Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 minus 2004 is... 4AD

For reasons I will keep to myself, I haven't had a great Christmas, and New Year's eve, once the biggest night out of the year, looks like being bleaker than you can imagine. So I'm not going to talk about any of that. Instead, let's talk about 4AD.

"4A-what now?" I hear you ask. 4AD is a record label which, when I was a young whipper-snapper, was home to such great bands as Pixies, Belly, Throwing Muses, The Breeders, and more besides. It was, and still is, a great label with a great roster of artists, currently including Bon Iver and (still) The Breeders. And guess what? Right now, they're offering you a free download of 12 songs by artists from their stable in one handy (if somewhat large) file. So go get it, from here. And despite what it says on the form you don't even have to fill in your email address (and hence get bombarded with future advertising mailshots) - look closely at the small print and you'll find a link to the download that bypasses the email address registration thing. All good then, yes - now... good songs... go get 'em...

Friday, 19 December 2008


We had our works Christmas lunch today, and nice enough it was too. As we stuffed our faces with reformed turkey and supped heartily at our warm own-brand cola, a CD of Yuletide tuneage twittered brightly in the background, on permanent loop. How nice. Except for when it got to Ave Maria which is, of course, heartbreakingly, wrist-sawingly sad.

I seem to recall that on The Smiths' live album "Rank", the band's exit music was Maria Callas's rendition of Ave Maria and so for me, an unswerving Smiths fan since seeing their gladioli-waving Top of the Pops debut in 1984, that is the definitive version. In a fit of seasonal cheer then, here's a link to Maria's Maria in all its tear-jerking glory. Happy Christmas...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

You don't really care for music, do you?

I guess there will be no stopping the juggernaut that is X Factor winner Alexandra Burke's version of Hallelujah topping the charts for Christmas. I'm sure she's a lovely lady and I'm sure she can sing a bit - I bet she'd go down well at your local's karaoke night. But why did she, or more specifically Simon Cowell, have to release this song? Is it because evil Cowell heard the Internet rumours of a concerted effort to get a Welsh-language version of the same song to the coveted Christmas Number One spot, derailing the X Factor express into the bargain? And so gazumped said plans by releasing the self-same song? Well, maybe. Whatever else he may be (sad, Botoxed, delusional, high-waisted, wig-wearing (?), richer than Croesus, the list is depressingly long), he knows a trick or two about the cynical manipulation of chart music to ensure a hit. Not a career with any longevity for poor Alexandra, of course, but a hit to line his pockets, of yes.

So what of the Welsh-language version of Hallelujah? Well, it's by Brigyn and is lovely, but don't expect it to be troubling the charts. There's more hope (although still none, realistically) of the late Jeff Buckley sticking one to the man (the man being Cowell, of course), as his version has been re-released and is barnstorming the charts too. But that's almost as cynical an exercise as Mr Cowell's machinations, with Buckley's estate and/or record label clearly looking to jump on the X Factor bandwagon. A shame.

Of course, the song has been covered countless times, and maybe some others will be rush-released and creep into the charts too, who knows. What I will say is that the original by Leonard Cohen has also been re-released, and is worthy of your money, I'd say.

I guess I should be happy that a decent song will top the charts this Christmas. I just wish it was a credible version. Bah, humbug...

Some versions on YouTube: Leonard Cohen | Jeff Buckley | John Cale | Rufus Wainwright | Brigyn | Imogen Heap | Tim Minchin | Fall Out Boy

Thursday, 11 December 2008

A fair line-up

About this time last year, I wrote a quick recap of the bands that I'd seen live during 2007. Guess what? It's time to do the same for this year, and what a year it has been - gigs attended, in chronological order, were: The Cribs, James, The Wedding Present, Radiohead, Franz Ferdinand (plus more besides at the Latitude festival, of which more here), The Hoosiers (plus more besides at the Sound Island Festival, of which more here), The Zutons, Paul Weller and From The Jam.

Special mention amongst all this great music must go to Radiohead and Paul Weller, both of whom were amazing - I'd say see either (or both) whenever and wherever you get the chance.

Other cultural highlights of the year included King Lear at The Globe, Brenda Blethyn in The Glass Menagerie, the Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, comedian Ed Byrne and especially Paul Merton and his Improv Chums (is there a funnier man alive than Mr Merton?). All outstanding...

I don't want to rub it in but I've just bought tickets to see Buzzcocks again in January...

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Soupdragon is no more

Oliver Postgate died yesterday. And with him goes another little piece of childhood, for Oliver, along with his sidekick Peter Firmin, created such televisual gems as The Clangers (left), Bagpuss (below right), Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog, Pogles Wood, and probably more besides. Not only did I love Bagpuss and especially The Clangers as a kid, I am probably sadder than most at this news because Postgate and Firmin created all this amazing stuff in a little shed less than five miles from where I grew up. Anyway, the BBC offer a fine obituary of Mr Postgate here.

To make matters worse, I've just read that some company called Coolbai has bought the rights to Bagpuss and lots of the other Firmin/Postgate characters, with a view to introducing them to a new generation (their words, not mine). For this, read "update and ruin" these characters - for God's sake, just repeat the original series! Don't computer generate The Clangers! Don't CGI Bagpuss! Am I the only one who is worried that the mice on the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ may have heaved their last?!

Before Postgate's work gets forgotten, and his legacy ruined by its new owners, take a trip to the Museum of Canterbury if you're in the area - there you can see the original Bagpuss, Professor Yaffle, Madeleine the rag doll, Gabriel, some Mouse Organ mice and even a couple of Clangers. Go on - go now!

Footnote: the Soupdragon was a character in The Clangers. As the name suggests, it was a dragon that made soup. The Soupdragons, plural, were a 90s band who played around with different genres before jumping on the Madchester bandwagon and having a baggy-trousered hit with a cover of The Rolling Stones' "I'm Free" that was surprisingly good, especially the 12" version listened to in surround sound. But since I can't find that in mp3 form for you, you can at least check out the (hilariously dated) video on YouTube...

Friday, 5 December 2008

Your carbon footprint

I once wrote about being a lippy hippy, specifically about the hypocrisy I demonstrate by being a full-on eco-warrior on the one hand and yet driving a high-emissions sports car. Yes, I am flawed, just like everybody else (including you). But to salve my carbon guilt, I have found a company called Climate Care who will offset my car's footprint for a surprisingly reasonable annual sum. Now I'm not saying this is the answer to all of life's emission woes, and I'm well aware that there are many people who are sceptical about carbon offsetting (try this excellent Guardian article for some of the understandable reasons why), but it's one thing for developing countries to offset the developed world's emissions for revenue generation, and quite another for an ethically sound company to invest in transparent, charitable projects to appease my automotive guilt.

