybe I wasted my allowance?

[A year on (during which I managed to annoy my fellow sixth form English students by playing this in the van up from Stratford Upon Avon – immediate this ain’t), and I’m obsessed with Fugazi. Me and the crew are seeing them at Leeds Met*. We’ve just been given flyers for a new skate/punk records shop opening up. It’s called Wisdom (skating)/Out of Step (music), and we’re just going to call it Wilson because of the typography on the sign. I’m also going to spend a lot of money there, but be unable to single handedly keep it open. For what it’s worth, I did get at least two of this series from there (but this one was from Way Ahead).]

Wow, I’m rambling, even by my standards. But this is important! I’d heard punk rock before, but I’d not felt it. The punk rock feeling, rather than just playing fast. But this odd record, with in hindsight post-rockiness, very mellow songs, the odd thrasher, but mainly really frigging interesting, engaging tracks with incredible arrangements – not least between the two guitarists MacKaye and Picciotto, who at this point had a similar kind of telepathic bond that the rhythm section already seemed to have developed.

This was the first new album I bought on vinyl. I stuck the inlay sheet up on my bedroom door, with its ‘COMMITTED TO EXCELLENCE’ sign. I’d go to bat for any of their albums from 1993 to 1998 (and to a lesser extent, all of them ever). But this is where it all seems to fit together perfectly. I know it’s different for every Fugazi fan. Like Swans, Fugazi have always seemed to just be different from everyone else.

Recap Modotti – just listen to the damn bassline!

* turns out you can buy a recording of that gig: