Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Happy Birthday Amanda!

Miss Amanda Palmer is 32 today. Isn't that just the most perfect age to be if your name is Amanda Palmer? What a great age to release your third Dresden Dolls studio album and your first solo album. And it's a great age to come to London in August.

Amanda's in New York at the moment and as a birthday treat is going to see Eddie Izzard.

Happy birthday Amanda!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Songs for Future Generations

The release of a new B-52's LP, 'Funplex', has sent me back to my old CDs to listen to the wierdos in beehives and loud clothes and what a lovely sound they make and what wondrous images they conjour up. We need more bands like The B-52's.

I bought 'The B-52's' when it first came out in that loud yellow cover. 'Rock Lobster' was so different to everything else around at the time, when music went all 'new wave-y' and bands were trying to out-wierd each other and electronica started to become more mainstream. A rather strange time for pop music. And along flew The B-52's dropping sonic bombs in their wake. I was quite partial to their bon tempi organ sounding 'Downtown' which sounded just right along side all the other adventures they took us on on that first album, from 'Planet Claire' to the moon and back again via a wrong phone number.

They've kept the core stable over the years in all their different guises, with Fred shouting out his odd phrases and Kate and Cindy taking turns with vocals and some delicious harmonies. Kitsch imagery and mall-themed songs, outer space sci-fi trips and, above all, danceable tunes. Not all their albums have been a success - and I don't have them all - but at least they experimented. I missed a couple of albums and I only really like about half the tracks on 'Whammy!'. But then they went global...

It was nice when 'Cosmic Thing' churned out such great singles, the ubiquitous 'Love Shack' and the marvellous 'Roam'. 'Good Stuff' continued the journey (don't you just love Fred's complete un-pc-ness singling about hot pants?). 'Good Stuff' has been ably followed up (finally) by 'Funplex' the latest album and it's as if no time at all lapsed between the albums. A bit more electric but the same swooping harmonies and wierd lyrics, a natural progression. It's going to be great fun seeing them do these news songs live in a few months time - that's going to be a sweaty night!

Buy 'Funplex' - you know you want to. Go on, dance this mess around...

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Amanda at the ICA

The delightfully polite and soft-spoken Miss Amanda Palmer of the punk cabaret raggamuffins beat combo The Dresden Dolls will visit these shores in August and is playing the ICA in London on 21 August. Am I suddenly excited? To quote Miss Palmer, "Sing, motherfucker, sing!".

Don't worry, Amanda, I'll look after your beer for you.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

'Night Reconnaisance' by The Dresden Dolls

And so it begins. The first official mp3 of a song from The Dresden Dolls new album, 'No, Virginia', has been released as a freebie through Stereogum. 'Night Reconnaisance' is a fun song, an autobiographical song with the opening line, 'Nothing is crueler than children who come from good homes...' - you just know the inner Goth emerges in this song.

I've heard the song before, a live version which is slower and longer , but I like this studio version. I can see Amanda plonking away on the piano and Brian doing his thumpy-thumpy thing. I *like* it and will play it lots. Go on over to Stereogum and download it

Another new song, 'The Kill', is available on the Dresden's MySpace site so scoot on over there for a listen - and then buy the album when it's released on 19 May!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

'Sun on the Water' by Jean MacColl

Last night Chris took me along to a book launch at Kettner's in Soho, 'Sun On The Water', Jean MacColl's book about her daughter, Kirsty. The book is subtitled, 'The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Kirsty MacColl'.

I suspect that most people reading this blog, at least those of you in the UK, will know something about Kirsty. The daughter of Ewan MacColl, the man who re-invented folk music in the '50s, and Jean. Her early work in the late '70s and her hit 'Chip Shop' followed by a few quiet years married to Steve Lillywhite and then her everlasting duet with the Pogues, 'Fairytale Of New York' and her classic album, 'Kite' in 1989 with the single 'Days'. After that came an album every few years until 2000 when she was killed in a diving accident off the coast of Cozumel in Mexico (and I remember that being on the national BBC news the day after it happened).

