Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Reading between the lines

I'm fast becoming a bibliophile-phile. Although I missed 'The Book Group' on Friday, I got to see the repeat last night - quite possibly the best episode yet. Absolutely brilliant, and worth watching for two things alone: the expression of glee and delight on Rab's face when he got to visit a farm, and the scene where Dirka and Fist were trying on dresses to show off their 'bumps'. As ever, the tension between Claire and Kenny was electric, and James Lance as Lachlan was fantastic - particularly his delivery of the line, "I need a poo".
Blogwatch

Mike is once again indulging in his fondness for interactive blog fun by asking: Which Decade Is Tops For Pops? Get yourself over to Troubled Diva for more details, and remember - every vote counts!

Three fine weblogs to have caught my eye lately:

Deviated Septum
This Is Not An Exit
The Yes / No Interlude

Check them out, if you haven't done so already.
Birthday greetings

Congratulations to everyone's favourite wizened white-haired miracle-worker Sir Bobby Robson, who today celebrates becoming a septagenarian, and also to his dynamic midfield prodigy Jermaine Jenas, 20 today. A Champions' League victory over Leverkusen in Germany tonight would be the icing on their cakes...

Monday, February 17, 2003

Kings of the Stone Age

And so it came to pass that I enjoyed Saturday night rock thrills courtesy of Night With No Name. I arrived at Rock City a bit later than anticipated, just in time to see first band Phoenix Down finishing up. So, there I was, soaking up the forthcoming Burning Brides album (a cheeky bit of promotion for their upcoming NWNN gig, Mr DJ!) and wondering how the hell Rock City manage to make their Pepsi taste so fucking awful, when on came one of the oddest bands I've seen in a long while, Dureforsog (there are a couple of umlauts in there somewhere). Even three days on, I'm still not entirely sure what I made of them. They're Danish fruitloops, and played a sort of elasticated and surrealist post-punk, the singer wandering around in a daze clutching a bunch of balloons and howling intermittently. It might just be that I've been listening to Q And Not U lately, but they're the only band that even vaguely sprang to mind. The prevailing emotion amongst the audience was, I think, bewilderment.

Headline act Cave In, an unusual band in themselves, were an altogether more comprehensible prospect. This, I think, was especially evident in the material showcased from forthcoming record (and major label debut) Antenna. Tracks like 'Anchor', 'Youth Overrided' and 'Penny Racer' show that they've come a long way since their hardcore screamo days, and it's not that hard to see why Dave Grohl likes them so much - these songs are fairly short, fairly straightforward, muscular and melodic, following on from the likes of 'Brain Candle' from last full-length album Jupiter. But, it has to be said, not all that impressive. Fellow newies 'Joy Opposites' and 'Inspire' (Stephen Brodsky was begged for this by an internet bootlegger at the front) are more wholesome, but, for sheer depth and density, 'Come Into Your Own', 'Dark Driving' (both from last year's Tides Of Tomorrow mini-LP) and last year's single 'Lost In The Air' are a class apart. These longer drawn-out affairs are when Cave In are at their most interesting, because it's here that they really play with fire, performing almost impossible pirhouettes between post-hardcore and prog, and consequently it's here that the threat of failure and collapse is most real. Sure, sometimes it doesn't work, and the call to suspend disbelief goes unheeded - but then you can't fault them for being ambitious and audacious. Fittingly, the encore of 'Big Riff' steals the show, alternately drifting and bulldozing like all their best material, loud enough to leave me to stagger outside with a buzzing static headache. There are perhaps only two other bands that I've heard in the last year or so who are performing the same inventive experiments on rock and who actually ROCK: Queens Of The Stone Age and Sparta.

