Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The perfect storm

SONIC YOUTH, 2ND SEPTEMBER 2004, LONDON BRIXTON ACADEMY

Set-list: 'I Love You Golden Blue' / 'Stones' / 'Pattern Recognition' / 'Unmade Bed' / 'Eric's Trip' / 'Teenage Riot' / 'New Hampshire' / 'Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream' / 'Paper Cup Exit' / 'Dude Ranch Nurse' / 'Brother James' // 'Pacific Coast Highway' / 'Expressway To Yr Skull'

I don't know who the support acts were, and I don't care - this was all about the main act, the main event: Sonic Youth.

I've seen them every couple of years since 1996, and on this occasion only just got my ticket in time, having to sit in the balcony not out of choice but out of necessity. Aside from an appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties in the spring, this is their first show in the UK since 2002, and the only UK show of a whistlestop European tour.

As such, it feels like something of a pilgrimage. Some might go from all over the world to Mecca in search of inner peace and enlightenment and to be closer to their god, while us Sonic Youth fans are drawn from all over Britain to the Brixton Academy on a warm evening in early September to marvel at the huge red capital letters proclaiming the appearance of our heroes. And, yes, they are heroes.

Shortly after 9pm the lights go down and we’re treated to a brilliant set that sees them coaxing the very best out of the new material from this year’s Sonic Nurse LP (perhaps only ‘Mariah Carey…’ – surprisingly – is slightly underwhelming) whilst also playing some of their most legendary trump cards. When it comes to creating beautifully textured discord and honing in on the exact point that high-brow conceptual art meets dirty noisy punk thrills, there’s simply no-one out there to touch them, more than twenty years after they took their first steps as a band.

2002's Murray Street LP saw Jim O'Rourke become a permanent member of the band, but, although he's fitted in seamlessly, augmenting what was an already potent force, he'll always be on the periphery of the core four.

No-one sits hunched in intense concentration over a drumkit quite like Steve Shelley.

No-one can elegantly juggle a guitar quite like Lee Ranaldo.

Kim Gordon looks stunning, as ever, in a blue dress and savage high heels which, when she starts doing her trademark hop, make me want to shout, "Be careful, you'll turn your ankle!" She might not be as vocal as on previous occasions, but when, during 'Pacific Coast Highway' - an unsettling blend of seduction and threat - she prowls around the front of the stage, her status as one of the most iconic women in rock is beyond doubt.

But the star of the show has to be Thurston Moore, an art-punk legend dressed up as Bill or Ted. Even in middle age he's a goofy teenager getting to do what he's always dreamt of and loving every minute of it, tossing that unchanging mane with the same enthusiastic abandon of youth. "The last time we were here was about ten years ago. Those were the days, baby!" Barely fifteen minutes into the set and he's humping his guitar on top of the enormous speaker stacks as 'Pattern Recognition', confirmed tonight as a modern classic in the same mould as 'The Empty Page', drifts away into feedback. "Who's this lady Jordan?", he asks, puzzled, before claiming to have seen Ms Price's face on the cover of every magazine ("Time, Newsweek, The Wire") upon arrival in Britain and dedicating 'Brother James' (or was it 'Shaking Hell'?) to her.

The evening may culminate with some tremendously self-indulgent dicking about - Thurston dangles things in front of his amp for effect, Jim fetches an accordion, a couple of members of one of the support acts appear with an inflatable guitar and Kim leaves the boys to it before Thurston literally pulls the plug on himself with glee as disgruntled stage managers lurk in the wings - but all that can be forgiven.

Likewise the lack of anything from the seven albums preceding Sonic Nurse. After all, if I wanted to hear my ultimate Sonic Youth set it'd last for days - EVERYTHING (apart, perhaps, from the odd track from A Thousand Leaves) at least twice.

And why can all that be forgiven? Just take a look at the set-list. I've seen them play 'Teenage Riot' AND 'Expressway To Yr Skull' ON THE SAME NIGHT. I can die happy.

