Saturday, December 30, 2006

blur reform?

No idea whether this is true or not, but I do hope so. It is according to The Sun, mind, so...

"DAMON ALBARN and GRAHAM COXON have finally buried the hatchet and agreed to reunite. For the first time in almost five years Damon, Graham, ALEX JAMES and DAVE ROWNTREE are set to make sweet music together.

The kings of Britpop made their mark in the Nineties with No1 album Parklife. And their 1995 single Country House beat arch rivals OASIS in a huge chart battle. But by the end of the century Damon fell out with Graham over his persistent drunken antics. In 2002 Blur’s management revealed Graham had been replaced on tour by former VERVE guitarist SIMON TONG.

But that was short-lived and the lads went their separate ways — with Damon setting up GORILLAZ and THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE QUEEN and Graham releasing a string of solo albums. Alex set up a cheese farm at his country house while Dave worked on animation show Empire Square. But it wasn’t until Damon appealed to Graham back in April to reform for one last show that they considered a revival.

And Graham took a lot of convincing. A source said: “Graham left Blur under a hazy cloud. He was worried that returning to the studio with the lads would be like moving backwards. Graham is over getting smashed every night and he didn’t want to go back to an environment where he will be tempted. But he has finally realised Blur have grown up and have families now. They are a totally different band to the one in the Nineties. As soon as Damon has finished his tour with The Good The Bad And The Queen in February they are planning to go into the studio. It will be one step at a time. It may not be a long-term project — it will probably be one last final Blur album to bring closure to the band. Just how it should have been.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

a hiccup in time

I was going to introduce the following exerpt from Laura Barton's Guardian article today with some glib remark about how one day I will marry her and won't look for her articles with the same attention I do now, but then I thought that was really creepy, so perhaps I shouldn't say anything. Course, I have now, so sorry, Laura, if you're reading. Your article about 'Never Ever' by the All Saints was, however, typically brilliant. Here's a bit of it for the rest of you.

"We arrive at Smile too early, when they're still Blu-Tacking posters to the wall: Jules et Jim, A Bout de Souffle, Blow Up, Penelope Tree, Tretchikoff's Chinese Girl. And so we find a dark corner, stash our coats on the window ledge and watch the hepcats trickle in. This night is the hippest thing I have ever encountered in my young life. People wear neckerchiefs and chelsea boots. They play northern soul, Belle & Sebastian, a bit of Motown, 60s girl groups, plenty of Smiths. They dance with impassive faces and downcast eyes. They drink whisky. And then, shortly after midnight, amid all this heady coolness, the DJ plays Never Ever by All Saints.

Now, I never liked All Saints, I never bought their toggled-up combat panting. I loathed Pure Shores, hated Bootie Call, despised their sexless rendition of Lady Marmalade. But for those of you who do not recall, Never Ever was a quite magnificent confection that curtseyed to the Shangri-Las and the Dixie Cups, and began with the spoken lines: "A few questions that I need to know/ How you could ever hurt me so/ I need to know what I've done wrong/ And how long it's been going on ..." It was one of those songs that surprised you the first time you heard it and weathered repeated playing. But however great a song it was, it did not belong here, tonight. It was a chart song, and amid all the Martha Reeves and the Pastels and the Jimmy Radcliffe, it sat like a midwich cuckoo. I thought there'd be a revolt, I thought they'd hang the DJ, but instead there was a hiccup in time; a beautiful moment in which the whole room seemed to hold its breath. And then everyone cheered.

I don't really know why Never Ever worked that particular night. Maybe it was something to do with a certain seasonal bonhomie, with those festive weeks when we all wear our emotions like an endoskeleton, vulnerable to cheap TV and soft-centred ballads. But I suspect really it had to do with the power of a single song to take a sedimented familiarity and shake it up.

They are misfits, these songs, they ride in from the wrong side of town like the leader of the pack and sweep us into their arms. We fall for them not through some smirking irony but because, standing there in the candy store, they simply turn around and smile at us. And that's impossible to resist."

Here's the link to the rest of the article. Merry Christmas, by the way!

Monday, December 18, 2006

December lists, 2006

Okay, here's this year's entry in the "I'm hipper than thou" awards...

Assistant Blog Top Ten Albums of The Year
1. K'naan - The Dusty Foot Philosopher
2. Cat Power - The Greatest
3. The Lemonheads - The Lemonheads
4. Ghostface - Fishscale
5. The Young Knives - Voices of Animals and Men
6. Hot Chip - The Warning
7. Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
8. Lily Allen - Alright, Still
9. Graham Coxon - Love Travels At Illegal Speeds
10. The Hot Puppies - Under The Crooked Moon

Feel free to leave comments / abuse below....

Awesome Stuff Which Didn't Make It
1. CSS - Cansie De Ser Sexy
2. The Futureheads - News and Tributes
3. The Rapture - Pieces of The People We Love
4. Tony Allen - Lagos No Shaking
5. Brakes - Beatific Visions
6. The Long Blondes - Someone To Drive You Home
7. Joanna Newsom - Vs
8. Peter Bjorn and John - Writer's Block
9. Bonnie Prince Billy - The Letting Go
10. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Decent Stuff Worth A Mention
1. TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
2. Tapes 'N Tapes - S/T
3. Thom Yorke - The Erasor
4. Tiga - Sexor
5. Victorian English Gentleman's Club - S/T

Stuff I Didn't Take To At All:
1. The Walkmen - A Hundred Miles Off
2. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
3. The Gossip - Standing In The Way Of Control
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Shake Your Bones
5. Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit
6. The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
7. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
8. The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics

Best band in the world this year: bit of a cheat, seeing as they broke up, but a final endorsement for the peerless Sleater Kinney.
And worst band of the year: no question this time round: Kasabian.

Lots more lists of the year, here...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mixed praise

It's always flattering to be described as a lovely boy, which I now have been, over on Ali's ace new Split Down The Middle blog, but I wasn't altogether sure that such a nice bit of praise was entirely compatible with Ali's realisation, shortly after she started drinking with me, Dave and Dan, that "boys believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts, or the measured opinion of friends, or the niggling doubts, or anything. If they want to convince themselves that something is acceptible to do, they will do it". Having provided her with such an insight into the workings of a man's mind, we should perhaps hand back the plaudits and hang our heads in shame.

Had a cool evening though - me and Dave met up there after work and downed a couple of pints, although the speed with which we drank them was dictated not so much by drunken enthusiasm (it was Monday night, after all) but rather by the fact that Dave, glancing down at a chili pepper nestling in our bowl of olives, wondered aloud "do you think that's hot?", and then decided to find out. Dave is a blonde bombshell with a fine, pale beard which is only visible in good light, but if you ever want to see it, the trick is to feed him a chili pepper. His face turns purple and his beard is suddenly visible. Ace. I've never seen someone drink a pint of guiness so fast. The olives were hot, too, egged on and contaminated.

As Ali intimates, the theme for the evening's discussion was social, and socio-sexual (whatever that is) embarrasment, so we traded stories of little slips, mistakes, ill-judged comments, that feeling of waking up still quarter-cut in the morning and having to cycle through an evening of memories to recollect the moment when you allowed one blip to colour the evening - you forgot someone's name, or said something too loud, or did something transparent which your companions saw through, and laughed about. These are tiny things, but they're somehow almost as agonising as the big problems. I always fixate back on the slightest things, and if I don't remember them I conclude I've just forgotten. "Did I make a complete idiot of myself at your house last night?", I think of asking.

Dan and Ali had plenty more stories. When we looked up, it was after twelve and the remnants of our pints were being confiscated. Bah.

a blog worth sticking with

One of the blogs I've visited most often over the last few months is Mazen Kerbaj's beautiful Kerblog, which collects together his drawings and doodles - it's a wonderful site, full of great images, rich colours and hugely evocative detail; Mazen blogs from Beirut, so he's had plenty to draw and write about. Today's picture is vivid and gorgeous; other entries, like the one I'm reproducing below, are plain moving. Brilliant stuff.

(c) Mazen Kerbaj, reproduced without permission, hope that's OK.

You can see all of Mazen's drawings over at Flickr, too. Really really really worth a look. His website, meanwhile, is here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

more on blur and pavement

This is like a monthly column now, I know, but I'm duty bound to once more report on the various movements in the Blur camp and the ongoing speculation about a reunion. Damon's obviously pretty busy with his The Good, The Bad and The Queen project (in fact, they're on Jools Holland tonight) but Alex is, as ever, using his time wisely; not just living in a very big house in the country, but continuing to bug Graham about coming back. A couple of months back, he didn't seem to be getting anywhere, so when he said the following on BBC Five Live yesterday, I didn't think much of it:

"I saw Graham last week. There may be some news there but I don't want to rush anything."

But Graham's recent interview with Pitchfork gives much more reason to be hopeful - this is sounding positive:

Coxon was significantly less dour about the possibility of a reunion with Blur. The band's former guitarist admits he hasn't "spoken to them for a bit, [except bassist] Alex [James]. I'm going to see him tomorrow at his birthday...Alex will always be my friend. I guess they all will be in some way, but it's somewhat strange."

