Friday, 31 May 2019

Blue Friday - The Lonely

"Just like Liberace, I will return to haunt you with peculiar piano riffs..."

By the by, I had started working up a notional BSP imaginary compilation album for JC over at The (New) Vinyl Villain, but then I remembered that Tim Badger had already contributed an excellent one. Go and have a read.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Adulterants

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

9/19: The Adulterants by Joe Dunthorne

The blurb: Ray is not a bad guy. He mostly did not cheat on his heavily pregnant wife. He only sometimes despises every one of his friends. And though his career as a freelance tech journalist is dismal and he spends his afternoons churning out third-rate listicles in his boxer briefs, he dreams of making a difference. But Ray is about to learn that his special talent is for making things worse. Brace yourself for a wickedly funny look at the modern everyman. The Adulterants is an uproarious tale of competitively sensitive men and catastrophic open marriages, riots on the streets of London and Internet righteousness, and one man's valiant quest to come of age in his thirties. With lacerating wit and wry affection, Joe Dunthorne dissects the urban millennial psyche of a man too old to be an actual millennial.

The review: in some ways, The Adulterants starts off like a David Nicholls book - you know, Starter For Ten or One Day, that sort of thing. It puts a likeable, relatable character in an increasingly difficult situation, in such a way that the reader can join the dots and see what is coming. To offset the increasing challenges our narrator faces, again like Nicholls, Dunthorne uses humour, often very dark humour. This is a good thing, by the way. The difference between the two authors though is how they resolve their books - Nicholls would enable his protagonist to somehow turn things around and triumph in the sort of feelgood ending beloved of rom-coms fans and film studios. Dunthorne, however, eschews such temptations, preferring to deliver a resolution that feels so much more real. Because life isn't like that. You know it, I know it and Joe Dunthorne knows it too.

Of course there is a flip side to this. Some readers may feel cheated out of an ending. They may come to the end of this book and think, "Oh. Is that it?" That would be a shame, though, because often in life, that is it. And what's more, to feel disappointed is to have missed the point, and to not have enjoyed the ride. And there is so much to enjoy here. Dunthorne's prose is fluid and natural, so much so that beautiful turns of phrase and combinations of words slip by, almost unnoticed. I lost count of the number of times I read a line and thought, "Ooh, that's good." What's more, his protagonist Ray remains likeable even when going off the rails, making bad choices and doing things he really shouldn't - this can be a tough trick to pull off, yet Dunthorne manages it with aplomb.

Most noteworthy though is the authenticity of The Adulterants - I am not in my mid-30s but this feels real to me. Similarly, I was not in my mid-teens when I read Dunthorne's brilliant first novel, Submarine (memorably adapted for film by Richard Ayaode) but that felt real too. This is a real book, something you read because you love reading, not just because you want a book to take on holiday with you. And, as an aspiring writer, it's very much the sort of book I wish I could have written.

The bottom line: you might not like the ending but it's the right ending for an engaging, hard-to-put-down book, shot through with dark humour and with something to say about the rubbishness of modern life.

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

Monday, 27 May 2019

(Bank Holiday) Monday long song: Staring At The Sun

Going to see this lot soon... And is it just me that hears a bit of Buffalo Springfield in how this starts?

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Bodies

Rob (Max Beesley) and Donna (Neve McIntosh)

If, like me, you are missing Line of Duty, fear not. For whilst AC-12 might not return to our screens for at least twelve months ("Mother of God!"), help is at hand. The Beeb, in their infinite wisdom, have dug up Bodies, one of Jed Mercurio's earlier forays into television, and stuck both series on the iPlayer here. And you should take a look.

Made in 2004-6, Bodies is set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictionalised acute hospital. Max Beesley stars as new registrar Rob, who quickly becomes concerned about the competence of his consultant, Dr Hurley (Mercurio favourite Patrick Baladi, who'll LOD fans will recognise as the Huntley's slippery lawyer friend Jimmy, from series four). So there's a pressurised acute hospital setting, with patients dying or being left with brain damage all over the place, backroom machinations, intrigue, plotting, double-crossing... plenty of dramatic mileage.

