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Monday, May 14, 2018

Real, Real, Real

Last year, I was a part of a speaking panel focused on what it’s like to be a freelance journalist. Hosted by a local college's journalism society, it was fun to talk openly and face to face with undergrads wanting some advice and insight in the field.

A question was asked that struck me as odd at the time. With her young son in tow, squirming in his seat because he couldn’t sit still for too long, the student asked the panel on how to deal with a criticism of freelancing she had encountered.

Someone told her she wasn’t a real journalist because she was not on the full-time payroll of the publication she wrote for. Freelancing was the best way for her, between being a full-time student, wife, and mother. I said she should not believe what this person said, as many professional journalists these days are freelancers. Writers make what they want to make out of the profession, whether or not they receive a regular paycheck with a portion taken out for a 401(k) and health insurance.

I, along with the other panelists, stressed that the professional journalism field does not have a lot of full-time openings, and freelancing is the way most publications handle their content these days. The cost is less for the publication, which helps them stay in business. Freelancing gives the writer way more options and control over what he or she wants to put out there. It’s actually a great time these days, but if your idea of success is having a 401(k) and health insurance, you need to see a bigger picture.

Full-time job openings, especially writing about music and its culture, are not plentiful and haven’t been for years. Even the ones that exist don’t offer big annual incomes, as the passion for writing about music seems to overshadow the paycheck. 

Would I like to have a retirement plan and health insurance, in addition to a livable wage, from writing about music? Sure, but I have yet to be fortunate to do that in my career. I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I spend 40 hours a week writing copy in the traffic reporting world, but I also spend at least a handful of hours each week devoted to writing articles and working on a book. If I can’t spend 40 hours devoted to writing about music, I sure make the most of the hours I do have. I’m grateful to spend time interviewing people I admire, write about them, and get paid something in return. Freelance checks do come in handy, especially on top of a salary.

I do what I do, and recently, what I do was called into question. I present the following as a way to show the value of freelancing and how not to sway someone with something you think is newsworthy.

Last week, I encountered someone criticizing me as a journalist because I don’t do it all the time. Easy to pass off as an anonymous troll looking to get a rise out of me, but in this case, it had been from someone I had worked extensively with on a story that ran last year. We had a friendly relationship, even though working on this story meant regular phone calls and messages from him asking about how the article was going and him telling me some of things I should put in the article. I thought it was a little annoying, but I stayed on course and wrote the article I wanted to write. He really appreciated what ran online, but I found his relentlessness to be rather out of character from the kind of publicists, bands, and promoters I work with (or hear from) on a regular basis.

After hearing nothing from him for months -- hey, we’re all busy people -- he recently hit me up about a new creative endeavor he has in development. I took what he had into consideration, but I thought there was not a strong pull for me to write about it. I’ve been told it’s obvious when I’m not totally into the person, band, or show that I’m writing about, so I opt to write about the stuff that moves me and that people might enjoy reading.

He had emailed me, messaged me, and called me multiple times, trying to get a response. When I had the time to give him a clear answer, I told him I was politely passing on writing about his project. He did not take my no -- however polite it was -- as an answer. He wanted to know why, opting to push back with reasons why I should reconsider. I told him to back off and that I do not work well with pushy people. He apologized, but I had enough of his antics. I saw him as a force that wants to use the media to make him look good in the spotlight.

In hopes he would leave me alone, I blocked him on all of my social media, blocked his email address, and tried to block his number on my phone.

When he called me a few days later from a different number, I was furious that he went down this route. I had previously given him an answer about why I didn’t want to write this proposed article. I did not accept his apology, as I could not forgive his actions. I was cold and aloof to him. That made him even angrier. Now he wanted an apology from me.

Since I had a relatively good working relationship with this guy, I thought writing him a lengthy email explaining my stances and views would be helpful to him. I also thought it would help him realize things about himself that people had not told him, or were afraid to tell him. He responded kindly and appreciated my email, but then went back to plugging this project.

The following day, he thought it was best to text me about the importance of working with him based on what a friend of his had posted on Facebook. Telling me I “don’t know shit about passion,” I told him to stop texting me, as it had come to a harassment level. Replying “God loves you Eric” and "if you were a real 'journalist,' you would be doing it full time," I told him again to stop harassing me.

The communication came to an end. Any sort of future professional relationship ended, too.

In the times we live in, the media is seen as untrustworthy when they report about things that don’t seem right, are extremely unfair, or are outright false. It’s the media’s job to hold accountable people in check. In my case, if I don’t think it’s worth the time to write a story about it, then why should I pretend that readers want to see this online or in print?

I found it funny this guy was all about talking favorably to me on a story I wanted to write about, but turned heel when I didn’t want to write about something else he was involved with. I was fooled once by him, but not again.

Being a freelancer gave me the chance to say no. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I can say what I want to write about, even if it might mean less money in my bank account for a week. People who want to doubt a freelancer’s legitimacy can do that all they want, but I think the quality of the actual writing and reporting means everything.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Forever Got Shorter

This year marks ten years since my first book, Post, came out. It was a self-released affair put out by a print-on-demand publisher. It’s never sold many copies, but according to quarterly royalty statements, several copies are sold every year in various parts of the world.

I never put the book out to make money. I wanted people outside of my inner circle to read it and find something of worth in it. If emo was a joke to many, then I wanted to show how it wasn’t.  

Last year, I had an idea to release a ten-year anniversary edition of the book. I’d update all the chapters, write a new afterword, and see if a publisher wanted to put it out. After rejection letters from publishers arrived in my inbox, I set the idea aside. Seemed like the gatekeepers thought Andy Greenwald’s superficial and error-filled look at emo was enough. But that was not a reason to quit pursuing something I wanted out there.

Only a few days after our wedding, Hope asked me if was interested in doing a new long-term creative project. She suggested a documentary based on Post. While I’m interested in doing something like that someday, I thought a book sequel to Post should happen before that.

Over the years, I had been asked about doing a sequel from a couple of people, including my friend and fellow podcaster, Jim Hanke, on his excellent Vinyl Emergency podcast. My original response was no, as someone else should write a sequel. I had kind of checked out from modern emo when Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance were considered equals to Braid, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Rites of Spring.

But after being told no to a new edition of Post, I realized I had a lot more to say and research to do, all in what has happened since 2008. There is too much to put into a new edition of a previously-released book. It’s asking a lot of people to read a 500-page tome, so why not try to put out a new book?

I made my plans for a new book known on my social media back in the middle of January this year. I’ve spent every week since interviewing people, doing research, and jotting ideas down. At the very least, I give myself the goal to interview someone every week, even if it’s interviewing the same person multiple times.

So far, it’s been wonderful to touch base with people I originally interviewed, along with people I’ve met since the first book’s release. There are many people to talk to, so I’m giving myself at least until the end of this year to interview people. No deadline is set at the moment.

Structurally, this new book -- which I plan on putting out myself and calling it Forever Got Shorter -- will be more about the people affected by emo/post-hardcore rather doing lengthy profiles of a dozen bands. Whether these are people who play in bands, put out records, or write about bands that put out records, I am aiming to answer a few questions.

Questions like, Why would you fly across the country to see a band like Jawbreaker play a reunion show or two? Why do you still like emo music when you’re in a much better place in your life? Why is emo still relevant? And, what kind of future do you see with it?

I freely admit that it can be complicated to spend all this time on a passion project that may or may not go over. Being newly married, working a full-time job, freelancing, and playing in two bands, my life is busy, but I try to balance everything properly. My life is much, much more fulfilling now -- especially because of Hope -- and I remember what life was like before. And I don’t ever want to go back to that look at life.

Along those lines, I strongly discourage any writer who thinks blocking out everything in his or hers life in order to write an Important Book. As Stephen King suggested in his On Writing memoir, writing is not a support system for life. It’s the other way around.

Moving forward, I’m very excited about doing this book. There is a lot of work to be done, and paragraphs to write before editing happens. But I’m up for it all.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A year in music, 2017

There was no shortage of great music released in 2017. I have an extensive Spotify playlist of songs I enjoyed, but for the sake of brevity, here is my list of my favorite albums and shows this year.

Favorite albums


Mastodon, Emperor of Sand
One of the best Mastodon LPs in years, and my favorite since Crack the Skye. Seems like when Mastodon goes for the deepest of deep about life and tragedy, they produce some of their strongest work. This is the record I can listen to over and over and not skip a single tune.


