Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nice shades, happy Harry.
Let's just draw a few more over this whole dreary thing here, eh...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Off the ground, la-la la-la la-la-la...

Oh, Mike McGuire, you foolish fool of a fool - this sounds just about the best way to make being inside a Starbucks anywhere, anyway approaching bearable. (How is it people can complain when a newspaper ups its cover price by two, even five English pennies, yet blithely hand over a couple of quid for a mere coffee...?)

Anyway, as my final word on the album and to celebrate this union of Macca and mocca, I hope no one minds (*cough* hello? is this thing on?) if I pour these out of my system here and now:
Latte It Be, Love Me Brew, Espresso Darling, Cafe On The Left Bank, "Nescafe, all my troubles seemed so far away", Maxwell House's Silver Hammer, Gold Blend Slumbers, "We're so sorry, Uncle Douwe Egberts", I Feel (Caf)f(e)ine, Americano Buy Me Love, The Lungo And Winding Road...

Okay, okay, that'll do. I knew I should have opted for the decaff earlier.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The love that you take..."

"At the end of the end,
It's the start of a journey to a much better place,
And this wasn't bad
So a much better place
Would have to be special,
No need to be sad..."

Paul Is Dead? Never, of course.
Neither physically, from 1966 when he "blew his mind out in a car" - an alleged accident that the remaining Beatles, like almost-master-criminals, couldn't help but keep on alluding to in clues in subsequent cover art, ruining any cover-up.

Nor symbolically, even ever since that elusive moment in 1970 when he took it upon himself to break up The Beatles (or, that is, took upon himself the blame for breaking up The Beatles), and ever thus doomed himself to years of sneering - either at the hands and bitter tongue (early on) of John Lennon himself, or much more dully those aggressively assuming that John was the tough'n'talented one, Paul the cute'n'soppy sentimentalist, utterly ignoring his avant-garde experimentalism and imaginative drive to keep the Fab Four flying even as John and Cyn, or then John and Yoko, sunk into Surrey druggy opulence.

(Not that I'm knocking John's genius and achievements at all, either, just keen to emphasise a better balance beyond those all-too-cheap and simple sniggers of "Frog Chorus, anyone?" which ignore the fact it's just a whimsical children's song and, taking or leaving the "Bom-bom-bom" backing, a really rather lovely melody at that.)

But still, still, still: Sir Macca and death, or "death". It's a miserable thought.
And yet one which, in true trouper spirit, he hits head-on on new album, Memory Almost Full.

Every self-respecting (and otherwise-unrespected) newspaper office has a desktop/desk/drawerful of Blue Peter-esque obituaries just ready and raring to roll on the instant of the sad PA snap. But, thankfully, one I've never yet seen is one that will surely be buried, too-formal and forlorn, among the acres and days and apparent-aeons of more gushing outpourings of praise, when he finally goes. If he does. If he must. Must he?

Penultimate album track "End Of The End" suggests, sadly, yes. But still, unsadly, urges mourners to fulfil his dying wishes - for "jokes to be told, and stories of old to be rolled out like carpets", as his piano chords roll out underneath like "Let It Be" and a faintly-rising string section ventures decorously so far, and yet not too far.
Only good ol' Sir Macca Thumbsaloft, eh...?

James Paul McCartney, turning 65, kids and grandkids and wife and another wife, starting to ponder mortality but gracefully not giving up, as elsewhere he skitters sometimes chirpily and sometimes ruefully over those oh-so-many mini-memories packed tight into that apparently-almost-full entireity: the "at the scout camp, in the school play, spade and bucket, by the sea" to "sweating cobwebs, under contract, in the cellar, on TV" of smirking-shrugging-shoulders "That Was Me", for example.

So much McCartney, he can't help but hearken back, whether lyrically or musically to his ever-present past. So what if comics may mock those Wings that could never quite beat quite so big as The Beatles: faux-beloved of Alan Partridge as "only the band The Beatles could have been", and scorned by most rock scribes until recent reassessments, as the authentic Seventies supergroup joins ELO and Supertramp in the iTunes playlists of the Feeling, Fratellis and their followers.

But Macca was ever the most melodic, and indeed influential both on and of such proto-power-poppers. And even when most questing or, actually perhaps, indecisive in his musical approaches - the ramshackle thrashing of Back To The Egg (1979), beepy noodling of McCartney II (1980), shimmery, synthesised pairing with 10cc's Eric Stewart on Press To Play (1987) or bittersweet bolshiness semi-fuelled by Elvis Costello for Flowers In The Dirt (1989) - there are at least flickers, or often enough belting flashes, of his it-all-comes-too-easy instinct for a tune, the tune.

The same enough goes even for his underwhelming 1990s, when each new album would be devoured - here at least - and the most sumptuous tracks would soon stand out: the tremors of somehow-neglected 1976-vintage "Warm And Beautiful" in skeletally-gorgeous 1993 album track "Golden Earth Girl", or the rolling, mostly-instrumental "Heather" (who she?) from 2001's otherwise-muddy Driving Rain, or either one or other or both of Jude-esque "Beautiful Night" or Blackbird-y "Calico Skies" from four-years-previously's too-blandly-bluesy Flaming Pie. In support of both of which albums he did, of course, hit the world for six sixes in the shape of his heartstring-bludgeoning live shows (Earls Court can seldom before, nor since, have felt so stridently the centre of God's greenish earth.)

