Saturday, December 31, 2005

Assistant Blog Singles of the Year 2005

OK: Single Of The Year time:

1. Damian Marley – Welcome To Jamrock
Easily the best single of the year, and a track which seemed to be playing out of every car and every window when I came up to London this summer, although sadly not so much down in Brighton. But no wonder it was so popular: it's a magnificent piece of political reggae from the son of Bob, somehow combining anger, energy and warmth in a way that only reggae can. "Come on let's face it / our ghetto education's basic / and most of the youths them wasted / and when they waste it / that's when them take their guns, replace it / and they don’t stand a chance at all". My pick of the year's crop - stunning.

2. Babyshambles – Fuck Forever
If all the Babyshambles records sounded like this, I think I'd understand what everyone was going on about when they hailed Pete Doherty a genius. This is invigorating and beautifully shambolic, badly recorded and lovely. They tried to improve it for the album version and failed completely, even though this original version stumbles along without any clear momentum at all. It's partly, or wholly, to do with Doherty, who drawls lyrics like "What's the use between death and glory" (or indeed the beautifully spat "New Labour or Tory") and is the closest he's come to describing the thought process which explains the odd, reactionary libertarian position he's somehow manouvered himself into: "They", he declares, "they have a way, they have a way to make you pay. And a way to make you toe the line", something he obviously has no intention of doing. He even goes some way to acknowledging the many complications of his position; "It’s one and the same. One and the same. No, it's not the same, it's not supposed to be the same". A real punk record and a mess of contradictions.

3. DARE by Gorillaz
You get the feeling the perenially competitive Damon Albarn must finally be feeling pretty happy with himself, as the latest stuff by Gorillaz has pretty much put paid to any argument that he's not one of the cleverest and versatile songwriters we have. I don't remember a song that everyone loved quite so unanimously as the hit of the summer, 'DARE', although that probably has more to do with the lovely Shaun Ryder. Either way, it's utterly irrestistable. Even more so when you realise that Shaun was trying to sing "It's there".

4. The Coral - In The Morning
Every now and again a song comes along which is just achingly perfect and poignant. 'In The Morning' appeared in the spring and sounded like the summer. If it had been released at the same time as 'DARE', and capitalised on the summer surge, it could have been twice as successful. As it is, it's short, sweet, romantic and absolutely perfect.

5. The Cribs – You’re Gonna Lose Us
A late contender for single of the year, this offering from the Cribs is a super, raucous Fall-style anthem, all surly northern attitude and zippy guitars. The vocal melodies, if infrequently very melodic, are some of the most memorable of the year. And the vocals are ace: "When I'm drunk I can be an asshole", they howl. Not heard much else by them but if this is indicitive of what they can do they could be a really valuable find.

6. M.I.A - Galang
Again, I could have easily picked 'Bucky Done Gun' instead, which is just as good (that ace horn break!) but Galang just about edges it on account of the fact that it really sounds like a number one single in some other dimension. If only. Everything about M.I.A is just perfect; the crunchy, glitchy beats and sirens, her confident, rough delivery and the insouciance of her lyrics. 'Galang' is the kind of record Missy Elliot used to make a few years ago, but Laandon.

7. Maximo Park – Apply Some Pressure
So good we had this single twice - one of the real pleasures of 2005 has been watching the Park's transformation from obscure arty types into bona-fide popstars. Their appearance, second time around, on Top Of The Pops this autumn was a real treat, and 'Apply Some Pressure' is a great example of what they do; ultra-tuneful guitar pop, clever arrangements, and maximum enthusiasm. And Paul Smith is the new Jarvis – clever, wry and so uncool he's ultra-cool. Watching him twist his body fiercely around the final lines on TOTP was thrilling, "You know that I would love to see you in that dress! I hope that I will live to see you undressed!". Ace.

8. Futureheads – Hounds Of Love
Granted this one came out so long ago that it seems like it should belong to 2004 not 2005, but there's no point underplaying how great this song is. It showcased everything that is unique about the Futureheads, their excellent taste, their playfulness, their arranging skills and their singular way with a melody. It took me a bit longer to learn to love the winter's underplayed 'Area', which suffers by comparison, but is still pretty great.

9. Josh Rouse - Winter in the Hamptons
I know absolutely nothing about this, other than the fact that Vic told me about it ages ago and it's been stuck in my head ever since. The most musically pretty song on the list with a guitar line which recalls Peter Buck, a yearning Smiths style chorus and a divine 'ba ba ba ba ba ba' hook. If someone could tell me more about Josh Rouse without me having to use google I'd be grateful.