Whenever I hear 'Days' I whiz back to 1989 and the bus strike that summer when I used to walk across Clapham Common to Clapham Junction on my way to Fulham (where I worked at the time), singing along to the song. More recently I have memories of walking along a beach in Sri Lanka, plodging in the surf and singing it. Her version is far superior to the original, mainly due to her lovely voice. That single led me to buy the cassette of 'Kite' to play it endlessly on my Walkman. I bought all her subsequent albums with the exception of what was to be her final album. 'Tropical Brainstorm'. I can't remember why I didn't get it but Chris gave it to me for Christmas years ago and I've loved it ever since.

It was quite fun to be at the book launch and offer what little support I can to the Justice for Kirsty campaign. At one point it was a case of spot the celebrity and it was nice to see Billy Bragg and Alison Steadman there, not just for the drinks but to stay for the meal as well, and not sit on the top table. Chris noticed Holly Johnson and Janice Long but I didn't see them. There would've been other arty folk that I probably wouldn't know and various 'political' people. It was packed, a good turnout to support Jean and our memories of Kirsty. It was also nice to meet some of the Kirsty bench crew (who arranged for the bench in Soho Square and hold the annual birthday get together in October). Kirsty touched so many lives in different ways and it's heartening to know that people still care about her.

I bought the book and Jean kindly signed it, which was nice. 'Sun on the Water', the title of the book, was Kirsty's last song and the song we listened to when we got the ferry back from Cozumel to mainland Mexico a couple of years ago after paying respects. It's a lovely song but with sad memories attached to it. I hope the book does well.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

My Secret Life by Poly Styrene

There's a great interview in 'The Independent on Sunday' today with Poly Styrene, 'My Secret Life'. I'm not quite sure why her age is in the headline but it's lovely to read about her and hear what she has to say.

It must be odd, in a way, to be Miss Styrene. She was part of the original punk movement and a great original herself, a short but glorious flowering in 1978, leaving behind one magnificent album in 'Germfree Adolescents', including some of the best singles of the punk era. I loved X-Ray Spex and still do. 'Day-Glo' and 'Identity' are two of the best singles ever, not just punk, but of all time. And it's those few years in the late '70s that everyone always harks back to.

She went on to release one album in 1980, 'Translucence', and the 'Gods & Goddesses' EP in 1986. Neither are available on CD for some odd reason. And then in 1992 (I think) came a brief reunion and another album under the Spex name, 'Conscious Consumer', including my favourite song, 'Party', a wonderful romp to end the album. More recently she released an album of ambient music that I've not heard and she duetted on a song with Brian James a year or two ago, but that's about it.

I saw the portrait of Poly in the National Portrait Gallery a couple of years ago and there's a rather bad snapshot of her in John Lydon's autobiography, sitting on the floor in his house in about 1978. The photo above is probably the latest portrait of her.

The more observant of you will notice that this blog is named after one of her songs, 'Plastic Bag', with the opening line, 'My mind is like a plastic bag...'. O yes.

I love some of the answers she gives in the interview:

My most valuable possession is...
my soul.

My life in seven words... I'm a poseur 'n' I don't care!

You've just got to chortle at that last one! I remember singing along to that song all those years ago - and I still do.

Pop on over to 'The Independent' and have a read of the interview. Miss Styrene doesn't seem to have changed at all. And she's playing the 'Love Music Hate Racism' carnival next week.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Text your postcode....

I'm watching Virgin1 this evening - 'Terminator' and 'Chuck' - and the thing I can't help but notice is all the sex adverts. Text xxxxx and you'll speak to a nubile young wench in your area. Um, uh huh. But, no, you won't, not really.

Do the advertisers really think we're *that* stupid? or are we? They obviously make enough money to stay open.

I first came across Virgin when it was a tiny record shop behind Newcastle City Hall, part of a small chain, and it was the record label for the Sex Pistols. I bought 'Pretty Vacant' there. That was the start of it all and I'm pleased to have been part of it. But I don't approve of it's sex adverts. O no.

'No, Virginia' by The Dresden Dolls

My favourite punk cabaret ragamuffins have released the track listing for their new record, 'No, Virginia':

1. Dear Jenny
2. Night Reconnaissance
3. The Mouse and the Model
4. Ultima Esperanza
5. The Gardener
6. Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner
7. Sorry Bunch
8. Pretty in Pink
9. The Kill
10. The Sheep Song
11. Boston

It's a mix of old and new, most of which I've heard before, usually in poorly recorded live tracks so it'll be great to have them as studio recordings. 'Lonseome Organist' and 'Pretty In Pink' (yes, the Psychedelic Furs song) were released a couple of years ago and are available for download and both are excellent.

