Fear of Books

March 22, 2010

I came across a book on my shelf the other day and it brought the memories flooding back. But first, let me give you some background.

My mum is very much the literary type. When I was growing up she had shelves groaning under the weight of books, everything from Shakespeare to Julian Barnes. So I guess it wasn’t very surprising that she took responsibility for choosing my books and reading bedtime stories to me. My dad on the other hand is more of a blokey bloke. He was captain of the local darts team and he’d often keep me rapt with tales of exotic pubs such as The Marlborough, The Drum and Monkey, The Done Our Bit Club. It was like having a dad in the navy telling me about all the places he’d been only he didn’t have to get the clap.

Anyway, at some point, when I was about seven years old I’d guess, my dad decided he should do more to bond with his son. I knew nothing of this but it seemed my dad was determined to read me a bedtime story. It couldn’t be anything I already had: the Mr Men weren’t his style and my mum did the voices for Winnie the Pooh which he wouldn’t be caught dead doing.

No, he was going to have to get something special that suited his style.

All three of us went out to Kilburn’s premiere discount bookshop. The shop was large, tatty and piled high with all the books that couldn’t be sold anywhere else. Their stock was peculiar to say the least. I once convinced my parents to buy me a book from there that in retrospect seems a bit odd. It was a Star Trek sticker book that contained loads of huge stickers you could peel off and stick on your walls. In your mind you’re probably imagining sticky back pictures of Spock, Kirk, the Enterprise and various hot alien chicks. It wasn’t like that. The book was in fact health and safety notices from the USS Enterprise; “Important: Keep arms and legs clear of the transporter while in use”, “Do not use communicators in the sick bay”, “Use of tribbles is forbidden at all times!” I had these stupid things stuck up all over my room.

So yeah, it was a weird bookshop full of weird unsellable books.

While I was browsing I looked over at my dad and he had a brown picture book in his hands and a smile on his face. Clearly it was a kids book and he was buying it. Huh? My little brain couldn’t comprehend why my dad was buying a book for me. Weirdly nothing more was said and I promptly forgot all about it.

Until bedtime that is.

Disconcertingly my dad was going to read me a bedtime story. OK, that was weird. “Winnie the Pooh please” I said. My dad then told me we weren’t going to do Winnie the Pooh because he’d got me a new story. He then produced the brown picture book I’d briefly glanced earlier. It was called “The Man from Ironbark”

Oh.

An explanation

The Man from Ironbark is a landscape shaped picture book with large dark pictures spanning double pages and very few words. It’s based in Australia at the turn of the century and all the events occur in a town not disimilar to your classic wild west movie set. It is clearly intended as a childs book yet it’s earthy tones and weird subject matter exhibit a questionable understanding of children. If Australian children are brought up reading this then it explains why Aussies are such a strange bunch.

Back to the story

So, here’s what happened when my dad read me the story.

The story is about a country yokel who decides to go into the town where all the posh town folks live (remember: it’s a wild west town in Australia so it’s not that fancy). While there he notices that most town men have well trimmed moustaches rather than the scruffy unkempt beard he sports. He pops into a barbers so he can get some of that trimmed ‘tache action.

This is where it goes wrong

Man from Ironbark Meets his Nemesis

I was immediately drawn to the evil look in the barbers eyes and the flash of the cut-throat razor. This looked pretty terrifying and the seven year old me was worried. What could possibly happen next? Nothing bad surely, this is a kids book!

Man from Ironbark Screams in Terror

ARGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!! ARGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

I was screaming my head off with tears rolling down my face. My dad then moved on to the next page to try to show me that everything was OK

Man from Ironbark gets all Chuck Norris

For some reason that didn’t really do it for me. A guy holding his neck together while strangling another man and doing god knows what to a cat (not pictured) really didn’t make me happy.

So the result was that I was screaming my head off and telling my dad to go away. My dad was frantically trying to explain that he hadn’t really cut the guys throat, that it was all a prank, but it was too late. I was terrified and freaked out.

Unsurprisingly my dad never read me another bedtime story again.

The Ironbark book sat unwanted on my bookshelf and I remember being terrified of it for years. It just seemed to be tainted with bad feelings and nightmares.

