Thursday, 24 May 2018

Throwback Thursday

The best Walkman I ever owned. And still own. The Sony WM-DD33 is brilliant, not only in terms of sound but also for keeping the blog ticking over...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

About royals and weddings

The picture quality isn't the best but, regardless, I'll just leave this here.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Around all our necks

Look, I know I'm taking a bit of time off active blogging at the moment, but I saw this today and had to share it. I'll be brief.

The perils of our plastic planet are finally, and rightly, big news at the moment. People are waking up to the fact that, if we carry on like we are, we'll all be literally swimming in the stuff before we know it. Last weekend, a leading (if awful) national newspaper had Kirsty Allsopp on the front page of their colour supplement, launching a campaign to get us all to reduce our consumption of plastics. And that's fine, as far as it goes. I've nothing against Kirsty Allsopp (apart from her taste in newspapers). But this is much harder hitting than a picture of Kirsty tearing a hole in a plastic bag.

Sorry if it's hard to watch in places, but we all need to see this. Besides, it's less than four minutes long, so humour me.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Ticking over

Another staple from my childhood, always watched however often repeated. This is the episode I remember in adulthood, 40-odd years later, so I was delighted to find it on YouTube. It's like M.C. Escher took a temp job with DePatie-Freleng. And so many sight gags - oh, the bit where he falls down the stairs... Plus that incidental music (unlike the main theme, not the work of Henry Mancini but one Walter Greene)...

Seldom does anything I post here get read or commented on unless it's music-related but humour me, this is worth six minutes of anyone's time. Plus it keeps the blog ticking over, so...

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

When the familiar is unfamiliar...

Here's Vicario en un TutĂș by the unexpectedly excellent Mexrrissey. It took a bit of getting used to, not just for this boy but the whole crowd, I'd say. But by halfway through their La Raina esta muerta set everyone was won over and the crowd were singing along, albeit in English rather than Spanish.

The band rotated instruments quite a bit (can't think of many bands where the lead guitarist also plays the drums), and shared vocal duties. Here, keyboard player Ceci Bastida took to the mic.

Mexrrissey: the -rrissey it's still uncontroversial to like. See them if you get the chance.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Some May Day serendipity

Surprising what you find when you're looking for something else... for instance, this YouTube clip, which nicely illustrates three things:

  1. Why a good proportion of people took against its host
  2. That, because of or despite Evans, TFI was a unique piece of television, and is much missed
  3. And mostly, that Louise Wener was, is and ever shall be lovely, and an indie boy's dream

Happy May Day to you.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Don't call this a comeback

So, Abba have recorded some new material, Here's a clip from BBC News discussing it, that'll make you either warm to Lizo Mzimba more or want to give him a shake:

Anyhow, the news that two new Abba songs have been recorded will fill fans with joy. The news that they are embarking on an "avatar tour" (i.e. no actual embarking will be required) will do likewise. Critics and music snobs will sneer, deriding both as a cynical cash-in and pouring scorn on the music, labelling it kitsch, or lame, or clichéd, or all of the above. I won't be going to the avatar tour, but I will be listening out for those two new songs. They really had something, those four: Benny and Björn knew their way around a tune better than just about anyone, and Agnetha and Frida's harmonies, oft-imitated but seldom bettered, still sound fresh. Everyone knows and loves (even openly, or grudgingly) break-up masterclass The Winner Takes It All, but from 1976 (i.e. before they started actually breaking up with each other), here's another slice of melodic heartbreak that you might not be so familiar with. (Note how Agnetha is clearly straining to hear the start of the backing track for this mimed performance on Polish TV - she doesn't want to miss her cue, Gene Pitney style.)

P.S. The title for this post comes Mama Said Knock You Out, from the none-less-Abba LL Cool J. That's a good song too.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Helter ... Skelton

Last month, I sat down to watch a bit of biennial charity panjandrum Sport Relief on the Beeb. I was particularly keen to watch the celebrity boxing, as they hadn't run that for a good while.

The men's bout was between retired pro footballer Wayne Bridge and a reality star I'd never heard of (Spencer Matthews), and was a proper tear-up. Matthews had boxed before, and it showed, but Bridge was stronger, had trained harder and was much, much fitter. He was a clear and deserving winner.

The second women's bout was between Hannah Spearitt (yes, her out of S Club 7) and Vanessa White (yes, her out of The Saturdays). There wasn't too much in that, to be honest, though you might argue that youth told, with White the clear winner. Neither looked like much of a boxer but they gave it a good go, and hey, getting hit in the face for charity - fair play to them both.

But the first women's bout, between former Blue Peter presenter Helen Skelton and another reality star, Camilla Thurlow, was, like the men's bout, a proper contest. Both women had clearly trained hard and it showed, in terms of basic technique and also cardiovascular fitness. But only one looked like a boxer, in terms of how she moved and, in particular, how she snapped out an excellent jab. It will have come as no surprise to anyone who remembered Helen's past Sport Relief endeavours (solo kayaking the length of the Amazon, and setting a load of records in the process, and tightrope-walking between the towers of Battersea Power Station) to see Skelton triumph in clear and unanimous fashion. She was, it must be said, pretty awesome.

And my point with all this? Just like, last month, I started (and then couldn't stop) deliberately mis-singing the lyrics of Soft Cell's Bedsitter, now I'm re-writing the chorus of an old Beatles number. All together now, Helen Skelton, bah dah dah dah da-da-dah, Helen Skelton....

Donate to Sport Relief here, if you like.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Overlooked

Unfairly but understandably, Cinerama were often overlooked by a large proportion of Wedding Present fans who just wanted Gedge to get back to doing what he's always done best - laying kitchen sink heartbreak over jangly guitars. For a long time, I was part of that large proportion; I could appreciate the Cinerama recordings but I pined for what had gone before.

Eventually, I came to realise that Gedge was still doing what he did best - the kitchen sink heartbreak - but was just painting it on a different musical canvas.

Don't get me wrong, I will always choose TWP over Cinerama, but that doesn't mean the latter isn't great. I mean - just have a listen to this:

Increase the amount of Cinerama in your life here.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #15 - if Liam Gallagher covered "Arnold Layne"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...(please)...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In the continued absence of any new suggestions from readers, the fifteenth contributor to this series is me, again. Sorry. With pre-emptive apologies to Rol for the Oasis content...

After hearing it used over the closing credits of an episode of Electric Dreams, I went looking for the full version of Octopus by Syd Barrett and ended up listening to a fair bit of early Pink Floyd too. This, as regular readers might have already guessed, is not my usual bag. But it did occur to me, whilst listening to the Floyd's debut single, that it might be well suited to someone else who isn't my usual bag either. From 1967, here's Arnold Layne by Pink Floyd, written by the crazy diamond himself, Syd Barrett.


