Monday, April 27, 2015

Down Up with this sort of thing

Hard to believe that it's now 20 years since Father Ted first aired on Channel 4. To mark the occasion, the Guardian's Andrew Harrison has rounded up most of those behind the show (with Dermot Morgan, sadly, one obvious exception) to talk about its inception, goings-on behind the scenes and its legacy. His conclusion - "By setting out to lampoon that disappearing Ireland in all its ridiculous glory, Father Ted preserved it for ever" - sums it up nicely.

It's interesting that, according to Graham Linehan, "there's a lot of frustration about Ireland" behind the largely gentle humour. I'm inclined to agree with him that revelations about the Catholic church in recent years mean that Father Ted couldn't be written now: "you just couldn’t play the priesthood for laughs". Thankfully, at the time, you could - and the results were absolutely brilliant. Speed 3 remains probably the most tightly constructed half-hour sitcom episode I've ever seen.

(Incidentally, I don't suppose I'm the only reader to learn that Linehan and Arthur Mathews were the creators of The Fast Show's Ralph and Ted.)

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Promises, promises

What happens when you let a literary critic loose on the various party manifestos? A splendid savaging of drab platitudes, stylistic tics and slovenly syntax. The Tories? Slick. Labour? Cliche-strewn. Lib Dems? "Impeccably even-handed". The SNP? Dry and terse. UKIP? A grammatical car crash.

Unsurprisingly, given that the critic in question, Terry Eagleton, is something of an old-school Marxist, he finds most to admire in the Green Party's effort: "The humane intelligence that informs their politics is reflected in the quality of the writing. As always, you should vote for the best read."

(Thanks to Tom for the link.)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Life after the fat lady has sung

A solicitor, a police detective, a second-hand car salesman: it turns out that not every ex-professional footballer becomes a pundit who makes you want to punch your TV. I do think that former Aston Villa 'keeper Nigel Spink should perhaps reconsider the name of his courier firm - otherwise he could potentially end up with some rather interesting cargo in the back of his van...

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Behind the scenes

Amazing to think that the poignant, oft-celebrated and much-loved conclusion to Blackadder Goes Forth was a happy accident born of the fact that they had so little usable footage, isn't it? I'd be interested to know a bit more about what the cast disagreed with the writers on - if the actors did indeed "run away with it", as Tony Robinson has suggested, it's hard to imagine that whatever Richard Curtis and Ben Elton had scripted could have been any better.

Changing sides

I'd always had David Cameron down as the sort of football fan who might have a half-and-half scarf. As a Newcastle fan, I only wish I could switch allegiance so easily...

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Disillusionment be damned

With less than a fortnight to go until polling day, are you finding yourself disillusioned, jaded, depressed and even unsure whether to bother voting? I prescribe this New Statesman article by Armando Iannucci.

It explains why you'd be justified in feeling that way in the face of what he calls "Rump Politics", characterised by petty inter-party squabbling, negative campaigning, cynically appealing only to those most likely to vote and dwelling on the past rather than offering firm visions of the future.

However, Iannucci also offers a timely summary of why it isn't all doom and gloom - as much to convince himself as his readers. For starters, the electorate is refusing to allow the politicians to dictate the agenda, asking difficult questions on social media and piling on pressure via campaigning websites, and is also showing a healthy disdain for classic negative campaigning tactics. Further evidence that the mainstream political parties are losing their grip on voters is the fact that formerly "fringe" parties that they routinely belittled have edged their way into the public consciousness and now look like serious, genuine alternatives to the Westminster status quo. Iannucci doesn't include UKIP among these parties, arguing they've hit their glass ceiling - another cause for optimism.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Friday, April 24, 2015

The 'Dog's bollocks

A couple of months ago, while writing about the craft beer boom, I worried that BrewDog may be "in danger of getting a bit too big for their boots", "on the verge of becoming just another corporate bully". That worry is all the greater following the news of the company's latest plans: a huge new brewery, up to 20 new bars (doubling the number they currently have around the UK) and a hotel with beer on tap in the rooms which founders James Watt and Martin Dickie hope will turn Ellon in Scotland into a "tourist destination" (stag do honeypot, more like).

Watt and Dickie may continue to see themselves as punks, as the "renegade craft brewer" of the article, but as their empire, their turnover and their ambition continue to grow, talk of "burning the established system" starts to sound increasingly empty. After all, when it comes to craft beer, BrewDog are themselves already the establishment.

Perhaps it's uncharitable of me (I'm a fan of BrewDog's general ethos and products), but the way they're continuing to claim to be outsiders taking on the big boys when actually they're increasingly big boys themselves is not dissimilar to Nigel Farage's schtick...

