Thursday, October 28, 2004

unsponsored praise

It’s been less than 24 months since Andrew became the Bedsit Bomber. His new CD, ‘Best of… 03/04’, demonstrates how far he’s come. It’s an excellent, sometimes unnerving distillation of his sound.

Bedsit Bomber make an unusually organic kind of electronic music. Tracks which often begin fully formed nevertheless take time to unfold – their components are odd, dislocated things which slowly draw themselves together and reveal the song. Much of the sound is squeaks and shrill, bird like trills, shimmering over delicate beats. The first two songs, Rat Race (Ian Duncan Smoothe mix) and Sylvan Wood are perfect examples, vessels for Andrew’s sound. They’re unconventional, the latter, like a lot of BB’s songs, oddly without bass, but for a spasming rumble like a vacuum cleaner swathed in feedback, which underpins the odd, loopy melodies above.

In drawing together his track listing, from over 70 songs, Andrew slowly shaved off his most successful early tracks, and rightly so. His best work is his most recent, where the sounds and textures have broadened out, taking in everything from treated woodwind instruments to distorted guitars, and some beautiful ringing bells which recall early minimalism.

Occasionally, these components compile to create quite breathtaking soundscapes. On Succour and Liquor a series of chimes, whistles and musical glottal stops writhe before a tremendous, thudding bassline appears from nowhere. For head-music, it’s a metaphorical hands-in-the-air moment.

Things don’t always work out quite so well. Andrew can pick out a lovely melody but his harmonies often seem out (perhaps deliberately so) and he’s better with melodies than he is with rhythms, for the moment. Once or twice, on Oyasuminasai and Please Don’t Bomb Detroit, he experiments with hip hop, but his beats aren’t quite there yet and the tunes don’t quite make it through.

But songs like East River are wonderful – like music from a nightmare sequence in a horror film about a child with horrific powers, but filtered down through traditional American folk music. Eerie pianos and bursts of sinister horns are absolutely thrilling, the ending sublime.

Fellow electronic whizz kid Matt Gunn, meanwhile, lends a hand with a pleasingly funky re-working of Mr Moonlight, adding a cracking electro beat and acid squiggles to Andrew’s delicate atmospherics. It’s an uplifting spike, direct where BB usually prod and shimmer. The subsequent Heavy Flow, though, can stake it's own claim for attention; here Bedsit Bomber’s beats are spot on - crisp and lean.

Island Made For Two offers compelling evidence of Andrew’s developing ear and musicianship – built around a fragile loop the song soars on several occasions as he introduces a lilting, unexpected piano riff. It’s the elegiac soundtrack to an unmade science fiction film. A beat emerges, alone, at the end, and the song is gone.

Critical Selection, which recalls early Autechre, is more machine music than the tracks which precede it, but its second half could sit happily on Autechre’s awesome ‘Incunabula’ (once it recovers from a rather frantic start where BB briefly threatens to go trance). A recent mix of Sorbitol, the oldest song here (albeit in new clothes) is further evidence of versatility, demonstrating (as much of BB’s recent work does) an interest in dub and – to a lesser extent – rock instrumentation. And the final track, Numb and Number, is awash with sound and other worldly, like waking from dreams on sand at some side of an unfamiliar ocean.

It’s hard to emphasise just how far BB have come. This set of 13 tracks (I’ve got a review copy, but I think the track listing is final), a nominal ‘best of’ from Andrew’s already large body of work (much of it available to download on his site), is an ideal introduction to the unsettling, impressive world of Bedsit Bomber; bells, whistles, alien chatter and all. Listen with the lights on.

two new amis novels to come

Cape has signed a new, four-book deal with Martin Amis. The first book in the deal will be The Pregnant Widow, which Amis will deliver at the end of 2005. There will also be a further novel, a collection of short stories, and a collection of essays.
From The Bookseller, Oct 22.

final word from me on john peel

Okay, I'll try and make this my last words on John Peel, because this is all getting a bit mawkish and self-indulgent, and there's plenty else out there on the good man you can read. But I wanted to try and say something about how he helped broaden my tastes and fire up my enthusiasm for music. Firstly, I feel kind of sad that it's a long time since I really listened to his radio 1 show - apart from the odd fifteen minutes here and there I guess I've not listened to his show since the mid 1990s. My first show would have been in 1992, and I can remember the year because there were certain songs which you associated so strongly with Peel and that association, that enthusiasm seemed to bleed outwards and infect you. I was 14 and had spent the last few years listening to The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Ride.

1991, though, had been the year I heard 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and I had hesitantly embraced Nirvana, at first cautiously because I couldn't truthfully see the difference between what they were doing and heavy metal at first, then enthusiastically when 'Nevermind' just seemed to make sense. But I'd started on another trajectory, too, which meant that Nirvana were good but a bit commercial. Me and my friend Dan started travelling in to Covent Garden to buy 7" singles from Rough Trade, but we didn't know what to buy so we ended up with pink vinyl copies of Nirvana's 'Sliver', which we obsessed over. It was still Nirvana, but early Nirvana, and somehow much cooler.

Emboldened, we began looking for more of the same, belatedly discovering Mudhoney's 'Touch Me I'm Sick', Dinosaur Jr's still amazing 'Freak Scene', and Sonic Youth. I kept my Wedding Present albums (Steve Albini produced them, and I was picking up names) but I put away my Inspiral Carpets records. Round about this time, one or the other of us said to the other, casually, 'Oh, did you hear Peel last night?'. I can't remember if Dan said it or I did, but whichever one it wasn't immediately replied 'yeah, of course', thinking 'Who's John Peel??'. Well, we soon found out.

Over the next year or so I felt like my world was absolutely suffused with colour, and it was. 'Sheela Na Gig' by PJ Harvey was the first single I bought on the back of the Peel show, and it was swiftly followed by Pavement's 'Slanted and Enchanted', the best record I had ever heard (and will ever hear). Over the next few months there was 'Free Range' by the Fall, 'Swim' by Madder Rose, and then - gloriously - a never ending series of amazing singles. Huggy Bear, Cornershop, Sebadoh, 'You Suck' by the New Bad Things, 'PUNK Girl' by Heavenly. I went into Rough Trade with my head held high, like a king, because I knew what I was talking about by then.