Not pictured: inflatable pigs, marching hammers

Now I'm no fan of the mono-browed Mancunian chancer but is is just me that can imagine Liam Gallagher, in full on "sunshiiiiine" mode, singing about Arnold Layne (or Layyyyyyne, perhaps)?


Sunshine boy

And the lyrics ("Moonshine, washing line" and "See through, baby blue") would fit well, I think, with the moon, June and coffee spoons approach of a Liam lyric (or an unassisted Liam lyric, at least).


Moon, June, coffee spoon

So hear I am, advocating a cover by someone I don't much like, of a unrepresentative track by a band I'm not fussed about. Surprise! But I think it would work. What about you?

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good (he said, modestly)? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The prof's off

I'm not an Arsenal fan but my old man's a Gooner, so I always look out for their results and want them to do well. They're currently sixth (albeit a distant sixth) in the Premier League, and into the semi-final of the Europa League (which offers a route back into the lucrative Champions' League for the winner). But all that, and 22 years of service, is not enough to save Arsène Wenger who, I have just read, will be leaving the Gunners at the end of the season, a year before his contract is due to end.

This makes me sad for a number of reasons; firstly, I don't like to see anyone who is competent and successful and long-serving be rewarded with the sack; secondly, Arsène brought a philosophy and a style of play to English football that was much needed, and subsequently much imitated; thirdly, this poly-lingual and deep-thinking man also brought some culture and intelligence to the domestic game, a game where most players and pundits struggle with adverbs; and finally, Piers Morgan wanted Wenger out, which is always a reason for wanting him to stay, in my book.

No-one comes to this blog for sports reportage, so I'll keep this brief and (somehow) try to limit the footy content, but here are some clips for Arsène (and my dad). I think, like Man U after Fergie left, Arsenal can expect things to get worse before they start to get better.

Monday, 16 April 2018

About the cold earth

Since you ask, Frank...

Resisting the temptation to write about Syria, and Trump's playground posturing, because, well ... there's enough coverage of that already.

So instead, I'm going to pretend I'm on Room 101 and the always-excellent Frank Skinner is asking me what I'd condemn. And so, in no particular order and with as little exposition as possible, these are some things I could do without:

  • People applauding themselves on television shows
  • Saying "I'm good" when asked how they are, instead of "I'm well" or "I'm fine" or something else less linguistically shoddy (I do this myself sometimes, and ratchet up my self-loathing every time)
  • Tattoos. Enough with tattoos. It'll be no good asking the NHS for laser removal in twenty years time.
  • Hugs that are not hugs

To continue the Room 101 theme, here's Frank talking to Richard Ayoade, just because.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #14 - if Morrissey covered "Perfect"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Our fourteenth contributor is Rigid Digit, who suggests an entirely plausible cover with an even more plausible backstory. Rigid Digit writes:

Wanting to re-live the early 90s, and to wind up Boz Boorer, and not content with knackering (or improving upon, depends which day it is) The Jam's That's Entertainment, Professional Grump and Wind Up Merchant calls Mark E Nevin back to his band.


The least knackered version I could find

Aware that Nevin has been trying to distance himself from his biggest hit, Moz walks into the studio and announces: "We're doing Perfect, and I've locked the door so no-one is leaving".


Nevin's biggest hit

27 takes later, a damn near perfect Billy Fury intoned, heavy rock-a-billy-on-speed version is complete.


Rockabilly Moz

Now that is excellent. Morrissey, in the unlikely event that you're reading this (I know, hold on to your sides), go and cover this, right now! All together now, "I don't want half-hearted love affairs." Perfect, indeed.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Together in Electric Dreams

In the wake of Black Mirror's success, TV stations the world over scrambled for their own dystopian and/or speculative fiction series. Something to become the next boxset must-see. No doubt some of these series hit the mark. Others, like Netflix's Electric Dreams, ought to have done but somehow didn't. The pedigree - all based on Philip K. Dick stories - was there but something was amiss (and not just the abysmal title sequence, which feels like something that any half-decent 90s show would have rejected). I've watched a fair few of them (though not all, far from it), and can confirm that it's very hit and miss. A recurring problem seems to be that they are reaching for big stories, big messages, yet all in 60 minutes. Or 48, once you allow for adverts.

But there is one episode you must watch. It's from the first series (I will not call is Season 1) and stars Timothy Spall as downtrodden rail worker Ed. Called "The Commuter", it is set in present-day small-town England (Woking, as it goes) and ... well, I don't want give anything away but it is utterly excellent, managing to convey something quite powerful about love, loss, family, fear and fatherhood. Oh, and an ambiguous ending to boot. Yes, all in 48 minutes.

If you only watch one episode of Electric Dreams, make it this one. It's available right now, free and gratis, on Channel 4's catch-up service All4, right here. Hurry.

Fantasy Cover Version #13 - if Roger Whittaker covered "Supersonic"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Thirteenth guest Cassidy suggests something here that, at first, I thought might be an elaborate April Fool but then he sent it on the 31st March... and besides, once you start hearing this, it works its way into your head and becomes not just plausible but credible. See what you think. Cassidy writes:

This may be a little too close to FCV #12 but here goes... Many years ago, in the early days of Oasis, I was playing Supersonic on guitar.

When it came to the post chorus guitar riff instead of playing it on the guitar I started to whistle it. This immediately took me back to my childhood and the sound of Roger Whittaker's whistling.

And so for the next couple of hours I was Roger, singing, playing and whistling a variety of early Oasis songs. But none of them matched the magic of Supersonic. So that is my suggestion for FCV, Roger Whittaker covering Supersonic by Oasis.

As someone who appreciates a good whistle, this works for me. How about you? And thanks, Cassidy.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #12 - if Roy Orbison covered "Some Candy Talking"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Twelfth guest contributor Davy, from the late lamented blog The Ghost Of Electricity. I should explain that the excellent suggestion is Davy's - the waffly, explanatory wrap around it is mine. Davy's suggestion is this:

What if Roy Orbison covered The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Some Candy Talking". Here's the original..

For starters, how easy is it to imagine The Big O strumming those opening bars on a big old Gretsch? Pretty easy, I reckon. Then throw in the fact that his mid-90s album Covers clearly demonstrates an affinity for reinterpreting others' material, and the evidence is mounting. And if that wasn't enough, consider his rather more famous cover (yes, I know it was originally written for him, but who recorded it first, Roy or Cyndi?) of a more contemporary song, I Drove All Night:

Clock that "uh-huh, yeah" at about 28 seconds in and tell me you can't imagine Roy delivering Jim Reid's words? And while you're at it, tell me those ascending chords wouldn't suit him down to the ground, as would the classic four chord structure. Tailor-made for The Big O.

Works for me, Davy. After all, it's clearly a song that lends itself to a decent cover version, as ably demonstrated by Richard Hawley.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Good guys, bad guys, plausibility, likeability

Television, the drug of a nation. And with on-demand services like iPlayer, which is how I watch the vast majority of my television these days, the next hit is never more than a couple of clicks away.

