Monday, August 16, 2004

Start just as you left off last time

The start of a new season always brings the tantalising promise that the sins of the previous campaign can be forgotten. No such luck with Newcastle Utd.

Every team strives for consistency – though only if that involves consistently emerging victorious. It’s fitting that the only consistent thing about my frustratingly inconsistent team is itself hugely frustrating – the ability to manoeuvre themselves into a winning position away from home only to toss away two points through a fatal lack of concentration at the death.

All the more galling on this occasion was the fact that Middlesbrough’s decisive second equaliser struck not Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s head but his hand. Not so much the hand of God as the hand of a man whom Geordie fans had spent the afternoon calling “a fat Eddie Murphy”…

But, being mindful of the facts that this was only the first game of the season, and that other sides turned in far more abject displays (not least Inspector Sands’s Charlton – you can read all the gory details on the excellent All Quiet In The East Stand), the prophesies of doom can be postponed, at least at present. Despite a familiar capitulation, there were also many positives to take from the game. Carr and Milner both made solid debuts, while Butt was an assured performer in the middle of the park, showing Steve Maclaren exactly what he missed out on; up front Bellamy looked sharp and took his goal well, Shearer celebrated his 34th birthday a day late with a well-taken penalty, and Kluivert and Ameobi came on to useful effect; and at the back the central defensive partnership of Hughes and Elliott – makeshift to say the least, following the pre-season conjunctivitis epidemic – did well, Given making several fine stops on the occasions when the defence was breached.

Other than the failure to secure all three points, the only real blot on the copybook was the rumours of a new spat, almost as soon as Sir Bobby and Shearer have held clear-the-air talks. This time the manager’s allegedly at loggerheads with Dyer, who – would you believe it? – is apparently behaving like a primadonna. If there’s any truth in it, he needs to pull his socks up and realise it’s a squad game, or ship out. I feel like I’m now part of a minority of fans who believe that Dyer is still an asset to the club, and my patience can’t be tried for too much longer.
"Feck! Arse! Drink! Girls!"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series - this time out, 1995.

Part One: 'Clueless', magic eye pictures, Alanis Morissette, 'Showgirls', Deep Blue Something - 'Breakfast At Tiffany's'
Part Two: 'Mallrats', 'Empire Records', Spike Jonze music videos, Shaquille O'Neal, 'Braveheart', Bjork
Part Three: 'Friends', Michael Jackson - 'Scream', 'The Usual Suspects', 'Se7en', 'Father Ted', dancehall / reggae breakthrough
Part Four: mediocre alternative rock, 'Singled Out', Sunny D, Blur v Oasis, 'Kids'
Part Five: The Smashing Pumpkins, 'Mr Show', Skee-Lo - 'I Wish', 'Twelve Monkeys', the internet

T-shirt slogan spotted this weekend: “It ain’t gonna suck its self”. Look, my friend – you already look like a knucklehead without having that emblazoned across your chest as confirmation. And you could at least SPELL it right, moron.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

The SWSL 2004/5 Premiership Season Preview

First of all (naturally), a few words on our own prospects for the season ahead:

As a Newcastle fan, it’s very difficult to know how to feel. On the one hand, there’s good reason for optimism. After years of speculation, we finally get to see the prolific if temperamental Dutchman Patrick Kluivert in a black and white shirt, while our other signings are also full of promise: in James Milner we’ve got another talented young Englishman, Nicky Butt should bring some much-needed steel in front of the back four and Stephen Carr will provide an attacking outlet from right back (however harsh it will be on Hughes). And all for little more than £8 million. Speed, Viana, Lua Lua, Griffin and Stephen Caldwell have left, but in terms of transfer dealings (and especially given the fact that we only added Bowyer to the squad last summer), we can be justifiably satisfied.

However, there are also grounds for concern – most obviously the evident tension behind the scenes between Shearer, Sir Bobby and Fat Freddie, but more immediately the conjunctivitis infection which has decimated the squad and may have a crucially damaging effect on our start.

