As I set out on my run at lunchtime today, I heard a noise to my left-hand side. I turned, just in time to see two birds locked together and flying straight towards me. After a heartbeat wondering what on earth they were doing (do birds mate on the wing?), I realised that it was a hawk holding a smaller bird tightly in its talons. The smaller bird was stuggling weakly and crying out desperately in its attempt to avoid becoming the larger bird's lunch. It looked grim, but as the hawk tried to gain height, it became clear that its eyes were bigger than its stomach and that it had bitten off more than it could chew, and it was forced to release its prey before they both hit the ground. The hawk then wheeled away and flew off into the distance, cursing, leaving the smaller bird to fly off slowly and a touch gingerly, probably a bit stunned about quite how lucky an escape it had just had.
Ask me again tomorrow morning, but at the moment I feel a little like that smaller bird, struggling in the talons of a hawk, mewling pathetically. My first meeting was at 09:30 this morning, my last meeting finished at 17:45. Meanwhile, at 17:00, the change window opened for the big release that we're doing tonight on the system I'm responsible for. In preparation for that I have had to:
-> talk to building management to get our security passes extended so that we'll be able to get in and out of the office after 10pm (the point at which the doors are usually sealed for the night)
-> talk to facilities management to ensure that the heat and lights stay on through the night in the bit of the office we'll be working in.
-> talk to site security to make sure that we'll be able to get through the gates and off the site before they reopen at 6am.
(could all of that be managed by one person? of course it could.... but when outsourcing to three separate companies saves you a few quid, why would you make anything easy?)
Between 5pm and sometime in the small hours of the morning, we'll be working on implementing some big system changes and then checking that everything came back up in one piece in time for the start of business tomorrow. It might take 12 hours, it might take more. Best case scenario is that we're all done by 2am, but we could be here until the rest of the office arrives to start the new day. The only thing I know for certain is that the point of no return, the point at which we can't put the old system back if everything's gone horribly wrong, is not until 4am.
Sounds like a fun night, eh?
If everything goes well and the hawk lets me go at some point in the small hours of the morning, then I might be able to fly woozily back to the nest to get some sleep before my 9am meeting on Thursday morning.
Watching or reading the news is almost always a depressing experience. Every news bulletin I watch or every newspaper that I read is certain to have at least one thing that makes me reflect on what an appalling world we live in and how beyond salvation we appear to be as a species. Every day brings some new terrorist or government outrage; wars are being fought and atrocities committed more quickly than the news of them can be brought to the unfeeling world on our 24 hour rolling news channels. People starve and die of treatable diseases. We know this because we watch it happening on live on TV with rolling subtitles underneath telling us of other breaking news. It's horrific, but in some ways we have become numbed through exposure. We are inured to the horror.
Some stories are just so awful though that they can't be ignored or dismissed with a sad shake of the head and some vague intention to give more to charity. Some stories are so shocking that they force you to sit up and suck in all of the dreadful details..... and this story is one of them.
I simply cannot conceive what would make someone lock their own daughter up in the cellar; to pretend to the world that she was dead whilst systematically raping her over the course of decades. He fathered seven children in all by his own child. It's chilling. When one of those children died as an infant, he disposed of the corpse by dropping it into an incinerator, leaving the mother and her other children to look after themselves in the cellar with no access to medical attention. Job done. He fostered or adopted three of those children with his apparently unsuspecting wife and left the other three to rot with their poor mother in that soundproofed cell. As his second family expanded, he periodically extended the cellar further out under his back garden. It has a little kitchen, a toilet and a bathroom with tiles decorated with snails and octopus motifs. It's an awful, awful story.
And what happens now? A 73 year old man will go to prison and the media interest will begin to die down, leaving some broken people to try to rebuild their shattered lives: his wife, his presumably irreparably damaged daughter and those poor unsuspecting kids - his children. His grandchildren. Apparently the 5 year old was moved to tears at the ride in the police car away from the cellar, the only home he has ever known. He wasn't upset - he'd only ever seen cars before on the television, and could not believe that now he was travelling in one. He was excited. What happens to that child?
We're all nice liberal types around here, but here's a question for you: it looks as though Josef Fritzl faces a maximum sentence of fifteen years. Fifteen years for subjecting his daughter to that twenty-four year ordeal. Does that sound like enough to you? Is that enough of a punishment for the pain this man has inflicted on his own flesh and blood?
Well what would you do with him then?
I've been wrestling with this all day today. My gut reaction is that fifteen years is derisory, but the wishy-washy liberal in me is struggling with the idea that we can make a special case, even of this man, and change the rules for a more fitting punishment. And what would that punishment be? How long would be enough? 20 years? Should "life" mean "life"? Is incarceration even enough of a punishment? No? Perhaps we could hurt him the way that he hurt his children? Would it make anything better? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? How would that work exactly? What about the death penalty? Would a judicially sanctioned murder achieve anything? Would it bring back those lost years or give those kids any sense of justice?
No, no, no.
These are difficult questions and I don't have any answers, but the more I think about it, the less comfortable I feel with any of the options on the table. Fifteen years doesn't seem enough, but changing the law or moving outside it to look for alternatives doesn't seem to achieve anything either. Society might have created this monster, this intense humming of evil, but I'm sure he was nice to his mother and paid his bills on time. What choice does a civilized society have but to obey its own laws?
Perhaps it's enough for now that those children have been freed from that cellar and can try to start their lives again and will never have to see that man again. It's hardly ideal, but what alternative do they have?
Having looked at the queues on the forecourts of pretty much every petril petrol station I drove past on Thursday evening, I cast a slightly anxious look at my own quarter-full tank and decided to fill up on Friday morning. Like tens of thousands of other British drivers, I brought forward my decision to refuel by a couple of days as a result of a fear of shortages. Just like all those other drivers, my decision only helped to contribute to the shortage and to fuel the growing panic, as did the media coverage of the queues. As it happens, my local petrol station didn't have a queue when I pulled up the next morning, and I was able to fill up without any problems (even if my 20 litres cost me well over £20), but you never know, do you? The official message is that there is no reason to panic and that there is plenty of fuel - the very fact that there is an official message at all is driving people to the pumps.
The reason for all of this? A strike at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. Grangemouth is not only the gateway to the North Sea oil fields (via the Forties pipeline, which carries about 1/3 of the UK's daily oil output), but it is also a deep water port that receives crude oil from around the world for processing. Is the strike catastrophic? Not really, it only really supplies Scotland anyway, and besides, oil arrives in the UK elsewhere too, and there are also apparently about 70 days worth of fuel stockpiled across the country.
And yet here we are, with queues at petrol stations.
I was going to go on at some length about this; about how this shows what sheep we all are; how - for all that hot air about carbon footprints - we're still terrifyingly dependent on fossil fuels; about how, like the floods last year, this reminds me how just how close our wonderful society is to the stone ages... about 70 days for fuel, but far less than that for things like bread and milk. If we get like this over a slight flutter over fuel, can you imagine the panic if supermarket shelves started emptying and not just their forecourts?