Weirdly it’s now the only original book I still have from my childhood. I destroyed the Mr Men books in a misguided attempt to decorate my bedroom. The Winnie the Pooh books disappeared into the loft and were never seen again. I haven’t even the first clue what happened to the Barbapapas.

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The Secret Gallery

February 28, 2010
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Sometime ago I read about Room A at the National Gallery. It’s a gallery that not many people know about and is rarely open. In fact they only open it from 2pm to 5pm on Wednesday afternoon.

It’s almost like they don’t want people to see it. Well I love a challenge so me and the wife took a day off and went along.

We had a hell of a time finding the room. We went to the right floor. But we were on the wrong part of the floor. We asked for guidance at the information desk. “Room A?” she asked incredulously. I nodded. She sighed. She got out a map. “You need to go up these stairs, go through the central hall, through room 12, go towards room 29 and then towards room 26 and then go down the stairs.” When we got to the stairs they were roped off. Was it closed because of the staff’s industrial action? Wifey went and spoke to a guard, who spoke to another guard, who then let us through.

The room is harshly lit with strip lights. There’s the constant white noise of portable air conditioners as well as repeated buzzing from the over-sensitive alarm system. Hear a buzz and you’re too close.

The collection is a real jumble. There is some really fantastic stuff in there. There’s also some things that are so poorly rendered you’d wonder who paid money for this crap (there are so many poorly rendered baby Jesus willies I was starting to freak out. Is it blasphemous to misrepresent Jesus’s willy?).

There were too old dears who, when they weren’t discussing the merits of Morrison’s (the supermarket that is) were making criticisms such as “I think that painting’s too big”

There was a painting called the Toilet of Venus. There was An Allegory of Justice which was some dude riding a grumpy ostrich.

My favourite thing of all was a painting called After the Misdeed by Jean Beraud. The picture at the top of this post does not do it justice.

It’s well worth checking out, if they’ll let you in. If not you can see the virtual gallery here.


Film Review: Privilege

February 7, 2010

As I was saying in my previous review of Permissive, I have recently acquired three films on BFI’s Flipside series. Since I love all thing Sixties and groovy some of these films are rather appealing to me.

Next up for review is Privilege.

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Privilege is about a pop star with the dull name Steven Shorter, played by the boringly named Paul Jones of Manfred Mann. His act is a recreation of his time in prison where he is put in a small cage and sings while being tortured by his guards. All the while girls scream and eventually rush the stage. Backstage we see that he is managed by stereotypical music business types. Further, we learn that he is employed by “the establishment” to contain the masses by channeling their outrage into these performances.

Later on we also find that he is used to sell British products, promote the governments views on healthy eating, and eventually he is promoting the Church of England.

All through the film we can see that all is not well with Shorter as he appears to be deeply uncomfortable at all times. Eventually he encounters a pretty young painter, played by Jean Shrimpton, someone with whom he can finally open up about his unhappiness which opens the door to his inevitable public breakdown.

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The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the two lead roles are Paul Jones (a singer) and Jean Shrimpton (a model), two people who’d never acted before this film. While their performances are not great they’re not the worst offenders in this film. (There’s a guy who plays a musical arranger who is also a “self confessed anarchist” and it’s a shockingly poor performance.)

The more eagle-eyed will also have noticed some flawed logic where the establishment is redirecting rage from themselves by directing it the prison services who, presumably, are also part of the establishment. Yeah, I don’t get it either. These lapses in logic are littered throughout the film.

The film was made in 1966 and the most dated aspect of the film is the idea that it’s the government that has somehow gained almost exclusive control of culture to push their propaganda. I guess back in the sixties the idea of Britain turning into a quasi-Communist state seemed more realistic than now. These days I think most of us realise that it isn’t the government that’s all powerful, but the wealthy; the government is just as manipulated by these people as the rest of us. However this film isn’t so far off the mark when you consider that people these days often feel more animated to vote for X Factor than their local MP.

Privilege is a flawed film that seems to be pulling in several directions at once. There are many cliches and a serious lack of tension or sympathy. Steven Shorter’s meltdown is eventually a big anti-climax and the repercussions of his actions for him or anyone else are not investigated.

Still, I wouldn’t want to be too negative. The film is beautifully filmed and many scenes look fantastic. Also it does hit some high points when it strays into more exotic imagery: toe-tapping bishops, walking apples and ticker tape parades.