"I haven't been approached about it," reported Coxon about getting back together with the Brit-pop titans. But "I think about it, yeah. I think about it: would it be fun? Would it be a bit too scary? What would the dynamic be in a studio? Would I have to do promotion? Would I tour? You know, it's a lot of thinking. So I guess I still mull around and think about it every now and then."

So it's not completely ruled out, then? "No, no."
I know what the nay-sayers will say ("nay"), but having seen an absolutely electric reunion at the Dinosaur Jr show in Brighton this week, I'm feeling good about reunions right now. And Blur reforming is not the only possibility on the horizon either. Also speaking to Pitchfork, this was interesting stuff from Spiral Stairs, too.

So, Spiral, is there going to be a Pavement reunion?

"I guess, yeah, we'll see."

Um, what?

"[Laughs] I mean, I can't tell you. I don't know. I mean, yeah there's been some talk over the last year about kind of getting together eventually. But I think it makes more sense to let more time go past, you know? It would probably work well for a 20 year anniversary or something like that. But I don't know. I'm going to Steve [Malkmus]'s wedding, I think, so we'll see, maybe we'll have a reunion there."
Okay, I kind of need to wangle an invitation to Steve Malkmus's wedding, I think. Any ideas?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

birmingham, so much to answer for?

Over at The Art of Noise, Ben and Alison are arguing about the merits or otherwise of Birmingham's musical legacy - well worth a read, and don't forget to cast your vote:

Alison, for the prosecution:
"I'll focus, if I may, on UB40. Now there's no arguing that UB40 are popular, they've been going for three decades and have achieved #1 albums and singles in the UK and US, I just don't get why. The quasi-reggae beats meandering along behind Ali Campbell's stupid singing accent make for the most galling combination of sounds. They manage to turn Neil Diamond's desperate plea for alcohol to numb the pain of losing a lover into cheery golden wedding anniversary disco music"

Ben, for the defence:
"Appropriately enough for a city which thrived as a hub of manufacturing activity following the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham was where metal was first forged. (...) If you've ever had a metal phase, you owe it to Birmingham to vote against the prosecution. But even if the thought of sweaty, hairy, beefy men fills you with horror, you should still find Birmingham innocent."

Voting's closed on my personal attack on Belle and Sebastian, incidentally. And I lost. Bugger.

Monday, December 04, 2006

DBC Pierre and the Aztecs

Don't get me wrong, I love Michael Palin's travel programmes - they do a superb job of chronicling distant lands in amazing insightful detail. But where, if you sent Michael Palin to Mexico and asked him to research the Aztecs, he would talk of feathered serpents and folk mythology with a very BBC sense of ironic detachment, it's a great pleasure to watch DBC Pierre deliver the same lines, the same portents of dread, dead straight to camera with reverent seriousness. Palin may return from the Himalayas enthused, but he doesn't come back possessed. Actually, Pierre looks possessed at the beginning of his journey, never mind the end, if only by Mexican firewater, but it makes his 'The Last Aztec', a channel 4 film which I caught repeated on More4 tonight, brilliantly enjoyable.

A lot of TV history seems intent on proving which civilisation was the best or the strongest or most civilised - Egypt or Greece, Roman or Aztec. Certainly any sense of journalistic impartiality is absent in Pierre's film - he points out that "while we as a culture were chucking shit out of windows into alleys in London, these people had drainage, they had courts, they were living off spring water and vegetables. While we were dying of the plague and scraping around in the grime, these folk were wandering like gods". He reveres the glorious and magical history of the Aztecs.

Again, unlike Palin or his fellow TV journalist contemporaries, Pierre refuses to conform to type. For a start it's quickly clear, through a combination of his appearance and his driving, that our host is absolutely trashed. In truth, despite the historical content, the film is really a gonzo road movie in which Pierre's passion takes centre stage as recalls his childhood in Mexico city, the stories that fuel his imagination, and explores his thesis that the heart of Aztec Mexico is still throbbing hard under the surface of the capital city.

And indeed it is, literally - wherever tears appear in the world's largest city, he shows us, the ruins of the Aztec empire are exposed, and we watch archaologists uncovering sacred grounds, the bodies of Aztec children and shards of Aztec stone. This most spectacular civilisation, Pierre reminds us, was carved by a stone age society. Indeed, without not only steel, but also without wheels. He finds the place, locked away behind an iron gate, where Cortes, the Spanish usurper, met Moctezuma first - he was welcomed not as an invader but as a God. Once more, Palin might film the spot through the gate. Not DBC Pierre - he just bribes a policeman and gets in that way.

So, allowed in as Gods, the Spanish took the Aztec Empire, and Moctezuma was stoned by his own people for letting them down. Pierre is intent on mourning the collapse of the civilisation which inspires him so. "There's only one way to get over the decline and collapse of an empire", he tells us sourly, sitting in a seedy bar. "And that's to get completely lashed ". He throws back a tequila, shaking his head, looking around. "I can't say it feels any better". So he has another.

Incensed, he decides to take the Palace back for the Aztecs. He is approached by a local, outside. "Do I want an official tour?", he says disdainfully, preparing to storm the place, "what the fuck is that?". He banters with the guard on the gate, but gets no further. By now, anyway, his misanthropy knows no bounds, so what does he do? He drinks lots more, he reminisces about a dead girlfriend and the centrality of death in the Mexican character, and goes out at night looking for fresh corpses. When he finds some, he takes photos. By now I am thinking this is surely one of the oddest bits of TV I've ever come across. Back in the daylight, pissed, he wanders into a church, lights up, and starts rambling about Dracula.

Mexico, he tells us, has dreamt up a unique cocktail of death-fascination, where the pre-Spanish culture of death worship has combined with the Christian concept of mortality. He asks a priest about it, making sure he mentions Christians ripping the hearts from still-living children in the process. Yet Aztec magic still holds sway, and as Pierre decides he wants to climb a mountain to find the resting place of Moctezuma, he realises that he had better have his soul cleansed first. He buys some dried hummingbirds, for starters. It will ward off curses, apparently.

The Sierra Madras mountains are his destination, a magical realm, and he starts his climb, intent on finding spirits, "secrets from the past", living remnants of the Aztec world, and gold. Most people, as he climbs, are too frightened to talk of the spirits. Pierre has been here before, actually, and he seems scared too - after all, he points out, "the last time I left this valley, many years ago, my life went hurtling into a downward spiral from which I've only just recovered". He keeps climbing anyway.

But, just in case, he sacrifices a couple of chickens first. By the time's that done, he's "as clean as a whistle", he says, "a poet". And he needs to be cleansed. "There are many things that happen to you, physically and emotionally", he says, "which leave a smudge". The bit where the first chicken is beheaded - with kitchen scissors - is horrifying. And after all that, standing in the swirling mist, Pierre is still too scared to climb the mountain. So he gets absolutely slaughtered again, then turns back: the gonzo journo who turns back! Give him another beer and he'll do it, I was shouting.

For all that, an exhilarating programme.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

banana costume

Apologies for the appalling dive in intellectual standards on this blog recently, but here's another daft link, via Matthew at Fluxblog, who points out the following, currently on sale at Amazon. Which one of my friends should I get one for Christmas?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

dear mariella

I do that 'currently listening to' feature quite a lot, enjoying it cause it's an easy post and it gives me a chance to compose a sentence or two about the songs I'm currently favouring. But this week - for now - I'm just going to concentrate on one song, because despite having a surprisingly intense period of listening to stuff recently (really digging recentish records by CSS, The Long Blondes, Bonnie Prince Billy and Joanna Newsom) I've kept coming back to one track which is worthy of particular attention.

The whole of The Hot Puppies debut album, 'Under The Crooked Moon', is really great - arty, literate pop with nods to Blondie, Pulp and PJ Harvey - but the best song on the record, 'The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful', is just majestic, both musically and - particularly - lyrically. So I'll take a little time to admire the lyrics and the theme of the song, because I think it's quite special - a kind of short story of a song. It begins:

"Dear Mariella, I am 25.
I live alone.
I think I might have found love,
But I just don't know.
There's something wrong".

I'm a big fan of Mariella Frostrup and her no-nonsense relationship advice column in the Observer, so the first time I heard this song that's the bit that jumped out. That's pretty neat, I thought, a love song in the shape of a letter to an agony aunt.

The next few lines somehow somehow slipped by unnoticed for a while, but then I noticed them:

"Cause he has another love,
and she's been buried a year.

And there might be a passing resemblence,
but dear Mariella, how can I compare with the girl, with the girl, with the girl, with the girl
who was too beautiful?"

And all of a sudden the song is in a much darker place altogether. The protagonist, expertly voiced by the marvellous Bec Newman, is preocuppied with her partner's dead lover, and begins, despite the warnings of those close to her, to assume her predecessor's persona.

"And all my friends say that it's not right,
but I don't care, I'm gonna change my hair.
Cause he wants her.
And I just want somebody there."

