Every Song has a Story to tell: 10,000 Maniacs – Like the Weather

It does not happen that often that the mood of the lyrics and the mood of the music of a song seem to totally contradict each other, and yet the result turns out just perfectly fine.

"The A Team" by Ed Sheeran, about a young girl selling her body to buy drugs but sung to the tunes of a nice acoustic ballad, is a recent example. "Enola Gay" by OMD tells the dramatic story of the atom bomb dropped on Japan at the final stages of the second World War, while accompanied by danceable electronic music. Echo & The Bunnymen’s "Ocean Rain" sounds like the romantic ballad you want to hear while holding your lover in your arms, nice and warm while it rains outside, but its lyrics are anything but romantic. "True Faith" by New Order sets a disco tune that fills dance floors to a lyric in which a drug addict tells his day to day life.

But almost never the contrast between music and lyrics has been as drastic and radical as in 10,000 Maniacs’ song "Like the Weather". A lovely danceable melody, the perfect pop music to fill dancefloors, accompanied by lyrics that in eerie perfection describe manic depression. The contrast could impossibly be bigger, but somehow it just works.

Formed as Still Life in 1981 in Jamestown, US, the band after some early line-up changes settled for the name 10,000 Maniacs, which they took from a horror movie called "Two Thousand Maniacs!". One of the key personnel changes in those early stages, was Natalie Merchant taking over vocal duties. She would become an unmissable part of the band’s history, the face of the band for several years (until she left the band to start a solo career in 1993), and with her distinct pure vocals she left a mark on the band’s history forever, not to mention her brilliant lyrics contributions. The band would continue after her departure while she embarked on a solo career, but they would never achieve the success again that they achieved with Natalie on vocals.

Their first large commercial success came in 1987 (although previous albums had given the band a loyal following already) when the album "In my Tribe" was released, and from that album came "Like the Weather". It was also released as a single and accompanied by a promo video. In that promo video we see Natalie dancing around as if nothing’s going on, again a huge contradiction to the lyrical content of the song.

The intro of the song immediately sets the tone for a lovely dance and invites the audience to the dance floor, probably many of them unaware of what the song is really about. The lyrics however from the very start leave little to the imagination:

"The colour of the sky as far as I can see is coal grey.
Lift my head from the pillow and then fall again.
Shiver in my bones, just thinking about the weather.
Quiver in my lip as if I might cry."

A coal grey sky. The contrast with the happy music playing meanwhile is huge, but the lines probably best describing the serious depression the song is about follow next:

"Well by the force of will my lungs are filled and so I breathe.
Lately it seems this big bed is where I never leave."

The first line indicates that the character survives and breathes, because our body happens to fill our lungs with air, not because the character is really fully awake and feeling alive. The second line describes a scene probably familiar to everyone who has gone through a serious depression: the feeling that nothing out there is worth waking up for, the feeling that all energy and motivation to just get out of bed is missing.

The song goes up tempo a bit later, with Natalie walking and dancing around in the video to the rhythm of the music, jangly guitars and nice percussion giving the impression of a lovely song to dance to. Which it could be, if ignoring the lyrics while Natalie wonders "Where on earth is the sun hid away?"

"Like the Weather" is probably a rather extreme example of how music and lyrics can totally contradict each other in their moods, while the song still totally works and everything just falls into place musically. It was one of the band’s highlights in the most succesful era of the band’s history, which was with Merchant on vocals.

Another highlight in my opinion by the way is the 10,000 Maniacs version of "Because the Night", recorded live during MTV Unplugged. The version is as good as the original, maybe less rough and erotic vocally in expressing the passion reflecting from the lyrics, but the crystal clear vocals of Natalie making it one of the few examples of a cover being as good as the original. Both the band musically and Natalie vocally were at their best that night, and delivered a true tribute to Patti Smith’s original. This cover, with slightly altered lyrics in the end (ending the song with "And everybody’s sadder face belongs to us") and the live album recorded during MTV Unplugged in 1993, was the last release of the band with Natalie Merchant on vocals. A fitting goodbye, leaving the band while still on top of her performance.

The band moved on with (apart from a short hiatus) Mary Ramsey taking over vocal duties, but never achieved the same success as with Natalie Merchant anymore. Natalie on her side continued as a solo artist, and has been involved in activism of different sorts, including environmental activism and a short documentary she directed on domestic abuse against women, the documentary "SHELTER: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence" released in 2013.

"Like the Weather" remains a highlight in the 10,000 Maniacs catalogue, with its joyful promo video and danceable music set to lyrics contradicting every sound in the song. It is a very serious lyric about manic depression, so the lyrics should not be ignored. The song also is a reminder of how the band was shining during the days they had Natalie on vocals.

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Glorious start to the Brussels Summer Festival 2014 with Patti Smith, Arsenal and Suede

The annual inner city festival Brussels Summer Festival is there again, 10 days of music and other entertainment forms (mini racing tracks, Win for Life computer games on the Streets, food and exotic drinks from all over the world, …) in the center of the European capital, with stages right next to Warandepark and the palace used for work by the King (Paleizenplein), a stage by the Mont des Arts with its fantastic views over the illuminated city, and another stage at the Museum Square. With other entertainment forms amidst all that. For 10 days Brussels city center is about music and fun, the bit chaotic traffic due to blocked roads I think won’t cause much problems. One has to be very sour or bitter to complain about people socialising and having fun for just 10 days a year.

Friday I attended Patti Smith’s concert. I think introducing Patti Smith is as needless as explaining why we breathe. Patti Smith is one of the most iconic musicians worldwide after all. Already in the early seventies, she left her New Jersey home with hardly any money but with a dream and determination to get into the arts scene of New York. Both a fantastic poet and great singer, and not to forget a human rights activist, Patti can be seen as one of the pioneers of punkrock as well as one of the ultimate pioneers of women in rock music. The song "Piss factory" more or less described the risky yet succesful breakthrough:

"I’m gonna be somebody, I’m gonna get on that train, go to New York City,
I’m gonna be so bad I’m gonna be a big star and I will never return,
Never return, no, never return, to burn out in this piss factory"

And so she did, and the rest is history. Aged 68, she still tours very actively now, and still has not lost any power in the voice nor in the ideals she represents.

While awaiting the start of the gig it was a good chance to observe this one stage, one of the three used in the festival. With one of the royal palaces on one side and a nice park on the other side, and with a panoramic view over the city just 5 minutes walk from the festival venue, the location could hardly be better. Organisation was very well, the terrain unusually clean for festival standards, only the price of those cocktails and food was a bit high although nothing compared to the really big festivals out there.

But back to Patti. She opened the set with "Dancing barefoot" and then let a lot of her classics pass by. "Pissing in a river", "Beneath the Southern cross" (which she dedicated to love and to all who is loved), "Horses", … The nice blend of rock music and poetic reciting pleased me a lot, just like it did last year when I first saw Patti in concert. It is remarkable how age did not limit her vocal reach a single bit.

The classics that get the whole crowd (about 14000) going then followed in the second part of the set: a wild version of "Gloria" that showed Patti still has the energy and determination just like she had back when she started her career. And no matter how many years ago the song was written, "People have the power" still has that message of hope for a better world, that still is deeply rooted in the souls of a lot of people visiting the festival.

And of course there were the two songs I hoped to hear. They are classics, I know, but they are both the kind of evergreen you just never get tired of, no matter how often you hear them. "Because the night", which Patti dedicated to her late husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, is still lyrically the perfect ode to passion and love. Lyrics such as "Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe, love is the banquet on which we feed" or "Have a doubt when I’m alone. Love is a ring, a telephone. Love is an angel disguised as lust, here in our bed until the morning comes" just perfectly describe the total surrender and passion between two lovers, a song filled with passion and dedication but despite the very clear content never sounding unromantic. And no matter her age, when Patti sings those words "so touch me now, touch me now…" she still does it with as much passion as she probably did when she had her first romantic encounters back in New York City.

"Rock’n’roll Nigger" (the latter word being a metaphor for "outcast", so no racist intentions here) sounded as wild and hard rocking as it Always did, a crowd of thousands shouting along "Outside of society is where I wanna be!" as a statement against the norms and conformist nature of our society. In a way, decades can pass, but some things (such as protest songs) never change.

This also proved when Patti talked to the audience saying that they are the future, and can change the future, and that the future begins NOW! A clear call for arms and actions, shouted with the determination of someone 18 years old rather than someone 68 years old. The idealism to change the world, is still there, and still a vital element of a Patti Smith concert. The crowd got the message and applauded in a way that makes you believe some of them may indeed let the message sink in and become more socially aware.

As expected, a great set by Patti. I won’t review the final gig of the night, by French singer M. Let’s just say it was not my style at all, neither musically nor in terms of stage act. And rather than lamenting about how I didn’t like it, I rather put my energy into writing about what I did like.