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Ultimately it’s hard to recommend, but anyone who has a love of the quirkier end of sixties film-making will find at least some of this film very enjoyable.

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I Was at the C&H 100th Podcast

February 2, 2010

I was at the Collings and Herrin 100th podcast last night. It was very much a celebratory occasion.

I’m almost embarrassed that I’ve listened to over a hundred hours of this nonsense. I could’ve done something more useful and less geeky with that time. Like building a scale model of the TARDIS out of circuit boards.

I got the opportunity to ask a question in the Q&A. Before I got to ask my question Richard Herring compared me to John Lennon and suggested I might get shot. I’d heard Mark Chapman shot Lennon because he wanted to be famous; Someone would only shoot me if they wanted to become anonymous. Anyway, I asked how they felt about inspiring so many other people to do podcasts of their own. Unsurprisingly they wanted them all to stop. Fair enough.

(By the way, my shitty podcast is at http://abadidea.org/. Sorry.)

Now, for those of you who don’t know, at the end of each podcast Andrew Collins will take a picture with his MacBook to go alongside the recording.

I’ve now appeared in two of these – which could well be a record. A pathetic record, but I’ll take anything I can get.

Here I am in last nights photo:

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It’s not the clearest of pictures so here’s an arrow pointing me out:

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Here’s me in the photo for the 31st podcast:

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Again, just in case you’re wondering which one is me:

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I don’t know why I’m pointing this out. I feel ridiculous.

Strangely, while my wife was sitting next to me when both of these photos were taken, she doesn’t appear so I guess she was ashamed to be there and hid when the pictures were taken. Clever girl.


Film Review: Permissive

January 29, 2010

I’ve recently gained possession of three DVDs from the BFIs Flipside series. Apparently the goal of Flipside is to rescue and restore unusual or cult British films from the cultural skip.

I’m a big fan of all things late sixties and groovy, and I can’t resist old footage of London so some of the films they’ve chosen have a lot of appeal to me. I’ll be reviewing the films over the next few days.

First up is Permissive. It’s a sexploitation movie from 1970 about groupies following a band who are on the bottom rung of the rock ladder.

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First let’s get the sexploitation aspect out of the way lest I be prevented from leaving the house without a grubby mac. This is a not an erotic movie. Certainly there is plenty of naked lady flesh but any frisson is quickly lost because a) they’re shagging ugly hairy hippies, b) all the scenes are liberally intercut with shots of dead people and c) everyone is utterly dead-eyed.

If, on the other hand, you can only reach a state of tumescence by seeing the naked, hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band bobbing up and down: good news – I’ve found a film you’re going to love!

The excellent booklet that comes with the disc notes that the makers of sexploitation movies would often ensure that the sex scenes weren’t fun so they would be more likely to get past the censors. Nothing much has changed in this regard – every film in recent memory that has included explicit sex scenes has been an art house parade of misery. I’m not going to say that this is either a good or bad thing; after all if people want to see explicit sex scenes I understand that such things are available on the internet. However it’s hardly surprising that the British have such a dysfunctional attitude to sex when all on screen portrayals have to be served up with a heaping spoonful of bromide.

But I digress…

The movie begins with a brief flash forward and then we see our protagonist Suzy arrive in London wearing and carrying half of an army surplus store with her. Let’s just say she’s not dressed glamourously. We don’t know where she’s come from or why she’s there, only that she’s come to meet her old school friend. Suzy arrives in the bands hotel room only to find her friend shagging Alan from The Average White Band. A shock for any woman.

Predictably Suzy gets dragged into the bands orbit and becomes corrupted.

Permissive came out in 1970 and there’s no escape from the feeling that everyone in this film had partied through the psychedelic era only to end up the jaded and dislocated people in this movie. It’s as if everyone is tired and sleepwalking through their lives. The music is repetitive, the shots from the transit van are repetitive, the locations blur into one. Everything in this film portrays life on the road as monotonous.

Adding to the feeling of dislocation is the fact that every character in the film arrives with no back story and little in the way of personality. Have they always been this way or have years of touring turned them into this?

The film is unremittingly grimy, to the extent that it kind of clings to you after you watch it. It also contains an eye watering amount of cynicism.