The next verse raises the drama. The bit where Newman sings "Dear Mariellia / It's gone from bad to worse / It feels like I'm chasing a hearse / And now I'm even wearing her clothes / I feel like a ghost" is plain shocking. Worse still is to come.

"And just the other day, staring from across the street,
I think I might have seen her mother, but dear Mariella,
She didn't see me. Just a girl.
Just a girl, just a girl, just a girl who was too beautiful".

By the song's end, the by now wretched sounding Newman is almost totally subsumed, asking and threatening "would you wanna let go, like I wanna let go, and I need to let go?" and concluding, finally, "I am the girl who was too beautiful". It's a deliciously Hitchcockian theme, simultaneously dark, knowing and sexy, and brilliantly performed. The tune itself positively sizzles, bursting with tremendous melodies, keyboard riffs and it even briefly swoops into an indie-disco breakdown without breaking its stride.

Odd how so much press time has been expended on the (admittedly great) Long Blondes while the Hot Puppies are bubbling under - it was great to see Kate Jackson up near the top of the NME's supremely daft Cool List this year, but surely Bec Newman deserved a place too. Hopefully they'll be massive in 2007 - they deserve to be. Doubtless half of the blogs in my sidebar and starting to put together their yearly round-up lists, and I probably will soon too. And this is a serious contender for best single of the year.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

ageist semantics

On the train this morning a girl, sitting over to the right of me, dropped her ipod on the floor; I watched it skid accross the floor of the carriage and come to rest underneath a nearby seat, which was occupied by an elderly lady.

"Excuse me", I watched the girl say, springing up and leaning down, "I dropped my ipod under your seat, do you mind if I retrieve it?". The old lady looked at her and said, in the indulgent voice old people reserve for the young (this is opposed to the stern voice they also keep by), "you've dropped what, dear?".

"My ipod", the girl replied, "it's OK, I'll get it". She bent down and swept her arms under the chair, retrieving it. I watched the old lady peer down, interested. "Oh", she said, understanding. "Your walkman".

Your grandson or grand-daughter, I thought, is about twenty five years old. Ten, eleven, twelve years ago they asked you for a walkman for their Christmas parent. "What, dear?", you would have asked, "is a walkman?".

I suspect it's too late to come to terms with 'ipod' now, but probably that's shockingly ageist of me. I'm sad that the phrase 'walkman' has fallen out of usage.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Faintly horrified - and equally impressed - to note that Stephen Malkmus has grown a moustache.
Photo by Erin at The Bad Arts - hope she doesn't mind me using it.

But it does at least tie in with some fantastic news! On the 1st of September 2007 Brighton will be the first British city to host the World Beard & Moustache Championships!

Confusingly, the man below left is Geoff Pye. He's the events co-ordinator for the Handlebar Club, who are organising the event. He appears to have neither a beard nor a moustache.

Happily, committee member Rod Littlewood, to the right, does.

pub games

I'm afraid I can't remember the name of the game, but each week when we finish a fun and fairly drink-sodden pub quiz at The George, we pass around several pieces of paper and a bunch of biros and begin playing a drawing game. The rules are that each person writes a sentence and passes the paper to the next person, who draws what they see. They then fold over the paper so that the original caption is not visible and the next person along writes down what they see. Then, in turn, the next person draws the caption, and so on...

The following sequence, appropriately given that Dan didn't have any cash him on last night, started with the following sentence. You can follow the evolution through.

"Dan drank pint after pint and jonathan paid for it all, and felt cheated".

From that, the next person in the line extrapolated the following:

"Dan is getting pissed on Jonathan's money and Jonathan doesn't like it".

Pictorially represented as...


"Dan continuously drinks beer Jonathan has bought for him without acknowledging the pain this causes".

And finally:

"Jonathan dares Dan to just keep drinking as usual".

We rarely get to the end of the sequence without hideously distoring the meaning, so we were pretty proud of that. And the story has a happy ending, too, as Dan is a decent sort and bought me lunch today.

tips on getting rid of stuff...

Been meaning to link to this on Nat's blog for a couple of weeks but not got round to it.... better late than never:

"Go to your wardrobe, look at everything and think about how likey is it that you will wear this or that. I did this and was left with not much! True, a lot of stuff were nice dresses that you only wear to parties etc, but those I kept. I threw away my diaries, the hardest one to get rid of was the one from the time I used to know P.D + C. Barat, not because of them but because it was my first year in the Uk and I had no clue. It was just months before I met K. I realise now that all these things I've been hanging on to are just things, that the memories still prevail and that I a not evil just because I don't want them around anymore. Like- I kept my orange juicer for ages after it was broken, just because K. had given it to me- How dumb is that?"

I've been trying to rationalise my possessions too, but am much less efficient than Natalia, clearly. My problem isn't clothes, or even books, or CDs, it's the closest thing I have to diaries - which is just reams and reams of paper, letters, cuttings, notebooks, pages torn from magazines, drawings I've collected, photos. I have a little filing cabinet in the corner of my room which really should serve my purposes perfectly, but instead I've got something like three massive boxes of unfiled litter. Unlike Nat, who is braver than me I think, I can't chuck all the scraps out - worse, I can't even go through them without getting massively diverted and upset and embarrased and amused and without creating a ton more mess in the process. Should I just junk them? No, I can't do that. Instead, I think I'll just keep on accumulating stuff, and hope Nat's blog throws up more clues further down the line...

And I should get a shredder!

in the dock: belle and sebastian

I've not been very good at directing people over to recent posts at the other site I blog on, The Art of Noise, which is a shame as there have been some terrific debates in the recent 'In The Dock' feature, where two bloggers debate the merits of a particular topic. This week it's been my turn, and myself and Jonathan from the ace Crinklybee site have traded blows over the much maligned / much loved Belle and Sebastian - I'm handling the case for the prosecution. The votes are rolling in in the comments box and we should know whose argument got the most votes by the end of the week.

Here's a couple of extracts from our argument. Click here to read the full thing and cast your vote.

Prosecution: "The germ of Belle & Sebastian’s music was, oddly and appropriately, rooted in sickness. Stuart Murdoch, the band’s main songwriter and driving force, took to songwriting late, and only did so during an extended bout of illness in the early 1990s. This tells you almost everything you need to know about Belle & Sebastian."

Defence: "Look, we know Stuart Murdoch can’t really sing; it’s all part of the indiepop aesthetic, like wearing your grandad’s cardigans and spending November afternoons on park benches gazing across the boating lake and pining after that girl on 2nd year Humanities with the perfect 60s bob and the long big-buttoned pale-blue raincoat. Anyway, if you took Stuart Murdoch out of Belle & Sebastian and replaced him with some show-off who could actually sing, like the bloke out of Wet Wet Wet or, I don’t know, Luciano Pavarotti, then, well, it wouldn’t sound quite right, would it? "

Meanwhile, here are the previous debates you may have missed:
- In the Dock - R&B (verdict)
- In the Dock - The Levellers (verdict)
- In the Dock - Songs with associated dance moves (verdict)
- In the Dock - The Eurovision Song Contest (verdict)
- In the Dock - The Beatles (verdict)

Friday, November 24, 2006

i still want paying

Real life Mr. Tourette:

"A shop owner who commissioned an artist to create a Christmas window display was stunned when he filled it with Nazi gingerbread men. DIY store boss Charlie Palmer said of Keith McGuckin's work: 'He's gone way overboard this time'. Last year, Mr McGuckin's display in Oberlin, Ohio, included a snowman attacking carol singers and a little boy using a chemistry set to make crystal meth."
[from The Metro, November 22]

Monday, November 20, 2006

Against Islamophobia

Ken Livingstone, Jon Cruddas and Shami Chakrabarti will all be speaking, along with representatives from the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party, at a joint event sponsored by the British Muslim Initiative and Liberty, tonight. The event, at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, is the first step in a major coalition - which has the support of trade unions, faith groups and many in the peace movement - dedicated to fighting Islamophobia and intolerance of religious freedom.

A couple of quotes from the speakers follow.

Shami Chakrabarti: "Freedom of conscience and religion, like freedom of speech, is essential to any democratic society. We must keep our heads and unite around democratic values, applying them to others, as we want them applied to ourselves. We must all be able to think, wear and say what we like, subject only to personal ethics and restrictions truly necessary for the protection of others. This may not always make us comfortable but it will keep us free."

Ken Livingstone: "Over recent weeks we have seen a demonisation of Muslims only comparable to the demonisation of Jews from the end of the nineteenth century. As at that time, the attack on Muslims in reality threatens freedoms for all of us, which took hundreds of years to win - freedom of conscience and freedom of cultural expression. Every person who values their right to follow the religion of their choice or none should stand with the Muslim communities today."

Encouragingly, today's Guardian reports the finding of a reassuring MORI poll into the attitudes of Londoners towards ethnic minorities and the right to religious expression:

Polling conducted to coincide with the launch shows that 75% of Londoners support "the right of all persons to dress in accordance with their religious beliefs", with 18% against.

Plus, 82% said "everybody in London should be free to live their lives how they like as long as they don't stop other people doing the same"; 76% balked at the idea of the government dictating how people should live their lives; and 94% expressed similar sentiments about media.

Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents said it was important that "there are regular events and festivals to celebrate London's different ethnic and religious communities".
The rally will take place between 6 and 9.30pm at the Central Hall, Westminster. Here's hoping it goes off peacefully and isn't crashed by divisive factions.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a kingsley amis poem


Between the Gardening and the Cookery
Comes the brief Poetry shelf;
By the Nonesuch Donne, a thin anthology
Offers itself.

Critical, and with nothing else to do,
I scan the Contents page,
Relieved to find the names are mostly new;
No one my age.

Like all strangers, they divide by sex:
Landscape Near Parma
Interests a man, so does The Double Vortex,
So does Rilke and Buddha.

"I travel, you see", "I think" and "I can read"
These titles seem to say;
But I Remember You, Love is my Creed,
Poem for J.,

The ladies' choice, discountenance my patter
For several seconds;
From somewhere in this (as in any) matter
A moral beckons.

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart;
Girls aren't like that.

We men have got love well weighed up; our stuff
Can get by without it.
Women don't seem to think that's good enough;
They write about it.

And the awful way their poems lay them open
Just doesn't strike them.
Women are really much nicer than men:
No wonder we like them.

Deciding this, we can forget those times
We stay up half the night
Chock-full of love, crammed with bright thoughts, names, rhymes,
And couldn't write.

Friday, November 17, 2006

arabs in iran

Here's a quick link to an interesting and rather horrifying article about the persecution of Arabs in Iran, by Peter Tatchell.

Iran Is A Racist State

Just to clarify. Peter Tatchell wrote the article, just in case the above sounds like I was suggesting that he was over in Iran persecuting Arabs himself.

royal lines up against sarkosy

It's got to be good news that Segolene Royal has been nominated as the Socialist Party candidate for the Presidency of France, if only because the balance of power in Europe, with Merkel in power in Germany, looks to be slowly shifting away from the macho stereotype and because, most imporantly, she's easily the best placed person to pose a serious threat to Nicolas Sarkosy. She has some decent political instincts, too. On the other hand, like David Cameron, she's pretty reluctant to actually let us know what they are. It seems to be increasingly the case that the default approach for a leadership bid in the twenty first century is a kind of studied blankness, so while Royal makes encouraging noises about, say, renewable energy (she advocates a reduction of nuclear in the French electricity mix), local government, housing and gay marriage, she's very difficult to pin down elsewhere. We know that she's an ardent admirer of the Blair/Clinton approach and will surely be much more pro-American than her rivals (not very hard), we know she has less sympathy for Trade Unions and the public sector and has criticised the notion of a 35 hour week.

We know, most crucially, that she has a strong populist instinct. Her policy on Turkish entry to the EU, for example, is baffling. "My policy is that of the French people." What if they are wrong? A promise to govern according to the will of the people is democratically sound, but it's the same argument that Bush has used to drive voters to the booths by manipulating them over gay rights and abortion. Clearly Ms. Royal is much more liberal than Bush, but comparisons with Blair or the unpleasent populism of John Reid are bound to cause the French a twinge of alarm.

Marcel Berlins, worried that the left would derail her bid, noted that

"Against her is that she has not yet explained her specific, thought-out policies on anything. Her speeches, and answers to media questioning, are rarely more than well- expressed platitudes. She has a book coming out soon which may (or may not) reveal her deeper thoughts on issues of public concern. All this may not matter too much to French voters next year. They may prefer to elect someone who will exhibit style and some administrative competence rather than political weight. And many women will be voting for Royal just because she's a woman."

What is difficult to reconcile is the fact that the same party members who have voted for Royal have also just formalised their manifesto for the next French election and gone for a very traditional French brand of Socialism, quite at odds with her perspective. Will this mean trouble in the future? Or is it just that the French socialists are sensibly backing the horse most likely to win? Shades of Blair and Cameron abound. Regardless, it's good news for Europe's left, generally, as Sarkosy would be a nightmare, and as long Royal does not start marching to a neoconservative beat on the Middle East or encourage further discrimination against her country's Muslim population, I'll be delighted to see her defeat him.

Given that France, Italy and Germany are pressing on in their search for a Palestinian roadmap, and given Royal's more Atlanticist instincts, who's to say that in a few years time global politics won't be dominated by three women - Royal, Merkel and Hilary Clinton?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jarvis Cocker at the Camden Palace

Six songs into Jarvis Cocker's third ever solo gig (he's played in Paris and Brighton in recent weeks, and last night played the Camden Palace Koko) I was thinking to myself, having recently witnessed Damon's amazing comeback gigs in Exeter and down the road at the Roundhouse, "oh, nothing to get excited about here".

A few simple facts about the first half of the set:

- some middling songs, kind of resembling the late period, Scott Walker, Nick Cave styled stuff on the last couple of Pulp albums.

- Jarvis clearly, like Damon, enjoying being back in the limelight, wagging his finger and making us all laugh between songs. He looks much better with his hair long (although Anne-So doesn't agree).

- A tight but flat performance from his band, featuring Richard Hawley (increasingly looking like Sheffield's best songwriter) on lead guitar. Nothing special.

And then things began to change. Not much taken with the song title 'From Auschwitz to Ipswich', but the song is a sudden and drastic improvement, and the song launches us into a series of songs ('Tonite', 'Big Julie', 'Disney Time') which are all reminiscent of Pulp at their best, much less reserved and introspective than the previous songs, and it's no co-incidence that the band begin to get off their leash now too, Hawley demonstrating some vivid guitar playing and the band and crowd seeming galvanised by the brief cameo of Jarvis's old bandmate Candida on guitar.

Suddenly, Jarvis's exagerrated shape pulling and finger jabbing seems justified, as if he's no longer performing alone but actually inhabiting the songs. When the set closes with an absolutely cracking, violent rendition if 'Black Magic' it suddenly seems possible that Jarvis has another number one single on his hands. The encore, the remarkable 'Cunts are Still Running the World', (key lyric: "it stinks, it sucks / it’s anthropologically unjust / Oh but the takings are up by a third / Cunts are still running the world") is much better live than on record, and does a lot to overcome the unfamiliarity of many of the previous songs.

Teasing us by offering to play an old song, Jarvis finishes with a very able cover of 'Space Oddity' and wins doubters like me very much over. Given that it's early days and he's only drawing from one album, it's safe to bet that future shows will sound bigger and better, and it's refreshing that so many of the best songwriters of the nineties (in the last weeks I've written about Albarn and Evan Dando extensively too) can still summon up the old energy. For me, an unexpected surprise in the end. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Softly does it

Oliver Burkeman pulls off a nice interview with David Frost in the Guardian today, one which is much enlivened by the following exchange. Frost is about to start presenting a global current affairs show on Al-Jazeera, and is asked, hypothetically, what he would do if asked to meet Osama Bin Ladan.

"I don't think you could accept, actually," Frost says. "It's a very interesting quandary. I would have thought, in that case, that your duty as a journalist clashes with your duty as a citizen. If you were faced with Osama bin Laden I think your first duty would be to perform, or to attempt to perform, a citizen's arrest."

I have a sudden image of a somewhat frail Frost being pinned to the wall of a cave by Bin Laden's Kalashnikov-wielding bodyguards. There are no sofas in this mental picture, no pot of coffee, no selection of that day's newspapers spread out on the table. It is not, on balance, the kind of thing he was cut out for.
Wonderful - the article is here. For those of you with Sky, Al-Jazeera in English launches today at 12 noon on Skychannel 514. Frost Over the World is on Friday at 6pm.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chinese Takeaway?

It is easy to forget that China is still a Developing Country. We’re becoming increasingly used to hearing stories about the most rapid and dynamic economic and cultural transformation currently being experienced anywhere in the world - by a fifth of humanity, in fact. As a result, many of us perhaps assume that China has already made it and is a fully paid up member of the First World club. Whatever its current World Bank/IMF enshrined status, China and its growth affect us all and, as we are beginning to realise, its continued growth to world hyper-power status is likely to have an indelible effect on the world’s political structure, natural resources and environment.

Its thirst for Oil, Iron Ore, Soya and Timber has affected countries as diverse as Canada, Brazil and Sudan. Vast swathes of the Amazon (the equivalent to the size of Israel each year) are being exploited by non-indigenous farmers to grow Soya that’s then exported and fed to Chinese livestock. Canada has opened up old coal and copper mines in Alberta and British Columbia to meet Chinese demand and China has struck deals with non-democratic regimes in several African states. Most predominant amongst these is Sudan, where, because of international embargos and the unwillingness of many western companies and governments to invest, the Sudanese have found themselves isolated and are grateful for Chinese investment and assistance.

