Music Dido has a new album out in the first quarter of next year and it's an endeavour which apparently began some time ago:
"The tracks on the new album were begun in 2009 as she attempted to change her sound a bit using more of an "electric approach."

"Dido has enlisted the help of a slew of producers for this new album, including Rollo Armstrong and Sister Bliss of Faithless, Greg Kurstin, Lester Mendez (Shakira, Nelly Furtado), A. R. Rahman, Jeff Bhasker and Rick Nowels."

the sustainability of the contents of the Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas The Guardian investigates the sustainability of the contents of the Twelve Days of Christmas:
"The five gold rings are a win–win whatever interpretation is applied. Gold prices have risen from £15.64 an ounce on 1 December 1970 to £1,060.95 an ounce on 1 December 2012.

"But the gold rings in the verse have also been interpreted as a variation of "five goldspinks", with a goldspink being an old name for a goldfinch.

"Since the Victorians stopped trapping goldfinches, which almost led to their disappearance in parts of England, especially in the north, they have done well. Numbers have increased by 124% since 1970, when the first detailed monitoring occurred, and since 1995 they have almost doubled, according to the RSPB."
Obligatory link.

So Long, Shakespeare by Tom Brown published.

This time last year, writer Tom Brown was kind enough to mention me, or rather the @shakespearelogs twitter feed in an article for the Around The Globle Magazine and now he's been in touch to let me know that his book, So Long, Shakespeare has now  been published.  Here's the synopsis:
"The world is about to discover the true author of Shakespeare's plays - and it's not the man from Stratford...

"Hollywood visionary Joe Seabright has one more movie to make in his blockbusting sci-fi saga - which means one last chance to win his longed-for Oscar. Alas, his writing is as wooden as a plank, and desperately needs improving for his dream to become reality.

"Through a miraculous feat of genetic enhancement, Joe inspires himself with Shakespeare's creativity, only to write a screenplay so teeth-itchingly terrible it can mean only one thing: 'Shakespeare' didn't write 'Shakespeare's' plays.

"Meanwhile, in London, authorship boffin Wendy Preston leads her jolly band of Shakespeare-sceptics in their annual conference - little guessing that her life is about to be turned upside down, and an impossible truth uncovered at last.

"So Long, Shakespeare throws together the worlds of Shakespeare and space opera to create a boisterous cultural comedy full of big questions and even bigger egos. Along the way we meet a brilliant, beautiful geneticist, a spooky collector of great artists' DNA, and an embattled mathematician, desperately flailing for a numerical grasp of human artistry. From start to finish, it's a rollicking summation of everything that makes us care about great art, and the geniuses who create it. "
The Kindle edition is available here

Review 2012: The Projects:
The Spotify Playlist:
US Election Night.


Music  Constructing a playlist for election night required more ingenuity than I was expecting. The obvious first decision was what to include and since the evening was all about the United States of America, it was important to include those. But in what order? Alphabetical didn’t have quite the right narrative energy.

At first I considered the order in which they declared their allegiance to a candidate, but glancing across live blogs from different media outlets it became apparent that there wasn’t a definitive order due to all of them making their choices independently, by and large.  Since 2000, outlets are less likely to simply copy one another it seems.

Ultimately I decided on the order the polls closed as per BostInno, which suggests somewhat the epic sweep of the election across the country from east to west and now voting is still happening at one end of the country even as elections are being called on the other.  Is the musical equivalent of driving from coast to coast.

The other rule was that the track title should only include the state’s name and nothing more. So no Midnight Train To Georgia, Sweet Home Alabama or Carolina on my Mind (which also means it doesn’t replicate The Guardian’s attempt in 2007) (which is worth visiting for the correction at the bottom).

I’ve tried to keep to artists you’ve had some success, include as many hits as possible. Otherwise there’s a preponderance of obscure country, guitar bands and female singer-songwriters. There are also a few of Obama’s supporters, which was a pleasant surprise. This list is semantic and syntactic.

Shakespeare at the BBC: The BBC Television Shakespeare on YouTube.

At the beginning of this month, BBC Worldwide began uploading archive television to its YouTube channel which includes samples from the BBC Shakespeare collection.  So far there are seven plays, all complete:

As You Like It

The Tempest



Julius Caesar

The Merchant of Venice


The Wikipedia has a typically voluminous article with cast lists and background to the series. The rest of BBC Worldwide's uploads are here, whole series of documentaries and dramas including Terry Jones's Medieval Lives.

WHO 50: 1965:
The Rescue.

TV Oh Koquillion.

You might look like some kind of all purpose wheel replacement device sold at Halfords, but you're also the best monster in Doctor Who history.

Across its two episodes, the otherwise unassuming The Rescue was responsible for a number of firsts for Doctor Who.

The first introduction to a replacement companion, the Doctor’s grand daughter Susan having been left behind in the wake of The Dalek Invasion Of Earth the week before.

I’ve always preferred Vicki to Susan, by the way. She's sassier and less prone to abject terror from the simplest of provocations.

The first episode to appear in the top ten most-watched programmes of the week, which really is quite something when you consider this was at the height of Dalekmania.

The first planet visited by the Doctor that he’s claimed to have, visited before. Apart from Earth.