In an odd way it feels like an extended version of those Public Information Films you used to see about not playing with electric pylons, or the importance of wearing a seat belt. Unlike those films, this is a warning on the dangers of being a groupie. PIFs don’t have a plot, back story or character development either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Despite it’s numerous flaws, and there are many, Permissive is a single-minded film that perfectly captures a time and a atmosphere. Wether you want to be on the receiving end of such a grubby feeling is very much up to you. And if you don’t want to see the hairy arse of Alan from The Average White Band then you’d best avoid.


On the Trail of the Heavy Metal Umlaut

January 23, 2010

I was listening to the Word Podcast today and they had a very interesting guest: Phil Smee. Because I’m a lover of psychedelic rock I know Smee best as the owner of Bam Caruso records and the guy who compiled the fantastic Rubble compilations. I was also aware that he designed record sleeves.

What I didn’t know was that he’d designed the Motorhead logo.

If you want to hear him talk about it, you can download the podcast here. He starts talking about it after about five minutes.

Excitingly, he explains why he used the umlaut over the second O.

Back in those days you added fonts to your artwork by using Letraset. For those who don’t know, Letraset was basically a sheet of letters much like transfers. You put the plastic sheet of letters on your artwork and then rubbed a pen or pencil over it to transfer it to the paper.

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Phil Smee then describes how very often you’d run out of letters, usually vowels, and this stuff was expensive so you’d have little tricks to work around it. He would use the foreign characters and then scratch off the bits he didn’t need, such as the umlauts. On this occasion he transfered the umlaut, looked at it and thought that it looked pretty good so he left it there.

Further on he says he needed to make a similar economy when he got to the H. He’d run out of Hs so he used a small L and part of a W.

So I had to have a look at this and check out the improvised h.

Here is the original logo:

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Sure enough his description entirely matches up with the design.

From the next album onwards the logo looked like this:

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I’ve seen this logo a million times and never thought twice about it. Now I can’t stop looking at it. Look at how bloody wonky it is. The ‘h’ looks all weird, the ‘ead’ is pointing in a hundred different directions at once. What the hell is happening with that ‘a’? And the letters are meant to be on a curve but aren’t uniform at all.

What a bloody mess.

This got me looking at some of the Motorhead album covers and I was looking at Bomber when I saw this:

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Where the hell is Philthy Phil’s body meant to be? Are we to believe that Philthy Phil’s disembodied head is shooting Germans from that turret?

Anyway….

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of a band whose name was altered by Letraset.

Apparently Therapy? got their question mark when the designer of their first record sleeve was using Letraset. He hadn’t spaced the characters properly which left a big gap at the end of the bands name. What else is a designer to do? He decided to add a question mark thereby changing the bands name.

Still, I don’t imagine we’ll be reading a wikipedia article about Heavy Metal Question Marks anytime soon.


The Persuasionists: Cut Short and Cut Up

January 17, 2010

I tried to watch BBC2s new sitcom The Persuasionists recently and I only made it through 18 minutes before I had to give up on it.  The last time I couldn’t finish watching a sitcom it was the recent remake of Reggie Perrin which is interesting because they share quite a bit of common ground.  Although to be honest RP just made me sad and depressed that David Nobbs would allow such a horrible thing to happen to his finest creation.  If the writer of Men Behaving Badly asked to piss on my cat I wouldn’t say yes wholly on the basis that I get to join in.

Anyway…

Rather than just slag off The Persuasionists as being crap I thought I’d share my inexpert opinions about why it doesn’t work.

Firstly, a quick summary

The Persuasionists is based at an advertising agency.  There’s a perma-angry Australian boss.  There’s a creative played by Iain Lee. There’s a guy who pitches campaigns played by Adam Buxton.  There’s a ditzy blonde who does, uh, something.  Finally there’s a character who is best described as “comedy foreigner” – imagine something like Latka from Taxi played by someone with only a thousandth of the talent.  During the show this team is expected to pitch a slogan for a product called Cockney Cheese.

Here’s the title sequence:

With that out of the way, here’s why it doesn’t work

1. Nobody likes a smartarse

One feature of poorly written sitcoms is what I think of as the smartarse setup.  It often goes like this: smartarse is in a room doing whatever it is they do when one of the wacky characters walks in and says something stupid; smartarse then delivers witty put down.  End of dialogue.

