Sunday, June 13, 2010


Today's soundtrack:  Mott the Hoople - The Ballad of Mott (A Retrospective)

And so it begins - the 2010 World Cup is two days old!  And already I'm sick of that bloody noise, droning on and on incessantly throughout the game.

But enough about Mick McCarthy.

England get off to their traditional awful start, shooting themselves in the foot with yet another dreadful goalkeeping error.  Whilst you have to feel for Robert Green, it was woeful.  I suspect that's his World Cup over already.  Please God let Ledley King's tournament not be over, as the thought of Carragher lumbering about in the centre of defence, a leg-breaking tackle and sending off just waiting to happen, doesn't bear thinking about.  Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott and others must wonder what they've done to upset Capello.

Still, good to see Messrs Donovan and Howard playing well, as did Joe Yobo and the Yak in the Argentina - Nigeria game.

It's early days, but no single team has really stood out so far.  Possibly the South Koreans, but then they were playing a Greek team who were so abject it was untrue.  Argentina made hard work of their win against Nigeria, but there is so much talent in their ranks one would expect them to go far.  I hope they do - if only for the joy of seeing Maradona strutting about on the touchline like a bearded, bouncy, wind-up weeble.  Diego could dominate this tournament - in a very different way - as much as he did in 1986.

So today the delights of Algeria v Slovenia, Serbia v Ghana and Germany against the Socceroos.  Come on Timmy!  Plus, of course, a Grand Prix to fit in as well.  Mrs W can have the telly back when I'm at Glastonbury.

A bit of Mott playing in the background as I type.  Back in the mid-70s, Mott were *my* band - firstly the early, pre-fame rocky stuff on Mad Shadows and Brain Capers, then the later, glam-flecked Dudes phase when they bothered the charts for a brief period.  The glam stuff never really sat well with them, they were rockers at heart, but when they were good, they were very good indeed.  And no-one wrote better songs about being in a band than Ian Hunter.

And here is just such a song!  The Ballad of Mott!  A song by Mott, about Mott.  Tune!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What are they gonna say about him?

What are they gonna say?  That he was a kind man?  That he was a wise man?  That he had plans, man?  That he had wisdom?  Bullshit, Man!

I'm gonna say that Dennis Hopper was one of the finest character actors of the last fifty years.  He had his demons - and he played some demons as well.  Frank Booth may well be the scariest, most believable psychopath ever portrayed on screen - and Dennis portrayed him to perfection.  Just how much of Dennis was in Frank?

But Dennis didn't just do scary - he did cool as well.  Here's a great scene from a great film.  Clarence and Alabama have just left for California, when Christopher Walken comes calling on Dennis to find out where they've gone - with all his narcotics...

You're Sicilian, huh?

Dennis Hopper.  Legend.  As Frank might have said, "Don't drink to his health.  Drink to his fuck."

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Today's soundtrack:  Cornershop - Handcream for a Generation

As always, following in the footsteps of my youngest, I've extended my blogging wings across to the next big thing, Tumblr.  A slightly prettier blogger, a wordier Twitter, it just might catch on.  I'll still keep posting here, for all you blogger diehards, but will port everything across to my Tumblr page as well.

Neatly, I can also link my Tumblr page directly to my own personal website - so those of you who've looked in vain for some content on - look again!  Given the nature of Tumblr, you might find some additional content up there that won't ever appear on this page - so get bookmarking...

A while since I've posted - a combination of work taking up most of my time and precious little exciting to blog about, but what else is a boy to do on a wet Bank Holiday Saturday?

With the festival season approaching, the wetness needs to be having a word with itself and disappearing to foreign parts.  Weather something like that we had last weekend will do very nicely, please!

And a very pleasant weekend it was too.  Went over to Huddersfield to see The Boy, and we ended up in his drinkery of choice - The Parish.  No bands, just a nice couple of pints in the sunsheeine and one of the best burgers I've ever eaten.  Tasty!

And speaking of festivals, tickets arrived this week for both Glastonbury and Cropredy.  Spent the day "working from home" waiting for the Glasto ticket - which finally 9:15 in the evening.  So a day wasted - but ticket firmly in my grubby paws.  Yay!  In other Glasto news, U2 dropped out due to Bono's back-knack, to be replaced by Gorillaz.  All well and good, but I've got a dilemma now.  With U2 playing, it was a no-brainer - off to the Other Stage to see the Flaming Lips (and finally be persuaded - one way or the other - whether they are The Most Wonderful Thing Ever or The Emperor's New Clothes).  Now, it looks like I'll have to see the audio-visual extravaganza that is Damon Albarn's side project (or side-side project, not sure which).

Or I could just sit quietly in a corner somewhere, up to my gills in Strawberry Cider.

Cropredy should be interesting - backup festival with Simon, given that Latitude went and sold out on us.  Looking forward to some folksy jiggery-pokery, washed down by the odd gallon of real twiggy ale, in the hot August sun.

One band I won't be seeing this summer on the festival trail is Cornershop, that excellently-named fusion of Asian rhythms and western rock/hip-hop/reggae embellishments.  Often too eclectic for their own good, they are always interesting, if easier to admire than like.

Here they are, 'Staging the Plaguing of the Raised Platform", which is easy enough for them to say.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

No Winners, Only Losers - Election Reflections

So - three days on from the election - and the dust is still settling.

Ironically, it looks like I got what I wished for - sort of.  What I really wanted was an option on the ballot paper that said 'none of the above'.  And that's what we've got - so far.

All three major parties managed, unerringly, to lose this election.  And despite it being a very good election to lose, I'm not sure any of them meant to.

Labour obviously lost - votes, seats, credibility.  Although constitutionally still in charge, Brown is now Dead Man Walking - in his own party as much as in the country.

Lib Dems - incredibly - also lost ground.  After the initial flush of Cleggmania, the country looked a little more closely and decided they weren't that keen on what they saw.  And, most likely, they were squeezed in a number of seats where the best 'keep Brown/Cameron out' option was someone other than the Lib Dems.

So if Labs/Libs both lost, then the Tories must have won, surely?  Well, no, they didn't, did they.  Yes, largest share of the seats, largest share of the vote...but our current voting system is called 'first past the post' for a reason.  And - despite 13 years in opposition, up against the most unpopular, discredited, party and party leader for decades, in the midst of a massive recession and caught up in a deeply unpopular war - Cameron couldn't persuade the country to give him a clear mandate to govern.  And he certainly does not have the 'moral right' to govern that some commentators have ascribed to him - if you're not first past the post, then you're not the winner.

What will we eventually end up with?  Clearly some sort of short term coalition or looser alliance, with Clegg as kingmaker.  Firstly, and rightly, he is talking with Cameron to see if they can find some common ground.  Currently Cameron is playing hardball - a meaningless commitment to do a bit of thinking about PR, and an agreement to explore areas of common ground with the Lib Dems that they were already committed to - in short, Cameron is offering nothing to Clegg in the way of concession.  Cabinet seats are meaningless and worthless if they do not come with any associated executive power.

For Clegg to agree to work with the Tories on this basis would be absolute madness and surely would be unacceptable to his party and to the vast majority of Lib Dem voters.  This will probably be Clegg's one and only chance to get some meaningful progress made on electoral reform - and he won't get that from Cameron.

