Monday 4 December 2023

Monday long song: You Took

We're into December, it's cold and the nights are drawing in. I really should start work on my That Was The Year That Was review of 2023, but I'm not sure I have enough to make it worthwhile. So instead here's a long song for your Monday, from Aussie outfit The Church's second album, The Blurred Crusade, all the way back from 1982. According to Wikipedia, this was about the time the band left their New Wave roots behind and expanded into "neo-psychedelia". Yes, really.

Whatever the genre description, Crusade remains a decent album, even if it has dated slightly. The first 90 seconds of this could be knocked up in Garageband in about, ooh, 90 seconds these days, I reckon. But that's not the point, is it?

Anyway, the song.

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Friday 1 December 2023


According to the Met Office and their meteorological calendar, today is the first day of winter. You might have other definitions and fair enough, but I need no other excuse for this, a live performance from the fourth best band in Hull, exactly 37 years and one week ago. I Smell Winter was the B-side to Think For A Minute, if memory serves.

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Wednesday 29 November 2023

Racking up the years

"I'm old, not obsolete," opined Arnold, in the barrel-scraping retread that was 2015's Terminator Genisys. Much like CDs, these days. Remember when they were the future, all over Tomorrow's World, with their irridescent digital promise to tempt us all into rebuying our record collections? Long time ago, isn't it?

When I was at university as an undergraduate, an impossible number of years ago, I was a frequent visitor to the Record Library. It was a little room on the ground floor level of the main campus library, and was home to rack upon rack of vinyl and a small, but growing, number of new-fangled and impossibly exciting CDs. I didn't have a record player in my student hovel, but I borrowed CDs from the library most weeks and taped them onto whatever spare TDKs I had at the time. It didn't matter that the cassette recorder I was doing the copying on was, frankly, pretty rubbish - taping a CD was still better than taping the alternative.

Nearly 25 years after I left, I returned to that same university to work. Since staff have full access to the campus library, I also returned to the Record Library, which had grown somewhat, but also changed - most of the vinyl was gone, and the number of CDs had multiplied 50-fold, perhaps even 100-fold. And although everything is online these days, streamable or downloadable or Spotifyable or YouTubable, I would occasionally borrow a handful of CDs for old times' sake. I took great delight in finding and reborrowing some CDs I had first borrowed in the early 90s - there was a circularity to that that I greatly enjoyed.

Covid and lockdown meant working from home, of course. I'm still only in the office two or sometimes three days a week now - a change has been wrought that will be hard to go back from. But let's not digress. A month or two ago I went back to the library to get a CD, now more than 30 years after my first visit there. And the Record Library was ... gone.

Not gone gone, as I had first thought. But moved, to the lowest basement level, and from regular shelving to these space-efficient rolling racks...

Rolling racks

There was no-one around, no-one near the racks. They felt decidedly untouched. CDs are the past, and that makes me very sad. Still, they had a longer useful life than DVDs - you can't seem to give those away these days. Damn you Netflix, Disney+ and all the rest. But I loved CDs. Still love them. And have got thousands of the damn things. And no, Mrs Amusements, I will not part with them - they are a collection, after all.

Of course the other feeling these rolling racks triggered was a Proustian rush of recalling the department store I worked in as a teenager. As I may have mentioned before, I had a Saturday job in the lighting department of a well-known but now defunct high street store that was big enough to have an enormous, windowless stock room on its top floor. Most of the stock was housed in giant rolling racks that made the ones in the photograph above look puny. They were easily big enough to hide in, let's put it that way, and so were a great place to while away the time on a slow Saturday afternoon. Of course most stores these days don't have stock rooms in the same way - just-in-time ordering and better point-of-sale racking mean the shop floor is essentially the stock room now. "Just going to look for it upstairs" has, like CDs, become a thing of the past. That makes me sad too, but then of course I'm an old white guy and, as Mabel says in the wonderful Only Murders In The Building, "Old white guys are only afraid of colon cancer and societal change."

At this point, I was going to embed Yesterday's Men by Madness, but I've unsurprisingly featured that before, so here's something different, in the shape of When You're Old And Lonely by The Magnetic Fields, which gets away with its simplicity and lack of musical progression by being both short and (bitter)sweet.

When you're old and lonely you will wish you'd married me
I could build a fire for you and bring you cakes and tea
When you're cold and hungry I'll be waiting by the phone
You can call me up and tell me how you're all alone, all alone
When you're old and lonely and the rush of life is past
Days go by too slowly and the years go by too fast
When your golden loneliness is heavier than stone
You can call me up and say "My God, I'm all alone, all alone."

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Friday 24 November 2023

To me...

Graph of blog posts by month

I'll save you squinting to read the horizontal axis - this is a graph of the number of blog posts I've written every month for the last two years, prior to this one. The dotted red line makes the implicit trend explicit. I know it's just a count, it's got nothing to do with quality or page views (though both of those trend lines would follow a similar trajectory). Maybe I've just run out of words.

Take the rest of this post, for example. It starts with seeing this on Instagram the other day...

