Sunday 30 December 2007

Face Trumpet

I have written here before about the cultural stew created when you combine years of professional dance training, ukelele and a seriously off the wall sense of humour.

Wel the latest video from Face Trumpet is their strangest yet, a tribute to the head-nodding genius of Bobby Crush. Honestly.

There is a rumour of some live dates in the new year. The mind boggles.


Sunday 23 December 2007

Shattered lives

by Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje doesn't like to make it easy for his readers. His last novel Anil's Ghost was set in his native Sri Lanka and dealt with the violent civil war between government forces, Tamil seperatists and anti-government agitators but with a plot which changed tack half way through and then back again before its conclusion. He pulls a similar trick in his latest, Divisadero, which takes its name from a street which used to be 'the dividing line between San Francisco and the fields of the Presidio', but it's name might also derive 'from the word divisar, meaning to gaze at something from a distance.'

It begins with two girls, Anna and Claire, raised as sisters whose bond is broken apart when Anna develops a passion for the hired man Coop. When they are discovered by her father he unleashes an act of violence which shatters this family apart. Anna defends her lover by plunging a shard of glass into her father's shoulder and this shard will return as a symbol later. As Anna is spirited away into the stormy night by her father Coop is left for dead. We then pick up the various pieces, following Coop's career as a gambler which will end in another vicious beating and a second saving by Claire. Anna meanwhile becomes a writer and her researching of the life of a mysterious French writer Lucien Segura form the scond part of this novel.

This structure is frustrating because there is an epic power to the writing of the first half, something of the Greek tragedy about the setup of one man being father to three children who have all lost their mothers. After the violent climax of this section we are left with relativley mundane fallout; the business of Coops training as a cardsharp only livening slightly when we get to his big score and the complications of Claire's relationship with him made clear when he mistakes her for Anna when she finds him battered and destroyed a second time. When we are reading Anna's writings of Segura it is difficult at first to see the connections between the stories but that glass shard returns, this time partially blinding Segura, and removed from his eye by Marie-Neige a woman with a violent husband who forms a close bond with the young Segura when she reads to him during his convalescence. Many images and motifs return slightly altered from the earlier story and just as Coop calls Claire by the wrong name, so Segura will be mistaken by Marie-Neige for her absent husband later on.

People often write about Ondaatje's poetical economy with language. Unfortunately there are times, particularly when we are following Coop in Tahoe that this economy manifests itself in short sentences with an almost adolescent repetitive syntax. However there are other moments when the little he writes on the page creates much more in our minds. Here for example is his description of the coupling of Marie-Neige and her powerful husband.

After that she turned and put her arms out along the thick rim of the barrel where in the water was the moon and the ghost of her face. Roman moved aganst her, and in the next while, whatever surprise there was, whatever pain, there was also the frantic moon in front of her shifting and breaking into pieces on the water.

So this is a novel which I think would reward a second reading. As Ondaatje himself writes:

Its like a villanelle, this inclination of going back to events in our past, the way the villanelle's form refuses to move forward in linear development, circling instead at those famliar moments of emotion. Only the rereading counts, Nabakov said...For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue. We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell.

For those who have read his other novels there will either be lots to admire or a worrying continuation of the alienating structure of his recent work. For those who haven't read him before The English Patient is a much more satisfying place to start.


Thursday 20 December 2007

stop the press

At last, a chance to take a peek at the new Batman film. Enjoy.


Wednesday 12 December 2007

2007: Review of my year


Gents by Warwick Collins

This was the year I started to read (and write) blogs, one of which was Me and My Big Mouth. Scott Pack was kind enough to send me a copy of this slim novel and what a gem it turned out to be. The deceptively simple plot revolves around three West-Indian men working in a public toilet, but this is a novel which contains so much: Racial and sexual prejudice, relationships between and amongst the sexes and some of the most sharply observed dialogue I have ever read. So sharp in fact that when two actors approached Collins about turning this into a film they were surprised to find that he himself wasn't West-Indian.

Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

I have felt at times that I was the only person in the UK who had read Johnson but I have since discovered a few who share my passion and this year saw the publication of his first novel in seven years. And what a novel. A vast Vietam war era epic with a huge cast of characters, huge themes and the National Book Award as reward for his efforts. It has its flaws but the ambition and scope are enough to put it right at the front of my mind when thinking back on this year. Hopefully it may introduce him to a wider readership.

Honourable mentions: The Devil's Footprints by John Burnside, Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont, Men In Space by Tom McCarthy

Not-book-of-the-year: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Sorry everyone, I don't get the fuss.


In Rainbows by Radiohead

Not only was this Radiohead's best music in years but the method of its release managed to cause a huge stir throughout the music industry. That has always been the potential power of this band and it was gratifying to see them wield it and get away with it. As for the album itslef Thom Yorke has said that they called it In Rainbows 'Because it was the desire to get somewhere that you're not'. After the protest of Hail To The Thief this was the sound of a far more positive band and a more personal approach lyrically from new Dad Thom.

Boxer by The National

The National are one of those bands whose adherents speak passionately about their music. 2005's Alligator was a real highlight that year and whilst Boxer felt similar at first it has revealed its subtleties over time. Matt Beringer's distinctive vocals lend the dramatic playing real gravitas. I saw them live at this years Latitude Festival and I'm sure they won some new fans that day.

Honourable mentions: The Reminder by Feist, Neon Bible by Arcade Fire, You Follow Me by Nina Nastasia and Jim White

Not-album-of-the-year: Myths Of The Near Future by The Klaxons. The Mercury jury triumph again.


I knew I hadn't been to the cinema much this year when it turned out that the two films I picked (Casino Royale- making Bond brilliant again and Apocalypto- a stunning, visceral experience) were actually released in 2006. Ooops.


Don't worry about whether this film is the revolution in film musicals some have called it just revel in its unabashed romanticism. It's rough around the edges and all the better for it and charts brilliantly and painfully what it feels like to fall in love.

Honourable mentions: The Lives of Others, Little Miss Sunshine.
Not-film-of-the-year: Sunshine.


The Sopranos

As I have written here this was the year I did The Sopranos. All of it. In one go. Wow. One of the most enjoyable experiences in my life. Where on earth do I go from here?


I have found this year that the stuff on telly that's making me tune in is comedy. Another series of Curb Your Enthusiasm in the States showed Larry David having more fun than ever, Flight of The Conchords was a real surprise hit making me giggle like a child, The Mighty Boosh returned with their best series yet and Gavin and Stacey showed that British Comedy wasn't the oxymoron it used to be.

The return of Saturday night

The Family night-in returns better than ever. Doctor Who continued to re-capture the hearts of the nation and even showed some of the more subversive images on TV. Best of all however is Strictly Come Dancing. Now I'm not a huge fan of reality TV especially not the celebrity variety but Strictly combines charm, the learning of a real skill and the raising of money for charity into one gorgeous bundle. There is always something to talk about from Bruce's declining presenting skills and Tess's wardrobe to dubious scores and the voting of the great British public. Sometimes the dancing even gets a mention. Reading this blog about it all has made it even more entertaining.

