About Me

My photo
26.2 miles in under 3 and a half hours. Sounds easy on paper and I will be posting regular updates, the highs and the lows. Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Waiting to go

Time does go slow when you don’t do any thing all day at work. At home it just flies by, you can be watching every single episode of a series of 24 and it would only seem like about 5 hours. Here, the time may even be going backwards.

My new boss said I can go straight after lunch, which, for me is 3 o’clock. Great stuff! That means I can go home, get changed, have a 6 mile run in the sunshiii-iine, shower, changed, and then be at the National Gallery for 6pm, where I am to get right cultured up. Init?

As I type this, I have just received an email inviting me to an Employee Of The Year awards dinner at the Marriott hotel in Birmingham a week on Thursday. I nearly laughed myself silly. I have been offered an award for my work for charity (I did a half-marathon last year). What a thoroughly, bloody decent bunch of people.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wire- Are all things with this name excellent?

How have I missed it? For so long, I have been searching for a magazine to take me to the next level. I want superior, no-nonsense journalism, which entertains and, more important at the moment, educates.

I have stagnated in the past for the past three years. Mojo magazine has been my Gideons Bible for the past 10 years. Other titles died, some became unreadable, populist pap and the rest were just glossy lists masquerading as music journalism.

Wire magazine, like its Baltimore based namesake TV show elevates a dying trade to a level previously unseen since whichever heyday you can relate to. It's on issue 301, I have a lot of catching up to do.

At 100 pages, it is slim, classy, attractive, uncluttered and oozes quality writing from its pores. I have always sought new music but, obviously, Mojo is not really where to look. Even the Fleet Foxes, who were championed across the board, are household names, leaving no room for the seasoned music Nazi to cock-a-snook.

In the next 2 weeks I will be seeking out the possible pleasures of Andrew Cyrille, Joe Morris, Kong Nay and Menace Ruine. The only thing that connects them is their independent spirits and originality. I will even try my ear at jazz once more. Never got my head around it before and this is the last time. But the magazine makes it sound so fascinating. I am excited about music again.

And I haven't felt like that for years. 

Working out my notice

The resignation letter landed in my boss’s lap on Friday afternoon, plonked there by myself, stifling a smile as broad as Cheshire itself. It was the start of winding down and being invisible.

I am just approaching a week of being dispensable and it is feeling really rather good. It is getting to be quite difficult to fill my days, but enough aimless wanders to the deli or the library seem to do the trick.

When I do finally get back to my desk, the mountains of paperwork are not there, the queries too have been funneled toward the new boss. People are even saying, “Why am I asking you? You don’t care!” And it’s true, but there’s no need to vocalize it. Surely my slouched seated stance and distant stare out of the window is evidence enough.

I even woke up an hour late today, which made me late for work. But I still found time to arse around on Twitter at home before my shower, safe in the knowledge that no-one is going to give two hoots if I walk through the door late. And no-one did.

It is a bit like being invisible. Arguments are breaking out among my staff and I am sitting back and watching, like I am at a tennis match. And smiling. It justifies my decision to leave. No-one looks to me for a resolution, no-one asks for an opinion. I have another week left, at least, and I think you are going to see my blog count go up. Because I am writing them all at work.

Las Iguanas - Eat Latin, Big Breasts

At night, the South Bank transforms into a sight London can be proud of. Its shafts of light and subtle neon and electric signage pump a life blood through the concrete carbuncles, which in the stark honest daylight deflate any sense of pride.

Circling the Royal Festival Hall are shops and restaurant chains which come from the accepted higher end of the retail and dining spectrum. A Giraffe nuzzles alongside a Strada beneath the old Hall, and Ping Pong forms an Eastern Bloc with Feng Sushi on its west side. In prime position, jutting out on the corner of the top deck is the vibrant and colourful Las Iguanas.

Imploring you to ‘Eat Latin, Drink Latin’, and if you could get a table, you would more than likely love to. We visited at 9pm on a Wednesday evening and had to wait half an hour to get seated. To the bar, then!

It is a small, functional bar, which serves the whole restaurant and the two guys whizzing up cocktails and cracking open ice cold bottles of Cusquena coped admirably. We weren’t allowed to get our drinks on a tab, even if we were eating. With the bar area right by the bar, this seemed reasonable.

We were seated at a cute corner table, which was right by the stairs (apart from the odd clumpy footed office type it wasn’t noticeable) and scanned the A3 sized menu. The delights on offer were plentiful and straightforward to follow and we ordered from the 3 for £12 tapas option for starters and had a risotto and xinxim for mains.