I want to talk about three programmes that I've watched this year, all loosely bracketed in the crime/thriller genre.

The first is Strike, the Beeb's adaptation of J. K. Rowling's foray into adult fiction (as Robert Galbraith). If you're unfamiliar, these stories concern ex military policeman Cormoran Strike who, after losing a leg on a tour of duty, sets up as a private investigator. He takes on a temp to help with admin and she ends up becoming his sidekick. He's rugged and a bit maverick and, no doubt, flutters the hearts of a few ladies. She's bright and funny and pretty, and all the rest. There's a bit of a will they/won't they subtext, even though she's engaged to be married to someone the polar opposite of Strike. Oh, and did I mention Cormoran's dad was a bona fide rock star?

In other words, it's slightly nonsense. Now don't get me wrong, I watched both parts of this story, as I watched the previous series last year. And its not because I've read the books (I haven't) or that I'm a rabid Rowling fan (I'm not). But here's the thing - although the whole premise stretches plausibility to the limit, it's an enjoyable show. In fact, it feels like the sort of show that used to get made in the 80s, you know, that was a bit far fetched but that didn't matter because ultimately the good guys all come out on top and manage to look good on screen in the process. Despite the attempts at grittiness (and this is a post-watershed programme, if that still means anything), you know what you're going to get when you sit down to watch Strike. It's not plausible, but it wins because it is likeable.

Compare this to recent four-parter Collateral, on BBC2. With its star-studded cast (Carey Mulligan, John Simm, Nicola Walker, Billie Piper) and lauded writer (David Hare), this looked a sure thing before it even hit the screen. It's people-trafficking plot could not have been more timely, nor could its many sub-plots (political parties and the media, asylum seekers and detention centres, church attitudes to homosexuality, and more - they squeezed a lot into four hours). It ought to have been brilliant, it really ought. And yet... and yet. Did I mention that DI Kate Glaspie (Mulligan) used to be an elite athlete? And not just any old discipline, oh no, but a more niche event - she was a pole vaulter whose career, you guessed it, ended in a very public failure and humiliation. At this, my plausibility sense was already tingling. But worse was to come, for this was a(nother) gritty drama, and so, of course, Glaspie said "fuck" a lot. And I didn't buy it. That word, coming forcefully out of Mulligan's mouth, just didn't work. It felt like a stretch for credibility, a grasp at authenticity, yet each time it happened I felt like Mulligan had never sworn in her life before. Remember that time, at school, when kids decided that swearing a lot made themselves seem hard/cool? That's what this felt like, every time. Oh, and did I mention this is Glaspie's first big case? And she's pregnant?

Of course, Collateral was still a fine drama, and I watched all four episodes in their entirety. But it wasn't great and, as far as I could tell, generated no water-cooler discussions in the workplace. And part of the reason, I think, is that it was hard to root for anyone, even the heroes. Pretty much everyone in the programme was flawed and most, with the possible exception of Nicola Walker's vicar, strayed the wrong side of likeable too often. So well made, yes, well acted (for the most part, though reluctantly I must add that the normally excellent Mulligan seemed on autopilot to this reviewer), and with a multi-layered plot, this was decent television. But it didn't feel plausible and was hard to like. A shame, I think.

All of which brings us to the third programme in this little tryptich. McMafia told the story of Alex Godman, Russian born but raised in Britain, devoted family man, loving partner to English rose Rebecca, and successful city banker. A conventional good guy. Yet when his uncle was murdered by Russian gangsters, Alex risked everything in his quest for vengeance: his business, his family, his fiancée... Over the course of eight tense episodes (and it was a tension that rarely let up), Alex left his legitimate life behind, crossed line after line (sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally) and became the thing he reviled ... and this was deftly handled by creators Hossein Amini and James Watkins. Alex's metamorphosis from good guy to bad guy was gradual and understandable such that, even at the end, when that change was complete, you stilled root for him - you still wanted him to succeed. An anti-hero is still a hero, after all.

The plot, and numerous sub-plots, again felt timely and relevant. Russians who exploited the fall of the Soviet Union to get rich quickly by any means now bestriding the globe, to all intents and purposes as legitimate businessman, all the while running multi-million dollar criminal enterprises? That seemed plausible to me. Ordering hits on ex-pat Russians living new lives in the West? That seemed pretty plausible too. Corruption between Russian police, politicians and gangsters? Plausible. In fact, it all felt nailed on - a drama for our times. And all with a hero who treads the line between good and bad, yet remains likeable.

These programmes have all been good. All from the BBC too - aren't we lucky to have it? And if it sounds like I didn't enjoy Collateral, and re-reading this I can see how it might, well, let me clarify and say that is was good. But scriptwriters, take note for that crime/thriller project you're drafting: make it plausible, or likeable, or (preferably) both. Because, to summarise: implausible but likeable Strike, that's one to watch again, next time it's on, either repeats or a new series; implausible and unlikeable Collateral, whilst good, was consigned to BBC2 for a reason, despite all those star names (and scheduled against another John Simm drama on ITV); and plausible, likeable McMafia? That's one for the boxset collection.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Brexitland

The recent news that Soft Cell are to reunite for one night only at the O2 (or that they require a pension top-up, some might say), has given me cause to dig out their out career retrospective, Memorabilia. And it's terrific, of course - you forget how great they were.

Slight problem - I can't get Bedsitter out of my head now, except that some part of my subconscious that has been saturated by too much political coverage for the last two years insists on substituting the word Brexitland into the chorus. All together now:

Dancing, laughing, drinking, loving. And now I'm all alone in Brexitland, my only home...

Which might be funny if I wasn't such a Remainer...

Great video too - love the underground shots at the start, the London streets, the coin-op phone box, the bottle of Quink ink (Royal Blue, of course). How we used to live, etc.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Great moments in music video history #2 - Smack My Bitch Up (NSFW)

The second in a very occasional series, and my first post in 13+ years of blogging to require a NSFW warning (hence posting it at the weekend when, presumably, most of you aren't at work).

Today's great moment in music video history is the obvious one, coming, as it does, from the promo to accompany The Prodigy's 1997 single Smack My Bitch Up. It got to number eight in the UK chart and, aside from Firestarter, was their only single to crack the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. So it must have been doing something right. For me, it's not their finest hour but the video... well, even 21 years down the line, it's a powerful four and a half minutes of anyone's time. Sex, drugs, violence and a terribly messed-up protagonist, this has all of that. And it's still sufficiently shocking, a generation later, to be hard to find on YouTube. No doubt it violates their terms of service, or some such. Thank goodness for Vimeo, then.

In the very unlikely event that there is someone out there reading this who doesn't know the big reveal, I won't spoil it by saying what happens at 4m20s, other than that the video rewards a second watch, to spot all the clues. But I repeat, NSFW. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Pow!

