Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Right To Reply #4: Part Two

(For Part One, scroll down to the post below.)

The subject: Poetry - present and future

The participants:
Martin - a professional poet from Nottingham and author of Exultations & Difficulties
Joe - an amateur performance poet
Pete - a voracious reader and the man behind The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha
Olav - a fellow bookworm
Ben - your host

With the apparent popularity of poetry readings and poetry evenings, is poetry returning to the oral tradition?

Joe: It looks like there is a move from the page to the stage – great! Once you go to a poetry performance, you realise how much is gained by hearing the poem read, especially if rhythmic. If I read the same poem later, it falls flat - I would just scan the words on the page. It's a good excuse for a social occasion – participants reading their own work is certainly an icebreaker.

Martin: The oral tradition is fine, but if you’ve been to an open mic poetry event recently you’ll know it’s in pretty lousy shape and in truth we’re a long way away from it. And forgive this sweeping generalisation but I don’t think most of those open mic people read poetry, otherwise they’d have more than one metre in their head, and not crave applause so much. What they do (in general) has nothing to do with anything I’m interested in, to be frank. I didn’t know poetry readings were popular. I’ve been involved in them, both as a reader and as a promoter, for some twenty years, and if thirty people turn up to a gig it’s figured a success. If that’s popular then OK.

Joe: I've seen live poetry for the last two Tuesdays. It's good to see there the kind of interest that warrants regular events around London, even though you tend to see the same old people!

Olav: I don't see any change in the popularity of such events.

Has there been a change in the way poetry is consumed?

Pete: I hardly ever buy poetry (Hegley excepted) and when I do it will be from a second hand book stall in Abergavenny market. I get most of my fixes from the web.

Martin: I suspect, in fact I know, poetry is now reaching lots of people via the internet. A couple of years ago I’d not have said this, because even that recently the notion of sitting down at the computer and finding an online poetry magazine was kind of strange – but now, I almost live by it, and even run my own website. It’s not replacing books – as I write this, my desk is literally awash with review copies of poetry books that have arrived in the mail this week. But the internet is immediate and accessible, and I’m sure it’s opened things up.

Ben: On the internet, poetry is everywhere. The stereotypical image of the blogger is someone who chronicles what they had for breakfast whilst also posting photos of their cat and reams of cringingly turgid doggerel verse – and, as with most stereotypes, there’s an element of truth in there. The web has given people a licence to foist their amateurish poetic skills and efforts onto others. At least this indicates that the urge for self-expression, of which writing poetry is a significant manifestation, is alive and well. Of course, there are also numerous decent and reputable sites devoted to poetry, and it’s these that offer real hope and promise.

Martin: If a poetry novice stumbled across my site and followed all the links, for example, they discover loads of poets and publishers and books that quite simply would have stayed hidden from them…. it’s an explorer’s heaven. I think that’s really exciting.

Pete: The web might just be the future of poetry. Most poets complain that they cannot make a living at it anyway and most poetry is published by small publishers. The web really opens up the potential readership, though it might not do the same for sales – although I have noticed that some of the contributors to Football Poets advertise their readings on there, so you never know.

Do you feel poetry is (rightly or wrongly) squeezed out of the school
syllabus by prose and drama? How much of an influence does education play in shaping attitudes towards poetry?


Martin: Of course it’s squeezed out, but I don’t know if it’s by prose and drama. More likely it’s by something else. League tables, vocational courses, and similar things. I don’t know.

Olav: I think it has some parity with prose and drama. It doesn't seem to be squeezed, at least from what I can remember.

Joe: I don't know about the poetry : prose ratio in the syllabus, as long as both are explored. If a variety of poetry is demonstrated, hopefully pupils will be inspired to give it a try.

Martin: Did you enjoy poetry at school? Did you even read any? I don’t know.

Olav: Education is our only contact. I think my first contact was with Roger McGough who I still read and whose work really does appeal across the ages (see his stuff about having kids when he's so old). Apart from such wondrous experiences, we are told to tease apart the classics from a very straight point of view in a very unexciting way, all of course allied to the syllabus. I liked Keats for a bit, then it was rammed so far down my throat that even now I have an adverse reaction to it.

Ben: The classroom environment shouldn’t be allowed to stifle any pleasure that a child might derive from a particular poem (or novel or play, for that matter). The key, I think, is to allow room for the discussion and exploration of personal responses to something. If children are encouraged and made to feel comfortable discussing their own thoughts, then they are more likely to enjoy a poem than if they are simply told from ‘on high’ what they should be feeling about it.

Joe: [There’s the] performance aspect. Reading poems can help lead into drama by developing the confidence to perform.

Olav: If they actually brought modern poets into schools and tried to breath some life into the subject at hand then there could be some hope for the future, but they can't be arsed. I'm sure, as well, that they could do with the money. It's a win win situation.

Ben: There has, I think, been a general shift in the way poetry, amongst other things, is taught in schools since I was a kid – it’s now more hands-on, and literature, including poetry, is experienced not only as something lying flat on a page but also as something brought to life.

Martin: I’ve worked a lot in schools as a visiting writer and my experience has varied. I guess I wouldn’t be in the school if there wasn’t an enthusiasm there in the first place, and when I was at school I thought all poets were dead. If poetry is alive in a school, then living poets are nearby to support it.

Ben: Perhaps contact with poetry is not enough to inspire enthusiasm, interest and passion amongst children any more – maybe it’s this level of personal contact that’s needed if poetry is to remain vital. Moreover, Olav argues that a school education gives most people their only real contact with poetry – well, it shouldn’t. It’s also the responsibility of parents to introduce their children to books and to poetry at home, and help foster an appreciation from an early age. A lack of enthusiasm for language and literature can be hereditary – and so can a passion for it.

Pete: One of the best books I have ever bought is a children's anthology featuring the likes of Zephaniah, Spike Milligan, Roger McGough, Brian Patten and others. It has some great stuff in, some serious, some funny, some wacky. Each of my kids love it. I don't know if it will give them a love of poetry, but I hope it will give them a love of words, instil in them the notion that language is important and that you can have fun just playing around with it.

How do you see the future of poetry? Is it healthy? Or in terminal decline?

Martin: I don’t think about things like this. Do carpenters worry about the future of carpentry, even though there’s an IKEA down the road? Poetry is art, and art is always there. Always has been, always will be. It’s a basic human activity. As long as people have imaginations, poetry and music and painting and all of that will be there.

Olav: Poetry will go on. It's just one of those things.

Martin: As a poet and publisher and promoter I’ve been busy to the point of exhaustion for nearly half my life thinking about how to find one more reader, how to get a few more people along to a poetry reading, how to find some more money to support a project…. Now I don’t give a damn, because I realise that for me poetry is as natural as breathing and if I treat it the same way as I do breathing – that is, as something natural and right and a part of the day – then I’m doing as much as I ever did by attending networking meetings with arts administrators, or writing letters to newspapers, or making plans to change the way the world regards poets and poetry. Poetry won’t die. It may never have a mass audience within our culture, but so what? I’d rather spend the next half hour writing a good poem than worrying about how many people are going to read it. Mind you, having said that, I’m aware I’m in a kind of privileged position because I know that most of what I write and deem good enough to send outside the house gets to be read by an audience out there somewhere in the world. But since I’ve worked hard for a long time to get to this point, I’m not sure ‘privilege’ is the right word.

Pete: I don't think poetry has much to worry about, it will develop and change as necessary. We will always have the classics, the highbrow will always communicate with the highbrow in their strange lingo, an elite will always talk to one another. Then we have the fantastic children's poets, of whom there seems to be a never-ending supply and mavericks like Cooper Clarke are always likely to spring up. We have slam poets and we have hip hop, a never-ending source of innovation, a never-ending supply of witty and wise wordsmiths. A worldwide coterie of people who can do nothing but use their language to find ways of expressing themselves and sharing it with the rest of us. Rather than poets being in crisis, I think the question should be: how the hell do we shut them up?

Ben: We live in an age when attention deficit disorder is rife amongst adults and children alike and brevity is a prized quality. In such conditions it’s hard to see how poetry can fail to flourish. The Guardian’s text message poem competition is a measure of how developments in technology can give rise to new forms of poetry. Like sonnets and haikus, text poems have to obey formal constraints – namely, they must be less than 160 characters.

Joe: What's with the doom and gloom? I think it's on the up. Concise writing is the way forwards. News stories will soon be presented as haikus. The future is poetry.

Thanks to Martin, Joe, Pete and Olav for their contributions.

A final thought, taken from Martin’s website:

"If poems can't slug it out with kids and mayhem and shopping life, overdrafts and broken cars and jobs, they're not worth shit."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Right To Reply #4: Part One

Yes, the long-overdue return of Right To Reply, the feature for which I gather together the views of an assortment of bloggers and friends on a particular issue.

The subject: Poetry - present and future

The participants:
Martin - a professional poet from Nottingham and author of Exultations & Difficulties
Joe - an amateur performance poet
Pete - a voracious reader and the man behind The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha
Olav - a fellow bookworm
Ben - your host

Today, the first half of the feature.

What is poetry, for you?

