Monday, November 03, 2003

Repeating the magic

It's Friday night, I've already witnessed the amiable shambling prog-folk of Alfie, I find myself surrounded by hundreds of rabidly excited Flaming Lips fans, and I feel like a grumpy sour-faced old killjoy. Flanked by a dozen fans in animal costumes, Wayne Coyne, Steven Drozd and Michael Ivins have just taken to the stage and, amidst balloons and cascades of glitter, launched into 'Race For The Prize'. It's a spectacular opening, and yet I'm gutted.

You see, I've seen all this before, at Glastonbury. Immediately, I know the setlist will be practically identical - in fact, the only additions are the not-as-great-as-it-might-have-been cover of 'Seven Nation Army', tossed away carelessly early on, and the recent Chemical Brothers collaboration 'The Golden Path', which curiously sounds like The Strokes live. The encore will consist of 'Waiting For A Superman' and the cover of 'Breathe' by Pink Floyd. There's fake blood for 'The Spark That Bled' and the customary rendition of 'Happy Birthday', there's handheld smoke machines, there's the loudspeaker, there's the nun hand-puppet singing the final chorus of 'Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt 1', there are the same projections - even down to the warning "Don't snort your own brain, just enjoy The Flaming Lips". The only real surprise is when the girl onstage in the panda outfit faints due to the heat and strobe lighting, and the show is held up for a few minutes while she's tended to.

I stand there knowing I'm witnessing something brilliant, especially during 'The Gash' and 'Do You Realise??'. And yet all the time it's tinged with disappointment. Despite the glee they very evidently provoke all around me, I can't help reaching the conclusion that the band named as currently the top American act by The Guardian are becoming predictable. For a band like The Lips, who thrive on invention, that's a crying shame.

They've put themselves in a difficult position: how do they move on and better what has gone before? The Glastonbury show felt less like a gig than an Event - momentous, memorable and perhaps even life-changing, as the opening projected images predicted. Quite simply, it felt like a one-off. And to see them do it all again, albeit on a vastly reduced scale, is a hugely disillusioning experience. You find yourself forced to acknowledge that nothing's unique, and that everything can be reproduced. Above all, while all around me might be having their own personal Lips epiphany, I'm left feeling that the one I had in June is being devalued, the moment desecrated.

With hindsight, of course they were going to be amazing again, and of course I was going to feel let down. I shouldn't have gone.
The beginnings of another curse?

First it was Birmingham, then it was West Brom, and on Saturday it was Villa - the third West Midlands side this season to leave St James's Park with a creditable but undeserved result. For the second time in a few days, we completely dominated a match in terms of possession and chances, but, unlike against Portsmouth last week, we were unable to translate our domination into a victory.

As a long-standing thorn in our side for both Villa and Coventry, Dion Dublin simply HAD to score and turn in an outstanding performance as a makeshift central defender, while the two former Mackems in the visitors' ranks had contrasting fortunes - Gavin McCann was dismissed for two hot-headed challenges, whereas keeper Thomas Sorensen foiled several goalbound efforts and, ten minutes from time, saved an Alan Shearer penalty. Consistently excellent displays from the skipper have earned him the right to be forgiven for the miss, while Robert continued his impressive goalscoring streak - but others could have performed better. Given Villa's dreadful away record, they were there to be beaten - once again, it's a case of needing to be more clinical and ruthless in front of goal.
Quote of the day

"Christina Aguilera has said she's disappointed not to be named the Worst-Dressed Celebrity. Of course you've not been, Christina; you'd have to have been dressed at some point to qualify."

No Rock 'N' Roll Fun

Friday, October 31, 2003

Hearts of (black) gold

A word of warning: if you ever go to the Birmingham Academy (or, I assume, any other Academy venue) for a gig, be prepared to shell out nearly three quid for a pint of wanky lager.

Another word of warning: judging by the craggy faces of all the leather-jacket-clad forty-something Mary Chain fans assembled in the venue tonight, prolonged exposure to feedback certainly ain’t good for you. In ten years, then, I’ll probably be looking like the fucking Elephant Man.

First up, in the absence of Boxer Rebellion, are M.A.S.S., who somehow manage to make the most sexless rock ‘n’ roll imaginable. They sound like they formed, sat down in some Camden boozer, pored over a few issues of NME and came up with a clutch of songs cynically aimed at hitching a ride on every available bandwagon going. ‘Testify’ is the Von Bondies done spectacularly badly, and ‘Revolution’ is such a pathetically dispassionate din that you’d think it was about the chain of vodka bars and not the form of popular political uprising. Even the lead singer’s attempt at a sneer (in amongst her repertoire of feeble Karen O impressions) is pathetic, suggesting only that she’s swallowed a sachet of vinegar. Perhaps she’s just mirroring my own facial expression. M.A.S.S.: never darken my eardrums again.

By way of contrast, it’s not hard to see why Razorlight have been arousing countless erections amongst record label suits over the past year. I might have been determined not to be swayed by the hype, but the hype becomes irrelevant when Johnny Borrell and his Scandinavian rent boys take to the stage and strike up the first notes of new single ‘Rip It Up’. It’s also not hard to see the Libertines connection – Razorlight might be sharper and more polished than the gloriously shambolic rabble-rousers, but there’s the same Strokes-on-Thames feel, and the same lyrical intelligence and flair on show here. It’s also clear that, in the case of Doherty, Barat and Borrell, two’s perfect company whereas three would understandably have been a crowd.

