Friday, November 26, 2004

Reasons To Be Cheerful #3

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Cold Rice

Cold Rice is a sort of club night at Bar Academy that started out as a Sunday evening thing but which has now firmly established itself on a Saturday night.

Entry is free, and the DJs - usually of the shaggy haired, striped T-shirt, studded belt and torn jeans variety - relish displaying their impeccable taste. The flyer suggests they'll play anything from Sly & The Family Stone to Fugazi, from Boards of Canada to The Boredoms.

The set might have been rather less catholic than that last time I went - predominantly deliciously grotty rock 'n' roll - but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. We arrived to the sound of 'Blood' by Sons & Daughters, and were regaled later in the evening with tracks by Blondie and the Stones.

Steer clear of the Carling by opting for a decent lager and you're guaranteed a good night out.

On Casino Avenue Inspector Sands has been having thoughts about giving up blogging, but thankfully he's decided to carry on, and with posts of the quality of this one, a creative rewriting of the Queen's Speech, his site continues to entertain and amuse.


Jonathan writes about The Vines in the wake of the news that Craig Nicholls has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. It certainly gives an interesting twist to the final two sentences of the Stylus review of Winning Days, but Nick's overall assessment of the band - "accomplished and full of bluster but ontologically completely hollow" - remains spot on;

Kenny's smitten by Joanna Newsom - "She starts off with an a capella clap-along number which is pretty brave in such a small studio room cramped full of about 150 people breathing down her cleavage (uh, OK, that was just me) but having pulled it off, she can be pretty sure she's got the audience just where she wants them for the rest of the show: spellbound";

Amblongus discusses a feature entitled 'The Urban Archipelago' - "Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands";

Phill is bemused to discover that dimly remembered nu-shoegazers My Vitriol have their own blog and reviews Brownstock, a benefit gig for FC St Pauli, a German football team beloved by punks;

and Backroads offers the handy guide How To Dismantle U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb.
Happy New Year

Just as I'm starting to think about those good ol' end-of-year lists, 2005 is shaping up nicely with news of two albums hotly anticipated in the land of SWSL.

First of all, there's Low's The Great Destroyer, recorded by Dave Fridmann and their first release for Sub Pop. There are also a smattering of tour dates, including a gig in Wolverhampton on 19th February that I really ought to bust a gut to get to.

Then there's the delicious prospect of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead's fourth LP Worlds Apart, released on 25th January. Over three years have passed since their last album, Source Tags & Codes, and they've recently undergone a line-up change, bassist Neil Busch being replaced by Danny Wood and Doni Schroader coming in as a second drummer / percussionist.

Yum yum.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Do not disturb

I guess it's a natural progression. Once you've taken people to task by scrutinizing every aspect of their home (inside and out), their diet, their clothing and their personal hygiene, the only place left to go is into the boudoir.

But surely if you're having problems in that particular department, the last thing you'd want would be to have some self-proclaimed "sexpert" watching your every move by videocamera and probing you intimately (if you'll forgive the choice of expression)?

More honest than 'Big Brother' maybe, but this is still voyeurism masquerading as earnest self-help docudrama.

Update: Oh dear. Once again I find myself venturing perilously close to Daily Mail territory. Since posting the above, I discovered to my horror that today's edition of the aforementioned rag contains a full page article entitled "Save us from the sex inspectors!".

However, unlike the Mail, my objections to the programme have nothing to do with the sanctity of sexual relations or any such drivel - though I realise the hastily chosen title of the post might suggest otherwise. That sort of insistence on prurience and wholesomeness I can't stand.

Nope, shagging is great. The depiction of shagging on TV is great. But the depiction of shagging on TV dishonestly dressed up in the ill-fitting clothes of therapeutic and informative documentary is not.
Going nowhere

Having missed the first episode of 'Max And Paddy's Road To Nowhere', I was seriously underwhelmed by my first taste of it last week.

It seemed to be based upon a only a few half-decent but predictable ideas stretched out too thinly (the A-Team skit which took up most of the second half, for instance), and I'm not convinced the characters are strong enough to centre a whole series around. In 'Phoenix Nights' they're simply two small parts of a much larger - and much funnier - machine. It didn't help that the Phoenix Club and its assorted regulars made an appearance during the flashback sequence - a tantalising glimpse of what we were missing.