10. Spoon – I Turn My Camera On
It took me several years longer than everyone else to get into Spoon, but this year's Gimme Fiction, sometimes reminiscent of Bowie, Steely Dan and Pavement, really grabbed me. But it was the album's stand-out track and single, 'I Turn My Camera On', which I kept coming back to; a gorgeous Beck-like slice of indie-funk, all space and bass and a beautiful vocal to boot. Genius.

11. Young Knives – Junkymusicmakesmefeelbetter EP
Can't remember offhand which track led this E.P, but assuming it was the best of the four: a beautiful looped guitar line riding on a metronomic drumbeat and a crisp bassline, 'Trembling Of Trails' is the best thing from the terrific Young Knives yet. Most impressive is the yearning, youtthful vocal, occasionally tearing into momentary violence. The lovely "got my papers, and my ticket for the train / To anywhere" refrain was stuck in my head all winter. I predict a dazzling debut album from this lot.

12. Mystery Jets – Alas Agnes
I saw the Mystery Jets supporting British Sea Power this year and thought they were either tremendous or terrible and couldn't make my mind up; it seems awfully soon for a progressive rock revival. Nevertheless, their magnificent remix of The Futureheads' 'Hounds Of Love' and this single made my mind up – they're one of the most interesting new bands in Britain. 'Alas Agnes' is a lunatic stomp through about six different genres, finally settling on sounding somewhere between Ian Dury, Cud and Dexy's Midnight Runners. One of the most unaccountably bonkers single of the year, but one of the best too.

13. Good Weekend by Art Brut
I absolutely loved the Art Brut album this year; it's absolutely fantastic, totally focussed and enthusiastic where the likes of Babyshambles are shambolic and nihilistic. 'Good Weekend' is the best by far, a lovestruck descendent of the Buzzcocks, the Television Personalities and The Streets, where Eddie Argos's studied cool falls apart and he exclaims, in a rush of frenzied excitement, "I've seen her naked TWICE! I'VE SEEN HER NAKED TWICE!!!". Pure Joy.

14. Gwen Stefani – Hollaback Girl
I always felt slightly upset that my inbuilt music snobbery meant that I could never enjoy 'We Will Rock You' by Queen as much as everyone on Gladiators, or wherever it was played. But finally I have a stompy, anthemic song which I can sing along to when people want a bit of pomp and ceremony. And this, crucially, has a refrain which goes "this shit is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S". It's also courageously stripped down; Stefani constructs some lovely synth washes for the chorus but holds off from using them every time; when they do appear it's shiver-down-the-spine stuff. Her best song of the year, mind, was the wonderful Jacques Le Cont remix of 'What You Waiting For', which re-imagined the original track as a nine-minute New Order house homage. But it wasn't a single in its own right, so never mind.

15. Stephen Malkmus – Post Paint Boy
Steve Malkmus seems to be that dreaded thing, an albums artist, these days, but that doesn't mean he hasn't released a couple of really great singles this year – 'Pencil Rot' first, which was a strange delight with a welcome rap middle section, and 'Post Paint Boy', which was a straightforward delight for anyone who has come to admire Malkmus's skewed, languid and melodic songwriting style over the years (and regular readers will note wearily that, erm, I have). The lyrics, as ever, are an utter delight. "Post-paint boy, with your art / you're penny rich and dollar dumb / in a world that has become / so American". I can follow it 'til he starts talking about "seventeen anteaters, sequestered in a room / with the sisters and mothers of famous gluttons I don’t know", at which point I lose track of things. Great song, though, and I dunno whether Steve is being genuinely tender, but the bit where he sings "I'm really really really really proud of what you did" gets me every time.

16. The Wedding Present – I'm From Further North Than You
The return of the Wedding Present, the band that got me into indie music, was always going to be a marvellous nostalgia trip for me. What I didn't expect was that, in late 2004's 'Interstate 5' and 2005's 'I'm From Further North Than You', the reformed WPs would produce two of the finest singles of the last few years. This latter was exceptionally lovely, Gedge at his finest, lovelorn and a little bitter. "Yeah, we're the same, in many ways", he sings, "and I admit we had some memorable days", before the pay off. "...But just not very many".