But Razorlight aren’t what all those craggy-faced leather-jacket-clad forty-something Mary Chain fans are there for. Oh no sirree. That would be The Raveonettes. And fuck me if they aren’t brilliant. And satisfyingly loud.

In terms of sex, the difference between the headliners and M.A.S.S. is enormous – songs like ‘Little Animal’ are positively dripping with pheromones, while Sharin Foo’s eyelinered eyes, sultry smile and cooing vocals become rather, ahem, distracting, amidst even the most piercing of the static storms they conjure up onstage. They play ‘That Great Love Sound’, ‘Noisy Summer’ and ‘The Love Gang’ in succession, impressing on anyone present who’s not already aware of the fact that this year’s Chain Gang Of Love LP is, above everything else, a stunning pop record, as black as night and yet miraculously and heart-warmingly upbeat with it. Eventually, after the queasy and bruised metronome of ‘Love Can Destroy Everything’, dedicated to Johnny Cash, the warped surf guitar genius of ‘Untamed Girls’ and a fabulous mauling of Buddy Holly’s ‘C’mon Everybody’, old favourites ‘Attack Of The Ghost Riders’ and ‘Beat City’ round the evening off in a joyous celebration of pure noise.

The biggest compliment I can pay them is that they make me want to go out, buy some gut-rotting headfuck white cider, drink it in the bushes, enjoy a drunken snog and then go home to spew all over the carpet. As it is, I step back into the rain with ears and head buzzing, glowingly happy.

As PJ Harvey sang, this is love.
A report of two halves

On Wednesday night Newcastle lost 2-1 after extra time at home to First Division side West Brom in the League Cup.

Here's what I wrote before seeing the highlights:

Typical Newcastle. Just as you start getting used to dining on caviar, they serve you up shit on toast. Tonight's result is an embarrassment. A case of arrogance and complacency, no doubt. Understandable, perhaps - West Brom might be a better team now than when they were relegated from the Premiership in June, but this time last week they were losing 1-0 at home to the MK fucking Dons. Take that into account, and defeat is unforgiveable.

And here's what I wrote after seeing the highlights:

In terms of chances in front of goal, a much more one-sided game you couldn't hope to see. We were desperately unlucky, and failed to get our just desserts - although, as managers who've just benefitted from a stroke of luck are wont to say, it evens itself out over the course of the season and this perhaps balances out our fortuitous win against the Smoggies a couple of weeks ago.

However, although displaying no shortage of endeavour, the players who came in just weren't up to the task, it seems. Despite creating all the chances, we were disappointingly toothless up front. Having knocked on Bobby's door incessantly all season, the fringe first teamers should have seized the opportunity when it came their way with both hands. As it is, the likes of Viana and Solano have hardly proved their case for inclusion in the regular first team.

Some blame must, however, be apportioned to Bobby himself. OK, so he's got the right to expect that the players he brings in should be capable of doing the job. But let's be honest - this is a huge club with no major silverware since 1969, and we've just passed up our best chance of a trophy. We can't afford to pick and choose which competitions we devote our energies to. Surely a full-strength side would have sent the Baggies packing?

One consoling thought: at least by winning in extra time, they spared us the agony of yet another catastrophic penalty shoot-out...
Blogwatch

Bump! Grind! Oooh! Aaah! It seems it's Sex Week over at Troubled Diva, and it's proving to be quite an education for a naive straight young man like myself. Thanks to Danny and Martin, I am now no longer under the impression that gay clubs have "darkrooms" so that the more artistic revellers can disappear off to develop their own photographs during the course of the evening.

Casino Avenue has commemorated Iain Duncan-Smith's sacking by reprinting in full his speech outside Tory Central Office. Here's an excerpt: "My sister knows someone who works with disturbed teenagers, and my experience here was, well, probably 20 times worse than that. I have never known such a bunch of ignorant, backstabbing, lying, deceitful little shits in my life. I ask the parliamentary party - look at you. You bunch of little mummy's boys, beholden to an England which is dead, still in love with Margaret Thatcher, the only woman who reminds them of the nannies they all had. " Ah, if only politicians were always that honest, eh?

Meanwhile Vaughan has been getting stuck into another Tory MP, Oliver Letwin, "an objectionable, toadying, upper-class prick" who takes self-satisfied smugness to a whole new level.

More inspired ranting on The Yes / No Interlude, this time directed against American right-wing radio: "Every other word is "elite" -- the liberal elite, media elite, Hollywood elite. If I listen long enough there'll probably turn out to be a lefthanded elite and gardening elite. Fifty (or less) years ago it would have been "Jews" but now it's more convenient to make the scapegoat more amorphous. It's truly shameless, cynical stuff, pandering to the seething, inarticulate resentments of all those who need a big bulling voice to tell them that it's all the fault of someone else, guying up the most primal of gut-level philosophies, the infantile yammer of "me, me, me" wrapped in the flag to become "US, US, US". God is a stern old white guy whose retribution is righteous but is inately on our side, foreigners are only any good if they do exactly what we say, the economic miracles of Bush have saved us from the Clinton/Gore recession, understanding is for saps, anyone still going on about not finding WMD is anti-American, the California fires are all the fault of the environmentalists -- why, they probably started them so that Schwarzenegger would have to raise taxes and look back.... " Great to see that despite time spent living in Austin, Texas Nigel hasn't yet succumbed to the bludgeoning of the right-wing hammer, and continues to fight the good fight.

