Saturday 25 April 2009

Saturday Morning Interview

Here's Tom Waits on the David Letterman show back in 2004, promoting Real Gone (not that he actually mentions it during the course of the interview, you understand); possibly one of the funniest interviews I've ever seen...

Thursday 16 April 2009

Long Time Gone

I’m afraid this blog has suffered another prolonged silence, which this time round I can’t blame on the mysterious power of cheese, or even on Sevenoaks (although it’s tempting). No, the truth is: I’ve been busy. And the plan is to continue being busy until I run out of train track, which by current estimations is going to be some time in August. So, from this point on, this pile of words is going to be intermittent at best; if I have a spare hour or two, I'll post a rant on something random (for instance, I had to watch Antonioni’s Blow Up again recently, and was sorely tempted to write something about the utterly crap commentary by the ‘academic’ Peter Brunette, but didn’t have the time).

So what have I been so busy doing?

I started this blog back in August 2007 as a bit of a diversion, something to keep ze little grey cells active during ‘down time’, i.e., the time spent between writing projects where I would stare out the window a lot, smoke more crack than was probably good for me, and mope about like an unemployed quiz show host. I never saw it as a ‘shop front’, where prospective paying customers could sidle up and squeeze my produce (so to speak). If anything, it was a bit of an exercise yard, a space where I could moan and bitch about all sorts of old nonsense. If anyone else other than me was reading, that was a bonus; if not, then hey – who cares? In any case, I've always had a (peculiarly English?) aversion to self-promotion, which I think can often tip the scales into self-congratulation; it's always been a lot easier (and far more entertaining for me) to talk about failure rather than success.

So to state that I’m being paid to write stuff seems a bit self-congratulatory. Weird, but there we are. And not just one thing, but two (and both features to boot). Zoiks!

That said, even writing that much in a public space such as this could jinx everything, so I’m going to shut up now.

Friday 6 March 2009

Diet of Cheese

Two weeks with no post on here is unheard of (although I have some way to go to break Michelle Lipton’s 26 days of silence), but I have excuses! Lots of them. And they all seem to revolve around cheese.

25th February: dinner here with a soon-to-be-stratospherically-successful screenwriter (STBSSS), and the cheese diet is go! Macaroni cheese and cheesecake (is there actual cheese involved in the making of cheesecake? These are important questions, people). The STBSSS goes for something called a delice, which involves a large lump of cake, a huge flower and something that looks like a chocolate covered twig, which she bravely bites into: I’m pleased to report that it was edible.

26th February: dinner here, and the cheese theme continues. Ginos seem to cook almost exclusively with cream (apparently they have tankers of the stuff shipped in on an hourly basis*), but that’s not good enough for me: no, sir. With the infamous transglyceride incident still at the forefront of her mind, my wife gives me the filthiest of looks. But I don’t care: I’m on a cheese roll (well, not really, but you get the idea).

Medical aside: a couple of years ago, I had a routine cholesterol test, which flagged up a transglyceride (a nasty but delicious fat) level of about 16 - apparently, this is bad; very bad. The consultant accused me of going out on a fifteen pint bender the night before the blood test. Not me, guv. Then perhaps you ate twelve handfuls of butter? Nope: I’d remember that (I hope). We continued in this vein for at least thirty minutes: much hilarity ensued.

27th February: dinner here, in the library no less. Arf! However, I suspect that most of the books on display have been purchased from one of those places specialising in slightly worn but artful decor: the titles prove it – Domestic Fowl Rearing, The Poultry Keeper. At least they’re not books about cheese: by now I’m suffering dairy overkill, so I lay off the cheese for one night. That said, the dessert tasted suspiciously like mascarpone, but I’m past caring.

Telly box aside: does anyone remember that BBC series a few years back with Phil Daniels where he played a restaurant critic? Can’t remember the title of it (Holding On?), but in one memorable sequence, he goes to a restaurant, where he stuffs his face like Mr Creosote. However, he has another restaurant review to do that night, so he visits the gents, where he sicks up his dinner before waltzing off to his next assignment. Just thought I’d mention it ;-)

28th February: lunch here, and dinner here, where my wife and I seem to have the entire place to ourselves. No cheese on the menu (for which I thank the good baby Jesus above), but by now another problem has manifested itself: I'm bankrupt. I consider selling an internal organ, but decide that I would only eventually replace it with more cheese.

1st March: afternoon tea (!) here, where we sit next to an old lady who looks like a bad transvestite (I work with two transvestites – one of them has bigger biceps than me). I rapidly come to the conclusion that these are the only people who would be seen dead taking afternoon tea. More clotted cream than you shake a dainty cake fork at. By now, I’m starting to suffer from dairy-based hallucinations.

2nd March: back to (relative) normality with sausage and chips from here.

Once I’ve gotten over the hundredweight of cheese I’ve ingested over the last two weeks or so, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
* Obviously a lie. It's at least every thirty minutes.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Where Do You Write?

