Saturday, November 29, 2008


Button number one's portrait of daddy. It is pretty lifelike, apart from the nose ...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Top 10 concerts

As promised ...

1 R.E.M. – Green World Tour 24 May 1989, Glasgow Barrowlands
I think I've said everything I need to in this post.

2 Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love Tour 21 June 1988, Villa Park Birmingham
I had finished my first year at university, spent a week or two helping a friend decorate his new flat, which would also be my home for the next three years, and before I headed home for my summer job I took the overnight coach down to Birmingham to see Bruce. As far as I can remember this was my first and last visit to Birmingham. I arrived in Birmingham at about 7am, hung around all day waiting for the concert and then caught the overnight coach back to Edinburgh. Sounds like a lot of effort, but I have to say it was worth every penny and every minute of discomfort on that coach. If I had had any money left I would certainly have stayed for the second concert the day after ...

3 Idlewild – Dingwalls 1998(?), Camden
I could have picked anyone of about five Idlewild gigs, but this one stands out for many reasons ... I went with one of my best friends, who was good friends with their photographer and knew all the band. Afterwards we ended up drinking all the bands booze (well tried to) and for some reason I purloined a t-shirt. I remember trying it on at Waterloo station while we were waiting for one of the very infrequent trains to Clapham Junction at 3am and discovering that it was a small female skinny-fit!

4 U2 – Joshua Tree Tour 30 July 1987, Glasgow S.E.C.C.
17-years-old. First big rock show. Summer between school and university. How could it not be brilliant? (Support was from the Waterboys who were at the apex of their fairly feeble trajectory ... Apologies Sam, but it's true.)

5 Interpol – Turn out the Bright Lights Tour 8 August 2003, Corner Hotel Melbourne
The bass amp was buggered, kept surging in and then dying about five seconds later, and the rest of the sound wasn't a lot better. Even so they were the epitome of cool and played a perfect set that made me believe in the possibilities of a classic two guitars, bass and drums rock band all over again.

6 Blue Aeroplanes – King Tuts 19 October 1990(?), Glasgow
Starting with the sound of 747 taking off played at the original volume, they proceeded to play one of the most inspired sets I have ever seen. In my memory there was about ten of them on stage and, of course, at least seven of them playing guitars – only Wotjek, the drummer and Gerald didn't. If you don't believe me check the list of band members ...

7 Mogwai – The Astoria 25 January 1999, London
All the details escape me totally, but what is still vivid is the sheer concentration and precision with which they created the most amazing, emotional, poignant, revelatory noise. Probably the loudest gig I've ever been to, the alternating feelings of your breath being sucked from your lungs by a monstrous steamroller of sound to the caress of the sublimest, delicate melody will always remain.

8 Belle and Sebastian – Union Chapel 28 July 1997, Islington
And on the guest list no less. I think this might have been one of their first London gigs and, to be honest, they were a complete shambles. All the hippest London kids, with their best 'come-on impress me' pants on and they didn't even seem to know who should be playing which instrument for most of the songs. Unbelievably all the interminable inter-song faffing and shy-weegie-janitor-schtick didn't make a blind bit of difference and every song they played seemed to have been dropped perfectly formed into their laps by fey-indie-pop-genius-angels.

9 Laurie Anderson – Hamer Hall 15 February 2003, Melbourne
Mad bird. Great show.

10 Prolapse – Camden Crawl II 19 September 1996, The Monarch Camden
It is hard to put my finger on what was so magic about Prolapse. Their live show was like watching the most ill-matched couple you can imagine having a massive post-pub domestic on stage, backed by your favourite left-field indie pop band. I could never understand why they weren't on Top of the Pops every week ...

And just outside the the top 10:
Afghan Whigs – 13 February 1994, The Venue Edinburgh
Don't know what happened, but at this point in time I reckon they were pretty much the best live rock band in the world.

My Bloody Valentine – Roller Coaster Tour 25 March 1992, Glasgow S.E.C.C. (with The Jesus and Mary Chain, Blur and Dinosaur Jr)
Same chord. 25 minutes. I thought it was awesome, most people seemed to think the bar was a better option.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Song(s) for Sunday

Who says that Low don't have a sense of humour?

If that is too rowdy for you try this or this. And try this for a couple of live tracks, including one of my all time favourites – Last Snowstorm of the Year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cosmonaut Robbie

You can tell that the author studied Theoretical Physics to doctorate level. But don't let that put you off.

The first section is a beautifully rendered depiction of Scotland in the 1970s, where young Robbie Coyle is just beginning to get to grips with socialism, Top of the Pops, Dr Who, girls and The Meaning of Relativity by Einstein. Terrifically funny and achingly sad by turns, the first section ends with Robbie's first snog in the church hall storeroom.

Part two takes off into a parallel universe; recognisably still Scotland but bizarrely different, an alternative reality in which Robbie is suddenly ten years older and on the short list for a space mission planned to explore an approaching black hole.

The dislocation and night-marish qualities of this section echoed Alasdair Gray's Unthank, and the world Andrew Crumey creates is just as completely realised, deeply detailed and surprisingly tangible as that which Duncan Thaw inhabits.

Then we are back in the present-day and what seems to be normal life. Robbie has vanished from the narrative and it is not until near the end of the book that we discover what has happened to him. There are hints about the middle section and more puzzles to come, leaving the reader to tease out their own interpretation of events. I suspect this may frustrate some readers, but I have a feeling that Sputnik Caledonia will come to be regarded as one of the essentials of Scottish literature.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States

President-elect of the USA: a skinny black man with brains. (See Jonathan Raban's article for the details.) I guess if you are going to break down barriers you might as well tear them all down at once.

There haven't been many occasions in my lifetime that you could say well done the American electorate, but credit where it's due – thank you.

Over the next few months I presume the Republicans will be looking for new leadership and direction, so my modest contribution is some advice for Sarah Palin – before running for elected office again here are some books that might prove useful:

And, before you all write in, I know the Tim Flannery one is the children's version. Other suggestions gratefully received.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Song for Sunday

Looks like it was filmed on CCTV ...

I still feel a bit nervous about the result on Tuesday, and am pretty sure it will be way tighter than the polls are saying, but a bit of Bruce always makes me feel optimistic.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Eleven quotes from an article in The Observer Music Monthly by Paul Morley and about 'the musician, realist and fantasist Damon Albarn and fellow conspirator, the graphic artist Jamie Hewlett'.

1 how since everything is a reflection of our minds everything can be changed with our minds

2 There were 30 Mali musicians playing very loud music [on the roof of Damon and Jamie's west London studio] and whenever a train came past we all waved. People must have thought, did I actually see that, or have I had a long and tiring day. No one waved back, though.

3 I remember the moment when I became a little bit more political when I spliced on tape some of my Dad's Arabic recordings over the Human League's 'The Lebanon'

4 fifteen lotus maidens in pyramid formation, some doing the splits and spinning plates in front of the all-knowing Buddha

5 Damon arrives carrying coffee and cake for three. 'That's not easy on a bicycle,' he boasts.

6 your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart give yourself to it

7 Opera magazine host an informal discussion, exploring for a classical readership unfamiliar with Albarn's pop music the possibility that Journey to the West might actually not just be hyperbolically called an opera but might actually be an opera.

8 There are in fact three Monkeys in all this – the cuddlier cartoon BBC Monkey, the slightly more sinister rascally Monkey in the Opera and the much more menacing Monkey of the record.

9 Chen Shi-Zheng has taught us about the Buddhist principle that you must not mourn for the past, or worry about the future, or anticipate problems, but live in the present moment wisely and earnestly. That's why we call him Chairman Now.

10 He wonders if perhaps it's from the 1940s, and is therefore a Nazi typewriter. The thought perversely pleases him.

11 Damon dances to his music, unashamedly lost in the thoughts he's having about how three years of thoughts – about the history and future of China, about how to follow up Blur, Gorillaz, his Mali music, his film soundtracks, the decaying London of The Good, the Bad and the Queen, his own perfectionist craving for newness that honours oldness, for strangeness that emphasies romance – have turned into an electric music that is clearly by the musician responsible for the above, and yet by a new kind of musician.

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Another Light

Bollocks. I think I am going to end up buying a book about golf.

I finished In Another Light a couple of weeks ago and for a few days after I was loath to start reading anything new. I wanted to savour the characters and the world that Andrew Greig created, and for them to stay fresh in my mind for as long as possible.

Greig alternates between two story lines – one set in Orkney a few years ago about a middle-aged engineer who is recovering from some sort of brain seizure, while the other delves into his family history and the time his father spent as an obstetrician seventy years earlier in Penang.

I had read that Andrew also survived a serious brain disorder at around the same age, but until today couldn't find much information about what happened. In my lunchbreak, catching-up on a back issue of the Scottish Review of Books I found a review of Andrew's latest novel Romanno Bridge, by Douglas Gifford. It's the sort of review I love because it not only covers the title that is being reviewed, but it also discusses virtually all his other books and unearths clues about how they all came into being. Anyway, well into the review, long after we have finished the discussion of Romanno Bridge, I discovered that:
Around the turn of the century things went terribly wrong. He tells the story in his moving account of recovery, a unique spiritual autobiography-cum-golfing adventure, Preferred Lies (2006) ... He tells how he was saved from death by the guess of a clever neurosurgeon, who realised that a colloid cyst was crushing Greig's brain. A drain which he implanted to take off the fluid killing the writer saved him; nonetheless, throughout Preferred Lies Greig feels the slight bulge in his head as reminder of time and death.
'Autobiography-cum-golfing adventure'! In anyone else's hands it would be too ghastly to contemplate, but now it has gone straight onto my list of essential purchases.

Needless to say In Another Light is a beautiful, fascinating read. The depiction of Penang in 1930 is wonderful, the Scottish sections have glorious descriptions of the human and natural landscapes and above all his characters, the subtleties of their relationships and the ebbs and flows of love and friendship.

Many of the same themes run through his novels Where they Lay Bare and Electric Brae (one of the all-time great Scottish novels and as Douglas Gifford notes '... takes its place in the line of novels that includes Docherty, Lanark, The Bridge, The Crow Road, Looking for the Possible Dance and The Trick is to Keep Breathing, the defining Scottish novels of the last quarter century').

I reckon Greig is one of the finest Scottish novelists ever and it has always puzzled me that his books don't seem to get the recognition they deserve. The reviews are pretty much always excellent, but you would be hard pushed to find his name on the bestseller lists or a major literary award shortlist (although In Another Light did win the 2004 Saltire Book of the Year Award) and most people look blank when I mention his name. Maybe I just need to hang out with golfers a bit more ...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Song for Sunday

Not sure why, and for some reason I feel I shouldn't, but I love this ...

Clip from RocKwiz. Still the best show on Australian TV. Easily.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My iPod loves the Pixies

It really does. Which is fine if you have the headphones in, not so good on the loudspeakers at work.

Especially as it has also decided that the Pixies should be played twice as loud as anything else in my music collection. Anyone who knows the intro to I'm Amazed will understand ...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Song for Sunday

And after last week's post we had to have a tribute to the mighty Blue Aeroplanes.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

De Niro's Game

Living in the Christian half of Beirut during the civil war, Bassam is a young man who has grown-up with random violence, adjusting to the loss of family and friends and developing a cynical, hard-boiled outlook on life.

Unlike his friend George, Bassam avoids the militias and as he gradually becomes more alone, losing the last of his family and girlfriend, he makes plans to get of the country. Eventually a combination of small-time crimes and smuggling gives him enough funds to get himself onto a cargo ship heading for Marseille.

Just before his departure Bassam comes dangerously close to losing everything when he is picked up by the militia and accused of killing an old man. Inexplicably he is released and on the day that he is due to leave George picks him up and drives him to a deserted construction site. George seems to understand that Bassam is leaving and their waning friendship is over. He has orders to arrest him again, but first he wants a confessor for the terrible things he has seen and done. Initially it is unclear what transpires at his final meeting with George, but by the end of the book we understand.

Some of the descriptions of Beirut and the surrounding Lebanese countryside are oddly delicate amongst the brutal violence and the writing strikes a satisfying balance between the thriller elements and something more literary and intelligent. When Bassam reaches Paris and needs a book to read in his cheap hotel it is no surprise that the concierge digs out a copy of The Outsider for him.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Song for Sunday

R.E.M. Glasgow Barrowlands May 24, 1989. Think I still have the ticket somewhere. They played this song, almost exactly as it's done here. Still gives me goosebumps ...

reach out for me/and hold me tight/hold that memory ...
I was studying at Edinburgh University and the concert was days before our end of second year exams. Did we think twice? No chance. They were also playing in Edinburgh, but I am pretty sure it was at the Usher Hall, so there was never really any doubt that we would be going through to Glasgow ...

5am wake-up a few months before to get near the front of the queue at Ripping (Rip-off) Records on South Bridge. Sold-out that day ...

Support was the Blue Aeroplanes, who played like they knew this was there one big shot at stardom. Then R.E.M. came on. And it is still the best gig I have ever seen (I will post the full top ten sometime soon). Michael Stipe had the black eye make-up same as here, but he also had the word CAT written on his forehead. We found out later that he had been sick as a dog last time they played in Glasgow ...

This song was one of my favourites from the album and it was absolutely amazing live. I remember reading an interview with Michael Stipe around this time and, if I remember correctly, he noted that it was the pivotal song on Green, a way into the album and a key to unlock the all the other songs. Sounds like something we would have discussed endlessly on the trip over in our late-teenage earnestness ...

Last encore was a beautiful rendition of Perfect Circle, which Mr Stipe claimed was only the 36th time they had played that song live. Bet that didn't happen in Edinburgh ...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Where do typesetters go on holiday?

