Saturday, 30 June 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - The Best British Short Stories 2011

For 8 years between 1986 and 1994 Minerva published an annual anthology of the "best" short stories edited by Giles Gorden and David Hughes. Reading short stories requires a different kind of reading rhythm, you cant leave one hanging , like you can a chapter of a novel , you need to finish it in one go. Also, if it is a collection by different authors, then like those professional tasters you need to cleanse your palate between each one.

I don't really know why I didn't read many short stories , I'd loved the early Ian Mcewan books, and Raymond Carver's collections even then I would keep coming back to , already showing signs of dependency.

I got given the first collection by one of my housemates in Leeds who had got it free in a magazine and from then on started to  look forward each year to the new volume's publication, their distinctive covers and spines looking good on the bookshelf .. and then they stopped.

I kept looking in bookshops thinking surely someone else will take up the mantle but although lots of collections existed , there was nothing claiming to be the best of each year that looked like it would become an annual fixture.

However Nicholas Royle did take inspiration (as he says in the introduction) and so far a best of 2011 and 2012 have appeared so hopes are high ( the covers are awful though!) He follows a similar principle to the Minerva collection. The criteria is that they have been published in the relevant year either in a collection or stand alone in a magazine and they are what he feels are the best. The difference is to limiting his choice to British authors

Like the original the stories in the 2011 edition cover all the ususal bases. There is a disturbing  , semi Tales of the Unexpected one from Booker winner Hilary Mantel. There is a one with a sci fi flavour , a surreal tale of the heart ,one slightly experimental one with end notes (for me the worst one here), a couple where not much happens but which say an awful lot and ones with the final paragraph twist which don't somehow say as much.  The best ones leave you wanting more , the worst outstay their welcome like a troublesome aunt.

The 2 best are a tale of domestic abuse by John Burnside called Slut's Hair, which doesn't waste a sentence and sucks you right into the banality of the horror. The second is Alison Moore's When the Door Closed it Was Dark" and features an English au pair which builds from unease to a sense of dread with an ending that knocks you for six.

Are they the best  of 2011 , well who knows , but I'm happy someone is back to make the choice for me , and 2012's edition is on the too read shelf.

You can buy The Best British Short Stories 2011 here


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Life of Live - the Bible

I recently went to see The Bible play a reunion gig to celebrate 30 yrs or something which I wrote about here. They had played one more reunion gig a few years earlier. This was part of the same festival as the Roddy Frame / Edwyn Collins concert and was in the same venue. So the same weird comfy chairs and the same perfect acoustics.

I want dwell on this one excellent as it was , mainly because the same review could apply to both gigs along with the same hope in vain that it would lead to some new recordings.

Instead I'll repeat my Boo Hewerdine story form the first time I saw them live ... or how being a music know it all will always trip you up in the end

Before the band came on me and my friends sat at a table drinking and talking , with me boring everyone again on how the Bible were going to be massive and Graceland was a number 1 waiting to happen ( the record company when they were eventually picked up by a major obviously thought the same as it felt like they re released it about 6 times). We all noticed an odd looking bloke in a long coat supping a pint of lager sat at the table next to us and did think long coat indoors? , drinking on his own? ?

Eventually the band came on , we stood up and shuffled to the front of the stage (it wasn't packed. ) my credibility took a bit of bashing when the bloke in the long coat said excuse me as he moved between us , jumped on the stage and promptly started singing. It was probably a good job I hadn't recognised him as I would have probably come across as some kind of deranged super fan stalker, much to the embarrassment of everyone involved. Maybe it also showed that Boo Hewerdine was never going to be a Bono (thank God)

I've posted a track from their 2nd lp Eureka. It has one of my favourite Boo Hewerdine lines

"I see you spending time with silent types
Who never lose their Sergeant's stripes"

It starts very quietly but stick with it for a lovely if a tad 80s sax solo

Blue Shoes Stepping - The Bible

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Under the radar - the Guillemots

Well this has flown under the radar a bit. With no press that I've seen the Guillemots have released a new lp. They have moved from a major label who no doubt werent too sure of their plan to release 4 lps this year. Hello Land is the first one and is closest in style to their debut Through the Windowpane. Gone are the synth heavy, everything and the kitchen sink mid 80s sound and back are he rich orchestral backings ( the lp features the Norwegian Flute Ensemble) and imaginative changes of tempo and rhythm.