Thousands of Chinese labourers today live and work in Sudan and Khartoum now echoes to the sound of Karaoke bars each night. Since 1993 China has been a Net importer of Oil, and Sudan now provides 12% of that demand. 80% of all oil currently drilled in Sudan is exported to China through Chinese built and partially-owned pipes, refineries and ports. The West’s surprise at the speed of the Chinese involvement in the Horn of Africa is matched only by its unease at the level of engagement the Chinese have with a regime widely blamed for the genocide currently being perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. China acknowledges that it is engaged in oil related projects in Darfur but is mute when quizzed on the ethnic conflict currently occurring there and the Sudanese governments’ complicity in it.

China has longstanding links with many African states, as during the Cold War it participated heavily on the continent with its Foreign Policy of aid without political intervention. As a result it made long term friends, connections it is able to make the most of today. It is this week hosting a large scale conference where representatives of virtually every state in Africa are in attendance. To mark the occasion the smoky skyline of Beijing is punctuated by brightly coloured pictures depicting classic scenes of African wild animals. The Chinese are hoping to secure not only their growing trade links with the continent but also political support essential for manoeuvrings at such international bodies as the Untied Nations. It knows that this voting power will be crucial in future trade talks and in possible political ranglings with the US, Russia and Japan.

Meanwhile, to meet its surging demand for power, China completes the construction of a new coal fired power station each week. In ten years its total annual Carbon emissions will surpass that of even the World’s current worst polluter, the United States, and continue to rise to national output levels the world is yet to experience. China’s own environment is already paying an extremely high price for the cost of its rapid development. The Yangtze River is polluted and dying and the new Chinese love affair with the car is causing 19th Century style ‘Pea-Souper’ pollution to occur in most of its major cities.

It seems that the rise of China is triggering a myriad of emotions in those concerned for the world’s wellbeing. Its involvement and large scale investment in Africa is positive if it leads, as many hope it will, to the reduction in poverty and an increase in development on the continent. However, China’s no ‘questions asked’ foreign policy causes many to fear that its investment will instead lead to the propping up of corrupt and undemocratic regimes and missappropriation of funds on a massive scale. Critics of China’s involvement point to the trade deals it has signed with many African countries and argue that the opening up of their economies to Chinese goods will undermine domestic industries such as textiles and agriculture, exposing them to Chinese competition.

China’s remarkable growth has not occurred by magic: it is the result of 30 years of growing foreign direct investment from mainly Japan, Europe and the US. Its huge low paid and organised workforce has for years provided the west with ever cheaper goods delivered in large numbers, and in turn China has been changing rapidly. That China’s growth and expansion should carry such a potentially heavy economic price tag for the world’s poorest people, and carry an unbearable environmental expense to the world itself should cause widespread concern.

The answer may come from the Chinese themselves, yet with little sign that the growing Chinese middle classes are interested in democratic accountability and governance for their country, the world may well be left holding its breath.

[Blogging by Dan]

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

government win iraq vote

A depressing result just in on the Iraq vote in the House of Commons - the government won by 25 votes so there'll be no enquiry yet; thoroughly depressing to see those bastards on the Labour front bench with smiles on their faces. Ah well - they'll keep.

currently listening to...

1. Art Brut - Nag Nag Nag Nag (where Art Brut have retained the dominant, droll lyrics but done much to beef up their sound; a brilliant single.)
2. The Good, The Bad and the Queen - 80s Life (almost impossible to pick a song from their forthcoming album which doesn't merit a mention, but this is the song that's stuck in my head this week, particularly the lyric, "I don't want to live with war that's got no end in our time").
3. Field Music - In Context (wherein Field Music, if such a thing is possible, get snappier and poppier and more brilliant. Can't wait for the album).
4. Joe Jackson - Fools In Love ("gently tear each other limb from limb")
5. Jarvis Cocker - Don't Let Him Waste Your Time (Jarvis' best song in ages? Got to be! Romantic, yearning, tuneful, funny - excellent)
6. Graham Coxon - What Ya Gonna Do Now? (a hilarious, brilliant, nutty Clash-like rant: enormous fun)
7. Jarvis Cocker - Black Magic (a bit brit-pop-tastic this list, isn't it? Well, another good track from the new Jarvis record - a kind of aggressive Motown stomp with a big wall of voices, and quite ace too)
8. Subtle - The Mercury Craze (enjoying this a lot, mainly by virtue of it being the most insane hip hop record I've come across for a while - it reminds me of Gold Chains, whose 'Rock The Parti' I absolutely obsessed over a few years back)

Friday, October 27, 2006

the fool-king of soho

What are the odds on this being the most enjoyable to read book published in 2007? Just noted, via Dezz at Blur Central, that Alex James is down to publish his autobiography, 'Bit of a Blur' in January '07. The synopsis follows: as well as being an eccentric genius, Alex James has always been a good writer, all Wodehousian gags and an evident joy with language. Here's the synopsis:

'I was the Fool-king of Soho and the number one slag in the Groucho Club, the second drunkest member of the world's drunkest band. This was no disaster, though. It was a dream coming true. I lived in the best house in Covent Garden. I had everyone's number, a rocket going to Mars, two aeroplanes and a Damien Hirst taxi. Ten years later, everything has changed. I don't drink, don't take drugs and I'm married. I live on a farm in the Cotswolds. I've sold the aeroplanes because I've landed. This is a voyage-and-return autobiography. It's the story of a rock- and-roll poster boy's journey from dreams of having everything to getting everything and wanting more. It's a stroll through the lush scenery of the high life and the low life of the 90s. It's about growing up bigger than I imagined. It starts where I was born and finishes here, when my son arrives.'

Some more Alex James shenanigans, again via Dezz.
- A Year is a Long Time in Rock (2004)
- My London (2002)
- A Life Less Orderly (1999)
- Oh Dear Diary, Or Am I Unwell? (1995)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dan asks "Whose News?"

Over the last few weeks I have had access to Sky Television and, being a complete news junkie, I have had my eyes widened by the presence of around 10 rolling news channels, about nine more than I am used to. Among these are of course BBC News, CNN, Indian CNN, Euro News, Sky News, Chinese state International Television (appropriately called CCTV) and the often unbelievable Murdoch owned Fox News.

Now, so much comment has been expended on or about Fox News that I guess I can offer very little in the way of new observations here. It enjoys great viewing figures globally, but particularly in the US - whose flag, since the outbreak of the second gulf war, it has flown in the top-left-hand corner of the screen. It is US based and, as would be expected, mostly US-centric. Yet its editorial style is that of a tabloid newspaper. Imagine, if you will, Daily Mail TV, and you are perhaps someway there.

News casters often give their personal opinions on the stories they have just reported on, and trade often inane and inappropriate chat between items. One programme in particular, ‘The O’Reilly Factor’, is a particular affront to the notion of unbiased journalism. To be fair, it doesn’t actually purport to be unbiased, but with its litany of guests, many of whom seem to be old friends of the host from his days on talk radio, the viewer isn’t exactly presented with a broad spectrum of viewpoints. Instead there is just a weary “as I suspected” attitude prevailing over a programme where coverage normally levitates around illegal Mexican workers, non-apologetic views on American foreign policy and ‘war on terror’ updates (complete with sound effects and glossy graphics whooshing across the screen indicating the current degree to which Americans should be terrified).

I’ve watched Mr O’Reilly’s show a number of times over these past weeks. Quite recently he challenged Michael Moore to appear to discuss current affairs. Moore agreed, I suspect begrudgingly, yet was clearly unprepared and was disarmed by the extent of preperation which O’Reilly had clearly undertaken in advance. Moore, despite raising some uncomfortable points for the host to contend with, was left repeating the rather silly mantra of asking whether Mr O’Reilly would send his son to Iraq to fight.

On another occasion there was outrage over a film by Channel Four (UK) which purports to depict the assassination of George Bush (at some point in the near future) and which was premiering at a Canadian film festival. It is evidentlty a broadcasting taboo on a grand scale in the US to show the assassination of a sitting president. Fox, and in particular Mr O’Reilly, was outraged. It was ‘abhorrently tasteless’, they proclaimed, to not only show this but to show it so close to the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. A Fox reporter was bought in with what seemed like the sole purpose of confirming Mr O’Reilly’s suspicions. Their conversation went something like this:

- O’Reilly: What do these people have to say for themselves?
- Reporter: Well, British TV station Channel Four say…
- O’Reilly: Is this BBC Channel 4?
- Reporter: er… yes Bob I believe it is..
- O’Reilly: As I suspected.

(Mr O’Reilly has a near pathological dislike of the BBC as can be seen here)

- Reporter: Well, they say that the scene featuring the assassination happens right at the beginning and should be set in context of the rest of the programme, which explores the United States’ actions throughout its war on terror. It does not seek to glorify in any sense violence or the assassination.
- O’Reilly: Well I bet the White House will have something to say! What about the totally tasteless timing of when this will be shown?
- Reporter: Well, Channel 4 says that they didn’t schedule it and that it was up to the people at the film festival when it was to be shown there.
- O’Reilly: Unbelievable...
- Reporter: Yes, Bob.

I’ve watched very little of Fox News but enough to make an impression on me. I’m sure some American readers can add much more about this news outlet than I am able to do. On the web, YouTube has many clips of Fox either BBC-bashing or lampooning liberals and there are many websites devoted to its eccentricities. The Channel celebrates its 10th birthday this week and is apparently going strong.

