Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Right To Reply #2

Never let it be said that SWSL is not “hip to the beat” or “with it”. A mere month and a half after this year’s event comes a feature on the Glastonbury Festival, the second in the Right To Reply series. (If you’re wondering what this is all about, or would like to read the first in the series, about nationalism and football, then click here.) Apologies to Paul and Simon for my slackness, but better late than never, as they say…

The subject: Glastonbury

The protagonists:
Ben – your host
Paul - author of 1000 Shades Of Grey
Simon - the man behind one of the web’s finest music blogs No Rock & Roll Fun

Ben: These days, the summer is packed full of music festivals, and the festival-goer is a consumer afforded a comparative wealth of choice in terms of venue and entertainment. This year, in addition to the established two or three day festivals – Leeds / Reading, T In The Park, V – there have been a whole host of smaller gatherings, not to mention a number of alfresco supergigs from major acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers. Does all this mean that Glastonbury will start to lose its appeal? Or is it still “special” and “different”, as some performers and dewy-eyed hippies would have us believe?

Paul: I think Glastonbury is more than just a music festival. I couldn’t imagine going to any other festival and not seeing a band, but I could see people doing that at Glastonbury, because there is so much more on offer. That’s what sets it apart (well that and inaccessibility), and what makes it a special festival. The fact that it has always been held in what amounts to Michael Eavis’s back garden gives it a strange and comforting feel, which none of the other festivals could even hope to capture.

Ben: Since the superfence went up and Mean Fiddler took over the security arrangements, though, the endearing sense of eccentricity and homeliness that make it so unique seems to be fading.

Simon: Glastonbury isn't, of course, as good as it used to be. Nothing is, and even if it was, there'd be enough people who knew what it was like ages ago to point out the flaws and where it's all gone hideously wrong. It did used to have some sense of idealism about it, but the Eavises have realised that – for a quieter life – it's better to repackage and market an "idealism experience" than actually offer the real thing. And, to a certain extent, you can't blame them – what thanks did they get for letting travellers in for free? A massive pitched battle, misery for those people who had paid to get in as a bunch of crusties barged their way about because it was "their" festival, having to wait weeks for all the vans to leave their land after the festival was over. Who wouldn't decide it’s better to keep out the real tattoos and camper vans and fill the site instead with people with temporary henna tattoos and tents bought at John Lewis?

Ben: Some claim that Glastonbury is now nothing more than a Guardianista’s playground full of city types hell-bent on indulging in an orgiastic letting-off of steam through intoxication whilst pretending to take a passing interest in social justice issues. I’d say that might be the way things are headed, what with the VIP passes and separate camping area, but at the moment it’s still somewhat premature.

Paul: I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad think to have professionals attending, but it’s important to retain the mix – which I think Glasto does so well. It’s much more of a holistic experience and I think more of a family atmosphere exists. I can’t imagine the scenes of toilet burning rampage occurring, as they have done previously at Leeds.

Ben: If you wander off away from the main music stages and into the Green Fields in search of what’s known as “the real Glastonbury” (naturally whilst doing your level best to avoid jugglers) you can still see the festival’s legendary spirit of idealism in its purest form. By giving space to so many different stalls, the festival promotes innumerable worthy causes and schemes. This is what continues to set it apart from the crowd.

Paul: On the subject of politics, I think there is a strong case of preaching to the converted. I don’t think anything people say or do at Glastonbury is necessarily going to change anyone’s views, and those of a less liberal mindset would (I imagine) be quite happy to dismiss any political noises coming out of Glasto as “irrelevant hippy nonsense”.

Ben: Even someone like me who considers himself already a “convert” (though not necessarily a well-informed one) can begin to find all the consciousness-raising a bit relentless and exhausting, and some of the political idealism comes across as na├»ve and crude. But, of course, that’s very far from saying it’s irrelevant or wasted effort – even though all the left-wing idealism of the Green Fields sits uneasily with the corporate sponsorship from the likes of Budweiser, Orange and the Guardian. During this year’s ‘Meet The Festival-Going Public’ appearance, Eavis defended the deal with Budweiser by saying that they would need to satisfy the demand for beer anyway before claiming erroneously that they are not permitted to advertise – not seen the heavily-branded cardboard pint pots, then, Michael?

Simon: It wouldn't be so bad if Glastonbury didn't try to keep pretending that it was a hippie haven – everybody knows they're getting cash from Orange, so what's with all the coyness about admitting that it's just as sponsored as the Carling Weekend? They're proud that a portion of the ticket price goes to charity – but why so coy about how much the Mean Fiddler organisation is taking in return for their back-room work? What's the deal with all the tension between the organisers – who's really in charge now? The affable front man Michael Eavis, or MF's Melvin Benn and Vince Power?

