Monday, August 15, 2005

Apocalypse now

My first encounter with Douglas Coupland came a few years ago in the form of ‘Generation X’. I wasn’t particularly impressed.

If the task of the novelist is – as is generally assumed to be the case – to chronicle, reflect and refract in fiction the world and times in which he or she lives, then depicting the directionlessness and purposelessness of the lives of well-educated young people in late twentieth century North America is as valid a project as any other. It just doesn’t make for a very gripping read. Before long I found that the only real reason I was persevering with ‘Generation X’ was for the amusing neologisms which appear with definitions at the bottom of nearly every page like footnotes – “McJob”, “Now Denial”, “occupational slumming”.

So I probably wouldn’t have bothered with ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, were it not for Tom Paulin’s confession of having been “absolutely knocked over by it”. For the dour hypercritical Paulin to praise it as “visually brilliant” and “a millennial novel of a very subtle and interesting kind”, I reasoned, it must be something quite special.

Certainly there’s a drive and focus to the narrative that is absent from ‘Generation X’. The protagonists of both novels drift through life aimlessly, “day-to-day twentieth-century living [having] become an almost unsolvable algebraic equation” – but whereas in Coupland’s debut this is mirrored in the structural shapelessness, the definite forward motion of ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is striking in comparison. There is always an end in sight.

And an end is what ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is all about. The end of the world as we know it (as REM, not The Smiths, once sang), no less. But an end which isn’t quite the end but the opportunity for a fresh new beginning for the characters who have “been allowed to see what [their] lives would be like in the absence of the world”.

But the novel’s end is also its biggest problem. The major difference between ‘Generation X’ and ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’ is that the former is simply descriptive, whereas the latter is both descriptive and prescriptive. That means that, perhaps inevitably, the conclusion – an extraordinarily impassioned rallying cry of “Carpe diem!” from the supposedly non-judgemental chronicler of the slacker generation – slides into heavy-handed preaching, the ghost Jared lecturing the reader as transparently as he is his friends.

This loss of subtlety and authorial restraint is a shame, because otherwise it’s an ambitious and visionary book that I enjoyed much more than its lightweight predecessor.

(A postscript: What’s with all the Smiths references? Aside from ‘Girlfriend In A Coma’, I noticed (when I could be bothered to look) ‘Ask’, ‘Hand In Glove’ and – most conspicuously – ‘The Queen Is Dead’. It just seems like Coupland playing pointless games, a gimmick for trainspottery readers, one which detracts needlessly from the novel’s seriousness.)
Roleplay

The University has been hosting the Tolkien Society conference. Unremarkable, you might think, but Tolkien enthusiasts are apparently unable to assemble together without dressing up in 'Lord Of The Rings' style garb.

Imagine my surprise to enter our tower block on Friday to be confronted by a wizard-type bearded figure clad in brown gown and sandles, chatting away on the payphone. I'm sure they didn't have telecommunications in Middle Earth.

Campus has been crawling with hairy-footed hobbits and mysterious cloaked figures. I also thought I spotted someone who'd come as Gollum, but as it turned out he was just extraordinarily ugly.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Fringe benefits

Following the Sunday Times feature written by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring, the pair have been interviewed by the Guardian's Phil Daoust. It covers all the usual bases - the cancellation of 'This Morning With Richard Not Judy', the furore kicked up following the BBC's screening of 'Jerry Springer - The Opera', their hatred for Ben Elton - but it's still well worth a read.

Lee on Elton's return to stand-up comedy: "The most interesting thing about Elton in the last five years is the way that he's become a despised figure. You know you have to give titles to your stand-up shows; if I was Ben Elton I'd call it Fascinating Betrayal and try and justify my position. Instead, I expect he's going to dismiss that and then talk about fatherhood, or try and regain a bit of ground. It'll be like the elephant in the living room: you can't discuss Ben Elton's massive boil of hypocrisy that needs to be lanced".

Alan of Random Burblings has reviewed Herring's Edinburgh show 'Someone Likes Yoghurt' here, and Herring has written about it on Warming Up, as well as enthusing about Phil Nichol's show 'Nearly Gay' and reflecting on Jim Bowen's stand-up too.

