Wednesday, 2 June 2010

On a knife's edge

This piece was written as a module final for my degree in journalism. The illustration I commissioned is by Phill Myatt. It is written in the style of Vice Magazine.

I’ve never witnessed a murder. Nor have I witnessed a gang fight. I’ve never seen a drugs bust, and I can’t recall a stabbing.

I’ve led a pretty sheltered life down in the countryside. I’ve been up to the city a few times, but never had any trouble with crime. I’m sure it’s out there, but it’s just not found me. Yet.

I rely on the news, films and rap music to grind down my perception of a safe environment. I’d be pretty na├»ve about coming across a group of grimy teens with caps down and neckerchiefs up on a street corner. Part of me would tell me to bolt, but the other half would tell me to walk on, stay cool, and don’t look them in the eye. Actually, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do.

Jack Jordan and I are polar opposites. Falling asleep and waking up to a lullaby of sirens is standard in Vineland, New Jersey where he was brought up. Stories he tells read like a Scorsese film. Police shootings, stabbings and drug deals in school are a staple diet that he’s been force-fed all his childhood.

Being immersed in criminal activity carries its disadvantages. Being banged up or killed are just a few of them. But Jack would know what to do with that group of grimy teens. I asked him whether growing up looking over your shoulder has given him the life-skills to save his skin elsewhere, and if he’d change a thing.

Vice: Tell me about your hometown. What was the atmosphere like?
Jack Jordan: I lived about 30 minutes outside of Philly. The area that my house was in was fine. It was a white, middle class area. But my high school and town wasn’t so great. There’s a lot of immigration with Puerto Ricans and Mexicans and they really don’t get on. Most are illegal, and it’s got pretty bad seeing as they can shoot up a place or rob it and just jump on a plane home. These race feuds carry on in the schools too. There was a month-long ‘war’ between the PR’s and the blacks with bats, knuckle-dusters and a couple of guns found in lockers. That’s the worst the atmosphere has been. It all started when I was a freshman, and a black friend’s older brother got shot by the PR’s at the movies. School got so bad that at one point there were always 2 or 3 policemen in each building strapped with a gun and club. Everyone was on edge.

How often does shit like that happen?
There’s an occasional murder here and there, but not as bad as in a ghetto, say, like in Compton. Drugs busts are high. Kids were always selling weed and other stuff in school. I was never dumb enough to buy pot in school, but drugs were everywhere. I could’ve got you anything from pot to heroin, coke to crystal meth within a few phone calls. All that kinda died down after 10th grade, because a lot of scumbags dropped out. The dropout rate was real high, like 40%.

Is it just the kids that are crazy?

No way. Philly is renowned for having the most brutal sports fans for any event. When they won the World Series I literally walked into a full-on riot. Bottles were flying everywhere, teargas was spewing all over the place and the riot police came in on a school-bus, sat two-by-two. I saw one guy get knocked sparko by a billy-club, and some chick get her head split by a flying bottle. Cars were being flipped and lampposts were pushed horizontal. The people from around there are nuts, and I never realised just how nuts until I moved away to Uni.

What do the cops do? Is anyone afraid of them?
I wouldn’t say they’re not afraid. It’s more to do with the kids getting so used to the way of life that they just couldn’t care less. The cops do what they need to do, in most cases. A friend of a friend the other night just totally lost it and murdered his grandma with a baseball bat. He was a loose cannon, man. The cops had to gun him down. But there are a lot of officers who are just dicks. I met this cop on a night out who said he’d go to a bar, drink with a Mexican guy and get him all fucked up. When he’d leave to drive home, they’d pull him for DUI. Most of the police that I know aren’t the most educated guys, but some are just plain corrupt.

How do you avoid getting caught up in all of it?

It’s easy to avoid, and easy to get caught up in. That was the only positive about the situation: you had the choice. But trouble is there if you want it. Most of the safe parties we went to would get a bit shady when the big-time dealers would roll up. You could sense shit would hit the fan, so you’d leave or ride it out.

