Competition The sidebar competition is now officially ... closed. I've contacted the winners (both of you) and soundtracks will be on their way shortly. There will be another quiz in January. With any luck the turnout then will be a bit larger...
Music Speaking of which ... what ever happened to Wendy James?
Music Waiting for my Dad to arrive last night so that we could go and buy the Christmas Tree from a florist which is open late into the evening, I found myself brousing through the charity shops nearby. Because most of these places are run by volunteering pensioners (bless em) there always seems to be a disproportionate pricing policy on anything not made of fabric. In Barnardos for example, there must be a rule that all cds are a fiver no matter who they are, what they are and what condition they're in. Five Star's 'Strong as Steel' or a cover disc from the NME, doesn't matter. Last night I did manage to find a ex-rental fifth hand copy of the Ed Zwick movie 'Leaving Normal' ('Thelma and Louise' with a happy ending) for three quid. But only after my hand had hovered away from the Rosemay Conolly excercise video nearby ...

Most charity shops seem to relish their static vinyl collections. These are boxes which frequently don't look like they've been rifled through in years and always have the same James Last album at the front. TV Cream (bless em too) have surveyed the long players usually found in these boxes with stunning accuracy:
Wendy James and her menacing looks galvanised the overly-purple cover of this 1989 definer which had a predictable postscript of failure around it, confirmed by the band's inability to do anything worthy afterwards. Containing the four hits of the year - Wendy screaming, Wendy rocking, Wendy balladeering, Wendy whispering - the album sold well, of course, but the ever-presence of the album in the bins and on the walls with big, cover-tearing discount stickers suggested that the record company were over-zealous in their estimates... "
In case you were wondering, I'm in current ownership of:
THE KIDS FROM FAME - The Kids From Fame
FLEETWOOD MAC - Tango in the Night
Christmas Oddly enough I was in Liverpool today visiting the Continental Market which is taking up much of the main street. I was mostly feeling a bit left out. People were buzzing about trying to do all of their shopping for presents and whatever. But I've already finished my present buying. Because in my old job, my selection of holiday weeks was fairly limited because I'd only just started I had the end of October (my birthday week) and the beginning of December. At the time though, I wasn't sure about whether I was in a with a chance on my current job, so I went out and did all my shopping in that first holiday. I went to Manchester and Cheshire Oaks and all the places I would usually go, and bought everything. In some ways it was a good thing because I certainly haven't the time now to go on all of those excersions, but the impulse now is to go out and buy more presents, which is sadly what I've been doing. Christmas morning is going to be busy this year ...
Liverpool Life Now I really am excited. As I'm sure I've mentioned over and over agin, Liverpool doesn't have an art house venue. If I want to see anything that doesn't feature Adam Sandler, I've got to go all the way to The Cornerhouse in Manchester. Now FACT (Foundation for Art & Creative Technology) have quiety built a new headquarters on the edge of the centre of Liverpool and it features a three screen venue with THX sound dedicated to art house films. It's brilliantly accessable (the last fleapit was at the top of a hundred stairs) and is being run independently by City Screen who've pitched themselves successfully throughout the country. I'm just getting happier all the time...
TV And so Peter from The Brady Bunch wins 'Fame Academy' (oh alright David). This isn't a show I've ever spent much time over despite the absolute blanket coverage across the BBC networks (except BBC4 -- odd really). What I watched was late at night on BBC Choice when I was too tired to reach for the remote. Tonight was the first time I actually bothered to watch a live finale (I was at a friend's house), and going in cold, on points pint sized Irish blonde version of Sophie Ellis Bextor, Sinead was the more obvious winner. Dave seemed just too good -- in that Pop Idol way. The chick rocker had more passion, more integrity (despite the Ronan Keating duet), and looked really good in that Matrixy leather jacket. Let's hope gutsy earthy bits of her aren't tuned out by some plastic producer.