The short answer to this question? In a landfill, mostly:

For me, this is a neat day (I’m missing several coffee cups, my laptop, several piles of CDs, and for some reason another two mobile phones). For the most part, I have no idea where the huge amount of crap that I accumulate comes from - it just kind of materialises, beamed down from Planet Landfill. I deal with it by piling everything up into a huge, tottering heap of the end of the day and then swearing loudly as it falls on top of me, covering me in endless back issues of Private Eye and junk mail I’m too lazy to throw away.

At least the Screaming Monkey behind his own personal set of finger drums looks relaxed about it all. The swine.

Thursday 19 February 2009

Deja Vu

Ten minutes into watching The Assassination of Richard Nixon (TAORN), it occurred to me – haven’t I seen this film before? The more I watched, the more it became apparent – I’ve definitely seen this film before: its title then was Taxi Driver.

The similarities are too apparent to be ignored: both protagonists are demented, but this is not immediately apparent; just for fun, they play about with hand guns; politicians become convenient scapegoats for rage and social ineptitude; both films culminate in bloody shoot outs. There are also comparable scenes of toe curling embarrassment: in Taxi Driver, Travis takes Betsy to see a Swedish sex education film (not exactly your ideal first date movie); in TAORN, Sam heads over to a local Black Panthers office and tries to join up, suggesting that they change the name of the organisation to ‘the Zebras’, to reflect the supposed black and white membership. You watch both scenes through your fingers.

Even the names of the protagonists are similar: Bickle and Bicke, anyone? That said, TAORN is based on a true story: in 1974, Samuel Byck did indeed attempt to hijack an airliner with the intention of flying into the White House. The alternate spelling of Byck’s name was apparently made so as not to upset living relatives (huh?), so Bicke it was. The fact that Taxi Driver was released in 1976 with Robert DeNiro in the lead role of Travis Bickle is surely not coincidental. Weirdly enough, it seems that things have come full circle: a film based on a true story looks and feels remarkably similar to a film made nearly thirty years previously that was probably based on the same true story. Of course this tells us nothing except the fact that Taxi Driver is by far and away the better film.

So why does TAORN get a showing now, and with Sean Penn in the lead role, no less?

Something I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is contemporary relevance. A friend of mine recently pitched an idea for a documentary to the Beeb, who simply said: Why now? What relevance does this idea have to the way we live today? The answer is not as difficult as you might think: even something simple like the anniversary of some significant or meaningful event is good enough. Problem was, my friend was pitching an idea about a series of events that occurred in the late-eighties with seemingly no link to the present day, no matter how hard he looked. So that was the end of that.

In TAORN, contemporary relevance seems to be contained in the idea that the real life Byck was prepared to use a jet airliner as a weapon. Shades of 911 of course, and even though TAORN is set in 1974, I guess as an idea it made the whole thing easier to pitch (the last shot of the film is Bick playing with a toy airliner). That said, with Sean Penn on board (and onscreen for the vast majority of the movie’s running time), perhaps a sense of contemporary relevance isn’t important. And besides, we’re talking fiction here. If the drama’s good enough, who cares? In TAORN’s case, it’s OK – but that doesn’t mean it’s a whole lot of fun to watch.

Sunday 15 February 2009

Guilty Pleasures, Part 7 – I Heart Muzak

I spend an inordinate amount of time in Pret (sans laptop, as I’d only pour latte into it); one of things I love about the place is the incidental music that's piped into the store (or to use the correct parlance, Muzak). For the most part, it’s a pleasing mash-up of samba, laid back jazz, Vegas lounge and 70s porno movie soundtrack. Intrigued, I asked what it was. “Dunno – we get it from Head Office.” Further enquiries on the Pret website led me nowhere. So there we have it – one of life’s great mysteries: where exactly does the music in Pret come from?

The weird thing about muzak is that it isn’t really designed to be heard, or at the least properly noticed: aural wallpaper, I suppose you’d call it. It’s predominantly designed to create a pleasing ambience in whatever (mostly retail) space it’s used in. Of course, no discussion on ambient music would be complete without a mention of Brian Eno (and in particular David Toop’s book, Ocean of Sound, which contains this immortal line: Anal scents: what was their relation to a cultural shift?). Eno’s best known ambient recordings date from 1978: in the original liner notes, Ambient 1: Music for Airports contained references to Muzak Inc, and was even installed at the Marine Terminal at LaGuardia Airport for a while.

Even though the Ambient series is superb, Eno’s influence in the muzak sphere is vastly overstated. You’re more likely to walk into a department store and hear a recording of clapped out old session musicians murdering Oasis’s Wonderwall than some weighty Eno composition: and to me, that’s half the fun of muzak. It isn’t meant to be all po-faced seriousness, minimalism and heavyweight classical references (I couldn’t imagine going into Pret and sitting down to Gavin Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic - great music, but not something to sup your mocha to, unless you’ve got a couple of cyanide tablets to hand); it’s more likely to be Richard Clayderman-inspired piano foppery, or tacky instrumental arrangements of pop standards. And you know something? I love all of it: the more clapped out and cheesy the better.