Paul: Financial sponsorship of the festival is inevitable. Without it the cost of the ticket price would surely be enormous. Thinking about the costs of running Glasto (off the top of my head), you’ve got to pay for stages, crew, lighting, closing the farm for (probably at least) a month, the security, licenses, stewarding, clean up, buses to and from the train station, portaloos, as well as paying the bands (and their riders etc). In terms of income, apart from ticket sales and licensing the myriad of burger vans / beer sellers the only other income I can think of is sponsorship. Therefore, in order to keep costs down you can either accept the corporate pound, or scale back the festival and have less popular acts. Ultimately, I think a few sponsors’ banners are a small price to pay.

Ben: Perhaps corporate sponsorship is inevitable, then, and those of us who might look to Glastonbury as a real alternative to the heavily branded likes of V and Move should grudgingly face up to the fact that we’re living with our heads in the clouds. And perhaps they should scale back the festival anyway.

Simon: Part of the problem is that Glasto's just too large now. Even watching it on TV this year, there was just too much, too many demands on attention. The last time I went in the flesh, 1998, the rain was bad but what made it worse was the sheer numbers of people plodding, pissing, poking, shouting – there were more people than in any city in the West Country, and boy did it feel like it. The poor site couldn't cope; I was treading mud like water trying to stop myself from disappearing into the ground during Blur's set, wondering if I could face the queues for the toilets and queues for the showers and queues and queues and... I realised I wasn't having any fun at all. I dearly wanted to see Pulp play the next night, but being stuck crammed into a sea of mud with so many horrible people, it just wasn't worth it. Since then, lead by Mean Fiddler, the approach has been to cram more people in, on the basis that the only way to ensure people will be safe from the dangers of overcrowding was by expensive security measures. To pay for which, they had to sell more tickets. And more people means more stuff. Too many stages, too many people, too many acts, too many sponsors. What would really make Glastonbury regain its spark would be if it regained its human scale.

Ben: I don’t feel that overcrowding has been so much of a problem over the past three years, certainly in comparison with 2000, the last year before Mean Fiddler’s involvement and the introduction of the superfence. Crime is without doubt down as a result, and that can only be a good thing. But, of course, what cannot be controlled are the elements, and, writing as a veteran of both 1998 and this year, there’s no denying that it can take extraordinary mental fortitude and resilience to soldier on through the mud and enjoy yourself regardless. Thankfully, for those who can’t face the possibility of apocalyptic conditions (or the prospect of redialing for hours on end without securing a ticket for the event in the first place), there’s always the BBC coverage which can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own conspicuously mud-free living room.

Paul: The BBC does its best to capture the essence of Glasto, and I think the reason they devote more time to it than any other festival (particular on the TV) is because there is more to it than simply the music. Whilst I’m sick of seeing the same druid talk about the ley-lines every year, that element of the festival (and the people it attracts) still has an influence on the nature of the beast, and will (I hope) always prevent it from completely selling out. Generally the BBC does a good job – it’s impossible to give you a real taste of what the festival is about, because for everyone who goes their experiences all differ slightly (eg someone I know describes her only memory of Glastonbury as crawling on the floor through the dance tent one year!). That said they do make a good attempt at bringing the wider festival into the public consciousness.

Ben: Even if it can only give the viewer a flavour of what it’s like to be there, that’s all most would want. The real frustration is confined to those who wanted to be there but who have been unsuccessful in getting tickets and consequently have to sit there watching it unfold without them. Having had the good fortune to attend for the past few years, that might well be me next June.
Meeting people is easy: update

Mish's account of last Wednesday's Troubled Diva Nottingham guest bloggers meet-up can be found here, and click here for further photos of the evening.
Know Your Enemy #47

"An absolute fucking armpit of humanity, a dingy, dark, dank city with nothing to its name but a history of social injustice and bandits, but which has more women than men and also loads of bars and clubs in the city centre and also hideous problems with alcohol, violence, etcetera etcetera because of all the bars and clubs in the city centre which exist almost entirely at the expense of any kind of daytime socially-binding culture or commerce or industry."

Nick Southall of Auspicious Fish on Nottingham. Under normal circumstances I respect his opinions (especially when they concern music), but as someone who has come to feel very much at home in the city over the past seven years, needless to say I can't agree with him here. Even if it was once true (the city's major industry having been the production of lace), the "more women than men" thing certainly isn't any longer. And name me a city that DOESN'T have "hideous problems with alcohol, violence, etcetera etcetera". If you're looking for "an absolute fucking armpit of humanity", Birmingham, Sunderland or Stevenage would be far more appropriate.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Meeting people is easy

There's a school of thought that says that bloggers are self-pitying self-centred loners who can't face the world and who blog in order to create a simulacrum of social contact whilst clinging to the Sartrean mantra "Hell is other people".

What a load of bollocks.

I spent last night with several fellow local bloggers - given the prior arrangments and organisation, I think the occasion could be justifiably dignified with the label 'blogmeet' - and can report that not only were we unafraid to expose ourselves to daylight but we also had a thoroughly good time in each other's company.

I won't deny I approached the evening with something akin to apprehension - what if meeting people in the flesh destroyed the online personas I've come to love reading about? Thankfully, any fears were completely unfounded.

