Friday, August 31, 2007

currently listening to:

1. Field Music - Working to Work (none prettier pop from the North-East, via their super Tones of Town LP)
2. Fatal Microbes - Violence Grows (ultra-weird punk pop from 1979)
3. Sebadoh - Live at the Paradise, Boston (the reformed 'Doh still sound amazing)
4. Blonde Redhead - Dr Strangeluv (I'm a big fan of their recent 23 LP)
5. Thurston Moore - Trees Outside The Academy LP (significantly more wistful and beautiful than I had imagined)
6. Dizzee Rascal - Hard Back (from his ace Maths + English LP)
7. Mark Arm - Masters of War (angry and seething 1990 Dylan cover from the Mudhoney frontman)
8. Prinzhorn Dance School - Lawyers Water Jug (Fave Prinzhorn song so far)
9. Mika Miko - 666 EP (noisy girl rock)
10. Marnie Stern - Grapefruit (from the bewildering In Advance of the Broken Arm LP)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

facebook is good

Reluctant as I am to fall into the trap of endless social networking, or endorsing big brands, I have to admit that I'm now using, and enjoying using, Facebook a lot. It's a cool site and good for catching up with what friends or online correspondents are up to. So if any of my few regular readers want to add me as a friend, please feel free to do so via the whatsit below, which I'll stick in my sidebar in time.

Jonathan Shipley's Facebook profile

from the hard sleeper

More great stuff from Sam and his travels over on his blog, so here's the now customary update link - this is Sam on Jinan and beyond.

And so is this:

"Three hours after I set off, I was dropped in the outskirts of the sleepy village. The whole place seemed deserted, and I drifted along the path between dry-stone walled gardens, and solid stone and mud houses. The ramshackle village wound its way through a steep- sided valley. The occasional duck or goat wandered across the path, and middled aged women with lined faces, bent over carrying huge bundles of firewood passed with mildly suspicious grins. I had somehow traveled back in China's feudal past - the crashing modernism of the cities a distant dream. The calm was disconcerting. I climbed to the peak of a small hill overlooking the village, and surveyed the mist shrouded vista from the balcony of a narrow temple, as giant dragonflies drifted lazily around me."

Monday, August 27, 2007

more millie

As is always the case when I go to visit my parents, my time has been fairly evenly split between drinking their beer reserves dry and watching their anxious cat, Millie, frolic by the river bank. Ordinarily, locating the elusive moggy is not too much of a problem, as she likes to be near my mum, even if that means ten or twenty feet away.

Mum and Dad have been away this weekend, however, and as cat-sitter and primary care-giver, I've been more preoccupied than ever with the cat and still more unable to catch up with the little blighter. It's only when I climb to the third floor of the house and peer out of the window that I can normally catch a glimpse of her.

Usually, she is in the small patch of grass beyond the final garden in the block. She takes up a completely stationary position, focussing her unwavering attention on a small patch of grass, or perhaps a shrub. It is in this shrub, I believe, that she has decided that a shrew or wandering moorhen has taken up residence. So she stands stock-still, waiting for it to emerge. Never mind that the shrub is near see-through and contains no shrew, nor that she has waited an hour. She will keep waiting regardless, ever attentive, never surrendering hope. Sometimes, after a good while, she will swivel on her axis (she is a cat with a low centre of gravity) and examine a plot of land inches to the left. This will, naturally, be subject to the same inscrutable attention, indefinitely.

I wonder, actually, if she is conducting a survey - some grand project, where she will map the country in minute detail. The kind of project that man is too flighty and contemptible to complete. Only when she has committed every leaf, every blade of grass to her memory, will she set about the widescale act of removing wildlife from the vacinity. Sometimes she really does spot a creature - normally just an insect - and when she does she performs a series of careful, weighty two footed hops. She rarely catches her prey.

Only if I do approach, wanting to understand her peculiarly patient mind, do I discover that she can move fast, after all.

rant, by chuck palahniuk

'Rant', the latest novel by Chuck Palahniuk is, as you'd expect, a frenetic, funny and frequently disgusting book, an 'oral history' of Rant Casey, a Grenouille-styled protagonist whose senses are exploding with sensitivity. Rant is a tearaway with extraordinary powers, a man who can taste what you had for breakfast three days ago by going down on you. His own sexual pleasure is spiked by spider-bites and scorpion stings.

