Monday, June 06, 2005

Friday night's alright for TV

I can just picture the meeting now.

"Right, we've got this new comedy panel show called '8 Out Of 10 Cats'."

"OK, when's it going to be screened?"

"Well, we're looking at a late evening slot on a Friday. Who on earth can we get to present it? We've been scratching our heads but just can't come up with anybody who would fit the bill."

"I've got it! Jimmy Carr!"

And so it was that Carr got the opportunity to descend further into smug unfunnyness in front of a pissed-up yoof audience of which I was one. The show's only real laughs came courtesy of Sean Lock.

On BBC1 it was the final 'Have I Got News For You', with Des Lynam hamming up to his suave libidinous image in the presenter's chair and David Mitchell of 'Peepshow' semi-fame in excellent form. No sooner was the show bundled off into the night than another topical news comedy, 'Mock The Week', appeared, hosted by Dara O'Briain and featuring Rory Bremner amongst others. The team behind the show, which airs on Sunday evenings on BBC2, worked on 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?', and it shows in the format and performance rounds. Just about enough to keep '...News''s throne warm until the next series, anyway.

'Monkey Trousers' (ITV1, 10pm), written by Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer with significant involvement from Steve Coogan, is turning out to be a real dud. This press release for the forthcoming DVD of the series begins by asking: "Ever wondered what would happen if the cream of British comedy got together to star in their own show, writing and performing their own comedy sketches alongside a pool of the best writing talent available?" Well, I had, and I'd hoped it wouldn't be this predominantly feeble dilution of talent, a collective exercise in shark-jumping.

Much better was 'Grumpy Old Men' - no idea whether it was a repeat or not, but it was worth watching for Geoffrey Palmer's drily laconic commentary alone. OK, so you have to endure Jeremy Clarkson and (worse still) Rick Wakeman, but Arthur Smith is always liable to come out with some miserable misanthropic gem. Friday's was "most children these days are illiterate morons".

Back on BBC1, Jonathan Ross had the sort of line-up that must have made the show's booking agents laugh themselves stupid: Fern Britton of 'This Morning', Jane Fonda, Coldplay ... and Vince Neil and Tommy Lee of Motley Crue (sorry, I can't be bothered to try and find the requisite umlaut on this keyboard). It made for great viewing, particularly when Ross was talking to Neil about the fact that his wedding ceremony was conducted by MC Hammer.

"So, how did you know he was the right man to marry you?"

"He's not a white man..."

Fair play to Chris Martin too for not taking himself too seriously and slipping a bit of the Crazy Frog ringtone into 'Speed Of Sound'.

And, to wrap the evening's viewing up, more music on 'Later With Jools Holland'. James Blunt only got a solitary song to impress and looked scared stiff, The Coral looked faintly bored playing a song I've come to think perhaps is faintly boring itself ('In The Morning') but came to life for 'Arabian Sand', and during his pianoside chat Rufus Wainwright completely unnecessarily confessed a long-term love of Judy Garland - I think we'd guessed that much, darling.

Much less expected were Acoustic Ladyland, a spazz-jazz outfit of the sort Mike Patton would no doubt like to be involved with. Equally pleasing was the fact that, after opening with 'Krafty' and following it up with the title track of their new LP 'Waiting For The Siren's Call', New Order avoided closing the show with that shitstorm of a single 'Jetstream', instead commemorating the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis's death with a run-through of 'Transmission'.
Climate for change

A very interesting Guardian article on the Make Poverty History campaign in the light of its growing momentum.

As you've probably noticed, there's been a Make Poverty History band across the top of this page for the last couple of months, and I've been sporting one of the wristbands for a while too. The article made me reflect on my involvement in the campaign.

While I certainly wouldn't say I've leapt upon the bandwagon in the last few weeks when the publicity and media coverage has increased massively, at the same time I'm not as informed about the specifics of the campaign as I'd like to be or ought to be, and neither am I going to Edinburgh at the beginning of next month. I do take part in the regular email and letter-writing campaigns, though, so my support is more than just superficial.

