Saturday, December 29, 2007

Films of 2007

Oh, so many I still want to see! Never mind. Here's my top five - and it's surprisingly Brit-heavy, w00t.
  • This Is England
  • Atonement
  • Notes On A Scandal
  • The Last King of Scotland
  • Half Nelson
I think this is probably the last of the end-of-year lists, unless I do my top five end-of-year lists. Actually, don't rule that out.

Films of 2006

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Doctor hoo-hah

Hahaha, good on you Russell T Davies. Christmas is no longer a time for Jesus, turkey, presents and the Queen - IT'S ABOUT THE DOCTOR WHO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT. Altogether now: "Ladies and gentleman, welcome... to Christmas." [cue title music]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Say book to a Goose

Lists, lists, lists. We all need boundaries (damn you "is"-less Facebook!) and lists says firmly, "Five, not six!" and "ten, not nine!" and "twenty-five, not twenty-nine!" Or they would if they could speak.

Anyway. These are the five novels what I loved this year.
  • What I Loved - Siri Husvedt
  • Bright Lights, Big City - Jay McInerney
  • Some Hope: A Trilogy - Edward St Aubyn
  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
  • Anna Karenin - Leo Tolstoy

My 2005 faves

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You can’t handle the Ruth

I never thought I’d hear Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly described as a “blonde-tressed lovely”. But hey, that's the Daily Mail for you - always full of surprises. From their website:

From ugly duckling to smouldering swan: Ruth Kelly's startingly chic new image
The ugly duckling of the Commons has gone from crop-haired stodge to blonde-tressed lovely in just a few, astonishing weeks

Pun of the week

This week’s winner comes from The Sun, from the headline of their piece about a British Airways steward suspended for theft after eating a leftover muffin from a passenger’s meal tray.

Much ado about muffin

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Novels of 2007

Lists, lists, lists. I am a man and they help me make sense of what has passed. My five favourite novels released this year.

Consolation – Michael Redhill
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling

Novels of 2006

Monday, December 17, 2007

Twenty-five great tracks of 2007

Although this is obviously a list that's going to fluctuate like a broken flux capacitor with every passing second, here are my 25 favourite tracks of the year.

Thanks to the devilry of the internet, you should also be able to listen to each of the songs on the music player below (thanks James), except for the Jim'll's Brain track, because his song is too obscure to be downloadable online (you can, however, listen to it here).

  • Paper Planes – MIA
  • Intervention – Arcade Fire
  • Candylion – Gruff Rhys
  • Burning - The Whitest Boy Alive
  • Golden Skans – Klaxons
  • Soul Singer in a Session Band – Bright Eyes
  • North American Scum – LCD Soundsystem
  • I Found Out – The Pigeon Detectives
  • Back in Black – Amy Winehouse
  • All the Old Showstoppers – The New Pornographers
  • Your Love Alone Is Not Enough – Manic Street Preachers
  • Elephant Gun – Beirut
  • Flowers and Football Tops – Glasvegas
  • All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
  • Icky Thump – The White Stripes
  • That's Not My Name – The Ting Tings
  • Grace Kelly – Mika
  • Stuck Between Station – The Hold Steady
  • Picture in the NME – Jim'll's Brain
  • You Broke My Heart – Lavender Diamond
  • Ice Cream – New Young Pony Club
  • Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen
  • Smokers Outside Hospital Doors – Editors
  • Boyz – MIA
  • 15 Step – Radiohead

Twenty-five tracks of 2006
Twenty-five tracks of 2005

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Albums of 2007

Let the lists begin! Here on the Goose, we're starting off with the 10 best albums of the year.

Unfortunately I didn't manage to listen to every single album released this year (I've still got my eye on Les Savy Fav, Kings of Leon, The Shins and The Good, The Bad and The Queen), but these are they:

  • 1. Cassadaga – Bright Eyes
  • 2. Kala – MIA
  • 3. In Rainbows – Radiohead
  • 4. Sound of Silver – LCD Soundsystem
  • 5. Boys and Girls in America – The Hold Steady
  • 6. Challengers – New Pornographers
  • 7. Imagine Our Love - Lavender Diamond
  • 8. Dreams – The Whitest Boy Alive
  • 9. Hats Off to the Buskers – The View
  • 10. Neon Bible – Arcade Fire

Albums of 2006
Albums of 2005

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"I get nervous in social situations, motherfucker"

Spotted by Nicole

Pun of the week

As actor Will Smith accepts the Hollywood honour of leaving his hand and footprints on the pavement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Wenn Entertainment News come up with:

Smith Puts Fresh Prints in Walk of Fame

Monday, December 10, 2007

So long, suckers

Goodness. I’ve just had the most extraordinary idea for a Facebook application. I’m off to the Bahamas, it’s been nice knowing you.

The View do ULU: a review

I seem to have turned into Doctor Seuss for the duration of that headline - thank God they weren't supporting U2 and The Who. Anyway, review's here. If you love me as much as you say you do, you'll click that link and post a comment.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Some questions

In The Bourne Ultimatum, what was Jason Bourne's ultimatum exactly?

Will British smokers' resistance to the cold and therefore illnesses like influenza and pneumonia increase because of the recent ban on indoor public smoking - and will smoking, as a result, become healthy again?

What is the difference between the Japanese verbs desu, arimasu and imasu?

How good are Elektrons? (The band, not the subatomic particles, though they are also pretty good.)

Do Christians view the watching of unauthorised TV material on YouTube an infringement of the eighth commandment ("Thou shalt not steal")? Does this still stand if said programme is Songs of Praise?

Should the band The The be filed under The The or The, The?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gall Mart

The Amis vs Bennett racism debate continues today, with Martin getting his knife out:

"What you say about something is never your last word on any subject. But what you write should aspire to be just that: your last word. To paraphrase and slightly adapt Vladimir Nabokov (Strong Opinions): I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished man of letters, I talk like an idiot.

"Ronan Bennett thinks like an idiot."

The rest is here. (The battle seems to have mainly taken place on the pages of The Guardian, with an occasional foray into The Independent.)

If you want to catch up, Terry Eagleton writes about the early days of the spat here - "a Sunday Times profile of me attributed my wrath to a visceral, punk-like obsession with clobbering others." Amis's subsequent response to Eagleton is here - "Can I ask him, in a collegial spirit, to shut up about it? " Bennett's scathing "shame on us" attack is here - "He got away with as odious an outburst of racist sentiment as any public figure has made in this country for a very long time". Christopher Hitchens' defense of Amis here - "I am not writing as Amis's worst enemy". Ian McEwan weighs in here - "inflated, hysterical pull-quotes". And Chris Morris has a go here - "Martin Amis is the new Abu Hamza". What fun!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't say boo to The Goose

Sorry about the paucity of blogging recently. If this blog was an urban development it would be Calcutta, which is a very paucity, apparently. If it was an airport, it'd be LAX. If it was a pair of trousers, it would be slacks. If it was a dress code it would be casual.

In the meantime, I will rack my brain, put on my thinking cap and do other exciting things which involve my head. In the meantime meantime, here's some writing which the daily grind wrung out of me today like an angry Russian washerwoman.

Britney denies pregnancy
What with her busy life of driving around a lot and covering her head with blankets, surely the last thing Britney Spears needs is another baby.

No Spice Girls ticket for Becks
Victoria Beckham has forbidden her husband David from attending the Spice Girls’ first reunion gig on Sunday, because she’s too nervous about the shows.

Christina Aguilera gets her bump out
Wow, Christina Aguilera’s looking a bit fat these days. She must’ve been knocking back pints of London Pride like no one’s business. What’s that? Pregnant?

Chantelle has changed
Yes, that is the same person.

Celebrity golden gobs
"We're in every night. Having sex." Pamela Anderson explains how her marriage to Rick Salomon works.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ethics kin

My friend Sophie has turned to blogging. Ladies and gentleman, introducing... Ethics Girl!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Football in mouth

I was OOO yesterday having all sorts of crazy fun in Leeds, so I didn't have a chance to write something cliched and boring about how rubbish England are at football, following their defeat to Croatia in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

It was all very depressing, but commentator John Motson considerably cheered me up after the final whistle when he hilariously combined doomy summary with a ridiculous last spurt of optimism: "England are out of the European Championships... Unless Andora score in the next four minutes!"