Told in a documentary, anecdotal style by friends, sociologists and historians keen to constuct a mythology around Rant, the book is an oral history in more ways than one. Rant has rabies, and as he kisses, sucks and fucks his way around a contemporary but altered America, he becomes a killer, too.

Palahniuk's fearsome imagination gives us a vibrant and savage alternative America, where kids are forever boosting peaks - plugging their brains into a recording of another person's experience - or going party crashing twice a week, steering their cars hard into each other. The first third of the book, which covers Rant's upbringing, is simply bursting with live, crackling ideas. From that point on Palahniuk's vision expands to create a vast, satirical world - and simultaneously loses all its fizz and sparkle.

Not since I read Douglas Coupland's 'Girlfriend In a Coma' have I read a novel which collapses so thoroughly under the weight of its ideas, turning from a dizzying explosion of colour into a heavy, laborious struggle. At only 300 pages long 'Rant' is a horribly lopsided, sludgy read, which I had to force myself to finish. Palahniuk's conflagration of violence, non-fiction research, sci-fi and furious satire drastically over-eggs a book which is occasionally hugely thought-provoking and hilarious. But once the athor transfers the action to the city, the jokes just cease being funny - Palahniuk's writing drys up.

Ever so slightly redeemed by a brazenly forceful and bewildering twist in its final pages, 'Rant' is a book that infuriated me. It's much more likely a book which will please fans of Ballard, Coupland or Irvine Welsh (which I'm not) and it's certainly ambitious and impressive.

But I finished it with an unfamiliar sense of relief.

Friday, August 24, 2007

field music in context

If I wanted to start boosting my post frequency there would be few easier ways of doing it than starting to post clips from youtube of my favourite bands - easy. I've mostly resisted that temptation, largely because I suspect that I'd be much more interested in watching old Dinosaur Jr clips than you would, but occasionally one slips through which is so markedly interesting that I decide to push it forward. This, then, is the video to Field Music's brilliant 'In Context'. Because I like it a lot; some cracking continuous line drawing.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

exit wounds, by rutu modan

Rutu Modan's 'Exit Wounds' is, firstly, a particularly beautiful graphic novel. Modan, who can do a lot more than just draw, creates an intricate, colourful representation of the private lives of two Israeli adults drawn together by a shared interest in the whereabouts of Gabriel, who they believe was the 17th, and unidentified, victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera. Her drawings are crisp and clean, full of bold curved lines and coloured in gorgeous sepia tones. Her closely aligned frames and compositions somehow make me think of old Tintin comics.
But her plotting is thoroughly contemporary, drawing out the small-scale dramas at the heart of a society littered with tragic events, where death and disappearance are daily possibilities. Without once referring to the Israeli-Arab situation, the author draws compelling parallels in everyday life, conjuring up the sprectre of victimhood and the painful, unmet desire for solutions, always out of reach.

Yet personal, rather than societal politics form the centre of 'Exit Wounds'. For Koby, whose relationship with his father is long deteriorated, it is coming to terms with this fractured love. For Numi, the young woman who was his lover, it is coming to terms with his absence, and the fact that, too plain and unwieldy, she is always overlooked. Worse is to come, and the two must come together and seek resolutions to their problems. Though the process is painful, they do make progress. So while 'Exit Wounds' is always imbued with sadness, Modan lets us have a few, beautiful and optimistic frames with which to close.

If only real life mirrored this better.

school bus

More playing about with the Facebook graffiti drawing application - sorry if this is getting boring:

what was lost, by catherine o'flynn

'What Was Lost', the debut novel by Catherine O'Flynn, is an unusual, slightly spooky book which threw me off the scent several times, as befitting a book with a detective as one of its central protagonists. It's a confident, chatty novel about, well, about many things – but chiefly about the isolation that comes from being insecure and unrooted in contemporary society.

