Friday, 29 December 2006

I Suspect Distress

I suspect distress is waiting in the wings for me - my poota is exhibiting signs of needing a good, long rest. I switch on, the little lights flash and the drive whirs but the screen stays dark. It's happened a few times over the last few months but is happening more frequently now and the ritual of switching off, removing the battery, starting again and again is getting tiresome.

It started fine when I signed in for this session but who knows whether it will next time? I vaguely looked at new laptops over Christmas but I suppose I ought to look a bit more seriously, just in case. I've had this one for over three years so I'd also better start copying things to disc, but how do I copy programmes I've paid for and downloaded? And make a list of all the sites and login details for things like paying bills and stuff. That's going to be quite a chore.

I *like* my laptop.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

A Grey Christmas

That’s what it’s been all right, a grey Christmas, with grey skies and weather, damp and cold, but not cold enough for snow or frost. And I realised that I’d got Christmas pressies for everyone except me – what a shocker. So I got a new mobile phone and new camera for meself (the camera has a mere three million more pixels than my current one). Well, I deserve it.

Train to Newcastle on Friday to be met by me Dad at the Central Station near the big Christmas tree and then drive to the Metro Centre and shopping at Asda to get food and goodies, including the green-covered ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ by SLADE with Christmas songs on the ‘B’ side (in cohoots with ASDA and Nobby’s Nuts). Then more shopping in Newcastle on Saturday, viewing Fenwick’s Christmas window display (a Geordie tradition) which was of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ this year. It was nice wandering round town, seeing the old shops and the new places, the kids all dressed as pseudo-goths and me thinking, ‘is this really still the ‘80s?’ and people being really nice despite the crush. But the crowds weren’t really that bad this year.

Christmas Eve saw me receive my special pressie – my back playing up. I don’t know what I did to it, but I woke up that morning and felt ‘ouch’. Perfect timing, not just for Christmas but for the New Year too. I went out for a walk around Greenside to try to ‘open’ it up, and took photos with my new camera. Here's a photo of me with the legendary Cricket Club in the background showing how close it is in staggering terms to me Dad's house. It didn’t really help, but that’s not the point. Derek came over in the afternoon to bring presents and take back presents and have a gossip. We gossiped.

Christmas Day dawned and my back was still a problem, not as bad as it was over the summer. No matter. Drove over to Derek and Tracy’s and then walked round to 'The Jingling Gate' for Christmas dinner (that's the back of my Li'l Bro's head in the photo). Lots of lovely food and, since it was Christmas, I allowed myself some Guinness. The food was lovely even though the service was slow. Then wandered back to the house for a game of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionnaire’, with us and Tracy’s family split into three teams. Naturally, the McConnell team won, and I won a ‘spot prize’ of a pen radio (which really is a pen and really is a radio). I’m most pleased with my pen radio. Numerous pints of Guinness helped my back.

Boxing Day was a lazy day spent in front of the telly, another grey day. The day after was the trip back to London and home. Luckily I was the only one in a pair of seats until Peterborough so I could wiggle round as much as I needed. Then a train from Kings Cross down to Streatham – home again. It’s so much easier being home with a bad back than being anywhere else – at least I have everything I need within easy staggering distance.

What a Christmas.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Nearly Christmas Bag

What's in the bag this evening, I wonder...

Bad Idea Bears

What an inspired creation the Bad Idea Bears are - I want one! Yes, we went to see the gloriously vulgar 'Avenue Q' tonight, with fuzzy puppets having graphic sex, talking about masturbation and racism, and the ever-helpful Bad Idea Bears pointing out that it's more economical to buy a case of beer than buy a six-pack, finding a nice noose to hang yourself with just when you're feeling down and serving absinthe dakaries to young lovers. I *need* a Bad Idea Bear ... oops! I've got one!

That's the third time we've seen it and I wouldn't mind another trip next year - it's good laugh-out-loud fun and the actors are merrily ad libbing now that they've been in the roles for a while. It has good merchandise as well, with 'I'm Not Wearing Underwear Today' tee shirts and badges, 'It Sucks To Be Me' badges (different to the one I got on Broadway) and goodness knows what else. I swear that Lucy The Slut winked at me...

Lord Buddha Is Empowered

An early Christmas present is a Buddha image lamp. A green one. Lord Buddha is now glowing at me. It is about 12" tall and is an image of Lord Buddha in a classic meditation pose. I have quite a few Buddha images scattered around the flat in a number of poses - mainly meditation or 'subduing Mara' poses - but none of them glow at me. Until now.

Equal Opportunities Santa

And just to show I'm an equal opps kinda guy, even with images, here's a pic of my formerly popcorn-filled Santa from Radio City Music Hall with a box of Mars bars on his head. Ho ho ho!


Today was my last day at work and I'm a crap colleague and boss - no Christmas cards handed out, no sweets bought, no glass of Christmas cheer in the afternoon. I am bad. My last day was spent in meetings between about 11am and 6.00pm (with the only opportunity for a quick sandwich from the canteen being ending one meeting early and starting the next slightly late). That's no way to work, especially in the week before Christmas so I need to get that under control next year and, once we've got the second week of January out the way, we ought to go out for an extended lunch or something.

December and early January are always ridiculously busy since we have two big events in the second week of January. Starting on the Sunday with our international seminar for overseas education ministers, Moving Young Minds, that runs from Sunday to Wednesday, and then the BETT exhibition from Wednesday to Saturday (British Educational Training and Technology show). What a painful way to start the year. One of my meetings this afternoon was to view some video clips we've commissioned to show at BETT - thankfully they're very good so can go forward with a little bit of re-editing but I've cancelled the booklet that would have accompanied the videos since the designs weren't very good and it would take too much work by my people and me to get the product right. We have enough rods without creating more for our weary backs.

Of course, even though today was my last day at work I still need to do a submission to ministers tomorrow about an idea I've got for an announcement at BETT and lots of work next year. The joys of my job are unbounded!

Downside Up

I finally got around to getting the Siouxsie and The Banshees 'B' side box-set, 'Downside Up' and what an interesting listen it is. Some of the early 'B' sides I'm familiar with (even if I haven't heard them in an age) but most of the set is new to me. They didn't just put album tracks on 'B' sides, they did new songs or, occasionally, covers (such as '20th Century Boy' and 'All Tomorrow's Parties'). I think I'll need to listen to it a few times more to fully appreciate it but I'm pleased I've got it.

Monday, 18 December 2006

Step 3: Give A Tree A Home For Christmas 2006

The day arrives when the Tree, all new-born and branches nicely spread, manages to stand upright on its own and is ready for it's first outfit of the season.

Drape some lights around it's naked form. And then some more. Never underestimate the importance of lights and colour. My lights are always multicoloured but this year I've added some white twinkling ones as well. Turn them all on and make suitable adjustments to ensure the Tree is adequately covered.

Then add strings of pearls and jewels to provide the foundation for the glittering ornaments to follow. Do not stint on this important base - it will show if you try to do it on the cheap.

Then strategically place ornaments, toys and treasured objects on each branch creating a vision of splendour. Finish off my throwing some 'icicles' over the Tree to add that final bit of glimmer and shimmer. Et voila! The Perfect Christmas Tree.

Of course, that is the plan and it rarely happens by clockwork. One must make it work. This year, for example, the major panic was over Roxy the Rockette, my pride-and-joy bauble picked up from the Radio City Music Hall shop in New York in November 2005 after seeing the Christmas Spectacular - I thought I'd lost her, where could she be? And then (phew) I found the elusive Roxy sitting on her bauble in a secure box in which she shouldn't have been... but she's safe and sitting proudly on the Tree.

I haven't put the crowning glory on the Tree this year, a glass Christmas 'star' my mother bought a few decades ago, the like of which isn't available any more. I treat it as a family heirloom and it's carefully packed in an old single malt scotch tube for safety. I don't know why I didn't put it on the top of the Tree but I'm pleased I didn't - the thing fell down yesterday and it would've been smashed! That was a close call. The ornament is staying packed away this year - it's irreplaceable and I'm not risking it.

