Monday, October 31, 2005

80s popstar in savage attack

OK, I know I'm really immature, but just as a month or so ago I derived great pleasure from the following headline on yahoo, "Heidi Klum and Seal have baby boy", I've just spent the last five minutes chortling and snorting beer out of my nose at the following yahoo headline, which gives the flip side of the coin.

Seal bites off women's nose.


record round-up

A quick round up of records which I haven't got round to talking about:

Field Music – Field Music
I've been really obsessing over the details in this lovely record since I bought it a month or so ago; it's perfectly executed, a gentle, pristine pop record with strong echoes of Steely Dan and XTC. Every song is a complicated gem, bursting with interesting melodies, impossibly sweet chord changes and the same geordie lilt that makes The Futureheads and Maximo Park so enticing. It's the kind of record which is so subtle and lovely you start to really worry for their future – Field Music are the kind of band who could slip under while less deserving band claim attention. This record proves they don't deserve to.

The Fall - Fall Heads Roll
Which is certainly the best Fall record in many years, possibly since the early 90s. For the first time in an age, Mark E. Smith's boys really sound like a band, and Smith's willingness to let some of his younger colleagues contribute songs which fearlessly deviate from the Fall sound (some are improbably melodic, although Smith's vocals are not) sounds positively revolutionary given that progression is not quite what one associates with Peel's fave band – Mark E. Smith did after all proclaim that the ethos of his band was the three 'R's – repetition, repetition and repetition. Here The Fall sound energetic, youthful even. 'Blindness', with it's savage churning bassline, really is up with the group's very best songs. 'What About Us', meanwhile, finds Smith aggrieved that, er, Harold Shipman wasn't a bit more generous when he was handing around the morphine – the chorus is a wondeful chant of "What about us, Shipman?". Only MES.

Rakes – Capture/Release
A surprising record this, because on first lesson it sounds kind of impressive, until you dig a little deeper and find there's nothing there. I picked this up the same day I got Art Brut's magnificent debut album, and it speaks volumes that I took this long to mention it. In fact, it's a record which, a couple of admittedly great songs aside, I've really come to dislike. It's odd, because 'Strasbourg', with it's bleak soundscape and (for once) interesting lyrics ("I'll meet you in West Germany / October 1983") and the super-immediate '22 Grand Job' are super. But the problem is, in affecting a comparable tone to that employed by Art Brut's Eddie Argos, (ie – snotty indie brats writing about their lives) Rakes completely fail where Art Brut suceed; they don't manage to be likeable. The lyrics are fatuous, unimaginative and absurdly sexist - what a bunch of dickheads. That, coupled with the suspicion that, having written a couple of great singles they didn't bother much with the rest, makes for a distinctly underwhelming debut. A shame.

fun with george

Victoria just sent me on this link: definitely the best thing I've seen this week. Granted it's only Monday, but I'm curious to see what could top this for a moment's diversion:

Excellent stuff, but you don't really feel the benefit 'til you try dragging and dropping.

oh for more time

Am weighing up the pros and cons of attempting Nanowrimo again - it's due to begin tomorrow. Um. Nanowrimo, in case you've not heard of it, stands for National Novel Writing Month, the principle being that we all know that we'll never get round to writing a novel, but we all want to do it, just the same. Nanowrimo requires you to give up 30 days of your life and force yourself to write a 50,000 word novel in that time.

Which means knuckling down and forcing yourself to write - being short on time makes you short of inhibitions, short of the normal impulse to go back and chop and change and frustrate yourself with the intricacies of plot. This way the only way to write it is to write it, as fast as you can and as free as you can. You mightn't end up with something worthy of the Whitbread Prize, but face it, you'll never write a novel any other way.

All this and more I told myself this time last year (in fact, I even told you, too), but... well, it's no surprise that Nanowrimo didn't work out for me last November. I wrote about 11,000 words, I think, in the end - which is pretty credible but not good enough when you need to be writing around 1,700 words a day.

So I'm tempted to try again as of tomorrow. I have a laptop now, so it should be easier to do. On the other hand, if I say I'm going to do it, I surely won't. So I might.

Apologies in advance if I post a 50,000 word novel to the blog in a month's time :-)

brighton web awards

The shortlists are up for the Brighton and Hove Web Awards, and the people doing the nominations have rather peculiarly excluded the best blog on the longlist from the 'Personal Sites and Blogs category' - not sure I understand that. Ah well.

All the same, there are still some really good sites to choose between. It'd be much appreciated if you vote for me, obviously! Otherwise, I really like the depth and breadth of content over at Olivia's Blog, Yummy Wakame, so that's a good bet.

The runners:
Sketchy Animation
Yummy Wakame
Assistant Blog
Zender Bender

You can vote for Assistant Blog here. Please do!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

shut up, i'm trying to watch the band

Brakes, the band who bring together members of Brighton's Tenderfoot, Electric Soft Parade and British Sea Power, played one of the best live sets I've seen all year at the Concorde 2 earlier this week.

They were preceded by the odd and interesting Chris TT, who we unfortunately only caught a song and a half of, and only the half close enough to the stage to hear his witty, satirical lyrics breaking through a pleasent if not groundbreaking Badly Drawn Boy / Elvis Costello-esque stew. The most memorable lyric being "No-one's got any goood red songs anymore / and Billy Bragg has gone fishing in his 4x4". You suspect that Chris TT occasionally ends up rubbing people up the wrong way with his sarcasm, but on the evidence of a song and a half he might be worth looking into a little further.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Brakes; I'd heard roughly half their debut album and was impressed by bits and unsure about others. At times they seemed to veer slightly too far to the 'in-joke' category of indie rock. And yet they were really fine live, much better than I anticipated.

