Saturday, October 02, 2004

"Chaos City"?

I may not be a resident of Nottingham anymore, but I can still get indignant on behalf of those who still live there.

This sort of article - from the Mirror, but it could just as easily have appeared somewhere else - really makes me angry, depicting the city as it does as some kind of horrific lawless bedlam.

Well, contrary to what you might have read, walking through Nottingham on a Friday or Saturday night is not like taking a stroll through a Hieronymous Bosch painting. True, the pubs and clubs in and around Market Square can be described as lively, and those who frequent them are often drunk and rowdy - but to tar everyone with this brush, or to denounce the whole city on this basis, is unforgivable.

I'm not denying that drink causes innumerable problems, or that the local police force are stretched to their very limit by the task of keeping everything under control, something Chief Constable Steve Green takes every opportunity to point out.

But what annoys me is that, thanks to articles like this, drunkenness and violence have become synonymous with Nottingham, to such an extent that the city has been made notorious, to the detriment of everything else it has to offer. These problems are experienced in towns and cities up and down the country. Why has Nottingham somehow been made into a scapegoat?

What's even more disgraceful is the sort of sloppy journalism which implies some kind of connection between the city's drink culture and its problem with rising gun crime. Shootings are on the increase, yes, but it's all gang- and drug-related. Quite simply, if you're not involved and you don't do anything stupid, you're in absolutely no danger.

And where do they find these talking heads, resident in Nottingham and only too eager to spout off about how hellish it is? I know of no-one who's left or even considered leaving because of it becoming a dangerous, violent and ugly place to live. It's only dangerous if you deliberately or foolishly place yourself in danger - like any other city.

(Thanks to Upton Lark for the link.)
Know Your Enemy #50

"Marrying a young, blond, one-legged starfucker twelve hours after burying your hero-philanthropist wife was a good one too, mate. Go fuck yourself, McCartney. You deserve worse than that, but such dread is unattainable on this earth. We can only hope Satan delivers the goods to Sir Paul in Hell, where knighthoods carry no currency."

Mike Seely on Paul McCartney in this article about the Ten Most Hated Men In Rock.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Blogwatch

Yes, after a week's holiday it's back, lassooing and rounding up some of the best recent posts in the blogosphere...

But first, may I direct you to Nottingham poet Martin Stannard's new Proper Blog, Exaltations & Difficulties? (Thanks to Mike for the link.)

Congratulations are most definitely in order for Phill of Danger! High Postage, who finished a fantastic 21st in the British Open Mini Golf Championships. You can read about his road to glory, including the merciless crushing of a nine-year-old's hopes - Day 1 is here and Day 2 is here.

Elsewhere: Mish offers an informative guide to the etiquette of kissing - "An ‘air kiss’ is a version of the ‘Hollywood Kiss’ with absolutely no contact whatsoever. It is used by women at weddings with large hats, fag-hags who hate each other and between myself and rivals";

Robin explains how Olympic spirit infected the family - "The last echoes of the Olympics have been slowly fading away over here, reappearing for one last time on Sat evening when Jake stuck a stick in the barbecue and ran round the garden holding it aloft like a sacred flame, giving his mother a panic attack over burns to the boy, sparks in the undergrowth leading to a second Fire of London, prosecution under the Clean Air Acts, and stepping in cat poo in the half dark"

Our Man In Hanoi has paid his first visit to a Vietnamese tailor - "You track up and down the street and then you have to do the deal and they advise you on how much material for me. This seemed to consist of reminding me on a regular basis just how big I am. Yes, yes. Thank you. I know";

Matthew has witnessed what sounds like an extraordinary Fiery Furnaces gig, even by their own eccentric standards - "Rather than simply playing alternate arrangements and medleys of the songs as they had before, the new set chops up the songs and recombines them" - or perhaps that's just what they were doing at Stealth last month;

and Marshall takes it upon himself to answer some of the questions songwriters pose - "2. Burt Bacharach - 'Do you know the way to San Jose?' As it happens Burt, I do. It only took a few moments of my time to check google for 'directions to San Jose' and I was inundated by a variety of answers for you. Personally I'd fly into San Francisco airport, rent a car and head towards I-880 to get me out of the city, then head south simply following the signs".

