Moon landings musical celebration Inter Stellar was out of this world
Posted on the 21st July 2019 in the category sport

"The moon landings mate? Never happened!"

You know the type, the human race's greatest achievement which took £40 billion and 30,000 people did not happen, because Nigel from Stechford reckons the flag had a shadow.
The fact the Russians, who had greatest ever spying organisation ever created, the KGB, had infiltrated the US elite and never said it was fake, because they knew how close they were to putting Cosmonauts on the moon, is lost on him.

And that you can go to a huge telescope and look at the space litter NASA left on the moon WITH YOUR OWN EYES does not matter to Nigel, who is so thick he thinks every documentary he watches on YouTube is true.
Across the world last night there were celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of that biggest "small step" in history. Birmingham Cathedral hosted Inter Stellar, presented by the Secret Symphony, to mark the epoch-defining event. The 50 piece Limelight  Orchestra were performing "all things space, stars and inter stellar" and the cathedral was packed for the concert.

All day I avoided moon documentaries as I thought there would be some moon action. I was hoping for a screen with Neil and Buzz bopping around in the sea of tranquility or as there was a "3D hologram show" perhaps Chewbacca would turn up in his birthday suit. But if there were holograms I could not see them from my seat.

As it was, the entertainment was strictly musical in St Philips Cathedral as Limelight went through a space themed set list which boldly went where no orchestra has probably ever been before. David Bowie and Elton John's Starman and Rocket Man were successfully launched into a brave musical stratosphere and then testing the out there nature of exploration the orchestra went for a medelee of 2001 Space Odyssey (the drummer must have been looking forward to it all week), Walking on the Moon and maybe (according to my friend) a bit of Bergerac.
As Limelight, led by a wise-cracking conductor, went for an arrangement of "obscure" 1996 hit Spaceman (Space, man!) by Babylon Zoo it seemed anything was on the table; maybe an easy listening version of Prodigy's Out of Space or a bonkers bassoon reprise of Bad Moon Rising.

But instead of going down the obvious route of The Carpenters Top of the World (looking down on creation) and Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft they veered off down a galactic vortex of Muse and Jamiroquai. The arrangements for Starlight and Cosmic Girl were fantastic allowing everyone in the orchestra to put their rocket boosters on to increase the volume and intensity.

Singers took turns to sing their favourite space themed but the women really hit the high notes during a fantastic rendition of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the fantastic lighting show really added to the atmospheric tune bathing the historic venue in blues, yellows and everything in between.  

Public Service Broadcasting's incredible masterpiece Go! uses the voices of Nasa controller Gene Kranz and his colleagues to incredible effect and as it was the 50th anniversary of the moon landings it was a shame they could not have been used in last night's brilliant live version as it would have been stratospheric.

However, I am being over-critical as I am a moon landings nut. As the two hour show culminated the audience were ready to blast off with the orchestra for the last few numbers and ELO'S Mr BlueSky and Simply Red's Star's got those in the church pews swaying.
The highlight of the show was an epic version of 1980's hair bear band Europe's The Final Countdown. The Limelight Orchestra truly went for it, the singer belted out, what are lets face it awful lyrics (who rhymes Venus with 'See us') and the guitarist shredded like he was playing to wake up Ozzy Osbourne from a slumber  instead of being in the stained glass majesty of a cathedral. I will never be able to listen to The Final Countdown the same again.

Men landed on the moon, it is a fact, and it was wonderful to mark the occasion with the "out there" Limelight Orchestra. 

You can catch Inter Stellar at Nottingham's Motorpoint Arena on July 27, Coventry Cathedral on August 23 and Lichfield Cathedral on August 31.


John McCain's concession speech made him an American hero
Posted on the 4th September 2018 in the category sport

John McCain dying has brought back a lot of memories for me of Barack Obama's victory in 2008.
Now history seems to have remembered Obama's victory by the numbers but at the time the country was on a knife-edge.


I had spent weeks volunteering for Obama in Florida and when America went to the polls there were credible questions about what would happen. Had Americans told pollsters they would vote Obama so not to appear racist but then vote the white man in the booth.
If it went down to Florida like 2000 would the army of Democrat lawyers stop the Republican sharp suits stealing the election. If the Republicans won the election by questionable methods would there be rioting? 


I spent election night at the official Democrat Florida Party in Jungle Island, Miami. Looking back John McCain's concession speech was a seminal moment in that election and in American history. After the shenanigans of 2000 the concession speech took on an even more important role, when a candidate conceeds that's that. And for all the people on the losing side they need to hear their candidate say its over and thank them.


Hence, in 2016 when a shocked America watched in disbelief as Donald Trump won the election the country needed to hear Hilary Clinton speak, and concede and thank the milions who helped her, She stayed silent, which was unforgivable, her heartbreak at her own ambition's failure overtook the good of the nation she wanted to lead.


I have watched the concession speech since he died and it was as good as I remember it. He framed Obama`s victory in historic terms setting up the new President`s Chicago victory speech perfectly.


McCain would have been told if he played the race card in the election he would have a better chance of winning. And seeing how Donald Trump`s dog whistle turned into a elephant horn during Obama`s presidency the nasty voices in the former Vietnam hostage`s ears would have been right. But he did not succumb´╝î how many politicians have the moral fortitude to do what is right when doing the wrong thing would clinch them their life`s ambition and the world`s biggest political prize? Not many. Remember. that nice guy with a super smile who was up against Sadiq Khan for London Mayor. One of many politicians down the years who did not have McCain`s morals.


Below is an extract of my book - Obama and Me: The Incredible True Story of a YouTube Sensation (5 star Amazon review) of when McCain made his historic concession speech.
“I looked at the massive TV screens and saw the pictures of people going crazy across America. Waves and waves of goose bumps rushed over my skin and the hairs on my neck stood for attention for minutes on end as the enormity of the situation hit me.
Against all the historical odds a mixed race man was President of the United States of America. The good guys had won, and just to see so many people go crazy in the streets was fantastic.
 It was one of those all too rare moments in which you see young and old celebrating like there was no tomorrow, and all because of politics. I could tell this night was never going to end and that no-one would be going home early because the adrenaline would have stopped any sane person sleeping.
Music would blast from the sound system in no particular order and forno particular reason, but every time there was quiet you knew something important was happening. A hush descended across the room and all the televisions showed the same image –John McCain.
He was just about to concede in this most historic of elections.McCain was speaking in Phoenix and everyone in our room was waiting to see what he was going to say. His wife was at his side as well as Sarah Palin, who looked gorgeous in a shiny blue power suit.


A cheer went up in the room when he said he’d just phoned Barack Obama to congratulate him on winning the election. However, the reaction in Arizona was very different. As soon as Barack Obama’s name was mentioned the all white audience began booing. Everyone around me started to laugh because the Republicans were obviously hurting.
To McCain’s credit he motioned to his supporters to shut up and went on to give the best speech of his life, clearly aimed at uniting America. Within a few moments he was acknowledging the enormity of a black man being elected to the White House, 100 years after the uproar that greeted President Theodore Roosevelt inviting Booker T Washington to dinner, and referencing the ‘cruelty of those times’.


After about three minutes of the speech I had a panic attack. I realised I hadn’t being taking notes. I went to grab my notebook but realised I didn’t have one, then searched for a pen in my pocket and realised I didn’t have one of those either. My worries passed though; I assumed I’d be able to pick up the exact wording of some of his most important quotes on the BBC or CNN when I compiled my report.
I smiled as I thought about the number of times someone had said to me “What, a journalist without a pen?” and again, not for the first time in America, I thought ‘Oh, fuck it, I’m not being paidto be here.’
Instead of worrying I just savoured the moment and took in every word of John McCain’s historic 10 minute speech. What I found fascinating was that none of the Democrats around me mocked the old war hero.
I think people realised he was a goodman and not a Republican in the image of George Bush or Karl Rove. However, when he said that there was nothing more he could have done to have won the election I disagreed.
He could have played the race card, like many racists in his party wanted him to,but he resisted because he knew it could have torn America apart.
He might have won more votes, but he must have known that if the forces of bigotry were unleashed in his campaign it could well have opened a Pandora’s Box of racial tension.


For his courage and his decency, to me John McCain is an American hero.
I felt goosepimples cover my skin as I watched his speech. It was a perfect way to concede an election.When he finished speaking a round of respectful applause went around the room and everyone near me commented on what a great speech it had been.
It was all the sweeter because it meant that Obama had really won.

Even the most pessimistic conspiracy theorist in the room couldn’t have denied that Obama was going to be President. I took the last few gulps of my rum and coke and again congratulated myself for being in America at that moment in history, before heading off to get more drinks. I was overjoyed that Kale was coming the other way with a double rum and coke for me.

I gave him another big hug, as much for the drink as for the fact that we’d helped Barack Obama win the election of elections.


Thank you Russia for a World Cup I'm already lost without you
Posted on the 17th July 2018 in the category sport

Thank you Russia for the World Cup, just one thing, what do I do now?

Four weeks and three days of free-to-air international football and free of all the pre-tournament fear mongering.

There were no monkey chants, no fans being locked up for smiling before midday, no scenes of go-pro-wearing para-military Russian hooligans beating the living daylights out of fat families from Stoke and no Nuremberg style political grandstanding by Vladimir Putin. 

Just a beautiiful celebration of the beautiful game. Those first ten days were the best, three games a day, all those different fans, fascinating stories and whole new teams to learn about.

I am a lapsed football fan, the Premiership has killed my enthusiasm, it is all about the money, whichever team's owner is in control of the most fossil fuels usually wins, aspiring teams' best players are bought by the big boys and benched and you wonder how much the multi-millionaires playing really care.

But the World Cup is about countries making the best of what they have and watching a game knowing somewhere there are millions of peole watching ready to explode in ecstasy if one of their own scores a goal.

I booked the first week off work to immerse myself in this once every four years footballing heaven. I headed to Ireland to an old friend's home to watch games, drink cider and get takeaways like we did during the France 1998 World Cup at university.

Unlike 20 years ago modern technology games can be watched at work, on the bus, on catch up or on the countless televisions in bars, restaurants, pubs, rail stations, offices and wherever a screen is squeezed into.

That first week was like a Valhalah of VAR, it was something new to get our heads around, thankfully it was not as annoying as I thought it would be. The Russians, with a team as unfancied as a KGB honey pot sting needing a dose of rohipnal, scored five in their opener ensuring across nine time zones the fans would have a stake in the World Cup.

The tournament caught fire when Spain drew 3-3 with Portugal, a preening Ronaldo clinching a point with a last gasp epic freekick. There was not a 0-0 draw until the last round of group games, previous winners like Germany and Argentina were getting beaten as were talented teams without the street-smarts tournament football demands, like Peru and Morocco.

Most importantly there were goals, taps ins, screamers, revelationary goals and redemption goals, and a fair few in the last few minutes. Thankfully, the defensive safety first football of previous World Cups had been replaced with brave, sometimes stupidly so attacking football.

What fascinated me was the size of Russia, the hand over from game to game and they were in different time zones and climates, some of cities had been closed to foreigners just a generation ago.

We understand FIFA implements FIFAland on whichever country is hosting the World Cup, just like the Olympics do when they come to town, this mean a lot of liberal democracies see the small print of delegates having traffic lights changed and think piss off. But I think for those people in Russia who had never seen so many foreigners, laughed with them and realised what could be possible without repression. And I was happy for the Russians the tournament was a success.

To see France win a World Cup final with the help of VAR was sweet to see, because they were the victim of the first VAR decision in a final when it was not even legal.

Zinadine Zidane had dragged his spluttering French team into the final with tournament changing performances not seen since Maradona. In the final he scored the greatest penalty ever taken and was voted player of the tournament at half time, and then tragically was sent off.

And it was a travesty, he noticed the ref and two linesmen had turned to follow goalkick up field and planted his head in the chest of the horrible Italian calling his mother names. This winded his opponent and no-one had noticed.

But the fourth ref on the sidelines saw a TV replay of the foul and told the referee. Which is against the rules. So the greatest player of his generation was sent off illegally.

He never played again.

Zidane was a great player, one of the best of all time, if only England had one of those. We had Harry 'no tattoos with his childhood sweetheart' Kane. Who we last saw in an international tournament huffing and puffing, taking every corner and looking knackered against Iceland. 