As well as the new record, they're publishing another book, 'The Virginia Companion'. Amanda says,

The Virginia Companion is a 350-page BEAST is about as big as a fucking phone book and includes zillions of never-seen photos that Brian and I lovingly chose from the archives of the past few years. I also write (as I did in the last book) about the process of recording the record, the stories behind the songs and the story behind the artwork including a TON of art submissions for the record that weren't used in the final packaging. There is an entire gallery devoted to the beautiful album-inspired artwork of Barnaby Whitfield (the pastel-artist and painter who created the masterpiece for the cover of the Paradise DVD and our Good Day 7"), tons of alternate album covers we were toying with, Haikus, a little section written by Brian, live photos, scribblings and bibblings and other flotsam and jetsam to make sure you never go hungry for dresden dolls trivia again.

Don't you just love Amanda? And you just have to admire her ethics, ably demonstrated by her latest tee shirt...

Cirque Du Soleil - Delirium

Last night we went to see Delirium, the latest extravaganza from Cirque du Soleil to hit these shores. Previous gawpings at the Soleil people have been at the Royal Albert Hall but this was at the O2 Arena (aka The Dome) with half the arena screened off to present an elongated stage fit for the Soleil shenanigans. It looked odd, a huge stage with equally huge video walls either side, but it all spelled spectacular in any language! It's a Soleil 'live music' stage show rather their usual in-the-round circus shows, so it was a different creature to what I've seen before, but enjoyable and eye boggling nonetheless.

I've got no idea what it's about but the title says it all, really. The central character is attached to a balloon, umbilical-like, that floats over the stage for much of the show and at one point he says, 'thank god this is a dream' which is a subtle hint if we haven't got it yet! A couple fof times it reminded be of a big music show, like a Madonna gig, with a central singer doing their stuff while the video walls bombard us with images.

There were the usual comic characters speaking imaginary languages, with a lad on stilts wandering round and probably being a motif for something. I liked the four acrobats who piled on top of each other in various ways with astonishing strength and skill and the two lad aerialists who spun around on wires, coming together and separating while the singers and dancers moved down below them. There was also a girl hula-hoopist who made the hoops blur as they spun round in ever quicker movements. I also liked the mermaid singer who swam above the stage alongside the man-with-the-balloon using movements of her hips to propel her forward (ok, she was on a wire but that's what it looked like). And at the end the dancers all brought out enormous balloons to bounce around in the audience, something that Slava does in his 'Snowshow' (witnessed at Wimbledon a couple of years ago).

Those Soleil people certainly know how to craft and deliver a marvellous show! And they've got the merchandising down to a fine art too.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Adele Anderson at The RVT

Last night Chris took me to see Adele Anderson at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern at which Miss Right Nasty is curating the Thursday cabaret night (she also provided free bubbly, so thank you!). Adele used to be in Fascinating Aida in the '80s (so my younger readers might know how to place her) and I saw her live last year as part of the production of 'Follies' at Clapham.

Adele did two sets with an accompianist on piano, singing songs to illustrate her fictional life story from child to mature woman (I'm assuming it is fictional). An evening of songs and talk, she has a nice witty line in patter which kept the audience grinning and laughing inbetween songs.

She was great fun and very entertaining. I bought her CD after the show.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Beth Rowley at Bush Hall

Tonight was the turn of Beth Rowley who was playing her very first headlining gig at Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush and we had ticket numbers 6 and 7. We saw Beth last summer on the bill supporting Kiki Dee at the IndigO2 and I've watched her ever since. She has a marvellous voice, effortless and big, and her first album is due out in late May. A few songs are available to download from iTunes and available to listen to on her MySpace site.

Beth came on stage with a four-piece band and opened with 'Nobody's Fault But Mine', the lead track on her 'Violets' EP, and proceeded to play all the songs I knew (except 'Be My Baby') and new songs from the album. Favourites of mine are 'I Shall Be Released' and 'Oh My Life' and it was nice to see and hear Beth sing them. Most of the songs were bluesy, which Beth's voice is great for, but I can't help wondering what the market is for the blues these days. Mind you, the music biz is evolving and people can carve out very successful careers in niche markets so I don't think Beth need worry.

