Wednesday, April 30, 2008

kicked to death by hoodies

Ah, just caught the second half of The Apprentice tonight, having been to the pub with Dave earlier, but I think I got the gist of it. They're all still useless. It's hard not to think, however, that it's about time that someone started holding Alan Sugar to account. He's very happy to pour scorn on every idea, but does he have any of his own? Tonight he laughed down the suggestion of eco-friendly cards, making it clear there was plenty the team could have done instead. For example, "I would have applauded you if you'd have designed a card which when you opened it said 'sorry to hear that your 11 year old son got kicked to death by a hoodie', because that's the sort of issue that people face".

My god. Does he really think people would buy that card????

coffee with midlake

Some distinctly peculiar news via Drowned In Sound:

Midlake's Eric Pulido, guitarist in the Denton-based indie-rock quintet, is to launch his own brand of coffee.

Cappulido Coffee will feature six blends of, erm, coffee, and every sale will see money directed the way of farmers in developing countries. So: you get your hit, and some fellow far away gets a few extra pennies. Bonus, doubled.

The guitarist commented: "Coffee has become a huge commodity in our culture today, and supplying it in a fair and quality manner was something I wanted to take part in. With Cappulido I am able to offer a coffee that I personally know supports the farmers that grow it, and provides the consumer with a freshly roasted, excellent bean."

Should you wish to learn more about Pulido's coffee, click
In the meantime, put down that Fleet Foxes record and listen to Midlake's 'Roscoe' again, and remind yourself how ace it is.

Monday, April 28, 2008

new song

Lots of song-writing activity recently at Assistant Blog towers; I've finally got with the modern age and started using Garageband for mixing down demos, and its incredible ease of use has inspired me to start writing new stuff - about six new songs in the last month, of which the following is the most recent. I wrote the lyrics sitting in the sun on Eastbourne pier on Saturday afternoon and improvised the song itself on my bedroom floor yesterday afternoon. Added some bits and bobs tonight but it's basically an afternoon's work - and I'm pleased with it, particularly the words.

Assistant - Relocate (home demo) [2.50 mins, 3.9mb]

"It's hard making bonds,
It's hard finding peace.
I moved from the country,
I moved to the sea.
I found myself a job,
in sales of property.
I moved to the sea,
but the city's calling me.

Relocate, relocate
'til you find yourself somewhere
you feel safe.
before it's too late.

And I love my new friends,
and my future is bright,
And my flat came cheap,
so that's alright.
But the doubt comes in waves,
that familiar fear -
I left my home behind
to come here.

Relocate, relocate,
you need feel no loyalty,
if you need
to escape
this anonymity".

sebadoh live at the concorde 2

I should have known better than to be fooled by the fact that Lou Barlow, whose reformed Sebadoh played a great set at Brighton’s Concorde 2 last night, arrived on stage with an acoustic guitar – I’d forgotten that he plays with so much distortion it scarcely matters what instrument he's playing. The acoustic guitar, then, was monstrously loud and Sebadoh were Sebadoh – sloppy, uneven, occasionally rubbish and mostly utterly brilliant.

The lastest band to climb upon the reunion bandwagon (Lou's got form here, of course – the reignited Dinosaur Jr played an amazing set at the same venue last year), Sebadoh look an awful lot more content in each-other's company now than they did fifteen years ago. The spirit of the group has always been profoundly democratic, but they've always been pissy and intense onstage, so it's odd finding them in a good mood. So much so that you wish Lou would politely remind Eric Gaffney who we’re really here to see, and pile him back behind the drum kit. Over the course of the set Eric and Jason take turns behind the drums, ensuring that all three musicians get a chance to sing their own tunes, but the consequence is that we get far more of Gaffney's melodic but uninspiring rock than we do Lowenstein's furious and brilliant punk. Barlow remains the main draw, of course, and songs like ‘It’s So Hard to Fall In Love’ and ‘Brand New Love’ still sound incredible, although I’m a bit disappointed to find the band drawing on so much material from their weaker later albums; although in fairness the band – and particularly Jason – make a blistering racket throughout.

