Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Midnight in Siberia - heart of drunkeness

So what is Russia like after Gorbachev, then Yeltsin and now Putin? Midnight in Siberia gets off to an odd start, as the author arrives to work in Russia, as a journalist, not having learnt the Cyrillic alphabet. Even the word PECTOPAH bemused him. Bad start but he a curious guy and with the help of his companion/translator Sergei, takes the fabled Tran-Siberian train, stopping off to interview the people that live in the remotest part of the world. Remember that Russia is BIG - by far the biggest country in the world. Siberia alone is 1.5 times the size of the US.
On a steady stream of vodka, tea and flowers, he interviews an oddball selection of Russians. The alcohol consumption is outrageous, as bad as I remember, when strangers would simply send a full bottle of vodka to your table and expect one in return. This is a country where 60% of men smoke and each person consumes four gallons of pure alcohol a year with half the population classed as obese.
As he attempts to shatter the ice-cold, rude, unsmiling face of public Russia to reveal the warmer, private lives of people. Leaving behind the status-hungry, greedy managers of Moscow, who’d rather order the most expensive than the best wine, he’s soon in a friendlier but complex world that craves for stability. Most of the women he meets are divorced, but holding things together. Trust in the authorities (police, government and law) is hard to find and corruption rampant. People protect themselves by keeping their heads down.
His golden rule is to ‘never ask why’, which is, oddly, exactly what he does. The answers are often surprising as he encounters nostalgia for Soviet security, even Stalin. People crave stability, strong leaders and even when they travel, have a longing for the sort of suffering that seems an intrinsic part of their lives. The joy of the book, and it is a joy, is in the detail. The pagan beliefs that hang on with a mirror beside the front door and the refusal to shake your hand across a doorway, the personal tragedies, the weird stories and incomprehensible cruelties, the irrational attempts at order on an underlying chaos.

Since writing this book Russia has gone down a gear economically but the book suggests that Putin will weather this storm on the back of a people who, in practice, no longer trust or rely on politicians to solve their problems. In the end, however, what he finds and reveals is something I also encountered, a strange addiction to fatalism. I travelled twice to the Soviet Union, over three decades ago, from St Petersberg to Moscow, way down to Kiev, Bukkara, Dushanbe, Tashkent and Almata. It was both exhilarating and infuriating, and remains the strangest, most foreign, enigmatic place I’ve ever been. Thirty five years later, with a great many books about Russia under my belt, it remains as odd a place in my imagination as it’s ever been!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Grayson Perry – ramblings of a rip-off celeb

Listened to all four of Perry’s Reith Lectures and got angrier and angrier. His ramblings were derivative and rarely rose above the level of anecdote and memoir. Autobiography is not analysis. Personal musings would have been fine, as he can spin a tale and shape an anecdote. But to simply parrot a theory, which he stole from someone else, was unpleasant, especially when that person actually died during his lecture series, without Grayson even mentioning the fact. That was unforgivable.
Arthur Danto
Let me explain. Arthur Danto is one of the most significant figures in 20th century philosophy of art, well known for his ‘Institutional’ theory of art which defines art as something decided by a circle of practice, namely curators, critics, collectors, dealers, gallery owners and so on. Grayson unashamedly downloaded and replayed the whole theory without acknowledging the originator. I wonder how he’d like it if one of his pots was copied down to the last detail, mass produced and sold on. I fully understand that the lectures were recorded before Danto's death, but the last two were broadcast after his death and some sort of acknowledgement should have been made.
Of course, he hadn’t really read his Danto or he would have presented a more sophisticated version of the theory, which is open to the obvious criticism that, if you say that art is simply the views expressed by a circle of experts, that simply begs the question of what they define as good art. It simply displaces the question, it doesn’t give any answers. In the end he was full of dead-ends, such as “Anything can be art but not everything is art” – as vacuous a statement as I’ve ever heard on the subject. Danto gave us a detailed analysis in books such as Beyond the Brillo Box, showing that art had freed itself from the tyranny of history and entered an era of pluralism.
Caught out
The fundamental problem is that Grayson’s a player in a game that many despise, an art world ruled by a small clique, driven by money and fame. The suspicion is that the art has become secondary to their objectives. Perry got nowhere near examining these criticisms, as he’s become part of the problem. His response to serious criticism is, no doubt, ‘call my agent’
A sign of his shallowness was him being caught out by the much smarter Will Self who challenged him on the technological reproducibility of art, something he pretended to accept, but rejected later in the series, contradicting himself. The only moment of revelation came in Lecture 3, when he discussed the fact that technology was often ahead of art and that art was slow in catching up. That was a theme worth exploring but no, off he went again with his personal musings.
Artist as R4 celeb
I like his work and admire the way he brought the underrated art of ceramics into modern art but he’s become that worst form of ‘celeb’ - the BBC and Radio 4 celeb. Sue Lawley did the usual fawning introductions and it didn’t surprise me that he opened his Reith lectures with a reference to The Archers. Oh how the BBC loves to create a National Treasure, especially a cross-dresser, it’s so transgressive dear! To be honest, I find the cross-dressing thing rather creepy, predictable and tediously narcissistic. As for the talks (I’m reluctant to call them lectures) he reminded me his namesake, Larry Grayson, playing for camp laughs.

My local museum in Brighton, yes ‘museum’, has a Grayson Perry. It’s a beautiful object but it’s locked away in a cupboard. This is what happens when ‘curators’ are in charge of art. It becomes commoditised, curated and used as an object in a game that many dislike.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What's missing in Lowry? (Tate Modern)

You’ve got to love a man who holds the record for the most honours declined. Every single honour in the whole crooked system he rejected. My kind of man. It says a lot about Lowry, not a man of excess or self-aggrandisement, merely an obsessive painter. Beyond that Lowry is unfathomable. To walk round this exhibition is to be confounded by pictures that say a lot more than they at first present.
Absent interiors
There’s a wonderful little film clip half way round, of Lowry painting a dog. He does this at speed, just a few deft strokes with the tip of his brush, with absolute certainty and confidence. Says a lot that clip. Lowry’s world is not real life, it’s the stylised representation of a life that no longer exists - that of big smoky factories, chimney stacks belching black smoke, thousands flooding through the factory gates on foot, people out in the streets. Whatever the subject, school, football match, cricket match, market – there’s a mill in background and rows of houses. The mills need labour, labour needs houses and houses mean towns and cities. There’s no interiors, only life lived in the streets. Nor are there any paintings of the insides of factories and mills where the work took place. Industrial work is the deep driver behind almost all of these paintings, yet it is completely absent. There’s one picture of an excavation but this is outdoors building work, not the drudgery of the mill.
Absent vehicles
I grew up in an industrial landscape, of slag heaps, rows of red brick houses (the raws) and the tail end of factories, mines, steelworks. I remember smoke pouring out of chimneys and streets with so few cars that you could play football in them. However, one of the puzzling things about these pictures is the complete absence of cars and motorised vehicles. Like work and interiors, they are a deliberate absence. And when they are there, as the very occasional van or horse drawn cart, it’s for a reason. The Fever Van, for example, that harbinger of death, which took mainly young children away, usually to death from Tuberculosis.
Absent colours
His use of a limited palette, as shown in the show's poster, and an unusual preponderance of white, that rarest of colours in an industrial town, make the paintings seem ethereal. The extremely limited palette, essentially five colours, white, black, red, blue and yellow, focus you on form. It’s a stripped down world devoid of any sense of sunlight, warmth or fun. This is the harsh reality of the industrial landscape. However, it does bring the ‘landscape’ aspect of his paintings to life. As landscapes, they have beauty, as industrial, urban scenes they don’t.
Absent faces
You know a Lowry immediately you see one. Well, that’s what I thought but there’s a few paintings in this show that you’d struggle to identify as Lowrys. But the defining feature, apart from palette, is the figures. Largely faceless figures, dashed off the tip of the brush, often more than the scene would warrant in real life. They stand for something beyond just people, as they’re such a strong force in his paintings. For me it’s the absence of form that speaks the loudest. I don’t buy the interpretation that they are ‘delightful’ in their variety, real people beyond the stick-like representation. Unlike most painters, who rarely came from the industrial working class, he lived and worked among them, and saw what industrialisation had done, to what had been a largely poor and rural workforce. They were commoditised into crowds. Workers for machines. It is only here, outside of the factory, house and school that they are actually people, going somewhere, doing something, speaking to others, playing, watching sport but they’re show, not really as individuals but as part of a crowd. There’s no portraits, even interesting faces. And when there is, such as he Cripples, an awful painting - it’s hideous.

