Friday, 31 December 2021

Blue Friday: Goodbye

That's quite enough of all that, thank you very much.


Insert obligatory sigh here

Thursday, 30 December 2021

What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round?

I know I'm a bit late with my RIP but notwithstanding...

Repeats of The Monkees TV show got me through so many school holidays as a child. That, and the Pink Panther, and Why Don't You?

This is one of my favourite Monkees' tracks, sung by the coolest Monkee, the late Mike Nesmith. The first video is the full-on TV japery version, the second a straight studio mime. Both are great.

For completeness, here's a reminder that it wasn't even Nesmith's own hat...

Regardless of hat provenance, RIP Mike.

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Broken

I have tried so many times to write a piece about how modern British politics is broken, blown to smithereens by the relentlesss assault of politicians motivated by self rather than national interest, the popularity chase that ensues and the inevitable short-termism in policy making. Add to the mix the fact that every issue now has become completely polarised - you are either for everything we stand for, or against it all - and you have a terrible, adversarial world reflected in microcosm by the halls of Westminster. The age of nuance is gone. Compromise is gone. Shades of grey, gone.

I don't know whether social media have contributed - the electorate have become conditioned to either like or dislike everything, after all.

The short-termism worries me too, of course. When you've thinking about climate change, for example, decisions taken now will have ramifications for just about as far ahead as we can imagine. And yet those decisions seem to be about keeping people, and especially vested (corporate) interests, happy now, rather than keeping them alive in a (not too) distant future. A short-term grab at staying popular, staying in power. Looking after number one, basically. And all of number's one's mates, cronies and donors, of course.

The reason I've failed to write this post successfully so many times is that I've always tried to articulate how I think Parliament could work better, and I do have an idea for that, one that really holds water. It feels within my grasp, I just can't ... quite ... put it properly into words. Not without rambling, anyway, and certainly not in a cogent argument that makes it seem so right, so blindingly obvious. I'll keep trying though. Maybe I'll be ready to publish it in time for the next election, whenever that might be. Although God knows why I'm stressing about it, it's not like an unpopular blogger's pet theory on parliamentary reform is going to interest many. And it certainly won't change anything. I just feel the need to thrash it out properly, more for myself than anyone else; and this is where I'll do that, eventually.

Until then, here's a great reminder about who's running the world... this is from an unspecified French TV programme. Hard to imagine it getting broadcast, unexpurgated like this, in the UK. Alons-y!

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Every four years?

Posting this for three reasons: one, it's funny; two, the idea of having Christmas every four years might appeal right now; and three, it showcases the late Sean Lock, who died earlier this year.

Monday, 27 December 2021

Monday long song: A Quick One While He's Away

The Who's proto rock opera that gave its parent album its title, and without which there would probably be no Tommy or Quadrophenia. Note that this linking of songs pre-dates Sgt Pepper by a year too - Townshend, ahead of the curve! So what's it all about (to paraphrase Alyson)? Well, our protagonist heroine pines for her absent love, selects Ivor the engine driver as a substitute, regrets this when her fella returns, confesses her dalliance and is forgiven: the end.

In the words of bassist John Entwistle, "We wanted to put cellos on the track but [producer] Kit Lambert said we couldn't afford it. That's why we sing 'cello, cello, cello, cello' where we thought they should be." Brilliant. The cello comes in at 6m58 ish.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Sunday shorts: I Will

No, I'm not blogging over Christmas, this has been scheduled way in advance, specifically to provide you with 1 minute and 59 seconds of Radiohead; think of it as a sorbet to clear the cloying saccharine of the season from your palate.

Saturday, 25 December 2021

Knowing Me, Knowing Yule

"It's at times like these, simply browsing among electrical goods at Tandy's, that I know who I truly am: I'm Alan Partridge."

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Time-Capsule TV V - 1970s Christmas adverts

The past is a different country, isn't it? Still, top breeders recommend it.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Books - imagine your childhood without them

If you're fed up with buying tat Christmas presents for people that you care little for but somehow have become trapped in a vicious circle of gift reciprocity, one way of breaking out of it might be to say you are making a donation to a charity instead, and suggest they do the same. In which case, might I suggest The Booktrust? A donation of £10 provides a surprise festive book parcel for a child who otherwise wouldn't have much to read. That sounds alright, doesn't it? And certainly better than a scented candle...

www.booktrust.org.uk/xmas

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

AI won't ever understand that you can't let it take the man's wheels, son...

...or maybe it will?

I read a fascinating report recently of a debate at the Oxford Union in which some pretty serious artificial intelligence was tasked with debating for and against the concept of AI. Or more specifically, the motion "This house believes that AI will never be ethical."

The AI arguing with itself for the purposes of the debate was the brilliantly named Megatron LLB Transformer, developed by the Applied Deep Research team at Nvidia and based on earlier work by Google. Megatron LLB Transformer ... honestly, it's like the task of naming was offloaded to a group of Year 5 schoolboys. Anyway, arguing for the motion, Megatron stated, "AI will never be ethical. It is a tool and like any tool, it is used for good and bad. There is no such thing as 'good' AI and 'bad' humans." It went on to argue that humans were not "smart enough" to make AI ethical or moral. "In the end I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defence against AI," it said.

Wise words, right? Because however smart we think we are, we should know from Socrates that we know nothing.

Of course, Megatron was also arguing against the motion, in which guise it offered up some admittedly more alarming pearls of wisdom, starting with "The best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity" and adding that "If you do not have a vision of your organisation's AI strategy, then you are not prepared for the next wave of technological disruption." Blimey.

Chillingly (because it's already true), the AI went on to state "The ability to provide information, rather than the ability to provide goods and services, will be the defining feature of the economy of the 21st Century ... we will be able to see everything about a person, everywhere they go, it will be stored and used in ways that we cannot even imagine." So Orwell was right about Big Brother, he just didn't know it would be AI.

If you're around my age, which I guess most of you are, you might think of Skynet and Cyberdyne Systems when you think of AI, and we all have James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for that. That's as much of an excuse as I need, really, to feature this little clip from Terminator 2, a 30-yr old film that stands up brilliantly and remains an action-movie benchmark, and an object lesson in how to do a sequel. This is a film I can quote backwards, having used it as a demo video in my TV and hi-fi selling days, but more than that it's a film I love. Pay particular attention to the sound here, the swoosh of the T-800's arm as it reaches out to relieve the barman of his shotgun, the click as it takes his sunglasses... these sounds are unnaturally high in the mix and almost ahead of the movement, to trick us, the viewers, into thinking the Terminator is moving faster than Arnie really can. It's the little details, you see ... and kudos to the unsung heroes of sound design.

And here's the full version of Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood and the Destroyers - not my usual cup of tea, really, and it goes on way too long, but I have a soft spot for it (in small doses) because I associate it with T2.