(Spooky coincidence: bassist Caleb Scofield was wearing the same F-Minus T-shirt (green lettering with a green AK-47 underneath) as guitarist Aaron North from practically the last band I saw in Rock City's Disco II, The Icarus Line. And I was wearing the Icarus Line T-shirt I bought at that gig...)
Secrets and lies

I've just finished Donna Tartt's 'The Secret History', and, rather like the last work of pure fiction I read, J G Ballard's 'Super-Cannes', it's the sort of taxing thriller that doesn't make you feel like reading it is an insult to your intelligence. Indeed, in the discussions of the civilisation and language of Ancient Greece, 'The Secret History' is actually quite intellectual, perhaps at times irritatingly so. The story, though, is darkly engrossing and Tartt's writing enchanting and powerful. Another Christmas book purchase vindicated!
Sorry Mr Jackson

Michael, Michael, Michael. I'm sure that, after the indignity of the documentary and all the ensuing fallout about what a freakish caricature you really are, you're feeling rather vindictive and spiteful - but searching for "martin bashir PUNCHED" via Google is not the answer and will bring only short-term relief and satisfaction.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Super furry animals

News to warm the soul - Mogwai are back in the studio.
Diamond in the rough

A metaphorical pat on the back to our boy JJ for shining like a beacon in a sea of shite during England's miserable defeat at the hands of Australia last night - the first of many caps, I hope. That £5 million we paid Forest a year ago is starting to look like peanuts...
Remember the Dismembered

"I guess you could call it superpowers, but no-one is going to save the world with what I've got" - 'Superpowers'

Last month Eric Axelson, bassist / keyboardist with Washington DC's The Dismemberment Plan, posted on the band's official website the news that after four albums they had decided to split. What follows is part obituary, part personal appreciation, and part a critical and alternative perspective on Olav's response to the break-up not solely motivated by bitterness that he got to the 'The Dismemberment Plan dismembered' punchline before I did...

Of course, I should begin by acknowledging that he was instrumental in my discovering them. Having read some magazine article that sparked my interest, I found an MP3 of 'What Do You Want Me To Say?' on Napster and listened to it repeatedly over the summer of 2000. Back in Nottingham, I availed myself of 1999's Emergency & I LP, and then Change when it emerged the following year. This was around the same time that I came across Clinic and their Internal Wrangler record. Both bands struck me as remarkably similar in being completely different to anything I'd ever heard before, and in different ways. Clinic somehow fashion fantastically sinister pop music from surf guitar licks, avant-garde garage punk, Merseybeat and melodica, while TDP's songs are a riot of uninhibited and colourful ideas drawn from across the musical spectrum, a victory for playfulness and imagination over stagnation and narrow-minded parasitism. In an email interview early last year, Eric told me: "I think we're inventive and ambitious, but we don't sit around thinking how to be that way. We all listen to tons of music, everything from Top 40 to underground hip-hop to punk to alternative country music. Everything, literally. And I think that's what makes us sound ambitious to people. But that's probably what happens when you're trying to write songs that sound like Kylie Minogue and Roni Size and The Band all at the same time". Careless Talk Costs Lives and former NME journalist Stevie Chick has called them "resolutely out there", and their contributions to the split EP with Desoto labelmates Juno just about sums up what they're all about (as much as any two tracks possibly could): 'The Dismemberment Plan Gets Rich', a frantic seizure of a song with an entirely gratuitous disco breakdown and lyrics about drug-running, and a frankly unbelievable cover of Jennifer Paige's 80s hit 'Crush', which turns it into possibly the most achingly gorgeous torch song I've ever heard.

So, the fact that the esteemed and discerning author of It Makes No Difference can glibly bracket TDP with such bands as The Promise Ring and Jimmy Eat World is, I confess, the source of some bewilderment. JEW deal in big-hitting emo tuneage. TPR's Very Emergency is packed full of sprightly and sparky punk-pop even leaner and cleaner than Weezer, although they threw it all away by changing gear too fast with Wood / Water which aims at sensitive reflection but sounds in the main listless and jaded. This much I agree. But both Jimmy Eat World and The Promise Ring (at their best) offer the listener the quick fix, the immediate turn-on, the instant gratification, songs that lodge themselves in your head on the first listen. All fine and well - but after a while they become too in-your-face, too shallow, too obvious. By contrast, the last two Dismemberment Plan albums are finely nuanced, rich, explorative collections which unravel seductively over time and, thrillingly, give the listener a glimpse of what music can be: "This is a life of possibility", sings Travis Morrison on Emergency & I's opening track. Olav, expressing his disappointment that Change "merely simmered", recalls the "heart-stopping anthems" of Emergency & I. No - they never stooped so low as to write anything as oafish as an 'anthem', and Change is, if anything, superior to its predecessor by virtue of avoiding, for the most part, songs which might potentially see them labelled, and thereby written off, as 'quirky'. The opening four tracks are stunning. The first line of 'The Face Of The Earth', "As kisses go, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary", itself isn't anything out of the ordinary, but the way Travis sings it gives me goosebumps every time.

