Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stars Die - Review of the Year (part 4)

There's so much I'd like to talk about this year, but I'm big enough and ugly enough to realise that some things just can't be discussed in a public forum; not if you want to have a better 2010.

2009 has been dominated, for me, by two things - the deaths of many friends and acquaintances and my own miserably bad health.

Death visited no less than 5 times; four times it struck people who were close to me and the 5th time it struck someone who was close to people I felt close to. The oldest of these was 56; the youngest 42. As I type this, another long time acquaintance of mine and good friend of my brother-in-law, is fighting just to be able to see a glimmer of 2010. That's the problem when you get older, people around you shuffle off; but I sort of expected that to happen when I was about 70 (and be one of the first so I didn't have to put up with all the others), not before I marked even my 50th year.

Obviously, self-pity has been big on my agenda this last year. I started the year with a really bad cold... in fact, if you look at my 2009 desk diary, you'd be hard pressed not to make a case for me being put down.

The weird thing was that from about March to August, I could well have been transported back to the 1980s, a time where my memories are so fragmented (from all the drugs!) that I'm not totally sure I was there. I actually went to work through March, April and half of May before everything just got on top of me. I think, actually I'm convinced, that if Therese hadn't suggested I go home on the day I finally went off sick, I probably would have cracked up, broken down and fallen apart... It was, in fact, the drugs that were causing it. Yeah, the constant pain was a bummer, but the uber-strong painkillers I was prescribed actually fucked me up considerably more - hence not being able to remember much from that period - apart from the emotionally charged moments.

This blog covered a lot of the pain my shoulder gave me; the hassles and the frustration and with hindsight, I have to say, I could do with never revisiting a period like that ever again. I think I summed it best up when a colleague said, with an element of disdain in his/her voice, 'but you've had the whole summer off!' and I replied, "Tell you what. I'll swap you your summer for mine, right now - no strings attached!'

Of course, I now doubt that it was all 100% successful, but I also have to take into consideration that I also have arthritis in my shoulders; so I can't really expect it ever to be 'as right as rain' again.

Like I said, there are elements of my life that are just not for repeating here; but the hassles with work seemed to get resolved, eventually and I go into 2010 with a lot of enthusiasm and a little bit of trepidation - my new project needs to succeed.

I got fucked about a lot by friends this year. I ended up giving money to some of them - lending is just too stupid a term to use when you know damn well that the person you're 'lending' the money to has no way on earth of actually paying it back. I witnessed other friends willingly exchange their happiness for commercial and materialistic wants; which, I have to say, really made me question the journey that human nature is taking in the 21st century.

I got used. I got abused. I got threatened. I got attacked (albeit by a friendly dog, but I did still almost break my nose). I got insulted. I got a new car. I had my ego massaged. I had some fucking awesome sex and learned how to be really crap at poker. I had my integrity questioned... actually, that was one of the few things I didn't have happen... I made some new friends, I remained alienated from some old friends (and as time flies, I see no bad thing in this any longer) and I identified a human being that I would gladly like to see suffer for the rest of his life - a life that would have to be long, so he could suffer for longer than your average cuntbag.

But the year, to be fair, has been dominated by ill health and a year that I'd like to forget. I said, I kicked off 2009 with a stinking cold; I'm hurtling out of the year with a stinking cold. The kind of cold that leaves you shaking your head in disbelief. On December the 18th, I woke up with a really snotty nostril - singular - so blocked, I couldn't breathe through it. It stayed like this until the following Saturday when it opened like the floodgates of a dam. By the Tuesday it had sunk down to my chest, leaving my nostrils free to breathe again, but not my lungs. By Christmas Eve, I was hacking, coughing and had a splitting headache. Yet, by Bank Holiday Monday my chest was clearing and my throat was now red raw. It seems that for 10 days my cold couldn't decide on a plan of assault, so it just threw some feelers out. This morning, I believe the results of the experiment were processed and it was decided that I should NOW have all of the symptoms at once, rather than in handy little bite sized chunks.
So, I'm writing this with snot dripping from the end of my nose, a raging sore throat, a chesty cough, a stinking headache and I'm cold! I fucking hate this!!!

I'm not about to make an New Year's resolutions, but I am seriously considering taking a break from smoking for a month or two; just to repair some of the damage. The worst thing about the chest infection has been the obvious mirror image of what I'll be like - every day - by the time I'm 65, if I don't do something to improve my health. I'm sure that some wag will show some correlation between my arthritis and bone problems to my smoking; but the fact I've had FOUR colds in a 12 month period, suggests to me that I'm going to be the first to die if we have a massive flu pandemic...

If health was the motif for 2009, then my lack of achievement in 2009 has been its understudy. I was off work for 3½ months and all I seemed to do during that time was play Texas Hold'em, Farkle or Scrabble. Because I couldn't sit at a keyboard for long, nothing got done. I didn't write; I didn't imagine; I didn't do much at all. It's far easier to sit around and feel sorry for yourself than it is to try and do something; I failed, because I didn't really try.

Now, the end is near and 2009 faces the final curtain. I've had some pretty shitty years in the last 11; deaths of family members, the advent of arthritis, upheavals and major life changing events; but overall 2009 will probably be the nadir of bad...

That is until 2010; when England don't win the World Cup; Liverpool scrape into 4th place, breaking the hearts of Spurs, Man City and Villa fans; the Tories will be back in power; the council taxes will go through the roof, the weather will be shit again; friends or family will die or become seriously ill. 2010 offers so much, but will probably only deliver a percentage of goodness, the rest will be sheer misery.

Happy? New Year!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Stars Die - Review of the Year (part 3)

FILMS!

The Good

1. Up
Blew me away. Great story, lovely animation, crazy dogs!

2. 9
Far better than the critics reckoned; a simple tale beautifully rendered.

3. District 9
Much maligned - everyone missed the point.

4. Monsters Versus Aliens
A film that made it clear it didn't like Americans.

5. Zombieland
Caught me by surprise.

6. Star Trek
Wasn't brilliant, had moments I hated, 'Bones' was brilliant!

The Bad and the Ugly
1. Franklyn
Utter bollocks, predictable and quite stupid.

2. Watchmen
Everything was perfect until they changed the story.

3. Drag me to Hell
About as scary as a Yorkshire terrier.

4. Knowing
Unbelievable rubbish.

5. The Spirit
Lasted 5 minutes. The reason why superhero films can be a really bad idea.

There were other films I saw in 2009, many of which never lasted on my radar for more than seconds. I can't actually remember anything about Wolverine, probably because it was poo, There were also a number of films from 2008 I caught on DVD, but nothing sticks in my mind.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Stars Die - Review of the Year (part 2)

I was going to talk about TV, but frankly I'm not going too that much. 2009 has been a bit of a let down in many respects - only saved by a serial killer.

Battlestar Galactica was actually a lot of old bollocks. Forget all the Iraq war analogies and the terrorism and the angst; it was a load of religious mumbo jumbo and actually became hard work to watch. It was the TV equivalent of a long Leonard Cohen song. It wasn't actually that good. Critically acclaimed and bigged up by almost every one that watched it, including me, it was actually just a one-trick-pony that didn't outstay its welcome.

True Blood was quite astounding in its d├ębut season; it suffered a little from some tiresome characters, but in general it was a revelation - a real shot of blood, ahem... But season 2 seemed to forget all about the 'human' aspect of this series and substituted substance for style. Did Alan Ball just decide to see how many people he could shock seeing as he had a hit on his hands? Yes, there were some interesting developments and sub plots in this season, but over all I was glad to see it finish and hope that season 3 gets back on track.