More importantly, I started taping his show, sitting by my stereo with the lights out waiting for the tape to run out so I could stuff another one in before he had the chance to play the new Buffalo Tom single. By day I was glued to my walkman, walking round in a daze listening to the show. I carried a little marker pen in my pocket and when he played something which took my fancy I'd pop out the cassette and put a little dot on the plastic to mark the place. Then I'd hook up my two tape players and make compilation after compilation, wearing out the player by rewinding over and over while I tried to work out what he said the last song was. 'Green Love' by Bang Bang Maker?

Looking back, I think what I probably did was furrow my brow and wait for the next indie rock song to start. But I felt unbelievably broad-minded. My tapes from this period are pretty one dimensional, but the odd piece of oddness would occasionally creep in; I remember trying terribly hard to like Capt. Beefheart, without much success at the time. But stuff that I would previously have skipped over, like dub reggae, jungle and hip hop began to seep through. The first time I ever went to Brighton I bought Gunshot's 'Patriot Games'. I don't remember Peel playing it, but where else would I have heard it, and it began an obsession with British hip hop that never left me. Similarly, his patronage of bands like Fun-da-mental meant I began to appreciate hearing non-western sounds for the first time. I even stayed up listening to Andy Kershaw after a while.

In truth, I can't remember what he played, most of the time, but it was astounding to me then, absolutely revolutionary. Best of all, I felt like I was John Peel's confidant, and so lucky that he was sharing this stuff with me. I started developing a bit of a swagger, a bullishness about my own tastes which had been dormant 'til then.

Then, all of a sudden, it more or less stopped. I'd picked up XFM a few times, too, when it was just starting off, and one day I'd heard them playing 'The Drowners' by Suede. Alongside Blur's 'Modern Life is Rubbish', I had a record to obsess over which was doing the opposite to Peel's bands - stepping out of the underground, sounding clean and ambitious. My adoration of Rough Trade kept this side in check a little, but by 94 Blur had recorded Parklife and it was no longer necessary to listen to Peel; Elastica, Pulp, Suede, Blur and others were everywhere, and all of a sudden I was too. On nights when I would previously have been listening to Peel in my bedroom I found myself in pubs and clubs in London, watching spiky, tuneful pop groups who had no interest in the wilfully obscure discordance of the bands which Peel was championing.

Two years later it had all gone horribly wrong and the likes of Oasis, Cast and a revitalised Paul Weller had taken over. Me and my friend Sophy went to see him at Brixton Academy and walked out in horror after twenty minutes of dreadul, painful pub rock. I didn't start listening to Peel again, I don't know why. In fact, I started listening to synth-pop, buying records from car boot sales. Hmmm. John Peel or Thomas Dolby? Hmmm.

I can't imagine what I'd be listening to if it hadn't been for the Peel years. OK, I'd turned my back on it all and gone britpop, but it informed me in more ways than I knew. Oasis aside, who I hated with every fibre of my being (blur fan), I found it hard dismissing music in the way I had before. I couldn't hate reggae or techno anymore. Suddenly, it all sounded good. Vainly, I think that John Peel taught me something very important, and made me somehow better. That's an odd thing to say, but that's how it made me feel. At that point I had visions of being a writer, and began to develop a similar relationship with books to the one I had with records. But it would be a downright lie to suggest that anything mattered as much to me as music, obscure or otherwise, and nothing else made me feel so free and so complete. And Peel was at the root of so much of it - he became entwined with it all. He may be dead, but that feeling isn't, and I owe it to him.

I forget which blog I saw this link on, so apologies, but the radio plus site contains hundreds of MP3s of some of Peel's favourite tracks from recent years. If Peel's show was a treasure chest of delights, at least that box has stayed open.


Tim wrote a lovely piece about Peel, saying "This morning everyone agrees that difficult, curious, flawed, unheard-of new music is the most important thing in the world; and in that moment of clarity we each one of us realise we have lost its greatest champion and that those moments are denied once more."

What it makes me wonder is, is it true that music is a temporary pleasure, a fading interest? I mean, obviously there are plenty of people (Peel as the ultimate example) who carry their interest in music through their lives, but equally I keep meeting people who loved Peel because they had a spell in their lives when music transported them and Peel was there for them.

But, like me, they mostly stopped listening to him a while back, or lost their passion for uncovering new music. When you consider what Tim says alongside the knowledge that all these people listened to Peel at one time or other, you have to wonder why underground music continues to plough its own, much-neglected furrow underneath the radar of more commercial genres.

The only answer is that music passes. Well, anyone who enjoyed prog rock, punk, acid house or jungle will see the truth in this, but it's nevertheless interesting to note that there are plenty of people who have liked this stuff. When I'm 60 will I lose interest? And if I do, will I also lose interest in books, say? or art. If not, why should music be different??

Maybe we need people like Peel to remind us it's important, to hammer it home. We'd better not forget.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

count to ten and back again

hmm. the next person to visit my blog (as of 3.48pm) will be my 10,000th visitor (since I started counting in May). That's far more than I ever imagined visiting. So ta, all, for coming back.

thoughts on john peel

If as many people were devoted listeners of John Peel as all the nice tributes I keep reading suggest, then answer me this? How come The Fall never had a number one single? Well, it's not too late. I think we should organise simultaneous re-releases of The Fall's 'How I wrote Elastic Man', the Wedding Present's 'Brassneck' and, of course, 'Teenage Kicks', and get everyone who loved John to go out and invest. A Fall, Weddoes and Undertones top 3 next week would be a pretty nice way to say goodbye :-)

the drift from labour

Further evidence that the kick against Labour continues; at a talk in London yesterday Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger has indicated that the paper is seriously considering a shift of allegiance to the Liberal Democrats. Such a shift would be "very dramatic", he said, but there was "every chance" it could happen.

Actually, I don't think it will, personally - the ties between the paper and the public services which have benefited from Labour are too strong. But it's only a tolerably effective domestic policy which prevents them - prevents any of us - from turning completely from this bitterly disappointing, shoddy party of government.

BBC NEWS Politics Guardian 'could support Lib Dems'

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

my youth ends here

"Certainly without John Peel, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. I just wouldn't have been interested in making my own music, at all, and probably wouldn't be writing."