Travel It's abit late to book anything, but here are Conde Naste suggestions for a festive get away. It's a pretty standard list, full of places you would want to visit any time of the year, but it is good to see Edinburgh on the list -- why anyone would want to leave our land mass when that metropolitan eden is up there I've no idea. Some will argue about the weather, but Prague is hardly the rim of the sun hot at this time of the year either.
TV Charles Kennedy had a fantastic comedic presence on 'Have I Got News For You' tonight. Unlike previous presenters he seemed entirely confident in the studio, in that chair and it was obvious from the reactions of Hislop and Merton that they would be happy for him to be leading them through the following series. What particularly stood out was his ability to seem unflustered when stuck in the mire of their one liners, adding his own and being able to continue the comedy when needed. He also knew when it was best to shut up. And he was self depricating in a way not seen since Deayton. So if the whole political party thing doesn't work out he's got a safe seat in that studio. [Disclaimer: All that said, I am a Liberal Democrat. But can you imagine many other politicians who could have run the show like he did tonight?]
TV So they're asking for the Freeview ... sorry ... ITV Digital ... erm On Digital boxes back. The 'scheme' is send it back or pay £40.00. Hmmm .... Malcolm Shearson of the liquidators appeared on Radio Five Live yesterday morning initially in bullish mood, until presenters Guy Richardson, Victoria Derbyshire and Julian Worricker began to ask him some tough questions. Even if you know nothing of this story, it's a fantastic bit of radio as Shearson realises he hadn't looked at all (any?) of the issues involved and may have made a terrible mistake getting up that morning. 'I ... I want my box back ...' [real one req]

Music World Music has two histories. There is the history we’ve studied during the course, of the music itself – how it’s developed throughout the world to become a beautifully scattered collage of sounds and feelings. But there is a more recent history which in some ways has been as influential as everything which has gone before. The history of the actual genre, which began at a meeting of interested parties on Monday 29th June 1987.

Music likes to be labeled because people like labels. I once entered into a long protracted argument with someone on the subject of Heavy Metal. I’d heard something and I was insisting on calling it Metal because it was loud, the lyrics were indistinguishable and I could imagine a room full of people banging heads together to it. He was growling that in fact Heavy Metal didn’t actually exist and that there were in fact many sub-genres taking preference and that what I’d heard was in fact ‘grind core’. I eventually gave in – partly because I wasn’t that familiar with the genre but mostly because I accepted that Heavy Metal as a name was more of a marketing tool – at some point in the past a label was needed and that was chosen. Which is exactly how ‘World Music’ developed.

‘World Music’ of a sort was particularly prevalent in 1986, when Paul Simon released his ‘Gracelands’ album. The concept behind the album was to bring meld his own sensibilities with the sounds which he had fallen in love with listening to artists from Southern Africa. So although the sounds of Ladysmith Black Mambaso and Savuka were featured on the album, arguably they were just sounds which Simon used to wrap around his own concerns. Although they were credited in the sleeve notes, the name on the front of the album was still Paul Simon, no matter the contributions of the other groups involved. But this project and the work of Peter Gabriel and Johnny Clegg amongst others had to some degree introduced non-western music to a wider audience and this was an opportunity which could not be ignored.

Before 1987, although World Music undoubtedly had a following and with this potential market opening up, it was difficult for interested parties to sell their music to the larger music stores; although specialist music stores had been important in developing the genre over many years, the record companies, broadcasters and journalists had been finding it difficult to build a following because the music itself seemed to scarce – hard to believe now. They were eyeing the Jazz and Classic markets, watching them develop a cross-over audience and decided that the best way forward would be to collective strategy to bring the music to a wider audience.

At the outset of the meeting, the musician Roger Armstrong advised why something needed to be done; “(He) felt that the main problem in selling our kind of material lay with the U.K. retail outlets and specifically the fact that they did not know how to rack it coherently. This discouraged them from stocking the material in any depth and made it more difficult for the record buyers to become acquainted with our catalogues.”

The first concern of the meetings was to select the umbrella name that this ‘new’ music would be listed under. Suggestions included ‘World Beat’ and prefixing words such as ‘Hot’ or ‘Tropical’ to existing genre titles, but ‘World Music’ won after a show of hands, but initially it was not meant to be the title for a whole new genre, rather something which all of the record labels could place on the sleeves of records in order to distinguish them during the forthcoming campaign. It only became a title for the genre after an agreement that despite the publicity campaign, this wasn’t an exclusive club and that for the good of all, any label which was selling this type of music would be able to take advantage.