Lost Balloons, Hey Summer
The second album from Jeff Burke's indie pop group shows he really is one of the best songwriters around. Not just in the pop punk/garage world. In general. With shades of country, folk, and the Kinks, I admire everything Burke does even more.



White Reaper, The World's Greatest American Band
Yes, this album title is a bit over-confident, but this four-piece makes a mighty fine statement here. What happens when a band plays speedy garage rock and then digs deep into 70s power pop and arena rock? This happens. "Judy French" is one of my favorite songs of the year.


Matt Hammon, Silver Suitcase
Matt Hammon was the original drummer for Mineral and the Gloria Record. His tenures were short as he desired to play drums full time. He wound up with Bob Mould's backing band and he later produced a number of artists in Nashville. Now after beating cancer and working as a teacher in Houston, Hammon created an album where he sings and plays all the instruments. If you like the bands he's been with, you'll probably dig Silver Suitcase.


Hundredth, RARE
This band used to play fast metal with a hardcore feel. Deciding to ditch the speed and grit and go for something influenced by shoegaze, RARE sounds like what Title Fight could have made after Floral Green. This is much more My Vitriol and Swervedriver than Code Orange.

Favorite shows













American Football, Granada Theater, April 1st, 2017
I missed my 20-year high school reunion to see American Football play its first Dallas show. Did not disappoint in any way. They played two sets: one was their second LP, the second set was most of their debut LP. Joyous and heavenly.













Tears of Silver, Good Records, Sept. 19th, 2017
This is a group made up of Ken Stringfellow from the Posies, Big Star, and R.E.M. with members of Mercury Rev and Midlake. Since I've never seen Mercury Rev before, I was blown away by how tranquil and beautiful this set was. Opening with a soft version of "Grant Hart," this was all kinds of special. Songs from the Rev's catalog, along with Big Star, Flaming Lips, and Posies tunes made for something way better than the average in-store.













Alice Cooper, Starplex, August 19th, 2017
My third time seeing Alice Cooper, and the best time yet. He was so good he left Deep Purple to follow that, and they were lackluster in comparison. While he does the same kind of stage set up with pyro, dancers, and a guillotine, this show was a purely entertaining piece of theatrical rock.













Arcade Fire, American Airlines Center, September 28th, 2017
I had lost track of Arcade Fire for a few years. I didn't realize they were big enough to play the same place the Dallas Stars and Mavericks play, but they brought in a lot of people. Wasn't sold out, but it wasn't empty. They played with the concept of an arena act with their video screens and boxing ring stage set up. Great mix of songs from all of their albums with an amazing light show.













Zao, The Dirty 30, December 9th, 2017
Zao had not played Dallas in 12 years, and judging by the sold-out response to this show, they will be back soon. The band did a weekend warrior tour of Texas and they were intense as they've ever been. Lots of new material mixed with well-loved older material, the band is still one of the best metal-tinged hardcore bands around.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Long Time Missing

There's a phrase music critics share when news of a musician's death breaks on a major holiday and the writer has to come up with something right then and there for a quick turnaround: a Dead Beatle.

Meaning, this is such a serious loss that whatever you're doing with family and/or friends has to wait. Since no publication I write for demanded something about Tommy Keene when news of his unexpected passing broke on Thanksgiving, I held off on saying something beyond Facebook posts and tweets. But I did stop in my tracks after a long and lovely day with Hope as newlyweds and shared my grief and shock about Tommy's death. He was 59.

Tommy Keene had a long and fruitful career as a solo artist. He came from the Washington D.C. area playing in bands before going solo. His second and third albums, Songs from the Film and Based on Happy Times, were released on Geffen Records in the mid- to late 1980s. At a time when hairsprayed hard rock, teen pop, and the remnants of new wave dominated the mainstream, Keene's music never broke through those barriers. Despite those records sounding more aligned with Bryan Adams' and Cheap Trick's albums at the time, Keene's music had much more depth and immediacy than a lot of other stuff major labels put out.

Keene kept putting out solo records on smaller labels and played as a sideman with the likes of Paul Westerberg and Bob Pollard, among others. Though the records were consistently good to great, he became someone that was taken for granted. He had his fans, but sadly, it looks like the most press he received was after his passing.

