Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 minus 2004 is... 4AD

For reasons I will keep to myself, I haven't had a great Christmas, and New Year's eve, once the biggest night out of the year, looks like being bleaker than you can imagine. So I'm not going to talk about any of that. Instead, let's talk about 4AD.

"4A-what now?" I hear you ask. 4AD is a record label which, when I was a young whipper-snapper, was home to such great bands as Pixies, Belly, Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and more besides. It was, and still is, a great label with a great roster of artists, currently including Bon Iver and (still) The Breeders. And guess what? Right now, they're offering you a free download of 12 songs by artists from their stable in one handy (if somewhat large) file. So go get it, from here. And despite what it says on the form you don't even have to fill in your email address (and hence get bombarded with future advertising mailshots) - look closely at the small print and you'll find a link to the download that bypasses the email address registration thing. All good then, yes - now... good songs... go get 'em...

Friday, 19 December 2008


We had our works Christmas lunch today, and nice enough it was too. As we stuffed our faces with reformed turkey and supped heartily at our warm own-brand cola, a CD of Yuletide tuneage twittered brightly in the background, on permanent loop. How nice. Except for when it got to Ave Maria which is, of course, heartbreakingly, wrist-sawingly sad.

I seem to recall that on The Smiths' live album "Rank", the band's exit music was Maria Callas's rendition of Ave Maria and so for me, an unswerving Smiths fan since seeing their gladioli-waving Top of the Pops debut in 1984, that is the definitive version. In a fit of seasonal cheer then, here's a link to Maria's Maria in all its tear-jerking glory. Happy Christmas...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

You don't really care for music, do you?

I guess there will be no stopping the juggernaut that is X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's version of Hallelujah topping the charts for Christmas. I'm sure she's a lovely lady and I'm sure she can sing a bit - I bet she'd go down well at your local's karaoke night. But why did she, or more specifically Simon Cowell, have to release this song? Is it because evil Cowell heard the Internet rumours of a concerted effort to get a Welsh-language version of the same song to the coveted Christmas Number One spot, derailing the X Factor express into the bargain? And so gazumped said plans by releasing the self-same song? Well, maybe. Whatever else he may be (sad, Botoxed, delusional, high-waisted, wig-wearing (?), richer than Croesus, the list is depressingly long), he knows a trick or two about the cynical manipulation of chart music to ensure a hit. Not a career with any longevity for poor Alexandra, of course, but a hit to line his pockets, of yes.

So what of the Welsh-language version of Hallelujah? Well, it's by Brigyn and is lovely, but don't expect it to be troubling the charts. There's more hope (although still none, realistically) of the late Jeff Buckley sticking one to the man (the man being Cowell, of course), as his version has been re-released and is barnstorming the charts too. But that's almost as cynical an exercise as Mr Cowell's machinations, with Buckley's estate and/or record label clearly looking to jump on the X Factor bandwagon. A shame.

Of course, the song has been covered countless times, and maybe some others will be rush-released and creep into the charts too, who knows. What I will say is that the original by Leonard Cohen has also been re-released, and is worthy of your money, I'd say.

I guess I should be happy that a decent song will top the charts this Christmas. I just wish it was a credible version. Bah, humbug...

Some versions on YouTube: Leonard Cohen | Jeff Buckley | John Cale | Rufus Wainwright | Brigyn | Imogen Heap | Tim Minchin | Fall Out Boy

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A fair line-up

About this time last year, I wrote a quick recap of the bands that I'd seen live during 2007. Guess what? It's time to do the same for this year, and what a year it has been - gigs attended, in chronological order, were: The Cribs, James, The Wedding Present, Radiohead, Franz Ferdinand (plus more besides at the Latitude festival, of which more here), The Hoosiers (plus more besides at the Sound Island Festival, of which more here), The Zutons, Paul Weller and From The Jam.

Special mention amongst all this great music must go to Radiohead and Paul Weller, both of whom were amazing - I'd say see either (or both) whenever and wherever you get the chance.