This is a sombre show, all about what’s lost in the human spirit when work strips people of their dignity, personality, individuality and time. Poverty is not fun, nor often beautiful – it’s raw and hard. That’s what it is and that’s how he paints it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elysium – hell on earth, heaven above

End of the 21st century and we’ve creted hell on earth and heaven on a satellite in space (Elysium). Smart idea that chimes with current unequal times, and fears of over-population and immigration, of a future where the rich leave an overpopulated earth with no healthcare to create an Eden in space, although it looks suspiciously like an American middle-calls Eden , with perfect lawns, swimming pools and, curiously, tennis courts. It’s a clever view of a dystopian future that makes it accessible politically – Marxism in space.
Blomfeld saves the day by having some nice touches, the South African mercenaries and Spider, the ganglord hacker. I also liked Jodie Foster’s menace - in an oligarchy, you still have to watch out for other oligarchs. Matt Damon also does the business, although it’s becoming tiresome to see having a British accent and speaking French associated with being evil.
Other smart features are the robots, surveillance and drones. Inevitably, however, it turns into a gunfest. This is a shame, as the best sci-fi, Blade Runner and Aliens, used to be sparing with this guff. Hollywood struggles to make a movie without guns these days – it’s so damn infantile and predictable. District 9 was fresh because it broke the rules; this movie plays by the rules. It needed to be messier, with more surprises.
This is a cut above most sci-fi movies, and most recent Hollywood movies for that matter. It’s no classic but it’s not far off. This Director, Neill Blomkamp, has a talent, which if unfettered by Hollywood pressure, could turn up a real classic one day

Friday, August 09, 2013

Little Sparta

Set in a small wooded crack in the hills near Biggar, Ian Hamilton Findlay's temple precinct is built, as many in Greece were, around a natural spring, which cascades clear water down through a series of lakes and rivulets, around which art objects are carefully placed. They make you walk the half mile to the site as it prepares you for the sanctity of the site. There’s no denying the beauty of the place, especially the top-end lake but it troubled me a little. Then again, most things trouble me - a little.

Some of the works surprise, such as the golden head of Apollo. It springs into view, cleverly set into the ground in a little grove.

The cluster of gold roof slates was my favourite 'spot' - a deft,  relevant touch that works brilliantly in the grey Scottish light.
Then there's the grenades on the gate-posts and little bridges.

But the Latin inscriptions that litter the site become predictable. Setting words and phrases into stone and into the landscape is fine but if it’s Little Sparta, why Latin and not Greek? I like the Hyperborean Apollo feel to the place but the neo-classical words on stone are too easy and often banal.

Popped into Biggar’s only open Cafe for something to eat at around 4pm, “sorry, Kitchen’s closed – coffee and drinks only”. Some things never change.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Nirbhaya (Edinburgh International Fringe)

A ripost (inspired the wrong word) by the Delhi rape in December 2012, five women give their rea, personal stories of child abuse, rape, rape within marriage, chuild abduction and being burnt by kerosene. Almost unbearably sad, most of the audience were tearful. Just as shocking as the sexual incidents were their testimonies about what it is like to experience daily groping and harassment in Delhi, on buses, in the street. Dystopian Delhi seems like some circle of hell.This is a fine piece of political theatre, a welcome change from most happy-clappy Fringe performances. However, there are two problems with the piece.
First, it’s all testimony, powerful as that is – there’s no further causal insight. It’s all WHAT and no WHY. I was desperate to know WHY a city had become a place where women had become objects of sexual amusement. But here I had to fill in the blanks myself – overcrowding, poverty, dysfunctional police force, lax laws, caste, religion, dowry, forced marriage? This is often a problem in theatre as it does not often deal well with detail and a plurality of causes.

Second, the last (fifth) testimony was a harrowing account of a gang rape in Chicago. I can see that they wanted to universalise or internationalise the issue but in doing so they diluted the essence of the story – its Delhi context 'the rape capital of India'. 

