Tuesday 29 December 2015

Okay, it's not "Who's on first?" or even "Four candles" but....

Okay, it's not "Who's on first?" or even "Four candles" but today, in my search for change for a ten pound note, I had literally one or two seconds of light relief from my misunderstanding of "I've got £2 coins" as "I've got two pound coins."

Oh, how we laughed. Bet you're glad you stopped by now, aren't you?

Actually, for a bit of added value (I'd feel bad for such a shite blog post otherwise), here's the 21st Century equivalent of "Who's on first?"

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Clandestine Classic XLIV - Generator

The forty-fourth 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.

As I continue to address the paucity of clandestine classics in this year's blog posts, it occurs to me that I should probably try to balance out the downbeat, some would say morose, tone of the last entry in the series. Here, then, is about as upbeat a number as you can get. Now I don't know too much about The Holloways, beyond what can be gleaned from Wikipedia, but I do know Generator was a track from their superbly-titled 2007 album So This Is Great Britain? I bought that, and it's full of mostly perky, jangly guitar pop, but Generator stands heads and shoulders above the rest. For a start there's that incessant, driving beat which, trust me, is excellent at worming its way into your subconscious. Then there are the twin vocals of Alfie Jackson and Robert Skipper (I think), in close harmony, delivering lyrics at infectious, breakneck speed. And then there are those lyrics, as follows:

I can get a record player, and a generator,
Generate the music that makes you feel better.

I don't live in poverty, I got a little bit of money
And I've got a healthy body.
I'm not going to let stuff get me upset
And I won't let all the little things get me depressed.

When I was a young boy I got a stereo
And I taped all the songs straight off the radio.
The sounds that the bands made, and the melodies
Was all I need to make me feel free.

Sometimes you get so low, you don't know why
Or a little upset all inside.
May I remind you? That you don't live in poverty
You got your youth, and you got food in your belly!

I can get a record player, and a generator,
Generate the music that makes you feel better.
I can get a record player, and a generator,
Generate the music that makes you feel better.

By Christ, that's an optimistic song, isn't it? Essentially, yes, life can be a bit crap sometimes but don't let it get you down, play some great music, and all will be well... And of course that's simplistic nonsense but I always feel better for playing music I love, and I suspect you do too. Plus this references that simple pleasure from days gone by of taping a song from the radio - for me, this meant bending over the stereo with a finger on the pause button during the chart run-down, and I know I'm not alone there. Today's equivalent is performing a dodgy download, which somehow seems so much less exciting...

But I digress... like I said, I know little about The Holloways, and their debut album is the only record of theirs that I own. I love this song though, and the way it gets into your head. They carry the "cheer up, it might never happen" vibe into the video too, as you can see:

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Clandestine Classic XLIII - New York

The forty-third 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.

It occurs to me that, prior to today, I have only posted three clandestine classics during 2015. I've dropped the ball, in other words. Between now and the end of the year, I will try to remedy that, starting right now with a track from Stephen Fretwell's 2004 album Magpie. I first saw Stephen live, supporting Travis, in my previous life, way back in 2005, and I was a bit blown away. Here was a singer-songwriter with terrific acoustic chops, laying down slice after slice of bittersweet melancholia. So much was I impressed that I went straight out the next day and bought the album, and then... Then. Then, I was a tiny bit disappointed, truth be told. Magpie is a solid album, of that there's no doubt, but some essential aspect of the Fretwell I'd seen live hadn't translated to the studio recordings I was listening to. Having said that, there were moments of gold on there. What's That you Say Little Girl is beautiful, for starters, and the terrific Run got picked up as the credits music for Gavin & Stacey, assuring Stephen a flirtation with a wider audience (you'll have to wait until about 1:54 in for the bit you'll recognise).

So I could have chosen either of those songs but instead went for New York. It's heartfelt but downbeat, and that's exactly how I felt back then, as long-term readers of this blog may (but probably won't) recall. Back then, a NSFW chorus that begins "Fuck what they say. Fuck it if they talk" was exactly what I was ready to hear. As was the notion of upping sticks with a lady friend and heading off to chase dreams, regardless of how people might react. I was pump-primed, in other words, more receptive to this song than I would ever be at any other point in my life.

As it turned out, I didn't up sticks and run off with an inappropriate woman (not then at least, ba-doom-tish!). Looking back at this song now, I can appreciate the delicate interplay of guitar and piano, the careworn delivery and, most of all, the fine observational narrative lyrics, to whit, "I'll get a job in a bar, you could be a waitress and serve cheap cigars to fat moustachioed men in suits - you'll look cute." It's the cute pay-off that makes this, I think.

So there we are. New York is probably not Stephen Fretwell's crowning achievement, nor is it necessarily even the best track on Magpie, but it is today's clandestine classic because, let's not forget, these are supposed to be songs new to you that are beloved of me. Me, me, me. Even when I'm writing about Stephen Fretwell, or anyone else for that matter, secretly it's all about me, you see. If a boy can't navel-gaze on his own blog, where can he? So here's that debut album, if you have money to spend. Or there's always YouTube:

Monday 14 December 2015

That was the year that was: 2015

2015 is...outatimeIt's mid-December and so, with the weary inevitably of a crass Trumpism or an X-Factor Christmas single, it must be time for a recap of what's been good this year. NAOTY 2015, or Just Another Subjective Award 2015, if you prefer. This is the fifth time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here's 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011) and, taken together, all these reviews really do is demonstrate just how parochial my tastes are (Michelle, in the unlikely event that you're reading this, you get more right about that every year). Let's press on.

Best album

"A Comfortable Man" by Cathal Smyth - a quiet album of bittersweet melancholia from the Nutty Boy formerly known as Chas Smash. Truly exceptional, and an album that would currently sit in my "top ten releases of the 21st Century" should I ever compile such a list. You can read my full review here.

Honourable mentions: "Magic Whip" by Blur, which is far, far better than anyone had any right to expect; "My Love Is Cool" by Wolf Alice; "Chasing Yesterday" by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

Best song

"I Broadcast" by Blur - however much I love having new Blur material, the songs I like best are those that sound most like Modern Life Blur, so this and "Lonesome Street" were vying for the nod here.

Honourable mentions: "Are The Children Happy?" by Cathal Smyth, the most gut-wrenching song about divorce you will hear; the audacious "I Can Change" by Brandon Flowers.

Best gig

The Who at Hyde Park, with a cracking Coombes/Marr/Weller undercard. I mentioned it in passing at the time.

Honourable mentions: It's been another quiet year, gig-wise, but Madness was special, and felt like a homecoming, musically and literally, as were From The Jam, touring the 35th anniversary of "Sound Affects"; Belle and Sebastian were also very good, upbeat and interactive.

Best book

Sorry to be so predictable but it's "The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams", the latest collection of short fiction from Stephen King. For someone who's known for writing such long novels (too long, some would say), I love that some of King's very darkest thoughts emerge in short form. Very hard to put down, this kept me up way past my bed time...

