Wednesday, September 27, 2006


An interesting post about Borat and Kazakhstan over at the Guardian newsblog today: the second link below will take you there...

"In an effort to set the record straight and establish whether the central Asian republic really is that bad, Guardian Unlimited conducted a trawl of recent news stories on the country. And it turns out it isn't that bad: it's much, much worse."

the long farewell

Two thoughts occur simultaneously when looking back on Blair's valedictory speech yesterday. The first is the foremost, "thank god he'll be gone soon". For all the blokey asides, the rhetorical skill and the fair domestic progress, the utterly misguided, blinkered Tony Blair remains terribly evident the second he gets on to international affairs. He blindly stated again - against all conventional wisdom - that there is no connection between terrorism and foreign policy. He insisted that he would dedicate the rest of his time in power to pursuing a peace agreement in the Middle East, without seeming to grasp how irretrievably his stock has fallen in that part of the world. I seem to recall Blair promising a peace agreement in 2002. Seeing as he didn't succeed then, when his policy of bombing the shit out of foreign countries was still in its infancy, I find it rather hard to imagine that he'll manage it now. Still, perhaps he'll prove me wrong.

In the US, meanwhile, a leaked intelligence report indicates that:

"The Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere,"

"The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide."

Well, duh.

The second thought arising from the Blair speech, sadly, is "oh, you could have been good". No-one is more comfortable or natural in the political arena as Tony Blair; next to him Gordon Brown's speech seemed flat and lacking in energy. That's not to say that I don't think that Brown would make a decent prime minister - merely that when you see Blair at his best it is a dismal reminder that Labour may never encounter elect another leader possessed of so much consummate skill. What a shame that his talents were obscured by his flaws.

Thank God he'll be gone soon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Osama Bin Laden reported dead?

Hmm - just seen this. I wonder...

Saudi intelligence services have determined that terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden died of typhoid in August, the French regional daily L’Est Republicain reported on its website on Saturday.

The newspaper said it based its information on a document classified ‘defence secret’ originating in the French DGSE intelligence services. According to the story, the DGSE informed President Jacques Chirac of the Saudi report on Thursday.

The DGSE document, printed with the report, reads in part, ‘According to a usually reliable source, the Saudi intelligence services are said to have acquired the information that Osama bin Laden is dead. The information gleaned by the Saudis indicates that the head of Al Qaeda was a victim of a very strong attack of thyphoid... in Pakistan on August 23, 2006.’

The document goes on to say that bin Laden’s geographical isolation rendered all medical assistance impossible.

Friday, September 22, 2006

horrendous accidents at great speed

This is an extraordinary story with a tragic twist; but the sheer impressiveness of the endeavour, which (I'm a luddite) I knew nothing about means I'm more excited by the idea than saddened. Apparently a test-run of a new type of train has gone badly wrong in northern Germany and up to 29 people have been seriously injured - so far ten have been rescued alive but it is thought that eighteen others, along with the one confirmed fatality, will be pronounced dead. Awful.

And yet the train itself is utterly fascinating. Am I alone to have never heard of high-speed magnetic levitation trains? According to the Guardian they are being trialled in Germany and Japan and one is already in operation in Shanghai. The mind-bending principle is that "There is no fuel source on board mag-levs. They use electrically charged magnets to cause the trains to hover just above the track, and move forward without friction", which is pretty fucking sci-fi, don't you think? The train in question was travelling at a speed of around 120 miles per hour but mag-levs in development in Japan can reach a terrifying 310 mph, a speed which would make travelling from Paris to Rome in two hours by rail possible. Astonishing. To put it in perspective, a Boeing 777 travels at a top speed of 562 mph.

Really incredible, although today's disaster is tragic and hopefully not an omen of more safety problems to follow. It seems that the derailment occurred not because of a problem with the magnetic levitation but because of a simpler and more avoidable factor - a maintenence wagon had not been cleared out of its path. God. After the awful news about Richard Hammond, I'm hoping this is the last story about horrendous accidents at great speed we hear about for a while.

But I look forward to the trains, one day.

nicky wire, gordon brown

Are you ready for Gordon? The Guardian has a quiz to determine how well prepared we are for a short period of dour Scottish rule. I am ready, I scored 7 out of 9.

See how you do.