What ultimately upsets and disappoints Olav is the band's failure to "capitalise" on the 'Weezer market'. It was "wasteful", he says. It IS, I think, "shallow and silly" to suggest that there is a link between this 'failure' and their decision to split up. Attempting to explain the decision, Eric wrote on their website: "The best answer we can come up with is that we felt like we'd accomplished all we could as a songwriting and recordmaking unit, and that we wanted - as individuals - to try things that can be precluded by living the lifestyle of the touring musician". The pressures of commercial 'failure' didn't come into it. The definition of success in commercial terms is a very narrow one. The Dismemberment Plan simply did not play the game and jump aboard the merry-go-round. Their major label career lasted one album. "If they weren't so damned up their own arse about it, both bands [TDP and TPR] would have had hit singles coming out of their nose" - who's to say? Who's to say if they'd had the same corporate money behind them and hype bulldozer in front of them as Jimmy Eat World, they wouldn't have become as widely popular? What can be said with some certainty is that, laudably, commercial success was not their whole raison d'etre. They didn't have hit singles and, more importantly, they didn't care.

So let's not lament wasted talent, or dwell on the 'tragedy' of their demise, but savour that legacy instead. I guess you could call it superpowers, but no-one was going to save the world with what they'd got. It's not their fault the world didn't want saving.

Links:

Interview with Travis Morrison in Stylus Magazine

Article on TDP and Juno including more from my interview with Eric


Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Less is more

Low are a band whose music I've only had the sense to seize upon in the last couple of years, prompted more by friendly word of mouth, intriguing aural appetisers and personal recommendation than by any heavy-handed forcefeeding at the hands of the industry's hype machine. This seems to have been the way with many bands - The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Dismemberment Plan, Jane's Addiction, Juno, Fugazi and My Bloody Valentine, to name but a few. They've all gradually manoeuvred their way via my ears into occupying a secure place in my heart. Last night's opportunity to see the Duluth three-piece at the Birmingham Academy was not to be missed - and, in retrospect, not a gig to be forgotten.

Listening attentively to Low albums is a frequently awe-inspiring and spellbinding experience, and hearing the songs in the flesh is no different. The voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker dovetail as remarkably live as they do on record, Parker in particular cutting a figure somewhere between Nico and Mo Tucker, stood upright at the minimalist drumkit. This is a band for whom superlatives were invented. Pretention, glitz and showmanship be damned - this is all about the stark, the fragile, the beautiful. It's all too easy to erect a huge wall of noise on stage behind which to hide. Watching Low, that defensive tactic starts to smack of downright cowardice. This trio are, by contrast, courageous enough to leave vast gaps and spaces in their songs. These are artists who, in the normal course of performing their music on stage, must ritually leave themselves utterly exposed and defenceless - they play at such a low volume and slow tempo that the slightest murmurings of conversation in the audience would be fatal. They seem to have an innate understanding of the power of interweaving light and shade, tone and depth, music and silence; indeed, on songs like 'Closer' and '(That's How You Sing) Amazing Grace' the silence really does speak loudest.

Last night's set was comprised predominantly of material from last year's Trust LP - 'Candy Girl' struck the shivering, sinister opening note, the mood complemented later by 'John Prine' but alleviated by 'Tonight', 'La La La Song', brazenly brilliant single 'Canada' and a meanderingly beautiful rendition of 'Sunflower' from Things We Lost In The Fire. Highest points of the night were the awesome gospel blues song which closed the main set and which would make The White Stripes cower in admiration, and the two final encore tracks, 'In Metal' and 'Will The Night', the latter featuring the avowal "Tonight together would be divine". Thanks Alan - tonight together WAS divine.
Sweet salvation?

As of 22nd February, Nottingham's Social has serious competition in the cool intimate gig venue stakes, in the shape of the Rescue Rooms, situated next to Rock City. Time will tell if this town is big enough for the both of them, but the Rooms are already confirmed as playing host to (amongst many others) Burning Brides, The Libertines, Radio 4, The Rapture, Calexico and Soledad Brothers.
Page to screen

Intriguing news that a movie adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's 'The Rules Of Attraction' is due to hit cinemas on 14th March.