Honourable mentions: a bit of a cheat here because I haven't read it all yet but "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink" by Elvis Costello looks to be remarkable; having been very impressed with Paula Hawkins at the Write On Kew literary festival, I was also very impressed with her novel, "The Girl On The Train"; "Elizabeth Is Missing" by Emma Healey is also excellent.

Best film

A difficult category, because nothing has really blown me away this year, but the nod goes to "Wild", for Reece Witherspoon's portrayal of Cheryl Strayed's extreme rehab (and because Witherspoon is so undervalued).

Honourable mentions: at the start of the year, I espoused the various virtues of "Birdman", "The Theory Of Everything" and "Paddington", all of which are good in different ways; "It Follows" delivered real chills; there will moments of surreal beauty in "The Falling"; talking surreal, I loved the invention of "The Lobster" (which also scored points for Rachel Weisz-ness); and "Cobain: Montage Of Heck" was a decent, if ultimately flawed, documentary.

Best television

As last year, the most fiercely contended category. The award goes to "Humans", Channel 4's re-imagining of the Swedish near-future "what if?" William Hurt and Katherine Parkinson were both exceptional, and I got a bit enamoured of Gemma Chan too.

Honourable mentions: yet another good year for TV (it's the new film, don't you know?), so there are lots. The BBC's "River" deserves a nod for blending conventional crime drama with a Scandi twist (the lead man) and Sixth Sense-style seeing of a dead person; series two of "Fargo" is sublime, with nothing else like it on right now; talking of second series, there was a welcome return for, er, "The Returned"; the Beeb's adaptation of Sadie Jones's "Outcast" was worth a look; series two of "Inside Number 9" slipped under a lot of people's radar, but was brilliant; and although Danny Baker can be a bit of a Marmite figure, "Cradle To Grave" was, for my money, enjoyable viewing, TV as comfort food.

Best comedy

Last year's runner-up, "Modern Life Is Goodish", in which Dave Gorman continues to show his working as he goes along, scoops this year's entirely subjective award. Modern life is, actually, pretty ridiculous in many ways... but there's much fun to be had in exploring that ridiculousness.

Honourable mentions: Nina Conti and Pippa Evans, both of whom I saw in a not-ideal festival setting, but both of whom were engaging and properly funny.

Best theatre

"Elvis Costello in conversation with Nick Hornby" might not count as proper theatre, but it took place in one, so... Declan P. MacManus was everything you'd hope, ran his own slideshow from a tablet and concluded the Q&A with a three-song unaccompanied acoustic set of Beyond Belief, Indoor Fireworks and Share Your Love With Me. And I met him at the after-show book signing too. What a night.

Honourable mentions: I'm struggling a bit here, because once again I haven't seen as much on stage this year as I would have liked, but poet Eddie Argos was very good at Latitude, doing his "how to make it in a band" schtick in the Poetry Tent.

Best blogger

Retaining his title for the third consecutive year is Andrew Collins, whose "Telly Addict" video blog for The Guardian is twelve minutes a week of essential viewing. On top of this, Andrew also writes, albeit sporadically, the music blog "Circles Of Life", in which he seeks to catalogue his favourite 143 songs of all time. Oh, and the excellent "other" blog, "Never Knowingly Underwhelmed". Andrew is, once more, my blogger of the year.

Honourable mentions: blogging seems to be a dying art, sadly, but there's still some good stuff out there, not least "Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop" from Lee; "The (New) Vinyl Villain" from JC; "My Top Ten" from Rol; and "Cultural Snow" from Tim.

Man of the year

Jon Snow - no, not that one. The mainstay of Channel 4 news for more than a quarter of a century continues to conduct incisive, ego-puncturing interviews (IDS, Gove and Osborne have all been subject to Jon's scrutiny), and there can't be many other broadcasters in their late sixties prepared to get stoned on camera for research and journalistic purposes. We'll miss him when he retires, and British news reporting will be a far, far poorer place.

Honourable mentions: whether you agree with him or not (and for the record, I don't think I do), it was hard not to be impressed with Hilary Benn's oratory in the debate on whether to bomb Syria.

Woman of the year

Jessica Ennis-Hill, for proving that you can come back in sport, returning to competition after a long postpartum lay-off and not only being competitive but actually landing another world title. So often the SPOTY bridesmaid, I hope she scoops the Beeb's big prize this year.

Honourable mentions: if Jess is my woman of the year, then I must give fellow heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson a nod too, as she looked like she might upside the Ennis roadshow until her World championship crumbled in the sand of the long jump pit. Oh, and she set national records for the indoor high jump and long jump (no mean feat for a multi-eventer!), and broke Jess's national indoor pentathlon record too. Rio next year looks good for KJT, fingers crossed.

Tool of the year

An easy win for Donald Trump, given what goes on between his ears and what comes out of his mouth. A fool, yes, but a dangerous one. Imagine a contemporary Cuban missile crisis, with Trump and Putin in a stand-off. Ye gods...

Honourable mentions: Tyson Fury - fair play, he ended Klitschko's long reign as heavyweight champion, against the odds, and that's some achievement (even if Wladimir looked to be in decline)... so what a shame, then, that the current holder of one of the biggest titles in world sport can't be a good role-model.

And that's it. If you've read this far, what do you reckon: agree/disagree? What have you loved and loathed this year?

Thursday 10 December 2015

Clandestine Classic XLII - Open Your Heart

The forty-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.

What do you think of if I say The La's to you? More than likely, There She Goes, a track of such universally accepted excellence it's become an indie staple, a song that transcends its generation and genre, a track so often covered, a tune that even makes it into film soundtracks (and So I Married An Axe Murderer is actually a better film than you might think from that title). But beyond There She Goes, what else do you think of? The critically acclaimed, eponymous debut album, beloved of the music media and all indie kids around my age, famously not so loved by the band's creative maestro (by that point), Lee Mavers. Maybe, now I've mentioned him, you'd think about Lee, forever trying to commit to tape the same kind of jangly indie-skiffle that the band achieved live, and never quite making it, in his own view. And maybe, just maybe, you'll make the leap from Lee to bassist John Power, who went on to arguably bigger, if not better, things with Cast.

What you almost certainly won't think about is today's classic, Open Your Heart, which dates from sessions prior to the debut album, when band founder and original creative maestro Mike Badger was still with the group. The track is co-written by Badger and Mavers and features both on vocals (although I think Mike takes the lead). I say "think" because I'm no expert on pre-debut La's, and for once the Internet has not been a massive help. But I digress - today's classic. It's a deceptively simple song, intro'ed with a snippet of whimsy that would not be out of place soundtracking P'tang Yang Kipperbang (I know, I'm really showing my age now), before launching into a slightly discordant, guitar-driven, insistent riff and a close-harmonied chorus that, at times, makes you wonder what a lo-fi Scouse Proclaimers would sound like. There's a beautifully delicate guitar middle eight too. And the whole thing is over in a whisker over three minutes.

So there we go (see what I did there?). I used the phrase "indie-skiffle" earlier - I can't claim that, sadly, it's been used before, but it seems to me to perfectly summarise The La's' sound, especially at this early stage in their career. And this, Open Your Heart, is the finest example of that early style, in my book. It later surfaced on the slightly patchy pre-debut round-up Breakloose: Lost La's 1984-1986, which may well tempt you. Or you can have a little listen below, courtesy of YouTube:

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Second prize: two Robbie Savage books

Do not enter, you may accidentally win...

