>Of cats and trees (T – 10)

9 April, 2010 Leave a comment

>Ok, so I’m writing this at just after eight o’clock in the morning and I’ve already been awake for five hours.

Picture the scene.  Son No 2 is staying with us for a few days, and the cat has taken exception to this fact.  With no good reason – Matt has barely seen the cat since he’s arrived, but it’s enough for Pedro that there is another human being in the house.

He’s got the hump, basically.

To the extent that he’s keeping out of the house as much as possible – including through the night, although he has deigned to cross the doorstep in the early morning if bribed with food and cat milk.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at around three and went to check at the back door.  No sign.  So back to bed, where I tossed and turned until around half four, when I thought I’d give it another go.  Still no sign – but a faint yowling could be heard on the breeze.

So I’m at the bottom of the garden, barefoot in the dew, dressing gown on.  Yes, definitely a plaintive cat cry.

Back upstairs, clothes on, torch.  Mrs W behind me in dressing gown and training shoes.  Down the bank at the bottom of the garden we crawl, around past the neighbour’s garden, to the foot of a big bank of leylandii.  A very big, very tall bank of leylandii.

And there he is, right at the top.  Yowling.

So I’m trying to climb this tree, in the pitch dark, Mrs W holding a torch below.  Not a chance.

We leave him there, and wait until daybreak.  Mrs W goes back to bed – work in the morning.

Half past six, I’m there, now armed with our longest stepladder.  All six foot’s worth of it.  Clambering up the bank around the back of the trees, I can finally see him, and by climbing up to the toppermost rung on the precariously-balanced ladder, I can actually touch him.

But I can’t dislodge him, or pick him up.

Plan B.  Scrambling round to the other side of the tree, I can see a gap in the foliage to the flat top of the trunk, which has obviously been lopped in the past.  The place Pedro had been perched when I last spotted him.  I find that I can balance the end of the ladder on the top of the stump and support the bottom of the ladder myself, thus creating a walkway for Pedro to stroll casually into my waiting arms.

Does he do this?  Does he buggery.  Instead, he backs away and perches precariously onto one of the highest, flimsiest branches left on the tree.

Now bear in mind the tree is actually growing right on the edge of a vertical bank.  On one side of the tree, the drop to ground is probably around ten feet.  On the other side, the drop must be nearer thirty feet.

Guess which side Pedro is on.

Plan C.  Throwing caution to the wind, and the ladder to one side, I realise that by straddling Pedro’s tree and the one next to it, I can actually climb up to the top and get to the stump where he had been sitting.  So that’s what I do.  You now have to realise that I am therefore up in the air, one foot on one tree, the other foot on another tree, and a clear drop of about thirty feet between my legs.  But at least I’m in a position to grab Pedro if he comes back to the stump.

What I do when I’ve grabbed him, I’m less sure.

At this stage, I’m wondering if firemen do still get cats down from trees, but in the event, my thoughts and efforts are academic, because eventually the poor pussy – who is of course absolutely terrified at this stage – steps out too far and the branch he’s on can’t hold his weight.  And so, of course, he falls gracelessly to the ground below.  And gets up and trots off into the house to eat his breakfast.  Apparently, none the worse for his adventure.

Me, I’m still stuck up in mid-air straddling two trees.  At half seven in the morning.  Thinking that at the age of fifty, my tree-climbing days should be well behind me.

Anyway, a couple of restorative coffees later, and having got this out of my system, I now need to shower because I smell like a midden and ache like a bastard.  In the meantime, the cat has eaten, washed and gone to sleep at the back of Mrs W’s wardrobe.

I’m too old for this.

Categories: Matt, Pedro

>Buried Treasure (T – 13)

6 April, 2010 2 comments

>One of my monthly music magazines – Mojo, I think – has a regular feature which focuses on those albums that failed to achieve commercial success, despite being of the highest quality.  Occasionally it might be an album that did hit the heights, but that was never capitalised upon by the artist.  The overriding feature of the albums is that they have been quietly forgotten, but lie there, waiting to be discovered and appreciated by a new generation.  Hence the title of the feature, “Buried Treasure”.

I was reminded of this feature the other day when a long forgotten album came up on shuffle, and I thought I’d treat you to a few examples of buried treasure I’ve got lurking in the depths of my hard drive.

