Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Blogwatch: in brief

A quick round-up of what's caught my eye recently in the World of Blog...

... There's a fantastic post by BykerSink on It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware about the delights of Newcastle that's really whetted my appetite for my forthcoming return. He also has a few well-chosen words about the North / South divide: "it needs to be addressed. But, if ironing out the differences means the possibility of changing Newcastle for the worse then we need to be very careful. For the record, opening a Selfridges, Harvey Nicholls or Yo Sushi is not progress". Having witnessed first-hand the transformation of Birmingham city centre with the construction of the new Bullring, I'm equally sceptical about this crassly capitalist philosophy - essentially retail therapy on a grand scale - which suggests that building bigger and better shops is some kind of panacea that will improve the whole quality of life in the city. And don't get me started on all that bullshit about it "increasing the choice available to consumers" - the shops that have moved into the Bullring are shutting their stores elsewhere in the city centre, so the choice remains exactly the same...

... He Who Cannot Be Named can indeed be excused for laughing: he's been to the premiere of 'Shaun Of The Dead' (verdict - "modest in that British way, but a bloody laugh"), and the experience has prompted him into such musings as the following: "Things about world premieres: running the gauntlet (first the outside, then the TV interviewers in is not good for your ego). First, you just know that once you're past the security barrier and getting into the cinema that everyone stuck on the sides is doing a Terminator-style scan on you with the simultaneous thought 'Is that a celebrity? No, IT'S NOBODY!'. Then inside, you see cheese-brained entertainment twats 'Kate over here! Please say something empty and banal we can show on our morning showbiz slot! And no. I don't think twats like me and Ben Shepherd deserve to have our brains sucked out through our nostrils, then served to rabies-stricken dogs. No, we contribute to the great panoply of humanity'"...

... Finding himself on the brink of giving up coffee, Invisible Stranger expresses his fear of becoming boring: "I feel as though I'm unconsciously evolving into some holier-than-thou proselytiser for the Healthy Lifestyle, and it just feels all wrong and unnatural somehow. A man needs at least one vice of which he knows his mother would disapprove, and a queen preferably ten, or else where's the fun to be had in life? As for me, well, I don't even pick my nose anymore".

... Mike of Glamorama is talking up The Boxer Rebellion - "If Interpol pulled in Richard Ashcroft to sing vocals on Turn On The Bright Lights, the end result would be something like The Boxer Rebellion"...

... And finally: happy birthday to Casino Avenue, one year old today.
When I am king, you will be first against the wall

#4: Tim Henman

Why?: For being a charmless, snooty, offensively dull mummy's boy and thus a pin-up for Daily Mail readers and symbol of all that is Bad about England.

Imagined famous last words to firing squad: "I've wet myself..." BANG!

(This particular victim was suggested to me by Linda Smith when she appeared on 'Room 101' on Monday night. She described Henman as "the human equivalent of beige". I also wholeheartedly agreed with two of her other choices, brightly-coloured and patterned bow ties (and their wearers) and adults who read the 'Harry Potter' books. Tossers, the lot of 'em.)
Know Your Enemy #40

"Eavis is a cock. We don't deal with fucking arseholes. We were speaking to all the big events before Christmas and Glastonbury was on the list. But Eavis said he thought we wouldn’t be around for the festival in June. It’s his loss. Our decision not to play Glastonbury is nothing to do with cash. Of course we asked for a lot — we’re the best band around. Michael Eavis is just annoyed that he missed the boat. He came back to us after he realised his mistake. But it was too late. We’d already agreed to do the Carling Festival for a lot less money. So he’s lost out. Glastonbury is all about sitting in a field and buying funny hats. When I go to a festival it’s because I want to see bands and like the line-up. I never went to Glastonbury until we played there. Don’t bother with Glastonbury unless you want to stand in a field and be healed."

Oh dear. The Darkness's Justin Hawkins would appear to be full of shit.

(Thanks to BykerSink for the link.)
Quote of the day

"You have got to keep his toad away from your hole."

Jill in Monday night's 'Nighty Night'.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Anger is an energy

Time for this week’s shameful SWSL confession: until I read ‘Love All The People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines’ I knew precious little about Bill Hicks apart from the fact that He Who Cannot Be Named swears by him - and, indeed, like him. As an introduction to the man and his perspective on life, the book is very readable. Comprised (as the title might suggest) of transcripts of live stand-up shows, brief sketches and rants, TV ideas, letters and interviews, it gives you the sense of a comic whose star was at long last deservedly in the ascendancy at the time of his death from cancer in February 1994.

An informative framing foreword is supplied by John Lahr, recipient of by far the longest letter reproduced in the book, which details Hicks’s version of events when his performance was cut from ‘The Late Show With David Letterman’ in October 1993. The impassioned critique of television and censorship which follows makes the letter arguably the most important document in the whole book, Hicks hammering home point after point, every one of which is even more relevant now than it was then: “The elite ruling class wants us asleep so we’ll remain a docile, apathetic herd of passive consumers, and non-participants in the true agendas of our governments, which is to keep us separate and present an image of a world filled with unresolvable problems that they, and only they might one day, somewhere in the never-arriving future, may be able to solve” As regards the book’s contents, my only hope would have been for more interviews or press features, perhaps in place of a couple of the live transcripts which often overlap in terms of material.

