Friday, November 14, 2003

Leading a merry dance

Some of you may remember with fondness the irascible and inimitable Olav, whose blog It Makes No Difference routinely brightened but more often darkened (but in a good way) our days. If so, you may have been wondering what he's up to. Well, he's at the Times writing fantastic news stories like this for a living: Cossack solicitor gets 8 years for theft.
Ooops I did it again. And again.

Following those two unusually-serious-for-SWSL posts, an attempt at counterbalance: apparently Britney Spears has discovered the joys of intimate solitary self-indulgence (thanks to No Rock 'N' Roll Fun for the link). So, that explains new song 'Touch Of My Hand', then. Does it also explain the title of her new album, In The Zone?

This has also led me to speculate about where exactly this leaves Miss Aguilera. If I might be permitted to offer an analogy, it's all rather like the current state of British politics (no, hang on, bear with me on this one...): the further right that Tony and New "Labour" go, the less room there is for the Tories to manoeuvre, and they're squeezed into the margins. If Britney is now singing about wanking, how much further must Dirrty Christina go? Actually, it really doesn't bear thinking about - sorry I ever raised the thought.
The value of being heard

As regular readers probably know, and as friends almost certainly do, I'm an incorrigible people-watcher. I'm also an incorrigible ear-wigger, but in my defence it's often the case that I'm on a train or in some other fairly quiet public place and you just can't help becoming tuned in to a particularly loud voice raised over the top of others.

And so it was on Tuesday that I (and, I suspect, the rest of the train) overheard a woman striking up a conversation with the bloke opposite her. In fact, "conversation" would be a misleading term to use - she was actually talking at him for the best part of half an hour, receiving only the most minimal responses in return. She talked about everything from shopping in Derby to her fondness for Marks & Spencers cherry tomatoes, but it was with the brief but rather telling allusions to her medication and to the recent death of her mother that she reminded me of the characters from 'Talking Heads', Alan Bennett's wonderful series of monologues. Like them, she was evidently very lonely - desperate to talk to someone, and for someone to listen to her and her opinions. She also mentioned a pen pal in Southampton with whom she'd lost contact - my guess being that the lapse was not down to her.

So I sat stewing uncomfortably in the same feelings that Bennett's characters stir up - they're painful to listen to, pitiable (though Bennett succeeds in making you feel slightly appalled at the judgement and sense of superiority this necessarily involves) and pathetic (in the original sense of the word) and yet at the same time strangely heart-warming and peculiarly British. What must it be like, I wondered, to have no-one you can share your thoughts with? No-one you can voice your opinions to? No-one you can even babble inanities to? I think we all at times need the validation of having a listener, to prove and reaffirm our own self-worth - what must it be like not having anyone you can always count on for this?

But, it struck me, this is just what much blogging is about. Blogs are the equivalent of sitting on a train voicing your thoughts and opinions in the hope that someone might show an interest, listen and find some value in what you have to say. Whether it's arrogance or self-indulgence or whatever (and I always feel like I'm being accused of arrogance or self-indulgence whenever someone asks me why I write a blog), we feel the need to write, the need to say things.

Of course, many bloggers (including myself, at times) insist they're doing it for themselves, that it doesn't matter whether anyone else is reading or taking pleasure from it. But I suspect that, deep down, every blogger wants to know at least SOMEONE is reading. The comments box isn't so much put there by the thick-skinned blogger so that readers can express their own oppositional viewpoints or criticise the opinions they've read, but so that the blogger, in reality rather thin-skinned I think, can be gratified by evidence that their thoughts are not only being read but also being validated by positive comments. Regardless of what anyone says, I'm sure everyone feels at least slightly nettled by a negative comment, and it's gratifying to think that (overlaboured metaphor alert!) in the overcrowded and incredibly noisy train that is the web some people regularly choose to listen to your voice in preference to others.

I'll say quite categorically, too, that I'm very glad to have tuned in to all your voices in amongst the incessent bloggers' babble - by clicking on any of the blogs on my sidebar I can guarantee I'll be listening to a voice I want to hear. And what's quite exciting is the knowledge that there are so many more intelligent, witty, stylish voices out there I've not yet picked up on.