Saturday there were two bands I didn’t really expected to see: Belgian act Ozark Henry moved me emotionally a lot with "Sweet Instigator" over 10 years ago, one of the best songs ever made by a Belgian. But abroad I sort of lost track of what Piet Goddaer was doing, only being aware that with the addition of female singer Amaryllis the one man band had now become a real two-piece.

The set was surprisingly pleasant though. In a way it often felt like a lounge bar, but still different. But the music was mostly relaxing, electronic music and synths creating a sort of dreamy atmosphere, the type of relaxation music where you close your eyes and just dream away on the sounds of the music. A few tracks with electric guitar or heavy percussion (both Amaryllis and Piet overpowering the drummer they hired for the gig) being the exception, the set was mainly dreamy and relaxing. The two voices also fit together very well, as the newer songs proved. Amaryllis has a very crystal clear voice, which works out perfectly for this type of music. Of course, during older tracks it was mainly Piet Goddaer singing (back then, Ozark Henry was a one person band) but the few backing vocals by Amaryllis who also took keyboard duties throughout the gig, really showed she is an asset to this act. Ozark Henry wasn’t bad when it was just Piet Goddaer, but they for sure sounded better to me now as a band.

The set opened with "Intersexual", where Piet’s voice sounded very robotic due to sound effects, then moving on with a mixture of new material and older songs. For example "Indian summer" sounded very dreamy, taking you to a nice exotic dreamworld in your mind.

One song I liked a lot contained the lines "I love to live, I live to last, I love to get hold of my past" ; apparently this is "Dear Grass Widow" but either with altered lyrics or with me mishearing a few lines. I also believe I heard "At sea" and a surprisingly nice version of "Rescue" (bit of a rock edge at the end gave the song that bit of extra power). There were more songs I liked, but of which I am clueless about the title. No, Ozark Henry has not been getting the deserved attention abroad, so I realised I was a bit outdated here. The recent hit "Sacrifice" came towards the end of the set, which sadly enough did not include "Sweet Instigator".

One additional kudos to Ozark Henry is the fact they are amongst the few who used the back of the stage creatively. Citations from songs or from other sources were projected on the background of stage in between songs. During those relaxing dreamy songs, images of grass slowly bowing in the wind, snowflakes falling down slowly, or close-ups of waves, added to the dreamy atmosphere. They were so far one of the only bands that actually used the background of the stage as part of the act, and did so in a very calming, soothing, relaxing way.

I did not know what to expect from Suede, a band I didn’t know really. I knew the name, knew they were big in the nineties and recently reunited, but there my knowledge ends. The benefit of a band you’re not familiar with though, is the fact you have no expectations that are very high, or that you’re not impatiently waiting for one or two specific songs to come. You just let song after song pass by, and hoping to be surprised in a nice way. Which did not work out at all the day before with M, another artist I didn’t know yet. Suede however, did surprise in a positive way. A very very positive way, that is.

The band played some excellent guitar-driven rock that is catchy but at the same time also too much their own style to make easy comparisons with other rock bands. Also, the lead singer Brett Anderson was in great shape, constantly running and jumping around (resulting in his shirt being soaked with sweat), coming to the front of stage to get the crowd involved in singing, and twice even leaving stage to go standing right in front of the front row of the crowd. The energy he displayed, hardly standing still a minute during a quite long concert, was quite incredible. Meanwhile, I liked their music more and more as the gig proceeded. This is excellent guitar-driven rock, with a great vocalist, and while the gig progressed I realised having written down 5 songs I wanted to hear again as soon as possible on album, while not having had a single song written down as boring. By the end of the gig, they long convinced me of their qualities, and I’m sure I’ll keep following this band’s new release and new tour (both planned for 2015 probably, as Brett did announce this was the last Suede gig in quite a while as the band now will go into the studio to record the new album).

Songs that specifically stuck with me were "FilmStar", "Can’t get enough", "Trash", "Float away" (the outro being a climax while Brett howled the word "away" repeatedly) and "Tightrope", which is a new song that will appear on the forthcoming album. A nice romantic sounding ballad, with a somewhat dramatic vocal in the chorus, this sounds very promising for that new album.

"Just trash, me and you,
It’s in everything we do,
It’s in everything we do…"
was sung during the chorus of "Trash".

No, not a love song. Actually Brett once called it " "It’s about believing in the romance of the everyday" and about the band and its fans, the values it represents. A sort of ode to being in a band and believing in what the band stands for, and the feeling of connection with the fans adopting that filosophy.

Suede definitely gained themselves another follower.

Sunday I was in extreme high expectations of Arsenal, so I showed up very early to get to front row (I actually ended up 2nd row in front, so that’s a success given the crowd over nearly or more than 14000) and meanwhile could hear the last songs of the set of James Arthur. Not too bad, although also not my style entirely. By the way, hopefully his desire for new tattoos is gone, because I didn’t see any space left untattooed on both of his arms. Well, there’s Always the back and chest, I guess…

To those who don’t know Arsenal or think of an English football club rather than a band: Arsenal are a Belgian duo consisting of John Roan and Hendrik Willemyns (who mainly is on the background but of crucial importance, doing all electronic sound effects and taking care of most of the music, in addition to creating very artsy video clips such as the 3D video for the recent hit "Black Mountain"). The band play electronic danceable music, but mix it with African and Latino beats, creating a very catchy atmosphere where not dancing along is impossible, and where the music takes your thoughts to a far off exotic evening at the beach in Africa or Latin America. It is danceable, it is exotic, and few bands manage to create such nice soundscapes using mainly synths and other electronical equipment. It was sensual too at times, for example at the moments the female vocalist did the heavy sighs sounds during "Melvin" or the way she sensually moved around on stage. I am not saying "sensual" is the key word here, but for sure there is a bit of sensuality added to the exotic, dreamy and extremely catchy soundscapes created by the band.

On album, most songs use guest vocals rather than the band themselves taking care of lead vocals. For example the epic "Melvin" had Shawn Smith on vocals, while for tracks such as "Longee" (Ruth da Costa on vocals) and "Saudade" (vocals by Brazilian singer Mario Vitalino Dos Santos) used Latino guest vocalists to create a very Latino exotic sound. On the latest album we had guest vocal contributions by Danish singer Lydmor (on "Evaporate" and "Temul"), British singer Tim Bruzon (on "Sharp Teeth" and "Black Mountain") but also of names very famous to the Belgian audience such as Gavin Friday and Gabriel Rios. As this was my first Arsenal gig, I was wondering how the guest vocals would be replaced. On record, you are used to Always hear different voices, each song you are used to with the specific guest on vocals. I was unsure how they’d resolve this issue, other than their more or less permanent female live singer who usually replaces all feminine guest vocalists. I assumed John Roan himself, who has been singing live before and who has often done backing vocals when there was a guest singer, would take care of all male vocal duties.

I had sky high expectations of Arsenal, risky because you can end up bitterly disappointed. I wasn’t. On the contrary, the gig was so excellent that it was even better than I dared to hope for. I had very high expectations, but they were even better than I could have wished for. The gig was full of catchy and exotic songs, in my mind I was drifting away to far off places and managed to leave all my worries of day to day life behind during the course of this gig.

And yes, one of the guest vocalists on the last album had come across from Denmark to be present here: Lydmor. A very charismatic and sexy lady, who mainly has a facial expression that entrances. There is something in that dramatic or playful look in her eyes that just grabs you. Dancing and crowling around the stage barefoot and with a rather short skirt (luckily the wind did not lead to any embarrassing moments) and a quite artsy coat, I was very glad to have her on stage. It’s a pity other guest vocalists such as Tim Bruzon could not be present, but Lydmor was a pleasure to watch, truly very charismatic. She opened the set with "Temul (Lie Low)", one of my favourite Arsenal tracks. Later she would return on stage once more to, along with the female live singer Arsenal tend to have with them during concerts, sing "Evaporate" with a nice dance that was impossible to keep you standing still.

As I expected, the other songs were vocally taken care of by the more or less fixed female live singer, and masculin vocals were done by John Roan himself. And it has to be said: John is a very decent singer, and knows perfectly how to include the crowd in the gig. Often standing on the edge of stage to be as close to the crowd as possible, he constantly tried to include the crowd in the event, and vocally he did very well. You are used to the voices of for example Tim Bruzon or Shawn Smith, but that doesn’t mean the songs they worked on sound less good with John Roan on vocals. It sounds a bit different, but he does a very good job singing these songs, so I never felt the songs were less good than on album. The contrary, Hendrik’s soundscapes sounded even more powerful than I’m used to on the Arsenal albums.

I was surprised they included the latest hit "Black Mountain (Beautiful Love)", this time with John singing instead of Tim Bruzon, early in the set, I had sort of guessed they’d keep that one as encore. That said however, the setlist was excellent and using their latest success so early maybe was a good move to grab the attention of the large audience immediately.

Furthermore, all their great songs from previous albums passed: "Longee" (sung by the female semi-permanent live member, whose movements and singing style added a sensual feeling to the concert), "Saudade", "Melvin" (both with John Roan doing lead vocals), and in addition of course tracks from the latest album such as "Not yet free". "Saudade" (where the uplifting Latino sound sounds even better live than on record) followed by "Melvin" was a real highlight. In both cases John had to take care of vocals, but dare I say that in my opinion he sings "Saudade" actually better than the man doing vocals in the album version?

