Wednesday, 19 December 2012

That was the year that was: 2012

A parody too farLast year's review proved quite popular, in the context of this blog, and I had a lot of fun writing it. So much so, in fact, that I'm going to (try to) repeat the trick. Here, then, are my highpoints of 2012 or, as I understand I should now say if I am to be a pop-culture media figure, here are the year's best bits.

Best album

"The Defenstration Of St Martin" by Martin Rossiter - the return from self-imposed exile of former Gene frontman (© everybody) Rossiter is a sparse affair, almost exclusively just voice and piano. Emotionally raw too, no more so than on ten-minute opener Three Points On A Compass. Some may say this is a bleak album, but just because the subject matter is serious it doesn't mean there aren't many genuinely uplifting moments to be had amongst the sorrow. A most welcome return to the Rozza.

Honourable mentions: "Valentina" by The Wedding Present; "Sonik Kicks" by Paul Weller.

Best song

"Default" by Atoms For Peace - a real grower, this might not seem very accessible at first but stick with it. There's something about the clipped, syncopated rhythms of this that engrain themselves after just a few listens. Whets the appetite for next year's album nicely too.

Honourable mentions: another nod for Martin Rossiter and "Drop Anchor"; "Under The Westway" by Blur.

Best gig

Billy Bragg's Woody Guthrie set at the Voewood Festival. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Woody's birth, Bill played an intimate set of Guthrie originals and songs from the Mermaid Avenue sessions, for which he and Wilco had set unrecorded Guthrie lyrics to music. After Bill's frankly wonderful set, he then helped to conduct a fundraising auction of a first edition Guthrie biography, before pressing the flesh with virtually the whole crowd. Top, top work.

Honourable mentions: the evergreen Wedding Present at the Waterfront; the frankly beguiling Bat For Lashes at UEA.

Best book

"11.22.63" by Stephen King. Sorry to be quite so mass-market but this really is the best book I've read all year. For several years, in fact. It's no secret to regular readers of this blog that I am a fan of King's work, so you might think I've got blinkers on and maybe I have but, regardless, this is King's best work for a very long time, perhaps 20 years. It's proof positive that he isn't just a horror writer too - this is a complex story, painstakingly researched and carefully woven into the known events of the JFK assassination. Put aside your preconceptions and book snobbery, forget who the author is, and just go and read this exceptional book.

Honourable mentions: the debut novel "Killing Daniel" from Sarah Dobbs, whose cross-cultural literary thriller identifies her as an author to watch; "Dave Gorman vs The Rest Of The World" by Dave Gorman (obviously), in which he plays games for our entertainment.

Best film

In a year of great films, the nod goes to "Martha Marcy May Marlene" for its original storyline, captivating central performance for Elizabeth Olsen, and some properly unsettling moments... especially the ending.

Honourable mentions: the Nordic noir of "Headhunters"; "Prometheus" for being nearly great; "Killer Joe" for proving that a film can have Matthew McConaughey in and still be terrific (and dark as night) as long as you have someone like William Friedkin at the helm.

Best television

"White Heat" from the BBC. This mini-series, set in the present but with most of its story-telling in 60s and 70s flashbacks, didn't get anything like the recognition or viewing figures it deserved. Ridiculously, the five hours of this are now available on Amazon for less than a fiver. If you enjoyed Our Friends In The North, then maybe you'll like this too.

Honourable mentions: "Olympics 2012" from the BBC. An almost unimaginably large task, to cover such an event, but once again the Beeb gave us cause to be proud. We should give daily thanks for the fact that we as a nation are not solely in the thrall of Murdoch for our broadcast media.

Best comedy

"Ted" - a bit of a cheat, as I could have shoehorned this into the Best Film category, but Ted made me laugh more than anything else I've seen all year. I'm not ashamed (though maybe I should be) to admit that I was crying with laughter in the cinema, shaking like a schoolboy trying to disguise a giggling fit in class. So funny that I watched it again, in its entirety, on a recent long-haul flight, despite having just seen it at the cinema. Parental advisory, obviously.

Honourable mentions: "2012", a satire which, like "Yes, Minister" before it, made you laugh like hell and then wonder if, in fact, real life was even more absurd.

Best sport (new for 2012!)

Jessica Ennis who, there's no other word for it, was awesome at the Olympics. A multi-eventer completing the hurdles in a time faster than the individual hurdles gold medallist at Beijing? And refusing to do anything other than win her 800m heat, even though all she had to do was finish ahead of her much slower nearest overall competitor? Classy. Subsequent TV appearances reveal her to be grounded and natural too. Much of YouTube seems obsessed with her bottom, but I won't comment on that. Instead, I'll just ask what does she have to do to win Sports Personality Of The Year? Third in 2009, third in 2010, second this year... it's no consolation but Jess gets my nod here.

Honourable mentions: not the Ryder Cup, despite Europe's incredible comeback, but specifically Phil Mickelson's unbelievably generous display of sportsmanship towards Justin Rose on the 17th and 18th holes of their match on the final day - an object lesson in how sport should be played, even at the highest level; Norwich City's unbeaten run in the Premier League, currently ten games and counting, including victories over Arsenal and Manchester United - at present, Barcelona are the only top-flight European team with a longer unbeaten league run!

And that's it. Agree/disagree? What were your best bits?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

More street art - Austerity Graffiti

More pointed street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town. Other posts in this series can be found here, here, here and here.

Austerity Graffiti

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mission accomplished, sort of

I don't want to turn into Ouroboros or anything but sometimes, when seeking inspiration for things to blog about, I look back at past posts. And last December I did one of those meme posts, you know the sort, you answer a load of loosely themed questions in what you hope is an amusing and original way and the blog-reading world falls at your feet. That's the theory, at least.

Anyway, one of the questions in that meme was "If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?" After some obviously amusing and original pondering, I decided on Morrissey but then, after a bit of discussion in the comments, I suggested that maybe I should opt to meet Billy Bragg instead.

And then, this summer, I did exactly that.

I saw Bill do his Woody Guthrie set at the Voewood Festival in August, a perfectly small and intimate venue for Bill to do his thing. And afterwards he lingered by the merchandise stall and happily pressed the flesh, signed things, posed for photographs and had a bit of a chat. I took my place at the back of the queue and waited...and waited. People make the most of their time with Billy, it seems, and he doesn't hurry them along. Quite the opposite. By the time he got to me he would have had every right to be a bit tired and keen to get to his bed - after all, he'd just done a 90 minute set, taken part in a book auction and then met virtually everyone in the audience. But he was very happy to have a nice chat, in the course of which I explained that, growing up, just about the only things my brother (who is four years older than me) and I had in common musically were Billy and The Jam. Bill replied, and I hope I remember this verbatim, "Well, I've always thought you can't really trust anyone who doesn't like The Jam." Yes, I know, that's a slightly odd basis on which to judge people... but as a theory, I think it probably holds water.

So I got to meet someone this year that, last year, I said I'd like to meet. Hooray. To celebrate, here's a clip of Bill doing his Woody Guthrie thing. It's not from Voewood - YouTube let me down on that - but it's contemporaneous.

And since I trust you all, let's have some Jam too. I know, any excuse, right? But I bloody love this - reminds me of watching my brother's copy of the "Snap!" video on VHS.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Clandestine Classic XXXI - Dalliance (live)

SeamonmstersThe thirty-first post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirrelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I love The Wedding Present. They're right up with Morrissey as acts that I've seen live the most. In fact tomorrow they'll claim that number one spot for themselves outright, as I go to watch them perform their album Seamonsters in its entirety.

