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The Cheese Family and Me

22 Nov

I forgot I wrote this. It was a response to a BBC story about foreign names which I sent in about 2 weeks ago. I’m off work today with this virulant man-flu thing that’s been going around so the first I knew about it was when my phone started pinging with messages from people who’d seen it. Woke me up from a fevered half-sleep in fact:

 

The Cheese Family and more Reader’s Names

 

Anyway, yeah, it’s mildly amusing. Ironically, considering it’s about mis-spellings of my surname, they’ve actually mis-spelt my surname in one instance. Or maybe that was me when I sent it in – which kind of undermines my argument a bit…

I don’t do poetry

28 Feb

I really don’t. I wrote a load of Haiku a few years ago, but I don’t really view that as poetry. That may sound a bit bizarre, but what I mean is that Haiku, to me, is more a concise snapshot of thought/perception than what you would think of as verse. In any case, I haven’t written a poem since I was about eighteen. I don’t have anything against poetry, it’s just not my thing.

Except that this week, for some completely unknown reason, I wrote one. I’m not sure what I think about it; I doubt I’ll be making a habit of it. But here it is. I was going to call it Happy Diwali Daily Mail, but as it is I’ve called it Rhapsody on a Theme by Sylvia Plath. How’s that for pretention?

The devil makes work for idle hands

and he made no exception for you.

The curtains are drawn,

the blinds are down;

the only light is the aqua-marine

and the twinkling cities

of the world you caught in your miserly net;

the one you shrunk like the head of a pigmy

and set in orbit round the chair you never leave.

Look at them move and scurry about:

the little people,

beyond your contempt.

Omnificent you, an opinion on everything;

a Titan, a God, with an IQ of eighty.

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You’re bored? Then a plague,

your wrath made pestilent,

will remind us how useless we are.

An earthquake in Bradford,

AIDS for the scroungers,

a tsunami that will wash only queers away.

The firstborn of immigrants,

and most violent of all:

a famine for the fallen like me –

the cloven-hoofed liberals who don’t really care,

who live and let live, psychotically.

.

Empathise, and go to hell,

six billion and more in a handcart.

It’s the war of your world, the unholy crusade,

with the losers cast out east of Croydon.

There’s a burning bush for Piers Morgan though:

get rich, stay white, be obnoxious as fuck;

for the rest it’s Gomorrah – we deserve it.

The devil makes work for idle hands,

and it’s me, I am legion, and alive

you old bastard.

Big Tobacco

23 Jan

Another post on an album review I did on Amazon. This one is for Joe Pernice’s Big Tobacco.

Once or twice to kill my pain, and once to bring it back again…

The first line of the first song sums this album up for me. It’s a masterclass in bittersweet songwriting, and possibly Joe Pernice’s best record. A bit more stripped back than the harmony laden production of The Pernice Brothers or Chappaquiddick Skyline. But no less infectious.

I discovered this guy by accident while messing about on iTunes, and having heard quite a bit of his music now I’ve been left wondering why he isn’t more of a household name. You can, I guess, throw about the alt-country or Americana tags but his music kind of transcends that. Lovely vintage pop harmonies and melodies, solid musicianship and well crafted songs.

The highlight here for me is ‘Bum Leg’. The guitar part has a great gothic alt-country feel to it that reminds me of Wim Wenders films, small town dustbowl America. But for me, it’s the lyrics that lift it to something else. Very understated telling of a violent encounter under a bridge. Very gritty and compelling. Clever songwriting too – at one point he gets quite a wordy section to fit the melody and sound like it rhymes even though it doesn’t. “Could you walk a little slower/my legs don’t work so good in this cold weather”. Brilliant stuff.

What does all this rambling tell you about the record? Well, that it’s a good one. Joe Pernice should be a bigger star than he is. Buy it, I think you’ll like it.

Inspired

13 Jan

Nothing of note to say today, I just love this song…

 

I put up a review of the album on Amazon (as I do for things I like) and in the absence of anything else to Blog about, I thought I’d put it up here as well:

Left Me Speechless

There’s good music, there’s great music, and of course there’s rubbish music. Every once in a while I come across a record that is something else entirely. And this is one of those records. On the first listen it literally left me speechless. I couldn’t explain to my other half what I liked about it, I just knew it was something a bit special. I haven’t felt that way since the first time I heard Grace by Jeff Buckley.

This is not an easy listen. It is probably one of the most depressing albums I’ve ever heard. But there is just something incredibly compelling about it. It’s highly original, but that’s not what grabs you: it’s the honesty, the pain, the sheer intensity of the emotion packed into it.