If it's bitesize reviews of the Festival that you're after, look no further than Skif's excellent Box Social. In the four days he's been up there he's already seen Daniel Kitson, Rob Newman, Robin Ince's The Book Club, Andy Parsons, Tim Vine and Will Hodgson. Of those I've not heard of before, alcoholic children's entertainer Jeremy Lion sounds particularly intriguing.
Blogwatch: in brief

Welcome...

Kitty Killer, a politics-centred blog written by a Brum semi-acquaintance Dave.

Meanwhile...

Congratulations to The Girl, who makes an appearance in this month's issue of Eve magazine in an article entitled "When Private Sex Diaries Go Public". Print fame at last! The book deal's just round the corner...

Elsewhere...

Willie mourns the death of Robin Cook - "Cook wouldn't necessarily have been a great party leader or Prime Minister but at a time when we have to endure the likes of Blunkett, Straw, Reid, Clarke et al, the loss to politics is massive";

Pete is relieved to have jacked in what sounds like a terrible job and have rosier employment prospects on the horizon;

Jonathan welcomes a new addition to the Manchester skyline.

It's all a bit quiet at the moment, isn't it?
Frog march

A warning for JonnyB: first it was rabbits, and then the mole - now it looks like there's a load of frogs headed your way. But not just any old frogs - oh no. These are frogs with Norfolk accents.

Be afraid, be very afraid. Perhaps you need to get the shotgun out of the shed again. Or, alternatively, invite some Frenchmen to stay.
Quote of the day

"We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realise truth" - Pablo Picasso

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Wedding bells and 'Hell's Bells'

Another weekend, another fabulous wedding.

A truly spectacular setting (we even had an amateur cricket match to entertain us while we were enjoying glasses of Pimms in the sunshine) and a couple who look fantastic together. Congratulations and very best wishes to Leon and Ruth.

Best man Skif came up trumps (once he'd got over his excitement at the Ashes win, that is) with a cracking speech and a whole load of badges for the guests featuring a picture of the groom sporting a silver dress and a face plastered in chocolate gateau.

Great evening do, too - rarely can 'Hell's Bells', this week's AC/DC track of choice, have been welcomed more enthusiastically.
Robin Cook RIP

At a time when soundbites and image seem to be practically all that matters in the world of politics, Robin Cook - who looked like a garden gnome relieved of his fishing rod and deposited on the front benches - made for an unlikely and easily caricatured politician, but consistently proved himself skilled in the art of reasoned debate rather than mere rhetoric.

Though his private life may have been messy, in public he was principled and resolute, and will be best remembered for resigning over his dissatisfaction with Blair's decision to take the country to war in Iraq, thereby showing his solidarity with the majority of Britons. Some might question why, as a man of old Left sympathies, Cook chose to serve in Blair's New Labour government in the first place, but his resignation undoubtedly struck a severe blow to the Government.

Link:

Inspector Sands of Casino Avenue reacts to the news of Cook's death.
Double trouble

There was a great feature in last weekend's Sunday Times (unfortunately not available online, it seems) in which Stewart Lee and Richard Herring wrote about each other to coincide with the beginning of the Edinburgh Festival. Oh, all right - of course I was going to think it was great, given that I love both of them unconditionally.

Herring on Lee:

"In pursuit of integrity, Stewart is a man who seems prepared to cut off his face to spite his nose".

"He is now actually as good as he believed him to be 10 years ago. In another 10 years, he might be as good as he thinks he is now. Alas, then only Stephen Hawking will be clever enough to understand him".

Lee on Herring:

(On his early stand-up career in south London) "The world wasn't quite ready for a shouting Somerset Weeble".

"When I first saw Richard doing proper stand-up this year, his extended routine about yoghurt was the purest distillation of Richard Herring I have encountered - irritating, relentless, pathetic, petty, pedantic, arrogant, embarrassing, pointless and endlessly funny".

Link:

Dominic Maxwell of the Times reviews Lee's 'Stewart Lee - 90s Comedian' Edinburgh show.
15 not out

Issue #15 of the marvellous Vanity Project fanzine is out now, and features the following (and much, much more):

Interview: a.P.A.t.T.

