Sunday 29 July 2018

The King of Parochia

This song is six years old, yet I've only just heard it, because I'm trapped in my own little closed system, my own arrogant little mirrored bubble, of only listening to things I already know I like.

And the worst part of this is, I've always been the same yet, at the same time, have been proud of the breadth of my musical knowledge. What a fraud.

Even this, which I've suddenly discovered, six years after the event, is a predictable "like", with its soft guitar jangle, indie delivery and hint of twee. And really, am I saying I like it, or that I approve of it, with my self-serving sense of unearned, undeserved musical superiority? What a tool.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Sunday 22 July 2018

Latitude 2018 - delicious

It's ten years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, three years since I last went. I've changed a lot in that period, and so has Latitude. I went again this year, just for a day on Sunday. For the first time, my choice of ticket was driven by the undercard, rather than the headliner. How did I get on, in the scorched dust bowl of Henham Park, you might wonder? With the festival app that was so buggy and crash-happy that I forked out a tenner for the programme book instead? Well here, in the manner of my old festival diaries, is what I got up to. All photos can be embiggened with a click.


  • Dylan Moran : Comedy stage. I haven't seen Dylan live before, so I don't know if the whole "doesn't have an act" schtick is an act or, you know, the act, but it doesn't matter because the whole seemingly disjointed, free-associative delivery really works. Moran riffed on the Internet, technology, relationships, gender, giving up alcohol and a whole lot more. Struck a chord.
  • Richard Ayoade in conversation with Mark Kermode : Film and Television arena. I don't mind Kermode, and am a huge fan of Ayoade, so was not going to miss this, even though this was the hottest, most crowded tent I was in the whole festival, so much so that there was a mild rebellion in the audience when the organisers tried to cram even more people in. Mark and Richard discussed the genre classic Roadhouse, Richard's book The Grip Of Film, his film adaptations of Submarine and The Double, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, even The IT Crowd, before opening up for an audience Q&A. This over-ran, and nobody minded in the least.
  • Hannah Peel : BBC Music stage. A cool, breezy tent after the heat of the previous session, but the relaxed atmosphere was spoiled a little by the volume. I don't want to sound like Huey Lewis in Back To The Future but it was just too darned loud, and I put my gig-plugs in. I know, I know. Hannah reaches for a dreamy, ethereal sound, surrounded by a bank of keyboards, with just a drummer to fill out the sound. Name-checking Paul Buchanan and The Blue Nile might give a hint of Hannah's style, but her most effective moment was a cover of Tainted Love accompanied only by a hand-wound music box, playing from a punched card, even if she struggled to hear this over the thump of the main stage. And then, to prove her many talents, Hannah whipped out a violin for her closing track.
  • Reasons to be Cheerful podcast live, with Geoff Lloyd and Ed Miliband : The Speakeasy. After a relaxed and much needed cup of tea and slice of cake from the Greenpeace tent, it was off to see Geoff and Ed attempt to record a live podcast in what used to be called the Literature Arena. Geoff and Ed were beset by technical problems at first, especially with the microphones - Ed tried to compensate for this by geeing the crowd up at every opportunity. But once everything settled down, they brought out their first guest, a scientist called Simon (sorry, I didn't make a note of his surname) to talk about the Anthropocene. Sadly, this was the cue for some in the crowd to bail out. And when Simon pointed out that, because of climate change, the recent heatwave will be common and persistent by 2050, a sunburnt couple in front of me turned to give each other a gurning thumbs-up. This is what we're up against. And the disconcerting facts came thick and fast after that - a estimated three trillion trees have been lost during man's time on the planet; we have produced enough concrete to cover the entire Earth in a layer 2mm thick, and enough plastic to clingfilm the planet. I don't know about reasons to be cheerful, but there were certainly reasons to be thoughtful. As for Ed Miliband ... well, I went to this to see what he was like when he was just being himself, not scripted, not media-schooled, not spun. And you know what? He seems a bit more engaging, more natural, more real. I think this version of Ed would attract more votes than the one that was wheeled out against Cameron.