Fine and dandy, indeed. Not what I was hoping to find, when I went Googling, but how could I not post it?

Anyway, this is all the excuse I need for...

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

“Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

Just going to leave these here. R.I.P. Stephen - you'll never know how excited your book made our sixth form Physics set. I still failed the S-level though.

And if you only read one thing about Hawking today, make it this.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Moz lives

Firstly, to all those who have had their fill of Morrissey ... well, you'll want to give the following a swerve. Why not read this recent Fantasy Cover Version suggestion instead?

Morrissey opening with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys

Still here? Then let's talk about Moz and, specifically, his gig at the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was my seventh time seeing the Mozfather live and, having needed a telescope to see him last time I went (at the O2), this time I had splashed out on a good seat. I treated myself, in other words, and I'm glad I did, because being up close really made the evening. And not just for the photos (click 'em to embiggen) and videos I took, but for the details ... the looks on his face, the hand gestures. All of that. You don't get it from the back of an enormodome, even with Jumbotrons to help. But anyway. After a quick perusal of the merchandise stall (offering scarves, fans, badges and pillowcases as well as the obligatory t-shirts, none of which featured contemporary photographs of Moz), I took my seat early and, if I'm honest, with a little trepidation. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour had been mixed, with The Guardian very much determined not to enjoy themselves. Also, I'm often a little unsure how gigs in all-seater venues will play out - often, the atmosphere is different, I think. Less of a spark. And I was concerned that, although my ticket clearly said "Morrissey plus special guests", I had read that the support act was a film show, not a band... At precisely 8.15pm the pre-show back-drop picture of the late Peter Wyngarde as Jason King disappeared, and the film show started.

Morrissey with beads

To be honest, "film show" is over stating it a bit. YouTube clips spliced together is more accurate. But it was an eclectic selection - with links to the clips used where possible, the montage included: early Ramones; Something Here In My Heart by 60s girl group The Paper Dolls; Tatu covering How Soon Is Now? on a German retread of TOTP; The Sound Of The Crowd by The Human League; Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud by James Brown; a spoken word Candy Darling clip (I think); Dionne Warwick singing Don't Make Me Over; a drag artist joking about nationality; The Sex Pistols singing God Save The Queen; a 60s-looking civil rights speech for racial equality that I couldn't ID; Sally's Song by Amy Lee; a Germaine Greer talking head spot; a clip from L'Insoumis of Alain Delon reclining into his Queen Is Dead sleeve art pose (which got a big cheer); It's The Same Old Song by The Four Tops; Jet Boy by The New York Dolls ... and probably more besides. Throughout this, the bloke sitting next to me kept looking up the songs on Shazam - when he couldn't get a match for the James Brown track, I had to lean over and help him out. He even Shazam'ed the Sex Pistols track, surely one of the least ambiguous tracks of the last fifty years. But I digress.

At precisely 8.50pm the screen that all this had been projected on was whipped down, and out strode Morrissey and his band. He cuts a substantial figure these days, does Moz - not fat but no longer the skinny, callow figure of yesteryear. Middle-aged spread comes to us all if you we eat too many pies, even vegetarian pies. And the fabled quiff is largely a thing of the past, a victim of a receding hairline. But he is still magnetic on stage, owning the space. Dressed top to toe in dark clothes, a string of beads and a dangling key fob completed Morrissey's look. The band, by contrast, were all in white shirts. The stage was lit with neon prefect badge shapes, a nod to the Low In High School theme.

Red Morrissey for Jack The Ripper

After opening strongly with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and I Wish You Lonely, the audience was treated to the first of many asides from a pleasantly chatty Moz: "So amazingly, I'm still alive. The question is, are you?" This was followed by Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage, which slowed things down a bit, before a stomping Suedehead, which sped them back up again. The crowd, predictably, went wild for this, even though many of them weren't alive when it was released.

After this, there was a bit of a pause whilst Moz dispensed with the line of security at the front of the stage who were spoiling the devoted's view, and complained to unseen crew member Max about a spotlight giving him a headache. When it was turned off, he remarked, "Now you can't see me, which is pretty perfect." This was followed by recent album track When You Open Your Legs, before another aside between tracks: a propos of nothing, Moz appeared to say something like, "Please believe me, I'm not. People are extremely ignorant. They can't be controlled, so don't control them." Was this a reference to Der Spiegel's recent portrayal of him? We may never know.

Slightly unexpectedly, for me at least, Munich Air Disaster 1958 was next, complete with archive footage of Busby's Babes projected on the back screen. "We miss them," Moz concluded. This was swiftly followed by Home Is A Question Mark, for which Jesse Tobias unleashed an electric 12-string and I got a sudden bout of guitarist's envy. After My Love, I'd Do Anything For You, the stage lighting switched to red and yellow as a clue for what was coming next. "This song is delightful," said Moz. "About slavery and servitude in Espana." After which the band launched into The Bullfighter Dies, accompanied by fairly explicit video footage of bulls being stabbed by matadors (during the verses) and matadors being gored (during the "hooray, hooray" chorus). The point was well, if graphically, made.

A clean shirt for the encore. Also pictured: Boz Boorer, Mando Lopez, Jesse Tobias

The only real lull in the show followed, with a slightly flat run-through of If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me. Quite a lot of people went for drinks. Not me though. So I was there to see the cover of Pretenders' track Back On The Chain Gang that followed (backdropped with Chrissie Hynde's yearbook photo), and Moz introducing World Peace Is None Of Your Business by saying, "We invented democracy. We invented free speech. I think it's time we got it back."

The next track was a personal favourite, Hold On To Your Friends, at the end of which (slightly bizarrely) Moz signed some vinyl for people in the front row, whilst the crowd chanted his name. Then pianist Gustavo Manzur teased an elongated version of the piano intro to In Your Lap before the band launched into Everyday Is Like Sunday and the crowd combusted. This was the first in a run of five blistering tracks: Jack The Ripper was next, with the stage bathed in red light and smoke; then came recent single Spent The Day In Bed, quite a singalong for the crowd; this was followed by live favourite Speedway, which has lost none of its power; and then, the only Smiths track of the night, How Soon Is Now?, ending with drummer Matthew Ira Walker letting loose on the gong and timpani.

This might have been the obvious point at which to end the main set, but no. Who Will Protect Us From The Police? and I'm Not Sorry followed, before the band lined up to take a bow. Then they slipped off-stage, only to return minutes later, for Morrissey to say goodnight with "As always, be good to yourself, be kind to animals and look after each other. And that's it really." Moz had changed his shirt, donning a plain white number that, predictably enough, was thrown into the crowd at the end of the sole encore track, a thumping Irish Blood, English heart. As the band scooted off-stage, Jesse launched a plectrum into the crowd too, but not many noticed - they were too busy forming a polite but determined scrum around the shirt.

