Monday, December 22, 2008

My Year in Lists: Tim's absolutely definitive Albums of 2008

All right, this isn't the most defining list of 2008 music-wise, it is in fact a shortlist of albums I've acquired this year. But then, I wouldn't have got them without liking them, or if they were free, certainly not put them into an end-of-year list, so I've narrowed down this year's CDs into my top 25. Any similarities between my lists and others such as polls on God is in the TV Zine, The Guardian's website or even The Sun's (I wouldn't link...oh ok) are purely coincidental and only highlight how universal, eclectic and frankly spot on my music taste is. (My tongue is planted in my cheek as I write).

In January I predicted a few names of which most have made it into my albums list. Debuts as well, so they were hunches. Just pointing it out, y'know.

Haha. Anyway, the list (blog title comes from a Los Campesinos! song, they're at number 12). Without further ado, here it is:

1. Cats in Paris - Courtcase 2000
Frankly, this came out of nowhere. Back in August someone recommended them and linked to their MySpace and it was love at first listen. A Manchester four-piece, but one with the ideas, enthusiasm, quirks and guts to shame every band that ever stepped out of that city since The Smiths. An abundance of youthful creativity, Courtcase 2000 is a masterclass of micro-prog, songs squeezing a kaleidoscope of sounds and melodies, rhythms and instruments into four or five minute mini-operas, rich in vocals that whisper and shout, time signatures that take on a mind of their own, gorgeous string arrangements framing a tragic story of 'broken kittens', random instrumentals with French monologues over the top, bombastic chords that open 'lovelovelovelove', merry-go-round synths chortling to 'loose tooth tactile', perhaps the song of the year. It's almost twee, but it's so gloriously unhinged in its experimental, free flowing river of musical creativity that it deserves to remain undefined. Every British debut for the next five years should be measured against the sheer brilliance of Courtcase 2000, my album of 2008.
Listen to: Loose Tooth Tactile

2. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
You can gauge much about this stunning debut from the cover. Its proprietors stand on a sunset beach awash with psychedelia in their get up of spangly scarves, bright trousers, make-up and wild hair. Indie-by-numbers this ain’t. Summer anthem ‘Time to Pretend’ kicks off proceedings, but as a benchmark is outdone by many of the album’s tracks – particularly the unbelievably gorgeous 'Of Moons Birds and Monsters' – which hurl together an American ‘60s guitar sound with modern woozy synths, snippets of playground chatter with haunting vocals, discofloor beats and progressive song structures with hazy choruses: above all astonishingly melodic and sparkling with ingenuity. A close listen reveals grimmer lyrical matter ('We’ll choke on our vomit, and that will be the end' anyone?) but such a mood is painted over by the cinematic colour of MGMT’s music, and supplants everything with a virtually unmatched-in-2008 sense of eclectic beauty.
Listen to: The Youth

3. The Mars Volta - The Bedlam in Goliath
Well documented are former ATD-I members Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's dabbling in 'creative substances', but though such antics are now assumed to be fewer and far-between, there must be something unusual keeping the latter, in particular, going, because the driving force of this band keeps surpassing each ground-breaking LP with another. Not quite a year and a half since third album 'Amputechture', 'The Bedlam in Goliath' was a tour de force of blistering drums - thanks to incredible new sticksman Thomas Pridgen - polyphonic rhythms, free jazz style solos as well as maze-like layers of guitars, more extreme bludgeoning than before, all doused in Omar's trademark effects and topped with the ever-impressive vocal range of Cedric. After suffering (lazy) criticism for their meandering jams passed off as songs on previous works, 'The Bedlam in Goliath' tied up some of those loose ends and pooled the myriad ideas, sounds and influences into tight, progressive behemoths that heralded The Mars Volta's most exciting album since their landmark debut.
Listen to: Wax Simulacra

4. Foals - Antidotes
Although they were bordering on the precipice last year, the Dave Sitek-produced Antidotes blew this Oxford fivesome out of the water and into the arms of the waiting press to critical acclaim, indie club hits and storming live shows. A collection of icy, minimalist indie with endless delayed guitar lines that gently melted into the subconscious, packing enough of an electro edge to get the body moving and the energy levels kicking into gear. Singles such as 'Cassius' (this year's 'Helicopter'), 'Vessels' and 'Balloons' were all shining examples of the meticulously angular melodies and rhythms abounding on the album, softened with the occasional brass moment and impassioned cry. A wonderfully crisp and refreshing reinvention of an increasingly derivative genre.
Listen to: Cassius

5. We are the Physics - Are OK at Music
The fourth debut (of 13) in my list, and without doubt the most underground. And also, one of the most exciting. The Scottish group of Michael, Michael, Michael and a Chris created one of the best 'rock' albums of the year. 11 tracks of breakneck speed drums, off-kilter guitar hooks and stuttering vocal yelps, crashing and bouncing around with a schizophrenic energy that is all but out of control. Brilliantly deranged but measured with recognisable riffs and shouted choruses - if your benchmark for rock is Oasis, and things are getting edgy when you put on The Enemy, then you won't know what the fuck has hit you here.
Listen to: You Can Do Athletics btw

6. Operator Please - Yes Yes Vindictive
This one's a bit biased since they absolutely blew me away supporting The Go! Team in Bournemouth last October (2007). Not one of them were out of their teens at the time, and when Yes Yes Vindictive was released in March, they were still very, very young. In fact I went and got drunk with three of them in July when they played at sixtymillionpostcards in Bournemouth, and two of them weren't even old enough to be in clubs. Jeez. Anyway, the album is a gloriously youthful collection of perfect pop rock songs, no false pretences about emotion, scenes, sounds or styles. From the hammering indiepop of 'Leave It Alone' and 'Zero Zero' to the mature waltzing of '6/8', this was a jaw-droppingly accomplished debut from five Aussie kids. More hooks than a fishing equipment store, this 'baroque pop' album (the violin probably exaggerates this categorisation) was near-perfection in genre-crossing anthemic pop songs.
Listen to: Zero Zero

7. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Originally this didn't make my list, a) because it was just so obvious and b) because I came to it late. But when Mojo and Uncut magazines are making it their album of the year, and it simultaneously features in The Sun's top five, it's also obvious that omitting the sheer beauty of Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut would be a travesty. A cut of haunting close harmonies throwing back to a retro Americana, glinting over jangly guitar backdrops and bittersweet folk atmospherics, with the occasional sunburst in 'Ragged Wood' and 'Your Protector', Fleet Foxes might turn out to be a landmark album in contemporary American music. That it encapsulates a past American age, turning those influences into a gorgeous modern pop album promising much for the future goes to show how deserved these Foxes' acclaim has been.
Listen to: White Winter Hymnal

8. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
A lot has been possible in pop music recently, but almost everyone was taken aback by this quartet’s direct fusion of modern African influences (rhythm, percussion) with sparse guitars that consequently stormed the music industry. Switched-on nightspots have been plying an ever-increasing spectrum of listeners with singles ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘A Punk’ and ‘Mansard Roof’ for months now, and the universal appeal of this charming if erratic-sounding debut, as well as its knack for upbeat chorus hooks, means it has been strolling into best of lists everywhere.
Listen to: Oxford Comma

9. TV on the Radio - Dear Science
Three albums in, and it's no less of a struggle for Dave Sitek's main musical outlet - the brilliantly eclectic five-piece that is TV On The Radio. That Dear Science topped Guardian and GIITTV polls, featured in music publication lists everywhere and featured on TV spots does not mean that you can now stop an average Joe in the street and say "Do you think Dear Science is better than Return to Cookie Mountain?" However, TV On The Radio are anything but average Joes - they stir in the pop funk of, say, Gnarls Barkley with black soul, big beats with balladry and hazy electro, making for a thoroughly modern eclecticism that also contained their best choruses yet. It might have been a weird chemistry for some, but Dear Science had more than enough about it to hit that niche spot in everyone's music taste. Probably a nailed-on certainty for next year's Mercury Music Prize.
Listen to: Halfway Home