Which is one of those jokes that, if you have to explain it, stops being funny.

And then I thought, this could lead into a post about how U2 aren't all bad, actually (come back, Rol). Prone to pomposity, yes, effects-pedal-dependent, maybe, and so far over the shark even Quint couldn't get them, certainly. But there were some good songs there too, back in the day. Except ... I don't have the words, effort or energy required to write that post any more, it seems.

Bollocks to it. Here's a song.

See, that was alright, wasn't it? And if it was by anyone else, we'd all be enthusing. Although seeing Bonio in his big glasses inevitably brings this little snippet to mind:

"Are those your mother's cataract glasses?" Brilliant. And that's the post. More, by which I probably mean less, some other time.Tip the author

Thursday 16 November 2023

And oh, what a storm

Bradford were a late-80s indie five-piece from, ironically, Blackburn. Annointed by SPM, they opened for the quiffed one at his first post-Smiths live performance (the Wolverhampton Civic Hall gig) and were rapidly signed to Stephen Street's nascent Foundation label. Their first single predated that though, with Skin Storm being released in 1988 on the Village Records label; Wikipedia tells me that it was first independently financed recording to be released on CD, and who am I to argue? Anyway, for all singer Ian Hodgson's obvious vocal Moz tendencies, here it's really guitarist Ewan Butler's even more obvious Marr-isms that stand out, especially in the chorus. Or maybe they're Street-isms? Anyway, see what you think:

Bradford are on Bandcamp, where you can listen to the expanded, remastered version of album Thirty Years Of Shouting Quietly. It's alright, but Skin Storm remains the best track on it, still.

Of course, SPM loved them so much he had a crack at covering Skin Storm, and put his version on the B-side of Pregnant For The Last Time. Or maybe he'd just run out of new song ideas, in the relative doldrum of his Nevin years. Stop reading here if you've had enough of him.

See, for me that has a better vocal but an inferior band performance. Your mileage may vary. Anyway, there'll be some more old nonsense from me some other time, no doubt. Until then...Tip the author

Sunday 5 November 2023

I'm on fire

Had forgotten how much I like this and the album from whence it comes, Silent Alarm. I can thank Jo Whiley for playing it on t'radio t'other night, and reminding me just how good Bloc Party and Banquet are. Feels like a good tune for Bonfire Night too, and not just for the closing lyrics... well, it was either this or something by Catherine Wheel, a-ha ha ha... *

Tip the author* Makes mental note to post Catherine Wheel track next year. Or maybe that Kasabian track about being on fire.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Turning Japanese

Duolingo is a mighty popular app. On the Google Play Store it has been downloaded over 100 million times. In the Apple realm, it is the #2 app in their Education category. Everyone wants to learn a new language, it seems, (and / or please a green owl) and I am no exception.

Background: I studied French at school. Although I stopped that 37 years ago, I got a AA at O-level, was pretty good at it, and have retained enough to make trips to France comfortable. I also studied Russian at school, which was harder, and I haven't retained much of that - I can ask "Where is Red Square?" but I probably wouldn't understand the answer. Anyway, the bottom line is that I haven't tried to learn a language since the mid Eighties.

So to Duolingo, where I am trying to learn Japanese. God, it's hard. Partly it's because there seem to be three character sets - Hiragana (over 100 characters or character combinations), Katakana (another 100+) and Kanji (45 characters so far and apparently more to come in later lessons). It all makes Russian's 33-letter alphabet seem a bit feeble.

Then there's getting your head around word order. To say I'm going to have coffee with my brother next week you essentially say Next week my brother with coffee going to have I am... which takes some getting used to. At least this ordering seems pretty consistent, so far at least.

Then there's the accent. Learning languages as a kid, I adopted an appropriate accent very easily. As a middle-aged fossil in the making, who hasn't used this part of his brain for a long time, any time I try to say anything in any language other than French or Russian, I end up sounding like I am deliberately trying to do a comedy foreign stereotype. And I'm not, I promise.

Age is a factor in other ways too. When you're sixteen, your brain is a lightning rod, ready to take input and turn it into neural connections as easy as pie. The teen brain is a sponge, basically, and it can absorb a hell of a lot of water. When you're fossilising, things are a bit different. The brain can still absorb but it's more like a damp tea towel than a sponge. Those neural connections have to be hammered into place. Learning just isn't as easy as it used to be.

I'm trying though, I really am. I'm 21 weeks into a daily Duolingo streak, and I can now say more in Japanese than I can remember in Russian. Whether anybody would understand me in downtown Tokyo remains to be seen, and whether I'll ever get to go back to Japan to try a few phrases is equally unknown. Let's hope so though, that I get to go back at least - Tokyo remains the most other-wordly place I've ever been.

So, here's some Japanese music. Homecomings are an indie-ish four-piece that met and formed at university in Kyoto. This song's title translates as Hurts. I've no idea what it's about (I haven't got to the Duolingo unit on deciphering indie lyrics yet) but the video has helpful subtitles that might ... oh, they're in Japanese...