Seamonsters is a funny old album. Released a barely creditable 21 years ago, in the eyes of many it really crystallised a more evolved Weddoes sound. The pure jingle jangle of George Best and Tommy had been left behind, as had the attendant C86-ers it attracted and, via the stepping stone of Bizarro (also bloody excellent, since you ask), David Gedge and his ragged, oft-changing band arrived at this heavier, more intense sound. Vocals were even lower in the mix, if that was possible. Trademark bittersweet Gedge lyrics became still darker. There is enough fuzz and feedback to satisfy anyone in their right (or wrong) mind, perhaps unsurprising with Steve Albini at the helm. All this and more - darker, heavier, brooding. Still recognisably Wedding Present, but not the bright jangly Wedding Present of their earliest recordings. This is a Gedge more cynical, more world-weary, more fatalistic/pessimistic/realistic/all of the above. And it's solid too - this, more than any Weddoes album before or since, feels coherent and stands as a unified body of work.

All of which makes choosing a track from it for today's Clandestine Classic more difficult. I was going to choose Dare first, then Lovenest, then Octopussy, then Dare again. And they are all beyond great. But in the end I chose Dalliance. Why? Because it is the archetypal Seamonsters track - heavy, dripping with menace in it's dark lyrics, full of fuzzy guitars and just the lightest jangly motif to remind you who you're listening to, and with vocals hidden down in the depths, only truly revealed with headphones. And what lyrics! Witness the chorus where Gedge sings:

But do you know how much I miss you?
It's not fair after all you've done
That I'm so...
I still want to kiss you.

As John Peel famously once said, "The boy Gedge has written some of the best love songs of the rock ‘n’ roll era. You may dispute this, but I’m right and you’re wrong!" And this is a love song... but not of the hearts and flowers variety. More of the bitterness and resentment variety, telling the tale of a love gone bad from which one partner has moved on and one has not. Even the dalliance of the title is ironic, given the broken romance referred to was seven years long, not just a fly-by-night thing. Ironic or, perhaps, just one more twist of the knife.

You can find the original version of Dalliance on the remastered and expanded version of Seamonsters. However, in honour of the fact that I'll be watching Gedge and company perform this live tomorow night, and because a fair proportion of this blog's regular readers are quite likely to have heard Dalliance already, here's an excellent quality live recording, courtesy of the mind-boggling mystery that is YouTube.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Sarah Dobbs on the art of Killing Daniel...

Killing Daniel by Sarah DobbsKilling Daniel by Sarah DobbsI know, I know, two interviews in a month. But don't worry, the sky's not about to fall or anything. It's just that this month has seen the launch of Killing Daniel, a rather fine book by a rather fine author, Sarah Dobbs. I don't want to give too much away just yet, so maybe a review will have to wait for a while, but what I can say is that I can't think of too many books that are set in Manchester and Japan, nor can I think of too many books that open with a murder so distinctively (and unsettlingly) described. Got your interest yet? Good. I can also add that this is far from vanilla crime fiction - it is contemporary, literary fiction, struck through with Sarah's memorable descriptions and beguiling prose style.

So you get the picture? This is a book that needs to be read. Want to know more about the author first? Well then, you're in the right place, as Sarah was kind enough to give me this interview between launches...

New Amusements: As an introduction, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sarah: I'm a writer - I think I'm just about allowed to say that without a little flutter of not-really-but-I'll-pretend-until-it's-true! My novel, Killing Daniel, was published by Unthank Books on 5 November. I also write short stories, some scripts. I also teach, paint, take photographs, stroke cats, lust after dogs, not in a weird way. Get drunk on two glasses of wine (as that poor lady I wobbled into at the recent launch might testify!) This be my public apology.

NA: What is your book about?

S: Essentially, a teenager called Daniel dies and in some way the novel is about the implications of that on the girl he loved. She becomes obsessed with tracking down his killer. I suppose that's the 'thrillerness' about the novel. But it's also about loss and friendship, the power of the past and the choices we can make in the way we live our lives. It's a hopeful novel, despite a quite difficult and dark subject matter.

NA: When and why did you begin writing?

S: I was half this size and the reasons are many. The ones I'd allow to be googled forever are this:

  1. My mother wanted to write books, I sort of got it in my head that I'd complete that ambition.
  2. I was big into all the point horror as a kid. They never ended the way I wanted them too. All these unhappy endings, no no no. I wrote the endings I wanted in my head. I suppose it goes on from there, wanting to write a book that completely satisfies me as reader. Not that this one does, perfectionism, big positive and negative for writers.

Sarah reading from Killing Daniel at the Norwich launch eventNA: What genre do you prefer to write in?

S: I don't care. I want to write something that either starts off as, or becomes, an obsession.

NA: What is your biggest writing achievement to date?

S: Aw, I would say Killing Daniel (the novel). I was pretty proud of getting a story on the BBC a few years ago, the Ghost in the Mechanic. I thought it was all going to snowball from there. It did not.

NA: What inspired you to write Killing Daniel?

S: Ah, yes. I wanted to tell Daniel's story. I wanted to write about Japan. Explore a culture I didn't know at all and perhaps get to know one I knew vaguely and one I knew well (I hope I'm still talking English!)

NA: Who is your favourite author, and what is it about their work that strikes a chord with you?

S: I'll respectfully be greedy here. I have a thing for the Murakamis (Ryu and Haruki). Some I love, some not. I like translated fiction - I suppose there's something that grasps me about the gaps between how something can be told in one language and in another. What story do we get? I think that's mimetic of the process between text and reader. I also sucked up Ray Robinson's Electricity. The detail is gritty and gorgeous. Maybe it struck a chord because of the way I thought (I was an MA student back then!) I could, or wanted, to write. Ditto Graham Mort. His prose is a puzzle of layers, the details rendered like a Rothko or a Turner, depending.

NA: What book are you reading now, and would you recommend it?

S: I'm reading Carys Bray's 'Sweet Home' a short story collection that is not sweet. Yes I flipping would. It's scarily well written, very well controlled and thoughtful. I was so pleased I bought it - I think it'll make my short story teaching so much easier!

NA: What are your current projects?

S: I'm sketching out something secretive but brilliant (she says), working on a screenplay with a friend, drawing together a short story collection and just generally plodding on.

NA: Where and when do you do most of your writing?

S: I flipping built myself a sleek writer's room complete with two desks that hug half the room, inspirational photographs and comfy chair. But I do it on the couch. In front of Gray's Anatomy. I know, it's a shame.

NA: What would you say was the hardest part of writing your book?

S: Getting the right way to tell it. Killing Daniel went through so many drafts, so many POV changes, loss of characters, addition of characters, a million different endings, a million different reader perspectives. Out and out nightmare. Which is why I wore a sparkly dress on launch night. You're damn right I'm celebrating!

NA: Who designed your book cover – and was the cover something you deemed important?

S: Tommy Collin designed the cover and many other lovelies, such as Killing Daniel postcards and fortune cookies. I kid you not. That was cool. But yes, I was a bit of a pain in the arse when it came to the cover. I can see why some publishers might not include authors too much on the process. I wanted it to match my vision (I know I sound like a pleb here, but it felt so important). Eventually, Tommy came up with a cover that matched his vision, and then I realised I had a new vision. It's gorgeous.

NA: Where can we buy the book?

S: Amazon, iBook, Waterstones, Powells, Barnes and Noble and from Unthank direct

NA: Do you have a website or blog where we can keep tabs on you?

S: sarahjanedobbs.wordpress.com - please pop round for a visit. I'm nice.

NA: Your best advice for other writers?