Overall it smacked of being a vehicle by which Peter Kay intends to keep himself in the public eye, but, rather like Max and Paddy's motorhome, it was pretty directionless.

All of this is based on the evidence of just one episode, though, so I'm hopeful that the next installment this coming Friday might change my mind.
Hot stuff

With the help of a select panel of bloggers including Largehearted Boy, Information Leafblower has compiled a list of the Top 40 Bands / Artists In America Today.

Yes, it's a list! And it's not even the end of the year yet! But who cares? As is the way with these things, the list itself makes for interesting reading (Ted Leo & The Pharmacists out on top with Wilco and Interpol making up the top three), but the real pleasure comes from immersing yourself in the sea of comments the original post has generated. Some people take the opportunity to take issue with choices and to suggest their own, whilst others gripe about the homogeneity of the whole list - but hey, that's natural when it's compiled from the views of several different bloggers.

The complete list of nominees can be found here.
Text message of the day

Received in the very early hours of Tuesday morning:

"Hey mudafucka. I just beat richard herring in a cider drinkoff to win 2nd place in an al murray pub quiz. Ive just vomed in a sink. Viva la revolucion!"

(Note the fact that I restrained from amusing myself by putting [sic] after the word "vomed"...)

Not spoken to the sender yet, and there's nothing on Herring's Warming Up blog to corroborate the story and provide more details. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising, though - as someone who famously (notoriously?) hails from the West Country, he's unlikely to want to broadcast the fact that he suffered defeat in a "cider drinkoff".
Quote of the day

"Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say? "

Kurt Vonnegut, as quoted here.

(Thanks to Kenny for the link.)

Friday, November 19, 2004


Hooray! My fellow Morpethian Sarah has returned from Greece and started blogging again! The rest of you: beware of the Northumbrian Blog Mafia - we're taking over...

Also added to the SWSL blogroll: Hydragenic. Welcome old friends and new.

The re-recorded Band Aid single seems to have polarised the blogging community. Actually, perhaps that's blowing out of all proportion the fact that Nick and Kenny disagree quite spectacularly over its merits. Not heard it yet, and I won't be buying it, even if it is all for charidee.

Meanwhile, Mish has been pleasurably deafened by Lemmy and company, whereas Jonny B has had to endure excessive sex noise whilst staying in a London hotel. If you'll pardon the expression, he had no part in the proceedings - perhaps that was the real root cause of his irritation?


Jonathan imagines himself as a Roman soldier upon the visit of a VIP to his office - "If multinational corporations are modern-day empires, this is the equivalent of Julius Caesar turning up in Wallsend and asking to be taken for a quick walk along Hadrian's Wall. Hell, it is like Julius Caesar turning up in Wallsend right this afternoon and being asked to be taken on the Metro to Whitley Bay";

Inspector Sands bemoans the deplorable state of the British print media - "Speaking as somebody who works in the media, cheering a paper's slow demise doesn't exactly feel right. But when I have a day off, and wander into the newsagent and take a look the shit being served up on the front page, I walk out feeling ashamed to share a profession with these toe-rags. It's not a good way to start the day. When it comes, the slow and painful death of the British newspaper, kicking and screaming against imaginary foes, will be just what it deserves";

London Mark offers a handy guide to help you ascertain your current level of job satisfaction and dedication - "If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be? (a) My salary (b) My colleagues (c) My work (d) All of the above";

and Anna lists five inevitable things - "(3) If you are wearing white, and no matter how careful you are, you will get food on you. Even if you're wearing a bib. Even if you're eating white food, and it isn't even drippy white food. Say you're eating raw cauliflower florets. You will think you are safe, look down half an hour later, and discover you have a penny sized rich tomato sauce circle on your left breast".
Party like it's 1994!

A Pearl Jam retrospective Rearviewmirror and a repackaged edition of Pavement's classic LP Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain? What with the Nirvana box set about to appear, it's like the last decade never happened!