And finally... On a lighter note, Sarah has developed a fascination with football mascots of all shapes and sizes, and Razorhead expresses surprise that people still seem to think that Slendertone machines might be a good way of managing to eat deep-fried lard and yet avoid having to do anything remotely sweat-inducing to stay fit. A shame: tightly-fought games of 'Countdown' are enough to give me clammy hands and a racing pulse these days.
MBE: Mockney bastard everywhere

What the Queen might have said to Jamie Oliver upon receipt of his MBE:

"One is awarding this to you out of pity for your excessively wide tongue."

"Learn to speak proper, peasant."

"Why are you such a cunt?"

Anyone with a similarly keen hatred of the fish-lipped slobber-tongued Mockney tosspiece as myself might like to check out this site.
Know Your Enemy #31

"Mr Serious who helps the Indians"

Bitter that he's never won a Grammy award, Rod Stewart takes a pot-shot at Sting.

(From an interview in the Radio Times, via No Rock 'N' Roll Fun.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Is it just me...

...or was Frank Skinner's interview with Matthew Kelly on Monday night's show one of the most gripping pieces of TV for ages? For those that didn't see it, Kelly confronted Skinner about telling paedophile jokes about him on the 'Baddiel And Skinner Unplanned' show soon after his arrest. Uncomfortable viewing, to be sure, but there was some pleasure to be gleaned in watching Skinner squirm, and it developed into something of a debate on (and defence of) topical comedies and jokes. Despite protestations to the contrary, Kelly has clearly been hurt by comments made about him in jest, and it was fascinating to watch a man with a persecution complex challenging someone who he perceives to have been a significant persecutor.

Of course, it couldn't last - the next guest was Frank Maloney, and at Skinner's prompting the Cockney rogue spent most of the interview recounting his experience of taking Viagra. Cue exclamations of "The wife'll kill me!" between every sentence...
We're not worthy

Whoever it was who decided it would be a good idea to feature Ronnie Corbett and Alice Cooper together eating gammon steaks in the same advert, they deserve a knighthood, or at least a pint.
Feel good hits of the 29th October

1. 'Hunted By A Freak' - Mogwai
2. 'Mad World' - Gary Jules
3. 'Look To Your Orb For The Warning' - Monster Magnet
4. 'Mountain Song' - Jane's Addiction
5. 'Crazy In Love' - Beyonce feat Jay-Z
6. 'Time Is Running Out' - Muse
7. 'New York Was Great' - The Raveonettes
8. 'She Said' - Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
9. 'Dead Valentines' - Qhixldekx
10. 'Secret Kiss' - The Coral
Three Of A Kind #10

The top three Premiership goalscorers of all time (in order):

Alan Shearer
Andrew Cole
Les Ferdinand

And, yes, they've all played for Newcastle.
Quote of the day

"If I'm ever confused about something or am struggling to form an opinion, I just have to check out the [Daily] Mail's stance on the issue. I then know that I should adopt the opposite point of view. Works every time."

MarkCity

Monday, October 27, 2003

Hitting full stride

At last - a comprehensive league victory, and a supreme performance to match. Portsmouth were the unlucky opposition, packed off on the long journey back to the South Coast with tails between legs after being utterly outclassed in a resounding 3-0 defeat.

Our record at home against Pompey is good, and never looked in danger at any stage on Saturday afternoon. Shearer managed to bag another goal (another penalty, incidentally - his fifth successful spot-kick of the season), while Ameobi continued to deputise admirably for the injured / recovering Bellamy, chipping in with a second-half strike to complete the rout and kill off any lingering hopes of a comeback. We've had the ability, talent and spirit for a while, but this is just the sort of ruthlessness we need to become a real force.
Hands up! Gimme all your pies!

From the front page (unbelievably) of the Birmingham Evening Post, sometime last week:

"PIE PLEA

A man accused of stealing a pork pie from an 89-year-old woman and her 92-year-old husband only wanted a light for his cigarette and the couple completely misunderstood his actions, a jury was told yesterday.
"
James Whittaker is the Antichrist

If there's one thing more repellent than all the kerfuffle over Paul Burrell's "respectful" memoir of Diana, it's being incessantly subjected to the opinions of self-appointed royal "watchers" or "experts". All these reactionary leeches need their brakes tampering with.
Flash the cash

London just seems to become more London every time I visit. At Euston on Friday evening, barely five minutes after stepping off a train, I found myself in WHSmith behind a man paying for a copy of the Evening Standard with a £50 note.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The post-rock poster boys are back in town

Is this some kind of unannounced Dinosaur Jr reunion? Stage right, we have the spitting image of Lou Barlow, bespectacled and floppy hair. Stage left, we have a guitarist whose lank locks hide his face for almost the entire set. In the middle, on drums, is someone who could pass for Murph. OK, so only if it was a dark night. And you were blind. No, these five waifs and strays, fronted by an out-of-it Thalia Zedek type, are Bardo Pond, and they come on like Kevin Shields playing Black Sabbath with sweet vocals floating somewhere over the top. They're a stoner band gone feral - a deliciously sludgy soup with some flute and electric violin stirred in for a bit of prog seasoning.