However, if you're hung up on Mercurio's more recent work, like LOD and Bodyguard, well, you might initially be a little disappointed with Bodies. It shows its age a little, I think, amazing given that it is a 21st Century piece of television. I guess things move pretty fast. But in our hi-def, colour-saturated 2019, Bodies feels a bit ... there's no other word for it, grainy. And hurried too. There were only six episodes in series one; stories and sub-plots move along so quickly, occasionally unrealistically quickly, it feels. Plus, and I mean no disrespect, I don't think Max Beesley's acting chops are quite up to snuff, here at least. Lucky for us then that the wider cast (and it really is an ensemble piece) are excellent - the aforementioned Patrick Baladi, Tamzin Malleson as Polly, Susan Lynch as whistle-blowing anaesthetist Maria and, most of all, Keith Allen, who seems to be having a great time as senior consultant Mr Whitman (Keith and Tamzin are partners in real life - I don't know if they met before Bodies, or on set, but it certainly helps their on-screen chemistry). Best of all is Neve McIntosh as ward sister Donna, who would go on to appear in Dr Who occasionally as Madame Vastra - she's excellent in Bodies, even if her role is a little under-developed at times.

I think it's also worth reminding ourselves that, whilst Bodies also plays fast and loose with NHS management processes and structures (hard to believe, for example, that hospital manager and all-round bad guy Paul Tennant would be involved in every staff discipline case and suspension, as well as the hospital's inspection, departmental monthly reporting, clinical trial panjandrums and more) it only does this to serve the story - to keep the world of the acute hospital, behind the scenes, understandable for the viewer. This works, for the most part; as someone who's worked in the NHS, and comes from a family of people who've worked in the NHS, I can tell you it still feels real, despite these shortcuts. And so it should, when you realise that Jed Mercurio went to medical school and spent time working as a doctor in a hospital. He's been there, done that. Makes you wonder how much of what you see is (semi-) autobiographical... The same is true for his first TV output, the somewhat lighter mid-Nineties satirical comedy-drama Cardiac Arrest.

Also worth remembering that this was (and still is) pretty ground-breaking television in what it was prepared to show - stillborn babies, premature babies being given CPR, graphic surgery, botched tracheostomies and horrible deaths. Oh, and plenty of sex too. I don't know what time of day this was on, or channel (I'd guess 10pm on BBC Three, as was) but Holby this most definitely was not.

It's not perfect but there's plenty to admire in Bodies. You can catch all seventeen episodes over on iPlayer for another ten months, or pick it up on DVD if you prefer. Either way, you might never look at a hospital in the same way again... Here's the opening moments from series one, episode one, to whet your appetite.

And oh, The Guardian agree with me...

Monday, 20 May 2019

Sdrawkcab

I was lucky enough to experience Belgian artist Johannes Bellinkx's Reverse at the weekend, as part of an annual arts festival. And I'm not quite sure how to describe it... immersive walking tour? Performance piece, where you are the performer? Neither/both?

Maybe I should just describe how it works and you can decide for yourself. Basically it is a walking tour, of sorts, but you walk backwards, following a white line on the floor (not by looking down, but by keeping an awareness of it on the periphery of your vision). All the while, you're wearing headphones which are Bluetooth-connected at various points along the route to provide appropriate ambient noise.

Sound weird? Well, it is a bit weird, to be honest. Weird in that you quickly place utmost faith in the white line (at no point did I have the urge to look over my shoulder). Weird in that it is not easy to distinguish ambient noises filtering in from the real world with those from the headphones (most notable with conversations going on behind me by the market). Weird in that passers-by, oblivious to what you are doing, seem genuinely perplexed by the sight of someone walking backwards (one bloke filmed me on his phone, at some point). And most weird of all, how the whole experience starts to mess with your senses... or rather, how the brain tries to reinterpret the stimuli it is receiving, to make some sort of sense of them. This last point most of all, for me - after a while, I started to feel that everyone else was going backwards and that I was the only one moving conventionally.