S: Write what you need to write. It won't work otherwise and also, it's a bit pointless, isn't it?

NA: And, finally, do you have anything else that you’d like to say to everyone?

S: Support small publishing! Can I say that? I feel like I should be wearing a cape with Unthank across the chest. They've worked tirelessly on this. Plus it's one of the ways that unconventional and brave writing gets a chance. You might never go back... :)

So there we are - a great book by a great author. Do me a favour, go and buy it now, and I promise I'll leave this interviewing lark to pro's, and get back to writing about music. Deal?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Vote Obama! And Nina Baker!

If you're American hopefully you've voted once today already, and in the right way. Either way, stick around, maybe I can convince you to cast another vote too...

Beguiling songstress Nina Baker - a Kate Bush without the leotard [Photo (c) NinaBakerMusic.co.uk 2012]Earlier in the year I went along to the small but perfectly formed Reepham Festival where I saw, amongst others, a certain Nina Baker. She was performing in the church, an atmospheric venue well suited to her soaring vocal style. Nina is a singer-songwriting pianist, so comparisons with Kate Bush and Tori Amos are, naturally, obligatory. Personally, I think there's a touch of Aimee Mann in there too, and that can only be a good thing.

As I write this, Nina is on the shortlist for MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition, and needs your votes to win (hence the somewhat shameless Barack-referencing headline, in an attempt to attract more readers). If the Bush/Amos/Mann comparisons aren't enough reasons to vote Nina, let me add that she is a beguiling performer and, in an age of identikit, Cowell-moulded, X-Factor bland fly-by-nights, her talent and songwriting are both original, honest and refreshing. An on top of that, she seems like a lovely person too, being kind enough to grant this humble blogger an interview. And here it is...

New Amusements: Hi Nina. Let's start with a bit about you - the bio, if you like. Where are you from, how old are you, when did you start singing/playing, and how long have you been performing?

Nina: I am 25, born and bred Norwich girl who resides in sleepy Wymondham and not so sleepy Leamington Spa. I have been performing on stage from a fairly young age, but only started playing the piano when I was 14 when my grandmother bought me one for my birthday. I was a singer in a few function bands after university, but in 2010 I thought that I would get up there with my piano and perform solo. Not looked back since!

NA: Being a female, piano-playing singer-songwriter with a soaring vocal range, I bet you get compared to Kate Bush a lot (not least by me). What other comparisons do you get?

N: I get a whole number of comparisons – Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Regina Spector, Alicia Keys, Ellie Goulding, Alannis Morrisette, Adele, even Leona Lewis – it depends what I am singing, when and where I am singing, sometimes my sets are very mellow, sometimes they are very peppy, other times they are just belting from start to finish! Depends when you catch me!

NA: Are such comparison flattering or can they be obstructive?

N: Fantastic to be compared to such wonderful artists. Though in many ways I do not want to be compared to others as my voice is certainly not the norm and stylistically I like to think that I am a little different. Sue Marchant of BBC Radio, who I respect immensely as an oracle of all music, often refers to the "Nina Baker sound", which is as high a compliment as you can pay me.

NA: And what of your musical influences? Who do you listen to in the car? What do you belt out in the shower?

N: I was brought up to the East-End singing of my Grandmother and the Motown collections of my parents. This has clearly influenced my song writing which despite the genre switches has roots in the soul and blues camps. I don't tend to sing in the shower, I do enough of that on an evening! I'm proud to say that in the car I don't listen to music, I am a big fan of Radio 4 - their plays are brilliant!

NA: You're currently nominated in MTV's Brand New for 2013 poll. How did that come about, and how have you found the experience?

N: My manager has contacts at MTV Europe and they made him aware of this competition, so we talked about it and decided to enter it with hours left till the deadline. We put up a video that we recorded with the band at EPIC Studios only days before and we were not were not expecting anything to come of it. Was shocked to make the list and since then it has been an utter rollercoaster of emotions. Excitement at being selected, appearing in the press, on tv and radio coupled with absolute terror wondering what will happen! On top of this I have been touring with my band, so we have been travelling lots, promoting the MTV vote during the day and playing hard at night - I'm exhausted quite frankly!

NA: Has being in the MTV poll led you to think differently, or try anything new, in how you market yourself and your music?

N: I have certainly changed my way of thinking, I have been more of a marketeer than a musician over the past few weeks. I have never been one for self-promotion, I like to let the music and others do that. But in a competition so tight, with the rewards so potentially high, everyone you meet can be an influence on your destiny. This competition will come down to individual votes I am sure, so getting individuals to vote has been all I have been focussed on. Very hard when you are a solo performer and you do not have other people to spread the load. Fortunately the response I have received from the community and on social media has been brilliant and they have really kept me in this competition when at the beginning many didn't think that I had a chance.

NA: What can we expect from your forthcoming album "Quite Frankly"?

N: The best album of 2013! No, in all seriousness it will be a fantastic album, we wanted to create the 2013 version of "Jagged Little Pill" and I am confident that we have done that, in no small part due to the tireless efforts, creativity and vision of the band (Simon Dring, Fredy Solstice, Adam Moore, Owen Morgan), my management and I. From start to eventual finish it has taken two years, it has 13 tracks of all shapes and flavours from the upbeat stuff that will make you want to dance to the haunting anthems that will leave you stunned and feeling empty. We have a cross-pollinated rock, jazz, skiffle, pop, blues, classical, swing, it sounds like a recipe for disaster, but please trust me, it works! Listening from the album from beginning to end you are taken on a real journey and we have aligned the tracks to take you by the hand on this path of highs and lows. We have over 300 people who have featured on the album, we have brass sections, string sections (supplied by Bellowhead), the Voxettes, the Ebbw Vale Male Voice Choir, The Kings Gospel Choir and even my producer Nick Brine (Artic Monkeys, The Darkness) with some leg-slapping. It's an epic production and a really good listen - no fillers!

NA: My first experience of you playing live was at this summer's Reepham Festival. What have been your most memorable live performance experiences?

N: Reepham festival was a highlight in many ways as I played in a beautiful church as a duo with my guitarist Adam Moore, that will certainly be one of my memories of the year. But in terms of best live performance of the year it certainly has to be at The Jam House in Birmingham, the music venue owned by Jools Holland. I was already fairly nervous being asked to play there as I know how particular they are with their artists. I was also playing solo which ratchets up the pressure that much more as there is nowhere to hide and no room for error. But what really set the stage was that I was part of a night for female singer-songwriters and the standard was just out of this world.......and I was the headline act! No pressure there then! As a performance it was the most perfect and most complete show I had ever done, in that moment I managed to capture the years of practising & performing hundreds of times and my stage craft was as polished as it could be. The crowd loved it, I gained a lot of fans that day and in the coming weeks I was invited back to perform, with my band, and again we delivered our best performance to date.

NA: Talking of playing live, according to your Twitter feed your rider is tea and scones. And in "Single Bed" you sing "I'm happy just me, with my bourbons and tea." There's a definite theme emerging here! So if you could meet anyone, from any time, for tea and cake, who would it be, and why?

N: I am a huge fan of Rowan Atkinson and John Cleese, to have either of these round for a cuppa would be the greatest day ever. There is a little old lady in my village that makes cake and sells them in the local shop - I would buy one of these, most probably the banoffee sponge, which provides the most incredible attack on the senses!

NA: And finally... anything you want to add? Any message to the readers of this blog?