And finally... If Jonny B is to be believed, there's a serious problem in rural Norfolk with kids sniffing cheese. Not that I'm suggesting he is to be believed, mind you, but last time I was in the Norfolk area I did notice a teenager with no septum wandering about with a glazed expression on his face and orange remnants clinging to his nostril...
The sound is all around

Over on Stylus, where they're celebrating the work of Brian Eno, William B Swygart acclaims the new strings-less LP from The Delgados, Universal Audio, as the best release of the week: "It all sounds nice enough to start with, but as you hear it more and more you love it more and more, the simple charms showing themselves to be more and more complicated but no less delightful. It’s like they’re taking on the world left-handed and winning by a landslide".

Elsewhere, Ian Mathers delivers a lukewarm verdict on Interpol's sophomore offering Antics: "This feels like Interpol-by-the-numbers, and if the band never produces anything with the spiky, restless genius of Turn On The Bright Lights again that will be a true pity".

Rub your hands together, Selectadisc staff: what with these two albums plus newies from Nick Cave, Sparta and The Radio Dept all seductively whispering "Buymebuymebuyme" into my ear, it's only a matter of time before I come a-calling...

Monday, September 27, 2004

The whole hideous inverted childhood

Lengthy train journeys can be extraordinarily depressing.

I’m not talking about cramped seating, delays, changes which involve switching platforms in impossibly quick time. All irritating, yes, but not depressing.

Not depressing like those excruciatingly painful occasions when a fellow passenger, travelling alone and encouraged by an exchange of social pleasantries, spills out all the bloody guts of their life. It floods out and, whether willingly or unwillingly, you find yourself plunged in deep, unsure of what to say or do.

But why do we feel awkward in that situation? Is it an embarrassment we experience by proxy, an embarrassment they’re oblivious to, an embarrassment we’re lending them as well as a sympathetic ear? Or is that squirming utterly self-centred? Aren’t we at least in part thinking, “Why me? Why do I have to endure this?” The result is a sense of sadness tinged with self-disgust.

Today’s journey was worse than most, but in a different way.

I was sat next to an old woman and her daughter-in-law, returning home from a wedding in Dundee. The son was driving all their luggage back while they got the train – the logic being that the old woman would be able to travel in more comfort and have easy access to a toilet. Unused to rail travel – or indeed to long journeys of any sort – she was naturally concerned and nervous, particularly about the possible theft of her wheelchair which couldn’t be stowed in any of the luggage racks and which was thus out of view.

I had to sit there for the best part of two hours witnessing what amounted to psychological abuse. The daughter-in-law trivialised all her concerns, relentlessly patronised her, bossed her about like she was a stupid child, met every one of her reminiscences with careless indifference or, more often, maliciously barbed challenges calculated to undermine her and call into question her memory.

As if having to have a chaperone wasn’t undignified enough, the old woman had to endure being stripped of all her remaining dignity in this very public way.

And, worst of all, the daughter-in-law had the audacity to drop continual if subtle reminders of how “kind” and “thoughtful” she’d been in offering accompaniment.

It made me think of Larkin’s ‘The Old Fools’, of the tone of spiteful disgust at the elderly. As the poem unfolds, it becomes clear that this disgust arises at least partly from the terrified acknowledgement of the middle-aged poet that this is how we will all end up – something of which this horrid bitch seemed oblivious. When she reaches that age, may she be bullied and patronised to death.

Admittedly I’m an incorrigible earwigger, but it wasn’t as if that mattered – there it was, going on in my face, and within easy earshot of numerous passengers.

But no-one interrupted or said anything. And, though I answered a few inquiries in passing, neither did I.

Result: sadness and disgust.

Sometimes people appal me. Sometimes I appal me.
Short but not sweet

As Ian Rankin explains in the introduction to ‘Beggars Banquet’, the reason why there aren’t many short stories featuring his booze-sodden copper Rebus is because he generally tends to write them in between the novels “as a way of getting the good Inspector out of my system for a while”.