Aside, of course, from the fact that he’s damn funny, what I admire about Hicks (at least, about the Hicks that emerges from these pages) is that he is unafraid of challenging his audience and taking them on. During some of the live shows, when his act is being received with something less than enthusiasm, his dogged and undaunted persistence seems to approach masochism. I also like the way he has evidently thought carefully about what it means to be a comic and, even more fundamentally, about what comedy is. Far from being the sort of careerist stand-up looking for a way into the more glamorous world of television who deals in cheap and mindless comedy that allows the audience to switch off while being passively entertained, Hicks engages with people, often in an amusingly aggressive fashion, and refuses to allow them to relax. As he writes in a letter responding to criticism from a priest about his C4 programme ‘Revelations’, “Good comedy helps people know they’re not alone. Great comedy provides an answer.” In other words, comedy should not be just about providing sheer escapist pleasure. More than most stand-up comedians he actually has something to say, and is perfectly prepared to use the stage as a platform from which to say it. In his act the pill of political polemic may be sugared with a sprinkling of dick jokes, but it’s always there. For Hicks it’s not enough to point out the follies of human existence and contemporary society to an audience just so they can laugh and then happily go back to their old ways of thinking and behaving; behind it all stands the message that these absurdities are contingent, that we don’t have to accept things the way they are, and that change can happen. This might not in itself be particularly earth-shattering, but it’s the forcefulness and conviction with which Hicks expresses his arguments that resonates longest in the memory.

On a more personal note ‘Love All The People’ has had quite a significant impact on me, particularly in coincidental conjunction with my ongoing reading of Mark Kinkead-Weekes’s biography of D H Lawrence. As regular SWSL readers are probably aware, I’ve grown rather fond of venting my spleen in numerous different directions, and lately I’ve been feeling that my irritability at and intolerance of people is getting out of control. Both Hicks and Lawrence are renowned for the potential savagery of their remarks about others, but both endorse the view that such vitriol, when piercingly acute and directed at well-chosen targets, can ultimately be constructive and creative rather than simply destructive and divisive. Though both can be mercilessly and dismissively scathing about large groups of people, they nevertheless at root maintain an undimmed sense of humanity’s worth. Reading Hicks’s thoughts on the subject – “I am a misanthropic humanist. It’s a weird conflict when you are your own bete noire. ‘Do you like people?’ ‘They’re great in theory’” – reassured me, as he claims the best comedy should, that I’m not alone in feeling torn between hate and love. Feelings of scepticism, cynicism and contempt can only arise from the belief that there exists the possibility of something better.

An edited version of John Lahr’s foreword from The Guardian.

A more critical perspective on the book.
Pathetic and pointless

On Friday, following the win over Real Mallorca, I wrote: “it would be typical of us, having won comfortably a game we didn't need to win, to then slip up away at Bolton on Sunday. With any luck, though, the result will instill some more confidence and belief into the side”. Of course, with hindsight, I should have known better than to tempt fate on this blog once again – after all, it’s not as if fate needs much tempting in the case of Newcastle Utd.

Having fallen behind to a freak fourth-minute goal from Henrik Pedersen (who should have been penalised for a push on debutant Steven Taylor), we then proceeded to carve out a series of good chances. Bellamy in particular was scaring Bolton’s defenders witless with his pace and movement, but failed to convert the one clear-cut opportunity that presented itself, a one-on-one which he steered wide. Shearer, Woodgate and Bramble could also all have hit the back of the net, and the 1-0 half-time deficit wasn’t too disheartening given the openings we were creating.

Unfortunately the second half was a very different story. Bolton neutralised the threat from Bellamy, gained control of midfield through Okocha, Nolan and Stelios and had much the better of the match, running out deserved winners. Aside from forcing a couple of half-chances we were embarrassingly poor – the same old tale of misplaced passes, half-hearted tackling and a guileless midfield in which Jenas and Bowyer were abysmal. Their replacements Viana and Ambrose did nothing to advance their cause for a starting berth either. The fact that our performance was so lifeless whereas Bolton, with very little to play for (they should finish comfortably above the relegation zone), were full of desire and vigour is very worrying indeed. The only bright spots on another depressing away day were Woodgate’s continued fitness and good form, Given’s tremendous second-half saves and the increasingly assured and committed display of Taylor at right back. It might not be long before Woodgate and Taylor form our first choice central defensive partnership.

Thankfully other results have yet again kept us in a deceptively healthy looking fifth place. Aside from Birmingham’s win over Leeds, we were cheered by Liverpool’s inability to beat Leicester and Charlton slipping up again at home to Villa (though that result puts Villa right in the frame too). I think it’s fair to say that none of the leading candidates for the Champions’ League spot are playing well enough to really deserve it.
"Thatcherism = Fuck Thy Neighbour"

Website of the day: Maggie Thatcher Is Dead!. For obvious reasons.

(Thanks to Casino Avenue for the link.)
Know Your Enemy #39

"I hope he’s comforted by the money it [‘The Passion Of The Christ’] makes, and I’m sorry there’s no hell for him to go to."

Christopher Hitchens on Mel Gibson, from last night’s Channel 4 programme ‘Mel Gibson: God’s Lethal Weapon’.
It’s not every day…

… that you get a text message that reads: "I’ve just got Peter Stringfellow’s autograph!"

Friday, March 26, 2004

No pain in Spain

Last night's 3-0 victory over Real Mallorca at the San Moix Stadium saw Newcastle cruise through to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup with an aggregate scoreline of 7-1. Though we rode our luck for the opening hour of the first leg, Mallorca captain Samuel Eto'o going close on several occasions, over both legs the result was convincing and well-deserved. It was also hugely impressive given the stature of the opposition - in their last home game Mallorca had beaten Deportivo with ease.