Elsewhere: Dave Eggers extols the educational virtues of rock. It seems a bit strange to be thanking Sting for anything at all, but providing an introduction to Nabokov is indeed deserving of gratitude.
Quotes of the day

"It seems quite ironic that at a time when whole departments in radio and TV stations are given over to 'market research' and 'demographic investigations' that someone who attempted to please nobody but himself ended up forging one of the most profound links with his listeners in the history of broadcasting."

"[T]he point was that Peel gave people a chance. Sure, he had his favourites, but generally he was concerned with seeking out new stuff, giving it a go, and then moving on to the next thing. It was for other people to sift through it all and decide what it meant. It was for other people to make a career out of it. That's why his show never felt formulaic or stale because he was always on a quest, always just passing through on the way to who knows where."

"Ultimately, I think, Peel's appeal came down to something very simple: he was an enthusiast. The only reason he was doing what he was doing was because he loved it - and he loved it so much that he wanted to share it with people. To have your own radio show and play just what you like! To communicate with the audience just as if you were talking to a friend. What a simple idea! How obvious! So how come no one else is doing it?"

Jarvis Cocker on John Peel in the Guardian.

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the link.)
Feel good hits of the 19th November

1. 'Freakin Out' - Graham Coxon
2. 'Supernaturally' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
3. 'Millionaire' - Kelis feat Andre 3000
4. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' - Joy Division
5. 'Teenage Kicks' - The Undertones
6. 'Blitzkrieg Bop' - The Ramones
7. 'Plug In Baby' - Muse
8. 'Can't Stand Me Now' - The Libertines
9. 'Don't Ever Think' - The Zutons
10. 'Perfect Lines' - The Promise Ring

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

"Shut the fuck up, Donny"

The penultimate installment of the Stylus I Love The 1990s series, 1998, featuring contributions from Nick and myself. Nick's anti-'Dawson's Creek' rant in Part Four is particularly well-considered, if you ask me...

Part One: 'Rushmore', George Michael's arrest, 'The Powerpuff Girls', the 'Got Milk?' adverts, the swing revival
Part Two: the boyband explosion and 'Total Request Live', 'That 70s Show', Chris Rock, 'Pi', Sosa v McGwire
Part Three: 'Armageddon' and 'Deep Impact', the Grammies, 'One Week' - Barenaked Ladies, 'Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas', the WWF revival
Part Four: 'The Big Lebowski', 'Sex And Candy' - Marcy Playground, MTV's 'Wanna Be A VJ?', Starbucks
Part Five: nu-metal, the Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson sex video, 'Antz' and 'A Bug's Life', 'The Boy Is Mine' - Brandy & Monica, the last episode of 'Seinfeld'
Quotes of the day

"America has been a grate, self-appointed proponent of democracy in the modern world, while, in actuality, it has treated it as a nuisance and an obstruction when it gets in the way of its self-interest".

Amit Chaudhuri, Indian novelist and critic.

"The exclusion of the rest of the world from the American sight is one of the most disturbing facts about American society. Even with its gigantic media system operating with state-of-the-art technologies, the US functions as a society closed to information, facts and opinions of the rest of the world. No wonder Americans as a whole are so unaware of the growing hatred felt for the US in the rest of the world".

Jim Dator, Professor of Political Science at the University of Hawaii.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Reasons To Be Cheerful #2

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

The Bartons Arms

The Bartons Arms really is a diamond in the rough. Not only is the rough really rough, but the diamond is 24 carat.

The pub's situated a bit out of Birmingham city centre in the Newtown area of Aston, a quick and cheap taxi ride away but notoriously dodgy. In the Elbow Room club round the corner, a bloke out celebrating his birthday was so badly beaten up that he's now paralysed from the neck down, and a friend of the friend who took us there for the first time was once on board a bus which, when stopped outside the pub, was hit by three bullets.

It's a haven inside, though - a grand red brick Victorian inn with elaborate decorative tiling which had descended into disrepair until Oakham Ales bought it in 2002 and reopened it after some much-needed restoration work.

When it comes to real ales and strong continental lagers the landlord really knows his onions, having been lured away from the Fat Cat in Norwich, a pub which wins major awards every single year. I passed a very pleasant evening on Bishop's Farewell and a selection of cloudy wheat beers.

