Friday, 23 September 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Ramble Book

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Ramble Book by Adam Buxton

10/22: Ramble Book by Adam Buxton

The blurb:

The long-awaited, rambling, tender, and very funny memoir from Adam Buxton

Ramble
/ˈramb(ə)l/
Verb

  1. walk for pleasure in the countryside.
    'Dr Buckles and Rosie the dog love rambling in the countryside.'
  2. talk or write at length in a confused or inconsequential way.
    'Adam rambles on about lots of consequential, compelling and personal matters in his tender, insightful, hilarious and totally unconfused memoir, Ramble Book.'
Ramble Book is about parenthood, boarding school trauma, arguing with your partner, bad parties, confrontations on trains, friendship, wanting to fit in, growing up in the 80s, dead dads, teenage sexual anxiety, failed artistic endeavours, being a David Bowie fan; and how everything you read, watch and listen to as a child forms a part of the adult you become. It’s also a book about the joys of going off topic and letting your mind wander.

The review: I've started a lot of past book reviews by saying that I'm predisposed to liking X or Y because I am a long-time fan of the author and have enjoyed their other work. Well, that's not the case here. It's not that I'm not a fan of Buxton, its just that I haven't really consumed much, if anything, of his previous output - not TV, not podcasts, nothing, save for his Cobbler Bob YouTube video. I don't know how I've got to this point in my life without The Adam and Joe Show, for example - thinking back, I think it struck a chord with people just a couple of years younger than me - and I was very slow to embrace podcasts. Anyway, for whatever reason I was not up to speed on Buxton or anything he's done previously. So why did I feel the need to pick up this book?

Well, on the simplest level it was the tagline: "Musings on childhood, friendship, family and 80s pop culture." Buxton would have been two years above me at school, age-wise, and so I figured his musings on all those things might be close enough to mine to make for an interesting read. And I was right.

Sure, there are plenty of differences between Adam's life and mine that might have made his nostalgic ramblings of less interest: he went to public school, and fixated on Bowie and Star Wars, for starters, all different to me. But he captures the essential experience of growing up in the 70s and 80s very well, and of course that's relatable.

What this book's blurb doesn't make enough of, though, is the family aspect of Buxton's rambles. There are very entertaining diversions into the mechanics of his married life, framed as lists of things he and his wife have argued about. That's relatable too, of course, even if, like me, you're not actually married. But the real heart of this book, beyond detailing the author's reaction to each new Bowie album or the relative merits of The Empire Strikes Back, is Adam's complicated relationship with his father. This is gently explored throughout the book, from recollections of an austere, slightly remote figure in the author's childhood who was, unbeknownst to Buxton at the time, crippling himself financially to educate the kids privately, to the subsequent integration of "BaadDad" into Adam and Joe's TV work, right through to his father moving in with Adam's family in his last months, waiting to die. Its all there, sometimes between the lines, but all there. It's the most affecting aspect of the book.

A note on the format - it's not called Ramble Book for nothing. Buxton breaks his narrative flow at the drop of a hat to go off on tangential rambles, preferring these to be in boxes within the main text rather than in footnotes. That might sound potentially annoying but it works, and lends the book a conversational air.

I can't say this has turned me into an Adam Buxton fan - I don't feel the need to suddenly subscribe to everything he does, or scour YouTube to take in his back catalogue - but I did enjoy this book. I think anyone of a broadly similar age would too, as would anyone who has made the transition from child to parent, and whose own parent is now in the child role. That probably sounds a bit deep, a bit serious for what is a fairly light-hearted, entertaining book... but it's true.

The bottom line: nostalgia-fest for readers of a certain vintage, with some pathos peaking out from between the rambles.

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

Friday, 9 September 2022

Blue Friday: Disappointed

So many of my posts this year have just been one or two lines of perfunctory introduction followed by an embedded YouTube video ... much like this one. It's almost like I've run out of words, and in doing so become everything I once railed against. You would have every right to feel disappointed with New Amusements this year - I certainly have been.

Anyway, here's an appropriate song. I know that he is persona non grata around much (most) of the blogosphere these days but oh, when he was good...

All change

I had a different post scheduled for this morning, specifically a Blue Friday entry that built on the last eight days' posts. But the tone of it doesn't suit events at Balmoral, so I've deferred that post for a few hours.

Whether you're a monarchist or a republican or, like me, somewhere in-between, I think we can probably all agree that in an unimaginable role that she neither wanted nor chose, Elizabeth did pretty well. And even in the last year, in grief and frailty, and whilst others were partying, she reminded us all what a true leader looks like.

RIP.

Thursday, 8 September 2022

Beat Surrender

Paul looks lost without a guitar, but happy, no doubt with one eye on the future. Rick and Bruce probably also have their eyes on a different future, which may be why both look miserable as sin. "And as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end..."

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Not new to NA: Gene

I don't have the stats to hand to back this up, but I think the band I have featured most on this blog over the years is this lot of handsome devils (just shading The Jam, The Smiths, The Wedding Present and R.E.M.). And with good cause. Mind you, I say "this lot", but it's not like you see them in this video. Oh well - Gene: they could have been kings, you know. To me, they were.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

About Colin

I'm not sure that Colin Moulding gets the credit he deserves. Sure, XTC bandmate Andy Partridge is the more prolific, and better known, songwriter, but bassist Colin wrote the band's first three charting UK singles, Life Begins at the Hop, Making Plans for Nigel and Generals and Majors. He also wrote this slice of excellence, Dying, from the 1986 album Skylarking.

Monday, 5 September 2022

Monday long song: Moments of Pleasure

Kate had a bit of a resurgence earlier in the year, thanks to Stranger Things. Odd that parts of this video look like they were filmed in the Upside Down.

Sunday, 4 September 2022

Sunday shorts: For Tim Collins

Okay, I know that technically this song is about eight seconds too long to qualify, as it drifts just over the two minute mark. But since this is the song I started the Sunday shorts theme for in the first place I suppose I really ought to feature it - if not now, when? So here's some instrumental Blue Aeroplanes.

Saturday, 3 September 2022

Great moments in music video history #9: Some Better Day

John Simm gets a surprise around the 1:54 mark, and we all get something in our eyes. The subject matter of Some Better Day could make for a depressing song but it becomes borderline uplifting in I Am Kloot's hands.

Friday, 2 September 2022

Blue Friday: Lost Cause

A YouTube commenter nailed it best when they said, "I love Hip-Hop Beck, Electronic Beck, Funk Beck and Rock Beck, but Folk Beck is his ultimate form."

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Great moments in music video history #8: No Distance Left To Run

In which Blur literally sleep through the whole thing.


"It's over, you don't need to tell me..."

