Something Borrowed.



“You’all'right Sharon? You look at bit … out of sorts …”
“Oooh hello Michael. I was just trying to decide what to give William for his tea tonight.”
“Well I’ve got this nice cut. There’s isn’t much left mind. Problem with the supplier.”
“What is it?”
”Not sure but it was going out of the door, I’d say like hot cakes but the baker’s down the road .. huh huh huh … but it’s special stuff.”
“Ok. I’ll take a couple of steaks. I might treat myself.”
“Right. So tell me, how was the wedding?”
“Wedding?”
”Oh I thought your daughter Gwen and Rhys were getting married yesterday.”
”Yesterday?”
“It must have been a good one if you can’t remember, hah.”
“What day is it?”
“It’s Sunday.”
“But you’re open.”
“Everyone’s open on a Sunday these days.”
“I’ve lost a day.”
“Really good one. Howze this?”
“Fine. But no Michael. I just remember waking up with a splitting headache this morning.”
“Oh.”
“What is it Michael?”
”I had that nice Trina Thomas in earlier and I asked her about the wedding too, making small talk, y’know, and she said she couldn’t remember the nuptials either. I just put it down ‘err being, y’know. Then Kyffin said that Banana Boat’s gone missing and it makes you wonder. Sharon, are you alright dear?”
“I think I’d better go home and talk to Bill. See you…”
”Right …. Sharon! You forgot your meat! ... Hello, what can I get for you?”

“Oooh hello Sharon. What did they have at the butchers? I’m in the mood for a steak tonight.”
“Oooh William. Could you sit down for a minute, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“I am sitting.”
“Right. Um, I’ll sit too.”
“This is cosy.”
“Do you remember what we did yesterday?”
”What’s wrong?”
”How should I put this. Gwen and Rhys were married yesterday.”
“Yes. I know, I was there.”
“You were?”
”Yes. And you were too.”
“Oooh my head.”
“Well never forget that wedding day in a hurry . Gwen was pregnant with an alien! She did look lovely in that dress despite the bump. The whole day could have just been about that. The mother pretended to be Brenda and nearly killed you. We found out Gwen was working for some kind of organisation that chases aliens for a living and she’d been bitten by one of them but it was all alright in the end because that creepy American bloke shot her and Rhys managed to kill the alien baby inside Gwen using some kind of alien machine they just happened to have lying around, which is surprising considering he usually gets confused by the microwave.
“All of that happened?”
“Yes. About the only good thing about it was meeting that nice Tosh-girl, she was sassy.”
“Michael!”
“Sorry. Do you remember now?”
”I do. I don’t know how but … so Banana Boat?”
“Yes, poor lad. But considering what he was like and all the things that are apparently living in Cardiff I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
“Gwen and Rhys’ll be one their honeymoon. I’ll give them a ring when they get back.”
"It all sort of explained why she'd not been in touch lately."
“Um. Oooh, I left the meat -- whatever it was -- in the butchers. I’ll cook you a ham and cheese omelette.”

Mystery Music March



BBC Music Magazine

For the past week, I’ve been biting my finger nails down to their cuticles. I’ve been moody and nervous, ecstatic and disappointed and crucially, which is why it’s one of these posts, it’s been about music. Over the past month or so I’ve been seeing quite a lot of old cover cds from BBC Music Magazine in charity shops. I’ve been buying the magazine itself since The Proms 2007 and become something of a fan, as good a way as any to learn about classical music. The cover cds are usually wonderful, whole works by famous and infamous composers recorded by new and established talent. I’ve bought some of the older discs and I can’t imagine how I managed without the magazine before.

Deciding that I was seeing enough of these cds to start a collection, I started a collection. The magazine’s been publishing since 1992 so it’s over a decade’s worth of music to be discovered in dribs and drabs as and when. But I wanted to know exactly how many issues, how many cds and what was on them. The website for the magazine doesn’t have a list, so I asked at AskMe if anyone had seen an index anywhere. One of the answers suggested I set up a favourite search at ebay and slowly built up a catalogue myself the slow way. I duly went to ebay and searched for ‘BBC Music Magazine’.

In amongst random back issues without cds and cds without back issues was a subject line ‘BBC Music Magazine Apr 95 Mar 08 + 9 binders + CDs’ and a starting price of £20. Frankly, that was too good to be true. So I bid. It was closing in five days and so there and then I decided I was going to lose them as is the way with ebay. I kept checking my inbox for an email saying I’d been outbid and nothing. I began to get excited. Over a decade’s worth of magazines and cds for £20. Frankly, that was too good to be true. I was outbid. On Saturday. But I thought, I want them and the alternative was visiting countless charity shops, and spending far more than this on them. So I bid again. And again. £35.

Too much to spend right now. Ooh.