I guess what I'm saying is this: whilst a lot of carbon offsetting schemes are flawed or just blatantly profiteering, get-rich-quick schemes, Climate Care isn't - take a look their carbon calculator to see just how cheaply you could offset your annual mileage, and benefit communities in the developing world at the same time. You might be surprised - I certainly was. And you might also decide that whilst this won't save the world at a stroke, it can't hurt to try, can it?

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

This blog has a new home. Well, a new URL at least - I've just shunted the whole thing sideways on the same site as before. But I have taken the opportunity to have a mild redesign too, and added such niceties as a Feedburner XML feed, links to share any article with Delicious, Digg, Facebook, Reddit and StumbleUpon (look down and right), and the ability to link to a specific article within a month rather than just the month itself. Plus I've done away with the IFRAME and the convoluted Javascript I had to use to load specific months within that frame, so hopefully pages will load faster too. Famous last words, I know.

Anyway, it goes without saying that if you subscribed to the old feed then you need to update to the new one, or the Feedburned one (your choice!) - click on either of the RSS or Feedburner logos at the top of this page to do that. I've posted a "Dear John" message on the old feed, but that will be the last post there, so c'mon kids, update now...

And of course, if you have any comments on the mild redesign then please let me know in the comments. Cheers.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

In Mod we trust

I saw Paul Weller last night... and he was staggering. No, not in the drunken stumble sense, in the completely amazing sense - an instant entry into the list of top five gigs I've ever been to! Sure, the venue (Brixton Academy) helped and, without doubt, the company I was with enhanced the evening immeasurably. But Mr Weller, the Modfather, was on crackling form. I'd seen him twice before, way back in the very early 90s, yet incredibly Weller showed more energy, and was simply more up for it, now he's in his fifties than he was back then. With encores, he gave us just over two hours of quality music, impassioned playing and energy, energy, energy. God, he seemed to be enjoying himself too (Zutons take note).

In his second encore, Weller even managed to deliver a poignant and hard-hitting peace message on the screen behind the stage as he played "Whirlpool's End", the video montage showing clips of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, newsreel footage of the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, archive clips of JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King, and quotes from Gandhi, King, Lennon and more. Gandhi's "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" will stick with me for a long time.

Thanks, Paul, for a great night. The highlight for me, even above and beyond the old Jam songs (which included such classics as "Eton Rifles", "The Butterfly Collector", "That's Entertainment" and "Town Called Malice") was "You Do Something To Me", a stripped down, live-in-the-studio version of which can be found here. Finally, Weller has just released a 4CD boxset "At the BBC" - this is a pretty good way to spend your hard-earned, I would say.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Stuck in the car

I know, another music-related post. But I'm sure I'm not alone in occasionally being unable to get out of the car when I arrive wherever it was I was driving to, because there's a song on the radio that's just too good to leave before it finishes. This morning it was Lightspeed Champion's cover of "Back to Black" that kept me sitting in the car, mouthing along to the words to the doubtless amusement of work colleagues. This is a clever cover of Amy Winehouse's song, that goes beyond the simple guy-to-girl lyrical changes, though it does that too.

Unscrupulous downloaders may find this gem here...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

It's not St Swithin's Day but...

On Tuesday night, I was channel-surfing through a pretty average selection of typical British television. Nothing was on. As I surfed through BBC1, and chanced upon god-awful medical drama Holby City, I stopped. For there, at the end of the show, was Billy Bragg. No, he hasn't fallen on times so hard that he's been reduced to cameo appearances on ailing hospital-based soaps. Rather, the show seemed to be closing with a montage, presumably intended to wrap up a number of plotlines in seamless visual harmony... and that montage was being soundtracked by Uncle Bill's "St Swithin's Day". So I stopped surfing and watched - well, listened - to enjoy this most beautiful of songs. And then... then the sods faded Bill out before the last verse, and up came the jarring Holby theme tune as the credits rolled! What were they thinking? If you're going to introduce a moment of genuine class and sublime beauty to your tawdry show, at least have the decency to include it in its entirety!

So, for anyone else that loves this song (and that should be everybody), here are the lyrics in full, including the third stanza so stupidly omitted by the Beeb.

St Swithin's Day by Billy Bragg

Thinking back now,
I suppose you were just stating your views
What was it all for
For the weather or the Battle of Agincourt
And the times that we all hoped would last
Like a train they have gone by so fast
And though we stood together
At the edge of the platform
We were not moved by them

With my own hands
When I make love to your memory
It's not the same
I miss the thunder
I miss the rain
And the fact that you don't understand
Casts a shadow over this land
But the sun still shines from behind it.

Thanks all the same
But I just can't bring myself to answer your letters
It's not your fault
But your honesty touches me like a fire
The Polaroids that hold us together
Will surely fade away
Like the love that we spoke of forever
On St Swithin's Day.
I couldn't find an MP3 of this song to link to, or a YouTube of an official video (mainly because I don't think there was one), but there is this that you can "watch" to get a flavour of the song in full. Even with just a static image, it beats watching Holby any day of the week.

Footnote: St Swithin's Day is actually the 15th of July. According to tradition, whatever the weather on that day it will continue the same for the next 40 days. Which is, of course, bollocks.

Friday, 14 November 2008

A message for The Zutons

I went to see The Zutons last night. If I'm honest, I have to say they were disappointing. Sure, things livened up, for the crowd at least, when they played "Valerie", though the band themselves seemed a bit bored playing it. And I enjoyed "Why Won't You Give Me Your Love?", though mainly for its lyrical resonance, if truth be told. Much is made of saxophonist Abi Harding (right), the glamour and the attraction she adds to the Zutons mix, and it's true to say she's pretty and jigs abouts in a most agreeable way. But it wasn't enough to salvage the gig.

So, on the off-chance that a Zuton or two might end up reading this blog post (quite likely, I'm sure), here are a few tips. First, engage with your audience - you know, it really wouldn't hurt to interact with them a bit, or at least recognise that you're playing for their benefit, not just your own. Second, look like you're enjoying yourselves; you're rock stars, something that most of your audience would give their eye-teeth to be, so at least look like you're having fun living their dream. And finally - most importantly - do not end your encore with a rambling, unfamiliar and self-indulgent instrumental that goes on too long and leaves the audience wondering what's happening. You're supposed to end on a high - it's an unwritten gig law.