Gill Sands!

The always interesting Strange Maps reprises the story of one of my all time favourite hoaxes accompanied by a scan of the original map.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

I wasn't sure about this novel when I started reading, but it had been on my to-read pile for over a year and I needed something that would contrast the bleakness of Riddley Walker. Not that this was the gentle rural tale I was half-expecting.

The sense of place and atmosphere is beautifully conjured, the story is compelling and the period detail is superbly woven in ... But for me it still seemed too slight, the characters not fully rounded and their actions too opaque for me to believe in them. There are moments when it all jelled perfectly (like the passages about Jean's dad), but for the most part there just seemed to be too much of the story missing, just out of reach; as if some crucial parts had been scattered by the torrid winds blasting across the Mallee.

Riddley Walker

'Intensely ponderable.' So says one of the review quotes on the back cover. That's for sure.

Narrated by Riddley in an imagined dialect, set in a post-nuclear holocaust distant future, it demands full concentration and rewards it with a stunning evocation of a world returned to the dark ages. The language is amazing and I constantly found myself re-reading paragraphs, puzzling out the meanings and turning over the implications. It isn't like Trainspotting where your brain suddenly clicks into the dialect and you suddenly know exactly what Renton is talking about, but Riddley's voice still works its way into your head and you begin to piece together the meanings and build up a picture of the myths and history.

I have always been fascinated by books set in post-apocalyptic futures (something to do with growing up at the height of the Cold War) and this is one the best. Other favourites would include The Road, The Drowned World and In the Country of Last Things.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Alasdair Gray

In Australia the National Trust administers a list of 100 Australian Living Treasures. It is a slightly strange honour (and a number of the current living treasures are deceased) and an interesting mixture of personalities, but does recognise many important figures that the nation should, well, treasure.

If Scotland ever decides to adopt a similar scheme, then Alasdair Gray will surely be on the list.

As Alasdair himself notes he is 'a hard-working, happily married, sometimes short of money, occasionally drunk* old writer'. His biographer, Rodge Glass, fleshes out this description and memorably sums up his writing with the observation that 'the quality of Alasdair's output is limited by his need to pre-empt criticism, and bring socialism and Scottish nationalism into everything' he writes.

Rodge's biography sounds wonderful (review in Saturday's Grauniad), but with a subject like Alasdair it would be difficult for it not to be ...

*I can vouch for the authenticity of this observation, having worked at a certain UK chain bookseller when Michael Jackson's (not that Michael Jackson!) book about whisky was launched with a tasting session in the Assembly Rooms. Alasdair was enthusiastic about the tasting and at the end of a jovial evening had to be helped (i.e. carried) to a waiting taxi.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Slicing the Silence

Slicing the Silence is one of the best books I have read about Antarctica.

The main chapters are interleaved with diary entries from a voyage Tom Griffiths took to Antarctica in the summer of 2002-03 on the Polar Bird, a supply ship for the Australian Antarctic Division.

Presented as a history of human encounters with Antarctica, he covers a lot of ground between Cook's expeditions to the Southern Ocean in the latter half of the eighteenth century all the way to the current scientific programs and burgeoning tourist industry. As an Australian historian traveling to an Australian base many of his stories have a different perspective to those I have encountered before.

The early expeditions of what he calls the 'heroic era' will be familiar to most readers, but it is an excellent introduction to anyone who doesn't know the stories of the likes of Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Mawson. However Griffiths has also uncovered a lot of less well-known, but no-less fascinating characters like Robert Cushman Murphy – a young curator from the Brooklyn Museum of Natural History – who was so desperate to see penguins that he voyaged south on a whaling boat.

Griffiths is also particularly good on the absurdities of the flag planting and territorial claims that followed this initial exploration. But where the book became totally absorbing for me was when we entered the post-War era and Cold War geopolitics started to impinge on Antarctic exploration and science. This is a story that I haven't heard before and fills in the gap between the early explorers and the late twentieth century which are both covered extensively in many other places. (Edwin Mickleburgh's excellent Beyond the Frozen Sea does touch on this, but doesn't fill in the detail as well as Griffith does.)

Also fascinating is his history of the Australian researchers, base personnel and the bases themselves and how – in the 1980s – science and research suffered as the lions share of the ANARE budget was spent on building and maintaining the bases.

Finishing with the story of Captain Scott's biscuit he returns to the heroic age and seems to be suggesting that the most important lessons from man's experience of Antarctica still come from this time.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Song for Sunday

Nearer than Heaven ...

Also lots of good things here. Including songs from the new album which I didn't even know had been released ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mellow Johnny rides again?

Intriguing announcement this week from Lance Armstrong about his planned comeback to professional cycling next season. The video on his website is short on detail, but the one definite piece of information is that his return to racing is linked to the launch of an international cancer strategy.

I will be interested to see how he might make this work in practice – I feel that he could accomplish much the same thing with his current influence and through his existing foundation. How racing the 2009 Tour de France could add much to this is not clear to me.

If he wants to raise awareness of why cancer rates have increased so drastically in western, developed countries and to try and tackle the multi-national food and chemical industries then great. I am totally behind him. If it is going to be a international marketing opportunity for some large pharmaceutical company that's different.

If you were being cynical you could say he misses being the centre of attention or the camaraderie of the pro-cycling team or feels unfulfilled with his current role as bike-shop owner and cancer activist.

So is the motivation personal or does he genuinely have more altruistic goals? His contributions to cycling and the fight against cancer are undeniable and immense, and I have always loved watching him race, so at the moment I will give him the benefit of the doubt. We'll see come September 24 ...

And of course the big question is: could he win an eighth Tour at the age of 37? Logically I feel that the three years he has been retired will make it almost impossible to get back to the level required in ten months. But I also know that Lance does his homework and he won't be lining-up next July unless there is a good probability of winning.

Song for Sunday

Thanks to Kate for the movie recommendation. With bonus Spanish subtitles ...

Saturday, September 13, 2008


I have fallen a bit behind on the book reviews lately – there is a large teetering pile of books near the computer, but high up out of range of small hands ...

So, in an effort to catch-up I will try to write brief comments about some of the more notable recent titles. First up Addition by Toni Jordan. Very enjoyable, even if not totally believable depiction of mental illness (Grace is a compulsive counter, hence the title), which reads like it was written as a film script (not necessarily a bad thing in this case).

It is compulsively readable, a bit like a Melburnian Kate Atkinson, but has plenty of wit and intelligence and is hilariously funny in places. It is a first novel and it will be interesting to see what direction she takes in future novels.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Sun Smells too Loud

Hurray! Mogwai have a new album coming out in September! And if the advance free MP3 from their American record label is anything to go by it is going to be great. As pootly1 says it sounds like they have fallen in love. All of them. About two days before they went into the recording studio ...