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Bonus CarFest post: Foxy Lady

One more picture from CarFest that I forgot to post yesterday:

Film fans of a certain age may recognise this as the Mirth Mobile from Wayne's World, or at least an AMC Pacer of the right vintage, given a paint job. The drivers took this round the track as Wayne and Garth, complete with wigs and hats, blasting Foxy Lady by The Jimi Hendrix Experience from the speaker you can see mounted below the number plate. Obviously Amusements Minor has never seen Wayne's World, so I tried to explain; I may even have performed a low-key re-enactment of Garth's dance, but the boy died of embarrassment, so I stopped. I should have just shown him this:

Two things: one, this track still absolutely burns, 55 years after release. And two, Tia Carrere: schwing!

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

About CarFest

I didn't go to my nearest big festival, Latitude, this year, not even for a day. Nothing on the line-up equated to the expense of a ticket, for me. Instead, the whole Amusements clan decamped to CarFest South instead, and not for a day but for the whole shebang. The Chris Evans-powered festival has grown over the years, and is now a similar size to Latitude, and for the first time was adding prominent book and wellbeing content, billing itself as "seven festivals in one". The obvious preconception for CarFest is that you probably need to have an interest in cars to enjoy it, and watching various exotic, historic and unusual four-wheeled vehicles parade around the track is certainly a focus. But there's a lot more fun to be had, I would say. It also turned out to be the most family-friendly large festival I've ever been to, which might persuade people put off by the petrolhead content. But anyway... in the style of my old Latitude diaries, here's a very brief préis of what we got up to. All photos can be embiggened with a click.

Thursday:

  • The campsite opens a day early to allow people to arrive and pitch at leisure if they wish. We did, and got an excellent pitch for our tent right on the perimeter, close to the car park, far from the noise of the main arena, close enough without being too close to the loos. Perfect, in other words.
  • Drove into nearby Overton for dinner in a pleasant Italian restaurant, then back to the festival site for...
  • Silent Disco : The Big Early. A little stage was set up between the camping area and the entrance to the arenas proper, and a silent disco filled a happy hour. There were three channels of music to choose from, so we donned headsets and got stuck in. Of course this wasn't really a silent disco, since most people were singing along. The headsets had LED lighting, colour-coded to the channel of choice, so you could tell from a cursory glance of the field how popular each channel was by the colour of the listener's headphones. All three channels ended with Bohemian Rhapsody, leading to the biggest and most enjoyable singalong of the lot.

Friday:

  • Show 1 : The Track. Yes, we started with the obvious, it being the CarFest USP. Lots of exotic and historic cars whizzing round a purpose built track. I know this sort of thing isn't for everyone, so I won't include too many pictures, but here are a couple: a lovely Audi Quattro rally car and my personal favourite from the event, a sumptuous Aston Martin DBS.
  • Audi Quattro, CarFest South, 2022 Aston Martin DBS, CarFest South, 2022
  • Esther Rantzen in conversation with Adrian Mills : StarFest stage. Caught the tail-end of this, which seemed to be mostly anecdotes about That's Life, although conversation also turned to Childline and Silverline, and how hard it was to fundraise for charities that focus on the elderly. But we only really went along to be early and ensure a good seat for the next session, which was...
  • Rob Brydon and Philip Glenister in converstaion with Linda Barker : StarFest stage. A slightly odd pairing, and an even odder choice of host (yes, it was that Linda Barker who used to be one of the designers on Changing Rooms) but Rob Brydon can't help but be entertaining, and this was a very enjoyable way to pass three quarters of an hour. Then we headed back to the tent for an early tea, via the Cinch paddock to have a look at some more exotic cars, in good time for our return to the action, specifically...
  • Philip Glenister, Rob Brydon and Linda Barker, CarFest South, 2022
  • James Blunt : Main stage. No, I know. Not my usual cup of tea, but worth a listen, as it turned out. Big CarFest learning - everyone (except us) took folding chairs and, as soon as the gates open, charged to the Main stage, set up their chairs and claimed their patch for the day. In other words, we were sat a long way back. Blunt ran through his hits, we all recognised more than we expected, and even Amusements Minor proclaimed to like one or two.
  • Sophie Ellis-Bextor's Kitchen Disco : Main stage. The breeze picked up a bit during Sophie's set, which played havoc with the sound for those of us sat a long way from the stage. But again, we all recognised more of her back-catalogue than we were expecting, which was nice. Sophie threw in a few covers too, in a nod to the "kitchen disco" she made her own during lockdown, and proved that she can probably do Madonna better than Madonna... Another big CarFest learning - the Main stage actually has two adjacent stages, so there is no waiting around between acts. One act literally follows directly on from the next, which is brilliant. When later asked about this, Chris Evans said the inspiration for this was DJing, and having two decks. Why don't all festivals do this? Anyway, here's a photo of the lovely Sophie E-B.
  • Sophie Ellis-Bextor, CarFest South, 2022
  • Faithless : Main stage. After a bit of a wander, since none of us fancied Tom Walker, it was back to the Main stage for the biggest musical surprise of the whole festival, the surprise being just how much I enjoyed the Faithless set. I was expecting Insomnia and God Is A DJ but I found myself recognising a lot more besides, even if I couldn't name the tracks. I guess I hadn't realised Faithless had been so prolific. Whatever, I found myself enjoying this way more than I had expected. Amazing light show too. Ironically, we headed to bed after set-closer Insomnia... but none of us had any trouble sleeping.

Saturday:

  • Chris Evans : everywhere. Saturday began at 8.30am with Chris Evans leading a convoy of golf buggies around the campsite, horns tooting, Virgin radio blaring, waking everyone up. Whatever you think of the bloke, you've got to admire his energy levels - he was involved in so many aspects of the whole festival, popping up at different stages throughout the weekend, plus introducing all the acts on the Main stage, plus driving some of his own exotic cars around the track, plus, plus, plus...
  • Show 2 : The Track. Started the day with a leisurely breakfast at the tent, before heading to the arenas and then going our separate ways for a bit, Mrs Amusements to the SpaFest stage and Inspiration Hub for some wellbeing sessions, Amusements Minor and I to play crazy golf and then take in another session of dream cars blatting around the track. Particularly impressive was the sight of ex-Formula 1 world champion Jody Scheckter barrelling around the track in a 6.3-litre V8 bi-turbo Mercedes AMG, proving that a fast car is one thing but a fast driver is something else altogether.
  • The Joy Journal for Grown-Ups - Laura Brand in conversation with Russell Brand : StarFest stage. Ostensibly there to talk about her new book, Laura found herself in conversation with ... her husband. Who, inevitably, upstaged her somewhat. There was a huge crowd for this, and we couldn't get very close to see much, but we could hear just fine. Russell, not always everyone's cup of tea, was on fine form.
  • Minnie Driver signing : Waterstone's. Mrs Amusements re-appeared and spirited the boy off somewhere, leaving me free to wander. I found myself in the pop-up on-site Waterstone's, and noticed a sign advertising an imminent appearance by Minnie Driver. I quickly purchased her memoir and got in the queue. What do you say to someone famous at a book signing? Especially someone you've liked for thirty years? Well, I was quite near the front of the queue, so I didn't have long to think. Everyone ahead of me had post-it notes with their name on, stuck to the signing page, but I didn't, so I figured that would be my route in to saying more than just "hello" and "thanks". "Hi," said a fresh-faced and smiley Minnie. "Hello," I managed, proffering my copy of her book, open at the obligatory page. "It's to Martin," I said, "but could you sign it to Martin Blank, in an admittedly quite obvious reference to Grosse Point Blank?" "Aaah," said Minnie, "I see. Then I should probably sign it like this." Whereupon she signed it twice, once as Minnie and then, in brackets, as Debi, her character in GPB. "That's perfect," I said, "thank you." Minnie smiled some more, and that was my meeting with her over (if you can even call that meeting). And in case I didn't love her enough already, she was wearing a Nora Ephron t-shirt. And more was to come.
  • Minnie Driver and Russell Brand in conversation with Chris Evan : StarFest Xtra. Each day, the last StarFest session would be someone in conversation with Chris Evans, not at the StarFest stage but sat on hay-bales in front of the Main stage. This was billed as Minnie Driver but Russell Brand sort of added himself to the bill. I got a great seat for this, and enjoyed nearly an hour of chat - this is what Chris does best, I think. Minnie talked more about her memoir, and Chris even got her to talk about her break-up from Matt Damon, without either of them mentioning the words "Matt" or "Damon". This led to quite an exchange between Russell and Chris, in which the former anticipated a Katy Perry question and pre-emptively replied by bringing up Billie Piper! All of which was made more interesting by the sudden and expected arrival, and addition to the hay-bales, of Russell's wife, Laura. This session was supposed to end at 3.45pm so that Chris could do an interview with Formula 1 driver Lando Norris on the big screen, but a quick audience vote led to that being cancelled and having an extra ten minutes of Minnie and Russell. A real highlight.
  • Chris Evans interviewing Minnie Driver and Russell Brand, CarFest South, 2022
  • Jack Savoretti : Main stage. After a bit of R&R back at the tent, and a bolognese-based dinner poorly cooked by yours truly, we headed back down to the Main stage to take in some of Jack Savoretti. The gravel-throated crooner wasn't really to any of our tastes though, and we listened well enough whilst wandering around the paddock some more, taking in a close-up of some of the cars we'd seen on the track earlier in the day. He's alright, Savoretti, I suppose, but I can't imagine myself ever buying a record of his. Sorry Jack.
  • Judge Jules : Main stage. We needed hot chocolate (or tea, in my case) to get through this. As unexpectedly brilliant as Faithless had been the day before, Judge Jules was, perhaps expectedly (by me, anyway), nothing to write home about. Lots of people seemed to go for their supper during his set. Many families, small kids in tow, just packed up completely. He let off a few fireworks near the end, at least.
  • The Kaiser Chiefs : Main stage. No packing up for us though, the Amusements crew are clearly made of sterner stuff and we made it through to the evening's headliners, though only after I'd played Amusements Minor a couple of tracks on YouTube to maintain his interest. To be honest, the Kaisers were alright, but not much more. Sure, Ricky is an animated and engaging front man but so many of the songs just sound very ... similar. I Predict A Riot and Ruby aside, everything just seemed to merge together. Somewhere, in a field in Hampshire, is a giant tent containing all the chords The Kaiser Chiefs didn't use. Anyway, here's a picture of them in action, taken at the full extent of my old camera's zoom.
The Kaiser Chiefs, CarFest South, 2022

Sunday:

  • The day began in two strands again, as Mrs Amusements took herself off to the Inspiration hub for some more wellbeing sessions whilst the boy and I played crazy golf again (I topped the leaderboard, nine holes in sixteen shots) and did some paintball target-shooting. It's that kind of festival. Then we had a relatively early lunch, because I was very keen to get to...
  • Paula Radcliffe, Steve Cram, Victoria Pendleton and Matty Lee in conversation with Vassos Alexander : StarFest stage. This was very, very popular, drawing one of the largest non-music crowds of the entire festival. And rightly so, considering the sporting achievements of those on-stage. Matty Lee, in case you were wondering, was Tom Daly's dive partner when they won gold at last year's Olympics. Perhaps the recent nature of his acheivement warranted his inclusion with the others, all of whom have been retired for some time. Anyway, as a keen amateur cyclist, I was particularly keen to see and hear Victoria Pendleton, though Crammie was perhaps the most relaxed, natural speaker. Really interesting to hear a difference of opinion from the panel about what sets them, as the elite, apart from us, as amateurs. Nothing, was one view, we could all do if sufficiently motivated. Not so, said Cram, identifying that ultra competitiveness is important, and that you either have that or you don't. I tend to agree. Anyway, my photos of this were spoiled by the couple who, having chosen to sit near the front but behind a family with a push-chair, then stood up throughout. When someone tapped the man on the shoulder and asked him to sit down, he shrugged and said, "Then I wouldn't be able to see," pointing to the pushchair. What a bell-end. So these are the best pictures I managed - sorry Matty.
  • Vassos Alexander interviewing Paula Radcliffe and Steve Cram, CarFest South, 2022 Victoria Pendleton, CarFest South, 2022
  • Rob Brydon and Jimmy Carr in conversation with Chris Evans : StarFest Xtra. Another chat-show performance from Chris on the hay-bales in front of the main stage, this time with Rob Brydon who, with his family, had been at the entire festival, and car-enthusiast Jimmy Carr. This was another very funny and very popular session that, as the previous day's had, ran over time, but nobody was complaining. As you can see from the photograph below, Chris had to drape a hastily-provided sweatshirt over his lap, for fear of exposing himself, as he was wearing quite loose and short running shorts, having taken part in the CarFest fun-run earlier in the day.
  • Chris Evans interviewing Rob Brydon and Jimmy Carr, CarFest South, 2022
  • Natalie Imbruglia : Main stage. The rest of Team Amusements went off to find the F1 simulator, whilst I stayed at the Main stage to watch what turned out, for me, to be the absolute musical highlight of the whole festival. There's a temptation to think that, just because Natalie made her name in Neighbours, that she was just another soap-star who jumped on the Minogue/Donovan bandwagon. But by god, she can really sing! Okay, so some of the new material might be a little too MOR for my taste gernerally, but she has enough of a recognisable back-catalogue for the set to be very entertaining. And as she bounced around the stage in what could be described as an over-emphasised jog as much as a dance, it was easy to cast my mind back to the late 90s and remember that she actually established a bit of street-cred for herself back then, far removed from the SAW-beginnings of her soap-mates. I went into this thinking, okay, it'll be nice to hear Torn live, but came away feeling that Natalie was the highpoint of the weekend's musical offerings. Here she is.
Natalie Imbruglia, CarFest South, 2022 Natalie Imbruglia, CarFest South, 2022

