Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Spent the day in... the car

With three lots of roadworks and an RTC to contend with, getting out of the village to go to work this morning was like... well, it was like Schneider trying to get to the London Road...

On the plus side, this meant I was still in the car for the first play of Spent The Day In Bed. For me, the jury is undecided. I mean, it's Moz, so I'll buy it regardless. My first instinct is that this isn't classic Morrissey... but it's better than no Morrissey.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #7 - if King Creosote covered "Keep The Car Running"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Seventh guest contributor is Stevie, who many of you will know from the excellent Charity Chic blog. And it's a blinder! Stevie writes:

Can I make a suggestion for a fantasy cover version? Scotland's own King Creosote is no stranger to a cover you would not think of:

If he can cover Prince with such aplomb I'm sure he could also turn his hand to Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running":

However it worked out I'm sure he would not be one bit ashamed:

What a voice on that Prince cover! Can only imagine how that would translate to the Arcade Fire track... Oh, and if Stevie is reading, sorry, I had to use a different video for your second YouTube choice as I encountered copyright problems embedding it. Hope you approve of my substitution.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Cross-pollination

I don't often do this, nor will that change, I promise. But I wrote a book, so I need to make a little bit of noise about it, somewhere that gets a few more readers than my other, writing blog... In other words, please excuse the blog cross-pollination.

<plug class="shameless">Anyway, here are some links, on the off-chance</plug>:

Paperback

Ebook

Pricing is a bit volatile at the moment, so I can't guarantee that it won't be cheaper later. Or dearer, for that matter. So why wait? And if you like the book, it'd be lovely if you could leave a nice review on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you write your reviews. Feel free to blog or tweet about it, if you like. On the other hand, if you don't like it, pop over to Twitter and tell me why. Cheers.

And yes, music lovers, I did borrow my novel's title from Gene. But I didn't steal it.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Margins

I went to a little festival this summer - you know the sort, it's in a village you've never heard of, with a mostly unknown line-up, and they big up their family-friendly credentials. I sound a bit cynical and jaded about it, sorry - I really shouldn't because it was terrific and I had a great time. But it did get me wondering about the fine margins that exist between bands that make it and those that just plug away forever, trawling round the local gig circuit but never making that "jump" to the next level.

The festival headliners on the Saturday night were Dodgy. And they were alright, even if it did seem at times that they were going through the motions. But even Dodgy wondered aloud how they were going to follow the preceding act, the glorious Sam and the Womp, whose combination of Ida Maria-esque vocals and trumpet-wielding sideman were perfect festival fare. But Dodgy made it, to a level that Sam and the Womp probably never will. Why, I wondered...

The festival highlight for me though was The Naked Lights, who played two sets - the main stage on Friday night and, better still, the acoustic tent on Saturday. On their website, the band describe their sound as "a ragged adventure, with songs veering from bass-driven gospel, through electronic guitar-house to fuzzy Brit indiepop, all polished with pop melody." Now the pedants amongst you might wonder how you can polish with melody, but you know what they mean, right? What I would say is that the description does come close to summing up the range of styles they deliver. Most of all though, they remind me of early 80s guitar-based New Wave - in fact, the closest comparison I can think of if The Vapors who, coincidentally, I wrote about earlier this year. But anyway, early 80s guitar-based New Wave: that's a good thing. Here's a typical example of how they sound, and why I make that comparison, from their current album, The Fear Of A Morning. It's called Here Comes The Feeling.

In fairness to the band, they're very open about their influences - there's even a song on the album called (Echoes of) The 1980s. But where was I? Yes, I really enjoyed both of the band's sets, so much so that I bought their album from the merchandise stall, and have played it quite a lot since. But... it all comes down to those slender margins, I think. The band are great musicians, are tight live, get the crowd going and look the part... so why aren't they bigger?

The answer came to me in the acoustic set, as The Naked Lights included an eclectic mix of covers including Ice Ice Baby (yes, really) and, best of all, the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which was the absolute festival highpoint for me - the tent went mad. And that's when it struck me - there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of very competent bands doing the rounds nationally, with a high level of musicianship, the necessary social media presence, maybe even albums to tout. But they don't make it if they don't have a song that exceeds the norm, that elevates them to a different level, that is transcendent for the listening audience. Having the right song, maybe that's what makes the difference, that's the fine margin.

Here's another Naked Lights track, this time from their eponymous debut album. It's called We'll Revolution With You.

At first, I thought this might be the song that elevates them, that provides the transcendent moment. Certainly it had ear-worm status for me for most of the week after the festival. But it's not. In the unlikely event that the band are reading this, this is the direction they need to head in, more tracks like this, album-closer These Walls.

But what do I know? With my beautiful acoustic guitar that I never play outside the house... and the electric 6-string gathering dust, that never gets plugged into my home-made amp... and the trusty old 12-string, currently gathering dust at my parents' house, and down to 11 strings... What do I know about being in any band, let alone a successful one? (Apart from margins - I'm right about those)

Monday, 11 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #6 - if Tony Bennett covered "Anarchy in the UK"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Sixth guest contributor is Mark who, you may remember, contributed last week's Lisa Hannigan FCV. You may also remember that Mark is a brilliantly talented writer whose latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, definitely deserves your attention. Anyway, what of his second FCV, I hear you ask? Mark writes:

My other choice (and just to prove I haven't gone completely soft) would be for Tony Bennett to do a cover of Anarchy in the UK, sung to the tune of I Get a Kick Out of You.

My reasoning being that it would upset and annoy a large and satisfyingly diverse amount of people, which - if you think about it - is far truer to the subversive spirit of punk than any of the attempted revivals. Also, it would make a wonderful Christmas Number One.

An inspired choice from Mark that deserves a bonus +13 kudos points for the idea of singing one song to the tune of another, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue style. Brilliant.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #5 - if Lisa Hannigan covered "Dream a Little Dream of Me"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fifth guest contributor is Mark who has been kind enough to submit two FCVs for the price of one (part two next week). Mark is not only a good friend and former colleague, he's also a brilliantly talented writer. I've previously reviewed some of his books on this very blog and his latest collection of short stories, Process of Elimination, is, I think, his best yet. If you like any/all of Ballard, Brooker, Dahl or King, you should definitely have a read of Mark's work. Now, back to the FCV, Mark writes:

First off, how about Lisa Hannigan covering "Dream a Little Dream of Me"?