Even the four originals included among the rock'n'roll curios recorded, all-in-a-quick-week's-work, for Run Devil Run, happily married modernish-enough production standards with casual raucousness with Wingsy pop nous-and-a-half: "Try Not To Cry", for example, could have been a companion-piece, standalone single around the time of 1973's undoubted-masterpiece Band On The Run - or at least giving "Daytime Nighttime Suffering" a damn good run for the "Helen Wheels" B-side placing. Do bands produce such dazzling B, even C-sides anymore? (Physical irrelevance of the format aside, of course...)

And yet Memory Almost Full feels, while the listener indulges, like he's doing it all over again, plucking here and there from his ever-present past yet spinning them a little more, older, wiser, anew. And sombrely, too. It was a surprise to discover a new Macca album, quite so soon - less than two years - after the last, 2005's sombre but superb Chaos And Creation In The Backyard: that late-period epic, forcibly pared down by erstwhile Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich despite the rather over-arching power and prestige of the richest man in rock music.

Especially since there seems to have been a little turbulence in our hero's domestic life since then - you may have gathered from a column inch or several thousand here or there.

Yet out of such chaos comes yet more creation, perhaps indeed inspiring such wistful ponderings as the aforesaid "That Was Me", or "Vintage Clothes" (both part of an Abbey Road-esque five-song suite in the second half), or indeed the portentous weirdness of "House Of Wax", a dark trundling tour around a nightmare.

Checking off the old-Macca nods would be easy, and yet too easy and restricting: "Mister Bellamy", for example, has the whimsical fun and what-the-fu...n?-ness of "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" right up until you really realise it's about a man threatening to throw himself from the top of a tall, tall building, while opener - and bright, breezy, yet probably not Top Ten-troubling single - "Dance Tonight" is 1993's "Hope Of Deliverance" all over again but even more gossamer-light and lovely (and, yes, the only one I've managed to master strumming so far.)

"Paul is quite a capable lyricist who doesn't think he is," said John, in the intriguing and expansive Playboy interviews not long before his death in 1980. Lennon had been especially taken by "The movement you need is on your shoulder" as McCartney rushed through an early demo of "Hey Jude", pressing for the line to remain there intact despite Paul's apologies. And while post-Beatle Macca has at times been sullied by such atrocities "I know I was a crazy fool, for treating you the way I did, / But something got a hold of me, and I acted like a dustbin lid" ("The Other Me", from 1982's Pipes Of Peace), Godrich had the wherewithal to insist two years ago that McCartney, yes even McCartney, ditch the more slapdash lines and come back with something better - resulting in both economy and occasional sly wittiness ("very twee, very me", in 2005's irresistible "English Tea").

Despite a change of producer this time, back to David Kahne of the too-often-dreary Driving Rain, such spareness seems to have survived - and in a positive, even or especially when emotionally-negative, way.Yes, there are awkward moments - signs that the ever-assured McCartney vocal is starting to crack a little under the strain of ageing, faltering on the falsettos of "You Tell Me" or a little too clumsy on the lower registers of over-glossed "Ever Present Past".

And while it might feel a little too over-wraught to end with "End Of The End", the bathetic minute-and-a-half of Macca-stompalong-by-numbers "Nod Your Head" follows in the clumpy and unsatisfying footsteps of "Rinse The Raindrops" (Driving Rain), "Party" (Run Devil Run) or the untitled "hidden" track dragging down the elegiac "Anyway" (Chaos and Creation...) Whatever happened to the closing grace of "Warm and Beautiful" or "Baby's Request", let alone a cheeky undercutting a la *cough* "Her Majesty"...?

Ah, these are minor matters against the, er, majesty of Macca revitalised. Time alone, of course, will tell whether this, and companion-piece Chaos And Creation... will quite endure like Band On The Run and Tug Of War or Flowers In The Dirt - let alone like Rubber Soul or Revolver or some sergeant's obscure album that came out 40 years ago on Friday - but the prospects seem richly promising right now. Certainly that man Macca seems to simply seep quality songwriting, musicianship and inventiveness as easily and freely as water gushing gloriously from a well. And surprisingly superbly so. Even now. Especially now.

Long may he last. To live and not die.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New directive - five-minute plan: forget livestock, pig iron, all pig iron ...
or, er, consumer electronics.
Instead, increase studio-based cuteness production by record levels.
(By whatever means necessary.
Yes, apparatchiks, even utilise the Teletubbies trope, if need be need be.)

Projected out-turn: world domination inevitable.
Even enjoyable.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ah, how better to spend these unseasonably sunshiney early-summer afternoons, than by snatching and stamping daffodils and dandelions, gurgle-sniggering Beavis-style,
and tearing apart the News Review section of the Sunday Times...?

No, not me (well, not mostly), but Harry. (Honest.)

And now, yet another nephew is about to stumble into the scene - long-lost l'il Kim, way out Far East since Boxing Day, but arriving home much-missed (and much more hairily-headed, it seems!) on Monday for what should be a week of much-needed family specialness.

Yep, get those happy feet on the pedals, pal...
Welcome back to dear old Blighty.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"They can see no reasons, 'cos there are no reasons - what reasons do you need...?"