And as the title of this post suggests, I did consider writing about The Vapors for the 800th time. But instead, here's Kirsten Dunst's cover of their most famous song. Yes, really.

Tip the authorWhat did you make of that? To be fair, Akihabara Majokko Princess was more of a video art installation from director McG than a serious foray into 80s power-pop from Kirsten. Whatever, the video was included in the 2009 "Pop Life" exhibition at the Tate Modern. Akihabara, by the way, is a frankly dizzying shopping district in Tokyo, particularly heavy on electronics and tech... although when I was there I bought a tiny paper diary. Make of that what you will.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Don't have nightmares

It's Halloween, which seems an appropriate time to ask, what's the most scared you've ever been watching a film? I don't mean unsettled, or (incoming awful Americanism alert) grossed out, or spooked, or startled, but actually, properly, physically and mentally scared?

Slasher movies, gore, teenagers going into woodsheds, they don't do much for me, to be honest, never have. In fact, I'd go as far as to say I generally find them faintly ridiculous. No, for me it has to be a film that gets in your head as well as under your skin. Psychological horror, subtlety, atmosphere, tension and the uncanny or unnerving - these are the things that do it for me.

Back in 2010, when this blog was still in short trousers and most of you weren't reading it (except Rol, he was an early adopter), I wrote a Halloween post about my top thirteen unsettling films. Number two on that list was The Others, a 2001 vehicle for Nicole Kidman, and to this day the film that has scared me the most on first watching. I was going to enthuse about it again, but I can't improve on what I wrote about it thirteen years ago, which was this:

Like The Omen, The Others had such an effect on me because of the circumstances in which I watched it. Dispatched to the Big Smoke for a week to do a training course, my evenings in a soulless corporate hotel were boring beyond words. What better way to while away the evening than watching a movie on the old pay-per-view? After all, the company Amex was paying, right? Down went the lights and on went The Others... so it's late, it's dark, and I'm away from home, all alone, in unfamiliar surroundings. At one point, I had to get up and make a cup of tea to break the tension (you know the scene, it's when you think it's the little girl all dressed up under that veil). I had to put all the lights back on for the end, I was that unnerved. I know, almost as big a scaredycat as my sister. But not, because this film is unsettling in the extreme. What could be worse than laying awake in your darkened bedroom, only for unseen feet to thump across the floorboards and unseen hands to fling back the curtains? And Christ, how would it feel to realise all your hired help are dead? Not great, I'm guessing. Oh, and there's that scene where our heroine tries to escape into town only to be stopped by (quite brilliantly added digital) fog, and then she bumps into her long-absent husband... only he's not quite right, is he? And with good cause. I've tried to get my partner to watch this on a number of occasions, and she just won't. Tells you all need to know about the goosebump-inducing, dream-disrupting, lights-back-on-please qualities of this excellent chiller.

I still think The Shining, which topped my list, is a better, more unsettling film but for sheer heart-racing fright The Others, and the all-important circumstances in which I first watched it, still takes some beating. Here's that scene I mentioned in my chart-rundown review.

Tip the authorNot so scary out of context, I guess, and maybe even less so now we all know the plot twist. But back then, on first watching... oh boy. Anyway, as Nick Ross used to say, don't have nightmares ... or do. It is Halloween, after all. Maybe turn the lights off and watch something frightening tonight...

Sunday 29 October 2023

The last Sunday in October... when the clocks go back in the UK. British Summer Time ends and we return to Greenwich Mean Time, a temporal and seasonal shift for which this feels entirely appropriate.

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Wednesday 25 October 2023

Anything is hard to find, except self-loathing

I've been writing this post in my head for nearly two weeks now, trying to wrangle what I want to say into some form of words that someone (anyone!) would want to read. However, I've failed repeatedly, to the extent that this is only going to materialise if I start typing ... so here goes. Don't worry, I'll embed some embarrassingly predictable songs along the way - I know that's all you're really here for, after all.

In part, this is inspired by Rol's exceptional Self-Help For Cynics blog series. But mostly it comes about following a conversation one Sunday evening that took an unexpected turn. I'm not going into details here, suffice to say that the person I was talking to revealed that they had done something unwise, one result of which was a very low mood and even a degree of self-loathing. I sympathised of course, because no-one wants someone they care about feeling that way. But I empathised too. After all, anyone can make a mistake...

It's not necessarily the size of the mistake that's the issue, of course, or even the conventional consequences, although they can both be factors. No, the pertinent issue, both in this case and in my own past, is the nature of the decision or action. Specifically, these are mistakes, for want of a better word, that make you question your own sense of self - who you think you are, at the most fundamental level. And that line of questioning is, from my experience, a shortcut to depression and self-loathing. Go directly to jail. Do not pass "Go". Do not collect £200.