The novel starts with a witty, sympathetically rendered tale about a ten-year-old orphan, Kate, who, unable to interact with her peers, obsesses over a book which her late father gave her, entitled 'How To Be A Detective'. Her only friend is Mickey, who is, alas, a stuffed toy monkey (and rather sombre company), until she befriends Adrian, 22 and just back from University.

He is an unlikely friend, but together they pore over the customers at the local newsagent, singling out potential serial killers or bank robbers, separating the genuinely criminal from the adulterous. But the local high street is full of familiar faces and Kate, tiring of its potential for drama, takes her surveillance operation to the nearby Green Oaks, the first of the large 1980s shopping centres. It is there, in 1984, that she disappears.

Having created an enjoyable and easy comedy of this simple scenario, O'Flynn bravely shifts emphasis, introducing us to Lisa, an employee in Green Oaks' biggest record shop, and Kurt, a security guard. It is 2003, but not much in the centre has changed – the same unforgiving strip lights, the deadening monotony of commerce. And still not much happens, until Kurt observes, in the early hours of the morning, a girl standing, motionless in the half-light outside a bank, clutching a note book and a stuffed monkey. His sighting sets in motion a series of events which bring him and Lisa together, while aspects of their worlds remould and change around them. For both, painful memories need exploring, and losses shared.

O'Flynn's novel, unsettling though it is, is quite easily the most accessible and readable title on the Booker longlist and, particularly as it comes not just from a first time author but also an independent publisher – Tindal Street Press – it is a surprising inclusion. It has moments of shining wit and intricate plotting which suggests it is most deserving of its place. It is a mystery of shifting sands set in the hard concrete of a shopping centre, where service tunnels lead to disarming dead ends and bricked up corridors to the past. But elsewhere O'Flynn's determination to skewer consumerism sometimes leads to heavy handed humour and rather blunt, unsubtle prose: she is far better on memory and loss than she is on satire, and her desire to write funny sentences occasionally undermines the bittersweet undercurrent of her story.

Nevertheless, she has written a novel that is both challenging and accessible, thoughtful and fun. Once picked up it is hard to put down. Perhaps in a field of heavy, portentous tomes, the booker judges appreciated a fast, tense and vibrant read. It is very hard to begrudge them – or the author – that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

smoking ban working?

This is interesting and, I guess, encouraging, even if you do feel that it's not the job of the government to tell people what they can and can't do.

Cigarette sales dropped nearly 7% last month after a smoking ban was introduced in England.

I was a supporter of the smoking ban, and have enjoyed going to the pub a great deal more since it was introduced. I think it's good news that it's driving sales down - now hardly anyone I know smokes. Compared to a few years ago, that's a big turn around.


My parents are going away for five days over the bank holiday weekend, so - rather than have them put their nervous cat in a cattery - I am on pet-sitting duty. By the end of the weekend I vow to tame the flighty but remarkable Millie Shipley.

coogan on tony wilson

As you might expect, Steve Coogan's article on the passing of Tony Wilson is affectionate, funny and touching. The full text is on the Guardian website, and here, at the Manchester Evening News.

Writing about playing Wilson in 24 Hour Party People, Coogan writes:

"Tony was nervous for the same reasons I was and we talked before filming began. As an artisan, he understood perfectly that it would be an impressionistic interpretation of him and events. He disputed aspects of the script but quoted John Ford when he said "If it's a choice between the truth and the legend, print the legend". Throughout filming, he visited the set. On one occasion he walked in whilst we were filming a scene which was un-sympathetic to put it mildly. "That never happened" he pronounced, "but its your interpretation and I believe in artistic freedom", before leaving in flourish. I love him for that. On another occasion, at the production office, which now seems almost surreal, I was standing at the end of a corridor dressed at Tony in a Yohjiyamanoto suit and white tennis shoes, (a distinct Tony look). When Tony arrived at the other end of the corridor dressed identically, he was on the phone "oh this is too weird" he said "can I call you back?"