Your lighting rig was good though.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

There doesn't have to be a death for you to mourn

I've been thinking a lot about poetry lately. Partly because I'm doing a creative writing diploma course, and partly because I've been listening to "By Heart: 101 Poems to Remember", an audio book read by Ted Hughes, in the car.

One of the poems Hughes reads on the audio book is "Stop All The Clocks" by W. H. Auden, a poem of grief and mourning made even more famous than it already was by its inclusion in the film "Four Weddings and a Funeral". Here's the poem in full, as featured in the Hugh Grant-powered film.
Stop All The Clocks by W. H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: 'I was wrong'.
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Amazing, isn't it? Not even the over-exposure that it has had since its rom-com debut in the mid-nineties has lessened its power.

It strikes me that, although this is clearly a funereal poem, the way that it evokes grief makes it applicable to anything that can be mourned. Many, many years ago, a friend I made at university went back home, not just a few miles away but home to another country, thousands of miles away. I went from seeing her every day to not knowing if I would ever see her again. I had a sick, hollow, what's-the-point feeling in my stomach for days, no, weeks (months, if truth be told). I loved my friend, and though she was only a phone call or a letter away (this was in the days before email, instant messaging, Skype and webcams), I mourned the daily part she played in my life, and I in hers. No-one had died but something had gone, and I grieved for a long time.
I'm grieving again now. This time love, true love in the most romantic sense, is gone, and with it the hopes, plans and dreams for my future with a very special someone. She really is my North, my South, my East and West... but sadly, I am not even on her map.

At my writing class last night, we were tasked with writing an abstract poem - I wrote a couple, one of which was entitled "Despair" and I think, subconsciously, Auden's work was on my mind as I did so. Certainly you could see the influence of lines like "the stars are not wanted now, put out every one; pack up the moon and dismantle the sun" - my poem turned out similar in tone and structure. No, I'm not going to reproduce it here. Firstly, it's private and, secondly, I'm not going to be foolish enough to include a poem of my own alongside one by Auden, am I - there's only going to be one winner there. I will say, though, that the whole exercise has made me realise just how much Auden's poem can be applicable for anything that can be mourned, anything that can be grieved over. No-one literally has to die; there doesn't have to be a literal coffin for this poem to be relevant. It certainly resonates with me right now. And the irony is that the audio book was a gift from the woman who truly is "my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song".

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

You've got a vote - use it wisely

There are all kinds of things I could be writing about today: the beer festival I went to last Thursday (Bishop's Farewell... excellent), the comedian Ed Byrne who I saw on Friday (good, not great), the washed out fireworks display I went to at the weekend (where the only thing warm was the company), and more. I also considered writing about Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, specifically how only two people complained about their show when it was broadcast but how the tabloid press stoked up the fire and made it into a story, such that over 35,000 people have now complained, most of whom never even heard the "offending" remarks in the first place. The curse of the Daily Wail strikes again...

Barack Obama's campaign logoBut instead of all these things, I'm going to write about the US presidential election. I'm not American. I do not have a vote. Indeed, as an Englishman some 3,497 miles from New York (according to, and even further from Washington, you might ask why I'm bothered. Simply this - for the time being, POTUS is the most powerful man on the planet. Every decision he takes has the potential to affect us all, directly or indirectly, especially when it comes to foreign policy matters. So the question of whether Barack Obama or John McCain fills the hot seat should interest and concern us all.

So, on the off-chance that this blog may have an American reader or two... please use your vote. After all, it's no good moaning about whoever subsequently wins if you don't get down to the polling booth and do your bit. And don't assume Obama's going to win just because he's ahead in the polls - don't let apathy beat him! And if you're undecided, ask yourself this: do you really want four more years of what you've had for the last eight? I'm guessing not. Use your vote and use it for Barack Obama. If it helps to convince you, take a look at this remake of the old Budweiser "Whassup?" advert, which cleverly updates us on the current whereabouts of the original crew.

Then, when you've done your bit, treat yourself to a DVD of Election, one of the funniest films of the last ten years and a perfect political satire.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

You couldn't make it up, part DCXLI

Take a look at this story on the BBC news website regarding "no god" slogans appearing on London buses - an interesting and thought-provoking story in its own right. In particular, note how, two thirds of the way through the article, Stephen Green of pressure group Christian Voice is quoted as saying, "People don't like being preached at."

Is it just me that finds this funny?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Geocities and adverts

Don't click this, it's not actually an ad
I, like a lot of people around the world, use Geocities as the free host for this website. Geocities are okay, they're very stable, with excellent uptime, and the provision (15MB of space, 3GB/mth bandwidth) is plenty for me thus far. And like I said, it's free, right? So what's the problem? Look to the right... that sodding ad bar down the side of the page. Sure, you can collapse it with the little arrow at the top but as soon as you move to another page within the site, it re-opens.

Now there are lots of purported solutions to this on the Internet but, take it from me, they're all crap. Some do indeed dispense with the ad bar... but then Geocities' clever script falls back to adding the old ad square instead, which is no better. Other so-called solutions are nothing better than half-arsed hacks of your browser window's history, so whilst the ad bar disappears your browser's 'Back' button is hijacked and meddled with. Not so good. Besides, as a responsible Geocities user I am forbidden from doing anything with my site that would prevent the ad bar from showing, not only by my conscience but also by their T's and C's.

I can help you though, and not just to view this site as I intended it, but also to do away with the ad bar on every free Geocities site that you ever visit. Interested? Here's how you do it.

For Internet Explorer, download and install IE7Pro. For Firefox users, download and install Adblock Plus. For Opera users, well, from version 9.5 onwards you've got an integrated ad blocker. Anyway, whichever browser (and blocker) you're using, you need to manually add block filters for and - by blacklisting these URLs you'll put the kibosh on the Geocities ad bar. Hooray!

Obviously Geocities are only able to offer the likes of me free web space by forcing ad's on visitors to my site, so clearly I in no way advocate or endorse any such ad blockers. This post is purely for educational purposes...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Andy Burnham for PM!

In the October issue of Q Magazine Andy Burnham, Labour's Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, is quoted as saying "I would trade in the whole political career tomorrow if I could join The Wedding Present." Now whatever you think of his politics, you have to admire that...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Education for leisure

I've just finished reading the story of how the AQA exam board is removing a poem "about a knife-carrying violent loner" from its anthology for GCSE English because of fears over teenage knife crime. All well and good, you might think. The poem in question is Education for Leisure written by Carol Ann Duffy. What's more, AQA has advised schools to destroy all copies of the anthology (why not have a ritual book burning, it's been done before, right?) - generous to the last, the exam board says it will send replacements not containing the offending poem.