Heroes proves quite categorically that the only people who should write superhero stories are people who understand superhero stories. This programme has always had its faults, but this season they are just polarised big time. Being frank, this series is a pile of shit and its only redeeming feature has been the Cheerleader's soul searching over her own sexual preferences and her need to break away from her cloying and fucked up family. Hayden Panettierre is obviously struggling with late adolescence in real life and she seems to be piling weight on like its on sale - it might be that the writers have actually given her character some thought; shame they didn't do it with the others. You just don't give a shit about any of them any more, even Sylar is something of a joke.

Flash Forward did huge things in its first episode and has done fuck all ever since. This is another series that you just don't give a fuck about the characters and Joe Fiennes's Yank accent is a bit of a joke. Apparently the show is headed for a bit of rethink.

Lost was actually on this year, but ended way back in the spring, so we're all entitled to forget about it. This is a show that has only got better since its audience ran away. I wouldn't even like to suggest what is going to happen in the final season (starting in February), but if it ends up being as mad, fucked up and brilliant as season 5 then it will be 17 weeks of pure joy!

Being Human is a British series about a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost. It feels like Man About the House and is quite, quite extraordinary. We aspire to do SF, fantasy and drama as well as the US; but they would be advised to look at this series because it is quite brilliant and you care about the three main characters. Really.

Fringe is the X Files meets Frankenstein meets Charlie Jade. It has been one of the real gems in the TV crown for me this year. Not only does it have the gorgeous Anna Torv - who any hot blooded male would - but it also has the quite magnificent John Noble playing the delightfully mad Walter Bishop, who makes his mad scientist seem like a tragic figure from a lost Shakespeare play. Fringe is essentially X Files but 10 years on. The FBI knows that there is something trying to get into our world and its up to the Fringe team to try and stop it. If you excuse the occasional naff filler episode, this is bonzer TV.

Doctor Who is an institution; I just hope Steven Moffat forgets that and turns it back into a rollicking good TV show again, because Russell T Davies, for all his skill, is a bit shit. The same has to be said for Torchwood which ended with a big cop out; such a clever little idea ruined.

Stargate Universe is complete and utter rancid cow's bum juice. However the last episode before the mid season break came so far out of left field that I'm still not sure it happened.

Smallville is pants. Don't watch it.

The Vampire Diaries was the shock of the year. Its a Kevin Williamson programme, so that should have us running for the hills in stark terror. Yet, despite being a little like Smallville with teeth, it went from a really crappy idea into a very good idea almost overnight. I was ready to give up on it as derivative vampire nonsense created to cash in on Twilight and then at the end of the 3rd episode it all got a little Buffy. Subsequently the last 7 episodes have been really inventive and quite clever.

But the winner by a country mile in the stakes for best TV series of the year, possibly of all time, is a bloke that is married with 3 kids, works for his local police force and in his spare time chops perps up with a big knife and industrial tools. Dexter has already been one of the most consistently brilliant TV series since it started and every series seems to have gone one better than the previous. Season 4 of Dexter is no exception. In fact, season 4 of Dexter could become the greatest single season of a TV series EVER! This season is just a brilliant rollercoaster of a ride that even in the quiet moments fills you with the feeling that this is not going to work out the way it was planned. In the end, the series goes out with an episode that, in my humble opinion, rates as one of the most shocking and stunning episodes of a TV show EVER EVER. You had no idea where the twists and turns were going to happen next in this series and in the end they went to such dark places that my jaw was left dangling on the floor with its conclusion. TV has never been this good.

I'm sure there were other things that I watched and enjoyed; such as Eureka, Armstrong & Miller, Harry & Paul, Qi, Buzzcocks, Skins and Top Gear, but overall, my TV consumption has dropped by almost 4 hours a week since 2008 (and that includes the fact that I've watched a few box sets this year).

Next time I'm covering the rest of everything.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Passion of Lovers (Part 4)

A sports newspaper or radio show should hire me!

