Back with Betty

Posted 17 Mar 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Quite pleased to discover that I still think Betty Blue is a pretty great film. I watched it a lot as a teenager, partly because I fancied Beatrice Dalle and partly because I was in a phase of renting art-house films from the library (‘cos I fancied the actresses in them…) and Betty Blue was my favourite. Since then I’ve read a lot of quite scathing reviews of it, writing it off as either pseudo-intellectual soft porn or directionless melodrama. But decided today to give it another try and thought it a lot better than I’ve seen it described. It’s nowhere near as erotic as the easily-pleased teenage me found it – Betty’s actually a lot cuter and sexier when she’s dressed than when she’s not, thank to the cheerful petulance and charm which Beatrice Dalle brings to the role, and Zorg is a lot more appealing than I remember him – muscular, easygoing and devoted.


There are plenty of flaws; both Betty and Zorg are rather idealised, and the final third of the film descends dramatically (the drag scenes? hmmm). But the first 90 minutes are extremely winning – the months they spend drinking and dancing in the Paris hotel with Eddy and Lisa are exactly what I hoped for from my 20s, the pacing is delightful, and there’s a lot to be said for the way Zorg and Betty get (it) on. I liked the way that for all that Zorg is devoted to his unravelling girlfriend, he’s not paternal, macho or aggressive in the way he seeks to protect her – which is what the drag stuff is about, I guess. It’s full of mis-steps and a few shonky attempts at humour, but overall I really enjoyed re-visiting it. It looks, needless to say, absolutely beautiful, too.

The Bevy; a co-op run for Bevendean, Brighton

Posted 03 Feb 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Beer, General, Share

Brighton is pretty spoiled for places to get a drink; we have a jolly impressive 278 pubs for 250,000 residents, but of course that doesn’t mean that every community is equally well represented. The area of Moulsecoomb (which includes the huge Bevendean and Bates Estates) contains over 18,000 residents, and is thought to be one of the most populated areas in the county without a local. Since police closed down the troublesome Bevendean pub in 2010, residents have nowhere to drink and (more importantly) nowhere to hang out and talk.

So what’s the answer? The answer is The Bevy.

The Bevendean Pub, founded by residents of Moulsecomb and Bevendean, will be the first co-op run pub on a city estate in the UK. The pub is happening because of collaboration and social capital, with locals and supporters of the project buying shares in the pub and gaining a say in its future in the process. The aim is to “create a place to eat, meet, drink, study and relax in the heart of [the] community!”, incorporating a pub, a cafe, a community kitchen and garden, as well as meeting rooms and play areas. They’ll grow their own salad, make good coffee and even collaborate with the excellent Brighton Bier Company to provide their own local ale. What a bloody brilliant idea it is.

In order to make this happen, the pub needs a lot of backing – so they’re offering shares at a minimum price of £10. I spent ten minutes chatting to the organisers at Seedy Sunday in Brighton today and invested a small amount in the project through their website when I got home. If you live in Brighton, care about pubs (18 close a week in the UK, you know) or want to encourage local, community solutions to societal problems, please consider getting involved. Buying a share through paypal took me less than 2 minutes – and made me feel good all evening.

Here are the links you need:
The Bevy on Twitter
The Bevy’s own website
Their prospectus [17mb]
The Bevy on Friendface


Currently listening, Jan 2013

Posted 27 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

1. Matthew E White – Big Inner LP
The Guardian haven’t stopped praising Matthew E White since his debut record came out, and tempting though it is to be dismissive of such hype, it’s a really brilliant LP – a soulful and immaculate record with incredible arrangements and a near uncategorisable spectrum of influnces, from country, jazz, folk, gospel and soul to glimpses (if I’m right) of acid house. A genuine marvel.

2. Sexy Fi – Nunca Te Vi De Boa
I shan’t try too hard to categorise Sexy Fi either; weird, tropical, funky, jangly, noisy pop music from Brazil. No idea who they are but really like this record! Here it is on Spotify.

3. Traams – Peggy
Easily the best new band I saw last year, their live sets are dominated by long, heavy, teutonic jams – like Big Black channeling Neu. This song proves they can do short songs with brilliant ‘ooh-ooh’ choruses, too.

4. Yo La Tengo – Fade LP
I’ve never listened to any Yo La Tengo records. I’ve no idea why or how I’ve managed this. This is their new one. It suggests I’ve rather missed out – beautifully realised, fuzzy indie rock.