The designated venue was George's on Broadway. This was the first time I'd been there, and I defer to Alan's description of the place except to add that I've never before drunk anywhere that's had marshmallows rather than peanuts on the bar, and two disgruntled cherubs and a large grandfather clock painted on the wall. To be honest, any place with a lax attitude towards closing time secures my approval immediately...

When I arrived Buni, Alan and Mish were already at the bar. We soon retired to the sofas in which you can sink never to return, and the wine (and beer and gin) flowed like water while the conversation flowed like wine. Predictably, of course, politics and philosophy were off the conversational agenda whereas the joys of Nottingham, the phenomenon of reality TV and the imagined contents of the Diva Towers cellar were not. A few long-held secrets were spilt, and I took the opportunity to continue the current SWSL mission to convert everyone to the Church of The Futureheads by recommending them to Mish's "young man" Martin when he complained that punk did away with harmonies.

Then, demonstrating his dedication to the cause, Mike turned up unexpectedly with K, despite the fact that they'd just arrived back from what sounds like an intermittently torturous holiday in Peru and were suffering from severe sleep deprivation. More beer was drunk, more shop was talked, more secrets were divulged, more snippets of gossip were exchanged - and numerous photos were taken, at least in part to prove that it all really did happen.

It being a school night, the party disbanded at around half midnight with George still merrily dishing out the shots behind the bar. We have to do it again (though not, as Buni suggested, more sober), not least because I never got the chance to speak to Mish or Buni at any length.

Looking forward to it already...
Thought for the day

I think I noticed that last week's issue of NME proudly proclaimed on the cover that it featured 'The Libertines story told in posters'. Now, I didn't actually look inside (having vowed at Christmas never to touch it again), but I was wondering if this meant there was a great big picture of an utterly out-of-it Pete Doherty caught like a rabbit in the headlights emerging from Carl Barat's flat with a video recorder and guitar...
Quote of the day

"We tried to put more ideas into a song that was one minute long than someone else's song that was four minutes long. We wanted to have so many things happening at the same time that people couldn't possibly find it boring. That's the only thing we didn't want to be: boring. I'd go to gigs, desperately wanting to see something inspirational and exhilarating, and come away disappointed. So we set out to do something people were going to find stunning."

Barry Hyde of The Futureheads talks to The Guardian's John Harris.

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the link.)
Blogwatch

The latest additions to the SWSL blogroll:

Sarsparilla Vanilla
The World Is Full Of Pisswits, found courtesy of Assistant Blog and exhibiting a very nice line in bitterness and bile
Chew Get Meh? - over the years I've developed a real fondness for the Nottingham accent
Miss Mish, my fellow Troubled Diva guest blogger and self-confessed "drama queen, fag-hag, JAP".

Welcome to one and all.

Lashings of great music-related posts of late: Jonathan is less than convinced of the "genius" of The Libertines and Razorlight (as well as an appreciation of Kingsley Amis) - for what it's worth, I think The Libs make for superb interviewees, but their albums will never be up to much, while Razorlight are just chancers with nothing more to recommend them than a handful of half-decent tunes; on No Matter What You Heard, Steve enthusiastically recommends Rob Jovanovic's book 'Perfect Sound Forever - The Story Of Pavement' while Kevin is underwhelmed by the new Sahara Hotnights LP Kiss & Tell; and Graham has defended his love of Bruce Springsteen.

Elsewhere: Adrian's post about vivisection and animal rights protestors has precipitated a fascinating debate in the comments box; He Who Cannot Be Named finds himself trying to imitate the "juvenile, sweaty prose" style of Kerouac's 'Big Sur' - not much of a deviation from the norm, to be honest; Diamond Geezer is spending August taking a stroll along Piccadilly - start here and then read upwards; Kenny extols the virtues of leather on willow (and pint-in-hand); and Jonny B has just come to terms with having a misshapen hedge only to find himself living in fear of being accused of shooting at cats.

...And finally: recently back from Vilnius, He Only Lives Twice presents 'Moving The Gaolposts: Rewriting The Corporate Phrasebook'. Sample comment: "In Corporate Street Jive, 'logging off' is the hip way to take a dump. That's one for when you're riffing with the new set of grads, Partner X. 'Hey kids, I just logged off. All gone - one flush. I'm one mother frickin' ho shagging mofe. Let's go to All Bar One and get blotto... er, I mean wasted, smashed yeah. That's what you say isn't it? I knew that.'" As someone with an decided aversion to business wankspeak who also appreciated the terminology of Coupland's 'Generation X' far more than the book itself, this is right up my alley.
Feel good hits of the 5th August

1. 'Man Ray' - The Futureheads
2. 'Some Girls' - Rachel Stevens
3. 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)' - Wilco
4. 'Ch-Ch-Check It Out' - Beastie Boys
5. 'Don't Let Go' - Weezer
6. 'First Of The Gang To Die' - Morrissey
7. 'Modern Love' - David Bowie
8. 'Golden Touch' - Razorlight
9. 'Sing For Absolution' - Muse
10. 'The Dark Of The Matinee' - Franz Ferdinand

Monday, August 02, 2004

It was all just a dream

My time guesting over at Troubled Diva is now coming to an end, and I've finished my series of posts detailing the six members of my Guest Blogging Dream Team. The post which explains the whole concept is here, and you can read the justifications for each of the six members here:

D H Lawrence
Alan Bennett
Morrissey
Will Self
Chris Morris
Aunt Cyn

There's also a competition to suggest a seventh member of the team - you can read the details and enter by clicking here, but hurry, as the deadline for entries is tomorrow (Tuesday 3rd August) at 4pm. And yes, there's a proper prize up for grabs - a copy of Will Self's novel 'How The Dead Live'.
Uneasy street

Newcastle's acquisition of Nicky Butt from Man Utd for a paltry £2.5m represents a very good bit of business, and I welcomed the transfer rather more warmly than I might have done a few weeks ago.