Seconds later it was back to the pundits, with gloommeister Alan Hansen suggesting that the match was "definitely a low point in English history". He's right: the first day of the Somme, the arrival of the Black Death in England and the Amritsar Massacre really did pale into insignificance.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Double whammy

So, the previous post ended with the sentence, "Hey, speaking of doubles..." and this one probably should have begun with those very words. Got into work this morning and found this...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tango orange and salmon pink

I want to write about EVERYTHING today. Once I met this guy in a pub in central London who asked me what my novel was about. Doppelgangers, I told him. (This was the truth, incidentally.) He was a distinctive-looking character - Joe, I think his name was - tall and gangly, dark-skinned and bespectacled. He recounted how one day he had been swimming in his local pool when from the other end of the pool a group of swimmers started shouting his name excitedly. He wasn't wearing his glasses, so had to swim over to them to see who they were. He didn't know them and they, it turned out, didn't know him either – he'd been mistaken for a friend of theirs, also named Joe. It took some persuading before they would believe that the stranger they'd just called over was also called Joe.

After his swim, Joe went home. Over tea, his mother mentioned that, earlier that day, she'd seen him on the bus and gone over to say hello. Except, as she discovered when she got closer, it wasn't Joe. It might be fanciful to make the leap, but this was surely The Other Joe. I was delighted by the story and told Joe that it would be a valuable addition to my thoughts about the book.

Unfortunately, I've come to realise that there are several remarkable modern novels about doppelgangers: Anthony Burgess's M/F, Philip Roth's Operation Shylock and Jose Saramago's The Double, to name three. Yep, I'm up against it. I only discovered and began to read the latter recently and on the tube ride home today, I was distracted by the words on p191 - "...there's nothing stopping him getting in the car on Monday morning and going to show his mother all the cards that make up this puzzle, all of them, because it would be one thing to have told her some time ago, There's a man who looks so like me that even you couldn't tell us apart, and quite a different thing to say, I've met him and now I don't know who I am…" (italics mine) – partly because of their similarity of the above anecdote and partly because it appears 101 pages before the novel's final page. The number 101 always reminds me of the Bristol flat I lived in as a student, which was known to my fellow former flatmates simply as "101". (And if we're doing lists, we'll have Orwell's Room 101, Disney's 101 Dalmations, the album track by Strokes man Albert Hammond Jr, 'Back to the 101'.)

One-oh-one was extraordinary for both its dampness (which I wrote about here, many years ago) and its eye-catching exterior colour. Frequent arguments were had amongst its inhabitants about whether the colour qualified as "salmon pink" or "Tango orange", although these discussions have since been rendered academic, as the building has now been painted white. Maybe this is no coincidence, but at lunch earlier today I very nearly bought a salmon sandwich from Marks & Spencer, and in the morning I had been close to picking up an orange from the Orange fruit trays, but decided against it in both cases, opting instead for a turkey and stuffing sandwich and an apple and a banana.

Before I ate the foodstuffs, I went into Paddington station's only record shop, Impulse, which is surprisingly often the home to bargains. Sometimes I have this kind of shopping impotence; I'll go into a record shop and see records I reallly should desire, but find myself unable to go through with the purchase. Today this was not the case and I purchased Strange House by The Horrors, which I am expecting to be unlistenable tripe and Elliott Smith's XO, which will probably hide itself in my iPod, never to be listened to. And later, some hours after the turkey sandwich, the orange, the banana and page 191, I got home and found three packages on my doormat (I mean this in the figurative sense – in fact the items had been picked up by my co-habitee and placed next to the toaster): Manic Street Preachers' Send Away the Tigers, R.E.M.'s Around the Sun and Michael Jackson's Dangerous.

I'm listening to the latter now (it's nauseating and samey, though it has its moments, and will probably be a ton better than R.E.M.'s terribly-reviewed 13th album) as I type this, though a few minutes ago, for no discernable reason, I did a spellcheck and found that my word count was 666 words. This was a little shocking, but immediately recalled an image of a taxi I'd seen on just two days previous in Birmingham, which had the phone number 666666 plastered on the side, as if 'twere Satan's own cab. My friends and I had just been watching several hours of stand-up and the combination of drinks and humorous observation had surely simultaneously sharpened and dulled the senses enough for that kind of detail to stick out and perhaps stick in the mind.

Aside from the weekend's live show, I've been watching a lot of comedy lately - on the box, mostly - but particularly enjoyed this segment from the new so-so BBC4 stand-up showcase Comedy Shuffle, from up-and-coming comedy minstrel Tom Basden. He does a great song about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which isn't included. That doesn't matter though, his other material's great and he's going to be massive.

Love the Richard and Judy song. They may be leaving our screens, but they're still the UK's greatest double act. Hey, speaking of doubles...

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Asterisk, over on A Blog About Nowt, has posted about Doris Salcedo's Tate Modern artwork, Shibboleth. Or "the crack" as it's inevitably become known.

It seems to be a requirement that the Turbine Hall installations can be summed up with a single noun - the slides (Carston Holler's Test Site), the boxes (Rachael Whiteread's Embankment), the sun (Olarur Eliasson's The Weather Project).

Anyway, from ground level I wasn't overawed, though it did make me smile. But going up a level or two and looking down was more interesting - you could see people trying to make sense of the crack by walking its length, peering in and straddling it. At this stage, the work seemed to gain profundity: the puzzled spectators become part of the work, and its message - if there can be such a thing - is the world's reaction to it. So in the end, I was well up for the crack.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Film review: Rescue Dawn

[previously published in total:spec magazine February 2007]

There’s a moment in Rescue Dawn when it’s hard not to feel like you’re watching I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!, with Christian Bale gleefully stuffing live worms into his mouth, grinning manically as one of the creatures wriggles around in his overgrown beard. But otherwise, despite its jungle setting, the latest from acclaimed German director Werner Herzog is about as far as it gets from such ITV reality television fare.

A sort of Touching the Void (it's based on a true story) meets The Great Escape, the film begins on an aircraft carrier where the recruits wisecrack like Top Gun never happened. And actually, it hasn't - it's 1965 and fresh-faced US airforce pilot Dieter Dengler (Bale) is due to head off on his first mission, to bomb secret targets in Laos.

Within the opening ten minutes, tragedy has struck, as Dieter is shot down, crashing his plane in the jungle. Ditching his radio because of the clandestine nature of the mission, he heads into the undergrowth, but it's not long before he's captured by a motley crew of enemy soldiers. He's tortured and sent to a lowly prisoner of war camp in the depths of the jungle, consisting of a few huts surrounded by bamboo fences and a ragtag bunch of guards.

Dieter is incarcerated with five others, including the Crusoe-like Duane (Steve Zahn) and lost-it prisoner Gene (a suitably disturbing Jeremy Davies), whose tattered uniform reads 'quo vadis' (where are you going?). The answer appears to be nowhere - we soon find out that some of the prisoners have been in the camp for around two years. However, Dieter's arrival looks set to shake things up; like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest's MacMurphy, he immediately takes his place as the charismatic leader of the oddballs, raising the group's morale and giving them hope. As they wait for the monsoon to hit, the captives plan their escape into the inhospitable jungle.

And inhospitable it is – Herzog gets the jungle's claustrophobic hostility just right. There are no such thing as paths here - you have to hack through greenery with a blunt machete just to move. As Dieter talks about escaping from the camp, their situation is summed up by Duane: "The jungle is the prison, don't you get it?" But Herzog also has a keen eye for the environment's raging beauty. In a memorably unsettling scene, an enormous brightly-coloured butterfly flits on the arm of one of the warlords; as Dieter, tied to the floor, looks across at him, a child dangles a live beetle on a string in front of his face.

It's unusual for Herzog to opt for a big name for the lead, but here it pays off – Bale is excellent and has the kind of star quality needed to keep an audience's attention, giving Dengler an edgy intensity. There's a subtlety here too – instead naïve optimism, which would've been the obvious way to play it, it's Dengler's inability to accept the reality of his situation that drives him. Never quite accepting that the balance of power has shifted against him, he's the kind of dreamer Herzog loves.

The tone of the finale jars a little. The hero's welcome Dieter receives from people who can't grasp what he's been through seems meaningless, but Herzog tries to show it as a glorious return. As the audience, we feel that we understand Dengler better than anyone around him, and that's a testament to how convincing and compulsive Rescue Dawn is. Not something you would say about I'm A Celebrity...

Rescue Dawn is out next Friday

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bail out

Sad news: the family dog has died. Bailey, aged 10ish, was put down on Friday morning after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My parents are very upset – he'd been with them for seven years.

When Bailey arrived from the sanctuary (he was a rescue dog), there was heated discussion about what he should be called. His given name was Beethoven, which all agreed was a bit naff. However, as it was the name he answered to, it was decided that a name approximating Beethoven should be found.

My Dad was all for "Beattie" after the then Southampton striker, James Beattie. But the women of the house were having none of it, and Bailey was chosen. I'm not sure there was a particular reason for this, but it was rather appropriate - his hair was a similar colour to the cream-based liqueur. I always liked to think it had something to do with the blond-haired British tennis player Chris Bailey too; I'm not sure why.