There was a slight feeling of this being a practice outing in preparation for the tour and the launch of the album and I was happy to be practised on. Beth has the voice - that's not up for question - but I'd like to see her take a bit more of the stage for herself - she's the star of the show and could be a bit more assertive. I'm sure that'll come in time and this tour is probably exactly what she needs.

If you get the chance go and see her and watch out for the album. There've been a few new 'girl singers' recently and I think Beth beats them all with her very versatile and powerful voice and good selection of songs. And I'm pleased to be able to say I was at her first headlining gig! Well done Beth!

Monday, 14 April 2008

'Box Of Secrets' by Blood Red Shoes

The debut album from Blood Red Shoes came out today and I'm enjoying listening to it played loudly. I've seen them play live a couple of times (supporting Maximo Park and Siouxsie), got a few of their singles and enjoyed their music. They're a guitar and drums duo, Laura-Mary on guitar and Steven on drums, with both taking lead vocals on different tracks or swapping vocals during songs.

Eleven tracks, crash-bang-wallop, thumping drums and harsh, abrasive guitar, lots of background shouting, relentless from start to finish and making a lot of noise for two instruments. Four of the tracks on the album have already been released as singles over the past year (although they're not all available for digital download, some being physical only) and they're the most immediate on a first listen but the other songs start getting their own identity on second listen.

The songs are all recognisiably by Blood Red Shoes, the same sound, the same energy, which makes for a relentless album but it works. The record drips energy and life. You can almost see them in front of you banging away on the drums and plectrum blurring, fast and energetic. I wonder if there's a kind of SLADE thing going here - no, they don't sound like SLADE - in that they're trying to capture the sound and feel of a gig, something SLADE tried in all their early records. Blood Red Shoes are certainly good live, testified by their current mostly sold out tour (London is sold out so I won't see them on their own tour but they're supporting the Maximo's again in May so I'll see 'em then).

Of the new songs (or rather previously unheard songs) I'd single out 'Take The Weight' which is slightly slower paced without the buzz-guitar in the verses and more complicated vocals and then the Blood Red Shoes sound kicks in for the choruses. I'm also quite taken with 'Forgive Nothing' with a chorus of 'Oh so? Never mind' and (whispers) vocal harmonies...

The packaging is nice, with a booklet with more of Laura-Mary's artwork (she designs their covers) and the lyrics inside. The CD came in a slip-cover but I think that's only if you buy it from HMV (although I might be wrong there). It's nice that HMV have got behind the album (there were even copies at the small shop in Victoria station this evening) and iTunes are selling it for the knock-down price of £5.49 for six months. I'm enjoying the record and will play it lots over the coming weeks - I suspect I'll hear more with each listen. Well done!

'You Bring Me Down' is one of my favourites and sums up Blood Red Shoes for me - it has all their energy, qualities and sonic foibles. You can see and hear it here:

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Green Balls

Have you seen my green balls? I have two.

The first is a light-ball with a re-chargeable battery that glows green, a Mathmos 'bubble' from Old Street in London. The second is a bouncy ball full of fluid and green glitter from the Museum of Modern Art in New York that I picked up a couple of weeks ago.

I like coloured lights and have a 1 ft green Buddha light in my living room and a small green frog-sitting-on-a-lily pad light in my hallway.

One day I'll share them with you.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Cho Cho Fire!

Now and again when I go into the large HMV shop on Oxford street I go downstairs to the folk section to check on the Buffy Sainte-Marie CDs, straighten them up and make sure they're prominently displayed and other, rogue, CDs aren't covering or obscuring them. I joke that I'm checking for a new record but I've never found one. Until today...

I walked over to the Buffy shelves and noticed that they'd stocked up the 'Best Of', 'Up Where We Belong' and 'Coincidence', and saw something pinky-orangey out of the corner of my eye. Clearly they've mis-filed a CD and mixed it up with Buffy CDs. I picked it up, looked quizzically, thought 'how odd' and then noticed something, a small note in pink on the cover that said "Featuring previously unreleased material from Buffy Sainte-Marie"... and then I turned it over to look at the track listing and there it was, 'Cho Cho Fire'!

I saw Buffy perform this song at her Highline Ballroom gig in New York a couple of weeks ago and it's full of energy and optimism, rock drumming and guitar riffs with Buffy singing on top, to be joined half way through by pow wow singing as the song builds and builds. Three minutes of perfection!