You seem like you’d take the former option of sensing it and getting out. You’ve travelled to loads of places, so has this ‘sense’ helped you stay away from trouble in other countries?

I reckon I’ve learnt to adapt to my environment pretty well. Most of the time I can tell five minutes before something’s going to kick off, whether it’s body language or what have you. I don’t tend to get caught off-guard because I know how important it is to be aware of what’s going on around you.

Have you ever had to act on these instincts during your travels?
I studied in London for a few years, in an area prevalent with gangs. I saw these four guys in a street, two on each side, talking to each other. I could tell something was going to spark up. It did. One dude crossed the road and just cracked a guy square in the face, and I ran in and grabbed him to stop him from probably knocking the other dude out. His mate ran off, and when I let go he legged it too. If I hadn’t understood that something was going to happen, I would have been caught up in it for sure.

How much do you owe to your hometown for helping you stay away from violent situations?

A lot. There were a few parties back home that I’ve just left because it was getting too much in there. Not many other places are so violent that you think have to leave to save yourself from getting hurt, or even to save your own life. The problem is the kids who number up and get all brave. That’s when people get hurt. At my graduation after-party two crack head brothers got stabbed, one in the ribs and the other in the neck, and got airlifted out. I was glad I decided to go before. As I said, you have the choice to leave or stick around to get involved.

If you could, would you choose to grow up somewhere else other than Vineland, NJ?
No way. I’ve learnt so much about a wide array of people and cultures. It’s made me aware of myself in my surroundings, which definitely comes in handy for someone who’s travelled, and is gonna do a lot more in the future.
The names in this article have been changed.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

FRONT Magazine Issue 141: Lower Than Atlantis Commission

Particularly proud of this article as this is the first piece that I've been paid for. This is how it appears in the magazine:


Ring-shrinkingly loud Watford boys Lower Than Atlantis are heirs to Alkaline Trio’s gobby punk crown, but what do they make of FRONT’s golden shower?

How goes it, guys?

M: I’m not bad. Fucking hungover to be honest with you actually. I went to some crappy hardcore show in Watford last night, then into Camden.
How did your FRONT shoot go?
M: It was good. I was really sick though, and pretty stressed from the drive over. Actually, did you find a pair of trousers we left there? It had a wad of cash in it that we owed a girlfriend.
Absolutely not. Essentially you were a bunch of trouserless guys getting all wet in an April shower together?
M: Yea, we certainly loved that. Getting wet is really fun when you’re sick. You should have drawn dicks all over our faces in post-production, and some smart facial hair to make us look even cooler.
Nobody got sea-sick and puked their dirty little guts up all over the place, right?
M: Not that I know of. I could have done, but I got horny and spunked everywhere instead.
Wow. Er, moving on... you’re about to embark on a crazy-long tour. Where y’all most excited to play?
B: Italy, man! It’s not usually on the European tours, and we’ll get to see the San Siro.
M: We’re gonna try real hard to impress the effin’ hot Italian chicks out there too. We’ve decided to get some of them Bruno hotpants and run around like little children shouting “Oh Hai!”.
That’s one way to freak the piss out of the other bands you’re touring with...
M: Too right. Nah, we’re real excited to play with I Am Ghost and Eyes Set to Kill. I don’t mind having to play in front of 14-year-old boys with make-up as long as they dig our band. We’re kinda used to it really. We used to play a lot of metal gigs, like, serious kill-babies style shit. So we’re used to people not liking us.
You’ll be stuck out there for a while - what are your essential tour items?
M: Arse-less chaps, vibrators, lube, rope, and bananas for potassium.
B: To be honest, we barely bring fuck all. Wash-bags, and that’s about it.
You getting any lady-attention now that you’ve exploded onto the scene?
M: Listen, when you’re as good looking as us, you get loads of it. Actually, I had a car-crash of a bird following me around last night. I’m single and up for a laugh. Make sure you print that. Please.
Well the lady-talent in Watford sounds smashing. You describe them in one song as “fat slags who wear shit clothes” that “make you ill”...
M: Watford is full of kids pushing kids in prams. They’re dirty chavs. We were all watching some old tour footage together recently, and a chavvy little bitch walked into my house, bit me on the arm and then poured beer everywhere. When she left all her mates smashed my windows in. In the middle of the day. Fucking crackers. But you need issues to write half decent songs.
You write about personal experiences, some pretty funny, some pretty intimate. You’re going to write a song about your FRONT shoot for us, yea?
M: Erm, OK. I’ll have a think about a title and get back to you.
What will your opening line be?
M: Give me a minute...OK. “The other day we had a lot of fun at the FRONT shoot. But this interview is shit and we want to put this on mute...” I’m clearly joking mate, I like you. I’m gonna add you on Facebook right now.
You little joker. I’m guessing you’re pretty excited about April Fools then?
M: We had a massive debate at the shoot about April Fool’s. We thought about spreading the rumour that it was International Apple Juice day, and giving out cups of the stuff for free. But we’ll give one out that’s full of piss.
B: Yea, we wanna make it good. No one goes all out for April Fool’s any more. Real shame.
Finally, we don’t reckon Atlantis really exists. Kinda like Unicorns, and Ronnie Corbett. But if it does, what’ll you find down there? Crabs?
M: Crabs? Fuck, who have you been talking to...