So why all the fuss? Yes, the poem begins with the line: "Today I am going to kill something. Anything." But it is surely anti-violence, anti-knife crime, and, in my view, about as far from glamourising it as can be. Surely there is value in getting people of GCSE age to think about the issues and thought processes that lead to crime of this nature? Surely there is value in encouraging people to think twice about this issue?

The BBC article does not reproduce the poem in full, so I will, here. Read it, and have a think - then make your own mind up. Are AQA doing the right thing? Or pandering to ill-conceived, knee-jerk panic?
Education for Leisure by Carol Ann Duffy
Today I am going to kill something. Anything.
I have had enough of being ignored and today
I am going to play God. It is an ordinary day,
a sort of grey with boredom stirring in the streets
I squash a fly against the window with my thumb.
we did that at school. Shakespeare. It was in
another language and now the fly is in another language.
I breathe out talent on the glass to write my name.
I am a genius. I could be anything at all, with half
the chance. But today I am going to change the world.
something's world. The cat avoids me. The cat
knows I am a genius, and has hidden itself.
I pour the goldfish down the bog. I pull the chain.
I see that it is good. The budgie is panicking.
Once a fortnight, I walk the two miles into town
For signing on. They don't appreciate my autograph.
There is nothing left to kill. I dial the radio
and tell the man he's talking to a superstar.
he cuts me off. I get our bread-knife and go out.
the pavements glitter suddenly. I touch your arm.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Don't win a little, win a lotto... (or don't win at all)

The National Lottery's faintly clever logo
Just so you know, if I suddenly disappear from the face of the Internet, I haven't been hit by a bus (well, conceivably I might have, but let's hope not). Rather more optimistically, maybe I'll have won the National Lottery, since I'm just starting up a syndicate with some colleagues at work. Now in reality our chances of winning more than the occasional tenner are slim - by my reckoning, the odds of landing the jackpot prize are 1 in 13,983,816... so, with fourteen people in our syndicate, I guess you could say we have a one in a million chance each week. No wonder some people call lotteries a tax on the innumerate...

...but of course I'm not innumerate - I'm just choosing to subscribe to the view that you've got to be in it to win it... wish me luck!

Friday, 29 August 2008

The Headmaster Ritual

I know I said I'd try to write about music less, but when I stumbled upon this curio of Radiohead covering The Smiths, what could I do but share it with you?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Happy birthday Joe

Joe Strummer, looking cool
Today would have been Joe Strummer's birthday. Vocalist, guitarist and founding member of The Clash, Joe made some great music that has stood the test of time - if you can find a copy on YouTube (I couldn't, amazingly) witness how contemporary both the song and video for Should I Stay Or Should I Go? still feel. Not only that, here was a man with strong social and political principles, with The Clash being very much involved in the early days of the Rock Against Racism initiative. Unbelievably, it's more than five years since Joe died - doesn't time fly?

Anyway, enough potted history - more music, I hear you cry! The Clash are a band I have come to enjoy more the older I get and if you don't already own a copy of Give 'Em Enough Rope and London Calling, why not?! Are you unwell?! At least treat yourself to a copy of The Story Of The Clash or, for today's attention-deficit generation, Singles. In the meantime, in honour of what would have been Joe's 56th birthday, let me direct you to an MP3 of probably my favourite Clash song, Stay Free. Enjoy.

Friday, 15 August 2008

P-p-p-pick up a... Colonel-in-Chief

The latest in a long line of "you couldn't make it up" type stories. Brilliant.

Art for art's sake

Do Ho Suh's Staircase V
Every so often, the debate about the merits, or otherwise, of modern art kicks off, as in this intelligent piece by Katherine Whitehorn. Currently, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is showing a 20-year retrospective of the always-interesting Tracey Emin which has, predictably, thrown up the usual suspects, moaning and wailing that "it's just an unmade bed". Now I can't make it to Emin's show in Edinburgh but I have just been to the Royal Academy of Art's summer show, which includes a room curated by Emin (which carries an 18 certificate, amusingly), and I can say that her room was the most thought-provoking, and not just for the zebra mounting a women or the naked woman hula-hooping with barbed wire (although that was strangely hypnotic). We followed Sunday's trip to the Royal Academy with another trip to the Hayward Gallery to see more modern art in the form of their Psycho Buildings show... which was fantastic, visually stunning and so easy to become immersed in. I can't recommend it enough, so hurry, it's only on until the end of the month (and whilst you're there, why not nip into the Saison Poetry Library too?). I bet you don't have as lovely a meal as we had afterwards though (and I'm not going to tell you where we ate because if the secret gets out, and it gets over-crowded, well, it'll be ruined...)

One stock response of many people when faced with modern art is "I don't call that art!" Well okay then, what do you call art? If you consider art appreciation in terms of the effect a piece has, its context, techniques used and its intended meaning, then surely anything that puts a tick against some, or all, of those boxes could be considered art? Okay, so the effect it has on you might be to make you turn your nose up or scoff, but it's still an effect...

The other standard reaction to modern art is "I could do that." Fine. But the fact is, you haven't. You haven't had the idea. The creative spark has not twitched and flickered within you, has not caught alight. When it comes to modern art it seems that those that can, do, and those that can't criticise.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

My mini city

So many otherwise interesting websites require you to register, or create an account, or download software, or all of the above, before you can do anything with them. This is a pain, at times, so it makes a nice change to find a entertainingly time-wasting website that doesn't. It's called My Mini City and guess what - it let's you create your own virtual city, and then watch it grow. All you have to do is pick a country for your city to be in, and then give it a name, and that's it - there's no registration, no need to divulge untold personal details to create an account, no need to download bloated client software, nothing.

So you're probably wondering how it works then? How you can make your city grow? Simple. When you create your city, a unique URL for it is created, and it is by that address receiving hits that your city grows. So, to visit my city, which currently resembles an isolated hut in the middle of a vast empty expanse, and has a population of 1 (but a 0% crime rate!) all you have to do is click so please do! And in case you're wondering how I came by the name "Margueritton", all I can say is that the -ton suffix implies town, whilst marguerite is French...

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Hurt of Tunbridge Wells

Another great weekend to write about (sorry, I know this is not interesting for you, (in)Constant Reader, but I have to tell someone and there's no-one else, at least not up here...). On Friday, I was again Kentward-bound: West Kent, this time, camping near Royal Tunbridge Wells. And it was a beautiful campsite, with a little firepit for each pitch, so after our barbecue we got a lovely fire going, sat propped against a log with a blanket and lantern, and read alternate chapters of a book to each other (and no, I'm not going to tell you which book, that's private - suffice to say it's good). It was a near perfect evening, but not perfect, and that hurt. Still does.