And that's where we left it. We didn't hang around for The Horne Section, or Sunday headliner Paloma Faith, because we were all knackered and I had a long drive to do. What do I think of CarFest, then? Well, I think it still needs to strengthen its programme a little, if it is truly going to bill itself as "seven festivals in one", but it does have something for everyone, plus exotic cars the likes of which you'd never see elsewhere. As I mentioned earlier, it's the most family-friendly festival I've ever been too: I saw no "casualties" of over-indulgence anywhere, there were hardly any herbal aromas floating over the Main stage crowd to explain to the boy, and there were plenty of things we could all see or do together. Even the camping field was pretty quiet from about midnight on. It might not have the strongest music programme but yes, I'd recommend it, and the consensus amongst the family was a solid eight out of ten... which is probably a shade higher than I would have rated my day at Latitude last year. Make of that what you will.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Great moments in music video history #7: Just

I was reminded of this video recently by a post at the always-excellent No Badger Required, which described the video thus (I hope it's okay to quote verbatim):

"You of course will all recall the marvellous video to ‘Just’. A man can be seen lying on the ground in a street (actually shot behind Liverpool Street Station in London town). Slowly a bunch of people start talking to the man who lying on the pavement. Subtitles appear on the screen displaying the conversation that is taking place between the chap on the ground and the people around him. He refuses to tell them why he is lying on the ground. Meanwhile the band watch the proceedings out of a nearby window.

Eventually the man does explain, but cheekily the subtitles vanish at the same time, but what we do know is that all the other people all suddenly lie down on the ground with the original man and we never find out what was said and the band have never revealed it, in a Guardian interview about six years later, a journalist actually asked them and Thom Yorke said that if he told him “We would all have to lie down on the floor” with a smile and so the debate raged on (the real answer is of course that Piers Morgan was just around the corner, giving away free tickets for his telly programme and most people would rather be pretend to be dead that be on that)."
[Source]

I can't describe it any better (or even as well) as that. What's your theory on what makes everyone lie down?

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

More new to NA: The Mountain Goats

Another fortuitous Bandcamp find, this is Training Montage by The Mountain Goats, from their new album Bleed Out:

Listen to the lyrics and it's pretty clear what sort of training montage the band have in mind...

Monday, 22 August 2022

Monday long song: The Return of the Giant Hogweed

I was listening to Radcliffe and Maconie's excellent 6 Music show over the weekend and they played a show ident of some deliciously smooth Radio 4-esque voice (Charlotte Green, maybe) saying, "Radcliffe and Maconie - immune to all your herbicidal batterings." This made me smile, a lot, because it's a reference to this slice of eccentric brilliance from Gabriel-era Genesis.

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Sunday shorts: Pop Art Poem

Technically this is six or seven seconds too long to qualify as a Sunday Short, but sod it, my gaff, my rules.

I remember the first time I heard this so vivdly. It was given away as a bright yellow cover-mounted flexi-disc with the short-lived Flexipop magazine back in February 1981. My brother bought that (I wonder if he still has it?) and played it repeatedly on the big old wood-veneer music centre that sat in one corner of the living room. Me, not yet eleven, was gobsmacked. I taped it, of course (home taping didn't kill music after all), together with the second track (a rough demo of Boy About Town) and in the years that followed I put it on so many mix-tapes, whenever and wherever I had a gap to fill at the end of a side that was too short for a "normal" song. I think I also liked having a rare track to hand, maybe something that my mates hadn't heard.

Of course Pop Art Poem would eventually surface on mop-up collection Extras in April 1992, and then my rarity trump card was gone. To me, though, this still sounds great.

Saturday, 20 August 2022

Great moments in music video history #6: Sun Hits The Sky

When this was released, keyboardist and brother-of-Gaz Rob Coombes hadn't officially joined the band, though he had been recording with them. The first half of the video for Sun Hits The Sky sees Rob travelling across a parched landscape in a Messerschmitt bubble car, hoping to arrive at the desert where the band are playing in time for his keyboard solo. Will he make it, viewers? What tension!

As an aside, I've been re-evaluating my thoughts on Supergrass lately. Back in the day, they didn't quite hit the mark for me... but I'm starting to think I gave them short shrift.

Anyway, here's the video.

Friday, 19 August 2022

Too new to be named

You've probably seen this before, being the articulate, well-read, well-versed consumers of all things pop-cultural that you are. But I'm going to post it anyway, because I love it. This is the first TV appearance anywhere, ever, for R.E.M. on Letterman, all the way back in October 1983.

They run through Radio Free Europe first, then, after a brief interview by Dave in which Peter and Mike do all the answering whilst Michael sits out of shot, they run through a new song, as yet untitled. "Too new to be named," quips Dave. It turns out to be So. Central Rain and is so new that Peter fluffs a chord change about 70 seconds into it.

Anyway, the picture quality isn't great but I love this. The sound has been cleaned up, at least. I think what I like most about the clip though is the interview section in the middle. Peter and Mike seem bright and alert, quick to answer, innocent and keen ... at this stage they have not already been asked every question you can possibly imagine a thousand times over. Oh to be young and excited and looking forwards...

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Twenty-two in '22: I, Partridge

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

I, Partridge by Alan Partridge

9/22: I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan by Alan Partridge

The blurb:

Journalist, presenter, broadcaster, husband, father, vigorous all-rounder: Alan Partridge. Star of action blockbuster Alpha Papa; a man with a fascinating past and an amazing future.

Gregarious and popular, yet Alan’s never happier than when relaxing in his own five-bedroom, south-built house with three acres of land and access to a private stream. But who is this mysterious enigma?

Alan Gordon Partridge is the best – and best-loved – radio presenter in the region. Born into a changing world of rationing, Teddy Boys, apes in space and the launch of ITV, Alan’s broadcasting career began as chief DJ of Radio Smile at St. Luke’s Hospital in Norwich. After replacing Peter Flint as the presenter of Scout About, he entered the top 8 of BBC sports presenters.

But Alan’s big break came with his primetime BBC chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You. Sadly, the show battled against poor scheduling, having been put up against News at Ten, then in its heyday. Due to declining ratings, a single catastrophic hitch (the killing of a guest on air) and the dumbing down of network TV, Alan’s show was cancelled. Not to be dissuaded, he embraced this opportunity to wind up his production company, leave London and fulfil a lifelong ambition to return to his roots in local radio.

