Saturday, June 28, 2008


Last minute prediction: Jay-Z will be the best headliner of Glastonbury for at least 10 years. Comment me if I'm wrong.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

more on peggy sue

You may well have noticed lots of praise for the ace Peggy Sue - who have lost their 'And The Pirates' suffix in recent days - on Assistant Blog in the last month or so, so thought I'd flag up the fact that they've announced a new single, and celebrate the fact that the double 7" pack is a collaborative effort, with songs performed with the also-ace Left With Pictures, who were one of my favourite acts at last year's End of the Road festival.

The single, attributed to Peggy Sue and The Pictures (all these name changes!) will be comprised of 4 tracks, including the wonderful 'Spare Parts' and 'Escargot', both of which are delightful in the Peggy Sue set and things of bare, trembling beauty, so it will be incredibly interesting to hear them rearranged as full songs. I'm actually really excited, as when I reviewed Left With Pictures last year I picked out their precise arrangements for praise and pretentiously heralded them as "wistful, diaphenous and enchanting", which sounds rather jolly, I know.

The single will be called 'Spare Parts' and it's out on August 4th, aaaages away. It's got a lovely cover, too, look:
Meanwhile, for a bit of context, here's what Rosa Rex said about the sessions leading up to the single, over on the Peggy Sue Myspace blog:

Me and katy have been pretty busy of late. We're doing practices every weekend with Left With Pictures which is going really well. it's fun to be able to have loads of different instruments in our songs and they're really talented. Rob has perfect pitch and they all work as human tuners which is good since our tuner still doesn't really like to work. I thought for a while maybe it was just us, but I've even read the booklet now. I guess it's temperamentality gives Sir Pablo character. Anyway they can tell us all the chords we're playing which is pretty amazing. My descriptions go along the line of 'and then you just play this string with that one on the fret that's about here' and one of them will tell me I'm playing A sharp half diminished and I feel a glow of undeserved cleverness. it's wonderful.

You can preorder the single here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

going fishing

In Brighton - as in a lot of other cities, I'm sure - it's quite common to turn a street corner and see, perched on a garden wall or outside someone's gate, a box of possessions which are up for grabs. They're usually books, sometimes CDs, occasionally unwanted gifts. Larger items occasionally appear; microwaves, book shelves, chairs. I usually stop and have a look. A while back I grabbed an 'Indie Top 20' VHS from a box on St. Michael's Place. Recently Vic nabbed me a paperback copy of 'Him With His Foot In His Mouth and other stories' by Saul Bellow from a cardboard box on Compton avenue (which was much appreciated).

Last night me and my girlfriend went for a walk, idle in the summer sun, hoping we might find a pub and some cats to make friends with on the way (we did - The Chimney House, and a cat-caucus near Seven Dials, three podgy animals sat in conference, enjoying the weather). On the way I spotted a box of abandoned items and suddenly bent over, leafing through a box of abandoned items - mostly magazines.

"What on earth are you doing?", my girlfriend asked.

I looked up at her, puzzled.

"Just seeing if there's anything worth taking", I replied, squinting up at her.

She looked at me with mild disgust.

"In someone's recycling?"

I looked at the box, which had the Brighton and Hove council logo on its side; straightened my back; said nothing; and walked on.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

fiery madness

Anyone else developed a bit of a crush on Slaven Bilic, the Croatia manager, during the course of Euro 2008? I think he's terrific; quite apart from the fact that he plays lead guitar in a rock group whose song for the tournament was titled 'Fiery Madness', he has a kind of innate charisma and a combination of authority and approachability, as well as being really bright. Something tells me he has the right blend of characteristics to go a long way, and I hope we see him in the premiership before long.

On the subject of charismatic leaders, my friend Dave sent me a really amazing article on K-Punk, which compares the incomparable Brian Clough with the incomparable Mark E. Smith - and does so with aplomb; a really insightful bit of writing.