On Saturday morning we trekked into Tunbridge Wells and had a great time browsing the eclectic collection of shops that is The Pantiles - definitely recommended if you are in that neck of the woods, especially the secondhand book shop. And then, in the afternoon as the weather picked up, we drove down towards Brighton to visit Monk's House, the former home of Virginia Woolf. Lucky for us the weather held, as our evening was spent at Hever Castle watching Cosi Fan Tutte in the open air. We even had time for a glass of red by the lake first. Again, it was a near perfect evening, but not perfect, and that hurt. Still does.

Sunday saw us back in Tunbridge Wells, trying to give the tent time to dry off by taking an extended breakfast in The Pantiles. But the weather wasn't playing ball so, despite leaving it at late as possible, we ended up bundling a wet tent in the boot of the car and heading off to Knole Park for the afternoon - a beautiful house, this time with connections to Vita Sackville-West, and amazing grounds full of fallow deer, one of whom stuck his head in the car as we ate chocolate brownies. All too soon, we drove back home, said a chaste and hurried goodbye, and that was it. A near perfect day, but not perfect, and that hurt. Still does.

When will it stop? And what would Virginia and Vita make of it all?

Friday, 1 August 2008

To Whit, to whoo...?

The Hoosiers at Sound Island 2008
This will be a very quick post, because I'm in all kinds of a rush to get away for the weekend (again)...

So, for the second week in a row, I find myself blogging about what an amazing (and hectic) weekend I've had. Last Friday I found myself Kentward-bound, via Ikea (good for big furniture, disappointing for small items, redeemed by Swedish meatballs), for day one of the Sound Island Festival at Quex Park. Click Click were okay, Elliot Minor was instantly forgettable (and lost in muddy sound), whilst Scouting for Girls were very disappointing - every time they got going they seemed to stop, for a pointlessly repetitive and boringly executed piece of crowd participation. But then headliners The Hoosiers came on and they were brilliant! So up for it! So full of strange touches, like coming onstage clutching letters spelling out their name, each member of the band having a different model bird on their mic stand, launching giant balloons full of tickertape out into the crowd (where they inevitably, eventually popped), backing singers dressed as skeletons... such a show! And musically terrific! So even though there was only one tiny beer tent, and you had to queue at a separate kiosk to buy tokens to exchange at the beer tent for drinks (hence queueing twice - shockingly bad organisation on the part of the festival) I was able to head back to the campsite a (literal) happy camper.

The next day saw us taking in the Whitstable Oyster Festival. Quite how that cute little Spanish lass could eat six oysters and down half a pint of beer in fourteen seconds if beyond me. But this was the best of days - a beautiful walk along the coast into the town, interesting stalls, happy shopping and, especially, sitting on the beach as the sun headed towards the horizon, drinking wine and eating strawberries. To top it off we then met up with my best mate and his partner for more drinks and a fine meal. All in all, a day to live long in the memory...

As was Sunday, which saw us topping up our tans on a sun-drenched Folkestone beach - we even found a little patch of sand to call our own, had a swim, applied lotion... and then, when our beach picnic and scorching sun were in danger of lulling us towards a doze, we instead headed off to Port Lympne for their staggering overnight safari... yes, really. A safari, complete with lodge, watering hole and more animals than you can shake a stick at, in Kent. Rhinos, giraffes, wildebeest, so many types of deer, and more... brilliant. And best of all, waking that way in our luxury safari tent... the best moment of the whole weekend.

It's a tough life, but someone has to do it, right?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Latitude attitude

Somewhere amongst those lights... Franz Ferdinand at Latitude 2008
I've just got back from the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, and you know what? It was bloody amazing! Unlike so many other festivals, Latitude isn't just about music, but all the arts, so there are book readings, poetry, theatre, cinema, art installations, comedy and so much more. I couldn't fit everything I wanted to in, literally because there was so much going on, and often the things I wanted to see clashed. The comedy tent was particularly popular, so I couldn't get to see Bill Bailey or Ross Noble, as I'd hoped. Oh well, there's always next year. Until then, here's a summary of what I did manage to see - my Latitude diary, if you will...

