Thursday, 28 October 2010

So cancer it is then. The swollen lymph-node behind Kelly's collar-bone is cancerous. What does this mean? Well the best case scenario is surgery and radiotherapy. Radio is far preferable to chemo as, while it leaves the patient tired and burned, it doesnt specifically poison the system. And while it is intrusive, you have it everyday for three weeks (every week day - cancer doesnt work weekends apparently)you can factor it into your life. Chemo takes over completely; your hair goes, your teeth rattle in their gums, you're exhausted night and day with no respite. There is nausea and of course the psychological horror of a shattered body image and the constant awareness of other people's discomfort at your changed appearance. It is truly, truly awful. So as I say the best case scenario is surgery and radiotherapy.

Trouble is that my wife and I arent that good on best case scenarios.

I find myself bubbling with barely contained fury at the moment. The sort of anger that can find no release and leaks out into other unrelated areas of my life. Interactions with my uniquely irritating family for instance who are taking a right kicking at the moment. It's just that there is no one to blame! I could have blamed God if the fucker had bothered to exist. I could have thrown my fist at the sky and denounced him for the coward, the liar, the bully that he is. But I dont believe in god. So who is there? Do I call Richard Dawkins a cunt? Do I desecrate Douglas Adams'grave? Do I sent Stephen Fry a turd in some tupperware. Well I've done all that and I don't feel a bit better for it.

There is nowhere for this rage to go. I need a "Fantastic Voyage". I need to shrink right down and take on cancer, mano a mano. Queensbury rules be bollocksed. I want to hurt you.I want to fucking hurt you cancer.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Wild Duck Chase

I left work to be with my wife and we went from the "Imaging Room" at The Whittington, up the hill to Waterlow Park. It was a beautiful day but unfortunately renovations to the Waterlow Cafe ruined our tranquility and we trudged off for a glass of wine and some onion soup in the Cafe Rouge. Then we took a long stroll through the whispering trees and wheezing joggers of The Parkland Walk; an abandoned train line left over from Dr Beechings cuts, now overgrown and full of bats and monkjack deer (never seen either). We alighted at Crouch End and I continued my search for ducks.

There were none in Waitrose, Budgens, Tescos or Marks and Spencers. I bought a couple of bottles of South African red and we continued our search. We made it to Finsbury Park. No duck in the Sainsburys. Tescos offered something called a "duck crown" and sold "duck legs" separately; a self assembley duck, if you will. I won't. We weighed up the pros and cons and finally trudged over to Green Lanes where the Sainsburys is so big that they have to have two everything; it's a noahs ark of rotting pumpkins and scowling, indifferent staff.

They had a duck! With giblets! Success. By this point we had been walking for about four hours and had been talking constantly. We had been through shell-shocked, to weeping anger, to stiff lipped denial and were now in a good place - chatting and joking. By the time we got home and I opened a bottle of white ( a cheap but rather nice vouvray) we were almost happy.

The duck was a success (though the giblet stock wasnt really worth the hour and a half it took to make) and our cotton wedding anniversary was memorable - if only for being one we woould rather forget.

We get the results of the biopsy back tomorrow. That may take more than a duck-walk to fix

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cowardly, lyin'...

So...I finished writing my book a week ago and since then I have done nothing with it. I have instead developed ulcers on the roof of my mouth as pernicious and damaging as dry-rot in a Cathedral's eaves and cooked an awful lot of soup. Soup is healthy and nutritious and most importantly can be spooned into a mouth like a haemorrhoidal arsehole in relative comfort.

And of course i'm putting off re-reading the book. I'm telling myself that I'm allowing it to settle, like meusli after transit, or simmering soup. But I'm not. I'm scared that it might be shit. I'm scared that there are jarring mood-swings, that the jokes don't work; that the central ridiculousness of the plot overshadows everything else and renders the entire story meaningless.

