Sunday, February 28, 2010

No precaution leaving the fold

I’m happy to report a fine victory for my favoured rugby team yesterday. My word, the Kingsholm pitch was wet and muddy and grassless but the players responded intelligently and seven tries wi’out reply tell the story well. Gloucester continue to climb the league table but will require doughtier opponents than yesterday’s lacklustre and underwhelming Sale outfit to truly test progress and prowess. This season seemed to be slipping away before Christmas but now the club finds itself in two cup semi-finals and with a chance to end the season in sixth spot and achieve Heineken Cup qualification. I would settle for that sixth place now at the expense of cup joy; it would prove a decent reward for improved form of the squad and the improved skills and imagination of numerous squad members.

Yesterday’s match saw a belligerent and confrontational eight wield large spades and construct a pleasing platform for the backs to spin magic. The wing-threequarters, in particular, relished the battle. The young prince, Simpson-Daniel made countless yards with electrifying running and will-o’-the-wisp craftiness while his less subtle partner, the Tongan behemoth Vainikolo sought contact abrasively and bounced through tackle after tackle. The pair is scoring tries for fun at the moment and will relish firmer pitches and sunnier skies. This punter is satisfied that there is plenty still to play for this spring.

I’ve been listening to plenty of sounds. I am going through a huge Super Furry Animals/Gorkys Zygotic Mynci phase and lapping up as much melodic Welsh mischief as possible. Recommendations include the, ahem, Furrys’ MWNG which is sung purely in Welsh but is utterly beautiful and teems with subtle treasures. As a lovely companion piece to MWNG, I would suggest Gruff Rhys’s solo effort, Yr Atal Genhedlaeth, another non-English-speaking offerin’ that drips with pastoral and gentle songsmithery. Gorkys Zygotic Mynci’s Barafundle is becoming my ‘go to’ long player of choice; it’s a charming and jaunty beast with many moments of pop perfection. I span former Gorky fellow Euros Childs’s recent album, Son of Euro Child, yesterday. I rated this collection to be the second finest of last year and my view has not changed in the least; here is an eccentric, quirky and lovable set of songs.

I bought the new Field Music album a week ago. It remains an album I admire rather than like at the moment. It lacks a bit of warmth. A few spins may change this.

I hope I can continue to keep this blog going but I’m posting less and less often. My affection for micro-blog facility Twitter (although I am sulking today because I’m not receiving the tweets of those I follow for some reason) grows and grows daily and I suppose this is having an impact on the time I spend here. I had had a PC-based Twitter account for a good few months but it was only on owning an iPhone and summoning the marvellous Echofon App that my attention was fully grabbed. I am now hooked and am beginning to learn more about Twitter daily. My enjoyment would be more complete if I could harvest a few more like-minded followers but I’m just two months in really and I’m more than content with the quality and affability of those I mainly engage with. I’m just warmed by the amount of intelligence and creativity that floods my Twitter feed every day. Things like the forthcoming General Election, for example, are hugely embellished by Twitter and a steady stream of insightful messages (often with hyperlinks taking one to fuller pieces) by political analysts, bloggers, journalists and certain key politicians adds a vibrant and brilliant dimension to events. All my interests – music, news, films, sport – are caressed lovingly by tweets from fascinating folk. I’m entertained greatly by this world; it’s making me a lot more informed and enriched. Stereotyped ideas about Twitter being a log of what people have just had for breakfast remain low brow, lazy and manifestly ill-informed. This is a splendid scene bristling with intellect and vibrancy and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I’m afraid that this old place is suffering a touch though.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I woke up in your sheets of rain and everything you touch around here

Like London omnibuses, when one moving image period drama examining a 20th century icon appears over the horizon, another is sure to follow imminently. It was the turn of John Lennon last evening. Gripping steaming mug of tea and with Mars Bar coquettishly poking out of breast pocket, I entered the Guildhall kino with expectations high. Nowhere Boy awaited, impatiently tuning a banjo. It did not disappoint.

This proved a beautiful feature film, highlighting a fascinating section of the youthful Beatle’s life. Here was the era of skiffle, drainpipe trousers, fleeting glimpses of a shimmering young Elvis and the nation’s gradual emergence from post-war austerity. Against these landmarks, a young scouse rebel strutted, forming bands, meeting George and Paul, learning chords, sucking on scrounged ciggies, dodging fares and, crucially, coming to terms with a complex and hauntingly sad mother-aunt-absent father triangle. The story of the young Lennon is familiar and one that this punter has read again and again, most latterly within the many pages of the fine Philip Norman tome (which heavily influences plenty of this film’s narrative methinks). The impact on screen of such a well-documented, well, legend was tangibly forceful; the tremendous acting, the evocative late-fifties interiors, the capture of a characterful city’s heart all combined to proffer a sumptuous hour or two. It was all so believable and raw and exciting and sharp. The details – deckchairs, tea-pots, crates of ale – were deliriously thrown at the viewer and would have sufficed to keep most audiences riveted; add to the mix a joyous script and a breathtakingly exhilarating tale and one is privy to some brilliant film-making. Nowhere Boy was a tremendous treat and this grateful fellow can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d like to see it again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The sun upon the roof in winter will draw you out like a flower

Me and Orson Welles proved an engaging feature last evening. A party of three Coles enjoyed the hospitality of our favoured arts centre; warming beverages, invigorating cola drinks and an array of chocolate treats accompanied us into the auditorium. It was merry.

I would suggest that the ‘Orson Welles’ of the title engaged this viewer more than the ‘Me’ aspect. ‘Me’ was Richard Samuels, played fairly routinely by teen heartthrob Zac Efron, a youthful chap decreed by fate to join Welles’s company and play the small part of Lucius in his 1937 production of Julius Caesar. The nipper’s elevation from high school routine to the centre of theatrical splendour proved an interesting and enjoyable plot. The film’s main purpose was to proffer an autobiographical snapshot of one fascinating slither of a fabulous life (played brilliantly by Christian McKay). This is Orson Welles before the War of the Worlds controversy, before Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons and The Third Man. The portrait of the flowering of a genius is splendid. Welles’s production of Julius Caesar, a ground-breaking modern-dress effort, quite brutally edited and set in a European fascist state, was highly acclaimed in its day; this feature’s ability to recreate a master’s directorial hand, taking a diverse yet talented cast through rather eccentric rehearsal processes, through rows and rages to a triumphant opening night is worthy and credible. The last hour of the feature is truly compelling. The ‘Me’ portion of the film is generally left to one side in order for Welles’s alchemy to be displayed; a series of scenes from the play are presented and it is jaw-dropping stuff. I can only imagine what an impact this play would have had on a 1930s audience; being privy to such original thinking and brave conceptualisations must have been tremendous. The feature succeeds partially in suggesting the sense of wonder a young actor must have experienced but fully in demonstrating the awesome talent of one of the last century’s major players.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Take me down from the ridge where the summer ends; watch the city spread out just like a jet's flame

My favoured rugby club, the Gloucester outfit of Gloucester, is enjoying a year of feel-good fervour. Key players are re-signing in droves, the coaching team seems focussed and invigorated and the first fifteen seems to be on fire with splendid wins arriving relentlessly.

Last Saturday was smashing. There are many genres of Gloucester victories (rearguard, gritty grind; forward slog rewarded by high penalty count; elegiac comeback against all odds; insipid limp-to-the-line against poor quality opposition etc.) and I am able to classify our latest victory against an adequate Harlequins team thus: a widely expected win embellished by sparkling and witty play and an unimpeachable team ethic.

This was one of those matches that the enthusiastic supporter wishes would last just a few minutes longer. Teams within teams seemed to be clicking beautifully for the city club. Its centre three-quarters, Fuimaono-Sapolu and Molenaar, continued to link merrily and form a sensational combination, the front row (Wood, Azam and Somerville) were abrasive and to-be-feared, the back three (Morgan, Vainikolo and the young prince Simpson-Daniel) attacked wi’ verve and intent while the back row twinned defensive duty with offensive glee. All individuals performed zestfully and with skill. ‘The lads’ are playing rugby union with smiles on their faces and, by heck, it’s catching.