Like !!!, who played a riotous set at the Concorde a few months ago, or Maximo Park, who played a stunning, rousing version of 'Apply Some Pressure' on TOTP last week, Brakes are overflowing with enjoyment with their lot. Clearly pleased to be back in Brighton, they seemed instantly relaxed, inviting friends out on stage, tearing through the shorter numbers a couple of times, throwing in a couple of great cover versions, mucking about between songs and playing half a dozen numbers which clocked in at under two minutes. Several were under a minute.

One, the delightful 'Cheney' was under 8 seconds long. Lyrics in full: "Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney, Cheney. Don't be such a dick!".

There aren't all that many bands who can get away with playing a Jesus and Mary Chain song (albeit a lesser JAMC song - in this instance the still pretty lovely 'Sometimes Always') and trump it with several brighter, better songs. Brakes managed by balancing the short, punky tracks with surprising gorgeous, graceful - if no less enthusiastic - numbers, brimming with memorable, chugging guitar lines, exciting breaks and even melancholy country rock melodies. I was briefly transported to a pre-britpop time where British bands as often as not took their lead from American indie rock rather than home-grown heroes. There comes a time when even I tire of hearing another guitar record with a New Order bassline.

That said, when they played 'All Night Disco Party', which I hadn't heard before, me and Vic swiftly concluded it was another cover. "That's why it's so much better than the rest of the set". But it turns out we were wrong and it's their own song. It is indeed one of their best, recalling the early 80s punk-funk sound recently recycled by the likes of Radio 4, or late Graham Coxon era Blur when Graham would wilfully destroy live renditions of 'Girls and Boys' with blasts of feedback.

When they played their new single, Pixies/Roxy Music hybrid 'Ring a Ding Ding', Vic turned round and said 'this is such a joyful song'.

Go and see Brakes if you can; they're excellent - spirited, imaginitive and joyful.


I guess I shouldn't use the failure to pass a comprehensive and workable piece of anti-smoking legislation as a stick with which to beat the government, as it was always kind of obvious that a compromise measure would ultimately be chosen. All the same, the current solution (smoking will be banned in all pubs which serve food) doesn't really have much of a motivation that I can understand. Are we seeking to ban smoking because it has serious consequences for second-hand smokers or because we have a kind of aesthetic aversion to it while we are eating or socialising?

I'm not a smoker, and nor do I have any objection to smoky pubs. At the same time, I can see why banning it is appealing, because - for all the understandable complaining about 'the right to smoke' - it is a right which directly impinges upon others. But banning it only where food is available misses this point entirely; what protection are we offering the staff and customers of pubs which don't offer food? None at all.

We end up with a lazy, half-cocked solution, where a clean break would have been far more courageous and justifiable. Oh well.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

inconsistent monkeys

it's compare and contrast time at Assistant Blog:

Quote one:

"[Our new single is] a bit shit. The words are rubbish. I scraped the bottom of the barrel. It could be a big song, like. But I'd hate to be just known for that song because it's a bit crap."

Quote two:

"Most bands these days probably just write lyrics because they sound good without thinking."

Both quotes are by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys. Which to believe? Alex also says "But I don't want to be a band like Kaiser Chiefs. I think if we're next year's Kaiser Chiefs we'll quit."

We certainly don't need two Kaiser Chiefs. But is it really better to be this year's Libertines than next year's 'Chiefs? I'm not so sure.

I have to say though, that the Arctic Monkeys single has kinda stuck in my head. Most of their songs are poor, but there are a couple which have grown on me. If I ever finish editing my new podcast, you'll hear one, 'Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts', which I think is pretty good. Now who said I couldn't be a fair and equitable critic?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

peel night (late notice)

For reasons unknown to me, I can watch pretty much every digital channel my freeview box can throw me at me, with the exception of BBC4, which is one of the only ones I actually want to watch. Well, it doesn't matter, as I'm just about to go out (to watch The Brakes, which I am tiring of being told is an 'indie rock supergroup' - which doesn't really do justice to the fact that it contains members of Electric Soft Parade, for chrissakes) so won't see BBC4's output anyway.

But, in case you see this; turn on, as it's Peel night and they're showing the Mark E Smith documentary that I'm still annoyed I missed last year and a PJ Harvey session and a programme about John, and his programme on the Undertones and.... it looks good.

So there you go.

bloody downloads

When I check my stats I notice that some people have been negotiating with the dodgy web hosting server over at vitaminic which holds the Assistant songs. I dunno what's wrong with that site at the moment; sometimes the links to our songs work, sometimes they don't. It's very irritating. Until I get it sorted out, if you come here looking for some downloads of the band and can't access them, please email me your address and I'll send you a CD - doesn't matter where you are, although I've only got 12 ready to go so if you don't get it fast you might have to wait a bit.

more on the education reforms

More outrage and bewilderment about the education reforms to be found...

here [The Militant Pine Martin]
"If it is true that education will remain free, the much-vaunted parental choice will only apply to those who are best placed to take advantage of the new system through their background, educational level, postcode, inclination and ability to do so. ... [T]hose that will benefit will be those that already have the greatest ability to make the system work for them, and therefore the children who have the least need of the State’s help. Children born into poorly educated or simply poor backgrounds or areas are being abandoned. The State is giving up trying to offer social promotion through education, it’s taking away the opportunity to rise purely on one’s own merits, through one’s own work, assisted by the State. In fact, it’s giving up on trying to help those who can’t help themselves."