And once you have downloaded that have a listen to Everything that Happens will Happen Today David Byrne and Brian Eno ...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Song for Sunday

make a cup of tea, put a record on ...

More mid-90s Britpop next week, but if you can't wait that long try this.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Song(s) for Sunday

Apologies for the less than perfect sound. If it bothers you try the second clip below ...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Seven sucks

Anyone reading from Australia will already know what the title refers to, but for everyone else Seven is one of the three commercial television stations. And they suck ...

Sorry to sound like a petulant teenager. They don't suck particularly more than either of the two other commercial channels – they do show Grey's Anatomy (which Pootly1 likes) and Better Homes and Gardens (which is obviously the essential companion to the first glass of red wine on a Friday evening).

As the official Australian Olympic broadcaster you would think that they would actually be interested in showing the games. Not that there was much on, only the first day of the athletics and the track cycling. Not to mention a few swimming races ...

But no, far more important than the greatest sporting event in the world is Collingood versus Port Adelaide. AFL. Can you believe it? I know people in Melbourne think that the footy is a matter of life and death. (Or more likely share the great Bill Shankly's sentiments when he said 'Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.' Different football code, and Bill did have a point, but anyway.) Thinking about it financially, this obviously means that the ratings (and hence advertising revenue) for AFL must be better than the Olympics. At least in Victoria. What a depressing thought.

And, just to make matters even worse, the 'complementary Olympic Broadcaster' SBS couldn't show any of the good Olympic stuff, because Seven was showing it in those parts of the country that don't think the world revolves around marks, behinds and bounces.*

Oh well, at least it spared us the agony of watching Australia miss out on a medal in the men's team sprint by 0.008 of a second ...

*technical AFL terms.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saturday, July 26, 2008

In defence of Cadel

Boring ... wheel-sucker ... never attacks ... most unworthy winner ever (if he wins). There are a lot of people who don't rate Cadel.

I still think he is the best rider in the race and will be pulling on the the yellow jersey later tonight.

The way he rides to his strengths reminds me a lot of Miquel Indurain. I doubt Cadel will manage five wins, but if you think back to the flack that Big Mig used to get for blowing everyone away in the time trial and then sitting on wheels in the mountains it is quite uncanny.

In my opinion a lot of the negative publicity is purely down to the number of journalists covering the race and looking for any small piece of controversy. Sure, Serge the bodyguard is a bit over the top and his tantrum after the crash didn't show him in the best light. There is also the annoying whiny voice ...

But, you have to admit that has shown himself to be a pretty interesting and complex character. On the bike he looks confident and in control even when losing time. Off the bike he seems less sure of himself and more nervous. And, even though it often seems to be about so much more, the beauty of The Tour is that the best bike-rider is always the man in yellow on the Champs Élysées.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Alp

Last night I made the tactical decision to go to bed once the race leaders crested the Cime de la Bonnette-Restefond, gaining an extra 20 minutes sleep and assuming that nothing much would happen on the run-in to Jausiers:
  • Menchov loses 35 seconds on the descent (he must be glad that today is an uphill finish)
  • John-Lee Augustyn goes from likely stage winner to lucky to be finishing in one mis-judged corner
  • And Cadel Evans headbutts a cameraman
Hmmm. I feel almost as silly as Felix Lowe must be feeling today ...

I won't be making the same mistake tonight. By the time the stage finishes atop Alpe d'Huez it should be much clearer who will be in yellow on Sunday night. If Cadel can stick with Frank and Bernhard then he will likely be the first Australian to win, if he loses less than a minute or two he will probably still be OK, more than that and it will be one of the others in the top 5.

One of my favourite items of clothing when I was younger was a t-shirt from Bourg d'Oisans at the foot of Alpe d'Huez. I can't remember what the image was, but it was a white t-shirt with bright green text and drawing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New books

For some reason getting books in the mail is far more exciting than going into a shop and buying them. Maybe the delay heightens the anticipation and whets the appetite. Maybe the extra expense means that only truly interesting titles get the privilege. Or perhaps in this case it is the knowledge that I couldn't just go into a shop and purchase them off the shelf.

Both of these look great. I haven't read anything by either author before, but hope that they might become new favourites. I have read a review and some poetry by Kathleen Jamie in The London Review of Books and am embarrassed that I hadn't found her books before know. From the same school of Scottish writing as Andrew Greig (who she seems to have had a bit of thing going on with ...) and treading a similar path to Robert MacFarlane's The Wild Places how could it not be brilliant?

Sputnik Caledonia is about a young boy who wants to become Scotland's first cosmonaut. For someone who was born the year that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, just missed the excitement of the space-race, but grew up with visions of rockets and space travel this is an irresistible premise for a novel.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Song for Sunday

One of my all time favourites. From one of my favourite bands.

Rain falls likes Elvis' tears ...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Liquid ether

Lovely piece of writing by Christos Tsiolkas, from The Age a few weeks ago, about the pleasures (and dangers) of the night, growing up in Melbourne and the transition from childhood to adult.

The print article is accompanied by one of my favourite Bill Henson photographs, which complements the writing beautifully.

Song for Sunday

Friday, July 4, 2008

23 days in July

My favourite time of the year is just around the corner, the greatest annual sporting event in the world is about to begin and I have been in training for sleep-deprivation, swotting up on facts and form and examining stage maps and profiles ...

And the big question this year is Cadel can win it? I really do think he can. The course suits him, the preparation has been good, but not too perfect and the changes to the rules will help him. I also think he has the experience and confidence to ride his own race and not be distracted worrying about the competition.

Sastre and Valverde are going to be the main rivals. I still don't think that Cunego has the legs for the high mountains, but hope to see Andy Schleck and Ricco do well in that arena. Menchov will also be a threat, but I just think he will have one bad day that will put him out of reach of the podium.

The Silence-Lotto team has obviously been built around Cadel's potential this year, leaving Robbie out in the cold, but ironically I think this will help him take the jersey for the fourth time. Cavendish is gaining in confidence every day and will be close by, with the ever reliable Hushovd just behind.

So here's the full list of predictions. Two jerseys and the overall for Australia? Yes, I think it just might happen.

1 Cadel Evans
2 Carlos Sastre
3 Alejandro Valverde
4 Andy Schleck
5 Ricardo Ricco

1 Robbie McEwen
2 Mark Cavendish
3 Thor Hushovd

1 Andy Schleck
2 Ricardo Ricco
3 Cadel Evans

Oh, and Davy Miller will get a stage win somewhere ...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Best of the Booker losers

Moderately interesting poll on Scott Pack's blog – me and my big mouth – to find the best book that was shortlisted, but didn't win the Booker prize. I always find it hard to resist anything in this vein i.e. something that involves lists and books.

Of the ten books chosen by Scott and his illustrious panel I have read four and enjoyed three. Of the ones I enjoyed it was hard to make a choice between three very different novels.