I was going to talk about all these things, but then I learned what the strike is about: apparently these workers are out on strike over proposed changes to their pension scheme. It seems that everyone working up there is currently on a final salary pension scheme. Not only that, but at the moment they don't pay a penny for it as all of their contributions are paid by their employer. Pensions have been much in the news over the last few years, and there have been several high profile schemes collapsing. Final salary pensions are rare enough, but a scheme that you don't even have to pay anything into yourself? Well..... rare as rocking horse shit, I would think. Not surprisingly, given the current financial climate, their employer is worried that the scheme is not sustainable in the long term and wants make some changes - to close the final salary scheme to new members and to begin to phase in some employee contributions. I've been through consultations like this that affected my pension, and clearly no one is going to voluntarily give up a scheme as good as that (indeed, 97% of Grangemouth's employees voted to go out on strike against the proposals, so they're not giving it up without a fight). But really, how realistic are they being? Isn't it in everybody's best interests that a pension scheme is properly funded? Surely a scheme as good as that is no bloody use to anyone if it implodes before you get to benefit from it?
And meanwhile we're queuing on garage forecourts. What planet are these people from?
....And don't even get me started on teachers striking for a 5% pay increase (linked to the retail price index)..... Times are hard and most people in the private sector will be lucky to get any kind of a payrise at all this year. And many of them work all year round....
Speaking of cars, I was reminded of quite how little control we sometimes have over own destiny on the roads when I was driving down the A46 to Leicester on Saturday afternoon. I was travelling at a reasonable lick, and pulled out into the outside lane to allow something big and slow-moving to join the road from the slip-lane. At about the same moment as I did that, the car behind this slow-moving vehicle decided that this was the ideal time to shoot out across both lanes to try and overtake. The driver either did not see me or had seriously underestimated my speed. Either way, the result of her manouevre was that she pulled out right in front of me, forcing me to slam on the brakes and fight for control of my car as my momentum and my natural desire not to hit the back end of her car forced me towards the central reservation.
I ground to a halt with a screech of brakes and a touch of tyre smoke but thankfully without hitting anything. I let out a huge sigh of relief that all of the BMW technology in my little car had prevented my brakes locking out too badly and had almost certainly prevented a collision. After a moment's contemplation, I sounded the horn, but to be honest I wasn't so much angry with this idiot as relieved that I was still alive. After that escape, even the souped up Nova full of silly boys on the M69 barely even registered.
Sometimes you realise just how slender the thread that holds us here is.
Hello all. Well, I don't know about you, but I've had a crappy week. I'm one beer down into my Friday night, the pie is in the oven and I'm about to crack open a bottle of red. One thing remains.... earworms of the week.
I absolutely adore this week's Guest Editor for lots of reasons... but mainly because she remains the one other person in the whole universe who enjoyed the alphabeticon. What more could you ask of someone than that?
Ladies and Gentleworms, without further ado, it is my great pleasure to present for your earworming pleasure... Doctor Who and Dougie Henshall fan extraordinaire.....
Oh dear god. I blame listening to bloody David Quantick on the radio. He was actually talking about Gary Newman. Why couldn't I have at least got one of HIS tracks in my head? Instead I'm stuck with the side-bar track they played in passing. Out damn song, OUT!
> Sing Me Spanish Techno: The New Pornographers [ST's note: this is a great video, by the way. If you click one link tonight, click this one!]
Don't get me wrong I like this song a lot, but it does have a tendency to get stuck in my noggin like a stuck record. I think it got into my subconscious during one of my protracted periods of listening regularly to 6Music until I eventually managed to get the track via a free CD compilation I acquired from the wonderful OneUp Records in Aberdeen. I think I'm grateful I actually have the track, though when its hookline is on constant repeat in my head I do wonder if that is entirely a good thing...
I'm a bit of a sucker for getting melancholic tunes stuck in my head. This one is an especially slow burner - and a long song too, over 8 mins long - but the refrain of "save your breath for the laughing aloud" is often called to mind when I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and its been in and out of my head for a few weeks now.
For credibility ratings I really probably shouldn't have Mika in here, but this lulling string-laden track has haunted me for just under a year now. In fact I can pretty much date when it got stuck in there to the production of this Doctor Who inspired fan vid. Maggi's a bit of wizz with the old music selection and visualisation in videos and this remains one of my favourites. I have to admit that before seeing/hearing this video I'd actually managed to stay fairly unaware of Mika (good thing? bad thing? yes SwissToni, I know you're a fan!). But the strings swept in on this track and alongside the visuals I was sold (I'm a sucker for good strings). is it possible to be earwormed by a string section? [ST's note: for the record, I quite like 'Grace Kelly', but I can take or leave the singer, thanks very much]
Jarvis remains one of those inexplicably compelling performers: or rather one whom you either 'get' or you don't. I probably fall into the bracket of him appealing to my 'woman of a certain age' desires but his shrieks and yelps, his quirks of rhythm... oh, it brings visions! This dates from the 'Separations' period of their career and whilst it's rare for me to have a week pass without a Pulp song rattling in my brain, it's been a while since of these was in there.
I first heard this song whilst catching Jonathan Ross's radio show (yes, yes, I know) and it's somehow stuck in my head. It intermittantly takes up residence and will not leave. This week is such a week. "They don't have the glow of the city lights... and it's good to be home from time to time..." There's something about the song and the vocalist's completely 'trying-too-hard' indie-wiv-guitar way of singing that nevertheless reverberates to feel meaningful. I just wish I knew why.
[ST's note - this video could have been made especially for you Lisa...]
What can I say? Cloud has been away in Glasgow and I've been left in charge of the remote and a dvd player. Funnily, there's been some watching of the Doctor Who s3 box set dvds... You can therefore guess the reason why this is here. It's been stuck on rotational repeat in my head and is now duly dedicated to my offline pal Helen Lisette who I know will read this: it will certainly make her smile as I think she gets earwormed by the track a lot (it's the Bugsy Malone-esque qualities she loves).
That's all folks: it's been a blast. Now if I can just get the bloody Robert Palmer track out at least that would make me happier!
Thanks Lisa - another fantastically diverse list, as I think everyone will agree. Thanks for that Robert Palmer earworm though, eh? I'm especially loving that video for "Sing Me Spanish Techno". I knew it was a great song, but hands up who knew about that video? And really, the earworms slot ain't so special or exclusive really. Pretty much anyone who fancies a go here is likely to produce a more interesting list than me on a Friday (my list this week would consist largely of "Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend. You can't get enough songs about punctuation, eh?)
Right. It's been a long week, so it's high time that we got on with the weekend.... avanti!
Next time: well, probably no one next week as I'll be attending the wedding of two of my dearest friends... but after that we'll have a bumper edition from the Pollstar....