  • Sleeper : the Obelisk Arena (main stage). For the first time, my choice of which day to attend Latitude was driven, not by the headliner, but by an act lower on the bill because yes, I was very keen to see the reformed and re-energised Sleeper. Like a million other indie boys, I was a little bit in love with Louise Wener back in the mid 90s, and you never forget your first loves, do you? And she and her Sleeperblokes (original guitarist and drummer, Jon and Andy, and new bassist Kieron [ex-Prodigy touring band], plus supplementary guitarist, saxophonist and keyboards) did not disappoint. There were most of the hits from back in the day (Delicious, What Do I Do Now?, Nice Guy Eddie, Inbetweener, Sale Of The Century, and more) plus some interesting covers: a mix of Blondie's Atomic and Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart was particularly ambitious, but well executed. Feeling Peaky seguéd into Lou Reed's Satellite Of Love nicely too, a song that really suits Louise's voice. And yes, I guess I'm still a little bit in love with Louise. Dressed in her Super Her t-shirt, she thought she should tell us, as this was World Cup final day, that she was born on the day England won the World Cup. So yes, she's 52. I'm happy to report that she still bounces the same on stage, though maybe not quite so high. Anyway. Sleeper are recording a new album, funded through PledgeMusic - you can and should back them here.
  • Grace Savage : The Speakeasy. After a quick bite to eat, I made my way back to The Speakeasy and, by virtue of them running late, caught the tail end of Grace Savage. Apparently she has been British beatbox champion four times but, on this evidence, there is more to her than that. She sings original compositions which, although not my cup of tea, were very listenable. Especially since I was sat down, with an actual cup of tea. She also engaged brilliantly with the audience, and had the yoof dancing at the front, no mean achievement in what is basically the book tent. One to watch, I would say, especially if I was 35 years younger.
  • Adam Kay - This Is Going To Hurt : The Speakeasy. It was Adam that I actually came to the Speakeasy to see. Adam was an obs & gynae ("parts and labour") doctor in a large hospital, before a series of events that I won't describe (no spoilers) led him to quit. He has since turned his old reflective learning log into a best-selling book, that shines a light both comedic and tragic on the state of acute care in the NHS, and the pressures on junior doctors. Adam read excerpts from the book, interspersed with comedy medical songs - well-known tunes to which Adam has put funny, medical lyrics. This works well, and he is clearly a talented pianist, if not a great singer. He ended with reading the last entry from that reflective learning log which recounts the tipping point that caused him to walk away, at which point the laughs stopped and Adam began an impassioned defence of junior doctors, and a scathing attack on the politicians who seek to destroy the NHS. This got the biggest cheer of all. I bought his book afterwards, got it signed and shook his hand.
  • Wolf Alice : the Obelisk Arena (main stage). Hanging on to meet Adam Kay made me late for Wolf Alice, so they were well into their stride when I arrived. And man, were they loud! The bass reached inside my chest and reaarranged some organs! Okay, so my hearing is going to hell in a hand-basket, but the subterranean bass emanating from Wolf Alice made me fear for the hearing of the children further forward than me, with no ear-defenders. But anyway. Ellie Rowsell made for an engaging front-woman in her floaty white damsel dress and loosely laced Doc's. The Jumbotrons at either side of the stage also revealed that Ellie was wearing a claddagh ring, but I couldn't remember whether the way she was wearing it meant she was in a relationship or looking for one. Either way, she was on fire, sitting on the edge of the stage for a quieter number, wigging out with the rest of the band for Giant Peach, in this, their first appearance on the main stage having debuted at Latitude five years earlier. Guitarist Joff Oddie worked his way through a series of seemingly identical Fender Jaguars, one of which he throttled rather than played. As Giant Peach faded out into a wall of looping feedback and blue lights, Rowsell picked up sweary bassist Theo Ellis and spun him around - Wolf Alice's work was done. Awesome.
  • Gabrielle Aplin : BBC Music stage. I arrived at the second stage just in time to see Aplin perform her breakout track, the former Christmas ad-soundtracking cover of Frankie's The Power Of Love. It was an undeniably powerful performance, undiminished by familiarity, with Gabrielle spotlit from above. Meaning no disrespect to her more than capable band, this was a hard act to follow - for my money, Aplin is better suited to stripped back, solo songs rather than those with the full band treatment. This was well evidenced on set closer Fool's Love - a perfectly adequate track but it felt like Aplin was stretching, whereas her interpretation of others' songs seemed more relaxed.
  • Rob Kemp - The Elvis Dead : The Speakeasy. Headliners Alt-J weren't ever going to do it for me. I know. I'm an old man, with parochial music taste - you've got me, well done. Anyway, that's how I came to be in The Speakeasy for the end of my day at Latitude, watching comedian Rob Kemp dramatise scenes from The Evil Dead 2, by singing suitably lyric-changed versions of Elvis songs as clips from the movie played on a screen behind him. So "Devil In Disguise" became "Dead Eye In Disguise", and so on. You get the idea. It might sound odd, but it really works, and was very funny. A fine end to a hot, tiring day.