I like adding new ornaments each year, not a lot and not a complete change, incremental is best. Last Christmas saw a few additions from New York and one from Toronto, so the main addition this year is the twinkling white lights. Christmas Trees need a sense of history, things from hither and thither over the years, and mine is maturing quite nicely. The Tree might only be with me for a short time but he brightens the gloom of late December and early January. Unfortunately, the bauble in the centre of this photo (from Macy*s) was one of the casualties of The Great Fall Of 2006 so won't be seen again...

Merry Christmas to ALL!

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Gods and Godesses

My latest acquisition courtesy of a nice man on eBay. It's made of that old fashioned stuff called "vinyl" (that's old technology).

Friday, 15 December 2006

Step 2

Support the tree through the painful but joyous birthing process, removing the afterbirth and see it standing in all it's glory for the first time. Move it into position and help it stand upright with strategically placed cardboard under the base. Laden it with lights to help the branches open.

The Beatles: Within You Without You / Tomorrow Never Knows

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Porgie, Bess and Happy Dust

Had an emotional rollercoaster evening at The Savoy Theatre with Chris watching 'Porgy and Bess'. I've never seen it before, either on stage or screen, and didn't know the story other than it's set in the deep South and has some classic songs. I was transfixed and cringeing by turns, transfixed by the emotional intensity of some of the scenes and cringeing at some of the racist overtones.

A tale of drug addiction and the Lord, the power of love to heal and inspire, the realities of death and the cheapness of life when medical students need bodies, cruelty at a personal and an institutional level, it's all in there and so much more. Lots of singing and some dancing, some powerful characters and some characters demonstrating the frailties of the soul.

Bess is a good-time girl who falls for Porgy, a disabled beggar, so she moves from the high life and 'happy dust' to move into a one-room shack when Porgy takes her in after her man kills someone. She finds love and acceptance and even wins over her religious neighbours. And then she meets her man again who's been hiding from the law and he brutally rapes her (off stage). He returns during a hurricane when they're all sheltering in a church but seems to die a hero. But he doesn't die, he comes back for Bess and Porgy kills him. Porgy is then arrested for disobeying a police officer. While he's away, Bess is tempted by the 'happy dust' and runs off to New York thinking Porgy will be in jail for years. Porgy is released a few days later and determines to go after her because he loves her, throws away his crutches and hobbles off into the sunset as the curtain comes down.

The precis misses many twists and turns and interesting characters but if you want to know more you should go and see it. You can see some video clips on the production website, including the great version of 'It Ain't Necessarily So' when Sporting Life tries to subvert the church trip to an island for a picnic to his own ends of booze, drugs and gambling.

I was a bit worried at the start - the first 15-20 minutes seemed so dark and unpleasant but it helps the contrast with later scenes as well as the dictates of plot. I'm pleased I've seen it and can recognise a great piece of work - the musical itself, the production and the performances. It was moving and it moved me.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Number 22

At Number 22 in the singles chart this week is a new entry from SLADE with 'Merry Xmas Everybody', a mere 33 years after it was first released.

Cor! The Lords of Noize are still a power to be reckoned with.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Sufjan Stevens - Put the Lights on the Tree

A delightful Christmas greeting from Sufjan.

Fatty Lipid Boy

Huh. And you all thought I was making up my fatso disease for sympathy. 'Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease' was the diagnosis - an odd name for a disease, or maybe it doesn't yet have a name but the obesity stakes mean it probably will have one in the not too distant future. Then I came across this article on the BBC News website and imaging my joy - it's not just me after all!

There's 'good' fat as well as 'bad' fat and, as anyone who read my blog over the summer will know, the proper word for internal fat is lipid. My blood tests showed problems with my liver and pancreas (the doctors seem to have forgotten about my pancreas so I'm keeping quiet) and that all came down to bad lipids. Bad lipids, naughty lipids, lipids suck.

The article talks about fat surrounding key organs but, in my case, I'm rather more special and select since the organs absorb the fat, that then affects their functioning and, longer-term can lead to all sorts of internal scarring and failure, leading to cirrhosis and bye-bye-end-of-blog. According to my consultant this doesn't happen very often so I'm a rare creature indeed... although I'd much rather be bog standard ordinary in that respect. Without wishing ill on anyone, it's nice to know I'm not the only one. And in the latest letter from The Liver Doc he called me a "pleasant gentleman" - ha! got him fooled then!