Follow me, and bring along your metal detector…

Mick Ronson – Slaughter on 10th Avenue

This is the album that kicked off the theme for this blog.  Mick Ronson was, of course, the guitarist in David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars, later working with Ian Hunter and producing Morrissey, before dying at a ridiculously young age.  He released (I think) two solo albums in the early ’70s, of which this was the first.  Heavily laced with the glam trimmings of the time, it showcased a great guitarist with a surprisingly gentle, wistful voice.  One track, Only After Dark, was picked up by the Human League, who covered it on their second album, Travelogue.  Re-listening after all these years, the quality (and, inevitably, the Bowie influence) shines through.

Red Guitars – Slow To Fade

Red Guitars came from Hull, and came to my attention when they supported The Smiths in Norwich back in the early ’80s.  I also got to see them later, headlining their own gig also in Norwich.  Why they got The Smiths gig is bayond me, as they had very little in common with the Charming Men from Manchester.  Guitar-driven and left-leaning (hence their name) they infused their music with African rhythms, decades before Vampire Weekend thought of it.  They released a few singles that tickled the top of the indie charts (Fact, Steeltown, the wonderful Good Technology) and this album, before imploding.  I think there was a second album but with a different lineup.  But as a legacy, Slow To Fade is a gem.

Cath Carroll – England Made Me

Cath Carroll was a music journalist who also played in an early ’80s indie band called Miaow.  She also released this solo album whilst signed up to Factory.  Sounding completely unlike anything else released on the label, the album sank without trace but, to these ears, is an absolute classic.  Breathy songs of love, infatuation and oppression, the album had an intelligence that, aligned with its pop sensibilities, could have made  her huge.  But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen.

Deaf School – 2nd Honeymoon

A Liverpool band, dabbling in any number of musical forms and a huge influence on many of the bands that came out of Liverpool in the post-punk era.  Ironically, despite their huge local influence, it was probably the rise of punk that ultimately did for the band.  Some band members went on to bigger and better things – Clive (“Cliff”) Langer as a major producer, Bette Bright as a solo artist before she married Suggs from Madness – others continued to operate on the fringes of fame.  They released three albums in the mid ’70s (2nd Honeymoon was their first), to mass market indifference – but to Merseysiders of a certain age, they were, for a time, our secret band.  And we loved them.

The Farmers’ Boys – Get Out and Walk

Baz, Mark, Frog and Stan were Norwich’s answer to Hull’s Housemartins, before the question had been asked.  Unashamedly catchy, impudently covering Cliff Richard songs (In the Country, from their follow-up album With These Hands) and signally failing to impress anyone outside of a hugely passionate but relatively small local following.  Oh, and I’ve just found out – Get Out and Walk is available on CD! And it’s in stock on Amazon!  Hurrah!

Martin Stephenson and the Daintees – Boat to Bolivia

The Daintees were on the Kitchenware label, along with Prefab Sprout, and the two bands shared a propensity for catchy tunes, delicate arrangements and intelligent lyrics.  Unfortunately whilst Paddy McAloon went on to great critical (and some commercial) success, Martin Stephenson remained very much a cult artist, ploughing a lone, idiosyncratic furrow in a countryish/folksy idiom.  Boat to Bolivia was their first album and contains some majestic songs, not least Crocodile Cryer, written in the aftermath of his grandmother’s funeral.

Dalek I – Compass Kum’pas

Back in the day, one of the most graffiti’d bands around Birkenhead were the mysterious Radio Blank.  Their name was painted on loads of public spaces, most notably motorway flyovers.  Who were this mysterious band?  What did they sound like?  Had anyone ever seen them play?  Not me, certainly.  But then Radio Blank disbanded, and out of the remains came the Dalek I Love You group, or Dalek I for short.  Compass Kump’pas shared many similarities with other groups coming out of Birkenhead/Liverpool at the time, most notably early OMD – heavy on the drum machines and synths, cover of a famous oldie (in this case, The Kinks’ You Really Got Me).  However unlike the other Eric’s-founded bands, Dalek I faded away, with the original members drifting off into other Liverpool bands, including Big In Japan and the Teardrop Explodes.  However Compass Kum’pas remains as a very impressive legacy.

