Thursday, August 31, 2006

utterly insane

So West Ham have signed Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascharano on PERMANENT contracts today for an undisclosed fee! Most ludicrous and astonishing transfer in the history of the Premiership? Without a doubt. It's completely incredible. What odds, however, on them being snapped up by Chelsea in a year's time. They were signed from Corinthians, and the Guardian notes that:

"It is not known what role, if any, was played in the transfers by Media Sports Investment (MSI), the company that two years ago agreed a 10-year partnership with Corinthians that effectively gave it control of the club. In 2004 the company was instrumental in bringing Tevez to the Brazilian club from Boca Juniors in an £11.4m transfer that amazed observers of South American football. MSI is run by Kia Joorabchian, the London-based businessman who last year expressed an interest in taking over West Ham. Spanish newspaper AS has reported that Roman Abramovich also has a 15% stake in the company, but Joorabchain has consistently denied that the Chelsea owner has any link to MSI."

Well, either way, I've never been so surprised about a transfer. Makes Spurs' captures of Steed Malbranque and Pascal Chimbonda look positively paltry, doesn't it? God.

Up with people

I like people very much. I woke up late this morning and was in a kind of hazy, lethargic mood bordering on a bad temper, exacerbated by my decision to dress for winter and then have to charge to the station barging past pedestrians and getting increasingly hot in the process. I got to the station in time, had a brief argument with the ticket machine, and steamed aggressively into WHSmiths to buy a paper. And was greeted at the counter by the nice chap who works there and his friendly, even greeting of 'Alright mate', which I vainly but gratefully took to be a personal greeting because he recognised me and I him. And I felt much better immediately, thinking, I like people very much. So I'm having a good day, now.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

seven days in music

A week of musical memories:

1. Oh, alright, I won't go on about the Young Knives again.
2. Watching a band set up and play a set on the beach on Sunday afternoon. School's out for the summer and the young are running free, singing cod-reggae in fake jamaican accents and singing 'funny songs' about date rape. I suppress the urge to dash pebbles against their heads.
3. I just read that Andy Partridge, main man of XTC and best songwriter in the world (if you forget Wyatt, Malkmus, Costello etc) has finished his trawl through the archives and decided to stop cataloguing his demos and out-takes at volume 9. So he's reissuing the Fuzzy Warbles tapes as a nine-CD collection. I cannot afford to buy it. Why do I have a horrible feeling that I will, then? (via)
4. This week I have been mostly living at Dave's house and as a consequence am now, somehow, able to play several songs by Coldplay and Travis. Blame Natalia. I drew the line at learning 'Tears in Heaven' by Eric Clapton, ostensibly because my religion does not allow it (Church of Sonic Youth, English branch) but mostly because, erm, I'm not talented enough to play it.
5. You can buy The Clangers Opera here.

Monday, August 21, 2006

young knives LP review

The wait for the debut album by The Young Knives has been long, and worth every minute. After a several years old mini-LP, a collection of demos and a cracking run of singles, they finally unveiled their Voices of Animals and Men LP today, and not at all surprisingly it is a tremendous collection of pristinely recorded, ultra-energetic and mostly familiar punk-pop songs.

At first glance the Young Knives template looks either calculated or nostalgic; their appearance - what the Mighty Boosh's Howard Moon might call 'forest casual, for the leafy gent' - their sense of humour and their fondness for angular, arty riffs all summoning up references to literal and metaphorical forebears, whether XTC, Adam and the Ants or just the Futureheads. But it doesn't take long to figure that the perfect packaging of the record - the cover depicts the Whittlesey Straw Bear - is the last thing but paper over the cracks. Conceptually, stylistically, lyrically and musically the Young Knives are a complete, and pretty flawless, package.

It all starts with 'Part Timer' and staccato bursts of guitar and a pulsing bassline. It's immediately tighter and fiercer than anything I was expecting, the lyrics painting a picture of a bored Henry trying to write a song and failing in a bout of indecision. Yet the sense of frustration and ennui he feels in songwriting is a metaphor for much of the focus of the album. You get it when Henry, after a delightful, unexpected and teasing pause in the music, which is in itself a shockingly confident step a minute and a half into a debut album, sings - or rather spits - "Back down, it's the best you can hope for. Back down again". The album thrives off the fury of not achieving, yet Andy Gill, who produced the record, teases twelve stunning, fierce vocal takes out of Henry, who has a really beautiful, loaded voice.

'The Decision' is sung by House, however, and his performance - vocally and musically - is not to be underestimated on this splendid album either. His tracks are lovely and his now familiar couplet "I'm the Prince of Wales, I'm the Prince of Wales / And if all else fails, I am the Prince of Wales" probably remains the most instantly memorable thing about the Knives thus far. There are a good many of us fervently hoping that 'The Decision', with it's charming 'ba ba' refrain and sweet chorus ("the horses in the New Forest are running in their Sunday best") will be the band's first genuine HIT single when it's released at the end of September.

That hit should, of course, have been the next song, 'Weekends and Bleakdays' - key lyric: "what I feel, it's not important" - and you wonder if the band would not have been better rush-releasing it - with it's "hot summer, hot hot summer" chorus - when the country was still spread eagled on the grass in the midst of a now-distant heatwave. No matter. Quickly following the splendid harmonising of House's 'In The Pink' and the rather weaker 'Mystic Energy' is another lost would-be hit, the super, frenetic 'Here Comes The Rumour Mill', telling of "Tall tales, cliques and whispers" and secret kisses.

