Friday, June 29, 2007

an impressive shuffle

Early thoughts on the cabinet reshuffle - I'm wary of seeming too enthusiastic at this point as I know we've been disappointed before, but:

- I think it looks great. A proper, careful reconstruction of the cabinet along serious, sensible lines, and some great appointments.
- Delighted with Miliband at the FO, as he's not implicated in prior foreign policy decisions and appears to have a thoughtful, practical approach and a real interest in what he describes as patient diplomacy. A good position in which to establish himself, and much better than Beckett. I would have liked to have seen Straw back in a way, but he has too much previous, I think, and Miliband is certainly a better bet than Benn, who I feared might get this.
- Jacqui Smith as Home Secretary is a welcome bolt from the blue. Hopefully she'll be an antidote to the macho posturing we've had from the likes of Blunkett and Reid. Again, I would have liked Straw (because of his opposition to ID cards) but I'm more than happy with this. I think a lot depends on how the likes of the Daily Mail treat her, as they're usually unbearable to Labour women, but her time as Chief Whip suggests she's got the necessary toughness to see them off.
- I'm not a great fan of Hilary Benn, but I suspect he'll do a good job at Environment.
- Great appointments at International Development (Douglas Alexander) and, particularly, at the post of Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN. Mark Malloch Brown is an independent thinker and a sign too that Gordon Brown is thinking big. Excellent. Good to see John Denham, a man of principles, back too.
- Happy that Des Browne has kept his job at Defence, too - he was heavily criticised over the Iran Hostage crisis but I thought he handled himself well and did a good job of making sure that crisis didn't escalate.
- I'm not an Alan Johnson fan, particularly, but I think he'll do well with health. I'm a little concerned by Ruth Kelly at transport, just because she's never much impressed me. I thought Peter Hain was unluckly to lose Northern Ireland, but I'm glad he was promoted. I'm bewildered to see Hazel Blears as community secretary, I have to say.
- I'm a big fan of Ed Balls and Ed Miliband so delighted to see them at Cabinet Office secretary and Children, Schools and Families respectively.
- Likewise Yvette Cooper, who was excellent on Question Time last night, will make a fine housing minister, although I wanted Cruddas to get this. He's been unlucky not to get a cabinet job, although I wonder at the rumours that he may have turned one down. Perhaps he fancies himself as a new backbench leader of the left?

Anyway, I particularly liked the lack of sparkle, ceremony or show. I've hardly seen Brown since he became PM. What a refreshing change. I almost feel like a proper Labour voter again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

walking sticks

On the train this morning I had to begrudgingly move my bag to allow an old man to sit next to me; he was very old and slow, taking a minute or two to lever himself down into the seat. Should I tell him that I'm getting off at the next stop, I wondered, meaning that he will have to do this complex manouvre again almost as soon as he is settled? He finally sat back in his seat, exhausted. I glanced down at his walking stick and saw something which induced a stab of sadness or sympathy, or just melancholy. His stick was labelled with a small printed out sticker, containing his name and address. At the top of the sticker it said 'Mr and Mrs Dawson'.

Except that the man had crossed out the part of the label which said 'and Mrs'.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Sam went travelling on Saturday. And just as by far my most intensive and enjoyable writing experience of recent months was the burst of enthusiastic blogging I did in San Francisco, Sam is clearly relishing the chance to blog about the excitement of his journey. His latest post, from Vienna, is not just fascinating but actually exciting. As much as one can encounter all sorts of exciting things in one's home town, there's something altogether different about new experiences abroad - I think perhaps it's because you concentrate more, or maybe just because you're no longer in your comfort zone. Anyway, I'm getting quite excited about following Sam's travels via his blog, because if nothing else I enjoy feeling all safe while he runs into trouble with the Austrian police.

"As the first policeman bent over to examine the case more closely, I noticed the barrel of a handgun poking out from underneath his jacket, the sight of which sent an irrational shiver down me, so utterly foreign are such things to us cosseted British. I felt that the police were being a little pedantic, and was waiting for them to move on to the next carriage, when the policeman produced from the Albanian´s bag a two large metallic slabs, one the size of a paperback book, the other smaller and squarer, wrapped in some sort of tightly fitting fabric. The policeman barked something like "Magnetten?", and the Albanian, angrily grabbed for them, clearly keen that the two pieces be kept apart. The my imagination quickly darted to the cold-war thriller scenario of smuggled plutonium, kept in pieces that must be kept apart to avoid a critical reaction."

Sunday, June 24, 2007

good news

Excellent news for those of us toying coquetishly with the prospect of returning to the Labour fold - Harriet Harman was today elected Deputy Leader of the party. I'm really pleased, even though my two other preferences, Cruddas and Hain, finished only third and fifth respectively. Still - a great day for Labour. Wouldn't it be nice if that became a bit of a habit?

