Wednesday, April 28, 2004

"People don't know what they want until you give it to them"

Coming fairly hot on the heels of Amis's 'Money', Frederic Beigbeder's '£9.99' was probably always going to be a disappointment. The novel's central character is a repulsive John Self type figure called Octave who's an ad executive:

"I pollute the universe. I'm the guy who sells you shit. Who makes you dream of things you'll never have. The sky's always blue, the girls are never ugly, perfect happiness touched up on Photoshop. Immaculate images, in-yer-face music. When, after painstaking saving, you manage to buy the car of your dreams (the one I shot in my last campaign), I will already have made it look out of date. I'm three trends ahead, and I make sure you're always frustrated. Glamour is a country that no one ever gets to. I intoxicate you with new things, and the advantage with the new is that it never stays new for long. There are always new new things to make the last lot look old. I want to make you drool - that's my vocation. No one in my profession actually wants you to be happy, because happy people don't spend."

The book reminded me of Rushdie's 'Fury' that I read earlier in the year, in the way that its characters and plot are incidental - indeed, even more so here. It just doesn't work as a novel, I don't think, and that's what I was expecting to read, so in that sense it was a major let-down.

It's much more like a seethingly caustic critique of advertising by someone who himself used to be a part of the industry, a critique which is only impeded by the vague and unsuccessful concessions to characterisation and narrative. If read this way, as a kind of essay (and there are numerous quotes dotted around which seem to be there to lend the "argument" credence), then it's full of savage and pithy observations:

"We used to put up gigantic photographs of products on walls, bus stops, houses, the ground, taxis, lorries, the scaffolding on buildings that were being restored, furniture, lifts, ticket machines, in every street and even in the country. Every aspect of life was invaded by bras, frozen foods, anti-dandruff shampoo and razors with three blades. The human eye had never been so solicited. It was estimated that in their first eighteen years, every person would be exposed to an average of 350,00 advertisements. Even on the edge of forests, in the middle of tiny villages, in the depths of isolated valleys and on top of the snow-capped mountains, on the cable cars themselves, you would have to confront logos from Marlboro, Microsoft, Badedas and Pretty Polly. Not a moment's rest for the retina of Homo consumiens."

"Do you know the difference between the rich and the poor? The poor sell drugs so that they can buy Nikes whereas the rich sell Nikes so that they can buy drugs."

Of course, by dressing it up (however loosely) as a work of fiction - which includes putting the words "a novel" conspicuously on the front cover - Beigbeder was no doubt able to get away with more than he would have done were he to present the book's contents as fact and authorial opinion. Even so, the thinness of the disguise (using Damione instead of Danone, for example) must have given Picador's lawyers some sleepless nights...

Following glowing recommendations from both Mike and Pete, I'm planning on checking out some Haruki Marakami stuff in the near future, but in the meantime it's a nice second-hand volume of selected Lawrence essays.

I thought I should preface this week's installment with an apology. I realise that there's been an awful lot of football stuff posted on SWSL over the last few weeks, and that I may be getting a bit carried away with the match reports. Though all this is of interest to some, I appreciate it forces most to skip over or simply turns them off visiting altogether. While I have toyed with the idea of keeping all the football-related posts separate by setting up a new blog (in the same way that Inspector Sands has done successfully with Casino Avenue offshoot All Quiet In The East Stand), there's not much of the season left and so things should return to a semblance of normality come mid May. Until then, though, I hope the non-football-followers amongst you don't mind.

Not only has there been a lot of lengthy football posts lately, I realise there's been fewer posts on other subjects. Part of the reason for this is that I know there are always other blogs that will do whatever I might want to do better. I shouldn't use that as an excuse, but it has been a tremendous few days for entertaining posts on some of my regular favourite reads...

On Speaking As A Parent Robin set the cat amongst the pigeons with a provocative post questioning the value and legacy of punk which refreshingly steers clear of the usual music journalist wankspeak. (You'll have to scroll down to the post entitled 'Great Moments In Culture #01' - the debate continues in the comments box. For what it's worth (having only been born in 1977), I'd throw my weight behind Mike of Troubled Diva's case for the defence.)

Brilliant posts on I Don't Believe It on everything from the proposed voting reforms, to cleaning barbeques (or not, as the case may be...), to the agony induced by playing cricket for the first time in a while - "I’m now loping around the house like an extra in a Hammer film. My neck doesn’t seem to be working properly, and one side of me seems to be longer than the other."

Meanwhile, on a more serious tip BykerSink of It's Wrong To Wish On Space Hardware has tackled the thorny issue of female sexism, and (back in the mists of time if you scroll down or maybe check the archives) raised the subject of brand and product boycotts.

Vaughan of Wherever You Are may just have prematurely scooped the SWSL Ironist Of The Year award by writing an engaging (Semi-)Profound Blogging Article about how boring Profound Blogging Articles are. He's also sick of drunk blokes shouting "Dave!" outside his window in the early hours of the morning - you have been warned.

... And finally, do you consider animals to be lazy layabouts scrounging off our hard-earned wages all the time? Well, LondonMark has the solution: the Bark To Work programme...
Know Your Enemy #42

"[His] column (that filthy fucking headcunt) contained enough racism, homophobia and utter indecency to make me wish a witch cursed him and made his guts fly out of his orifices at Mach 5. He must die. He is as about as funny as a cloud."

He Who Cannot Be Named, as vitriolic as ever, on The Sun's Dominic Mohan. Disappointment will ensue around these parts if The Nameless One's new blog does indeed go the way of the old.
I'll get me coat (shorn off at last)

Sick of shaggy dog stories? Well, here's a shaggy sheep story. Apparently the poor bastard could have died from being crushed by the weight of his own fleece.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Newcastle's 2-1 win over Chelsea on Sunday afternoon may have effectively won the title for Arsenal, but amidst all the hyperbole and praise lavished on the Gunners two things were overlooked: firstly, we didn't win for their sake, but for our own, and secondly, it was arguably our best team performance of the season.