And please, medical profession, please come up with a better name for it than 'fatty liver disease'. I'm embarrassed to have something called that.

Justin Bond & The Freudian Slippers

Had a very enjoyable evening at The Reindeer seeing Justin Bond & The Freudian Slippers which is Justin's solo show when he's not playing Kiki in Kiki & Herb. This is the third time I've seen his solo show and he was, again, excellent. The choice of songs, the chat between (and during) songs and his personality just gel to make for a most enjoyable event.

First of all, up to the Retro with Chris to meet Dawn and then off to wander round Aldgate East and Brick Lane to find the Old Truman's Brewery that houses The Reindeer to be joined by Toby. Then into the auditorium to be seated at a table and find that Boy George and his chums then come in to sit at the next table. I don't think I would've noticed it was him if not for the smudged eye make-up that made me look twice.

Then on came Justin in a sparkly, sequinned tunic, along with pianist, cellist and flautist, and he launches into the set. It's difficult to describe what he does, sort of jazz cabaret in sound with sexual politics up-front. Whatever it is, it works for me. He sang some Bambi Lake songs (including the magnificant 'Golden Age Of Hustlers') and a variety of songs by a wide range of people (I loved his take on 'Lady Grinning Soul'), talked about his relationship with a female to male transgender boyfriend and his cat, and generally told stories about the more riske parts of his life.

He did an excellent version of Kate Bush's 'King Of The Mountain' that finished up with some lines from Buffy Sainte-Marie's 'Not The Loving Kind' that I failed to recognise (to my everlasting shame) but then he name-checked Buffy by saying something like 'Wouldn't it be interesting to have Buffy Sainte-Marie in the same room as Kate Bush...'. I gawped at that point. He finished with a song from 'Shortbus', or at least I assume it's from 'Shortbus', me being one of the few people I know who hasn't yet seen it.

After the show Justin made the rounds of the tables in the bar to chat and be nice to the punters and, once he'd finished kissing Dawn, I asked about Buffy and that's when he said he'd sung a couple of lines from 'Not The Loving Kind'. I (naturally) showed him the photo of Buffy and me from last year that is my wallpaper on my phone (unfortunately I was wearing the same shirt as in the photo). He said he'd seen Melanie in concert last year. I then asked when he was recording a CD of the show material and he said he might do one next year. I think he should. The material works so well with his voice and presence. I'd buy a copy.

I've just Googled for a photo to add to this blog and what turns up as the fifth photo? A certain Dawn Right Nasty hugging Mr Bond... so here it is.

Saturday, 9 December 2006

Maximo Park at The Astoria

The Maximos are playing The Astoria on 21 February. Tickets went on sale on Thursday and, needless to say, sold out instantly. But look on eBay and there are currently 30 sets of tickets for sale. The face value of the tickets is £17.50 and the highest price on eBay is £40 plus £5 postage (a pair is on offer for £80 plus £4.50 postage). The lowest is £30 plus £4.99 postage.

That is plainly just a rip off by greedy people out to make a fast buck on the basis that people want to see Maximo Park. I'd pay that amount if that was the ticket price but I'm not prepared to simply line someone's pocket. I'll keep an eye on eBay over the next month or so and see what happens to asking prices.

The new album is out in the New Year so they'll be playing new songs live for the first time. Viva Le Park!
X-Ray Spex- The Day The World Turned Day-Glo

We all need some Poly in our lives...

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Come On Feel The Illinoise

I just *had* to blog about my new favourite record when it has a title like that.

'Come On Feel The Illinoise' by Sufjan Stevens is a lovely record. I'm not quite sure how to describe it and I don't think I can do it justice - singer-song-writery but with punch? nu-electric-folk? aural sketches with attitude? I don't know, but I like what I hear.

I discovered him through his Christmas boxset, 'Songs For Christmas,' that's being promoted on iTunes (it's much cheaper to buy the set than to download it). Some of those songs are just fab. Favourites are 'Get Behind Me, Santa!', 'Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!', 'Come On! Let's Boogey To The Elf Dance!' and 'That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!'. I like his strategic use of exclamation marks. The set also comes with a sing-along booklet, stickers and goodness knows what else. The album can be streamed from the Asthmatic Kitty website.