The chances they created at St James's must have given them some cause for optimism and we survived a few scares in the first half, but Shearer pounced on a goalkeeping error just after half-time to put the tie firmly beyond their reach. Craig Bellamy put yet another episode in his chequered career at the club behind him (this time the "push-and-shove" incident with first team coach John Carver at Newcastle airport) by coming off the bench to score the second and the skipper wrapped it up with a third a minute from time. Not only were we refreshingly ruthless in front of goal, but our brittle and much-embattled defence managed to keep a clean sheet away from home. All in all, a very good night's work.

However, as ever with this team, it's worth sounding a couple of notes of caution. Firstly, it would be typical of us, having won comfortably a game we didn't need to win, to then slip up away at Bolton on Sunday. With any luck, though, the result will instill some more confidence and belief into the side. Secondly, while our form this season suggests any hopes of lifting the UEFA Cup might be rather optimistic, we are still in the competition, and the danger is that we might allow ourselves to get carried away with the European adventure and in the process take our eyes off the race for fourth place in the league. That we remain focused and concentrated on both competitions is imperative, especially now that Liverpool's exit from the UEFA Cup means that they - like Charlton, Birmingham and Villa - have nothing else to play for and will be hell-bent on getting that Champions League spot.
Quote of the day

"Who could ever see too much of Mom's pussy? It's like a trip down memory lane."

The ever-quotable Brenda in last night's episode of 'Six Feet Under', without doubt by far the best thing on TV in every respect, from script to acting to direction.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Rock action

MOGWAI / DEAD MEADOW / WOLVES! (OF GREECE), 24TH MARCH 2004, ROCK CITY

Peel-endorsed five piece Wolves! (Of Greece) are a very odd bunch. Before they actually start, the singer looks like he might give Graham Coxon a run for his money in the agoraphobic stakes and, as my fellow gig attendee says, "You'd quite happily go up to any of them believing they'd know the way to the bus station". Last time I saw them, supporting Fugazi in October 2002, I described them as "a sheer spastic noise attack with a schizophrenic Roddy Woomble-alike on vocals and a fundamental and alarming disregard for any conventional notions of structure or rhythm that makes Shellac and Les Savy Fav's The Cat And The Cobra sound like easy listening". Well, little's changed.

Needless to say, they don't play any ballads, and what they do play are less like songs and more like pieces of shrapnel that are flung out from the stage and stick in your head. Just when you think that each band member is playing something completely independent of the others, they all stop in unison at precisely the same moment, before setting off once again on their own seemingly random trajectories. I'd love to know who they listen to to sound like this. They've got a new 10" EP / mini album out on Nottingham's Gringo Records - whether they make any more sense on vinyl than they do live is anyone's guess. Perhaps, though, there isn't supposed to be any method to their madness - senseless music for a senseless world. However, the question of whether they're actually any good is one which, three sightings later, I'm still not really any nearer to answering.

Dead Meadow also look a bit odd. Two nervy-looking black-haired post-hardcore types, a second guitarist (not a full-time member of the band?) who looks like a cross between a chimp and Andy Macdonald of 'Coronation Street' and a drummer with the sort of 'tache that wouldn't be out of place on a Midwest ranch-hand or in the original 'Starsky & Hutch' series. Their music might have come as a bit of a surprise, had I not heard about them beforehand - it's a somnambulant take on Black Sabbath, conjuring up psychedelic images amidst a fug of smoke. Mogwai's crowd might be a lot more forgiving than most, but even they are starting to grow restless towards the end of an opening song which lasts more than ten minutes and shifts through various subtle shades without ever igniting. There's only time for another three after that, for which the riffs seem progressively less doped up and more potent and Iommi-esque. Another intriguing Mogwai support act, then, to add to the names of Ligament, Sophia and Bardo Pond on the growing list of bands I've been tempted into checking out at least partially as a result of their patronage.

The fact that Stuart Braithwaite has a glass of red wine in his hand when his band take to the stage is not a good sign. I feel like shouting "WINE?!! In a GLASS?!! What happened to drinking straight out of the bottle?!! You'll be sitting on stools and playing concert halls next!", but mercifully I restrain myself and any fears that the Glaswegian geniuses are growing old far too gracefully are duly dispelled over the course of the next hour and a half. 'Superheroes Of BMX' opens the set, an unexpected but very welcome surprise, followed by 'Hunted By A Freak' - perhaps as near as Mogwai have ever come to a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure but it's so fucking beautiful that you'd feel dirty to berate them for it. (And, anyway, they seem to have acknowledged with Happy Songs... that the real challenge is to do their "thang" within the stricter confines of a broadly traditional song structure without compromise - something that, like Sonic Youth and ... Trail Of Dead on their last albums, they manage with glorious results.)

They move through the set effortlessly - 'You Don't Know Jesus', 'Xmas Steps', , 'Killing All The Flies', 'Summer', 'I Know You Are But What Am I?' - and the crowd sway their heads like a field of corn in the wind, lapping it all up. 'Cody' is a real treat (why, on this evidence, is Stuart at all embarrassed about his vocals?!), and the only irritation isn't attributable to the band - yes, it's that familiar problem of those gig-going socialites stood at the back whose inane chatter and guffaws creep up through the cracks of silence in the songs to bug the shit out of me and all those around me.