I don't want to sound snobbish here, but thank fuck Mogwai seem to have shaken off some of the dickhead hangers-on they were attracting two years ago. Last time I saw them indoors, they were playing at Leeds Met, much larger than tonight's venue the Birmingham Sanctuary, and the crowd was interspersed with laddish wankers shouting out undeserved abuse at the support act. Tonight a smaller and much quieter audience is served up the fruits of this year's brilliant Happy Music For Happy People LP - namely 'Hunted By A Freak', 'I Know You Are But What Am I?', 'Killing All The Flies', the gorgeous 'Golden Porsche' and a thundering 'Ratts Of The Capital', which wraps up the main set. A couple of the longer tracks from Rock Action get an airing, but the real highlights are reserved for the encore. First of all we get 'Xmas Steps' (though THAT bassline is sadly not loud enough to shake the floor) and then the blinding strobe-augmented genius of 'Mogwai Fear Satan', which, although minus flute and weighing in at just 12 minutes tonight, is quite enough to suggest that the sound of Concorde taking off will not be missed. The volume dial is up to 11 for the second encore, too, comprising of just the classic 'Summer'.

So, still head and shoulders above all the imitators. If there was to be any criticism at all, it would be that, although what they're doing is genuinely amazing and beautiful, they look slightly disinterested, as though they do it every single night - aside from the flicker of a smile that crosses Barry Burns's face every time the noise steps up a notch. Of course, they DO do it every single night - and that's why people want to see them.
Ful fall foul of Al

"When there are people like Shearer in the opposition, you know it is not game over". The words of Fulham boss Chris Coleman, speaking in the aftermath of his side's 3-2 defeat at our hands on Tuesday night. He's right - you simply cannot write the man off. Two vital goals, one from the penalty spot, snatched us a victory from the jaws of defeat, simultaneously propelling him to the top of the Premiership scorers table and into second place, above Len White, on the club's all-time top scorers list. He now has 154 - Jackie Milburn is top with 200, but the way Al's playing at this stage in his career, there's a real chance he could go on to top that figure.

To be fair, though, this was a real team effort, and a reminder of the numerous occasions over the last two seasons that we've scrambled our way to a win having been behind and up against it. The resilence and character is evidently still there, despite the off-pitch antics of some players and the dissatisfied grumblings of others. Robert's third goal in his last three starts suggests a player with a point to prove, while Jenas seems to have rediscovered his form of last January and February. Bowyer is also at last performing at something approaching his best.

Of course, it wouldn't be Newcastle if we hadn't allowed two former players to score against us within the first ten minutes. Both Lee Clark and Louis Saha finished well, Clark's muted celebration a mark of his Geordie sympathies. But once we'd got a foothold through Robert's goal, we managed to seize the initiative - this time with the help of a former player, Alain Goma, who brought Ameobi down for the penalty. Given the way Fulham have started the season, and our previous two away performances against them, this victory - our fourth in a row - is not to be sniffed at.
"Give us your fucking money!"

Well done to Bob Geldof, who in his appearance on Monday night's 'V Graham Norton' defended his penchant for swearing, pointing out that a judiciously-placed swear word can have a wonderful effect, and that swearing is one of the most expressive resources available in the English language. The possibilities for inventing new ways of insulting people, and creatively coining new words and phrases are almost endless. It's thanks to Anna that I heard the term "fuckbunch", and to Alun Woodward of The Delgados that "cockwank" entered my vocabulary as an adjective expressing extreme disgust.

French Connection might have tried to turn the original and best swear word into an "edgy" brand name, but, frankly, fuck 'em.
Blogwatch: in brief

Guest week on Troubled Diva: for the occasion LondonMark has developed a parallel to his own blog's fantastic The Art Of... series, called The Science Of...; meanwhile, Fiona has been pondering at length how our lives might be different if evolution had equipped us with tails.

Dead Kenny has clearly been quite the bookworm of late, judging by his review of recent reading material, including J G Ballard's much-lauded 'Millennium People'. It's on YOUR recommendation that I bought Max Barry's 'Jennifer Government', Kenny, so I'll be holding you personally responsible if it ain't up to scratch!

Invisible Stranger on the delicate and potentially fraught subject of urinal etiquette. It's only a matter of time before a fly-on-the-tiled-toilet-wall docudrama is made following the same blueprint as that C4 programme about dinner parties, with a couple of respected and seasoned toilet observers on hand to see what goes on: "Did you see him taking a little peek there? Let's get that in slo-mo"; "Oooh, look, is that urinal going to overflow before he's quite finished? And... Yes! All over those lovely new shoes!"; "That is DISGUSTING! I'm not sure it's even legal in Amsterdam!"...
Dumbing up

Words to strike fear into the heart: "'Hollyoaks' is now going five nights a week". Presumably that means they'll be needing some more boyband wannabes and brainless talentless blondes for the necessary extra storylines. Still, I'm sure that won't be a problem - they seem to be attracted to the show like flies to shit.
Quote of the day

"A catchy single is to a well-flowing album what a quickie is to real sex."