And it's now, with the end of side one in sight, when a debut album often begins to drop off, that it becomes apparent just what a tremendous record this is.

'Tailors' is the first hint of how special the Knives are. An absolutely irrestistable little folk song sung in a disconcerting falsetto and driven by the rhythmic snapping of a pair of scissors, Henry begins with the lines

Tailors are the best
See them running with their brollies.
Workmen of the week".

It's strange,
slight and throwaway, but hints at a real variety and vision beyond the punky pop of the singles; in fact, far from being a 'post-punk' band there is much subtlety on this record which recalls Robert Wyatt as much as it does Howard Deveto. The Knives build on this flexibility from hereon in.

Yet the second half actually opens with the silliest song here, 'Half Timer', which sees the band with work on their mind once again as they noodle around a half-formed idea in the studio. "A salary!" they cry. "You need a salary if you want to get through". "For money and emergencies", one suggests. "Bloodsuckers!" shouts House. What else? "New carpets", perhaps? "I had a job once", House reminisces, "It was awful". Quite.

On to 'Dialling Darling' then, once the near-hit 'She's Attracted To' has been negotiated, and once I've shouted myself hoarse with Henry's "You were screaming at your mum / I was punching your dad" sign off. And 'Dialling Darling' is really magnificent, three minutes of delicate, twin vocalled punk with thrilling "whoo-oo-ooo-ooo" backing vocals. The change of direction for the chorus is masterful, I'll tell you that much.

And then 'Another Hollow Line' and it's much changed from its early incarnation and initially disappointing 'til you learn to wear the new approach, where the delicacies of Henry's acoustic guitar are replaced with crisp, melodious riffs. The vocal is typically gorgeous, though, Henry musing on a shallow girl and the hopelessness of love;

A lonely smile in the clouds
And the smell of foreign bodies
He waits for you to ask him out
Three hours sitting in the lobby".

The guitar break in the middle would melt my spine if such a thing were possible. And the lyrics evolve from bittersweet to hilarious - witness the following:

One day you’re sitting very still
And repeating a faburden
The next you’re wearing Faberge - oh dear -
On your way to Covent garden"...

'Coastguard' - stop me if I'm getting repetitive - is tremendous too; fierce in every respect - violent and brittle, driving, furious at loss. "At the table", Henry screams, "is an empty place". It's even fiercer when he repeats it. And then House takes over, intoning:

She couldn’t swim she couldn’t see
The current pushing out to sea,
Down estuaries and tributaries.
On benthic rocks.
She’s wrecked on Benthic rocks."

After twelve songs of this, The Young Knives (who, incidentally, didn't even bother using a whole host of songs - 'Current of the River', 'Kramer Vs Kramer', 'Kitchener', 'Elaine' - which would stand out like pearls on any of the albums of their contemporaries) unleash the best two songs in their catalogue. The first up, 'Loughborough Suicide', is perhaps the best encapsulation of the Young Knives ethic, a (lyrically) ferocious, pent up, beaten-down hymn of small town angst which brings to mind The Jam at their most caustic. The music itself - particularly the kinetic, angry riff which explodes half way through as a kind of counterpoint to Henry's desperate admission: "I'll never go down fighting" - is superb and yet dominated, despite the beauty of the tune, by the words. As Henry repeats his despairing refrain House rants:

"Well it is cold, cold, cold
And I think I’m going to die in here.
Considering Loughborough suicide
Which I’m definitely going to do this year.
And if you take a look outside
Then the answers to your questions seem quite clear...
That you may as well leave,
Because there’s nothing else to do around here."

Somewhat purged, the album closes with 'Tremblings of Trails', which finds Henry battling on but worn down. Musically, it's by far the most interesting thing here, a metronomic, loopy, languid slice of melancholy good enough to recall Wire at their most tuneful without the comparison embarrasing them. Having boarded a bus "to anywhere", Henry finds that there is no comfort in being absent either: "
We come undone in foreign parts / Our home is heavy in our hearts".

And yet the fury is there too, as the searing but momentary lapses into violence attest. Having sounded resigned throughout, the moments where the frustration breaks through are thrilling. "We've got the same decrepit stars!", he screams. "
My plan has failed! / Tremblings of trails! / Yearning comforts of the dales!"

It's ironic that the ceaselessly good-natured public persona of this band, and their endearingly daft videos, runs the risk of painting them unjustly as a novelty band. But bands only really suffer from that caricature if there's nothing but the laughs to back them up. Anyone who spends three quarters of an hour with Voices of Animals and Men will attest that riotous good fun and existential angst are handed out in roughly equal, and equally satisfying measures. Even more ironically, given the furiously excitable reaction in evidence above, the band have been playing most of these songs to half-empty venues for the last few years. Recent b-sides and live tracks seem to suggest that there is a folkier, more lyrical side to the band to come. And the hype is building. If they can produce another album of this quality in a couple of years then, frankly, the mind boggles.

currrently listening to:

1. The Young Knives - Voices of Animals and Men LP (thunderous and frequently hilarious debut)
2. Super Biton De Segou - Afro Jazz De Mali LP (cool collection of Malian Jazz)
3. K'naan - The Dusty Foot Philosopher LP (best rapper on the planet?)
4. Lambchop - Beers Before the Barbican (heartbreaking and gorgeous track from the new album, Damaged)
5. Wayne Jarrett - Showcase Vol. 1 LP (sweet, chaotic dub reggae)
6. Junior Boys - In The Morning (fabulous, crunchy new slice of tech-pop)
7. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Kamli Wala Mohammed (loping, funky pop from Pakistan)
8. The Needles - Summer Girls (ultra indie)
9. Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited - Chimurenga Explosion LP (vibrant zimbabwean protest music - recorded in Oregon, so go figure)
10. Good Shoes - All In My Head (fizzly, crackly pop and good fun)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

sad news from the animal kingdom

Sad news from Compton Avenue today, as my friend Ali has had to report that Cyril, her favourite seagull, bought it yesterday. Cyril was a good seagull - just a nipper in many ways but wise beyond his years. In troubled times he sought wise counsel from Ali and she in turn learned a good deal from her flappy companion. She is the only person I know, for example - apart from Sam - who can spot and swoop on a discarded chip from forty paces. While myself and Ali have penned tributes to this marvellous bird (reproduced below) I ask that you give Ali time to grieve and respect her quiet dignity at this difficult time.

An earlier tribute to Cyril the seagull can be found at the bottom of the comments, here.

Myself and Ali in happier days, and a seagull, yesterday.
ode to cyril, by Ali

you were born, a fluffy ball of grey
you lived on the roof next door
you grew and grew with each passing day
you flapped your wings and sang your songs
mostly in the morning about 5am
i watched you proudly from my window

then one day the news came
you were gone
your fluffy feathers no more
your song never to be heard
your wings never to spread

rest in peace cyril.

rest assured we will find the motherf**ker who ran you down and tear him limb from limb

Cyril, Ascending by Jonathan

you were the world of blogging's most famous
and singular seagull. Little more than a gull-child,
your pencil grey feathers and hesitant take-off
seeming somehow to stand for life in a world
which is savage and wild.

Larus modestus, stood on your perch overlooking
the city, the burger king wrappers and the scent
of the chippy. And pigeons and gulls, oh
they swoop and they sneer when you try to take off
then feel queer, and fall back to the sill feeling dizzy and ill,
flight so far yet so near.

Then the day arrrives. Spurred on by that girl
who each day wills you on - and the smell of kebabs
wafting up from the station - you are launched.
And this time the air wafts you up and you laugh
and you smile and you fly... and you're free at last.

You could fly anywhere, somewhere far somewhere near,
you could take out an infant way down at the pier
and fly off with his ice cream to london, to paris,
and then suddenly near - a toyota yaris!

you have swooped down too low
and the angles are shady,
you think for a moment of your perch,
your sill,
of that beautiful lady,
who watched you and waited, who would be
so proud - and now has to know
that some cunt mowed you down.

Rest in peace Cyril.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

another night in the tin drum

Had a nice evening last night helping Dave to forget that it was his birthday (not that he needn't much help, having already misinformed people of the date a few days earlier) and lounging around at the Tin Drum in Seven Dials, which has started being a bit of a home from home lately, which is surely yet more evidence that as we age we begin to gravitate towards more sophisticated and adult destinations on a night out. On the other hand, it could be just because it's kind of in the middle of where we all live.

And the night was mightily enlivened by the presence of the coolest birthday card in history, which depicted Dave in a variety of romantic situations with friends, a kind of candid scrapbook of alarming photographs, including one which showed him blowing a kiss at Dustin, and one where he and I could be glimpsed staringly lovingly into each other's eyes. Hmm. It was made by Natalia, obviously, and was as such adorned with stickers of birds and - because, I can only assume, she had run out of birds - a solitary bee.

A typical birthday present from Nat may be a beauty product sampler she found in a magazine, but she makes excellent birthday cards.

Some more half-remembered moments:

1. Being unable to get served Leffe in a stylish Leffe glass. Everyone else gets the satisfying bowl shaped receptacle. I get a sturdy half-pint glass, as if they are saying "don't give the easily broken glass to the idiot with the side parting".

2. Victoria blinding everyone with the triple-flash on my digital camera. I complained that I could see two big rectangles in front of my eyes. "They're your glasses", says Michi.

3. The third reason we go to the Tin Drum, on the other hand, might be because of the bar staff. Yes, the service is a bit on the slow side, but I get the distinct feeling that if talk continues to centre on arguments as to the conflicting merits of the blonde barmaid and the brunette, I fear that me, Dan and Dave will be going to the pub on our own while Nat and Vic engineer a more cultured night out of their own instead.

4. Noticing the drinks piling up in front of a cheerful Dave. Exchanging rounds of 'cheers' and clinking glasses takes a lot longer when the bugger is accumulating glasses of Jack Daniels and pints of Staropramen like they were going out of fashion. And best of all, I think I managed not to buy him one, which was a heroic bit of tight-fistedness (but not deliberate).

5. The toilets are situated upstairs at the Tin Drum. On the way back down to the bar, there is a door frame, half way down the stairs, which is just begging to be grabbed and used as a climbing frame. Last night I grabbed it and hanged there for a moment, enjoying the feeling, before the aforementioned pretty barmaid appeared at the bottom of the stairs and was confronted by the sight of me suspended, flapping my little legs, like a badly trained monkey. Hmm. Not sure that did my rep much good.