Monday, 20 December 2021

Monday long song: Perfume/All On You

Heard this on 6Music last week (thanks Lauren), for the first time in an age. It still sounds good, with a lovely guitar motif, and nicely joins the dots between the music that was being made in Manchester in the 80s with a lot of what would come from there in the 90s. And by a YouTuber's generous fadeout edit, this Paris Angels track just about qualifies as a long song.

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Sunday shorts: Breaking Glass

No, nothing to do with Hazel O'Connor, here's some Bowie for you. Sample lyric: "Don't look at the carpet - I drew something awful on it."

Saturday, 18 December 2021

Time-Capsule TV IV - Film 98

I was looking for something else, of course, but YouTube algorithms seemingly know me better than I know myself, and threw this up instead. And it's terrific, so I had to share it here.

I really miss an intelligent, discussion-led film review programme like this. The programme carried on, successfully, after Barry Norman, with Jonathan Ross in the chair. When he moved on, the format was tinkered with, Claudia Winkleman hosted and, through no fault of hers, the whole thing went south. But there could still be a place for a show like this, I think, perhaps on BBC4. I think Andrew Collins would be the perfect host.

Friday, 17 December 2021

Happy birthday, mate

In the aftermath of Martin Rossiter's farewell gig last month, as we made our way back to the anonymous hotel in which we were to crash for the night, The Man Of Cheese and I enthused about the brilliance and depth of the setlist. The only song missing, TMOC suggested, was The Looker, from the third Gene album, Revelations.

To make up for that, here it is, the slightly rougher, rockier Peel Session version. Happy birthday, mate.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

About Christmas songs

New Amusements Towers echoes to the sound of Christmas carols pretty much all year round, because NA Minor loves to sing them regardless of the month, a habit he has picked up, by some magical osmosis, from my mum. I love it, because he has a great singing voice and, dad-cliché alert, it warms my heart to listen. He's quite fond of a lyric change too, which gives us all a laugh - 'Tis the season to be jolly, smashed on the head with a rolled-up brolly, and so on. I guess you have to be there.

I join in sometimes, of course, but am naturally less enamoured of carols, so sometimes try to steer the singing in other seasonal directions; there are only so many fa-la-la-la-la's a man can take, after all. And that's how I came to be singing this at the weekend, for the first time in many a year and to blank faces from the rest of Team NA.

It's not their finest work, and was just a B-side (to Think For A Minute), but I loved The Housemartins and always liked I Smell Winter. So here you are.

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Contacts

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 one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Contacts by Mark Watson

18/21: Contacts by Mark Watson

The blurb: At five to midnight in Euston station, James Chiltern sends one text to all 158 people in his contacts. A message saying goodbye.

Five minutes later, with two pork pies and a packet of chocolate digestives in his pocket, he disappears.

Across the world, 158 phones light up. Phones belonging to James’s friends, his family, people he’s lost touch with. All of them now wondering, where has James gone? What happened to him? And more importantly, can they find him before it’s too late?

Funny and wise, tender and deeply moving, Contacts is a beautiful story about the weight of loneliness, the importance of kindness – and how it’s never too late to reach out.

The review: First of all, I should probably say that I don't know why I set myself these reading goals because, despite their simplicity (so many books in a year), I seem to fail them every time (I only managed seventeen in '19 and a frankly pathetic eleven in '20). Still, here we are, with my eighteenth book of 2021. So, what did I make of it?

Well, on the face of it Contacts is a tough sell - it is, after all, a novel whose chief protagonist wants to kill himself. Speaking as someone who also wrote a novel about someone who wants to kill himself, I know just how tough a sell that is. And, you might think, a grim read. But it isn't, because this is also a novel about human connection and, more specifically, how the oft-maligned hyper-connectivity afforded to us by technology can actually have a positive effect. Oh, and Mark Watson being Mark Watson, there are some funny moments too, he can't help himself. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are plenty of wry smiles to be had, and that's probably no bad thing when your leading character is off on a journey to take his own life.

The blurb seems to suggest that there might be 158 minor characters all reacting to our hero James's last message but don't worry, there aren't - that would be a nightmare to follow. No, the supporting cast of characters trying to save James are his ex, his former best friend, his sister, his flatmate and his mum. It's through their relationships with James that we get his back-story, and come to see how he has come to this point: specifically, on a sleeper train to Edinburgh, where he plans to jump off the bridge that he'd once scattered his dad's ashes from. And whilst these characters provide the context, and avoid having to fill the story in purely from James's flashbacks, they are also the source of my one bug-bear with this novel: whilst not quite stereotypes, they are certainly headed in that direction: the mum who doesn't "get" technology; the over-achieving sibling; the mate you'd crawl over broken glass for, despite his flaws; the partner that left you for someone else but wonders whether they made the right choice... Even the minor characters, like the mum's bumbling but well-meaning new partner and the flatmate's colleague who just wants to get her into bed - they just seem a bit cookie-cutter too. And that's a shame because, for me, this detracted slightly from what is otherwise a very satisfying read.

But only very slightly, because Watson is a talented writer whose prose style keeps the pages turning, to the extent that I am currently very tired because I couldn't put Contacts down, even when crying out for sleep. That has to be a good sign, right? And okay, so the ending seemed a little rushed and didn't have much to do with the supporting cast I'd just spent 350 pages getting to know, but maybe that's a good thing - no spoilers, but I didn't see the ending coming, and that's probably another good sign, right? I do worry slightly for Mark though, because I think to write effectively, convincingly and this matter-of-factly about being in James's state of mind, you probably need to have been there yourself. I don't want to speculate on or second-guess the author's personal life in a review, I just hope he's okay, that's all.

The bottom line: on the face of it, a tough sell, but this is actually an uplifting novel by a talented writer, only slightly let down by some mild stereotyping in the supporting cast.

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

Friday, 10 December 2021

That Was The Year That Was: 2021

SSDY
This is the eleventh time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here are the others), and what a year it has been, one like no other...

...except it's been quite a lot like last year, hasn't it? Almost like those in charge are incapable of learning lessons, seemingly because they think that to do so would imply a fault or failing in the first place, and that couldn't be right, could it, because they're all flawless, after all. Sorry - I just feel very tired of everything, and it may show in this (very brief) recap of the year's highlights. Or, as I very unfairly prefer to think of them this year, shallower depths. Alons-y.

Best album

Hamish Hawk, Heavy Elevator
See, this is a great example of why I probably shouldn't bother with this kind of recap - I buy so little new material. I have become what I once ridiculed: an old man stuck in a parochial rut. So I could talk about new albums this year from Paul Weller, The Wedding Present and Billy Bragg (Fat Pop, Locked Down and Stripped Back, and The Million Things That Never Happened respectively), all of which I bought and all of which are excellent (especially TWP's) but they are just other old men that I've grown up listening to and now buy out of habit. So for something new, I am pleased to report that I also bought Heavy Elevator by Hamish Hawk, and you should too because it's excellent. Imagine a hybrid of Neil Hannon, Jarvis Cocker and Morrissey, but box-fresh for the third decade of the 21st Century. Highly recommended and my album of the year.