The Mama Cass version is and always will be the definitive rendition - no question, but the combination of LH's voice and those lyrics would, I think, make the perfect audio comfort blanket for troubled times - which we appear to be living in right now.

A great choice from Mark, I reckon. I should point out that the evidential Lisa Hannigan track was my choice, so I hope Mark approves. And if you think this is an intriguing FCV, wait until part two next week, which I think is an even better concept.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Guest appearances (or, deferring the decline)

Here's a graph of monthly page views recorded for this very blog, for the last 3⅔ years. Look what's been happening.

Until recently, New Amusements was just bumbling along, with a handful of core readers. My December round-ups of the year would provide a tiny bump in the figures, but that was about that. Indeed, 2016's figures suggested a decline from even those low levels. The end might have been in sight...

... but something has happened this year. After 12½ years of plugging away, I have some traffic. There are, I think, many factors in this. I'm now in the blogroll sidebar of a number of far more popular blogs which, if my statistics are to be believed, does actually generate traffic (I will post some other time about the serendipitous joy of blogrolls). On top of my constant readers (step forward The Man Of Cheese, Mark, Rol and a couple of others), I've somehow snagged and retained some new regulars too, one side-effect of which is increased activity in the comments. For me as a blogger, the increase in discussion "below the line" has been a real boost, and gives me what I've always wanted from blogging: the online equivalent of having a chat over a pint.

I think another factor in adding traffic, especially in the last month, has been my attempt at starting a series, in the shape of Fantasy Cover Versions. It's stalled already, of course, but you can still contribute. You should, by the way - your ideas would be excellent, I know it.

Over and above the blogrolls, new constant readers, active comments and series, the other factor that has really helped this year is, slightly counter-intuitively, writing elsewhere. And I'm not talking about my efforts with fiction - that really does continue to decline - but rather writing this kind of thing in other places. I can't recommend this highly enough; it gives the "other place" a chance to write about you, to link to you, and to send new readers your way, some of whom stick around. So far this year, I have these guest appearances under my belt:

  • a Radiohead Imaginary Compilation Album on blogging hero The New Vinyl Villain's site;
  • thrillingly, a reminiscence on the cinemas of my youth on Andrew Collins' new blog, Digging Your Screen. Yes, really. That Andrew Collins, off the telly, The Radio Times and The Guardian;
  • and, maybe as thrilling, I don't know because I haven't seen the end product yet, but a gig reminiscence of mine about The Wedding Present is set to appear, in some shape or form (maybe a line, maybe a paragraph, maybe the whole thing, who knows), in a new book entitled Sometimes These Words Just Don't Have To Be Said. Order your copy now, and see how much/little of the original article makes it in.
So, being elsewhere ... I recommend it. Hey, why not send me your Fantasy Cover Version suggestion and I can write about you...

Thursday, 24 August 2017

The Styles council

I heard that Harry Styles solo single on the radio at the weekend. You know the one, where he goes from all gravel-throated Kelly Jones-lite in the verses to helium-powered tenor in the chorus. Sign Of The Times, I think it's called. Anyway, whisper it quietly but I don't mind the Kelly Jones-lite bits. The helium-powered bits about bullets I can leave, if I'm honest.

Thing is, I'm not mentioning Harry in a blatant stab at pulling in readers - I don't think the average Directioner is going to have much time for New Amusements. No, the only reason I even mention this is that, on hearing the song on the radio, I was struck by the feeling that it really, really reminded me of something else ... but I couldn't put my finger on what. And it bugged me for the rest of the day. Do you ever have that feeling when recall is almost within your grasp but it remains just beyond your outstretched fingertips? That's how I felt all day on Saturday.

But then, thank God, it came to me that evening. It's not the whole song that's similar, but there's one particular chord change at the end of the verse that reminds me so much of the end-of-verse chord change in this song... a song which is right up there in my oft-mentioned-but-never-actually-compiled list of favourite songs by anyone, ever.

Whatever you think of Travis, this, my friends, is solid gold.

P.S. If you've been thinking about submitting a Fantasy Cover Version, now's the time to do it as nothing, at present, is scheduled for this Monday. You could jump straight to the front of the queue...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #4 - if John Lennon covered "Yesterday"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Fourth guest contributor is John who, I think, has had a stroke of genius here. John writes:

Before he bought the farm I would have paid good money to hear Lennon covering "Yesterday".

The case? By the end it was all Lennon could do to keep a civil tongue in his head whenever Macca called - which had grown more and more infrequent.

But, if he'd played it with a straight bat - and at that white piano - then who knows? I for one would bet that sparks would be coming off those ivories.

An intriguing suggestion, I reckon. Although the lyrics to "How Do You Sleep?" suggest John grudgingly admired Paul's song ("The only thing you done was yesterday"), I admit it's hard to imagine (see what I did there?) John ever covering this, even if he hadn't bought the farm. But oh, if he had...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

A fourth "R"

A lot of headlines relating to the environment, and our seemingly limitless capacity to screw it up, have caught my eye lately. Headlines like these:

All of which made the following more surprising to me. Stunning even. See, I had cause to go to the Science Museum last week. One of their exhibits, towards the far end of the ground floor, had interactive touchscreens, asking visitors to answer questions on the science-related issues of the day. I answered a few (who am I kidding? I answered loads) but this one really struck me - "Do you recycle?" A simple enough question, right? Here's a breakdown of visitor responses for that day:

Only 7% recycle everything they can, and 85% - yes, eighty five percent - don't give a monkey's.

Am I the only person who finds this staggering? And depressing? This, from a sample of visitors to a science museum who, you'd hope, might have a predisposition for rational thought, given their choice of day out.

Obvious disclaimers required. First, this screenshot doesn't show the sample size, so it's hard to claim any kind of statistical significance. And second, for all my lecturing (sorry) I'm not perfect - I had a bottle of diet coke at lunchtime today, when I could have had tea in my inherently reusable mug. So that's another plastic bottle bought, used and disposed of. I am part of the wider problem, just like you. But at least I recycled the bottle.

So what's the fourth "R"? Well, the 3 Rs is a well-established environmental maxim - reduce, re-use, recycle. But now we all need to rethink too - rethink our relationship with plastic. Urgently.

P.S. The Science Museum dishes out plastic straws in all its food outlets...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

More street art - Liz hovers on the dog walk

More street art/graffiti spotted, this time a paste-up on the mean streets of, er, Whitstable. When you're 91, you'll need a hoverboard to take your corgis for a walk too.

Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #3 - if Emiliana Torrini covered "Wild Wood"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Second guest contributor is C, from the incomparable Sun-dried Sparrows. C has taken this series up a notch here, I think, and demonstrates beautifully why you should all be reading her blog, if you're not already. C writes:

I’d like to hear Emiliana Torrini cover Paul Weller’s "Wild Wood". Members of the jury, I present these facts.

Witness the original, Paul Weller’s fifth single as a solo artist, a classic hit - so well-known and so ingrained that it’s easy to forget how deep its impact was at the time of its release.

But it’s a keeper, really. An exquisite, understated and reflective song that still sounds good no matter how many times you’ve heard it, even if that first flush of intense love has now faded into a comfortable familiarity, so much so that you don’t actively think of playing it any more. However, we could address that and give this song a whole new lease of life, simply by adding something new and distinct without losing touch with its essence. We could incorporate some femininity.

I therefore suggest that we feature the sweetness and purity of the voice of Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini. As for Emiliana’s own work, there is so much to choose from to demonstrate her vocal style in a way that would be suitable. In order to make it easier to imagine her beauiful, delicate treatment, that slight hint of her Icelandic accent adding a certain na├»ve charm, I present to you:

Emiliana isn’t known for her cover versions, being an incredibly prolific songwriter in her own right, she’s also guested on vocals for other acts such as Thievery Corporation. However, if proof is needed that she can handle another writer’s very different output with ease, I invite you to consider her version of the 1967 Jefferson Airplane hit, "White Rabbit":

Now just imagine a slightly more stripped back version of Wild Wood, the percussion limited but oh so perfectly placed, acoustic guitar to the fore, and Emiliana's delicious, enchanting voice ... "High tide, mid afternoon..."

There is no case against, is there?

Indeed, C. I think any jury would return a unanimous verdict. Terrific choice, and a great introduction to an artist that's new to me and, I suspect, many others.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #2 - if Johnny Cash covered "Do You Realise?"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

First guest contributor is Rol, from the always-excellent My Top Ten. Rol writes:

Fantasy Cover Version?

First one that came to me was...

Johnny Cash singing "Do You Realise?" by the Flaming Lips.

Evidence: well, JC's peerless version of "Hurt" by NIN, obviously. Johnny could bring similar graveyard angst to the lyrics of DYR? too.

It'd have to be latter-period Cash, stripped back and produced by Rick Rubin. (Although it'd be interesting to hear a more jaunty Ring Of Fire / Jackson style cover of the same song by a much younger Cash too.)

To be honest though, I'd happily listen to Johnny cover pretty much anything, including Shine by Take That.

A fine selection, Rol. The YouTube additions were all mine, so Rol cannot be blamed for the appearance of Take That on this blog...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck. The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Underappreciated: "Limitless"

This might turn into an occasional series or it might be a one-off but either way, the purpose of this post is to highlight films that are really underappreciated, and that you might get a kick out of viewing. First up, a 2011 vehicle for then rising star Bradley Cooper: Limitless.

The premise is pretty simple: wannabe-writer but general slacker Eddie (Cooper) bumps into his ex's brother, Vernon. They catch up over a beer, and Eddie spills his woes: how his life's a mess, how he cannot finish his novel, all that kind of stuff. Vernon, apparently a character with a shady past, offers Eddie a pill that will help:

Vernon: They've done clinical trials and it's FDA approved.
Eddie: What's it called?
Vernon: Doesn't have a street name yet, but the boys in the kitchen are calling it NZT-48.
Eddie: The boys in the kitchen? That doesn't sound very FDA approved.

And of course it isn't. But Vernon promises our Edward that NZT will let him access all of his brain, all of this potential. Ed's intrigued. Who wouldn't be? Take a look at what happens the first time he takes NZT. Note Cooper's excellent voice-over narration while you're at it.

Okay, so far, so high-level synopsis. But before you read further, a few spoilers follow. Not too many, but don't say I didn't warn you....

Still here? Then on we go. NZT allows Ed to clean up his life, and not only finish his novel but make it a truly great one. Ed wants more, so returns to see Vernon, only to discover him dead. Ed calls the police but first searches for, and finds, Vern's stash of NZT.

Ed realises that he can work the stock market, with colossal success, but he needs capital, so borrows $100k from violent Russian loanshark Gennady. Ed then turns this money into $2m, an act which brings media attention... and the attention of businessman Carl Van Loon, Robert De Niro in a small role that's big enough for him to prove he can still act after all, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary. But as you might imagine, the wheels start to come off. If you come off NZT there are pretty terrible side effects. Ed's supply, though large, is (ironically) limited. The police are interested in him, after Vernon's death, and Gennady wants more than a financial return - he wants NZT. Life gets pretty hectic for Ed, let's put it that way.

And I'll leave it there, shall I, at least in terms of plot. I want you to go away and watch this, after all, not just read my hack synopsis. What I can still add is that Cooper remains completely watchable throughout, you root for his character even when Ed is doing unpleasant things, De Niro simmers enough in his scenes, the voiceover adds a touch of noir to an already dark tale and the supporting cast - notably Abbie Cornish as Ed's girlfriend, Andrew Howard as Gennady and a near-unrecognisable Anna Friel as Ed's ex, Melissa - all add to the uniformly high quality. Special mentions must also go to director Neil Burger and cinematographer Jo Willems, who contrive dazzling yet somehow still subtle visuals to convey the effects of taking NZT and, most memorably, of taking too much (if I call that the street zoom moment, you'll know it when you see it).

Limitless is a brilliant film. It was nominated for awards but didn't win too many, certainly nothing overly prestigious. It did okay at the box office, and ranks okay on sites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. So okay, so meh. Except this. It's a film that rewards repeated viewing, and I'm clearly not the only person who has seen it many, many times, as it slowly built up enough of a cult following to warrant a spin-off TV series. It's also the sort of film that crops up a lot on ITV4's late night schedule these days, and I watch it every time - you should too.

A final spoiler, of sorts - the closing scene. I include this because I want to demonstrate Cooper's leading man charisma, and that De Niro still has it.

Now go and watch the damn film!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Fantasy Cover Version #1 - if Nick Cave covered "No Surprises"...

In which I attempt to start a blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. No, not that sort of fantasy, perve. But if fantasy football can continue to be a thing, why not this? Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names. If you want to include supporting evidence in the form of links to embeddable content, that's fine. All such evidence will be considered! But note I won't be linking to MP3s - I've had too much DMCA grief in the past, thanks.