The drinks were a mixed bunch. My caiprinha was, and always will be superb. It’s a very hard drink to get wrong and all about the cachaca, which at Las Iguanas is their own brand. Made at their own plantation in Brazil, it has a simple, pleasant taste – as you would expect from a drink made with only sugar cane and water – and the trick is to keep mixing the ice and the lime in the glass while you enjoy it.

The passion fruit and orange cooler for my tee-total wife, however, was a wash-out. Essentially £3 for an orange juice. No zing, no zang, and no repeat sale. The tap water was excellent.

As the calamares, chorizo and quesadilla starters swamped our little table for two, my wife decided to point out the big, perfectly formed breasts, which would be in my line of vision for the duration of my meal. Not hers - a blonde floozy who, because of this corner seating thing, was not 6 feet away and with no-one to obstruct the view. I will try and remember the food though.

The chorizo in a rioja jus, was tasty, although a little stingy with the sausage. If they are going to scrimp, maybe better to put them in a smaller dish. The quesadillas were stuffed with giant portabello mushrooms and topped with creamy brie, fired up by a beautiful, chunky salsa. The calamares come drizzled in a light aioli dressing, which used to be spicy but alas, no longer. They are small crunchy pieces that melt in the mouth. The breasts – “Are they real?” my wife enquired. I was trying to concentrate on the food, honestly.

The xinxim, a creamy chicken and crayfish concoction, is tangy and fragrant and served with green beans and plantains. The green beans are always difficult to keep warm and I don’t think they have ever reached my table above around 10 degrees. The broth itself is a guilty pleasure but there was too much of it and the poor bits of chicken looked lost. A bit like a pair of small hands cupping giant breasts.

The wife – oh there you are – was a tad disappointed by the seafood content of the Bahian risotto, which was also a bit dry and needed pepping up with some of my surplus xinxim lake. The flavours in both are fantastic and you can get every one of them in spades, however, the balance of ingredients is a bit lopsided. Unlike those perfect breasts, pulsating across the way.

We skipped the desert. A mass of naughty chocolate puds being devoured in the flightpath of zeppelin one and two may have edged me into Bill Clinton territory. The service was friendly and unobtrusive, the prices, more than reasonable for a sell-out South Bank eatery and the funbags truly….OK this has got to stop. Recommended
Price for 2 including 2 cocktails and glass of wine and service - £50
Food – 7
Drinks – 7
Atmosphere – 8

Breasts – 36DD

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Daily Mail penetrates the young

I am always shocked and saddened when a perfectly normal looking person sits next to me on the train, unzips his manbag or rucksack and pulls out a copy of the Daily Mail and starts to read intently. I can half-understand him picking it up from the luggage rack for something to do, but even then, given the choice, I would just leave it there and glower at it every now and then as though it was listening to Rhianna too loudly on its tinny headphones. This guy yesterday was young, late twenties, wearing a suit, no tie. His hair was spiky and, dare I say, funky? I would have been disappointed if he had pulled out a copy of Q magazine as he appeared to me to be more of a Uncut or Word reader. If he was your young professional, and not just wearing the jacket and trousers as a Superdrug team leader, I would have expected a New Statesman or Economist. (I couldn’t, at that point, hazard a guess at the guy’s political stance – I can now.) The Daily Mail emerged from that Jansport back pack like a radioactive sanitary towel, contaminating and horrifying all who come into contact with it. In the readers case it horrifies him or her with its mild invective on the decline of this scepter’d isle and its degenerate inhabitants. It contaminates their minds like an unstoppable cult, spreading its hate and ideologies on Middle England. What is it about this rag that attracts my traveling companion and his peers? This was one of the issues I had to address in my essay to get on to a BA course at university and now, coming up to completing my second term, I am no closer to understanding the answer. The free CD’s are probably the bait, but the hook has to be the content, and the content, both in layout and actual words, is dated and regressive. It really should only appeal to people who are too set in their ways to know, or want to know, better. It takes all sorts to make up a democracy and for the under thirties it would be foolish to think everyone thinks along the same lines as me and my peers. Maybe they are too young now to remember the Thatcher years, the Major years, even. But they cannot all be unaware of the antipathy held toward them. Conservative politics with conservative values were all but consigned to the dustbin with fluorescent day-glo and white rimmed sunglasses. Now it seems they are all coming back with aplomb.

The retro attraction of the eighties music scene, seems to have gathered pace and with it the return to the Tory values of old. The mixture of right wing politics and a young, fresh faced leader of the Conservatives, a la Blair in the nineties, are helping to revive the Mail’s brand at a time when the whole industry faces ruin in some of its constituent parts. Should I, as a journalism student, be happy that young people are reading the printed word at all? Possibly, but with the dumbing-down of content across the board, I don’t see how I can defend any of them at the moment. As Patrick Wintour states in The Guardian, “Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity.” This could quite easily apply to newspapers.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Mystery shopping

Tonight I assumed the nom de restaurant Mr Linehan. I went undercover in one the outlets of a chain which boasts my brother as ops manager. Having nothing else in my head at the time other than the recently scanned pages of Graham Linehan's website, I decided to steal part of his identity.