A postscript: I sometimes wonder if SWSL has a distinctive 'voice', in the same way that brilliant blogs like Little Red Boat, Troubled Diva, No Rock 'N' Roll Fun and Arpeggio do. Sometimes it strikes me that SWSL is a bit schizophrenic, skipping from match and gig reviews to books and politics and then to light-hearted trivia and inane and bilious opinion. What does anyone else think? I'd be interested to know. (Note shameless use of comments box for self-validation and vindication...)
Near-death experience

Am I scared of dying? I can talk about it, am fascinated by it, even laugh about it on occasion - but, well, yes, sometimes it strikes me that I'm fucking petrified of it, particularly because I don't hold any consolatory religious beliefs in any kind of afterlife. Every now and then I experience moments of horribly cliched and yet acute existential angst - this life I'm living is temporary, contingent, finite; and every single year, day, hour, second is unrecoverable once it's gone.

Last night I discovered that the younger brother of someone I know back home died in a car crash on 2nd November. His car left the road and ended up submerged in the River Wansbeck, but although he was freed from the vehicle by rescue services, he never regained consciousness and his injuries proved fatal.

I didn't know him, but the news hit me really quite hard.

One evening in November 1996, I was one of five people in a car travelling along the same stretch of road on the way back into Morpeth. Moving to overtake another vehicle, our car skidded on a patch of black ice, spinning one way and then the other across the oncoming lane despite the best efforts of the driver to control it. Everything went into slow motion (it might seem cliched, but it's true), and after spinning for what felt like a minute the car mounted the pavement backwards, crashed through a wooden fence and down a steep embankment where it came to rest against a tree. We had to climb out of the windows as the doors were jammed, and clamber back up the slope onto the pavement. It being the days before mobile phones, we had to stand and wait in the freezing cold silence, the headlights shining at a 45 degree angle up into the air, until help arrived in the form of a passing police car.

Miraculously, aside from very minor whiplash and a few cuts (branches from the trees had smashed the windows in, and we'd got covered in glass), none of us were injured. For days afterwards, I couldn't stop replaying it in my head and thinking about how phenomenally fortunate we'd been, for three reasons. Firstly, there happened to be no oncoming traffic - had there been, we would have been involved in a head-on collision, no doubt about it. Secondly, if the tree hadn't been there to stop the car dead, it would have rolled over at the bottom of the embankment, as it's pretty steep. Thirdly, had the accident happened a little further along the road - 100m maybe - we would have smashed through the fence and ended up in the river.

This guy was not so lucky. RIP.

On a personal level, there are two ways to respond. One would be my initial reaction last night - the thought "If I'd died in that crash seven years ago..." I think I've become a different person in that time. All the good times I've had since then, all that personal development and emotional growth, all the people I've met and come to love - they would all be nothing. For him, in his early twenties, all those possibilities have been denied.

The other way to respond, of course, is to move on from having morbid thoughts and instead see how this refocuses the way I look at my own life. I'm thankful for every minute I've had since that day, and for every experience, whether good or bad. Perhaps, as the old adage goes, you have to come closer to death to truly appreciate what it is to be alive. I only know that that's how I feel today: alive. And fortunate.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Blogwatch: in brief

It's been a while in coming, and I feel very lax at having failed to make a contribution, but Vaughan's list of 100 things about him, as compiled by his readers, is now online. There are some fantastic truths, half-truths, outright lies and outrageous fantasies in there, but my favourite has to be #64: "I do not exist between the hours of 3.00pm and 4.00pm on January 21 each year."

Mark has just got back from New York (that's NYC for all you hip young things out there) - read about his experiences of Central Park, the Empire State Building and nearly getting arrested by some macho jobsworth policeman on the subway.

Speculative theory of the day goes to Sarah, who notices the incredible coincidence between "President" Bush's visit to the UK and the date for the switching-on of Morpeth's Christmas lights. It all makes sense - after all, I'm sure he's just itching to press a button of some kind...

Meanwhile, two of SWSL's favourite bloggers have been detailing their recent adventures with characteristic wit, eloquence and panache: Invisible Stranger recounts his experience of buying porn - "Licensed sex shops are big business these days, welcoming in the pink overdraft with bright lights, potted palms and piped classical music, as well as tasteful displays of unfeasibly large things to put up your bottom"; while Anna has been having issues with the Devil's own chicken sandwich - "It's very quiet in this office. I'm terrified that the samwidge has blown my eardrums out and that I will fart and not know until all around me fall over."
Quote of the day

"Sex symbol in an eye patch? Buccaneers indeed."

Pete Doherty writing on the Libertines website, after Carl was hospitalised having smashed his head on a sink after drinking a bottle of whisky. Life's never dull, eh? That's why we love 'em.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Speak your brains

Yes! At last! Silent Words Speak Loudest is no longer the equivalent of me standing on a soapbox with a loudspeaker shouting my opinions / thoughts / frustrations / anger at anyone who'll listen. For, thanks to the wonderful London Mark, the site at long last has a comments facility.