I'll get things started, shall I? I'd like to hear Nick Cave cover Radiohead's "No Surprises". Members of the jury, I present these facts.

Witness the original, a peerless slice of peak Radiohead, with a delicate lullaby tune and heart-squeezing lyrics:

Add Cave's proven ability to reinterpret a much-loved song of similar classic status, with his waltz-timed take on Pulp's Disco 2000...

...and previous convictions for making beautiful songs with depressing themes...

...and you have a winning combination (and no, that wasn't just an excuse to feature peak indie-Kylie, honest guv).

The case against? Well, would Cave have any appetite for singing such a bleak song, after what happened to his son? I think the album Skeleton Tree tells us that he might. Either way, I submit that Cave's rich baritone and understated delivery is perfect for this beautiful, skewed take on the pain of millennial life and, as such, have no hesitation in making it Fantasy Cover Version #1.

So what about you? What's your fantasy cover version? Tell me and, as long as you're not suggesting that Psy and Crazy Frog cover Especially For You, there's a good chance it will appear as a future post in the series. Don't forget, to qualify the cover must not actually exist!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Bye-bye (b)adman

I've ranted posted before about how unhappy I get when a song I love gets co-opted for an advert (Pixies and Violent Femmes sadly inspiring those past posts). You'll be unsurprised to learn it's happened again.

McPunk
The McPunk girl

Whilst on a long journey at the weekend, I was station-surfing in the car and chanced upon What Do I Get? by Buzzcocks, blaring out of Radio X. I'll have some of that, I thought. But my musical happiness, like so many forms of happiness these days, was crushingly short-lived. For the band's second single proper, and 1978 chart debut, has been appropriated by corporate American cow-pedlars McDonald's! Yes, Mc-sodding-Donald's! Pete Shelley's 2½ minute punk paean to loneliness is soundtracking a TV ad, and associated radio spot, in which a callow youth goes to the drive-thru and falls for a McDonald's girl who is an ad-man's idea of alternative, i.e. she has subtle, non-specific tattoos, wears slightly more eye make-up than might be considered average and dyes what little of the hair you can see beneath her uniform baseball cap. You can imagine the scene as a gaggle of modern-day Don Drapers mull over what music says alternative, and yearning, and can be tied in with having to choose which of our new wraps to get at the drive-thru. Of course! 40-year old punk! And we can make the in-store signage and associated press graphics look a bit like the cover for Never Mind The Bollocks, yellow and pink with cut type lettering, even though that's a different band entirely, because kids today won't know, will they? It's all punk, right? And we're so punk!

All of which leaves a bad taste in my mouth, like an unwanted gherkin or a dollop of special sauce. I prefer to reclaim the song, so put all thoughts of garlic mayo wraps from your mind and watch this instead:

And a bonus for you. Remember in 2014 when the cow-pedlars were "celebrating" 40 years in the UK, by allowing users to create their own "40 Together" memory with an online poster generator? Well, I had a McDonald's memory from the 70s and, although it was quite hard to capture the whole story within the prescribed word limit, this is what I came up with. Curiously, it was quickly taken down from their website, but not before I screen-capped it...

Friday, 21 July 2017

Abide with me...

A couple of years ago, I managed to get enough people to pledge to buy a ticket to stage a screening of Pulp Fiction at my local art house cinema. It was in lieu of a birthday party, and seemed like a good way of bringing people from different walks of my life together without the pressure of actually having a party. And it was pretty good! So much so that I'm going to try again this year. Here's how it works.

OurScreen is an initiative that basically lets your crowdsource cinema screenings. You pick a film (from their list - you can't just have anything), select a participating cinema, pick a date and time and pledge to buy the first ticket. Then you advertise it like hell to all your mates, colleagues, family, social media acquaintances, passing strangers, anyone. They can all pledge to buy tickets too. And if the cinema's ticket threshold is reached before a certain deadline, everyone's pledges get taken and the film is screened.

I've learnt a bit about the sort of film I need to choose to get ticket pledges, from a couple of unsuccessful screening attempts, and so this year will be pitching Coen brothers masterpiece The Big Lebowski for your consideration. To reserve your seat, you need to head, pronto, to https://www.ourscreen.com/screening/44060. And remember, the Dude abides.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Getting old, Latin, spoofs and serendipity

I had an email today from the alumni association of the university I studied for my first degree at. This was the header:

It's 25 years since you left

Thanks. Thanks a lot. Way to make me feel old. And thanks especially for the 18pt semi-bold, hot-pink font to emphasise the fact.

This did set a train of thought in motion, however. It started with me wondering whether the Latin alma mater applied only to the first uni studied at, or last, or any/all. So I did what everyone does these days and Googled the phrase. Here, you can too, in case you're doubting me when I say that the phrase is defined as "the university, school, or college that one formerly attended." On that basis, it can be used to described any former seat of learning. And that should have been that. Except...

...except over in the right sidebar of the Google search results page was a suggested related search for "Alma Mater Europaea (university). Number of students: 1,300. President: Felix Unger." And that was what shunted the train of thought onto a branch line. That had to be a spoof, right, some sort of pseudo-university or dodgy certificates-for-cash scam, surely, because Felix Unger was the name of one half of The Odd Couple in Neil Simon's famous play starring Jack Lemmon and Walther Landau, and later made into a TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman! So there surely wasn't a seat of learning with Felix Unger as president, was there? Except of course there is: Austrian Felix Unger is one of the world's leading cardiac surgeons, and performed Europe's first artificial heart transplant in 1986.

Okay, I was content with this quirk of coincidence - that's not the serendipity of this post's title. By now, I was rather more concerned with The Odd Couple - not the film, though that's great. Rather the TV series, which was often repeated during the school holidays of my teens. I used to love it and, curious to see how well it had aged, I hopped over to YouTube and found this. Aside from still being funny, who else should I discover in this clip (from 1974) than one Al Molinaro as a police officer - better known to us all as "Big Al" Delvecchio from Happy Days! No real surprise there though - his was a recurring role. No, no, the real serendipity here was the discovery of a pre-fame, pre-Close Encounters Teri Garr as the insurance clerk. Here, take a look, about 25 seconds in.

And that's not the end of the chance discoveries. Perusing Teri's credits on IMDB, I discovered that in 1969 TV Series It Takes A Thief, Teri played a character called Maggie Philbin! Presumably not this one, from '80s Tomorrow's World:

And that was when the train of thought completely derailed. Feeling rather like Ouroboros, I closed the browser.