Las Iguanas is a South American, Latin food and music extravaganza with a healthy whack of cachaca thrown in. The colours are bright and the food plentiful and is a great place for large groups to sample the various tapas and multi coloured cocktails.

I will post a review, maybe not from this visit but from A visit at a later date.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Review: Morrissey - Years Of Refusal

His recent activity on our shores have caused the legions of fawning fans to rise to the surface once more, defending their fay hero to the hilt.

It seems our Moz would do anything rather than stay in this country. It seems he is less loyal to his loyal following than, I'm sure, they would like. He is no better than Phil Collins really. Stay in the U.S. or Italy, anywhere, just not Britain. Just nip over, raid their manbags and purses and flee like Raffles into the night.

Before he starts his biannual theft of the nation's overdrawn bank accounts he has dropped another one of his much hyped solo albums. The man who railed against the record companies so effectively on 'Paint A Vulgar Picture' is doing the rounds, laughing at Wossy's gags on his chat show and looking very uncomfortable. The credit crunch truly must be universal. He has even resorted to a strip with his band to try and shift a few extra units. Sellout? Well let's look inside. 

It's a hairdrying, furnace blast opener in 'Something Is Squeezing My Skull'. He sounds positively masculine, barking the names of prescription drugs out against the howling tsunami of his full-on band. It has the light thrash of a limp Therapy? under his Manc-Irish Proclaimer-lite chorus. 500 miles?

The next two bang along in a similar fashion, like Spector has burst in to the studio and told everyone to play like there were 50 of them at gunpoint. 'I'm Throwing My Arms Around Paris' takes the foot off the pedal in a Stranglers on the Bontempi kind of manner. 'All You Need Is Me' is fine, it has a great lilting verse but the chord changes are somewhat pedestrian.

The Spanish clippity clop of 'When Last I Spoke To Carol' is a welcome respite from the unnatural tone of the album and provides one of the highlights. It's playful, and shows the humour that Morrissey used to display so well and in such abundance. He also manages to stray of the lyrics and 'wo-wo' giving the tune an air of spontaneity.

Halfway through and I am just crying out for a lead guitar line or a frickin' piano or something to break the monotony. The beautiful bass of Andy Rourke is a very distant memory and this very tiring album wears thin very quickly. Even when the Spanish trumpet reprises for 'One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell'.

'It's Not Your Birthday Anymore' and to be honest I am not looking forward to it if someone is going to get me this half-arsed, one-trick pony of an album. I'm going to get my copies of Strangeways and Vauxhall and pour myself a Baileys. Hopefully next time Morrissey deigns to darken our shores he can come bearing finer gifts than this.


Goody Goody Gum Drops

Jade Goody, the media personality created for us and by us will shuffle off this mortal coil at some point this year, says her publicist and doctor Max Clifford.

The news has been met with yet another shrug of the shoulders by a public numbed to the point of indifference by over-saturation. Death in the news holds no real emotion any longer unless it's met in some horrific, new fashion or part of a grisly murder spree.

How should we feel? Some strange people are saying that she deserves it, etc. How did it get to this? A woman who doesn't know where East Anglia is is wished dead by the very people who once laughed their Burberry caps off at her thickness.

While I have no real feelings either way on the subject, I don't know her after all, she will still leave her children motherless. So she is put in the quite unique position of using the only asset she has ever had, the media, to play out her final few months to earn some cash to leave for the kids. There is no money left in her perfume and she won't need to hire another PA, well not on a permanent basis.

So she will be in the glare of the spotlight as she slips away from us and as it is the public who put her there in the first place, the least we can do is have a few manners and smile awkwardly in her direction when she pops up in the papers and cock our heads yo one side and maybe say 'aah, it's the kids I feel sorry for.' 

And then next time Big Brother comes around you can vote with your remote control and help hammer the final nail in that coffin as well.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Twitter - Bandwagonesque

It's been a long time since I have jumped on a passing bandwagon. And not just that, I have embraced Twitter with gusto and even bored my friends to death championing it.

I have never been a social networker and hate the very thought of faceless chat rooms. I didn't really use my natty MacBook for much more than selling a few CD's on ebay and writing essays for university. 

When Stephen Fry, the archdeacon of Twitter started to bleat on about it I actually sat up and took notice. It's Stephen after all. I have sat up and followed his career since the mid eighties when I understood very little of what he said and laughed mainly at his use of the word Cuntyblast. I know Pip Schofield is also a Twitterer but I stopped following him when he left the broom cupboard. he held little cultural capital for me once he dropped the gopher.

