Sunday 30 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Pulsing Pulsing

A 95 second B-side (to Making Plans for Nigel) about blood by the wonderful XTC... and maybe a hint of future direction too?

Wednesday 26 June 2019

The unlikeliest of rabbit holes

In replying to Rol's latest Hot 100 post, I stumbled across Terry Christian's YouTube channel. Yes, you heard me. Terry Christian has a YouTube channel. As far as I can see, it consists solely of band performances from 90s late-night music show The Word and, if the quality is anything to go by, most of them are ripped from poor quality VHS recordings. But it's a real Internet rabbit hole, and once you disappear down there you might be gone for hours...

Easy to dismiss The Word now, with its laddism, neon/lairy backdrops and token dancers, but I used to like it. Even easier to forget how, back in those pre-web days, you had to rely on programmes like this to hear live music and discover new bands.

Anyway, here's a selection from the rabbit hole to whet your appetite...

Sunday 23 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Doll

Proving that bigger isn't always better, here's 83 seconds of Foo Fighters that open The Colour and the Shape. Of course, they then revert to type with track two, Monkey Wrench.

Think this might have fitted nicely into the Blue Friday theme too.

Saturday 22 June 2019

About John Barr

I've been thinking a lot about Jonbar points, specifically how I came to be here, at this point, in this state. I've also been thinking about how, if I could go back in time and tell the 15 year old me what I've done with (or rather, let happen to) my life... well, he wouldn't kick my arse, because the 15 year old me wasn't like that, but I can't help but think he would be disappointed... which, of course, is far worse.

I'm not sure it's such a good idea to dwell on Jonbar points. Don't try it.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Street View stupidity

The good thing about Google Maps Street View is that it lets you fritter away your time doing stupid things, like checking out the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see how many people run up the steps. As you might imagine, there are lots and lots and lots and lots of examples. If you have more patience than me, there are even some shots of people with their arms aloft, like their inspiration, above.

You may also enjoy the Philadelphia shooting locations documentary Rocky Jumped a Park Bench. Or maybe that's just me.

Sunday 16 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Fell In Love With A Girl

Any excuse for this wonderful Lego-ful video, soundtracked by what, for me, is one of Jack and Meg's finest moments. Here's 115 seconds of White Stripes.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Phased retirement

I composed this post in its entirety in my head on the way to work this morning. This written version is unlikely to be as good, so apologies for that. But here goes anyway.

Some eight years ago, when next to nobody read this, I wrote at length about lazy blog posts, identifying half a dozen blogging tropes that I perceived to be slack at best: things like bandwagoneering, embedding YouTube videos with nothing new to accompany them, old chestnuts, whimsy, that sort of thing. Back then, I typically posted less than once a week. These days, I'm posting two to three times a week, but many (most?) of these posts are of the type that I previously lambasted. And it's not that I'm lazy, it's more that I've become trapped, I think, in the post/check-pageviews cycle, whilst also being time-poor. I don't have the time to write something good, or original, or new, yet I don't want to drop the baton, so I've just started churning stuff out on autopilot. Oh, the dilemma...

So. I have a few Sundays Shorts posts scheduled, and a Blue Friday for some time next month. I have the next ten Counter posts scheduled too, but they're only one a year and are for me only, no-one else. I will, at least, finish the Nineteen in '19 series because a challenge is a challenge, after all. But beyond that...? Well, I'm time-poor and should be writing fiction... so why am I spaffing what little writing time I have up the wall, churning out lazy blog posts?

Or could it be that I've just run out of words? The standard line, when facing a crisis of blogging confidence like this, is to say that the mojo has been lost, and that it will come back. But maybe it's more than that - maybe it's gone for good.

Either way, something has to change, so this might be the start of what my current employer calls a phased retirement. Let's celebrate that with an appropriate live performance from the Pope of Mope, back when people still liked him.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

About escape

Yes, another "on this day in history" post... or another post in which I look desperately to the past in the hope that it will prompt me to write something. Anyway... on this day in 1962, three prisoners escaped from the supposedly escape-proof Alcatraz, using a spoon, papier-mâché heads and a makeshift raft. Yes, it was the escape that was later dramatised by Don Siegel in the film Escape From Alcatraz.