N: Basically.....Please vote for me! I am just a humble girl from Norwich with a piano. I don't have a huge marketing machine behind me, nor a wealthy benefactor, everything I have done has been self-funded and I have reached this level through sheer hard work and undying determination over three years. Not had a day off in that time, it has been all work. I would love to have that big break to make the lives of my band and manager that little bit easier and the album is dedicated to someone very special to me and so it needs to succeed. This competition could be life changing for many people, so please vote and please tell your friends! Xx

You can find out more about Nina at NinaBakerMusic.co.uk and, more importantly, you can vote for her at MTV's Brand New Unsigned 2013 competition right here. Please make sure you do, before voting closes on the 12th of November. You'll be doing a favour for a real talent, and taking a stand against the homogenisation of the charts too, so exercise your right to vote... exercise is good for you, after all. Your reward is this fine video...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Clandestine Classic XXX - Pink Glove (Peel Session version) #keepingitpeel

#keepingitpeelThe thirtieth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Is it possible for there to be a clandestine classic from a band as wildly successful as Pulp? After all, they bestrode the music scene like sage Sheffield Britpop gods, didn't they? And it was ever thus. Wasn't it? Well, not really. I'm not talking about you, Constant Reader, pleased be assured of that... but if you go back before Different Class then you lose and confuse a lot of Pulp fans.

I'm not going to go much further back though - only one album, in fact, to His 'n' Hers. This was my first exposure to Pulp. I might like to consider myself the Oracle of late 20th Century indie, but the truth is that, like many, I wasn't too up to speed with what Jarvis and his cohort had been up to for the previous sixteen years. But I'd heard Lipgloss on the radio and, armed with those three and a half minutes of archetypal Cocker-ness, I trooped off to the Folkestone branch of Our Price in my lunch break to do some CD buying. Ah, Our Price... the way we were.

It's a bit of a digression but here's the reason I remember buying this album more than most. As I offered the CD to the woman behind the counter, she favoured me with a lovely smile, nodded in appreciation and said, "This is such a good album." It was like a scene from High Fidelity... or it would have been if I hadn't been such a tongue-tied, shy fool. I fancied her, you see, with her long, corkscrewed brunette hair, her happy smile and her legs which, whilst not long, were very nice in a permanently-clad-in-leggings way. So what did I do? Here we are, in a record shop environment where I feel very comfortable, with a woman I am attracted to making conversation with me. Do I keep the conversation going, perhaps by asking what else she thinks I might like if I like Pulp? Did I try to ask her out for a drink, or get her number? Or did I just mumble something like "Oh, good," and hand over my hard-earned? What do you reckon? The more things change, the more some things stay the same...

But anyway, back to the record, or specifically back to today's Clandestine Classic because that is not the His 'n' Hers version but a Peel Session recording, since today is Keeping It Peel day (and I really encourage you to read more about that here). If anything, the session version is even more urgent, more pressing, than the album version, right from the off. There's that Morse-code evoking keyboard intro and propelling bassline, then a cracking Cocker kitchen-sink lyric which builds, as so many great Pulp songs do, to a crescendo of tumbling story-telling (check out Jarv's "Jesus" around the four minute mark), in this case the narrator trying to warn an ex off her new beau who is perhaps not treating her right. At least that's my reading of the lyric... a lyric that is layered, again like so much of Pulp's best work, with something sinister and unsettling, like:

Well you'll always be together
Cos he gets you up in leather,
And he knows your friend called Heather
But he never kissed her, never...

Blimey, "he" is a right bastard, isn't he Jarvis?

I love His 'n' Hers. This is probably my favourite track on it, and I think the Peel Session manages to add a little something more. You can find this version, unsurprisingly, on Pulp's excellent Peel Sessions double CD - frankly I can't think of many better ways to spend (at the time of writing) £8.70 of your money. Whilst you're waiting for Amazon to deliver the goods, here's YouTube.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Clandestine Classic XXIX - Rise And Shine

Rise And Shine (original version)The twenty-ninth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

What makes a classic clandestine? If I mention The Cardigans to you, there's a fair chance you've heard of them, as long as you have had a passing interest in popular music in the last twenty years. And if I asked you to name three hits by the Swedish tunesmiths, there's a fair chance you could do that too. You'd probably come up with My Favourite Game, Lovefool and, after a bit of umming and aahing, Erase/Rewind. Certainly those were the band's biggest successes commercially. But what else?

The Cardigans formed in 1992 in Jonkoping, a small Swedish town that curiously also gave rise to The Motorhomes (Clandestine Classic XXII) and Agnetha from Abba (Clandestine Classic XXV). They soon became a five-piece, with guitarist Peter Svensson writing the tunes and singer Nina Persson (gorgeous, by the way) providing the lyrics. Their debut single was, you've guessed it, Rise And Shine, released in Sweden in 1994 and in the UK a year later, in support of debut album Emmerdale. It reached the giddy heights of 29 in the UK singles chart - a fair showing but still low enough for the song to qualify as clandestine (in my book at least and, as Al Murray says: my gaff, my rules). A re-recorded version was released a few years later, in other territories as they say, but it's the original recording I feature here today.

So what's to tell about the song? Well, it's an archetypal piece of mid-90s Scandinavian jingle-jangle, with a guitar sound so bright it almost needs shades. Nina's vocals are a little breathy, a little pixie-ish (not in that way, although curiously both Nina and Peter cite Pixies as an influence), and very catchy. Beguiling too, but maybe that's just me. Also, given the song's title and bounce-along pace, it's a great track one, side one for a mix-tape. Remember them? But most of all, though, this song is danceable. If, like me, you were an indie kid who liked a dance (as long as no-one was watching, of course) then this was the kind of song for you. I hope you heard it at the time.

I still dance to this now, occasionally, and so today's clandestine classic is dedicated to the one person with whom I dance to this tune. As well as on the debut album, you can find this version of Rise And Shine on The Cardigans inestimable Best Of compilation, a record so uniformly excellent that I'm not going to root around and find you a dodgy download - just go and buy the album! You'll thank me for it. I will still embed the original promo though. The video for the re-recorded version is different, and also worth a look - it's here. But for now, here's the original. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Defenestration of St Martin

First off, apologies - I haven't blogged much lately. Or, in fact, done anything much online, anywhere. What can I say, it's been a busy month. A busy month in which I've often not had ready access to that there Internet. But, like Arnie (and this is just about the only way in which I could ever say that) I'm back. Luckily with something very important to write about too.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my love for Nineties indie band Gene. Indeed, such is my love for them that if you gave me a choice between Gene and The Smiths for a reunion gig (Gene called time in 2004) I would have a properly hard time choosing. Partly that's because Gene are one of those few bands who, musically, never put a foot wrong. There is something good about every note of their recorded output. And that in turn is, in a very large part, down to vocalist, lyricist and songwriter Martin Rossiter.

Following the demise of Gene, Martin kept himself to himself by and large. Yes, he sang a bit with a few bands, but there was no solo album. He didn't do a Morrissey, which might have come as a shock to many, given how often Rozza was compared to Mozza (I have even read somewhere this "proof" that Gene were never more than Smiths copyists: the B-side of This Charming Man was a track called Jeane. I know - QED, right?). But last year Martin returned to the stage - also like Arnie, he was back.

Showcasing piano-led material akin to the more introspective end of the Gene spectrum, Martin played a number of very well received gigs during 2011 and early 2012. I was lucky enough to see two of these, and was immediately struck by the emotional power of his new songs. And whilst I could listen to these songs courtesy of poorly-recorded audience videos on YouTube, what I really wanted was a new album. Luckily, I was far from alone.

