Tuesday 26 July 2011

Daisy, Daisy...

Carey Mulligan - English rose, not American DaisyI've just finished reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I know, how have I managed to get through 40 years of life without reading the great American novel? Well, I think part of the reason why is exactly that - at some level, part of me thought "why should I read this just because it's supposed to be so good?" But a friend of mine, whose opinion on all things literary I greatly respect, often cites Gatsby to demonstrate techniques of characterisation, pacing, plot development, and so on. So I finally gave it a go. And you know what? It is good. A genuinely evocative period piece, with compelling characters. So there. I've given my verdict on an accepted classic. Next week I'll deliver my views on Shakespeare (not bad - could do with more quotable lines).

Maggie Gyllenhall - surely a better choice for Daisy Buchanan?The thing is, to me the most intriguing of all the characters in Gatsby isn't the eponymous anti-hero, nor is it Mr Carraway, the narrator, but Daisy Buchanan, a character I've just read described on one website as a "manipulative jazz-age socialite", an epithet that seems about right to me. And I've also just read that in the forthcoming Baz Luhrmann adaptation, Daisy will be played by Carey Mulligan (left). And this is where my problem lies. Don't get me wrong, I think Mulligan is great, and especially terrific in An Education. But I don't look at her and think she's right for Daisy. The two just don't go together in my head. But then looking down the proposed cast list, I don't envisage Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby either, and I certainly can't reconcile the idea of Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson. In fact, the only bit of casting that feels right is Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway. Beyond that though, my biggest problem is Carey as Daisy - she just seems too sweet, too nice to be able to convey that manipulative, exploitative streak that Daisy shows increasingly as the story progresses. I guess Miss Mulligan will just have to act her socks off.

The trouble is, I then tried to think who I would cast as Daisy. And you know what - I couldn't decide. The nearest I could come up with that started to feel right was Maggie Gyllenhaal (right), and even then, well, I couldn't really see Daisy in her. So what do you think? Any suggestions?

Monday 4 July 2011

Clandestine Classic XVI - The Brink

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

I've been thinking a lot lately about the sort of music I buy these days, especially in comparison to what I bought, say, fifteen or twenty years ago. The most obvious difference is that I buy a lot less now, partly becuase I (hope I) am more discerning but mostly because I just don't have the same disposable income - life has put paid to that. But this train of thought led me to think what the outstanding albums of the 21st Century have been so far, for me at least. Don't worry, I'm working up a list for that as a future blog post. In the meantime, today's Clandestine Classic comes from an album that will be on that list - but for now, what better way to celebrate American Independence Day than with the singularly British sound of I Am Kloot and The Brink, from their 2010 masterpeice Sky At Night.

I could have picked just about any of the ten tracks on this album - it really is that good - but I've gone for The Brink for the way it invades my mind: I hear it, and then for hours, days or sometimes weeks after this most croon-worthy of melodies will wrap itself round whatever part of my cerebral cortex processes sound, and squeeze...

What's the song about? Well, singer Johnny Bramwell often introduces this song by describing it as concerning "romance, drinking and despair", a combination that we surely have all been able to relate to at some point in our lives. Further, in the preamble to this live acoustic rendition, Johnny explains that he wrote the song after watching Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose, so maybe that adds a layer of understanding to the mood of the song. He certainly seems to recommend the film ("it's brilliant").

Over and above the song's beautiful orchestration and the simple yet effective guitar playing, the other secret (so many secrets!) to this track's success is Bramwell's vocal delivery. His is a voice that sounds permanently on the edge of cracking, yet never does. It soars to enviable heights, yet all the while remains a voice that has lived, and is lived in: the years Johnny spent busking on the streets of Paris are evident. And most precious of all, it has that rarest of commodities - it is genuinely distinctive. I find it hard to think of anyone who sounds like him, and that can only be a good thing, right?

I Am Kloot have been plugging away for years, but it's not until some of fellow Mancs Elbow got involved with the production of Sky At Night that they've been able to add a smattering of commercial success to the critical acclaim they've long received. About time too, I reckon. As seems to always be the case, YouTube provides a raft of live acoustic performances, of which the aforementioned is probably the best. For once I couldn't find a dubious copy of The Brink to point you towards but do you know what, that's to your advantage because what you really want is to buy the whole album, you won't regret it. Oh, and if you're going to this year's Latitude Festival, well, firstly you're very lucky (and I'm very jealous) but secondly be sure to catch I Am Kloot whilst you're there. To get you in the mood, here's a straight studio rendition of today's Clandestine Classic, The Brink, for your listening pleasure.