here [Councillor Bob Piper]
"Oh, well done Ms. Kelly. I'll start getting the local parents in my Ward to demand new schools. By the way... does this mean they will automatically get one? More crackpot ideas and spin from our New Labour colleagues."

here [Talk Politics]
"...I'm rather too tired to go for mcuh more in the way of spittle-flecked invective, deserved as it is by the government's education white paper other than to note that I would have rather in not be printed in its glossy format but on something rather softer and more absorbant - at least then I could find a use for it."

and here [Rhetorically Speaking]
"Given the desirable situation is for every school to be a good school, we're left wondering exactly what criteria will be used to exercise 'choice'; it's inferred that this might mean 'specialist' schools or religious schools, but for a document stating a new principal for education it's still left tremendously unclear. There's a curious blend of comprehensive values ("excellence for all") - and free marketeering ("individual choice for all") that has yet to be resolved in any coherent fashion."

All found via B4L and Talk Politics - thanks.

has damon shelved blur or not?

I'm a bit confused about where Blur stand at the moment; Damon doesn't really make himself very clear - I wonder how much of it is real angst at the departure of Graham and how much is a keenness to be seen in good light in the event of the split. Damon has always talked a very good game and it's tempting to think that his attitude towards Graham is designed to reiterate his reasonableness and devotion to his friend through a difficult time in his friendship; which is all well and good 'til you note how Graham obviously still bears a grudge. Either way, I note via No Rock and Roll Fun that Albarn has "turned his back on rockers(!) Blur because he hated performing without Graham Coxon". The article, on contact, is headlined 'Albarn: Blur died without Coxon'.

A closer look suggests that that's probably not the case, although it's not entirely clear. Gorillaz have been a going concern for several years now and it was always obvious that Damon would do another stint with them, so to say he 'turned his back on Blur' once they finished marketing Think Tank is a bit of an overstatement, and only applicable if the break was absolute.

Albarn was quoted as recently as late September saying that there was a new Blur record on it's way, although it would - because of his deficiencies as a guitarist - be "stupid and basic punk rock". The most likely explanation leading from the contactmusic article is that Albarn doesn't want to see Blur as a back-catalogue band any more. I saw the band three times the year that Think Tank came out and they were great on every occasion - downright brilliant on one. Nevertheless, it was odd hearing the old songs without Graham, and I suspect we may have heard the last of those tracks live; or at least the last of so many in one set.

The article bears this out:

Albarn says, "I got sick of the ritual of performing. I never really liked the last Blur tour. I hated playing the old material. I just found that really depressing without Graham.

"It was a painful experience to play songs that belonged to a band where one member was missing."

Most Blur fans, I suspect, would like to see Graham return some day. I doubt it'll happen. But Think Tank was one of Blur's best records to date so it'd be real shame if that new material never materialised.

school reforms

what to say about Blair's new education reforms? Well, I never thought that Labour would take us back to grant-maintained schools, put it that way. This government has a mania for heaping reform (by which I mean humiliation and massive organisational change) on its public sector. Given their obsession with offering 'choice', it's little wonder that they have opted for a reform which invites the spectre of selection back into comprehensive education; it's the same old story really - shoring up the middle classes and cutting off the working class kids, leaving them to drown in sink comprehensives while giving expanding 'parent-controlled' schools the opportunity to cherry-pick from their own. At the same time, it's a dazzling piece of centralisation, meaning that schools who want to depart from the curriculum will have to apply to the government rather than their local council. In the meantime, unelected businessmen and faith groups manouvre for influence. As for parents? We can't find enough school governers amongst parents, so the evidence that they want to run schools is far from established. What a mess.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

a song a day

I've been trying to write a new song pretty much every day for the last week or so, because I'm out of practice and I thought it was a neat idea. Of the ones I've come up with so far, only one or two have much in the way of promise, but you develop a kind of short-term fluency if you get used to playing and recording regularly. Plus I've always liked the idea of an Assistant box-set of all the early, throwaway demos we did before we took over the world (joke). So I need to get started.

A brief summary of what I’ve done so far, then.

'The Countdown': which is fairly melodic with an attempt at a resigned sigh for a chorus. It’s got a nice bit which is either a bassline or a guitar melody, I'm unsure which.

'Oh Boy I Know': because everyone's got to write a Big Star song at least once.

'Whatever You Want From Me': Which is short and a bit silly, just 45 minutes of choppy guitars and buzzy synths.

'Career': Which is my mainstream country rock classic. OK, it just sounds a bit like The Silver Jews in places.

'Best Idea': the title doesn't refer to the song; it's a kind of droney, repetitive mostly instrumental thing that's supposed to get louder and louder but I don't have any guitar pedals to help. It's probably an attempt to sound like 'Sing' by Blur.

Might try and force one or two of them on Assistant...

rosa parks

Rosa Parks died today. Apart from admitting a slight jolt of surprise that she was still going, that's a life worth celebrating. She made it to 92, which is pretty good stuff.

Monday, October 24, 2005

cameron, blair and tory central office

I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I sheepishly explained to Andrew last night that I'm finding it fairly difficult to dislike David Cameron so far; he seems to have something which I've not seen in a Tory politician for quite a while; assuredness and ease with other people. He rarely comes away looking like a prat, which mightn't sound like much of a compliment but - given the recent run of Conservative party leaders - it is.

So I have mixed feelings about Stephen Newton's post dismissing him with the damning 'IDS/Cameron type' label. It's a mistake at this point to confuse 'inexperienced' with 'inept' - although I hope that Stephen is right and that Cameron has been overachieving.