The first occasion the Doctor explains how the TARDIS moves. We’re told for the first time that it doesn’t just land, it “materialises”.

Which isn’t bad considering its overall fan appreciation status. In Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 survey, The Rescue came 127th.

Which is odd considering it contains one of the show’s best monsters and an amazing twist, which I’m about to give away so I’d urge you to look away now if you haven’t seen it yet. Yes, this is a spoiler alert for a 60s story.

"He gave me this. A consolation prize. A piece of his paper currency."

Economy James Surowiecki of ieee Spectrum considers the history of money:
"In the 13th century, the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan embarked on a bold experiment. China at the time was divided into different regions, many of which issued their own coins, discouraging trade within the empire. So Kublai Khan decreed that henceforth money would take the form of paper.

"It was not an entirely original idea. Earlier rulers had sanctioned paper money, but always alongside coins, which had been around for centuries. Kublai’s daring notion was to make paper money (the chao) the dominant form of currency. And when the Italian merchant Marco Polo visited China not long after, he marveled at the spectacle of people exchanging their labor and goods for mere pieces of paper. It was as if value were being created out of thin air."


Review 2012: The Projects: Leeds (1994).

Life It’s 1994, and amongst the madder, slightly random modules on my BA (Hons) Information Studies course (librarianship under a swankier name) is Practical Presentation Skills. Of course on reflection it is one of the more future proof courses, certainly more so than data retrieval (obsolete as soon as Google was invented), since it offers advice on giving presentations both or without an overhead projector and later producing a video of some sort or other.

It certainly provides some levity away from the indexing exercises and management training, allowing me to tell a class all about the films of Rob Reiner in three minutes and demonstrate that the Scott and Charlene storyline from Neighbours is really just a veiled rewrite of Romeo & Juliet albeit with a happy ending, depending on how you really feel about Angry Anderson, all created using DrawPerfect, the WordPerfect-based presentation software.

But the most enjoyable, if certainly the most time consuming is the video portion, in which we're tasked with producing either a drama or documentary on the topic of our own choosing, of any duration. Having just watched Manhattan for what may have been the first time, I decide that I’ll produce the presentational equivalent for Leeds, with vox pops and sections about my own favourite places, news of Sundance cinema stroking my auteur genes. Of something.

We don't receive much training in the use of the camera or the editing equipment, a VHS tape to tape machine. Thankfully, I helped film the school panto a year before so I have some notion of how to use the camera, though the additional microphone is cumbersome. But having seen a few Nick Broomfield documentaries recently as well, I assume this isn’t necessarily a problem.

At the end of the process, as well as including a video of our efforts we are asked to produce a rationale justifying out actions, sections of which I’m publishing below in italics along with the necessary annotations. At some point I may post the whole video online too, but as you’ll see below there are mitigating circumstances working against that, morally speaking.  Either way, let’s go.

Let’s talk about this introductory montage first since I didn’t bother in the ensuing report. The footage was mostly gathered over a single day (other than the material in Beckett Park) and pretty much amounted to me filming interesting things. I did have a copy of the lyric sheet to A Hazy Shade of Winter with me and knew I wanted to illustrate some of the words somehow, though I probably didn’t imagine I’d actually find the Salvation Army anywhere.

This is me trying to be Woody Allen, of course it is, though he probably wouldn’t have chosen an old Bangles cover for the backing track and to this day, I don’t remember the relevance beyond quite liking it. It’s hearing it again on Matthew Rudds’s Q The Eighties show recently which gave me the kick to finally post the montage and the rest of this up online.  The titles where created by sticking print outs to walls, fences and vending machines.

The editing process, which again I didn’t touch on below, amounted to copying the track onto a blank video, dropping the footage underneath, the tape-to-tape I now remember having an option for just recording over the video section of a VHS and leaving the audio alone. This montage and the rest of the video took about eighteen hours altogether, six hours one evening, twelve hours with breaks another day.

Some points of interest.  As you might remember from this interview, Spring and Fall is the title of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem which turned into the name of a television programme I worked on with a friend at school and which I subsequently appropriated for this and that.  Early use of my full name too.

The twirly section at what looks like some kind of expensive American university is the Beckett Park Campus at Leeds Metropolitan University.  I lived there in my first year.  The wall with all the postcards my room.  Those really are the clothes I wore.  Especially the blue jacket.  It was the 90s.

1 Introduction

This Practical Presentation Skills video has the title ‘Leeds’ and is about that city. But it dies not present a balanced view of Leeds, because it does not try to. This Rationale will try and explain who this programme is meant for, why it has taken a different angle from a complete view and explaining each section in turn.

Or rather having gauged the time I had to produce this thing and its importance to the overall mark of the module and the course in general, I chose a topic which seemed pretty self explanatory and which could be relatively free flowing and wouldn’t require me to work with a group which was an option but also a torturous experience elsewhere in which I’d end up doing much of the work myself anyway. Of course, and this hasn’t changed at all in ensuing follies, what seemed relatively simple up front turned into a project that spanned many, many hours and days.

