alexsarll: (crest)
So it looks like entries every other month is now standard. I still have notes in amongst the films and bands about kicking the leaves around, and here we are almost at that point again (though for now it's still altogether too hot for my liking, with the prospect of donning the big coat nowhere near appealing). And I wish I had been better about writing stuff up, because there are names in those notes of bands I know I liked, but about whom I remember nothing - like Tomorrow We Sail. I'm sure they have a page somewhere which would remind me, but that's not the same as a record of how the show felt. At least with Pete Astor I had the sense to offer myself some reminder - "more like Nick Drake than most Nick Drake wannabes; timeless but raw". It's not much, but it's a snapshot, which is the most any diary can be. Him I saw supporting John Moore at a rather undersubscribed evening; subsequently, Moore's novel would be the first project I've tried crowdfunding which did not meet its target, is not (at least in that manner) coming to pass. If a cult act are too popular, get T-shirts in Top Shop, their cultishness comes to seem rather a joke; if they can't even draw a decent crowd to the Lexington, not even with balloon tricks and an impromptu Black Box Recorder reunion, that may be going too far the other way.
(The journey home that evening was one of the times I've had strangers get a bit overfamiliar on account of the beard. I wouldn't mind so much if they weren't always straight men with lesser beards wanting some kind of symbolic contact)
Who else? Sarah Cracknell's new band. Martin Carr's new songs. Martin Newell. You'll notice a theme here; new but not new. Every so often I read a piece about some hot new act who aren't an act I already liked reconfigured, and unlike its kin it doesn't instantly bore me, and I give whoever it is a listen. And at best I think...yeah, that's OK. Last night it was Julia Holter. Magical stuff, I'd been told. But what I heard was perfectly pleasant background music.

That all sounds terribly jaded, doesn't it? But even beyond all those old favourites that still do it for me music-wise, London retains its infinite supply of everything else. A little depleted by the bastards and the oligarchs, perhaps, but not half so much as the dismal opinion pieces might suggest. You can still hear Arthur Machen's 'N' being read in Abney Park, happen upon accidentally private rooms in pubs that haven't been gentrified and gastroed to death, attend celebrations of life's odd contents which have speeches about anything from lifts (Boring) to exorcisms (Nine Worlds). The galleries have Gothic gems and surprise chunks of Grayson Perry. I think the decider for me, at the point where too much stuff was closing down and too many people calling it quits, was rediscovering Bingo Master's Breakout, London's premiere bingo, poetry and karaoke night, where every month a band plays a karaoke set of themselves, and the poets have to sing and the singers have to read poems, and the landlord has a real thing for Half Man Half Biscuit, and someone wins a Werner Herzog film. It's a strange world. Let's keep it that way.
alexsarll: (crest)
On Friday I watched Saint Etienne's Finisterre film. Which was quite reminiscent of the Robinson film about London I watched a while back, except that being St Etienne's, it was still in love with the city. Not blindly, never that - it reminded me of GK Chesterton's (biased, but not wholly untrue) observation that believers are allowed moments of doubt, whereas sceptics don't allow themselves moments of belief. I'd just read a link [ profile] alasdair had posted to Iain Sinclair on the Boris bikes, reading which I'd wondered - does Sinclair never have a day in London - the city that's made his name - where everything goes right, the birds are singing and people are smiling? I do. I had one when I went to the library and Tesco and the park after watching the film which acts as a sort of primer for days like that, in its meandering way. You don't have to be a St Etienne fan to enjoy it, so long as you're a London fan; there are occasional appearances from the band, but just as people in cafes or the like, because the film is no more or less their story than anyone else's. It's the story - or rather, a story - of the greatest city on Earth.
(Something else it had in common with the Robinson film - it wouldn't play properly. One scene in the middle stuck, and once I was past that, it ground to a halt before the end. When I get institutional loan DVDs of feature films, they always play fine. But once it's a meandering art film, glitcharama. Why is this? Are the discs weedier and less resilient, or are the fans more careless?)