10=. Late of the Pier - Fantasy Black Channel
With the exception of We Are The Physics, perhaps, Late Of The Pier deserve plaudits for the freshest sound this year, a young band going about the matter of dismantling recognised genres by making a boisterous racket of synth, guitar and big beat madness that somehow fits the bill of quirky glam rock, bluesy grunge and electro punk. This is the debut that Klaxons should have made, but failed. It figures that Late Of The Pier should win next year's Mercury... but won't. Shame. Approaching the making music process with a similarly eccentric enthusiasm as Cats in Paris, Fantasy Black Channel was an utterly beguiling album, challenging but emphatically rewarding.
Listen to: Focker

10=. Black Kids - Partie Traumatic
Infectious party spirit, kooky lyrics and all-singing, all-dancing impishness. Partie Traumatic was in fact a bit of a disappointment, as the majority of tracks didn't stand up to the ghostly awesomeness of their Wizard of Aahs EP. However, Black Kids make it in my top 10 purely because said EP was about the best thing anyone anywhere in the world had heard as 2008 was born, and the fact that all four originals from it make the hairs on my neck stand up without fail. Had they not rushed the album and given their sound an unnecessary sheen (thanks Bernard Butler) it might have just been sitting nine places higher.
Listen to: Hit The Heartbreaks

12. Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
The internet's success story of 2007, this debut managed to deliver their early potential with a squeaky guitar-topped mesh of exuberant indiepop with wonderfully quaint lyrics, bouncy feelgood rhythms and a glockenspiel.

13. Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid
You won't find another album this year as grandiose, heartfelt and shatteringly intimate in equal measures. A deserved Mercury winner, its rich textures and orchestral arrangements underpinning Guy Garvey's rasping soul is a stunner.

14. Bloc Party - Intimacy
Snuck out on the quiet, Intimacy hit the download stores almost before anyone knew, nevermind pirated a leak. A fusion of samples, drum 'n' bass and heavily-affected guitars, the tangled complexity of Intimacy eventually unravelled into some typically pioneering Bloc Party songs and the odd indie monster. That elusive 'Helicopter 2' still hangs over their head, though. And 'Talons' is not it.

15. The Long Blondes - Couples
Sadly this band are no more, although they might be on a mere hiatus. It's a shame, because Couples was the intimate loneliness of the post-one night stand bed to the dolled-up glam of the pull on 'Someone To Drive You Home'. It was as if that debut's insecurities had manifested into bitterness, with Couples being an LP of starkly cold indie guitars and an icy Kate Jackson on vocals. Hoping for a reunion in 2009.

16. R.E.M - Accelerate
A stonking return to form for one of the seminal artists of the last 20 years, Accelerate saw the three 'boys' thrash out a series of hard-rocking songs peppered with that stinging trademark R.E.M balladry - with renewed political vigour and some hot riffs, R.E.M showed they can still cut it in music today.

17. iForward, Russia! - Life Processes
Their debut was my album of the year 2006, and Life Processes saw much of the same intoxicating mix - playing with time-signatures, wailing vocals and spikey, growling guitars with snatches of searing melodies interspersed with the odd choir and synth. Unfortunately this group are also on a hiatus (damn it!) but their influence in the Midlands music scene will continue to be keenly felt into 2009.

18. Coldplay - Viva La Vida (or Death and All His Friends)
All credit to Chris Martin's troupe, who could have banked on shifting 50bn units with another album of lighters-aloft ballads a la Fix You and coffee table rock like In My Place that would be great for six tracks and then go flat. But they didn't, they returned with an album full of dark edges, perplexing mini-songs, fanfare-march singles and in short a brave new set of songs.

19. Young Knives - Superabundance
After the angular and brilliant debut, the trio of Knives returned with a much more accessible but equally infectious bunch of awkward hooks and brash harmonies, stomping rock songs with more meat than previous efforts. Lyrics were slightly repetitve but gave up anthemic indie choruses in, ahem, abundance.

20. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
The paradox of this band's name, alluding to the glamour and glitz of Vegas, is tapered by the gloom of every single song on this eponymous debut, the perma-sad Scots dishing up a sumptious helping of wall-of-sound meloncholy, lucious guitar layers of fierce emotion that had all who came across it wiping tears from their eyes and reminding loved ones that they are loved.

21. Guillemots - Red
It was always going to be difficult to match the patchwork-quilted genius of their near-miraculous debut, but Fyfe Dangerfield and co. gave it a good go. Just lacking in that multi-coloured spark that made Through the Windowpane such a joy, Red instead saw Guillemots dabble in straightforward pop songs, creating a wealth of gems that seemed to reference a catalogue of pop supremacy in 11 tracks of shimmering melodies and 21st century instrumentation.

22. Crystal Castles - Crystal Castles
From performances at Reading Festival to appearing on Skins, Crystal Castles came to usher in during 2008 the glitchy electronica that was ok for those outside of the dance market to embrace to its bosom, paving the way for a truckload of soundalikes (or soundabitlikes at least) to follow in their footsteps. Alice Glass's disturbed vocals over sometimes hypnotic, sometimes explosive dancefloor ravers soundtracked a year in off-kilter dance music that threw off the shackles of genre wars and made glo-sticks cool again. Again.

23. The Spinto Band - Moonwink
Following up their twee gem of 2006, the Spintos returned with an album rich in squeaky-clean indie musicality; that is harmonies, chord progressions, retro references: little nuances that are missing from many of today's bands' songwriting. It all makes for very pleasant, if sickly sweet, listening.

24. Fucked Up - Chemistry of Common Life
A hardcore punk band with a pointlessly vile name? That's almost as far removed as you can get from my usual listening tastes, but Fucked Up's wall-of-noise guitars, snarling spirit and pounding drums took punk to credible new planes in 2008, channeling aggression into huge riffs and chords, vitriolic smites at religion, and the occasional stadium-rock anthem thrown in. A superb, if abrasive, album of wholly renewed punk ethics.

25. Santogold - Santogold
I already know that this album is better than six or seven of the above. The trouble is I bought it yesterday and as such it's only fair that less than 24 hours of judgement does not cloud a list that spans consideration of the prior 364 days as well. A sparkling fusion of tribal, pop and world influences, Santogold's eponymous first album of eclectic pop gems throws a huge guantlet down for all solo females in 2009 (especially you Little Boots) to step up to.

If you've made it down here, well done. I love you. Thank you for reading, and if you buy one album this week, make it Cats in Paris - Courtcase 2000 please! Thank you again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Louis Theroux's Law and Order in...London

The last two Sundays have seen Louis Theroux, another of the BBC's more outstanding figures, doing his documentary thing on Law and Order in two vastly different areas: a notoriously volatile district in Philadelphia, US, and Johannesburg, South Africa, the focus of last week's programme. The latter, particularly, delved into the almost lawless areas outside JBurg, the shanty-town sites Diepsloot, where the terms 'community' and 'mob' became blurred. With little to no law enforcement from the police in place in Diepsloot, self-styled protection firms - privately-run security forces - set themselves up to distribute justice around the area, for an agreed price, by whoever has the money to buy the service.