Not-TV-of-the-year: X-factor. Just rubbish, in every way imaginable. Have you no self-respect?


I didn't see nearly enough theatre this year and what I did see tended to be disappointing. Ian Rickson's production of Pinter's The Hothouse was ok, Kwame Kwei-Armah's new play Statement of Regret was interesting but let down by a poor production and the biggest disappointment of all was Punchdrunk's Faust at Wapping. Yes, it looked stunning and was certainly an experience but as I wandered the huge warehouse with my mask on I felt I wasn't the only one wondering where the show was and if it wasn't all a bit 'emperor's new clothes'. Must try harder to get out to more next year (like that's easy with a new baby!)


Didn't do much art this year either but there was one piece you couldn't fail to see if you walked around London towards the end of the year. Anthony Gormley's sculptures watched over us all from various vantage points around the city and it was fascinating to spot new ones every now and then. The sensation was uncanny, almost like catching a possible suicide in progress or some kind of alien landing. Brilliant public art, I was sad to see them go.


Sunday 9 December 2007

Meet Odell Deefus

Callisto by Torsten Krol

Not much is known about the author of Callisto. With no public appearances and communication with his agent strictly via email there has even been speculation that he may be a more established author writing under a pseudonym. His first novel The Dolphin People was published last year without making too huge a splash, perhaps Atlantic were hoping to draw more attention with this hideous front cover.

In this satirical novel we meet Odell Deefus a simple man from America's Bible Belt on his way to enlist for the army. Fate however has other plans for him and when his car breaks down in Callisto, Kansas he begins a journey that will involve murder, drug running, fundamentalist religion and just about every Government agency going. I don't want to say much more about the plot so you can enjoy the roller coaster ride for yourself. The real strength of this novel is in the character of its narrator. Deefus is not so much idiot savant as idiot and his narration is peppered with malapropisms and misunderstandings.

The broad brush strokes are reminiscent of DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (what is it with Australians satirising America?) and for many this may be covering similar ground. Where Pierre focused on the media, Krol looks at American attitudes post 9/11 and this is a book which includes Islam, bomb plots, torture and Condeleeza Rice (as the rather hilarious object of Deefus' affections at one point). At 437 pages it is a tad long and whilst Deefus is an entertaining narrator the naiveté can be a little frustrating at times. America has got pretty good at satirising itself these days so this book isn't as sharp as it thinks nor quite the 'novel of our times' Atlantic might hope it is. But there is a lot of fun to be had along the way and in Odell Deefus we have a guide of such innocence that as he gets himself into deeper and darker territory it is hard not to feel hugely sympathetic.


Tuesday 4 December 2007

Cocker cracker

After the triumph of his video for Bad Cover Version I have only just seen the video below for Don't Let Him Waste Your Time. Having seen him live at this year's Latitude Festival (including a cover version of Eye of The Tiger which will live long in the memory) I can confirm that Jarvis has the best sense of humour in music. Where's the novelty Christmas single Cocker?


Monday 3 December 2007

Swept away

Thames: Sacred River
by Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd's bestseller London: The Biography seemed to be part of a fashion a few years ago to write 'The Biography' of any kind of inanimate object ranging from the Bible to the Moon. It was however a fascinating journey through the history of the capital and as a Londoner myself I still get a thrill walking through some of the ancient streets and passages (especially those around the river) thinking of who else has been there before me. So what of this history of the river itself?

Following a meandering course this book is divided into short thematic chapters such as 'The Working River' and 'The River of Art'. With this approach Ackroyd is able to write not only about the history of the river but what it represents. Some reviewers have complained that this way of writing is not suited to the subject but I found it refreshing and invigorating to read a writer who sees the river in similar terms to the other great rivers of the world. The Ganges is seen as sacred in India and all life in Egypt runs alongside the Nile. In Britain, the Thames has always been associated with power and industry, literally the lifeblood of the capital but its influence is also felt along its full length from Thameshead to the sea.

If there is a problem it is that Ackroyd tends to give us all of his copious research and so the myriad of facts in each short chapter, whilst thematically linked, can feel a little disorganised. It is his trademark enthusiasm which keeps the momentum going though and as we follow the river's course it is hard not to get caught up in its wake. I am sure there are better textbooks available for those who want a more serious study but just as his book on London provided a popular, accessible history of the city this companion volume is sure to do the same for its famous river.


Sunday 2 December 2007

so bad it's brilliant

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night
compiled by Scott Rice

Every year the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest lays a challenge to its entrants: to write the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. Up to 10,000 people enter each year and it seems there is no limit to the sheer awfulness that can be created with a little application. Here for example is the grand winner of this years contest:

Gerald began--but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash--to pee.
Jim Gleeson, Madison, WI

Brilliant. This book, bound in beautiful mock leatherette, brings together the best of the worst and is a perfect gift for anyone you know who likes reading.


Saturday 1 December 2007

Southland Tales

Richard Kelly's debut feature Donnie Darko was striking and atmospheric if overly ambitious at times. It was always going to be interesting to see what he did next. Southland Tales looks like another sprawling, multi-layered disaster/triumph; more quirky casting in the form of The Rock and Justin Timberlake, more fantastic music and a plot with more loose ends than an episode of Lost. It was booed at Cannes, it was still being edited up until the last moment and it is preceded by three prequel graphic novels. Blimey. Here's the trailer see what you think.


Thursday 29 November 2007

Statement of Regret by Kwami Kwei-Armah- Cottesloe, National Theatre

Statement of Regret is the third part of Kwami Kwei-Armah's 'literary triptych' for the National Theatre about African-Caribbean experience. The first Elmina's Kitchen was a hit that transferred to the West End, the second Fix Up was well received if less enthusiastically and the same can be said for this third play which is provocative, interesting and let down by a terrible production at the National Theatre.

Grieving after the death of his father Kwaku Mackenzie returns to the office of his think tank the Institute of Black Policy Research. He is hitting the bottle and struggling to set the agenda, his efforts lead him to develop a policy of slavery reperations for West Indians exclusively, which opens up a race divide in his all black office that threatens to sink the firm. Add to this the conflict of employing his bastard son to work alongside his legitimate son, financial problems, an affair with a young work colleague and the ghostly presence of his father and you can see that this play has a lot of ideas fighting for supremecy.

The first problem is that the political setting and nature of the play leads to some fairly leaden action, characters shouting ideas and policy at each other, which can make us feel we are in a debating society rather than a theatre. The reason we notice this so much in this production is that the human stories underneath it aren't being played, or at least aren't being played enough. There is so much there bubbling beneath the surface of the text but some of the actors seem to have been left stranded and when the scenes begin to heat up we are just treated to some more shouting.