Friday, June 22, 2007

more on indie music

What on earth happened to mainstream indie music in the late 1990s? Just looking at the tracklisting for a four CD compilation on Rhino Records which seeks to define the more commercial end of British indie rock between 1984 and 1998, and it makes for startling reading.

Starting with disc one you've got 20 songs from '84 to '90, of which only 3 or so are not great tracks - and the best stuff is astonishing (Smiths, Felt, JAMC, Happy Mondays). Disc two addresses the time period from 1991 to 1993, which, considering it was only two years as opposed to six, manages an enviable hit-rate - still ten or so great bands and a few middling bands which were nonetheless still OK - great, ambitious or plain beautiful pop from My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Teenage Fanclub, and decent, serviceable fare by the likes of Pale Saints, The Family Cat and the Manics.

Disc three covers the descent into Britpop and things are getting a bit less interesting, but the inclusion of stuff by the likes of Blur, Suede, St Etienne, Stereolab and Pulp ensures the quality control doesn't dip too far. Disc four, however, from '96 onwards, is just excerable! Awful sub-britpop rubbish by the likes of Marion, Dodgy, Kula Shaker and Catatonia, ponderous dad-rock shite from The Verve and Ocean Colour Scene. The inclusion of Gay Dad! Silver Sun! Aaargh.

It's funny because at this point I'd just gone to university and had probably the two or three years of my post adolescent life when music has meant the least to me. I always think that's because other things like books and art and socialising became more important, but I wonder if it wasn't just because the music was so bloody bad at that point. Terrifying stuff.

How much better, I wonder, would a compilation of the 2000s be? Hmm.

Anyway, the ommissions - why no Wedding Present, James, Fall, Blue Aeroplanes, House of Love, Heavenly, Slowdive etc? Eh? Bah.

Fine, I'll make my own compilation. Some time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

random thoughts on grunge

"You don't ever have to be ashamed of liking crap like the Verve or the Doors. If something touches you, it touches you. It doesn't matter how facile or ordinary or manufactured it is".

As I've mentioned here before, when I was a teenager I was absolutely obsessed with the writing of a clutch of Melody Maker journalists, of which Everett True was the doyen and prime mover - a hilarious chancer with a great poetic style, ET's writings were self-obsessed, furious and apology free. Better still, he had no truck with cliche and his taste was good. Only his obsession with Courtney Love grated. Unlike his colleagues Simon Price, Neil Kulkarni and Taylor Parkes, he avoided overt intellectualisation, trading on instinct and authenticity, and was always good fun.

Siobhán leant me True's book, 'Live Through This', which I was reading with nostalgic joy on the train this morning. It's a potted history of American rock in the early nineties, and hilariously opinionated. True's hatred of Billy Corgan has certainly not diminished over the years. I find books on music hard to read sequentially as the index always leads me excitedly to the bands that mean the most to me. I guess that's an interesting way of looking back and examining your prejudices and allegiances. First port of call was to the section covering Pavement, then the Lemonheads, then Dinosaur/Sebadoh, then Huggy Bear. As you might expect the Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam do very badly out of the deal. I was pleased to see that True pins Evan Dando successfully as one of the great singers and writers of the day, far more complex, intelligent and talented than the crude stereotype we've become familiar with. Anyway, here's a few choice quotes from a quick browse, and some random thoughts - excuse the lack of focus:

On the Lemonheads: "The singer Evan most resembles is the Flying Burrito Brothers' doomed Gram Parsons and his tormented, mid seventies country soul. He has the same love for tradition, and same knack of stepping slightly to the shadows when writing about subjects. Evan enjoys writing about special inanimate objects, such as 'Favourite T' (shirt) or 'Stove' - a song inspired by a routine call from the gas engineer. Evan is even better than Gram, though, because his songs are of my time. They have an extra resonance for my generation. It always matters, the context in which you hear pop music".

Reading this on the train I slip on my ipod and flick through to 'Stove'. It's a genius song, but the kick for me is not that cute 'I miss my stove / she's all alone' hook but the contemplative pay-off, where he throws off a tender 'I feel sad, I guess'. No more and no less.

On Huggy Bear: "A brief explosion in time, a distorted mess of vibrato, crackling and noise that we used to call 'music' for want of a better word".

When I first heard Huggy Bear it felt like they had picked up everything I knew about pop music and punk rock and crashed it down on the floor - all the constituent parts remained, mostly unharmed, but laid out in some new arrangement, unlinear and chaotic. So I think his description is good. True's section about Huggy Bear, however, mostly consists of talking about the fact that Jo and Jon were his flatmates, which seems a bit of a waste.

On Sebadoh: "When I first saw the 'Doh play, in their hometown of Boston, '92, they stopped me dead in my tracks and caused me to shed tears. With a few chords and words, they made me question the purpose of live music. My existence felt like a sham, a charade, a bogus rigmarole of drink and chat and the odd knowing wink".