Perhaps "Vincent" might have been a better name – like the artist, he came with just the one ear. La tristesse durera toujours.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Spot the difference

Armstrong and Miller's valspeaking World War 2 pilots are wonderful -

- but if they seem a bit familiar, it's probably because of these two...

But hey, who cares? It's all good, blud.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Back up

Quite a prolific day for me. Heather Mills; Rhys Ifans and Sienna Miller; stupid captions; The Secret Millionaire; Trinny and Susannah. Latter is a big old-fashioned rant. I would've said they "got on my tits" if it wasn't a family website.

My back still hurts - though I did have fun at the osteopath. We talked about technology while he gently twirled my limbs around. He told me a joke, then crunched the bejesus out of my back. Then he did it again, even harder.

I came to with a sort of shocked grin of amazement on my face. "Where the hell did you learn that?" I wanted to say. And then I thought of Harold Shipman. If Shipman had been an osteopath, just, wow.

Twins, 8, save world with new invention

This way please.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"I let my Dad explode"

I imagine I'm not alone in completely mishearing lyrics in songs now and again. I imagine I'm not alone in making a list of such mishearings and putting them on a blog that's running out of ideas fast. Sigh.

Anyway, here are the five that spring to mind. They're a bit weird. And actually, probably totally unique. [Perks up a little bit.]

Country Girl - Primal Scream
Mishearing: "We'll kill a pope or two."
Actual lyric: "What can a poor boy do?"

Shower Your Love - Kula Shaker

Mishearing: "Well I'm just a stupid dickhead."
Actual lyric: "Well I'm just to stupid to care."

Ha Ha – Ty

Mishearing: "In my corner of the world / Faces disappear like memories / Only to appear on the yellow notice boards saying 'did you seen this or that, Melanie?'"
Actual lyric: "In my corner of the world / Faces disappear like memories / Only to appear on the yellow notice boards saying 'did you seen this or that felony?'"

Jenny from the Block - Jennifer Lopez

Mishearing: "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got / I'm still, I'm still Jennifer Lopoc"
Actual lyric: "Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got / I'm still, I'm still Jenny from the block"

Regulate – Warren G and Nate Dogg
Mishearing: "I laid all them busters down, I let my Dad explode."
Actual lyric: "I laid all them busters down, I let my Gat explode."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sentence of the day

It's Charlie Brooker, of course, on the subject of "activity holidays".
"What if a really annoying jabbering, bearded bloke latches on to me on the first day and decides I'm his best mate and won't leave me alone, and I'm stuck with him in some Arizonian wilderness and the sun's beating down and he's talking and talking and farting for comic effect and eating sandwiches and walking around with egg mayonnaise round his mouth until I want to grab the nearest rock and stove his skull in, and carry on smashing and smashing and roaring at the sky until the others dash over to pull me off him, but by then I've gone totally feral and start coming at them with the rock, which by now is all matted with gore and brain and beard hair, and I manage to clock one of them hard in the temple and they're flat on the ground, limbs jerking like an electrocuted dog, but as I swing for the next one some self-appointed hero rugby-tackles me, but I'm still putting up a fight so in desperation they all stamp on my neck until they're certain I'm dead, then throw my body in the river and make a lifelong pact to tell no one the truth of what happened that day?"

Full article

Merchant finery

Well I never.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Back down

My back hurts. Ow. It's been like this for a few days now. Ow. I had to miss a gig I was supposed to be going to on Friday because it'd be painful to stand still for any length of time. Ow. But it also hurts when I'm just sitting, too. Ow. Only lying down and walking about is bearable. Ow. I have a ticket to see a play about genocide on Monday and sitting there for an hour and a half is going to be really painful. Ow. Although I suppose it would be quite crass to complain about a bit of back pain while I'm watching the reenaction of the systematic murders of thousands of people. But still: ow.

Don't bank on it

Barclays query
No, this isn't addressed in the FAQs on their website. Rather inconveniently, I thought.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Pun of the week

With the rumour that Sir Trevor McDonald wants to appear on The X Factor to do a Neil Diamond impression, The Sun goes for…

Diamonds are for Trevor

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Camden bastard"

I'm all about the predictive dictionary when I'm writing text messages. But I'm equally prone to massive hissy fits when the word I'm trying to include isn't in the dictionary, for example if the phone thinks "Coupnfouti" is a more common word than "Bournemouth".

Luckily, having owned a good sensible mobile for a few months now, I can easily add these non-dictionary words as I go along. However, a few days back, I found an option called "My words", which produces a list of all the new words I've added since buying the phone. With its combination of familiar names and places, cultural allusions and angry swear words, it's quite bizarre reading, not least because of the nearly-alphabetical-but-not-quite ordering.

Probably best not to read the following if you're prone to outrage or confusion.

  • BBC
  • Camden
  • bastard
  • Cavendish
  • bday
  • Chandos
  • Cheeky
  • Chelmsford
  • Chiropody
  • Birdy
  • Cleaver
  • blog
  • bollocks
  • Cornwall
  • Bourne
  • Bournemouth
  • Brentford
  • Brixton
  • Croydon
  • arsed
  • cunt
  • autistic
  • Facebook
  • Darren
  • Farringdon
  • Dick
  • dick
  • Eleanor
  • DLR
  • Dorset
  • Franz
  • fuck
  • Fuck
  • fucked
  • Fucking
  • fucking
  • DVD
  • DVDs
  • Euston
  • I've
  • gaff
  • Gallagher
  • Glastonbury
  • incestuous
  • Hotmail
  • Hungover
  • hungover
  • K.
  • k?
  • Lambeth
  • Larive
  • Kearns
  • Kennington
  • Jolene
  • Kubrick
  • lunching
  • Macca
  • natch
  • Olly
  • Murukami
  • Paddington
  • Parkhouse
  • rewind
  • Phew
  • shit
  • Shit
  • shitting
  • Pilkington
  • pissing
  • Sisyphus
  • Ritzy
  • Southampton
  • Soz
  • soz
  • psychic
  • Stacey
  • sthg
  • Stimpson
  • Tesco
  • unbeatable
  • tmrw
  • USB
  • traipse
  • Wenn
  • Wilco
  • Wilkes
  • Wimborne
  • Winslet
  • Woah
  • Wogan
  • Yum
  • Xxx
  • xxx

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

LAN of hope and glory

I’ve been a bit obsessed with wireless technology recently, due to the fact that I’ve been trying to set up a miniature Local Area Network (LAN) in my flat. And failing, quite a bit.

Basically, I realised, as I inserted and unplugged Ethernet cables like the activity of inserting and unplugging Ethernet cables was going out of fashion, the whole world should be one big free wireless hotspot.

And I also came to this conclusion: if Woody Guthrie was alive today, not only would he agree with me, but he'd be writing songs about this hot social potato. And his guitar would probably have “this machine kills dial-up” written on the side.

As he’s not around to do this, I’ve updated his classic socialist folk song 'This Land is My Land' to incorporate Guthrie’s (projected) views on the developments in wireless technology. Feel free to join in.

This LAN is your LAN, this LAN is my LAN
From the mobile IP, to the wireless tri-band
From the manual keying, to the content filtering,
This LAN was made for you and me.

As I was walking the information superhighway
I saw above me a WEP key,
I saw below me an SSID.
This LAN was made for you and me.

I've routed and scrambled and I've followed my firmware
To the subnet mask of her dynamic DNS
And all around me a secure HTTP protocol was saying
This LAN was made for you and me.

As I was wi-fiing, I saw a sign there
And that sign said: “no tresspassin'!”
But in the hotspot, it didn't say nothing.
That gateway was made for you and me!

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the IP,
Near the internet cafes, I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this LAN’s still made for you and me.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Prom com

Two utterly cringeworthy examples of the "when I say 'x', you say 'y'" paradigm, heard in Camden's Jazz Cafe last night:

"When I say 'one', you say 'extra' - one!"
"When I say 'electric', you say 'proms' - electric!"

Previous examples

Saturday, October 27, 2007

I've got a lot on my template

Woah, check out my amazing new blog template! Ace, isn't it?

Okay, okay, it looks almost exactly the same as the old one. In fact, only Goose obsessives (you know who you are) will notice a change. But underneath, it's all Blogger 2.0, so bog off. Or jog on, your choice.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ready Steady

iTunes' FREE single of the week is The Hold Steady's majestic Stuck Between Stations. Go and get it immediately, it's a blinder of a song (provided you like REM, Springsteen and, like, music).