Here are some quotes from August:
Manchester City - money does buy you trophies - just ask Roman - but does Mark Hughes have the ability to turn Citeh into a force or are we, like so many times in the past, going to be laughing into our beer as they struggle to beat Port Vale in the cup and lose to Burnley at Eastlands? Mark Hughes might not be favourite for the sack, but I'm betting that if Citeh ain't in the top 4 at Christmas, he's going to be spending the early part of 2010 with his feet up...
I might not have got the specifics right, but is that the bee's knees of a prediction. But so is this:
Liverpool - whenever I'm feeling down, I think about the Fat Spanish Waiter and how Liverpool fans believe he's some kind of brilliant tactician and mindgame specialist, when all he is, is a petulant bad sport who it appears has already laid the foundation for this coming season's failure by saying that all the best players have chosen money over the Red Shite. I have serious doubts about a title challenge; they've lost several players and do not have the strength in depth that the top two have.
Now, that wasn't as predictable as the first one, based on previous seasons. This was also almost predictable:
Arse-nal - write Wenger's boys off at your peril.
They'll be 2nd if they win their game in hand. This also slightly had good odds, but I'm still quite proud of it:
Villa are a key team in this season's shake up. If they have what it takes they'll need to improve on their dismal record against the Sky Four; if they can do that and beat the teams around them, they are likeliest to break into the Champions League.
They currently occupy 4th spot, 2 points ahead of my beloved Spurs. This was a good one, in my humble opinion:
Portsmouth - this year's Bar Codes? This could be an embarrassment waiting to happen and the new boys will be hoping that Pompey self-destruct without any of their regular players. Expect the rest of the best to be gone by September and the owner cited for tax evasion and the first Premier League club to go into administration.
I know their then owner was as dodgy as fuck, but, until today they really looked dead and buried.

I'd just like to remind people of this:
Wigan, however, are about as inspiring as mud.
and then say, 9-1 9-1 9-1 9-1 9-1 ad infinitum...

The 'how right was I' tally goes up with this:
Stoke City - last year's 90s styled bruisers with a long throw rather than a long ball. Too many teams were caught out last season; most, with the exception of Spurs, will have learned their lessons.
Spurs, when faced with the chance of going 3rd, conspired to lose 1-0 at White Hart Lane and finish the game with multiple injuries. And speaking of my team:
Tottenham Hotspur - guaranteed to drop points against all three teams that will be relegated; will put together great runs, but lose matches they should win.
See the above excerpt, the 1-0 home defeat against Wolves and we're not even at Christmas yet!

Speaking of Christmas; there's people who'd like to see a winter break and the current weather adds weight to that argument (except you can never guess when the cold snaps are going to happen), but seasons' are made or broken because of this 2 week period of intense game play followed by the fun of the FA Cup. My team usually do a very good impression of Christmas decorations and come down pretty quickly once Christmas has bitten the dust. However, Boxing Day's fixtures could leave me in the unenviable position of condemning the wife's team to being well adrift at the bottom of the table - a place they could end up being tomorrow afternoon if Chelsea beat them. But, that said, West Ham are a relegation threatened side, so Spurs will probably struggle against them as they always do. Hammers fans should hope for a Spurs win, because we always lose to 2 of the 3 relegated teams and Wolves have already taken 3 points off of us.

The sacking of Mark Hughes, while forecast, is still a pretty despicable thing. Citeh are 6th and in a good position in a year when just about anyone in the top 8 could realistically get a top 4 position if they string a 15 match unbeaten run together between now and Easter. I hope Mancini struggles and Citeh plummet. They did it to Sven when they didn't have to and now Hughesy. Citeh should crash and burn, if there's any justice!

Mark Hughes could suddenly become a major and unexpected contender for Liverpool's manager; he might be the sort of manager the Red Shite need; they seem to have lost their way with foreign managers, perhaps having a Welshman at the helm might steady the ship.

I stood on Sandbanks in the late summer and looked over Poole harbour at the stretch of land on which Harry Redknapp lives - the most expensive in the country. Today we discover he is being charged with some kind of tax problem. I do hope this doesn't fuck up another season.