Nicky Wire is ready too. Has anyone heard his new record yet? I haven't. What's it like?

Nick Wire once wrote a chorus that always stayed in my head: "I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer / I spat out Plath and Pinter / I am all the things that you regret / A truth that washes that learnt how to spell". Now he is writing diary articles for The New Statesman; the one in today's is predictably entertaining.

My mind starts wandering, asking myself: "Why is Charles Clarke so utterly weird?" He calls Gordon Brown a control freak. Of course he is: more than any other politician, the Chancellor needs to make enemies and piss people off. If he listens too much, then he fails (remember when Nigel Lawson started listening to Margaret Thatcher?), yet, more bizarrely, the criticism comes from a man whose "control" seemed to disappear when pimps, murderers and rapists roamed Britain on his watch. In modern history, he was the most inept home secretary we have known, yet he is worried about a man who works 18 hours a day, whose didactic knowledge and dedication are unsurpassed.

We need a forensic, analytical, dour workaholic like Gordon to save us from this tyranny or, God help us, the king of smarm Alan Milburn will make another comeback. Gordon's a hyperrealist: he may seem prosaic, but his results are colossal. He separates his religion from his intellect. His economics are almost agnostic.


I start to dream of a cabinet to serve Gordon Brown. Diane Abbott, Martin Amis, Will Self, Damon Albarn, myself, Harold Pinter, Victoria Wood, Mark E Smith, Shami Chakrabarti, Charles Kennedy, Dennis Skinner and Michael Portillo. We could privatise the royal family; abolish all subsidies to the Royal Opera; invent a supertax for Premiership footballers . . . Then my life slows down again. Someone is asking me about the next Manics album and about my love of domestic chores. Maybe I could just be Gordon Brown's cleaner - it's a position of influence and importance, after all. We need more control freaks. As Voltaire said: "The true character of liberty is independence - maintained by force."


The week has disappeared. At last it's raining. The comfort of bad weather shrouds me. I realise it will be a long, hard year of Blair. It could have been so different, but history will always have a witness. Clarke will fade even quicker than Geoffrey Howe's execution speech.

My dreams falter and hibernate - it's a long, hard evolution but I am patient. Twenty years in the music business have taught me that inertia and boredom are sometimes healthy. We're all searching for meaning, but as Kafka wrote: "The meaning of life is that it stops."
It's a real shame that I never actually liked the Manic Street Preachers that much.

more lookalikes

Okay, apologies to distant readers of this blog who don't know or care what my friends look like - but yesterday's lookalikes post proved a hit so I have been persuaded to waste a little more time holding up my chums to ridicule. So here's a new batch of dastardly characters. First up, Michi, whose facial furniture may, I suspect, have something to do with comparisons to... well, see for yourself:
Nice one Michi! Elvis Costello. That's set the bar for the coolest lookalike.

Registering perhaps the bizarrest set of results so far is Andrew, who manages to accrue comparisons to Bill Gates, Keira Knightly, Jay Leno and Winston Churchill. He seems to have a bit of a 1920s thing going on there, too:
And, before we get to the last two glamourous ladies of the exercise, here is Dustin, the man they call the Al Gore of Brighton. With extra charisma!
Ali, meanwhile, despite confounding expectations by turning up to the comparisons party with a holiday snap, making her look both healthier and happier than any of the rest of the us, manages a swoonsome list of stunnas matched only by our last entrant...
Ladies and gentlemen, the beautiful Sam:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

lookalikes via nat

Unspeakably amused by Natalia's blog today, which contains face recognition charts of herself and Keiran - in other words they've uploaded photos of themselves to, which has scanned them and found celebrity faces which tally with their (rather fetching) features. Some of the faces found really aren't bad - the one immediately top right to Nat is a very good likeness, for example. Naturally, this makes me want to play the game myself, and I thought it'd be more fun if I abused my friends' trust and played around with their faces too. So, because I'm fair, here's me first...

Michael Douglas!!! What? Obviously the paleometer has notched up the Doherty comparison, too. Hmm. Let's have a go with Dan:
Sorry Dan. We've all been too polite to point out the Fred Durst similarity all these years. Now for Vic, who, annoyingly, does OK out of the deal.
Not quite sure how she ended up with the fella, though. Nor, while we're on the subject, am I sure why Dave has accrued the following, ahem, rather striking comparisons:
Condoleeza Rice! Jesus. All the other girls are a pretty good match, though.