I loved the dichotomy between Sebadoh and Pavement's live performances; both were scruffy and unrehearsed, both nerdish and charming in their way. But Pavement were actually charming, and charmed you direct from the stage. Sebadoh were like detuned magnets on stage together, making me think of a Circus Lupus lyric, "bodies [...] bound to repulse especially when misaligned". True talks of Sebadoh as the band that best channelled the spirit of Nirvana after Kurt's death. I'm not sure about that. Conversely, in the Guardian last week Wayne Coyne asked of Nirvana, "Who is this band that sounds just like Nickelback? What are these drug addicts going on about?".

They did change everything though, Nirvana, for me anyway. They were the window through which I learned how to appreciate a whole host of unfamiliar concepts and my introduction to a secret language. Everett True's writing helped me to understand, or to feel that I understood, so I guess he must know what he's talking about. He says this:

We had talked about changing things with Nirvana. What would we have replaced the old order with, though? We wanted something better. What did that mean? We wanted something less macho, more female-led, more sensitive and spontaneous and fun and exciting. Jad Fair and Courtney Love and Kim Deal, Kathleen Hanna, Daniel Johnston and Dan Treacy. We wanted our friends, our peers, our dreams and our heroes in positions of authority; is that such a crime? We wanted a place where bullies and braggarts didn't automatically rule. We wanted a place where women aren't automatically second class citizens because they - we - are already part of us. A place where commercial radio counted for shit. A place where no managerial types could make hypocritical speeches about maintaining freedom of speech within the press while simultaneously repressing the press' right to same through use of a few well-placed lawsuits and threats.

What did we want: Not much, just Nirvana.
This is bullshit, isn't it? The paragraph above. But this is the way the indie rock community used to think (and perhaps still does). It certainly is the way I used to think (and perhaps still do). So again, Everett True voices it right, and takes me back to the early nineties. Odd.

Sorry if this doesn't make much sense.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

completely lashed

I only write about television occasionally, but when I do I'm often quite happy with what I turn up - I think it's because I enjoy putting new narrative twists on stuff that I've seen. One post which I'm glad I wrote was my review of DBC Pierre's awesome 'The Last Aztec' which was on More4 last year. The show was a gloriously haphazard cross between a history programme, a travelogue and a personal journey, with the famously unstable novelist drinking his way across Mexico, and the only thing I regret was that most people who read my post about it hadn't actually seen the show.

So anyway, I'm perhaps remembering my post with an excessively rosy tint, but I note that the programme is finally getting a terrestrial TV airing on C4 tonight. It's on at 8 and while it starts slowly, it develops into a gloriously odd gonzo adventure and is an excellent excuse not to go out tonight.

My original post is here - excerpt below.

Pierre is intent on mourning the collapse of the civilisation which inspires him so. "There's only one way to get over the decline and collapse of an empire", he tells us sourly, sitting in a seedy bar. "And that's to get completely lashed ". He throws back a tequila, shaking his head, looking around. "I can't say it feels any better". So he has another.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2007

during sunset

I've been getting my flickr account up to date in the last couple of days, seeing as I'd let updating it slip; and found a couple of rather beautiful sunset pictures which I thought I'd share - these were taken from the window of Dave's flat last autumn. Pretty amazing, although we can't really take the credit for the colour of the sky!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Sometimes I feel like I only notice a forward momentum in life through the finding and losing of friends. These movements are the landmarks that are important, and when I look back at the last few years they are things that matter; relationships dissolved or renewed, opportunities found or lost. Sometimes people edge out of view for long periods of time, absences dictated by circumstance or preference. People stand just out of sight. How close are they? Will I turn a corner and encounter them or have they raced faraway? How strong are the threads between us?

Sometimes I really jolt with the feeling of missing people – I miss my cousins, who I don’t see enough. I miss my bandmates Andy and Ali, who I see irregularly and yet with such great enthusiasm when I do that it makes a mockery of how infrequently I talk to them. I miss Pete and I miss the fact that Pete had Sandra and doesn’t any more. I miss Natalia, who is wonderful but is abroad and suddenly out of touch. My friend Sam will shortly head off travelling – I won’t see him for seven months. And Dustin is going further, moving right across the Atlantic. I hardy ever see Michi or Eleanor, and am so bad at staying in touch.

At the same time I make new friends and it makes me either dizzy with excitement or soothed. I like the slowly shifting patterns of friendships, the way that without deliberation Dave has became one of my closest confidants, the way that Ant has become the person me and Andrew walk home with after the quiz, or the first person I discuss recording songs with, or the mystical power of vinyl. Or how a chance encounter with someone whose blog I read suddenly leads to the exchanging of mixtapes and long conversations which I replay enthusiastically in my head afterwards, refreshing my email hoping for a new message.