Appropriately enough, then, that most of these stories are tasty little morsels not sufficiently substantial to satisfy a real hunger but snacks you can eat between meals (novels, if you’re not following the horribly stretched metaphor) which not only don’t spoil your appetite but actually whet it.

The difficulty is that the crime fiction genre, of which Rankin is an undisputed master, conventionally depends upon a series of twists and turns, leading the reader down unexpected avenues, and the short story form only really allows for a single twist – even though, in the cases of tales like ‘Someone Got To Eddie’ and ‘The Wider Scheme’, the twists are admittedly good ones, deftly handled so as to be unforeseen and yet seemingly inevitable in hindsight.

At the same time, and despite efforts to evaluate these stories on their own merits, I can’t help but be coloured in my judgements by having only recently read Irvine Welsh’s ‘Filth’. Compared to that, Rankin’s depiction of the darker side of Edinburgh and his occasionally wayward hero feel a bit lightweight. It’s as though ‘The Falls’ has been the pathway drug to ‘Filth’, and now I can’t quite go back to the softer stuff.

As a result, perhaps the best piece in the collection is ‘Glimmer’, which Rankin confesses is him seizing upon “the chance to create a mythology around one of my favourite Rolling Stones songs” (‘Sympathy For The Devil’). It’s a vivid glimpse of late 60s hedonism and the death of the hippy dream through the drug-glazed eyes of a journalist hanging around with the Stones with the supposed intention of writing an article. The subject matter might be outside his usual range, but that doesn’t stop him from writing brutally about brutality: “They’d threatened to cut off your eyelids. That was the way things were now”…

Lean and trim, the stories of ‘Beggars Banquet’ are a decent and very easily digestible introduction to what Rankin is all about.

(Note to self: must read more short stories.)
’Hero’ worship

Films which feature what friends might refer to as “death-defying kung-fu moves” are not usually the sort to get my juices flowing, and so, having not seen ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, my enjoyment of ‘Hero’ was all the more unexpected.

In these post-LOTR times, when film-makers think they can make up for a poor script, an absence of plot and a dearth of decent acting performances by bludgeoning audiences with CGI, it’s no surprise that movies like ‘Hero’ are meeting with approval in Hollywood.

But make no mistake, it’s light years ahead of the big-budget rabble, stunningly sumptuous in sonic as well as visual terms. What initially appears a one-dimensional plot soon blossoms into something gripping, and though some will inevitably gripe about the need to follow subtitles, the dialogue is minimal and doesn’t distract attention from the incredible cinematography.

The perfect marriage of action and art?
Feel good hits of the 27th September: Hiatus special

1. 'Untitled' - Interpol
2. 'Never Understand' - The Jesus & Mary Chain
3. 'Out Of Routine' - Idlewild
4. 'Blinded By The Lights' - The Streets
5. 'On A Plain' - Nirvana
6. 'Schteeve' - Yourcodenameis:milo
7. 'Don't Ever Think' - The Zutons
8. 'Hand In Glove' - The Smiths
9. 'Everlong' - Foo Fighters
10. 'The End Of You' - Sleater-Kinney
11. 'Y Control' - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
12. 'The Rat' - The Walkmen
13. 'Seaside' - The Ordinary Boys
14. 'Riot Radio' - The Dead 60s
15. 'Helicopter' - Bloc Party
You WHAT?!!

shins that show evil words
pat sharpe scale models
jesus was a vampire
spice girls bad back
lycra straitjackets
lesbo fortune telling

Not here, my friends, not here...

Thursday, September 16, 2004

The end is nigh

On Saturday, I leave Nottingham after seven years of happy residence.

Yesterday a friend suggested I should look on it as the beginning of a new era, but at the moment I can't help but see it as the end of an old one, and a golden one at that. For the last few days I've been mooning around the place, suffering from what must be a near-fatal dose of sentimentality. I'm too attached, too nervous about change, to be able to look forwards.

How to solve this problem? Easy - pickle myself in lager.