So I gingerly dipped my toe in the sea of Twitter and found the site to be uncomplicated and very take it or leave it. I have mostly taken it. The simplicity and unadulterated, dare I say it, fun, of Twitter is immediate and charming. It has little of the vitriol found in chatrooms and if you choose who you follow carefully enough, you are usually guaranteed a chuckle a day. 

There really are some very amusing 'ordinary' people out there. I don't think it's any coincidence that top writers and journalists use the site. the pithy one-liners they can pilfer for their jottings or sitcoms are endless. The fact that the comments usually have no surrounding context leaves the reader with a laugh and a lot left to his or her own imagination.

On the more academic and serious sides, Twitter has become a networking tool, linking me to media types as well as newspaper websites updating me on the breaking news. But we can get so much more than what the big guns want us to count as stories. We have a new method of providing the news and creating an agenda. twitter is even becoming a news story in itself which is like them watching us watching me watching you watching them and so on.

In a nutshell, as I keep telling the non-believers, it is what you make it. you 'follow' who you want to follow and the experience can be a very rewarding one. It is a glimpse into the future of journalism in a way as newspapers struggle for air, people turn to the net and create their own news agenda by picking and choosing from a wealth of information and tailoring it to their day-to-day needs.

You don't have to follow the celebrities, you don't need to know what Will Carling ate after his bike-ride, but it can break up the Twitterverse you create and provide a welcome distraction before you dive in once more to glean the gen you want, when you want.

Carluccio's restaurant review

Kilburn High Road used to be the hub of a thriving music scene. Before the Blockheads, Ian Dury called his group Kilburn & The High Roads. That was over 30 years ago and the road looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since. Littered with old man pubs, old men and litter, the place has more than its fair share of drunks and homeless. The shops are a jumble of bric-a-brac, charity and pound shops; Woolworths, is now closed and boarded up and was one of only a few name brands. In some ways this was quite endearing, the refusal to have a Starbucks next to a Gap next to a Starbucks lent the road a sense of grubby nostalgia, always yearning for the days of strikes and a struggling economy. its food outlets are uniformly poor. Greasy spoons and greasier chicken shacks vie for the credit crunch quid with dimly lit Italian family-run joints which are only good for taking Lefty Bompansero to get whacked. However, off the High Road, about 5 minutes walk away from The Golden Cock (it’s there, look it up) is the Little Bay restaurant and this was only 30 seconds from where we lived. This gem of an eatery is one of just five and I was fortunate enough to live only five minutes away from their Croydon outlet when I was unfortunate enough to live there. They offer well-cooked fresh ingredients for an unbelievable price and the quality is nearly always excellent. Two of you can whip in there, have three courses each, a bottle of wine and escape with change from £30. The wife and I went as often as we could and that was when the economy was bouncy and we all had thirty credit cards each. We since moved to the more affluent suburb of Earlsfield before the fat cats in the City got found out and ruined it for all of us. Earlsfield is the polar opposite of Kilburn. Instead of bearded men shouting at the traffic the streets teem with runners and hockey players jostling past suited and booted young professionals. Instead of Dev’s Bargain Basement, you will find independent wine shops and posh charity shops where you can pick up a second hand Dolce & Gabbana blouse. Instead of the Texas Chicken Lickin’ Shed you can dine out at Mel’s, Hannah’s or Willie Gunn’s, but you better take one of those credit cards (if the bank has let you keep any). When a poorly run bar shut down in October Carluccio’s sprung up in its place, almost overnight it seemed. We peered in the window and thought, ooh another pricey, posh place for Earlsfield, then we looked at the menu and the prices and thought, ooh, we may be able to eat here. So we did. While not as cheap as the inimitable Little Bay (nowhere is) Carluccio’s offers authentic Italian plates, mostly for well under a tenner. Apparently, they have been around since 1991, but they have always slipped under my radar. Maybe it’s like that phenomenon where you hear a word for the first time, then you never stop hearing that word. Maybe its not. I have walked past their places loads of times and just never noticed them. Maybe they should change their exterior to leap out at me a bit more. Come to think of it, they shouldn’t. They are always never less than full. The restaurants are light and spacious with simple chairs and tables, which echo the simple yet effective cooking they serve. We started with calamari and rice balls. The squid was competently fried and served with a simple lemon slice and lettuce, which, to be honest, is all it needs. I abhor the acidic white paste it usually comes with. Squid is a very delicate flavour and the last thing it needs is to be lost in an overpowering tartare sauce. The rice balls were firm and held together on the fork well, a creamy mozerella filling oozed from one and the other a deep, rich ragu and served with a red pepper sauce which was well justified, adding a zingy flash to the palette. I had just time to swoosh with a mouthful of fresh mint tea when the mains landed. The wife had a large plate of fresh linguine pasta, tossed with plenty of clean, fresh frutti di mare, garlic, herbs and a hint of chilli. I demolished a cold duck breast salad with firm green beans and potatoes. Generous plump green olives brought the whole dish together beautifully. There was a little too much of the olive oil and balsamic dressing but it’s a minor quibble. It is Italian cooking you don’t find on these shores very often. Keep it simple and fresh. It really is that easy. Throw in such reasonable prices and maybe we can sign the rent agreement for another year.