My predictions for the rest of the season for a bit of fun are pretty boring. I think the top 5 will be the top 5 at the end of the season. I think Citeh and Liverpool will fight it out for 6th and 7th, while Fulham and Birmingham could be playing in their own mini-mini-league. Downstairs, Sunderland will finish top of the lower league and I really wouldn't like to pick any team: Burnley, Blackburn, Wigan, Everton, Hull, Bolton, Wolves, West Ham and Portsmouth - the season has been so topsy turvy already; sense says that Everton will rake themselves clear, but it might take a while and it won't be pretty. Sentimentality says that West Ham should avoid the drop, but they are dogged by bad luck and still technically qualify as a yo-yo team. Portsmouth under Avram Grant could achieve the great escape and Blackburn should be okay, by virtue of the fact they should beat their rivals. I'll stick my neck out and say - Wolves, Bolton and Wigan, with the Hammers scraping through with a week to spare.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Y Fenni Batter

Apologies for blogging too much; I have too much on my mind at the moment.

I've always regarded myself as an ex member of the press, despite my actual involvement being peripheral and pretty much specialised, so when the press tend to bandwagon jump, I tend to get a knee-jerk reaction.

An aside, but you'll get the drift. Many years ago, I hated Steve Davis - the snooker player. Snooker was big business for colour television and it was the kind of sport that appealed to television in the 80s. Steve 'interesting' Davis was the target of all of my hate. I wanted anyone to win a tournament, but not him. When Stephen Hendry came onto the scene, he made Steve Davis seem positively electric and with a personality as big as a small communist country. When he started to win everything, I started to root for the guy I saw as the underdog - Steve Davis.

Now, this is an irrational thing that I've had for years. I hated Man Utd for years; they started to look fallible, suddenly I found I had more respect for them than ever before - still don't like them, but you have to be objective, even as a football fan. Fallen idols seem to be embraced more in the last 30 years than ever before.

The only real exception to the rule has been Tiger Woods. When the master golfer came onto the scene, he was so good that to dislike him was irrationality at its most extreme. He shook up golf, made a really difficult game look easy and allowed golf to become less staid and more modern. He was also mixed race so that made the stuffed shirts of modern golf sit up and listen - golf was not a middle class white boy's preference any more.

I'm not a huge fan of adultery, but its something that happens, quite a bit and its a fact of life. I can honestly say I've never known that many people who have indulged in it and regardless of how you view it, it didn't really change the people involved. Tiger Woods 'infidelity' as he is himself now referring to it, has been trumped up by the world press as something so earth-shatteringly awful that you'd think the poor bastard had been found with an 8-year-old boy on the end of his cock!

However, the fact that he has publicly come out and apologised, not just to his wife and children, but also to the massed world population, actually makes my blood boil. Frankly, it's his business and maybe to a certain degree all the companies that sponsor him; other than that, there is no one he has to answer to. I don't think he owes anything to his fans and followers; its his bloody life, he has enough money and intelligence to do with it as he wants. Yes, there's a lot of debris; his wife is probably distraught (at the prospect of gaining half of his vast fortune if she files for divorce) and its not fair on the kids or the other family members. But, other than that, its no ones business. I really couldn't care less what he does with his penis; I just want to see him making mincemeat of golf courses and making the game less boring than cricket to watch.

My respect for Woods has waned a little. Not necessarily because of what he's done (and from reports he done quite a few!), but because of the way he's been pulled into this world view of peoples private lives and pandered to it. For fuck's sake, if I had this guy's money, the first thing I'd be saying to the first reporter shoving a mic in my face would be, "Why don't you fuck off and cover some real news you bone-picking cunt", very loudly, then ask the reporter how he's going to show that on Fox news?

However, if you read some of the 'other' reports of this incident, you'll see that Elin Nordegren, Mrs T. Woods, is actually a raving psychopath with a penchant for using the same equipment as Tiger, but as a weapon of facial destruction than for knocking balls around - although I'm pretty sure she'd do that as well. She might be strikingly fit and gorgeous, but she's also got a temper on her the size of Woods' bank balance and reports suggest that she is anything but easy to live with. I'm not condoning Tiger, what he did was stupid on a lot of levels, but none that warranted a public apology, or the acres of column inches dedicated to what a black golfer did with his knob and who with.