Alex on Close Your Eyes.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Smiles on Smogside

Not even the most blinkered Geordie could honestly say that Saturday's victory in the Tyne-Tees derby on Smogside wasn't rather fortuitous - but, given the start we've had, we'll take points however we can get them. Despite coming under severe pressure, and Shay Given pulling off several excellent saves, we snatched the win courtesy of Shola Ameobi's first goal of the season. It's about time another striker began to shoulder some of the burden for scoring - for once, Shearer could have a quiet day in front of goal without it costing us dear. That makes it three wins and three clean sheets in a row, and things seem to be improving steadily.

After the international break the games are coming thick and fast, with the trip to Fulham tomorrow night our third away match in less than a week. In contrast to the Riverside, Loftus Road is not a happy hunting ground - we've suffered very disappointing defeats there in the last two seasons. This is the time to put it right.

Incidentally, it's exactly seven years to the day since we thrashed Man Utd 5-0 at St James'. Probably the most enjoyable Newcastle match I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Didn't stop the bastards from winning the league, though.
Free Auntie Cyn!

THE blog to be reading at the moment, as is so often the case, is Troubled Diva, where Mike has thrown his doors open to a whole host of guest bloggers while continuing to post himself now and again. This week sees LondonMark join the party, amongst others.

I was horrified, though, to hear that one of last week's guests, Mike's lovely old Auntie Cyn, has been detained by the authorities with a consignment of suspect jam. Here's hoping she can bribe them with Rich Tea biscuits, but in the meantime I think recording a protest song would be in order. I'm off to get my 'Free Auntie Cyn' T-shirt printed right now. And I'd also like to lend my voice to the campaign to get her her own blog, once she's been released.
Know Your Enemy #30

Vaughan on "civic entertainment":

"Surprisingly, the exotic sound of the steel drum failed to lull me into thinking I was relaxing on a sun-kissed Caribbean beach. No, it was still a cold Saturday in October outside a west London branch of Superdrug. And today, the streets were alive to the sound of born-again Christian rappers. Yes, you heard - Christian rappers. Most of what they were shouting was unintelligible, but at one point I may have heard one of this God-fearing rap crew freestyling: "Yo, Jeee-sussss! He da man! Get down with JC - he da number one dude in da hood, y'all!" Or something. Sadly, these words didn't inspire any sort of spiritual awakening in me, but perhaps that's because it was the road to Hanwell rather than the road to Damascus."

Just the sort of curmudgeonly sentiment that I identify with increasingly these days.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Breda beaten

The second leg of our UEFA Cup tie against NAC Breda was always going to be a formality, and we emerged with a 1-0 victory on the night and an aggregate scoreline of 6-0 over the two legs. To be fair the highlights suggested that Breda gave our backline a testing time, but another clean sheet was very welcome - the third in four games. It was a well-worked and well-taken winning goal from Robert, too, and Lua Lua should have added a second just before the final whistle but somehow contrived to miss an open goal from four yards out. This morning's draw has pitched us against FC Basel of Switzerland in the next round - a tougher prospect, to be sure, given their remarkable escapades in the Champions' League last season.

A quick note on the pre-match violence: having been to the first game at St James', and seen how well the opposition fans were received (vocal throughout, they got a standing ovation from the rest of the stadium at the end of the match), I was bemused to hear that there had been brawls involving Newcastle fans in the run-up to this game. Though there was talk of Feyenoord and Chelsea fans being there to stir up trouble, and though it looks like all those arrested will be released without charge, it's worrying that a small minority seem intent on worsening the club's current PR headache. We've got quite enough to deal with already, thank you, what with the off-pitch antics of certain players.
Feel good hits of the 17th October

1. 'Eriatarka' - The Mars Volta
2. 'One Hundred Years' - The Cure
3. 'Remember' - The Raveonettes
4. 'Fractions & Feelings' - Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
5. 'Fight Test' - The Flaming Lips
6. 'Confessions Of A DDD' - The Coral
7. 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' - The White Stripes
8. 'No Good Advice' - Girls Aloud
9. 'Lack Of Communication' - The Von Bondies
10. 'Apocalypse Please' - Muse
Quote of the day

"Today, after receiving the nineteenth unreasonably and impossibly deadlined telephone "request" from Someone Upstairs who pays my salary, I penalty-kicked my company phone across the office in a fit of pique, whereupon it shattered into a hundred corporately-beige pieces. God, try it sometimes! You can't believe just how much fun it is!"

Invisible Stranger

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

A farewell to arms

Spending the last few days in and around Belfast has proved to be a real eye-opener.