I say luckily because Martin is without a record deal in the conventional sense, But, thanks to PledgeMusic, he's been able to fund his album by getting people like me to effectively pay in advance. I, and lots of others, jumped at the chance and Martin found himself in the wonderful position of raising all the money he needed for the album to go ahead in just 24 hours. Yes, that's how many Gene fans there still are out there. As a result, The Defenstration of St Martin will be released on the 26th of November.

How to end this post then? Well, of course I'm going to end with a YouTube embed of a new song from Martin. But first I must point you at Martin's PledgeMusic project because of course you can (and should) still pledge to buy the album. You can also pledge for all manner of other goodies too (live EP downloads, t-shirts, that kind of thing), plus you get access to exclusive content. If you ever had any interest in Gene at all, it's worth it. Also worth it is following Martin on Twitter. He gets particularly (and entertainingly) squirly during Question Time. Now, enough from me, here's the aforementioned YouTube embed: Martin rehearsing I Want To Choose When I Sleep Alone.

And as a bonus, another preview from the forthcoming album: No One Left To Blame. Now go and pledge!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

'Tis the season... the footy season... again

The new Premier League season has just started, so if you haven't already you'd better be quick and sign up to play the free, official Premier League fantasy football game for 2012/13? To enter, simply register for free here. Et voila!

Here's my team, Jack Of Ball Trades, as it was for the start of the season... crap, isn't it? Aguero's already done his knee, so I'm going to have to transfer him before the weekend. And look, I started Ba on the bench (foolish). Oh, and Silva missed a penalty. What do I know about football?

Jack Of Ball Trades - perennial nearly-men

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Clandestine Classic XXVIII - Harold The Barrel

Seventies Genesis. Easy, ladies.The twenty-eighth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

It's time for a confession. Regular readers will know of my predilection for The Smiths, The Wedding Present, Gene, The Jam, Radiohead... you probably figure that I have a thing for The Who, Kinks and Small Faces as well. Those of you who've explored the menu bar at the top of this page will probably realise I'm interested in bands like The Blue Aeroplanes too. But the confession... the embarrassing moment of musical truth... I own a lot of Genesis CDs too.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, come back! It's alright, I promise. I'm not talking about the Collins-vocalled commercial highpoint of the Eighties or, worse still, the post-Collins era. What interests me, and has done since my late teens (sadly that's quite a long time now) is the Gabriel-fronted Genesis of the early Seventies. In particular, I love the album Nursery Cryme, from which today's clandestine classic is drawn. I love it (particularly the digitally remastered, pin-sharp release) not only for the earnest and technically gifted playing that Messrs Hackett, Rutherford, Banks and Collins bring to proceedings but also for the detailed, lyrically complex stories the songs tell.

For this reason, I so nearly chose The Musical Box for today's classic. The lyrics are based on a fairy story written by Peter Gabriel, about two Victorian children in a country house. The girl, Cynthia, kills the boy, Henry, by removing his head with a croquet mallet (very Shining-esque - the book, not the film). She later discovers Henry's musical box. When she opens it, Henry returns as a spirit, and starts ageing very quickly. This causes him to experience a lifetime's sexual desires in a few moments, and he tries to persuade Cynthia to, well, you know... However, his nurse arrives and throws the musical box at him, destroying them both. This song is the inspiration for the album's excellent cover art, which shows Cynthia holding a croquet mallet, with a few heads lying on the ground.

But The Musical Box is over ten minutes long. It's challenging and rewarding to listen to but, for the non-fan or newcomer, it's mostly challenging. Not ideal material for a clandestine classic then, and not likely to win many converts to the early-Genesis cause...

So instead I chose Harold The Barrel, a jaunty three minute tale of a Bognor restaurant owner who kills himself by jumping from a high window ledge. I know - upbeat! But even at barely three minutes long, and with a bleak subject, Gabriel's lyrics are intricate, detailed, wordy. In short, they tell a full, rich story... that just happens to be set to music. I particularly like the line "last seen in a mouse-brown overcoat" - what a great description, and typical of the wordsmithery at play through the song. Musically, the band's technical proficiency is evident if understated (particularly in the first half of the track, which fairly rattles along). Half-way through, the whole song takes a ninety-degree turn into a pastoral melody for Harold's introspection... before barrelling (sorry, I couldn't resist) along some more.

You can find today's classic on the aforementioned, remastered Nursery Cryme. On the off-chance that you might just want to give today's offering a listen, of course there's YouTube. Enjoy. Then go and buy the album.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Separated at birth IV - Team GB and the New Avengers

All hail Team GB!The New Avengers logo. Christ, I had a thing about Purdey.Am I the only one not wondering where the designers got their inspiration for the Team GB Olympic team logo? Right down to the sticky-outy tongue...? I am? Oh. Alright then...

For completists: Separated at birth I, II and III.

Wow. Really glad I didn't waste my 300th post on something fatuous. And since I have probably just used the Olympic rings there without permission, my 301st post will probably be from the Tower... it's been nice knowing you, and all that.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Latitude - all things to all people

It's a bit grainy but that's the Modfather, honestI've missed going to Latitude for the last couple of years. I went in 2008 and 2009, and found it to be the best of festivals, but life changes mean I haven't been able to make it more recently. Even this year I couldn't get to the whole thing, but I did manage a day ticket for Sunday. In the best tradition of my old festival diaries, here's what I saw.