Waterland was the first I read, probably in my early twenties, and I remember thinking that I wouldn't like it (sounded too much like a period novel, which of course it is, but not like that), but found myself loving the story and the writing.

The Butcher Boy came next a few years later when I was working in a bookshop and paid attention to things like the Booker shortlist. It is great, although pretty disturbing, and it isn't surprising that it lost out to The English Patient and Sacred Hunger.

But the book that ended up getting my vote was Cloud Atlas. I suspect this will be a runaway winner – published recently, entertaining and readable but still cool – but in the end I just decided that it was the book that I had enjoyed reading the most.

A prize for anyone who can guess which one of the list I have read, but hated.

And for the sake of debate here is my version of the top ten books shortlisted for the Booker that didn't win:
1 Tibor Fischer – Under the Frog
2 David Mitchell – number9dream
3 Bernard MacLaverty – Grace Notes
4 Peter Carey – Illywhacker
5 David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas
6 JG Ballard – Empire of the Sun
7 Graham Swift – Waterland
8 Patrick McCabe – The Butcher Boy
9 William Boyd – An Ice-cream War
10 David Lodge – Small World

And remember to add your vote before the closing date on July 9.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Song for Sunday

Regular readers will know I had high hopes for the album this song comes from. Safe to say I wasn't disappointed. Starts out quiet, but just wait to about 2.20 in ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's the little things ...

... that brighten your day. Not that I am saying Smoke is little or anything. Perfectly formed at 210 x 150 mm and roughly 52 pages thick, it always makes me happy whenever I know a new issue is on its way from SE11 to my letterbox. As Matt Haynes, publisher-in-chief, says it is probably the greatest small-format magazine ever published.

Even more exciting than the imminent appearance of Smoke 12 however was the news that Matt now has his own (typically unique (or is it uniquely typical)) blog danger: void behind door. First two entries are vintage Matt and I am looking forward to the next weekly installment. Also hoping that the collected Shinkansen news pages will make an appearance at some time ...

Smoke always makes me a bit homesick for London. And while we are on the subject here is my top 10 things that I will miss about London when I amn't there anymore:

1 Walking over Waterloo Bridge. Either way or either side doesn't matter. But if you did press me probably north to south was better.
2 Standing on the back platform of a Routemaster number 19 bus going over Battersea Bridge just before the last stop
3 The box file next to the photocopier outside the west kitchen labelled 'Broken dreams 1997 –'
4 Christmas lights in the trees in Sloane Square in November
5 Chelsea Kinema
6 Polish Vodka bar
7 The Albert pub at Friday lunchtimes (and sometimes Friday afternoons too ...)
I never did write down what 8 to 10 were.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Song for Sunday*

One of my favourite songs from my favourite album of 2007 ...

*Apologies and thanks to Scott Pack

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ballard USA

Great essay about Miracles of Life and JG Ballard's life and work by Paul DiFilippo on the Barnes and Noble website. Thanks to the ever reliable Ballardian for pointing it out, as it is unlikely I would have seen it otherwise.

Ballardian also has a link to an interview conducted by mail between DiFilippo and Ballard in 1991, published originally in Science Fiction Eye. Again, not a publication that I read regularly...

The original interview was beautifully presented around cut-up text from an anatomy textbook accompanied by striking black and white artwork. It is full of fascinating morsels about Ballard, his work, the UK in 1991 and, of course, has some wonderful quotes –
Doctors are no more to be trusted than lawyers or estate agents.

... post-modernism represents a dead-end, a desperate admission that the author has nothing to say and can only think of evermore devious ways of disguising the fact.
And now I need to work out how can I get to Barcelona before November.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Euro 2008

My tips for the Giro went so well that I think I should try some predictions for Euro 2008:

1 Netherlands v Portugal final, Netherlands win 3-2 after extra time
2 Neither host country makes it out of their respective groups
3 The best game of the tournament is one of the quarter finals, probably Croatia v Czech Republic

Monday, June 2, 2008

Giro d'Italia hat eating

Well I was right that di Luca wouldn't make it two in a row, but wrong about almost everything else including Contador's form. Although, to be fair, he did start slowly and ride himself into the race ...

Pellizotti was good, but never looked like he would be in the maglia rosa in Milan. Dave Zabriskie crashed on the first road stage, Mauricio Soler retired on stage 11, Karpets was 31st and Klöden dropped out on the penultimate stage. I was right about McEwen going home early, but of course Förster didn't last much longer. Cavendish did make it to Milan (and with two stage wins) but he was a long way from Bennati in the race for the maglia ciclamino.

Hopefully I'll do better in July ...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Which is more harmful?

Listening to 2GB or posing for a Bill Henson photograph? I know which I would be more worried about my children doing.

Interesting article in yesterday's Age about the seizure of the Bill's photographs from the Roslyn Oxley 9 gallery. Is it just me or is anyone else disturbed that the police raid was prompted not by complaints from members of the public, but by an email from a producer trying to stir up controversy and consequently boost ratings for a commercial radio station?

Of course this is the radio station that already has previous, including promoting race-hatred, contempt of court and defamation ...

Meanwhile, the police have passed a brief to the DPP to decide whether to press charges and, of course, what charges to lay. Rudd reiterates his moronic comments and the Arts minister is struck dumb. The only politician who has had anything sensible to say is Malcolm Turnbull. I almost feel pity for Peter Garrett and wonder how long it will be before the suppression of all his true feelings becomes too much for him and what will happen when he reaches this point.

And now Germaine Greer joins the party.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Top 10 albums of 2007

What do you mean this is late?

1 The National – Boxer
My sister casually said have you heard anything by The National, they're pretty good. At the time I was between chemotherapy cycles and, to be honest, didn't really pay much attention. But I did borrow four albums from her and they lay neglected in a corner of my iPod for a month or so. Finally one afternoon in hospital, idly flicking through artists, bored with all the music I knew, I happened upon this album. It didn't take too long for me to be completely hooked. First thoughts were of the Tindersticks and Stuart Staples in particular (or Vic Reeves' pub singer according to pootly1), but without the melancholy or heavy-hearted weariness. The music is dark and brooding, late night and smoky at times, but never portentous or forced. The drumming is amazing and the other instruments sparkle and spar over the top, surging from sparse and spare arrangements to dense walls of rhythm.

2 Burial – Untrue
The sound of walking for hours alone through London after the tubes have stopped running, all the night buses have fallen off the edge of the world and you don't quite know where you are going.

3 Sigur Rós – Hvarf / Heim
Five (sort-of) new songs and five live recordings from 2006. Sounded like a clearing-out-the-cupboards type of project – not enough ideas for a new album – but in fact it is pretty good. Not exactly Agaetis byrjun, but certainly no Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do either. I think it also figures pretty high on the list because of the wonderful DVD that came out around the same time.