Jess Roden Band – Blowin’

Jess Roden was one of a number of great British blues singers who was active in the late ’60s and through the ’70s.  However unlike some of his contemporaries – Paul Rogers, Robert Palmer for instance – who went on to great fame, Jess Roden remained a bit of a cult.  That’s cult.  Blowin’ is a live album that showcases just what a great singer Roden was at his peak, playing bluesy R&B with a soulful tinge.  On my vinyl version of the album, Roden performs a version of Desperado that blows the original miles out of the water.  Sadly this track does not appear on subsequent versions of the album, although it is replaced by another cover, of the Temptations’ I Can’t Get Next To You that also swings like a bastard.  Jess Roden – one of the great lost British vocalists.

Thomas Lang – Scallywag Jaz

Another Liverpool crooner, Thomas Lang (born Jones – no wonder he changed his name) released a couple of albums in the early 80s showcasing his great voice.  Verging on easy listening, he perfected a style of light jazz (hence jaz) that was picked up by the likes of Black (of Wonderful Life and Sweetest Smile fame) and, on the face of it, was perfect for a world happy to have the likes of Sade and Harry Connick on their coffee tables.  Sadly, it was not to be for Thomas.  If he was around today, he’d be a shoo-in for the X-Factor as well.

Amsterdam – The Journey

Come on, you knew this was coming, didn’t you?  Treasure buried so deep only a few select people are aware of the band’s existence.  Yet if the world only knew…  The Journey was the band’s first ‘official’ release, gathering the strongest tracks from a series of internet-only albums.  The quality of the album is  sublime, the range of styles broad, the emotion and passion tangible in every note.  If anything, follow-up album Arm in Arm is the better album, but as a debut, an initial statement of intent, The Journey is untouchable.  It deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as The Clash’s debut, it is that good.

Oh, there’s so many more I could have written about, but this is a decent starter for ten.  Treasure, buried in the depths of my record collection.  What’s buried in yours?

>Can I just say… (T – 14)

5 April, 2010 1 comment

>…this is the funniest thing I’ve seen all weekend…

Categories: chris kamara, football

>Sunday Easter Sunday (T – 15)

5 April, 2010 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack:  U2 – War

Busy day today, motor racing and football to watch, with a family get-together sandwiched in the middle.

It was a bit of a procession at the front of the Malaysian Grand Prix, with the two Red Bulls pulling away in the first two slots and staying there for the rest of the race.  Consequently the action was all towards the back of the field, with the McLarens and Ferraris trying to make amends for their abysmal performance in qualifying.  And for a while it was genuinely exciting, as Lewis Hamilton, in particular, carved his way through the back markers up into a respectable position.  Jenson Button also made progress, albeit less spectacularly, largely due to an early tyre change that gave him acres of free space to drive in for a large part of the race.

Ultimately though, the race fizzled out as a combination of tyre wear and a wall of slightly quicker cars halted the charge.  Oh for a thunderstorm in the last ten laps!

Then it was out for Easter lunch with the family – a carvery at the Village in Bromborough, and very enjoyable it was too, despite me making my usual schoolboy error of eating far too much (did I really need those last three profiteroles?) and feeling decidedly uncomfortable at the back end of the afternoon.  So rather than sit there feeling bloated, we beat an early retreat back home – where the Everton game was being Sky-plussed ready for viewing.

And I wished I hadn’t bothered, really.  A lethargic performance against a West Ham team that had more to play for, and who deserved their draw, even though the ever-erratic Howard Webb denied Everton a cast-iron penalty.  Sadly, it looks as though eighth is the best the club can aspire to this season – when a decent European slot was there for the taking.  We are definitely missing the guile and craft that Mikel Arteta brings to the team, and the game against Villa on Wednesday is really our last chance of pushing on for the final European place – a must-win game by any standards.

Sadly let down by Son No 2 today, who gleefully announced that the Pixies were playing Glastonbury this year, only to find he’d been April Fooled (and not for the first time this year!)  Still, with confirmations from The Gaslight Anthem and the likelihood of The Hold Steady and The Courteeners confirming soon, I don’t think we’ll be struggling for things to do and see.

U2 are, of course, already confirmed, and it is ‘War’ that has come up on the soundtrack today.  Their third album, released well before The Canonisation Of Saint Bono, it’s not their best work by a long stretch.  But it does include New Year’s Day and Sunday Bloody Sunday, and generally chunters along quite inoffensively.

Here’s a young-looking U2 performing ‘Two Hearts Beat as One’.  Nice mullett, Bono!

