Monday 26 April 2021

Monday long song: Travels in Nihilon

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire at New Amusements House, and I only had time to grab, say, twenty albums, Black Sea by XTC would be one of them, I think. This is probably the weakest track on it... but it is long, so...

Saturday 24 April 2021

Every home should have one VIII

Prompted by a recent post by Charity Chic, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd omitted Fannies masterpiece Songs From Northern Britain from the EHSHO masterlist. What was I thinking?

Friday 23 April 2021

Blue Friday: Looking For Sparks

I've been wondering for a while how to feature this song. It doesn't quite merit Clandestine Classic status, it's too short for a Monday long song and too long for a Sunday short. Guess it'll have to be a Blue Friday post then...

Thematically, it's in the right ball park, at least. A song about being dumped, and more specifically being at the stage where you'd say or do anything to get the other person to take you back. You know, the raw stage, before you ultimately resign yourself to cultivating a healthy dislike for the person instead. Either that, or you just meet someone new/better... but the raw stage makes for a better song.

I don't know anything about Seafruit. Nor does Wikipedia, although has this somewhat anodyne biog:

After spending four years with a band called the Wild Orchids, Geoff Barradale (vocals) formed Seafruit in 1998 with Alan Smyth (guitars, strings, synth, piano), Joe Newman (synth, organ, bass, flugelhorn, sitar), Stuart Doughty (drums, percussion), and Tom Hogg. Although the Wild Orchids never landed a record deal, Seafruit were able to sign with an independent label, Global Warming Records, within a year of their existence. By February 1999, Seafruit had completed recording its debut album, which wasn't released until more than a year later. Seafruit's first single, "Looking for Sparks," was released in the U.K. in March 1999. The guitar-heavy track marked a stylistic departure for Barradale, who had a fling with chart success as the frontman for the '80s synth-pop outfit Vitamin Z. Seafruit performed at U.K. music festivals and opened for Drugstore and Headswim while releasing singles such as "Hello World" that hinted at the album's melodic guitar rock. However, none of the singles attracted significant radio airplay. Seafruit also filmed a video for "Hello World," but its appearance on the Internet provided it with far more exposure than television did. When Seafruit's self-titled first album was released in October 2000, minimal promotion killed any opportunity of commercial success.

Whatever. I think I got this track from a Q magazine subscriber CD, way back when. It makes me think of Embrace when they were having a good day, at least in the verses if not the chorus. It's quite easy on the ear, and has a pleasant enough video too, although I'm not sure about the whole "playing our invisible instruments" thing for the band - there's a bit where the guitarist is playing a solo on his invisible guitar where it looks like he could be playing with something else instead. But that's enough lowering of the tone - here's the song.

Tuesday 20 April 2021

"I thought I just needed a night's sleep, but it’s more than that."

Apologies in advance for the blog cross-pollination; I won't write about LEJOG here again until it's over, I promise.

I really haven't been writing much on here of late. Posts that have surfaced have been mostly one-liners to accompany an embed of some sort, be it a photograph or a YouTube video. At least the latter has kept some of blog themes ticking over but, really, they're going to attract or even retain readers for long, are they?

So why the (relative) silence?

Well, I've just been ... busy. And running myself into the ground. Yes, I'm still working from home, and that undoubtedly has its perks ... but it also means you're surrounded, non-stop, by all the home/life stuff that you're supposed to be doing. I can't look out of my current "office" window without a continual reminder of the unholy mess the garden is in. I can't get a cup of tea without walking past the room that is permanently in a state of redecoration, or without walking up and down the stairs that mock me with their squeaks, creeks and that one loose board. Every weekend I write myself a list of things I must do in that precious 48 hour window, and every Monday I look back the list and see that only half of it has been ticked off. And all of this is on top of being a father and a partner, two roles that I place far, far above work and the house/garden.

And then, of course, the elephant in the room. In less than twenty weeks, I shall be setting off on my bike to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats, in just nine days. So any and every spare moment I have right now, I should be on a bike, either for real, outside, or virtually, on my turbo trainer. It's continual, and it's draining. I'm at the point of not really seeing how I could be cycling more than I currently am, what with, you know, life being in the way ... and I am still not doing anything like enough to be properly ready for the physical onslaught of 980 miles, of more than 52,500ft of elevation. But short of taking a sabbatical from work, I genuinely don't know how I can do more.

