Friday, June 29, 2007

Fopp - what does it all mean?

So now Fopp has gone out of business. This just a few days after HMV posted some poor results and Prince announced that his new album will be given away with the Mail On Sunday.
The first Fopp I went into was in Glasgow about six years ago. It was small but they knew how to organise their material in clusters and if they got their price points right you ended up filling a basket, either with the kind of middling back catalogue like Pink Floyd's "Meddle" you had never bought on CD or something faintly camp like a Jimmy Smith record from the late 60s. What I always liked about Fopp was that they didn't have everything. I find masses of catalogue over-facing these days. I know I can always get those things on line in my own time. I used to buy things at Fopp as presents. But then the shops got bigger and suddenly they were everywhere, the prices of the other stores came down to meet theirs and the experience was no longer so special.
The reaction of the City pages to all this news is pretty glib. It's the internet, apparently. I don't think it's as straightforward as that. I don't have any definitive handle on this but I've spent enough time in record shops - on both sides of the counter - to offer this ten point guide to what may be going on with CD sales:
  1. The supermarkets now discount the top sellers from which the specialist shops traditionally made their money.
  2. Even megastores find it hard to match the breadth and depth of an Amazon, iTunes or eMusic. The harder they try the less congenial they become.
  3. Too much mainstream music has had the magic surgically removed from it, the better to suit the marketing machine.
  4. The time and money that used to be invested in recorded music is now just as likely to go into other forms of entertainment.
  5. The CD is an essentially unlovable medium. It does not quicken the pulse.
  6. An increasing number of men now avoid going into shops, because they can.
  7. File sharing.
  8. Because we know everything will be available forever, we no longer feel the same urgency to buy.
  9. Most records are overrated as a matter of course. The public has been hyped too often.
  10. On the internet you can spend hours just mooching around music. (You're doing it now.) This is an experience you previously could only get in a record shop.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's an old man's man's man's man's world

The Spice Girls reunion has been flagged up for nearly as long as the Blair/Brown handover. It's going to be announced later today, apparently. Not a moment too soon for the members of the group, who have to face the hard fact that they must either do it now or not at all. Cream can get back together forty years after they formed and nobody cares that they're a bunch of craggy old scrotes. Nobody needs to fancy them.
But the same rules don't apply to women in show business. Just as the male newsreader can get older while his female colleague is always traded in for a younger model and actresses disappear at the age of 38 and aren't allowed back until they can play eccentric grandmothers, the market for classic pop'n'rock will continue to be dominated by older white males.

Turpe Nescire

They've been discussing school mottos on "Today" following Gordon Brown's quoting his old one yesterday. My own grammar school motto used to float over my fourteen-year-old head, like so many things. Lately I've come to believe in it profoundly. Turpe Nescire means "it is disgraceful to be ignorant". It comes to mind every time I hear somebody boasting of their own ignorance.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Of sheep and willies

Contemporary politicians are not known for their quick wits. They've had to think so hard about the career implications of anything they say that you generally hear their jokes coming for weeks before they arrive. Last night's BBC Four history of deputy Prime Ministers, "Every Prime Minister Needs A Willie", had a few good ones. When Herbert Morrison, Peter Mandelson's grandfather, was told that cabinet rival Ernest Bevin was his own worst enemy he muttered "not while I'm alive he's not". Dennis Healey's line about Geoffrey Howe and the dead sheep retains its surreal fascination. Everyone who knew her agrees that Margaret Thatcher not only never told jokes - she literally didn't understand them either. This is a rare and worrying quality in anyone. She uttered the line that gave the show its name and didn't see why people laughed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Gosh! I say!

Years ago a female colleague pointed out to me that women who'd had facelifts tended to look perpetually surprised. If you're watching Wimbledon, I'd be interested in your view of the Sue Barker situation.

Let's hear it for Harumphrys!