It also has the best opening line, nay verse, of any song this year. Well, last year - it's been around quite a while now. Which means you've probably got it already. And you're probably bored of it already. Sigh. There's no pleasing you, is there? I mean can't you just pretend to be interested even if you're not? Fine. You've got an attitude problem, you know that? And sort yourself out, you look a mess.

Anyway, that first verse:

"There are nights when I think that Sal Paradise was right.
Boys and girls in America have such a sad time together.
Sucking off each other at the demonstrations,
Making sure their make-up's straight.
Crushing one another with collossal expectations;
Dependent, undisciplined, sleeping late."

Full lyrics

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Haven't eaten yet today. Still not hungry.

Chicken overdose

Last night I went over to the Stockwell flat where I used to live. James and Jamie are moving out soon, so we thought we'd have an evening of beer and reminiscence. But then it was suggested we pay a visit to our Stockwell junk food haunt of many years, Millennium Fried Chicken, and treat ourselves to a family-sized bucket of unhealth.

All three of us leap upon the idea with the utmost relish (it's the only way to leap upon ideas involving large amounts of food) and, at around 8.30pm, we head over to MFC. Our man Raju is manning the decks; as I moved out of Stockwell in April, it's an emotional reunion for us both.

I tell Raju the news that James and Jamie are also moving away, to Tooting Bec. He quizzes Jamie, who confirms that there is no branch of Millennium or Morley's nearby. Our chicken man laughs: "Only 20 minutes from here, though." And indeed, the chickenburgers are so good here I can actually imagine my former flatmate traversing five tube stops to get his feed.

"There's an enormous Chicken Cottage, though," says Jamie. For some reason, this is a piece of banter too far for Raju and he visibly flinches.

"Please sir, no," he says seriously.

"It's almost a Chicken Mansion," I add, comedian. No one hears me. Raju turns back to the task in hand; we gather together the £17 needed to pay for this epic meal.

Anyway, with heavy hearts and a heavy bag, it's time for one last "vannakam", then we're off to the flat. Extraordinarily, between us, we eat four portions of chips, five large pieces of chicken, 11 chicken wings and three chickenburgers.

Afterwards I actually have a sensation of being physically clogged. "I feel like I'm more chicken than human now," I groan.

"I never thought this could happen," adds Jamie. "But I have a chicken headache."

Remembering MFC
The five levels of chicken shop recognition
The ill fated Tamil lessons
Meeting Shiva, the destroyer of chicken

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bad news

21 November 2014: Winter is setting in, and the freesheet distributors have intensified their reign of terror on the London streets. The chill darkness arrives earlier and earlier; each evening brings with it the pack of thirsty marauders and a new stack of damned newspapers. They thrust the fresh edition into your gloved hands and woe betide those who hesitate before accepting. There was once a time – oh so distant, now! – when refusing a copy of Thelondonpaper or its one competitor, London Lite, was acceptable, even common. But now, with over twenty different evening freesheets competing fiercely against one another, a walk home is like dashing through a forest of wolves. The old havens – tube stations, buses, coffee shops, pubs – are now patrolled heavily by vendors and it is a lucky man who reaches the safety of his home with a wad of newspaper less than ten inches thick. Some are duplicates; they do not care.

Do not accuse me of exaggerating the truth with frivolous verbal furbelows. I have seen first-hand the savagery of these creatures. Writing these words, my gnarled hand shakes as I hold the pen; mine eyes dart from side to side as I recall the events, which occurred this very day, almost to the hour, two years ago. Finishing work one dreary Wednesday evening, I deviated from my usual route for no particular reason that I can remember. Perhaps I was trying to avoid a tiresome colleague, or maybe I merely wished for a change of scenery. But how I wish I had never flinched from the safe monotony which drives us all forward! As I walked down that Fitzrovia alley – a place which lurks constant in my dreams – I espied five vendors heading toward my direction. Before they saw me, and knowing I could be in trouble if they spotted the rival newspapers I had accumulated, I quickly ducked behind a nearby bin. Holding my breath as they approached, I suddenly sensed that I had misjudged the situation. My suspicions that this was no normal distribution job were confirmed as I noticed, with jerk of panic, that the largest of them, a pale, greasy bruiser of a man, had streaks of blood on his shirt. He was silent, eyes to the ground; the others were babbling to each other in words that seemed, in my delirious trepidation, almost nonsensical. Still crouching, my hands gripped my shins in fear. Then they passed, and I was safe. This was, I am afraid, not the end of my ordeal.

After waiting a good few minutes to ensure the quintet had indeed left the scene, I continued down the alley. What I saw will remain with me until the final day of my life. The man, dressed in what I guessed to be his work suit, was lying in an odd, nightmarish position, utterly still. His clothes were in disarray: the tie pulled tight into a knot, the jacket suffering a large rip. Certain that I beheld a corpse, I suddenly understood the awful events that had transpired - he had refused to take the newspapers which had been offered him. Perhaps I am being dishonest, dear reader: there was an additional detail which helped me understand what had occurred, although the word "detail" does perhaps underplay the stark and ugly quiddity of this killing. The man's eyes had been gouged. Terrible enough, you might think. But protruding from the sockets, rolled up, were two newspapers he had refused.

At this time, in this city, just denying the vendors was a wild act of rebellion for which the deceased had paid the ultimate price. As the popular saying goes: there is no such thing as a free paper.

More on the freesheets

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Count your Lessings

While we're on the subject of grate righting, big up to Doris Lessing, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature last week.

Her reaction was hilarious, although she was clearly taken a little off guard (as was the injured man clutching onions and an artichoke who was accompanying her). "Look, I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one..."

I nearly knocked Lessing over once. It was accidental, of course; we weren't going ten rounds in the ring. If we had been, I wouldn't fancy her chances - they don't call me Will "iron fists" Parkhouse for nothing. Anyway, the reason for my hurry was because I was late for a talk by the great writer herself - I was all like, "Out the way, old lady, I've got to get to Lessing!"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Man oh Man

The winner of the Man Booker Prize is announced on Tuesday night. Here's my verdict on the shortlisted books.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
A Pakistani man, Changez, bumps into an American in a restaurant in Lahore and begins to relate his life story, detailing his college days at Princeton, his love for a beautiful but disturbed fellow student and the high-energy graduate job in New York City that leads to him questioning his place in America. It's all told in the first person but the two parallel worlds - the eaterie of the present, as night closes in, and Changez's earlier life in the US – are beautifully evoked. Actually, the eerie style (in which we are made to become the American listener) is identical to Camus' The Fall, but I guess whether you want to take it as a rip-off or homage is up to you. Still, I thought it was excellent – the subtlety and tone of Kazuo Ishiguro combined with the storytelling finesse of [tries to think of someone with storytelling finesse]… Ian McEwan, perhaps.

On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
Speak of the devil. He doesn't need to win really, does he? I mean, Atonement, which he wrote YEARS AGO is back in the bestsellers charts, he's won the Booker already and everyone loves him. But, oh look, On Chesil Beach is fucking great as well. I guess there's not much new – he did the tiny minute detail thing in Saturday, he did the nifty compact novella thing with Amsterdam, he did the "skip to the end" looking back mournfully on our wasted lives thing in The Innocent… and so on. But it's still virtually impossible to dis'. Anyway, 1962: two newlyweds, Edward and Florence, arrive on their honeymoon at a hotel near Chesil Beach. Sadly, when it comes to bedroom time, Edward accidentally ***** on ********'s ***** and she's all like "Oh my God, that's totally gross". But "they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible", which puts paid to any ideas of reconciliation. It would be magnificently boring if McEwan won, but no one can say he doesn't deserve it, frankly.

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
This, it seems, has become the favourite to scoop the £25k, ahead of the McEwan. That's slightly bizarre in my opinion: it's competent but not dazzling. The story's told by Matilda, a young girl living on the island of Bougainville (Papua New Guinea way) during a violent conflict in the early 1990s. Matilda and her classmates get through the tough times with the help of only-white-man-in-the-village Mr Watts, who introduces the children to Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. They love it, but everything starts to go wrong when rebel soldiers arrive in the village. Worth the read, but the best thing about Mister Pip is certainly the cover art, which looks like the greatest wrapping paper you ever saw.