One counter argument might be that this level of self-awareness, of considered introspection, must be a positive thing, along the lines of "Well, you might feel bad for doing X but the fact that you're questioning why you did it, can't even believe you did it, shows what a well-rounded, reflective character you are, making personal progress that should offset any regret or self-loathing." And maybe that's true, to a degree and in retrospect, but try telling someone that when they are in the midst of self-directed angst. Because I'm not just talking about plain old regret here:

We're talking about things that make you question who you really are, at the most basic level. After this conversation, I reflected that in my adult life, there have been four things I have done that made me question my very sense of self in this way, actions that I couldn't reconcile with who I thought I was. Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint: there have been many, many other mistakes, misdeeds and generally awful / horrible / reprehensible behaviour. There have been plenty of things I'm not proud of, in other words: people I've treated very poorly, bad decisions I've made that not even hindsdight can justify, all of that. But all those things I can square up in my head with who I think I am. In all but those four cases, I can see how I got to where I did, why I did what I did, and why I reacted (or didn't ) to it afterwards. But those other instances, those four things... There's a disorientating effect to not understanding yourself, to not recognising actions as something you'd do. It can be horrible, truly. And if, like me, you have a simmering baseline level of self-loathing at the best of times, it can plough you into a very dark place.

There are two options then, of course: you either get over it or you don't. And if that sounds like I'm over-simplifying, I'm sorry, because that's not my intention. Getting over it doesn't mean forgetting it, or leaving it behind, after all. As I have tried to show, there is a difference between doing something you're "not proud of" and something that actually causes you active personal, inward, private shame. When you do something that leaves you sorrowfully thinking "I can't believe I did that", then getting over it means coming to terms with the fact that you did. In my experience, this is impossible to do completely, to the extent that "getting over it" actually just means accepting what happened, accepting yourself and finding a way to carry on being the revised edition of yourself. At first, you think about it every waking moment, then a few times a day, then a few days a week... Eventually you can go so long without thinking about it that it's almost like it never happened, and you really are who you thought you were. But only almost. For whilst time is a great healer, when something happens that prompts a recollection of your secret personal shame, it's a fresh wound, almost as deep as the original cut.

I have been trying my whole life to accept myself. I'm starting to think that perhaps I won't ever succeed. I hope you have better luck, and I hope those actions, inactions and choices that give you cause to question your self-image are few and very far between. Be well.

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Thursday 12 October 2023

Every home should have one X

Reading Khayem's post today on the always-excellent Dubhed, regarding The Anchoress's cover of Enjoy The Silence, it suddenly occurred to me that I had somehow omitted a very important album from the EHSHO masterlist. Specifically, Depeche Mode's 1990 high watermark, Violator.

Since Khayem has already featured Silence, here's another example of what makes this album so bloody good.

And to prove that it's the very definition of all killer, no filler, here's another track from Violator but this time one that wasn't also a top twenty hit in the singles chart. Sweetest Perfection is, on the face of it, all about a doomed love for the perfect (but wrong) woman ... but is really bleaker still, a doomed love for a darker but equally addicting drug. It's all persistent minor chords, hammer-blow drums and jagged industrial synth noises - the brightly-suited, fresh-faced Basildon boys of Just Can't Get Enough are a distant memory.

I played Violator to death in the early 90s. I think it is Depeche Mode's best album, and thoroughly deserves its place in every home.

For completeness, you can find the Every Home Should Have One masterlist here. Tip the author

Monday 2 October 2023

Like water off an Argentinian racing pigeon's back

I love this sketch. You could argue that it brings the influence of more alternative comedy from the early and mid 70s into the primetime mainstream (it certainly owes a debt to Monty Python's dead parrot, and Fawlty Towers' pedigree Siberian hamster) ... or you could call it derivative. You might say it's a classic example of popular humour of the time ... or you might say that the popular humour of the time was only so popular because of the limited televisual choice. You might say that not one line of this script is wasted ... or you might say it's all predictable nonsense.

Me? I say it features two performers at the top of their game, with an enviable, easy, balanced rapport. I say that it bears repeated viewing, not least because there are so many good lines crammed into five and a half minutes. And most of all, I say it's funny. It just is. It might be a soft humour, by today's standards, because it's not trying to make a point, or criticise anybody or anything; it's not trying to shock, or subvert. It probably wouldn't even get made today, except possibly for children's television. But it's still funny, nonetheless.

And sometimes, some days, I just need a smile. You might too.

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Wednesday 27 September 2023

New to NA: English Teacher

The World's Biggest Paving Slab is getting a lot of airplay on the inestimable 6 Music at the moment. Me, I know nothing about the band, English Teacher, other than I don't think that's an especially good name in these days of "what happens if you Google them?" But what do I know? Well, what I do know is that I really rather like this song. And also, check out the excellent lyrics - lots of fun to be had for the indie spotter here, I think, with some of these references.