I’ll highlight three Elver Eaters. The aforementioned prince of the wing seems back to his best. The fellow they call ‘Sinbad’ hardly touched the oval in the first quarter of the match but responded with some breathless support running, great guile, and general intelligence. Another hat-trick for the young thoroughbred was deserved and wildly acclaimed. I shall mention the under-mentioned outside-half Nicky Robinson too. He ran proceedings calmly and cleverly at the weekend. One of my favoured sights at Kingsholm is the alert Welshman spotting a gap and surging through it at pace. Robinson looks marvellous with ball in hand. I rate him. My third doff of the cap is attempted in the direction of another Celt, the charismatic captain Delve. I believe his Gloucester career is drawing to an end but the loyal Gloucester support will remember him fondly for performances like Saturday’s. The Welshman ran and ran, sought contact (and gaps) vigorously and capped a man of the match display with a sumptuous interception and sixty yard dash. His vision and ability to sense the rapidly arriving Simpson-Daniel on his shoulder and deliver a cracking pass was worth the admission fee alone.

I salute all associated with the club’s playing and coaching organisations for a fabulous afternoon.

The above photograph originally appeared on my Twitter feed. It was captioned at the time, '1.40pm. The popular side waits and expects. Japandroids on my iPod cannot hide the buzz of eager chat.'

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Angle for the ringside seats

It was a special occasion on Wednesday. Former Trade Minister and Postmaster General Tony Benn was appearing as part of Gloucester Guildhall’s ‘Speakers’ series and it was merry to witness quite a key figure in our nation’s recent history. The evening kicked off with Benn being interviewed about his life, influences and outlooks before the audience was given the chance to question the ageing politico. It was an interesting event although understandably Benn, at 85, cuts a more tired and less passionate figure than the firebrand that stood at the centre of British politics for decades. It proved charming to meet the fellow afterwards; he had time for all that queued to have books signed and I appreciated his cheery words and firm handshake.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Endless treads like waves of regret

Heck, I’ve been playing the new Midlake album to death. A quick glance at my iTunes facility (wi’ a grateful tap of the forelock) informs me that I’ve spun The Courage of Others a dozen times and each listen has been intense and focussed. It’s that kind of record – it demands attention and concentration. This is the embodiment of the long-awaited follow-up. Midlake’s last collection The Trials of Van Occupanther proved to be one the few classic albums of the past decade and wooed this consumer with its evocative and atmospheric songs and tales. Could the earnest and bearded collective pull it off once more? I am delighted to report in the affirmative. The Courage of Others is ambitious, thoughtful and successful.

Essentially, this is a lovingly crafted homage to these shores’ folk-rock to the extent that vocalist Tim Smith appears to these ears to be singing in a studied English voice. The musicianship is tremendous; not a note is wasted from guitar solo to drum fill and the arrangements are absolutely splendid. It sounds beautiful and especially wondrous on headphones. There’s a melancholic feel to proceedings though. Eleven of the twelve tracks are in minor keys and I’m guessing (no expert here) that this adds to a fairly dark ambience. The songs are of a similar tempo too, mid paced but all possessing subtly different melodic structures and striking harmonisations. Lyrically – and this reminds me of Van Occupanther – we are taken far away from the mundanity of modernity and transported to some undesignated point in history. Personally, the songs’ wearisome and bleak themes and frequent references to the mysteries of the earth and to fertility lead me to consider they are being sung from the point of view of a thoughtful, troubled and tremendously articulate medieval serf. Perhaps it’s just me. Anyhow, I’m aware that fans of the last Midlake LP occasionally pass by these pages and I’m happy to answer the unasked question, ‘I loved The Trials of Van Occupnther but would I dig the follow-up?’ My answer is unequivocal. This is an utterly sumptuous recording and a shining treasure. You’ll have to spin the blighter in the knowledge that it’s no bundle of laughs but the textures, the intellect, the precision, the haunting and soaring music all more than compensate. Who needs giddy pop thrills all the time?

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I said don't stop, do punk rock

Just popping by to greet hepcats. Without ever knocking plaintively at death’s door, I’ve been a touch under the weather for the past week and I’m already working out the most constructive time to slurp some Night Nurse.

The rugby union was pleasing and moderately enjoyable yesterday. Although there was, officially, a competitive edge to proceedings, Gloucester’s clash against Worcester carried more of a ‘friendly’ feel and it was refreshing to witness a fair degree of adventure and verve from, it has to be said, both teams. I liked Freddie Burns’s composure at full back and, not for the first time, appreciated the complementary skills of Molenaar and Fuimaono-Sapolu in midfield. The home side’s 17-5 victory was deserved but hard-fought. It proved an engaging and diverting hour and one half but I anticipate more meaningful fixtures keenly.

I’ll be glad to see the back of January. It’s been cold, dark and wet and the delayed return to work proved frustrating. The nights and mornings seem a touch lighter now and I’ll salute spring to the rafters when it returns.

Mrs Cole has been fedging this morning, a completely legal practice that refers to the construction of a living fence, a hedge/fence if you will. This erection will form a useful barrier between the peaceful contentment of the summer house and patio and the more prosaic trampoline. I think it looks bonny. Also scoring top marks for general bonniness is the new arbour that a courteous and articulate craftsman constructed for us – in return for fiscal remuneration – yesterday. Both look thin and bare at the moment but months and years of growth should transform the fedge and arbour into eye-catching garden features. I wish them well as they mature.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fab Five Freddie told me everybody's high; DJ's spinnin' are savin' my mind

It’s always fine to have things to look forward to and I am contented that tickets have been acquired this week for a brace of splendid-sounding future events. The Coles will be attending Tony Benn’s, er, gig at the Guildhall next month. I don’t often pull rank and insist on Master Cole’s attendance at an ‘appening but I’ve bought him a Tony Benn ticket and am keen for him to listen to one of the great names in post-war British politics. I’m imposing at least a two line whip on the lad. It should prove a thought-provoking and fascinating evening; we live in interesting times, readers. I’m struggling to think of any link between Tony Benn and the other act we’re going to see apart from my deep admiration of both. LCD Soundsystem are touring this spring and this grateful punter is now promised the aural double-whammy of new LP and concert to anticipate. This is a remarkable popular music combo and I’d recommend both their existing long players to all hepcats. I’m banging out the group’s eponymous debut on iTunes as I type these weary words (The track Too Much Love as you’re asking...) and, as ever, am relishing the intoxicating hybrid of Remain In Light and Power, Corruption and Lies and the resultant swagger, insouciance and style. LCD Soundsystem’s sophomore (sorry) effort, Sounds of Silver, was even finer and, remarkably fought off the likes of Radiohead and Field Music to become these august pages’ LP of the year in 2007. I can’t wait. Bristol Academy should be the perfect venue for these hipsters.

I’ve been a little disappointed with the Guildhall’s filmic profferings (I simply can’t believe there are nine showings of Amelia) in the wintry month of January but the city’s majestic arts centre has redeemed itself with a wicked roster for February. The quartet of Bright Star, Nowhere Boy, A Serious Man and Me and Orson Welles shall keep aficionados of the silver screen more than happy. March looks good too.

I can’t speak highly enough of the new Vampire Weekend long player, Contra. If you fancy a bit of inside information, it could be a potential album of 2010 for this music lover’s weblog. Get yourselves down to Ladbrokes now. Reassuringly – and this often happens – my early disquiet and ambivalence have dissipated and made way for celebratory fervour. Cousins if the catchiest song in recorded musical history and I sang (in my head) I Think UR A Contra non-stop for about two and a half hours yesterday. This is a brilliant pop group. I received the new Eels recording on Friday and I’ll let you know my views on it soon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Operator's Choice

I’m back in the habit of playing plenty of long playing albums although, having written that, I’m struggling to recall a time when the habit left me. 1975 possibly. Anyhow, I have a hat trick of home deliveries to appreciate this month and the first one arrived on Friday. Vampire Weekend’s long awaited follow-up to their eponymous debut is entitled Contra and early spins indicate a slight departure from the earlier stuff. There’s a bit of unexpected electronic enhancement to Ezra Keonig’s vocals and a few less guitars and more synthesized pleasures to enjoy. Plenty of the learned combo’s constants remain with sufficient up-tempo rattlers and staggering rhymes to satisfy loyal fanatics. My favourite track is, thus far, Cousins, a blitzkrieg of high-life shimmer and quick-fire wit and wordplay. It rocks. Happily, new layers and new quirks emerge with each listen and I think I could grow to really appreciate this recording. Releases by Midlake and Eels will complete the aforementioned hat trick soon. I’ll report back.