This is the comedy equivalent of a strawman.  You set up a strawman just so you can easily beat it up.  The problem with that is that it’s lazy and it’s boring to watch.

Let’s make a comparison.  Let’s look at Father Ted.  The character of Father Ted is really Mr Average; he’s not especially intelligent or witty, he’s just kind of average like the rest of us.  Dougal walks in the room and says something stupid.  What often happens next is Father Ted then tries to explain to Dougal why he’s being stupid.  Dougal and Ted then get involved in a conversation that often results in Father Ted being unable to win the argument against an idiot and the idiot being just as confused as he was previously.

Most importantly though there’s interaction between characters, there’s conflict, and that makes interesting viewing.

Now some folk might say that there’s nothing wrong with the smartarse setup.  Surely that’s the classic structure of a joke: setup/punch, setup/punch.  Yes it is and I’m not saying it’s always wrong but once a sitcom relies on that structure for the bulk of it’s jokes then clearly the writers are not developing characters or developing interesting situations.

And that’s boring.

2. Get off your fat arse

I think Iain Lee’s character is meant to be the central character, the one we identify with most.  I say this because all the other characters are wacky caricatures.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem to be very well defined that he’s the central character but to me it seemed that he was.  It’s a poorly written sitcom so how the fuck should I know.  Anyway.

What I didn’t understand is why he’s so passive.  For the whole 18 mins he was sitting in a chair.

It really bothered me that the main character didn’t really move and all the other characters had to come to him. Think of the main characters in any other sitcoms and think about how much they move from place to place.  OK, The Royale Family are an exception.  Think about Fawlty Towers, Rising Damp, The Office.  Even Fletcher in Porridge moves about more and he’s in Prison.

It just seems all wrong to me.

3. Slogans are fun!

The writers have set the show in an advertising agency which gives them a tried and tested formula.  Several sitcoms have gone with a similar idea: Reggie Perrin had to work on marketing campaigns, Absolute Power had various PR shenanigans.  One of the irresistible things about this setup is that your characters can spout advertising slogans for fictional products.

This should be dead easy: create a product and then create a ridiculous slogan for it.

The writers mentioned three slogans in the eighteen minutes I saw and they were all unfunny.  The one that was the centrepiece of the show was a bit poor – Cockney Cheese – Leave it Aaaaat!!

Here’s some equally unfunny alternatives I came up with in about three minutes

Cockney Cheese – As old fashioned as being able to leave your front door open
Cockney Cheese – It’s rhyming slang for “that’s very nice”
Cockney Cheese – It’s rhyming slang for “Parkinson’s Disease” – which incidentally it also prevents
Cockney Cheese – Churned within the sound of cow bells
Cockney Cheese – duck and dive with some cheese and chive

Now all of those are shit.  But it only took me, a chronically stupid man, a few minutes to come up with those and I think they’re a tad more imaginative then “Leave it aaaaat!”  And let’s also remember that I didn’t suggest cockney cheese as potential comedy gold – the writers did and so you’d expect them to do better.  If they couldn’t come up with a funny slogan for cockney cheese then they could just come up with a different product.

Anyway, at one point the characters in the show are pushed to come up with an alternative slogan.  Maybe they came up with something hilarious later on in the show.  But during the eighteen minutes I watched they didn’t, Lee’s character suggested they just print it in a different font and put more exclamation marks after it.

Now that strikes me as a cop out because 1) the writers have dodged making another slogan and 2) we all know advertising doesn’t put loads of exclamation marks after a slogan which means that not only is it not funny but it doesn’t make any sense either.

4. Comedy Foreigner

There’s this character.  He has a foreign accent.  He is very loud.  He holds a very large pencil in his hand and suggests it’s like his cock.  He shouts suggestive things about sex.  He’s like a character from ‘Allo ‘Allo just without the existential angst.

If that sounds funny to you then you really don’t want to miss THE PERSUASIONISTS!

5. The Boss from hell

Sitcoms down the years are scattered with bosses from hell: David Brent, CJ from Reggie Perrin, Bishop Brennan from Father Ted, either Mr Reynholm from The IT Crowd, that dude with the moustache in Terry and June.  So this is another tried and tested formula it should be hard to get wrong.