There's life in the old dogs yet, despite what some might have said in haste...
The city is here for you to (ab)use

Jonathan Franzen is best known for 'The Corrections', but his debut novel 'The Twenty-Seventh City', first published in 1988, also garnered rave reviews. A thriller of politically motivated subterfuge and corruption set in St Louis in 1984, it's an impressively intricate work in which Franzen interweaves the lives of a vast array of characters, winding the various plot lines up like a coiled spring for the frenzied climax. He's perhaps at his best, though, in his evocations of place - through his eyes what would ordinarily be non-descript urban sprawl becomes somehow profound.

But there's still something curiously unsatisfying about the book - not least the fleeting relationship between its central characters, prominent businessman Martin Probst and corrupt police chief Jammu, which fails to convince. In hindsight it looks like a marvellously designed and constructed work of architecture, but one which arrests only the visual attention and leaves the emotions cold.

Perhaps I should have lost my Franzen virginity to 'The Corrections' instead. Hey ho, that's what comes of shopping for books at The Works - you take whatever you can get on the cheap.
Car crash listening

Stylus's Albert Soto reviews the new Libertines LP - "this eponymous album doesn’t cohere like Up The Bracket". Sorry, it's LESS coherent than Up The Bracket?!! Christ, that'd be quite an achievement.

Meanwhile, Dave McGonigle tries to make sense of the latest offering from Les Savy Fav, Inches, a generically disparate collection of nine singles spanning nine years and nine labels.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Is it just me...

... or is it Simon Pegg doing the voice-over for that Lenor advert? Oh dear.
Feel good hits of the 6th September

1. 'Teenage Riot' - Sonic Youth
2. 'Back In Black' - AC/DC
3. 'Why Won't You Talk About It?' - The Radio Dept
4. 'Evergreen' - The Fiery Furnaces
5. 'Distortions' - Clinic
6. 'Cat On The Wall' - PJ Harvey
7. 'La Lune' - Sons & Daughters
8. 'Regular John' - Queens Of The Stone Age
9. 'Scissoring' - Burning Airlines
10. 'Kiss Like Lizards' - The Icarus Line

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The empty page

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that content has been somewhat thin on the ground in these parts of late - you can blame that on my decision to shift all the football ranting and raving over here, where it's all been happening, much to my distress...

Things should hopefully be back to normal soon, but first I'm off to that place where the streets are paved with gold to see my favourite bunch of forty somethings kick out the motherfucking jams.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The polyphonic spree

Whether it was because for the first time in a few years I was missing out on the customary exposure to dozens of exciting acts at Leeds, or because I'll shortly be leaving Nottingham and decided to take as much of Selectadisc with me as possible, I embarked upon a major CD buying spree on Saturday. A few thoughts on some of the CDs which found their way into my grateful arms...

Attention all bands out there who want to gain my immediate patronage: forget innovation and originality - if you can make your single sound like the very best bits of Psychocandy then it's guaranteed to push my buttons, no questions asked. It really is as easy as that to bypass my critical faculties. So well done to Swedish noisemeisters The Radio Dept for realising this, and turning out 'Why Won't You Talk About It?', the finest slice of hurricane pop since, ooooh, fellow Scandanavians The Raveonettes last year.

Even by their own immaculately skewed standards, The Fiery Furnaces' recorded version of 'Single Again' is utterly bonkers, all buzzing synths and colliding rhythms. B-side 'Evergreen' is much more sedate but no less brilliant for it, particularly as it appears to concern Eleanor Friedberger's visions of being a tree.

Love The Cup, the mini-LP by Sons & Daughters, is just what I was expecting, following 'Broken Bones' (the track featured on a recent NME CD) and their set in support of The Fiery Furnaces at Stealth in Nottingham last week - deliciously dark no frills bar-room country blues that staggers around with menace threatening to glass you in the neck.

My initial impressions of Bubblegum by the Mark Lanegan Band aren't wholly favourable, though - yes the man's legendary croak is as awesome as ever and the supporting cast is phenomenal (Duff Mackagan, Izzy Stradlin, Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Polly Harvey, Chris Goss, Greg Dulli, Alain Johannes, Natasha Shneider, all of Burning Brides), but on first listen the songs seemed unremarkable and dulled by unnecessarily poor production. Maybe it's a grower.