Work and its downside

Work is OK. In fact its more than OK. I don't mind it at all. It gives me the freedom to my university work, scan most of the internet, send amusing emails to my friends and every so often a little bit of actual work to break the monotony of free time. Then I get problem people, in the past they get the hint and leave. This one isn't going anywhere. He's a stubborn kind of fellow and acts like a big girl's blouse. We have barely said a word to each other for weeks. I like to think it doesn't bother me and the actual situation, taken on its own doesn't. I can sit there without saying a word to him for years. But as part of a pretty fantastic life as mine is right now, it's a spanner in my well oiled works.
Home life is peachy and I keep myself busy twittering, blogging, keeping fit, going out with the wife, watching 24, writing essays, speaking to friends. It's all so easy at the moment. And Lord knows I love an easy life. So, what to do? Well, I can't go into too much detail yet, don't want to jinx any impending decisions, but I am being proactive about it. Until this happens I will just have to tolerate this thorn in my side and pretend I like the people in my office more than I usually do, just to spite him in a weird way. And I know he's doing the same thing. Strange days indeed.
The next week could be a stunning success or an absolute, numbing headache and ballache for me. But at least I have the ball in my court and I am doing something about it. I'll let you know as soon as I do.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

More Miles

Another week, another Miles Hunt gig. This time it was just him and his violinist and partner (?) Erica Nockalls. In the intimate back room of the Half Moon Putney, it was the perfect place for Miles to hold court.
After the pretensions of the previous week, being kind and polite to everyone in the Birmingham Town Hall, he was back to his sweary, loutish best. The songs were peppered with forthright profanity-strewn anecdotes and most of the audience lapped them up. There was a small group of Wonder Stuff fans who chatted throughout the opening salvo of new material.
"If you lot shut the fuck up, it makes my job a lot easier. Why don't I come to where you work and talk like cunts while you try to do your work?" He volleyed forth.
Indeed, I had fallen out of touch with Miles' solo material since his earlier 'depressing trilogy' of the 90's. But the new stuff is better, enhanced as they are by the superb playing of Nockalls. Her talent is unquestionable. It would just be good to see her get a bit more involved in the stories as she is in most of them. A bit of patter between the two would make the 'act' gel and Miles can truly be part of duo as it states on all the promo material.
The anecdotes included tirades at Bono, en erstwhile target, and usually included Miles getting a bit miffed at something or other. Great story about a blowout on a California highway and a good Stuffie story about their radically different tastes in music introduced the subject of the dearly departed bassist and drummer, Bob Jones and Martin Gilkes.
The new album "On sale tonight, with other lovely souvenirs" is well worth the investment to further explore the duo's take on folk rock as is their last effort, Not An Exit.
The audience was filled with late thirty to forty-somethings and a fair few of them were very pissed indeed, stumbling around the venue, possibly imagining being in the Melody Maker tent at Reading circa 1992. But the atmosphere was genial and had an air of old school reunion.
Miles' voice is getting better with age and has lost some of its early naive charm. Bottles and bottles of red wine and thousands of fags later, he is becoming a great draw on this circuit and if the songwriting stays at this level, he will be able to shout at and harangue his ageing fans for years to come.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Carol Thatcher

Where are Adrian Chiles and Jo Brand? They are the worst kind of cowards. The sort you hate at school. Grass to the teacher and then hide away while the offender takes the hiding the may or may not deserve. 
THATCHER WAS WRONG to say what she said. It was crude, offensive and vulgar. But she said it in a conversation which was not in the public domain. It wasn't even caught on a mic by mistake. Chiles and Brand could not bear to take someone to task themselves and scampered to their bosses like cowardly little shits.
This is just another symptom of the bloody Sachsgate affair where idiots wrongly take the high moral ground, but in such a way that makes someone a loser and someone a winner. Is there no talking to people? Can one party not reason with another at the BBC any more. A new, odd and unsettling culture of fear has descended and it will only get worse.
Thatcher needs to be sat down and told why that term is offensive and we should accept her apology and move on. We should keep her off the telly, not for being a mindless racist, but because she is, frankly, not good at presenting.

