Sunday 29 September 2019

Sunday shorts: Highly Evolved

"A lot can happen in 90 seconds..." Just not in the video, obviously. Whatever happened to The Vines?

Thursday 26 September 2019


Don't get me wrong, I'm as chained to my black mirror as the rest of you, but this is a thought-provoking three minutes...

Monday 16 September 2019


HT Jez over at A History of Dubious Taste...

A previously unreleased slice of R.E.M. sees the light of day at last, after being passed over for Reveal and Around The Sun. And okay, it's not Orange Crush or Fall On Me or <<insert your personal REM favourite here>> but it is previously unreleased... and it is for charity. Because whilst you can stream it via the band's Bandcamp page, if you want to download it that'll cost you $2, with all proceeds going to aid the post-Dorian disaster relief effort in the Bahamas.

You should probably pay for the download, is what I'm saying.

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Guardian Review Book of short stories

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.

11/19: The Guardian Review Book of short stories edited by Lisa Allardice

The blurb: Alice Munro, mistress of the short form, describes a story as "a world seen in a quick glancing light". From caves in Pakistan to the underground tunnels of London's Piccadilly line, each of the stories collected here takes the reader into a very different world. And just as they roam across the globe, so they travel in time, from postwar London to contemporary Lagos. From a historical vignette about a 19th-century German artist, to a fable in which a book comes to life in a Chicago library, these stories explore the boundaries of imagined realities.

The narrators include dogs and children. Love affairs begin and end, friendships splinter and rekindle, mothers and children learn to let each other go. Whether it is the recent revolutionary uprisings in Egypt and Libya or one woman's lone battle with her electricity company on the south coast of England, they deal with battles big and small. Everyday triumphs and tragedies are briefly illuminated, the secret places of relationships laid bare. Melancholy or mischievous, elegant or experimental – together these tales showcase the variety and vibrancy of the modern short story.

The review: this collection of eleven short stories was a freebie with Saturday's Guardian some eight odd years ago, and has been on my "to read eventually" list ever since. I've lost count of the number of time I've slipped it into a rucksack for an overnight trip, train journey or long weekend away, thinking I'll get round to opening it at last... because at a slender 128 pages, this is a perfect book to travel with. But it's taken me until now to actually get stuck in and get it read... which probably tells you more about my life than it does about my love of a good short story or the quality of writing on offer here. For make no mistake, when the list of featured authors includes Margaret Atwood, Helen Simpson, Rose Tremain, Mohsin Hamed and Margaret Drabble, there is unquestionable quality to be had, free book or not.

That's not to say this book isn't without its problems. Firstly, I didn't buy it, it was a newspaper freebie, so right from the off I felt less invested in it - I had less motivation to read it, to like it. Secondly, there is no obvious theme to the stories contained herein, other than that they are contemporaneous - so it isn't ever going to be a go-to book for people who like short stories about X. And third, there is no stylistic commonality between the included authors, so it isn't going to appeal to readers who like stories in the manner of Blah Blah either... But on the flip-side, this variety, this true sampler approach is the book's strength. Because no two stories are alike, there is something for everyone.

Some stories stand out: An Idyll in Winter by William Trevor is one such, a delicate, honest tale of love, unrequited and otherwise. Cockfosters by Helen Simpson is another, with a simple plot device (following lost property to the end of a Tube line) and two very plausible protagonists. Equally, Rose Tremain's The Closing Door is, for so simple a tale, tremendously effective and emotional. For me, best of all is Trespassing by Margaret Drabble, which might have seemed timely in 2011 but seems positively prescient now. Oh, and Moths of the New World by the best-selling but oft-maligned Audrey Niffenegger should get a mention, simply for the idea of spirits living inside books. So when these stories are good, they're very good. And even when they're not good, they're still not bad.

As an aspiring writer, I must also mention the shortest story here, Terminator: Attack of the Drone by Mohsin Hamed; it's terrific, an object lesson in how to deliver a big story, and swallow the reader whole, in four short pages.

The bottom line: an uneven collection that has a little of something for everyone, perfectly bag-sized for a long train journey or an overnight hotel stay.

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

Monday 9 September 2019

Clandestine Classic LIX - I Believe

The fifty-ninth 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 had to resurrect this series, just because I couldn't believe I hadn't already featured this song! Back in the early to mid 90s, James frontman Tim Booth courted, and eventually landed, a collaboration with esteemed film composer Angelo Badalamenti. Their album from which today's classic is drawn, Booth and the Bad Angel, was the result. Bolstered by guitar work from Bernard Butler, not long free from Suede and fresh from working with David McAlmont, the album was critically well received and, thanks to this track being released as a single, sold quite well too.

I Believe is the most James-like track on the album, I think, and certainly the most accessible in terms of what would make a good single. It marries an uplifting, major-key tune with quasi-orchestral backing to a typical soaring Booth vocal and equally characteristic Butler guitar riffs. The result, musically, is magic. And then there are the positive lyrics, to wit:

They turned your story all around,
They had you free when you were bound,
They raised you up when you were down,
They raised you high...

I believe someone's watching over me.
I believe in the dreams that set you free...

And what more 90s, confident, aspirational, Cool Britannia lyric is there than Why be a song when you can be a symphony? Frankly I'm amazed that no political party tried to use this as a campaign tune, then or since. Got to be better than D-REAM, right?

I'm also amazed that this only got to number 25 in the charts. Go on, name 24 songs in the whole of 1996 that were much better than this? Anyway... there was a follow-up single eighteen months later but, other than that, this was a short-lived collaboration. Tim Booth went back to his James-based day job. Bernard Butler released a number of solo albums before hooking up with Ben Watt. And Angelo Badalamenti went back to scoring film and TV.

My CD single of this is scratched and won't play any more. Luckily, I also have it on the best of the Shine compilation series, Shine 5. By contrast, you lucky buggers need only turn to YouTube, look:

Bonus Butler-less live performance from Later..., in which James deputise as the backing band...

Sunday 8 September 2019

Sunday shorts: Rollin' Over

The very obvious miming not helped by the equally obvious 21st Century remastered overdub, but still... brilliant!

Friday 6 September 2019

Sorry Zoë...

I had occasion to listen to a bit of Zoë Ball's Radio 2 breakfast show just now. She played this, and it sounded bloody fantastic, 40+ years after its release. I may have danced around the kitchen.

After which Zoë said something like, "Ah, the Sue Lawley song. You have to sing 'Sue Lawley', don't you?"

No, Zoë, you don't. But thanks for illustrating why your show is apparently, and sadly, haemorrhaging listeners...

Monday 2 September 2019

Monday long song: Twist

This is from Thom Yorke's solo album, Anima. And I know it ages me quite accurately (and reveals me to be quite juvenile) but I can't hear this, the start at least, with thinking of Steve 'Silk' Hurley...

Sunday 1 September 2019

Sunday shorts: Mick's Blessings

Although it occasionally sounds like it ought to soundtrack Snoopy dancing, this is excellent. Play loud.