4 Lucinda Williams – West
That voice. Until 2007 I don't recall hearing anything by Lucinda Williams. I had read reviews which sounded interesting, but was always put off by the stigma of buying something from the country and western section. Anyway in March I noticed that iTunes had Car Wheels on a Gravel Road for $10 and given the relatively anonymous nature of the transaction I was unable to find a good reason not to buy it. Straight away is was hooked. In classic country and western style this, her latest, album is all about pain – the death of her mother and a lost love – but the songwriting and music is so far removed from my understanding of country and western as to make the genre irrelevant.

5 Art of Fighting – Runaways
At times last year I found this almost too sad to listen to. While it is undeniably downbeat and even pessimistic in places it also often soars to the heavens, the lows somehow emphasising and accentuating the joyous.

6 Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Seems a long time ago now, but I played this endlessly when it came out. I like it even more than Funeral and that was a stunning album. Lots of reviewers mentioned Springsteen's influence, but I can't see it myself. Not that this would necessarily be a bad thing as I have always (well since 1985 anyway) been a huge Bruce fan. (Although 2007s Magic was a disappointment to me, sounding like a very workmanlike copy of a real Bruce Album. Even the song titles sound like cliché Bruce – Gypsy Biker, I'll Work for your Love, Devil's Arcade ...) The music is dark, apocalyptic and frankly pretty scary if your listening on headphones. Also great played gut-kickingly loud in a darkened room.

7 Malcolm Middleton – A Brighter Beat
I feel happy that Scotland has its own parliament now and look forward to them honouring Mr Middleton with the freedom of the country or some other suitable recognition for services rendered. Aptly named, this a more consistent and coherent set of songs than Into the Woods, but for me it doesn't have anything quite as sublime as Choir and Loneliness Shines. If you haven't heard the former please drop everything and go find a copy right now. This sounds churlish, and when you've got songs like Fight Like the Night, A Brighter Beat and Stay Close Sit Tight it probably is. (Oh, and full credit for releasing a song called We're all Going to Die as your attempt at a Christmas number 1.)

8 Idlewild – Start a New World
Nothing earth-shattering – Roddy Woomble's lyrics can still veer perilously close to pretentious bed-sit poetry, the music is a little more polished than their best work, but it's still great. Soaring choruses, crunching, spiky guitar riffs and even a little bit of trumpet. Listen to Make Another World, Once in Your Life or Finished it Remains and tell me that this isn't a great rock band.

9 Manic Street Preachers – Send Away the Tigers
I guess that this is the album that I hoped the Manics would make after Gold Against the Soul. It is direct, nothing superfluous, heart-on-sleeve, righteous-anger rock music and sounds like they are finally having fun as a band again. Your Love Alone is Not Enough is just magnificent and I find it hard to believe that anyone could be unmoved when the Nina Persson and the strings take off together around 1.10 into the song.

10 Gersey – No Satellites
Mining a similar vein to Interpol, but somehow when I went to buy Our Love to Admire I ended up with this instead. And undoubtably it was the right choice. While it doesn't have the range or passion of some of their early music it is (along with Idlewild and the Manics) another fantastic set of rock songs.

And an honourable mention for The Twilight Sad's Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bill Henson

I am sadly disappointed Mr Rudd. I had thought that you were a thoughtful and intelligent man who could think and write about subtle and complex issues, such as the role of faith in politics. However, your ill-informed and hysterical comments about the NSW police raid on the Bill Henson exhibition last week sound more like the knee-jerk rantings of shock-jocks and tabloid journalists. I had hoped for better from you.

Perhaps something more like the letter penned by your guests from last month's 2020 summit. Thank you Alison Croggon and all the other signatories for providing some welcome context and sanity into the debate.

It is my opinion that none of Bill Henson's photos could be construed as pornographic and worth remembering that all his models (and their parents) have given their full consent to the taking of the pictures and their display in exhibitions.

However, I am biased. I think that Bill Henson is a great artist and someone that Australia should support and treasure, not vilify and misrepresent. And in fact, the mainstream media's coverage and response is far more likely to have had a damaging impact on those involved than anything that happened in Bill's studio.

Monday, May 26, 2008

'Difficult' third album

Sean O'Hagan in The Observer on My Bloody Valentine's imminent return to the stage (and a lot of other great stuff). I can't imagine there will be a gig I would rather go to this year than seeing MBV at the Glasgow Barrowlands. Not so sure about the festival appearances, but if they did make it to one in the Southern hemisphere I am sure I would be near the front of the queue.

A friend once asked me to list 10 albums that everyone should listen to. Top of the list was Loveless and at the time I said that it sounded unlike anything that I had ever heard or ever expected to hear again. So far that's true.

However, Kevin Shields is quoted in the article saying 'we are 100 per cent going to make another My Bloody Valentine record, unless we die or something'. I can't wait. Well I can. I've already waited seventeen years, so I suppose another one or two won't make much difference.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Giro d'Italia

First grand tour of the year kicked off in Palermo yesterday, so it must be time for some semi-informed guesses about the top three in Milan on June 1.

I don't think di Luca is going to manage to defend his title and I don't think that Contador will be up to the challenge. Although with the lack of Tour invite still fresh in their minds Astana will be pushing hard. I do think that Levi Leiphemer could be a surprise contender, but the mountains are probably just too tough for him and so it will fall to Andreas Klöden to put their case for le Tour to reconsider.

The mountains should favour Gilberto Simoni, but I don't feel that he has the legs to truly compete over three weeks anymore. So, anyway enough of who won't win it, here are my tips –

Maglia Rosa
1 Franco Pellizotti
2 David Zabriskie
3 Mauricio Soler
With Vladimir Karpets and Andreas Klöden just behind.

Maglia Verde
Maricio Soler

Maglia Ciclamino
Given that Mark Cavendish and Robbie McEwen are unlikely to get to Milan, I think I'll go for Robert Förster in the sprinter's jersey.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book covers (or how not to sell me a book)

Compare the two covers for Graham Robb's recent book The Discovery of France

Hardcover above, paperback below.

The hardback made me think of merchant bankers who have just bought a farmhouse in Provence, who need a weighty historical coffee-table title to casually place in the lounge of their latest addition to the real estate portfolio. The paperback looks like it is designed to appeal to the same people who like jokey travel literature of the type invented by Bill Bryson, but more recently exemplified by authors like Pete McCarthy and Tim Moore.

Surprisingly, I don't fall into either of those categories. But having read a bit more about Graham's book (and watching him talk and read from it at Guardian Books) it sounds great. His discussion on the ebb and flow of the influence of Paris on the rest of the country and the process by which regional influences have reasserted themselves on the national psyche, sounds particularly interesting.

Also he mentions the Landes de Gasciogne shepherds (one can be seen on the cover of the paperback, bottom left) who, in my opinion, have always been unfairly neglected in English-language histories and studies of France. Because of the marshy shrublands where they grazed their sheep they used stilts to keep track of their flocks and watch out for strays. They also had an ingenious third-leg which allowed them to rest without having to remove their stilts – as shown by Claude Viseux's statue on the outskirts of Mont de Marsan.