Yes, YOU, my lovely reader, have been enfranchised, given a voice. So now it's up to YOU to use that voice and let me know what YOU think.

SWSL is going interactive on yo ass, baby! Enjoy it!
The story of their excess

"Ain't no wrong now, ain't no right / There's only pleasure and pain...". The hedonist's credo, according to Jane's Addiction - a band who know what they're talking about. A band that have fucked anything that moves and snorted or injected anything that doesn't, and lived to tell the tale.

Telling the tale is what they're here in Nottingham to do tonight, 13 years after they did it last.

In the absence of Eric Avery, new bassist Chris Chaney effortlessly eases into the fluid rhythm of 'Up The Beach'. He is joined by a mohicanned Stephen Perkins, visibly beaming behind his massive drumkit, delighted at the rapturous reception his legendary band are receiving. And then there's bona fide rock god Dave Navarro, hairy of face and still evidently afraid that wearing a T-shirt might cause a violent allergic reaction or else somehow impair his ability to play guitar.

As 'Up The Beach' fades out, Navarro strikes into 'Stop!', the first track from their monumental 1990 LP Ritual De Lo Habitual, and suddenly, rushing onto the stage with the cry of "Here we go!!!", is Perry Farrell. The place, and yours truly, goes apeshit.

Perry Farrell is without doubt the queerest straight man in rock. Clad in what can only be described as tight-fitting electrician's overalls, multicoloured striped T-shirt and diamond-effect-studded fingerless gloves, the Crown Prince of Flamboyance prances and preens around the stage with a flower between his teeth lapping up the adoration. Rather like Iggy Pop, despite years of abuse and debauchery he has retained a curiously sinuous physique. Between songs he swigs from a bottle of Jaegermeister and tells us that "insect sex is better than human sex, because there are more than two legs each, and lots of bright colours..." He's not of this earth.

Farrell knows that great rock 'n' roll, like most great art, is about sex and death. And that's why, at the heart of tonight's set, just after the classic shoplifters' anthem 'Been Caught Stealing', we get the epic 'Ted, Just Admit It', a song inspired by serial killer Ted Bundy which features the repeated lines "Sex is violence" and "Nothing's shocking".

As with Jim Morrison, though, Farrell's moments of lyrical genius are interspersed with a good quantity of pseudo-mystical bullshit which remains palatable only because he and his band are such a phenomenal and outlandish proposition musically and visually. In addition to the best of their past, we get the best of their present - the choicest cuts from this year's Strays LP, including 'The Riches', the title track and classic-in-the-making 'The Price I Pay'. Even 'Everybody's Friend', rather wet and crassly hippyish on record, comes over well. In fact, the set's only low point is the mystifying decision to play a feeble acoustic version of their roaring steroid-pumped comeback single 'Just Because' when ripping some heads off necks with the original would have seemed by far the best course of action.

When the steel drums of 'Jane Says' bring the set to an end, the whole band line up at the front of the stage to bow and take the applause together. The theatricality of the whole show is encapsulated right there - we know we've witnessed a PERFORMANCE. If there really is only pleasure and pain, then the world was a much more painful place without them.

(A footnote about support band Stellastarr* - because, inevitably, they are little more than a footnote on the night. Sensibly refusing to take to heart the poor response, attributable to the mismatch between themselves and those in front of whom they find themselves playing, they just get their heads down and beaver away industriously with their Pixies / Raveonettes / Breeders stuff. And it's to their credit - by the time they're finishing up, with recent single 'Jenny', I'm much more inclined to check them out on record than I was at first.)
Blue murder

If a week is a long time in politics, a few days is an aeon in the life of a Newcastle United supporter.

As recently as Thursday night we were celebrating an excellent 3-2 victory against Swiss outfit FC Basel in the first (away) leg of our UEFA Cup tie. Having been 1-0 and then 2-1 down, we showed real guts and determination to claw our way back against a side who, let’s not forget, were (alongside ourselves) the other surprise package of last season’s Champions’ League, progressing unexpectedly to the second group stage with some very impressive performances. Robert scored again, Bramble doubled his tally for the club and Ameobi grabbed the second half winner to swing the tie in our favour in advance of the home leg in three weeks’ time. All very pleasing.