I guess like most things in America it’s a market driven thing. The market for news coverage is competitive, with players relying on commercial revenue, so niches have to be carved out. Ten years ago, perhaps, the Fox Corporation spotted a hole in the market for news with a patriotic, right wing twist and decided to go for it.

Is television news coverage in the US like newspaper coverage here? With the consumer buying into the product that most suits his or her lifestyle and aspirations? I fail to see the point of a person receiving their news from somewhere that does not give due attention to the facts and is unbiased in its coverage - allowing the viewer to make up his or her own mind. Otherwise all that is left is a form of entertainment. Is this what Fox News is? The Fox Corporation itself is too wide and varied to be represented by this news channel and I wouldn’t claim for a second that a figure such as Rupert Murdoch has any editorial control over it. This still doesn’t fully explain its agenda, however.

I don’t think the same could happen on this side of the Atlantic. I hope that there are broadcasting guidelines against it. However, the standard of mainstream News broadcasting, I believe, has hit a low over the last few years. The BBC and ITN’s main early evening fare is a classic case of style over any substance. The dumb format of having two newscasters, one male, one female is now fully established, as is the tradition that each reads a line of the autocue in turn, as if indulging in some inane and headache-inducing game of verbal ping pong before they go live to a reporter ‘in the field’ (outside the Houses of Parliament for politics, or in an actual field for something about agriculture) for one minute’s basic facts which could have far more easily just been telephoned or emailed into the studio. Then time to stand up and walk a bit because it’s the ‘Special Report’ on something like school dinners. Traditionally, the special report, which often isn’t something very newsworthy at all, lasts a little bit longer than the coverage of major news stories.

I am always left feeling sorry for the poor Middle East correspondent who is tasked with fitting the often complex story surrounding some latest atrocity into a minute and a half long gap in the schedule. His or her eyes seem to plead for more time and recognition of the long years spent in the field, the expertise he or she has accumulated, but no, it’s always cut short by a “thank you very much, we must leave it there… and now to our special report on kid’s pack lunches”.

The BBC and ITN are still able to excel and often do with programmes such as Channel 4 News and Newsnight, which (and I myself may be biased) remain towering colossuses of longstanding journalistic values, impartiality and insight. Especially when seen in comparison with the young and opinionated upstart that is Fox News.

[Blogging by Dan]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

k'naan live at the komedia, brighton

I know that barely a day goes by at the moment without a gig review, so just a quick appraisal of another recently attended show - I saw K'naan play at Brighton's Komedia last week, a crimally underpromoted show by a very underrated rapper. In fact, I only found out about the show a few hours before it began, and given K'naan's rising reputation (his two performances at Womad this summer were widely described as the highlight of the festival) I was very surprised to find that tickets were still available.

Given the brilliance of those Womad shows, where K'naan lifted spirits in the Berkshire rain with an awesome set of lilting African drums, wordy rhyming and electric backing tracks, I knew how good the show would be beforehand, and was far from disappointed. Since K'naan's adoption by Charlie Gillett (not literally) and the World Music community, he seems to have built on the seam of African phrasing and instrumentation evident on last year's 'Dusty Foot Philosopher', which often found him switching between a hard, Eminem-style hip hop production and songs more informed by his Somalian background (he moved to Canada as a teenager). So the first half of his Brighton show saw him eschewing backing tracks in favour of a pared down, minimalist sound consisting of powerful African drumming and acoustic guitar. Even straight hip hop tracks like 'What's Hardcore?', a highlight on the album, got the acoustic treatment, giving even more space to K'naan's wonderful rhymes, which bear repeating:

"We begin our day by the weight of the gun,
rocket propelled grenades blow you away if you front,
We got no police, ambulance or fire fighters,
we start riots by burning car tyres.
They lootin', and everybody start shootin',
Bullshit politicians talking about solutions,
but it's all talk..."

Despite reverting (very effectively) to backing tracks for the middle section of the set, it's the acoustic track, 'Be Free' which is once again, as at Womad, the stand out track. It's neither world music, hip hop, folk or blues, but something new involving hints of all those sounds and more. Weirdly, the song reminds me most of Billy Bragg, something about the prominence and idealism of the lyrics and the simplicity - but beauty - of the music. As always, the song inspires, during its 'la la la la' chorus, a bit of a mass sing along and moments of something close to reverence during the acapella verses. The stand out lyric remains "Muslims, jews and christians war 'til no-one's left to praise the lord", but there are some lovely lines elsewhere, too:

"Then I saw the stars faint,
falling 'dem with heart ache.
Then I felt the earth shake,
trembling for God's sake.
It's like when her voice breaks..."

Really, K'naan has the lot, and it'll be interesting which path he chooses to follow; he's obviously marvellously adept at making memorable, straight down the line hip hop, and increasingly comfortable ploughing his own unique furrow, too. Introducing himself at the Brighton gig he explained that "making music has never been about having fun for me", so I suspect he won't follow the path of least resistence. Equally, I'm pretty sure that whatever he does will be fantastic.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Good, The Bad and the Queen at the Cavern Club, Exeter

A couple of days have passed since me and Vic travelled along to Exeter to watch Damon Albarn's new band, The Good, The Bad and the Queen (comprising himself, the incredible Nigerian drummer Tony Allen, Simon Tong and The Clash's legendary Paul Simonen), and I'm still feeling elated, to be honest. The gig - ostensibly a warm up for the band's 'official' live debut at the Camden Roundhouse on Thursday - completely exceeded my expectations. The songs, only one of which I'd heard before, were low-key and dark, dominated by awesome, delicate arrangements (guitars, hammonds, saxes dropping in and dropping out) rathepr than big choruses, but everything was so thrillingly vibrant and full of feeling. Damon was predictably into it, cheerful and proud, and Paul was literally throbbing with a mixture of malice and cool; he is an enormous presence on stage. Tony Allen's drumming, meanwhile, was far from showy but rather jaw-droppingly precise, understated, serene, but always imaginative.

In terms of sounds the songs reminded me of a dubby take on the wistful, yearning stuff on Blur's '13', but where much of that record was a mess of pro-tools trickery, everything in the set feels as if it is in its proper place, nothing unnecessary or uneven. Without knowing the songs well it's hard to tell whether the project is destined to replicate the global appeal of Gorillaz as well as well as garner hyperbolic reviews (like this one), but a few times in the set Damon's phrasing, way with a lyric or ear for melody lifts the tunes well beyond anything his contemporaries are capable of. In 'Green Fields', meanwhile, Damon has written a song which - for the first time in a few years - is as catchy as Parklife-era Blur. What's perhaps most pleasing about the set is the fact that Albarn, who has increasing used his voice as an instrument in recent years, is singing clearly and soulfully again.

Can't remember many more specifics, as by thirty seconds in, pretty much, I was quite unable to hold on to my objectivity or presence of mind. There can't have been more than 100 people in the venue, and everyone seemed to feel the same, inhabited and overwhelmed by the songs.

It was, of course, amazing to grab a moment with Damon afterwards, especially as the room was pulled inward by his short walk from the stage door to the exit. Paul Simonen made a point of making himself available too, sat contentedly in the middle of a group of fans, all of whom appeared to want little more than to sit around him, as if they were children sat round for Jackanory. Shaking hands with him was obviously an immense pleasure. Added to that, Tony Allen was incredibly friendly and conscientous, chatting away with fans and doling out autographs. He signed my ticket and didn't know how to spell my name, but went to pains to get it right - a small gesture much appreciated.

Predictable of me to say so, I know - not much impartiality when it comes to Damon Albarn - but this new project, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, is quite deliriously good. My friends will soon be very, very, very bored of me talking about it, and of my showing them the photos below, taken by Vic - as good a gig companion and chronicler of my hero-worship as can be found...

me and damon

me and tony allen

Sunday, October 22, 2006

struck by lightning. struck!

I met a really cool girl today, I thought I'd mention wistfully, but not someone I was organised or bold enough to get the number of, nor someone I'm likely to bump into again. Ho hum. She was really cool - slightly geeky? check. Interest in obscure indie rock? yes. Obsessed with books? yes. Interest in art? yes. A bit shy? yes. Unfortunately I have never been able to ask people out, or get numbers, or transmit in any sense that I would like to get to know them better. Bah.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Steel Pulse at Womad '07

Ah, here's a bit of news about next year's Womad - rather dissapointingly, as I had all but booked my night's bed and breakfast and Dan's parents house again for next year, the festival will be moving out of Reading next time around, and they've just announced the new destination - Wiltshire's rather lovely looking Charlton Park.

According to the email I just received:

"Charlton Park presents an opportunity to experience the festival in a truly green, pleasant and spacious environment. The festival will feature new stages and workshop areas, a children's village, new activities and installations set in the idyllic environment of Charlton's arboretum, open lawns and rolling fields.

Home to The Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire, Charlton Park is located just outside the historic abbey town of Malmesbury in North Wiltshire. Easily accessible by road and rail, the festival site is just seven miles from Junction 17 of the M4, only one hundred miles due west of London, and less than thirty miles away from Bath, Bristol and Swindon. See travel pages for directions and information on public transport."