"The writer, Paul Morley, later mused that if we'd touched we would have ended up in the fifth dimension. Peter Hook said at the time with robust affection "the biggest twat in Manchester being played by the second biggest twat in Manchester". It was the biggest compliment I ever received."

chaos at spurs

Disbelieving though I'm inclined to be of the sort of scurrilous gossip that so often swirls around my football club, Tottenham Hotspur, it really does look as if the Spurs board are planning on sacking Martin Jol, perhaps the most successful Tottenham coach of the last twenty years, in order to replace him with Sevilla's Juande Ramos. This is an absolutely extraordinary act, unprecedented in the club's history. Jol took over at Spurs three years ago and inherited a side containing a few promising players and an awful lot of underachievers. In the last two years he has steered the club to two fifth placed finishes, given us several cup runs, and brought us a proper, thoroughly enjoyable run in Europe, something that many Spurs fans were beginning to feel they might never see again. He nurtured a team of young players, brought in more promising talents, and ended up with a team that played bright, entertaining football with a forceful English spine. Incredibly, our oldest player is often the England goalkeeper, Paul Robinson, who is 27.

Far more importantly than anything else, however, Jol forged a real, no-nonsense relationship with the club's supporters. More than any manager since Terry Venables, Jol earned the respect of the fans through straight talking, honesty and a real sense of humour. For a club which has often been driven with rifts, he showed exceptional man-management skills in juggling three and sometimes four top-notch strikers, and having been forced to sell Michael Carrick a little over a year ago, showed enviable resolve in holding on to both Jermain Defoe and Dimitar Berbatov this summer. That both wanted to stay belies any rumour that the dressing room is split.

And yet despite all this the Spurs board seek to dislodge him. There are some legitimate criticisms of Jol. With a large transfer kitty this summer he neglected to shore up a weak midfield, instead concentrating on attack. His teams have yet to show true character against the big four. And his substitutions often suggest naivity and an over-reliance on defensiveness. But the positives massively out-weigh these flaws.

In wanting him out, the board are showing exceptional and malign fickleness and if Juande Ramos is indeed close to agreeing a deal before Jol has been sacked, I question his morality. If I were his agent, I would tell him to regard the prospect of working with the Tottenham board with extreme caution, and think again. I hope that when Spurs play Manchester United at the weekend, only two chants are sung, and that they are both sung lustily throughout. The first is one we're used to hearing at White Hart Lane - "Martin Jol's blue and white army". The second is one we've not heard for a while. It's time to bring back 'Sack the board'.

Monday, August 20, 2007

comics and journalism

The point where comic art and journalism cross over is well established thanks to the extraordinary - and initially unprecedented - work of the Maltese artist Joe Sacco, who, since the early nineties, has published impressively researched, exquisitely rendered comics detailing daily life in Palestine, Sarajevo, Gorazde and other war zones in days of both tidy normality and great crisis.

Since his groundbreaking form of reportage was first published, similar works, blending memoir, history and politics, have helped solidify comic reportage as a substantial and cutting-edge genre. Since Sacco's 'Palestine', Guy Delisle has published two superb books of travel journalism from restricted states (his 'Pyongyang: Journey in North Korea', and 'Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China'), Jean-Philippe Stassen's 'Deogratias, a Tale of Rwanda' is a deeply moving study of life in the East Central African nation at the time of the Tutsi genocide, and David Axe's 'War Fix' (extract below) is a devastating look at the aftermath of the Iraq War. Greg Cook is pursuing similar themes and Ted Rall's 'To Afghanistan & Back' does the same for the first country attacked in the "war on terror'.

Craig Thompson is another writer currently writing the kind of book which demands not just creative power but serious research. His forthcoming graphic novel, Habbibi, is not yet published, but his comic book travelogue, 'Carnet De Voyage', which documents his research, taking in Barcelona, the Alps, France, and Morocco is serious travel journalism.

Now, adding to this body of work, the legendary comic book writer Harvey Pekar, more well-known for his closely obseved autobiographical style, has turned his hand to a new project - working with the peace campaigner Heather Roberson and the artist Ed Piskor, Pekar has written 'Macedonia', a book which depicts not another state of War in Eastern Europe, but rather the state of peace which has somehow, set against troubling ethnic rivalry, prevailed since the break-up of Yugoslavia. It looks like a great read.