Sunday:
  • Marcus Brigstocke presents The Early Edition : Comedy Arena. A gentle, satirical, panel-based pulling apart of the day's papers. Robin Ince was especially good.
  • Lang Lang : The Waterfront Stage. The classical pianist should have been on a bigger stage, such was the size of the crowd for this. Lang Lang's technical proficiency and dazzling skills were mind-boggling. His ivory-tinkling also drifted over to the burger stall where I later had an early lunch... which was nice.
  • Rufus Wainwright : Obelisk Arena. I'm not overly familiar with his body of work, but I thought he might be worth seeing and I was right. What a voice! He started a capella, singing that the churches had run out of candles, and got more dramatic from there. Better than expected, unlike...
  • Reginald D. Hunter : Comedy Arena. I'm quite a fan of Reg's HIGNFY appearances but this was a bit disappointing, if I'm honest. He didn't really have a set and admitted as much, saying this was just a case of getting into the groove before Edinburgh. Plus he started ten minutes late and finished five minutes early. Still, his riff on idolising Margaret Thatcher was quite funny, and led nicely into...
  • John Pilger : Literary Arena. John strode on stage looking like a statesmanlike version of Paul Hogan, and described the era of Thatcher and Reagan as "the age of regression". He was also illuminating on his early journalistic career, when "tabloid" wasn't a pejorative term, and (predictably) scathing about the terrible impact Murdochs have had on British media.
  • Thomas Dolby : The Word Arena. After a protracted tea-break in the Greenpeace tent (top festival tip: charity tents sell cheaper tea than commercial food concessions), I only just made it to the Word Arena in time to catch the tail-end of Thomas. That tail-end was fine. I'm sure the rest of his set was too.
  • Latitude Contemporary Art : The Iris Gallery. A woodland setting for a variety of artworks, some of which worked better than others. The inflatable lighthouse left me cold (and, if I'm honest, quietly shaking my head). By contrast, Threefold Law by Andy Harper had me reaching for my camera. Each to their own, I guess.
  • Simple Minds : Obelisk Arena. Jim Kerr must get pissed off sometimes - Simple Minds could have been U2. But they're not, and their set on Sunday illustrated why. Yes, there were some hits: Waterfront, Don't You Forget About Me and Alive And Kicking, but other than that? A bit boring. A bit pedestrian. Whisper it quietly but even a bit repetitive. Repetitive. Yes, repetitive. And I'm not just talking about Waterfront's bassline. Plus Jim looked like a Vauxhall salesman about to try selling you an Astra. Having said all, I later got talking to some bloke in the Hurly Burly café who thought that Simple Minds had been brilliant. So, each to their own again then.
  • Bat For Lashes : Obelisk Arena. The day's revelation. I came into this not really knowing anything about Bat For Lashes, or any of their (her) material, but I left as a convert to the cause and with a bit of a new brunette indie-chick crush on Natasha Khan. How to describe her? A bit Florence-esque but better, more attractive and without the minor annoyances.
  • Jack Dee : Comedy Arena. Eventually I dragged myself away from Natasha in time to catch the second half of Jack's set. Some of his material (how kids change when they hit their teens, for example) felt like an oft-ploughed furrow, and a bit predictable. However, he got away with this by being bloody funny. And, being last on in the Comedy tent, he was able to do an encore - a musical number with an eight-stringed uke, which was much funnier than it had any right to be. Plus he over-ran considerably (please take note, Mr Hunter).
  • David Bainbridge : Literary Arena. Because I got to the Literary tent early to ensure a good spot for the next reading, I accidentally caught a fair bit of popular science writer David Bainbridge talking about getting old. I am getting old too, of course, so this struck a chord. He was occasionally quite funny too, so served as a good warm-up for the next act.
  • Dave Gorman : Literary Arena. Dave read, engagingly and funnily enough to warrant a spot in the Comedy tent, from his latest book, DG vs The Rest Of The World. He took a detailed Q&A afterwards, the nature of the questions seeming to suggest that a lot of the crowd were real fans. I bought said book afterwards, then queued to meet my comedy hero and get it signed. It sounds feebly fan-boyish to say that shaking Dave's hand, and telling him I admired his well-reasoned and very public support of the campaign for libel reform, was a real highpoint of the day for me.
  • Paul Weller : Obelisk Arena. Thanks to Dave, I missed the first ten minutes of the Modfather's set (I'll let you off, Dave). And what a set. Maybe it was being limited to 90 minutes, I don't know, but Mr Weller felt like he was straining at the leash to fit as much in as possible. Also, and this is purely supposition on my part, I wonder if Paul's much-reported giving-up of the old demon drink has been good for his vocal cords? I think it might well have been - he was certainly in fine voice, as good as I've heard him. And for all the old mods there (some of whom had set up camp near the stage before noon), there was plenty of Jam material - Start, Art School, In The City, Town Called Malice and, for an incendiary sing-along encore, Eton Rifles. Bloody hell though, Art School? Singing along to that separated the men from the boys. Oh, and unless it was in the first ten minutes, there was nothing from the Style Council era - shame. All in all though, this was right up there among the best Weller performances I've seen, only really dampened by a new habit of playing guitar whilst sat behind his keyboard (we can't see you then Paul) and letting Steve Craddock over-indulge his inner fret-onanist during Foot Of The Mountain. But, you know, generally brilliant!
  • Simon Day : Literary Arena. As a coda to the day, I dropped in on Fast Show alumnus Simon's reading from his, at times painfully honest, autobiography. I'll be honest too, I was tired and feeling a bit leggy, so nearly gave this a miss, but I thought (correctly) that it would give the other day ticketers time to clear the car park after Weller. I'm glad I stayed. In addition to searing honesty, Simon was very funny, with a caustic wit and deadpan delivery. I hope he would find it complimentary if I described him as the anti-McIntyre.

So there we are. A packed festival programme, in a day. Anyone jealous? Things I would have liked to have seen, with more time and fewer timetable clashes, included Slow Club, the Levellers' acoustic set, Mark Thomas's latest offering and the series of short films from record label 4AD. But there's always another year. I hope...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Clandestine Classic XXVII - Hey Dude

Kula Shaker. Control yourselves, ladies.The 27th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I'm in two minds what to say about today's featured act, Kula Shaker. It would be easy to dismiss them as ridiculous indie fluff, slipstreaming in the wake of the Britpop behemoth. Even back then (then being 1996), I was a bit cynical. The whole "we're so into Indian mysticism we've got songs called Tattva and Govinda" seemed a bit contrived to me, a bit deliberate. Maybe unfairly, I thought this was little more than a ruse, an attempt to have a USP that would get them in the NME. And as if that wasn't enough, much was made of lead singer's Crispian Mill's showbusiness lineage - son of Hayley, grandson of Sir John - as if that in itself was enough to warrant press coverage and record sales. I scoffed. I tutted. I probably rolled my eyes. And then I heard today's Clandestine Classic and went out and bought the album.

And it - K, from 1996 - is not bad. Not bad at all. Yes, there's plenty of that "we're so into India" stuff that felt contrived but, for the most part, the sitar, tabla, tamboura and the rest all work. Today's classic doesn't feature any of them though. I guess you'd say Hey Dude plays it straight, relying on phasing and guitar effects to achieve some moderate psychedelia. And the punters loved it, with Hey Dude soaring to number 2 in the UK singles chart (some might say that's too successful to be clandestine, but I make the rules). I loved it too, and here's why.

Those first twenty seconds, the intro - it really rolls! There's an excellent, driving bassline which suddenly breaks off leaving a tingling guitar which you just know means something percussive is headed our way. And then bang, that something arrives and it's a fast, pedal-to-the-metal rock and roll riff with slightly trippy lyrics and a singalong chorus. It belts along, this song, and more than most post-Britpop indie of that period, it's a song that yearns to be cranked up loud in the car (provided your ICE can handle plenty of bass). It will make you drive faster, this song.

At about 2 minutes 45 there's a proper guitar break too, about as close to rocking out as jangly Britpop could get. And then the ending, in which rather than just stopping of fading out, the whole song is allowed to change down through the gears, get it's breath back, and roll to a dignified stop.

I can forgive a lot for this song. I can certainly forgive any mystic pretensions. It gets trotted out occasionally at my local 90s indie club night (Britpoppin', that's called, accurately if somewhat unimaginatively) and it still sounds bloody great through big, bassy club speakers. But you don't have to drag yourself clubbing to hear it - you can pick up the album here, or maybe download something of interest here. And then there's always YouTube. The video has worn alright too, don't you think?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Radiohead's artist-in-residence

Stanley Donwood, Radiohead's artist-in-residence, has a lovely new book out featuring some of his incredible line art. There are two launches, one of which is next week, in Norwich at the inestimable and irretrievably cool Bicycle Shop (not an actual bicycle shop). Stanley discusses the book in some detail on his website. Anyway here, as I believe the kids say, is the skinny:

Holoway by Stanley Donwood - Norwich launch

Friday, 8 June 2012

Not Film 2012 but a film review anyway: Prometheus

Prometheus has an abundance of cool visualsAccording to Greek myth, Prometheus was the Titan who stole fire from Olympus and gave it to mankind; Zeus punished him by chaining him to a rock where an eagle gnawed at his liver until he was rescued by Hercules. Hmm. A fitting title then, for a film which suggests that human life on Earth was "seeded" by a race of engineers from a distant planet. That might be a spoiler (sorry) but I doubt it, such is the volume of hype that has surrounded this film. Understandably so, of course - after all, this is Sir Ridley Scott's return to the genre he redefined with Alien (regular readers will know I love that film). A return, no less, to the world of Alien itself... Exciting stuff. But is the film any good?