And then the house lights came up and it was all over. I have to tell you, I felt ecstatic. As I've already said, sitting so close to the action made a real difference and changed, for me, what might have just been Morrissey singing into Morrissey performing. And although I'd taken my proper camera, rather than rely on my phone, I came away feeling I wanted an actual souvenir, a keepsake more substantial than digital photographs ... so I bought a set of Moz lapel badges from the merch stall on the way out. As I trudged through a dark Hyde Park to Lancaster Gate tube, I reflected that this was, if not the best I had seen Moz, certainly in the top three. All that was missing, for me at least, was the company of oldest friend and perennial gig-buddy The Man Of Cheese, with whom I had seen five of the previous six Moz gigs. I was still buzzing when I finally got home and crawled into bed, at ten to two this morning. And I'm very happy to report that, despite all the slings and arrows he's faced (and invited) in recent times, Moz lives ...

I'm no cameraman, and my camera is nothing special, but I shot a few videos. You may like them.

Morrissey Setlist Royal Albert Hall, London, England 2018, Low in High School

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Old Musical Express

So, the inevitable has happened: the NME has called time on its print edition. Whilst sad in many ways, this news, presumably, comes as a surprise to precisely no-one. Making it free didn't halt the decline. Attempts to broaden its raison-d'être, and hence its readership, by being less about music and more about, well, just about everything else, that didn't halt the decline either. In my view, it may even have accelerated it, because if you just want a music publication you don't really want to have to wade through all the other toss too, do you? Time Inc, the NME's owner, might do well to remember that as they seek to further develop its online offering.

Who's next, I wonder? I had two emails in one day yesterday from Uncut magazine, trying to get me to take out a subscription deal that equated to £2.50 per issue... that's for a magazine which, last time I bought one in a shop, cost me £5.25. Feels a little desperate to me.

Anyway, to mark the disappearance on an icon of the music press, here's a classic cover of theirs from 1988, a poster copy of which adorned my bedroom wall for years. Which, given that I'm off to see the cover star this very evening seems entirely appropriate.

Bye, NME.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #11 - if Lana Del Rey covered "She's Got You"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...(please)...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In the continued absence of any new suggestions from readers, the eleventh contributor to this series is me, again. Sorry.

I've been looking for the right way to feature Alma Cogan on this blog for a long time, partly because without her I wouldn't exist (not as long a story as it sounds) but mostly because her music was often on in our house when I was small. And when I say "on", I don't necessary mean spinning on the record player - often her songs were just being sung, by my parents. And those songs stick in the mind, and heart. My favourite from the girl with a giggle in her voice (yes, that really is how she was known) was itself a cover of Patsy Cline's She's Got You, released in 1962. I loved the harmonica intro, the despairing lyrics, the literal highs and lows of the chorus... I don't know about a giggle, I heard heartbreak in Alma's vocal performance. Here it is, and it's bloody great.

Whose voice from now has the right tonal quality to do this justice, can reach the highs and lows, can emote in the same way? Possibly no-one, but I'd like to make the case for Lana Del Rey. Take a listen to breakout hit Videogames, and see if you agree:

Or Born To Die?

I think Lana could carry it off, more than passably. And she has a recent track record for doing good cover versions too - here she is, covering Radiohead:

I have to add, as a post-script, that however good it might be, this fantasy cover by Lana could not measure up to Alma's version. Just as Cline fans would argue that Alma's cover doesn't measure to Patsy. But I'm right and they're wrong, of course. Also, I know that technically what I'm suggesting above is Lana covering Patsy but I've said it before and I'll doubtless say it again: my gaff, my rules...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Clandestine Classic LVI - One Night Stand

The fifty-sixth 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've been thinking a bit about Pete Tong and his Heritage Orchestra, who've been all over my radio lately. You know - Pete has taken another load of old house and Ibiza tunes and got a proper orchestra to play them, the idea being (presumably) to take some "classic" club tunes and give them an actual classical music style makeover. Seems this kind of cultural pretence has been very popular indeed with middle-aged ex-clubbers, with sell-out shows at large venues and not one but two albums of this kind of stuff. That new version of Killer by Seal that you've been hearing? This is where it comes from. You knew all that already, right?

But it's hardly a new idea. Today's classic comes from 90s band The Aloof, which Wikipedia tells me were "a British electronica group, mixing electronic and dance elements with dub influences." So there you go. I know nothing else about them, and today's track, One Night Stand, is the only thing by them in my collection, courtesy of a compilation album. And although it's not my usual cup of tea, I think this is excellent.

Firstly, there are the world-weary vocals, sounding not dissimilar in some respects to David McAlmont but actually belonging to one Ricky Barrow. Then there are the lyrics which, if I can borrow from a series over at The (New) Vinyl Villain, would make an excellent short story:

What am I doing here? your face is a mess.
You walk back in the room and you put on your dress.
I say, I'll see you soon and I, I'll give you a call.
I hear the door slam and feel nothing at all.

What am I doing here? I've been here for weeks.
Gotta get outta of this room and go, go clean these sheets.
Why am I lying here and with what was her name?
I feel nothing at all; I feel no shame.

It's another one night stand
'cause it makes me feel like a real man.

Lyrically melancholic, and with those minor keys throughout, this is a real come-down track, filled with unhappiness and a touch of self-loathing. And then there's that orchestral arrangement, that's probably been smouldering in the back of Pete Tong's mind for twenty years.

One Night Stand was The Aloof's commercial highpoint, peaking at #30 in 1996. There were other singles, but none like this. And interestingly, fact fans, Radio 1 playing an extended instrumental version of this every thirty minutes for several hours on the day Princess Diana died. I didn't remember that, by the way, it's another Wikipedia fact, so caveat emptor when you throw that little nugget into pub conversation.

You can scoop up One Night Stand on The Aloof's second album, Sinking, or (like me) on none-more-90s compilation The Dogs...! Anyway, here's the track - great video too, isn't it?

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

White tornado

Only one song for today. When the wind whips up, as it is starting to more and more as I write, I can barely see the far end of the garden.

Get out there and have a snowball fight with someone you love to laugh with. Make snowangels. Shake trees until laden boughs unburden themselves. Pat snowmen into shape. If there are little ones around, make some memories for them. With climate change going the way it is, who knows when we will next see snow like this?

Monday, 26 February 2018

On being reviewed

I've written plenty of reviews in my time - album reviews, gig reviews, book reviews, film reviews - enough to know that a well-crafted review takes time, effort and, most of all, careful thought. Careful because it's easy to write a throwaway review, but hard to focus in on what makes something good, bad or somewhere in-between, and to pick out what works and what doesn't.

I've been reviewed a bit too, in various ways and for various products (short stories, mostly) but seldom anywhere that garners much critical attention.

All of which makes receiving more considered reviews both gratifying and, if I'm honest, more than a bit humbling.