Despite all this, my favourite travel illustrator is someone not so often mentioned in comic-book circles, but someone whose meticulous line drawings combine with delicate narrative to produce really powerful pieces of graphic art. Yet there are still no collections of Olivier Kugler's work!?! Amazing - I hope someone remedies this soon. One of his drawings appears below - marvellous.

There are plenty more of Kugler's drawings here. Go see.

Work trips

Just found out that I'm going to Dubrovnik for a week in September; really excited - Croatia is a country I know very little about, so I'm looking forward to a new country and a lovely few days. Of course, it's a work trip, but it's a long time since I allowed the stress of work to impinge upon the rare chance to immerse myself in a new city, throw myself into a new set of bars, or just sit back and enjoy the sun.

snowmen: a regional guide

Palin on the new Europe

While there doesn't seem to be any date for the airing of his new TV series yet, I note that Amazon has a release date for its accompanying book, so it's looking like the new Michael Palin project will shortly be unveiled by the BBC - and it's almost certainly going to be one of the major highlights of the year. The series will be titled 'New Europe', and will follow Palin around a part of the world which remains unfamiliar to the majority of us; the countries in the old Soviet Bloc, Yugoslavia and other nations like Turkey, which are either new or aspirant members of the European Union. As Palin writes on his website, 'these are not countries miles away; they're close to home and there is much more history and culture and politics to understand'. We can presumably expect Palin to be as genial and insightful a guide as usual.

Anyway, if you can't wait for the series, then the book - illustrated, as usual, with remarkable photographs by Basil Pao - will be published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson on Thursday 13th September. For a better insight into what the book covers, as well as an absolutely priceless host of links to articles and resources on the countries covered, you could do a lot worse than trawl through Michael Palin's New Europe: An Unofficial Fan Center , which is a blog written and maintained by a Slovenian Palin fan. It's well worth a read.

Can't wait for the series.

the human snail

bob stanley on DRM

Considering the frequency with which blogs and newspapers talk about MP3s and DRM, you would think another round-up of the issue would be an unnecessary read - but Bob Stanley's short article in the Times this week, titled 'The record industry goes out of its way to be unloved', is worth a read, not least because, well, it's lovely Bob Stanley. And he's right. There's a nice little love letter to vinyl tacked on at the end, too.

"Dylan ... told Rolling Stone: “We all like records that are played on record players, but let’s face it, those days are gon-n-n-e.” On the contrary, vinyl is on the up. If the growth of the CD made music seem that much smaller, the download has pushed it off the map entirely. Without a physical product, music becomes like air – no wonder people are loath to pay for it. Pop consumers, teenagers, have swung back to the spiritual beauty of the 7in-single, the album. To walk to school with one under your arm is a badge of honour. Downloads, by comparison, are so uncool.

The industry may dismiss this as a fleeting trend, but one group is taking it very seriously indeed. Having decided that no digital format is stable enough for posterity, the Church of Scientology has been pressing the collected thoughts of L. Ron Hubbard on to futuristic, nondigital, unbreakable, good old-fashioned vinyl."
Ha ha.

fussy eating

Meanwhile, in his latest despatch from China, Sam reveals that he is learning new things about himself all the time:

"I didn't think I was a fussy eater. I was deluding myself. It turns out I am extremely picky. I won't eat insects, bones, elbows or knees (of mammals and birds), dogs, cats, most amphibians and reptiles, most land-dwelling invertebrates, eyes (of any species) eggs (fertilised), spinal cords (or other major nerves, when served plain), feet or heads, or endangered species. This can be limiting."
No precise details on where he is at the moment - but a few days ago he said he was heading for Jinan, which is located up on the upper east coast of China.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

facebook grafftiti

I know everyone goes on about how addictive Facebook is - but I think they're talking about the social networking aspects of it. They're kind of right, I guess - but my facebook addiction is based upon the graffiti application, which I've just discovered. Wonderful. Here's a selection of my first few efforts.

