Sunday 25 December 2022

Sunday shorts: Hark!

I posted this as part of my online Advent calendar back in 2015 but hardly anyone read the blog back then, so I feel okay about repeating myself. Plus at only 1m 42, it qualifies as a Sunday short!

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals. See you on the other side.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Bands won't play no more

RIP Terry Hall, a relatable yet groundbreaking star, who seldom put a foot wrong. Taken so young, this feels sad indeed.

Here's one of the first songs, if not the first, that I taped from the radio.

Saturday 17 December 2022

All that you can do is watch them play

Happy birthday to my oldest, best mate, The Man of Cheese. If my records are correct (and they are - of course they are), the first gig we went to together was, unbelievably, Blur, in October 1991. I seem to recall us drinking rather a lot of snakebite and black, made with unhealthily strong K cider. That might explain falling into a ditch on the way back to my student digs after the gig, and it may also explain later trying to eat frozen bread when it transpired that was the only food I had in the house...

Of course we weren't the only ones who had a bit to drink that night. Blur were in their post-Leisure, pre-Popscene phase, and things were not going brilliantly for them. This might explain why they were quite so well lubricated on stage, with Damon introducing their biggest hit to date with the memorable phrase, "You're going to think this is shit." He had, at least, moved on from the haircut he sported in the video for it, but the band as a whole had yet to reinvent themselves.

Blur got better, of course, a lot better; we saw them again just two and a half years later, by which time they were headlining the Shepherd's Bush Empire, with a nascent Sleeper supporting. Damon et al. had recently gone top five with Girls and Boys, and topped the album chart with Parklife; they were almost like a different band. Another top, top night, that was, though with no K cider or frozen bread...

It seems impossible to me, mate, that first tipsy gig being 31 years ago. Equally impossible, that we were dropped into the same class at school on the sole but fortuitous basis of surname alphabetical order, some forty years ago. Essentially, impossible that our youth is such a distant thing. Still, no-one can say we didn't give it a good go, can they? And still are! Happy birthday, my cheese-eating friend.

Wednesday 14 December 2022

That Was The Year That Was: 2022

This is the twelfth time I've recapped a year like this (for completists, here are the others); I nearly didn't bother, on the grounds that I consume so little new material, and no-one cares about my opinion. So I was going to give it a swerve...

...but then had an attackers of blogger's guilt. So here we are ... if "here" is realising that what I "consume" these days is, more than ever, driven by my notional roles of father and partner than by my own individual, personal taste. Especially what I watch, as will become apparent.

But enough prevarication; let's crack on with this load of old balls and see how little new stuff I've tried this year.

Best album

Suede, Autofiction
When I wrote about Autofiction by Suede earlier in the year I described it as "a faster, heavier sound than most of the output from their Indian summer" and that it "might just be their best Bernard-less album". I stand by all that; here's a band, 30+ years after they started and with no small amount of drama in their history, still sounding exciting, still sounding like they're trying. Highly recommended and my album of the year. Honourable mentions: Johnny Marr for Fever Dreams Pts 1-4; The Smile for A Light For Attracting Attention.

Best song

I though Suede were going to have this stitched up too, with the excellent She Still Leads Me On but no, the nod goes to Graham Coxon's new project Waeve, for the sheer brilliance and audacious ear-wormery that is Something Pretty - once heard, never forgotten. Reformation nostalgia enormo-gigs might be his pension plan, but he's still the most interesting quarter of Blur.

Best gig

Morrissey live, Brighton Centre, 14 Oct 2022
It's been a quiet year, gig-wise. So, excellent (in very different ways) though Crowded House and Half Man Half Biscuit were, this is a toss-up between two old men: Paul Weller at the local uni, early in the year, and Morrissey, in Brighton, as autumn got up and running. There's nothing in it, they were both excellent. I ought to give Paul the nod, it's the socially acceptable answer, but I'm going for SPM, the deciding factor being that I had The Man Of Cheese for company in Brighton, and a gig shared is almost always better than a lone gig.

Best book

I've read a few books this year, but not many of them are new for 2022. In fact, I think Fairy Tale by Stephen King is the only book published this year that I've read so far. So that ought to win, but it won't. The best book I've read this year, by some distance, is Fallout by Sadie Jones; I summarised it at the time as a "supremely well-written tale of love, lust, lies and liaisons, set against a beautifully-realised evocation of early 70s theatreland," and if that doesn't whet your appetite, nothing will. Jones also has a new book out, Amy & Lan, that I haven't read yet but already predict will be in the running for this accolade, if you can call it that, next year. Oh, and I should also give a mention to Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, as that would have got the nod if not for Sadie.

Best film

I am somewhat embarrassed by the paucity of films I've been to see this year. Indeed, most of the films I've seen have been for the benefit of Amusements Minor. So whilst I'm sure there have been plenty of good films out there, the pick of what I've seen in 2022 is Spiderman: No Way Home, which is an indecent amount of fun and even managed to prise some grudging admiration for Tobey Maguire's Peter from the boy. I should also give honourable mentions to Netflix's Don't Look Up, the biting climate-change analogy that everyone should watch, and, for sheer ludicrous spectacle, Top Gun: Maverick. Blimey: remember when I used to watch real films?

Best television

Even if not up to the dazzling standards of earlier series, Ghosts has continued to be a joy - there's a Christmas Day special coming too, if you're interested. And I've watched the Alex Rider series on Amazon Prime's annoyingly-named Freevee channel, and that has been a hoot, real whole-family-watching-together television (decent theme song too). But other that that it's been a slow year for TV, at Amusements Towers, at least. I'll edit this later if I suddenly remember something but at the moment I can't think of a standout highlight. Sorry!