Ah well.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

several voices and several names

I read with real interest today's article in the Guardian by a young man by the name of Kamran Siddique, who is a close friend of one of the suspects arrested under the Terrorism Act last week, Waheed Zaman. Zaman is 22, and, according to Siddique, not a likely terrorist.

"Waheed Zaman is a 22-year-old student who is well-known around the community of Walthamstow, where everyone knows everyone's business. He is 6ft 2in, broad-built and he's invariably got a cheeky smile.

Waheed lives round the corner from me, and we've known each other since childhood. As kids, we went to the same school, played football by the gates next to my house. We played knock-down ginger on the very streets that are now flooded with press. As teenagers, we'd spent hours on the sofa playing computer games, drinking cups of tea and emptying packets of cookies."
Siddique finishes his article by saying,

"Do I think there is any possibility in the world Waheed would be involved? Could he have kept a secret? Could there have been a side to him that someone who spent most of the day, every day, with him, could not see? My answer is no. I bet my life on it."
No idea whether the portrait Siddique paints of his friend is accurate or not, but it sounds it, for what it's worth. Drawing no conclusions from that, however. I was, though, interested enough by the article to idly enter first Zaman and then Siddique's names into Google to see if he had been interviewed elsewhere.

The first thing I found was interesting; an article on the BBC News site where a 24 year old student was interviewed about Zaman's arrest. Although the article states that the student was 'too scared to give his real name', and opted for the soubriquet 'Hanif', it is clearly Siddique. He relates the same story about being invited out for a burger hours before the raids. The article continues:

"I think they have got it wrong and Waheed has been picked up because he is involved in the student society at university," said Hanif.

"When he gets released, he is going to have a field day, an absolute field day - he's not like a lot of us - he is eloquent and intelligent and will speak out."

Why couldn't his friend be involved in a plot?

"Because if Waheed was involved I would know. Best friends tell each other things that you would never tell your mum and dad. If he had been radicalised, if he had got involved in some kind of extremism, he would have tried to take me with him surely?"
The Guardian article said nothing about Kamran Siddique being an assumed name so I imagine that, since the shock of the original arrest, he has been persuaded that there is nothing to be afraid of in giving his name. Unless The Guardian did use an assumed name, in which case it's interesting that "Kamran Siddique" was used, simply because when I next googled his name, the first result related to another Kamran Siddique, also interviewed recently by BBC News, expressing a strong interest in political and social matters. In April '05, in an article on Asian youth dissatisfaction on the streets of Bradford, the article begins:

"Twenty-one-year-old Kamran Siddique is a polite and mild-mannered young man, about to take his final exams to become a youth and community worker.

He says he was pretty liberal back in 2001, before the Bradford riots erupted.

But what he saw in the aftermath of the violence changed him. Three of his cousins and another three friends were each sentenced to several years in prison for throwing rocks during the riots.

Now he is more cynical."
Now, Siddique does no more than express (perhaps legitimate) concern about heavy handed police bias and what he calls "injustice in the justice system", but it's interesting to read that his community leader, who shares his surname, Haqueq Siddique, goes further and makes some familiar and depressing comments:

"Terrorists don't really want to hurt people," he explained.

"They want to get a message across."
Well, I'm not gonna dig into the subject, as it looks like the two Kamran Siddiques are different people - one based in London and one in Bradford, one 24 and one (now) 22. But it caught my eye and interested me, not least because it cautions against the idea of assuming that Muslims speak with one voice. The Guardian article, by the way, ends with Siddique stating that:

"Muslims condemn attacks on civilians wherever they are and work hard with the authorities to fight terrorism. But in return they see that their mosques and scholars are still criticised. The thought crosses the mind that the Qur'an itself may one day be called a terrorist book. But evil has no religion."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

dylan and damon

Ha ha, apparently boring old Bob Dylan (that's just to annoy any Bob Dylan fans reading, and not heartfelt) has been playing Blur on his radio show. Cue a bunch of 'Dylan digs britpop' articles, inevitably. Here's one the Guardian knocked out. Fans of my incessent pedantry can even keep an eye out for my first ever comment on the Guardian blog. Yup, I hold my fire 'til a really big subject comes up.

Introducing the song [Coffee and TV], Dylan drawled: "Y'know, one time coffee was believed to be the drink of the devil. When Pope Vincent III heard about this, he decided to taste the drink before banning it. In fact, he enjoyed coffee so much, he wound up baptising it, stating 'coffee is so delicious, it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it'." As Blur's song began in the background, Dylan revealed: "I also feel that way about coffee. And about TV. And ... about Blur."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

chelsea on the rocks

Ever since Vladimir Putin turned on his old friend Boris Berezovsky and forced him into exile after a criminal investigation into fraud charges, Berezovsky's protogee, Roman Abramovich, has done everything possible to stay in Putin's good books. He's managed so far, but I wonder if the tide is turning? I only speculate because I just received the following spam message:

Taboada 17
50002 Zaragoza
Zaragoza ESPANA

I humbly apply on behalf of my client. As a matter of fact he is
actually looking for a reliable
and trust worthy company to invest and legalize his fund.
Thanks for your cooperation.
Best regards,
John Terry

Are Chelsea's players doing their pre-season training in North-Eastern Spain this summer, by any chance??

the rich are the rich the world over

A good anecdote from the book which I am currently reading, Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Sceptical Muslim by Zia Sardar...