Darkmans – Nicola Barker
Very, very strange. Eight hundred and thirty-eight pages long, it's written almost entirely in a san serif font not unlike Century Gothic, and features constant italicised interruptions in the text to indicate characters' sudden

- hey, what the…

inner thoughts. Meandering as a one-legged jogger and without any kind of discernable story arc, it's set in Ashford, Kent, and concerns the adventures of Beede (yes, Barker does do the "venerable" joke – on page two, in fact), his German friend Dory (who keeps getting possessed and doing weird things, like digging in the sand to find petrified forests), Beede's drug-dealing son Kane (phone-obsessed, constantly looking for a lighter), Dory's chiropodist wife Elen (beautiful, worried, perhaps dangerous), their six-year-old son Fleet (apparently also possessed; is building scale model of the French town of Albi out of matchsticks), Kane's ex-girlfriend Kelly (highly temperamental, breaks foot early on and spends most of novel in hospital), everyone's mate Gaffar (Kurdish wide-boy, has morbid fear of salad) and various other ne'er-do-wells. It would be totally cool if this won, but it's probably a bit too out there.

The Gathering – Anne Enright
Didn't like this much. The writing's clearly impressive, but it was hard to love. It's about a ragtag Irish family of 12, one of whose number dies, leaving the narrator, Veronica, confused, messed up and in the mood for reminiscence. Not much of it has stuck with me really – she almost becomes an alcoholic, gets annoyed with her children, drives around a lot and, as it's Irish, there's some stuff about child abuse.

Animal's People – Indra Sinha
Definitely the most FUN of the shortlist. Told by a foul-mouthed slum-delling Indian boy who walks on all fours like an animal after his back was deformed by a chemical leak from a factory in his town (the fictional Khaufpur, based on the central Indian city Bhopal), it's a compelling read, and filled with brilliant, vivid characters. The protagonist's tone slips slightly here and there and there's a dip about two-thirds of the way through which should've been chopped, but otherwise it's a cracker, with something of the Midnight's Children about it. Sadly – and I wish I was joking – the book's chances of victory will surely be massively decreased by the fact that an Indian writer won last year (Kiran Desai's so-so The Inheritance of Loss), so if the judges did decide to give Sinha the prize, there'd be loads of muttering about the, shall we say, "chutnification" of the Booker.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Like a trick card: The Thrills

[previously published in total:spec magazine August 2007]

"Yeah, cigarettes are the one thing this place doesn't have," says the Millennium Dome security guard who's just checked our bag for bombs. "The nearest shop that sells them's about 15 minutes away."

It's a week before the smoking ban is due to come into force, and only slightly longer before a clutch of terrorist attacks will hit Britain. Yesterday Tony Blair resigned as Prime Minister. And today? Something a big cheerier: The Thrills are playing their first London gig in bloody ages.

The world seems to have been dramatically bent out of shape since the Dome – now the O2 Arena – first opened its doors to a sceptical British public back in 2000. And while we're at it, a lot's changed since The Thrills first burst on the music scene in a few years later.

"Blair's greatest folly, was that the official title?" says Thrills singer and chief songwriter Conor Deasy. "It's kinda fitting we finally get to play it the day he gets thrown out the door, kicking and screaming."

"I would say Blair's 'other' folly," points out guitarist Padraic McMahon. "I might not call it his biggest..."

A blunder initially perhaps, but judging from the eager crowds pouring through the doors – most are here to see Snow Patrol in the main arena – it looks like The Venue Formerly Known As The Dome is pretty comfortable in its new incarnation. When we meet The Thrills, they've just played the arena's stupidly-named indigO2 bar, a little gig hole nestled in one of the arena's wings, as part of an AOL competition-winners night, headlined by Crowded House, another band with comeback on their mind. The Thrills' five-song set is sandwiched between Tiny Dancers and the Magic Numbers; we spot the latter's lead singer Romeo Stodart watching from the VIP area, nodding his head to the music and apparently concentrating intently – taking a few mental notes, perhaps?

Tonight the Irish quintet play two songs from their glorious debut So Much For the City and one from their not-very-well-received 2004 follow-up Let's Bottle Bohemia. But they kick off the show with the opening track from brand new album Teenager, the mandolin-led 'Midnight Choir'. It's a catchy, polished tune: "it sounds like The Thrills" is perhaps the best way to describe it. Live, it seems, they've come a long way since the days of 2003. When their reputation started to grow, the band missed much of the UK build-up because they were away in America, explains Deasy back on the tourbus. When they returned, they had a lot to prove.

"Everyone was standing there stroking their chins, sizing you up and we were still getting our shit together live," he says. "It's very hard for an Irish band to turn up in London. There's a little bit of snobbery against them because Irish bands aren't cool or fashionable. We got put in our place pretty quickly. You arrive in London and all the bands are strutting around like peacocks; they've got that whole game down to a tee. But usually the better they look, the less tunes they have."

Adds McMahon, simply: "We were so fucking clueless. Shit."

"Every night we went on to a song called 'Hollywood Kids'. This song is like the most sombre, country… dirty song. You don't open up a gig with it unless you're really trying to make some kind of point. And we would go on stage to this every night," finishes Deasy disbelievingly.

The band did, of course, receive their fair share of mockery, particularly for writing songs with titles like 'Your Love is Like Las Vegas', 'Big Sur' and 'Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)'. For a band hailing from Dublin, some pointed out, Santa Cruz was actually quite far. "I think Irish people have a good sense of humour," says Deasy, before adding wryly, "That's something I think we've often been a victim of with the media back home."

Despite the nit-picking, So Much for the City was a huge success, in a dry year for music. Remember the 2003 scene? Nup, us neither – it was that wilderness period post-Strokes/Stripes but pre-Franz Ferdinand. Deasy recalls the band appearing on an NME cover-mounted CD which trumpeted those at the forefront of the so-called "New Rock Revolution", from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to The Datsuns. Incredibly, The Thrills were somehow shoehorned in.

"I was already really proud of that," says McMahon. "It was like, yeah fuck you, it's harmonies and banjos. I'm not sure we ever really fitted in to the indie scene. That's nothing to be ashamed of, I love it."

Deasy mentions that when it came to second albums, a lot of their contemporaries didn't step up their games. He doesn't say it, but you've gotta include The Thrills in that group. Let's Bottle Bohemia isn't a bad record, but ain't a great one either. The Americana-soaked So Much for the City was inspired by a special four months of living together in sun-soaked San Diego. The follow-up, well, wasn't; the reviews did not gush. Deasy defends the album – it got a great live response from the fans, he says, and the bands they were touring with loved it (three colossal names, REM, The Pixies and Oasis, are mentioned) – but acknowledges it was "kind of confused", albeit "in a charming, interesting way". The record plopped into the charts at number eight – not bad, but a tad disappointing if your record company has been telling you it's a guaranteed chart-topper.

"I remember the day when we found that out, we had an in-store gig to do," Deasy reminisces. "Usually, if it's the day your album's coming out and the shop's full of people, you'd be excited. And we're all beards and long faces. Our A&R guy goes, 'Yeah, I don't think they slept.' But when we wrote our first album, we never felt it was our defining statement. The odd thing is, me and Kevin [Horan, keyboardist], were both big fans of the Beach Boys and we knew the whole story about bands being typecast. Yet we still walked straight into it. It was difficult to break out of that."

McMahon is defiant. "What the fuck you gotta do on your second record? Are you going to write about the summer you had five years ago again? Write So Much for the City mark two? Of course not. You're going to write about whatever it is you're going through at the time. It would've been so fucking fake and ridiculous for us to write anything other than Let's Bottle Bohemia. That's what music is all about – it's about conveying what you're feeling at the time, not pretending."

Whatever, something fresh was called for. So for new album Teenager, the band decided to ditch LA, where they'd made the previous two. "It was definitely a symbolic thing," says Deasy. "California had become intertwined with the mythology, idea and aesthetic of the band. We really wanted to leave that behind." But where could they go? They quarrelled "like children" about the location of the record. While they were laying down the demos in Wexford, south-east Ireland, the boys would sit around the fire downing wine and shouting the names of cities at each other. "It was getting absolutely pathetic," laughs Deasy. "It was so random, someone would just pluck some city from nowhere and we'd start giving it serious consideration."

Thanks to a suggestion from REM (ooh, get you!), whom they'd toured with, they hit upon the Warehouse studio in Vancouver, Canada. Bizarrely, it's owned by Bryan Adams ("a lovely guy"). Sadly, the increasingly-grizzled Canadian was away on tour for most of the band's time there, and they didn't know the city or anyone in it. Additionally, says Deasy, it wasn't a big party city. But this was a good thing – no distractions, see? "It was an inspired choice, because it's a fantastic city," he enthuses. "Downtown Vancouver's tiny, but it's surrounded by these beaches and once you cross the bridges, there's this beautiful rich green countryside. This was the first time I could use the word 'wholesome' with recording sessions on our albums."

That's not to say the Warehouse was some kind of pastoral utopia. Far from it. "The studio was slap-bang in middle of the worst neighbourhood in all of British Columbia," says Deasy.
"No, no, it was the biggest drug concentration in Canada and America, per, like, eight blocks. It was cracktown central," says McMahon.