I am the world’s biggest paving slab
But no one can walk over me
I am the Pendle Witches, John Simm
And I am Lee Ingleby
I am the Bank of Dave, Golden Postbox
And the festival of R&B
I’m not the terrorist of Talbot Street
But I have apocalyptic dreams

You should see my armoury
I am the world’s biggest paving slab
So watch your fucking feet

I am the world’s biggest paving slab
But I sit here quietly
No one ever looks down at the ground
Yeah, no one ever notices me
I wish I were born a stone
And made Wycoller my home
Haunting with Charlotte Bronte
I’m not the terrorist of Talbot street
But I think that ruins have beauty

You should see my armoury
You should walk all over me
I am the world’s biggest paving slab
And the world’s smallest celebrity

Great video too, isn't it?Tip the author

Thursday 21 September 2023

Under the influence

I love REM, and have a special fondness for the IRS years when you couldn't always make out what Michael was singing about and Peter's Rickenbacker jangle was at its jangliest.

Of course, that is a finite resource. Even in the unlikely event that REM were to reconvene, that 1980s sound is gone forever. It is a relic of a different age. Murmur is over 40 years old, lest we forget.

So how to scratch the itch? Well, a bit of Googling led me to this forum discussion about bands with a similar sound to early REM. It makes for an interesting read, not least because it showcases how many wildly different opinions there must be on what early REM sounded like, given some of the suggestions. Anyway, one band name that kept popping up was The Decemberists, and particularly their album The King Is Dead. So I had a listen, and you know what? On occasion, they do sound a bit like Athens' finest. Turns out that one Peter Buck guests on three of the album tracks, and you can tell which. For me, this is the most REMarkable track:

You see, I hear this and can't help but think of a slightly faster version of this, and not just because of the intro either:

I don't know what my point is. We're all a product of our influences, aren't we, so... what? I guess the key is to be a product of them without being in their thrall. The Decemberists manage this, I think. Good on them.Tip the author

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Now what?

For those of you that expressed an interest last time, here are some more gems from The Connor Brothers that suit my current mood just fine...

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Tuesday 12 September 2023

Not from where I'm standing

I got to see some art by The Connor Brothers recently. Their impressive back-story involving an escape by twin brothers from a particularly luddite American cult is sadly a work of fiction; rather, they are former art dealers turned print makers Mike Snelle and James Golding, and are perhaps best known for adding subversive or post-modern captions to pulp fiction book covers - you know, this kind of thing:

I loved every print I saw like this, and took loads of pictures, going back to some prints time and again. And I got to thinking - where had I seen this before? Not just something like it, but a piece of art in this exact style, and by The Connor Brothers? And then it came to me.

Not From Where I'm Standing is a compilation of 20 Bond film themes covered by current and former members of Cinerama and The Wedding Present. I wrote more about it back in 2020, when it was released. Anyway, here's a song from it; I need no other excuse for a bit of Such Small Hands.

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Saturday 9 September 2023

Meldrew Point

To reach Meldrew Point is to be the same age Richard Wilson was when episode 1 of One Foot In The Grave first aired. I don't believe it, et cetera...

This little clip is from the fourth series, but encapsulates Victor's rage against the dying of the light very well.

Thursday 31 August 2023

New to NA: Marseille

I can't remember how or where I stumbled upon this track by Marseille. I don't know much (anything) about the band either, other than what I can hear, which is that they grew up listening to their parents' Roses, Bluetones and La's albums, and inherited not only those influences but their influences' influences too.

What I can tell you is that I rather like this, and you might too.

Tip the authorFrom what I can see Marseille have neither a Bandcamp nor Soundcloud presence, but they do have this handy Linktree should you, like me, want to know more.

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Europe. It's like a different country or something... V

I haven't done one of these for a very long time. I know it cheapens the blog and, by extension, me, but I was surprised to find multiple slagrooms in a Dutch supermarket, and intrigued by the idea of luxe and royale variants. And I hadn't even got to Amsterdam...


Tip the authorAt least you know I'm still here, right? I'll try to be back with a proper post soon...ish.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

You're still one illusion that I can't resist

I know very, very little about Deus (or dEUS, as they style themselves), other than that they come from Belgium, started up in the early 90s and have carried on every since. Never huge, their commercial peak came in '99, with the album The Ideal Crash. The band's only continuous members are Tom Barman (vocals, guitars) and Klaas Janzoons (keyboards, violin); for everything else, it's been a revolving door of Belgian musos.

So far, so Wikipedia.

What I do know is that I own one song by them, Magdalena, from the aforementioned Ideal Crash album. I think it was on a Q magazine CD, either a cover-mount or subscriber special (yes, I subscribed for a while, back in the day). Until last weekend I had completely forgotten this track but it seems I thought enough of it at the time to include on a mixtape for someone special. Was it good, or had I just had a four and a half minute gap that needed filling?

Turns out it was quite good, I think. Quite ear-wormy, in places. And quite different too. And as a bonus, I think this might be the first Belgian band to grace these pages... but aside from that, what do you reckon?Tip the author

Friday 4 August 2023


I watched Yesterday again recently. It was on late on the Beeb, nothing else remotely watchable was on and, besides, it has a charming if slightly unoriginal premise that makes it worth a look - imagine what would happen if the rest of the world collectvely forgot something monumental, and only you could remember. Hence struggling singer-songwriter Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is the only person who can remember The Beatles after waking up in an alternate reality where they never existed. Cue lots of cameos from Ed Sheeran (the best of which involves Ed comparing Jack to Mozart and himself to Salieri), lots of songs everyone knows to ramp up the feel-good, some good in-jokes (like Oasis not existing either - "Makes sense," says Jack), and even Lily James as the smalltown love interest. And since the whole thing is a Danny Boyle and Richard Curtis creation, you're in safe, if slightly too safe, hands.