Then on to the first tolerably large weekend of the new year: a wonderfully messy Nuisance on Friday and a West Country-style cider party on Saturday (complete with far too much Wurzels on Spotify), then a Sunday of culture/weird sh1t. The Museum of Everything is Peter Blake's collection of oddities, a sort of 20th Century Sir John Soane's where stuffed rats play cards while the rat police sneak up to raid them, miniature circus rides spin far too fast, old dolls and clowns are as creepy as ever, and a three-legged duck gets to look as stupid in death as he did in life. Even the gift shop (£25 for a candle?) and the loo (a door at either end? That would unnerve me even if I hadn't seen Zombieland the day before) are rum and uncanny. I don't think it's around for much longer but it's definitely worth a visit while it lasts. The evening was a Jackson's Way talkshopinar. Achieved! Nor has the week got off to a bad start; last night's bout of Monsterpocalypse was the first game I've beaten [ profile] johnny_vertigen at in months. And quite the victory, too: any game where your giant robot can twat the other fellow's Godzilla-type with his sword, and then impale him on a big spiky alien building before a barrage of tank fire finishes the job, is a game of which I would approve even had I not been victorious.
alexsarll: (Default)
So I've finally taken Foxbase Alpha out of the CD player - but only to swap in another St Etienne reissue and start reading London Belongs To Me. I vaguely recall hearing that it was the film rather than the book which inspired their song of the same name (see also 'Wuthering Heights'), but the book feels a lot like an old British film anyway, the sort of black&white minor classic BBC2 shows during the daytime. It has the same sort of narrator, wise but homely, timeless and omniscient but thoroughly rooted - "And what about Percy? After all, it was his morning as much as anybody's else. How is he getting on by now? Well, take a look in his bedroom and see for yourself."
It's also the exact sort of slice of life, state of the nation cross-section which I so despise in the modern middlebrow literary novel. And yet, somehow the distance makes that less of a problem (maybe now it's half-forgotten it has found its level). This even though being published in 1945 yet set in 1938-9 gives it the same pseudo-prescience about the war which I felt lessened Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square (and Hamilton is the closest other writer I know to Norman Collins, about whom I know nothing except that he wrote London Belongs To Me.
That's all pretty ambivalent, isn't it? And I'm not entirely sure why I'm still reading this, but I am, and fairly certain I'm going to read all 700 plus pages, and I think a lot of that is just down to that narratorial voice, and how well it suits London, and how if you can get London right I'll forgive an awful lot else.
(Timing may have helped too, in that it starts at Christmas. In December I kept reading things which I hadn't realised finished at Christmas - from Ian Hunter's Diary of a Rock'n'Roll Star to Batman: The Resurrection of R'as al Ghul and X-Men: Days Of Future Past. Now, another timely choice)

On the whole, it's been a gentle week so far - a milkshake under the Angel's wings, slow progresses through the ice and snow. I missed frolics in the snow yesterday because I assumed there'd be at least another day of it (slightly mistaken, but nevermind, eh?) and because I had a prior appointment for a Doctor Who binge. My route did take me through Clissold Park, though, and I can only assume that young people in Stoke Newington don't play enough violent computer games, because their aim with snowballs is dreadful. But, Doctor Who. In reverse order of merit:
Timelash: any arse who says that the new series isn't as good as the old should be forced to watch this, repeatedly, until they admit the error of their ways. Technobabble, crappy sets, an incoherent plot, risible monsters...Paul Darrow hamming it up is about the only thing which salvages matters, because Colin Baker is trying his best but there's really not much to work with. DVD also features a Making Of in which all the survivors blame the producer and director, who are safely dead, which is cowardly but fun.
The Sontaran Experiment: Tom Baker, Sarah Jane (in a less stylish wardrobe than she now boasts) and hopeless buffoon Harry Sullivan fall down holes and are pursued by a camp robot for two episodes. It was originally meant to be six. Dear heavens. The Sontarans here are not so much a warrior race as galactic bureaucrats (they can't invade without a proper risk assessment). They're not as short as nowadays, but the faces are even sillier.
An Unearthly Child: the unaired pilot version of the very first episode. This is where it all began and the focus on the human characters is closer to the new series than a lot of what came in between. Parts of it still send shivers up the spine, and not just from nostalgia.
City of Death: Tom Baker and Mrs Richard Dawkins charge around Paris at the show's peak, even if the plot by Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth, doesn't make a lick of sense. The DVD also has a fly-on-the-wall documentary following Sardoth, second-to-last of the Jagaroth, as he tries to make a life for himself in the British countryside ("EU rules oblige the government to give Sardoth an enormous house"). It's funny, but not quite as funny as Douglas Adams' script for the episode proper.