In the Johannesburg documentary, Theroux repeatedly highlighted the problems Diepsloot experienced without a police presence: where crimes were committed, the private security firms had their own methods with dealing with criminals. Increasingly, however, Theroux saw how villagers would take matters into their own hands, hearing how the 'community' caught and burned a man who had been stealing. 'Community' seemed to be a vague term during the programme - at times it brought a sense of togetherness for the residents, united in their plight on the outskirts of J'burg, ignored by police and riddled with problems. Yet 'Community' also became a term that was used to justify the violent nature of the residents' treatment of criminals. The people Louis Theroux spoke to about the capturing and burning of criminals (which happened more than once while he was out there) simply shrugged it off as part and parcel of the place, a consequence of the lawlessness pervading Diepsloot. They called it "A South African solution to a South African problem".

Theroux's point might have been to highlight the huge difference between gun crime on the homicide-ridden Phily streets to, say, London or Birmingham, and the sheer violence of the out-of-control Diepsloot to our policed towns in Britain, but today saw a damning case of a 'mob mindset' (eloquence as ever from The Sun) within this country that is little short than the South African examples.

BBC's take is slightly calmer, but both sources make reference to the evidence that Mr Cunningham was killed by a group of people, stabbed and mutilated by the 'vigilantes' in return for his history of sexual offences, possibly some more recent. Mr Cunningham had recently been removed from the register, however, seven years since the offence that he had been place on it for, and had not been arrested for any related offences since 2003. But The Sun in particular highlights that Mr Cunningham's death was most likely to be a result of something that had happened recently.

The point in this instance isn't whether the paedophile deserved to die or not for what he did, and may have done. It's the manner in which more than one person appears to have murdered Mr Cunningham in a case of citizen justice that equates to mob behaviour. The UK prides itself on being one of the most forward-thinking and advanced democracies in the West, nevermind in the world, but the tribal mindset of those responsible for killing Andrew Cunningham have branded elements of our society as savage as the poverty-striken, crime-filled shanty-town communities in South Africa that Louis Theroux last week claimed were a million miles from our own.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Eurovision in danger of becoming Eurotrash

In another high-profile shuffle at the BBC, this time decided by the figure in question, rather than on their behalf, Terry Wogan has called time on 35 years of Eurovision and stepped aside for a new face - voice - to fill the void.

And it will be a void; Terry Wogan's fantastic commentary on the increasingly-farcical event has become as synonymous with Eurovision for the British public as the obligatory woeful entry we put out. Wogan's subtle but devastating put-downs, tongue-in-cheek xenophobia and stereotyping coupled with his good-natured charm - aided in no small part by the odd glass of wine, you'd imagine - made the competition bearable. Several hours of MOR pop song crap, usually woodenly presented in broken English, peppered with the odd flourish of ingenuity such as Lordi's ludicrous Hard Rock Hallelujah, and the occasional shock of a decent song turning up, somehow became mesmerising as Wogan and the watching audience become more and more amused (and possibly drunk) as international politics come into play, the attention begins to wane and the songs get worse. This is when Wogan is at his best, when respect for the spectacle is lost; becoming more scathing and witty, unrestrained and cheeky in a single-handed bid to keep people watching.

Graham Norton, then, has some big boots to fill. A cheeky chappy himself, his name is nevertheless more synonymous with innuendo, playing to his camp styling and deriving laughter from often crass subject matter. His bouncy enthusiasm and direct interviewing does make him a different prospect on the BBC - granted he's no Parkinson, but then who is - but his show is cut to half an hour, and some of his guests (Dame Edna, Paul O'Grady, Eddie Izzard, Jackie Collins, Joan Rivers, Alan Carr to pick a biased few) seem obvious by any stretch of the imagination.

Norton's switch to the BBC, at an incredibly lucrative price as well, will have done something for his image, as will the BBC's decision to entrust him with his own talkshow, especially one self-styled on the website as "the aspects of celebrity culture that interest him [Norton] most, featuring trademark Norton comedy monologues (????) and celebrity chat". Not quite in line with the BBC's mandate for creative and challenging programming, perhaps. But their decision now to import him into Wogan's vacated seat as the British public's Eurovision Song Contest compere for the evening gives Norton a chance to prove himself.

It's likely to go one of two ways. Either Norton will take the time to write (or get staff writers to produce) a wealth of material, one liners, ironic jibes, comments that showcase his talent for direct critique but with capacity for good-humour, non-serious but funny all the same: a chance for him to really prove his worth. Or it will wind up as trashtalking, Norton getting evermore bemused and high-pitched, spitting out bitter criticism without humour or balance and finally losing the will to try, proving that he lacks the temeperament and skill to really mix it with the top BBC names. One would hope obviously for the former, but such is the lowly level to which the event has descended, a live Graham Norton car crash to soundtrack the madness would almost be fitting for the Contest - the mediocre but watchable Eurovision morphing into throwaway Eurotrash.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Everything's Peachy: Geldof culture title launches

She’s been the marmite celebrity of 2008, ousting Lily Allen as queen of the online buzz. Whether it’s via her blogs, columns or media spots, or the increasing newspaper inches her lifestyle generates, Peaches Geldof is a name that’s rarely been out of the spotlight this year. But, in an effort to focus her media career – or perhaps give it some credibility – Peaches has embarked on the latest high profile venture in her short and privileged life so far: the launch of her own magazine, Disappear Here.

Peaches has already come in for enormous scrutiny for her column/blog for Nylon, the fashionable New York magazine, particularly recently when, while listing her views on forthcoming fashion trends, she proclaimed, “I don’t follow fashion.” Right. Admittedly, her Nylon contributions to date have done little to affirm Peaches’s free reign on this kind of indulgence. Back, then, to her own magazine.

Disappear Here has been funded, and is owned, by Peaches, her manager Andy Varley and men’s magazine guru James Brown, though the cost of this has not been revealed. Captaining the ship herself, with guidance from Brown, 19-year old Peaches declared in an interview with the Guardian: “This is basically my job. I want it to be a blank canvas for young talent – writers, photographers, graphic designers, artists and bands.”

Admirable sentiments, of course, but hold on: Peaches herself isn’t even out of her teens. That she and her new publication could single-handedly be this great springboard for undiscovered talent works on her own assumption that Disappear Here, merrily launched by the starlet while the country’s flagship newspapers are either cutting staff or shacking up together, stands a chance in the diminishing glossy publications market.

For it to do that, it needs more than the divisive Peaches image to drive success. The Guardian interview reveals that following the advertisement-free launch issue out last week, paid-for advertising will subsidise quarterly issues from March ’09. With MTV colleague Dan Jude the only other significant staff writer named so far – Brown’s contacts, including a friend’s school-aged daughter, make up the bulk of the remaining writers – Issue Zero, as it’s called, needs to do an awful lot to generate that advertiser interest. Granted, Peaches knows her onions on pop culture and what will appeal to the London clientele she moves with. Whether the combination can succeed enough to ride out the credit crunch, nevermind make a long-term assault on established culture mags, will be a test of the teenager’s will and patience.

For Peaches, this is a chance to change her reputation, convince the increasingly-disillusioned British public that she’s more than a rich ‘daddy’s girl’; that her new “job” as magazine editor is merited rather than simply a privileged whim. But whether Disappear Here dazzles or dives, the sad truth is that either result won’t really make much difference to Peaches Geldof at all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Home comforts

A short mulling of a blog update. Last night I had a pretty awful dream, in that it was totally non-enjoyable in a bleak, depressing way rather than being a straight-forward, put-it-behind-you nightmare. One that had life-affirming threats in it and threw up hard-hitting facts of life in the aftermath that stayed with me for the rest of the day. It isn't important, the detail to it. But it was more than a little reassuring to wake from it, in a different bed to usual, but a bed that is one I gratefully still call my own. This weekend sees me back at home for a weekend with the family, and a timely reminder of things that are important to me that don't revolve around what I do in Bournemouth.