Categories: Easter, Everton, Formula 1, U2

>Sympathy for the Journo (T – 16)

3 April, 2010 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack:  The Stranglers – The UA Singles 1977 – 1982

Just finished reading Nick Kent’s memoirs of the 1970s, ‘Apathy for the Devil’.  The name might not mean a great deal to you, but Nick Kent was a music journalist back in the seventies, and along with his colleague at the NME, Charles Shaar Murray, pointed me in the direction of most of the great music I listened to in that decade.

Nick was also – for a few weeks – an early member of the Sex Pistols, as well as being Chrissie Hynde’s lover and a fully fledged junkie.  He was also one of the best writers about rock music ever to have put pen to paper.

Apathy for the Devil has come in for some criticism from some quarters, but I enjoyed it.  Whilst Kent doesn’t write about himself as well as he does about his musical heroes, reading the book took me right back to my adolescence, and reminded me of the time when the NME formed the centrepiece of my week – I couldn’t afford too much of the music it wrote about, but I still devoured every word of every issue, vicariously living the life of its writers, who were, to many of us, stars in their own right.

Today’s NME is a pale shadow of the magazine that existed in the ’70s and ’80s and it’s a real shame.  There is still plenty of quality music journalism out there – in the pages of Word, Mojo and Uncut, and in the writings of Peter Guralnick, Mikal Gilmore and others – but you won’t find it in the pages of the NME any more, sadly.

A very pleasing thud on the doormat this morning – my contract of employment!  So I’ve now got written confirmation – I’m back on the gravy train again.  Happy days.  Just got to fill in a few forms and wing them back to Preston, and then I can enjoy my last couple of weeks of leisure.

Confirmation this morning also, that Formula 1 is at its most interesting when it rains.  Ferrari and McLaren’s decision to gamble on the length and intensity of a rainstorm in Malaysia found both all four of their cars languishing at the back of the grid, which should lead to some interesting driving tomorrow morning.  The drivers seemed pretty philosophical about it, as well they might – it wasn’t really their fault that their teams misread the conditions.

One band who – perhaps surprisingly – don’t get much of a mention (if any) in Nick Kent’s memoirs are The Stranglers, who were there or thereabouts throughout the period Kent is writing about.  Maybe they were too far removed from the scuzzy drug scene that Kent was involved in at the time, and possibly too inauthentic as well – their punk credentials were indeed decidedly dodgy.  That said, they did release a string of excellent singles in the period from 1977 to 1982, the last part of which I am listening to as I type.  By this time, they’d ditched the casual misogyny that blighted their early years and were playing more melodic, conventional material such as Golden Brown and Strange Little Girl.

Whilst never one of my favourite bands at the time – they came across as too old and too muso for me, with their organ riffs and dodgy facial hair – they did release some canny tunes.

“Have you all got your Crackerjack pencils?”

>Word Travels Fast! (T – 17)

2 April, 2010 Leave a comment

>Today’s soundtrack:  Porcupine Tree – Staircase Infinities

After one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages, woke up ready for a trip into Manchester to meet up with Kevin and some of my old mates from the old job.  But first, off to the Supermarket to stock up for the Easter break.  Big trolley to shove all the chocolate eggs into – right next to the booze and calories, natch.  A relatively straightforward shop, albeit augmented by Mrs W’s quick waltz round the clothes section.  Still, don’t have to watch the pennies quite so much now!

Then off into Manchester, and to the old firm’s offices.  Bumped into a few people outside, who congratulated me on the new job, word obviously having got round quickly!  Nice to be able to answer truthfully when people ask me how it’s going – the days of the brave face and the ‘it’s all ok, really’ platitudes are past.  It really is ok now.

Then to Giraffe with Kevin, for a tasty burger and Red Stripe.  We put the world to rights for a good hour or so before going back to the office where I met up with Anne-Marie for congratulations and hugs.  It’s good, this going back to work lark.  For some reason I got to kiss lots of women as a result!

So.  I’m in Manchester.  No longer watching the pennies, and Fopp just up the road.  What’s a boy to do?

Half an hour later, I emerged with the new Joanna Newsom, Them Crooked Vultures, the new Jimi Hendrix release and a few Traffic albums from the early seventies.  One of which I already own.  Don’t you just hate it when you buy something you’ve already got?  Or is it just me that does it?  It only cost me three quid, at least.