In short, yes. But is it great, like Alien? No, not really, and that's a shame because it could have been - a lot of key ingredients are there: the idea that humans were "engineered", whilst not new, has plenty of scope; the cast is excellent; Scott directs and produces; cinematography is sweeping and impressive (especially in the opening sequence); CGI is rendered flawlessly yet with uncommon subtlely; and the 3D I chose to view the film in (after considerable debate) was the best I've seen, giving real perspective without, ironically, being too in-your-face. Oh, and I loved (what I perceived to be) the parallels with 2001 - archaeological evidence found suggesting a interplanetary creator, a ship being dispatched to find that creator with the crew (oblivious to the mission) in suspended animation, a murderous or at least deranged machine. Even the widescreen vistas of the opening sequence. Oh, and the ship's computer uttering the line "Good morning David." A little less formal and you'd have a perfect match. But I digress. The film has plenty going for it, yet somehow still manages to miss the target I had build up for it in my fanboy mind.

So what went wrong?

Charlize Theron, about whom I now have a slight 'thing'Well, there are plenty of issues, so to distract from the fact that I'm about to be a bit negative about a film I still liked, it's time to include a gratuitous shot of the lovely Charlize Theron... Now, back to those issues. Sorry, but I feel bulletpoints coming on.

  • There's a lot of excessive and blatant signposting early on. As in, "Oh, you just happen to have this machine that can do any kind of surgery, and oh, you just happen to have your own quarters which can detach as a standalone craft… I wonder if either of those will be needed later?" That kind of thing. I know such technicalities can be hard to "show, not tell" but it feels like they hardly even tried.
  • There are a few expository plot leaps of faith too, notably when the captain (Idris Elba) of Prometheus plucks the realisation that the planet was the engineer’s weapons base seemingly from the air. A friend of mine calls this the Resolution Of Everything, and makes the excellent point that this doesn't work because the captain's character hasn't been developed enough for us to trust such innate insight.
  • Why does David, the android played by Michael Fassbender, deliberately infect Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green)? This is never really explained, at least not to my satisfaction.
  • Why can't Fifield (Sean Harris) and Milburn (Rafe Spall) find their way out of the engineer's base when their colleagues do so easily, and quickly?
  • Why is old man Weyland, who is clearly meant to be a centegenarian, played by Guy Pearce (currently 44)? Make-up is great but Weyland still looked like a young guy wearing a lot of greasepaint. Are there no screen-friendly old actors any more?
  • Where does Meredith Vickers (Theron) disappear to for the middle third of the film?
  • Where were the original shock moments? The oral impregnation from Alien is repeated, the emergence from stomach is repeated (albeit with a twist). But where's something new?

Don't get me wrong, as I've already said there's lots to enjoy in Prometheus. I enjoyed Prometheus, very much. Michael Fassbender, excellent as android David, steals the acting plaudits. Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron, between them, provide the "strong woman" characteristics that the long shadow of Ripley demands. But the whole thing just feels like it's been tinkered with, re-edited and cut about, with a touch more of this and a dash less of that - in short, that it's been hacked about in response to feedback from preliminary test screenings and consumer surveys. On the plus side, this gives hope that in years to come there'll be a Prometheus Director's Cut - Scott has plenty of previous convictions for that, after all. And it's a film crying out for a sequel - there are too many unanswered questions in this one. Another mate of mine reckons Dr Shaw will turn out to be Ripley's mother, by the way, and wouldn't that be a neat twist?

So in conclusion it's good - I'd still recommend you go and see it - but not great. And whilst I enjoyed it, I can't see myself watching it in full every single time it's shown on television in years to come, something I still do with Alien, 33 years after its release. And that probably tells you all you need to know.

Prometheus is currently on general release, and will be available to buy soon enough.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

A mobile history

Because I know you're all very concerned about my mobile phone history, I have a Sony Ericsson Ray these days...

Mobile history

If nothing else, when I ran this sort of to-scale chronology once before it proved very popular...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Clandestine Classic XXVI - Where Is My Mind? (cover)

Where is my mind?The 26th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I bloody love the Pixies. If you don't too, you should. Maybe you saw the title of this post and thought they were getting a run out here. Well, no, sorry to disappoint, for today's clandestine classic is a cover version. The original comes from what is probably my favourite Pixies album, 1988's Surfer Rosa, but the cover featured here today is a much more recent affair. Does this mean I'm getting down with the kids?

Well, not really, unless bluegrass is trending on Twitter or being pimped by Cowell et al. But I digress - let's stick to the facts. Last October, Minnesota acoustic 5-piece Trampled By Turtles (about whom I know nothing) released a bluegrass (about which I know next to nothing) cover of Where is My Mind for the WhyHunger charity. Then they released a crowd-sourced video of the song, recruiting fans via Facebook. They asked fans to submit photos of themselves creatively holding a sign with one word from the song on it - these were stitched together in a montage, interspersed with live concert footage from a show in Louisville.

The good thing about this is I don't have to know anything about Trampled By Turtles or bluegrass - all I know is that their version of this song ticks all the "what makes a good cover" boxes. It doesn't just try to forensically ape the original. It brings something new to the party. And it can be enjoyed without making you hanker after the original. Having said all that, I think the real trick to the success of this track, apart from the slightly sinister (to this listener, at least) air bestowed by the slow banjo plucking, is the substitution of a mournful violin where once Kim Deal's backing vocals were. It works. It really works.

I'm not going to link to a dodgy download today, because any legit download still contributes to the charity, so here's the track on iTunes. Go and buy it. Then sit back and enjoy this video which, as I've already said, is really pretty good.

Monday, 30 April 2012

A good big'un will usually beat a good littl'un

I went to see a Premier League match at the weekend: Norwich City v Liverpool. In other words, my adopted home town against the team I supported as a boy. So I had conflicting feelings, I'll be honest, because although Norwich is the team I go and see, the team I literally support, I still watch the Reds' results with a very close eye.

Much has been made of how well the Canaries have done this season, not only to survive but to do so in some style. Only Man City have really spanked us (twice). We drew against Liverpool at Anfield, were unlucky against Man Utd at Old Trafford and beat Spurs at White Hart Lane. But Liverpool gave us a lesson on Saturday. We never looked like scoring and, to be honest, they could have had more than three.

But anyway, I'll keep this brief - I don't want to alienate those with no interest in footy. So in Powerpoint-style, here are my bullet-pointed observations from the game:

  • Luis Suarez is a world-class player. A bit of a dick too - he falls over too easily and constanly jibes at players off the ball when the ref's not watching - but you can't argue with his skill. Shame he can't get the genius/pillock balance right.
  • Steven Gerrard is awesome. He ran the entire game. I don't know if he will go on as long as the likes of Giggs and Scholes, but I hope he does, for Liverpool's and England's sake.
  • Elliott Ward had a 'mare - Suarez had his number from the word go. If we hadn't lost our left-back early doors, I think he would have been subbed off. I was embarrassed for him, and wouldn't be surprised if his contract wasn't renewed in the summer.
  • Steve Morison polarises fans, and I can see why. He just doesn't seem to work very hard, especially when compared to Grant Holt who was eventually brought on to replace him. But then I charge around like a headless chicken at 5-a-side and it dosen't make me a better player, so maybe the large proportion of the Carrow Road crowd that were on Morison's back just because he doesn't seem to put in the effort are wrong. Then again...
  • It was great to see my childhood hero, King Kenny, even if he was only standing on the touchline. The 3,500 or so travelling fans chanted his name and he acknowledged them with a wave every time. The guy can do no wrong in my eyes.
  • Suarez's third goal has been compared to Beckham's half-way line goal but was way better. Beckham was barely moving when he hit his - Suarez was belting along, and being chased by a defender. I don't think I have seen too many better goals, and certainly not at games I've actually been at. Here it is.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Clandestine Classic XXV - The Day Before You Came

Agnetha in the video. Minx.The 25th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

This is going to be a difficult post, and one in which I risk my hard-earned indie credentials. Because yes, today's Clandestine Classic is a 1982 single from Abba. Yep, you read that right, the Swedish behemoth that bestrode the world in the Seventies and early Eighties like an eight-legged Scandinavian Colossus. But what do you think of when you think of Abba? Waterloo/Eurovision? Maybe. Dancing Queen? Perhaps. Mamma sodding Mia? That's understandable, given its reinvention as a musical and film. But what about the songs? The proper songs...