If you had never heard his material prior to his death, I made a Spotify playlist of tunes that might make you want to hear his whole catalog.

I've enjoyed Tommy's music for 10+ years now. I can't remember if it was "Places That Are Gone" on a Rhino power pop collection or two MP3s from Ten Years After posted on a friend's blog, but by the time a writer friend of mine, Darryl Smyers, gave me a copy of the Hear You Me retrospective, I went all in. This wasn't power pop meant to resuscitate everything the Beatles did. It was more than that, especially in the power department.

For years, I always hoped to see Tommy play. I heard a Dallas date he played years ago at the Cavern was poorly attended so I didn't think he would come back. When I heard he was coming back through Texas with Matthew Sweet this summer, I decided to go. Sure, it would have been best to see him with a backing band. But if this was all I could possibly get, I decided to go.

Ahead of the show, I got to interview him for an article in the Houston Press. It was a brief but enjoyable chat, talking about where he was at in his career and what he hoped to do next. He put me on the guest list for his show in Dallas at the Kessler and I looked forward to it.

Though the majority of the audience was there for Matthew Sweet, the audience gave Tommy lots of respect and enjoyed his set, which ran all over his catalog. Sweet came on, and as someone who has never really sunk my teeth into his material, I was not motivated to stay until the end. Sweet just stood there and played with his backing band. Not enough excitement for me, so I left.

As I rounded the corner outside of the venue, there was Tommy sitting outside, smoking a cigarette. I introduced myself and he was friendly and conversational. We essentially shot the shit, talking about the tour, sharing pictures of our dogs, and talking about various points in his career. (He confirmed that yes, it was he who played lead guitar on the Goo Goo Dolls' "Broadway.") Who should walk up but my writer friend Darryl Smyers and a friend of his in tow. We all had a nice chat, but after a while, Tommy had to cut loose and join Matthew Sweet for an encore with the band.

At no point in talking with Tommy did he seem bitter about his career. He never became a pop star, but I don't think he wanted to be one. He had the songs, and when you have them, you don't need to be anything more to let them live beyond your life. He had a lot to look forward to, with a new album in the works, a DVD of live footage, and more touring. He didn't act entitled or wanting more recognition. He was happy doing what he was doing, playing and writing music he cared about. This certainly served as a reminder to why people do what they do. And that goes beyond what you think is the best Tommy Keene song or album.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Married

On November 17th, I enjoyed the best day of my life with my soulmate, along with many family and longtime friends surrounding us. Getting married to Hope was the best decision I've ever made, in a life filled with non-decisions and indecisiveness.

In the year prior to meeting Hope, I wasn't sure I'd ever find somebody to spend the rest of my life with. Coming off a short period of friends dying, a relationship falling apart, and playing musical chairs with jobs, I wanted life to get better, not turn into something I settled on.

Despite hearing horror stories about how hook-up culture and dating apps were ruining relationships for everyone, I believed there was someone out there who could see me at my best and worst, tell me what the deal is, and who could inspire me, and vice versa to her. I found that in a fellow podcaster I met through Twitter.

We decided to get married, accepting that neither of us are perfect or without flaws. It took me a long time to understand that I will never be without fault, and no one else is, either. Yes, you can love and be loved even if you make mistakes.

Hope and I complement each other, but thank high heavens we don't complete each other. As much as the "You complete me" might seem cute in movies like Jerry Maguire and Austin Powers, it's not exactly the best thing to hinge a relationship on. Hope has her life with her interests, as I have mine, but we choose to share a life together, through the thick and thin. Whatever happens -- good or bad -- I'm grateful for every single day I have with her.

I was asked by a number of people if I was nervous prior to the wedding. As in, you nervous about getting married? I wasn't. I hoped everything went right with the ceremony and reception, as a lot of planning went into them, especially by Hope and her mother.

Everything did go right, and we had a wonderful time. A sunset wedding, attended by many family and friends. Certain family members I had not seen in a very long time, coupled with friends I have known for almost all of my adult life. The reception was a joyous occasion, set to music that never dragged -- and a first dance done with a new song by singer/songwriter Rahim Quazi that he performed live.

People danced, hugged us, wished us well, and took many pictures. A collection of pictures is up on the blog by the photographers that were hired. We had a wonderful time, I think these pics capture the evening.

