Assistant Blog http://assistantblog.co.uk Lengthy digressions Sun, 17 Mar 2013 20:21:31 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.3.1 Back with Betty http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/03/17/back-with-betty/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/03/17/back-with-betty/#comments Sun, 17 Mar 2013 20:21:22 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6617 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.

BB

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.

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The Bevy; a co-op run for Bevendean, Brighton http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/02/03/the-bevy-a-co-op-run-pub-for-bevendean-brighton/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/02/03/the-bevy-a-co-op-run-pub-for-bevendean-brighton/#comments Sun, 03 Feb 2013 21:34:04 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6597 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

Ace.

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Currently listening, Jan 2013 http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/27/currently-listening-jan-2013/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/27/currently-listening-jan-2013/#comments Sun, 27 Jan 2013 21:28:56 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6550 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.

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An Error of Judgement, a short film http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/20/an-error-of-judgement-a-short-film/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/20/an-error-of-judgement-a-short-film/#comments Sun, 20 Jan 2013 20:52:13 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6588 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.

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Li Lanqing, British Museum http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/19/li-lanquing-british-museum/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/19/li-lanquing-british-museum/#comments Sat, 19 Jan 2013 15:14:02 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6583 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.

photo

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.

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On meths http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/15/on-meths/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/15/on-meths/#comments Tue, 15 Jan 2013 17:11:57 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6545 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.

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Dream geography http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/14/dream-geography/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/14/dream-geography/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 22:24:12 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6547 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.

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Max Richter recomposing Vivaldi http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/12/max-richter-recomposing-vivaldi/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/12/max-richter-recomposing-vivaldi/#comments Sat, 12 Jan 2013 18:48:23 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6512 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?

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Ali Smith’s ‘Artful’ and some paperwhites http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/10/ali-smiths-artful-and-some-paperwhites/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/10/ali-smiths-artful-and-some-paperwhites/#comments Thu, 10 Jan 2013 18:39:54 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6535 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!”
Paracelsus

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.

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‘Where are we now?’; The return of David Bowie http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/08/where-are-we-now-the-return-of-david-bowie/ http://assistantblog.co.uk/2013/01/08/where-are-we-now-the-return-of-david-bowie/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2013 19:15:18 +0000 Jonathan http://assistantblog.co.uk/?p=6524 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.

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