Lots of nice comments about John Peel abound, but this one is particularly good; almost everyone seems to agree on one thing - the extraordinary human warmth of the man. This post makes it flesh.

Rhodri pays tribute to Peel.

john peel

I can't think of anyone in music, whether in a band, a writer or a broadcaster, whom I like more than I like John Peel; when I was a teenager, taping his shows, he pretty much decided what I liked for me. No voice is more familiar nor welcome, and very few men come close to being as likeable. I used to dream of that summer job he offered up every year, when he'd pick a student to go and live at Peel Acres and catalogue his record collection for him. I grew up and along the way his children grew up, and I heard all about them. He died today, while on holiday with Sheila in Peru, and I'm genuinely shaken. Thanks for always being there, John.

Undertones: Teenage Kicks (right click to download)

cheap decorations

"Pete Doherty has been banned from London's Groucho Club after wrecking a modern artwork worth £100,000."

Ha ha, this is a good story. Apparently Doherty's band, Babyshambles, were playing at Groucho's at the weekend and he managed to trash a metal sculpture worth 100k. Ananova reports that he "jumped up and grabbed what he thought was a cheap decoration and it came clattering to the ground". Apparently "Pete left straight after the show. Staff made it clear they never want to see him in their club again."

Since when did Groucho's let scruffy indie wastrels like Doherty in, anyway?

Assistant: heads up

Assistant are pleased to announce our long awaited resumption of live duties. We'll be headlining the Cable Club on Monday 6th December, with support from Cremaster and another as yet unnamed act. We're still getting ourselves sorted out for the gig but we'll try to get new songs into the set and juggle things about a bit. As ever, we'd appreciate your support and will get you a free CD and stuff like that if you attend. I might look into badges or something like that, too, if I get the time. The 6th is also the birthday of Assistant Pete, so the night will be doubling up as a kind of gig/celebration combo - all the more reason to come along and say hello. Oh, and we're ace. The Cable Club, for those who don't know, is held at the Pressure Point on Richmond Place, Brighton and is usually about £3 or so to get in, I believe. More info and flyers to follow.

Download songs by Assistant here,
and go here to join our lovely, non-intrusive mailing list (and get a demo CD sent to you).

UPDATE: 22/11/04: Just a bit more info on that. The supports are Cremaster and Justin's Education. It's £3 to get in, and doors open at 8.30. And Assistant, ladies and gentlemen, are onstage at 10.15. There's a flyer to look at here, and downloadable versions on their way...

Monday, October 25, 2004

chanting rude calypsos

“I lived in Cornwall once - Falmouth, to be exact - working as a gardener at a local golf course. That was 40 years ago. I was metropolitan to the bone, from Port of Spain to London. I had been in Cornwall mere hours when my in-laws took me to the Old Quay Church for a communion service on a Sunday morning. It was a tiny church where the Gunn family worshipped. I was introduced to Pa Gunn, who spoke enthusiastically. I stared blankly. I managed only a dim smile. I could not understand a single word he was saying. As far as I was concerned, he came from Planet Zarg. Mothers would send their children to stroke my arm for luck; grown-ups rubbed my face to see if the black would come off. Months later, all that ceased as I eased into the local environs.”, Darcus Howe.


Trevor Phillips seems to get it wrong all the time. It wasn’t long ago, in the Mail on Sunday, that he wrote

“I strongly support the establishment of church-controlled schools. The old-fashioned discipline of Caribbean teachers, uniforms, detention, tough lessons and, yes, even the possibility of corporal punishment ... could stop many a criminal career before it begins.”

Nor indeed long since he was telling Benjamin Zephaniah to ‘grow up and join the real world’ after he refused an OBE (order of the British Empire, how dare they even suggest it!?!), or endorsing US style boot-camps to help races mix, even suggesting that it is time for Britain to desist with ‘multiculturism’ altogether (how?).

Last week, ever flexible, he claimed that something called ‘passive apartheid’ was operating in Britain’s countryside communities. But, as David Green over on his Civitas blog, writes,

"The only proof of this hostility was that, when you go in a local village shop, the shopkeeper tends to be a bit suspicious. Humphrys pointed out [on the Today programme, where Phillips made his claim] that people were suspicious of him when he went back to Wales, the land of his birth. In other words, they were not hostile so much as wary of strangers. But that did not satisfy Phillips, who was intent on inventing racism where none exists."

Darcus Howe has never been too keen on Trevor Phillips, fingering him immediately as an ‘establishment man’, albeit one with “a deep instinctive hostility to racial discrimination and prejudice”, and commenting that, with his love of colonial schooling, “He will have to find sadists and train them to violently subjugate West Indian youth”. Picking up on the countryside racism allegation, Howe is on predictably entertaining form in the New Statesman this week. The quote at the top of the post is his.

“Racism”, he goes on to say, “is always motivated by material concerns; competition for jobs, homes, school places and other social benefits. Rural Britain is not a target for the racial issue”.

So what prompted Phillips’ remarks? Well, Darcus thinks it’s political. “The Hunting Bill is before the House of Lords, and the metropolitan middle classes and the rural population are at daggers drawn. His intervention smears the countryside in order to demean rural folk's cause”. Perhaps.

In the Guardian today, John Lanchester has plenty more to say on the ever-apparent rural/urban divide. He writes

“In France … rural life is so quiet and so boring that there has been, for generations, a consistent pattern of internal migration from the country to the town. This is the general pattern across the developed world: people go to live in cities because they have better lives there. Not in Britain, though. For 2002, the last year in which there were accurate figures, a net 115,400 people moved out of urban environments into the countryside. In other words, every year a city slightly bigger then Exeter disappears, and reappears wearing green wellies and complaining about the bypass.”

So if the countryside is so much better than the town, why do the Countryside Alliance and their like do so much bleating??? Lanchaster, who as a child moved from Hong Kong to the Norfolk countryside (culture shock? I think so), finds an old school friend and puts this to him. Countryfolk do nothing but complain. His friend replies,

"Of course they do. People feel culturally invisible, they feel no one cares about them and no one knows anything about their lives. They feel modern Britain sees them as irrelevant. That's what they're really complaining about”.

