Thursday 27 May 2010

Weller? Check. Foxton? Check. Eton Rifles? Yes please...

This is my 200th post, and I was thinking I ought to try to write something special. Then fate dropped this in my lap and, in my opinion, it doesn't get much more special...

...because last night at the Royal Albert Hall, Paul Weller was joined on stage by Bruce Foxton for the first time since the former called time on The Jam in 1982. First off, they rattled through "Fast Car, Slow Traffic" from Weller's current (and excellent) album Wake Up The Nation. And then, they played "Eton Rifles". Maybe it was a birthday present to himself (Weller was 52 yesterday), who knows? Whatever, I'm betting a lot of fans went home extra happy last night. I wasn't there, sadly, but I feel strangely elated after peering at wobbly YouTube footage. Speaking of which, I bet you thought I'd never get there - it's not the greatest quality but who cares? Here it is.

P.S. I must give a nod to the excellent music blog The Songs That People Sing, without whom this monumental news would have passed me by.

Wednesday 26 May 2010


In recognition of the fact that my vending machine cup of tea came complete with a dead spider floating on top yesterday, there can only be one post. And, in a kind of two-for-the-price-of-one deal, this will also serve as a reminder that the campaign to get The Who a UK number 1 single has started again. Why not support it?

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Arsene's inbox

On hearing the news yesterday that Arsenal have been linked with potential multi-million investment from a Nigerian businessman, am I the only one wondering whether Arsene and his mates at the Emirates have simply fallen foul of a spam email con? You know, the sort that begins "Dear friend - let me introduce myself..."

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Blog as I say, not as I do

An old friend of mine - since I like to maintain anonymity on here we'll call him Mr Durden - is about to start blogging. Now he's web-savvy, and has designed some good websites in his time, so doesn't really need any advice. However, he asked me, as a "seasoned blogger", whether I had any tips on how best to get going. I interpreted this to mean "please send a list of vaguely patronising do's and don'ts about blogging"; here's more or less what I sent in reply, minus the Durden-specific asides.

  • DO sign up with a reputable and established blog host. Blogspot (aka Blogger) is popular, and I can't think of any other I'd recommend more highly. If I was starting afresh, that's where I'd go.
  • DON'T set up and host your own blog, like I have. It seems like fun at first, but ends up being more trouble than it's worth.
  • DO tag/categorise all your posts.
  • DO ping after every new post. You can ping Google's blog search engine and I'd also recommend something like Ping-o-matic for pinging lots of others automatically.
  • DO post comments in other people's blogs, and link your comments back to your blog. It generates a surprising amount of traffic.
  • DO submit your RSS feed all over the place.
  • DO consider using things like Feedburner and Technorati to get your feed syndicated.
  • DO ensure that people can add your posts to the aggregator or social network of their choice. You can go through and add Retweet, Digg, Delicious and the rest separately, or you can use AddToAny like I have, and get them all in one hit.
  • DON'T chase the Zeitgeist. If you write about the flavour of the month, then your post will be lost in a sea of similar posts. Yes, you're right, this didn't stop me writing about the election recently, though in part that was because I couldn't resist naming one post "Electile Dysfunction".
  • DO blog often. Even if you manage to attract some subscribers, my experience suggests that you won't keep them unless you have regularly updated content.
  • DON'T post unoriginal content too often. Yes, I occasionally just embed something interesting from YouTube, but if you do it too often (unless that's the sole purpose of the blog) it gets tiresome.
  • DON'T over-egg customising your blog's theme/stylesheet. Just because you can use 25 different fonts, doesn't mean you have to. Or should. Ditto the colour palette. Go steady.
  • DON'T be tempted to blog anything illegal. Most of the big blog hosts (and Blogspot in particular) are very hot on pulling posts if they infringe the terms of service. No warning either, so keep backups of what you post. This is especially true if you should ever post an MP3 of questionable legality - your post runs the risk of being pulled faster than you can say "DMCA notice". Far better to find said questionable file elsewhere on the Internet and then just link to it using an anonymous redirection service like anonym.
  • DO write interesting stuff. There are too many "This morning I had cornflakes and coffee for breakfast" blogs in the world already.
  • DO ensure accurate grammar and punctuation and (at least if you want me to read you) don't use annoying web abbreviations like "lol" or "u" or "imho" or anything else... unless you're being very obviously and unmistakably ironic (or better still, sarcastic), and even then tread carefully.
  • DO link to other relevant content from within your posts. People like to have "further reading" and it helps if you can point them in the right direction.

So... what do you think? Agree/disagree? Am I a terrible old blog snob? Half of you write blogs too - any rules you'd add to or remove from the list? Note the fifth point above, and leave your comments.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Clandestine Classic II - She's Everywhere

The 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.