Following Speed's departure for Bolton, we were much in need of a solid if unspectacular midfielder to hold things together and give a much-beleaguered defence some protection, and Butt fits the bill perfectly. He's got a wealth of experience at the highest level, and you don't get into the England squad on a regular basis without being a consistently decent player (our very own Kieron Dyer being the exception that proves the rule...).

The addition of Butt, Kluivert and Milner to the squad gives some justifiable cause for optimism for the coming season, but that is tempered by the persistent rumours of unease and tension behind the scenes which the media are intent on focusing on and stirring up. Sir Bobby and Fat Freddie seem to be at loggerheads, and Shearer's position and status at the club is also uncertain, though it looks increasingly likely that he won't be leaving this summer and will end his career on Tyneside. Meanwhile, Bernard is unhappy about the lack of progress about a well-deserved new contract, and is threatening to leave in January.

Oh well, it wouldn't be Newcastle if there weren't several flies in the ointment...

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Blogwatch

A warm welcome to the two most recent additions to my blogroll: Our Man In Hanoi, an offshoot of one of my regular reads, and Crinklybee.

Guesting over at Troubled Diva seems to be going reasonably well. While I've been busy assembling my Guest Blogging Dream Team (I'll put a link on SWSL once it's completed), it seems that fellow guest blogger Nixon of Popdizzy has inadvertently kicked up quite a shitstorm with an excellent post about his feelings on the provincial gay scene. Me? Well, I'm not getting involved...

Elsewhere: BykerSink can't understand all the fuss about Sven's private life and instead rounds on The Sun; Inspector Sands takes issue with an Independent article about panic disorder - "I know people suffering from this. It's ruining their lives. It's bloody horrible. It's something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. So, instead, they get some spoilt bint to drivel on about her oh-so-successful life in a well-known capital city"; and 50 Quid Bloke ponders "where does a 30something bloke with a partner listen to this sort of frantic, scratchy stuff [namely The Futureheads]?" My impending move to Birmingham means I'm soon going to be confronting the same dilemma.

...And finally: Diamond Geezer reports on how blogging is falling prey to the academics.
Feel good hits of the 28th July

1. 'Hounds Of Love' - The Futureheads
2. 'It's You' - PJ Harvey
3. 'William, It Was Really Nothing' - The Smiths
4. 'Trick Me' - Kelis
5. 'Paper Cup Exit' - Sonic Youth
6. 'Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do' - Goldie Lookin Chain
7. 'White Riot' - The Clash
8. 'Kissing The Lipless' - The Shins
9. 'Some Girls' - Rachel Stevens
10. 'School's Out' - Alice Cooper

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Dutchman flies in

Finally. After an unprecedented amount of tabloid hot air and guff from management, club and player, Patrick Kluivert signed for Newcastle earlier this week. Though he is without doubt a very talented striker of international repute, I think it's fair to say the jury is still out as to whether he's what we need. His goalscoring record is hugely impressive and speaks for itself - essentially a goal every other game for club and country over the course of the past few years.

However, he also has a reputation for being a bit of a primadonna who "finds" himself in off-the-pitch scrapes, and we've already got at least one of those (see: Dyer, Kieron). Furthermore, though we've got him from Barcelona for nothing, his wages are unlikely to be insubstantial, so I can only hope he's got no mercenary intentions, and his arrival breaks with our unofficial transfer policy of signing young British talent and allows lazy journalists to breathe a sigh of relief and rehash the "hilarious" guide to life in Newcastle for Kluivert's benefit (at least the BBC's Chris Clarke has had his nose bloodied by angry Geordies, the best riposte being this). Time will tell whether handing him a three year contract was a wise move.

Quite where this leaves the other strikers at the club is unclear. Kluivert has said he's looking forward to playing with Shearer, and the skipper himself has said he'd prefer playing with a target man, so Bellamy might be left out in the cold, along with Ameobi (cunningly tied down to a five year deal shortly before Kluivert's arrival). With Shearer bound to be unable to play in every game and retiring at the end of the season, though, they should be inclined to stick around. Matters are of course complicated further by the rumours that we're still interested in securing the services of Beattie this summer...

