Monday, July 31, 2006

Chop of the Pops

Laters, Top of the Pops. Last night was the last ever episode of the long-running BBC music show (except that some cynical 'creative' will doubtless try to resurrect it in a few years time and it'll all have been a fuss about nothing).

The final episode featured clips from performances over the years, most of which will be familiar to many from the endless nostalgia programmes – classics like Bowie sharing the mic with Mick Jones during Starman, Nirvana mauling Smells Like Teen Spirit, Sonny and Cher's excellent Dylan rip-off dronefest I Got You Babe, The Small Faces playing football onstage while John Peel ineffectually tries to pretend he’s doing a mandolin solo, Slade.

Why did the programme die? Received wisdom says that it all went to hell after they moved it to Friday nights because all the hipsters were out on the town getting smashed. I like to think it’s because people want to see live music instead of studio miming. But that wouldn’t explain the success of CD:UK.

The miming was always something that bothered me quite a lot. When I was into the TOTP back in the day (early to mid-late 90s), I'd spend most of the programme trying to work out which acts were miming (most) and which were actually singing / playing (few). A spanner was usually thrown into the works every programme when an American rapper would appear and go "Lemme hearya make sum nauze, Tapp ah tha Papps!" before launching into an exact replica of the studio version of their song. Did the producers turn the mics on at the start for some rabble-rousing, and then switch them off so artists could mime? Now I'll never know.

I'd also watch the programme with the Ceefax subtitles turned on to find out the words to the songs. No internet back then, remember, meaning you couldn’t get hold of lyrics by clicking a cyberfinger. A particular highlight I remember was when The Prodigy's Wind It Up came on accompanied by the subtitle "Fast electronic beeping noises". I imagine the deaf found that very helpful.

"It's something to tell your grandchildren isn't it – that you were the last ever number 1 on Top of the Pops?" says Dave Lee Travis to co-presenter Edith Bowman, or someone, as the final show draws to its inevitable close. And who claims that prestigious record? "It's Shakira featuring Wyclef!" Do they really think Shakira featuring Wyclef even know that Top of the Pops is finishing? No matter; the last ever number 1 on TOTP seems an appropriately mediocre ending for this once vital show.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Toss, modern

Tuesday night saw some cracking stuff from Modern Toss, the foul-mouthed comic book turned TV cartoon sketch show (strapline: "The stink of excellence in a world gone tits-up"). Man goes up to complain to customer services desk and says:
"This brain-booster health drink I bought off you made me come up with a new version of string theory. Now I've got the international science community camped out in my garden waiting for a quote off me. I wouldn't have drunk it if I'd known it would cause all this."

Lush. But my favourite bit in each programme is the sketch involving a character called, simply, Alan.

Each Alan sketch begins with two upper-middle class couples (represented by real actors, not animations) chatting smugly to each other and beginning an idyllic day, caravanning or celebrating one of their birthdays. Soon, one of them will utter the unfortunate words, "Is Alan coming along?"

Alan is the complete opposite to the toff couples – in fact, he's a cartoon in the shape black scribbled blob with a massive white mouth and big malevolent eyes (like this). He speaks in a gruff 'n' grumpy can't-be-bothered misanthropic voice.

A few exchanges will then take place, a classic example being:
"Did you have any trouble finding the place Alan?"
"No it was piss easy."

The centrepiece of each sketch always features Alan setting up a booby trap involving a long bit of string. The long bit of string is eventually pulled by one of the posh men and the result is always catastrophic, involving destruction of a car, greenhouse or other valued possession.

The sketches end with the dupe yelling, "Come back Alan, you fucking wanker!" and Alan scampering away muttering to himself. He frequently escapes to the sound of – and here is the real genius – I Like To Move It Move It by Real 2 Real featuring the Mad Stuntman. Wow.

You can watch some Alan action here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

How Journalism works

I’m very excited. Private Eye published a quote I submitted! They didn't credit me in print, but they did send me a cheque for £10, so yesssssssssss. Although I submitted the quote for the Luvvies section ("devoted to gems from the acting profession"), they put it in the Street of Shame. You could go out and buy Private Eye to see it, but you probably won’t bother, so I'll just reproduce it here:

How Journalism Works
"We hug goodbye and it's a warm and proper hug where I tell him he’s lovely and he squeezes me tighter."
Chrissy Iley…er…interviews Johnny Depp in the Guardian.