5/6. Kimbra – Vows LP / Dawn Richard – Goldenheart LP
Two records I discovered, again, through positive Guardian album reviews. Kimbra specialises in joyful electronic pop and Dawn Richard in stylish but unshowy r’n'b. Both are great.

7. Masta Killah – All Natural
Like most Wu-afilliated records these days, Masta Killah’s latest is a mixed bag, but it boasts a couple of decent songs – the best by far is this, which finds the rapper deconstructing his vegetarianism. Brilliant.

8. Gerry Read – Jummy LP
I’m always looking for house music which endures across a full LP, and Gerry Read’s subtle, shifting, four-to-the-floor house music is the closest I’ve found to what I like in a long time.

9. Viv Albertine – The Vermilion Border LP
If I’d have listened to this a lot more in 2012 it would have featured quite highly in my records of the year list; it’s fucking brilliant – a smart, sassy, sexy LP from the former Slits guitarist. This should percolate far and wide, if there’s any justice.

10. Keel Her – You Would Be So Grossed Out If I Did That
Still not many official releases from the unbelievably prolific, and now Brighton-based, Keel Her (she releases new tracks online all the time); but her recent single ‘Riot Grrrl’ is her best release yet. A proper recording of this slightly wonky acoustic song is the (terrific) b-side.

11. Stealing Sheep – Into the Diamond Sun LP
I saw Stealing Sheep live loads in 2010 and 2011, and once last year, and while they were terrific every time, their sets seemed pretty similar, meaning that by the time their debut LP came out last year, I thought I had figured them out, and didn’t get round to buy a copy. Consequently, I didn’t spot how bloody great it is – much more joyful, tuneful and poppy than I remember them being live, and a really great summer record. Really glad I finally figured that out.

An Error of Judgement, a short film

Posted 20 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Video

Last summer, when Dan came down from Reading for the weekend, the two of us set about doing some video work, as we often do when he visits. However, that day it was wet outside and we were short on inspiration, so we sat around for a bit trying to come up with a project.

Eventually, we came up with the following film. The title is taken from a (very good) Pamela Hansford Johnson novel, but the rest is really just a result of a bit of brainstorming and improvising. We needed to shoot the whole thing indoors, with only the two of us as actors, and we didn’t want to get caught up in dialogue as neither of us can act. Also, we didn’t want to spend ages doing lighting and sound and stuff like that, so the whole thing is pretty much shot run and gun, with just a little bit of extra lighting to help us in the hallway shots. Consequently the whole thing looks very scruffy, with plenty of bumps and whirrs caught on the camera’s in-built microphones, and a few nasty variations in light – but given that it took us about 2 hours to film, and then about the same time again for me to edit it together (this week, after the files had sat on my hard drive for six months) I think it looks pretty good.

I’m very interested in the idea of exploring what goes wrong after one person does something foolish; I’ve another idea for a film which I want to make this spring which concentrates on something similar. It’s easy, after all, to act without thinking.

Although not so easy to act.

An Error of Judgement from Jonathan Shipley on Vimeo.

Li Lanqing, British Museum

Posted 19 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Art, Reviews, Share

I called in at the box of delights which is the British Museum on my way to meet some friends in London last week. I like picking a theme when I go, as it’s otherwise impossible to choose where to go, and you end up stumbling from room to room in a kind of nostalgic daze, feeling progressively smaller and smaller as the treasures increase in scale. This time I decided to head to the Americas before anything else, and meandered through the Aztecs, the Arctic and the North American collections.

Before long I found myself predictably off-piste and gazing at a small temporary exhibition in the Far East rooms, 5 or 6 small cabinets containing a collection of of contemporary Chinese seals by Li Lanqing.


Li is an engigmatic figure in modern Chinese politics; he served as Vice Premier of the State Council of China from 1993 to 2003 and played a crucial role in both the opening up of the State economically and the development of national education. Since his retirement from politics he’s turned his energy to the promotion of his two passions – classical music and seal-carving. The latter, one of the four traditional chinese art-forms (along with calligraphy, painting and poetry) is a truly ancient art, and Li’s interest illustrates the dichotomy present in his personal politics; he is a deeply modern man who is simultaneously respectful of tradition. Consequently his seals, which look at first to be deeply conventional, display a great deal of depth – often international in outlook, often witty and wise, always imbued with his passion for life, and very much of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

His passions shine through; there are stunningly beautifully wrought expressions and aphorisms (the tiny, contained ‘Eat like an ant’ and the wide, spare ‘My heart calm as the water’), and tributes to great figures like Dickens, Goethe and Cervantes. His ‘Opera Disc’ seal, with its use of the English language subverts the geographic specificity of his usual work.