For instance, who else is going to make me an ad-hoc fisherman's pie for dinner on a saturday? Who else would drive me to Brighton on a miserably grey afternoon for the sole purpose (as it turned out) of pissing about on guitar effects for a while, and then returning home again? Who else would I allow to sip - copious sips, bro - my paid for pint without so much as an eyebrow raise?

Despite it being that I do not see my family as often as I should, they still have without doubt the overuling bearing on my life, and like to admit it or not, I on theirs. Even if it is not day-to-day, it is part and parcel, inescapable. And it was nice to come home to surroundings that reminded me strongly of this, and clearly had a big impact sub-consciously with that goddamn dream. It's easy to say, but comforting in the extreme to feel, that outside of the self-centred bubble of my personal daily life is the continued, sometimes invisible, sometimes overlooked but never forgotten, love and support of family.

It seems a moot point to make, especially as Christmas time approaches, but I often curse myself for not showing enough gratitude for it. This isn't going to make up for that but might hopefully cause a similar reaction for anyone else who sometimes takes a few things in life a bit for granted.

(In Charlie Brooker style) This week, Tim Miller: joined Twitter about 50 years too late, and came within £7 of maxing his overdraft (not just the interest-free bit, but the extra on top of that).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Here Juande, gone the next: Levy and Spurs left with Hamburg-er all over their faces

If you thought that the now low-burning Newcastle crisis two months ago bordered on farce, the black comedy of Tottenham Hotspurs' season continues apace this weekend (which is lightened only slightly by my atrocious puns in the headline). In an astonishing move made all the more ruthless by the instantaneous appointment of Harry Redknapp, the Spurs board took the decision to remove Juande Ramos after one year in charge following the club's worst ever start to a Premier League season.

Daniel Levy is clearly, then, a man who doesn't agonise over delicate decisions. Subtlety may even be an alien concept to the Spurs chairman. Just 12 months ago, the protracted but very public seduction of Juande Ramos from Sevilla to replace Martin Jol dominated the headlines, causing outrage and disgust in many circles at the embarrassing treatment of Martin Jol's at the hands of his employers. On a side note, the irony of Levy complaining about Manchester United's courting of Dimitar Berbatov this summer, when much the same had occurred in Spurs' capture of Ramos, appeared to be lost on him. Anyway, Jol's crime was to oversee a poor start to a season after two consecutive fifth place finishes - the best any team outside of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool can realistically expect. While Jol's Spurs' bad form was not to be denied, that Levy judged succeeding the Dutchman with a new face as an instant solution now looks to be an obvious mistake.

Spurs had had two very successful domestic seasons in a row, playing exciting football, albeit resulting in often dramatic scenes at both ends of the pitch. Jol was well-liked by his squad and the fans, and while their form then might have been poor, it is positively flying by comparison to this season's start. Many questioned quite rightly the legitimacy of Levy's ousting of Martin Jol, in favour of giving him time to turn around the successful team he had managed for the previous two seasons.

And this weekend, many of those ugly elements have again darkened White Hart Lane's doors. Following two points from a possible 24, Juande Ramos, his two coaches and sporting director Damien Commoli were all shown the door, and another replacement instantly lined up in the (unmistakable) shape of Harry Redknapp. Less than a quarter of the way through the season, Levy's cherry-picked manager was removed, again without being given any time to rectify the situation, again without remorse, and again without Levy displaying any sort of awareness as to the hypocrisy of his decisions. You can't help but feel sorry for Ramos: as the object of Levy's affections just over a year ago, he can hardly be blamed for feeling stabbed in the back somewhat by the amount of faith shown in him by his former suitor.

What rankles particularly, though, is Levy's subsequent statements. While he explained away the sacking of Commoli as being a move back to a traditional footballing structure (fair enough - though many Premiership clubs currently work very well with sporting directors or directors of football) his quote that, "We are delighted to have secured the services of someone we have long since admired" is pretty outrageous. Levy was purported to have wanted the services of Redknapp at the time of Jol's dismissal: how long, then, has Redknapp been in his thoughts? Was Ramos doomed from day one? This is little short of an admittance that Ramos was the wrong man to replace Jol a year ago.

Levy goes on to say about Redknapp, "With his great knowledge of the game and his excellent motivational skills, Harry has inspired his teams to consistently over-perform". Levy clearly recognises these qualities; why, then does he not admit to Ramos's appointment being a mistake of his own in this respect? Redknapp gets results in English football, there's no denying, but Ramos was brought in to do the same but playing a certain way; see below.

The final dagger, in my opinion, is this highly hypocritical comment: "His [Redknapp's] preferred attacking style of playing the game sits comfortably with our club's history, heritage and the type of entertaining football our fans want and expect to see." That Redknapp's preferred style of football is attacking is certainly debatable. But either way, there can be no denying that 'entertaining football' is what Spurs were playing under Martin Jol. 'Entertaining football' is what attracted Levy, and many clubs in Europe, to Juande Ramos in the summer of 2007, following Sevilla's flamboyance and flair in winning back to back UEFA Cups with the likes of Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano and Daniel Alves. While Spurs have won for the first time this season today, the substance to Levy's 'official statement' is left badly wanting, and so, perhaps, is the credibility behind Levy's position at the helm of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

The Hamburger, incidentally, comes from Martin Jol's new position. Currently employed by Hamburg, the team were last week top of the German Bundesliga, a long way ahead of teams like Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Leverkusen. There it looks like Jol had the last laugh, and one can only hope for Juande Ramos to do much the same in his next role as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Lisbon Blog. The Lisblog.

As my Facebook status might suggest, my first proper holiday in four years is at an end and the inevitable return to England, from very warm climes to temperatures in single digits, is pretty hard to swallow. Lisbon was a fantastic city to experience and made a great destination for a late 'summer holiday'. Allow me, then, to recount the best bits of Lisbon and wallow in a bit of pining for Portugal.

The Lisbon Lounge Hostel was our home for six nights, a modern, comfortable and lively hostel aimed at the young, exploring traveller. Having landed, taxied to the hostel, dumped suitcases, showered, changed and headed out into Lisbon, we endeared ourselves to the overnight reception staff by returning at 4:30am, making a drunken racket and knocking over a locker, setting off an anti-theft alarm. The quote from the girl who came up to see what the hell was going on was, 'Are you going to be like this every night?' No, we assured her, and passed out in the bunk beds.

Friday, with the temperature at around 25, and having done a quick fix on the locker door, we hit Caiscas, known for its golden coves and vibrant centre. (We actually spent most of Friday at this very beach). However in the morning, I was ridiculously excited about riding one of these, which I did for 15 minutes around the local square. At seven euros, it was surely the bargain of the holiday. The traditional piri piri chicken sufficed for dinner that night, and we headed back into central Lisbon for more alcohol and late night hedonism.

A word here about the drug sellers. Clearly, according to the local dealers, a group of eight lads are going to want drugs when on holiday, as we were offered them every 100 yards, every day, as soon as we stepped out of the hostel until we went back to bed. Adopting a Portuguese accent, 'Hashiche? Marajuana? Coke?' was the quote of the holiday. Every fucking two minutes a moustachioed, tanned bloke often about 50-years old would approach us and, in faux-hushed tones, offer us the goods straight out of their pockets. Their relentless and indefatigable attempts to sell us drugs were amazing, then laughable, then boring, then finally irritating. Most of us were pretty close to 'chinning' the bastards by the end of the holiday.

Anyway, the Saturday dawned clear, blue and hot, and we spent the day here. With incredible panoramic views across the entire city of Lisbon, dizzyingly high - and unsafe - walls, it was a fabulous icon of Lisbon which brought great tans as well as photos.

