Friday, 18 October 2019

Blue Friday: My Ever Changing Moods (piano version)

Have always preferred this version to the poppier, more upbeat, fuller version that followed later.

So beautiful, so blue.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Still 0-0 after (a lot of) extra time

In the late 80s and early 90s, a jangly sound emerged from Slough in the ten-legged shape of Thousand Yard Stare. With their own label (the splendidly named Stifled Aardvark), a distribution deal with Polydor and Stephen Street on production duties, the outlook was promising. There was a whole host of EPs, often released (and re-released) in multiple formats (including 10" and coloured vinyl), chasing the mainstream breakthrough. In 1991, they played the Reading Festival; a year later, their debut LP, Hands On, was released. It is really quite good, and musically head and shoulders above a lot of the bands they were often grouped with.

Of course, a crucial 'but...' is coming. The Yardies' jingle-jangle sound and obtuse lyrics were somewhat at odds with the post-Nevermind interest in a heavier sound. Why be a Giles or a Dominic when you could be a Kurt or an Eddie? And so the second album, 93's Mappamundi, failed to live up to commercial expectations and didn't trouble the charts, despite a big push from Polydor. The band called time soon after, and that was that.

Except that is rarely that, these days, not when the reunion market is so lucrative. And so Thousand Yard Stare have reconvened, at first just for a few live shows but now, excitingly, for some recorded material. Here's their new single, It Sparks, in which all TYS hallmarks are present and correct, including vocalist Stephen Barnes's Marmite-delivery.

They even have some new merchandise, in the shape of this works-on-so-many-levels How Soon Is Slough? t-shirt; a Smiths reference, Betjeman and TYS... what's not to like?

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of this post, it comes from this.

Anyway, here's the band's shiny new website and Twitter feed, if you're interested. You're probably not, it's probably just me... but that's okay.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Sunday shorts: Lock Up Your Mountain Bikes

So many short HMHB tracks to choose from, but this one gets the nod for its opening line...

Friday, 11 October 2019

Let Me In

I seem to have featured R.E.M. a lot lately. I make no apology for that. A new remix of Let Me In has emerged, ostensibly to tie in with the 25th anniversary of Monster. Given that it was written in response to Kurt Cobain's suicide, and that yesterday was World Mental Health day, it seems a good time to make some noise about it. The Beeb has a better article than this about the song and it's raison d'être right here.

Basically, this was a song written one night, recorded the next day, with Michael delivering a raw vocal (that is very much more to the fore in this new remix) and Mike strumming along on Kurt's electric guitar. That's it: guitar and voice, Mike and Michael, nothing else.

And I don't know about you but, as lyric videos go, this one takes the biscuit, I think. Imagine if the words and thoughts in your head swirled around like a hurricane, occasionally coalescing into moments of clarity like a murmuration of starlings, before breaking apart again. Imagine that...

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Asking for a friend

Is there a way to say that something isn't as good as it used to be, without sounding like the worst kind of terrible old fossil? When there is no empirical evidence, just personal opinion involved?

Asking for a friend.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

T's and C's

Following on from my previous post about going to watch an episode of Dave Gorman's new TV series being filmed, it seem only right to add the news that it starts on Monday 21st October, 10pm, on Dave (the channel, not the comedian).

To prove I haven't made that up, here's the trailer.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Nineteen in '19: Starting Over

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

13/19: Starting Over by Tony Parsons

The blurb: This is the story of how we grow old – how we give up the dreams of youth for something better – and how many chances we have to get it right.

George Bailey has been given the gift we all dream of – the chance to live his life again.

After suffering a heart attack at the age of 42, George is given the heart of a 19-year-old – and suddenly everything changes…

He is a friend to his teenage son and daughter – and not a stern Home Secretary, monitoring their every move.

He makes love to his wife all night long - instead of from midnight until about five past. And suddenly he wants to change the world, just as soon as he shakes off his hangover.

But George Bailey discovers that being young again is not all it is cracked up to be – and what he actually wants more than anything in the universe is to have his old life back.

The review: as you will all know already, Parsons' writing career began as a journo for the NME, where he also met, married and later divorced fellow "hip, young gunslinger" Julie Birchill. He wrote a number of books throughout the Seventies and Eighties but only really achieved mainstream success at the tail end of the Nineties, with Man and Boy. In part, I think, this took off as a sort of "blokes want to read too" reaction to the emergence of chick-lit as a thing - lad-lit, maybe, a phenomenon that benefited Parsons and plenty of others (Mike Gayle and John O'Farrell to name but two). Whatever, it sold by the truck load, as did the sequel, and lots of other books with similar covers. The last Parsons I read was My Favourite Wife, probably about ten years ago.

And so to Starting Over, a book I picked up for free at a sort of "bring a book, take a book" swapping initiative. In other words, immediately not a book I would spend money to read, but something I was prepared to take a punt on. And it's alright: a perfectly serviceable story, told at a pace that keeps the pages turning, a bit predictable in places but generally... alright. What stops it being more? Well, I like a story where the author maps out the dots and then leaves the reader to join them up. There are times here when Parsons doesn't just join them up for you, he does it with a Sharpie. It's efficient storytelling, maybe, but is it effective? Not for me.

Oh, and the predictability. I get that it's going to have a feelgood element. A lot of people, even lad-lit readers, want some kind of a happy ending. But even when things are going awry for our hero, at no point did I feel that they would end badly, ultimately. And if you're in any doubt about the Capra-esque nature of this story, or Parsons' efforts to produce something of that ilk, I refer you to the protagonist's name... But for fables to work you need archetypes as the lead characters, not clichés, and there are times when Tony treads the wrong side of that divide.

If I'm sounding too down on this book, let me remedy that by saying that it is far from all bad - Parsons writes about being a father as well as anyone. Here, laying out how it feels to be a dad, and what it's like to watch your kids grow up and move beyond what you know of them, this is where Parsons' somewhat on-the-nose style actually works - he lays it out plain. This is how it feels. But since Man and Boy it does feel somewhat like Tony is recycling those same feelings, just ascribing them to new characters. But anyway...

The bottom line: perfectly serviceable, somewhat predictable, slightly forgettable and too overt... neither evolutionary nor revolutionary but essentially a harmless, throwaway read that moves along at a decent pace.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★☆☆☆