So - will Clegg end up propping up the Labour party?  I think he'd probably like to - negotiating from a clear position of weakness, Labour will offer far more in the way of concession, particularly on electoral reform.  It feels like Labour would sacrifice the chance of absolute power if they could introduce a form of PR that would guarantee, more than likely, an ongoing centre-left coalition that would force the Conservatives into the political wilderness for generations.

But, but... an agreement with Labour alone will still not provide a working majority.  And there's the rub.  The Scottish and Welsh nationalists would have to be accommodated as well - and how do regional parties fare in a proportional representation-based system?  Furthermore, to bring the nationalists along, financial concessions will have to be made to the regions that will squeeze England even more.  And the electorate will not like that.

And since the country, quite clearly, does not want Labour, Clegg will get no credit from the electorate for propping up the current government - with or without Brown at the helm.  But - big but - he just might get electoral reform.

Despite the advantages of a deal with Labour, I think Clegg has to do a deal with Cameron - for his own credibility and for that of his party.  But he won't get PR, and he'll lose massive support both within and without his party in the process.  The Lib Dems are not a party of the right (or even the centre-right) so it will be an uneasy and fractious alliance that will do the country no good at all.  Might it then be the best option for Labour?  To go quietly, lose Brown and bide their time while the Tories and Lib Dems tear each other apart trying to deal with an appalling economic situation, then come back in a year's time?

But if Cameron succeeds in getting a grip on the situation - or if events work to his advantage - he has the power to call the next election at a time of his choosing, and with a modicum of goodwill from the electorate, just might get a working majority this time next year.  At which point he drops Clegg like a stone and the Lib Dems are consigned to the wilderness.

Ultimately, Cameron HAS to get the Lib Dems on side - but without conceding an inch on PR.  If he can do that, then he might - just might - end up the winner.  But in the longer term the biggest loser - ironically - will be Nick Clegg.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Another Year Older...

Today's soundtrack:  Various Artists - 12"/80s

So - another year, another birthday.  Spent in far more enjoyable circumstances this year than last year, without a doubt.  This time last year I was working my way through an all-day interview session with a predetermined outcome (quite possibly) that did not involve me being the winning candidate.  This year however, back in the saddle, it was over to Manchester in the sun for a spot of lunch with Mrs W, Son No 2 and his girlfriend.  We went to the Hard Rock Cafe in the Printworks, and very enjoyable it was too.  Despite gentle threats, I managed to avoid the birthday sing-song from the waiters and we filled up on nachos and a variety of burgers.  I commend the Red, White and Blue!

After the inevitable trip to Fopp, we went our separate ways, me laden down with CDs both purchased and gifted.  Coupled with the monthly download from eMusic, I'm now well stocked up with a range of new music to listen to on the trips up and down the motorway, to and from work.

Ah yes, work.  Week two passed very smoothly, thank you very much.  Lots of meetings in different places as I continued the induction process, all passing off very smoothly indeed.  Oh, and a birthday card from the team on Friday as well.  I'm going to like this job.

With the extended weekend giving us the chance to recharge our batteries, it's been quite a lazy couple of days.  Got back in time on Saturday to catch the second half of Everton's disappointing draw with Stoke that inevitably condemns us to a season without European football.  Now whilst part of me thinks this might be a good thing - fewer games, a focus on the domestic competitions - I'll miss the midweek games against obscure Slovenian teams and the inevitable exit to a half-decent Spanish outfit in the 'round of 32' or whatever they call it these days.  A fate Liverpool are now condemned to after their meek capitulation to Chelsea yesterday.  So it looks like Chelsea's title rather than ManYoo's, thanks initially to Stevie G's misguided backpass that let Drogba in for the first goal.  What was going through Stevie's mind, I wonder?

I think Liverpool's close season is going to be hugely interesting this year.  Will the FSW still be there?  Stevie and Nando?  Not if their body language is anything to go by.  Which doesn't leave much.

Double bill (quite literally) of Tarantino this weekend - we watched the two Kill Bills over Saturday and Sunday.  Hugely enjoyable, entertaining tosh, borrowing heavily from the chop-socky kung fu films of the '70s, with a bit of manga thrown in as well.  Loved it, and on the big telly, the blu-ray version looked great.

Despite all my new purchases (and gifts) over the weekend (oh, since you ask, some Fall, Weller, Santana and the new Laura Marling, plus downloads of Midlake, Caribou, Luxuria and a Cath Carrol album I found lurking on eMusic), today's soundtrack comes from that much-maligned decade, the '80s.  The 12" collection does what it says on the tin - collects extended 12" remixes of songs released in the eighties.  As I type, I have Pete Wylie's 'Tribal Mix' of Sinful playing in the background and very fine it is too.

The 12" remix was very much an eighties thing, and I was an absolute sucker for it at the time - I must have bought more singles on 12" vinyl than on 7" - just to get the extra tracks and the remixes.  Some were great - notably the Trevor Horn remixes of the Frankie stuff - and some were pretty awful (the Langer/Winstanley extended mixes of Costello's stuff spring to mind).  But to inveterate collectors like myself, it was a great time to be buying singles.

Here's Grace Jones, with Pull Up to the Bumper.  Not the extended version unfortunately, but very redolent of the era.  This couldn't be more '80s if it came with its pastel jacket sleeves rolled up and a pair of espadrilles on its sockless feet.  But it is still very good indeed.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It wasn't supposed to be like this, surely?

Today's soundtrack:  Death Cab For Cutie - Studio X Sessions

So - back at work - aren't the weekends then free for rest and relaxation?  Why is it, now I'm working for The Man again, that I ended up working harder round the home today than I have done for ages?

Because the jobs don't go away, I suppose, and maybe also because I'm now back at a proper 'working pitch' that I've more enthusiasm and energy to actually do the things that I would 'eventually get round to' before.

First thing, it was off to the supermarket to do the weekly shop.  My turn this week - Mrs W has suggested that going forwards we alternate - her turn next week.  Big shop this week, we both need 'cutting-up' for worktime lunchtimes and the freezer has been running a bit low.  I did make a schoolboy error at the checkout though - standing in a queue, laden down with a full trolley, and one of the supermarket kids calls me over to a free checkout.  Result! I thought - until I realised he'd set me up on a self-service lane.  Fine (I suppose) if you've one or two items - but not a trolley-full, surely?  Anyway, I got on with it, getting crosser and crosser as I had to weigh (and find the price for) red onions (under 'O' rather than 'R' in the menu) and mini ciabattas (described as 'rolls' in the menu - who would have guessed?) and get the girl to confirm I was eighteen and ok to buy booze.


Mind you,. I still finished quicker than I would have done had I stayed in my queue, so not all bad.

Back home, and after a delightful lunch of BLTs on the small ciabatta rolls I'd struggled to buy in the supermarket, and after the ManYoo-Spurs game, it was out into the garden for more chores.

Firstly, the mower and strimmer made their first appearance of the year, followed by the garden shears as I trimmed back a bush that was encroaching from next door - and then it was the turn of the electric drill, some wood and a raft of wood screws as I finally got round to repairing the fence that had been falling down all year.  Lastly, the rake and the hose came into play as I cleared and re-seeded the bare patch of lawn that had been ravaged by birds and badgers over the course of last year.