The last hurrah includes another George's meet-up with Mike, Mish and Nixon amongst others, and then a massive boozy blow-out tomorrow winding up in the legendary Irish by which time I'll hopefully be unable to see.

Amidst all the upheaval, SWSL is likely to be something of a ghost town for the next week or so. See you on the other side (of the Midlands).
Hounds of hate

For me, the most appalling thing about yesterday's pro-hunt protest wasn't the "invasion" of the House of Commons by a bunch of ill-dressed loons - "men in T-shirts apprehended by men in tights", as one MP quipped.

Neither was it the mob violence. (Us left-leaners are used to having our arguments ignored amidst condemnation of the actions of a minority of protestors hell-bent on causing trouble, so it's nice to see the shoe on the other foot now - let's see what the organisers have to say...)

Neither was it the response of an embattled and baton-wielding police force. (Watching the news, I was surprised not to hear any bloodied and howling protesters shouting, "Why don't you go and catch the real criminals?")

No, it was the interview with a woman in full tweed clobber perched on a horse whose justification for hunting was that her and her family go out every Saturday between September and April, and what would they do if it was banned? "What better way to spend time with the family?", she reasoned. Words fail me.

Incidentally, the incidents of bottle- and coin-throwing (50p's rather than 2p's, I imagine...) make them no better than your average football hooligan.

(To read Inspector Sands's similarly unsympathetic thoughts, click here.)
Sad to see you go

Johnny Ramone RIP. You can't stop the rock.
Is it just me...

... or was the second half of Tuesday's episode of 'Six Feet Under' not the most intense half-hour of TV this year? By the end I was left feeling as brutalised as David was by his attacker / kidnapper Jake. Incredible stuff, as always.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Toddling along merrily

Exactly two years ago today Silent Words Speak Loudest was born.

Since then it has very gradually (I think) become toilet-trained and learnt how to crawl and then walk, but it remains something of a sickly child in the company of its more well-nourished and well-adjusted web brethren (see sidebar under 'Blogs'). Perhaps it'll grow up to be strong and healthy, and its dreams of being an astronaut or lorry driver will come true. Or perhaps not.

Whatever the future holds, thank you for your help and support in bringing it up thus far.
Primal scream

PJ HARVEY, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY, 11TH SEPTEMBER 2004

If anyone wasn't aware of the fact that Ms Harvey left her delicate and sombre period behind some time ago, then they are as soon as '50ft Queenie', a song that truly deserves the title 'blast from the past', roars out of the amps. Clearly prisoners are not to be taken tonight.

The set - which, compared to her Glasto showing, is remarkably light on material from her most recent outing Uh Huh Her (only 'Who The Fuck?', 'Shame' and the marvellous single 'The Letter') - bears the imprint of the company she's been keeping lately, Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan, in its rawness and general aggression.

Resplendent as ever in yellow, and singing with the same sumptuously rich voice live as on record, she's flanked by a bounding straggle-haired guitarist straight out of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and a lanky bassist who seems to have got lost on the way to an audition for a Damned covers band, while long-time collaborator Rob Ellis pounds the skins.

Disappointments are few, but if my companion's main gripe is her ignoring his repeated pleas for 'Down By The Water', then mine is her decision to reappear for a second single-song encore rather than to leave a fantastically strident 'Big Exit' as just that - her big exit.

More than anything, though, the night reminds me of the gaping holes in my record collection which need to be plugged. Selectadisc, here I come...

Note to the Birmingham Academy: Maybe it's just me, but I don't expect to have to wait fully half an hour to buy some shit and stupidly overpriced lager, thereby being forced to "enjoy" the first five songs of the headline act with my back to the stage, especially when the gig ticket has cost the best part of £20. You twats.
Don't believe all you read

On Saturday I finally got to see the face behind the hand, the face of Telford's most pre-eminent blogger. Yes, I met up with the real Dead Ken.

I hope he doesn't mind if I undermine his carefully-cultivated web self-image, but...