When you look back at the key moments in life, the arrival or departure of other people in your life is far more important than anything else. The most important things that happened to me in my twenties were, in order, meeting Vic, meeting the friends with whom I formed a band, meeting Sam, meeting Dan, meeting Nat, meeting Dave, breaking up with Vic, staying friends with Vic. All other considerations – jobs, money, health, even creative achievements – really pale into insignificance.

I think I should make a resolution to not let the people who will be leaving my life in the next few years do so permanently.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Let's just laugh

Nice quote from Robyn Hitchcock - I think this is really good.

"Laughter is the dateline you cross when life becomes unbearable".

party crashers

I really enjoyed Laura's birthday party last night. I wonder if that's typical or an anomoly. Do I actually enjoy parties? I'm not sure.

I was telling Dave the other day that I was quite a canny kid. Every child looks forward to birthday parties, of course, because they provide solid-gold opportunities to get psychotic on fizzy drinks and icing sugar. When I was about five or six I talked my parents into the idea that I should have two birthday parties rather than one - one to which I would invite only boys and one where I'd only invite girls. Rather amazingly, they fell for this and my coke and sugar intake took a double recharge. Ha ha.

I've only ever given one party myself - it was at University. Five of us lived in a nice big place off Elm Grove in Brighton and we threw a very successful house party with all the cliches - odd coloured light bulbs, a huge stack of beer bottles staying cold on the damp grass of our garden, and uninivited guests crashing the party. My friend Daz fell asleep an hour in and spent the whole evening, night and morning curled up in the corner of the living room. At one point Chris went up to his bedroom and was refused access by the occupants, who, it turned out, were all eleven members of the University football team - none of whom we knew. It was fun, and didn't adhere too strongly to the principle that giving a party is much much more stressful than attending one.

Generally, though, that's what stops me organising this sort of thing - worrying about how many would attend, is everyone having fun, what's the breakages situation, things like that. Attending is far easier and one can even enact a modest amount of accidental destruction without being spotted. Except the question remains, do I actually enjoy parties?

Yeah, I normally do, but rarely as much as I feel I should. There's something lovely about collecting together all one's friends, occupying the same space and being able to meet a bunch of new people, too - but at the same time I'm always slightly wearied by the concept. I guess the time will come in my life when parties reach a natural end at around midnight or so, but for the moment there's an assumption that everyone will keep going way into the small hours, and there's invariably a moment when, at around ten o'clock, you glance down beyond the fifth or sixth bottle of beer in your hand to the clock on your phone and realise that there's gonna be another six hours of this...

Added to that, there's all the other bits and bobs that press and crack at the genuine pleasure of being at a party - the awkward early exchanges, the uncertainty about whether you'll stay within your group or find new people to talk to, about whether you'll end up dancing or not, drinking too much or not, wondering whether people will start taking drugs, to what extent you'll write off the next day with a monumental hangover... Occasionally I'm at a party, having a great time, and I just think, oh, I'm ready to leave now, but the desire to not offend the party host prevents me from doing so.

Yesterday I was feeling full of cold, a bit rough, very tired, and really not in the mood for a party. I even considered crying off. I'm glad I didn't, and glad that the party reminded me why parties can be really great, even taking into account the negative stuff I've written above. I'm not bothered about music and I'm not bothered about getting drunk, but I love listening to music with my friends and I love drinking with my friends.

Laura had hired out a nice basement in a pretty awful bar on West St and we hooked up Dan's iPod to provide us with our music. Not realising it, we also took over the PA playing upstairs in the main bar, which was playing banging house music 'til Dan pressed play, at which point the clientele were treated - doubtless to their utter bemusement - to a few minutes of Ethiopian Jazz. Fantastic. We were swiftly shown how to play music in our room only.

And despite foggy memories of myself, Vic, Anita and Dan repeatedly hammering down shots of tuaca during the closing stages, I actually felt pretty good this morning. So, yeah, parties are good, I've decided.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

records and flowers

I've got a cold. Who wants to know what I've spent money on today?

£3.00 - breakfast from the local cafe
£1.60 - Guardian newspaper
£3.00 - bunch of peonies
£1.99 - Los Campesinos! - 'you! me! dancing' 7"
£1.99 - The Human Knives - 'Voices of Buttons and Knobs' 7"
£3.99 - Prinzhorn Dance School - 'Up Up Up' 12"
60p - carton of Ribena

Total: £16.17

What about you?

the tv controller

You've probably seen this by now, not least because the Guardian have written about it today, but if not this is an absolutely brilliant link - here's BBC3 chief controller Danny Cohen's incisive and revealing blog about his life running Britain's foremost youf channel. Except of course, it isn't, it's an artfully constructed spoof, but it's brilliantly done and quite hilarious. Charlie Brooker will be looking on enviously, I reckon.