At the end of the route, 50 minutes later, the artist himself was on hand to talk to participants. He was particularly pleased to hear of my "reversal"; apparently his original inspiration was another artist who had filmed someone walking backwards through Tokyo for nine hours and then reversed the film, to give the impression that the rest of the world was running backwards. Bellinkx's intention with Reverse was to attempt to create that sensation in a live setting. For me, it sort of worked. There's quite a moment too, when the white line the participant has been so reliant on, is suddenly removed from view - I won't say how (no spoilers), but this is just one of many sensory tricks Reverse plays on the participant. Others (like a different appreciation of gradient) are picked up in this review, if you're interested. Reverse has moved on now (next stop, Copenhagen, I think) but if you get a chance to have a go at this somewhere, sometime, you really should.

Of course, The Stone Roses famously transposed some of their songs to make others, and I was going to embed Don't Stop as an example, until I saw this. Imagine creating a song by backmasking another song, but then trying to play the new, backwards song live - playing forwards something that is the artificial backwards version of something else? Here's a clip of the band rehearsing to do just that (and a reminder of just how vital Reni was to The Roses' sound...)

Friday, 17 May 2019

Blue Friday - While She Waits

For my 800th post, some Smiths-lite. No bad thing. And 800 might sound like a lot, but it's not when you spread it out over 14 years.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Nineteen in '19: The House of Rumour

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

8/19: The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott

The blurb: In 1941, Larry Zagorski was a naïve young writer of science-fiction. Seven decades on, he looks back on that crucial year and traces his place in a mysterious web - one that connects the Second World War with the Space Age, stretches from London to Cuba and Southern California, and links Ian Fleming with Rudolf Hess in a conspiracy that reverberates in the present.

Could this be the secret history of the 20th century? In a mesmerising novel peopled by spies and propagandists, the conned and the heartbroken, dreamers and fanatics, the question is: who will you believe?

The review: where to start? Arnott has woven together multiple stories that entwine a cast of fictional and fictionalised characters, centred on SF novelist Zagorski. The real-life characters include Ian Fleming, Rudolph Hess, Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, L Ron Hubbard, Robert Heinlein, Philip K Dick, and more. On occasion, I had to check with Wikipedia as to the reality of some of the protagonists, such is the breadth (and skilful blend) of fiction and fact. There's a real spotter's fun to be had for the reader here too, most notably in the scenes with Ian Fleming, spotting references to events that later turn up in Bond novels: a boss called M, a character called Trevelyan, conceiving of a spy breaking a crime syndicate by bankrupting them in a casino, and more...

But what of the actual story? There are so many sub-plots here, and so many narrators, it's not always clear what the underlying story is. That fiction can inspire real events? That is certainly a recurring theme, notably that a (fictional) story might have been the inspiration for Hess's trip to Scotland. Or have foretold, as is often alluded here, as there is a recurrent motif in this novel of cults and the occult, tarot, the supernatural, the alien. Plenty of the protagonists buy into one or many of these schools of thought... but the real theme, to this reviewer at least, is disinformation - the black art of seeding just enough credible nonsense to divert or misinform. This recurs throughout the book, from pre-war paranoia, through Hess's flight to Eaglesham Moor, to UFOs and Area 51, goings on in Cuba, McCarthyism, Dianetics and Scientology, the Jonestown Massacre and secret service agents who could make or break people on one hand but be caught out by sexual predilection and a petty chancer on the other. So yes, there's a lot going on. Sometimes it's hard to keep up. And you might gather from the amount of time since my last review in this series, I've hardly raced through The House of Rumour. But it's works, ultimately, even if the story sometimes pays second fiddle to the storytelling. Not one for dipping in and out of, but a book that rewards your attention.

The bottom line: a decent slice of meta-fiction that succeeds because the real and the imagined are blended so well, you cannot see the join.

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

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Something for the weekend...

...a cherished song, a cherished film, some art... what better way to start your weekend?

And a parody because, well, why not?

Proper blog posts will return soon, I hope.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Blue Friday - Skin and Bones

Oh, Harriet (obligatory sigh). "We're just flesh and blood, and we're nothing much more..."

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Seren-gig-ity

I know that title makes me sound like Quagmire, but hear me out.