But this isn't a film review. There's a scene two thirds of the way through the film where Jack gets to meet John Lennon. Who is in his seventies, living by the sea, quietly creating art, having had a happy, normal life. Well, here it is.

Which is nice, isn't it? Nice to imagine John's life without the events of December 1980.

Did you recognise who was playing John, in that clip, by the way? Behind the de facto round glasses and under the docker's cap? An uncredited cameo from regular Boyle collaborator Robert Carlyle, but I digress. The point is, I guess it was easy to imagine John looking like that: the glasses, the hat, the jeans. It's how I might have drafted him, given the brief. But how, I wondered, would AI imagine him? Like this, it turns out:

My prompt to the AI engine for this was "John Lennon as a pensioner", rather than " 78". But you get the idea. Aside from one side of his glasses being on the wonk, it's quite good. Or is it? I mean, it's well rendered. But does it capture the essence, the spirit of the man? Maybe I should ask a real, human artist to draw John as an old man (any volunteers, C?) and see how it compares.

Tip the authorGiven the artifice of AI, it feels like there's only one song to end this post with. And for non-Beatles obsessives, that guitar solo from 49s is George.

Tuesday 1 August 2023


It's not so long ago, really, that finding somewhere to go after last orders was problematic. Okay, it's 25 years ago, probably more, but it doesn't feel so long since The Man of Cheese and I, plus whatever assortment of others was out that week, would exit a pub a little after closing time and stumble around the provnicial streets of small-town east Kent, in search of a late drink... somewhere.

The thing about stumbling around provincial streets of small towms is that they tend to be pretty quiet, late at night, unlike gaggles of youth post-pub. Often, one of our number would entreat the others to keep it down a bit - we were good eggs, really. But this, in turn, could result in a woozy, beery, giggly rendition of a song from the others in attendance. Verses only, of course; no-one really had the vocal chops for the chorus. I can still hear it now...

I expect some would have seen the title of this blog post and expected some early REM. Well, I don't like to disappoint, so here it is.

Tip the authorGod, I love REM, especially the IRS years. But anyway, the song of theirs I should really include if I want to maintain the theme of walking home tipsy after a night out, stumbling around being accidentally noisy, is this. Intentionally or otherwise, it always felt like the perfect song for arriving home, unable to be quiet despite best intentions, the slightly goofy guitar line through the verse a perfect fit for the attempt to get yourself "up the stairs to the landing, up the stairs into the hall..."

Saturday 29 July 2023

A Latitude encore

Latitude stripes
Yes, they dye the sheep pink...

Sigh. It's a scarcely believable fifteen years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, a more plausible two since my last visit. A lot has changed in that period - it is still a multi-disciplinary festival, but music dominates more than ever - that's a shame, much as I love the music, because the variety of content is what has always made Latitude so special. It seems to get bigger every year too - when I first went, capacity was a little over 20,000; it's more than 40,000 now. And sponsorship? Barclays were all over this year's event. A necessary evil, I guess. Still, I got to go, just for the day, and since neither I nor Mrs Amusements had seen Pulp live back in the day, it was Friday we plumped for. Amusements Minor also came along for the ride. So in the manner of my festival diaries of yore, here's what we saw...