Qualifications dispensed with, then, the essence of Sebadoh is thrillingly intact – Barlow’s lovely voice, ear for discordant but beautiful sounds and habit of strumming his bass are as evident as ever and the set is punctuated by extraordinary bursts of noise. I'm particularly taken with Jason's songs, which sound astonishing. Eric’s drumming, meanwhile, remains superb, and the band clatter through over 30 songs with nary a pause for breath , although they’re momentarily dumbfounded when a few of us down the front spot that Eric is drinking real ale on stage, and start shouting 'Bombardier' at him. "Do we have a song called Bombardier?", Lou asks. "We’ll play it if we do".

Instead, they play a blistering, joyful take on 'Freed Pig' and finish with an even better take on the hilarious, magnificent 'Gimme Indie Rock', which gets a predictable roar of approval when Lou sings "Getting loose with the Pussy Galore / Cracking jokes like a Thurston Moore / Peddle hopping like a Dinosaur…". Best of all, the sense remains – just as it should – that anything might happen – Sebadoh still sound crooked (crooked rain); stoned, furious, romantic and thoroughly unpractised.

Having them back is much more than an exercise in nostalgia; they remain one of the best bands ever. I hope they never get it together.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

when i believed in ghosts

I can't quite remember what the spur was - I don't think it was a film or a TV programme, so it must have been a book - but when I was about 12 or 13 I became suddenly, passionately and fleetingly interested in paranormal activity. In the way you do when you're a precocious, too-serious teen, I quickly dispensed with any associated elements which seemed to be too childish or unscientific (the ghost who appears before you, wailing, or alien abduction) and concentrated my efforts on becoming an authority on the two phenomena which I felt unaccountably sure did exist: poltergeists (which seemed to me as certain as memories) and - a bit weirdly, in retrospect - stigmata, the spontaneous bleeding from hands, head and feet which recalled Jesus' crucifixion, although I think I weirdly ruled out any religious connection on the basis that I was an atheist - and too grown up for all that rubbish...

In order to facilitate my developing expertise, I began working my way through the 'Supernatural' shelf in my local high street book store - which mostly consisted of discounted paperbacks with titles like 'The World's Greatest 100 Mysteries'. I even went so far as to steal from the library a copy of Colin Wilson's then out-of-print classic 'Poltergeist', a well-respected book which I subsequently found terrifically boring. Although, being a nice middle-class kid, my method of 'stealing' was to borrow the book then report it lost, incurring a sizable replacement fee in the process, which my mother wearily paid.

Wilson's book was particularly interesting to me and my friends because, amongst other famous hauntings, it documented the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, which had occurred in our neighboring borough. It opened my eyes to the possibility - no, the fact - that I was lucky enough to be living in a hotbed of lurid paranormal activity.

Looking back, me and my friends - James, Iain and Richard - were ludicrously unadventurous. It would have been very little trouble, even in those pre-internet days, to find out the address, get the bus over there and stake the place out. But I don't think we even considered it. As it happens, we had a more solid lead, anyway.

I grew up in a house filled with cats. Not literally, obviously, but my parents supported a linear line of cats from their early twenties onwards - a non-genetic chain of cat-children. And of course the cats, whichever one we had at the time, were always getting spooked by something or nothing - leaping up from their repose as though prodded, wailing ghoulishly at some imagined presence. I was familiar with this and thought nothing of it; a quirk in the feline brain. But when Iain told me that his dog - a representative of a species I was at that time completely unfamiliar with - would regularly bark at thin air, there was only one conclusion I was going to reach. Iain's house, a modern semi-detached in New Barnet, was occupied by a poltergeist. It would be our first assignment to, in the most scientific way possible, prepare case notes, document its existence and ultimately identify it as either well-meaning or malevolent.

We took care not to pre-judge.