Martin: It’s impossible for me to say what poetry is. And if you set yourself a little project and gather together as many definitions of poetry as you can lay your hands on, you’ll soon find you have several sheets of paper full of contradictions. Poetry takes different shapes and forms, not least because in the last hundred and fifty years it’s gone through so many changes and innovations, and that’s not to mention what went before. And then, of course, somebody will come along and say "This isn’t a poem" or "That isn’t a poem". As if there is some kind of rule.

Olav: [Poetry is] something that shines much-needed light upon some rare instance of emotion. A moment of recognition in the mirror of words. Blah blah. Fancy shit you can quote that makes you look good and other people feel silly. The best words in the best order as someone far more talented, but twattier, than I once wrote. All of the above.

Joe: Poetry expresses what we think and feel, and I think we ought to remember to focus some attention on this apart from robotic daily life. Poetry clarifies our own and other's thoughts. It encourages the sharing of observations – we may take more of an interest or feel we have more in common with others.

What makes a good poem? What should a poem do?

Pete: For me, poetry should speak directly to me, not in simplistic terms, but in ways which I not only understand, but empathise with. I want it to say things better than I can, more astutely, more profoundly. I want it to get to the heart of the matter and open that heart up. For me, poetry represents an emotional, rather than an academic experience.

Martin: I’m as stunned and moved and excited by Ezra Pound as I am by Samuel Daniel as I am by Paul Violi as I am by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as I am by Frank O’Hara. When I say stunned and excited, I’m approaching what I want a poem to do because poems by these people have one thing (if not more) in common – they satisfy the following: I’m not particularly interested in a poem that tells me something I already know. But that goes for my relation to all art, I think. I also look for wit, intelligence, elegance and something that doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks. If the poet and the poem are looking over the shoulder for approbation, then forget it. The artist has only himself or herself to answer to. Now, somebody, ask me about communication … (use the phone).

Olav: [A poem should] make you feel happy, sad, melancholy, brave etc. It should be capable of making you feel anything the poet desires.

Ben: A poem should be more than the sum of its parts, and say much more than simply the words on the page. And a poem should move me – the direction of that movement isn’t important.

Olav: Don Paterson recently commented on amateurs cutting in on his action and he is right. A good poem is the work of an artisan, skilfully combining a number of talents I couldn't possibly understand. Meters, for instance – I don't even know if that's spelt right. Also naive Grandma Moses types who write poetry and think they're fucking Rimbauds. They can twat off and read lots and lots of old poetry. People need educating.

Ben: The best poetry is often stunningly simplistic and thus may appear to have been a spontaneous artistic creation, but this simplicity is often deceptive and conceals a great deal of craft and sweat.

Pete: John Hegley might seem a bit simplistic, but I would challenge anyone to do what he does and I reckon he is successful not because he is easy, but because he speaks to us all – well some of us – and he does it with wit, insight and warmth.

Are you an avid or regular reader of poetry?

Martin: Of course I read poetry all the time. I write poetry professionally (a word which in this connection always seems a little odd, but it’s the correct word) and so my expectation when I get up in the morning is that at some point in the day I will encounter poems. I read poems in new magazines, in new books, and poems in old magazines and old books. I review poetry books, and publish poets on my website. And I write poems, and even if I’m not actually writing, part of my head is always engaged with work in progress or work not yet started. It’s a constant flow of poems, and it’s not all good, far from it. Sometimes it drives me round the bend, but one good poem brings me back to why it all matters so much to me.

Pete: I wouldn't exactly say that I am an avid reader of poetry, but I do read it, irregularly. It's funny, but I never consider poetry. I spend just about every waking minute thinking about football, I devour novels and I love music, will talk about it all day and all night, but poetry, no thanks. Then again, I visit the Football Poets’ website, have even sent a poem in. I buy all John Hegley’s books and see him if he ever appears in these parts. I think the kids’ poems of Benjamin Zephaniah are genius. I became aware of Linton Kwesi Johnson as a poet rather than a musician. I love Bukowski; Simon Armitage gets to the heart of the matter as well as anyone. I will happily read Whitman and there are others, loads of them, people I come across by chance on the web, in the New Yorker or the Barcelona Review or dozens of other places. So I do consider poetry, in fact I love poetry, and, now and again, I write it.

Ben: My bookshelves contain many of the poets who form the staple diet of the English undergraduate – Larkin, Plath, Hughes, Lawrence, Auden and Eliot, as well as slim volumes by Tony Harrison, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage and Wendy Cope. There’s a book of Elizabethan verse, alongside the ‘Penguin Book Of The Sonnet’. Without a doubt my favourite, though, is a collection entitled ‘Scanning The Century’, which introduced me to numerous previously unfamiliar voices and which illustrates that poetry, like art in general, is often a revealing reflection of the times in which it is created. And yet I’m ashamed to say I very rarely read poetry, or expose myself to it in any form. I rarely have the inclination. Fiction and non-fictional prose have a primary claim upon my bedside table. Why that is, I’m not sure. My predilection for prose over poetry isn’t something I can readily explain or excuse.

Olav: I tend to read it most in quiz questions. That's how I started on William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg and Hart Crane.

Is there interest in poetry amongst the general public? Do people still buy it?

Joe: I think people still buy poetry, but maybe I'm just aware of more books / anthologies.

Olav: According to sales, the general public does not buy and read it. Except in the rare instance of a ‘Birthday Letters’ where the soap opera aspects are too hard to resist. I think most Londoners have consumed poetry on the Tube in nice bitesize portions, but the concept of buying a book of poetry seems anathema to normal people. All that money for so few words?

Martin: I don’t know the general public as a whole, but the members of it I do know are a mix of people who have a variety of responses when one mentions poetry to them – as if one ever does!! Seriously, the notion of "the general public" really pisses me off. The fact is, poetry is pretty much hidden away, and most of it doesn’t want the general public anywhere near it. I don’t care much. I give poems to people I know who otherwise never go near poetry books – people know what I do, and sometimes a transaction occurs. They’re happy, I’m happy. I don’t worry these days about the audience for poetry. The general public doesn’t visit private art galleries in great numbers either, and it’s way easier to wander into an art gallery and get out of the rain than it is to find good contemporary poetry in Waterstones.

Olav: Poets were pop stars, now they're weird up-their-own-arse beardies in bondage to an ancient craft that nobody deigns to understand. Poetry is impenetrable, and when it gets on TV it’s some old crap from ‘Opportunity Knocks’ winner Pam Ayres or some twit in ‘Countdown’'s Dictionary Corner - Richard Digance, you're amusing, but not THAT amusing. We look to anthologies that are put together by Daisy bloody Goodwin. We don't have the old avenues that would for example bring films via Film 2005 to us. Television thinks poetry’s dead, and print thinks it’s esoteric, unless it's election time at Oxford University.

Pete: I know, from the few readings I attend, admittedly by the more populist poets that there is a big market and a big base of poetry lovers. All the events I go to sell out and sell out quickly, and there will always be long queues at the bookstall. I hardly visit a website that doesn't have a poetry page of its own and there are loads of really good poetry sites on the web. Someone must be visiting them.

Has poetry suffered as the novel has risen in popularity and status over the last three centuries? Might it be said to have suffered in any other way?

Pete: I don't know if poetry has suffered against the novel – I'm not sure how popular it has ever been – but I think quality literature has suffered in comparison with popular fiction, chick lit and stuff cobbled together by some celebrity or their ghost writer, so poetry probably comes a poor third. In any case, you are not comparing like with like; they are two different specialist art forms each with their own genres and sub genres.

Joe: I don't see the two in competition, unless you devote all your time to literature. There is still plenty of time for both.

Martin: I don’t think the novel is actually a runaway success these days, either, except for the few that get given the celebrity treatment and are made into a movie. And when that happens you don’t have to read the book. They don’t make movies out of poems, although ‘The Ancient Mariner’ is out there and still waiting.

Ben: Poems, on the whole, aren’t long enough for the kind of TV or film adaptation that sells novels these days. It’s just a natural consequence of the brevity of the genre. There are exceptions, though – from the earliest poem written in English vernacular, ‘Beowulf’, to Tony Harrison’s meditation on language and class in 1980s Britain, ‘V’.

Martin: Poetry "suffered" because it was taken over by academia at the beginning of the twentieth century or thereabouts. At least, that’s the received knowledge, and it’s pretty much true. So, in other words, it was taken away from ordinary people (whoever ordinary people are) and made into some rarified form accessible only to the privileged few who had the code to crack an otherwise obscure text.

Pete: It's [not poetry as a whole but] an idea of poetry that I don't consider: the classics, or modern, classical types. I suppose it is middle class poetry that I don't consider, written by the over-educated for the over-educated. I read reviews of poets and will think that I like the sound of it and will seek stuff out, then I find that it is completely incomprehensible and I retreat, bewildered and frightened. I don't say that poetry, or any art, should be easy, but I find life is too short to bother with stuff that requires constant flicking through a dictionary to understand it, or assumes a cerebral knowledge of the most archaic of references.

Ben: The issue, I guess, is whether poetry has genuinely become more difficult in response to its appropriation by academia, or whether this is simply a popular misconception, and people only think it’s become inaccessible to them. Perhaps people have been made to think this way – perhaps academics have exaggerated the difficulty of understanding poetry as a means of setting themselves up as part of an elite who "get it" (as opposed to the "masses" who don’t), and of justifying and legitimating what it is that they do. As an academic myself, though, I can’t subscribe to this view wholeheartedly, though there is some truth in it. Academia isn’t quite so cynically self-serving and self-preserving as that.