At times, ironically, there does seem to be the odd musical nod to Jeff Buckley. There are some occasional Nick Cave-esque lyrics about redemption. But apart from that, it’s not really quite like anything I’ve heard before. Looking at the reviews here I’m not overly surprised that it has split opinion somewhat. Because it is a bold and uncompromising album. It won’t be to everyone’s taste. Bouncy, sing-a-long pop music it certainly isn’t. Posturing, riff-laden rock music it certainly isn’t. But if, like me, you think there should be music out there that pushes the boundaries a little bit, that delivers something new and worthy of your attention, then this has to be it. I disagree that it’s tuneless. The melodies are subtle and are broken up at times, quite cleverly in my opinion, by the more wordy sections of the lyrics. Sometimes the melodies do disappear and are replaced instead by disembodied guitar phrases that I think are just beautiful. It’s a clever and unique way to present music. And it fits perfectly the highly personal, whispering confessional style of Pearson’s singing.

I suspect this will be one of those records that gets looked back on as a template for all manner of things that follow it. A future classic that is spoken of as being a bit ahead of its time. Seriously, I do believe it’s that good. I don’t often agree with music critics but they have it right on this one. Wow, what a way to start 2012 for my music collection.

Right Away, Great Captain!

5 Jan

I absolutely love this song. It builds into the most angry and vitriolic thing I’ve ever heard. Probably more so because it’s so understated to start:

 

That is all. For now. I just felt the need to share.

Fairytale of New York

19 Dec

Well, it’s happened. I heard The Pogues on the radio. This is what I use to gauge when Christmas officially starts. Not only is it the best Christmas song ever, it’s the only one that I genuinely like, the only one that I can listen to every year, a hundred times, and not want to rip my own ears off.

It was swiftly followed by Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses and yes, the glorious mood it put me in was immediately slaughtered. If I’d had a hose I would probably have pulled the car over and attached it to the exhaust.

Why is most Christmas music so unbearably shit? Probably because it’s sentimental rubbish. Everyone’s happy, everyone loves each other, isn’t it glorious to be alive? No, it isn’t. There are things about Christmas I love – not working has to be a big one. Watching my daughter in carol concerts is superb, makes me cry every year pretty much. Watching her open presents is great, having a laugh with the missus is great. And then it all goes wrong when someone in the extended family kicks off over something. Happens practically every year. Even when it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter because we’ve all been sitting around tense, waiting for it, and that in itself usually ruins the day.

Maybe this is why I like the Pogues song so much. For the people in it, Christmas is a time to reflect on how disappointed they are in each other. Seems to me that a lot of the people around me use Christmas as a time to reflect on how disappointed they are that they don’t get exactly what they want. They build Christmas up into this idealised event and then moan when it never quite lives up to the perfection they foolishly imagined. See, my approach is much more satisfying: expect nothing and then be surprised and pleased by anything nice that does happen. (And, that way, I’m usually at least prepared for the annual shitstorm when it arrives).

This year, my missus is laid up with a broken coccyx after falling down the stairs. That probably sounds awful, and it is, but actually it means that we can’t do anything with the extended family. It’ll just be the two of us and our daughter. Which means it will probably be the most relaxed Christmas I’ve ever had. No arguments, no bullshit. Or, at least, the arguments and bullshit have all already happened. They’re already out of the way, a week early, so now I can relax – at least until 2012. So thank you to the DJ who played Fairytale of New York this morning. Looks like this year will be a good one. Now bring it on…

Photography

26 Aug

I’m still not writing. I’m still struggling to get out from under the cloud of work I’m caught up in at the moment. But it occurred to me I’ve been banging on a lot on here recently about one of my passions – music – and haven’t really touched on another one: photography. I’m a bit of an amateur photographer and like to wander about places with an old fashioned 35mm camera taking black and white shots of things on genuine black and white film stock. (Occasionally I use colour, as in the photo here taken in Tokyo a few years back). There’s nothing particularly innovative about it, I don’t do it because I think I can break into the world of photography. I just do it because I like it.

I used to be quite good at art back in my school days. I was really interested in fine art, painters like Picasso, Magritte, Marc Chagall, Kandinsky. And I kept this interest up for a while, regularly visiting the Tate in Liverpool and London, looking out for new exhibitions. That all kind of changed when I walked into the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank and saw a collection of photographs by Henri Cartier Bresson. I went out and got a camera, and I don’t think I’ve ever used a pencil or a paintbrush since.

To be honest, I was never THAT good anyway. I wasn’t going to be breaking into the art world at any point. But Bresson’s photographs completely changed my perception of art. Because great photography is art. But whereas painting and sculpture, and multi-media art have become ever increasingly oblique and conceptual (which I don’t have a problem with by the way), photography retains this purely real, emotive immediacy which I guess I just find more interesting. I caught a bit of the Bresson documentary on BBC4 last night which has obviously led to this post, and one of the talking heads on there (I can’t remember who it was) said that in photography either something happens or it doesn’t. You have to be engaged enough to capture a moment when it sparks into life, but distant enough to capture it without being dragged in and thereby losing the clarity you need to depict it properly. But it’s all really down to chance and to waiting. I couldn’t agree more.