As for "Melvin", probably their most famous track of all, yes it’s easy to get used to Shawn Smith’s quite unique voice on vocals. But different does not Always equal bad. John did a very good job on lead vocals here, so I didn’t feel like the track lost any of its power. It seems most people agreed as the thousands of people all massively danced along during the chorus (which of course is so uplifting and catchy that it is hard NOT to dance along). To extend the song a bit, an intermezzo of the band singing the chorus of Tears for Fears’ "Shout" to the rhythm of "Melvin" came as an unexpected surprised, a bridge before the chorus of "Melvin" was repeated an additional time.

This concert was vocally and musically a great experience, John proved they in fact would perfectly manage with him on vocals rather than guest contributions, and there was a sense of sensuality and playfulness added to the exotic beats. What else to say about the sensual movements of the ladies on stage, or John shaking his buttocks towards the audience? Lydmor being present was a great unexpected bonus.

Sadly enough, on another stage in the city, Channel Zero had long started their set, but I am glad I chose Arsenal to see. It’s a pity though both bands’ playing hours partially collided. I realised that, after Arsenal, making my way to that other stage would be quite time consuming and I’d probably have heard only the last few songs of Channel Zero. No, staying at my place close to the stage Arsenal just used, seemed a better option. After all, Scottish band Texas was not exactly a punishment neither, as they were headlining this evening at this stage.

I’ve never been a fan nor a disliker of Texas. I do think their songs sometimes could use a bit more power (compare the lack of energy in the choruses of for example "Say what you want" or "In our lifetime" to the energy in some of their other songs such as "Inner smile" and "Summer son") and can be a tiny bit repetitive. On the other hand, if you take each song seperately, there’s no realy moment of boredom, and a few songs that do deserve all praise and success they achieved (songs such as "Summer son" and "Inner smile" are just great tracks, full stop).

The band has been going for ages, but Sharleen Spiteri was singing crystal clear. Some vocalists lose some of their power of vocal range during their career (especially those who like to consume some forbidden substances now and then, will see their vocal range go down) but Sharleen sung as crystal clear as she always did. She was full of energy and you could clearly see she enjoyed every minute on stage, joking around with the crowd and making funny remarks in between the songs. The only thing I wonder: why grabbing her genitals’ area several times during the gig, such as while pronouncing the words "Inner smile"? Have I missed some innuendo here, or was this just playfulness and being teasy by a singer who clearly had a good time on stage?

That great time was clearly also the sentiment of the crowd, a lot of people singing and dancing alone the whole set (and it was not a short one!). As I said, I’m a bit indifferent to the less up-tempo songs, so when the large list of hits passed ("In our lifetime", "Say what you want", "I don’t want a lover") I was only slightly enthousiast, despite the perfect vocal performances. Even the new work such as "Detroit City" I would approve but without any specially high scores. Luckily towards the end of the set, the more rock-edged songs passed, and I did enjoy those. "Black-eyed boy" and "Summer son" have that energy in the chorus and in the building up towards the chorus, which some other Texas songs lack. And "Inner smile" is just very uplifting, a song that invites you to dance even when it’s clear it’s impossible anyway to stand still during this song. Those songs were really nice to hear, and made it worthwhile to have stayed during the rather long set of which most songs don’t specifically move me. Luckily, they saved their best material for the last part of the show, so in the end I was satisfied to have stayed the entire set. The enthousiasm of the crowd was huge, so obviously I’m in a minority who thinks their average song could use a bit more heavy guitars.

So far the festival has been great. Patti Smith and Arsenal were the ones I really looked forward to, and they both fulfilled my wishes. Arsenal was even better than I hoped for in advance. Both managed to make me forget my OCD for a short while, that alone is reason enough for me to praise them. With Suede I also discovered a band that I somehow never noticed before, but who I will clearly check out very soon, giving their albums a try. So far, so good, the only exception being that French guy "M", but I prefer to not conclude this review with a sour tone. So far, so very good!

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Lost clubs, but also lost grounds?

This article, I will precise, focuses heavily on amateur football in Belgium and low-level leagues within the Belgian FA’s structure. I avoided most bigger, more famous grounds, since most people already know (or can find plenty of information on) whether a certain ground is still existing or not.

Amateur football is a coming and going of clubs. Some are impulsively formed clubs of friends who however realise after a while they have no time to continue the club and disband, and the more serious amateur clubs not all show commitment to their association. Some of those better organised clubs after a while choose to make the change to the Belgian FA’s leagues.

But also in the lower levels of those leagues within the Belgian FA, clubs come and go. A lot of clubs existed for just 1 season or shorter. A lot of teams merge after a while. Some remain in existance and stable, but move to a new ground.

If a club disappears, merges or relocates, what happens to their ground? In some cases the answer was clearly given in articles online, in some cases I went to check myself, but in some other circumstances I am clueless myself. Here is an overview, people reading this are free to pass any info!

But again:
– the focus is on amateur leagues and the lowest divisions of the Belgian FA’s leagues
– the list is obviously incomplete as there are so many clubs in Belgium that listing all of them would be impossible. This is a select list of clubs that somehow interested me for one reason or another.

So, here we go!

SK Denderhoutem is currently a stable club playing in the town itself and in the Belgian FA’s league. They however previously played in the KKVS amateur league and then were based on a field just next to the main road connecting Aalst to Ninove. I passed this ground earlier this week, it is still there but it is badly maintained and unlikely to be used again.

FC Nederboelare, playing in the East-Flanders/Flemish Brabant division of the KAVVV amateur league, nowadays plays its games in the municipal sports stadium (which features a true seated stand, unusual for this level!). Their previous home was a pitch near the church of Nederboelare, which I visited many years ago. The pitch was OK, but very high weeds had taken over the few concrete steps intended for the watchers. Unsure what happened to this pitch.

‘t Fonteintje Erpe-Mere was a club from the KKVS league, having a tiny accomodation not far from the "border" with Lede. The field however is gone, and has been used for building new houses.

La Ruelle and ‘t Steegje, both KKVS affiliated and both playing in a small ground in Moorsel (Aalst) also saw their ground lost and probably there’s buildings on it now as we speak.

Another KKVS participant from the past, SK Dendermonde, has the most unusual location as ground: a field in the middle of the wood, surrounded by very swampy ground and with the banks of river Dender nearby. Very well hidden. The field still exists, and is apparently occasionally used but not for football purposes.

Ekkergemboys, KKVS affiliated and having their pitch not too far of the famous church of the Ekkergem district of Gent, ceased to exist and so did the ground.

We are still in KKVS surroundings when VK Mater comes up. They had a not very well in balance field with a small canteen, and should not be confused with RC Mater who are still existing with no issues. VK Mater however is gone, and I heard the pitch is hardly recognisable anymore, I have not had the chance to go and see for myself.

RC Jager Brakel also played in KKVS, just like their fellow villagers Kruisstraat Brakel. While Kruisstraat is still going, what happened to RC Jager and their ground is totally unknown to me.

St Anna Hardy was one of the more succesful clubs in the league of the KKVS, but they changed named to SV Hardy Waasmunster and moved to the Belgian FA where they still play. Their new ground is located next to some Industrial ground, a bit further down the road from their previous ground dating from their time in the KKVS leagues. That ground, about on the border between Hamme and Waasmunster, was at that time already full of high grass and cows had made it their new home. Very unlikely this ground is still existing, and even if the field is never used for building houses, after all those years it’s unlikely you’d still recognise the field.

There does not Always have to be tension between players and coaches. One club within the KKVS even named itself TV Herzele (TrainersVrienden = friends of the trainer). Their ground, not to be confused with KFC Herzele’s ground, I am unsure what happened with it.

Beekboys, another club from Erpe-Mere, never had their own pitch and just used the fields next to the municipality’s buildings. So obviously these grounds are still there and can be rented by other teams. Beekboys as well played in KKVS league.

We make a little jump to the LVVM, the amateur league of the Meetjesland area. Most teams used other clubs’ grounds to share, or still exist. One exception I immediately think of was Captains, who had their ground in the Broeders Van Liefdestraat in Eeklo. This ground was later used by Young Stars Eeklo who played in the Belgian FA’s lowest leagues. The ground however is gone, and houses are standing there now.

FC Nederzwalm, of whom I am not entirely sure in which league they played, used to have an own ground, but I am clueless if it still exists.

We make a jump to the Belgian FA now.

Olympia Erondegem was in the lowest provincial league when they merged with Oranja Erpe due to losing their pitch. That pitch is still there, you can still visit it. Beware of very high grass and a canteen that seems in ruins.

Talking about ruins, let’s move a bit further to Terjoden, a district of Aalst. The club (which merged with Welle, but the newly formed Terjoden-Welle had to groundshare in Denderleeuw and now ceased to exist) had its own pitch near the Industrial estate, and that ground is going to disappear rapidly. I was there some months ago and saw weeds almost 1 meter high on the pitch, a canteen in ruins, … No way this field is ever going to be used again.