2 Background

This video is primarily meant as a source of entertainment. One of the many problems which can be seen within video and television programmes about certain towns which try an entertain and inform at the same time, is that they tend to cram in as much information as possible, as though missing something out would render the project useless. This often leads to the film becoming boring to watch as the viewer fails to be moved. Here, the viewer must be entertained for the project to work — any information which comes forth is there to supplement the entertainment.

Really, this is just a justification for the editing process which had to be carried out in a modular way, putting together chunks of stuff then slotting them together at the end, rather like Peter Jackson when he was finalising the original Lord of the Rings trilogy reel by real.  Yes just like that.  If I’d really thought about, I would have chosen one of the mini-topics in particular, but I expect I wanted to demonstrate a range of skills and produce something which looked as close to a television programme as possible. Little did I know that the television programme would be The One Show.

3 Prospective Audience

The video is meant to be viewed by anyone. It attempts to include sections which will appeal to most audiences. People from Leeds will hopefully be interested in how an outsider understands their city. Students should be able to identify with those who appear on screen as they speak of their favourite places — in some instances they may be surprised that a place they thought was only loved by them is also visited by other people. Others may wish to draw something from the places which are named as a kind of representation of the student culture.

See, it is The One Show.

4 The Rationale

4.1 Balance

It has been stressed from the beginning that this is not a complete view of Leeds. There are many reasons for this:

(i) Creating a balanced view of a city can be nearly impossible. Not all people are the same, and so anything created by a single person is bound to be biased. It would be impossible for the producer to create any kind of section about nightlife in Leeds beyond cinema, since he has not undertaken to indulge within it.

Blimey, that’s honest, if sounding a bit puritanical in an uncomfortably Agent Nelson from Broadwalk Empire kind of way. But it’s true. At this point in my university career I spent most Friday and Saturday nights hanging around a sometimes deserted residential hall. Much of this was financial, even with a maintenance grant (slowly being phased out by that Tory government) and loans I still couldn’t afford to do the student thing. Plus I didn’t drink anyway (at least until the third year). But this is the period when I discovered art film, which just goes to show what a tangled web, life really is.

(ii) Resources in equipment, time and money are limited. The effort needed to create a complete programme about Leeds are quite beyond those of the producer.

Oh, so I did mention it. After taking the rather epic decision to make a film about a city, I then had to decide how it would be filmed, which was over many days in different parts of the city, though even at that stage I understood the thing was going to be thrown together in the editing.

(iii) The film need only be quite short, so it was decided to look at a few things in some detail than a complete city, merely skimming the surface.

Fifteen minutes seems short. But by the end I might as well have produce a feature film.

4.2 The Subjects

The video is about the producer's favourite places in Leeds:


(i) The Art Gallery was chosen, because he has always had a love for galleries, and even once said that he would not move somewhere if it did not have a gallery. There are many beautiful works in Leeds City Art Gallery, and it was felt a video could create nice experimentation with them in another medium.

Ah, the third person. This was relatively early in my university career, so I’d hadn’t quite understood how to talk about myself in methodologies in the third person. There’s a real howler at the beginning of the next paragraph:

(ii) The producer has a great interest in the film industry, and has developed a taste for the art house section of the industry. This developed after a series of visits to the ‘Hyde Park Picture House‘. It is included in the video because it helped widen the producer's perspective.

Only after all these years do I see the twin dilemma that would be at the heart of my career choices from then until now. The time after this degree was all about realising that I’d made a huge mistake studying librarianship if I wanted to research art history (the research being less important than the art history to recruiters) and the first half of the noughties were about working towards returning to university for film studies, the second half about realising that there aren’t any paid jobs in that any more either.

4.3.3 Leeds City Art Gallery

Welcome. The footage was gathered during an afternoon at the gallery, when it was relatively empty. I don’t remember if I wrote for permission beforehand or if I simply turned up and filled in a permit, but looking at the footage, I’m amazed an attendant didn’t step in and stop me from dashing around the artwork and whatnot. The girl was just someone else in there working, but I know for definite I asked her permission to video her.  I think.

This section of the video is meant as a taster to the gallery itself. It does not include all of the works by any means, but hopefully includes those which are among the more accessible, since abstract and modern works often need more explanation.

The narrated section gives a short introduction to why the producer chose the Art Gallery, and a small piece about the Pre-Raphaelite movement, his favourite group of painters. There is no music over these sections so that the viewer is not distracted from the works or the voice. The narration has been recorded on a tape machine of quite a low standard, so that the sound has a much earthier quality, which will hopefully complement the works.

There isn’t any music because I couldn’t work out how to mix music and voice together without it sounding rubbish. The real failure of this section is only having a couple of actual Pre-Raphaelite paintings with the rest of the duration padded out with work that quite obviously isn’t.

There are two music sections. The first, using a carol sung by the folk group 'Steeleye Span’ was chosen since much of the art within the piece has a very natural feel to it, and the music seems to typify this. This section tries to put across the variety of works which exist within the gallery, is not as expansive as the producer would have liked since much of the higher section of the gallery was closed due to staff shortages on the day of filming.

I’d forgotten about that. Perhaps that’s why there aren’t as many pre-Raphs as I’d been expecting to including. Yes, that must be it. Also, yes, Steeleye Span. Gaudete would go on to appear on a dozen Christmas compilations.