One seal, Baiting Roast Duck Restaurant (Bad Officials are Examined by an Illiterate Person), provides a great example of Li’s playfulness. Featuring some strokes carved to print in red and some in white, the seal mimics a malfunctioning neon sign with half it’s lights out. Moreover, each colour’s message reads differently; the white a traditional advertisement for a famous Beijing restaurant, the white a critique of hapless officials.

It’s a lovely small exhibition, and a little, light-filled window into a big, powerful, slow-changing, subtle China.

On meths

Posted 15 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Daft

Daft link time. Amazon sell, amongst their usual wares, bottles of Barrettine Methylated Spirits. There are some rather wonderful reviews up:

From the moment you remove the cap you realise you’re in for a treat. Fresh, bright, smoky, with a mineral edge and rounded, fruity nose. Midweight and bold, possessing some edge and no little bite, yet remaining smooth, balanced and satisfying. This is a drink to enjoy with friends in a park. Highly recommended.

Ever since the HSE removed B&Q essentials paint thinners from the market, there’s been something missing in the world of the al fresco drinker – now Barretine have answered our prayers. The nose is similar to a fine Algerian vodka; on the palette fragrant hydrocarbon appear first, followed by a searing alcoholic kick; the finish is brief and flammable. Half way through the first bottle, I was merrily releving my salad days on the road, by the end of the third I was screaming incoherently at the traffic in a soiled tracksuit. Top stuff.

There’s lots more. Enjoy.

Dream geography

Posted 14 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Observations

I’ve been warned before that there’s nothing very interesting in talking about one’s dreams. People who analyse them are deluded and people who describe them are dullards. That’s probably true – but one’s own dreams always seem interesting to oneself, particularly if you wake like I did this morning, thinking, “bloody hell, that was vivid”.

A couple of fragments that I remember, to amuse myself.

I was walking through an altered Brighton – I assume I’m not unusual and that everyone distorts geographical reality when they dream. The Brighton of my dreams is pretty close to the one I inhabit when awake, except that some roads are louder, quieter, nearer, further away, blended or bent out of shape. My home is often different, although weirdly it’s rarely an amalgam of real places I’ve lived and rather somewhere quite distinct, a figment of my imagination. But when I dream it up – or at least, on the occasions when I remember it – I find I’ve done a good job of designing something really complete. I could knock on the walls.

I was walking through an altered Brighton – and it was a bit hotter and swingier; something of Lisbon transplanted to St James Street. People drank on doorsteps or cross legged on the pavement, people drifted diagonally from bar to bar. I walked to a camera shop (Jessops, I suppose, which has just closed down in real life, although there isn’t one in Kemp Town), and got invited to a party while I stared in the window. I crossed the road, and watched two men run at each other outside the Thai restaurant. One man was bent low, like a bull. The other man pulled a gun from his pocket and shot him. Then he pointed the gun at me, and I grabbed at a bit of loose wooden boarding which was nearby – quite calmly – and held it like a shield. He shot me through the board. I was carried away.

I woke up in a garden just around the corner, here in Seven Dials. It was New Year’s Eve and I had decided to sleep outdoors. It was a warm and balmy night. When I think about it, it often is in my dreams. I tossed and turned – in my dream – unable to sleep. So eventually I got up and walked through another part of Brighton (which is down by the seafront) back to my flat in Kemp Town. I slept there. After a while I rose and went back out onto St James Street and to an L-shaped bar which has never existed, but of which I dream, oddly, often. Downstairs they do cocktails and there is a small, tropical garden where you can stand. I think I dream about this bar twice a year.

I know what my dreams mean – they mean nothing. But I am intrigued by the geography of them. I often wake wishing for a map.

Max Richter recomposing Vivaldi

Posted 12 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Music

A quick music recommendation for you.

It’s a symptom of getting older that you begin becoming more and more interested in the ‘adult’ musical genres that appalled you in your youth, I think. I got my head around world music first, then classical, and then eventually jazz, and now genuinely love aspects of all three, although they’re far too huge in terms of depth for me to boast any expert knowledge.

Of the three, I know the least about classical music – or rather pre-20th century classical music. I used to work on the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians with some clever and very likeable musos, who convinced me of the merits of Glass, Part, Terry Riley, Messiaen etc, but I have utterly failed to dig deeper into the vast canon of classics represented by the likes of Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart, none of whom were played in the house when I grew up or anything like that. I’m aware that I should know their work more, respect it more, understand it better.