You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?  Well no, the work continued, this time in the kitchen.  Although this turned out to be a really pleasant surprise.  We'd struggled to fit all today's food shopping into the freezer, so to make room, I'd taken out some bags of soft summer fruits that Mrs W had bought ages ago for reasons that are still unclear to me.  I had half-hearted plans to mush them up and make some smoothies or something, until inspiration struck.


Did a quick search on t'internet, found a recipe, and got on with it.  The fruit I simply drained and placed in the bottom of a dish.  The crumble comprised 150g each of plain flour, porridge oats, demarera sugar and butter, mixed together by hand in a bowl until it got all crumbly and sandy.  Crumble topping on top of fruit, in a hot oven (180 degrees C) for half an hour or so.  It made the kitchen smell delicious and, oh, it tasted good as well!  We had it with some fruit yogurt that was lurking, although I've now got some double cream in for tonight's leftovers.

A pleasant little download ep from American 'intelligent rockers' Death Cab for Cutie this morning.  We saw Death Cab (named after a Bonzo Dogs song) a couple of years ago at Latitude, and enjoyed them immensely.  There's always a place for good, melodic pop sung and played with a bit of wit and style, and the Americans seem to be particularly good at it.

Here's 'The New Year' live on Soundstage from a few years back...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Welcome to the Working Week (again)!

Today's soundtrack:  Nat 'King' Cole - The Unforgettable Nat King Cole

Right, well that's week one out of the way - and I'm knackered!

It's good to be back at it again and - touch wood - everything seems to be going fine so far.

Turned up at the office first thing on Monday morning, to find out that the bloke I'm taking over from was stranded overseas, caught up in the volcanic ash 'incident' that brought the country to a standstill last week.  Still, I was expected, and was rescued from reception, and shown to my office.

My office.  Oh yes.

Everything was there waiting for me - laptop, mobile phone, stapler, calculator, holepunch - you name it!  I found out where the coffee was, then settled down and got on with it.  Over the course of the week, I spent time with the team, met a few of the senior executives (at least those who were in the country) and started getting a feel for things.

And so far, I'm enjoying it - enjoying the challenge, the interaction with people, enjoying the fact I'm not stuck in the house by myself trawling the jobsites on the web.  And also, today, enjoying the fact that Saturday is 'special' again.  Even if I did have to do the weekly shop first thing...

Oh, and the prospect of a paypacket at the end of each month is rather appealing, as well.

That said, it's still been a shock to the system - I'm sleeping like a baby, knackered the minute I pull on to the drive.  Luckily, Mrs W has always been there with a restorative G&T to soften the blow! (Oh, and each morning there's been a fresh cup of coffee waiting for me as I've pulled into the car park as well).

Next week, it's off to the main Head Office, than over to York to meet up with the boss, as my 'induction' meetings kick in.  Bring it on!

What with all the excitement of the new job, and the travel, there's been little time to focus on the important issues of the week - like the fallout from the volcano, some of which seemed to find its way onto my car, despite a week of clear, blue skies (proving beyond doubt that clouds are made by aircraft) and the climax to the football season (ManYoo regaining the initiative, 4th a straight fight between Spurs and Citeh, Everton nowhere).

Oh, apparently there's an election soon, too.  I'm very comfortable with who I'm not voting for - just need to find someone I can in all conscience vote for, now.

I'm still soundtracking the blog, of course - and today it's my mum's favourite, Nat 'King' Cole - he of the honeyed voice, delicate piano and marvellous choice of material.  I'd never have ever listened to this stuff when I was a lad, but with the benefit of age and wisdom, it's possible to appreciate this music for what it is - beautifully crafted, played and sung.  He died ridiculously young - aged 45 - but is still one of the all time greats.

Here he is, performing 'Nature Boy'.  Check out the guitar work as well - simply sublime!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mistakes & Ladders (T - 3)

Today's soundtrack:  New Order - iTunes Originals

So where did the week go then?  As the new job comes rushing towards me, my final few days of "leisure" are racing by at a rate of knots.  At the same time, my anticipation levels are rising at a similar rate - I can't wait to get stuck in!

At the same time, now my days at home are numbered, Mrs W has realised that there's not much time left for me to knock off the remaining few chores that I've been putting off for the last year.  One of the biggest is getting some paint on the upstairs windows before the wood rots away completely.  Now bear in mind that our 'upstairs' windows are effectively three storeys up, above the garage and the lounge, so getting up there is no mean feat.

Put simply, it involves ladders.

Noting my success at climbing trees last week, Mrs W had obviously come to the conclusion that I'd be just as good at climbing ladders.  So she got hold of the name of a local hire firm who could provide said ladders for a few days.  This week, before I got back to work.

Now I have a confession to make.  Ladders and I do not get on at all well.  Actually, to be fair, the ladders seem pretty relaxed about me, but I am not at all relaxed around ladders.  Especially when I'm thirty foot up the things.  But still, the windows were looking a bit of a mess, and I was actually pretty good up those trees...

Ladders duly arrived, and I was ready to go - paint mixed, shorts on, brushes at the ready.  Next job - get the ladders up into position.  Now the bloke in the hire shop had asked me if I'd anyone to help me, as the ladders (all thirty-five feet of them) might be a bit heavy.  Yeah, I'll be fine (I lied).  A bit heavy was a slight understatement - they weighed a ton!

Somehow, I managed to get them up in place, and started climbing.  And the ladder started swaying.


Still, nothing ventured and all that - and despite a few wobbles and crises of confidence, I managed to vaguely slap a bit of gloss in the general direction of the window frames, covering the bare wood and making things look slightly more presentable than before.

Flushed with success, I then did the same at the back of the house (only two storeys up this time - piece of piss!) and luckily managed to engage the services of the next door neighbour to repair some loose cement around the eaves.

Job done - but at the cost of a mass of bruises where I'd wedged arms and legs into the ladders in a vain attempt to feel secure!

Still, Mrs W was happy, and we celebrated by going out for a slap-up Chinese meal in Frodsham.  It's a nice restaurant and boasts the waiter with the best memory for his customers ever - no matter how long ago we went in (and it's over a year now) he always remembers us (telling us off this time for leaving it so long).  A nice place - the Chinese Delight - well worth a visit if you're in the area.

I also invested in a big external hard drive this week to do a proper backup of all my computery stuff.  Having just upgraded to Windows 7, I thought I'd use the built-in backup utility for the task.  Big mistake.  I set the thing running, and waited.  And waited.  The percentage indicator was crawling along at around 2% per hour. Still, I left the thing running overnight, only to come down in the morning to a 'fail' message.  I set the backup running again, and it crawled along at the same rate as last time.  A quick Google suggested I wasn't the only one having a problem.  So I canned it and downloaded a backup programme I'd used on a different computer and set that running.  Still not quick, but about five times quicker than the Windows option!

So - New Order in the background as I type.  The 'album' is a unique iTunes collection, following a specific format of original tracks combined with some re-recorded tracks and brief interview snippets.  Against all the odds, New Order rose from the wreckage of Joy Division, found their own style and made some cracking albums through the '80s.

Here's True Faith from 1987.  I love this video.  Not a clue what's going on, but what's not to like about bouncy people dressed in funny outfits?

Monday, April 12, 2010

JBT at the MA (T - 7)

Today's soundtrack:  James Brown - Live at the Apollo

A busy few days, what with Son No 2 staying over, cat and tree issues and a host of other stuff going on.