The second section of music is from the soundtrack to John Hughes’s 1986 film ‘St Elmos Fire, and is the only orchestral piece on an album of rock tracks. Here it is used to complement the sculptures which are being represented, since often sculpture is isolated within galleries, like this piece on the album. The three sculptures chosen seem to typify three different states of womanhood — regality, sexuality and intellect.

I’ve left the glaring factual error in here. That would be Joel Schumaker’s St Elmos Fire, younger version of me. Enjoy also the hint of pretension. Again this is all justification after the fact. I had loads of shots of sculpture and I really chose the track because it was a favourite of a course mate I had a secret crush on, even though she’d never even see the thing. Sigh.

One of the problems which exists in showing Art on television, is that a two-dimensional screen cannot completely show the works to their full glory. In spinning around each sculpture, the viewer is hopefully seeing each from all side. A parallel is also trying to be found at the end of the piece between the student working and the sculpture reading — bringing home the reality of some of the works.

In truth I think I plagiarised the spinning thing from the end of a romantic comedy I’d recently seen. But it is quite effective even if you’d don’t really see the sculpture itself much.

4.3.4 The Hyde Park Cinema

The producer did not know what kind of access he would be getting to the cinema before he got there, and so only made simple plans before hand. An interview schedule was drawn up, because he thought he would have access to the manager. Unfortunately, her house was burgled the night before, and so the interview with the projectionist was improvised — which did actually allow for some insights, which might not otherwise have been found. Because of the conversational nature of the interviews, they have been kept in full.

Apart from here, where I’ve only included the montages. As with some other elements, the projectionist certainly didn’t give his permission to have himself posted the internet twenty-years later, no releases signed, so it doesn’t seem fair to pop him up here apart from in an unavoidable glimpse. The majority of what he said has been posted to the Hyde Park’s own website.

As regular readers will know, the Hyde Park is where I really became a film fan during those three college years.  I saw Pulp Fiction on its opening night here and Tarantino's other adventures in late night double bills, Reservoir Dogs not yet granted a video classification from the BBFC.  Although it was still a slog to get to in the first year, by the third year I was living practically next door and saw pretty much everything they booked in.

Being given full access to film that he liked in the cinema, the producer set about taking shots. The cinema was being evaluated that afternoon for a BBC2 documentary, however, and this limited him somewhat. Many useful shots where taken, however.

And how. I don’t remember the name of the documentary, but I’ve a feeling it was Moviong Pictures. To be honest this section is probably only included to pump up the word length. As you can see I was pretty much given full access to the place, with the projectionist even running trailers and announcements for me to film.

The musical section is from the soundtrack album of ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys (featuring Michelle Pfeiffer, and the Bridges brother, Bo and Jeff), a film which played at the Hyde Park a couple of years ago. It is a very badly distorted recording of a Duke Ellington record, and is used here to create a feeling for the history which is attached to the cinema. Some of the camera work during the piece is at time quite obscure, but this will hopefully give the piece a more cinematic feel to it.

Which is really me justifying the use of what amounted to B-roll, moments where I was carrying the camera between places and hadn’t turned it off. Rare for many years, The Fabulous Baker Boys album’s now available digitally, but having spent so long with that cracked vinyl, it simply sounds wrong without the jumps and scratches. Oh and it’s the Benny Goodman Quartet not Ellington. I think that mistake crept in because I was working from a cassette I’d made before going away to university and I’d failed to copy out the track listing and the internet hadn't really been invented.

4.3.5 So what is your favourite place in Leeds?

These small sections are here to add an extra flow to the two pieces, and to create a loose structure upon which everything can hang. The people interviewed are from The University of Leeds, The Studio Theatre, and around Macaulay Hall, and where not planned, creating a spontaneous atmosphere.

This is the biggest omission from this post and again for much the same reason as the projectionist.  These people all gave their time on the assumption it was just for my course and I’m not sure how pleased I’d be to be reminded of my bygone days many years later, especially the girl who joked that she walked around Hyde Park in bare feet and I think she was talking about the pub. Assuming that they some how manage to stumble on the videos on YouTube, which is unlikely but you never know.

You can imagine the process, standing in the street and approach people. I had some idea of the sections. Places you like to go during the day, places you like to go during the evening. I volunteered at the Studio Theatre, attending workshops so I took advantage of that and some of the best answers were from there.  It was during this process that at the age of nineteen I met my first American, who reminded me of a young Margot Kidder and described things as "cheesy".

The people where asked a set of questions based upon who they were (Students, Lecturers, General Public). The answers have been edited together in a shot gun effect so parallel the open titles, and to add some kind of urgency to the section, hopefully speeding up the pace. Almost all of the interviews taken have been used. The objective was to interview most types of people living in Leeds, but as it turned out, mostly students were used. This causes the viewer to draw conclusions about student life in Leeds based upon the answers given.

For the record in the first section the answers given were Victoria shopping arcade, the Town Hall, the Corn Exchange, stay in and be boring, Park Square, the library, Middleton Park woods, Beckett Park, Café Caliente in Headingley, the countryside, Pizza Hut, my house, the Indian restaurants around here, the Merion Centre and Leeds Art Gallery.