Don't believe all that self-deprecating nonsense he's posted over at Parallax View, or, for that matter, any of the self-deprecating comments that routinely appear on the site - he's a lovely chap, and great company. But if he can apologise for "the dribbling, drooling idiocy that is the live! interactive! Dead Kenny experience", then I can thank him for indulging me in my alcoholically-lubricated rantings and ravings about everything from Birmingham to The Stone Roses.

All this real rather than virtual interaction with bloggers is starting to become quite addictive.
"Got a devil's haircut in my mind"

The latest installment of Stylus's I Love The 1990s series - this time, 1996 - featuring contributions from He Only Lives Twice and yours truly.

Part One: Beck, 'Dilbert', Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony, 'Fargo', Mentos adverts
Part Two: MTV2, Rage Against The Machine, 'Romeo + Juliet', The Fugees, 'Scream'
Part Three: 'Swingers', Tamagotchis, Busta Rhymes, Jackie Chan vs Chuck Norris, No Doubt
Part Four: the Macarena, 'Space Jam', Garbage, Playstation vs N64, 'Trainspotting'

Other Stylus goodness: Andrew Unterberger does his level best to convince us to reappraise the merits of nu-metal, whilst Ian Mathers is enraptured by the new Low B-sides and rarities box set A Lifetime Of Temporary Relief - "There’s a reason Low are known as a band who often write about Christian issues, but not as a Christian band. They’re not recruiting, they’re searching. Once you begin looking at the issues raised in Low’s music as questions asked and not dogmas received, the band opens up and you can focus on the gorgeousness of music without any guilt."
Quotes of the day

"Three years since the terrible events of 11 September 2001. And what have we learned since then? Years ago, there was an argument about whether terrorists were merely freedom fighters. Now we now what terrorism really is - an act of violence against America, or an act of violence which isn't funded by Americans."

Inspector Sands on terrorism.

"Seeing 'Teenage Riot' live was like touching the face of God and feeling a pleasant electric shock surge through you; hitting those memory centres untouched since years of prior discovery."

He Who Cannot Be Named on Sonic Youth at the Brixton Academy.

"The last in-depth conversation I had with him was about cheese, and I know for a fact he knows nothing about cheese."

Noel Gallagher on Liam on 'Friday Night With Jonathan Ross'.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Blogwatch: extra time

More titbits from the blogosphere without which yesterday's Blogwatch would be incomplete:

Robin writes about extremism in the wake of the Beslan massacre. If you read one blog post this week, read this.

Anna recalls calling Steve Coogan "a wanker", a label his behaviour had deserved. Coogan's response wasn't too friendly, apparently...

And, last but not least, Badger Minor is now Orbis Quintus.
Quotes of the day

"I write here because I don't want to do it at home. I don't think my family should be subjected to the creative process which is undignified and shouldn't be seen by anyone. It's kind of like closing the door when you use the toilet."

"I do know a lot of people who've gone through a similar thing and denied what has gone before. It's like a born-again thing where you clean up and fall in love and everything that happened before is suddenly worthless. I don't see my life that way at all. You still haul yourself with you, no matter what you've been through. You still have the same difficulties with the world. The fact that your circumstances have changed doesn't necessarily remedy that. You just learn how to duck and weave and not be constantly up against it, and I suppose I've learnt that."

"If I have two years to spare I'll [write another novel]. If I wrote two I'd really be an author - having only written one I'm just some jerk who wrote a book. And the world's full of them already."

Nick Cave talks to the Independent. 47 and still making records full of sound and fury - brilliant. Can't wait for 20th September when his new double LP Abattoir Blues / The Lyre Of Orpheus is released.

(Thanks to Vaughan for the link.)
Misery loves company

Just been watching the new series of 'Grumpy Old Men'. It might give a platform for some real tossers to sound off to their heart's (dis)content - Antony Worrall-Thompson, Jeremy Clarkson, A A Gill, Rick Wakeman etc - but on most issues I really felt their pain. Frankly, I'm worried.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Blogwatch

Congratulations to Neil on his engagement!

Happy birthday to Diamond Geezer, now entering the terrible twos!

A warm welcome to Marshall - if his most recent posts are anything to go by, he's a man with a keen eye for a good pun - and to Has It Really Got To This?, discovered via Parallax View!

