Adam Cole at Monk’s Tap House, The Cave

The weekend of National Day … Friday night and I’m in, washing my hair, playing The Killers loudly enough to block out the sounds of people daring to have fun whilst I have no plans. Having left my hairdryer in the UK, I just wait for my hair to dry. On this particular Friday night I decide to do the social media circuit, in the order they appear on my iPad, whilst waiting for said hair to dry.

I only get as far as Instagram, however and only a few posts in because on scrolling down, a friend’s post leaps out at me and my night is sorted.

‘Can I just turn up?’ I message him, thinking he won’t reply because he’s about to get up and perform.

But he does: ‘Just turn up,’ he replies.

So off I wander, with demi-sec hair, down to the taxi station, to barter with a taxi driver over the cost of a five minute drive. On the verge of returning home to get my car and drinking fruit juice all evening, I reach a satisfactory conclusion with the taxi driver and off we go to Monk’s Tap House at The Cave, Darsait Heights.

A five minute drive but a ten minute farewell with the taxi driver.

‘I come later? Take you home?’

‘That would be good,’ I reply.

‘In one hour? In two hours?’

‘Er … I don’t know – I’ll take your number.’

Number taken.

‘Now you call me. A missed call.’

‘Why?’

‘Then I have your number.’

‘Why do you need my number?’

This goes on for some time until I tell him that it’s a nice night and I feel like walking home. Which is obviously a lie as that would mean walking down a busy multi-lane carriageway for quite some time, but I’m walking away from him anyway …

The Cave is a labyrinth of bars, clubs and restaurants pretty much inside a mountain. Hence the name. It actually is a series of caves. I found Monk’s Tap House and there was the star performer, sitting down to a platter heaving with … well, everything. He offered me a spicy chicken wing and I said ‘Aren’t you supposed to be performing?’

He looked around and looked back at me and I saw what he saw – an empty venue.

Adam Cole is one of the most relaxed people I know. Many would have reacted differently but when you’re as at ease with yourself as Mr Cole is and you have every confidence in your musical prowess (and quite rightly so) then why stress?

I joined him and his lovely wife and a friend of theirs (who turned out to be my niece’s friend’s uncle … and yes, it is strange that we managed to make that connection within minutes of meeting each other) and waited for him to make a dent in the heaving platter of everything.

At some point this happened and the show began … a few people had arrived by this time, so it was starting to feel like a proper gig. I was expecting one or two other band members to arrive but Adam is a one-man band. At times, he says, he is joined by a fellow musician or two, but not this night.

A few songs in and I realised that I had completely taken it for granted that I felt like I was listening to a full band. I only ever see Adam play a guitar but I know that he can play many instruments and this was evidenced in his elaborate set-up. He was lead guitarist but flanked by electronic representations of other instruments and considering the number of songs he played, this was clearly a reflection of many hours of preparation.

But what about his performance? Flawless, of course. This was my first experience of Adam at a gig; I have seen him play many times at his popular Open Mic sessions at Copper, but hitherto not at a gig.

Primarily a rock musician, we (not just the three of us – the venue filled at the same rate as our glasses) were treated to covers of Pink Floyd, REM, U2, Oasis … to name a few. All the best rock bands. And when it came to Breakfast at TIffany’s, I marveled at the fact that I had not heard that song for a number of years until the night before, when I was at another gig and here I was hearing it for a second time not 24 hours later. I came to the conclusion that rock music is a bit of a hit in Muscat.

I am in awe of Adam’s tenacity … he reminds me of one of those bunnies from the Duracell adverts. (Well, his tenacity does – you can see from the pictures that he doesn’t look like a bunny at all.) He just keeps going and he shows no signs of flagging and he even had the good grace to turn and smile, while I was taking pictures of his performance. By the time he finished, it was a full venue and by the way, it’s a cool venue. I did not sample their culinary delights but I could see that they were of a good standard. Pleasant staff (who even gave me the WiFi code because I ran out of data) and as with all the venues in The Cave, great ambience. Of course, being inside a mountain gives you a headstart but you have to get the lighting just right to get that ‘inside a cave’ atmosphere, which they do to perfection.

Adam Cole: catch him at Copper Restaurant (Sayh Al Malih Street) every Tuesday night and also performing all over Muscat, so look out for the posters!

Monk’s Tap House: https://www.facebook.com/monkstaphouse/

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor on Friday 17th November 2017

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‘The T-Band’ at Route 66, Qurm Resort

Image may contain: one or more people, people on stage and indoorHaving only been in residence in Muscat for a few months, I am still on a newcomer’s voyage of discovery of the live music scene. Initially, I didn’t think there was one. I asked around on arrival and I was told that Cliff Richard was soon to perform at the Royal Opera House Muscat; much as I liked Cliff Richard back in the day, it wasn’t quite what I meant. But gradually, I am peeling back the layers of this busy, bright city to reveal a hidden gem of rock and folk music (I’ll let you know when I stumble across any other genres – I am certain they are here somewhere!).

So when I went out a couple of weeks ago, having made an arrangement to meet friends at ‘a bar where you can dance’, I was unaware that I was about to attend a gig. I raised an eyebrow or two at the entrance fee, mumbling that there were other bars ‘where you can dance’ that do not require an entrance fee. That said, it was clearly one of the smarter hostelries in town, proffering that typically Muscat hospitality of a cornucopian supply of peanuts with your beverages (guaranteed to make you drink more of course, as your mouth starts to feel like the surrounding desert) and popcorn also. Not a personal favourite, but my friends enjoyed it and I managed to avoid telling them how wasteful their posh fragrances were, because all I could smell on them was popcorn.

But when a four-strong band hit the stage and confidently started to throw out some cool nostalgia, I realised that I had paid to see a live rock band.

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, standing and indoor

They had me at ‘Turn Back Time’ but then they had me a bit more with ‘Creep’ and then again with ‘Losing My Religion’.

When we reached ‘Breakfast at TIffany’s’, one of my friends commented that it was a good song.

‘You know this song?’

‘Yes!’ he said, while his friend laughed.

‘No,’ he admitted, ‘I never heard it in Pakistan but I can like it if I want!’

Absolutely – and testament to a good song – moreover a good cover of a good song, that you can hear it for the first time and like it.

Pink Floyd … Bob Marley … Police … this band has boundless energy and a repertoire to match. I started to jot down the songs but I was there for a drink and a boogie so when there was the inevitable migration from the edges to the dance floor at the centre, I joined my fellow revellers to start my weekend.

I recall a crescendo of Queen and Bon Jovi however, as I danced Thursday night into Friday morning and I was glad that they were playing covers, because much as I love original music, people don’t always dance to little-known songs.

Front man Tarek Khorshid is a powerhouse; flanked by fellow guitarist Adil and bass player Ashraf, he is ably supported by equally powerful musicians. But then my favourite – because he posed and smiled for my picture whilst continuing to maintain that all-important beat at the back of the stage – Akbar on the drums. The newest addition to the band apparently and clearly only there because his name begins with an ‘A’, but what a stroke of luck that he turned out to be as talented as the other three.

Image may contain: 1 person

The T-Band: worth checking out every other Thursday at Route 66 and other venues and more than just a rock band – it’s just that they played mostly rock when I saw them!

https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-T-Band-306340852718661/about/?ref=page_internal

 

Route 66: worth checking out at the weekend for a classy boogie and pleasant outlook over Shatti beach

https://www.facebook.com/Route66Oman/app/267091300008193/?ref=page_internal

 

Reviewed by Lisa O’Connor at Route 66 on Thursday 16th November 2017

Huffman: Swarm and Exist In Mist

Firmly established as a rock band, I was not expecting Huffman’s new release ‘Swarm’ to have an intro of haunting piano and equally atmospheric percussion (Paul Provensano). Despite Don Huffman launching into his rock star vocals early on, the piano continues to repeat variations on the same phrase throughout the song, coming to the fore during instrumental breaks and definitely giving this talented rock band an alternative/indie edge. With three accomplished musicians on strings (Kurtis Goad on rhythm guitar, Josh Pickeral on bass and Anton Tuvelman on lead guitar), as with all the best rock bands, the instrumental breaks are an integral part of the listening experience. Throw in some enigmatic lyrics with a slightly dark vibe, and this is one song to remember.

Swarm

A more upbeat offering, Exist In Mist hits you with full-on percussion and strings from the outset and continues with an energetic style throughout. Huffman’s vocals are more distant and deliberately less imposing, giving the boys on guitars their rock band moment, which they do to perfection. An abrupt end rounds off the song with as much confidence as the start. Pure rock.

Exist in Mist

http://www.indienink.com 

http://www.facebook.com/huffmanrock 

http://www.mantarayrecords.com 

Lisa O’Connor

Oops! I wrote a travel blog … Bimmah Sinkhole.

Sinkholes, as you probably know, are holes in the ground. They are usually caused by ‘karst’ processes, for example, any combination of dissolution of soluble rocks, underground caverns and surface erosion. They can form gradually or suddenly and vary in size from 1-600m in depth and width. They are found the world over, but I have visited just one – Bimmah Sinkhole – which is 50m by 70m wide and approximately 20m deep. I am fortunate to have visited it twice, the second time being around two months ago.

It was the afternoon after the morning of trips to and from school to burn the journey into my short-term memory. Frankly, I was done with driving after near misses, getting lost and being tailgated, so I was happy to crawl into the backseat of the car belonging to my new friend with the beautiful headscarves, as she had lived here a while, loved driving and knew the way (more or less).

It was an hour away, but with petrol stops, toilet stops and changing-into-my-swimsuit stops, it took nearly two hours. Every stop involved the obligatory wander round the resident foodstore at the petrol station, as every stop was at a petrol station and when one is on a road trip, one must take advantage of available food for sale, because you never know. I don’t know what you never know, but it seems a reasonable excuse for buying those heavenly peanut cookies (in my case) because they are hard to come by.

We arrived mid-afternoon, spread between two cars as there were several of us and after a small blip at the end where we seemed a little lost – no, just mislaid perhaps – we arrived at Hawiyat Najim Park, home of said sinkhole. The first time I visited was with Rhiannon and Joseph when they were around nine and ten years old respectively, so around thirteen years ago and I don’t recall the park, so unless my memory is mistaken (or there are two sinkholes in Muscat), I imagine that this has been built around the sinkhole during that time. ‘Hawiyat Najim’ means ‘Falling Star’, because the locals believe (or believed at the time of naming the park) that a meteorite was the cause. To be fair, the commonly held theory of dissolving limestone is not conclusive and the sinkhole remains somewhat a mystery today, even with current seismic technology.

When I read travel blogs or peruse glossy travel brochures with their equally glossy pictures, I imagine the turquoise of the water to actually be the deepest turquoise of a convenient filter, but on gazing down at Bimmah, I felt humbled. These waters are turquoise … enhanced by sandy-coloured walls which surround this natural swimming pool protectively. The steps down, carved out to make this natural phenomenon accessible, blend perfectly and the unevenness of some steps gives the only man-made part of this structure a necessary naturalness.

Despite the turquoise appearance, the water is clear. It is not unlike a mini-beach, with a shoreline, shallows and then deeper water as you wade in. It is easy to wade in; none of this ‘come on in – you’ll get used to the cold after a while’ business because the waters are positively balmy. There are rocks at the far end where you can jump off and had I known, I would have dispensed with the contact lenses beforehand but there we are.