(Thanks to Dead Kenny for that)
French toast

Sunday's match against league leaders Arsenal suggested that we've improved in the course of this season, on top of the massive strides made last year. March 2002: soundly beaten at home by a side on their way to the title. February 2003: creditable draw against a team at full strength, Ljungberg aside, achieved after playing over a third of the match with ten men. Laurent Robert at last showed evidence of real passion in scoring a very fine equaliser, but unfortunately his new-found willingness to get stuck in spilled over into overexuberance shortly afterwards as he was booked for a hefty challenge on Lauren and then shown the red two minutes later for blocking a free-kick from point-blank range. Bergkamp was sly, Robert was foolish and the law was followed to the letter. Most memorable moment of the match? A tie between Given's acrobatic headed save after Bramble's miscue, and Sir Bobby looking daggers at the substituted Bergkamp and shaking his head.

Mention should also be made of Sir Bobby's Manager Of The Month award for January and Jenas's call-up to the full England squad - both thoroughly well-deserved. JJ can count himself unlucky to have missed out on the Player Of The Month award, having found his scoring touch and made decisive contributions in games against West Ham, Bolton and Spurs which were worth seven points to the team. If our new-found defensive solidity (and Bramble's recent performances in particular) wasn't satisfying enough, there's also the reassuring thought that we've still got Woodgate to accommodate in the team. Things are rosy in the Geordie garden.

Of course, the satisfaction derived from our excellent run of form can only be increased by the league standing of the laughably woeful Mackems - bottom. I have so far refrained from commenting on the Wearside circus, but a few comments wouldn't go amiss, particularly given recent events. On top of Saturday's heavy 4-1 defeat at Spurs, the sour-faced hypocrites have been landed with a big fat FA charge for improper transfer conduct, having been found guilty of exactly what they angrily accused Man Utd of recently in the David Bellion saga. Who would have thought that, following the 3-1 home defeat by Charlton in which they managed to score three own goals, it could have got even worse for them? Well, certainly not the fans who tried to leave that match after 35 minutes with the scoreline at 3-0, only to be turned back by stewards and forced to endure more torment. If it's any consolation, lads, it's all tremendously entertaining for us black and whites, even if it's not for you. Keep up the good work!
Feel good hits of the 11th February

Tune in to the soundtrack in my head...

1. 'Canada' - Low
2. 'The Face Of The Earth' - The Dismemberment Plan
3. 'American Trilogy' - The Delgados
4. 'Hurt' - Johnny Cash
5. 'Goodbye' - The Coral
6. 'You're Pretty Good Looking' - The White Stripes
7. 'Into The Groove' - Madonna
8. 'A Song For The Dead' - Queens Of The Stone Age
9. 'Dancing Queen' - Abba
10. 'Close To You' - The Carpenters

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Bashir: smooth criminal?

So, Jacko has labelled Monday's documentary as "terrible and unfair", and claimed he feels "betrayed" by interviewer Martin Bashir. It all goes to show that Jacko seized on the opportunity to feed the public some positive propaganda about himself, and on discovering that the resulting programme cast an unsympathetic eye over his freakshow of a life, he can't help himself throwing his dummy out of the pram.
Answers please

Paxman v Blair, tonight at 9pm on BBC2.

Stop The War

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Hate: all you need

If absolutely nothing else, we've got The Delgados to thank for bringing the likes of Mogwai, Arab Strap and The Radar Brothers to our attention via their Chemikal Underground imprint. However, I saw them on Sunday evening at the Birmingham Academy, and there is a LOT else to thank them for, believe me.

Support act were Aereogramme, featuring Craig B from deceased bass pummellers Ganger. We only caught their last two songs, and my co-gig-attendee somewhat uncharitably labelled them "pointless". I'd prefer to label myself "undecided" and them "beardos who mangle Mogwai's heaviest moments into strange art-metal shapes".