Back home, and a quick text to Matt, who has been spending the week in hospital having his radiotherapy treatment following his throat operation last year.  This has been far less of an ordeal, boredom being the primary concern rather than any specific medical issues.  You can read about his experiences here.

After a big lunch, there was no need for a massive tea so we had the remnants of last night’s (home-made) pizza alongside some potato skins and chicken bits.  Watched the end of Supernatural series 3 and – of course – caught up on Masterchef.  The six contestants reduced now to five following the departure of Terry, who may well cause himself serious self-harm as a result.

Simon reminded me yesterday that the guitar playing hasn’t had a mention in a while and, if truth be known, it did go a bit quiet for a bit.  Having said that, I have been picking up both the bass and my six-string more often on the past week or two and enjoying every minute of it.  Although my fingers hurt as a result.  Not a virtuoso by any means but still enjoying the tinkering!

One man who probably can lay claim to the title of virtuoso is Steven Wilson, driving force behind the horribly-named Porcupine Tree, who actually produce a very acceptable blend of Proggy hard rock.  Staircase Infinities is a half hour of nicely melodic, guitar-driven rock that is extremely pleasant to have on in the background.

Categories: fopp, Kevin, Matt, Porcupine Tree

>No Longer Stuck? (T – 18)

1 April, 2010 1 comment

>Today’s soundtrack:  Various Artists – The Burt Bacharach Songbook

Oh my – I got the job!

After a pretty rigorous interview process, I seem to have come out the other side as the Last Man Standing!  So, subject to completion of all the formalities and paperwork, I shall be Head of Business Assurance for a major housing association based in Preston – starting on 19 April.  Hence the ‘T – 18’ countdown in the title above.

The recruitment process went through three separate interviews, culminating in a double-header down in London on Monday.  On arrival, I was given a topic to present upon for 15 minutes, and given 45 minutes to prepare.  No Powerpoint – just a flipchart.  So, hoping that handwriting wasn’t one of the characteristics I was going to be assessed on, I set to scribbling.

Finished just about on time, then it was downstairs to present my scribbles to the four-man panel.  And it seemed to go ok.  My mouth didn’t dry up, the presentation seemed to flow, I could see I was getting a few nods, and I stuck to my allotted fifteen minutes.  After a few questions on the presentation, it was on to the meat of the interview for the next hour and a half.  Again, it seemed to go ok.  Unfazed by any of the questions, a few more nods, even a few laughs and smiles.  In the right place, as well.

Still, you never know.  I came out thinking I’d done ok – pretty good, in fact – but the other guy might be even better.  Who knows?  At least I felt I’d done myself justice and set a decent benchmark for the other guy.

Fast forward to the next morning.  An early call from the recruitment agency – always a good sign – no offer yet, but good feedback from the interview…and could I give them the names of some referees they could contact for a reference?  Oh yes, I can do that.  A few quick emails, and the process swung smoothly and quickly into action.  By midday, references had been requested and provided, passed on to the company….

…and the good news came back – you’ve got it!

Oh my.

So – thanks.  Thanks to the two reference providers – you know who you are – who gave me what I am told were ‘glowing’ references.  Thanks to everyone who has sent me good wishes and congratulations – and thanks to everyone who has kept in touch either directly or through this blog for the last twelve months.  It’s been a long, sometimes stressful year, and your comments and support have helped me get through it all.  Oh, and extra special thanks to Mrs W, who has put up with all the ups and downs and mood swings without complaint.

Well without much complaint, anyway.

Anyway, enough of that, it’s beginning to sound like a bloody Oscar acceptance speech.

So – the light at the end of the tunnel probably isn’t the oncoming train after all.  It looks like I’m sorted.  Son No 1 is also working and happy in his work, and Son No 2 is successfully completing his treatment this week as well.  Onwards and upwards chaps.

Many of you have asked what is going to happen to this blog.  Well, I don’t want to stop – in fact, I’ll probably ramp it up for the next 18 days as we count down to D-Day, and then continue on a more occasional basis, just to keep in touch.

This is what I wrote on Day 1 about the title of this blog…380 days ago!