Another lunch break used to its maximum potential there, I think.

pope on the run

I've used my blog on several occasions to argue that there is an absurd militant islamophobia on the rise in liberal circles and the West generally, but the following quote, by the Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, is just too good to ignore...

"Anyone who describes Islam as a religion as intolerant encourages violence".

Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

stay off the smack

"Most parents are cretins who support physical violence against minors, according to a survey.

The figure was higher among adults without their own families, 80% of whom are big fans of hitting children.

But, among parents, the proportion who support aggression against people completely unable to defend themselves, much less understand, fell to 67%, the poll for ITV showed.

The survey was conducted ahead of a new ITV1 documentary, I Smack And I'm A Fucking Idiot, which follows five families who smack to discipline their children."

More info here.

Next week: shock new survey reveals that Jonathan 100% agrees that punching adults in the face should they hit their own children is entirely acceptable. Can we legislate?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dan on the folk explosion!

About five years ago we were in the midst of what was rather grandly known at the time as 'The New Acoustic Movement', which, looking back, I'm sure was record-company-spin to help sell the batch of quiet rock groups emerging at the time. These included Turin Breaks who had hit it big with their The Optimist LP and Kings of Convenience who Simon and Garfunkel'd their way to success. There was also the annoyingly-feeble Tom MacRae and David Gray wobbled his head a bit. All mildly satisfying, I suppose, but I do remember getting annoyed that my Mum knew a Kings of Convenience song I was listening to because it was Terry Wogan's record of the week. The NME, as it tends to with a different genre every week, hailed this new sound and devoted pages of one issue to it. Sales of acoustic guitars apparently went through the roof.

I'm not certain if that 'movement', or those guitars, formed the basis of the plethora of Folk that exists at the moment. My suspicion is that it didn't really play a part. Certainly some artists being recognised now have been making music for some time. Electro folk outfit Tunng and Scots balladeer King Creosote spring to mind. Yet plenty of others have sprung forth and forged a much more plausible sense of a 'scene'. It really does seem to exist.

Folk seems omnipresent and credible right now, and I for one am pleased. iTunes tells me that Sufjan Stevens - of whom I can’t seem to tire - is 'Folk'. From the US, Sam Beam aka Iron & Wine, Bright Eyes and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy have been exploring Folk music for a while but I never really explicitly thought of them as Folk. More longstanding contributions have come from artists such as Laura Cantrell and Animal Collective, and folky albums like Neutral Milk Hotel's supremely odd In the Aeroplane Over The Sea, largely written off in the 90s as a minor piece of indie rock whimsy, have been deservedly reappraised.

On Monday night I caught on BBC2 a programme called Folk Britannia, which I think was originally shown on BBC4. It explored the re-emergence of Folk during the 1960s and its take up by the Hippy movement. It reminded me that of course Dylan was essentially a folk musician who turned his talent to protest song and then 'went electric'. Many of the famous American musicians at the time came to Britain to immerse themselves in the pubs and clubs of Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, where distinctive folk scenes had formed.

Paul Simon's famous rendition of Scarborough Fair was the result of one of these trips. The programme charted the emergence of the Incredible String Band and Fairport Convention amongst others and documented the stir caused when they plugged their instruments into amps and went psychadelic. It showed me the roots of an important part of British music I had always overlooked.

I was, in my sleepy state, trying to make mental notes of apparently seminal album releases or compilations but can now only remember Unhalfbricking by Fairport Convention, which I already own and love, and which is perhaps the only album I can listen to with my Mum which we can both enjoy.

Re-releases of 'lost' recordings have also played their part to a resurgence of folk, as well as several very good recent compilations. These include Vashti Bunyan's 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day aided by endorsement from Davendra Banhart and also by the use of its title track on a T-Mobile mobile phone ad and Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms another 1970s re-release. This has led, I suspect, to much retrospective CD and vinyl buying. The ongoing allure of the 1970s film 'The Wicker Man', with its by turns charming and sinister folk soundtrack, has also played a part.