So where to start?

Well, let's start with the football.  No, not the professional stuff, the real grass roots stuff.  Matt and I went along to see my nephew, Ross (11) playing for his team, Vauxhall, against Heswall.  Now Ross has always been a good little footballer, but it's been a while since I've seen him play and I have to say that he and his team have come on in leaps and bounds as they've grown up.  Quite a few of the kids are on the books of some professional clubs as well as playing for Vauxhall, and it shows.  Their ball control is superb, as is their ability to spot (if not always find) a decent pass.  After a cagey first fifteen minutes or so, they gradually got a grip on the game, eventually winning 5-0 with Ross scoring the fourth.

On Saturday, Matt and I went into Manchester for a bit of shopping and eating, and then to the Academy to see the John Butler Trio.  A full review will appear soon on The Really Hip Art Scene (now here), when Matt gets round to it, and I'll add my two pennorth on the Word website later today (also now up and running).  In brief, however, it was a great, lengthy (two and a half hours!) set from a band who are totally in control of their instruments and who have a decent set of tunes to work from.  A lot rockier than last time I saw them, reflecting the style of the new album, they still found time for two (count 'em!) drum solos, a (slightly reluctant) bass solo and a lot of audience singingalonging.

Here's a clip of John performing 'Ocean' - one of the most beautiful - and technically challenging - guitar pieces you are ever likely to hear.

I struggle to work out just what sort of audience John Butler has in the UK.  They are massive in his native Australia, of course, but in the UK is profile - on the face of it - seems quite low.  I don't recall the band getting any measurable coverage in the music press, for example.  And yet - both times I've seen them in concert - they've had a sell-out audience that has been, if not fanatical, very vocal in its appreciation of the band and its music.

As for Saturday's audience, well I suspect Matt will have his own views on this, but I thought they were for the most part, engaged, good-natured and high-spirited.  I did have the misfortune to be stood behind Mister Floppy Head, however - possibly the most ill-coordinated and arrhythmic dancer I have ever come across.  Dancing to whatever he was hearing in his own head, it bore no relationship to the beats being generated on stage at all.  In fact, I would hazard that it was actually harder for him to dance the way he was than to actually follow the beats of the songs.  Sadly, I also think there was no chemical enhancement involved either - perhaps there needed to be.

Still, a great night out.  If you get the chance to see (or hear) the John Butler Trio - you should.  Special mention for support act 'The Boy Who Trapped The Sun' as well - one man, two guitars, a lady cellist and a bottle of red wine.  And some lovely songs (that you can find on iTunes).  Well worthy of your attention.

In other news, we took in a few films over the last few days as well.  Pride of place goes to Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which we enjoyed hugely.  I am told that Law Abiding Citizen was also most entertaining, although I wouldn't know as I fell asleep halfway through, victim of my nocturnal adventures trying to rescue the cat.  Finally 2012 was highly enjoyable tosh, mainly through seeing the special effects on the Big Telly rather than through any particular depth in the plot.

James Brown on the soundtrack today.  We've not done 'ten best live albums' on the blog yet, but if and when we do, Live at the Apollo will surely be there or thereabouts.  A great album that catches James at his most vibrant and soulful - the funk would come later.

Please Please Please - with the cape and the histrionics - Yeeeeou!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Of cats and trees (T - 10)

Ok, so I'm writing this at just after eight o'clock in the morning and I've already been awake for five hours.

Picture the scene.  Son No 2 is staying with us for a few days, and the cat has taken exception to this fact.  With no good reason - Matt has barely seen the cat since he's arrived, but it's enough for Pedro that there is another human being in the house.

He's got the hump, basically.

To the extent that he's keeping out of the house as much as possible - including through the night, although he has deigned to cross the doorstep in the early morning if bribed with food and cat milk.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at around three and went to check at the back door.  No sign.  So back to bed, where I tossed and turned until around half four, when I thought I'd give it another go.  Still no sign - but a faint yowling could be heard on the breeze.

So I'm at the bottom of the garden, barefoot in the dew, dressing gown on.  Yes, definitely a plaintive cat cry.

Back upstairs, clothes on, torch.  Mrs W behind me in dressing gown and training shoes.  Down the bank at the bottom of the garden we crawl, around past the neighbour's garden, to the foot of a big bank of leylandii.  A very big, very tall bank of leylandii.

And there he is, right at the top.  Yowling.

So I'm trying to climb this tree, in the pitch dark, Mrs W holding a torch below.  Not a chance.

We leave him there, and wait until daybreak.  Mrs W goes back to bed - work in the morning.

Half past six, I'm there, now armed with our longest stepladder.  All six foot's worth of it.  Clambering up the bank around the back of the trees, I can finally see him, and by climbing up to the toppermost rung on the precariously-balanced ladder, I can actually touch him.

But I can't dislodge him, or pick him up.

Plan B.  Scrambling round to the other side of the tree, I can see a gap in the foliage to the flat top of the trunk, which has obviously been lopped in the past.  The place Pedro had been perched when I last spotted him.  I find that I can balance the end of the ladder on the top of the stump and support the bottom of the ladder myself, thus creating a walkway for Pedro to stroll casually into my waiting arms.

Does he do this?  Does he buggery.  Instead, he backs away and perches precariously onto one of the highest, flimsiest branches left on the tree.

Now bear in mind the tree is actually growing right on the edge of a vertical bank.  On one side of the tree, the drop to ground is probably around ten feet.  On the other side, the drop must be nearer thirty feet.

Guess which side Pedro is on.

Plan C.  Throwing caution to the wind, and the ladder to one side, I realise that by straddling Pedro's tree and the one next to it, I can actually climb up to the top and get to the stump where he had been sitting.  So that's what I do.  You now have to realise that I am therefore up in the air, one foot on one tree, the other foot on another tree, and a clear drop of about thirty feet between my legs.  But at least I'm in a position to grab Pedro if he comes back to the stump.

What I do when I've grabbed him, I'm less sure.

At this stage, I'm wondering if firemen do still get cats down from trees, but in the event, my thoughts and efforts are academic, because eventually the poor pussy - who is of course absolutely terrified at this stage - steps out too far and the branch he's on can't hold his weight.  And so, of course, he falls gracelessly to the ground below.  And gets up and trots off into the house to eat his breakfast.  Apparently, none the worse for his adventure.

Me, I'm still stuck up in mid-air straddling two trees.  At half seven in the morning.  Thinking that at the age of fifty, my tree-climbing days should be well behind me.

Anyway, a couple of restorative coffees later, and having got this out of my system, I now need to shower because I smell like a midden and ache like a bastard.  In the meantime, the cat has eaten, washed and gone to sleep at the back of Mrs W's wardrobe.

I'm too old for this.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Buried Treasure (T - 13)

One of my monthly music magazines - Mojo, I think - has a regular feature which focuses on those albums that failed to achieve commercial success, despite being of the highest quality.  Occasionally it might be an album that did hit the heights, but that was never capitalised upon by the artist.  The overriding feature of the albums is that they have been quietly forgotten, but lie there, waiting to be discovered and appreciated by a new generation.  Hence the title of the feature, "Buried Treasure".

I was reminded of this feature the other day when a long forgotten album came up on shuffle, and I thought I'd treat you to a few examples of buried treasure I've got lurking in the depths of my hard drive.