The best muzak I’ve heard recently is the Beastie Boys album, The In Sound from Way Out, a collection of instrumental music culled from various albums released between 1992-96. Like the soundtrack to my Pret coffee, it’s a collision of influences – jazz, soul, laidback funk – all fed through a peculiarly seventies sensibility. And surprisingly for a bunch of instrumentals it’s funny, and delivered with exactly the right amount of cheese. Even the French sleeve notes are (unintentionally?) demented:

Un des premiers voyageurs de hip hop, il ont connu pour un mix de humeur et style. Avec leur beer swilling et glue sniffing (tactiques Brechtienne) ils ont ecrit leur signature definitive sur le face du rap.

Those crazy French, eh! As above, muzak is best served up without great dollops of silly pretension. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a coffee to finish.

Tuesday 10 February 2009

LoveFilm? Then Don’t Rent DVDs

Arrrggh! I’ll say that again just for emphasis: Arrrggh!

Deep breath – and relax.

There. That feels a bit better.

Right. LoveFilm. Arrrggh!

I was going to wibble on pointlessly about I Am Legend, but the disc conked out after 45 minutes* – either this is shortest Will Smith film on record, or I have been dealt a shonky DVD by the evil fiends at LoveFilm. Don’t they know I suffer from an acute time sickness? I mean, Christ, I could’ve done something productive with those 45 minutes, like browse Amazon for a copy of this CD that doesn’t cost over £50. Sheesh.

So, I rang up and cancelled my subscription, which was starting to become dangerously random anyway. For instance, I’ve been looking forward to seeing the original version of Funny Games for ages now: instead, I get Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream, starring Jenny Seagrove. Where the dickens did that come from? And after watching Death Proof (how can a film featuring so many gorgeous women be so thoroughly boring?), the twisted freaks at LoveFilm go and send me the bonus disc, which for all I know is stuffed with a landfill’s worth of talky old bollocks. Arrrggh!

That said, maybe it’s something to do with my over sensitive DVD player: nothing but the very finest, shiniest brand new DVDs will do. As soon as a disc that has been played in another machine goes anywhere near it, it shuts down and sulks like a Big Brother contestant until I am able to feed it something shiny and new again (even SkyPlus is rebelling against me: I set the series link to record the second season of Dexter on ITV1; except that the damn thing didn’t record the second episode. My wife: You don’t need to watch the second episode, do you? I mean, you can still follow it, surely? Me: Arrrggh! Don’t you understand! I – have – to – see – it! At which point I stopped talking as I was coming across like a petulant Big Brother contestant).

So, to summarise: technology – when it works, it’s great. And when it doesn’t: Arrrggh!
* Which was pretty good, I thought.

Monday 9 February 2009

Don’t Forget the (Rubbish) Lyrics

There was a news story a while back here, that aimed to find the worst ever lyric in pop music. From a list that included Oasis’s Champagne Supernova and Razorlight’s Somewhere Else, Des’ree’s Life came out top:

I don't want to see a ghost
It's the sight that I fear most
I'd rather have a piece of toast
Watch the evening news

It’s rubbish all right, but at least it means something (Des’ree has an understandable aversion to ghosts and would much rather stay in of an evening and watch Huw Edwards on the telly box – this I understand. However, comprehension does not make it any less rubbish). However, when bands stray into the realms of the nonsensical whilst pretending all the while to be profound and/or meaningful, that’s when truly bad lyrics come into their own.

How about this from Risingson, by Massive Attack:

Toy-like people make me boy-like

What the blue blazes does that mean?

Here’s a suggestion – it doesn’t mean anything: it’s a stream of clodhopping meaninglessness that just happens to fit the song. What’s worse, it has the effect of turning an excellent song into something that makes your toes curl up with embarrassment – as a result, I simply can’t listen to it any more. And it gets better (this made me laugh for a full five minutes when I first heard it):

Nicer than the bird up in the tree top
Cheaper than the chip inside my lap top

Massive Attack’s major problem seems to be the fact that the music comes first – most of their lyrics sound as if they’re an afterthought, written and recorded with all the care and craft of a Vengaboys song.

I have much the same problem with Interpol. Great music, supremely rubbish lyrics. This is from Slow Hands:

I submit my incentive is romance
I watched the pole dance of the stars
We rejoice because the hurting is so painless
From the distance of passing cars

Uh, hello? And that’s without the vomit inducing:

You make me want to pick up a guitar
And celebrate the myriad ways that I love you.