Back in the UK, there is a trend for fish pedicures using Garra rufa fish, which are tiny toothless fish native to the Middle East and the Anatolia region, who just love to nibble hard skin off your feet. Bimmah Sinkhole, whose water is a mix of freshwater and seawater, is home to these fish. Sit on a rock in the shallows and these tiny, helpful creatures will gather around your feet and do their stuff. I totally abused their hunger and I reckon I experienced around OMR 50’s worth of fish pedicure.

But the sinkhole is not entirely round … swim to the left and you find yourself in a still, secluded lagoon. In fact, ‘80s movie The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields, came to mind as I swam round and the noises of families became more distant and the temperature dropped. Taking rest on a large rock I felt less alone, as more Garra rufa fish gravitated towards me but these were bigger and they were not content with nibbling my feet. Instead, they descended onto my thighs, where the skin was not hard and with bigger mouths, I started to feel the occasional pinch and wondering if I could actually be eaten alive if there were enough of them, I opted for rejoining the human race. I hauled myself up onto the rocks, so I could climb to my things and have a peanut cookie by way of consolation.

As sunset approached, so did growing hunger and so we packed up and walked to one of the wooden gazebos sprinkled throughout the park, so we could enjoy a picnic.

En route to the car, we walked amidst date trees and I want to say that we idly picked dates and chewed on their sweetness as we ambled into the sunset. But instead we gazed up at the dates, asking that age-old question: Why is the best fruit always so inaccessible? (By the way, just in case anyone is going to answer that, it is rhetorical.)

It was too hard to resist. We had to have a go. It started out as a gentle shake, which then grew into a prod with sticks; (apologies Regina Spektor https://youtu.be/oUObGCCXAfs ) which then turned into actual shoe-throwing right into the middle of the poor date tree which hitherto was only accustomed to people looking upon it lovingly and taking pictures with the sun setting behind it.

But we were rewarded with a whole bunch of dates falling into our laps. Well, into the dust. And they really weren’t nice. I shall continue to buy them from from the supermarket. Divine retribution, I feel, for abusing the date tree, especially after we had been so welcomed by nature at such a remarkably beautiful corner of the planet.

Bimmah Sinkhole at Hawiyat Najim Park: well worth a day of your life.

Still Only Day Two

The following day was a Thursday and therefore the last day of the working week in Oman. We had been promised a minibus to collect us at 7.30 (because they were taking ‘it easy’ on us on the first day) and so we gathered in the lobby of the ‘Teachers’ Apartments’ as they would become known, to await our transport. There were around 20 of us, split between 4 schools, but most of that number, it would transpire, were starting at my school. On arrival at the school we were given breakfast – Omani bread – and Omani coffee which, I have been reliably informed by the lovely maths teacher downstairs, contains no caffeine! No wonder I was capable of drinking vast quantities without feeling like I was going to take off. It might not sport caffeine as an ingredient, but it is heavenly nonetheless.

This was the day I learnt ‘inshallah’. Anyone reading this who understands the meaning, will, no doubt, be stifling a chuckle at this point. The literal translation means ‘God willing’… but in reality, it means that it might get done. Whatever ‘it’ is … and if it does, there is no telling when it will get done.

After a few hours of becoming familiar with our new work place, we moved outside to await collection by the minibus. 11am was the expected arrival time and we had been promised a tour of Muscat.

‘Don’t wait outside,’ advised the vice-principal, when she observed a few of us basking in this new phenomenon – an extremely hot sun.

‘Our minibus is due at 11,’ I spoke for us all.

‘Inshallah,’ she smiled and winked as she sought shade, adding as she walked away, ‘Omani time.’

Indeed, our minibus arrived two and a half hours late, so it was what you would call a whistle-stop tour of Muscat.

The souk … the Sultan’s palace … the beach … The Al Bustan … there may have been more but some of it blurred into the next attraction and so was forgotten.

Next stop an Italian restaurant for lunch, after which the head had kindly agreed to take me to a phone shop in ‘downtown’ Muscat so that I could replace my now useless iPhone.

‘Don’t worry that everyone is staring at you,’ he reassured me, when we arrived.

I peered out of his car window and yes, everyone was staring at me. When I say ‘everyone’, I mean every man, as there was not another female in sight.

‘Yeah … they don’t get many women down here,’ he affirmed, ‘so that’s why they’re staring.’

I was glad that we were parked near to the phone shop, so that the walk through this male-only end of town was short.

I stepped out of myself for a moment, whilst in the phone shop, to reflect once more on the situation.

The head was helping me to buy a phone.

‘Are you sure you don’t want the next one up in the range?’

I looked up from the counter to see the vice-principal of all four schools, who was to leave soon, as he was working his notice.

‘I would go for this one,’ said a third voice.

The newly appointed vice-principal of all four schools had also arrived.

I struggled not to laugh; three of the most senior members of this chain of schools were with me, in ‘downtown’ Muscat, helping me to buy a phone.

To this day I am unsure as to why they were there, but there was certainly something rather endearing about the whole scenario.

With their help, I bought an almost-bottom-of-the-range Samsung for OMR 29 (£58).

The next day was Friday and the first day of the weekend. I thought a walk to the beach was in order, as I was in a coastal city which basked in a permanent summer and of course, all the beaches boasted long stretches of yellow sand. So I walked. And walked … and walked a bit more, until I was aware that the number of times I had been beeped at by passing cabs was certainly reaching triple figures. I did not imagine I was being beeped for ‘boy meets girl’ reasons so I wondered if my mode of dress was inappropriate. I would have compared myself to other women but there was not a single woman in sight. There was not a single human in sight. No-one goes for walks I realised. Feeling the sweat pouring down the centre of my back indicated the reason for this. But I was determined to reach the beach … which I did. It was a pleasant beach, but exposed. There were no women – only men. Not a beach for swimming then … unless you’re a man. I realised that the cab drivers were beeping to offer their services. It was tempting, on my return journey but I resisted. Had I known what the evening had lined up for me, I might have taken one of those cabs.

For the first time in my life (with the exception of the occasional holiday abode) I had to pay for my electricity unit by unit on a meter. We had been told that our meters had a small number of units as a starter. Given how long my units have lasted since I bought some myself, I presume that I had a very small number of units on my meter as a starter. Like less than OMR 1 … as mine ran out after a few days. I had heard that these all-elusive units were available from OmanOil (a petrol station) and so I set off in the afternoon to find such a place, as my meter was issuing a panic-stricken ‘Feed me!’ alarm every half hour. I knew that the nearest shop, a humble affair called ‘Mars’ (Mars shops are like Co-ops in the UK: plentiful, reasonably priced but a little lacking in quality) would not sell me any such units, but I hoped that they might direct me to somewhere that would. The man on the counter where I bought phone credit pointed vaguely over the road and said something in Arabic (or maybe it was poor English with a rich Arabic accent), so I crossed the road and continued walking. I saw a Shell sign in the distance and got hopeful, as this meant I was near a petrol station. When I arrived at the sign, however, it indicated that Shell was 1km away. I could see the petrol station by this time and although a 1km trek was not appealing in temperatures in the late 30s, neither was a night roasting in an apartment with no air conditioning. So I continued to walk. And when I arrived they told me that they did not sell electricity units … by this time I was near to a large supermarket called Carrefour, so I took advantage of my unplanned trip along the Expressway and popped in for some light (given that I was on foot) shopping. It was daytime when I went in. When I emerged just 15 minutes later it was completely dark. I had forgotten about the lack of dusk. I looked at my shopping … I looked at the night … I looked at the busy Expressway. I reflected on the fact that I was hot and sweaty and could not see this oasis of electricity units and decided to allow myself to be talked into a cab by a group of Indian cab drivers.

‘Five rial!’ announced one, after much collaboration with others about how much I should be charged for a ride to OmanOil followed by a ride back to the teachers’ apartments in Qurm.

I was quite certain that this was a special price for a newly-arrived, naive immigrant such as myself, with tell-tale white skin. As my skin has toughened with UV rays, so have I, much to the embarrassment of anyone sharing a cab with me, my overarching argument always being:

‘It costs you no more than 7 rials to fill your car, therefore I am not giving you almost enough money to fill your car for a ten minute ride to a bar.’

There is no meter, so every financial settlement in a cab is reached by bartering and also, some cab drivers want to charge per person.

But anyway, I was deposited at OmanOil to purchase electricity units and duly dropped back home, paying a high price for the pleasure.

The following day we were transported to a nearby hospital for medicals – I thought, just to gain medical insurance, but in fact it was also to gain residency. Thus ensued the first round of fingerprinting. I have been fingerprinted so much since then that I’m sure my fingerprints have worn down a little.

And then a whole week of inset. Despite trying to find pictures on the website, I had very little idea of the appearance of the school until arrival. It is compact. There are two rows of attractive cream-coloured blocks, with five blocks in each row, separated by fake grass in the middle. The fake grass is where breaktimes, assembly, boys’ prayers, P.E. and any other gathering happens and so there are colourful canopies covering the area, to block out the sun. Each block is on three floors and as my classroom is on the top floor of the tenth block, I feel a little like Rapunzel … no-one needs to pass my classroom and on busy days I may be in there for the whole day, making the occasional trip across the minibus parking lot to refill my water bottle.

‘Why do you walk in the sun, Ms Lisa?’ asked one of my students, some weeks later.

‘I love it!’ I replied.

‘Why do you love it?!’ she wondered, continuing with, ‘It is too hot!’

If, like me, you thought that indigenous people of hot countries are super-equipped to deal with sweltering temperatures, then you are as misguided as I was. The disagreements over the AC in my classroom are testament to this! Put simply, I want to be warm whereas my students want to be cold. To be fair, the girls wear long-sleeved tops under long pinafore dresses and headscarves; and the boys wear dishdashas, so my attire is considerably lighter than theirs.

Every day, the minibus collected us to take us to school, with the exception of the first day, when it took us to a swanky hotel for a meeting and a feast of fabulous food. A young, glamorous Omani lady headed towards me and greeted me. She introduced herself and I realised that she was the HR lady with whom I had liaised over the job offer.

‘You look nothing like your photograph!’ she remarked.

I was about to explain that it had been a ‘bad hair day’, but that I’d known she’d needed the passport photos, but she followed it up with,

‘I think you were overweight then!’

A strange silence descended on the group, while they looked to me for my reaction, but I had none.

‘Oh well – better that she thought I’d lost weight than gained weight!’ I said, as she wandered off, unaware of her clumsiness. Or was it a cultural difference in tact? Time would tell.

On the penultimate day the minibus took us to get our residency status (more fingerprinting) and the words ‘don’t hand over your passport’ rang in my ears as I handed over my passport. We would see them again when we received our residency cards several days later. I was a little concerned that my form stated that my Christian name was ‘O’, my middle name was ‘Lisa’ and my surname was Connor.

‘It is fine,’ said an official when I queried it, followed up with, ‘inshallah.’

So I left it, not reassured at all.

On the final day of the week before the most terrifying part for new teachers – meeting the students – the head took me, as promised, to hire a car.

As he drove into hitherto unknown (by me, anyway) parts, I recalled his words earlier that week – I’ll escort you to your apartment – and they were a comfort to me.

