Tuesday, June 30, 2009

snip snip

On Saturday morning, having put it off for as long as possible, I submitted to necessity and went to get my hair cut - a long way from being one of my favourite chores, not least because of the seemingly compulsory chit-chat one is compelled to partake in. 

On this occasion, there could only really be one subject for discussion. 

"What did you, er, what did you make of Michael Jackson dying, then?", I was asked. 

"I felt a bit sad", I replied. "but mainly just cos it seemed like he was living a pretty lonely, unsatisfactory life".

The barber nodded. "Yep", he said. "Still, what's got to be considered is, he was a paedophile". 

I made a sort of non-commital noise. Child abuse, like football, is traditionally one of the subjects I try to avoid discussing when having my hair cut.

"Yep" his colleague agreed. "All them kids". 

They shook their heads. 

I sat in silence, leaving them to their conversation while my barber snip-snipped around my ears. Occasionally the two of them would cease their work, and their conversation, to stare at the skimpily dressed teenaged girls, most of whom were perhaps 15,16, as they walked past the barbers and down into town.

I elected not to point out the irony.  

Monday, June 29, 2009

the papers laud blur

I’ve been having laptop troubles this week, so I’ve lost the Blur review I’ve been working on, so it’ll be a little while before I get a write up posted of last week’s Southend gig. In the meantime, you’re probably up to speed with how effective and moving a reunion their return is proving, courtesy of last night’s (annoyingly brief) Glastonbury highlights on the BBC. Today’s papers seem to echo my view; that although the band started ever so slightly slowly, before long they gelled perfectly, and played pretty much the perfect festival set. Here’s a quick run-down on the reports I’ve been reading in the Nationals…

Tim Jonze from the Guardian was fabulously impressed, choosing to contrast Blur’s hi-energy performance with the workmanlike sets of Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen. He writes:

"Tonight Blur are sticking their fingers up to dad-rock by falling in love all over again with the dumb art of playing pop music – and playing it loudly. Girls and Boys literally throbs with sordid energy, Song 2 sees the crowd threatening to pogo themselves off the earth's axis, and Parklife turns every man, woman and anarcho-crustie into a cockney geeza. It's hit after hit after hit. From She's So High to the Universal, via Popscene, For Tomorrow and Country House, it's nothing short of relentless.

(…) But for all their energy, it's the sad songs that work best: To the End, The Universal, This is a Low. Weirder still is the reaction to Tender, a song never really rated (at least by me) as a classic, transformed into a joyous hug-a-long that reverberates around the crowd after the first encore and the second encore.
It's at this point – when previously dismissed tracks acquire a new life of their own – that you realise something truly magical is going on. Because tonight's headline slot is not just about the music. It's not even about nostalgia. It's about friendship – and the truly heartwarming sight of two best friends throwing aside their differences and starting afresh."

Nick Hasted, writing for the Independent, noted the emotional undercurrent in the band’s performance, too:

"When Damon Albarn starts to grin five songs into their great Glastonbury comeback, Blur start to look like a band again. And when he breaks down weeping near the end, you know how much it meant. "Beetlebum" is the song where Albarn's errant guitarist and childhood friend Graham Coxon fizzes up his effects pedals, bassist Alex James starts to spin, fag dangling, and you remember Blur were the 1990s' great psychedelic band. (…) It is just before "This Is A Low", the best of Albarn's often deeply personal songs, that he sits on the stage and weeps, utterly overcome by all the times that have just been unstopped. Getting up to sing it is almost heroic."

Here’s Pete Paphides in the Times.

"As for Blur, a simple “Wow!” from Damon Albarn hinted at the scale of their reception. The love their music continues to inspire was measurable in countless moments: the sight of four fans who had gone to the trouble of dressing up as the sad-faced milk cartons in the video of 1999’s Coffee and TV; the spontaneous communal “Yesss!” that greeted Girls and Boys; the way almost everyone present continued to sing the “Oh my baby” refrain of Tender — even after a hair-raisingly beautiful seven-minute performance of the song — so that Blur eventually had to start Country House over it.