Monday, 3 July 2017

It's not quite Judgement Day

You may have read about Inspirobot already. If not, a potted summary would be something like: it's an online artificial intelligence (AI) program that is designed solely to generate the sort of motivational quote-and-image combinations that swamp us at every turn these days. You know the sort of thing, you see them everywhere from conference room walls to social media timelines. A few are good. Most are inane. Some, annoyingly, as just truisms. And some are just plain annoying.

But now, Inspirobot takes things to a new level. One click is all is takes to generate a motivational poster, with a short, snappy phrase and a filtered, 'shopped image to reinforce the message. AI is great, right? The future has arrived, right?

Except AI, at least as implemented here, is all about the "A" and not so much about the "I". Either that or Inspirobot has had some form of existential crisis. Because I had a little play with the AI, and here's what I got back (you can click all the pictures for a full-size view):

Things started off okay... ish. I mean, boring ideas aren't great, are they? So it's okay, if a little too on the nose:

Things took a slight left turn after that. I mean, I imagine a pretty face and a tea would help, but they are far from all you need, surely?

Next up, things took a darker turn, with Inspirobot suggesting crime pays. Or at least is rewarded with cake! All reinforced with a nice light, frothy picture.

And then... Inspirobot then went to a much darker place. All you can say is that it would have been even darker if the two phrases had been the other way around. The picture doesn't help either, raising the question of whether the guy with his hands in his pockets had been disposing of the bodies in that lake...

I stopped at this point. And I'd hesitate to call this AI. It's just a random poster generator, surely? For if this is what passes for AI in 2017, to the extent that someone is proud enough of it to put it online for the world to see, we can safely say we are some way away from being enslaved by Skynet.

Anyhoo... if you're bored and have five minutes, why not give Inspirobot a go yourself? You might get something unintentionally funny. Or you might get something a little more sinister...

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

A rare find

I was a bit late to the party with Detectorists. It's a comedy drama (or dramedy, or whatever the latest buzzwordy contraction might be) written by, and starring, Mackenzie Crook. Yes, him - forever Gareth from The Office. I'm paraphrasing Wikipedia now, but Detectorists is set in small fictional Essex town of Danebury and concerns the lives, loves and detecting ambitions of Andy and Lance, and the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (or DMDC, as it is known). First shown on BBC4 in 2014, the third and final series is imminent - in readiness, the Beeb are repeating the first two series on Tuesdays, still on BBC4. They've worked through the first series already (though you can still watch two thirds of that on the iPlayer) and series two episode one is on tomorrow.

So why watch, you ask? It's a low-key "drama that leans towards comedy" (Crook's own words), with no laugh track, is ostensibly about metal detecting obsessives ("detectorists!") and is, presumably, tucked away on BBC4 for a reason, right? Wrong! This is a rare blend of gentle, well-observed comedy and precise pathos, which would ordinarily be enough to recommend it on its own. But there's more, because fundamentally the show is about friendship and, in particular, the inverted, forever-young, own-language landscape of best mates. Metal detecting is incidental - the show could equally well be about a chess club or a five-a-side team or motorcycle enthusiasts or old school friends, or anything, just as long as there is something to bring the protagonists together and provide a common bond. For that bond, that special friendship, where you would lie down in traffic for your mate if he asked you to, is what the show is really about, and what elevates it to a higher level. Andy and Lance are best mates, and we get to ride the bow wave of their friendship, and think about our own best mates too.

Here's an example of just why I love this show so much, and it'll also work as a barometer for you: if you like the reason for, and execution of, the fist-bump moment about nineteen seconds into this clip, from series one episode two, then there's a very good chance you'll enjoy the programme as a whole and you'd best get over to the iPlayer quick smart before more episodes expire. If you don't, well, maybe this isn't for you. Either way, there are +4 kudos points on offer if you can ID the source of that lie down in traffic quote I misquoted in the last para without Googling it (clue: it's not from Detectorists).

Thursday, 22 June 2017

(Re)Turning Japanese

I went to a gig on Saturday night. Like most of the (ever-decreasing number) of gigs I go to these days, the crowd was mostly full of people of a certain age. But that's okay, I'm thirty years too old for being down with the kids.

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I went to see The Vapors. Yes, The Vapors, who many of you will remember as the band behind worldwide hit Turning Japanese. Chances are you don't remember much else about them, as nothing else they did achieved the same level of success. So let me fill you in.

Spotted playing in a pub by Bruce Foxton, the Jam bassist and Jam manager John Weller quickly signed the Guildford four-piece, got them a record deal and even got Jam producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven on-board to produce the debut album. And it was no surprise when The Vapors supported Woking's finest on their Setting Sons tour in 1979... so you can see why the "Jam-lite" tag stuck, albeit unfairly in my view.

Their first single, Prisoners, sunk without trace, but Dave Fenton (vocals and guitar), Ed Bazalgette (lead guitar), Steve Smith (bass) and Howard Smith (drums, no relation to Steve) regrouped and came up with Turning Japanese, a top ten hit in the UK (#3 when Going Underground was #1), Canada, New Zealand and Australia (where it hit #1). It even broke into the US top 40, something their manager's band hadn't managed to do. On the back of that, the debut album New Clear Days managed a reasonable showing but - and here's the thing - it should have been so much higher. Because, in my view, it's an absolute classic of the age and genre, a new wave masterpiece, stuffed full of hook-filled, rhythmic early 80s tunes with singalong-able lyrics; songs about love sat alongside songs about the Cold War and nuclear threats (as the punning title suggests), but instead of this creating friction the album is remarkably cohesive, in part due to crisp, consistent production but more because the band themselves were properly tight. I know this is a minority view, but for me New Clear Days remains an essential 80s album, as chock-full of memorable songs that I can still sing along to, word perfectly, as any by The Jam and more so than almost any other band from the first half of that decade.