The main set comes to an end with the keyboard scree of '2 Rights Make One Wrong', but they're not offstage for long, just long enough for Stuart to top up his wine glass. 'Sine Wave' gets the encore off to an inauspicious start, Martin losing track of his drum line amidst the industrial crunch, but the rising guitar riff and gently skipping drums of 'Mogwai Fear Satan' are on hand to make immediate amends. As ever it packs a mighty wallop, but the surprise is that, as in Birmingham last October, it doesn't close the show. That honour falls to 'Ratts Of The Capital', on this occasion a sinuous, shrieking beast that is so stunningly heavy it threatens to burst your eyeballs. For a moment, after about five minutes of powerchord barrage, I'm tempted to put my hands to my ears, but then just in time I stop myself - that would be to concede defeat to the sinister forces of old age and reason...

So, no 'Take Me Somewhere Nice', no 'Like Herod', no 'My Father My King' - but then to complain about the omissions would be ungrateful and detract from what we did get. What Mogwai have gained in grace and songwriting skill over the years, they patently haven't sacrificed in power or extremity. I may be edging towards my late 20s, but there's still something special in feeling physically brutalised by music.
Blogwatch: in brief

Here at SWSL Towers I'm always hungry for fresh meat, and so may I present to you three blogs most recently selected from the cyber smorgasbord:

Neil Grayson - As it says on the tin, this is the lair of one Mr Neil Grayson. An acquaintance of mine and He Who Cannot Be Named from our time at university together, and former head of the student radio station URN, Neil now resides in London. When he's not indulging in various meeja-style activities, he writes about things like spotting, in Camden (where else?), "a young woman ... wearing a dress made entirely from pages ripped out of the Bible". (Thanks to Inspector Sands for the link.)

I Don't Believe It - At last! Jonny puts rural Norfolk firmly on the blogging map. A welcome change from the whinings of uptight city-dwelling bloggers like myself - an excellent case in point being his latest post, which concerns the closure of the local fish shop: "I should write to John Prescott. It's all very well making a song and dance about rural post offices, but where the hell am I going to get hold of a sea bass now? I now wish I'd gone in there more often. But it does confirm the old commercial maxim that a business isn't viable unless its trade has been the basis of at least one successful situation comedy."

Danger! High Postage - And lastly but not leastly we have another blogger with damn fine taste in music and a blog tagline that reads "Thoughts, ramblings, Bergerac, angular guitars and custard". This we like.

Elsewhere: Thought-provoking stuff over at It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware, as BykerSink defends his decision to work in PR and in the process discusses the concept of political spin; on Parallax View, Dead Kenny gets his teeth stuck into a whole cavalcade of new albums from the likes of Electrelane, The Stills, The Constantines, The Duke Spirit, The Workhouse and The Stands - my favourite comment has to be his initial reaction to the latest release from Stereolab: "after the first few plays you find yourself thinking 'Margarine Eclipse? I Can't Believe It's Not Better!'"; and LondonMark explains how he was made late for work by the unsettling presence of a baby elephant in his flat.
Lee here now (well, in a few months' time)

News that gladdens my heart: Stewart Lee, probably the cleverest and driest stand-up comic I've ever seen live, has been confirmed as playing an Edinburgh Festival preview show at Nottingham's Cabaret club on the 11th July. Full marks once again to Darryl of Just The Tonic for securing the services of another big name for what is an intimate venue - not that I have much experience of comedy clubs elsewhere in the country, but I find it hard to believe there's another venue of this size that routinely attracts such fantastic performers.

The announcement of Lee's appearance brilliantly coincides with my discovery (with a little help from my friends...) of 'Lionel Nimrod's Inexplicable World', an early 90s Radio 4 series written by Lee and Richard Herring which also featured Armando Ianucci ('The Day Today', 'Knowing Me Knowing You', 'Brasseye' etc), Rebecca Front (most recently appearing in 'Nighty Night') and the voice of Tom Baker (might I suggest that Matt Lucas and David Walliams stole that particular idea for 'Little Britain'?). (For transcripts of some first series material, click here.)

Successful writer, broadcaster, broadsheet music journalist, comic - what a git.
It's not every day...

... that you get an email which reads as follows:

"Front page of my local weekly paper this week

MAN'S PRIVATE PARTS COULD HAVE BEEN FED TO PET DOG

I shit you not.
"

Thanks to Jon for "brightening" my day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

"You've got quite a big head, Cath. Is that part of the illness?"

Sick, wrong, and superbly and unremittingly offensive - that's the only way to describe the second episode of 'Nighty Night', screened on BBC2 last night. Better than the first week, and with the prospect of much more to come. The "highlight" of last night's episode was probably the scene in the sex shop between Jill (Julia Davis) and the Scottish bloke played by Mark Gattiss - in a nutshell, she talks about the size of her *ahem* ("Mine's tiny, it's like a cat's anus"), he asks whether she's using patches to try and overcome her lesbian tendencies, and then she sneaks out when he's not looking, leaving him to try on gimp masks. Lovely stuff. I wasn't surprised to note the involvement of Steve Coogan and Henry Normal, but it's a good deal darker than their usual fare. (Davis talks about working with the likes of Coogan, Rob Brydon and Chris Morris here.)

While on a comedy tip, I'm reliably informed that the forthcoming film 'Shaun Of The Dead' looks fantastic. Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the cast includes Pegg alongside other 'Spaced' regulars Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson and Peter Serafinowicz, while Dylan Moran of 'Black Books' and Lucy Davis of 'The Office' also make an appearance. All in all, it promises to be a far more entertaining prospect than the film from which it's derived its bastardised name.

