Weekend listening: “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”

July 14, 2018

Featuring the smooth & delightful guitar stylings of Mr Simon Hopkins.

Thanks to Simon as always.


Peach Club at Camden Assembly Tuesday June 22nd: their time is now ( @ppeachclubb )

July 2, 2018

Kat moves like a boxer, jaw forward, pushing into space, claiming her territory, swaying and twisting, triggered by the roar of Charlie’s guitar: brittle riffs, the sound bright black and shiny as coal, raw bare bones.

peach club 3

Photo by Neil Anderson

peach club 1

Picture by Neil Anderson – more pictures via the link below

I love gigs like this. A small room, a small audience. If you’re a fan you can get close. By the end Kat is off the stage and prowling round the crowd like a panther.

Peach Club: their time is now. Now is their time. Their new song “Boy in a Band”, is another push back against toxic masculinity. They claimed they messed the song up, but it sounded like an instant classic.

Peach Club’s music is available on Spotify and Soundcloud. Their next gig is the Fringe at Tramlines festival in Sheffield on July 22nd. It’s free (!). Go and see them.

Neil Anderson took a great set of pictures at the gig.


Note on “Myra Breckinridge”

June 16, 2018

Anger. Rage. Violence. Mutilation.

Where does this rage come from?

It feels like Gore Vidal is “punching down” not “punching up”.

The cold rage of Apollo.

Punishing someone who has got above their station.

What is their station?

“Myra Breckinridge”

June 11, 2018

In view of the current confusing state of gender politics I thought it might be illuminating to read Gore Vidal’s 1968 novel “Myra Breckinridge”.


“The century” meaning “the 20th century”

Many years ago I read the sequel “Myron”. But I’d never read the first novel in the sequence. Which is backwards. And a bit perverse. Which is appropriate.

If you already know the twist (spoiler: and even if you don’t you’ll guess pretty quickly) then “Myra Breckinridge” isn’t particularly shocking. Unless you are shocked by the very idea of changing sex, in which case you will be shocked.

But since I’m not shocked, then I found the novel fast paced, a pretty easy read, but surprisingly, a little distasteful. Not for its subject matter, more its tone. I don’t usually have a problem with cruelty in art, but here the tone seemed patrician, even patronizingly cruel.

There’s a also a lot of satire around notions that the novel is dead, the Gutenburg era is over, people don’t read anymore, television, images are now the dominant form of cultural expression etc etc.

Which is being said a lot now, 50 years later.

But people now read more than ever. They just read on screens, not printed matter.

Maybe patricians mean, “people don’t read my books anymore”, or “people don’t read the kind of books I think they should read…”



Notes on “culture wars”

May 30, 2018

It’s a pity we have “culture wars”. Takes all the fun out of culture.

Culture shouldn’t be a war. The great thing about art, music, drama, writing, film and TV is that no one gets hurt.

You expect entertainment to be at least, entertaining, distracting, fun, pleasurable. This is hard to do. It’s even harder to go beyond that and create something that has any truth, depth, insight or wisdom.

Audiences have too much power. TV series which should be cancelled are recommissioned because fans don’t want them to end, when they are creatively exhausted. Even Peter Kay, a master at creating entertainments with real insight into the way that people actually behave (as opposed to the way they are supposed to behave in middle class living rooms – and let’s face it, that’s a lie as well, the average middle class living room is a psychic war zone) let himself be cajoled into giving “Car Share” an extra “happy” ending. I enjoyed the finale, but it wasn’t as good as the original, sadder and truer ending.

Too much culture is didactic. TV series telling their audiences what they want to hear, ideological art. Over complex plot lines that go on forever. I hate plot. I couldn’t tell you the plots of any of my favourite novels. I don’t read Faulkner or Ferrante for their plots. The economics of US television, now the dominant form of entertainment on all platforms, inevitably lead to everything becoming like a soap opera; goes on forever, plots that never end, preaching to the converted.

I’m old fashioned. We should be nice to each other in life, and horrible to each other in art, since in art nobody gets hurt. These days it’s the other way round. With digital platforms optimised for hate (“Hatetimised? Hoptimised?”), hate is going to escape from where it belongs and so people will turn to art that keeps them safe by telling them what to think, keeps them on a hook, and identifies an often spurious enemy.

I consume too much media, and too much of it isn’t any good.

Here are some good things:

Shame “Songs of Praise”; album of the year, but we don’t have those since the role of the music journalist/critic/gatekeeper disappeared sometime in the 2000s. You don’t need gatekeepers when all gates are open. Shame are the angry sound of post-Brexit youth – the whole album can be summed up in one phrase “why don’t you fucking bastards listen to me?”. Shouty, with twists and turns and hooks and drama. I like the way he enjoys slagging people off while at the same time inhabiting those characters himself: it’s perversely pleasurable (Jarvis Cocker used to do this – observing a scene while at the same time being trapped inside it). Why there hasn’t been a furore about “Gold Hole” I don’t know, it must have slipped under the radar of the morality police. Tasteless. Good.