I need to hear more of his music.

I also like that his brother is called Marzuki and his sister is Djohariah - I approve of the names.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

The Dresden Dolls - Sing (Alternate Version)

An alternative video for the delightful Dresden Doll's single, 'Sing'. Watch it and weep with joy.

A Little Bit Thrilled

I am a little bit thrilled. My review of 'Merry Xmas Everybody' has been published on iTunes. Cooo! Of course, the first thing I spotted was a spelling mistake from over-excited fingers, but I forgive myself.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Holbein in England - Tate Britain

Spent an enjoyable hour or so wandering round the Holbein in England exhibition at the Tate Britain this afternoon. A mix of oils, chalks and pen and ink, mainly portraits but with some sketches for decorative items and some books, a nice selection representing his years in London. Of course, working at the court of Henry VIII gave him an interesting clientelle, at least some of whom we're all familiar with and clothes and costumes that we recognise.

The thing that struck me was how I was responding to his portraits, and that was on a personal level - did he or she look like a nice person? would I have a good chat with them if we met? would I like them as people? I don't normally respond like that to portraits but his are so lifelike that the character starts seeping through, 450 years vanishes and the sitter is in the same space as me.

My favourite portrait is Mary Wooton, Lady Guildford. That face says it all to me. I'd be happy to sit with her in her drawing room having a good old chat over tea and cakes (I'm sure there'd be cakes) or maybe meet her out shopping and she'd tell all the latest news about her kids. I suspect she'd enjoy a tipple now and again, maybe a sherry or a snowball, and be quite fun after a couple of drinks, and that's when she'd tell tales about her husband.

I also like this portrait of Simon George, of whom nothing much seems to be known except that this appears to be a portrait celebrating his betrothal. I like him. I like his hat. I like his shirt. He's dressed in his Sunday best because that's what you do when a famous painter starts sketching you and then paints you. His hair is carefully cut and combed and his beard is well trimmed. He looks like a nice man. I hope he kept his wife happy and had lots of kids.

I also like Sir Thomas Wyatt. O yes, a man after my own heart. He looks a bit of a boozer to me and I bet he could tell a good story in his cups. I like the way his hat is tilted and Holbein adds a few whisps of hair that suggest a receding hairline - is Thomas hiding something? Of course, Thomas Wyatt is a great poet and got caught up in court intrigues. I had a lovely slim volume of his poetry when I was at college and I liked his poems. I've got no idea where that book is now but it would be nice to sit with him over a glass of wine and have him tell me about some of the conquests he wrote about in verse.

Go and see this exhibition if you can - it's on until January so there's not much time but make it a Christmas treat for yourself.

Merry Xmas Everybody - SLADE

'The Greatest Christmas Single Of All Time' says the blurb on the front of the single and it is, indeed, a great Christmas single!

I first bought this in 1973 the week it was released and I've done the same thing in 2006. Wonder if it'll get to No 1 again? It might seem like it's re-released every year but it isn't really.

It's been re-mastered as part of the current cycle of re-mastering and re-releasing all SLADE's music and it sounds fresh and clean again. It's backed with 'Cum On Feel The Noize' and there's another limited version with a green cover with extra Christmas songs but, I think, this is only available from Asda as part of it's current TV campaign (or, at least, that's the word on the SLADE wires).

You've heard this song hundreds of times every Christmas since 1973 but it sounds so much better blasting out of your own speakers. Go on, you know you want to ... buy it and play it loud!

If I'm very lucky, mine will be the first review of the single on iTunes...

Friday, 1 December 2006

Late November Bag

I've been somewhat remiss in updating this blog with my various doings over the last week or so. Let's see what's in the bottom of my plastic bag today...

Little Shop of Horrors

Chris took me to see 'Little Shop of Horrors' at the Menier Chocolate Factory last week. I've seen the film, which is not one of my favourites, so it was with some trepidation that I wandered into the Factory looking for the big vat of chocolate to jump into (and still not finding it). The show was still in preview so it was a bit amusing to see the stage-hands having to push some of the scenery back into place when it didn't move automatically, but the actors were throwing themselves into it like there was no tomorrow, lots of energy spilling off the stage.