Monday, August 13, 2007

the gathering, by anne enright

'The Gathering', by Anne Enright, ends with a fall, but it is not a fall from grace but rather a fall back to earth. The beautiful, rich and austere novel which Enright has written concerns Veronica Hegarty and her chaotic, dysfunctional family, and more precisely the violent, destabilising jolt which history can inflict when tragedy strikes.

Veronica's beloved and wayward brother, long lost to alcoholism, is lost finally when he, pockets heaving with pebbles, walks into the English channel at Brighton and drowns himself. This sudden loss deprives his sister not just of a brother, but of the protective skein of obscured memories with which she has shielded herself from the painful reality of their shared childhood. She tells her mother that Liam is dead, and 'Mammy', mother of twelve, slaps her in her grief. But history smacks her harder, blowing her up into the air and alienating her from herself, her family, and even her children.

'The Gathering' is an intense, short book which broods on Ireland's past and present and explores vividly, and bitterly, the threads of love, sex and marriage. Sex particularly is at the centre of everything; the book is full of purposeful, joyless fucking, sex which is temporary and functional, the fulfillment of needs, physical and emotional. Enright writes, "I was suddenly certain of many things. Including the fact that people fucked, that was one of the things that they did: men fucked women -it did not happen the other way around - and this surprising mechanism was to change, not just my future, which was narrowing even as I looked at it, but also the wide and finished world of my past".

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the roots of Liam's alcoholism can be traced back, the narrator says, plausibly, to child abuse, Veronica finds in the aftermath of her brother's death that love and sex are separated, perhaps irretrievably. "Tom had sex with me the night of the wake - as if Liam's death had blown all the cobwebs away ... He was getting back to basics: telling me he loved me, telling me that my brother might be dead but that he was very much alive. Exercising his right. I love my husband, but I lay there with one leg on either side of his dancing, country-boy hips and I did not feel alive. I felt like a chicken when it is quartered".

There are other factors, too, other things that consolidate this sense of separation. "There were girls at school", Veronica says, "whose families grew to a robust five or six. There were girls with seven or eight - which was thought a little enthusiastic - and then there were the pathetic ones like me, who had parents who were just helpless to it, and bred as naturally as they might shit."

As the family come together to pay their respects, Enright finds herself drifting in and out of events, at one moment at the centre of a drunken reunion at the next slipping away and wondering absently through old bedrooms, searching for evidence of a past which seems unreliable and threatening. All the while, it is the notion of love to which she returns.

"There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick."

Central in her thoughts are a love affair gone wrong, that of her grandmother Ada and her husband's friend (and later landlord), Lamb Nugent, who is powerless in her presence and a bystander in their lives. Ada calls him 'Nolly May Tangerine', an echo of the latin 'Noli Me Tangere', which means 'Do Not Touch Me'. Yet Nugent exerts his power elsewhere, hidden in the mist of Veronica's memory, with calamitous implications.

The wonder of this profoundly depressing, bleak novel is that it contains regular moments of stylistic joy – beautiful, insightful passages which counterpoint the unflinching intensity of the subject matter. It is a book simultaneously light and dark, and it's a terrific, powerful read.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

alan mcgee and mbv

When I was a kid I assumed that, because he had signed so many of my favourite bands to his record label (The House of Love, JAMC, Ride, Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream etc), Alan McGee must be a pretty good bloke and a man of impeccable taste. His later love affair with Oasis obviously proved me wrong in the latter instance, but it's still surprising to see how far their conservative trad-rock instincts have affected him and his musical tastes. It's simply extraordinary to find him now denying that he ever liked the mighty My Bloody Valentine, and signed them as a 'joke' - but this is now his line, amazingly. Writing in the Guardian recently, he said:

"Bloody nonsense. My Bloody Valentine were my comedy band. Ride were different - they were a rock band, really, a fantastic rock band - but My Bloody Valentine were a joke, my way of seeing how far I could push hype."
I guess seeing as Ride's Andy Bell is now a member of Oasis Quo, McGee needs to make that caveat, but his contention that MBV only sold because people believed his lies is pure comedy itself. As recently as 2004 he was - rightly - heralding Kevin Shields as a genius. It's pretty hard not to reach the obvious conclusion that this is the product of some personal spat between the two men, probably concerning that old line about Loveless costing so much (more on that later). McGee is at it again in this week's post on his Guardian blog.