Update: A Concerned Reader has "gently" brought it to my attention that the above concluding comment may have been rather ill-advised and careless. I should have made it clear I was referring to the forthcoming remake rather than the George Romero original - but apologies / eternal grovelling and snivelling in the mud all the same.
The sound of silence

All Quiet In The East Stand is the new Charlton-Athletic-centric blog offshoot of Casino Avenue. Inspector Sands has kicked things off with a slagging of our very own "mercurial" Laurent Robert following his sack of potatoes impression in Saturday's match, but don't hold that against him.
Know Your Enemy #38

"Accomplished and full of bluster but ontologically completely hollow; this is The Vines. Craig is great at throwing postures but rubbish at filling them with meaning; he hints at a hint of mystery, but because the allure is second hand it doesn’t work, he knows the signifiers but not the signified, and thus his poses are all wrong. There is, of course, the possibility that he actually is a fucked up crazy sun child rock star, but I doubt it. No one really crazy would make music this nice and clean and safe and full of blankness."

Nick Southall reviews the new Vines LP Winning Days. "Ontologically completely hollow" - couldn't have put it better myself.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Carpe diem

Both ourselves and Charlton went into yesterday evening’s match knowing that four of our closest rivals had lost – Birmingham, Villa, Fulham and Spurs – while Liverpool had only scraped a home win over Wolves with an injury time goal. Sir Bobby had described the clash as our biggest game of the season so far, and whoever could win it would steal a march on the rest of the chasing pack.

In the first half we bulldozed a strangely out-of-sorts Charlton, going in 2-0 up at the break thanks to goals from the half’s two star performers, Shearer and Jenas. The skipper, buffeted throughout by some “robust” Charlton defending, settled the nerves with a header after just two minutes, and Jenas was rewarded for his persistence by deflecting Luke Young's attempted clearance into the Addicks’ net. The Newcastle players seemed determined and resolute, focused on the task in hand and applying themselves to good effect.

If the feeling at half time was of it having been all too easy, and disconcertingly so, things were rather different after the break. In contrast to Charlton’s swift and accurate passing, our game was aggressive, physical and not particularly pretty to watch. Claus Jensen stole in to pull a crucial goal back, and the previously solid defence reverted to its customary shakiness (the introduction of Bramble at half time probably didn’t help either). Carlton Cole was looking dangerous, and as Jenas faded, Matt Holland and Jensen were allowed to marshall midfield.

Chris Perry came perilously close to equalising, denied by a brilliant Given save, but then conceded a penalty at the other end. My initial reaction to the incident was that Robert had played for it by leaving his leg trailing, but that Perry had taken the bait and so the decision was valid. It didn’t take many replays to show me otherwise, though – there wasn’t any contact whatsoever. Even then the goal which resulted was hardly straightforward – Kiely brilliantly tipped Shearer’s spot kick onto the post, only to find that his static defence had allowed the striker to run in and score from close range to make immediate amends for the penalty miss.

In the event, that third goal (dubious to say the very least) wasn’t crucial – though it certainly could have been, had substitute Jonatan Johansson’s shot crept in rather than striking the upright. Overall it was a result we probably deserved based on the first half showing, Charlton paying for their initial sluggishness and defensive disorganisation, but, after the nervy second period, 3-1 was a little flattering. After the dropped points of recent matches, though, the result was all that mattered.

(There are, of course, two sides to every story – read Inspector Sands’s thoughts on the match here…)
Blogwatch: in brief

Well, there’s gratitude for you. No sooner do I welcome the return of He Who Cannot Be Named to the blogging fraternity, than he reminds me of what made his last blog so great and arouses my jealousy in the process. Not only has he trumped my prĂ©cis and appreciation of BBC3’s ‘Nighty Night’ with his own, but his new venture Excuse Me For Laughing is packed full of fantastically splenetic stuff like this, on the Pink song 'My Vietnam':

"Comparing your childhood to a conflict which cost millions of peoples' lives is akin to wiping a shit-smeared stick over a war memorial then crying like a baby because you've got a splinter. It is contemptible beyond words. Why didn't someone just club poor Alicia to death? It would have put her, and us, out of her obscenely prolonged misery."

Meanwhile, you’ll find no speculation or tittle-tattle here about the identity of a certain award-winning blogger – basically because I really can’t be arsed. If, however, you want a handy (and tongue-in-cheek) guide to the potential suspects, Wherever You Are is the place to go.

Elsewhere in the blogosphere: Jaymaster points up the discriminatory regulations which bar sexually active gay men from donating blood; Mike strikes back with the return of his ace Which Decade Is Top For Pops? feature; and LondonMark reviews the Pet Shop Boys best of PopArt.

And finally… Alex and R have at last got themselves set up in their new place after weeks of trials and tribulations – congratulations!
Don’t believe the hype

The response to this American invasion will be interesting, not least because Britain is finally producing a crop of bands with real potential. Already in January there have been hits for Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol. But there are scores more to come. This year promises to boast as many homegrown new acts as the giddy days of Britpop.

So quoth Steve Lamacq in this article in the Guardian’s Friday Review.

As if it wasn’t bad enough writing a piece about the threat that the influx of American bands poses to indigenous British talent which seems to play carelessly with the xenophobic rhetoric of the right wing.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that, by allowing smug record company wankers to share their corporate philosophies, he implicitly endorses the idea of music as nothing more than a product calculatedly targeted at a certain demographic in order to reap the maximum profits.