Brilliant if too-short interview with Andy Serkis. Apparently method posture for his portrayal of Ian Dury has left him with a "massive weird muscle" in his groin, and Ian's widow and son both responded to early drafts with "He's so much darker, so much more of a cvnt than this". For all that rock biopics tend to disappoint me (so samey), I may make an exception here.
alexsarll: (crest)
Club Popular tonight. Have I ever mentioned how a whole evening of Number One hits is like looking into the face of a god and realising you've known him all along/the end of DC One Million before? I believe I might have done. Still.

All urban foxes and Michaelmas daisies these past few days, and drifts of leaves in the cooling sunlight (well, except Tuesday when it was a summer heat again, as I strode around to find various bits and pieces including Turnpike House, only to realise that the 4 goes past it anyway so I'd already seen it plenty of times. Must remember to wander the Barbican at some point too while I'm on my St Etienne rambles. But I also found time to try Settlers of Catan (a beautifully constructed little boardgame which plays a little like a minimalist Civilisation, minus the overt warfare, and which I am possibly biased towards because I won) and Munchkin (a feast of backstabbing hilarity at which, on initial results, I suck).

I'd been meaning to see Breakfast on Pluto for ages, but kept not getting round to it. I didn't know much beyond it having Gavin Friday in and being about a transvestite. Turns out he's not the half of it - you also get Stephen Rea,
Ian Hart, Liam Neeson, all playing roles you'd normally think too small for them to bother with, but then it is a Neil Jordan film and I suppose that counts for something. Also, Bryan Ferry and Brendan Gleeson playing
spoilers? ), respectively. Being Neil Jordan, yes there are IRA elements to the plot but otherwise it's basically a kitchen sink Velvet Goldmine - a confused young man chases a lost vision of glamour. Cilian Murphy is very pretty in the lead, if a little too mumblecore at times - though, for all his eyelashes, I'm not sure he ever quite passes as female to the degree the plot sometimes seems to want.

In The Loop, which I should also have seen long before now, is rather less of a fairytale. The basic Thick of It-goes-to-war set-up is confused slightly by having everyone except Malcolm Tucker and Jamie play similar characters to those they did on TV, but not the same people, and there are one or two missed opportunities. For instance, when Malcolm confronts James Gandolfini as a US general, they get most of the way towards the key point - Malcolm may threaten to kill people as a matter of course, the General literally has - but then don't quite press the point. Still, we do get a wonderful scene where Malcolm realises his place in the scheme of things and is, for a moment, a broken man, which acts almost as a bridge between Peter Capaldi in The Thick of It and his apparently very different government advisor in Torchwood: Children of Earth
These are minor quibbles, but they are the most I can really say about the film, because I believe some of my readers still have workplace filters that don't like swears, and as with The Thick of It the film spin-off is magnificent and hilarious, and as with The Thick of It much of that magnificence and hilarity lies in the wonderfully inventive swearing.
alexsarll: (Default)
Recently took delivery of Saint Etienne's delayed new compilation, London Conversations, and have been thinking about how unlikely a band they are. Their danceable cover of hairy old Neil Young's 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' hit in 1990, the same year as Candy Flip's not dissimilar take on one of the few non-dreadful Beatles songs, 'Strawberry Fields Forever'. Would anyone have expected either of the acts behind these apparent novelties to go on to spend 20 years as one of Britain's most cherished, most quietly trailblazing cult bands? I can't think of such a deceptive start since Bowie first came to mass attention with 'The Laughing Gnome'.
And then a detour in my musings when, last night, [ profile] cappuccino_kid took me to see Black Box Recorder. Because don't those two bands almost form a subgenre all their own? Two male survivors, who aren't fronting the bands but who definitely need to be on stage, not backroom boys. One frontwoman called Sarah, thought a bit flat by some but recognised by indie boys of a certain stripe as an aspect of the goddess; her stage persona is all about the innocence, maybe with a little tang of experience, but you know she's no puppet. And the songs all inhabit a world of England past. The difference being, Black Box Recorder are the England you hoped was past but fear might not be (behind the stage last night, a Union Jack emblazoned with ROCK AND ROLL NOT DOLE), where Saint Etienne are the past you hope is still there just below the surface (watching the 'Hobart Paving' video, I remember that King's Cross, and I miss it).
Support was Madam acoustic; I swear she looks younger than she used to when [ profile] hospitalsoup was in her band, five years or more ago.