One of my favourite scenes was Sheridan Smith singing 'Somewhere That's Green' and seeing the tears run down her cheeks while banging was going on backstage with the scenery, tears in keeping with the song, not the banging. I was pleasantly surprised to realise who she is - I associate her with 'Two Pints Of Lager' - and how good her voice is. I also loved the ever expanding plant! I enjoyed it so much on a first viewing that tickets have already been bought for January. See it if you can.

Beverley Knight

Went to see Beverley Knight again this week at the Hammersmith Apollo. An evening of great songs and great showmanship, Beverley certainly knows how to work an audience. She included a short accoustic/unplugged set in the middle of the show which worked really well. Highlights for me were 'Gold', 'Piece of my Heart' (which works so much better live than on record) and 'Come As You Are'. She prowled the stage as ever and that made taking photos a challenge since she was never still, but taking photos at concerts is my new hobby, so here's a couple of Beverley ...

Despite Beverley being on top form and a very professional show there was something missing, that little bit of sparkle that I can't put my finger on. Maybe the new album will jump-start her again and help her decide what her show is about and where she sits in the music spectrum - possibly it's a bit too bitty at the moment, partly promoting 'Voice' and her hits and partly trying to hit all musical bases? The new songs sounded good so let's wait and see.

'Stranger Than Fiction' & Emma Thompson

Chris took me to see 'Stranger Than Fiction' again (we saw it in October at the London Film Festival), this time without subtitles, at the Tricycle Cinema up in Kilburn. I thoroughly enjoyed it, very touching and funny by turns, hitting all the right notes. Even though I knew what was going to happen it was still fresh and capitvating. I want to see it again in a less crowded cinema (I'm detecting a trend here - after the first viewing it was 'see it again without subtitles' and now it's 'less crowded', but it warrants several viewings).

The big draw was that after the film Emma Thompson was scheduled to do a Q&A. She came across as a really nice person, witty, intelligent and thoughtful with (as you'd expect) an anecdote for every occasion. Chris plucked up the courage to ask her a question about the director which she engaged with despite a diversionary comment at one point from elsewhere in the audience.

After the Q&A Chris went up to say hello as an old chum and her face was a picture when she realised who he was,and they both started gossiping away. I had to intervene to ask for a photo of them both since time was passing and others were waiting for autographs and I didn't want to miss the opportunity. So with two big smiley faces in front of me I went 'click', but that's a private photo and not for the web. Mind you, she obviously doesn't remember him very well since, as we were leaving, she told me he was 'gorgeous'.

What a delightful way to end the evening and start the cold damp trudge back to south London.

Cressida Bell

Last Sunday saw the annual trip out to Hackney for Cressida Bell's open studio afternoon, to see her works, have a chat and a glass of wine and, possibly, buy some goods. I bought a wonderful green lampshade from her a couple of years ago that still has pride of place in my living room, lots of different trees painted round the shade in a variety of shades. This year I got a silk scarf in lovely shades of green and purple and a silk tie (not matching) and finally bought her book on decorative painting (I've been meaning to paint a bookcase for about two years now... one day!). She was doing a roaring trade when we left, with a full workshop and a celloist in full noise-mode. Shopping was followed by food in Islington and then back home in time to watch Madonna's 'Confessions' tour on telly to relive some great memories from the summer.

Carry On Doctor

After seeing the Vampires of Tooting a couple of weeks ago comes the various consultations - last week was the Liver Doctor and this week was the Diabetic Doctor. In both cases I waited an hour to be seen only to have a consultation lasting a few minutes. Why is that, I wonder? In part, the short consultations are good because I'm doing so well but they're also a bit unsatisfactory after such long waits. I was surprised to be told that, provided I keep on doing what I'm doing, then I shouldn't die of liver failure (I didn't realise it was actually suffiently serious for that to be a possibility but, apparently, it was) and got a gold star from the Diabetic Doc for controlling my blood glucose so well. Gee thanks. I now have appointments for late November 2007 to see them both again (with blood tests and scans earlier in November).

