Tuesday, June 28, 2005


Does anyone have any idea why the text on my homepage is currently unjustified and in a different font to normal? The archived pages seem to be fine. From what I can gather from Paul and Inspector Sands, Blogger's been playing up again over the past few days, so I guess it might only be a temporary problem?
Muddied but unbowed

So, I survived (just) and live to tell the tale. As one of our party commented, we can now tick the box in the list of Things To Do Before You Die that says "Wake up in the middle of a flash flood". Actually, regardless of the thunder / lightning / rain / mud of Friday, the whole shebang was really rather ace.

Accompanying me throughout the experience / ordeal was my trusty pen and paper, so you can look forward to a full festival diary appearing on SWSL over the next couple of days, just for you. (Well, that's not strictly true - jotting things down was a handy way of reminding myself each morning of where on earth I'd been the previous evening when booze had started to make it all more than a little confusing...) Expect tales of beards, punk rock cabaret, bellydancing, hillbilly covers of AC/DC songs, ketamine casualties and people mutating into peanuts...

In the meantime, and because what appears here will sadly be photo-free, check out Swiss Toni's report from the trenches and Andy's pictures from the front line.
Richard Whiteley RIP

Regardless of what else is written and said about Richard Whiteley - about his frequently embarrassing patter, awful puns and legendarily bad dress sense (offset only by the jumpers of Giles Brandreth, often to be found in Dictionary Corner), not to mention his occasional deficiencies as a - the first man to appear on C4 in 1982 was a TV institution. Jolly and enthusiastic, he was like a kindly uncle livening up many a weekday afternoon, even if he did make you squirm and cringe at times. Whether 'Countdown' can continue without the man who has become synonymous with it seems to me unlikely.

The Guardian's Lucy Mangan on Whiteley and how we gradually took him to our hearts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hippy hippy hooray!

That's your lot for the next week, folks - I know it'll be hard, but please try to hide your disappointment.

The reason? Why, my excursion to the Glastonbury Festival Of Performing Arts, of course! After an anxious wait for delivery of my ticket, courier service Special Mail finally got it right at the third attempt. (So THAT'S what the Chuckle Brothers are up to these days...)

It looks like us festival-goers might be in for a treat. Not only are there loads of intriguing musical prospects spread over the different stages, but the weather's actually forecast to be good too. Can we hope for any more? The Levellers and Jools Holland dying in a helicopter crash en route? That would just be greedy.

Joining me in soaking up the Somerset sun and cider - aside from the usual bunch of reprobates ("ex Nottingham alumni") - will be a healthy contingent of bloggers, including Phill, Andy, Swiss Toni and Smacked Face. If any of you get down there before me, mine's a pint of Burrow Hill, cheers.

Whether I'll be able to muster up the energy to produce a festival diary of the magnitude of last year's is as yet uncertain - rest assured, though, that there will be festival-related postage of some sort appearing on SWSL once I've got home and washed the smell of joss sticks, lentils and vomit out of my hair.

In the meantime, No Rock & Roll Fun can be relied upon for excellent armchair commentary, and this year there's even a blog whose author promises to update regularly from the festival "via GPRS" - dunno what that means, but it certainly sounds impressive.

See you on the other side.
Brute force

'For Whom The Bell Tolls' may not have been my first encounter with Ernest Hemingway - I read 'A Farewell To Arms' ages ago, but don't remember it - but it might well be my last.

I can't seem to reflect on the book without arriving at two of the most cliched views about Hemingway's writing. Firstly, that he's a very male author. As a fictional dispatch from the Spanish Civil War, 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' often reads like the work of a man flexing his muscles. It's packed with admittedly vivid scenes of violence and brutality (I'm thinking of Pilar's tale of the mob lynchings, as well as Andres's recollections of his teenage triumphs baiting bulls), and builds in classic style towards a tense climax when central character Robert Jordan's preparations for blowing the bridge come to a head.

Which is fine, except for the unconvincingly weak and crudely fashioned romantic sub-plot in which Jordan becomes emotionally and sexually entwined with Maria, an escapee from a train blown up by the guerrilla band. The reasons or nature of her attraction to him is never explained or explored, except vaguely by the fact that he is a dashing "Ingles", whereas his attraction to her is signalled repeatedly in the text when they first meet by the thickening of his throat. Huh?