If there was one thing that the group’s warm-up gigs of the previous weeks had lacked, it was a fitting arena for Britain to show how much it had missed them.
Not here though. Not a chance. A guesting Phil Daniels came on for Parklife and 100,000 people absolutely bellowed the chorus into the night sky. It was perhaps at this point that our memory of how good they were intersected most dramatically with their readiness to confirm it. Had we just witnessed the greatest headlining set in the festival’s history? The eno-o-ormous sense of wellbeing that swept through Worthy Farm suggested we most definitely had."

And lastly, back in the Guardian, the most lyrical, evocative description of the lot, courtesy of Laura Barton.

"The audience, elated, even a touch delirious, wills them on; when Albarn's voice gives way a little in Beetlebum, the crowd rushes to catch it. Tender, one of the set's many highlights, is greeted with a warm rush of approval. "I'd forgotten they're a singalong band!" says the man to my right, as the band stops and starts, revs up the chorus once more and then falls silent, the sudden quiet filled by several thousand festival-goers softly singing the song's chorus: "Oh my baby," they lilt, "Oh my baby. Oh why. Oh why." It is one of the sweetest moments of the festival. Their efforts are duly rewarded with an ebulliant rendition of Country House, a song which acquires greater resonance here tonight for the muddy-booted masses. And for Alex James of course.

They haul out the hits: Parklife, This is a Low, To the End, to an increasingly enthusiastic reception. Returning to the stage for a rousing rendition of Song 2, and then again for The Universal, the band looks genuinely delighted as they look out over the flags, over the crowd with its sunburned noses and glitter-smeared faces, and peacock feathers in its hair, and far off to the countryside of Somerset and the floating candles flaring up into the sky. There is a pause as they seem to take in the magnificence of what they have done. And then comes the guitar, and the great singalong continues."

Friday, June 26, 2009

michael jackson, strange creature

This morning, waking up to find that Michael Jackson has died, feeling a small impact, like the sort of punch a small animal might administer, in my gut, I thought of Maria, who was my next door neighbour when I was growing up in Barnet.

I was never a Jacko fan, although I think I'm right in saying that the first ever album I bought on vinyl (I'd requested a turntable for a birthday and was stocking up in advance) was his 'Bad' LP. But Maria, who was a few years older than me and a cherished companion in my pre-teen years, was - in a way that only Michael Jackson fans can be - absolutely obsessed with him. Rightly too, as well, because he was at that point, with the possible exception of Glenn Hoddle, by far the most interesting and important person on the planet. Or so it felt at the time.

For me, Michael Jackson truly was Peter Pan like, but not in the sense that he would have us believe. For me, he simply stopped ageing in something like 1989 because the Jacko that existed after that point seemed to be a different person altogether. So the Michael Jackson of my imagination has never ceased to be the strange, exotic, alluring creature who made 'Thriller' and 'Bad' (and, best of all, 'Off The Wall', which I didn't discover 'til I was in twenties). The Michael Jackson that followed, the Earth Story Jacko, the baby-dangling Jacko, was someone else entirely, and I felt no interest in him, and feel only a passing, regretful sadness at his death, and the way he lived his last years.

The world has, however, subsumed to Jacko-grief. It's hard to know what to make of it really. I think I feel sad, and uncomfortable, and relieved, all at the same time. It was a strange, unsatisfying life, one feels. I'm very sorry for those who are upset though, and particularly for Maria. Nevertheless, I was pleased to note that however gripped the world is, Guardian readers still have their priorities right - just.

UPDATE: There's a really rather beautiful, terrifically sad article about Michael Jackson by Danny Baker in today's Times: it's well worth a look. Extract below.

"I remember watching the video to the song Bad some time later, the one Martin Scorsese shot as a gangland fight in a subway station. In the film Jackson was at his peak, a cutting-edge pop star playing the coolest member of a streetwise gang setting the pace and breaking the rules. Everybody wanted to be Jackson at that point — especially Jackson. Instead here was a confused and frightened boy who though totally comfortable, assured even, headlining Madison Square Garden, had not the slightest idea how to walk to the corner shop and buy a loaf of bread. In the real world he was a sham, and the worst thing about that was not only did he know it, but he wasn’t allowed to forget it by those once close to him"

Friday, June 19, 2009


nick grifffin of the BNP

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

more naive kids on the train

This morning, sat on the train, I’m joined by three young men who start an earnest discussion around me. It’s about moving to Brighton now that they’ve finished their sixth form.