Other cultural highlights of the year included King Lear at The Globe, Brenda Blethyn in The Glass Menagerie, the Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, comedian Ed Byrne and especially Paul Merton and his Improv Chums (is there a funnier man alive than Mr Merton?). All outstanding...

I don't want to rub it in but I've just bought tickets to see Buzzcocks again in January...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Soupdragon is no more

Oliver Postgate died yesterday. And with him goes another little piece of childhood, for Oliver, along with his sidekick Peter Firmin, created such televisual gems as The Clangers (left), Bagpuss (below right), Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog, Pogles Wood, and probably more besides. Not only did I love Bagpuss and especially The Clangers as a kid, I am probably sadder than most at this news because Postgate and Firmin created all this amazing stuff in a little shed less than five miles from where I grew up. Anyway, the BBC offer a fine obituary of Mr Postgate here.

To make matters worse, I've just read that some company called Coolbai has bought the rights to Bagpuss and lots of the other Firmin/Postgate characters, with a view to introducing them to a new generation (their words, not mine). For this, read "update and ruin" these characters - for God's sake, just repeat the original series! Don't computer generate The Clangers! Don't CGI Bagpuss! Am I the only one who is worried that the mice on the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ may have heaved their last?!

Before Postgate's work gets forgotten, and his legacy ruined by its new owners, take a trip to the Museum of Canterbury if you're in the area - there you can see the original Bagpuss, Professor Yaffle, Madeleine the rag doll, Gabriel, some Mouse Organ mice and even a couple of Clangers. Go on - go now!

Footnote: the Soupdragon was a character in The Clangers. As the name suggests, it was a dragon that made soup. The Soupdragons, plural, were a 90s band who played around with different genres before jumping on the Madchester bandwagon and having a baggy-trousered hit with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "I'm Free" that was surprisingly good, especially the 12" version listened to in surround sound. But since I can't find that in mp3 form for you, you can at least check out the (hilariously dated) video on YouTube...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Your carbon footprint

I once wrote about being a lippy hippy, specifically about the hypocrisy I demonstrate by being a full-on eco-warrior on the one hand and yet driving a high-emissions sports car. Yes, I am flawed, just like everybody else (including you). But to salve my carbon guilt, I have found a company called Climate Care who will offset my car's footprint for a surprisingly reasonable annual sum. Now I'm not saying this is the answer to all of life's emission woes, and I'm well aware that there are many people who are sceptical about carbon offsetting (try this excellent Guardian article for some of the understandable reasons why), but it's one thing for developing countries to offset the developed world's emissions for revenue generation, and quite another for an ethically sound company to invest in transparent, charitable projects to appease my automotive guilt.

I guess what I'm saying is this: whilst a lot of carbon offsetting schemes are flawed or just blatantly profiteering, get-rich-quick schemes, Climate Care isn't - take a look their carbon calculator to see just how cheaply you could offset your annual mileage, and benefit communities in the developing world at the same time. You might be surprised - I certainly was. And you might also decide that whilst this won't save the world at a stroke, it can't hurt to try, can it?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

This blog has a new home. Well, a new URL at least - I've just shunted the whole thing sideways on the same site as before. But I have taken the opportunity to have a mild redesign too, and added such niceties as a Feedburner XML feed, links to share any article with Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Reddit and StumbleUpon (look down and right), and the ability to link to a specific article within a month rather than just the month itself. Plus I've done away with the IFRAME and the convoluted Javascript I had to use to load specific months within that frame, so hopefully pages will load faster too. Famous last words, I know.

Anyway, it goes without saying that if you subscribed to the old feed then you need to update to the new one, or the Feedburned one (your choice!) - click on either of the RSS or Feedburner logos at the top of this page to do that. I've posted a "Dear John" message on the old feed, but that will be the last post there, so c'mon kids, update now...

And of course, if you have any comments on the mild redesign then please let me know in the comments. Cheers.