An excellent waste of time

It's nearly Christmas, and in case you work in one of those offices where everything winds down about now, and you find you need to be there but perhaps, shall we say, not be working too hard, here are a couple of things to occupy your time.

First off, go and sign this petition, but read it all first. Assure yourself that it's satire, not serious. There's been enough outrage about it online already, from people who are either too lazy, too challenged or just too angry to take it for what it is. Which, let me repeat, is simply a rather neat satire, both of Mr West's self-mythologising and also of 21st Century Britain's petition overload.

Then, go and play this. Not only will it fill those quiet days in the office between the 28th and the 31st, but it may help scratch your travel itch too.

You're welcome. And P.S. Did you know you could buy a whole town in the American mid-west for less than the price of a London shoebox?

Friday 20 November 2015

What's higher than "top" gear?

I appreciate that this isn't very topical, being, as it is, in the yawning chasm between Jeremy Clarkson's "punchgate" and the launch of both the new, Chris Evans-fronted Top Gear and Clarkson, Hammond and May's Amazon effort, Gear Knobs. But one thing the furore around punchgate has proved is that everyone likes to have an opinion, regardless of whether they like/loathe Clarkson or whether they always/sometimes/never watched Top Gear.

Plus, I like to make graphs.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

(Good) grief

Early last Friday evening, I wrote about the whole "I am considerably more righteous than you" phenomenon that prevails across social media - I called it competitive correctness (© me, 2015). The terrible events of Friday night only reinforced the point. By Saturday morning, a few people on Facebook were overlaying their profile pictures with the Tricolore (that's the correct French spelling - I checked so you don't have to). By lunchtime, half of my contacts had done this, and Facebook was facilitating this with a one-click button that might as well have been labelled "Empathise publicly". By tea-time, people were sharing the story of the attack on a Kenyan university. Mostly sharing without reading, I'd suggest, because by Sunday morning my timeline was full of people criticising those sharing the Kenyan uni story, since that attack had happened in April.

What does all this prove? Nothing, really. People can grieve, and show that grief, however they like, publicly or privately. And grieving about something that is relatable (like a European capital city not unlike our own and that we may have visited often) more than something that is further removed from our life (like a provincial African university) is surely understandable, even if not in alignment with your personal views? Grief isn't a competition, any more than being righteous about things should be.

Me, I prefer grief to be private and personal, but maybe I'm just old-fashioned. In the words of that great sage of our time, Len Goodman, "I'm just a cup of tea man in a skinny latte world."

Friday 13 November 2015

Competitive correctness

I am a bit concerned about the wave of manufactured outrage that has tsunamied its way through the collective mind and spirit of Joe Public (UK).

  • Not wearing a poppy on a TV show broadcast on October 30th (and recorded even earlier)? Disrespectful cow.
  • Not bowing low enough at the Cenotaph? I mean, still bowing, just not bowing low enough to meet some new societal standard? Forget eschewing a VIP reception afterwards and mingling with veterans instead, before catching public transport across town to attend another remembrance service. Just, you know, fuck off.
  • Question the cultural changes inherent in massive net migration? Racist.

Full disclosure: regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Morrissey, but I have no axe to grind about Sienna Miller or Jeremy Corbyn. I'm just tired, tired, tired of this need everyone seems to have to be absolutely, unimpeachably right-on, all the time. And of course, should someone else not equate to that level of right-on-ness, then they are fair game. Capital letters are usually required at this point, it seems. And exclamation marks. To paraphrase:

"I'm more right-on than you! You might think you'll pretty cool and clued up about most things, and know how to behave, but YOU DON'T because I'M MORE RIGHT-ON THAN YOU!! MY DEFINITION OF RIGHT-ON SHOULD BE THE MINIMUM (AND MAXIMUM) STANDARD FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD!!!"

Dave Gorman mines this collective outrage from what he calls "the bottom half of the Internet" (i.e. the comments section) to great comic effect in his Found Poems. And Jon Ronson writes about the new "let's get 'em" attitude that underscores public vilification in his latest book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed. Both are highly recommended.

Me, I just despair. It isn't political correctiveness gone mad (™ Daily Mail), it's worse than that. It's competitive correctness. Fête me for my virtue. Scorn everybody else.

What a time to be alive, eh?

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Bye bye beta...

So, Sony have finally pulled the plug on Betamax tapes. Speaking as someone who had two spells as a brown goods salesman in the early 1990s, this makes me sad. Of course, by the mid-90s, Betamax was already passé. We still sold the cassettes, but even we probably sold no more than five a year. My colleagues and I used to keep an eye open though for any faulty players that came in "for disposal" after a customer had replaced one with a VHS machine. We knew that if a late-80s player could be repaired cheaply enough, there was a profit to be turned. And since we had access to an engineer who did private work at mate's rates... well, it could have been lucrative. But so few ever came back. They seemed so well made, perhaps even over-engineered.

What makes me sadder still is that the predominance achieved by VHS seemed to be a triumph of style over substance - Betamax recording quality was far, far ahead of anything VHS achieved. Even the subsequent introduction of multi-headed players and Super-VHS only brought parity for JVC's format, not superiority. But there you go, style over substance, and the first of many format wars.

To celebrate the end of Betamax, here's a salesman training video from seventeen years before I hung up my salesman boots.

Monday 2 November 2015

Waxing lyrical

I think people fall into one of two camps when it comes to listening to music: those that just like the overall sound of a song, paying no attention to the lyrics, and those for whom the lyrics are important. I fall into the latter category and suspect that you, discerning reader, do too.

I once went out with a girl who had no idea what House Of Fun by Madness was about, because she paid the words no attention. I was also able to convince her that in the chorus of Has My Fire Really Gone Out, Paul Weller later sung "I haven't put enough money in the meter". She bought this because she wasn't bothered by lyrics at all and, I guess, it sounded plausible, since the song was obviously about fires...

Last Friday, I was listening to Simon Mayo's drivetime radio show on my way home from work. A woman had called in to request a song - her family were celebrating, with one daughter about to get married and another daughter having just had a baby. So the matriarch asked if Simon would play Mr Brightside by The Killers because "it's a really good, happy song." Er, no it isn't. Good: yes; happy: no. Not unless burning jealousy makes you happy.

Lyrics are important, is the obvious point I'm trying to make. Good lyrics stay with you. Good lyrics can, and should, infuse your language. That's why, when someone says to me "That's just the way it is", I will invariably reply "Some things will never change." Or, when recounting an unpleasant event or difficult time in my life, I will often add, "I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible."

Lyrics - listen to them, people. Embrace them. Adopt them. Unless you're submitting to KissThisGuy, in which case do whatever the hell you want.

Monday 26 October 2015

Lawn mowers of the world, unite and take over

Don't judge me but, when I'm cutting the grass and have to flick the mower's power lead out of the way with a sinusoidal ripple, I sometimes imagine I am Morrissey, doing this:

Morrissey flicks mic cable - photo credit: Dave Bullock, davebullock.com

I like to think I probably have the same facial expression as I do it too.