And that was that. Because I didn't stay for every note of the headliner, for once I had no problem getting out of the car-park and was home at a decent time. So what did I make of Latitude 2018? Is it still essential festival fare? Well... yes. I think so. It's a wonderful event, and the multi-media format, embracing books, film, theatre and more, as well as music, makes it stand out. Would I have liked a headliner that I felt compelled to see? Yes, of course. And would I have liked my hearing to be in better shape, to enjoy the louder bands without gig plugs? Again, of course. But I chose a Sunday ticket to see Sleeper, and they exceeded all expectations. I was also keen to get to know Wolf Alice better, and was bowled over by their performance. The bottom line is this - there is something for everyone, every day, at Latitude. It is impossible not to enjoy yourself there.

I'll leave you with a video or three.

Saturday 21 July 2018

About the Moon

Because I expect a lot of people will be looking up at the Moon, somewhat wistfully, this time next year, I thought I'd get in twelve months early. And besides, it keeps the blog ticking over.

So, for this, the 49th anniversary of the first man on the lunar surface, here's a clip of one great man interviewing another.

Sunday 15 July 2018

About the fifteenth of July

Guitarists, note how Bill has capo'ed his way half an octave up the neck, allowing him to sing this half an octave lower than normal. Sore throat, or artistic reasons? We shall never know. Either way, love this version.

Thursday 12 July 2018

The morning after

So it wasn't to be, but well done to Gareth's boys. And they really are boys, in some cases, so young. Anyway, please beat Belgium and at least bring home the third place medal, and maybe a golden boot for Harry. Then (and more importantly) please don't let this be a false dawn - kick on and do well in Euro 2020.

Seems like a good time to play this - re-releases aside, surely New Order's last great single?

Wednesday 11 July 2018

Good luck lads

Number 1 when England lost their Euro '96 semi-final was Killing Me Softly by Fugees (yes, really - Three Lions was number 2 that week).

Number 1 when England lost their Italia '90 semi-final was the double A-side Sacrifice/Healing Hands by Elton John (yes, really - Nessun Dorma was number 2 that week, World In Motion was at 6).

So... here's the number 1 from 30th July 1966, when Jules Rimet really was still gleaming.

Good luck tonight, lads - hope you're not out of time come the final whistle.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

About Wimbledon

An early sporting memory to keep the blog ticking over...

As an aside, if you haven't seen it, Borg McEnroe is a very watchable film, dramatising the events leading up to the 1980 Wimbledon final. And for all the talk of bitter rivalry, fire and ice, and Mac effectively retiring Borg after beating him in the '81 final, it's worth remembering that when John came to get married in 1986, Björn was his best man...