Don Warrington puts in a strong central performance as Kwaku, a man struggling with his heritage (brilliantly mocked when he is criticised for having adopted an African name to conceal his real name; Derek - a self deprecating jab from Kwei-Armah who I believe has done the same), his accent shifting as his life collapses around him. There is brilliant support from Javone Prince and Clifford Samuel as his two sons, as they battle for the love and admiration of their father. But at the end of the evening I left feeling that whilst the play had lots to talk about, the production had fallen rather flat.


Wednesday 28 November 2007

Premature adulation

On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan

Since he won the Booker Prize with Amsterdam and popular and critical success with Atonement each new work by Ian McEwan is greeted with fervent anticipation and phrases like 'a writer at the height of his powers'. I loved Atonement, found lots to admire in Saturday (but also quite a lot that was frankly laughable) and to be honest wasn't all that fussed about reading this slim novella, and it was interesting to see that sales of On Chesil Beach outstripped the sales of all the other titles on this years Booker shortlist combined.

Edward and Florence, both virgins, are spending their first night as a married couple at a hotel near the famous Chesil Beach. They are both from different backgrounds; Edward has led a life of limited worldly experience and Florence, a gifted musician, one of privilege. They both have their own worries about the intimacy of this first night as man and wife; Edward, rather hilariously, has abstained from 'self-pleasuring' for over a week so as to be on top form for his bride but worries about arriving too soon, Florence, disgusted by the idea of physical intimacy, is not only fearful but aware that she has brought this on herself.

This is a short story really which has been fleshed out with some family background for both characters which doesn't really convince and a hastily summarised ending which feels tacked on. It's a shame really because the writing, as ever, is first rate. The prose is tight with barely a word wasted and there is a lot of fun to be had in the descriptions of the young couple's awkward courtship; one highlight being Edward's military style campaign towards sexual intimacy being set back months after a misguided fumble in a darkened theatre.

I find it difficult now to understand a time when 'a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible' which is maybe why I found this book so frustrating. It is after all about the things that this young couple are unable to say to each other. Only when they are forced to confront each other with their true feelings out on the pebbled beach of the title did I feel my interest rising. After enjoying Atonement so much I have been wanting to feel the same about everything since but McEwan has yet to hit those heights again for me. Maybe with his next sure to be shorlisted and critically successful novel I will fall in love again.


Monday 26 November 2007

The Unquiet American

Tree of Smoke
by Denis Johnson

Were it not for the fact that this novel has just won the National Book Award in America I would describe Denis Johnson as a vastly underrated writer. In this country certainly you would be hard pressed to find many who have read much of his output which includes fiction, poetry, plays and journalism. The fact that he was unable to appear in person to collect the NBA as he was on assignment in Iraq should tell you something about this most unconventional of writers. I could write a lot (and probably will at some point) about Johnson's work in general but for now I will restrict myself to talking about this latest novel.

There is no need to use the word restrict because this vast novel (614 pages) contains huge themes, a cast list to rival any Shakespeare play and is no more or less than a War and Peace for the Vietnam era. I am not trying to make any grand claims for the book but it is almost impossible to read a novel this ambitious without seeing it in those terms. Coming 7 years after his last novel (the slim but equally fascinating The Name Of The World) and almost 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War, I was surprised to see such a tome, but there is nothing conventional about this book, it is a demanding read, it is flawed, but it is thrilling to see a writer of Johnson's talents tackling such an undertaking. Any attempt by me to summarise the plot or even just the characters will fail but here we go.

Beginning the day after the assassination of JFK, ('The dividing line between light and dark goes through the center of every heart. Every soul. There isn't one of us that isn't guilty of his death.') with a chapter for each year up until 1970 (with a coda in 1983) the plot revolves around William 'Skip' Sands, 'a young American man who alternately thought of himself as the Quiet American and the Ugly American, and who wished himself to be neither, who wanted instead to be the Wise American, or the Good American, but who eventually came to witness himself as the Real American and finally as simply the Fucking American.' A CIA operative he starts in the Philippines and works in Vietnam eventually with his uncle, 'the Colonel', a Kurtz-like figure working in Psy-Ops. The Tree of Smoke of the title is '(pillar of smoke, pillar of fire) the "guiding light" of a sincere goal for the function of intelligence- restoring intelligence gathering as the main function of intelligence operations, rather than to provide rationalizations for policy. Because if we don't, the next step is for career-minded power-mad cynical jaded bureaucrats to use intelligence to influence policy. The final step is to create fictions and serve them to our policy makers in order to control the direction of government' And for those British readers that may just remind you of a certain 'dodgy dossier'. For Americans we're into the realm of Rumsfeld's 'known unknowns'. The Colonel's eventual plan is to send false intelligence of a rogue American plot to bring the war to a swift conclusion with a pillar of smoke in the form of a mushroom cloud.

But this is a multi-layered book and the real plot is that of war and how it effects all those who are involved in it. We have the Houston brothers James and Bill (who is the 'hero' of Johnson's debut novel Angels) and their Mother back home. Both of these boys becoming men in conflict and for James in particular the realisation that after all he has been through, he may not be suited to the ordinary life. We have various shadowy characters from the world of intelligence, Sergeant Jimmy Storm, Rick Voss, Anders Pitchfork, Dietrich Fest, the names alone should be making you want to read this novel. All of them operating in a region beyond the normal controls; 'We're on the cutting edge of reality itself. Right where it turns into a dream'.

As the moral centre of the book we have Kathy Jones who, recently widowed, meets Skip in the Philippines and they become lovers. When apart she writes him letters, telling him that when he reaches Vietnam he will find it like purgatory; 'Five or ten times a day you'll stop and ask yourself, When did I die? And why has God's punishment been so cruel?'. We also have several Vietnamese characters; Nguyen Minh who flies helicopters for the Colonel, his uncle Nguyen Hao who forms a relationship with the Americans and his close friend Trung, who attempts to assassinate the Colonel at the start of the novel, and will eventually become a double agent for the Colonel and the man to carry the false intelligence.

The novel's title has a biblical origin and with other references throughout, this is a book marked by religion. But this is a world forsaken by God or at least ruled by different administrations, one perhaps where he only exists as the desperate imagining of those who live in it. Loyalty, a recurring theme, leads many to think of Judas and Christ. We have a priest who has given up on prayer, a mother at home for whom 'prayer was all she had. Prayer and Nescafe and Salems'. The correspondence between Kathy and Skip often struggling with faith. Vietnam itself is shown as a region of hell. A land and its people being destroyed by a nation trying to maintain faith.

What really stands out for me is the dialogue. It isn't there simply to forward plot but to brilliantly render character. From the idiomatic speech of the soldiers, the staccato phone conversations across continents, the vicious language of interrogation and conflict, Johnson's work recently as a playwright seems to have honed his already gifted ear for the speech of those at the margins, those living at the edge. He also has the ability to fill this violent novel with moments of real beauty and sadness.