There's something wonderfully self-deprecating about a band who amble nervily onstage to the booming sound of 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' by Sparks, and that's just what The Delgados did. My unfamiliarity with their back catalogue proved no obstacle to my enjoyment of the show. The embarrassing and awkward between-song patter of Emma Pollock, Stewart Henderson and Alun Woodward was instantaneously forgiven when they launched into songs like 'American Trilogy', 'No Danger' and the fabulously misanthropic new single 'All You Need Is Hate'. Any half-arsed 'indie' band striving to notch up a bona fide anthem can lazily wheel in the string section to cloak their own puny efforts with an aura of gravitas (hello Oasis, Embrace, Feeder, Richard Ashcroft...); what sets The Delgados apart from the crowd is the fact that the strings and woodwind are completely integrated within the fabric of songs which blossom into glorious technicolour, to the extent that self-pity and disillusionment attain a bittersweet grandeur. Although with the lyrical content of their tracks they may, like Arab Strap, have their hearts in the gutter, like The Flaming Lips their eyes are very much focused on the stars.

Afterwards, upstairs in the Academy Bar, Boston's Mr Airplane Man played a spirited set of thumping rock 'n' blues to a crowd of Cooper Temple Clausers and Karen Os, and we felt distinctly out of place. I think it's called 'style', daaaahling.
Jack on the box (and on the silver screen)

Continuing the misanthropic theme, I eventually got to see Jack Nicholson in 'As Good As It Gets' courtesy of C4. As neurotically obsessive writer Melvin Udall, Nicholson is excellent, but what makes his character so devilishly watchable at first (in particular, his deliciously acid way with words) is inevitably lost as the film slides towards its romantic denouement. So, a slight disappointment, although this movement is graceful and stylish, never really dissolving into triteness.

More satisfying in comparison was Nicholson's latest movie, 'About Schmidt', which I saw in the cinema the day before. One of those films where you think, "How can the auditorium possibly be so empty?". It is wonderful. Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, an empty vessel set adrift as the ropes lashing him to life are untied from their moorings. He retires from his job, and his wife dies suddenly, prompting his existential reflections and fears. Just like Schmidt, the plot is for the most part apparently directionless, allowed to float and drift along, and even when it does gain momentum, the closure visible on the horizon vanishes into the ether. This film's beauty is that from the thinnest and most unremarkable strands and wisps of detail it is able to weave scenes of incredible emotional power.
Friday night fever

Thank the gods of Bangla lager, Ouzo and Southern Comfort that on Friday night I was still labouring under such a monumental hangover that I couldn't go out and consequently caught the glut of entertainment on Channel 4.

'The Book Group' - A very unusual and original series. Perhaps most unusual of all is the fact that the very same James Lance who, as porter Ben, suavely charms receptionist Sophie (Sally Phillips) in the first series of 'I'm Alan Partridge', can, with the addition of copious amounts of facial hair, play a rather disturbing conceptual artist quite so convincingly.

'Make My Day' - Hugely entertaining piffle. But what a surprise that the show's male Geordie subject was a simple-minded breast obsessive. Not a true representation, I feel.

'V Graham Norton' - Hasn't Kelly Osbourne got a strangely-shaped face? That haircut doesn't help.

'Born Sloppy' - Jack Osbourne eating ants, with a supporting cast of Jimmy Carr, Tommy Vance, Matt Lucas and David Walliams. Nuff said.

'Top Ten TV Bastards' - Watchable if only to serve as a reminder that before 'Bottom' Rik Mayall took an interest in acerbic satire in his role as Alan B'Stard, and that 'Grange Hill''s Mr Bronson really was one bad-ass teacher.
Labour of love

Congratulations to Tony Benn on winning C4's Politician Of The Year award - an MP of real resilience, integrity and principles, always prepared to engage in debate and for whom spin cuts no ice. Mention should also be made of outspoken Labour MPs Alan Simpson and Graham Allen, both nominated in the backbencher category (Allen was eventually victorious) - it's encouraging to know that if military action against Iraq is indeed forthcoming, Nottingham's representatives have at least questioned and challenged its legitimacy all along the way.

A Song For Whoever

6. Hans Blix: 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' - U2

You might like to let Tony know this, by clicking here.
The Sun: news of the world

STOP PRESS: More Hans Blix related news. He has at last managed to identify a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of an unstable and dangerous dictator. His comment on Rebekah Wade's editorship of The Sun? "Seems very frightening"...
Quote of the day

"I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted; I beheld the corruption of death succeed to the blooming cheek of life; I saw how the worm inherited the wonders of the eye and brain"

No, not a TV critic on last night's Jacko documentary, but Mary Shelley in 'Frankenstein'.