Of course, when I say we, I really mean I. I should have realised that my peers didn't share my dedication to science when I arrived at Iain's house - clipboard in hand - for our first investigation to find my friends sprawled around the living room, unwilling to start 'til they'd finished discussing a new movie, 'Silence of The Lambs', which was nearing its release date. Trying to take charge, I organised a sweep of the property, concentrating on the hearth area, which Iain had reported emitted occasional 'wailing sounds'. Eventually it occurred to someone that we were taking the wrong approach, and that what we really needed was Iain's dog, who would act as our eyes and ears and lead us to the part of the house where supernatural vibrations were at their most intense.

"Where is he?", I asked.

"Oh, he's in the kitchen", Iain replied. "Go and get him".

I shrank back a little - I had no experience of dogs at all, and was just a touch scared of them. "Can't someone else get him?"

Everyone was suddenly very busy.

"OK", I said, and made my way to the kitchen. Just before I opened the door, I heard Iain shout over.

"Say 'squirrel' when you see him".

I shrugged, and opened the door, closing it behind me. Lying in the middle of the floor was a dog I can probably now identify as something broadly sheepdog sized, and rather friendly-looking, but which also seemed pretty huge and unknowable at the time. I inched towards it, and it rose to meet me, sniffing gingerly as it approached.

"Can you help us find some ghosts?", I asked it, feeling a bit stupid. "Come on". I turned towards the door, and then remembered.

"Squirrel", I said, turning around.

I heard a key turn in the lock, and was knocked off my feet. Iain's dog was reacting to the word 'squirrel' in exactly the way my friends - no, captors - had anticipated, and was charging round the room barking, jumping and attempting to recruit me to its game. I was absolutely stricken, beating a path to the door and yanking the handle in terror. The dog was upon me by now, clearly making some concerted effort to kill me, and this - combined with the tense, paranormal vibe resonating through the house, and the sound of ecstatic laughter from the other side of the kitchen door - heralded the precise moment when I began to lose interest in the supernatural world. A couple of months later I'd forgotten all about it.

I say all this only because there's a terrific article about Robbie Williams, Jon Ronson and the strange world of Alien abduction up on the Guardian website, and it's worth a read. It reminded me of my fleeting, humiliating obsession.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

we are japanese girls

Spotted this on the noticeboard in the Brick Lane Rough Trade Shop the other day. I want to join this band.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

currently listening:

1. Supa D - Rinse 03 LP: Awesome mix CD of funky, 4x4 garage from the venerable Rinse FM DJ.
2. Thomas Tantrum - 'Trust Rhymes With Crust': Wave Pictures aside, my fave band at the moment.
3. New Bloods - The Secret Life LP: Lurching, DIY pop from the US noiseniks; think ESG crossed with John Cale.
4. It Hugs Back - 'Other Cars Go': Ace Thurston Moore-isms from this increasingly impressive band; four ace singles and counting.
5. Wiley - 'Wearing My Rolex': Inevitably.
6. Your Heart Breaks - 'Southern Girl': Lesbian punk rock from the US. Don't know much more about it.
7. Tippa Irie - 'Complain Neighbour': Hilarious and brilliant dancehall pop from the incredible 'An England Story' compilation on Soul Jazz.
8. The Paper Cranes - 'I'll Love You 'Til My Veins Explode': Nice, very English sounding indie pop after a Teardrop Explodes fashion. Unbelievably, they're Canadian.
9. The Breeders - Mountain Battles LP: I think the Breeders top the Pixies every time. You?
10. No Age - 'Eraser': short and sweet post-MBV pop from Sub Pop, good stuff.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

II Duomo, Firenze


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

zimbabwe and egypt

On the day of Egypt's municipal elections, the excellent Development blog Hii Dunia raises some interesting questions about the West's current preoccupation with Zimbabwe. In Egypt the increasingly authoritarian Hosni Mumarek has all but prevented any significant opposition from standing against him (the Muslim Brotherhood has reported that 800 members have been arrested and thousands more intimidated and harassed in an organised crackdown in recent weeks to prevent them registering as candidates). Yet the West, which only a few years ago was obsessed with intervention in the Middle East, stands back and watches, terrified to upset the status quo.