That’s where the disappointment came in. But after walking around a bit on Monday morning, buying a newspaper and thinking, I decided to bid another fiver. Couldn’t hurt. I knew I was falling into the auction trap and the gambling trap but again I thought, it’s still a bargain, over a decade’s worth of magazines and cds for £40, or £36 it turned out. Strangely excited through much of Monday afternoon until the bidding closed and to cut a long story short (although looking at the above few paragraphs not really) I won them.

They were in Saltney near Chester though. Um. How do I get them home?

Luckily someone gave me a lift. I met them at Runcorn station after work and we drove to somewhere it turns out is in a whole other country. Well, just slightly across the border in Wales. The view from the car on the motorway is a mess of villages, pylons and power stations, as though someone has created a gigantic landscaping machine and turned it to random. Eventually we rolled up at a house in what can only be described as a posh area, with new build houses of the kind you see on Relocation, Relocation when one of the couple is looking for somewhere to commute from whilst the other looks after the kids.

Rang the bell and a tall man, about my age who looked like he’d been successful at something despite his pyjama bottoms answered.

“Steve? I’m Stuart…” I said, “I’ve come about the …”

They were piled up in the hall. When you see a subject line like ‘BBC Music Magazine Apr 95 Mar 08 + 9 binders + CDs’ it doesn’t look like very much. Now that I could see them, it was a good job we took some bags.

“They’re not in any kind of order…” Steve said.

“It’s ok, it’ll give me something to do.”

We piled them into the back of the car, a quick shake of the hand again, and gone, back through the winds and the rain back to Liverpool.

I spent last night sorting through them. There are a hundred and fifty cds and accompanying magazines. Again in words that doesn’t seem too many, but they’re monolithically piled up on two shelves nearby and they really are. I keep running my fingers along the spines of the plastic boxes the titles, Music For Christmas, Fiesta, French Classics, Proms and at the whole works by famous and infamous composers; Liszt, Beethoven, Wiber, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Haydn. All of that music.

It’s not complete. Even with cds I’ve already bought, there’s nothing from the first year and most of the second and third years too. Steve only took out his subscription in 1995. But still, even the magazines themselves are monumental, published when I was at university first time around but left on the shelf in favour of TV Zone when it was readable. Looking at random issues you can watch its change in editorial policy over time from something more akin to Classic FM Magazine with some bright new talent on the cover each month, slowly upmarket before stopping somewhere in a rival position to Gramophone. But always with a complete work on the cover. That makes it more authoritative somehow.

I don’t know where to begin, although the beginning seems about right.

Mystery Music March



Me To Be – I Am The World Trade Center

Like most people I first heard about I Am The World Trade Center in the days after September 11th as the press rushed to find a fresh angle on those terrible events. Given their name, it was inevitable that this group would be implicated, although many journalists rather got the wrong end of the stick, accusing them of cashing in on the tragedy, even though they’d taking their name from the buildings in 1999. The band announced that for the rest of their current tour they’d be poignantly calling themselves ‘I Am The World ….’, and the journos flocked elsewhere.

A bit unfortunate then because their album, Out of the Loop is a fairly incontroversial bit of synth-pop of which May To Be is a fairly typical example. “How can you” ethereally ponders singer Amy Dykes, “Tell me what you want to me to be / When I don’t think / You are the one for me?” over a static drum beat, harpsichord sample pretending to play the opening few bars of Enola Gay and something which sounds like an over-pitched flute. It’s bouncy and upbeat and wouldn’t have been too out of place as the backing music for a Commodore 64 game, perhaps a sequel to The Last Ninja, aspiring to be the kind of dance beats people might be listening to in the future, the musical equivalent of a Douglas Trumbull concept painting.

Mystery Music March



Intro / Tokyo -- Richard Beggs

The chime of a gong, prattle and cars in a street, a confusion of language and advertising, the electronic bing bong of an announcement, a drum beat and a mess of guitar and vocals – the opening of the soundtrack to Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation does not just seek to remind of the film but almost envelope you in it, the sounds of Japan (assuming you’re wearing a decent pair of headphones) surrounding you, letting your imagination fly through the Tokyo cityscape.

This isn’t though merely a single recording of the kind that crops up in projects such as Peter Cusack’s Your Favourite London Sounds. Its been engineered and mixed from various noises, with sound designer Richard Beggs including three tracks from the band Yellow Generation overlapping and playing into one another. Like the characters in the film itself, it’s almost as though we’re experiencing the culture of Japan from the margins.

The soundscape returns later in album producer Brian Reitzell’s own moody track Shibuya in which we’re slowly plunged into the subway as a train reaches a station and the Japanese equivalent of destination announcements and warning to mind the gap mix with the hum of the carriage, adult chatter and the cries of a baby. As a commuter relaxation device it’s perfect for those city dwellers among us who simply can’t find comfort in bird or whale song but might prefer instead the transporting sounds of a different city far away.