I weighed myself at the gym today. I've lost just over 2 1/4 stones since mid-June and yes, I do have a smug grin on my face. Weights are very difficult since everything is in kilograms these days so, using a nice programme on the web, I convert kilograms to pounds and then divide to get my proper weight in stones (I understand good old imperial). A long way to go, of course, but it's nice to know - and increasingly see - the progress.

Christmas Lights

'Tis the season to be jolly and be all lit up like a Christmas tree. The best so far are the lights on Carnaby Street (I still think the Carnaby lights of two years ago were the best ever) and the worst (and almost certainly the cheapest) are on Kilburn High Road. Oxford Street lights are ok, Regent Street lights are shoddy and both are the same as last year (except the cartoon being advertised on Regent Street has changed). The lights on Streatham High Road went on last week and, although they're the same as last year, with moving snowflakes and shooting stars, they look very nice indeed. With these gloomy nights starting at 4pm we need Christmas lights more than ever to add a bit sparkle to the cityscape. But Kilburn? Be ashamed of yourself.

Now that it's December I can finally load my Christmas CDs onto iPod - what a merry old time I'll have singing along! Altogether now: "So here it is Merry Christmas everybody's having fun ..."

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

The SLADE Story

I've been listening to 'The SLADE Story'. It's a one hour podcast of the SLADEsters talking about their careers and being generally wonderful. It focuses on the glory years, as you'd expect, but it's great to hear all four of them talking, although it's dominated by Nod.

It's *that* time again

It is with great pleasure that I inform my readers of a new CD purchase I'll be making on 4 December:

Yes, it's re-released again! I've heard there may be a green cover as well as the red one so I'm faced with a colour dilemma - which colour will sound better? O me O my... And don't you just lurve what they've done to Nod's hat? Truly Christmasified it!

I'm also pleased to report that HMV is now stocking 'Crackers', the Christmas album from the Lords of Noize themselves (I got it a few weeks back, of course).

Monday, 20 November 2006

Love and 'Babes and Tee Shirts

I invested in 'Love' today, the 'new' Beatles album, or at least the new remix by George Martin and his son. I invested more than money. I invested excitement, hope and some long-lost naivity in it, my pre-1977 self. That was where I went wrong. Or at least, on two listenings, I think I went wrong.

An online chum referred to it as a mix tape - a good one, but still a mix tape. I find it incredibly frustrating in places where it only plays a chorus or a verse of a song and then moves onto something else or (even worse) just ends. On the other hand, I love the mix of some of the tracks, such as merging 'Within You Without You' with 'Tomorrow Never Knows' works incredibly well for me and 'Revolution' is the fast, hard rock version I like. I suppose we're all different, with our own favourites and we'll all like different parts of this album.

It does beg the question 'why?' though. Why do it? Someone's had great fun with photoshop in the booklet as well. The whole thing - the music and artwork - is very psychedelic and that's rather odd, really. Tune in, drop out and make lots of money by milking something for all it's worth. Why not re-master and re-issue the existing albums rather than trying to 'create' a new one?

More listens might make me more loved dup, let's see, shall we?

But the 'Babes, now there's an album! It was on the shelf in HMV at Victoria Station beside 'Love' so I just had to buy it. The Sugababes 'The Singles Collection' is excellent (and, I am slightly ashamed to say, more exciting than 'Love'). I love it, a great collection of catchy tunes, even the few that I don't recognise are fab. Buy it! I might need to invest in the DVD...

I'm not a great tee shirt wearer and I never have been (not sure why not, but I prefer an open shirt at the neck) but sometimes one must invest, even if only to wear at the gym. There are laws about these things. I nearly fell foul of the law last week - luckily I invested wisely and in time and avoided ending up in prison by purchasing a wonderful SLADE tee shirt. And what a dashing model I would've made - just look at that classic catalogue pose ...

Thursday, 16 November 2006

"The War Racket" - Buffy Sainte-Marie

Extract from an article in today's Rhode Island News about an event with Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bill Miller:

“I didn’t mellow,” Sainte-Marie said of her maturation process over the years, “But I also didn’t spend every hour of every day angry.”