If you feel the same – inspired by the minimal textures of modern and contemporary classical music but intimidated by the old masters, you might want to check out this LP – a re-composing of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ by the German-born English musician Max Richter. It’s really incredible – a classical piece which takes Vivaldi as its starting point but strips back the orchestration and the familiar tropes to create something a bit more contemporary sounding. In a couple of places I’ve seen it compared rather sniffily to a film-score, or encountered dull curmudgeons who imagine something sacrilegious about Richter adopting this playful approach to Vivaldi’s score. But that’s probably to be expected.

Anyway, I absolutely love it. There are bits of ‘The Four Seasons’ that even I can recognise, and other bits which I couldn’t tell you who wrote them, Vivaldi or Richter. The latter has claimed that around 75% of the work is his – but the debt is huge. Either way, it’s a synthesis that works beautifully and a really lovely record.

Give it a listen?

Ali Smith’s ‘Artful’ and some paperwhites

Posted 10 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Photos

Just finished reading Ali Smith’s lovely, confusing, inspiring ‘Artful’, which I’m clearly going to have to re-read if I want to boast to people that I really ‘got it’; it’s a dense, fast-moving combination of intriguing fiction and literary criticism, and I read it as the former, not worrying too much about wringing every ounce of meaning from the many poems and quotations which pepper the text. I did pick out a few lovely things though;

“When human beings love they try to get something. They also try to give something, and this double aim makes love more complicated than food or sleep. It is selfish and altruistic at the same time, and no amount of specialization in one direction quite atrophies the other”.
EM Forster

There’s lots of Katherine Mansfield in the book, and lots of trees. I never enjoyed reading DH Lawrence, but I like Mansfield’s description of his ‘Aaron’s Rod’ as a tree, “firmly planted, deep thrusting, outspread, growing grandly, alive in every twig”.

And there was more nature in the following, which made me think of the ‘We are the clay that grew tall’ line in Melissa Harrison’s terrific book ‘Clay’, which I talked about the other day.

“Decay is the beginning of all birth … it transforms shape and essence, the forces and virtues of nature. Just as the decay of all foods in the stomach transforms them and makes them into a pulp, so it happens outside the stomach … Decay is the midwife of very great things!”

and here’s Ali Smith herself, talking about something I’ve already mentioned:

“We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We’d never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe that we’ve read a book after reading it just once. Books and music share more in terms of resonance than just a present tense correlation of heard note to read word. Books need time to dawn on us, it takes time to understand what makes them, structurally, in thematic resonance, in afterthought, and always in correspondence with the books which came before them, because books are produced by books more than by writers; they’re a result of all the books that went before them.”

That one’s pertinent.


I took this photograph of a bunch of paperwhites secured with twine.

‘Where are we now?’; The return of David Bowie

Posted 08 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music, Reviews

I’m a massive Bowie fan, so, transparently, today has been a ridiculously good day for me.

If you missed it – ten years after his last record and seven years after he last performed in public – this morning, entirely without fanfare or forewarning, David Bowie released a brand new song and announced a forthcoming LP. This is, in the world of pop, massive news, and judging by the fact that I heard about it on the Today programme on Radio 4, it’s presumably big news elsewhere too. The Guardian practically devoted their entire Arts team to covering it today (yielding good pieces from Michael Hann and Alexis Petridis), and my twitter feed was a pretty relentless stream of enthusiasm.

I’ve been in a good mood all day.

And amidst all the excitement, there’s a song, and you should listen to it.

It’s far too early for me to pass any real critical judgement, to declare it better than his 90s work or worse than the stuff on ‘Heathen’, and I’m too biased to be truly objective regardless – but the song matters to me because I find it thrilling to think that Bowie still digs making music (I thought he’d retired) and the song itself, regardless of its place in his canon, makes me happy – by chance it recalls much of Bowie’s music that I like best; the sombre, elegiac Bowie of the late ’70s, whose years in Berlin still seem to speak to him more powerfully than any others. To hear him singing in his own distinct, somewhat tremulous voice is, for all that it is aged, a great privilege.

He’s written so many wonderful wonderful songs, but there’s a category that I hold particularly close to my heart, and that’s the smallish number of songs where it sounds like Bowie is singing from deep within his true self – not channeling Anthony Newley, or Lou, or Iggy, or Dylan, or even James Brown (I love it when he channels James Brown). The best example is, I think, ‘Wild Is The Wind‘, which Bowie himself has described as his finest vocal performance. There are shades of that song here – or shades of the truthfulness it evinces. And something very vulnerable too.

What a joy it is to hear, and to have him back.

If you like it too – or, failing that, like David generally – then we can be friends.