Monday, 8 March 2010

Hidden Dragon Review for Snow Magazine

Published HERE

Chris Sayer discovers luxury of a very different kind in one of Switzerland’s exclusive resorts.

Luxury can be measured in many ways on a skiing holiday: the luxury of ski-in ski-out; of fine dining; or even of a private cinema. All of these are available at Veysonnaz brand new idyllic retreat but what’s more, not many chalets can offer the luxury of returning home healthier, re-energised, and entirely relaxed.

Hidden Dragon is a privately-owned sophisticated and elegant hideaway alpine lodge, with Eastern touches and Feng-Shui principles through-out. Owner Ashlee Benis’ Japanese heritage has played a huge part in her architectural design, but even so the emphasis remains on comfort, tranquillity and select furnishings. You’ll sink into each bed and sofa and love the air of exclusivity in the Gentleman’s boot-room, decked out with a leather Union Jack ottoman and pop-art cow prints.

The lodge’s private chef, Jon, is enchantingly passionate about his food and the range of local sources he uses. Following the healthy ethos of the lodge, Chef can offer a variety of dishes that won’t undo all the exercise you’ve done on the mountain and that use the finest ingredients from the surrounding community. The homemade frozen banana yoghurt in the morning is a welcome energy boost for aching muscles.

But if that doesn’t help you loosen up, then spa manager Carol will. A tailor-made treatment can be produced for you, from deep tissue massages to the more relaxing therapies: enough to make the toughest of clients weep or sleep, respectively. The spa also provides a hot-tub as well as an indoor and outdoor Yoga deck. The Hamam, a Turkish wet steam bath, is an effective way to cleanse the body and alleviate any lactic acid to make sure the next day’s skiing is as good as possible.

And the skiing is certainly as good as it gets. Veysonnaz is in the heart of the 400km 4 Valleys domain which links with Nendaz, Verbier and Thyon, but remains a quaint and quiet resort with only 4000 beds: a fraction of the size of Verbier, but equally beautiful slopes. The ski to Nendaz and back is an ideal goal for a day with a variety of skiing surroundings and many places to grab a quick weissbier or lunch.

On return, the staff are waiting in your own private outdoor ice-bar, complete with log fire for toasting marshmallows and a ‘snow-fa’ (a sofa carved into the snow with thick blankets draped over the top) to kick back and enjoy a drink or two. With Hidden Dragon’s mantra of “surprise and delight”, little unexpected details like this continue through your stay, so many of which I can’t bring myself to discuss for fear of spoiling the surprise for you.

This is a luxury that can’t be found in expensive shops, designer labels or costly commodities. Hidden Dragon is more concerned with the luxury of you returning home feeling unexpectedly brilliant. In fact, it’s the luxury of having your expectations exceeded at every opportunity. I know mine were.