Bresson is my hero to be honest with you. He just had this ability to capture something in his photographs that I can only really explain pretentiously as a hidden truth. He snatches moments out of time and lets the rest of us see them. His portraits seem to strike right through to the essence of the people he’s photographing. His more panaromic stuff just balances perfectly the subject and his environment. The guy was a genius. I wish I could take photographs like he did.

But it occurs to me, I could apply some of what I just said to the short stories I put out last year. I’m not comparing myself to Bresson, god forbid, but trying to depict the moment, trying to get at the essence of what’s real. Trying to engage but trying to retain clarity. I’m not saying I was successful at it, but that’s what I was aiming for certainly. So perhaps it’s no great surprise photography has an appeal for me. I think I need to get out the camera again. It’s been a while. If I can’t write then at least I can hit the shutter release while I’m thinking about xml and webservices and front end components…

Writing? No, just more music ramblings

16 Aug

No, still no posts about writing. I haven’t DONE any writing for about six weeks. Instead I’ve been on holiday and then come back only to be pinned to the floor for over a month by a mountain of work. I have, however, been buying some records again, so I’m going to talk about that for a minute. Maybe it’ll get the writing gene activated again – who knows?

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Ok, that’s Shiva Burlesque, a band I’ve been meaning to look into for nearly twenty years now. I remember when I was eighteen I was in a small town called Barry just outside of Toronto in Canada (don’t ask why, that’s a long story) and I went into every record store asking if they had Shiva Burlesque. I was a big Grant Lee Buffalo fan at the time (Fuzzy had just come out and I’d seen them live and loved them) and I’d read in a magazine they were all in a previous band. Anyway, nobody had their records. One guy even told me I was wasting my time – Barry was a redneck hole in the ground and unless I was after Bryan Adams I could forget it. He obviously didn’t enjoy living there very much…

Anyway, the reason I mention any of this is that a fortnight or so ago, for some unknown reason, I finally tracked down and bought the second Shiva Burlesque album Mercury Blues. And it is glorious. Much more edgy and experimental than Grant Lee Buffalo were. Maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much twenty years ago. Maybe I was supposed to wait until I was nearing thirty eight before listening to this. In any case, I love it. I can’t stop playing it. And it’s set off a kind of chain reaction…

I have a pretty eclectic music taste, but obviously I have some preferences. I seem to be drawn to indie music, specifically American indie music I suppose. Anything a bit acoustic, a bit lo-fi, maybe with a drawling vocal and a few Beatlesque melodies. If it sounds anything like that I’ll probably be all over it. I’ve spent the last few years moaning a bit about how there isn’t as much decent music about now as there was in the 90s. Back then I seemed to discover a new band every month, every week even. Now, it’s about every five or six years. I guess that’s evidence of me getting old and picky. But listening to Mercury Blues I was reminded of a couple of other records I have. I plucked out some Mazzy Star, I listened to Evan Dando’s solo record again. And I started thinking, right, it can’t be that there is no decent music out there. It must be that I’m just not hearing it for some reason. So I rolled my sleeves up and dived into iTunes and Wikipedia. After a few false starts and blind alleys, I found this:

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Isn’t that glorious? The Pernice Brothers – never heard of them. What have I been doing since 1998? At least they have a back catalogue I can now plunder. I’m a fan of Sonic Youth and I discovered Thurston Moore has a couple of solo acoustic albums out. I was checking out some of the bands I remember from the 90s that I thought were ok but not earth shattering, and in looking at The Afghan Wigs and The Screaming Trees I discovered their front men had been collaborating as The Gutter Twins. What a great couple of CDs they’ve put out. I’m telling myself the inordinate amount of money I’ve spent on iTunes is all in the name of research for this collection of shorts about music I’m (not) working on. Ah well, at least I’ve proved to myself I was wrong. There is some great music out there at the moment, it just seems harder to find now than it ever was before…

Eight Cuts

31 Mar

Dan Holloway, who I’ve reviewed on this Blog twice now, runs a website and small press called Eight Cuts. I’ve been corresponding with Dan a little bit over on Amazon forums – we bumped into each after I’d read his work – and he’s a really nice guy, very well read and incredibly informed. His enthusiasm for new writing is pretty inspiring. As of today he’s very kindly featured my work on his site, an occurance which has given me a bit of a kick up the arse to update the blog with about 3 or 4 other indie/small press books I’d reviewed recently. I’m pretty sure Dan’s pages get a lot more traffic than mine, but on the off chance you haven’t been over there already (and why haven’t you? You really should sort that out right now…) then this is the link: Eight Cuts.

Dan is a founder member of the Year Zero group and a lot of the good indie stuff I’ve been reading (not all, but a lot) has come out of this group. In addition to that, Eight Cuts seems to be a focal point for some of the best independent and underground work around. Seriously, that’s where it’s all going on. Go on, get your arse over there, you know you want to.

Oblivious in Japan

20 Mar

Just stumbled upon this which surprised me – Oblivious in paperback on the Japanese Amazon site.

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