Nick Cave

The long-faced uber overlord of populist doom rock is fast becoming a veritable national treasure. He is Australian, yet the UK has taken the ex-junkie to their bosom with aplomb. It is quite a recent development, starting with Abbatoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus and gathering rapid momentum with the chart conquering, barn-storming Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! LP of last year. Released in March, he only stopped glorying in its success in November with two sell out shows at the grand reopened Troxy in London's grimy side of Limehouse.
Now, a lot of his fans, his true fans, fans who have been with him since the scuzzed up, fucked up days of the nihilist Birthday Party, through the God fearing, revenge wreaking of his early bad Seeds albums 'From Her To Eternity', 'Your Funeral, My Trial', et al. claim that he has sold out with proper tunes and soppy-arsed ballads. Fortunately, I only got Nick around the Murder Ballads album so I am not one of these people. To be honest he scared my pants off before that. When he would gaze out, all ivory faced and blank from my cherished NME I would quickly flick to a comforting piece on Carter USM or something to take my mind off him. 
Surely for those 'fans' he is trying to appease all comers with his side-project Grinderman, being the unsatiable workaholic that he is. Nowadays I own every single studio album he has released and immerse myself totally in his genius. His music has taken me back to the folk music of the 1920's where he has taken so much inspiration. The man is a walking reference book of the last century and of the ancient worlds of Greece and mythology. A poet up there with Cohen and Dylan, some say and I agree. I look up the references he alludes to. never happy to rest on a traditional structure of writing, he will put it all in and then with the help of the latest Bad Seeds take out the crap.
A decade and a bit love affair with heroin has not destroyed the man, it has enhanced him and he can look back at an astonishing catalogue written in the depths of addiction and come out the other side with a family of four boys and a loyal wife and write songs more in keeping with this new routine. It is a natural progression. Selling out is a lazy way of saying that the guy has moved forward in a career of thirty years. People grow up. Some don't, like Mark.E.Smith, and he still writes the same kind of stuff. And that's fine too. Just as long as what you are saying is still vital and original it doesn't really matter does it?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Review: William Elliot Whitmore - Animals In The Dark

Listen to Whitmore for the first time and your head will fill with questions. Why haven't I heard him before? How old is he? Is he black or white? And most importantly, is he touring?
The first track on this remarkable album is Whitmore accompanied by a military shuffle on a snare drum. And that's it. It's raw and naked and utterly compelling. Singing with a throaty yarp you reckon he's been around a bit. Maybe another Seasick Steve. Well the colour is accurate, this weather beaten voice belongs to a white guy and not a Leadbellyesque troubadour. The whiteness is betrayed by a slight vulnerability to the voice which pokes its head above the cotton fields from time to time. 
The most surprising thing about this guy is that he is just 31. A goatee bearded, skater looking hick. Born to Iowa farm owners he sings from the red and brown earth of the land and is always only sparsely accompanied. Slide guitar and footstomps, banjo or just a well-picked acoustic, it all serves that voice.
With songs like the aforementioned 'Mutiny', 'Hard Times' or the sprightly yet funereal stomp of 'Old Devils', the album just reeks of hardships and struggles. Moonshine, prison and stolen souls, Southern landmarks and sin. It sounds like the musical of Robert Johnson's life. And I would sell my soul at the crossroads for this album.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Miles Hunt prepares for Shared