And then in our very next match we turn in the most spiritless, gutless, spineless performance against Chelsea, a side ruthless enough to make us pay for it in spades. The 5-0 scoreline did not flatter our hosts – they were awesome, we were abysmal. Perhaps the writing was on the wall before the game even kicked off. Last season, in the days before Abramovich’s millions improved the side immeasurably, we lost the corresponding fixture 3-0. Chelsea fielded the same side that had so comprehensively destroyed Lazio on their own turf on Tuesday, while our one truly inspirational on-field talisman Shearer was ruled out shortly before kick-off with the flu, and (arguably) our other three best outfield players – Woodgate, Dyer and Bellamy – were all already sidelined with injury. Worse still, Sir Bobby had just been "named" (read "cursed") as Manager of the Month for October...

Once the game was underway, our cause wasn’t exactly helped by the awful decision to dismiss Andy O’Brien and award a penalty when Adrian Mutu waited until he got into the box to take a dive. The penalty tucked away by Lampard, the score was 3-0, we were down to ten men, and we were facing up to the fact that we had more than half the game left.

But neither the injury list, nor the strength of the opposition, nor an appalling refereeing decision can excuse the nature of the display. Aside perhaps from Aaron Hughes, no-one in a black and white shirt emerged from the match with a scrap of credit. We were outplayed, outclassed and outfought in every department, all over the pitch – simply not good enough. A match to forget in a hurry. Hopefully it’ll be the last time this season that we play so poorly.

It’ll also be the last time I ever say, with the score at 1-0: “Well, a 1-0 defeat wouldn’t be such a bad result given the circumstances”. With hindsight, it was of course inevitable that both the circumstances and the scoreline were about to take a dramatic turn for the worse…
Cruising for a bruising

Over at Raised By Chaffinches, Birdman has been sharing his experiences of being aboard the Aurora cruiseship. Apparently, the worst part wasn't the sickness-and-diarrhoea virus that struck down over 500 passengers, oh no - that'd be the presence of the "lovely" 'Wife Swap' couple from Bury, Barry and Michelle, both of whom should have been trussed up and chucked overboard with large stones in their pockets.
Feel good hits of the 10th November

1. 'Stop!' - Jane's Addiction
2. 'Chain Gang Of Love' - The Raveonettes
3. 'Do You Realize??' - The Flaming Lips
4. 'Save Us S.O.S.' - Hot Hot Heat
5. 'Take Me Out' - Franz Ferdinand
6. 'Sabotage' - Beastie Boys
7. 'Trouble' - Pink
8. 'Static In The Cities' - Hope Of The States
9. 'Nothing Compares 2 U' - Sinead O'Connor
10. 'Gay Bar' - Electric 6

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Agent provocateur

Expert shitstirrer Jimmy Cauty, formerly of The KLF and now a member of the Blacksmoke collective of artists, has followed up his provocative anti-war EP 'Fuck The Fucking Fuckers' with some controversial images of Big Ben exploding like the World Trade Centre. Take a look and decide for yourself whether it's just cheap sensationalism or whether he's got a point. One thing I will say, though: if "people" (read: Daily Mail readers) are going to get incensed about pieces of art like this, then perhaps they should think more carefully about exactly what it is they went with their kids to fireworks displays to celebrate last night.

(Thanks to Ulterior and Casino Avenue for the link)
Burn, baby, burn

It's Bonfire Night, and the feeling's right...

This is the first time I've been inside Rock City since seeing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs here at the end of February. Far too long. It is, however, the first of three visits in the space of four days. Everything will be righted with the world.

By the time The Fiery Furnaces take to the stage, I'd imagined it'd be gettin' hot in here - but, as yet, the crowd is pretty sparse and, to be honest, Rough Trade's latest hopefuls don't do an awful lot to fan the fans' flames. Cut from a rather different cloth than the two other bands on the bill, The Fiery Furnaces deal in thumping drums, feral blues guitar and Eleanor Friedberger's rambling tales of lost dogs, amongst other things. 'Crystal Clear', the first single to be lifted from new LP Gallowsbird's Bark, is in this vein. They're at their most intriguing, if perhaps their most obtuse, however, when the bizarre whirling and lurching keyboards take over, as they often do. It's music to make you feel seasick, and I'd be prepared to give 'em another listen.

The crowd's response is lukewarm, though, but never fear - Franz Ferdinand are on hand to turn up the heat. A word of fire safety advice: with those extraordinary fringes, boys, you need to be steering well clear of naked flames tonight - so being sandwiched between The Fiery Furnaces and Hot Hot Heat isn't exactly ideal... There's an irrestistable peacock strut about the performance - no de rigeur bluesy swagger a la Jet here, just guitarist Nick McCarthy's eccentric spasms and debonair frontman Alex Kapranos's raised eyebrow. Songs like 'Shopping For Blood', 'Tell Her Tonight' and 'Take Me Out' (the new single, for which they're joined by Hot Hot Heat's Steve Bays) very definitely put the arch into Archduke. By the time 'Darts Of Pleasure' arrives to end the set, I'm musing over the possibility of a Battle of Britain between Franz Ferdinand of Glasgow and Sunderland's The Futureheads to establish the identity of the biggest new homegrown talent of the year. Being Mackems, Barry Hyde and company would probably be quite handy in a fist-fight, but it'd never get that far - FF's Alex wouldn't be prepared to get his shirt ripped and would just set the dogs on them.