Zia is in Dubai in the mid 70s, witnessing the sudden, incredible re-birth of this strange metropolis. He is researching a book on Science and Technology in the Muslim World and is turned away from a government minister's house because he looks like a labourer, one of the city's countless poor.

He writes

The following day, I dressed more formally and left my hotel early in the morning. This time the gatekeeper allowed me in without hesitation. The minister received me in the garden by the swimming pool. It soon transpired he was not very interested in science and technology. His standard reply to every question I asked: ' Why bother about it when we can afford to buy it?'. He kept gazing around, turning his eyes here and there, everywhere except in my direction. I tired of my questions and turned my attention to the pool, which was unusually large. "Is it because you have a very large family?", I enquired.

"No, just an average family", replied the minister. "But I do like to swim a good length".

I nodded to show I understood.

"Do you know that I have three swimming pools?", the minister volunteered. "This one has cold water - it is kept just at the right temperature. Over there - you can see it if you stand up - is the pool I use in winter. It is heated to just the appropriate temperature".

I stood up to admire the second pool. I couldn't help making the point: "But in Dubai the temperature stays more or less the same all the year round".

"Well, it can get chilly in the morning", replied the minister. "You can see the third pool from here". He grabbed my hand and escorted me to a spot from where the third pool was clearly visible.

"But it's empty. It has no water", I observed.

"Sometimes," the minister, upset at my interventions, retorted sternly, "sometimes I just do not want to swim".
Marvellous! The book is a cracking read, incidentally, one of those books you can't help but read everywhere - walking down the street, climbing the stairs, in the bath. Great stuff.

Monday, August 07, 2006

the rehabilitation of Jack the lad

Can Jackie Ashley possibly be right in the reasoning she posits for Jack Straw getting shunted out of the FCO in favour of Margaret Beckett? It sounds rather unlikely, but you never know, and as much as I can't forgive Straw for his involvement in the disasterous Iraq war, it's very difficult to disagree with the thrust of Ashley's argument - that he was quietly developing an independent, rational and constructive foreign policy drive. Beckett has been an ineffectual bystander so far, in comparison.

Ashley writes:

"The depth of the stupidity shown by the White House and by No 10 is caricatured in the story that Jack Straw was fired as foreign secretary after Condoleezza Rice visited Blackburn and reported back to Bush on the strength of Muslim feeling in Straw's constituency. Put to one side the grotesque affront to British status implied by an American president being able to sack cabinet members by proxy (which Downing Street will doubtless deny) and ask this question: what kind of mind thinks the presence of angry Muslims in his constituency would hamper Straw's diplomacy, rather than sharpen it?

The kind of mind, presumably, that thinks Muslims are generally bad and rejects the battle of ideas in favour of battle. Straw was reaching out to Tehran. He said that nuking them was "nuts". He was, modestly, adopting a rhetoric which was not simply Washington's "Israel good, Palestinians bad" tone. Despite his involvement in the Iraq decision, he was trying to find a middle way. He knew he had to, because like most of us he lives among ordinary, non-extreme Muslims - drawn in some ways to western society, and currently infuriated and despairing. One day even the Americans will have to follow him, or we are all off to hell in a handcart."


Take note.

"Weeks later—weeks during which I nearly die, become hideously deformed and then spend entire days crying like a baby—the wife and I are in the elevator in our apartment building when she opens the bill from our bat-shit crazy American insurance company.

"How much?" I giggle.

"$51,000," she snorts.

It might as well be 51 gazillion billion bazillion trillion. We both start laughing like hyenas on helium."

Every NME reader of a certain age remembers Steven Wells, or Swells as he was known then. Ranting, impassioned, hyperbolic, one of the best music journalists of his generation. Little did we know back then, him or me, that one day the NME would be a bland, uniform sack of shit punctuated by dazzlingly vapid and conservative writing, as it is now, and nor did we know that stuff like this happened. Well, maybe he did. I didn't.

Swells has been Unwell. Really really unwell. But he learned plenty along the way:

"No one ever "battles bravely against cancer." This is utter bullshit. You do your chemo, take your drugs and hang on for dear life.

Having a serious illness doesn't make you wise or nice or even remotely interesting. Trust me.

Humans are great. Except New Age types who suck, know fuck all and talk absolute bollocks—especially about cancer.

Oncologists are living gods.

My wife is the greatest human being who's ever lived."

A bloody brilliant article, and good to know he hasn't changed a bit.

Friday, August 04, 2006

quizzical squirrels

Another quick link outwards now - am very taken with Nat's post about squirrels, and there's some nice stuff in the comments box too.

"There is a Black Walnut tree outside my window, it’s mighty and tall and it blows in the wind. There is a grey squirrel (Ecurieuilt, ardilla, esquirol, Sciurus vulgaris ) that comes to visit now and then. It climbs all the way to the top and chews some leaves. It looks at me, it climbs some more, and it stares. If it could talk, would it have an American accent?"

Click here for more...

dan on the cult of apple

"All Hail Steve Jobs! Bringer of all Technological light! Creator of such marvels the likes of which we cannot conceive…"

I imagine the staff at my local Apple store reciting this at the beginning of every working day, in some sort of pep talk/team bonding ritual which probably also occurs at Starbucks outlets and Virgin Megastores up and down the land.