Now life is a new journey with Hope. I don't know exactly what tomorrow brings, but I'm incredibly thankful it will be with her. There is a lot of life left to experience. Though relationships are hard and require work to make them last, when you're with the right person, you would not have it any other way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Doing Something Right

There's a phrase often said when a writer draws a lot of ire from readers about his or hers work: "Well, I must be doing something right." With a large amount of page views, comments, Facebook shares, and tweets to back this up, a writer can think a purpose has been served, and a message is coming across.

I don't totally believe that.

Writers complain (usually on Twitter) when "nobody" cares about an article they wrote when page views are low. Conversely, they'll boast about how many people clicked on a link to justify their take. It's all a measure of how people apparently care in the digital age.

What I've seen is when someone has a brash take on a topic (a trend in music, a concert review, etc.) and the headline really amplifies the gist of the article. This is written to be "the truth," when ultimately, it's an opinion, and hopefully, a well-informed one that is backed up with facts.

But facts can be relative when they are overshadowed by how people feel about things.

I've always tried to write about stuff I care about with as much accuracy as possible. I have never set out to write something with the intent of pissing people off. I do my research and ask questions that research cannot give.

I'm not a hot take machine, even though I have had strong differences of opinion on things over the years and have vocalized them. I don't think I've done a good job or bad job if I've received a large amount of negative responses. I can wonder if I presented my take to the best of my ability.

What usually pisses people off is when someone tries to make a strong point, gives false information, and makes empty claims that can't be backed up. What's "right" about that? You can make your opinion known, but if there are massive holes in your argument, you look like a fool. But if you justify your foolishness by the number of clicks, messages, tweets, and Facebook shares you had, you're deluding yourself.

Most of the time, I receive messages from people when I make an error in my reporting. Whether it's talking about the tenure of a band member or the current job of a man running for a political office, if I'm wrong, I let my editor know to make a change in the article. If I claimed that I don't care, then I'm not doing my job properly.

Maybe I'm too earnest in my approach, but I've never found fault in writing what's in my heart. I don't believe I'd ever have clicks in my heart more than a story to tell.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Best Team in the Land and All the World

Two years ago, I almost saw Manchester City play in America.

Rain during a Texas summer is rare, but there was so much of it in Houston in 2015 that the pitch was unplayable for a friendly between City and the Houston Dynamo. Joel and I found out the match had been cancelled right as we walked into the pub where a City meet-up was. Alas, City sent Mike Summerbee and Brian Kidd for a Q&A, gave us free drinks, and free merch.

Clearly, City cares about its American fans.

I had debated flying to Manchester to see a match, but funds dictated that I should stay stateside. Plus, I had heard of another City trip to America halfway through the 2016/2017 Premier League season. I chose my summer vacation days accordingly.

When the club announced a trip to the United States in 2017, I knew I had to see at least one of the matches. I decided to see the Nashville match against Tottenham Hotspur over the LA and Houston matches.

Though there would be a lot of driving (10 hours to be exact), Hope and I would have more time to do things in town and City-related events. Seeing Nashville again would be very special, as when I went there two years ago to see a show, I drove back hoping I'd find a special someone someday. I'm lucky to say I did, and she's into City.

But before we left for the country music industry town, our City group Blue Moon Dallas had a special visitor.

Braydon Bent is an eight-year-old diehard City supporter. After winning a contest -- where he did his impression of Sergio Aguero celebrating the 93:20 goal against Queens Park Rangers -- the kid has become a viral sensation, often appearing in videos for the club. He was on a promotional tour throughout the southern region of the country, stopping at various points along the way. Bringing the captain's armband that Vincent Kompany would wear at the Nashville match, many of us BMD folks got to meet Braydon and pose with the armband.
Braydon is a non-stop burst of positive energy. He has the kind of non-cynical, undying passion one can have for a professional sports team. He has charisma with people even though he's young. A joy to spend time with, and his father was a total gentleman, too. He mentioned to us that there was a welcoming sort of vibe once he walked into the pub we watch all of the Premier League matches. Further proof that Mark Mulv and his fellow co-founders have made something special.