Neither is it average when it comes to pub grub - far from it. The menu consists solely of Thai dishes, which are delicious, beautifully prepared and reasonably priced, and which prove the attraction for a large number of visitors - the rear dining area is often full of an evening. The Thai influence also extends to bar snacks, which, even after a full meal, we couldn't resist - warm peanuts with lemon, chilli and salt.

In short, far and away the best pub I've found in Birmingham.

It was reassuring to know that, after a manic few days up to my eyeballs in work, there would be delights aplenty awaiting me when I made my return to the blogosphere...

Just in case you were wondering, I'm not alone. There are other bloggers out there proselytising about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, most notably Kenny, who, as part of a great album review compendium, argues that Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus "exhibits the full range of Cave's songwriting skills and it's a record rich in quality, atmosphere and good old-fashioned hell-raising", and Vaughan, in whom it inspires apocalyptic thoughts: "If, personally, your life's feeling like it's all been thrown up in the air and you're not sure where the pieces are going to land, and if the world is really destined for four more years of some nebulous War Against Terrorism in an attempt to impose one superpower's strange brand of democracy on any nation it doesn't think is reading from the same hymn sheet, then the least we can do is to all go to hell listening to some absolutely heavenly music".


After a bit of a hiatus LondonMark is back and in good form;

in deepest rural Norfolk Jonny B's been battling against insomnia - "Ninety minutes later, I am still lying there, and I realise that I have exhausted the entertainment possibilities of studying the inside surface of my eyelids. They are featureless and boring";

an honest mix-up with her mobile phone nearly leads Mish to mistakenly tell someone their mother has died;

Amblongus continues to pick over the bones of the US presidential election, including this summary of what Republicans seem to think the Democrats should do over the next four years to be victorious next time round;

Phill's met Girls Aloud - "they were all five foot tall and wore tracksuits, chav chic if you will. A couple of them I must say were quite good looking, but one of them was decidedly rough I have to say (presumably she's the one that can sing)";

and Wan's been dreaming about Johnny Cash.

And finally, Secret Knowledge Of Backroads has a tall tale about a converted milk float - "With great fanfare, the whole family including, and this is true, two guinea pigs, set off for two weeks in the Lake District, a distance of fifty miles or so. Sadly they never got that far. In fact it took them three days to get as far as Garstang (Home of the World’s Biggest Onion, fact fans) where the milk float’s battery eventually gave out".
Warning: the internet can be a dangerous place

160 unpublished manuscripts? They must be REALLY bad.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

His satanic majesty


Set list: 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' / 'Hiding All Away' / 'Messiah Ward' / 'Abattoir Blues' / 'Nature Boy' / 'Easy Money' / (at this point I lost it a bit but I know all the following were played: 'Breathless', 'Babe, You Turn Me On', 'Carry Me', 'Get Ready For Love', 'Supernaturally') / 'O Children' / 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World' // 'The Weeping Song' / 'Henry Lee' / 'Deanna' / 'Red Right Hand' / 'God Is In The House' / 'City Of Refuge' / 'Stagger Lee'

Love. Disgust. Hope and warmth. Malice and foreboding. Songs of beauty. Stories of violence. Weightless balladry. Blazing fury. Carefree days of sunshine. Dark nights of the soul. Gossamer threads of guitar. Bar-room blues on PCP. The sublime. The ridiculous. "Babe, you turn me on". "Routine atrocity". "GET READY FOR LOVE!!!" "THERE IS A WAR COMING!!!"

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds experience.

Stick-thin and of vampiric complexion, Cave himself is a talismanic frontman, priest of love singing sweetness and light and prophet of gloom barking out the Old Testament, but always aware of the absurdity of it all. Throwing shapes in his sharp suit and pointed shoes, he reminds me of Vic Reeves.

Behind him are the Bad Seeds - placid guitarist Mick Harvey, tuft-haired bassist Martyn P Casey, drummers Thomas Wydler and Jim Sclavunos, chainsmoking keyboard player Conway Savage, new guitarist / piano thumper James Johnston and dishevilled multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis whose psychopathic attacks on his violin are something to behold. Plus four gospel backing singers.