Baggini's piece has prompted me to read more widely around the issues, but it ultimately concludes that there's not necessarily anything wrong with those who don't know the specifics nevertheless supporting the campaign as an inherently "good thing". He also makes the point that it's easy to be cynical about those calling for our involvement - the sight of Elton John, who lest we forget spends a quarter of a million pounds every year on flowers, sat next to Bob Geldof appealing for support turned my stomach - but it's in such a good cause that we should be able to overlook the spectre of self-interest and self-promotion.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)
The chips are down

Is This A Good Idea? Yes, Paul, it is.

Is This A Good Idea? is the latest addition to the SWSL blogroll, after I had the pleasure of meeting its creator at Phill's on Saturday evening. The occasion? A game of poker - or, rather, three games of poker running on well into the early hours of Sunday. Our host was victorious in the second game and came close to triumphing in the last. As for my performance, let's just say it's a good thing we weren't playing for real money...
A Magic night

Congratulations to me old mucker LMT, whose dreams came true when his band Autons supported The Magic Band at the Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth last night. Not only did the gig go swimmingly, with Autons making lots of new fans, but they were also put in contact with The Magic Band's record label by the band themselves, who were friendly and encouraging to a man. A night to remember, by all accounts.
"12) Blue. Or maybe Bisto chicken gravy"

A glaring omission from last week's edition of Blogwatch: Jonny B's guest post on Paranoid Prom Queen. Oh the joys of leaving things to the imagination...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Normal service resumed

Well, not quite.

What I said about there being a bit of a lull round these 'ere parts still stands - it's just that I hadn't intended for things to go quite as quiet as they have.

I survived the madness and intense bouts of alcohol consumption surrounding my brother's wedding last Friday (a fantastic day in every respect, thanks in a large part to the wonderful venue) and now I'm back in Brum just about recovered from it all.

Anyway, more postage over the next few weeks, I promise.
Reasons To Be Cheerful #10

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

The Anchor Inn

When I first moved to Birmingham last September, there was one imperative that motivated me more than any other: to find a decent pub within easy reach of our city centre flat.

Despite having spent increasing amounts of time over here over the course of the previous three years, I still hadn't found a good, honest, unpretentious boozer. The city centre itself often bizarrely resembles a ghost town of an evening because of the lack of drinking establishments. Those that there are are all crowded together on Broad Street, a fuckbunch of awful neon-lit hellholes where weekend revellers go to sweat on and rub flesh with one another, all at great cost.

(Is it a sign of age to want to find somewhere that you're not pressed up against someone's armpit clutching a £3 bottle of Stella? Perhaps, but I don't give a shit.)

So thank goodness for The Anchor Inn in Digbeth, Birmingham's Irish quarter - not the place to go if you're out to impress your companions with glitz, glamour and style, but a must if you're at all a fan of the humble public house.

The Anchor is a three-time winner of Birmingham CAMRA's Pub Of The Year award (following their most recent success the owners handed it on to The Bartons Arms, #2 in the Reasons To Be Cheerful series), and so unsurprisingly offers a plentiful array of real ales at all times, in addition to holding regular beer festivals showcasing the best produce of small local breweries as well as the odd beer imported from afar. Don't expect common-or-garden Chardonnay or Merlot if you ask for wine, either - it's flavoured fruit wines or nowt.

Best of all, though, and my particular favourite is the hand-pumped Thatchers Cheddar Valley Cider - 6%, flat and the same nuclear orange colour as Tango. If you're lucky you might find a bit of apple floating in your pint. A few of those and speech becomes a challenge.

The first few times we went to The Anchor, something always happened.

The very first time, on my birthday, we went for a last orders pint and ended up getting regaled with tall tales by a nutter from Stockton.

The second time was on a pub crawl with fellow Birmingham bloggers Kenny, Phill, Andy and Donna, when we discovered the delights of Craic and Kenny had the pleasure of being serenaded by a rather camp gentleman singing 'Fly Me To The Moon'.