Review, Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012).

Posted 07 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

When I was a kid I chanced upon 2000AD and, for a short period, I bought it every week. If you’ve not read 2000AD, you might think it’s a nerdy, ultraviolent science fiction comic (and you’d be right) and as such it’s regularly dismissed as an adolescent concern; as a teenager keenly aware of wanting to be cool, I swiftly stopped buying it when I learned this, and began looking for more serious literature to fill the gap (and do a better job of impressing others/girls).

I’ve never been a huge comic reader, but 2000AD was my gateway drug to a world of fine, artistically challenging, serious “graphic novels”, which I read throughout my 20s, in an attempt to marry my affection for comic books with my pretentiously high-brow attitude towards literature. Consequently, a shelf in my flat groans with expensive, sincere comic books, few of which I ever actually finished.

Later, it occurred to me that the comic I wanted to read wasn’t a hip independent quarterly at all – it was 2000AD, and when I went back to it I immediately recalled that actually, despite it being nerdy and ultraviolent, it was always bloody smart and often highly political and satirical. More importantly, it was great fun, and for all the dazzlingly inventive stuff that would feature in it, by far the best was generally the staple, Judge Dredd, which was and is a work of complete genius. Having spent pretending otherwise, It’s probably fashionable to say this, now, which makes this mea culpa somewhat redundant, but there it is.

Anyway, I watched the recent adaptation of this fine comic strip, the Brit-made ‘Dredd’, starring Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby this weekend, and I thought it was completely marvellous. Possibly not quite as darkly comic as the strip, nor quite as gruesomely inventive (hard on a very low budget), but it was an absolutely fantastic, lean, aggressive, compulsive bit of action cinema, propelled by all the things that make the comic strip great – a complete lack of misogyny, a vivid and colourful concept and best of all, a central character who is complete in every sense.

Dredd isn’t, if you trace him through the comic, a lot of things he’s described as being (a fascist, an unlearning automaton), but he is consistent, coherent and always convincing, as cleanly defined an action hero as you could wish for. He’s also devilishly hard to play, so I was completely certain that neither Karl Urban nor any actor could convincingly portray Dredd on screen, but after fifteen minutes I was absolutely sold on his performance.

Similarly, my heart sank when I saw that a young and very beautiful actress had been picked to play Anderson, fearing that meant a descent into predictable roles, but her performance (and more important, her characterisation) is almost note perfect. Never once is she shown to be weaker than any male character nor is her meeting with the (also female) villain contextualised in light of their sex. She’s just a brilliant, character, as is Dredd.

And this is a brilliant film. Not flawless, obviously, and some way from being a masterpiece of cinema – but it is a masterpiece of bringing Dredd to life, which is all we could have asked for. There’s some really exciting slo-mo filming in there, too, enough to suggest that given a bigger budget a sequel could go some way to visualising the extraordinary colour and madness of the comic.

In the meantime, your Saturday night needs Dredd.

Most listened, 2012

Posted 06 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Another year, another list of the songs I listened to most this year (here’s the one I posted a year ago). As always, it’s very unrepresentative as it doesn’t track vinyl listens, or times when I have scrobble turned off. But it’s still a nice little list. Slightly disappointed that Taylor Swift didn’t make it to the number one slot.

Review; Clay by Melissa Harrison

Posted 04 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews, Share

Just finished reading Melissa Harrison’s lovely first novel, ‘Clay’, and wanted to pen a few thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind. ‘Clay’ is a terrifically beautiful book, a quiet, sensitive portrayal of the lives of a small cast of slightly lonely, slightly constrained protagonists, and their development over the course of a half year in a South London which is by turns familiar and gloriously unfamiliar.

Familiar because Harrison has a good grasp of the plain-sight city – “nail bars, chicken parlours, newsagents, mobile phone unlocking, cheap calls to Africa”, and exotic because she populates the city with a bewildering cast of living things which our eyes are either untrained to see or disposed to miss; dog foxes, bats, sticky goosegrass and evergreen choisya, butterflies, greenflies and stag beetles, swifts, starlings, and plane trees shedding flakes of polluted bark. Harrison’s prose is poetic but hyper-observant, always sensing new movement in the nearby undergrowth, or a pair of eyes watching high in a tree.

All five of the novel’s main characters see more of this hidden city than I (regrettably) do, and are to a smaller or greater extent drawn towards the area’s liminal places – the parts of London in which pockets of extraordinary life are concealed, yet continue to thrive – and in particular to a small park near Tooting Common, which becomes the space in which they meet and interact. At the centre is TC, whose story of neglect is painfully sad but whose resourcefulness and passion for nature is a rebuke to his coddled, careless peers. Around him Harrison conjures a story quite free of sensationalism or sentimentality, but which is quietly gripping and somewhat inspiring.