No, he just has to perpetuate that pathetic myth that Britpop was some kind of idyllic golden age for British music. Look, let’s get this straight: it wasn’t. It was a nadir rather than a zenith. The rabid and shallow jingoism of it all was disgusting. Probe beyond that surface and there was precious little of any substance. How could anyone feel “giddy” about the likes of Cast, Echobelly, Shed Seven, Menswear and Sleeper? Unless, that is, “giddy” is taken to mean “unbearably nauseous” rather than “incredibly excited”. Thank fuck Radiohead killed it off.
When I am king, you will be first against the wall

#3: Daniel Bedingfield

Why?: For thinking in all seriousness that what the world really needs is a white Craig David - the world doesn’t need a BLACK Craig David, for fuck’s sake. Oh, and for not having the good grace to die in that car crash.

Imagined famous last words to firing squad: “I gotta get thru this…” BANG!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Guinness is not good for you

I hate St Patrick’s Day. I hate the proliferation of patronising and retarded cartoons of ginger-haired leprechauns clad in green. I hate the fact that every year hordes of English people take it as an excuse to get wasted – after all, no one should need an excuse for that. And above all I hate the way that if it didn’t already exist, Guinness would have had to invent it rather than just conveniently appropriating it for their own ends (see also: Coke and Father Christmas). It has nothing to do with Ireland or the religious celebration of a saint’s life, and everything to do with a cynical marketing ploy calculated to make money.

In my experience the worst place to be on St Patrick’s Day is without a doubt London. When it fell on a Saturday two years ago, I had the misfortune to get caught up in the swarm of morons wandering around Leicester Square wearing soft Guinness top hats. Read my lips, dipshit: I am not “up for the craic”. So, maybe you’ve just discovered you’ve got traces of Irish blood – well, why don’t you bugger off over there if you’re so proud of your ancestry? At any rate, get the fuck out of my face.

Let me make one thing very clear: I’m not a killjoy – far from it. I just see no point in celebrating something that has no connection to my life whatsoever, and I refuse to enjoy myself in such a way that has been promoted by a beer company in order to line the pockets of those in the boardroom.
Quote of the day

Before the war, I toured TV stations either preceding or following the shadow Foreign Secretary. It was clear that the issue of legality did not for one moment pass through his mind. At some stages, his gung-ho approach left me feeling that if the Conservatives had evidence of Saddam passing wind, that would have been enough to declare war.

Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson introduces the concept of toilet humour to the Houses of Parliament. Whatever next – knob gags?

On a more serious note, I think I’ve said what follows before, but it’s worth repeating. I’ve contacted Alan Simpson on several different occasions over a range of issues (I think I must be in training to become one of those grumpy old men who spend their time firing off angry missives in every direction), and every time he’s replied with a personal letter which, rather than fobbing me off, has included or been accompanied by the relevant information. Of course it helps that I broadly share his politics, and that I admire his dogged determination as one of those lefties concerned with issues of social justice at home and abroad, and who is perfectly prepared to dig his heels in in a bid to prevent Blair dragging Labour further over to the right.

In this instance I was writing on behalf of Our World Our Say to ask for his support in the campaign for the charges against GCHQ whistleblower Katharine Gun to be dropped; he signed the relevant Early Day Motion and the charges have since been dismissed. In my experience he’s conscientious, caring, responsive, accountable, outspoken and passionate - in other words, the sort of politician who convinces me that the political process in this country is not totally bankrupt.
"That’s just the chemo talking…"

BBC3’s ‘Nighty Night’ at last made the transition to BBC2 on Monday night, and it was well worth the wait. The series is written by Julia Davies, and, as one might expect given her involvement in Chris Morris’s ‘Jam’, her brainchild is more than a little grotesque and twisted, much of the humour tastefully centring on her on-screen husband Kevin Eldon’s cancer and her neighbour’s spinal injuries. “Dark” is one way of describing it…

The most memorable scene from the first instalment was when, as part of a self-help group, Davies’s character began performing a dance to express her feelings at her husband’s illness – but, when her lecherous new neighbour (played by Angus Deayton – an inspired bit of casting) entered, her dance took on a seductive and erotic edge. Sickest of all, though, was the fact that the whole scene was set to a fucking Marillion song. More of the same next week, please.

Now I’ve just got to wait in anticipation until Vic and Bob's ‘Catterick’ surfaces on terrestrial TV…
The call of the wild

I noticed today that the Birmingham Evening Mail is advertising for new newspaper vendors. Judging by the current crop, presumably the only qualification hopeful applicants need is the ability to emit the sort of inarticulate and pained cry that one might associate with a pterodactyl nursing a broken wing.
Smash it up

Nick Southall reviews the new Guns ‘N’ Roses greatest hits LP. He’s right, you know: it’s completely redundant – just get yourself Appetite For Destruction and leave it at that. For what it’s worth, Axl Rose himself seems to know it too, given that nine of the twelve songs on that record made an appearance during the Leeds headline performance in 2002, completely dominating the set-list. Appetite For Destruction was the first album to awaken me to the fact that music can be dangerous, and my 11-year-old’s sense of its illicitness ensured a frisson of slightly guilty excitement every time I furtively listened to it (through headphones, of course).
It’s not every day…

… that you get an answerphone message that begins with the drunkenly slurred words “I’m about to be arrested". Still, considering the merry band of miscreants I count as friends, perhaps it’s a surprise it hasn’t happened sooner.
You WHAT?!!