Now single, Alan is an intensely private man but he opens up, for the second time, in this candid, entertaining, often deeply emotional – and of course compelling – memoir, written entirely in his own words. (Alan quickly dispelled the idea of using a ghost writer. With a grade B English Language O-Level, he knew he was up to the task.)

He speaks touchingly about his tragic Toblerone addiction, and the painful moment when unsold copies of his first autobiography, Bouncing Back, were pulped like ‘word porridge’. He reveals all about his relationship with his ex-Ukrainian girlfriend, Sonja, with whom he had sex at least twice a day, and the truth about the thick people who make key decisions at the BBC.

A literary tour de force, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan charts the incredible journey of one of our greatest broadcasters.

The review: first things first, this isn't actually written by Alan Partridge, what with him being - spoiler alert - a fictional construct. Rather, this has been penned by long-time Partridge writers Neil and Rob Gibbons, with Armando Iannucci and Steve Coogan. So you're in safe hands.

Next, of course, is the fact that this is a parody of a memoir, in the same way that Partridge himself is a parody of ... well, so many failed media types, and latterly/inadvertently Richard Madeley. The book is basically a comedic pastiche of awful celebrity memoirs, the sort that flood the shelves of Waterstone's and W H Smith in the run-up to Christmas. And the writing is good enough that it works on that level, as you would expect from these authors. But - and it's a reasonably sized but - it only really works if the reader is sufficiently well versed in Alan's backstory.

This is because, as you would imagine, Alan is a terrifically unreliable narrator. There is much humour to be had, then, from Alan's self-serving recollections of events with the version of those same events that you are already familiar with from On The Hour, The Day Today, KMKY, I'm Alan Partridge, and so on. The comedy comes, not from the events themselves, but from Alan's after-the-event reinterpretations that, coincidentally always paint him in a good light ... needless to say, in his version Alan nearly always has the last laugh.

Another fine source of humour is delivered by Alan's repeated attempts to show how little certain past events have upset or stayed with him, only for the subtext to reveal otherwise.

I would say it's all here but it isn't: the events of Alpha Papa are not covered (despite what the blurb suggests), and it's not up-to-date enough to cover This Time either. That said, pretty much everything else that has seen Coogan as Partridge, on radio or TV, gets woven neatly into the story; there's a fine line to be trodden here between touching on past output and rehashing too much, so I'm pleased to report that the authors get the balance pretty much bang on throughout.

Of course, riffing on past output is both the book's greatest strength and biggest weakness. Fans will delight in the details, congratulate themselves on picking up references and laugh again as favourite moments from Alan's past get the memoir treatment. However, if you are not a consumer of all things Partridge, well, you're going to struggle a bit, aren't you? For you, it's just made-up nonsense about a made-up person.

The bottom line: a well-constructed and genuinely funny read for existing Partridge aficionados, but understandably unlikely to win over any new fans.

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

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Rain

Finally, enough rain to top up the water butts, if not to get excited about. Here's an of-its-time (1991) nearly-hit from Rain: Lemonstone Desired.

Next, a song superficially about rain, from contemporaries of Rain (although this was from some time later): When It Rains by The Real People.

And I've posted it before but finally, Rain - a song that would be many bands' highpoint but that this lot could throw out as a B-side.

Enjoy the rain. Avoid areas that flood. And at the risk of, ahem, raining on anyone's parade, remember this year's messed-up weather, the hot and the wet, is all down to anthropogenic climate change.

You just don't like people

A wee while ago, after I had offered up a harsh but (in my view) justified opinion of someone, Mrs Amusements, perhaps feeling that I had been unkind, frustratedly declared, "Well, you just don't like people."

This stung a bit, at the time, but on reflection I think she may be right. I have always been colossally intolerant; indeed, The Man Of Cheese and I used to light-heartedly call ourselves The Intolerance Twins. But I think it goes beyond that; maybe I am just not very nice.

Yesterday I was not very nice, and to someone who deserves all the niceness in the world. To compound it all, I'm now going to upset the blogosphere by embedding a track by SPM. I would say sorry but, as I think we have already established, I'm not very nice.

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Film '82: The Thing

Saw this on Twitter and it made me smile, and marvel at the talent of people. Obviously I retweeted it, but I'm not what you'd call an influencer, and I don't have a great number of engaged followers. Whatever. I thought I'd post it here, only in part so I can always find it again...

Saturday, 13 August 2022

Great moments in music video history #5: Come Into My World

This is from 2002, around the time I used to refer to Kylie as "the future wife". As well as delusional, this didn't go down too well with my partner at the time, now ex. Anyway, here are multiple Kylies - just what we need in these unbearably hot and indescribably grim days.

It's not just Kylie that multiplies, of course. Half the fun of this video is seeing everything in the background replicate too. As such it bears repeat viewing - that's what I told the ex anyway...

Friday, 12 August 2022

Blue Friday: Benson, Arizona

From the title sequence of John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's budget debut, Dark Star:

A million suns shine down but I see only one
When I think I'm over you I find I've just begun
The years move faster than the days, there's no warmth in the light
How I miss those desert skies, your cool touch in the night...

Wednesday, 10 August 2022

...and away

Fundació Joan Miró

I've been away. I'm back for a while, maybe not for long. So here's a time-based photograph from my spell away.

Police Municipale building

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Separated at birth X - Gaten Matarazzo and Micky Dolenz

Gaten MatarazzoGaten MatarazzoHaven't done one of these for an absolute age, but it struck me recently that Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo, left, would be a shoo-in to play the young Micky Dolenz, right, should anyone ever get around to making a Monkees biopic... got to happen eventually, right? I'd watch it.

Speaking of Monkees biopics, if you haven't seen the B&W video on YouTube of Davy, Peter, Micky and Mike's pre-casting screen tests, you really should (stick with it, it's not all silent).

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Boy About Town

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher

8/22: Boy About Town by Tony Fletcher

The blurb:

As a boy, Tony Fletcher frequently felt out of place. Yet somehow he secured a ringside seat for one of the most creative periods in British cultural history.

Boy About Town tells the story of the bestselling author’s formative years in the pre- and post-punk music scenes of London, counting down, from fifty to number one: attendance at seminal gigs and encounters with musical heroes; schoolboy projects that became national success stories; the style culture of punks, mods and skinheads and the tribal violence that enveloped them; life as a latchkey kid in a single-parent household; weekends on the football terraces in a quest for street credibility; and the teenage boy’s unending obsession with losing his virginity.

Featuring a vibrant cast of supporting characters (from school friends to rock stars), and built up from notebooks, diaries, interviews, letters, and issues of his now legendary fanzine Jamming!, Boy About Town is an evocative, bittersweet, amusing and wholly original account of growing up and coming of age in the glory days of the 1970s.