If you can think of a good Moz-related lawn pun, you know where the comments box is.

Thursday 1 October 2015

So long, and thanks for all the jams ...

This Is My Jam is no more. The music micro-blogging site (no, I can't think of a better way of describing it either) closed its virtual doors to new jams last week. I had been a regular jammer since mid-2012; I loved its simplicity and the avowed intent, allowing me to share tracks that I think are excellent with the world, with the reasons why, accruing followers on that basis, and then discovering the tracks jammed by those that I chose to follow. It was a bit like being back at school and someone lending you a ratty old C90 and saying, "You've got to hear this." But much bigger, much more immediate and with no tape hiss.

If you're interested, TIMJ have archived all the content, so you can browse through the 200 tracks I endorsed over the years right here. You can skim the highlights, peruse a year at a time, or play the whole lot in Spotify, if that's your bag. Me, I still like the way they mashed together a year's posts into a medley in 2012 and 2013.

We TIMJ disciples were given over a month's notice that the end was coming, and the community starting looking for alternatives. The most popular one, initially at least, was Let's Loop. I duly signed up but have since deleted my account - the site was just too busy, too hectic, trying to do too many things at once, and all with a decidedly Fisher Price design. However, you can currently find me on both God's Jukebox (TIMJ-like in its simplicity but still in beta) and Nusiki (more polished, and with a working TIMJ-import). Whether I will continue to post jams on both remains to be seen (ha, "jams" indeed - see how hard habits die). Who knows, I might even bin both, and just get back to blogging clandestine classics on this very site (for both my readers). In the meantime, I'll leave you with the very first song I posted on TIMJ, back on the 9th of May 2012; now, as then, I'm in the mood for crooning, even if only stone and steel accept my love ...

P.S. Whenever I post this song, I feel duty-bound to link to Harry Hill's version too. Enjoy

Thursday 17 September 2015

Don't be a notefold cock

These people get served last - don't be a notefold cock

... and if you're confused as to what this is all about, you should probably be watching Dave Gorman's Modern Life Is Goodish already. It's on Dave, appropriately enough.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Super-fly TNT

So, the cinema screening of Pulp Fiction I wanted to stage in lieu of a birthday party happened ... and it was good. Thanks to all those that came, and made the evening what it was. Thanks also to all those that helped to publicise the event, without whom my attempt at crowdsourcing cinema would have crashed and burned.

What have I learned from this undertaking? That it's hard, primarily. Mostly because my circle of friends are widely spread geographically, and the number of them that could make it to my cinema of choice on a Monday night was pretty small. I was only able to get enough pledges by opening the screening up to the general public, and then getting local papers, "what's on"-style Twitter feeds and friends of friends to bang the drum. In the end, although the cinema was more than half full, I only knew eleven other attendees.

What I've also learned is that, for a film of Pulp Fiction's quality, the effort was well worth it. So much so that maybe, just maybe, I might pick another film and try to stage a screening for next year's birthday too, who knows.

Pulp Fiction is littered with astounding dialogue. This tiny scene illustrates it perfectly. I'm super-fly TNT. Amazing to think that although the screenplay won an Oscar, neither of these actors did: John Travolta was nominated for Best Actor but trumped by Tom Hanks as Gump, whilst Samuel L. Jackson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but beaten by Martin Landau for his turn as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. Martin Landau! Him out of Space 1999! Blimey ...

Anyway, here's that tiny scene with cracking, crackling dialogue. Enjoy, then go home and root out your Pulp Fiction DVD.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Now I am a was

The irony being that I am now more of a long player. See what I did there?

+1 kudos point for identifying the source of this post's title.

Tuesday 8 September 2015

This blog continues to decline

It occurs to me that I haven't blogged anything on here for the best part of three weeks. That's partly because I've been away on holiday, and partly because what little Internet time I have had has been used up with carpet-bombing various social media (apologies, friends and followers) in a successful attempt to crowd-source a cinema screening of Pulp Fiction (more about that here). I need to be truthful though, and acknowledge the fact that the muse just hasn't struck me - I have precious little to write about, as evidenced by last month's slightly desperate "slutspurt" post.

Anyway... I was going to write about how, more than 26 years after I last did one, I've just signed myself up to do an A-level. I know, mad, right? But I've long felt that I made the wrong subject choices for the sixth form, and though nothing can correct that (or the resultant, somewhat disappointing grades) I have to scratch this itch. And since I can't afford to do a diploma course or, more expensive still, a third degree, A-level English Literature will have to do. Wish me luck.

But I didn't write about that, because no-one outside of my house is interested. Instead, I thought I might blog about Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years, because I used to have a bit of a minor crush on her way back when, and had stumbled upon a picture of her all grown up. But you probably didn't have a minor crush on Danica McKellar, so the post (which I got as far as drafting) just looked like a weak excuse for a picture of a pretty woman who'd forgotten some clothes. SFW, but still pretty weak, as blog posts go.

Instead, I've given up trying to think of something post-worthy, and will just share this with you, on the basis that I'm a bit of a Kubrick nut - some of you might be too, and those that aren't might start to be. Enjoy.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

The space race is over...

Lego space shuttle, Billund, DenmarkIf you happen to be in Legoland any time soon (and I'm talking about the one in Denmark here, though it may also apply to others), see if you can find their recreation of the Kennedy Space Center in Miniland. You'll have to have a good look, as it's tucked away in a corner, in a little footpath cul-de-sac no less - literally a dead end. When I took this photograph, on a day when the park as a whole was rammed, I was the only person there.

All of which made me a bit sad. The space shuttle is history now, and the kids of today are just not as interested as I was when, in 1981, I sat glued to the television watching STS-1 launch into space for the first time (there's a nice video here if you want to remind yourself what the shuttle looked like when they still painted the big liquid oxygen tank in the middle, instead of leaving it orange). I watched again, a couple of days later, on the edge of my seat, as it landed. For me, a child born the year after Apollo 11 and all that, this felt like my space race moment, an event so meaningful, so significant, that in years to come I would describe watching it to my children and grandchildren. Here it was - the dawn of a new era: a re-usable space craft! A space ship landing like an aeroplane! The future had arrived!

Except it didn't really turn out like that, did it? The shuttles are now nothing more than historic artefacts, mothballed and museumed, as relevant to today's eleven-year-olds as Kitty Hawk would have been to me in 1981. Today's satellites and ISS deliveries are made by conventional rocket. What was once the preserve of NASA is increasingly contracted out to commercial companies. I can't imagine there are too many countries, India and China aside, who are increasing their state-funded space programmes. The space race, it seems, is really over.

Imagine my delight, then, on discovering that an old school friend of mine has patented a new take on the old idea of a space elevator. Maybe that's the future, now. Maybe, just maybe, instead of flying up, we'll take the lift?

Tuesday 18 August 2015

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

Now my Danish isn't great, but even I can tell that this department store is having a sale, and that there are further reductions and you can save up to 70%. But I'm not sure the strapline translates so well. However, I am pretty sure I should grow up.