One thing is certain, however, and that's the fact that comparing Cameron to Blair is a complete non-starter. A couple of years ago, echoing Blair's uncertain position in his own party during the 1980s, Cameron was disliked by a lot of Tories for being something of a jumped up little prick; someone who hadn't served his time, and didn't understand - or respect - the traditions of the party. People in Labour were calling Blair 'the tory' twenty years ago, not just recently.

But, unlike Cameron, Blair went on to fight and win crucial arguments with the Labour Party - even if he's gone barmy since. The tories may have made the same realisation that Labour made in 94 (that they needed someone dynamic, centrist and popular) but the realisation is driven purely by their desire to reinstate themselves as the "natural party of government". In the Conservative Party no arguments have been won, no bloody noses handed out, and no respect earned. The Tories expect to win the next election because they feel it's their right. But Labour won in 1997 because they earned the right.

It's not inconceivable that Cameron will be the next PM. But it's inconceivable that he'll hold it together unless he starts taking on the right wing of his party (and the Mail group) and winning their respect. Until then, he'll stay a jumped up little prick.

Stephen, meanwhile, keeps blogging and digs out the truest, most salutory post I've read in the last few weeks. He's already written extensively on Maria Hutchings, the mum who was primed by Essex Tories (boy, that's a good insult) to attack Blair over immigration during the last election campaign. Now he's noted that both Conservative Central Office and the Tory run Essex County Council spent the afternoon googling Hutchings (they ended up at his blog).

Stephen's not surprised. He notes:

"Despite a leadershhip election and a pledge to change that’s been made many times before, those who played the race card a few short months ago are still running the Tory party. No doubt they’re eager to make race an issue once again."

More excellent blogging from Stephen here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

crystal meth and white maize

A heart-wrending piece of journalism stuck out like a sore thumb in the Observer today; David Sheff on the trauma of watching his bright, articulate son, Nick, destroy himself with drug use. The sense of hope counteracted by the crushing sense of inevitability as each relapse occurs, as dreadful as the last. His son describes his whole life as a 'search' for crystal meth; once he found it, 'that was that'.

"How the hell did I get here?", Nick asks during one stay in rehab, keeping a journal of his ordeal .

"It doesn't seem that long ago that I was on the water-polo team. I was an editor of the school newspaper, acting in the spring play, obsessing about which girls I liked, talking Marx and Dostoevsky with my classmates. The kids in my class will be starting their junior years of college. This isn't so much sad as baffling. It all seemed so positive and harmless, until it wasn't."

Here's the article
, complete with moving dénouement.

Elsewhere in the paper, I was struck by this story of a Zimbabwean farmer who has managed to grow African crops in a 20 acre field in Enfield, and am keen to try some white maize. Anyone ever had any? It's like a flourier, sweeter Sweetcorn, apparently.


I've been misreading the term 'tumblelogs' all week as 'tumbleblogs', and only now, preparing to link over to Pete's interesting pair of articles on the subject, I notice that I've been imagining the 'b' and am trying to sift through my memory to recall whether I've been showing off how up-to-the-minute I am by talking about them (and getting the name wrong).

Ah well, whatever they are called, I share's Pete's interest. The principle being the tumbleloggers forget about the notion of blogging 'as journalism', forget about borders, text colours and titles and write fast, direct and interesting posts, as an almost stream-of-consciousness dialogue. A good idea.

You can read Pete's first post on the subject here, and the second here. There are some good links to check out, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

songs to right click

Matthew has posted a couple of interesting tracks over at Fluxblog recently. Well, actually he's posted loads of interesting tracks, but I never get round to downloading them, or I do but forget to drag them into iTunes. Either way, anyone who - like me - is still missing the wonderful Jonathan Fire*Eater, particularly Stewart Lupton's magnificent voice, will be delighted to hear that Stewart is back with a new band, The Childballads. You can hear one of his new tracks via Fluxblog here. There's also a new track by Jarvis Cocker which is great in places and a bit silly in others.

Anne-Sophie, that link is for you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Won't soul music change / now that our souls have turned strange?

"Where's the paper bag that holds the liquor", David Berman asks as the first chords ring out on the Silver Jews' exceptional new album, Tanglewood Numbers, "Just in case I feel the need to puke".

It sounds like Berman, the man who once sang "In twenty seven years I've drunk fifty thousand beers / and they just wash against me like the sea against the pier" has spent the time since 2001's understated, surprising Bright Flight doing what we know he does best; drinking. Well, that and maintaining his reputation as America's best lyricist and one of her most under-appreciated song-writers. And erm, he tried to kill himself too, but didn't succeed, thank god.

"There is a place past the blues I never want to see again / Black planet, black freighter, black sea"

The beers continue to take their toll on Berman's voice; he's gruff, clipped and uncompromising here, often mixed low in the mix behind Steve Malkmus's astonishing guitar playing, which is revelatory after his absence on the Jews' last outing, where Berman, keen to break out of his bandmate's shadow, employed traditional country musicians to back him up. This time, with Malkmus and fellow Pavement travellers Stevie West and Bob Nastanovich back, as well as Will Oldham, the Jews return to the bustle and noise of American Water and make arguably the best Silver Jews record yet.

"Ain't ya heard the news? / Adam and Eve were Jews"

Benefiting from one of the best production jobs I've heard on a record in recent years (it really captures what I imagine the Jews would sound like if they ever played live, which they don't, apart from that one time that Berman and Malkmus showed up on stage, played a Grateful Dead cassette through the PA, and improvised on top of it), and a sterling contribution from new addition Cassie Berman - who takes over from SM on second vocal duties - the Silver Jews sound simultaneously frenzied, friendly, tired, and drunk. It's a record that makes you feel like a participant, and summons up an extraordinarily vivid mental picture.