Yet the thing with Apple, as I'm sure everyone is aware, is that this form of worship extends beyond corporate culture and is embraced too by its customers, who currently comprise a large proportion of the 'young professional' population of the entire Western world. Apple, and all its beautifully sculptured techno creations, can do no wrong, it seems. You try reasoning with a Mac owner about overly fancy user-interfaces and they look at you and realise with horror that they might be in the presence of a doubter, or worse, a PC owner!

My dealings with the Church of Apple - or iChurch, as I will now call it - have been limited to my entering my local Apple shop (or Temple) and asking the guy inside if my first generation iPod (which I had been lucky enough to inherit) was really dead or if there was some insider trick to re-vitalising it. Having consulted the Gospel of Apple (which preaches the 5 Rs: Reset, Retry, Restart, Reinstall and Restore), and after a quick spell plugged into a very expensive Apple Mac Book laptop, my old iPod was officially pronounced dead and given its last rights in the Temple. The solemn mood was soon broken, however, by Apple man (or iMan, for iChurch members) switching into sale mode and asking if I was interested in an up-to-date edition from the Apple family. He was quickly told I couldn't afford one and that no, I didn't want the budget iShuffle.

I shuffled out.

That same day though - and this might have something to do with my time in the local Temple, or maybe just the fear of not knowing how to listen to my collection of podcasts - I was on the Apple Store website. I was totally sucked in. I had no money but I had to have a new iPod. All those lifestyle pictures of happy, cool North American-looking people just doing stuff with little white wires coming from their ears... it captivated me. All rational thoughts on the performance of iPods and the fact that EVERYONE I know who has ever had one has had a problem with the damn thing at some point or other vanished as I drooled over the sleek lines of the lovely looking iPod Nano. Things would be different this time, I told myself. PC connection worries have been sorted since the iChurch softened its stance on inter-marriage with Microsoft products, and there's no more messing about with Firewire. Mac software is slow but I like iTunes.

I convinced myself I needed one to fill the void of my dearly recently departed 'First Gen' and that anyway I would be able to view photos on the tiny screen and look at my album covers in micro art form. So I bought one, having agonised for ages over whether or not to have laser engraved on the back some clever quote or just my email address to shame any would-be thief into returning it. To my amazement the thing arrived the next day. (Apple, like most religious organisations, is obviously eager to spread the word). It arrived in a box which cried out 'this is not like anything else you own'. The box resembles jewellery packaging and as it glides open and you read the words 'Made in California'... just for one second you can see yourself standing under the Golden Gate bridge just hanging out doing stuff with white wires protruding from your ears... Living the American dream.

So, yeah. I really like my iPod Nano. We go everywhere together. Yes, I know it'll break no matter how much care I take of it, the screen will crack, battery fail within a year etc... But its an Apple and somehow I can't bring myself to seriously question the workmanship. Perhaps now I am a true member of the iChurch. (No, no, I can't be. I still own and use a PC - I'll never be accepted in).

But what is it about Apple? Apple Fundamentalists queue outside their temples for the latest gizmo regardless of whether they need one or not and hang on every rumour of what the iChurch will invent next. Any mention of the Chinese sweatshops that make iPods - and which presumably save the iChurch a bundle in production costs - are either hushed or ignored by the faithful. You wouldn't expect another prominent West Coast Corporation such as Nike to have such an easy ride on that issue. Language has even changed because of this cultish behaviour - we are obliged to put a lower case 'i' in front of practically every other word we use now; a real pain when typing. The BBC recently announced a change in structuring to accommodate the future, in which we will all apparently be watching BBC TV on iPods on the tube or bus. I don't know. Maybe we will, but I remain to be convinced that such unequivocal support and money should be given to such a large Corporation.

Perhaps the way forward is to advocate a split in the iChurch. Maybe a Martin Luther figure will step forward and post a note on an internet message board and start the ball rolling? Maybe someday soon we'll see the creation of The iChurch of England, a sort of genial hobby-Church where we can politely refuse particular tenets of the Gospel of the iChurch, its founder Steve Jobs and its multitude of blinkered followers...

[blogging by Dan]

nice work, wollaston

It's hard to imagine a better TV critic than the Guardian's wonderful Nancy Banks-Smith, but Sam Wollaston seems to be getting better and better in his role as semi-successor; her columns are still perfect, but I no longer feel disappointed when I see it's his turn. Indeed, some of his stuff recently has been extremely quotable, particularly yesterday's A-Z feature, where he - on a whim, nothing else - broke down his column into a list-style breakdown of what he learned from Kate Humble's 'Seawatch'. Here's the whole thing, but I've pulled out a few choice entries for a moment's diversion - F through to K, in fact:

"Flavor Best Chicken. The name on a plastic bag found in a leatherback turtle washed up in Scotland. Turtles swallow plastic bags because they think they're jellyfish. This poor guy must have thought he'd hit the jackpot when he spotted a Flavor Best Chicken jellyfish. But it killed him. It's strange how the bigger the animal is, the sadder its death is; it doesn't work like that with people.

Ganets. Plummeting into the sea like surface-to-air missiles in reverse, they're brilliant. It's a good week for them on telly - it's been raining ganets all week on Trawlermen as well.