"Whilst loitering with a skinny latte-on-ice in the 'Stage Door' area at TVC, I noticed that ALL FIVE screens (that simultaneously broadcast the Corporation's worldwide output) were showing The Boffin on BBC fucking Breakfast justifying the dead Diana photo "controversy". Incredible.

Herring is a fucking genius. I actually saw the final cut of this film before I departed Horseferry Road and it's nothing much. I heard a whisper that Kevin was v v worried that it would disappear with a whimper UNLESS the media were able to whip themselves up into a stupendous frenzy over SOMETHING in it. And that's where Herring stepped in.

Even though the Corporation and some ten-bob-note snooze-digital channels have used the same pics of dead Diana in other programmes before, Herring made sure that a few in-the-know media hacks got anonymous DVDs A MONTH AGO - a 2-minute clip from the film that features the oh-so-controversial images. Herring - shrewd fucking operator that he is - also advised Kevin to broadcast the film earlier than planned knowing that with Blair on his extended farewell tour, there would be fuck all else for hacks to report on."
Brilliant stuff.

Friday, June 08, 2007

starting that song from scratch

Right, time to make amends for that absolute stinker of a song I published yesterday - listened back to it in the cold light of a muggy Friday morning and thought, huh, that didn't work. What a mess. Sorry about that.

Will try to explain why it didn't work, if you're interested. Like I said, the first version of the song wasn't very loud at all, a kind of slow, dubby track created on my computer, with hardly any guitars at all. When I converted it over from my sequencer I realised that I could make it rockier, but only after I had laid down an initial acoustic guitar track. So when I did layer on the louder noises I did so over the other stuff and made the whole thing sound muddy as a consequence. It was a bit fast, too.

More problematically I wrote the whole thing in the wrong key, probably, and can't be bothered to transpose it. But to stay in tune I'm either singing too high or too low, which I can kind of get away with (in that I don't care too much about a few flaws), until everything is already a bit substandard, at which point, well, it falls apart a bit.

Ha ha, I'm a self-hating rocker.

Anyway, so it's back to the drawing board; have spent the evening trying a rather simpler approach, and have slowed it down a bit. There's less overdubbing but I've attempted not to sacrifice the overall noise quotient as a consequence. Hopefully it sounds a bit better!!

The making-it-up-to you version of 'Nice Day' is available at the following link:

Assistant - Nice Day (home demo II) [3.40 mins, 5mb]

Promise I won't do another recording of it tomorrow - sick of it now!!! You'll notice there's no careful fade-out this time - spent too long on it already!

sam's brain

Quick heads up to another blog by a friend of mine - I'm always a bit hesitant to link to new blogs because I know a lot of people start them and don't keep going, but Sam has now reached the five posts mark and is shortly about to embark on an interesting continental adventure, so he has no excuse not to keep us all amused over at his My Brain Can't Make Me blog.

He's also posted a photo of me looking a bit worse for wear, which would be fair enough if he'd have posted it at the end of Tuesday night, when I was unarguably drunk - but a pic of me looking drunk when I was on the first beer of the evening is frankly not on. So I thought I'd link over and give him a bit of pressure as a small but friendly punishment.

nice day

I've been making crappy little home demos of songs for years and years and have learned one thing - if you want a song to work, the best thing to do is let it stand on its own and not drown it with noise, because as soon as you do it becomes something muddy and formless. One new song I've been working on recently has been through several iterations - the first demo was slow and mostly synthesised, so it was very clean and not really a rock song in any sense. The second was clean and crisp, a couple of guitars and no effects. For the third I failed to follow all my own rules and ended up layering guitars over it until, eventually, the vocals were all but submerged. So in a sense I didn't look after the song at all well, and ended up letting it off the leash while I looked in the other direction.

Anyway, I like it all a bit muddy, really, and there's something nice about the fact that a song ostensibly about being happy for someone else's good fortune ends up sounding aggressive and a bit furious. I might just have been indulging my liking for loud guitars, or a bit of good old straightforward bitterness might have crept through.

Anyway, I've talked it up much too much, it's just a quickie really. Here you go - lemme know what you think.

Assistant - Nice Day (home demo) [3 mins, 4.3mb]

UPDATE: Don't download this, I listened back and it's rubbish. If you follow this link here you can access a much better version. I'll leave the above recording up, though, just in case you want to compare and contrast. x

Thursday, June 07, 2007

oh shit



Listening to the new Wiley album at the moment - too early for a review, except that to say that it's got some spectacular moments (the bass on 'Bow E3' just blew my head off). Just wanted to say how much I like the album cover, actually. The cover of Treddin' On Thin Ice was pretty awesome too, but this is better.

return of the knives

Good to read over at Drowned in Sound that the Young Knives are heading back into the studio soon to start work on the second album. It's been a while since I've seen them live and I'm not sure that they played any new songs when I did, so I'll be coming to their new stuff cold. I'm quite interested to hear how it will sound - one of the reasons I like the band so much is that they're so versatile. My favourite stuff on the first record is not the poppy, single-oriented material (indeed while 'The Decision' still sounds amazing, 'She's Attracted To' sounds pretty one-dimensional and flat in retrospect) but the darker, more menacing material, which is leaner and more aggressive. An album of frustration and fury is what I'd like next.