For me, it's a good if uneven film. I do like this scene though, in which new inmate Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) is introduced to the Warden (Patrick McGoohan), not least because it highlight's the latter's brilliance in this type of role. I do wonder whether he had a hand double for the closing shots though...

Monday 10 June 2019

Nineteen in '19: Thin Air

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

10/19: Thin Air by Michelle Paver

The blurb: The Himalayas, 1935.

Kangchenjunga. The sacred mountain. Biggest killer of them all.

Five Englishmen set out to conquer it. But courage can only take them so far. And the higher they climb, the darker it gets.

The review: make no mistake, Thin Air is, as the front cover proclaims, a ghost story. But there's a broad spectrum of such tales, with obvious jump scares and physical horror at one end, and unsettling, psychological horror at the other. Paver's book is definitely at the latter end of this scale, with genuine chills rooted in the psychological. Like her previous (tremendous) book, Dark Matter, there are lots of reasons for creeping unease, sprinkled liberally throughout Thin Air: the unknown, unnatural and uncanny; isolation; physical and environmental extremes; sleep and sensory deprivation; the juxtaposition of the rational - our protagonist, Stephen, is a doctor, grounded in logic and process - and the irrational - we feel Stephen's disbelief and disquiet as he comes to realise that maybe not everything in life is ordered and explicable; and more, so much more.

Also of note is the skill with which Paver uses setting as a character - Kangchenjunga, the untrodden peak, is the third highest mountain in the world, and stands apart from surrounding peaks in the range. It looms over this tale from start to finish, a malevolent, brooding presence, unseen but intimated in the early chapters, but revealed, increasingly, as the story progresses. I find the whole "setting as character" thing fascinating; the physical aspects are more obvious, with the mountain's rocky presence, glaciers and crevasses increasingly dominating our hero as time go by. But beyond the physical, the mountain is given an actual character, both from fictionalised accounts of previous summit attempts, local superstitions and reverence, bordering on fear, from the expedition's Sherpa guides. This is brilliantly done, in my view. That time in the future when I finally get around to doing my creative writing PhD on the use of place as character - I'll be using this as one of my examples.

There is also a nice sub-plot about sibling rivalry here too - Stephen's older brother (and charmed-life-leading golden boy) Kits also features. Again, Paver treads a delicate line here, illustrating the tensions between the siblings well, from our narrator's perspective, and keeping it plausible without making Kits explicitly unlikeable - no mean feat.

Finally, a lot of research has gone into this book - not just about the mountain and surrounding area, but of mountaineering in the first third of the twentieth century. Like all research, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and Thin Air feels entirely credible throughout.

The bottom line: if old-school ghost stories and/or unsettling, psychological horror are your thing, you will love Thin Air. I certainly did, and expect it to stay with me for some time.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★★

Sunday 9 June 2019

Sunday shorts: Norgaard

Monday long song has been a theme on lots of blogs for some time. Swiss Adam at the reliably excellent Bagging Area is one regular long-songer. The Swede at Unthought of Though, Somehow is another. I've even done it myself, now and then.

So here's the obvious flip-side: Sunday shorts. Or excellent tunes that clock in at 2 minutes or less... not every week, but now and again. I'll kick things off, shall I? Bloody love this, 98 seconds of catchy, uplifting brilliance from The Vaccines. Good video too.

Saturday 8 June 2019


I went to see Wooden Shjips at the start of the week. They were pretty good, despite having so little variation in their rhythm section as to be metronomic. If that sounds critical, I don't mean it to be. They put on a good show with terrific visuals, I enjoyed the gig, and I enjoyed the company.

The support act though... the support act knocked my socks off! They were Gnoomes - yes with two O's, proving that the headliners weren't the only ones with an interesting take on spelling. Gnoomes are from Russia. I didn't glean this from Wikipedia but from talking to two of the band at the merchandise stall after their set (I even got to trot out the little schoolboy Russian that remains in my brain from 30+ years ago). Anyway, how to describe them? Two guitarists, one of whom sings. A keyboard player who also plays bass synth. And a drummer with a dubious haircut but who put the Wooden Shjips drummer to shame.

I've since listened to several of their studio-recorded tracks, courtesy of YouTube and, whilst worthy, they don't really knock my socks off. But in a live setting, there is something about their sound... it builds, swirling, euphoric, irrepressible, irresistible. Luckily for us all, someone was filming their set, so here's an example so you can see what I mean (play loud). Not sure why the cameraman was using the 70s sci-fi saturation effects on the video, but it shouldn't affect your enjoyment. Gnoomes - better live than recorded?