Mystery Music March



The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feeling Groovy) – Woodstock

I didn’t have such a great time at university time first time around. I spent most of the first year homesick, the second living in the worse shared house in the world and the third worrying about money. In the midst of that I still found time to fall in unrequited love several times, latterly discover beer and still manage to get a degree. But there was always something at the back of my mind which would only show itself when I was alone in the darkness or phoning home to have a moan.

At one point during the third year I was inconsolable for some random reason I don’t recall now but was probably related to a utility bill. Inevitably I told mum about it (which wasn’t fair really – she’d just started a new job and the last thing she needed was to be worrying about me even though she'd say she did that anyway) and a few days later a package came in the post. There were some home comforts – some packets of noodles, chocolate, newspaper clippings – and a cd.

My parents don’t buy a lot of music, unless it’s at Christmas and certainly not for themselves. And yet here it was, a single from a band I’d never heard of (apart from the obvious reference) and a song I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know was a Simon & Garfunkel cover. Mum said in the accompanying letter that she liked the original and thought I would too and also knew I liked sunflowers – which I did – I had a poster of one on my wall which had come with me from home.

And it did cheer me up from the moment I put it on. It opens with some earsplitting electronica before heading into an indie dance fest (a decent comparison would Candy Flip’s rendering of Strawberry Fields Forever). Lead singer Adam Ryan Carter trundles through the lyrics in that slightly detached style which was common at the time and which I now know made me cheerful because they’re by Simon & Garfunkel.

As the good posters at songmeanings.com agree it is one of the happiest songs you’re likely to hear even if it is about an acid trip. It didn’t chart as far as I can tell. This was the early nineties and the mainstream of pop music was sliding into something more Britpop. his falls between the two stools. Goodness knows where my parents found it.

But those first two lines were exactly what I needed to hear at the time (“Slow down, you move too fast. / You got to make the morning last”), and for a once I did slow down, take stock and realise that you’re only at university once in your life (ahem) and despite all the work and money worries you should just enjoy it. If its power lasted all of about a week, that was probably long enough to mentally sigh and I do wonder if I’d still have graduated if I hadn’t heard this.

“Become a fixer, not just a fixture.” -- Anthony J. D'Angelo

TV The Fixer made a promising start on ITV1 tonight. Written and directed by Ben Richards who brought us the underrated Party Animals from last year and starring Andrew Buchan from that series as a con turned hitman working apparently for the state. Also featuring Peter Mullen as his suitably reptilian boss and Tamsin Outhwaite as a kind of honey-trap whose role has entirely been defined yet, this was what tv reviews tend to describe as slip, pacey and exciting but not I'd say brilliant quite yet.

Certainly the opening shots of Buchan murdering his aunt and uncle for past indiscretions was a good start and the opening near montage set up the premise pretty well. But Buchan's flat mate and colleague Calum, played by Shameless's Jody Latham, whilst usefully set up as the most irritating bastard you're likely to meet inevitably translated into the most irritating of characters, and not in the funny way Richards has presumably intended. You have to be careful with slappable screen presences that they don't detract from everything else and my heart sunk when I realised he was going to be in every other bloody scene.

It also just lacked a gapeable moment in which everything you thought you knew was wrong. They're playing the slow burn game, the one familiar to Spooks fans in which the first episode is pleasant enough to make the viewer want to watch the following week and then to throw in the turn, a punch in the face or in that case a head in a deep fat fryer. Perhaps that's what Calum's heading for. But I hope The Fixer doesn't become too generic, simply working through a different 'hit' each week in the same way that Primeval just keeps dealing with dinosaurs.

Unaccustomed as I am to watching ITV1 though it could be just that I'm not used to the rhythms of their commercial breaks. For me they diffused the drama, adverts for car and shampoos jarring against the rather subtle character moments thrown in with the action. It is interesting though that despite being written by Richards and produced independently by Kudos I think I would still be able to tell it was an ITV show. Like the old Hollywood studio system, dramas from each of the main channels seems to have a similar 'feel' -- or am I imagining it?

Mystery Music March



I’m Like A Bird – Nelly Furtado

By now, given that I’m writing about 31 Songs (or pieces of music) some of you might have gathered that that I’ve read Nick Hornby’s book 31 songs – which is odd considering that it’s about the only book of his I have read (the other being High Fidelity). I’ve seen the film versions of About A Boy and Fever Pitch, but I don’t think that counts. It’s the gold standard of music writing, a perfect mix of autobiography and review, revealing the same passion for music that I like to think I have about films.

One of the best chapters (if you can call them that) is a passionate Morleyesque argument for pop music, with Nelly Furtado presented as the ideal example. Some would say that it’s an odd choice considering that Kylie Minogue was enjoying one of her revivals, the Sugababes were in another ascendancy and Furtado herself hadn’t really had a hit in a few years. But Hornby is making a point about how sophistic pop music can be, and I’m Like A Bird from her album Whoa Nelly is a wonderful choice.