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Kafka: Report to the Academy (Edinburgh Fringe)

A naked man enters the room then transforms himself into an ape to deliver one of my favourite Kafka short stories. It’s written in the first person so works as a monologue and we, as audience, become the Academy. Adrin Neatrour gives is just fantastic with his ape calls, grunts, circling the stage, as he learns to become a man by aping others. Trapped in Africa, he’s caged but learns to smoke, drink, communicate and eventually delivers this ‘lecture’ to the Academy. It's the reverse of metamorphosis, where man becomes insect.
Kafka almost always escapes critical capture but in this is about our epistemological predicament. It’s about identity, memory, learning, forgetting. For me it’s about the process of crippling freedom through ‘schooling’ The child is captured, caged, learns to mimic, learns from teachers, theory, practice, lessons, but in fact loses the freedom he had as an animal-like child. What we think of as freedom of mind is simply the mimicking of others. He learns to ‘perform’ and becomes this ‘performance’. He simply reports. Wonderful piece of theatre, no frills, no artifice – just one man giving it his all. I was pleased to see that Adrin though the "idea was a wonderful send up of the terrible lectures I had to endure (at Sussex University)." 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We steal secrets. The story of Wikileaks: It all started with an unexpected WANK

WANK was the name of the worm which NASA detected in their system and which was most likely created by the young, white-haired one - Julian Assange. It foxed the Americans and he’s been foxing them, and other sovereign states, ever since. I’ve read several books on Wikileaks, follow the story, even spoken to Julian Assange, albeit by video link, when he was locked up in his country refuge. So does this film tell us anything new? Well, no.
First, Assange and Wikileaks lie in another land, which the newspapers, books and films don’t, and perhaps can’t, fully grasp and capture. So keen are the old media to characterise, nay caricature, the players that they fail to report on the game. They slip all too easily into celebrity narrative, with Assange, Manning and Snowden. So keen are they to come to some simplistic conclusion (every film needs an ending) that they paint Assange as the rapist with ‘bllod on his hands’ and Manning as a sexually confused miscreant. This is storytelling, not journalism. Even worse it’s re-storytelling by lazy journalists, as it’s largely manipulated by the US Governments PR machine.
What the film does is follow biographical plotlines and fails miserably to tackle the issues and these are big issues. Assange is well read and a sophisticated thinker on the moral philosophy and arguments behind freedom of speech. He knows his Mill a good deal better than his inquisitors, who wouldn’t know the ‘harm principle’ if they found it in their inkwells. Assange doesn’t fit the dominant liberal ‘groupthink’ that pervades old print, radio and TV media. He is a libertarian, who knows what the variants of the ‘harm principle’ are and understands the nuances of the free-speech argument. At times the film puts words in his mouth or relies on people who don’t agree with him to state his position, so I’m not surprised that he refused to participate.
In focusing on Assange’s character we’re focusing on the wrong thing. We need to examine what Wikileaks has achieved, which is considerable. It set the ball rolling in exposing Julian Bar and Kaupthing Bank fraud. It has exposed the corrupt and criminal behaviour of dictators, helping oust them from power. It exposed the brutality of asymmetric war in Afghanistan and Iraq. ‘We steal secrets’ is an altogether misleading title. The US and other governments STEAL secrets, Wikileaks publishes leaks from whistleblowers.