"Where does an animal sleep when the ground is wet? / Cows in the ballroom, chickens in the farmer's corvette"

Like all Jews records, it's an album that works on two distinct levels. It's a record packed with mournful and beligerant melodies and beautiful sounds, perfect for a late night beer before bed beckons, and it's also, of course, a headphones record, preferably with a lyric sheet to hand, as Berman throws a predictably gorgeous set of words over his shoulder into the mellee.

A beautiful record the match of anything else you'll hear this year. Or next. Apparently this might be Berman's last record, but we'll have to hope that's not true. If it is, he's bowed out with a classic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

changes of opinion

An interesting post over at his Bloggers4Labour site by Andrew, where he takes on the question, posed by Eric, of whether anyone is willing to admit that they have "changed their opinions on a specific issue, or changed their more general political stance on a more global scale, because of what they have come across on a blog?".

Andrew is a more thoughtful voice than most on the blogging left, but it's interesting to see that the path he's gone down in recent years is the opposite of mine; I find that daily exposure to blogs and political comment online has changed my opinion of this current Labour government, and forced me to confront the fact that I can no longer keep apologising for the actions of Blair and New Labour, which I was defending strongly as recently as late 2003, by which time the government had already done more than enough to earn my contempt.

I suppose in one sense, my opinions haven't changed at all - I'm still broadly on the labour centre-left and relatively open-minded to several Blair initiatives, if deadly opposed to several others. The change has come more in my sense of loyalty, which was always strongly influenced by my relationship with other Labour followers, whether they were schoolfriends, contemporary friends like Andrew, or my family.

Opening up your perspective to a wider circle of people inevitably means you end up doubting the logic of your allegiance. It's like the feeling of disappointment you get when you're on a train and you notice the bunch of louts sitting down the carriage are Tottenham fans too. I don't doubt that most - if not all - Labour party members have the best of intentions, but political blogging has made it clear to me that it's a fallacy to pretend that I agree with them on more than a few issues - the sense in which I was part of a club has vanished entirely. Ah well.

More practically, I've changed my mind, thanks to well argued articles by various bloggers or commentators, on the following issues: the wearing of religious clothing, the right to choose not to vote, my opinion of the Green Party, my belief that England would be better off playing 4-4-2 than 3-5-2, and banning smoking.

Monday, October 17, 2005

last assistant gig

God, this is the most inefficient band diary in the world, isn't it? Maybe I shouldn't even describe it as that anymore.

No, I will, I don't care, because it's cool that you might download one of our mp3s or come and see us because of this. But I'd better talk about the band a little, huh? OK. Assistant just played our third or fourth gig of the year at the Pavilion Tavern in Brighton, and I'm sick of playing that down because the Pav Tav is not exactly the most fashionable venue on the south coast. I like playing there, in fact I often have a better time playing there than I do elsewhere. It's really good fun.

It's basically a city centre pub which, besides specialising in impossibly cheap drinks promotions, hosts Brighton's biggest and longest running indie night, a gala of grown out mod cuts, Strokes songs and teenagers keen on being adult. It's actually hosted above the pub in a black cavernous room, thick with cigarettes and slippy with cider, or sticky with cider, I can't decide which. I've only been a few times over the years – you have to dance in a circle, you see...

The band nights are downstairs and are free and pretty popular. Over the last couple of years we've played there with countless other vaguely indie-sounding bands with whom we have a little but not too much in common. Sometimes we're arguably better than them and sometimes they're arguably better than us. This time round we played with Fractured, who play good-humoured, caustic punk-pop in the vein of The Fall or Television Personalities, and My Device, who we've played with before and do an impressive, lean hardcore thing.

We usually get there early and sit around waiting for ages to soundcheck, my stomach gently knotting and unknotting with impatience. This time round we soundchecked early and were given a leisurely 45 minutes to have a drink and relax before we went on, which is impossible before the soundcheck but not so difficult after. As usual we got a very pleasing turn-out from our mates which is always cool, one of the best reasons for being in a band.

When the time came, we played what I vainly think was perhaps our best set yet, or at least the most comfortable; half-relaxed and half-controlled. We managed to play quite a few new songs, including 'Sixteen Months', 'Getting Away With It', 'Nothing Else' and 'Known to Run', all of which went well. Best of the new stuff was 'Criticism' which is my favourite Assistant song now, and one that really sounds like us, I think. Elsewhere in the set, 'Drinking With You' always sounds a bit flat to me, but 'Get Away' is great fun to play and a good chance to do a bit of screaming and propulsive, rhythmic nodding back and forth.

We drag out the ending of 'Known To Run' at the end of the show and I suddenly notice that I'm really tired and pleased. Afterwards people tell me I looked a bit manic but into the music, which I guess is a good thing, embarassment aside. Coming off stage is really exciting, the best bit in a lot of ways, whether in anticipation of dutiful praise or just the sense that we did what we set out to do - which sounds worthy but I don't mean it like that. It's always thrilling.

I smile a lot and start making plans to sprain my ankle a few days later. I should have been a Catholic.