The second gave, Town and Country, the Coburg or the Highland, Stomp on a Friday night, the Music Factory, the Fenton, the Faversham or the Student Union, the Hyde Park, the Eldon, the Duck and Drake, the Skyrack, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema, Hyde Park Cinema …

To my astonishment (no, really), no one was choosing the same places as me and I knew I wanted to have the vox pops lead into the relevant sections, so in another dubious move, I had a few of the people give that answer anyway, not entirely convincingly, and the lead in ended with my voice correcting them with the “Hyde Park Picture House”.

5 Conclusion

This video is the producers first attempt with the video medium. it has been very interesting finding out about how the various equipment works and what can be done with it.

The content was chosen because the producer felt most comfortable with it. There is an old saying ‘Write about what you know, not what you think you should know‘. In choosing two favourite places, the video becomes much more personal. Adding the interview sections, brings the viewer into the video, since their views are also being catered for.

That’s it.

Marco Polo's journey.

Cartography  Back in 2008, while she was a Phd student in Cambridge, Rachel Leow charted the whole of Marco Polo's journey on Google Maps ...
"I am reading my slow, marvellous way through the Yule-Cordier edition of The Travels of Marco Polo, armed with Google Maps, Google Images, Wikipedia and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. It is stirring up an insatiable storm of Wanderlust, and so to expiate my guilt at not PhD-ing, I am sharing my vicarious armchair travelling. Marker by annotated marker, I’m filling in a map of Marco Polo’s cities and travels..."
In the meantime, the project seems to have been completed and is heavily annotated with quotes from the journal and modern orientation.

Breaking Glass.

Film When Breaking Glass, the 1980s rock musical that launched Hazel O’Connor’s career was released in the US, after a typically disastrous preview screening, the distributors removed the final two scenes. In the British version newly released on DVD, after an inevitably epic production number, the film slips into surrealism before shifting into a somewhat understated, melancholy but hope denouement. The US version ends with just the rock concert, entirely ignoring that it fails to resolve the main thread of the story, how even the most anarchic of singers will inevitably be co-opted by the record company, their message and self expression disingenuously becoming another means to part the public with their cash.

But such is the dichotomy at the heart of the film. On the one hand it’s as commercial a piece of work as most of these things tend to be, applying a transitorily popular music genre onto a fairly rote run through of the rags to riches genre. But on the other it manages to capture the atmosphere of the time, the creative squats, social unrest due to an economic downturn and disillusionment of the post-punk era. Partly time has provided some of this lustre, but reading around online, it’s apparent that even in the original release period, for some, it was a rallying point for some sections of the youth, even if in a circular motion, some of the story would be reflected in real life.

Originally written for a male character, Hazel O’Connor impressed the producers so much that the script was rewritten to accommodate her and she was contracted to write the songs, her own experiences becoming part of the script. Like Kate, she attempted to get noticed by pasting posters up outside venues and on the London Underground and found herself signed to a record company on a draconian contract. During the making of the film she contracted bronchitis due to filming conditions, her method of medication, a syringe in the rear became a minor part of the script. While it’s a stretch to call this biography, there a few rock musicals in which the star’s own story is so tied to the material.

Which is presumably why O’Connor is so magnetic. In her first acting role, she has that natural presence which musicians often have in films, but it’s underpinned by real dimension especially in the later stages when she has to communicate the decimation of Kate personality.  She obviously as her most compelling when performing, her face often contorted face caked in clown make-up, her attitude prefiguring Daryl Hannah's replicant in Blade Runner.  When in the finale she appears in a bodysuit covered in florescent electric circuit boards like an analogue Tron girl, it's as though she's literally become absorbed in The Matrix.  O'Connor herself would spend much of the rest of her career extricating herself from a similar system re-appropriating the rights to her own music.

She’s helped immeasurably by some wonderful chemistry with Phil Daniels as her record producer in one of his earliest “wideboy with a heart” roles. If the story loses cohesion in its final third, it’s because it separates these two, and the film’s best scenes are when they’re simply hanging around in their flats, on trains, in pubs and around the city, laughing, crying, arguing.  Similarly compelling is Jonathan Pryce as a deaf saxophonist.  He barely says three words throughout the piece, but his is one of the more poignant contribution because we know his trade will soon become all but wiped out by electronica within a few short years.  Polanski regular Jon Finch is suitably reptilian as the representative of the recording company, seducing Kate into forgetting her naivety is her strength.

Breaking Glass is a bit of a nexus point of British acting in the early 80s.  In tiny roles as a station porter and record producer are Jim Broadbent and Richard Griffiths already fully formed, and one of the pleasures is spotting famous and relatively famous performers. It’s Mark Wing-Davey as a record producer. Ken Campbell as a pub landlord. Michael Kitchen!  There are also all kinds of random musical faces including The Damned drummer Rat Scabies and Blitz kids like Philip Sallon, Jeremy Healy, Boy George, Steve Strange and Marilyn.  Breaking Glass was one of the most expensive British films of all time, and the money is all in the crowd scenes, hundreds of extras falling over one another, fighting and throwing fire about and that's just in the concert scenes.