Talking of Eels, I’m really enjoying their/his back catalogue at the moment. I span Daisies of the Galaxy this morning, a recording that is teeming with gorgeous melodies and personal and affecting lyrics (as well as plenty of that new-fangled cursin’). Jeanie’s Diary is my favourite track which, in true Eels style, couples a sweet tune with heartrendingly tender and evocative words. Reviews promise the listener similar bittersweet treasures on the forthcoming LP.

When your birth right is interest you could just accrue it all

It is curious how one’s mindset changes in a short space of time. Yesterday morn, I steered my motor car elegantly past Kingsholm Stadium, noted the flags were flying proudly, the age-old indicator that a rugby football match would be played out that afternoon, and cogitated sombrely. I reflected upon my differing outlooks towards my favoured sporting team, the Gloucester outfit of Gloucester. As a youth I would have glanced up at the flapping ensigns and be filled with great excitement that my heroes would be running out upon the fabled turf before nightfall. Yesterday I deliberated how my peep up at the large flapping pennants brought me no such sense of electric anticipation. I knew I would be attending the afternoon’s fixture but was not exactly punching the air with delight.

Ironically, at a quarter to five I was punching the air with delight. My team, hosting a fancy-dan Biarritz side who were certainly keen to claim the Heineken Cup points, was a revelation, evicting lacklustre form and moribund tactics, playing with great ambition, élan and enterprise and mixing will-o’-the-wisp wit wi’ strong-arm sturdiness and surly shrewdness. I’m sure my eyes didn’t deceive me but at one point the city club contrived to run the ball from the shadow of their own posts, making forty-five fine yards and giving the popular side, browbeaten by too many pointless kicks to count this term, something to shout their collective throats raw with. It was wonderful to witness so much fluent and fabulous running rugby football.

Plenty clicked. The centre partnership of ‘Big’ Tim Molenaar and ‘Less Big’ Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu proved a handful, the former’s abrasive, no-nonsense straight running complementing the latter’s subtle sleight of hand and sublime sprinting. The young prince, Simpson-Daniel, relished his return to the wing and seemed back to his electrifying best, appreciating the extra space and a rare chance to paint expressionist canvases rather than whitewash breezeblocks; fresh freedom over failed functionality made the skilful sorcerer twice the player yesterday. The behemothic Tongan, Vainikolo enjoyed one of his more productive days, roaming the field with delicious intent and I savoured his keenness to leave the wing and come seeking the egg in midfield; the South Sea Islander is much more effective when he appears aggressively on a comrade’s shoulder. Elsewhere, behind the pack, Rory Lawson was as busy and hardworking as ever, Nicky Robinson mixed things up nicely and demonstrated his deceptive pace and eye for a space on several occasions while Olly Morgan produced a masterclass in full back play with too many fearless catches and counter-attacking careers upfield to count. It was marvellous.

An abrasive pack performance both in tight and loose provided the spadework for the back division to strut its stuff. Scott Lawson galloped round the park with gleeful abandon while his rival, in my opinion, for a player of the season gong, Dave Attwood, continued to further his claims for representative honours with another burly showing alongside the stylish Alexander Brown. The wing forward Qera is, thankfully, returning to some decent form; the fizzing Fijian was a right handful yesterday and is happily breaking more and more tackles and gain lines. The side needs him firing on all cylinders; at his best he remains a potent weapon in the Elver Eaters’ armoury.

I am aware of the old proverb featuring swallows and summers but shall ignore its lessons and simply reflect upon a hugely satisfying victory. Leaving beside the more pragmatic requirements of yesterday (potential qualification for future European quests), I’m more content to consider gained confidence, rugby football played with smiles on faces, adventurous and effective tactics and the whole team exhibiting spirit and grit and guile. I salute the Gloucester players warmly and with gratitude.

The photograph (taken with my iPhone – a new and potentially annoying habit) is entitled ‘A Triumphant Army Returns From Battle’.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Thought that I'd forget all about the past but it doesn't let me run too fast

My Christmas holidays are lasting longer than expected. I was supposed to head back into work on Wednesday and here I am, on Friday, still to return. Britain is freezing and ice and snow dominate the section of Regency Longlevens that I call home – and beyond. The Cole females and I met for lunch at Gloucester’s splendid Guildhall earlier (a warming spicy lentil broth, since you were curious) and the walk home from the bus proved utterly chilling. I sense the temperature may drop further. It is unsettling and awkward but there are worse off than me.

May I recommend a sports book? Duncan Hamilton’s biography of Harold Larwood is a superb read. It’s a tale of class and politics and ruthlessness and, ultimately, forgiveness. The world of Gentlemen and Players is ever fascinating to glimpse and the loyalty ex-miner Larwood, ‘the world’s fastest bowler’, shows to his patrician skipper Douglas Jardine is remarkable. The whole Bodyline episode is examined in minute detail but the chapters that deal with Larwood’s life after cricket are equally captivating. The humble and vaguely anonymous former hero’s emigration to Australia is dealt with tenderly while the recurring motif of Larwood’s rivalry with Donald Bradman (which continued until both cricketers were well into their nineties) is captured skilfully. This is a marvellous story.

May I recommend a feature film? A rare trip to the city’s large and imposing Cineworld complex proved worthwhile. My two eldest children and I attended a screening of the sequence of moving images known worldwide as Avatar. This is a spectacular piece of work, shimmeringly beautiful and captivatingly imaginative. I won’t give away the plot although the basic premise (‘Hey, we don’t care enough about the, y’know, environment, man’) is relatively simplistic. It’s the setting that really impresses. A lot of the reviews compare the planet known as Pandora to a series of sumptuous Roger Dean album covers and I can appreciate the comparison. The imagined flora and fauna of Pandora are tremendously unusual and splendid to gaze ‘pon and the scenery is stunning and breathtaking. It looks great. The bonny backdrops sit there, all lovely, while a fierce man-vs.-alien dispute rages and rather clumsy good guy/bad guy caricatures battle it out cartoonishly. Refreshingly the aliens, thin, tall, blue, cat-faced athletic types are cast as symbols of beauty, integrity and ecological hope while us humans, it pains me, are gun-toting, greedy, insensitive ne’er-do-wells. I suppose Avatar is a feature film to make one think although similar environmental messages are to be discovered within any daily newspaper and any news bulletin. Conversely, it’s a film where, if you desire, it’s possible not to think too much and just let splendour and magnificence wash over you. It’s a win-win. We caught the 2D version, by the way. 3D is yet to lure this punter.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Don't you think life would be a little drab if we had the same thoughts?

I thank A, whose love of podcasts is rapidly eclipsing mine, for subtly introducing me to my latest favourite, the Classic Albums production. This is a defiantly lo-fi, under-produced half hour which remains utterly charming and fascinating thanks to the giddy enthusiasm conjured up by the genial hosts Gary and Stephen. These two fellows, hailing possibly from Manchester (but we’re never told) have devised a beautifully simple format. Effectively at the end of each show they swap long playing records that are personal favourites and that they want to introduce or reacquaint their affable cohort to. These recordings are taken away, diligently played to death (usually on the hosts’ much-loved iPods) and then discussed earnestly on the next occasion the podcast is recorded. I’m pleased to report that the pair’s taste in music is similar to mine and it is marvellous (and mightily reassuring) to hear my favourites (Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Ryan Adams etc.) being eulogised with such warmth and vigour. Gary and Stephen also spend five minutes or so at the start checking up what else each other has been listening to since the last podcast and there’s a neat little interlude between the discussions of the swapped LPs when they exchange, nerdily and ebulliently, themed Top Fives that were also decided upon in the previous episode. This is simple broadcasting but all the better for it. Like all the best podcasts (Word, Sound Opinions), the sense of eavesdropping on an enthralling conversation is evident; Gary and Stephen remind me a little of myself in that they are not backward in coming forward when proclaiming the worth, wonder and wonderfulness of a particular long playing record although I wish I could conjure up a tenth of their articulacy and ability to sum up a record’s essence with real clarity and astuteness. My dilemma at the moment is choosing which of the 40-odd episodes to select next. Thus far I’ve been mainly choosing those which feature albums I already know and love but I am very keen to be alerted to newer sounds so will be seeking out those shows that highlight stuff by artists (Willard Grant Conspiracy, David Kitt, The Auteurs) that have ne’er appeared on this radar. I really admire Stephen and Gary for producing such a treat; Classic Albums is obviously a true labour of love with its do-it-yourself quirkiness and the sense of homespun enjoyment it conjures up. This is cracking stuff and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Thanks, fellows.