"At a certain point, though, the sorcery stops working: self-belief becomes arrogant hubris, motivational techniques become mere bullying, everything dries up, apart from the drinks, which keep on coming. The fearless leader who inspires loyalty becomes the drunken Lear surrounded by sycophants. It happened to Clough, it happened to Smith."
Click here to read the full post.

mio mao animation

I suppose it's not surprising that I missed this, given that I am far from being a connoisseur of children's telly - nevertheless, I'm sad I've never stumbled upon this on the telly; it would have been a lovely thing to chance upon. As it is, my girlfriend directed me to this cartoon on youtube - it airs on Channel 5 apparently. Amazingly charming stuff. There's plenty more on there, too.

night shifts at the airport

Over the last month or two I've only picked up my guitar a few times, having been pretty tied up with my ukulele, which I'm slowly getting the hang of and enjoying using enormously. And as well as playing that a lot I've been scribbling lots of lyrics - mostly half thought-through - into my notepad for later use. One of those was a quick lyric for a song called 'Night Shifts At The Airport', which transcribed various memories and observations of mine, mostly dating back a few years, and jumbled them up with other hypothetical events I've never experienced, creating a weird half-poem which feels both made-up and oddly personal. Having written them down, I toyed with a few melodies and then gave up on the song.

Then a week or two ago I sat down by my computer and idly picked up my acoustic guitar, which feels all big and foreign after so much time with the uke. And I started playing a long, repetitive and very simple sequence of three chords - E, A and Am. And all of a sudden a song was in my head and I recorded the guitar, sang the completed lyric from my notepad and fed it quickly into Garageband, where the song sat for a few days feeling rather bare and lonely. Since then I've added a bass line, a bit of piano and some more guitars, but I think it still sounds simple and quick - or it's supposed to, at least.

Here it is:

Assistant - Night Shifts At The Airport (demo) [2.35 mins, 3.6mb]

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peggy Sue and The Pirates, Komedia

Since I saw them at the Freebutt supporting Scout Niblett a month or so ago, I've been obsessing over the five songs I own by the marvellous Peggy Sue and The Pirates, but I felt slightly worried before they took to the stage at the Komedia, recalling other times a band blew me away on the first encounter and then failed to make good on those tentative promises. At the Freebutt the band - Rosa and Katy - were engagingly messy, extremely charming and incredibly impressive, their slight, romantic songs soaring courtesy of some stunning harmonizing. Their songs, occasionally acapella but generally accompanied by acoustic guitar and an assortment of toy instruments, seemed to marry a disregard for convention with an innate appreciation of pop, and their unforced style and vocal gymnastics put a new spin on the unmannered anti-folk groups they've been lumped in with. After that show I bought a CD from Katy and she apologised again for their shambolic set. I told her that all my favourite bands are a shambles, which is pretty much true. But I did wonder if they'd turn in a more polished performance the next time round.

And, at the Komedia, they sort of do, although they're every bit as likeable and unpredictable. And - to my relief - they're still comfortably my favourite band at the moment (with the possible exception of The Wave Pictures), their songs just as good as I remembered, their voices just as pretty. They play eight or nine short songs and, buoyed by the first appearance of a new, snake-hipped drummer, a couple which, in their own words, stray into epic territory: in other words they last three of four minutes, rather than two or three.

Of the songs, its hard to pick out a favourite, especially when I hardly know any names, but I love 'New Song', which is heartbreaking and terribly graceful, and one song built on a refrain of "love will save the day, love will save the day, love will save the day" is met with a pay off which ties me up in knots - Katy's baleful, half spoken reply; "if love will only stay". On 'Phone Song' they pull off the same trick, managing to give simple lyrics emphasis and impact. "I hate it when the phone rings and it's not you" is economical and unflowery, but Peggy Sue also make it seem true, which is a nice trick to pull off. Tonight's closer - 'Escargot', if I heard right - is perhaps the evening's most sumptuous moment, where Katy's breathy, staggering voice is underlined, or countered, by Rosa's tilting melodica riff. The pause, the micro-second gap where the latter switches her attention from her instrument to the microphone provokes a in me a shiver and gasp, one of those hair-standing-on-skin moments that make pop music so exciting.