There ought to be more radio like John Humphrys' series of reports on social mobility on this week's Today Programme. Humphreys is one of the last of a breed who will probably be professionally extinct in ten years: people who have reached great eminence in British life despite leaving school at fifteen and starting work as an office junior.
He goes back to the poor area of Cardiff where he was brought up and on to the council estates of Middlesbrough and finds that, despite huge amounts of investment, hundreds of well intentioned "initiatives" and the energetic efforts of our educational institutions, a child from a poor background is now less likely to "get on" than at any point in his lifetime.
Unlike your average guilt-ridden middle class BBC reporter, what Humphrys is not afraid to bring out is that some people don't want to better themselves because they can get by on benefits and anyway it's all the immigrants' fault.
What he probably won't bring out, because his antennae aren't adjusted that way, is that we live in a Culture of Display and as long as the kids in the underclass have the same iPods, mobile phones and fashionable clothes as the kids in the middle class, they've got even less to "aspire" to.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Up to their necks in muck and Monkeys

We have had one brief phone contact with our son since he left for Glastonbury on Thursday night. He was on a coach that was supposed to leave London at five in the afternoon. It was delayed so long that he ended up pitching his tent at four on Friday morning. He's supposed to leave there at 2.a.m. tomorrow morning. According to the report we've had from a friend who's just returned from their first Glastonbury visit, it's chaos at the site and he'll probably be a good deal later than planned. Mark's texts have been unfailingly upbeat - and he went with flu! (I would expect nothing less.) He'd bumped into some young friends who had been unable to find their tent one night and had instead just occupied somebody else's. My guess is that when our son does come back he will have been standing up for four days straight. He will then compensate for this by lying down for four days straight.

The Way They Were

"Last Orders" the movie is, if anything, better than "Last Orders" the book. For a start you can keep track of the characters. It's interesting for anyone studying good looks. Whereas Michael Caine, Bob Hoskins and Tom Courtenay never traded much on their looks, David Hemmings had the blazing eyes back in the ’60s when he played Nolan in "The Charge Of The Light Brigade".
These days he looks like a man who's recently woken after a thirty year party.
There's a lot of flashback in "Last Orders". Nolan Hemmings, who is named after his father's character, plays Lenny as a young man. The young Helen Mirren is played by Kelly Reilly, who is photographed in such a way that she is actually distractingly beautiful. Helen Mirren is a powerfully attractive woman but you can't buy the idea that at the age of 19 she looked like this.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Nation shall flog tat to nation

I've just noticed that the mission statement of BBC Worldwide, which is, they confess, "the commercial arm of the BBC", goes as follows:
"Entertaining the world. Bringing value to the BBC".
I love these little mottos because they're often trying to claim one thing while concealing another.
This is a classic. The first sentence suggests that, like St Francis of Assisi or Medicins Sans Frontieres, they are driven by a desire to ease the pain, suffering and long winter evenings of a significant number of God's creatures. The second suggests they're not actually earning vast sums of money out of DVDs of The Office or Archers tea towels. What they're actually doing is more like a form of charity work that helps defray some of the running expenses of their venerable parent organisation. Bit like a bring & buy sale at your local church.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I could write like this - I just don't feel like it

Anthony Lane on Angelina Jolie in the current New Yorker:
"Official estimates as to how many children Jolie now possesses, and from how many continents, change on a weekly basis. When not giving birth herself, she likes to order in. How this has affected Mr. Pitt is unclear, but his expression is sometimes that of a man who stepped out to hail a cab and got run over by a fleet of trucks."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Living In The Past

Most extraordinary outdoor musical event of the summer has to be Lovebox in Victoria Park. If the posters on the Tube are anything to go by they've got more acts than all the other events put together. Which is fine and I hope the sun shines on them.
What I don't understand is how Sly and The Family Stone get to be top of the bill on the Saturday night. For about three years at the turn of the 60s Sly Stone made wonderful records, but ever since he decided to get married on stage at Madison Square Garden he's been pretty much barking. His appetite for drugs is well documented and he hasn't plinked out a note of consequence since 1973. His behaviour for the last forty years has re-defined "erratic". Promoters in the US stopped using him when Richard Nixon was President because, well, mostly he didn't turn up.
There have been sad attempts to get back to the garden across the years, most recently a Grammy Awards appearance in 2006 where he could only bring himself to stay on stage for three minutes. One can only surmise that the reason some loon has decided to pay him good money to allegedly appear at Victoria Park is because his lack of activity has lent lustre to his legend and, as is the case of Brian Wilson, there are people who will pay to see a casualty provided they can see that casualty through the smoke and mirrors of mystique.
Sly had one brief shining moment at Woodstock. We were all fortunate that the cameras were there to record it. The idea that anyone still believes it will be re-created 40 years later is desperately sad.