As Kluivert checks in, others have been packing their bags and leaving. After six years of sterling service, Gary Speed has left for pastures new in the shape of Bolton. Though he suffered initially from a sluggish start to his time at Newcastle, Speed soon became Mr Dependable, never the most exciting player but always consistent and likely to pop up with the odd useful goal from midfield. At this late stage in his career, a move to Bolton makes good sense, especially when he wouldn't have been an automatic choice for us this coming season - but there seems to have been an element of pushing rather than leaping which is disappointing given what he's done for us. Even as an irregular starter, he would have been a valuable and steadying influence in the dressing room.

Meanwhile, the unhappy Viana has returned to Sporting Lisbon on loan for the season - though the fact that he signed a one year extension to his Newcastle contract before leaving would suggest that we're not washing our hands of him, but rather hoping that he'll return refreshed and invigorated, ready at last to show us what we paid £8.5m for two summers ago. Too often last season he failed to take his opportunities, turning in lacklustre and unacceptably dispassionate displays. His departure, along with that of Speed, leaves us worryingly thin in the middle of the park, and, after last season's performances, I for one don't have the utmost confidence in a central midfield partnership comprising of Bowyer and JJ. Might Butt still be a possibility?

Lastly, Lua Lua's transfer to Portsmouth has finally been completed. Infuriating at times, a bit special at others, the feeling persists that we never got the best out of him. He remains very much an unpolished gem, but given an extended run in the first team down on the South Coast he could vindicate Robson's initial decision to pay over £2m for a player who at the time couldn't even get into the Colchester side. My enduring memory of his time on Tyneside is of his first goal for the club, which couldn't have been more opportune - at Derby in April 2002 in front of the Newcastle fans (myself included) in the last minute to complete a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to 3-2 up and to nick third place and a Champions League spot. It doesn't come much better than that.
With this fanzine you are really spoiling us

The bumper tenth issue of esteemed fanzine Vanity Project is out now, its cover graced by none other than immaculately moustachioed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot. A brief guide to some of what you'll find therein:

Interviews: Art Brut, David Devant And His Spirit Wife, Luminescent Orchestrii

Album reviews: Morrissey, The Hidden Cameras, Sonic Youth, Mclusky, Graham Coxon, Electrelane, TV On The Radio, Sufjian Stevens, The Get Up Kids, Ryan Adams, Dilated Peoples, Beta Band, Devendra Banhart

Single reviews: Graham Coxon, Dogs Die In Hot Cars, Senser, Hyperkinako, Kasabian, Ikara Colt, The Features, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Scout Niblett, Jetplane Landing, Party Of One, Breed77, Gregor Samsa, Sluts Of Trust, Ballboy, Razorlight, X Is Loaded

Live reviews: Bobby Conn & The Glass Gypsies, Laura Veirs, Mercury Tilt Switch, Ikara Colt, The Golden Virgins, Liars, Nina Nastasia

Label profile: Matinee, Sijis

Comedy reviews: Marcus Brigstocke, Mitch Benn

For details on how to get yourself a copy for nowt, click here.
"Giving a bitch a foot massage ain't even in the same fucking ballpark!"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series - this month, 1994. Safe to say I took the opportunity to vent my spleen about Britpop...

Part One: 'Forrest Gump', Tanya Harding v Nancy Kerrigan, Boyz II Men and All-4-One, 'My So-Called Life', the punk revival
Part Two: Weezer - The Blue Album, World Cup USA '94, 'Reality Bites', the trip-hop phenomenon, Dungeons & Dragons
Part Three: 'The Real World', the baseball strike, 'Seinfeld', Jim Carrey, Lollapalooza
Part Four: Britpop, 'Myst', 'Natural Born Killers', Ace Of Base, 'Speed'
Part Five: the OJ Simpson trial, East Coast hip-hop, 'The Secret World Of Alex Mack', Nine Inch Nails - 'Closer', 'Pulp Fiction'
Know Your Enemy #46

"As for Krissi Murison saying [Modest Mouse] were the third indie-ist band in history in the NME (hey, I was at a festival and bored and realised I had to read it before I burned it), you suck, your whole operation sucks, you probably sucked something to get your job, and I hope you realise anybody who has an opinion about music probably knows ten times more about it than you do. However, you're still not as irredeemably shit as Imran Ahmed."

He Who Cannot Be Named, emphatically not a fan of NME hack Krissi Murison.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Blogwatch

You can be guaranteed of two things in the summer: crap weather and weddings. Both seem to have been in abundance of late. And of course, before a wedding there comes that notorious celebration of all that is debauched - yes, the hen do. Mind you, stag dos can be just as depraved and sordid - just read about Kenny's experiences in Prague. Sample comment: "The only girl that approached me in a club who wasn't after my wallet was a stoned young Finnish woman. I didn't get her name. 'I'm not interested in that conversation, I just want you to dance with me' said she-who-must-remain-anonymous. Which was fair enough by me...you've just gotta love those straight-talking Scandinavian sexbombs, right? And her hair smelled really nice for someone who a few minutes earlier had been rolling around the beer-soaked dancefloor sixty-nining her best friend." It's an eye-opener I can tell you, and only marginally more lurid than Nick's tales from Dublin.