“Seriously”, one says, “let’s do it. Imagine. Even if we were only there for the summer. We could easily afford it if we shared”.

“Do you think?”, another replies. “Brighton is WELL expensive”.

“It’d be amazing though”, the third chips in. “I’m totally up for it. If we can afford it”.

“Rent will be NO PROBLEM”, the first insists. “Credit crunch, isn’t it! All the rents have gone down MASSES”.

The others lean forward. “Seriously?”, they chime in?

He nods confidently.

I leave them to their planning.

who will rid of us of this ridiculous prince?

There's a super article by Roy Hattersley in the Guardian today; I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels frustrated by Prince Charles' intervention in the Chelsea Barracks architecture debate, and Hattersley takes my thoughts to their logical conclusion with a stinging, thoroughly enjoyable assault on our hopeless heir to the throne.

"Prince Charles is clearly a philistine – a quality which would not be a handicap in his line of work were it not for the presumption that prompts him to believe he is an expert on subjects about which he is ignorant. He knows nothing about architecture"

Monday, June 15, 2009

my heart stops

...and then it starts.

Here's a youtube clip of Blur's comeback gig at Colchester on Saturday. Wow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

lego arctic


Thursday, June 11, 2009

passing song

Right, it's been absolutely ages since I last posted one of my songs up here - so here is a recent composition, 'Passing Song', which is set to a video that myself and Dan edited together last weekend. The song itself is not very clear, lyrically, but it's about hearing something hopeful in a sad sentence. Being told one thing, but hearing the promise of something else altogether.

i have a cold

Disclaimer: I'm not that ill at all. But I wrote the following so that I could spare my friends from having to hear me whinge.

I have a heavy head, which
aches with the weight of my eyelids.
I hate my cold.
I shuffle to the door, peer outside,
and offer it a walk.
It declines.

I venture an experimental cough,
wondering if it's got to my chest,
timber creaking,
bending my lungs and my ribcage.
Calculating aspirin doses,
mineral water.

I remember when having a cold
conferred luxury, back home.
Swaddled, indulged,
my discomfort traded for blackcurrant juice
and videos.

So I offer to wrap my cold up warm, console it.
It glances ruefully at cracks in the window sill.
Then I call it names.
Alone in my flat, swearing.

It lets me get a bit of sleep in the afternoon.
But I wake up dry mouthed, bruised,
sorry for myself.

Then, pretending I'm friends with it,
I take my cold to a pub, buy a beer
and try to leave it at the bar,
tip-toeing away on peanut shells.

I concentrate.
I click my neck.
I close my eyes.
I wait for it to pass.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

the real nick griffin

There are lots of 'fake' twitter accounts on the internet, and most are either deliberately misleading or blunt, unfunny attempts at satire. Since it was created a couple of days ago, however, the @realnickgriffin account has been consistently hilarious. No idea who's behind it, but the tweets are much more than isolated gags - instead the timeline of posts works as a kind of absurd, hilarious soap opera, purporting to present the BNP leader's fatuous racism and daily trials at the hands of the PC liberal media and the European Parliament which he is now compelled to attend. It is there that he is forced to interact with the Parliament's other resident thug, Jean Marie Le Pen.

The gags are often crass and a bit childish - but it works, and has a tremendous amount of fun with the idiotic figure that is the BNP leader. Incidentally, there are a host of anti-BNP tags being used regularly on twitter, but my favourite so far is the tag people tend to use when talking of Griffin: #fathitler.

Anyway - here's a selection of the @realnickgriffin tweets posted so far.

arrived in Brussels. guess what? it's only full of bloody foreigners. i can see i'll have a right job on.

moved into my new office. guess which way it faces? east! that's right. someone thinks this is funny, no doubt

that idiot Le Pen left a whoopie cushion on my office chair. there was a note: "I'm sure you'll find Europe's a GAS! haha" - cretin

awful biscuits here at the Euro Parliament, too. not a custard cream in sight: just sneering, cosmopolitan macaroons

SO bored in my first day of the new job. sat at my desk drawing the golliwogs back onto jars of (politically correct) jam.

