Posts from 19th November 2004

Nov 04

Just because it’s Friday

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 303 views

Just because it’s Friday

Two music writers, one of whom has a prominent regular writing gig, the other of which is giving music fans something actually useful and getting no money at all. Can you guess which is which?

1. Jess Harvell, whose site has turned into an MP3 blog helping to spread some genuinely new and exciting sounds. (You probably already know this though.)

2. Alexis Petridis, whose latest review ends with the eye-boggling claim that “it seems highly unlikely anyone will laugh at U2 again”.


Proven By SciencePost a comment • 107 views


andrew wakefield is the doctor who kicked off the debate about the MMR jab – and whether combining the measles mumps and rubella inoculation was possibly responsible for an as-yet unexplained surge in cases of autism… brian deer is the would-be nick broomfield aiming to show us that wakefield’s crusade was inspired by conflict of interest not “pure science” or worries about the disease he was researching

well, i don’t ever use “nick broomfield” in a complimentary way: i detest the species of manipulative documentarism he’s pioneered… and true to form, deer presents himself as the know-nothing-who-understands-everything, including one peerlessly repellent moment where he hands over some proposed project of wakefield’s – a great tombstone of text, clearly hundreds if not thousands of pages long – and gets it “reviewed-at-a-glance” by an expert in the field (we – literally – see one expert read one paragraph on camera, and THAT’S IT!); to shove the desired point home, deer then pointed to a sentence (still on page one), “so what about this bit with the goat” and actually took it on himself to chuckle with fake bafflement as he asked the expert to comment further (ok, goats are intrinsically funny but actually not ALL goat-related biology is therefore intrinsically humorously worthless (deer’s chuckling was teacher’s-pet-style sucking up, not knowledge)…

later when deer arrived in the US to root out some little old retired professor somehow connected to the rogue project he thinks is behind wakefield’s initial intervention, the professor’s lack of credibility was as much derived from the size of his former house (small! a “good” scientist wd obviously have a giant gleaming mansion) and the way he dressed (strange) than any deep look at his career or achievements (or indeed failures and crimes). Wakefield did indeed imply “something rotten in the state of denmark!” – *not* actually an invariably corrupt question to ask (even when yr very extremely misguided); all Deer wz doing wz shouting “i dare to insist something rotten abt anyone who questions the state of denmark!”

look, a. whistleblowers often are cranky, slightly obsessive people, not smooth cogs in the big machine that everyone is secretly on board with
b.finding scientists who think each other’s work is ridiculous is not that hard or revelatory; good science is as fuelled by ambition and competitive contempt as bad science is
c.actually in science good ideas sometimes really do arise from bad earlier ones: being wrong (and silly) before may be what LEADS YOU TO BEING RIGHT
d. if yr gnna get arsey abt the ways the profit motive distorts the presentation of medicine and the practice of research, it’s NOT just the cranks and outliers you shd mainly be getting arsey at

the problem is that even if deer’s thesis is entirely correct (that wakefield is a clown and a humbug and possibly a crook), his shtick entirely depends on a contradictory manipulative play:
i. set yrself up as the noble little knight tilting at establishment giants;
ii. rely first last and always on the firepower and authority of EVEN BIGGER *MORE* ESTABLISHED GIANTS


The Brown WedgePost a comment • 392 views


the dying sun is staining the little rococo tower pink, but [office co-worker E] cannot see it properly as her window is still yucky and smeary from the tropical plant that used to stand against it until her predecessor left

as an arts org we the undersigned demand that “health and safety” shd be expanded to cover “transient aesthetic heartsease” —w.morris, j.ruskin et al

I am going to a gig tomorrow!

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 289 views

I am going to a gig tomorrow! I had thought that – Glastonbury aside which is of course “not about the music man” (i.e. the music is atrocious) – this was my first gig in three whole years but I’d forgotten about Brian Wilson. That didn’t feel like a ‘gig’ though, I wasn’t sipping lager out of a beaker and I was comfortable.