A cheery wave to old friend Our Man In Hanoi, now blogging all the way from, well, Hanoi!

And to Vik, whose blog has cost her her job - well, I'm speechless. What a prize cunt your former boss must be.

Elsewhere:

Wan's been caught up in a couple of earthquakes: "It is almost impossible to describe how it feels when you are stuck in a shaking room, where the bed is walking across the wooden floorboards, the shelf with the TV on is rocking back and forth and the bathroom starts to creak and moan under the strain";

Kenny delivers his verdict on his recent reading, including Martin Amis's 'Yellow Dog', Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time' and D B C Pierre's 'Vernon God Little';

Jonny pens "an open letter to Mr Brian Richards, Director of Customer Development, Norwich Union, and hopefully a man who Googles himself", concerning a recent item of junk mail: "‘I have been specially selected’ is flattering, but perhaps exaggerates somewhat my specialness. I would imagine you have sent this to thousands of people. If you haven’t, and it’s just for me, then I am going to change the locks and take out an injunction. Your offer of a free mini radio is tempting. Perhaps printing ‘Free Gift of a Mini Radio – APPROVED’ as if it had been rubber-stamped in red ink over the margin was over-egging, somewhat. I refuse to believe there is a man in your office with a rubber stamp whose sole job is to check each recipient to see if they are worthy of a crappy mini radio. That would be unusual business practise, even in Norwich";

Not content with analysing their new LP Out Of Nothing track-by-track, He Only Lives Twice has travelled the country to see Embrace three times in one week - now that's what I call dedication to the cause, and it rather puts my bleatings about the biannual Sonic Youth pilgrimage into perspective;

Jonathan of Assistant has been to Eastbourne, or the "Costa Geriatrica" if you prefer: "One shop was the 'World of Hair'. What a vision. Beautiful Victorian B&Bs, connecting this street to the seafront, boasted of 'hot and cold water in every room'. One even had a 'Colour TV Lounge'";

Nixon details his experiences of that modern torture chamber known as the gym: "All this needless and self-inflicted pain reminded me of the Flagellants of the 14th century who whipped themselves in public to atone for sins, but whereas the sins in the 14th century were masturbation or forgetting to pray, the gym-goers' sins were over-consumption and eating proper mayonnaise";

Dave's been to see Mozzer, and caught him in garrulous mode: "He talked about 'Constipation Street' and how he's had two songs played on the Rovers jukebox lately. Apparently he left the venue wearing a flat cap. I wonder who's cleaning out his pigeons in LA while he's on tour";

and hats off once again to Jonathan of Crinklybee for introducing his intrepid readership to Pie Club: "The Sales Office Pie Club was formed by myself, Chris and Warren, in response to the growing menace of Slimming Club, a shadowy, female-dominated organisation committed to holding interminable conversations about the precise calorific content of various brands of rye bread". (If you're worried that this post might violate the first rule of Pie Club, don't be - the first rule of Pie Club is not "We do not talk about Pie Club" but "We do not talk about Ryvita".) Is there anyone out there who still refuses to believe that this guy has sold his soul to the God of Blog?

… And finally: Alex has a confession to make: “It feels really weird saying 'vagina' down the phone to a stranger”. It’s not as bad as you might think, though…
Picture imperfect

In addition to the usual flocks of pigeons and chavs in Villa shirts, Birmingham city centre is currently playing host to 'Earth From The Air', an impressive exhibition of photos by Yann Arthus-Betrand. The pictures were taken all over the globe from the vantage point of a helicopter.

In purely aesthetic terms, they're stunning in terms of colour and framing. Particularly arresting are those pictures which reveal the incredible symmetry and patterning to be found in the natural world, but all bear eloquent testimony to the planet's beauty.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the photos are accompanied by explanatory passages which repeatedly underline the fragility of the natural environment and by gruesome statistics which bring home the full extent of man's destructive impact and the inequalities between the developed and developing worlds. Though of course necessary, this is all laid on thick, and not always to good effect (one caption, for example, claims that alcoholism is a direct consequence of poverty and unemployment - ?!). The message is clearly that we need to moderate our behaviour and reverse the most worrying trends, but I couldn't help but feel crushed by the weight of the statistics and left feeling as though, whatever we do now, the damage has been done and environmental apocalypse is inevitable.

