Monday, October 03, 2005

Blogwatch

Welcome...

Conditional Reality, a fantastic blog by a poet called Mario who tries to write posts of exactly 100 words every day. Sample: "The speech balloons began to appear above our heads whenever we said anything. They fell out of the air when we stopped talking. Piles of them started collecting everywhere. At first we gathered them up and tossed them out, but that got to be so time consuming that soon we all just ignored them, letting them pile up everywhere. We consulted cartoonists about storage. They were no help. All over the world people talked much less, just so they wouldn’t have to deal with the speech balloons. Deception became a much rarer event. A lot of us enjoyed the quiet".

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)

Meanwhile...

Jonathan receives a mysterious gift in the post, a Parka coat, containing an even more mysterious anonymous note - "Like my name and address on the package it was hand-written. Neat, young person's handwriting, in pencil. Nothing threatening about it - but still I was quivering a bit as I read: 'Jonathan- welcome to the club!'. And underneath, an email address - 'Parka-club at something-or-other dot com'". Don't know about you, but I'm desperate to hear whether Jonathan can get to the bottom of it all.

Elsewhere...

By The Sea Shore plays New York I Spy - "Inadvertently picking up American phrases ('I guess', 'Can I get the check please?', 'I did not have sex with that woman'.): 5 points".

Kenny reviews David Cronenberg's new film 'A History Of Violence'.

Willie enjoys Martin Scorsese's two part film about Bob Dylan (which I'm gutted I missed) - "At one concert Pete Seeger had to be restrained from taking an axe to one of Dylan's electric cables. Somewhere I have an old Pete Seeger 'EP' that I bought in 1965. If I ever find it, I shall stamp on it".

Swiss Toni opts to give the Dylan film a miss and plumps for a trip to see Editors instead - "Much the same as the album really: they have one or two really cracking songs ('Blood', 'Munich') and a few other decent ones, but they just seem to be missing a little something. Originality certainly".

And finally...

Phill presents for the benefit of Brum-based readers used to encountering Polish bus drivers the "Danger! High Postage Guide To Conversational Polish To Use On The Bus" - "Were you upset when Joy Division changed their name from Warsaw? Byly wy przewracaliscie kiedy Rozdzielanie Radosci zmienial ich imie from Warszawy?".
The name game

As of about a week ago, J and I are proud pet-owners. Nothing exotic, and not even a dog or a cat - no, just a couple of fish that we've inherited from a friend who's moved out.

The greatest pleasure to be derived from acquiring a pet - as I think Paul and his Long Suffering Wife discovered when they got their cat Cleo - is in the naming. Our fish did already have names, but - well, we weren't going to let a piddly thing like that stand in our way. We'll even go so far as to change them by deed poll if necessary.

I think it's very cruel and irresponsible of parents like Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Mr and Mrs Rooney to saddle their children with bizarre and unfortunate names - just think of the psychological damage it could do to them.

The thing is, though, that our fish won't have to make it in the wider world - they can just swim around in their tank, their own little kingdom, without having to come into contact with any other fish who might find their names preposterous and mock them mercilessly. It is for this reason that we've decided to christen them after our two current favourite words.

So may I introduce you to Hoopla (a proper bright orange, a fine figure of a fish) and Falafel (something of a runt - short and fat, greedy, a golden yellow colouring, occasionally suffers from a swim bladder problem meaning that he continually floats to the surface).

Long may they gawp, nibble at vegetation and swim around aimlessly.
Season of mist and yellow youthfulness

It's that time of year again. The time you suddenly realise that the summer has in fact been blissful and idyllic and not at all stressful. Oh yes - the students are back.

Well, some of them are back. Of course, some have moved on, while many of those who pitched up last weekend are just starting out, and it shows - in the disorientated looks and constant glancing at photocopied maps, in the strange eagerness to lavish fortunes on textbooks that may be on the required reading lists but won't actually be touched.

There seems to be two types of male student (the girls are less easy to classify): the nervy gawky type who look as though they're constantly cowering in fear of being shouted at by someone or of being made to look stupid or ridiculous and having their fragile self-confidence shattered; and the chirpy brash type who bray so loudly and repeatedly about their A level results and drinking prowess that one wants to welcome them to the next three or so years of their life by sending them on a night out in A&E.

But I guess nothing's changed - that's what I was like too. Well, the first type, not the second.
This week on Stylus

Jeff Siegel writes about Broadcast's new LP Tender Buttons in a way that makes me keen to hear it - "On its surface, it seems like such a simple little curlicue, all Mother Goose coos, descending-scale melodies, and no-wave screech over dinky drum-machine patters. That's really it; no mucking around in different time signatures, no showy genre fusions, just a single idea, explored at every conceivable angle over the span of a full-length. It reads like a dearth of ideas, but sounds like the product of single-minded, laser-sighted focus. Most acts would falter here, but Broadcast pull it off with an easy grace and breezy elegance that belies its surface tension of noise vs. melody, and a lot of that has to do with the combination of its essentially aleatoric nature and its hypnotic sense of developed repetition".

I know of at least one other person who's got Tender Buttons and likes it (looking forward to reading a gig review, Mike - nudge nudge...)

Nick Southall gets to grips with albums from rising Brit jazz outfits Acoustic Ladyland and Polar Bear - "both fantastic records, easily two of the most enjoyable I’ve heard all year".

Acoustic Ladyland are playing the Bar Academy on 15th November - having seen them on 'Later With Jools Holland', I'm very tempted to go along.

And now for some acerbic single reviews...

Dom Passantino on The Go! Team's 'Bottle Rocket': "Because, you know, restraint sucks doesn't it? Can you imagine anyone in 2005 actually turning around and saying 'You know what? Considering how well the recording history of The Avalanches has held up, wouldn't it just be the 'bomb diggity' if there was an indie band version of them?'. Like one of those pizzas at the bottom of the takeaway leaflet that just appear to be the chef clearing out his cupboards of all his unwanted ingredients".

Alex Macpherson on Andy Bell's 'Crazy': "Distasteful and slightly unclean in exactly the same way as feeling someone's hand on your arse in a gay club and turning round to find not a buff young 19-year-old but a sweaty, balding fortysomething man with eyes crazed by desperation and a lifetime of too many poppers".

Of course, Dom's dead wrong about The Go! Team, but his review's so sharp it deserved to be reproduced...
True lies

Congratulations to Jon and the folks behind independent quarterly film magazine Little White Lies on recently featuring in the Media Guardian (registration required). The third issue is out now, and centres on George Romero's 'The Land Of The Dead'.

Incidentally, Jon has pointed me in the direction of Pixelsurgeon, a site which covers all the creative arts. The main page currently includes links to an interview with Imogen Heap and pieces on Guy Ritchie's 'Revolver', Roman Polanski's 'Oliver Twist' and indie hopefuls We Are Scientists.

And while I'm on a film tip: Sean O'Hagan talks to Jim Jarmusch in the Observer - "I am interested in the non-dramatic moments in life. I'm not at all attracted to making films that are about drama".
Culture club

A useful resource, if I ever stumbled across one: the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Not enormously comprehensive, but worth a look all the same.

No smirking at the expression "literate American" at the back - it's not an oxymoron...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

AWOL

Apologies for the silence and tumbleweed round these 'ere parts for the last few days - let's just say that all my time and energies need to be diverted in a different direction until Friday.

But, as they say (who are "they", and why do they always speak in aphorisms and cliches?), absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In the meantime, there are many other places more deserving of your attention - scroll down the sidebar to my blogroll, and click clickety click away.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blogwatch

Inspector Sands and Willie Lupin open up a debate on Trevor Phillips's contention that parts of Britain are "sleepwalking toward apartheid".

Elsewhere...

Alan lists his idiosyncracies - this one in particular strikes a chord with yours truly: "The correct way to remove the foil from the lid of a coffee jar is as follows. You take the sharp bit at the leftmost edge of your right thumbnail and pierce through the lid immediately adjacent to the lip. You then move this thumbnail around the inside edge of the lip in a clockwise direction, using your left hand to rotate the jar as necessary, cutting away the foil as you go until you have cut out a perfect disk of foil the exact size of the opening and there is no foil protruding over the lip to impede the smooth entry and exit of the tea-spoon".

Jonathan is astounded at the news that Mr Cantankerous aka Mark E Smith is set to read the results on BBC1's 'Final Score' in November.

Jason is not amused by the latest live appearance of Smith's transatlantic counterpart, Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre - "Of course with Anton you always get more for your money, or less, depending on your point of view. Last night, if you paid for songs, you got none. If you paid for Anton's predictable and sad antics, well then your money was wisely spent".

Bongo Vongo details a grisly pigeon murder - "As I approached the shops, guilt-laden, I concluded that this was either a suicidal pigeon or that it had forgotten how to fly or perhaps it was ill and just wanted to get to the other side of the road. There was a zebra crossing just up the road but it would be stupid of me to expect the pigeon to use that - how would it have reached the button?" (actually, if it was accidental, that would make it pigeon manslaughter, wouldn't it?)

Lady Muck also recounts encounters with wildlife, in her case mice - "I can't bring myself to hate mice. Mice and I share a height problem and hair colour. But when they start living in your bedroom floorboards, it's hard to feel sisterly".

JonnyB takes umbrage at being told he's an unreconstructed "old man" - "the thing about me not being a new man is almost libellous, as here I am, househusbanding away, the newest of new men that there can possibly be. When my other half, the LTLP, gets home, I will have her dinner ready for her if I don't go to the pub, and the place will be spick and span because I have paid the cleaner. And when was the last time she defragmented the hard drive, then. Eh?"

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fashionably late

I feel awful. I forgot the birthday of my own child. Silent Words Speak Loudest was born three years ago last Tuesday.

Long may it grow and prosper at the expense of many more worthwhile causes, pressing demands and my sanity.

Thank you for reading.
Slanted and enchanting

STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS / CLOR, 17TH SEPTEMBER 2005, BIRMINGHAM ACADEMY

Serial support act Clor (by the end of the year they'll have played with Tom Vek, Sons And Daughters and Maximo Park as well) are an odd-looking bunch. A mop-topped becardiganed bassist bobbing around at the back of the stage. At the front, a guitarist who looks like the sort of bloke you might find yourself approaching to ask for a bank loan. A frontman who, with his youthful appearance and curling locks, resembles Chris Martin back when Coldplay were still in nappies and the prospect of marrying Gwyneth Paltrow and fathering a child named after a fruit was a distinct improbability.

Sonically they're odd, too - jerky new wave complemented (rather than merely supplemented) with keyboard effects which is forever changing direction. I find myself desperately trying to isolate and cling onto a recurrent lyric or sequence of sounds just to get a handle on what it is they're doing. The live environment might not be the best way to be introduced to them (I'm left feeling I could have done with a crash course with their debut LP beforehand), but 'Tough Love' and the singles 'Outlines' and 'Love And Pain' do enough to arouse my interest.

The last time I saw Stephen Malkmus, he was sat serving drinks from behind a bar made out of the front of a double decker bus. We were in Hull. I think this may call for an explanation.

October 1999, and Pavement were about to embark upon what turned out to be their final UK tour. To accompany them on the road, they'd chosen to take Salako, who, like their drum technician, hailed from Hull, and a secret warm-up gig was organised for the 200 capacity Adelphi. My friend Ele worked behind the bar there during the holidays and tipped me off about the gig, and so it was that we found ourselves en route for Humberside, Ele busy writing "It's never dull in Hull" in icing on a massive cake she'd baked for the band.

Just before they arrived onstage, she told me we'd managed to score an impromptu interview for our student magazine - the cake may have swung it. Afterwards we made our way into the private bar room adjoining the gig venue, and one by one the band members appeared, having freshened up after the show. We split up for the interview - I spent most of my time talking to Scott Kannberg, while Ele chatted to Bob Nastanovich. Lacking even the most basic recording equipment, we were forced to scrawl questions and answers down as best as possible on the backs of flyers for an organic fruit and vegetable shop we'd picked up in the foyer - how professional we must have looked.

When our conversation drew to a close, I made my way round the room having a quick word to the other band members Mark Ibold and Steve West, before wandering over to the aforementioned bar, where Malkmus - wearing a furry Hull Tigers hat - was debating the merits of Hull's renowned fish 'n' chip shops. What did the future hold, I asked. "European shows until late November, then easy times. We'll be celebrating the Millenium in Cambodia".

Little did I realise that "easy times" meant splitting up.

Almost six years on, and Malkmus is as youthful as ever. Like his peer Thurston Moore, he is ageless, still the same indie-loving college kid's poster boy he was in Pavement's heyday, still gangly and with the same choirboy haircut and mischievous glint in his eye.

He also shares Moore's goofiness, thanking Clor by adding that "they totally shred" and scoffing at a suggestion from a member of the audience (misheard) that Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood might be gay: "No, he's got a baby. He listens to classical music, which is a bit gay". His trademark surrealism isn't confined to his lyrics, either - quite how he gets onto the subject I'm not sure, but at one point he declares that Pilates was invented by Pontius Pilate.

Malkmus is in Birmingham to promote his latest solo record Face The Truth. Having played his self-titled debut nearly to death, I found the follow up Pig Lib much less enjoyable. Coming as it has in a year of great albums, Face The Truth hasn't got much of a look-in either. But the new songs form the basis for tonight's set and it's live that many of them take on an added dimension.

'Post Paint Boy' starts things off before the pace is ratcheted up a notch with Pig Lib's ace power-pop single 'Dark Wave'. The changes of tempo continue with an elongated 'It Kills', 'Malediction', 'Pencil Rot' (which perhaps benefits most from live performance, coming across as much less formless) and the deliciously languid 'Church On White', but the first really explosive moment of the night is a raucous rendition of stomping new single 'Baby C'mon'.

After that we get two of the finest tracks from Face The Truth, 'Mama' and the sprawling Sonic Youthy jam 'No More Shoes', the latter exemplifying the way in which Malkmus's fondness for noodling (a fondness which tarnished Pig Lib) translates much better live than on record.

The set winds up with 'Jenny And The Ess-Dog', a bona fide pop gem from his first record, and for an encore there's 'Dynamic Calories' - a B-side to 'Dark Wave', but infinitely superior to much of Pig Lib - and '(Do Not Feed The) Oyster'. Malkmus departs with a broad grin on his face. He may not have quite the same special chemistry with The Jicks (guitarist / keyboardist Michael Clark, bassist Joanna Bolme and drummer John Moen, the latter replaced tonight by a "wild card" called Billy) as he did with Pavement, but he's evidently still enjoying himself. And, from the reaction of the crowd, still inspiring the same level of adoration.

The Pavement Interview story isn't quite over. A little over a year later Ele appeared in the magazine office, breathless and brandishing a copy of the Marble Valley album Sunset Sprinkler. Marble Valley were Pavement drummer Steve West's side project, and the album had been released on Hull label Pork Recordings. She opened up the CD inlay, and there it was - the cake, immortalised in all its glory, shortly before five indie-rock legends hungrily set about it.
Get real

I think it's safe to say it wasn't the future I foresaw for myself back when I was a teenager. Back in those heady paintstripping-cider-swigging days, I couldn't ever have imagined going to a CAMRA organised beer festival, let alone enjoying it.

But perhaps I didn't fully appreciate that the cider on offer at such events, whilst not skimping on alcohol content, would be of a far superior quality to that which routinely came in two litre green plastic bottles for under £1.50. On Friday a half of golden and slightly cloudy Prinknash Abbey (7%, made by Benedictine monks in the cider hotbed of Gloucestershire) slipped down very nicely indeed.

Then it was on to the real ale - a couple of halves of Welsh Ale (chosen on the strength of the name of its brewer, Evan Evans) and one of Slaters Bitter - and a bottle of delicious lemon-scented Aiguille Blanche, hailing from the Rhone-Alpes region of France. Throw in a Bratwurst smothered in mustard and a couple of bags of Tyrrells crisps and you have all the makings of a very enjoyable evening.

Others seemed intent on enjoying themselves more visibly than me, however - not least the bloke looking like a cave-dwelling acid casualty who leapt about amidst the group of sweaty, drunk real ale enthusiasts as the live band kicked out songs by The Rolling Stones and Steppenwolf. Born to be wild? Born to have stiff limbs and a skull-splitting hangover in the morning, more like...
This week on Stylus

Colin Cooper predicts that Takk could be the record that sees Sigur Ros going overground, even though it is "in many ways a much darker record than any of the band’s previous work, with tempestuous conclusions and moody, almost pouty endeavours making up the bulk of its content". My first impressions: it's another mindblowing album.

Roque Strew proclaims Devendra Banhart's fourth LP Cripple Crow the site's Album Of The Week - "Gone is any splinter of freak-folk purism. Influences crowd Cripple Crow, with the usual suspects appearing and disappearing—Tiny Tim, Donovan, Marc Bolan, Nick Drake. But it’s the collage of styles that distinguishes this album: Cuban and Indian flourishes, Eisenhower-era doo-wop, the smoky Stax groove, bucolic British trad-folk, the eccentricities of American folk, of both the Dust Bowl troubadours and the Vietnam flower-children".

Ryan Potts is disappointed to discover that Black Dice's new LP Broken Ear Record is "more direct and deliberate, grounded and obvious" than previous releases. I really ought to invest in a copy of Beaches & Canyons.

Ross McGowan finds Death Cab For Cutie's Plans the work of "a band that’s consistent to a fault".

Cameron Macdonald revisits Royal Trux's Twin Infinitives - "One could loosely trace the skronk-thrash to the past glories of Pussy Galore, Dinosaur Jr. and SF dada-punks Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. Sun Ra’s Moog freakouts from the 70’s also figure in, along with a sense that Royal Trux is a garage band that must go to sleep every night with the sprawl of unholy guitar feedback coughed up by Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music blackening the sky".

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Four play

MIDAS / BEATS CAPRI / STRANGETIME / SINISTRA, 13TH SEPTEMBER 2005, BIRMINGHAM FLAPPER & FIRKIN

Has the second city been hit by another tornado? No, that'd just be the swirling fog of noise coming from the stage, courtesy of Sinistra. Somewhere, underpinning the squall, there's a drum machine and bass, and over the top vocals ring clear. There's no doubting the Flapper & Firkin soundsystem showcases their atmospheric stadium goth to better effect than that of Scruffy Murphys, where I saw them first.

Also on the bill that night were StrangeTime, who similarly benefit from the superior quality of this venue's equipment. The Scruffys appearance had been their first ever live outing, and a couple of songs into tonight's set they're looking increasingly assured. Some of the longer songs have a tendency to sag in the middle, but, when summoning up the fiery spirit of early PJ Harvey in bone-rattling post-feminist punk songs like 'Dressing Up', they're a riveting prospect.

Better still are two-boy-two-girl art-punk combo Beats Capri, who - hailing from Derby - are the night's only out-of-towners. Vocalist Joanne O'Neill and bassist Esther Brown's matching outfits bring a bit of Pipettes style glamour to the night, and when they kick into '1.45', with its chorus of "Make me make you make your move now", we know we're in for a treat. Propelled by a thunderous rhythm section, the songs are consistently arresting, none more so than tremendous set-closer 'Me Your Girl', saved up until last like the biggest present under the Christmas tree.

Stourbridge fourpiece Midas find Beats Capri a hard act to follow, and their cause isn't helped by the dwindling crowd and a couple of slightly limp songs like 'Oxygen Tax' midset, proof that not everything they touch (ahem) turns to gold. For the most part, though, their high-octane amped-up riffola (think 'Hysteria' by Muse) warms my cockles, 'Heads Will Roll' and 'Rock, Paper, Scissors' thrashing around particularly furiously.

So, full credit to Phill, for it was he who helped organise the night, the first of four this autumn under the banner of A Different Kettle Of Fish. The best idea of the evening? Distributing free CD samplers featuring a track from each of the bands appearing at the gigs, enabling us to take home what we've seen and whetting our appetite for what is to come over the next three months. Though the free cake and biscuits on offer were also a good move...

Other reviews of the night: Parallax View, Cheese In Space
Blogwatch

Welcome...

Ninja Polymath Blues - the new home of Robyn following the demise of Orbyn Dot Com

Alcuin And Flutterby, a unique poetry blog

(Thanks to Kenny and Jonny B respectively for the links.)

Meanwhile...

When the Doonesbury cartoon strip was axed as part of the changes to the new "Berliner" size Guardian, Pete, Mike and Jonathan led the outcry, and it's now been reinstated. (Look out for the brilliant Perry Bible Fellowship strip too.)

Elsewhere...

Pink is invited to take part in a Channel 5 show which "promises to be the most explicit and informative programme about sex ever to be seen on terrestrial TV".

Skif narrates his love affair with cricket and reacts to the Ashes series victory - "The unfathomable Sunday morning at Edgbaston was witnessed in a chalet with one of those very stags as we metaphorically held onto each other for strength while awaiting the start of our mutual friend’s beautiful wedding. I was nervous enough as it was about having to deliver a speech. Australia taking it down to that kind of margin did not help".

Jonathan recalls his ill-fated decision to take up jogging - "The trainer took one look at me and said 'You can go out with those lads'. The 'lads' in question were a spindly-looking group of sextuagenarians in 'Chariots Of Fire'-era training costume, limbering up gingerly in the corner".

Pete tries to convince us that wine-tasting is "harder than you think".

Paul asks who you'd want commentating on you having sex - "John Motson - Always thought the array of stats that Motty has at his fingertips would be slightly unnerving.
Sample Quote: 'That's the fifth time he's scored like that this year, the last time being away at Kettering on a wet Wednesday night in February'
".
Cat power

As a child I remember reading the book '100 Things To Do With A Dead Cat' over and over again and I'm pretty sure this wasn't one of them.

"A German inventor has angered animal rights activists with his answer to fighting the soaring cost of fuel - dead cats. Christian Koch, 55, from the eastern county of Saxony, told Bild newspaper that his organic diesel fuel - a home-made blend of garbage, run-over cats, and other ingredients - is a proven alternative to normal consumer diesel".

Marvellous. Such resourcefulness should be applauded.

The response to the current fuel crisis has been to demand an increase in production and supply. If Koch wins people round to his way of thinking and there happens to be a fuel crisis, then I'm guessing you'd be better off keeping a very close eye on Tiddles. There'll be Shell, BP and Esso vans driving around the streets at night, flooring the accelerator every time a cat hoves into view...

A note to potential commenters: don't even think about mentioning catalytic converters.

(Thanks to Graham for the link.)
Feel good hits of the 15th September

1. 'Me Your Girl' - Beats Capri
2. 'Losing Touch With My Mind' - The Icarus Line
3. 'Love In A Trashcan' - The Raveonettes
4. 'Old Flame' - The Arcade Fire
5. 'Chicago' - Sufjan Stevens
6. 'Glosoli' - Sigur Ros
7. 'Dressing Up' - StrangeTime
8. '9 Out Of 10' - 18th Dye
9. 'Once, A Glimpse' - Maximo Park
10. 'The Fox' - Sleater-Kinney

Funny how The Icarus Line's gloriously fucked take on Spacemen 3's 'Losing Touch With My Mind' always gravitates towards my stereo at the most appropriate times...

And no, before you ask, I didn't pick 'Chicago' just because I can't be arsed to type out any of the other song titles from Illinois. It really has been - thus far - the stand-out track for me.

Monday, September 12, 2005

From the ashes to the Ashes

All together now:

Merv Hughes, Kylie, Russell Crowe, Dame Edna, Steve Irwin, Alf off of 'Home And Away', Nick Cave, Jason Donovan, Richie Benaud, Nicole Kidman, Rolf Harris, Michael Hutchence, Mick Dundee - your boys took one hell of a beating!

Not only did we withstand the anticipated Aussie onslaught on the final day of the final test, but our adopted stupid-haired South African gonk Kevin Pietersen bludgeoned Warne and company all over the ground.

A tremendous victory overall in which every member of the team played his part, but Michael Vaughan's tactics and field placings were spot on, and Freddie Flintoff thoroughly deserving of his Man Of The Series award.

There was sadness amid the tickertape and confetti, though, with Richie Benaud leaving the commentary box at an English test for the last time - but this is the sort of series he'd have wanted to bow out on (though presumably given the choice he'd have opted for an Australian win..).

One final question (other than the obvious - whether we can retain the Ashes on Australian soil in 2006-7): have you ever thought about the fact that if cricketers didn't have a ball in their hands when they're shining it, they'd probably be arrested for vigorously rubbing their inner thighs in a public place? It lends a new meaning to the expression "ball-tampering"...

Other bloggers' reactions: Swiss Toni's Place, Delrico Bandito, Cage Of Monkeys, Casino Avenue

(Thanks to Martin for suggesting some of the names at the top of the post.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

Reasons To Be Cheerful: Guest Contributor Special

On 17th September 2004, after seven years living in Nottingham, I moved across the Midlands to Birmingham. As a way of helping myself to settle in, I started a series of posts about the attractions of my new home entitled Reasons To Be Cheerful - you can find them in the sidebar under Miscellaneous Features.

To mark the first anniversary of my time in Birmingham, I thought it would be a good idea to throw the feature open to fellow bloggers either currently or formerly resident in the city, and ask what they would choose to write about.

The contributors:
Phill of Danger! High Postage
Vicky of The Highrise
Pete of Pete Ashton's Interweb Presence
Bushra of Fudge It
Pete of The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha

Phill: My nomination - the music scene. Growing up as an indie kid in Brum meant that to go to gigs you generally had to trek to deep, dark Wolverhampton or brave the horrors of the NEC. Things seemed to change with the opening of the Academy in 2000. Admittedly it's a dingy underground bunker full of overpriced watered-down lager - but it does get a fantastic selection of bands and it seemed to kickstart something in Brum's music scene.

2001 saw Radio 1's Soundcity event come to Brum and from then on, the music scene has been blooming. Now there are great gigs every week, with a wealth of fantastic independent promoters like Capsule, Cold Rice, Chick Dig Jerks to name just three, bringing top international bands to the city. There's also a thriving DIY scene with new bands, club nights, labels and venues springing up every week. It's inspired me to begin promoting my own gigs too...

Just don't mention King Adora, OK?

Vicky: The Crown, located conveniently enough for some opposite Birmingham Crown Court, has seen more rescue operations than even the most veteran St. Bernard; from spit and sawdust drinking hole for that post committal-appearance pint and fight, through Friday night mobile disco hell to its current incarnation as a pretender to the crown (ha ha) of some of the local chain bars.

Mavis the clumsy barmaid no longer graces the optics, having dropped one mixed grill too many en route from kitchen to table - and in general staff turnover is high since the last revamp, but the food is okay (and reasonably priced) and the magic words "Do you want to make that a double for an extra 20p?" still ring from behind the bar.

Decor is part faux Queen Anne-style furniture, part musty old codgers - much of the former graffiti'd on by wasted staff from the now-defunct HSBC credit control department, once located in the McLaren building just down the road - but the general atmosphere and history of the pub makes it worth at least one visit in your lifetime.

Pete Ashton: I'm currently doing a fair bit of cycling, trying to get out every day or so for a blat or a bimble around the cycle paths and canals of south Birmingham. My favourite spot is an unlikely stretch somewhere between University station and Five Ways on the Birmingham and Worcester Canal. It's a dead straight piece of towpath where you can kick up some serious speed but I particularly like it for the trees hanging over the dark water of the canal and the Mordor-like black brick wall rising up from the railway. It's silent and a little bit spooky, yet right in the centre of the city. Magic.

Bushra: [I'd recommend] my first place of work, Balsall Heath Library on Moseley Road. The only way a lot of people can find it is if you tell them it is next door to the Moseley swimming baths. I went there a lot as a kid with my brother. There's always something going on, there's free net access and really helpful staff.

I think for me it was finding out about the eccentrics, there was an toothless old guy called Tom who would shuffle in and gave a big smile if you handed him the Times without asking, or the group of Muslim men squabbling over the only copy of the Pakistani newspaper The Jang. I remember how they all frowned when I stopped wearing a headscarf.

It was also very cool closing up at lunchtime, you'd get the library to yourself for a whole hour. Another good point, Balsall Heath Library was the only library that didn't need a security guard! Definitely my best job.

Pete Fat Buddha: "I feel like a tourist now whenever I return to Brum, so long have I been away and so much has it changed, and most of my thoughts on it are based on subjective memory, rather than objective fact. Most of my visits home now are to go the football and my ritual is to arrive a couple of hours before kick-off and grab some scoff at Café Soya, which needs no introduction from me on this blog.

Most of the pubs en route to the ground are cack and full of tossers so I tend to head for The Anchor on Bradford Street. On match days this is a good place to be, attracting a good mix of civilised rival fans. I don't know what it's like at any other time but the building itself is full of character and there is always a good range of well kept real ales.

Bank is good for scoff if you are not short of a bob or three; Imrans is my balti house of choice if skint.

The Harborne Mile was my nightly habit when I lived in the town but I suspect the pubs down there have all become fun palaces now, with large, fun loving gents on the door to ensure a warm, fun loving welcome, but I might be wrong.

Thanks to Phill, Vicky, Pete, Bushra and Pete for their contributions.
Blogwatch: in brief

Badger offers a first-hand account of the effects of Hurricane Katrina in his home town of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Elsewhere...

Betty eavesdrops on unsuspecting female members of the public to find out "what the wimmin are saying, y'know".

Diamond Geezer outlines The Seven Ages Of Blog (I think I'm somewhere between #3 and #4).

He Who Cannot Be Named confesses to the nine worst songs he's ever downloaded from iTunes (beware: this post features references to Tony Hadley, Dido and Queensryche).

Mike writes brilliantly about weddings and the traumas and dramas of other formal social occasions.

It's 'Question Time' over at Swiss Toni's Place, as his readers get to know a little bit more about him and vice versa.

Alex reviews the film 'Primer'.

LondonMark has difficulty coming to terms with navigating his way around his new home, New York.
Reasons The Internet Is Great #781

A few weeks ago, I was reading London Calling... and happened across this post. Having never heard of 18th Dye before, I was intrigued - it only takes a whiff of a Sonic Youth comparison for that to happen - and asked which album D would recommend. He replied by offering to send me both their albums, Done (1994) and Tribute To A Bus (1995).

A couple of days later and they arrived by post. First impressions justified the Sonic Youth reference, though the three-piece are rather more primal and less intricate and arty in their construction of fearsome bursts of noise, a bit like The Wedding Present around the time of Seamonsters. I'll be giving both LPs many more plays before finally making up my mind, but they certainly make an appealingly dirty racket.

So, thanks to D for his generosity and for introducing me to a band I wouldn't otherwise have come across.
Dead good

Unable to wait until it airs on terrestrial telly, I've been sneaking a peek at the final series of 'Six Feet Under' on E4. It might have one foot in the grave but, for me, it's still the best thing on TV by a country mile. Tuesday's installment was particularly gripping, not least the cataclysmic surprise party arranged for Nate's 40th birthday during which the Arcade Fire got a look-in on the soundtrack front, 'Rebellion (Lies)' the perfect accompaniment to a blazing row between Nate and Brenda.

That night I dreamt I went out on the lash with Billy. I'm not convinced that a bipolar fuckhead who's stopped taking his medication and is looking even more feral than normal would make a good drinking buddy, are you?
About time

Over a year after his death, Nottingham City Council are finally preparing to unveil a tribute to one of the city's most loved faces, Frank Robinson aka Xylophone Man. The tribute, which will take the form of an inscribed paving stone, will be on Listergate, where Frank could most often be seen playing.

All well and good - but how has it taken them so long? And why is it just a paving slab? Judging by these responses to the news, the form the tribute will take is far from universally popular amongst local residents.
Mutton dressed as lamb

Wandering down to the Arts Cafe by St Martins Church at the Bullring yesterday, I was struck by the massive queue gathered outside Borders. And not just any old queue, either - almost entirely female, acres of sagging middle-aged flesh, mutton dressed as lamb, touching their hair and giggling with nervous excitement like teenagers at a school disco.

Who could they possibly have been there to see, I wondered. Tom Jones? Alan Titchmarsh? No, it was Donny Osmond, in town to promote his new book (Wednesday he was in Guildford, after Birmingham it was on to Milton Keynes - no rest for the wicked, obviously). Good to know that the written word can still inspire such feverish interest.
"An unwanted souvenir"

You can expect festivals to leave you with a hangover like death and a bank balance well in the red. What you perhaps don't expect, though, is that you might end up suffering from a dose of trenchfoot. That said, if you're a Glastonbury regular then it might not come as that much of a surprise. Quite how I avoided it I'm not sure, given that for the entire Friday I was walking around sockless in boots filled with sloppy mud. Wisdom and rationality were in short supply during the deluge, I can tell you.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dereliction of duty

As the scale of the death and destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi seemingly continues to worsen, it's difficult to know quite what to say.

It beggars belief that the administration of the richest and most advanced nation on the planet could not have reacted quicker to save and help its citizens. The disaster may have been natural, but the inadequacy and slowness of the response is entirely manmade. Some might feel it's the wrong time for political debate and finger-pointing, but it's not - Bush and company have an awful lot of explaining to do, not least on the issue of the budget cuts that have crippled the emergency services and rescue operations.

One person who's been asking awkward questions is Howell Raines, a former editor of the New York Times. In this article he celebrates what made the now devastated city of New Orleans so special and expresses disgust at the way Bush has responded to the crisis: "This president, who flew away on Monday to fundraisers in the west while the hurricane blew away entire towns in coastal Mississippi, is very much his father's son when it comes to the kinds of emergencies that used to call forth immediate White House action before its Bushite captivity. When he was president, his father did not visit Miami after Hurricane Andrew, nor for that matter, did he mind being photographed tooling his golf cart around Kennebunkport while American troops died in the first Iraq war. Now the younger Bush seems determined to show his successors how to holiday through an apocalypse".

Equally appalled is Bill of Orbis Quintus, who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: "The response to the worst natural disaster to hit the United States has been a disgrace and an embarrassment".

Thousands of people have lost their lives and incompetence and mismanagement are largely to blame. It will take years for the cities, the region, the survivors to recover. Bush's political reputation may not.

(Thanks to Dr Migs for the link to the Raines article.)
While you were sleeping

The plot of 'Goodbye Lenin' is as straightforward as they come. The year is 1989, and an East German woman who believes passionately in her country's socialist political ideals falls into a deep coma. Meanwhile Communism crumbles, so does the Berlin Wall and everything she believes in is swept away by the inexorable force of capitalism. When she suddenly awakes eight months later, a doctor tells her son and daughter that the slightest shock might trigger another potentially fatal heart attack, and so they have to try and conceal the collapse of the Wall from her. Cue all manner of elaborate strategies aimed at protecting the secret.

The film might hinge on a single "joke", but that hardly does it justice. Though lightened by frequent touches of humour, it never descends into farce. A moving personal story, it's also a powerful documentation of the incredible pace with which events unfolded, and of one of the most dramatic periods in recent European history. It makes some valuable points about the way in which East Germans were soon disabused of their illusions of freedom as the realities of capitalist society hit home. Beautifully acted, too.
Up in smoke

What's that burning smell? Oh, that'd be the political career of Labour Peer Mike Watson going up in smoke. You see, Lord Watson of Invergowrie - to give him his full title - has pleaded guilty to setting fire to some curtains at a hotel in Edinburgh last November whilst veh veh drunk.

The story wouldn't be quite so amusing were it not for the marvellous irony that that night Watson had attended the Scottish Politician Of The Year Awards. So was he just miffed at missing out? To be honest I think it's unlikely he'll be in the running for this year's award.
Monkey business

Today J and I saw a load of monkeys mucking around in trees. I know what you're thinking - there are no trees in Birmingham. And you'd be right. So we went here. It might just be the most fantastic place in the world. If you've got kids and it's within fairly easy reach, I'd strongly recommend it. And even if you haven't and it's not, then go anyway. You're guaranteed to have a great time.
Better Kate than never

It seems that, after twelve years out of the limelight, Kate Bush has heeded her own advice: don't give up. One of English pop's most intriguing eccentrics is returning with a new double album entitled Aerial at a time when her stock is rising thanks in the main to SWSL favourites The Futureheads and their cover of 'Hounds Of Love', the title track of Bush's 1985 album.

So, is her music etherial genius or pretentious drivel? There's something slightly absurd and yet incredibly, fascinatingly compelling about songs like 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Running Up That Hill' (the video to which scared the shit out of me as a child, for some reason). This Independent article is a great overview of her career (despite the inevitable appearance of the words "wacky" and "elfin"), and looks forward to Aerial's autumn release. I'm not the only one who's interested to see how it's received.
Know Your Enemy #61

"Those who run cricket in this country, especially at the domestic level, are for the most part a self-serving, pusillanimous and self-important bunch of myopic dinosaurs unable to take any but the shortest-term view of everything".

Henry Blofeld of Radio 4's 'Test Match Special'. I'm not sure what prompted the outburst, but when it comes to the decision to hand all TV rights over to Sky from next summer, I agree wholeheartedly.

The Ashes tests have stoked up enormous interest around the country, and to take coverage away from terrestrial channels is at best perverse and at worst potentially fatal for the game's future at a time when that future looks incredibly rosy. To get interested, get involved and adopt role models in the sport, young people have to be able to watch the professionals in action, something which will as a result of the cricketing authorities' shortsightedness be denied them.
Feel good hits of the 4th September

1. 'Getting Bright At Night' - The Icarus Line
2. 'Vacant Skies' - Sparta
3. 'Wattershed' - Foo Fighters
4. 'Stones' - Sonic Youth
5. 'The Rat' - The Walkmen
6. 'Blood' - Sons And Daughters
7. 'C'mon C'mon' - The Von Bondies
8. 'Ooh La La' - Goldfrapp
9. 'My Doorbell' - The White Stripes
10. 'Oh Yeah' - The Subways