"Sorry, pal. The law requires a five-day waiting period. We've got to do a background check."
- "Five days? But I'm mad now..."
There are doubtless factors warning against too-simplistically blaming the horrific college carnage in Virginia on American gun-nuttiness alone.
Deep-seated, disturbing psychological issues within the culprit, certainly.
A culture of thoughtless violence crossed by instant gratification, possibly.
A rather ragged mess of a response by police, apparently.
But for now, the expansive savagery of such lethal wherewithal does call to mind the old line suggesting the most sensible method of gun control.
Just the one question on the application forms:
"Do you want to own a gun?"
And if the answer's "Yes", then you're certainly not having one.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Seville disorder...

(Surprisingly, this wasn't the most troubling sight of the stay...)
So. This entry should, and still could really, have been mostly about the strange and beautiful bonding of English guests and Spanish hosts - for a start, in the makeshift, central "Fans' Zone" offering free paella and at least free-flowing beer, tucked respectfully away from the cramped alleyways down which Jesus and mother Mary models glided upon the shoulders of multi-coloured KKKesque outfits, and with which no perfectly-distracted-anyway-thank-you football fan had any idea of interfering.

Or else, elsewhere, when despite - or due to - the Chas and Dave CDs being on constant rotation, the cheery if beery Tottenham boys and girls and old men and young kids would drift into outlying districts. With maybe a word here or there from helpful, Betis-sympathetic taxi drivers - invariably veering towards those healthily, patiently bustling tasteful and tasty tapas cafes, where hale-and-hearty owners and dainty-figured, friendly-faced, wide-eyed and charcoal-eyelined serving-girls helped while away waiting-times for seats with handy towers of cheese platters and, well, wine, plenty and purple of it.

Or, perhaps, let's lurch into the alarming, disarmingly charming
Semana Santa parades striding through those identikit streets - if "streets" is not too generous a word for some of the cobbled backyards they somehow slunk within and around. Frighteningly intense, that fervor with which those sturdy-yet-fragile-looking figurines were hoisted, pursued by kids in their Maundy Thursday best: young and old, very old women wearing black lace mantillas hardly-complementing above-knee skirts, surprisingly-low-cut tops and more suitable, severely towering headpieces.

And those outfits... Sorry, even knowing they have a historic significance entirely unrelated to how such apparel has been hijacked by the Grand High Wizards and their weird brigades, these could have looked for all the world like Ku Klux Klan rallies, were not the all-whites just one representative of the spectrum: pale violet, pink, ecclesiastical green or crimson were also liable to abruptly arrive around another corner.

After about two hours' sleep in two days, even these bleary eyes couldn't be rubbed raw enough to fully appreciate today's pre-proper-sunrise, 6am sight of those all-in-black pointy heads cheered on by carnivalesque crowds swarming the dim streets, all accompanied by a pungent scent of incense and the almost-menacing soundtrack of thuddering drums.

Ah, all this and much more.

But, ah yes, the unfortunate, the inevitable subject that seems to have dominated the headlines back home (though seemed strangely absent, at all, from the Spanish Press coverage).

Yes, the sheer audacity of Spurs fans booing that laughable penalty decision and thus clearly provoking, indeed inviting, the bombarding charge of
baton-swinging riot police, brutally coshing most startled supporters into fleeing desperately higher along the already-steep and stifling stands...

The police raiders swiping out at all, whether wheelchair-bound or assisting, even thumping the Sevilla and Spurs stewards who had been coping with and calming the crowds perfectly well alone, thankyou. Note, no Sevilla supporters came under threat or in any contact with Tottenham fans. The only things exchanged between the two sets of fans all day were warm words, replica shirts and memorabilia.

Of course, there were Tottenham idiots in the mix too, tossing seats and fighting back whether under direct attack or not. But most were simply scared. Thankfully, being a little higher and out of harm's way, consensus among the many looking on in dismay and disappointment and frustration suggested such a hideous over-reaction with consequent effects.
Here, for example, a little unnecessary police brutality - out of proportion and out of the blue. What were these goons actually doing there, and just where might the closest far-distant Sevilla supporter actually be?

And coming just 24 hours after the ugly scenes at the Roma-Manchester United match, the telling "coincidence" seems not to be the involvement of English fans as the merely-guilty parties, but the inadequacies of a clobber-now-evade-questions-later police strategy you thankfully don't see being called upon at games in England. Hm, now there's an idea...

In fact, for all the valiant efforts of the stewards, there had been a little anxiety on entering the stadium at the blithe instructions to visiting fans, regardless of the seat and stand number on their tickets, to merely: "Sit anywhere, anywhere you like, doesn't matter."

Maybe that's what it was like in the good old days, but it does seem a strange and ominous approach for a high-profile, Uefa fixture, leading an imbalance between the crowding of upper tiers and lower tiers - and, of course, a recipe for at the very least unpleasantness when combined with the boys in black's rather more antagonistic approach.

Well, well, that's quite enough for now - other than to be grateful it didn't turn out significantly worse. As for the game itself, before the baton battalions got stuck in, and after they mysteriously disappeared at half-time, it was all very entertaining. Our players did appear at least partly affected by the simultaneous storm in the stands, that 25 minutes before half-time our most nervous and sloppy.

But the players rallied well after the break, looked the more likely than Seville to score and certainly posed enough problems for the home defence - the marauding, albeit diving, Daniel Alves on the right aside - to whet all appetites, especially Keane's and Berbatov's, for next Thursday night at White Hart Lane.