It’s unfortunate that so many country folk have chosen fox hunting as the yardstick by which to measure their losses, because it is the one issue upon which they will get – and deserve – no sympathy. But I’m reminded of Alan Partridge talking down Chris Morris’s farmer. “We’ve all seen the big eared boys on farms”. Is it just a class thing? A Labour thing? Phillips often seems like more the Labour politician than the head of the CRE.

Impatient for progress and impatient of toffs, we just have no sympathy for the fact that they can’t get along with the world as it is changing. Lanchester writes:

“It seems to me that people in the English countryside are trapped between the immovable conservatism of our patterns of land use, and the irresistible changes brought by population pressure. You can, on reflection, see why they are prone to complaint. But when they mourn the loss of a sense of community, they are asking us to mourn something which died a long time ago if, indeed, it ever existed.”

And yet Phillips claims that the community is alive and well, well enough to repel the black invader, at least.

The truth is that we don’t understand one another. You, and I, and Darcus and Trevor and John Lanchaster and Eminem and Tony Blair and Tony Martin. What is the country? What is the city? What is a community, and what is exclusion? The world isn’t coherent enough.


“My own feelings about the English countryside were shaped by the contrast between them and the Far East, where I grew up. We moved to rural Norfolk from Hong Kong, which at that point was the most crowded city in the world. Compared to that, Norfolk was a paradise of space and light and fresh air. Our house was near the Broads, and I would go out in a canoe to explore the network of dykes and rivers almost every day. There was a kingfisher who lived near where I hid the canoe, and the electric-blue shock of his underbelly, so startling among the greens and greys of the reeds, was, every time I saw it, the high point of my day. As a city boy, I had not known that any natural phenomenon could be the high point of a day”, John Lanchester.

Me, I love the idea of Darcus Howe rolling up in my sleepy Cornish village, the sole black man hoving into view around the corner; we stop and stare. I recall him, during his brilliant ‘Slave Nation’ show describing his horror at meeting three beautiful young woman, all of whom believed that “Sex Education is Child Abuse”. My daughters are not virgins, he tells them. At least, “they don’t look like virgins to me”. There are no bible readings round at Darcus’s house, no censored books. “Just the sound of rude calypos, and perhaps… the smell of the herb”. Pity the poor folk of Falmouth who had to deal with Darcus when he was a young man – they mustn’t have know what hit them; I see this a TV show, and fabulously entertaining; Slave Nation meets Wife Swap meets the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Let’s see if that breaks down a few of those rural / urban barriers.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

a problem without any clues

Although The Cure, on Jools Holland right now, sound surprisingly good live still, even when playing new tracks, youth is winning out without too many difficulties. The Futureheads just played an incendiary take of 'Decent Days and Nights', like three tracks wrapped up in a two minute package, and quite brilliant. Poor old Embrace followed shortly afterwards and just sounded so slow and so nothing as a consequence. And there's something so cool about three twitchy, awkward men standing in a straight line playing guitars, I have to admit it; as eager to appear unrockist as I am, that's still punk rock, even post Dizzee.

And they just played 'Meantime'. Even better. "And you thought that I was joking / When I said you were a moron". And that knock-kneed dance, dare I imitate it?

The Cure just finished with 'Boys Don't Cry'; not a bad rendition - they played it a bit slow, but you can't really fuck up a song that good...

Friday, October 22, 2004

so what if it's a shitstorm?

John Kerry needs to overcome his natural cautiousness, Philip James writes in the Guardian today, and he's right - he's too slow to get stuck in to Bush, too nervous that he'll be made to look unpatriotic. But things aren't going well enough, and he needs to stick his neck out. The fall out might not be pretty, but it would be better than missing the opportunity altogether, as Gore did last time around.

Had Kerry stuck the boot in over the troops disobeying orders last weekend, James writes,

" would have been a shitstorm, but one in which Kerry would have ultimately prevailed by forcing the focus onto the judgment of a president who led the world's mightiest army into a war with no apparent end, without genuine allied support and without the basic tools to complete the task."

We need him to find something that sticks. It's no good playing safe.

the ultimate bag

Comes to a sad state of affairs when you only catch up with the Sunday papers on the following Friday, but sat down with the Observer Music Monthly at the library at lunchtime and not sure why I bothered; from the first few issues when the magazine seemed like a wonderful cross between the NME and the Friday Review, the content seems to have lost its edge.

That said, the final paragraph on the final page, where Lauren Laverne was interviewing The Beautiful South's Alan Bennett-like frontman, Paul Heaton, was a corker.

"LL: Do you still collect crisp packets? And where do you stand on Snack-a-jacks, if so?
PH: Well said. They're not a crisp, are they? Cheesy comestibles are comestibles to me, still, and a crisp is a crisp. Where do you draw the line? The master of cheesy comestibles was Smiths, of course. 121 King's Road, Reading, Berkshire RG12. Square crisps, Frazzles, Quavers, they were all Smiths. All taken over by Walkers! Smiths took over Tudor and Walkers took over Smiths. But Tudor Spring Onion remain the ultimate bag."

Actually, I don't remember Tudors. Before my time. But Vic still insists you can't beat Salt and Vinegar Golden Wonder (not as sharp as the Walkers alternative). I've always sworn by Square crisps, ever since I had to collect 50 packets to get a '100 best ever World Cup goals' video as a kid. But you know what? That rogue square crisp, which looks normal but is unusually brittle and crunchy, seems to be cropping up more and more these days, which I find upsetting. Slipping standards at the Walkers factory, clearly. This country.

Laverne meets Heaton

Thursday, October 21, 2004

the actions of a true friend

Ha ha - okay, this is rather childish, but it made me smile:

Man sells wedding invite online, unhappy that his friend has picked unwisely

"All in all I reckon there's a good £150 worth of entertainment if you time it right. No one will know you're not me except the groom and he'll be so pissed trying to forget his new wife's a dog he won't notice".


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

LFO vs !!!

Warpmart are selling Mark Bell remixes of !!!

I would have liked to have finished that statement with an exclamation mark, but people would have said "oh, look at jonathan, he doesn't even know how many !s to put in !!!".