The bottom line is the guy's wife should be more interested in being happy rather than worrying about losing her comfortable life and that's what I'm seeing. I'm seeing a woman who knows that her husband has been sleeping around and is prepared to accept it because of the commercial benefits from it. It's like WAGs - why the fuck would half of them want to be with stupid brain dead dorks - because that's what most footballers are and a fair few are as ugly as slapped arses. As much as I disliked the Mrs Merton Show, the best question of the last decade - the 1990s - was when she asked Debbie Magee what she saw in the millionaire Paul Daniels.

It's never been something I've been able to get my head around. Why some people stay with partners who are so obviously the biggest most disrespectful cunts alive. But then you start to realise that some people are just unbelievably shallow and that's a real shame, because you only get one chance at life and it seems a great waste of a life to throw it away for the sake of a nice house, fast car or foreign holidays. Not something I'll even pretend to understand. Since when did love, affection and commitment became less important than materialistic nonsense?

I just hope the above scenario doesn't apply to any of my friends, because that would be really sad and they'd deserve to spend the rest of their lives miserable and unhappy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stars Die - Review of the Year (part 1)

I'm sitting here listening to an old song by Porcupine Tree and wishing there was a band about at the moment who could replicate the sound and feel of PT circa 1994. But that's only because Porcupine Tree don't produce a sound comparable to then, despite having grown and, in some peoples eyes, progressed.

The thing is Steven Wilson and his projects have been my major discovery of the first decade of the 21st Century. Yes, the 'noughties' introduced me to such pleasures as The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Elbow, Mark Gardner, Hidria Space Folk, Taipuva Luotisuora, Mescalito, Serena Maneesh, Hybrid, Mew, the Secret Machines, Maxxess, Sigur Ros, Blow Up Hollywood and old stuff like Mazzy Star, Cradle, Lone Star, Propaganda, The Sundays, Traffic and my usual stock of old faves that regularly get wheeled out and played. This last ten years have been exciting for music in my life.

But the last 12 months have been quite remarkable, Amplifier, Pineapple Thief, Charlie Barnes, Fuck Buttons, Ladytron, Pure Reason Revolution, Riverside, Oceansize, School of Seven Bells, to name just a handful of artists that have found their way onto my radar and have stuck. There's much more, but I really can't be arsed to go trawling through my enormous record collection for obscurities that have already lost some of their sheen.

The Internet has improved my music collection and broadened my tastes. I really don't think there has been a better time for discovering diversity and real enthusiasm. I might not really understand the attraction of some of the current crop of shite, but if it's rated on drive, energy and ambition then you can't fault it.

My album of the year was not released in 2009, it came out in 2005, but I only discovered it in April. The band had such an effect on me that I broke a 24 year hoodoo and went to a festival, just to see them play live (as I discovered their music just a few weeks after they finished their small UK tour in Leicester...). The band is called Amplifier and I've been bigging them up continuously since I first heard them. They also, for me, took the best gig of the year award, because the sun came out on the worst July day imaginable and shone while they performed an almost perfect 55 minute set, before the heavens opened again and pissed all over Fightstar!

Amplifier pushed all the rock buttons on my console. Someone I discovered because of them pushed all the right buttons in another genre. The progressive torch song and intricate layered solo performances by Charlie Barnes meant that I saw him twice and the lad hasn't even got a record deal. I hope to put him on in Northampton next year, because, quite simply, he deserves to be fucking huge. To see him live is to see a future star in action. He also comes across as a thoroughly decent chap (and he's only 20!)