(Thanks to Mhairi for the link.)

Maggie 'n' Madge

A bit late to the party, perhaps, but I couldn't let Madonna's recent fist-gnawingly embarrassing error of judgement pass without comment. You'd assume that an Anglophile who was married to a Brit for eight years would know that publicly expressing admiration for Maggie Thatcher might be ill-advised - especially one who very much enjoys cultivating and playing upon their status as a feminist and gay icon.

But no - Madge approvingly quoted the woman whose government introduced Section 28 and who once described feminism as "poison". Still, I suppose she's used to getting up noses - just not those of her own most ardent fans...

Know Your Enemy

"The story of Lutfur Rahman is a democratic success story. The fact that it seems dodgy to the political and media classes is indicative of how long they've been insulated from anything resembling real democracy."

Richard Seymour and Ashok Kumar, writing about the "smear campaign" against Tower Hamlets mayor Rahman in May 2014. Given that he's just been found guilty of electoral corruption by the High Court and removed from office, the suggestion that his critics and accusers might be the ones "insulated from anything resembling real democracy" has a distinctly ironic ring to it. When you're sitting astride a high horse, it can be a long way to fall.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

"The water arseholes"

Eccentric pronunciation, tremendous swearing and references to Dennis Waterman. There's only one possible response to the first episode of Matt Berry Does... (about the Boat Race): more!

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Open access or a closed book?

Given that it's World Book Day, it seems fitting to highlight the plight of the Library of Birmingham. Less that two years after it opened, the opening hours have been almost halved to 40 hours a week and around half of the staff are likely to be made redundant.

The city council claims that the cuts have been forced upon them by a reduction in funding from central government as part of the austerity measures. While they're no doubt in a very difficult position, I can only agree with the Telegraph's Bernadette McNulty that it seems a false economy to severely restrict access to the city's newest and most celebrated tourist mecca. Having visited myself in November, I can confirm it's a pretty stunning building inside and out - but there seems little point in it being trumpeted as one of the world's most stylish libraries (or, indeed, built in the first place) if few people are going to be able to actually see inside.

Dad rock

With new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage Of Heck due for release shortly, Rolling Stone have spoken to his daughter Frances Bean, who's now 22 (doesn't that make you feel old?!). Credited as an executive producer of the film, she nevertheless confesses with a grin "I don't really like Nirvana that much", claiming to prefer "Mercury Rev, Oasis, Brian Jonestown Massacre". Kids these days, eh? I blame the parents - well, Courtney Love, at least.

While we're on the subject of grunge, here's a great piece about Mudhoney gatecrashing the White House as uninvited companions of Pearl Jam in 1994, written by frontman Mark Arm and originally published in the Beastie Boys' magazine Grand Royal. It's rather better than Noel Gallagher's account of hobnobbing with Tony Blair at Downing Street would be.

(Thanks to Neil and Danny for the links.)

Man of mystery

I'm not sure that Samir Jassal, the Tory candidate in East Ham, can be entirely trusted to be "a strong and effective MP", given that he apparently can't be trusted to proofread his own campaign literature. The gaffe does little to dispel the suspicion that the candidates might all be interchangeable...

Well done

How very Oxford. When the city's plush Randolph Hotel caught fire last week, the cause wasn't a smouldering cigarette or a chip pan but flambeed beef stroganoff...

(Thanks to Lee for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Well, the one who’s rubbing the clitoris looks like he could really be pounding some pastry."

Getting Anne Robinson to sit watching and commentating on porn? It looks as though someone at the Guardian may have been rifling through Alan Partridge's list of programme ideas.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Know Your Enemy

"We have streets named after slave owners. We profited from a vile crime and feel no shame. We fear the arrival of immigrants that we have drawn here with the wealth we stole from them. For much of the rest of the world we must be the focus of bitter amusement, characters in a satire we don’t understand. It is British people that don’t learn languages, or British history. Britain is the true scrounger, the true criminal."

The rehabilitation of Frankie Boyle (in my eyes, at least) continues apace with this article on attitudes to immigrants and the SNP that manages to seethe with anger (naturally) but also contain some neat observations. The ongoing press tales of the Chipping Norton set are described as feeling "like a novel Martin Amis bashed out because his conservatory was leaking", while Boyle also points out the irony of Labour's "Controls on immigration" mug: "Let’s not forget where coffee and tea come from: this mug is bitterly opposed to its own contents." The conclusion (quoted above) is a powerful - and deadly serious - boot in the gut.

(Thanks to Damian for the link.)

Sealing their own fate?

"Failing to secure boundary reform, blocking a referendum on Proportional Representation and the Fixed Term Parliaments Act": just three ways it looks as though the Tories may have shot themselves spectacularly in the foot.