17. Roll Deep Crew – The Avenue
I was so dissapointed that Wiley's career didn't really took off last year, and it looks like the likes of Kano and Lethal Bizzle are only faring slightly better, so it's little surprise that he returned to the scene with a pop record rather than something inaccessible and strange, and so far the strategy seems to be paying off. In At The Deep End is a peculiar, hodge-podge album, as is the lead-off single, 'The Avenue', which finds the crew trading verses over an old Marionettes record. It's such a lovely, straight-forward concept coming after all of Wiley's astonishingly dense production to date, and it works brilliantly.

18. Love Me Like You by the Magic Numbers
Victims of a lot of criticism this year for being, depending on who you believe, another bunch of post-Pet Sounds california pop soundalikes, or just too fat to be worth bothering with, no-one seemed to notice that the Magic Numbers were as indebted to the lovely, frantic indie of The Wedding Present and their C86 comrades as they were to Brian Wilson. For precisely that reason there's lots to love, and 'Love Me Like You' was a fine and underrated pop single.

19. 22 Grand Job by The Rakes
There were few records as unlikeable as the Rakes' disappointing debut this year - laced with misogyny and fillers - but in 'Strasbourg' and '22 Grand Job' they created two excellent, itchy singles. The latter is a minute and a half of ironic angst and is ludicrously exciting. "22 grand job", they chant, "in the city, that sounds nice, that's alright, that's alright".

20. Movement by LCD Soundsystem
Yeah, I know, they're horribly fashionable and also strangely outdated already, but the LCD Soundsystem record was awesome in places and this strange slab of Fall indebted punk rock was a brilliant, savage, singular tune. Nothing on the album to compare with the first couple of singles though, but maybe that's just the shock of the new

21. The Kaiser Chiefs - I Predict a Riot
Yes, they're kind of rubbish, yes, everything they do seems horribly calculated, but the Kaiser Chiefs have two undeniable qualities; their live show, which is genuinely very good indeed, and the fact that they occasionally get that boundless enthusiasm over into their music with good results. Their debut single, 'I Predict A Riot' is so much better than the rest of their material and a sign that better things may yet be to come. Funny lyrics, odd melodies and this was a great single.

22. Franz Ferdinand – Do You Want To?
The album was a bit dissapointing, and Liam Gallagher might be right to say that Alex Kapranos sounds like Richard Fairbrass, but that doesn't stop the lead-off single, 'Do You Want To' being utterly brilliant and terrifically catchy, riding as it does an addictive rhythm and a vocal harmony that Duran Duran are presumably proud of. Franz Ferdinand have created some decent songs but in 'Take Me Out' and 'Do You Want To' they’ve created two masterful pop singles – no mean feat.

23. British Sea Power – It Happened On An Oily Stage
This year BSP were supposed to break through, and I suppose in retrospect they didn't quite manage it, but they still had a pretty good year, and remain by some distance the most interesting band around right now, even if they only really manage it on a conceptual angle. The first single from their second LP, 'It happened On An Oily Stage' treads a familiar path; Yan's half-whispered vocals, a lead guitar line which echoes the vocal melody and a propulsive bassline which carries the tune. There's still a sense that BSP could be really popular, I think. Whether they want to is another matter. But we need hits with lyrics like "He found god in a parking lot / and you did not".

Honorable mentions:
Rachel Stevens - Negotiate With Love / But Said Never Again (And Here We Are).
Both ace. Rachel Stevens still can't sell any records. Mystifying.
New Order - Krafty
Almost heralded a complete return to form; there's some fab stuff on the album too.
Mylo – In My Arms
Brilliant album and several brilliant singles too.
Le Tigre - After Dark
Wouldn't it be great if Le Tigre made the leap from underground darlings to pop heroes? On the evidence of 'After Dark' that isn't such an unlikely proposition. It'll never happen though. Ah well.
Bloc Party – So Here We Are
A crisp, beautiful single.
The Killers – Mr. Brightside
Or, the theme to Jamie’s School Dinners, as I now think of it. Overplayed, overplayed, overplayed, but it's still very good.
Sugababes - Push The Button
Lots of great pop single this year but this was one of the best – when the Sugababes do a greatest hits record it'll have a surprising number of brilliant tracks.

Some others: I'm convinced I've missed some really great stuff. Comments box please if you spot something I've failed to include, or want to tell me that I'm wrong to deliberately exclude something you rate.

UPDATE: Everyone keeps telling me off for not including the Arcade Fire. Ok, sorry, good point. It'll have to be confined to the honorable mentions though...