The third time a friend and I accidentally hustled a couple of locals on the pool table despite being four or five sheets to the wind on the aforementioned cider.

There was also the time when a night on the cider resulted in a friend's girlfriend vomiting orangely all over his car in the vicinity of Walsall the next day.

I could quite happily take up residence at the bar there - a pub I can now almost call home.

And of course they sell pork scratchings.
Blogwatch

Welcome...

Smacked Face, who's currently in the process of reading Geoff Dyer's 'Out Of Sheer Rage' which I finished only a couple of months ago.

Elsewhere...

Phill reviews last weekend's Dot-Dash-Dot-Dash Festival in Nottingham, which featured Radio 4, Ladytron and Komakino amongst others;

Jonathan and the new Stephen Malkmus LP Face The Truth "are getting on like a house on fire";

He Who Cannot Be Named finds his recovery from arse surgery (yes, really) is made more bearable by the 'I Am Not An Animal' DVD and a Hot Snakes gig;

Mish recalls the time she was maimed by P G Wodehouse, Dorothy Parker, James Thurber and Flaubert;

Jonathan has difficulty choosing a tie for a wedding;

Skif, in his capacity as a fanzine writer, discovers that even bands that have issued what constitutes a death threat upon receiving a bad review expect the follow-up record to be well received;

Vicky offers her Guide To Cheap Flights Websites;

Jonny B gets some new pants for his birthday - happy (belated) birthday, Jonny!
This week on Stylus

Anthony Miccio's disappointment with Sleater-Kinney's The Woods has provoked quite a storm of comments.

Elsewhere, Anthony's rather more positive about Face The Truth, Stephen Malkmus's third solo offering since Pavement bit the dust: "Malkmus will probably never drop the oddball shtick entirely — it’s both his defense mechanism and date bait — but America could use its own Robyn Hitchcock".

Meanwhile, Ross McGowan takes a look back at the unhappily curtailed career of At The Drive-In in the company of Anthology: The Status Is Non-Operational, and is particularly impressed by the covers of tracks by The Smiths and Pink Floyd which reveal the band "in a completely new light".
To hell with... waiting for the print version

Hurrah! The music fanzine To Hell With has a website, and very good it is too. Recent additions well worth a read include a review of the new Sleater-Kinney LP The Woods, a live review of Editors and an interview with Rod Jones of Idlewild.

(Thanks to Kenny and Skif for the link.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Blogwatch

Welcome...

But She's A Girl - another blogger resident in Birmingham, and an academic to boot. Good to know there are more of us about... (Thanks to Sarah for the link.)

Meanwhile...

Congratulations to Mike on his venture into print journalism, a Eurovision article for Time Out. You can read about the accuracy of his predictions here, while Jonny B also has a Eurovision-centric post - who would have thought that the contest could be the glue that holds a whole community together?

Elsewhere...

Phill's been eating his breakfast "beneath a giant crucifix" in Prague and Swiss Toni's back from Korea, where he'd been attending his brother's wedding - well, it's my brother's this Friday, and he's chosen the slightly less exotic location of Tynemouth (at least it ain't Whitley Bay, eh?);

Jonathan recalls a time when Fenham was gripped by Panini sticker fever;

Robin hails Oasis, if only for inspiring the game 'Name That Resprayed Tune';

Paul posts his recollections of the other week's pub-crawl-by-tram;

Jonathan tries his hand at podcasting;

Vaughan is relieved to discover that he's not alone in labelling 'Property Ladder' presenter Sarah Beeny toxic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Surviving the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

My review of Six By Seven's forthcoming fifth LP Artists, Cannibals, Poets, Thieves is up on the Vanity Project site. Many thanks to Skif for inviting me to contribute to the latest issue of the fanzine.

It's about time I followed up last month's What's Hot On The SWSL Stereo, so one of these days I might get round to posting some reviews of my most recent acquisitions: Queens Of The Stone Age, Bloc Party, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The Arcade Fire, Eels, The Shins, Stereolab...
Feel good hits of the 24th May

An extended version, thanks to an afternoon larking about with a friend's iTunes library...

1. 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' - The Arcade Fire
2. 'Graffiti' - Maximo Park
3. 'Forever Lost' - The Magic Numbers
4. 'All I Really Need From You Is Love' - Six By Seven
5. 'You Know You're Right' - Nirvana
6. 'Chinese Rocks' - Johnny Thunders
7. 'Minerva' - Deftones
8. 'Vonal Declosion' - Stereolab
9. 'Neat Neat Neat' - The Damned
10. 'Tongue Tied' - Erase Errata
11. 'Just Can't Get Enough' - Nouvelle Vague
12. 'Black And White Town' - Doves
13. 'Is This It' - The Strokes
14. 'Cover Up' - Part Chimp
15. 'Just Like Heaven' - The Cure
Quote of the day

"A novel is an impression, not an argument."

Thomas Hardy in the preface to 'Tess Of The D'Urbervilles'.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Brothers and sisters, believe the hype: it all adds up

THE MAGIC NUMBERS / THE PIPETTES, 15TH MAY 2005, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY

And so an inexcusable two month lapse since my last live music experience is brought to an end.

Yet even that drought, stretching back to early March, isn't enough to get me scampering back from Nottingham in time to catch first support act, the appropriately named Absentee.

So my first taste of live goodness after the stupid self-imposed diet comes courtesy of The Pipettes, three rather charming young ladies in polka dot dresses shimmying and cooing along to the sounds kicked out by a backing band clad in burgundy tank tops. Hailing from - where else? - Brighton, The Pipettes situate themselves neatly within the historical context of Spector-produced pop, 50s girl groups, doo-wop and Motown on their website, and their music bears this out.

I'm guessing the moniker is the girls' way of claiming to be the cutesy diminutive offspring of The Pips, but it might just as well refer to the item of scientific apparatus, as that, like most of their songs, takes the listener back to school and the first flushes of lust and romantic entanglements of youth. It's the new Pretty In Black style Raveonettes doing the theme music from 'Grease' - bubblegum innocence on the surface but sexual attractions and tensions bubbling along underneath.

But the stumbling block, for me, is that this faux naivety is just that - underneath, they're the sort of sharply self-conscious post-feminist concept band Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna would love. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but they're SO knowing, and the songs aren't quite strong enough to distract me from that fact, so I probably won't be buying their records. Let's just say that a large part of their appeal is visual, skin-deep.

If, as expected on this showing, headliners The Magic Numbers make it big, it won't be because of anything as superficial as image. Photogenic they ain't, but talented they most certainly are.

This is just one of the reasons why they're such a refreshing change from the Kasabians and Braverys clogging up the pages of the music press. Another is the fact that they probably wouldn't know a Joy Division or Duran Duran record if slapped about their ample chops with it.

My first thought on seeing bearded man-mountain vocalist / guitarist Romeo is of My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, a huge long-haired bear of a man who deceptively looks like an escapee from a primitive metal band but possesses the sweetest of voices.

And in truth, Romeo's band - he is backed by his sister Michele on bass, and another brother-sister combo of Sean and Angela on drums and percussion / melodica respectively - don't sound a million miles away from My Morning Jacket and their dusky country blues, though The Magic Numbers have less of a stoner rock sensibility and a better developed sense of when to bring songs to heel and to an end. They also have more strings to their bow than their American counterparts, switching easily between sumptuous slow torch songs ('Hymn To Her', 'Wheels On Fire') and upbeat power pop tunes (forthcoming much-plugged single 'Forever Lost'), though perhaps dwelling a little too much on the former.

"Classic songwriting" is an epithet I often turn my nose up at, but it's applicable in a non-pejorative sense to what The Magic Numbers do. Several tracks sound like you must have heard them before, without at the same time slavishly aping any distinctive predecessors.

