On the road

Hark at me. I have two gigs coming up, in London, which Londoners might fancy: this Thursday, May 20, at the Garage, Highbury & Islington, I will be supporting the mighty Jim Bob, who is combining music and words to promote his terrific first novel, Storage Stories. This should be fun – I hope the old Carter fans will be kind to me. I will be Secret Dancing and trying out more of my Edinburgh material. There will, if time, be Bird Racism, too. Tickets are £8.50 and can be purchased here.

And, on Monday, May 31, I will once again be teaming up with 6 Music’s Michael Legge for a pre-Edinburgh work-in-progress show at the Hen & Chickens, also in Highbury & Islington, over the roundabout from the Garage. (This will be more time than I have ever spent in North London in such a short period of time.) Tickets are £7: more Secret Dancing, and definitely Bird Racism, and more about Sir Walter Raleigh and manners from Michael. And, because this time we’re in the 7.30 slot – as opposed to the 9.30 slot we were in before – we intend to treat this third gig as a party. So come along, see the evolving show, and then join us for drinks in the pub downstairs, which is a very nice pub, and we can commune and laugh and toast the new government, or not. And I can sell some Collings & Herrin CDs!


pied wagtail

Let’s just run through some of the best things of 2007, lest this potentially oppressive and wrongheaded time of year get us down. I’ve done singles and albums, but these are a few of the cultural and social equivalents of the life-affirming pied wagtail:

Rumsfeld: An American Disaster by Andrew Cockburn
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – quite the most depressing novel I think I’ve ever read in my life, but compelling like no other
Fiasco by Thomas E Ricks
Al Qaeda by Jason Burke (came out in 2006 in hardback, but let’s not quibble) – I had this in my bag when I was stopped and searched last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The police officer didn’t see it.
Bit Of A Blur by Alex James
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – short but sweet
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – actually I’m still in the process of reading this (it’s my bedside read, which is often the slowest of my on-the-go books, as I tend to go to bed to go to sleep), but it’s proving a powerful join-the-dots exercise
Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet
The Damned Utd by David Peace – another oldie, but I’m catching up with this exciting British-born, Tokyo-based writer, and enjoying GB84 at the moment
Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – also halfway through, but considering how much other reading I’ve done on the Iraq war this year, it adds a refreshing perspective by focusing on one aspect of the fiasco
Believe In The Sign by Mark Hodkinson – he sent me a copy of it, as he’s a self-publisher, which is in itself admirable, and I get sent a lot of books on a nostalgia/memoir theme which aren’t always worth reading, but this one, about supporting Rochdale in the 70s, is
Tescopoly by Andrew Simms
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver – a cook book I’ve actually used

Films (because they come out on DVD so quickly now, some of these are already available on DVD, but if I start including DVDs we’ll end up with last year’s list of best films, and there will be no demarcation between one year and the next – and then where will we be?!)
The Lives Of Others – a tie for Film Of 2007 with …
Tell No One
Hot Fuzz
The Bourne Ultimatum
Letters From Iwo Jima
Michael Clayton
3:10 To Yuma
Knocked Up
This Is England
Half Nelson

TV programmes
Cranford, BBC1 – thought I’d throw something homegrown in at the top, before we turn into the 51st State of Televisual America
The Mighty Boosh, BBC3 – haven’t had time to write about the third series yet, but I think it may be their best; certainly their most cohesive and together, and the episode about Howard’s birthday was almost Seinfeldian in the way the plot strands met up at the end
Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib, C4
Comics Britannia, BBC4
Heroes, Sci-Fi, then BBC2
The Sopranos, E4, C4 – the final Season was elegiac, slow, confident and magnificent; also, not in any way predictable
The Wire, FX – in my opinion, Season Four was as good as any that have gone before, right up there with Season Two
Californication, Five – I note that this is not everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t watch it for the scenes of a sexual nature, it’s Duchovny who carries it
Entourage, ITV2 – can’t believe I’m so late with this: loving Season Three, and now into Season One on DVD
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
The Riches, Virgin 1 – truly, an acquired taste, but one I’ve been more than prepared to acquire – unlike Dexter and 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, which failed to ring the appropriate bells and made Sky+ life a little easier to manage
Britz, C4 – not perfect, but as good as way as any to prove that C4’s still got it, drama-wise, in its 25th birthday year
Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, C4 – can’t watch The F Word, but this is Gordon doing something useful
Monarchy, BBC1 – documentary series of the year
Malcolm & Barbara, ITV1 – one-off documentary of the year; its images may never leave me (what a shame it was entangled in the “fakery” rows – a piece of publicity-chasing that should have been beneath everyone involved)
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 – the crown prince of talent shows, it shouldn’t have worked, but it does, chiefly because it’s about ability and learning and self-improvement, and these are not bad things to find in a BBC programme at this difficult time. Unlike Big Brother, which I watched all the way through this year, witnessing some people ballroom dancing for coins and compliments does not make me feel dirty afterwards
Saxondale, BBC2 – sitcom improves in second series: not an easy trick to pull off
Jamie At Home, C4
[I’m bound to have forgotten a few TV shows, so chuck a few more into the pot]