Martin: Personally, I think [the argument that poetry has suffered at the hands of academia] is only part of the story. You have to throw into the mix the growth of other mediums, like radio and TV, and now of course all the technologies we have…. I mean, sitting down and reading something is probably not as common an activity as it once was, and to sit down and read something slowly, like perhaps you have to do with a poem…. I don’t want to sound precious, but a good poem is something to spend time with, to read and re-read; the time and space and quiet that requires doesn’t actually describe our lives very accurately these days, I think.

The second half of the feature follows tomorrow.

Related links:

Martin's homepage.

Pete provides a whole host of poetry-related links.

On Box Social Skif reviews poetry readings by John Hegley and Simon Armitage.

Friday, February 11, 2005

"Lord, what a runner after good things, servant of love, embarker on schemes, recruit of sublime ideas, and good-time Charlie!"

When Saul Bellow named his 1953 novel 'The Adventures Of Augie March', it could have been regarded as rather uninspiring and unimaginative. As it is, though, "adventures" is exactly the right word.

Firmly part of the tradition of picaresque tradition, the novel follows the malleable Augie through countless romantic entanglements, mishaps and sticky situations as he flits and tumbles from job to job, continually falling under the influence of women and characters like his friends Frazer and Clem Tambow, Einhorn his first employer and his brother Simon who "persistently arise before me with life counsels and illumination throughout my entire earthly pilgrimage".

Published four years before Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road', 'The Adventures Of Augie March' conveys the same sense of restlessness and rootlessness - as Augie comments in a narrative aside, "since I have never had any place of rest, it should follow that I have trouble being still". Though this is not manifested in the same literal compulsion to travel that grips Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise, Augie is, like them, someone who is always moving on to something new, as his friend Kayo Obermark points out by quoting from a French poem: "Les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-la seuls qui partent / Pour partir; coeurs legers, semblable aux ballons, / De leur fatalite jamais ils ne s’ecartent, / Et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!"

The sense that Augie's life is built upon continually shifting sands contributes to an unpredictability of plot that keeps the reader engrossed, the narrative incorporating everything from book stealing and union politics to dog-washing and a cowardly eagle called Caligula. Our hero might marry, and happily so, but this is no standard comedy and the story does not come to an end - there's still time for husband and wife to be parted, and for Augie to survive for days at sea in a lifeboat in the company of a crackpot pseudo-scientist called Basteshaw after their naval vessel is torpedoed.

Bellow's writing is extraordinarily thick with detail and populated by a colourful array of grotesques and incidents which seem far too richly drawn to be passed over with such speed and then left behind.

Life is a series of trials for Augie - "If I could have come back and started to lead a happy, peaceful life I think very few people would have the right to complain that I wasn’t ready yet or hadn’t paid the admission price that’s set by whoever sets prices", he observes towards the end of the book - but the novel itself is by contrast a pleasure.
Blogwatch: a bumper edition

SO much good stuff of late, much of it music-related...

The most written-about band in the blogosphere this week? "Quebecois sextet" The Dears. As Mike has pointed out, their Nottingham gig is the subject of posts on Exultations & Difficulties, Swiss Toni's Place and The Bargain Basement, whilst I'm expecting a review of Wednesday's gig in Birmingham to appear on Parallax View sometime soon. Mind you, they're not flavour of the month with everyone - Jon caught up with the tour in Manchester but only to see support act Ambulance Ltd - he'd left by the time The Dears appeared.

The other band getting people stirred up at the moment are Bloc Party - on Pent Up Digitalfury there's a salivating preview of their debut album Silent Alarm, out on Monday, and Jonathan, like me, is a recent convert.

Elsewhere:

On No Matter What You Heard Kevin reviews two new albums currently in heavy rotation on the SWSL stereo, Low's The Great Destroyer and ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead's Worlds Apart;

LMT of Between The City And The Deep Blue Sea looks back at Sunday's Asian Tsunami Benefit Gig at the Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, where he enjoyed another appearance on guitar with new band Autons;

Welcome to Bedsit Bomber, an electronic musician from Brighton and acquaintance of Jonathan;

David, like Martin, mourns the closure of Nottingham indie venue The Maze;

On No Rock & Roll Fun Simon presents a comprehensive review of the Brit Awards and has great fun at Fred Durst's expense - "He's been quiet on his Xanga site for a while now - we'd assumed that maybe he'd been getting more tattoos or something, or perhaps the Feds had arrested him to ask him why he's a bloke nearing forty pretending to be a teenager online; which does look kind of bad";

Sashinka reveals she once had that young raggamuffin Pete Doherty in her employ once upon a time;

Tom runs through the lessons learnt from DJing at an office party - "Even rockists like "Love Machine" (when they've drunk their way through a five-figure bar tab)".

And now stepping away from the subject of music...

Sarah encounters homophobia at every turn in Edinburgh;

Coincidence sees Mish back in the house her gran lived in eight years ago just weeks after she passed away;

Paul's been to see 'The Play What I Wrote', based on Morecambe and Wise;

Jaymaster indulges in some serious earwigging;

Mike gushes about the delights of the TV schedules over recent weeks and encourages us all to adopt a new acronym, CBATG;

Diamond Geezer invites you to be present at Charles and Camilla's nuptials;

Del, a hoarder, is finding it hard to have to say goodbye to his magazine collection;

Inspector Sands reports on the scrum which ensued at the 3am opening of a new IKEA store - "There should be something witty and pithy in this, but all I can do is shake my head and mutter 'fucking idiots'. These are the sorts of people who probably expect the staff to wipe their arse for them after they've had a dump";

and lastly but not leastly, Jonny B has issues with feminism - "Do not get me wrong, as I was very in favour of the emergence of 'feminism' in the seventies, even though I was only about five at the time. I was a bit young to understand Ms Germaine Greer and all that, but I was certainly impressed by the day-to-day achievements of people like Ms. Bonnie Tyler, who proved that ladies could do just as well in previously male-dominated professions such as soft rock".

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

People in glass houses

I was intrigued by this post on Hobo Tread in which Skif says he was pleased to see that Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens stuck the boot into Robert Kilroy-Silk, labelling him "ludicrous".

Slight problem with your argument there, Pete, old chap - it's your paper and its thinly veiled racist agenda that gives Kilroy-Silk the scant credibility he has.

What's more, you're a fine one to be calling someone else "ludicrous", you with your Middle Englander siege mentality, you who takes every opportunity to spout your the-end-of-the-world-is-nigh, we're-all-going-to-be-eaten-alive-by-gay-asylum-seeking-single-mums schtick.

Or perhaps my viewpoint is coloured by the run-in my good friend He Who Cannot Be Named had with a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth bigots from the messageboard of Hitchens's website...
Daddy cool

I paid one of my rare visits to Bob Mould's Boblog today, which reminded me that not only should I go there more often but also that he might be of the Old School but he's still digging the hip young cats.

Full of praise for Swedes The Radio Dept and Low's new LP The Great Destroyer, he also reveals he's been working on a remix of Interpol's 'Length Of Love' with the band's drummer Sam Fogarino. The result could be worth looking out for.
Feel good hits of the 8th February

1. 'So Here We Are' - Bloc Party
2. 'When I Go Deaf' - Low
3. 'Ziggy Stardust' - David Bowie
4. 'The Lyre Of Orpheus' - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
5. 'I Fought The Angels' - The Delgados
6. 'Bullets' - Editors
7. 'Galvanise' - Chemical Brothers
8. 'The Rest Will Follow' - ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
9. 'Chameleon' - Herbie Hancock
10. 'I Like Birds' - Eels

Having missed out on last year's singles, the 'So Here We Are' / 'Positive Tension' double A-side is my first exposure to Bloc Party on record - and how good it is too, thoroughly deserving of Kenny's Parallax View Single Of The Week award.

Monday, February 07, 2005

It's not a shame about 'Ray'

Not that Oscars mean anything at all except for an acknowledgement of the amount of money lavished upon a film, but there will be two weighty biopics battling it out at this year’s ceremony, Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Aviator’ and Taylor Hackford's ‘Ray’.

The life of Ray Charles has all the typically requisite raw materials for a film of this sort – a pioneer in his field, brilliantly if controversially combining gospel and r ‘n’ b styles, Charles was beset by a whole host of personal problems including womanising, a smack habit and fighting to overturn prejudices relating to his blindness and skin colour.

This public / private tension is the real point of interest, a fact underlined by the way that, after a powerful depiction of Charles’s horrific experiences of going cold turkey in rehab, the film comes to a swift conclusion, sweeping almost dismissively over the last few decades of the cleaned-up star’s life. (By this point, though, this may also be cause for a sigh of relief, as, at two and a half hours, it starts to feel rather long.)

Inevitably in a film which focuses on a particularly dynamic individual, other characters are little more than marionettes who move around in Charles’s orbit, and the understandable tendency for reverence and respect to creep in means that the undoubted damage he inflicted unknowingly and knowingly upon his family and those whose lives he touched is underplayed.

It is less clear, however, why the scene dealing with Charles being banned from the state of Georgia for refusing to play a segregated venue occupies so little space relatively in the overall narrative, when the significance of this refusal in the struggle for racial equality is so trumpeted at the end.