Deasy interrupts: "But the point that has to be made is that primarily it's very progressive drug treatment they have…"

"Free heroin, crack," says McMahon.

"No, no, they use highly progressive methods…"

"They give out free heroin in that city, I'm telling you! They do!"

"No, no, it's a myth, Macs. But I know what you're saying," says the voice of reason to his bandmate, turning back to us. "We would often walk into rehearsals and there'd be people leaning against doorways with syringes hanging off their arms. And right behind the studio, in the car park, there was a blue bin which said 'deposit your rigs [syringes] here'. You certainly don't get thrown in jail or arrested for it - we used to see cops approach addicts and they'd just tell them to shoot up somewhere private, not on the street at two o'clock in the afternoon. I don't know how effective it was, but it was certainly a very compassionate approach to the problem."
The pair sound like they weren't too phased by this. And – before you diehard Thrills fans start to get scared – Teenager is hardly the sound of grit and squalor. How did those surroundings affect the record itself?

"I don't know," says Deasy. "All I know is that it was new and interesting."

"Also the studio was absolutely stunning," adds McMahon.

"Well put it this way: it had six windows," says the singer. "Any studio that's not damp, dark or underground is a novelty for us."

"You could put down a vocal or guitar take with the wind and sun in your face," explains McMahon. "You could look out and see the mountains of Vancouver. It was a stunning, beautiful place to work. It was haunted as well."

We're not going to let that one slide. Haunted?

"It's the only stone building in Vancouver," says Deasy. "About 100 years ago, there was a great fire in the city, when it was a fraction of the size it is now, just a small harbour town. This fire wiped the whole place out apparently, because they were all wooden buildings. The studio was the one stone building, so it was used as a makeshift morgue."

"Me and Todd, our engineer, held séances down in the basement," says McMahon, unable to conceal his glee. "We put Ouija boards in there and everything. Shit was flying."
We start laughing, but he's dead serious.

"No, no, no, I'm not joking! Stuff was flying across the room, doors were slamming…"

Deasy interjects. "You say shit was flying – a pot rolled down the steps, Macs, it wasn't exactly flying."

There's no stopping McMahon, highly excited now. "There was this door that was jammed and you'd pop it open and there'd be, like, nobody there. You'd see it creaking open, like someone was pushing it…"

But the band had more to worry about than ghosts trying to lock them in the dingy basements of junkie neighbourhoods. The record has seen what Deasy calls "a whole year of last-minute tweaks". It was supposed to be finished by the end of last summer and appear in the shops just after Christmas. The band were about to sign off on the record, but they realised something wasn't right: there weren't enough songs. Not that they'd inadvertently made a mini-album – there just weren't the songs. Deasy recalls the blood draining from Horan's face as they decided to go back to the drawing board – "he's a man who lives for the road and he'd also been away from his mistress for far too long". But starting again was a brave thing to do and not just because they'd face the wrath of their ivory-tinkling bandmate.

"I have to say, that was a wracking period," says Deasy. "There's that whole 'a week is a long time in rock and roll' thing and you can feel yourself thinking 'fuck, we're spending too long on it'. You have to remember that when our second album came out, MySpace wasn't even up and running. A lot had been going on while we'd been away."

"There was a kind of urgency after being away for so long," agrees McMahon. "We got paranoid about returning and our backs were really against the wall. Until Conor came up with five or six new songs, we were really worried."

"I'm glad we held our nerve, because we got it right," says Deasy. "Ultimately, people remember a good record. They don't remember how long it took."

He mentions Ash's announcement that they won't be making any more albums; he can see the sense in it and because of Teenager's trials and tribulations, we wonder if he wishes he'd got there first. With people downloading album tracks here and there, long players, Deasy reckons, are an odd way for bands to make sense of themselves. The process is cumbersome (particularly if you're The Thrills) and you'll end up having to ditch songs along the way (they wrote around 30; there album has 11). But, as for most people in their late 20s, 'the album' is still a sacred concept.

In a scene currently obsessed by bright young things and next big things, it seems fitting that The Thrills have returned with a record that muses on the subjects of growing up. Deasy namechecks Joyce's Dubliners and Truffaut's The Four Hundred Blows as works that got him thinking about youth and innocence.

As the place where he grew up, Dublin's in there too. "The album's definitely closer to home, but not in that heavy-handed way that the first one was to California – we didn't want to do that again. Dublin's going through this strange transition at the moment. There's a huge amount of money pouring in and it's finally becoming a truly modern, impressive city. For the first time, there are people turning up on our doorstep looking for work, and it's great, because for generations, we've been turning up on other countries' doorsteps."

"I guess that got me thinking a lot about the Dublin of the 1980s. Even though I was there, I wasn't necessarily consciously aware of it. But talking to people 10 years older than us, the differences are quite interesting. This was a time when Irish people really had to emigrate out of necessity."

The extra time spent on the record widened its scope, so that, as McMahon points out, "It's not an album about being a teenager, it's about how you feel now, looking back on it, which is a crucial distinction."

"It's almost like a trick card really," adds Deasy. "Because it is a record about youth, but it's also about leaving it behind." It's also a much more personal record. Why was that? "I just wanted to do something that was very direct, that wasn't hiding behind unnecessary metaphor, and that would make sense to people immediately. For the first time in my life I began to enjoy early Beatles and Ramones." It's true, there are some remarkably unguarded lines in there, filled with simple emotion by that beautifully vulnerable yelp of his: "I envy your youth" runs one refrain. "I'm so sorry," goes another.

And there's another, very expectant, lyric that it's hard to avoid: "This year could be our year." That's the question - could it? The Thrills are certainly facing up to their battles: raging against that California typecasting, fighting their way out of "the Irish local hero cul-de-sac", getting over the disappointing second album, worrying about being away too long…

And then there's all those new, younger bands, MySpacing their way to the top. "We're the old ragdoll. The ragdoll left on the shelf," says Deasy. Looking at the rebirth of the Dome, they should take heart.

Teenager is out now
Check out for the live dates

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Laurie load

It’s Stephen Fry night on BBC2 tonight, but let’s not forget the awesome talents of his old comedy partner Hugh Laurie. The Lozmeister, as he’s often known, may have disappeared to America to play House, but he’s still a National Treasure in my book.

Edmund has posted a nice Jeeves and Wooster clip of Laurie at the piano; here he is on the guitar and harmonica (he plays the drums and saxophone as well, apparently). The music is a nice pastiche of early to mid 90s Dylan (or any number of American country acts, I guess), but Laurie’s sheepish facial expressions are priceless.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Mark my words

I think I mentioned how much I enjoyed Siri Hustvedt's tale of love, loss, art and murder What I Loved, although ironically I didn't explain "what I loved" about it.

Now is not the time to elaborate, though. What I wanted to mention were the marks made by the previous owner in my (second-hand) copy. The book was only slightly marred, because the marks in question - a series of green highlightings - were infrequent; so infrequent, in fact, that I'm able to list the selected phrases in their entirety here. Hustvedt's novel, by the way, is 367 pages long.

p21. "Mommsenstrasse 11"
p.366 "rooms of an apartment in Berlin – Mommsensetrasse 11"
p.366 "was all Berlin and flight and Hampstead and German and confusion by"
p.366 "father. Mutti in the dark."

Perhaps the confused rogue mistook the book for a German property guide.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


The high coolness levels of The Best-Looking Man In The World, aka Brad Pitt, would be annoying if he didn’t harbour such high levels of coolness. Here’s the highly cool bastard on the red carpet at the premiere of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, being highly cool:

Perky MTV producer: “What did you learn from doing this movie?”
Brad Pitt: “I didn't learn shit, really.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Siri-ously good

Omg, Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved is just like the best godamn book I've read in ages. I'm 107 pages shy of utter literary completion so don't give me any of your "Oh yeah, I like the bit at the end where Harry dies" schtick, you nutty internet creeps. It's stupid: the only reason I bought it was because I'm such a SICK Paul Auster completist that after trawling his fiction, non-fiction - even his pseudonymous pulp noir novel - I moved onto his wife's books - pretty messed up, right? But God, I bet even the notes those two scrawl to each other before dashing out to meet bohemian pals for a highbrow latte are busting with enough literary merit to fund the Somerset Maugham Awards for the next few millennia. I'd be over to America like a shot to study such scrawlings at length, if only I had unlimited access to the Hustvedt-Auster garbage cans.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Halo, I love you

The Xbox computer game Halo 3 is released today. With 4.2m copies already in stores, it’s apparently going to be the biggest event ever. Watch.