To my eyes the Northern Irish countryside, though undeniably beautiful, does not resemble the postcard-perfect verdant idyll used to sell thousands of pints of Guinness to dumb Americans who claim to have traced their ancestry back to Irish lords of the Middle Ages - the sort we found cluttering up the shop at Giant's Causeway in search of authentic Irish toffee and ginger-haired dolls. Neither, though, do the cities and towns resemble the grim warzone images to which I was exposed by the mass media throughout childhood.

Belfast is a city crawling its way slowly and steadily away from the past. Though the streets are not scarred and disfigured by ubiquitous McDonalds, Starbucks and branches of Gap (not yet, at least - the land of giants is yet to be conquered by the corporate ogres, it seems), there is a modernity and vitality about the city centre, and the huge number of new homes in the suburbs testifies to the vast sums that have been invested and ploughed into redeveloping and regenerating the city.

And yet it is still inextricably bound to what it is trying to leave behind. The past is there in the almost absurdly fortified police stations. It's there in the incredible gable-end murals, which continue to appear overnight - sentimental depictions of "heroes" and "martyrs" in Republican areas, chilling representations of paramilitary might in Loyalist areas. It's even there in the famous Crown Liquor Saloon, in the sign at the bar prohibiting the wearing of football shirts - here, your allegiance could be a matter of life and death.

The lines are still drawn, the territories marked out with mesh fences and flags and bunting and painted kerbstones: it still matters which side of the lines you're standing on. To the English visitor, used to political stability and a secular society where religion matters very little, Belfast can seem an unsettling place.

But things are changing. We spot a car with Republic plates on the Shankhill Road. "You wouldn't have seen that five years ago", we're told, "they would have had their windows put out." Two days later we go up to Flagstaff Point near Newry to admire the view of the mountains. Unfortunately the mist is so thick we can barely see five metres in any direction, but we later learn that "that was a place best avoided during the Troubles". Just being able to be there was what mattered - the freedom of movement, the freedom from fear.
In loving memory?

In the latest of Stylus's regular Playing God features, Josh Love takes a hatchet to Radiohead's Amnesiac LP. Being cruel to be kind, or just being cruel? You decide. Me? I love it just the way it is.
Scraping through

There was nothing but sheer relief for me when the whistle blew on Saturday night. Despite the fact that England dominated the match and should have been leading by at least a goal, Nihat came nail-bitingly close to winning it for Turkey in the final minute. Amidst all the drama, I couldn't help but be absorbed by Kieron Dyer's contribution as a second half substitute. The last couple of weeks can hardly have been ideal preparation, but all credit to him - he came on and was full of verve and energy, stretching and threatening the Turkish defence at the exact moment when they were desperate to launch some attacks themselves. Credit too must go to Sven, for having the foresight to make the switch. There's never been any doubt over his abilities on the football pitch (apart, perhaps, from his disappointing scoring record), and he can still go on to be a tremendous player for the club - but he has to stop allowing his off-field antics from overshadowing what he can do with a football. Firmly on the back page, with a successful Newcastle side, is where he belongs.

In other Newcastle-related news, it's farewell to forgotten man Clarence Acuna. After three years on Tyneside, the Chilean international has been released from his contract by mutual consent and returned home to care for his sick mother. Aside from being the most spectacularly ugly footballer to play for us since Peter Beardsley hung up his boots, Acuna was someone we could always rely on to do a job - not the most talented midfielder, but one who would pop up with the odd important goal and who never gave anything less than 100% for the cause (and thus 95% more than some of the others at the club when he arrived). It'll be some time before we have another Clarence in our ranks - that is, unless Sir Bobby's planning to relieve AC Milan of Seedorf...
Prune Bush down to size

Public apologies to James of Cha Cha Cha, who (I discovered today) had asked me to promote the Bands Against Bush day of action, which took place last Saturday. Only too glad to link to the organisation's website, though - politics and music should intersect in just this sort of way more often. Did anyone manage to support the cause by going along to one of the numerous events worldwide?

I also owe James a debt of gratitude for introducing me to another couple of very fine weblogs / websites: The Beat Surrender and Glamorama. The editor of the latter, Michael, says that the dual inspirations behind its conception were Radiohead and Bret Easton Ellis - and that really is all you need to know. Get reading.
You WHAT?!!

prince william slash fiction
justin hawkins monkey suit
zimbabwean words of wisdom
robbie williams skinned alive
giant pigeon costume
imaginary diary of jimmy greaves

Not here, my friends, not here.

Friday, October 10, 2003

The city never sleeps

A few days ago Vaughan posted a wonderful piece about falling in and out of love with the city (and most especially London). Even though I love going out into the country, I'm very much a city boy now. My home town is situated on a sort of border, between the wilds of North Northumberland and the Cheviots to the north, and Newcastle and the grimy towns to the south. Since living in Nottingham city centre, there are a couple of major differences between urban and rural life that have struck me:

In the city you can always hear sirens, wherever you are. Living as I do just off the long road on which the city's A&E hospital is situated, that high-pitched wailing sound comes to seem like a part of the overall urban tapestry, like traffic noise and shouting in the street, hardly noticeable after a while. Blue flashing lights are criss-crossing the city every minute of the day. Their existence and the direction they're travelling doesn't seem to matter - until something happens in front of you.