Buffy invites us into her world

'Ooo you better wake up
Man, it's like you're dead and gone...
... I know you're a city boy...
... would you come out to a new world?
I promise that I'll take it slow."

She sings that people are "Running For The Drum", the title of her new album, and the Drum is clearly meant to be a life enhancing experience, open yourselves up to it and a fuller, more satisfying life. And the chorus asks,

"Are you ready? come on now
It's a new world, Cho Cho Fire
Listen to the drum beat, that's my heart beat
Have a little fun now, Cho Cho Fire!"

... with a pow wow 'Heya heya' acting like punctuation marks and increasing in prominence as the song builds to a glorious pow wow finish. I love it!

The CD is a collaboration between Oxfam and the World Music Network and 28p from each sale goes to Oxfam. It's presented in a 100% recycled and recyclable cardboard, fold-out sleeve with notes about all the featured artists and a short essay about native American music. It notes that Buffy became known as a writer of protest songs and love songs and goes on to list people who've covered her songs. Most of the tracks on the CD are in a very 'new age' or traditional style, quite 'chill out' with a few pow wow songs, but Buffy's is the only 'pop' song and stands out a mile.

The album is available from World Music Network and you can listen to short samples of the songs so give it a go.

A new Buffy song after all this time - coo! The new album is going to be fantastic if this song is anything to go by!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

St Trinians

I have ventured into the Dark Side and acquired the soundtrack to 'St Trinians'. I watched the film on the plane to America a couple of weeks ago and it attached itself, limpet-like, to my brain.

Now, I love the original St Trinians films with Alistair Sim, they're great fun in an old skool, jolly hockey sticks, middle class way. I didn't see the 2007 re-make at the cinema - Rupert Everett in the Sim's role? impossible! - so thought I'd snigger at it on the plane. But I didn't snigger at it, I sniggered with it. It's great fun with every stereotype going, mercilessly taking the piss out of everything in a gentle way with their tongues placed firmly in their cheeks (ooer, missus).

The girls were wonderful and they played it quite nicely in the casting to avoid any dodginess, with the schoolgirls clearly being girls and the 6th form clearly being older than their supposed years so seeing them in gym slips and stuff wasn't too pervy. I'm not sure how Rupert Everett was playing it - he wasn't in drag or a panto dame, he seemed to be acting a woman, playing it straight, and that probably meant he missed a few laughs.

The soundtrack is great - pop-songs-a-gogo from the marvellous Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and more, plus two songs from the girls in the cast. Girls Aloud get two tracks and they're not too bad. I don't think I've ever heard one of their songs all the way through so maybe I should investigate more. There are a couple of lines in their 'theme' song that grate on me: "defenders of anarchy" and "we do as we damn well please", neither of which are in the St Trinians spirit at all. If you've got to tell people you'll do as you please then you've lost it, a real St Trinian would just do it. I would've liked to hear an update on the original St Trinians theme but that's not included in the film for some reason.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to brew some hooch, rob a train, visit a swanky nightclub and get back to skool in time for tiffin...

Can't wait for the DVD!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Veterans for Peace March, Washington

A few weeks ago, the 'Veterans For Peace' march in Washington stopped off to see Buffy Sainte-Marie, who was in town for a few days, and she sung 'Universal Soldier' for them. It's a song about individual responsibility for war - it's over 40 years old and, sadly, still relevant today.

Buffy also recited her poem, 'The War Racket' (scroll in about 3 minutes to hear the recitation).

Thank you to whoever recorded these for posterity.


Does your blog ever get you into trouble?

This afternoon I was briefed about an event we're holding next week, shown the video materials and brochure and wotnot. The brochure had an empty page at the start with my name on it. Apparently I have to write the introduction since it's my event. And it goes to print on Friday so I need to get my finger out.

Before I could offer the obligatory, 'You what...?' in an outraged tone at the lack of advance notice followed by blustering and general babble, one of my colleagues chipped in with ' That won't be a problem, you go home an write a few hundred words in your blog every night, this'll be easy-peasy' (or words to that effect).


I don't blog *every* day and, besides, that's different.

*You* know who you are.