When they finish I turn to my friends and I have that feeling I always have when I encounter a new favourite band; a kind of desperation for my friends to love them too. And I'm pleased that they do, and we argue about whether we like Rosa or Katy best (it comes out two-two), and how great and how pretty they are, and how much fun their set was. When they walk past I kind of shout 'that was great' in Rosa's direction, and she smiles as if they're still a bit surprised that people like them, but they must be getting used to it. I drink another beer and watch people sitting down by the stage, ready for Diane Cluck - who is headlining - and shout to Dan that they're all 'fucking hippies' - just at the moment that Rosa walks by again, and this time she turns and looks at me, surprised, as if I tried to accost her, and I feel embarrassed and stare at my shoes.

The reason I like Peggy Sue so much, I think, is because they make me feel inspired; when I watch them I want to learn new instruments, write songs, draw pictures, make friends, wear new clothes; be generally intuitive, unhurried, open to possibilities, keen. That must be because all those characteristics, all those urges, are captured in their group, and in their songs. And that, in turn, must be why I love them so much.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

chlorine, bromine, resistence swimming

I've always been more of a splasher than a swimmer; when I was a kid I just couldn't get rid of the panic-tendency which meant that as soon as I put my head under I opened my mouth and gasped, getting a mouthful of salty (or chemical-flavoured) water for my troubles. I hated school swimming-lessons, hated every texture and fibre; lycra skull caps, goosebump-effect vinyl, hard towels and rubber locker-key bands. Snorting up water, particularly, wanting to retch.

I hated diving, racing, treading water. I hated getting out of my depth. I hated the coach-journey to the local grammar school, whose posh pool was rented out to the local comprehensives, but I liked the way we used to walk through their playground and sneer at the fact that they were playing cricket not football.

I hated too-tight inflatable arm-bands, compulsory showers. I never had a veruca. I skipped class the day they told us to bring our pyjamas.

Once, long after I'd dropped PE and stopped going swimming, my grandmother told me she hated Wednesdays, and when I asked why, she said "because you always go swimming on Wednesdays, and you hate it".

I do actually like swimming, so long as no-one is making me do it. But even then I lounge round the edge of the pool or, if I swim out to the centre, eschew straight lines in favour of broad arcs and slaloms.

Here's how I learned to swim: Not at school, I don't think, although my primary school did have a pool. I remember swimming for the first time in the sea on holiday with my parents, somewhere warm. I hadn't summoned up the courage to swim properly, so I used to play a game in the water instead, which consisted of walking out well within my depth and half-running, half-bouncing along the sea-floor, playing an imaginary, slow-motion game of football. I'd pass the ball, turn, and pound slowly through the water to my position by the goal, anticipating the cross, which I would meet with a diving header carefully calibrated to leave me back in the shallows, still dry from the neck up.

One day I was scooting along on my hands and knees where the water was warmest, and hence only a foot or two deep, when I looked up to find my father pointing his camera at me. On the rare days the photo album comes out, he always points out that was the day I learned to swim - he doesn't see how my arms are tense, supporting my weight and keeping me anchored. There wasn't a moment on that holiday when I decided to take the plunge, but I think my strides got longer and my body relaxed more, until it seemed I wasn't touching the floor at all any more.

And then I noticed I wasn't.

I suppose I always associate the ability to swim with the process of growing up; the inability to do so is something you throw off, like the inability to walk, or ride a bicycle. We get to the age of, I dunno, three or four or five or six, and learn how to be comfortable in the water. Then I read this weird thing in the Guardian today, an archived article from 1919, and it really surprised me and made me think, and the idea posited within - that we are an island people scared of water - really captured my imagination and made me think about the things we take for granted about modern Britain; including the ability to swim.

"At Ashton on Sunday a crowd stood on the banks of a canal and let a two-year-old child drown.

They even held back a spirited lad who was about to dive to the rescue, and delayed his effort until it was too late. The Coroner yesterday censured the crowd for their cowardice, but we doubt if he touched the root of the trouble.

It needs little or no courage to rescue a child from a canal. If courage were the only essential, no average British crowd would be found to lack it. But the prime factor in courage is confidence, and the paralysis that falls too often on the spectators of drowning accidents is born of a pitiful and needless fear of water.

