Wednesday, July 28, 2004


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Dutchman flies in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Label profile: Matinee, Sijis

Comedy reviews: Marcus Brigstocke, Mitch Benn

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 19, 2004


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 16, 2004

Beneath the veneer

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vitally important if not earth-shatteringly revelatory programme.

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

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

Thursday, July 15, 2004

On a happier note


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Jarrett

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

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

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

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

"God i hate muse."

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 09, 2004

A life of grime

Reading ‘Filth’ as an Irvine Welsh virgin is like being taken roughly from behind in a piss-sodden alleyway. It begins with a hammer-blow to the cranium, and that’s what it feels like to read. Rolling around like a pig in shit, the narrative gleefully tells the tale of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson, an Edinburgh “polisman” who’s as “Jackie Trent” as they come.

Everywhere you look in the world of crime fiction there are nasty hard-bitten cops who struggle to stay the right side of the law themselves, but Robertson is a whole different kettle of fish, a copper who has no qualms about snorting coke whilst on duty, shagging his sister-in-law and forcing a fifteen-year-old girl into fellating him to avoid arrest. Ian Rankin might have drawn upon the darker and seamier side of the Scottish capital for literary profit, but Welsh elbows him aside and really plumbs the depths in an appropriately brutal idiom that seems to roar from the page.

Not even John Self, the hero of another literary touchstone, Martin Amis’s ‘Money’, can come close to Robertson for the sheer grotesquery of his appetite for drink, drugs and “Roger Moores”. The stomach-churning detail is all the more appalling for the fact that the book is frequently very funny, not least the malicious and spiteful games he plays on “friends” and colleagues and the scene in which the filming of a bestiality video goes wrong: “The animal ignores her completely, springing at me and attaching itself to my leg, thrusting ferociously. ‘Get that fuckin thing off me’, I shout, trying to push it away, but the bastard’s nostrils flare and a low growl comes from its throat. I stagger backwards, knocking over the tripod and camera. Hector grabs the dug and pulls him off me, by which time my C&A’s troosers are covered in canine spunk.” Not so much laughter in the dark, then, as laughter in the pitch black.

And yet, three-quarters of the way through, it all seemed just a bit pointless, little more than an exercise in triumphantly trumping anything that’s gone before, the sordid detail beginning to become wearisome. Moreover, the story follows the same characteristic narrative trajectory as other classic tales of hubris, from ‘Macbeth’ to ‘Money’.

But then, over the last quarter, the novel’s various twists turn it into a rather different kind of beast, unexpectedly touching. Even if it’s expected, the fall from grace, when it comes, is devastating. As Robertson becomes increasingly incoherent, the burden of narrating (famously) falls to the tapeworm which has taken residence in his gut and which has previously intruded into the story only to demand food. The final few pages are a genuine tour de force that left me feeling, appropriately enough, brutalised. Not for the faint of heart, in any sense.
Out of time and out of tune but in our hearts

Sad news for all those who've lived or regularly visited Nottingham over the past fifteen years - perhaps the city's most recognisable figure, Frank Robinson aka legendary busker Xylophone Man, has died at the age of 73. Mike of Troubled Diva has links to the local news reports and an interview with the man himself here, while fellow Nottingham bloggers Nixon of Popdizzy and Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey have penned their own tributes. Nixon's also set up an online petition demanding that a statue should be erected and one of the new trams should be named after him.

The petition currently has 1021 signatories. My only hope is that Frank realised quite how much he meant to people.
Go with the flow

Kudos to Matthew Perpetua of musical treasure-trove Fluxblog for his starring role in this Boston Globe article on MP3 blogs. Largehearted Boy and Said The Gramophone also get honourable and deserved mentions.
Quote of the day

"Plat' Num B from Blazin Squad boasts that 'I've never had a girl with fake boobs'. And, you know, we bet we know how he can be absolutely certain about that."

Be careful of what you say, pop tarts: Simon's always on hand to stick the knife in with wit and panache.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


A warm welcome back to Meg and Me(ish) - you've been away too long. And thanks to Mike and Kenny for pointing me in the direction of 50 Quid Bloke, the "saviour of the music industry" - hang on a minute, I thought that was The Killers? Oh no, sorry, seems I was inadvertently reading LAST week's issue of NME.

Elsewhere: following on from the SWSL Glastonbury Diary I feel duty-bound to draw your attention to the rather more exotic adventures of Phil of Danger! High Postage, who's been getting down and dirty at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark; BykerSink defends 'Fahrenheit 9/11' director Michael Moore from the attacks from snooty lefties - "The chattering classes don't like him though. His books and films are too low brow. They would prefer to wrestle with one of those Chomsky books with the nasty little type size. Michael Moore is the Burberry of political literature. Once lauded by the upper echelons it's now been hijacked by the masses"; Kenny's been to see Patti Smith - "a stupendous rock 'n' roll show from a genuine living legend"; Inspector Sands has some choice words for The Sun following Wayne Rooney's decision to sign up; and Invisible Stranger offers some reflections on the changing face of the Pride festival: "Pride has nowadays been effectively depoliticised and turned into just another big excuse for some gay, and increasingly straight, entrepreneurs and promoters to make a fast and exploitative pink buck out of us all."

And finally... Amblongus's inadvertent discovery of Ladies Against Feminism proves that truth is stranger than anything on 'The Day Today or in The Onion.
Comings and goings

Asset-stripping. We seem to be quite good at it. Leeds had branded James Milner as "not for sale", "one for the future", "Leeds Utd through and through" etc. Or, at least, they had until we waved £5m under their nose. A sound investment for our future, I hope. Along with the likes of Smith and Pennant, the youngster certainly performed very well in a dire team, shouldering a lot of responsibility for creating chances and scoring goals – hopefully at Newcastle, where the demands on him won't be so great, he'll flourish.

Quite where he'll play is anyone's guess, though. As a striker he's unlikely to dislodge Shearer and Bellamy, and Ameobi, fresh from signing a new five year deal, is waiting in the wings. Competition for places in midfield looks equally fierce, at least if Speed and Viana are still on the books come the start of the season - but then of course the competition in both areas of the team will hot up further if, as seems likely, we sign Nicky Butt this week as well as another striker.

Butt is hardly the sort of player to get the pulse racing, but then he is a good solid performer and was unlucky not to make an appearance for England during Euro 2004 in his favoured defensive midfield position. With Speed ageing and Jenas not yet ready for the responsibility, he'd give our beleaguered defence some much-needed protection and support.

It seems that the priority is for a new right back – following Andy Griffin's departure we've only got Aaron Hughes who's comfortable in that position – but Benfica's Miguel looks to be way out of our league after his impressive performances for Portugal and the trail seems to have gone cold as regards Danny Mills. As things stand, Reiziger would have been a decent signing but the Smoggies appear to have won that particular race unchallenged.

As for strikers, I’d love to see Kluivert at the club – but only as long as we could accommodate him within the existing wage structure and find a place for him in the side. A week ago we seemed to have Beattie lined up as a long-term replacement for Shearer, but recent noises coming from Southampton don’t sound promising. Lua Lua is caught in a strange kind of limbo, wanted by Portsmouth and wanting to play for them but unable to leave the club until Pompey stump up an acceptable offer. Whether he’s still at the club in August remains to be seen, but if he is, the reception he’ll be afforded by the majority of Newcastle fans is unlikely to be a welcoming one.

Of course, for every player arriving there’s at least another one leaving. Brian Kerr and Steve Caldwell have both found new clubs (Livingston and the Mackems respectively), as have promising young reserve midfielders Bradley Orr (Bristol City) and Andy Ferrell (Watford). Part of me hopes they make the grade, but not to such an extent that we come to regret the decision to let them go – which is what usually happens when they return to score against us in decisive matches…
It's always better first time around

Oh dear. Did it really have to come to this? "My separation came about because this legendary band was taken over by new owners. Music that was once relevant and graceful had become clumsy as a circus seal tooting his horns." Acrimony and bitter words tarnishing what is a phenomenal legacy. And to think, only last year Jane's Addiction dropped a mostly excellent record in the shape of Strays, and blew me and a couple of thousand others away at Rock City. I've got that feeling you get at the end of a party when the lights come up. Maybe this really is the end. But you can never say never.

On a related note, Ian Mathers is left cold by most of Mission Of Burma's new LP ONoffON.
Music to kids' ears?

The Government's Music Manifesto 2004 - fine words and noble sentiments, sure, but what does it actually mean? How's it going to be implemented? And most importantly, how's it going to be funded? Answer me that, Mr Miliband. Once you've done your Latin homework.

Who'd have thought it? Me, in broad agreement with someone whose surname is Lloyd Webber!

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Right To Reply #1

In a potentially vain attempt to bring a bit more gravitas to SWSL and counterbalance the usual pop culture fluff and flippant misanthropic commentary, I've decided to try out some sort of loose debate-style feature in which a few people get together (in virtual terms) to discuss a particular (preferably topical) issue and chew the fat. A single voice can easily become monotonous, so I’m hopeful that this will allow others to speak through the medium of SWSL in the same way that Guest Weeks have worked for other bloggers and help keep it fresh. Hopefully Right To Reply – for this is the pretentiously grandiose moniker with which the feature has been christened – might become regular(ish). All comments welcome, and if you’d like to become involved next time or if you have suggestions for possible topics then please let me know in the comments box.

The subject: Nationalism and football

The protagonists:
Ben – your host
Paul – fellow Newcastle fan and author of 1000 Shades Of Grey
Leon – aka Portsmouth-based DIY musician Qhixldekx
Jez – loves Watford FC, Stereolab and The Clash; hates Manic Street Preachers, Colin Montgomerie and Fish from Marillion

Ben: With the extraordinary success of UKIP in the European elections, and the groundswell of patriotic fervour which inevitably accompanied England’s progress in Euro 2004, English nationalism has been more visible – literally – of late than I can remember it ever having been in the past few years. There is a clear connection between international football and nationalistic pride, and a further less clear-cut connection to political opinion.

Paul: I think that there is a connection between all sports and nationalism, because that is one of the main ways in which people can identify themselves, and identify with their culture. Whether it be football, cricket, rugby, athletics or even darts, I inevitably cheer on the Brits because they are representing my country, and indirectly representing me. The only reason why any identification between sport and nationalism might be dangerous is because of elements within society who attach themselves to that. You don't get trouble at the majority of sports in which Britain, or England competes, only really football, and that is not a result of nationalism, more a result of elements of society using sporting "support" as an outlet for their general nature.

Ben: Anyone claiming that this recent burst of nationalistic pride is wholly positive and healthy must surely have been shaken out of their complacency by the attack on the Portuguese pub in Thetford by a mob of drunk and enraged England fans following the Euro 2004 quarter-final defeat.* But, playing devil’s advocate for a moment, isn’t football at all levels (international and intranational) inherently racist in the sense that opposition fans belong to different "races" and discriminate against one another purely on the colour of their shirt and allegiance? I take pride in being a Newcastle fan (most of the time…), but I’m also guilty of making disparaging remarks about people when I know nothing more about them than the fact that they’re evidently Sunderland or Man Utd fans.

Paul: Football as a whole is more tribal than national, with most supporters choosing club over country anyway, but there is certainly an element of “My tribe’s better than your tribe, because we can shout louder, play better football, or (sadly) are ‘harder’ than you”. I don't think football is inherently racist, but it is tribal, England games simply seeing a collection of tribes (Geordies, Scousers, Cockneys etc joining together). I think if you had a Europe v South America game, most Europeans would support the same side, but that wouldn't stop them booing Zidane the next time England played France. There's probably some sociological explanation for the need for tribalism, but I don't know what it is.

Ben: But it’s frightening how easily this tribal or nationalistic pride spills over into overtly xenophobic hatred and racist violence, as in Thetford.

Paul: I don't think nationalism and racism are inextricably linked. Nationalism is more about how great we are, whereas I see racism more about how rubbish someone else is. That said, it is easy to blur the lines, as people like the BNP continually prove.

Leon: The far right is winning because we can’t disassociate having a healthy national pride from xenophobia.

Ben: But then the question is: what would a “healthy national pride” be? What would it be founded on? For the most part I’m not proud of being English. The word “Englishness”, for me, brings to mind conservative values and arrogant assumptions of cultural (with a small ‘c’) superiority. Narrow island, narrow minds. What then would an England I was proud of be like? One in which cultural diversity was not only tolerated but actively celebrated. But then there would be no single distinguishable national identity, and so perhaps the notions of “national identity” and “Englishness” would be rendered redundant and meaningless, and simply dissolve away.

Leon: I want to be proud of my country but I’m not sure I could define what “being” English means let alone find something to boast about! In some respects I like not being able to quantify “Englishness”. England is so ethnically diverse that perhaps it is this that we should be celebrating – English culture is now the culture of acceptance and tolerance; it’s a culture of cultures. But then why can’t we have this and rejoice in an English identity that draws on our own customs and traditions? Since the 50s and the birth of the “teenager” England has slowly become steeped in Americana. I fear that England will become a pale imitation of a nation that is itself bland and without heritage. America is a frightening beast. It is so aggressive because it has no sense of self.

Ben: But surely right-wing neo-Conservative America does have a very firm sense of self and national identity, and tries to foist its values on other cultures at every opportunity (like its unquestioned values of “freedom” and “democracy” currently being pressed on Iraq)? And, much as I myself might deplore the cultural Americanisation of the world, isn’t this reaction – essentially analogous to the broadly left-wing opposition to globalisation and corporate Americanisation – rooted in exactly the same fears of the loss of “traditional English national culture” (whatever that is) routinely preyed upon by the BNP? How big a leap is it to go from resenting the impact of American cultural imperialism in England to resenting the literal “influx” (I use the Mail’s term advisedly) of asylum seekers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere into England? My guess is that, for lefties like myself, it’s uncomfortably small.

Leon: I accept that not everyone would want to preserve England’s heritage and can find little to be proud of. For example, the very heritage I crave is inextricably linked to the Monarchy. For all the arguments that the Monarchy brings more money into the country than they spend, I’m not comfortable with the concept of one family being treated so well above all others. I loathe our national anthem – it has no relevance to contemporary England and harks back to a shameful period in our history. I would never be caught singing it even though I like the unifying spirit that a national anthem can generate. But I accept you can’t “pick and choose” on this issue. I believe the health of our culture is intrinsically linked to our social and economic problems. With nothing to unify the classes, with one man having nothing in common with another, the gulf between us will only increase.

Ben: A sense of identity is vital to us all, and I can understand that people want something more than the sense of identity (and solidarity) they get within the context of relationships, the family and the workplace. But is it possible to have a unifying sense of national identity that doesn’t exclude some people or necessarily foster an “us and them” mentality on an international level? I’m not sure.

Leon: At the most basic level I’ve found it very disheartening when I’ve visited countries in Europe and there is a shameless celebration of the host culture. Exciting, but disheartening, because there is no such enthusiasm back in Blighty. The same seems to be true when you visit Scotland and Wales – no apology is made for overt patriotism. The English also have a tendency to refer to themselves as “British”. The Scottish and Welsh, in my experience, don’t.

Paul: In some ways I envy the Scots / Welsh / Irish for their approach to nationalism, because it seems far more acceptable in society for them to celebrate their nationality than it is for the English. That said, and speaking as someone married to a Welsh lass, I think there is an element of English hating in Celtic nationalism, so it's not exactly free from prejudice. What does annoy me is the number of people who are English but don't know when St George's Day is, but do know St Paddy’s Day is 17th March.

Ben: But that’s why I’ve found the last couple of months so fascinating. Suddenly the shameless celebration of English nationality seems to have become much more acceptable and enthusiastic, to such an extent that a wimpy liberal lefty like myself has come to feel increasingly uneasy. I can’t help feeling that this seachange should be understood in the light of the country’s general political swing to the right as evidenced by the UKIP election results. Of course England’s participation in Euro 2004 has been another major contributory factor, but long before the tournament even kicked off, St George’s Day itself seemed to be celebrated much more fervently than ever before in living memory. Ever since, St George’s Crosses have become ubiquitous – hanging from windows, fluttering from cars etc.

Paul: As someone who owns an England flag, I'm happy to say it makes me think of England, but in much the same way as the Cross makes me think of Jesus. The fact that people have taken both symbols and used them for their own devices always upsets and frustrates me.

Leon: The “unifying spirit” I believe is held in a national anthem is also evident in a country’s flag. Whereas the national anthem could be seen as a “call to arms” the flag can be seen as a badge of honour. And I’m not comfortable with lining up behind it because for me the image of the English flag has been commandeered by the far right. It needs to be reclaimed – at the moment we link the flag with racism because of the actions of groups such as the BNP.

Jez: It has been suggested over recent years that football has helped to reclaim the flag of St George from the racists. Try telling that to the Portuguese students attacked in Thetford after the football team representing their country had the temerity to defeat an English one.

Ben: Both Billy Bragg and Morrissey have addressed this issue of reclaiming the flag from the racists in their music, but the fact that Morrissey remains a far-right pin-up, the lyrics to recent single ‘Irish Heart, English Blood’ interpreted as a statement of fierce nationalistic pride and xenophobic revulsion, suggests that such attempts have been far from successful. The St George’s Cross continues to be a potent symbol for the right. But does it have the same symbolic significance for everyone? Has it simply been appropriated by the right, or does it go deeper than that? Can the flag ever be reclaimed from its association with racism, or is this a necessarily impossible and therefore futile task?

Jez: As Thatcher draped her handkerchief over the freshly modernised British Airways tailfin she rejected multiculturalism that was deemed commercially and contemporarily necessary by the BA marketers. Ironic really, it was a case of conservatism over capitalism. She deemed the flag that had been replaced more important than anything else. What did the flag mean to her? If it was a symbol of national identity could it be the same sense of identity as every other British citizen (or subject)? I’d suggest not. Her successor, John Major, saw England as warm beer, red pillar boxes and cricket on the village green. The St George’s Cross represented his idyll. Therefore, if a flag purely represents the symbolism one personally attaches to it, surely it is harmless? No, flags have continued to be an effective political tool. Imagine the flag bearers of historical battles protected at all costs. Think of the terms involved: a flag is something that is rallied round, sworn allegiance to and then “flown” at half mast. The hundreds of scarlet flags flown at the Nuremberg rally were signifiers of a gravitas that was larger than individuals, just as the Stars and Stripes that George Bush wears on his lapel works in exactly the same way.

Ben: Of course, the enormous political significance of flags has most recently been highlighted by the furore caused by the draping of an American flag over the head of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. It spelt out the truth behind the invasion, symbolising not the advent of political and personal liberation but of colonial oppression.

Jez: Do the Portuguese students who were attacked see the flag as being a symbol of democracy and liberalism? Do democracy and liberalism really need symbols? Especially as flags are symbols of exclusivity. Imagine a world without flags and suddenly the world is a much more peaceful place. A flag that for one person is a symbol of liberalism is for another a means for aggression. Why transpose your integrity onto a piece of cloth?

Ben: As much as I agree with these arguments in principle, it seems to me that there remains an innate human need for a sense of belonging as well as for a sense of individuality and freedom. Get rid of flags and you deprive people of the most instantly recognisable symbol of national identity.

* A footnote. This article about Thetford which appeared in the Independent contains a prime example of what I was writing about a couple of weeks ago with regard to labels: "'I'm not a racist', said one man a few yards from the Red Lion, to which he gesticulates with his heavily tattooed arms: 'But these fuckin' people come over and they get all the houses and their kids are in the schools and they've got our jobs and they don't want us in their cafés. There's too many of them'." What exactly IS racism then, my friend?

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Thursday, July 01, 2004

SWSL Glastonbury 2004 Diary

The sights, the sounds, the smells…

Wednesday 23rd June

We set off from Birmingham. Torrential downpours of alarming regularity foster a sense of impending doom. 1998 And All That – been there, got the irreparably soiled T-shirt.

Arrive onsite after a bit of queuing. The dark clouds overhead look ominous, the wind is vigorous and the ground soft, but it’s not raining – yet. Collared by one of the packs of Hare Krishnas roaming the car-park, I donate some money, well aware that, as has been the case in previous years, I might end up relying on them for sustenance if I run out of money.

Trying desperately to save space for eight tents when you only have one tent, two people and no cordoning rope or tape is quite a challenge. We spread our bags around and contemplate lying like starfish on the grass. The stiff breeze has a bit of a chill, but absinthe and wine provide warmth and some solace.

First group of friends arrive, having set off from Birmingham at 10.30am. They’ve had an unscheduled four hour wait at services near Bristol thanks to a faulty ignition coil and then been pulled over by the police who suspected the car was unregistered, a suspicion which was unfounded. Our journey was a picnic in comparison.

The rest of our party arrives. We’ve been onsite for barely six hours and already we’re heartily sick of people singing that 5-6-7-8’s song from the Carling ad which seems to be competing for the title of Campsite Chant Du Jour, along with “Rooney!

Our explorations lead us to the Jazz Lounge, where an old man is enthusiastically spinning reggae classics to a monged crowd. Barely capable of standing let alone dancing, we sway along with the rest before lurching back tentwards.
Thursday 24th June

Woken by the faint patter of drizzle on canvas. Remind myself that it always sounds much worse than it is, but still hesitant to get up for fear of what might await outside.

The half-hearted drizzle has stopped, thankfully. No need for the emergency purchase of a poncho yet, then. First on the agenda for the day: a strong cup of coffee.

It pays to plan ahead. One of our party has brought a plastic army helmet, straws and gaffer tape, enabling him to construct his own beer-dispensing hat. Jealousy is rife.

Sat up at the Stone Circle in the now bright sunshine, we talk nonsense, subjected to the sound of acoustic guitars and vigorous bongo-playing while watching the hash truffle sellers mill around for trade and a few athletic festival-goers climbing on the massive concrete sculpture of the word ‘LOVE’. This is Glastonbury.

I make a mental note of the location of the tent selling Pennard organic wine, and of the Welsh Oggy stall where, for a mere £3, you can get a kind of Cornish pasty as big as your head.

Glastonbury is a self-contained and self-sufficient enclave and for the few days of the festival you’re almost completely sealed off from reality – the Glastonbury Daily newspaper even has a column entitled The Outside World. But now that outside world suddenly intrudes – it’s England v Portugal in the quarter-finals of Euro 2004, and it’s being shown on the big screens. Walking to the Pyramid Stage is like walking down the old Wembley Way, as people stream into the field with flags, banners and songs. Hope hangs in the air as strongly as the scent of marijuana and mud.

It’s over, and we’re out, having underperformed and underachieved in a major tournament yet again. Being part of by far the largest gathering of people watching a Euro 2004 match anywhere in the world has been an extraordinary experience but little consolation, and just as the sheer numbers magnified the joy of both England goals (and the one that got away), so now is the disappointment and despair writ larger in the hearts of everyone in the whole field. The distant thudding of sound systems is drowned in an eerie silence.

Sat around a glowing campfire, the atmosphere remains strangely muted. And the vodka and coke’s wearing off. Time for bed.
Friday 25th June

A bottle of water and a greasy bacon sandwich seem like the best things in the world. The same cannot be said of the mewling rendition of ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ drifting over to us on the breeze like some foul and pestilent fog in what is otherwise an almost perfectly blue sky.

It’s great to be drunk at this time in the morning”. BRIGHT EYES (Pyramid Stage) aka the prodigiously talented indie pin-up Conor Oberst – think Tim Wheeler on downers – is busy beguiling a sleepy audience with gorgeously ramshackle and occasionally angry Gothic Americana, ably assisted by his band which today features a harp player and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitar waif Nick Zinner. Every now and again his lyrics trespass onto dangerous territory marked ‘Sixth Form Angst: Keep Out’, too emo to stomach, but thankfully for the most part he is a consummate world-weary wordsmith with a wonderful line in couplets: “No-one chooses to sleep in the gutter / But sometimes it’s the most comfortable place”, “I could have been a famous singer / If I had a different voice”. In truth Oberst’s voice is possibly Bright Eyes’ greatest asset – impassioned, perpetually in danger of cracking, and utterly unique. “Enjoy the rest of the festival, and don’t die”, he warns us. Sound advice indeed.

Burrow Hill Cider – flat, 6% volume and, at £2.50 a pint, cheaper than lager – is the Devil’s own apple juice. I love it.

Nearly half an hour into their set and I’m slowly warming to WILCO (Pyramid Stage). Jeff Tweedy and company may be afforded cult status among the indielligensia, but I’ve never heard them before and at least at first I’m underwhelmed by their straight-down-the-line good-time bar-room bluesy rock ‘n’ roll. But then things start to change for the better – the songs seem to get longer and more experimental in structure, packed with twists and crescendos. From what I’ve read, I’m guessing this material is at the heart of their new record A Ghost Is Born, which, from the sounds of it, might well be worth a listen. Eventually a revelation, then, albeit a quiet one.

Ah, New York, New York. It’s all swings and roundabouts, I suppose. What THE WALKMEN (New Tent) have over Interpol by having a permanent keyboard player, they lack in terms of vocals and sheer songwriting. ‘The Rat’ is a fine single, though, and the lashings of familiar yet still delicious shimmering and echoey guitar lines charm the masses gathered to watch them to such an extent that they make those who handed them this lowly slot look increasingly foolish.

While The Walkmen might be in denial about their Washington DC roots, THE RAPTURE (Other Stage) are the real Big Apple deal. We arrive just in time for genius party anthem ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’. Bez and his amazing monkey limbs might be sadly missing this year, but broad grins still abound, not least upon the faces of Luke Jenner and Matt Safer on the stage.

I spot possibly the finest T-shirt of the festival. It simply reads: “I like things”.

I’ve got a sunburnt face and the ground’s dried out so much that they’re spraying the road with water to keep the dust down. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll turn out fine.

OK, own up. Whose bright idea was it to ensure that PJ HARVEY (Pyramid Stage) and Franz Ferdinand clash EXACTLY? For me there was only ever going to be one winner – I’ve seen the eight-legged Glaswegian art-pop beast several times already – but for others the temptation of hearing current SWSL Single Of The Year ‘Take Me Out’ in the flesh must have been too much, leaving poor old Polly Jean with far fewer onlookers than she deserves. Most of the choice cuts from new album Uh Huh Her – ‘The Letter’, ‘Cat On The Wall’, ‘Who The Fuck?’, ‘The Life And Death Of Mr Badmouth’ – get a welcome airing, but my personal highlights are Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea tracks ‘Big Exit’ and ‘Good Fortune’, songs I love unconditionally. The cider having taken control of my body and mind, I spend most of the set nodding and gawping at the stage – as if the songs weren’t enough to arrest the attention and quicken the pulse, she’s wearing a Spice Girls dress and pink stilettos. One thing that discomforts me, though (and this stands as a comment on Uh Huh Her as much as on this performance): just as ‘The Letter’ recalls The Kills, ‘Who The Fuck?’, her dress and stage manner all strikingly bring to mind the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Karen O. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed her set and the album has the usual irresistible allure, the increasingly dark and rough-edged sound no doubt a natural and justifiable response to the polish of Stories… and to hanging out with Josh Homme – but there’s just a creeping sense that one of the most original voices in British music over the past ten years might be in danger of following an already-trodden path rather than leading the way.

I take one bite of my chilli-filled enchilada which is liberally topped with hot salsa and jalapeno peppers, and feel my bowels shift gear. There may be trouble ahead…

For a band who seem to get so many people feverishly excited, KINGS OF LEON (Pyramid Stage) are unfeasibly fucking dull – quite a feat when you consider the potential in their Southern-boogie-meets-The-Strokes schtick. It doesn’t help that there’s precious little evidence that they even excite themselves, or that they can cope with a slot of this magnitude: “We don’t like talking, so we’ll just keep on playing”, says a nervy Caleb. Of course, neither does it help that they just don’t have a sufficiently substantial back catalogue to rely on.

No-one in their right mind would go to see SPIRITUALIZED (New Tent) expecting Jason Pierce to be a garrulous frontman – the most we get from him in terms of audience interaction or even acknowledgement is a round of applause as he leaves the stage at the end. The scales finally fell from my eyes with regard to Pierce’s outfit when I saw them at Rock City in January, my first and thus far best gig of the year, and this was pretty much more of the same: ‘Electricity’ to open, followed by an immaculately structured and performed set of snarling revved-up bruisers – ‘She Kissed Me (And It Felt Like A Hit)’, ‘Come Together’ – and enchanting and expansive gospel-inflected gems like ‘Broken Heart’ and ‘I Think I’m In Love’. It all ends, as seems utterly natural, with a meltdown of sound and light of awesome intensity. I leave the tent with a sore head, sore neck, sore eyes and a smile a mile wide.

The excesses of the previous two evenings take their toll and I retire for what is, relatively speaking, an early night. Camping near the Glade does have its disadvantages, though – such as DJs and crowds intent on “having it large” until daylight breaks and thus depriving you of sleep.

Bands or performers I would have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / excessively packed tents / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: Elbow, The Concretes, Franz Ferdinand, Goldfrapp, Electrelane, Simon Munnery, Tindersticks, The Chemical Brothers, Phil Nichol, Tony Benn.
Saturday 26th June

Yesterday’s sunburn is a distant memory. The Big Man Upstairs must have been listening to Jason Pierce last night when he was singing ‘Lord, Let It Rain On Me’, for lo, the heavens have opened and the site is transformed, the ground covered in the watery brown slop that seems to be unique to Worthy Farm. Memories of the apocalyptic scenes of ’98 come flooding back, but, as it did then, Dunkirk spirit soon kicks in. We can get through this. The weather can’t rain on our parade. The show must go on.

Americans RILO KILEY (Other Stage) are a band about as far from cutting edge as you are ever likely to find. Indier-than-thou par excellence, they sound like they have shrines to Stephen Malkmus in their houses at which they worship every night. They play a song about “that jackass that runs our country” as if what they say is going to change anything. But, closing my eyes, I’m pleasantly reminded of The Delgados (though without the mordant lyrical wit), and that certainly isn’t a bad thing.

For the second time in two days I’m smitten, this time by Leila Moss, singer and tambourine basher with Parallax View favourites THE DUKE SPIRIT (Other Stage). She might fail to halt the rain and bring the sun out as promised, but her magnetic presence and vocals turn what is already an instantly appealing blend of stomping riffs and screeching feedback – think Black Rebel Motorcycle Club meets The Raveonettes – into something really special. Cacophonous closer ‘Red Weather’ has me drooling buckets. It ain’t rocket science, but then the best rock ‘n’ roll never is.

Time to take the plunge and investigate the “real Glastonbury”. We head for the Lost Vagueness field (so named because even a short visit makes you feel lost and vague) and enter the Chapel Of Love And Loathing, a kind of church made out of corrugated metal. Inside we find a boxing ring, in which a “marriage” ceremony is being conducted by a woman wearing white wings and suspenders and brandishing a Barbie doll nailed to a small cross. As members of the congregation, “the angels”, we are encouraged to shout out “love” when requested, but not everyone enters into the spirit of things – when we’re asked if anyone knows of any reason why the couple shouldn’t be married, someone yells “It’s his sister!”. Wearing a full wedding dress and veil, the bride gets all too emotional, before the ceremony ends with the “balloon of love” – an inflated condom filled with confetti – being burst over the happy couple’s heads. Once outside, one of our party shakes his head and mutters, “Tree-hugging hippy bullshit”.

Someone’s spray-painted the bastardised Latin phrase from Margaret Atwood’s ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ onto one of the metal fences: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”. It’s not the bastards but the weather that’s in danger of grinding us down, though.

What we need are SCISSOR SISTERS (Pyramid Stage) and songs like ‘Rock My Spot’ which, Jake Shears announces, is about “eating pussy”. The anti Rilo Kiley, they’re all jumpsuits, trilbys, prancing and camp disco / soft rock gems. It’s safe to say that this lot don’t wear their New Yorkness on their sleeves as a badge of uber-indie-coolness like The Strokes, but instead believe in a thing called performance. ‘Take Your Mama Out’ is an inspired opener with ‘Laura’ and ‘Tits On The Radio’ following shortly afterwards, both of which exhume the corpse of late 70s Elton John but make it smell remarkably pleasant, while their wonderfully bizarre cover of ‘Comfortably Numb’ is a gleeful two fingers up to the pofaced-prog-loving blokes watching on in disgust. “How does he fit into that outfit?” “Isn’t the guitarist great?” “Is Ana Matronic a man?” “Do you actually enjoy eating pussy?” Scissor Sisters inspire all these questions, but, most important of all, suddenly the rain and mud don’t matter, and thousands of people are reminded they’re here to have FUN. And told to have sex in tents.

LOSTPROPHETS (Pyramid Stage). Gap Kids rock. Sorry, boys, but ‘The Fake Sound Of Progress’ and ‘Wake Up’ won’t halt the exodus, and neither will a Strokes cover. Awareness of meteorological realities returns with a vengeance.

Hairy men. Very hairy men. MY MORNING JACKET (Other Stage) may look like the Kings Of The Stone Age, but they eschew the expected doomy onslaught in favour of Southern-flavoured 70s rock. Likewise, Jim James’s soaring vocals are a revelation when you’re anticipating grunting, gurning and gnashing of teeth. This is the first time I’ve seen them in their new incarnation, with a new rhythm guitarist and keyboard player, and although there seems to be precious little I recognise from last year’s fine It Still Moves LP, it’s a rollicking good set.

STEWART LEE (Cabaret Tent) tells jokes I heard two years ago in this very venue – about Ben Elton and the inflatable ALF he spotted left outside Buckingham Palace amongst all the flowers in the wake of Princess Diana’s death. Halfway through his set, there’s a power cut and he’s forced to use a loudspeaker in a darkened tent, but he doesn’t let it detract from the show. I’m laughing like a drain even before he’s delivered the punchlines. “I said: ‘Granddad, what’s the worst thing about growing old?’ And he replied: ‘It’s having to watch all those around you slowly dying off.’ ‘Well’, I said, ‘you fed them those berries.’

You just want to grab BRITISH SEA POWER (Other Stage) by the collective shoulder, shake them and tell them to forget all that other stuff and just stretch the end of their set out for three quarters of an hour. The likes of ‘St Louis’ and ‘Remember Me’ are decent in a gawky post-punk way without being at all spectacular, and it’s not until the last ten minutes that the fire of interest is really stoked. My Morning Jacket might have a massive brown bear on their album cover, but BSP go further by inviting one onto the stage, accompanied by a First World War drummer boy. Of course, all this, as well as the leafy branches and stuffed birds, is peripheral to the music and suggests that they themselves realise the songs aren’t their strongest selling point and need some kind of quirky garnish.

Having given up reading the colourfully cartoonish pamphlet that passes for the NME these days, not being a fan of radio and not having access to satellite music channels, I know nothing about THE KILLERS (New Tent), so when they’re announced as “the band everyone’s talking about” that’s not strictly true, and my first impressions really are just that. Call me cynical – I won’t deny it – but they seem to have been calculatedly created in some lab precisely to fill the gap between The Strokes and Duran Duran, but with more than just a nod to the disposable singalong pop that the likes of Good Charlotte are inclined to believe constitutes punk rock (see: ‘Mr Brightside’ and ‘Somebody Told Me’ for a start). Basically, utter toss. Their album’s called Hot Fuss, and I’ve given it a couple of spins since returning. My thoughts haven’t changed. A lot of Fuss over nothing.

Of The Killers I expected nothing. That’s why HOPE OF THE STATES (New Tent) – aided and abetted by members of Franz Ferdinand and The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – are all the more disappointing. They might be given a rapturous reception, but it’s hard to see why when Sam Herlihy can’t sing and spends most of his time complaining about his equipment. What’s worse is that, on the evidence of songs like their latest single ‘The Red, The White, The Black, The Blue’ and the clichéd images of militaristic marching projected onto the roof of the tent, they seem to be turning into a neatly packaged radio-friendly post-rock soundbite – Godspeed! You Black Emperor for Keane fans. Sorry, chaps – you had this heart and this mind won, but you’ve just surrendered them.

Oh Christ. PAUL MCCARTNEY (Pyramid Stage), wearing a truly heinous purple jacket, has kicked off his headlining set with ‘Jet’ and now he’s saying something about the “leylines buzzing, man” in the manner of an extremely embarrassing dad trying to impress his 16-year-old daughter’s friends. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re in for a bumpy ride. The next few songs do little to dispel the feeling that ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ is lurking just around the corner, and, as a friend puts it, “What you really want is to be able to see the setlist, and to make him skip through it with a remote control”. After six songs we can’t take any more.

This is more like it – a party atmosphere. BASEMENT JAXX (Other Stage) are busy mashing up ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘In Da Club’, before kicking up a storm with ‘Romeo’. A very welcome breath of fresh air after the fustiness of McCartney’s Mojo-rock.

SQUAREPUSHER (Glade), however, is perhaps a step too far. After his schizoid barrage and screams of “COME ON YOU FUCKING CUNTS!” distracted me from watching Doves last year, I resolved to devote my attention to Tom Jenkinson this time around. Now I feel like an embarrassing dad myself, in my drunkenness desperately trying to hold onto something, anything amidst the pummelling mish-mash of sound and stop myself from thinking those terrible few words that spell the end of youth: “It’s just not music, is it?” Losing my grip and losing my edge.

Apparently Macca granted 80,000 people stood in a field the once-in-a-lifetime chance to bellow out “Na, na, na, na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey Jude” in unison. And I wasn’t there. And those who were also got ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Get Back’ whilst being spared ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and ‘The Frog Chorus’. Arse. Damn you, sir, for setting sail on such a deceptively bollocks course.

Bands or performers I would have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / excessively packed tents / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: The 22-20s, Dogs Die In Hot Cars, The Von Bondies, Phil Kay, Josh Rouse, The Stills, Jetplane Landing, Katastrophy Wife.
Sunday 27th June

There’s just no avoiding it. I blame Friday's enchilada, and last night's bombay potatoes. For the first time since my arrival I’m going to have to join one of the lines of people queuing for the portaloos, who stand in silence with heads bowed and shuffle forwards uneasily as if awaiting execution. In the event, death by firing squad might well have been more fun, but details of the experience are best kept quiet, for my sake as well as yours.

I’m feeling shamefully underdressed, the only one in a group of seven who hasn’t gone to see the ENGLISH NATIONAL OPERA (Pyramid Stage) perform Wagner’s ‘Ride Of The Valkyries’ in suit and tie. We try to follow the storyline via the subtitles on the giant screens, but are soon distracted by the Goldie Lookin Chain interview in the Glastonbury Daily, only to look up and see, to our bemusement, the father undressing and then killing his daughter. The whole performance could have been improved if, as the ENO themselves suggested, it was accompanied by helicopters flying overhead a la ‘Apocalypse Now’ (Michael Eavis refused to sanction this due to it being “not in the Glastonbury spirit”), and, as someone weaving their way through the crowd comments, “Just doing covers is a bit naff”.

The gaping hole in the schedules inspires another wander into the “real Glastonbury”, which on this occasion means visits to numerous worthy cause stalls but also subjection to some very bad poetry.

We stumble across the Speaker’s Forum tent by accident, and discover that Eavis himself is making an appearance, doing a Q&A session. A sudden downpour sends more people scuttling for cover in the tent, and there’s a note of real despair in his voice when he says, “But it wasn’t supposed to rain today” – every drop will mean the land takes longer to recover. Over the course of nearly an hour, we learn that a recent and very thorough environmental survey has given the farm a glowing bill of health even after so many years of festivals, that he hasn’t made his peace with The Darkness, that an ecstatic McCartney kissed him when he came off stage last night, that Thom Yorke rang him to apologise for not being able to make it this year, that he’s already got Saturday’s headliner for next year booked (a revelation that inevitably leads to repeated cries of “Who is it?”) and that the She-Pee female urinals have been a disaster. But Eavis evidently isn’t the most comfortable public speaker, and all this talking about this year’s festival in the past tense reminds us that it’s actually still going on outside, and by the end we’re hankering for more action.

Like Scissor Sisters before him, JAMES BROWN (Pyramid Stage) certainly knows how to put on a show, though it takes him about fifteen minutes to arrive on stage, having left his band of redcoats and singers to warm up the crowd. He’s more the conductor of a funk orchestra than a frontman, not singing on all the songs even when he does appear and content to share the limelight with others while retaining overall control. Perhaps that’s because he’s incapable of monopolizing it himself – though he can't be faulted for trying, you can almost hear the Godfather / Granddad of Soul’s joints creak when he “gets down” with his two dancers, who incidentally look like their day jobs involve regular appearances sans clothing in the Sun. ‘Soul Man’ and ‘I Feel Good’ are both splendid, but ‘Sex Machine’ seems to drag on and on, not the equivalent of the desired good hard seeing-to but of drawn-out tantric sex with Sting, and I wander off mentally and then bodily.

From one legend to another. Due to a change in the running order which appears in the programme but not the round-the-neck guide, New Yorkers TELEVISION (New Tent) play to a pitifully small audience comprised (one imagines) primarily of record shop staff, and one which I only join towards the end of their set. It’s not hard to see where Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo got some of their ideas from, and after a while the trademark Sonic Youth sound starts to seem less and less original. Sadly, Television then veer off into horrible art wank territory before disappearing abruptly to only muted applause. The awkward bastards.

We’ve already had Wagner on the Pyramid Stage; now it’s time for Wagner – Sune Rose Wagner, to be precise – in a more intimate setting. As one half of THE RAVEONETTES (New Tent), he is clearly overjoyed to be playing, after circumstances last year conspired to prevent their scheduled Other Stage appearance. The other half, Sharin Foo – still looking gorgeous even though she’s decided to wear a peculiarly frumpy red dress (were there to be a three-way wrestle in the Glastonbury mud between her, Polly Harvey and Leila Moss, there could only be one winner – me) – seems more concerned to find out how their native Denmark are doing in their Euro 2004 quarter-final against the Czech Republic. Despite numerous technical glitches and another heavy downpour that results in water dripping onto the stage and threatening the band with electrocution, the set is a pure triumph from the start (‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’) right through to the finish. Most of the material is culled from last year’s wonderful Chain Gang Of Love LP – ‘Noisy Summer’, ‘Heartbreak Stroll’ and ‘Let’s Rave On’, all Jesus & Mary Chain scree overlaid with bubblegum harmonies, get the pulse racing, but it’s the brilliantly simple and strident single ‘That Great Love Sound’ that steals the show, along with the more reflective and queasy ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’, dedicated as usual to Johnny Cash. There’s also room for new material, including a duet that doesn’t quite match up to the sexual frisson between VV and Hotel of The Kills but which nevertheless shows considerable promise for their next record. Bring it on.

The intro tape consists of a Scouse woman reading out a list of hateful figures, concepts and institutions, ranging from Adolf Hitler, racism and the monarchy to Jimmy Tarbuck. Who says MORRISSEY (Pyramid Stage) is mellowing in his old age? In truth, he seems to be more motivated and inspired by bitterness and spite than ever. I’d be surprised if he didn’t go along to The Crown pub tent on Thursday night and try to attack Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce, who were DJing alongside Mani and Clint Boon. Hate has its place, though, and it’s just a shame that after such an attention-grabbing introduction the music is so insipid and bland. The voice and the barbed lyrics might be right, but the faces in the band are wrong, the songs are wrong and no-one wants to see Morrissey’s name in lights – as it is literally. It’s The Smiths we want. Of course, it doesn’t help that he begins by announcing, “Please don’t OD till we’ve finished all our songs”. Self-importance and a sneering contempt for your audience won’t win you too many friends here. I get as far as ‘Let Me Kiss You’ (from this year’s You Are The Quarry record) and then bail out.

Self-proclaimed money-grabbing bastards from Newport, GOLDIE LOOKIN CHAIN (Dance Tent) are this year’s The Darkness, though the buzz around them is already sufficient to ensure that this cavernous tent is packed to the rafters. Unlike Morrissey, and despite their between-song proclamations of being “serious”, they seem to be familiar with the concept of fun. Musically their boisterousness and playful beats owe an obvious debt to early pre-politically-conscious Beastie Boys material, while they’ve got their own lyrical catchphrases (“Safe as fuck”, “You knows it, clart”) and like Mike Skinner their concern is with the comically mundane realities of the wannabe bling-bling playa – getting stoned, burning holes in your tracksuit and fantasizing about being a robot. Even the obligatory slow jam “for the ladies” towards the end is more Arab Strap than P Diddy, with its references to the pill and the DHSS. Perhaps their greatest achievement is to introduce the crowd to the expression “Your mum’s got a penis”, an insult and ideal campsite shout rolled into one.

MUSE (Pyramid Stage) may not have the stature of the weekend’s other headliners Oasis and Macca, and neither do they have the audience (Orbital’s last ever performance, over on the Other Stage, has proved a massive draw), but even as a three-piece they certainly have the presence and volume to close the festival in rousing style. Recent single ‘Hysteria’ and ‘New Born’ get things off to an electric start and, although ‘Citizen Erased’ and ‘Apocalypse Please’ are spectacular, the set begins to flag somewhat in the middle, as the songs drift gradually away into the empty bombast and prog-opera for which they attract so much critical scorn. Thankfully, though, the three singles ‘Bliss’, ‘Time Is Running Out’ and ‘Plug In Baby’ with which they end restore the natural balance between pomp and substance, and in the encore they attack an explosive ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ with staggering ferocity. Let them eat rock, Matt Bellamy seems to have said – and we do, with relish. (The news that drummer Dominic Howard’s father died soon afterwards is a terrible footnote to what was a brilliant show.)

The fireworks on Pennard Hill mark the official end of the festival for another year. Not a vintage year as regards the line-up, but then that’s only ever half the story here.

Bands or artists I would have seen in an ideal world but missed due to clashes / rearranged running orders / excessively packed tents / my own sheer laziness or stupidity: The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Kevin Eldon, The Zutons, The Ordinary Boys, Buck 65, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Orbital, Six By Seven, Naomi Klein, Billy Bragg, Stellastarr*.
Monday 28th June

The queue to get off the site is massive, so we’re quite content to sit around biding our time – certainly beats sitting in a hot car for four hours.

It’s sunny. Surely some kind of sick joke?

We’re enjoying watching people playing Bog Lottery. There are five portaloos facing our tents, which we’ve numbered one to five. Judging by the expression on the faces of those who approach and open the door to number three, and their visible recoil from the sight that greets them, untold horrors lurk within.

We get talking to a woman who’s been camped next to us. Her friend went home on Saturday morning with a bad back, leaving her another tent and a load of belongings to deal with on her own. To make matters worse, some bastard who befriended her has nicked her phone, sunglasses and earring, and her tent has been literally floating in a pool of sloppy mud for the best part of two days. Our festival has been remarkably uneventful in comparison.

In amongst the revellers packing up their stuff a man, stark naked except for an ankle chain and the feathers in his hair, wanders thoughtfully about stroking his chin, every now and again breaking into a run. The drugs are obviously taking some time to wear off.

The queue’s died down, and it’s time to make a move. We stroll past numerous abandoned tents and bottles of dubious yellow liquid and out of the gate, taking a brief moment to look back at the site with some sadness. Out in the car park stands a small hillock of discarded mud-ruined footware, a fitting monument to this year’s festival.