Arcade Fire - Neighbourhood no.3 (Power Out)
Splendid and uplifting, yes - but for me it works best live; it wasn't until I saw them live that I really figured out why people love them so much. All the same, this is a lovely, ragged single.

UPDATE 2: Anne-So points out that I didn't include anything by Brakes. Good Point. I think 'Ring A Ding Ding' should have probably been in my top ten, but I, er, forgot it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


God, yeah I know, shit, sorry - no updating for ages; I'm really not a very disciplined writer at the moment; blame nanowrimo, it killed me. On the other hand I have spent the last few days acccumulating some nice digital photos so once I'm back in Brighton (er, tomorrow) and the blog springs miraculously back to life you might even get some nice colour images to look at and stuff.

Spent most of Christmas with family friends in Marlow doing the drinking and eating stuff and having a nice time; now I'm beginning to have dark thoughts about the resumption of work. Sorry to anyone who reads this and is back already - feel free to insult me in the comments box.

more to follow before the end of the world, I promise.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

7 things to do while drunk at 1 in the morning

Excellent, I love getting asked to do memes: here we go:

Seven things to do before I die

1. Have my band release a 7" single
2. Have a novel published, sorry.
3. Stick by my friends.
4. Drink lots of wine
5. Become financially sound.
6. Magically reverse my rubbish health.
7. Make lots of new friends.

Seven things I cannot do:

1. Summon up unalloyed enthusiasm about the future (it scares me).
2. Pretend that I am unduly pessimistic either.
3. Stop looking at girls in the summer.
3. Sit quietly while others talk.
4. Bear silence.
6. Concentrate.
7. Listen to people saying they like Oasis without getting really angry.

Seven things that attract me to my spouse:
1. Sadly,
2. I
3. can't
4. answer
5. this
6. question
7. :-(

Seven things I say most often
1. "Ok, when can you deliver your manuscript then?"
2. "Ah"
3. "A pint of San Miguel please"
4. "Pavement. Pavement Pavement Pavement."
5. "Look at that cat!"
6. "Come and watch my band play next week"
7. I dunno. "Morning"?

Seven books (or series) I love (at this precise moment)
1. Anything by Pamela Hansford Johnson
2. Anything by Tim Parks
3. The Alteration by Kingsley Amis
4. The Underground Man by Mick Jackson
5. Anything by Robert Irwin
6. Anything by PG Wodehouse
7. Anything by Michael Palin

Seven movies I watch over and over again
1. The Missouri Breaks
2. The Big Lebowski
3. Dodgeball
4. Look at Me
5. Rushmore
6. This Is Spinal Tap
7. Manhatten

Seven people I want to join in, too
1. Anyone with a blog who reads this, please.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

mobile phone games

Here's something stupid. I've got one of those silly platform games on my mobile phone ("bounce") which has, for the last six months or so, proved my most vexing intellectual sparring partner. About a month or so ago I finally completed the bloody thing, but the progress of trying and trying and trying to make that little red ball bounce over the pillar but not into the path of the scary spider clearly rendered me an addict, meaning that the last month or so has seen me forlornly breezing through the game repeatedly at bus stops and train platforms, wishing I could re-create the thrill of doing it when I couldn't get anywhere.

Having finally got to the stage where I can now complete the whole thing in a matter of minutes, and suffering withdrawal symptoms, I had the idea of trying to play it with my phone upside down. Okay, I know - it was a long train journey home and I'd finished my book. Anyway, turns out it's not so hard when you get used to it, and I'm once more racing through the levels, albeit with a slightly higher stupid mistake ratio. One thing that really surprised me, though, is that considering every object on screen is spherical, square or expressionless - and thus the game looks broadly the same from whatever angle - I find playing it upside down extremely disorientating, as if it is me that is hanging upside down or walking on the ceiling or something. I can practically feel my ears popping. Strange. Anyone else tried this? Same feeling?

I'm gonna have to buy a new phone or something.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

miriam in america

Does Virginia always look this autumnal? It's as if the entire passage is filmed through a sepia lens, a startling panoply of yellows, where every colour is somehow treading the path from green to yellow to beige.