Huffin'. It's what you find an out-of-breath puffin doin'. After a deep dive.

Irish Sea. This is where basking sharks go in summer. To bask.

Jonathan. He's a kindly man who once, while diving, found a basking shark entangled in a fishing net. Did he leave it to die? Did he hell. He cut it free. Nice work, Jonathan.

Kelp. Big fresh tagliatelle verde that grows on the bottom of the sea. Lovely."

He's quite good on Dragon's Den in his column today as well, actually.

"But it's the Dragons themselves who make this show. God, they're horrible. I have nothing against rich people; I actually quite like them, though obviously through a thick fog of jealousy. But wealth is a hard one to pull off in a way that's publicly acceptable, and this lot fail miserably.

I'm afraid I'm not one of those people who, when a yellow Lamborghini pulls up next to me at the lights, looks over and thinks: nice work, mate, you've done well, I really admire your success. I think: cock."

Ha ha.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

interesting book meme

No-one ever seems to send me memes, but I've seen this on a few other blogs recently so I thought I'd pinch it and start my own breakout movement.

1. One book that changed my life: Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha, although that's a bit of a misnomer, as it isn't a book I actually finished. Nevertheless, it represents the point when books did change my life, so I think it's a good choice. I was a keen reader as a kid but - maybe my parents will correct me - I don't remember reading much apart from school books between the age of about 12 and 15 or so; I was so obsessively into music and TV comedy that I think my interest waned, or rather I lost the habit of reading daily. Anyway, when I was about 14 or 15 I remember my mother telling me that, if I wanted to do English at university, I should show more interest in reading, and she bought me Paddy Clark Ha Ha, which was on the booker shortlist at the time. I didn't take to it and didn't finish it, but I remember that point as the last time in my life when I wasn't obsessing over books, and things changed very soon afterwards. Indeed, since then I'm pretty sure I've never gone more than three or four days without having a book on the go.

2. One book that I have read more than once: Given that I kind of cheated for my answer above, I'll flag John Steinbeck's Cannery Row as not only the book I have re-read most times, but also the book which really did change my life. I must have read it seven or eight times and the sheer pleasure of it never abates. It was the first time I felt that I was totally transported to another world by a book, and no other book has given me such steady and marvellous enjoyment.

3. One book I would want on a deserted island: It's a terrible cliche, but Middlemarch is the best, biggest, most involving novel I've ever read. It's the most complete reading experience I've come across, so if I only had one book, this would be it.

4. One book that made me laugh: The Jeeves and Wooster books by PG Wodehouse are a constant fall-back for when I'm feeling burned out, low, or just in need of a laugh. They're all wonderful. The funniest book I've ever read is, of course, Catch 22, but everyone says that. Oh, let's go for all of Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole books. Yes, I know I'm not very good at disciplining myself for these 'one book' questions.

5. One book that made me cry: There have been several occasions when a book has made me cry, but generally because something within it resonates with something happening in my life, or I'm just feeling tired and emotional. I'm not sure a book has made me cry with pure, unselfish pathos. But I seem to remember that Carol Shields' Unless was a book which really moved me.

6. One book I wish I'd written: Oh, there are lots. I could say Dickens' Our Mutual Friend for the depth and comedy, or The Satanic Verses for the exhilaration, or Money by Martin Amis for the sheer wicked pleasure of the prose. But I'd probably have most liked to have written Destiny by Tim Parks, because it is written in a style - dense and intense - which I would love to be able to replicate. At the same time, I'd love to write a book as simple and beautiful as Margaret Drabble's A Summer Bird Cage, which is the absolute opposite in terms of style.

7. One book I wish had never been written: Oh, this has to be The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's brilliant. I can see it's brilliant. But I found it very disorientating and troubling and an unerving experience. I wish it had never been written so I wouldn't have to go back to it sometime to try to figure it out. Because I know I'll have to...

8. One book I am currently reading: I'm currently reading From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East by Bernard Lewis.

9. One book I have been meaning to read: I feel ashamed that, despite being a publisher, I've never actually read any of the books I've published cover to cover. There are a couple which I know merit a read, even though I'm not a specialist in the area, but I've never got to them (although I've read lots of bits, obviously). Beyond that, Vic's dad gave me a copy of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America a couple of years back and I'm ashamed to say I've not got round to reading it yet. I will though.

Sorry if that contained many, many more than nine books, but there you go. I'd be interested to see what kind of list Andrew or

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In praise of Charlie Gillett

When I was a student, home from university one week, I sat in my parent's kitchen, eating dinner and talking to my mum and dad, when a song from the radio behind us stopped us all in our tracks; it was the kind of song which you only hear every few years, something dynamic and surprising and new, and though I can't now remember what the song was, I remember how I came to hear it and who was playing it. It was a song played by Charlie Gillett, world music specialist on what was then called GLR and is now BBC London 94.9. I remember particularly because although I missed him saying what the track was, I did notice him reading out an email address towards the end of the show. So I wrote a quick and fairly hopeful email asking if the song could be identified. I suppose I imagined some producer or tea-boy receiving it and digging through the playlists to answer my question.