Ways to waste your time

Over at Word we're looking for examples of thing that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago. Examples? Shirley Bassey at Glastonbury. A ban on smoking in public places. Michael Jackson being potless. That kind of thing. And while I'm in plugging mode there's an excellent radio documentary about smoking and popular culture you can listen again to here. As usual I'm Voice of Rock.

Sohemian Rhapsody

There's always an evening out you've never had before. Last night Keith and I went to The Wheatsheaf in what used to be called Fitzrovia for an event organised by The Sohemian Society to mark the re-publication of Patrick Hamilton's Gorse Trilogy. Nigel Jones, who wrote a biography of Hamilton which is now sadly out of print, spoke and a couple of actors, one dressed up as a lounge bar cad from the era of rationing, read from Hamilton's works. It was in an upstairs room full of the kind of people who can read a book in a day. But then there were a few sorts whose carefully selected clothing - a pork pie hat here, a trilby there - suggested the desire to live in a Soho that actually disappeared thirty years ago. One of them was carrying a ukulele.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fill Your Head With Rock

Five Live are asking listeners to vote for the key record of the Tony Blair era, illustrated by a picture of him playing the guitar left handed. The top ten you can choose from includes: The Verve, Robbie Williams, Kaiser Chiefs, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, James Blunt, David Gray, Oasis, Franz Ferdinand and the Libertines. I am genuinely amazed that none of the diversity advisers that the BBC has invested in over the last ten years has thought fit to point out to them that there's nothing there by anyone who isn't white and male. I'm not suggesting that there should be a quota system but this reeks of somebody's cloth-eared idea of what constitutes "proper music by people who can play their instruments, like". Dizzee Rascal? The Streets? Girls Aloud? Jamelia? Amy Winehouse? Lily Allen? The Chemical Brothers? Damn this indie-rock orthodoxy! It's more suffocating than the old Light Programme.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Detail, people, detail!

This picture appears among the NME's coverage of the Muse shows at the weekend. The caption says "fans waiting for Muse". Did nobody think it worth pointing out that the woman third from the right is presumably somebody's Mum? Did nobody think that was interesting? Bloody hell, boys, let's not forget that we're here to keep the ball in the air.

The Noise of Summer

The Boy was out last night practising erecting his Glastonbury tent in the back garden. Today he will continue to comb London for size 10 wellies. The Career Girl was at Wireless in Hyde Park on Sunday watching the Kaiser Chiefs and hundreds of other contemporary acts that I have trouble telling apart. The Young One, now alarmingly fifteen, was at Wembley on Sunday watching Muse from a distant postal code. She loved it but it was more to do with the excitement of being among that many people than the music. They're not particularly rock and roll offspring. Certainly not compared to my mates' kids. None of them have even thought about forming a band, for instance, and neither have they threatened to adopt a music-inspired haircut. It's just that going to the giant open air gig has become the thing that everybody has to do. I got through the whole of the 60s, the 70s (apart from one work connected day at Reading and a few Hyde Parks and Knebworths, which don't really count), the 80s and the 90s without going near a festival. I still feel that rock and roll is better when there's a roof over its head. I go to Cornbury and enjoy it but the music is the least important element. I've had many great days at the Test Match where I couldn't tell you a thing about the play.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nation shall read Wikipedia to nation

"He is known for collaborations with artists such as Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead." That's the BBC website tonight on Ornette Coleman who has collapsed at a music festival at the age of 77. The BBC website really has become the toothless mouthpiece of the conventional wisdom, up to here with words written by people with not the remotest understanding of the subjects they're called upon to update us on, all delivered in a language which is half Daily Mail gossip page and half Wikipedia. I know a little about Ornette Coleman but I was not even aware that he'd played with Jerry Garcia, let alone that he was "known" for it. Presumably had he not played with a few white guys who had at one time or another flitted across the night time sky of the writer's cavernous ignorance and then, when he was no longer any threat to anyone, been given a lifetime's achievement Grammy for outliving his peers, he would have been "unknown". Why can't these clowns speak the truth? We've just read an agency report about some weird old jazz guy who's collapsed in the states. Black, apparently. Never mind. On Radio Two a bunch of hamfisted British bands are remaking Sergeant Pepper.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I beg to differ