I’m thinking of putting that in my clippings, pretending the £10 was a freelance fee and telling people I've now written for Private Eye. But then the "how Journalism works" slogan would gain a redirected irony, and I'd be more ridiculous that Iley. I'll probably do it anyway though.


On a related note, my friend Sophie who writes for The Independent's Media section told me that the other day she received a free mug in the post with a note saying she was now "a friend of Private Eye" (The Eye is mainly read by journalists, so presumably her position as a media hack makes her particularly eligible). The weird part is that it was sent to her home address. Freaky!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Friday, July 21, 2006

Work phrases that annoy me, part 231

"This is something we need to talk about."
"It doesn't work in IE."
"We don't need to reinvent the wheel here."
"This is a bigger conversation really."
"The CMS is down."

Gone, but not forgotten

I was trawling through my mobile phonebook this week and found myself being diverted down memory lane after seeing a fair few people who I've totally lost touch with. Here are some of my favourites, with their "best bits" (how crass!):

Name: Adrian
Memorable moment: teaching Sharma how to pass his first year law exams in a week and showing the rest of us how to roll the perfect cigarette
Most likely to: kill you, during a game of Quake II

Name: Jordan
Memorable moment: joining the university massage club solely to “meet hot chicks”
Most likely to: down a pint of coffee then hump the door frame

Name: Peroxide Dan
Memorable moment: making me watch the messed-up Peter Jackson film Bad Taste when I was in no state to see it
Most likely to: say "Wicked" like he really meant it

Name: Rooth
Memorable moment: punching me in the face because I said she looked like Michael Moore (it was because she was wearing a baseball cap!)
Most likely to: Buy a ton of White Lightning, drink it and get lairy

Name: Simon
Memorable moment: inviting me and my friends back to his flat after clubbing at Creation, then secretly filming our mashed-up behaviour
Most likely to: order fucking loads of Dominos pizza

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ginger beard and Spanish girlfriend

Me, Eleanor, James, Jamie and Janne (why all those Js? WHY?) went to see the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing at KOKO a few weeks back.

We were in the pub beforehand and Janne, who’s Finnish, not that that’s really relevant, but it seems like quite a key thing to mention about Janne, although now I have I guess I should mention that he also has a ginger beard and a Spanish girlfriend - anyway, Janne said that he’d liked my Stockwell Flats project. He was new to the Electric Goose, I think, otherwise he’d have got bored ages ago and slashed his wrists.

Anyway, he said that my project – to photograph the same view of one of the flats throughout the year – reminded him of a similar undertaking by Augie, a character in the film Smoke. Augie takes a photo of the street from the same position outside his New York tobacco shop every day, at the same time every morning.

Actually, I admitted to Janne, I may have got the idea from that film, and if not, reading tons of Paul Auster (who wrote the screenplay of Smoke) would have probably put me in the frame of mind to come up with that kind of idea, if you see what I mean.

So Janne tells me that when he was 18, he was going out with a girl who was 16, and one summer they went into a photo booth, as couples do, and had four of those little passport photos taken. They cut the four in half, and kept two photos each. Then, the next summer, they did the same thing. Shortly after, they split up, but remained friends and carried on the tradition of visiting a photo booth once every summer. “She’s married now, with a kid,” said Janne. “But we still do it. We have 14 years’ worth of passport photos of the two of us.”


Later in the evening, when we were waiting for the Brian Jonestown Massacre to come onstage, some suited fool pushed past us to get to the front of the crowd. The exchange that followed was, I thought, worth recording:

James: Look at that wanker in his suit; ‘Oh look, I’ve got to get to the front.’ Probably going for a meeting up there.
Jamie: Yeah and I bet it involves getting us to all sell a bit of our souls.
James: Isn’t that the kind of thing you do for a living?
Jamie: Yeah, but I do it wearing smart-casual.

The Gomez team

Say what you like about Gomez, but "Bring It On" is a great title for a first album.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

They have names!

Got bored on Sunday, so I went for a walk round Stockwell. And I made an interesting discovery. Walking past one of the Stockwell flats, I noticed it was called Arden House. Got to the next one, and it was called Pinter House. Playwrights! I wonder why.

I had to know what the third flat was called - the one I've been photographing - so I doubled back. Inevitably, it was named after one of my favourite writers; it was called Beckett House.

Phrases that used to be cool but are now annoying due to overuse, part 94

"That's just so wrong."