I don’t avoid live gigs out of any ‘anti-rockist’ principles (as I say in Popular, live music scenes can have fantastic impacts on pop as a whole), I just don’t personally enjoy them much. Recorded music just sounds better, and it suits my low boredom threshold, and I can sit around and chat while it’s playing, blah blah. I’ve had good times at gigs but hardly ever the kind of transformative experience habitual gig-goers talk about (actually most habitual gig-goers who go and see poxy no-fans bands seem to do it for the usual music-lover reason: there’s that slim chance of hitting the jackpot which keeps us going through the mediocrity.)

Anyway the band in guestion are the Go!Team, who are from Brighton and make an uplifting racket. They are supposed to be a bit awful live but their album already sounds to me like people playing great records a room or two away so a ramshackle approach would do them no disfavour. I’m hoping for a kind of boozy good times amateurish atmosphere and my hopes are further raised by the fact that they don’t get onstage until one.

On the last chapter of Vernon God Little

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 380 views

On the last chapter of Vernon God Little. Yes or no? See a similar issue I had last year about a film for potential clues to this question. You will need to read the much more entertaining than I expected* book to make up your own mind about the answer.

*ie Much more entertaining than I expected a Booker Prize winner to be.

THE BEATLES – “From Me To You”

Popular19 comments • 3,820 views

#151, 4th May 1963

Merseybeat was the fad that changed the world. Or at least it changed the world this blog cares about. Of the 20 number ones after “How Do You Do It?”, fourteen were by Liverpool groups or singers, and a fifteenth was written by The Beatles. As for the old order? Elvis Presley had 9 #1s in the first three years of the decade, two in the rest of it. Cliff stuck around but his lock on the top three was broken. The teen balladeers of the early 60s? Kaput. And so on. By the time the Merseymania died down, leaving the Beatles legends and everybody else with a free pass on the revival circuit, pop’s cast was different.

What about pop’s sound, though? That shifted too, but not as quickly or completely – from 1963 to today, records get to No.1 which could credibly have been chart-toppers before Merseybeat. Wholesomeness, big sloppy ballads out of films, deference in the face of a string section – these things never went away. But nevertheless something is different in British pop after ’63. If I had to sum up what Merseybeat brought to the top of the charts I’d say it boils down to two things: voice and aggression.

I’ve mentioned British accents a lot on Popular because I think they’re important – British pop pendulums all the time between valuing transatlantic mimicry and valuing rougher regional voices: this is a legacy of Merseybeat. The early-60s vogue for exaggerated London voices was a kind of dry run for Merseybeat but the absurd Cockney stylings of “Poor Me” et al lacked a certain amount of conviction. The scouse voices on Merseybeat hits are always naturalistic.

And their naturalism is backed up by the aggressive playing. Merseybeat, like skiffle, was a small club music and even if technique was valuable it was rarely shown off: what counted was energy and pace. There had been aggressive music at the top of the British charts before (“Great Balls Of Fire”!) but generally played by Americans (and so not connected to a British experience of live music) or incorporating safer comic aspects (Lonnie Donegan – and the wider homebrewed skiffle movement was I suspect more or less by ignored by record companies).

Merseybeat had its own ways of defusing the aggression but crucially they aren’t so much part of the records. The well-kept and cheeky public image of most of the Liverpool groups may have been a put-on but it made their mass appeal less threatening. When I talk about ‘aggression’ of course it’s all relative – most Merseybeat records sound pretty cuddly now, but at the same time there’s generally more bite than in earlier pop – though often at the expense of subtlety: a change is not always an improvement.