So when he said,

‘You’ll be ok finding your way home, won’t you?’

I felt a flood of adrenaline dropping from my chest to my toes. I had driven abroad – ie, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – once, 15 years ago for one week. I had been a passenger in a minibus for a week and I was not familiar with the geography of the area at all. It was busy – every road seem to be in possession of about six lanes – and it seemed to me that drivers here had short tempers. And I had no GPS.

‘No!’ I responded, deliberately imparting abject terror to the most helpful head I had ever encountered.

‘It’s just the kids have got swimming tonight and I’ll be late if I escort you all the way home,’ he elaborated.

‘I have a poor sense of direction,’ I argued.

‘Ok – how about I take you as far as the Expressway?’ he offered, ‘I’ll ring you as I’m leaving you,’ he continued.

I had noticed that Oman clearly had no laws concerning the use of mobile phones whilst driving, taxi drivers being the worst offenders, not bothering to use loudspeaker at all.

At ‘Value Plus’ car hire I proudly produced my Omani residency card, only for the very helpful head to surreptitiously slide it back towards my bag, mouthing put it away. Bemused, I obeyed and when our car hire man took everything else in my bag with my name on it to photocopy (I became accustomed to carrying all available ID around with me for the first month), he explained that I should have procured an Omani driving licence as soon as I had my residency card. My look of horror on hearing that I may be breaking the law, led him to assure me that he would make sure the man with the peaceful aura took us all to the relevant place. At some point. My look of horror continuing, he added that I should not produce my residency card if stopped by the police. I believe I still wore a look of horror when my car was duly hired and I parted with OMR 150 for one month’s hire.

‘No petrol!’ warned the young chap who seemingly got paid for sitting at a desk, playing Clash of Clans on his phone and getting me really nice cups of chai tea while the Helpful Head conducted my car rental in Arabic.

‘Enough to get home?’ I asked.

‘No – go to next petrol station!’ he warned.

With a shamefully pleading look, I turned to Helpful Head, not wishing to be responsible for a late start to the swimming lesson, but not wanting to end up driving to Dubai either.

‘We’ll swing by a petrol station,’ he assured.

So my drive home was a baptism of fire. On the wrong side of the road, struggling to pick a lane as there was so much choice, no GPS, alone, amongst irate drivers in unfamiliar surroundings, worrying about being stopped by the police and keeping my residency card a secret, not to mention the threat of a night in jail if I accidentally jumped a red light or got zapped by a speed camera… I’ll stop there. I made it home and I had a car in which to get to work. Just had to figure out how to get there now, with no GPS and no Wifi at home to look it up.

Enter the nice Scottish man downstairs who would become my colleague in the English department (and partner in crime on Thursday nights when in search of alcohol: either in his apartment with his seemingly never-ending supply of gin, or in The Crowne Plaza when the gin turned out to be an ‘ending’ supply). He also cleared up my eye infection when a chance conversation within minutes of landing in Muscat led him to give me a tube of magical ointment.

Anyway, his good deed this particular weekend was to drive to and from school several times so that I could follow and therefore learn the way. If you have ever followed someone through unfamiliar territory with many twists and turns, you will understand how stressful this was. I wiped away many a tear as I almost jumped red lights and almost drove on the wrong side of the road in my quest to ‘keep up’. Had I been in possession of any form of map, either paper or virtual, I would not have undertaken this venture. But Scottish Colleague was generous to give me his time in this way and without his generosity, I would not have found my way to work the following Sunday; in other words, I had little choice and it is no reflection on him that the experience was stressful … it just was.

Lazer and Levi’s ‘The Prologue’

Lazer & Levi The Prologue

I definitely felt a touch of nostalgia on hearing the opening bars of ‘One More Time’ – the first track on rock duo Lazer and Levi’s EP ‘The Prologue’. Iconic ‘80s rock band Dire Straits came to mind as accomplished lead guitar, then a confident drumbeat (David Laine) promised a rocking first song … which indeed it was. A more mellow opening to second track ‘Just a Game’ reflected a shift in mood; a slower beat (and still I’m reminded of said ‘80s rock band) and a platform for Levi Blehm to show off his impressive vocal range – his honeyed tones hit the high notes with as much consistency as any other notes.

Versatile and Enduring

Track number three, ‘Confessions’, begins with a solid bluesy feel, embracing rock about a minute in. The ability to adapt to a number of genres is the hallmark of a versatile and therefore enduring band, as is an ability to finish a song with a flourish, as demonstrated beautifully here.

Penultimate track ‘Go On’ has an overall feeling of flawlessness and takes us into a country genre with its folky strings and later on, some rousing drums, leaving us with some feelgood motivational lyrics to soften the blow of the (almost) finish.

The aptly-named  ‘Say You Want More’ hits the spot with a lilty, old-timey vibe and some gentle lyrics, fitting for a gentle voice.

Best New Artist

‘Those Boys from Colorado’ have written over a hundred songs and were nominated for the ‘Best New Artist’ in the Rocky Mountain CMA’s (iHeart) and listening to this EP, this is a deserved accolade. I look forward to hearing more from these immensely talented brothers, who have been making their way in the music scene from childhood. And I needed an alternative to iconic ‘80s rock bands …

http://www.lazerandlevimusic.com

https://www.facebook.com/LazerandLevi/

twitter.com/LazerandLevi

Lisa O’Connor

Open Mic at ‘Copper’

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, on stage

When you move 4,000 miles from home, you make sacrifices. One such sacrifice for me was my indulgence in live music.

‘You won’t find much of that in Oman!’ said many.