Friday 7 June 2019

Going back

NASA has kopped some flak recently, especially after announcing their plan to open up the International Space Station from 2020. Specifically, the flak seems to be their implication that it will be available "for all Americans" (not very international) and for using the phrase "establishing a viable economy in low-Earth orbit." Urgh. So, much as I love NASA, I understand both sets of flak.

This, though... this is much more exciting. Back to the moon within five years...

Blue Friday - I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday (cover)

This might be the last Blue Friday post. Sure, they're easy for me - pick a vaguely maudlin song, embed it with one line of accompanying text and Bob's your uncle, the blog keeps ticking over. But very few people interact with these posts - hardly any comments, and visit time stats suggest not many actually play the song. So what's the point?

If this is the last Blue Friday, what better way to close than with a cover version I have mixed feelings about. For comparison, the original. Your thoughts?

Thursday 6 June 2019

About our playground

44 years ago today, the results of a referendum on EU membership were being reported. Harold Wilson's Labour government has asked the question "Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?" and 67% of voters had answered "yes". That's two thirds - a resounding victory for the pro-Europeans.

Of course, not everyone was happy, even then, but members of the "No" campaign accepted their defeat and promised to work constructively within the EEC, in a manner we can only dream of these days. For example, Industry Secretary Tony Benn, who had come under criticism from Wilson during the campaign, said, "When the British people speak everyone, including members of Parliament, should tremble before their decision and that's certainly the spirit with which I accept the result of the referendum."

Similarly, the trade union movement was also opposed to remaining in Europe and had boycotted key advisory positions in Brussels and Luxembourg since Britain joined in 1973. In the wake of the referendum, TUC General-Secretary Len Murray said the boycott would be lifted but he remained adamantly opposed to the EEC. "Many of the most important decisions about our future can only be taken here in Britain," he said. Which just goes to show that some things never change.

I don't think we should be leaving the EU, by the way. There's a lot about the 1970s that wasn't great, by modern standards, but they got the question of EU membership right, and then got on with it. Fast forward forty years and the British electorate got it wrong, marginally, after which no-one really got on with anything particularly well. In my view, successive politicians' inability to advance or deliver the result of this most recent referendum just adds weight to the argument that it was the wrong result. I applaud all those that are not trembling before this latest decision, that are still fighting to stop something calamitous happening.

Sigh. A song, then. In the run-up to, and wake of, the 2016 referendum, I engaged in some pro-EU playlisting on Facebook, of all places, and was joined in doing so by The Man Of Cheese's younger brother, Rob Base. Between us, we compiled an excellent list of songs, but the best of the lot came from Rob - here it is.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

(More) About Wefail

Like Tim Footman over at the uniformly excellent Cultural Snow, I've only just become aware of the Wefail art collective. In fact, I only became aware of it thanks to his post, today. Tim brilliantly describes Wefail's work as "pretending that Francis Bacon is alive and well and still gloriously aghast at the horrors of the world." I can't do any better than that, so won't try. It's definitely worth a look though - here are some examples:

Cultural Snow is always a good read, by the way. You'd like it.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

About legends

I have one of those Amazon Echo devices. I've mentioned it before, but for the avoidance of doubt I didn't buy it, wouldn't ever buy it, it was a freebie. Still, it does get used a bit, even (occasionally) by me.

Anyway, every week Amazon send a promo email, highlighting new things that the Echo or, more precisely, the Alexa app it runs, can do. Today's email was promoting the Alexa "skill of the month" which, brace yourselves, is a Deal or No Deal game. The email includes this artwork...

We define our legends very differently, Alexa, you and I...

Monday 3 June 2019

Monday (really) long song: Supper's Ready

Peak era Genesis, this song is basically one whole side of an album (Foxtrot)...

Am hoping this excellent, fan-made comic book video will encourage you to keep watching... oh, and make yourself a cuppa before you start in on this.

Saturday 1 June 2019

The end of May

The more things change...

"Feigning concern, a Conservative pastime,
Makes you feel doubtful right from the start.
The expression she pulls is exactly like last time.
Got to conclude she just hasn't a heart..."