Danish sale - up to 70% off
If you'd asked me what I thought the strapline meant, I'd have guessed at a special interest website...

I guess the English equivalent would be to advertise a sale as a "blowout".

All posts in this very occasional series.

Monday 20 July 2015

Latitude - "like a Guardian readers' convention"

This year marks ten years of the Latitude Festival. Having gone yesterday, I can say that I've been, in part or in whole, to half of them (the other four being 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014). It's changed a bit in that time - it's a bit bigger, with a few more stages, and a bit more corporate (yurts sponsored by Pepsi Max, anyone?) but essentially remains the best (and most manageable) multi-disciplinary festival. I've changed a bit too. Now I know that going on your own isn't the ideal way to experience a festival but that was also the case in 2012 and 2014 as well, and did I enjoy myself as much yesterday as I have in previous years? No. Were there moments when I wished I was somewhere else? Yes. Did I, as on every previous occasion, leave last night with a burning desire to buy an album or a book by someone I hadn't heard/read previously but had discovered as Latitude? No. So, will I be going next year...? Probably not...but you never know. Depends who the headliners are. Anyway, whilst not reaching the heights of past glories, my day in the scorched dustbowl of Henham Park was still a good one. Here, in the best tradition of my old festival diaries, is what I saw.

    Nina Conti, vent, at Latitude 2015
  • Nina Conti : Cabaret stage. The only time all day I couldn't get in somewhere, so I watched Nina through a tent flap. As I might have written before, I'm a big fan of Nina and whilst her vent sidekick Monkey is where she's most comfortable, the biggest laughs of her set were reserved for making puppets of a whole family, strapping them into prosthetic mouths and them giving them all distinct voices. I know I haven't described that very well, so if the distant pic of Nina doing this with the family's mum comes out okay I'll add it to this post later so you can see what I mean.
  • Cobain: Montage Of Heck : Film & TV Arena. It might seem like a wasteful use of precious festival time to spend over an hour and a half watching a film but I missed this at the cinema and was keen to catch it whilst I could. And what an excellent film it is, making extensive use of rich archive material, interspersed with animated versions of Kurt's notebooks and interviews with most (though not all - Dave Grohl is largely absent) of the key players in this tale. Mum, dad, stepmother, girlfriend, wife - they all get a chance to have their say, and deflect blame from themselves. My only slight issue was with the use of animation based on Kurt's notebooks and doodles, specifically that there was no indication that the source material was contemporaneous to the issue it was being used to illustrate.
  • Eddie Argos : Poetry Arena. Lead man with Art Brut, Eddie's show was called something along the lines of How To Make It In A Band, but it was really just a stream of consciousness series of anecdotes about being in lots of bands, and having a mild whiff of success. It was quite funny in places though.
  • Bob Geldof at Latitude 2015
  • The Boomtown Rats : Obelisk Arena. Fair play to Sir Bob and the boys for not just delivering a greatest hits set. Unsurprisingly though, those hits were the only songs to really energise the crowd - the less well-known material, at times, veered too close to self-indulgence. But fair play, again, to Bob for suitably Geldofian crowd interaction: having drawn attention to his "pretend snakeskin suit", he proceeded to lambast the audience for their "crap t-shirts and weekend shorts", concluding that we were "dressed liked cunts". And I can't deny, he had a point.
  • Too Much Information : Wellcome Trust Hub. On my way to the smaller of the Greenpeace tents for the best value tea and cake on site, I popped into the Faraway Forest and found the Wellcome Trust Hub (you see, so corporate) and listened to some academics talk about stress and how information overload is contributing. It was shady, quiet and uncrowded - I felt my own festival stress drop away. I also learnt that extreme childhood trauma creates a trajectory for higher stress response throughout life, so how you handle the rough stuff isn't just genetic, it's a product of your early life. So early, in fact, that pregnant mothers exposed to extreme stress are unknowingly skewing the stress response of their as-yet unborn offspring, making them less able to deal with it. Who knew?
  • Young Fathers : BBC 6Music stage. I went to see these on the strength of their description in the festival programme and implicit 6Music endorsement, but I knew this wasn't for me within half a song. Shame.
  • Susanne Sundfør : i Arena. Having bombed out of the 6Music stage much earlier than expected, I stumbled off into the woods in search of something interesting. And I found it: Susanne is from Norway, has a superb, soaring voice and an endearing stage presence. At first I wasn't overly enamoured with the synth-pop backing - it seemed a little too strident - but I persevered, moved a little bit further back into the trees, and listened to Susanne's entire set whilst collecting my thoughts.
  • Jason Manford : Comedy Arena. I'm not a huge fan of Manford, but as I was passing I stuck my head in. Latitude has learnt its lesson from years gone by, and the Comedy tent is now massive - gone are the days of as many people listening in from outside as there are in the tent. Anyway, part of the reason I didn't warm to Manford is that he seems a tiny bit too pleased with the success he's had - I lost count of the subtle references to DVD recordings and how a tented festival show is very different to playing large theatres or doing television. His best material came at the end - whilst hardly original, he got big laughs, even from your curmudgeonly reviewer, from the rich comic seam of his young children, and his successes (and failures) in parenting them.
  • Pippa Evans : Cabaret stage. As an antidote to the One Show comedy of Manford, Pippa's "There Are No Guilty Pleasures" show was a comic delight. Comedy, songs... comedic songs, Pippa does it all. And gets out into the crowd to absolve the audience of their guilty pleasure sins at the end of the show. Recommended.
  • Nicky Wire and GOT banner at Latitude 2015
  • Manic Street Preachers : Obelisk Arena. I wonder how often the Manics play a festival but aren't the headliners? Whatever, this was the reason I had chosen Sunday for my day ticket, so it is with a degree of reluctance that I report the Manics were okay, bordering on really good, but no better. Dare I even say that their set and performance seemed a bit perfunctory at times? They rattled through plenty of hits (opening with Motorcycle Emptiness, closing with Design For Life, and Everything Must Go, You Love Us and lots more in-between. Sure, James and Nicky bounced up and down a bit, but it just seemed a bit... MSP by numbers. Maybe I should have got nearer the stage, it might have seemed a bit different. Side note - I watched someone make their way from the back of the arena right to the front, during Motorcycle Emptiness, holding a banner that read "You know nothing Jon Snow." Any ideas, anyone?
  • Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine : Literature Arena. What happens when you mix a popular crime novelist with a country and western duo? This is what happens. Mark was reading from his latest, and it was interspersed with songs from My Darling Clementine. C&W isn't really my thing, but I've read a disproportionate amount of Billingham's output, and this was pleasant enough. It didn't make me want to seek out the new book though, if that's what it was, primarily because it didn't feel authentic - in a departure for Billingham, here he's writing about the US, not the UK, and he just doesn't know it enough. Casual references to Walmart and "having a soda" just seem a bit...obvious? Tired? Clichéd?
  • Roni Size Reprazent : Film & TV Arena. Now this is not my usual cup of tea, which is ironic given that I only happened upon Roni et al whilst queueing to get a cuppa. The tent was rammed, and lots of people were watching through the open doors because the energy that was pouring forth was palpable. So too was the effect the music was having on the crowd inside the tent, for it was simply a sea of writhing limbs, pulsing under a kinetic light-show. Quite incredible to behold, and more than enough to make me overcome my Pavlovian response and stop to listen. A real bonus.
  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds : Obelisk Arena. With a pleasing symmetry, my drive to the festival had been accompanied by Noel's Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, during which I was impressed not only by his taste in music but also by how affable he has become, and how thoughtful too. Measured, almost. I can't say I've bought either album by The High Flying Birds, so I was intrigued to read the most recent is the UK's best selling album on 2015 so far. And actually, on the basis of this show, I can see why. I was also surprised to see kids who weren't even around at the time singing along to old Oasis tracks. Like their contemporaries, Blur and Pulp, it seems that Oasis really have entered the collective national consciousness in a way that might have seemed unlikely in the mid Nineties. Even so, it was mostly people my age bellowing along with Champagne Supernova, Half A World Away and Masterplan. Even Digsy's Dinner got an airing. Set closer Don't Look Back In Anger was the highpoint though, as set closers usually are, and I don't regret staying to hear every note. Noel was funny too, engaging really well with the audience, and knowingly mocking Latitude as being "like a Guardian readers' convention". Which, of course, it is. Anyway...Noel and his Birds flew higher than I'd expected, and were by far the best thing I saw all day.
Noel Gallagher at Latitude 2015
Noel adopts his best Pete Townshend pose
And that was that. Because I stayed for every last note, I was far from the first person back to the car park, and so set a new personal worst (1 hour 20 minutes) for getting out. But that's okay. I caught up with a bit more Radio 4 before switching to Janice Long on Radio 2. God, I'm just a Latitude programmer's dream, aren't I? Which makes it all the more surprising that I'm not sure if I'll go next year. Sure, I still cannot think of a better festival, genuinely. But either this year's programme wasn't as good as in years gone by (maybe because there are just so many festivals these days, and not enough quality acts to go around?) or I've lost a bit of my festival mojo... come back next July to find out which.