Word of the day

'Alanis' (adj) = like rain on your wedding day

(Thanks to No Rock And Roll Fun for expanding my vocabulary)

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Ditto

22nd and 29th January: two Wednesdays, two Newcastle matches, two wins, two winners from Jenas, two clean sheets. You can't ask for more than that. We're now second in the league (although Fish-Eyed Ferguson's runts have a game in hand on us), and if our young midfield dynamo carries on in his current vein of form I'm going to be swamped with more Google requests for 'jermaine jenas naked' than the one I've had so far. Don't find him attractive mysefl - his head seems suspiciously small for his body, don't you think?

So, with any luck a repeat performance in Smogville on Saturday. If the chemically-altered ones defend like they did against Villa on Tuesday, we're going to have a field day. However, this bit of news may have put a slight dampener on the potential for hilarity amongst the Geordie fans (courtesy of nufc.com):

By the way, it's only fair to remind you of a story we mentioned some months ago - the killjoy Cleveland polis have made it known that anyone turning up at the Riverside in protective clothing, dust deflectors, gas masks etc. faces being refused admission to the stadium.
Nothing is sacred

Self-referentialism alert! According to this, our favourite source of amusement is becoming preyed upon and exploited by business.

(Thanks to Wan for the spot)

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

I Am Always Right? Wrong!

Here is one blog I won't be adding to my favourites list. Read it, weep and then send abusive emails. I haven't met the guy, but it's fairly safe to say that (to borrow an expression from a friend) that he's an Absolute C**t with a capital A and a capital C. I may not always be right, but I'm pretty certain about that.
Lyric-that's-stuck-in-my-head-and-won't-leave of the day

From The Dismemberment Plan's 'Sentimental, Man':

"I'm an Old Testament kind of guy,
I like my coffee black, and my parole denied"

TDP RIP. Obituary to follow in a couple of days.



Friday, January 24, 2003

Champions' League two seasons in a row? Mission Possible

Newcastle v Bolton. 1-0. Jermaine Jenas. Job done.
Eavesdropping

Overheard today - one sentence which just about sums up Nottingham students:

"Well, have a wicked time skiing"

Maybe this should develop into a regular feature.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Feel good hits of the 22nd January

The songs which have most recently been tickling my aural tastebuds...

1. 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots' - The Flaming Lips
2. 'Happy When It Rains' - The Jesus And Mary Chain
3. 'Getting Better' - The Beatles
4. 'Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls' - Godspeed You! Black Emperor
5. 'Every Day Is A Child With Teeth' - Liars
6. 'Blood On The Highway' - Burning Brides
7. 'Let's Stick Together' - Bryan Ferry
8. 'She's Lost Control' - Joy Division
9. 'Hell On Wheels' - Fu Manchu
10. 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' - Kylie Minogue
Where the 'Wild things go

In relation to Olav's comments about Idlewild, it seems that his thesis, that the band have "plateaued" and lost that their 'edge', is supported by at least one notable figure - perma-dishevelled former bassist Bob Fairfoull, who says as much here. I still disagree. So there.
The Sun: putting the Daily Mail in the shade

You see what happens? You see what happens? You see what happens when you put Rebekah Wade in charge of The Sun?

Monday, January 20, 2003

Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll and canals

"The Happy Mondays are one of Manchester's most successful exports. Other exports from Manchester include crime, poverty and arrogance" - 'Rock Profiles'

"No, I forgot, you're from Manchester - cotton and guns!" - Alan Partridge

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I hated Manchester. A large part of it was down to the whiny nasal accent and swaggeringly arrogant self-importance of Oasis, as adopted in the mid 90s by hordes of teenage tossers from Dundee to Dover. Another contributory factor would be that in October 1998 I got punched in the face on my one and only visit to Rockworld (never mind the fact that I'd taken it upon myself to take the piss out of some halfwit Durst-a-like and his gaggle of nu-metal gonk associates). The Smiths and The Happy Mondays had passed me by, and the city struck me as a grimy smoghole, with the pus-filled boil that is the Arndale Centre stuck right in the middle of its fuck-ugly face.