Phrase becomes even more annoying when the weather's so hot.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Links of the day

To do:

Read the Bush "Yo, Blair" transcript

Get a bargain on Ebay

Buy a pretentious present

Do your bit for charity

Sunday, July 16, 2006

To Sarah

(Sarah got a new job on Friday. It's in Lambeth! Woohoo!)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The youth of today

I've been thinking about the youth of today recently, and was wondering what kind of anachronistic things I'll tell my grandchildren when I'm an old man. I'm going to make a list, so I’ll be ready. But here's the first one:

"Kids today have got it made. In my day, we had to use our fists to beat each other up, we didn't have knives or guns. Spoilt bastards."

Anyone got any more for my list?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Be Your Own Betjeman

Not sure why this happened - maybe I was temporarily possessed by the ghost of John Peel - but the last three albums I've bought have all been ridiculously eclectic. On Tuesday, Britpop-era Welsh medieval-folk in the form of Barafundle by Gorky's Zygotic Mynci. Wednesday: dissonant '80s Icelandic pop from The Sugarcubes' Life's Too Good. But the strangest of the three has to be Sir John Betjeman's Banana Blush.

Banana Blush, originally released in 1974, is twelve tracks of erstwhile poet laureate John Betjeman reading poems while a backing band play the kind of old-style jazz that may ring a bell if you've ever heard the theme tune to Jeeves and Wooster or The House of Elliot; the sort of tuneful jazz you get over the credits of Woody Allen films (tuneful jazz – ain’t that a thing!).

Betjeman has one of those English churchyard voices that don't seem to exist any more – a wistful, gentil grandfatherly lilt that comes from another time. When he mentions Camden and Finsbury Park, you know he's talking about a London that's no longer there.

Viva l'ecclectic!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pun of the week

Davina McCall on Big Brother eviction night: "It's time to say 'So long Lea, and thanks for the mammaries.'"

More recommended puns

Monday, July 10, 2006

el Zid

Boo hoo France, well done Italy. Amid all this chatter about Zinedine Zidane's smoking, footballing, headbutting and retiring, one crucial thing seems to have been forgotten. He's a dead ringer for Simon Day, aka 'that guy off the Fast Show'.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rise against racism (and Iraq, and Coca Cola)

Went to Rise on Saturday, the London anti-racism festival. There was a scary moment when I thought it might have been a pro-racism festival as I thought the MC said, "Put your hands in the air if you're in the BNP!" and a load of people put their hands up. Then I realised he'd said "if you hate the BNP", and worried that because I hadn't put my hands in the air, everyone would think I was a racist, and beat me up.

But then I remembered that the guy had shouted earlier, "Make some noise for TRUTH!" and I had remained silent. And when he’d said, "Put your middle finger in the air against people who spread hate!" I hadn't raised my middle finger. I don't think I'm cut out for bringing down the system through body language.

I hope this doesn't count as 'spreading hate', but I hate the way these events always get hijacked by supposedly compatible causes. You turn up because you hate racism (or want to see Roy Ayres), and end up having to buy Socialist Worker, denounce the war in Iraq, back Ken Livingstone's reign as mayor, and censure Coca Cola (but not Pepsi Max, who co-sponsored the event). As if anyone who's not a Pepsi-drinking anti-war Ken-loving Socialist is automatically a racist.

Good music though. The Buzzcocks and Graham Coxon were great. What's that? Do I have any pictures on file of me and Graham Coxon having a friendly chat? Funnily enough, yes I do.

Friday, July 07, 2006


As it's the year anniversary of the London bombings, I was going to write about what happened to me on July 7 last year. But it would be futile. Read this instead.

It's a fine line

People will tell you that openings in novels are important. Generally they’re right, but not if you’re Philip Roth - the first lines in his novels are fairly mundane. It doesn’t matter. By the time you’re three pages in, you’re totally absorbed. Unless you’re a stupid person who doesn’t like Roth. If this is the case, you should be locked in a room with Marco from Big Brother until you repent.

Anyway, I’m not actually here to talk about the Rothmeister, just to lay down a few opening lines that I’ve enjoyed recently. Here they are:

The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.
Memories of My Melancholy Whores, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I have a discovery to report. Many of the world’s great treasures are known to have been lost over the centuries. I believe I may have found one of them. What follows is the evidence for my claim.
Headlong, Michael Frayn

“Oh God, I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”
“That asshole.”
“Who does he think he is?”
JPod, Douglas Coupland