As Hii Dunia puts it:

"It is important that the maximum amount of sustained yet transparent pressure be put on those involved in the Zimbabwe election to ensure a fair result, but the world must work much harder in ensuring that this same pressure towards good governance be applied to all states, fully democratic, emerging democratic, developed, developing or otherwise as a vital platform from which the lives of their respective peoples can be made better."
That's not to say the two situations are matched in their respective severity - but if the international community is able to exert enough pressure on Mugabe to force him from an office he has no mandate to hold, it must use that as a springboard to developing a more consistent, ethical policy towards the larger world.

Monday, April 07, 2008

disorientated tourists

Welcome to 'forced analogy of the week', courtesy of today's Guardian:

"It was supposed to be a proud parade, the flame representing the Olympic ideal carried aloft through the Parisian streets on the latest leg of its global tour ahead of the Beijing games.

Instead, the Olympic torch resembled a disoriented Chinese tourist, hopping on and off the bus in several unscheduled stops during its tortuous and at times farcical journey around the French capital."

first impressions of florence

Florence is a pretty beautiful place. You probably know that, as I did before I arrived; the birthplace of the renaissance, the original centre of Italian fashion, an architectural jewel to rival Venice. You'll hardly find anyone who disputes these assertions, so expectations are naturally high. And yet. Knowledge, information, familiarity with photographed vistas, none of this really compares to the first corner turned in a place of bewildering beauty. Turning that first corner, seeing that first glorious basilica or stretch of river, is a dazzling, unexpected privilege.

Arriving in Florence I meet one of my authors, Matt, at the airport and we share a cab into the city. We try to hold a conversation, one about events in Zimbabwe and another about quite why it is that town planners of European cities so regularly allow their suburbs to be defaced by dreadful architecture, but fail on both counts and are reduced to giggles as we watch our impossibly Italian driver bang his hands on the steering wheel, shout furiously at other drivers and exhibit a frankly amazing portfolio of hand-gestures, ranging from the exasperated to the profane. It's impossible to ignore, on our way in, despite the afore-mentioned ugliness of much that we pass, the incredible alteration of perspective which the Mediterranean colour palate induces; it is as if wearing tinted contact lenses, all the normal hues transformed into a sunny, dusty coalition of faded pinks, yolk yellows and lobster reds.

We arrive at our respective hotels and say cheerio, parting to check in and prepare for the first exploration into town. I'm impatient so once I've found my room and set aside my belongings, I grab my camera and dash back out onto Via Della Scala, which is a narrow street lined with hotels and restaurants. I have a map, but I ignore it and take a right turn, led by intuition, heading out under a brilliant blue sky. I can't have walked more than forty or fifty yards before I round my first corner, encountering with shock the vast and impressive geometric facade of the internally severe Santa Maria Novella church. Not knowing quite how much better it gets than this, I stand awed for a few moments, before heading further into town, following the crowds.

I quickly surmise a few things; firstly, that the stereotype of Italian sophistication is grounded firmly in fact; it's fairly easy to swiftly identify the locals and differentiate them from the many tourists. They are dressed to perfection, innately stylish and amusingly affected. Men plant themselves mid-pavement to chat, scarves loped carefully around their necks. Women sashay slowly along, dressed in expensive boots and fashionable leather jackets. Accordingly, the streets are lined with expensive boutiques.

Secondly, I quickly realise that the Santa Maria Novella was a red herring. Despite its impressive facade, it is a mere aperitif. Looming ahead is Brunelleschi's dome, belonging to the famous Duomo. Although the building surrounding it is obscured, I grow increasingly excited as I approach, until at last I veer round another corner and am faced with the glory of Florence's stunning cathedral. Extraordinarily ornate, carved in white Carrara, green Prato and red Maremma marble, the cathedral boasts stunning detail, from reliefs depicting the history of mankind to marvellous busts of Florentine artists and merchants, along with - of course - sculptures of Christ, Mary and John the Baptist. The bronze doors to the main building are impressive, yet serve only to highlight the magnificence of the facing "gates of paradise", magnificent, glowing reproductions of the original Baptistry doors (the real things are housed nearby in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, preserved in containers filled with nitrogen).