Follow me, and bring along your metal detector...

Mick Ronson - Slaughter on 10th Avenue

This is the album that kicked off the theme for this blog.  Mick Ronson was, of course, the guitarist in David Bowie's Spiders From Mars, later working with Ian Hunter and producing Morrissey, before dying at a ridiculously young age.  He released (I think) two solo albums in the early '70s, of which this was the first.  Heavily laced with the glam trimmings of the time, it showcased a great guitarist with a surprisingly gentle, wistful voice.  One track, Only After Dark, was picked up by the Human League, who covered it on their second album, Travelogue.  Re-listening after all these years, the quality (and, inevitably, the Bowie influence) shines through.

Red Guitars - Slow To Fade

Red Guitars came from Hull, and came to my attention when they supported The Smiths in Norwich back in the early '80s.  I also got to see them later, headlining their own gig also in Norwich.  Why they got The Smiths gig is bayond me, as they had very little in common with the Charming Men from Manchester.  Guitar-driven and left-leaning (hence their name) they infused their music with African rhythms, decades before Vampire Weekend thought of it.  They released a few singles that tickled the top of the indie charts (Fact, Steeltown, the wonderful Good Technology) and this album, before imploding.  I think there was a second album but with a different lineup.  But as a legacy, Slow To Fade is a gem.

Cath Carroll - England Made Me

Cath Carroll was a music journalist who also played in an early '80s indie band called Miaow.  She also released this solo album whilst signed up to Factory.  Sounding completely unlike anything else released on the label, the album sank without trace but, to these ears, is an absolute classic.  Breathy songs of love, infatuation and oppression, the album had an intelligence that, aligned with its pop sensibilities, could have made  her huge.  But for whatever reason, it didn't happen.

Deaf School - 2nd Honeymoon

A Liverpool band, dabbling in any number of musical forms and a huge influence on many of the bands that came out of Liverpool in the post-punk era.  Ironically, despite their huge local influence, it was probably the rise of punk that ultimately did for the band.  Some band members went on to bigger and better things - Clive ("Cliff") Langer as a major producer, Bette Bright as a solo artist before she married Suggs from Madness - others continued to operate on the fringes of fame.  They released three albums in the mid '70s (2nd Honeymoon was their first), to mass market indifference - but to Merseysiders of a certain age, they were, for a time, our secret band.  And we loved them.

The Farmers' Boys - Get Out and Walk

Baz, Mark, Frog and Stan were Norwich's answer to Hull's Housemartins, before the question had been asked.  Unashamedly catchy, impudently covering Cliff Richard songs (In the Country, from their follow-up album With These Hands) and signally failing to impress anyone outside of a hugely passionate but relatively small local following.  Oh, and I've just found out - Get Out and Walk is available on CD! And it's in stock on Amazon!  Hurrah!

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees - Boat to Bolivia

The Daintees were on the Kitchenware label, along with Prefab Sprout, and the two bands shared a propensity for catchy tunes, delicate arrangements and intelligent lyrics.  Unfortunately whilst Paddy McAloon went on to great critical (and some commercial) success, Martin Stephenson remained very much a cult artist, ploughing a lone, idiosyncratic furrow in a countryish/folksy idiom.  Boat to Bolivia was their first album and contains some majestic songs, not least Crocodile Cryer, written in the aftermath of his grandmother's funeral.

Dalek I - Compass Kum'pas

Back in the day, one of the most graffiti'd bands around Birkenhead were the mysterious Radio Blank.  Their name was painted on loads of public spaces, most notably motorway flyovers.  Who were this mysterious band?  What did they sound like?  Had anyone ever seen them play?  Not me, certainly.  But then Radio Blank disbanded, and out of the remains came the Dalek I Love You group, or Dalek I for short.  Compass Kump'pas shared many similarities with other groups coming out of Birkenhead/Liverpool at the time, most notably early OMD - heavy on the drum machines and synths, cover of a famous oldie (in this case, The Kinks' You Really Got Me).  However unlike the other Eric's-founded bands, Dalek I faded away, with the original members drifting off into other Liverpool bands, including Big In Japan and the Teardrop Explodes.  However Compass Kum'pas remains as a very impressive legacy.

Jess Roden Band - Blowin'

Jess Roden was one of a number of great British blues singers who was active in the late '60s and through the '70s.  However unlike some of his contemporaries - Paul Rogers, Robert Palmer for instance - who went on to great fame, Jess Roden remained a bit of a cult.  That's cult.  Blowin' is a live album that showcases just what a great singer Roden was at his peak, playing bluesy R&B with a soulful tinge.  On my vinyl version of the album, Roden performs a version of Desperado that blows the original miles out of the water.  Sadly this track does not appear on subsequent versions of the album, although it is replaced by another cover, of the Temptations' I Can't Get Next To You that also swings like a bastard.  Jess Roden - one of the great lost British vocalists.

Thomas Lang - Scallywag Jaz

Another Liverpool crooner, Thomas Lang (born Jones - no wonder he changed his name) released a couple of albums in the early 80s showcasing his great voice.  Verging on easy listening, he perfected a style of light jazz (hence jaz) that was picked up by the likes of Black (of Wonderful Life and Sweetest Smile fame) and, on the face of it, was perfect for a world happy to have the likes of Sade and Harry Connick on their coffee tables.  Sadly, it was not to be for Thomas.  If he was around today, he'd be a shoo-in for the X-Factor as well.

Amsterdam - The Journey

Come on, you knew this was coming, didn't you?  Treasure buried so deep only a few select people are aware of the band's existence.  Yet if the world only knew...  The Journey was the band's first 'official' release, gathering the strongest tracks from a series of internet-only albums.  The quality of the album is  sublime, the range of styles broad, the emotion and passion tangible in every note.  If anything, follow-up album Arm in Arm is the better album, but as a debut, an initial statement of intent, The Journey is untouchable.  It deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as The Clash's debut, it is that good.

Oh, there's so many more I could have written about, but this is a decent starter for ten.  Treasure, buried in the depths of my record collection.  What's buried in yours?

Monday, April 05, 2010

Can I just say... (T - 14)

...this is the funniest thing I've seen all weekend...

Sunday Easter Sunday (T - 15)

Today's soundtrack:  U2 - War

Busy day today, motor racing and football to watch, with a family get-together sandwiched in the middle.

It was a bit of a procession at the front of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with the two Red Bulls pulling away in the first two slots and staying there for the rest of the race.  Consequently the action was all towards the back of the field, with the McLarens and Ferraris trying to make amends for their abysmal performance in qualifying.  And for a while it was genuinely exciting, as Lewis Hamilton, in particular, carved his way through the back markers up into a respectable position.  Jenson Button also made progress, albeit less spectacularly, largely due to an early tyre change that gave him acres of free space to drive in for a large part of the race.

Ultimately though, the race fizzled out as a combination of tyre wear and a wall of slightly quicker cars halted the charge.  Oh for a thunderstorm in the last ten laps!

Then it was out for Easter lunch with the family - a carvery at the Village in Bromborough, and very enjoyable it was too, despite me making my usual schoolboy error of eating far too much (did I really need those last three profiteroles?) and feeling decidedly uncomfortable at the back end of the afternoon.  So rather than sit there feeling bloated, we beat an early retreat back home - where the Everton game was being Sky-plussed ready for viewing.