Best sport

Leah Williamson at Euro 2022
Easy to forget, in the aftermath of Qatar and the inevitable disappointment of losing as soon as we come up against a top-tier team, that actually England won a major football trophy this year. And were quite brilliant doing it, so much so that the Lionesses scooping the Euros is my sporting highlight of the year, not just for the achievement but hopefully for the permanent change they have triggered in football in this country. I'll give an honourable mention to my individual sports personality of the year too, pro cyclist Imogen Cotter, who suffered a potentially career-ending (life-ending!) injury in training at the start of the year and has been nothing short of inspirational fighting back from it ever since. Just, wow.

Person of the year

Paul McCartney with Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen at Glastonbury 2022
For a long time, it looked like money-saving expert Martin Lewis had this in the bag, championing the poor of the nation and speaking truth to power too. It seems impossible for me to fathom that so many are so poor, struggling so badly, in what is still the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. But we are where we are. So well done, Martin, your efforts have helped so many. But my person of the year is Paul McCartney, headlining Glastonbury at 80 years of age, and doing an excellent job of it. He's basically a very few years younger than my old man who, on occasion, struggles a bit to headline the armchair. So well done Paul - I hope you tour at least once more, so I can finally see you live.

Tool of the year

I need a bigger toolbox ... where shall we start? Johnson, Truss, Kwarteng, Sunak, Patel, Braverman, Rees-Mogg, Shapps, Hancock, Dorries. We need shot of them all from public life, from public service, because they do us all a dis-service, to say the least. Further afield? Man-child Putin, throwing missiles and young Russians onto the bonfire of his own vanity, a possible comeback from Trump, the dollar-enabled kid-in-a-candy-store that is Elon Musk, the Oscars implosion of Will Smith, the angsty proclamations of minor royals enjoying major privilege, the perma-tanned barrel-scraping and down-dumbed miasma of reality television, those who are famous for being famous, anyone who applauds themselves on television, oh Jesus, I could go on. I'm not going to pick one person... I'm just begging, hoping beyond hope that 2023 is better.

Well, blogger's guilt, I hope that was worth it. But reader ... how was it for you?

Tuesday 6 December 2022

The Loneliest Time of Year

The Wedding Present are concluding 24 Songs, their 30th anniversary "twelve singles in a year" effort, with a suitably maudlin festive tune. To quote from an interview Gedge has just given Uncut magazine:

"Ah, the old 'Christmas song'," writes bandleader David Gedge. "To be honest, I've kind of been one of those 'bah, humbug' types ever since I realised that the only thing we're really celebrating on 25th December is capitalism! 'Thanks for the list of stuff you want me to buy for you, here's a list of stuff I want you to buy for me.' There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but, for me, one of the most appealing things about the festive season is the way pop songs always seem more poignant when they're also Christmas songs. It's all about heightened expectation and disappointment, perhaps.

"I've had a go myself a couple of times over the years, of course, and it seemed fitting to have another crack at it for the grand finale of '24 Songs'. Hence, 'The Loneliest Time Of Year' has a huge, melancholy chorus, sleigh bells, and an appropriately surreal video.

You won't hear this on Bland FM but I think it's rather lovely. If you agree, well, The Loneliest Time Of Year will be released on Friday December 16th. You can bag the 7" – either individually or as part of the complete box set of all twelve 24 Songs singles – right here. Why not give in to that pesky capitalism and treat yourself to an early Christmas present...?

Thursday 1 December 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Fairy Tale

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.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

12/22: Fairy Tale by Stephen King

The blurb: Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself - and his dad. Then, when Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her ageing master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King's storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale about another world than ours, in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy - and his dog - must lead the battle.

The review: The dedication at the start of this book reads "Thinking of REH, ERB, and, of course, HPL" and that tells you all you really need to know about what follows. For this is King's homage to the books he consumed in his youth, and the writing of Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs and especially H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed, you could say that Fairy Tale is King's take on Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu. Of course, King being King there are plenty of other fictional touchstones woven in too, from conventional fairytales like Rumpelstiltskin and The Three Little Pigs, to more recent fairytale allegories like Star Wars and The Hunger Games. He even throws in a subtle reference to his own Dark Tower series, for the Constant Readers among us to spot.

Also, King being King, the author has great fun with the fact that all the best fairytales have gruesome aspects. And we know he can do gruesome!

Anyway, I'd better write a review, hadn't I? This is King's umpteenth book, and he's racked up a pajillion sales, so he can write, we all know that. This is no exception: it's an enjoyable page-turner, that I rattled through quicker than anything I've read since ... well, since the last King novel I read. It won't win him many new fans but if you already like his work, you'll like this too. And that ought to be the end of the review, hadn't it? Well, it is, really, except for one observation. Like many of King's novels, Billy Summers being the most recent obvious comparator, this book pivots on a single moment about 30% of the way in; it's in the blurb, so there's no spoiler in me saying that moment is the point at which our hero Charlie goes through the portal in Howard's shed into another world. The world of make-believe, if you like - the land of fairytales. And the simple opinion I want to offer here is that, although the whole book is good, I preferred the section before that pivot, with Charlie rooted in normality, dealing with familial issues, high school issues, helping an old neighbour. It's got to the point, I think, where King is just a better prose fiction novelist than he is a horror/fantasy/supernatural writer. There. I said it. Don't @ me, as the influencers of the world might still say. But do comment, below.

The bottom line: King's take on a modern, yet traditional, fairytale, bears all his hallmarks, whilst also being an homage to those that came before him. Fans will lap it up - I did.

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