Even in vocal terms its amazing, as Hornby notes, ‘There’s a bit […] about halfway through, where the voice is double-tracked on a phrase, and the effect […] is rich and fresh and addictive’. Furtado essentially becomes her own backing singer, the two or three different vocals weaving in and out of one another, creating an extraordinary range of sounds. It’s like the sound equivalent of that Kylie video where there are hundreds of them walking down a street, and for my money one of the best bits of singing ever.

Hornby suggests that time will tell if ‘Ms. Furtado’ will become any kind of an artist; on the basis of this performance I would have said she already was. Sadly fate intervened. Her next album, Folklore, despite having some really appealing tracks - my favourite is the acoustic Saturdays which just sounds like Nelly and back-up vocalist Jarvis Church goofing around over some guitar riffs – it didn’t sell well and got lost in down the back of the publicity sofa during the sale of her record company, Dreamworks, to Universal.

Rather than ploughing on with the same sound though, as we’ve seen, Furtado leapt booty first into a whole new genre alienating many of us fans of her earlier work. The problem with the hip hop and R&B material on her last album, Loose, mainly produced (as most things seem to be lately) by Timberland, is that it doesn’t sound authentic and worse is vocally far less sophisticated than we’re used to, certainly in comparison to I’m Like A Bird. Similar complaints were made when Jewel released her pop album 0304, but at least that retained her lyrical strength and to some extent her audience.

I wonder what Nick Hornby makes of Loose. Much as I struggle to like each new single released from it, every one feels like a compromise; Furtadof has described Maneater as "in your face and very fashionable, stylistic and of-the-moment” and though it’s laudable to give the kids what they want it doesn’t leave much room for originality. Loose to these ears sounds like every other lazy pop record. Whoa, Nelly still sounds like nothing else. There's simply no comparison between filler material like In God's Hands and the earlier Well, Well.

But since its been phenomenally successful I expect she’ll wisely stay on this path, her fourth album offering more of the same. That said, when Nelly performed at the Diana Concert last July her set consisted of Say It Right, Maneater and I’m Like A Bird! On the one hand this closed things out with her most popular song giving everyone the chance for a singsong, but also perhaps it was an indication that she’s not quite ready to abandon her past just yet.

"Organised randomness takes a lot of work..." -- Stéphanie, 'La Science des rêves'

Art For reasons too boring to describe here, I didn’t need to work today so instead decided to put my head around the door at the awards ceremony for Art In Liverpool’s Liverpool Art Prize. The event and accompanying exhibition were at the brand new Novas Contemporary Urban Centre on Greenland Street near the waterfront. It’s a new art venue with gallery spaces, bars, restaurants, offices and soon a small cinema developed within a Grade II listed warehouse in the slowly minted Independent Art Quarter.

During Ian Jackson’s announcement a heckler noted Liverpool Art Prize was ‘Better than the Turner!’ and on reflection, and with a certain local bias I can’t help but agree. It was just refreshing to find the six finalists were working accessibly in what are considered traditional art forms. Emma Rodgers sculpts instants in time, finger marks forming, for instance, the exact moment a hare has all four paws of the ground. Gareth Kemp paints evocatively in near monochrome, figures in snow, imagined incidents inspired by his family. Mary Fitzpatrick photographs the floor in areas of conflict, capturing the scarred landscape left behind by humans, most poignantly a school.

The main winner, a suitably surprised Imogen Stidworthy works in sound and images; ‘Get Here’ features Liverpudlian voices repeating the way their parents probably called to them as children ‘Get here now!’ The People’s Prize, voted for by public passing through the exhibition went to The Singh Twin whose incredibly detailed graphic art depicts a merging of eastern and western imagery – in the catalogue there’s an image of the William Brown Street with the roads replaced by Indian tiling. Always the contrarian, my favourite was the conceptual artist Jayne Lawless the best of her two works consisting of an red balloon tethered to a concrete block with a desktop fan gently blowing a breeze against it. According to the notes she was attempting to depict what it’s like to be a contemporary artist.

The ceremony itself had the feel of a really good private view, especially since as Ian himself admitted there wasn’t a celebrity there to overshadow the proceedings. The venue had a good atmosphere and although my coffee was a bit watery, the carrot and caramel cake was lovely. The company too -- it’s amazing who you can bump into at these things and I’ve been to enough of these kinds of events now that at least I’m seeing some familiar faces. Not backed by the Culture Company (unless you count a listing in their brochure) this had the feel of an award by us and for us, done in the spirit of what Art In Liverpool’s always succeeded in doing – highlighting the cultural aspects of the city that would otherwise be overlooked.