I might as well face it

It's funny the things you get addicted to. I'm currently infatuated with both the hot chocolate from the office hot drink machine and this stupid Tetris-like game on my mobile phone called QuadraPop. They sound innocuous, but the combination of cholesterol and eye strain could well prove lethal in the long run. Ah well, I suppose they're better than crack and cruising. Healthwise, I mean.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Leave it

Yesterday we looked at a leaving email of impressive depressiveness. Today, here's another favourite I received some time back. It nearly collapses under the weight of florid writing, but is saved by its natty combination of nonchalance and brevity...

As the fledgling sparrow must one day leave his nest to soar unencumbered into the azure blue depths, so must I now take my leave from the motley dwelling of old branches, bits of scavenged plastic bag and regurgitated worm that is **********. Yes, tomorrow is my last day. Soon you'll have a strange face on the 3rd floor to shout at indiscriminately when the photocopier chews up your marketing reports.

So why not treasure me while you still can? Come on down for a few sherbets tomorrow evening at *********** from about 6pm. Even if you don't really care or even know who I am, you might as well tag along for R*****'s stories about his amoral brother-in-law or an entertaining stream-of-consciousness torrent of Tourette's-style invective from the young J*** B******. There will be something for everyone.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Leaves dropping

Ah, the leaving email - I've received a few classics in my time, some pretentious, some grandoise, some emotional. But none have bettered the one below. Its utter despondency and brutal honesty are a joy to behold, even a number of years on.

Hi Everyone,

At last my last day is here.

Thanks for everyone for making my time here better than it would be without you.

Although I leave with a shattered self esteem and disappointing level of personal and intellectual growth, I have at least, probably, been doing the worthy task in keeping ********** from complete failure for the last 10 months.

Thankfully today will be the last day I ever have to think about these fiendish things called "*************" and "*******" and eventually the scars will heal.

Please be patient with my replacement – it’s not his fault, and the sooner the above named things and all things associated with them are banished (replaced), the happier the world will be.

Goodbye to everyone, and thanks for being kind, patient and understanding.

[Name deleted].

PS. I recognise that I have personal problems that need to be addressed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Homepage bound

The Google homepage fills my heart with joy.

Having experienced a multitude of problems with home internet in my adult life (mainly thanks to the shoddiness of NTL's service), I've spent a lot of time testing the connection by pressing Alt+Home to bring up my browser homepage, which is, of course, The "page not found" signals disappointment and the need for further work. The Google homepage equals success and progression.

Even now, with my internet troubles over (at least until I have another go at setting up wireless), the sight of those primary colours on that big white background is dear to mine eyes; I am one of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov's puppies, with Google as my bell.

Friday, September 21, 2007

If you Jose so

Every newspaper in the Christendom is weeping over the departure of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. And every newspaper has knocked up a box containing his best quotes, usually beginning with the famous "special one" announcement.

Jose's special talent (apart from, like, the football stuff) is to make lengthy everyday analogies seem lofty, epic and of supreme importance. My favourite is this little beauty, in which our hero discusses why he didn't spend in the January 2007 transfer window, despite major injury problems amongst his players:

"It is like having a blanket that is too small for the bed. You pull the blanket up to keep your chest warm and your feet stick out. I cannot buy a bigger blanket because the supermarket is closed. But I am content because the blanket is cashmere. It is no ordinary blanket."

Monday, September 17, 2007

The coldern days

Oh right, is it winter now?


I’ve had quite a rich weekend. Is that the word? It felt enriching, that's what I mean.

I went to the pub. I had a stroll through London. I went to the theatre. I got drunk. I met up with old friends. I read the paper. I danced to electro. I watched a DVD. I went to the pub again. I watched a firework display from my bedroom. I did a stir fry. I watched TV. I went for a run. I (nearly managed to) set up a wireless network. I went to the cinema. I ate out with a friend. I read a novel.

Not in that order, of course.

Anyway: has anyone at work today asked me what I got up to at the weekend? Have they fuck.

Lessons learned from... 3.10 to Yuma

Security in Yuma prison is extremely lax.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hissy Brit

Emailed this round at work, after Tadich sent it over. The responses:

"i am absolutely speechless. it's... horrible"

"this is taking the UGC revolution too far"

"M was so terrified by the look on my face he spoke to me"

"It’s good eh? Psychotic but mesmerising. I’ve watched it twice."

Reminds me a bit of this actually.


Spotted last night: a bearded Adam Buxton doing very fast laps of Kennington Park. That guy, he cracks me up, with his crazy running.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Lessons learned from... Hallam Foe

If you interrupt a couple's lovemaking by donning war-paint and a stuffed badger's head hat and then jumping on them, they are likely to become annoyed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Get ready to build: Editors

[previously published in total:spec magazine July 2007]

"Well done boys," announces the PR man, turning from his mobile towards his gang of four. "You're in mainstream radio land."

In an unlikely twist of fate, the new single by dark 'n' brooding indie quartet Editors, the glumly-titled 'Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors', has made the GCap stations' B-list. It's the first time this has happened for the band and means that their brand of serious, claustrophobic guitar music will be heard on the likes of Capital alongside MOR rock staples like Coldplay and Travis. The news is greeted quietly and, although we're in a bar, within puking distance of an alarming array of booze, no one's rushing for the champagne. Singer and lyricist Tom Smith does show a modicum of excitement: "This means we'll be played in the factories, right?"

Right. Rewind 15 minutes to our first encounter with the band, during their total:spec photo shoot in London's (cough) jewel in the crown, glorious Shepherd's Bush. The group - much younger than you'd expect if you've heard their mature and confident-sounding music - are standing in front of a scraggy metal fence which encloses a grotty bit of scrubland. On the wall next to them is an enormous poster for the new Travis album, The Boy With No Name, which shows Fran Healy et al atop an enormous skyscraper gazing out over a huge cityscape. We see the assembled Editors at one stage glancing nervously up at the daunting advert. You probably wouldn't catch Travis sitting on a park bench in this west London yuckhole.

Ah well, it's all part of the process, a process they call "the slow build", something Editors are very much used to. Although the general music-buying public might remember the band suddenly appearing in their consciousness back in December 2005, it wasn't like the band pounced on the scene from nowhere. The four of them started playing together while studying music technology at Staffordshire University and built themselves a hardy following before being signed in September 2004. Debut long player The Back Room, was released in July the following year – a bit odd, as it's about as far from being a summer record as you can get - they released several singles ('Bullets' twice, in fact) and toured like hell. It was the quartet's Good Hard Work which helped move the album slowly up the charts, promoting, gigging, promoting, re-releasing.

Things really went stellar as 2005 segued into 2006 as the record finally reached the top 20; the label re-released what's now Editors' best-known track, 'Munich', which, in its turn, pinged The Back Room into the higher reaches of the charts, a hefty five months after its release. Appropriately, success had come once summer had become a distant memory and the winter months were well underway. Back in the band's hotel room, booked for a day so they can recuperate after a performance in Paris, Smith and bassist Russell Leetch recall the bona fide Rock and Roll Moment that occurred when the news came through. "When we heard the album was at No.2, we were in LA for the first time, in the Hyatt on Sunset Boulevard, actually drinking Margaritas in the pool," says Leetch. He seems as incredulous as we are about this – and for sure, it's very un-Editors. But there was more to come.

The band were then booked to play south London's top venue, Brixton Academy. That sold out in a couple of days. So they added another date. That sold out too. So they did another. "We said stop at three," says Leetch. "They wanted us to do more, but we thought that was a bit ridiculous."

How to top that? A Mercury nomination should do it. "The day the album was released was the first day of eligibility for that year's Mercury, so I thought we would be forgotten about," explains Smith. "But that proved the record did have legs, it lingered in people's consciousness and people were still enjoying it and getting into it. It was a nice way to finish."

Even though the Arctic Monkeys beat them to the prize, it had been quite a crescendo. Since then though, things have gone quiet if you're a UK-based fan – Editors have been away touring and recording, which is, of course, the done thing. And when we speak to them, they haven't played their own gigs in Britain since the Brixton trio of shows, about a year ago.

"We did festivals, but not our own gigs," says Leetch. "It's been a while, as Nickelback famously said."

"Was that Nickelback? It was Staind wasn't it?" wonders Smith.

Staind, Nickelback? Pfuh. Better to be Editors right now. They're just limbering up to play Camden's Roundhouse, as if to say, "Yes. We're back with a vengeance (and a new album)." The second record, An End Has A Start, is ready to roll and Smith, who writes the lyrics and sketches out the bones of the songs before the others add their own ideas, is "over the moon" with it. "I don't think we could've made a better record at this stage in our lives," he waxes. "It feels like we've achieved exactly what we set out to achieve."