Nevertheless – and it’s only usually at this point in the season that I allow myself to indulge in such flights of fancy, so humour me – it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that we could be lifting the title come May. Of course, our prospects depend upon numerous factors – defensive lynchpin Woodgate staying fit, Shearer continuing to hit the back of the net with frightening regularity, Jenas rediscovering his form and everyone else playing out of their skins, not to mention our rivals slipping up. Too much to ask? Perhaps. But up until kick-off against Middlesbrough, we can dream…

And now for the four sides I still see as our closest rivals:

Perhaps the memory of their invincibility last time around has faded too quickly, but on paper at least they don’t look quite as terrifying a prospect. Having haemorrhaged several players this summer, their squad looks a lot thinner, replacements Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini are unknown quantities in Europe’s biggest leagues, Lehmann is far from infallible in goal and the loss of Vieira would be a severe blow, even if a player of Maniche’s quality was to take his place. Still, any team with a backbone of Campbell, Pires, Ljungberg, Henry and Reyes is going to be extremely tough to beat.

Outgoings aplenty at Stamford Bridge as new coach Jose Mourinho trims and remodels his squad, the players on their way out either aging or underperforming. Abramovich’s billions mean that money is no object in the transfer market, and as a result they’ve bolstered an already impressive squad with some phenomenal continental talent – Didier Drogba, Mateja Kezman, Arjen Robben, Paulo Ferreira, Petr Cech, Tiago Mendes and (most significant of all, for my money) Ricardo Carvalho. The psychological battles between Mourinho, Wenger and Ferguson are going to be fascinating, and, with Lampard and Terry blossoming into key players for club and country, this could (and perhaps should) be their season.

Far more departures than arrivals, but Djibril Cisse gives them real quality up front, while wily new manager Rafael Benitez is sufficiently tactically astute to get the best from a very talented bunch of players who seem to have stagnated under Houllier’s command. When on his game, as he was for the latter half of last season, Gerrard would grace any midfield in the world. The major worry for the red half of Merseyside, though, is the increasing likelihood of losing Owen – they’ll need to find a freescoring replacement, and fast.

Man Utd
Refreshingly poor last time around, but though they still haven’t solved the problem created in midfield by Beckham’s departure last year, Ferguson has identified his squad’s other deficiency – striking cover for van Nistelrooy – by signing Louis Saha and Alan Smith in addition to the talented youngsters Liam Miller and Gerard Pique. Scholes’s international retirement can only be to their benefit (see: Shearer, Alan), and with van Nistelrooy fit, Ferdinand free from suspension and Ronaldo and Gabriel Heinze back from the Olympics, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

And now the rest:

Aston Villa
At the back O’Leary is banking on Scandinavian steel, pairing Swede Mellberg with Dane Martin Laursen in front of his countryman Sorensen inbetween the sticks. Up front, I’m sure Villa fans would agree that it’s about time Vassell showed the same form for the club that pays his wages as he does for his country, and in tandem with a fully-fit Angel and the creative supply-line that is Solano, they could be challenging for European places again.

Much as I despise Steve Bruce, I must grudgingly concede that he’s worked wonders at Birmingham. Consolidation last season, though it looked like a UEFA Cup spot was on for a time, and that’s what they’ll be aiming for again. Bruce made his moves in the transfer market early, taking Emile Heskey from Liverpool and securing the continuation of Forssell’s loan from Chelsea, while capturing Jesper Gronkjaer to supply the ammunition. Add in Muzzy Izzet and Mario Melchiot, as well as Dunn and Upson returning to fitness, and they should do well.

For a team boasting a midfield of Emerton, Tugay, Ferguson and Thompson, their pretty dismal showing last season would have been a bit of a mystery were it not for their porous defence and shot-shy attack. While the arrivals of Dominic Matteo and Paul Dickov are unlikely to improve things significantly, for Rovers fans there is at least the feeling that they’ve snapped up something special in Jon Stead.

Could this be the year they finally capitulate and lose their grip? Gary Speed is a valuable addition to the team, with plenty more football left in him even if he won’t be able to play every game, but Sam Allardyce’s other signings – Michael Bridges, Les Ferdinand, Fernando Hierro amongst them – do not inspire a great deal of confidence. Without the clever promptings and goalscoring prowess of Djorkaeff, the onus is going to fall even more heavily on Okocha – can he deliver?

Di Canio may have found the lure of a return to Lazio too powerful, and the loss of the underrated Claus Jensen to Fulham might be regrettable, but Addicks supporters have good cause to look forward with optimism and expectancy. Alan Curbishley has set about investing the money from the January sale of Scott Parker to Chelsea, pursuing an identical policy to Steve Bruce – securing the services of a striker who has stagnated at a big club (for Heskey read Francis Jeffers) and a Danish winger, Dennis Rommedahl, to supply him. Add Danny Murphy to that pair and they look a handy outfit.

