Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farewell Pop Picker

Just 2 years after we lost John Peel another radio legend has passed away.

R.I.P. Alan 'Fluff' Freeman.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

James Blond

For years, while cashing up, I used to talk with my boss about how James Bond should be. We moaned that Brosnan’s films were getting cheesier & cheesier and while the media compared him to Connary we preferred to compare him to Moore. We used to bemoan Eon Productions fear of stripping Bond back to the cunning, lone wolf portrayed in the books. The closest they’d got so far was Dalton’s version. Die Another Day was a total, total sham. A film that could have been any action adventure character and totally betrayed the cunning and intelligence that Bond should have.

Last night I finally saw the Bond film I’ve been wanting to see for years. Not since From Russia With Love has a Bond film felt totally realistic and gritty. Bond was dangerous once again. What did it for me was the Parkour chase through the construction site. The villain athletically leaps through a small hole – Bond just charges through the wall. A perfect portrait of how Bond should be, an unstoppable blunt instrument. This new Bond no longer relies on gadgets and defeats villains through sheer force – not luck as Brosnan’s Bond seemed to.

Bond tends to go through cycles. Every now and then Bond is stripped back to basics with each successive film adding a layer of silliness until you get the likes of Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker & Die Another Day. Hopefully Eon will resist that and keep Bond basic.

Daniel Craig is brilliant as Bond. He’s genuinely dangerous but can also act, a talent some 007s have lacked.

So I’d rate Casino Royale as one of the best ever 007 films. They still could have bought some black hair dye though…

  • Everything you ever needed to know about Bond here

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Real Thing

It’s a well-known fact that the modern day Santa was invented by Coca Cola. In fact, so well known is this fact that I’ve heard it mentioned a few times in the last week as we draw closer towards Xmas – and it infuriates me. Why? Because it’s a total urban myth.

The Santa Claus figure, although not yet standardized, was ubiquitous by the late 19th century. Santa was portrayed as both large and small; he was usually round but sometimes of normal or slight build; and he dressed in furs or cloth suits of red, blue, green, or purple. A Boston printer named Louis Prang introduced the English custom of Christmas cards to America, and in 1885 he issued a card featuring a red-suited Santa. The chubby Santa with a red suit (like an "overweight superhero") began to replace the fur-dressed image and the multicoloured Santas.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that Coca Cola started to feature Santa on their packaging. Long after Prang’s 1885 version had started to cement its image into the American consciousness. Still you can’t deny that they helped to push the modern Santa Claus to the mass market but they certainly didn’t event him.

One thing that is true though. It’s not officially Christmas until you’ve seen the Coca Cola trucks ‘Holidays Are Coming’ advert.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Feeling Groovy

You know there’s nothing quite like live music. It’s been ages since I last saw a band perform live. I’m mildly embarrassed to note that, as far as I can recall, the last person I saw live was Chesney Hawkes at a university ball in 2002. He spent half an hour singing random songs including a dreadful cover of American Pie. At every lull in the concert, and when he could clearly hear it being shouted, various people screamed things like ‘this is all shit, just sing THE fucking song. Because of course there’s only one thing he’ll ever be remembered for… his One And Only thing in fact.

Anyway this evening I travelled down to Bristol Academy to see The Feeling live. The Feeling are the first band to really capture my imagination since Dodgy some 10 years ago. I wasn’t disappointed. The Feeling were stunning. Warm up band ‘Luke Toms’ were best described as ‘bland’ (That said, they sound much better through their website than they did live) and didn’t even have the decency to say hello when they came on stage. (Yes I know that's not important musically but you should make an effort to engage potential new fans!)

Not to worry though, The Feeling awed from song one. They genuinely seemed overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the audience as they belted out a series of songs that already seem anthems – despite the world not knowing them less than 12 months ago.

A truly stunning version of Buggles ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ was one of their set pieces that deserves a release. Rose was tenderly performed and, perhaps, has now lodged in my mind as one of my favourite ever tracks. Sewn got the whole audience joining in and the finale – a thumping rendition of current single ‘I Love It When You Call’ was performed with some amazing gusto. Dan Gillespie Sells, lead singer, lept about the stage with an abundance of energy and performed some stonking guitar solos.