Or – Sweet Jesus! – this from Obstacle 1:

Her stories are boring and stuff
She’s always calling my bluff

Even the greats get it wrong. Here’s Nick Drake with Man in a Shed:

Please don’t think I’m not your sort
You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.

To round things off with a truly monstrous cringe, here’s Sting from The Police with Walking in your Footsteps:

Hey Mr. Dinosaur
You really couldn't ask for more
You were God's favourite creature
But you didn't have a future.

Move over, Des’ree – I think we’ve found a new winner.

Friday 6 February 2009


Adaddinsane tagged me with this: If you could go back to live in any one year from your lifetime, which one would you choose?

Jesus H Christmas, that’s a bitch of a tag, isn’t it? I was tempted to go all wibbly and post-modern and select a variety of incidents from a variety of different years. Then I went and read Michelle Lipton’s post on the same subject (after which I got something in my eye), and came to the conclusion that doing things that way would be a massive cheat.

So, let’s see: oooh, 1988 looks like a good one to me (screen goes wavy as we enter flashback mode):

I played in a band named after a Russ Meyer film – our collective sound was described (by a friend, no less) as ‘five people all playing in different time zones’. One of the stupidest/best things we ever did was to get drunk prior to a BBC Radio Sussex interview, during which we talked about our (fictitious) love for progressive rock (I seem to remember making a fatuous comment about Iron Butterfly). We then all went to a sweaty Taxi Pata Pata gig, during which the band divided into two warring factions – after some Machiavellian manoeuvring by our guitarist (the phenomenally talented Mister Rose), the singer (and his stolen percussion) got thrown out. Trouble was, after that we couldn’t find anyone else even half as good. So that was that.

Of course hindsight is wonderful, but the way we played and wrote music was quite unlike anything I’ve experienced since. Within the band, there were some fiercely talented players (and me, struggling to keep up mostly, especially when the drummer dipped out of 4/4 time, the gifted swine), but nobody came to rehearsals with even half an idea of where things were going to go or even what we were going to do. Chaos reigned, but in a good way: songs were painstakingly built from the ground up via endless jamming and improvisation – if something sounded good, it went into the mix. And when it all got too tiring (rehearsals until four in the morning were pretty commonplace), we’d launch into our only death metal song just to shake things out.

Once the band split, I auditioned for a local band looking for a bass player. Jesus, were they boring: they wrote songs like this, where the autocratic guitarist would hand out sheet music to his hapless band members and then expect everyone to fall in line. Of course, I didn’t – which is why I lasted for exactly one rehearsal.

If I had to relive 1988 again, I’d slap my collective band mates round the back of their legs and tell them to pull themselves together; we obviously didn’t know a good thing when we were in it, and by the time the in-fighting had broken out, it was too late. The fact that I’ve never found a band since that I wanted to play with speaks volumes, which is perhaps something to do with the way we worked: chaotic, improvised, haphazard, and at times downright experimental. I’m not saying that we sounded great, and listening to demos today it of course sounds a little dated. But we had one helluva lot of fun.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

Opportunity Knocks, part 10

As everyone is re-enacting The Shining at the moment (snowed into a haunted hotel with a psychopath for company - oh, OK, just me then), why not have a go at this? (just received from those hugely sexy people at Inktip)

Baie des Singes (UK) Ltd - Thriller

We are looking for completed feature-length edgy thriller scripts, i.e. stories in the vein of "No Country for Old Men," "The Usual Suspects" or "The Yards." WGA or non-WGA writers may submit. Budget will not exceed $4 million.

I am a major international commercials director with clients such as BMW, Ford, Audi, Nivea, Adidas, and Coca-Cola, and I am looking for a first feature script to direct.

1. Please go to
2. Enter your email address (you will be signing up for InkTip's newsletter - FREE!)
3. Copy/Paste this code: 6kw9qtud64

You will be submitting a logline and synopsis only, and you will be contacted to submit the full script only if there is interest from the production company.

IMPORTANT: Please ONLY submit your work if it fits what the lead is looking for EXACTLY.
And whilst we're on the subject, one of the first French phrases I learned by heart was, "Il est vilain comme un singe." Which frankly is a bit uncalled for.

Monday 2 February 2009


Contains spoilers for My Bloody Valentine

There are a lot of great and interesting movies doing the rounds at the moment: Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, Frost/Nixon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Bride Wars (just kidding).

With all these in mind, for some reason I ended up going to see My Bloody Valentine (in 3D no less – not that you’d know it. Most 2D films offer more 3D thrills than My Bloody Valentine).

As is usual with films like this, it’s not really worth launching upon a lengthy critique of its narrative. My Bloody Valentine (MBV) is essentially a B-movie – I certainly didn’t hand over my hard-earned cash and expect something penned by David Hare or Simon Beaufoy. However, what I did expect was a load of schlocky, campy, nonsensical fun. And for a moment, MBV threatened to deliver...