Enough cowardice. Tonight's the night, baby!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Yet another review but...lawks a lawdy...this one is pretty upbeat

Buy this fantastic record! I mean it! Buy it now!
In 1942, while deep-ploughing for sugarbeet in Suffolk, a farm labourer named Gordon Butcher, whom history records had a curiously pointy head, though it's never clear why history bothered to record it, accidentally dug up what has become known as The Mildenhall Treasure. It is widely regarded as the most extraordinary Roman treasure-trove ever to be found in the British Isles. The pieces were of such extraordinary quality and workmanship that there was some doubt that they could have been found in the manner descibed at all. How could such splendid, important artifacts be found by a pointy-headed man in a Suffolk sugarbeet field?

Gentle reader, I am that pointy-headed man and the internet that you see before you is my virtual sugarbeet field: for I have unearthed a treasure. Get ready to thank me.

Rough Trade Shop's "Psych Folk 10" isn't the tenth record in a series nor does it contain ten artists. This is a sprawling 21 song joyride across the sonic spectrum stretching what folk music means in the twenty first century. And there's not a bad song here. It's all good. Out of 21 songs there are no duds. That in itself is an amazing achievement and it does rather neatly illustrate the elasticity and robustness of the genre.

Jack Rose's "Moon in the gutter" is a sweet droning introduction and a nod to Claude Vasori's "Folk Guitar". This is followed, in marked contrast, by Wood's "Pick Up" - the sound of a castrato playing a single stringed guitar while people move furniture in the room up stairs. Espers introduce proggish synths and tricky time signatures alongside Meg Baird's crystalline folk voice and Sam Amidon's evocation of early seventies folk giants is extraordinary, managing to sound like both Nick Drake and John Martyn simultaneously - "Way Go, Lily" is a wonderful piece of music.

At the centre of this record, like a black-eyed spider in a bejewelled web, sits Alasdair Roberts. His "Spoils" may have been my favourite record of last year and "You Muses Assist" is presented here - a flute-impacted gem of a song. The sing-along chorus of "sterile rams and simulacra" accompanied by the most tone-deaf backing singing ever recorded shouldnt work, should in fact be breathlessly funny. And it is funny but it's also magnifficent, life-affirming and triumphant. It's followed by Men-An Tol's "Borrow my bed" and it's a tale as old as time: a young man with a taste for adventure decides to neck a load of pills and ends up in hospital. Kath Bloom's "Heart so sadly" is odd and affecting. Kath sounds like a pissed mum at a wedding but the song is so beautiful and the music so full and strong beneath her fragile delivery that effect is incredibly uplifting. Sleepy Sun augment their his 'n' her vocal trade-off with odd Lyndsey de Paul trills and Lau Nau (who disappoint only by not calling their album "Brown Cow") delight with the woozy miasma of their voices. They sound like you're staring at the sun through half closed eyes beneath a canopy of trees on a sunny day. Yes they do.

Six organs of Admittance introduce drones and a shoegazey lustre to proceedings as if to point out that modern folk is a very broad church indeed and Hush Arbors, Voice of the Seven Wonders and Ulaan Khol give us three variations on smoking psych-rock as well as three very silly names.

This is a fantastic record.

Review of Wetherby...

A quietly disturbing, beautifully written meditation on alienation in Thatcher's Britain. They really don't make 'em like this anymore. They didn't make many of them then.

This is a story of loneliness, about the unbridgeable gaps between people. It is quiet and it is savage; full of unspoken/unspeakable moments a furious drunken Soliquising. And while it is unmistakably a period piece now it is also a timeless study on what it means to "live a life of quiet desperation"; or what it is to be English.

Vanessa Redgrave, in a TOWERING performance, plays Jean Travers, a teacher in the Yorkshire suburb of Wetherby. A drunken dinner party she holds for her friends is attended by John Morgan (Tim McInnerny) an enigmatic young man whom she assumes is a guest of Marcia, (Judi Dench) her best friend. Shortly afterwards he returns to her house carrying a pair of dead pheasants and without warning commits suicide in front of her at her kitchen table.

So there is a puzzle at the centre of "Wetherby" - why did Morgan choose to shoot himself in front of Jean? Was it the desperate act of a lonely man looking for any sense of connection. The police investigation reveals that Morgan was obsessed with local librarian Karen Creasy (Suzanna Hamilton) described by Jean as "the sort of girl people become obsessed with" but known to Marcia for her "central disfiguring blankness". Karen invites herself to live with Jean for the next few days until a tense confrontation sends the young woman away.