Assange escapes capture
Ultimately Assange escapes capture, as he is not a ‘rock star’, ‘lothario’, ‘hacker’ or ‘madman’. He looks unique and is unique as he moves through an uncharted world where old-school journalists simply never leave port. He’s a navigator in the virtual underworld, uncovering places we never even knew existed, dark parallel continents of information where morality is sometimes abandoned and dark deeds suppressed. Assange inhabits this world and moves through it undetected. He knows how to keep himself hidden and uncover its secrets and they hate him for it.
Wikileaks escapes capture
Wikileaks also escapes capture, as it is not of their world. Traditional journalists just don’t get it. The web has scale on its side, scale in several senses of the word. Scalable content – it can handle huge amounts of searchable data – traditional, linear media cannot. Scalable production – digital copies are infinitely and perfectly copyable. Scalable reach – Wikileaks is immediately available everywhere in all time zones. Scalable presence – it doesn’t exists in a country even continent, as it is mirrored on servers across the globe in a transnational space. On the bright side the film does make the following, often overlooked point. Why is the US pursuing him with such venom and vigour? All he did was publish the same material as The Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel? Don’t see them hunting down those journos? This is a telling point – they fear Wikileaks, they no longer fear embedded and emasculated journalists.
In this increasingly emasculated paper and TV world, the world of print, radio, TV and film, he is admittedly clumsier and has been a victim of its clumsy media mechanics. It explains his reluctance to give interviews or play along with biographies and documentaries that start to play too traditional a game. This may be an unpopular view but I really do think the two Swedish women were in fact internet ‘groupies’ who willingly slept with Assange at the height of his manufactured ‘rock star’ fame, got jealous of each other and started a media-driven process they couldn’t stop (there is no CIA conspiracy). Once again the seedy (sic) details of a couple of one-night stands have become the story, not the corruption, connivance and carnage that Wikileaks exposes.
Assange, Manning, Snowden – they’ll keep on coming. Good people, smart people, talented people, principled people,  who expose what they think is evil to public scrutiny. It is a little known fact that Assange had asked the Pentagon to help with the redaction of the documents, to prevent identity leaks – they refused. The hypocrisy of Obama over the torture of Bradley Manning, and it was unnecessary torture, an unworthy act of revenge, demeans him and the US. The hypocrisy of VISA, MASTERCARD and PAYPAL in stopping payments, under orders from the US government, to Wikileaks is astounding.
Big story is the big picture
The big story is the big picture, that these are two tectonic plates hitting each other and causing lots of friction and small eruptions. As the world creates more information, shares more information and sovereign states gather more information, and overreach themselves, there’s bound to be reactions and leaks. That’s real progress. More importantly, there needs to be a serious debate about the limits of the state as well as the limits of free speech. Assange knows his Mill and understands, in detail, the arguments in this area. I think the state founded on free-speech, the US, has forgotten these principles and resorted to intimidation, torture, bizarre legal cases (even a dirty tricks ‘blood on his hands’ campaign) instead of debate. Their policy is not prosecution, it is persecution.