Adam Buxton’s character is called in to the bosses office so he can roar at him.  The boss them roars at him.

And that’s it.

Once again this shows a tragic lack of imagination.  If he’s going to do demeaning things to his employees then why stop there.

He could demand that Buxton smear nutella round his face while singing I Should Be So Lucky.  He could ride Buxton like a pony while brushing his “mane” and calling him Doris.  He could get Buxton to clean a spill of his desk with his own shirt.  Again, these ideas are quite shit but that’s just what popped into my head just this minute and again that seems a wee bit more creative than what happened in the show.

Seriously, just think of this setup: boss calls character into his office and does something demeaning to him.

Now imagine something that could happen in that scene.  You’ve probably just thought of something funnier than “he roars in his face”

So that was pretty much where I decided that this show wasn’t going to go anywhere.  If you can’t think of something funny in that situation then you have no right considering yourself a professional comedy writer.

So…

Is it unfair of me to write off the show after 18 minutes?  Absolutely.  But then no one died and made me Judge Dredd.  I’m just a viewer and I don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to.  18 minutes was as much as I could stand and I’d thought I’d write about why that was.

I love sitcoms, it’s such a shame when they’re created in such an obviously slapdash manner.


My Top Ten Albums of 2009

December 31, 2009

Hey folks. Another year, another chance to look back over twelve months and see what’s been rocking my socks off. Now I should be clear: There’s a lot of music out there I don’t give a monkey’s about and so I haven’t listened to it. I haven’t listened to Lady Gaga because I’m a 35 year old straight man – she’s not aimed at me. Similarly most of the indie bobbins out there is aimed at people who go to Motorhead gigs ironically and then spend all night taking photos of themselves to post on Twitter – again, I’m not the target demographic.

So this is just the stuff I’ve stumbled across and liked. Maybe you’ll like it too.

In no particular order:

Touchdown – Brakes

This is probably best described as Indie pop with a touch of Country and the occasional blast of glam rock. The closest comparison I can make, with some reservations, is The Shins. The album starts with the pulsing Two Shocks, moves through chiming guitar pop, a gospel style hoedown and ripping off Roxy Music riffs.

It really is an album with a surprise around every corner and consequently it’s one of my favourites this year.

Watch Me Fall – Jay Reatard

Reatard seems to have a knack for pissing people off. There’s that awful name for one. He’s got into fights with his audience and angered his band to the point where they deserted him mid-tour. So it’s quite surprising to find that his music is not just snotty punk rock but fantastically skillful pop music with an undercurrent of psych. This album rattles through 32 minutes in no time at all and the quality is high throughout.

The Prodigy – Invaders Must Die

I wasn’t as disappointed with “Always Outnumbered” as many Prodigy fans, however even I can agree that this is a fantastic comeback. For this album they seem to have married the best elements of the first two albums to the punk attitude they discovered on Fat of the Land meaning they’ve pulled off a brilliant trick of invoking their past without repeating themselves.

Let’s Wrestle – In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s

And the award for the best album title goes to In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s! The album itself is pretty great too if you like Wedding Present-ish type stuff. I Won’t Lie to You was on of my favorite singles from last year and they really showed that it wasn’t a one off. The real star of this record is the lyrics where our protagonist is a loser but not a self pitying one.

The Wildhearts – Chutzpah!

Wildhearts albums have always been a mixed bag but this time Ginger and crew have really hit the mark. A collection of three minute pop epics in a variety of styles that never seem at odds with each other. While there are the usual air-punching singalongs there are also epic rock workouts like Jackson Whites and Tim Smith (a tribute to the Cardiacs main man who fell ill recently). While the Wildhearts sound might be too polished for some tastes, for anyone else this is as about as good as it gets.

Art Brut – Art Brut vs Satan

Eddie Argos is a cracking lyricist and he’s occasionally in great form here. Of particular note is Alcoholics Unanimous with it’s story of drunken misbehaviour. On top of that the tunes are great. Having said that there are a few tracks here that only just manage to tread water. I do have one pet peeve about this album though: I find the habit of making the chorus just a repeat of the title barked out four times in a row just a little tedious.

Still, Art Brut are great and I’m looking forward to the next album.