This is a film about emptiness and dislocation, about one generations inability to interact with another: the drunken ranting post war generation and the numbed separateness of Thatcher's babies. This dislocation is reflected in the film non-linear structure too, and in the haunting parallel narrative of Jean's doomed romance with an Air Man.

This is a quiet film, intercut with splenetic ranting, a simple human story, striated with shadows thrown forward and back, colouring, shaping and obfuscating. And it is simply a classic of English cinema from a time when English cinema was about to stop.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


The first draft of "The Improving Parents" was completed yesterday. Now I actually have to WRITE it. Because of its peculiar and convoluted gestation it's going to require more rewriting than practically anything else I've written. Most writers crack their knuckles and say "Right!This is where the fun begins!" They're wrong - making stuff up in the first place is the fun. But this is where the craft begins. It's a different kind of enjoyment, a deferred pleasure. It's like planing wood. But with more jokes and less repetition of the word "And".

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A review of Dermot O'Leary presents "The Saturday Sessions". It's god-awful.

What is the point of this record? Who wants this record? Are there really any Supergrass completists who must, must, must have a rather scrappy run through of "Beat it"? Can there really be a market for indie bands doing "ironic" cover versions of "pop" hits in this day and age? Even when they're quite well done, The Divine Comedy's transposition of MGMT's "Time to Pretend" for solo piano for instance, the "meh" factor is through the roof. Especially when the transfer is far to high for Neil Hannon's natural register making this normally effortless and natural singer sound as if he is gasping for air throughout.

The bands who do their own songs are even more redundant. So Elbow can do a decent studio version of "Grounds for Divorce" rather quickly and in a rather cheaper studio than it took them to record it in the first place.Why? And doesn't your heart just sink when an r 'n' b singer brings in a session guy with an acoustic guitar and a stool to lay down a raw version of one of their own songs. Doesn't a tiny piece of you want to shrivel up and die when Sia trills and ululates all over the place as if making up for the missing drums.

I really have nothing against Dermot O'Leary and I don't doubt that he is in awe every single time somebody knocks out a half-arsed comedy cover version for his show but nobody need own this record. Switch on radio 2 now and you will hear something almost exactly the same.

Save your money: buy a bad haircut or a good bottle of wine. Better still go out and buy a good record.

Review of Bry Ferry's Olympia

Bryan Ferry lives the dream. For a certain kind pretentious (but not too pretentious) Europhile he has been the poster boy for glamorous disaffection for four decades; a Geordie Alain Delon, forever leaving the casino chipless and with an heiress on his arm.

He's married into the aristocracy, been cuckolded by Mick Jagger and hung out with the original Pop Artists. It's quite the C.V. And of course he does, even if it seems increasingly discreetly, deliver albums of jewelled perfection every three or four years. It's hard to know what Bryan is trying to achieve now; there are no real progressions here from 2007's "Dylanesque" or 2002's "Frantic", but then Bryan's not really about progression. He's about distillation. He know what it should sound like and he has the clout and good taste to bring in whoever he wants to play bits on his records. The roll-call of players on this record is extraordinary: Nile Rodgers, Dave Gilmour, Flea(!), Mani, Jonny Greenwood and that baldy guy from that band he used to be in. If anything this album is too tasteful; there are too many slapped basses and untreated blues licks for my liking but there's not doubting Bry's intent: this is the album he wanted to make, the album in his head. Pretty much like all of the rest of them.

It starts well. "You can dance" is a chilly floor filler with the dead-eyed repetition of the title at first a command, then a mantra. "Alphaville" is remarkable chiefly for the fact that he has never used the title before. "Heartache by Numbers" is a very brave title for Bryan to use and is his collaboration with the Scissor Scissors. It has a bit more wah-wah on it than usual but sits very neatly with the rest of the collection.