Well, things change. Not all things, I should add. I still wince every time a good night at an indie disco (that sounds horribly quaint and Belle-And-Sebastian-esque, sorry) is blighted by the Stone fucking Roses. And I still live in the hope that some higher being will strike down Fish-Eyed Ferguson and all his damned minions for the psychological and emotional torment they inflicted upon myself and the good burghers of Newcastle in the latter stages of the 1995-96 Premiership season. But I can confess to, y'know, quite liking the place now. It's something that's come with having a girlfriend from Bury and friends who have forced The Smiths onto me, not even fervently believing but KNOWING it was for my own good. I'm not quite sure how to explain it, except to say that repeat visits seem to allow the city to begin to exert some kind of supernatural hold over you. It's got to the point that, on my last visit, I found myself at indie club Fifth Avenue nodding along to 'Pounding' by Doves and thinking "This wouldn't sound as good anywhere else in the world".

All of which brings me to '24 Hour Party People', the story of Anthony Wilson and Factory Records. I've seen the film and have just finished reading the book (essentially, Wilson set loose on the film script in the hope that it might emerge as a vaguely readable and coherent novelisation). Whereas a couple of years ago Wilson's inflated sense of civic pride would have stuck in my throat, now I can just about stomach it. So, the story: cotton, guns, crime, poverty and arrogance certainly feature heavily (well, not so much the cotton). At heart it's the cockle-warming and frequently comical tale of a bunch of bumbling idiots armed with zero idea how to run a successful business enterprise but with an unbridled collective passion for music and the desire to make Manchester a real cultural force. We see their first tentative steps as a label, gig riots, Ian Curtis's suicide, New Order rising out of Joy Division's ashes, the Ryder brothers kicking pigeons, the foundation of the Hacienda, drug-taking on a monumental scale with The Happy Mondays, and Wilson's stoned meditations on broccoli, all woven into a narrative that encompasses appearances from the likes of The Buzzcocks, The Sex Pistols, The Fall and Elvis Costello.

Ultimately the fragile empire crumbles - but their failure is glorious. The minute the film credits finished, and the minute I read the final sentence, I wanted to listen to everything Joy Division ever recorded. Wilson comes across as the endearingly misguided buffoon he undoubtedly is, but what the viewer or reader cannot escape is the realisation that Wilson and Factory have left an indelible mark on the musical landscape. And, lest we forget, without Anthony Wilson there would be no Alan Partridge. The world is a better place.
News media: dumb, and getting dumber

Good to see The Sun has found the perfect headline story, one that combines two of its favourite topics: anti-union propaganda and love rat scandals. Today's front page bears the revelation that Fire Brigades' Union chief Andy Gilchrist is a "love cheat". Applying White Van Man Logic to the case, we see that the implication, of course, is that any "right-thinking person" (copyright the Daily Mail and The Sun) cannot possibly sympathise with the firemen in the ongoing pay dispute now that their leader has - allegedly - been caught with his trousers down. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so determinedly malicious. What a bunch of c***ts.

Imbecility is clearly rife at the moment. ITV1's lunchtime news programme today included an item about a scientific study which suggests that women's choice of partner depends on whether they are on the contraceptive pill or not. Apparently those on the pill generally prefer "macho" men, while those who aren't prefer sensitive types. And how did they cover this item? Well, they invited some beaming moron from Cosmopolitan (no doubt thrilled at the free plug) onto the programme, and got newsreader Nicholas Owen to ask her whether she thought he was macho or sensitive. And then they showed footage of slebs who might be considered to fall into one or other of the categories. I switched off. Sometimes I think to have a moderately active brain in this world is to be cursed.
Be quick or be dead

Ten seconds. Not a lot of time. Not a lot you can do in ten seconds. Unless, that is, you're Newcastle's number 9 and captain, returning from an undeserved suspension - in which case you can score a goal to set your side on the way to a storming performance and third place in the table, albeit with some help from old boy Steve Howey and Carlo the Clown in the Man City goal. Utterly fitting that King Kev should get to witness a Newcastle team hitting the same heights as the side he built in the mid 90s, and also utterly fitting that that mercenary moneygrabber Distin should end up having a torrid afternoon. A tenth successive league win at home, and even Robert had a good game. Great stuff.
A Song For Whoever

5. The remaining Gibb brothers: 'How Deep Is Your Bruv?' - Bee Gees