The square bustles with activity. The locals, predictably, are studied and impassive. But everyone else simply stands agog, eyeballing this magnificent creation. I do likewise. Little do I know I haven't yet seen Florence at its very, very best.

boicotta coca cola

snow in brighton

It's been a good few years since I can recall thick, lying snow on the streets - let alone the beach - of Brighton, so I was flabbergasted to discover, shortly after I checked in to my hotel room in sunny Florence, that the British city I'd left behind was transformed by April snow. I'm annoyed I missed it, believe it or not, although still wondering if my friends might not be collaborating on some devastatingly sophisticated practical joke, manufacturing the effect with snow machines. It was only a few days ago I was there and revelling in the warm, bright evenings.

But snowing it surely is, as Vic's photos, below, seem to prove:

Amazing. Thanks Vic! My own, rather different, photos of Florence to follow in the next few days.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

lauren and lily

I just remembered there was something I was meaning to blog about, but being in Florence I can't watch the BBC iPlayer to get the source material I need (it's only available in the UK). Happily, however - and this is testament to how useful a medium blogging is - I note that Alex over at his The Fantastic Hope blog has transcribed the conversation, between Lauren Laverne and Lily Allen on the latter's BBC3 chat show, so I can just piggy back off his hard work. Here's the conversation:

ALLEN: Peter Stringfellow is a nasty man.
ALLEN: I mean, respect to his trade and what he does.
LAVERNE: What do you mean respect?! Respect to what? Respect to the lapdancing trade? Yeah it's really important to respect that! Do we?
ALLEN: I like it.
LAVERNE: Do you? Oh my god.
ALLEN: When I signed my record deal I went there.
LAVERNE: Did you? To Stringies?
ALLEN: I got quite into it. [coquettishly] I liked sitting there while they gyrated in front of me.
LAVERNE: I'm sure it's very nice; they look like very pleasant girls.
ALLEN: Yeah yeah, it was fun, umm [turning to the camera as if to say 'moving on...']
LAVERNE: But yet, a little bit sad isn't it, really? The thing is...
ALLEN: A lot of girls do it to fund their education...
LAVERNE: Nah, do you know what Lily? That's fucking bollocks, right, cos even if they spend the money on that, it's one of those things that, it's one of those lies that blokes try and sell you that, you know: 'you've got the power, cos like, you're getting the money for it'. Frankly, if you're being paid to be naked, you've not got any power in that dynamic. It's not a good thing. It's a bad thing.
ALLEN: [holding up her hands, perhaps realising she sounds slightly ridiculous] But I think it's a woman’s right to sell herself. If there's a market for it, why not?
LAVERNE: [magnanimous, but clearly utterly appalled by this stage] Let's do this on 'Loose Women'. For now, back to the show...

It's hardly necessary to make a comment on this, I think, although I'm sad to say that because I like Lily Allen and am slightly embarrased that she's taking this line.

Alex, however, has no qualms in telling it like it is:

"If Lauren Laverne personifies alternative music past: funny, articulate, principled, politically aware [Laverne, remember, memorably labelled The Spice Girls 'Tory scum' back in 1997] , then Lily Allen epitomises with horrifying exactitude the present state of the musical-cultural landscape: a place in which consumerism, fashion, self-objectifying sexuality and a kind of reactionary Burchillian brattiness have come to define the public persona of a girl who initially promised something a lot smarter and more creative."

sarcastic parents

Just been reading a review of Simon Armitage's new book, 'Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-Star Fantasist' in The New Statesman; the write-up echoes my thoughts about Armitage's prose - that it's too often unsatisfyingly blokey, only occasionally reaching the heights of his delightful poetry. It does, by the sound of things, contain plenty of anecdotes though. Most are about the deeply boring world of rock music, but there are exceptions. This one stuck out and made me laugh:

At an event attended by his parents, Armitage realises the poem he is about to read contains an expletive. "There's a word in this poem I've never said in front of my mother before," he says.