You can see the Assistant website here, listen to some oldish but goodish demos here, and find out about the next gig here, too, when we know about it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

simon schama: down with the kids

When I was a teenager and used to read Melody Maker religiously, I used to pretend that I has been asked to take part in 'Rebellious Jukebox', a weekly feature where a hip indie rock star of the day was asked to name and explain the twelve records that changed his or her life. This was before Oasis and it wasn't fashionable to listen to the Beatles and all that sixties rubbish, so there was rarely a record chosen which pre-dated 1970, and everyone seemed to pick the same records anyway (Big Star, MC5, Sonic Youth). I suppose the reason I wanted to be on it was because I felt, stupidly, that my taste in music and predisposition to journalistic cliche was incredibly ahead of my time and that, given the opportunity, I could pretty much nail that top twelve. Well, they never asked.

Ten to twelve years on, I no longer dream about this, as I no longer have the confidence that I would sound on-the-ball and hip. I'm pretty proud of discovering a couple of records my friends don't yet own, like that record by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, which I actually know next to nothing about, but I think I'm probably behind the times elsewhere.

So instead I dream of being asked to take part in the Observer Music Monthly's 'Record Doctor' feature, which is really fantastic. Typically, a music fan whose finger has slipped anxiously off the pulse is asked to describe his or her tastes and then 'prescribed' a selection of contemporary or classic records to restore their faith in music and slide that finger back on the button. I like this for two reasons: firstly it tells me about stuff I don't know about so is useful, and secondly, it reassures me that I'm not quite as out-of-touch as the usual participant. Fine.

Today's guest was Simon Schama, and I am humbled. Not only does he namedrop Lydia Lunch within seconds of giving his feedback, the article casually reveals that "The patient is known to be fond of young New York rockers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah". What!?!? How long has he known about them? Damn it.

OK, so where I imagined myself as riding the crest of that particular wave, it appears that the Nation's favourite middle-aged television historian is every bit as cool in me.

In fact, if you read the article, you'll see that he's far cooler...

anyone use the sidebar?

Does anyone ever use my links list to the right of the page? I'm really crap at maintaining it and adding to it and I think one of the reasons is because it's got so much in it. Maybe I should drastically simplify it and just link to the blogs and links I think are of most interest. Would you be more likely to look at it if it just contained, say, ten links? Or should I leave it as it is? One of the things I like most about blogging is the notion of collaborative linking and passing on new stuff, and I get the feeling that I don't do that very well. Not that I get a lot of readers, but I'd like to point 'em somewhere interesting once in a while...

We Are Scientists and we are New

i keep hearing about a New Band called We Are Scientists and I have decided that they are probably cool because they are American and Punk and like cats. After some Feverish Anticipation, I read, their debut album is about to be released. I allow myself a little excitement. I've not heard them yet, but they sound good.

And yet there is a nagging uncertainty somewhere at the back of my mind which I can't translate. I expect it's like that thing where you hear about a New Band called the Arctic Monkeys who are supposedly really great so you have high expectations, and then hear them and they're not that good at all. So you feel a bit cheated.

But I examine the doubt and no, it's not that. Perhaps it's that thing where you're told about a New Band are you instantly think.... No, it's not that either.

Oh, I know. It's that think where you hear about a New Band and the feverish anticipation surrrounding their debut album and you think, hang on a minute, I've already got an album by this band, which I never got round to listening to. And furthermore, that album came out in 2002. So I dig back into iTunes and note that yes, I do indeed have an LP called Safety, Fun and Learning (In That Order) from a few years back. I give it a try.

It's quite good, but I expect that one of the reasons it's been airbrushed out of their history is because the new stuff sounds different, or maybe they're just pretending that they're not as old as they really are.

The album is slightly anxious new-wavey indie rock with a strong hint of Weezer, Idlewild and Blur but more acoustic guitars than you'd expect. I particularly like 'Human Technology Will Render You Obsolete' because it is a hilariously undisguised melding of Blur's 'Advert' (in the verses) and Nirvana's 'About A Girl' (for the chorus). You can happily sing either song over the top, which is what I do when I listen to it. And there's even a guitar solo that sounds a bit Pavementy, so they're obviously going for my vote.

Actually, I don't much like the album, but if anyone knows what they sound like now, please let me know.

Friday, October 14, 2005

4Docs: an excellent resource

well, that discovery about archived films on the 4Docs website looks to be accurate; they've got a list of films here which you can watch online. There's nothing on telly 'til Fahrenheit 9/11 at, erm, eleven, so get over there and watch the aforementioned Nick Broomfield film right away. There looks to be plenty more worth watching too, from Kim Longinotto's film about divorce in Iran to Paul Watson's study of the modern conservative, way back to films from the 20s, 30s and 40s. There's even a rather un-bloggy blog, too.

You need to register to watch the films but it's a moment's work, and well worth the effort. Hopefully the archive will expand to include more of the brilliant documentary films which C4 has commissioned over the years, and I will no longer be forced to spend ages downloading dodgy bit-torrents of Jon Ronson films because Channel 4 are too stupid to bring them out on DVD.

just watched...

the incredibly entertaining and engaging The Leader, his Driver and the Driver's Wife, a documentary by Nick Broomfield which examines the deeply racist yet declining in influence AWB party which, led by the rather frightening Eugene Terreblanche, opposed the end of apartheid most vociferously in South Africa at the tail end of the 1980s and early 90s.

The pioneer of the faux-naive documentary style since adopted by Theroux, Ronson and, well, nearly everybody, Broomfield's work is both playful and serious, opting not to give Terreblanche the respect and deference afforded to him by the mainstream media, but rather to antagonise him, keep him waiting and treat him as what he is really is - a tin pot would-be dictator leading a bunch of thugs, rather than the leader of a serious political movement.