Blind to the last curse of the fair pistols and countless eyes

I did enjoy yesterday’s rugby union action at Kingsholm Stadium. Other commitments insisted that I arrived two minutes before kick-off and had to guiltily scurry away at the very, very death (although I missed not one second of the drama). It was strange not being stood in the Popular Side an hour or so before the referee’s 3pm blast and, in a strange way, my tardiness meant it took me a while to really warm up, focus on the match and analyse the performance. Scampering up Worcester Street at 2.53pm, I was surprised to witness so many supporters making their way to the stadium too although I would confidently venture that the vast majority of the late-cats were sitters rather than standers.

The match itself, while no classic, was rather exciting and I enjoyed watching my favoured team, the Gloucester outfit of Gloucester, dismiss, to an extent, the mundane aerial pong-ping of recent months and attempt to overcome a routine and mundane side (Worcester, ahem, Warriors) through some incisive and inventive back-play. The home side’s outside-half Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Robinson caught this eye with some splendid surges through the visitors’ midfield and, in the second half, our enterprise stepped up a gear when the (slightly below par) wing-threequarter Sharples departed injured, the burly Molenaar entered the fray and the wasted-in-the-centre young prince, Simpson-Daniel found himself out wide and with more space. The final score 13-13 flattered the South Midlanders despite the home side trailing until the time period formerly known as 'injury time'. A last gasp try by the energetic and hugely promising Attwood levelled the scores but a tricky conversion proved too difficult for the enigmatic Spencer. Frankly, the game was there for the taking so a draw could be considered a disappointment. Robinson missed two or three fairly routine attempts at the posts and, on too many occasions to count, Gloucester failed to capitalise on gilt-edged opportunities to cross the whitewash for tries. Whilst encouraged by my team’s ambition, I shall be more content when chances are taken with a tad more ruthlessness.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wouldn't it be nice to know what the paper doesn't show, what the TV doesn't say?

I salute A. He’s gone all end-of-year crazy over at his place with two lists summarizing his varied highlights. It’s a witty and interesting selection and I’m proud to note I was stood loyally by his side (mainly physically but also, at times, in spirit) on numerous occasions.

Anyhow, it’s time for me to look back and select my album of the year. To be honest, for months it was seeming a one horse race as The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love eagerly won my heart and the fierce battle for my aural affections. Wilco’s self-titled gem entered the fray back in the summer but, latterly, I have been swooning at several brilliant offerings from these very shores known tenderly by the cognoscenti simply as ‘Britain’. I congratulate the youthful, understated and subtle XX on an unexpected but richly deserved, er, victory. The nippers’ eponymous debut is an absolute treasure and I could (but I won’t) become a touch emotional considering how a collective of earnest young hepcats could produce such a tender, thoughtful and, heck, moving set of songs. It has become my go-to album of choice over the past few months, its breathy and intimate vocals and sparse instrumental swagger proving gripping enough to hold this oft-wavering attention again and again. I think XX by The XX is a masterpiece and will be spoken of in hushed and reverent tones many years from now. I reckon it’s that good. Nice work, lads and lasses.

Here is my Top Ten, pop-pickers:

1. The XX –XX
See above.

2. Euros Childs – Son of Euro Child
Sumptuous melodies coupled with eccentric/compelling lyrical glee.

3. Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
A belter. Packed with swagger and insouciant poise.

4. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love
Intense and ruddy clever. A bit noodly in places (which I enjoyed).

5. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
My favourite live act of the year. An album teeming with class and confidence.

6. Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca
File under ‘Benefits from several plays’. Challenging but wondrously multi-layered.

7. Girls – Album
Madder than a box of frogs. In-your-face pop explosions galore.

8. Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate
A classy piece of work. Mature but fun, clever, wry and tender. A wholly unexpected treat.

9. Super Furry Animals Dark Days/Light Years
Celtic masters of melody weave wondrous webs of whimsy and wit.

10. Japandroids – Post-Nothing
A big, big noise from Vancouver. Husker Du-esque mix of mayhem and melody.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Barking in the street to tell what I have hidden there

I thought I’d mention my enormous admiration for the BBC’s Great Lives podcast which has been absent for a while but has, in the past couple of weeks, been slipping elegantly onto my iPod once again. As the title suggests, this is a production dealing with the biographies of fascinating folk but it’s the format that provides this listener with deepest satisfaction. Engaging host Matthew Parris traditionally, er, hosts a couple of characters, one a (forgive me) celebrity enthusiast of the great life in question while the other guest is an expert, often a biographer of that edition’s focus. The (forgive me again) celebrity’s job is to wax lyrical and come over all enthusiastic and devoted while the expert pithily debunks myths and bombards the listener with wondrous facts and tales. The recent edition when Sir Ranulph Fiennes and historian Juliet Barker examine Henry V proved an utterly compelling half an hour and I’m currently loving (but failing to stay awake through) wry comedian Rich Hall’s take on Tennessee Williams. It’s the juxtaposition of (...and again) celebrity and great life that often delights and I’ve appreciated John Major on Rudyard Kipling, Kate Humble (who I’ve ne’er admired really but who came across really well) on Miriam Makeba and, O tempora! O mores!, Paul Daniels on Harry Houdini. I wonder who the next one will be about*.

If any hepcats are reading this and wanting some more recommendations for podcast joy, then I am always thrilled to mention my favoured magazine Word’s weekly (or so) broadcast which never fails to entertain. Essentially, ageing dudes Mark Ellen and David Hepworth and guests chew the fat, reminisce and demonstrate more wit, wisdom and humour than I frankly deserve. Another favourite of mine is Chicago Public Radio’s Sound Opinions during which a pair of cooler-than-cool Illinoisan music journalists and anglophiles (Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot) debate with giddy effervescence new releases and old long playing classics. Guests of the highest vintage (Grizzly Bear, Joan As Policewoman, Steve Earle) often pop by. It’s pleasing to hear views about modern music from a different source although the affable pair love British music with as much unabashed fervour as the latest stateside sounds. You can search for all these treats on iTunes.

*I'm informed that upcoming shows include Neil Innes on Vivian Stanshall and, heck, Christopher Biggins on Nero. The prospect of both, but especially the latter, renders me delirious with excitement.

Monday, December 21, 2009

But I'm changing my scene

The rugby was adequate yesterday. Effectively a dead Heineken Cup rubber against an earnest and energetic Glasgow proved mildly entertaining and reasonably encouraging. An insipid and somewhat dull first half, dominated by aimless kicks, made way for a fairly energetic second period in which the Gloucester backs conspired to run with a touch more guile and grit. A couple of well-taken tries proved ample reward for my favoured team’s ambition and the strong galloping of Morgan, Sharples, the young prince Simpson-Daniel, Robinson, Voyce and Molenaar. It’s hard to judge just how strong or weak this current Gloucester outfit is; sterner tests await and I suspect the away fixture against a wounded Bath and the new year’s opener against the, er, Warriors of Worcester will provide keener clues as to the team’s progress.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

But moondust will cover you...