As for the rest, I plead for more time to assess fairly the merits of Clinic's Winchester Cathedral LP, TV On The Radio's 'Staring At The Sun', Aberfeldy's 'Heliopolis At Night', The Stills' 'Still In Love Song' and The Shins' 'Fighting In A Sack'.
Missives from the front line

Texts received from a friend who had the pleasure / misfortune to attend the Reading festival:

"Sub-aqua gear would've been a great idea. We came in by boat, no joke."

In response to my reply which warned him against getting trenchfoot:

"The mud is so deep it'll be trenchcock instead."

At least Kenny made it back in one piece, hopefully without any serious bodily afflictions. Your review of the weekend is eagerly awaited, sir.

Update: Kenny duly obliges, and it's Mozzer who came from nowhere to steal the show.

Friday, August 27, 2004

By George's

Another fine evening in George's in the company of fellow Nottingham bloggers Mike, Mish and Nixon, as well as Alan - only Buni was missing. Somehow conversational subjects managed to range from blog politics (of course!) via the benefits of St John's Wort, Edinburgh, James Joyce, 'Sex And The City' and Ethel Merman (thanks again for the CD Mish!) to extra nipples and dogging...

And then on for the first time to Stealth with Mike to meet up with Dave and Martin for an unexpectedly wonderful gig (see below).

Not bad for an evening that started with a walk into town during which I nearly witnessed someone getting hit by a car and I then had the misfortune to spot the smug bald bloke from 'Strictly Soho'... And not a trace of a hangover today! If only more evenings could be like that.
Family values

THE FIERY FURNACES / SONS & DAUGHTERS / RED ORGAN SERPENT SOUND, 26TH AUGUST 2004, NOTTINGHAM STEALTH

Sons & Daughters are the sort of band for whom the staple gig sound of clattering and shattering bottles is the perfect accompaniment. Adele Bethel (vocals / guitar / keys) and David Gow (drums) are members of the Arab Strap live set-up, and it shows. They take the red-raw blues riffage of labelmates The Kills and weave it with rockabilly rhythms into a distinctively Scottish form that also hints at folk and The Delgados, with whom they'll soon be touring.

Guitarist / vocalist Scott Paterson howls and hops around the stage like a coiled spring, while mandolin and bass player Ailidh Lennon obeys that key unwritten rule of rock 'n' roll - if you can't really play, then just look good on stage, and she's impeccably cool, swaying gently on the spot like one of Robert Palmer's robotic backing band.

They're obviously still finding their feet, but as soon as 'Broken Bones' is out of the way - as the one track which most of the crowd know following its appearance on the recent NME covermount CD showcasing the Domino roster, it already feels like a bit of an albatross - they hit a deliciously sweet spot. 'Blood' and new single 'Johnny Cash' slope past before they ratchet things up once again for a finale which feels like being strangled with a rattlesnake - well, they say asphyxiation heightens pleasurable sensations... What is it with Glasgow? There's something in the Buckfast, I swear.

The last time I saw the evening's headliners proper The Fiery Furnaces, at Rock City last November, my response, like that of the majority of a crowd assembled to see Hot Hot Heat and Franz Ferdinand, was predominantly one of bafflement. This time around it was rather different.

When they take to the stage, it's neither Eleanor Friedberger nor her brother Matt who first attract the eye, even though Eleanor is sporting a rather fetching lilac cummerbund (destined to be the latest must-have fashion accessory for the Karen O set?). No, the star is hyperactive drummer Andy Knowles, who, with his multicoloured striped jacket and trilby hat looks like a cross between Pete Doherty and Sylvester McCoy's Dr Who.

What happens next is anyone's guess. The four piece career and crash through song after song without pause for breath, and I stand gobsmacked at the awesome intensity of it all, foremost in my mind the thought, "They do this EVERY NIGHT?!!". It starts with 'My Dog Was Lost But Now It's Found', and 'South Is Only A Home', 'Single Again', 'Don't Dance Her Down', 'Blueberry Boat', 'Bright Blue Tie' and 'Tropical Iceland' are all in there somewhere, gleaming pearls of surrealist blues thrown out before the mulleted swine, while snatches and snippets of songs apparently discarded earlier creep back into the set. The encore's something of a disappointment in that respect, the songs conventionally separated from one another.

The quirky imagination of Pavement, the barely contained chaos of The Libertines, a touch of The Violent Femmes, searing garage guitar and end-of-the-pier organ... There's no-one quite like them, and no way of doing them justice in words. They are undeniably brilliant, though.