Instead of feigning sympathy and trying to be helpful in order to get the access he needs, as, say, Jon Ronson does in his excellent film about Omar Bakri Muhammad, Broomfield never once allows his guard to drop. Early on there is a wonderful scene where Terreblanche's driver (who provides much of the focus of the film) interrogates Broomfield on his racial stance. The camera, panning to Broomfield, as it does so often, shows him resolute and unwavering, unwilling to play along with his subject. Many of the film-makers who use Broomfield's template would undoubtedly make non-commital noises, change the subject, turn the conversation around. Broomfield stands his ground. Around the same time, one of his cameramen is beaten by AWB thugs. Broomfield and his team keep filming of course.

When, at last, after a convoluted game of cat and mouse, Broomfield meets Terreblanche, he deliberately sabotages the interview by arriving late and infuriating his subject so much that they are unable to hold a civil interview. "What man is more impotant than me?", Terreblanche rages, "This must be quite a man". "We stopped or a cup of tea", Broomfield blithely replies. If you look closely, you can see the Afrikaans' great leader becoming visibly smaller in front of him.

When he returned, at last, to the UK, Broomfield received death-threats from AWB sympathisers, and was told never to return to South Africa. One guess where he is right now, and what's he's doing?

Filming a follow up.

I know there's a lot of fuss about More4 at the moment, but has anyone kept up with the far less trumpeted 4Docs project? I was under the impression it existed as a commissioning tool for amateur film-makers, but the website appears to have important archived documentary films which are free to view! Can this be right? I haven't tried it yet, but the 4Docs page for Broomfield's film has a tantalising 'PLAY' button that is crying out for pressing. OK then - more to follow if this turns out to work.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

currently listening to...

John Peel day on Radio 1. Despite how much I loved his shows, and how much I respected him, I didn't get caught up in the idea of today, and even thought I probably wouldn't bother listening in. I'm glad I did. I tuned in at 7pm and since then I've heard Status Quo, some frenzied happy hardcore, The Specials and The Smiths in session, a blinding live take on Blindness by The Fall, and am currently listening to some live stuff which New Order recorded for the BBC yesterday - all Joy Division songs. Transmission and Atmosphere were just spellbinding, Barney shouting "Move back, move back" between verses, so it's clearly getting pretty hectic. After Atmosphere he said "We don't want anyone getting hurt. Least of all me". Hooky, who wouldn't be in trouble if caught in a scrum, cut him short. "Let's do this one for Ian, lads". Gulp.

They're playing yodelling now. Five more hours to go. Fantastic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

jonathan needs...

just discovered a good new game from Jo Salmon (via Bloggers4Labour); enter your first name in Google followed by the word 'needs' and see just what it is that you need...

My results:

Jonathan needs an experienced, skilled family that is understanding of his special needs.
Right, let's look at these point by point. What special needs? I didn't do this game to make myself feel bad. Something tells me it's going to go that way, however.

Jonathan needs to draw up a business plan
Not true. I need to try to remember which emails I didn't get round to sending today, but a whole business plan is going too far. On the other hand, it might help...

Jonathan needs to start drinking more beer
Can this be right? Is this possible? I'm certainly willing to give it a go.

Jonathan needs to stay on top of the latest technologies and the promising industry players
Not true. I read up on the new iPods just fifteen minutes ago. 150 hours of video, yeah yeah. My question is: why would I want that? Gimme more space for mp3s and we'll talk, Mr. Jobs.

Jonathan needs a tray to position his arms properly
No, I need a tray to position my ankle properly. I sprained it and I've just completed my fifth day of not being able to walk. My arms, on the other hand, are just dandy.

Jonathan needs a one or two parent family that will set guidelines and be consistent in sticking to those standards
C'mon, I'm just getting over all those years of being banished to the 'naughty room'...

Jonathan needs to stop by and do some landscaping
I like the idea of this. Does anyone want me to do some landscaping? This is more Dan's thing really but I'm happy to give it a go.

Jonathan needs a new home!
I'm not moving house again. I always move house. I'm rarely not moving house.

Jonathan needs order and structure in his life
That's true. And I was supposed to finish this post like, 5 minutes ago.

Jonathan needs a girlfriend.
Hmmph. Where's that beer I was supposed to be drinking?

ladies of the right

(c) Steve Bell 2005.

Funny how no matter how well Steve Bell draws Blair or Bush, his pictures of Maggie are always the most vivid. That's Maggie on the right, by the way.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

web awards / new blog

It's the Brighton and Hove Web Awards again, hurray. I dunno if I can win it again or whether I'm ruled out, but you can nominate me here if you so wish; if you don't you should probably make a point of getting behind another one of the many excellent blogs over at Brighton Bloggers; my vote is going to Vik of The World Is Full of Pisswits, because I'm pleased she's blogging again, and her site is particularly ace. Andrew's incredibly successful Bloggers4Labour site and Paul's excellent Free Speed Nation have been excellent new additions to the brighton blogging roll call, too. I'm a raging egotist, however, and think I should win again. If I win it twice does that mean I can cancel all future competitions and install myself as blogging king of Brighton?

Ok, I think I'm getting ahead of myself.

That said, for anyone who's noticed the drop-off of posts about music recently, there are some on the way, as well as - finally - a new episode of the Assistant Blog Podcast. And, if you hate all the other stuff I blog about, you can avoid this site altogether in the future and head over to The Art of Noise, where me and Ben from the marvellous Silent Words Speak Loudest blog will be collating, comparing and contrasting our views on music in weeks to come. There'll still be music content here, it's just that it'll turn up there, too, and you get Ben, which is good value.