The dvd transfer of the film is marvellous, retaining just the right amount of scuzzy graininess whilst highlight the cinematography, all of the faces popping out beautifully when a concert is plunged into darkness thanks to a black out.  Special features on the dvd run to a trailer an a lengthy interview with O'Connor who is currently back on tour with the songs from the film.  An accompanying booklet, thoroughly researched by pop culture historian and Doctor Who Magazine obituarist Marcus Hearn, fleshes out this story and additionally there are facsimiles of the preliminary fact sheets sent to the press and post cards of various poster images, the photographic one sheet for Britain looking rather reserved in comparison to the cubist noodlings of the Hungarian promo.

For someone who’s entirely outside the moment of the film’s creation, it’s more of a curiosity and historical document than anything else. Nevertheless it’s refreshing to see a rock musical which has the authenticity of contemporary production rather than nostalgically reflecting back ala That Thing You Do! or Backbeat. Not that there aren’t some unsurprising resonances for 2012 Britain. Scenes like the riots in which the “National Front ninnies” (credit to TV Cream) and anti-racist protestors clash are still being played out across our streets, albeit with a few name changes. But the music certainly has changed and as I sit listening to the Breaking Glass soundtrack on Spotify, I’m inevitably going to suggest it’s for the worse. Arse.

Breaking Glass is out now.  Review copy supplied.

Review 2012: The Projects: Liverpool Biennial 2012

Art When the Liverpool Biennial closed on 25th November, I was full of cold. Not the flu as such, but I was certainly miserable enough not to work that weekend. But I did ponder briefly what it must have been like on those remaining few days as, if social media offered any indication, people who’d not been able to attend in the previous two months rushed around the Biennial and attempted to see as much as they could. Busy presumably. Very busy. Exhibitions tend to have their highest visitor figures at the beginning and end of their existence. Imagine that across a dozen or so venues.

Looking back at my own approach to the Biennial, originally outlined oh so long ago in this introduction, I’m not entirely sure it helped my appreciation. Visiting the venues in numerical order as per the address list in the official booklet, did slow down my approach to the main exhibitions as predicted, but it also threw up a fair few incongruities, not least seeing Everton Park before the contextual exhibition at the World Museum with all of its helpful travel leaflets and maps which would have been really helpful when attempting to find and then understand the work at hand.

Seeing the Cunard Building first also meant that my favourite artwork of the whole Biennial, Suzanne Lacy’s Storying Rape, was also the first artwork I saw. A filmed discussion in which councillors, law makers and writers shared experiences of how the narrative of rape develops and changes across their relative contexts, it ticked the box of being a piece of artistic expression because the speakers were guided by Lacy’s decisions (not being able to discuss their personal experiences) and both creating an emotional reaction in the viewer and making them think.

But it also meant that I didn’t visit by favourite overall venue, LJMU Copperas Hill until some weeks into the festival period and was able to dedicate a whole day to its delights. If the contents of City States in particular had been unpacked and spread across the other Biennial venues it would have been seen as a job well done, such was the variety and depth of the work on offer. This was the Biennial as I remember it at the beginning and as I’d hope it should always aspire to be, bringing the best international artists to Liverpool, working at the zenith of their abilities.

You see, for me at least, the remainder of the Biennial ranked as a rather disappointing year, something I take no pleasure in saying, which is presumably why I’ve waited until after its closed to say it. Friends have described how, while following my venue reviews that part of the fun was in reading between the lines, that the more interesting elements were in what wasn’t being said, that I reviewed the façade of the Open Eye Gallery. In that case, it’s true that I genuinely preferred Sinta Tantra’s installation to the repetitive work inside.

As you might imagine, especially if you’ve met me, I’ve thought long and hard about why I was so underwhelmed in the main, hello December, but unlike some previous festivals, this one didn’t seem to quite gel and after dedicating the best part of six weeks visiting everything, it feels important to put those thoughts into writing. Of course, I don’t need to do this. I could just talk about the things I did like, or say nothing at all, but that could offer its own meanings and it seems important to be honest, because I dedicated the best part of six weeks visiting everything.

The problem wasn’t the overall theme. “Hospitality” like “Touched” in 2010, was a broad enough topic that it should have been able to encompass a wide variety of work and an excellent choice in a year when thanks to the Olympics and surrounding events, the UK welcomed people from across the world, offering them our hospitality. Ideal examples of work which confronted these themes head on? Marcus Kahre’s in(n)stallation at The Monroe or Jeanne Van Heeswijk’s community project as artistic expression at Mitchell’s Bakery both worked brilliantly.

No, the problem, at least for me, was that some of the work on display too often fell into the format of either containing clever ideas but not enough of a budget to execute them, or no ideas and plenty of resources. That’s true of contemporary art in general but something about this particular Biennial magnified that dichotomy, especially in The Cunard Building where one was left standing in front of Runo Lagomarsino’s An Offensive Object in the Least Offensive Way and having an irony bypass. Found art is always a gamble, isn’t it?