The only problem now is that I really I want to see them again…

Friday, November 10, 2006


One of my favourite documentary series ever was Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends. In it Louis spent time travelling America and searching out some of the weirdest groups and societies to discover what made them tick. Where Louis was a genius was that he was very laid back – almost nerdy. He’d bumble around and often come across as slightly apologetic for encroaching on his subjects time.

But, in this method was pure genius. After a time with Louis, the subject would totally relax and end up becoming far more revealing than they ever would under normal TV reporting conditions. Louis was a master at this and would then start subtly asking the clever questions. He famously got a strict Neo-Nazi to admit to loving ‘Are You Being Served’.

What resulted was a fascinating tour around America and some of the darker aspects of its culture.

With this in mind, I was looking forward to Borat. The trailers made the concept look very similar to Louis Theroux. Borat is a bumbling fool around whom his subjects can relax thinking they’re not going to get grilled. Obviously there are differences. Louis Theroux seemed genuinely affectionate about his subjects whereas Borat is just there to take the piss.

In the film, where Borat uses these techniques there is pure genius at play. We get some amazing insights into American life. There’s the hideous Rodeo man who demands that Borat should shave his moustache off so he doesn’t get mistaken for a ‘dirty Muslim.’ The part with the grotesque college student who admits that most women don’t have his respect and there’s the chilling sequence set in a evangelical church where people seem to be being visibly brainwashed.

Sadly these moments of genius occur a lot less often than the hype would have you believe. The majority of the film is a heavily scripted tale about Borat’s desire to marry Pamela Anderson. Much of this material resorts to cheap throwaway gags and toilet humour. Don’t get me wrong I like toilet humour but when it’s churned out alongside such cleverly funny stuff as the ‘genuine’ moments in the film it really grates, and sadly, utterly disappoints.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

It really is the small things.

It’s true. Small things bring the simplest pleasures. No this isn’t me reassuring myself about any inadequacies but rather noting how tiny things really can make you smile.

Case in point; it’s now almost 7 years since I started hosting and writing my pub quiz. January will mark the third anniversary of it being at its current location. Anyway every week I spend quite a few hours writing and researching it, double checking it and then religiously spend every Sunday reading it out to the contestants.

Almost every week, without fail, various teams will put doodles or comments on their answer sheets and yes it may be pathetic but do you know, I find them to be some of the most amusing and joyous things. Simple comments like ‘love the quiz’ or ‘really enjoyed it this week’ mean a lot. The doodles of flowers, people, houses, sometimes insulting doodles of me make me laugh out loud. I love ‘em. I get paid well to do the quiz every week but bizarrely it’s this simple interaction between the regulars that’s worth more and also what, even after 7 years, makes hosting Bar Wars every week such a nice experience.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

When Is Too Soon?

As a nation we are obsessed with starting things early?

I am pleased, however, that retailers do, seem to have shown some refrain with Yuletide stock this year. Back in 2005 I remember being flabbergasted at the sight of Advent Calendars in shops on the August Bank holiday*. This year it’s only in the last week that I have noticed the steady approach of tinsel and glitter spread down the local shopping aisles like the evil red weed in War Of The Worlds.

But one thing is annoying me more than early Xmas stock and that’s early poppies. On October 30th I was amazed by the site of BBC Newsreaders wearing poppies.

Why has it suddenly become the norm to wear them so early? Can’t we celebrate Halloween and Guy Fawkes night before worrying about purchasing our red paper flowers?

Also don’t you think it lessens the impact of Remembrance Day? It is important to remind everyone of how lives have been lost for our freedom but isn’t it better to do that with the impact of one big day on 11/11 than a slow trickle from the end of October onwards? Surely it diminishes the effect to a point where because they’ve been worn every day for a fortnight or so we stop noticing them.

If this is going to be the norm then let’s pause while I put my Red Nose on ready for Red Nose Day… next March, pop my Valentine’s card in the post and stock up on the Jif Lemon juice and pancake batter. After all I’m obviously too late to buy Xmas Cards or ‘Happy 2007’ banners.

*Ok, ok. I’ll admit, yes I have already bought my Advent Calendar (Doctor Who one if you must know) thus pretty much contradicting this whole post. But hey, I work in Leisure. December is my busiest month – I need to get ahead…