Perhaps this resurgence is just down to the mood or the style at the moment. Perhaps it's a reaction against manufactured music and endless stylised guitar bands called 'The...'. Maybe people are after what they perceive is a non-corporate back to basics approach to music that in some ways keeps it real. I don't know, but I do know that I like this 'New Folk' and psychedelia and am clearly not alone...

[blogging by Dan]

Monday, September 18, 2006

libs in brighton

I like Ming Campbell, despite his faltering start as leader of the Liberal Democrats (who have invaded my town en-masse this week); but I still laughed at Steve Bell's If... today. Very good, and as much sweet as savage.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

clare short

Thank you Clare Short, for going some way to articulating the anger I feel with the government and the New Labour project. The last week or so has been interesting, as I've been monitoring my feelings after learning that Blair will at last be standing down relatively soon and that, unless something drastic happens, the man I've been wanting to be Labour leader for the last nine years will almost certainly finally achieve that aim. And yet I feel just as disgusted and furious with this government as ever, just as reluctant to rejoin the party and just as determined never to vote for them again.

I don't agree with every word in Clare Short's Independent article - in which she announces her resignation from the Labour party - but she is right to say that New Labour's policies have "dishonoured the UK, undermined the UN and international law and helped to make the world a more dangerous place". I never understood the criticism over her delayed resignation over Iraq, and I'm sure that she'll be subjected to much more criticism over this desicion, particularly if she chooses to join another party or stands as an independent candidate. Like most politicians, she is fallible and has made poor decisions in the past, but she is essentially, principled and dedicated to her constituents, and I hope that she is able to continue to represent them. If there were more like her we wouldn't be in this bloody mess.

new songs by Assistant

My band, Assistant, have recently finished recording a bunch of new songs - which we're probably going to put toward an album presently - and Ali, who produced the songs, has recently passed me the mixed up versions. Am very proud of the results as I think they're amongst the best things we've done. So there's a little preview here: click the links below to download the following three songs...

1. Criticism
2. Get Away
3. Engines and Anvils

There are six other tracks too, all of which I'll post before long. Any comments, thoughts, criticism much appreciated.... If you can't download and want the songs on a CD then drop me an email or leave a comment and I shall post you one and some other Assistant goodies...

In the meantime, you might want to take note of the fact that the always ace blog has a full Wowee Zowee-era Pavement set up and available to download. It's stunning, as you'd expect (hat tip). And Bradley's Almanac had a couple of live tracks from the reformed Throwing Muses a week or two back, while I'm recommending stuff.

Oh, and finally some good news to counterbalance Sleater-Kinney splitting up. It seems that the Afghan Whigs are back in the studio. Thank you, God, I knew you hadn't given up on indie rock altogether...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

too little, too little

I'm no fan of Tony Blair, and quietly hopeful that Gordon Brown will be a more principled, progressive and patient Prime Minister, but events over the last few days don't really give me any satisfaction; it just seems patently absurd that we are witnessing the fallout of a twelve year feud which could surely have been avoided. Neither man emerges with much credit - Blair has been utterly discredited by his illegal actions abroad, and has there been a more mysterious politician than Gordon Brown? Not that I can recall; his conduct over the last five or six years has been astonishing, refraining in almost every instance to make his views heard on any major issue beside Europe and the economy. And yet his discomfort with his position and impatience to take the premiership has been palpable.

Looking back, it seems remarkable that Tony Blair has consented to so much clear disloyalty from Brown, and surely the great mistake was Blair's in not sacking him earlier. Equally, Blair's dogmatic refusal to share centre stage with the co-creater of the New Labour project has seemed at times an act of nothing more than hubris. How astonishing it is to note that the split between the Blair and Brown camps is fuelled by personal emnity rather than an ideological divide. How on earth have two such intelligent men not been able to resurrect a working relationship? And if that was impossible, how absurd that they have been tied together so completely. The whole relationship beggars belief. Worst of all is that (former) Labour party members by myself have had to watch the progress of our (former) party being utterly upstaged by the dynastic ambitions of two men.