Monday, 7 April 2008

'No, Virginia' by The Dresden Dolls

The new album from The Dresden Dolls, 'No, Virginia' will be out in May - the blurb talks about 20 May but that's a Tuesday, so I expect it to be out on 19 May in the UK. It's billed as 'A Collection of unheard Treasures from the Vault of the Punk Cabaret taken from the 'Yes Virginia' Sessions and featuring New Songs from the Winter '08 Sessions'. Cor.

May looks like it's shaping up to be an excellent month.

A Special Announcement from Maximo Park

Maximo Park are doing a one-off gig at the Forum on 28 May with three support acts including Blood Red Shoes. The latest blog from me Geordie Lads says:

Maximo Park are pleased to announce a special one off concert at the Forum in Kentish Town, London on 28th May 2008!

Support comes from Mystery Jets, Blood Red Shoes and Pete and the Pirates. The show is in aid of two cancer charities including The Royal Marsden. It will be one of the bands few live appearances this year and looks like being a very special evening. All proceeds from the night will go to charity.

Pre-sale to mailing list members will start at 9am on Tuesday 8th April and will go on general sale to the public on Wednesday 9th April.

Tickets are on sale at £20 for general admission and £50 with access to some free booze, food and dj's at the aftershow. Good luck with getting your tickets!

Paul writes "When someone you know is up against cancer it makes sense to give them your full support. Since that is currently the case, and that person is being treated at The Royal Marsden hospital, which was recently damaged by fire, we decided to do what we can as a band. What we do best is play concerts and we intend to give all profit from our gig at The Forum to help rebuild the cancer unit where they not only look after sufferers but continue to further our knowledge and treatment of the disease. We've never been a preachy band or asked people to shell out daft amounts for tickets, but this show will be well worth the entry fee for a number of reasons."

Well, I know what I'll be doing at 9:00am tomorrow morning...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Dame Kelly and The Torch

I watched the coverage of the Olympic Torch passing through London on the BBC tonight and part of me was delighted about the pro-Tibetan protestors. Good on them.

I was also delighted to see Dame Kelly Holmes carrying the Torch on its last leg and she held it higher and straighter than anyone else, pride in every movement.

Kelly placed a statement on her site about the Torch:


When the Olympic torch is handed to me, I will be gushing with pride knowing I am on the final leg of its journey across London.

But do I have any qualms about being part of this celebration? None at all. I would not want to be anywhere else.

Sport and politics do not mix, but there is a place for both of them and I will understand if peaceful protests do take place in the capital because of the unrest in Tibet so close to the Olympic Games in Beijing.

But we must understand that if the human rights issues in China are something that the politicians have been unable to sort out, why should it fall on the responsibility of athletes who have trained their whole lives to run, jump, swim, cycle or just be part of the unique experience which the Olympics brings?

In the end, the only losers when the Games are boycotted are those people who have spent years dedicating themselves to be there.

The origins of the torch take us back to the ancient Olympics in 776 BC, when messengers were sent out from Olympia to the neighbouring Greek cities to announce the Games were about to start. It signalled a halt to military conflict – a truce while the Games took place. The modern torch relay has become a symbol of that truce, and it is why Sunday should be a day that is embraced.

London will be at the centre of the sporting world and for those youngsters out there watching the relay, how many will become inspired to turn off their video games and take part in sport?

While all the attention is on the Torch relay, this week I am running my fourth ’0n Camp with Kelly’ education camp for athletics hopefuls who have London 2012 as their focus, so I know first-hand how the Olympics is in the heart of the young. But for others, the relay could be their inspiration, and starting point, to launch a career in sport.

This time the torch is making only a brief visit. But in a little over four years, London will be its final destination when the Games arrive in our capital.

Sunday will be a magical day, just like the Olympics are a magical occasion and I should know as well as anyone. I spent the whole of my athletics career striving towards achieving the ultimate success, winning a gold medal at the Olympics. Never did I expect to leave Athens with two golds, but that is what the Olympics can do.

All those days of training in the rain; all those occasions of dealing with injury. In the space of a few minutes, the Olympics provided me with tears for all the right reasons.

The Olympics can make dreams happen. It is why the relay here is so important and why we hope that any protests that might take place this week, and on future parts of the torch relay, do not disrupt the essence of the Olympics.