I returned home from the gold-lined streets of the nation’s capital yesterday, weary and wan but contented. It had proved a splendid day and a half in ‘the smoke’ shopping and strolling and, importantly, enjoying an evening of that new-fangled rock music at the large and impressive Barbican Centre. Spiritualized presented the whole of their classic 1997 long player Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and, my word, ‘twas a mesmerizing, loud and wondrous event. This album has only recently soared into my consciousness and I’ve grown to admire its melodic and introspective allure. This concert enhanced its reputation. A wide, wide stage housed a large number of people; band leader Jason Pierce sat to the right, dressed casually but wearing a huge pair of sunglasses and oversaw a traditional rock line-up, a lively brass section, an intense collective of string musicians and a stylish, riddimic and white-robed gospel choir. Heck it sounded great and from the Cole party’s excellent vantage point (three rows from the front) looked remarkable too. A lot has been written about this recording and its personal nature and its advocation of, er, pharmaceutical usage to help ‘take the pain away’ but challenging and passionate subject matter is nothing without strong tunes and Ladies and Gentlemen... contains a significant number of soaringly beautiful moments which swept over a delighted Barbican audience. I’d suggest the album doubled in length in the live format and this punter approved; longer renditions of the songs allowed hypnotic grooviness to caress the ears and presented fabulous opportunities for the superb musicians to proffer their skills and talents. It was a marvellous night. Here’s a cheeky clip from Youtube.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Listen to the music, shuffle up your feet

Well, the first Green Man Festival headliner was announced today and, although I hadn’t tipped The Flaming Lips in my last posting, I wasn’t too surprised to hear they would be playing on the Saturday. I’m not delirious with happiness at the choice, nor am I sinking into depths of despair. I think they’ll put on a fine show. The Coles enjoyed this combo at Birmingham’s historic Academy 1 a few years ago although I felt they were slaves to the video accompaniments that formed a backdrop to every song. There was a vaguely contrived wackiness to the proceedings which I wasn’t fully comfortable with although the band surely didn’t expect the dancing girl who had donned a panda costume to pass out with heat exhaustion after the third song.

I’m thrilled with my new iPhone which is a breathtaking piece of kit. I almost sob with joy every time I hold it in my hands. My old and loyal iPod mustn’t feel too jealous as I still love it with all my bleedin’ heart too; I’ll still be using this for all my music and podcast needs especially as my new machine contains 16GB of memory and I have over 70GB of music to delight in. I’m loving the news feeds (and plethora of other Apps) I can access on my iPhone and the user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing text messaging and emailing functions. I’m playing plenty of chess with gaming geezers on it and generally having a ball. I confess I’m tweeting on my Twitter page a lot more and sense I will be micro-blogging on a much more regular basis.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Turn the treble and...

The first headline act for the Green Man Festival is to be announced next week. A clue from the official website states giddily: ‘they’re one of the best bands in the world ever, they’ve never played Green Man before and we’re literally going out of our minds with excitement!’ Who could it be? I suppose one hepcat’s idea of a top combo is different to another’s. It hints that this group has been around for a goodly while which (possibly) rules out The Decemberists or Midlake. The word ‘best’ is a touch insipid and I’d rather have seen ‘innovative’ or ‘eccentric’ to help the guessing process. My first thought led me to Super Furry Animals but they have already played the Brecon event. A glance across the Atlantic leads me to proffer the names of both Yo La Tengo and the newly reformed Pavement but I have a horrible feeling it might be housewives’ favourites Elbow taking the stage one late evening next August. Or it might be Sonic Youth. Or Primal Scream.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Some people are on the pitch

I must admit to feeling enormous excitement at the World Cup draw last Friday evening. I know I favour the rugby union code of football but I do love soccer’s main event – possibly more than any other sporting occasion. Well, on Friday it was simply a few balls being selected and countries being allocated groups and locations but this viewer was thrilled and was heard to ululate loudly, ‘Not Portugal! Not Portugal!’ when it was time to select a non-seeded European side to face England. As things stand, one must be contented with the draw; U.S.A., Algeria and Slovenia will prove determined but limited opposition and the nation of my birth should progress with ease. I can’t wait. If time allows, I’ll be watching as many games as possible. The side I picked to win the World Cup at the time of the last European Championships, Russia, aren’t even attending so I am a hapless pundit. It is wide open, isn’t it? However, I fancy the Italians, a heady mix of the pragmatic and pulchritudinous, to come good again and possibly retain the fabled trophy.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

I said you've gotta stop chasing rainbows

I’m looking out for something new to read although I’m dipping into one or one things at the moment. The last two books I’ve finished were really enjoyable. Sebastian Faulks’ Engleby was rather different from his classic Birdsong but, nevertheless, compelling and powerful. It’s a first person narrative focussing on the troubled childhood and awkward university years of a socially inept but exceptionally academically gifted misfit. Progressive rock aficionado Mike Engleby is able to breeze into Cambridge but makes appalling decisions and struggles in all social situations away from the lecture halls. Dark happenings, er, happen and Engleby impacts on others’ lives dramatically but, as with many other anti-heroes, you can’t help admiring the central character’s wit and distinctiveness that highlight the humdrumness and conventionality of practically everyone else in the tale. He’s trouble though. Engleby (the novel) is quite unusual and unlike anything I’ve ever read but it’s an absorbing character study that mixes up (the darkest) comedy with plenty of insightful flourishes and magnificent set pieces.

Zoe Heller’s The Believers was a novel I just picked up, started reading without any great excitement or expectation but ended up loving. Heller paints glorious characters and her depiction of the Litvinoff family, a hugely dysfunctional group, headed by prominent liberal New York lawyer Joel and his waspish English wife Audrey. The couple’s three children Karla, Rosa and the adopted Lenny are as different as chalk, cheese and, heck, ectoplasm and the glimpses Heller offers into their lives are packed with wonderful detail and crushingly satirical elements. Essentially the plot evolves after Joel suffers a serious stroke and the family along with other fringe players come to terms with new circumstances. It’s a biting look at left wing politics, political correctness, race, religion and social class – enough for any novel to be sinking its teeth into – and hits the target again and again. Few of the characters are truly likeable but it’s a rare pleasure when key players’ selfishness and awkwardness are exposed with richly comic consequences. This is probably the most enjoyable book I’ve read all year.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The nature of all greatness...

I congratulate my favoured rugby union team on a hard-fought but merited victory over a spirited and hard-running Newcastle this afternoon. Gloucester are much improved from the ramshackle rabble that proffered mediocre fare earlier this term and I am delighted to note a considerable improvement in handling skills, commitment and forward grunt. Despite a tricky twenty minute period in the first half when the visiting side conspired to play some keen and incisive football, the city club won plenty of the key confrontations and offered a fairly simple gameplan that lacked a touch of ambition but made the hard yards, forced mistakes and clinched crucial penalty decisions. Oliver Morgan made a pleasing return to the side and this supporter welcomed his strong running, purposeful chasing and trademark catching acumen. We’ve missed him. Elsewhere, Rory Lawson enjoyed a busy match and linked generally well with half-back partner Nicky Robinson. The ebullient centre Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu was probably the outstanding back with several sniping runs at the heart of the Newcastle defence while ‘Big’ Dave Attwood took a further stride towards a deserved ‘Player of the Season’ gong with another towering performance in the ‘engine room’. I am encouraged but not carried away by my side’s recent form. The spectre of relegation appears to have abated for the time being and has been replaced by the mundane but comforting cosiness of mid-table respectability. Time will tell if a top six finish beckons; if Gloucester can salvage Heineken Cup qualification from such an unpromising autumn it shall be an achievement of epic proportions.

