Thursday 30 June 2011

It seems hard to believe now but...

A griffon vulture, cicrling above us on the ascent from Petit Pimené to Pimené...this time last week I was in the Pyrénées with three mates, enjoying a walking holiday, away from the stresses and other attendant pains of work. In fact, at exactly this time last week we were a couple of hours into climbing up a mountain called Pimené, which we topped out (2,801 metres) at around lunchtime. It was a pretty hard walk in places, on a very hot day (and check out the steep, zig-zagging sections of our route), but entirely worth it. Yes, even the last stretch when the path just sort of stopped and you had to climb, almost on all fours, up a steep ridge lined with razor-sharp rocks and with a sheer fall on either side.

For the latter stages of the ascent, we were joined by a few griffon vultures (gyps fulvus, if that's your thing) who circled above in the forlorn hope that we would perhaps fall off or just lay down and die. Now I can't afford the sort of camera I'd like, but I did manage to capture one of the vultures as it soared over at little more than head height (left) - an awesome sight. It was a pretty amazing feeling topping out Pimené too; I don't think I've been higher on foot.

I'm not going to bore you with untold reams of scenic photography, partly because my camera isn't good enough to justify it but mostly because you can do a Google image search if you're that desperate for shots of Pyrénéan gorgeousness. Nor will I tell you about the place we ended up the next day which, I think, is possibly the most naturally beautiful place I've ever been in my life... because if word gets out, more people will go and it will only get spoiled.

What I will say is that, having been back at work all this week, it's sad that the events of seven short days past feel so long ago and far away. It's a sobering feeling, recognising yourself as a wage slave... but at least there is the consolation that being a wage slave for twelve thirteenths of the year pays for such pleasures as the lads' jaunt to the mountains. Oh, and this weekend's ticket to see Morrissey too.

Quite often, life can be pretty bad. But I try to keep telling myself that, as griffon vultures and Morrissey prove, it isn't always so.

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Yesterday was Tau Day

What's that, you say - Tau Day? All is revealed below.

In my younger day I used to be quite handy at maths, and this seems a reasonably compelling argument to me. What do you all think?

Monday 13 June 2011

Clandestine Classic XV - The Lovecats (cover)

Those Futurehead boysThe fifteenth 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, and for the first time in the Clandestine Classics series, a cover version. I know, it's a risk - covers nearly always generate one of two reactions: either it's not as good as the original ("musical heresy" and all that kind of thing); or, this is okay but so-and-so's cover of this song is much better. To be fair, more often than not these reactions are perfectly warranted but occasionally a cover comes along that really does reinterpret the song, where the band really do make it unmistakably their own. Today's offering is one such cover: from 2009, I give you The Lovecats by The Futureheads.

What, I hear you cry - am I mad? Musical heresy, et cetera. Who would blaspheme over Robert Smith and his merry band's commercial highpoint? Who would dare to mess with the original's double-bass line and jinking piano motif? I mean, come on, The Cure had milk bottles being knocked over and cats miaowing in their definitive version - how are you going to improve on that?

Well, a good question, but the fact is a good cover doesn't necessarily have to improve on the original (though some do). No. Surely it's more important just to try to do something a bit different, reimagine some aspect of the song, make a part of it your own. What's the point in makng a note-for-note facsimile - you might just as well play the original.

Of course The Futureheads have form for creative cover versions - their chart highpoint was a pretty fine cover version of the inestimable Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love. I guess that once they'd covered dogs, they might as well move on to cats... So when the NME were compiling a freebie CD of Cure cover versions in the early months of 2009, to celebrate Smith's band receiving the magazine's "Godlike geniuses" award, this is what The Futureheads came up with. Now to be fair, the whole CD, cover-mounted in February of that year, is pretty good, although quite a lot of the tributes fall foul of doing straight reproductions of the original songs. The Futurehead's cover stands out though, first of all by being excellent but mostly by it becoming a Futureheads song rather than a Cure cover. First of all, they up the tempo - the original strolls along at a leisurely feline pace, whilst this cover barrels along in short explosive blasts, like a cheetah. Then, they dispense with the milk-bottle, cat sound effects and, perhaps most crucially, that deep stand-up bass sound. Finally, they pull off what must be a very difficult masterstroke - they completely change the emphasis and intonation in the vocal. Witness that first line, with its stresses on "tigers" and "closer", as opposed to Robert Smith's "move" and "couldn't". How hard must this be to do, when you have grown up listening to, and are steeped in, the original?

I'll be honest, Lovecats is far from my favourite Cure song - I know a lot of people love it but to me, well, it hardly feels like proper Cure. It just feels as if someone challenged Smith to have a big chart hit, and this is what he came up with. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it, far from it - I'll still hum along and parts of my body will move when it comes on the radio. But The Futurehead's version, I love. That ba-da-daa-da chant they've used to replace the bassline, it gets in your head. Sorry to be a heretic, but I'm now at the point of preferring this to the original. Perhaps you'll feel the same after a couple of listens. You might find the NME cover-mounted CD on ebay (at the time of writing, I couldn't), though if it's just this song you're after try this. This Clandestine Classic's video delights, as ever, are courtesy of YouTube - for comparative purposes, you can watch Robert Smith and chums do the original here but what I really want you to listen to is The Futurehead's cover version, below. There's nothing much to see, sorry, but just close your eyes and listen. Altogether now, ba-da-daa-da...

Tuesday 7 June 2011

The danger of EPG

If, like me, you watch your TV through a set-top box, Sky receiver or relatively new television, you'll no doubt have access to an Electronic Programme Guide, or EPG. You know the thing, it tells you a bit about whatever's on, and what's on next. It's generally quite handy... but every now and then, it bowls a bouncer, and even when there are signs to tell you what's coming it can still take your head off.

Take last night, for example. I came home from wherever it was I'd been and, shamefully looking to the TV for a source of relaxation, starting scrolling through the EPG. This is, more or less verbatim, what caught my eye:

ITV2. Rumor Has It 2100-2245
Offbeat rom-com starring Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner.
A bride-to-be seeks the truth abouth whether her parents inspired the classic movie The Graduate.

But this is what I should have read:

A Channel You Never Normally Watch (for a reason). A Film With Dubious American Spelling In The Title 2100-2245
An overplayed genre movie starring an actress who never seems to find the right role and an actor who hasn't made a decent film since, ooh, let's say "JFK".
A bride-to-be...etc.

Because that's what I really think. I never watch ITV2 and, whilst I have no ill feeling towards either, those are my genuine feelings about those two actors. But the EPG got me anyway, because of The Graduate. It's one of my favourite films of any genre, one that I've seen more times than is healthy. And yes, I'm familiar with the rumour that the tale of Benjamin, Elaine and Mrs Robinson was based on a true story. So, despite all the red flags that should have been waving, I was lured in by the EPG by what, to me, was an intriguing premise. To be fair, Rumor Has It started well enough, with some party scenes even seeming to pay a little homage to the party Ben's parents throw for him at the start of The Graduate. But from then on, it was all downhill. I kept watching, in the vain hope that there would be more Graduate references thrown in, but as soon as Kev appeared, I might just as well have turned off and had an early night.

So what I really want to know is... how do I get those 105 minutes of my life back?