Yes, it is flawed. Johnson's prose, if you haven't read him before, is not always easy, but why should it be, especially in a book like this? It is invigorating, as I said, to read a writer dealing with such big topics and doing so fearlessly. Where are the British writers dealing with our recent history, our national psyche and above all writing so bravely?


Thursday 22 November 2007

feed your brain, feed the world

There is a great site where you can play a vocabulary game which teases your brain and for every answer you get right they will donate 10 grains of rice through the United Nations to help world hunger. Now 10 grains isn't a lot on its own of course but the vocab test is annoyingly addictive as you try to rise up the levels and since it began on the 7th of October the site has donated 3,059,177,080 grains of rice. That sounds like quite a few sacks to me and that's in just 6 weeks. Go along and test yourself by clicking on the picture above.


Thursday 15 November 2007

making music

It's one of those adverts where you think 'How did they do that?'



Wednesday 14 November 2007

good things come...


Monday 12 November 2007

Two sides of Adam

A friend of mine pointed me towards this from Adam Buxton of Adam and Joe fame. It's silly but it made me laugh.

Whilst there though I found this, a video he made with Thom and Jonny from Radiohead which is simple and brilliant.

Go to his website to see more videos he made with them including a great re-working of the finale from the film Se7en.


Sunday 11 November 2007

come with us now on a journey through time and space

If you like your comedy silly with funky music and extreme fashion then the Boosh are for you my friend. Series 3 of The Mighty Boosh is on BBC 3 from next Thursday at 10:30pm but if you're really impatient like me you can watch the first episode online here.


Friday 9 November 2007

Gone for good

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

In The Ghost Writer, the first novel to feature Nathan Zuckerman, the young writer travelled from New York to the Berkshires to visit his hero E.I.Lonoff. In Exit Ghost, which is probably the final appearance of Roth's alter ego, the journey is reversed and after 11 years in rural exile Zuckerman returns to the city, 'where the biggest thing of all occurred', on the eve of the presidential election which, we know, will put Bush back in the White House.

I had banished my country, been myself banished from erotic contact with women, and was lost through battle fatigue to the world of love.

He has made the journey, impotent and incontinent after prostate surgery, to undergo a procedure that he hopes will return to him some control over his bladder. It is the latest in the series of mortifications which we have endured with Zuckerman and another stripping away of the vitality and virility which has been such a huge part of him. Face to face with modern life again he surprises himself by responding to a house-swap advert from a young writerly couple looking for solitude, allowing his return to the city. But confronted with ghosts from his past his attempt to re-engage with the world is doomed to be a futile gesture.

Along with the surprise of making impulsive decisions comes the surprising reawakening of his sexual self. Jamie the young female writer exerts 'a huge gravitational pull on the ghost of my desire' but where the mind is willing the body is unable 'I experienced the bitter helplessness of a taunted old man dying to be whole again'. But the problem here is that the mind isn't even that willing anymore. Zuckerman's encounters with Jamie come in the form of imagined dialogues which lack character,insight and any real teeth at all.

He also encounters the woman who played such a thrilling part in the first novel, Amy Bellette, whom Zuckerman re imagined as an Anne Frank who had survived her fate. Now at the age of 75 she is transformed into a crazy looking woman in customised hospital gown with head half shaved and an ugly scar across her scalp, a horrific transformation from the woman who had so charged the young Zuckerman's creativity. Having survived her lover Lonoff she is being hounded (as will Zuckerman) by Kliman, a young writer who wishes to write a biography of Lonoff containing the 'big secret' he had kept from everyone. Zuckerman's battles with this arrogant, pushy reminder of his own youth are the closest we get to fireworks. 'You're dying old man you'll soon be dead! You smell of decay. You smell like death!' he shouts to a urine soaked Zuckerman.

Roth writes very well about what it is like to be a man losing his potency, both physically and mentally but the problem with having such a debilitated hero is that the writing as a whole suffers. Reading the dialogues between Zuckerman and Jamie is like reading a bad play script. Towards the end of the novel there is a section eulogising George Plimpton which comes from nowhere and feels very out of place. Roth is still better than most writers even when not on top form but there isn't much fun to be had reading a writer writing about how hard it has become to write.


Thursday 8 November 2007

The-fourth-most-popular-folk-parody-duo (in New Zealand)

Loving these two fluff-heads
BBCFour Tuesday's 21.30-22.00


Tuesday 6 November 2007

Bunny way to end it all

There is something about a bunny wanting to commit suicide which is just hilarious and the constant ingenuity of Andy Riley's series of pictures keeps tickling my funny bone (one I saw recently involved our bunny with a deranged looking woman and a copy of Fatal Attraction on video). You can buy the latest selection here, a perfect christmas gift, and you can see more of the pictures here.


Monday 5 November 2007


In the opening sequence of this film a group of men from a Mayan village hunt and kill a tapir. It is a thrilling chase and at the end, as the spoils are divided amongst the men, we learn a lot about their characters and standing in this community. The next morning the village is ransacked by a group of soldiers looking for more men and women to be sacrificed in order to maintain the prosperity of the kingdom. A young man, Jaguar Paw, hides his pregnant wife and young son in a deep hole for safety but is captured along with others and marched off to the temple. When an eclipse saves him from being sacrificed at the altar it is then a desperate chase as he runs to save his life and that of his family.

This is one of the most visceral, compelling and violent films I have ever seen. Directed by Mel Gibson it has some of the bone crunching action he perfected in Braveheart but from nowhere he has brought us a film filled with the thumping heartbeat of the chase, the desperate need to keep living and the lengths which one man will go to and endure in order to preserve himself, his family, his whole way of life. It is not for the fainthearted and many might feel that Gibson seems to revel a little too much in showing the blood spurting, limb snapping detail of the violence but this is a high stakes film where the consequences of not missing that flying arrow or spear are painfully apparent. Extraordinary one-of-a-kind stuff.


Sunday 4 November 2007


I believe this is the third time that Penelope Cruz has worked with Pedro Almodovar and whilst she may have given some terrible performances in English (and been eclipsed for a while by the media nightmare that is a relationship with the other Cruise) she proves herself to be a quite exceptional actress in Volver.

Meaning 'The Return' Volver begins in the village of Alcanfor de las Infantas; a superstitious place, where it is said that the East Wind drives many inhabitants insane. Raimunda (Cruz), her daughter and her sister Soledad have come to visit the grave of their mother who was killed in a fire with her husband. Whilst there they visit their aunt Paula who, a little senile and through milk-bottle glasses, tells them that their mother is alive and living with her. Back home in Madrid, Raimunda comes home from work one day to find her daughter looking disturbed. She has stabbed the man she thought to be her father after he drunkenly tried to rape her. Whilst she deals with this Raimunda is called by her sister to be told their aunt has died. It is when returning from the funeral on her own that Soledad hears the voice of her mother calling her from the boot of the car.

