Wednesday, August 27, 2008

thoughts on obama

I thought I might take a few minutes to collect together a few rather unoriginal thoughts about Barack Obama, now that the race for the White House really does seem to be hotting up. At least half of these thoughts are really just echoes of things I've read recently - but I've tried hard to filter out the stuff that doesn't chime.

- McCain is much stronger than we're inclined to give him credit for. His debate with Obama at Saddleback Church demonstrated two things very clearly. Firstly, we must not be conned by his poor relationship with Bush/Cheney. In order to win the nomination - and the presidency - he has lurched comprehensively to the right. A win for McCain would be an absolute disaster. Secondly, at the moment he is better at this than Obama. His answers, particularly on abortion, were wrong, but they were calibrated precisely for his audience, were concise, and were straightforward. Obama, by contrast, waffled. McCain looked better on the night - even though Obama's responses were intelligent, thoughtful and measured.
- Having had such good luck for so long, Obama's good fortune looks a little less dependable. That holiday in Hawaii was timed very badly; McCain relished the chance to talk about Russia and Georgia, and Obama was nowhere to be seen. Now the Democrats have given too much time to Hillary and Bill at the Democratic contest, and it's doing him no good.
- Talking of Hillary; her speech was good, solid, dependable stuff. She went a long way to demonstrating that past wounds are healed. However, this is Hillary; a consummate, brilliant politician. That her speech was good, not great, was surprising. A great speech was well within her powers, so why hold back? It wasn't quite enough.
- Confession: I still wish that Hillary had won the nomination.
- Obama played the Michelle card well, though. It pains me to say that, because I hate to see a bright, intelligent feminist reduced to playing the support role. But it's imperative that the Democrats don't allow her to become a divisive Hillary figure. If she has to play a role to stop this happening, she has to do it. I thought she came across very well indeed, considering.
- Why is Obama not lights ahead in the polls? Why is he not storming this? Why did he appoint Biden as his running mate? There are lots of questions to be answered - we're a long way from knowing the answers at the moment.
- Lastly, how does Obama overcome America's innate anti-intellectualism? Right now he is too cerebral, too smooth. He's got an awful lot of work to do if he wants to win. At the moment, I'm feeling pessimistic.
- But... I like him a lot. It would be a great thing if he wins.

brighton awakes for a temporary summer

Sunday, August 24, 2008

steve malkmus in brighton

Just saw Steve Malkmus at the Komedia. Wow.

Amazing gig, as expected. His playing is electrifying, and his band terrific; Janet Weiss drums about as well as Steve plays guitar, and the interplay between them was a joy. The music was astounding, obviously - ridiculously complex and ever changing, a big, sprawling combination of stoner rock, prog, indie-pop and English psychedelia. He played some super, silly new stuff, some stone-cold classics, and about 8,000 guitar solos. Then trashed his guitar. My ears are ringing. Yes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

nice dinner

I don't normally blog about food, much less home-cooked fare, but tonight's dinner - compensation for last night's neighbour fiasco - was genuinely lovely; so here's a photo.

It consisted of portabello mushrooms stuffed with pesto, olives, parmesan, onion and garlic, cumberland sausage chipolatas, pink fir apple potatoes with a mint and parsley salsa, and green beans with basil butter. And best of all, there's enough left over for lunch tomorrow.

noise from without

I don’t think the music wakes me, I think I just naturally wake for a moment, and at first I’m not even aware that I can hear a noise. But my girlfriend is sitting up so I crane my neck and am about to ask what is wrong when I detect the murmur of voices from behind the wall.

"What time is it?", I ask.

At three o’clock in the morning my neighbours, who I’ve not properly met so far but have passed a few times and with whom I’ve exchanged friendly greetings, have arrived home with friends and turned on their stereo. It’s pretty loud – the constant, mournful wail of Arabic-sounding pop music. But worse is the hubbub of their voices, which comes and goes and rises and falls, but is always audible through the thin wall. I lay there for a while, conscious that I’ve got work in the morning and my girlfriend has a job interview to wake for. I sit back up and watch her draw her hand back to beat the wall, and instinctively catch her arm to stop her. We sit and think for a moment, and then she carefully thumps it, thwack, thwack, thwack, three times. It’s a hard, dead sound, not loud.