Here's a review from a few weeks back of my novel, Drawn To The Deep End by Rol at My Top Ten. Here's another, today, from JC at The (New) Vinyl Villain. And here's another, from C at Sun Dried Sparrows. Three reviewers from bloggers I admire tremendously - in means something to me that they've written these. As does this one, from Mark Kilner, an amazing author who, more than most, can tell a proser from a poser.

I'm sorry to go on, I was just wondering how successful you have to get before the buzz wears off. You know, the buzz of receiving not just a good review but a good review from someone you admire or respect. How ever successful that is, I'm not there by a long chalk, and sort of hope I never am...

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Tired

Found myself earlier trying to remember when I last felt physically well. I'm not entirely sure but I think it was something like three years ago.

These days, it's the beginnings of arthritis in both knees, a stress fracture in my foot that won't heal and, just lately, something painful and musculoskeletal going on around my ribs.

Talking to my dad at Christmas, he looked wearily at me over the kitchen counter and said, "There's nothing, nothing about getting old that isn't shit." I can see where he's coming from, I think. I don't entirely agree, but then he has got more than 30 years on me...

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Teenage

At 10:32 on the 22nd February, 2005, in another county (and what sometimes feels like another life too) I posted my first blog post. Don't look it up, it was crap. The blog as a whole has moved around a bit in the intervening time (Geocities, Yahoo, my own site and now here), and changed names occasionally too, but essentially New Amusements is now a teenager. Cue the obvious embeds.

And one less obvious one.

Basically, I think I'll probably carry on for a bit, but may be a bit surlier/lazier/intolerant (insert your own teenage stereotype here, if you like. Or don't. Whatever. God, you're just, like, so embarrassing...)

If this blog is still going in another thirteen years, the real me will be in my sixties. Heaven help us. Old Amusements, perhaps?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

My back pages

A lot of early posts were written on this old thing,
with a mug of tea on hand

According to Blogger, these are my ten most "popular" posts:

  1. Blog mirror? - that fatuous survey
  2. That Was The Year That Was: 2017 - end of year rundowns are always popular
  3. Oh, I'm sorry - did I break your concentration? - I staged a screening of Pulp Fiction
  4. Cryptic-schmyptic - I made a big ol' crossword
  5. To Whit, to whoo...? - inexplicably popular account of a weekend away
  6. Europe. It's like a different country or something...II - inexplicably popular Belgian Crack
  7. That Was The Year That Was: 2015 - as I said, end of year rundowns...
  8. That Was The Year That Was: 2016 - ...always popular
  9. Don't be a notefold cock - gets a little bump whenever Dave repeats Modern Life Is Goodish
  10. That Was The Year That Was: 2014 - ...really, really popular

I should add that these stats are skewed somewhat, since they only take into account traffic after I moved New Amusements wholesale to Blogger, back in January 2014. That skewing, that incompleteness and inaccuracy, is the only excuse I need to dust off these other posts, all of which remain relatively popular(ish). In no particular order:

But sod popularity. These are the posts I'm happiest to publicly proclaim affection for. And yes, that does mean there are other posts I'm equally (or more) proud of, but don't want to invite revisits to. Anyway, here goes, again in no real order:

I've enjoyed writing this blog, and hope you've enjoyed reading some of it too. I've also really enjoyed looking back over all these posts, and hope the links above prompt you to read something you missed first time around. And at the risk of being mysterious, you'll see why I'm doing this recap tomorrow...

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Junior choice

I don't need an excuse to play this but, if I did, today's the day. As inspired by playing Wipeout 2097 on my antique PSOne.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Damned if you don't

I've mentioned Damned before, not on here but on Twitter. Since series two has just started, it seems a good time to sound a klaxon that you need to be watching this. Co-written by Jo Brand and Morwenna Banks, and starring them both alongside Alan Davies, Kevin Eldon, Isy Suttie and an excellent supporting cast, Damned is an office comedy drama (dramedy?) set in a social services department. And because there's gentle comedy, the sort of real-world comedy that surrounds us every day, the programme gets away with the gritty, bleak challenges facing that working environment, all the better to shine a light on them.

Drama, comedy, pathos. Pin-sharp dialogue and a broad, talented cast. What more do you want?

Damned is over on All 4 to watch on demand, right now. Series one is there for catch-up purposes too. Speaking of which, here's a clip from that first series, so you can see what you've been missing. Now, what are you waiting for?

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Insufficient oil pressure

To my environmental (and financial) regret, I run two cars. One is a precision-tooled slab of Germanic engineering that is quiet, efficient, comfortable, spacious... the other is a cheap, poorly-finished, lightweight slice of Italian fluff that I bought in a hurry when my previous job forced an office relocation on me.

Now if you go too fast around a corner or brake hard in the Italian fluff, the dashboard beeps unhappily and displays the warning message "Insufficient oil pressure", before advising me to pull over and switch off immediately. Of course I do no such thing - the oil pressure is fine, it's just that the cheap sensor is unreliable, especially when jiggled (as might happen under sharp cornering or severe braking). But I do like the wording of the warning - insufficient oil pressure seems like a fitting metaphor, especially for today.

A clip from one of my favourite films (The Game) and favourite directors (David Fincher):

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

A public service regram

(With apologies for use of the appalling "regram" contraction)

In case you were unaware that Susanna Hoffs is on Instagram and Twitter... she posted this today.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day ❤️❤️❤️ Photographs by Harry Page, February 1991, London

A post shared by Susanna Hoffs (@susannahoffsofficial) on

You're welcome.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

"Suddenly, every horror story I'd ever heard was no longer fiction"

From Nicolas Roeg's 1973 masterpiece Don't Look Now

Interested in horror stories, or how films scare and unsettle us? Seen those "supercuts" on YouTube that splice together scenes from various horror films into five or ten minute montages?

Well, imagine a supercut made properly, by the BBC, that lasts for 88 minutes and draws on 100 years of scary and unsettling films, from all around the world. For that is essentially what Fear Itself is - an iPlayer original (which should mean it remains available, rather than disappearing after 30 days), the BBC describes Fear Itself thus:

Half-heard whispers. A creaking door. A missed step. From Vertigo to Videodrome, the scariest movies exploit our greatest – and most basic – fears.

Constructed from cinema’s most heart-stopping moments, Charlie Lyne’s film explores how filmmakers scare us – and why we let them.

A girl haunted by traumatic events takes us on a mesmerising journey through 100 years of horror cinema to uncover the fundamental nature of fear. It may change the way you watch horror movies for good.

I should add that the aforementioned girl's narration, in what I can only describe as a little fluffy clouds voice (you'll know what I mean when you hear it) only adds to the sense of unease that permeates, no, saturates the film.

Still need convincing? Here's a list of the films featured in the supercut. And okay, yes, I know that 88 minutes is quite an investment, but if you have any interest in the genre at all, its history and how it gets under our skin, this is worth the effort. Watch it here.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Clandestine Classic LV - Is It Like Today?