Another issue which needed to be addressed was the distribution methods which existed at the time. Most of the main labels were unhappy with the lack of specialist knowledge displayed by sales persons which led to poor service; there was also a reluctance amongst many of the larger outlets to carry the music, because they understandable liked larger releases which could be promoted within store. It was difficult to justify a large presentation expense if the stock going into stores was limited.

One of the marketing strategies used in the vinyl market at the time was the use of browser cards, which would appear in the record racks. As part of the World Music campaign it was decided that these would be a two colour affair designed to carry a special offer package; to aid the retailer a selection of labels would also be included (presumably for shelf or rack edging).

In an unprecedented move, all of the World Music labels co-ordinated together and developed a compilation cassette for the cover of music magazine, the NME. The overall running time was ninety minutes, each package containing a mini-catalogue showing the other releases on offer. This was a smart move as NME reader are often seen as discerning listeners and it was important step to get them on board.

By the time of that second meeting it was becoming clear that in order for the campaign to be successful, it should its own dedicated press officer. They would be able to juggle the various deadlines and also be able to sell the music as a concept to not just the national stations but also regional DJs who were keen to expand the variety of music they could offer. They were seen as a key resource as it was important for ‘World Music’ to be seen as something which could be important to people outside London – most regions after all had a similarly rich folk heritage which could be tapped into. A cost effective way of achieving all this would be a leafleting campaign.

The next step was to develop a World Music chart, gathering together selling information from around fifty shops, so that it would finally be possible to see which were big sellers in the genre – allowing new listeners to see what was particularly popular. It was agreed that the NME could again be involved in printing the chart and also Music Week and the London listings magazine City Limits. It was also suggested that Andy Kershaw might be persuaded to do a run down of this chart on his show regularly.

And so October of 1987 was designated ‘World Music’ month. A music festival, ‘Crossing the Border’ was held at the Town & Country Club, London and it was the start of the winter season for both WOMAD and Arts Worldwide. The main press release stressed the issues inherent in the campaign:
”Since the early Eighties the enthusiasm for music from 'outside' Western pop culture has been steadily mounting. More and more international artists, many of whom are big stars in their own countries, are coming here on tour. They started off, like The Bhundu Boys, playing small clubs and pubs, but now many acts are so popular that they are packing out larger venues.

“The excitement and word-of-mouth appeal is backed up by radio - Andy Kershaw and Charlie Gillett's shows to name but two... and the demand for recordings of non-Western artists is surely growing. This is where the problems can start for the potential buyer of ‘World Music’ albums - the High Street record shop hasn't got the particular record, or even a readily identifiable section to browse through, it doesn't show in any of the published charts, and at this point all but the most tenacious give up - and who can blame them?”
That this ‘World Music’ became prominent very quickly. Paul Simon acknowledging as much when he featured the Graceland musicians appeared upfront during concerts. This was possibly helped initially by the fact that music was still largely being sold on vinyl. I remember visiting HMV that very winter and suddenly seeing those large covers featuring mysterious pictures from far off lands – they were positively alien compared to the Debbie Gibson album a possibly bought that same visit.

But this story demonstrates that with co-operation anything can be achieved; but as well as a marketing opportunity, those involved were driven forward by a passion for the music, something which was passed on to customers. And it stands as a testament that some areas of mainstream music have adopted many of the features of world music, and that artists such as Shakira and the members of the Buena Vista Social Club, who would previously never have appeared on best seller lists and been ghettoized area being enjoyed by a much wider audience.

