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Wednesday, 19 December 2012

That was the year that was: 2012

A parody too farLast year's review proved quite popular, in the context of this blog, and I had a lot of fun writing it. So much so, in fact, that I'm going to (try to) repeat the trick. Here, then, are my highpoints of 2012 or, as I understand I should now say if I am to be a pop-culture media figure, here are the year's best bits.

Best album

"The Defenstration Of St Martin" by Martin Rossiter - the return from self-imposed exile of former Gene frontman (© everybody) Rossiter is a sparse affair, almost exclusively just voice and piano. Emotionally raw too, no more so than on ten-minute opener Three Points On A Compass. Some may say this is a bleak album, but just because the subject matter is serious it doesn't mean there aren't many genuinely uplifting moments to be had amongst the sorrow. A most welcome return to the Rozza.

Honourable mentions: "Valentina" by The Wedding Present; "Sonik Kicks" by Paul Weller.

Best song

"Default" by Atoms For Peace - a real grower, this might not seem very accessible at first but stick with it. There's something about the clipped, syncopated rhythms of this that engrain themselves after just a few listens. Whets the appetite for next year's album nicely too.

Honourable mentions: another nod for Martin Rossiter and "Drop Anchor"; "Under The Westway" by Blur.

Best gig

Billy Bragg's Woody Guthrie set at the Voewood Festival. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Woody's birth, Bill played an intimate set of Guthrie originals and songs from the Mermaid Avenue sessions, for which he and Wilco had set unrecorded Guthrie lyrics to music. After Bill's frankly wonderful set, he then helped to conduct a fundraising auction of a first edition Guthrie biography, before pressing the flesh with virtually the whole crowd. Top, top work.

Honourable mentions: the evergreen Wedding Present at the Waterfront; the frankly beguiling Bat For Lashes at UEA.

Best book

"11.22.63" by Stephen King. Sorry to be quite so mass-market but this really is the best book I've read all year. For several years, in fact. It's no secret to regular readers of this blog that I am a fan of King's work, so you might think I've got blinkers on and maybe I have but, regardless, this is King's best work for a very long time, perhaps 20 years. It's proof positive that he isn't just a horror writer too - this is a complex story, painstakingly researched and carefully woven into the known events of the JFK assassination. Put aside your preconceptions and book snobbery, forget who the author is, and just go and read this exceptional book.

Honourable mentions: the debut novel "Killing Daniel" from Sarah Dobbs, whose cross-cultural literary thriller identifies her as an author to watch; "Dave Gorman vs The Rest Of The World" by Dave Gorman (obviously), in which he plays games for our entertainment.

Best film

In a year of great films, the nod goes to "Martha Marcy May Marlene" for its original storyline, captivating central performance for Elizabeth Olsen, and some properly unsettling moments... especially the ending.

Honourable mentions: the Nordic noir of "Headhunters"; "Prometheus" for being nearly great; "Killer Joe" for proving that a film can have Matthew McConaughey in and still be terrific (and dark as night) as long as you have someone like William Friedkin at the helm.

Best television

"White Heat" from the BBC. This mini-series, set in the present but with most of its story-telling in 60s and 70s flashbacks, didn't get anything like the recognition or viewing figures it deserved. Ridiculously, the five hours of this are now available on Amazon for less than a fiver. If you enjoyed Our Friends In The North, then maybe you'll like this too.

Honourable mentions: "Olympics 2012" from the BBC. An almost unimaginably large task, to cover such an event, but once again the Beeb gave us cause to be proud. We should give daily thanks for the fact that we as a nation are not solely in the thrall of Murdoch for our broadcast media.

Best comedy

"Ted" - a bit of a cheat, as I could have shoehorned this into the Best Film category, but Ted made me laugh more than anything else I've seen all year. I'm not ashamed (though maybe I should be) to admit that I was crying with laughter in the cinema, shaking like a schoolboy trying to disguise a giggling fit in class. So funny that I watched it again, in its entirety, on a recent long-haul flight, despite having just seen it at the cinema. Parental advisory, obviously.

Honourable mentions: "2012", a satire which, like "Yes, Minister" before it, made you laugh like hell and then wonder if, in fact, real life was even more absurd.

Best sport (new for 2012!)

Jessica Ennis who, there's no other word for it, was awesome at the Olympics. A multi-eventer completing the hurdles in a time faster than the individual hurdles gold medallist at Beijing? And refusing to do anything other than win her 800m heat, even though all she had to do was finish ahead of her much slower nearest overall competitor? Classy. Subsequent TV appearances reveal her to be grounded and natural too. Much of YouTube seems obsessed with her bottom, but I won't comment on that. Instead, I'll just ask what does she have to do to win Sports Personality Of The Year? Third in 2009, third in 2010, second this year... it's no consolation but Jess gets my nod here.

Honourable mentions: not the Ryder Cup, despite Europe's incredible comeback, but specifically Phil Mickelson's unbelievably generous display of sportsmanship towards Justin Rose on the 17th and 18th holes of their match on the final day - an object lesson in how sport should be played, even at the highest level; Norwich City's unbeaten run in the Premier League, currently ten games and counting, including victories over Arsenal and Manchester United - at present, Barcelona are the only top-flight European team with a longer unbeaten league run!

And that's it. Agree/disagree? What were your best bits?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

More street art - Austerity Graffiti

More pointed street art/graffiti spotted on the walls of my adopted home town. Other posts in this series can be found here, here, here and here.

Austerity Graffiti

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Mission accomplished, sort of

I don't want to turn into Ouroboros or anything but sometimes, when seeking inspiration for things to blog about, I look back at past posts. And last December I did one of those meme posts, you know the sort, you answer a load of loosely themed questions in what you hope is an amusing and original way and the blog-reading world falls at your feet. That's the theory, at least.

Anyway, one of the questions in that meme was "If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?" After some obviously amusing and original pondering, I decided on Morrissey but then, after a bit of discussion in the comments, I suggested that maybe I should opt to meet Billy Bragg instead.

And then, this summer, I did exactly that.

I saw Bill do his Woody Guthrie set at the Voewood Festival in August, a perfectly small and intimate venue for Bill to do his thing. And afterwards he lingered by the merchandise stall and happily pressed the flesh, signed things, posed for photographs and had a bit of a chat. I took my place at the back of the queue and waited...and waited. People make the most of their time with Billy, it seems, and he doesn't hurry them along. Quite the opposite. By the time he got to me he would have had every right to be a bit tired and keen to get to his bed - after all, he'd just done a 90 minute set, taken part in a book auction and then met virtually everyone in the audience. But he was very happy to have a nice chat, in the course of which I explained that, growing up, just about the only things my brother (who is four years older than me) and I had in common musically were Billy and The Jam. Bill replied, and I hope I remember this verbatim, "Well, I've always thought you can't really trust anyone who doesn't like The Jam." Yes, I know, that's a slightly odd basis on which to judge people... but as a theory, I think it probably holds water.

So I got to meet someone this year that, last year, I said I'd like to meet. Hooray. To celebrate, here's a clip of Bill doing his Woody Guthrie thing. It's not from Voewood - YouTube let me down on that - but it's contemporaneous.

And since I trust you all, let's have some Jam too. I know, any excuse, right? But I bloody love this - reminds me of watching my brother's copy of the "Snap!" video on VHS.