We lean in to the wall, wondering if the noise will abate. There is no corresponding reduction of volume.

"Should we go and sleep in the living room?", I ask, where we have a futon.

Why should we? We switch ends in the bed and my girlfriend stretches out a leg and kicks the wall, harder this time, four or five times. Whump, whump, whump, whump.

Again there is no reaction, and we conclude that the music is too loud for them to hear us.

It’s been perhaps forty five minutes now, and they’re getting, if anything, louder. We open the window and peer round, noting that their window is open and the volume rises further. I slam the window shut. “That is it”, says my girlfriend – who is braver than me. She pulls on her clothes and marches down the steps. I lean in to the wall and wait for the sound of their doorbell, but I hear nothing. Eventually I hear her thumping at their door. Again, the music does not lower in volume, and I hear no sign of their answering. If I’m honest, in retrospect I think I heard what I didn’t want to hear, which is a slight ripple of mocking laughter in the room.

My girlfriend returns. They didn’t answer. Shall we go and sleep in the living room?

Why should we? I fucking hate them, being so incredibly, stupidly inconsiderate, making this much noise at what is now half past four in the morning. We hammer on the wall again, harder, for longer. This time there is a reply.

A sequence of knocks.

Then the music , which has until now been a constant murmur behind their conversation, shifts up in volume. Deliberately. Provocatively. Mockingly. I am utterly furious and practically sobbing with frustration. Shall we sleep in the living room?

Why should we?

Should we call the police?

We traipse through and upheave the futon, folding it out across the floor. I walk back to get the bedsheets. The music is now so loud that surely everyone in the building has woken up. By five – less than two hours before I have to get up again - I have, mercifully, fallen asleep. My girlfriend later tells me that the music finally stopped at around the same time.

This morning I felt murderous, angry and tired – but also eager to forgive, to write it off; meek. I hate confrontation. I will give them another chance, I tell myself. But next time - if it happens again – I will call the police.


pick up a pigeon

I love getting nice things through the post. This bundle just arrived from Debbie, who writes the lovely Kept In A Jar blog, and of whose artistic talents I am most envious.

Wonderful! You can buy your own pigeon in Debbie's shop on Etsy.

sentence meme

Apart from offering a good opportunity to waste a bit of time, blog memes are usually pretty tiresome and once I've completed them I usually decide against posting them. But in this instance this one, nicked from Anna Pickard's blog, is pretty interesting, I think, so here it is:

1. My uncle once: raised his voice at me, perhaps, but certainly not more than once. He is incredibly dry and soft-spoken. I remember the first time I felt confident to make a joke about it, in his car being driven home after visiting my cousin Will. He laughed in just the way you would expect him too; imperceptibly, gently – a taciturn laugh.
2. Never in my life: have I been totally out of control. I’ve never wanted to lose myself with drugs, or by drinking too much. I always veer on the side of self-control. This means I find it very funny when friends dramatically over-indulge.
3. When I was five: I decided to colonise part of the schoolyard and make it my own. There was a popular game at lunchtimes where the biggest kids would fight for control of a large, egg shaped mound of grass in the field. I settled for a small slab of concrete, perhaps ten feet by six feet, and declared it my own. Occasionally someone would come and perch on it, and I would make as if to fend them off, before allowing them to stay, like a benevolent land-owner.
4. High school was: secondary school. Each year there’d be a new intake of kids who had been kicked out of the local grammar school. One or two were quite disruptive, but most were just a bit quiet, or dysfunctional, or were just outsiders. I made lots of new friends that way – I think even then I couldn’t stand the idea of a system that excluded kids that didn’t fit.
5. I will never forget: the paintings in my parents’ house.
6. Once I met: my friend Victoria and between us we conjured up an entire social circle for ourselves out of thin air; we’d just moved to Brighton and knew no-one. I’ve always thought it miraculous that between us we met so many people, befriended them, introduced them to each other, and helped to thread together a few people’s lives, who likewise did the same for us. Faced with this fact, it’s impossible to think that our lives are without meaning or consequence.
7. There’s this girl I know: who has no interest in being my friend. It really bugs me.
8. Once, at a bar: I’d had a drink too many trying to impress a girl, and turned and tripped. I somehow completed a full somersault down some steps and landed on my bum. Everyone laughed. I didn’t get the girl, oddly enough.
9. By noon, I’m usually: starving, but somehow I always put lunch off so long that I lose my appetite.
10. Last night: I spent the first truly relaxing evening in my new flat since I moved in. All the (worst) unpacking was done, I’d eaten early, and I was able to just sit down and have a quiet hour or two before bed. It was wonderful.
11. If only I had: the ability to persuade Blur to reform.
12. Next time I go to church: I will, as usual, worry that I will undergo a sudden conversion. I didn’t have anything approaching a religious upbringing, so hardly set foot in a church ‘til I was an adult. Somehow my distance from them just made them more strange and powerful. So when I go in them now I feel quite affected. No sign of any encroaching belief thus far, however.
13. What worries me most: is that I don’t organise my time properly, so I don’t get everything I want done, done.
14. When I turn my head left I see: houses, running along past the train track.
15. When I turn my head right I see: a blur of fences.
16. You know I’m lying when: the story is too artful. I can’t tell a simple lie, only create a fake anecdote.
17. What I miss most about the Eighties is: the feeling that I grew up in one of the last decades in Britain where children didn’t perpetually, constantly feel under pressure about their appearance.
18. If I were a character in Shakespeare I’d be: It would be good to say Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus, who says: “I have done a thousand dreadful things as willingly as one would kill a fly. And nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more." Except of course I cannot kill a fly, or any insect except by accident, so that rather limits my potential for villainy.
19. By this time next year: I’ll be happy to be roughly where I am now.
20. A better name for me would be: impossible to find. I think people should hang on to their names, not take other people’s as their own. I like my own name.
21. I have a hard time understanding: people who don’t engage with politics at all. I can see why they’re discouraged, or apathetic, but I don’t understand why they stay out of it and don’t express an interest – even if only outrage or despair. I think it’s because I associate a lack of interest in politics (or world affairs) with a general lack of curiosity.
22. If I ever go back to school, I’ll: not know what to study. I intended to do an MA at some point but I’ve not done one yet. I truly don’t know what I’d study if I did – I’m interested in too many things.
23. You know I like you if: I get a bit animated when we talk. I can’t really disguise my enthusiasm for other people. Although I’m not as bad as Sam, who is a lovely gesticulating idiot when enthused, positively vibrating with excitement.
24. If I ever won an award, the first person I would thank would be: the corporate sponsor.
25. Take my advice, never: turn down the offer of a pint.
26. My ideal breakfast is: an early lunch.
27. A song I love but do not have is: anything that Peggy Sue have not yet got round to recording. At the moment I’m obsessing over a patchwork of demos, streamed songs and their meagre recorded output. But I want more, damn it. That said, their new ‘June’ CD arrived in the post this morning, so I can’t really complain.
28. If you visit my hometown, I suggest you: turn left coming out of the station and go for a drink at the Battle of Trafalgar. (NB: [edit] of course, I mean right coming out of the station, as the ever factual Andrew has just reminded me)
29. Why won’t people: stop laughing at my ukulele.
30. If you spend a night at my house: then you can have anything you like from the fridge, except the chorizo.
31. I’d stop my wedding for: a six figure sum from Hello Magazine.
32. The world could do without: the Olympic Games.
33. I’d rather lick the belly of a cockroach than: vote for the Conservative Party.
34. My favourite blonde is: my friend Anne-Sophie. She lives in London now and I feel bad about not seeing her more often.
35. Paper clips are more useful than: bulldog clips. Except I can’t resist unfolding them, rendering them utterly useless, except for jabbing at people with. Which actually I enjoy.
36. If I do anything well it’s: talk.
37. I can’t help but: talk.
38. I usually cry: when I’m hungover. Anything can start me off; a scene from Hollyoaks, a newspaper story. On Sunday I was reduced to tears by the happy face of the bloke who scored Hull City’s winner against Fulham.
39. My advice to my child/nephew/niece: “Have a paternity test”.
40. And by the way: I think people, generally, are super.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