"Hype is fun. Everyone that worked in the music industry has been involved in it in some way, since acts sometimes need a kick-start to get the audience in front of them. Highlights of my hyping skills include talking up Kevin Shields to be a Brian Eno-like genius (when in fact you could put a monkey in the studio with Alan Moulder and make it sonically interesting), and the Boo Radleys, who were signed to demonstrate to Kevin that I could take anybody doing "his" music and make it a number one."
Alan Moulder, as well as producing Ride and MBV, engineered dismal records for the Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and the Killers. So make of that what you will. And the Boo Radleys - whose first album is great, incidentally - only had a number one record once they'd abandoned any semblence of the Valentines' style.

Thus far Shields has - predictably - said nothing and I suspect that, seeing as he's hardly a man who loves the limelight, he won't. But I did a web search anyway and found this recent interview with him which touches on the band's history with Creation and, more interestingly, talks a little about his old band's sound.

He writes:

"The two things we're really known for spending Creation's money and making records with loads of overdubs on them. The exact truth is this: About a month before we started Loveless, Creation pulled away from Rough Trade distribution and said, " Out contract is up with you. We don't want to sign again." By the time we resumed recording in September of '89, Creation was already bankrupt.

When we first started Loveless, no one signed to Creation. When we finished the damn record, they had hit records and bands on Top of The Pops. They were a very successful label. All that stuff about us nearly breaking Creation because we spent all their money is literally 100 percent lies.

Another interesting fact is that we were only in the studio a year and 10 months. We spent six month out of the studio touring behind (1990's) Glider EP, so really, we were only in the studio a year and four months. The last two months, it was £600 a day. Every studio before that was between £200 and £250. If you actually do the math, you realize that those figures don't add up (to the record's reported £250,000 price tag). About a year after Loveless, Creation got in trouble, right before Oasis, because Primal Scream spent £1 million on Give Up But Don't Give Out."
Here he is on the MBV sound. Fascinating:

"I've always told people exactly how I've made a record. The average My Bloody Valentine track is about one or two guitar tracks: less than a White Stripes or Cramps record. I could only get away with having one or two guitars at any one point because if you put a few on, then it took away from the effect, it sounded smaller and smaller. Basically, a My Bloody Valentine record has the same amount of tracks on it as most bands' demos do.

When making records, I got it into my head that some of the big no-no's were no echo, no reverb, no chorus or flanger and no panning. The one effect I would use was this reversed reverb effect, which is very reverb-y, all of these things I was against, right? But the irony was that with these effects, you could actually play harder and it sounded really different. If you played softer, the sound changed dramatically. I would work with a tremolo to get this other dynamic and suddenly had a language I could kind of express myself with, which I never really had before. I found a voice, and I could do it well."
I think I'd rather read a blog by Kevin Shields than one by Alan McGee. That said, there's one more possible ulterior motive behind McGee's comments which I'm more than prepared to entertain. McGee is doing what he's always done best - stirring up attention, placing himself at the centre of events, and ensuring that people keep buying the back catalogue. Annoying, revisionist, laddish, pain-in-the-arse and damn clever sod that he is.

tony wilson

Tony Wilson is dead. Manchester must feel really strange today. If every city had a Tony Wilson, the country would be so much a richer place. A brilliant man, farewell to him.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

booker thoughts

Quite an interesting Booker longlist this year, and certainly a very unexpected one. In recent years the judges have seemed overly keen on rewarding established authors for prior oversights, rather than picking the best book on the list, so it's a pleasant surprise to see that of the 13 named authors this year only two - AN Wilson, and Ian McEwan - are that well-known, and a couple are from small publishers. McEwan's 'On Chesil Beach', which I reviewed here, has been installed as the favourite. It won't win.

My instincts lead me towards three books, all of which are worth a shot and definitely worth reading. Anne Enright's 'The Gathering' is dark and brooding, but beautifully written, and 'What Was Lost' by Catherine O'Flynn is an enjoyable, very original read. I've not yet read Nicola Barker's 'Darkmans' but the reviews have been excellent and it looks fiercely intelligent and challenging. But it's surely a bit too directionless and vivid to be a Booker winner. I'm backing Enright at this stage, although I'll surely change my mind as I become more familiar with the other longlisted books.