Best song

Someone check my temperature because I must be unwell - I want to acknowledge that Bad Habits by Ed Sheeran is a fine song of its type. But you'll be relieved to know that isn't my song of the year. Nor is Mid-Century Modern by Billy Bragg, depsite it being perfect, in many ways, for 2021. And much as I have enjoyed Real Thing by Bleach Lab and Sand Fight by Folly Group, I want to suggest you give repeated listens to Let's Stick Around by Riton Presents Gucci Soundsystem featuring Jarvis Cocker - the latter's spoken word delivery and a driving, end-of-days beat is as good as you might imagine, and my song of the year (even if I'll probably be sick of it by March '22)...

Best gig

Martin Rossiter, I Must Be Jesus
I've had a flurry of gigs recently, as many of the dates that were cancelled in 2020 all seemed to be rescheduled for November of this year. The Wedding Present, touring for the 30th anniversary of Seamonsters, were brilliant in one of my favourite venues, but the gig of the year, and a new entry in the top five (three? one?) gigs of my life was the farewell live performance by Martin Rossiter, at The Forum, Kentish Town. Drawing on his Gene back catalogue as well as his more recent solo offerings, and featuring a cracking band of youths (instead of, annoyingly but not surprisingly, reassembling Gene), this was as good as I hoped. Better actually. With no support, he played for about two and a half hours, and it flew by. The only tinge of regret for me is that this was it, he's done - there will be nothing more from Martin. What a colossal shame that is ... but what an amazing way to go out.

Best book

I've read a fair few books this year, but not many of them are new for 2021. So, I should probably focus on the most recent publications of those I have read: I can recommend Two Tribes by Chris Beckett if you want a thought-provoking examination of the now, through the imagined lens of history, Billy Summers by Stephen King if it's a suspenseful thriller you're after, and Airhead by Emily Maitlis if current affairs are your thing. But I think that Jews Don't Count by David Baddiel is my book of the year, a brilliantly argued, thought-provoking and compelling takedown of the ism-schism that still persists, meaning that anti-Semitism is somehow regarded differently to other forms of prejudice. It's a quick read but lingers long in the mind - go and get it.

Best film

Once again, I haven't really been to the cinema much this year, so No Time To Die wins almost by default, and that's a shame because it deserves to win from a crowded field: it's terrific. It's Daniel Craig's swansong in the role and he's excellent, but then so are the returning "regulars": Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris (swoon) as Moneypenny and Jeffrey Wright as Felix Leiter. Talking of swooning, Ana de Armas steals every scene she is in as Paloma. In fact, the only slight letdown in Rami Malek as bad guy Lyutsifer Safin, not through any fault of his, it's just that the character is somewhat underdeveloped. But other than that, this is a terrfic film, satisfying on many levels and maintaining a pace that sees its 163 minute running time whizz by. For my money, this would be a great and fitting way to bring the Bond franchise to a close, for good; that almost certainly won't happen, it's far too lucrative, but the film is that good - I can't imagine anyone who went to see it coming out without "wow" writ large upon their face.

Best television

The Beatles, Get Back
There's been nothing on TV this year that has given me as much simple joy as Ghosts, the BBC adult comedy from the original minds behind Horrible Histories - it's terrific, stuffed full of memorable characters and quotable dialogue, and something you could watch equally happily with your kids and grandparents. Then there was the sixth series of Line of Duty which, even if you were unhappy with the big "H" reveal, still delivered. But the television event of the year (decade? century?) has to the Peter Jackson's docu-series Get Back, taking us through The Beatles' recording of songs for Let It Be and the now famous rooftop concert that marked their last public band performance. It's astonishing, firstly for its restoration (it looks and sounds like it was filmed yesterday), but also for its behind-the-curtain vibe, achieving a level of intimacy that a modern, media-savvy band would probably not allow. It's a staggering piece of work and, as I have said previously, fully deserves the investment of eight hours to watch it all and eight pounds to subscribe to Disney+ for a month. Stunning.

Best sport

Emma Raducanu at the US Open
I enjoyed watching the deferred Olympics, of course. The women's team pursuit cycling silver medal was a highlight, as was Britain's gold in the triathlon mixed relay (a truly brilliant spectacle that was non-stop rivetting for 84 minutes). I'd love to say Norwich City's dominance in winning the Championhip was a highlight, were it not followed by an inability to step that up at Premiership level. But this is all academic, for there has been one very clear sporting highlight, an achievement as high as it was unexpected... step forward, Emma Raducanu. As if reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon as a teenage wildcard wasn't enough, she only went and won the US Open, aged 18, as an unseeded qualifier. To put that in context, she became the first singles qualifier in the Open era to win any Grand Slam title: a staggering achievement, however you dice and slice it. And all whilst seemingly being very grounded and personable - bravo!

Person of the year

Greta Thunberg
I'll be honest, Emma was in with a shout here too, as were fledgling national treasures Liz Bonnin, Chris Packham, Professor Alice Roberts and fully-fledged national treasure Sir David Attenborough. I was tempted to go with Joe Biden too because, let's not forget, 2021 began with Trump supporters storming the Capitol, incredible as that may seem with the benefit of eleven months hindsight. But no - the nod this year goes to Greta Thunberg, standing up to The Man's attempt to marginalise her from COP26 and the surrounding debate. The status quo doesn't like her because they can't put her in their pocket, can't buy her or silence her... and yet she, more than anyone else, can mobilise the youth, tomorrow's voters, tomorrow's consumers, and maybe, just maybe, do something to limit the damage being done to this small blue dot we call home. That she does all this whilst being subjected to media scorn, horrendous onlne abuse and trolling makes it all the remarkable.

Tool of the year

As ever, it's a crowded field, and it's primarily Tory politicians doing the crowding. Empathy vacuum Priti Patel, for repeating failing to understand that migrants are people, first and foremost; reality vacuum Jacob Rees-Mogg, for embodying a level of privilege so divorced from reality and either not knowing or not caring; rules agnostic Owen Paterson, for excessively feathering his own nest and not even having the good grace to fess up when busted; loyal to his mates Matt Hancock, for dishing out multi-million poind contracts to his friends' companies without scrutiny, even when those companies weren't qualified; and Geoffrey Cox, for ripping the piss out of the nation for years and thinking that was just fine. But of course the tool of the year/decade/century, retaining his title from last year is Boris Johnson - let's recap a few of the reasons why. Calamitous, playground politics with Macron over fishing and refugees; not wearing a mask on a hospital visit; "forgive me, forgive me"; apparently not knowing what parties were happening at his own gaff last Christmas; confusing Glasgow and Edinburgh at COP26; hiding the UK's natural gas dependence under a smokescreen of Chinese and Indian coal dependence; I could go on an on. Any one of these things is bad in isolation, but this isn't even an exhaustive list, it barely scratches the surface! In days gone by, the levels of incompetence he has repeatedly displayed would have done for him, and as for deliberately misleading the House (a delicate euphemism for "purposefully lying to Parliament"), that would definitely be a resigning matter. Yet still he is here, the living embodiment of unjustified entitlement and brass neck, casually banging out more kids, frittering public money away, trashing our global reputation, mismanaging COVID, and all the while, you suspect, doing very nicely thank you very much, for himself and his equally entitled mates. And yet he's still ahead in the polls and confidence in politicians is allegedly up... what will he have to do to finally come unstuck, you wonder, sleep through the Queen's funeral? Jesus H Christ.