the week just was

Just watched a terrific set of high-octane but careful pop courtesy of the brilliant The Week That Was, an offshoot of Field Music, in Resident Records in Brighton. Their debut album is out this week and I highly recommend it; beautifully constructed, exact pop music with pretty but progressive hooks. Great stuff. And where the record is incredibly tight, live there's a welcome looseness and loudness. Brilliant stuff.


Monday, August 18, 2008

bird-badges and plectrums

The process of moving flat uncovers a multitude of sins, and in my case the paramount sin appears to be a lustful, insatiable desire to collect small objects; by which I mean anything smaller than a hardback book; incorporating buttons, seven-inch singles, paperclips, cables, bits of driftwood, hand-written notes, out of print penguin paperbacks with colourful covers, tiny musical instruments, travelcards, kinder egg toys, pebbles, bird-badges and bouncing balls.

Just about the only small item I'm always in need of, and never able to locate, is plectrums, and no matter how many I buy I swiftly lose them. I had anticipated that in cleaning out my old flat I would find lots of them under the bed or resting on skirting boards, but alas I didn't. The only plectrum I can always rely on finding is one that Pete gave me many years ago, transcribed with his name. Subsequently about 80% of the songs I've written in the last five years have been composed with his pick. Thanks mate.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 synth for iPhones

Just seen this, via Pete Ashton's blog.

It's a touch-senstitive synthesiser for one's iPhone. That's fantastic. Another reason to want an iPhone - which I can't afford. Great...

Here's the link, with impressive demo video.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

at home by the sea, pt. 2

Memory redux; part two of my At Home By The Sea write-up. Part one here.

- Still on a bit of a high from Thomas Tantrum, I'm in two minds what to do next. I get that common festival affliction, headless-chicken-syndrome, and decide it's my job to spend the next ten minutes rushing from stage to stage, despite most of them being empty. I'm trying to work out what to see next, and eventually settle on Slow Club, but not before I catch a bit of Stockholm's Shout Out Louds, who Siobhan and I quickly nickname 'Danlake', noting that they contain every component of Dan's fantasy football dream-band, namely:

(a) beards
(b) a small, cute, soulful girl playing an accordian
(c) a nice line in melancholic Americana, with heady overtones of Midlake
and (d) flags suspended at the back of the stage.

- I don't think much of them so retreat to the front bar to wait for Slow Club to get on stage. I position myself down the front, excited, and begin nattering to Ant as the room fills up and the band take the stage.

- Oh no, I'm at the wrong stage. It isn't Slow Club, it's The Shortwave Set, who have switched stages. I decide to give them the benefit of the doubt and will say this for them with no reluctance at all; they play nicely arranged, impeccably performed pop, with an impressive wall of swirling, queasy noise livening up their steady (workmanlike) tunes. I can see they do what they do well, but it is utterly lacking in emotional pull or surprise. They're only one good chord-change a song away from being a decent band, but at the moment their Elbow-cum-Air sound is merely a compliment by way of imitation, and nothing to savour.

- So I miss Slow Club. I do, as it happens, abandon The Shortwave Set after three songs, and dash round the back, but I bump into Sam, Chequers and Laura and decide I'd rather talk to them then go see another band, so we position ourselves at the outside stage and wait for Peggy Sue, who I've been ranting about for ages, I know.