The clay of the title refers to a phrase recalled from childhood – ‘we are the clay that grew tall’, which resonates through the novel; TC is a child ‘on intimate terms with the earth’. Jozef, an exile from Poland, mourns the physical properties of the farm he grew up on. Sophia, growing old on a council estate her family have left, does her best to disrupt the order which the council wish to impose upon the wedge-shaped park she has watched over for decades, her pockets bulging with papery bulbs.

‘Clay’ is a very satisfying read; a serious book which evokes important topics like innocence, companionship and trust, but which is driven forward by the author’s obvious, intimate connection with nature.

Very pleased that it’s the first thing I read in 2013; it’s a short, brilliant novel that makes me want to rush out into the woods.

Coffee with Eva

Posted 04 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos

When Sam was over for Xmas we met up with our dear friend Eva in Brighton’s nice Marwood cafe (pictures of which appear below). I am ashamed to say I hardly ever get round to seeing Eva, which is absolutely stupid, and something I must remedy in 2013.

Eva is terrific; we wished her well for the holiday season and she politely assured us that she had absolutely no intention of seeing us on Christmas Day, because she had an essay to write and also had ‘an onion and a pepper’ in the fridge that needed eating. If we did met up, she insisted, she would be unable to join in the festivities or pretend to like her presents. She also talked briefly about her new obsession with crime, her time in Turkey (when she was frequently mistaken for a spy) and her hatred of communism.

Eva is now in Greece where she is spending the next two weeks picking olives. I think perhaps she, rather than me or Sam, is the one with it all sorted out.

Flooded rivers and birds in trees

Posted 03 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos

My parents have been flooded in for a few weeks up in Cambridge, meaning that when I spoke to my mum the other day she sounded a bit stressed.

“It’s been awful”, she told me. “We’ve not been out of the house. We’re both desperate to get out, we can’t wait for the flooding to go down! We feel rather trapped”.

“Oh dear. Is Dad OK? Put him on”.

There’s a rustling as my mum puts down the phone and seeks out my father. I hope that being stranded is not upsetting him too much.

“HELLO!” He booms. “Have you heard about the flooding?”.

“Mum told me”, I explain. “Are you OK?”.

“Oh yes!”, he replies, enthusiastically. “It’s very exciting!”.

Sometimes I’m more like my mum, sometimes more like my dad.

I took this photo last time I went up to visit them.

Albums of the Year 2012

Posted 02 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Currently Listening, Music

Here we go!

10. Foxes – Foxes
The indie-pop contingent in this year’s list gets the nod courtesy of being fractionally more fun than the other bands who might have made the list (Allo Darlin’, The Twerps, Exlovers), and their debut LP is bursting with offbeat, tongue-in-cheek moments, combined with moments of piercing fragility. A really lovely record full of winning melodies, lines and ideas.

9. Matthew Dear – Beams
Matthew Dear’s ‘Black City’ was one of my favourite records of 2010 so it’s not really a surprise that I loved this too – if anything it’s a more organic, coherent work, a lovely, Bowie/Eno/Byrne indebted collage of techno and art-pop. ‘Beams’ is the first record that Dear has recorded since he moved to the countryside, but it still resonates with the sounds of the big, sinister city. Great stuff.

8. Soko – I Wish I Was An Alien
Listened to this a lot this year, puzzling over Soko’s fragile lack of self-esteem and her storytelling ability. I’m not quite sure if she’s really as unhappy as she makes out on this record, but it leads to some great, underworked, bruised French pop-folk. It’s become a bit of a joke in our house; ‘how’s Soko feeling today?’. ‘It’s not good, I’m afraid’.

7. Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Psychedelic Pill
Far far better than it has the right to be after a few years of interesting but not exactly vital records; this new effort – a double LP of straight, Crazy Horse riffing – genuinely sounds like Neil is back to his best. Only the first song, which finds him whinging about mp3s, disappoints, with the rest a wonderful, winding celebration of rock and roll.

6. Darren Hayman & The Long Parliament – The Violence
The best record of Darren’s career by some distance, this marvellous LP feels somehow like his most heartfelt despite it being a meditation on the seventeenth century Essex witch trials. Magnificently arranged and full of lovely, if sometimes disturbing imagery, this is a display of artistic ambition realised.

5. Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas
The music of Leonard Cohen is very important to me, as his records were played constantly at home when I was a child, and I actually went some time ignoring this new record, fearing that I’d be let down by what I assumed was inevitable disappointment. It wasn’t until I saw Cohen play in Berlin in the late summer that I realised how superb his songwriting continues to be, leaving me doing some rather shame-faced catching up. This may arrive very late in Leonard’s career, but it’s a hugely important part of his body of work. And hopefully not his last LP.

4. Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny – Yours Truly, Cellophane Nose
Delighted by this one, not least because I watched Beth do a series of gigs throughout 2009, 10 and 11 where she somehow seemed to be enjoying each show less and less and sounding more and more tired of the songs she’d been playing for a few years. In fact, much of ‘Yours Truly…’ had been long recorded by that stage, but somehow its release galvanised the band and they’ve been better and better every time I’ve seen them since. And this record is far far better than any debut LP has the right to be – confident, intelligent, daring and gloriously canorous. Beth’s recording the follow up in LA at the moment and I think it’ll be even better.

3. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
This one, from early 2012, feels like it came out aaages ago, but it still sounds incredibly fresh when I put it on; a lovely slice of warm Americana by two Swedes who allowed their obsession with Emmylou, June, Gram and Johnny to shine through on every song. A lovely listen every time.

2. Tim Burgess – Oh No I Love You
Easily the biggest surprise of the year for me was the depth and quality of Tim Burgess’s second solo LP. The words were written by Kurt Wagner of Lambchop and the record produced in his Nashville studio (meaning the luxuriant country-soul sound of Wagner’s band is present throughout), but much of the joy is found in Burgess’s clean, pretty songwriting (he penned the tunes) and in his delightful voice, which is often as boyish as ever it was and yet sometimes a cracked, deep whisper. His switch to falsetto in ‘The Economy’ is one of my favourite musical moments of 2012.

1. Field Music – Plumb
I couldn’t quite get my head around Field Music’s 2009 double LP ‘Measure’, which was a real surprise after having often claimed that their ‘Tones of Town’, from four years earlier, is my favourite record of the 21st Century so far. ‘Plumb’, happily, fixes all of the problems I had with its predecessor, coming in at a gloriously concise 35 minutes but crammed with more twists, turns and segues than you could shake a stick at. Like much of Field Music’s best work, there’s a kind of symphonic consistency and coherence to the album which makes me think of it in terms of movements rather than the songs. Allowing me that, the final movement, comprising the last five songs, is the sound of 2012 for me.

Honorable mentions:
Allo Darlin’, Oddisee, The Wave Pictures, Kimbra, Viv Albertine, The Twerps, Damon Albarn, Brother Ali, Cabaret Scene, Actress, Moritz Von Oswald, Blu & Exile, Taylor Swift, Mac Demarco, Friends, La Sera, Parquet Courts, Josephine Foster, Quakers, John Cale, Ab-Soul, Brian Eno, Milk Music.

Last year’s Top 10.
1. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo
2. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
3. Destroyer – Kaputt
4. Stricken City – Losing Colour
5. Veronica Falls – s/t
6. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic
7. Gorillaz – The Fall
8. Real Estate – Days
9. Little Dragon – Ritual Union
10. The Fall – Ersatz GB

New Year’s Day

Posted 01 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Observations, Photos

When we finally made it out of Brighton on the first day of 2013, it was much colder than we expected and the light, which had been thrillingly rich all day, was already beginning to dip. So we only walked around Devil’s Dyke for half an hour or so, mindful not to slip in the mud and binding our coats tight around us, as if we might conjure an extra layer by wrapping them round twice. Of course I had a hangover and new (year) promises to keep, so the cold wind did its unwelcome job of battering last night’s boozy breath out of my lungs until I felt like this was the start of something new, not just a painful bit left over from yesterday. I felt less than re-born, but glad to be alive and idling into another year.

No news yet on the resolutions, but I did take a few photographs.

Homeland; series two episode one, review

Posted 08 Oct 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Don’t think I blogged about Homeland at all during it’s previous run, which is a shame in retrospect as it might have given me an opportunity to segue into the following, which is a largely enthusiastic take on the first episode of the new series. Not having anything to refer to, I have to think back to the various things I liked and disliked about the initial show. But that’s not hard, as series 2 seems, at a first glance, to pick up exactly where it left off – one of the more persuasive, nuanced televisual takes on the fall out from the War on Terror, yet filled with flaws and inconsistencies which, thankfully, are for the most part forgiveable when lined up against what the show does very well.