And the memory, the moment of celebrating that opening goal will linger a long time - even if the thrill was tempered a little by the abrupt realisation of just how stomach-lurchingly steep those terraces could feel beneath the bouncing feet...

All things considered, when personally revisiting these recollections, best to simply go back to the very beginning, a very good place to start.
And stay.
And simply celebrate those heroes among Sevillans.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hod fuzz...

Concentration on the new Wembley was diverted a little by this rather alarming photo, contained in Saturday's Under-21s official programme:
And there was me thinking the young Glenn could barely muster a wispy excuse for a moustache to make Gary Neville's look Merv Hughes-esque.
Presumably this picture was taken before some kindly soul told Hoddle that Chas and Dave were fine for FA Cup Final songs,
but not - repeat NOT - for personal grooming advice.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"Everybody will be singing..."

Okay, I know I promised no more football posts for a little old while.
But, well, it's not every day you get to go to the long-awaited, oh-too-too-long-awaited opening of the shiny new improved Wembley.
Granted, it was only the Under-21s, and strangely enough,
about as dull as a 3-3 game could ever be.
Let's just hope that junior England defence
is not the senior England defence of the future.
Even the usually-ever-reliable Leighton Baines looked dodgy, albeit against an Italian strike duo - the historic hat-trick man Pazzini and surely-not-under-21-let's-see-that-passport-again-please-Mister Rosina - who might soon be moving up a level, if the reigning world champions' status in fourth place behind Ukraine, France and Scotland continues much longer...
But, anyway, Wemberlee - well, hello hello, it was good to be back - wandering, struggling, down the still-a-little-shabby Wembley Way among the hordes, remembering vividly past visits to see Spurs lose a cup in 1987, win a cup in 1991, win another cup in 1991
- and, well, plenty more Wembley visits for one reason or another.
Thinking about it, I'd notched up rather a lot of Wembley wends: starting in 1986 with a Rous Cup victory for England over Scotland, 2-1, thanks partly to a rare Glenn Hoddle diving header, and culminating in the 1999 FA Cup Final in which super-sub Teddy Sheringham helped Manchester United clinch the second third of that Treble.
Oh, and we thought that was as dramatic as it might get...
In between came the day I, my mother and one brother arrived amid a forest of, er, Forest fans, them wearing grim Pearce and Clough masks, us in Morris boaters with Spurs players cut out and stuck on - and being told merely: "Oh dear, oh dear, what have we here..."
Only to be comforted, as Pearce's free-kick hurtled in, Gazza hurtled off, "goal"scoring Lineker got called offside, then frittered away a penalty.
"See, I told you you'd score," that friendly Forest fan reassured. "Oh..."
I'd like to say I was as magnanimous when we eventually came back to clinch a (deserved) win.
Ah, but I was so much younger then...
Otherwise, there have been the 1999 Worthington Cup win ("The man in the raincoat's blue and white army"), Wolves winning the Sherpa Van Trophy (mum and grandma), Bristol Rovers losing the Leyland Daf Trophy (dad), Ascoli beating Notts County to the Anglo-Italian Cup (dunno), being left speechless by Rene Higuita's "scorpion" save, being left similarly so by Koeman's winning drive for Barca's first European Cup (the second seemed quite sweet too), the rush from Seaman's save to Gazza's dentist chair against Scotland in Euro 96 - oh, and the only Wembley game I missed that summer, the 4-1 v Holland I had to crane to capture from a Villa Park pressbox as Scotland, somewhat less thrillingly,
scraped a 1-0 win against Switzerland...
Well, anyway. The here and now.
And what a stunning stadium it is, new as it is, same place as it stands.
The crowd was well below capacity, and there were lengthy stretches of silence - but when a roar went up, it certainly did stick around.
The design of the roof does seem to keep it all in, bouncing back into the ground rather than drifting away over the North Circular.
That atmosphere will feel and sound immense, just as soon as a full, proper crowd gets packed in, no doubt about it.
Just a shame Spurs won't be there for the first FA Cup Final.
Then again, with 107 steps to the Royal Box instead of the old 39 - I'm not sure our esteemed leader Ledley would have made it,
God rest his dear departed soul...
(As for the other England. Least said, the better...
Then again, for all the flak Mac will surely get:
How, incidentally, really, is Venables earning his money?
If he's such a tactical genius, how did we manage to spend almost the entire game in the opposition half - and yet the player who seemed to see most of the ball was Jamie Carragher?
At least we can't do anything but beat Andorra.
... can we?)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Be thankful I don't take it all..."