Secondly, that though Hemingway's language - economic and functional, the vast majority of adjectives and adverbs deemed superfluous - is suited to the harshness and brutality of the events which it describes, it lacks finesse and ostentatious craftsmanship. Of course, it's a matter of debate whether a book needs to employ a certain type of language in order to be classified as 'great literature', but personally I enjoy novels whose richness of language I can revel in - that in itself can blind me to a multitude of other sins. Lacking any particularly memorable passages - even the paragraphs describing Jordan and Maria's lovemaking, while looser and more fluid in style, are disappointingly hackneyed - 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' struck me as little more than a competent and well-paced Andy McNab style thriller for readers prepared to venture further afield than airport bookshops.

Not entirely without interest, then, but at the same time not a book I'm in any desperate hurry to read again.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Film 2003

After a flurry of cinema-going at the beginning of the year, it had been a while since I'd seen something new. But the weekend was a bit of a filmfest as I caught up with three films I'd missed when they hit the cinemas many months ago.

I'd had Todd Haynes's 'Velvet Goldmine' for the best part of a year and a half, and I'm quite glad that when I did eventually get round to watching it I was sober. That said, J was sober too and got completely lost trying to follow the convoluted narrative thread, and I found the film's fragmentary nature pretty difficult to deal with too.

It's a fair evocation of the glam era and, through Christian Bale's character, what it meant for the fans, but I couldn't help feeling that it was a bit pointless. Why base Brian Slade's character so transparently on David Bowie, and Kurt Wild's even more transparently on Iggy Pop (Ewan McGregor turning in a fine performance, particularly in the gig scenes)? Why not just document the real life story? After all, '24 Hour Party People' succeeded in doing just that, whilst lacking none of the myth and magic. If nothing else, the original music would have made for a better soundtrack.

Sunday evening's entertainment was two goofy comedies back-to-back. First up, 'Zoolander'. I'd heard good things, and it's not bad, but the voice Ben Stiller affects grated on me instantly, as did the seemingly constant need to wheel out celebrity after celebrity as a source of amusement. There, for instance, in the middle of it all, was David Bowie. Wrong film, Dave - try 'Velvet Goldmine'.

Better - and unexpectedly so, because the trailers horrified me - was 'Galaxy Quest'. Or was it just the wine I'd consumed? Confession time: I was a regular viewer of 'Home Improvement', but that was in another lifetime almost, and my faith in Tim Allen's capacity to carry a full-length film had waned. He does a pretty sound job, though, assisted by Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, doing his usual hissing-through-the-teeth-whilst-rolling-the-eyes routine. The laughs were more often with rather than at. Something tells me the part of the hanger-on who becomes part of the crew was earmarked for Steve Buscemi, but he was otherwise engaged...
It's gonna booglarize you baby

Issue #14 of Skif's fanzine Vanity Project is out now. It features a contribution from yours truly, but don't let that dissuade you from checking it out. As well as all the usual grassroots goodness from up and down the country and further afield, you can find the following delights inside:

Interviews: John 'Drumbo' French (The Magic Band), Dawn Of The Replicants

Label profile: Hackpen Records

Albums: The Magic Band, Oneida, Steve Turner, Venetian Snares, The Dirtbombs, Snuff, Six. By Seven, Kinesis, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, The Kaiser Chiefs, Maximilian Hecker, The Chemistry Experiment, Hell Is For Heroes

Singles: The Buff Medways, Misty's Big Adventure, The Rakes, Shitmat

Live reviews: The Arcade Fire, Cranebuilders, Tokyo Dragons, Emiliana Torrini

You can take a peek online at the Vanity Project, where you'll also find details for getting hold of a paper copy.

On a related note, Leon has returned after a lengthy silence to report on his band's recent gig supporting The Magic Band.
"A sort of Satanic emulsion of methylated spirits and Benylin"

A Times article about the beverage that Glaswegians consider the ambrosia of the gods, Buckfast.

The article's author Jane MacQuitty fails to understand its charms, though - "One sniff of Buckie’s evil, brown, 15 per cent alcohol 'wine', reeking and then tasting of burnt raisins, old coffee dregs and black toffee, and it was clear that even the bottle stall at the church fĂȘte would not take this one".

I'm sure Mogwai would disagree with that assessment.

(Thanks to Smacked Face for the link.)
Picking over the bones

Culture Vulture: a new blog from - guess who? - the Guardian.

It features contributions by Anna of Little Red Boat, including this post about 'Celebrity Love Island' - "Paul Danan, the man with the charm of a bucket and the emotional memory of a spoon".

Thursday, June 16, 2005

"How can I miss you / When you won't go away?"

Well, they have gone now, and so let the missing commence.

Just a day after releasing new album Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves, Six. By Seven's three remaining members - Chris Olley, James Flower and Chris Davis - announced they'd decided to go their separate ways.

I'd approached them for an interview with the intention of writing a piece for the BBC Nottingham site to coincide with the album release. In the event, it's more like an obituary.

Me and Six. By Seven go back a long way - and I've written about much of it as part of this live review. The records are by and large great, but it'll be for their live shows that I'll remember them most fondly. Three gigs particularly stick in the mind: the first sighting, when they supported Fugazi at the Ballroom in Nottingham in May 1999; the triumphant and blistering homecoming show in honour of the Social's first birthday in October 2000; and at the Leeds Festival 2002, when, when all around them were losing their heads to dirty garage riffs, the boys from Nottingham crafted a stupendous set of their most mesmeric spaced-out gems.

Anyway, for anyone who's interested - and frustratingly there were never enough - here's the interview I did in full (all three members contributed):

I last interviewed you back in October 1999 when things were very different – you were a five piece and had just released the ‘Ten Places To Die' single in advance of your second album. How do you feel things have panned out since then? Has it been a struggle? And have the adversities you've faced made you stronger as a band?

"After the release of the second album things built up to a point where the band was gaining a much bigger audience, people were starting to take notice, we seemed to be constantly touring. It was great fun but it put a strain on band relationships, eventually Sam [Hempton, guitarist] snapped and bailed out! We remained a tight unit and the record company remained faithful and we agreed to record the next record as a four piece. Since then things have become harder, we changed as people and members, management, agents came and went, but we still believed we had better music in us which made us forge on. All these changes definitely made us stronger."

Do you feel hard done by with regard to the way your records have been received by the critics or the public? How much notice do you take of the press these days?

"We have our moments where we've felt we've been passed by, but that has never affected the music we make, I think we still have a massive amount quality control when it comes to writing and recording as well as the live show. As far as the press goes, we've had a lot of fans in the press who've stuck by the band through everything. It becomes harder to get press attention as you get older as a band because the media are always chasing the next big thing."

Artists... comes barely a year after its predecessor. Was there an eagerness to follow :04 up quickly? Are you feeling full of ideas and creative energy these days?

"We've always felt full of eagerness and creative energy. Unfortunately when you are with a record label, they only want you to release a record every two years so they can market it and you can tour it. Now we have our own label we can tour without financial support, but we really need to get two records out a year to make enough money to pay for the record and to be able to live off it. This is what bands used to do in the 70's, but not to survive, to make more money!! All our music must pass quality control, we wouldn't ever put a record out for the sake of it, it would damage us too much."

The new album is being released on your own label and was produced by the band at your own studio. Are you enjoying being in complete control of what you do? How does this compare to the amount of creative freedom you were permitted before?

"We were allowed to do what we wanted before but the emphasis was always on finding a single, we don't need to do that anymore. We still work closely with Ric Peet, who produced the last Beggars Banquet album and most of the second album. It's good to produce your own music I think, so long as you can!"

You’ve said you regard Artists... as your "first real release as a three piece". What do you mean by that?

"Well, on the :04 album there were tracks that were still a hangover from being a four piece and we still had this thing about playing a bass guitar onto the multi track. We didn't do that with this record, all the bass-lines were generated before, electronic keyboard bass-lines or we just left the bass off altogether!"

How enjoyable was your time on a major label?

"Yeah it was great, I wish we could do it all again sometimes, but then I think no fuck it, it's better to be in full control and to be an artist rather than just another cog in a sour industry where cash means prizes."

What's the best thing about running your own label and putting out your own records? And the worst?

"The worst is the financial stress and the organisation and knowing that people write you off. The best is that you only need to sell one third of the records you did before but you make more money and you are in total control and can do it exactly the way that you want to!!"

Are you able to support yourselves through your music and your label or has the change of circumstances forced you to make compromises and get day jobs?

"Our change of circumstances i.e. getting dropped from Mantra initially had quite a profound effect – yes, we had to get day jobs and / or sign on. This meant we were having to divide our time between surviving and trying to keep the band running. At this point unfortunately Paul [Douglas, bass] was forced into a position where he had to work rather than do the band, such is life… The three of us however managed to keep our enthusiasm and creativity going, we made :04 and the Peveril album [Left Luggage At The Peveril Hotel] over the last couple of years, and now Artists… That time in day jobs paid off, now (at least for a while) we can live off the money we made. Not many bands can do that... It wasn't easy though..."

What was it (apart from the Nottingham setting) about 'Saturday Night Sunday Morning' that inspired you to name your label after it?

"‘Saturday Night And Sunday Morning’ is an inspirational film, it is both tragic and comic. A guy works by day in a factory, and then lets off steam at night by getting pissed and getting into various scrapes – all he can do is live for the weekend. It kind of sums up all the injustices of modern living... I suppose we relate to this. 'Don't let the bastards grind you down' (a famous quote from the central character, Arthur Seaton) can be applied to anyone who aggravates you – Bush, Blair, why even the music industry!"

Do you have plans to use the label to release material by bands other than yourselves?

"We'd love to put some music out by other bands at some point – send us your demos!"

What does the future hold for Six. By Seven?

"World domination – one day everyone will own a Six. By Seven record!"


Nick Southall's Stylus review of Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves.

My review of Artists Cannibals Poets Thieves for Vanity Project.


Random Burblings - home to Alan, currently a resident of the Big Blogger house. (This post in particular is up my street - a top five gig list.)


So, Big Blogger is into its second week. A load of exhibitionists self-consciously performing for an audience, tasks to perform, rule-breaking, rooftop protests, acres of naked flesh and the odd snide remark - virtual reality imitates reality, eh? I'm sure all that Cillit Bang can't be good for them... Anyway, Peter's already gone, but voting for the first eviction is currently underway.

(Forgot to mention last week that The Girl is also taking part - go Girl!)


Robin reflects on the Jacko verdict - a provocative view, if a little exaggerated I think;

Phill, like me, is getting excited in advance of Glastonbury (yes, my ticket was finally delivered at the third attempt today);

Smacked Face has decided to leave London and head back to New Zealand;

He Who Cannot Be Named is blown away by a reformed Dinosaur Jr - but not surprised by the lack of interaction between J Mascis and Lou Barlow;

Mish posts a "Handy Guide To Being Middle Class";

Jonathan is smitten with The Postal Service (that's a band, not Royal Mail - keep up at the back!);

Del contemplates going speed-dating.
Feel good hits of the 16th June

1. 'Crown Of Love' - The Arcade Fire
2. 'Blue Monday' - New Order
3. 'So Close' - Six By Seven
4. 'Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)' - Eels
5. 'Helicopter' - Bloc Party
6. 'My Poor Brain' - Foo Fighters
7. 'Teenage Kicks' - Undertones
8. 'In The Wilderness' - Mercury Rev
9. 'Cross-Eyed And Painless' - Talking Heads
10. 'Arabian Sand' - The Coral
Quote of the day

"'There are such boys springing up amongst us - boys of a sort unknown in the last generation - the outcome of new views of life. They seem to see all its terrors before they are old enough to have staying power to resist them ... It is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live.'"

A cheery observation courtesy of Jude in 'Jude The Obscure'. As Del said in a comment on this very site not long ago, how depressing Hardy's novels are.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan - your boys took one hell of a beating...

As part of his Post 8 campaign, JonnyB has recorded a song with MC Mr Mitt entitled 'Don't Close The Post Office'. Squarely in the line of classic protest songs, 'Don't Close The Post Office' is quite explicit about its creator's sentiments on the subject of post office closure.

You can download it here. It will make you laugh. A lot.
"It's so nice to see Billy playing with something besides fire"

The Perry Bible Fellowship: surreal off-the-wall comic strips that had me guffawing loudly over the weekend. My favourites include 'Pyro Billy', 'Angry Hammer' and 'No Survivors'.

(Thanks to Mike and Jonathan for the link.)

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Putting Brum on the blogging map

Calling all Birmingham-based bloggers...

Earlier this week an email dropped into my inbox courtesy of a passing reader, Stu. Stu had noticed that both myself and Phill of Danger! High Postage were based in Birmingham, and floated the idea of setting up a collaborative Metrobloggers blog for the city.

Now, I've not been very impressed with what I've seen of other Metrobloggers sites, and I know a certain someone who would be rather less charitable about the writers for the London version as well as the Metrobloggers head honcho Sean Bonner. But the idea of contributing to a collaborative blog does appeal - so long as it isn't under the umbrella of Metrobloggers.

So, just to gauge interest and feasibility, who would be up for it? Andy's list of Brum bloggers is pretty impressive, so I know there are plenty of you out there. In the words of Delia Smith, let's be 'avin' ya!

(Of course, I don't want to tread on anyone's toes, so if a collaborative Brummie blog already exists then just let me know.)


Monkey With A Typewriter, the new home of PB Curtis;

Vaguely Dot Org, whose creator is currently celebrating the end of her exams;

Bongo Vongo, another Brum-based blog with a Bangladeshi slant as recommended by Bushra.


There's only one thing to talk about in Blogland this week: Big Blogger 2005. The brainchild of Watski and The Long Lost Lagomorph, Big Blogger has just kicked off and will run for the next seven weeks. Housemates include several bona fide Friends Of SWSL to whom I wish all the very best: Mike, Mish, JonnyB and Zoe.

The housemates are currently introducing themselves, Mish with a customary flourish and JonnyB with customarily hilarious self-deprecation: "As ever, I am wearing trousers and a cool T-shirt. I wear cool T-shirts because they make me believe that I am younger and more trendy than I am and not just a fat bloke in a T-shirt that he thinks is cool, sweating and crying whilst with desperation he struggles with the fingertips of his soul to hang on to the last grim tatters of his youth as his life spirals down the shitty eternal plughole of missed opportunities and wasted talent".


Pete reports on the weekend's Wychwood Festival - "The first thing I noticed was the bewildering array of hats perched on middle aged, middle class heads. I tried to keep my new found principles of tolerance, love, kindness and friendliness at the forefront of my mind but Rome wasn't built in a day and as the day wore on these hats increasingly got on my wick";

Sarah meets Joe Jackson without realising it (and - whisper it - tries to fleece him subtly);

Willie reflects on ASBOs and the etiquette appropriate to dogowners witnessing their respective canines getting to know each other rather better - "Eventually, our dogs returned as blasé as if they'd just been chasing sticks and no longer much interested in each other. I asked Cato if she wanted a cigarette. Sebastian's owner was a rather humourless man and gave me a very strange look but he did graciously pay for her to have the doggy equivalent of the morning after pill. I felt a bit bad about not letting nature take its course but I talked it through with her and she seemed to understand that it was for the best, what with her being a single mother and everything and that I couldn't be responsible for the offspring of her sluttish and irresponsible behaviour";

JonnyB kicks off his Post 8 Campaign to save the Village Post Office from the (potential) threat of closure with news he's to record a rap single - " tried rapping myself, in the mirror, and I was very good at it. I was even tempted to jump into the audience and shoot people. I know there are some people who say that 'white men cannot rap' but that is just as stupidly racist as saying 'all Asian people own corner shops' or 'all French people smell of garlic' or 'Israeli policy regarding the Occupied Territories isn't absolutely perfect in every respect'";

Bill muses on the disappearance of the bookshop browser;

Dave recalls being at several of Time Out's 100 Greatest London Gigs, including The Jesus & Mary Chain and pre-bollocks Manic Street Preachers;

Mike posts the first installment in what will be a series following his survey of the Troubled Diva reading demographic;

Del is bemused to learn that 'Revenge Of The Sith' is to blame for anti-social behaviour.
Politically incorrect?

(I thought this deserved its own post.)

In the course of today's net foraging I uncovered this particular truffle on Musings From Middle England: a post about the Ricky Gervais stand-up show 'Politics' screened last week on C4.

Willie's thoughts on Gervais's remarks about the gay age of consent have provoked a strong and heated debate in the comments box. Personal insults aside, it makes for fascinating reading - do peruse it, if you've got time.

Not wanting to weigh in seriously on an issue which I haven't given a great deal of thought, I won't address the age of consent. I do, however, feel inclined to step in, at least in part, in Gervais's defence.

I find him, by and large, very funny, though he's always treads a fine line between being funnily offensive and being downright offensive. In 'Politics' - which I didn't enjoy as much as 'Animals' or 'The Office' - he did perhaps overstep the mark. But I didn't feel it was with the material on homosexuality that he did this.

When quoting from a 1980s leaflet recommending sexual practices which don't involve intercourse to gay men, the object of his scorn, as far as I could make out, was the media-inflated hysteria surrounding HIV and AIDS - after all, it can only have been the level of hysteria that prompted people into thinking that recommending mutual masturbation out of windows was a reasonable alternative course of action...

Perhaps I'm being incredibly naive here - and feel free to say so - but for me it was the material on disability that was harder to stomach, as well as being pretty lazy comedy.
"Book 'im Danno!"

Spotted through the window of Steelhouse Lane Police Station in central Birmingham yesterday: The Complete Inspector Morse Collection.

A light read for quiet nights down the nick, or something much more significant? Is a well-thumbed Morse mystery yanked off the reference shelves when CID are at a loss for leads and in desperate need of pointers? "Hmmm, what would Morse do?" "Hang on - I remember a bit in 'The Secret Of Annexe 3' that might just help us out here..."

One thing's for sure: Aston, Newtown and Perry Barr might not resemble the leafy villages of Oxfordshire, but there are certainly plenty of murder mysteries to be solved.

Next week: the surgeons of the nearby Birmingham Children's Hospital are seen crowded round 'Holby City' learning new techniques.
The stuff of fiction

The Invisible Library: a fantastic site cataloguing books which exist only within the pages of other books - "imaginary books, pseudobiblia, artifictions, fabled tomes, libris phantastica, and all manner of books unwritten, unread, unpublished, and unfound".

(Thanks to Bill for the link.)
House arrest

I reckon I'm pretty proficient when it comes to fulfilling the blogger's stereotype of posting lists, particularly lists about music, so here's my attempt at another staple type of post: the whinge...

My phone's broken. Not the end of the world, but certainly an inconvenience. I arrange for someone to come, collect the faulty handset and issue me with a replacement. I'll have to be in all day - they tell me it'll be some time between 8am and 6pm.

So, a day of house arrest for me, a ten hour "window" for them and yet they STILL fail to make it. If I'd taken the day off work just for that, I'd have been furious. Fortunate, then, I work from home. Even then, it's more than a little irritating.

I believe "fuckwits" may be the appropriate term.

Right, that's that base covered. Next up: some pictures of cats...
Tune in

Speakers Push The Air is an online music 'zine and forum, as well as the banner under which gigs and club nights are organised. And all based in the East Midlands' capital of all things great, Nottingham. If only I was still living there. Sigh.
Intellectual featherweight

Perhaps the most extreme case of misplaced self-confidence I've ever witnessed: Paul Danan saying of himself and one of his female companions on 'Celebrity Love Island', "Great minds think alike".

(Not that I've been watching it or anything. For the record: total amount of time spent / wasted watching 'Big Brother' so far = less than an hour. Of course, all that could very well change...)
Quote of the day

"Stunningly creative and beautiful cinematography, though. I'll grant you that. But a turd in a chocolate box is still a turd."

Mike on 'Sin City'.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Friday night's alright for TV

I can just picture the meeting now.

"Right, we've got this new comedy panel show called '8 Out Of 10 Cats'."

"OK, when's it going to be screened?"

"Well, we're looking at a late evening slot on a Friday. Who on earth can we get to present it? We've been scratching our heads but just can't come up with anybody who would fit the bill."

"I've got it! Jimmy Carr!"

And so it was that Carr got the opportunity to descend further into smug unfunnyness in front of a pissed-up yoof audience of which I was one. The show's only real laughs came courtesy of Sean Lock.

On BBC1 it was the final 'Have I Got News For You', with Des Lynam hamming up to his suave libidinous image in the presenter's chair and David Mitchell of 'Peepshow' semi-fame in excellent form. No sooner was the show bundled off into the night than another topical news comedy, 'Mock The Week', appeared, hosted by Dara O'Briain and featuring Rory Bremner amongst others. The team behind the show, which airs on Sunday evenings on BBC2, worked on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', and it shows in the format and performance rounds. Just about enough to keep '...News''s throne warm until the next series, anyway.

'Monkey Trousers' (ITV1, 10pm), written by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer with significant involvement from Steve Coogan, is turning out to be a real dud. This press release for the forthcoming DVD of the series begins by asking: "Ever wondered what would happen if the cream of British comedy got together to star in their own show, writing and performing their own comedy sketches alongside a pool of the best writing talent available?" Well, I had, and I'd hoped it wouldn't be this predominantly feeble dilution of talent, a collective exercise in shark-jumping.

Much better was 'Grumpy Old Men' - no idea whether it was a repeat or not, but it was worth watching for Geoffrey Palmer's drily laconic commentary alone. OK, so you have to endure Jeremy Clarkson and (worse still) Rick Wakeman, but Arthur Smith is always liable to come out with some miserable misanthropic gem. Friday's was "most children these days are illiterate morons".

Back on BBC1, Jonathan Ross had the sort of line-up that must have made the show's booking agents laugh themselves stupid: Fern Britton of 'This Morning', Jane Fonda, Coldplay ... and Vince Neil and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue (sorry, I can't be bothered to try and find the requisite umlaut on this keyboard). It made for great viewing, particularly when Ross was talking to Neil about the fact that his wedding ceremony was conducted by MC Hammer.

"So, how did you know he was the right man to marry you?"

"He's not a white man..."

Fair play to Chris Martin too for not taking himself too seriously and slipping a bit of the Crazy Frog ringtone into 'Speed Of Sound'.

And, to wrap the evening's viewing up, more music on 'Later With Jools Holland'. James Blunt only got a solitary song to impress and looked scared stiff, The Coral looked faintly bored playing a song I've come to think perhaps is faintly boring itself ('In The Morning') but came to life for 'Arabian Sand', and during his pianoside chat Rufus Wainwright completely unnecessarily confessed a long-term love of Judy Garland - I think we'd guessed that much, darling.

Much less expected were Acoustic Ladyland, a spazz-jazz outfit of the sort Mike Patton would no doubt like to be involved with. Equally pleasing was the fact that, after opening with 'Krafty' and following it up with the title track of their new LP 'Waiting For The Siren's Call', New Order avoided closing the show with that shitstorm of a single 'Jetstream', instead commemorating the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis's death with a run-through of 'Transmission'.
Climate for change

A very interesting Guardian article on the Make Poverty History campaign in the light of its growing momentum.

As you've probably noticed, there's been a Make Poverty History band across the top of this page for the last couple of months, and I've been sporting one of the wristbands for a while too. The article made me reflect on my involvement in the campaign.

While I certainly wouldn't say I've leapt upon the bandwagon in the last few weeks when the publicity and media coverage has increased massively, at the same time I'm not as informed about the specifics of the campaign as I'd like to be or ought to be, and neither am I going to Edinburgh at the beginning of next month. I do take part in the regular email and letter-writing campaigns, though, so my support is more than just superficial.

Baggini's piece has prompted me to read more widely around the issues, but it ultimately concludes that there's not necessarily anything wrong with those who don't know the specifics nevertheless supporting the campaign as an inherently "good thing". He also makes the point that it's easy to be cynical about those calling for our involvement - the sight of Elton John, who lest we forget spends a quarter of a million pounds every year on flowers, sat next to Bob Geldof appealing for support turned my stomach - but it's in such a good cause that we should be able to overlook the spectre of self-interest and self-promotion.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)
The chips are down

Is This A Good Idea? Yes, Paul, it is.

Is This A Good Idea? is the latest addition to the SWSL blogroll, after I had the pleasure of meeting its creator at Phill's on Saturday evening. The occasion? A game of poker - or, rather, three games of poker running on well into the early hours of Sunday. Our host was victorious in the second game and came close to triumphing in the last. As for my performance, let's just say it's a good thing we weren't playing for real money...
A Magic night

Congratulations to me old mucker LMT, whose dreams came true when his band Autons supported The Magic Band at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth last night. Not only did the gig go swimmingly, with Autons making lots of new fans, but they were also put in contact with The Magic Band's record label by the band themselves, who were friendly and encouraging to a man. A night to remember, by all accounts.
"12) Blue. Or maybe Bisto chicken gravy"

A glaring omission from last week's edition of Blogwatch: Jonny B's guest post on Paranoid Prom Queen. Oh the joys of leaving things to the imagination...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Normal service resumed

Well, not quite.

What I said about there being a bit of a lull round these 'ere parts still stands - it's just that I hadn't intended for things to go quite as quiet as they have.

I survived the madness and intense bouts of alcohol consumption surrounding my brother's wedding last Friday (a fantastic day in every respect, thanks in a large part to the wonderful venue) and now I'm back in Brum just about recovered from it all.

Anyway, more postage over the next few weeks, I promise.
Reasons To Be Cheerful #10

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

The Anchor Inn

When I first moved to Birmingham last September, there was one imperative that motivated me more than any other: to find a decent pub within easy reach of our city centre flat.

Despite having spent increasing amounts of time over here over the course of the previous three years, I still hadn't found a good, honest, unpretentious boozer. The city centre itself often bizarrely resembles a ghost town of an evening because of the lack of drinking establishments. Those that there are are all crowded together on Broad Street, a fuckbunch of awful neon-lit hellholes where weekend revellers go to sweat on and rub flesh with one another, all at great cost.

(Is it a sign of age to want to find somewhere that you're not pressed up against someone's armpit clutching a £3 bottle of Stella? Perhaps, but I don't give a shit.)

So thank goodness for The Anchor Inn in Digbeth, Birmingham's Irish quarter - not the place to go if you're out to impress your companions with glitz, glamour and style, but a must if you're at all a fan of the humble public house.

The Anchor is a three-time winner of Birmingham CAMRA's Pub Of The Year award (following their most recent success the owners handed it on to The Bartons Arms, #2 in the Reasons To Be Cheerful series), and so unsurprisingly offers a plentiful array of real ales at all times, in addition to holding regular beer festivals showcasing the best produce of small local breweries as well as the odd beer imported from afar. Don't expect common-or-garden Chardonnay or Merlot if you ask for wine, either - it's flavoured fruit wines or nowt.

Best of all, though, and my particular favourite is the hand-pumped Thatchers Cheddar Valley Cider - 6%, flat and the same nuclear orange colour as Tango. If you're lucky you might find a bit of apple floating in your pint. A few of those and speech becomes a challenge.

The first few times we went to The Anchor, something always happened.

The very first time, on my birthday, we went for a last orders pint and ended up getting regaled with tall tales by a nutter from Stockton.

The second time was on a pub crawl with fellow Birmingham bloggers Kenny, Phill, Andy and Donna, when we discovered the delights of Craic and Kenny had the pleasure of being serenaded by a rather camp gentleman singing 'Fly Me To The Moon'.

The third time a friend and I accidentally hustled a couple of locals on the pool table despite being four or five sheets to the wind on the aforementioned cider.

There was also the time when a night on the cider resulted in a friend's girlfriend vomiting orangely all over his car in the vicinity of Walsall the next day.

I could quite happily take up residence at the bar there - a pub I can now almost call home.

And of course they sell pork scratchings.


Smacked Face, who's currently in the process of reading Geoff Dyer's 'Out Of Sheer Rage' which I finished only a couple of months ago.


Phill reviews last weekend's Dot-Dash-Dot-Dash Festival in Nottingham, which featured Radio 4, Ladytron and Komakino amongst others;

Jonathan and the new Stephen Malkmus LP Face The Truth "are getting on like a house on fire";

He Who Cannot Be Named finds his recovery from arse surgery (yes, really) is made more bearable by the 'I Am Not An Animal' DVD and a Hot Snakes gig;

Mish recalls the time she was maimed by P G Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and Flaubert;

Jonathan has difficulty choosing a tie for a wedding;

Skif, in his capacity as a fanzine writer, discovers that even bands that have issued what constitutes a death threat upon receiving a bad review expect the follow-up record to be well received;

Vicky offers her Guide To Cheap Flights Websites;

Jonny B gets some new pants for his birthday - happy (belated) birthday, Jonny!
This week on Stylus

Anthony Miccio's disappointment with Sleater-Kinney's The Woods has provoked quite a storm of comments.

Elsewhere, Anthony's rather more positive about Face The Truth, Stephen Malkmus's third solo offering since Pavement bit the dust: "Malkmus will probably never drop the oddball shtick entirely — it’s both his defense mechanism and date bait — but America could use its own Robyn Hitchcock".

Meanwhile, Ross McGowan takes a look back at the unhappily curtailed career of At The Drive-In in the company of Anthology: The Status Is Non-Operational, and is particularly impressed by the covers of tracks by The Smiths and Pink Floyd which reveal the band "in a completely new light".
To hell with... waiting for the print version

Hurrah! The music fanzine To Hell With has a website, and very good it is too. Recent additions well worth a read include a review of the new Sleater-Kinney LP The Woods, a live review of Editors and an interview with Rod Jones of Idlewild.

(Thanks to Kenny and Skif for the link.)