"In 1997, Radiohead released OK Computer and, in one blow, killed Britpop."
This is the banner headline on the BBC website this evening. (Things must be slow over there.)
Assuming that Britpop was a genre of pop music, following it with the even bigger assumption that one record is ever enough to shift the tectonic plates and then topping it off with the giant leap of faith involved in convincing yourself that Radiohead's "Ok Computer" meant much to anyone outside a narrow section of the population, is it not the case that no genre has ever been killed? Everything just goes on forever.
It's about time we blew the whistle on this linear view of pop history. It gets on my wick.

Every picture tells a story

Watched half of Best Years Of Our Lives last night and the remainder this morning. Made in 1946 by William Wyler, it's about three soldiers returning to the middle of America after having seen and experienced terrible things in the war. It was photographed by Gregg "Deep Focus" Toland, who also filmed "Citizen Kane". Once you know that you watch every shot for the elements of unease in the background. Here Harold Russell, who really did lose both his hands in an explosion during the war, plays the piano with Hoagy Carmichael as Fredric March looks on, knowing that Dana Andrews is in the phone booth at the back ending his relationship with his daughter.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

World Gone Mad (latest in a series)

The performances on Richard and Linda Thompson In Concert November 1975 are one thing. The audience reaction is another.
At the end of each number they do something hardly anyone does today. They clap. They just clap.
They don't make that waves crashing on the shore sound at the back of their throat. They don't go in for whoops, rebel yells, "look at me" hollers or shouting for favourites. They just clap.
And remember, this would have been no bookish gathering of old librarians. Most of that audience would, I calculate, have been under 30 at the time, probably under 25. Richard and Linda were, if not exactly hip, certainly a hot ticket for the cognoscenti. But they just clap.
It's the same if you go and listen to most live recordings from that era. People were, by contemporary standards, undemonstrative. They hadn't learned the deranged semaphore of delight that we seem to expect of ourselves nowadays.
This extends into every public activity. Footballers take off their shirts on scoring a goal, cricketers go into high-fiving mode as soon as any wicket is taken, athletes routinely burst into tears on winning, nobody believes that anything is taking place unless it's being acted out.
Now I realise this isn't a fair comparison but I beg you, even if you have no interest in sport or reality TV, to look at these two clips:
1. Jim Laker taking 19 Australian wickets in one Test Match in 1956.
2. Somebody called Shabnam being evicted from the Big Brother house just a few hours ago.
What's happened to us?

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Voice From The Past

In 1980 I went to interview Stuart Copeland of The Police. They'd just come back from Japan and he showed me his new toy. I think they were called Stowaways or Soundarounds at the time but they subsequently became the Walkman. Let me tell you, it was a revelation. Yesterday I was fascinated to hear this ancient tape of little me pontificating about what was happening with portable audio on Radio One's "Rock On" later that same year. Sounds like a voice from a distant age, talking about ghetto blasters as if they were a brand new scourge. Which they were. Had I been able to foresee the fresh hell of today when oiks sit on buses listening to tinny reproductions of grime classics on their phones I would probably have taken a sterner line.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

For One Week Only

"We met online. We started a relationship and turned it into this project." That's the premise of "Four Eyed Monsters", a clever independent film that's showing on YouTube in its entirety for one week only. Jim White reckons they'll be making a Hollywood film within a year. Anyway it's an ingenious way to get started.