These are, however, minor gripes about a movie in which the leading actor, Jamie Foxx, is excellent and the music scenes convey vitality, freshness and exuberance. A feast for any fan of Charles’s music, but also an engaging and enjoyable film for those relatively unacquainted with it.
Quotes of the day

"Where's a shark when you need one?"

David Quantick on Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon falling off a boat in the video for 'Rio'.

"He makes a really convincing monkey."

Andrew Collins on Felix from Basement Jaxx and his transformation for the 'Where's Your Head At?' video.

Yes, I spent the entirety of yesterday evening watching C4's '100 Greatest Pop Videos As Voted For By You The Public'.

Cynical complaints about it being cheap TV aside, the programme did offer fascinating if fleeting insights into the stories behind the videos for such songs as 'Smells Like Teen Spirit', 'Ashes To Ashes', 'No Surprises', 'Nothing Compares 2 U', 'Bohemian Rhapsody', 'Common People' and Johnny Cash's version of 'Hurt'.

At a time when most videos seem to lazily feature either semi-naked rump-shaking ladeeez or middle class white boys playing Serious Music, it's good to be reminded that the pop video is a space which allows a great scope for creativity and imagination, and can actually be an art form in its own right.

It also struck me how many #1s were represented in the countdown - it's perhaps a measure of how inseparable certain songs become from their visual companionpiece that I counted no fewer than 12 of the songs with videos in C4's 100 amongst my own Top 100 #1s.

There were cons, mind: the undeserved inclusion of 'True Faith', 'Get Ur Freak On' and 'Fit But You Know It'; the omission of The Avalanches' 'Frontier Psychiatrist', Beck's 'Deadweight' and Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Relax' (the latter much more convincingly filthy than Xtina's 'Dirrty'); and having to listen to Dave Stewart of Eurythmics earnestly claiming that the cow which appears in the video for 'Sweet Dreams' was a homage to surrealism...

One last thing: Jimmy Carr might be quite amusing, but he really is a whore, isn't he? Well, Channel 4's bitch, at least. Anyone see any of 'The Friday Night Project'? Wincingly bad stuff.
Blogwatch

At last! After pressure from myself and Skif, our good friend Leon has capitulated and entered the blogging fray with Between The City And The Deep Blue Sea. Hurrah!

Skif, meanwhile, has been a very busy chap, not only posting regularly and at length about his passions - everything from non-league football to Woody Guthrie - on his regular blog Hobo Tread, but also setting up Box Social, an offshoot of his music fanzine Vanity Project designed to carry reviews of comedy and occasionally the other arts. (You'll find it in the Comedy section of the SWSL sidebar.) There are already pieces on Daniel Kitson, Phil Nichol and poet Simon Armitage up online.

Elsewhere:

After more than a month's worth of superb posts, Mike's heroic countdown of his favourite tracks of 2004 comes to a conclusion;

and Kenny belatedly gets with the programme and gives us his own take on the Editors gig and the blogmeet (there, I said it...) of the next day;

Paul expresses his horror that Robert Kilroy-Silk could become his new MP;

and Phill shamelessly plagiarises SWSL but is immediately forgiven for choosing legendary local fast food establishment Mr Egg as the first in his Why Birmingham Is Great series.
Fact times importance equals news

The fact is that 'Nathan Barley' begins on C4 on Friday night at 10pm.

The importance is that it's produced by Chris Morris, stars Julian Barrett of 'The Mighty Boosh' and is the TV adaptation of Charlie Brooker's 'Cunt' from TV Go Home.

Thus it is news.

To be honest, the noises being made about it aren't too encouraging. This chap's criticism could be dismissed as jealousy, given that his own project along similar lines failed to take off, but the folk at Morris fan site Cookd And Bombd are none too impressed either, lambasting it as lacking imagination and subtlety and continuing the downturn in quality of Morris's output: "If you find the idea of a perverted rock/scissors/paper game called cock/muff/bumhole hilarious you may find something in this show to like, if not love. On the other hand, if you're not 12 and think Bo Selecta is childish bollocks you'll almost certainly be woefully disappointed."

As someone who didn't think 'Jam' represented a "downturn", I'll make up my own mind, thank you very much. In the meantime, here's a profile of the man himself from the Observer.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The delivery man

STEWART LEE / JOSIE LONG, 1ST FEBRUARY, STATION PUB, SUTTON COLDFIELD

Stewart Lee is a talented bastard.

Co-writer of genius 90s series 'Fist Of Fun' and 'This Morning With Richard, Not Judy' with Richard Herring.

Contributor to Chris Morris's infamous 'On The Hour' and, as such, co-creator of Alan Partridge.

Co-writer of 'Jerry Springer - The Opera' with Richard Thomas.

Collaborator with Armando Ianucci, Kevin Eldon and Simon Munnery, amongst others.

Novelist - well, he's written one, at least.

Astute music critic for the Sunday Times.

Occasional DJ.

And yet here he is, perched on a tiny stage in the cramped upstairs room of The Station pub in Sutton Coldfield. Something somewhere has gone wrong, hasn't it? How did he end up here?

The answer is simple: because he wanted to. He's no egotistical careerist. He doesn't see the stand-up circuit simply as the first step towards national prominence. Both Graham Norton and Ben Elton are used as punchbags in his set, the latter distinguished from Osama Bin Laden because "At least Osama Bin Laden's lived by a consistent set of moral principles".

Ricky Gervais may have called him "cliche-free", but Lee doesn't dispense entirely with the unwritten rules of stand-up comedy. The first of these, for instance, states that you need a distinctive hairstyle or item of clothing that unmistakeably marks you out as a "funnyman". Tonight he's plumped for the latter, a bright orange Midwest-style shirt that makes him look like a gay cowboy.

He's got us in the palm of his hand already, deviating from a joke to simply commentate on the level of audience response which itself perpetuates the ripples of laughter - and yet he's only introducing his support act, the highly rated Josie Long, who in a short set flits from the surreal to the twisted bravely delivering a succession of clever non-punchlines.

That timing is the key to great comedy is something of a truism, but it's most glaringly obvious with Stewart Lee.

One of the badges he's selling tonight is emblazoned with the comments of a critic from the Independent: "surly, arrogant, laboured". The fact that being described in such terms is a matter of pride for Lee says a lot in itself, but "laboured" is not the right word for what he does.

It's a very careful and deliberate momentum, new facets of a joke gradually revealed with each clause or part-sentence, new ideas slowly implanted in the audience's minds, almost to the point that the joke itself doesn't matter and the art is all in the delivery. Unlike many comics he's not afraid of silence, of significant gaps between the laughter - his pauses are always pregnant.

Of course, that's not to say his material isn't hilarious.

With his trademark dryness, cleverness and sarcasm, Lee tackles everything from September 11th (or November 9th, as he insists on referring to it) to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, from his Scottish roots to Ron Atkinson's racist outburst.

He argues that if Al-Qaeda wanted to cause some real damage and confusion in America they should have carpet-bombed the country with "geography exam papers, bad dentistry and the concept of shame".

At one point he implies that Gary Lineker may have a sexual predilection for watching obese young boys die. At this suggestion, some of our number are a bit taken aback.

There's only the briefest of allusions to the brouhaha surrounding Channel 4's screening of 'Jerry Springer - The Opera': "I know you're thinking, 'Oh, he's mentioned Jesus, what's he going to say now?' Believe me, it's really not worth it..."

This hardly does the show justice, but in the interest of not COMPLETELY spoiling the fun for those like Skif who are awaiting his arrival in their neck of the woods, I'll leave it there.

Afterwards, my mind and vision wine-fogged, I stumble over to the back of the room. He is stood chuffing nonchalently on a cigarette, telling the compere he felt the last fifteen minutes tailed off a bit. I gormlessly thrust under his nose my newly-purchased copy of his novel, 'The Perfect Fool', and, after a brief search for a biro, he scrawls "Thanks for coming" on the title page, and signs it.

No, thank YOU for coming.

You talented bastard.
Quote of the day

"I've talked to a lot of people that are afraid to learn about theory because they're afraid it's going to hinder their composition. Well, I think it's an idiotic thing to say - it can only enhance it. Anybody who's listened to Mozart knows his music is full of passion and feeling, and it was not hindered by the fact that he knew about harmony. People are just afraid, and it's a stupid thing - it's an old tradition that came out of punk rock and the anti-intellectualism of rock 'n' roll itself. I hope that we get over it, because there is so much to learn about music. Emotion and feeling are essential parts of it, but understanding the depth of composition goes far beyond just playing three chords".

...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead's Conrad Keely is full of surprises, isn't he?

He was speaking in an interview with The Fly, but unfortunately it's one of those self-indulgent pieces stuffed full of whining complaints from the author that the band were surly and uncommunicative. BORING BORING BORING.

For what it's worth, myself and He Who Cannot Be Named found them a bit awkward when we interviewed them for the Nottingham Trent newspaper Platform back in 2000, but Keely and Jason Reece had plenty to say for themselves then. They certainly caused us less consternation than Six By Seven, whose frontman Chris Olley took a dislike to my companion's line of questioning, and Arab Strap duo Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton, who were pished beyond belief and wildly unpredictable.