And I wished I hadn't bothered, really.  A lethargic performance against a West Ham team that had more to play for, and who deserved their draw, even though the ever-erratic Howard Webb denied Everton a cast-iron penalty.  Sadly, it looks as though eighth is the best the club can aspire to this season - when a decent European slot was there for the taking.  We are definitely missing the guile and craft that Mikel Arteta brings to the team, and the game against Villa on Wednesday is really our last chance of pushing on for the final European place - a must-win game by any standards.

Sadly let down by Son No 2 today, who gleefully announced that the Pixies were playing Glastonbury this year, only to find he'd been April Fooled (and not for the first time this year!)  Still, with confirmations from The Gaslight Anthem and the likelihood of The Hold Steady and The Courteeners confirming soon, I don't think we'll be struggling for things to do and see.

U2 are, of course, already confirmed, and it is 'War' that has come up on the soundtrack today.  Their third album, released well before The Canonisation Of Saint Bono, it's not their best work by a long stretch.  But it does include New Year's Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday, and generally chunters along quite inoffensively.

Here's a young-looking U2 performing 'Two Hearts Beat as One'.  Nice mullett, Bono!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Sympathy for the Journo (T - 16)

Today's soundtrack:  The Stranglers - The UA Singles 1977 - 1982

Just finished reading Nick Kent's memoirs of the 1970s, 'Apathy for the Devil'.  The name might not mean a great deal to you, but Nick Kent was a music journalist back in the seventies, and along with his colleague at the NME, Charles Shaar Murray, pointed me in the direction of most of the great music I listened to in that decade.

Nick was also - for a few weeks - an early member of the Sex Pistols, as well as being Chrissie Hynde's lover and a fully fledged junkie.  He was also one of the best writers about rock music ever to have put pen to paper.

Apathy for the Devil has come in for some criticism from some quarters, but I enjoyed it.  Whilst Kent doesn't write about himself as well as he does about his musical heroes, reading the book took me right back to my adolescence, and reminded me of the time when the NME formed the centrepiece of my week - I couldn't afford too much of the music it wrote about, but I still devoured every word of every issue, vicariously living the life of its writers, who were, to many of us, stars in their own right.

Today's NME is a pale shadow of the magazine that existed in the '70s and '80s and it's a real shame.  There is still plenty of quality music journalism out there - in the pages of Word, Mojo and Uncut, and in the writings of Peter Guralnick, Mikal Gilmore and others - but you won't find it in the pages of the NME any more, sadly.

A very pleasing thud on the doormat this morning - my contract of employment!  So I've now got written confirmation - I'm back on the gravy train again.  Happy days.  Just got to fill in a few forms and wing them back to Preston, and then I can enjoy my last couple of weeks of leisure.

Confirmation this morning also, that Formula 1 is at its most interesting when it rains.  Ferrari and McLaren's decision to gamble on the length and intensity of a rainstorm in Malaysia found both all four of their cars languishing at the back of the grid, which should lead to some interesting driving tomorrow morning.  The drivers seemed pretty philosophical about it, as well they might - it wasn't really their fault that their teams misread the conditions.

One band who - perhaps surprisingly - don't get much of a mention (if any) in Nick Kent's memoirs are The Stranglers, who were there or thereabouts throughout the period Kent is writing about.  Maybe they were too far removed from the scuzzy drug scene that Kent was involved in at the time, and possibly too inauthentic as well - their punk credentials were indeed decidedly dodgy.  That said, they did release a string of excellent singles in the period from 1977 to 1982, the last part of which I am listening to as I type.  By this time, they'd ditched the casual misogyny that blighted their early years and were playing more melodic, conventional material such as Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl.

Whilst never one of my favourite bands at the time - they came across as too old and too muso for me, with their organ riffs and dodgy facial hair - they did release some canny tunes.

"Have you all got your Crackerjack pencils?"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Word Travels Fast! (T - 17)

Today's soundtrack:  Porcupine Tree - Staircase Infinities

After one of the best night's sleep I've had in ages, woke up ready for a trip into Manchester to meet up with Kevin and some of my old mates from the old job.  But first, off to the Supermarket to stock up for the Easter break.  Big trolley to shove all the chocolate eggs into - right next to the booze and calories, natch.  A relatively straightforward shop, albeit augmented by Mrs W's quick waltz round the clothes section.  Still, don't have to watch the pennies quite so much now!

Then off into Manchester, and to the old firm's offices.  Bumped into a few people outside, who congratulated me on the new job, word obviously having got round quickly!  Nice to be able to answer truthfully when people ask me how it's going - the days of the brave face and the 'it's all ok, really' platitudes are past.  It really is ok now.

Then to Giraffe with Kevin, for a tasty burger and Red Stripe.  We put the world to rights for a good hour or so before going back to the office where I met up with Anne-Marie for congratulations and hugs.  It's good, this going back to work lark.  For some reason I got to kiss lots of women as a result!

So.  I'm in Manchester.  No longer watching the pennies, and Fopp just up the road.  What's a boy to do?

Half an hour later, I emerged with the new Joanna Newsom, Them Crooked Vultures, the new Jimi Hendrix release and a few Traffic albums from the early seventies.  One of which I already own.  Don't you just hate it when you buy something you've already got?  Or is it just me that does it?  It only cost me three quid, at least.

Back home, and a quick text to Matt, who has been spending the week in hospital having his radiotherapy treatment following his throat operation last year.  This has been far less of an ordeal, boredom being the primary concern rather than any specific medical issues.  You can read about his experiences here.

After a big lunch, there was no need for a massive tea so we had the remnants of last night's (home-made) pizza alongside some potato skins and chicken bits.  Watched the end of Supernatural series 3 and - of course - caught up on Masterchef.  The six contestants reduced now to five following the departure of Terry, who may well cause himself serious self-harm as a result.

Simon reminded me yesterday that the guitar playing hasn't had a mention in a while and, if truth be known, it did go a bit quiet for a bit.  Having said that, I have been picking up both the bass and my six-string more often on the past week or two and enjoying every minute of it.  Although my fingers hurt as a result.  Not a virtuoso by any means but still enjoying the tinkering!

One man who probably can lay claim to the title of virtuoso is Steven Wilson, driving force behind the horribly-named Porcupine Tree, who actually produce a very acceptable blend of Proggy hard rock.  Staircase Infinities is a half hour of nicely melodic, guitar-driven rock that is extremely pleasant to have on in the background.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

No Longer Stuck? (T - 18)

Today's soundtrack:  Various Artists - The Burt Bacharach Songbook

Oh my - I got the job!

After a pretty rigorous interview process, I seem to have come out the other side as the Last Man Standing!  So, subject to completion of all the formalities and paperwork, I shall be Head of Business Assurance for a major housing association based in Preston - starting on 19 April.  Hence the 'T - 18' countdown in the title above.

The recruitment process went through three separate interviews, culminating in a double-header down in London on Monday.  On arrival, I was given a topic to present upon for 15 minutes, and given 45 minutes to prepare.  No Powerpoint - just a flipchart.  So, hoping that handwriting wasn't one of the characteristics I was going to be assessed on, I set to scribbling.