Quite how Chelsea would respond after the Monaco debacle was anybody's guess, but just five minutes in, the signs looked ominous. Joe Cole waltzed untracked into our penalty area, narrowly evading Woodgate's last-ditch tackle and slipped the ball under Given. With Makelele was patrolling midfield with apparent ease, and Cole looking dangerous every time he drifted in from the left, we could have been forgiven for fearing another 5-0 humiliation, this time on our own patch.

Thankfully, though, our supposedly understrength side refused to be intimidated by the stature of the opposition players and, as we gradually began to impose ourselves on the game, the chances started to flow. Though Cole missed another very presentable opportunity at the other end, we wrested the attacking impetus from Chelsea and when Ambrose hit a screaming 30 yard drive it looked for a moment as though we'd have a sensational equaliser to celebrate, until his near-namesake Ambrosio in the Chelsea goal brilliantly tipped over. When the equaliser did come a minute before half time, though, it was hardly a scrappy effort. Ameobi, on the edge of the area with his back to goal, controlled Viana's long pass, then swivelled and fired a firm shot into the bottom left corner of the net. It was no more than we deserved - and things were to get even better after the break.

Four second half minutes had passed when Marcel Desailly, outwitted by Ameobi for the first goal, allowed Shearer to turn inside. The skipper never needs an invitation to shoot, but when presented with one on a plate he was only too happy to accept, smashing a 25 yard swerving thunderbolt beyond a shellshocked Ambrosio. A wonderful goal from a wonderful player - at the age of 33, it speaks volumes about Shearer that only Thierry Henry has scored more goals this season.

From that point onwards it was hard to believe quite what we were witnessing. Given brilliantly clawed away a header from Eidur Gudjohnsen, but otherwise the Icelandic international and his much-vaunted strike partner Hernan Crespo were subdued by towering performances from Woodgate and O'Brien at the heart of the defence. By contrast, Desailly and John Terry looked were ragged, rattled by the physical presence and effort of Shearer and Ameobi. Meanwhile Ambrose, enjoying his best outing in a Newcastle shirt, was terrorising the normally composed Wayne Bridge at every opportunity down the right, and Viana, always at the centre of things, outshone Frank Lampard. We continued to carve out chance upon chance with the sort of incisive and inventive attacking play that's been missing for some time, and though we deserved another goal, our failure to score a decisive third nearly proved costly in the closing stages, as a desperate Chelsea went close on a couple of occasions before Terry struck the post with a close-range shot three minutes into stoppage time. An equaliser for Ranieri's side would have been unbearably harsh, though - aside from the first ten or fifteen minutes, they were outfought, outthought and outplayed all over the park.

There was, however, one major fly in the ointment. Woodgate limped off late on, and it looks as though he may be out for the rest of the season. Not only is this very bad news given his outstanding form recently and his steadying influence on his fellow defenders, but it also comes on top of the loss of O'Brien through suspension for the games against Wolves and Southampton. Sir Bobby's unlikely to recall Steve Caldwell from Leeds, which means we're going to be stretched, and after only one senior start away to Bolton Steven Taylor could find himself playing in the club's most vital games of the season.

The result keeps us level with Liverpool, with the same goal difference and a game in hand. We could have hoped, though, that Man Utd might have denied them the three points at Old Trafford. Similarly, ten man Villa's flukey last minute win away to Middlesbrough on Saturday did us no favours whatsoever. It's beginning to look like a three horse race, with Charlton and Birmingham slowly slipping out of the reckoning for fourth place - but we?ve all been so inconsistent that nothing is certain. At least this result and performance should give us the confidence to believe that, despite all the dropped points away from home, we're still good enough to steal it.

Much as I dislike Chelsea, it will be a shame if this result contributes to Ranieri's dismissal - for my money he's done a tremendous job under extreme and unfair pressure. He made some tactical errors in the Monaco game, but otherwise I think he's proved himself to be very astute. If he does go in the summer, as now seems certain, I only hope that his replacement fails to deliver the goods so that Abramovich can be made to realise that success just doesn't come that quickly.

A final word about Arsenal: worthy champions not least because, for the neutral, they're so exciting to watch. Now that we've played them twice, I can say I'd like to see them go the whole season unbeaten - they deserve something more than just the title.

Monday, April 26, 2004


On Saturday I came across the most effective hangover cure ever. Not a pint of ice-cold Coke. Or a greasy spoon fry-up. Or some Alka Seltzer. Or hair of the dog. All tried and tested in the past, but with varying degrees of success, and believe me I'm a bit of an authority on hangovers, given that I'm labouring under one probably every other day.

No, the most effective hangover cure ever is a half-hour long exposure to the brilliance that is Goldie Lookin Chain.

Quite simply, when they started their set at Rock City on Saturday night I still felt like shit, and when they finished I didn't. And my face was sore from grinning too much.

Straight outta South Wales, GLC are a Super Furry Animals endorsed fuckbunch of white twentysomething blokes clad in brightly-coloured leisurewear, caps and cheap gold chains bouncing up and down and rapping about everything from smoking blow to wanting to be a robot to being "money-grabbing bastards from Newport". One song finds them dissing American music - "P Diddy means shit to me / FUCK YOU ALICIA KEYS!"; another is a perfect pisstake of So Solid Crew - "We've got 21 ounces to blow!"; and their final song has the winning chorus "Your mum's got a penis!".

GLC are to gangsta rap what The Streets are to garage, but even more so. US hip-hop is so serious, pompous and full of machismo and its own importance that it's been crying out to have its balloon pricked like this for a long time. Of course they'll get flak for being irony-loving middle-class media types, but, to use their own terms, they're safe as fuck. You knows it, clart.

And, having recently signed to Must Destroy, there's talk of a collaboration with new labelmates The Darkness on a cover of Aerosmith and Run DMC's 'Walk This Way'. You could be hearing an awful lot more of them.
Feel good hits of the 26th April

1. 'Today Is The Day' - Yo La Tengo
2. 'Karen Revisited' - Sonic Youth
3. 'Memorial' - Explosions In The Sky
4. 'Half Man, Half Machine' - Goldie Lookin Chain
5. 'Party Hard' - Andrew WK
6. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Queen
7. 'Cheapo Destruction At The Hands Of A Ragtime Sales Instructor' - Qhixldekx
8. 'No One Knows' - Queens Of The Stone Age
9. 'Sleepwalker' - Canyon
10. 'Fit But You Know It' - The Streets

Friday, April 23, 2004

All tight on the night

Incredibly, ANOTHER 0-0 draw. Marseille became the first team this season to deny us a victory in the home leg of a UEFA Cup match, but there were still reasons to be cheerful.

The losses of Bellamy, Dyer, Jenas and Bowyer after Sunday's game with Villa left our bench looking less than formidable last night, and the enforced changes could have hit us hard. Thankfully Ambrose returned from injury and gave it his all on the right side of midfield, while Viana was handed a rare start in his favoured position in the centre, and though he still wasn't at his best, he produced a few neat passes and got stuck in more than of late. It was always going to be a tight and close-fought match, and in the absence of Dyer and Bellamy we were looking to Robert to unlock the Marseille defence, but our mercurial winger had a stinker. Not only was his set-piece delivery patchy, but his attacking contribution was minimal and it was his sloppiness in the second half that presented the ball to an opponent who crossed in towards Didier Drogba - mercifully his volley struck the post and span behind for a goal kick. Though we kept a clean sheet, Woodgate again immaculate, lone striker Drogba was a real powerhouse and caused us problems all night, leading to some desperate defending.

At the other end we probably carved out the better chances. Ameobi should have done better in the first half with a header from a Robert free kick, and then shot straight at Barthez from point blank range. In the second half Barthez couldn't hold Shearer's stinging free kick but Speed somehow put the rebound wide when it looked easier to score, and late on substitute Bridges, on for Ameobi, scampered onto a sliced clearance but under pressure from a defender put his shot wide. In truth, though we edged it and put in a lot of effort, I don't think we did quite enough to merit a win.

The result's a tough one to assess. On the one hand, we denied Marseille an all-important away goal, and so we know that if we can ourselves score in France life will be very difficult for them. Other than a win, 0-0 is the next best thing. On the other hand, though, I still feel our best chance of winning games is at home, and I'm not as confident as some that we can get the result we need away from St James's Park - in their last home match in the UEFA Cup, Marseille beat Inter Milan 1-0, and it could have been four or five. It's safe to say that things are very much in the balance.

The games continue to come thick and fast - we play host to Chelsea on Sunday in our sixth televised match in a row. Let's just hope they're still in disarray and that our lads' memory of November's 5-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge has been erased...
Vanity Project #9

With the appearance of the ninth issue of his Vanity Project fanzine, SWSL associate Skif (with a little help from his friends) continues to fight the good fight. Featured in this edition (amongst numerous other titbits):

Deerpark - Dirty Three loving tykes from Leeds
Bonemachine - Industrial / dance from Portsmouth

Label profiles:
Free Dimension Records

Album reviews:
Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
Seachange - Lay Of The Land
Oneida - Secret Wars
Carla Bozulich - I'm Gonna Stop Killing
Oceansize - Catalyst

Live reviews:
Belle And Sebastian
Scout Niblett
Party Of One
Death Cab For Cutie
The Darkness
NME Awards Tour
Whirlwind Heat

If you want to be intoxicated with the boundless enthusiasm for music of all kinds that radiates from the pages of VP, then just send a 2nd class A5 self-addressed envelope to: Skif, Vanity Project, 43 Hartley Crescent, Woodhouse, Leeds, LS6 2LL. Alternatively, if you have an irrational fear of paper you can click on the Vanity Project site and read it all there.
The darkness

Peter Baynham writing in the Guardian in defence of black comedy.

Incidentally, the article winds up by driving a wedge between the comedy and the person or persons behind it: "Sorry to destroy the fantasies of a certain kind of troubled man out there drawn to her disgusting alter ego Jill, but Julia Davis is a lovely, sweet, slightly unworldly person much more likely to plunge into a pond than whatever wheezing old hack wrote 'Mad About Alice'. I'll probably die for saying this, but Chris Morris, the twisted sicko behind 'Brass Eye', is equally delightful". This reminded me of Will Self's profile of Bret Easton Ellis (included in the collection 'Junk Mail'). Recounting his meeting with the American author, he explains that Ellis had found someone's wallet on the way to the interview, and, far from intending to use it for nefarious purposes as might be expected from the author of 'American Psycho', he was going to hand it in. As Self says: (something along the lines of) "The sick, twisted fuck".

It's that distance which is crucial, and which marks the difference between someone like Chris Morris or Stewart Lee and someone like Bernard Manning or Jim Davidson - contrary to the opinion expressed in this pretentious piece of guff about Baynham's article.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Driller killer

A word of warning from the wise: if you've got an appointment booked for a 40 minute long four filling skull-grinding drillfest at the dentist's, don't go along with a raging hangover. If you're already feeling nauseous, it doesn't help matters having a mouth full of tooth chippings and blood.
Know Your Enemy #41

"Lee Hendrie really is a nasty, cowardly, little turd. He initially appears to fit into the vertically challenged but vicious variety but it's worse than that. He's the type that taunts from afar and then pretends to be the injured party. He'd already applauded the dismissal of O'Brien before his confrontation with Speed. Speed should have known better but the poisoned dwarf's attempts to get our man dismissed were appalling. The two squared up and foreheads touched slightly. Cue Hendrie falling to his knees checking his eyebrow for blood. Thankfully, ref Knight was still in his own little world and his linesman wasn't taken in by the antics. Seconds later a nudge from Speed then provoked Hendrie into headbutting Speed's arm before tumbling theatrically to the ground again. Laughable but enough to get Speed a booking while the munchkin-like Villa man escaped."

Niall Mackenzie of the ever-brilliant unofficial Newcastle site has a few well-chosen words for Aston Villa's Lee Hendrie following Sunday's match.
Quote of the day

"On one hand, I think that everyone, deep down, is a good person. But then, at the same time, I think the world is so cruel and horrible and I find it so upsetting. I wouldn't even know how to write soft, sensitive stuff. Or how to make it funny, at least."

Julia Davis talks about 'Nighty Night' and her vile comic creation Jill Tyrell to the Guardian. The premise of the article - that Jill's character means female sitcom characters will never be the same again - is rather thin, but it's worth a read all the same, not least because it also features the thoughts of Reece Shearsmith of 'The League Of Gentlemen' on his own "monstrous" female characters.

Also worth a read from yesterday's Franz Ferdinand edited G2: photographer Wolfgang Tillmans on obscenity. Steer clear of this article about blogging though - the sort of narcissistic wankery we can do without.

(Thanks to Inspector Sands for the links.)
Secrets and lies

John Pilger writes in the New Statesman about the Western reporting on the invasion and occupation of Iraq - essential reading.

(Thanks to BykerSink for the link.)

Monday, April 19, 2004

Fortitude in adversity

At 2pm yesterday afternoon I was in buoyant and confident mood. OK, so Villa had beaten Chelsea in their previous home game and had the chance to leapfrog us in the race for fourth place, but we were going into the game at a place we traditionally do very well at on the back of a tremendous two-legged victory over PSV in the UEFA Cup and with arguably our first choice side on the pitch. Thanks to Liverpool, Charlton and Birmingham all dropping points again on Saturday, we knew a victory would send us clear in fourth.

By 2.10pm, however, things looked rather less rosy. After a worrying sluggish start from the entire team Andy O’Brien was dismissed for pulling down Darius Vassell when clean through on goal, we were facing the prospect of a torrid 80 minutes with ten men and Kieron Dyer, having just returned from injury, found himself playing at right back. And worse was to come. Jenas picked up an injury and was substituted just after the half-hour mark, along with set-piece specialist Robert, to be replaced by Bowyer and Viana, two players not noted for gritty, committed displays in a black and white shirt. And early in the second half Bellamy, streaking past Ronny Johnsen as if he was standing still, suddenly pulled up in agony. Bellamy, like Jenas, may have played his last game of the season, and his replacement Michael Bridges is hardly the sort of player to strike fear into opposition hearts.

And yet, against all the odds, we managed to salvage an unlikely point with a second successive goalless draw (when was the last time you could say THAT about a Newcastle side?).

In the first half we rode our luck. Though Jenas, Robert and Shearer all went close, the sending off meant Bellamy was withdrawn into midfield and we were thus robbed of our only real attacking ploy (the Shearer flick-on for Bellamy to chase). There were gaping holes in our midfield that a better side would have exploited, but although we invited pressure on ourselves and Villa created a few chances of note, Given was hardly tested at all. Had Angel been playing instead of that lanky streak of piss Crouch, we could well have found ourselves behind at the break, but that would have been harsh on Hughes in particular, who had effortlessly reverted to his old position at the heart of the defence.

We closed down the space much more effectively in the second half, largely thanks to a long-overdue display of combative passion and controlled aggression from Bowyer, who was supported by grafting performances from Speed and Viana. And while the defence held firm, Woodgate once again solid as a rock and Dyer having adapted admirably, we created a few chances of our own with the sort of neat and incisive interchanges that have been missing of late. Given the circumstances, a win would have been fantastic and we kept pressing right up until the final whistle, by which time a frustrated Villa had run out of steam.

Plenty of injury worries ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Marseille, then, but if we can reproduce this sort of application and resilience on the night, coupled with a set-piece onslaught and the passion of the home crowd, who knows what might happen?
Less than the sum of its (body) parts

I finally got round to seeing ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ last night, and while I’m glad I did, it nevertheless came as something of a disappointment.

Given the involvement of several of those responsible for C4’s brilliant ‘Spaced’ – Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz, director Edgar Wright and producer Nira Park amongst others – it’s hard not to compare it to the TV series, and the comparison isn’t favourable. Though all the clever and distinctive stylistic tics are there, the dialogue isn’t nearly as sharp or quick-witted and the plot itself is rather lumbering, meaning the pace flags and sags on too many occasions. (All of these impressions, incidentally, confirmed when we came home and immediately slapped on the ‘Robot Wars’ episode.)

As much as I disagreed with much of Cosmo Landesman’s sneering review of the movie in last Sunday’s Times, I have to accept that it’s caught rather uneasily between horror and comedy, neither especially gory and chilling or especially funny, and not a great Frankenstein’s monster of the two genres either. Considering the cream of British comic talent involved – including starring roles for Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis, and entirely gratuitous cameo appearances by Martin Freeman, Julia Deakin, Reece Shearsmith, Tamsin Greig and Matt Lucas – the lack of any real hearty laughs is a mystery.

Still, perhaps I’m being overly critical – it does certainly have its moments, not least the concluding scene and the moment when Dylan Moran’s character David gets ripped apart by flesh-hungry zombies.
Flux = Rad

Over at Fluxblog, Matthew's posted 'Paper Cup Exit', Lee Ranaldo's contribution to the new Sonic Youth LP. Unfortunately I ain't got no means of hearing it, so I guess I'll just have to wait until the album hits the shelves in a month or so's time.
You WHAT?!!

The latest bizarre search engine topics to lead unsuspecting web browsers this way:

creepy freaks curdles
chimp y-fronts pictures
gimp masks from camden
amputee desires
limb biscuit lyrics
geri halliwell dustbins

Friday, April 16, 2004

Glasto: go go go!

Owing to yesterday's release of some extra tickets for public sale and quite outrageous good fortune, I am now in possession of a virtual ticket for this year's Glastonbury. Cinders, you SHALL go to the ball after all!

Of course, the likelihood now is that it'll piss it down all weekend and we'll be back to the Somme-like conditions of '98... Hey ho, no doubt hallucinogenic-strength cider will see us through.
Two old heads are better than one

We're through to the UEFA Cup semi-final, but as per usual the team didn't half make those of us sat in the stands sweat right until the death.

Following the 1-1 draw in Eindhoven last week, we had an away goal under our belt and a slender advantage over PSV going into Wednesday night's return leg on Tyneside. The early nerves were soon settled by Shearer, whose ninth minute near-post header from a Robert corner had us all dreaming of further progress in the competition. Though we created the best of the chances throughout the first half, two fell to the wrong people (Hughes and Bramble), while Bellamy hit the side netting and Jenas hit a shot straight at Waterreus. I was rather uneasy at the warmth of the applause which greeted the players as they came off the pitch at the break - despite having had the better of things in attacking areas, our midfield never seemed to have got to grips with theirs.

The opening period of the second half merely confirmed my fears. The Journal, a paper which seems to have the unerring ability to tempt fate and prompt disaster, had that very morning been talking of Bernard ousting Lizerazu from the left-back spot in the French national squad - so it was inevitable that it would be his poor control and ill-judged (though malice-free) tackle that allowed Mateja Kezman to level the tie from the penalty spot. (Kezman received a less than rapturous reception all night, but then I'm sure most of us would love to welcome him back in the summer and see him in a black and white shirt.)

It could have got worse shortly afterwards, had Bramble not been penalised for an even more insane lunge (though it was at least just outside the area), but thankfully the presence of Woodgate once again helped to steady the ship and we were soon back in front, thanks to another header from a corner, this time scored by Gary Speed, right in front of yours truly. The rest of the half was decidedly uncomfortable, as their midfielders, and Mark van Bommel in particular, continued to dominate proceedings. It didn't help, of course, that Robert seemed to think that his two perfectly-flighted corners should suffice as a contribution to the team effort, and consequently continually drifted ineffectually infield and took every opportunity show off that incredible style of movement that's halfway between a jog and a walk. He really should patent it as his own.

For the closing stages I was possibly more nervous than I've ever been - we all knew that if PSV were to grab a second equaliser on the night, there'd be no coming back and we'd be dumped out on our arses on the away goals rule. Somehow, though, we held out and now look forward to a mouthwatering semi-final tie against Marseille, conquerors of Liverpool in an earlier round. It's going to be extremely tough, and we can't keep relying on our new-found prowess from set pieces to get us through, impressive as it is surprising after years of wastefulness. There has to be more guile from our midfield, and a greater variety about our forward play - continually hitting Shearer with long balls to flick on to Bellamy won't fox the best teams, as it didn't PSV.

The match drew a near capacity crowd, and as is not always the case at St James's these days, the atmosphere throughout was fantastic. (Also in attendance was fellow blogger and Toon fan BykerSink - you can read his thoughts by clicking on the link.) Special mention must go to the small (ie 4 or 5 year old) boy sat next to me, who, despite not knowing any of the chants, spent much of the match carefully watching his dad, copying his arm movements and clapping at the same time. Let's just hope he wasn't paying quite so much attention to what was coming out of his dad's mouth, particularly those comments reserved for the referee - if he was, then his vocabulary has probably expanded tenfold...

(Thanks to Martin for alerting me to the following marvellous piece of commentary from ITV2's coverage of the match: "Gary Speed is an exemplary example". He is indeed.)
Unknown pleasures

Incredibly, I came across something of real substance on MTV2 the other night. The programme, buried deep in the early hours of the morning, was called 'This Is Our Music: Chicago'. It featured interviews with the likes of Low, Rope, Sam Prekop of The Sea And Cake / Tortoise, Bettina Richards of Thrill Jockey and the founding fathers of the Kranky label, and music from Low, Rope (VERY out-there stuff indeed), The Sea And Cake, The Lonesome Organist and Bobby Conn.

Two things struck me in particular while watching the programme:

1. Is it not fair to say that Scissor Sisters aren't doing anything that Bobby Conn wasn't doing a few years ago? His latest LP The Homeland is (I gather) surprisingly quite overtly political, so he's managed to stay out of sync with (or ahead of) the zeitgeist - just as he'd want, I imagine. I saw him headline the smallest tent at Leeds two years ago, when, like an underappreciated intruder in the midst of the whole garage rock thing, he confused and delighted a pitifully small crowd with bizarre glam pop songs from his last album The Golden Age. Extra points scored for calling his backing band The Glass Gypsies too.

2. Having never heard The Sea And Cake before, I was mightily impressed with their cover of Bowie's 'Sound + Vision' (see: Feel good hits...). Does anyone know which album / EP does this appear on? And what of theirs should I try to check out first?
Small fry

Best anecdote I've heard in the last couple of days:

While at university an associate of mine - let's call him R - lived with a bunch of others in a flat. They all got on well together, except for one individual who, in the parlance of our times, was a knob. One day came the straw that broke the camel's back and R and his fellow flatmates conspired to wreak their bloody revenge upon The Knob. This they did by killing his goldfish (which, admittedly, was completely innocent of any crime), deep-fat-frying it, dividing it up amongst themselves and serving it up on plates with miniature chips. The Knob walked into the kitchen as the feast was in progress. He moved out the next day.

When it comes down to Most Effective Ways To Kill A Fish, deep-fat-frying has to be right up there. Certainly more effective than the method attempted recently by my brother. His ageing goldfish is having problems staying upright in the water due to difficulties with its swim bladder. Both he and my parents decided the best thing to do was to put it down by turning off the fishtank pump and leaving it overnight - sort of turning off the life support system and committing piscine euthanasia. Unfortunately, what they hadn't taken into account is that, due to the fact that oxygen diffuses in water, fish are able to survive happily in ponds and lakes that don't have pumps. Mr Fish seems to have been granted a stay of execution, for the time being.
Blogwatch: in brief

For the book-loving blogger like myself there's been plenty of interest to get my teeth into lately. At Glamorama there's a feature on the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, complete with a guide to each of the novels to have been translated into English. Murakami's not someone I know anything about, but Mike has done a very good job of selling him to me.

Meanwhile it's great to see that, during his convalesence, Kenny of Parallax View put his time to good use by burying his head in books, and he's subsequently posted a mammoth book review compendium, including thoughts on Zoe Heller's 'Notes On A Scandal', Chuck Palahniuk's first two novels and Jeff Noon's 'Falling Out Of Cars'. Zadie Smith's second novel 'The Autograph Man' comes in for a bit of a pasting, too. I'm assuming this means you made it to the end of Pynchon's 'Mason & Dixon' then, Kenny... (Also well worth a peek: Kenny's review of the recent Yeah Yeah Yeahs / The Locust / Devendra Banhart gig and an interview with Ann Shenton, formerly of Add N To (X) and now going under the moniker of Large Number.)

Robin of Speaking As A Parent has been on sparkling form of late. Though it's difficult to single out just one post to direct you to, I will: the one entitled "The dream shop" in which he writes about a recent dream, no doubt brought on by the consumpton of a hell of a lot of cheese, which concerned his discovery of "London's first proper right-wing retail outlet"...

... And finally: Troubled Diva is the place to go if you've been hunting around online for "arboreal porn" without success...
Feel good hits of the 16th April

1. 'Matinee' - Franz Ferdinand
2. 'Heroes' - David Bowie
3. 'She Wants To Move' - N*E*R*D
4. 'Plug Me In' - Basement Jaxx
5. 'Sound + Vision' - The Sea And Cake
6. 'Fit But You Know It' - The Streets
7. 'Canada' - Low
8. 'Laura' - Scissor Sisters
9. 'Talkin Gypsy Market Blues' - The Coral
10. 'Crush' - The Dismemberment Plan

(Can anyone tell me why Franz Ferdinand abbreviated the song title for release as a single? Can't quite understand it myself.)
Quote of the day

"Never has it been so difficult to make money by any form of art: never has the artist had such a bad chance: and never has the world been so coldly indifferent, never has it clutched its shillings more tightly ... nobody is going to waste one serious moment on art at all ... there are days coming when art will not save us: neither you nor me nor anybody."

D H Lawrence writing to publisher's assistant Nancy Henry in January 1919.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

This green and pleasant land

When I tell people that I’m from Northumberland, they generally look blankly at me.

You know, it’s north of Newcastle”.

What, you mean Scotland?

Well, no, believe it or not, Northumberland is not some drearily barren hinterland but (at the risk of sounding a bit like a Tourist Information Guide) in fact home to some of the most beautifully wild and unspoilt countryside in Britain. Plus it’s a massive if sparsely populated county - it can take well over two hours to drive from my house to Edinburgh. Perhaps if you actually pulled your head out of your arse and ventured further north than Hertfordshire you might realise that. You prick.

Having spent nearly two weeks now back in the place I still call home, I’ve been reminded about how much I love it. Though I’m not sure I could live here again happily just at this point in my life, there’s something about the wide open spaces, the freshness of the Cheviot air and the keenness of the coastal wind that holds some irresistible appeal for me. Stood up on the moors in the north of the county last weekend, I was struck by the realisation that it remains one of the most uncolonised and uncorporatised places in the country. There simply isn’t the sense that the land has been neatly apportioned and exploited for maximum gain, regardless of the wider social and environmental costs. You can keep your out-of-town retail parks and multiplex cinemas – THIS feels like freedom.

All this is a roundabout way of pleading with fellow Morpethian Sarah of Not You, The Other One to carry on posting pictures from her various Northumbrian treks and adventures. Even though I spend most of my time some distance from Northumberland (either in Nottingham, Birmingham and London), Sarah’s regular “local interest” posts keep me in touch and remind me of what I’m missing – as well as hopefully convincing other readers that it’s well worth a visit. I imagine I’m not alone in saying I’ll miss those particular posts when she heads off to Greece in a couple of months' time.
Robson’s wet dream: a clean sheet against Arsenal

And I SO wanted to be able to title this post “Hey (Sir) Bobby, what’s the French for ‘sick as a parrot’?” Taking recent results into consideration, I really thought we had a good chance of ending Arsenal’s unbeaten run in the Premiership this season, but sadly it wasn’t be. At the final whistle it seemed strange to be celebrating a scoreless draw at home, but that was no mean feat given the calibre of the opposition, by some distance the best side in the league.

Things started very brightly indeed, the most notable incident coming after just six minutes when Bellamy scampered into the box to meet a cross from the suspiciously offside Shearer only for Lehmann to pull off a fantastic low save and turn the ball round the post for a corner. As the half progressed, though, Arsenal began to seize control. While Bellamy’s pace and Shearer’s physical presence continued to trouble Campbell and Toure, Robert just couldn’t get into the game and Jenas was running about in midfield doing his usual headless chicken impression and looking like a boy amongst men. It was his mistake on the stroke of half-time that could have handedthe Gunners the lead, but Homer Simpson lookalike Sylvain Wiltord, who’d just returned from a long spell out through injury, steered his shot wide. Doh!