We are an island people. None of us lives more than half a day's journey from the sea. Water is our natural element, our strength lies on it. Yet the majority of our whole population still dare not trust themselves in it."
The article goes on to declare support for the 1919 Education Act, which made special provision for a new subject; the teaching of swimming. All of a sudden I think back to my childhood swimming lessons and feel a touch of gratitude, rather than remembered horror.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

the peculiar david davis

Just reading about David Davis's bizarre decision to resign as an MP and fight a by-election on an anti-42-days platform. I can't think of a single reason why doing it makes sense, considering it'll cost heaps of the taxpayer's money, no serious party will stand against him, and it'll just turn into a circus with the BNP and UKIP chasing him around Haltemprice. The Tory party leadership is likely to be utterly perplexed. I suspect it's about ego, and nothing else.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

currently listening

Argh, the sun is out and it's all a bit weedy/folky this week. Sorry, punk rock.

1. Peggy Sue and The Pirates - Slowcoach
2. The Dodos - Red and Purple
3. The Anderson Tapes - Turn To Speak
4. Port O'Brien - All We Could Do Was Sing LP
5. Emmy The Great - Long Island (Wave Pictures cover)
6. Truckers of Husk - Cookie Cool and the Candy Mob
7. Anna Log - Scribble Talk
8. The National - Fake Empire
9. Florence and The Machine - Between Two Lungs
10. Jeffrey Lewis - The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song

Monday, June 09, 2008

something live in brighton

Now that the sun is out more often, I've started serenading my friends with my ukulele whenever we go to the park. They smile thinly and glance at their watches, wondering when the weather will turn. But Dan is my most consistent and enthusiastic audience member, only occasionally heckling and rolling his eyes - and he recorded me playing a song ('Something Good That Grows') in Brighton's Montpellier Crescent Gardens a few weeks ago. Note me ad-libbing and confessing to Ant that I can't remember the words, and discover why I rarely choose to go clean-shaven these days...

picnic season

The sun has come out in Brighton and the city seems much changed; it's proper sun and proper heat, but best of all the city is bathed in proper light, meaning that everything looks rather beautiful. St. Anne's Well Gardens, particularly, was a delight this weekend, and I went there twice, first for a breakfast on Saturday morning - where I watched the dogs leaping over each other with joy - and again yesterday, for a lovely lazy picnic with a few friends, including the brilliant Ali, who I'd not seen for ages. We did our best to play up Brighton as a city of constant sun in the hope we might tempt her back down from London for good, but I think she remembers living here well enough to remember it ain't so. She's back in Brighton next week too, which I'm very happy about.

Wisely, half of Brighton had the same idea as us, so the park was full of people lounging around, and only the rampaging kids and frisbee-throwers were a nuisance, like contstant wasps. Ali glared murderously at the former, I stared coldly at the latter, weighing up things to call them should a frisbee stray too close. The group next to us had a solar-powered record player, which I was much taken with, although not so much by their music choices. I curled my lip snobbily and cranked up my own iPod, although Dan in turn bristled at my choice of a Carl Craig tune, and conjured up a sneer of his own. We had a few beers, some white wine, bread and olives, and rued the inevitability of returning home.

Friday, June 06, 2008

they always let you down...

...if it's true.

The Guardian report today that John Lydon - a musical hero of mine for his heroic PiL records - has been accused of punching Roxane Davis, assistant producer on a TV show Lydon is making, in the face because he didn't like the hotel room he'd been allocated. Stunningly unimpressive stuff, and bewildering too. I hope it isn't true, but it might be.

Oddly, having recorded this sad story, the Guardian's Sean Michaels decides to close his news piece by turning the article into an advert for the latest installment of the Sex Pistols tour. It's strange and dispiriting to encounter an article about a pop star punching a woman in the face should end with the line "You can admire Rotten's new teeth and nasty demeanour at the following gigs..."

Sunday, June 01, 2008

more ukulele pop

More details on this song to follow; but here's a new one for you to try. This song was written over the last few weeks in a rare combination of locations: Lisbon, Somerset and the train from Bristol to Brighton last week. Once again, it's ukulele driven - I might as well just sell my guitar.

Assistant - Standards (demo) [2.13 mins, 3.5mb]