That night, however, was the only real down point of the holiday. Suited and booted, sort of, we went off to visit Lux in two taxis, a famous Lisbon club part-owned by John Malkovich and known for its glamorous clientele and generally being the centrepoint of Lisbon's nightlife. Despite the entrance - a pair of female legs with the doors being right in between - the club was a total let down. In short, the first taxi party got in for 12 euros each. Those of us in the second taxi had a slightly outcome. We were told that the entry was 240 euros to get in. Each. The main reason was because we were tourists, and as it was Saturday, they had enough of them inside. 'Fuck off' doesn't even begin...

That low point aside, the rest of the holiday carried on in much the same glorious, sunny way. Sunday morning was spent talking football with a Sporting Lisbon youth coach in the nearby square, before a torrential downpour - and I mean monsoon proportions; the splashes were rebounding about a foot in the air off the concrete - dampened the day, but not spirits. The previous three nights having taken their toll, we dried off and took a nap before staying in for a meal put on for by the hostel for its residents. They actually did this each night, and at eight euros each, a home-cooked fresh three course meal with red wine was a total bargain. The trouble was, being in a group of eight, we basically filled the roster: the chef was only really catering for 14, and with anything up to 48 or so people in the hostel over the weekend, we counted ourselves lucky to get even one meal in during our stay.

The Sunday was spent relaxing, chatting, drinking and playing an ill-fated few games of cards in the company of some of the other people staying, including a charming Canadian couple called Audrey (competitive) and Rob (easy-going), two American girls Beth and Claire, and an Ozzie journalist called Amanda. In my wisdom, I'd bought myself a bottle of Port to drink when staying in, which the Portuguese drink like wine and I attempted to follow suit. At 19.5% abv, I of course failed miserably, and, barely able to see, put myself to bed at about 3:30am with some mumbled garbage of goodbyes at the American girls. Smooth.

It turned out that my travelling buddies had ended up in bed around two hours after me, and therefore Monday morning was largely a total write off. In fact, I didn't make a single breakfast (9:00am - 10:30am daily) during the holiday, and only a couple of our group made one or two at most. Two of the group managed to get up to entertain the American girls during the morning, and with the temperatures at 25 degrees or so again, we all regrouped to enjoy lunch in Alacantara, overlooking a faux-Monaco marina under clear blue skies again. Although it had now reached about 4pm, we ferried across the port to go and visit the Cristo Rei. You could pay to go up and stand on the platform below Christ's feet, which we duly did, and got awe-inspiring views across the main part of Lisbon, and over the 25th of April Bridge. Considering the day's start, Monday turned out to be a successful bout of proper sightseeing.

Tuesday, being the last full day in Lisbon (already!) was spent on the beach at Estoril (this casino featured in the original 'Casino Royale' James Bond novel), thanks to the late 20s temperatures and alluring sandy beach and clear waters. Another night on the tiles followed a meal in a restaurant specialising in live and expensive lobster and seafood, and suddenly, depressingly, Lisbon was almost over.

The Wednesday, despite great weather again, meant packing and leaving. Being men though, some of us managed to squeeze in a trip to the Benfica stadium, a spectacular sight the like of which English teams rarely get to play in. After I carelessly spent 80 euros on a Benfica shirt, we headed back to hostel to pick up our bags and hit the 'aeroporto'. With heavy hearts, amid a pretty irritable crowd of English people (why is our conduct abroad always so embarrassing, so...colonial?), we boarded the EasyJet flight home. Landing at 10:30pm, it was dark, about 9 degrees, and promised nothing.

So there it is. How I miss it so, already. In all seriousness, though, I would thoroughly recommend going to Lisbon at any point between April and October, eating the fish there, going to the beach, seeing the sights, and above all riding a segway, to anyone thinking of having a holiday or travelling around Europe. It's a must-visit.

Thank you, Lisbon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The differing joys of six

Two identical scorelines over the last four days in football - 6-0 - showed that two markedly different schools of thought in attaining success as a football club are still relevant, even if they're taking those ideas to the very extreme.

Manchester City's incomprehensibly rich new investors have raised the bar in foreign ownership. It wasn't too long ago that Roman Abrahmovich's relentlessly deep pockets, as they seemed, were scathingly criticised for 'buying' Chelsea's first league title for 50 years. Yet in the short years since that trophy landed at Stamford Bridge, foreign investment in top football clubs has become a common sight, and most recently reached an unprecedented era of bankrolling when the Abu Dhabi United Group agreed to formally buy Manchester City.

Middle Eastern money is a very real force in the modern world, least of all football, but the billions upon billions backing Manchester City now make previous target for money cynics Abrahmovich look a pauper. The club were able to simply wade into the protracted 'Robinho to Chelsea' saga, flex their new-found financial muscle and within 24 hours, Robinho was a Manchester City player. Chelsea were simply not prepared to be bullied over the £32m price-tag: for City it was merely a matter of making a higher offer. In the previous weeks, the club had without blinking forked out £19m for Brazilian Jo - a dubious decision at the time but the player does look genuinely to have the stuff to make it in the Premiership - and enough cash to buy back Shaun Wright-Phillips with minimum fuss. It capped a remarkable final day in the transfer window - and an expensive one for City.

It was short-lived owner Thaksin Shinawatra whose original funds cemented the signings of the then manager Sven Goran Eriksson - another Brazilian Elano, Martin Petrov and the exciting (but injury prone) Valerie Bojinov - and which saw City make a real attempt at challenging the established order in the Premier League. It faltered before any significant inroads could be made, but this season, with results like the 6-0 demolition of Portsmouth, the signs are there to suggest that the almost infinite bank balance at the disposal of City's owners, coupled with sensible long-term planning, low-key involvement from on high and the integration of existing players and youth players, could give City a very real possibility of disturbing the peace at the top of the table.

By contrast, Tuesday night saw another 6-0 demolition, Sheffield United taken apart by an Arsenal side superior in every single way. While the scoreline is surprising on its own, it's the fact that Arsenal's first XI consisted of mainly teenagers; the team's average age was 19. Arsene Wenger had put this team together from gifted - and mostly inexpensive - youngsters sourced from all over the world, with 17-year old Aaron Ramsey the notable exception following his £5m transfer from Cardiff City. Mexican Carlos Vela (19) stole the show with a breath-taking hat trick, while 16-year old Jack Wilshere scored his first goal for the club. Wenger is notorious for unearthing talent from outside of the UK: names like Song Billong, Merida, Vela and Denilson do not exactly suggest players learned in Joey Barton's football philosophy, while the steal of Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona at 16 might be the best transfer ever done. However, Wenger's side also consisted of equally adept teenagers from these isles; Wilshere, Ramsey, Gibbs, Randall and Lansbury all playing some part in the fixture.

The sheer brilliance in technique and ability, not to mention the physicality, of these young players, was testament to Wenger's own brilliance, and the legacy he is building at Arsenal. Though he's already been there 10 years, it might be that the Frenchman has only now started to put on show his plans for the club. He's been quoted as saying the current crop is the best group of players he's ever had to choose from, and it's remarkable to consider that he may have spent his time at Arsenal thus far plotting this, a wunderteam, never mind wunderkids. There is no other club in world football doing quite the same thing, and for fans everywhere as well as Gunners the possibilities are just mouthwatering.

That a team of teenagers can rip apart another fully professional club who, only one season ago, were in the same league as Arsenal, is a powerful commendation to the cause of developing a youth setup capable of schooling and producing young players that can, as a team in their mid to late teens, play football in a manner so glorious and so undeniably brilliant as to stylishly thrash opposition with ease.