Wall of Noise

I salute the beat combo Primal Scream for journeying to the (ye?) historic city of Gloucester last Thursday; their set at the compact and bijou Guildhall proved loud, merry, vigorous, up-tempo, melodic, rifftastic and loud. When a ‘big’ group attends the Guild, it’s part recital, part happening and the plethora of hepcats in attendance (some e’en travelling all the way from Cheltenham Spa) indicated that the scene was celebrating itself effervescently. The Scream rocked and rolled with insouciance and cool. The lead vocalist Bobby Gillespie played the part of lead vocalist Bobby Gillespie with wit and swagger, sprinkling a sprinkle of Michael Philip Jagger into a performance of gleeful pop/rock; the fellow, approaching his fiftieth year with alacrity, donned the skinny-hipped trousery, shook his tousled locks, shimmied and swayed like a young ‘un and belted out belters. The band proffered tight and energetic backing and ‘twas merry to witness the legendary Mani wielding his bass and conjuring up a no-nonsense masterclass in riddimic rigour. Highlights included strutting versions of Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Country Girl and Suicide Bomb but this ageing character particularly appreciated a courteous doff of the cap towards some Screamadelica classics: a quick blast of Loaded and Movin’ On Up (and a slow song I’ve forgotten the name of) and it was suddenly 1991 and I was wearing desert boots and plaid shirts and looking young again. I enjoyed this concert and offer gratitude to the movers and shakers at my local Arts Centre for arranging such lively entertainment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It wasn't then a Beatles song

I’m not prone to boasting but whenever I attend a concert with the good-natured A, I tend to post my report a few days before him. It’s not a competition of course. However, he’s beaten me to it this time with an articulate and worthy review of the evening he, S and I spent on Monday visiting The Fall in Bristol. He’s even proffered his recordings of all the songs they played and I simply can’t compete.

It proved a lot of fun. It’s always merry to chalk up a new venue and The Metropolis, near the centre on the Cheltenham Road, was a small but perfectly formed place which joins the pantheon of the numerous arenas I’ve pitched up at to catch Mark E. Smith and his cohorts. I suppose Monday was a fairly typical but nonetheless enjoyable recent-period Fall set with an extremely tight band belting out up-tempo riff-joy underpinned by (Mrs Smith) Elena Poulou’s driving keyboard sturm und drang and, of course, the man himself singing/mumbling/screaming his words of wisdom into any available microphone. It’s been two and a half years since my last Fall gig (at Oxford’s Zodiac) and I’m happy to report a continuation of the fine form I witnessed then. This is a cool group. This is a cool group.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

We sit here in torpor by our old fireside and just agree to differ

12-9 is such a comfortingly old-fashioned scoreline. You can sniff the embrocation in those lowish multiples of three; gnarled forwards of yore paid their doughty dues during 12-9 epics while fancy-dan three-quarter team-mates shivered. It’s a back-to-basics score, an unfashionable glimpse into past times, into mudbaths, into half-time team talks on the pitch, into the shadowy mindsets of Malcolm Preedy and Bobby Fowke. If 12-9 were a TV Show it would be a murky World In Action exposé from 1973, it’s Lieutenant Pigeon playing Mouldy Old Dough on Top of the Pops, it’s the Winter of Discontent crossed with an especially violent episode of The Sweeny, it’s a rusting Chopper bike with a slightly flat tyre, it’s a Noddy Holder sideburn of a score. I’ve missed good old 12-9. And last night’s thoroughly exciting 12-9 victory for the Gloucester club of Gloucester against a decent Leicester outfit proved extremely pleasurable. Welcome back.

This was not a classic match but, after weeks and weeks of wistful woes and winless worries, it was wondrous to witness my favoured team playing with the passion, intensity and wholehearted grunt that the inhabitants of the popular side demand. Although concerned by a singular lack of game plan and a significant inability to carry the pill across the try-line, this punter heralds a vast improvement in handling skills, a noticeably accomplished adherence to the arts of the scrums and lines-out, and a reinvigorated rolling maul. Last night’s forward pack caught this eye. It was a mixture of the mature and coltish. Old dogs Buxton and Boer bustled and bruised for the cause with gleeful abandon, their uncompromising work rate and unselfish fetchin’, carryin’, tacklin’ and sweatin’ all indicatin’ a deep affection for the historic club and an acknowledgment that its values and ethos must survive. Younger tyros Attwood and Dawiduik rampaged earnestly too, concentrated well and mixed a youthful gallop in the loose to adherence to the necessities. Behind the scrum, David ‘Dave’ Lewis gave a curate’s egg of a performance, blending iffy passing and slow service with ebullient breaks and zestful sprinting. Young Freddie Burns, donning the famed ten shirt, looks a sparkling prospect; the fellow played heads-up rugby union with a refreshing confidence and is certainly one for the (near-) future. Burly Tim Molenaar is coming into some form too and I appreciated the abrasive Kiwi centre’s rough and ready running; he combined well with the burlier Tongan menace Vainikolo rather well.

Of course there were negatives to Gloucester’s play to counteract the numerous positives but last night wasn’t about detailed analysis and over critical debates. It was about winning and winning with spirit. The last twenty minutes saw this supporter shake off his disquiet about this season’s form and disappointments and shout his ruddy head off, celebrating the referee’s blast at no-side with rare excitement. It was a smashing occasion and the sentimentalist in me relished the scenes as the exhausted yet victorious yeomen paraded in front of the throng. My word, it was wonderful to see the noble Jake Boer among the lads, arms aloft and soaking up the affection. Excitement is back, Jake is back, the Gloucester dog is back and 12-9, in all its low-scoring, edge-of-set majesty, is back too. Hurrah.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I can’t get over how many people pitch up to watch features screened by the Cheltenham Film Society. I trotted over to the Bacon Theatre on Tuesday to view, at the invitation of J, a Brazilian production, Linha de Passé and was stunned to witness throngs of gentlefolk flocking into the building. I genuinely believed there was something else on at the complex; I’m so used to watching films at Gloucester’s Guildhall in an audience of twenty or so (on a good night) that I was thrown by such a multitude. About 250-300 cinema lovers attend each screening at Cheltenham and this rather heartens me but, simultaneously, makes me a tad disappointed that my merry home city lags behind its more well-groomed neighbour. Anyhow, my visit was wholly positive and I’ll attend again and possibly even join.

The film itself proved engaging and thought-provoking. Linha de Passé transports the viewer into a rough and ready Sao Paulo ghetto and scrutinises the lives of an ageing and impecunious single mother and her four sons all of whom scheme and dream of ways out of their impoverished existences. One son dreams of becoming a top footballer and the resultant fame and fortune; one, a petrol pump attendant, is drawn to intense evangelical worship; another seeks money and women and is tempted to supplement a courier’s meagre income with the spoils of increasingly less petty crime; and the youngest, significantly darker skinned than his siblings, sporadically attends school, possesses plenty of streetwise impudence and obsesses about becoming a bus driver. Rich stories of the quartet intertwine offering dark glimpses of the despair that accompanies an inability to escape inequity and poverty; lighter moments indicating earthy humour and a reassuringly benevolent community spirit offer some relief. Hope and hopelessness arrive in equal measures but hopelessness always seems to vanquish.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Nature intended the abstract for you and me

I admit I may have become a Green Man Festival bore in the weeks after last summer’s event. I think the rank disappointment of the previous couple of years, when cold, hard and wetter than usual rain conspired to break the music-lovin’ hearts of my accomplished sidekick and me, had rendered the need for third-time-lucky glee more than crucial. The warm 2009 weather and fine fare and, pardon me, cheerful vibes were heart-warming and welcome. I only say this because I note that ‘early bird’ tickets for next summer’s bash are on sale now. I’m tempted. I don’t self-flagellate (too much) at the prospect of returning to work after a long summer break but a late August sojourn to Brecon did wonders for my, ahem, aura last time and I’m keen to ‘flag up’ a potential intention to attend again. My bet for one of the headliners would be the remarkable Midlake who have a new album out reasonably soon and will be touring in 2010. In my dreams, admittedly over-imaginative and fecund, Midlake would headline on the Friday, The Decemberists would proffer a live version of The Hazards of Love on the Saturday and the young prince of popular music, Sufjan Stevens would wow the crowds on the Sunday and send everyone ‘ome ‘appy. It may yet happen.