Where do we go from here? The party is broadly united in its values with respect to domestic policies, with only market-based issues driving a real wedge, and should be able to articulate progressive ideas positively. We should be able to think beyond the Blair/Brown equation when thinking about alternative leaders, but even there we find it hard to think beyond the rivalry. No compelling alternatives present themselves, and it is hard not to wonder if one of the reasons for this is that the PM and Chancellor have so dominated the party as to block the progress of more youthful (or conversely, experienced) colleagues. There are plenty of interesting Labour MPs but they do not have the gravity of the likes of Robin Cook, Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Margaret Beckett and Peter Hain. Given the quality and experience of the politicians elected to power in '97 it's impossible not to include, looking back, that the Labour Party spent far too much time fetishising Blair. His contribution to that Labour victory was incalculable, but we had a whole range of experience from which to draw in that first term, and we/they didn't do enough to use that experience wisely. We did too little, too little, too little.

So, no conclusion. I dunno. I want to go back to voting Labour but I don't know if I can do it. I want Brown to be the leader but I don't like the way he's going about doing it. I feel enormously frustrated with Blair and it's getting worse by the day. I want to squash David Miliband. I want Robin Cook back. I want to turn back time. Oh well.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

here we are again

Just flicking through my flickr account and found this photo I took at Pride a month or so ago; I like it lots. That is all.

souls via nat and fay weldon

There's a nice little post over at Nat's blog which jumps and shudders tunefully along with my thoughts recently. She writes:

"If I had taken a photo of my soul monthly for the last year, I would have seen it grow. But why the last year? 28 going on 29 seems a bit late for a sudden burst of growth. Where did it come from? And is it only me? I feel that everyone close to me is going through it as I go. Growing together."

This last year has seen unfathomable acres of change, alongside lots of staying the same. I probably like Nat's post so much because she is talking about her friends and I am one of them, but also because I think she's right about the growth of what she calls the soul, and the fits and bursts of it's, or rather one's, development. Recently I seem to have spent a lot of time with friends who are bustling through life and it's associated glitches and disappointments with a kind of courage and vigour which makes me feel proud of them and comforted and hopeful that I'm capable of the same; lots of things fizz and change and all we do is persist and grow little by little.

Maybe there is such a thing as a soul. People are so singular and brimming with personality; I think of the spirited drive of a friend's personality and spirit feels like the right word, a word which transcends logical or scientific formulas. Fay Weldon's new book contains an incredibly surprising sentence on the subject: "The soul is the essential part of us, the inner recognisable core which stays the same while the body which ties us down changes". I see for a moment the soul or the essence as a balloon which can thankfully not slip from our grasp and our heavy bodies. Of course, Fay Weldon, despite "getting" god, thrives as a contrarian, and I do not think that the soul exists. But I would like a photograph of it anyway, to fix where I am now so that I remember, later.

Or else I shall have to ask my friends, who will know.

son of peel / lindsay west

I've just finished listening to the first of the two podcasts which Tom Ravenscroft - John Peel's son - has completed for 4Radio, the new podcast radio station from Channel 4. Far from being a novelty item, I was tremendously impressed with the 30 minute show, which draws tracks exclusively from Channel 4's Slash Music service, meaning that all of the artists are either unsigned or operating outside of the conventional music industry. Tom's debut as a DJ - he has worked previously as a music journalist - might very well have been one of two things; a naked attempt to follow in his father's footsteps (which I've contrived to make sound rather offensive, where in fact he has every right to that ambition if he holds it) or an unfortunate reminder of just how good Peel was, as - inevitably - his son is unable to match his astoundingly high standards.

But the show never feels contrived or driven by the market, and the fact that Tom's delivery, like his father's, is even, genial and enthusiastic suggests that had he chosen to take his show to Radio 1 he would surely have been given a warm welcome. There's no replacing Peel, but, just as the loss of Charlie Gillett from BBC London Live creates a huge chap which can never be totally filled, we do need an eclectic, accessible music programme which does at least some of the things which Peel did so well. To this end, Ravenscroft's debut presses all the right buttons; he's calm, likeable and doesn't talk over the records, and in thirty minutes he plays indie rock, tech-house, dub reggae, some odd, gleeful glitchy indie which might have been my first exposure to 'new rave' and a particularly beautiful bit of folk music by Lyndsay West which featured the lyrics:

"Day began getting dimmer
And we began to talk
about getting dinner.

We talked about how clothes
were getting thinner and thinner
on the people that were passing in the lamplight's glimmer.

Oh-o, we held our coats closer.
We held our coats closer."

She's great, and so's Tom's show; both come highly recommended. You can tune in here.