(!!! is pronounced Chk, Chk, Chk, btw - and they're a really great band)

"Buy me", I can imagine it saying

*jonathan lunges at his computer screen, determined to somehow wrest said record from the screen and clutch it to his frame*

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

i'm feeling spendy!

This is a rather nice, if pretty useless idea:

i'm feeling spendy! - the random amazon purchasing thingy

I'd like it more if they decided for you and actually made the purchase; as it is it just makes suggestions. Still so much hard work!

incidentally, I have just spent the last half an hour assessing my finances and - whether I am feeling spendy or otherwise, I am on bread and water rations from this point on...

Monday, October 18, 2004

harry hammond day

Over on his UK Commentators blog, Laban writes about a gentleman by the name of Harry Hammond, who, several years ago, was attacked for displaying a placard proclaiming 'Stop Homosexuality - Stop Lesbianism'. He, not his attackers, was subsequently arrested and fined. He died not long after.

Laban writes, quite rightly, that it was a disgrace that only Peter Tatchell was unafraid to stand up for Mr. Hammond, arguing that however wrong his views he had a right to express them, as they did not incite violence (although, interestingly, one wonders to whom 'stop lesbianism' was addressed - to lesbians themselves or to the government, society etc - not sure about that). Tatchell even offered to speak for him at his trial (one wonders what Mr. Hammond thought of that).

UK Commentators - Laban Tall's Blog

A large number of Christians, Laban goes on to say, united on the south coast at the weekend to remember Harry Hammond and protest against his treatment. Now, this all strikes me as well and good. I can appreciate the sense of injustice and pain Hammond, his friends and family must have felt at the unfairness that he should be criminalised in this way. Equally, I can understand why fellow Christians might want to make a point about this. But the point is, that only works until you click on the actual report itself and discover that - surprise surprise - far from being a protest at the injustice of Hammond's final days, the Christians just wanted to remind Bournemouth's gays that "in Jesus there is an escape route from the lifestyle that is destroying them".

Freedom of speech? Yes. Freedom of sexuality? No.

If they were meeting to defend their right to express their opinions and to salute Hammond's contribution to their evangelical movement I believe that I would be relatively well disposed to them, though I do completely disagree with their views on god and sexuality - but they were actually meeting to celebrate their prejudice, not his story. Calling something 'Harry Hammond Day' is disingenuous and misleading if your real aim is just to go down to the sea for the day, climb on your high horse and tell other people that they're going to hell. Thankfully there was no violence at the demonstration, despite clashes with the amusingly named 'Bourne Free', but - whoosh - there's my sympathy evaporating...

a further 20 seconds of silence

I feel that by mentioning Pete McCarthy again I'm tempting dreadful fate for poor Marc Almond, but over at Harry's Place Brownie has posted a short note about McCarthy and a super anecdote, too.

Harry's Place: Pete McCarthy

Marc Almond critically injured in crash

oh shit:

Guardian news Marc Almond critically injured in crash

:2pm update: apparently he's now 'stable' and his family have requested privacy. I really hope he recovers.

UPDATE: 28th October - some wonderful news. Marc is now out of intensive care having made great progress with his recovery. After some awful awful news this week this is a great relief. More on that story here.

Friday, October 15, 2004

one to fifteen

Okay, so I, along with all the bloggers in the world, spent some time compiling a list of my favourite ever 100 british albums a few months or so, but I never got round to licking mine into shape and putting them up on the blog. But taking part in that music-list activity the other day reminded me of the version which I started so I dug it out at lunch and tried to put it in order. So - several months after the original article which inspired it was published, I present:

The 100 greatest British Albums ever,
according to Assistant Blog.
1. PJ Harvey – Dry
2. PiL – Metal Box
3. XTC – Apple Venus Vol. 1
4. Gavin Bryers – Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet
5. Underworld – Dubnobasswithmyheadman
6. Slits – Cut
7. Associates – Sulk
8. Jesus And Mary Chain – Psychocandy
9. Dizzee Rascal - Boy in Da Corner
10. Autechre – Incanubula
11. Blur – Parklife
12. Aphex Twin – Richard D James
13. XTC – Skylarking
14. Happy Mondays – Squirrel and G Man 24 Hour Party People....
15. Soul II Soul – Club Classics vol. 1

Click here for 16-100 (actually, I think it's 102 or something like that...)

A word about the ordering; it's fairly random - I just spent ten minutes cutting and pasting and dragging stuff around until it looked about right. There are probably albums in the wrong place, and I haven't given that much thought to the ordering of my top 15, as they're all equally good, pretty much.

There are probably a few really glaring omissions, but I think it looks like a pretty good stab at it. If you don't think so, you'll just have to tell me otherwise...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

ghostwriters, updike and mcsweeney's 13

"Why does the novel maintain its exalted status as the pinacle of human achievement? Any idiot can write one: you just need patience and a massive ego. It seems extraordinary, when we are surrounded by so much visual information, when we rely on the visual to tell us so much, and the lines between comics, films, advertising, TV and computers are becoming so blurred, that comics should still be considered trivial in some quarters."


God, I'm really taken with the Guild of Ghostwriters blog; especially under its current guise, The Guild of Guestbloggers; it's brilliant - colourful, imaginitive, funny and clever in turn, with a new entry a day by a host of talented doodle bloggers. I'd like to display a couple of pictures here but I can't access my webspace right now and, although they use a creative commons license, I won't nick their bandwidth. So just go and have a look for yourself, it's worth it.


The quote above, with which I started the post, is from Charlie Higson's review of McSweeney's 13: The Comics Issue, another dazzling example of artistic inventiveness. I haven't bought a comic since I was a young teenager (unless you count Viz, and the odd nostalgic Oor Wullie annual at Christmas) but I asked Victoria to buy me McSweeney's 13 for my birthday in part because of Higson's enjoyable, urging write-up and partly because I was so very taken with its packaging. It's a very beautiful book, a conventional hardback but for it's gorgeous wrap-around sleeve and the burst of colour within, where the issue's editor, Chris Ware, collects together a luminous collection of modern and nostalgic american comic art.

Now, for all Higson's praise (he goes on to say "Comics will be around long after most literary novels are forgotten, and they'll show us what was going on in the world a lot clearer"), I don't agree that comic art is - as Higson informs us Updike believes - 'more admirable than what novelists get up to', but it can be fascinating. That said, I love McSweeney's for it's thinginess, it's aesthetic value; turning it over in my hand, it reads as well upside down... The comics inside are entertaining and diverting, but then you read a line of Updike (to take Ware's reference) and...