I’m amused by the irony of this blog title. “Stuck Between Stations” was originally a nod to my refusal to grow old gracefully – stuck, if you will, between the kid I was and the ‘grown-up’ I refuse to be. And, of course, a reference to the wonderful Hold Steady – a group of musicians who act no older than they need to. The song itself refers to being stuck between stations on the radio – when things are not as ‘crystal clear’ as they might be. Something else I can relate to at the moment.  But now, I’m stuck between two other stations – the job I had and the new job I’ve yet to find.

No longer stuck between those latter two stations. Thank God.

As for the original reason for the blog title – well, you be the judge!

And so to the soundtrack for today’s post. The mighty Burt Bacharach. And from the album, a track whose title reflected the way I felt twelve months ago. Not any more though.

Take it away, Dusty!

>American (TV) Without Tears

28 March, 2010 Leave a comment

>And so to the latest challenge…

“Moving away from music based challenges and into the world of television …. Your all time top 10 US TV series imports. 

They must be a proper series over a number of years (ie Band of Brothers, as good as it was, wouldn’t count as it is a one off mini-series).  They must have been shown on a British channel (even an obscure Sky channel would count!) so cult box-sets bought via the internet also are out.  You also must have seen all of the relevant available series.  Just having seen a couple of series and raving about it doesn’t count. 
Apart from that anything else goes …. comedy, soaps, sci-fi, drama… the choice is yours!”