Pineapple Thief, who have been around for 10 years, but are barely even on the radar, are a band I discovered who seemed to fill the gap between Radiohead, Coldplay and Porcupine Tree. There's nothing anal or cheesy about them, they do good honest songs (of which some of them are 25 minutes long!). Live they are accomplished and should, if progressive pop rock was the in-thing, be bigger than they are.

Fuck Buttons came from nowhere and infiltrated my psyche almost completely. Best summed up by old gits as quite uncategorisable, the FB's produce dance music with a touch of metal nous. It's music but not like you've ever heard it, Jim. Probably can only get more commercial.

While The Secret Machines dropped down my faves chart, they were replaced by the completely different School of Seven Bells, which features an ex Machine as the driving musical force. They sound like Elizabeth Frazer on acid, or the Cocteau Twins put through a beat box - they should have been better received.

A special mention has to go to my friend Steve Messina, who's band Blow Up Hollywood have been quiet for a few years. I was really lucky to receive a 12 track 'sample' of what to expect from the new album(s) in the New Year and it was a most enjoyable way to end a year of music. The new tracks range from prog rock to Floydian stylings to simple piano and voice to Cage-esque soundscapes and modern jazz. It sounds like a mish-mash, but take it out of its 12 track context and you have some of the best music this guy and his band have ever produced. 2010 deserves to be the year they succeed and I'll do what I can to make sure us Brits hear them.

Other notable albums in the last 12 months have included the quite brilliant Porcupine Tree's The Incident; a return to form for a band who seemed to be losing their way in a miasma of heavy metal riffs. Head Porcupine Steven Wilson also released Insurgents, which was the best Porcupine Tree album for 9 years.

There have been more and I'm sure I'll mention them before the end of the month. But next time... TV.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Whispering Grass

Or maybe, Theme for Not-So Great Cities...

In the last week I have done 4 cities, all of which make Northampton look like a small town with a lot of housing. To be fair, none of the cities that I've been to, with the exception possibly of Leicester, are real cities, although, at least, Wolverhampton isn't an amalgamation of everywhere in a radius. I'm sure Leicester was nothing more than a place with a lot of other places tagged on, but today it at least feels like a city when you drive around it. It seems to take an age to get from the signpost on the A6, north of Market Harborough, which says 'Welcome to Leicester City' and the corresponding sign on the same road as you head towards Nottingham and Derby. Leicester has districts that merge seamlessly. Steer clear if you don't understand multi-cultural or cosmopolitan.

Peterborough is a big town with a lot of smaller places linked together by new development and roads. Peterborough is, on the face of it, a new city and while its city centre puts Northampton's to shame and the general expanse of the place seemingly dwarfs my town; it only feels like a city because they make a big deal out of it. Unlike Leicester, Peterborough doesn't have an imposing skyline. Beware if you have a fear of the word 'Orton'.

Stoke on Trent is actually 3 towns - Newcastle, Hanley and Stoke. It's a shit hole and every time I've ever been there its pissed down with rain. It's industrial and grubby; it feels like 3 towns stuck together with higher rates. I'm amazed its there. People say 'Macar' as opposed to 'My car' far more pronounced than people from Nottingham.

Wolverhampton still has signs up all over the place with the legend 'Town Centre' on them. It feels like a mini-city. Some of the architecture is impressive, and it feels like a big town that's made the step up. It has a city centre that, while not in Leicester's league, makes Northampton look like a big village. It might be apocryphal that people are called 'Moxy' there.

And then there's the great pretender... Northampton. Forget all the historical reasons why Northampton could never be a city and just try to imagine it if you've never been here. It feels like a city when you approach it, yet, it doesn't. It is, in fact, the largest town in the UK, yet it has an infrastructure that could quite easily collapse if there was a major problem. You drive into any of the major cities in this country and there's at least half a dozen major roads taking you to the centre; Northampton's most major road actually manages to miss the town centre by about a mile and a half; the feeder roads into the centre are all single carriageway; congestion is a given; parking is a nightmare; shopping is limited. In fact, unless you are a chav, have a drink problem or are like many of the inhabitants of this town, completely fucking stupid, you'd want to avoid the place like a neighbour with swine flu. It has a small town mentality and it doesn't matter how big it spreads and how much it engulfs in its quest to become a new city, this will never change.