The Olympics is not going to go away. That was proved in 1980 and 1984. Both of those Games had countries boycotting them but now, nearly three decades later, when we think back, we remember the brilliance of Sebastian Coe winning the 1500m in Moscow, Daley Thompson celebrating decathlon glory in Los Angeles as he retained his title in style and the brilliance of a young Carl Lewis sprinting his way into history with four gold medals. We do not even think of the nations that were not there.

Sport triumphed. I am sure it will again. We all want the world to be a safer place, with everyone equal, but disrupting the special occasion of the Olympic torch arriving in London would achieve nothing.


Snow on Sunday

Like virtually everyone else in this part of the blogosphere, I'm going to mention snow and post a photo.

Sunday morning, 9 o'clock and it's drifting down, great big, fat flakes of the white stuff turning the world clean white for a short time. Three hours later and there's still some on the roof tops and trees, but I'm watching it fall from the tree branches at the moment, and the sudden freeze has probably killed all the emerging blossom on the tree in my front garden.

Snow in London in April - who'd have thought it?

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Love Music Hate Racism Carnival

Love Music Hate Racism is the current term for what, back in the olden days, was Rock Against Racism. It's 30 years since the Rock Against Racism/Anti-Nazi League march and festival in Victoria Park so Love Music Hate Racism is holding a celebratory carnival on 27 April to raise awareness again, presumably with the May elections in mind.

Chris was there 30 years ago and recalls seeing big bands at the time, like the Clash, X-Ray Spex and Steel Pulse. The bill isn't quite so high flown this time and I haven't heard of any of the names mentioned so far apart from Jerry Dammers, Don Letts and ... Poly Styrene. Apparently, Poly is going to open the festival just as she did 30 years ago.

I might have to go if only to see the delightful Poly.

Buffy and Morrissey

Morrissey's Livejournal group has been gossiping about a statement he issued last week:

Statement from Morrissey:

In late June the Montreal Symphony are hosting a TV Special to salute Buffy Sainte-Marie's 50th year making music. I am honored to be asked to take part. I first bought a Buffy Sainte-Marie record when I was 12, and her music has always remained with me. In the 1960s, as a political activist, Buffy's lyrics were fearless, and I'm very grateful for all the risks that she took.

I am also pleased to be asked to join the bill at the V Festival at the Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver, and also at Fort Calgary in Calgary.

However, as we all know, the psychologically and constitutionally sickening Canadian seal-kill has started and is once again in full-cry.

The horror of the Canadian seal-kill is untranslatable, and although I fully realize that highly concentrated evil exists in other countries - Japan's dolphin slaughter, Iceland's newly-revived whaling, the cat-skinning trade in Switzerland, and China with just about every injustice imaginable - there is something especially menacing about Canada's seal-kill.

Loyola Sullivan (Canada's Ambassador for Fisheries Conservation) is a man of glacial coldness who claims that the seal-kill is "humane" - a view he might alter if his own skull were cracked open with a spiked axe.

The fact that the seal-kill provides a livelihood for fishermen is an insultingly dim excuse for it to take place - after all, the German gas chambers of World War 2 also provided work for someone.

The seal-kill takes place to satisfy greed for fur-pelts, and this Canadian government is happy to drag the global image of its own country down, and make it a place that people such as I couldn't bear to visit.

MORRISSEY, 29 March 2008.

I hadn't heard about the tribute to Buffy. It's sad that Morrissey feels unable to take part.

Friday, 4 April 2008

'Funplex' by The B52s

I didn't go on a spending spree while in New York but one thing I did get at the first opportunity was the new B52s album, 'Funplex', which isn't out here for another week or so.

If you like the B52s previous albums, you'll love this. It has all the ingredients you'll recognise, sounds fun and you just know that Kate and Cindy's arms are swinging up and down as they sing with big smiles plastered over their faces while Fred does his shouty thing. It's not just a rehash of earlier stuff but is a logical extension (if logic applies), lots of dance beats, lots of their version of pop with a smidgen of electronica, relentless music to smile to and sing to and move to. It keeps the toe tapping. It sounds right for 2008.

I didn't know there was a new album until I saw it in Virgin, Times Square, and realised I had to have it (plus it was only $10). They've just announced a show in Birmingham so hopefully this is the start of a tour to promote the new album.