  • Ed Byrne at Latitude 2023
    Ed Byrne : Comedy Arena. Delays leaving home and then a queue at the gate meant we missed local band Ikarus and a recording of Radio 4's Loose Ends. So, after a quick sandwich lunch, the first act we saw proper was comedian Ed Byrne. He didn't disappoint. Sure, some of the material felt a bit safe, a bit easy - parenthood, marriage, vasectomy - but then he's 51 now, so what should we have really expected? What was evident though was just how much of a seasoned pro Ed is - his timing is impeccable, his ad libs precise, his reading of the audience spot on. This felt like a comedy masterclass at times and I would later reflect that his set was part of my Latitude Top Three.
  • Line Garden at Latitude 2023
    Lime Garden : Sunrise Arena. After Ed, we schlepped across the site to what remains my various music stage, the Sunrise Arena, at the far end of the woods. Lime Garden are an all-female four-piece from Brighton who sound like they've consumed a lot of Elastica, Sleeper and Echobelly growing up. This is a good thing. Not so good were the technical issues the band had at the start of their set, to wit: "Can I get a lot more SPD in the front monitor?" I gave the bright-haired singer's slightly inaccurate vocals the benefit of the doubt on that basis, anyway. She has a stage presence though: introducing the song Popstar, she explained that it was about not wanting to work, before noting that if there were any sugar daddies in the audience, she was listening...
  • The New York Brass Band at Latitude 2023
    The New York Brass Band : Trailer Park. After a quick but much-needed cup of tea, it was a short walk through the woods to the Trailer Park to see The New York Brass Band. That's "a new brass band from up north" rather than from across the pond, by the way. What can I tell you, their big, lively sound in a very compact setting proved popular from the off. Unlike the rest of the Amusements clan who, I think, would have preferred a less densely packed audience, I would happily have listened to this for a bit longer. But then TNYBB launched into a Toploader cover (you can guess which one) and that was me done too.
  • The Beths at Latitude 2023
    The Beths : BBC Sounds Stage. After a mosey around the family area and the Faraway Forest, we made our way up to Latitude's second stage, an enormous tent named, this year, after BBC Sounds. I was particularly excited to see The Beths and, having conducted a bit of a sales pitch in the days leading up to the festival, so were the rest of the Amusements clan. Lucky for me, then, that the Kiwi indie darlings didn't disappoint. As they walked on a giant fish inflated at the back of the stage (a nod to the sleeve art from their most recent album), and then the band launched into Future Me Hates Me. For some bands this might have set too high a bar but The Beths were more than capable of maintaining that standard for the entirety of their hour-long set. For me, the band are at their best when lead singer and principal songwriter Elizabeth makes full use of her vocal range, effortlessly switching from high to low - it elevates them above other bands that, on paper, might seem quite similar. And although it's not often noticeable, I do like it when a vocal is sung with an honest accent (the chorus of Best Left becomes "bist lift to rot" in Elizabeth's hands). Other observations? Recent album opener Expert In A Dying Field was the penultimate track here, and sounded excellent. Mrs Amusements was dancing by this point, to Amusements Minor's, well, amusement. Oh, and The Beth's drummer looks very like my boss, but I digress. Either way, The Beths were a real highlight for us all, and were part two of my Latitude Top Three.
  • Bleach Lab at Latitude 2023
    Bleach Lab : The Alcove. Mrs Amusements took a time-out at this point, preferring to sit on a fallen tree and read a book whilst The Boy and I squeezed into the back of The Alcove (a big marquee in the woods) for this. Mutterings in the crowd beforehand were all about dream-pop and shoegaze, which was exciting. And sure, listening to their Bandcamp I can see how those comparisons get made. But live? Well, the vocals lacked the ethereal qualities I associate with those genres. Musically, well, I'd say the guitarist has listened to a lot of Johnny Marr, but then haven't we all? Where we were stood, there were an awful lot of teenage boys too, attracted, I would venture, by vocalist Jenna Kyle rather than by any sudden predilection for dream pop. But again, I guess we've all been there. Whatever, this didn't do much for me, disappointingly (I'd enjoyed what I'd heard from them in my pre-festival research), so after two songs we left and scooped up Mrs NA.
  • Luke Wright : The Listening Post. To be honest, we were all starting to flag a little bit by this point, so got to the next venue early for a bit of a sit down, which is how we came to catch the tail-end of poet Luke Wright. This was a nice bonus - Luke has performed at every Latitude since the year dot, so this felt like returning to a simpler, smaller festival time. Like the rest of us, Luke is getting a little older, a little heavier set. He still seems a little bit too pleased with himself as well, but that's okay, it turns what would otherwise be just a poetry reading into a performance. I guess that's the point. He ended his time on stage with the eponymous Peak from his most recent book which, like our glimpse of his set, was short and bittersweet.
  • Tessa Coates, Jess Fostekew and Shaparak Khorsandi at Latitude 2023
    Nobody Panic podcast : The Listening Post. This was essentially a recording for Tessa Coates' successful Don't Panic podcast, the gist of which seems to be Tessa discussing how to do something with various comedic guests. For this episode, there were two guests, Jess Fosketew and Shaparak Khorsandi, and they were there to discuss how to ... be good at sports. Which I wanted to listen to and like but ... it just seemed to turn into an episode of Loose Women, something I am clearly not the target audience for, and with a focus on how much they had not enjoyed PE at school. I checked my subconscious bias by asking what Mrs Amusements thought, but she didn't much like this either. To be honest though, it was warm and comfortable in the Listening Post (the only tented venue with matting on the floor) so I tried to catch a power-nap during this, mindful of the fact that I would be driving us all home in the wee small hours. I only managed about five minutes though, before Amusements Minor noticed and elbowed me awake. Hey ho. Bottom line: you might enjoy this podcast. I hope you do. But it's not for me.
  • Yard Act at Latitude 2023
    Yard Act : BBC Sounds Stage. After a lovely festival dinner that involved a lot of pulled pork and no small amount of chips, NA Minor and I left Mrs Amusements at the Listening Post, and headed back to the Sounds Stage to see a band that I had high hopes for. We arrived a little early, which left me time to be intrigued by their "100% irrelevant" sign ... and then the band came on, to the sound of Enjoy Yourself by The Specials. Another good sign. But then it all went a bit wrong. Opening your set by teaching the audience their part for some call-and-response, before you've even played a note? Er, no. And then curling up into a foetal ball on stage whilst singing the (eventual) first song, so that most of the audience can't see you? Again, no. Forget the stream of consciousness semi-spoken lyrics, they may or may not be for you, that's subjective at least. But learn some stagecraft, man! Others were heard to enthuse later but for us? "He's a character," said Amusements Minor with a raised eyebrow and deadpan face, two songs in. And we left, both a little disappointed.
  • Pulp at Latitude 2023
    Pulp : The Obelisk Arena. The main stage was as packed as I can ever remember seeing it in all my years at Latitude, and there was a palpable air of excitment building from quite early on. At 9.25, the big screens either side of the stage flickered into life and announced, in hot pink on black, that we would remember this night for the rest of our lives, and that we were about to see the 534th live performance by the group Pulp. This, the screens displayed, is what we do for an encore. And as the minor chords that had accompanied these pronouncements morphed into the intro for I Spy, on came the band. It's a cliché to describe a welcome as rapturous but really, there's no other word for it. And they were straight into it, with such a full sound too, augmented for the night by the Elysian Collective string section. I'll put the setlist at the bottom of this post, but suffice to say the band played all the hits from His'n'Hers and Common People, plus some from This Is Hardcore and We Love life. The BBC's excellent review of this gig later described Jarvis as "Britpop's very own angle-poise lamp" and that is perfect, for he struck silhouetted pose after silhouetted pose, filling those big screens with his trim besuited outline, arms and hands adopting curious positions in a way that reminded me of Bowie. Jarv dedicated Something Changed to late Pulp bassist Steve Mackey and, later, bizarrely reached into his jacket pockets, produced chocolates, and threw them out into the crowd. Make no mistake, musically Pulp are a band. Theatrically, Pulp are Jarvis. For however much the screens panned to Candida on keys, or the criminally under-rated Nick on drums, it was almost impossible to take your eyes off the frontman. Ah! What else? At various points in the show there were confetti cannons, giant streamers shot out into the crowd and, during the ultimate closing anti-singalong of Common People, even a few fireworks. For me, Pink Glove, Do You Remember The First Time?, Babies, Sunrise and Underwear were highlights ... but then really, the whole set was one giant, continuous highlight, and how often can you say that about any gig? Only the inclusion of relative rarity Like A Friend, from the soundtrack to 1998's Great Expectations, threatened to briefly derail the Sheffield Express ... but really there was never any danger of that. The 20,000 (and more) people standing in a field were all squeezed into the palm of Jarvis's hand. He knew it, and so did we. The very obvious highlight of my Latitude Top Three.
Jarvis Cocker onstage with Pulp at Latitude 2023Jarvis Cocker onstage with Pulp at Latitude 2023