I remember a particularly surreal French Orienteering Championships where, if I recall correctly, the prizes were presented by shepherds on stilts ...


Quite a lot actually. Thanks for asking ...

Friday, May 2, 2008

The wrong man

I have been trying to work out what is wrong about Gordon Brown for a while. In theory he should have been the perfect antidote to the Blair premiership, but something has gone devastatingly wrong with his ascension to the Prime Minister's job.

k-punk clarifies it all for me.

"Tell us about your mother, Gordon" ...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


So the answer to my rhetorical question from February 10 was Portishead. Based on the two songs from their mySpace page and the advance single Machine Gun, my excitement levels for Third are pretty high.

(Billy Bragg will always have a special place in my heart for Spy vs. Spy, Brewing up, Talking with the Taxman, the politics, his live shows and the endless argument I had with and ex-girlfriend about the lyrics of Great Leap Forwards. I still think his lyrics are great, but the middle-of-the road, pub rock which seems to be their standard accompaniment these days really bores my tits off.

I still consider R.E.M. to be one of the greatest bands ever and the Green World Tour concert at Glasgow Barrowlands is probably the best gig I have ever been to. And Accelerate is supposed to be a return to the glory days of Green and Document. But much as I desperately want it to be as good as either of those albums (or even half as good...) I somehow know that Stipe, Buck and Berry just don't really have it in them anymore.

And finally the smokescreen. I like the Breeders a lot, but come on, not that much.)

Light in the West from February 17's Observer Music Magazine also helped to fuel the anticipation. Fascinating on the history of the band, the dynamics of the personalities and also the construction processes the music goes through. I can't find a date for the Australian release, but most of the signs point to late April. I hope so ...

Friday, February 29, 2008

JG Ballard

I have always loved JG Ballard's books for the sheer brilliance of his ideas and how much he says about society using his fiction. And for this I have always considered him to be one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century. However, for some reason, I was never convinced of his greatness as a writer.

But not now.

Miracles of Life is undoubtably one of the best autobiographies I have ever read.

Modest and sparing, I found this telling of his remarkable life even more powerful and moving than his fictionalised accounts – Empire of the Sun and The Kindness of Women. A great deal of the material is already familiar from those novels, but one of the fascinating aspects of this book is his willingness to discuss his inspiration and techniques for writing.

His training as a doctor at Cambridge (where he was fascinated by dissection), his early working life selling encyclopedias, training in the RAF and as deputy editor at Chemistry & Industry along with his interest in psychoanalysis all led him to create a unique genre of writing in which the characters 'inner-spaces' are the focus instead of science fiction's usual preoccupations at that time.

I loved his delightful inversion of Cyril Connolly's quote – "my greatest ally was the pram in the hall" – and his belief in the importance of providing a happy and stable childhood for his family after his wife died suddenly in 1964. It is quite a leap of imagination to go from writing books like The Atrocity Exhibition during the day to picking the kids up from school, watching Blue Peter and preparing dinner. As he admits himself 'my children brought me up, perhaps as an incidental activity to rearing themselves', but also rightly points out he was incredibly lucky to be able to observe the process of his children growing from infancy into fully formed human beings so closely and how often fathers miss out on this. His joy in being a parent, the time spent as the sole parent of young children and the 'miracles of life' that he observed all added much to my understanding of him and his books.

It saddened me greatly to learn in the final chapter that he is suffering from advanced prostate cancer and that this may be the last thing he writes. It would be sad if this is the case, but when you look at the life he has led and the work he will leave behind I can't help but feeling that there isn't really any need to say anything else.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Grykes and clints

Moving from truly remote and relatively untouched corners of Scotland to the Burren in Ireland and on to the English countryside, Robert Macfarlane discovers and describes wild places in all their many manifestations –
Certainly, these islands possessed wild places on massive scales ... but my original idea that a wild place had to be somehow outside history, which had failed to fit the complicated pasts of the Scottish and Irish landscapes, seemed even more improper in an English context. English wildness existed in the main as Nash's 'unseen landscapes': it was there, if carefully looked for, in the bend of a stream valley, in the undercut of a riverbank, in copses and peat hags, hedgerows and quicksand pools. And it was there in the margins, interzones, and rough cusps of the country: quarry rim, derelict factory, and motorway verge.
The writing is poetic, lyrical, erudite and often all of these in a paragraph or less. The extract below, explaining how physics and climatic conditions combine to make the air in certain locations particularly clear, is a wonderful example:
On the north-western coasts of Britain and Ireland, the air has a remarkable transparency, for it is almost free of particulate matter. Little loose dust rises from the wet land, and the winds blow prevailingly off the sea. Through such air, photons can proceed without obstacle. The light moves, unscattered, and falls upon the forms and objects of those regions with candour.
Other passages that particularly touched me were his description of squirrels creating their own electric blankets using phone lines near his friend Roger Deakin's home (page 215); the explanation of how human eyes work at night (page 200) and his descriptions of sleeping outside in various locations. The latter bringing back memories of a soft, warm August night spent sleeping on a bed of heather in the middle of the Cairngorms and a snug but damp snow cave near the summit of Ben Lawers.

Constantly thought-provoking, near the end he touches upon the wild places which have been reclaimed by nature from man's clutches and presciently notes that:
Abandoned places such as these provide us not only with images of the past but also with visions of the future. As the climate warms, and as human populations begin to fall, increasing numbers of settlements will be abandoned. Inland drought and rising sea-levels on the coasts will force exoduses. And wildness will return to these forsaken places.
I always find it comforting to think that the Earth will easily outlast humanity and at some point in the future all traces of mankind will cease to exist. This remarkable diagram shows how long this process would actually take if all mankind disappeared tomorrow –

Apologies for the quality, but the original article [Times online] no longer has the diagram.

And, just in case you were wondering, a gryke is a vertical fissure in limestone pavement which has been worn out by water erosion and a clint is a glacially polished horizontal surface of limestone pavement.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Favourite mooks of 2007

More lists... According to iTunes my favourite songs from 2007 were:

1 Rescue – Lucinda Williams (West)
2 I'm Taking the Train Home – The Twilight Sad (Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters)
3 Ocean of Noise – The Arcade Fire (Neon Bible)
4 Your Love Alone is Not Enough – Manic Street Preachers (Send Away the Tigers)
5 Heart it Races (As Played By Soft Tigers) – Architecture In Helsinki (Heart It Races – Single)
6 Fight Like the Night – Malcolm Middleton (A Brighter Beat)
7 Brainy – The National (Boxer)
8 Visitor – Nina Kinert (Let There Be Love)
9 Johnny and Mary – Placebo (Covers)
10 Hljómalind – Sigur Rós (Hljomalind – EP)
11 The Rebel on His Own Tonight – Malcolm Middleton and Alan Bissett (Ballads of the Book)
12 Parisian Skies – Maxïmo Park (Our Earthly Pleasures)
13 Lost Watch (Iceland Version) – Seabear (Music for Hairy Scary Monsters)
14 In McDonalds – Burial (Untrue)
15 Teenage Kicks – Seabear (Teenage Kicks / Piano Hands – Single)
16 Wrecking Ball – Interpol (Our Love to Admire)
17 A Brighter Beat – Malcolm Middleton (A Brighter Beat)
18 Mysteries – Art of Fighting (Runaways)
19 Make Another World – Idlewild (Make a New World)
20 What If – Lucinda Williams (West)
21 Down On the Ground – British Sea Power (Krankenhaus? – EP)
22 It's Not Over Yet – Klaxons (Myths of the Near Future)
23 Stay Close Sit Tight – Malcolm Middleton (A Brighter Beat)
24 That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy – The Twilight Sad (That Summer At Home I Had Become the Invisible Boy – Single)
25 Raver – Burial (Untrue)

Which looks about right when you see the track listing for my best of 2007 CD:

Eating Seaweed (Best of 2007)
Your Love Alone is Not Enough – Manic Street Preachers
Johnny and Mary – Placebo
The Rebel on His Own Tonight – Malcolm Middleton and Alan Bissett
Make Another World – Idlewild
Parisian Skies – Maxïmo Park
Heart it Races (As Played By Soft Tigers) – Architecture In Helsinki
Fight Like the Night – Malcolm Middleton
Trains to Brazil – Guillemots
Wrecking Ball – Interpol
Still a Long Way To Go – James Dean Bradfield
Rescue – Lucinda Williams
Mysteries – Art of Fighting
Lost Watch (Iceland Version) – Seabear
Hljómalind – Sigur Rós
Brainy – The National
Ocean of Noise – The Arcade Fire
I'm Taking the Train Home – The Twilight Sad
In McDonalds – Burial

Trains to Brazil and Still a Long Way To Go don't figure on the iTunes list because they were acquired before January 1, 2007 but too late to make the cut for the Best of 2006 CD.

Good to see Malkie getting four entries in the top 25, pretty impressive even if you count the duet(?) with Alan Bissett (author of the awesome boyracers).

Lucinda Williams and The Twilight Sad were runners-up with two songs each. More on my favourite albums of 2007 soon...

Four to look forward to...

Billy Bragg - Mr Love and Justice
Breeders - Mountain Battles
Portishead - Third
REM - Accelerate

But which one am I most excited about?

Friday, February 8, 2008


And at number 2 was Jonathan Raban's Surveillance. I resisted reading it until March (after buying it for myself as an early Christmas present) and could tell from the first page that it was going to be a real treat.

Like in his travel writing, Raban manages to say a lot about contemporary society, the little details of fact and place are always perfectly observed, reflecting back to the reader our current preoccupations and concerns.

The story concerns a journalist, reclusive writer, gay actor/activist, the journalist's 11-year-old daughter and whether the writer's bestselling war-time memoir is real or not. The story races along and is always fascinating. The ending, however, leaves everything unresolved, not reaching any conclusions about what has gone before. I can't decide if he is trying to make a larger point about the world and mankind's place in it or if he just felt that was how the story should end.

Maybe I need to read it again and see if I can work it out...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

What was Lost

So, Catherine O'Flynn's What was Lost was my favourite book of last year. I first read about it on the redoubtable Crockatt and Powell's blog (why did they wait for me to move from Battersea to Melbourne before opening up shop?) and managed to get a copy brought out from the UK.

For me it is just about perfect - moving, funny (hilariously so in places), mysterious and wonderfully well written. I am not going to say any more because basically everyone should read it and I don't want to give anything away.

The Readings' catalogue this month had a special feature (i.e. short interview) with Catherine and Scribe are publishing it in Australia, so well done to them and whoever was smart enough to invite Catherine to the Perth Festival...

(Scribe also published the excellent Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy and the very enjoyable Border Street by Susanne Leal, both of which I read last year and would recommend.)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Books of 2007

Listed in the order they were read. 2007 was actually a pretty good year in terms of quantity (mostly due to spending the best part of two and a half months in hospital) and I expect 2008 will mark a return to levels more like 2006's twenty-eight.

1 Kate Atkinson – Case Histories
2 Nicholas Shakespeare – In Tasmania
3 Cormac McCarthy – The Road
4 William Boyd – Restless
5 Markus Zusak – The Messenger
6 Matt Rendell – The Death of Marco Pantani
7 William McIlvanney – Laidlaw
8 Rory Stewart – The Places In Between
9 Paul Auster – In the Country of Last Things
10 Anne Fadiman – Ex Libris
11 Jonathan Raban – Surveillance
12 Laura Hird – Hope and other Urban Tales
13 Richard Gwynn – The Colour of a Dog Running Away
14 Catherine O’Flynn – What Was Lost
15 Orhan Pamuk – The New Life
16 William Boyd – Fascination
17 Cormac McCarthy – No Country for Old Men
18 Roberto Bolano – The Savage Detectives*
19 Colin Thubron – In Siberia
20 Mark Taplin – Open Lands
21 Cate Kennedy – Dark Roots
22 David Vise – The Google Story
23 Martin Cruz Smith – Wolves Eat Dogs
24 Sara Wheeler – Travels in Thin Country
25 Richard Moore – In Search of Robert Millar
26 Ian Rankin – The Naming of the Dead
27 Kenneth Deffeyes – Beyond Oil
28 Graeme Fife – Inside the Peleton
29 Jonathan Coe – The Rain Before it Falls
30 Michael McGirr – Things you get for free
31 John O’Farrell – Things can only get better
32 Paul Auster – Oracle Night
33 William Gibson – Spook Country
34 Ian Rankin – Exit Music
35 Simon Winchester – The Map that Changed the World
36 Susanna Leal – Border Street
37 Andrew Greig – Kingdoms of Experience
38 Graham Swift – Tomorrow
39 Alexander McCall Smith – 44 Scotland Street
40 Orhan Pamuk – Istanbul
*Mostly read in 2007, but I ended up putting it aside about two-thirds of the way through and only finished it off recently.

Fiction: 24 titles
Non-fiction: 16 titles
Number of authors: 34
Male authors: 27
Female authors: 7
Books published in 2007: 7
Books published in 2006: 10
Books published in 2005: 7
Books published 2000-04: 8
Books published 1990-99: 5
Books published 1980-89: 2
Books published before 1980: 1

Top 10
1 Catherine O’Flynn – What Was Lost
2 Jonathan Raban – Surveillance
3 Orhan Pamuk – Istanbul
4 Cormac McCarthy – The Road
5 William Boyd – Restless
6 Colin Thubron – In Siberia
7 Ian Rankin – Exit Music
8 William Gibson – Spook Country
9 Paul Auster – In the Country of Last Things
10 Nicholas Shakespeare – In Tasmania
Notes on the top 10 to follow...