22p down to 20p ... one per cent up per annum, to 22 per cent by 2010 ... £17.45 to £20 by 2010 ... 20 per cent, but really that's 10 per cent, to £6,600 ... £7,280 for under-75s becomes £9,770 in 2011 ... £300 for insulation, or £4,000, or somewhere in between anyway ... 2012 zero-carbon homes (whatever they are - tents?) stamp duty-free to £500k ... eight per cent, to 2.7 per cent, to 1.4 per cent, in five years ... £60billion, to £74billion, in four ... and overall, that's £674billion ... and, after all ...
... that's Numberwang!
Oh, those and many more dizzying statistic shall surely be streaming before my eyes, my dreams, this evening after that day again, mired under a mountain of figures and calculations and conclusions and recalculations and convulsions, all in aid of simplistic restylings.
A business studies GCSE only goes so far... well, not very far at all.
On a purely selfish scale, I can't help but be reasonably satisfied enough, on earlyish digesting - as a non-smoking, spirit-drinking, small-car-driving, mediocre professional whose salary sits conveniently (uncannily so) between the £17,000 and £43,000 gates outside which the other income tax reforms do actually kick in no-doubt-annoyingly.
(Then again, looks like I'm a couple of hundred down on non-refundable flights thanks to the rather exhibionist religiosity over in Seville. Huh. "There is no deadline", says Uefa - a lovely insight into how much the average fan means to those oblivious old soaks... But anyway.)
Away from the forensic economic analysis - of which there will no doubt be much but not here, oh no - I thought Gordon Brown comfortably trounced David Cameron on the jokes front, especially of a Stalinist theme. Cameron, usually so suave, seemed more blustery than brilliant today, his Kylie line especially toppling into the gutter, forlornly, unfunnily...
Then again, he did seem a little stunned by that superb, "oh-and-one-more-thing" touch of showmanship by Brown, as he dug that income-tax cut from the depths of a back pocket.
Yes, the emerging ramifications may bring some bitter stings, and abolishing the 10p tax rate emphasises the "Gord giveth, Gord taketh away" element of the whole affair.
But, er, isn't that what they all, always, do?
("Tax - it has to be paid", as an ardent Stevie P told The Glory Game in 1972. "Aren't all the players Labour?" Er...)
Heavens a'mighty, that a Chancellor of the Exchequer should have the audacity to levy taxes?
Honestly, some people - they win the popular vote at the most recent election, and they think that gives them the right to govern...
(Interesting-ish fact: When George Harrison toured Japan in 1991, his live version of "Taxman" had backing singers replacing "Ah, ah, Mr Wilson" with "Ah, ah, Mr Major", "Ah, ah, Mr Heath" with "Ah, ah, Neil Kinnock".
The first fitted slightly better than the second.
Okay, not even interesting-ish, but anyway...)
Anyway, that final flourish was rather cherishable in the delivery.
Almost as much James Brown as Gordon.
All that was missing was Mr Blair handing Brown his cape at the climax...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Aw, come on now - you know about my debutante..."

There are two key surprises in the new Edie Sedgwick biopic, Factory Girl.
The second comes right at the end, as the credits start to roll indeed - among all the clearly-real-life characters involved, the blatantly Bob Dylan part played so lamely by Hayden Christiansen is actually listed, disingenuously, as "Folk Singer".
Why so coy?
It's not as if the affair between Dylan and Edie isn't well-documented.
Nor is he portrayed so much as the villain of the piece, of Edie's downfall, compared to Guy Pearce's lip-twitching, eerie Andy Warhol.
I can only guess that Dylan threatened to sue once he'd got wind of just how horribly vacuous Christiansen could be, the "actor" appearing to believe that a shrugged-on leather jacket, a mussed-up mop and the odd dreary drawl add up to enough of an enigma.
The first surprise, on the other hand, is that Sienna can actually act.
Very well indeed, in fact.
Okay, so the role seems oh-so-nattily tailor-made for her - a flimsy, shimmying social gadabout-town, expertly wearing all the chic-est outfits and even more expertly falling out of them at any excuse.
But you do start to care as the starts to fall apart, cast adrift between two (supposedly) powerful presences and the ever-whirling tastes of the times.
Except... the film as a whole doesn't help her.
It's too fractured, too shallow - cutting up abruptly, more Thomas Crown Affair at times than really-radical pop-artistry, and there's just not enough reason to understand why Edie Sedgwick slipped away.
Nor why to truly, madly, deeply care.
Nor is the effect assisted by the too-predictable framework, intercutting flashback scenes with emotion-recollected-in-tranquillity commentaries - the kind of start-at-the-end structure that seems motivated less by artistic merit, the attempt to reflect historical hindsight and its unreliability, than to distance such films from being merely a straight-to-TV docudrama.
The worst of these was the lamentable Cole Porter biopic, De-Lovely, in which the old-Cole-commentates-on-the-younger conceit was nowhere near so clever as it thought, being merely distracting all the while...
So, well, while Factory Girl is a stirring little Sixties tale, hopefully speeding the return of such fashions to the frontline, there's just - like Edie by the end - a little too little flesh around the bones.
When all it really needed, all in all, was another, well, fifteen minutes...?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"You'll see me come running to the sound of your strumming..."

"Clearly things are starting to move in a weirder direction and it's becoming a fight to keep up the camaraderie. But despite these internal frictions, the truth that Stewart and I have to acknowledge privately is that without Sting's songwriting talent, it wouldn't happen - and this gives him power over the two of us. On the other hand, where would he be without the two of us? It always comes back to the indivisible sum, and in the all-pervasive group life, lines like this become an interior monologue. But in this moment and put crudely, it becomes either Sting's way or no way; almost all ideas are carried out on a confrontational basis, and the idea of a group democracy fades." (Andy Summers, One Train Later: A Memoir)

Ah, that indivisible sum. There has to be an indivisible sum, that gives its heat to everyone... (Arf.) Two cherished box sets sit on top of my Ikea-built/battered-together CD shelves: The Police's four-disc Message In A Box, and The Jam's five-disc Direction, Reaction, Creation. Except the four-disc Police collection has been three CDs for a while, after I was generous/foolish enough to lend to a friend and the fourth disc - including the sumptuous Synchronicity album and the brave, synth-soaked '86 restyling of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" - never made it back.