I had been here around a month when a chance conversation led me to ‘Copper’, a burger restaurant in Muscat which boasts an Open Mic session every Tuesday, hosted by the talented and personable Adam Cole, who also hosts radio station Good Morning Oman (90.4 Oman FM).

Burger Bar

Having lived in Brighton in the U.K. all my life, a city bursting with live music in every other pub (and there a pubs aplenty in Brighton), I kept an open mind as I wandered along to ‘Copper’ one Tuesday, remarking to myself that I had never experienced Open Mic in a burger bar. The word ‘bar’ is used loosely here – there are no alcoholic drinks available in ‘Copper’ but as tradition would have it, performers are entitled to one free drink and with a range of delectable drinks on offer, you won’t be disappointed.

Welcoming

‘Anyone here going to perform?’ enquired Adam, the host and I was struck by his welcoming manner; thousands of miles away there were Open Mic hosts back in my home city becoming visibly stressed at the number of wannabe folk/country/indie musicians clamouring to play at whatever pubs were offering Open Mic on a Tuesday, because despite the plethora of pubs offering the opportunity from Sunday-Thursday, it is still highly competitive. (At least, there would be in a few hours, given the time difference!)

My friend who had introduced me to the whole experience volunteered my services but I declined, on the grounds that I had no accompanist.

‘No problem,’ he assured me, ‘I can accompany you. I’ll do a few songs and then you can come up.’

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Varied, Affordable and Tantalising

He did do a few songs – a bit of rock, a bit of Britpop – in the same easy, accomplished style as his hosting. His willingness to accompany me in the only two songs I was prepared to sing, was impressive and encouraged me to return the following week (and no, he had no idea that I might write a review!).

By the time I rejoined my friends, their food had arrived and I regretted my weakness in returning home from work, as I had already given in to hunger pangs. The menu at ‘Copper’ is varied, affordable and tantalising, especially when you are watching others and not eating yourself! As a vegetarian, eating out can be tricky, but there was ample choice for awkward customers like me.

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Covers and Originals … Indie and Blues

Adam set the standard for the evening with his opening songs and the rest of the performers certainly made the mark too; with a mixture of covers and original songs, this is quality music providing a gentle ambiance for a midweek evening out. With songs ranging from rock, indie, old blues favourites like Mustang Sally and more recent offerings such as Adele covers, ‘Copper’ is worth checking out on a Tuesday night, whether you want to strut your stuff yourself or eat burgers whilst others strut their stuff. Or just work your way through fizzy fruit cocktails.

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Visit www.copper.restaurant or visit their Facebook page for more info.

Lisa O’Connor

Getting There

“Hmm … you need to see an optometrist. Potentially it’s more serious than just an eye infection.”

This was not in the game plan of my last day in the UK for four months.

“OK! Thank you!”

I smiled and left my local chemist with a cheery outlook, as she was just doing her job. My pending flight 4,000 miles away in just a few hours was neither her responsibility nor her concern.

I took Rusty back home, as I needed to seek medical help and as it was a hot day (in time my judgment concerning outdoor temperatures would change somewhat drastically) I did not want him cooking in my VW.

The nearby optometrist was as helpful as possible, given that he was not running a clinic and I was on a serious time constraint by now.

“Do you take anything for your hay fever?” he asked.

“I took some cetrizine last night but that was so I could have a curry. And then my eye started hurting.”

“Good grief! What sort of curry was this that you had to take medication and it gave you a bad eye?!”

I realised how much like a mad woman I sounded until I explained about my ‘spontaneous urticaria’. No, I still sounded mad.

“How long will you be away?”

“Till Christmas.”

“Oh – probably best not to wait till you get back then.”

And this lovely optometrist gave me some free medicated wipes and a recommendation for curry and off I went to the airport.

It was as Singing Sister approached Heathrow that I remembered about the four memory sticks containing years of resources, which I knew were sitting atop the piano at home.

The last month had been a month of goodbyes and my final ones were that day. To the children in the morning… the dog in the afternoon and to my mother and sister in the evening at the airport. I got through it by detaching myself. I couldn’t fully embrace my feelings or I don’t imagine I would have boarded the plane. So potentially, I had far stronger emotions than those attached to my memory sticks abounding within me; but as I had shut those down, I became preoccupied with those four little sticks which were in the wrong place. More of those later …

Any emotions whirling around my psyche would have been shoved into a metaphorical abyss at customs however, as soon as I began dealing with staff.

“This is the first time I see this,” accused the immaculate lady at ‘bag drop’ with her exotic accent, as she waved my temporary visa in what I considered to be a rather cavalier manner, given that it was a Very Important Piece Of Paper. Then she spoke to her colleague, still waving my Very Important Piece of Paper around and even crumpling it slightly in her perfectly manicured (yet strangely large) hand. My concern dissipated when I considered the worst outcome: that I would not be allowed to board the plane. As I was having doubts of a grave nature, this would have felt like a blessing at the time.

“Take it,” she proffered the now crumpled document and gave me a new one to accompany the crumpled one, concerning potential collection of luggage in Dubai en route to Oman.

“You stop at Dubai,” she instructed, “but your luggage will go straight through.” This made no sense to me, as the new document stated that I would have to collect my luggage en route. But I chose to ignore it. As I chose to ignore her concern over my visa.

