Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A few examples of my writing work

Over the last 20 years I've written for a broad variety of magazines, journals and websites. I'm noted for my deep research and slavish fact-checking, and can put together compelling, well-informed copy at pretty short notice. If you want to take a look at some examples of my recent work, then browse on…

Metal Hammer

I travelled to Shanghai in China for Team Rock to experience the music, smells and pure lunacy of the local heavy metal fans. It was quite possibly the most intense and entertaining festival that I've ever had the joy to witness.

Football Weekends

This sport and travel piece was principally based around the surprisingly large Gibraltan football scene, but also gave travel tips for visitors to the area, suggested getaways off the rock, and some tips for the best things to see, do and eat in the wider region, also encompassing Southern Spain and Northern Morocco.


The magazine otherwise known as Folk Roots sent me out to Malta to review the terrific Earth Garden Festival. This piece offers a  guide to the best of the acts on offer over this sunny summer weekend, and gets a bit gushing over the friendliness of this lesser known European festie.

We Love Darts

As the freelance news editor on this lively sport magazine, I was often called upon to come up with features about the history of the game. In this piece, I explore the very origins of the sport's world championships, and offer a blow-by-blow guide to the events of this debut tournament.

Music Milestones

For the first issue of Future Publishing's musical histories series, I was tasked with writing exhaustive examinations of the making of a number of early Pink Floyd albums. This includes notes on the recording process, the album's historical context and suggestions of the band's variously fragile states of mind at any given time. In this piece I looked into the making of their soundtrack album, Obscured By Clouds.

To read this feature, click here

The Quietus

As a quiet aficionado of the Eurovision Song Contest, I'm frequently asked to provide content for a raft of magazines and websites. As such I provide the Eurovision previews for Heat magazine, report from backstage for Popbitch, and have provided features for publications as varied as BBC Online, HMV Choice, Mass Movement, and many of the specialist websites across the continent. In this piece for the leftfield music site I take a musical trip around the strange and freaky performers who never quite made it to the big show.

To read this feature, click here

The Musician

I have a regular gig on the Musicians' Union's member magazine The Musician. While there I write everything from obituaries to advice articles, news items to interviews and lots more besides. This particular piece was in interview with Benji Webbe, singer of the Welsh ragga metal band Skindred.

MUSIC MILESTONES - Pink Floyd album profile

September 2016 - Future Publishing

Down In La Vallée

Three years after their soundtrack for More, its director approached them for another soundtrack. But this time he found a band very much in control of their sound - and in the middle of a project that would launch them into the musical stratosphere, and beyond…

When the French-based film director Barbet Schroeder wanted somebody to compose a soundtrack for his second feature-length movie, his first impulse was to track down the people responsible for the music from his first. But some three years after his debut, More, his original scorers had grown from the slightly shell-shocked post-Syd experimentalists he had known before into a confident group of men at the height of their creative powers, and that showed in both the way that the music was produced, and the way things turned out in its immediate aftermath. This was 1972, after all, and that band, Pink Floyd, were smack in the middle of making what would go on to become their masterwork - The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Indeed, much of Dark Side had already been written, demoed and performed live - but not yet formally recorded - by the time the band moved into the Strawberry Studios at Château d’Hérouville in France for a couple of extended sessions to create Obscured in February, March and April of 1972, and you can almost taste the later, greater album’s DNA in these recordings.

Again, Schroeder’s film told the story of a middle-class Western European innocent on a voyage to an exotic land for self-discovery, but by this point the Floyd had already travelled this path, and knew exactly who they were. After finding their feet with More (1969) and experimenting with the live stuff and more wigged out brain farts of Ummagumma (1969), they’d begun to hone their sound by the time of Atom Heart Mother (1970) (which itself was almost something of a revenge album for the difficult time they’d had contributing to the Zabriskie Point (1970) soundtrack), and then distilled it further with Meddle (1971). So with Dark Side conceptually in the bag, the band were at a creative peak when it came to laying down the tracks for Obscured. Schroeder had, quite by chance, hit the motherlode, but perhaps wasn’t prepared for quite how difficult things would become.

It is clear from even a first cursory listen that Obscured By Clouds is a much more mature and together piece of work than More. Indeed, it holds its own as an album much more than the previous spot of movie work, perhaps in part due to the massive fall out that the band had with the film’s producers that led to them erasing all reference to the film’s original title, La Vallée, and changing it to Obscured By Clouds, a reference to the hidden, mystical valley at the heart of Schroeder’s film.

Nick Mason often cites that the sessions in France were often much more hurried than they would be for a more formal Floyd album, but don’t let that make you think that this is going to a patchy affair cut from the same cloth as More. Here, each piece stands on its own, but folds neatly into the next to create a greater whole, in stark contrast to More’s few bold gems set into a sea of fragments and noodling.

Again, the band took a pragmatic approach to composing a score. Watching a rough director’s cut of the film, they noted down the timings of key events and used them as cues for adding musical highs and lows as the film progressed. However, they also remembered Schroeder’s more naturalistic relationship with music in his films, and how he preferred to have it only appear in real world situations, like clubs, shops or car radios. This method led many observers to suspect that a few of Floyd’s pieces for More were placed out of composition order - for instance, the song Ibiza Bar is positioned during a party in Paris long before the protagonist ever gets to the Spanish island. So much of the work on Obscured is more loose and fluid, and possibly ambiguously pitched in order that it could be placed at any point across the movie. Another complication is that the film is based in a remote valley in Papua New Guinea, so the chances of stumbling across any radios or hippy parties so deep into the jungle would be scarce, so the band also had to consider this as a potential problem when trying to second guess the director.

But in the end, what could have been a problematic album for a band in the midst of a massive escalation of fame turned out to be one of their most engaging and under rated works.

From the deep, dark throb of the opener, the album’s instrumental title track, it immediately disarms you. After its slow, rasping build, its nodding metronomic pace is reminiscent of kraut rock masters like Can or the motorik sounds of Neu! before Gilmour’s familiar scratchy blues guitar licks come rolling in to wrench you back into the world of Floyd, quickly kicking into the more urgent When You’re In that follows. These instrumental pieces, and the other pair that sit at the end of each side of the album, are much more complete than those on their earlier complete score. As opposed to the short excerpts scattered about the More soundtrack release, these are generally more solid pieces, designed for Schroeder to pick and choose from as they faded in and out of specific passages from the film.

But it is the songs themselves that stand out, with barely a weak track on the whole album. Burning Bridges offers that laid back style evident on much of Dark Side, only with Gilmour and Wright’s dual vocal too-and-fro offering a strange, unsettling quality (and if you liked the melody of this song, don’t worry, it turns up again in three songs time with a different time signature in the instrumental Mudmen). Later, It’s Gold In The… gives us a more standard bar room rock workout, eschewing Wright’s keyboards for a rollicking guitar and bass stomper, while the prowling Childhood’s End, written after he’d read an Arthur C Clarke novel of the same name, was the last entirely Gilmour-penned song until A Momentary Lapse Of Reason some 15 years later.

But it is the album’s principal single, Free Four that gains the most plaudits from this collection. Despite its plinky-plonky funtime swing, its sarcastic lyric offers us the first glimpses of Waters’ dissatisfaction with the rock on roll life, and reprises the motif of his lost father. It has often been posited that this is the sour egg that eventually hatched into The Wall at the decade’s end, and indeed, you can see the early themes of Waters’ grand and personal work begin to incubate within the cracked shell of this song.

The titles of some of this album’s songs have also caused much discussion among fans of the band. While it’s clear that some names, like Burning Bridges, Mudmen, and Stay have clear and distinct links to the happenings within the movie, others are perhaps a little more obscure. Many have proposed deep and cosmic explanations for some of the more mercurial titles, but popular myth suggests that its all a little more prosaic, and that that both When You’re In and Wot’s… Uh The Deal? are inscrutable band in jokes, referring to regular phrases uttered by their larger-than-life crew member Chris Adamson. But whatever the real reason, they’ve added just a little bit more mystery to the Pink Floyd cannon of myth and legend.

So despite being a hastily put together collection of songs that they had to break off recording smack bang in the middle of to go and tour Japan, Obscured By Clouds ended up being a reasonably successful interim album between the well-liked Meddle and the stratospheric The Dark Side Of The Moon some nine months later. And despite their set-to with the film’s makers, there were still some early editions released entitled either La Vallée, or anglicised to The Valley. Track these down and you’ll make an avid collector a very happy human. Indeed, so much had Pink Floyd’s stock risen that the film’s production company eventually retitled the movie La Vallée (Obscured By Clouds) to cash in on Floyd’s post Dark Side success. A strange and corporate footnote to one of the band’s often overlooked collections.

The Film

Barbet’s Schroeder’s follow up to More, La Vallée, for which Obscured By Clouds was the soundtrack, explored many of the same themes of his earlier work, but expanded them into a much broader, existential plane. 

Again we follow an innocent, slightly uptight Western European on a journey to self-destructive self-discovery, but here the chief protagonist is Viviane, the wife of the French consul in Melbourne who has a bit of a thing for exotic feathers. After a chance meeting with some hippy travellers, she decides to follow them to a remote part of Papua New Guinea to track down the feathers of an incredibly rare bird that only lives deep in the heart of a particular forest. 

But these hippies have a different quest - to plunge themselves into the very heart of the last unexplored place on the planet, and to discover paradise by assimilating the ways of the locals. And so it is that Viviane’s mundane existence in Australia quickly turns into a whirl of sex and strangeness when the group meet up with the Mapuga tribe - one of the most isolated peoples on the planet - and begin to work their way into their community.

However, things in paradise are never as idyllic as they seem, and the more they work their way into the tribe’s lives, the more unsettling things become.

Some of the scenes of the film’s impressive tribal dancing and mud-masked men will be familiar, although you’d have never imagined they’d have come from a hippy wig out film with a Pink Floyd soundtrack. Some, however, are pretty harrowing depictions of a brutal lifestyle - be sure to turn away if it looks like the locals fancy a bit of pork for dinner. But while it’s an often sparse and incredibly dated piece of work, with only scant suggestions of Floyd’s work on the soundtrack despite their full-length album that accompanies it, it’s definitely a document of its time, and worth a look if you’ve got a strong stomach for gory scenes and stilted dialogue.

The Studio

For their first sole foray to a foreign studio (although their parts for Zabriskie Point were recorded at a difficult session in Rome), the band decamped to the famous Strawberry Studios at the Château d’Hérouville in France. Located in the tiny village of Hérouville, out beyond the edge of the very furthest North Western suburbs of Paris, this 30-roomed mansion, built in 1740, was once painted by Van Gough, and was for a while the home of the composer Frédéric Chopin. But after a fire in 1969 the then-owner, Oscar-nominated composer Michel Magne, converted it into a recording studio that would soon become a must-visit haunt for a whole generation of the world’s most important rock and pop stars.

Dubbed the Honky Château by Elton John (who often recorded there and named his 1972 album after it), Strawberry was the source of many monster albums the like of David Bowie’s Pin Ups and Low, Gong’s Camembert Electrique, Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, Rainbow’s Long Live Rock ’n’ Roll and even, somewhat surprisingly, Sham 69’s The Adventures Of The Hersham Boys. Other stellar acts that passed through its doors included T Rex, Jethro Tull, The Bee Gees, MC5, Joan Armatrading, Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac, Sweet and many more. 

However, after Magne’s death in 1984, the studio, and the mansion that housed it, fell into disrepair, and it is only in the last few years that work on renovating this historic building has begun. A team of  dedicated restorers are beavering away on it as we speak, hoping to bring it back to its former glory and reopen the studios before the end of the year.

The Mapuga Tribe

If you’ve never seen the film from which the music comes, a little passage of music at the very end of Obscured By Clouds may have left you a little nonplussed. After a typically phlegmatic instrumental passage by the band, the music quietly decays into the hypnotic tribal chants of a people who are clearly from nowhere you have ever been.

Those that have seen the film will readily identify them as the Mapuga, the remote Papua New Guinean tribe at the heart of La Vallée. But who are these people? And how did they end up in such an unlikely hippy trip out film? Well despite being sandwiched between the more urbanly developed Australia and Indonesia, Papua New Guinea still has many areas within its massive borders where the tribal life is more widely valued than any notion of 21st century western ideal. It is estimated that there are many hundreds of tribes still living in the island’s less explored creases, with in excess of 800 distinct languages spoken. Many of these tribes are only just beginning to make contact with the outside world, so dense and remote are the areas that they live in.

Film director Barbet Schroeder became fascinated with the notion of whether it was impossible to completely get back to nature and cast off the shackles of the post-industrial life, so decided to explore this idea in this film. And while there’s a typically early-70s existential road movie feel going on for much of the film, this intersperses with some scenes of genuine documentary, as he films the real-life rituals and daily experience of the Mapuga, who often seem visibly amused at these strange people who have come to record them. If you can track down the BFI’s dual format edition DVD of the film, the extras include three ethnographic shorts that Schroeder filmed while he was there that offer fascinating extra insights into their world.

And exactly what is it that they are singing at the end of the movie? No one entirely knows. Pink Floyd simply picked a sequence of singing that they liked from the film’s sound tapes and placed it at the end of the track Absolutely Curtains. To this date it has never been translated, as even other Papuans don’t recognise the language being sung. So if you fancy a project to solve one of the great unanswered questions in the Pink Floyd cannon, do let us know what they are saying after you get back from La Vallée, because we’d love to know. If you get back, that is…

Looks Familiar

If you’re one of the lucky few to have tracked down a copy of the film, and have been thinking that one of its stars, Monique Giraudy, is a little familiar. Well you might be right, because Monique here is more commonly known as Miquette Giraudy, the vocalist and keyboard player best known for her work as a member of the proto-proggers Gong with her husband, and fellow Gong alumnus, Steve Hillage.

Before becoming a maker of music, she’d had a brief career in movie making in her late teens and early twenties. Beginning as the assistant to film maker Jackie Raynal, she also has script and assistant editor credits on Barbet Schroeder’s previous film, More. She then moved out to the front of the camera, with acting roles in Jean-Pierre Prévost's 1971 film Jupiter (this time under the name of Marsiale Giraudy), before her more developed role in La Vallée. She also gets a full editing credit in the 1972 Martial Raysse movie, Le Grand Départ.

But her head was turned towards music after meeting Hillage, and she briefly replaced Diane Stewart-Bond in Gong in 1974, before leaving with Hillage to play and sing on all of his solo work. The pair still occasionally pop up at Gong reunions, although these days they are perhaps more well known amongst ravers and techno fans for their work on the underground dance scene with System 7, who are still gigging frequently to this date. 

For more information on the Music Milestones series, click here.

THE QUIETUS Eurovision history feature

May 1st, 2013

A Warm Hand For Mister Fisto's Entry: The Best Eurovision Acts 

The Quietus takes a tour around Europe to find some of the finest Eurovision national runners-up in recent years. Here's what could have been!

A month or so back, a video of a gang of fur-faced men in wrestling leotards shouting out a hectic song about a man with a broken leg walking to Latvia went viral globally. In itself that would have been enough of a recommendation, but what really surprised and delighted the people who were excitedly sharing and forwarding it was that it came from the final of the Estonian Eurovision qualifier. 

It appeared, at face value, as some glorious anomaly in what's usually considered to be a saccharine-sweet parade of Pop Idol contestants, old timers having one last shot at fame and obscure folk acts playing instruments that you'd be hard pushed to spell. But to those in the know, Winny Puhh were just the latest in a long line of unusual and challenging acts who litter the early stages of Eurovision's qualifying tournaments. Forget the big show in May, this is where the true heroes are to be found – the art punks, the jazz rappers, the techno goths and a whole array of other incredibly original and creative acts that are destined never to get onto the big glittery stage and a TV audience of many millions. 

Here are ten of the most interesting, inventive and at times elegantly deranged Eurovision hopefuls from the past few years. And if it's in any way piqued your interest, the qualifiers for next year start this November…

Winny Puhh

Already a well-loved underground act at home, this gang of metallic art-filth punkers caused an international stir when a clip of their fabulously unhinged Estonian national final performance started to drip out onto the internet. And it so very nearly made it to this year's Eurovision, too, taking the narrowest of third places, just a single frustrating point behind the eventual winner. But all is not lost… they're already planning another attempt for next year.


The Estonian qualifiers are such a rich source of interesting and challenging acts that we could have easily filled this list from that one nation alone. But we especially admire the work of Chalice, who describes himself as a rapper, but here offers up some especially difficult jazz folk. It is to Estonia's credit that this came a commendable seventh place in their 2009 final, beating a number of established pop acts along the way.

Dr Spock

Iceland, as we know, is home to an endless stream of fascinating left-field performers. But this song's near-success surprised even the most ardent fans of the North Atlantic island's music scene. A jarring fusion of complicated lounge jazz and blistering hardcore, it fought its way through a complicated semi-final process before coming third in a nationwide televote on the night of the final. Shame, because we'd have loved to have seen how Wogan explained this one to the viewers back home.

Bojken Lako

Albania's Festivali i Këngës has a long and impressive history that pre-dates its status as their Eurovision qualifiers by some years. As such, its performers are usually a three way split between sombre ballads, pumping turbo disco and an array of folksy throat singers. But over the last five years there's also been a regular incongruous appearance by Bojken Lako, a towering growler of a man, who gives the Sisters Of Mercy's techno goth schtick a sinister minor key upgrade.

Mister Fisto

Germany has always been known for its ultra safe schlager sounds in the contest. But back in the late 80s, this alien-faced electropop outfit proved that they were years ahead of their time with their Daft Punk/Kraftwerk/Smash martian aggregation. This clip is also home to some of the finest dance moves you'll ever see. The song itself begins at around 55 seconds. It's worth the wait.

El Gato

Back in 2008, Spanish broadcaster TVE thought they'd get with the times and open their selection process up to all comers via their official website. And although they had the best of intentions, a mischievous internet campaign put this unnerving piece of minimal techno at the top of the pile. To save their blushes, the broadcaster had to change the rules of the contest part way through to ensure that it didn't make it to Eurovision proper. Which is a real shame, because its hypnotic wail and skittish beats would have sounded terrific coming out of a giant arena sound system.

Sasha Bognibov

For the last five years, this big-eyed gothic wastrel has tried to get a song into the Moldovan national final, and each time he falls at the final hurdle. But he's a fascinating character. He first entry turned heads with his 2008 debut, 'I Love The Girls Of 13 Years Old', a hauntingly annunciated pean to the beauty of youth, and every year his songs get bigger, stranger and just that bit more unsettling. Witness this appearance from Moldovan breakfast TV singing one of his later efforts for the full evidence.

Elio e le Storie Tese

Considered every bit as important as Zappa or the Bonzos around their way, EELST surprised many when they entered the marathon five day singing contest Sanremo earlier in 2013. The show now doubles up as Italy's Eurovision selection show, so you can imagine how relieved the producers must have been when this complex piece of funtime musicology was beaten into a narrow second place by a handsome balladeer at a piano. And if you don't like the start, don't worry, a bit that you do enjoy will be along before too long.

Syostry Syo

There are some songs that defy description, even from the most seasoned Eurovision campaigners. Quite why this pair of angry Russian teens decided that having an argument in French over an accordion would be a good idea, we'll never know. But it's a darned sight more avant garde than even they'd know, and rolled in to an amazing fourth place finish in the massive 25 song Moscow final last year.

Fruit Eating Bears

For as long as any of us can remember the UK have played it safe at Eurovision, with an endless parade of Saturday night showbiz-friendly pop confections. But back in 1978, during the height of the punk rock explosion, the BBC took a risk and invited this high octane bunch of Croydon pub rockers to bounce about on the giant Albert Hall stage in the Song For Europe final. It came well down the pile in the final reckoning, and the BBC would never be so with adventurous with Eurovision again.

To see the original article, click here.

THE MUSICIAN Benji Webbe interview

Winter 2015 edition

Skindred Spirit

Benji Webbe is a singer who has acquired near-legendary status in his native South Wales. Hailing from the harbour town of Newport at the very bottom of the Welsh Valleys, he started his first band, Dub War, in 1993. Their unique, genre-splitting mix of punk rock and sound system reggae won them a horde of fans, and had labels fighting for their signatures at a time when Newport was briefly, and strangely described as the new Seattle.

Their mini-album, Dub Warning, on the local Words Of Warning label first sped them to national attention in 1994, with its lead track Crack earning regular plays on night time radio. After a couple of well-received singles they graduated to the Earache label, where they put out a brace of fast selling albums and a slew of singles.

Dub War's flame burned brightly but quickly, and the band soon came to an end. But through Dub War, Benji had made some friends in very high places, and was soon engaged in projects with high profile metal and rock musicians from the likes of Sepultura, Soulfly, Bad Religion and Metallica, most notably Mass Mental with the latter's Robert Trujillo.

But he still had the urge to get back to his roots and form another band in his home town. So he got together with some old friends to form Skindred - a band that have fused a weird alchemy of disparate sounds like reggae, heavy metal, hardcore punk, dancehall and dubstep into a genre of their own that they like to call ragga metal. 

Babylon, their 2002 debut, picked up where Dub War left off, only with more metallic edges, and they soon became a fixture on just about every festival bill on the planet. Their high octane shows and devotion to their fans has earned them many awards, including Best Live Band at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods in 2011, and Kerrang's Devotion award in 2010.

And if all of that wasn't enough, Benji has a well-earned reputation of being one of the nicest men in rock, so with their new album, Volume, release at the end of October, and with the band about to embark on a massive winter tour, he took time out of his busy rehearsal schedule to tell us about the origins of his unique musical inventions, why he still loves life on the road at 48, and how he'll never move too far from his Newport roots. 

So when you were growing up in a medium-sized town in South Wales, could you have imagined the musical future that lay ahead of you? 
No mate, school did my head in. There were all these kids who were good at geography and good at maths, and I just kept looking at the ceiling waiting to go home. I didn't know what I wanted to do, to be honest, but one thing I was good at was keeping the class joking. I always fancied being in a band, but it was never really an ambition. It kind of stumbled upon me. When I got a bit older I'd been doing a bit of singing, like, and reggae sound systems and all that, but I had no real plans of doing it for a living, but then you get these offers in life that come out of the blue and you've just got to do them.

Someone knocked on my door. Guns N' Roses were pretty big at the time and my mate had just got out of prison, and he said to me: "Come on Benji, you can sing anything, let's do some rock songs". I mean, I'd done the sound systems and some cabaret crap, but nothing like this. So we got this guy in on bass, who came up for a jam, we did some demos and straight away headed to London doing shows. It just came to us, that was the birth of Dub War. Then we had all these labels approaching us inside four gigs.

Despite having a lot of labels courting you, Dub War decided sign with a small local label instead. Why did you go with them?
Yeah, we signed for Words Of Warning from Bristol. We just didn't trust the big labels, I guess. Some of our mates in bands like the Cowboy Killers and Blaggers ITA had signed to them and they had a lot more cred, so we stayed small and signed with WOW.

During your time on Words Of Warning you put a few singles and a hotly received mini-album out and were gaining a reputation as an unmissable live act. So what made you move on to a bigger label?

Well all of sudden we were getting the likes of Sony and Polydor coming down to Newport to take us out to dinner. It all got a bit crazy for a bit, but after a month or so it started to slow down. The guvnor of Words Of Warning was managing us at the time, and he knew his label had taken us about as far as he could. So this guy came down from Nottingham to see us. He had started the Earache label and wanted to sign us, so from there we went onto bigger things for a while.

So what signalled the end of Dub War?
Well, we'd been together for five years, and it kind of ran its course. I think the big problem came after we were promised a publishing deal. We'd got money for the first time in our lives, and some of the boys bought houses on the back of it. We thought we were secure for life and really believed in it, which as it turned out was a stupid mistake. When the deal fell through we had to get jobs in order to keep paying for the houses and keep playing in the band, and so we couldn't all juggle the two things and finished the band.

What came next?
Well after all that finished I just couldn't wait to get my foot on the monitor in the rehearsal studio again. But I had all these people from these massive bands digging what I do, so I did some projects with guys from Sepultura and Robert Trujillo [who was then in Ozzy Osbourne's band but who now plays for Metallica]. Robert came to Wales to work on some songs 17 years ago, and he still rings me up every now and again for a get together.

Then I got together with the bassist Dan Pugsley. He moved up from Southampton to Wales. I knew he could cut it, so I said to him: "Let's do a band from Newport." It took us two years to find the right musicians, and then by chance we got in touch with Jeff and Ginge from Dub War and got Skindred going. But then we got a record deal and the same bullshit happened as before, and that was enough for Jeff and Ginge. But it all ended really well - they even suggested two new members (guitarist Mikey Demus and drummer Arya Goggins) - and we ain't looked back since. Of course, it's like being married. We have the odd disagreement, but we pretty soon make up. But we've had the same line up since 2002, and there ain't many that can say that!

So you're not going to sack them any time soon?
Oh I'd sack them all tomorrow and pay some kids £50 a night to play for me! Nah, I'm not the boss - this ain't the Benji show. If anything the drummer has more say than I do! It's all pretty amicable and everything we do we decide together.

Skindred's music doesn't easily fit into any given genre, so did you find it hard for people to take to your sound at first?
Nah. We just stuck to our guns and did what we did and people got into it. We'd play shows with folky bands like Gogol Bordello and harder rock bands like The Disturbed and both sets of fans loved it just as much. It all depends on how you present yourself, and we like to turn our shows into a big party, and I think everyone gets that. Live is where we're at. Doing an album is not the same as doing a concert. People dig it, and with Skindred it's my heart and soul.

You were part of the Newport scene when the town was briefly described at the New Seattle. Did it feel like you were at the centre of some kind of movement at the time?
So they fucking said! It was funny when people said that. There were just a few of us at the time. It most came out of The Blood Brothers, who had Richard Parfitt who went on to start 60ft Dolls, and Jeff from Dub War. Then we got going, and there were a whole bunch of other bands who were nearly good. There were people travelling down from America just to see us bands. But it was never really the next Seattle - we'd have had a band as big as Pearl Jam if it was!

You're known as one of the most exciting live bands on the circuit, so do you still look forward to touring?
You know what's funny, I can't wait. I love playing live. The good thing is that the bigger you get, the easier you get. It's not like we're all stuck in the back of some cold old van in the middle of winter. These days it's nice and easy on a proper tour bus. And it's good, because I've got the freedom to bring friends on tour with me. If it's all getting a bit too much I can just go off with my mate and then get back to the venue for showtime.

You play all over the planet. Where are your favourite crowds? And where do you still want to play?
To be honest with you we get the same energy in most places. We just like to make the audiences feel happy, and when you do that you get a lot back from them. We do like Japan though. They love us there, and at all the gigs they just go apeshit.

I'd still love to play South America though. We played Colombia once, and that was incredible, but we'd love to go back and do a full tour. There and Thailand. That would be amazing.

So what's the longest you've ever toured for?
Oh we did about two year's straight in America, and it sent me mental. I left my wife of thirteen years, met some crazy Italian woman and moved with her to Florida. I mean America's been good to us, don't get me wrong. One of our albums sold 500,000 over there, and it's a big place to tour. But it does send you a bit crazy. Sometimes when I'm half way through a tour I just can't wait to get home. But then when I do get home I want to get right back out again. But when you're touring America you're away from your family for a long time, and it does get hard.

But you're back living in Newport now?
Oh yeah, and I wouldn't move from here now. That's where all my real friends are. I was in Florida for two years, but I just had to get back. I haven't got the need to run away any more.

I had this annoying little seven-year-old kid run up to me the other day and ask me: "Are you famous?" So I said to him: "In some places, yes." And he comes back to me: "So why do you still live round here?" And I said to him: "I like it round here. I know all my neighbours, and I'd miss anyone. I'd even miss you, running around, being annoying!" I think if I ever made any really big money I'd get a bigger place, but I wouldn't move far from here"

What are your plans for the future? And do you have any big ambitions left?
I'd love to get the stage where we're headlining festivals. I mean, it's the same names every year: Sabbath, Rammstein, Maiden. But there's room for us. We're a band that people want to see. We play these festivals and the band before us only gets a thousand people watching them. But when we get on there's suddenly eight or ten thousand, and that's got to mean something. There's some strength in Skindred, and I still think we could do that. 

How long do you think you can keep it up though? Are you in this for life?
Oh I can keep doing this for fucking years. We're all healthy. We've all walked a difficult path, but we've made it through the jungle. I want to be like Muddy Waters and go on forever. You know, I've got a bad knee, and my back will hurt, but I can't see myself doing anything else, I'm so into the music. I might be feeling rough before the start of a show, but as soon as I hear that intro music it all goes away, and I can't wait to get out there.

The MU and me

I think I first became aware of the Musicians' Union when I used to see all those yellow stickers everywhere, and see those yellow patches on the back of people's jackets and think that it was pretty cool. My brother was a musician, and he used to get the monthly newsletters and notes drop through the door. I used to love going through them and I thought that I had to be part of that. I wasn't even really a proper musician yet, but I knew that there was an importance in the logo, and so I took it seriously.

I've been lucky and never had to use their services yet, but it's like going to Jamaica with insurance, so I don't care about paying my dues. It's an important safety net for others, and I know that if one day I get in trouble, they'll be there to help me.

The Newport Helicopter

No Skindred show would be complete without a typically bonkers piece of audience participation known as The Newport Helicopter. Beloved of festival goers the world over, the helicopter sees the whole crowd swing their t-shirts in happy unison above their heads the moment that the music comes crashing back in after a quiet passage. So we asked Benji about its evolution...

"Well I saw this thing where people used to swing t-shirts around their heads years ago, and it kind of stuck in my mind. Then one year we were playing Download, and they specifically asked us not to encourage the crowd to do the wall of death [a kind of high impact mosh pit where two walls of fans run directly at each other], but we still wanted to do something that the crowd could join in with. We'd recently played at Sonisphere, and I'd thanked the English fans, the Scottish fans and the Irish fans, but I'd forgotten to thank the Welsh fans, and I'd got a little bit of stick for it. We were in the middle of our set when I suddenly remembered this t-shirt thing. Well, I wanted to repent for missing out Wales before, so just pulled this out of my arse on stage and did it. When the music dropped I started talking to the crowd and explaining what it was that they had to do. I turned around to the band and they all looked at me like I'd gone mental or something. But they somehow got what I was trying to do - like telekinesis or something. I counted to four, the crowd went crazy, and it was born. 

We've got t-shirts printed with it on now, and the crowds all around the world buy into it and get crazier every time. And I think the Welsh have let me off for forgetting them now...

Taken from The Musician - the official member magazine of The Musicians' Union. For more, click here.

WE LOVE DARTS - History of the World Championship

August 2011 edition

The First World Champion

The  first ever world championship of darts set the stamp for all future tournaments, and made many of its participants into household names. But as Roy Delaney discovers, its venue wasn’t as familiar as you might think

Ask the question: ‘Where were the first World Darts Championship finals held?’, a lot of people will immediately pipe up with: ‘Why, The Lakeside, of course’. A few smarter types might think for a bit and tell you: ‘Jollees in Stoke!’. The odd clever-clogs might even suggest it was The Circus Tavern in Purfleet. But all bar the most obsessive minds in darting trivia would be able to tell you the real answer. ‘The Heart of the Midlands Club? In Nottingham? Are you sure?’ But it was here that the game’s great and good gathered together to decide once and for all who the best player in the world. And it changed the game forever from the very first match onwards.

The spark for the tournament came when snooker promoter Mike Watterson had noticed parallels in the massive explosion in darts with his own sport, and coaxed the sponsor of the World Snooker Championships, Imperial Tobacco, to cover both events under their Embassy brand. He claims to have come up with the idea while he was sitting in the barber’s chair.

At the same time, the BDO, in its fifth year, was looking to create a landmark tournament to go alongside the World Cup and the World Masters. Once they got the BBC on board, all the ingredients were set to create a tournament that would go on to find the very first world champion of darts.

So it was that on 6 February 1978, sixteen of the world’s best players came together at The Heart Of The Midlands, a hefty cabaret club in the centre of Nottingham, all ready to battle it out for the £3000 purse, but more importantly, to be the first name on that now-famous trophy.

Hot favourite for the title and number one seed was a confident 20-year-old called Eric Bristow. The Crafty Cockney had been making a name for himself in the televised tournaments of the day - as much for his gift of the gab as for his unique and deadly throw. The young pretender was king all bar the crowning, so what better way to launch your brand new tournament than with a showcase match showing off the probable winner. That was the plan at least. But as we all know, darts is a game that takes such plans and rips them to bits. Surely a surprise couldn’t be on the cards?

Bristow was up against the unfancied American Conrad Daniels. The game on the other side of the pond was at its peak, with many top players heading over for the big tournaments - despite that, few thought Daniels would even take a leg out of the rising star. But those who’d seen him win Yorkshire TV’s Indoor League tournament a couple of years before knew that his darts packed a terrific punch, and the quiet man from New Jersey rode out an easy 6-3 winner (this inaugural contest was, incidentally,  the only year the world championships were played in the match play leg format).

Little more than an hour into the tournament and the number one attraction had already been knocked out. Bristow was supposed to herald an new era in the world of darts. Young, brash and comparatively good-looking for the game, many feared the interest in the contest would wane in light of his absence. They needn’t have worried.

The rest of the first round saw some fantastic play. Second and third seeds John Lowe and Leighton Rees looked dangerous and made light work of their opponents, the two Alans - Evans and Glazier - fought out a ding-dong battle that saw the Welshman ride out the 6-4 victor, while an all-Swedish affair saw Stefan Lord (who’d go on to win the New of the World later that year) edge countryman Kenth Ohlsson 6-3. The only other surprise came in the battle of the Browns, where Aussie Tim took out the English eighth seed Tony in a cracker of a match.

With only 16 players taking part, the third day saw all four quarter-finals take place. This stage also saw the start of an innovation that has stayed with all major darts coverage to this day. Viewers had been complaining that they couldn’t keep up with the matches, so the familiar split-screen system of showing both the player and the board was piloted by the BBC, to great and lasting success.

The very first match to be played using it was an all-American clash between Daniels and Thai-born Nick Virachkul. But the man who knocked out Bristow couldn’t keep up the pace and Virachkul rode out winner 6-4. The second game saw an unofficial Welsh championship play off as Leighton Rees locked horns with the unpredictable Alan Evans. In an eventful match that saw some powerhouse scoring, Rees won 6-3. In  the bottom half of the draw, Stefan Lord bested the fourth seed, Scotsman Rab Smith, while Old Stoneface made light work of Tim Brown to complete the semi-finals.

Day four and we were at the business end of the tournament. The matches were bumped up to best of 15 legs, and the evening would also see a play-off for third place. The first semi-final proved one of the best of the whole tournament, and the first it its history to go all the way. Nick Virachkul put up one heck of a fight, but the genial Welshman was just too strong for him, and edged the match 8-7.

The second semi though was an entirely different matter, as Stefan Lord did little to trouble John Lowe, who won comfortably by a score of 8-4. Lord’s poor luck today continued when Virachkul shaded him to take the £1000 cheque for third place.

So this was it. The match to decide the very first world champion would be England versus Wales. Lowe versus Rees. Lowe, of course, was by now the big favourite. He’d only lost six legs on his march to the final, and four of them were against Stefan Lord. Rees, on the other hand, had been in a couple of big, punishing battles against Evans and Virachkul, and few thought that the big man would have the stamina for one last push to the title, as the trophy match been had bumped up to a hefty best of 21 legs. But somehow the man from Ynysybwl in the Rhondda Valley found the strength and punished Lowe in the final rubber, beating him 11-7 to take the title and become the very first king of all world darts.

It was a perfect start to a tournament that would go on to become one of the best loved events in British sport. Sadly though, the poor old Heart of the Midlands club wasn’t deemed quite up to scratch for the second running of this ambitious tournament, and it would move the short journey down the A52 to Jollees in Stoke, where it would stay until 1985. But the club would live on to have more glories, although under a completely different guise. Inside two years it had become Rock City, and to this day it remains one of the best-loved venues on the British rock circuit. But few of those gig goers will know about the massive history the grand old place had in the history of world darts.

Defining Moments

Venue: Heart of the Midlands Club, Nottingham
Date: 6-10 February, 1978
Players: 16
Prize Fund: £10,500
Winners Purse: £3000

1 - Eric Bristow
2 - John Lowe
3 - Leighton Rees
4 - Rab Smith
5 - Alan Evans
6 - Stefan Lord
7 - Nicky Virachkul
8 - Tony Brown

Key Matches

1 Eric Bristow v Conrad Daniels - First round
The shock of the tournament and a fitting way to start the long and tempestuous history of the championship. Some thought The Crafty Cockney only had to turn up to win the title. However, New Jersey native Conrad Daniels was no mug and beat the heir-apparent by a comfortable six legs to three.

2 Alan Evans v Leighton Rees - Quarter-final
The first great match of the world championships was a barnstormer from start to finish. Evans came out of the blocks flying, hitting a 180 with his first three darts, and taking the leg in a very respectable 13 throws. However Rees soon shifted up a gear, and won the sixth leg with the first ever televised 10-dart finish. This knocked the stuffing out of Evans, and big Leighton sailed through the remaining legs with ease.

3 Rab Smith v Stefan Lord - Quarter-final
Despite being little remembered these days, Smith was in the form of his life in 1978. The previous year he’d won the British Matchplay, beating Eric Bristow in the final, and a string of other big wins under his belt, so his fourth seeding was well deserved. But the quiet young Swede surprised many in a display of power darts that took him to the semi-final with ease.

4 Nicky Virachkul v Leighton Rees - Semi-final
In a terrific tussle, this pair duked it out toe-to-toe in the only match of the whole competition to go to a deciding leg. In a baking hot Heart of the Midlands Club there was concern that Rees wouldn’t be as comfortable with the heat as the Thai-born Virachkul. But he held out and shaded the match by a single leg.

5 Leighton Rees v John Lowe - Final

Lowe’s journey to the final seemed like a gentle stroll in the park compared to the two punishing battles Rees had undergone in his matches with Evans and Virachkul. So the Derbyshire star was the hot favourite take the title. But the Welshman was in top form, and had reserves of stamina that no one had expected, and in the end became the first world champion in history with a convincing 7-3 win.

fROOTS Maltese festival review

Issue 398/99, August/September 2016. Pics by Catherine McCarthy

Earth Garden, Ta’Qali National Park, Malta, 3-5 June

One of the joys of festival hopping is digging out the occasional hidden gem, and Malta’s smashing little Earth Garden event has been one of our best finds in a long while. Nestling in dense conifer woods in the dusty heart of the island, Earth Garden offered a broad-reaching bill of local and international acts, all glued together by a fantastically welcoming and positive vibe.

In part this was down to the glorious weather, and the ever-sunny disposition of the Maltese people. But every time we zig-zagged through the woods between the four stages we’d encounter ever-more friendly jam sessions and arts happenings, like we’d stumbled into some kind of quaintly folk-flavoured Ewok encampment. You could have almost gone the whole weekend without leaving the campsite and still had an incredible time, but you’d have denied yourself some spectacular musical treats. 

Treats like Iranian drummer Mohammad Reza Mortazavi. This unassuming figure looked tiny and alone as he took to the big main stage, but the second he began to rumble his fingers across his tombak the crowd were mesmerised. Quite how he managed to effect such power and tone from such minimal finger movements was beyond us, but his dense, multi-layered beats soon had the whole audience swaying and jumping in hypnotic reverie.

Elsewhere, Kenyan singer Tina Mweni danced with such abandoned delight that she forced a smile from even the gloomiest punter, transcontinental reggae-rap crew Pon Di Corner turned the Roots Stage into a head nodding skankathon, while Austro-Hungarian trio Airtist absolutely tore the place up with their unlikely brew of jaw harp, beatboxing and didgeridoo. You’ll rarely see such a fevered and enjoyable acoustic performance as these boys chucked out. But it was the local artists who kicked up the most dust from the arid surrounds.

Maltese ska veterans The Rifffs are clearly big fish around these parts, and drew in the biggest crowd of the weekend. The mob down the front were already fit to burst from the band’s own solidly rocksteady sounds, but notched up several levels of excitement when old stager Neville Staple - who’d played a well-received set of his own a night earlier - stepped up to run through a fistful of classics from his old band, The Specials.

Local cult legend Brikkuni also impressed. The only act of the weekend who steadfastly refused to either sing or speak in English, his dark, degenerate Maltese drinking songs had both teens and grandparents shouting along at the top of their lungs, and their minor key folksy shuffle evoked a cloud of dust from the rabidly dancing feet that enveloped the stage and bloomed up a good sixty feet into the sky. We’d happily go and see this gloriously gloomy lad again, any day of the week.

But it was roots fusion collective Tribali who drew the most love of the weekend. Their curious collection of sitars, guitars, djembe, trumpets and didgeridoo minced up a diverse blend of genres and forged them into their own curious - and highly danceable - concoction. Band leader Peter Paul stomped about like a painted powerhouse in baggy pants, while singer Eliza swirled like a wild-eyed dervish and had us hanging on her every gloriously presented syllable. They’ll be working their way around the folk festivals of Europe this summer, so keep an eye out for them.

But the real star of this festival was the festival itself. Beautifully located, with a knowledgable audience open to new things, and one of the most friendly and helpful crews we’ve ever come across. And what’s more, it was cheap - only 15€ for a weekend ticket! That’s less than twelve quid for three days of excellent fun and terrific sounds. If you’re planning a little break in the sun next year you could do far worse than to dovetail it around Earth Garden. An event this special surely can’t remain a secret for too much longer.

From fRoots magazine, August/September 2016. For more info click here.

FOOTBALL WEEKENDS Gibraltar football feature

Issue 12 April 2016 - by Roy Delaney. Pics by Catherine McCarthy

Football on the rock

Now that Gibraltar have finally been allowed into the UEFA fold after years of trying, and with EasyJet offering dirt cheap flights down that way from a handful of regional British airports, we thought it would almost be considered rude not to head down south and take a look for ourselves. Getting there, however, is a little hairier than you think.

You can see the rock coming from a long way off as you peek out of the plane window. The big chunk of rock stands out like a sore thumb at the end of a long flat isthmus, with a permanent big fluffy cloud sat on top looking every bit like Donald Trump’s comb over. But just as you start to focus on it, the pilot banks around a wicked 270º angle, looping the looming rock, and you start to come perilously close to the water, before touching down on the world’s shortest commercial runway in what feels like the nick of time. Nervous flyers be warned! But when you thankfully hit dry land, practically the first thing you see, aside from that looming lump of limestone that dominates the surroundings, is the territory’s one serviceable football stadium nestled in between the runway and the marina. It’s then that you first get the impression that this island/colony/country thing is pretty damn small and cosy.

Even leaving the airport is a curious adventure. You have to totter across the runway between landings, as it’s the only road into the town centre - the airstrip acting as a kind of broad border between Gibraltar proper and the Spanish frontier. Our digs were on a boat in the harbour less than ten minutes trot from the airport, and just behind the 5000 capacity Victoria Stadium, so we were perfectly situated for plenty of footballing fun. Now as you’d imagine, this isn’t the biggest of places. Indeed, the entire population of Gibraltar could fit inside Leicester City’s King Power Stadium with a little bit of room to spare. But for a place so small it’s got a massive thirst for football. Every bar and restaurant you’ll pass has a match on at top volume at most times of the day, and there’ll be a match on almost any time you pass the Victoria, from late morning until around 10:30 at night - not only from the three principal senior divisions, but from the surprising wealth of women’s and junior leagues this outpost has to offer as well.