Finished just about on time, then it was downstairs to present my scribbles to the four-man panel.  And it seemed to go ok.  My mouth didn't dry up, the presentation seemed to flow, I could see I was getting a few nods, and I stuck to my allotted fifteen minutes.  After a few questions on the presentation, it was on to the meat of the interview for the next hour and a half.  Again, it seemed to go ok.  Unfazed by any of the questions, a few more nods, even a few laughs and smiles.  In the right place, as well.

Still, you never know.  I came out thinking I'd done ok - pretty good, in fact - but the other guy might be even better.  Who knows?  At least I felt I'd done myself justice and set a decent benchmark for the other guy.

Fast forward to the next morning.  An early call from the recruitment agency - always a good sign - no offer yet, but good feedback from the interview...and could I give them the names of some referees they could contact for a reference?  Oh yes, I can do that.  A few quick emails, and the process swung smoothly and quickly into action.  By midday, references had been requested and provided, passed on to the company....

...and the good news came back - you've got it!

Oh my.

So - thanks.  Thanks to the two reference providers - you know who you are - who gave me what I am told were 'glowing' references.  Thanks to everyone who has sent me good wishes and congratulations - and thanks to everyone who has kept in touch either directly or through this blog for the last twelve months.  It's been a long, sometimes stressful year, and your comments and support have helped me get through it all.  Oh, and extra special thanks to Mrs W, who has put up with all the ups and downs and mood swings without complaint.

Well without much complaint, anyway.

Anyway, enough of that, it's beginning to sound like a bloody Oscar acceptance speech.

So - the light at the end of the tunnel probably isn't the oncoming train after all.  It looks like I'm sorted.  Son No 1 is also working and happy in his work, and Son No 2 is successfully completing his treatment this week as well.  Onwards and upwards chaps.

Many of you have asked what is going to happen to this blog.  Well, I don't want to stop - in fact, I'll probably ramp it up for the next 18 days as we count down to D-Day, and then continue on a more occasional basis, just to keep in touch.

This is what I wrote on Day 1 about the title of this blog...380 days ago!

I'm amused by the irony of this blog title. "Stuck Between Stations" was originally a nod to my refusal to grow old gracefully - stuck, if you will, between the kid I was and the 'grown-up' I refuse to be. And, of course, a reference to the wonderful Hold Steady - a group of musicians who act no older than they need to. The song itself refers to being stuck between stations on the radio - when things are not as 'crystal clear' as they might be. Something else I can relate to at the moment.  But now, I'm stuck between two other stations - the job I had and the new job I've yet to find.

No longer stuck between those latter two stations. Thank God.

As for the original reason for the blog title - well, you be the judge!

And so to the soundtrack for today's post. The mighty Burt Bacharach. And from the album, a track whose title reflected the way I felt twelve months ago. Not any more though.

Take it away, Dusty!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

American (TV) Without Tears

And so to the latest challenge...

"Moving away from music based challenges and into the world of television …. Your all time top 10 US TV series imports. 

They must be a proper series over a number of years (ie Band of Brothers, as good as it was, wouldn’t count as it is a one off mini-series).  They must have been shown on a British channel (even an obscure Sky channel would count!) so cult box-sets bought via the internet also are out.  You also must have seen all of the relevant available series.  Just having seen a couple of series and raving about it doesn’t count. 

Apart from that anything else goes …. comedy, soaps, sci-fi, drama… the choice is yours!"

Oooh - tough one!

After negotiating a bit of leeway in the above rules, I give you the following.  I can't hand on heart, say I've seen every episode of every series, and it's slightly skewed to more recent stuff, but there are some gems in here.  You should go out and buy them all on DVD...


Or, to give it its proper title, 'The Phil Silvers Show'. The series against which all comedy series should be measured.  Running from 1955 to 1959 (and no, I didn't get to see any of the episodes when they were first broadcast.  How very dare you) the show records the antics of Sgt Ernie Bilko, ostensibly in charge of the motor pool at Fort Baxter in Kansas.  Bilko is, of course, far more interested in running scams and get rich quick schemes to the despair of his long suffering Colonel.  Phil Silvers steals the show as Bilko, but is ably supported by his squad, including cuddly Duane Doberman.  Still funny today, fifty years after its release.

(Oh, and an honourable mention to Top Cat as well, which is essentially Bilko in cartoon form.  Nearly made onto this list in its own right).


For years, this show kept me in on a Friday night and out of the pub.  Which is quite ironic, in an Alanis Morrissette kind of way.  A great cast with a wonderful range of characters - Cliff, Norm (Norm!), Frasier, Woody, Carla - a place where everyone knows your name, indeed.  Running for so long, with quite a stable cast, meant that you really got to know the characters and pick up on their back stories...which were essentially rather sad - you felt that outside of the bar, people like Cliff and Norm had quite empty lives.  But when they were in Cheers bar, they found the companionship and friendship they could get nowhere else.

Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks just about qualifies as it did run to two series, but deserves its place on the list anyway for completely subverting the conventions of the television drama series.  As with his filmwork, especially Blue Velvet, David Lynch created a series that peeled back the thin veneer of small town respectability to reveal the evil and horror lurking beneath.  On the face of it, a simple murder mystery - Who Killed Laura Palmer? - but it became so much more.  The joy was in the detail, the little twists and unexplained mysteries.  Where was the Red Room?  Why the dwarves and giants?  What was it with the owls?  A shame the second series lost its way slightly after pressure from the producers to provide some 'explanations' - the joy was in the unexplained and the wierd.

The Simpsons

I doubt very much I've seen every episode of The Simpsons, but I've seen more than enough to convince me this is television material of the highest quality.  Initially derided by politicians (who should have known better) for its supposed portrayal of a 'dysfunctional' family - when in fact the Simpsons are the most functional family ever portrayed on screen. The hero is of course Homer - not Bart, who seemed to attract all the original attention.  There is a little bit of Homer in all of us - and so there should be.

Again, the joy is in the detail - repeated watching reveals all sorts of wonderful details in the background you'll have missed first time round.

Honourable mention also for Futurama - more great grown-up cartoon fun from the same team.

Prison Break

Just finished watching this one on DVD, so it's fresh in my mind.  Not the most cerebral of shows, but hugely enjoyable all the same.  The tale of two brothers, Lincoln and Michael.  Lincoln has been wrongly convicted of murder and is on death row.  Michael gets himself deliberately incarcerated in order to break Lincoln out.  From there, the four series alternate between freedom and incarceration as the brothers try to uncover the evil corporation that framed Lincoln in the first place.

Yes, it's absolute tosh, but hugely entertaining tosh for all that.


Stretching the rules a wee bit here, as we've only seen the first two of the four series that have been produced.  In my defence, it's only the first two series that have been released on DVD, and the third series is on order with Amazon.  So it's in.

A very clever twist on the serial killer motif here - in that it is Dexter, our hero, who is the psychopath in this case.  His day job is as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami police, but after hours Dexter is out there fulfilling his urges by offing the bad men who the police are unable to catch.

Equal parts amusing, exciting and genuinely shocking on occasion, this is one series where you really will be rooting for the bad guy.


More gloriously far-fetched, entertaining tosh here, and although it has lost its way a touch in recent series, it is still a magnificent show.  The central conceit is, of course, that all the action takes place in real time - so the '24' hourly episodes represent just one day's activity on the part of the protagonists.  Completely unrealistic and impossible, but who cares?  This is Bourne, Die Hard, Bond and any other action film you care to mention stretched out over 24 hours and, if occasionally casually racist and violent, is the perfect way to suspend disbelief and see the goodies triumph over the baddies.  Cowboys and Indians for the modern age, Johhn Wayne replaced by Jack Bauer.