They've pulled together a beautiful , thought ful record that is full of surprises

If you have fallen out of love with them recently then now is the time to get re acquainted. You can buy the cd from their website here.

In the meantime here is an acoustic version of what is still one of my favourite singles

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

ooops again

Those of you who have been reading for a while wont be surprised by my general incompetence

I've noticed the link to Greetings to the New Brunette  from last week's post went to a completely different link.

here is the correct link

Greetings to the New Brunette - Billy Bragg

Monday, 25 June 2012

Middle of the Road Monday

The softest of American soft rock , I'm pretty sure that if I heard anything else by Christopher Cross then I wouldn't like it. However this has that Bacharach magic and I love it. Forget the book / film debate. Any others where the theme tune is the best thing about the film?

Arthur's Theme - Christopher Cross

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Lazy Sunday - Whipping Boy

Lazy sunday and this week top of the shuffle pile is a track from Irish band Whipping Boy with a nice bit of crunchy guitar

Twinkle - Whipping Boy

Friday, 22 June 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - Never Mind , Bad News , Some Hope and Mother's Milk

Patrick Melrose comes from wealth has survived neglect from his mother , bullying and buggery from his father , drug addiction and alcoholism to reach a middle age of marriage , infidelity and children. He is the central character in a series of novels (the 5th and final part published this year) written by Edward St. Aubyn. The are supposedly partly autobiographical and I shudder to think which parts!

I've read the first 4 novels as one volume which i think was published in the UK. The books are short with only the 4th book going over 200 pages and not alot happens , but they are all totally compelling.

It is set in the unsympathetic world of the upper classes (pre Downtown Abbey  a class that had dropped out of the literary / entertainment landscape) and populated with deeply unpleasant people. At times it odes feel like slowing down on the motorway to look at a car crash. However there is redemption and warmth as well as a perverse sense of hope. All this with some real laugh out loud moments to balance some horrific behaviour.

We first meet Patrick aged 5 living with his wealthy parents in France. The book focuses more on the monstrous father figure David and the emotionally shut down mother. We witness David's bullying and intimidation over the course of one weekend when the Melroses are giving a dinner party. The narrative switches between Patrick , his parent's and their guests , a technique that continues throughout the other books

Next up is Bad News and Patrick travels to New York to pick up his fathers Ashes. Again set over one weekend Patrick under takes a binge of excess with the descriptions of  drug taking far more powerful than anything in Trainspotting. We follow Patrick, chasing score after score as he hurtles along a path of self destruction, whilst trying to come to terms with his relationship with his now deceased father.

Some Hope is the funniest of the books and this time a clean Patrick is a  guest at a country house weekend birthday celebration. This has a wider cast of characters including guest of honour Princess Margaret through who St Aubyn wonderfully sends up the ridiculousness of the monarchy. It is a comedy of manners and of in breeding.

Mother's Milk sees Patrick now married with children but struggling with thoughts of infidelity as well as a mother who is determined to achieve assisted suicide whilst leaving the family home to a new age conman.

St Aubyn's grasp of his material never wavers through the 4 books and he somehow manages to keep snobbery , greed , cruelty and a complete disregard for morals , balanced with hope , a struggle to do the right thing, forgiveness and redemption

I've yet to read the 5th and final book (it is on the shelf) but I'm sure together they are one hell of a literary achievement

You can buy all of the Melrose books here. If you don't want to read them all then I'd go with Some Hope as a stand alone read, but you'll be missing out!

You can read some fascinating interviews with the author at his website here (it seems all the worst bits of the books are the parts that are autobiographical)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Life of Live - Billy Bragg

"Mixing pop and politics he asked me what the use is" - I'm pretty much of the same view. Music as social commetry that works, but I always feel that pop in politics is a bit preaching to the converted and I kind of kick against getting preached to.

Therefore there ia a bit of Billy Bragg I could take or leave but this is more than out weighed by the fact that he he writes such dam good relationship songs and he is one of the best lyricists going.