In Gent, the city has encouraged mergers and promised in return to help maintaining accomodations. In Drongen, this has worked, as the current club is a merger that over several years swallowed three clubs: Luchteren (the area where the club plays now), VV Drongen and FC Baarle.

FC Baarle had their ground next to the E40 highway and was clearly visable. Maybe I just didn’t pay well attention but I cannot recall it still being there.
VV Drongen played in a swampy area just behind the monastry in Drongen center. It is unknown to me whether this field still exists.

In the city of Gent, football has been played behind the Rooigem swimming pool for many years, first by Olympia Gent, until they merged and moved the new club to Wondelgem. Sparta Gent then used the ground but ceased to exist. Whether a new occupant for the ground is being searched or whether the ground will disappear, is unknown to me.

In Gentbrugge, there used to be a pitch at Gentbruggekouter, the street besides the main church of the community. This pitch, which had lots of issues with the overflowing river behind it, was used first by FC Ledeberg, then later by FC Nieuw Ledeberg, then a while by Sparta Gent, and finally by the short-lived predominantly Kurdish expats team Gentse Rangers 2002. To my knowledge the ground has disappeared, but not entire sure.

In Sint-Amandsberg, also part of Gent, FC Azalea left their ground in the Oude Bareel district to merge with White Star and join them on their ground at the Rozenbroeken complex. Whether the old ground of Azalea still exists, I don’t know.

In yet another part of the municipality of Gent, Sint-Denijs-Westrem, there used to be a ground at the Borluutstraat in the middle of the town. It was the home ground of St-Denijs, until they moved to their new accomodation. The ground at Borluutstraat then became the new home of Avrasya Gent (a predominantly Turkish club) but they too have moved away to another ground. I am unsure if the ground is still there now that Avrasya Gent have relocated too.

SK Woubrechtegem was notorious in their last season of existance because of the extremely high number of goals against them. They were over 200 in 30 games if I’m not wrong. I very clearly remember the club finished that last season of existance with 1 point, ironically a draw in their last ever game of existance… They then merged with a club from the KKVS amateur leagues, VC Ressegem. Basically, VC Ressegem took over the matricule number of Woubrechtegem to assure a smooth move into the Belgian FA, but continued played in Ressegem and without even changing names. I am unknown if the ground in Woubrechtegem’s Perrestraat still exists. I’d be surprised if it did.

That same VC Ressegem had its ground just behind a castle-like building, and just before entering a wood. (not to be confused with SV Ressegem, another club with another pitch). VC Ressegem still exists (is now merging with KFC Herzele) but they recently played in Hillegem, indicating the ground near the woods of Ressegem either doesn’t exist anymore or became unused.

Another club famous for its many goals against, was Livinus Houtem. I remember having watched one game, in which they lost 0-6 but the name of the opponent I cannot remember. 0-6 wasn’t such a heavy defeat for their standards. The club played at the Polbroek street in St Lievens Houtem, but I doubt the ground still exists. Probably not, or I’d be very surprised.

Olympic Ronse used to have their own pitch, much older and not too well maintained compared to the accomodation of KSK Ronse. The club is gone, and about the ground I have no information at all.

FC Verrewinkel, in an outpost of Ukkel (Brussels Capital District), was used by FC Verrewinkel but after this club merged with La Rhodienne, the ground remained in use for amateur teams. Lately I have not heard of any team using the ground, so I fear this ground is gone…

In a more urban side of Brussels district, in Anderlecht, there used to be a ground "La Roue" used by many clubs, including Belgian FA affiliated clubs such as Fair-Play Bruxelles and Foyer Anderlecht-Betis. To my knowledge both clubs vanished and I have not heard any team using that ground recently. Should be an easy enough one to check though, La Roue has its own metro stop.

Just outside of Brussels, in Wemmel, was the first proper home ground of Etoile Marocaine. You could see the pitch from the highway, it has a quite large and strangely coloured canteen one floor above the dressing rooms and others. Etoile however moved into the capital district, changed names several times, and merged with Blue Star in 2013 to become the multicultural Sporting Bruxelles, which currently plays in Neder-over-Heembeek. I would be very surprised if anything remains of that ground in Wemmel used by Etoile Marocaine, given the many years they’ve already left it. When I was there, the canteen already looked eeriely empty (a scarf of another expats team, FC Atlas, hanging on the wall ; but more than that I cannot recall)

Sporting Bentille, from St Jan in Eremo (a very rural and quiet town near the Dutch border, not too far from Eeklo and Maldegem), merged with FC Kaprijke and the new team FC Kaprijke-Bentille located all teams in Kaprijke. I heard only parts of the Bentille ground remain, they are not used for football though and I am unsure if meanwhile the whole ground did not disappear. This should not be confused with another club from the village, Roal Benti, who are for many years going strong in the LVVM amateur league and have their own ground.

SK Lokeren, not to be confused with Europa League participant Sporting Lokeren, had a very small ground of its own, but then merged with Doorslaar. It is unknown to me if anything remains of their ground, since all activities seem to have been moved to Doorslaar.

Pollare, near Ninove, used to have a ground I visited when no club existed there anymore. That was about 10 years ago. I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that ground is still there.

Hopefully I can somehow verify one way or another whether these grounds are still there or not, but I am realistic that in most cases the answer will be "no".

Finally I wish to reflect upon my own daily life as yesterday I was crossing the border into Cadzand-Bad, the first coastal town across the border between Belgium and the Netherlands when coming from Knokke. Cadzand’s ground was in danger due to dangerous remainders from the World War being found under the football ground, and were forced to temporarily leave their ground. However, I was there yesterday, and not only the ground is totally OK again, they even improved it with a small stand (just 3 steps and a roof, but it’s still a small addition) and the canteen (shared with the sports complex next door) is extremely luxurious fot canteen standards. So I can with a good news message here, even if I had to actually look for it right across the border.

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Every Song has a Story to tell: Aram Mp3 – Not Alone

It is not often I would include Eurovision Song Contest in this category of song analyses. Because, while I love the contest and watch it every year, let’s be honest: it is more about the for once acceptable mixture of kitsch, colourful acts and pop music. Deep lyrics with a very deep meaning are not so often occuring. This year, we had a few ones though, and I decided to take out the song "Not alone", which was the Armenian entry.

The artist performing was Aram Mp3, the somewhat weird pseudonym of musician and stand-up comedian Aram Sargsyan (Armenian: Արամ Սարգսյան) . He is a 30 years old (at time of writing) performer born in Yerevan, Armenia.

His first steps in showbizz were more focused on the stand-up comedy than on music, although he did do parodies of famous songs, which earned him his moniker Aram Mp3.
He would, in the second half of the past decade, also start performing songs and creating video clips, continued comedy with his own comedy TV show, and became more famous by presenting programs such as Armenia’s X Factor and Armenian Idol.

There is no comedy at all about him going to Eurovision to represent his country though. "Not alone" is a "power ballad", starting with a very low-key soothing part, then getting a slight bit of rock influences while Aram starts singing with more passion and fury in his voice too. It is a love song, a message to someone in need and a very beautiful one. The lyrics are just lovely and hopegiving.

The song, according to bookmakers, was the top favourite to win, until the festival came closer and other entries took over the role of favourite. But Aram was Always within reach of that first spot in bookmakers tables.

This all despite an incident that lead to insinuations about Aram being a homophobe. He apparently said some remarks about Austrian participant (and later winner of Eurovision) Conchita Wurst, a man who dresses and performs as a woman. Aram apparently would have said this is no normal lifestyle, that Conchita would need help figuring out what sex she really is/wants to be, and that he always speeds up his car when driving through the gay district of Armenian capital Yerevan.

This lead to a lot of disapproving comments and shocked many. Now Aram is a comedian, and we all know comedians make jokes sometimes flirting with the boundaries of what is acceptable humor. Aram said he meant the comments as a joke ; since his long comedian background I guess this makes sense, although my personal opinion is that it’s a very poor joke and not funny at all. I also think he knew well enough this would stir up controversy, and saying "it’s just intended as a joke" is not really a decent apology. I assume that as a comedian it makes sense he makes jokes about such subjects ; hopefully we all agree this "joke" was a very bad joke, insulting more than funny.

Luckily Conchita herself seemed to react quite cool on it:
"It seems as if Aram wants me to be a woman, but I can say this to you Aram my dear, I am a working woman and an incredibly lazy young man in my free time and that is not going to change. If you have problems understanding that, then I would be happy to sit down with you and explain it to you in more detail. And with your homophobic comments, that is a conversation that we really need to speak about."

Aram apparently apologised in person to Conchita and the two would have become friends meanwhile, although that is hard to check. He did release the following statement:

"In my personal life and in my work, the respect for others is my guiding principle. Apart from being a musician, I’m also a comedian. Music and humor are inseparable parts of my life; I made some remarks recently in a humorous manner, which instead may have hurt the dear friends and fans. I really regret this and want to state clearly that I reject homophobia."

and the following tweet:

"Respect for others IS my guiding principle. We live in one world and we are not alone!"