"She had on a kind of dirty-pink - beige maybe, I don't know - bathing suit with a little nubble all over it and, what got me, the straps were down. They were off her shoulders looped loose around the cool tops of her arms, and I guess as a result the suit had slipped a little on her, so all around the top of the cloth there was this shining rim. If it hadn't been there you wouldn't have known there could have been anything whiter than those shoulders. With the straps pushed off, there was nothing between the top of the suit and the top of her head except just her, this clean bare plane of the top of her chest down from the shoulder bones like a dented sheet of metal tilted in the light. I mean, it was more than pretty."

It is more than pretty. But comparing comic writing to Updike is ungenerous; that is to say, no-one is more immediately impressive (or, for readers of some of his later work, as dissapointing; the beauty of the prose above only masks his tiresome misogyny, more apparent later) - and it does the likes of Daniel Clowes (who wrote the excellent Ghost World) a disservice. Both McSweeney's 13 and the Guild of Ghostwriters are well worth a look. And read Updike.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

the BB rock and roll education project

OK, with both Andrews having picked up the baton of the albums list (here and here), I'm moved by Andrew BB's declaration that he'd only heard one album from the list; now, not to suggest that he does not know his music, but there is a definite lack of good old-fashioned honest rock and roll in there; one can't survive on warp records, Tangerine Dream and the Flirts alone! So the appeal runs thus; Andrew needs CD-Rs packed with classic albums to help balance out his i-pod. And if we provide them, he might feel guilty enough to listen to them, even if they do consist of insipid indie-boys wailing / hoary rock gods bellowing / earnest Americans protesting (delete as applicable). So stop off at his blog and tell him you want to take part in the BB rock and roll education project immediately. Before you know it he will be crossing off albums on those '100 greatest records' lists with confident and knowing aplomb. Which reminds me that I did one of those myself a couple of months ago when everyone was going on about that Observer 100 greatest British albums. I must dig it out and post it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

albums you should have listened to before you die

Quoting Mike at Troubled Diva here at the start for the rules:

"Copy the list on to your blog, put in bold the ones you have listened to (completely from begining to end) and then add three more albums that you think people should have heard before they turn into their parents - remember, it isn't necessarily your most favourite albums but the ones you think people should listen to... and when we say listen we mean from track one through to the end...

If you put a link to your follow-on post in the comments of the site where you found it, the chain will be trackable.

Mike adds: From now on, you are also allowed to DELETE up to THREE albums on the existing list, if you feel a) that this is an album which should not reasonably be foisted upon anybody, or b) that one Steve Earle album is quite enough for one lifetime, thank you."

And now my amended version...

London Calling - The Clash
Think Tank - Blur
This is Hardcore - Pulp
Moon Safari - Air
Elastica - Elastica
Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols - Sex Pistols
OK Computer - Radiohead
The Kiss of Morning - Graham Coxon
Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars - David Bowie

The Wall - Pink Floyd
Setting Sons - The Jam
America Beauty - The Grateful Dead
Toxicity - System of a Down
Train a Comin' - Steve Earle
Folksinger - Phranc
Come From the Shadows - Joan Baez
The River - Bruce Springsteen
The Very Best of Joan Armatrading - Joan Armatrading
Outside - David Bowie
What's Going On - Marvin Gaye
Metal Box - Public Image Ltd
Orbital #2 (The Brown Album) - Orbital

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain - Pavement
Soul II Soul - Club Classics Vol. 1
Apple Venus Vol. 1 - XTC

Blood Sugar Sex Magik - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles

I feel kinda bad for not getting rid of The Wall, but I've not heard it end to end so it doesn't seem fair, considering I have witnessed and know the horror of Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. But if The Wall is substantially worse, I apologise.

inside i'm dancing

Last night me and Vic went to see a preview of the new film by Damien O'Donnell, Inside I'm Dancing, a carefully controlled and enjoyable comedy starring the ever-charismatic James McEvoy, so excellent in whatever he does - Shameless and State of Play in particular - and Steven Robertson, who gives a magnificent performance as a young man trapped inside a body which is unable to demonstrate his intelligence and wit - for he suffers from cerebral palsy and only McEvoy, likewise confined to a wheelchair and able to move only his mouth and two fingers, can understand him.

A determined and attractive rebel, McEvoy, furious at the world and his limitations, acts as translator and enables Robertson - institutionalised since birth - to live in the real world at last and come to see himself as his 'own man'. Accompanied by Romola Garai, who they pay to be their carer and ultimately both fall in love with, the friends' lives follow the predictable trajectory familiar to viewers of gritty dramas the world over, but the film does not suffer unduly.

It seems a given that in any film of this sort we must witness the conflicting highs and lows of life, meaning the tone swings from comedy to tragedy and back again, and - although I often think that these dramatic counterpoints undermine rather than cement the notion that our characters, whether they are disabled, Indian, gay, in posession of braces or bad hair or a just a brass instrument and a P45, are 'ordinary' - the film is moving and poignant, helped along by the excellent performances.

It's out on general release on Friday and it's worth a look, although the director could have probably shaved ten minutes off the run time and the cinema - our viewing only - desperately needed to turn the air-conditioning on. Sitting in a packed Screen 8 at the Odeon (basically a box room with a widesceen TV) was like being stuffed in a microwave, with lots of Irishmen in wheelchairs looking through the glass...

Monday, October 11, 2004

sixteen hugs a day?

Talking with Andrew Brown, a Labour councillor, blogger and declarer-of-war-on-taggers, in my comments section a couple of weeks ago he made a serious observation about the limitations which can not be circumvented in the politician's blog:

"Do I blog as me, or am I wickedly controlled by someone in Old Queen Street? Hummm, good question.

I didn't ask permission of anyone to start my blog, and have never checked anything I've written with anyone inside the Labour Party.

But ... I'm accountable for what I say and how it might affect my colleagues. So, for example, local journalists read and sometimes take stories from my site, which is unnerving, and so what I say there may not stay with my small readership. Also I’m bound in part by my sense of loyalty to my party and a sense of collective responsibility for the decisions that we make as a Labour Group.