I'm not sure I can handle Vice publishing serious, reasoned, insightful articles about politics. And neither can their sub-editors, it seems - judging by the fact they gave it the classically Vice title "The British Establishment Is Losing Its Shit At The Thought Of A Labour-SNP Government"...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Quote of the day

"I live to make more money. People who say that money is the root of all evil are morons, a lack of money is the root of all evil."

Gene Simmons of Kiss - ringleader of the poster boys of capitalist rock.

Own goal

Corruption may not be as rife in the UK as it is in other countries - but that doesn't mean the corrupt aren't able to exploit the UK for their own ends. Transparency over ownership of companies and property is a must.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Monday, April 20, 2015

A rate of Notts

Good to see the newly reopened Malt Cross featuring in a recent Guardian article detailing some of the jewels in the crown of my old stomping ground, Nottingham. Drinking and eating venues don't come much more characterful than a former Victorian music hall with cellar extension.

I was also pleased to see the Trip To Jerusalem pub get a mention, and the Salutation too - both of which feature on the city's Architectural Ale Trail. As is increasingly the case in cities around the country, fans of craft beer also now have their tastes catered for, by the Ned Ludd and Crafty Crow - both on my list of must-visit places next time I'm there, together with the Nottingham Contemporary gallery, which I'm yet to set foot inside.

More surprising to me were the references to fine dining at the Hand & Heart (you'd definitely have been lucky to have got anything that answered to that description there in my student days) and to the "curry quarter" - a rather inappropriately grand term for what is otherwise a pretty horrible thoroughfare, Maid Marian Way.

Know Your Enemy

"For all the ease and convenience of online shopping or the digital download, I still feel a town without a bookshop is missing something … For much of the early nineties I worked in bookshops myself, running the children’s section in Waterstones Notting Hill with a rod of iron and believing, like all booksellers, that books are somehow special, that the expertise and enthusiasm of booksellers is vital, that if you love bookshops you should spend money there, and that to discover a book on display in a well-staffed, lovingly-maintained shop, to hold it in your hand then to sneak off and buy the same book online is really just a genteel form of shoplifting."

Author and former bookseller David Nicholls defends bookshops and denounces showrooming in a keynote speech delivered at last week's London Book Fair.

(Thanks to Joe for the link.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Splendid isolation

The futile obstruction of the inexorable march of progress? Or a courageous and principled attempt to stand up to the bullying power and authority of government, developers and big business? Whichever way you look at it, these pictures of Chinese "nail houses" are remarkable.

Life of Brian

Star Wars? Pfft. I was more interested in seeing the trailer for Love & Mercy. First impressions are that it isn't quite going to do justice to Nick Kent's portrait of Brian Wilson, as I'd hoped it might - it looks a bit too rom-com-y for that. We'll see, though.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Come together

(I've been meaning to post this review for a while - what better time than on Record Store Day?)

Good Vibrations tells the story of the record shop of the same name, which was founded by Terri Hooley in defiance of the bad vibrations of the bomb blasts in 1970s Belfast. Sectarian violence tore the city apart, opening up fault lines and setting former friends against one another. Hooley resisted the pressure to take one side or the other, instead choosing to walk a narrow tightrope of neutrality until he discovered in the nascent Northern Irish punk scene a side all of its own - a world where Catholics and Protestants came together in spite of the Troubles, a world where religious and political differences mattered not a jot.

This perhaps explains the longevity of punk in Northern Ireland (and its epicentre Belfast in particular) relative to the mainland UK, where it soon exploded into smithereens with the demise of the Sex Pistols and gave birth to post-punk. As Hooley (Richard Dormer) declares from the stage of the Ulster Hall during a legendary showcase gig for his roster of bands, "New York has the haircuts, London has the trousers, but Belfast has the reason".

Northern Irish punk bands may have had more cause to be angry than most, but that's not to say that they necessarily addressed the dangerous reality of everyday life. 'Teenage Kicks', the signature song of the Undertones, a band Hooley discovered, focuses on the thrills and melodramas of adolescence; one label exec, when confronted with the track by an evangelical Hooley, confesses to being disappointed and wondering exactly where the darkness is. But then that's part of the point: Northern Ireland needed punk, but it needed it as much for escapism and as a unifying social force than as a vehicle for directly addressing the Troubles.

While Hooley may not be a teenager, he nevertheless spends much of the film acting like one. His narrative follows the familiar tragic trajectory, his self-destructive streak regularly manifesting itself and inflicting collateral damage on his nearest and dearest. There are definite shades of Alan McGee and Tony Wilson in his naivety and lack of hard-nosed business sense, as he gets himself up to his eyeballs in debt and lurches from crisis to crisis. The aforementioned Ulster Hall gig, a showcase of Hooley-backed bands, is typical, in that a triumphant event intended to give a timely boost to the coffers somehow ends up losing money.