My copy of the new ...Trail Of Dead LP Worlds Apart should be dropping through my letterbox any day now, along with Low's The Great Destroyer and last year's Six By Seven album - can't wait.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Nothing ventured, everything gained

EDITORS / NEEDLESS ALLEY / CHESTER ROAD, 28TH JANUARY 2005, BIRMINGHAM FLAPPER & FIRKIN

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but a gratis gig is another matter entirely.

Chester Road are an unapologetically hirsute three piece with an occasionally rousing line in heavy rock. Musically they’re something akin to a beefed-up gym-going Ten-era Pearl Jam, whilst as a spectacle they remind me of fearsomely loud duo Winnebago Deal. It’s only at the end of the set that they really catch everyone’s interest, though, as ‘Disarm’ gives way to an unexpected outburst of tribal drumming involving all three band members.

Needless Alley also prove mildly diverting without necessarily hinting at a brighter future. Impassioned indie rock is their thing, and they have the added bonus of a strong singer with more than a whiff of PJ Harvey about her. It’s a shame, then, that of the five songs they play one is an instrumental, and, though the two tracks which bookend the set display a laudable appreciation of how to build patiently and unravel noisily, the band don’t really do enough to distinguish themselves from the hordes of others doing this sort of thing.

Editors are in another league altogether. They’re in the middle of a UK tour, having released their debut single a few days earlier, and though I subsequently discover they're on a resurrected Geordie label, Kitchenware, and there's a Nottingham connection through guitarist Chris Urbanowicz, they're based in Birmingham so this is something of a homecoming – and it shows.

It’s a combination of jealousy and jingoism that leads us Brits to resent invasion by American bands whilst simultaneously searching frantically for their equivalents this side of the pond, and just as Interpol were first hailed as the American Joy Division, now Editors are inevitably destined to be labelled as the British Interpol.

The main reason for this is that the cap fits rather snugly. They’re more Antics than Turn On The Bright Lights, to be sure, with fast-paced drum-lines, propulsive bass, echoey guitars and bold, booming vocals. The songs are epic, but with an edge which keeps them the right side of pompous.

Acclaimed singles can all too easily become the songs which sets lead inexorably but lazily towards, but ‘Bullets’, Zane Lowe’s Single Of The Week, appears mid-set, vocalist / guitarist Tom Smith apparently rather embarrassed in precipitating mass cheers. It could become an albatross, but the embarrassment seems to come from the knowledge that it’s by no means their best song. (Since you ask, that could well be ‘Brave New World’, which closes the set.)

Overall, then, Editors are little short of a revelation, tight and seemingly primed for success. If nothing else, it'd be great for Kitchenware to get off to a good start. The last time I found myself this impressed by a new band I’d never heard or seen before was at Leeds 2003. The band? Franz Ferdinand. Just look where THEY ended up.

Of course, all this begs the question whether Editors will be able to escape from the shadow of their New York cousins. Only time will tell, but for now they’ll do just fine. You’d be well advised to watch this space...

(Thanks to Kenny and Phill for the tip-off.)
Reasons To Be Cheerful #5

(If you’re wondering what this is all about, click here.)

Clare Short MP

As I’ve said here before, one of the many things I loved about living in Nottingham was knowing that my local MP Alan Simpson was very much one of the good guys – vocal in the House of Commons, prompt and informative in his responses to correspondence and enquiries, a firm believer in the principles of social justice and a keen supporter of unfashionable left-wing causes.

For Alan Simpson in Nottingham, read Clare Short in Birmingham.

The appearance of the Labour MP for Ladywood at Aston University last week encapsulated all that is admirable about her – her visible passion for what she believes in, her opposition to narrow-minded and short-term thinking in politics and perhaps most of all her refreshing honesty. She branded Prime Minister’s Question Time "contemptible" and "a stupid circus", and referred to the invasion of Iraq as a "spectacularly awful" decision.

It’s this obstinate refusal to pussyfoot around and pull punches that endears her to those sick of spin and glib sloganeering. Unlike many of her colleagues in Parliament, she readily accepts that much of the blame for the currently widespread epidemic of public apathy with politics lies squarely at their door.

In the course of Thursday’s talk she discussed her former role as Secretary of State for International Development, the way in which her department was created and then kept in a state of near powerlessness, and the sheer enormity of the challenges that face the world, for which a truly global strategy is needed. Blair’s deception over Iraq, the dangerous unpredictability of the current American administration and the role of the UN were all on her agenda.

Perhaps most compellingly, she took the opportunity of reminding us on Holocaust Memorial Day that genocide has not been consigned to the past; on the contrary, it is very much a spectre that still haunts the present. Even after the horrors of Auschwitz and the other Nazi concentration camps, valuable lessons still remain to be learned.

She may have incurred the wrath of some constituents for the delay in offering her resignation over the Iraq affair, but she openly and vehemently criticises Blair’s leadership and decision-making – she agreed with one questioner that our dear leader and his buddy Bush should be tried for war crimes – and very often refuses to endorse the official party line. Why, she was asked, does she (like Alan Simpson) still remain a member of the New Labour machine? Because, she said, she believes in the history of the party, and hopes that she can be one of those who helps return it to the rightful path from which it has strayed under Blair.

A futile hope? Perhaps. But we desperately need politicians who’ll stand up and speak out in plain terms for what they believe in, and who are prepared to put principles before their own self-serving ends.
(What's so funny 'bout) peace, love and understanding?

Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies's book 'Why Do People Hate America?' takes as its starting point September 11th, proposing that in the wake of the terrorist attacks the question of the title was one with which Americans were obsessed and preoccupied without being able to formulate or comprehend an answer.

The authors then set out to explore some of the reasons why the US incites such fierce opposition and hatred around the globe, touching on a number of important points and supporting their arguments with statistics and evidence at nearly every turn.

They point to, amongst other things: the flagrant disregard America has shown for the UN; the way 'trade liberalisation' is interpreted "to mean one-way, open access for American multinationals and businesses"; the number of international initiatives which the US has refused to sign up to; the way "the American media functions primarily to keep its American audience ignorant of the rest of the world", creating "a closed circle"; the linguistic and cultural imperialism which causes irreparable damage to indigenous peoples; the uncritical and unquestioned employment of certain black-and-white terms and perspectives on the world...

One of the most intriguing chapters is that entitled "The burden of the American hero", in which Sardar and Davies argue that the American world-view is essentially the ideology contained within and endorsed through the traditional Western, where violence is seen as a legitimate way - if not the only way - to bring wrongdoers to justice, right wrongs and make the world a safer and more secure place. "American myths, the ethos of the Western, provide US foreign policy with a broad licence for extraordinary violence". The fundamental problem is that these myths do not necessarily correspond to those of the world as a whole: "It may well be the hardest thing of all for Americans to appreciate how their most triumphalist national myths inspire doubt and fear in people the world over, how their most characteristic tales fuel concern and provide a rationale for why people distrust America". Though this downplays the fact that this distrust is itself often manifested in acts of "extraordinary violence", the overall argument nevertheless seems cogent.

Perhaps most importantly in the context of the recent invasion of Iraq, which took place after the book's publication, is the point that ostensibly the US's numerous interventions into Latin American states "have been in defence of 'democracy', 'human rights' and 'freedom', but somehow they always end up securing markets for America". The Iraq offensive, far from being an unprecedented development, is thus set squarely into context.

Naturally enough, it's Noam Chomsky's favourable comments that occupy prime position on the back cover: "Contains valuable information and insights that we should know, over here, for our own good, and the world's." This essentially echoes the argument of the book that it's in the interest of Americans themselves to accept and understand that the hatred directed towards them is not groundless. The problem, as I see it, is that this book is unlikely to make any converts because, though broadly grounded in detailed political analysis and stuffed with factual information, there are passages in which a more naked polemic can be glimpsed. Rhetoric and invective is easy - that's the hating part - but what is more difficult is to examine things in a cooler and more objective way, something which Sardar and Davies don't always manage. As such, it's likely to be preaching to the converted and infuriating the heathens to the point of them throwing it down in disgust.

The other major difficulty I have with the book is that it is only at the end that the authors genuinely acknowledge that all Americans do not necessarily think alike. Though Sardar and Davies retrospectively point out that many of the extended quotations which have featured in the book have come from American academics and writers, they themselves are guilty, I think, of losing sight of the complexities and treating America as a monolithic entity. It only takes a quick read of a selection of blogs to realise that isn't the case. There IS dissent within America as well as without - after all, there must be to explain Michael Moore's rise to prominence. Sardar and Davies do acknowledge this, but too late.
Up for the Craic

May I introduce you to Craic, a monthly magazine for Birmingham's Irish community which could well be set to feature on TV as 'Have I Got News For You''s guest publication.

Sample headlines:

"Pensioner (74) 'tore skin off' his estranged brother"

"Motorist attacks traffic warden with lump hammer after getting a ticket"

On one page towards the back of the magazine, there's a large story entitled "At 55, gull found in Ireland is oldest wild bird in world". Tucked away in the bottom left hand corner of the page is another headed "Discovery of cow remains sparks fear of ritual killings".