policy ideas: a golliwog for every child. dynamite the Channel Tunnel. some sort of phrenology initiative. more coastguards.

stupid European vending machines. tried to ram in my BRITISH pound coin anyway. hurt hand. lost coin. no Twix. fuck Europe.

off to hit up that sniveling little bollock Le Pen for some lunch money.

snuck into Le Pen's office and wiped my glans around the rim of all his cups. haha!

just had a pathetic, tearful phonecall from J M Le Pen, saying he wants to "mend bridges". suppose i'd better go and see what he wants.

someone snitched to Le Pen about the cups! the "meeting" was a trap. i was held down by his advisors and forcibly teabagged by JMLP himself.

furious. i will REPATRIATE the fucking french and anyone who talks french or likes french fucking food.

i can't wait for my tea. i'm having an Indian. just kidding! i'm having a Chinese. just kidding! i'm having moussaka. just kidding!

i'm having sausages

reading Brick Lane. kidding! reading The Buddha Of Suburbia. kidding! reading The Kite Runner. kidding!

reading nothing

all those astronauts up there, different races, all rubbing up against each other in a solar powered tin can. it makes me sick to my stomach

still not happy about my new easterly-facing office. perhaps a nice rug would jolly it up a bit.

sending my secretary out to shop for a rug

bloody hell. sent my secretary out to buy a rug for the office, she came back with THIS. it will have to do. http://twitpic.com/6ypya

and now in my fury i've dropped a contact lens. i'll just kneel down to pick it up....

Le Pen walked in while i was on all fours searching for the contact lens i dropped on that gaudily-patterned mat in my east-facing office.

obviously now Le Pen is laughing his head off telling all the other fringe MEPs that i've "gone Cat Stevens". fuck fuck fuck. i hate him.
Here's the link to the twitter feed. Genius. It's like a racist Adrian Mole.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

in praise of morris dancers

Morris dancers are a funny lot, no? When I was younger, and thought it necessary to be dismissive 50% of the time and sarcastic the other 50, I would have argued without giving a moments thought that Morris dancing was something deserving of scorn; anachronistic, backward-looking, the preserve of little-Englanders and social outcasts. The sort of thing that punk was supposed to sweep away.

I was a mess of contradictions. I hated all that olde England bollocks, and bookended my days by listening to Blur's 'Modern Life Is Rubbish', which mined exactly the same conceptual map of England for reinterpretation and examination. I didn't get the subtlety at all. They used to slag off America, too, which I brainlessly echoed.

So when I was younger, and thought it necessary to be dismissive 50% of the time and sarcastic the other 50, I would have argued without giving a moment's thought that America was something deserving of scorn; culturally empty, false, lacking in integrity. If I went to America, I thought, I'd find the place intolerable - fascinating in places, sure, but a wasteland of consumerism in others.

Of course, I've been to America plenty of times now, and don't recall a single moment when I wasn't enamoured with the place. I was comprehensively, immaturely wrong. And when I was there last, wandering through Central Park, I turned a corner and came upon a troupe - twirling and skipping incongruously in the Manhattan sun - of Morris dancers. From the tips of my toes to the corners of my widening smile, I felt real warmth towards them; surprise and delight. I don't want to intellectualise the reasons for my changed attitude - but when I encountered more Morris dancers outside the Basketmakers in Brighton the other day, the thought that crossed my mind was this is surely the most harmless activity in the entire world. That in itself is reason to love it.

I wrote a new song last week. It's not about Morris dancers - but me and Dan spent Saturday afternoon editing together footage of the dancers we saw in Brighton, creating an impromptu promo video for the song. I'll post it here in the next couple of days.

snow mistake

I love it when newsreaders make mistakes on air; for some reason it's particularly amusing when people invested - generally speaking - with such dignity and poise slip up, either through a rare and temporary lack of composure on their part or a technical glitch which visits a moment of humiliation upon them. Just now Jon Snow - just about the most unflappable of news presenters - became absolutely and comprehensively flustered at the top of the 7 o'clock news. He just stood, for a moment, like a rabbit in the headlights. 'Um', he said.

A minute later his calm was restored. "I apologise", he said, "for the technical difficulties".