There’s one sequence in the movie that is almost worth the price of admission itself: without going into mind-numbing detail, it involves a motel-managing dwarf, a butt naked Betsy Rue, a nasty trucker and a pickaxe in the head. The rest of the movie doesn’t even come close to what the critic Anthony Scott of the New York Times describes as the ‘zesty crudity’ of the B-movie:

...the cheesy, campy, guilty pleasures that used to bubble up with some regularity out of the B-picture ooze of cut-rate genre entertainment... now dominate the A-list, commanding the largest budgets and the most attention from the market-research and quality-control departments of the companies that manufacture them... For the most part, the schlock of the past has evolved into star-driven, heavily publicized, expensive mediocrities...

Even when filmmakers take on the subject of the B-movie, the results can be patchy: look at Death Proof, possibly the most crashingly dull B-movie ever made (the traditional B-movie certainly never contained acres of boringly pointless dialogue). Planet Terror is much more like it – supremely daft, the film even dispenses with core parts of its narrative by pretending that whole reels of the film have gone missing, which means it can jump straight into the action without titting about with hectares of talky exposition (something that Death Proof is stacked to the back teeth with).

When a B-movie is done well – Frank Darabont’s The Mist, for example, or even Kubrick’s The Shining – it can even transcend the usual A-list dramatic fare (Revolutionary Road anyone? The Reader?). I love a good B-movie – the problem with MBV was that it was only half a good B-movie – when the only thing that’s keeping you awake is the sight of Tom Atkins’s jaw flying past your shoulder, you know you’re in trouble.
* MDP = Mostly Dog Poo.

Thursday 29 January 2009

The Surreal Vortex of Sevenoaks

One of my favourite films is After Hours – not just because it’s one of the best things that director Martin Scorsese has ever done, but because I have the smallest of sneaking suspicions that most people’s lives are but a hair’s breadth away from the uncomfortable, nightmarish ‘comedy’ world that the (generally unsympathetic) Paul Hackett spends the vast majority of the movie attempting to escape from.

Oh. OK. Just mine then.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had a series of meetings in London. Of course, the first step is to get there. When it comes to travel, I’m pretty well organised – I always allow myself far more time than I actually need, especially if the place I’m going to is unfamiliar. I take everything I think I might want: notebook, pen, wallet, phone, iPod, book, novelty Bender statuette. Lastly I make sure that my shoes are on the right feet and that I haven’t put my jacket on back to front. Right. Off we go.

That’s when everything starts going a bit After Hours.

Take Brighton station: to park in the car park there, you don’t need coins. You simply pick your ticket up at the automatic barrier and pay by credit card in a handy machine when you arrive back some hours later. Nothing could be easier. So, having to catch a train from somewhere other than Brighton, I automatically assume that all station car parks are like this. They’re not. Sevenoaks station is a case in point: pay and display? Jesus: I thought we were living in the twenty first century. OK, no problem, just whip out the old credit card and... Oh. The machine is cash only. Cash? Uh, OK, how much? £4.90? I haven’t got £4.90. Bugger.

Right: find a cashpoint. There’s a petrol station, they’re bound to have one, right? Wrong. "Nearest cashpoint is at the station, mate." Aware that I have about ten minutes before the Charing Cross train arrives, I traipse to the station (quite a trek as it turns out), find a cashpoint and take out a tenner. Back to the car park. Try to find somewhere in the devil’s parking machine to slot a ten pound note, only to discover that it doesn’t take notes: coins only. Bugger - again. Train leaving in five minutes. Hang on – the machine does take credit cards after all, but only for a weekly ticket, which is £23! Arse.

By now, I am out of time, so don’t have any option but to pay for a weekly ticket and leg it to the station – I make the train with about thirty seconds to spare (on the train someone tries to sell me pre-packed meat out of a Tesco carrier bag: “You want any meat, mate?” “Uh, no thanks: I’m good.”)

I wouldn’t mind so much if an event like this was a one-off. Problem is, it isn’t.

Next time round, I stock up on coins. Pull into Sevenoaks station right in front of a parking machine. Get out, pump £4.90 in change into the machine. Nothing happens. The instructions on the machine appear to be some sort of entry test for The Krypton Factor. After nearly ten minutes of pointlessly re-feeding coins into the parking machine, I decide that it’s broken. Off to find another machine: this one works. Hoopla! I make the train with thirty seconds to spare (on the train I sit opposite a twelve year old Downs Syndrome kid who is with her carer. “Hello”, she says. “Hello”, I say back. “What’s your name?” she asks. Before I have a chance to answer, she says, “Is it Elizabeth?”)