I've got a lesion on my spinal cord. It's just tucked up on the left-hand side of my neck. It might have been there for years for all I know, but it only really came to my attention in the late summer of 2005. At that point, it started to interrupt the transmission of nerve signals down my body, causing sensations of numbness, pins and needles and weakness in various different parts of my body. After a few months, I was diagnosed as having Transverse Myelitis. There's no treatment and there's certainly no cure, but at least now I know what this is called - although I prefer to call it the WTs... the weirdy tingles.
At the point at which I was diagnosed, the specialists I was seeing lost interest in me. They will only become interested in me again if I develop new symptoms as a result of having more lesions appear on my spinal cord or in my brain. At that point I'm worth having another look at, but in the meantime I have to try and put it all to the back of my mind. I do my best. New symptoms may never appear, but the old symptoms have never gone away and probably never will. Since that summer in 2005 I have been desperately trying to ignore the feeling of pins and needles in both my hands, the numbness in my feet and thighs, the weakness and muscle wastage across my arms and shoulders, the distant sensation I get when I do something as simple as scratching my side, my cheek or to the top of my head. Most days it works. Most days I barely think about it at all. What's the point? It's not as though I can do anything about it, is it? I occasionally feel a bit sorry for myself when I find I can't do stupid things like carry a heavy box or wear a heavy bag across my shoulders because I'm simply not strong enough any more. In the main though, I just get on with it.
It flares up sometimes though. I don't know why,but on some days I wake up with a stiff neck and the buzzing seems much more noticeable in my hands; my arms feel heavy; I can really feel the loss of sensation in the soles of my feet and I have a burning sensation in the muscles of my legs. They're not new symptoms and so presumably they're not medically interesting...but they upset me. Sometimes I wonder what new symptoms would feel like. How would I recognise them? When you already have symptoms from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, how do you know where the worsening of an old symptom stops and a new symptom starts?
Yes, I still have the use of all of my limbs and I know it could be a whole lot worse than it is.... but on days like those - days like today - I find it just that little bit harder to fight off the frustration and to stay positive.
I was all set for a late night in the office today. The first of several big changes affecting the system I'm responsible for was due to be implemented this evening. I'm not in the least bit technical, so I wouldn't be doing anything especially practical by staying in the office, but on occasions like this, I think it's important to offer a bit of moral support to the guys actually doing the work. You know, make cups of tea, order the pizzas and stuff like that [*].
The change window opened at 6pm, and I was all ready for the long haul into the night.
....I'd set Sky+ for the Apprentice and everything.
A little before 6pm, we discovered a small problem where someone had neglected to give us all the information that we needed. We could go ahead, but we'd be doing so with our fingers crossed, as we wouldn't know for sure what would happen. There then followed a period of discussion, negotiation and general wrangling as we worked out what to do. As the responsible person on the scene, it was my job to represent both my key business users (who need the system to be working) and the development team, both in India and onshore (who would have to pick up the pieces). It quickly became apparent to me that if we went ahead with the work, we would be taking a risk with the system - quite how big a risk, we couldn't quantify, but a risk nonetheless. That was enough for me. Naturally, no one really wanted to make the call, so it fell to me, then, to go find the other interested parties and convince them that we should shelve the change.
To cut a long and boring story short, we eventually cancelled the change and stood the team down at about 19:30... so quite a long day at the office for everyone anyway, and a really long one for the team in India, for whom it was already quite late into the night.
The change has, of course, been rescheduled for tomorrow night.
Same time tomorrow night then. Brilliant! I'm looking forward to it already.
* I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I have always had myself down as a logical and analytical person, and in general all of the psychometric tests I have done have tended to agree with me. It's not that I don't like or care about people, because I do, it's just that my instinct is to analyse first and worry about other stuff (like people's feelings) later. In a way, I've been oddly proud of that tendency and I fancy that I choose not to worry too much about my 'softer' (and somehow, by implication, less valuable) skills. Perhaps I've been a little too eager to put myself into a box and have been happy to let other people do it too; I stereotype myself. In the last few months, I've noticed that my perception of myself has started to change, and I'm starting to take a lot more notice of my softer skills, my EQ as well as my IQ, if you like. In fact, I've realised that, for all my bluster about myself, I'm actually quite a collaborative worker and that I place great importance in how other people in my teams feel about things and to think about the human impact of decisions. Not only have I noticed that these things are important to me, but I've noticed that often I'm the only person in a room to think about them and express concern about them. In fact, I think the only thing that really annoys me at work, or at least annoys me the most, is the way that people are often a secondary concern. I stood as an employee rep, for heaven's sake!
I think this realisation first came to mind when I did an HBDI Brain Dominance test for work a few months ago. You'll have heard of left brain / right brain thinking, right? Well this test divides the brain into four: on the left-hand side we have analytical thinking and sequential thinking, and on the right-hand side we have interpersonal thinking and inspirational thinking. As a team, before we were given our actual results, we were asked to score where we though we would chart, and where we thought other people in our team would score. I put myself way out to the left, and so did everyone else. What the results actually showed were that I was the most 'balanced' person in the team, and that I scored far higher in the bottom right-hand interpersonal corner than anyone else in the room. This surprised me and everyone else, but the more I have thought about it since, the more I think it's true.
I think I'm finally starting to climb out of the box I've insisted on putting myself in all these years. I'm still analytical and logical, of course, but now I'll crush your argument with the logical power of my mind and then give you a cuddle and make you a cup of tea. Or something. [**]
[**] I think this footnote is now longer and more interesting than the main post itself. Oh Well. [***]
[***] It interests me, anyway. [****]
[****] Although I am quite easily pleased, to be fair.
Right. Well this little problem has been nagging away at me now for more than a month, so I'm going to admit defeat and throw it open to the floor. Maybe you can help me.
When we were in Austria a few weeks ago, we paid a visit to the Ottakringer brewery shop. It so happened that we were in the neighbourhood where Vienna's most famous beer was made, so we decided to have a quick look see. Amongst the many different varieties of beer, they had a few bits of merchandise. Amongst all of the t-shirts, fleeces, tea trays, umbrellas and the like, I spotted a key ring. I did need a new one, and it seemed pretty cheap - so I bought it.
But here's the thing, it appears to have three functions. The first two I can work out for myself without any great difficulty.
-> thing to attach keys to to make them harder to lose
-> handy bottle opener
Great. Those two things were the main reason I bought it.
But what's the other bit for? That bit on the top, just above the hooked bit, where a little groove has been cut into the metal. It is clearly there by design, but I'm blowed if I can work out what it has been designed to do.
Peter and I studied it closely over a Wurst and a beer at a street stand later on that same afternoon. Perhaps it was for opening cans?
We tried it.
Perhaps for removing the foil from bottles of wine?
Nah. Too blunt and not exactly fit for purpose.
Why the hell would you attach that to a key ring? Couldn't you just use a key?
I wouldn't say that this was occupying a whole lot of brain space, but it has been gnawing away at me for weeks.