An apology was far from necessary. In my flat, wonderfully distracted from hanging out my washing, I was cackling happily.

Monday, June 01, 2009

is this yours?

No idea who is responsible, but there's a road in Brighton, Upper North Street, that houses some of the city's most unusual, and temporary grafitti. The other day I walked along there with some friends and spotted – it was early evening, with the sun beginning to dip behind the houses – that someone had etched the outline of a postbox's shadow onto the pavement; one shadow for the shade it cast when caught in the sun, another for when the streetlights were turned on. The next day it had gone.

A couple of days later, I walked the same route, and spotted this.

brighton festival

Sat dozing on the train to work, this morning, I overhear a girl complaining.

“I’ve done it again”, she says. “The Brighton Festival season is over and I didn’t attend anything. Again. I never attend anything”.

Her companion tries to provide consolation.

“Everything is so expensive. And the good stuff always sells out early”.

There was a pause.

“No. I’m just crap. I couldn’t really find anything I wanted to see. I’m not cultured enough for Brighton”.

She just didn’t look hard enough. The Brighton Festival is a lovely event in my city’s calendar, and one that I’m prepared to admit I hardly ever get the best out of. Sometimes I feel the same way my fellow passenger did; there’s nothing much for me – it’s all scones and conversation with Joanna Lumley or ancient sonatas with the Royal Symphony Orchestra. Other times I don’t even look, feeling depressed about money or ambivalent about engaging. I’m being an idiot on all counts, of course, because there’s loads of amazing, challenging, interesting stuff happening above and below my radar, and plenty which is free, or cheap, or worth the risk. Usually Festival season slips by and I’ve barely scratched the surface, and I’m left as irritated as the girl I overheard this morning. Why didn’t I do more.

This year I did, well… I did a bit, and feel glad that I did, and only a little bit disappointed that I didn’t do more. There are things I really wish I’d got my finger out to see, and others that I reflect I might have taken a punt on, but it’s hard to feel too left out because Brighton (apologies, readers, for the smug tone) is just always brimming with possibilities. The Brighton Festival is over. But Brighton is always in festival season, really, regardless of when the posters and bunting are up. The last few weeks have seen The Great Escape (where Brighton disguises what is essentially a big 3 day long pub crawl as ‘Europe’s Leading Festival for New Music’), the Spring Festival in St. Anne’s Well Gardens, all the Festival Fringe events, and the Festival proper. And there are simply loads of events on the horizon which I’m minded to attend: the Loop festival, Hanover Day, Pride, the Brunswick Festival, Beachdown. The lesson on under-attending the month-long Brighton festival is not ‘I must do more next year’, it’s ‘I must engage more, generally’.

At the Spring Festival – a very middle class, cosy celebration of the part of town where I live (7 Dials) – I sat in the park with a friend, drinking coffee and watching a tangle of children and animals weaving through seated figures on the grass. Parents fanning themselves with their Weekend Guardians, children chasing dogs, dogs chasing children, dogs chasing dogs.

“Don’t you think”, my friend said – as we watched people mill around the stalls, munching on cupcakes – “that we’d all be a lot happier if we took more active roles in our communities?”

The answer is surely yes. We work all day so that we can live in the communities of our choosing, and yet when we arrive there we so often limit our interaction to the newsagent and the supermarket, a pair of pubs (one good for winter, one for summer), and the friendship groups we’ve already established over time. I think we should all get dogs. I want a dog and I want to be stopped on every corner by another dog owner, and I want them to know my name. I want to paint watercolours of Montpelier Crescent, St Luke’s Church and Vernon Terrace, and for the paintings to hang on my neighbour’s walls. I want to write for the local newsletter.

I don’t really want this.

I sort of want it.

I do want the feeling of pride I get when I look around the Open Houses during the Brighton festival – where I admire the lovely abstract paintings of Sarah Shaw and Natalie Edwards, the lovely sewn images of Lou Trigg, the mischevious cats screenprinted by Eve Poland (whose own cats used to climb through my window and terrorise me when I lived nearby) – and think "this is the work of my community, my peers, the people I share my city with".

I feel a bit bad about how infrequently I update my blog, because if I’d have been organised, I could have told you this earlier, in time for you to trace my footsteps through the Festival, if you'd wanted to.