The performances are all exceptional (the six actresses shared the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2006) but Cruz really shines in her role. When her drunken husband masturbates beside her in bed, after she has shrugged off his advances, we see her look of surprise, disgust and sadness as a tear wells in her eye. Later in the film she sings the song Volver to a restaurant filled by a film crew wrap party and whilst she may only be lip syncing her performance had me doubting.

Almodovar has said that the film 'is precisely about death...More than about death itself, the screenplay talks about the rich culture that surrounds death in the region of La Mancha, where I was born. It is about the way (not tragic at all) in which various female characters, of different generations, deal with this culture.' I guess that just about covers it.


There Will Be Blood

I loved Boogie Nights. I loved Magnolia. I am very excited.


Saturday 3 November 2007

Enter Zuckerman

The Ghost Writer
by Philip Roth

Written in 1979 this is the novel that introduced the character of Nathan Zuckerman, considered by many to be Roth's alter ego. I first started reading Roth at the time of his superb 'American Trilogy' (I Married a Communist, American Pastoral, The Human Stain) all of which are narrated by Zuckerman. My worry was that reading a writer who was considered to be at the peak of his powers would lead to disappointment when I went back through his bibliography. Whilst there is no doubt that Roth has continued to grow as a writer there is so much to admire at various stages of his career and reading this slim volume there is so much to chew on and admire with the arrival of this seminal character in American fiction.

The novel depicts a night spent by the 23 year old Zuckerman at the house of his literary idol E.I.Lonoff (if Zuckerman is Roth then Lonoff is Bernard Malamud. Apparently). Also in the house with Lonoff and his wife Hope is a young student Amy Bellete who bears a striking resemblance to Anne Frank. Zuckerman is after a father figure after relations with his own have been strained by a story he has recently written. But in only 24 hours he gets a lot more than he bargained for. In the first section of the book the men discuss writing.

I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.

But the writer's life has left his wife at her wits end and provoked by the continued presence of Amy, Hope Lonoff hurls a wineglass at the wall after dinner and begs to be thrown out. After this scene and forced by the late hour and poor weather to stay the night in Lonoff's study Zuckerman relates to us how he has offended his father with a story drawn from his own family which seems to show Jews as greedy. Later in the novel he will come to realise that to be free to create the art he wishes he may have to sacrifice something. Whilst searching this study he comes accross a quotation form Henry James.

We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Inspired by this we have the most extraordinary section of the book as Zuckerman imagines a whole new life for the young student upstairs that so resembles Anne Frank. It is this kind of invention that can make Roth so thrilling to read, written with such vigour and bravery. There is still a lot of early Roth humour here as well.

Virtuous reader, if you think that after intercourse all animals are sad, try masturbating on the daybed in E. I. Lonoff's study and see how you feel when it's over.

All in all it is a fascinating introduction to a character who has appeared in 9 books now and I can't wait to see how he has developed for his final appearance in Exit Ghost.


Tuesday 30 October 2007

Hot Fuzz

Your baby's 10 days overdue so what film do you watch when your wife starts getting contractions. Hot Fuzz obviously, the perfect early labour entertainment (we didn't start there of course, we warmed up with a game of Scrabble first). From the same team that brought us Shaun of the Dead (and the fantastic TV series Spaced) it follows the fortunes of top cop Nicholas Angel as he is posted to the rural village of Sandford after his superior performance in London was beginning to make everyone else look bad. The award winning village has never seen a murder, but Angel discovers that the rate of fatal 'accidents' is extremely high. Whilst there he is partnered up with Danny Butterman the son of the local Police Inspector who has a weakness for action films like Bad Boys 2 and Point Break. It is these macho buddy movies which the film pastiches with hilarious precision, many shots and scenes copied exactly. It is a funny thing to watch a film and break off every 10 minutes or so to help your wife with her breathing but despite this slightly disjointed approach I loved the film. It's incredibly silly, packed full of references and comedy turns from some great British talent (watch out for a hilarious mumbling cop played by Karl Johnson) but above all, and most importantly when considering the words 'British' and 'Comedy' together, it's very, very funny.


Sunday 28 October 2007

A quick word on the The Sopranos finale

I have written before about The Sopranos (here) but was aware at the time that the series finale had yet to air in the UK so I decided to keep schtum. But with the episode going out tonight on E4 I can finally say what a fantastic finish to the series it was. Now, you may not be feeling that way yourself right now, I was certainly a little bemused the first time I watched it, even thinking for a moment that something had gone wrong with the TV but everything you need to know is there.

But before we get to the final scene let's talk about the episode as a whole. Starting with a shot of Tony looking like a corpse in a coffin is a pretty bold start. He is only sleeping but it sets a certain tone, don't you think? There is a storm blowing outside and a real sense that the pressure is building. The colour palette has gone very blue and muted, everyone's breath is frozen and as Tony and his crew are moving pieces in this high stakes game an incredible atmosphere of foreboding surrounds everything. The sit-down scene between Tony and New York is an amazing example of how this show has brought film style set design and lighting to the small screen; what an incredible set filled with twisted, junked metal lit beautifully with bright light and dark shadows crossing over the faces of these men who, in taught sentences, thrash out the peace. Their skin looks like dry paper, all of them freezing, their gloves only removed to shake on the deal. Brilliant stuff.

Then things are suddenly quiet. With Phil Leotardo gone, Tony rakes leaves in his back garden and looks into the bare branches of the trees as a small breeze makes them sway ever so slightly, a beautiful image, a calm before the real storm? That evening Tony and his family meet for dinner and we have the scene that has got so many tongues wagging. I am not going to get into a heated discussion about whether that is The Last Supper being visually recreated or if there is any relevance to the way they eat their onion rings. I have watched it several times now and it seems pretty clear to me what happens. When Tony and Bobby were fishing together Bobby, when talking about the end for guys like them, says 'You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?'. David Chase himself (who wanted to end the episode with no credits at all, just a black screen for 30 seconds) has recently said:

There are no esoteric clues in there. No Da Vinci Code. Everything that pertains to that episode was in that episode. And it was in the episode before that and the one before that and seasons before this one and so on. There had been indications of what the end is like. Remember when Jerry Toricano was killed? Silvio was not aware that the gun had been fired until after Jerry was on his way down to the floor. That's the way things happen: It's already going on by the time you even notice it.

Are you saying...?

I'm not saying anything. And I'm not trying to be coy. It's just that I think that to explain it would diminish it.

Need I say more?

For a slightly different take on the phenomenon go to the brilliant Stereogum where you have the opportunity to put which ever piece of music you like in place of Journey's 'Don't Stop Believing'. You can score the final scene of The Sopranos here.