I am in Sheffield on a work trip, having shirked out of the cold Yorkshire night and a meal out at my employer's expense, and have bought cold food and wine from Marks and Spencer. So I sit in front of my TV in my hotel room, which smells slightly of sour milk, and watch Miriam Margoyles, the host of BBC2s Dickens In America, opening a truck which is loaded with withering tobacco leaves. She wrinkles her nose in moral horror, because she loathes smoking, and then gives in and sinks her face into a bale of leaves and inhales the smell of dry tobacco - her face hints at a state of bliss. Elsewhere she buys a pouch of chewing tobacco named 'Oliver Twist' and expectorates, disgusted, a brown patch of spit onto the beige pavement.

I've never seen Dickens In America before and within five minutes it has leapfrogged Life In The Undergrowth and Question Time and become my favourite programme. Maddeningly, this is the penultimate episode and I have missed the rest. More maddeningly, I only think to post this to my blog a week later, when I realise that I missed the subsequent episode. Miriam is following Charles Dickens' path through America, in case that wasn't clear.

Moving into Maryland, we visit state penitentiaries in Philadelphia; the palatte alters from brown to grey, although the maroon prison uniforms are unpleasantly vivid. Words such as 'therapeutic' and 'rehabilitation' are bandied around, which must be an advance upon Dickens' time, if nothing else. In what genuinely looks like a fairly progressive womens prison, the host is measured for glasses by convicts who, in Miriam's terms, "glowed with humanity". It's intriguing to see this presentation of the American penal system. Dickens was horrified by the state of prisons in his day. Make no mistake, the fashion for ludicrously overpopulating prisons remains appalling, but I expected the host to peddle the same line. To see a prison experience which knew redemption not just revenge was welcome, especially in the week that Schwarzenegger bolstered his fading reputation with the Republican right by choosing not to revoke the death sentence hanging over the reformed Crip Stanley 'Lookie' Williams.

It's impossible to discuss the South without reference to religion. Religion is sincere but a mass of contradictions; Miriam finds personification of this in Kenneth, a black preacher who teaches not only to love one's brother, but to make sure one is capable of shooting him, also. Miriam picks up a gun with a beguiling combination of reluctance and excitement. She is an excellent shot.

She is horrified by Kenneth's ideas yet attracted by his tenderness; just as in Virginia she gets on like a house on fire with the tobacco farmer, here again she comes face to face with her enemy and discovers to her horror that she likes him.

She moves inland towards Pittsburgh, that ugly confusion of buildings, and beyond. The journey West. Of the heartlands Miriam admits that she knows no more than Dickens. He said that Pitsburgh, drenched in smoke, was like Birmingham. I don’t think he intended it as a compliment. By the time Dickens reached Pittsburgh he and his family were dreadfully homesick. He eased the pain by playing maudlin songs on his accordian.

"Children frighten me", Miriam admits. So she heads, like Dickens before her, to the Pitssburgh free school and decides to take on those kids – they are seated at the back - who declare that Great Expectations is boring. She seeks to alter that perception. "Sometimes if you love someone and they do not love you back it is the worst thing in the world", Miriam tells them. "Do you know what I mean? The rejection?"

She reads from Mrs Haversham:

"I'll tell you," said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, "what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter–as I did!"

Her passion is remarkable. She inhabits the role. The children look terrified, and they look rapt. Her enthusiasm is utterly infectious. By now she is my favourite person on TV. Miriam looks back on her success with the children. She describes herself as being 'Martian'. That’s good, she reckons. I think so too.

Moving further south along the Ohio river Miriam notices the grisly skeletons of trees on the river bank: their bleached arms. The trees which bend to the water, washing their hair in it. Dickens is an extraordinary writer, so those phrases are his, and not mine. She travels to Cincinnati, where she purs over a first edition of Domby and Son. "Look", she says, "it carries an advertisment for an 'improved elastic chest expander'". She looks down at her chest. "Something for which I have no need".

To right any misinformation, she is a small, eager, slightly batty woman built along the lines of a barrel.

When Dickens read his books, she tells us, he would laugh at the funny scenes and cry at the sad ones. The same sense of untramelled emotion vibrates through her enthusiam.

Dickens loved Cincinnati, although he was shocked by his fellow man's eating habits. It doesn't seem to have rankled quite as much as his habit of spitting tobacco, but he wasn't happy. Miriam couldn’t care less. But she attends an 'etiquette dinner', snorting derisively at the concept of 'rules'. She starts to argue. Go Miriam! The whole pointof meal-times, she states, is to get as much food into the mouth as possible. She is charmed by the notion of these young Americans trying to better themselves, but is severely reprimanded for trying to steal someone else's soup.