Interesting that today should bring further confirmation of Stephen Fry's status as a national treasure, as I was already planning to write a little about him, having yesterday read Simon Gray's Fat Chance. Some of you may remember that in 1995, Stephen Fry, then in a play called Cell Mates, disappeared, and was briefly feared to have killed himself before turning up on the Continent (very Black Box Recorder, come to think of it). Simon Gray was the author and director of that play, and aside from having previously loved his Smoking Diaries, I was intrigued by the possibility of A Book Which Didn't Like Stephen Fry. I mean, don't get me wrong, I think he's great, but just as I enjoy Lawrence Miles' anti-Steven Moffat agenda re: Doctor Who, I tend to find devil's advocates fun. Come on, if you'd lived in the ages of faith, wouldn't you have wanted to read The Three Impostors* even if you believed, just for naughtiness' sake? So Gray was royally let down by Fry, and the front cover quote is "Makes Mommie Dearest read like a Mother's Day card" - Mark Lawson, The Guardian. Well, that should have been my first warning. Granted, Smug Slug does sometimes restrict himself to stating the bleeding obvious, but more often he misses the point entirely, and Gray himself notes that "The Guardian, ever vigilant in its defence of truth and the decencies, published an article quoting the unfavourable reviews, neglecting to mention that the Guardian's own reviewer had written both warmly and intelligently about the play." And if there is a villain here it is the media, and the media's delight in reporting what the media is saying without ever deigning to return to primary sources - something of which we see even more these days simply because there's more media and more pages and airtime to fill, with results I'm sure I need hardly list and decry again. Gray does accuse Fry of certain crimes - a tendency to play himself, for instance, whether he is meant to be playing someone else, or just honestly being himself. Well, that's hardly news, and nor is it delivered in terms significantly more damning than Gray uses of himself in The Smoking Diaries. Fry comes across more as a sad figure than a mad one, and more mad than bad - and since he's come out as a manic depressive, none of this really does much to contradict his own acknowledgment of his situation. Part of me's disappointed that there is no anti-Fry book, but mostly I just think 'bless'. And posthumously bless cantankerous old Gray, too. Though the real hero of the tale, would you believe, is Rik Mayall.

*Which reminds me, [ profile] sbp - any joy locating my copy of the Arthur Machen novel of the same name?
alexsarll: (Default)
It's remarkably civilised of ITV to put all their halfway-watchable shows in the same 90 minute block. Secret Diary of a Call Girl was always borderline, and now they're deviating from the book even more, not just normalising Belle but embroiling her in lamely generic plots about proteges and politicians - plus, the director seems increasingly inept at hiding the use of body doubles. Nonetheless, it's better than anything else ITV squeeze out, or would be if tomorrow it weren't followed by the debut of No Heroics. I haven't seen it yet, but it stars Nathan Barley and James Lance and is set in a pub for off-duty superheroes where the drinks include V For Vodka and Shazamstell, and thus even with ITV's reverse Midas touch in the equation, it basically can't fail. Then after that, Entourage, which is still ludicrous fluff, and still utterly wonderful. No need to check the rest of the schedules! And no need to bother with ITV1 at all, thank heavens.