By George, she's got it

Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers

Richard Powers' most recent novel The Echo Maker won last year's National Book Award in the US and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of Mark, a truck driver who wakes from a coma after an accident and believes that his sister, who has returned home to nurse him, is an actually an imposter. Reeling from this rejection she contacts renowned neurologist Gerald Weber who recognising the rare Capgras Syndrome comes to investigate. It is filled with sound science, dense prose and a meticulous dissection of human life and thoughts; in other words exactly what you would expect from Powers. His writing is not to all tastes but at its best, as in The Gold Bug Variations, which combines genetics, music, and computer science, it can be some of the most invigorating and challenging writing available.

Whilst still waiting for some books to be delivered after the postal strike I have been stumbling into second hand bookshops and following my nose. On one such recce I found a copy of Powers pseudo-autobiographical novel Galatea 2.2. It concerns a certain Richard Powers who returns to his old University, after the end of a relationship with a former student, stumbling along in a state of limbo disillusioned with both reading and writing. Whilst there he meets Philip Lentz a combative computer scientist who convinces Powers to be part of an experiment. He has made a bet with fellow scientists that he can produce a computer that can perform literary criticism which is indistinguishable from that written by a human. Powers task is to 'teach' the computer.

This is very clever update of the Pygmalion myth. The various implementations of the machine develop into 'Helen' who is capable eventually of asking what sex and race she is, even what she looks like. Powers is consistently amazed at how his pupil seems to be developing consciousness, but is slow in realising that the real subject of the experiment is himself. As he introduces her to a history of literature it is her who is helping him to re-engage with the world. Told in parallel is the story of the relationship which has rendered Powers so disconnected at the start of the novel. Refered to only as 'C', theirs was an insular relationship built on the books they read together. In the present day Powers fixates on another student, this one known only as 'A', who becomes for him a new, improved version of 'C' and also the student against whom his 'Helen' will compete. All very clever as I said and that of course is the problem.

It isn't that the writing is dry or cool or clinical although on discovering that Lentz has scoliosis it is difficult to relate to Powers thinking:
'I was sorry I'd let him get under my skin. Even someone who has modeled the function of the inferior frontal gyrus might still be plagued by the monsters that gyrus modeled'.
Powers can still provide a great one-liner like:
'He looked as if he'd taken self-tanning cream orally'.
He can also write with great emotion, particularly when describing the death throes of his relationship with 'C' or the visits with Lentz to see his wife Audrey, reduced to a paranoid shell of herself by dementia. But where structure leant such strength to Gold Bug, the four notes of the music combining with the four parts of human genetic code, shedding light on each other, this novel is far less succesful, the connections between plots misfiring like faulty synapses in the brain. Picking it up each time I felt I was starting again, needing to tune my ear in to the prose. Powers melding of science and literature is bound to work better in some places than others, where this book works best is as a very imaginative way of writing about writing again when you think you can't. Through the pursuits of this fictional Powers in creating his Galatea and looking back on what has helped and shaped his writing so far, the real Powers is able to write again and bring us Galatea 2.2, inspired by the voice that commands him to 'See everything for me'.


Saturday 27 October 2007

For those of you with cats


Thursday 25 October 2007


You would have to be some kind of hard-hearted bastard not to enjoy this film. It's just lovely. On the streets of Dublin a guy (Glen Hansard) meets a girl (Markéta Irglová). He works in his Father's shop fixing vacuums and busking, she sells flowers and looks after her family and they're both a little lonely. Through their shared passion for music they write songs together and whilst sharing the problems of their past loves something develops between them. As far as plot goes they go into a studio and record a demo. It's shot on a shoestring budget, a little rough around the edges and one of the most charming films you will ever see. The music may not be to everyones taste but there is no doubting the genuineness of the performances, when they sing with each other they mean it (Hansard and Irglová are now a couple in real life). Dublin seems like the right setting as well, music is something that plays a huge part in the social life there and one scene where a group of musicians and singers come together for a dinner where you can eat if you sing a tune sums up that spirit perfectly.

The combination of documentary style filming with the conventions of a musical is a surprisingly effective mix, the film slowly building up its themes, some tunes earning a reprise and the whole building to a genuinely moving climax. As the weather has got a little wetter and the days a little darker I couldn't think of a better time to surrender to a little romance.


Sunday 21 October 2007

Come Dine With Me

Reality TV - Boo. Another cooking programme - Boo. The death of culture - well no actually, it's really rather enjoyable, sorry. I don't know why it works but it does. Come Dine With Me is on Channel 4 and the basic premise is that five amateur chefs cook for each other over the course of the week, award each other marks for the evening and the winner gets £1000. The word amateur is what worried me, why would I want to watch ordinary people cooking a three course meal, especially when I consider myself a bit of a gourmand. Well, food is just one of the elements of the programme, what seems far more important is the actual hosting and that of course brings one of our national obsessions into play: class.

Oh yes, those clever programme makers have carefully selected their contestants of course and assembled a mixture of ingredients which they hope will combine into a heady stew of tasty TV (no more cooking metaphors I promise). This isn't like Holiday Showdown where two families generally try their hardest to argue and ruin a perfectly good holiday with each others prejudices, this a far more subtle and nuanced affair. First of all you have the dilemma of the host: what to cook, how to impress, what does a vegan eat (there always seems to be one contestant with special dietary needs). But the fun really starts when the guests arrive, usually as the host is still making final preparations, and start to snoop about the house. This is where we start to hear the clash of the social strata and it is often amazing to see people literally prepared to search for the skeletons in the closet. As the week develops the contestants begin to learn more and more about each other and it is fascinating to see them grapple with their first impressions and gradually get a better idea of their guests. Let's not pretend that this is a social experiment but rather than endure watching celebrity wannabees whore themselves for 5 months in the Big Brother house just spend 5 days eating dinner with some starngers and you'll learn all you need to about the people of Britain. The class thing always seems to reflect badly on those looking down. You only sound prissy when you complain that the bread was served in a chipped pyrex dish, and you just sound ignorant when you call mutton 'peasant food'.

Many contestants make the mistake of thinking that if they get everyone drunk enough then the high marks will flood in. This is a particularly bad ploy if you are cooking later in the week and tensions have already begun to build as we all know that a little too much vino in those circumstances and all hell can break loose. We have already seen one host reduced to tears as her guests had a truth telling session. We have also seen the odd stirring of lust but the first fully fledged Come Dine With Me romance has yet to bloom (unless I've missed it). The marking is interesting of course and we have already had our first scandal where one particularly repugnant contestant, Isabella, decided that she would mark everybody with either 1, 2 or 3 out of 10 so as to walk away with a grand. Boo. She was rumbled naturally and forced to mark again which thankfully lead to her coming second. Hooray.

You see, I find myself caring about who gets the £1000. After all the effort expended in the kitchen and the theatre of what happens at the table you want to see justice done. I should also mention that the programme has one of the finest purveyors of the sarcastic voice over in Dave Lamb. It's worth watching just for his withering comments alone. If your week's too busy then you can watch an omnibus on Sunday, what more could you ask for?


tales from Ackroyd

The Lambs of London
by Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is an incredibly prolific writer. For the last 30 years he has averaged around a book a year (and that doesn't even include his children's books) and has made the recreation of history an area in which he dominates. After the huge success of London: The Biography he has come to be seen as one of the definitive sources for writing about the city and recently published a book about the source of the city itself Thames: Sacred River. His work is now often accompanied by a television series and with his distinctive moustache, swept back hair and soft r's he guides us through the past with an infectous enthusiasm.