Next stop security …I had ensured that there were no liquids lurking in my hand luggage and I had removed all electronic devices. For once, I was spared the brutal frisking procedure and I sailed through, confident that I could collect my bag and continue on my way. But no. I was told to wait to one side, which I did for around 5 minutes until I was told, despite standing exactly where I had been placed, that I should move away to protect the privacy of those whose bags were being searched. I still did not have my bag and presumed a search was imminent, but others seemed to have priority. Eventually the man at security who had asked me to move, approached me whilst carrying my bag. I moved towards him, thinking (wrongly) that I might be reunited with my bag but instead he beckoned me to follow him and passed me on to the biggest man I have ever seen, wearing the most purple suit I have ever seen. He took me to yet a third man, who was dwarfed by the giant purple man, but he made up for his lack of inches in self-importance. In a taciturn manner he emptied my bag whilst fixing his gaze on me, by way of intimidation. Silently, he drew my attention to a screen which showed the offending articles. There, on the screen, was the negative of one of those tiny tins of Vaseline. Oops. Guilty as charged … Caught smuggling a gram of lipsalve. But that was not all …

‘Snow globe,’ he accused.

And there was a tiny tiny snow globe on the screen, a memento of Brighton from a friend, packed at the last minute.

He stared at me.

I stared back, feeling the mirth rising up from my chest to my mouth.

Rarely have I been subject to melodrama of such extremes, by one who managed to contain his laughter.

After I repacked my gaudy ‘CabinMax’ rucksack, having turned down Self-Important Taciturn Man’s offer to repack it for me, I walked away for a few seconds, then swiftly glanced back, expecting to see Self-Important Taciturn Man and the Purple Giant convulsing with laughter, clinging onto each other helplessly.

But no.

I guess it was a quiet day at Airport Security.

The flight, I am glad to report, was uneventful. I ate, slept, watched a movie, was asked by an airline stewardess to stop lolling sleepily into the aisle, witnessed an argument between a family in front and the airline staff over meals (‘she is model’ were the most spoken words of the argument, by a middle-aged lady about her daughter and her weird eating habits) and disembarked at Dubai. Remembering the confusion over baggage collection, I asked an airline stewardess if I would have to collect my luggage at Dubai. She laughed and replied that I would not – there would be no time anyway. I re-embarked for the transfer to Oman and finally arrived at my destination and wearily followed the herd of passengers into Muscat airport.

‘Collection of Pre-Paid Visas’ said a sign.

I was struck by the lack of popularity for this particular offering at the airport, but paid the kiosk a visit anyway. There was a lady on her mobile phone, a long way behind the desk – she was almost in a back room in fact – but I awaited her attention nonetheless. Briefly, I looked away, as the view of the partition and the distant lady were both becoming tedious. As I turned back, she swiftly looked back down at her phone, clearly not keen for me to realise that my presence had been acknowledged.

‘Excuse me,’ I called.

Nothing.

‘Excuse me,’ I repeated my plea, ‘I need to collect my visa.’

She waved me away with her hand and returned to her phone. ‘Crush Candy’ must have reached a crucial stage.

I visibly grumped as I left, the emotion of leaving my home city and all that it contained which was all that I held dear, deciding to present itself and course through every vessel in my body. I had been angry but now I was distressed and wanted to go home. I had a strong suspicion that this was just the first time I would feel a sudden urge to sob and sob until I had no sobs left and in time my suspicion would be proved right.

A man in a security uniform stopped me and enquired as to the problem.

‘She won’t give me my visa!’ I replied, a little louder than intended.

‘Ma’am – you need to go over there,’ he gestured towards a sign which read ‘All Other Visas’ and I explained that mine was pre-paid.

‘They are all the same,’ he smiled … and he was right. My mood relaxed but Candy Crush Lady had caused me a considerable amount of distress and I was still feeling this as I queued.

There was a young man ahead of me in the queue who evidently did not know how to silence his phone. In the 15 minutes we stood far too close together in that queue, the number of times his phone pinged must have reached triple figures. He spoke to his presumed girlfriend in that time too. And when a woman on the other side of a barrier began gesturing frantically to him and I realised that she was responsible for the plethora of pings, I wanted to do terrible things to that iPhone 6.

But all too soon the next instalment awaited me at Baggage Reclaim. I waited. And waited … and waited. Nothing. Eventually, as I began to feel human again, I noticed a baggage inquiry desk. The gentleman who dealt with me had a poor grasp of English but I remembered about the chit of paper that the lady with the strangely large hands at Heathrow had given me. Apparently this gave me access to my luggage and he smiled gratefully and assured me that he would ‘get bag’. But he didn’t ‘get bag’ and his face was as forlorn as I was, when he returned empty-handed.

‘At Dubai,’ he said and followed it up with, ‘come back later.’

That brink on which I wobbled was becoming more and more unsteady as I felt myself falling, catatonically into every negative emotion imaginable.

The man with the poor English was replaced by a more fluent gentleman who assured me that my bag would be delivered to me that night. All I had to do was tell him where I lived.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Ok. I take your number and I call you when it arrives.’

My phone had already told me that it would charge me big, fat sums of money for calls and texts so I wasn’t keen.

‘I’ll call you later,’ I offered, hoping that i could borrow a phone from someone later, ‘by then I’ll know where I live.’

And I wandered off, slightly aimlessly, wanting to cry which made my infected eye hurt, wondering if I would see my luggage or my memory sticks again.

I walked through Customs and quite honestly, was clueless as to what I would find. I knew the face of the man (the headteacher) who interviewed me and … that was it. I doubted that he would be the person to meet me. Would it just be me? Would there be other teachers arriving simultaneously? I noticed a man wearing a dishdasha – well, there were many men wearing dishdashas – but this man stood out. I didn’t really know why he stood out, but later on I would realise that it was because he was clean-shaven, whereas – it would seem – many Omani men are not and also, his eyes were lighter than most. I was surprised to hear the words ‘Miss Lisa’ being spoken by this light-eyed clean-shaven man and noticed a card he was holding on which was written the name of the school. I was also surprised to see that he held out his hand and we had been warned that most Omanis of the opposite gender would not shake our hands. But he offered, so I accepted. His hands were soft.