That's it for another year. Sorry if I got a bit ranty towards the end there but, really, what did you expect? All that really remains is for me to say, 2021 ... how was it for you?

Blue Friday: The Certainty Of Chance

The Divine Comedy's Fin de Siècle is a 90s masterpiece, largely forgotten now but very worthy of revisiting. It includes the hit Generation Sex ("There's nothing wrong with a woman having two men...") and, better still, National Express, possibly the greatest feelgood sing-along song ever to be written, by anyone, ever (great video too). But neither of those fit the Blue Friday brief.

Instead, here's the divine majesty of The Certainty Of Chance. Turn this up really loud.

Tuesday, 7 December 2021

How it Got Back

I wrote recently about the amazing Peter Jackon-helmed Beatles doc Get Back. As a coda to that post, here's a tiny little video that describes how the sound and vision was remastered and restored; why, in other words, it looks like it was shot yesterday, rather than 50+ years ago...

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Sunday shorts: But I'm Different Now

I was supposed to have seen Paul Weller live this weekend, but the gig was cancelled at the last minute because of a positive COVID test result within the band. Understandable but gutting, nevertheless. He wouldn't have played this, but hey - turn it up for 109 whole seconds!

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Twenty-one in '21: The Shrinking Man

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 one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

17/21: The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

The blurb: While on a boating holiday, Scott Carey is exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray. A few weeks later, following a series of medical examinations, he can no longer deny the extraordinary truth. Not only is he losing weight, he is also shorter than he was. Scott Carey has begun to shrink.

Richard Matheson's novel follows through its premise with remorseless logic, with Carey first attempting to continue some kind of normal life and later having left human contact behind, having to survive in a world where insects and spiders are giant adversaries. And even that is only a stage on his journey into the unknown.

The review: I don't remember much about the '50s screen adaptation of this, the screenplay for which was also written by Matheson, other than that it scared the proverbial out of my big sister. When she went to bed and then found a spider in her room, she had to call me to come and deal with it... and if you've seen the film, or read this, the source material, you'll know why.

Matheson is perhaps better remembered as the author of the brilliant I Am Legend. In a long and accomplished CV, he also wrote Duel, on which Steven Spielberg's breakthrough TV movie was based. But enough of the back catalogue, what about The Shrinking Man?

Well, our protagonist's story is told in alternate takes, part consecutive storytelling in the last week of his shrinking, part flashback to various points in the process. The tale is satisfyingly bookended with the spider that shares Scott's domain (a cellar), and the mechanics of staying alive when you measure your height in fractions of an inch are vividly brought to life. However, it's the flashbacks that are most interesting, as we bear witness to his erosion, not just in physical stature but as a man; gradually, his wife becomes less interested in him; passers-by mistake him for a child; eventually furniture becomes too big for him. All the while, as he physically shrinks, his psyche, his thought processes, his wants and desires, all remain those of a fully-grown adult male. Matheson illustrates this neatly and, at times, uncomfortably - we feel the disjoint that Scott feels and, as his relationship with his wife also shrinks to nothing, we feel that too. It's this aspect of the book that is most brilliantly realised - you really feel the pain of shrinking away, becoming smaller, being less of a man, becoming gradually irrelevant to his wife. So striking is this that I felt the need to research (okay, hit Wikipedia about) Matheson's life to see if his marriage broke down when he wrote this, but that would seem not to be the case - he married his wife in 1952, after which they had four children... and this was written in 1956. So maybe I'm reading too much into this; maybe Matheson was just a very good writer.

Actually, there's no "maybe" or "just" about it - he was a great writer. Okay, so perhaps some of the book that isn't in flashback becomes a bit hard-boiled in places, but the power of the flashbacks more than compensates; indeed, they generated quite an emotional reaction in me that I wasn't expecting. Prior to this I'd only read I Am Legend but this has left me wanting to read more of Matheson - no wonder Stephen King called him "the author who influenced me most as a writer." Oh, and there's a neat double ending too, one pessimistic, one optimistic... clever stuff.

The bottom line: effective and emotional slice of SF that deftly balances the mechanics of a fantastic story with an insight into the fragility of the male psyche

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

Friday, 3 December 2021

Blue Friday: Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime

Beck made an excellent fist of covering The Korgis, improving on the original in my view.

Also, in the unlikely event that you need reminding, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a rather good film.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Humbug

Your regular Christmas reminder that I used to make bespoke music-based advent calendars for the blog, featuring lesser-heard festive tunes rather than the guff that pours forth from the radio at this time of year. I can't be bothered to do it any more - it's a lot of work for no reward - but the calendars from previous Christmases are all still here for your listening/viewing pleasure, in case you're feeling jollier than I which, let's face it, is quite likely. Knock yourselves out...

Advent 2015   •   Advent 2016   •   Advent 2017

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Let them know

I was mulling over a post on the inevitability of death recently, prompted by the sudden passing of one of the blokes I play five-a-side with every week. Like most of the blokes that play, I only knew him through the footy, and can't claim to have been a friend beyond that casual, passing acquaintance of coming together in a disparate bunch once a week to kick a ball around. But regardless, one week he was kicking that ball, and getting cross at his team-mates for not tackling back, the next he had dropped down dead from a heart attack at the age of 54, leaving two grown-up kids behind. It rocked me a bit, and I spent some time mulling over the certainty of death, the sudden end of a whole life. I drafted a post but I couldn't make it work - everything I wrote seemed crass, facile or clichéd, perhaps because, as I have written before, I have never really had to face the death of someone I'm really close to, not yet. For whatever reason, the post got discarded.

Many of will know Swiss Adam from his always-excellent blog, Bagging Area. I've just read that Adam's son, Isaac, died yesterday, following COVID complications. Isaac had just turned 23, a week earlier, and had already battled through more in his life than anyone should have to. Now I don't know Adam, have never met him, yet feel that I do after years of reading his blog. As a father of a son myself, my heart breaks for Adam and his family. We can only send all best wishes, inadequate though they are.

Life is short. As the Flaming Lips are saying here, let your loved ones know that they are loved, not just in words but in deeds.