Except that the other beauty of the Knives is that their b-sides and demos around the time of 'Voices of Animals and Men' were arguably better than the bulk of the album, and they displayed a disarming, off-kilter folk influence you can't hear that much on the album. An album of pastoral pop would be equally welcome; listen to 'Tailors', the marvellous 'Current Of The River' or the equally wonderful 'Worcestershire Madman' for examples. Indeed, with the Wicker Man style imagery on the last batch of releases I'd be surprised if that's not the direction they choose.

Or we'll just have to settle for another batch of hit singles, I guess!

Anyway, they're going into the studio presently to record with Tony Doogan, who produced Mogwai in the past. So, yay.

more on bb racism

Right, already had a couple of comments on my post about the Big Brother racist incident suggesting that C4 were too hasty in evicting Ms Parr and that her words were not used in a racist way - she was, they say, trying to mimic the street slang she's familiar with from hip hop records and movies. According to the transcript, afterwards, Emily said (those dread words) that she is "friendly with plenty of black people" and that they all call each other 'nigga'. Hmm, well, perhaps. But I think that C4 were perfectly right to make the decision they did and I'm of the opinion that although what she said was most likely a product of gross stupidity rather than racial prejudice, the words remain likely to offend and can't be condoned. Here's why.

Just to recap, Emily's words were, of Charley's dancing, ""You pushing it out, you nigga".

Quite apart from the fact that it would be ridiculous not to condemn the use of the term itself, I think it was the use of the word 'you' which made it unacceptable - she might conceivably have survived if she had said 'my nigga' or just the term on it's own, but the 'you' turned it from being an ironic or faux-inclusive term into a pejorative or alienating one. Have you ever heard a rap record which contains the phrase 'you nigga'? No, you haven't, because there isn't one. The only time you'll ever hear that term is as an insult. Now, I don't think Emily intended to insult Charley, but insult her she surely did. Basically, it was a stupid, stupid thing to say, possibly even a slip of the tongue (the 'you' bit, I mean) but you have to be held responsible for your actions, and in this instance, C4 were right to make a stand.

Oh Big Brother, see what you've done! I didn't want to watch you, much less talk about you on my blog! But as ever, you have defeated me!

Mascara, Brighton

On Tuesday night my friend Dan celebrated his 29th birthday, and to mark the occasion he decided on a meal out at one of Brighton’s several North African restaurants. Mascara, on Western Road, is at first glance a voguish, pricey-looking joint, but it’s extremely comfortable inside, run by friendly staff and set to a loop of gentle, evocative Arabic music. The menu, too, is surprisingly reasonable, offering an excellent two course menu for a ludicrous 12.00 and a three course for 15.

I started with king prawns, which were rich tasting, satisfyingly crunchy and immersed in a delicious tomato, garlic and parsley sauce. Most people opted for the pigeon pastilla, which I think no-one could quite visualise ‘til it arrived, and then were surprised to see the pigeon shredded and encased in a crisp pastry parcel. Reaching greedily over to Morgan’s plate, it wasn’t the strongest tasting bird, rather delicate and nutty, and edging slightly over to bland, but it was beautifully presented and a good size, with delicately conflicting sweet and sour flavours. To my right, Dan opted for a plate of spiced chorizo sausages which, for depth of flavour, won the day – dark and strong, and very nice indeed.

The list of mains was incredibly tempting, but I opted for oven-roasted sea bass with celeriac mash. All around me beautiful ceramic tagine dishes were descending in front of my friends, and I began to regret my decision. Yet the fish was very good indeed, subtle and light, with the mash full of flavour and an ideal counterpoint. But the highlight was certainly the tagines. Dan opted for a lamb stew which had been slow cooked for six hours and you could tell – it was inordinately succulent, collapsing off the bone with only the slightest instruction, and bathed in a sweet sauce comprising of prunes, pears and apricots. Over at the other side of the table, Dave and Sam opted for the one more expensive dish, a lamb shoulder for two with a less sweet percolation of flavours, heavy on cumin, cardamom and nutmeg. Again, the meat was tender to the point of evaporation, and the sauce delicious. Victoria opted for a chicken dish which was really good too.