How best to describe this? Perhaps it’s best to say that there was a lot of “tut” or “cuh” artwork, artwork in which once a visitor or viewer has gathered what it’s about leading to a “tut” or “cuh” sound, there’s not much reason to stick around. Once the artist has made their point, there’s nothing to aesthetically distinguish the work. It’s probably unfair to invoke the Baroque here, which also has a lot of “tut” or “cuh” artwork, but much of it is also extremely beautiful. There’s a reason Waldemar Januszczak made a whole series about it.

As I write this, I wonder if I’m simply breaking off into a whinge about contemporary art in general and my general enmity towards it applied it to this Biennial, but I genuinely don’t think that’s the case. In previous Biennials, the quality ratio seems have been extremely high, where the sheer level of ideas and construction overshadowed the disappointments. I’m biased, but there were few genuinely awful works at the AFoundation when I worked there in 2006 and that’s been true across the festival ever since.

All of which suggests I had an awful time. I didn’t. But I’d say I liked roughly one third of the work on display, which sounds like a lot until you compare it to the two thirds I couldn’t stand or at the very least couldn't ultimately be bothered to spend much time with even though I had hours of it. Perhaps if I had rushed around and seen everything in a couple of days my appreciation would have been higher, or hadn’t had to think about it for those blog posts looking for something interesting to say, but I didn’t and I did and so now we have this catharsis.

But there’s no doubt that one of this Biennial’s successes seemed to be in community outreach. The work in Anfield at the old Mitchell’s Bakery and at Everton Park have potential to bring great benefits to those areas and further afield. You might wonder why it’s up to the Biennial to be the leader on such things, why they aren’t simply happening anyway. Perhaps they are. But what we have here is the Biennial’s unique approach to them and that’s all to the good. The morning I spent at Mitchells was one of the happiest of the whole festival.

Indeed there were plenty of happy moments. Getting lost amongst the offices inside Copperas Hill, enjoying the building for its architectural and social aspects as much as the artwork, everything almost frozen in time since the post office workers left (see photo). My bemusement at events unfolding at Agency in The Royal Standard. Eating cheesecake at the Camp & Furnace. Accidentally speaking to Jiri Kovanda. Hiding under the display boards during a rainstorm at Exchange Flags. Writing a blog post at METAL. Playing games at FACT. End montage.

Of course a huge part of the project was simply accessing the artwork, finding the venues, reading the information, process, process, process. In writing those blog posts, I found my initial intention simply to write about each venue at first was quickly becoming bogged down in describing these processes, of this becoming a blog rather than simply some kind of cultural review thingy. But as was a topic of heated debate under one of The Guardian’s restaurant reviews recently, the process of getting to do a thing is often important when discussing that thing.

I’ve already gone on at some length about the problems with the official booklet.  From personal experience at least, even as someone whose familiar with the city, I found it obtuse, frustrating and often misleading. As ever for the Biennial, the map was incorrect in places with a disconnect between that and the way the information was formatted within the booklet. To properly untangle all of this would make the screen look like one of the Russell Crowe’s office walls in A Beautiful Mind, even though most of the mistakes might have been caught with a couple of hours more proof reading / beta testing.

Apart from some of the blobs being in the wrong place on the map and neither Wolstenholme Creative Space and the Static Gallery being given an address, a few of the venues weren’t given their own entries in the main body of the booklet. This seemed strange to me. If I was designing the thing, I would have given all the venues on the map their own entries in the main body of the booklet, explaining exactly what could be found there and in the same order.  Smaller entries pointing to larger entries seemed messy to me.

A typical example is Lime Street Station. The work, “I Love You” was listed with the artist’s “Kissing Through Glass” under The Cunard Building. This created confusion. The Network Rail man I spoke to at the station said that he’d had many people approaching him asking where “Kissing Through Glass” was on the concourse and he and his colleagues had been waiting for it show up and for information about stewarding. In truth, that’s where I thought it was or at least a repeat. Simply giving “I Love You” its own entry with a number (24) and an explanation would have saved much time.

I should add that I would also have given entries to venues which only appeared on the map due to there being an event there at some point, which would have been an excellent way of increasing publicity for said events and also underscored there not being an actual exhibition there. Instead, all events were in the back of the booklet. Of course, my project forced me to visit venues which I knew wouldn’t have anything there at this late stage, but wonder how many people walked to Liverpool Cathedral only to find nothing there other than, well, Liverpool Cathedral.

Bizarrely too, none of the venues listed individual opening hours. At the back of the booklet it said “Open daily from 13 September (sic), 10am-6pm” but that seemed to be just the venues specially created for the festival. The Bluecoat, FACT, Open Eye Gallery, Tate Liverpool and others all kept their own opening hours, which are roughly similar except that some of them close on odd days. I wonder how many visitors turned up at the Open Eye on a Monday as I did only to find the place closed. Including the alternative opening hours in the booklet would have been a great help.

Such information is available elsewhere on the internet. The Biennial had an app too. But for those of us without a smart phone, the booklet was the primary information source and should have been as accurate as possible and even small things, like the numbers within the booklet going out of sequence with the ones on the map might have been a source of confusion. Arguably one should just have been able to pick it up at Lime Street and then head off into the city, safe in the knowledge that you’d be able to find everything you need, the art being the primary objective.