So you can imagine that I was pretty excited to read that three quarters of the original band had regrouped for a few dates last year (Michael Bowes has replaced Howard Smith on drums) and were touring this year. And even more excited to learn that the tour would bring them within my reach. I had to go. And what can I tell you? The band still seem tight. Dave (a lawyer for the Musicians' Union for most of this century) and Ed (a TV producer whose credits include Doctor Who) have worn well - Ed in particular makes a fine, conversational front-man. Steve looks a bit more like what he is - someone's middle-aged dad - but let's not forget this is a reunion nearly 40 years after the band formed, so what do you expect? What I didn't really expect, but was pleasantly surprised to find, is that the two- and three-part harmonies that characterised many of the tracks from New Clear Days were still present and correct. In fact, the whole band sound live was very pleasingly close to their studio sound - they can still cut it, in other words. And Michael Bowes looked as happy as anyone, smiling non-stop as he pounded away at those drums on a sweltering night.

I repeat, I know I am in the minority with my views on The Vapors. And for the record I am not trying to suggest they should have climbed out of The Jam's shadow, because for my money The Jam eclipse almost everybody. But what I am trying to say is that, with New Clear Days, The Vapors got everything right. It's a near-perfect slice of early 80s new wave, and I urge you to get a copy.

In the meantime, I recorded a couple of videos at the gig. Most people in the crowd whipped their phones out for Turning Japanese but not me - instead, here are two other tracks from New Clear Days, Sixty Second Interval and America. Things to note from these videos: (1) for a venue with so many lights, so few of them were on the band; (2) when Ed says "nothing change does it, really" at the start of America, he's just finished making a comparison between 80s Reagan and contemporary Trump; and (3), check out the 50-something with the snow-white mullet who bounces into view, bottom left, about 40 seconds into America - he was so energetic, and so into every song, he deserves our respect... and not just for maintaining that hair... Anyway, enough rambling from me. To the videos!

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

More street art - Adam and Eve get sponsored

More street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town, this time critiquing our corporate-sponsored, modern life. How many logos can you spot?

Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

More street art - make June the end of May

Post-election-inspired street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town. Other street art posts can be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wanderlust... still

I did this once before, and can now offer a tiny incremental update.

Still no sign of those tickets to New Zealand though. Or Russia. Or Antarctica. Or Patagonia. Or... or... or...

MP’s Travel Map

MP has been to: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Guernsey, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, Vatican.
Get your own travel map from Matador Network.

Bottom line? Still not travelled enough.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Feelin' groovy

A proper election fall-out post will follow soon, when I'm not too tired to string a coherent sentence together (that's what you get for staying up all night at my age).

In the meantime, the events of the last 24 hours have left me feeling upbeat, in a way that is very different to the morning after the EU referendum. The post title might lead you to suspect I was about to post some Simon and Garfunkel, but no - instead, here's a well known, incredibly groovy song that always makes me want to dance like I was still young. Play loud, voters! Deee-lovely!

And yes - I may well have had a crush on Lady Miss Kier back in the day...

Thursday, 8 June 2017

X marks the spot

As we speak, polling stations around the country are opening their doors, ready to receive your vote, ready for you to do your duty.

And it is a duty. You don't need me to tell you how politics, and more specifically the political decisions and policy making of whoever gets elected, affects almost every aspect of your daily life. So leave for work a bit early, take an umbrella so the rain can't deter you, and vote.

If you're still unsure of who to vote for (I don't blame you - in my experience, no-one agrees with all the policies of their preferred party), you might be interested in a website that asks you lots of questions and then identifies your party of best fit. There are plenty of these website quizzes out there - I've tried lots and have found isidewith.com to be especially good, and as detailed as you want it to be.

Also, if you live in a constituency where tactical voting might be a factor, and you want to get into some of that, you should definitely take a look at tactical2017.com

Most of all though, please just make sure you vote. If you don't, you abdicate your right to bitch about anything for the next five years... and what will our social media timelines be full of then?

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Mixing pop and politics

You might know Andrew Collins from his music and television journalism (NME, The Word, The Guardian), or his excellent biography of Billy Bragg, Still Suitable For Miners. Or, most likely, as that bloke who appeared on TV as a "talking head" a lot in the Nineties and Noughties.

You might not know that he is also a terrific blogger, so much so that he scoops the blogger of the year award in my annual round-ups pretty much every year.

Well now, on his personal blog Never Knowingly Underwhelmed, he's written an important think-piece on the imminent general election. Whatever the colour of your rosette (and especially if you're undecided and/or a first-time, newly registered voter), I urge you to have a read.

And while we're on the subject of the general election, in the unlikely event that you're the one person who hasn't already seen it, here's Cassetteboy vs Theresa May. Enjoy, albeit as a black comedy.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Clandestine Classic LII - Wonderful Woman (live)

The fifty-second 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.

Continuing my quest to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history, today I tackle the big one: how to present a clandestine classic from The Smiths? Not only are the majority of my readers already very well acquainted with this particular Salford lads' club but here's a band whose output has been bootlegged, anthologised, re-issued and repackaged to within an inch of its life. Simply, there isn't much out there left to discover. But there are some tracks that get played less than others. And there are some intriguing live versions out of those lesser played tracks, so that's the card I'm playing - stick with me.

Wonderful Woman originally surfaced as the second B-side on the 12" version of the band's second single, This Charming Man. What we didn't know at the time is that it had been first recorded during the aborted sessions for their debut album (and as such would later appear on the Troy Tate Sessions boot). For whatever reason, it didn't make the cut for the eventual, re-recorded eponymous debut album, which is a shame as it would have fit right in.

But what of the song? I seem to recall reading a theory somewhere once that this song is about Morrissey's mother, but I find that unlikely indeed (and I can't find a source for this theory anywhere online). A more straightforward interpretation is that wonderful is sarcastic, since this seems to be about a thoroughly unpleasant woman who has "ice water for blood, neither heart nor spine" and implores Moz, "I’m starved of mirth, let’s go and trip a dwarf." Or maybe she's wonderfully, terribly beguiling, because Morrissey adds "when she calls me, I do not walk, I run." I don't know about you but I can identify with that - she's bad for him, he knows it, but still he can't resist. Steven, I hear you.

Musically, this is cut from the same cloth as Suffer Little Children, with a deceptively simple repeating guitar motif from Johnny over a steady-as-she-goes rhythm section. Oh, and a whisper of plaintive harmonica. Morrissey's vocal delivery is typical of the earlier recordings, in that it's perfectly serviceable yet lacks the confidence of subsequent songs. So why a classic, I hear you ask? Well, there's something uncanny about the end of each chorus, as Johnny changes up, the harmonica kicks in, and Morrissey repeats "her, her, her." It's not hypnotic but it's certainly an ear-worm - you could quite easily loop that little section and leave it playing in the background all evening and get no complaints from me.