Drinks wise, we just had a few bottles of French wine (this was an Algerian restaurant, after all) but I interrupted proceedings at one point to try some Casablanca, a fresh but not very singular lager brewed in Morocco – maybe slightly more fruity than a standard lager but nothing special. For afters I opted out, not having much of a sweet tooth, but judging from the cooing and sighing around me their dessert selection was good too. All the food finished, we finished with a round of mint tea and Sam ordered a couple of mixed fruit scented Shishas, gently enveloping the table in a fug of sweet smelling fog. When the smoking ban comes in, that sort of thing won’t be allowed, I guess – what a shame.

We poured ourselves back onto the balmy street, remembering it was a school night.

more trouble in the house

Am I being unncecessarily base if I register an interest in the fact that Big Brother has once again been mired in a racial incident? It is kind of interesting, not least because this time the perpetrator comes from exactly the opposite end of the social spectrum to the aggressors last year. For those who missed it, Emily Parr, who is a 19 year old student from Bristol, and a very posh one at that, used the word 'nigger' or, more accurately, 'nigga' while talking with two black contestants, Charley and Nicky. Consequently she's been evicted, with C4 clearly keen not to be seen as being lenient or condoning racism. It raises a bunch of questions, but I'm most interested in what will happen to Emily. In her few days in the house, by all accounts, she's proved to be a rather unpleasant snob, and is plainly one of the most immature people in the house. She's quickly become isolated from the others, too. Anyone who passed the glossies rack in the newsagent in the last week or so will notice that being branded a racist has done Danielle Lloyd's career no harm. Will Emily be shunned and vilified or get a sympathetic hearing? Her choice of words was hugely unfortunate but not said in spite, unlike the sustained attacks on Shilpa Shetty last year. She's basically a kid, so I feel some sympathy. Despite the headlines it will garner, meanwhile, I rather suspect that C4 is increasingly beginning to wonder if all this is worth it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

links clearout continued

Just a few verrrry quick links:

Dave's blog has had a nice re-design which is worth a look - it's all in aid of Guy and Dyson. If you wanna know who they are, click on the link.

Everytime I see Anne-Sophie she shouts "you've got a new t-shirt!", which is, shamefully, often true - but it's got to the point where I really can't justify buying any more. It's lucky, then, that most of the t-shirts which really caught my eye over at Threadless are sold out in my size! Very lucky indeed. Still - you can go and buy some t-shirts; Al over at Gromblog has been.

There's a sale on t-shirts at Kill Rock Stars, too.

I was a slow starter with the White Stripes - I didn't see the big deal at all for years, and then saw them play a revelatory live set (on the TV, not in the flesh) which was just astonishing and which converted me completely. Except the next day I forgot about it and haven't thought of them since. It's funny that they don't appeal to me, cause they're the kind of band I like. But no, nothing. Anyway, their new album is out soon, and here's a link to evidence of Jack White behaving like a dick.

Lastly, he's not that fashionable I guess, but I like Ben Kweller. Elsewhere I note with only the slightest interest that the Smashing Pumpkins (who were very briefly brilliant around the time of Gish) are back together, touring and recording once more. No high hopes for their comeback, nor fond memories of their major label career. But I did listen to their 'Today' a lot many years ago, so the cover version of that song being streamed over at Ben Kweller's myspace page is probably worth a listen. (via)

That's it for now. My bookmarks folder is looking a bit more managable now, thank god.

plink plonk pink punk

Pussycat Trash - Plink Plonk Pink Punk

For a period in 1993 every record I bought came in a plastic sleeve and contained a home made insert covered with kisses and punk rock invective. I just picked up this old record by Pussycat Trash, and read the following inside:

"untamed is my aim. difficult to understand, YOU BET. slippery out of the grasping hand heroines of heart-swoonability proud to be HER shape swimming in underground caverns. hipswing because it's fun not cool unashamed NAKEDITY not apologising hearts brimming unafraid understand is not needed. girl because i am. ARE YOU STILL SITTING ON THE FENCE?"

When I was about the same age I had a band called Merge, with my friends Dan, Dean and Lee. We were pretty awful, probably, but we did two or three pub gigs around North London and played very amateurish indie rock which came across kind of like a cross between Nirvana, Huggy Bear and Suede (who I was secrety enamoured with, despite the fact that Huggy Bear has been offered a contract with Nude Records and had said yes on the condition that the label drop Suede simultaneously). We thought we were punk, but I think I wore a leather jacket onstage at one of our gigs, for which I eternally ashamed.

At the time I thought that the talent gap between ourselves and the likes of Pussycat Trash was unbridgeable. They had proper records out! They filled their 7" single inlays with electric proclamations. "There will be a constant source of agitation and violent unrest until this issue is addressed", they pointed out. They had the confidence to call themselves a freeform jazz-punk beat combo. We weren't on that level in any sense.