Best of all, though, is the story with the headline "Dancing cleric plans palace vigil over 'unfair treatment'". Here are the opening three paragraphs:

"Neil Horan, the 'dancing priest' who has been 'defrocked' by the Pope, says he intends holding a vigil outside Buckingham Palace to publicise what he describes as the unjust way the Catholic Church has treated him.

Reacting to his dismissal from the priesthood, he said he was surprised he was summarily dismissed and not give a chance to defend himself first in a Church trial.

Mr Horan (57), a native of Kerry who dances to publicise his belief that the end of the world is near, and grabbed headlines last year by disrupting the Olympic marathon in Athens, and the Silverstone car race before that, said yesterday: 'I intend to start a vigil outside Buckingham Palace within the next few weeks. I will appeal to the Queen personally as Defender of the Faith'.
"

I can only imagine Craic landing on the doormat of Craggy Island Parochial House to be read with interest by Father Ted - "Oh no, Father Horan's up to his old tricks again". Father Dougal, meanwhile, would like all the pictures, some of which are in colour.

I stumbled fortuitously across this fantastic organ of journalism on Saturday in The Anchor in Digbeth, Birmingham's Irish Quarter, whilst on a bit of a pub crawl with friends old (Kenny and Phill) and new (Andy and Donna). You can read about the evening here - though there is no mention of Craic, you can rest assured it craic-ed us up.

Incidentally, The Anchor is set to feature in my Reasons To Be Cheerful series in the not-too-distant future.
Quote of the day

"A silly sausage. In a way I resent him, I resent him for wasting his life like that."

John Lydon, visibly on the verge of tears, talking about Sid Vicious.

Lydon was speaking on a documentary about The Sex Pistols, part of a BBC3 series called ‘Blood On The Turntables’ which has just made the welcome transition to BBC2 and which focuses on bands’ descent into bitterness and acrimony. So, who’s next up? Abba? Fleetwood Mac? The Smiths?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Blogwatch

Remember last Friday's meme? Well, the flame's been kept alive on a whole host of blogs: Excuse Me For Laughing, Hobo Tread, 1000 Shades Of Grey, Pent Up Digital Fury, Delrico Bandito and Amblongus.

Elsewhere:

Inspector Sands finds himself caught up in amongst a clash between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protesters - "the jeering, the hatred in their eyes, struck a sicker note than usual, after having watched the commemorations at Auschwitz. I swear I could have felt a few million bodies turn in their graves that moment";

Phill reviews the NME Tour, which came to Birmingham earlier this week and featured SWSL favourites The Futureheads alongside The Killers, Bloc Party and The Kaiser Chiefs, and also laments the demise of a music scene that may or may not have existed;

and Mike has some fun with the St Andrews University Face Transformer - "While Elderly Mike terrifies me (the whiskey-soaked bottom-pinching scourge of Harpenden Conservative Club), I think that Caucasian+ Mike (middle manager, keen gardener and church warden) possibly represents a truer articulation of my fears".

Incidentally, Mike's ready to mourn the closure of "the last remaining outpost of true Bohemia in Nottingham". George's closes its doors for the last time on Saturday, and Mike, Mish and others will be there to see the old place off. Expect tales of a descent into "divinely decadent oblivion" on Monday, then...
Quote of the day

"I stopped hating Bush. It's like there's nothing there and you can't hate a void. I mean, look at him, at his awkward smugness, a summation of the angry white backlash made flesh, an action figure put together from all the maddest post-WW2 conspiracy theories to divert the attention, to put a human face on countless monstrosities and machinations. He's just a useful fiction, like those WMD, like the Social Security crisis, a plot device required to explain away otherwise unbelievable developments in the storyline of our times, something that emerged, blinking and smirking, from the troubled sleep of 20th century America with two sitcom daughters, a three word vocabulary ('Freedom', 'Liberty', and 'Huhmericuh') and a glib answer to everything. Without him it all falls apart, he's the pivot that keeps the neo-cons and the born-again Dixiecrats from falling out, the dubious point on the wobbly Venn diagram where psycho-capitalism meets apocalyptic evangelism, yet he's barely there."

Amblongus on Dubya.
Feel good hits of the 28th January

1. 'The Jean Genie' - David Bowie
2. 'The City Consumes Us' - The Delgados
3. 'Lights Of Town' - Canyon
4. 'Dress' - PJ Harvey
5. 'Mr E's Beautiful Blues' - Eels
6. 'Around The Fur' - Deftones
7. 'Dancing Queen' - Abba
8. 'Video Killed The Radio Star' - The Buggles
9. 'Hanging On The Telephone' - Blondie
10. 'You Are Invited' - The Dismemberment Plan

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The #1 of #1s

The results of Mike's ILM poll to find the Top 100 UK #1s were announced on Sunday afternoon:

100 'Professional Widow' - Tori Amos 18/01/97 185 points, 7 votes
99 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart' - Bonnie Tyler 12/03/83 187 points, 6 votes
98 'Sunday Girl' - Blondie 26/05/79 189 points, 8 votes
97 'Get It On' - T.Rex 24/07/71 191 points, 11 votes
96 'Bad Moon Rising' - Creedence Clearwater Revival 20/09/69 192 points, 9 votes
95 'Cum On Feel The Noize' - Slade 03/03/73 192 points, 7 votes
94 'Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick' - Ian Dury & The Blockheads 27/01/79 196 points, 7 votes
93 'Help!' - The Beatles 05/08/65 197 points, 9 votes
92 'Pure Shores' - All Saints 26/02/00 200 points, 9 votes
91 'Honky Tonk Women' - The Rolling Stones 23/07/69 202 points, 6 votes

90 'Doctorin' The Tardis' - The Timelords 18/06/88 205 points, 7 votes
89 'My Sweet Lord' - George Harrison 30/01/71 205 points, 6 votes
88 'The Sun Always Shines On TV' - A-Ha 25/01/86 206 points, 8 votes
87 'Stand & Deliver' - Adam & The Ants 09/05/81 209 points, 7 votes
86 'Hey Jude' - The Beatles 11/09/68 211 points, 9 votes
85 'The Israelites' - Desmond Dekker & The Aces 16/04/69 214 points, 9 votes
84 'Theme From S'Express' - S'Express 30/04/88 215 points, 10 votes
83 'Should I Stay Or Should I Go' - The Clash 09/03/91 216 points, 8 votes
82 'You Really Got Me' - The Kinks 10/09/64 218 points, 8 votes
81 'Call Me' - Blondie 26/04/80 221 points, 8 votes

80 'Maggie May' - Rod Stewart 09/10/71 223 points, 9 votes
79 'Rock Your Baby' - George McCrae 27/07/74 224 points, 6 votes
78 'Block Rockin' Beats' - The Chemical Brothers 05/04/97 225 points, 8 votes
77 'Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out' - The Beatles 16/12/65 225 points, 8 votes
76 'Stand By Me' - Ben E. King 21/02/87 228 points, 9 votes
75 'Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus' - Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg 11/10/69 232 points, 11 votes
74 'Breathe' - The Prodigy 23/11/96 234 points, 10 votes
73 'Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)' - Spiller 26/08/00 236 points, 11 votes
72 'Without You' - Nilsson 11/03/72 239 points, 7 votes
71 'Vogue' - Madonna 14/04/90 239 points, 6 votes

70 '99 Red Balloons' - Nena 03/03/84 241 points, 11 votes
69 'Paperback Writer' - The Beatles 23/06/66 242 points, 8 votes
68 'Telegram Sam' - T.Rex 05/02/72 242 points, 7 votes
67 'I Feel Fine' - The Beatles 10/12/64 244 points, 8 votes
66 'Waterloo' - Abba 04/05/74 245 points, 8 votes
65 'Sound Of The Underground' - Girls Aloud 28/12/02 247 points, 10 votes
64 'Don't Look Back In Anger' - Oasis 02/03/96 247 points, 7 votes
63 'Brimful Of Asha' - Cornershop 28/02/98 254 points, 14 votes
62 'The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore' - The Walker Brothers 17/03/66 255 points, 10 votes
61 'A Hard Day's Night' - The Beatles 23/07/64 259 points, 11 votes

60 'A Town Called Malice/Precious' - The Jam 13/02/82 264 points, 9 votes
59 'I'm A Believer' - The Monkees 19/01/67 264 points, 9 votes
58 'She Loves You' - The Beatles 12/09/63 265 points, 7 votes
57 'You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)' - Dead Or Alive 09/03/85 269 points, 11 votes
56 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' - Simon & Garfunkel 28/03/70 276 points, 9 votes
55 'I'm Not In Love' - 10cc 28/06/75 283 points, 9 votes
54 'Telstar' - The Tornados 14/10/62 287 points, 8 votes
53 'Toxic' - Britney Spears 13/03/04 291 points, 15 votes
52 'It's Over' - Roy Orbison 25/06/64 297 points, 12 votes
51 'Voodoo Chile' - Jimi Hendrix Experience 21/11/70 297 points, 9 votes

50 'Like A Prayer' - Madonna 25/03/89 298 points, 14 votes
49 'Tears Of A Clown' - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles 12/09/70 300 points, 11 votes
48 'Ashes To Ashes' - David Bowie 23/08/80 307 points, 11 votes
47 'Firestarter' - The Prodigy 30/03/96 309 points, 10 votes
46 'Ticket To Ride' - The Beatles 22/04/65 314 points, 12 votes
45 'Your Woman' - White Town 25/01/97 316 points, 11 votes
44 'Stan' - Eminem 16/12/00 317 points, 13 votes
43 'Sunny Afternoon' - The Kinks 07/07/66 327 points, 13 votes
42 '3AM Eternal' - The KLF featuring Children of the Revolution 02/02/91 329 points, 14 votes
41 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' - The Rolling Stones 19/06/68 334 points, 14 votes