I saw him play the Shepherds Bush Empire to promote an lp he had recorded with "the Blokes". I'd been really disappointed with the lp (England Half English) , but the concert was littered with tracks from his complete back catalogue right from Life's a Riot to the better tracks from England Half English. Lots of causes were championed but the stories and anecdotes stopped my mind from wandering.

I'm posting one of my favourite tracks. Johnny Marr's sparkling guitar backs a whole bunch of great one liners.

"How can you lie there and think of England When you don't even know who is in the team"

Greetings to the New Brunette - Billy Bragg

And here is a rousing live version of a song that shows a little bit of politics is a good thing

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Great Music Good Cause - Dalis Car

On the 4th of January 2011 Mick Karn artist and musician and as a founding member of Japan though Quiet Life , Gentlemen Take Polaroids , Tin Drum and later on Rain Tree Crow played a big part in the music I loved died

Just before he died he was working with Peter Murphy as Dalis Car on a follow up to their mid 80s cult release The Waking Hour

The ep In Glad Aloness has 5 tracks including a cover of If You Go Away and show cases Mick Karn's skill as a bass player and multi instrumentalist

The proceeds from the release will provide some financial support to the family he left too soon.

It is not the easiest lsiten in the world and does have the sense fo not being quite finished but if you appreciated Mik Karn's bass playing then it is a chance to give something back
 You can buy the ep here

Here he is live with Japan with that wonderful bass sound

Here is a live performance on the Whistle Test of the first time around for Dalis Car

.... and finally backing a rare outing for Kate Bush

Monday, 18 June 2012

Back From the Dead

Couple of new blogs have appeared in the blog heaven list on the side bar. Well not really new blogs. Come Together was a great blog of one man's record collection that suddenly disappeared I'm guessing due to the blogger hit squad. Well you cant keep a good blog down and it has resurfaced as Slip Inside This House

Back for a while now is eightiesvinylgems which does exactly what it says on the tin and is the place to go for all those hard to find long deleted 12" singles

Middle of the Road Monday

An echo from radio 2s Family favourites when I was growing up I like this one so much it became the first dance at our wedding. How can you not listen to this and smile?

Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head - BJ Thomas

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Lazy Sunday - Dry the River

Lazy Sunday comes from one of my lps of the year so far. I like the folk/pop on steroids sound

History Book - Dry the River

You can buy the lp here - it really is very good!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Beautiful Things - Everything But the Girl

You probably have guessed by now that I'm a bit of a sucker for an attractive reissue - drowning in my nostalgia

Everything But the Girl have re released their first 4 lps (click on the links to see full track listing and where you can buy them)

The folky jazz of Eden
The jangly political pop of Love Not Money
The country wall of sound of Baby The Stars Shine Bright
The 80s soul of Idlewild

Each lp is now a double with b sides demos and sessions pulled together and each is presented a beautifully hard cover bounds booklet with lost glossy photos. They are truely wonderful things

Here are 4 tracks that show the changes - a couple of demos from the first 2 lps and a couple of videos  ( not their strong point) from the 3rd and 4th

Each and Everyone - Home Demo

Angel - Home Demo

Come Home

These Early Days

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Life o fLive - Boo Hewerdine / Chris Difford

The next concert I went to on one hand was a big disappointment but on the other was a bit of a revelation . It was held in that Blake's 7 set that is Canary Wharf and featured a 3 artist line up of Chris Difford , Boo Hewerdine and Gary Clark. I was pretty ambivalent about Chris Difford , but never gave up the chance to see Boo hewerdine and had not seen Gary Clark play since a great gig he had done as part of King L . I was also hoping that in playing live he would be announcing a new solo lp or something.

Therefore it was a bit of a killer when it was announced that he had hurt his back and wouldn't be playing , replaced instead by Francis Dunnery former lead singer of It Bites. He was a lot better than I was expecting (although I still think Calling All the Heroes as one of the most annoying records going) . Boo Hewerdine was his usual excellent self.

The real revelation was Chris Difford . I had Squeeze's greatest hits but that was it., and always really thought as Glen Tilbrook as the main singer. Chris Difford fronted a full band with Francis Dunnery back on guitar and a great female singer who sang harmonies to Difford's main vocal. He ran through basically a greatest hits set. What made it work was the arrangements that were largely a mainly crisp clean jangly / acoustic sound. In a break he explained Dunnery had been responsible for the backing and had produced his new lp due out soon (Calling all the Heroes was immediately forgiven). I hadn't realised that due to financial problems and a battle with booze this was his first live appearance in some years. With his lower vocal range the Squeeze songs seemed fresh and familiar at the same time.