And that was that. All that remained, as we surfed out of the Obelisk Arena on a euphoric cloud, was the long walk back to the car, and the long, late, tired drive home. Amusements Minor is still wearing his wristband, eight days later, Mrs Amusements got to dance and I got to fill a very important hole in my gigography. Hopefully I really will remember that night for the rest of my life...

As for Latitude, it gets bigger, more commercial, less "different" every year. But it's still pretty bloody good, as festivals go. There's already talk of getting some other families together for next year, so the kids can have some company their own age, and going en-masse for the whole event. That sounds ... interesting, I think. A very different experience, certainly. And hideously expensive too, ironically for what some consider a poor man's Glastonbury. As for me (and my wallet), I might just wait and see who the headliners are...) Tip the author

Pulp Setlist Latitude Festival, This Is What We Do for an Encore 2023

Thursday 27 July 2023

I can sing a rainbow...

"Red and orange and pink and green, orange and purple and blue." So went the song, except as Richard Of York will tell you, the song got it a bit wrong. So here are seven songs, in the correct polychromatic order.

First up, red, and my favourite Kings of Leon song. Yes, I prefer it to that one that was popular because it had "sex" in the title. This is Red Morning Light, from the Followill boys.

Orange is a little trickier, and I'm going to bend the laws of spelling and etymology. I remember seeing this on t-shirts and in graffiti a lot, back in the day. From late-80s Fall, this is Kurious Oranj.

Coldplay get a lot of stick, some of it deserved, some of it not. Remember when they first broke through though? There was hope, for a while, that they might turn into REM and not U2. Oh well, it was either this or Ringo. So this, of course, is Yellow.

Talking of REM, I really wanted to cheat here, and pick something from the Green album. But no. Instead, here are The Kinks and the timeless classic that is The Village Green Preservation Society.

There are untold songs with blue in the title. Untold. So how to choose? Well, Chris Isaak was in the running, but in the end I reverted to type, and stuck to The Style Council, and Have You Ever Had It Blue?

Indigo. That's tricky, actually. In the end, I happened upon Indigo Eyes by Pete Murphy, or Peter Murhpy as he styled himself after Bauhaus. It's perfectly serviceable, if forgettable, but it's no Bela Lugosi's Dead, is it?

And finally, we crash down to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, with violet, and a chance to prove I am not a fossil stuck in the 80s and 90s (I am though, really). This is Violets For Roses by the beguiling Lana Del Ray.

What songs would be in your rainbow? Tip the author