I hinted at my admiration for young South-West London collective The XX yesterday and would like to doff my virtual titfer at their splendid debut album now. It’s a hushed and breathy recording reminiscent of the Young Marble Giants’ breathy and hushed classic, Colossal Youth, and it often feels that the youthful band have decided to proffer their listenership as few musical layers as possible at any given moment. A delicate bassline, an occasional strum of a gee-tar, a mere dab of a drum, and sparse electronic musings underpin really beautiful songs of love and youthful considerations. The male/female voices permeate proceedings tenderly and volunteer a conversational tone to the songs that certainly appeals. Their self-titled debut, although whispered and minimalist in texture, possesses a swagger and complexity that utterly engages. All the songs are splendid but my favourite is probably Crystalised with its subtle call-and-respond vocals and wry quiet-(fairly)loud-quiet backing sounds that transport me effortlessly back to 1979 or maybe even 1980. Recommended.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Underneath and unexplored

Earlier today I flicked through this month’s Q Magazine in the palatial environs of Gloucester’s historic Northgate Street branch of J Sainsbury. My heart sank. I was keen to scan the pages to discover what their favoured 50 albums of 2009 were and, alas, my view that Q is a music magazine for people who don’t really like music that much was fortified. I know I’m at risk of sounding an utter snob but the Q list was as conservative and mundane and life-unaffirming and unadventurous as I feared. The top ten contains one album I rather like (Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion) and one album I quite like and might like a bit more when I have played it a few more times (Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix). The rest is a landfill into which has been unceremoniously tipped insipid and obvious ‘delights’ by U2, Lily Allen, flippin’ Kasabian, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, at number two, heck, the unspeakable Florence and the Machine. A couple of weeks ago I tapped out a shortlist of twelve or thirteen albums I regard as the year’s best and only four of my choices sneak into Q’s fifty. I can’t believe The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love or The XX's sizzling self-titled, er, sizzler aren't there. I apologise if I’m sounding a touch self-regarding in sneering at this publication for daring not to share my views and I admit I’m probably over-reacting a touch but I do rely on the December issues of the music press to prompt me into hoovering* up anything lovely I may have missed over the past twelve months. I’m going to go and have a lie down. I'll put my soap-box away and look forward to my Uncut delivery.

The full list is available (and discussed very eloquently) here. It’s not all bad. An interesting list of 2009's well-reviewed albums can be found at the fascinating metacritic site.

*Other vacuum cleaning devices are available.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Strange Currencies

Last night was rather marvellous. A quartet of ageing hipsters set sail for Stroud and an evening of splendid musical entertainment. Rodborough’s Prince Albert public house was hosting a trio of wonderful acts, with Celtic pop imp, Euros Childs, headlining proceedings. A brief word about the venue. The Prince Albert proved a charming base for jollity, a non-corporate old-style boozer with roaring fire, fine ales, pet dogs striding - wi'out menace - around the carpet and walls covered in esoteric and eye-catching artefacts. The main (only?) bar was an ample L-shape and, without trying to be Madison Square Garden, accommodated plenty of proud punters perfectly.

The music moved the masses merrily. Men Diamler crooned and ululated with passion and verve and ‘is traditional fervour. His dark offerings provided glimpses into forbidding worlds of boneless dogs and other disturbing images. The second act, Sweet Baboo (later to re-emerge as Childs’ bassist) inhabited similar shadowy territory. I liked the fellow’s stuff; he played his guitar eloquently and proffered slightly personal themes tinged with rather oblique imagery.

The main event was a class above though. I’d caught former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman Euros Childs at Green Man Festival a couple of years ago and appreciated his balmy and bewitching pop sensitivities immensely. What I enjoyed then, I enjoyed last evening albeit in the most cosy and appealing surroundings (as opposed to a mud-splattered field). Childs’ songs are defiantly lo-fi, self-accompanied on fairly basic keyboards, but warm the heart with their sumptuous and sanguine melodies and off-kilter and eccentric subject matter. Verily, the gentleman sang of his love of mayonnaise, the coolness of his fridge and the toilet habits of an imaginary pet monkey and it all made perfect and lovely sense. Childs performed with warmth and humour and the acclaim of a grateful audience was deserved and manifest. I salute this artist.

I recommend the album Son of Euro Child which is available for free download here. It has harvested super reviews and has given this scribe remarkable pleasure. Please enjoy the chap playing album highlights, Like This? Then Try This and How Do You Do?, in his own front parlour.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Merging with a grain of sand

Verily, this is the season of gigs and the latest recital took place last night: Grizzly Bear at Bristol’s Anson Rooms. Mr and Mrs Cole attended and we spent a goodly time before the event enjoying the peculiar ambience of a Students’ Union building. Hipsters galore paraded; some tried too hard but I empathised. A and A joined I and I; ‘twas jolly. The support act was St. Vincent (a solo female artist, for the uninitiated) whom I last viewed/heard supporting the young prince of popular music, Sufjan Stevens, almost exactly three years ago. I appreciate this vocalist’s arty, artful, angular offerings and her songs from the interesting and clever long player, Actor, proved an agreeable hors d’ouvre to the main event. I have rated Grizzly Bear e’er since a remarkable set at last summer’s Green Man Festival and I am gradually acquainting myself with the critically acclaimed recent album, Veckatimest. I sense that the Anson Room’s rather unsatisfactory sound quality didn’t help this group’s cause but, despite a somewhat muffled result, their haunting and ethereal harmonies hushed and wooed a large and expectant multitude. This is a talented collective, playing a range of instruments with acumen and singing really beautifully. The range of voices within the band is quite staggering and it makes for a unique and breathtaking resonance. The drummer was brilliant and I am keen to salute his all-action and effervescent display of stickmanship. I recommend.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Tuesday night at Kingsholm was special and exciting. The 36-5 scoreline flattered Gloucester’s Australian visitors a tad and it was pleasing to witness an abrasive pack performance with plenty to celebrate both in tight and loose. I appreciated Paul Doran-Jones’s adherence to the front row basics and I thought young hooker Darren Dawiduik enjoyed an energetic and bright match. Returning hero Jake Boer performed splendidly for the full eighty minutes with his trademark uncompromising ball-carrying catching the eye again and again; it was rather emotional hearing the legend’s name announced before kick-off with a resounding roar from the popular side indicating huge affection for this fabulous servant. Behind the pack Tom Voyce seemed more at home as a wing-threequarter while Freddie Burns, wearing '15', seemed full of spark and initiative. Alas, the team struggles at half back. David ‘Dave’ Lewis ran with vigour upon the sacred turf but his passing proved poor and a chance or two went begging. Carlos Spencer is off the pace and a shadow of his former elegant and inspirational self; time for the celebrated Kiwi to move on methinks.

Simply, Gloucester vs. Australia represented a cracking occasion. It was merry to attend a match where neither league points nor knock-out cup status were at stake and it certainly reminded me of the old days when this supporter would shout himself hoarse at a ‘mere’ friendly fixture. I’m growing tired of high pressure and mundane rugby football and Tuesday’s splendid event acted as a pleasing antidote to such humdrum fare.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

You know this scene is very humdrum

The Coles went to the nearish and notable city of Bristol on Monday and packed plenty in; a monumental Chinese meal and a trip to @Bristol proved particular crowd pleasers. Personally, it was merry to shop in Fopp, my favoured music store chain which has an outlet at the bottom of Park Street. To be honest, I could have spent longer in there as racks and racks of utterly tempting treats costing as little as 3 or 5 British quids were beckoning me brazenly. I ended up purchasing Our Favourite Shop by The Style Council (as I only read glowing reports of this long player) and a Brazilian post-punk recording by the esteemed 1980s combo As Mercenarias called, rather apocalyptically, The Beginning of the End of the World. I quite like investigating Brazilian records; I have a theory that you can choose a genre (1960s psychedelia, synth-pop, funk, post-punk) and the canny South Americans were producing incredible variants on what their earnest British and American counterparts were crafting. They can play association football a bit too. The As Mercenarias album is fine but a bit shouty and hectic; I prefer my post-punk to convey mystery and gloom and an existential otherness.