The review: this book was passed to me by The Man Of Cheese; he attached a note that observed "Some parts of this struck a chord with out younger (and finer!) years." And that's all the review really needs to say, for whilst this is Tony Fletcher's memoir, the joy in reading it comes from recognition and identification. Okay, Tony is six or so years older than TMOC and myself, so the bands and scenes discussed in Boy About Town don't align exactly with those that we enjoyed in our youth but the feelings, the interests, the passions - they are pretty much identical. Reading this book, then, gives Proustian rush after Proustian rush.

For someone more famed for writing highly regarded rock biographies, Fletcher still hits the mark writing about himself. There is a blunt honesty in his recollections of youth and teenage years - no sugar-coating, no sanitising. This book is all the better for it. And of course we can all identify with falling in love with bands - The Who first, for Tony, and then The Jam. That feeling of them being your band - we've all been there, haven't we? (Who am I kidding - I'm still there).

What distinguishes Fletcher's memoir, indeed sets it apart from other "my youth in fandom" books, is the turn his young life took when he decided to start a fanzine. It's easy, now, to think of fanzines as little more than A4 photocopied blogs, but they were so much more important then, when the music press was so narrow, and other exposure (TV and radio) narrower still. Tony started Jamming! at 13, running off a hundred copies on a school mimeograph. By the time it wound up, Jamming! sold 30,000 copies a month. Incredible.

What's even more incredible is the access the young Fletcher got to his heroes. He met Keith Moon, interviewed Pete Townshend. And then there was Paul - an exchange of letters led to friendship with Weller, and the sort of access to the band that saw Fletcher and his mates hanging out at the recording studio with the band, even hearing new material before the mainstream music press. And as a thirteen year old fanzine editor, routinely finding his way backstage at all manner of gigs, in all manner of venues - again, incredible. An astonishing time to be a music fan. Oh, and a parallel thread tells of the author's aspirations with his own band - he was a very busy young man.

For all the amazing experiences Fletcher has growing up in the seventies, the more mundane or regular aspects of his teen life are also captured - football, school, girls, parties, drinking and smoking, fighting, all of it. I rather suspect this will appeal to male readers more than female, but it's all relatable, and harkens back to a simpler, happier time. I loved reading it, even though it also made me feel old, stale and well past my prime.

As I hinted earlier, Fletcher went on from his fanzine beginnings to establish a career writing, including pretty much definitive works on Keith Moon and REM. He also (eventually) had minor success with his band, Apocalypse, enough to warrant a "best of" from Cherry Red some years later. My only real criticism of this book then is that it leaves unfinished business, ending as it does with Fletcher playing a valedictory gig at his school as he finishes the fifth form, and then finally getting laid at a party. But there's more I want to know - how did Jamming! go on to get so big, for starters? What happened with the independent record label he set up and ran with/for Paul Weller? And how did Apocalypse go from playing pubs and a school hall to releasing singles? All that and more. I guess what I'm saying is, I enjoyed Boy About Town so much, I'm ready for volume two.

The bottom line: a very enjoyable read that is equal parts nostalgia-inducing memoir and first-hand account of a fascinating time in modern music - bring on the next instalment!

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

Footnote: you can read more about Tony, his books and the history of Jamming! at tonyfletcher.net plus, after not quite breaking through with Apocalypse, he's making music again, as part of The Dear Boys. Yes, he remains that much of a Moon fan...

Saturday, 23 July 2022

Salesman

I don't know about you but I've been watching The Outlaws on BBC1, the Stephen Merchant-powered comedy about an unlikely gang thrown together by community service. It's funny, sometimes silly, occasionally dark, but generally pretty good. I'm a bit behind though, and am only half-way through Series 2. Hooray for iPlayer, right?

Anyway, episode 3 began with a visual catch-up montage, set to a jaunty tune that sort of rang a bell but I couldn't place it. Acoustically (if not vocally) it sounded a little bit like a Lee Mavers knock-off, or maybe an obscure out-take by The Coral or Lilys. Certainly it felt a little like a 60s pastiche, but still contemporary. Bottom line: I liked it but couldn't place it.

Later, I tried all the usual websites - TuneFind is usually best for ID'ing TV and movie soundtracks, I think - but none had anything for Series 2. In the end I had to go back to iPlayer, watch the start of episode 3 again, make a note of some key lyrics, and then search for those. Which is how I found this...

Love it! Salesman was the opening track on The Monkees' fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd, by which time (1967) they were starting to play more of their own instruments, and even contribute some songwriting. Not this though - it was penned by one Craig Smith, who had previously written for Glen Campbell and Andy Williams, of all people. A 55-year old tune, wearing well, used on primetime Beeb and making its way into my head - not much, I know, but I have to take such little positives when I stumble across them.

Friday, 22 July 2022

Blue Friday: No Name No. 5

It's not Elliott Smith's first apperance on Blue Friday - indeed, he started the theme, nearly four years ago. Now here he is again. It's amazing, I think, how such a light, delicate song - mostly just voice and acoustic guitars and then, late on, some sparse persussion - can feel so heavy, like having a stack of hardbacks, or maybe paving slabs, laid on your chest.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

New to NA: The Waeve

Following on from yesterday's Graham Coxon post, here's the first fruit of his new endeavour: The Waeve sees Graham team up with Rosie Elinor Dougall, in much the same way that other guitar hero Bernard Butler recently teamed up with Jessie Buckley. But that's where the similarity ends, if Something Pretty is anything to go by. It's lyrically and rhythmically interesting, and also quite catchy, I reckon...

Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Monster!

Verse, Chorus, Monster! by Graham Coxon

No, this isn't going to be another post about REM. Instead, it's a heads-up - an early warning, if you like. For Blur guitarist and all-round very interesting bloke Graham Coxon has written his autobiography. Verse, Chorus, Monster! goes on sale on the 6th of October.

You can already get our pre-orders in over at Jeff Bezos's place, or there are all kinds of special editions, signed, in slip cases, with extras, that kind of thing: you can take your pick (or choose your budget) at linktr.ee/versechorusmonster

I sometimes think it takes a guitarist to really appreciate a guitarist, although I'm self-aware enough to recognise that view may be coloured by the fact that I play guitar. Whatever. It's long but I love this video of Graham discussing the recording of my favourite Blur album, Modern Life Is Rubbish. In part, it's the insights into the recording but best of all are the bits when he plays along with tracks I know so well, both hands in shot. It's illuminating. He's a very, very under-rated guitarist.

And because he's not just the guitarist from Blur, here's a track from my favourite Coxon solo album, Love Travels At Illegal Speeds: Standing On My Own Again, recorded here in the last days of that mainstream music show we used to have...