Blah blah. It looks nice, but here's the more important news:

"The initial line-up details and site information will be announced in January 2007, but as a little taster of things to come we can confirm that Baaba Maal, Steel Pulse, Bill Cobham, Sam Tshabalala and The Dhol Foundation will all be performing!"

Steel Pulse! I'm there.

Tickets are on sale now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

write a comedy next time

it's a sign of how bloody woeful 'extras' is that when the final episode of the second series ends and they announce that next week they'll be screening the new series of the Catherine Tate show, you think, 'Ooh! Catherine Tate'. Jesus.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

postscript: british sea power

Oh, and a quick update on another gig I saw recently - me and Anne-So went to see British Sea Power debuting a raft of new material at The Pressure Point last week; and witnessed a really tremendously satisfying set by a band that seem to delight in provoking contrasting feelings in me - I've seen them six or seven times now and I tend to love them one time and feel really disappointed the next. This was definitely one of the former occasions, the band sensibly dropping most of their last album - which I initially really rated, incidentally - to concentrate on the more agressive, frantic stylings of their first, and a bunch of new songs which, tellingly, hark back to their early stuff too.

That's not to say that they've fallen into the trap of recycling old material, but they've perhaps realised that when they're playing their hard, dark and fast stuff they sound like one of the best bands on the planet, whereas the rest of the time they sound like an average indie band. So the new stuff, much of it led by Hamilton's endearingly thin voice, utilises pounding rhythms, speedy basslines and razor sharp guitar sounds, and is - frankly - brilliant, and bodes well for an excellent third album. If they can just eradicate their occasional propensity for duff live shows then they might just fulfill all that early promise and fascinating imagery.

younger knives

I saw The Young Knives for the third time this year last night - another cracking gig, and quite amazing to see how their appeal has broadened into the intervening months. The first time I saw them - at the Ocean Rooms - they were tremendous, but the audience was small and a long way from being groomed or stylish (myself particularly, I admit). At Audio a couple of months later there was a bit more of a buzz but it was still pretty sedate. Last night, however, I realised how quickly they've come on (and how poor the Concorde 2 is at checking its customers' ID) - the growd was a riot of youthful, dressy, slanty-haired teens with cloudbursts of mascara and low-slung belts. They danced arhythmically and clutched glowsticks (the DJ, noticing the mood, cued up Shitdisco and The Klaxons) before the band came on.

And then they leapt and moshed and sashayed their way through the YK set, singing along with every word. Was surprised and amused and pleased. I would never have said, before, as much as I wanted it to happen, that the Knives would really breakthrough into the mainstream. I think I might have been wrong, though.

The band, as brilliant as ever, seemed to recognise this, too - regularly sharing raised eyebrows as the crowd before them threw themselves around with naive abandon. Unfortunately, an album-heavy set clearly focused on raising the temperature meant there were no airings of 'Guess The Baby's Weight', 'Worcestershire Madman' nor the brilliant 'Current of The River'. But riotous run throughs of 'Kramer Vs Kramer', 'She's Attracted To' and 'Elaine' more than made up for that. Best of all was a lovely, slight - and rather rare - attempt at 'Tailors' - during which I marvelled at the ingenuity of a young crowd so enthusiastic that when Henry sang "Tailors are the best, see them running with their brollies" a whole subsection of the mosh pit stopped swaying and mimed the opening of a dozen imaginary umbrellas. Awesome.

the drumbeat of hysteria

Couldn't agree more with Jonathan Freedland's comment article in the Guardian today:

Right now, we're getting it badly wrong - bombarding Muslims with pressure and prejudice, laying one social problem after another at their door. I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of headlines substituted the word "Jew" for "Muslim": Jews creating apartheid, Jews whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn't just feel frightened. I would be looking for my passport.
And as much as I take Andrew Brown's point when he asks "How and when do we start debates on difficult issues? If we worry (overly) about how our concerns will be interpreted doesn't that create as many problems as it solves?", I have to admit that I find myself nodding in agreement with a letter in the paper, too.

Politicians have pitched in with their views about veils, what the Muslim community should do to improve relations with the rest of the population, and so on. I am not a Muslim, but perhaps a period of silence would be a more positive contribution to community relations.
Richard Dargan
Old Coulsdon, Surrey
Andrew, incidentally, makes some very good points about the integration row here:

Every day that I go to work I walk from Whitechapel to near Old Street and see lots of women wearing the niqab. I'm not bothered by that in the slightest (perhaps because I spent some of my childhood growing up in places where that form of dress was quite common, or perhaps because I'm only passing through).

However, there is something on that trip that does bother me.

My walk takes me past three schools; two appear to have pupils from almost entirely South Eastern Asian origin, while the other educates almost entirely white kids. I know absolutely nothing about the schools other than that observation, but it strikes me that this segregation in education is more worrying than what people wear as they walk down the street.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pointless Politicking

It’s been a couple of weeks since the Conservative party convened on the south coast at Bournemouth for their party conference, presumably choosing the town for their venue so that party members would only have to roll down the wheelchair ramps at their nearby nursing homes, wheel down the road and along the sea front for 5 minutes before arriving at the conference hall and a nice cup of tea.

What greeted them there this year, however, was actually very different to what I think they are used to. Since the Cameron-isation of the Conservatives into a neo ‘third way’, firmly centre ground, all inclusive, all pleasing, blue, green and even a hint of red party, they may have been forgiven, Boris aside, for thinking that they have turned up at a conference aimed at finding excellence in middle-management.

The Tories, sorry, Conservatives are undergoing an image change which has seen them attempt to successfully re-brand themselves. The burning torch, their symbol for many years, which was only recently re-drawn so that it included a muscled arm holding it (ready presumably to wallop any nearby EU Commissioners, lefties or drug dealing, tax avoiding pregnant teenage illegal immigrants) has gone and has been replaced by an Oak Tree.

Introduced to embody the party’s new direction and to emphasis their new enthusiam for green policies - yet remaining presumably a strong British symbol - the new logo must have the Tory blue-rinse brigade thinking they had gone full circle and are back at the care home, such is the cosy similarity to care-home embelems up and down the country.

David Cameron, since becoming leader, has set about realigning the party, with his logo change recalling the way that Labour’s red flag turned into a red rose, and has done so, surprisingly, with far less noise and fuss. He has come to realise that if you want power in a modern prosperous, non-ideological Britain then you’d better play safe and be everyone’s friend in the centre. He has, then, declared no policies, and that there will be no policies for the forseeable future. His opening speech, by way of example, was calculated to be entirely devoid of intent and merely to set a bright and breezy tone. Is that what we can assume the party has become? A mood? “Oh, I’m in a light blue mood today. Maybe then I’ll choose the Conservatives to manage me this time around”…

Is that not what British politics now is? Choosing a form of management and a set of managers? We are assured that if the Conservatives do win the next election, presumably with a small majority of votes from a small majority of those entitled to vote, we won’t see much real change if how we are governed. Even if the Liberal Democrats win, we can safely assume that, having been able to win, we won’t see any change through them either.

Politics has hit the comfort zone and the banality of the centre because people don’t care about party politics anymore. And why don’t people care? Many reasons abound but mostly because in this day and age, in stable wealthy democracies, the system and policies of party politics is having less and less effect on everyday life for many people. People today are connected to ideas and individuals around the world almost instantly, many of us have travelled and made connections the world over, lived in other countries or know and live with people from all parts of the world on a scale unimaginable to our parents’ generation.

We are all atomised in our thoughts and act as in such a way that it would be foolish for us to pin all of our ideals onto a set of policies put forward by a group of loosely affiliated people in one particular country. This isn’t the 1930s or even the 1980s, where people - for the actual sake of their health, education or livelihood - were willing to strongly adhere to an ideology in the hope that it would bring them prosperity and happiness.

There’s no need. It seems that the solution all along was to be found somewhere in the middle, and all that remains is to join up and integrate our governing systems so that we can begin to address the most pressing issues of our time - namely the vast inequalities of wealth resources and access to education afflicting the world.

People, especially in the developed world, are doing this more and more. They are withdrawing from the national debate on many issues and from the parties which they find they cannot wholly empathise with and are becoming involved in international civil societies. I am a member of one of the largest of these International Non-Governmental Organisations, namely Oxfam. I consider it to be actually more politicised than many political parties at the moment. It allows me the opportunity to lobby on specific issues where I feel change should be affected and it’s pro-active rather than reactive - as I consider many political parties in Britain to be. Like other NGOs it is able to lobby on behalf of people in developing countries right up to the highest echelons of both British and foreign governments, and is able to induce change. Other groups the world over highlight causes, discuss them internally and externally, and co-operate in alliances with like minded groups on a global level - all with the clear objective of effecting change for the better.

With more and more people from more and more parts of the world connecting in this trans-national political sphere, the call for regulation and assembly grows ever louder. This, it is believed by many, is finally the first concrete foundations of a global government. It is yet to be seen what form it takes, whether at an existing institution such as the United Nations (where global civil society is already given prominent voice) or via some other method.