What I found more depressing, though, were the numerous boards proclaiming that the exhibition is sponsored by Bird's Eye, for obvious reasons. Whilst ostensibly supporting artistic endeavour and endorsing the exhibition's message, they've actually seized the opportunity to advertise and brag about their own "sustainable" practices. Yes, patronage of the arts has always existed, and yes, such exhibitions wouldn't happen if it wasn't for financial investment and involvement of private organisations, but there's something deeply offensive to me in the way corporate sponsors insist on leaving their grubby fingerprints on everything.

Still, the whole event earns my much-maligned soon-to-be-adopted home some credit. In terms of the arts, this sort of large-scale, free, public exhibition beyond the confines of the conventional gallery space is precisely what city councils should be looking to promote.

Thanks to Ken for alerting me to another potentially intriguing arts event taking place next month: The Birmingham Book Festival. There will be appearances from the likes of David Lodge, Lesley Glaister, Hanif Kureishi, Roddy Doyle and Jim Crace, as well as writing workshops for prose, poetry and short fiction, though I expect the limited places on those will already have been filled.
Quote of the day

"This is a bit noisy. Hasn't got much melody. I don't like it very much. Don't you think it's noisy? What is it?"

J on - yes, you've guessed it - Sonic Youth's latest full-length offering. Clearly her musical education has a long way to go yet. But never fear - when I move in in a couple of weeks' time, my record collection moves with me (cue much hand-rubbing). Plus I'm taking her to see PJ Harvey on Saturday and Nick Cave in early November, so I think I'm doing my duty.
Text message of the day

"I'm in the pub and on the next table are 2 ladies in their late 50s discussing oral sex. Nice."

Thanks to Leon for that. Enough to put you off your pint.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The perfect storm

SONIC YOUTH, 2ND SEPTEMBER 2004, LONDON BRIXTON ACADEMY

Set-list: 'I Love You Golden Blue' / 'Stones' / 'Pattern Recognition' / 'Unmade Bed' / 'Eric's Trip' / 'Teenage Riot' / 'New Hampshire' / 'Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream' / 'Paper Cup Exit' / 'Dude Ranch Nurse' / 'Brother James' // 'Pacific Coast Highway' / 'Expressway To Yr Skull'

I don't know who the support acts were, and I don't care - this was all about the main act, the main event: Sonic Youth.

I've seen them every couple of years since 1996, and on this occasion only just got my ticket in time, having to sit in the balcony not out of choice but out of necessity. Aside from an appearance at All Tomorrow's Parties in the spring, this is their first show in the UK since 2002, and the only UK show of a whistlestop European tour.

As such, it feels like something of a pilgrimage. Some might go from all over the world to Mecca in search of inner peace and enlightenment and to be closer to their god, while us Sonic Youth fans are drawn from all over Britain to the Brixton Academy on a warm evening in early September to marvel at the huge red capital letters proclaiming the appearance of our heroes. And, yes, they are heroes.

Shortly after 9pm the lights go down and we’re treated to a brilliant set that sees them coaxing the very best out of the new material from this year’s Sonic Nurse LP (perhaps only ‘Mariah Carey…’ – surprisingly – is slightly underwhelming) whilst also playing some of their most legendary trump cards. When it comes to creating beautifully textured discord and honing in on the exact point that high-brow conceptual art meets dirty noisy punk thrills, there’s simply no-one out there to touch them, more than twenty years after they took their first steps as a band.

2002's Murray Street LP saw Jim O'Rourke become a permanent member of the band, but, although he's fitted in seamlessly, augmenting what was an already potent force, he'll always be on the periphery of the core four.

No-one sits hunched in intense concentration over a drumkit quite like Steve Shelley.

No-one can elegantly juggle a guitar quite like Lee Ranaldo.