Monday 13 July 2015

Oh, I'm sorry - did I break your concentration?

The last time I had a birthday party, I think I was six. I can certainly picture the cake in my mind's eye (thanks Mum). But I didn't have any kind of bash for my 16th, 18th or 21st. In fact, for my 21st I was mostly sitting at home with a broken face, but that's another story. I haven't had shindigs for any other landmark birthdays either, no 30th, no 40th.

All of which is fine. The primary reason I've not had a birthday party is the thought of a party in my honour makes my skin crawl. I am the introvert's introvert, and the thought of trying to be a garrulous host and enjoying myself...well, that's not something I can picture. But I do like the idea of getting people together. An old friend of mine once told me that the greatest thing about getting married was that all his friends and family came together for the day, just for him and his wife. Probably not a view he shared with his wife, although since they are now divorced, who knows? But anyway...

...how to bring people from the different strands of my life together, without having a party? Step forward OurScreen, an initiative that basically lets your crowdsource cinema screenings. You pick a film (from their list - sadly, 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.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

So, to loosely tie in with my imminent 45th birthday, I am hoping to celebrate the fact that Pulp Fiction will be 21, by organising a screening of it at my local art house cinema. I'd love it if you came, and so would you because it's a damn good film. Here's the link you need: https://www.ourscreen.com/screening/39579

At the time of writing this, I need another 25 ticket pledges in 55 days. If you need reminding how good Pulp Fiction is, here's an old trailer:

Oh, and I'll be having a drink or two in the cinema bar beforehand, probably wearing the 45RPM t-shirt I've just ordered for the occasion, as designed by London Lee. See you there?

Friday 10 July 2015

About the young idea

Promotional picture of The Jam from 1977
Two weeks ago, I was down in the Big Smoke to see The Who do their thing at Hyde Park. It was a terrific day, as Pete and Roger defied their age to perform a terrific set, and the undercard of Paul Weller, Kaiser Chiefs, Johnny Marr and Gaz Coombes all delivered too. The weather was lovely, lots of odd mods in Fred Perry shirts gave the event a celebratory feel, fathers sang along with sons... not even muddy sound could spoil the day.

Excellent though all of the above was, I want to talk about what else I did on the day. Because the 26th of June was the first day of a new exhibition at Somerset House that I simply couldn't resist. About The Young Idea is a lovingly curated retrospective of The Jam, some 40 years after they were gigging their way out of Sheerwater Secondary Modern in Woking. Brilliantly, all three members of the band – Paul, Bruce and Rick – the Weller family and music archivist Den Davis have opened up their archives, especially for the show, so the wealth of memorabilia on display in incredible. Rick's target jumper is there, there are some Shelly's shoes (easy to find in this Internet age, impossible for me to find in sleepy rural Kent in the mid Eighties), tour posters, so many photographs, some iconic guitars (including Bruce's black Rickenbacker that wasn't a Rickenbacker), Rick's drum kit, lots of old vinyl (all of which I have in my collection, though sadly I am missing a few picture sleeves), fan club items from around the world, even some very early recordings to listen to, from when the band were still a four piece. And more, much, much more. If you're a fan, this is an essential exhibition, just on the basis of what I've already described.

The Jam in action at The Marquee
There's more though. Best of all, for me, are the artefacts from Paul's school days. Poems and lyrics that he'd written in notepads and the back of exercise books. Doodles where he is designing sleeve art, not just with a picture but with a band logo, and the back of the sleeve too. Here is a schoolboy who has no doubt that this is what he's going to do. There's a poem where every line something happens to the narrator that reminds him of a Paul Weller song. The last line is something along the lines of "And I turn on Top of the Pops and - WHAM! - it's a Paul Weller song." And there are hand drawn cartoons, not least "The Adventures of Paul the Mod", which tells the tale of a young parka-ed Paul, with his wall covered in Who pictures, imagining himself scootering off to the coast and being arrested. The influence of Quadrophenia (the album - this predates the classic film) is clear. Is it any wonder that Weller made it, and is still making it now, forty years later, with that level of conviction so early in his life? Bizarrely, this put me in mind of an appearance on TFI Friday by the Spice Girls. I know, that's some leap, right? But 90s Chris Evans, a very different beast from today's One Show version, was doing his usual schtick of trying to embarrass guests, playfully on the face of it but really not so playful. For each Spice Girl, he revelled in showing pre-fame video clips - he got to Mel C, and showed a video of her at an early-teen dance class. The teacher was demonstrating the moves and whilst most of the class looked a bit glazed, little Melanie Chisholm was instantly repeating every move straight back at the teacher. Is it any wonder that Mel C made it, with that intensity, that certainty, so early on? Where are the rest of that dance class? Nowhere, I'm (respectfully) guessing. So it really is about the young idea - Weller and Chisholm, so far apart musically - both had it, far more than you, me or their peers.