I have, of course, since iTunes-ed it - and would hardly have hoped to eBay off the package anyway. Then again, the fifth Jam CD seems rather superfluous, mostly slapdash-ish versions of "Stand By Me", "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "Rain" inferior to the covers and out-takes on the superiorly intriguing Extras album, for some reason not included here...

Ah, but now we have the prospect of not only fresh live performances from The Police, but also The Jam... Well, part of The Jam, anyway. Two-thirds. That's a majority verdict, that's worthwhile, right?
Er, maybe wrong. Okay, Rick Buckler on drums and Bruce Foxton on wandering melodic bass were quite the sturdy rhythm section, nowhere near as virtuoso as guitar maestro Andy Summers and drummer-cum-reality-show-judge Stewart Copeland for The Police.
(Stop me before I become too Homeresque, rhapsodising over Grand Funk Railroad, "the wild, shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner. The bone-rattling bass of Mel Schacher. The competent drum work of Don Brewer...”)

But, come on, fellas - no Weller, no Jam. As Foxton's pre-"Turning Japanese" songwriting efforts demonstrate, his lyrics ("News Of The World", "Smithers-Jones") typically being even clunkier than the teenage Modfather's earliest, callowest efforts - though Weller does win overall, for "If we tell you that you got two days to leave - well, don't complain 'cos it's one more than you get in Zaire!"
If The Police can patch up their differences and clamber back on stage together, then surely The Jam can too? After all, Weller may have been a bristly type throughout, but intra-band punch-ups don't seem to have gone on record quite as they have done for The Police.
Then again, The Police - including 65-year-old Summers, ten years the other two's senior - may have made it to the Grammies intact, but a two-year tour? Believe it when the last clanging chord and agonised reggae-ish yelp have echoed away into nothingness. I'd love to see them try, nevertheless - count me well and truly in, as soon as tickets go on sale.

I know Sting's meant to be rather a figure of ridicule these days - the more so, the more often he allows "Every Breath You Take" to be bastardised, or trills the line about the umbrella from "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" over the fade-out to unrelated, inferior tunes...

But a Royal Albert Hall gig he did in 1993, one of the first I attended with friends only, no family, was one of my best and most memorable (less so, only than Blur-Pulp-Supergrass-and-er-Corduroy at Ally Pally the following year, and various, separate Sir Macca or Manics happenings over the years) - despite the odd, Muppetational setting.
His band that evening sounded both impeccably-tight and expressive, despite his on-record distaste for guitar solos, and I can only imagine how charged, punchy and sweeping the original top-notch, attuned trio could be, if the moods and the moment are right.
(And Sting doesn't produce his lute.)

Of course, it can't be quite right, quite as they were - even if the full three become one. Those raw, raspy 1977 demos and live hollers of "Fall Out", "Dead End Job", "Roxanne" and on and on, can't be replicated by three thirty-years-older, many-millions-richer middle-aged-and-then-some men.

I attended a gig at the Hope And Anchor in Islington last week, somewhere I'd only previously been to drink rather than see bands, despite having read a little something of its proud punk-and-new-wave history. It's mentioned in the Summers book, in fact. But I was surprised just how small and poky the basement venue was, elbow-room-only even for such unknowns as my friend's band Straightjacket, the Jyrojets, the Genome Project and the laughable photocopy punks The Vapours (an immaculately-slicked Eddie Cochran ducks-arse hairdo, a mad-eyed glare, and a few hacked tracks of petulantly foul-mouthed racket - hm...)

Wow, to see a properly exciting band like The Jam or The Police, in their prime, right here... (cf. my previous vague'n'envious musings about the 100 Club). Well, unless some random intervention of Fate is willing to go all Life On Mars on me, such an experience will have to remain a, ahem, "hole... in my life" (thank you, Mr Sumner).

All the more reason to catch what might now come around. Police-wise, anyway. A Jam by any other main man just wouldn't be anywhere near enough the same.
So, think on, think again please, Paul. The Jam doesn't just have to be for "when you're young".
"The world is your oyster, but your future's a clam."
Uh-Huh (Oh Yeah). Well, help out.

Oh, and if Morrissey and Marr could patch things up with each other, and with Joyce and Rourke, that would be handy too.
A triple-bill tour to excite indeed.
Now wouldn't we have a nice time?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Chocolate oranges are available from Rawlinson's..."

Happy Valentine-ing.
(Overrated, innit?)
Kudos to whatever powers-that-be decreed this simultaneousness, though.
That's the spirit.
Ah, but anyway.
Roses are red,
Grass is green,
Roll right on,
February 15...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"My tactic was to get them all down to exactly the same level..."

... we lost, then? Ah well. Schade.

For all my misplaced fervor last WorldCuptime, I'm struggling to imagine in which circumstances I might have cared less about tonight's unjustifiable-on-any-level matadoria versus Spain. Especially after the grinning-ginga left Robbo hanging heavily on a line to dry, to shield his baffling bonus of Lumpalard on the left.
(Just how's he going to score any deflections from there, eh...?)

Still, I always had Mac and his disturbing island of tufty hair, frontwards, amid a struggle of back-receding red, down as a wrong'un from his early-days drinks reception at which he allowed himself to be completely and utterly dominated by the fellow repel-some redhead Kay Burley.
And so an un'appy era begins...