Bryan's voice is quite extraordinary these days, hollowed out and smoky; it's a parched whisper, infinitely subtle. It allows him to sing anything and imbue it with a sense of meaning and dignity. It's by far the most interesting thing on "Me Oh My" which has far too many sensible guitar parts. His voice is almost subversive, it's watery gurgle almost detathed from humanity as it slops around on these songs.

"Shameless" is expensive sounding disco - you can imagine it filling the floors in a St. Moritz nite-club with people too rich to know how to dance. We'll gloss over the covers, except to say that if you ever want to hear Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren" produced to sound like "Sweets" by World of Twist, this is the place to start, because the real meat of the album is in its last two songs. "Reason or Rhyme" with its none-more-Bryan reference to "A Dance to the Music of Time" is seven minutes of sumptuous euro- cosmopolitanism; Bryan's alternately husky and trilled vocal shadowed by a simple piano figure, over a backdrop of whispering female vocals and a juddering, echoing bass. "Tender is the Night", another archly self-referential title, starts with a selection of parping space-ship noises, and you can practically smell the Eno, although this is the nearest thing to a piano ballad on the record. The lyrics are a list of older songs, half remembered, a pop-cultural shopping list, but Bryan's languorous delivery makes them sing like poetry on the page. It is beautiful.

This is another Bryan Ferry album made by and for Bryan Ferry. You may like it but you'll never love it like Bryan does.

Monday, 4 October 2010

A review of Daughters of Darkness

From the sheer oddness of seeing the words "Cine Vog" before the credits sequence, from the squat black font of the titles played out against the blood red back-drop, from the oscillating progishness of the music, you know that "Daughters of Darkness" is going to be a wild ride. And it doesn't disappoint. There is something cruel and kinky at bottom here; this is a world (well a Belgium) where relationships are marked by violence and betrayal, where nothing is tender or kind, and words when spoken are not used to mollify and placate but to wound. That's when words are used - the Francois de Roubaix' furious player-piano soundtrack does a lot of the talking here.

Daughters of Darkness is the story of newlyweds Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and Stefan (John Karlen - Harvey from "Cagney and Lacey" unrecognisable here as a kind of evil Bjorn from Abba!) who arrive at the amazing Hotel des Thermes in Ostend as a stop-gap before taking the ferry to England to meet Stefan's mother. It's at the hotel that they meet Countess Elizabeth Bathory (the sublime Delphine Seyrig) and her secretary Ilona ( an astonishingly foxy Andrea Rau.) A rash of bloody murders anticipate both of their arrivals and all is not what it seems: Stefan is in no hurry to get back to England, and the Concierge recognises the Countess from 40 years before and though he is in in late middle age she hasn't aged a day.

There is a lot going on in Daughters of Darkness. It's an exercise in glorious style which never-the-less has a coherent narrative. It has a truly international cast but this only adds to the starkness and oddness of the circumstances: the two couples wander around the enormous, Art deco hotel haggling over who will get the Royal Suite to the only member of staff! The food is delicious but there is no one to cook it! The film should be a picture postcard from Belgium, in the same way "In Bruges" was, but Ostend pictured here is unremittingly bleak, the sea view from the hotel window turbulent and dotted with ferries. The retired detective who investigates the murders "as a hobby" spends much of the film standing on the grey sand-flats outside in almost comically torrential rain.

There are old and new horror tropes here; when Stefan cuts himself shaving, a la Jonathan Harker, he is wearing a modish shorty dressing gown. The Countess clearly models her style on Marlene Dietrich but Ilona is a dead-ringer for Guido Crepax's "Valentina" comics, themselves a a reference to Louise Brook's timelessly chic bob. (Crepax's creation was filmed as "Baba Yaga" in 1973 but I maintain Andrea Rau's creation is he more impressive).

It's Delphine Seyrig's film, from the first time we see her; her brilliant teeth framed by blood-red lips, framed by the darkness of her veil, like a 40s key-light was trained upon her. She is seductive, mesmerising and controlled, perfectly presented and precise. Her fluttering hands, the way her inner life moves like changing weather across her bone white face. And then suddenly she is ruthless and pragmatic. The masks slips to reveal another mask.