I buy this every year, and now have twenty-one different editions of the Almanack itself and each of the four accompanying compendiums. Why do I have hundreds and thousands of pages worth of cricketing statistics and other assorted nuggets of information on the game and the people who play it? I'm not sure really. I just love it. I might be in a minority of one here, but for me it is an intensely comforting book, one to be dipped into over the course of the next twelve months and for years to come. It is a keen reminder of times past, but it is also a harbinger of summers to come. It is a window into an older, more ordered and conservative world, but it is also fiercely independent and sometimes outspoken. You have no doubt already written this off as an incredibly tedious book, but for fans of cricket, it remains the bible. Far more than just a record of games gone, it is a mine of comment, information and - yes - amusement. This is not a book that takes itself - or its subject - too seriously: amidst its otherwise fairly sombre and straightfaced tributes to various people associated with the game of cricket, the 1965 edition contained the following obituary:
"CAT, Peter, whose ninth life ended on November 5, 1964, was a well-known cricket-watcher at Lord's, where he spent 12 of his 14 years. He preferred a close-up view of the proceedings and his sleek, black form could often be seen prowling on the field of play when the crowds were biggest. He frequently appeared on the television screen. Mr SC Griffith, secretary of MCC, said of him: `He was a cat of great character and loved publicity'."
Not funny ha-ha, perhaps, but if any of us provoke as fond a tribute when we pass on, then I think we'll be doing pretty well.
As a result of the book's longevity too, it provides us with a uniquely slanted perspective on the history of the last two-hundred years. One of the hardest editions to find is the one from 1919 (which actually features Statue John's grandfather as a cricketer of the year). That year's book contains the lists of war dead; those cricketers killed during the First World War. It is as moving and eloquent as almost anything else I have seen on the same subject. The names of the perhaps great cricketers of the future that were never allowed to fulfill their potential are somehow painfully emblematic of the human tragedy of war. Another famous edition is the copy of the 1939 edition belonging to E.W. Swanton, the distinguished cricket writer. It was the copy that he had with him when he was taken prisoner by the Japanese. It proved so popular with the other Prisoners of War that it had to be reserved in advance like a library book, and could be borrowed for no more than 12 hours at a time. It was stamped "Not subversive" by the guards and became so heavily thumbed that it was rebound by two prisoners using rice paste as glue. Swanton died, aged 92, in 2000 but that very same copy of the book is now on display in the museum at Lord's.
For these kinds of reasons, and for many others besides, Wisden is special and it's somehow more than just another book. It's magical, and I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into my new copy.
When Tim Booth left James in 2001, things were looking bad. In spite of a string of hit singles and albums, it looked as though they were doomed to be seen as a band that nearly had it all but never quite made it. The other members of the band vowed to continue, but Booth was the voice and public face of the band, and it was clear that it was effectively over. I was sad. They were a band that had always tried to walk their own path, often in the face of prevailing musical trends, and although this had probably cost them in terms of record sales, it had meant that they had consistently been one of the only bands that were really worth listening to. I'd seen them performing many times, and I was sad that after their farewell tour, I was never going to see them live again.
One of the best gigs I have ever attended was the night that James played Oxford Poly back in the summer of 1998. It was a Thursday night, and I took advantage of a meeting in Wellingborough to nip down to Oxford to meet up with some friends for the concert. It was the night before the band were due to play Glastonbury and this was a warm-up gig before the main event on the Pyramid Stage the following evening. They were sensational. It probably helped that this was the year that they released their Greatest Hits album (a UK number one), and so they played a set consisting of their most famous songs, but they were on fire. It was an absolutely brilliant gig. I drove home that night and was working the next day, but it was worth all the hassle getting there and the late night hack back up the A43 and M1.
Fast forward ten years and I was completely unaware that any kind of a reunion was on the cards until I saw an advert for the gig in a music magazine. When I looked closer and saw that James were due to play a date in Oxford on a Saturday night, it seemed like destiny was calling to me. Even better news was that not only had the band got back together, but they had also recorded some new material. The new album, "Hey Ma", was released at the beginning of April. Again, I was taken by surprise, and only discovered its existence after it had actually been released. Given the set they played on Saturday night, I'm very glad that I spotted it at all.
The New Theatre in Oxford is a funny place to watch a band. It's a proper, old-school theatre, with plush velvet covered seats and little plastic opera glasses attached to the back of the seat in front of you. It's no doubt a great place to watch a play, but it's hardly an ideal place to watch a gig. Apart from anything else, beer is selling at the rather eye-watering insult price of £6.20 a pint. Ouch. James came onto the stage to a rapturous reception, and - as it their wont - opened their set with a slow one, "Top of the World". It's a lovely song and a good way to start, but in a venue like this, the result is that everyone sat back down in their seats. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't think that this is any way to watch a gig. Luckily they launched straight into "Born of Frustration" from there, and we all stood back up again and didn't sit back down for the rest of the gig.
James first came together in 1981, and the line up here is the "classic" seven that recorded "Gold Mother" back in 1990. Tim Booth is now 48 years old, and Larry Gott is 50. How do they look all this time later? Well, pretty good actually. As you would probably expect, several members of the band now have rather less hair than they used to, and by his own lyrical admission, Tim Booth's shaven head now makes him look more and more like Yul Brynner than ever. Otherwise though, they all look pretty good. Well, with the possible exception of trumpeter Andy Diagram anyway... who for reasons probably best known only to himself takes to the stage wearing a Laura Ashley frock.... Otherwise, it's all good though. Some things, it seems never change, and Saul Davies seems to spend much of the set trying to muscle in on Tim Booth's position at the centre of the stage. Whether he's playing the guitar or the violin, he seems to wander around the stage as though he were some kind of a stork, lifting his legs high and walking slightly aggressively towards other members of the band and staring them down as he plays. He's a small man, and he looks more like a frustrated frontman than ever. Musically, they sound great. James have always had a rather distinctive sound, led as much by the trumpet as they are by the guitars, and the way that the seven different members combine with each other is always a pleasure to behold. Booth too is on fine form. He's always had a supple voice, but it's always a delight to watch someone singing a song as potentially difficult as "She's A Star" with such ease, and his whole range of whoops and hollers are all very much in place. So too are his usual stage props: the megaphone, the maracas, the torch that he shines out into the crowd.
For me, the pacing of the set was wrong. After that great start, the middle section of the set was comprised almost entirely of new songs. "Hey Ma" is a decent album, and if anything the songs improved live. "Oh My Heart" is up there with almost anything James have done in the past, and "Waterfall", "Upside", "Hey Ma", "Semaphore", "Whiteboy" and some of the others hold their ground against some of the old favourites and are rapturously received by most of the crowd. They sounded good, but playing so many new songs in a row inevitably took away some of the momentum from the gig. I suppose that's the price we have to pay for James wanting to be more than just a nostalgia act. They haven't got back together just to play the old hits and to make a bit of easy money. They're still very much a going concern and they have an album of new and interesting material to play. It's a small price to pay, really, and towards the end of the gig, Tim Booth thanks us for our patience and we are amply rewarded with storming versions of classics like "Tomorrow", "Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)", "Come Home", "She's A Star", "Ring the Bells", "Sound" and encores of "Say Something" and a beautiful version of "Sometimes".