  • The Now Show : Radio 4 Arena. Watched through the window of an over-full tent, but still funny.
  • Arcola Theatre - The Miniaturists : Theatre Arena. Short but utterly engaging plays.
  • Music In Spheres : On The Lake. A flautist in a giant plastic bubble, floating on a lake. Really.
  • Tim Clare : Poetry Arena. His "Favourite Things" is a work of genius...
  • Ross Sutherland : Poetry Arena. Erstwhile poetry with which to close the "warm-up" night.
  • Vox'n'roll - A. L. Kennedy : Literary Arena. Deceptively funny.
  • Vox'n'roll - Nikita Lalwani : Literary Arena. No easy task, following Alice. Her book is probably better than she read it.
  • Daniel Rigby : Comedy Arena. Would have been funnier, I'm sure, if I hadn't had to crane my neck in from outside the comedy tent because I'd gone to get some drinks from the bar at an inopportune moment and then couldn't squeeze back in when he started.
  • Ben Moor - Not Everything Is Significant : Theatre Arena. Went to see him on the basis that he was in the year above me at school. Insanely intelligent then, nothing has changed - his one-man show was funny, clever and thought-provoking. And he gave out free badges afterwards, which was nice.
  • British Sea Power : Obelisk Arena. They tried hard, and "Waving Flags" hit the spot. Nice string section.
  • Lee Mack : Comedy Arena. Razor-sharp comic.
  • Lucy Porter: Comedy Arena. Why is she always described as "one of the funniest female comedians on the circuit", as if it's amazing that she's both female and funny. She's just brilliant. And TMC too.
  • Phill Jupitus reads Dickens : Literary Arena. A bit grumpy, which was a shame.
  • Durang Durang : Theatre Arena. Seven short, and odd, plays.
  • Franz Ferdinand : Obelisk Arena. Main-stage highlight of the whole festival, probably. Better than expected, and new material had a satisfying harder edge.
  • Tangled Feet : On The Lake. Captivating dialogue-free theatre using festival-style tents as prompts. Beautiful, moving.
  • The Factory - Hamlet : On The Lake/In The Woods. Theatre at its most involving, as the cast used props from the audience and interacted with their environment. Best Hamlet I've seen.
  • Team Waterpolo : Obelisk Arena. Caught by accident, whilst waiting for Ida Maria, who cancelled. Made a nice noise.
  • Wordtheatre - Hearts Aflame : Literary Arena. Letter of love and hate were read aloud by an impressive cast, including David Soul which, for someone like me who grew up on Starsky and Hutch, was very exciting!
  • Guillemots: Uncut Arena. Promising enough to make me want to get their album, though we had to leave early to catch...
  • Elbow: Obelisk Arena. Musically excellent but, I think, better suited to an earlier time slot or a smaller stage. The crowd were a bit muted.
  • Tick Tock Lullaby + Q&A : Music & Film Arena. A moving film about a lesbian couple who want to have a child. Interesting Q&A with Lucy Gornick, the film's producer/director/writer/star afterwards.
  • Mark Lamarr with God's Jukebox: Music & Film Arena. Like a festival within a festival, the Fifties throwback introduced:
    • Pete Molinari. Not a genre I would often listen to but brilliant live. Johnny Cash covers got the crowd jumping.
    • The Heavy. Hard-rocking and with a charismatic frontman. Another new album to buy!
    • James Hunter. R&B? Soul? Blues? Rockabilly? All of the above? Excellent, good-time live music.
    • Eli 'Paperboy' Reed & The True Loves. He wants to be James Brown, though clearly isn't. Good try though, even if he did put me in mind of a dodgy TV evangelist...
    • Buzzcocks. 32 years to the day since they formed, the punk veterans performed a blistering (and ear-drum popping) greatest hits set. Whilst Steve Diggle still looked a bit angry, Pete Shelley looked like someone's dad (or granddad), but that didn't matter... as the moshpit chaos testified, this was awesome.
  • Hold Fire : Sunrise Arena. Immediately a favourite new band. So polished for ones so young, and easy to imagine them playing (and wowing) much, much bigger stages than this.
  • Vox'n'roll - Esther Freud & Julia Blackburn : Literary Arena. Missed Esther's half of this double-header, but Julia reading about her mother was both comic and moving.
  • Paul Torday : Literary Arena. Nervous reading to such a big group, Paul was just getting going when he decided to stop and take questions instead. At least he gave some good answers.
  • Wordtheatre - The Affairs Of Others : Literary Arena. Readings from Sally Hawkins, Juliet Stephenson, Maureen Lipman and David Soul - all stunning! Met Maureen afterwards and, as you would expect, she was lovely.
  • Vauxhallville's Bargain Bin-Go : Cabaret Arena. Utterly surreal. Playing bingo. For crap prizes. In a tent. With a drag queen host(ess). Somehow, fun.
  • FrYars : Sunrise Arena. Described as a new Jarvis Cocker but put me more in mind of early Talking Heads - no bad thing!
  • Disco Shed : Pandora's Playground. If I should ever get married, I'd like this disco at the reception.
  • The Shortwave Set : Sunrise Arena. I like a band that makes an effort; even if their music didn't fire me, at least their matching outfits made an impression.
  • Tangled Feet : In The Woods. Because we only caught the second half on Friday, we watched the whole thing again, this time in the woods. Wonderful.
  • Robin Ince's Book Club & School For Gifted Children : Literary Arena. In which a fight nearly broke out between enraged parents. The word "sanctimonious" was thrown as hard as any punch.
  • ??? : Literary Arena. Quite hard to sell a song about light's wave-particle duality called "Luminiferous Ether" but someone (didn't catch his name, and not listed in the programme) tried.
  • Gavin Osborn : Literary Arena. A couple of songs, including a lovely cover of Billy Bragg's "Tank Park Salute".
  • Joanna Neary : Literary Arena. With only 2.5 minutes of stage time, Joanna made her mark with an impression of Björk...
  • Vox'n'roll - Joe Dunthorne : Literary Arena. I want to buy his book, "Submarine" on the strength of this reading.
  • Vox'n'roll - Doug Johnstone : Literary Arena. Read from his book about a fictional band called The Ossians, then played some tracks that he'd written for them. Both aspects great!
  • Vox'n'roll - Toby Litt : Literary Arena. The lights went out on Toby, so he read by the light of a torch proffered from the crowd. Then he was heckled by rain-evading gig-goers who hadn't set foot in the Literary Arena all weekend until then. Handled it well. And god, his new book sounds good.
  • Dave Gorman : Literary Arena. Also heckled by the rain-evaders, but handled it even better. Funnier than most of the Comedy Arena, no doubt, he read from his new book, answered all manner of questions, took our photo and did a break-dance move as he left the stage. A highlight.
  • Vox'n'roll - Dan Kieran : Literary Arena. Had the unenviable task of trying to follow Dave. He gave it a go though, and you have to admire that.
So, Latitude... all in all, brilliant - it's hard to think of a better way to spend a few days, to be honest, even with the sporadic and unpredictable weather, a broken tent pole and, ahem, "interesting" toilet facilities. I'm wary of over-egging it, if truth be told, because it's going to get even more popular when people like you read things like this, and then it will lose some of it's charm. So, err, you know, it was crap, save your money and don't bother with it next year, right? Thanks. But if you do go... well, you'll see me there.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Strange days in the garden

Next time you're out in the garden, or in a park, or just out and about in the countryside, keep your eyes peeled. For strange things are happening! Bees are disappearing. Carnivorous albino slugs are being discovered. And unidentified new species of insect are appearing in odd places...

So keep a close watch on what's going on in the back yard - you could be witnessing evolution... or environmental revolution!

Monday, 14 July 2008

The big smoke

At first glance...?
I took a trip down to London on Saturday, primarily to see King Lear at The Globe. And that was very good, powerful, gripping and, above all, a genuine theatrical experience. But that was not the highlight of the day. Arriving mid-afternoon and crossing the bridge from Embankment Tube, first port of call was Volume, an audio-visual installation at the Southbank Centre, followed quickly by the always-fun Appearing Rooms fountain. Then it was into the Royal Festival Hall to take in a recital by acclaimed classical saxophonist Amy Dickson (who might also warrant an entry in last month's discussions of TMC...), before finding a spot outside the Hayward Gallery to listen to Lemn Sissay read poems from the rooftop (including the beautiful "Invisible Kisses"). Then it was on to Tate Modern to take in some street art, notably JR's paste-up (pictured, left) on the front of the building. The walking tour that followed, to take in other works, was a little disappointing from an artistic point of view, but as a means of exploring the streets of Southwark it was fascinating. Particularly interesting was the Cross Bones Graveyard, an unconsecrated cemetary, once the last resting place of prostitutes, or "Winchester geese" as they were known. A walk back along the river got us to The Globe in time for Lear - in such good time, in fact, that we had just enough slack in our packed programme for pre-show hot-dog ciabattas (brilliant) and some traditional cloudy lemonade. Three and a half hours of engrossing Shakespearean tragedy later and we were walking back to Embankment again, with just time to stop en route and take in Swing Night with the Charleston Chasers outside the National Theatre.

All in all, a wonderful day. In case you're wondering, the highlight, in a day of highs, was "Invisible Kisses"... What's that quote, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life"? Well, when you're tired of the Southbank, you're tired of London... I think I'll book a return trip for next month...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Change resistant

A Romanian town has re-elected its Mayor... even though he's dead. No, really. When asked why they had chosen to vote this way, rather than for the (very much alive) opposition, one woman replied, "I know he died, but I don't want change." I'm not making this up - unless the BBC are too...

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

If I could be who you wanted

Musical genius
As I mentioned last month, I went to see Radiohead at the weekend and, as expected, they were staggering - for reviews of the gig, the set list and other good stuff, check out the impressively comprehensive Green Plastic. For me, the undoubted highlight of the night was a beautiful rendition of Fake Plastic Trees from The Bends, my favourite Radiohead album. Here are the lyrics, more or less:
A green plastic watering can,
For a fake chinese rubber plant,
In fake plastic earth.

That she bought from a rubber man,
In a town full of rubber plans,
To get rid of itself.

It wears her out. It wears her out. It wears her out. It wears her out.

She lives with a broken man,
A cracked polystyrene man,
Who just crumbles and burns.

He used to do surgery,
On girls in the eighties,
But gravity always wins.

And it wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out.

She looks like the real thing,
She tastes like the real thing,
My fake plastic love.

But I can't help the feeling,
I could blow through the ceiling,
If I just turn and run.

And it wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out. It wears him out.

And if I could be who you wanted,
If I could be who you wanted,
All the time, all the time...
So what do these lyrics mean to you? Are they about Canary Wharf, as Green Plastic seems to suggest? About mass marketing spiralling out of control, as postulated on this song's Wikipedia entry? Or about two people trying to make a relationship work when at least one of them doesn't think it can, as sadly suggested by my gig-going companion?
Answers on a postcard to the usual address... or, you know, you could just comment...

Friday, 27 June 2008

Big ideas (don't get any)

Like 2007, this is going to be a bumper year, gig-wise. I've already seen The Cribs, James and The Wedding Present. All excellent. Next month, I'm off to both the Latitude and Sound Island festivals. Later in the year, I've got tickets to see Paul Weller and his reformed ex-bandmates From The Jam. Lucky me, right? But above and beyond this cavalcade of sound, I am most excited about going to see Radiohead live for the first time, this Sunday. So, in honour of this most anticipated of gigs, I direct you towards a live MP3 of Thom doing I Want None Of This, from War Child, and a beguiling video version of Nude from the Radiohead Remix project. Enjoy.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Palace Fires

I know, I know, I try to resist the urge to write about music - this is not exclusively a music blog, after all. But music is, and always has been, a very important part of my life, so what can I do?

I'll tell you what I can do - I can alert you all to the emerging brilliance of Palace Fires! Take a peek their MySpace profile - better yet, download the live session tracks from XFM. They are very good, aren't they? And in case you think the beauty of that chiming guitar sounds familiar, here's a little secret - half of Palace Fires used to be in the late lamented Gene, which is all the recommendation anyone is their right mind should actually need.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Subterranean homesick e-card

Robert Zimmerman does his thing
E-cards are nothing new; you know the deal, you select a picture and a cloyingly sweet message, enter an email address and the whole thing turns up in your friend's inbox... it's a greetings card for the modern world, a world where people are too lazy to go and buy a card in advance, actually write something personal on it, in their own handwriting, buy a stamp, and mail it... and it's a good get-out-of-jail-free card for when you've left buying a card too late.

Whatever. Whilst I much prefer the real deal, an actual physical card you write in and that the recipient can keep, I must just draw your attention to the best e-card I've ever seen: Dylan Messaging. Remember the classic promotional film for Subterranean Homesick Blues, in which Bob used a series of cue-cards to display lyrics (and other messages) to the viewing public? (If you haven't seen this, where have you been all your life? Lucky for you that it, like everything else these days, is on YouTube). Anyway, with Dylan Messaging, you can add your own personal message to Bob's cue-cards, and send the whole shebang to a friend or loved one. Bob scrolling through your words is very effective... and, in my IT professional's view, quite clever too. Now all you have to do is sit back and think of a worthy message to send...

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Is there anybody out there?

I sometimes wonder if anyone actually reads this blog? Does it have any subscribers? My web stats tell me that someone who has Orange as their broadband provider stops by often, and I know The Man Of Cheese is a frequent reader, but beyond that? I once had a guestbook post that assured me that (sic) "ur blogs great, u seem like a cool person"... so that's all right then.

If you do subscribe to this humblest of blogs, why not use the comments to let me know? And if you don't, why not use the brightly coloured links at the top of the page to do so? Go on... I can't pretend it will improve your life but I sometimes write something interesting (he said, modestly), and you wouldn't want to miss that, would you?

Inevitably... more Thinking Man's Crumpet

Rachel de Thame - responsible for men all over the country going to the Chelsea Flower Show
Inevitably, having written about thinking man's crumpet last Friday, that evening's television then dropped a new candidate in my metaphorical lap in the fine shape of Rachel de Thame. An aspiring ballet dancer as a child, Rachel has, at various times, been a fine arts student, model, actress and now gardener/broadcaster/journalist. I cannot believe she is 47, but that genuinely seems to be the case. On Jonathan Ross's chat show, she came across as articulate, funny, intelligent and thoroughly delightful. Pretty as a picture too. Ross made the observation that Rachel must get mistaken for Nigella Lawson but c'mon, there's no comparison is there? Sorry, Nigella, but Rachel knocks you into a cocked hat, and she doesn't have a dodgy name inherited from an egotistical father who, lest we forget, was no great shakes as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Now, unless someone nominates a corking suggestion, I promise that's the last TMC post I do, okay?

Google image search: Rachel de Thame

Friday, 6 June 2008

Thinking Man's Crumpet

Joan Bakewell - crumpet, even with Sixties hair
The phrase "thinking man's crumpet" was originally coined by humourist Frank Muir back in the 60s to describe Joan Bakewell, pictured left as she was back in those days. Now, it has come to be a byword for any woman that looks good (that's the crumpet part) but has brains and personality to go with the beauty (that's the thinking man catered for). Google the term and you'll undoubtedly come up with lots of references to Carol Vorderman, but this is just plain lazy - just because she's good at maths doesn't make her thinking man's crumpet. Anyone who's watched her on Countdown in recent years would struggle to be too attracted to her, I would venture. But all is not lost... if you really must watch Countdown, you'll find that a genuine example of TMC resides in Dictionary Corner - the demure lexicographer, Susie Dent.

Sadie Jones - I'm a thinking man, and she gets my crumpet vote
In a recent poll, the aforementioned Vorderman was pipped to the post as TMC of choice by the lovely Nigella Lawson. Well-educated and a whizz in the kitchen, her vote was no doubt bolstered by her own, ahem, massive bolsters. Another name that often gets bandied about in such discussions in Mariella Frostrup - whilst blonde (most TMC is brunette, is seems - maybe a subconscious reaction to the stereotypical dumb blonde image?), Mariella's dusky voice has a curious power over the thinking man, and her current tenure of The Book Show on Sky Arts can only help matters.

So where's this post heading? Well, currently I'd give my TMC vote to the novelist Sadie Jones, pictured right. Not only does she look great, she's clearly a smart cookie (a successful screenwriter whose debut novel, "The Outcast", made the 2008 Orange Prize shortlist) and, like Mariella, Sadie has a voice to press the buttons of any thinking man. It is easy to imagine having a conversation with her into the small hours, luxuriating in measured responses, delivered in velveteen tones. To see what I mean, here's an MP3 of her reading from "The Outcast".

So, am I right? Wrong? Too opinionated? Have I missed your preferred TMC? As always, you're welcome to let me know in the comments, and if I get any good suggestions, I'll post them here... in the meantime, to familiarise yourself with everyone mentioned here, try some of the links below.

Google image searches: Joan Bakewell | Carol Vorderman | Susie Dent | Nigella Lawson | Mariella Frostrup | Sadie Jones

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Not Film 2008... but a film review anyway:"There Will Be Blood"

There Will Be Blood
The opening notes of the score set the tone for There Will Be Blood perfectly. As discordant, minor-key strings swell to an uncomfortable volume there can be little escaping the fact that this is a film about misery: the misery of the brutal and unforgiving life of turn-of-the-century oil prospectors; the misery of nascent communities that are promised much and delivered little; and the misery of a man who will not let himself be anything other than driven by black gold.

Daniel Day-Lewis gives a typically intense, method performance as Daniel Plainview, a struggling silver miner turned oil tycoon, in Paul Thomas Anderson's period piece. It's an over-used expression, but Day-Lewis really does inhabit the role, which is just as well since he's on-screen for nearly all of the film's 158 minutes. Robert Elswit's cinematography is equally accomplished in capturing both the grandeur of the untamed West and the claustrophobic intensity of those early mining exploits. And Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's score is a revelation; taut, edgy, and harrowing in equal measure.

So the film features an award-winning central performance, is visually stunning, and engages the senses... so where does it all go wrong? Before you denounce this reviewer as a cinematic heathen for questioning a film that has garnered more five-star reviews than you can shake a Bafta at, hear me out; whilst Day-Lewis's performance is undeniably praiseworthy, this is a flawed film.

Let's deal with the minor issues first. The film is just too long for one whose themes are relentlessly, remorselessly grim: two and a half hours of badness, sadness and, let's be honest, more than a little madness was too much, even for the discerning art-house audience I sat amongst to watch this. Without doubt the editors could, and should, have wielded the knife a little more. Long doesn't necessarily mean epic, after all.

What of characterisation? Aside from Plainview, none of the characters are developed sufficiently to pique our interest, and I include Paul Dano's Eli Sunday in that. There are even gaping holes in Plainview's story: what, for example, happened in his early life to make him so loveless; why have there been no personal relationships in his life, other than that with his adopted son? If this is to emphasise how he is married to the zealous pursuit of oil riches, then it is rather a blunt instrument for doing so.

The biggest problem, though, is this; the lives of Plainview, his son, the evangelical preacher Sunday and, indeed, the surrounding town all begin to unravel when the pursuit of those oil resources starts to clash with the church. Just why Plainview so takes against Sunday is never adequately explained - it just happens, and leads to increasingly bizarre behaviour all around. Capitalism versus community is an oft-ploughed furrow but here, the plough struggles through stony ground.

There is much to admire in the craft of these film-makers but, beyond artistic appreciation, this is a difficult film to like, about a character with no redeeming features who could not even be described as an anti-hero. Plainview's last line in the film is "I'm finished," and sadly my immediate reaction to that was, "Thank goodness."

There Will Be Blood is out on DVD now so, if you don't buy into my review, scurry along to Amazon and make your own mind up.

Friday, 30 May 2008

David Gedge - a top man, clearly

The Wedding Present: David Gedge (L) and Terry de Castro (R) during 'Suck'
I need to be careful that this doesn't turn into a music blog, but I saw The Wedding Present last night... and they were truly great. I arrived early at the comparatively small venue and secured a spot right by the stage and, pint of Summer Lightning in hand, settled in for a good night. I've seen the Weddoes many times before, in all sorts of venues, from Koko in Camden right down to the (now sadly defunct, as a live music venue at least) Penny Theatre in Canterbury, and they've always been good. But last night they were excellent, beyond even my fan-boy expectations.

After the well-received support act (the interesting Dawn Landes, a very sweet and musically diverse singer songwriter from New York) had done her thing, the atmosphere - a heady mix of anticipation and good humour - continued to build. At 9.30 the lights were dimmed, and The Wedding Present took to the stage. Frontman David Gedge, pictured left, the only ever-present member of the band's line-up, was in good form, bantering with the crowd, informing us that his surname came from the area (though he's from Leeds) and that he's probably the most famous Gedge ever - as such, didn't he deserve a statue here, he mused? On the basis of last night's show, few in the crowd would argue with that suggestion.

The Wedding Present: set list from 29th May 2008, signed by David GedgeFor a band that released a new album (El Rey) this very week, they didn't overdose the set with too much new, inherently unfamiliar, material but crossed the span of the band's 20+ year career fairly evenly. The set list, as chosen by bassist Terry de Castro (also pictured left) even contained You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends, which Gedge described as "Eighties indie pop"... he then introduced the next song as "modern indie pop" and, with barely a trace of irony, offered the observation that the two songs sounded much the same.

As the final song, Dare, tailed off into a whine of guitar feedback, guitarist Chris McConville threw his set list into the crowd... which went straight into my hand! I didn't even have to move my arm to catch it - result! And better still, Gedge appeared at the merchandise stall after the show and, as you can see on the right, signed the list for me. Ever the fan, I was embarrassed to find myself informing Mr Gedge that he was a "top man" for doing so...