Thursday 30 April 2020

The Unewsual I - man builds train line in back garden

The first in a very occasional series highlighting unusual news stories that I like, despite (or maybe because of) their apparent lack of import.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

About the great(er) depression

My timeline is full of "the greater depression" today, thanks to this this article from The Grauniad, and Twitter running with it, like Twitter tends to do.

Anyway, this gives me an excuse (not that I usually need one) to post The Jam. This is from their last ever live TV performance, on what was also the first episode of The Tube. Broadcast on the 5th of November, 1982, Paul, Bruce and Rick gave quite the mini gig for the show, playing Ghosts, Town Called Malice, This Is The Modern World, In The Crowd, The Great Depression, Move On Up, and their Precious/War segué. Amazing really that there was time for anything else on the show.

I could almost craft some sort of new theme from this, couldn't I, around firsts and lasts, but I can't be arsed. Here's the song instead.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

About chords

There aren't too many silver linings to the clouds of lockdown, are there? Quiet roads, clear skies and birdsong, sure. But it's raining at New Amusements Towers this morning, and there is greyness all around, in everything. Where to find a positive, then?

Well, it's inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, but the slew of artists doing broadcasts from home, of various qualities, has been interesting. For example, last Thursday David Gedge of The Wedding Present did an acoustic hour from his house, on the occasion of his 60th birthday. If you missed it, here it is, courtesy of the horror-show that is Facebook:

Yes! The boy Gedge has stopped dying his hair! And the sky hasn't fallen.

Also interesting to note how different artists have approached the whole "perform from home" thing. Some have gone very earnest in their endeavours, using lighting to their best advantage, shooting in high definition, using fancy mic's and editing trickery to look and sound as good as possible. And then there's the Modfather, Paul Weller, who just sits around his house, playing old tunes, whilst someone (presumably his missus) films him on their phone. Example:

Amazing to think that song is 28 years old. Time marches on, eh?

The really interesting thing for me, as a guitarist, is getting a close up of how my musical heroes play their songs. I'm watching their hands as much as the rest of them. And since we're talking musical heroes... here's Johnny, with an even older song:

And as we're all here studiously watching social media posts to learn chords (and realising that all my musical heroes are old men with guitars), here's another bloke in his sixties, playing a guitar in his locked-down house, singing to his partner, Juliet, but sharing it with us all. What a way to end...

Monday 27 April 2020

Monday long song: The Asphalt World

I haven't done one of these for a long time, but what better way to restart than to dig out this, the penultimate track from Suede's troubled second album, Dog Man Star. Back then, punning wordplay like asphalt/arse-felt seemed clever, arch even. Looking back, it might have all been a bit contrived, but it didn't matter, back then, and it matters even less now. This has always been a favourite track of mine, and is presented here in the unedited form (not released officially until the album got the remastered "special edition" treatment in 2011). It makes what is already a long song even longer... but then that's what this series is all about, right?

And you can't talk about early Suede without taking a stance on whether Suede with Bernard was better than Suede without. My position is unequivocal here - for all they achieved later, with Richard and Neil, they were never as good as their high-points with Bernard. There are those that disagree with that... but they're wrong.

Here's the unedited version of The Asphalt World. Enjoy.

Thursday 23 April 2020

Home heptathlon

Long-time readers may know that I am basically in awe of multi-event athletes, the decathletes and heptathletes of this world. When I saw this Instagram post today, it certainly raised a smile; I think Steve Cram's commentary makes it. Anyway, there's more than enough grimness in the world at the moment, one way or another, and since this made me smile, I thought I'd share it. Don't worry though, poorly written, grumpy musings about music, books, TV and the rest will return soon enough...

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Tosh I've learned today - III

Flag of East Anglia
Despite being closely associated with the nebulous and variously-defined region known as East Anglia for most of my life (and all of my adult life, one way or another), I didn't know until today that it had a flag. And here it is.

Wikipedia tells us that East Anglia is generally considered to be Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and that the shield of three golden crowns, placed two above one, on a blue background has been used as its symbol for centuries, dating back to the Wuffingas dynasty that ruled the area in Anglo-Saxon times. The flag as shown here, with the shield superimposed on the cross of St George, was adopted much more recently though, in 1902, by the London Society of East Anglians (itself only established in 1896).

Fascinating, yes? Well, no... especially when you consider that in all my years of coming to East Anglia, holidaying, studying, visiting, living, working, in all that time I've never seen the flag in use anywhere, ever. The three crowns on a blue shield, yes, sure. But the whole flag...? Never. Maybe I've been walking around with my eyes closed the whole time...

Here's an appropriate, and brilliant, song.

Monday 20 April 2020

This...and this

Apposite tunes for these strange times, with a massive nod to Rol and his always-excellent blog, without which I probably wouldn't have heard either of them.

Thursday 16 April 2020

Twenty in '20: Drowning With Others

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 twenty books in 2020. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

8/20: Drowning With Others by Linda Keir

The blurb: They have the perfect marriage. Did one of them kill to get it?

Prep school sweethearts Ian and Andi Copeland are envied by everyone they know. They have successful businesses, a beautiful house in St. Louis, and their eldest daughter, Cassidy, is following in their footsteps by attending prestigious Glenlake Academy. Then, a submerged car is dredged from the bottom of a swimming hole near the campus. So are the remains of a former writer-in-residence who vanished twenty years ago—during Ian and Andi’s senior year.