The Shield

Cops and robbers - except the line between the two is blurred here to the point of invisibility.  The Shield records the day to day existence of a crack police squad who are, for the most part, as corrupt and venal as the criminals they are trying to bring to justice.  There is not a single sympathetic character in the whole series, yet you still find yourself rooting for the bad guys (again - bit of a theme developing here).

Michael Chiklis excels as the 'star' of the show, Vic Mackey, but the supporting cast is uniformly strong and has attracted some big names like Glenn Close and Forest Whittaker for important roles in certain series.  Harrowing and gritty, but hugely entertaining.

The Sopranos

I've not placed these series in any particular order - apart from these last two, which I think represent some of the finest television drama ever produced.  Firstly The Sopranos, the long-running saga of the New Jersey-based mafia family.  Yet again, we are rooting for the bad guys, but we know this - and also know that some bad guys are badder than others.  Tony's battle to keep his business together whilst dealing with family issues (ageing parent and uncle, growing kids) and his own mental issues is fascinating - and just when you feel you are getting to understand him as a human being, some incident will happen to remind you - graphically - that we are dealing with some very nasty and disturbed individuals.

Powerful drama that pulls few punches - and ended in memorable fashion.

The Wire

As good as The Sopranos is, it's not a patch on The Wire, which I honestly believe represents the best, sustained television drama ever made.  Set in Baltimore over five series, the underlying theme is the battle between the police and the drug cartels in the city.  Where the series succeeds so well is by covering the stories from all viewpoints - the police force, the corner boys, the politicians, the drug barons - and by judging all protagonists equally.

The show makes no concessions to the viewer - many people have watched the early series with the subtitles on to catch all the nuances of the language of the corners - and it can be difficult to get into - but once you are in, you are hooked.

The series gives no answers, and cleverly depicts the 'circularity' of the streets - as characters die or move on, new individuals come along to fulfil the roles left vacant - but it has some strong and powerful messages about how best to control the drug epidemic in the inner cities, about education, politics and journalism.

A work of true genius.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spam as poetry

I found this in my inbox this morning.  No links, nothing to click on to order some Viagra, no money waiting for me in a Nigerian bank account.

Yet I find it strangely compelling, in a Joycean kind of way.

So I want to share it with you.

Who is he?  Perhaps you don't care for the brand.
And what can we do?  That is why we have the fire.
She must have been a clipper. See what I can do with it.
Habet foenum in cornu*. Oysters will do.

Is not that worse than poverty? It's only a name.
We do not need a candle. He seems very fond of her.
And all of it ugly. The woman of Pablo was watching too.

Never have we seen planes like this. That all our enemies should learn.
But I am not stupid. We are not talking more.

Courtesy of my good friend Seth Keith.  Or is that Keith Seth?

*Latin for 'he has hay in his horns'.  A quotation from Horace, referring to an angry bull, but applied to anyone feeling angry.  I'm here to inform as well as entertain.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bludgeon Riffola!

And so the challenges continue.  This time, my challenge to Simon was to name his ten favourite riffs.  I put it to him this way...

"Right, after a lot of indecision and prevarication, the next challenge is out there.
And it's the Riff.  The guitar line (and it has to be the guitar line) that turns a good song into a classic.
I want your top ten riffs.
No more than two or three bars.  Played to death by young boys in guitar shops.  Long of hair, behatted and beaded, no doubt.
I'm not talking solos here, I'm talking riffs.  Ba-danga-danga-da-dang dang.  Ba-danga-danga-da-dang dang.
You know what I mean."

Simon's response to the challenge is here -and mighty impressive it is, too, avoiding the obvious and embracing the concept in equal measure.  Including a number of riffs that I should have thought of as well.

As it is, there was only one riff on Simon's list that was in my provisional ten - Seven Nation Army - so I have adjusted my list accordingly.  I similarly decided that Smoke on the Water (and one or two others) were a little too obvious to include.

So - ten riffs to send you running to the air guitar shop.  In no particular order, of course...

Whole Lotta Love - Led Zeppelin

And here's me saying I was going to avoid the obvious.  But how could you not include this?  What swung it was the moment in the recent documentary, "It Might Be Loud", where Jimmy Page plays this riff to an audience of The Edge and Jack White, both of whom know a good riff when they hear one.  The look of joy on their faces as the power chords rang out was probably the highlight of the film.

Back in Black - AC/DC

I very nearly went for 'Whole Lotta Rosie' but of course could have gone for just about any AccaDacca tune. In the end though, it had to be 'Back in Black', if only for its punchiness and attack.  The quintessential AC/DC riff.

Enter Sandman - Metallica

When I was editing down the individual tracks on this list to the essence of their riffs, most could be distilled into ten or twenty seconds, max.  Enter Sandman - I just kept the edit playing and playing, as the riff develops and grows.  Over a minute of pure riffage before I pressed 'cut'.

The Jean Genie - David Bowie

Generally, Glam Rock gave good riff - and this is David Bowie right in the middle of his Glam phase.  Probably the only riff to be in the charts at the same time in two different forms - exactly the same riff graces Sweet's 'Blockbuster'.  But this is the definitive Glam riff, courtesy of Mick Ronson, of course.

She Does It Right - Dr Feelgood

Wilko Johnson, with some spectacular pub rock riffage, mastering the art of playing rhythm and lead at the same time, in the same riff.  I've seen footage of him playing this riff live, and I still can't work out how he does it.  A simple riff on the face of it, but deceptively complex to master.

Safe European Home - The Clash

This is what you get when punk meets heavy metal - The Clash produced by Sandy Pearlman.  It irked the purists at the time, but Pearlman added weight and depth to the band's natural intensity, to produce this master opening to the album.  It was even better live.

American Idiot - Green Day

Playing this riff immediately after The Clash, and the similarities are obvious.  Not just in the choice of notes (there are only so many to choose from, after all) but in the depth and intensity.  Often unfairly lumped in with the mass of lumpen Tattoo'd American Punk bands that came through in their wake, this riff kicks off an album of intelligence and variety that transcends its genre.

Song 2 - Blur

Another great riff from a band not really known for their riffage.  It also has the classic riff 'trick' that gets me every time - playing the riff once with little tone, then hitting the 'gain' pedal (turned up to eleven) to really hammer the point home.  It's got 'woo hoo's' as well.  Set the crowd alight at Glastonbury last year.  Not that I would know, I was in the Acoustic Tent listening to Georgie Fame.

Walk This Way - Aerosmith

I love this riff - deceptively simple, just four notes played pretty much in sequence four times - but it's perfect in its simplicity and when combined with the opening drum pattern and hint of turntable scratching, sets up the mash of rap and metal perfectly.

Sweet Jane - Lou Reed

This is the lodestone - essence of riff.  Three chords - D/A/G - with perhaps a Bm in there as well - it doesn't get any simpler.  Can be played gently (as in the VU original) or as an out and out rocker.  This version - from Lou's 'Take No Prisoners' live album - is at the rocky end of the spectrum and none the worse for that.

(Oh - and bonus points to anyone who knows where the title of this post comes Googling now, you'd just be cheating yourself...)