Talking of post-punk (this isn’t thrown together, you realise), my favourite Fopp acquisition was a remarkably interesting tome, Totally Wired: Post-Punk Interviews and Overviews by Simon Reynolds. Essentially, this book is a companion volume to the splendid and indispensable Rip It Up but, instead of scholarly prose about that wonderful musical movement, consists of countless delightful interviews with key post-punk movers and shakers. There are too many highlights to mention but, as ever, anything coming out of Green Gartside’s mouth is worth listening to and I liked learning that all he listened to during his youth were recordings of John Peel shows which he’d play again and again during the week. Edwyn Collins wryly looks back at Orange Juice and is agreeably pithy; Steven Morris examines with a refreshing candour the myth of Joy Division and Ian Curtis; Phil Oakey scrutinises early Human League and the impact of sudden fame; Andy Gill, despite Gang of Four’s serious and stern image, emerges as self-deprecating and humorous; and Alan Rankine warmly observes the flawed genius of his Associates band-mate Billy Mackenzie. Totally Wired is a tremendous read and a glorious reminder of, in my opinion, the greatest, most challenging and important field of music that these shores have fostered and nurtured.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What are the implications of the club unit?

I’ve used the last day or three to view (on Digital Versatile Disc) a couple of feature films that for one reason or another I missed when the local and outstanding Guildhall Arts Centre proffered them recently. Both motion pictures possessed an association football theme.

The Damned United was based on the wondrous novel by David Peace and focussed on the infamous forty-four days that Brian Clough managed Leeds United in 1974. I preferred the book. Its pages successfully portrayed the fragility of Clough, his drinking, his insecurities, his reliance on the canny and level-headed Peter Taylor, his uncontrollable ego, his strutting arrogance and his undoubted genius. The feature proved mightily entertaining though. The remarkable casting needs to be saluted. The key characters of, inter alia, Don Revie, Billy Bremner and Taylor were represented accurately and wittily while Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Clough was utterly remarkable and completely mesmerizing. I noted and appreciated the film’s successful attempts to sum up soccer in the 1970s with its complex concoction of brutality and bewitching skills, muddy fields of play, the peeling paint of the stadia and array of multifaceted characters on and off the proverbial park. The Damned United (movie) was a pleasure, an agreeable and nostalgic glimpse at a footballing era that lacked the finesse and moneyed (excuse the pun) sheen of today’s sport but remains forty-four times more interesting.

Looking For Eric was tremendously pleasurable. I was concerned that veteran director Ken Loach had crossed the line into a rather gimmicky realm by making a film where the central character, downtrodden postman Eric Bishop, enjoys an imaginary relationship with retired footballing genius Eric Cantona. However, the two interact beautifully as the Frenchman offers up philosophical gems and more earthy maxims in advising the hapless Bishop to face up to a series of dismal circumstances. The postman’s relationships with his ex-wife, his stepsons, his daughter and his tight-knit colleagues are examined with warmth and intelligence and glimpses into a somewhat bleak life are handled tenderly and, while all the social-realist boxes are ticked, there are enough happy outcomes to warm the hardest of hearts. The interplay between a host of beautifully painted characters is exquisitely and subtly created and this viewer found the camaraderie and community spirit of Bishop’s friends especially striking. Several stunning set-pieces raise laughter, arouse fear or anguish and provoke thought while the final scenes, vivid and unusual, conclude the narrative really satisfyingly. Looking For Eric is an understated and lovingly constructed nugget and I recommend it willingly.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

While my dreams decay

I don’t want to dwell too long on last night’s rugby union. My favoured club Gloucester appeared devoid of ideas and inspiration and lost heavily to a Wasps outfit that appeared mediocre and below par itself. It was, by a margin, the worst Wasps side I’ve seen at Kingsholm and they had the city on toast. Alas, I’m finding myself more and more adrift from the Gloucester club and am beginning to question why I continue to proffer it my support. Almost everything that I loved about the Kingsholm culture has either disappeared or been dramatically diluted as the years have passed. Back in the day I relished the genuinely witty and passionate crowd, heralded the committed, brave, steely (and defiantly local) characters on the park, and soaked up the history, the heritage, the uniqueness, the insouciant us-against-themness of the scene. What brings me to the terraces nowadays apart from force of habit? On Friday, the lack of imagination displayed by the players was overwhelming. I don’t doubt that several of the team were proud to wear the colours and demonstrated significant endeavour and enterprise but, alas, a tangible lack of game plan and a dubious selection of key players out of position stymied the city club’s attempts to win the fixture.

I envy the Saracens club from the south-east and I ne’er thought I’d type those words. They possess a coach with true vision, intelligence and an ability to think outside the box (our leader has an inability to think outside the box-kick) and has transformed an underachieving rabble into a real force in English rugby. The Gloucester club could really do with a Brendan Ventner; anyone with imagination or verve or creativity would be an improvement on the current regime, a team that dominated last season’s failure-dominated management structure but yet still, somehow, clings to power. I can see this proving a watershed season for my favoured team. Relegation is certainly possible and, I confess, an outcome that may not haunt this scribe too much. A season in the second tier did not seem to do Harlequin FC or Northampton any harm and this supporter would welcome the chance to rebuild the club’s infrastructure, shed the overpaid dross that permeates our squad, rediscover some of the values that drew me to Kingsholm in the first place, and allow a new and lively coaching panel (led by the ebullient Mark Mapletoft) to instil wit and excitement into our play. As things stand I care less and less with every defeat and I’m becoming worryingly laissez-faire about the present woes. I’m no recent arrival or fair weather fan and the organisation should note my increasing disappointment with and, sadly, lack of interest in a club I’ve supported for over thirty years.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tonguehorns belched fire

Here is the Top Ten and I’m rather pleased with it. There’s a bit of dance music, some esoteric British aptitude/attitude and experimentalism, plenty of guitars and plenty of synthesisers, some hearts worn on sleeves and some curious meanderings that keep you guessing. These are recordings I return to again and again, old friends and worthy cohorts. I could cope quite happily with just these ten LPs for company and ne’er feel bored or unchallenged. Deciding which Sufjan Stevens album was my favourite proved tricky but the sheer class and majesty of Michigan won through.

1. Sufjan Stevens – Michigan

More breathy and less vigorous than Illinois. An understated classic teeming with subtle glimpses into ordinary lives and humble routines. Makes trailer parks and K-Mart jobs appear utterly mesmerizing. Contains countless unreservedly astounding and beautiful songs. Spine-tingling and essential.

2. Sufjan Stevens – Illinois

A colossal kitchen sink is dropped on the Prairie State from a considerable height; the resulting blast offers significant aural treasures. Songs about serial killers, superheroes and sightings of extraterrestrial craft intersperse with more personal reflections on death and self-discovery. Striking American songcraft dominates every second. Every home should possess this recording and play it at least fortnightly.

3. Midlake – The Trials of Van Occupanther

A delectable and rather unfashionable collection of songs transporting the listener into a strange other-world of isolated communities, hunting trips, hardship and youthful brides. Authentically bewitching.

4. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Perfect songs galore. Uncompromising and belligerent and challenging and tuneful and gritty and poignant: a grateful audience genuflects.

5. Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans

Weighty and reflective. Endorses the ‘less is more’ maxim with pared down arrangements supporting introspective musings and spiritual contemplations. Utterly beautiful.

6. Calexico – Feast Of Wire

A spectacular aural trip into sun-baked one horse towns and scorpion-infested desert-scapes. Evocative and resonant. Big, big music as wide and as awesome and as sweeping as a Monument Valley sunset.

7. Radiohead – Kid A

A guitar-free zone and convincing evidence that electronic music can proffer moving and emotional sentiments. Challenging yet reassuring; obtuse yet charismatic; otherworldly yet recognizable.

8. Scritti Politti – White Bead, Black Beer

Homemade treats. Tender, delicate and haunting lyrical offerings and soaring melodies. A plush pleasure from start to finish and - important this - a grower that throws up new hooks, new ideas with each spin.

9. Ryan Adams - Gold

Was playing this fellow’s Heartbreaker this morning and experiencing pangs of guilt that it hadn’t made the thirty. Gold deserves this high placing though. A storming and sprawling set of brooding and/or bombastic belters.

10. LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver

Sardonic wit and acerbic knowingness gleefully smothered in big beat beauty. Glorious songs about cultural differences, growing old and general world-weariness with the catchiest IDM rampaging in the background. All killer, no filler from the coolest man on the planet.