Friday, 30 March 2012


I've written before about supermarkets and their all-pervasive power. The high-street smothering might of Tesco et al is, in case you were wondering, a bad thing.

Take a look at my adopted home town.

Tesco in the Norwich area

In an area of about seven miles square there are fifteen Tesco outlets. Fifteen! And that's not counting the One Stop shops which are, I believe, owned by Tesco too. There are nine of those in the same area, and a further three just outside.

Fifteen stores and nine affiliates in this tiny area. Too much, isn't it?

On the plus side, I was heartened to read that the residents of Herne, in my old stamping ground, seem to have fought off the Evil Empire. Be careful though, campaigners - as Sheringham proves, Tesco rarely gives up.

If the dominance of one retailer worries you, take a look at Tescopoly. You might think there's very little you can do, but every little helps, right?

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stamps and Stuff

Following the relaxation of price controls, it seems the price of stamps is set to rocket/rise (delete as applicable to your preferred newspaper's choice of headline). Not good news for the put-upon consumer, though dare I suggest sending a missive to the other end of the country by tomorrow morning for 60p is still unfeasibly good value. And if you disagree, well, sorry to come over a bit Peel, but I'm right and you're wrong.

Anyway... what better excuse could I have for trotting out this nugget from Alexei Sayle's Stuff featuring, as it does, not only a critique of the postal system but a fine parody of W.H. Auden's Night Mail too.

And why does Alexei Sayle's Stuff never get a re-run? Well, it could be a bit hit and miss, and often the funniest thing on it was the title sequence. All together now, "Who's an ugly bastard and as fat as he can be? A-L-E-X-E-I-S-A-Y-L-E..."

Monday, 5 March 2012

Clandestine Classic XXIV - Louie

Ida Maria - Fortress Round My HeartThe 24th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I first came across Ida Maria back in November 2007 (life was very different then). I'd been to see The Good Shoes, and she was one of the support acts. For my money, she blew everyone else off the stage, including the headline act. I was so enthused, I wrote about the singer and her band on this blog the very next day.

So what can I tell you about Ida Maria? Well, she's Norwegian and, as I suggested back in that original blog post, reminds me a bit of early (Sugarcubes-era) Björk or Bellatrix. Today's classic, Louie, comes from her debut album, Fortress Round My Heart and is entirely typical of the other tracks thereon - it's a bit lively, a bit spiky, a bit kooky, a bit Björky. And her band are tight - they know their leader's schtick, and they keep to it, but they can rock'n'roll like good ol' Norse boys too. The result is a track (and an album) that makes you want to bounce about a bit in your car seat as you barrel along listening to it - this is almost always a good sign.

A year or two after the debut, Ida Maria re-released Fortress on a different label, with different sleeve art and a different running order. Maybe there were issues with Sony, who knows? Then, in 2010, a whole new album, Katla, was released on Universal. I haven't got that, though I note it costs a lot and seems to have a vague concept based on an Icelandic volcano. I'm not going to comment on that. But what I will say is that today's clandestine classic is an up-tempo, feelgood, jump-about song for those that like a quirky North European delivery to their vocals, with a hint of Björkish pixie to the singer. I appreciate that this might be quite a narrow target market... but, in an age of Rhiannas, Ga-Gas, Béyonces and worse, I like this. Maybe you will too. Let me know.

Home-tapers (it's killing music, remember that?) might like this. For the rest, there's YouTube: since there's no official video for this album track, I've found a truly bizarre SIMs-based effort soundtracked by today's classic. Having seen the band live, I don't think these visuals are what Ida Maria would have in mind but hey, if nothing else it proves that life's rich tapestry has some odd weavers.