This isn’t just a five-star holiday. It’s a five-star experience.

Prices for a week at Hidden Dragon start at approximately £24,000 and sleeps 12 people. For more information, visit

Los Campesinos! interview for FRONTARMY

Published HERE

Super wicked indy-pop rabble Los Campesinos! are one of the few bands that can cheer us up no matter what. Just the other day, we cracked out their fine new album “Romance is Dead” when we found out that you can’t cook popcorn in a kettle. We caught up with Gareth and Neil to say cheers...

Hola Los Campesinos! How y’all doing?
N: Feeling really good! We played London last night, and it went amazingly well.
G: Yea, we were stressing about it because it’s such a big gig, but now it’s over we can kinda relax a bit. Gigs like that justify why we dick around in a band instead of doing something more worthwhile.

So there’s a butt-load of you all, do you have a collective term? Like a gaggle of geese, or tit-load of lobsters...
N: A hunk of shit?
G: Or a collection of morons? We’re up to eight now. The closer we can get to being a football team the better really. That’s where we’re headed.

Is it true that you’re the “second most punk band in the UK”?
N: No. We’re the first now.
G: We were in second place when The Gallows were being touted as ‘the most punk band to have ever existed’. We didn’t want to challenge that, so we settled for second. There’s less pressure in second place.
N: But now they’ve done some record of ballads, so we’ve leap-frogged them.

While you’ve been acting like true Punksters has anyone taken the song title Death to Los Campesinos! literally?
N: You got you’re head caught in an elevator the other night? That was the closest we’ve got to death for a few nights.
G: I didn’t realise just how stupid that idea was. In fancy lifts the doors can sense movement, right? But this was in some shopping centre in Aberdeen, and I was being a moron and stuck my head in. For the rest of the evening I was out of it. Could’ve been a cracking way to go though.

Your twitter status this recently said that FRONT is your lad’s mag of choice, but there’s no wanking in the van. Cheers for that, but are there any other rules of the road?
G: It is! It’s our tour mag. We spent the last week stopping at petrol stations seeing if the new issue was out. The Workie Challenges fill me with fear, man.
N: As for rules, we basically never leave anything from the rider behind, hence why we have a crate of Carling in the van. If it’s free, we’re having it.
G: There isn’t much crazy stuff that goes on though, to be honest. We go to bed early and respect our elders, I think.

You don’t live up to your “Most Punk Band in the UK” title really...
G: Yea but who defines the word ‘punk’?
N: The Gallows do. You’ve got one of the band in your mag this month with his tats, right?

We do indeed...
N: You should see our merch guy, Jason from The Ghost Frequency. He’ll beat that guy any day, he’s covered. You should get him in. He’d be well up for that.

Er, maybe. Who gets more fan attention in the band: the guys or your lovely lovely girls?
G: The girls. To a lot of people they are still a novelty. There’s something really attractive about attractive girls on stage. I’m jealous if anything that we don’t get similar attention.
N: You’ve had some attention, Gareth. We did the Irish version of Jonathon Ross once, with Louis Walsh, Donal Macintyre and Sonia from Eastenders. She was hammered, and asked him for his phone number.
G: I’ve lost that phone since. Oh well.

Shame that. Finally, why should everyone buy your new album “Romance is Dead”?
N: Erm, so I can eat dinner?
G: I was offended by our album review in FRONT. You called me ‘The Duke of Fancytown’. I’m from Somerset, so how can be posh?

Pictures: Tom Young

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

FRONT magazine: Issue 140 April 2010

More work completed during a two week work experience placement, including the mandatory 'Workie Challenge'. Click images to enlarge.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Published @ TimesOnline

Follow these links to see my work on The Times website:

Bargain-hunters ring up £120 million sales online on Christmas Day

Lloyds grows in confidence as institutional investors jump at new CoCos

FRONT magazine: Issue 139 March 2010

Work completed during a two week work experience placement, which was sorted off the back of the Cancer Bats interview below. Click images to enlarge.