*************

I'm suddenly devoid of inspiration...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gig Guide 5: Porcupine Tree at Wolverhampton Civic Hall, December 6

They've only been in existence 20 odd years, yet tonight they played possibly their biggest date in the UK ever. Upgraded from the poxy little Wulfrun Hall to the main Civic Centre, because of demand, Porcupine Tree provided two sets to delight the fans and even looked like they were enjoying themselves - Steven Wilson in particular.

My enjoyment of gigs nowadays depends on whether or not my back will hold out for the duration and it always seems to struggle when a band plays a track I'm not that enamoured with. Despite excellent sound and an almost faultless set, this was probably the least enjoyable of the 3 PT gigs I've been to, and that 'despite' is taking into account that tonight they played 'The Incident' in it's entirety and last year, when I saw them twice, they played Fear of a Blank Planet and I think that is the weakest album they have done, compared to the latest which is one of the better efforts.

The problem tonight was 'The Incident' was excellent and the highlight of the evening was Time Flies; but after the break, the band returned to the stage and by my estimations only managed to play 3 songs that pre-dated Deadwing, plus 2 of the encores were from In Absentia. Rumours of a revival of Stars Die was unfounded and too much emphasis was placed on FoaBP and Nil Recurring (the mini album of stuff that didn't make it to FoaBP). I suppose that is to be expected as the last two albums are the reason PT were upgraded to the bigger venue; but I was only saying before the gig how Wilson seems to like to drag up a couple of old classics from the deep past, to please the die hard fans, and yet tonight, despite his cheery disposition, nada. It was like the 20th century didn't exist.

Special mention to Gavin Harrison who possibly made a claim for best drummer in the world at the moment. Colin Edwin was his usual odd self on bass (never knew he was an Aussie) and Barbieri looks like the band's music teacher. Wesley was adequate as Wilson's deputy and the man himself was, as noted, in a good mood and immaculately turned out in a sort of polished nerd sort of way. Musically it was more accomplished than last night's gig, these guys have been doing it longer; but the pandering to the nu metal heads made me wish I'd seen them in the 90s when no one had heard of them and they could noodle away on Post-Floyd type tracks until the cows came home.

Don't get me wrong, it was a good gig, but it was also just a little soulless.

6½/10

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Gig Guide 4: Pineapple Thief at The Musician, Leicester

The P weekend! Peterborough Friday for the best pub in the world; Pineapple Thief in Leicester on Saturday and the mighty Porcupine Tree in Wolverhampton on Sunday. My Christmas presents to myself in many respects.

The Musician is a great venue and the sound is surprisingly good considering it isn't much bigger than a conventional middle of the road pub. They also have splendid beer; last night we were treated to Pretoria by the Allgate Ale Company - a very nice accompaniment to a very accomplished set.

Pineapple Thief are like a prog-pop version of Radiohead. Roger, who came with me to the gig called them 'Radiohead with toons' and he's very right. My knowledge of the band doesn't stretch far beyond their albums, which I possess and have had periods where I play them to death. But for a band that have been going for 10 years and have a very appreciative following, you'd have thought that the set would have had more than just 4 songs from old albums - 3 of which were from the last, Tightly Unwound, CD. The rest of the set was made up with new stuff and while it all sounds very good; it wasn't what I'd gone to see them for.

My companions seemed to have a good time and to be fair so did I, but at points during the gig I found myself more interested in the waif with the incredibly small waist standing next to me than the new songs. It's always good too see some young and nubile flesh at a concert largely made up of people over 35 - shame she seemed as interested in the gig as I get at the thought of being spit-roasted by 6 burly gay bikers.

But, that said, I'd do it again - go to see PT that is. Perhaps when the new album has come out and I'm familiar with the songs.

6/10 (Next stop Wolverhampton!)