He also played 3 new songs that would feature on the debut lp and they all held their own with the Squeeze classics including this , written with the Gary Clark and introduced as " my only gay country and western song"

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Life of Live - James ....again!

For those of you thoroughly sick and tired of life of lives james obsession , fear not this is the last one for a while as this year's gig was their goodbye tour. It was a rush of nostalgia as the set list was basically a greatest hits with favourite lp tracks thrown in for good measure. Songs were pulled from the complete back catalogue as former members came and went to play along. Andy Diagram got one of the biggest cheers and his trumpet intro reminded everyone how part of the band's sound around the time of Seven he had been.

Very rarely a band and audience become wrapped up as one in a surging tide of music and emotion. This for me was one of those times.

I've posted a clip for the final gig and the song that could have become a albatross but is simply a celebration

Monday, 11 June 2012

Middle of the Road Monday - Andy Williams

For a time I kind of thought Andy Williams was an American version of Val Doonican (cardigan wearing crooner and fixture of saturday night tv when I was growing up. Val never had a song as good as this to call his own though

Cant Get Used to Losing You - Andy Williams

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lazy Sunday - Scritti Politti

Lazy sunday and yop of the shuffle pile is a bit of sugar sweet pop. What I lk eis that most people having recorded this would have made it a single , Green tucks it away as an lp track

Love to Fall - Scritti Politti

Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Year in Books 2012 - Up in the Air by Walter Kim

Up in the Air is one of those rare occasions when the film is better than then book. It features Ryan Bingham's businessman who flies back and forth across the states, contracted by companies who are down sizing to help their employees see redundancy as the first day of a wonderful new world of opportunity rather than a fear filled ticket to the scrap heap. In his spare time he gives "motivational speeches"at conferences and is planning a business fable book along the lines of the one minute cheese mover and their ilk.

He has successfully sealed himself off from any form of attachment with the modern equivalent of a girl in every port and his parents and siblings safely on the end of a long distance phone call, Ryan's big obsession however if the loyalty scheme of the airline he uses. He has successfully organised his complete life around the accumulation of air miles and is fast approaching the magic 1000000 point. The early part of the book works really well as Ryan lets us into the secrets of a successful air mile collector and how to survive. the other worldliness of hotels , airports and cross country air travel.The absurdity of his profession also comes through although this is the first point where I kept thinking , this was done so much better in the film.

Once that thought had lodged the whole things went down hill fast. In the film, George Clooney gives a pitch perfect performance as Ryan gradually realises the emptiness of his life and tries to build a long term relationship with a fellow passenger as well as slowly returning the folds of his family via his sister's wedding.

In the book however , Ryan seems to undergo a mild meltdown as paranoia of identity threat , corporate head-hunters and vengeful ex clients seem to push him over the edge. Even in terms of satire the second half of the book is a bit of a mess and succeeded getting me thinking thinking that this is one of those times when thank god the filmmakers decided to mess about with the storey and take a different path.

You can get Up in the Air here and whilst not a bad book if you've not seen it get the dvd instead

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Life of Live - Soft Cell

Recently there has been a rush of early 80s bands reforming and releasing new lps. However back in 2001 this was more of a rarity, so it was a bit of a thrill when Soft Cell announced a new lp and tour. I always thought that unlike a lot of their contemporaries , Soft Cell didn't outstay their welcome in fact broke up too soon. There was almost an element of self destruction about the final lp Last Night in Sodom , which in places seemed as un chart friendly as they could make it. Even the first single Soul Inside had the duo trashing their history by trashing their memorabilia.

In a recent documentary both Dave Ball and Marc Almond talked about cutting their noses off to spite their faces. For me The Art of Falling Apart is still one of the best electronic lps going.

The lp Cruelty Without Beauty would have made a good follow up to Art of Falling Apart, with the songs marrying a sense of sleaze and danger to some great pop tunes. Somehow they had managed to update their sound whilst also staying true to what made them so good in the first place.