The fifty-fifth 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.

Back in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to know what was going on in the world of music, and what your favourite bands were up to, you had to read the music press. So, in the early 90s, I read Q magazine an awful lot. And, for a while, Q was very much in love with World Party.

World Party were, essentially, a vehicle for one-time Waterboy Karl Wallinger, on whom Q lavished hundreds of column-inches, especially after making World Party's second album, Goodbye Jumbo, their album of the year in 1990. They were still eulogising about Karl in 1993 when follow-up Bang! was released.

Now I hadn't bought into Q's canonisation of Wallinger, but when I saw a copy of accompanying single Is It Like Today? in a bargain box, I thought I could risk 99p to test the magazine's devotion. And you know what? This song, at least, lived up to their hype.

Is It Like Today? was World Party's UK singles chart highpoint, just squeaking into the Top 20, at 19. Musically, I loved it, for it's carefully picked guitar line and piano counterpoint, the slightly dreamy vocal delivery, Karl's harmonies, the lyrical conceit (a face-to-face with God, in which the almighty laments how messed up his creation project has become), the middle eight with its whispered "Bang!" (God deciding to destroy his creation, perhaps?) that gave the parent album its title, and its beautiful, melodic outro. All of it - tremendous. I remember putting this on every compilation tape I made for a while, back then.

Despite Q's relentless patronage, World Party never really translated critical acclaim into massive commercial success, and after the next album (1997's Egyptology, a relative flop), Karl basically took most of the next decade off, not least because, after having an aneurysm in 2000, he understandably wanted to put his energies into being well.

Anyway, World Party resumed active service in 2006, but it's been pretty quiet from Karl since box-set activity in 2012. You can find today's classic on the aforementioned Bang!, the single-disc best of Best In Show or that comprehensive box-set Arkeology. You might imagine I have some, or even all, of these, but I don't - today's classic remains the only World Party record in my collection. Why? Because I don't believe even Q's favourite son could top it, and I've never heard anything to quite convince me to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when you've recorded this, well, that's enough for anyone, isn't it? Have a listen and see if you agree.

Footnote: the Robbie Williams hit She's The One is a cover of a World Party track from Egyptology.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A fatuous graph for a fatuous survey

Ten day ago, I launched a fatuous survey to test the hypothesis that bloggers of a feather flock together, and that if you read this blog you're more likely to be like me, to share views and preferences, than you are to be otherwise. In short, I wondered whether blogs, like our social media timelines, become mirrored bubbles, reflecting ourselves and hiding different views. The results are in, and a fatuous survey clearly calls for a fatuous graph.

A mighty eleven people responded, and nobody scored less than 50% in this not-very-scientific test. In other words, no-one was more unlike me than like me. The average score was 65%, or roughly two thirds like me and one third not. The median value was 55% and the mode 50%, maths fans.

A special mention must go to top scorer The Man Of Cheese, at 75%. In truth, this arguably demonstrates the inaccuracy of the test, as he and I are probably >90% alike. Anyway, I don't intend to run through everyone's scores, but I did want to go on a bit (sorry) about the questions as there was massive discrepancy in the degree of correlation.

  1. Coke or Pepsi?. Only 18% of respondents were like me. I should maybe have been more explicit in the question, to make it clear that this included all variants of each brand, i.e. Coke Zero or Pepsi Max. They're both poison, I know that, but Pepsi is much more caramelly, and seems a bit less watery, to this boy.
  2. Bitter or lager? I though this would be closer but 73% of respondents agreed with me that, generally speaking, bitter is better.
  3. Coffee or tea? A big shock for me in that only 36% of respondents expressed the "correct" preference for tea. What's wrong with the rest of you?
  4. Raspberry ripple or rum and raisin? A surprisingly close call. I was heartened to see 45% of respondents prefer the old school, 70s-style ripple.
  5. Full-fat or semi-skimmed? A no-brainer in these health-conscious times, with 91% of respondents agreeing with the less calorific option. Or was the question a metaphor?
  6. BBC or ITV? Another no-brainer, with 91% of respondents correctly preferring the Beeb to the other lot. It's a good job the one person who preferred ITV was anonymous, otherwise we might have had to have words...
  7. BGT or SCD? Basically the same as the previous question. Part of the fun, for me, was wondering who'd know what the abbreviations stood for (Britain's Got Talent and Strictly Come Dancing). A comfortable 64% rightly preferred Strictly, a figure I hope would have been higher if I'd spelt it out.
  8. Claudia Winkleman or Tess Daly? In other words, kooky brunette or slightly bland blonde? 82% of respondents were "like me" on this one, preferring kooky.
  9. Have I Got News For You or Mock The Week? Not much in this, unsurprisingly, with 64% agreeing with my preference for HIGNFY.
  10. The Daily Mail or The Guardian? 82% of you also prefer the lefty broadsheet tabloid to the righty one.
  11. Digital (inc. CDs) or Vinyl? The only question I clarified part-way through, to make it clear that I was including CDs in "digital". Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the muso crowd in this neck of the blogosphere, only 36% agreed with my preference for digital. I should add that I do own a fair bit of vinyl, still, and love it. Don't hate me, is what I'm saying.
  12. The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Another predictably close one. 45% of respondents were "like me" in preferring those four lads from Liverpool.
  13. Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry? In many ways, the toughest question here, as both answers are right, really. I opted for Chrissie. Only 27% of you agreed.
  14. I.R.S. R.E.M. or Warner Bros R.E.M? 64% of respondents agreed with me that the Athens boys, though great, were never quite the same after they moved into the big league.
  15. Football or rugby? I expected this to be closer, in these days of Premiership prima-donnas and obscene pay, but 82% of you, like me, still prefer the round-balled game to the oval.
  16. Daniel Craig or Sean Connery? Because everyone has an opinion on Bond. 73% of respondents correctly preferred Sean. There is a case, I think, for suggesting that Goldfinger is the only Bond film you'll ever need.
  17. Rocky III or Rocky IV? All joking aside, a tough one to answer. III has Mr T, Mickey dying, The Eye Of The Tiger and "You gonna ring the bell?" "Ding ding.". IV has Dolph, Apollo dying, running up mountains in the snow and Sly ending the Cold War. But IV's montage sequences win it for me. 45% of you agreed.
  18. Andrew Garfield or Tobey Maguire? Another question that confused some, but this was a straightforward Spiderman question. For me, Tobey Maguire's Spiderman films, especially the first two, are the best superhero films you could ask for. 55% of respondents thought so too.
  19. Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick? Don't get me wrong, Coppola has made some true classics, but Kubrick is peerless in my book. 64% of you agreed.
  20. Android or Apple? And again, 64% of respondents were "like me" in preferring your device's HQ to be Mountain View rather than Cupertino.

And there you have it. I promise I will never do this again.