But information in general was minimal this year. Most of the text boards around the city had a repeated explanation for what the Biennial's overall theme meant, with little space to describe what the piece in question was about. Although there’s an argument for allowing the visitor to make their own interpretation, there’s also an assumption that we have a breadth of knowledge of everything in the world to call up and unfortunately that’s not always true, especially for me. Unlike film trailers, providing more information about an artwork, and clear information, can't be classed as a spoiler.

Even in venues the material provided was often poor. Once again, for example, Bloomberg New Contemporaries was impenetrable in places thanks to there being no information about anything, the intentions of artists, especially in the more abstract pieces were difficult to fathom. We should not have to buy a catalogue or do extensive internet research, however fun, in order to gain the most from an exhibition, though if the catalogue’s anything like the website, we’ll still be none the wiser since all that has is the skeleton of an artist’s CV.

Admittedly, that’s not within the Biennial’s control, it’s a separate organisation, but if its being presented together, we don’t necessarily know the difference, and we’d hope that there would be a consistency of experience across the venues. I could go on, but I’m aware that this stream of negativity isn’t going to get us anywhere. It just felt like, sometimes, I was expending more brain power on planning to see the art than seeing the art and enjoying it. But to have an individual entry for Hotel Indigo, refer back to The Cunard Building then not have any linking explanation is just … no. Stop now.

Perhaps it's just me.  Perhaps I took all of this too seriously.  Perhaps you're reading this and thinking I've gone out of my way to pick holes in an event which entertained many, many people across the two months, especially through the events programme.  But not having been able to attend any of the events because of work and other things, all I had to was the exhibitions and, well, see above.  But believe me, I still adore the Biennial ideal and adored parts of this one, for all of the process, process, process.

Concrete Yellow River.

Architecture  Time Magazine has some startling images of the Yellow River and although the photographer says that he doesn't set out to record environmental destruction, it's impossible not to grimace at these captured moments in which nature and concrete collide, like the beautiful white deer foregrounding a cooling tower.
"Zhang’s project has the feel of a pilgrimage. He travels on a fold-up bicycle, following the river’s silted water from the coastal flats of Shandong, west, to the mountains of Qinghai. He journeys for a month at a time, lugging a large format Linhof camera, a tripod and just enough film. Sometimes, he says, he went a week without taking a picture. “I wanted to take my time,” he said, ”to slow down and experience every second of the moment.”

Bears pursued by exit.

Nature According to Scientific American, climate change isn't just effecting bears in the polar regions but also in equatorial climates:
"In this case it’s the critically endangered Gobi bear (Ursus arctos gobiensis), the only bear species that has adapted to desert life. The last 22 members of this brown bear subspecies (known in Mongolian as mazaalai) live near three oases in the Gobi Desert, where the golden-colored animals subsist on a mostly vegetarian diet of hardy desert roots and other plants. But rising temperatures appear to have already started reducing the available water in the Gobi, making those plants harder to find and threatening the future of the bear."

Kevin Warwick on caffeine.

Caffeine How I learned to stop worrying and drink coffee already. Kevin Warwick in Chicago decides to become addicted to caffeine via coffee doses. Tries various brands. Ultimately ends up liking it too much. It's a steady slide:
"Here's the thing about Starbucks: it's not bad at all, it's just juiced with caffeine. Not Barry Bonds juiced, more Rafael Palmeiro juiced—because he didn't seem like he had it in him. Making such a significant jump in caffeine seems ill-advised, but I went ahead and ordered a 12-ounce—ahem, "tall"—anyway, nearly doubling the amount of caffeine from yesterday's ten-ounce serving of Dunkin'. I've been in a Starbucks before because I am a human, but once I was ordering something other than decaf tea or coffee cake, navigating the menu of mochas, macchiatos, lattes, and cappuccinos felt on par with placing a bet at a Vegas sports book."

Steven Pinker on science writing.

TV There's a group discussion in today's Observer on the topic of science writing. Very early on, Steven Pinker explains how he decided to pitch and tone his writing. The advice he received explains why so much of factual television is so damned awful these days:
"Before I wrote my first cognitive book, I got a bit of advice from an editor, which was probably the best advice I ever received. She said that the problem many scientists and academics have when they write for a broad audience is that they condescend; they assume that their target audience isn't too bright, consists of truck drivers, chicken pluckers and grannies knitting dollies, and so they write in motherese, they talk down. She said: "You should assume your readers are as smart as you are, as curious as you are, but they don't know what you know and you're there to tell them what they don't know." I'm willing to make a reader do some work as long as I do the work of giving them all the material they need to make sense of an idea."
That would also seem to be true of television.

The very best documentaries assume the viewer has an intelligence and happens to be interested in the given topic: Michael Wood, Mary Beard, David Attenborough and Brian Cox and the best stuff on BBC Four all fits into this category.

Judging by Civilisation and The Ascent of Man that was the tendency in the past too.

The worst assume the audience is bloody stupid, needs everything explained to them and barely manages to scrape the surface of the given topic (most of Channel 4 these days and the worst stuff on BBC Four).

I can still remember when I first began listening to Radio 4 and couldn't believe how much respect it had in my ability to listen and understand what was being said.