Oooh – tough one!
After negotiating a bit of leeway in the above rules, I give you the following.  I can’t hand on heart, say I’ve seen every episode of every series, and it’s slightly skewed to more recent stuff, but there are some gems in here.  You should go out and buy them all on DVD…
Or, to give it its proper title, ‘The Phil Silvers Show’. The series against which all comedy series should be measured.  Running from 1955 to 1959 (and no, I didn’t get to see any of the episodes when they were first broadcast.  How very dare you) the show records the antics of Sgt Ernie Bilko, ostensibly in charge of the motor pool at Fort Baxter in Kansas.  Bilko is, of course, far more interested in running scams and get rich quick schemes to the despair of his long suffering Colonel.  Phil Silvers steals the show as Bilko, but is ably supported by his squad, including cuddly Duane Doberman.  Still funny today, fifty years after its release.
(Oh, and an honourable mention to Top Cat as well, which is essentially Bilko in cartoon form.  Nearly made onto this list in its own right).
For years, this show kept me in on a Friday night and out of the pub.  Which is quite ironic, in an Alanis Morrissette kind of way.  A great cast with a wonderful range of characters – Cliff, Norm (Norm!), Frasier, Woody, Carla – a place where everyone knows your name, indeed.  Running for so long, with quite a stable cast, meant that you really got to know the characters and pick up on their back stories…which were essentially rather sad – you felt that outside of the bar, people like Cliff and Norm had quite empty lives.  But when they were in Cheers bar, they found the companionship and friendship they could get nowhere else.
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks just about qualifies as it did run to two series, but deserves its place on the list anyway for completely subverting the conventions of the television drama series.  As with his filmwork, especially Blue Velvet, David Lynch created a series that peeled back the thin veneer of small town respectability to reveal the evil and horror lurking beneath.  On the face of it, a simple murder mystery – Who Killed Laura Palmer? – but it became so much more.  The joy was in the detail, the little twists and unexplained mysteries.  Where was the Red Room?  Why the dwarves and giants?  What was it with the owls?  A shame the second series lost its way slightly after pressure from the producers to provide some ‘explanations’ – the joy was in the unexplained and the wierd.
The Simpsons
I doubt very much I’ve seen every episode of The Simpsons, but I’ve seen more than enough to convince me this is television material of the highest quality.  Initially derided by politicians (who should have known better) for its supposed portrayal of a ‘dysfunctional’ family – when in fact the Simpsons are the most functional family ever portrayed on screen. The hero is of course Homer – not Bart, who seemed to attract all the original attention.  There is a little bit of Homer in all of us – and so there should be.
Again, the joy is in the detail – repeated watching reveals all sorts of wonderful details in the background you’ll have missed first time round.
Honourable mention also for Futurama – more great grown-up cartoon fun from the same team.
Prison Break
Just finished watching this one on DVD, so it’s fresh in my mind.  Not the most cerebral of shows, but hugely enjoyable all the same.  The tale of two brothers, Lincoln and Michael.  Lincoln has been wrongly convicted of murder and is on death row.  Michael gets himself deliberately incarcerated in order to break Lincoln out.  From there, the four series alternate between freedom and incarceration as the brothers try to uncover the evil corporation that framed Lincoln in the first place.
Yes, it’s absolute tosh, but hugely entertaining tosh for all that.
Stretching the rules a wee bit here, as we’ve only seen the first two of the four series that have been produced.  In my defence, it’s only the first two series that have been released on DVD, and the third series is on order with Amazon.  So it’s in.
A very clever twist on the serial killer motif here – in that it is Dexter, our hero, who is the psychopath in this case.  His day job is as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami police, but after hours Dexter is out there fulfilling his urges by offing the bad men who the police are unable to catch.
Equal parts amusing, exciting and genuinely shocking on occasion, this is one series where you really will be rooting for the bad guy.
More gloriously far-fetched, entertaining tosh here, and although it has lost its way a touch in recent series, it is still a magnificent show.  The central conceit is, of course, that all the action takes place in real time – so the ’24’ hourly episodes represent just one day’s activity on the part of the protagonists.  Completely unrealistic and impossible, but who cares?  This is Bourne, Die Hard, Bond and any other action film you care to mention stretched out over 24 hours and, if occasionally casually racist and violent, is the perfect way to suspend disbelief and see the goodies triumph over the baddies.  Cowboys and Indians for the modern age, Johhn Wayne replaced by Jack Bauer.
The Shield
Cops and robbers – except the line between the two is blurred here to the point of invisibility.  The Shield records the day to day existence of a crack police squad who are, for the most part, as corrupt and venal as the criminals they are trying to bring to justice.  There is not a single sympathetic character in the whole series, yet you still find yourself rooting for the bad guys (again – bit of a theme developing here).
Michael Chiklis excels as the ‘star’ of the show, Vic Mackey, but the supporting cast is uniformly strong and has attracted some big names like Glenn Close and Forest Whittaker for important roles in certain series.  Harrowing and gritty, but hugely entertaining.
The Sopranos
I’ve not placed these series in any particular order – apart from these last two, which I think represent some of the finest television drama ever produced.  Firstly The Sopranos, the long-running saga of the New Jersey-based mafia family.  Yet again, we are rooting for the bad guys, but we know this – and also know that some bad guys are badder than others.  Tony’s battle to keep his business together whilst dealing with family issues (ageing parent and uncle, growing kids) and his own mental issues is fascinating – and just when you feel you are getting to understand him as a human being, some incident will happen to remind you – graphically – that we are dealing with some very nasty and disturbed individuals.
Powerful drama that pulls few punches – and ended in memorable fashion.
The Wire
As good as The Sopranos is, it’s not a patch on The Wire, which I honestly believe represents the best, sustained television drama ever made.  Set in Baltimore over five series, the underlying theme is the battle between the police and the drug cartels in the city.  Where the series succeeds so well is by covering the stories from all viewpoints – the police force, the corner boys, the politicians, the drug barons – and by judging all protagonists equally.
The show makes no concessions to the viewer – many people have watched the early series with the subtitles on to catch all the nuances of the language of the corners – and it can be difficult to get into – but once you are in, you are hooked.
The series gives no answers, and cleverly depicts the ‘circularity’ of the streets – as characters die or move on, new individuals come along to fulfil the roles left vacant – but it has some strong and powerful messages about how best to control the drug epidemic in the inner cities, about education, politics and journalism.
A work of true genius.

>Spam as poetry

25 March, 2010 1 comment

>I found this in my inbox this morning.  No links, nothing to click on to order some Viagra, no money waiting for me in a Nigerian bank account.

Yet I find it strangely compelling, in a Joycean kind of way.

So I want to share it with you.

Who is he?  Perhaps you don’t care for the brand.
And what can we do?  That is why we have the fire.
She must have been a clipper. See what I can do with it.
Habet foenum in cornu*. Oysters will do.

Is not that worse than poverty? It’s only a name.
We do not need a candle. He seems very fond of her.
And all of it ugly. The woman of Pablo was watching too.

Never have we seen planes like this. That all our enemies should learn.
But I am not stupid. We are not talking more.

Courtesy of my good friend Seth Keith.  Or is that Keith Seth?

*Latin for ‘he has hay in his horns’.  A quotation from Horace, referring to an angry bull, but applied to anyone feeling angry.  I’m here to inform as well as entertain.