As a guitarist myself (of no acclaim, but still), there was much cooing over Paul's Rickenbackers. The pop art "WHAM!" is brilliant but most interesting of all is the ruby-glo Rickenbacker in which Paul carved "I am nobody" (unfortunately behind the young lady on the left, but there's a close-up below). Interesting that he should go from the confidence of youth to this more cynical mindset in so few years.
Maybe it was because it was the first day the exhibition was open to the public, maybe it was because of Weller and The Who's appearance in Hyde Park later that day, but the queue to get in was full of mods, and not all of a certain age either. Mod hairstyles, Fred Perry shirts, bowling shoes, tailored drainpipes... all of which contributed to the feel of the ninety minutes I spent there.

Anyway... if you are a fan of The Jam or Weller or mod culture, or just feel a bit nostalgic for the late 70s and early 80s, this is a must-see exhibition. If you're in the city, get yourself together and move on up to Somerset House (see what I did there?). And to paraphrase the song from which the exhibition and this blog post take their title, you better listen now I've said my bit-a!
The Jam at the end of their final live show

Monday 6 July 2015

From madness to sadness (or, the greatest album you won't buy this year)

Click to buy "A Comfortable Man" by Cathal Smyth
Cathal did not blow his Madness royalties on sleeve art

Cathal Smyth has taken a sabbatical from the day job to record and release a solo album. I say solo, since the day job in question is "being Chas Smash out of Madness". And whilst the voice is unmistakable (unless you mistake it for Suggs), the twelve songs on A Comfortable Man go beyond the maudlin end of the Madness spectrum - this may be heavy, heavy, but it is not a monster sound, nor is it one step beyond. But it is bloody good.

As an album, it very much wears its heart on its sleeve - Cathal separated from his wife in 2005, having been together since their teens, and it feels like A Comfortable Man is the product of ten subsequent years of pain. Here is a man of a certain age who, despite success on so many levels, is struggling to reconcile the fact that the fundamental cornerstones of his life have not worked out as he would have liked. As such, his debut solo album seems ideally placed to appeal to middle-aged men who cannot help but think that life has gone wrong, gone astray. And Cathal sings of this difficult period with heartbreaking honesty. Ten years is a long time, but this is still raw for the artist formerly known as Chas.

The album opens with You're Not Alone, and my immediate reaction to it was that it would be a perfect album closer - a serious lyrical topic and a sombre, piano-led tune that becomes increasing uplifting would be a perfect way to close. But I soon realised that half the album falls into that category. It also sets the tone perfectly, just in case any listeners hadn't got the memo and were still expecting something akin to The Nutty Boys.

Title track A Comfortable Man puts me in mind of Johnny Cash singing Hurt, but through a North London filter. Cash received plaudits left, right and centre for Hurt. Smyth's Comfortable Man will pass under most people's radar. It's a tough old world, but Cathal has learnt that already.

By far the most upbeat song on the album is recent single Do You Believe In Love?, which managed at least one airing on Radio 2. And whilst musically upbeat, even that includes the couplet "Do you believe in love? I don't believe it's true." This tiny flower of positivity is crushed before it can bloom though by the next track, Love Song No. 7. Here, more than anywhere, Cathal is, I believe, singing directly to his ex-wife, and there is a crack in his voice almost from the opening line. How he can perform this live without getting something in his eye I do not know (but he does). Here are the opening lines:

My heart is in pieces,
It's lying broken on the floor.
My days are so empty
Without you in them any more.
My senses, emotions, my feelings
Are all bruised and torn.
My mind is in torment,
My soul, it wears a crown of thorns.
My colours have all run dry -
There's no sun up in my sky today.

It's a beautiful, if painful, song, and Smyth is to be applauded for such honesty. This is how it feels.

That honest pain continues with possibly the best song of the lot, Are The Children Happy? Smyth again ploughs the divorce furrow in the song's verses but comes up for air in the chorus, which asks simply "Are the children happy living without me? How I wish we could have spoken honestly." In the same way that Elbow tapped into a market of middle-aged divorced men by singing about the seldom seen kid, I think Smyth's songs would really take off... if only they were more radio-friendly. And that's the only problem, really - I can immerse myself in Smyth's melancholia all day long but it is a painful, upsetting album in places and, as such, isn't for everyone. Consider penultimate track All My Loving - sample couplet: "My love for you with never fade. I give you all my love in vain." Definitely not for everyone.

In an album where two thirds of the songs would be good closing tracks, the actual final song, The Wren's Burial, does not disappoint. Except for me it hardly feels like a close, because I have had this CD on repeat play in my car since the day I bought it.

It's only July, so it's a bit early to call this as my album of the year... but it's going to take some beating. I'm going to see Madness in September. Chas Smash will not be there, but that's okay - I can live with that, when this is the spectacular compensation. It might not have been on your radar before this, but I urge you to invest in A Comfortable Man. I do not believe you will be disappointed.

Monday 22 June 2015

The Grand Overlook Hotel

Sorry, blogging at its laziest, but this tickled me, Kubrick/Shining obsessive that I am. It might tickle you too.

Will write something original soon, promise.

Monday 15 June 2015

Modern life is rubbish, part ∞

Is it just me that preferred when football boots were simply black with white stripes?

Senseless football boots
Some footballers' boots at this year's Championship play-off final

Mine even had moulded studs...

Thursday 21 May 2015

Separated at birth VII - Shakespeare and the Hipster Cop

The newly discovered, contemporaneous picture of William Shakespeare
The newly discovered, contemporaneous picture of William Shakespeare

I read yesterday about the supposed sole picture of Shakespeare made during his lifetime (above). Is it just me that looks at it and thinks of the briefly viral, yesterday's news Hipster Cop (below)?

The Hipster Cop, Peter Swinger
The Hipster Cop, Peter Swinger

Previous separations at birth

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Tees tease

You know the other day I mentioned I was playing around at t-shirt design? Well, I'm very much learning that skill on the job, so to speak. But anyway, I've posted a few more designs that may or may not pique your interest. Here's a selection:

New Amusements on Teepublic

And here's the whole lot.

Requests taken too - leave me a note in the comments and I'll see what can be done.

He's bad! He's good! He's whatever it takes to get our ad's in front of you!

I'm not singling Yahoo out particularly, because they are hardly unique in this respect, but here's a screencap from the Sunnyvale behemoth's scrolling "clickbait masquerading as news" ticker today:

Ooh, look, Tiger Woods cheated on his long-term girlfriend! What a bastard! And what a terrible role model! No wonder she left him. Etc.

Ooh, look, Tiger Woods wrote an empathetic letter to a young fan who'd been bullied over his stutter. What a great guy! What a terrific role model! If only there were more like him about. Etc.

It is tiring, maintaining this level of cynicism regarding the press, but I promise I'll do my best to keep it up.

Friday 8 May 2015

I have designs. You have disposable income. Maybe we can swap.

Inspired by that most excellent of bloggers, London Lee over at Crying All The Way To The Chip Shop, I'm trying my hand at t-shirt design. It's not going to make me rich, but it's a bit of fun. Here's an example:

Dept. of Water & Power

+150 kudos points if you can identify the film reference from the above, without clicking through to the t-shirt's page on Teepublic.

If you want to have a gander at my other designs (and there will be more to come later in the year), then here's my Teepublic shop. Cheers - enjoy your shirt(s).

Thursday 7 May 2015

Clandestine Classic XLI - Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow

Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow by Felt
The forty-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.