Match day was on Saturday, so Hope, Joel, and I got in my car at a very early time on Friday morning and just drove and drove. I briefly thought, Boy it would suck if the match was cancelled as rain was in the forecast for that entire day, but a sunny sky was in the forecast for the match. But I then thought, if the match happened and I missed it because of that doubt, I'd really kick myself.

After checking into our AirBNB and taking a moment to relax and have some dinner, Hope and I met up at a late-night party where MCFC Nashville meets. As we pulled up, a handful of Spurs supporters caught an Uber in the parking lot, leaving a pub filled with City supporters from around the world, drinking, eating, and singing City songs. I tried to save my voice for Saturday, but I sure had some fun singing chants from City's past.
Saturday came. The sun was shining, vibes were good. Tottenham and City supporters were all over downtown near Nissan Stadium. Hope and I went to a City-related meet-up at the George Jones Museum, which is more sports bar than museum, and it was filled to the brim with people in sky blue, in addition to the country music tourists. We ran into Braydon and his father and they recognized us right away. Good times were had, but there was a match to see.

To save some money on parking and keep ourselves sane, we took a Lyft to the match. Our driver was a very enthusiastic man who knew the town extremely well, dropping us off at the stadium without having to sit in a very long line of cars. I had not been to a large American football field since the early 1990s, so to see the monstrosity that most NFL stadiums are these days caused me to step back and take in the awe of it.

Once we found our seats, I realized we were in for something extraordinary.
Sitting right behind the goal with many members of Blue Moon Dallas, and right in front of Joey McCune, the man who never runs out of banter or songs to sing, we knew we were going to have a good time, win, lose, or draw.

This area was designated for City supporters, as this was behind us.
Yet what was standing right in front of us?

These guys.
For some reason, almost every Spurs supporter I have come across is a bro. Meaning, beers in the Yeti cooler, constant high-fives, sports is life, and ALRIGHT, LIFE IS GOOD, BRO! While these guys (three in total) fit that stereotype, they had fun playing along with our banter and were surprised by our self-deprecating songs. Though they booed Kyle Walker (who recently transferred from Tottenham to Manchester City), we repeatedly sang, "He left 'cause you're shit/He left 'cause you're shit/Kyle Walker, he left 'cause you're shit." Seeing Walker lead the defensive attack, which frequently ran over the Spurs' offense, was nice to see.

A little over nine minutes in, we were about 20 feet away from John Stones knock a header into the Spurs' goal. The place was electric. Seeing players we've only seen on TV up close and personal was delightful. Seeing new keeper Ederson Moraes make some incredible saves, as well as an insane pass to Aguero, were some of the highlights.

City dominated Spurs, a club that is quite good and should do quite well in the Premier League this season. City seemed to build on the win they had over Real Madrid only a few nights before, making me think City has a really strong squad assembled for this new season. Anything can happen, so I'm not hedging my happiness in life based on rankings, trophies, or table positions. That said, it was nice to see City win in person.
Football is my favorite sport to watch and play. There was a long stretch in time where it was not for me, but after finding the right club because of belonging with its supporters, I feel welcome. No, I never saw City play at Maine Road. No, I didn't see City get relegated after winning promotion. But with supporting teams in other sports fields that have had great times and terrible times during my 38 years on this earth, being a City supporter makes sense.
The end result of the match was a 3-0 victory for City. Even the Spurs fans in front of us shook our hands, thanking us for a good time. We went back to the George Jones for a drink and cooling off period. The weather was wonderful, and there was a breeze.

Slowly making our way from downtown, we caught a Lyft home and decided to get something to eat. Before we stepped into a Taco Bell for a late-night dinner, I realized Nicoletto's, an Italian food joint co-owned by Braid's Damon Atkinson, was across the street. We ate there instead, briefly talked to some Spurs supporters who were from Texas, and even met up with Damon. It was great to catch up and to introduce Hope to him. A nice post-script to the last time I was in town, to see Braid play at the Exit In.
We got a lot done in that one day, and it was a day well-lived. We had a long day of driving ahead of us, so we got plenty of rest that night.

During the long stretch of endless trees, along with stops at gas stations and a Cracker Barrel breakfast, I was happy this all happened. International friendly matches are more advertising for the football clubs than anything else, but as a primer for the new season, it was wonderful.

Now to start plotting out a trip to Manchester.