How can people say there are no good band names left in a world with Adebisi Shank? If you don't agree, you presumably haven't seen Oz, and if you haven't seen Oz, that's between you and your conscience.

As much as I love Saint Etienne, neither of the times I've seen them before convinced me. But context counts for a lot; they're the sound of London on a good day, of the retro-futuristic spirit that gave the city things like the South Bank. So walking down from Bloomsbury and through the Thames Festival, with its gay Aztecs and giant butterflies and Lithuanian folk-dancers, and the show being in the Queen Elizabeth Hall (where Sarah incites quite the most polite insurrection I've ever seen, encouraging dancing in the aisles) helps them make sense live like they do on record. And well done Heavenly for managing to turn the foyer into a plausibly clubby space, too.
It was a strange weekend; even more than usual I was beset by the mutterings of whichever church father it was who lamented "Oh, that we had spent but one day in this world thoroughly well." Not that I think his idea of time well spent would have much in common with mine, but that line haunts me nonetheless. And this in spite of participating in a sitcom read-through accompanied by experimental booze science, getting some sewing done which I'd been putting off for months, a wonderful birthday dinner for a dear friend on Saturday...not such a wasted weekend as all that, but at my back I always hear, &c. There's a thought - the Marvell expert was out on Saturday, maybe it was his fault.
Oh, and sun dogs! Perfect examples, on the very day when I'd been reading the chapter of The Cloud-Spotter's Guide about them. While admiring which I was accosted by two antipodeans who wanted to borrow my mobile in exactly the sort of scenario which could have been a scam - but wasn't, thus restoring some fragment of my faith in humanity.

Speaking of faith in humanity - I enjoyed John Scalzi's future war novel Old Man's War, but thus far I like the sequel The Ghost Brigades even better. Partly this is because it answers some niggling questions I had about the setting - questions which weren't explicitly set up as mysteries and could simply have been inconsistencies. But more than that for its sheer ruthlessness, its recognition that when faced with a populous and implacable galaxy, humanity's greatest resource is that we are utter bastards. Of course, this is also why in reality, and even in my very favourite fiction, I would much rather we were just used as attack dogs in a galactic civilisation run by something halfway civilised, because the idea of trusting us to run the show is terrifying. But for the odd pulp thrill, Humans Versus The Galaxy has its charms.
(You might not expect a segue from that to the Lib Dem conference. But when Nick Clegg, name notwithstanding, says "most people, most of the time, will do the right thing"...I wonder whether he's grown up with the same human race I have, and even more than with his plans for tax cuts, I fear that his party is just too far away from anything I believe nowadays for me to vote for them in good conscience. On the other hand, he's dead right about the zombies and the Andrex puppy)
alexsarll: (death bears)
I was pleasantly surprised by the relative absence of 'TONY B.LIAR!'-style Stop The War goons et al from Sunday's anti-racist festival in Finsbury Park; the bolshier of the two rubbish comperes did go into a brief bit about the wonder of hijabs, but nothing too hard to ignore. The weather was abysmal - presumably because god is racist - but festival downpours are no big deal when you've got an umbrella-ella-ella-ella and you're within walking distance of your own bed. The running order was a puzzle - presumably St Etienne and Kelis needed to be elsewhere for the evening, or just wanted to be home in time for tea. Though that still doesn't explain why, with so much good material to pick from, they both played sets which badly sagged in the middle. Still, I got to see 'Lightning Strikes Twice' and 'Milkshake' for free on home turf, so I can't complain too much. Jamelia, on the other hand, doesn't have that much good material, but made up for it by being a general trouper and throwing in some well-chosen covers - her take on Gnarls Barkley may not have equalled Greg Dulli's, but her 'Take Your Mama Out' absolutely massacred the Scissor Sisters original. As for the Noisettes...having a black woman front a rockabilly band speaks more directly to the festival's theme than any of the other acts, and I can see why people like them, but based on this showing they're not for me.
Didn't stick around for the rest of it, which means we missed Ken's self-promotion spot. A shame, as I'd been planning to start a chant of 'BORIS!' going. Just for the record - Boris' mayoral bid has the full support of this journal, so long as he makes no more apologies. I really do feel his apologies demean him.