Recent search engine referral subjects to have led people to SWSL:

donkey wearing neckerchief
waterstone’s suicide piccadilly
egyptian dollmaker
brad friedel’s baby
plastic film packaging norwegian cheese toxic
genital warts comforting advice

Monday, March 15, 2004

How to shoot yourself in the foot in spectacular style: Part 2

Trust Newcastle to end a run of eight straight away draws with a defeat rather than a win. And trust us to achieve this by committing defensive hari-kari late on for the fourth time in four away matches, at a cost of seven points which would, had we held on, have seen us sitting pretty in fourth.

Just when us fans might have been forgiven for thinking our brittle defence had blunted the potent Spurs attack to escape with a creditable away clean sheet, Andy O'Brien pops up four minutes from time to inadvertently supply the finish that Defoe and Keane couldn't muster themselves. Another kick in the teeth, and all the more galling because by all accounts we actually performed better than of late - but then I suppose it's just the wheel of fortune coming full circle, given the fact that in recent UEFA Cup matches we've been lucky to win and in the league we persist in playing badly but picking up fortuitous points. Incredibly we've only lost six league games all season - that was our first defeat since 28th December, and our first away defeat since 9th November. All those draws look like being costly.

The result sees us slip down to fifth, having been leapfrogged by Inspector Sands's Charlton - it's now imperative that we beat them on Saturday. The one consolation we and all the other clubs involved have is that no one team seems capable of putting together the run of results that would surely wrap it all up. This weekend Charlton, Spurs, Fulham and Villa all picked up three points, but ourselves, Liverpool and Fat Buddha's Birmingham slumped to defeat. Next weekend expect the pack to shuffle once again.
Feel good hits of the 15th March

1. 'I Left You' - Sophia
2. 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night?' - Nirvana
3. 'This Is Not' - Blonde Redhead
4. 'I Think I'm In Love' - Spiritualized
5. '1% Of One' - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
6. 'Tropical Iceland' - The Fiery Furnaces
7. 'Last Nite' - The Strokes
8. 'A Truth Quietly Told' - The Black Heart Procession
9. 'The Beach At Redpoint' - Boards Of Canada
10. 'Glitterball' - Seachange

The Sophia album People Are Like Seasons is very frustrating - several brilliant songs (especially 'I Left You' and 'Desert Song No 2') but also a few which really let it down ('Holidays Are Nice', I'm looking at you - urgh). Perhaps I would have been better off getting De Nachten or one of the earlier LPs first. Part of the problem has been listening to it alongside Spiritualized - Spaceman and his mob of zonked-out canesters do both the slow epics and the bristling Stooges / Stones-y rockers better.

Malkmus's Pig Lib has also taken time to bed down with me - a lot less whimsical and breezy than his first solo outing, and perhaps the worse for it. There's definitely some good stuff in there, though.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Japan's people

You know what? I like to think I have my finger on the pulse. I really do. But then certain things conspire to wreck this little fantasy and reveal that in fact I'm about as in touch with The Now as Jeremy Clarkson is with his feminine side.

Case in point: 'Lost In Translation'. EVERYONE saw this ages ago - it's been skinned, gutted and thoroughly dissected on blogs all over the place. Me? Well, I saw it for the first time on Tuesday night. And so here, just for all you nostalgia freaks out there who like a good reminiscence, is what I thunk of it.

It's a very, very good film. The cinematography is wonderful, it features two superb performances from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen and there are some brilliant scenes - particularly, for me, the karaoke party and the ending.

(Are you sensing a 'but' on its way? Very perceptive of you...)

But I get the impression it thinks it's better than it actually is. Or, at least, it's not quite the masterpiece it's been made out to be. For a slow-moving film in which nothing much happens, it seemed to me curiously rushed at a couple of points (not sure if I could pinpoint those moments, though), and as a similar movie about a particular feeling more than anything else - or feelings plural, of dislocation, displacement, disillusionment - I'd rate 'About Schmidt' more highly. Plus I was inclined to be perverse and a touch cynical about the accompanying music - of course I LOVED hearing My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus & Mary Chain through cinema speakers, but including those two bands on the soundtrack is an easy way to score Brownie points with me, and I'm sorry Sofia but I won't let you blind me to your film's occasional and slight weaknesses that cheaply...

Still, it goes without saying that it's leagues better than the standard multiplex fodder.

(Incidentally, an embarrassing fact I'll share with you: when I was younger - oh, much, much younger, kneehigh-to-a-grasshopper sort of age - I didn't believe there was such a place as Kyoto. Oh no. I thought that was just people misspelling Tokyo...)
Excuse me for laughing...

... but how exactly did we run out 4-1 winners in tonight's UEFA Cup tie first leg match against Real Mallorca?

Last week, celebrating the outrageous good fortune that ensured we progressed in the competition at the expense of Norwegian outfit Valerenga, I described watching our performance as being "about as enjoyable as systematically and methodically having each of your knuckles smashed with a hammer". Unbelievably, this time around, in the first half, we were EVEN WORSE, managing just one attempt on goal and at one point retaining just 38% of the possession, horrendous for a home match. We were clueless in midfield, getting no joy up front and clumsy in defence. Samuel Eto'o spurned several decent opportunities to put the visitors ahead but somehow we went in 0-0 at the break.

Sod's law, then, that after a stern half-time talking-to from Sir Bobby, we came out, started playing the better football and then promptly fell behind, Speed guilty of cocking up badly twice in the build-up.