I love this film. Beautifully shot, wonderfully realised, stinking of decadance and amorality like three day old lillies. And this is a rare bloom, director Harry Kumel made hardly any other films of note ( barring 1973's little seem "Malpertuis") his last outing being almost 20 years ago. This is a timely realease and while it's difficult not feel short-changed by the complete lack of extras ( a travelogue around Ostend from the time would have worked !) it's good to see this amazing film released for a wider audience.

Fresh blood for the "Daughters of Darkness"

Friday, 1 October 2010

Review of the remake of "Night of the Demons"

Well this was a surprise. I was expecting a version of "Night of the Demon", Jacques Tourneur's inky black foray into shadow and suggestion, fatally flawed by the unwanted intrusion a big scary monster. But this is a remake of "Night of the Demons": tawdry 80's shlock-horror gore-fest. And things dont stat well...

Director Adam Geirasch's mission statement ( and I am franky horrified by the idea of a director's mission statement! ) reveals "My aim for "Night of the Demons" was to make the ultimate film that my seventeen-year old self wanted to see. Punk rock, demons, scantily clothed women, gore and big scares!" I suspect me and Adam were very different kinds of 17 year olds, given that my idea of a good time was wearing an off-the shoulder cardigan, covered in badges and hanging around in record and coffee shops never buying anything. But I'm older now and sufficiently coarsened so I can see where he's coming from.

The film opens with some dodgy sepia back-story. Eighty years ago, on Halloween night, Evangeline Broussard hanged herself from the balcony of her New Orleans Manor house. This Halloween Angela (Shannon Elizabeth) has rented the place out and everybody who's anybody is going. This doesn't include local drug dealer Colin ( Edward Furlong, and he's really let himself go - he looks like James Dean Bradfield!) who is desperate to get inside and reap the rich rewards of a captive audience. When the police arrive and break up the party only seven guests remain behind: three moronic men and four nubile young women in light bondage gear. It's then that they realise that the gates have been locked and their "cell-phones" have stopped working. And that's when weird shit starts happening.

Inspired stuff, eh? Did i mention it comes with that dull, chugging American version of goth-music that was everywhere in nineties, and fewer acting chops than you might expect from your local butcher's window.

However, HOWEVER. I did quite like it. Sure, it's the sort of film that IMDB reviewers would describe as a "turn off your brain, get a pizza and a six-pack" classic but in fact it's not quite that stupid. Furlong is remarkably unaffected and scuzzy and, despite the uber-boobedness of many of the women, the playing is fairly naturalistic. There are some great lines: "Maybe pantry is French for fucking deathtrap" and "she stuck a lipstick in her boob and it fell out of her pussy, okay?". It's the okay that gets me every time!

And it has the best "breasts-behaving-badly" scene since Ken Russell's "Gothic".

By the end you are really rooting for Monica Keena's Maddie, so much so that at the rather matter of fact end to the film,she makes it seem cool and stylish, rather than hastily pat. No mean feat.

So "Night of the Demons" came from behind, hacked bloodily away at my preconception and eventually made me like it. Though maybe i'm not such hard-arse after all: I DID thrill to the blink and you miss it Linnea Quiqley cameo. And it takes a special kind of pathetic nerd to do that!

The Deadly Optician

Watching Dr Who, The Deadly Asassin. One of the Time Lords appears to be wearing glasses. What an affectation!

(Yes, this what I'm doing instead of working. Actually it's worse - this is what I'm doing while i'm working!)

Peter Butterworth in Carry on Behind

Two days crippled with the worst kind of flu known to man, man flu*, but the will to power up my cheapo lap-top is undiminished. Completed four illustrations for an article for a Belfast arts magazine and have forty pages of notes to type up for the final two chapters of "The Improving Parents" - "The No-Show" and "The Ball". I also have to review "Daughters of Darkness" and "Night of the Demons" for an on-line magazine. The it's not the fantastic Tourneur version of "Night of the Demons" but some crappy modern version featuring scantily clad women and plastic prosthetics. Ho hum.

By the way Adrienne Posta is by far the best looking woman in Carry on Behind, despite looking like a panda eyed Jon Pertwee.      

* a slight head-cold