What I received, very shortly afterwards, was an exquisitely polite and helpful reply from Charlie Gillett himself, expressing - absurdly, really - pleasure that I had enjoyed the show and identifying, and providing information on, the song in question. This struck me then, and now, as a surprising and generous gesture, much more so for this was well before the time when it became the norm for a radio shows to interact with their listeners via email. Although I have lived for much of the time between then and now away from London, and have thus not followed his show closely, I have always had a particularly high opinion of the man, and an opinion which has heightened with each and every encounter of his show. He is, plainly, a true radical, never compromising his passion for music nor resting on his laurels when there is new music to be explored. It is plainly absurd that a DJ of his incredible originality and passion never made the leap to national radio (apart from the World Service), especially as he is a real trail-blazer in his field.

On the other hand, I have a suspicion that his charm might actually be best observed in the spartan surroundings of local radio; unlike other DJs of his calibre, Gillett has always worked alone, producing his shows as well as curating them; he is the only radio presenter I have ever heard who played more records at the wrong speed, or failed to turn the volume up more often, than the famously shambolic John Peel. Somehow it would hard be hard to imagine him in the plush surroundings of radios 2 or 3. Like Peel he trades not on his smooth delivery or consistency, but rather on his insatiable curiosity and enthusiasm. His 'Radio Ping Pong', where he and a weekly guest cheerfully bat records spontaneously back and forth between the two, is a typically vibrant feature. I particularly remember Damon Albarn guesting last year and flumoxing Gillett with a series of increasingly erratic and arcane choices. "Oh, you've got me confused now", he eventually conceded.

Sadly, however, his health has deteriorated in recent months and after a two month absence from BBC London he recently announced that he would be broadcasting his last Saturday show at Womad last weekend, and the show itself, a 2 hour presentation from the Radio 3 stage, was a typically chaotic and rich show, and one that I witnessed from both angles, as I was there at the time and have listened back online, too. Of course it featured some great music - live sets from Titi Robin, Daby Balde and the exhilerating K'naan - and some unexpected silences and moments of confusion. The best moment of the night might have been watching the man singing along to Little Richard as he came out from the news, or just the big grin on his face evident throughout as he sat, centre stage, marvelling at the performances around him. Or the reaction of the crowd, who gave him a heartening reception on his final night.

But I think the best moment was the final, irrepressible performance of K'naan, the Somali-born Canadian rapper who Charlie Gillett pretty much single-handedly brought to the attention of the world-music community. K'naan, an impossibly coherent and dextrous rapper, delivered a four song salvo to close the show and demonstrated real affection for Gillett throughout. The photo below, flecked with rain drops, shows Gillett raising a thumbs up gesture to the young rapper, who ended the show with a heartfelt dedication to the DJ, which was warmly reciprocated by Charlie, who told the crowd how much he enjoyed the set, "What can I say, I'm passing on the baton".

On Charlie's website, amongst many nice tributes, there's a lovely email from K'naan, who writes,

"Dear Charlie

I want you to know that, though I have been absent from your inbox, you have not been absent from my thoughts. I've been wanting to respond to you but have been meaning to find the proper moments. Occasion has beaten the moments to the punch. In the middle of some new inspiration from the Ethiopiques collections, writing some new material through some sample ideas, I wanted to thank you. For introducing me to something very pulling.

I spoke to a friend one evening, who's from the U.K.. and just in remembrance I mentioned that I was sad over your health situation, which I pray gets better, your soul purer for it and your patience endures... after some explanation she uttered the name of it.. which was what you had written on your email... her mother had just gone through it and is better after some time... I really do hope you get better...

I enjoyed my time in your studio... On your site, I read your reflections on that evening... which were filled with continents of compliments... most of which are not in my geographic comprehension... though i am a dreamer enough to appreciate them..

thank you again.


Yeah, thanks Charlie. Thank god we can still hear you on your (thankfully less demanding) World Service show. Which is here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

your regular Albarn update

Fittingly, with Womad just passed (of which more later), a few details are dribbling through of the latest Damon Albarn project; it's nothing much that we don't already know, but it's just enough to start me getting really excited. Details, for those who have lost track of the man's many projects, are as follows:

Albarn has teamed up with Simon Tong, who has played guitar with Blur and Gorillaz (and before that, The Verve, although I don't see why we should hold that against him) and a couple of musicians of a rather more special nature, to record an album of London-themed songs, provisionally titled The Good, The Bad and the Queen. The other musicians are pretty much as good as it gets in their chosen fields: with Joe Strummer sadly departed and Mick Jones reduced to working with Babyshambles, Paul Simonen, who was always the coolest member of The Clash anyway, surely represents - with the possible exception of Jah Wobble or Don Letts - the pinnacle of punk-reggae cool, and Tony Allen - one-time drummer with the magnificent Fela Kuti - is not only the best drummer in Afrobeat but the best in Africa. And in the, er, world, actually. Combine that with the (unconfirmed) presence of Danger Mouse, who is of course a Gorillaz-collaborator and one half of Gnarls Barkley, on production duties and you have what sounds like a helluva band.

According to Mojo, the music demonstrates"a more song-based sensibility than the confluence of Allen and the notoriously Afrocentric Albarn might suggest, with flashes of soul, soundtrack, '60s pop and even Robert Wyatt bleeding through (if pushed, we'd describe it as a song cycle that's also a mystery play about London)."

It sounds ace, in fact. Apparently the band will be playing the Camden Roundhouse in October as part of the BBC's Electric Proms season. Try and stop me.