The Lambs of London, set at the end of the eighteenth century, tells the story of Mary Lamb , who with her brother Charles wrote Tales From Shakespeare the famous story versions of Shakespeare's plays. Mary is also infamous for having murdered her mother with a kitchen knife, deemed to have been an act of lunacy for which she escaped punishment. Ackroyd shows how her mental state may have been agitated in the lead up to this matricide by her involvement with William Henry Ireland, a young clerk who was to become infamous himself. At the age of twenty he forged papers purportedly written by Shakespeare and even went as far as to write a 'lost' play which was performed in Drury Lane. It seems a strange decision to try and tell two such large stories in one relatively slim novel, and even to try and combine these two stories at all. Ackroyd admits that '
This is not a biography but a work of fiction. I have invented characters, and changed the life of the Lamb family for the sake of the larger narrative'. It is in fact the story of the Shakespeare papers which dominates the narrative and as a result leaves the Lamb's struggling to keep the readers attention. Ackroyd has already written brilliantly about forgery in his novel Chatterton, which with its multi layered narrative is a far superior book. It is a shame that he couldn't have brought that kind of care and attention to one or other of the stories he tries to tell in this one.


Friday 19 October 2007


From The IT Crowd


Thursday 18 October 2007

fluffy pink grenade

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
by Marina Lewycka

This book was given to me by a friend to read. It was an incongruous choice for him let alone me to be reading but it is an award winning book I had seen so many people reading and like Harry Potter if you want to pass judgement you need to read the damn thing.

Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.

This opening paragraph neatly sums up the plot. There is lots of fun to be had in the character of Valentina, the 'fluffy pink grenade', especially in her choice of words. Her broken english results in the baldest of insults; our narrator Nadia is a 'no-tits crow' and her father a 'crazy dog-eaten brain graveyard-deadman'. But the comedy wasn't the main thing for me (It was strictly smile-to-myself rather then laugh-out-loud), more interesting is the effect this churning of the waters has on the relationship between the two sisters Nadia and Vera, as well as the gradual unveiling of this family's sad history through the second world war. Many of these sections are quite poignant (although the neat summary at the end of the book seemed a little patronising) and show the impact of living through trauma, the stories we tell ourselves to make a coherent narrative of life during wartime.

You don't need me to say much more, you've probably read it already, quite why this book became such a bestseller I don't know but it was enjoyable enough.


Wednesday 17 October 2007

Flags Of Our Fathers - Letters From Iwo Jima

I was genuinely impressed when I heard that an American film maker like Clint Eastwood was making two films about a wartime event, one from each perspective. The Battle of Iwo Jima was the first attack by the Americans on the Japanese Home Islands. Not only was it a vicious battle showing the tenacity of the Imperial soldiers, but it also provided one of the most iconic images of all time.

Flags of Our Fathers tells the story surrounding that picture and in particular the lives of three men who came home and toured the country as figureheads of heroism, freedom and to try and convince Americans to buy bonds to finance the war effort. It is a fractured narrative with scenes jumping from the battle on the island to the tour back home, presumably to show us the effect of war, the difficulty in assembling a coherent narrative from the memories of men who were often unwilling to talk about what had happened to them during the war. It feels however like the film has had a few too many script rewrites and been assembled from a lot of footage. About halfway through a narrator seems to appear, who is the son of one of the men, to help us get through to the end. It is shame that it doesn't quite work because a lot of the elements are there. The hot topic of propaganda in wartime, fantastic battle scenes (with Steven Spielberg as a producer would you expect anything else?) and good performances from the cast. But after an ending which seemed to go on for ever, I was left feeling very unsatisfied. It must have been a difficult thing to make a film like this with the war in Iraq still exerting its influence and one can't help but feel that this has hampered its execution.

Letters From Iwo Jima is more successful. It looks very similar of course and the music even sounds like a slightly Japanese version of the other film's score but what this picture has is structure. This is very much the story of The Battle of Iwo Jima, we see the young soldiers preparing to defend this small rock, unsure of what they will be facing in the Americans. On to the island comes General Kuribayashi, played brilliantly by Ken Watanabe, who having spent time in America himself and with a less than traditional approach to leadership has problems with his staff. At the very bottom of the pecking order is Saigo (another fantastic performance by Kazunari Ninomiya) who is saved from a beating by Kuribayashi on the day he arrives and these two men will find their paths crossing again and again as the American onslaught lays waste to the island. The performances are again superb, and with the majority of the film taking place in the warren of tunnels in which the Japanese have entrenched themselves it has some of the claustrophobic feel of Das Boot. What really shines through are the values of honour, courage, and strength as we watch this group of men struggling with the rigid structures of the military and Japanese society.

Of the over 21,000 Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima, 20,703 died and 216 were captured during the battle. The Allied forces suffered 27,909 casualties, with 6,825 killed in action. The tactical significance of the island's capture, especially given the number of casualties, is still disputed. Its value as a tool of propaganda is much clearer to see.


Tuesday 16 October 2007

reality check

There has been a continuing rumble in the press about the BBC hoodwinking us viewers in various ways; whether it's phone-ins, documentary editing or Alan Yentob pretending to interview people. But there is one programme which seems to be getting away with murder. I am speaking of the Domestic Goddess herself Nigella Lawson. Not only has she brought us a new series which seems to consist of her 'cooking' dishes like scrambled eggs and taking other food out of packets but we are asked to swallow this all down with a load of hokum which is supposed to represent a day in the life of Ms Lawson.

Are we expected to take seriously the idea that she is often to be caught slurping her breakfast smoothie (a strange concoction of frozen banana, coffee powder and chocolate) on the number 49 bus. I could be wrong, and it may just be the fact that she's independently wealthy and in a relationship with a millionaire, but she doesn't look like the public transport type to me. Last night we had her doing the ironing in order to avoid finishing the 'work' that was approaching its deadline. Just looking at the way she handled the iron made me worry for the designer top she was 'ironing'. Best of all though was the friend who called up distraught after boyfriend trouble and was invited round to Nigella's for some chocolate cookies. After they were made we saw her friend with 'tears' in her eyes declaring that Nigella was 'right, he's not good for me, but these are' as she reached for another cookie. Dear god, who was she, and how much was she being paid to provide this reality/insight/weirdness to the programme?

Nigella needs to realise that what we like about her recipes are the frightfully middle class ingredients she unearths for us, I love her simply for introducing the ras-el-hanout spice blend into my kitchen. I don't need to see her being 'real', if I want to chuck something together I'll watch Jamie lisping all over the place, and if she continues to embarrass her daughter on TV every week I'll be on to social services.


