Monday 28 February 2022

Monday long song: Mercy Street

So was huge for Peter Gabriel, wasn't it, on both sides of the Atlantic, powered along at first by the video-friendly hits Sledgehammer and Big Time, and then by the collaborations (Kate Bush on Don't Give Up and Youssou N’Dour on In Your Eyes). But this is tucked away on there too, and reminds me that Peter is worth revisiting when I have more time.

Friday 25 February 2022

Blue Friday: The World Is Not Enough

"A Bond theme for Blue Friday?" I hear you ask. Well, yes. Partly to address the lack of Shirley Manson on this blog over the years but also, just take a butcher's at some of these lyrics:

I know how to hurt. I know how to heal.
I know what to show and what to conceal.
I know when to talk, and I know when to touch.
No one ever died from wanting too much.


People like us know how to survive.
There's no point in living if you can't feel alive.
We know when to kiss and we know when to kill.
If we can't have it all then nobody will.


I feel sick, I feel scared, I feel ready and yet unprepared.

The world is not enough but it is such a perfect place to start, my love,
And if you're strong enough, together we can take the world apart, my love...

Anyway, enough talk. Here's Shirley and co indulging all their Bond fantasies in a video that unkinder critics might describe as better than the film it accompanied... even if the idea of an exploding fembot is straight out of Austin Powers.

Thursday 24 February 2022

Королева Не Померла

You'd think, with pandemics and climate change providing enough existential threat already thank you very much, that war would not be something anyone would want. Yet here we are, with the barrel-chested Soviet throwback doing exactly what he wants and the West seemingly unable to do anything about it other than warn it was going to happen. Certainly our government, up to its grime-encrusted neck in oligarch donations, seems entirely powerless, immaterial and without purpose: neither use nor ornament, as my parents might say.

Whilst I hope for a swift return to peace in the Donbas, I don't see that happening, sadly. I thought war in Europe was consigned to the history books, but no. Awful, awful, awful.

I don't know how to end this post other than with a song from Peter Solowka's Ukrainians. You might recognise it.

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Fallout

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read 22 books in '22. I'll review them all here.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing

3/22: Fallout by Sadie Jones

The blurb: London 1972. Luke is dazzled by the city. It seems a world away from the provincial town he has fled along with his own troubled past, and his new life is unrecognisable – one of friendships forged in pubs, candlelit power cuts, and smoky late-night parties.

When Nina, a fragile and damaged actress, strays into his path, Luke is immediately drawn to her and the delicate balance of his new life is threatened. Unable to stay away from her, Luke is torn between loyalty, desire and his own painful past, until everything he values, even the promise of the future, is in danger…

The review: I'm trying to think when I last finished a book and had such a strong feeling of "God, I wish I'd written this." It hasn't happened for a long time - I think maybe Cormac McCarthy was the last author to prompt that sort of reaction in me, when I read No Country For Old Men. Anyway, I guess that's the TLDR: this book is so bloody good, I wish I'd written it myself. Or, at the very least, that I could write like this.

You've read the blurb, so let me add to it that Luke's "new life" is on the fringe of London's theatre scene, and Fallout is a rich evocation of that world, from the sex-comedy farce of Soho, through the serious theatre of the West End and on to what would now be called start-ups, theatre in the margins. It's in the latter that Luke and his friends operate. Understandably, Luke's friends are not mentioned in the brief blurb, but Paul and Leigh, a couple who are themselves embedded in the theatre, are so important to the story. The changing nature of the triangle between these three is delicately played out by Jones over the course of the book; that all three remain sympathetic throughout is testament to the storytelling prowess on display here.

Luke's relationship with Nina is cleverly teased from the outset too; they come so close to meeting before they eventually do, it is almost like they are star-crossed, destined to irreversibly change each other's lives. But are they destined to be together? Well, I want to avoid spoilers, as ever, but let's just say that this is a Sadie Jones novel, and she doesn't deal in the obvious or pat endings. Make of that what you will. What I will say is that the actual ending, which plays out like an epilogue, is very satisfying. Beyond that, you'll just have to read it all for yourself.