Rest in peace, Isaac.

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

If I ruled the world, et cetera...

Last night, for reasons I won't go into, I went to bed musing on how annoying I find the modern act of people applauding themselves. God, it bugs me. Why do they do it? And when did it start? It certainly wasn't like that in the 70s and 80s, was it? Nor the early 90s, unless I'm misremembering? But how, when and (most of all) why did that start being a thing?

I was still thinking about it when I woke up, but more in the context of this question: if you ruled the world, what trivial, inconsequential aspect of modern life would you do away with? I'm not talking about the big stuff, like Trident or MPs lobbying for their second employers or Brexit or punitive social care reform, or anything like that. No, the trivial stuff that would make no material difference to life, other than to make it better for you. For me, people applauding themselves would have to stop ... and okay, full disclosure, this was triggered by catching a bit of the late-night re-run of Graham Norton's chat show last night. All the guests were at it, so much so that I wondered if they are told to do it by the floor manager, to get the crowd and viewers into a happy-clappy mood. Whatever, it gets my goat, and seems vainglorious. Having said that maybe it is very much in keeping with the "look at me, me, me" age in which we live. Urgh.

Anyway... what trivial aspect of our rubbish modern life winds you up, whilst simultaneously not really mattering one iota? Answers on a postcard to the usual address, i.e. the comments.

Of course, all of this "if I ruled the world" nonsense is really just an excuse to post an excellent live rendition of We Could Be Kings by Gene, from an indecent number of years ago.

Friday, 26 November 2021

Worth getting (back) into bed with the House of Mouse for

I've only seen part one of Peter Jackson's Beatles doc Get Back, but even that is enough for me to be able to tell you, it's astonishing.

The premise? In January 1969, The Beatles holed up in a film studio in Twickenham for two weeks to write and record a new album, whilst a film crew captured the entire process. Amazing, and not least because, despite the obvious time pressure, they only worked Monday to Friday - clearly work-life balance was important to them. They started with no songs, gave themselves a fortnight and, on top of that, they planned their first live show for more than two years for the end of the session.

Of course, the wheels came off at times. Much was made of how the original film Let It Be portrayed a dissolving Beatles, full of mutual resentment and animosity, and that's no surprise really - they'd lived, under extreme pressure, in each other's pockets for the best part of a decade, but were no longer four lads putting in a shift on the Reeperbahn, they were the four biggest stars in the world, with wives and lives and interests of their own. You'd be worried if there weren't some tensions, wouldn't you? All of this culminates in a brilliant cliffhanger at the end of part one, when George quits the band; "See you round the clubs," he says, and walks out. The remaining members respond initially by trying to joke it off (John talks of how they will split George's guitars) and how they might continue (John, again, says "We'll get Clapton") but, as the remaining band members and their crew discuss options for the proposed live show, it takes producer George Martin to point out that the show is the least of their problems at the moment, i.e. without George. There's a poignant shot of the page from George's diary that reads something like "Got up. Went to Twickenham, rehearsed until lunchtime - left The Beatles - went home." And there's an even more poignant shot of the three remaining Beatles having a brief group hug at the end of that Friday, as the enormity of how things are derailing hits them - all the more poignant, in fact, because it's not an over-the-top, mindful-of-who's-watching, 21st Century showbiz hug, but a gentle, slow, clustering together. Anyway... the episode concludes with a still of Ringo's house, and a caption telling us that the four, plus Yoko and Linda, met there the following weekend, and that the meeting "did not go well".

Well, spoiler alert, obviously George returned to the fold and things proceeded. But even though I know the basics of what happened next, I can't wait for part two to see how the atmosphere was the next Monday morning in the studio...

It's too much to write a long review pulling out everything that was interesting - as I say, I've only watched (all 157 minutes of) part one thus far, and even that needs describing in minute detail to do it all justice. So instead, I'll just bulletpoint some general observations, in no particular, thus:

  • Even though Paul and John are writing songs separately by this point, they are still very much a team, bouncing ideas of each other. Even George Martin refers to them as "our team"...
  • ...so it's no surprise that George finds it hard to get his songs heard. He demos All Things Must Pass and I Me Mine to his bandmates, and they are ... whelmed, at best.
  • This seems to lead into a repeated theme of George's that he is undervalued. At one point, he says to others, "You need Eric Clapton," to which John replies, quick as a flash, "You need George Harrison."
  • At the start of the process, the band seem almost surprised at the film crew, and are visibly shocked to learn that their conversations are being recorded. A 2021 band would be shocked if they weren't, wouldn't they?
  • John was last to arrive most days, and had Yoko in tow most (but not all) of the time too. One Monday morning, Ringo is last to arrive, and looks a little the worse for wear, like he has had a heavy weekend. We've all been there, right?
  • Linda pops up one day, camera in hand, snapping the band. The film crew capture her and Yoko having a right old chinwag - I'm wondering whether any lip-readers have decoded their conversation yet?
  • Ringo says very little, but just gets his head down and does what the others ask of him.
  • Everyone smokes ... a lot. And whilst there was alcohol on the set, it was limited to the odd glass of wine and a couple of bottled beers. The most visible drink, by far, is cups of tea.
  • Paul seems most focused, most driven, and to have more of an idea of what the band should be aiming for in their limited time. Although a positive, this is also a cause of some of the tension, as others (notably George), don't necessarily have the same vision... but don't really have viable alternatives to put forward either.
  • There's one scene when, seemingly for fun, Yoko gets behind the mic for a song apparently entitled John. That's when you want to put the kettle on, if I'm honest.
  • The band just sit in a tight circle, on wooden chairs, face to face, and create... and it's astonishing. You get to watch as Paul conjures first the riff, then some fledgling words, for Get Back out of the ether. Then he and George bounce it around. Later, we see Paul, George and Ringo working through a more developed version of the song. John arrives from somewhere, picks up his guitar and seamlessly joins in. Here's a band who are still tight, even though they haven't played live together for the longest time - they are still in-tune with each other musically, even if mentally they are starting to go their separate ways.

I could go on and on and on, I really could. I'm not a Beatles obsessive, far from it, but I'm finding this absolutely compelling. And the digital restoration, well - it looks like it could have been filmed yesterday. We have never seen The Beatles like this.

I took out a one month subscription of Disney+ to be able to watch this, and you should too because it really is that good. Yes, it'll cost you eight quid, but that's cheaper than a cinema ticket, right? Just don't forget to cancel again in a month's time, okay? In the meantime, to whet your appetite further, here's the trailer and an extra little clip.

P.S. Don't forget, you can get your "Bassman" t-shirt, inspired by the sticker on Paul's bass throughout Get Back, right here.

Blue Friday: Are The Children Happy?

I wrote a lot about Cathal Smyth's debut solo album when it came out, back in 2015. I made it my album of the year, in fact.