This position has been strengthened recently by Snowden who claims that, “The 4th and 5th Amendments to the Constitution of my country, Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and numerous statutes and treaties forbid such systems of massive, pervasive surveillance. “ This, I fear, is correct. The US has gone feral on information. Snowden makes another point which Assange has held to for a long time, the need for individuals to hold principles that transcend national interests. They can isolate Assange, torture and lock-up Manning, pursue Snowden, but there will be a long line of people willing to step into their place, until the debate is done. Wikileaks is alive and kicking.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Latitude: dandy time

You get a lot of sniping about Latitude from music journalists and others about its middle englishness, as if a Festival ain’t a Festival unless it’s a mad mudfest. I don’t want the dangerous, drunken madness of T in the Park or Reading. Latitude works because it is NOT these Festivals, that’s the whole point. Set around a lake in a beautiful valley, the organisers create a world in which you can easily wander from venue to venue. It’s not crowded, you never see any violence, even angst. Even when it rains, it’s on sand, therefore minimally muddy. It’s calm, chilled and hassle free. What’s not to like?
Found ourselves camped next to two guys from Aberdeen, who were encycopedic in their knowledge of music. Their advice over the four days was a Godsend, as the choices were bewildering. Had a wander round and a stop off at the Disco Shed. At night the site looks like an old town from a western only lit up like Las Vegas. The site is heavily wooded around the edge and so there’s lots of places to walk to and little venues in the trees. Absolutely magical.
Daniel Kitson
We’re off and it’s Daniel Kitson’s ‘Work in progress’ in the Theatre Tent, fitting, as he’s far more than a stand-up comedian. After having a go at the photographers (your job is redundant, technology won – people take better photographs drunk, at 4am with their arses). The theme, as he always has an overarching problem, which gnaws away at him, is ‘groupthink’ or his tendency to feel uncomfortable with clubs, groups and movements. Formal movements repulse him. He likes football, plays football, but feels squeamish when people chant in unison. It’s about the stupidity and bullying of the crowd. I liked this, as I’ve never ever joined a club, not even the Scouts, and am similarly repulsed by Golf Clubs, Institutes and other godforsaken pools of group banality. It was a lovely ramble from someone who exposes himself to risk by sticking not only his neck but his whole soul to public scrutiny. He genuinely works through his material live when preparing a show. That, in this case, becomes a performance in itself, with all of its flaws, uncertainties and vulnerabilities.
Nick Helm
Next up, Nick Helm. I can’t really take standard stand-up these days. Hence my fondness for Kitson and a couple of others, such as Nick Helm. No standard stand-up here, just an hour of madness. He’s a sort of motivational speaker gone mad with disillusionment, disappointment and despair. The backing band drive out rock tracks to create a weird spectacle. We sing and chant slogans but it’s all meaningless. The audience participation is on scale but pointless and that’s the point.
Tim Burgess
He of Charlatans fame has set off on his own but, despite the blond pudding bowl haircut, doesn’t have the voice to do the solo thing. This is a boy who was in a band, now a man lost without a band.
Popped across to see this lot as I’d heard they can craft a song or two but it was on the main stage and the ditties felt a little lost.
Akron Family
This is more like it. I remembered that the afficiados in the next tent had said ‘Don’t bother with the main stage’ and they had a point. Inside the big tent, the Akron Family thrashed out their psychedelic rock with some aplomb.
John Grant
This is why I come to Latitude, to see faces and music I’ve never heard  of. Grant is a bearded crooner, of sorts, with a band that send out electronic wails that add atmosphere to his tragic ballads. Moving stuff and I’ve never heard anything quite like this. A real find.
Over to the woods to hear the Churches, a Glasgow band with a Claire Grogan-like, lead singer, whose singles I rather like. They lived up to the promise and their album, out in September, will be bought.
Loved this set from this New York band who give it large on guitars. I’m on a roll, three great bands in a row.
Chole Howe
Another find. Chirpy singer with excellent songs who was belting it out in The Arcade, literally under the boughs of some trees.
Bloc Party
Didn’t actually know they were on the bill but I have to say they hammered out their hits and Sharlene Spiteri was the best front-woman of the weekend. Her ballsy attitude and swearing drove the set forward, although, as a swearer myself, I found her use of the word ‘motherfucker’weird. Glaswegians are good at swearing, it’s part of their everyday language, and have more than enough of a swear vocabulary to go it alone, without imports.
Daniel Kitson
Started the day with Kitson and ended it with Kitson. This time, a properly crafted two hour show and classic Kitson magic, although we were so tired we were nodding off.
Two young brothers on guitar and drums. A British Black Keys, but much rougher and rawer. Best thing I’ve seen so far.
Steve Mason
Ex Beta Band man Mason can craft a tune and I really enjoyed this set, though his political rants were a bit wearing.  
King Charles
What he lacks in substance he makes up for in hair. Only ever seen him on TV and YouTube where his ditties are well received but he translated well to the big stage with a rousing rock set. As my friend Al, who’s in the music business, says, “the most important thing in rock ‘n roll is a good haircut”. Al will give you a detailed, historical and convincing analysis on why this is true.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