I know I should give it a try on record, but frankly I'm worried it just won't work.

Red Organ Serpent Sound don't make it onto the stage until around 1am. Looking like half The Dwarves and half Kings Of Leon, they start promisingly enough - the freaky Cramps-like B-movie punk arrests attention especially when performed by a bloke wearing a red stocking over his head, a top hat and a boxing glove. But then it all goes horribly wrong as the stocking coming off coincides with a couple of very duff straight-faced Strokes pastiches, and it's evident they've been trying far too hard to be weird and are cruelly shown up by appearing on the same bill as The Fiery Furnaces. No-one's interested anymore, least of all me.

(Thanks to Mike on whose suggestion I went along.)

LINKS
Kilian Murphy reviews The Fiery Furnaces' Gallowsbird's Bark.
Josh Love reviews The Fiery Furnaces' forthcoming LP Blueberry Boat.
Feel good hits of the 27th August

1. 'Single Again' - The Fiery Furnaces
2. 'Cotton Crown' - Sonic Youth
3. 'A To B' - The Futureheads
4. 'Broken Bones' - Sons & Daughters
5. 'Born In '69' - Rocket From The Crypt
6. 'Kangaroo Heart' - Archie Bronson Outfit
7. 'Millionaire' - Kelis feat Andre 3000
8. 'The Magician' - Clinic
9. 'Comfortably Numb' - Pink Floyd
10. 'I'm A Wheel' - Wilco
Quote of the day

"Sex should be with someone you at least have some kind of relationship with. Otherwise why not just have a wank? It's easier and it doesn't hurt anyone else".

John Peel, a paragon of honesty.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Football: it went that way

After much deliberation, I've decided to shift all my witterings / moanings / dribblings about the beautiful game and Newcastle Utd's valiant endeavours to make it ugly to a brand spanking new site on which I will be collaborating with my good friend and fellow sufferer Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey.

So, may I present to you: Black & White & Read All Over. At the moment the name is an absurdly hubristic piece of wishful thinking, but you never know - from acorns and all that.

Henceforth SWSL will no longer be sullied with incessant match reports or indeed any references to football. "Hallelujah!", I hear many of you cry, "About bloody time!" Never let it be said I don't listen to my public...

(Special thanks to Inspector Sands, whose removal of that particular rib from Casino Avenue to create All Quiet In The East Stand provided the original inspiration, and to He Who Cannot Be Named, who first suggested the idea of a collaborative blog.)
Blogwatch

This week's new addition to the SWSL blogroll: Spellcnut. Dave's blog was brought to my attention by Mike's homage on Troubled Diva, and mightily enjoyable it is too. I believe he might even be a fellow Northumbrian.

Crinklybee is fast becoming a firm favourite, giving Jonny B's I Don't Believe It some healthy competition in the Makes Me Laugh Out Loud Like A Twat stakes. Most recently Jonathan's been ruminating on the subject of beards: "the Babyliss beard machine started to get temperamental, and would threaten to pack up altogether on you mid-session, leaving you with the sort of comically uneven look not seen since that episode of 'M*A*S*H' where Hawkeye decides to shave the other one's moustache off in his sleep for a laugh. Unless it was Hawkeye who had the moustache, I can't remember. Whatever, it was the type of appearance you can get away with, maybe, if you are a hard-working, hard-partying, and above all fictional frontline military medic in the Korean War, but is less likely to go down well in a departmental meeting in a present-day central Manchester sales office".

Elsewhere: Amanda of collaborative blog The Leither conveys all the thrill of being able to witness local ladies of the night embroiled in catfighting - "Even better were the occasions when a lone teenage trainee pimp foolishly tried to act the hard man with the girls and break them up, I think you’ll agree that there is no better sight in this world than seeing a squealing, Burberry capped Ned being savagely beaten with the blunt end of a New Look platform boot"; following the example set by Nick of Auspicious Fish, He Only Lives Twice has set about posting a track-by-track review of the new Embrace LP Out Of Nothing (this is 'Keeping' - scroll up and down for more) - what inspires such adoration of the brothers McNamara and co I'm still not sure; and Chris of South By South East has been to see The Dirtbombs.