"Would it be 'thank you'?" mutters his father.

in a florentine trattori

I'm writing this in Florence, having arrived earlier today and spent a happy but exhausting afternoon walking around this most beautiful of cities. I'll come back to this, but let it be known that I'm pretty certain I've never been anywhere as stunning as this place; a complex, gorgeous medieval puzzle, and the bluest of skies to boot.

After an afternoon of walking, admiring the momentous architecture and the wonderful dress-sense of Italians, I find myself sipping birra and waiting for antipasti in a trattori in the Piazza della Repubblica. Standing just beyond the entrance I spot a couple I immediately finger as fellow Brits. Every now and again a waiter advances towards them, inviting them to take a table, and on each occasion they back quickly away, as if avoiding the tide.

Eventually they are persuaded to occupy the table next to mine. The man wears unfashionable glasses, his hair cropped short to disguise the fact that he is balding. He is dressed for winter, tucked into a navy blue North-Face ski-jumper. I wonder if I look as incredibly English as he does. I take to him and his wife, who looks exactly like Harriet Harman, immediately, because as they chat they smile and giggle at each other's jokes continously. When the time comes to order, however, I watch their faces crease in concentration, examining the menu.

"Would you like some water before you order your food", the waiter - who is suave and lean, like most Italian men I see today - asks them.

"Yes please", the man says, having examined his wife's expression, soliciting her approval.

"Certainly. Would you like still or sparkling?"

The man doesn't seem sure, so leans back, uncertain. It is as if he and his wife are connected by some invisible thread, for as he leans back she leans forward.

"Do you have any tap?", she asks.

The waiter's expression snaps into stern. "No", he says, cooly.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

hugo on mugabe

Anyone here a fan of cuddly Hugo Chavez?

Here he is talking to Robert Mugabe, in 2004 [my emphasis]:

“I give you a replica of liberator Simon Bolivar's sword. For you, who, like Bolivar, took up arms to liberate your people. For you, who, like Bolivar, are and will always be a true freedom fighter … He continues, alongside his people, to confront the pretensions of new imperialists.”


do something

The Specials are reforming. That's more like it!!! They're probably the only band of their era who I can imagine making a reunion work - they had such innate charisma, and quality. And Terry Hall is a personal hero. Good stuff.


The excellent Hii Dunia blog has been really useful to me in the last few days, providing as it does a comprehensive list of links and news sources pertaining to events in Zimbabwe. Click here for the full list, which includes both blogs and news aggregators - valuable stuff.

Right now, I'm just refreshing today's news blog on the Guardian, which is dedicated to following events as they happen.

The situation in Zimbabwe is on a knife-edge, and it's both thrilling and terrifying. Reading one of the blogs Hii Dunia mentions, I found the comment below, which was posted in response to an article assessing the Mugabe government's future. Can you even imagine what it must feel like to be a Zimbabwean at the moment?

I have been sitting in front of the news since Saturday night waiting, hoping and praying. All I could think of the last four days was the reason I’m in the Diaspora, the pain and wounds of oppression under Mr Mugabe’s Regime. This has been my motivation to hope and stay strong alongside my fellow countrymen. I you further research the Gukurahundi, I think you will find that it is quite a sensitive issue with the power of inciting unspeakable things. I really wish you’d have saved this article for a time when we can all read it and celebrate “offically” the end of a President who caused such disgusting atrocities. I apologise if I’m overreacting, it’s just that I’ve been sat here the last four days fearing the worst and I just feel like you’ve added to my worries with this article. I wish this would now end and Mr Mugabe is finished, I want to go back home to ZIMBABWE :[

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

fertility festival

This is an old Bjork quote, I think, but it's one I'd never heard 'til today; it's quite lovely.

"Football is a fertility festival. Eleven sperm trying to get into the egg. I feel sorry for the goalkeeper."