Thankfully half-time came at just the right moment, when Arsenal were in the ascendancy, and we emerged for the second period refocused and reinvigorated. Not only did Robert start to get more involved, but Jenas also began to get a grip with Vieira and Gilberto, putting in a committed and energetic display which went some way to reminding us all of what he’s really capable of. Undisputed man of the match, though, was Woodgate - absolutely magnificent at the heart of the defence, albeit aided by Henry’s lack of va-va-voom on the day. He might not be likely to start against France in Euro 2004 (after his performance against Turkey, John Terry just about deserves to be ahead of him in the England pecking order), but his place on the plane must have been booked by now. Praise also due to his fellow defenders for a second excellent display in succession – the returning O’Brien showed no rustiness and ably assisted Woodgate in the middle, while both full backs made vital interceptions to deny the Gunners goalscoring opportunities. Chances to register a home goal might have been few and far between, but 0-0 was a thoroughly satisfactory result and a useful point.

As has become habit, a few words about the results of those around us. On the plus side, Liverpool and Birmingham lost both their games over the Easter period; but on the down side, Charlton and Villa both picked up four points and Fulham three. We go to Villa on Sunday following the second leg of the UEFA Cup Quarter Final against PSV – over the last few seasons Villa Park's been a very happy hunting ground for us, but our away form and a certain Mr N Solano may yet conspire to make it an afternoon to forget.

If I were to swallow everything the local “newspaper” The Journal tells me, the race for fourth is between ourselves and Liverpool – apparently no other team exists, and as long as we win our game in hand we’re laughing. Well, allow me to be realistic here, but of our six remaining games four are away, and since we haven’t won on the road in the league since October, this is not good news. Although the home match against Wolves shouldn’t really (in theory at least) pose too much of a problem, Chelsea will be a real test. Meanwhile, the four away trips are to close rivals Villa on Sunday, then Man City (where we lost last season), then Southampton (where we invariably lose), then Liverpool (where we invariably lose, often – to the joy of the Sky cameras – by the odd goal in seven scored in the last minute). Suffice to say I’m not as confident about getting that Champions' League spot as Journalists Simon Rushworth and Paul Gilder seem to be.

(Incidentally, in a feature in today’s edition Rushworth, “profiling” Jenas, suggests that the pinheaded midfielder should be picked by England to nullify the threat of Vieira in England’s opening game of Euro 2004. For fuck’s sake man, one swallow does not a summer make. I thought it was your job to watch Newcastle games? You obviously haven’t been particularly observant this season.)
Quote(s) of the day

"I think if I was shot in the middle of the street tomorrow a lot of people would be quite unhappy. I think I'd be a prime candidate for canonisation."

"I'm not really that hot on the human race to be honest. Very few people have anything to offer."

"I think if you're remotely intelligent you can't help being depressed. It's a positive thing to be. It means that you're not a crashing bore. I mean, you don't get support groups for rugby players, do you?"

All hail Steven Patrick Morrissey – come to spare us all from the plague of say-nothing know-nothing think-nothing twats that pass for pop stars today.

(Taken from this article in Friday’s Guardian that every man and his dog has already linked to.)
Napalm death

You would have thought that, by now, I’d have learnt my lesson. Learnt from my mistakes. But no. Regardless of the warnings on the box and the number of times I’ve suffered extreme pain as a result of ignoring them, when drunk I remain completely unable to resist biting into a slice of takeaway pizza as soon as it emerges from the ovens to be delivered into my hands. I swear that freshly baked pizza cheese is just like napalm – it clings to your tongue and the roof of your mouth, burning away the flesh until you can’t taste anything at all. The following morning not only are you considerably lighter in the cash department, but you also feel as though you’ve undergone particularly intensive oral surgery. Ouch.
Monkeying about

So, this is where licence payers’ money goes: BBC journalist writes about acting like a monkey for a day.
Do give a toss

If only all magazines were as full of sick twisted wonderment as Modern Toss, fresh from the makers of *hitflap. Click here to have a peek at some of the cartoons featured in the latest issue - my favourite is probably the one entitled 'Hitler Documentary', although Mr Tourette is quite an entertaining cad.

(Thanks to Zoe and Rich for the tip-off.)
’Milkshake’ cocktail

Best mash-up I’ve heard for quite a while: ‘Dub Be Good To Me’ by Beats International blended with ‘Milkshake’ by Kelis. Great stuff.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Rearguard action

If anyone had told me a few hours ago that, away to a top European side in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, we’d invite wave upon wave of attack only to stand firm, repel every single one and emerge from the match with a highly creditable draw, I’d have laughed long and loud. But that’s exactly what we did tonight. So, may I introduce you to Messrs Hughes, Woodgate, Bramble and Bernard aka the So Solid Crew?

After a shaky opening 20 minutes for Hughes in particular, during which time the ever-dangerous Mateja Kezman muscled his way in to give PSV Eindhoven the lead, we recovered our composure admirably and had the better of the remainder of the first half, despite the best efforts of the referee to penalise us at every available opportunity (apparently football is no longer a contact sport). Speed, Ambrose and Shearer all had good attempts at goal before Jenas headed in from a Robert free-kick in first half stoppage time – the Frenchman’s delivery from dead-ball situations had been brilliant all half.

The second period was very much backs-to-the-wall stuff – not the most enjoyable experience for those Newcastle fans who, like myself, very often fear for the stability and robustness of our defence. We managed to keep PSV out, though, with a combination of tenacious tackling and luck, central defender Bouma striking the crossbar with a powerful header shortly after the break and others going perilously close. We could even have stolen a first leg lead when, five minutes from time, Bellamy on the break set up Shearer for a swerving piledriver that PSV keeper Waterreus did well to keep out.

The result sets up the second leg very nicely. Having witnessed first-hand the 5-0 demolition of fellow Dutch side NAC Breda in this competition earlier on in the season, I’m really pleased to have got a ticket to see PSV’s return trip to Tyneside. The tie’s still fairly evenly balanced and could go either way, but our home form is such that we have to believe we can progress to the semi-finals.

Quite what tonight’s scoreline says about what might happen in Sunday afternoon’s match is anyone’s guess. The good news is that Henry might be missing with a hamstring injury, and that Robert is in good form going into a fixture he usually enjoys. Given the results of the last fortnight, Arsenal won’t be relishing a visit to St James’s Park, and for the sake of our Champions’ League hopes we have to capitalise on that.
Shameless self-publicising announcement

Those lovely folk at Stylus are currently celebrating the year that was 1991. Click here to read a highly entertaining selection of thoughts, views and rants on such subjects as My Bloody Valentine's Loveless LP, the ‘Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves’ movie and Jerry Springer. Follow the links at the top of the page and you come across some pearls of wisdom and wit about Guns ‘N’ Roses ‘November Rain’ single, Metallica's self-titled LP, Rodney King and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Here we are now / Bleed us dry

Kurt Cobain RIP Week: In Association With NME

Hey kids, death sells.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Glasto: no go

Apologies for the temporary hiatus here at SWSL. It’s the result of a couple of factors: firstly, the fact that I’m currently lacking regular easy access to the internet, and secondly, the fact that I’m only just recovering from suffering the anguish / pain / heartache of missing out on a Glastonbury ticket last week. Having spent hours on the phone without success, I’m now certain I know the meaning of Peter Andre’s “insania”. If I EVER hear the engaged tone again…
Gift aid

How nice to discover an opposition defence even more charitable than our own. Thanks for Saturday’s victory over Everton must go to Messrs Unsworth and Yobo as much to Shearer, Dyer, Bellamy et al – though even then the win was hardly straightforward.

It took just five minutes for Bellamy to unsettle Unsworth into gifting us the lead, but the impressive Gravesen soon pegged us back. Dyer capped an energetic display on his return from injury with a headed goal, his first league strike since 22nd February 2003, but later blotted his copybook by standing motionless on the post and allowing Yobo to steal in and reduce the arrears to 3-1. Shearer yet again proved the matchwinner, seizing on two opportunities either side of Yobo’s header to ensure the points remained on Tyneside. His second came in the final minute, though, and it has to be said that had old boy Steve Watson’s perfectly good header stood rather than being disallowed for offside with the score at 2-1, the afternoon would have been even more uncomfortable.

Of the chasing pack, Charlton didn’t play this weekend and both Villa and Birmingham could only manage draws. Liverpool, however, thrashed a hapless Blackburn side to stay one point ahead of us in fourth, and improve their goal difference. What we need to hope for is that, following tonight’s Champions’ League exit at the hands of Chelsea, Arsenal can take out their frustrations on Liverpool on Friday but then arrive at St James’s Park on Sunday suffering from their recent exertions so we have at least a chance to turn them over. It’s only a hope, mind…

Before that test, though, we have to go to PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup quarter-final, hoping to snatch a result or at least limit the damage inflicted by the likes of Kezman, Robben and Rommedahl. It’s going to be a very tough week.
Quote of the day

The review of a Blazin’ Squad gig, penned by one Lauren Dunne (who I can only assume is an eight-year-old) which appeared in our regional daily paper The Journal, reprinted in its entirety:

Smoke filled the arena and out of the fog emerged all 10 of the Blazin’ Squad ready to rock the house last night. As they paraded round the stage their voices were drowned out by the incessant screaming of teenage girls. After a shaky start with hits off the first album the boys from Walthamstow really got going. A rare moment of awe happened when one of the lads came on wearing a helmet and started break dancing and spinning on his head and the crowd cheered. The band played hits from both their albums and ranged from pop to R&B and hip-hop. All were wearing baggy trousers and vests. Blazin’ Squad now have two albums, Now Or Never and In The Beginning, and have changed their style dramatically.

Well, now I can rest soundly, safe in the knowledge that the paper is delivering to my doorstep the very pinnacle of music journalism. I look forward to experiencing a similarly incredible “moment of awe” at the next concert I attend.
Warren Barton, centre parting!

Best SWSL wishes to former Newcastle right back Warren Barton, who announced his retirement last week. For a brief period in the summer of 1995, until Les Ferdinand joined the club, the player nicknamed Brazilian Barton was our record signing, and at a price of £4 million he held the record for the most expensive British defender for some time. Much maligned and mocked by those outside the club, as he was by a minority within, Barton withstood all the criticism and his commitment to the cause was never in doubt. Perhaps his finest performance in a black and white shirt was in a 1999 Boxing Day clash with Liverpool, which I was fortunate enough to witness – he had a blinder and set up Duncan Ferguson with a brilliant curling left-foot cross which the Big Man converted with a diving header. Barton’s a genuinely good-hearted bloke, and it’s great to hear he’s going to stay involved in football.
Feel good hits of the 7th April

1. ‘Ratts Of The Capital’ - Mogwai
2. ‘Walt Disney’ - Qhixldekx
3. ‘Apocalypse Please’ - Muse
4. ‘Nite And Fog’ – Mercury Rev
5. ‘Paradise City’ – Guns ‘N’ Roses
6. ‘Woke From Dreaming’ – The Delgados
7. ‘Milkshake’ - Kelis
8. ‘Toxic’ – Britney Spears
9. ‘Love Is Only A Feeling’ – The Darkness
10. ‘Reptilia’ – The Strokes