Bob Mould – Life and Times

Bob was on my list last year and here he is again. He’s still overly keen on that autotune/vocoder effect (come on Bob, your voice isn’t that bad) but his songwriting is terrific and really hits all the right notes with me. I think I’m Sorry, Baby, But You Can’t Stand in My Light Anymore is a Bob Mould classic that as good as anything else he’s ever written.

Spinnerette – Spinnerette

I must admit that I was only vaguely aware of Brody Dalle’s previous band The Distillers. I heard Ghetto Love and was immediately impressed. On this album Brody really shows us what a versatile singer she can be while the music is surprisingly ambitious, such as the jangling mandolins that suddenly appear in the middle eight of Baptized by Fire.

Therapy? – Crooked Timber

Therapy took a break before this album to regroup and try something different. This is certainly more experimental and while it occasional misses, it is a tremendously vicious listen if you’re in the mood for such a thing. Certainly, this is a band very much ploughing it’s own furrow, confident in who they are. This doesn’t sound like Troublegum and they don’t care.

Zoot Woman – Things Are What They Used to Be

This is fantastically well made electro-pop record. I must confess it hasn’t connected with as much as I thought it would however Just a Friend of Mine, Lonely by Your Side and We Won’t Break are fantastic songs.

Also…

A few albums came out in 2008 and I didn’t catch them until the start of 2009 so I thought I’d sneak them in here.

The Week That Was and School of Language were my most played albums of this year. In case you don’t know, the brothers from Field Music decided to go their separate ways and create their own records. School is very much the effort of a single person while Week is rather lavish. Both are fantastic albums and sit very well together. I highly recommend both of them.

Additionally I discovered You Slut!‘s album, Critical Meat. It’s instrumental rock music that is almost the opposite of post-rock. It’s frenetic, energetic stuff that sounds like an alien’s hurried interpretation of what all human rock music sounds like. Again, highly recommended.


I Went to See Stewart Lee

December 30, 2009

Me and my missus went to see Stewart Lee’s stand up show last night at the Leicester Square Theatre.

We were sitting in seats B17 and B18. We were sitting next to each other because we’re married.

We’d got to the venue rather early but were happy to get out of the rain, sit down and have a swift beer. A few minutes later a woman came up to us and said “seats 17 and 18 yeah?” “Yeah” said I. She seemed satisfied with this answer and walked off.

OK, that was weird.

About five minutes later a bald bloke wearing glasses and a suit came up to me with the woman from earlier silently standing next to him. I think I could guess where this was going. “Excuse me could I see your tickets?” “No problem” said I and handed them over. “I just need to check these out, I’ll be back shortly” said baldy.

And off they both went. With my tickets.

It then immediately struck me that I had just assumed that baldy-glasses-suit man was the manager of the theatre. I’d based this entirely on the fact that he looked how I imagined a theatre manager to look.

It then struck me that I had been the victim of an ingenious scam. Immediately my keen brain worked out their modus operandi:

  • Two scammers entered the theatre using genuine tickets. One of these scammers looked like a theatre manager (remember: bald, glasses, suit)
  • The scammers then selected a couple of mugs in plum seats near the front (ie. me and the wife).
  • The “manager” then approached one of us asking for our tickets. He then walked off with them.
  • What would happen next is the female scammer would take those tickets to the real theatre manager and get him to eject us.
  • The scammers would now have prime seats.
  • Not only that: they also have two more tickets which they can pass to someone else (via the toilet window, smoking area, etc)

The pair had clearly come up with a genius scam however I was prepared. I still had a print out of my ticket reservation!

Ha! Take that scammers!

At this point the scammers must have lost their nerve and realised they were dealing with a superior intellect. The so-called “manager” returned my tickets to me.

I don’t mind telling you, I felt very smug indeed.

So kids, what we’ve learnt today is that you should always hold on to your receipt.


Weirdly the only two empty seats in the house were directly in front of us – A17 and A18. Later on Stewart Lee stood on those seats to shout at the audience. So I guess they were left empty on purpose.

Still it was a odd experience having the purple head of Stewart Lee off the telly shouting directly over me.


I have to say that Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus get worse and worse every year. It is almost indistinguishable from Blackpool except it doesn’t have a nice beach, it doesn’t have a nice tower, it doesn’t have those lovely trams. It’s full of gaudy hucksterish attractions and grubby burger bars horribly illuminated by flashing adverts for televisions and coke (the two things that have made Britain what it is today: obese and stupid).