Crystal Palace
Doomed, I’m afraid – it’s as simple as that. Promotion was too much too soon for Iain Dowie’s men, and this season is going to be a painful lesson. With the possible exceptions of Joonas Kolkka and Sandor Torghelle, none of their signings look Premiership quality. How long they can delay the inevitable depends on whether Andy Johnson can continue his scoring form in a much better league, and whether Wayne Routledge lives up to his considerable promise.

A club in terrible disarray, and it could get worse before the end of August if Ferguson manages to persuade the Man Utd board that he needs Rooney to resolve his current injury crisis up front. Numerous players have left for pastures new, and the acquisition of Tim Cahill will essentially be futile if their one existing talent in midfield, Thomas Gravesen, is allowed to go. Rooney, McFadden and Yobo are the only bright sparks, and relegation is a very distinct possibility.

Chris Coleman and his side surprised many, including myself, last season, though that was at least in part due to the goals of the now-departed Saha. Coleman has wisely invested in two new strikers, Andrew Cole and Tomasz Radzinski, to ensure they’re not quite so lightweight up front, and the arrival of Claus Jensen will go some way to counterbalancing the loss of Sean Davis to Spurs. Steed Malbranque remains one of the most underrated players in the Premiership.

Man City
Rather less than the sum of their parts last season – much better can be justifiably expected from the likes of Sinclair, Fowler and McManaman. As is the case with any Keegan team, the defence still looks suspect, despite the signings of Danny Mills and Ben Thatcher, but if Anelka starts the season firing on all cylinders and if youngsters Barton and Wright-Phillips continue to make a name for themselves, then they should be comfortably safe.

Mark Viduka, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Boudewijn Zenden, Michael Reiziger and Ray Parlour at a cost of just £4.5 million (plus huge wage packets, no doubt)? An excellent summer’s business for Steve McLaren, who has gambled on a wealth of experience in a bid to build on last season’s modest success in the League Cup. Factor in their existing talent – Juninho, Mendieta and the rock-solid central defensive partnership of Ehiogu and Southgate – and Europe simply has to be the target, and an achievable one at that.

The Canaries might play football like a Premiership team, but that’s no guarantee they’ll still be with us come the end of the season. Working with a limited budget Nigel Worthington has managed to bring in skilful Arsenal midfielder David Bentley, Swedish international Mattias Jonson and experienced Danish right back Thomas Helveg from Inter, but it’s still going to be a struggle. Players like Robert Green and Adam Drury are destined to make a big impression, but whether Norwich can hang onto them depends upon which league they find themselves in next season.

After an impressive run-in last time around, Pompey will be looking to consolidate their Premiership status once again. Harry Redknapp’s dabblings in the transfer market have been rather more restrained this summer, though he has signed Lomano LuaLua on a permanent basis. Their midfield looks decent, and with Yakubu gradually becoming more and more the finished article they should score goals, but the defence is brittle and could prove their downfall.

The key to Southampton having a decent season was holding onto Beattie, which now looks increasingly likely despite interest from several quarters. His partnership with Phillips reaped significant rewards last year, and they’ll need to do it again to keep a distinctly average side afloat. That said, Michael Svensson has proved an excellent signing at the back, while new face Jelle van Damme is an intriguing prospect.

With the installation of a new management and coaching team comprising of Jacques Santini, Frank Arnesen and Martin Jol, I fully expected Spurs to go on and make significant waves in the transfer market, but it just hasn’t happened. Sean Davis and Paul Robinson are valuable additions to the squad, but there doesn’t seem to have been any momentum. Nevertheless, King is a wonderful talent in defence, Davies on his day can win matches and in Keane, Defoe and Kanoute they undoubtedly have the best strike-force outside my pre-season top five.

West Brom
Having discovered that caution didn’t pay off two seasons ago, this time around the Baggies have been admirably ambitious, splashing out over £6 million to sign (amongst others) Kanu, Jonathan Greening and Martin Albrechtsen. As a result, staying up – while still unlikely – looks more achievable than it did at the start of the summer, though much hinges on whether Koumas sticks around for the whole season.