But we didn't let that setback get us down, and managed to turn things around completely with a four goal blast in the space of less than 20 minutes. Bellamy levelled it up, before Robert, listless and lacklustre in the first half, came to life - first of all he sent in a corner for Shearer to head in, then he fired in a swerving 35 yard free-kick (and nearly repeated the feat a few minutes later), and then, following the dismissal of Mallorca's left back for a second bookable offence, his free-kick was volleyed in by Bramble. If only he could do it for 90 minutes, and for several matches in a row...

The scoreline was one neither team deserved. But we're certainly not complaining. Instead we should be counting our blessings, and looking forward to getting a decent result in the away leg in two weeks' time and taking a step nearer the big prize. Somehow, though, I suspect we're going to get found out, and then it could be messy...
Resurrection man

Since the demise towards the end of last year of a certain blog which, ahem, made no difference, the blogosphere has been a nice, clean, white-picket-fence, kids-playing-outdoors-without-fear kinda place. But all that is about to change - it's back, reincarnated as Excuse Me For Laughing, packed full with as much bitterness, wit, cynicism and - of course - rooting around in the dustbins of pop culture as you could possibly hope for. After the sort of unpleasantness that left the evil mastermind and SWSL associate behind the previous blog metaphorically nailed to a cross, he has decided to remain anonymous this time around.

So, what's with all these comebacks - Anna, Kenny, Mike and now He Who Cannot Be Named? In the run-up to Easter, is it some kind of bizarre blogland tribute to Our Lord Jesus Christ?
Child's play

Nick Southall recalls his Top 10 Songs I Loved To Dance To At The School Disco (Aged 12). In my experience school discos began with all the boys clustered together in one darkened corner of the room and all the girls in another. After a while the odd brave soul would make a furtive pilgrimage to the Mecca that was the drinks and sweets table to part with a share of the £2 they'd been entrusted with. Of course, by the end of the night the dancefloor was packed with hyperactive E-numbered-up sprites, all inhibitions and reservations about the opposite sex washed away by the gallons of Coke that had been collectively consumed.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Just what the doctor ordered

From Sonic Youth's official website comes news that warms the SWSL cockles nicely: their new LP Sonic Youth Nurse will be appearing in June. The tracklisting is as follows:

'New Hampshire'
'Paper Cup Exit'
'I Love You Golden Blue'
'Peace Attack'
'Pattern Recognition'
'Unmade Bed'
'Dripping Dream'
'Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Hand Creme'
'Stones'
'Dude Ranch Nurse'

There are countless wonderful things about Sonic Youth, but perhaps the most wonderful is the sheer sense of the unknown and unpredictable that you have when putting a new album of theirs into your stereo and pressing play for the first time. They refuse to stand still, always moving on and evolving restlessly. Sure, sometimes they revisit similar territory, but no album is quite the same as any other that has gone before. The follow-up to the resolutely "out-there" NYC Ghosts & Flowers, 2002's marvellous Murray Street marked an unexpected return to the "classic" stylings of the late 80s / early 90s material. Which direction they'll go on this latest LP is anyone's guess - and therein lies their irresistible attraction.
When I am king, you will be first against the wall

#2: Geri Halliwell

Why?: For a multitude of sins, but perhaps most prominently her belief that her meagre little existence - pathetic, vapid and limpet-like up to this point in time, and as it no doubt will be for as long as she has the undeserved good fortune to stay alive - is worthy of commemoration by not one but TWO fucking autobiographies.

Imagined famous last words to firing squad: "If I turn sideways I can make myself invisible and you'll miss - oh, no, hang on, I NEED you to be able to see me, I'll waste away and die if I can't feed off your gaze. Plus, even if I turn sideways my massive head will still be an easy target..." BANG!
"Curly-Wurlys? Remember them?"

(Shameless self-promotion alert.)

Over the course of this week I'll be coming over all Stuart Maconie and Kate Thornton by joining up with a cast of many to make brief contributions to Stylus's I Love 1990, the first in a series of features. And before you lump it together with all those space-filling TV shows (cheap nostalgia, infantile regression blah blah blah), let me point out one major difference: it's NOT SHIT.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Howay the lads! And lasses!

For a while there I thought it was just me, Sarah and LondonMark out there in the blogosphere who had any affiliations to the North-East, and more particularly Newcastle. But at last, thanks to BykerSink, whose excellent blog It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware is itself a valued new addition to my blogroll, I've been introduced to several other Geordie blogs:

Black Dove
The Head Of Catboy
Incredible
Jaymaster
Look At This...

Click, read, enjoy.
It's not every day...

... that you go to a house party and wind up chatting to a bloke who's got Mark 'Barney' Greenway, lead singer of Brummie grindcore godfathers Napalm Death and occasional contributor to Kerrang!, moving into his house this week.
Quote of the day

"Put yourself into the characters shoes. See how they feel. Take a walk in them. But don't put on a character's shoes when you're already wearing the shoes of another character. They won't fit, and you can't produce truly scary, visionary work when your feet hurt. This is why I wear loose-fitting cowboy boots or leather slip-ons."

Sound advice on writing Terrifying Telly taken from this article by Garth Marenghi, star of C4's 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace'. Inspired stuff.
Feel good hits of the 8th March

1. 'Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers' - The Icarus Line
2. 'Toxic' - Britney Spears
3. 'Michael' - Franz Ferdinand
4. 'Desert Song No 2' - Sophia
5. 'More Or Less' - Screaming Trees
6. 'There She Goes' - The Las
7. 'Come Together' - Spiritualized
8. 'Date With The Night' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
9. 'The Recluse' - Cursive
10. 'Why Bother?' - Weezer