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]