Judging by the rapturous response they receive here, one which visibly bowls them over, and the prospect of a Glastonbury appearance on the horizon (sadly not outdoors in the sun but on the John Peel Stage), they could well take this summer by storm.

Link:

Kenny's assessment of the gig
How to see more of Nottingham through a tram window and the bottom of a pint glass

NET (Nottingham Express Transit) and CAMRA have together produced the Nottingham Beer By Tram Guide which recommends some of the best real ale pubs easily accessible from the new Hucknall-Nottingham tram route.

The opportunity to sample a wide range of local ales in some unfamiliar surroundings and become more acquainted with lesser-visited bits of Nottingham while travelling around by tram (a mere £2.20 for an all-day ticket) - how could we resist?

And thus it was that at 12.45pm on Saturday, four of us met up in The Green Dragon in Hucknall. By the third pub, The Bowman (Butler's Hill), the remainder of the hardcore majority had joined us, our numbers swelling to 13.

The plan was to try and have at least a half in each of the 25 pubs en route. Unsurprisingly, neither NET nor CAMRA recommend this, and so for legal reasons you can chalk that bit down to our own youthful irresponsibility.

We opted to give a couple of pubs (The Miller's Barn, The Park Tavern) a miss because they're out on the offshoot branch of the line that on Saturday was only being serviced by bus. It was a beautiful day and so the pubs blessed with beer gardens - The Fox & Crown, The Horse & Groom, The Lion Inn, The Vernon Arms - all scored highly in our impromptu points system. The first two did especially well owing to the presence of a resident pub dog and to the excellent large bags of pork scratchings on sale respectively.

Arriving in the city centre, the group expanded some more, and it was enjoyable venturing into some city centre pubs I'd never visited during seven years of residence in Nottingham (Langtry's, The Turf Tavern).

By this point, some of the original group (myself included) were very definitely the wrong side of sobriety, the group splintered into different factions after The Bell Inn and after another couple of pubs (only one of which was in the guide) I were ready to hit the sack, having managed 18 of the 25 and 19 in total. A sterling effort, for which my liver, head and stomach were not thanking me on Sunday.

Quite a day, all told.
This is a Low

Hard on the heels of the news that Kylie has been diagnosed with breast cancer and has consequently had to cancel her headline slot at Glastonbury, I discover that Low have cancelled their May / June tour owing to guitarist / vocalist Alan Sparhawk's mental instability which was making life on the road very stressful for the whole band.

Obviously, touring commitments must come a distant second when it's a matter of physical and mental health, and Sparhawk's heartfelt apology to fans is indicative of just how much he appreciates their support but unnecessary all the same, as I'm sure everyone is understanding of the situation.

Best wishes to them both for a swift recovery.

(Thanks to Kenny, with whom I saw Low in February, for the link.)
Acting the part

Sir Ian McKellen really is living up to all expectations of his stint in 'Coronation Street', isn't he? He's thrown himself into the role of author Mel Hutchright - failing, critically lambasted, deceitful and sleazy - and some of the scenes he's had with other long-established characters - especially his drunkenly asking Audrey for a threesome and the numerous confrontations with Ken Barlow - have been priceless. It's just a shame that his time in the show will soon be up.
On fire

Friday night, and I'm watching 'Later With Jools Holland' consumed with regret. The reason? The Arcade Fire, who I - unlike Kenny and He Who Cannot Be Named - passed up the opportunity to see on their recent UK tour, are blowing minds, including my own, with storming renditions of 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' and 'Rebellion (Lies)'. I'm still awaiting postal delivery of the album, but now it can't come soon enough.
Is it just me...

... or is the new New Order single 'Jetstream' absolute shite?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Craic addict

Earlier this year I wrote about An Craic, a magazine for Birmingham's Irish community which was stuffed full of hilarious news stories that might have been dreamt up by 'Father Ted' creators Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews.