- They arrive on stage. Katy Klaw is dressed as a clown. Rosa Rex is wearing a tiger costume. They play about twelve absolutely perfect songs with new drummer Olly, each one either delicate, or moving, or funny, or inspirational - and often all of those things together. Tonight my favourite songs are 'Once We Were Strangers' and 'Pupils Blink' - but really you can barely squeeze a cigarette paper between the songs; they're all wonderful. They do not explain their costumes, and I am glad for it.

- Ant shouts "Jonathan, stop fawning", spotting me transfixed at the front, and I try to look nonchalant instead.

- The Brakes close the evening, and I can barely see them for the two sodden skinheads stood in front, who aren't obscuring my view, but the way they hug each other and bellow along into each others faces quite captivates me. The Brakes do their usual high-energy, varied, set, and I wonder why more people don't appreciate them.

- And whumph, all my energy leaves the room here, so I throw myself into a cab and come home. At Home By The Sea is a funny little idea, a four-stage festival in a single venue on a beach in Southern Britain. But it's a good one, and I hope they'll do it again.

heavy shit

Direct to you from the Guardian Website.

Giant turd wreaks museum havoc
A giant inflatable dog turd created by the American artist Paul McCarthy was blown from its moorings at a Swiss museum, bringing down a power line and breaking a window before landing in the grounds of a children's home.

The exhibit, entitled Complex Shit, is the size of a house. It has a safety system that is supposed to deflate it in bad weather, but it did not work on this occasion.

Juri Steiner, the director of the Paul Klee centre, in Berne, told AFP that a sudden gust of wind carried it 200 metres before it fell to the ground, breaking a window of the children's home.

No more words necessary, I think you'll agree. Full story here.

Monday, August 11, 2008

at home by the sea pt. 1

Memories of At Home By The Sea, Concorde II, Brighton (part one).

- Walking along the sea-front, observing the choppy waters, it occurs to me that I am absolutely shattered. It's 6.45 on Saturday afternoon, and having spent the morning moving house, it's dawning on me that a mini-festival on Brighton Beach is perhaps a step too far. The sea is looking faintly furious and the rain is pelting down. Up ahead I hear a band humming away, and a reedy vocal.

- Shit, it's The Wave Pictures, onstage absurdly early. We race in and jostle to the front, to see a relaxed, grinning Dave Tattersal leading his wonderful band through a ramshackle tune as delightful as anything on Instant Coffee Baby, but not something I recognise. I know that Dan, Ant and Victoria are not far behind us, so I text them urging them to hurry, but by the time I look up from my phone the band are telling us that there are CDs available. Which I realise, with a heavy heart, means they're finished. And they are. They smile at us, at each other, and put down their instruments. I find I'm rather furious. I can't believe we missed them.

- Off to the bar.

- We wander round the side, wondering what the set up is. It seems that there are four stages; one in the bar at the front of the venue, one main stage in the usual place, another behind it and a small outdoor stage underneath one of the arches, lit with fairy lights and curated by the wonderful Peggy Sue (who have dispensed with the Pirates). But there's nothing there so we stop and say hello to a friend in a nice dress, and walk back round the front, wanting to catch the others and get a good place for Thomas Tantrum, who we've worked out are on next.

- We meet our friends and stand out front, watching a helicopter circle the pier, above the darkening waters. The next day we discover that a man, out on a stag do, drowned in the sea.

- One of Thomas Tantrum is wearing a Lemonheads t-shirt. If I didn't already think them brilliant, had never heard 'em before, the moment where I spotted this would probably be the moment when I started loving them.

- They don't impress all of my friends quite as much as I expect they will, but I later discover that Ant, at least, is only underwhelmed because he'd persuaded himself they were from Los Angeles and felt let down by the unromantic fact that they're from Southampton. I think they are absolutely terrific, however.

- They make brilliant, passionate, loveable, delirous pop music. Megan is a brilliant frontwoman, which helps, looking like a young Kim Gordon, alternately picking her strings in a reverie and slashing at the strings, crouched low. Her voice, let's be honest, some people will hate; it's high, unconventional and girlish, but not at all passive. She sounds bored and engaged by turn, investing every line with an appropriate feeling.