Their paths rarely crossed when they were enjoying their greatest successes but the lead singers of The Wonder Stuff, The Mission and Aztec Camera will all perform at ‘Shared’ later this month. It’s an evening of acoustic performances at the newly renovated Birmingham Town Hall on January 30th. The eclectic line-up also includes Nick Heyward from eighties band Haircut 100 and singer-songwriter Katell Keineg. The event is being organized by Miles Hunt, the mouthpiece of the Midland’s favourite sons, The Wonder Stuff. “The offer was made to me and Erica (Nockalls, the band’s violinist) by the Town Hall and we jumped at the chance,” he says from his studio in Shropshire. “But as we have just done some big Wonder Stuff gigs I wasn’t sure 1000 people would want to come and see us do something different just 3 months later.” So he decided to share his evening with other musicians, hence the title. “There are plenty of people I would like to see doing an acoustic set that I haven’t seen yet,” he says, “so why not use this as an opportunity to do just that?” It seems, though, that he has been admiring most of the performers from afar. He has only met Roddy and Nick a handful of times between them. “The only thing that links them is the fact that I like them,” he laughs, “I don’t know if any of them have even met each other.” His initial encounter with Roddy Frame back in the late eighties ended in ‘drunken nonsense’ at the famous Rockfield Studios in Wales which has previously hosted Oasis, Coldplay and Queen. “I think Roddy was recording his big hit, ‘Somewhere In My Heart’ and we were starting our second album, ‘Hup’”, he recalls. “They wanted to borrow a harmonica and then about a week later I got given it back and they asked if I wanted a drink as it was their last night in the studio. It was only me and (bass player) Bob Jones who went and we got slaughtered. Then something occurred that night and Roddy felt bad about it.” They didn’t see each other then for over 15 years and Roddy still felt the same way even after all that time. When I asked what happened, Miles remained tight-lipped out of respect for Bob who died in 1993. Perhaps it will all come out on the ‘Shared’ night. “I suppose we’ll broach the subject but I know it’ll be fine, Roddy’s an absolute gent.” he states. Hunt’s first encounter with pop sensation Nick Heyward was much more innocent. But this time Miles was the one to feel embarrassed as he was only aware of the one album of Nick’s, Pelican West. “Then I was relieved to hear him say that he had only done the one.” says Miles. One artist he is very familiar with, though, is his great friend Wayne Hussey who has had chart success with goth faves The Mission and Sisters of Mercy. Neither of these groups would be musically associated with The Wonder Stuff but the friendship has endured. “I have known Wayne for 25 years,” he says, “and yes, our music isn’t similar. We play the guitar very differently and to sit and write songs together would be a right old chore.” So instead the pair have managed to remain close by being supporting acts for each other on various tours over the years. Recently, Wayne has played keyboards on occasion on Miles’s tour with Erica. And as for the little known female on the bill Katell Keineg? “I’ve had two of Katell’s records for years and it was a friend, who is also a female singer-songwriter, who played me her stuff. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake for her as I just thought ‘This is you, you’ve been copying Katell Keineg!’” Keineg, born in France, earned her playing stripes in New York and performed at Sin-e, the same venue that got Hallelujah singer Jeff Buckley noticed. She even got to sing with the tragic star as well as recording with the gnarled legend Iggy Pop. Hunt, who is best known for hits Dizzy and Size Of A Cow, is proud to be sharing the stage with such variety and talent, and he hopes that it is only the start for ‘Shared’. “I would like to do at least one more this year,” he says, “not in London, London gets spoiled with these things all the time. We want to find a nice venue like the Birmingham Town Hall which is a lovely place.” Shared will also form part of the Heavenly Planet festival in Reading in July. The event will feature world music, poetry and comedy as well as the best of British talent. Hunt is thrilled to have been given the opportunity and is keen to make the most of it. “Hopefully it will run and run and we could do a Shared live album. With the mix of people we could get playing together it could be really interesting.” One of his heroes is Paul Weller, did he approach the Modfather himself? “No I didn’t ask Weller! And judging by his behaviour in the tabloids recently, I don’t want a drunk like that there! Anyway, I think me and Wayne will have that covered.” They most probably will. Miles Hunt was never a stranger to drink and cites anti-hero poet and writer Charles Bukowski as a constant reference point. He even penned a song, ‘A Great Drinker’ in his honour. Hunt had a bigger reputation, though, as a straight-talker, never afraid to voice an opinion on anything or anyone. His current targets are emo’s in their ‘uniforms they buy in Top Shop’ who have ‘everything provided for them.’ “It strikes me that emo’s not a scene at all really, just someone making a lot of money out of telling them what to do rather than them thinking for themselves.” Welcome back Miles, we’ve missed you.

Rave On Buddy

Buddy Holly died exactly 50 years ago. Rock'n'roll wasn't even 5 years old and one of its pioneers was dead. Along with the Big Bopper and Richie Valens, Holly perished one freezing February night because of the pressures the music industry was exerting, even then. The pilot also died , taking with him a talent so huge that his influence and image still reverberate around the planet to this day. 
Everyone knows at least one of his songs, most know 3 or 4 and even the least knowledgeable music fan will recognise more and not necessarily be aware it is one of Holly's compositions. The back catalogue, owned by Fab Macca, thumbs aloft McCartney is small but perfect and should the man have lived, who knows what he was planning next. They even made a posthumous hit out of some demos he recorded - Peggy Sue Got Married.
If you look at his record lables, they are listed as being co-written, however, this is normal for records from that era. When managers all wanted their larger than justified slice of the action, they threw themselves on the writing credits. This greed led to Holly not receiving his fair dues. Don't get me wrong, he wasn't a huge star in his day. A lot of the records became big after the crash, but he could have lived a fuller life if he didn't have to chase the money so much on the punishing tour circuit. This led to is untimely demise and robbed the world of an original talent.
He was a kind and, maybe, too generous man, although not a total pushover. He managed to rile the prudish Ed Sullivan and refused to kowtow to his demands. Sullivan had his instrument turned down so he just shouted to be heard. He didn't suffer fools but his pandering to the financial restraints imposed by his management saw him pay the ultimate price.
Dig out the greatest hits, download it, whatever. Just listen once more to the timeless songs. The music didn't die that day but it was severely damaged for a while and its progress delayed by years.