Update: Courtesy of an alert from Ms Right Nasty, I have just booked to see the B52s at the Roundhouse on 24 July. How's that for up-to-the-minute blogging.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

New York Miscellany

Back from New York and into the loving arms of London. It seems like the holiday was over in a trice, no sooner get there than count down the days and try to fit as much in as possible. This was my least travelled trip around New York, with only one journey on the subway (to see Buffy), everything else being within a mile or two of the hotel and walkable. That might be why I ate so much. Endless food and lots of it. I soon walked it off. On my first morning I just had an omlette and coffee. That wasn't enough so breakfast became omlette and bagel. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper... and still wake up hungry the next day (greedy pig).


O yes, lots of it, but not the enormous American portions you might expect. With the sad demise of the Art Cafe on Broadway (now a Duane Reed, and yes, I know that's spelt wrong) my official favourite diner is now The Red Flame Diner on West 44th near 6th Avenue. It was the staple for breakfasts (lovely omlettes) and for evening snacks (bagels and a smear, ie cream cheese).

Other eateries of note are the Pigalle restaurant on 9th Avenue, a visit there is mandatory, and the Chelsea Grill, also on 9th but higher up, and it serves draft Guinness and most delicious pasta sauce. Yum.

The Algonquin Hotel

We stayed in the historic Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, the oldest hotel in New York. The rooms are small, as they are in most older hotels in the city, but the location is perfect and the lobby simply reeks of history - or that might be Matilda the fluffy gray cat who rules the roost. When we arrived, Euan Morton (who played Boy George in 'Taboo') was the cabaret turn in The Oak Room (tickets were $65 +$30 table charge, so he doesn't come cheap). Mind you, it served long JD & cokes in the lobby, along with a range of cocktails, which was most civilised.

The wallpaper upstairs was made up of newspaper cartoons featuring the Algonquin in some respect with witty quotes framed outside each room door. I didn't find any of them particularly funny but, hey, that's probably just me.


I've never seen a cop car chase like the one on Monday down 5th Avenue. About 20 cop cars with flashing lights and sirens speeding down the avenue, After a short break another troop of cars appeared, followed by another, all heading in the same direction. No idea what the trouble was or where, but it was a weird sight out of every New York cop show ever made.

Street scenes are fascinating, the noise of traffic (and occasionally the rattle of subway trains underfoot), the locals busy about their business and tourists everywhere. Wide streets and avenues with tall buildings either side, heavy shadows one side of the street and bright sunlight on the other. It rained, a light drizzle, for most of Monday, with the cloud so low that it hid the Empire State Building. I never used my iPod outside at all, much preferring the sound of the city to music.

Imagine having the money of Rockerfeller and just deciding to build a skyscraper and a plaza to set it off. The ice rink is still there with the shrieks of children whizzing round the plaza and a plastic-looking light fountain as a temporary art installation (I wasn't keen on it). And, of course, Radio City Music Hall next door.

And, of course, Times Square, one of the archetypal places of New York and America, all lights and busy-ness, endless streams of people and traffic with Broadway cutting through it.

So that's New York 2008 for me. All done.

Central Park

I like Central Park, a big rectangle of greenery in the middle of Manhattan, and we went there yesterday afternoon to see what it's like in spring. I sort of expected loads of daffodils and other spring flowers and was a bit surprised at how empty it was, a few batches of daffs, some late crocuses and that was about it. Endless muddy stretches of grass, leafless trees and, at least yesterday, dreary grey skies with damp in the air, or maybe it was just reflecting my mood. Spring is more advanced here in London.

The inevitable ice-rink photo, with only a few people skating.

Bethesda Fountain, with the angel on top. My favourite photo of the fountain is from winter with snow all over, the lake behind frozen and covered in snow and people building snowmen in the fountain.

The tunnel under the road leading to the Bethesda Fountain which is slowly being restored (I think it's been in restoration every time I've been). The tiles on the roof and walls look to be in really good condition so the restoration is working.

I don't know what the building is in the background but the lake was very still and the greens of the willows looked nice in the reflection, so this is just a miscellaneous photo.

Belvedere Castle, an old folly that's an observation tower. It's a rather strange place, wandering round and then suddenly sighting this on the top of a hill near the open air theatre. I'm sure it was closed the last time I was here but now you can climb up to the top turrets and get a great view of the park.

Ending with a trip to Strawberry Fields on the west side, the John Lennon memorial garden, and the Imagine mosaic, haunt of tour groups clustering round it so I had to take a quick snap when it was mostly free.