40 'Come On Eileen' - Dexy's Midnight Runners 07/08/82 341 points, 13 votes
39 'Metal Guru' - T.Rex 20/05/72 343 points, 11 votes
38 'Brass In Pocket' - The Pretenders 19/01/80 350 points, 12 votes
37 'Space Oddity' - David Bowie 08/11/75 352 points, 13 votes
36 'It's A Sin' - The Pet Shop Boys 04/07/87 360 points, 11 votes
35 'The Winner Takes It All' - Abba 09/08/80 362 points, 11 votes
34 'Baby One More Time' - Britney Spears 27/02/99 363 points, 15 votes
33 'Are Friends Electric?' - Tubeway Army 30/06/79 372 points, 12 votes
32 'Under Pressure' - Queen & David Bowie 21/11/81 379 points, 10 votes
31 'Make It Easy On Yourself' - The Walker Brothers 23/09/65 388 points, 15 votes

30 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Queen 29/11/75 398 points, 13 votes
29 'Freak Like Me' - Sugababes 04/05/02 400 points, 15 votes
28 'Geno' - Dexy's Midnight Runners 03/05/80 400 points, 11 votes
27 'Relax' - Frankie Goes To Hollywood 28/01/84 405 points, 17 votes
26 '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' - The Rolling Stones 09/09/65 417 points, 14 votes
25 'All The Things She Said' - Tatu 08/02/03 428 points, 15 votes
24 'Paint It, Black' - The Rolling Stones 26/05/66 429 points, 15 votes
23 'Reach Out I'll Be There' - The Four Tops 27/10/66 439 points, 15 votes
22 'Band Of Gold' - Freda Payne 19/09/70 452 points, 14 votes
21 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' - Kylie Minogue 29/09/01 459 points, 17 votes

20 'Crazy In Love' - Beyonce 12/07/03 477 points, 18 votes
19 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' - Marvin Gaye 26/03/69 488 points, 15 votes
18 'Pump Up The Volume' - M/A/R/R/S 03/10/87 493 points, 19 votes
17 'Nothing Compares 2 U' - Sinead O'Connor 03/02/90 507 points, 17 votes
16 'Uptown Top Ranking' - Althea & Donna 04/02/78 510 points, 19 votes
15 'Into The Groove' - Madonna 03/08/85 527 points, 16 votes
14 'Ignition (remix)' - R Kelly 17/05/03 536 points, 14 votes
13 'Atomic' - Blondie 01/03/80 545 points, 22 votes
12 'Don't You Want Me' - The Human League 12/12/81 607 points, 22 votes
11 'Dancing Queen' - Abba 04/09/76 640 points, 19 votes

10 'The Model / Computer Love' - Kraftwerk 06/02/82 657 points, 20 votes
9 'Always On My Mind' - Pet Shop Boys 19/12/87 704 points, 22 votes
8 'West End Girls' - Pet Shop Boys 11/01/86 736 points, 23 votes
7 'Tainted Love' - Soft Cell 05/09/81 749 points, 19 votes
6 'Wuthering Heights' - Kate Bush 11/03/78 776 points, 22 votes
5 'Heart Of Glass' - Blondie 03/02/79 795 points, 28 votes
4 'Billie Jean' - Michael Jackson 05/03/83 824 points, 25 votes
3 'I Feel Love' - Donna Summer 23/07/77 825 points, 23 votes
2 'Ghost Town' - The Specials 11/07/81 876 points, 25 votes
1 'Good Vibrations' - The Beach Boys 17/11/66 1024 points, 29 votes

So, how did my Top 100 compare? 'Good Vibrations', 'Ghost Town' and 'Heart Of Glass' all featured in my Top 10, and my #1 'Dancing Queen' was ranked at #11. My #2 'Bohemian Rhapsody' ranked only #30, and my #3 'Hey Jude' fared even more spectacularly badly, managing an astonishingly lame #86. Venturing beyond my Top 10, 'I Don't Like Mondays' (#13), 'All You Need Is Love' (#17), 'Take A Chance On Me' (#18) and 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' (#19) all failed to scrape into the Top 100.

Of the final Top 10, 'I Feel Love', 'Always On My Mind' and 'The Model' all failed to make my Top 100, and the whole list made me wonder how I could have omitted certain tracks - Marc Bolan has particular cause to feel posthumously aggrieved. Sorry Marc.

Good to see modern pop well represented with Britney (twice), Beyonce, Sugababes, Tatu, Girls Aloud and Kylie all scoring highly.

Final thought: Why the fuck did so many people vote for R Kelly, and with enough weighting to propel 'Ignition (Remix)' to #14?
Know Your Enemy #52

"She really is an absolutely worthless human being."

"Dried-up old trout. There's a song that couldn't be much worse named - 'Widdecombe Fair'."

Stephen Fry gets uncharacteristically savage about Paris Hilton and Ann Widdecombe on BBC1's new Friday night panel show '29 Minutes Of Fame'.

These outbursts aside, it was fairly tame, frothy and insubstantial stuff for the 'Have I Got News For You' slot, presented by a strangely muted Bob Mortimer and rather light on laughs - although one of Sean Lock's comments raised a smile: "You know Paris Hilton is her porn name? Her real name is Reading Travelodge."
Quotes of the day

"Paint your toes to look like talons. That way, when you pick up mice with your feet you can pretend you're an eagle."

Bill Bailey during his live show 'Part Troll', recorded and screened on C4 on Friday night. Chucklesome throughout, and with some fantastical flights of weirdness that made my head spin. Not in an 'Exorcist' way, though.

"Pimping up my ride."

'Celebrity Big Brother' winner Bez tells Davina McCall what he'll be spending his £50,000 prize money on. Congratulations, Monkey Man.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Carrying the baton

Because I'm "a good sport"...

1. What is the total amount of music files on your computer?

Zero. I have nothing, nowt, zilch, nada at all on my computer. Does this make me a Luddite? Well, yes, I guess it does. Thanks, Mike, for outing me as such.

I can try all the excuses I like - I haven't got enough space on my computer, I haven't got decent speakers to make it worthwhile, I haven't got an iPod that I'd need to stock up with songs from a PC - but none of them cut the mustard.

*hangs head in shame*

New Year's Resolution: Get With The Programme.

2. The last CD you bought is:

Universal Audio by The Delgados. Sublime choruses as ever, but they've lost the strings of The Great Eastern and Hate and gained a poppy spring in their step. You get the feeling that there's darkness lurking around every corner, though - when the sun's at its brightest, the shadows are at their longest...

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

'So Says I' by The Shins. Already cursing myself for not finding a place for this in the SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2004. Utterly infectious power-pop completely out of step with the season and downbeat January mood. Their first LP Oh Inverted World is high on my shopping list - partly because of the joys of its follow-up, Chutes Too Narrow, of which 'So Says I' is just one, and partly because of exposure through 'Garden State'.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

'Teenage Riot' - Sonic Youth. People who don't like Sonic Youth don't deserve to draw breath. It's that simple.

'Never Understand' - The Jesus & Mary Chain. Noise, glorious noise. The Beach Boys caught out in a big fucking blizzard. Good vibrations indeed.

'I Don't Like Mondays' - The Boomtown Rats. Simple and to the point. An opinion with which I can readily agree.

'This Charming Man' - The Smiths. One bar of this and wherever I am, I'm instantly transported to the Nottingham Irish Centre at 1am on a Friday night, dripping with sweat, off my face on cheap booze and waving an imaginary bunch of gladioli aloft (sometimes this involves waving a real empty bottle of lager and getting scowled at by the bouncers).

'It's A Motherfucker' - Eels. If we ever get married (NB those of you who know me: this is NOT a cue to expect wedding invites any time soon, merely a hypothetical statement), this'll be the song for our first dance.

Ask me tomorrow, I'll give you a different five. Probably.

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

Skif of Hobo Tread, because as a fanzine writer I'm sure he'd love the chance to enthuse about some obscure and overlooked gems.

Phill of Danger! High Postage, because he's a man who knows his musical onions.

He Who Cannot Be Named of Excuse Me For Laughing, because it's about fucking time he wrote something.

Thanks to Mike for passing the baton on to me.
Blogwatch

Welcome additions to the SWSL blogroll:
New York London Paris Munich, a very fine collaborative music blog which should really have been staple reading for some time now
Delrico Bandito, whose author is an acquaintance of mine working down in tha meeja in That London

Jonathan charts an eventful year in the life of charming tikka-tanned racist Robert Kilroy-Silk;

Skif ponders whether or not to stage a brave return to the gig-promoting malarkey;

Jonathan weaves an intricate tale out of disparate details - dodgy right ankles, baby sick and the whiff of near-glory on the football pitch - and still manages to give it a happy ending;

Nick introduces us to "The God Man";

Amblongus enjoys the Sings Reign Rebuilder LP by GY!BE offshoot Set Fire To Flames;

Phill comes out in full support of the campaign to have darts officially recognised as a sport;

and Backroads is puzzled by the appearance of a "crap circle" near his house.