Actually, looking back, the difference wasn't really so great. They must have been five years older than us, and they probably knew about six more chords than we did - not so very many. They doubtless didn't have to go to school all day and probably rehearsed more than once every two weeks. I wonder if, if we had been more diligent and self-confident, we couldn't have got a record out too. On balance, perhaps I should be glad that we didn't, because I can't now bring myself to read back the punk rock rhetoric which I wrote at the time to go on the inside of our demo, so the thought of other people doing so fills me with horror. That said, I wonder if anyone still has those tapes! I suppose a few people will. What a strange thought.

So, the Pussycat Trash single. It's good. Frankly, I still love any record with bombastic riot grrrl rhetoric scrawled inside it, good or bad. But it is really good, slow sugar sweet melodies tied to bits of feedback and grungy noise, with a spare, amaterish sheen.

According the world wide web, Pussycat Trash got a lot heavier subsequently and actually went on to be quite popular in the DIY indie scene, and it's funny that I completely lost track of them after this release. I'm glad I rediscovered it though.

no ban on foie gras

Ages ago I signed a petition on the Downing Street website urging the British government to ban foie gras. I've just had an email from them explaining that they're not going to do it.

Apparently "a unilateral ban on welfare grounds would not be legal. World trade rules prevent a ban on imports simply on the grounds of welfare standards in producer countries. Similarly, the rules governing the of the European Union require member states to allow the free circulation of goods. Any unilateral ban would lead to proceedings before the European Court".

I was under the impression that it had already been outlawed in Poland, Denmark, Germany and Norway, so don't really understand that, unless it's just the case that it's been made illegal to produce it in those countries.

Anyway, my favourite bit in the email is the following bit of really constructive advice.

"The most effective action for individuals who dislike the way foie gras is produced, of course, is not to buy it which is a position taken by many people in this country. "

Why didn't I think of that?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

links clearout 3: google street map

Last of today's link clearouts, for now...

You might have already seen the new Google map feature which enables you to drill down in mind-boggling detail to street-level views, but if not it's an absolute must. They've only done it for a few select US cities so far, but the one for San Francisco has had me bewitched all week. The amount of data and the quality of the images is just staggering. Unbeliavably, not only can you track your way round the city moving forwards and backwards along its many roads, you can also pan round 360 degrees. Amazing. Taking the end of Powell St, for example, which is where I stayed when I was there, you can obtain a full spin of high detail photos. Here are three from one position alone. Wow. There's some info on how it's done here, via Gromblog.

links clearout 2: John Cruddas and AWS

Although, oddly, Andrew over at B4L is not getting excited about the Labour Deputy Leadership contest, the rest of us are, and there's some good stuff on John Cruddas over at Stephen Newton's blog. He, like me, likes the way John Cruddas has run his campaign, but struggles to quite get what it is that Cruddas believes - is he the former Downing St aide or the radical who commands 85% of the support of Labour backbench rebels? Either way, he's impressed with his stand on union rights, migration and housing. Worth a read.

Meanwhile, back at Andrew's blog, the article where Andrew expresses his mystification at the level of interest in the DPM job is an interesting read in itself. The comments thread has turned into a decent debate about the pros and cons of All-Women Shortlists. I'm a fan, personally, but good arguments are expressed on both sides. Again, go see.

links clearout: prinzhorn dance school

I've had a quiet week in terms of posting, but had an even quieter May in terms of posting up links to other noteworthy bits and bobs I found on the internet. So it's time to clean out my bookmarks folder and provide a bunch of links to distract and amuse.

First Up-Up-Up, the always excellent Fluxblog provided a link to the new single by the ace Prinzhorn Dance School - it's ace, although not quite as exciting as their first 7", You Are The Space Invader. Well worth downloading, though - and buying, too, actually, as it's pressed on lovely thick, weighty vinyl. You can download it here then buy it here. Hurrrah. As Matthew Perpetua says, "The music is extremely spare and bleak, but there's just enough dark wit and campy horror film drama in the mix to keep it from getting too bitter and dreary".

Good stuff.

Monday, June 04, 2007

quiz update

Despite our very good start a couple of months ago, the race to be crowned champions at The George Quiz looks like going right down to the wire. We're currently one point in front with the redoubtable Diggers on Tour just behind us and the longstanding thorns-in-our-sides Arse Pizza a point or two back from them. It all depends on next week's final, in other words.

The bad news is that we're playing without our captain, who has been transferred to a pub quiz team in Barcelona, but we're playing on in her name and have been boosted by a Henrik Larrson style late transfer; returning hero Andy came back into the fold last night and helped us finish second - not quite on top but enough to secure our overall lead. I'm getting a bit nervous, now. Needless to say all hands are required on deck so if you're a member of Captain's Natalia's team and reading this, start revising now. We're gonna need you next Sunday.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

fish out of water