Monday, 18 July 2022

Heatwave

I was going to dip into sitcom catchphrase territory and open this post about the weather with "Don't panic!" But I can't, because panic we must. I might borrow from another Dad's Army character and go with, "We're doomed. Doomed!" instead. If wildfires raging across Europe aren't close enough to home for you, and thousands of deaths being attributed to heat in Spain and Portugal, we're about to see domestic temperature records not just broken but obliterated. It isn't enough to just call it a heatwave and blither on about how hot 1976 was. Everything has to change. Everything. Or we are all doomed.

Sorry. I don't mean to bring you down. It's just how I see it, but I don't want to preach, not now. So ... whenever I see "heatwave" in a headline, this is the song I hear. Not the Martha Reeves and the Vandellas original, not The Who's cover, but this, by The Jam. A bit of YouTubing dug up this curio from the band's tour of the US, promoting Setting Sons: an appearance on American Bandstand, miming first to Heatwave and then Strange Town, either side of a fairly uncomfortable interview with host Dick Clark in which Paul seems disinterested, bordering on contemptuous of the questions, and introduces Rick as Jim. And since American Bandstand was something of an institution in the US, running for 37 years, I suppose you could say this is great time-capsule TV... albeit an American time-capsule.

Until next time, let's all be like little Fonzies. "And what's Fonzie like? Come on Yolanda, what's Fonzie like?"

Monday, 11 July 2022

Norman. Monty Norman

Monty Norman has died, aged 94. And in case you're thinking, "Who?" or "That name rings a bell but I can't quite put my finger on where from," let me just say that, in a long and distinguished, if unheralded, songwriting career Monty gave us one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of music in the world.

Ever.

Sure, John Barry gets kudos for his arrangement, and his orchestra's original rendition, but Monty wrote this...

Cheeky bonus - David Arnold's retooling of the theme, for Casino Royale.

RIP.

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Another political message...

...because one a day just isn't enough at the moment, is it?

I've been happily whistling Goodbye by Pete & Dud all day, so I made a thing. It's very much a rush job, but I didn't want to miss the moment. Anyway, what's the opposite of a greatest hits compilation? Worst hits? Greatest misses? Whatever, here it is.

A political message

And two sobering reminders. Saying "I'm going to go" isn't enough. As Dom says...

Secondly, there is such a dearth of decency and talent in the Tory party, whoever follows the entitled one is likely to be almost as bad.

Even so, I think I'll have a beer tonight.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Pro Bono

I bit the bullet and listened to Bono's Desert Island Discs. Yes, Bono. I know he divides opinion like few others - U2 fans deify him, many other music aficionados (and much of the blogosphere) find him a sanctimonious berk. Me, I'm fairly neutral about him; when U2 started he just wasn't very good, then they had a period of making three or four really fine albums, after which, for me at least, he and they have been treading water. But I can see why Bono isn't to everyone's taste.

So I'm not going to change anyone's mind about listening to his Desert Island Discs, am I? If you're a fan, you'll have listened already, and if you're not then you probably won't, right? But I will just say that Bono seems to have grown some self-awareness - he knows some people find him a sanctimonoious berk, he gets it and is at peace with it. That has to be progress for him, right?

But no, what I wanted to post about is the fact that Bono chose a record by his son's band as one of his discs.

Now my immediate reaction to this was, "Oh no, typical Bono, what a berk, plugging his son on national radio" and so on. But on reflection, I think that if I was alone on a desert island and New Amusements Minor was the singer in a band, I'd want one of his records too, just so that I could hear his voice. That's understandable, isn't it? And really, so is plugging your son on national radio - I'd probably do that too, in the unlikely event that I ever had the chance.

My other thought was, "Christ, Hewson Minor sounds like his dad." Listen for yourself - this is Inhaler, and the track Bono chose, Ice Cream Sundae.

And a final DID observation - Lauren Laverne is a brilliant host. I could listen to her all day.

Monday, 4 July 2022

Great moments in music video history #4: Free Yourself

It's not their finest moment musically, but this promo video for the Chemical Brothers' 2018 release Free Yourself is quite astonishing really, and the fact that it might not astonish you or other viewers is really just a sign of how blasé the world has become about CGI and computer animation. I've no idea what this film cost to make - and really that's what it is, a short film rather than a music video - but the fact that it's in budget at all is, when you think about it, astounding.

So, here's Free Yourself - think I, Robot but with a big beat instead of Will Smith. And don't forget to sit through the credits, for a little coda.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Sunday shorts: A Perfect Reminder

Craig over at the always-excellent Plain or Pan has written a book about The Trash Can Sinatras' album I've Seen Everything, and that's all it took to remind me of this little ditty. You might say it was, ahem, the perfect reminder.

Friday, 1 July 2022

Kitchen karaoke

Found myself singing this in the kitchen last night, whilst cooking tea. I might have got a little carried away, as Mrs New Amusements got up from where she was working in the dining room and closed the kitchen door. But honestly, it's lost none of its power, even with me belting it out. So here are three versions of Sleep Well Tonight - the first is the official promo video, salvaged from VHS by Gene super-fan Lewis Slade. The second is a live TV performance from Mark Radcliffe's much-missed Channel 4 show The White Room, from either '95 or '96. And finally, there's fan footage of Martin Rossiter, at the warm-up gig for his farewell show last year. All brilliant. But then you knew I'd say that, right?

Thursday, 30 June 2022

More new to NA: Afflecks Palace and "Nu Madchester"

I don't know who coined the phrase "Nu Madchester" and I'm not sure it's entirely accurate, for Afflecks Palace are more Roses than Mondays. But the name has gained traction. The four-piece guitar band wear their influences proudly, and you can hear them in every song, and that works for me, I have to say. Am a bit less fond of bucket hats making a comeback, but singer J seems keen, wearing one (or something equally daft) in most videos I've seen. And if I tell you that the band's website is called The Spirit of Spike Island ... well, you get the picture. Oh, and for extra Manc kudos, the band are named after the former name of the alternative indoor market on Oldham Street, in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Here's a taster from J, guitarist Dan Stapleton, bassist Pete Darling and drummer Pete Redshaw, Carpe Diem.

A bit of a browse around that Spirit of Spike Island website reveals some other, like-minded bands. My interest was piqued by this track, Deeper Than Holy, by Pastel.

And if two bands ploughing the baggy Manchester furrow aren't enough for, relax, there's a third: this is Come Out 'n' Play by Vega Rally:

I'm not sure about "Nu Madchester" though - quite apart from it being a terrible, lazy name, if I want to listen to music that sounds like The Roses, Mondays, Charlatans, Inspirals, well, I'll just get all my old CDs out. Whilst there's nothing wrong with championing your influences, I think these three bands need to forge their own identities rather than trade on the past glories of others. That said, from a day spent YouTubing them all, I think they all have the potential to do exactly that. And good news, the three bands are going out on tour together, so you can get to take in all three in one evening - just don't wear a bucket hat, please?