Also worthy of note is Jones's treatment of Luke's parents; they are scarcely in the book as active characters, especially his mother, who is basically only in the opening scene ... and yet they are there throughout, a brooding presence in Luke's life, a permanent blurring of his worldview. Not once does this feel repetitious, or clichéd, or a trope, so deftly is it written.

Talking of deft writing, the evocation of the early 70s feels spot on - I could see the cigarette smoke in every pub and bar, I could feel the damp on the walls, I was braced for unexpected power cuts. No WhatsApp messages or Facebook alerts for these characters - the book totally immerses you in a world where illicit liaisons were reliant on landline phonecalls, even having some change for the phone box. So complete is this evocation of the recent past that it became increasingly easy for me, as a contemporary reader, to turn off my phone, shut my laptop and go back to the early 1970s - how hard I found it to put the book down suggests I wanted to stay there too...

But of course the real story here, beyond the setting and the supporting cast, is that of love in all its many forms: idealised, platonic, lustful, doomed, familial, illicit, forbidden and destructive; love of a person, a place, a thing; and the most potent love of all, that which endures despite everything else. Is there anything that can be more dramatic, ecstatic or tragic than the fallout from such diverse, unplanned, unique loves?

I must also highlight the author's uncanny ability to say more in a sentence than some writers do in a paragraph, or even a page. You know that concept of le mot juste? Well Sadie has that nailed. Example, you say? Well, here's one character (I won't say who, for fear of spoilers) describing their partner's feelings for them: "Whose love was like someone completing a task they had set themselves." It's perfect, isn't it? You know exactly how person A sees B's love for them, how B sees it, and the sad resignation and defeat it all evokes in A. All from one line, twelve words, sixteen syllables. That's all it takes, if you can write with the economy, concision and accuracy of the prose on display here.

The bottom line: supremely well-written tale of love, lust, lies and liaisons, set against a beautifully-realised evocation of early 70s theatreland, and the best book I've read in an absolute age.

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

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Just seventeen

As of today, this blog is legally old enough to drive. So here's a car song from before it was born. Video's worth watching for the last forty seconds alone.

No longer thinking of her back on the bonnet, Justine Frischmann lives in the US now, where she earns a crust as an award-winning artist of a different sort.

Monday 21 February 2022

Monday long song: Paninaro

I'm not a huge Pet Shop Boys fan, but it's easy to overlook just how many hits they had, back in the day. And then there's this, Paninaro, originally a B-side to Suburbia. This remix, apparently released as a single in Italy, appeared on compilation Disco, which I had on cassette, way back when.

It's not hard to imagine that if, say, New Order had released this in 1986 it would be lionised now. As it is, I chiefly remember it for Chris Lowe's spoken ramble, mid-way through, in which he opines:

I don't like country & western.
I don't like rock music.
Erm, I don't like, I don't like rockabilly.
Rock'n'roll in particular.
I don't like much, really, do I?
But what I do like, I love passionately.

New Amusements Minor and I have adopted those last two lines as something of a mantra, of late. Anyway, here's the song:

Friday 18 February 2022

Blue Friday: Sad Eyes (live)

This is a very effective slice of melancholia from Natasha, aka Bat For Lashes.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Tube Tuesday: Bangles

Following on from my earlier post enthusing about the YouTubing of The Tube, here's another in an occasional series plucking gems from the back catalogue.

Today it's from episode 20 of series 3, broadcast 15th February 1985, and a live performance from The Bangles. Or just Bangles, as they were then. And yes, this is because I still have a bit of a thing for Susanna Hoffs, all these years later - no-one, no-one does microphone side-eye better than Susanna. But I digress. Here's the band before they got really famous, showing that they could rock a bit with three songs from their (excellent, since you ask) debut album All Over The Place: Hero Takes A Fall, Going Down To Liverpool and Tell Me.