Look, it's all for a good cause. I'm trying to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society, and any sponsorship, big or small, is so very welcome, thank you. So very motivating too, and that's what I need most because, until September, I might not be posting much here of any merit... until September, like Llewyn Davis, I'm just going to be tired...

Thursday 15 April 2021

The Unewsual VIII - when is an iguana not an iguana?

Let's ignore the strange-but-true state of Prince Philip getting his own top-line news category (ahead of the apparently more trivial coronavirus and Brexit), and instead revel in the magnificence of this headline, and the least creative use of stock photography imaginable...

Full story here...

More street art: Lemmings

Saturday 10 April 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Later

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.

4/21: Later by Stephen King

The blurb: Sometimes growing up means facing your demons.

The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.

Later is Stephen King at his finest, a terrifying and touching story of innocence lost and the trials that test our sense of right and wrong. With echoes of King's classic novel It, Later is a powerful, haunting, unforgettable exploration of what it takes to stand up to evil in all the faces it wears.

The review: regular readers of this here blog will know that I am a sucker for pretty much anything by Stephen King. I also happen to think he's having something of a late-career high, with some of the books he's produced in the last decade being as good as anything he wrote in his 80s pomp. Add to the fact that one of King's previous publications for this Hard Case Crime imprint, Joyland, is an absolute favourite, and you could say I was predisposed to like Later. And surprise, surprise, I did, very much.

The thing is, I didn't just want this review to turn into "I'm a King fan, this is great, five stars, go and buy it" - rather, I spent some time thinking about exactly what makes it so very good. Because even a Constant Reader like me can hold his hands up and say that not everything that has churned from King's keyboard has always been so great (you won't see The Dark Half in his greatest hits blurb, or books like From A Buick 8, in which he basically recycled himself whilst, perhaps, battling greater demons). No, there were times in the 90s when I almost let King go - I told myself at the time that I was just outgrowing his books but that was a convenient lie, easier to swallow than the truth that the new books simply weren't as good. But I hung on, as much out of habit as anything else, which makes me all the happier to talk about the quality of his most recent output, this late-career renaissance. There's more to it though, with Later, and it suddenly struck me what at the weekend, as I read the last few chapters whilst churning out the miles on my turbo trainer.

Simply, I think King is most effective when he writes in the first person, as he does here. At the simplest level, he is a master storyteller, and the first person narrative voice lends itself to that more than third (or the occasional second). It's like he's saying, "Let's sit by the fire, you and I, and I'll tell you a tale if you're prepared to listen. It's long, and I might get a little dry, but I've got a mug of something hot right here and, besides, we've got all night..." King's first person prose is so direct, so engaging, it's hard not to get drawn in, and just zip through. In short, in feels more like listening than reading.

So, with a modest spoiler alert, what can I tell you specifically about Later? Well, the "unnatural ability" our narrator Jamie has is that, Sixth Sense klaxon, he sees dead people. So no, despite the imprint this is not a straightforward hard-boiled crime case. But there is crime, oh yes. And bad things happen. Lots of bad things. Most of the time, Jamie is untroubled by his gift, and the dead swiftly move on... somewhere... after dying, so it's not like he's beset at every turn. But eventually his mother's ex-partner, a cop, uses him to extract information from a very bad and recently deceased people, and that's where poor Jamie's life takes a 90-degree turn. I can say no more without compromising the story, but safe to say that whilst this is not a horror story in the conventional sense there is horror here - the horror of people, and the awful things that they do. And really, that's the worst horror of all, isn't it?

Bottom line? Whilst not as good as Joyland, Later is certainly on a par with King's other entry in the Hard Case Crime roster, The Colorado Kid, and continues his late-period sweet spot. The first person narrative is a joy and, unlike some of his more conventional horror stories, here the author resists the urge to overwrite. I raced through this, and could happily digest a sequel too. Wish I could say more, but I don't want to risk further spoilers - I've probably said too much already. What I would say, a review coda if you like, is that the comparison to It in the blurb is misplaced... but don't hold that against it.

The bottom line: totally engaging first-person narrative that completely absorbs the reader into a fantastical plot, from a master of the storytelling art. Recommended.

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

Friday 9 April 2021

Blue Friday: Between The Wars

It doesn't get much better than this; not ashamed to say it brings a tear to my eye.