But Hooley is also like a teenager in his wide-eyed and boundless enthusiasm, his sense of ambition, his hopeless romanticism, and his unsullied and obstinate idealism - all characteristics that prompt him to set up Good Vibrations in the first place. At no point does the viewer stop rooting for the loveable rogue, and arguably the film's most heartwarming moment comes when The Undertones finally get their big break, hugely influential tastemaker John Peel so immediately smitten with 'Teenage Kicks' that he plays it twice back-to-back.

"Hey man, where’s all y’alls CDs at? The ones with the music on it"

Today is Record Store Day - a concept that may well be deeply flawed, but that was at least initiated with good intentions and in aid of a valuable cause. Let's face it, staff in record shops deserve some credit and respect for some of the moronic shit they have to put up with from those on the other side of the counter and the other end of the phone.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bouncing back

Back of the net! Jurassic Park! Cashback! etc etc. No doubt prompted by the success of both Alpha Papa and I, Partridge: We Need To Talk About Alan, Steve Coogan and his fellow writers Rob and Neil Gibbons are hard at work writing a new Alan Partridge book, which will be "a collection of diary entries, letters, opinion pieces and programme and business ideas". Much like the bits and pieces that separate the scripts in Every Ruddy Word, then - and if they're half as good as those, then the book will be well worth buying.

Chain reaction

Meet the lovely folk at The Social Chain, a bunch of teenagers and twenty-somethings who are controlling Twitter and making a fortune through the venerable art of plagiarism. They don't post about ebola, though, so at least they've got some principles, eh?

A useful reminder to take care about what posts you like or share on social media, if you don't want to be unwittingly lining the pockets of these tossers.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

A leap of the imagination

I'm not quite sure how or why the idea occurred to Japanese artist Yuki Aoyama, but his photos of dads jumping next to their daughters are pretty extraordinary - and not just because a couple of them barely look as though they're out of school themselves.

(Incidentally: "Dire Straights" - ouch. Dear Independent, if you're looking for a freelance proofreader...)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Leftfield?

Is it just me, or is this year's Glastonbury line-up shaping up to be a little more cool and cutting-edge than normal? There seem to be a lot more Pitchfork/ATP-friendly acts (Goat, Perfume Genius, Caribou, FKA Twigs, Future Islands, Spiritualized, The Fall, John Hopkins, Sharon Van Etten, Fat White Family, The Pop Group) and less landfill indie (Catfish And The Bottlemen being one of the obvious exceptions). Quite what Lemmy and Sleaford Mods will make of it is anyone's guess...

Know Your Enemy

"On Yesterdays Chase Today, Noel’s lyrics have reached an almost admirable new nadir. Lines such as 'I’ll follow you down to the end of the world just to wait outside your window' cower in the mix like frightened, unflushable turds in the shitter. Luckily, Noel has found a new role as a sort of People’s Raconteur, and a new Noel album is an excuse for the Noel Gallagher Interview. And whenever Gallagher is called out on some questionable view, he responds with the line, 'Come back to me when you’ve headlined Glastonbury.' It’s easy to imagine William Blake trying to explain his visions of Christ and Noel raising his eyebrow in that mock-quizzical way, looking into the camera and saying, 'Tell you what, mate, come back to me when you’ve headlined Glastonbury.' In fact, Noel seems to lay claim to ownership of playing Glastonbury — and if I ever refer to it as 'Glasto', make me go there for the weekend as punishment — but then I guess it was the one time he was never questioned: on his musical conservatism, his dwindling songwriting, even his godawful lyrics. It was a time when 300,000 people could sing back drivel at the beaming songwriter. A kind of human mass-entertainment version of the dog having his vomit returned to him."

Given the evidence of Bad Vibes, his book about being on the fringes of the Britpop maelstrom, Luke Haines was never going to be particularly complimentary about Noel Gallagher's new album. Haines - quite rightly - has no time for Gallagher's hypocritical criticism of music's current blandness, holding him personally responsible for dad rock.

Haines' piece appears on the ever excellent site The Talkhouse. Other articles well worth a look are Gang Of Four's Andy Gill on Sleater-Kinney's No Cities To Love, an album that is still very much flavour of the month around these parts, and Andy Falkous on independent gig venues, which was of particular interest personally speaking in light of my skim-reading of the recent Music Venue Trust report and the references to the Point (though Falkous could write about anything and make it entertaining).

(Thanks to Chris for the link.)