Kim Gordon looks stunning, as ever, in a blue dress and savage high heels which, when she starts doing her trademark hop, make me want to shout, "Be careful, you'll turn your ankle!" She might not be as vocal as on previous occasions, but when, during 'Pacific Coast Highway' - an unsettling blend of seduction and threat - she prowls around the front of the stage, her status as one of the most iconic women in rock is beyond doubt.

But the star of the show has to be Thurston Moore, an art-punk legend dressed up as Bill or Ted. Even in middle age he's a goofy teenager getting to do what he's always dreamt of and loving every minute of it, tossing that unchanging mane with the same enthusiastic abandon of youth. "The last time we were here was about ten years ago. Those were the days, baby!" Barely fifteen minutes into the set and he's humping his guitar on top of the enormous speaker stacks as 'Pattern Recognition', confirmed tonight as a modern classic in the same mould as 'The Empty Page', drifts away into feedback. "Who's this lady Jordan?", he asks, puzzled, before claiming to have seen Ms Price's face on the cover of every magazine ("Time, Newsweek, The Wire") upon arrival in Britain and dedicating 'Brother James' (or was it 'Shaking Hell'?) to her.

The evening may culminate with some tremendously self-indulgent dicking about - Thurston dangles things in front of his amp for effect, Jim fetches an accordion, a couple of members of one of the support acts appear with an inflatable guitar and Kim leaves the boys to it before Thurston literally pulls the plug on himself with glee as disgruntled stage managers lurk in the wings - but all that can be forgiven.

Likewise the lack of anything from the seven albums preceding Sonic Nurse. After all, if I wanted to hear my ultimate Sonic Youth set it'd last for days - EVERYTHING (apart, perhaps, from the odd track from A Thousand Leaves) at least twice.

And why can all that be forgiven? Just take a look at the set-list. I've seen them play 'Teenage Riot' AND 'Expressway To Yr Skull' ON THE SAME NIGHT. I can die happy.

There's life in the old dogs yet, despite what some might have said in haste...
The city is here for you to (ab)use

Jonathan Franzen is best known for 'The Corrections', but his debut novel 'The Twenty-Seventh City', first published in 1988, also garnered rave reviews. A thriller of politically motivated subterfuge and corruption set in St Louis in 1984, it's an impressively intricate work in which Franzen interweaves the lives of a vast array of characters, winding the various plot lines up like a coiled spring for the frenzied climax. He's perhaps at his best, though, in his evocations of place - through his eyes what would ordinarily be non-descript urban sprawl becomes somehow profound.

But there's still something curiously unsatisfying about the book - not least the fleeting relationship between its central characters, prominent businessman Martin Probst and corrupt police chief Jammu, which fails to convince. In hindsight it looks like a marvellously designed and constructed work of architecture, but one which arrests only the visual attention and leaves the emotions cold.

Perhaps I should have lost my Franzen virginity to 'The Corrections' instead. Hey ho, that's what comes of shopping for books at The Works - you take whatever you can get on the cheap.
Car crash listening

Stylus's Albert Soto reviews the new Libertines LP - "this eponymous album doesn’t cohere like Up The Bracket". Sorry, it's LESS coherent than Up The Bracket?!! Christ, that'd be quite an achievement.

Meanwhile, Dave McGonigle tries to make sense of the latest offering from Les Savy Fav, Inches, a generically disparate collection of nine singles spanning nine years and nine labels.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Is it just me...

... or is it Simon Pegg doing the voice-over for that Lenor advert? Oh dear.
Feel good hits of the 6th September

1. 'Teenage Riot' - Sonic Youth
2. 'Back In Black' - AC/DC
3. 'Why Won't You Talk About It?' - The Radio Dept
4. 'Evergreen' - The Fiery Furnaces
5. 'Distortions' - Clinic
6. 'Cat On The Wall' - PJ Harvey
7. 'La Lune' - Sons & Daughters
8. 'Regular John' - Queens Of The Stone Age
9. 'Scissoring' - Burning Airlines
10. 'Kiss Like Lizards' - The Icarus Line