Next time round, I’m fully expecting to be hunted down by a baying posse of crazies in an ice-cream van. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Off on a Tangent, part 18 – Top 10 Basslines

In January/February’s edition of Bass Guitar Magazine (the mag of choice for supra bass nerds everywhere), there was a highly subjective countdown of the ‘40 Best Basslines Ever’. Just to give you a flavour, the most recent entry in the top 10 dated from 1980 (Queen: Another One Bites the Dust – not really my cup of sake, madam). So, to redress the balance, here’s my top 10 (which is also my attempt to win a Trace Elliot 715 combo - hmm, tasty. Send your top 10 to and you too could win, but first you got beat this lot – and to be honest, I don’t envy you that job):

Stars and Sons, Broken Social Scene (Charles Spearin) – the first rule of an addictive bassline: ensure that it’s an absolute joy to play. And this is.

Silentland, Material (Bill Laswell) – it’s amazing how little you can make a song out of. Silentland is all clattering, random percussion, a thin, reedy vocal and a busy, harmonic driven bassline that dominates over all else.

Dolores, Slab! (Bill Davies) – to slap or not to slap: that’s the question that has confronted bassists over the last three hundred years. Perhaps there’s something inherently naff about that bright, high in the mix, slappy sound that makes everything sound just too clean, too fresh (there’s no doubt that Mark King is an amazingly talented bassist, but you couldn’t pay me enough to stay in the same postcode as a Level 42 CD). Dolores by Slab! solves this problem with a twin stroke of genius – simply turn up the distortion and make it sound as dirty as you possibly can (coincidentally the criminally underrated Bill Davies is the son of Andrew Davies, the BBC’s adapter-in-chief, although trying to tie this fact into a big, dirty bass sound is probably doomed to failure; however, Slab! did star in an episode of Davis’s A Very Peculiar Practice – perhaps that counts?).

Debaser, Pixies (Kim Deal) – the thing I love about the Pixies is how uninflected their playing is – everything is played straight with no gruesome rock n’ roll flourishes and flashes of spandex so beloved of musicians who just love to show off. There’s no showing off here: four notes are all you need: fer chrissakes, this ain’t feckin’ jazz funk, y’know.

Buoy, Mick Karn (Mick Karn) – nothing screams the 1980s quite so much as the fretless bass, which probably hit its zenith with Mick Karn’s bass playing duties for Japan (when the band reformed as Rain Tree Crow in 1991, Karn’s bass was noticeable by its almost complete absence, allegedly mixed into near-silent oblivion by Sylvian himself). However, when treated with a modicum of restraint and looped backwards, it gives this song a warm, snug cadence. When Sylvian collected twenty years worth of recordings on the retrospective Everything and Nothing, this song shone out like a diamond – and it’s not even one of Dave’s.

Song 2, Blur (Alex James) – Blur’s finest two minutes, entirely driven by a big, dirty bass riff that elbows Graham Coxon’s ineffectual guitar out of its way and stomps all over this song with vicious abandon.

Pure, Siouxsie and the Banshees (Steve Severin) – Steve Severin has never been the most technically gifted of bassists, and most Top 10 lists would pass him by. But who cares? Listening to The Scream again recently, it’s scary to note just how contemporary it all sounds (incredibly, it’s 31 years old this year). Dark, stark and spiky, it’s an album of ideas, and that’s exactly where Severin sits in the scheme of things.

The Perfect Kiss, New Order (Peter Hook) – ignore Bernard Sumner’s amazingly daft lyrics (let’s face it, he’s no Ian Curtis) and concentrate on that bass: there are enough bass lines in this one song to keep a lesser band in business for at least three albums.

Tracy, Mogwai (Dominic Aitchison) – although the touchstone for this song appears to be Sonic Youth’s Providence, there’s no ear bleeding feedback and no 130dB of volume to contend with here. Tracy is essentially one long, lyrical bass line and nothing more.

Moon Over Marin, Dead Kennedys (Klaus Flouride) – you could be forgiven for thinking that most Dead Kennedy’s songs are 60 second 100 mph rants a la In God We Trust (which I love). However, they slow down and loosen up for this, the last track on Plastic Surgery Disasters – that bass sound is raw, loose and bottom heavy, and sounds great.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Opportunity Knocks(?), part 9

Opportunity or not? Only you can be the judge of that one (that said, there's nothing wrong with a bit of old fashioned flattery)...
Hi there

You're receiving this as one of the frighteningly talented few thousand who've applied to be part of 4Talent's big projects over the last year - like Radio HaHa, the Inspiration Sessions, A Pitch In Time at the Screenwriters Festival, the Mobile Games Pitch at the Golden Joysticks, and of course the 4Talent Awards.

You've had all of these amazing opportunities for free: now we'd like to run an idea past you.

As you may have read in our
festive farewell message, for all manner of reasons - not least the credit crunch - Channel 4 can no longer afford to fund what we do. But they ARE prepared to endorse a juicy, brand-new resource (working title: Not From Concentrate) that continues all this good stuff in the commercial marketplace, helping you to flex your creative muscles in response to specific industry briefs and make proper links with all the major UK broadcasters and production companies, from start-ups to super-indies.