...And finally: happy birthday to Robyn! Whilst I remain envious of your mugs (stop sniggering at the back, it's not rude), £8.95 is rather a lot for something to drink coffee out of. For the time being I think I'll stick with my Steps-emblazoned mug, picked up for a quid in Great Yarmouth. Strangely, I'm not renowned for being classy.
That joke isn't funny anymore

Time for a spot of role-playing.

Imagine you're jug-eared Everton and England wunderkind Wayne Rooney. Now I just know your thoughts are immediately turning to sex with rubber-clad grandmothers, but try to block such visions from your mind - we're talking about football here.

You have the world at your feet, and could play for any side in Europe. You would grace the Champions' League. Your admirers in England alone include Man Utd and Chelsea. Along come Newcastle Utd - a club in utter disarray off the pitch and a team unable to scythe down naive young Premiership saplings Norwich on it - with a bid for your services. Do you say: (a) "Fuck off", (b) "Fuck right off" or (c) "Is this some kind of sick joke? Fuck right off"?

Now imagine you're Sir Bobby Robson. You're probably thinking, "What day is it?", "Who am I?" or "Why am I putting myself through this when I could be tending an allotment, drinking cups of tea and holidaying in Bournemouth?" - if so, then good, you've got yourself into the right mindset.

So, you've just had Jonathan Woodgate, one of the most accomplished central defenders in England if not the whole of Europe, sold from under your nose and against your wishes, and your defence looks about as convincing as Mark Thatcher's. You then learn that instead of prioritising the search for a commanding new centre half, and despite the presence of four strikers with sizeable egos already at the club, your chairman is instead trying to sign another forward for an enormous sum of money. Do you say: (a) "What's going on?", (b) "What the fuck is going on?" or (c) "Is this some kind of sick joke? What the fuck is going on?"?

Now imagine you're a Newcastle fan - not hard for me, but then I spend much of my time fantasising about not being one.

You've just witnessed another tragicomic debacle as your side allowed Norwich to grab a well-deserved draw from two goals down, even Mr Reliable Shay Given making a costly mistake and only goalscorers Bellamy and Hughes plus perhaps Milner emerging with any credit whatsoever. Do you: (a) laugh, (b) cry, (c) laugh then cry or (d) shrug your shoulders in resigned acknowledgement of the fact that your beloved club is a complete laughing stock and that they'll be lucky to finish above mid-table?

Villa away on Saturday. Can't wait.
At last, a laugh at someone else's expense

Yes, and at the Mackems, no less. Proof that even the animal kingdom hates them.
Know Your Enemy #49

"Dido is the draught of popular music. That is to say, you’ll be sitting down, quietly reading the paper, doing nobody any harm. And after a while, you’ll realise that something is annoying you. You can’t quite place it, or its source, but it’s coming from somewhere and causing you a mild irritation. Then you realise that a Dido track has started playing on the radio."

Jonny B on Dido.

I also feel compelled to mention the comment left by Chav Gav to the above post: "Dodo died, Dodi died, Di died, Dando died... surely Dido's looking a bit worried."

Monday, August 23, 2004

Expressway to my skull

As if I wasn't chuffed enough to have snapped up a ticket for Sonic Youth's only UK gig this year (fair enough, it's seated, but at least I'll be there), Stylus's Mike Shiflet only goes and compiles his Top Ten Things About The Sonic Youth Show In Cleveland: "Whatever the reason, the Youth brought the noise to levels I'd yet to witness in the numerous times I've seen them the past few years. Lots of effect-tweaking, feedback & extension of songs. Quite a few even 'jammed' out well beyond the ten-minute mark. Awesome". Having grown to love their latest long-player Sonic Nurse rather more than my initial thoughts might suggest, I'm salivating in anticipation.

On the reviews front, Dave McGonigle is impressed by the Mark Lanegan Band's Bubblegum and Ian Mathers decrees Winchester Cathedral by Scouse oddballs Clinic to be Album Of The Week, making it probably the most critically lauded LP named after a major religious building ever. Funds permitting, both albums should find their way into my collection in the near future.
Soft sell

I'm in Birmingham at the moment, and there's an advert which has been aired several times in this region (I'm guessing that - it's not nationwide, is it?) and which goes something like this (I may be paraphrasing slightly): "There's more to Telford than just great shopping. You can have fun, shop, and just relax". And that's it. Is it just me or are they clearly clutching at straws? Perhaps Telford's very own representative in the blogosphere, Kenny of Parallax View, can do a better job of convincing us of the town's worth?
Quote of the day

"Figuratively speaking, this is the automotive equivalent of another man not only allowing, but actually encouraging, me to touch his penis."