Album reviews: Electrelane, Sufjan Stevens, Art Brut, Clor, The Decemberists, Pennywise, Dressy Bessy

Single reviews: Special Needs, Rilo Kiley, Millionaire

Live reviews: The Magic Band, Turbonegro, Architecture In Helsinki

Book review: Ben Myers - 'Green Day: American Idiots & The New Punk Explosion'

All of that and a topical picture of a cricketer on the cover - spiffing! Available gratis by sending a SAE to Skif - address details on request by email. Alternatively, you can just read it online here.
Blogged out

Calling all bloggers! Tired? Unhappy? Maybe you should take a look at this: 'What Everyone Should Know About Blog Depression'. It can affect anyone, you know.

(Thanks to Kenny and Vicky for the link.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Feel good hits of the 9th August

1. 'Apply Some Pressure' - Maximo Park
2. 'Surfin USA' - Beach Boys
3. 'Back In Black' - AC/DC
4. 'Love Me Like You' - The Magic Numbers
5. 'Hey Ya' - Outkast
6. 'Everybody Come Down' - The Delgados
7. 'Une Annee Sans Lumiere' - The Arcade Fire
8. 'Too Much Time' - Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band
9. 'Length Of Love' - Interpol
10. 'Long Slow Goodbye' - Queens Of The Stone Age

Friday, August 05, 2005

Blogwatch

Welcome...

Two music-centric blogs of note:
One Louder
The 15 Minute Hipster

Happy birthday...

Little Red Boat, four years old
Are The Stars Out Tonight?, one year Little Red Boat's junior

Meanwhile...

Matthew reviews Pitchfork's Intonation Music Festival, held in Chicago, which featured (amongst many others) Fourtet, Broken Social Scene, Outhud, Deerhoof and Les Savy Fav. His opening comment about The Go! Team just about sums it up: "So much fun!"

Elsewhere...

Vicky sets a few things straight about private schooling (and I can relate to her irritation at the myths continually perpetuated about it) - "What a private schooling assures you is an assembly in a cold building, more ridiculous tradition than you can shake a stick at (Cadet Force? 7 mile cross-country runs?) and outdated rules";

Backroads is smitten by the new Bob Mould LP Body Of Song - "It's more up than down for a change... in the past his cup has often been more half empty than half full, and this brighter sound lifts not only the dance influenced cluster of tracks but also the more traditional four on the floor rock tracks";

Alan finds himself supping a pint in Edinburgh's Oxford Bar, the regular watering hole for Ian Rankin's heavy-drinking Inspector Rebus - "A review posted to the wall tells the story that a customer once asked the landlord for a packet of crisps and was dragged outside where he was asked pointedly where exactly on the frontage this establishment was described as a fucking restaurant";

Mish allows her gentleman readers into the secret of how a lady stays, ahem, ladylike.

(Incidentally, does anyone know what's happened to Sarah's blog Not You, The Other One?)
You gotta fight for your right to (be in Bloc) Party

If reports are to be believed, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party and Eddie Argos of Art Brut have indulged in a spot of fisticuffs in a Shoreditch club.

It all stemmed from some disparaging comments made by Argos in a PlayLouder interview last year. Okereke responded, and then Argos had this to say at Glastonbury: "[Kele] got a bit upset didn't he? That must have been a vanity google. Hahaha. Bloc Party are OK. They're a bit like Oasis. Like a post punk Oasis, but instead of T Rex they've used Gang of Four. They've still got good lyrics about helicopters. [Pauses] I hate Bloc Party, hehehe, I really hate them. I really hate that 'it's so hard being famous and having loads of money'. I hate it. 'Do you know what my favourite book is, it's 'Lord Of The Flies' because I was bullied in school'. Like fuck off! Who wasn't bullied in school? Tell you what, 'The Catcher In The Rye', that's my favourite book when I'm shooting people. I hate them. Those nonsense lyrics! It's like 'I'm such a sensitive outsider'. I hate Bloc Party".

No wonder Okereke was slightly aggrieved when he came face-to-face with Argos.

Bloc Party are guilty of taking themselves too seriously at times, but then that could be said of nearly any band. Call me cynical, but could Mr Argos be trying to engineer a feud in order to get publicity and exposure for his own band?