Quickly; some of the problems – it remains essentially unbelievable that Carrie was ever tolerated at the CIA, just as it seems utterly incredible that Brody, so soon returned from imprisonment in Iraq, should be seriously considered ready for high office. The scenes in the Middle East seem, thus far, less convincing than those at home, and the scenes of high tension draw rather heavily on tropes from too-familiar scenarios (that said, I’m glad the show isn’t much bothered with whizzy technology; in some respects it seems to owe more to Le Carre than CNN).

But what it does best, first and foremost, is create characters you care about. I still don’t know quite where I stand on Brody, who I’m dimly aware is working, reluctantly, towards an event of mass terror but who, mostly courtesy of his powerful back-story and conscience (in this series personified by Morgan Saylor, who plays his 16 year old daughter) remains a fascinating and attractive enigma. He is there, the programme tells us, because circumstance has driven him there, not because he wants to be.

The opposite of true of Carrie, who wants with every fibre of her being to be in the field or high in an ivory tower, doing whatever she can to protect her sources, her agents, the public and her country. But circumstance has led her astray, too, so that she begins this series not at the CIA but teaching English and, tending her garden, trying to manage her bipolar disorder. Fresh from literally shocking medical treatment, she’s commended for her success in reinventing herself – and only her father, who shares her condition, recognises the distance she has left to travel.

It’s perhaps a shame, given this fascinating starting point, that the makers of the second series of Homeland could not have waited a little longer to re-introduce Carrie to the action, but it’s a credit to them that the way they do provides a brief valedictory moment which makes up for their impatience; a smile in the backstreets of Beirut is all it takes to reassure us that Carrie’s treatment has not purged her of her self.

I hope this principle, of returning our protagonists immediately to action, does not cause problems; of course it’s great to see Carrie, Brody, Saul and Dana plunged back into the grip of drama, but what sets Homeland so far apart from its contemporaries is the way it rejects the immediacy of 24. It knows that crises unfold more often over weeks and months than over days, and takes the risk of delaying gratification. I hope that the explosive start of series 2 is misleading, and we settle back into a dance of diplomacy, tension and mistrust.

And I wait keenly, while I’m at it, for the return of the jazz – rarely has a show been as well scored as Homeland. Hoping this new run keeps the standard up, and even raises it by a bar or two. In 5/4 time, perhaps.

Sept/Oct instagrams

Posted 08 Oct 2012 — by Jonathan
Category General, Photos

A quick summary of the last few weeks, courtesy of Instagram. If it were completely accurate it would contains a great many photographs of beer bottles, but I’m with-holding them for a later post, and so I don’t look like an alcoholic.

Parade’s End, BBC; review

Posted 27 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

Just finished watching the uneven, enjoyable and often rather brilliant Parade’s End, the latest big-budget costume drama from the BBC, which is adapted from a series of Ford Madox Ford books which no-one has read. It was a nice big, sumptuous production with two of Britain’s most celebrated mouth-actors (Rebecca Hall’s curled lip and Benedict Cumberbatch’s downturned grimace), focusing on that period where a buckling society, faced with the violence of the first world war, finally became Modern.

Cumberbatch, as Christopher Tietjens – a noble, repressed Tory – is the last in the Parade; the last man to whom High Toryism means loyalty, fidelity and permanence, and Hall is his flighty, rather magnificent wife, whose machinations debase his reputation and chip away at his resolve. He stands resolute, absorbing her disgrace, and even resisting love, which arrives in the form of Valentine Wannop, a (disappointingly wet) Suffragette. In the end it’s neither his wife nor his love which dismantles his attachment to the past, but the War – which is of course the great, monstrous wave which sweeps everything away and heralds the arrival of the real 20th Century.

I loved this five-parter, but it was an odd affair. Part society satire, part love story, part treatise on tradition and modernity, and most powerfully a violent war-time farce, it is a drama where the tone ricochets from scene to scene, setting to setting, episode to episode. It has little of the elegance or method of Victorian drama, but showing as it does a period of enormous upheaval, that’s perhaps appropriate.

And the whole thing is carried beautifully by the cast right up until the final episode, which somehow just fails in its final third to voice the transformation effected upon Christopher, or rather to pinpoint with sufficient specificity just what frees him to evolve his principles. I wanted more on the destructive but transformative power of the war, of the levelling and the loosening of society which it provoked. In the end Parade’s End ended as a love story might – movingly, with some success; but shy of the revelation which Tom Stoppard’s script seemed to be building towards.

Still, really enjoyed it. A joyful reminder of how great the BBC is.