Everyone's a critic

Layla was on the radio one morning, all seven and a half minutes of it. A father explained to his young son that this was by Derek and the Dominos, but the man singing and playing was called Eric Clapton.

"Do you like this song?" the dad asked.

"No," the boy replied.

"What don't you like about it?" the dad asked, curious. The boy thought for a while and then replied.

"There isn't much singing, and it sounds like he just wants to show off how good he is at the guitar."

So here's some Jimi instead.

Note to self

Here's a thing. Posting it here is partly minding the gaps and partly because this blog is where my non-fiction comes to die. Also it's partly because, sometimes, I need to remind myself I wrote this, and that it's mostly true, I think, even if it reminds me of that time on Family Guy when Brian wrote a self-help book...

How to be happier

Are you happy? Yes? No? Somewhere in between? With apologies for opening this piece with question after question, how did you go about answering the opener? Instinctively, as in “yes, of course I’m happy”? Or did you take some time to apply some form of quantitative assessment? For example, how often are you asked about your day? And when your friend/family member/significant other asks that question, what proportion of the time are you able to give a positive response? If greater than 50%, does that make you a happy person?

It’s not so cut and dried, is it? Happiness isn’t a binary value, it’s not simply on or off. To pretend otherwise is to over-simplify. However, to apply some critical thought to how happy you are is nevertheless a worthwhile exercise, not least because you inevitably start to notionally place yourself somewhere on that sliding analogue scale of happiness. And once you’ve done that, perhaps you start to think about how you could move up the scale, to a happier place.

Before I go any further, I should probably add that if you are a relentlessly upbeat person, always happy, remorselessly optimistic and positive, well, that’s great! But you probably don’t need to read any further – thanks for stopping by, sincerely, but I needn’t take up any more of your time… …still here? So maybe you’re a bit more like me? Maybe you too are seduced by the negative. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to focus on the problems we face rather than celebrate our successes. It’s easy, and quite natural, I think, to remember the criticism we receive rather than the praise. To dwell on the adversities we face. And if the weight of those problems, that criticism, those adversities, if it’s too great then even the most upbeat optimist can be unhappy.

I’m not writing this from the perspective of an upbeat optimist. I have problems; don’t get me wrong, no-one’s dying but my problems are more than enough to make me unhappy. Like a depressingly large proportion of people in my demographic, I’ve been unhappy enough to entertain some pretty drastic and ultimately destructive courses of action. But, and it’s a big but, I’ve been able to move to a happier place. Many of those problems, those dissatisfiers, those causes of depression are still there, sure. But there are ways of lessening their impact, in my experience at least. I’m writing this to share those ways.

The first and by far the most important, is recognising that, to a degree, mood is an elective state. A few years back, there was a slightly annoying and briefly fashionable management text called FISH that had the tag line “choose your attitude – it’s the one thing you have complete control over”. Now I’m not going to pretend it’s that simple – I don’t believe that anyone has complete control over how they feel, nor do I believe that happiness is simply a matter of choosing to be happy. But I do believe anyone can choose to improve their chance of happiness, by focusing on the good things, however small. Okay, so that girl you have a huge crush on barely knows you’re alive, but work is going well, right? And your ageing parents are healthy, aren’t they? And how about your personal best at Parkrun last weekend? Of course I understand the tendency, in this example, to focus on the girl – misery can be seductive, I know. It’s just easier, somehow, to focus on the negative, perhaps because of a tendency to take the positive for granted – good stuff is just supposed to happen, right? Well, maybe, but so does the bad. And focusing on the things that make you unhappy is a gateway into a destructive feedback loop – the more you dwell on how unhappy you are, the unhappier you become. Far better, wherever possible, to accept that there is bad stuff in your life (yours and everyone else’s, however outwardly successful/happy/beautiful/confident they may be) and choose to concentrate on all the good stuff. You might think they’re small, trivial even, but they’re really not – think how you’d feel if they weren’t present. And I’m not suggesting ignoring your problems – it’s important to distinguish between pouring thought into an issue productively (i.e. trying to solve or improve it) and counter-productively (the vicious circle of feeling unhappy about being unhappy). You can’t simply choose your attitude, but you can choose to remember, concentrate on and celebrate the positive things in your life rather than be seduced by the negative.

Secondly, I have found it is easier to feel happy with your life if you are happy with yourself as a person. It is important and beneficial, then, to do whatever you can to try to be a better person – after all if you can’t like yourself, how can you like anything else? Now a lifestyle magazine approach to being happier with yourself might be to buy a new outfit or have a new haircut – feel better literally by looking better. Now I’m not going to discount that kind of thinking – if it works for you, great – but I will suggest it’s temporary, short-term thinking. Far better and longer lasting, in my view, is to make choices that make you happier with who you are as a person. This might be straightforward when making simple decisions – an unemotional choice between options – but far more difficult when faced with behavioural choices. A useful approach to the latter is to imagine trying to explain your choice to your mother, or describing the consequences of your actions to your child. These, I have found, are good ways of making ethically and morally sound choices, of being the sort of person you’d like to be rather than the person you are. Over time, this is a self-fulfilling approach – you start to become the idealised you, a version of yourself that you can be happier with. And, as I have already suggested, a first step towards being happier with your life is to learn how to be happier with yourself.

And finally, it’s important to remember that happiness is not a continuous state – no-one feels happy all the time. The good news is that this means unhappiness is not a continuous state either. In my view, life is generally somewhere in the middle, with flashes of happiness and blots of unhappiness, high points and low troughs, after which things generally return, at a greater or lesser rate, to the average. So if you’re aspiring to be happy all the time, stop it! Give yourself a break! You’re aspiring to an unnatural and unsustainable state. Far better to concentrate on making those high points higher and the lows less deep (which I suggest you can do by actively choosing what you focus on, as per my first point) and on moving the median line up (which I believe you can achieve by striving to be the version of yourself you’d be most proud of, as per my second point).

This has turned into quite a ramble, a glut of opinions. And that’s really all it is, a personal viewpoint, with the odd truism thrown in, from someone who has been profoundly depressed and has learnt, through experience, analysis and applied determination, to be happier. This way of thinking has worked for me – it might for you too. To summarise, then, here are the three things to remember if you consider yourself unhappy on a regular basis:

  1. You can choose to improve your chance of happiness, by recognising the good things in life. Make sure the energy you expend on dissatisfiers is productive (try to solve or improve them) rather than counter-productive (resist the seduction of misery).
  2. Strive to be your best, the version of yourself you’d be most proud to show your loved ones. Only when you are happy with yourself can you be happy with your life.
  3. Don’t try to be happy all the time – it’s unrealistic. Concentrate instead on appreciating the highs whilst recognising that there will always be some lows, and so aim to move your median happiness line up.

And that’s it. The thought that this little essay might help others, even if only one person, has made me feel happier for having written it. How are you feeling?

Footnote: this essay originally appeared as a guest post on philosophy blog The Thought Train, in January 2017.