On a completely different note, no competition for the most heartfelt and poignant post I've read over recent weeks: Pencil's reflections on euthanasia following the recent death of his grandma. Brave stuff indeed.

Elsewhere: Robin's had a spot of bother trying to fly a kite - "Anyway, why should any child wish to go fly a kite, I ask? They should be warned that before they do they will be privileged to see their father cast as a latter day King Lear railing against the pitiless and capricious elements in a lather of frustration and a frenzy of knotted string, a victim of low level corkscrew turbulence whom only the foolhardy would approach and ask 'Is it my turn yet?' or 'Why is it still on the ground?'"; Wan has been to watch some sumo wrestlers in action; and He Who Cannot Be Named comes up with a post even more frantically neurotic and random than normal - quite an achievement.

...And finally: Vaughan encourages his readers to get in touch with the lovely UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom and politely call him an odious little shit after he made some spectacularly ill-advised comments about women yesterday.
Deadline

Your phone's ringing but you don't recognise the number. Perhaps you should think twice about answering.

(Thanks to J for the link.)
The hard sell

Immediately after ITV's early evening news yesterday, there was an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee on behalf of victims of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. The extent of the horrific situation was spelt out in appalling statistical detail, and viewers were alerted to the value of even relatively small sums of money - as the website says, for instance, "£44 provides emergency food supplies for a family of five for two months".

And then, before 'Emmerdale' got underway, we were confronted with a barrage of adverts. The juxtaposition made me feel sick. In those three minutes, how much was spent telling us what to buy and what to do? And how much better use could those thousands have been put to?
A perfect moment

Stylus head honcho Todd Burns writes about Juno's 'The French Letter'. The album on which this track appears, A Future Lived In Past Tense, is an unacknowledged masterpiece if ever there was one.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Moonlighting

In case SWSL postage is scarce over the next couple of weeks, I'd better get my excuses in now - I'm guesting over at Troubled Diva in Mike's absence until 4th August. Yes, I know what you're thinking - it's like I've been given the keys to a Rolls Royce when I'm used to driving a rusty clapped-out Mini Metro...
Growing old gracefully

In a musical climate characterised by ever-changing fads and fashions, there can be few more prized achievements for a band than attaining longevity. But longevity brings its own problems. How to retain dignity without becoming obsolete? How to avoid becoming a self-parody? How to move on with the times without looking like desperate bandwagon-jumpers?

Sonic Nurse is Sonic Youth's nineteenth LP in a career spanning well over twenty years. They may still be sonic, but they're far from being youthful.

Their albums attest to continual shifts of focus and direction, the band never content to rest on their laurels and always keen to try something different and novel whilst avoiding being overly influenced by short-lived fads. And yet their oeuvre nevertheless seems to have a consistent thread running through it. As Thurston Moore has claimed, they have become one of the ultimate reference points - a music journalist or reviewer only has to describe something as "Sonic Youthy" and the majority of readers know what this means. Sonic Youth have a sound that others may try to ape, but nobody does it better.

The band themselves might claim Sonic Nurse sounds like "'Bare Trees' era Fleetwood Mac jamming with 'Jealous Again' era Black Flag", but really it sounds like no-one else but Sonic Youth, a frequently glorious distillation of all that has gone before.

However, therein lies the cause for concern. Sonic Nurse might be an improvement on 2002's Murray Street (there's more of it, for a start), but it's the first Sonic Youth album that conspicuously follows in the footsteps of its predecessor.

The change in direction between 2000's defiantly awkward and abstract NYC Ghosts & Flowers (which saw them coming almost full-circle from 1985's Bad Moon Rising) and its follow-up, Murray Street - a retreat from the brink of experimentation - perhaps signalled that they'd decided their envelope-pushing days were now behind them. Or perhaps, to be more charitable, they acknowledged that as a rock band, their primary duty is to rock.

To suggest that a band is treading water might be a damning criticism of anyone else, but here there is so much to enjoy and admire in the heart-meltingly gorgeous dissonance of 'Pattern Recognition', 'Paper Cup Exit' and 'Stones' that any real sense of disappointment is quickly assuaged. And yet, after years at the cutting edge, they do seem to have finally settled into a comfortable and familiar groove.

So, their relevance as an ongoing concern might be coming into question, and they might not have anything startlingly new to offer, but at least they're growing old in the most graceful way imaginable and my love for them remains unconditional.

Of course, album number twenty could quite easily render all these reflections redundant...
The jolly green giant

(Even though so much has already been written on the subject, I still feel the need to pass comment. Oh yes.)

The storyline might be expectedly trite but also unexpectedly weak, and the postmodern pop culture references are occasionally shoehorned in with too much of a knowing wink and smug grin, but 'Shrek 2' is nevertheless a triumph for two reasons: despite being nominally (at least) a "kids' film", it not only features a parody of 'The Shining' but also contains a section of Nick Cave's 'People Ain't No Good', surely one of the bleakest and most bitter songs ever committed to record.