‘You are the last,’ he stated, with a smile and a sense of inner peace.

I explained about my luggage and he was sorry to hear about the situation but reassured me that all would be well. I apologised for my tardiness and secretly came to realise that at no point during my mammoth journey, had I considered what would happen when I arrived in Muscat. I had not given any thought to the people meeting me – I could not have contacted them anyway – but it did not occur to me that I should look out for someone as I walked through Customs. I had a vague recollection of an email that mentioned meeting at a cafe; which is where I spotted a gathering of people with the headteacher in the midst of it all.

‘We thought you’d changed your mind!’ greeted the head and I laughed and explained about my luggage, but kept the thought that I had changed my mind to myself.

He devoted a considerable amount of time and effort to the luggage situation, the outcome of which was that he would bring me back to the airport that evening to collect it. He then devoted yet more time and effort towards my phone situation, explaining that I needed to buy a SIM card at the airport to avoid the big, fat charges from O2. This was proceeding well, until it transpired that I hadn’t unlocked my phone.

‘Argh! I told you do that – I put it in an email!’ he exclaimed.

It was true. He had. The truth was, I hadn’t really understood, so I had paid O2 a visit, explained about my pending job and asked what I should do to prepare for going abroad, regarding my phone.

‘Nothing really,’ the pallid, bored-looking man in O2 had said, just before yawning.

‘It will be really expensive to use your phone abroad,’ he had continued, ‘so I would buy a new phone out there, if I were you.’

And that had been the extent of O2’s advice to me.

A minibus arrived and took all of us new arrivals to our apartment block. There was Omani coffee on the bus and a delectable sweet dessert called halwa. This went some way towards lifting my spirits away from my new problems concerning luggage and phones, although I panicked when it occurred to me that the head had said he would call me to arrange the journey to the airport to retrieve my luggage, but he had no way of contacting me! There had been an offer to go to a supermarket a little later, so I decided to ensure I took this offer, so that I would see him to tell him this.

However, the gentleman with the serene aura arrived to take us shopping instead: I explained my predicament and he told me not to worry. But I did worry – I felt it was the serenity talking and the practical side may not have been aware of the necessity of being proactive.

But he was right – I need not have worried – the head arrived later on and indeed, my luggage had arrived from Dubai. I had to jump through several metaphorical hoops in order to be allowed to retrieve my own luggage (funny how one is not required to jump through any hoops – metaphorical or otherwise – when one collects one’s luggage straight off the plane) but the outcome was a happy reunion with my luggage. As the head dropped me home, I reflected on the help I had received from him and others that day and felt slightly in awe. Emotionally, I was fragile at that time and plans were going awry but I was not having to face problems alone. I thanked him and tried to impart my appreciation of being scooped up from disasters but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Back at my new apartment (which, by the way, was of a generous size and newly-decorated), I unpacked, at last …

If you have ever experienced the feeling of reaching the last few items of a container, whether it is a suitcase or some other vessel and then gradually realised that something is missing, you will sympathise with my heart-stopping, chilling, nauseous feeling. An important bag of jewellery was missing. For the first time that day I cried. I had wanted to on numerous occasions, but had not. There was nothing else for which to stay composed now though; my streaky face would not be seen by anyone. It’s at Heathrow I thought. Self-Important Taciturn Man is responsible for this.

Then I decided to call home. I knew that O2 would gain big, fat sums of money from me but it was worth the sacrifice, I felt. I felt right; I had left the bag at home. It should have been with me, but at least it wasn’t languishing in a grey tray at security in Heathrow.

Ok … there were problems but they were getting solved. Sleep was needed … and so sleep was had.

North Star (Markus and the Tenderhooks)

‘Markus and the Tenderhooks’ are a tangible representation of shifting dynamics in music. Just when you think you’ve identified their genre as ‘jazz meets ska meets Britpop’, they open their latest album, ‘North Star’, with a song title that is clearly classical. The magical ‘Prelude in Blue’, gives us Markus Napier’s rich tones narrating a snippet of a story against a backdrop of delightful piano sounds. Occasional phrases reminiscent of familiar classical pieces give an Oriental feel, adding to the mystery, especially with the spoken references to jazz clubs on Broadway.

A leaning towards country vibes brings us the second track, ‘Mother Dear’, which manages to impart a child’s tenderness towards his mother without the schmaltz.

Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of third track ‘Yolena’. But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background. With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.

Definite shades of Billy Bragg are evident in the next track on this musical feast: ‘Little Stunner’, only to be followed by the more reflective ‘Sleep Tight’, which, as its name suggests, has qualities of a lullaby – but on the outside, as you’ll find a more upbeat element in the middle.

North Star

The second half of the album kicks off with the rock’n’roll ‘Russell You Up’, before sliding into the easy reggae beats of the aptly-named ‘Ease Yourself’.

Markus’s trademark saxophone – one of my favourite sounds of this band – makes an appearance in ‘Rubber Necking’ before the penultimate rock track ‘Cry Cry Cry’.

The final track – the album’s namesake – ‘North Star’, seems to be a revelation of the first track, ‘Prelude in Blue’, which is clearly a teaser. With keys, strings and wind, there is nothing short of a full orchestra supporting this enchanting number whose lyrics reveal more to the story of which we only receive hints at the start of the album. If ‘Prelude in Blue’ is pretty, ‘North Star’ is stunning; with minor keys building up to a crescendo of harmony, it is a fitting way to round off an album packed with a dynamic variety of musical genres.

 

‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.

 

Lisa O’Connor

Yolena: from Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘North Star’

Image result for north star tenderhooks

Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of ‘Yolena’, third track on Tenderhooks’ latest album ‘North Star’.

But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background.

With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.

‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.

Lisa O’Connor