Within Channel 4, the 4Talent brand will continue as an entry point to great commissioning-led schemes like 3 Minute Wonder, Comedy Lab, Coming Up and First Cut, as well as work-related-learning schemes for 14 to 19-year-olds keen to break into the media.

But we reckon that still leaves a huge gap for all you market-ready innovators and ideas people who we've had the pleasure of working with over the years. We know there are some great ideas out there; refreshing ideas that buck the re-hashing trend of so many broadcasters and publishers. We've seen what you can come up with, and we want to continue linking you to industry players to realise your creative ambitions across all possible platforms.

One question remains about this brave new world: without the 'luxury' of [minimal!] funding from Channel 4 for such a resource, we'd have to generate revenue and amongst other things we're thinking about - wait for it - user subscriptions.

For those of you still reading this, let us explain. In a nutshell, we want to build an exclusive club for genuinely talented, dedicated people who are still off the mainstream radar, NOT a free-for-all destination for reality TV wannabes and media fame-seekers. Like any business - and that's what this has to be, of course - this comes at a price, and we're considering an annual subscription charge of £49 or, put another way, less than a quid per week. For that, you'd get:

* Premium multimedia editorial packed with industry insights
* A beautiful 100-page magazine sent direct to your doorstep
* Regular, real-world creative briefs to respond to
* A space to share knowledge and connect with like-minded peers
* A destination for your unsolicited, back-of-a-fag-packet ideas
* Online mentoring and feedback to develop those ideas
* Networking events and workshops with the best in the business

But we can't do any of this without you guys on board, so please drop us a line back with your thoughts or questions, and be as frank as you like. Not abusive though - just frank will do!

Thanks peeps - hear from you soon.

James [Estill] and Nick [Carson]
Former Producer and Editor, 4Talent Networks

Wednesday 21 January 2009

More Random Linkage (sorry...)

I was going to bore myself (and by extension, you) by wibbling on about my Red Planet rewrite. But you know something? I’m too busy writing it to write about rewriting it, if that makes any sort of sense. In the meantime, for some god-known reason the following by-line from today’s Guardian had me howling with laughter:

Nicolas Sarkozy has reportedly shrunk two trouser sizes after working the muscles of his perineum.

Sorry about that. I must be overtired or something...

In other random linkage news, David Hare has gone off on one again about Play for Today here – the interview also contains some highly amusing swipes at Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian’s film critic, after a one star review of The Reader. Bradshaw has responded in his usually robust fashion here (he still thinks it’s rubbish).

And finally, I heard a superb joke the other day about a blacksmith and a donkey, but it’s far too politically incorrect to post here – so drop me a line and I’ll email it to you.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Random Sunday Linkage

See here for the new show from David Simon and Ed Burns, Generation Kill, which starts on FX on 25th January. Looks most spiffy! Alternatively, you could always try here for the Torygraph’s view of the same thing. And then there's this, which is kinda related but makes for fascinating reading anyway.

There’s a revealing interview with Peter Morgan, the writer of Frost/Nixon, here, who was also responsible for the better bits of The Last King of Scotland I suspect.

(And talking of random links, what’s this Blogger ‘Links to this Post’ thing all about? My last post on Julian Fellowes seemingly generated thirteen random links all by its lonesome, which seems to be something that Blogger has nicked from Wordpress (steal away, guys: the more random the better in my book)).

Finally, my – ahem – my nephew’s essay got a 2:1. Good, eh? (by the way, if you need 2,500 words of randomly generated fluff on Roland Barthes, drop me a line – I don’t pretend to understand any of what the great man said, but that’s half the fun)

Thursday 15 January 2009

Julian Fellowes at Lighthouse

I remember Lighthouse back in the days when they were located at Middle Street in Brighton - rather sensibly, they have now relocated to a set of super-swanky offices in Kensington Street. Thanks to a tip off from Danny Stack, the beautiful and talented Michelle Lipton (in comparison to myself: slightly stooped and illiterate) and I were present last night to hear Julian Fellowes give a whistle stop tour of his career to date.

Judging from the amount of notes Michelle took, I suspect she will be providing chapter and verse on the event at some point. That said, the only notes I took were: “Michael Winner is a key figure in all our lives” (chortle), and a bit about some of the decisions made regarding the period that Gosford Park was set in. Robert Altman didn’t want Christmas as a backdrop as he found it ‘too sentimental’; also, the general consensus was that there shouldn’t be any mention of Nazis. Hold on a minute: Christmas, with the Nazi Party? There’s a high stepping, vaudeville number if ever I heard one.

Suffice to say, the evening was brilliantly entertaining, but not massively oversubscribed – there were perhaps 25 people in the audience, which I found surprising. Either everyone in Brighton has heard Mr Fellowes speak before (doubtful), or the evening was just not well publicised enough. In any case, if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, take it: he’s fab.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Tag Teamed

The newly agented up Oli tagged me with this:

When it comes to writing, what do you know you're good at, and what aspect of writing are you worst at? (Procrastination is not permitted as either part of the answer.)