Categories: poetry, spam

>Bludgeon Riffola!

21 March, 2010 3 comments

>And so the challenges continue.  This time, my challenge to Simon was to name his ten favourite riffs.  I put it to him this way…

“Right, after a lot of indecision and prevarication, the next challenge is out there.
And it’s the Riff.  The guitar line (and it has to be the guitar line) that turns a good song into a classic.
I want your top ten riffs.
No more than two or three bars.  Played to death by young boys in guitar shops.  Long of hair, behatted and beaded, no doubt.
I’m not talking solos here, I’m talking riffs.  Ba-danga-danga-da-dang dang.  Ba-danga-danga-da-dang dang.
You know what I mean.”

Simon’s response to the challenge is here -and mighty impressive it is, too, avoiding the obvious and embracing the concept in equal measure.  Including a number of riffs that I should have thought of as well.

As it is, there was only one riff on Simon’s list that was in my provisional ten – Seven Nation Army – so I have adjusted my list accordingly.  I similarly decided that Smoke on the Water (and one or two others) were a little too obvious to include.

So – ten riffs to send you running to the air guitar shop.  In no particular order, of course…

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin

And here’s me saying I was going to avoid the obvious.  But how could you not include this?  What swung it was the moment in the recent documentary, “It Might Be Loud”, where Jimmy Page plays this riff to an audience of The Edge and Jack White, both of whom know a good riff when they hear one.  The look of joy on their faces as the power chords rang out was probably the highlight of the film.

Back in Black – AC/DC

I very nearly went for ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ but of course could have gone for just about any AccaDacca tune. In the end though, it had to be ‘Back in Black’, if only for its punchiness and attack.  The quintessential AC/DC riff.

Enter Sandman – Metallica

When I was editing down the individual tracks on this list to the essence of their riffs, most could be distilled into ten or twenty seconds, max.  Enter Sandman – I just kept the edit playing and playing, as the riff develops and grows.  Over a minute of pure riffage before I pressed ‘cut’.

The Jean Genie – David Bowie

Generally, Glam Rock gave good riff – and this is David Bowie right in the middle of his Glam phase.  Probably the only riff to be in the charts at the same time in two different forms – exactly the same riff graces Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’.  But this is the definitive Glam riff, courtesy of Mick Ronson, of course.

She Does It Right – Dr Feelgood

Wilko Johnson, with some spectacular pub rock riffage, mastering the art of playing rhythm and lead at the same time, in the same riff.  I’ve seen footage of him playing this riff live, and I still can’t work out how he does it.  A simple riff on the face of it, but deceptively complex to master.

Safe European Home – The Clash

This is what you get when punk meets heavy metal – The Clash produced by Sandy Pearlman.  It irked the purists at the time, but Pearlman added weight and depth to the band’s natural intensity, to produce this master opening to the album.  It was even better live.

American Idiot – Green Day

Playing this riff immediately after The Clash, and the similarities are obvious.  Not just in the choice of notes (there are only so many to choose from, after all) but in the depth and intensity.  Often unfairly lumped in with the mass of lumpen Tattoo’d American Punk bands that came through in their wake, this riff kicks off an album of intelligence and variety that transcends its genre.

Song 2 – Blur

Another great riff from a band not really known for their riffage.  It also has the classic riff ‘trick’ that gets me every time – playing the riff once with little tone, then hitting the ‘gain’ pedal (turned up to eleven) to really hammer the point home.  It’s got ‘woo hoo’s’ as well.  Set the crowd alight at Glastonbury last year.  Not that I would know, I was in the Acoustic Tent listening to Georgie Fame.

Walk This Way – Aerosmith

I love this riff – deceptively simple, just four notes played pretty much in sequence four times – but it’s perfect in its simplicity and when combined with the opening drum pattern and hint of turntable scratching, sets up the mash of rap and metal perfectly.

Sweet Jane – Lou Reed

This is the lodestone – essence of riff.  Three chords – D/A/G – with perhaps a Bm in there as well – it doesn’t get any simpler.  Can be played gently (as in the VU original) or as an out and out rocker.  This version – from Lou’s ‘Take No Prisoners’ live album – is at the rocky end of the spectrum and none the worse for that.


(Oh – and bonus points to anyone who knows where the title of this post comes from…no Googling now, you’d just be cheating yourself…)