You can pick up Wonderful Woman, as it appeared on the B-side of This Charming Man, on the fairly comprehensive The Sound Of The Smiths (deluxe edition) and you can read more about the Troy Tate demos over at the excellent Passions Just Like Mine. But, to paraphrase Chris Tarrant, I don't want to give you those. To maximise the clandestine value of today's classic, instead let's go for a live recording from a gig at The Hacienda dating back to 4th February, 1983. I read somewhere that this was The Smiths' third gig proper, and the first for which a recording exists (albeit with pretty poor sound quality). Also the first as a four-piece (they'd had James Maker on-stage as a dancer prior to this). The night this was recorded I was twelve and a half and didn't know Morrissey existed. Little did I know how much The Smiths would mean to me over the next 30+ years. In a week when Morrissey has taken a lot of flack for comments that even I, a past apologist, struggle to explain away1, I choose instead to remember some music from a band that, for me, was, is and always shall be life-changing.


1. What did Morrissey say about the Manchester bombing? Here. Martin Rossiter's response? Here. For contrast, Moz's subsequent critique of Tory plans to reverse the fox hunting ban, here.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Clandestine Classic LI - Blood Sports (live)

The fifty-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 squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Last time I did one of these, I lamented the fact that it's hard to feature the most influential, most pivotal, most important acts in my personal musical history. How, I mused, was it possible to come up with a clandestine classic from The Smiths/The Jam/REM when 90% or more of this blog's readership is already very familiar with The Smiths/The Jam/REM? Not easily. But I did resolve to address this problem in future posts, and that change starts here. For today's post comes from quite early on in the second phase of Paul Weller's career, when his fans were still bellowing for Jam tracks but he was moving on. Yes - tonight Matthew, I will be featuring The Style Council.

The year is 1985. The Style Council are still riding the bow wave of a run of Top 20 singles, are about to release Our Favourite Shop (which will become their only chart-topping album) and have yet to completely deter all their old Mod fans with the arty stuff (The Cappuccino Kid liner notes, fey videos), or sidetrack into Red Wedge territory. It's a good time to be a Councillor. The first single from Our Favourite Shop is chosen, and it's the excellent, rabble-rousing, quite-possible-to-imagine-The-Jam-performing Walls Come Tumbling Down. Everyone is happy.

One of that single's B-sides is today's classic: a lyrical, almost pastoral in places, critique of the lunacy of hunting animals for pleasure, and the hideousness of those who do so, Blood Sports is a song that would do Morrissey proud. As musically apart from its A-side as a B-side can be, here is a song that shows a band at the peak of their powers daring to do something a bit different (again), and not being afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

On the off-chance that choosing a B-side still isn't enough to make this song clandestine enough for you, let's feature a live rendition. The video featured here is a clip from an 80's television programme called Worldwise, in which the band are introduced (and later interviewed) by Sarah Greene. Weller gets away with singing the line "Who gets a hard-on with blood on their hands?" too, which must have given someone at the Beeb kittens. Some might say Mick's keyboard solo is a bit "of its time", and that's generous, but he's trying to emulate a different sound, the pan-pipe sound of the recorded version. Anyway, give them a break and instead concentrate on the lyrics, Weller's delivery and, at a time when he wasn't playing much guitar, watch those chords - easy to play and tailor-made to be adopted by the cause... (except it wasn't - a shame).

There are a plethora of greatest hits and compilations from TSC out there, but choose carefully. If you want to pick up the studio version of Blood Sports you can find it on The Collection (choose even more carefully here, as there are several compilations called The Collection or variations thereon) or Here's Some That Got Away, both of which are excellent, and both of which also feature The Ghosts Of Dachau, a slice of haunting brilliance that I almost chose for today's classic. Or why not just treat yourself, and splash out on The Complete Adventures box set, a steal at under £30.

Until then, here's that live TV performance from 1985. Who'd have thought, 32 years later and in a supposedly more enlightened time, that this subject would still be an issue, with Theresa's shade of blue looking to repeal the foxhunting ban? In that context, it would be nice to see Paul reprise this at his live shows this year. On that note, over to Sarah Greene.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Europe. It's like a different country or something... IV

Now I knew they were making a comeback, but I didn't know it was in chocolate form.

As seen (and eaten - it's like an Aero-Wispa hybrid) in Amsterdam.

All posts in this very occasional series.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Blogger's Lament (or, proof that it's a good job I don't often write poems)

I don't know why I write this blog,
I'm really at a loss.
The hit count's low, the comments few;
The Web don't give a toss.

A guest post here, a retweet there,
But not much to delight in.
Maybe I should bin the lot
And do some proper writing.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Amusecast - episode 5

Haven't done one of these for a while, forgot how much fun it can be. You know the drill - one side of a C90...

Tracklisting:

  1. The Feelies - It's Only Life
  2. Elvis Costello - Beyond Belief
  3. British Sea Power - The Lonely
  4. Suede - I Can't Give Her What She Wants
  5. KT Tunstall - Beauty Of Uncertainty
  6. Dubstar - St Swithin's Day
  7. The Stone Roses - Fools Gold
  8. Gene - Does He Have A Name?
  9. Morrissey - We'll Let You Know

If you like the sound of that lot, here's the download.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Have you seen this book?

I'm considering going to a gig later in the year at the Hammersmith Apollo. I can't remember when I last went there, so I thought I'd refamiliarise myself with the venue by taking a quick look on Google Maps and firing up Streetview. Nothing unusual in that.

As I was scrolling around the venue, a seated figure caught my eye - here she is:

And more specifically, the book she was reading when the Google Maps car drove by caught my eye - here's a closer look:

  

See, I think I should know what this book is, but I can't for the life of me place it. Now I don't want to morph into Dave Gorman or anything, and turn this into a Google-based adventure, but does anyone have any ideas what this book is? Answers on a postcard to the usual address (by which I mean, in the comments below). Cheers.

If you want a closer look, here's a link to the Google Maps Streetview.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Some thoughts on Record "Store" Day

I'm in this queue but don't bother looking, you can't see me

I have mixed feelings about Record Store Day. Firstly, let's all pretend that my biggest bugbear isn't the fact that I go to records shops, not record stores, so why isn't it Record Shop Day? I get that it's a global thing, by which I mean American, but honestly this linguistic aberration irks me - it's right up there with talking about television in terms of seasons rather than series.