Update: Kenny has posted his predictions for the forthcoming Premiership season here (as well as a preview of the Championship season here). Suffice to say he's rather less convinced by Newcastle's title credentials - or credentials for European qualification, for that matter - but then love is blind, as they say.
Go with the flow

It started with a kiss / Never thought it would come to this” – “this” being lying on my back, feeling faint, listening to Hot Chocolate on the radio, having had a bagful of lifesap voluntarily drained from my arm. How on earth did I allow my girlfriend to persuade me into giving blood?

Of course, it’s our civic duty as responsible citizens, and if I would be prepared to accept a blood transfusion if I needed it then it’s only right that I should donate myself – but then I have a bit of a phobia of needles following some bad childhood experiences, and I’d heard some horror stories of donations gone wrong. The overriding sensation is one of apprehension.

Having had my initial objections peremptorily swatted away, and my finger pricked to test for suitability, I find myself being clucked and fussed over by the female version of the Chuckle Brothers, who upon the sight of my left arm suddenly turn into a gaggle of vampiric haemo-goblins intent on gorging themselves – “Oooh, he’s got good veins”.

The moment the needle pierces the skin doesn’t hurt so much. What does hurt, though, is having it lodged in my vein for the best part of ten minutes, feeling as though it’s pinning my limb to the bed. And then it’s over.

The song which follows ‘It Started With A Kiss’ is Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’. Walking down New Street I don’t feel like a hero – quite the opposite, in fact. There’s no pride or satisfaction – not yet, at least – just relief that it’s over, a dull ache in my arm and the realisation that actually I’m a bit of a wuss.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Radio: ga-ga?

Perhaps the main reason for starting up a blog - and let's be honest here - is the desire to be heard, the feeling that you've got something to say that people might be interested in. Alternatively, other bloggers claim (whether ingenuously or not) that they feel the need for a space in which to write and express themselves, and profess to have no concern about the existence of a "readership". To a certain extent, both of these are true for me. I enjoyed the creative freedom and involvement in the production of the university magazine Impact so much that, having severed my ties with it, I felt I needed some other outlet, and a blog proved ideal, just as it did for an award-winning alumnus.

In addition to a nationally-acclaimed magazine, Nottingham also boasts a high-quality well-organized radio station of nationwide repute, URN, which presents students with a fantastic opportunities to learn the basics of DJing and programme production. During their time at Nottingham fellow bloggers Paul and He Who Cannot Be Named got heavily involved, while URN was the place where SWSL associates Steve (TFM), Del (Radio 1), Neil (Ten-17 FM) and Tom (Classic Gold Digital) first cut their teeth.

So it was with a great sense of disappointment that I read this story from The Guardian (registration required): "The future of dozens of student radio stations around the UK, which provide a first step into broadcasting for hundreds of budding producers and DJs, is in jeopardy after the company that provides programming for many campus networks was declared insolvent. Campus Media, the owner of student radio programming provider SBN, has stopped funding the subsidiary and brought in a licensed insolvency practitioner to try and find a buyer for the business. If a purchaser cannot be found, SBN will be placed into liquidation. ... If the business goes into liquidation, many student radio stations could face losing their transmitters and studio equipment, which were paid for by SBN, as well as their main source of revenue and programming."

Just as university magazines throw up scores of talented young journalists and writers every year, so university radio stations provide the spark of inspiration for loads of enthusiastic wannabe DJs and producers. For the sake of the industry and, more importantly, of future students, I hope the crisis can be resolved as quickly as possible.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Below the archives section on my sidebar I've added an index section with links to nearly all the major posts to have appeared on SWSL over the course of its near-two-year lifespan, as well as to various other bits and pieces. The initial gargantuan effort of putting it all into my template over with, the plan is now to update the section regularly. Yes, I admit this is a bit pretentious and pompous, but it also makes things easier to find without having to hunt through the archives for ages, as much for my sake as for anyone else's.
Quote of the day

"Darkness drummer Ed Graham has been telling the Irish Examiner about the strangest autograph he's ever given. A bloke presented him with his gran's dead dog and got him to sign the testicles. Of course, signing a bunch of old, hairy bollocks will stand Graham in good stead if he ever moves into the management side of the music industry."

Simon of No Rock & Roll Fun.

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.)

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
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


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


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'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.

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


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.