Monday 14 February 2022

Valentine schmalentine

This excellence is Let's Pretend We're Not In Love by The Reds, Pinks and Purples. I very much approve.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Sunday shorts: On a Good Day

A harp-led short for people who either don't buy into, or don't like, all the hearts and flowers of tomorrow.

Wednesday 9 February 2022

This is going to sound good

I watched the first episode of This Is Going To Hurt last night; it's based on Adam Kay's bestselling book, stars the always-excellent Ben Whishaw and details Kay's experiences as a junior doctor in the Obs and Gynae department of an acute hospital. Here's the trailer:

Now the book is excellent - funny, revealing and, in the end, heart-breaking. And Ben Whishaw has been excellent in A Very English Scandal, as Q in recent Bond movies and, of course, as the voice of Paddington. Everything looks set fair for this Beeb adaptation, in other words, and I'm pleased to report the first episode didn't disappoint.

I'm also pleased to report that, if the first hour is anything to go by, this series will have a cracking soundtrack. The headline-grabbing aspect of that is new music from one Jarvis Cocker, but the track that most caught my ear last night is this slice of late 60s stomp that I have somehow never heard before. So new to me was it that I first wondered whether it was a contemporary act doing a retro pastiche. But it's not - instead, it's Nobody But Me by The Human Beinz, from 1967/8, and it sounds like this:

Wikipedia tells me that The Human Beinz were a four-piece from Youngstown, Ohio, and that Nobody But Me was their only hit, peaking at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1968, six months after it was released. It also tells me that this song was used by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 but not included on the soundtrack, which might explain why I have no recollection of it.

Anyway, This Is Going To Hurt will be on again next Tuesday night at 9pm, and I recommend it highly. If you can't wait, you can already watch the whole series on iPlayer in one go, as seems to be the manner these days. But however you watch it, watch it.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Tube Tuesday: Steve Marriott and Stanley Unwin

I had big plans for Tube Tuesday, and had roughed out a number of possible posts, but it seems that Lol-Z, having taken the tremendous time and trouble to YouTube every episode of The Tube, has now set all the videos to "private". Bugger. I mean, I've managed to find another copy of today's content, below, but the quality is poor by comparison. Oh well. It's still worth a few minutes of your time..

This is from episode 12 of series 3, broadcast 21st December 1984, in which Muriel Gray interviews Steve Marriott and Professor Stanley Unwin. Muriel adopts an interesting line of questioning to Steve, the main thrust of which seems to be "what happened to your career?" but, to his credit, Steve doesn't seem bothered. And Stanley gets asked about his role on landmark Small Faces album Ogden's Nut Gone Flake; unusual to hear him talk normally too, rather than in Unwinese.

Monday 7 February 2022

Fantasy Cover Version #18 - if The Rolling Stones covered "Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over" ...

The temporary resumption of an old blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In case you're wondering, the sudden resumption of a series that has lain dormat for almost three years can only mean one thing: yes, sadly, the "contributor" here is me...

I recently picked up a two-disc compilation of 90s indie for 50p in a charity shop - you know the sort of thing, "The Best Indie Album in the World ... Ever!" or some such. I already have most of the songs, I just figured it would be a good mix to leave in the glovebox of the car. And it is. I had a long drive or two at the weekend, and it was mostly joyous, nostalgic, belting-it-out singalong stuff. Lovely. And that's how I came to listen, really listen, to this by The Charlatans, for the first time in a long time:

And it suddenly hit me - is Just When You're Thinkin' Things Over the greatest song The Rolling Stones never recorded? And it's not just because the skittering, irresistable percussion and driving piano line put me in mind of this:

But blimey, that even has an elevating late guitar solo, doesn't it? Not hard to imagine Keef and Ronnie providing the rhythm and solo for the Charlatans track, is it? And in case you think that's a one-off similarity, here's I'm Going Down, which isn't a million miles away either, when it gets going - just up the tempo ever so slightly, add some piano and you're on your way:

And the lyrical theme, of going home, is something The Stones have addressed before, albeit in a very different sounding song:

So there we are, I think the remaining Stones could make an excellent fist of this, amping up the bluesy sound and R&B angle that characterised so much of their best work. I'd love to say it would help update them for a younger audience, but of course the Charlatans track is 27 years old and counting. I do think fans of both bands would enjoy the end result though, I really do. What about you?