WORLD MUSIC HISTORY -- minutes and press releases
I’m Going To Graceland - Evan Gimpel

[The above is the essay for my World Music class. I was supposed to be giving it as a presentation, hence the style. But I turned up for what I thought was the penultimate week only for find it was the final week and I didn't have anything prepared. So I got up and improvised something anyway. I remember being quite nervous, but I did get some nods of agreement from the experts in the room, which was I'm sure a good thing. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that Daredevil isn't the only man without fear ... so I hope you've enjoyed it a little bit anyway ... and if you want to know more, look here]
Blogbar Strange new title bar featuring a certain TV reviewer, submitted by Graham from Off The Telly ... suggestions and other submissions always welcome ...
Film I failed A-Level English. It took two years, round the clock study and a deep-seated understanding of the books at hand not to succeed in the endeavour. I wasn’t disappointed at the time because I was still going to University on my B in Fine Art and D in General Studies. It wasn’t until three years after college as I sat watching a production of Hamlet and understanding every word of it I decided I should have done better. I reconciled that I couldn’t have done better at the time and I’ve moved on. Watching ‘Wonder Boys’, the memories of the study experience came flooding back to me.

Part of the learning journey was one-on-one study periods with the head of the English department. His ground floor office was much as you would expect – a dusty edifice full of old books and even older carpeting. The teacher’s desk was in the bay window, and as I entered each fortnight, there he would be, sitting with his side too me, stuffing tobacco into his pipe.

He didn’t actually seem to teach anything which we hadn’t covered in class. On reflection, I think it was his chance to see how much of what he had been saying had crept into my teenage mind. During each session I would find myself with one obsession. Trying to imagine what his life was like outside school.

I couldn’t ask him, this fifty-something man, with squinty glasses and a receding hairline. I decided eventually he had a house in Cheshire from which he would drive every morning listening to Radio Two. He had two grown up kids, one a doctor, the other following in her father’s footsteps as a teacher. He’d been at this school since graduating from college, and had lived an unremarkable yet useful life, king of his own castle, looked up to by all around.

I think I secretly hoped though, that his life was something like Grady Tripp, Michael Douglas character in ‘Wonder Boys’ -- someone who had lived life enough to understand the literature from what he’d experienced not from what he had learnt. That when I wasn’t falling asleep in that tobacco smoke filled office; he would be tapping away on an old typewriter on an unending novel which would be considered a classic if he ever finished it. That when he described why John Donne had written ‘On His Mistress’ it would because of some infidelity of his own or an inability to commit. That in those moments when he would go into detail about Angelo’s attitude in ‘Measure for Measure’ he was teaching me some little nugget about his life. In effect that I was the James Leer (Tobey Maguire) of this little fantasy.

He wasn’t. I certainly wasn’t. I failed English Literature (which probably had more to with my dozing than his teaching skills…but I digress).

I do wonder what that teacher would have made of ‘Wonder Boys’. I suppose I can imagine him scoffing away, unable to comprehend the implausibility of this man holding down a tutoring position whilst trying to be a novelist. I can see him giving chapter and verse on it in class, before rolling his eyes and commenting, yet again, that Shakespeare was the only true dramatist. That may be true, but it’s good now and then to dip into the ones who are at least trying.

There is a certain spiritual similarity between this film and ‘Good Will Hunting’. Both are filmed with the same slightly glary quality – but ‘Wonder Boys’ is a much more literate film with an awareness of history which only comes from writers and directors of experience. I haven’t read Michael Chabon’s novel, so I can’t say how closely it follows the printed page; but the adaptation by Steven Kloves (the director of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’) is entirely dialogue driven, allowing us the chance to learn about the characters – there is exposition, but also plenty left unsaid, moments were implication fills in for truth.

It’s entirely shocking that this is directed by Curtis Hanson. In a decade, he’s moved from the histrionics of ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradles’, through ‘The River Wild’ and the instantly classic ‘LA Confidential’. Those were all larger films, full of bangs and whistles. It could have been a similar story here – the unfolding plotline could equally have been played as a farce in the mould of Steven Moffat (‘Coupling’, ‘Joking Apart’). But this has proportion and some experimentation. Rather like some low budget indie film, it doesn’t care if we lose track of a few characters and what they’re doing for a while – we’ll catch up them later. What you’re seeing is much more interesting. It’s a step sideways for Hanson, but a valid one. Less plot perhaps – more character.