How is it different from The Back Room?

"The first one was more claustrophobic and tight, like a debut should be - the sound of a band in a room," he says. "But there was this narrowness to it. With this album, we wanted to make a more textured record, with more going on. It's opened up, it's a little bit easier to read, it's not quite as cryptic lyrically, but it's a lot more dynamic."

Word-wise, Smith was preoccupied with "death, illness and things coming to an end"; he mentions that over the last year or so, he has felt closer and more aware of life's dark side than ever before.

"My gran passed away," he says. "Someone I went to school with was killed. Then there were a few people around me… not dying, but getting ill, getting older. I think it's never come into my thought process that much before. It used to feel a million miles away."

But don't despair. An end has a start, after all, and Editors wouldn't be the success they are if all they did was churn out intolerably heavy slabs of black-cloud depression. Although these tunes obviously do cruise the shadows, there's an optimism to the new songs which shines through on the record. "There's an awful lot of love there, and a warmth, and a hope," says Smith. "Those are the things that make these scary things not so scary. There's an acceptance of death and a realisation that it's part of life, I guess. With a lot of the songs, when there's a dark moment, there'll also be a line of hope."

Producer Garret "Jacknife" Lee, who's worked with the likes of U2, Bloc Party and Snow Patrol, understood what the hell they were on about, and the pair light up at the mention of his name. "That love and warmth - Garret got that quite early on," explains Smith. "He'd talk about these religious moment in songs, where there's a sense of release; he'd talk about clouds parting, things making sense all of a sudden. We've always been excited by those kind of moments in music – you're watching Sigur Ros or Arcade Fire and everything is amazing. I still think on the first record there are some big uplifting moments, but with this one, we really tried to squeeze every bit of emotion from each song. As a result, you feel a bit overwhelmed and exhausted when you've finished listening to the record. But it's exciting."

Their first encounter with "Jacknife" – apparently he wanted a cool name when he started doing dance remixes, so he just made one up - sums up the man rather well. "One of the first things he said when we walked into the studio," says Leetch, laughing, "was that Paul McCartney had been hit by a train. We were like, 'What, today?' And he paused then went, 'No, I'm only joking!' That was your initial warm-up treatment for Jacknife Lee."

Lee's off-the-wall style helped when the stress started to kick in: "If things were getting tense in the studio, he'd just throw himself off his chair, or snap his fingers and say 'Let's go and play hide and seek', or take us out shooting."

But it wasn't just his "oblong" side, as the pair describe it, that appealed to them. "Jacknife describes sound in a way that I've never heard anyone else describe it," says Smith.

"It could be that he's not very good at describing sound, or he's an absolute genius," adds Leetch. "It could be either. Sometimes he'd describe what emotion he wanted just by going…" He silently makes a strange upward swooping gesture with his arm.

"Or he'll say he wants it to sound 'like a polar bear sleeping'," adds Smith. "Sometimes it takes a while to get what he means…"

Lee was involved in the new songs from the start, hearing the initial demos and contributing his own ideas way before the songs were fully formed. Leetch talks of "a really great bond" between Lee and the band and speaks of their desire to have an ongoing musical relationship, mentioning such producer-artist partnerships as Tony Visconti and David Bowie, Brian Eno and U2, Nigel Godrich and Radiohead.

But he worked them pretty hard – drummer Ed Lay in particular. It was very different to the two weeks spent recording The Back Room, says Leetch. "With that album we were just recording what we had, but with this we had two months. We could put different parts and pieces together in a different way, and it transformed the songs. Ed did three days of drumming for When Anger Shows, for example and it's a total journey, that song. I think that's what opens up each song to repeated listens and lets you hear something new each time."

Despite the occasional intensity of the recording, the studio, Grouse Lodge, sounds like it was quite the haven. A country estate in the middle of Ireland, it allowed the band to get away and find a bit of space. "It was a bit rough round the edges. When we describe it, we call it 'homely'," says Smith.

"Massive open log fires, friendly human beings, lots of animals…" adds Leetch.

Er, what kind of animals?

"Horses, dogs, cows that you could see as you open your curtains in the morning. I was going to say pigs, there were no pigs. There was a vicious cat for a while - but it died," he says, laughing.

Smith brings things back to the music: "It's very easy to be creative there. There's space for each of us to be trying lots of things at the same time. The first record we did in the middle of nowhere – it was lot smaller, we were on top of each other, three weeks felt like it was too long. So we were a bit hesitant in going out to the middle of nowhere to do this, but as soon as we were there, the vibe was good. We didn't get bored. And the Guinness was phenomenal."

Generally, Editors come across as a hard-working band of professionals, viewing their music with an unflinching and workmanlike seriousness. Onstage they'll usually be seen wearing all black, bar the odd messianic white shirt from Smith, a bid for a kind of timeless look that'll put them outside fashion. "We don't want to be wearing hyper-coloured glowing t-shirts," as Smith puts it. Leetch invokes an alternative future in which they would look back with embarrassment on "the hat years".

And it's clear that talking about stuff that isn't directly related to the music itself generally provokes less enthusiasm. We ask whether Smith is still seeing celebrity girlfriend Edith Bowman, the Radio 1 DJ, and get a curt, but clearly practised, "that's none of your business" (though he laughs in a way that suggests the answer is probably yes). With the mention of Ireland's Guinness, we wonder whether they're prone to rock and roll excess, noting that Leetch is sipping a solitary glass of red wine, while Smith is on peppermint tea.

"We're sensible," says Leetch. "If we say we're going to do something, we'll do it. We're not rude." Then, obligingly, as if he knows he should try and give good, spicy copy: "Of course, we like to go out and drink. We could drink most other bands under the table… Well I could have a go." But they almost seem surprised to be asked – they're just four youngish guys who party like anyone else their age does. Just not on a school night, it seems.

What with this and that rather grown-up music they make, are they wise beyond their years?

"No, not at all," says Smith. "I'm sure some people think a lot of what I sing is nonsense, and that's completely fine, but it means something to me. I'm not any kind of intellectual higher being or anything. I just sit down to write, the words come out, and I sing 'em. When I first started writing songs on my own, I was very much into your Thom Yorkes and your Jeff Buckleys, but I quickly realised that wasn't where I was. I realised I was a little… further down. But you gotta push yourself."

The question of influences and sound-alikes is a sticky one with Editors. Interpol and Joy Division frequently come up, comparisons the group aren't so keen on, not because they don't respect those bands, simply because they feel it's not accurate. However, Smith knows that it's churlish to sulk. "Even the comparisons that are annoying are still good; we don't get mentioned alongside bands that are shit. It's not like being compared to Scooch, is it? But we get the countless million Joy Division comparisons – but they're just not an influence."

Had you not listened to Joy Division before The Back Room?

"Listened? Heard. It's just that people were saying they were an influence on us as people and as musicians and they weren't really. I couldn't talk to a Joy Division fan about Joy Division music very well. But they are very good, obviously."

Back in the bar, we ask about the interviews they've done so far and what, apart from being told they sound like Joy Division, they hate getting asked. With irritation, guitarist Chris Urbanowicz mentions a Swedish journalist who told them during an interview, that they were "too aggressive" for Coldplay fans. "I was like: so?"

Well exactly. Watching their first proper UK gig in a year at the Roundhouse the following week, it's striking how forceful, intense and, hell, how downright rocking Editors are live. And it's their gigs that will sway any doubters – the band conjure up an excitement and power that's perhaps not always there in their studio material. Although it sounds like blather when Leetch says the band don't have one defining single (like, 'Munich', hello?), the reception songs like 'Bullets', 'All Sparks' and 'Blood' get suggests he may have a point.

Meanwhile, Smith is a hugely assured and watchable frontman, an animated version of Edward Munch's The Scream, clutching his head, wringing his hands and hugging himself, like a man with a series of uncontrollable twitches. Although he's grown his hair, he still won't escape those Ian Curtis comparisons. And now Smith is sitting down at the piano for several of tonight's songs, rocking back and forth while he plays, another comparison which seems almost unavoidable is (and you can see what that Swedish hack was about, here) Chris Martin and Coldplay. And that's a big band to be compared to. "Editors: the Coldplay it's okay to like", anyone?

They're not there yet, so let's look further ahead: where would Editors like to be in 10 years time?

"It's just about trying to be a band that's there because they deserve it, because they're good, you know?" says Smith. But it's that slow build that'll do it: "We've always said we want to be one of those bands that makes record on record on record and evolves and pushes themselves and is just… Editors."

Just Editors, then. Soon we won't need to compare them to anyone.

'Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors' is out now
An End Has A Start is out now
Check out for live dates