Oh, if only, if only... Que sera, sera:

The three Ms indeed...
(Sorry: small 'm', for Cookcopyrightreasons...)

Or else:

Has any England side, since 1990,

played so sustainedly well under any man other than this...?:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

"Yes, I am blind,
No, I cant see
The good things,
Just the bad things..."
Honestly, that Morrissey - such a misery...
Well, in this world of here-and-now, in front of me - I can see.
Always a bonus.
After a weekend of being asked:
How did it feel? Did it hurt? Did you smell burning?
Well, swiftly, in reverse order: NO!, Sort-of, and... trippy.
For all and any squeamishness, shivers and shakes at the prospect of merely-local anaesthetic, scooping and spearing and ZZZZAP-ing of gooey eyes, the worst was actually the three-plus hours I had to sit, silent, waiting in the, er, waiting room of a Harley Street previously patronised, according to grinning photos on the walls, by "Dr" Neil Fox.
Now that's scientific fact...
Finally, after having devoured every last word of both The Independent and The Daily Mail (how's that, for keeping my eyes in balance, rrright?), I was ushered into a surgeon's handshake, then back on my back, chin-straight-please-keep-your-chin-STRAIGHT, glasses cast aside for the last time, my right eye doused with dozing-fluid, then clasped and clamped into place, eyelids taped back (easy how you tear, now, I've been growing'n'grooming these eyelashes specially...), until all I see is an insistent orange glow like a pussy-willow wriggling aggressively towards me, fighting off the blackness that's increasingly enveloping all... and this is uncomfortable, even ache-y, even actually really rather painful, but it'll be over soon, it'll be over soon... and suddenly, out of the black, loops of light, multi-coloured rings around the swoon, a little boy's kaleidoscope, an expense-spared Pink Floyd stage show.
Only accompanied by a metronomic clack-clack like a slowly-surely old-fashioned football rattle; sparks spitting from an optician's dentist's drill...
Red, yellow, orange. Over.
Now the other...
And suddenly, I'm in another room, all dark but a pin-sharp clock on the wall - until the eyes, filling and refilling with water, saltwater, have to shutter down again under shades...
Little elements of detail squeeze in every so often, but I'd rather spend the car journey home buried in my own shrug, then tape curtains to the windows and while away these crucial 12 hours in goggles, under a shroud, only hearing - drifting in, drifting out, drifting in again - old episodes of On The Hour or Baker and Kelly (the whistle-less ref who had to officiate with a harmonica, the knitted Steve Sedgley voodoo doll, Iain Dowie as Earthworm Jim...), with the rest of the weekend's choreography of strategic eyedrops, squinting and every-so-often rejoicing at the sheer off-clear, but mostly-there gift of sight.
That'll do, for now. Let's call it 17/20 vision, maybe 18 in a good moment.
For you, my friend, 18-and-a-half.
Ask me again next week, I'll see your question a mile away...
(I, like the rest bar the ref, could still see the winker dived, of course...)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

"Are you blue or are you blind?"

By the time you read this, I may be ... blind.
This certainly could be my final blog entry, at any rate. Not because this is a suicide note for the exhibitionist internet era, nor even the prelude to a hissy-fit flounce out of the blogosphere.

But because, tomorrow afternoon, I shall be undergoing LASIK laser-eye surgery (after much musing) and, well, you never know what might, just might, go wrong, do you? Tonight will certainly be even sleepless-ier than usual, and what snippets of snoozing are grasped will doubtless be dominated by grisly, slimy, slicey scenes of scalpel-meet-membrane...

Mere general anasthetic doesn't seem sufficient, anyway, before having a flap of corneal tissue slapped on my eyes, then scraped backwards to allow the laser beams to begin firing away... At least the experience should feel, well, unique. And the whole procedure will provide an excuse for lounging around the rest of the weekend, a hefty pair of Orbisonesque sunglasses shielding me from the world's glare, showbiz-style...

However long it takes to go from blurry-anyway, to blurry-aftermath, to crystal(-ish) vision, I am looking forward to being able to see the alarm clock and radio upon waking up, to hiding away the irritating glasses and contacts for good, to just, well, seeing clearly now, come rain or shine.

It won't go wrong. I won't go blind... Will I?
Well, apparently there's a 0.4 per cent chance of infection, 0.1 per cent of epithelial in-growth, 0.2-0.3 per cent of macular hole, 0.36 per cent of retinal detachment, 0.33 per cent of choroidal neovascularisation, and a mere 0.18 per cent of uveitis. Phew, eh?

Still, even with those odds I'd have been grateful if my potentially-final football match had been a little more enjoyable to the eye last night. Then again, even with white stick and yapping dog the view couldn't have been much worse than of the Emirates pitch, from the very front row behind the goal, where perspective of the opposite half was nigh-on impossible - lulling me into believing a foul on Robbie Keane must surely have been in their penalty area, but also shielding me from realising just what a what-if, shoulda-been easy chance he somehow managed to miss.

We really had them some pressure there - well, for ten minutes anyway, the five from 85th to 90th, and then the five added for stoppage-time, and Mido's Ricky Villa-ish run and shot that snaked a few agonising inches wide will be re-run in my mind many times, eyes or no eyes...

But yet again, we were punished for sitting back too unambitiously, too long... And, well, even the greedy grasping of all possible straws - such as supposed omens earlier in the day, like the change machine that sucked in tenner and delivered me one five-pound-note and six one-pound-coins - had plenty of Spurs-antagonising fate to fight against...