This global engagement is happening on a vast scale and is I believe largely very positive and to be welcomed. It does however feel at present a million miles away from Bournemouth.

[Blogging by Dan]

blind in more ways than one

Sorry, I know I've not posted much recently - have been short on time and lax; Natalia tells me, however, that she is getting sick of seeing my Lemonheads post every time she checks the blog, and I am scared of her; so in the absence of time I'll try to get a few links and quotes and things up in the next couple of days, as well as some excellent postage from Dan.

First off, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading David Blunkett's diary stuff again recently, mainly because it's such a refreshing change to hear a Labour politician doing something other than just sounding off about Muslims (the Labour Party appears to feel much the same way about Muslims as the Tories do about foxes). Blunkett actually comes across as rather likeable in a way and yet deeply flawed, a kind of, as Sam Wollaston points out, Lear figure.

One scene stands out. We're in 1998 and Blunkett, then education secretary, has been having a go at incompetent teachers and trying to improve standards of numeracy. We see a clip of him being interviewed by a reporter.

"Do you know your times table?" she asks.

"I do know my times table," he replies, confidently. "I had to learn it rote fashion when I was a child. And it stayed with me ever since. So 'seven sevens are 49' comes quite naturally."

"And nine eights?"

"Nine eights ... [there's a little pause] ... nine eights ... [big laugh] ... nine eights ... [another laugh] ... 72."

He gets there eventually. But to anyone watching, this is a man desperately procrastinating and trying to fill in time, any way he can, while he works out what nine times eight is. He's probably doing it on his fingers, out of sight of the camera.

Then we hear his diary entry: "An ITN reporter asked me what nine times eight were. Fortunately, I was able to give an immediate and accurate answer." It may seem like a small thing, but I think it's important. It shows that The Blunkett Tapes are very much The Blunkett Takes and someone else may see the same events in a very different way (he edited them, too - it would be interesting for someone else to go through the material to see what they came up with). The funny thing is, I think he could listen to that news interview again and still maintain that he gave an "an immediate and accurate answer" - because he comes over as someone who never considers he may be wrong about something, who is unable to see his own weaknesses, who is blind in more ways than one.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Lemonheads

How do we escape the ghosts of the 16 year old us-es? There's no way. I could read a million brilliant books and none would do what London Fields did to the teenage me. No film will recapture the magic summoned up by Quadrophenia or Withnail and I. I could obsessively follow the music scene and listen to as many remarkable new bands as possible. But nothing would halt the heart-shimmy provoked by hearing, I dunno, Pavement's 'Summer Babe' or Mercury Rev's 'Car Wash Hair'. I'm past making huge emotional links between myself and my favourite bands. But it still hurts when Sleater-Kinney split up, when I think of Blur onstage without Graham Coxon. It's like I kept the 16 year old me stored up, ready to pounce.

He sent me scurrying down to the record shop last week to snatch up a ticket to the Lemonheads date at the Brighton Concorde, which I went to last night. It was a birthday present from the 16 year old me. But it wasthe Lemonheads. What do the Lemonheads have to do with the 29 year old me, what do they have to do with 2006? Only the fact that my insides still lurch when I hear the opening chords to 'It's A Shame About Ray' or the chorus to 'Hannah and Gabi' and I wonder if it's the 16 year old me kicking to get out. The Lemonheads I thought I'd forgotten, and then I saw they'd reformed. Whoomph.

My on-off love affair with The Lemonheads started in 1992, when I was actually preoccupied with cooler, artier or more fashionable bands. What did I need with Evan Dando's short, romantic pop songs when Dinosaur Jr were creating epic, soaring noise or Pavement alternately jarring and melodic art rock? Except that I did listen to The Lemonheads, or more specifically their 29 minute long classic 'It's A Shame About Ray', and for all that Nirvana or Sonic Youth were blisteringly singular, I kept - and keep - coming back to the astonishingly consistent, bright and tuneful rock songs on '...Ray', songs which combined Dando's love of the tuneful Australian rock of the Triffids, the Go-Betweens and Smudge with the punk metal sounds of hardcore and grunge.

Although things tailed off after 'Ray, and after nearly ten years out of sight, Dando's comeback record, 'The Lemonheads', created with the backing of The Descendents and - gloiously, albeit briefly - J Mascis, is the best pop record I've bought in 2006. And last night was one of the best gigs I've ever seen. A few songs in Dando noted, "this song came out in 1990. I'm an old man". Perhaps, although judging by the ecstatic reception he was afforded at the Concorde 2 (and the fact that, old or not, while in England this week - and at pretty much any other time - he's probably the best looking man in a radius of 500 miles) his talent, always lazy and always underappreciated, is as luminous as ever.

Dando is one of those musicians who has always been known for his sense of (wayward) fun and his willingness to connect with his audience whenever they ask. To that end, he was effortlessly charming as ever, fronting a stripped down power trio and infecting every guitar lick with enjoyment. The set, which consisted of more than 30 short, effervescent songs, was delightfully ramshackle and simple, Dando ignoring pretty much every opportunity to solo and sticking to bright, poppy riffs - although he took the opportunity, during a storming 'Confetti', to unleash a guitar solo that J Mascis would be proud of. It's a typical Dando trait which some find infuriating; bothering only once or twice to break sweat, but it's enormously endearing.

The songs, naturally, were heartbreakingly good. How perfectly, for example, does 'Confetti' distill Evan Dando's slacker romantic streak?; "He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he coulda", Dando croons. 'It's a Shame About Ray' is the prettiest song of the 1990s and hasn't aged a day. The sheer amount of memorable tunes on '...Ray' (played pretty much in its entirety last night) is incredible, the ultra tuneful 'The Turnpike Down', 'Alison's Starting to Happen' and 'Bit Part' all gorgeous live. More interestingly, the new songs, particularly 'Let's Just Laugh' and the lovely new single 'Become The Enemy' fit in seamlessly. The latter is classic Lemonheads, right down to that opening lyric, "It's my fault / That I never earned a trade / So I just scrape all day", before dissecting the breakdown of a relationship and accepting the blame.

That's a recurring theme for Dando. Even 'Baby's Home', one of the sludgiest songs on the new record, is lovely tonight, enlivened by Dando's massive grin and more slight, lovelorn lyrics, ("When a horse breaks its leg / then it's best to shoot it / cause it's quick and it eases the pain"). The set takes on new life, meanwhile, when most bands would be packing up for the night, when Dando's bandmates leave the stage and leave him to play a delightful acoustic interlude, stripping his songs down to their folky, observational bones. He even plays a rapturously received 'Frank Mills', which I never expected to see. 'The Outdoor Type' and 'Being Around' are sung word for word by the audience, and are interrupted by shouts of "we love you" and "you're brilliant".

The return of the full band for the final two songs provokes stronger reactions still. 'My Drug Buddy' is surely one of the most beautiful songs ever spun out of dependence. Again, the audience bellows every line, often drowning out Dando's deep whisper. I join in, crying "She's coming over / we'll go out walking / make a call on the way / She's in the phone booth now / I'm looking in / There comes a smile on her face". Not many of Dando's peers - and plenty went down a similar route; smack - managed to combine their tales of withdrawal and nausea with such an observation of beauty. Where the stoned Kurt Cobain saw only pain, Dando was able to note "We have to laugh to look at each other / we have to laugh, cause we're not alone/ As the cars fly down Kings Street, it's enough to startle us". Beside me I'm horrified to see a couple around my age standing with their teenage daughter, which reminds me how old I am. The daughter is wearing a Queens of The Stone Age t-shirt, and is more horrified still to see her mother singing along and shouting "I love my drug buddy".

Finally, inevitably, is 'Rudderless' the Lemonheads' classic, their 'Freak Scene' or 'Teen Spirit'. The intro sparks mass hugging. When Evan cries "Waiting for something to break / left my heart out to bake" the whole venue seems to swoon as one. 'Rudderless' is the best indie rock song of the 1990s, I decide, experiencing a moment of euphoria.

Of course, the band are hauled back out for an encore, but it is cut short when someone informs the band that - over an hour and a half into their set - they've run out of time. "Sorry guys", Dando shrugs, "there's a curfew". Everyone groans as the DJ puts on a record and begins to bring up the lights. "I mean, I don't care", Dando continues, "I'll play through it", and grabs his acoustic, leading us through an inevitable and lusty 'Big Gay Heart'. The second he finishes the house lights are snapped on immediately and we start getting ushered out. "Fuck off", Dando snarls, launching immediately into 'Into Your Arms'. There's a lovely moment, a moment of uncertainty when everyone wonders what will happen. The lights are dimmed again and he's allowed, again drowned out by voices, to carry us to the end of the song.

It's a delightful conclusion, and utterly in keeping with the spirit of one of the best, brightest, most fun and least understood rock groups of the last twenty years. Absolutely brilliant stuff, all told.

I like it so much I buy a t-shirt. Or at least, the 16 year old me does.