Live events
Carter USM reunion, Brixton Academy – specifically, singing along at the tops of our lungs to The Impossible Dream
Marcus Brigstocke & Friends, Canizaro Park, Wimbledon – part of a local festival it brought together an amazing lineup of Brigstocke, Jeff Green, Rich Hall, Adam Hills and compere Shappi Khorsandi: weird layout, constant drizzle, it being the summer, but a fine crowd and a good time had by all
Aracde Fire, Brixton Academy – do I only go to gigs at Brixton Academy? It seems so; a quasi-religious occasion
Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Royal Albert Hall – My First Ballet, and a minor revelation, not least the fantastic percussion of toes on wood, which I wasn’t expecting
Porgy & Bess, Savoy Theatre – made doubly thrilling for the unexpected chance to see Clarke Peters (he plays Lester Freamon on The Wire) live
Guys & Dolls, Piccadilly Theatre
Live Earth, BBC – only joking, it was shit beyond belief; I actually preferred Concert For Diana

Winning the RTS Breakthrough award and the Rose D’Or for the unfashionable sitcom Not Going Out (plus two untelevised British Comedy Awards)
Appearing on Richard & Judy for the first – and, it seems, last – time
Becoming Mark Kermode’s regular understudy on News 24 (next slot: January 4)
Attracting goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, greenfinches, starlings and the occasional woodpecker to my bird feeders (with the odd wren pecking around on the ground)
The lost child benefit CDs and the fact that this howling error may have torpedoed Labour’s hopes of bringing in ID cards
All those pheromones I released at the gym
The Day The Music Died
Cancelling MySpace
Ignoring Facebook

Alright, just for balance:

Constant headaches from orchestrated lobbying and cowardly abuse on this blog
BT meltdown
Losing my old laptop in flooding (although I like my new one better)
The BBC phone-in “scandals” and the glee with which certain quarters of the media met the news of resultant job losses (including that of my friend Leona)
Driving through the West End of London after 1am, following stints on 6 Music, and realising just how many businesses leave their lights on all night – it really is business as usual isn’t it?
Deciding to stop taking the Guardian on grounds of its conservative views on medicine, then having to go back as the Independent was just boring – ah well! So much for the principled stand!
Having the blog described by someone called Stella on the 6 Music message boards as “lots of poorly-written TV reviews” – actually, this made me smile!
Anticlimactic publication of That’s Me In The Corner, accompanied by almost no reviews and through-the-floor sales (but thanks to those who sought it out in darkened corners of bookshops and actually enjoyed it)

Leaving 6 Music in March after five years. I was sad to go, but at the same time it was liberating, not having to project unbiassed BBC views any more, and as for getting my weekends back – sweet!

Happy Christmas and may your God go with you!

Love you back to life again!

Fruitbat Nov2
Jimbob Nov2
Carter crowd Nov2

A journey back in time, then … Carter USM‘s reunion/final gig at Brixton Academy: I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. There was something gorgeously nostalgic for me about going in via the guest list door down the side of the Academy (these days I don’t generally do guest lists at gigs – in my days as a music journalist, it’s all I did!) – and then, of course, bumping into various figures from the old Carter days: Jim’s girlfriend Jakki, Daz the super-roadie, Adrian their old manager (I can’t believe Steve Lamacq wasn’t there, but I didn’t see him before, during or afterwards). Carter long- and short-sleeved tops abounded, but were they originals, or new ones? It didn’t matter. Old Carter fans had filled out a bit, and most presumably now had babysitters to thank for this rare Saturday night out. We were talking about a sold-out Brixton (always Carter’s local venue) full of fortysomethings, and perhaps a few thirtysomethings, re-living those glory years of the early 90s – perhaps some of the younger ones were kids of Carter fans? No apologies for this bit of moderate time-travel (ten years since Carter split, 20 since they formed – both decisions made on Streatham Common – and around 25 since they bestrode the world, or part of it, as two) – Jim and Fruitbat had made the wise decision that those earlier days of conquest were the ones to be celebrated: no Wez the drummer (nice fella though he was), no other unecessary band-members, and no songs from the later albums (correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Glam Rock Cops, 1994, was the most recent song played).