Let's end with this, shall we?

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good (he said, modestly)? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you. And you never know, maybe this theme could make a comeback?

Saturday 5 February 2022

For what good it will do

I wrote to my MP in the week. I expect nothing to come of it - I live in a constituency so blue you wouldn't believe it. And, if his voting record is any indication, the incumbent MP just does what he's told and follows the party line at all times.

I've written to him a couple of times before, and received boilerplate letters in response that look and feel like they were written by Conservative Central Office. But I had to try again, because I just feel so bloody angry about Partygate, the lies, the sneering entitlement, the fake sincerity, all of it. All of it.

Here's what I wrote. I'll let you know if I get anything back...

Friday 4 February 2022

Blue Friday: Just Make It Stop

I should probably stop this series - I'm not altogether sure it's good for my state of mind. But there are just so many wonderful sad songs, like this beauty from Low:

Thursday 3 February 2022

About that new word game

I don't want to spoil anyone's fun. After all, the New York Times will probably do that. But Wordle, for all its brilliant simplicity and superb execution, is just written in Javascript. So, if you have some basic knowledge and interest, you can take it apart yourself and see how it all works. I naively hoped that maybe the app was making API calls to some online dictionary to source the words but no, there's just a big long list of over two thousand words (nearly six and a half years worth), in plain text, in game order. So I can tell you what today's Wordle is, and tomorrow's, and the day after's, and so on. But that's no fun for you, and only brief fun for me, so...

Far better to dissect the code to refine tactics, right? I don't know about you but I already have a default first guess word and I'm not precious so I'll share: out of lazy habit, my first guess has always been SPARE, my thinking being that these are common letters. It's an approach that has served me well - if I get a few hits, great, I build on that. If I get no hits, I usually try TOXIC next, as a way of trying out two other vowels and, since frequent letters aren't helping me, a couple of less common letters.

And yet the letter distribution chart compiled from the 2,315 words in Wordle's list suggests that the most common five letters in the solutions are E, A, R, O and T ... so I should probably start with ORATE.

The next common letters are L, I, S, N and C. Now I don't know about you but I can't make a valid word out of those (sorry, residents of Lincolnshire but Lincs is a proper noun, and an abbreviation, so seemingly not Wordle-compliant - and by the way, the list of permissible words is just another long hard-coded list). But go further down the table, as far as thirteenth most frequent to bring in D and Y, and you've got a good candidate for second guess of LINDY (not a proper noun, apparently, despite it's origins). And if you want to go as far as sixteenth, you can mop up all the unused letters so far except for S with CHUMP

So, ORATE, followed by LINDY, followed by CHUMP. After that, you're on your own...

Of course, the interesting thing about Wordle being Javascript based, and the code being client-side, is that there's nothing to stop you, me or anyone else cribbing it for their own version. Then the New York Times can do what they like with it, and you could keep playing your own clone. But again, where would be the fun in that..?

Other interesting notes from the source code? Well, there must have been a test day, or day zero, because there was a word (CIGAR) in the list before the day 1 puzzle solution. Oh, and the least frequent letter by Wordle occurence is not Q, X or Z but J, only appearing 27 times in 2,351 words.

And finally, one of the strengths of Wordle is that there's just one puzzle a day and you have to wait 24 hours for the next one. But if that's not enough to scratch your itch, or you've missed days, you can play every game to date again at the Wordle Archive.

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Tube Tuesday: Billy Bragg

Following on from my earlier post enthusing about the YouTubing of The Tube, here's the first in an occasional series plucking gems from Jools and Paula's back catalogue.

It's Muriel introducing today's spot though: from episode 1 of series 2, broadcast 28th October 1983, and featuring "Britain's most sought-after support act": an impossibly youthful Billy Bragg (25 at the time). You all know the song, of course, but it's nice to see it was still new enough at the time for Bill to fluff a chord change part-way through.