Snow - like the Blitz apparently

A couple of times today I have heard the phrase "like the Blitz" when people have been stranded at home because of the snow. It would seem that during the torrid bombing of London, we all went outside and made ad-hoc toboggans out of dustbinb lids and built snowman. I can't remember my grandad telling me that story. Perhaps the Alzheimers was worse than we thought.
I suppose what the media may mean is that we all have a stiff upper lip and make the best of a bad situation. But instead of Fritz's bombs it's frozen rain. Overstatement, definitely, but there is something familiar about the reaction today.
I popped down to the shop to buy more tissues for my perpetually running right nostril and saw that the local pub was chocca-block. The windows were starting to mist up and at 3pm it was pretty busy. The last time I had seen this phenomenon was the July 7th bombings. I ran a pub in London Bridge in 2005 and our little bar which did next to no trade in the daytime, was heaving. It seems as though when there is a problem, and no-one can help, maybe you can hire.... a bar for a day. Everyone came together to talk, watch the news and try to create a community. It never happened again and those souls never met again, but there were some temporary friendships forged for just a solitary afternoon as people tried to make the best of a bad situation. Was it ever thus? I like to think so. In times of economic gloom and with pubs and bars on their knees, maybe they will be praying for snow all week. A little glimmer of sunshine through the storm.
Not the Blitz, certainly, but a spirit undiminished when London is dealt an unexpected day off.


Everyone should be aware that the NAACP celebrates 100 years as an organisation on February 12th. Whilst they are not a flawless organisation, they deserve full recognition for the part they have played in bringing the issues facing african Americans to the forefront of US politics. In the year of the first black president of their country, the NAACP have more reason than ever to let people know that they are still working tirelessly for equal rights. They may have clashed with other figures in the civicl rights movement, Martin Luther King being the most prominent, they had their reasons, mainly political, and managed to build a platform for all black leaders to stand on and be noticed. Log on at  http://www.naacp.org

Review: Grand Duchy-Petits Fours

This collaboration between Black Francis and his partner Violet Clark sees the former Pixie on fine form. 
It really is a partnership to rival his sparring with Kim Deal on the Pixies efforts. On Fort Wayne, for example the backing melody could have been the deal herself. Clark's voice doesn't have the American drawl that typifies Deal's performance and she is more reminiscent of Kristen Hersch/ Tanya Donnelly, and that, if you cast your mind back to the early 90's, is no bad thing.
Black's contribution is strangely muted, taking the back seat on the majority of tracks. The songwriting is strong and the use of electronic gadgetry on some tracks is most welcome, adding another, sometimes dreamy, wistful, air to the tunes. His growly trademark, off key guitar lines are ever present and reminds you of the Pixies heyday. But the songs, while looking forward and sounding modern will always have one foot firmly in the past due to the unmistakeable input from Black.
Seeing Stars is a highlight, using all of the above ingredients to great effect. When the going gets a bit more rocking, (Black Suit) it is closer to his solo efforts than the Pixies but the ever present presence of Violet take the edge off.
It's a varied, surprising album and if you have become a bit bored with his output of late, this should give you the jolt to put a little black back in your heart.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Smack - As seen on TV

Heroin is bad. We all know that. We've seen it on telly and now the Telegraph informs us there's a new kid on the block and it's already had the Hollywood treatment. Our friend white heroin is back. You may remember it from hilarious drug flick Pulp Fiction. Now we can all dance to Chuck Berry, drink an expensive milkshake and OD in the comfort of our own home. Just like they do in the film.
But heroin is not all bad. In fact the pure form isn't deadly nor does it make you thin and make your teeth fall out. Heroin, when it hasn't been mixed with anything will not kill you and it is very hard to overdose on as well. These are the facts, which the Telegraph and every other media outlet in the world will not report. And when they do get a related story they do not state the difference. All heroin is bad - end of story.
Now I'm not saying that we should all cook up tomorrow, but we should have all the facts to hand so we can make our own rational judgements which are not tainted by one sided reporting which permeates ALL drug stories.
The Pulp Fiction smack was mixed and became dangerous - like most street smack as the dealers will never profit from unmixed drugs. If we can have a rational debate where the balance is not covered up to suit the hysterical tone of our news outlets we could really start saving lives. And we wouldn't have to namecheck popular culture every time such a story arises.