Nevertheless, I'll never post anything I don't believe to be true, am happy to have comments that disagree with me, and sometimes change my mind.

It is me, well kind of, but only part of me".

The latest politician to take up the challenge of providing an online diary is doing well so far, in my opinion. Sandra Gidley is the Liberal Democrat MP for Romsey in Hampshire and her blog is, though in its infancy, informative and accessible. And she writes:

"I would also add that I have no intention of making this a sort of cyper-pseuds corner. There is no point in producing a blog if it is not honest and open but politicians are wary beasts because we are all hostages to fortune and we don't want to give our opponents ammunition."

Fair enough, I suppose, if fighting talk; and she's lucid and free of bullshit elsewhere, too. On hearing Eleanor Laing, the Tory Spokesperson for women, claiming that women want "clean hospitals and that was a Conservative policy so if that was what women wanted then they were clearly Conservative voters!!!", she writes:

"Words fail me but it seems that Eleanor in her enthusiasm for this ground breaking policy was seemingly unaware that Lib Dems and Labour MPs are not exactly going round saying "we want more dirty hospitals and less cleanliness".

This is a classic case of all political parties actually wanting the same thing - why this is suddenly a differential policy is completely beyond me."

Read more at her Romsey Redhead blog...

Sunday, October 10, 2004


All of a sudden Brighton is cold, and we have turned the heating on. With it comes that hot rush and that warm, dry smell and I get a creeping sensation of winter, although it’s a little way off yet. I feel like I’m back at home in my parent’s warm house with a warmish glass of wine and nothing to do with my time.

Vic’s next door doing her reading for her MA and I’m just waiting for her to finish, really, so we can go to the pub with Pete; probably I should be sorting out the washing or working out what to have for dinner – or devising some useful blog post – but instead I’ve got the Tom Waits LP on and the heating still pulsing into the room and knocking me out, wishing the weekend wasn’t quite this far advanced.

We went to Hove, yesterday. Tell me, do people live there on purpose? Nothing to do except Smiths and Tescos, me convincing Vic that a cheap bottle of wine would be alright (it wasn’t) and strangely pleasurable for that; again, like being back with my parents and going shopping in Barnet every Saturday, though there is nothing there to see. In the evening we watched ‘School of Rock’, which was far better than it had right to be; you watch so many films for so many reasons without asking to be kept smiling all the way through; Jack Black is surely the most likeable central character we could ever ask for. That said, Michael Palin is on tonight.

Two good events at the end of the week, as my cold receded; first, we went to see Fuji Heavy at the Pressure Point and caught up with everybody, and enjoyed their set enormously – Andy and Ali (my band loyalty is strong – they both play in Assistant) remain my focal point, the former engaging in little twists of showmanship and rattly solos, the latter pounding his drums so hard I thought he’d faint. The songs themselves are inventive splurges of surf-punk-rock, bringing to mind The Stones or the Pixies, or Johnny Thunders masterminding Quadrophenia-era Who. One song sounds like Status Quo, hurray. Carrie urges me not to mention this.

Keith continues to do his thing of talking in a silly, overexcited voice between songs and we all look a bit embarrassed, saying ‘it’s because he’s American’, but he’s the singer goddamnit and that’s his prerogative. I have the idea that the rest of the band should look embarrassed when he does it, as if it’s a quirk they’ll tolerate cause he writes ace songs, and that that’d be a good gimmick, but people tell me to hush when I suggest this, and besides it’s undermining the singer and we’ve just started rehearsing again – I don’t want the rest of Assistant getting any ideas…

All this excitement doesn’t do much to quell my cold or my thudding cough, but hearing the next day that this blog has won the brighton web awards thing does, it sends me cheerful from work into the night, although I soon submit, back to coughing and cursing. I tell Vic, but bah, she seems unimpressed… it’s all an act, it must be :-)

A weekend of horrible, horrible news, too, which swats its way in to other things, but I read just now that some polls now have Kerry in front of Bush, please say it is so. I note Bush talked about the ‘Internets’ the other night, how wonderful. Incidentally, I am described elsewhere on the web, I note, as several things which I am not, which I shall retain my dignity about. One section does however, have me down as hating ‘George Bush, Christians and the Daily Mail’, which makes me wonder how you get perceived when you blog. I do, I suppose, hate Bush and the Mail (although I don’t have anything at all against Christians) although I’m not sure whether I’d want to be defined by it. Or then again, maybe I would. Hmm. Well anyway, I hope this doesn’t all come across as a series of boring rants.

Oh god, it does…


"Digital Retro is a new coffee table book which tells the story behind 44 classic computers of the Seventies and Eighties. This was a unique period in the history of computing when a bewildering array of machines battled for supremacy in a melting pot which would shape the industry. Some machines were aimed at homes or schools. Others targeted business travellers. A handful confidently pursued world domination and many became household names. It was a time when the smallest of operations could launch a computer to compete with the largest corporations. But by the end of the Eighties, virtually every single one had become extinct."

Hopefully I can get away with linking to this without looking like a computer geek; it's rather the aesthetics I like; well, whichever way you want to play it, this looks like a lovely book.


Digital Retro by Gordon Laing - Vintage retro computer history book

(found via Sam Newman's links)

ahlan wa sahlan wa marhaba

The NITLE Arab World Project was set up after 9/11 to piece together a comprehensive learning resource with timelines, reading material and audio/visual components to facilitate a further, deeper - and most essential - understanding of the Arab and Muslim world. The site is inspiring, and a lesson to the Robert Kilroy-Silks of the world who erroneously believe that oil is the only contribution which the Middle East has made to world civilisation.

It's a brilliant site, the kind of thing that the Internet does better than anything else, and it's just a shame that I'll almost certainly never have time to read it all...

(found via

Friday, October 08, 2004

Pete McCarthy dies

One of the most entertaining nights I've spent out in the last few years was an evening watching Pete McCarthy, the Brighton based travel writer, talking about his books and proving a highly witty, likeable and talented man. Victoria knew him previously from Travelog, and read both of his books, McCarthy's Bar and The Road to McCarthy, both of which were hugely entertaining (I remember from hearing him read them). So it's an enormous shame to read that, eight months after being diagnosed with cancer and at the age of 51, he died on Wednesday in the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. Watching him talk and read from his books his connection with the audience was immediate and crystal-clear, frequently reducing the entire room to helpless fits of laughter or else unanimous nods of recognition; and he will be greatly missed.