The Triumph Of The Dull

I've just plucked this out of the pile of stuff I get sent for the Word CD. It seems like a perfect example of a contemporary trend that I find genuinely puzzling. One of two things is occuring at the moment in what Mark Ellen calls "pop'n'rock": either there are a lot of bands who are dull because they can't think of a way of making themselves exciting or somebody really has discovered that in these over-stimulated times what the public really wants from music is dullness.
You assume from looking at their name, Forever Like Red, the name of their album, "Distance", and the scene-lowering photograph of four young men with their hands in their pockets looking at the ground, that they had better ideas but rejected them. Nobody could surely have willed this much tedium into existence. Nobody could have thought that this was going to snag the attention of the casual browser.
It has to be a plan. Somebody has seen how Coldplay, Snow Patrol, The Fray and hundreds of others prosper. They haven't been held back by the fact that all their singers sound alike, all their songs are based on that chugging acoustic guitar that gets louder when it gets to the big choruses (popular with the guys who put together sports highlights packages for the TV) and lyrics that seem profound from a distance.
I have always believed that you can make pretty reliable judgements about bands just from the titles of their songs. "Highway 61 Revisited" goes: Like A Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, From A Buick 6, Queen Jane Approximately and so on.
Forever Like Red's running order goes as follows: What Will You Pay, Inhibitions, Dream On, Father, Exit Signs. Runaway Story, Forever Like Red, Breakdown, Off You Go and Distance.
Now which song do you want to start with?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Can we draw the blinds?

Thanks to Phil for sending me this meditation on Powerpoint.

Child labour

For months I've been saying "First university summer vacation coming up. You have to get a job. No use expecting us to keep you." He's been home a week now and he's suddenly made the startling discovery that it's harder than you think to find work!
Seriously, has anybody got anything casual in the London area? He's 20, clean, honest, educated, capable of being quite charming when he puts his mind to it. Anything legal considered - before I get driven mad by the TV being on at all hours and having to climb over his legs to recover cereal bowls from all over the house.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I wish it would rain (if only to sustain my faith in the BBC)

I don't wish to be a weather bore but today the BBC site promised rain. Black cloud graphic with two drops coming out of it. Call me credulous but I take that as "will piss down for at least an hour or so". I've been in North London all day and as far as I can see there hasn't been a drop. Anyone else in the London area seen rain today? I'm interested to know because I fear the BBC is losing all credibility in this regard. Must root out the Basildon Bond and write to "Feedback".

Covering your bases

There's something unsettling about Vanity Fair's Africa Issue, "guest edited" by Bono. My copy came with a big fat supplement about diamonds for a start. I don't believe in guest editing much. It's a trade-off in which both parties end up feeling short-changed. The magazine gets a bit more star power to boost its sales. The star gets to pretend that they are manipulating the media for a higher purpose. (Bono apparently wanted to call it "Fair Vanity" for one issue. See what he almost did there?)
Clearly there are a lot of very wealthy people who are putting their money to good use in Africa. People like Bill and Melinda Gates and Oprah Winfrey, who are on the cover of my copy. That's a good thing. Mind you it also reflects just what unprecedented sums of money have been made in entertainment and media over the last twenty years.
Inevitably, they've done the multiple covers thing. Most of them feature wealthy, powerful Americans and were shot far away from the trouble and strife of Africa. I'd love to know how the print run broke down between the different individuals on the covers. How many of the Clooney/Jay Z copies found their way to the bookstall at Grand Central Station. How many of the Warren Buffet/Bill Gates copies went to subscribers in Des Moines.
Still at least it's for a good cause, which is more than can be said for Empire, which feels the need to mark whatever the latest Star Wars anniversary is with 30 different Star Wars covers. It's difficult to know which is sadder - the human effort involved in organising this exercise in merchandising or the fact that some people will feel they have to buy them all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Freddie Scott: He Ain't Give You None

I see Freddie Scott died last week. In 1967 he recorded "He Ain't Give You None" for Shout. It's a Van Morrison song but I'm sure Morrison would be the first to concede that his version can't hold a candle to Freddie's. It's one of those three minute records that is worth the life's work of most white rock groups.