If these apologies are sincere, the best way to prove that is to never make any such remarks again and try to make comedy that is not offending people.

I personally write this blog entry to praise the song, but let me clearly say that I (as a straight man who however likes a bit of androgyny and fully defends gay rights) think the "joke" was very poor and was offending. Tagging people according to certain aspects of their personality is never a good idea, and remarks like this are not doing the case for diversity any good. But, if Conchita and Aram talked everything through and became friends, then kudos to Conchita for being openminded and wanting to leave the incident behind her.

As I said, as a straight man who however fully defends gay rights, I wish to praise a song in this blog entry. I made it clear I too disapprove any homophobe comments made, so I think I am going to focus on the song again as I have made my opinion on the incident clear.

"Not alone" begins with a rather quiet, low key musical setting that gradually expands, building towards the end of the song where the music gets a lot of bombast and a sort of climax to end the song with. So the structure of the music for sure is good, slightly dramatic and that suits the lyrics very well. There is some dubstep in there, but also some violin and piano. It’s a song growing to its climax, and while bombast is a word I would use for it, I would use it in a very positive way.

The lyrics first describe a person who feels alone and abandoned by the world, seeking escapism in a dream world. Aram tries to comfort by stating the person really isn’t alone and describes the sadness as a tormenting dream. The song then gets more energy, and so does Aram’s vocal performance, when describing one single kiss can change everything, and make the world look beautiful and wonderful again. I think it is this part of the lyrics which makes me truly love this song a lot:

"What if it’s all in one kiss
That turns all seeds into trees
The strongest wind into breeze
Enter all doors without keys"

I think there is a lot of truth in this lyric, one kiss can indeed change a bleak world into a beautiful place where you wake up with a smile, looking forward to every new day. I cannot remember whose quote it was, but it has been said that "every love starts with a single kiss".
Aram himself told "You should never give up and always fight for love. One kiss can change everything." And on this statement, I do fully agree.

Armenia could not win the contest, therefor the performance of Conchita Wurst was too strong. Yes, performance, because while her style surely makes a very strong statement for tolerance, let’s not forget she had a good song and delivered a perfect vocal delivery.

However, Armenia did get a fantastic result as the song finished 4th in the final, collecting 174 points. I hope the song will be remembered beyond Eurovision fans, because the lyrics deserved to be heard by anyone.

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Every Song has a Story to tell: SoKo – We might be dead by tomorrow

I realise my blog is not as active as it should be. I know and I take the blame. To maintain a blog when OCD is often making it hard to focus and hit the web, isn’t that easy. But rather than writing frequent entries while half-concentrated, I prefer to write good ones the moments I feel fine to do it. Maybe I should challenge myself to a sort of "song of the week" thing, to avoid long hiatuses. But be sure, this blog is alive and kicking and I do plan to keep it going for much longer, the gap between different blog entries may vary but this blog is here to stay 🙂

There has always been a sort of bizarre aspect of romance, being the link between love and death. But if any singer has a unique reason for this type of writing, and where it comes straight from the heart, it has to be French artist SoKo. A very interesting singer and equally interesting personality (and actor, let’s not forget she played in films too).

SoKo is the pseudonym of Bordeaux-born Stéphanie Sokolinski. She was 16 when leaving home to chase her acting dreams and move to Paris. She also started writing her first songs there. In 2007, her musical career kicked off when "I’ll kill her" became a hit in several European countries as well as in Australia. By then she had already played in several French films and TV shows.

In 2012 she would eventually release her debut album, "I thought I was an alien", containing quite a few songs about love, but not necessarily the nice side of it. The album came after a hiatus from 2009 onwards to 2011, with SoKo declaring she had to face some "demons" but announced her comeback saying she "had a new heart". SoKo is a mult-instrumentalist, playing guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, and obviously, singing. She herself directs her own music videos too. All all-round artist, this is, and one with a fascinating personality.

Like many tracks on the album, "We might be dead by tomorrow" is a quite fragile song about love and with reference to death. With an almost aching voice, SoKo addresses to her potential lover asking to give her all his love now, because by tomorrow they could just as well be dead, so no delay in giving love. The potential partner answers he is just not ready yet, which SoKo describes as "adding scars to my heart", also asking the question "if you’re not ready for love, how can you be ready for life?". So in a final call she asks and proposes to love fully, love loud, and love NOW. Because the future, even the next couple of days are always an uncertainty.

In the promo video I had to see (I don’t know if several versions were shot or not) we see a man and woman swimming underwater, seeking to come closer to each other. A quite artsy video, somehow labelled unsuitable for minors. The video shows nothing even remotely explicitly sexual, so there is either another version of the video, or the censorship folks have gone even more conservative than they already were.

The fact SoKo writes about death frequently, is due to her own childhood: when she was just aged 5, she lost her father. During her youth she saw more people she cared about dying. She developed a feeling of being abandoned because of several deaths while growing up, also developing a fear of dying herself.

The references to love without delay also reflect from that. In a 2013 interview with the website afterellen.com she literally said: "Like, as soon as I love someone, I feel like I just have to grab every minute, like every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day with the people I love so I’m really intense in relationships, just because I’m always scared that they’re going to be taken away from me". She added being dumped on many occasions too.

In the same interview she declared "I’m like a loyal little puppy. All I want is to love someone and be loved in return, like who doesn’t? That’s all I want in my life, everyday…is to have love…nonstop, always. More than anything in the world.". SoKo is clearly a very intense person, but given the backgrounds, her artistic creativity and diversity, I would also say she is one of the more fascinating and probably more sensitive persons in the artistic world.

Being a very emotionally sensitive person myself (I would identify as HSP for sure), and being very open about that (not hiding tears or sadness when I’m in such phase), I can totally relate to what SoKo is saying here. The desire for romance and to be with that person you like may fill you with hope, but can be a very strong feeling leaving no time to step-by-step build a relationship. You just want it to happen NOW, and to fully enjoy your love. The disillusion when things don’t evolve the way you wanted so much, can leave a painful mark. The hope rises high and you really focus totally on that special person, but when nothing evolves you’re left with disillusion and with the only bit of consolidation that at least you had hope for a while.

SoKo, who is bisexual and in the interview I refered to rather explicitly explains what she finds physically attractive on women, really wrote a great song here which many people may be able to relate to.

It is a bit sad the song in terms of popularity rised highly when it was used as background tune for "First Kiss", a short video in which total strangers meeting on the streets were challenged to kiss each other in front of the camera, thereby trying to recreate the sentiment of a first kiss. That video was extremely popular online ; the song deserves a lot of credit without needing to be used in such video. But on the other hand, I guess if some people watching the First Kiss video also discover SoKo’s music that way and become loyal fans, then it has not been that bad at all.

SoKo also had some other songs for which a video was released (she directs or co-directs all her own videos) such as "First Love never die" (not "never dies", the -s at the end is not in the song title), and in some album tracks we can again see the very sensitive side of SoKo.

In "Don’t you touch me" she repeatedly asks "Don’t you touch me, ‘coz it means so much to me" and describes she stayed "pure as a dove" for her love, then to realise finding the soul mate of your life isn’t a game and not worth the gamble because "I always lose", as she sings. Indeed, love is a dominant subject on SoKo’s album, but it’s not exactly happy love songs about true love without worries.

Not that it is all about broken hearts, the album ends with "You have a power on me" in which there is no heartbreak at the end of the song. Sensitivy and how someone can become very hopeful with just a few small signs, are well reflected in lines such as "Every little sign of you make me feel so happy".

SoKo for sure shows, both through her personality and her lyrics, to be an extremely interesting artist and personality. She comes across as highly sensitive and emotional, which I’m sure makes her music recognisable for many listeners.
She nowadays lives in LA but says not to be part of the Hollywood scene. She considers herself straight edge, is vegan, and openly bisexual.

Keep an eye on this French lady, because her first recordings, directed videos etc show a very multi-talented artist who, in addition, also has a lot of meaningful things to say.

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Some spectacular goal averages (or records?) in Belgian football

Last weekend, two very shocking results were to be noted in the amateur divisions (regional level) of Belgian’s women football. But the most shocking part, was the goal average involved. I think we are heading for some records here… These are the two results I was talking about, both games played last weekend:

Ladies’ 2nd provincial level A Brabant:
Ottignies B – R. La Hulpe SC : 28-0
After 15 out of 28 games played, La Hulpe has 0 points, scored just 2 goals and has … 398 goals against them. Their goal average thus is -396 after just 15 games.

In average La Hulpe has had 26.53 goals against them per game so far. Imagine this goes on exactly the same way in the remaining 13 games, 351 more goals will be added to the tally of goals against. That would result in a final 749 goals against them in 28 games.