But as I said earlier, let's all pretend I have some proper concerns about RSD, rather than quirks that make me sound a bit precious. So my first real concern is that why isn't every day Record Store Day? Especially as we are regularly being told how sales of vinyl are on the up and up. Sure, when RSD started ten years ago the benevolent aim of giving these shops a boost was never more needed. But is that still the case?

Secondly, and this is addressed to everyone in an RSD queue who only goes to a physical record shop once a year, in the words of Not The Nine O'Clock News Songs of Praise sketch, "where were you bastards then?" If this was football, you'd be a part-time supporter! At least the guy half a dozen queue places ahead of me, who looked like he hadn't been near a record shop for thirty years, and who wanted "Springsteen, The Who, The Beatles and U2" (read from his laser-printed A4 list) only got Springsteen - the rest were in such limited numbers at the shop in question, and had long since been snapped up.

Thirdly, I've got nothing against avid record collectors at the front of the queue with their want-lists. I'm an avid record collector, and have been for more than thirty years. But to those people at the front of the queue with long want-lists that have since all ended up on Ebay at a hefty mark-up, well, sod you. That's not really in the spirit, is it? (Although a small crumb of comfort comes from the comedy of reading the media's surprise that this is happening - The Independent seemed to think it particularly newsworthy. In other news, they have also confirmed the Pope's Catholicism and bears' woods-based toilet habits).

So, I know how cantankerous I sound. These reasons, however petty and curmudgeonly, are why I have forsaken RSD in years gone by, even when there has been vinyl on offer that I would be interested in. But this year, I had to go. There was a new Smiths 7-inch, you see. Albert Finney on the cover. Two rare tracks (a demo of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and the Drone Studios version of Rubber Ring). Even a run-out groove inscription ("Trump will kill America"). I had to have it. Which is how I came to be queueing outside a record shop at ten to eight in the morning last Saturday, in the cold. It's a small record shop, Soundclash, and was operating a strict one-out-one-in policy, so I didn't actually get in the door until twenty five to ten. I was anticipating disappointment, and so had my back-up choice ready - The Wedding Present's Home Internationals e.p. And when I finally got to the counter, five minutes later, I was pleasantly surprised to find both (four copies of The Smiths 7" were left, but I bagged the last one of three copies Soundclash had got of The Weddoes). I didn't even baulk at the price (call me old-fashioned but I think £12 for a single is a bit steep, as is £17 for a 12"); I went away £29 poorer but immeasurably richer in terms of my own record collection.

Of course, later than evening I couldn't help but check Ebay - The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was going for £35 and Home Internationals for £30. From the intact cellophane on the listing photographs, the sellers hadn't even had a listen. Heathens.

Success!

Friday, 21 April 2017

I used to write software... II

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 13 years ago and 150 miles away, but you get the idea... I learnt to translate my classic Visual Basic programming skills to VB.Net. The specific task of personal interest that I used to teach myself was solving sudoku puzzles, as these were just starting to gain popularity in the UK back then.

Here's what I wrote about my noddy sudoku solver (and generator) at the time:

I wrote [this] mainly as an exercise in codifying logic - could I code the way I solve sudoku? The answer, for the most part, was yes, and this will solve all but the most diabolically fiendish sudoku...

The object of sudoku is to fill a 9x9 grid so that every row, column and 3x3 box contains the digits 1 through 9. Sounds easy, can be very hard (and addictive)! Anyway, this application lets you keep track of your progress by storing the grid contents, and helps you by showing available values for each grid square. It'll even generate a near-endless supply of new puzzles! And yes, I am aware that if you choose to generate a really hard sudoku, you might end up with one of the few that this program cannot solve programmatically... For the most part though, if you get really stuck, there are 'Hint' and 'Solve' buttons that will help you out.

Again, I failed to finish this quite as I'd like, in so much as there are some sudoku that are too hard for it to solve, and it only supports 9x9 puzzles. Other than that, it's okay, I think. Whatever, I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.

I used to write software... I

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away... well, 18 years ago and 180 miles away, but you get the idea... I taught myself Visual Basic. One of best ways of learning a new programming language, I have found, is to give yourself a specific task to complete using that language (and here's the key bit, as it's where the motivation comes from) that is of personal interest. Now I've written websites since 1997 - these days I mostly just use Blogger or Wordpress but back then I hand-coded all my HTML, CSS and JavaScript using Notepad. And yes, that was a bit frustrating at times. So my specific task of personal interest was to build a website editor, using Visual Basic. Markup Processor was the result.

Here's what I wrote about it when I released it out into the wild, way back when:

Markup Processor is a powerful html/script editor written expressly for me! But maybe you'll find it useful too... from beginners, intermediate to professional web builders, Markup Processor is a web editing tool for anyone creating web sites or authoring scripts. Markup Processor is a fast, lightweight product months in the making but please bear in mind it has been designed to do just what I want... no-one else! In other words, please feel free to suggest changes but I have the final say on what makes it into the product, okay?

Markup Processor's rich feature set includes: customizable syntax highlighting; flexible edit pane; support for (S)HTML documents, Perl, ASP, Cascading Style Sheets, Javascript, VBScript and Java; integrated page previewing (if MS Internet Explorer™ is installed); page viewing in external browser; split editing pane (edit different sections of a document at the same time); code compression; integration of HTML Tidy: spell checking (if MS Word™ is installed); access to integrated HTML and CSS reference files; 'power bar' includes code wizards and frequently used code snippets; 'side bar' includes double-clickable tag and special character lists; integrated Javascripts; and loads more besides...

Best of all, Markup Processor is lightweight, and loads a lot quicker than many comparable programs. I never did finish it though, so it's only fair to also mention the shortfalls: for a start, there's no tag completion, a feature I'd really want if I was starting this from scratch. The biggest omission though is the lack of word wrapping, but if you can live without that, Markup Processor is a handy bit of kit. I use it all the time... but then I would, wouldn't I?

As I said then, it never got finished quite as I'd like. And looking back, I regret making it insert HTML tags in uppercase rather than lower - whatever happened to standards compliance?! But never mind. I'm starting to mothball the old website this was previously publicly available on, so I'm making it available here instead, for posterity: its own little software cemetery.

Anyway, enough history. Here's the download if you actually want to give it a spin. To install: unzip the download (try 7-Zip in the unlikely event you need help with that), run the MSI, accept all the defaults. Job done.

Oh, and in the even more unlikely event that you use this enough to need support, well, you could ask in the comments below this post. If I can remember, I'll try to help. No promises, mind.