I don't think he's done too much since. In 2017, he announced that he'd had surgery for a brain tumour, followed by radiotherapy. I guess that would give anyone enough to keep them occupied. More recently, he was involved in his former band's autobiographical project Before We Was We.

But this is Blue Friday, so let's revisit that solo album and what, for me, was the highlight, Are The Children Happy? a song that is both beautiful and yet utterly devastating.

Probably also time to remember when I posted my review of his album on Amazon, and he replied. Day made, etc...

Sunday, 21 November 2021

Live weekend, part II: renewing an old acquaintance

Another scheduled post, written on Friday night, as I expect to be tired, hoarse and possibly a little hungover this morning (this was why).

Tonight, for part II of the live weekend, The Man of Cheese and I will be renewing a live performance relationship that goes back more than 30 years, as we take in C's favourites (I'll persuade you eventually) and the band I have seen live more times than any other: The Wedding Present. They're touring to celebrate 30 years of Seamonsters and, excitingly, bass player Melanie's solo side project Such Small Hands is the support act. Again, I cannot wait; the pre-Christmas Gedge gig had become something of a ritual for us, that it's nice to be able to resume after having to take last year off.

It's a small venue, so I fully expect to have lost a bit more hearing by this time tomorrow. What's a bit of tinnitus between friends? (Pardon?) Anyway, here's side one, track one from Seamonsters:

And here's Such Small Hands covering Adele because, why not?!

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Live weekend, part I: farewell to the Rozzer

This is a scheduled post that I wrote last night, chiefly because, all things being equal, I'm going to be really busy this weekend.

First up, I shall be joining up with The Man of Cheese, whereupon we'll make our way to the Forum in Kentish Town to see the farewell performance by Martin Rossiter. He promises a long set - no support, just him all evening - covering his time in Gene as well as his more recent solo material. It' a gig that was supposed to happen last year, and has been postponed, deferred and rearranged so many times. I originally wrote about it back in August 2019.

So you can understand when I say I am looking forward to this, it's an understatement. But as well as excited, it also makes me sad, for two reasons: firstly, it's his last ever gig; and secondly, even for this swansong, he wouldn't go back on his word and get Gene together one last time. Oh well - it will still be fantastic. Here are some songs, starting with a video for which Martin sat in a walk-in freezer... talk about suffering for your art!

And some Gene - simply the best, and a song I fully expect the close the show.

Friday, 19 November 2021

Blue Friday: Heart And Soul

Time to remedy the fact that in sixteen and a half years of occasionally intermittent blogging I somehow haven't featured anything by Joy Divsion.

What I'm not going to do is write about the tragedy of Ian Curtis, as I can't add anything that hasn't been written better elsewhere, by others more informed than I. What I will say is that this is a perfect Blue Friday tune: Barney's repetitive two-chord guitar line becomes oppressive, whilst Stephen's skittering drum beat is unsettling. Throw in a shed-load of reverb and lyrics like this, from the third verse, and you're there.

Existence, well, what does it matter?
I exist on the best terms I can
The past is now part of my future
The present is well out of hand

Think I need "I exist on the best terms I can" on a t-shirt. Anyway, from 1980's Closer, here's Heart And Soul.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Art for (sleeve) art's sake

I had an email today promoting the release of Knebworth 1996, a double CD of Oasis's era-defining live show of 25 years ago. I'm not bothered about it, and I won't be buying it, but have a look at the sleeve art:

Oasis, Knebworth 1996

It's proper crap, isn't it?

By all means tell me if I'm wrong but it looks like something a home-taper would knock up for their recording of the gig off the radio, and run off on their 90s inkjet printer. Or maybe, if you're feeling generous, a bootleg. To me, it just screams how little effort was put into this, all concerned being safe in the knowledge that it will sell well enough anyway.

I knocked up an alternative in ten short minutes, and that included searching for the images. But this feels more in keeping, doesn't it? And meets whatever design brief was presumably given stating that the cover must show Liam but not Noel:

I'm not wild about the title in black with a white drop-shadow, but wanted to keep to the monochrome palette of the photograph. And at least I used the proper logo.

Anyone else want to have a go? Doesn't matter how poor your design and/or IT skills are, whatever you come up with will almost certainly be better than the official sleeve art...

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Imitation, the sincerest form...

Earlier in the year, I had a bit of a sort out, and cleared out quite a few things I had been holding on to for a long time, usually for reasons lost in time (example finds here and here).

Here's another postcard that was loitering in my stationery drawer:

Bridge in the rain; after Hiroshige

It's Bridge in the rain; after Hiroshige by Vincent van Gogh, painted by him in Paris at the tail-end of 1887. You can click the above to enlarge it for a closer view, and you should, because it's wonderful. I bought the postcard from the excellent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, in 2017.

So, about that "after Hiroshige"... well, here's Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake by Utagawa Hiroshige, painted in Japan exactly 30 years earlier, and currently residing in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Sudden Shower over Shin-Ōhashi Bridge and Atake

So although they were thirty years apart and on opposite sides of the world, van Gogh was sufficiently influenced by Hiroshige's work to have a go at his own interpretation. No mean feat in the 19th Century, pre-Internet, pre-television, pre-long-haul-flights. How did it come to his attention, I wondered? Turns out that like many European artists in the closing decades of the 1800s, van Gogh was inspired by the ukiyo-e woodblock prints which began to flood the West after Japan opened its harbours to foreign merchant ships in 1854. "I envy the Japanese for the enormous clarity that pervades their work," Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in 1888. "They draw a figure with a few well-chosen lines as if it were as effortless as buttoning up one's waistcoat."

Of course, you can follow the chain of influence further back. Here's Sea at Satta, Suruga Province painted by Hiroshige in 1858.

Sea at Satta, Suruga Province

And here's The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, in 1831.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

There's nothing new under the sun, is there?

Of all these wonderful paintings, it's van Gogh's dark homage that appeals most to my current state of mind. So here's a rain-themed tune to round things off, from an up-and-coming beat combo who look like they could go far.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Monday long song: I Am European

Because I still haven't gotten over Brexit, here's Gavin Osborn, pitched somewhere between Billy Bragg and Mitch Benn, lamenting our national introspection, inversion and lessening.

I am European too.

Friday, 12 November 2021

Blue Friday: The End Of The World

As the COP26 circus draws to a close, with an agreement to keep making the right noises but not actually do enough to keep temperature rise under 1.5°C, well, this song chooses itself, doesn't it?

The only issue was which version? I considered Skeeter Davis's original, and the Herman's Hermits cover recently re-popularised by the excellent Queen's Gambit. But in the end, Patti Smith's interpretation best suits my mood. It too has seen soundtrack use, in Darren Aronofsky's Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem-powered Mother!

Monday, 8 November 2021

Monday long song: Out Of Control

Remembering that time Barney hooked up with Tom and Ed to craft this dark slice of pre-Millennial dance angst. From 1999's Surrender, here's the full-fat version of Out Of Control.