Only slightly "better": ladies’ 3rd provincial level East Flanders:
Rupelmonde – Daknam : 0-13
After 18 out of 30 games played, Rupelmonde has 0 points, scored 8 goals, and had 316 goals against them. Which means a goal average of -308 for now.

In average, Rupelmonde had 17.5 goals against them per game so far. If the trend goes on in the remaining 12 games, 216 more goals will be scored against them. In total they’d end the season with 532 goals against.

I am not sure if I ever saw teams with over 300 goals against them roughly halfway the season, and nearly 400 goals against them definitely is something I never heard of before. Because it isn’t in the professional divisions, probably the scorelines and goal averages will remain unnoticed, but I do think we’re heading for some records to be broken…

PS: in a way I have a deep respect for the girls of these two teams who, despite the very heavy defeats weekly, still go on that pitch every week purely for pleasure, and give the best they can. That is the real spirit of football and in a way deserves at least as much appreciation as the stars of the sport who do the most magical things with a ball but wouldn’t bother without very high salary.

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Every Song has a Story to tell: The Smiths – Rubber Ring

There are few bands in history who, despite existing less than a decade, left such a legacy and such important back catalogue as the Smiths did. The band formed around the highly charismatic and sometimes (well, often) controversial vocalist Morrissey existed during most of the eighties but then split up, with virtually no chance at all of a reunion. But in those few years of existance the band did release several studio albums (in those days, it was not a habit yet to leave a gap of 2 or 3 years between albums) that each have become iconic in their own way and which will stand the test of time without the slightest doubt.

Morrissey’s often tongue-in-cheeck and sometimes bitterly hard society criticism, combined with his often tormented and poetic lyrics, have appealed to fans worldwide and still continues to do so. Few bands are still as often discussed and listened to (even by young people not born yet when the band existed) so many years after disbanding. The lyrics of Morrissey, often dealing with subjects such as loneliness, being unloved, being misunderstood, feeling alienated and out of place, … have appealed to many people who recognised themselves in the lyrics of these songs. "How soon is now" (describing someone impatient of being loved but being misunderstood and ignored all the time) to me still is the ultimate Aspie anthem. However, for someone whose sexuality has remained a mystery even today, and who claims to have chosen abstainance by choice, some other Smiths songs have a strong sense of romance. Finally, Morrissey never hesitated to (sometimes in shocking ways lyrically) to vow his political opinions, with songs such as "Meat is murder" and "The Queen is dead" as highlights.

The band’s lyrics can be seen as sombre sometimes, but especially those which are inspired by Morrissey’s incredible love for/knowledge of literature, can also be surprisingly uplifting or at least beautiful in their own way.

The band’s back catalogue contains some of the most brilliant songs of their era, some which will never be touched by the hands of time. Johnny Marr’s unique guitar playing style added a lot to the band’s very distinct sound too, even when Morrissey got most attention due to his mysterious and at the same time charismatic personality. But songs such as "How soon is now" (with lyrics so recognisable for anyone facing loneliness), "Panic", "Ask", "Hand in glove", "Girlfriend in a Coma", "Please please let me get what I want", "Pretty girls make graves", "There is a light that never goes out" (combining the sense of belonging nowhere with a morbid-romantic chorus) will still be played many decades from now.

Out of that impressive legacy, I pick a less usual song to discuss: "Rubber ring".

"Rubber ring" in a way is a lovesong, but not in the conventional way: it is about love for music itself, more precisely: the song is about how, in the darkest depths, it is music that can pull you through and give you new hope and courage. The song in fact is a tribute to the emotional power of music itself, a power which I’m sure we all experienced how strong it is.

The message in the lyrics is clear:
"But dont forget the songs
That made you cry
And the songs that saved your life"
because, as Morrissey sings, "they were the only ones to ever stood by you".

and especially the final words of the last stanza speak for themselves, when the musician takes the word and passes his message to the listener:

"And when youre dancing and laughing
And finally living
Hear my voice in your head
And think of me kindly"

The title refers to a rubber ring people throw in the water when someone is drowning ; the rubber ring can be grabbed to hold on to and not drown. Similarly, your beloved music can be a lifesaver and loyal companion in those times when you emotionally feel like you’re drowning.

Out of the entire Smiths catalogue, I do think this is one of the most underrated songs. That said, for a band that left such a mark on music and with such legacy, it would be wrong to single out one or two songs. So maybe in the future you’ll see another Smiths song occurring on this blog.

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Every Song has a Story to tell: Birdy – Wings

I thought of more frequently writing about songs just because… I like them. Even if there is no special meaning or so, just sharing the songs I love. But then, every song has a meaning, and in addition most songs I love have a very specific personal meaning to me. So both the real meaning and my own interpretation together resulted in the idea of creating a series of song portraits called "Every Song has a story to tell". Sometimes my own "meaning" will correspond with the real meaning of the song, sometimes it will be totally different.

I start off with Birdy. If you listen to a song over and over again for more than 5 hours while reading, then it must indicate this song is special.

And indeed the song is special, especially when knowing it was co-written and co-composed by Birdy herself, who is only 17 years of age at the time I am writing this. A 17 year old able to write such an emotional song, is a rare talent. It is almost unbelievable that someone of such young age could do that.

Birdy, who took her stage name from the fact her parents always called her like that as a baby due to the way she opened her mouth for eating, is a British singer-songwriter of Belgian and Dutch roots. She herself was born and raised in England but her real name, Jasmine van den Bogaerde, indicates Belgian and Dutch origins.

She was born in 1996 in England in a very musical family. Her mother was a concert pianist, and Birdy adopted the love for the piano, learning to play at age 7 and already writing own songs aged 8. The true story of Jasmine’s musical career started at age 12 however when she entered Open Mic UK in 2008, a talent contest for unsigned singers and bands. She entered with her own song "So be free" and won the first prize in both the under-18 category and the overall category.

Early 2011, aged 14, Birdy covered Bon Iver’s song "Skinny Love" which resulted in mass success in the charts, even reaching nr 1 in several countries. Later that year, Birdy released her debut album, the self-titled "Birdy" which contained only cover songs except for 1 track which was an original. It reached nr 1 in Belgium, The Netherlands and as far as Australia, where her singles also reached very high in the singles charts.

Now, aged 17, the follow-up "Fire within" is doing very fine as well. This album is a drastic turn away from the very acoustic piano-driven fragile debut album. While the piano still plays a very important role, some other instruments were added (Birdy even learnt to play the guitar for this album) which leaves some songs with a more bombastic impression, as if the sound gradually becomes stronger and reaches its peak when the other instruments come in. But equally important: instead of the covers she did when she released her first record, this time Birdy co-wrote all songs on the album, a rare fact for someone of such tender age. It just gets more remarkable when hearing the songs and realise how beautiful it sounds.

The first single from the album, "Wings", was a true revelation to me. I was instantly grabbed by the piano driven stanzas and Birdy’s fragile yet beautiful voice, then to have an almost celebrating more up-tempo chorus in which the other instruments come into play. The sound of the song is warm, the lyrics heartwarming and beautiful. The song immediately grasped me and I could not stop listening to it. Even including one day where I played it 30 or 40 times in a row. This was the type of song justifying buying the CD for (luckily there are more gems on her album)

"Wings" describes remembering past events ranging from dancing on top of cars or waking up with the sunlight coming in, just because she thought of the person she was with.

The video also demonstrates this: a big nocturnal mansion party is shown where people dressed in weird costumes walk around, people have fun, Birdy is shown on a swing while glowing lights now and then illuminate the nightly sky. Birdy stated it is about having a great time with friends, the kind of time that you know you’ll never ever forget it.

To me the song has a more romantic edge. I do not see a wild mansion party in front of me with lots of people dancing, I see a couple in front of me that are alone at night somewhere in the fields, under a star-filled sky, dancing to this beautifully romantic music. When Birdy sings about how thinking of "you" reminds her or all those things that occured, it sounds to me as two lovers looking back on how their life together has been so far.

However, when we take things to the chorus, this is where it truly gets emotional to me. The song just reflects in an eeriely perfect way my idea of the ideal romantic night with my future lover. How can someone not feel butterflies in the stomach and get a warm feeling inside, dreaming about that one true love, when listening to lines such as

"Lights go down
In the moment we’re lost and found
I just wanna be by your side
If these wings could fly…"

The chorus completes with the other person telling her he’ll remember that night forever.

This is how I picture the perfect romantic night, the type of night where all good things suddenly come together, you’re alone with your lover and the rest of the world feels like it doesn’t even exist. All that matters would be me and her. A simple line like "we’re lost and found… I just wanna be by your side" reflects the equally simple yet very powerful feeling of just wanting to be with that person you love, and feel a waterfall of happiness and joy simply by being with her. As if the rest of the world doesn’t matter, doesn’t even exist, and you simply dance in the field at night, fall in each others’ arms, and feel an emotion of total happiness. With nobody to be around to disrupt this moment. It’s just two lovers, so happy they are together, just the two of them in a night when all nice things just happen to come together.