And she sang songs and talked. "The War Racket" is a new song that I haven't heard but the fact that it's named in an article bodes well for the new album. It also says to me that Buffy is an angel of principle who says what she believes and still comments on war 44 years after writing 'Universal Soldier'. You can trust wor Buffy and she makes me proud.

This week also saw the airing of the documentary about Buffy in the USA and Canada. I hope it's released on DVD...

Wednesday, 15 November 2006

'Poly Styrene' by Pennie Smith

I went to see the portrait of Poly Styrene by Pennie Smith in the National Portrait Gallery at lunchtime today. The photo isn't on display and it's not on the NPG website so I was intrigued, asked if there was any way I could see it and was surprised to be welcomed with open arms. An appointment was made to view the photo. I feel strangely honoured.

The photo is black and white and has Poly standing in a street leaning against a big poster hoarding with a ripped poster advertising Polyfilla (ahem) with a brick surround. The photo is 16" x 11" and Poly is probably only about 6" so she's dwarfed by this big Polyfilla poster. She's wearing a light knee-length polka-dot dress with a jacket and white sandals, a tassley scarf wrapped round her head, a lunchbox as a handbag and the Poly knowing smile that seems to say 'I know what I'm doing and I'm having fun'. Pennie Smith had signed the photo at the bottom.

'Poly dressed as her mam?' was my first thought. Possibly. She could have borrowed those clothes from her mam. But I think she was being Poly. Every other punk girl at that time - with the obvious exception of Siouxsie - would probably have worn a little micro mini skirt so Poly does the exact opposite and wears a knee-length frock.

I was only there for a few minutes. The photo was ready and wating for me in the public viewing room of the archives (courtesy of Clare, the Helpful Archivist). I looked at it, I smiled, I said 'thank you' and I left. I was happy.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Poet And The Roots

I'm skanking along to Linton Kwesi Johnson at the moment - or, does one skank to Linton? Whatever. Out of nowhere I had an aural memory burst over me of him shouting out one word. That word was, "Waaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" accompanied by enough reverb-erb-erb to shake my bedroom walls back in 1978.

I bought his 12" single of 'Dread Beat An' Blood' which also had heavy dub versions of 'All Wi Doin' Is Defendin'' and, I think, 'Five Nights Of Bleeding' on the 'B' side. It was scary. Before I heard Linton reggae was sunny beaches, Desmond Decker and, more latterly, Bob Marley. Marley's songs were sometimes thoughful and challenging but they weren't scary, weren't threatening down to the very marrow of the sound. Linton's reggae, attached to his poetry, was all that and more. It shook walls.

He mentioned magical places like Railton Road. How exotic was that to a teenager in a little mining village outside Newcastle who'd seen the Brixton riots on telly? Oddly enough, he's appearing in Newcastle next Monday as part of a reggae festival.

Of course, the heavy version of 'All Wi Doin' Is Defendin'' that I remember isn't on the CD. But I have the memory.

New Poly Song

Now, don't get too excited, but I've found a new Poly Styrene song. She duets with Brian James on his new record and you can hear a short clip of it here.

Don't you just lurve those dulcet tones?

As the blurb says,

"First album in 12 years from the man who formed the Damned and wrote most of their first two albums, “Damned Damned Damned” & “ Music for Pleasure” and wrote the very first UK Punk single ‘New Rose’. Includes acoustic duet with Polystyrene of X-ray Spex fame."

I'm just sort of wondering whether getting Poly back into the studio might mean there's another Spex album lurking somewhere waiting to burst out to mark their 30 anniversary? Now, wouldn't that be something ...

Saturday, 11 November 2006

What Did That Say?

What? Oh, you mean my tee shirt? It says... [looks right ->]

And it says 'The Dresden Dolls' on the back. Amanda has a way with words, doesn't she.

I've just watched 'Later... with Jools Holland' specifically to see Kasabian. I've been tempted by their new record but I'm not sure if it's great or if it's derivative trash. It sort of reminds me of a cross between The Glitter Band (heavy drums and bass) and The Stone Roses (the overall sound). I'm not sure. What do you think?