“Circumstance”; Film by Maryam Keshavarz . Released in 2011 but I only saw it this year. Fresh, powerful and pleasurable drama about forbidden sapphic love in contemporary Iran. Like the “Handmaid’s Tale” but happening now, for real. Enjoyable and horrifying.

“Hamlet” with Andrew Scott in the lead. I recorded this ages ago when it was on BBC FOUR and have only just got around to watching it. A brilliant production that doesn’t get bogged down in psychological complexities but just tells the story, fast. Hamlet is unsympathic and all the better for it.

Just tell me what happened. That’s hard to do. But just tell me what happened.

And if you don’t want to be in a culture war, don’t start one.

First day at new Broadcasting House

May 29, 2018

It rained on my first day at new Broadcasting House.

Just like on my last day at Caversham Park.

Am I downhearted? No. I’m very happy.

Could things get any better? Well there was an ice cream van outside reception giving away free ice cream if you showed your BBC pass…ice cream It’s great to be here!



Last Day at Caversham Park

May 25, 2018


Yesterday was my last day at Caversham Park.

It rained.

Which slightly spoils this post as I was going to suggest Caversham Park is paradise on earth.

Shortly after I got a job at BBC Monitoring I described the experience to people I know as “like going to heaven without having to suffer the inconvenience of dying”.

So, heaven with rain.

Moving here was a fresh start for me, a new and (much) better phase in my working life.

I can understand why people who have worked in Caversham for many years would be very sad to leave. It’s magnificent.

I too felt sad.

But I also feel that the best days for BBC Monitoring could be yet to come.

The people at BBC Monitoring are undoubtedly the cleverest and the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, and I am honoured and privileged to work alongside them. I’m convinced that Monitoring’s unique culture and ethos won’t just survive a move into new Broadcasting House, but will actually flourish. If anything the move might bring people even closer together.

Yesterday I wandered around the grounds under the grey clouds for the last time. Goodbye cricket pavilion, hello Oxford Street. So let’s take one final look, and then… the sky’s the limit!


Update: the World Tonight broadcast a piece on BBC Monitoring last night. You can listen to it here.

Weekend listening: “Ode to Brexit Unstoppable #DrumNBass Version”

April 28, 2018

Somewhere on the planet it’s always Saturday night…

So turn up the bass… hoven!

Weekend listening: “High Heels Police Force”

February 10, 2018

Thanks to DJ Southwold for the lead guitar.

Protip: if you pitchshift an ordinary clarinet (and the way I play clarinet is ordinary at best) down an octave you get the sound of a bass clarinet.

Thereby saving you both the expense of a real bass clarinet and the trouble of carting it around…

Mark E Smith: not a “national treasure”

January 28, 2018

When they started, The Fall would get bad reviews. I remember listening to an edition of Radio 1’s “Round Table” where The Fall’s new single ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ was played. The guests thought it was rubbish. They sniggered and joked. To me it sounded harsh, exciting, risky (they left the mistakes in!).

‘Kicker Conspiracy’’s prophesy was that football would turn from an “honest game” into an empty international entertainment event bloated with money.

When people die, we try and say nice things about them. This is to reassure ourselves, that the world is a kind place, in the face of the available evidence. We play their music again, to reassure ourselves that something hasn’t been lost, in the face of the available evidence. We come up with cod psychology to explain their bad behavior.

What can be missed is context, especially when the act concerned has had a long and prolific career.

When ‘Kicker Conspiracy’ was released “indie music” was a network of amateurs, chancers and record shops with music press backing and the support of one influential radio DJ. New Order were just about to make their commercial breakthrough with “Blue Monday”. ”Alternative” music had not yet been homogenised into just another genre, supported by a national radio station.

England is a place where bad things happen. The clichés of English pragmatism, the stiff upper lip and the sense of humour are tactics designed to disguise and repress the propensities of the English for violence, ugliness and discord. Scratch the surface and you find an atavistic, coldly destructive, pagan sensibility: a sharp nastiness which crosses classes, political allegiance and cultures. The works of William Blake (despite attempts to turn him into a socialist hero) and the work of Margaret Thatcher have much in common. If you try and tell that truth you are likely to be marginalised, and get bad reviews.

But it is thrilling when for a moment, or series of moments, someone who understand and embodies those impulses, and can see and describe them clearly, turns that nastiness into bitter, harsh, exciting sound.


Mark Smith at number 1, new Fall track at number 2. R.I.P. MES