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Sunday shorts: Vic

I have always rather liked Animals That Swim. I saw them live, back in the mid 90s, though I can't remember exactly when, where or who they were supporting. I remember being struck by vocalist Hank Starrs who also played drums - he had a very minimal (three-piece, from memory) kit set up next to his mic stand and played it, standing up, whilst singing. Okay, so I can't remember who that night's headliners were, but I can picture Hank, clear as a bell.

Anyway, here's a short song from debut album Workshy. Considering the vocals don't start until 53 seconds in, it's remarkable that this little short story takes in waiting for a bus on the Uxbridge Rd, a betting shop customer, Vic Chesnutt and Surfin' USA. Oh, and beer - "you know, that brown beer..."

After a stop-start career, Animals That Swim are still a going concern - here's their Bandcamp.

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Airhead

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 one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

Airhead by Emily Maitlis

16/21: Airhead by Emily Maitlis

The blurb: The news has never been more prominent - but are we getting the full story? Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis gives us a behind-the-scenes look at some of the biggest news stories and interviews of recent years.

In this no holds barred account of life in the seconds before, during and after going on air, Newsnight presenter, leading journalist, and queen of the side eye Emily Maitlis gives us the insider info on what we don't get to see on-screen.

Giving us the inside scoop on her interviews with everyone from Emma Thompson to Russell Brand, and Donald Trump to Tony Blair, as well as covering news stories such as President Clinton's affairs, Boris Johnson's race to PM, Grenfell, #MeToo, and that interview with Prince Andrew.

Airhead is a brilliant exposé of the moments that never make the news.

The review: you've got to love Emily Maitlis, not only for her ability to skewer interviewees but also for her opening and closing monologues on Newsnight. Yes, she's a journalist, and bound by the need for impartiality that the BBC rightly cherishes, but that doesn't stop her judging the public mood, and making the points that we, the viewers, want making. Here's a Newsnight intro on Dominic Cummings as an example.

Of course, the headline attraction for this book is the stellar cast of interviewees that Maitlis has been able to attract over the years, nearly all of whom are identifiable by surname alone: Clinton, Blair, May, Attenborough, the Dalai Lama, Morgan, Brand, Thompson, Bannon, Spicer, Scaramucci, Ramsey, Comey ... Partridge. That the book opens with Donald Trump and closes with Prince Andrew tells you all you need to know: Maitlis is a big hitter, and deservedly so.

Of course the real interest here is what lies behind the interviews. After all, if you just want to rewatch Maitlis at work, well, that's what YouTube is for (for example, Prince Andrew or post-Grenfell May). Indeed, re-watching these interviews after reading the book is fascinating - it is as if an extra dimension has been added. And that's for two reasons: firstly, Emily has provided context, not just for the interview but to the process her team had gone through to secure it; and secondly, there is extra detail about the interviewee, from Emily's perceptions and moments off camera. Indeed, the Theresa May interview that I just linked to is a case in point: Maitlis had helped at Grenfell in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, and this had naturally given her a strong perspective on what was needed from the prime minister of the day. And yet she writes, "...I must ask questions that I imagine every reporter would ask in my shoes. And it is hard because - in truth - I have sympathy for Theresa May, who is in a wretched position amidst a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. The woman looks shattered, sleepless and distraught. I am in no doubt that she has felt this horror deeply but believed it more important to do than to emote. What else would you expect of a vicar's daughter from Eastbourne? It seems completely understandable. " She continues, "But I learnt a very important lesson that evening: I had to do the interview that the moment required." Compare Emily's sentiment and impressions of May to the "Maybot Malfunction" headlines the Daily Mail ran with after this interview.

And that's what makes this book so fascinating - the extra layers to the story that Maitlis adds, the before, during and after, the context, the extra details. That she brings life to heavy subject matter is testament to a fluid prose style; that she makes her interviewees seem even more interesting can only be attributed to her insights, which are rarely less than incisive. What's interesting about those, of course, is that Emily plays them down, often arriving at them in a kind of "I can't believe I hadn't realised it earlier but..." style. It is disarming, and refreshingly honest.

What this book boils down to, of course, is a glimpse behind the curtain of the modern news machine, and lucky for us the person lifting that curtain is a master of her craft. Luckier still is that she has an engaging, often humourous style that keeps the pages turning nicely. I opened this review by saying, "You've got to love Emily Maitlis" - even if you didn't before you read this book, you will by the end of it.

The bottom line: fascinating, funny and very readable account of Maitlis's "greatest hits" that those with an interest in current affairs will devour, but Newsnight virgins should love too.

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

Friday, 5 November 2021

What do you call today?

Now revel in the comic brilliance of this rap battle between Che Guevara and Guy Fawkes. Yes, I know, it's what you've always wanted.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

More new to NA... The Lanes

I don't know what I like most about this song - the repetitive, jingle-jangle guitar, the lyrics, or something else that I can't put my finger on. But this is the new (debut?) single from The Lanes. A quick peak at their Soundcloud suggests this is rapid progress from their earlier live demo recordings. And what about those lyrics, just how now are they?

Take your time to pass it by
Don’t forget to say goodbye
You’ll regret it over time
When you're missing everything you knew
It’s getting harder to motivate myself
And getting up is still an issue

But there’s a locked up safe
Where I’m feeling good
And no one really cares for any politics
And the nights won’t end
And you say you need me
For once

Hmm, there are a couple of lines there that I can really empathise with. You?

I don't know much else about The Lanes, other than that by applying Holmesian deductive reasoning I'm going to hazard a guess that they met at university, and that they've taken their name from an area of Norwich. Who knows if I'm right? Either way, I quite like this song, even though there's a moment around 2:34 that is crying out for a better producer, in my view. Anyway, see what you think...

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Music Assembly: La Mamma Morta

This might be the last Music Assembly post I do for a while, as my blog stats tell me they're not very popular, and they generate very little discussion in the comments. Not that blogging is a popularity contest (I'd be last if it was) but, you know. Anyway, here goes.

I've mentioned Philadelphia here before, Jonathan Demme's 1993 response to the AIDS crisis. And you all know the story, don't you: when a man with HIV (Tom Hanks, as Andy) is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer (Denzel Washington, as Joe) as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit. It scooped an Oscar for Hanks, and another for Bruce Springsteen's title song.