Thanks to Eddie Curry from the Carter USM boards, even though I didn’t ask him, for the borrow of these hot-off-the-camera photos, and to Mark Reed for getting the set-list up so quickly:

Surfin’ USM
Every Time A Church Bell Rings
My Second To Last Will And Testament
Say It With Flowers
Billy’s Smart Circus
Taking Of Peckham 1-2-3
Do Re Me
This Is How It Feels
Anytime Anyplace Anywhere
The Only Living Boy In New Cross
Prince In A Pauper’s Grave
Shoppers Paradise
After The Watershed
Glam Rock Cops
Lean On Me
The Impossible Dream
Bloodsport For All
The Music Nobody Likes
A Perfect Day To Drop The Bomb

A Sheltered Life
Sheriff Fatman
GI Blues

Sorry about this, but yes, Fat Jon Beast came on to introduce the boys in time-honoured fashion.

Beast Nov2

I’ve seen him do this from London to New York in the past, and it was only fitting that he did it again tonight, dressed only in a gourd, and just as portly as he always was. (Lovely to see him and give him a big hug after the show – he was fully dressed by then.) If you never saw Carter, or had them down as indie chancers, I won’t try to convert you now – it’s somewhat late in the day – but for two blokes, two guitars and a backing tape, they once again made a fantastic noise. Yes, it’s effectively DIY punk rock, but constantly melodic, with synth flourishes and social realism, plus Jim’s crossword-clue lyrics, most of which came with massed accompaniment on Friday. It was brave to have some of the promos showing on a screen, as we could compare the faces of Jim and Les with their younger selves (they looked particularly lean and hungry in Rubbish). Because of his choice of flat cap, Fruitbat looked very much like an athletic granddad, but in an act of high camp he returned for the encores in his old costume of shorts, t-shirt and cycling cap – at which point he downed his first alcoholic drink for seven months, and commented, “That was nice.” Jim looked stylish indeed in black shirt with red braces and red armbands.

The aftershow was well-attended in the upstairs bar, where, swiz, the beer cost three pound thirty a bottle. Thanks to current manager Marc I was escorted back to the dressing room (mainly because I couldn’t hang around long), where I expressed my appreciation of a great and emotional night to Jim with a further manly hug. It was a hugging sort of night. Grown men crying. That sort of thing.

I never felt the need to see the reformed Sex Pistols (if you didn’t seem them with Sid, it wasn’t the Sex Pistols), nor the Pixies (whom I saw the first time around). I witnessed Bauhaus at Brixton the other year, and that was a fabulous night of theatre, and I’m glad I experienced the reformed Pop Will Eat Itself too – a similar vintage crowd to Carter’s, and another good night for babysitters. So I have nothing against bands reforming in essence. If the audience is there, where’s the harm? As long as they don’t play new songs. Heaven forbid.

Nice to feel like a 26-year-old fan again. And this exchange took place in the bar beforehand which has nothing to do with Carter but made me smile:

Irish bloke [to me]: You’re Stuart Maconie!
Me: No, I’m not.
Irish bloke: Yes you are!
Me: No, I’m not, I promise you.
Irish bloke: You sound like him.
Me: I’m not him. [I’m kind of teasing him at this point, hoping he will realise his error without me having to tell him who I am]
Irish bloke: My wife is a big fan of your books.
Me: That’s great. But do you mean she’s a big fan of my books, or a big fan of Stuart Maconie’s books?
Irish bloke: No, definitely yours. Can I take a picture?
Me: Of course you can. [I still have no idea if he thinks I am me or Stuart at this stage, but I figure his wife can work it out later]
[He holds camera phone out and we put our heads together for a snap. Click. The flash doesn’t go off]
Irish bloke: Oh well. Cheers anyway!
[We shake hands and he goes off, merrily]