We don't get "Sit Down" or "Laid", and we don't get anything at all from the really very good "Millionaires" album, but I'm still more than happy. For me, "Sometimes" is the song that best epitomises James. It's an unusual song, with the verses more spoken than sung, but it also manages to combine the electrifying description of an awesome storm with the intensely personal refrain of the chorus; the elemental and the personal:
"Sometimes When I look deep into your eyes I swear I can see your soul"
Tonight, the band orchestrate a crowd singalong at the end of the song that leads to a triumphant and emotional crescendo that seems to even move the band themselves.
It's rather cruelly been said that James are a band that have sold more t-shirts than records. Well, there are certainly a lot of t-shirts on display in the crowd, but on this evidence there's plenty of life in these particular old dogs just yet. Please, please let them be playing Glastonbury this year. They're a fantastic band and I haven't had enough of them just yet.
Verdict: 8 / 10 Mark's similarly enthusiastic review of their London gig can be found here.
Setlist : Top Of The World, Born Of Frustration, Oh My Heart, Boom Boom, Ring The Bells, Hey Ma, Bubbles, Come Home, Of Monsters And Heroes And Men, I Wanna Go Home, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up), Waterfall, Whiteboy, She's A Star, Sound. Tomorrow. Say Something, Upside, Sometimes
Hello. I'm about to bugger off down to Oxford to watch one of my favourite ever bands perform live on Saturday night... but not before I've seen Henry Blofeld though. Blowers is in equal parts fascinating and appalling. But he is often very entertaining on Test Match Special, and it should be interesting to see which side comes out more strongly tonight. And then tomorrow night it's James. I was lucky enough to be in Oxford one Thursday night in 1998 when James played one of my favourite ever gigs - at Oxford Poly. They were due to play Glastonbury the following night, and they played an absolute blinder. They were amazing. If they're anything like as good tomorrow night, then I will be a very happy man indeed. Early reports (from Mark, who saw them on Thursday) are good, so fingers crossed, eh?
Before then, it's the small matter of this week's earworms.
I'm not entirely sure how I first ran into this week's Guest Editor. I think it might have been when following up a comment he left here and liking what I saw there. That's the way this often seems to work for me actually - I can often never quite remember how I first stumbled across people, but they often seem to have always been there. Maybe I lead a really empty life, or maybe I've just been lucky enough to meet some great people around these parts. Or perhaps both. Anyway. He's a writer, and he likes his music, so he's more than welcome to pop by here any time that he likes.
Ladies and Gentleworms, without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce for your earworming pleasure......
When offered the chance to Earworm, your first instinct is simply to produce a list of all-time favourites. But that's not really what this feature's all about (as Swiss Toni reminded me) - and at the end of the day, I'm sure that you've all heard enough Morrissey, Billy Bragg, Bruce Springsteen, Pulp and Elvis Costello to work out whether you like them or not, so I'm not going to persuade you otherwise now, am I? Better instead to go with some artists and tracks you might not have already made up your mind about. So here goes...
I start with The Scaremongers because they're from just over the hill from me, a couple of miles away in Marsden. Well, singer/lyricist/poet extraordinaire Simon Armitage is, anyway. I've been a fan of Simon's poetry since long before he started singing it on record, so no surprise that his lyrics are spot on. Like a slightly more Northern Jarvis Cocker, if you can imagine such a thing. I love the idea behind this song - he's basically moaning about his missus wearing too few clothes when she goes out with her mates. She's "one part leopard print and five parts flesh." It's male insecurity writ large! "The vultures circle, homing in, down at the sorry end of Stag Night Street" is a favourite line, as well as his exhortation for her to "get back upstairs, put a polo neck on!"
The Guillemots have produced three of the most earwormy singles I've heard this decade. Unfortunately, their albums tend towards patience-testing eclecticism and whimsy - they go from sounding like The Blue Nile to 80's Prince to Climie Fisher to... Nothing on the new one matches the upbeat Pet Shop Boysy pop of 'Get Over It'. Give them a few more years and they'll produce a classic Greatest Hits CD... if we're still doing CDs by then. (On a side note, a friend reckons that the cover to their new album reminds him of an enflamed prostate. I'm taking his word on that.)
You don't get more of an earworm than this. Despite originally being released in the late 80's, I hadn't ever heard this track until Mark Radcliffe started his Radio 2 show with it a few months ago. One listen was all it took. I had to hunt this song down. It's been a bugger to get a hold of, but I finally managed it. I'm on the look-out for more by the same band... but I worry my expectations are now way too high.
One of the great things about music is that every now and then you'll stumble across a new band you've never heard of, who have seemingly been around for years. I noticed a few American bloggers getting very excited about this lot late last year, and something persuaded me to check them out. They've got a good, strong US-rock sound, but it's the lyrics that set them apart. One listen to 'The President's Dead' will hopefully demonstrate what I mean.
I know Mr. Toni likes it when we include things other than simple songs in these lists - but having worked in the evil industry of advertising for far too long, I can't bring myself to earworm any jingles. The closest I can get to a non-song is this, only 55 seconds long (and believe me, I've searched for a full-length version, it just doesn't exist). It's the theme to Monk, a formulaic US comedy/detective show starring the excellent Tony Shalhoub as an OCD-Columbo. BBC2 stuck it on in the Saturday afternoon slot, so nobody with a life ever watched it. Fortunately, I've never been so encumbered...
Another band I discovered through the blogosphere. I've yet to investigate them further, but this has a big, epic lushness that's hard to beat. Reminds me of The Verve somehow, though it doesn't actually sound anything like The Verve at all. Funny how that happens.
One of my favourite singer-songwriters, I can never understand why Thea Gilmore isn't more popular. The critics love her - I've seen her described as the best lyricist of her generation, and it's a claim that's hard to dispute. This is from her album 'Rules For Jokers', and amazingly it's one of the few Thea performances I could find on youtube. Last time I saw her live she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, afraid she might drop child at any second, but she still put on a hell of a show. If I were here to recommend anyone, it'd be Thea - she deserves much more exposure. She has a new album out soon too - look out for it.