I’ve talked about Merseybeat because it shouldn’t be reduced to The Beatles, even though they were its commercial motor. The Beatles are the sole cause, though, of another meta-effect: from this point on the well-known pop songs outnumber the lesser-known. British pop history doesn’t start with them, but they are its 1066 – the point at which the traditional curriculum really gets going. The language of pop before the Beatles is obscure in places – it’s hard to know what a Vera Lynn record might have meant to the people who bought it; it’s harder to work out how to take a Guy Mitchell song today. The Beatles’ records, and what came after, are still not often speaking the language I hear in the pop I love today, but they are intelligible. (If you want to push the linguistic metaphor, 60s pop and rock are like Latin – a dead language which still has vast taxonomic and institutional weight.)

Popular up to this point has been for me a trip through an unfamiliar region with occasional reassuring landmarks. That changes now: the roads are better trodden. The chances of me making a howling mistake are lower, the chances of me falling back on received wisdom higher. Self-indulgent asides aside, though, I’ve a song to deal with.

“From Me To You” is crisp, catchy and hip – more of that fashionable harmonica; throaty Everleys harmonies; a teasing lyric; a no-nonsense beat that accelerates thrillingly into the chorus; and shouting. It’s the shouting where a line is really drawn – that last “if there’s anything I CAN DO”, where the harmonies break and reform and the sense of mates playing this stuff in real time is most compelling.


Popular22 comments • 2,897 views

#150, 13th April 1963

The first Merseybeat number one and what’s changed? Not much – “How Do You Do It?” is a brisk slip of a song that could have been a hit for any of the beat boom stars since 1960 or so. The only real novelty is Gerry Marsden’s scouse accent, especially on the middle eight (“like an arrow…”) – I love hearing strong British voices singing pop songs, and the 60s is obviously a heyday for them. There’s some strong piano work towards the end of the record, but otherwise there’s not much to “How Do You Do It?”. It’s a witty enough take on frustration with all the impact (and all the repeat value, alas) of a DIY advert.

BBC3’s go at serious documentaries recently

Do You SeePost a comment • 217 views

BBC3’s go at serious documentaries recently actually consists pretty much solely of a docusoap called Paparazzi. Beyond the chummy calling of said photographers “Paps” the programme’s problem is in its identification with its subjects. Paps are not interesting, though the underhand and idiotic techniques used to get celeb shots can be entertaining. Unfortunately in focussing the camera on the paps, we the audience (those who feed off of the photos) spend the hour craning around the big telephoto lenses so we can get a good look at the celebrities they are photographing. About two thirds of the way through the programme, in a Victoria Beckham piece, our cameraman realises this and just shoots Posh instead, only to get a warning from her bouncer. “But I am making a serious documentary,” you can vaguely hear squeaked from behind the camera, before getting a thump from the bouncer. At which point the cameraman might understand the real meaning of the word serious, as in serious injury.

Football simulations have been done to death.

TMFD1 comment • 472 views

Football simulations have been done to death. Be you a playing type of the FIFA Soccer or Pro Evo schools, or management boors wrapped up in Championship Manager. But there is one area of football simulation which has been sorely neglected. That of running the actual game. A referee simulator.

The idea popped into my head watching a match in the pub where the poor old slaphead in black was huffing and a puffing away trying to keep up with the game. A management sim where the more your ref trains, the fitter he is and able to keep up with play. But the more prep he does on teams the better he is able to handle the big games. Your job would be marked, much like the new professional referees group, where success would move you from Sunday leagues to FA Cup games to the ultimate aim : refereeing a World Cup final, and perhaps having plastic surgery to look like Skeletor.

Oddly, the other motivation for this idea was the bus advertised game Evil Genius. Go figure.

THE SHADOWS – “Foot Tapper”

Popular10 comments • 2,649 views

#149, 30th March 1963

Slightly anaemic end to the Shadows’ run of number ones, the title illustrative of reduced ambitions: from the exotic vistas of 1960 to a little something to get the toes going (follow-up sadly not called “A Nice Tune You Can Whistle”). Feet do indeed tap but the liveliest thing about this record is the vigorous workout the drumkit gets – a spark is definitely missing.