To Louisville next, which we're told is the home of baseball, bourbon and the Kentucky derby. No one can agree how to say Louisville. The city is the crossroads linguistically between the north and the south. Fix, for example, is a word Dickens noted. A man fixes himself, and is dressing. If you are ill, you will be fixed. Miriam notes that some Louisville residents are fixing to go shopping. And fixing to go get my hair fixed, in one heaven-sent example.

Dickens was a bit superior about all this stuff, but then he had good reason to be. Miriam inherits his superiority. "I can’t help feeling", she tells one surprised interviewee, "that my language is better than yours". But Louisville can claim its share of linguistic innovation. At one point Dickens is accused of writing a "sockdollinger" of a novel.

Excessive playfulness abounds, I can’t make head nor tail of it. Nor can Miriam. "I don't know what to say about Louisville", Miriam admits. She seems more a fish out of water here than anywhere else. "These people are not my folk", she says, bewildered. I decide to go to Louisville one day.

She climbs aboard The Delta Queen and travels from the Ohio river to the Missisippi, which Dickens described as 'the great father of rivers, who has no children like him'. Words fail me to describe these visions, and they do her too, so the film fixes on the view and resorts to a couple of minutes of stately blues dubbed over the scenery.

Dickens however, had no such descriptive difficulties:

"The decline of day here was very gorgeous; tingeing the firmament deeply with red and gold, up to the very keystone of the arch above us. As the sun went down behind the bank, the slightest blades of grass upon it seemed to become as distinctly visible as the arteries in the skeleton of a leaf; and when, as it slowly sank, the red and golden bars upon the water grew dimmer, and dimmer yet, as if they were sinking too; and all the glowing colours of departing day paled, inch by inch, before the sombre night; the scene became a thousand times more lonesome and more dreary than before, and all its influences darkened with the sky."

The sight of The Delta Queen by night is quite unlike anything else, like a swimming fairground, lit from below with demonic light, its huge paddle wheel churning the river. Miriam regales her fellow passengers with stories, but takes the opportunity to laud not Dickens but his wife. Dickens ultimately left "his darling wife" for a young actress, she gossips, shaking her head and puffing out her cheeks. So she raises a toast to Catherine instead. Marvellous.

The series is not only uttery fascinating, it's beautiful edited too. At the point where Miriam disembarks at Cairo the delta blues ring out, piercingly tragic. This town, Cairo, destroyed Dickens' hopes for America. It was too much to bear. It's Eden in his David Copperfield, a "hideous swamp". Some in Cairo feel that Dickens cursed the town, for his grim vision was prophetic.

Cairo has had very ill luck. A population of 15,000 is down to 3,000 now. To see it, it's a ghost town, utterly derelict. Shops can be rented for a dollar a year. Back then white kids learned to swim in the public baths; the blacks in the Ohio river. The Civil Rights movement missed out on Cairo and didn’t hit 'til 1967. It turns out that Cairo de-segregated in 1976, which is astonishingly recent, only a year before I was born. But the consequence was that the white community just upped and left, leaving the city's economy to rot. Miriam spoke to a resident, Preston, who was utterly dedicated to saving the community. Like Dickens, Miriam can't bear the lack of promise, and is desperate to escape, so like him she hits the “corduroy roads” West.

So next Dickens - and Miriam - pitched up at St.Louis, a port drenched in sun, looking in the ancient pictures which Miriam unearths like a beautiful American Venice. It was here that Dickens, rapidly tiring of the US, encountered Native Americans for the first time. They were being evacuated from their reservations, thrust West so that the European settlers could expand into their land. The experience moved him terribly. He described the chief whom he befriended as "as stately and complete a gentleman of Nature's making, as ever I beheld".

Dickens knew what it was to be an outsider, Miriam reflects, so he understood terribly the horror of what was being done to these people.

Before he left America, Dickens was determined to see the West, so a trip was arranged. For Miriam too. The episode ended with a picnic on the prairie. Dickens was exhausted by that stage, and disappointed with what he saw. Miriam looks as happy as larry. What a genial host she is. She promised Canada for the next week, although I missed that - damn. The best series I’ve seen in bloody ages.

The credits rolled with Miriam considering Canada. What would she find there, she wondered? Trees?

“I know nothing about trees”, she admits, on shaky ground for once. “I mean, I like them, but…”

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Oh great

I just did this 'Bem Sex Role Inventory Test' (via Andrew) and disovered that I am...