Let’s close with a classic. No, I’m not suggesting you’ve never heard of Neil Diamond… though I suppose if you’re under 30, anything’s possible. I have no time at all for the cool police, I like what I like and sod it if the critics or the cognoscenti don’t agree. I grew up listening to Billy Joel, Steinman-penned Meatloaf, and Queen, and I won’t have a word said against any of them. A great song is a great song is a great song. I heard this on the radio yesterday afternoon and couldn’t help but dig out the Neil Diamond Greatest Hits. It’s the perfect 3-minute pop song, even though I never had a clue what it was all about. “Cracklin' Rose, you're a store bought women, But you make me sing like a guitar hummin'” Wikipedia informs me that Cracklin’ Rosie is a type of wine drunk by a Native American tribe in Canada. Which brings a new slant to things, but I always think you’re better making up your own interpretations. “Cracklin' Rosie make me a smile, Girl if it lasts for an hour, well that's alright - 'Cause we got all night, to set the world right, Find us a dream that don't ask no questions.” The other great thing about Neil Diamond (beyond the fact that he also wrote, ‘Daydream Believer’, ‘Red Red Wine’, ‘Sweet Caroline’, and the heartbreaking ‘I Am I Said’) is the voice. Those deep, rich tones – a register I can happily sing along to without having to strain for the high notes. In fact, that’s what I’m going to do now… Hit it, Neil! Ba ba ba ba ba…
Cheers, Toni – it’s been fun.
Thank you, my friend. A goodly list indeed. Good and varied - just the way I like them. I have to say that I absolutely do not get the Guillemots though. They do absolutely nothing for me. Ah well. Thanks for playing.
And now... off I pop to the city of gleaming spires.
And now, the end is near... but not so near that I was able to pass up the opportunity to run through that CD Tower sat next to the armchair in the living room. You know, the one that contains a selection of C's CDs. Now, C likes her music, but she doesn't really buy very much of it. She has an iPod nano, but she's never felt the need to do any more than add a selection of songs from my iTunes library. Apart from a vague intention to use an iTunes gift card she's had for more than a year now to buy a Lloyd Cole album, she's never shown the slightest inclination to add anything else of her own. She does like classical music though, and I'm not too sure how I would react to that turning up on shuffle whilst I was out on a run.... Still, she's politely tolerant of most of the stuff I listen to anyway. Most of it. She's not really much of a metal head, but she has shown a real liking for some of the spikier end of my record collection, and is a big fan of people like the White Stripes and Kings of Leon.
Anyway, I'm sure this isn't the sum total of her musical interests, but the rest of the alphabeticon has only been about a small section of my record collection...and this is no different really.
> Les Plus Grandes Chansons du Siecle
Ah, a compilation album. Joe Dassin, Brel, Gainsbourg, Piaf, Johnny Hallyday... the cream of french songwriting, basically. I should probably give this a listen. Sounds pretty interesting. Altogether now "Champs-Elysees...."
> Scott Walker – Scott Walker Sings Jacques Brel > Jacques Brel – Infiniment > Jacques Brel – Vol 1
The first two here are gifts from me... we both came to these songs from completely different directions: C was grew up in France and her parents saw Brel performing live, so his songs were very much part of the fabric of her childhood. I came to Brel through Scott Walker's covers. I hadn't really listened to any Brel, and C hadn't really listened to any Walker. So I bought CDs. That's what guys do, right? Although she's a big fan of Brel, because she doesn't rush out to get hold of every single thing he's ever recorded, there was a gap for a definitive collection of his work... and for a geek like me, that's an easy birthday present, right?
I like Eurythmics, but it's not something that I'm terribly likely to buy, so actually discovering this here is a bit of a bonus. I might have to rip this one. Does Annie Lennox still win the "Best Female Artist" at the Brits every year?
> Narciso Yepes – Chefs d’Oeuvre de la Guitare Espagnole
This may actually have been a gift for me. It seems to have found it's natural home. Not in my collection. Very good, I'm sure. C plays classical guitar, so no doubt she appreciates this on several more levels than I do. I like Jack White and Hendrix and people like that. She digs Narciso Yepes. Each to their own.
> Robbie Williams – Greatest Hits > Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens > Robbie Williams – Swing When You’re Winning
Hmm. C likes Robbie Williams and has seen him live. I think I gave her "Swing When You're Winning" one Christmas (you see? another easy present...), but the rest? That's all her own work, I'm afraid.
> Velvet Underground – The Best of the Velvet Underground > Velvet Underground – Live MCMXCIII
...although you have to love a girl who has seen the Velvet Underground live. I think the live album was recorded in Paris, although not actually at the gig she attended... a good effort nonetheless, especially as when they played Glastonbury that year, I elected to go and watch a pre-first album Suede play, only seeing the VU playing "Venus in Furs" as I trudged up the hill to my tent. Well, I never did see Suede again either....
> The Beatles – 1
Well, hard to argue this one, unless you're an album snob. If you only have one Beatles album in your collection (bearing in mind that I have several within easy reach), this is not a bad one to have. Good for the car, anyway.
> Fun Lovin’ Criminals – 100% Colombian > Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Come Find Yourself
She loves'em. What can you do? I've never really got them, but they're the one band that she has really enthused about since I've known her. Me, "Scooby Snacks" aside, I don't really get them.
> Doors – The Best of the Doors
Yup. Fair enough.
> Ricky Martin – Ricky Martin
She likes salsa, and as I have "Livin' the Vida Loca" in my singles collection, far be it from me to case any aspersions. Mind you, it does always conjure images of Borat in my head. "Reiki Martin is here?". Perhaps that's just me though.
> Rene Clemencic & Andras Kecskes – Flute A Bec Luth & Guitare > Mozart – Requiem > Mozart – Die Zauberflote > Mozart – Don Giovanni
> Gwen Stefani – Love. Angel. Music. Baby.
Just occasionally, C will say to me that she really likes someone that she's heard on the radio. It doesn't happen terribly often, but the last time it happened, Gwen Stefani was the artist in question. I don't think I've ever heard her play this album though, so you'll have to ask her if she thinks it's any good. Is this the "...this shit is bananas. b.a.n.a.n.a.s bananas" record?
> John Coltrane – The Best of John Coltrane
Mmm. Jazz. Her dad loves jazz, and it's pretty hard to argue with a record like this, isn't it? I should give this one a listen actually. Nice.
> Bob Marley & The Wailers – Legend
Well, doesn't everyone own this? We seem to have two copies.
> Alex Harvey – Considering the Situation
A retrospective of the great man's career. We specifically bought this as C wanted his version of "Shout" (yes, the same one Lulu also covered) to be played at our wedding reception last year. We eventually found an album with the song on it in Birmingham, but on the way home the CD got stuck in her car CD player and was only recovered after the whole stereo was shipped to Germany. I think we finally got it back about December... and we had got married in June. So needless to say, it wasn't played. I was quite surprised and a bit disenchanted that in the digital age, it was so hard to find a copy of the song. Just sometimes, google lets you down.
> Madonna – Music > Madonna – Ray of Light
Me, I can't stand her... but C likes her. Girl power, probably.
> Tom Jones – Reloaded
Now, I like Tom Jones, but I really don't like this album. I think he's just trying too hard and much prefer his older, cheesier stuff. Of course, the rest of the world would rather listening to him singing with Mousse T. My loss, I suppose.
