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A tale of two cities

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Well, that was a busy weekend. Two cities in two days, each in the opposite direction from home.

On Friday night, I was in Manchester, at the Academy to see Opeth perform live. The support act were Pain of Salvation. While I like bits of Pain of Salvation’s two Road Salt albums, I’m not really a fan of their music. Live, they put on a good show, but they struck me as bit posey and frontman Daniel Gildenlöw seemed to think he was Lenny Kravitz.

Rumour had it the Opeth set would be taken entirely from the new album, Heritage. Which is entirely progressive rock. Given that I still think that Blackwater Park is the band’s best album, and that Heritage is an album that is only slowly growing on me, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, even though this was the fourth time I’d seen them perform. And the set did indeed open with some tracks from Heritage. But then Mikael Åkerfeldt started bantering with the crowd – that night it was a lightly sarcastic paean to Kiss – and I knew that despite the new “direction” Opeth hadn’t really changed. The band then performed some older songs, although the entire set featured only clean vocals. In the case of ‘A Fair Judgment’ from Deliverance (a favourite track of mine), this wasn’t an issue as the album version features clean vocals. But ‘The Face of Melinda’ from Still Life is certainly different when it has all the growl vocals taken out. Still, Opeth are superlative musicians, and I suspect I’ll find myself liking Heritage a bit more after being reminded live just how good they really are.

The gig was my first in Academy 1. Last year, I’d seen Ghost Brigade, Orphaned Land and Amorphis in Academy 3, which is the smallest of the four venues. Academy 1 is like a small aircraft hangar. We were up near the front for Pain of Salvation’s set, and that wasn’t a problem – you could still get out to visit the bar or the toilets. But about five songs into Opeth’s set I felt the call of nature, and it was a real battle to get out of the crowd in front of the stage. And once I was done, there was no way I was going to be able to get back to where I’d been standing. That was annoying. (Also, I was wearing my Mithras Forever Advancing Legions T-shirt that night, and someone said, “Nice T-shirt” to me.)

So, Manchester meant getting home after midnight. And the next morning I was up and off to Nottingham for Novacon. I’d checked train times, both there and back – I was intending to only spend the Saturday at the convention, but I did take toiletries and a change of clothes in case I decided to stay the night. The last train home was at 23:15 but it didn’t get in until… 10:16 the next morning. Essentially, it dumped you in Derby, and you then had to wait for the first train the next morning. That’s not a viable journey, and you’d think railway timetable websites would recognise that. However, there were some direct trains between 20:00 and 21:30, so I had until then to make a decision.

I arrived in Nottingham at 11:00. Back in the late 1980s, I lived in Mansfield, my home town, and spent many weekend nights pubbing and clubbing in Nottingham. I’ve only been back a handful of times, but even so I know the geography of the city pretty well. I noticed a few changes in the city centre, but Mansfield Road, which is where Novacon’s hotel was sited, looked exactly as I remembered.

I bought a day membership on arrving at the hotel, and then headed straight into the bar. The first familiar face I spotted was Chris Amies, who I’d not seen for many years. After a chat, I left my bags with him and hit the dealers’ room. The usual suspects were all present: Porcupine Books, Cold Tonnage, Replay Books, Murky Depths, NewCon Press… I was at the Porcupine Books stall, when I spotted a couple of Women’s Press sf titles I didn’t own, and reached out for them. The stranger standing next to me turned to me and said, “You must be Ian Sales.” Which was a pretty good trick: my day membership badge didn’t have my name on it. The stranger proved to be Colum Paget, who has a story in Rocket Science. After a few more chats with various people, I returned to the bar… Which is where, as usual, I spent much of the con.

I had conversations with Al Reynolds, Ian Whates, Terry Martin, Kim and Del Lakin-Smith, Caroline Mullan, Fran and John Dowd, John Meaney, Leigh Kennedy, Janet Edwards… There was quite an intense discussion on utopias with Charles Stross, Justina Robson, Kev McVeigh and myself. I also remember a long talk about Uriah Heep (the band, not the Dickens character) with Swedish fan Bellis. The only programme items I attended were a 15 to 1 quiz and the second book auction (but I didn’t bid on anything). By about six o’clock, it was clear I’d be better off staying the night, so I checked into the hotel. I was quite impressed with the room – it was small but very modern. The shower – there was no bath – had a huge showerhead set flat again the ceiling, which was quite odd.

I was up at my usual time the next day, wolfed down breakfast, and then just hung around – in and out of the dealers’ room – throughout the morning. I was planning to leave later in the day, but was offered a lift home by Kev leaving at noon-ish, so I decided to accept it.

So that was the weekend. I caught up with a band I’ve liked for many years and caught up with some friends I don’t get to see very often. I didn’t feel up to much when I got home on the Sunday, so I’m now horribly behind on nanowrimo. But never mind. I bought almost a dozen books at Novacon, but I’ll put up photos of them in a separate post.

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3 thoughts on “A tale of two cities

  1. I’d never heard of Opeth until this weekend. My son went to see them – in Edinburgh it must have been – on the 10th.

  2. And so now I see why our paths didn’t cross at Novacon!

  3. Rocket science…Rocket bar staff.

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