So there were any amount of games we could have gone to, but we elected to keep our powder dry and save ourselves for the top-of-the-table clash between The Rock's two most illustrious clubs - Lincoln Red Imps and Europa FC. The Imps have taken the title a total of 21 times in their history - including their present unbroken 13 year run at the top. Together with their opponents tonight they are the only two clubs ever to represent Gibraltar in Europe, and the only one to have won a Champion's League match - albeit against the even more minnowy Santa Coloma of Andorra, but you can only play who's put in front of you. Europa, on the other hand, have spent massively (for this league) in the closed season and brought in a lot of talent from across the border. Both teams were toed and unbeaten at the top of the table, and the only points either had dropped all term had been in a 1-1 draw the previous time they had played. So this was fixing up to be a cracking match.

The El Murga Sports Bar at the stadium is pretty much the only decent watering hole in Gib, unless you have a liking for shiny but soulless waterfront haunts, jolly old English fish and chip pubs, or brightly lit Maltese pool bars. So you’d be best advised to have your pre-match bevvies here, especially as it’s usually filled with the players and coaches from the day’s previous matches all arguing over the finer points of their earlier battles in loud Llanito - the kind of mutant hybrid mix of Spanish, English and I-don’t-know-what that most of the locals seem to speak. Or rather, shout. We ended up going in there a lot on our stay, even if we weren’t planning on going to a match, as it was always a lot of fun. The games are also, as far as we could work out, quite free to attend. Now I may be mistaken here, so apologies if I’m leading you astray, but we just followed the mass exodus of fans from the bar before kick off and nobody bothered to stop us or check for tickets. Another bonus, and a surprise one at that, considering we were about to witness what was to all intents and purposes the title decider.

We settled into our seats in what was nominally the Lincoln end of the big main stand and our eyes were immediately filled with what must be one of the best views in top flight world football. Behind one goal loomed the rock - that massive chunk of strategic limestone we’ve been battling the Spanish over for so many years. At the other end was the airstrip, which apparently offers an impressive sight when the planes are landing, and beyond that the twinkling lights of the neighbouring town of La Linea winking at us through the twilight. And behind the stand at the opposite side of the halfway land you could just make out some ships bobbing out in the windy harbour. It didn’t really matter what the match was like, because if it all got a little boring you could take in the view.

As it turned out, this was fortunate, as despite their recent European adventures, the standard of football was at about the level of fourth tier English non-league. But having said that, it wasn’t without it’s merits. This was clearly a grudge match, and the two highly combative sides soon began to rain in ever-more agricultural kung fu tackles - the most brutal of which left Europa’s number nine with a set of stud marks on his chest that looked every bit like he’d grown a set of gills. This evoked a 30-man skirmish that resulted in one of Europa’s coaching staff to be sent to the stands. The first half finished with honours even, so we decided to spend the second with the much noisier Europa fans at the other end of the ground.

Now, this was better. While the Imps crew sat imperiously but quietly with a sense of winning entitlement, Europa’s Green Machine were an altogether more lively bunch, all drums and cymbals and scarves and singing. Much better fun. However, their mood faltered a little when the Imps scored against the run of play, and it got even worse when, at the death, Lincoln bagged a dodgy penalty, which resulted in another spell of handbags and a Europa defender getting escorted off the pitch. The game finished a flattering 2-0 to the champions, which effectively gave them the title halfway through the season, as there’s not another side within shouting distance of this pair - although they do still have to play each other one more time, as the Gibraltar season is unusually based on a three game cycle - although we suspect that’s easier to get away with when every team is effectively playing at home. That third game is set to be a right old tussle, mind.

So even though the level of football on offer isn’t the best you’ll ever see, it was still thoroughly entertaining, and there’ll always be a game on whatever day of the week you visit - although we dread to think what the standard is like down in the third tier. If you are planning a trip down these parts we’d advise that you keep your eye on the Spanish fixtures too, as just across the border you’ll find the smashing little stadium of the Spanish third tier club Real Balompédica Linense. This good old-fashioned South European bowl of a ground situated pleasingly on the edge of the beach hosts a decent level of football, and has a noisy bunch of supporters too. Sadly we discovered that they were playing Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey just too late to get tickets, but you could clearly hear the roars from the other side of the border. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, take the short boat ride over to Morocco (It’s so close that on a clear day you can see it, even from sea level). The nearest decent settlement with a ground is Tetouan, a smashing little souk city about 25 miles into the country where you can see the top flight side Moghreb Atlético Tetuán in action. Unfortunately there wasn’t a game when we visited, but the locals tell us that they can get pretty lively - as you might imagine.

However, if you go to Gibraltar especially to see one of their international matches you’ll be out of luck. The Victoria is relatively tiddly in the international scheme of things, and most nations have more travelling supporters that could comfortably cram into its cosy confines. For the time being the national side is playing their games at Faro in Portugal’s Algarve region. They have to ship out that far as their immediate neighbours in Spain still aren’t terribly keen on helping them out, and were putting up resistance to Gibraltar’s bid to be a UEFA member for decades before they were finally successful. But plans are afoot to knock up a smart new stadium at the desolate Europa Point area at the territory’s southern-most nubbin, so hopefully they good people of Gib will soon be able to see their boys being hammered by the great and good of European football on their own turf in walking distance from their own homes. Because in Gibraltar, everything is within walking distance.

It has to be said that this is one of the stranger corners of Europe. Despite its palm trees and sunny climes they still use British money, there are Marks & Spencers and red post boxes everywhere, and the police wear the same silly hats as they do at home. And there’s not that much to do after dark, unless you can stomach the endless run of mediocre covers bands in the ubiquitous English pubs that you’ll find on every square and back alley. But The Rock itself is well worth the trip, not only for the stunning views and the famous monkeys, but also the miles of old military tunnels and caves burrowed within it. We’d advise getting the £10 tourist ticket to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve which will get you into a whole heap of subterranean attractions and crumbly castles. Just be sure to keep anything shiny or edible away from those pesky apes, because they’ve got fingers like fish hooks!

So while Gibraltar offers plenty of history, some decent beaches, and no end of reasonable eats, the nightlife does leave a little to be desired. But a football fan will never be stuck for something to do of a night, as the astroturf of the Victoria Stadium can offer you up a competitive - if perhaps a little rough and ready - match or two every single night of the season. And if all that wasn’t enough, the Duty Free is eye-burstingly cheap. We legally shipped home four litres of spirits for well under twenty quid, and if you’re one of the few people left who still smokes old school fags, the tobacco is almost obscenely cheap. This trip will practically pay for itself! So go on, you’ve always wondered what the place was like - give it a look!

From the April 2016 edition of Football Weekends. For more info, click here.