The correct use of shorts

Like most grown men in the 1950s, my father didn't own any shorts. They were a garment that his generation associated with a recent unpleasantness with the Japanese. Thankfully it wasn't warm when Macmillan was Prime Minister, so he could get by.
His son, however, tends to rely on shorts from May to October. A trip to the shops yesterday provided an opportunity to see how different groups of modern British men are reacting to the current stifling temperatures. Silver haired members of the regiment of the retired turn out (or are, one suspects, turned out) in the biscuity shades decreed by Marks and Spencer, their feet forced into trainers held in place with velcro.
Meanwhile the look for the young father seems to be the polo shirt, the wrap around shades that cricketers use to project inscrutability and then the cropped trouser which terminates a foot above the sockless trainer.
I'm not sure about this. Fathers, I feel, have a social duty to look reliable. This used to mean a pipe. Obviously that is never coming back. But there is something faintly disreputable about this look (or at least the cropped trouser element of it). Maybe it's the piratical connotations or the echoes of the footballer on holiday. There is something about it which is not altogether right.
When the Englishmen of 1940 got their legs out it was in order to frighten Rommel - not to look like S Club 7.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Word Weekly 8

David Hepworth, Mark Ellen and Andrew Harrison on Paris Hilton in chokey, DJs who pretend to play records, movie stars who can't sing and rock stars who can't act. Subscribe here and get it every week.

It's gone too far

We've had a business card posted through the door bearing the name of a Polish decorator.
Beneath his name is the following legend: "From passion to precision".

Friday, June 08, 2007

Modern romance

PRs have been chasing me for the last week over Jacob Golden. They want to know if they can get a track on the Word CD. I'd listened to his album once and it had made the opposite of a good impression. There's one song here that begins with the line "I can feel the earth move when I say her name". I have a natural resistance to overly sensitive young men. I want to slap them and say, kid, you don't mean that, you're only saying it because you know that girls love it when you talk that way and you just like the way it sounds. At your age romance is largely sentiment.
On the other hand, last night Nick Lowe played a slow, countryish song from his wonderful new record "At My Age" which culminated in the line "you make me want to be a better man". Every time he got to the line I could sense the women around me, most of whom had clearly had to sort out kids before coming out, were wondering whether he'd drunk too much to drive home, while staving off the fatigue that comes from having been up since six in the morning, taking a little extra breath on board.
That's the way romance sounds for people born when Churchill was still alive.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chimes at Midnight

Just returned from seeing Nick Lowe performing a show at St Lukes which will be going out on BBC Four soon. Apart from his faultless crooning and his refreshingly soft guitar sound the highlight was the three piece brass section who came on to lend colour to three songs. On trombone was Chris Barber, who I make to be 77. Now having a cup of tea as I tap away at this and - what's that sound? - the milkman's just delivered! It's not yet midnight. What happened to coming home with the milk? Are we to have no cliches left?

The gasman cometh

It's 8.18. Steve the plumber has just been round. The shower wasn't pumping. He looked at the pump then investigated the adjoining cupboard where he discovered that we'd crammed so much stuff in there that we'd switched off the power.
His invoice said: "Turned on electricity. £94."
The time is now 8.19. Most people aren't up and I've spent £94 quid already!

Tunnel vision

Watched the Diana documentary on Channel Four last night. Apart from the fact that it was half an hour of material stretched to fill an hour, I couldn't see much wrong with it. Its key finding was that Mark Twain was right - a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on. And he lived in the age of the telegraph.
Despite what the world was led to believe at the time, the photographers caught up with the car after it had crashed. By that time there was already a doctor on the scene. They mooched around and took pictures but there's no evidence that they caused the crash or impeded the emergency services.
Last night's film contained nothing that would have traumatised the average viewer and didn't show the pictures that The Sun's picture editor said he would have been thrilled to publish had she lived.
Nobody does humbug like the media. Just heard the reaction to the film being discussed on Five Live by three broadcasters who clearly hadn't seen it. Have Ofcom had many complaints? asked one. Well, they're not open yet, said the other. Oh.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

'Every once in a blah blah blah"

You really should see the things that are written in some of the press releases I get. These are all from today's.

"Adrienne Young cultivates sustainable farming awareness with new CD, Room To Grow."

"My first album was abrasive and violently playful, knocking over the pop-so onto its side, filling three minute structures with electro-acoustic compositions and 'unsuitable' lyrics which I had pooled from Euripides, Shakespeare and all kinds of texts on social history."