The concert at Brixton academy (at least I think it was there) was a pure celebration. Marc Almond had honed his stage craft as years of touring solo, his voice often the but of jokes in the early days was strong and Dave Ball did what he did best which was to stand motionless behind the keyboard. The new songs fitted right on in with the old ones. The set list covered all the singles plus some of the great lp tracks.

The audience was split into 3 main types. The children of the 80s all slightly heavier , often wearing small glasses were out in number (I felt right at home) then there were the skin heads of all ages of which there were rather a lot. Finally there were the flamboyant hard core fans. I remember a pair of blokes in full Pete Burns make up, elaborate feather headdresses and the backsides cut out of their trousers. What was odd that ,fearing for the state of their head gear, the pair decided to wait in the big foyer area therefore missing he concert ( the high price of fashion)

I've posted one of the tracks from Cruelty Without Beauty, which if you like that kind of thing is worth getting as it kind of slipped under the radar when it first came out. You can get it here

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Life of Live Roddy Frame and Edwyn Collins

Life of Live gets to one of my top 5 gigs ever. There used to be an annual series of concerts on the south bank called the songs the thing or something like that, one of which featured Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame.

I went assuming they would do 45 mins each, what  happened was so much more special.

They both came on and with guitars and a piano played for 2 hours alternating each other others songs, pulled from 2 of the richest back catalogues going.

It was like seeing 2 brothers play. Roddy was all polish and craft with Edwyn all shambolic and funny. I didn't realise how close they were , they were quite clearly good friends and the chemistry and understanding between the 2 was magical. They were  having as good a time as we were. Since Edwyn's illness Roddy has been part of his touring band for a while

Each song seemed to have a story attached or trigger off an anecdote which would usually end with Roddy and the audience in hysterics at something Edwyn had said

It was a relatively small audience in a hall with great acoustics and bizazrely the kind of chairs you find in the expensive rows of the cinema

Unfortunately I've trawled Youtube and a record doesnt seem to exist , however here are 2 of the tracks  they performed that night in their record form

It was one of those gigs that it frustrated me that I can no longer remember all the details or that as I went on my own couldnt talk it through with anyone. My wife for some reason wasnt as enthusiastic when I woke her up to tell her all about it

Monday, 4 June 2012

Middle of the Road Monday part 3 John Cougar Mellancamp

Goodness knows why I like this as much as I do , I mean a man who feels the need to put an animal as a middle name , and it starts with the words "a little ditty" for goodness sake

...But love it I do. I wasn't quite alone with this one a my friend Tim in college also liked it , however Tim has probably the worst music taste ever (the thought is reciprocated I'm sure) so this isn't really much of a recommendation.

In the days before internet and the chance to travel to the US I used to wonder on the magical sounding "chilli dogs" what an earth were they when they were at home?.... as the world got smaller and I found out it was a bit of a let down.

At its heart it is an acoustic good old boy story song , however there is a mass of handclaps , 80s drumming, a soaring middle 8 and some power guitar chords... what is not to like?

Jack and Diane - John Cougar Mellancamp

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Lazy Sunday - The Wild Beasts

Lazy Sunday and top of the shuffle pile comes from one of my favourite lps of recent years, The Wild Beasts' Smother.

I like the cousin of Billy Mackenzie vocals and hypnotic backing

Loop the Loop - The Wild Beasts

Friday, 1 June 2012

FMtastic part 4/4 - The Captain

I bought Captain's debut lp This is Hazelville as it was described as a cross between Deacon Blue and the Smashing Pumpkins , needless to say they didnt sound like either of these. At its' heart the band's sound did have a big early 80s pop feel. As with the other bands this week it is less synth and more the guitar + piano + harmonies of Amercian bands at that time.

The band had the added advantage of Trevor Horn producing them so if anything I was a tad disappointed that the lp if anything felt a bit restrained.

They released 2 fantastic singles Glorious and Broke , both of which made the lower reaches of the chart but should have got a lot higher.

A second lp was recorded but the band was a victim of when the venture capitalists got hold of their label EMI and it was never released .. although the band swiftly were.

And here is a live version of the other single Glorious

Of all the band's on this week's mini theme , Captain had a sound that you could see lasting and it is a shame the 2nd lp didnt see the light of day. You can get This is Hazelville here