The other day I saw a lad get hit by a car. A group of concerned passers-by quickly gathered around him, and there was nothing I could have done to help. Walking on home, the sirens seemed to swim into focus in the air, and I found myself re-sensitised to their meaning. You suddenly appreciate that they're not just going round and around endlessly all day long - they're always going somewhere, to someone. You couldn't, I don't think, lose this sense of perspective living in a rural area.

Secondly, only when you stay out in the country do you appreciate that night never really falls in the city. There's always a lurid or a sickly wan light sneaking around and through your curtains. It's as if we're intent on displacing the natural cycle of days and nights, and making "night-time" distinguishable only with respect to the clock. Only in the country is the night genuinely pitch black, so dark that you feel relieved to have walls and windows separating you from it.
Ghost story

Ever since I bought it months ago, the copy of Don DeLillo's 'Underworld' has been perched untouched on the bookshelf. It's just such a daunting weighty tome that I haven't been able to bring myself to steel myself, pick it up and begin. So I decided instead to tackle his much shorter novel 'The Body Artist' first - the theory being that it would be easier to dip my toes in the paddling pool than to plunge headfirst into the deep end.

And I'm so glad I did.

'The Body Artist' is an astonishing book. In some ways it's rather like 'Donnie Darko' - beautiful, enchanting, mesmeric but not immediately (or perhaps even ultimately) comprehensible. It's so short that it's more a novella or even a short story than a fully-fledged novel, and this physical slightness is replicated in the remarkable slightness of the prose. Appropriately enough for a book which deals with the impact of a death and all the subsequent haunting echoes and resonances, 'The Body Artist's prose is ethereal, oblique, not-quite-there, so light that it barely seems to touch the page, and yet at the same time strangely rich. On this evidence DeLillo is the sort of writer who makes you marvel at his mastery of words, and opens your eyes as to the creative possibilities of language.

All of which forms quite a contrast to one of the last books I read, Tom Wolfe's 'The Bonfire Of The Vanities'. To some extent I think it succeeds as an encyclopoedic portrait of a city and an era, but the cultural dissection and satire could have been sharper ('American Psycho' cuts it to shreds) and although I liked much of the dialogue and some of the images, the writing never left me breathless in the way that the work of other authors can - and has, in the case of 'The Body Artist'.

From what I can gather, 'Underworld' is a very different sort of novel (and equally different from the earlier 'White Noise'), but this little aperitif has given me a real appetite for the big feast.
Stupid white men

So, despite the allegations levelled against him (of sexual harrassment and being a Nazi sympathiser), Arnie has strolled into power in California. The only thing that worries me more, in political terms, than that inexperienced meathead being in charge of the fifth largest economy in the world is the thought that Dubya is still in charge of the largest economy in the world.

On a slight tangent, it was quite bizarre last night hearing my girlfriend say: "The Nazis were quite nice actually, weren't they?" Thankfully she was talking about the characters of the much-loved much-missed British innuendo-fest of the 80s that was 'Allo Allo'...
Another one bites the dust?

More upset for fans of the wonderful DeSoto label - not long after both The Dismemberment Plan and Burning Airlines decided to call it a day comes the sad news that the members of Juno have put the band on "indefinite hiatus", with no guarantees about their future.

On a positive note, the band's legacy includes one cast-iron classic - the brilliant A Future Lived In Past Tense, an LP I stumbled across almost by accident. It's an ambitious and arty prog-emo masterpiece (I'm aware that description hardly makes sense and certainly fails to do the record justice).

It's also worth remembering that At The Drive-In went on indefinite hiatus, and just look what rose from the ashes there...
Quote of the day

From Casino Avenue comes a disturbing image:

"I'm slowly starting to become fascinated by Iain Duncan Smith - he's unsettling, isn't he? Every time he starts to say something fierce, he sounds as if he's about to go into some kind of pyschopathic trance. Poor bloke. Channel 4 News tonight said MPs who had been disloyal to him were in for a 'roasting' from the chief whip next week. Hopefully not the footballers' style of roasting, but being Tory MPs, they'd probably love it."
Text message of the day

"3 Inches Of Blood are the most metal band ever. It's like Rob Halford never came out."

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Last night a DJ kept me up

Ah, the joys of student house-parties! The living room full of people, the fridge full of beer, the bath full of puke. Last night our delightful new neighbours decided to throw a bit of a bash, and to impress upon the whole street right into the early hours just how loud their stereo could go.

At least whoever had commandeered charge of said stereo had the decency to exhibit remarkably good taste. As I lay in bed, it was more a case of counting songs in my record collection than sheep. Over a period of around two hours, we got: 'Dreaming Of You' - The Coral, 'Harmonic Generator' - The Datsuns, 'Anarchy In The UK' - Sex Pistols, 'This Charming Man' - The Smiths, 'Caught By The Fuzz' - Supergrass, 'Derelict' - Beck, 'Sabotage' - Beastie Boys, 'Changes' - David Bowie, 'Teenage Kicks' - The Undertones, 'White Riot' - The Clash, 'Geno' - Dexys Midnight Runners. All a cut above the usual "banging" warehouse-club techno.