When Cassidy’s journalism class begins investigating the death, Ian and Andi’s high school secrets rise to the surface. Each has a troubled link to the man whose arrival and sudden disappearance once set the school on edge. And each had a reason to want him gone. As Cassidy unwittingly edges closer to the truth, unspoken words, locked away for decades, will force Ian and Andi to question what they really know—about themselves, about the past, and about a marriage built on a murderous lie.

The review: I need to start by saying that I didn't buy this book. I got it as a freebie e-book from Amazon. And the fact that I feel the need to make it clear I didn't part with my hard-earned to read this probably gives you an idea of how this review is going to go.

Maybe that's a harsh way to start a review so, to redress the balance, I should make it clear that the authors (plural, for Linda Keir is actually a collaboration between Linda Joffe Hull and Keir Graff) have produced a perfectly serviceable pot-boiler that keeps the pages turning. It feels a bit like they looked at the success of books like Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, and tried to write something in a similar vein. Nothing wrong with that. They aren't the first to try it, and they won't be the last either. The thing is... whilst I'm not holding Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins up as literary gods or anything (though Hawkins definitely has something), Hull and Graff don't measure up.

There are times, for example, when the prose is just too expository, too often. In my view all good fiction should allow the reader to join the dots, and this is especially true in the kind of suspense/whodunnit thriller that Drowning With Others aspires to be. And there are places, here, where Linda Keir hasn't just joined the dots but done so with a Sharpie. It's a shame... and I couldn't help but wonder whether Hull or Graff was the culprit. Maybe they were both at it!

It isn't all bad, of course. Handling the flashbacks with extracts from the protagonists' high school journals is a neat device, and works well. And despite a distinct lack of likeable or relatable characters (honestly, they're a rotten bunch of spoilt rich kids), the pages do keep on turning, so some of the basics of storytelling must be there. But surely it's fundamental for a whodunnit to keep you guessing, right to the end? And this didn't, unfortunately - I had the big reveal sussed quite early on. I'm glad, then, that I got this for free, because Drowning With Others just isn't a book I feel I could honestly recommend to anyone who had to pay for it. As an aspiring writer, I have the utmost admiration for anyone that writes a novel, and I don't begrudge Hull and Graff their success... but I won't be rushing out to sample their other work, put it that way.

The bottom line: serviceable but unremarkable page-turning pot-boiler; the sort of book you'd take on holiday and deliberately leave in the hotel at the end of the week.

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

Friday 10 April 2020

Blue (Good) Friday - Le Départ

I don't think Mick Talbot ever really got the credit he deserved for his part in The Style Council. Have a listen to the beautiful melancholy of this... and happy Easter, kids.

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow

I'll be honestly, I've scheduled these songs for tomorrow posts a long way in advance. I hope that doesn't prove ill-advised. But this is scheduled for week four in the series, and as I'm writing this I predict that we might be in need of just about the most positive song about tomorrow that you're likely to hear...

Tuesday 7 April 2020

Evolution of a song

Or, compare and contrast, if you prefer. First up, the August 1982 recording of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, on which Morrissey and Marr were joined by Dale Hibbert on bass and Simon Wolstencroft on drums. It's a fairly rudimentary song at the best of times, but especially so here. It's a rough and ready (but mostly rough) recording, made overnight to take advantage of the studio being empty (and thereby free), and with the band's principals still learning their craft. Have a listen:

A year later, with Rourke and Joyce on board, here's the version recorded by Troy Tate running the boards:

Which seems quite representative of how they were playing it at the time, if this 1983 gig recording from the Haçienda is anything to go by...

But the band leapt forward with the version that graced their debut album, recorded with John Porter producing rather than Tate, and released in February 1984. So much better...

What a difference a producer makes, eh?

Of course, the relative simplicity of the guitar part makes it a dream for the YouTubers of the world - there are many versions. I'll spare you (and YouTube) mine. But here's an interesting one...

Monday 6 April 2020

More than Galore

RIP Honor Blackman, forever remembered as Pussy Galore in the best James Bond film of the lot...

And before that, she was Cathy Gale...

Remembering "a bit of a crush in here"...

...and the pub, actually.

Friday 3 April 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day

I used to genuinely love watching repeats of The Monkees during school holidays. I'm biased but I think it's aged alright too, all things considering.

Thursday 2 April 2020

I'm just taking in the (1970s) view

Last night, on my government-approved amble around the village, it occurred to me that being in lockdown like this... well, it's a bit like going back to the Seventies, isn't it? Not much traffic on the streets. Hardly any contrails criss-crossing blue skies. Audible birdsong. Much less choice in the shops. Actual shortages. And opening hours? Well, the shops haven't quite closed on Sundays yet, but I can't make a late-night jaunt to the 24hr supermarket at the moment either, so...

I know it's a strained analogy. But it gives me an excuse to post this Seventies track, the appropriately indoors-sounding Life from a Window, from The Jam's oft-maligned second album. Weller wrote this when he was 18, for Christ's sake, and I have always loved it. Have a listen.

And since we're talking about four decades ago, I pretty much have to add this too, Cast Out in the Seventies, in which Gene don't help themselves with the Smiths comparisons - listen to that intro...

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Every picture tells a story

Really wish I'd taken this photograph...

It shows two NHS workers in PPE at St Thomas's hospital in London. And I'm not the only one who likes it - in various forms, it appeared on the front page of at least three newspapers today, look:

The first two papers are both owned by DMG Media, the last by News Corp. So the photographer who took it has made a couple of lucrative sales right there.

I particularly like how the photo is cropped by The Times, focusing on the unnamed worker with her latex-gloved hands to her masked and visored face. It's a striking image, is it not?