Douglas’ performance here is as good as it’s ever been. He’s a slightly maligned actor because more often than not he appears in so called ‘Hollywood’-style films like ‘Disclosure’. But even there he must have been working some magic to make us care for him. As Tripp (which is a real ‘Steve Buscemi’ of a loser role), he excels in creating a history behind his eyes, and warmth in his cheeks. He’s certainly the best actor in show here. Downey Jr does the kind of shtick he’s been perfecting since ‘The Pick-up Artist’, and proving what a tragedy his life has been all in all. Tobey Maguire is in his understated acting mode, making that smile of his, when it finally arrives even more appealing. Francis McDormand proves once again that the world will eventually be inherited by character actresses, making you love her as soon as she appears on screen. And Joey Potter – sorry – Kate Holmes is as good as ever, talking out of the side of her mouth and cocking her head that way. It’s actually refreshing to see her in a role where she isn’t trying to completely lose her TV origins.

So this is another of those films I’ll watching over and over. When it appears on television it’ll be like bumping into an old friend. It isn’t a surprise that it wasn’t a success on its first release in America – it’s the kind of film which makes you warm and fuzzy looking back at a week later. That release wasn’t helped, of course, by a staggeringly inept poster of Michael Douglas looking like a wino. The second poster was much fairer, playing up the ensemble nature of the cast. It might not been seen as a classic now, but I’m sure in ten years it will be appearing in top one hundred lists. It has word of mouth in its favour. Which is why I’m recommending it to you now. If you’re looking for something life affirming in the ‘Shawshank’ or ‘Field of Dreams’ mode, but new to the eye. This is it.

[Another Tuesday night dig about the archives. I don't think most of you have read it so here it is. I still stand by every word. I'm in the process of working on some 'Big Breakfast' style pre-records for over the festive period, and watching 'Tomorrow La Scala!' so I hope you'll not mind 'another chance to read ...']
Paris For anyone who's interested, here are the best of the first set of pictures from my Paris trip ...
Competition Emma of Leather Condom writes:
"In the style of a New Mini ad:

"19-year-old virgin attempts to convince the world that she's a kinky leather fetishist. Fools no-one. The end."
She also said some other nice things which I thank her for. You too ...
Christmas imperial doughnut is in a festive mood ...
Blogging Checking through my hard disk for rooms to jetisson, I came across this piece of editorial I wrote for an early version of the site:
”Other than Vinnie Delpino, the lovely Wanda and a euphemism for baby faced doctors, the greatest invention the TV show ‘Doogie Howser Md’ brought to the world was the idea of keep your journal on your computer. Little did they realise that eventually the Internet would give people a place to pour their hearts out.

The obvious questions are whether these ‘diarists’ actually tell the complete truth because you can be certain that their friends will be reading the entries and its one thing to talk behind someone’s back a polar opposite to potentially be letting the whole world what you think of Frank, Mable or George.
It seems even then I was ruminating on ‘The Rules’. I’ve mentioned ‘The Rules’ before. There is an actual list and here it is …

The Rules

(1) Don’t write about your friends unless they’re doing something amazing
(2) Don’t talk about work unless you’ve left
(3) Don’t talk about things you know nothing about
(4) Don’t make the rules too conspicuous
(5) Some rules can be broken ...
Film Being something of a fan of 'The Blair Witch Project' I was intrigued to see the film which may have inspired it, 'The Last Broadcast'. Over much of its hour and half, an intriguing story is slowly revealed which grips with the standard of mystery makers, the unknown. Then, stunningly it all goes horribly wrong. As Mark Kermode writes:
"All this would be a neat enough trick were it not for the film's final act which breaks out of the pseudo-documentary format and jumps suddenly and ill-advisedly into the realms of misjudged drama, replete with widescreen masking, smooth camera moves and even the occasional crane shot."
It's hard to fathom how film makers who have show some obvious talent over the previous moments in the film should suddenly forget the kind of film they are trying to make. Instead of being in a state of terror, I'm left with general bemusement. Not good.
Site News I've embedded one of those chat windows into the left hand sidebar (keep scrolling) so it'll be even easier for you to offer comments, enter the competition and contact me. So if you are a regular reader, it hasn't been easier to show yourself ...

[It was working all last night. I'll keep it there for now ... must be a brief glitch at their website ...]