They sound incredible.

For anyone not in possession of the new LP, the main set is likely to be something of a disappointment. All 13 songs are lifted from Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus, only four album tracks not getting an airing. For those of us that do own it, though, it's simply awesome. As someone who admittedly has had difficulty making it past the first CD because it's so damn good, this live performance brings out the comparable merits of the second CD, most notably 'Supernaturally' and 'Easy Money'.

Even then, though, from the moment they reappear and Cave says, "So, what do you want to hear?", the encore's just a little bit special. Cave sneering the reference to "moral sneaks in the White House" in 'God Is In The House'; the explosions of noise in 'Red Right Hand'; the entirety of 'Deanna' ("I ain't down here for your money / I ain't down here for your love / I ain't down here for love or money / I'M DOWN HERE FOR YOUR SOUL"); blood-soaked murderfest 'Stagger Lee' making gangsta rap look like kids' stuff.

He doesn't play 'Do You Love Me?', but if he had I would have shouted "Yes".

(Incidentally, if you happen to attend a gig that my girlfriend and I are at, don't piss her off by shoving her out of the way, insisting on standing right in front of her thus blocking her previously unimpeded view and generally behaving like a cunt. She will have absolutely no hesitation in rubbing chewing gum into your shirt. Tosser.)
Feel good hits of the 11th November

1. 'I Love Her All The Time' - Sonic Youth
2. 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
3. 'Chris Michaels' - The Fiery Furnaces
4. 'The Living End' - The Jesus & Mary Chain
5. 'That Great Love Sound' - The Raveonettes
6. 'Memorial' - Explosions In The Sky
7. 'Pretend We're Dead' - L7
8. 'Take Me On A Cruise' - Interpol
9. 'Country Mile' - Clinic
10. 'Freakin Out' - Graham Coxon

Friday, November 05, 2004

No, ta

Amidst all the kerfuffle surrounding a certain popularity contest across the pond, a significant event in the democratic process rather nearer to home has been kept in the shadows.

The North-East has delivered a curt "Haway and shite, man" to John Prescott's pet project, and there now won't be another referendum on the issue of a North-East assembly for at least seven years.

The margin of victory for the 'No' campaign was enormous - 78% of the vote, compared to just 22% in the 'Yes' camp.

If you'll excuse some amateurish political reflections, the result shows my fellow North-Easterners to be a cynical bunch. Though one of the most commonly voiced complaints is that London is too distant to be sensitive to our needs and concerns, the proposal to bring aspects of government closer to the people - an honourable one in my view, at least in principle - has been met with suspicion, and ultimately rejection.

Though the North-East is traditionally very much a Labour heartlands, there does seem to be a strain of conservatism running through the region, in the sense that the state is often regarded as being too large, and the Government as meddling and interfering unnecessarily in people's lives. Many of those critical of the proposal used the standard Daily Mail / Telegraph line that it would be a waste of taxpayers' money and create yet more levels of bureaucracy.

The bottom line, though, has been the lack of assurances over exactly what powers a regional assembly would have. As someone who voted 'Yes', I have to concede the point made by mmChronic of Geordie website New Links that I was voting for an "unknown quantity".

Though I don't feel as though I was sucked in by the Labour propaganda machine, I guess that, as with most things, I was voting with an ideal in mind, on a matter of principle, rather than allowing myself to be put off by the carping over specifics and confusion over what it would mean in actuality. It doesn't matter now anyway.

One final thought: turnout was under 48%, compared to 70% for the American presidential election. Should we be ashamed? Or is it simply a measure of the fact that the national apathy towards politics is more pronounced in the North-East? If so, then I find it quite staggering that so many people showed no interest in such a potentially major decision (whether for better or for worse).

(For the thoughts of fellow Geordie Paul, click here.)

The blogosphere reacts to Dubya's victory, the SWSL verdict being "That way madness lies...":

Paul: "Bugger".

Amblongus: "Well, that sucked ... Now to listen to Godspeed! You Black Emperor's Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae To Heaven and reflect on the prospect of four more wars".