Paul finds himself quite taken by his first time behind the wheel of a friend's car.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

New dawn fades

What we really needed was the sort of result that would shut the media doom-and-gloom mongers up. What we got was a whimpering defeat at home to Spurs, an appropriately dismal end to a week best forgotten. The way things are looking, it might not be the last time this season that we have a week best forgotten.

It all started off promisingly enough. Bellamy carried on where he left off for Wales in midweek, tormenting the Spurs defence with his electrifying pace and movement, while Paul Robinson pulled off a number of crucial stops in the opposition goal, most notably to deny Milner his first strike in a Newcastle shirt.

But after the break, once Spurs took the lead, all that promise evaporated and we allowed the rest of the game to drift along in depressingly insipid fashion, conceding the initiative to a side we should outclass comfortably and never really looking like snatching a point.

Incidentally, in my season preview I wrote: “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”. Oh yes, that's right - goalscorer Thimothee Atouba was one of those I wrote off as an insignificant addition to their squad. Hopefully this will be the first and last time my dismissive overview of our rivals comes back to bite me in the arse, but then I’m not optimistic…

Reality bites, then – hard. The potential’s still there, but at the moment, as for the majority of last season, we’re simply not as good as the sum of our parts suggests we should be.
Woodgategate: the SWSL verdict

Now that the dust is settling on Jonathan Woodgate’s whirlwind move to Real Madrid two days after the event, I’m at last able to bring myself to write about it in some kind of coherent fashion without being reduced to a torrent of obscenities and a series of inarticulate groans.

When I described Woodgate in the SWSL season preview as our “defensive lynchpin”, I meant it. He’s an exceptionally talented defender. With him in the side last season, we looked organised and efficient. His confidence and composure in the tackle and on the ball spread throughout the back line. Without him, we were by and large sloppy, nervous and frail. His fitness (or lack of it) is of course a key issue, and I’m not disputing the fact that he clocked up too many hours on the treatment table, but to sell a player who had such a great influence over the way the team performed seems insane.

£13.4m is a lot of money, true, but those bleating on about it being “a sound piece of business” seem to be forgetting that we’re only making a profit of just over £4m on a player we signed on the cheap in the first place. What particularly upset me, though, was the way that we seem to have thrown our hands in the air and waved the white flag as soon as Real’s interest was firmed up by a concrete bid – all this talk of both club and player being powerless to resist the overtures of a club of their stature. Sure, who wouldn’t want to play for Real Madrid? Woodgate was always going to find it hard not to be tempted. But couldn’t we have put up more of a fight, instead of playing the good little puppy by rolling over and playing dead at their feet? There was a depressing inexorability about it all. The fact that we were prepared to let perhaps our best player go that easily, even if it was for a big pot of cash, does not suggest a great deal of ambition.

What’s more, the transfer has publicly reopened the rift between Sir Bobby and Freddie Shepherd, the manager insisting that if it was up to him Woodgate would have stayed at St James’s Park and thus implying that the chairman continues to ride roughshod over his opinions. There may be (further) trouble ahead.

What we need to do urgently is to invest some of the transfer funds in at least one quality replacement. Numerous names are being bandied about in the media, as might be expected – Jean-Alain Boumsong, William Gallas, Ledley King, Wes Brown, Michael Dawson, Robert Huth, Jon Fortune. Confirming the suspicion that Sir Bobby has had the responsibility of deciding upon transfer targets rudely wrested from his grasp, Fat Freddie claims to have something up his sleeve and is confident it’ll be to the fans’ liking. Let’s just say it’s going to have to be something very special indeed to appease this supporter.

Perhaps it’s too early to be trying to assess it all – but if, when all’s said and done, the deal doesn’t take the club forward significantly in the long term, then it has to be regarded as a bad move. It’s as simple as that.