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

More new to NA: Northern Portrait

Not new to everyone else, of course, but today I finally got around to listening to the three Northern Portrait songs I possess. Turns out the Danish indie four-piece are rather good. Example, you say? Well, I've been suffering from what Rol euphemistically called "low mood" lately, but listening to Criminal Art Lovers, in particular, has cheered me somewhat.

Good, isn't it?

Monday, 27 June 2022

Monday long song: The Chemistry Between Us

Don't think I've featured much, if anything, from post-Bernard Suede before, so let's remedy that today. The Chemistry Between Us was from 1996's Coming Up, released at a time when Brett's own chemical use was starting to get a little beyond him. Whatever. At the time, the "class A, class B" lyric might have seemed a little risqué - now it seems barely noteworthy, something even Ed Sheeran sings about.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Sunday shorts: In The Street Today

An impossibly young Paul, Bruce and Rick rattle through this for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1978, complete with a duff chord from Paul around the 49 second mark

Friday, 24 June 2022

Blue Friday: Goodbye Mr Blue

Another from the YouTube "Watch later" pile.

If you listen to Radio 2 or 6 Music, there's a good chance you heard a fair bit of this earlier in the year - it's Father John Misty, doing his very best Nilsson impersonation, with a pretty song about death, and an interesting video.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

More new to NA: Just Mustard

Just Mustard are a five-piece from Dundalk in Ireland, comprising vocalist Katie Ball, guitarists David Noonan and Mete Kalyon, bassist Rob Clarke, and drummer Shane Maguire. Their blurb talks about a "blend of noise, trip hop, and influenced music", whatever influenced music might be. Anyway... their 2018 debut album Wednesday earned them a Choice Music Prize nomination for Irish Album of the Year, and their latest album Heart Under is available now.

However, Frank wasn't on either of those albums. It does have a minor ear-worm, and a slightly unsettling video though. See what you think.

Saturday, 18 June 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Eleven

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Eleven by Mark Watson

7/22: Eleven by Mark Watson

The blurb:

Xavier Ireland is a radio DJ who by night listens to the hopes, fears and regrets of sleepless Londoners and by day keeps himself very much to himself - until he is brought into the light by a one-of-a-kind cleaning lady and forced to confront his own biggest regret. This is a tale of love, loss, Scrabble and six degrees of separation, asking big questions about life and death, strangers and friends, heartache and comfort, and whether the choices we don't make affect us just as powerfully as those we do.

The review: I am predisposed to liking this book. After all, I read Contacts by Watson last year, and gave it a healthy five stars out of six in my review. In 2018 I made The Knot my book of the year (even though it was published in 2012). And I've seen Mark in various comedy settings doing his "day job" more often than I can easily recall. And I do like Eleven ... it's just that it's not as good as it could have been. Let me explain why.

Sure, all the hallmarks of Watson's best writing are in place - a relatable, likeable, everyman protagonist, a free-flowing prose style that helps the pages practically turn themselves, and a gentle humour of the wry-smile-inducing variety. As a result, Eleven is a book I rattled through in three days, helped, no doubt, by train journeys to while away. But there are issues; for a start, some of the characterisation could best be described as of the cookie-cutter variety. For example, Pippa, the cleaning lady who triggers a change in our hero's outlook is almost a Geordie-by-numbers; worse still is the depiction of Xavier's friend and radio co-host Murray who, I am sorry to say, borders on cliché as the hapless, overweight, stammering fool with bad hair and a shocking lack of self-awareness. Ditto Julius, the overweight, bullied schoolboy from a poor background who is also a maths prodigy. I'm not saying these kinds of characters don't exist in real life - it's just that for them to tick every box on their archetype's checklist jars, with this reader at least.

Then there is the POV - omniscient present-tense is a tough gig to pull off, especially when it is third-person, rather than first. When the narrator drops in little details about what will happen to minor characters in three, five, ten years time, well, I get it, Mark's trying to highlight the interconnectivity of everything ... it's just that this makes the narrator seem God-like, and I'm an atheist. Your mileage will, as they say, undoubtedly vary, but for me this was a problem at times, and occasionally disrupted the narrative flow.

And then there is the flexing of vocab muscles, visibly stretching to use unusual or unexpected verbs to describe events. Again, I know what Watson's doing here, I think, in trying to imbue seemingly ordinary events with portent through the use of carefully chosen verbs but when I got to the point where picnics were "provoked" by sunshine, I just wanted him to stop. And I'm happy to report, from reading subsequent books by Watson, that he has.

That said, there is still much to enjoy here, and I'm glad I read it. No doubt you would be too. As I've mentioned, the pace fairly rattles along, and Xavier Ireland is a character that the reader invests in, even to the extent of wanting to give him a shake at times, and that has to be a good sign. One final criticism, though, might be that the book's ending is a little too foreshadowed, and you get the feeling that even Watson realised this and tweaked it ever so slightly - for the better, I am happy to report.

The bottom line: even with the occasional frustrations this is a genuinely enjoyable read, but would have benefited from better characterisation and a tougher editor. It's good, but he's written better since.

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

Friday, 17 June 2022

Get Smart

I stash videos away in my YouTube "Watch Later" list that I plan to blog about when the right time comes around. Well, in the absence of anything else, the sunshine today has prompted me to raid the list and post this slice of brilliance from the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. Enjoy.

Friday, 10 June 2022

Trending when dead

SPM once wore a badge that declared him to be "Famous when dead". However, these days of course you just trend. It's a very 21st Century thing, isn't it, to check that someone is still alive when you see them unexpectedly trending. I noted, for example, that Sheila Hancock was briefly trending this afternoon, and was relieved to discover it's just because apparently some people were surprised to learn she is 89, rather than because she has shuffled off this mortal coil. Ridiculous really - I mean, I've linked to the report for completeness but honestly, don't bother clicking, it's such a desperate non-story.

By contrast, I then noticed that Julee Cruise was also trending ... and that is because she's died, at just 65. I'll be honest, I was only ever familiar with her work through her collaborations with David Lynch, on Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet - from the former, this is probably her most famous song, Falling:

And that's alright, I suppose. But does it make me a heathen or just a creature of habit for preferring the Wedding Present cover?

I hope never to trend, alive or dead. Just as well, as there is zero chance.

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Monday, 6 June 2022

Monday long song: The Past Is A Grotesque Animal

There must be something in the water in Athens, Georgia, for that is where indie five-piece Of Montreal crystalised.

This is quite something, I think. In the absence of a conventional video, I've found a fan-made lyric video, for there are a lot of interesting lyrics.

Hands up if you Googled Georges Bataille after this...?

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Twenty four hours of rubbish

I'm not the first to post this song, this weekend, nor will I be the last. Hopefully I can provide some variety by picking an excellent live TV performance.

Slightly sobering to think that a lot more years have passed since this performance than the seventeen that elapsed between 1977 and this.