"Every once in a while someone comes along an creates an album that is so intelligent, humorous, vicious, challenging and real that it puts most arbiters of the creative 'album' format to shame."

Just today.

What interests me is......

...why did we have to have a new logo? Because everything has to have a logo or it's felt not to exist? Because there are companies who specialise in corporate overhaul? Because somebody thought they might be able to sell some merchandise? In which case isn't the old logo or some adaptation of same the most appealing thing? Familiarity and authority is what people buy into. The London Underground map, the Yankees logo, Coca Cola, Nike, Apple, the Beatles and so on. You can update things but you can only do it if nobody notices. Anything you have to unveil in public is doomed out of hand. And if it's bad that's even worse.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Beach music

I do like Keren Ann's new record. It's the first one that she's made entirely in English. I'm not sure that makes me understand the sense of what she does any more. I just like the sound she makes somewhere between her voice, the handclaps, the strings and the mouth organ. Jarvis Cocker has been talking about the number of notes that "Pop Idol"-style singers feel compelled to drag their words across. This is about as far as you can get in the other direction. Peaceful, too. Perfect for first thing in the morning, which is usually when I write these things.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Meet the new boss

I bought "New Elites" by George Walden from a remaindered pile. Whichever clown had the idea of putting David Cameron's picture on the cover of the paperback is probably to blame for that. Walden's theory, which he presents in a rather scattershot way, is that this island (where we love more than anything to be able to look down on people) is currently run by new political, business and media elites who, far from leading in the way that a conventional elite might, get their way by condescending to what they think the public wants.
Your classic case would be an Oxbridge educated TV executive with a house in Holland Park making his living off a downmarket reality TV franchise. When this goes well he congratulates himself on how in touch he is with the tastes of real people. When it goes wrong he dresses it up as important social work. His new class pretend not to be an elite but will do anything to hang on to their status. Their children will go to private school and will probably get on thanks to the nepotism which is more rife in the media now than at any stage in the past.
Walden's examples of what he calls "inverted elitism" include the late Princess of Wales, the designers of the Dome and the people behind the Turner Prize. I might add Jonathan Ross and the editors of Grazia. I'm sure there are hundreds more.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

All Together Now

Went to a preview of the Bruce Springsteen Live In Dublin DVD in order to see it on a big screen. It's an odd thing watching anything like this in a theatre. A few people tried to get a bit of audience reaction going. They do the lowing noise and you're not sure whether they're being satirical or not. Nor are they in all probability.
The performance is great and it's good to have some kind of record of just how exceptional these shows were but you despair at how formulaic concert films have become. And this one has made some kind of curious executive decision not to show you the audience until the last number, at which point they look as if they've been cut in as an afterthought. When I saw this show at Wembley I was up on the side and at least half of the value of the experience came from looking at the way the audience were embracing it all. He always says that he wants shows to be part-dance, part-hootenanny, part-gospel show, part political meeting. This one was, so why wouldn't you reflect that? You wouldn't cover a church service by keeping your camera on the preacher, would you?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Forty years ago today...

...I was on my way home from school when I passed the Record Bar in Wakefield. In the window was a gaudy new item which I was shocked to realise was the new record by the Beatles. I stood there looking at it, my heart beating like a hammer, frantically calculating how I was going to get it.
At home I knew I had nearly a pound but this would cost me 32s 6d. It was already half past four. I leapt on the bus and went straight to my Dad's workplace where I begged the loan of another pound on the promise that I would work for him that weekend to earn it.
I then scooted to a newsagent in the small town where we lived. This place stocked a few records along with the greetings cards. Amazingly, Sgt Pepper was there, cardboard cut-out moustache, patterned inner bag and all. I paid and took it home, literally shaking with excitement. I played it over and over again.
Pepper's specialness, just as an artefact, was never to be repeated. The things it did nobody had ever thought of doing before. You could spend days just looking at the cover. You could get drunk on the music.
The reason Sgt Pepper is still pastiched, satirised, criticised, overrated, underrated and puzzled over is because even its detractors recognise that the day its was released marked the single most interesting pause in pop music history. Had Robert Browning been there he would have been forced to observe that after that it would never be glad confident morning again.
Anyway, thanks, Dad.