Friday 6 July 2018

In case it doesn't come home...

...which, given that I rate us the seventh or eighth best team left in the tournament, is entirely feasible ... I mean, tomorrow, we're playing a well-organised, defensive side who have only conceded one goal in the whole tournament thus far, and we haven't scored too much that wasn't from the penalty spot or a deflection, and certainly not against any teams of note ... but anyway, of course it's nice to have something positive to think about, something that isn't Brexit, or an impotent Prime Minister, or perma-tanned balding man-babies with nuclear buttons, or overpopulation, or deforestation, or global warming, or species extinction, or - well, the list goes on. Just try to maintain some objectivity, England, that's all - be hopeful but don't be optimistic. And certainly don't be confident.

And since you probably won't be needing to watch the final on Sunday 15th, you might conceivably be looking for something else to peruse instead. Something a bit gentler, maybe comedic, to lift your post-footy mood, maybe a bit blokey, to blur the edges of the testosterone void the inevitable departure from the World Cup has left. So let me point you towards the hidden gem that is Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing, in which Bob Mortimer (triple heart bypass) and Paul Whitehouse (three stents) discuss life, mortality and cardiac problems, whilst Paul teaches Bob to fish at numerous beautiful locations in the British Isles. Unscripted, unsentimental, somewhat unplanned and very, very watchable. Here's the trailer, which explains the premise better than I.

And a clip from episode 2, in which novice Bob catches a bigger barbel than the experienced Paul.

I should add that you need no great interest in, or love for, fishing to enjoy this. I've been fishing a few times, in my younger day, with The Man Of Cheese, but that's the limit of my knowledge. But I still enjoy this. It's about friendship, you see, and growing older, and seeing the world through a different lens, and still being able to laugh with your mate about everything. And I'm all in favour of that.

Monday 2 July 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #16 - if Black Sabbath covered "Bits And Pieces"...

The sixteenth contributor to this series is C, from the always-excellent Sun Dried Sparrows, and is written with all the thought and detail that makes her blog so compelling. As you will see...

My line of thought started when I saw a clip of the Dave Clark Five doing "Bits And Pieces" on something the other day. Ugh, I hate that song. It really grates. I mean, he’s in bits – he’s in pieces, for Chrissakes, because he’s been dumped -and yet the song is all bouncy and happy and singalong. Maybe it’s just his way of combatting the rejection blues but she went away and left him misery, and that’s the way it will always be, now she says it was just a game but all she’s doin’ is leavin’ him pain. And there they are on "Top Of The Pops" swaying cheerily from side to side like those nodding plastic flower things that go nuts in the sun when you put them on your window sill. (I understand the official term for this item is a Flip Flap. Good to know.) The Dave Clark Five sound, and look, more glad all over than in pieces, bits and pieces.

Too glad all over

Thus I started thinking how this song really ought to be a little more maudlin-sounding, surely. Slowed down a little, and played in a minor key. How much would that change it? So, here’s my challenge to you – think of something a teensy bit sad now, and as you start to choke up slightly (sorry), bring the tune and mood of the Funeral March to mind.

Ashes to ashes (not that one)

Okay, once you’ve got that feel, and that general musical vibe going on, try singing these two lines from "Bits And Pieces" at half speed, in the same note pattern as by the Dave Clark Five but much more plaintively. "Since you left me and you said goodbye, all I do is sit and cry." Now, tell me that that couplet in your head, once phrased in this dirge-like manner, doesn’t sound just like Ozzy Osbourne? The limited vocal expression and switching to a minor key would suit him so well, especially with the way the last syllables in each line are elongated into two – bi-iye and cri-iy. It would sound not unlike "Iron Man".

A bit Paranoid

I want, and need, to hear Black Sabbath cover "Bits And Pieces". It would be the perfect fit.

So what do you reckon? A very good argument, I reckon. And how surprised am I to have featured some Chopin on New Amusements? (Answer: not as much as I am to have featured Black Sabbath...)

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.