> New Sound 2000 – Voices, music from the greatest divas ever
Sounds like a freebie to me.
> Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill > Alanis Morissette – Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
More girl power? I own one of these, and I have never even so much as listened to the other one. It might be very good for all I know. I've never heard C listening to either of these either. She's brilliant on that episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" though. Morissette I mean. Not C. Although I'm sure she'd be good too.
> Sting – Mercury Falling > Sting / The Police- the best of Sting & the Police
Yes to the Police, but a big no to tantric sex rainforest man.
> Kylie Minogue – Body Language > Kylie Minogue - Fever
Ah, Our Brave Kylie. I think these may both have been gifts from me, but she is a fan... honestly.
> Elvis Presley – Elv1s
This is the collection of his number ones, and I own this too. I'm not a massive fan, but you can't go too far wrong with it, can you? My favourite Elvis lyric ever? "I'm itching like a man on a fuzzy tree". Yours?
> Filter – Elvis Never Meant Shit to Me
Dunno. This pre-dates me.
> Dominique A – La Memoire Neuve
> Sugababes – Angels with Dirty Faces > Atomic Kitten – Whole Again
Girl power? Not really.... just great pop music. Not much of this in my collection, but I do think that both of these may just have found their way onto my iPod.
> Chuck Berry – Legends In Music
This is the kind of record that I might own. He's a legend, I know, and Johnny B Goode is worth the price of entry alone... but Hendrix did it better, didn't he? Let's be honest.
> Patricia Kaas – Scene de Vie
Nope. Sorry, no idea.
> The Rolling Stones – Out of our Heads
C. like the Stones. One Christmas, her present to me was a handful of CDs that were important to her when she was growing up (which is a great idea, although I think it's probably fair to say that she wouldn't thank me for giving her "The Number of the Beast" and the first Faith No More album). Included in the CDs was a Rolling Stones collection. It wasn't this one, but obviously the Stones were an important band for her growing up. Her older brother Jake has played in various bands and has written and recorded music for most of his adult life. He was always the rebel at home and C was always the good girl. Jake was, of course, hugely into the music and was a massive Clash fan. Some of this has clearly rubbed off onto his little sister. She likes classical music in the main, but she does like the odd bit of rock. Nice.
> U2 – The Joshua Tree
I think I have this on cassette somewhere, but I'm not sure that I could name any of the songs on this with any great certainty apart from the singles. Not an album I have listened to all the way through, I think. From an era when I despised U2, I'm afraid.
> Barry White – Greatest Hits
This is actually mine. I do a terrible Barry White impersonation that really creeps C out... so obviously I do it all the time, and equally obviously I made sure that I had a record to sing along to. Actually, this is quite good... but it being quite good isn't the reason it's here. Was there ever a less sexy man in the whole universe than Barry White? Are walruses really something to aspire to? I'm thinking that even a walrus of love isn't that much of a sex bomb, on the whole.
> John B – Catalyst
John B is a friend of C's. I think she's on the album credits. It's jungle though, innit, so I doubt I shall ever, ever listen to it for longer than the split second it takes me to realise what it is and run away.
> Q the music 8 > Q Take it Easy > The ’96 Brit Awards
Free stuff. We should probably take this to Oxfam... especially as the two Q albums are probably refugees from my collection anyway. C got taken to the Brits on a corporate jolly actually, it was the year the Franz Ferdinand won stuff. She sat in the golden circle and was wined and dined. Yeah, I know....
> The Full Monty OST > High Fidelity OST
The latter was another gift from me (and a damn fine album to boot). The former? Apart from "Hot Stuff" and 'You Can Leave Your Hat On", I'm not sure I even know what's on this.
> David Gray – White Ladder
Ah, old wobbly head. Not really my cup of tea. A big hit, as I understand these things.
> Sherpas – Freezin’ > Lungfish – kinshipnesshood > Benabar – les risques du metier
Your guess is as good as mine. I think Lungfish are one of her brother's bands (he's a proper musician you know, in his spare time... he gets royalty cheques and everything. Currently he's working as a project manager in an architect's office, which is not quite so cool, but is a lot more reliable for paying the bills)
> Ute Lemper – Sings Kurt Weil
If you can get past all those rolling rrrrrrrrrrrrrs, then this is really very good. I'm not entirely sure that I can get past them though.
> Joe Dassin – Vol 2
One more time, with feeling..... "Champs-Elysees...."
> Janis Joplin – Greatest Hits
I used to have this, so I suppose it could be mine. She's famous for her big voice and for her alcoholism, but I find her very hard to get into, for some reason.
> Music to Watch Girls By
Ah, an excellent compilation album this. If this isn't my copy, then it could easily have been another present from me. God, I'm so unimaginative with my gifts.
> Justin Timberlake – Justified
Trousersnake. Hmm. C actually owns a hat that she seldom wears but calls her Justin Timberlake hat.
> Essential Soundtracks
I think this includes stuff like "Lust For Life". Interesting up to a point, I suppose.
> Billie Holiday – Feel the Blues
Ah, now we're talking. You have to say that the girl does have some taste. I don't actually own any Billie Holiday, and I should rip this one right onto the iPod, I think.
> Manic Street Preachers- This is My Truth Tell Me Yours
Well, you can't argue with this one. Right up until SYMM, anyway. A great, great band. Peter, our Austrian friend was very interested in the idea of the Manic Street Preachers when I was telling him about them when we were in Vienna a few weeks ago. He'd heard of "If You Tolerate This..." but was ignorant of the rest of their work. Naturally, I posted him a compilation CD as soon as I got home, lovingly crafted to include 4st7lb, which was the song that got us talking about them in the first place (from the lyric "I want to walk in the snow and not leave a footprint"). I also sent him a homemade Eels collection and --ahem-- the Feeling (well, he likes Toto and stuff, so I thought he would love them too. he does.)
> Edith Piaf – Edith Piaf
Hates Marion Cotillard, loves Edith Piaf.
> Fatboy Slim – You’ve Come a Long Way Baby
Meh. It's all a bit of its time, isn't it? Great video with Christopher Walken though.
> Jamiroquai – Travelling Without Moving
No no no no no no no no no. NO. Just no.
> Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits
I've never got Bob Dylan, really, and yet I own several albums by him in an attempt to get him based upon the assumption that so many people can't be wrong and that I must be missing something. Well, perhaps I am, but life is so short, isn't it?
> Daft Punk – Discovery
French. Very good. I was once at a party at her brother's flat in Toulouse. Naturally, most of the people there were French. I do speak French reasonably well (I'm told), but in a typically English way, I don't really like to unless it's absolutely necessary. As it happens, I found conversation quite easy as we started to talk about music, and Daft Punk in particular. Everyone seemed very impressed that I had even heard of Daft Punk as they imagined that they would only be famous in France. They were pleased that I had, as they're rightly proud of them as a good band. I was a little baffled that they seemed unaware of their worldwide success. We later moved on to the Clash... another band we could all agree on, and one that seems to have been very important to French guys of a certain age.