Incidentally, Bloc Party are releasing Silent Alarm Remixed on 29th August via Wichita Recordings. Each song from their debut is remixed by a different artist, with contributions from Mogwai, Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Jason Clark (Pretty Girls Make Graves), Ladytron, Fourtet, Engineers, Whitey, M83 and Erol Alkan. Could be well worth a listen, especially Kieran Hebden's reworking of 'So Here We Are', currently destined to be #1 in the SWSL Top 20 Singles Of 2005.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Reasons To Be Cheerful #11

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

Cafe Soya

One night not long after J first moved to Birmingham, nearly four years ago, we went wandering down to the Arcadian and the Chinese quarter on the hunt for a quality restaurant. We soon spotted what we were looking for. After passing a few near-empty joints, we came to a cafe packed full of Oriental diners and instantly knew that the Noodle Bar was the place to be - and so it proved, with enormous portions served up for minimal cost.

An evening in the upmarket Chung Ying Garden Cantonese restaurant nearby only convinced us even more - though the food was very good (incidentally, we passed up the chance to try "duck webs and fish lips" as a starter...), we didn't feel it justified the extra expense. So, for the next three years, the Noodle Bar it was.

Until, that is, Andy was kind enough to point us in the direction of Cafe Soya, just round the corner in the Arcadian itself.

Slightly classier and more restauranty in its decor than the Noodle Bar, Cafe Soya serves up absolutely fantastic Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine at prices to suit even the smallest of budgets, to the extent that it received a commendation in last year's Observer Food Monthly Best Cheap Eat awards. The ingredients are always incredibly fresh, the dishes lipsmackingly tasty and the service friendly, quick and efficient.

I highly recommend the lemongrass chicken skewers for starters, followed by the hot and spicy Vietnamese noodles - but, as the name might suggest, Cafe Soya is also a haven for veggies, the menu packed with veggie alternatives. Just steer clear of their speciality soya milkshake - I'm told it looks and tastes like frogspawn.

Unfortunately the cafe doesn't have a licence to serve alcohol, but for a small corking charge you can take your own booze.

All of which means that our allegiances have very definitely shifted - but, though we feel a bit guilty for being fickle and abandoning somewhere which served us so well for three years, it doesn't last long once you take a slurp of the hot and sour soup...

(You can read Andy's own proselytising in favour of Cafe Soya here.)
This week on Stylus

Cosmo Lee tries to give the Smashing Pumpkins' ludicrously titled double LP Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness liposuction. Of course it was flabby, but then its length and variety was always part of the appeal - I never found it "an exhausting, forbidding listen", and I never thought songs like 'Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans' and 'Thru The Eyes Of Ruby' were "turgid opuses".

That said, Lee's attempt to trim the flab makes for interesting reading, not least because some of what he chooses to keep I would have been tempted to bin if forced to make the choice. But is rearranging the tracklisting to give it a sense of linearity and direction really preferable to the seeming randomness of the original? There's only one way to find out - burn this new slimmer version to CD and try it out...

Anyone lamenting the demise of Auspicious Fish should be aware that Nick's still writing about music (despite contemplating jacking that in too), as recent reviews of albums by Maximo Park, Editors and Clor testify.

Also well worth a read: Jon Dale's excellent review of the recently reissued first three Dinosaur Jr albums. As a bit of a Johnny-Come-Lately, I've always preferred the later stuff (Where You Been being, for me, their finest hour), but Dale does a good job of convincing me to dig out my original copy of Bug and give it another whirl.
A Wales of a time

The definition of a good wedding reception: held in a hotel vaguely reminiscent of The Overlook in 'The Shining', situated in a beautiful part of the world, and with a DJ - by day a farmer - who is quite happy to play 'Back In Black' by AC/DC at the request of the bride's uncle Huw. (Though he did blot his copybook later with 'Macarena' and 'Mambo #5'...)

So, congratulations and best wishes to Stu and Vicky. Oh, and a word of warning for Leon: this weekend has got a lot to live up to...
Serendipity

A happy coincidence - no sooner had I posted a review of Alan Bennett's 'Writing Home' than Michelle of Black Dove finished Bennett's collection of novellas 'Three Stories'. You can read her thoughts on the book here (and mine here).

Michelle, an inspiring writer herself, is constantly on the look-out for interesting literary links, so if you consider yourself a bookworm then Black Dove is always worth a visit.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

"Taking the pith out of reality"

Alan Bennett's 'Writing Home' really is a treat, a feast of great writing which collects together assorted bits and pieces written over a period of nearly twenty-five years - though that description is in itself inadequate, as "bits and pieces" implies scrapiness and inconsistency.

Much of the material is about other writers and the business of being a writer and playwright - potentially tedious and masturbatory, but Bennett writes with such warmth and dryly self-deprecating humour about the profession that it's impossible not to enjoy: "'They fuck you up, your mum and dad', and if you're planning on writing that's probably a good thing. But if you are planning on writing and they haven't fucked you up, well, you've got nothing to go on, so then they've fucked you up good and proper".

The volume includes the prefaces to several plays as well as behind-the-scenes diary entries centering on rehearsals and filming - the bits which engrossed me least, simply because I haven't seen any of the plays concerned, but even then there were paragraphs that raised a chuckle. On 'Getting On': "In the event, the play won an Evening Standard award for the best comedy of 1971. It had never seemed to me to be a comedy, and at the ceremony I said it was like entering a marrow for the show and being given the cucumber prize".

Indeed, there are laughs to be found in the most unlikely of places, such as in 'Comfortable Words', an address given to the Prayer Book Society, when Bennett is talking about those who advocate the Alternative Service Book over the Book Of Common Prayer: "God is like an aged father taken in by this well-intentioned children. They want to keep him presentable and a useful member of society, so they scrap his old three-piece suit, in which he looked a little old-fashioned (though rather distinguished), and kit him out instead in pastel-coloured leisurewear in which he looks like everybody else".

So what did I enjoy most? The autobiographical reminiscences are certainly very readable, and the volume concludes with a fantastic piece entitled 'Going Round', about the theatrical tradition of visiting the dressing rooms of the stars post-performance in order to lavish flattering and insincere praise on the occupants. That it appears under the section title 'Stocking Fillers' hardly does it justice.

Then there is 'Alas! Deceived', the superb (and lengthy) review of Andrew Motion's biography of Philip Larkin (which has reinforced my feeling that it's a book I'd very much like to read), and the assorted reflections and thoughts left over from his two plays about Kafka and reheated under the title 'Kafka At Las Vegas'. This is what Bennett feels would fascinate the Czech writer were he alive today: "He is interested in the feelings of the squash ball, and of the champagne bottle that launches the ship. In a football match his sympathy is not with either of the teams but with the ball, or, in a match ending nil-nil, with the hunger of the goalmouth".

If the job of the writer is indeed "taking the pith out of reality", as Bennett suggests in a parody of a TV arts show interview, then he is a master of his art, and also of the art of taking the piss out of himself. The diaries in particular, spanning the decade from 1980 to 1990, are packed with the sharp and amusing observations of someone who looks slightly askance at the world in which he finds himself.

On his political leanings: "An article on playwrights in the Daily Mail, listed according to Hard Left, Soft Left, Hard Right, Soft Right and Centre. I am not listed. I should probably come under Soft Centre".

On theatre critics: "Steven Berkoff, who is currently everywhere, is quoted as saying that critics are like worn-out old tarts. If only they were, the theatre would be in a better state. In fact critics are much more like dizzy girls out for the evening, just longing to be fucked and happy to be taken in by any plausible rogue who'll flatter their silly heads while knowing roughly the whereabouts of their private parts. Worn-out old tarts have at least got past that stage".

On his own practical abilities: "I mend a puncture on my bike. I get pleasure out of being able to do simple, practical jobs - replacing a fuse, changing a wheel, jump-starting the car - because these are not accomplishments generally associated with a temperament like mine. I tend to put sexual intercourse in this category".

But in amongst such witticism there is serious and touching reflection, not least in 'The Lady In The Van', the diary record of an eccentric who lived in a van in Bennett's Camden garden for fifteen years and whose death affected him profoundly.

Perhaps most affecting of all, though, are those occasional entries which deal with Bennett's visits to his mother, whose mental health was steadily declining: "We have our sandwiches on a hill outside Weston with a vast view over Somerset. She wants to say, 'What a grand view', but her words are going too. 'Oh', she exclaims. 'What a big lot of About.' There are sheep in the field. 'I know what they are', she says, 'but I don't know what they are called'. Thus Wittgenstein is routed by my mother". Poignant enough even to conquer this cynical heart.
Blogwatch

Welcome...

Dr Migs, new to the blogging block.

Stephen Newton Diary Of Sorts, who - like Inspector Sands and Jonathan - was so incensed by today's outrageous Daily Express front page that he sent a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

Meanwhile...

Willie Lupin does what he does best - well focused indignation, directed at the People for their mock outrage at the "revelation" that 'Coronation Street' star Keith Drinkel once appeared in a gay porn film.

Elsewhere...

Happy six month anniversary to Alan's Random Burblings, a blog that has very quickly become a real favourite around these parts;

Jonathan's back from holiday, wiser on several fronts - "Those quintessential English villages that you see on picture postcards and in luxurious adaptations of Agatha Christie novels made for American TV really do exist. Or at least one of them does. It is called Thornbury and it is just north of Bristol, where we had booked into a rather plush Travelodge for the night. Out of our room window you could see the local cricket club pitch, and there was a real red telephone box and a very English-looking old-fashioned inn where you went to get your dinner. To complete the picture we came across a real live English eccentric, respendent in blazer and bow tie, who was checking in just as we came back from the pub";

Del tries manfully to justify his fondness for 'Linger' by The Cranberries (has anyone got the heart to tell him he's fighting a losing battle?);

JonnyB's concerned he's porking out a bit - "A sickening mass of blubber drooped over my belt, thrusting my tee shirt away from my body like a flared shade on an obese standard lamp that walks around and lives in Norfolk and has a widely-read Internet Web Log".
When weather attacks

Thunderbolts and lightning! Very very frightening! Oh, and a tornado.

Yep, that's right folks - early this afternoon, during a violent thunderstorm, Birmingham was hit by a tornado. Well, Moseley was, at any rate. Go to Andy Pryke's blog for added photographic evidence of the destruction.

Was it God wreaking spectacular revenge on the place that gave the world Ocean Colour Scene? Local residents must have feared that this day would come since about 1995.
This week on Stylus

Josh Love follows up recent essays on rockism and popism with a piece entitled 'The Problem With Indie': "Indie-rock does such a good job in general of projecting an attitude of insularity that it’s easy to forget: not everyone’s a killjoy, not everybody’s weird because they hate fun, and yes, some indie-rockers are here because they want to entertain".

Also on an indie rock tip, Ross McGowan writes about how he came to associate The Dismemberment Plan's 'Gyroscope' with having a tapeworm.

Ross has also reviewed the new Concretes release Layourbattleaxedown, "a miniature career overview of sorts".
Quote of the day

"Nothing is more fatal than the disaster of too much love."

Good ol' D H Lawrence, with a sentiment that's unlikely to be appearing in Hallmark Valentines cards anytime soon.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The legend of Legends

The weekend's stag do in Newcastle, which has left me feeling physically damaged, took in a football match, a trip to the dogs, a curry, a night out in a smart city centre bar / club, a fancy meal, three games of ten-pin bowling and an enormous amount of alcohol, as well as a night out at Legends on Saturday.

Legends was, appropriately enough, where Little Jeff had been DJing most recently prior to falling ill. Unfortunately the tribute night isn't until this coming Saturday, when - amongst other things - they'll be having a minute's noise in his memory. I'd have liked to have been there to pay my respects, as I think would some of the others in our party, but we still got a song dedicated to the great man.

As Apollo 440 once sang, you can't stop the rock.

Link: Family and friends pay tribute to Little Jeff.
An unexpected surprise

On the rare occasions I pick it up, I'm reminded what an awful little rag the Metro is. Apart from the music pages, that is - an oasis in the desert of badly written news articles and features.

For some strange reason, they always seem to review and feature bands of which hardly any of their readership can have heard, but which otherwise only really get coverage in the specialist music press.

Yesterday's issue was a good example. The main review was of Editors' debut album The Back Room (in which vocalist / guitarist Tom Smith came in for some serious stick, though the overall judgement was of its being a record to admire), while there were also assessments of new LPs by The Raveonettes, Clor, Black Mountain and The Shortwave Set. The singles section included a review of !!!'s new double-A side covers single 'Take Ecstasy With Me' / 'Get Up'.

Over the page there was a preview for a gig by Domino's new Next Big Thing, Test Icicles. "Bits of death metal, drilling drum machines and art-rock angularity" - hmm, debut single 'Boa Vs Python' could be one to scurry HMV-wards for, methinks.
Something fishy this way comes

Over on Danger! High Postage Phill's publicising the autumn / winter line-ups for enigmatic Frenchman Phillipe Bergeroo's A Different Kettle Of Fish nights...

Tuesday 13th September
Midas
Beats Capri
StrangeTime
Sinistra

Tuesday 11th October
Hooker
When Bears Attack
The Graham Parsnip Liquidiser Torture Think-Tank (Project)

Tuesday 8th November
The Rock Of Travolta
Smilex
The Program

Tuesday 6th December (Xmas Special)
Trash Fashion
And What Will Be Left Of Them?
The Pubic Fringe
MotorCycleStunts

Each gig takes place at the Flapper & Firkin in Birmingham and entry is a mere three English pounds.
Feel good hits of the 26th July

A bumper edition...

1. 'God Only Knows' - The Beach Boys
2. 'Now I'm All Over The Shop' - Maximo Park
3. 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)' - The Arcade Fire
4. 'The Boys Are Back In Town' - Thin Lizzy
5. 'No-One Knows' - Queens Of The Stone Age
6. 'Stockholm Syndrome' - Muse
7. 'Evil' - Interpol
8. 'Blue Orchid' - The White Stripes
9. 'Meantime' - The Futureheads
10. 'Best Of You' - Foo Fighters
11. 'Girls Girls Girls' - Motley Crue
12. 'Arabian Sand' - The Coral
13. 'Title And Registration' - Death Cab For Cutie
14. 'Only' - Nine Inch Nails
15. 'Dance Me In' - Sons & Daughters

Friday, July 22, 2005

Little Jeff RIP

Yesterday the sad news from Newcastle reached me that Little Jeff had died of a heart attack on Monday.

"Legend" is a word bandied about with far too little care and attention, but it certainly applied to Jeff.

Short of stature and with a pronounced limp, thick-lensed specs and hair down his back, Little Jeff was the DJ who made Saturday nights at the Mayfair so great. Stood on the stage barely able to see over his decks, he used to introduce nearly every record in his inimitable Geordie voice which, to me, became as synonymous with rock and metal as that of Tommy Vance: "Here's Korn for aal ye radgey bastads!"

On one particularly drunken visit, I encountered him at the bar and was only too happy to send him back stagewards with a new bottle of Dog, a small token of my appreciation and admiration of his work.

Following the Mayfair's sad demise he found a new home in Cuba Cuba, and that's where I last saw (and heard) him, about two years ago. On that occasion he came out with the immortal line, uttered with real gusto and enthusiasm: "Would so-and-so go to the foyer - your friend has been hospitalised, they're not very well! Here's Metallica!"

Like many a Geordie, Jeff's other passion was football. When not keeping pissed-up metallers entertained he could often be spotted on match days in and around St James's Park. It just so happens I'm "gannin yem" tomorrow, and I'll be going to the match on Saturday. There won't be a minute's silence, but there fucking well should be.

RIP Jeff. You'll have the Big Man Upstairs listening to Carcass and Slayer before long, nee botha.

The only consolation is the knowledge that for every Jeff that shuffles off this mortal coil, somewhere else someone far more deserving is breathing their last. So three cheers for the news that that horrible old cunt John Tyndall, founder of the BNP, has done the decent thing and died. Good riddance.
Not acting the part

Continuing in my bad habit of writing about new comedy series on the strength of the first episode...

'Extras' wasn't great, really, was it?

Gervais and Merchant are masters of the comic potential in social awkwardness and uncomfortable silences, and that's once more in evidence. And, as with 'The Office', there's also no laughter track. Indeed, the laughs seemed much fewer and far between - not necessarily a problem, but...

Whither characters? First episode and all that I know, but Gervais's character and his friend, who shouldered most of the screen time, are colourless.

My concern was that each episode would be very much hung around the particular celebrity, and that many of the laughs would come from self-parody and them making jokes at their own expense - and unfortunately that looks like being the pattern.

The fact that the film Ben Stiller was directing in this first episode told the story of an Eastern European widower allowed for some not particularly sharp satire on Hollywood recreations of war scenes - all of which left a rather sour taste in the mouth when I switched over to catch the second half of 'Dispatches' on C4, which featured horrific footage of the Beslan school massacre. Genuinely distressing viewing, and something that made 'Extras' seem even more like insubstantial fluff.
Podcasts made easy

Essential reading for a Luddite like myself: Mike's Handy Cut-Out-And-Keep Guide To Creating A Podcast. Now all I need is the software and some patience...

You can download Mike's very first effort here. I would, if it wasn't for the fact that my internet connection is steam-powered and continually breaking down. Not ideal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Not so elegantly wasted

So, what were the chances of me enjoying a film which centres on the career of one band I dislike (The Dandy Warhols) and another I know next to nothing about (The Brian Jonestown Massacre)? Pretty slim, I guess - but I really dug 'DiG!'.

I've never been a fan of The Dandy Warhols, and Courtney Taylor, who is the nominal narrator of Ondi Timoner's rockumentary, has always struck me as having far too great a sense of how important his band is (see also: Molko, Brian). Thankfully, though the film purports to be about the parallel and contrasting fortunes of two like-minded bands, the focus actually falls on The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "the Velvet Underground of the 90s" according to Warhols' keyboardist Zia McCabe - and particularly on their frontman Anton Newcombe.

Not that Newcombe comes across as any more likeable than Taylor. A visionary musician, yet one fatally crippled by his fear of being successful and losing credibility, as a band leader Newcombe is also violently unpredictable and dictatorial in a way that made me think of a more out-of-control Jason Pierce. Or Mark E Smith, perhaps. The film shows him walking the precarious tightrope between sanity and insanity, delusional and often under the influence of hard drugs, fighting with band members and people in the audience alike during live shows.

Newcombe's supporting cast includes tambourine-shaking hedonist Joel Gion (spectacular hair, enormous shades, goofy behaviour), nerdy-looking bassist Matt Hollywood (Newcombe's most regular sparring partner in the band) and quiet guitarist Peter Hayes, shown doing his apprenticeship before Black Rebel Motorcycle Club took off.

Over the course of seven years following The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Timoner filmed live shows, backstage antics, publicity stunts, drug busts and recording sessions in the "house" (squat) they lived in together in LA. Perhaps the most memorable scene, and an early example of how they continually managed to sabotage any chance of mainstream success, takes place at an industry show at LA's The Viper Rooms - a spectacular brawl breaks out on stage between at least four members of the band, limbs flailing and equipment smashing, and it's all over.

Interspersed with the footage are interview snippets with managers, friends and record label A&R people - all of whom seem equally exasperated by the band's inability to get it together enough to make it, particularly given Newcombe's astounding productivity. Fucking up in style is what they seem to do best.

Of course, that's why The Dandy Warhols are something of an aside, a "look where The Brian Jonestown Massacre could have gone to". There's infinitely more drama in spectacular failure than in relatively modest mainstream success. Newcombe might be scared of where success would take him, but that doesn't stop him trying to manufacture a feud or rivalry between the two bands out of bitterness and jealousy.

Need another reason to see 'DiG!'? It's very, very funny.

But is it a fair depiction of The Brian Jonestown Massacre (who, incidentally, are still very much a going concern and toured the UK with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club last month)? Not according to Anton Newcombe himself...

Monday, July 18, 2005

Blogwatch

Welcome...

Kaptain Kobold, who's very soon disappearing off Down Under.

Meanwhile...

Jaymaster recounts his experience of taking part in Spencer Tunick's latest art project in Newcastle, along with 1500 other naked people (probably not safe for work).

Elsewhere...

Kenny - whose blog Parallax View has a new look (now with added comments facility!) - reports on the recent Supersonic festival, held at the Custard Factory in Birmingham;

Alan too has been soaking up the music at a rather larger festival, T In The Park - Part One and Part Two;

Swiss Toni reflects upon the "trend" of formally observed silences;

Vicky sets off on one of the more unusual series of blog posts I've spotted this year, the fascinating A Cult A Day (scroll upwards);

Smacked Face is moved to tears by Iceland's proggiest, Sigur Ros - I know someone who can relate;

JonnyB pays a visit to Northumberland, the county that I called home for the best part of twenty years, and contemplates reporting a "walk-by bagpiping" to the police;

Del goes cold turkey;

Phill wants to know your West Indian cricketer name.