BBC NEWS Travel writer Pete McCarthy dies

Ban the buggies

The Argus Letters Letter: Ban the buggies

Just scanning the new-look online version of Brighton's own Evening Argus. I like this supremely grumpy letter.

"I am very pleased to hear Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company is restricting the number of child buggies on buses. We are all fed up with the way these mothers seem to think the buses are for their sole benefit. They cause a lot of problems when the bus is full. One woman with a twin buggy was taking up four seats while elderly people had to stand all the way. Do they think frail old people should be left standing out in the cold when the bus is full? Young mothers should be able to withstand the cold and the babies are well tucked up in their buggies. It is time that the young realised the world does not revolve around them. When we were young, buggies were not even allowed on buses."

xlab in santorini

When me and Victoria planned our summer holiday last year we considered going to Santorini, one of the more interesting Greek Islands, having a history peppered with earthquakes and volcanoes and having - as a result - perthaps the most amazing geography in the region.

Phil, over at his xlab blog has just returned from his holiday, and posts some fascinating stuff about the island and some stunning photographs, here.

I would probably have never blogged this were it not for the fact that it chimes in with the fact that my recent reading has been Robert Harris's pretty-good 'Pompeii' and that I've got at home, waiting to be viewed, a video of the most recent one of those British Isles: A Natural History programmes, which deals with volcanoes, too - not to mention all the excitement about Mt. St Helens - so I'm naturally interested.

None of which, obviously, is quite as exciting as this, which happens every year in Kefalonia, and prompted me to want very much to go there, too:

"High on the hill top above the resort of Katelios between August 6th and 15th a large number of small harmless snakes have been making their appearance for centuries in the church of Panayia of Langouvarda and in the village of Arginia higher up the slopes of Mount Ainos. The original church of Langouvarda was burned in 1945 and completely destroyed in the earthquakes of 1953. From the night of August 6th 'telescopus fallax' known as the cat snake appears in and around the church's courtyard, walls and bell tower. The inhabitants of the villages consider them to be holy, collecting these harmless creatures and setting them in front of the silver icon of the 'Virgin of the Snakes'. After the festival on the 15th August these honoured guests leave until the same time next year. Some say it's a miracle, whilst others believe the wet damp route that runs from the fresh water spring in Arginia down the ravine to Markopoulo is a migratory path. Locals consider their presence as a good omen for the coming year. During the German occupation in the second world war and the earthquake of 1953 the snakes failed to appear."

Elsewhere in the hot world, Anne-So and Sam are diving in Egypt at the moment, and it seems that yesterday's atrocities occurred quite near to where they're staying. Don't be blown up, AS and Sam!

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Nnng, have just poured myself out of bed, determined that I shouldn't stay in it all day lest I can't sleep again tonight, but am currently alternating my coughing and my sneezing and arranging them in a sprightly, modern jazz fashion - which is to say they're idosyncratic, unexpectedly varied and an aquired taste. I have a cold.

As of yesterday, Victoria and I have a new neighbour, or possibly neighbours, as the flat which has sat dormant and empty downstairs is now a fairground being built - boxes and bags, chairs and lights stacked up inside as the new arrival decides what goes where. Vic and I, noise-conscious to the letter, spend our time crouching by the door listening for sounds. None so far. I am aware of course that I should do the friendly thing and drop around and say hello, but I figure it can wait until they've settled in a little and I can narrow down the prospects of my having a sneezing fit in their doorway.

Well, no sounds today, of course, as whoever it is must be at work, so the only sound from this house is the endless drone of daytime TV, which I have spent much of the day summoning up the energy to turn off. Now I should think about getting out to get a paper, I guess... hmm. Vic? You reading this? Buy me a paper? :-)

Monday, October 04, 2004

disparc records

An interesting article in The Times (via No Rock and Roll Fun) carries information of an intriguing new record label. It says:

"The label, discparc, is believed to be the first launched by a British university. Modelled on Factory Records, the label launched by Tony Wilson amid the flourishing 1980s Manchester music scene, it hopes to tap into the success of Scottish bands such as Franz Ferdinand and Snow Patrol".

It's been launched by the Dundee University's Exhibitions Department. However, whereas The Times talks the label up as potential finders of the next big thing, their site suggests a slightly more esoteric approach, leading with the catchy slogan 'Total sonic universe and soundscapes, un-compromised, non-commercial', which is exactly the kind of ethos I'd be looking for if I wanted to be the next Franz Ferdinand. Hmm. They go on:

"discparc has been created to disseminate original recordings by dedicated audio artists at any stage of their career. Presenting releases of schizophonic art, Electro-acoustic, Noise, Experimental Music and Sound Art on all audio distribution forms including vinyl, CD, cassette and on-line, discparc will release two projects a year."

Well, whether neo-Factory monster-in-the-making or arts-based faff, I think it's all a tremendously good idea. But if they want to shake off the stuffy university tag they might wanna think about whether releasing records in cassette form is not, perhaps, an idea that has had it's day.

twenty seven

It was my birthday on Sunday, and we went out on Saturday night.

Things I remember:
- having a jolly time in the pub, complete with lots of alcohol and a very pleasing turnout of friends.
- playing domino rally with jenga pieces (enormous fun)
- not winning at Jenga (huh).
- getting back to our place and dragging our entire alcohol collection into the centre of the living room floor.

Things I half-remember:
- mixing drinks with a ratio of 1/2 tequila, 1/4 vodka, 1/8 orange juice and 1/8 ribena (for that authentic sunrise look)
- an odd moment, suspended in mid air, when I was clearly in the midst of a fall. Nothing else is remembered, but I have a big bruise to prove it happened.
- glimpses of myself, Vic, Andy, Pete and Andrew dancing like loons to Curtis Mayfield in the exciting nightclub surroundings of... our flat.
- lots of things getting knocked over.
- lying on the pavement outside our front door.

Things I don't remember at all:
- people leaving.
- going to bed.