I'm being particularly charitable here, though. When, having traversed backwards and forwards across the border of the Land of Nod for an hour or so, I finally fell asleep to the strains of 'New York City Cops' by The Strokes, it was 3.45am. Hardly an ideal situation for my housemate M, a newly-qualified teacher whose school has the OFSTED inspectors in this week...
Freudian slip

Dreams are supposedly wish fulfillment. Well, OK then, that explains why I dreamt the other night that Pavement had reformed and were playing to an audience of one - namely, moi. However, it doesn't explain why I dreamt that I had discovered a liking for Belle & Sebastian. After all, I've got no desire to hang around making daisy chains with the sort of hairslide-wearing wendy-house-dwelling schmindie wet blankets who get all drippy at the mere mention of Stuart Murdoch's name - well, not unless that particular desire is lurking VERY deep in my subconscious, at least.
Shut your trap

Now that Craig Bellamy's actually been fined for opening his stupid mouth and letting the obscenities pour forth, rather than just being yellow-carded for it, perhaps he might learn to shut up and grow up.

It's a sad state of affairs when, in the context of recent events, Lee Bowyer appears positively saintly...
The Dismemberment Plan dismembered

Chris deMaagd's review of A People's History Of The Dismemberment Plan, an appropriately diverse collection of remixes which marks this remarkable band's final farewell.
Three Of A Kind #9

The three biggest Newcastle victories I've witnessed in the flesh:

5-0 - Home to Bristol City, Division One, September 1992
6-1 - Home to Spurs, FA Cup 3rd Round Replay, December 1999
5-0 - Home to NAC Breda, UEFA Cup 1st Round, September 2003
Know Your Enemy #29

"We have to hate our immediate predecessors, to get free from their authority."

D H Lawrence
Quote of the day

"Unlawful, inhumane and ridiculous"

Margaret Lally, deputy chief executive of the Refugee Council, on shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin's proposal to process all asylum applications on an island far from Britain.

Monday, October 06, 2003

And the blogroll goes on...

The latest raft of blogs to arrest my attention:

Arpeggio
Cha Cha Cha
D4D
Frizzy Logic
Fudge It

The authors of D4D and Frizzy Logic are both guest bloggers over at Troubled Diva this week, in Mike's cyberabsence.

So, my blogroll just continues to grow and grow. One day I really must prune it - but, for the time being, I'm shrinking from the task.
The wait is over

At long last we registered our first League victory of the season on Saturday, at the seventh attempt - and it just had to be Shearer who did the trick, scoring his 250th career league goal against one of his former clubs. Although Southampton hardly played like they have been in recent weeks, we still managed to make hard work of it - but grinding out a win was all that mattered. A shame from our perspective that Leeds, Spurs and Wolves all won too, but the result should hopefully improve confidence and morale, and signal an upturn in fortunes.
The tunes, the sweat, the mullets

Quite why those short of stature often have absurdly high opinions of themselves is beyond me. Take Friday night at Sanctuary in Birmingham, for instance. I spent half an hour listening to a small moustachioed gentleman, pot-bellied and slick with sweat, singing songs about seduction and bragging about the size of his cock before shouting “Give it up for me – I’m the fucking best!

It was the third time I’ve seen Har Mar Superstar, and the joke has finally worn thin. The flyer promised “the white Prince and all-American pocket-sized brief-wearing disco-funk-soul stripping sex machine”, but for the most part his set was less an engorged love-poker and more a pathetically flaccid post-pub trouser-maggot. The low point was, as usual, the seedy violation of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke’. Things picked up towards the end, though, with ‘Power Lunch’ and ‘Brothers & Sisters’, which triggered a mass stage invasion (and which, incidentally, will not now be seeing the light of day as a single due to “some hippy cunt in New York”). Even still, it took some time for Har Mar to work himself up, and his departure, just as things were getting moist, felt premature. As he disappeared from view making his way through the onstage throng shouting “Don’t fucking touch me!”, those around me were only too happy to massage his ego.

The night wasn’t wasted, though – far from it. We might have missed Chikinki, but there was always fashion-victim-spotting to be done – the place was practically wall-to-wall feathered mullets and horizontally striped T-shirts. As my significant other commented: “I know it’s trendy at the moment to look awful, but you can take it too far.” I blame Karen O and all of The Cooper Temple Clause.

Thankfully Zane Lowe was also on hand and on the decks – and, to use the popular parlance, he completely tore the place up, playing everything from Queens Of The Stone Age to NWA via At The Drive-In, Beastie Boys, Weezer and The Strokes. Respect due for making me realise quite how brilliant The Rapture’s ‘House Of Jealous Lovers’ could be in a club, and for wrapping up the set with ‘Stop’ by Jane’s Addiction. Come back again soon.
Wot, no Futureheads or Mogwai?

The Guardian’s list of the current Top 40 British artists. And, no – Radiohead aren’t at #1…
Is it just me…

…or could you make a great bootleg by putting the vocals from ‘Round Round’ by Sugababes over the music from ‘Waiting For My Man’ by the Velvets?
T-shirt slogan of the day

Join the army: travel the world, meet new people … and kill them.
Quote of the day

I feel very weak. Women have been leading me astray, and making me sin.

Former Newcastle striker and professional nutcase Tino Asprilla.