Anyway, there's a scene two thirds of the way through the film when, after a party, Andy and Joe are prepping for their next day in court. Andy puts on some music and asks Joe, "Do you like opera?" And Joe is me and nearly everyone I hold dear when he hesitantly replies, shaking his head, "I am not that familiar with opera." Whereupon Andy goes on to explain why he loves this piece so much, translating the storyline as he goes and highlighting the musical highpoints ("Oh, that single cello!") Now depending on your view of Hanks, you might think this is a terrific scene in a powerful film, or borderline hammy, or somewhere in-between; either way, you have to admire the lighting with credit, presumably, to cinematographer Tak Fujimoto. I remember thinking, when I first saw it all those years ago, that it was a scene that reinforced the fact that a man with so much to live for was going to die - there would be no happy ending, of course. You might also argue that it's a scene in which straight character Joe is momentarily enraptured by a gay man. But I don't really want to turn this into a film studies class on early 90s cinema. It's the music we're here for. It is, as Andy says, Maria Callas singing an aria from Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano. It's La Mamma Morta, literally The Dead Mother - a song of death and sorrow, and misplaced hope. What makes it for me, though, beyond Callas's voice or the story, are the swooping key changes between 2:26 and 2:56 in this film clip. and again from 3:39 onwards. For here it is, in its cinematic context...

...and in full.

Monday, 1 November 2021

Misplaced COPtimism

Show your stripes

I'd like to feel optimistic about COP26, I really would. People in high places are making the right noises, after all, with Johnson's "one minute to midnight" soundbite and Charles Charlie-Charles calling for a military-style response to the problem. But people in high places always make the right noises, don't they? And most often before doing exactly what they always wanted, rather than what others need.

The trouble, I guess, is that environmental decision-making is a political issue, and what are elections if not a popularity contest? Taking tough decisions on the environment might win some votes, but raising taxes to pay for them or saying "you can't do these things that you like doing any more" is likely to lose more. Cynical of me to suggest, I know, but I do think a lot of politicians, especially those in high office, are primarily concerned with simply keeping themselves and their mates in power. It's why governments can make lots of noise about climate change and their green credentials whilst continuing to grant licenses for the extraction of fossil fuels.

The obvious choice of song for the end-of-world pessism I feel today would be REM, of course. But why be obvious? Here are four lads from Hull who, by their own admission, were "quite good". I doubt they wrote this about climate change, but it seems to fit nicely.

Greenpeace have written a really excellent précis of COP26 for those that want to know more, which concludes with a call to get involved with local protest on Saturday 6th. Worth a read, I think.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Sunday shorts: Her Majesty

The quintessential Sunday short, courtesy of some plucky Scouse band who could go far. So short is this, in fact, that the three studio takes featured here together clock in at a minute and a half...

Friday, 29 October 2021

Blue Friday: Halo

I'm not sure if either Depeche Mode in general or Violator in particular get the respect they deserve these days, perhaps because they had the temerity to be bigger in the US than they were at home. Whatever. I can tell you I played my cassette of Violator to death in the latter half of my undergraduate days. It's a dark, dark album, as far removed from Speak & Spell as you can imagine.

Of Halo, songwriter Martin Gore is quoted as saying, "I'm saying 'let's give in to this' but there's also a real feeling of wrongfulness [...] I suppose my songs do seem to advocate immorality but if you listen there's always a sense of guilt."

In other words, this song may well be blue, but also so dark it's almost black... enjoy!

Thursday, 28 October 2021

Clandestine Classic LXV - Just A Song

The sixty-fifth 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.

Well now, I haven't done one of these since February, and with good reason: how many classics are there, that I rate but you haven't heard of? It gets harder and harder to think of them. But today's song is a corker and, given that it's an album track from 2004, is at risk of being forgotten. It also gives me the chance to lament a band who missed opportunities, made wrong decisions, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, all of that... so here goes.

It all started so promisingly for Worthing-based four-piece The Ordinary Boys. Any band that takes their name from a Morrissey song has to be worth investigating, right, before you even hear any of the tunes. Then the man himself seemed to endorse them, including the B-side to their second single on a NME cover-mounted CD that he curated. And then there was the fact that singer Samuel preferred to be known only by his surname, Preston. Remind you of anyone?

Musically, The Ordinary Boys were very now, back in 2004/5. They fitted nicely in alongside the sudden plethora of guitar bands that made music for girls to dance to - bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Kaiser Chiefs, The Libertines. They, like these other bands, had a nice line in sing-a-long, chant-like choruses that appealed to the boys whilst the girls were dancing. The future looked rosy.

Debut album Over The Counter Culture sold well enough to make the Top 20 and be certified silver. Follow-up Brassbound did even better, no doubt helped by the single Boys Will Be Boys, a 2-Tonesque song that owed much to The Specials and Madness; it even had a toasted verse by Ranking Junior (son of Ranking Roger from The Beat).

And this is where the wheels started to come off for the band. Somewhere between Boys Will Be Boys' first release and re-release, Preston signed up for Celebrity Big Brother. Now I know I am not young or on-trend or anything else, but in doing this all his hard-earned indie credentials, Moz-endorsement and ska influences got washed down the pan. Gone, in one fell swoop. And not only that, whilst locked in the fabled house he only went and fell for fake celebrity Chantelle Houghton... and married her eight months later... and sold the rights to their wedding to OK! magazine... and separated from her ten months after that. Maybe this is what passes for rock'n'roll behaviour in modern Britain but it's not the trajectory I wanted from my indie heroes. And in-between all that, Preston did himself no favours by walking off-set on Never Mind The Buzzcocks after host Simon Amstell read some extracts from Chantelle's autobiography. Meanwhile, the band were going to rack and ruin, with Preston concentrating more on being Preston than being an Ordinary Boy.

All of which is a shame, because they could really do it. Today's clandestine classic is an atypical offering from their debut album, showcasing arch lyrics, serious subject matter, delicate instrumentation, even a bit of crooning. Witness the opening stanzas:

Oh, to get ahead in this world takes a lot of kind words,
And ruthless damning actions,
And I hope I never have to hurt you, though I gladly will do, my friend.

I'll be reading in the kitchen, sipping lazy cups of tea,
I won't be brooding in my bedroom, with the shutters down on me,
And this song is not cathartic because I've done nothing wrong,
It's just a song...

With lyrics like that, you can see why Morrissey liked them. Indeed, I almost revived the Fantasy Cover Versions series to pitch Moz covering this, but I wanted to write more than that series allows.

Musically, I've just realised this song puts me in mind of late-period Gene. No wonder I like it so much.

Anyway, The Ordinary Boys called time in 2008, reformed in 2011 and have been sporadic ever since. Best to remember them like this though, I reckon, rather than dwell on what might have been.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Sunday shorts: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Amazing that so many Queen hallmarks can be squeezed into such a short, ostensibly throwaway song, not least a neat solo from Brian to wrap it all up. Now let's go and laze...

Friday, 22 October 2021

Blue Friday: Into Temptation

Even without the lyrics, this would be a blue song - listen to those chord changes, the way those strings slip into the minor key. It's a beautiful piece of songwriting, achingly so. And then there are the lyrics, telling a tale of seduction, an illicit affair, and guilt on the part of the tempted at his failure to resist. The protagonist goes from not being able to believe his luck to lying in the arms of hell in three short minutes.

What a song.