Elswhere, a few years back I was outraged (well, as outraged as I can be about such trifling matters) to see Peter Carey's awesome 'Jack Maggs' (which reimagined Dickens' 'Great Expectations' from an Antipodean perspective) excluded from the Booker shortlist. This year I'm pleased to see another book, Lloyd Jones's 'Mister Pip', which takes its inspiration from the same source, make the longlist. This time the action takes place on a South Pacific island. Another one for my reading list, then.

No regrets, then, at the absence of the likes of Doris Lessing, Mark Hadden and Graham Swift, although I expected the rather excellent 'A Curious Earth', by Gerard Woodward, and the new David Peace book, which has had good notices, to make the cut. Whatever, it seems that the current judges are evaluating books fairly and on their own merits and what we're left with is a meaty, satisfying longlist. It'll be interesting to see which six books make the next stage.

Here's the longlist in full.

Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
Self Help by Edward Docx (Picador)
The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon)
The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies (Sceptre)
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking)
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, (Jonathan Cape)
What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn (Tindal Street)
Consolation by Michael Redhill (William Heinemann)
Animal's People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
Winnie & Wolf by AN Wilson (Hutchinson)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

end of the road

I have a ticket for this year's 'End Of The Road' festival, I'm pleased to say - three days in the countryside in mid September listening to a panoply of lovely bands. I only hope the weather is good. The full line up of bands is here. At a glance, there are several I'm really excited about seeing. If there's anyone on the list that you recommend, please let me know - nearer the time I'll do a myspace trawl of the bands I've not heard of, but if you've any tips then do leave a comment, as that way I'll have plenty of time to get excited.

Really excited about:
Yo La Tengo, Midlake, Scout Niblett, Robyn Hitchcock, Lambchop

Excited about:
British Sea Power, Brakes, Loney Dear, David Thomas Broughton, Broken Family Band, Misty's Big Adventure, The Twilight Sad

Interested in:
Joan As Policewoman, King Creosote, I'm From Barcelona, Darren Hayman, Port O'Brien

Good, good.


I'm increasingly jealous of Sam, who has travelled through Mongolia and China since I last updated you on his travels. This latest can't help but intrigue:

"We trekked and rode tiny protesting Mongolian horses across the plains, and on the second day rode for 4 hours through the most incredible freak rain storm. The rain continued through the night, turning our cozy Yurt into a sauna, as the cental wooded stove heated the tent to boiling temperature, and dried our sodden clothes strung from the decorated roof supports."

Dan, meanwhile, has flags on his mind, as ever.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

single minded Millie

It's always furiously difficult getting up close to my mum's cat when I go home - she is both single minded and illusive. Here she is, looking exactly that.
Every day, however, she gives up her policy of caution and distance and accompanies my parents on a ten minute walk. To my knowledge, this is fairly unusual behaviour for a cat, much less one who is ordinarily rather unfriendly. At six thirty every evening she sits outside the meadow behind my parents' house. They walk to meet her and set off along one side of it, while she gingerly pursues them, careful to never allow herself to come within ten yards. Once they reach the top of the field my parents will stop and Millie will take the opportunity to come nearer, perhaps allowing them to reach down and stroke the nape of her neck.

Then, after a moment's pause, she takes control of the second leg of the adventure. Suddenly she will leap to her feat and dart onto the outdoor table, and wait for my parents to go and give her a cuddle. This is the only time of the day, generally, when she makes herself available for a proper stroking. Having pranced about between them for a moment or two, she leaps off the table and runs at full pelt to the other side of the meadow. It is my parents' job to follow, and now the dynamic of the first half of the walk is reversed. Millie leads and my parents follow. Half way back is a flowerbed with two distinct paths through it. At the point where the path splits, Millie thinks hard and takes one route or the other. Once my parents have followed her back to the gate she either lingers while they stroll back to the house, or gallops off, back to pretending that they don't exist.