Monday, October 10, 2005

blood on the wall: awesomer

With the slew of good albums from British bands in the last few months, it's been easy to underestimate less immediate releases from America. Awesomer by Blood On The Wall is the latest in a run of slightly odd, left-field American records which has caught my attention in 2005. Like Wilderness and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, both of whom released peculiar, wonderful records this year, BOTW recall early nineties indie-rock, specifically Sonic Youth and Pavement, yet cook up a slightly more aggressive stew by ignoring the early 80s post-punk sound which propelled those records in favour of the more crazed influence of Suicide, MC5 and Minor Threat.

Awesomer is a kind of schizophrenic record; Courtney's songs displaying a controlled black, drone-rock nonchalance while her brother Brad's revel in a loose, scuzzed up 90s tunefulness which is most obviously indebted to SY, Yo La Tengo and Scott Kannberg's delirious, foggy contributions to the Pavement canon. At times, like on opener 'Stoner Jam' or 'Right to Lite Tonight' they spin a sharp riff into a clattering groove; elsewhere, on 'Reunite On Ice' they spin out into more imaginative guitar work into something more substantial. On 'Mary Susan' they even have a go at a pop song, even it's just a new version of Kannberg's infinitely more marvellous 'Kennel District'.

There's nothing earth-shattering here, but it's a disorganised, slightly crazy record with some marvellous moments of noise - passionate, scruffy and fun. Recommended.

There are a few MP3s to try out over at Dodge's My Old Kentucky Blog, should you be tempted...

Monday, October 03, 2005

fifty years since Ginsberg's Howl.

It's 50 years since Howl and I wanna go to San Francisco.

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high
sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of
cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz"


"Veterans of the original recital, which saw the poet sing his lines like a synagogue cantor as his confidence grew, while Kerouac chanted "Go, go, go" from the front row of the audience, still recall a sense of taking part in history. The feeling that youth and nonconformity were at last striking back engulfed the Bay area, then the US and much of the western world."

"I saw the best meals of my generation
destroyed by the madness of my brother.
My soul carved in slices
by spikey-haired demons."


Howl for Now is at the Clothworkers' Centenary Concert Hall, Leeds University, at 6.30pm on Friday. Free tickets, first come, first served. Email:

progress on turkey

bloody Jack Straw, making a fool out of me:

EU foreign ministers today reached a deal clearing the way for accession talks with Turkey to begin, EU officials said.

Austria was forced to back down on all its key demands after hours of intense talks chaired by the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw.

no progress on turkey

British enthusiasm for the inclusion of Turkey in Europe is fueled, Madeline Bunting says, by:

"the tantalising possibility of exorcising the "clash of civilisations" ghost. If there was a secular, democratic, economically successful Muslim state it would kill off intense arguments about the incompatibility of Islam with democracy or Islam with human rights and modernity. Furthermore, 80 million Turks within the EU would also kill off the EU's credibility deficit in the Muslim world, where it's seen as a Christian, white club with a dodgy imperial past (although the latter is as much a Turkish problem as a European one in the region). Finally - the coup de grace - it would strengthen the claim of Europe's 15 million-strong Muslim minority to a home in Europe. In sharp contrast to the US, Europe could shape a new, prosperous and peaceful accommodation between Islam and the secular west."

just a quick reminder that very occasionally Blair's government has a completely sensible, not to say visionary approach to foreign affairs. And, on these occasions...

Britain today warned of a "catastrophe" for the European Union as a ceremony marking the start of negotiations on Turkey joining the 25-strong bloc was postponed indefinitely.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the talks could not proceed in the face of Austria's opposition to full Turkish membership. Mr Straw said the EU was "standing on the edge of a precipice".

No new date for the discussions, which had been due to start at 4pm today, was given immediately.


patrick caulfield

Many of us wish we knew a lot more about a lot more things, and there are few areas which I wish I knew more intimately than art, which is a subject for which I can not do expertise but have mastered enthusiasm. There are about ten paintings, moreover, about which I know comparitively little and yet feel without doubt that they are of real importance to me. Hockney's Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, Chris Ofilli's No Woman No Cry, Stanley Spencer's Swan Upping at Cookham, Lucien Freud's Leigh Bowery (Seated), and Begging For It by Gary Hume are just some examples. Another picture which I know so well I don't even need to see it any more is Patrick Caulfield's lovely After Lunch. Caulfield died on September 29th and that painting has been lovingly reprinted throughout the British press in the last few days. So here's another painting by Caulfield, and a link to his obituary from today's Guardian.

'Still life: Autumn fashion', 1978, by Patrick Caulfield (b. 1936)

spam / gig

Oh god, I got 61 comment spam messages over the weekend. How the hell did that happen?? Annoyingly, they don't all seem to be on recent messages, meaning that comments boxes all over the site contain idiotic imperitives to buy viagra and make money now and I can't just delete them quickly. Groan.

So I've put word verification on in the comments boxes, sorry. This means that when you want to leave a comment you'll have to type in a certain word to prove that you're sentient. If it really irritates you then let me know and I'll turn it off and just delete all spam comments manually - but this should save me some time.

Ok, now for some spam from me: come and watch my pop groop play at the Pavilion Tavern this Wednesday as part of Brighton Live - onstage at 8.30, free to all and lots of new songs and fun. Other bands are Fractured and My Device.
the Royal Pavilion Tavern, 7–8 Castle Square, BRIGHTON, BN1 1FX Tel: 01273 827641

Set List - most or all of: theme, sixteen months, august song, getting away with it, criticism, anything for you, drinking with you, get away, nothing else, known to run.

come and say hello if you can make it x