That warm feeling of love is almost illuminating the sky, which is the idea I get when seeing the lights lightning up the dark skies in the video. As if the mutual love literally illuminates the dark skies, as if the love warms the air in the midst of the night. That is the feeling I get when listening to that chorus while watching the video of the song.

To me it is simply a representation of the feeling of total happiness by just being together, and knowing you will never forget that night and never forget that blissful feeling; while having the desire to make that relationship last a lifetime.

Love songs are often cliche, and in a way this song in its true interpretation is about friendship more than it is about love. But I hope Birdy will forgive me for giving the song a bit of an own angle.

This is the perfect song to play on the background while holding each other in each others’ arms and sharing a tender kiss. This song is the ideal soundtrack when you first kiss your (new) partner — as far as such thing can be planned. It would even make a perfect opening dance for those who would choose to get married.

Fantastic efford, and her young age only makes it more remarkable. Now Birdy isn’t all about happy love or friendship, just give "All you never say" a listen, which is about the other person never saying the few words she is hoping to hear (that he loves her). But meanwhile Birdy perfectly reflects the simple desire and hope to be with someone: "Words with no meaning have kept me dreaming" while not losing sight of reality as the words in the end tell her nothing about where she stands.

I wish to heavily recommend this exceptional talent. If you can create such songs when you’re just 17, then you just know you discovered a very rare musical talent that puts 80 to 90% of the folks in the charts to shame. Forget the charts, and surrender to the beautiful music of Birdy!

Posted in Artists, Music, Songs | Tagged , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

The Black Tokens – Another Little Lie – Belfast memories

In the past I have already discussed how music and arts in Belfast’s underground artistic scene influenced me and inspired me to start writing myself. Sadly enough, a lot of the bands I was friends with and attended gigs of, have split up. In the past, on this blog you have seen posts on the final pre-break-up release by Solemn Novena, and I cannot remember by heart if I already wrote an article on it, but The Messiah Syndrome (from Derry) were another great band (extremely loud and heavy but extremely intense) that broke up after having attended several gigs of them and chatting a lot with their guitar player. One time, a Messiah Syndrome gig in Derry forced me to spend the night on the streets of Derry waiting for next morning’s first train back to Belfast, where I lived at the time. Good memories.

Belfast, as rainy and windy it may get, is a city that is highly recommendable. The history, while not a pretty one, is unique, but people look to the future with a lot of hope. The artistic scene may be largely underground but is extremely exciting and diverse, with a lot of talened artists performing in the local alternative circuit. It is a very exciting place to be for arts lovers. It inspired me. Why tourists waste time in Dublin rather than heading north to the much more interesting city of Belfast, I will probably never understand. I can say however: I lived 2 years in the Northern Irish capital and had a great time overall.

One of the countless memories on Belfast I have is a band called The Black Tokens. The band, formed 2005 in Belfast, consisted of highly charismatic frontman Niall Graham on vocals, Paddy Steele and Stephen Hill on guitar, Stuart Murphy on bass, Michael Kent on drums. The band played what could be described as back-to-basics raw rock music, with loud intensive riffs, heavy pounding drums, and a vocalist screaming the energy out of his longs. You can recognise some old school rock in their music, a very raw but energetic rock sound. It sounds very recognisable but yet hard to tag. The typical vocals and highly energetic performance of Niall was an important attraction pole.

I first saw the band playing at Lavery’s Bunker (one of the most famous pubs and venues in Belfast) and was quite impressed with what I heard. One song stood out for me: "Another Little Lie". That song had it all. Raw angry vocals by Niall, heavy riffs on guitar building tension towards the chorus, pounding drums backing all that musical energy on the front of the stage, and a lyric that was actually very good. The song, Niall explained me, dealt with dictatorships such as Germany during the second world war.

A few months later the Tokens played Lavery’s again and I was there again. Niall still remembered me, and invited me to an afterparty in one of the followers’ homes. That party was as wild as the performance itself. In a (very classy) apartment in the famous Sandy Row (really, it is not as dangerous as some people claim it is !) we had lots of fun, some really absurd chats on very odd subjects, we laughed a lot with a Rambo film that happened to be on TV, and filled the evening with a typical Irish party atmosphere. Good memories.

Sadly, Niall left the band after a while and I have never had the chance to see them with their new vocalist as I had already moved on out of Ireland by then. A bit later, the news reached me via the web that The Black Tokens were no more.

I am not sure if their EPs are somewhere for sale, maybe only in very obscure Northern Irish record stores, maybe only the former band members have a few copies left. I hope the band won’t be forgotten and I was excited with pleasure when after many years I found out one of the band members (Paddy) had uploaded some Black Tokens era songs on his webpage. It felt great to hear the songs again, especially Another Little Lie.

You can find it here on his webpage at Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/paddysteele/another-little-lie

The Black Tokens are also on Last.fm even when obviously inactive: http://www.last.fm/music/The+Black+Tokens

It is great to hear these songs again, and with all the memories attached. Good Belfast memories. The Black Tokens could have made it big. Sadly enough, Northern Ireland’s vibrant musical scene is largely ignored by labels and record producers. The Black Tokens join the list of Solemn Novena, The Messiah Syndrome, The Fools, … : all talented Belfast based bands who deserved a much better fate than what became of them.

Posted in Bands, Music, Songs | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Follow up: the graveyard of Brussels football in the shadow of Anderlecht

A while ago I wrote about how different clubs in Brussels try to revive the memory of the old RWDM: FC Brussels has been trying it for years, RWDM 2003 is an amateur club claiming the legacy of RWDM, and FC Bleid Gaume (or Bleid Molenbeek as they are commonly called since relocation to Brussels) was the newest and most promising attempt in reviving the legacy of the old RWDM.

Meanwhile, a few weeks later, situations have changed and total chaos rules over football in the capital district (obviously with the exception of top team RSC Anderlecht who, despite less good results lately, still lead in the playoffs at the time of writing… but in their shadow, all other clubs in the capital seem to struggle heavily). The things I wrote a short while ago are already largely invalid due to recent changes, and total chaos rules over the clubs in the capital in between RSC Anderlecht (very stable) and the amateur clubs (mostly stable but not really trying to grow rapidly – unlike White Star Woluwe, FC Brussels, FC Bleid etc).

Let’s start with a look at the clubs from division 2 till 4, as they were the ambitious ones trying to grow and further develop despite the fierce competition from Belgium’s top club Anderlecht.

FC Brussels announced proudly that a group of Dubai based investors would heavily finance the club and bring in a lot of talented players. Despite that, current club president Johan Vermeersch would also remain in a leading role. Brussels would that way professionalise strongly and aim for top division football very soon.

A few weeks later, none of these plans remain. The UAE investors sent some players and apparently made one single payment (though I am not entirely sure of this) before Vermeersch broke all contacts with them. Within the staff of FC Brussels, coaches and board members became divided between those supporting the current board and those supporting the Dubai investment. This has lead to large insecurity (it will be a question mark whether the club has finances enough to get its license to remain in second division), uncertainty about the future, internal struggles, and lately even a part of the coaching staff resigned because of their support for the Dubai investment group. Part of the players chose side with them and went on strike.

Last weekend, Brussels had only 1 reserve player in the selection: reserve goalkeeper Cyprien Baguette. The other players were the 11 on the pitch itself. All others were on strike. It is a miracle that in such chaotic circumstances, the club managed to collect quite a few points the last week, resulting in near-certainty about not relegating to division 3 (unless they would be refused a license). However, insecurity about the future remains, and the crowd is getting tired of this. In the derby versus White Star Woluwe, the near 15000 seats capacity stadium in Molenbeek was virtually empty with less than 500 people attending the derby. An all time low for the club that so ambitiously brought KFC Strombeek to Molenbeek about 10 years ago, changed its name to FC Molenbeek Brussels Strombeek and wanted to fill the void that RWDM had left behind.

Unless plans change again, the club will take on a new logo and rebrand itself RWD Brussels Molenbeek. Let’s see if this plan first of all gets realised, and if it has any enthousiast effect on the disappointed fans.

Second club that was flying high in division II was White Star Woluwe, although they are a bit different as in: they never tried to be the follow up of RWDM, even if some former RWDM fans follow the team. White Star won the first tier of the championship and thus qualified for the playoffs for promotion to the highest level of Belgian football. The club lost its leader position and meanwhile KV Oostende has assured itself the championship title and promotion to the highest division. Woluwe is still in the top-7 though and normally could qualify for top division football through the playoffs.

That dream is long gone. Promised payments from investors remain unpaid, players have not received salary as it should be, and the players even went on strike for the derby against FC Brussels. To avoid an embarrassing forfait defeat, Woluwe played that derby with a mixture of players from their U19 and other youth squads. The team that played the derby were mostly guys aged 16, 17 or 18. The oldest player in that squad was 20 years old. Obviously the derby was lossed but with a 3-0 loss the youngsters didn’t do so bad (Brussels did miss two additional penalty kicks).