Monday 15 October 2007

Dragons' Den

Last night saw the welcome return of the programme which combines so many glorious elements. The contestants reduced to sweaty, gibbering wrecks, the in-fighting amongst the Dragons, Peter Jones' need to find a terrible pun to accompany his declaration of 'I'm out', and the telly wonder that is a genuine success story like Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae Sauce. The departure of Richard Farleigh from the den was a bit of a blow for me. I had developed a fondness for the pint sized Aussie and his rapier like dissection of many people's pitches. He is replaced by James Caan (no, unfortunately not him, wow, that really would put the wind up them) who according to some newspaper reports is there to tick some kind of ethnic box (I should point out that the paper in question was the Daily Mail). First impressions are mixed, he seemed soft spoken and a bit reasonable really, not proper Dragon behaviour, but it's early days.

So first up we had Andy, the David Beckham lookalike, who brilliantly took his representation of Goldenballs a step further by getting very nervous and declaring 'what my concept is...I totally can't talk'. Genius. We had a bidding war between the Dragons over Beach Break Live (just what we need, another music festival). A couple of nutters, and their nutter accountant, trying to flog jerky. And then to finish, the charming Laban Roomes and Midas Touch, his mobile gold plating business. I have no idea how that is a business, but he was so convincing you could see the Dragons desperately trying to help him over the finish line and none more so than new boy Caan. And it was he who took the punt and helped the show end with Laban's gold tooth glinting in the studio lights.

Glorious stuff. Anyone for a fluffy gym-ball cover?


Sunday 14 October 2007


So a friend of mine has a band, well not a band really, he has assembled a collective which at a recent gig consisted of 14 musicians and 4 vocalists. I wasn't able to go to the gig but they have just released an ep through Bang! records which is great and really worth checking out. Below is a sample track but follow this link to get the ep and enjoy the full Sunharbour experience.

Sunharbour - Alone (feat Nancy J Brown)


Friday 12 October 2007

Don't go out tonight

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow

Never judge a book by its cover. But when you are looking blindly for something to read and the book in question is a lovely hardback with slightly embossed boards, blurb from John Burnside among others on the inside cover and the word werewolves in the plot description, then maybe that should be enough to tickle the tastebuds.

Sharp Teeth is a strange concoction; a free-verse novel concerning a group of lycanthropes in modern LA. I am not any kind of expert on poetic structures but free verse looks suspiciously like prose broken up into easier to digest lines. Barlow clearly wants to create something in the line of the epic and mythical poems of the past and as the book progresses, to a large part, he succeeds. There is a rhythmn created and enhanced by the structure and it somehow seems right that this tale of gangs and those living outside of normal society should look and sound a little like a cross between Ginsberg and The Odyssey.

Lark is the leader of the pack. He has his 'Girl', he has plans and an eye on the the other packs that may be operating in the country but he fails to see the coup that wrests his control of the gang and sends him on the run. Whilst he hides as a domestic housedog in Pasadena, 'Girl' has stayed in human form and captured the heart of Anthony a local dogcatcher. As she tries to keep her past hidden from him she works on how to elicit revenge from those rival gang members who tore apart her pack. Lark meanwhile is building a new pack from the outcasts of LA to make moves of his own. This is a novel filed with animal violence neatly summed up by one of the gang members.

'We are wolves,' Cutter chants
in his mind.
'We don't find the weak. We
don't prey on the slow.
We simply eat absolutely
fucking everything

There is also a fantastic description of one initiate undergoing his first 'change' which brings to mind the thrill of watching David Naughton transform in front of your eyes in An American Werewolf In London.

But this is also really a love story and when you strip away the setting and circumstance you are left with lines of very simple beauty which describe what it is like to fall in love.

There love is just about the weight
of the casserole she's taking out of the oven right now.
Their love is eternal because time
seems to have fled, embarrassed
to be sharing such a small apartment with so much dumb affection.

This is a book which hits the right spots, a modern telling of an ancient tale, stripped of the Hammer clichés . LA seems the perfect setting for a tale of the violence and pressure that builds when you treat a group as an underclass. Above all, this is a highly enjoyable book, very entertaining and devoured quickly.

And for those who remember that iconic scene from the movie here is a little track to take you back.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising


Wednesday 10 October 2007

Radiohead - In Rainbows

The method of release for this, Radiohead's seventh album, has caused quite a stir already in the music industry. It isn't the first time that a band have chosen to cut out the record company and release music directly to the fans, it isn't even the first time that they have let those fans decide whether they want to pay for it or not, but it is the first time that a band with the calibre of Radiohead have made such a move and as a result there is already talk of Oasis, Jamiroqaui and Nine Inch Nails following suit.

After all the hoo-ha though is the album any good? Well I awoke yesterday to find an email from the website with my download details, so much nicer to receive a message like that rather than 'your new bill is ready to view online'. I quickly downloaded it, transfered it onto disc and also onto my phone as I was off to work in the car and it only has a tape player. Now let's be honest, listening to a new release through the slightly tinny speaker of a mobile phone is not the full sonic experience the boys were probably hoping me to experience, although there was something rather apposite about the setting of a traffic jam on the A10 with a light rain covering the windscreen.

So I had a greedy first listen on the way there (and a little refresher on the way back) but the first listen proper was at home and I'm happy to say that it's great. Opener 15 Step has the kind of skittering beats that show the influence of the Warp Records catalogue on our Thom (and is that children shouting 'Yey' towards the end there?). I have always been a fan of The Bends and so it's a bit of guitar I look forward to and on Bodysnatchers we have them in spades, it sounds a little like the wonderfully messy Radiohead of Pablo Honey days. Sure enough we have a ballad up next in Nude, is this fatherhood having an effect on Mr Yorke? And then we have some of the more experimental, boundary testing side of things in Weird Fishes/Arpeggi. And that's only the first four tracks.

Hail To The Thief was an album which was filled with the protest of living in the era of George Bush, Tony Blair and Iraq. In Rainbows sounds more like the sound of a band learning to live in the fallout. Yorke's lyrics sometimes seem to have gone a little soft, 'You're all I need' or 'I don't wanna be your friend, I wanna be your lover' but worry not, both of these lines are quickly followed by 'I'm just an insect trying to get out of the light' and 'Infrastructure will collapse'. This is a fanatastic collection of songs, an album in the proper sense of the word. Thom's voice sounds great (if still a little mumbly) the playing of the other band members is extraordinary at times, making guitars soound like strings on House of Cards, John Barry-like harpsichord and strings on Jigsaw Falling Into Place, a Beatles-like lightness to Faust Arp.

Anyway you don't need me to convince you, you can get the album yourself for whatever you'd like to pay here. Just to help you along the way there is a track below. We should all be thankful that there are bands like Radiohead; asking questions, pushing boundaries and all the time producing haunting beautiful music.

House of Cards


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