Oh, and it's pretty amusing too, if you're into that sort of thing.
Eat your words

Thanks to Kenny and Pete for pointing me in the direction of Bookmunch, the literary equivalent of Stylus and thus precisely what I'd been looking for. As things stand, the archives aren't particularly extensive, but it's certainly well worth a look.
Back to The Futureheads

Those with a good memory might recall me raving about The Futureheads last summer, having seen them at both Glastonbury and Leeds. Well, their self-titled debut LP has at long last appeared, and after the first few spins I can only endorse the views of William B Swygart, who's made it Stylus Album Of The Week. Brilliant stuff.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Beneath the veneer

Last night's BBC1 documentary 'The Secret Agent', in which undercover reporter Jason Gwynne infiltrated the BNP armed with recording equipment, portrayed an organisation intent upon inciting racial violence and hatred from grassroots level right up to the very top.

"So what?", some are likely to retort. "Tell us something we don't know."

Well, the sad fact of the matter is that this truth is not universally recognised, and that, given that the BNP quadrupled its share of the vote in the European elections, their attempt to present a cleaned-up image appears to be working. A programme in which BNP councillors, candidates and activists appear without the make-up of respectability and give themselves away couldn't have been more timely.

Viewers were confronted with footage of council candidate Dave Midgley telling of how he squirted dog shit through the letterbox of an Indian takeaway, councillor Stewart Williams claiming, "all I want to do is shoot Pakis" and activist Steven Barkham boasting of his assault on an Asian man during the Bradford riots.

More disturbing than these thuggish overgrown children, however, are those educated and articulate individuals whose impassioned and hate-filled speeches incite and encourage the likes of Barkham to behave the way they do: BNP founder John Tyndall, a former Nazi who denounced Michael Howard as the son of Romanian Jews; Leeds University graduate Mark Collett, a Nazi sympathiser and "rising star" within the party; and chairman Nick Griffin himself.

The programme repeatedly underlined the way in which the BNP makes political capital out of fears which it has artificially stoked up (aided and abetted, of course, by some elements of the mainstream media - the characteristic Daily Mail metaphor of immigration being a threatening "flood" cropped up in a number of speeches), and the inconsistencies and ironies of the BNP's position were subtly made apparent time and again, perhaps most sharply when Front National leader Jean Marie Le Pen was shown addressing guests at a BNP dinner in French shortly after councillor and Cambridge graduate Dr James Lewthwaite had argued that all those in England should be made to speak English or face expulsion.

A vitally important if not earth-shatteringly revelatory programme.

Later in the evening, by allowing Griffin an interview on 'Newsnight', the BBC offered the BNP the right to reply. Thankfully, though Paxman might have effected an even more devastating demolition, anchorman Gavin Esler was mercilessly aggressive in his questioning and Griffin came across as hopelessly incoherent and full of pathetic conspiracy theories. Whilst apologising for the actions of Barkham, Midgley and Williams, he went on to reiterate the claims made during one of his recorded speeches that the Islamic faith has expanded due in large part to rape. Revealingly, not only did he claim that those two figureheads of respectable racism and bigotry, the Mail's Peter Hitchens and the Sun's Richard Littlejohn, share his views, but he also characteristically refused to accept the label "racist".

What Griffin said did, however, underline a fundamental loophole in existing law - as things stand, it is not illegal to discriminate against another person or group on religious grounds, and so he is able to talk of "Islamification" in pejorative terms and to repeatedly attack the Muslim faith safe in the knowledge that he cannot be prosecuted. As this debate suggests, the issue of whether the law should be extended is far from clear-cut. From a personal point of view, of course publicly spouting this sort of invective should be an offence punishable by imprisonment, but as an atheist who finds right-wing Christian bible-thumping (particularly the American strain) offensive in itself, I'm not sure whether I'd welcome the removal of my right to criticise.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

On a happier note

THE SHINS / ATLANTIC DASH, 14TH JULY 2004, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY

Atlantic Dash should consider themselves very fortunate. They're the sort of band who might be regarded as local heroes in their native Northampton, young ladies fawning over their every shimmy and recalcitrant strand of hair, but on the Academy stage in front of unfamiliar faces they're not so much out of their depth as drowning in a plunge-pool of quick-drying concrete. Musically there's a bit of fashionably angry American post-hardcore and an occasional nod to The Cooper Temple Clause, but precious little of real interest. On this evidence, quite why Fierce Panda have taken a punt on them and released their debut mini-album Human Error is a bit of a mystery.

Responsible for two of the most feted American indie albums of recent times - Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow - The Shins are an altogether different and much more stimulating prospect, and not one that is easy to describe. Much as bands dislike being compared to each other, I always feel lost without some kind of reference points, and as the set unfolds I wrack my brain trying to think of some. Stephen Malkmus plays the music of Weezer? The Dismemberment Plan if they hadn't split up but discovered the joys of power-pop instead? There's not really any justice in them there suggestions.