John Helmer, who plays in teh Pyranhas, has a good line about Annabella from Bow Wow Wow, “making that difficult transition from jailbait to MILF”. Karen O isn’t quite pulling off the wild vamp these days but still gives it her all.
Hot Chip
Wise choice before Kraftwerk and they tinkled out their foot tappers in the perfect time that electronic gadgets provide. Laid Back remains their best song and I’m not sure they’ve progressed much beyond that first hit.
Seminal, yes. Original, yes. Relevant now, no. Turned up but not sure that I’d listen to Kraftwerk for pleasure these days. The show was amazing, all minimalist stage and 3D graphics but donning specs at a headline act seemed odd. The 3D graphics were OK, nothing special. Nostalgia induces exaggeration and just because a band influenced lots of people, doesn’t necessarily mean their own music can deliver a two hour set decades later. She’s a Model and Autobahn, fine, but who listens to Kraftwerk these days? Stuart Maconie, disagrees, and sees in Kraftwerk Europe’s answer to the Beach Boys. Mmmmm….
Refreshingly non-nostalgic set from Alt-J, who were playing in a tiny tent last year. Good on them.
Stuart Maconie
This man can pen a sentence or two, so I toodled along to hear him speak about his new book
He was hugely amusing, as good as a professional stand-up with his journey through British pop-music which, he claims, we Brits invented. From “Bluebirds Over The…” to Bonkers, he takes us through, not the pop-songs he likes, but those that got under the nation’s skin. I liked his point about the nation’s reaction to Thatcher, in London we got Spandau Ballet and ‘Gold’, in the north we got The Smiths. Or his description of Queen as the Matalan Led Zeppelin. Found the £20 book in a small stall in The Woods for a tenner – bought!
Dr Who & The Lattitudes
Nice theatrical skit on Dr Who with suitably near to the bone jokes about paedophilia and BBC Saturday evening shows, and jokes about Latitude. Very funny.
David Trent
Primary school teacher turned comedian, in the Cabaret Tent, gave a show about spontaneity in comedy, where his contrived jokes were the reveal. Novel act that turns the so-called ‘spontaneity of live comedy' on its head, showing it up to be no more that old music-hall gag sets. His spontaneous sex sketch sent mums with children scurrying to the door which has a clear sign saying 15+.
Bobby Womack
Conformation once more that the Main Stage is to be avoided. Getting tired of hearing the word ‘seminal’.
Whole load of young British Psychedelic Rock bands here and I’m rather enjoying them. These guys, however, are a work in progress.
James Yorkston
Scottish crooner who delivered a lovely set of songs in the dappled woods. We sat on a log with a pint of cider and all was well with the world.
The Great Tax Robbery
Poor debate by a Private Eye journalist and ex-VAT inspector about our failure to sole this obvious problem. They were keen to blame the robber capitalists, but the’ incompetence  and no longer fit for purpose’ state of the HMRC was evident. I asked a question to try and enliven the debate “Do you think that tax evasion has infected Middle England, with tens of thousands of teachers tutoring for cash, paying builders in cash and putting spouses on the books of small businesses?” In other words, the people in this tent have long broken the laws on tax, we’ve just grown used to it and that’s why the politicians are so laissez faire about the whole thing. Bullshit replies about how it’s all about context. Minutes earlier they had all agreed it was a serious matter of morals and principle. Oh well.
Another psychedelic rock band and well worth the walk to the woods.
James Blake
Fantastic set in the early evening sunshine.
Eddie Izzard
Getting a bit formulaic is old Eddie, although he may well be focussing less on laughs and more on the Mayoral election. He could just edge it. Still funny as fuck though.
My son recommended this and it was MENTAL. Big Tent wet bonkers with a mixture of R&B and club music that’s just great fun. Now if you get me dancing, you know that its music gold!
Hung around for another recommendation from my son, and as I had on my dancing feet, absolutely loved the White Light/White Noise beats of these brothers ( a lot of brothers on stages this year).
The Foals
Not a great fan but went up to see the final half hour of their set and was impressed. Great way to end three days of unadulterated fun and escapism. See you all next year.

Monday, July 15, 2013

World War Zzzzzz

Zombie movies, I love. The Walking Dead, I adored. World War Z was, well OK. It rips along and the zombie apocalypse plague idea is clever but there’s aspects of the film that just jar. First, the scientist’s death, a key plot turn, is simplistic and contrived - he slips on a ramp. bumps his head and dies!? The scene with Israel welcoming Palestinians through their wall, if not unlikely, is certainly contrived (ah – so they built the wall to keep zombies out!). The ‘family’subplot is also overwrought and too sugary for my taste. And whenever I hear the phrase ‘Navy Seals’ I yawn involuntarily – here comes the banal macho dialogue, bandanas and mock heroics.
Sci-fi and horror can explore sophisticated ideas and push the imagination into philosophical realms, relating to the status of our species, cosmological ideas and so on. But this has been through the Hollywood ratings mill (rated 13+)and ends up being an emasculated, tame thriller. Where's the 'horror'? Some of the zombie scenes are terrific but you're never terrified. Like Pacific Rim, it’s another sci-fi movie that fell to earth. Let’s boldly go back to where no man dared to go…. space!