- The rest of the band are great too. David and Jim, on guitar and bass respectively, are very cool in different ways. The former (he of the Lemonheads t-shirt) contributes some really fantastic guitar playing, his style loose and melodious without being at all predictable, picking out tangential, forceful melodies and scittering between motifs. His instinctive lines and appreciation of sound make me think of Spiral Stairs' heart-felt Pavement stuff. Jim on bass is just really cool, jumping up onto the drum riser and spinning out ultra-fluent, poppy basslines.

- They play about eight or nine songs in twenty odd minutes, and they're all brilliant. 'Shake It Shake It' and 'Work It' are buzzy, immediate pop and 'Why The English Are Rubbish' and 'Pshandy' are miniature canvases conjured up with real dexterity and complexity. All through their set there are hidden melodies which suddenly emerge, tempo changes and lustful changes of emphasis. Throughout it all Megan is bashful, keeping her eyes down and her feet on the floor. This surely can't last - Thomas Tantrum are way too good, and she'll have to get used to the applause.

- Right, more recall tomorrow...

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Tuesday, August 05, 2008


An interesting interview on Radio 4 this morning, where Geert Wilders made a very unconvincing case against Islam. I suspect that Michael Buerk was equally unimpressed, if the phrasing of the following question is to be taken as evidence:

"When you first began airing your opinions on immigration, surely it provoked a reaction; firstly, that you were exaggerating, but also second that you were not just an idiot, but also racist?"

That's not a direct quote, couldn't scrabble for a piece of paper fast enough to be sure it was exact, but it's pretty close. The section in italics is definitely right, and revealing.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

new shoes

My new shoes are inching past the hurting-my-feet stage, thankfully, so I am beginning to have affectionate feelings towards them. I just sat in front of the television drawing one of them, so absorbed that I didn't even get round to getting up and turning Casualty off, which is absorbed indeed.And here they really are, on the end of my legs.

Friday, August 01, 2008

amazing cardigan

the whole shebang

Shebang is a fanzine put together by Liv Willars and Lynsey Woods, and it is one of the most beautifully designed and carefully constructed fanzines I’ve seen. Much effort has clearly been put in on Lynsey’s part putting together an attractive, cohesive page design and the team have commissioned an attractive selection of line-drawings, collages and paintings to illustrate their articles, which themselves demonstrate a satisfying breadth of content.

Although a majority of the features relate to pop music – with decent interviews with the excellent Peggy Sue and the young, eager Poppy & The Jezebels – Liv has been careful to commission articles on photography, art and travel, and it’s in these respects that the fanzine really excels. I’d much, much rather read an article about Berlin or Ghent than I would another indie band, and Tilly Stasiuk’s description of her Geisha makeover is fascinating stuff. When the fanzine dips into popular culture territory to talk about the Mighty Boosh, it takes an unexpected and welcome approach, talking to the prop master who worked on the first series of Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding’s show. It provides for energetic anecdotes and a view of the duo we’re not familiar with.

Some of the features are possibly under-written, and would benefit from more detail, but the overall feel is impressive. It’s a cleverly curated and beautifully executed effort, and hopefully the first of many. Feeling a bit inspired, I dropped them an email a month or two ago asking if they wanted any contributions. I’ve had no reply, which is probably for the best – it points to the fact that they’ve got plenty of stuff lined up for future editions. This is a fanzine definitely worth keeping your eye out for.

What I don’t know, unfortunately, is how to stress the title. Is it shebang or shebang? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s an ambiguity that Liv and Lynsey are happy with; both emphases seem equally appropriate.

You can buy the fanzine at, or find it for sale in the following Falmouth shops: Jam, Here&Now and Babahogs, as well as in Brighton's Resident Records and Stand Out Records in Salisbury! There's even, wonder of wonders, a Facebook group, here.