Now he is Golden Boot Kane. Good on him for near enough winning the Golden Boot despite not having a none penalty shot on target in the knockout stages, I always wondered if hitting the post was on target or not, guess we know it's not cos our Arry hit the post against Croatia when we were on top.

That miss will get worse as the years and decades pass.

Gareth Southgate has made a nation fall in love with the national team again.

Thanks to the press; if it wasn't for Telegraph investigation exposing Big Sam drinking pints of red wine and giving vit large about selling the souls of England schoolboys in exchange for a timeshare in Malta nice guy Gareth would still be waiting in the wings to take over after an early exit playing turgid football from this or the next tournament.

Southgate had faith in youth and freed them all from the shackles of past failures, Capello was right when he said England players were scared to play in the shirt it was such a burden.

Not Gareth's team, they seemed comfortable in their three lions skin and with each other too, the fact we now praise an England team for being able to eat breakfast together instead of sitting in club cliques calling each other cunts under their breath over coffee shows how far we had fallen, as well as cementing what we knew already, the Golden Generation was a right Golden Shower.

They will get better, with the Euros 2020 semis and final at Wembley so football could actually come home.

But as for the World Cup; we were 20mins away from our first final on foreign soil. We will almost certainly never get a better chance.

Southgate's inexperience as an international manager cost England dear. Croatia were obviously having the better of us, they had more quality but we could have won or at the very least made it to penalties. His substitutions screamed of not having a plan B.

Despite all FA futureproofing money can buy, carried out by an army of psychologists, strategists, data analyists and extra 1% types, but tournament football will come down to decisions being made as the clock is running down and a tactical battle with the opposing coach, and Southgate buckled.

Harry Kane was treading water and so tired his passing went to pot. The two goals were sloppy and arguably made by individual players who were played out of position for most the tournament.

But we did brilliantly. We got to the semi-final of the fucking WORLD CUP!!!

And it was beautiful, seeing the multitude of celebrations and consequences as we went further. The St George's Crosses on roundabouts, waistcoat Wednesday, single mums crowdfunding trips to Russia, It's Coming Home memes, millions of pints drank, coke dealers revealing post penalty surges for yayo and unlucky buses becoming slow after taking a right turn into moving dance podiums in towns and cities

I heard there will not be an official welcome home, no open bus tour, as "we did not win it and the job is not finished" - which is English arrogance at best/worse. There should be a parade, let friends have an excuse to meet each other again and celebrate a remarkable achievement in the sun.

The next World Cup is in the winter, in the baking heat of the desert with 48 teams huffing and puffing, people will say our Premiership players will not be knackered pre-season, but every other decent team is packed full of Premiership players too.

Next time do we really think Italy, Holland, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil will not have improved after this year's disasters? France will be stronger, hopefully the Africans will have something to shout about.

And will we have the luck of the draw again? This was our Leicester winning the Premiership chance, and we were 20 minutes and a bit of concentration of getting to the final only having to beat one dark horse, Croatia.

Football will be coming home for the next European Championships because the semi-final and final will be at Wembley, which considering its not even the best stadium in Britain let alone Europe is a result, we just need to make it to the semis. Not an easy feat.

Another way to win the World Cup is to hold it. We have a 100% record on home soil. And if we get it in 2030 Jordan Pickford could still be in goal! Obviously it will mean trusting FIFA which is the equivilent of watching a video of your ex gargling all your mates' spunk and then her asking you to sign a mortgage for a house. However, for the common good if football does come home, it will need a roof over its head. Qatar will be a bust, and America, Canada and Mexico in 2026 could make people remember how good it can be, ready for 2030 for football to come home.

So celebrate this semi-final overachievement, we will all remember where we were during the historic 2018 World Cup run, England's success will mean when images are shown of the Colombia penalty shootout, the Sweden walkover and that free kick in the semi-final our brains will have a automatic shortcut to who we were with and what we were doing.

That's what massive sporting achievements can create so we should have a chance to say thank you, if they could hold it outside the Russian embassy we could thank them too for a wonderful celebration of football.

And ask them how we win World Cup 2030.






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