The two schools of thought, then: 1) buying the top of the range finished product to give instant results, or 2) developing your own top of the range product steadily to give long-term return on investment, are completely different in terms of time and money investment, planning and thinking. But, for the moment at least, two clubs in the English Premier League have provided evidence to suggest that both remain viable methods to bring results in every football club's endless search for success.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A cappella Walcott is a Capello masterstroke

When Alan Hansen ill-advisedly uttered the infamous line "You don't win anything with kids" over a decade ago, I doubt that he, let alone the many critics and commentators who jumped on that quote, would have imagined the longevity it would still have today. In terms of relevance, that soundbyte surpasses his glittering playing achievements for most, except maybe Liverpool fans. Yet last night's 1-4 win in Zagreb, the first defeat for the Croation national side on home soil, put Hansen's blithe write-off to the sword, and more seriously, presented the possibility that in Fabio Capello, England may just have found the first coach able to meet English expectations since that Gareth Southgate penalty in 1996.

Let's not for one minute start up the England uber alles brigade - despite resonating around Europe, the defeat of Croatia counts for nothing at the moment aside from a pretty looking table. The fickle nature of England fans, who booed the team's victory away in Andorra but jubilantly cheered the team's victory away in Croatia, should be firmly ignored in judging the chances of a current England team. (Incidentally, we shouldn't even have to play pointless matches against countries like Andorra, but that's another matter entirely). It is easy to see why Capello prefers playing away from home, away the Wembley spotlight and the hysterical media circus that so dominates around England internationals. 'England Expects' all right, but 'England Accepts' is not something supporters are well versed in. From the fans' verdict, the team is either world-beaters or no-hopers, when in fact the actual, far less extreme truth is somewhere in between, edging towards the former.

Last night's victory was more than just three points: it firstly exorcised the demons of England's last competitive match prior to the current campaign, the truly despondent 2-3 defeat by the very same Croatian team at Wembley. It sent out a message to the European nations: yes, England can still mix it with the big boys - Croatia, strange though it seems, have somehow become a 'big boy'. But the performance was the biggest result: the team, and the coaching staff, got it totally right.

After a wobbly opening 20 minutes, England played with determination, courage and wit. To a man, they were forceful in their tackling and closing down, inventive with their passing and movement, and confident with the ball. The first goal naturally helped, particularly with David James once again looking shaky, but once they were ahead the English players never looked back. In the hostile surroundings of Maksimir Stadium, the internationals earned their shirts, earned back the fans' respect, and earned their manager the credit he deserved for his part.

Leaving out Michael Owen was not a good choice, and his presence on the bench may have been a more welcoming sight than Defore or Jenas, but in his first-eleven selections, Capello can congratulate himself for a flawless line-up. Heskey, so often the butt of jokes (including many of mine), was a colossal threat all night, starring in the lone striker role with his strength, aerial prowess and his glorious contribution to Walcott's second goal. Such a figurehead allowed Rooney, Joe Cole and Walcott to roam in the space between midfield and attack, a ploy which is undoubtedly Joe Cole's best position and also brings out the best in Rooney. It did last night, with Rooney banishing critics with a fantastic performance full of technique, vision and crucially, the elusive international goal. Joe Cole, too, was having an enjoyable game until he was cynically elbowed and the resulting blood-spurt injury saw him substituted. Lampard, with Barry as anchor and with less pressure on him to join in with the front four, had his best game in an England shirt for some time, and looked something like his Chelsea self.

But it was, of course, Theo Walcott who rightly stole the show and the headlines with a wonderful hat-trick that oozed with confidence and international class quality. Wenger knew all along, when snapping up the 16-year old Walcott from Southampton in 2006, that a future star was waiting to emerge from the exciting raw talent, but perhaps this potential was delayed in Walcott's early career. Sven, despite the fond memories looking back now, will never live down that ponderous World Cup selection, and it is only this season with Arsenal that Walcott has begun to show that his ability is up to scratch at the highest level. Being a Southampton fan, I'm over the moon for the boy.

As much as it's Walcott's man of the match though, those reading between the lines must applaud Fabio Capello for sticking with the 19-year old. He was hot and cold against Andorra, but Capello is clearly one to put his faith in individuals with the ability to affect matches. As one of the three attacking players behind Heskey, it was Walcott who was the most disciplined, holding a wide right position, running at players and finding space at key moments, as well as showing a deft knack for top class finishing. Walcott is a player who makes things happen, and as tempting as it must have been for Capello to go for the steady, safe bet in David Beckham, he is a coach who will trust his judgement to bring about results. And what an emphatic endorsement of his judgement the result was.

It was fitting when Walcott, wearing number 7, embraced David Beckham as the latter replaced the hat-trick hero for a cameo few minutes. It was almost as if something was passed between them, the torch from the old guard to the leading light of a new era of English football. Capello might not be the young upcoming coach that many would prefer to see in charge of this generation, but there can be no doubt now that, given time, he can be the coach to finally do justice to the nation's expectations.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Heart of blankness?

Last Monday (1 Sept.) Charlie Brooker wrote, somewhat dejectedly, of his 'crippling' internal blankness of soul - that is, a kind of indifference to life: hobbies, culture, his [enviable] job, essentially failing to take an interest in the day-to-day running of his own existence. Or rather, not so much 'failing to', but not being motivated enough to bother. While this sounds a totally depressing outlook, this was not a suicidal confession, nor a cry for attention, because as he quite rightly pointed out, that would require the presence of extreme emotion, and it is a lack of emotion, on any level or at either end of the scale, that seemed the fundamental basis of his terrible 'personal blankness'. A failure to engage with anything, and the lack of will to do something about it.

It is not, looking around, an uncommon predicament. Certainly I have felt sheer listlessness towards day-to-day life: turning up to work on time, mustering the right attitude to going out when it's cold, wet and you've not really got the money, putting the best effort into University work, that sort of thing. In the early years of the 9-5 grind, the transition from carefree party-attending socialite and part-time student to responsible, council-tax paying young adult tends to manifest itself into disillusioned yuppie living for the weekend. Even counting yourself as a yuppie - young, upcoming - requires a certain aptitude that, when faced with the hard work needed to achieve the status, often seems overly difficult. And what we are fed into our daily diet of living tends to appear disinteresting as well. Take television: the latest series of Strictly Come Brother Factor on Ice offers nothing: people perform to the cameras, audience pays money to vote, people pretend to care, someone wins, brief elation, no one cares. It passes the time, I guess.

Music, my deepest love, isn't quite the same, but it requires the strength to locate and enjoy good music to counter the ease of being fed the same commercial, MOR fodder through TV, radio, internet that somehow pleases people enough to pass the time for them. I'm one of the few people I know who will shell out £8-£12 on an artist's album rather than download it, even in full. I've bought 17 CD albums that have been released this year, and two further albums that haven't.

I digress, though; which is something that Brooker himself was wont to do during his downbeat ramblings. Apart from his trademark laconic self-deprecation, he pondered serial killing, mused at length on the 'glass of water' conundrum - half full, half empty? - and practically reviewed a (to me) totally unknown film for the opening third of the article in order to get underway. For a relatively short piece, which surely cannot be too taxing given his licence to meander so freely, and might point to why he feels no sense of achievement in his professional career, it certainly didn't pack much of a punch. Maybe he couldn't be bothered to try.

It amounted to a collection of thinly tied together jabs at himself, a biting cynicism at his own life. Having taken passing interest in Charlie Brooker's media bits and pieces from time to time, it seems that this makes up a large amount of his output: inward-looking criticism with a touch of humour that the reader can relate to. But that's easy, anyone can do that, and many people can do it a lot more succinctly, and with more wit. The article, in the end, read like the bored musings of a faux-depressive, lacking in direction. Of course, this was exactly the type of person Brooker claimed he was - it's just that since most people probably feel like that at more than one stage in their lives, and since it was written with about as much emotion and illumination as the black and white text it appeared in, Brooker's non-cry-for-help proved a pretty dull read.