For the most part, The Shins craft melodious, inventive and weird little pop songs with propulsive bass and beautifully clear high-pitched vocals, the lyrics casting a shadow over the effervescent music. Being utterly unfamilar with their recorded material, I'm sufficiently emotionally detached to be able to say they should ditch the limp acoustic numbers which crop up every now and again, summoning up the ghosts of bands whose names should remain unspoken. Overall, then, perhaps more intriguing than arresting, but an evening well spent all the same.
Blogwatch

Did you feel cheated by the brevity of the He Who Cannot Be Named T In The Park 2004 Text Diary? Well, the man himself has posted a few more thoughts on the festival on his own blog, Excuse Me For Laughing.

Elsewhere: Nick of Auspicious Fish has embarked upon The Enormous Embrace Exercise, a Marcello-esquely exhaustive commentary on everything Embrace have ever done (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4)- they're not a band on the SWSL Christmas card list, but the sheer dedication and energy with which Nick has thrown himself into the project means it's very deserving of your attention; following on from my recent post about Nottingham legend Xylophone Man, Inspector Sands writes about the loveable local eccentrics of his manor; on a not entirely different note, Phil introduces us to his occasional friend The Girl From Ian Curtis's Grave; meanwhile, Alex has returned from the dead (or, to be more precise, Texas, and some near-death experiences with mosquitos) and resurrected his blog with a new template; Amblongus continues the merciless and highly entertaining dissection of right-wing America - in its sights this week are The Right Brothers (they wrote songs for Kaci, dontcha know?) and the Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood; and Jonny B sounds off in fine style about Wimbledon and Henman - "I have a plan for next year. That is, I am going to sneak past security and balance a big bucket of horse semen above Tim Henman’s dressing room door. Then, as he staggers onto the court, dripping and blinded, and the crowd gasp in appalled shock and disgust, I’m going to stand up and shout at the top of my voice: 'Come on, Tim!'"

...And finally: LondonMark has penned a typically brilliant post entitled simply 'Silences' to which it is my duty to draw your attention. Enjoy.
The blame game

The Butler report clearly confronts Blair and his Government with some uncomfortable truths about their conduct and the quality of intelligence in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, but incredibly no-one will be losing their job. Apparently, everyone involved in the fiasco shares "collective responsibility", the blame for systematic mistakes apportioned equally rather than resting upon any one individual. Ahhh, isn't that nice? It means we can't be beastly to anyone and demand their resignation.

But then, if errors of this magnitude were made in a business context, and even if no single person was solely responsible, I'm sure that whoever was nominally in charge would find themselves in trouble as the person on whose "watch" (to borrow the American term) it all took place. What exactly is the difference here? It doesn't matter if you think John Scarlett is a brilliant intelligence analyst, or whether you think Tony Blair is a brilliant Prime Minister, for that matter - they simply have to go. Blair really must be starting to believe all that Teflon Tony stuff.

To put it in context, Greg Dyke, Andrew Gilligan and Piers Morgan have all lost their jobs over Iraq, for mistakes which were not necessarily made by them personally but which occurred on their "watch". Indeed, whether they were even mistakes in the first place is now highly questionable at very least. Gilligan claimed the September 2002 Iraq dossier was "sexed-up". In his report, Lord Butler described the infamous 45-minute claim as suspiciously "eye-catching", while former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has said: "They put exclamation marks where there had been question marks and I think that is hyping". Little wonder, then, that Dyke is arguing that the BBC were right all along.

The situation is becoming increasingly farcical. If heads don't roll - and by that I mean heads at the very top, not civil servant scapegoats - then the fissure between the political class and the people will widen further and become a chasm. Blair and Bush seem to wax lyrical about democracy whilst conveniently forgetting that one of the most important components of democracy is the accountability of the elected leaders.
Quote of the day

"Music is at its best when it carries you along at a level deeper than the music itself and forces you to live in its spaces as well as its notes."

Keith Jarrett

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Very Brief He Who Cannot Be Named T In The Park 2004 Diary

(As constructed from text messages sent to SWSL by the author of Excuse Me For Laughing.)

"Am at t in the park. Dogs die in hot cars good, food homogeneous shit, scottish people weird and speak weird and shood get some skin pigment. Give them freedom! Fucking freaks."

"God i hate muse."

"Food really is utter shit. People with flags are idiots. The rapture were shattered. Goldie lookin chain say your mum's got a penis."

So there you have it. You can always rely on SWSL to bring you details of the grim reality on the front line.
Feel good hits of the 12th July

1. 'Cat On The Wall' - PJ Harvey
2. 'Keep Me Company' - The Coral
3. 'Stockholm Syndrome' - Muse
4. 'This Fire' - Franz Ferdinand
5. 'That Great Love Sound' - The Raveonettes
6. 'Stones' - Sonic Youth
7. 'How Soon Is Now?' - The Smiths
8. 'Come Together' - Spiritualized
9. 'Laura' - Scissor Sisters
10. 'Lover's Spit' - Broken Social Scene
The tracks of my tears

Top Ten Lines From Sad Songs courtesy of Stylus stalwart Ian Mathers. You might not be surprised to find Radiohead and The Smiths putting in an appearance, but Wu-Tang Clan and Gorky's Zygotic Mynci are more unusual choices.