Today, an album track from Bristol-based melodramatic tunesmiths Strangelove. Formed in the early 90s and incorporating some members of fellow Bristol scenesters The Blue Aeroplanes (notably guitar maestro Alex Lee), Strangelove garnered a lot of favourable reviews for their early EPs and first album, Time For The Rest Of Your Life (the title track of which almost made it on here today, and which is certainly worth seeking out). Much was made of singer Patrick Duff's vocal similarity to Morrissey, and it was this comparison that initally brought them to my attention.

Support slots for Radiohead and Suede followed, as did a second album, 1996's Love And Other Demons, and it's track five from that particular disc that is today's musical offering. She's Everywhere featured Brett Anderson from Suede on backing vocals and is all the more gorgeous for that, but there's far more to this than just some Suede patronage. Sumptuous guitars; delicate harmonies; complex and heartfelt lyrics; a compelling chorus - She's Everywhere has all this and more. I once read a customer's review on Amazon that concluded with "Imagine Radiohead with a better-looking lead singer, and you have Strangelove." That's a pretty bold claim (and a bit harsh on Thom Yorke) but it's not far off the mark. It wasn't enough to save them though - one more album followed, one more stab at chart success with the uncharacteristically jaunty, piano-led Another Night In, and that was more or less that. A shame.

However, by the miracle of the Internet that is YouTube, we can still enjoy this clandestine classic... so here it is!

Wednesday 12 May 2010

In the midst of life we are in death, et cetera

I went to a funeral last week. It was not of someone to whom I was particularly close but of the father of my one of my oldest friends, someone I had a great deal of respect for. And insofar as a funeral can be good, it was a good funeral: the cemetery's little chapel was full; the eulogy was fulsome in its praise of an honest, decent man; and fond smiles were raised by reminiscences of a true character.

Later, as I stood on the hillside, my body confused by the weather dichotomy of brilliant sunshine and biting wind, I watched as my friend's father was lowered into the ground. Further along his row were another half a dozen graves so fresh that their little earthen pyramids had yet to settle or grass over. And the cemetery itself was a sprawling place, containing hundreds of years worth of headstones and memories - indeed, it was so massive that we drove from the chapel to the burial plot. Standing there with the wind tugging at the collar of my suit jacket, it struck me more than ever that in the midst of life we really are in death... it's just that, until death is at one's elbow, we don't notice it most of the time.

It also struck me, later on, that we can measure our lives by the parties we attend. Okay, perhaps "party" is the wrong word, no-one would call a wake a party - "social gathering" would be better. But as we assembled at my friend's house for drinks and food after the funeral, and I caught up with old friends that I hadn't seen (in some cases) for probably ten years or more, the whole life in parties thought occurred. First the early landmark birthdays - the 16ths, the 18ths, the 21sts. Then engagement parties, then weddings. Christenings or naming parties follow. Then more landmarks - the 40ths, 50ths and 60ths. Retirement parties. And funerals.

My friend's father was only eight years older than my own dad when he died, and it's fair to say I made the long journey home after the funeral thinking about mortality, and the inevitability of the end. It's not a cheery subject - sorry - and there are no conclusions or messages hidden in this post - again, you have my apologies, hope I haven't wasted your blog-reading time. As Bruce Hornsby once said, "that's just the way it is."

Thursday 6 May 2010

X marks the spot

I was going to try to write something else about the election today, but guess what? Someone else has already said pretty much exactly what I was going to, so rather than churn out more of my usual angsty prose I'll just point you towards today's excellent election post by Dave Gorman.

Oh, and don't forget to exercise your right to vote - exercise is good for you, after all.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Electile dysfunction

I've voted at every general election since I turned 18 - I believe it's very important to do so, not least because we should cherish democracy and because of the suffrage of those in the past that have secured our right to vote. I also just happen to believe that if you don't vote you lose your right to complain about anything Parliament does, or its effect on us. And that's a lot of stuff. As I've written once before, it's no good moaning about whoever subsequently wins if you don't get down to the polling booth and do your bit. So there you go, a nice easy message for this post: use your vote.

The trouble with this election, though, is that it's the least clear cut in years. Even aside from the fact that the power of television seems to have turned the election into a genuine three-horse race (though lets wait until the votes are counted before we really judge the effect of the televised debates), the ballot box will seldom have been a more confusing place than it will be on Thursday. The problem is this: all the main parties have some policies that make sense... but then they all have some policies that are anathema to me. So which to choose?

Maybe it comes down to which party is the best fit, then? At least that's what I thought... so I tried,, Channel 4 News's "which party suits you?" quiz and the BBC's excellent party comparison website to try to help me decide. Do you know what I found? The results are inconclusive - I am a political smorgasbord. Maybe I should start my own party for next time round?

Then there's the question of whether to vote tactically or with my heart: whether to be true to my principles but effectively vote for a hung parliament, or to vote strategically and hope for a clear result nationally, even if I don't end up with the local MP I'd prefer. It's tricky, isn't it?

With two days to go, I haven't decided yet. But I will, and so should you. Then, when you've done your bit, treat yourself to a DVD of Election, one of the funniest films of the last ten years and a perfect political satire.