Bob Mould: "Last night's outcome leads me to believe the majority of this nation is comprised of God-fearing Christians. We are represented by a leader who has divided the country, and has turned a deaf ear to the rest of the world. We are in a holy war, and our European predecessors are very concerned. We have been instilled with fear: fear of God, fear of the Muslim world, fear everywhere we turn. Fear and hate is in the air; can't you smell it? They call it faith".

Pete: "I heard on the radio today that the Bush win was a victory for the moral majority. It's a queer notion of morality that rewards, lying and cheating and turns a blind eye to thousand upon thousand of unnecessary deaths, which willfully wrecks the environment, which rewards it's already rich friends and generally struts about smirking, gloating, like the the most spoiled frat boy in the history of frat boys. The tit won fair and square, probably, but that doesn't make him any less odious, or any more right, or any more fucking moral!"

Nick: "I am, of course, less than delighted with the outcome of the US presidential election, but not exactly surprised. For the last month of campaigning I could feel no hope for Kerry, only an overwhelming sense of dread and pointlessness. American friends, there is a spare room in our house".

Inspector Sands: "It's nothing short of baffling how anybody with a working brain could think George Bush's continued presidency could somehow be a good thing. The Americans had the chance to show one of the warmongerers the finger over the disaster in Iraq - which is more than we're going to get - and passed on it".

Agnes: "I really don't know what goes on in people's minds to vote someone into office who is so obviously bent on destroying the world. I'm really full of rage and sadness today, but there is nothing that can be done but to move on and live your life. Still. My belief in the essential goodness of people really took a blow today. I am scared for the world, but at the same time, I still want to believe that things will work out ok eventually, provided people don't give up and keep defending their basic human rights".

He Who Cannot Be Named: "More than anything, it is not anger or resentment or bitterness or a modulation of any of the kinds of feelings that make you grind your teeth and shout and hit stuff, I feel heartbroken. Heartbroken that a majority of the American people are either too shit scared to change their leader in wartime or because they think this smirking fuckwit and his evil band think that they're doing the best they can for the country and the world AND THEIR MORALS. They crave only money and power. That's all. But of course, you know that ... But to those who did vote Democrat (even that bowling chap Michael Crick interviewed who supported action in Iraq but still went for Kerry) thank you. I believe you can still make America great in the eyes of the world. Let's grit our teeth and get through these next four years together, thinking of a brighter, Republican-free future".

Jonathan: "What we have to do now is hold Bush to account wherever we can on whatever he does to further erode civil liberties, human rights and global peace. Many decent Americans and Europeans have spent much of the last four years campaigning and fighting for justice; that won't stop now. By any measure, the re-election of George Bush is a catastrophe; but plenty of moderate, sensible people - all across the world, including the US - will continue to oppose Bush's naked avarice, bigotry and beligerance; this burgeoning groundwell of activism will continue".

Thursday, November 04, 2004

American idiot (re)elected by American idiots

An email from a friend which pretty much says it all:

"What in the name of fuck has just happened? I was so sure that the American people would come to their senses and vote out that murderous, amoral, moronic little bastard. Even in the last few weeks of the campaign Bush proved, as if there was ever any doubt, just what an imbecile he was, in every single debate and every single speech. A man who has without shame admitted that he doesn’t give a fuck for the environment or any other country than his own. Neither health care nor civil rights have troubled his thoughts once in the past four years.

His idiotic foray in to Iraq was done (shamefully) with the collusion of our own government, but without any thought given to the consequences once Saddam Hussein had been captured and Baghdad had fallen. That every week more and more allied soldiers and civilians are losing their lives there has not worried him even slightly.

And yet again he has been given four more years to fuck up the entire world.

I realise that you understand this already. As such I am only writing to convey to you my almost complete loss of faith in humanity as a result of this betrayal of reason by the American public.

The only hope I have been able to take from the whole sorry mess is that many more Americans actually bothered to vote at all, rather than 2000’s disgusting spurning of the democratic process.

P.S. Because I don’t have a lot of time I have omitted to mention his reprehensible views and policies on homosexuals, gun control and capital punishment. Needless to say, these are other areas of his administration that worry me greatly.