Yesterday it was announced that, as the promised investments did not come yet, the club decided to enter administration. This means they can forget about the license and will likely relegate to division 3. To stay in division 2, they need a financial miracle in extremely rapid tempo. The top division is a dream already long forgotten, the club already told they won’t play the playoffs after all (but by going into administration the odds are sky high a license will be refused, which means they disqualify for the playoffs anyway). The players are per direct released of their contracts and can seek a new club. Those players who will play for White Star in the remaining few games of the season will do so voluntarely, so the odds they will have to field half a reserve team are high. Whether the club will survive, and in which division they will be next year, will largely depend on the administrators now.

FC Bleid Gaume, from the village of Bleid near the Luxembourg border, was moved the over 200 km to Brussels with the intention to swallow the 8th division amateur team RWDM 2003 at the end of the season, rename itself RWDM 47 and be the follow up of the legendary RWDM. Michel De Wolf invested heavily in that project and initially fans of the old RWDM followed and even attended games wearing RWDM banners and scarves. The enthousiasm about this "new RWDM" was quite big.

Meanwhile this plan has been abandonned. Not only did FC Bleid continue its losing streak (they remain on the very bottom spot of 3rd division B and relegation to 4th division cannot be avoided) but the plan to become the new RWDM incarnation has been abolished too. The fact the team did not manage to realise that goal scared off fans who stopped attending games. Also, I can not remember even having seen a team at this level using 5 different grounds in 1 season due to not having an own stadium. The initial idea to play at the B pitch of the Machtensstadion (FC Brussels, formerly RWDM) was abolished and due to not having a home the team already had to play 2 games outside of the capital district in the early season. They then agreed to lease the B pitch of the national stadium (at the Heizel in Laeken) for the rest of the season, with the issue that 5th division club Etoile Bruxelles Capitale was already using the ground for many seasons and thus had the priority. Initially the FA managed to assure they never had home games at the same time, but in the end they could not avoid to schedule FC Bleid games when the Heizel B was used by the national rugby team or when Etoile Bruxelles Capitale already had a home game the same day. This forced FC Bleid Molenbeek to use the Stade Fallon (White Star Woluwe’s ground) a few times as emergency solution. Last Sunday, Etoile Bruxelles had a home game so the Heizel B was occupied, and FC Bleid Molenbeek moved its home game against Verviers (2-2 result, a rare non-defeat) to the Joseph Mariënstadium of Union St Gilloise. The 5th ground they have already used this season, and the stands were virtually empty. Fans seem to give up and abandon the club massively.

Still, of the clubs mentioned, it may be FC Bleid who has the brightest future: Red Devils and Man City captain Vincent Kompany wanted to do something to offer quality sporting programs for the ethnically diverse youth in Brussels. He in the end decided to invest in a club and his choice was FC Bleid. He bought the club and rather than trying to rebrand it as a new RWDM, Vincent Kompany decided to really take a clean start.

The club will be managed daily by his sister and father, who share Kompany’s ideals about the social project to invest in the youth of the capital city. Vincent Kompany himself, an example of how you can get from the streets of Brussels to the international top, will finance the club. He asked fans to make suggestions for the new name. A lot of response came, including some names indeed refering to the old RWDM (Racing White Bruxelles, Daring Brussels, … were amongst the suggestions). Some names were more generic (Atomium Brussels, FC Ket Brussels, Brussels United, Brussels City, Youth FC Brussels, …) and there were even the few joke suggestions such as "FC Brussels Sprouts" and "Laat de bal Marollen" (Marollen being a district in Brussels, but also a wordplay on "maar rollen" which means "let it roll"). In the end Kompany chose the new name BX Brussels.

BX is the abbreviation many youngsters in Brussels use to point at their city, it is a short name and sounds international. So at the end of the season FC Bleid will disappear as a name, and BX Brussels will start from scratch in 4th division next season.

Personally I’d say the choice may be wise: if you really want to start from zero, then don’t claim the legacy of a former club. The new name sounds brief, to the point, and neutral. This allows the club to not bear the history of any other club and indeed start from scratch. The one problem: the fans were hoping for an RWDM rebirth and will be bitterly disappointed to see the new name by no means refers to the old RWDM. Because of this reason too, RWDM 2003 (the amateur club at 8th level which would be annexed by FC Bleid end of this season) is no longer joining the project and will continue to play as a separate amateur club RWDM 2003.

So next year we have BX Brussels, a club which will have to start from zero in terms of recruiting fans, finding a stadium, choosing colours for the club, build its own identity. It is however a social project for the Brussels youth which received a lot of enthousiasm. RSC Anderlecht, where Kompany played before, has already promised to cooperate with BX Brussels and help Kompany to recruit young kids from the capital to get the youth program started. Knowing Kompany can build from zero without any legacy to bear, that the money is there, … it may very well be BX Brussels who has a bright future ahead in the shadow of giants RSC Anderlecht. A lot will depend if the initial target audience (the old RWDM fans) can be replaced by a new audience embracing the totally new team, if the club finds its own identity soon enough, … But the money and management is already there (it is still unsure which stadium will become the home of BX Brussels though).

Then we still have Union Saint Gilloise, FC Ganshoren and Leopold Uccle in the 3rd and 4th division. These clubs from the capital district look stable but also do not come across ambitious in terms of climbing in the hierarchy of the Belgian football. It seems for Union, they feel comfortable in third division. Ganshoren has survived in 4th division which was already a success for them, and only Uccle seems to show some ambition to grow to a higher level. They are fighting for a place in the playoffs for promotion to division 3 now.

Summarised the semi professional clubs that wanted to fill the void of RWDM and become a second big club in Brussels, all seem to have ended in total chaos, with nothing but shattered plans and illusions left behind. The chaos is complete if we realise that except for BX Brussels (and they have the cash only thanks to Vincent Kompany’s investment), the other ambitious clubs may not even survive financially. It seems the monopoly of Anderlecht on football in Brussels is not going to be challenged anytime soon.

Is the future of football in Brussels that bleak, then? Well, no. The nuance is that in the regional divisions (divisions 5 to 8) some amateur clubs are doing very well. Of course they have no short term ambitions to become semi professional and go to a higher level, but some clubs do indeed blossom in the amateur football.

RC Schaerbeek may be the best example. Just promoted from 6th division, the team is still in the running to promote a second year in a row and end up in 4th division. The title may be tricky to reach, but they are already sure of playoff participation. Their ground is very decent and still can expand, they have a large youth program and an attendance remarkably high for the standards of 5th division. So this club has potential for sure. Whether we can say the same about Crossing, the club they share their stadium with, is a question mark: just 1 year after its creation it is too early to see how this club will further develop.

Etoile Bruxelles Capitale, also in 5th division, had a season without any serious chances for promotion and without being in a concrete relegation worries. A worryless mid table season. They have the potential to do better next season, and their social role in Brussels youth football is still important.

In 6th division, clubs such as Blue Star Brussels (the club that broke off from Maccabi Brussels), FC Kosova Schaerbeek and RRC Boitsfort have the means to climb at least 1 more level and they are all in good positions for playoff qualification. Whether the ambition to grow already now is present or whether they prefer to do it slowly and remain at their current level for now, is something I am not sure of.

In 7th division we see several Brussels based clubs that can prepare for promotion. FC Saint Josse is almost sure to win its series and promote directly, they still did not lose a single game this season. In that same division, SC Ixelles (who played in nationwide series many decades ago) still can qualify for the playoffs. In another 7th division series, FC Black Star and Suryoyes (both from Neder-over-Heembeek in Brussels capital district) are in a two-horse race for winning the division and promoting directly to 6th division. A few spots below, Oviedo Asturiana Anderlecht still can reach the playoffs for promotion although this is unsure for now.

In 8th division, the only Dutch speaking club in the capital, Ritterklub Jette, seems to be unstoppable to promote directly and they also talked about improving their accomodation. Ambitions are high. RWDM 2003 (the amateur club claiming the legacy of the old RWDM) still has a chance to qualify for the playoffs for promotion. There is one serie (with only 11 teams, most being reserve teams) in 8th division with only clubs from the capital district. FC Moreda Uccle has the best odds to promote. Trabzon Schaerbeek and Etterbeek Armenia hope to reach the playoffs (the other teams who have a chance to do so are all reserve teams, such as Kosova B and the reserves of FC Saint Josse).

So football in Brussels at amateur level is doing fine, and Anderlecht is still leading the league in the highest division. With Vincent Kompany investing in the new team BX Brussels, hopes for a stable new club in the capital is growing. The problems are mainly those teams in 2nd and 3rd division who have been trying to fill the gap left by RWDM for years, all without success. The chaos seems to even become bigger and bigger, and fans stay at home in disillusion. FC Brussels will be happy if they get their license and can stay in 2nd division (which gives them a few months to get the club back on its feet and solve the internal disagreements), White Star Woluwe will already be happy if the club still exists next season, and FC Bleid gave up the dream to recruit the old RWDM fans and now focusses on a future as a de facto totally new club BX Brussels.

Posted in Football, Football clubs, Leagues and Cups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments