Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I predict a riot

Exciting news! How often have I said I'm off to Paris for a few days on, er, business and therefore will be leaving the blog unattended?! Never! But there's a first time for everything, and this is it.

I'll be back in time for Sunday's Mogwai gig at the Coal Exchange (police-inflicted riot injuries permitting), so you can expect a report on that as well as that long-overdue book review some time early next week.

So, until then it's au revoir mes amis.
Blogwatch: in brief


Lisa Whiteman - a New Yorker who writes well and takes great photos documenting (mainly) the people of the city (via Swiss Toni)

Bob Bobertson's Blog - the rather amusing blog of Bob from 'Weebl & Bob' (not to be mistaken for Boblog, the blog of Bob Mould, ex Husker Du and Sugar) (via By The Sea Shore)


Reluctant Nomad, winner of the Best Overseas South Africa Blog in the 2006 SA Blog Awards


The Quiz Blogger trawls the murky world of internet quiz sites and posts his observations - "I hate the word 'trivia'. Sure it's Latin-derived, but the word makes me feel like it shouldn’t be seriously and is therefore only good for wasting time spent in the office (if I still worked in an office that is) or killing time. The word 'quiz' is so much better. 'Trivia' is close to the word 'trivial' and therefore cursed with a casualness I despise. Always strive for nobility. People will think of you much the better for it".

Inspector Sands wonders when there'll be a decent men's mag on newsagent shelves - "A fresh plunge down the pan came from the weekly lads' mags, Zoo and Nuts. The pressure's on with competition that can do it four times a month, with each magazine seeking to out-shock the others. They're embarrassing to be seen with once unless you're a teenager or very simple indeed".

Mike asks for suggestions about where to go for his stag do.

And finally...

JonnyB has a spot of bother with some mystery dog doo.
Rather Ripped? Rather excited...

The news I've been waiting for: details of the new Sonic Youth LP!

Due to be released on 13th June, it's going to be called Rather Ripped - they've changed their minds about calling it Do You Believe In Rapture?. The tracklisting is as follows:

'Reena' / 'Incinerate' / 'Do You Believe In Rapture?' / 'Sleepin Around' / 'What A Waste' / 'Jams Run Free' / 'Rats' / 'Turquoise Boy' / 'Lights Out' / 'The Neutral' / 'Pink Steam' / 'Or'

One more titbit: some of the final touches were put to the record in J Mascis's studio in Amherst.

So, regular as clockwork, every two years since 1998 - and nearly every one a belter. Let's just hope it's another good 'un - though with Sonic Youth it's more a matter of expectation than hope.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Book Clwb


My fourth gig in Cardiff, and my fourth different venue. Having sampled the Barfly, Chapter and one of the three university venues, it was about time I ventured to the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach - and what better reason than to see the band whose album currently holds sway over my stereo ahead of the likes of Mogwai, Cat Power and The Strokes?

It's a slightly disconcerting start, being asked who you've come to see at the door - surely the staff should know who's on? But all is well - it turns out that Clwb has two different small venues, and there are gigs taking place in both tonight.

By the time we make it up the stairs and into the right room, Lone Pine have just struck into their first song. They'd probably prefer to be labelled alt-country, but there's not too much alt about them - fairly straight bar-room boogie which is melodic if a little dull, mixed in with some slower-paced songs. Cardiff's answer to My Morning Jacket? Perhaps.

But, while they might sound fine on record, the problem with seeing them perform in the flesh is that they just don't look like a band, a coherent unit. Vocalist / guitarist Dan Catherall is the one wearing the cowboy-style shirt and hat, and it's clearly very much his band, the rest simply a supporting cast who play along without a great deal of visible enthusiasm. Superficial yes, but these things matter. (More on them later.)

You certainly couldn't accuse Semifinalists of not looking like a unit, or of being dull. For the first fifteen minutes of their set I'm convinced they're the most original band I've seen for some time - and I'd not been expecting that, the name conjuring up a bunch of dour indie losers from a provincial northern town.

The three members - Ferry Gouw, Adriana Alba and Chris Steele-Nicholson - met at film school in London, and it shows. They play against a backdrop of brilliantly vibrant projections, avoiding most of the usual post-rock projection cliches (collapsing buildings, power lines etc) and focusing instead on images from the natural world. At times it feels like watching an episode of 'Planet Earth' with a live soundtrack. The effectiveness of the visuals is enhanced by the fact that all three are wearing white, so they become part of the screen themselves, the images playing themselves out on their bodies as they perform.

The projections owe something to The Flaming Lips, and I gradually revise my initial judgement of their originality - towards the end of the set there are a couple of very Lips-esque songs, the diminutive and spectacularly fringed Gouw singing with his arm outstretched towards the ceiling in a manner very reminiscent of Wayne Coyne. But there's also something else going on in there, a punk spirit which approaches but never quite approximates Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And there's an eccentricity too, the last song morphing bizarrely into a half-speed snippet of Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance With Somebody'. I'm certainly sufficiently impressed by their performance to be disappointed that they only have vinyl on sale at the merchandise stall.

Now, My Latest Novel. With a name like that, you could be forgiven for thinking that they're either an awfully earnest and downright awful emo band or an awfully earnest and downright awful bunch of schmindie bedwetters. Thankfully they're neither (though the lyrics to 'The Job Mr Kurtz Done' about wearing pyjamas and dancing to 'Footloose' do raise the spectre of the latter). The moral of the story being don't judge a book by its cover (arf arf).

The Glaswegians' debut LP Wolves, which comes conferred with the Bella Union seal of approval, is stunning. The Arcade Fire's Funeral is the most obvious point of comparison (the person previewing the gig on the Clwb site somehow managed to skilfully avoid mentioning the Canadians), but there's so much more besides: Mogwai's more refined moments, the stomp 'n' folk of Sons & Daughters, Delgados style epics, spoken-word narratives a la Arab Strap (though conspicuously without any sordid details about sexual shenanigans - see again 'The Job Mr Kurtz Done'). They even manage to make me consider revisiting or at least investigating Belle & Sebastian further. Yes, it really is that good.

What tonight's show suggests, though, is that they're not always quite sure what to do with it, and look a little nervous and awkward on stage. The set comprises nine songs in total, all but one of the tracks from Wolves making an appearance, and it begins with the first three songs from the album as well as ending with its parting shot, recent single 'The Reputation Of Ross Francis'. It's as though they don't yet realise they have the freedom to deviate from the album template and mix things up - perhaps it's a matter of confidence.

Ambient opener 'Ghost In The Gutter' and 'Pretty In A Panic' drift by before things really catch fire with the climax of 'Learning Lego', four of the five band members shouting in unison into their mics as the music gradually fades out. This is followed up with 'The Job Mr Kurtz Done' and 'When We Were Wolves', both of which depend for their impact on a similarly impassioned chorus effect, before the slight but beautiful 'The Hope Edition' and 'Wrongfully, I Rested' appear to soothe.

It's a near-perfect platform for last year's quite remarkable debut single 'Sister Sneaker Sister Soul', which begins life with an indiepop twinkle in its eye before revealing a real fire raging in its belly. A suitably stirring rendition of 'The Reputation Of Ross Francis' and its rousing chorus about "fighting tooth and nail" later, and that's it, drummer Ryan King - unfortunate to be obscured throughout by his front-of-stage bandmates - unscrewing his cymbals to scotch any possibility of an encore.

Never less than impressive, then, and with flashes of absolute brilliance. That lingering awkwardness will disappear before long once they get some more touring under their belts - and when they start to play in front of more people who own the record, which (if there's any justice) will be very soon.

One final word on the crowd - and it's a "talking at gigs" rant I'm afraid. The venue has a bar in a separate room, so why those who have decided to spend £6 each on a gig ticket and then talk throughout rather than just going to the pub for free couldn't have done their nattering in the bar area is utterly beyond me. To make matters worse, the loudest voices during My Latest Novel's set belong to members of Lone Pine. You'd have thought the Scots could have at least expected respect from their support act if no-one else - but no, Lone Pine are too busy guffawing to themselves to care. Fuckwits.
Sundae bloody Sundae

Or, rather, Sundae lovely Sundae. To go some way towards filling that aching void left by the absence of Glastonbury this year, I'm off to the Summer Sundae festival in mid August.

Held in and around Leicester's De Montford Hall, it's a very small low-key affair - there are only 5000 tickets, and the bands are mainly of the up-and-coming variety, though the headliners have been announced as Elbow, Belle & Sebastian and The Buzzcocks. Plus there's a real ale tent and proper plumbed-in toilets, and at just £65 plus £1 per tent if you order before 31st March (it's £10 more thereafter) it certainly won't break the bank - incredibly good for a three day festival (yes, it's not just confined to the Sunday).

Just when you thought you'd get away without a festival report this summer... I won't be the only blogger in attendance, either, with both Kenny and Simon having bought their tickets and the author of Delete As Appropriate looking likely to get one.
O my gawd

Up now on The Art Of Noise: the latest installment of the A-Z Of Music feature. We're up to O, so this week it's Will Oldham, Ooberman, Beth Orton and the musical episode of 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer', as well as some half-drunk ramblings from yours truly about the occupational hazards of being in a band. Amazingly, no-one chose to write about either Oasis or Radiohead's OK Computer - but then, as has been underlined week after week, the selection is very rarely what you might consider predictable...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

10,000 50,000 maniacs

While I wouldn't consider myself a stat obsessive, I take a look at them with interest from time to time, and so it is that I note that sometime this afternoon a visitor searching for information on that incomparable Geordie legend the late Little Jeff became the 50,000th person to pay SWSL a visit since it first appeared to pollute the internet in September 2002.

A modest milestone to have reached over the course of three and a half years, but a milestone nonetheless.

So, if you're a regular visitor, or even if you've just found yourself marooned here following a Google search gone awry - thanks.

Circumstances can change very quickly, of course, and there will come a time in the not-too-distant future (ie a couple of months) when I'll have less time to devote to the site - but, as things stand, SWSL will soldier on with much the same mixture of reviews, comment, flippant observation and soapbox ranting. Now there's a threat if ever I heard one...
Tasty leftovers

My review of the latest Six. By Seven LP and first to come from beyond the grave, the not-quite-studio-album Club Sandwich At The Peveril Hotel, is up on the Vanity Project site now. On the whole it's an indicator of the fact that they still had plenty of fuel left in the tank.
Dan: the man - well, sort of


I've got happy memories of student Comedy Network gigs I went to as an undergraduate, some time ago now. Sure, there were one or two duff acts, but it was only £4 in and they were my invaluable introduction to both Julian Barrett & Noel Fielding (subsequently creators of 'The Mighty Boosh') and the incomparable Geordie loon Ross Noble (subsequently 'Just A Minute' regular and massive star Down Under). Noble's visit to the Student Union was particularly memorable, culminating as it did in him taking around 200 students to a local 24 hour garage to dance to imaginary music on the forecourt - but that's another story for another time. What would our first Comedy Network gig in Cardiff turn out like?

Well, the initial signs aren't exactly promising.

The compere is dreadful, compounding his own awfulness by taking on a punter who heckles him with the sound of tumbleweed and failing to land anything more than powderpuff punches.

Meanwhile, the kindest thing that I can say about support act Ben Schofield is that he's unfortunate I saw Stewart Lee four nights earlier. Quite simply his act is the sort of lazy moderately competent stand-up that Lee consciously (and rightly) reacts against.

There's the material - yawnsome stuff about men and women, TV, films etc in the main. There's the lame attempts to involve the audience, the contrived means of moving onto new ground - the "Have you ever noticed...?", the "Is anyone here from X?", the "Did anyone see...?". They can't obscure the fact that no real thought has gone into producing a coherent set that's anything more than a handful of half-decent gags tenuously strung together.

In fairness to Schofield, he does have one or two decent lines - about learning that dolphins are the only other mammal to have sex for pleasure and wondering if the ones that get caught in fish nets are just a bit kinky, for instance - but they're few and far between.

Schofield is the sort of comedian who says "I have too much time on my hands", whereas headliner Dan Antopolski genuinely puts it to good use.

Not only is he a good deal more imaginative than Schofield, allowing his mind to wander to entertainingly odd effect (though these wanderings are evidently rehearsed, having taken place offstage - he is no Noble), but he also makes an effort to forge his material into some kind of coherent whole. Clad in a white lab coat, he continually returns to the notion that stand-up involves a combination of lies and boasting, and dissects a pair of jokes in a way which means that my thoughts drift back to Lee again.

Nevertheless, if Schofield's set is a brick wall without any cement, then Antopolski's is a sophisticated mosaic without quite the requisite amount of grout. It contains several brilliant moments - not least the analysis of the lyrics to 'No Woman No Cry', the bit about the Incredible Hulk returning his clothes to the shop and the concluding reading from his book 'Mouse Of Commons', written for "the mouse market" (material which I've since gathered is at least two years old) - but it doesn't quite hang together or flow, and there's little sense of direction or overall point (once again, this is something that I'm half expecting because of Lee).

As something of an Antopolski veteran, Skif had warned me in advance that he isn't to everyone's tastes, and tonight he loses the audience on more than one occasion, and there are a couple of walk-outs. But he's not visibly discomforted by a lack of reaction, merely pulling out another quick riff like a boxer coming back for more knowing that he'll land a punch eventually.

So, not the best I've ever seen, but certainly enough to rescue the evening from ending up a serious disappointment.

Reminder to self: in future, leave it until at least a fortnight after seeing Stewart Lee before venturing to see stand-up again. It's only fair.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Achosion I Laweni #2

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

#2 - Benedito's

Our nearest pubs The Moorland and The Tredegar might be boarded up, but it's incredible just how many convenience stores our neighbourhood is able to support. There seem to be dozens of them. Several are on Splott Road, which is also home to (amongst other things) some takeaways, a scruffy chemists, an even scruffier bakers and what must officially be the emptiest post office in the world. There is almost literally nothing in there.

Take a stroll down the street and there's only one shop that really stands out: Benedito's. A popular enough concern to merit its own website, Benedito's is for the most part a delicatessen, the shelves stacked with mysterious-looking products in jars and the ceiling festooned with an assortment of hanging salamis.

However, as the shop front makes clear, it's also an off-licence - the promise of booze no doubt an attempt to coax in those locals not of Portuguese descent (ie all of us). You can then drink your couple of bottles of Portuguese wine safe in the knowledge that you're indulging in cultural drinking.

Indeed, everything seems to be Portuguese - even the washing powder. I imagine that if you're over from Lisbon and don't like the look of Ariel or Surf then that's a great comfort. (I wonder if there are shops in Portugal selling baked beans, Bisto and Tetley teabags?)

I have to confess, though, to feeling a little bit cheated at the fact that I haven't yet spotted the gentlemen who appear in these pictures - white shirts unbuttoned almost to the waist, fantastic bushy moustaches, straw hats. One suspects they might just have been actors hired to dress up and give the place an even more authentic look.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dances with wolves

No new "proper" content here today - I'm currently suffering from a definite case of review fatigue. And there are still more to come - not least a report of the stand-up show we went to on Tuesday and the Mark Abley book that I finished a few weeks back.

So this post is about nothing much, except I feel a compulsion to shout: "Go and get the My Latest Novel album Wolves - it's FUCKING AMAZING!" We're seeing them next week - oh yes, and that means another review on the horizon...

So it's thanks to James for his recommendation.


Girl and Zoe, whose blogs Girl With A One-Track Mind and My Boyfriend Is A Twat were named as Best British / Irish Weblog and Best European Weblog respectively in the 2006 Bloggies.

(The overall winner was PostSecret. It hardly qualifies as a blog, but it's a brilliant site you really ought to take a look at if you haven't done so already.)


Anna, Diamond Geezer and Joe. My. God., who narrowly missed out.


Go Fug Yourself, which scooped the Bloggie awards for Best Entertainment Weblog and Best Writing On A Weblog. There you can get yourself a pretty-much-daily dose of hilariously catty and cutting analysis of the ill-judged fashion and style decisions made by celebrities in public.


Jonathan finds fame in the pages of listings mag Mix Manchester and maps out his anticipated accelerated rise to and fall from grace over the next two weeks - "Fri 24 - Mon 27: Pressure of fame taking its toll. Series of ill-advised liasions with nubile cast members of 'Emmerdale Farm'. Charged with affray following drunken brawl in antelope enclosure of Chester Zoo".


Betty offers her thoughts on a couple of TV programmes and in the process puts her finger on what's so wrong with modern politicians - "In a strange way, I felt a curious nostalgia for old fashioned politicians. Okay, the 1980s government was full of bullies and self-made men who hated anyone who wasn't a workaholic, money obsessed lunatic, but at least you could hate them in a straightforward way. Modern policitians seem to have been assembled at a factory and programmed with huge dictionaries full of business speak soundbites. If you ever see Hazel Blears or Ruth Kelly interviewed on TV you wonder if someone is pulling the cord in their back and expect that at some point it will all go horribly wrong and one of them will say 'Mummy, I need feeding' or 'My nappy needs changing'".

Swiss Toni takes issue with the NME and its version of rock history.

Alan reviews "Australian western" 'The Proposition' - "There is a great deal to admire about this movie. But not very much to like about it. That isn’t a criticism. It’s simply a comment on the fact that rarely has a movie been made which featured such a cast of grotesque characters that it is difficult to find one redeeming feature between the whole lot of them. But then, when you go to see a movie that was scripted by Nick Cave, that’s kind of what you would expect".

Gordon is appalled that the design of Ian Rankin's Rebus novels has changed - "Imagine my disgust when, upon opening that clever Amazon packaging, I find a book that is a completely different size to, and has a completely different cover design from, all the other Rebus books I own. My disgust was so palpable that I vented forth with a few choice expletives causing some enquiring glances from my work colleagues, glances which turned rather more quizzical when I explained the orderly way I keep my bookshelves. Never before have I arched so many eyebrows, I think they always suspected I was a bit odd but here, finally, was clarification".

On a similarly "literary" tip (well, of sorts), Wan makes it to the end of Dan Brown's 'Deception Point' - "Harold Bloom says that you should read deeply, like you are overhearing. If I applied this to 'Deception Point' I'm sure I would have suffered severe brain trauma. It would have been like the first ten minutes of scanners. The book is Michael Ironside. I am the guy with the exploding head. Once you're in his grips, you can't escape".

Phill, Kenny and Delete As Appropriate report on gigs from White Rose Movement, The Like and Guillemots respectively.

Pete rues the fact he won't be able to give gravedigging a try.

And finally...

Mike recalls an embarrassing incident of mistranslation.
London calling

If you're in London tonight and at a loose end, here's a suggestion for you. In fact, if you're in London tonight and you've got plans, cancel them and read on.

Option 1: Madame Jojo's in Soho, where Portsmouth trio Autons will be celebrating the imminent release of their Radio 1 and XFM endorsed single 'Snakes' in the company of some MTV types.

Option 2: The Barfly in Camden, where Lovemat will be tearing the capital a new arsehole with their Bruce Dickinson approved brand of sleazy metal.

Go see.
Feel good hits of the 16th March

1. 'When We Were Wolves' - My Latest Novel
2. 'Auto Rock' - Mogwai
3. 'Razorblade' - The Strokes
4. 'We Are The Also Rans' - The Young Knives
5. 'Snakes' - Autons
6. 'All Sparks' - Editors
7. 'Chinese Seagull' - The Martini Henry Rifles
8. 'Got To Find A Way Out Of Here' - Six. By Seven
9. 'You Were Born Inside My Heart' - The Duke Spirit
10. 'Virgin Velcro' - The Icarus Line
To the power N

The latest installment of the A-Z Of Music feature is up now on The Art Of Noise. This week it's the letter N - which means NME, Nicks Cave and Drake, Nottingham, and one of my by-now-familiarly half-baked ramblings about nobodies.
Just do it

Control Arms

Click For The Climate

Make Fairtrade Your Habit

Show your support - just click.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Here comes the rumour mill big time*


The Barfly is my kind of venue: underground, dark and dank, sticky-floored and with a DJ spinning The Jesus & Mary Chain and the Bloc Party remix album between slots. The archway gives it a particularly unusual feel, as though the gig's taking place underneath a railway bridge (of course, the massive pillar is a major obstruction to any view of the stage, but I manage to position myself advantageously). They even flyposter their own toilets.

Tonight it's pretty much packed to the rafters, but there's little difficulty in finding elbow room and getting served at the bar. It's over 16s, you see - which means huddles of youngsters conspicuously without pints in their hands making the rest of us wonder where our own youth went. Bitter? Moi?

Sadly there's no International Karate Plus, the sudden departure of vocalist / guitarist Rich having forced the hometown heroes to pull out at relatively short notice. Instead we have Shy Magnolias, who start off impressively. To invert that old muso hack's cliched description of a band sounding "like X on drugs", they're like The Coral off them - less paranoid and also less imaginative.

But I'm tapping my foot hoping the real killer song is just around the corner when the fuzzy-haired keyboard player switches to bass, the erstwhile bassist to second guitar and it all goes horribly pear-shaped. Of course, the tedious indie of the remainder of the set (not entirely dissimilar to that of another band I could mention...) is all the more disappointing given that initial promise.

We've not been in Cardiff long, but it's already apparent that the city boasts a clutch of sonic terrorists. Take The Martini Henry Rifles, for instance. Given what preceded them, they might be regarded as akin to Al-Qaeda, striking indiscriminately and without warning in order to cause maximum impact.

Every song - an unholy union (I use the term loosely) of drum machine, ultra-heavy distorted bass and guitars - is a devastating incendiary device. I've never heard Big Black, but this is how I'd imagine they might sound if dreamt up in an art-school cafeteria. It's not hard to believe their album is called Superbastard.

As tracks like 'John Wayne's Old Man' and 'Asian Swimmer' fly past, I'm troubled by the same question that always occurred to me when watching Nottingham's Wolves (Of Greece!) live: are they actually any good? I'm not sure. "Punishing" is the word that springs to mind - and to be punished this hard we must have been very, very naughty.

The set ends with 'Chinese Seagull' - I'm sure they couldn't sustain it for much longer than the twenty-odd minutes for which they're on stage. Afterwards at the bar, I overhear the Robinson Crusoe lookalike barman telling bassist Fudge that if they work on their choreographed moves they'll really go places. He laughs. Don't expect this lot to be bothering the charts anytime soon.

I'm sure there's an awful lot being written about The Young Knives (a great name, incidentally, but one which might sound foolish in a few years if they stick around - cf Sonic Youth) at the moment, but I approach them having read nothing but one gushing live review and heard nothing but recent single 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill'. Sometimes coming at things with fresh ears and eyes is best, and so it proves tonight - though of course I might inadvertently end up parroting what has been said about them elsewhere, for which I apologise.

Some bands just look like bands. Unmistakeably so. You know the sort. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The Cooper Temple Clause. The Strokes. The Young Knives, it's fairly safe to say, do not. Think not of carefully styled hair and so-hip-it-hurts clothing, but of swotty prefects dragged behind the bikesheds by their school ties and forcefed strong cider from green plastic bottles until they turn a strange shade of green. Guitarist Henry sports a burgundy tank-top, ferchrissakes. Meanwhile, bassist The House Of Lords - a plumper Ross Millard of The Futureheads - has opted for a shabby suit, tie and ghastly orange shirt. Fellow frontman Henry jokes that he's on the pull. Watch out: this man just might become the most unlikely sex symbol since, well, ever.

Enough of the sartorial analysis. What about the music? Well, it's good. Very good indeed. There's more than a hint of Sunderland's finest about the wiryness of the songs and particularly the vocal harmonies, but also a heartwarmingly English eccentricity and sense of humour. 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill', which appears mid-set, is the obvious stand-out, but there are plenty of other fine tunes to rival it, not least 'Part-Time' and 'The Decision' (a single last autumn). Even when one song is introduced by Henry as "one I wrote when I was 14 - it's a bit shit" ('Elaine'), there's no drop in quality.

The band The Libertines could have been? Perhaps - it's too early to tell. The encore song features the chorus "You were screaming at your mum, I was punching your dad" (or something very like it). If, unlike Doherty and Barat, they can steer clear of internal frisson and channel any aggression elsewhere, they've got the potential to avoid a messy collapse and subsequent lapse into self-parody.

Not that the crowd seems to recognise a genuine prospect when they see one. Many people have disappeared by the end (would it be malicious to suggest it's past their bedtime?), and those that remain are strangely and surprisingly unappreciative. Somehow I doubt it will be long before those who came out and stayed out are dropping into conversation that smugly superior aside: "Of course, I saw them in a small venue before the album came out...". I'll just get it out of the way now, then, shall I?

* Well, it's better than the other option, "The geeks shall inherit the earth"...

Monday, March 13, 2006

"It might have been better kept a secret"

Following Friday's show (see below), I got in touch with Stewart Lee to ask him about stand-up, his novel and - yes - 'Jerry Springer: The Opera'. And this is what he had to say...

As you put it in the '90s Comedian' show, stand-up involves standing in front of a group of strangers who are sat in the dark judging you and trying to make them laugh. What inspired you to put yourself through it again after a gap of several years?

"Well, I got frustrated with not being able to do BIG IDEAS in stand-up, and wrote a lot of stand-up shows with props or costumes or sound cues etc and then in 2000/2001 I finally quit stand-up. After doing four years in theatre I began to see the value in simplicity, and economy. I really wanted to try and do BIG IDEAS in a small way."

On stage you take risks and don't seem to mind alienating and discomforting some of the audience, while your posters for '90s Comedian' featured the Telegraph critic's comment "ill-judged and gratuitously offensive" and you also had a badge made bearing the Independent reviewer's comment "surly, arrogant, laboured". Would you say you're proud to be an acquired taste, and indeed actively promote yourself as such? And if so, why?

"I don't want people to be annoyed if they hate it - I think putting bad quotes on the poster kind of lets me off the hook. They were warned. But it's also to make the point, which is something I have come to feel increasingly strongly about, that different people will have very different reactions to the same thing."

Much of '90s Comedian' concerns your experiences in the aftermath of the fall-out from the BBC's screening of 'Jerry Springer: The Opera'. Touring the show, have you felt as though you were preaching to the converted (if you'll pardon the expression), or has there been some genuine ill-feeling directed towards you because of the second half of the show?

"There has very rarely been ill-feeling, even if people haven't liked it they have understood the point I was TRYING to make. The good thing about doing little comedy clubs, and especially arts centres, is you're probably playing to smarter people anyway. I used to nobly think the whole idea of the arts was to reach as many people as possible with good stuff, but my experience of JSTO and the protests has made me less idealistic. I can't afford to be stopped from working - I need to make a living - so ideally I'll just be able to carry on with what I am doing in relative, and economically viable, obscurity."

You talk about how 2005 was a very difficult year for you. With hindsight, are you glad 'Jerry Springer...' was televised? Were you pleased at the prospect when it was first mooted?

"I was pleased it went on TV initially - it was £45 in the West End and free on TV and I think the point of BBC2 should be to make culture accessible - this idea defined my youth, it was my gateway. But obviously, even though we couldn't have seen it coming, the Christian right seized upon the show as a result of the TV broadcast and have made it financially non-viable. It might have been better kept a secret."

The last two TV series you were involved with (as far as I'm aware), 'TMWRNJ' and 'Attention Scum!', both suffered untimely fates. Have those experiences put you off writing or contributing to a TV series in the future?

"Yes and no. Execs change every five years. The current BBC2 crop like me so I need to try and get something made before they all leave."

Armando Iannucci, Alan Yentob and Greg Dyke have recently all spoken or written about the current state and the future of the British sitcom. How healthy do you feel the British sitcom is at present?

"'The Office' is great. Don't really watch many. 'The IT Crowd' was OK. British sitcoms have always been mainly shit."

How would you describe your novel 'The Perfect Fool' for a publishers' catalogue?

"Failed first novel."

Would you do it all again?

"I am writing a new novel about The Annunciation. I'm 10000 words in."

Finally, as you mention in the show, Robbie Williams apparently said you have the sort of voice that would be ideally suited to meditation tapes. It might also be suited to reading out the football results - would you like the opportunity to follow in Mark E Smith's footsteps?

"No. I don't like football."

More's the pity - I'd like to hear Sunderland's results read out with a hint of sarcasm...

Thanks to Stew for his time.
A gentleman terrorist


When Stewart Lee takes to the stage, he's suited and booted, a far cry from the "gay cowboy" who appeared in Sutton Coldfield last February. Perhaps it's because tonight's shows are being recorded for posterity by an obliging cameraman, potentially for a DVD to be released some time in the future.

The '90s Comedian' show, which debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, centres on Lee's experiences in 2005, a year which turned out to be something of an annus horribilis for the comedian. Partial deafness, a stomach condition and consequent endoscopy (insert your own "anus horribilis" jokes here), and to top it all 65,000 complaints from right-wing Christians and the threat of prosecution following the BBC's televising of 'Jerry Springer: The Opera', the "blasphemous" work created by Lee and composer Richard Thomas.

(SPOILER ALERT! I'll say at this point that the remainder of the review contains plenty of spoilers, but I have no qualms about including them - firstly, Lee has said the show will never be performed again in its entirety (even though snippets will crop up here and there), and secondly, I had heard about several of the key jokes beforehand and it certainly didn't impede my enjoyment of hearing the words direct from the mouth of the man himself...)

While the last show began with a routine about 9/11 (or the 9th November, as Lee insisted on referring to it), '90s Comedian' kicks off with Lee waking up at midday on 7/7 and discovering emails and texts from countless friends enquiring after his wellbeing. Evidently the Springer affair hasn't tempted him to steer clear of potentially controversial material - on the contrary, he positively revels in making some audience members uncomfortable, drawing lines and then overstepping them very deliberately while all the time commentating on and deconstructing what it is he's doing. (At one point he comments on the fact that some people are laughing pre-emptively, spotting the punchlines coming: "That would save me the trouble of writing any jokes. I'd just reel off a list of topics and you'd all think of something funny. That way, if you didn't enjoy the show, it would be your fault".)

For the first half of the set, though, Lee mainly plumps for easy targets - Joe Pasquale, Dan Brown, the slower-witted members of the audience. For Lee, this is like shooting fish in a barrel, but he does it with such cleverness and sharpness - and in that inimitable and brilliant metronomic delivery style - that we're never in any doubt that this is no run-of-the-mill stand-up.

Even then, he does also coax us into a round of applause for the IRA, who are remembered with fondness as "gentlemen terrorists" with a thoroughly British sense of fair play ("even though they didn't want to be British") because, unlike Al-Qaeda, they always rang to give advance warnings of imminent bomb attacks.

The second half sees Lee turning to confront the fall-out from 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' head-on. "I heard you defending yourself on Radio 5", went one email, "You seem like a thoughtful and intelligent young man. What a pity you're going to hell". His response is to embark upon a 25-minute-long tale about drunkenness, visions of Jesus and his mum's cat's feet towel which culminates spectacularly with the sentence: "I vomited into the gaping anus of Christ". It's a defiant two fingers up to Christian Voice, as if to say: "You thought THAT was blasphemous and gratuitously offensive?" Rather like former partner Richard Herring's routine about yoghurt, it's very funny if perhaps a little laboured, the point sledgehammered home. The routine is a cathartic and personal expression of indignation at what happened, while never lapsing into self-pity or bitterness, the laughs maintained throughout. It's brave, risky stuff from someone who has been bruised and bloodied but remains unbowed.

Will he now be able to move on? Hopefully, especially now that 'Jerry Springer: The Opera' is at last touring the country, funding having been pulled last year amidst the furore. Where he goes next is unclear, but rest assured he won't shy away from confrontation and controversy if that's where his muse takes him.

(A footnote: Thinking about the section on Joe Pasquale stealing material from other comics, it's since occurred to me that, though Pasquale couldn't steal Lee's joke, he does appear to have "taken inspiration" from Lee's venture into musical theatre. Somehow I can't see 'Rentaghost: The Musical' attracting 65,000 complaints from outraged right-wing Christians, though, can you?)


Review of Lee's 'Stand-Up Comedian' show

Review of Lee's novel 'The Perfect Fool'

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cold comfort


CF10, the smallest of the University's three venues, has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. By day a bright and airy cafeteria for staff and students, and by night a darkened honeypot for the city's music lovers. Tonight's visitors include a gentleman with a heavily tattooed head, only the comically incongruous pot plants giving much indication of the room's daytime alter ego.

First up are the frighteningly youthful Neath outfit Adzuki, whose drummer Dean Gorno is sat exactly where I was enjoying a leisurely lunch earlier in the day. Perhaps not surprisingly for a foursome with an average age of around 18, they wear their influences on their sleeves - fellow Celts Funeral For A Friend (on whose label Mighty Atom Records they released their debut EP 'Five / Four'), Sparta (the chap at the merchandise stall flogging their wares sports a Sparta T-shirt, appropriately enough), a touch of Yourcodenameis:milo, the more melodic end of the screamo scale.

The songs could perhaps be stronger, as could Dan Thomas's voice, but there are certainly the seeds of something good here if this sort of stuff is your thing and they look the part, guitarist Richard Williams having that jack-knifing style of movement down to a tee.

And, as it turns out, Williams's purple patterned golf jumper and bassist Matthew Fry's Hooters T-shirt are perfectly in keeping with what follows. Tonight CF10 is a man's world, the testosterone hanging heavy in the air, thanks in no small part to Taint.

Much of Taint's power rests in the element of surprise. The ponytailed and trucker-capped bassist aside, they don't look much like sonic skullcrushers. If my memory serves me correctly, bearded vocalist / guitarist Jimbob bears more than a passing resemblance to Malcolm of the Viz comic strip The Modern Parents. If it wasn't for his tattoo, you might expect to bump into him at a church fete. Drummer Al looks similarly out of place setting up his equipment on stage - until, that is, he takes off his shirt and they start playing. According to their MySpace page, they sound like "thunder". I won't disagree.

It's not hard to see why Taint caught the ear of Cathedral / Napalm Death frontman Lee Dorian, whose label Rise Above released their most recent LP The Ruin Of Nova Roma. Their songs, blessed with such titles as 'Zombie Barnstorm Revival', are slabs of awesomely heavy sludge metal but with more than a hint of a post-rock sensibility, suggestive of Clutch jamming with Mogwai, or Aereogramme had they come from a metal background. I note their forthcoming show at the Medicine Bar in Birmingham - as good an indicator as any of their leftfield credentials. Not your average knuckledraggers, then, and to the liking of many of tonight's audience (myself included), judging by the swift mass migration towards the merchandise stall at the end of their set.

I'm not entirely sure what to expect from Cave In. From their inception in 1995 a ferocious hardcore metal band, they gradually morphed into a more experimental outfit. The Jupiter LP was a landmark, and they left underground label Hydra Head to sign to RCA / BMG, which released Antenna in 2003. In many ways Antenna was - and still is - a remarkable record: melodic, muscular, epic and ambitious, if occasionally lyrically absurd ("Nothing in his mind, the rent there's much too high", anyone?). With a striking album under their belts, major label money behind them and the patronage of Dave Grohl, the future looked more than rosy.

But, as is so often the case in these instances, it didn't work out, and while last year's Perfect Pitch Black LP didn't signal a step backwards to the hardcore days of yore, it did mark Cave In's return to Hydra Head. For much of their core fanbase, Antenna must have sounded utterly alien, a betrayal or - yes - a caving-in to the lure of mainstream success. How will they respond?

Vocalist / guitarist Stephen Brodsky's Anthrax T-shirt says it all. Sure enough, they kick off with a dual-vocalled bludgeoner which finds Brodsky and bassist Caleb Scofield taking it in turns at the mic, the former crooning and the latter emitting a fearsome vein-popping growl.

The next song is much the same.

And the next.

I've spent much of the day refreshing my memory of Antenna and the mini-LP that preceded it, Tides Of Tomorrow. Before long it's apparent that I needn't have bothered. During a set that can only be around an hour long Cave In don't play a single song from either record, meaning that the only song I recognise is the rendition of Nirvana's 'Breed', which comes towards the end after a trio of breakneck-fast Misfits covers.

All four covers feature guitarist Adam McGrath on vocals - a rarity, he assures us, but also apparently a necessity. Brodsky, you see, has a cold and doesn't feel up to singing much, meaning the set-list is decimated - hence being reduced to cover material. Sure enough, he's coughing away, but this is the last night of the tour (as they point out on more than one occasion) - surely he should be prepared to risk it for the sake of the fans who've come out if there's no reason for him to conserve his voice for a gig the next day? I'm feeling cynical, though, and - rightly or wrongly - can't help but think that it's a convenient way for them to ignore material which they've grown to dislike, even if that's primarily what many of us have come to hear.

No matter about us, though - the band are clearly having a great time of it, if Brodsky's incessant grin and McGrath and Scofield's self-absorbed banter are anything to go by. When they scuttle offstage and don't return for an encore, it's almost a relief.

As the lights go up I'm handed a flyer by a chap from local promoters Lesson No. 1, and subequently spot him in conversation with Jimbob of Taint. Another Cardiff date for them in the offing perhaps? At least then something good would have come of the night.


Review of Cave In at Nottingham Rock City, February 2003

Review of Cave In at Leeds Festival, August 2003
Feeling groggy?

Last month I mentioned the word origin desk diary I got for Christmas. Well, after a period during which nothing much of interest came up, the roots of the words which featured yesterday and today are definitely worth a mention.


"BAZOOKA: In the 1930s in the United States, Bob Burns, a popular radio comedian, invented a musical instrument from a funnel and pieces of stovepipe. He called it a 'bazooka'. During World War II, GIs used this as the inspiration for the nickname for a new antitank weapon with a similar shape".


"GROGGY: If you drink a lot of rum, you may get 'groggy'. This word originated with 'grog', the traditional name given to rum in the British Navy. The term dates to the mid 1800s, when British Admiral Vernon made an unpopular change - he ordered that rum rations be diluted with water. The admiral was known as 'Old Grog' because he typically wore clothes made from grogram, a coarse cloth, and his nickname became the source of a new term referring to the watered-down rum".

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

You’re having a laugh, aintcha?

(This should have been posted weeks ago, when it would have been vaguely topical. I still thought it might be worth putting up, though. I'd welcome any comments, especially from those who knows anything about the contents of Iannucci's lectures or saw the episode of 'Imagine'.)

For whatever reason, the state of the British sitcom has been something of a hot topic of late, and as comedy is a subject very close to my heart I decided I’d pitch in with some thoughts.

Armando Iannucci – possessor of a near-peerless comedy CV but most recently director, producer and co-writer of BBC4’s ‘The Thick Of It’ – has delivered a series of lectures on the future of the British sitcom, while an episode of another BBC4 programme, Alan Yentob’s vanity arts show ‘Imagine’, was devoted to an exploration of the subject. Unfortunately, I heard or read precious little about either of these, but I did however come across the broadsheet article in which Yentob’s former BBC compadre Greg Dyke lamented the decline of the traditional sitcom. The article was occasioned by nothing more than the fact that there were recently more hours of repeated “classic” sitcoms like ‘Dad’s Army’ than there were of new shows – the implication being that the British sitcom is dead.

It all struck me as a load of sepia-tinted drivel.

It’s true that the “sits” are now in many cases much further removed from the realms of reality than ‘The Good Life’ and ‘Fawlty Towers’. Peter Baynham’s ‘I Am Not An Animal’, for instance, was an animated sitcom about a group of animals freed from a vivisection clinic with the collective but misguided belief that they knew how to function in human society. Meanwhile, I wouldn’t deny that ‘The Mighty Boosh’ is the work of two incredibly imaginative / severely disturbed individuals (Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding), but even the literally fabulous worlds they conjure up – like the grotesque characters of Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson in ‘The League Of Gentlemen’ or (to a lesser extent) of Julia Davis in ‘Nighty Night’ – bear at least some relation to our own, however tangential.

Some people – and I imagine Dyke might be one of them – might complain that it’s easy to be funny when you let your imagination run riot and create extraordinary situations, but much harder to wring humour from the mundane reality of everyday existence. True, perhaps, but then of late sitcom writers have proven themselves astonishingly adept at this too. The creators of ‘Spaced’ and ‘Peep Show’ have forged comic gold out of the ostensibly jaded raw material of cohabiting characters, but the benchmark for this type of sitcom is, of course, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s ‘The Office’, its nondescript title and subtle writing inch-perfect. Perhaps even more remarkable, however, is ‘The Smoking Room’, set in a single room in a nondescript office, with all the added constraints that brings to bear upon the writers. (Also worth a mention on that score: Paul Whitehouse’s ‘Help’, set entirely in a psychotherapist’s office.)

Some people – and, again, I imagine Dyke might be one of them – might complain about the apparently ceaseless movement towards extremity that ‘Nighty Night’ represents; they don’t make ‘em like they used to etc etc. It’s true that today’s sitcoms are in general sharper, harsher and darker in tone than their much-celebrated (and much-repeated) predecessors, often as likely to induce unease and nausea as laughter and a warm glow to the extent that you watch through your fingers, at least metaphorically speaking. But then comedy is often not just about getting laughs and the feelgood factor, it should also be about stimulating and provoking the viewer, and pushing boundaries. In any case, would you rather watch Compo careering down a hillside in a wheeled bathtub for the umpteenth time, or Tubbs suckling a pig and Jill chucking chicken tikka under a closed door in an attempt to convince Glenn that it’s her afterbirth?

One related point Dyke did make that I can’t dispute is the disappearance of the middle ground. He suggested that ‘The Vicar Of Dibley’ was the last sitcom with family appeal to garner a mass mainstream audience. ‘My Hero’ and ‘My Family’ have been attempts to fill the void, but without success, mainly because they’re shite (in any case, the latter has featured a cunt joke, so it’s not exactly ‘Keeping Up Appearances’). We just don’t do the MOR American-style sitcom anymore.

What is also striking (though it was ignored by Dyke) is the apparent complete disinterest in sitcoms currently exhibited by ITV. This would be a major concern were it not for the fact that the BBC and Channel 4 seem determined to compensate. BBC3 in particular has proved a godsend for aspiring comic writers, allowing them to effectively trial their creations on a channel conferred with a degree of prestige by virtue of being under the BBC umbrella, before then transferring them (if successful) to the corporation’s terrestrial channels.

The output of the BBC and Channel 4 illustrates that to suggest that the British sitcom in general is dead, or creatively bankrupt, is to do the country’s comic writers an unforgivable disservice. Take a look at the last ten years – fantastic sitcoms everywhere. In addition to those mentioned above I might add: ‘I’m Alan Partridge’, ‘Black Books’, ‘Green Wing’, ‘Phoenix Nights’, ‘Happiness’, ‘Nathan Barley’, ‘Catterick’, ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, ‘The Royle Family’… No sooner had the BBC2 run of ‘The Thick Of It’ finished than ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Hyperdrive’ started.

Of course, not all of these will survive for posterity, partly because they belong to a particular moment in British cultural and social history (though so does a sitcom like ‘Open All Hours’, and that still raises more than a chuckle). Neither has every sitcom of the last ten years been of a uniformly high quality as (say) ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’. Ricky Gervais and Peter Kay came a-cropper last year with ‘Extras’ and ‘Max & Paddy’s Road To Nowhere’ respectively, and I wouldn’t lose any sleep if every episode of ‘Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps’, ‘Swiss Toni’, ‘Time Gentlemen Please’, ‘Early Doors’ and ‘Hardware’ was destroyed in a massive fire. In fact I’d be more than happy to play the role of arsonist.

But the odd dud is inevitable when so many new sitcoms are being produced – most are well-conceived, well-written, astute and (most important of all) genuinely funny. Commentators like Dyke were probably sounding the sitcom’s death knell when ‘The Young Ones’ first appeared.

Unlike a certain parrot, then, the British sitcom is not dead. Neither is it sleeping. In fact, it’s in rude good health.
Radio ga-ga

Congratulations to two up-and-coming bands of my acquaintance, who have both featured on national radio in the last week. On Monday night Steve Lamacq gave an airing to 'Snakes', the fast and furious debut single from Portsmouth's Autons, on his Radio 1 show. Meanwhile, last week on Radio 6 Lovemat's 'Between The Lines' was played by none other than Bruce Dickinson - which makes my description of the track as sounding "like The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster rubbing themselves inappropriately with Iron Maiden LPs" rather apt.

Up now on The Art Of Noise: the latest installment of the A-Z Of Music feature, which this week includes pieces on everything from Marvin Gaye, Missy Elliott and The Smiths to 'Zulu' and Mr Miyagi & The Undercover Kung-Fu Fighters. Regular SWSL readers might also find it an interesting read because I've managed to bite my tongue and avoid saying anything derogatory about The Stone Roses and Britpop for the duration of my piece on Manchester...

Monday, March 06, 2006



The Bargain Basement - home of Lord Bargain, a co-author of football blog Cheer Up Alan Shearer (via Swiss Toni)

Boob Pencil - the site run by author / blogmeet organiser / blog commenter extraordinaire Clare Sudbery (via too many blogs to name)

Me And My CDs - the tales of one man and his ever-expanding record collection (via Paul)

Some Kind Of Drum Chick - on which Creepy Lesbo chronicles her attempts to master the drums

Trabant Driver - the blog of a Trabant enthusiast (via Skif)


JonnyB, who's been having a little trouble with boilers of late, celebrates his blog's second birthday.


The wanderings of By The Sea Shore's mind take a dark turn - "It's funny how the mind works. For example, as I leant back from the loft ladder against the wall supported only by my head, my first thought was not how I and the impossibly heavy crate of LPs that I was gingerly holding above my head could make it safely back to the floor. Instead of deciding how best to ease out of an uncomfortably rigid pose without falling, I tried to work out how long it would take anyone to notice in the event of my having an incapacitating or fatal accident".


Jonathan bows the pressures of the 21st century and gets himself a mobile phone - "I didn't quite get the hang of text messaging at first - I had to call the Virgin helpline, where a very patient young man explained the reason I was 'getting more letters than I'm typing in here' was because of something called 'predictive text'. And OK, I didn't know how to do punctuation at first - and couldn't get used to the need for brevity - so my first few text messages came out as free-form, stream-of-consciousness riffs that would have been rejected by Jack Kerouac's publishers as being rambling and lacking in structure".

Swiss Toni somehow survives a James Blunt gig without shooting himself in the head - "The Force is very much with him at the moment..... why can't we just celebrate the fact that a British singer-songwriter is being so bizarrely and unexpectedly successful worldwide? Why do we have to throw stones at him because he has escaped the indie ghetto? Far better this than Westlife, I say".

Betty hands her blog over to young Jimmy Blunt's dad for some insightful comment on Junior's recent conduct - "Going cap in hand is not my usual approach, but we have been rather frozen out by heir apparent due to his choice of career. Heir apparent started out rather promisingly viz. army career, playing big part in annexing of valuable bits of Austro-Hungarian empire, but it has all gone to ground. Why, I was encouraged be some downstairs staff to watch a recent 'television programme' in which he received some 'swing music' award or another. Bally fool was wittering on about how many pretty fillies there were in the audience, AND he rather seemed to be mocking his army career".

Mike reports on an unusual night out - "Yesterday's amateur strip night at the White Swan exceeded all my expectations, chiefly due to the extraordinary performance given by 'Viola', a scrawny sixtysomething tranny from Latvia with a limited grasp of English, and indeed reality. Despite being initially received by a more or less stunned silence from the punters, by the time it came to the public vote we had all recovered our bearings enough to give her a massive, sustained ovation".

Laura finds herself ensnared in a "fart trap" - "The aroma intensified around me in an acrid invisible cloud. I spotted the pharmacist coming back to serve me".

And finally...

Mario's latest 100 word poem is 'The Metaphysics Of Error' - "Sandcastle Uproar was knot the beast proofreader anyone had ever scene, but she worked hat a hack add dim ick small press. Spel lung and gram mar is not hen exact sigh hence, she used to say, so I down try too be par fact. San Kastle had in accomadating boss who dint expect a grate deal from her and loved her scents of home mar. Thanks to San Case Sell, he said, oar press pub lushes many ink cohere ant books. Whee have a ripe pew tea shun four chill lunge ink books that reword close ink speck shun".

Friday, March 03, 2006

Linda Smith RIP

"People knock Asbos, but you have to bear in mind they're the only qualification some of these kids are ever going to get".

"David Mellor, the thinking woman's fat, ugly bastard. The last woman to run her fingers through his hair was the nit nurse".

"Laughter is the best medicine, but that's not true if you've got facial injuries".

We're going to miss Linda Smith, aren't we? An institution on an institution (Radio 4). Voted the Wittiest Living Person in 2002. Only 48 years old. Forty-fucking-eight.

Her quickwittedness is encapsulated in the following response to a heckle when performing stand-up:

Student: "Show us yer tits!"

Smith: "Ah, is it time for a breast-feed?"

Mark Steel's obituary in the Independent

Jeremy Hardy's obituary in the Guardian

Tributes in the Guardian

(Thanks to Jonathan for the links.)
Quote of the day

"It is not in our power stop Bush's visit. It is in our power to protest it, and we will. The government, the police and the corporate press will do everything they can to minimise the extent of our outrage. Nothing the Happy-news Papers say can change the fact that all over India, from the biggest cities to the smallest villages, in public places and private homes, George W Bush, incumbent president of the United States of America, world nightmare incarnate, is just not welcome".

Arundhati Roy writes about Bush's visit to India in the Guardian.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)
Powerful stuff

Brad Shoup gives us his Top Ten Power Ballads, a list featuring everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to The 13th Floor Elevators, The Rapture and Lift To Experience. No 'Eternal Flame', or 'Alone' by Canadian soft rockers Heart, both of which would have got my vote.
Feel good hits of the 3rd March

1. 'Willie' - Cat Power
2. 'Caviar' - The Icarus Line
3. 'Sailing Around The Horn' - Six. By Seven
4. 'The Battle Of Falcon Hill' - Lovemat
5. 'The Boy's Republic' - Deftones
6. 'Be Honest' - The Wedding Present
7. 'Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely' - Husker Du
8. 'Camera' - REM
9. 'Red Weather' - The Duke Spirit
10. 'Bullets' - Editors

Incidentally, my review of the Lovemat single 'Between The Lines' is now up on the Vanity Project site.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The sweet smell of bullshit

Films, eh? Like buses. There's nothing I want to see, and then suddenly New Year arrives and - hey presto! - they're everywhere. To name but a few (all thus far unseen): 'Capote', 'Good Night, And Good Luck', 'Jarhead', 'Brokeback Mountain', 'Walk The Line'...

Last night, approximately two months after the rest of the world left auditoriums with tears streaming down their faces, I finally got to see 'A Cock & Bull Story', Michael Winterbottom's marvellously self-reflexive adaptation of Lawrence Sterne's 18th century classic 'The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman'. Starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon - or should that be Steve Coogan / Rob Brydon, or Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan if it's in alphabetical order? They have quite a ding-dong about this...

But I'm getting ahead of myself - the film hasn't even started yet.

We only just make it to Chapter in time for the early screening, my journey on foot having been somewhat circuitous. There was an undelivered parcel to pick up from the sorting depot, you see, which meant venturing into Grangetown and wandering past the lovely shithole that is Ninian Park, home to Cardiff City FC.

What was in the parcel, you ask? A selection of CDs a mate was returning to me. Don't be so nosy.

So, the film. Quite pricey there, at £5.20 each. Maybe that's the going rate these days. No concessions for us any more, unfortunately. Those days are long gone.

There isn't any time for a drink beforehand, unfortunately - we're both parched and could have done with a nice pint of their finest Warsteiner. Or perhaps a bottle of Duvel. The Samuel Smiths Cider slips down very well too. Steve Coogan seems to spend the entirety of 'A Cock & Bull Story' drinking. Vodka tonics, to be precise. Of course, it's not really Steve Coogan. Or, rather, it is - on one level. He's also Tristram Shandy, Tristram's dad Walter and a fictionalised version of himself. Rob Brydon is just two characters - Uncle Toby and a fictionalised version of himself. Or is it three?

Actually, it's more. The fictionalised Coogan plays Alan Partridge. Brydon plays Alan Partridge, much to the fictionalised Coogan's annoyance. Both play Al Pacino. Yeah, I know - I could have done with one of those vodka tonics. And there's Dylan Moran stood at the bar playing a fictionalised version of himself drinking a glass of wine. The bastard. I do hope there's going to be another series of 'Black Books'.

Speaking of black, the screen goes black at one point, to represent the black page in the novel. It's not for long because someone says it wouldn't be very interesting for the audience. Well, I find it interesting. And funny.

As does the audience member in front of me. Actually, he seems to find plenty of things funny. Such as the scene in which the fictionalised Coogan dreams he is miniaturised and suspended naked upside down in a miniature model womb. And the scene in which the fictionalised Coogan acts at acting as if he has a hot chestnut down his trousers, and then acts as if he has a hot chestnut down his trousers. The man's laughter is loud. Louder than mine. Am I showing my appreciation enough, I wonder? Perhaps I should be a bit more enthusiastic. After all, the film is very good indeed. And funny. And Tristram hasn't even been born yet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again - the film hasn't even started yet.

When we walk into the auditorium, there's a healthy audience but it's not full. We take a pair of seats next to the aisle. Very comfortable. It's quite a decent size, the auditorium. Bigger than the one that appears in the film when the fictionalised versions of the actors are watching and then discussing the filming of the film.

And then the lights go down, and the film begins. The fictionalised Brydon is asking the fictionalised Coogan to look at his off-white teeth. That reminds me - a trip to the dentist is overdue. That either means going all the way back to Nottingham or registering with a dental surgery here. Hmm.

I'm feeling a bit peckish. We'll have some chips in the cafe.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again - the film hasn't even finished yet.

You want to know who's in the film? Well, it's started now, so let's see. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (see above). And Dylan Moran.

There's David Walliams. Underused. A bit of a waste. He's a great comic actor, even if 'Little Britain' is just becoming as tired as 'The Fast Show'. I used to like that.

There's 'The Fast Show's Mark Williams. A battle recreation fanatic. Excellent. Also has a go at playing Alan Partridge.

There's Keeley Hawes acting as if she's giving birth to Tristram, and then acting at acting as if she's giving birth to Tristram.

There's Shirley Henderson. Saw her in Shane Meadows' 'Once Upon A Time In The Midlands'. She was the only one who had to master the Nottingham accent, and did it with aplomb. Saw it in the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham. This place - Chapter - is better, I think.

There's Tony Wilson, playing the person Coogan played in Winterbottom's '24 Hour Party People' and interviewing the fictionalised Coogan. I'm thinking of Joy Division. 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. That was quite something at Glastonbury, wasn't it? If you closed your eyes, at least.

There's Gillian Anderson in it, strangely enough because of Tony Wilson. Gillian Anderson? You know, Agent Mulder from off of 'X Files'. Or is it Agent Scully? I can't take her appearance seriously. Now I'm thinking of that fucking Catatonia song. Hang on, am I supposed to profess an undying love for them now I'm a Welsh resident and it's St David's Day?

OK then. What's the message? Well, one of Stephen Fry's two characters (oh, didn't I mention he's in it too?) (and by that I don't mean he plays a schizophrenic) says something clever about life and art. But his other character says something funnier about a cock and a bull so I think that may be it.

What would Lawrence Sterne have made of 'A Cock & Bull Story'? Well, I think he'd have loved it. Faithful to the spirit of the book, and it's that incredible spirit that's most important.

Of course, if this review was to have been faithful to the spirit of the book and the film, I'd have written about anything but the book and the film...

Ah, you seen what I been trying to do there?
A bear's man's tale

When 'A Cock & Bull Story' finished, the night was yet young and we were already at Chapter, so it made sense to make the most of it and stay on for another film. We had a choice of documentaries: 'Channels Of Rage', about a pair of Israeli rappers, one a Zionist and the other an Arab; and Werner Herzog's 'Grizzly Man', about Timothy Treadwell, who lived with grizzly bears in the wilderness of Alaska for fourteen summers until he and his girlfriend were killed by them in 2003. Both sounded potentially interesting, but we plumped for the latter.

'Grizzly Man' incorporates interviews with Treadwell's friends, acquaintances and - towards the end - his parents, but consists mainly of footage edited by Herzog from over 100 hours of film that Treadwell himself shot during his last five "expeditions" (it's still overly long, but that's a fairly minor quibble). This footage includes some impressive images of Treadwell's ursine companions in their natural habitat, but wildlife documentary this is not. The film is entitled 'Grizzly Man' with good reason - it is Treadwell himself and not the bears that is at its centre.

With his flowing golden locks, baseball cap and shades, Treadwell looks like a surfer washed up on unfamiliar shores, and his bouncy, bright enthusiasm when on camera with the bears behind him is reminiscent not of David Attenborough but a hyperactive children's TV presenter. As Herzog suggests at one point, Treadwell appears to have cast himself as the "kind warrior", the fearless all-action hero of his own movie, and indeed it is as a fellow filmmaker as much as anything else that Herzog is interested in him.

Throughout the film Treadwell has three mantra-like lines.

Firstly, he constantly claims that by living with the bears he is protecting them from outside threats to them and their habitat, and by documenting it he is able to educate children. But, aside from some brief clips very early on, we never really see him in action in the classroom (a failing of the film, perhaps). More puzzling is that first claim - how is he protecting them, one wants to ask him, and from what? Indeed, when he encounters poachers who throw rocks at one of the bears, he is appalled but remains hidden, refusing to reveal himself and stop the torture. As an Alaskan native points out, Treadwell was himself an intruder, and in ignoring the safe distance between humans and grizzlies he was equally guilty of disrespecting them. And, of course, it was that dangerous disrespect that ultimately got him killed.

Secondly, he spends much of his screen-time declaring his love for the creatures that surround him (or with which he has surrounded himself): the bears (which are all given names), foxes, even - pathetically, amusingly but nevertheless touchingly - a bee. Herzog talks of Treadwell's desire to live in harmony with the natural world, but of course it also betrays a desire to be loved - a desire that seems to have gone unfulfilled in the human world, in which he was troubled by (amongst other things) alcoholism and relationships with women.

Thirdly, he repeatedly draws attention to the perilous situations in which he places himself, claiming that his survival is a matter of special courage and ability, as well as a rapport with the animals. Anyone else, he argues more than once, would be ripped to pieces. And this is where I think Herzog's otherwise excellent commentary could have been sharper. For, while harmonious living was important to Treadwell, he also evidently wanted to be at the centre and in control, to feel master of all he surveyed - wildlife, landscape, himself. Good old-fashioned hubris, in other words. It was like some kind of crazily dangerous child's game - one precipitated by a deep-seated psychological need, but childish all the same.

And yet for all his self-obsession and idiocy, Treadwell remains a sympathetic character it's hard not to warm to, and when Herzog listens to the audio tape of the fatal attack and later when Treadwell's ashes are scattered in the place he called home there was a definite lump in the throat.
Effin' L

Now up on The Art Of Noise: the letter L installment of the A-Z Of Music feature, in which - amongst other things - Skif writes about locomotion and Swiss Toni touches on Lionel Richie's appearance on 'Top Gear'. So, not quite planes, trains and automobiles, but close.