Ah well. Mickey Mouse Cup, innit?
(And we'd only have lost to Chelsea in the final, anyway...)

At least there's still the first FA Cup Final back at Wembley.
And even more excitingly, the Uefa Cup in Glasgow - via several European detours - towards which to look forward.

So to speak. Hope to see Spurs there.
Well, to see anything at all, really...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"And they got up to sing a few old country songs..."

RIP "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow.

The Flying Burrito Brothers' Gilded Palace Of Sin and Burrito Deluxe may not quite be my two favourite albums of all-time, but they'd certainly both make it into the, ooh, I dunno - top seven, top eight?
You certainly can't buy a better "two-fer", both classic country-rock LPs (in a good way, honest, not an Eaglesque atrocity - actually, make that the Gram-approved "cosmic American music"...)
Ah, actually, maybe you can - Gram Parsons' own GP and Grievous Angel, put together without the Burritos but with his astonishing new protege, Emmylou Harris, probably the finest accompanying vocalist around and heartbreaking on such ballads as "Love Hurts" and "We'll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning". Last year's reissue, with alternative, discarded session tracks, throws up a fair few gems - including a long-lost, third Gram take on his personal anthem, "Hickory Wind", perfectly balanced between the chugalug of the Byrds original and the Gram/Emmylou, officially-released, slightly-too-slow fake-"live" re-recording...

But anyway, anyway... there was one "one-fer" that not only got me to those, but perhaps directly and indirectly introduced me to more intriguing, enjoyable highways and byways of music than any other.

And a place I suppose I should thank, in starting me off on this life-changing musical journey.
Yes, Dudley.

I'm sure the Merry Hill Shopping Centre in Wolverhampton's less glamorous little brother borough has been the host of oh-so-many minor and major epiphanies, it's untrue...

But while we're waiting for those, here's an actual one: it was in Our Price there that one day I finally took the plunge and, after years of teenage guilt and longing and lusting after that dirty secret that is country music, I tugged a copy of the Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo to my chest, darted for the check-out and hurled the £8.99 across the counter without making any guilty eye contact at all with the cashier.

Actually, I'd weighed this up well. I'd heard the briefest echoes of pedal-steel guitars while enduring lifts home from school from my John-Dunn-adoring, Radio-2-tuning mother. And even once borrowed a Patsy Cline album from the local library, stowing it secretly under my school jumper through that vulnerable five-minute walk home...

But then again, I did have the Byrds' (latest) Greatest Hits album on tape, b/w another library-copy - Star by Belly. And that jingle-jangle... well, it was sort-of like the Pete Seeger songs my Dad would play in church every so hip-pily often, but not at all.

So I finally bought Sweetheart, and nudged it alongside the Sixties albums I'd been hoarding since the age of, er, seven (mostly the holy trinity of Beatles, Kinks and, er, Donovan). But if ever an album could (ahem) change my life, then Sweetheart... was it.

Because within, ooh, a week I'd bought that GP/Grievous Angel double-set and, greedily, the equally-convenient Gilded Palace Of Sin/Burrito Deluxe Burrito Brothers, er, deluxe set.

And then started to both read and listen up... and find, gradually, both the confidence and knowledge to branch into modern-day Americana, classic Sixties country soul, pure old-fashioned country, pure old-fashioned rockabilly, heart-tugging ballads, nigh-on-impenetrable 18th century American folk songs, rock'n'gospel...

And no, these weren't mostly Gram-led, he was brilliantly-limited, but the lesser-hailed McGuinn blazed a fair few trails even as he shed inspirational and members and cushioned lovely Byrds singles between early-Seventies album filler...

But just as The Kinks Are The Village Green Society lives long as a great, great counter-culture 1968 album, so does Sweetheart....

A recent reissue appended a radio ad, which either made light of or ignored the peak chart position of about 63... but the relevance remains. And adds to the experimentation already heard on Younger Than Yesterday (and Hillman's first country-shuffling tracks), or Mr Tambourine Man (and the harsher-edged jangles on the bonus track alternate versions) or the pastoral laments of "John Riley" or "Purple Heather" up against LSD-astronaut-noodlings...

And I haven't even mentioned Gene Clark's solo beauties either - here's perhaps the finest pop song... (the dancing's not so bad either)

So, country music/country&western/alt-country/Americana/'No Depression'/bluegrass/rockabilly/country-soul/cosmic-American-music - whatever you might want to call it, there's plenty there to be getting on with, redeeming, and relishing. Sure, a good deal of shlock, too...

But thank you, Byrds and Burritos, for giving me - ooh, off the top of the head - Johnny Cash, Uncle Tupelo, Hank Williams, Emmylou, Loretta, Tammy, Bobbie and Dolly, The Jayhawks, Neko Case, Lucinda Williams, George Jones, Laura Cantrell, Merle Haggard, Wilco, Kasey Chambers, Jimmie Rodgers, Iris DeMent, Vern Gosdin, Steve and Stacey Earle, Jim White, Ryan Adams... Ooh, even a bit of Shania every now and then (even if she does have a weakness for a few too many exclamation marks.)

Oh, and of course, the divine Lurleen - the girl who was "going to be a country music superstar, like - er, that jerk in the cowboy hat - and that dead lady!"