It's obvious to me that Brooker's direction-less article was a little-needed insight into a no-doubt common anxiety many people will come across, since I seem to have been affected by the same condition - I read the article last Monday, but despite wanting to write a riposte, it's taken me more than a week to actually get round to doing it. I just couldn't be bothered.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Magpie Madness; Media mayhem

'What on earth is going on at St. James's Park?'

The closing line of a Sky Sports News presenter as they went to a break just before 7:30pm tonight. It's the question anyone with half an eye on football will be asking as well. Forget Manchester City hijacking Chelsea's bid and subsequent pinching (for the meagre price of £32m) of Brazilian 'galactico' forward Robinho from Real Madrid less than 24 hours ago. Ignore Manchester United's bully boy acquisition of Dimitar Berbatov for a fee of similar weight.

It emerged, around 2pm today, that something very strange was developing on in the North East. After Saturday's result - a humbling 3-0 defeat at Arsenal, in which convicted criminal Joey Barton was roundly supported by Kevin Keegan against condemnation by pretty much everyone in football (for being a prick, mainly) - and confusion over who has actually been signing and selling players for Newcastle, 'King' Kevin Keegan and Mike Ashley have been in discussions most of today and yesterday. About what these discussion were was not clear, hence the BBC report earlier today touting that the pair were in talks over transfer policy. However, as interest grew and speculation mounted, BBC's point of view - and Sky Sports News's, according to forums online today - moved to suggest that Keegan's future as Newcastle manager was in doubt. It seemed suddenly that issues arising from the past two days' meetings were more than problematic; enough for a manager to walk out less than a year into a job at a club he loves and at which he is beloved and held in the highest of esteem by fans.

Suddenly, the media frenzy peaked, and 'sources confirming' stories saw BBC, Sky and numerous other news outlets reporting, as fact, that Kevin Keegan had left Newcastle. Eyebrows, if they had been raised, positively receded beyond hairlines. What could possibly force Keegan into such a position that he had no choice but to leave? Could Mike Ashley - laddish chairman of Newcastle pictured downing a pint during Newcastle's defeat at the Emirates - really be stupid and strong-minded enough to force his will onto a man whose dismissal would turn Geordie fans against him to a man?

Indeed, the long-suffering Geordies - who have put up with nine managers in just over a decade, and declare themselves a top four club every time they're asked, despite not having finished anywhere near for at least three seasons - gathered immediately outside the ground to protest at this news. Ashley, if he was aware of this, would surely have realised through the haze that it wouldn't only be Keegan gone if the fans turned against him. The football world scratched their heads in bemusement: why had Kevin Keegan been sacked?

Yet the obituaries had barely been inked - although BBC ran (and still are running) 'Keegan's coaching career in photos' - and the fans' pitchforks raised in anger than Newcastle finally produced a statement: Keegan had not, in actual fact, been sacked. That was around two hours ago; little has changed, except BBC rewriting its story to say Keegan's future was unclear.

And it still is; KK might not have been sacked, but that does that mean he hasn't walked? Who is making decisions at Newcastle? Why was Milner sold? Who sanctioned the signings of Ignacio Gonzalez and Xisco? Has Dennis Wise's position got anything to do with it? Questions that need answering for Kevin Keegan, never mind the fans and media.

But what concerns [me] most at this point in time, though, is the media's handling of it. Keegan was purported to have told those around him he was leaving, or had been sacked. That is information, from unofficial sources. It is not a press conference or statement. Phrases like 'sources close to' and 'we understand' are not enough to base factual journalism on.

However, it is the nature of today's media, where news is instant and global, reaction is real-time, and fans are angry mobs, that neccesitates this need for knowledge - although not neccessarily facts, which seem of secondary importance. Audiences don't just consume, they participate in the news, indeed constitute a substantial amount of detail in internet reporting with citizen journalism, blogging, eye-witness texts and videos. They expect in return a news supply which conforms to a similar time-frame. But facts aren't quite like that: just look at the Foster story where, it has now transpired a week after taking place, father and husband Christopher Foster murdered his family, before setting fire to his million-pound mansion and committing suicide.

It's true that the sporting arena is one of extraordinary passion, under a constant spotlight, with football dominating all year round. It requires an equal in its reporting. But it seems that following yesterday evening's incredible events, a one-off day of madness in football news, in a race to confirm and 'break' a sensational story today in that same sport, the truth may have got left behind.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Back online!

Months, MONTHS have passed since I was able to even view this page, let alone use it. BT's dismal customer service cut us off from mid-February til the very end of July, although of course they're lightning quick setting us up again as new customers. Not so happy that they're simply the foundation on which we use Sky for everything, but twats can't be choosers as the saying goes.

So it's another year in Bournemouth, the second in a row post-Uni and into a new job, new flat to mark the occasion. The job: Marketing Assistant at Emap Glenigan, the first rung of the ladder, step in the right direction and so on. The flat: four lads, Sky TV, a beer fridge, a back garden with a goal already lined up against the flowers, first name terms with the curry house round the corner. It's the centre of everything that's happening in Winton. Big deals, yeah?

Olympic fever will grip the country for three weeks from tomorrow, Britain's drugged-up athletes (heroes) expected to win around 40 medals. Typically last-minute British fuss, though a strange lack of mass promotion as global companies try not to appear supportive of China owing to the regime's human rights and Tibet issues. At least we can all get behind Andy Murray as one of our own, and ignore the fact he is actually Scottish. Elsewhere, since there's no football (yet! We'll be there in 2012) there's a few other high points, notably proper British idols such as 'attractive woman in epic contest' (Kelly Sotherton), 'talented youngster and underdog' a la Britain's Got Talent (Tom Daley) , 'heroic, nearly-woman' (Paula Radcliffe) and Christine 'innocent after all' Ohoruogu, who, should she win a medal, will bravely fight back tears as the justice becomes all too much.

It's the fleeting frenzy of it all that disappoints, the bandwagon jumping on names who enter into the daily language simply through hype. These people devote their normal working days and weekends into getting good at something, just for the odd event that peaks in the public eye, then disappears again. They're supported not for the hard work, sheer determination and natural talent that goes into their competing, but for being British. But it is their Britishness that is craved: I doubt many people watching the Olympics actually feel proud to be British when they do so; for one thing, it's just sports. It's (usually) thousands of miles away and there's no personal involvement. And many of the events are rubbish to watch: a lot of waiting, something happens, there's perhaps an exciting flourish, the end. It's not (of course) like football or tennis, which no doubt will be the most attractive Olympic medal contests.
I also tend to feel physically inferior, jealous of someone else's obvious talent and muscle, and generally less of a man. So anyone analysing this rambling is immediately diagnosing 'inferiority complex' and putting it all down to me being jealous of muscly men (and women). But it's more an irritation with the over-the-top interest, the hysterical highs and gut-wrenching lows that 'everyone feels' when really, apart from the athlete's, and their coaches and families, come September no one will really be bothered again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Explosion chaos in Bournemouth town centre

The pensioner and student-attracting seaside resort Bournemouth was rocked by an enormous explosion at around 15:45pm this afternoon, inflaming fears of a terror attack on the iconic Bournemouth Tourist Office on Westover Road. Eyewitnesses in the Portman House building report a total loss of power for at least 1.8 seconds, before all eyes were drawn irresistibly across the 6th floor and out to sea - where, in between the eyes and the sea, a charcoal black plume of smoke had risen quite suddenly around 100 feet into the air, towering above the rest of the town centre skyline.

The cloud of black smoke dissolved as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by wispy white funnel that was soon barely discernible in the fading grey afternoon light. Further attacks - sorry, burnt out fuse boxes - were not reported, though the town and indeed the entire nation will sleep uneasily tonight while fierce rumours abound that Al-Queda, Muslims, Iran, the US and the Irish are behind this reign of fear.