PS The deadline for submitting your Top 50 UK #1 singles for Mike's ILM poll has been extended to Sunday lunchtime. The results will then be revealed between 4pm and 7pm, in the usual chart slot.
Operation: free the world?

Words to strike terror into the heart, especially when they come from the lips of that brainless buffoon: "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world".

So, this is the face of caring conservatism, is it? Naked imperialist aggression covered by the merest fig leaf of rhetoric. Whose idea of "freedom" is this, then, Georgie Boy? I think I can hazard a guess.

Blair is a deluded idiot at the best of times, but given the tone of Bush's inauguration speech, his belief that the second term will be more "consensual" and less unilateral than the first suggests he's plumbed new depths.

Guardian report

Steve Bell
Quotes of the day

"I'm dressed up as an egg. And not just any old egg - a fucking big egg."

Kenzie on last night's installment of 'Celebrity Big Brother'. Yes, yes, yes, I know I shouldn't, it's dirty and degrading etc etc. But look, Germaine Greer was on it - albeit for, oooh, about two days - and thus it's acquired a sheen of intellectual respectability which means I can now watch without feeling like a Sun-buying pleb. OK?
Feel good hits of the 21st January

1. 'Inertiatic ESP' - The Mars Volta
2. 'Now And Forever' - The Delgados
3. 'Pounding' - Doves
4. 'Fighting In A Sack' - The Shins
5. 'I Feel Fine' - The Beatles
6. 'Pretend We're Dead' - L7
7. 'It's A Hard Knock Life' - Jay-Z
8. 'Meantime' - The Futureheads
9. 'Birdie Brain' - The Fiery Furnaces
10. 'Galvanise' - Chemical Brothers

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The hit parade

The internet is the sworn enemy of productivity. Exhibit A: Troubled Diva, where Mike has posted a link to a poll he's conducting on the ILM messageboard, in honour of the milestone of 1000 UK #1 hit singles being reached.

The idea is that you peruse the list of 997 singles (three have got to #1 on two separate occasions) and select your Top 50, ranking them in order. Your #1 will be allocated 50 points, and your #50 one point etc. Mike will then add your choices to those of everyone else taking part and hey presto!

If you want to take part - either you've got time on your hands, or you're a master of the art of procrastination - then click on the link above. You've got until Thursday to email Mike your fifty songs, and the results will be announced on Friday.

Anyway, I took the liberty of choosing my Top 100, and here they are (minus blurb - what, do you think I'm insane or something?!)...

100. ‘A Little Time’ – The Beautiful South
99. ‘Apache’ – The Shadows
98. ‘Breathe’ – The Prodigy
97. ‘School’s Out’ – Alice Cooper
96. ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ – Jerry Lee Lewis
95. ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’ – Manic Street Preachers
94. ‘Cars’ – Gary Numan
93. ‘Paperback Writer’ – The Beatles
92. ‘Name Of The Game’ – Abba
91. ‘Sunny Afternoon’ – The Kinks

90. ‘Strangers In The Night’ – Frank Sinatra
89. ‘Oh Pretty Woman’ – Roy Orbison
88. ‘Block Rockin Beats’ – The Chemical Brothers
87. ‘Hello, Goodbye’ – The Beatles
86. ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ – Madonna
85. ‘I’m Your Man’ – Wham!
84. ‘Stand And Deliver’ – Adam & The Ants
83. ‘It’s A Sin’ – Pet Shop Boys
82. ‘What A Wonderful World’ / ‘Cabaret’ – Louis Armstrong
81. ‘The Winner Takes It All’ – Abba

80. ‘19’ – Paul Hardcastle
79. ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ – Elvis Presley
78. ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’ – Manfred Mann
77. ‘I’m Into Something Good’ – Herman’s Hermits
76. ‘Jailhouse Rock’ – Elvis Presley
75. ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ – The Byrds
74. ‘Pump Up The Volume’ – MARRS
73. ‘House Of Fun’ – Madness
72. ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ – Pink Floyd
71. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon & Garfunkel

70. ‘Return To Sender’ – Elvis Presley
69. ‘He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother’ – The Hollies
68. ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’ – The Beatles
67. ‘Two Tribes’ – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
66. ‘Toxic’ – Britney Spears
65. ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ – The Buggles
64. ‘I Like It’ – Gerry & The Pacemakers
63. ‘Super Trouper’ – Abba
62. ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ – The Beatles
61. ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go Go’ – Wham!

60. ‘A Town Called Malice’ / ‘Precious’ – The Jam
59. ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin’’ – Nancy Sinatra
58. ‘Like A Prayer’ – Madonna
57. ‘Baby Love’ – The Supremes
56. ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ – The Rolling Stones
55. ‘She Loves You’ – The Beatles
54. ‘Je T’Aime … Moi Non Plus’ – Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg
53. ‘It’s Now Or Never’ – Elvis Presley
52. ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’ – Procul Harum
51. ‘Something Stupid’ – Frank & Nancy Sinatra

50. ‘I Feel Fine’ – The Beatles
49. ‘Ashes To Ashes’ – David Bowie
48. ‘Into The Groove’ – Madonna
47. ‘Imagine’ – John Lennon
46. ‘Unchained Melody’ – The Righteous Brothers
45. ‘Come On Eileen’ – Dexys Midnight Runners
44. ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ – The Righteous Brothers
43. ‘Wuthering Heights’ – Kate Bush
42. ‘Stand By Me’ – Ben E King
41. ‘Atomic’ – Blondie

40. ‘Freak Like Me’ – Sugababes
39. ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ – Joe Cocker
38. ‘Mamma Mia’ – Abba
37. ‘Mad World’ – Michael Andrews featuring Gary Jules
36. ‘Crazy In Love’ – Beyonce
35. ‘Runaway’ – Del Shannon
34. ‘Help!’ – The Beatles
33. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘Dreams Of Children’ – The Jam
32. ‘Firestarter’ – The Prodigy
31. ‘Paint It Black’ – The Rolling Stones

30. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – The Beatles
29. ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ – The Animals
28. ‘Billie Jean’ – Michael Jackson
27. ‘All Shook Up’ – Elvis Presley
26. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ – The Rolling Stones
25. ‘I’m A Believer’ – The Monkees
24. ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – The Beatles
23. ‘Ticket To Ride’ – The Beatles
22. ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’ – Abba
21. ‘Don’t You Want Me’ – The Human League

20. ‘Tainted Love’ – Soft Cell
19. ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ – Marvin Gaye
18. ‘Take A Chance On Me’ – Abba
17. ‘All You Need Is Love’ – The Beatles
16. ‘You Really Got Me’ – The Kinks
15. ‘West End Girls’ – Pet Shop Boys
14. ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’ – The Clash
13. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ – The Boomtown Rats
12. ‘Waterloo’ – Abba
11. ‘Voodoo Chile’ – Jimi Hendrix Experience

10. ‘Geno’ – Dexys Midnight Runners
9. ‘Ghost Town’ – The Specials
8. ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ – Sinead O’Connor
7. ‘Relax’ – Frankie Goes To Hollywood
6. ‘Heart Of Glass’ – Blondie
5. ‘Space Oddity’ – David Bowie
4. ‘Good Vibrations’ – The Beach Boys
3. ‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles
2. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – Queen
1. ‘Dancing Queen’ – Abba

Suffice to say there have been some GREAT chart-topping singles down the years.

Update

Hobo Tread: Top 50

Guardian quiz: Do you know your #1s?

Guardian feature about the songs that never quite made it all the way to #1
Musinews

Splits left, right and centre!

Not only have Busted parted company - the massively-eyebrowed Aereogramme-loving one to pursue a career in Fightstar - but Mclusky - responsible for some of the noisiest stuff around, as well as some inspired album titles - have voluntarily gone the way of the dodo. The world will be a quieter place without them.

Meanwhile, and much to Phill's chagrin, after five years together art-punk demons Ikara Colt have also decided to knock it on the head. In the words of vocalist Paul Resende: "Better to go out this way than to turn into some old, tired and jaded outfit. As we always said this was never a career choice or a lifestyle option and sadly most bands I see seemed to be for those reasons.".

Elsewhere, Sean O'Hagan has interviewed Mark E Smith for the Observer, in advance of Friday's screening of the BBC4 film 'The Fall: The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith'. "I love going out and doing it more than ever", he confesses.

(Thanks to Phill and Pete for the links.)
The truth is stranger than fiction

Ever wondered how to get over the pain and anguish of a broken heart? Well, here's one possible course of action: construct a "total body sculpture" (preferably robotic) of your ex.

Are indie darlings The Shins party to top-secret US intelligence information? "The US military investigated building a 'gay bomb', which would make enemy soldiers 'sexually irresistible' to each other, government papers say". Surely that can be the only explanation why there's a track called 'Pink Bullets' on Chutes Too Narrow.

Fancy going out for a quick bite in Birmingham? Well, someone certainly does, if the stories are to be believed. Don't know about you, but I'm off to buy some garlic, taking care to wear a scarf - a pain in the neck, but better than a pain in the neck, as it were.

(Thanks to Charlie, the folks at New Links and Bushra for the links.)