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 freemaptools.com), 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.