The centre of Bournemouth was brought to a standstill as the thick smoke engulfed the surrounding area and turned a Wednesday afternoon into night, lit up only by the raging force of an 11,000 volt fireball that terrorised helpess shoppers and countless pigeons for over 4 hours.

What really happened is this: an 11,000 volt electricity sub-station did actually explode, in one burst of flame and puff of smoke, and a tree caught fire to render itself the only casualty of the drama. In typically hackneyed fashion, the Daily Echo website commented unhelpfully on the 'knockout' blow which has left parts of Bournemouth, including surrounding shops and the stream running through the nearby gardens, without power. Rumour has it the tree was unwisely lighting up a cigarette while leaning over the electricity station, though official sources have refused to confirm whether this was an attempt at suicide.

The point here, of course, is not the irony of my blog but the disappointing conclusion and reality to what seemed from where we were, for a few minutes at least, a genuinely frightening proposition: the lights going out, black smoke appearing just across town, concern on people's faces. Maybe I've been watching too many trailers for Cloverfield. But as the entire power running to a building housing some 1,000 people failed utterly, and in the immediate confusion what looked like the aftermath of a bomb appeared starkly out of the window, there was a slight air of unease and mystery that was founded on unknowing, guesses and confusion. A desire for excitement, the thrill of potential horror, the possibilities far more interesting than the probable explanation would be.

So, investigative journo that I am, I walked down to the gardens in search of the facts, to be greeted by one policeman, some Do Not Cross tape flapping lamely in the wind and two men in fluorescent jackets with 'Electricity' on them looking down a hole. Wet leaves and fast-disappearing foam dampened the pavement. A few shoppers were still milling around - in fact the only thing that seemed to be closed was the Tourist Office itself. "Show's over" was never more appropriate. And, if you've read this all the way through, you're probably wondering if it even began. But if I'd stated that at the blog's opening, it wouldn't have made such a good story. And maybe that's the point.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Music for 2008

My internet's just about to be cut off, as we've "forgotten" to pay the bill, so I thought I'd get some blogging in before it dies for 4 days or so. I posted about New Year's Resolutions last year, and I've decided to try and be more active in my blogging as a resolution for this year, so I won't bother with the boring details of my new aims of keeping fit and healthy.

Instead, I thought I'd whack out some details on music for this year. First I'll get a few recommendations out of the way: Foals, We Are The Physics, Los Campesinos!, Operator Please, Bombay Bicycle Club, Duffy, Black Kids, Crystal Castles. All of these are making great, exciting new music and are for the large part stupidly young. Which is a good thing. Forget Coldplay, Hard-Fi, The Twang, Kasabian, Snow Patrol, Razorlight, MOR stuff like that, and search out some of these for a refreshing taste of new music.

2008 is likely to see yet more innovations and irrevocable changes to the music industry than last year. We saw the incorporation of downloads into official charts and sales figures, saw how the opportunity seemed to glisten for every struggling unsigned band going, saw how this new avenue could be exploited through careful campaigns - Chris Moyles made Billie Piper's Honey to the B get to number 17 in January '07 even though it had originally been released in 1998, while Koopa became the first unsigned band to have a top 40 hit through their relentless download campaign - and then saw how smoothly record companies and online music stores were able to capture the market with considerable and unquestioned ease. In light of how, just 3 or 4 years ago, the big record labels were bemoaning the rise of music downloading and file sharing, the shoe certainly seems to be on the other foot now.

But music, in my opinion, is getting ever more fragmented. When MySpace first emerged, bands that had 25,000 friends were heroes, the power of the underground, the shining examples of good, unsigned new music. But already, MySpace has lost its voice: there are probably a hundred thousand bands on MySpace now - and a lot of these will have 25,000 fans. Yet they'll still be unsigned, and unnoticed. Conversely, multi-million selling acts with big record label backing will have quickly cottoned on to the online phenomenon, and will gain double as many fans as the best unsigned band around in no time, through their backing and support from label channels. The smaller bands have had what should rightfully be 'their' medium descend into a free-for-all, with scope for capitalist-like gains and losses.

The competition for real-time music listening for free on sites like MySpace, as opposed to the non-real-time transaction of actually paying for a CD/download, and listening to it once it's purchased, is also too large. The internet has become congested with a thousand great new bands vying for the same fans, the ones that want that new music buzz, the excitement of finding a new fresh band that no one else really knows. But in the ever-quickening pace of modern technological life, staying loyal, or at least staying in one place, is too lazy and worryingly easy to appear out of touch. Bands are constantly having to produce, to innovate, without the financial resources to do so successfully and competitively, to appeal to the internet consumer, without any tangible reward. It's all very well the Guardian Art pages recommending 10 unsigned acts for 2008 - people aren't going to wait patiently for them to take their time to produce a quality debut LP. They want results straight away, and if not offered, there are 100 unsigned bands good enough, and just waiting, to be recommended elsewhere.

The other area in which the signed and established artists hold a major advantage is in the purchasing of mp3s. Admittedly an unsigned act might have a great track record so far, but why take a risk buying their latest EP when it might be a let down? Why not listen to it for free on their MySpace? Meanwhile, you know what you're likely to get with an established band, so forking out just £0.79p for their new song is bound to be great value. This leads to a situation whereby, for example, Iron and Wine's latest album is available to listen to in full, for free, on his MySpace page, while Red Hot Chili Peppers can suffice with 4 one-minute long song excerpts on theirs. The lengths that up and coming artists have to go to to make strides on the internet is now almost as tough as getting signed through someone liking your demo. The internet might well be the world's most democratic medium, but democracy still needs its leaders and rulers.

So it seems to me that music careers are short-term in the modern world. Who released a debut album last year that you could genuinely tout to being the next Radiohead, REM or even Oasis? By that, I mean a band who will have a decade or more of success, a success that contains several acclaimed albums in a number of years greater than the number of albums, and who will even be given the time to earn the chance to do so? The only example that springs to my mind for a modern band achieving this is Coldplay. Seriously. You might not like them, but the fact is they've had 3 huge albums, and a 4th is guaranteed to be in the pipeline and will only be released when they're happy with it. With new bands, record labels are so caught up in snaffling each Next Big Thing that the Current Big Thing is left in the cold to fend for itself in coming up with the notorious difficult second album. Success is fleeting, and nowadays, seems more subjective than ever. Are The Ting Tings going to be successful because they're being widely regarded now as one of the bright stars for 2008? If they get dropped from their label after one album and are unsigned by the summer of 2009, will they think of themselves as a success? I highly doubt it.

If anything, the rise of the online music industry has segmented the audience further and may in fact lead to a recession in opportunity for new bands like Los Campesinos!. Art is held by all its lovers in their hearts for personal aesthetic reasons and reaches real emotion for those who let it. And a personal sense of this can be gained online: there is something inherently romantic and self-rewarding in being part of a clandestine fan base of a certain band, an appeal which is all too easily propagated through websites and online communities, feeling that connection through the egalitarianism of the internet that our personal interaction and support makes a difference. (It doesn't, much). But this creates a group mentality, a need to compare and contrast with other artists of similar stature, a reason to find faults with other people who are on the same level as your favourite band. Online consuming of music has become a matter of taste insofar as who you like, and when you like it, is more important than what you like, and why. As I've said, it is hard to stay loyal when so much more is going on, and trend followers jumping from one thing to the next leave less behind to remember the bands who once 'were', and divide an audience who should be embracing all of this exciting equal opportunity phenomenon into micro groups of support that hold no power to speak of to offer the bands they love.

I've not even touched on the qualities in possessing a CD as opposed to iTunes telling you you now own the YouthMovie Soundtrack Strategies album, but it's 9 minutes past 2am and I have to be up in 5 hours for work. I'll leave that for another time.