Friday 26 June 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Maybe Tomorrow

Are Stereophonics a Marmite band? Maybe. This is alright though, isn't it? Or MOR-by-numbers? What do you think...?

Thursday 25 June 2020

The Unewsual IV - you're gonna need a bigger board

How would you react? Paddle like mad, or think that paddling = splashing = drawing the shark's attention?

I ask this as a layperson who attributes all he knows about great whites to Hooper and Quint...

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Rain finally makes the roses grow

Last month I wrote about a planned online mini-gig from Martin Rossiter. The event was beset by technical difficulties and was aborted after one song (and much buffering). This was frustrating for everyone and, if truth be told, probably a bit embarrassing for Martin and organsiers/facilitators Star Shaped... so they had another go, last night. And it was quite wonderful. In years to come, if pandemics and lockdowns don't become the new normal, we'll all have a lot of unusual and lasting memories to take from our current situation, and one of mine will be standing in the kitchen, tea-towel in hand, breaking out in goosebumps twice during a stripped-down, piano-and-voice Olympian...

Oh, and the new song, Rain Makes The Roses Grow, teased last month, finally got an airing!

The whole shebang was also a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together and you can donate here if you like. When I last looked this had raised more than two and a half grand, so well done to all concerned.

I am loathe to embed a Facebook post but until I can find a better way of presenting the gig, here it is...

Martin Rossiter Mini Show!

Martin Rossiter performs a mini show to raise money for our courageous NHS workers.

Posted by Star Shaped Club on Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Set list:

  • I Can't Help Myself
  • I Must Be Jesus
  • Rain Makes The Roses Grow
  • Olympian
  • Three Points On A Compass

Friday 19 June 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow Never Dies

We've already had the Bond theme that never was, from Pulp. Well, here's the song that got chosen instead, from Sheryl Crow. No, it's not her usual fare, but this woman can really sing (witness her flawless live vocal in this TOTP performance). There are some lovely chord changes in here as well, within the constraints of the Bond franchise remit. Nice pastiche video too.

I sort of have a bit of a minor crush on Sheryl, truth be told. Is that okay? And at what age do you stop getting minor crushes?

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Today days old

There's a thing on Twitter, a meme I guess, in which people tweet "I was today days old when I learnt that..." and then insert something that is really obscure but interesting to learn or, in a somewhat meta twist of the meme, something really obvious that everyone already knows but that the Twitter user claims to have just learnt, for presumably comic or "like-able" effect.

A common one, musically, is "I was today days old when I learnt that The Only Way Is Up by Yazz is actually a cover of this 1980 soul groove by Otis Clay." The twist with this is that 6Music played the Clay original some months back, then Steve Wright of all people played it on his Radio 2 show a couple of weeks later, as if he had discovered this musical factoid. In other words, this one has transitioned from relatively obscure to quite common knowledge.

But anyway, in case you haven't already guessed where this post is headed... "I was today days old when I learnt that 1992's Cats In The Cradle by Ugly Kid Joe is not an original song, but a cover of this 1974 release from Harry Chapin."

Now the question is, does this fall into the "obscure but interesting" category, or the "really obvious and everyone already knows" category?

I suppose I should also add that I learnt this courtesy of Amazon Music, who served up Harry's original as part of their Rock Classics To Wallow To playlist. And I'm not making that up.

Monday 15 June 2020

Monday long song: Leave

Today's long song is from Athens' finest, REM. They were at the start of their career's downhill section by parent album New Adventures in Hi-fi, which might sound a bit harsh until you remind yourself that REM's downhill is still at a hell of an altitude, far, far higher than that reached by most bands.

I think this is the longest original track they released, but I might be wrong on that. Someone will tell me, no doubt.

Saturday 13 June 2020

A ghost... and rotoscoping

You might not know the process of rotoscoping by name but you'll know it when you see it - think A-Ha's video for Take On Me, and you're there. Yes, it's the process of tracing over filmed footage, more or less.

Travis are back, with a new album and single. The latter, A Ghost, is alright, not their best work but perfectly fine. So's the video... until you read this excellent BBC interview with singer Fran, about how he painstakingly created the video by rotoscoping, drawing each frame by hand on his iPad. For me, this added a whole extra level of appreciation.

Read the article first, then watch the video.

Oh, and that Casey Affleck film Fran mentions, A Ghost Story? That's definitely worth 90 minutes of your time.