As a Brit, I have to ask: what is with the American system? How can one presidential candidate announce victory? How can the other concede defeat? And how can results be called by television stations? Is there an independent electoral body, and if so, what exactly is their role?

Long live American democracy, a political system to be proud of and which should legitimately be exported by force to uncivilised countries around the globe.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Reasons To Be Cheerful #1

It's now well over a month since I swapped East Midlands for West. Initially I made the move with a heavy heart - leaving Nottingham for Birmingham felt not so much like venturing to greener pastures as to barren wasteland and concrete jungle. Having spent a good deal of time here over the course of the last three years, despite being permanently based in Nottingham, I found myself still unable to come to terms with the city, still searching for assets which remained resolutely hidden.

Which is why, once the move was made, I resolved to redouble my efforts and find reasons to warm to the place and make myself at home. Thankfully, they seem to have been suggesting themselves with a pleasant regularity over the past few weeks.

Reasons To Be Cheerful is a new semi-regular feature in which I aim to highlight some of the places and events that give Birmingham its appeal. It remains more an attempt to convince myself than anyone else, but the thoughts and views of fellow second city residents and those well-acquainted with the place are very welcome indeed.

#1 - Birmingham Book Festival

(Meant to write about this a while back, but laziness dictates that I'm trying to shoehorn it in here inconspicuously...)

The BBF is an annual event comprising of an assortment of talks, readings, workshops and other gatherings which take place over the course of about two weeks in a variety of venues around the city. This year's event, which ran during the middle of last month, boasted appearances from the likes of David Lodge, Roddy Doyle, Hanif Kureishi, Tony Benn and Maggie Gee amongst others.

I went to two events towards the end of the festival. The first was an evening session entitled 'Cities', which brought together the novelist Jim Crace, renowned for his fictional creation of urban spaces, and John Reader, author of a non-fiction book about the history of cities from their beginnings to the present day. Also present were the festival co-ordinator and Terry Grimley of the Birmingham Evening Mail. I was expecting a discussion about the writing of cities, but in the event the session morphed into a lively and engaging debate about the extensive redevelopment of Birmingham which, for someone relatively new to the city, was particularly fascinating and helped nurture my recently-discovered warmth of feeling towards a place I've very often found myself maligning to others. (A fuller review can be found on Parallax View.)

The second event was on the very last day, an afternoon workshop aimed at people who wanted to improve their short fiction writing skills or who, like me, were simply interested in finding out more. Amongst our number we had a couple of published poets, a dramatist, a Young Adults author and a Creative Writing MA student. The course was run by Helen Cross, whose first novel 'My Summer Of Love' has just been turned into a film. Over the course of three hours we discussed the basics and practised a variety of techniques, my only complaint being that the session wasn't long enough to really get to grips with anything.

I never thought I'd catch myself saying this, but with any luck I'll still be in Birmingham this time next year to take greater advantage of the festival's events than I did this.
"There is a war coming"

Friday night saw me once again enduring with gritted teeth the inane banalities of no-necked ivory-tinkling tosser Jools Holland, as well as the extraordinary dullness of Manic Street Preachers and Kings Of Leon, to revel in the delights of the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds material.

For the show Cave concentrated on material from Abattoir Blues, the louder half of the marvellous new double album, which is their first since the departure of guitarist Blixa Bargeld. Single 'Nature Boy' I expected, but not the brooding title track and its thumping drumbeat, nor a fabulous rendition of 'There She Goes, My Beautiful World', hammered out with furious gusto to bring the programme to an end.

Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus is unremarkable in the context of the Cave canon, but then that canon is almost uniformly awesome. A trademark collision of love, beauty, despair, violence and apocalyptic visions, the album also finds Cave indulging in the rich vein of humour so often ignored in his work - he frequently pricks his own tendency towards pomposity with lyrics which tend towards the absurd rather than the sublime.

All of which means I'm now salivating in anticipation of this coming Sunday's Wolverhampton show...
You WHAT?!!

The internet is a magical place, where information on all of the following can no doubt be found:

pat sharpe james joyce
chuckle brothers gay
horse semen removal
cornish pasties filling buckingham palace
bowing for columbine
what does a thorny devil's shelter look like?

Just not here, though.