Wednesday, May 25, 2005



But She's A Girl - another blogger resident in Birmingham, and an academic to boot. Good to know there are more of us about... (Thanks to Sarah for the link.)


Congratulations to Mike on his venture into print journalism, a Eurovision article for Time Out. You can read about the accuracy of his predictions here, while Jonny B also has a Eurovision-centric post - who would have thought that the contest could be the glue that holds a whole community together?


Phill's been eating his breakfast "beneath a giant crucifix" in Prague and Swiss Toni's back from Korea, where he'd been attending his brother's wedding - well, it's my brother's this Friday, and he's chosen the slightly less exotic location of Tynemouth (at least it ain't Whitley Bay, eh?);

Jonathan recalls a time when Fenham was gripped by Panini sticker fever;

Robin hails Oasis, if only for inspiring the game 'Name That Resprayed Tune';

Paul posts his recollections of the other week's pub-crawl-by-tram;

Jonathan tries his hand at podcasting;

Vaughan is relieved to discover that he's not alone in labelling 'Property Ladder' presenter Sarah Beeny toxic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Surviving the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

My review of Six By Seven's forthcoming fifth LP Artists, Cannibals, Poets, Thieves is up on the Vanity Project site. Many thanks to Skif for inviting me to contribute to the latest issue of the fanzine.

It's about time I followed up last month's What's Hot On The SWSL Stereo, so one of these days I might get round to posting some reviews of my most recent acquisitions: Queens Of The Stone Age, Bloc Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Arcade Fire, Eels, The Shins, Stereolab...
Feel good hits of the 24th May

An extended version, thanks to an afternoon larking about with a friend's iTunes library...

1. 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' - The Arcade Fire
2. 'Graffiti' - Maximo Park
3. 'Forever Lost' - The Magic Numbers
4. 'All I Really Need From You Is Love' - Six By Seven
5. 'You Know You're Right' - Nirvana
6. 'Chinese Rocks' - Johnny Thunders
7. 'Minerva' - Deftones
8. 'Vonal Declosion' - Stereolab
9. 'Neat Neat Neat' - The Damned
10. 'Tongue Tied' - Erase Errata
11. 'Just Can't Get Enough' - Nouvelle Vague
12. 'Black And White Town' - Doves
13. 'Is This It' - The Strokes
14. 'Cover Up' - Part Chimp
15. 'Just Like Heaven' - The Cure
Quote of the day

"A novel is an impression, not an argument."

Thomas Hardy in the preface to 'Tess Of The D'Urbervilles'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Brothers and sisters, believe the hype: it all adds up


And so an inexcusable two month lapse since my last live music experience is brought to an end.

Yet even that drought, stretching back to early March, isn't enough to get me scampering back from Nottingham in time to catch first support act, the appropriately named Absentee.

So my first taste of live goodness after the stupid self-imposed diet comes courtesy of The Pipettes, three rather charming young ladies in polka dot dresses shimmying and cooing along to the sounds kicked out by a backing band clad in burgundy tank tops. Hailing from - where else? - Brighton, The Pipettes situate themselves neatly within the historical context of Spector-produced pop, 50s girl groups, doo-wop and Motown on their website, and their music bears this out.

I'm guessing the moniker is the girls' way of claiming to be the cutesy diminutive offspring of The Pips, but it might just as well refer to the item of scientific apparatus, as that, like most of their songs, takes the listener back to school and the first flushes of lust and romantic entanglements of youth. It's the new Pretty In Black style Raveonettes doing the theme music from 'Grease' - bubblegum innocence on the surface but sexual attractions and tensions bubbling along underneath.

But the stumbling block, for me, is that this faux naivety is just that - underneath, they're the sort of sharply self-conscious post-feminist concept band Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna would love. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but they're SO knowing, and the songs aren't quite strong enough to distract me from that fact, so I probably won't be buying their records. Let's just say that a large part of their appeal is visual, skin-deep.

If, as expected on this showing, headliners The Magic Numbers make it big, it won't be because of anything as superficial as image. Photogenic they ain't, but talented they most certainly are.

This is just one of the reasons why they're such a refreshing change from the Kasabians and Braverys clogging up the pages of the music press. Another is the fact that they probably wouldn't know a Joy Division or Duran Duran record if slapped about their ample chops with it.

My first thought on seeing bearded man-mountain vocalist / guitarist Romeo is of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, a huge long-haired bear of a man who deceptively looks like an escapee from a primitive metal band but possesses the sweetest of voices.

And in truth, Romeo's band - he is backed by his sister Michele on bass, and another brother-sister combo of Sean and Angela on drums and percussion / melodica respectively - don't sound a million miles away from My Morning Jacket and their dusky country blues, though The Magic Numbers have less of a stoner rock sensibility and a better developed sense of when to bring songs to heel and to an end. They also have more strings to their bow than their American counterparts, switching easily between sumptuous slow torch songs ('Hymn To Her', 'Wheels On Fire') and upbeat power pop tunes (forthcoming much-plugged single 'Forever Lost'), though perhaps dwelling a little too much on the former.

"Classic songwriting" is an epithet I often turn my nose up at, but it's applicable in a non-pejorative sense to what The Magic Numbers do. Several tracks sound like you must have heard them before, without at the same time slavishly aping any distinctive predecessors.

Judging by the rapturous response they receive here, one which visibly bowls them over, and the prospect of a Glastonbury appearance on the horizon (sadly not outdoors in the sun but on the John Peel Stage), they could well take this summer by storm.


Kenny's assessment of the gig
How to see more of Nottingham through a tram window and the bottom of a pint glass

NET (Nottingham Express Transit) and CAMRA have together produced the Nottingham Beer By Tram Guide which recommends some of the best real ale pubs easily accessible from the new Hucknall-Nottingham tram route.

The opportunity to sample a wide range of local ales in some unfamiliar surroundings and become more acquainted with lesser-visited bits of Nottingham while travelling around by tram (a mere £2.20 for an all-day ticket) - how could we resist?

And thus it was that at 12.45pm on Saturday, four of us met up in The Green Dragon in Hucknall. By the third pub, The Bowman (Butler's Hill), the remainder of the hardcore majority had joined us, our numbers swelling to 13.

The plan was to try and have at least a half in each of the 25 pubs en route. Unsurprisingly, neither NET nor CAMRA recommend this, and so for legal reasons you can chalk that bit down to our own youthful irresponsibility.

We opted to give a couple of pubs (The Miller's Barn, The Park Tavern) a miss because they're out on the offshoot branch of the line that on Saturday was only being serviced by bus. It was a beautiful day and so the pubs blessed with beer gardens - The Fox & Crown, The Horse & Groom, The Lion Inn, The Vernon Arms - all scored highly in our impromptu points system. The first two did especially well owing to the presence of a resident pub dog and to the excellent large bags of pork scratchings on sale respectively.

Arriving in the city centre, the group expanded some more, and it was enjoyable venturing into some city centre pubs I'd never visited during seven years of residence in Nottingham (Langtry's, The Turf Tavern).

By this point, some of the original group (myself included) were very definitely the wrong side of sobriety, the group splintered into different factions after The Bell Inn and after another couple of pubs (only one of which was in the guide) I were ready to hit the sack, having managed 18 of the 25 and 19 in total. A sterling effort, for which my liver, head and stomach were not thanking me on Sunday.

Quite a day, all told.
This is a Low

Hard on the heels of the news that Kylie has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has consequently had to cancel her headline slot at Glastonbury, I discover that Low have cancelled their May / June tour owing to guitarist / vocalist Alan Sparhawk's mental instability which was making life on the road very stressful for the whole band.

Obviously, touring commitments must come a distant second when it's a matter of physical and mental health, and Sparhawk's heartfelt apology to fans is indicative of just how much he appreciates their support but unnecessary all the same, as I'm sure everyone is understanding of the situation.

Best wishes to them both for a swift recovery.

(Thanks to Kenny, with whom I saw Low in February, for the link.)
Acting the part

Sir Ian McKellen really is living up to all expectations of his stint in 'Coronation Street', isn't he? He's thrown himself into the role of author Mel Hutchright - failing, critically lambasted, deceitful and sleazy - and some of the scenes he's had with other long-established characters - especially his drunkenly asking Audrey for a threesome and the numerous confrontations with Ken Barlow - have been priceless. It's just a shame that his time in the show will soon be up.
On fire

Friday night, and I'm watching 'Later With Jools Holland' consumed with regret. The reason? The Arcade Fire, who I - unlike Kenny and He Who Cannot Be Named - passed up the opportunity to see on their recent UK tour, are blowing minds, including my own, with storming renditions of 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' and 'Rebellion (Lies)'. I'm still awaiting postal delivery of the album, but now it can't come soon enough.
Is it just me...

... or is the new New Order single 'Jetstream' absolute shite?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Craic addict

Earlier this year I wrote about An Craic, a magazine for Birmingham's Irish community which was stuffed full of hilarious news stories that might have been dreamt up by 'Father Ted' creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews.

Well, on Wednesday I picked up the May issue, and it's very nearly as amusing in its content...


A judge's unintended pun in a hearing over an illegal dogfight provoked laughter in the courtroom last month.

The trial of 11 men charged in connection with running an illegal dogfight will begin at Naas Circuit Court on July 5 as a priority, said Judge Patrick McCartan, because 'if left lingering on the list, it will never get out of the traps.'

He immediately said he had not intended the use of such words as laughter spread around the court.

The headline, byline and first paragraph of another story:



Stunned family mourners, who could only look on in horror as the remains of their beloved careered around a graveyard behind stampeding funeral horses, have settled a e38,000 damages claim against the undertaker.

But best of all is the following item, here in full:


There is no use crying over spilled milk... but one man can be forgiven for shedding a few tears when he reflects on how he paid e700 for a new computer and ended up with four litres of bainne instead.

The middle-aged man was approached on The Parade in Kilkenny and asked if he was interested in buying a new lap-top.

He was told it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer and e700 would secure the state-of-the-art machine plus accessories. After a few minutes of negotiating, the man reached for his pocket and parted with the money in e50 notes. He received no invoice, sales slip or guarantee - just a case said to contain the computer.

In a scene which could have come straight out of sit-com 'Only Fools And Horses', the vendor then beat a hasty retreat.

When the man opened the case he found four litres of milk wrapped in cardboard. The milk gave the specially designed hold-all weight and the cardboard gave it the feel of a lap-top.

Sgt Pat Murphy of Kilkenny Garda Station said people should only buy good from legitimate vendors or from sources they could identify.
Blogwatch: in brief

Vaughan and He Who Cannot Be Named both respond to this Guardian article by former NME scribe Sarah Dempster about the music afficionado's abandonment of cool around the age of 30 (at 27, I already feel out of touch with what is Now in musical terms);

Richard Herring, who has a new-look site, has been playing the part of Our Lord Jesus Christ;

Kenny reviews The Boss's new LP Devils And Dust;

Dave recalls his encounter with The Birthday Party at their chaotic best;

Tara responds to that literary meme doing the rounds;

Alex reports on LCD Soundsystem's recent Glasgow gig;

Mish has a nasty encounter with a peanut at the National Theatre;

Jonathan urges his readers to sign up to a petition calling for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand to grow his fringe back. My name's down. Is yours?
Bellamy spouting "bullshit"

No, not - for once - that loveable rogue Craig , the Newcastle striker with a short fuse, a quick tongue and the intelligence of a gnat.

This time it's bearded mumbling environmentalist David, blathering on about the fact that man-made global warming is not, in fact, taking place because the world's glaciers are growing rather than shrinking in size.

Thankfully, the Guardian's George Monbiot is on hand to systematically deconstruct the figures Bellamy quotes as evidence and thereby completely undermine his credibility and appeal to scientific proof.

What's very worrying, though, is the weight that one man's opinion can carry. As a high-profile figure his stance is respected, his position seized upon by interest groups who would prefer the whole issue of climate change remains where it currently is - in the shadows, off the agenda: "Because Bellamy is president of the Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife International and the British Naturalists' Association, his statements carry a great deal of weight. When, for example, I challenged the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders over climate change, its spokesman cited Bellamy's position as a reason for remaining sceptical".

(Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)
Bookworms' delight

The best bookshops in and around the country according to Guardian readers. Good to see Barter Books of Alnwick getting a mention - situated in the town's old railway station, it's enormous and very well stocked, furnished with sofas, coffee and an open fire - the sort of place where hours can pass without you realising it. Incidentally, it's also where both of my two current reads hail from.

(Thanks to Michelle for the link.)
Marr bows out

So, Michael Howard isn't the only person to announce he's stepping down in the wake of the election. Andrew Marr is bowing out as the BBC's political editor. A shame, because he's a very shrewd commentator, and because his animated performances to the camera enliven reports on even the driest of parliamentary debates.
Know Your Enemy #58

"I've just been slightly traumatised by the sheer horror of the realisation that Lemon Jelly's career will never die, because there will always be students and students will always be idiots, and therefore their noxious brand of soporific 'dance' music for people whose lives involve no actions more strenuous than reaching for another fucking spliff will never die. In exactly the same way, this song involves no actions more strenuous than picking up a fucking acoustic guitar and looping a bar of terrible, strummed non-melody. Stoner students are truly the worst people to exist ever."

Alex Macpherson reflects on the new Lemon Jelly single 'Make Things Right' for the Stylus UK Singles Jukebox (which also features a number of reviews by Mike, including a very favourable one of The Futureheads' 'Decent Days And Nights' - hurrah!).

Elsewhere on Stylus:

Charles Merwin suffers a personality crisis in reviewing Weezer's fifth LP Make Believe.
Quote of the day

"Art comes out of art; it begins with imitation, often in the form of parody, and it's in the process of imitating the voices of others that one comes to learn the sound of one's own."

Alan Bennett in the introduction to 'Writing Home'.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Something out of the ordinary

'Three Stories' is exactly that: a trio of wonderful novellas by Alan Bennett.

On the one hand Bennett is that most quintessentially English of writers, but on the other he appears to be at some remove from England and its culture, society and people, looking on bemusedly from a distance with a wry smile. Photographs suggest a fastidious, bookish and not particularly garrulous man. I imagine him as the first person narrator of Larkin's poem 'Church Going': "Hatless, I take off / My cycle-clips in awkward reverence".

Indeed, the awkward events of the first novella in the volume, 'The Laying On Of Hands', take place in a church, as the memorial service for a masseur (and more besides) to the rich and famous descends into farcical wranglings over the dead man's sexuality and cause of death.

Like Larkin, Bennett is a master of finding the epic in the mundane, the transcendental in the quotidian, his powers of observation most often focused upon ordinary goings-on in the ordinary lives of ordinary people. This is certainly true of the third novella, 'Father! Father! Burning Bright', about an English secondary school teacher disillusioned with work and life in general who has to cope with the news of a dying father and the reactions it provokes in his family.

But even in 'The Clothes They Stood Up In', which begins with an ostensibly extraordinary conceit - a couple have everything stolen from their flat, including fitted carpets, light fittings and toilet brush - though ends with a rational explanation, Bennett's subject matter is personal idiosyncracies and attitudes.

In all three novellas these are presented with a mixture of touching warmth (though not sentimentality), gently mocking disapproval, satire and dry wit. It's perhaps Bennett's gift for comedy that leaves the most lasting impression. His sense of comic timing in his own medium - particularly in the scene involving the Ransomes and the policemen in 'The Clothes They Stood Up In' - is as finely honed as that of a stand-up or comic actor.

So, it's straight onto his volume of collected writings, 'Writing Home'...

(Thanks to Lisa for the loan.)


Guest Blogging Dream Team: Alan Bennett
Feel good hits of the 10th May

1. 'I Understand It' - Idlewild
2. 'Graffiti' - Maximo Park
3. 'Someone's In The Wolf' - Queens Of The Stone Age
4. 'This Modern Love' - Bloc Party
5. 'In The Morning' - The Coral
6. 'Keep It Down' - Kelis
7. 'Don't Take Your Guns To Town' - Johnny Cash
8. 'God Only Knows' - The Beach Boys
9. 'Love Is An Unfamiliar Name' - The Duke Spirit
10. 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' - The Arcade Fire

Friday, May 06, 2005

In the cold light of day

Well, I lasted until 4.30am.

By that point, the effects of the coffee were wearing off just as the sleep-inducing effects of the red wine were kicking in, and when the Labour victory was confirmed, that was the cue for my head to hit the pillow.

In many ways it's a strange election to evaluate, no one party having that much to smile about.

Labour secured the "historic third term" (returned MPs parroted that like a mantra) they wanted and nearly everyone expected, but with a vastly reduced majority. Refreshingly, there was little triumphalist rhetoric from anyone, little insistence on the outcome vindicating the decisions of the past four years or giving them a clear and ringing popular endorsement. Instead, Blair and company openly acknowledged that they had been given the much-talked-about "bloody nose" over issues like Iraq and trust, and accepted that much work remains to be done to repair some of the damage the party's reputation and credibility has sustained.

The Tories, meanwhile, will have been wounded by their failure to make significant gains in Labour-held marginals, especially given the poor performance (in relative terms) of Labour. There were a few constituencies that switched allegiance and turned blue, but on the whole it was more like treading stagnant water than a genuine recovery - a fact Howard seems to have acknowledged in announcing his decision to make way "sooner rather than later". They will be a more effective opposition this term, but thanks not to their own gains but to the reduced Labour majority.

All of which should have meant that the Lib Dems benefited. But they didn't - or, at least, not as much as they could have done. Their share of the vote increased, as did the number of constituencies they hold, but I still can't help thinking that, given the positions of their rival parties on Iraq, they could have made up much more ground. Perhaps they were cautious not to overplay their opposition to the war in those seats where they were hoping to wrest control from the Tories - but the hoped-for "decapitations" never materialised, and the under-threat Tories by and large survived, including the unspeakably odious Oliver Letwin.

Of the three constituencies in which I had personal interest - Wansbeck, Nottingham South and Birmingham Ladywood - Labour remained in control of all three. Occupying the latter two seats, fortunately, are Alan Simpson and Clare Short - both very much of the old school, and intent on not giving Blair an easy ride in steering the party away from its roots, but both nevertheless suffering swings away. In Wansbeck, Denis Murphy (the only current Labour MP with a mining background) triumphed. Like Sarah, I was amused that the Tory candidate was called Ginny, but even more amused that she thought she stood a chance while her address as given on the ballot paper was in Wiltshire. Obviously she'd have been in touch with the issues concerning local people in south Northumberland...

Best moment of the night? Well, I missed the Paxman v Galloway heavyweight bout, so it was no contest - the look on Robert Kilroy-Silk's face when the Erewash result was announced and the possibility that he might have lost his deposit sank in. This was a seat in which he polled 31% of the vote in the European elections, don't forget. Hilarious. His political bubble has well and truly burst.

Other bloggers' reactions to / reflections on the election:

Skif recounts his experience counting votes in the Liverpool Riverside constituency (thankfully there were no recounts);

Paul rejoices at Kilroy-Silk's dismal failure in his constituency;

Diamond Geezer despairs at the news that George Galloway is his new MP (as he is for He Who Cannot Be Named), while Inspector Sands commiserates;

Jonathan is bemused by Howard's decision to step down;

Pete and Swiss Toni write about their experiences of voting yesterday;

The Girl offers a guide as to "How To Be Political";

Mike sums up the evening's viewing;

and Vaughan is perturbed with the enthusiasm with which some of the electorate greet the results...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Blogwatch: in brief

On a political tip (honestly, anyone would think there was an election going on)...

Jonny B, obviously bitten by the politics bug following his involvement in the recent SWSL Right To Reply feature, presents his reflections on the main parties and their respective campaigns, before encouraging a rather intriguing tactical voting strategy (scroll up for the second and third parts of the post);

Sarah is bemused by a hand-written letter from her local Tory candidate;

Jonathan, exhausted and exasperated by the thought of having to make a choice, leave the big decision up to baby Frankie.

Meanwhile, away from politics...

Inspector Sands reports on a visit to Barcelona;

Holt and He Who Cannot Be Named enthuse about recent Bloc Party and Brendan Benson gigs respectively;

Wan finds himself out hunting for baby bamboo shoots at 4am.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The inquisition

As the old cliche goes, a week is a long time in politics, so it's at the risk of seeming woefully behind the times that I feel compelled to share my thoughts on Thursday's special edition of 'Question Time' featuring the three party leaders.

Michael Howard came in for some fierce criticism for the Tory policies on tax and immigration, and also underlined his party's nonsensical position on Iraq - he claimed Tony Blair took us to war on false evidence and is thus a liar, and yet was still happy to concede that the Tories would have done the same thing had they been in power.

Charles Kennedy, up first, had an easier ride, and came across as relaxed, focused and breezily confident of his party's chances of making significant gains.

But the real interest was in the final third of the show, when Blair came up against an onslaught from the studio audience, the savagery of which surprised even me. Iraq was the most contentious issue, and Blair was very evidently uncomfortable fielding questions and points about his decision. For a man widely expected to be leading his party into an historic third term in office, he looked remarkably beleaguered, able to say little more in his defence than that he had acted in "good faith".

On the question of trust and leadership, his mantra was "Well, you're going to have to decide". Thanks for that, Tone, I think we already knew that much. As defences go, it was hardly robust.

His eyes visibly lit up when talk turned away from Iraq and towards home affairs, but even then he found himself lost for words when told about the way the new system for getting doctors' appointments within 48 hours is working in practice.

All in all it was, I thought, a very shaky performance from a man who, in the world of glib political rhetoric, is a consummate professional.
Junk junkie

As a documentary film about the impact of junk food on health, 'Supersize Me' could have been pretty dry and dull, but Morgan Spurlock's Michael Moore style approach, though lacking subtlety, ensured it was for the most part entertaining.

Watching someone endure ninety McDonalds meals in thirty days wasn't pleasant (neither was the footage of stomach stapling surgery), but if it does have an effect on public attitudes to fast food then it'll have done its job. I'm certainly not averse to a bit of greasy stodge (though I refuse to patronise McDonalds and their ilk), but generally I've been trying to eat better of late. Healthy eating does seem to have become a real public concern over the last few years - just as well, if we don't want to go the same way as the Americans.

'Supersize Me' is probably best viewed in the context of 'Jamie's School Dinners' and Eric Schlosser's book 'Fast Food Nation', which have also helped in getting the message across. Spurlock only touched briefly on the issue of school food to which C4 dedicated a whole series, whilst 'Fast Food Nation' takes a much broader look at the junk food industry than 'Supersize Me' - not just focusing on McDonalds, and looking beyond the obvious effects on health to examine the industry's influence in areas such as employment, farming, business and culture. As good as 'Supersize Me' is, it's not as nutritious and satisfyingly filling as Schlosser's book.
In loving memory

In the early hours of Saturday morning I happened to catch a fascinating short documentary film on C4 called 'The Edgware Walker' about the town's best-known eccentric. Director / producer Lee Kern interviewed local people to establish the myths about the Walker, before revealing the sad truth: he felt compelled to walk or run from one place to another every day as a form of tribute to his father who had committed suicide.

At the end of the interviews Kern broke the news of the Walker's own death, and the expressions on the interviewees' faces spoke volumes - people obviously assumed he'd be around forever, the most recognisable and distinctive feature of their home town even though they knew very little about him. His death was portrayed as a kind of death for the town too.

The film was really affecting, and made me think that the same sort of tribute should be paid to Nottingham's much-missed Xylophone Man aka Frank Robinson, if it hasn't been done already.
It's a kind of Magic

Congratulations to LMT, whose cheeky email to John 'Drumbo' French has secured his band Autons a support slot with their heroes The Magic Band when they play Portsmouth in June. It promises to be quite a night.