Friday 12 June 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow Never Knows

No, not the groundbreaking Beatles original but this slow-burn cover by long-dead bluesman Junior Parker. And if it sounds vaguely familiar, well, maybe you know it from the excellent soundtrack of dystopian masterwork Children Of Men...

Wednesday 10 June 2020


Okay, I know I said I wouldn't post every time the band did one of these but this is just so very good. And who knows, if I post enough locked down, stripped back Gedge et al I might even convert C into a fan... :)

Tuesday 9 June 2020

From the Oasthouse...

Alan Partridge is releasing a podcast in September, entitled From the Oasthouse. For now, he (or creator Steve Coogan) has released a teaser episode... on Audible... for one week only. So you need to sign up to Audible, and be quick...

...or, until it gets some form of DMCA notice, there's this - someone has posted the teaser episode, in its entirety, on YouTube. Be quick... or quicker than Audible's lawyers, anyway.

EDIT: predictably, Audible and/or YouTube shut this down very quickly. I found another version and edited this to include it... and that was shut down very quickly too. Here then, instead, is some excellent and timely advice for these pandemic times - Alan on handwashing and hygiene ("Hi... Jean"):

Twenty in '20: The Snakes

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.

9/20: The Snakes by Sadie Jones

The blurb: Newly-weds Dan and Bea decide to escape London. Driving through France in their beaten-up car they anticipate a long lazy summer, worlds away from their ordinary lives.

But their idyll cannot last. Stopping off to see Bea’s brother at his crumbling hotel, the trio are joined unexpectedly by Bea’s ultra-wealthy parents. Dan has never understood Bea’s deep discomfort around them but living together in such close proximity he begins to sense something is very wrong.

Just as tensions reach breaking point, brutal tragedy strikes, exposing decades of secrets and silence that threaten to destroy them all.

The review: the name Sadie Jones might ring a bell with you. Her 2008 debut novel, The Outcast, won all kinds of awards and was adapted for television by the BBC. It's very good. So, too, is The Snakes.

An interesting thing here is the blurb - these so often fall into hyperbole, overselling the book. Here, that is not the case - indeed, it almost undersells. I know it's hard to avoid spoilers but... (spoiler alert) there's a murder in this book (the "brutal tragedy"), in the wake of which a tangled web of power, corruption and lies unravels...

Like so many of the writers I admire, Jones has a concise prose style that wastes no words. This, when applied to quite emotional content, can be disarming. There were several moments, reading this, where I had to lower the book to my lap, take a breath and think, "Blimey." And yes, that's partly down to the twisting, sinusoidal path of the plot (snake-like, perhaps) but also thanks to that disarming quality that Jones's writing has. I've been thinking a lot about how she achieves this, and I think it's something to do with a change of pace in her prose - dropping a line of aching beauty or stunning imagery into an otherwise functional paragraph, for example. Do this too often and it might grate, but Sadie gets it right, so very right, every time. Its a real, and very enviable, skill.

Another interesting aspect of The Snakes is the way in which the author plays with your feelings about the characters. Bea is the novel's heart, the likeable, relatable heroine in a book populated with unpleasant characters. But her husband, Dan... your mileage may vary, but my opinion of him was up and down like a yo-yo, from likeable everyman to shallow and flawed, and back again. In the end, you conclude that he's essentially decent but just a bit messed-up... and so is probably the most realistic, relatable character in the whole thing.

The ending of this book has attracted a lot of attention, and comments from online reviewers, many of which seem to be along the lines of "how could it end like that?" But for me, I don't see how else it could have ended. No, it may not appeal to readers who want everything tied up in a neat bow, with a happy ending for everybody. But I'm not interested in pat, feelgood endings. This ending feels real, and so what if there are some loose ends? The crux of the story is resolved - you might not like it, but that's how it is. And if you're the sort of reader who expects to feel a sense of loss after finishing a good book... well, this is for you.

The bottom line: gripping and unusual story, part family drama, part suspense, played out in Jones's glorious prose, scalpel-sharp and laser-guided. The best book I've read this year.

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

Monday 8 June 2020


Now I've written before about Billy Connolly's perspective on the decline that comes with old age, that you spend a life gaining skills and attributes, and then a death losing them. He takes some kind of comfort in the idea that the things you've spent a lifetime learning to do slowly unwind, and that bit by bit you stop being able to do those things, until eventually you can't do anything. Game over. As an idea, it has a certain symmetry to it that I can understand is, perhaps, comforting.