> Vent – 414
Was this Miles Hunt? I've no idea why C has this, or if it's any good.
> Vincent Delerm – Kensington Square
Nope. No idea. Sounds French though, right?
> The Clash – The Story of the Clash
Brilliant band, and I think it's brilliant that C has more of a feeling for the Clash than I do. I like them, sure, but she grew up listening to them. "Lost in a Supermarket" is one of her favourite songs, and I love her for that.
> Buena Vista Social Club
Great film, good album, and a direct link to her love of latin dancing.
...and that's it.
An interesting selection there, I think. Certainly a lot more varied than my gloomy collection of music by white boys with guitars, anyway.
Stealth is a small venue just next to the Rescue Rooms. Together with the Rescue Rooms, it's part of the Rock City family, and is mostly famous for its clubnights than it is as a gig venue. Well, it's the first time I've been here, anyway. As it happens, I used to work with the guy who does all the promotion for Stealth (and I think for the RR too). He was a slightly funny looking chap who used to exist on a diet of crisps and cola and who shuffled about the office working as an IT Consultant. I used to think he was alright but a little bit odd, and when he left, I didn't really think too much more of him... until, that is, he turned up with what looks like an absolute dream of a job. Apparently he started out as a promoter long before he actually gave up his day job, which just goes to show how you can't judge a book by its cover. Anton was in the venue this evening, and I thank the lord that he was, because it meant that I knew for a fact there was at least one other bloke in the room older than me.
Have you ever watched Skins? You know, the programme where teenagers go out clubbing and generally getting wasted? Well, being at this gig was a little bit like being in the middle of an episode.... and I was playing the role of one of the parents (perhaps Bill Bailey?). The place was filled with children. Forget about having love for you if you were born in the 80s, I reckon at least half of the people here were born in the 90s. Which is odd, as judging by the look of them in their Nike High Top trainers and bat-winged tracksuit tops, the 80s are big with the kidz of today. I wouldn't have been entirely surprised if someone had walked past me wearing a leotard and leg-warmers, kids-from-fame-stylee. They were all busy getting wasted, of course, as only people who are young enough to fear no hangover and with merely the cloud of that last 1000 words of their dissertation to get some time before Friday can do. Bless them all.
We wandered in after a leisurely Yakai Udon and immediately saw that we got a fantastic view by leaning on the bar at the side of the stage. Why bother to move any further in? From this vantage point, we were able to enjoy the delights of the Wonky Pop tour. I'm not entirely sure what binds these three artists together, as to be honest, I'd only really say that Alphabeat were particularly poppy... the other two? less so.
Frankmusik were already getting into their stride when we arrived, and it took me a little while to get my bearings. They're a three-piece, comprising a corkscrew-haired female drummer, an ageing keyboardist and a sort of Gareth Gates-alike vocalist. Their sound is not all that dissimilar to that of Does It Offend You, Yeah? in that they produce quite a squall of electronic noise that is actually quite heavy, almost rock. Layered on top of this were some fairly insipid white-boy soul singing, of the kind that you sometimes find slapped on the top of those house music songs that bother the charts, usually around summer, featuring a guest vocalist (David Byrne and Xpress2 aside) you've probably never heard of. They weren't dreadful by any means, but the singer rather ruined it for me and I would have preferred it if they had committed to a heavier sound. Still, there was plenty to be entertained by: the drummer was good, and by the looks of him, the keyboardist was living the dream. In spite of the actually really very bright tube lighting at the side of the stage, he bobbed about over his keyboards clutching a lit torch clutched in his mouth. I'd have thought that some kind of headtorch would have been more practical, but perhaps this is his 'thing'. He was loving it, loving it, loving it - throwing himself with huge gusto into every throbbing gear change. Most of Alphabeat were stood just in front of us as the band played, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway. Cutely, and very much in the spririt of one for all and all for one, they also helped to shift the gear off the stage at the end of the set and out to the van. At this point the PA played "Ready for the Floor" by Hot Chip, which unfortunately served to remind me that this kind of thing is being done a lot better elsewhere. Frankmusik aren't bad, by any means, but I've heard better.
Before too long, the next act was onstage. Leon Jean-Marie is apparently a solo-artist, although you could be forgiven for assuming that they were a band as the guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and drummer filed onto the stage. The music was definitely a change of pace from Frankmusik, but I got the distinct impression that our Leon didn't really know what he wanted to be: there were a couple of dancy tracks, some kind of dub-reggae-esque tracks, some straightforward rock and even some acoustic ballads. It was a bit of a mix up, to be honest, and nothing very much stuck in my memory. I'm not a guitarist, and I'm frankly amazed that anyone can play anykind of a chord at all, but LB also told me, from his vantage point at the very front of the stage, that he's not seen a worse guitarist at a proper gig ever - apparently Leon was a picture of concentration as he tried to find the right fingerings for his chords at the same time as he was singing. Not very good, to be honest, but again I found something to entertain me by watching the keyboardist - who looked a bit like Paul Casey (who would have had to leave Augusta pretty sharpish if he was going to be on this tour) and who for much of the gig appeared to be playing nothing more than a volume switch, flicking a backing track up and down in a rhythmic fashion. I'm not a musician, ladies and gentlemen, but I may just have found my instrument.
The kids by this point were getting quite rowdy and beered up (do kids still drink beer or is there some kind of rule that they can only drink brightly coloured spirits?). Alphabeat came on to a most receptive and rowdy crowd of about 250 shrieking students and I had a sudden revelation: a lot more young girls go to pop gigs than go to watch gloomy guitar bands. It's too late for me now, but save yourselves!
Alphabeat were great. Just as they did last time, their absolutely nonsensical but insanely infectious pop put a massive smile on my face. I'm not too sure that there grasp of the English language extends much beyond the rhyming dictionary that they have evidently swallowed, but it doesn't make a damn bit of difference... this is pure enjoyment, and pretty much all of their songs are bouncy fun, with recent hit single and near weapons grade earworm "Fascination" going down especially well (although I retain a soft-spot for "Touch Me Touching You" and "Boyfriend"). I have to say that I love the irony of a band clad mainly in scruffy t-shirts singing to me that "fashion is our passion", when all the evidence clearly states otherwise, but give me this over the more self-conscious likes of The Foals or Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong any time. The set finished with Alphabeat pulling onto the stage some members from the other two bands to sing an unlikely version of "Digital Love" by Daft Punk... with the sheer exuburance with which they sang it, they almost got away with it. Almost.
A very different night to Elbow, for sure, but also very enjoyable. I left in a fantastic mood, anyway, which doesn't happen after all that many gigs. Alphabeat are a lot better than the other two bands, I think, but as a whole it was fun, and who could ask for much more than that? It's a lot better this than some X-Factor shite, anyway.