Well, on Wednesday I picked up the May issue, and it's very nearly as amusing in its content...

"HOWLS OF LAUGHTER IN DOGFIGHT CASE

A judge's unintended pun in a hearing over an illegal dogfight provoked laughter in the courtroom last month.

The trial of 11 men charged in connection with running an illegal dogfight will begin at Naas Circuit Court on July 5 as a priority, said Judge Patrick McCartan, because 'if left lingering on the list, it will never get out of the traps.'

He immediately said he had not intended the use of such words as laughter spread around the court.
"

The headline, byline and first paragraph of another story:

"STAMPEDE SCATTERED MOURNERS IN FIASCO

GRIEVING FAMILY'S CASE SETTLED AFTER HORSE-DRAWN FUNERAL CHAOS

Stunned family mourners, who could only look on in horror as the remains of their beloved careered around a graveyard behind stampeding funeral horses, have settled a e38,000 damages claim against the undertaker.
"

But best of all is the following item, here in full:

"MAN MILKED DRY IN COMPUTER SALE SCAM

There is no use crying over spilled milk... but one man can be forgiven for shedding a few tears when he reflects on how he paid e700 for a new computer and ended up with four litres of bainne instead.

The middle-aged man was approached on The Parade in Kilkenny and asked if he was interested in buying a new lap-top.

He was told it was a once-in-a-lifetime offer and e700 would secure the state-of-the-art machine plus accessories. After a few minutes of negotiating, the man reached for his pocket and parted with the money in e50 notes. He received no invoice, sales slip or guarantee - just a case said to contain the computer.

In a scene which could have come straight out of sit-com 'Only Fools And Horses', the vendor then beat a hasty retreat.

When the man opened the case he found four litres of milk wrapped in cardboard. The milk gave the specially designed hold-all weight and the cardboard gave it the feel of a lap-top.

Sgt Pat Murphy of Kilkenny Garda Station said people should only buy good from legitimate vendors or from sources they could identify.
"
Blogwatch: in brief

Vaughan and He Who Cannot Be Named both respond to this Guardian article by former NME scribe Sarah Dempster about the music afficionado's abandonment of cool around the age of 30 (at 27, I already feel out of touch with what is Now in musical terms);

Richard Herring, who has a new-look site, has been playing the part of Our Lord Jesus Christ;

Kenny reviews The Boss's new LP Devils And Dust;

Dave recalls his encounter with The Birthday Party at their chaotic best;

Tara responds to that literary meme doing the rounds;

Alex reports on LCD Soundsystem's recent Glasgow gig;

Mish has a nasty encounter with a peanut at the National Theatre;

Jonathan urges his readers to sign up to a petition calling for Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand to grow his fringe back. My name's down. Is yours?
Bellamy spouting "bullshit"

No, not - for once - that loveable rogue Craig , the Newcastle striker with a short fuse, a quick tongue and the intelligence of a gnat.

This time it's bearded mumbling environmentalist David, blathering on about the fact that man-made global warming is not, in fact, taking place because the world's glaciers are growing rather than shrinking in size.

Thankfully, the Guardian's George Monbiot is on hand to systematically deconstruct the figures Bellamy quotes as evidence and thereby completely undermine his credibility and appeal to scientific proof.

What's very worrying, though, is the weight that one man's opinion can carry. As a high-profile figure his stance is respected, his position seized upon by interest groups who would prefer the whole issue of climate change remains where it currently is - in the shadows, off the agenda: "Because Bellamy is president of the Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife International and the British Naturalists' Association, his statements carry a great deal of weight. When, for example, I challenged the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders over climate change, its spokesman cited Bellamy's position as a reason for remaining sceptical".

(Thanks to Jonathan for the link.)
Bookworms' delight

The best bookshops in and around the country according to Guardian readers. Good to see Barter Books of Alnwick getting a mention - situated in the town's old railway station, it's enormous and very well stocked, furnished with sofas, coffee and an open fire - the sort of place where hours can pass without you realising it. Incidentally, it's also where both of my two current reads hail from.

(Thanks to Michelle for the link.)
Marr bows out

So, Michael Howard isn't the only person to announce he's stepping down in the wake of the election. Andrew Marr is bowing out as the BBC's political editor. A shame, because he's a very shrewd commentator, and because his animated performances to the camera enliven reports on even the driest of parliamentary debates.
Know Your Enemy #58

"I've just been slightly traumatised by the sheer horror of the realisation that Lemon Jelly's career will never die, because there will always be students and students will always be idiots, and therefore their noxious brand of soporific 'dance' music for people whose lives involve no actions more strenuous than reaching for another fucking spliff will never die. In exactly the same way, this song involves no actions more strenuous than picking up a fucking acoustic guitar and looping a bar of terrible, strummed non-melody. Stoner students are truly the worst people to exist ever."

Alex Macpherson reflects on the new Lemon Jelly single 'Make Things Right' for the Stylus UK Singles Jukebox (which also features a number of reviews by Mike, including a very favourable one of The Futureheads' 'Decent Days And Nights' - hurrah!).

Elsewhere on Stylus:

Charles Merwin suffers a personality crisis in reviewing Weezer's fifth LP Make Believe.
Quote of the day

"Art comes out of art; it begins with imitation, often in the form of parody, and it's in the process of imitating the voices of others that one comes to learn the sound of one's own."

Alan Bennett in the introduction to 'Writing Home'.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Something out of the ordinary

'Three Stories' is exactly that: a trio of wonderful novellas by Alan Bennett.

On the one hand Bennett is that most quintessentially English of writers, but on the other he appears to be at some remove from England and its culture, society and people, looking on bemusedly from a distance with a wry smile. Photographs suggest a fastidious, bookish and not particularly garrulous man. I imagine him as the first person narrator of Larkin's poem 'Church Going': "Hatless, I take off / My cycle-clips in awkward reverence".

Indeed, the awkward events of the first novella in the volume, 'The Laying On Of Hands', take place in a church, as the memorial service for a masseur (and more besides) to the rich and famous descends into farcical wranglings over the dead man's sexuality and cause of death.

Like Larkin, Bennett is a master of finding the epic in the mundane, the transcendental in the quotidian, his powers of observation most often focused upon ordinary goings-on in the ordinary lives of ordinary people. This is certainly true of the third novella, 'Father! Father! Burning Bright', about an English secondary school teacher disillusioned with work and life in general who has to cope with the news of a dying father and the reactions it provokes in his family.

But even in 'The Clothes They Stood Up In', which begins with an ostensibly extraordinary conceit - a couple have everything stolen from their flat, including fitted carpets, light fittings and toilet brush - though ends with a rational explanation, Bennett's subject matter is personal idiosyncracies and attitudes.

In all three novellas these are presented with a mixture of touching warmth (though not sentimentality), gently mocking disapproval, satire and dry wit. It's perhaps Bennett's gift for comedy that leaves the most lasting impression. His sense of comic timing in his own medium - particularly in the scene involving the Ransomes and the policemen in 'The Clothes They Stood Up In' - is as finely honed as that of a stand-up or comic actor.

So, it's straight onto his volume of collected writings, 'Writing Home'...

(Thanks to Lisa for the loan.)

Link:

Guest Blogging Dream Team: Alan Bennett
Feel good hits of the 10th May

1. 'I Understand It' - Idlewild
2. 'Graffiti' - Maximo Park
3. 'Someone's In The Wolf' - Queens Of The Stone Age
4. 'This Modern Love' - Bloc Party
5. 'In The Morning' - The Coral
6. 'Keep It Down' - Kelis
7. 'Don't Take Your Guns To Town' - Johnny Cash
8. 'God Only Knows' - The Beach Boys
9. 'Love Is An Unfamiliar Name' - The Duke Spirit
10. 'Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)' - The Arcade Fire