What I don't like is when that erosion of certain skills and abilities comes too soon. Okay, I'm approaching a milestone birthday but I'm not old. Yet things are being taken away from me. For example, I've always been very pleased with my singing abilities - I'm quite shy, so don't sing properly in front of other people, but I've always had quite a range, plenty of vocal power on tap and, most importantly, could really control my singing voice... but not any more. In the spring of 2019, I fell ill. I went to the GP and they couldn't diagnose it exactly (they did tests, I tried medication, but all either of those did was rule out possibilities). The inconclusive conclusion was that I had some form of viral infection and just had to wait it out. Which I did. But the way this infection manifested itself was an acute cough and laryngospasm. To save you clicking, a laryngospam feels like your throat is closing up and although you can, sort of, still breathe in, you can't really breathe out. You end up gulping for air, basically unable to breathe. For me, this would happen late at night (which was bad) or whilst asleep (which was a hell of a lot worse - imagine waking at 2am, tired, dopey, gasping for air...) It would sometimes happen during the evening too - I remember being at a Specials gig with The Man of Cheese and almost going over because I couldn't breathe (TMOC held me up - thanks mate). And I spent nearly four weeks sleeping sitting upright in a wing-back armchair, in the hope that that would help, such was my fear of being unable to breathe in the middle of the night. I can laugh about it now but at the time it was ... well, maybe not terrible, plenty of people have far worse things to contend with. But it wasn't very nice.

Worse, though, is the long term effect. The viral infection, if that's what it was, was overcome. I stopped having laryngospasms. But I have a permanent reminder, for the whole episode left me with a rough patch in my throat, and that has robbed me of my ability to sing properly. Sure, I can still sing. But not properly, not like I could. I don't have the same range. I dont have anything like the same power. And I don't have the fine control any more either. And it makes me terribly sad. I loved singing, in part at least because it was something I could do really well. I'm barely average now, and when I sing it always disappoints me. I am a disappointment to myself. The talent has gone.

It's not the only talent either. When I was young, I could really whistle, again with power, range and control. Then, about a month shy of my 21st birthday, I was assaulted; my jaw was broken, and I had an orbital fracture of my cheekbone too. Those injuries healed, in time, but it permanently altered the shape of my face, specifically the shape of my mouth. Family and friends told me I had gone back to normal, but I knew the truth - I could see it in the mirror. More than that, I could hear the difference too, because I just couldn't whistle the same: I still had the power, but my range was truncated, and the control at the extremities of that range, well, that was decimated too.

I don't mind getting old. I don't mind losing the skills and abilities that Billy talks about as he nears his end. But I'm not happy about having those skills taken from me prematurely, however minor, personal or private they might be. In fact, I feel like I'm being eroded, and I'm downright sad about it.

I used to whistle this so well...

Still it's always in the back of my mind...

Whilst this has a certain Gallic charm... pales next to the original...

Friday 5 June 2020

Songs for tomorrow: Tomorrow

Been saving this one. This is the twelfth post in a weekly series that started the day after Boris said we could turn the tide in twelve weeks... not sure how the line "Would you put your arms around me?" fits with social distancing either...

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Another home-based highlight... on the heels of yesterday's corona-cracker from The Wedding Present, I stumbled across this today and it's quite lovely, I reckon. Ed Harcourt and Sophie Ellis-Bextor performing When the Lost Don’t Want to be Found.

Home-based highlights could almost be a new blog series. Almost.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Granadaland, locked down, stripped back

I suppose there might come a time when I stop blogging about The Wedding Present...but I can't imagine when that might be. When dementia sets in? When I roll behind the crematorium curtain? Who knows.

Anyway, here's the first in a promised series of lockdown offerings from Mr Gedge and his merry band. I love it but then you knew I would, so let me elaborate: I love how the stripped back format allows the fundamental groove of the song to shine; I love how the basic production reminds me of the band's early years; I love watching the musicians play in close up; I love how much Jon clearly loves subbing for Danielle in the line-up; I love Chris's neighbour-friendly blanket-based drum-muffling; I love, love, love Mel's shy performance and studied bass; I love getting a definitive close-up of which chords to play for this on my guitar; and I love that David has stopped dying his hair. I could go on...

I won't post them all (though I could, happily) but you can scoop the rest up, as they appear, on the band's YouTube channel, Wedding Present TV.