Coming from a rather different direction (punk), Hot Hot Heat have arrived at much the same point as Franz Ferdinand - sharp, intelligent, vigorous and idiosyncratic guitar pop, which in HHH's case isn't a million miles away from The Dismemberment Plan. While at the Leeds festival incessant touring in support of their Make Up The Breakdown record appeared to have honed the band into a ferociously close-knit unit capable of delivering quite a punch, tonight their year and a half on the road is apparent in a rather less favourable way - put simply, they're clearly knackered and are counting the days until they can get home. That said, though, Steve Bays is still a whirlwind of hair and Elvis-Costello-style yelping, and it'd be extremely hard to strip songs like 'Get In Or Get Out', 'No, Not Now', 'Oh Godamnit', 'Le Le Low' and 'Naked In The City Again' of their tense energy even if you wanted to. Even after so long on tour, Dante DeCaro evidently still revels in the joy of scrawling guitar lines over the rhythm section like graffiti, while 'Save Us S.O.S', a song they've only just started playing again live, proves to be a real highlight - a supremely danceable At The Drive-In. As expected, a single-song encore of 'Bandages', ahem, wraps things up. The hope might have been that they'd set the place on fire, but overall they still managed to cook on about Gas Mark 5.
Know Your Enemy #32

An awesome display of vitriol from Nick Southall:

"Speaking of assholes there's been a major one on the train for the last three weeks or so. I'd quite like to get a gun and shoot him in the face, an act in which I feel I would be more than justified given his inherrent and abhorrent assholeness. How is he such an asshole? I hear you cry. Because of his fucking phone. Not an incessent text-receiver or over-loud morning-commute gossiper, no no no; this wanker is much more disgustingly, insidiously annoying than that. This wanker has an MP3 player on his phone which he listens to incessantly and he refuses to use headphones. Thus this grimy, slick-haired motherfucker in his awful brown leather jacket and beige jeans (which he wears every day) sits at a table seat each day, clutching his noxious Nokia or sickening Siemens or unsavoury Samsung or whaeverthefuckitis, while it bleeds T'Pau and Bonnie Tyler and other assorted crapulent asshole music. Coldplay's 'Clocks' creeped into his playlist yesterday. The unblanched rudeness, the unfathomable antisocial thoughtlessness gives rise in me to the desire for great violence."

Don't worry, Nick - were you to shoot this twat in the face, I'm sure any sensible judge would accept a plea of reasonable force.
Quote of the day

"Daniel Ryan of The Thrills loves Dexys. Kevin Rowland is 'the nicest person I've ever met'. We presume Daniel must be in some way agoraphobic."

No Rock 'N' Roll Fun - again.
Text message(s) of the day

"Just sitting here watching 'Trisha' and a couple are "making up". As they hugged, the lady uttered that classic romantic sweet nothing: 'I love you, ya knobhead!' Ahhh!"

"On the subject of 'Trisha', do you notice how lie detector tests seem to be the answer to everything these days?"

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Remember, remember, the 5th November...

...for it is Leon's birthday! Oh, and it's Bonfire Night too.

Talking of fireworks, I'm looking forward to the fruits of the Qhixldekx collaboration with Andrew Morrison of Trust No One, the forthcoming 'Twin Moon Conspiracy EP'.

Isn't it a brilliant coincidence that I'm off to see Hot Hot Heat and The Fiery Furnaces in concert tonight?
Quote of the day

(Yeah, so I've done this before, but what the hell - it's actually appropriate today...)

On a T-shirt:

"Guy Fawkes: the only person ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions"
Pierce in pieces

Stylus writer Ian Mathers considers Spiritualized's latest LP Amazing Grace to be "possibly the worst-sequenced album I’ve ever heard". Find out how he'd set about giving the album some much-needed surgery.

Elsewhere, Ian has been effusive in his praise of The Earth Is Not A Dead Cold Place, the new album from topically-named Texan quartet Explosions In The Sky. (And while you're at it, check out Nick Southall's review of their previous LP, the fantastically-titled Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever.)

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.