I'll be honest, you can write what I know about Felt on the back of a beer mat. In fact, scrub that, the back of a postage stamp. Their Wikipedia page tells me that they were an alternative three/four-piece band from Birmingham who plied their trade from 1979 to 1989, centred around the vocals, guitar and songwriting of Lawrence Hayward (or just Lawrence, as he was known then). During that time, they released ten studio albums, five compilations (that's a lucrative ratio right there) and a dozen singles. I can't tell you if any of these troubled the mainstream charts unduly, which suggests that they didn't. They were indie chart frequent flyers though.

Today's Classic, the somewhat wordily title Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow, was released in July 1984, according to the aforementioned Wikipedia page, and spectacularly failed to chart. So how come it's still remembered so fondly now? To the extent that it was even featured on a thoroughly excellent Mojo magazine cover-mounted CD in October 2012?

Well, as you might expect, I've got a theory about this. I can't speak for the rest of Felt's output, as this is the only song of theirs that I own, but Sunlight does seem to incorporate five or six different indie/alternative sounds all in one handy three-minute package. Let's have a listen to illustrate the point: that bass intro puts me in mind of The Cure, and that chiming guitar line reminds me of early Edge, before everyone started resenting U2. The rhythmic, repetitive, sinuous rhythm-as-lead guitar motif is Smithsonian, whilst the vocal delivery is reminiscent of Talking Heads, with maybe a touch of The Blue Aeroplanes for good measure. The backing vocal/harmonies sort of suggest the Cocteau Twins and/or Lush, and probably some other 4AD bands of the day too. The bassline sounds a bit like Mike Mills, pre Warner Brothers REM, as do the strings that begin around the middle eight. And of course the whole thing concludes with that Cure and U2 referencing outro.

So there we go. Whatever else Felt may or may not have done in their decade in the sun shade, they at least produced a song that is effectively a sampler of so many things that were good about the indie music scene in the 1980s. For that alone, it deserves to be cherished. You can find Sunlight on the one-size-fits-all compilation Gold Mine Trash. Or you can try before you buy with YouTube, thus:

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Shoot Me!

Kate Hardie has directed a short film, Shoot Me!, starring Claire Skinner. I have been a big admirer of the former since she played Reggie's wife Frances in The Krays (1990) and the latter since she starred in Mike Leigh's Life Is Sweet (also 1990). Given the 25 intervening years of admiration, it will come as no surprise to learn that I think Shoot Me! is very good, making serious points about body image and ageing whilst showing a light comedic touch. But you can watch it below and decide for yourself.

Shoot Me! from Kate Hardie on Vimeo.

Learnt during April

...because every day's a school day, right?

  1. You can read faster than you think - try the "Keep Up" ad from Honda? Easy, right. Then go faster. And faster still. Surprised yourself, didn't you?
  2. You should never, ever favour your heart over your head when choosing a second-hand car. You'll spend nearly every day of subsequent car ownership kicking yourself.

Friday 17 April 2015

Live news, 25 years old

Spotted today on the otherwise-excellent BBC Sport website:

Gary and Gazza

So, live rolling sports news for the 17th April 2015... illustrated with a photograph of crisp-peddler Gary Lineker and troubled sometime-genius Paul Gascoigne during their shared time at Spurs. Lineker was there from 89 to 92, Gazza from 88 to 92... so the picture is around 25 years old.

Still, it's live news, so that's alright then...

Although really, why am I writing this, and why are you reading it (both of you)? Is this the best I can do? This blog continues to decline, much like its author.

Friday 10 April 2015

Top shot, that one

RIP Richie Benaud...

Footnote: did you realise that, in the UK, all live televised cricket coverage is behind a paywall? Nothing is free to air. Does makes you wonder what effect this will have, not so much on old duffers like me (and you) but on kids growing up, learning the game. The England team of 2025 will be even worse than the current lot...

Friday 27 March 2015

Clandestine Classic XL - Bivouac

In The Red by The Panic Brothers
The fortieth post (count 'em!) 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 haven't done one of these for a while. By definition, it's getting harder and harder to think of songs that fit all the criteria - I have to think it's terrific but at the same time the chances of you being familiar with the song have to be low. A tough balancing act to get right but one I think, with today's offering, I've nailed. You haven't heard of The Panic Brothers, have you? Right, good. Let's press on then.

Not actually brothers, Reg Meuross and Richard Morton were, by the mid Eighties, a couple of ex-punks with a penchant for close, Everly-style harmonies and humourous lyrics. The humour was often, though not always, misleading, as these lyrics frequently dealt with the preoccupations of the poor in Thatcher's Britain: being on the dole, being in debt, struggling to pay the rent on a fleapit, dodging the repo man, that kind of thing. When I first saw The Panic Brothers, they had just released their 1987 album In The Red and were supporting Lenny Henry on his stand-up tour. As I recall, the other support act were the excellent Mint Juleps. On the strength of going to see Lenny live at Canterbury's Marlowe Theatre with a couple of mates, I asked for In The Red for my birthday. In those pre-Internet days, this would not have been an easy find, but my big brother duly delivered. He was heavily into Crass at the time, God help him, and apparently the guy behind the counter at Richard's Records (now extinct, sadly - the shop, not the guy) remarked to my brother that this wasn't his usual kind of thing. "It's for my little brother," enabled my bro to maintain his record-shop reputation.

Anyway, today's Classic. I could have chosen any of the tracks from In The Red, such is the uniformly high quality of the songs, the wit and guile of the lyrics, and of course the excellence of those post-punk Everly harmonies. It's a great album, short and sharp (most of the tracks are in the two to three minute range). But I've chosen the song that is most embedded in my memory, whose lyrics I can still sing in their entirety despite not having played In The Red for more years than I care to mention. It's Bivouac, an ode to living in a dump and barely being able to afford even that. Yes, it's funny but to dismiss the Panics as a novelty or comedy act is so far off the mark. This is as much a political song as it is humourous and, sadly, the themes that made this relevant in the Eighties still apply today.

Post-Panic, Reg went on to establish himself as a highly-regarded folk act, whilst Richard pursued comedy and was a founder member of the Comedy Store’s topical Cutting Edge show. For me though, they will always be better together, so imagine my delight on discovering The Panic Brothers reunited for a handful of gigs last year, and apparently have more dates planned this year. They're on Twitter too, if that's your bag. Best of all, they've re-released the tracks from In The Red, with a couple of bonus extras, on shiny CD. You can, and should, buy it here.

As for me, I'll hang on to my vinyl Panic, and leave you with Bivouac, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy.

Footnote (1): Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, which is quite possible, I'm pretty sure that Richard Morton, post-Panic, appeared on the Royal Variety Performance and did a song entitled Daddy Was A Sperm Bank, He Came On My Account. Possibly not his finest hour.

Footnote (2): Like Ant and Dec, Reg and Rich always (well, not quite always, but nearly) stand the same way around, Reg on the left, Rich on the right, as you look at them. A bit like me and The Man Of Cheese when we're playing a quiz or fruit machine... The exception, for Rich and Reg, is the sleeve art for In The Red.