True-but-dubious-sounding lesson learned on Saturday night: when it comes to swordfighting, size really isn't everything, especially if the larger weapon is also a bit on the floppy side.

The carrier bags in Tesco are no longer marked as biodegradable, simply '100% degradable'. This makes them sound as though they're applying for jobs in the p0rn industry.

As to what's happening on my roof...the Devil alone knows, frankly. And that might even be literal.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
Because Monday is always a good time to start thinking about the weekend - who's for girl pop night Cherry Bomb at the Betsey on Friday? It's very fun. And it's run by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, who are playing at the free festival in Finsbury Park on Sunday alongside Kelis, Jamelia, the Noisettes and various others; decent acts seem to start around 3pm.

Anyone signing a petition for more Harry Potter books is a mug as well as a muggle. For one thing, we don't even know yet whether there can be any more books after Deathly Hallows; personally, I'll be surprised if Harry makes it out alive. But beyond that...what would make anyone think that a retail conglomerate with an obvious vested interest is a better judge of when to end a series than its creator? A creator who, whether or not you agree with her every plotting decision or tendency to write increasingly sprawling books, has consistently demonstrated principle and good faith in her handling of her creations?

After about half the time, I already have more friends on Facebook than on Myspace, and Facebook doesn't even have bands. Which, I would imagine, is a significant component in its triumph, and heavens know I don't want the bands all following the traffic. Sites need to stop trying to be all things to all people; just as neither Myspace nor Facebook really works for blogging, so attempts to add music to Facebook seem forced, whereas music is Myspace's one genuine strength. There's room for the three to co-exist quite happily, so long as they're content to operate in different niches and don't get greedy. Of course, this being an era in which capitalism is slipping into the economic equivalent of compulsive eating, I might as well ask for the interfaces to be sorted out so they'll operate on flying pigs, but I can at least note the existence (for now) of the possibility.

I think yesterday can go down as the first basically successful picnic of the season, especially since the weather's mutability only kicked in about when I was planning to head off anyway. And all that without being too hot, either. That's how sunny days are meant to be.
alexsarll: (Default)
The presence of Kenickie's Marie and Emmy Kate on the decks finally got me along to Cherry Bomb, Bob Stanley's girl pop night. And it's lovely. A really good mix of music, obviously - but also a very friendly atmosphere, with (presumable) regulars who looked awesome but weren't pulling any scenester attitude on those who'd come straight from work. And just the right amount of people to make upstairs at the Betsey feel vibrant, without tipping over into too full. It's moving to Fridays now, and though I can't make May's (it clashes with Soul Mole), June 15th is already in my diary.

Having been infuriated by This Film Is Not Yet Rated's revelations on American film certificates, I was cheered to learn today that one of its villains, Jack Valenti, has died. Which joy was, alas, soon eclipsed by the news that the man who gave us the Monster Mash has also checked out. Ah well, if there was ever someone who was going to have a fair chance of rising from the grave...
(Speaking of the undead, for all that I'm enjoying Buffy Season 8, the idea of Joss Whedon returning to Angel in comics seems like a bad one. For starters, he's co-writing, which seems like the worst of both worlds - canonicity without guaranteed script quality. But even beyond that - the end of TV's Angel was pretty much perfect, even redeeming the distinctly shoddy season it closed. Messing with that, whether motivated by money or a simple inability to let it lie...unwise. Which is not to say I won't at least give it a go)

Not content with already having their claws in the other BBC radio stations, the monotheists make a play for Radio 1.

Contrary to my suspicions that its 'renovation' would be an excuse to better enforce its slave name, I was pleased to see on my Tube home from the pub last night that Gillespie Road station has shiny new tiles up, proudly proclaiming its true identity.

January 2016



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