I went to see The Wedding Present on Sunday. Not once, but twice. Firstly, I went to a screening of the excellent and long-overdue documentary about the band and, more specifically, their debut album, George Best. Entitled Something Left Behind, the film was crowdfunded (including by me - my name is in the [very long] list of backers at the end of the credits) and has been doing the rounds of film festivals and special screenings. Now it seems to be following the band around on tour, allowing for the screening to be followed by a Q&A with the film's director Andrew Jezard and Mr Wedding Present himself, David Gedge.

Later the same day I squeezed into a small, sold-out venue to see Gedge and his bandmates do their excellent thing, as part of their Bizarro 30 tour.

But, to paraphrase Chris Tarrant, I don't want to write about that. You all know about The Wedding Present already. You probably all own George Best and Bizarro (with the exception of C, who has yet to be won over). In short, you don't need me to enthuse about Gedge et al - I would literally be preaching to the converted. So instead, I'm going to talk about the occasional luck of seeing a support band that bowl you over.

Now, you might remember The Flatmates from their first spin around the block, in the late Eighties. Indeed, Jez over at A History of Dubious Taste was blogging about them at the weekend. Here's what they sounded like back in the day:

Wikipedia tells us that the band split in 1989 and reconvened in 2013. As is often the case, not all the original members are back on board though. Whilst they've seemingly been through a lot of bassists, more notably absent is original vocalist Debbie Haynes... but they have recruited a remarkable frontwoman in her place, in the shape of Lisa Bouvier who is, well, there's no other way to describe her, a force of nature. A whirling, swirling, whooping force of nature. Delivering high energy vocals whilst bouncing and dancing around in a gold tinsel jacket throughout their 30 minute support set, all I can say is that the Swede must be very fit. Also quite a contrast to the rest of the band who, it must be said, look exactly like what they actually are - a bunch of middle-aged men. Still, so was most of the audience on Sunday night, so at least they were at home.

There aren't many videos of the current line-up to show you, but here's something from earlier in the tour - the current line-up's live take of Shimmer.

Anyway, The Flatmates are recording new material, and have a couple of 7-inchers you can buy. One has a Cinerama cover on the B-side, if that adds to the interest. Also, they have a Facebook page, if that's your thing. And finally, here's Lisa and the crowd from Sunday night. +100 kudos points to anyone who correctly identifies me... [Edit: points offer rescinded, you can just hover your mouse over the picture to ID me...]

P.S. Something Left Behind is really very, very good. Catch it at a screening if you can. Alternatively, the director assures us it will be out on DVD before Christmas...

P.P.S. No, Bouvier isn't a very Swedish sounding surname. In the unlikely event you should ever need to know for a pub quiz question, the singer was born Lisa Westerlund.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

How to do a comeback

Last September, I wondered which, if any, of the feeble videos on my excuse for a YouTube channel would be first to 500 views. Eight months later and one of those feebles is honing in on 4,500 views. And it's Sleeper, performing Sale of the Century at Latitude.

Sleeper's comeback seems complete. After a few tentative gigs in 2017, they ramped it all up in 2018 and got back on the festival circuit. They recorded a new album, with Stephen Street at the helm, and, despite problems with PledgeMusic, it has not only seen the light of day but has troubled the charts too. More importantly, The Modern Age is also pretty good; early days, I know, but it will be in the running for my album of the year.

I did start to wonder if the Sleeper revival has been so successful because, back in the day, not only did people like the music but they all fancied Louise too. Seeing Sleeper live now is a double whammy of nostalgia, then - not just the music but the imaginary girlfriend too. It's like looking up your childhood sweetheart on Facebook. But even allowing for that, I don't think the comeback would have been successful or gratifying if the music was no good (and I include the new tunes in that). And it has been successful, so much so that I even sold a couple of Sleeperbloke t-shirts off the back of it...

Anyway. Enough poorly structured blog posting. After all, it's just a thinly veiled excuse to embed some Louise Wener. Happy Thursday, everyone.


Then...


...and now

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

The trouble with Record Store Day...