I like to think I’m good at dialogue – give me two characters in a room and I can magic up a no-holds barred argument (with a gratuitous garrotting thrown in for good measure) out of thin air. I’ve also been told I have a good visual sense, probably a result of spending far too long at art college and hanging around with talented people such as Mister Edwards, god bless 'im.

On the downside, I don’t have too many problems with plotting or story design, although I have a tendency to try and over-complicate things from the get-go – my first drafts are often so horribly complex that I’m often forced into using colour coded spreadsheets, a ream of Post-It notes and copious diagrams on fag packets to try and figure out what the hell might be going on.

I also seem to suffer from an overdeveloped sense of the absurd – let me explain:

When I was 11, part of my history homework one week was to draw the death mask of Tutankhamen (you know the one, it’s right here). I really took my time over the task and produced something that I thought was pretty darned good. I took my exercise book into school the next day, fully expecting it to be collected in and the work marked – except, it wasn’t. A week later, still nothing. By now thoroughly convinced that my meisterwerke would never get marked, I drew a pair of glasses on King Tut and gave him a rather fetching pair of cross eyes. Lo and behold, ten minutes later, the book was collected, marked and returned to me with the following comment underneath my now bespectacled drawing:

Chip can often ruin very good work by being exceedingly silly. 0/10

This is an aspect that I’ve found incredibly difficult to shake off ever since. For example, my last attempt at a straight drama veered quickly off into what a lot of people described as ‘wild implausibility’, but which I like to describe as ‘carnivalesque’ (that’s my excuse anyway). Which is probably why I feel safer writing within the boundaries of a genre. Rules, you see – rules are good.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Saturday Morning Muzak – Sweet Billy Pilgrim

...different from Friday Night Muzak inasmuch as I can’t find a decent clip of a Sweet Billy Pilgrim song anywhere on the net (there are the inevitable YouTube vids, but the quality is patchy to say the least).

However, more important than finding old video clips is the news that SBP’s second album is to be released on David Sylvian’s boutique label Samadisound later this year (2005’s We Just Did What Happened and No One Came was my favourite album of 2008, if that makes any sense). The last I heard, Tim Elsenburg (who started the ball rolling on this thing) was pitching the completed second album to interested parties; Samadhisound obviously liked what they heard, and who’s going to argue with the judgement of a certain Mr D Sylvian? Not me, madam.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Culturally Constipated

There’s a fun article here in today’s Guardian entitled “The DVR fodder you'll never watch” by Paul McInnes – essentially how we are all now filling up DVRs “with programmes that sound unmissable when they're recorded but are somehow all too avoidable when it comes to actually watching them.” I for one would not be without my beloved and strangely sexy SkyPlus, but the problem of course is finding the time to watch the myriad amount of programmes that I record on it. The last time I checked it was about 20% free, which means I’m going to have to start watching a lot of stuff pretty damn soon. Stuff like:

Hart to Hart: Two Harts in 3/4 Time: recorded for me as a joke (probably because I do a passable impression of their cigar chomping sidekick Max: (I take care of them, which ain't easy 'cause when they met, it was MOIDER!)), but for some reason I can’t bring myself to delete it.

Shooting Stars Christmas Special: I saw the hour long ‘documentary’ that preceded this and was distinctly underwhelmed, so this looks like half an hour of prime time TV horseshit that’s going to sit there forever, unwatched and unloved.

The Prisoner: Joe Pasquale: Joe somehow finds himself in a South American jail, which sounds fair enough I guess (I will never, ever watch this).

Affinity: looks excellent by the way, and another Sarah Waters adaptation, so it’s got a lot going for it. Problem is: it’s 121 minutes long! Trousers! I haven’t got time for that. However, one advantage with SkyPlus is that you can watch at slightly faster than normal speed, which means you can save yourself about 20 minutes. Result! (Incidentally, Pan’s Labyrinth is a great film, but only when played at slightly faster than normal sapeed).

Time to Leave: a French film directed by Francois Ozon, about a gay Parisian photographer diagnosed with a fatal tumour. Sheesh. I think I’ll put off watching this until my Seasonal Affective Disorder is over and done with for another year. Either that, or tag team it with Hart to Hart for counterpoint.

The Getaway: it seems incredible, but I’ve never seen this. And how can you go wrong with two monumental talents like Jim Thompson and Walter Hill? And Slim Pickens is in it! Zoiks!

Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Johannesburg: I saw the first one (shot in Philadelphia), so it seemed sensible to record the second. However, there’s only so much of Louis asking the same inane question over and over again (“Why won’t you speak to the police?”) that I can take.

If I haven’t watched any of these by the end of the month, they’re getting deleted (with the exception of Hart to Hart (probably)). As far as New Year resolutions go, that’s about as good as I get.