Alternative perspectives on the transfer from fellow fans:
Paul (1000 Shades Of Grey)
BykerSink (It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware)
ILuvNUFC (Look At This...)
Sarah Jessica Parker – I mean she’s just, like, so, like, inspiring!

This weekend I have been subjected against my will to a compilation album entitled Sex And The City: Music From Or Inspired By The Show. This gave rise to a few thoughts:

1. Surely it’s contravening the Trade Description Act to claim that the likes of Daniel Bedingfield and Anastacia were, or have ever been, “inspired” in any way whatsoever.

2. It must also be a contravention of the Act to suggest that Justin Timberlake (for instance) sat down and thought, “I need inspiration. Hmm. Hey, I know what, that episode of ‘Sex And The City’ when they all meet up for lunch and talk about shopping and fucking gives me a little idea…” – and hey presto, ‘Cry Me A River’ was born.

3. The only thing ‘Sex And The City’ inspires in me is nausea and an intense hatred of the greater part of humanity. Much the same effect as Daniel Bedingfield, then.
All you need is … love?!

After eight months without trying to stomach the overexcited bilge routinely churned out by NME journalists, last week’s free cover-mounted CD (an excellent journey through the Domino catalogue) sucked me into relenting and buying a copy. Little seems to have changed – everything has to be taken with more than just a pinch of salt. Example: Universal Audio, the new LP by splendid Glaswegian miserabilists The Delgados, is described as being “joyously upbeat”. Somehow I just can’t see it, can you?
You WHAT?!!

cheetara naked
larry becker lawn tonic
jim morrison haircut greek
jamie carragher and the whipped cream
cornish pasty portugal
putting grapes in vagina

Sorry, people – turn around and go back the way you came.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Blogwatch

New additions to the SWSL blogroll: A Girl With A Dot Com and, at long last, Richard Herring's blog. Welcome.

Slagging off Z-list slebs - we all do it, we all love it. But they can bite back, as Kenny's found out. Last October he had a few harsh words for Pop Idol reject Kirsty Crawford, including the declaration that he'd be "closely following her career all the way back to the Milton Keynes branch of Pizza Hut". And now she's responded in a bid to set a few things straight. The lesson being: be careful what you write - they might just be watching you...

Mike's recovered sufficiently from his Peruvian exertions to calculate the Cliche Usage Quotient of Troubled Diva, using a list of book review cliches from the Torygraph. Just don't expect me to follow suit and work out the CUQ for SWSL (cheers!) because (a) I haven't got the patience to trawl through the search results and (b) I'm afraid I'll end up with a figure far in excess of 50% and you, my already meagre readership will desert me for pastures new and less hackneyed.

Meanwhile: fellow Newcastle fan Jonathan of Crinklybee has been soaking up some "real football" at Edgley Park, and speculating about his affable local sandwich shop proprietor's talent for renaming his customers; on Dispatches From Deepest Norfolk aka I Don't Believe It, Jonny's aghast at the refurbishment of the village pub - "It is exceedingly posh now. You can tell it’s posh because food is served on a bed of other food, and there isn’t a machine in the gents selling rubber johnnies"; and Nick dissects a load of tracks from his iPod - "'Toxic' is some kind of lesson in weird cybernetic airbrush sexpop, and Britney’s almost complete removal from the actual song (and video, considering the digital effects and image manipulation), the culmination of several years of weird sonic extrapolation on behalf of her varied producers makes it all the more compelling. She’s now not even an image and a voice. She’s a pixel".

...And finally: welcome back to Blighty, Pete!
Fog on the Tyne

Barely a few days into the new season and there's plenty to worry about for the Newcastle fan.

Following all the rumours of Dyer's dressing-room dissent on Saturday, the Suffolk Boy Wonder received a predictably hostile response from the home fans after coming on as a half-time substitute in England's friendly match against Ukraine at St James's Park. And on the left wing too, not his favoured central midfield position - I wonder if he got stroppy with Sven too?

At least today, having been made acutely aware that the majority of the paying public have lost patience with him and knowing that he's being touted around rival clubs for £8m and potentially soon to be without his £65,000 a week salary, he's donned his hair shirt and come over all penitent: "My refusal to play in the position the manager asked me was wrong. I sincerely regret the whole incident - ultimately, Sir Bobby picks the team and I apologise to him and to our supporters wholeheartedly.". I could have sworn I've heard him say something like that before... For what it's worth, had I been there I wouldn't have joined in with the booing, but then at the same time I can understand it.