Finger on the pulse as ever, I'm writing about Record Store Day three weeks after the event. At least that's given me time to calm down.

I've moaned written about RSD before, to wit:

  • it's record shop, not record store;
  • the aims of RSD when it started are very different to the needs of record shops now;
  • Ebay profiteering; and
  • "Where were you bastards then?"

So I don't need to revisit those bug bears, do I? (Though I might).

Instead, let's add some new gripes. Although largely underwhelmed by this year's offerings, I did want one record - the Morrissey 7-inch of Lover To Be, on red vinyl and with an excellent picture sleeve of the late Donnelly Rhodes. Slight snag - I would be on holiday, and far away from home, on RSD19.

Naturally, part of my vacation planning involved identifying participating record shops near to my holiday home. There were three, and I targeted the one in the biggest town, thinking that my greatest chance of success would be there. And that's where my problems began.

I arrived at the shop, or more precisely the queue for the shop, at 7.20am, in readiness for an 8am opening. Which meant lots of time to listen to other people in the queue talking or, as I shall henceforth refer to them, RSDW.

Immediately in front of me, two RSDW were deep in discussion. One was wearing blue-framed Ray-Bans. At 7.20am. In a street that was shaded on both sides. Beneath a sky that threatened (but didn't deliver) showers. The other was a 40-something aspirant hipster, wearing trousers that did him no favours and a hounds-tooth trilby that definitely was not being worn the right way. They were discussing a box of records that Trilby had bought from a classified ad: "200 records for 30 quid!" Ray-Bans made some too-cool-for-school noises at this, until Trilby threw in the additional "...but there's some Miles Davis in there and I've had a look on Discogs and some of them are worth 30 quid on their own!" "Sweet," said Ray-Bans, which was odd, as I had a sour taste in my mouth.

A couple of places behind me in the queue, a loud RSDW bemoaned the notion of queues, thus: "I don't do queues. I fucking hate queues." This, despite the fact that he very clearly was doing a queue. And what's more, who doesn't hate them? And I could go on, there were plenty of RSDW in the queue, but I don't want to sound too much like the intolerant curmudgeon that I am.

Bang on 8, the shop opened, and the queue began to inch forward. Like many shops on RSD, this one was operating a one in, one out policy. I got to the front door by 8.30, by which time I had glimpsed an Ebay profiteer with an arm full of records through the shop window... and one of those records was Lover To Be. I began to hope the shop had more than one copy and they surely would, right? At the front door, one of the co-owners was on hand to say hello. He asked what I was after and, when I told him, he said, "Oh, no-one else has said that so you should be alright." Except when I finally got my foot over the threshold I was staggered to see that there was only one small box of 7" RSD releases. Rack after rack of 12" but hardly any 7". And no Morrissey red vinyl to be seen. Beaten to the punch by an Ebay profiteer.

I left in a huff, and marched back to the car. After quickly consulting Google Maps on my phone, I set off for another of the local participating record shops, this one in a much smaller market town. Maybe it would be less popular, I tried to convince myself. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

After a cross-country dash that was entirely within the speed limit, I arrived in the queue for my second chance at five to nine ... and immediately wished I had gone there first. For whilst there was still a queue and a one in, one out policy, there was also a member of staff going up and down the queue with an arm full of clipboards, getting people to highlight the releases they were after. Periodically, he would head into the shop and then come back out to break the news to people who were after records that had sold out. In other words, there was organisation, and an attempt at fairness. And there didn't seem to be anything like as many RSDW.

I dutifully ticked the Morrissey box on a clipboard and awaited my fate, inching forward all the time. When the shop worker reappeared, he looked genuinely sad to tell me that "we've sold them all, sorry." All! All! Implying multiple copies. Gah! If only I'd been there an hour earlier. Hell damn fart. This was enough for me - I was supposed to be on holiday, after all. I didn't try the third shop, but went for a nice walk with my family, and tried not to fume.

Of course, by the end of the day Ebay was full of listings for Lover To Be, all around the £27-£28 mark, compared to the RSD list price of £9.99. I did fume a bit then.

Enough. Here's the song I was after, and the B-side: the tunes without the queues.