Having said that I can’t mock my fellow countrymen for being stupid when so many of the tourists that populate LS and PC seem so monumentally thick. This shouldn’t be surprising: any tourist who thinks that gawping at bright flashing lights through the window of a TFI Friday is a satisfactory way to spend one’s holiday is unlikely to be a philosopher.

These cretins seem to be incapable of understanding how traffic lights work. They don’t understand that if they and their friends stop walking on a busy pavement then no else can get past them. They don’t seem to understand that if they stop at the top of an escalator they’re likely to cause an accident.

They’re like stupid cattle you’re not allowed to kill

* grumble grumble *

I just hope they’re spending lots of money…..

Anyway I think I’ll stop there before this whole post becomes a great big cliché. Go and see Stewart Lee.


DVD Reviews: Synecdoche, Telstar, Dead Snow, Is Anybody There?

November 29, 2009

Synecdoche, New York

I enjoyed Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine and Adaptation a lot so I was quite curious to see what Charlie Kaufman had been up to here.  Of course, Kaufman has always come dangerously close to self-indulgent but he has always managed to walk that tightrope by balancing this out with big helpings of humour and imagination.

So, if a screenwriter disappears up his own arse but that arse turns out to be the arse of an actor playing the screenwriter, will the audience give a shit?  The answer on the evidence of this film is: No.

The premise is certainly compelling to begin with.  Hoffman plays Caden, a writer and director of pretentious plays who decides to direct the mother of all plays: he’s going to recreate large chunks of New York in a huge warehouse.  As inevitably as M Night Shayamalan must have a twist at the end, Kaufman’s screenplays must start to eat their own tail.  It’d be a spoiler to explain how it eats itself but it does and the mindfucking begins.

During the film there are scenes as awful as the worst teenage poetry, dialogue that sounds like it’s meant to be profound but really is just wallowing in self-pity and misery.  Is Kaufman serious or is he mocking the pretentious director?  On reflection I believe he’s being sincere, which is very worrying.

Further, what’s notable about Caden is that he is performing and acting out a play with no audience.  Similarly Kaufman appears to have had little or no thought for an audience in constructing this movie.

Synecdoche is certainly a curiosity, but not one that I’d recommend you seek out.  This movie is self-absorbed, alienating and pretentious.

Telstar

I’m a big fan of Joe Meek’s work and have been long fascinated by his story.

Meek was a brilliant but troubled sound engineer who decided to start his own record label at the start of the sixties, something unheard of at the time.  He searched for acts, co-wrote the songs, recorded them, engineered them and arranged publicity and tours from a two floor flat in Holloway Road.

Meek was rather successful and had several hit singles, including Telstar which was the first British single to reach number one in America.  Unfortunately Meek also had his problems such as his explosive temper and a voracious sexual appetite (which would have been less of a problem if he wasn’t gay at a time when it was basically illegal).

Telstar is a cheap but brave effort to try to recreate the period.  It feels more like a BBC TV drama than a movie and the script clearly shows it’s theatrical roots.  The opening of the movie is clunky in the way it introduces it’s characters, almost as if they’re being announced at a dinner party but almost gets away with it by being fast-paced and fun.  Similarly the rest of the movie charms it’s way through many of the usual music bio-pic cliches.  Unfortunately that charm doesn’t hold up so well during the darker parts of the story.

I was already very familiar with the story of Joe Meek so I thought it was rather unfortunate that they’d taken off the rougher edges of Meek’s personality to make him more sympathetic.  This was understandable but I thought it was a shame that the audience wasn’t trusted a little more.

Anyway, it’s enjoyable enough but I can’t help but feel that it’s a missed opportunity.

Is Anybody There?

Michael Caine plays a retired magician who books himself into an old peoples home. The young son of the woman who owns the home has a morbid fascination with death.  Eventually they get to know each other and important life lessons are learned, or something like that.

It is in fact a very sweet film with a great cast and script. It may be a little predictable but it doesn’t out stay it’s welcome.

Dead Snow

Nazi Zombies in the snow!

There’s every zombie cliche known to man in this film.  But who gives a shit, it’s about Nazi zombies and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.