Though I probably should be, I'm not ashamed to admit to liking Abba. If you take a look at my gigography on Songkick, you'll see they were my first gig, nine years old and wide-eyed at Wembley Arena. I still have the tour programme somewhere. And the lyrics are still ingrained from hours and hours of pre-teen headphone listening and singing along. Okay, so those lyrics were often a bit twee but have you tried writing a song in Swedish? Fair play to Benny and (mainly) Björn, I say.

But forget the songs I've mentioned above, and the others that spring to mind, like the Partridge-endorsed Knowing Me, Knowing You (did you just do an internal "Ah-ha!" - I did), the dum-diddy-dum of Take A Chance On Me, the oft-parodied Super Trouper, forget 'em! They were all way too successful and familiar to be Clandestine Classics. Besides, most of their best songs, in my view, came late in their career, as singles chart success began to tail off. It's one of those I've picked today.

You could argue that the darker tone of their last studio album, 1981's The Visitors, was down to the disintegration of the two marriages within the band. Agnetha and Björn were already divorced, Benny and Frida were heading that way. Yet still all recording and performing together. It must have been a tense time, especially when Björn went off and married an Agnetha-clone. The template for minor-key heartbreak and misery, Abba-style, was already set with The Winner Takes It All but that was number 1 in half of Europe and even made it to number 8 in the States, helped in no small measure by its lump-in-the-throat video. So, far too successful to be Clandestine. But their pre-penultimate single release, The Day Before You Came, only limped to number 32 in the UK - a failure by Abba's standards.

I'll be honest, I almost chose Blancmange's cover of this song today. It's very good, definitely worth five minutes of your time, and would have preserved my indie credentials perhaps. But I'm sorry, great though it is (especially the extended 12" mix), synthesizers are no match for the layered backing vocals in the original. I'm not going to say anything else about Abba, or what they did next - there's nothing I can add to what's already out there. But I will ask you to listen, without prejudice or snobbery, to a truly excellent song. Of its time, yes, but excellent nonetheless. If there's a better song about being ruined by meeting the wrong person (or the right person at the wrong time, perhaps?) I can't think when I've heard it. You can get The Day Before You Came on The Visitors or compilation More Abba Gold. Or here. Or YouTube, of course. Here you go.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Robert De Niro's waiting... for one more good role

So there I am, last night, sat in front of the TV lamenting the fact that Easter doesn't equate to a slew of good programmes to watch in the same way that Christmas does. Or did. Channel-surfing, I found that Heat was on Film 4, halfway through. And I got to thinking. Robert De Niro has made many amazing films, and some of my all-time favourites: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Deer Hunter, Goodfellas and Cape Fear. Especially Cape Fear. But I started to wonder - has he made a truly great film since Cape Fear in 1991? I'm not sure that he has. A quick look at his filmography on IMDB suggests maybe not. Some would argue the case for Heat and also Casino. Maybe Frankenstein. But I'm not convinced. Good, yes, but great? Others would say he's good in Meet The Parents and I wouldn't disagree - it's a fine comedy. But good and fine are not great.

Here's a clip from Cape Fear showing a masterclass in understated menace from De Niro, back when he still demanded meaty roles that he could really get his teeth into. These days? De Niro by numbers, sadly. What a waste.

So what do you think? Am I right? Wrong? Have I missed a stellar performance from De Niro in the 20 years since Cape Fear that scales the heights he climbed in the 20 years preceding it? Let me know...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Tescoverload

I've written before about supermarkets and their all-pervasive power. The high-street smothering might of Tesco et al is, in case you were wondering, a bad thing.

Take a look at my adopted home town.

Tesco in the Norwich area

In an area of about seven miles square there are fifteen Tesco outlets. Fifteen! And that's not counting the One Stop shops which are, I believe, owned by Tesco too. There are nine of those in the same area, and a further three just outside.

Fifteen stores and nine affiliates in this tiny area. Too much, isn't it?

On the plus side, I was heartened to read that the residents of Herne, in my old stamping ground, seem to have fought off the Evil Empire. Be careful though, campaigners - as Sheringham proves, Tesco rarely gives up.

If the dominance of one retailer worries you, take a look at Tescopoly. You might think there's very little you can do, but every little helps, right?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stamps and Stuff

Following the relaxation of price controls, it seems the price of stamps is set to rocket/rise (delete as applicable to your preferred newspaper's choice of headline). Not good news for the put-upon consumer, though dare I suggest sending a missive to the other end of the country by tomorrow morning for 60p is still unfeasibly good value. And if you disagree, well, sorry to come over a bit Peel, but I'm right and you're wrong.

Anyway... what better excuse could I have for trotting out this nugget from Alexei Sayle's Stuff featuring, as it does, not only a critique of the postal system but a fine parody of W.H. Auden's Night Mail too.

And why does Alexei Sayle's Stuff never get a re-run? Well, it could be a bit hit and miss, and often the funniest thing on it was the title sequence. All together now, "Who's an ugly bastard and as fat as he can be? A-L-E-X-E-I-S-A-Y-L-E..."

Monday, 5 March 2012

Clandestine Classic XXIV - Louie

Ida Maria - Fortress Round My HeartThe 24th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I first came across Ida Maria back in November 2007 (life was very different then). I'd been to see The Good Shoes, and she was one of the support acts. For my money, she blew everyone else off the stage, including the headline act. I was so enthused, I wrote about the singer and her band on this blog the very next day.

So what can I tell you about Ida Maria? Well, she's Norwegian and, as I suggested back in that original blog post, reminds me a bit of early (Sugarcubes-era) Björk or Bellatrix. Today's classic, Louie, comes from her debut album, Fortress Round My Heart and is entirely typical of the other tracks thereon - it's a bit lively, a bit spiky, a bit kooky, a bit Björky. And her band are tight - they know their leader's schtick, and they keep to it, but they can rock'n'roll like good ol' Norse boys too. The result is a track (and an album) that makes you want to bounce about a bit in your car seat as you barrel along listening to it - this is almost always a good sign.

A year or two after the debut, Ida Maria re-released Fortress on a different label, with different sleeve art and a different running order. Maybe there were issues with Sony, who knows? Then, in 2010, a whole new album, Katla, was released on Universal. I haven't got that, though I note it costs a lot and seems to have a vague concept based on an Icelandic volcano. I'm not going to comment on that. But what I will say is that today's clandestine classic is an up-tempo, feelgood, jump-about song for those that like a quirky North European delivery to their vocals, with a hint of Björkish pixie to the singer. I appreciate that this might be quite a narrow target market... but, in an age of Rhiannas, Ga-Gas, Béyonces and worse, I like this. Maybe you will too. Let me know.

Home-tapers (it's killing music, remember that?) might like this. For the rest, there's YouTube: since there's no official video for this album track, I've found a truly bizarre SIMs-based effort soundtracked by today's classic. Having seen the band live, I don't think these visuals are what Ida Maria would have in mind but hey, if nothing else it proves that life's rich tapestry has some odd weavers.