But just as one crack is papered over, another opens up - the news that Real Madrid are hoping to sign Woodgate for £15m. The worrying thing is that, Vieira aside, Real usually get their man, and even if they don't there's every chance that he'll get his head turned by the possibility that a club of that stature could be after him. To me, though, it's not surprising that he should be attracting the interest of the world's biggest and best. He may only have appeared 37 times for us since signing in January 2003, but there's no doubt in my mind that he has become as important - if not even more so - than Shearer to the fortunes of the side. It's no coincidence that the best performances of last season came in March and April when Woodgate was in the side and playing superbly. The promise of his return is something to cling to, perhaps the only thing that allows me to feel not quite so stupidly and blindly loyal in harbouring hopes of nicking the title. Make no mistake, his departure, which is looking increasingly likely, could well be disastrous.

But, hey, let's peer through the fog and end on a brighter note. At least Butt and Jenas put in decent shifts on their home turf, and that very home turf, relaid this summer at a cost of £500,000, looks good. Still, we'll see how it looks next Wednesday after three games in a week...
Dead good

The fourth series of 'Six Feet Under' started on C4 on Tuesday night, and I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel a sense of relief and delight that they haven't kept those of us without satellite waiting too long before it made the switch from E4. The first episode was, as ever, brilliant. The emphasis was firmly on the black rather than on the comedy and the ending, as Nate buried his wife Lisa and then stood screaming over the grave, was extraordinarily powerful even by the show's own remarkable standards. More of the same next week, please.
Is it just me...

... or is there something very odd about Lynda Bellingham playing the sadistic matriarch of a clan of criminals in 'The Bill'? Maybe she set up an evil empire with the proceeds from those gravy ads.
Quote of the day

Peter Baynham writing in Saturday's Guardian about the mass August desertion of Britain:

"The other 52 people left in Britain, what are you doing this afternoon? Meet me at 3pm in the beer garden of the Duke of Devonshire in Balham. We can get drunk and slag off everyone who's gone away. Then we'll go and burgle their houses, put animal porn on their computers, fill their Espaces with concrete. We'll invent ridiculous, almost believable news stories to tell them they missed while away: Prince Andrew was caught shoplifting; Shergar's bones were found in Ronnie Corbett's house; Jamie Cullum was decapitated by his father. When the others get back, all tanned and full of tedious stories about their lovely, crumbling gîte, we can cut them dead by telling them that Patrick Moore came out as bi."

I was near Balham on Saturday - just a shame I hadn't read the article at that point, and missed out on the chance to see if he really did turn up. I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny summer's day than filling Espaces with concrete in the company of Peter Baynham. The man's a genius.

(Thanks to Tobi and He Who Cannot Be Named for the link.)
Know Your Enemy #48

"The most 'ringtones, crap tracksuit, foul mouth, gold chains, fag in hand, sick on Breezers, Von Dutch cap and up the duff by 15' track to make the number one spot in singles chart history, Paul Gambaccini might have said last night."

Inspector Sands of Casino Avenue on 3 Of A Kind's 'Babycakes'.
Feel good hits of the 18th August

1. 'Decent Days And Nights' - The Futureheads
2. 'Hard Knock Life' - Jay-Z
3. 'Pattern Recognition' - Sonic Youth
4. 'Ch-Ch-Check It Out' - Beastie Boys
5. 'First Of The Gang To Die' - Morrissey
6. 'Range Life' - Pavement
7. 'Castles Made Of Sand' - Jimi Hendrix
8. 'Keep It Down' - Kelis
9. 'Take Your Mama Out' - Scissor Sisters
10. 'In Da Club' - 50 Cent

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
Cock

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:

Arsenal
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.

Chelsea
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.

Liverpool
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.

Birmingham
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.

Blackburn
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.

Bolton
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?

Charlton
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.

Everton
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.

Fulham
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.

Middlesbrough
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.

Norwich
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.

Portsmouth
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.

Southampton
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.

Tottenham
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.)
Ch-ch-ch-changes

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 naïve 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.