I scored 50 for masculinity and 60 for femininity.

Apparently I have a "strong personality exhibiting characteristics of both traditional sex roles".

Great. Take the quiz yourself here.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

new brighton blog to look at

My friend Natalia has just started a blog - Oily Marks Appear On Walls - where she blends environmental stuff with interesting looks at stuff she sees and does. Take a look; I like her short post about a car hitting a pile of papers in the road...

new strokes album

5 things i've noticed about the new Strokes album today:
1. It sounds like they're actually trying this time round.
2. Juicebox is shit the first time you hear it.
3. But it's ace after the fifth listen.
4. It sounds like Nirvana.
5. Juicebox, I mean. Not the whole album. The rest sounds like The Strokes, but not a shit version of The Strokes, like Room On Fire. A good Strokes.

john lennon is everywhere, groan

I like the way that on 6music they keep referring to the 25-years-dead John Lennon as 'murdered-music-icon John Lennon'. So as to differentiate him from other John Lennons presumably. Tons of bloody awful music abounds on the radio as a consequence of the anniversary - a good night for going out.

A quick mention for Julie Burchill first, however, for her response to the 'where were you when you learned that Lennon had been shot?' question.

"I don't remember where I was but I was really pleased he was dead, as he was a wife-beater, gay-basher, anti-Semite and all-round bully-boy."

pinter's acceptance speech

The Guardian has rather fawningly reproduced Harold Pinter's ripe, over the top but marvellously entertaining Nobel Prize Acceptance speech from last night, and it's well worth a read. As you might imagine, it's beautifully written, self-contradictory and contains some bloody awful poetry (from Pinter, and some beautiful words from Pablo Naruda). Apparently it was screened on More4 so I'll have to try and track down a copy, I'm sure it'll be doing the rounds on the internet before long.

The real treat, apart from a rare insight into his writing methods, is Pinter on truth, his masterful juxtapositions: "Everyone knows what happened in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe during the post-war period", he says. We may also know about US foreign policy in the Phillipines, Grenada, Nicaragua and Iraq, and yet at the same time, "It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest." Elsewhere, "Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries", and yet he asks, "Did they take place?" On Iraq he emits the same thrusting, unequivocal language as George Galloway, which is rhetorically off-putting and yet unarguably true.

"The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading - as a last resort - all other justifications having failed to justify themselves - as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they're interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London."

Friday, December 02, 2005

late night licensing in brighton part one

Non-Brighton residents might want to skip this one:

The Albert, 48 Trafalgar Street - 11pm every night
Aquarium, 11 Steine Street - Weekdays 12am, weekends 1am
Barley Mow, 92 St Georges Road - 11pm every night
Basketmakers Arms, 12 Gloucester Road - Sun to Weds 11pm, Thurs to Sat 12am
Bath Arms, 3 Meeting House Lane - Sun to Weds 12am, Thurs to Sat 1am
Battle of Trafalgar, Guildford Road - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 12am
Bedford Tavern, 30 Western Street - 12am every night
Black Lion, 14 Black Lion Street - Weekdays 2am, weekends 3am
Browns, 3-4 Dukes Street - Thurs to Fri 12pm, Sun to Weds 11pm
Caxton Arms, North Gardens - 11pm every night
Chequers Bar, 45 Preston Street - Sun to Weds 12am, Thurs to Sat 1am
Chimney House, 28 Upper Hamilton Road - Tues to Sat 11pm, Sun 9pm, closed Mon
The Couch, 82 Dyke Road - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am
The Crescent, 6 Clifton Hill - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 12am
Cricketers, 15, Black Lion Street - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 12am
Doctor Brightons, 16 Kings Road - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am
The Dragon, 58 St Georges Road - 11pm every night
The Druid Arms, 79 Ditchling Road - 12am every night
Druid's Head, 9 Brighton Place - Sun to Thurs 1am, Fri and Sat 3am
Duke of Beaufort, 175 Queens Road - 11pm every night
The Eagle, 125 Gloucester Road - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am
The Earth & Stars, 46 Windsor Street - Mon to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am, Sun 11pm
Easy Bar, 10 Cranbourne Street - Weekdays 1am, weekends 2am
The Engineer, 32 Argyle Road - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am
Evening Star, 55 Surrey Street - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 12am
The Fiddlers Elbow, 11 Boyces Street - Weekdays 12am, weekends 2am
The Font, Union Street - Sun 10.30pm, Mon to Weds 11pm, Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 1am
Fortune of War, 157 Kings Rd Arches - Weekdays 11pm, weekends 2am
The Freebutt, 1 Phoenix Place - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 1am
The George, 5 Trafalgar Street - Mon to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 12am, Sun 11.30pm
The Golden Cannon, 21 St George's Road - Sun to Thurs 11pm, Fri and Sat 1am
Grand Central, Surrey Street - Weekdays 12am, weekends 1am
The Great Eastern, 103 Trafalgar Street - Sun to Tues 11pm, Weds and Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 12.30am
Greens, 62 West Street - Sun to Weds 12am, Thurs to Sat 1.30am
The Hanbury, St Georges Road - 11pm everynight (The Venue up to 2am)
The Hobgoblin, 31 York Place - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 2am
Horatio's Bar, Palace Pier - 11pm every night
Lion and Unicorn, Sussex Street - Sun 10.30pm, Mon to Sat 11pm
The Lord Nelson, 36 Trafalgar Street - 11pm
Marine Tavern, 13 Broad Street - 12am every night
Market Inn, 1 Market Street - Fri and Sat 1am
Montepelier Inn, Montepelier Place - Sun to Thurs 12am, Friday and Sat 1am
Pedestrian Arms, 13 Foundry Street - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 12.30am
Polar East, St Georges Road - Weekdays 12am, weekends 1am
Pond, Gloucester Road - Mon to Sat 11pm, Sun 10.30pm
Prodigal, 80 East Street - Mon to Weds 11pm, Thurs 11.30pm, Fri and Sat 12am, Sun 11.30pm
Pull & Pump, 1-2 Clarence Gardens - Sun to Weds 11pm, Thurs 11.30pm, Fri and Sat 12.30am
R Bar, Marine Parade - Mon to Thurs 2am, possibly 24 hours Fri to Mon
Robin Hood, Norfolk Terrace - Sun 11.30pm, Mon to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 12.30am
Royal Albion Roof Terrace, Royal Albion Hotel, 35 Old Stein - residents only after 11pm
Royal Sovereign, Preston Street - Sun 11.30pm, Mon to Weds 11pm, Thurs to Sat 12.30am
Setting Sun, Windmill Street - Sun 11.30pm, Mon to Weds 11pm, Thurs to Sat 12am
Volks Tavern, Maderia Drive - Fri and Sat 3am, 24 hr licence for Bank Holidays
Walkabout Inn, 79-81 West Street - 1am every day
Wetherspoons, 20 - 22a West Street - Sun to Thurs 12am, Fri and Sat 2am

Thursday, December 01, 2005

art of noise getting louder

I'm back. Today is a nice day, because it's the first day in a month where I haven't had to write a minimum of 1,700 words. Nanowrimo is finished, thank god, and I can at last do simple things like watch a film, have a pint, listen to records, surf the internet, without feeling profoundly guilty and like I'm letting myself down in some pathetic way. That said, it's a bit early to say whether or not a month of furious scribbling has (a) got me into the habit of writing regularly, or (b) completely burned me out. Hopefully the former, which would indicate that I should be back to blogging a respectable amount again in the run up to Christmas.

In the meantime, some good stuff to keep you going.

The Art of Noise blog is looking better and better, with Jonathan from Crinklybee and Phil from Danger! High Postage! joining myself and Ben in contributing regular music posts. Our A-Z feature has proven even more successful, with a whole bunch of us taking on a different letter of the alphabet each week and offering a variety of music-related contributions. Catch up by following the following links to see what we said:

To start with, A (where I discussed the XTC album Apple Venus Vol. 1 and others dealt with Adam & The Ants, the Alabama 3, amplification, the songwriting partnership that is Anderson/Butler, Asian Dub Foundation, The Auteurs, and Jez's rather open opinion on anyone...)

The Letter B (where I took a sabattical, and others took on Backini, bass guitars, the colour black, the Blackpool Empress Ballroom, the Bluetones, bootleg t-shirts and that perennial of pop, the broken heart).

and finally, C (where I discussed Clap Your Hands Say Yeah alongside posts on Camber Sands, Casablanca Records, the compilation It's a Cool, Cool Christmas, fellow Brighton boys Clearlake, the Radiohead song 'Climbing Up The Walls', the ghastly Coldplay, the Concretes, and crowdsurfing).

D next week, obviously. Ben has put out a fatwa on Dido entries, which is a pity.