This category contains 17 posts

SkyFall – Does “M” stand for Mother?

The first film I ever saw at the cinema was “For your eyes only”, in case you’ve never seen it, it’s a film where a ginger comedian / assassin looks for a giant calculator. Highlights include a talking parrot commanding a sexually aroused Margaret Thatcher to “give us a kiss” and in the pre-credit sequence our hero kills a disabled person by dropping him down an industrial chimney stack from a helicopter, the disabled man’s screams then morph into a sexy love song while Sheena Easton writhes out the credits.

I was 5 years old.

It is definitely one of my favourite films ever.

At the time I had never seen skiing before, let alone someone skiing down a luge run whilst fighting stuntmen. I had never seen mountain climbing before – a still exciting assault with Art Garfunkel? (see picture) on the mountaintop monastery St Cyril’s, or the old smugglers trick with cashew nuts or two unbelievably beautiful women throwing themselves at a middle aged pun merchant wearing a polo neck (actually one of them was just a sexually promiscuous child who Bond, quite sensibly, spurns and then offers to buy an ice cream). It was a crazy winter-olympics-mediterranean-diving-holiday adventure, a mishmash of what was hot at the time, culminating in Bond throwing the object he has spent the entire film chasing off a mountain. So all a bit pointless really. Luckily though they end on a high: a parrot talking dirty to Thatcher whilst Bond goes skinny dipping with a greek orphan.

Classic entertainment.

You see, the thing about the Bond franchise is that Post-Connery it didn’t take itself seriously for a very long time; from “invisible cars” to Roger Moore’s karate, it coasted along with a knowing wink – Bond’s casual indifference to killing only palatable because they never suggested it was real. Let’s not forget, Lazenby aside, for all the exotic travelling there was rarely any emotional journey at all; the man who started the mission was the man who ended the mission.

But indifference isn’t cool anymore. Gone is the is the casual shruggery of by-gone heroes, the men with nothing to lose, nothing to be threatened with. Today’s audience need good old fashioned motivation. Peril isn’t really peril if there is no emotional investment in the character and in the action genre it’s vital, it’s the difference between Cobra and Rocky – the audience only feel the thrill of victory, they only cry, with one of those films.

Spectacle can no longer distract from dodgy plots and poor characterisation.

In short, these days it has to take itself seriously.

So what to say about SkyFall, the 23rd film in the mega-franchise, following 2008’s universally disappointing Quantum of Crapness?

Well, what a difference 4 years can make. Sam Mendes has delivered a film with that most elusive of qualities: balance. We have an original story, a character arc and some serious acting talent including Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Judi Dench’s M, who is given a more pivotal role than the usual “scowls and exposition”. There’s a genuinely creepy but ultimately well motivated Javier Bardem, the man with the golden mullet, playing unhinged cyber terrorist Silva and a new Q in Ben Whishaw, a move which at first suggests that MI6 are recruiting their quartermasters from One Direction or Skins but which we become quickly comfortable with. Most importantly though, we are given the man himself – Daniel Craig’s Bond. Gone is the glacial, invulnerable super-spy and in his place a conflicted, driven, human being: Does he walk away or does he stay and risk his life defending the woman who has no compunction about sending him to his death?  And how much of his decision has to do with the loss of his own parents? Does M stand, in some way, for Mother?

Craig is good at unspoken dialogue, with no mention of what has gone before in the previous 2 films, his Bond wears regret, loss and sheer emotional mileage on his granite face, a far cry from Moore’s levitating eyebrows.

The requisite action sequences, from the candle lit ‘dragon’ casino to the stygian murk of the last act’s caledonian siege, are convincing, gorgeously shot and refreshingly diverse in palette; the gadgets almost non-existent and for all the usual outcry about product placement there is only one really obvious one that grates. The ending is surprisingly touching and closes the circle nicely.

With enough nods to the past to keep the die-hards happy and enough depth to ensure Bond’s future it is a well balanced entry in to the Bond canon – there is little doubt that James Bond will return.

Don’t Reign On My Parade

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II en route to St Paul's Cathedral, 5th June 2012. Photo: Defence Images

The Queen on her way to St Paul’s Cathedral

As a metaphor, the image of the whole country going down the river for the Jubilee is so appropriate, I’m surprised more wiseacre commentators haven’t picked up on it. It is galling enough that a country in such dire straits — with high unemployment, a double-dip recession in progress, a failing health service, and its myriad other problems — can afford to splash out on celebrating the one person in the nation who never need worry about the spectre of poverty or work (the Queen is, after all, permanently underemployed) not dying.  But that the manner of this spectacle should be her sitting idly while a pageant of her subjects float past on what might as well be a river of tears, in barges crafted from their dashed hopes and dreams, is nothing short of cheek.She stood watching this flotilla of filthy followers for hours, we are told, as if that was enough to justify her privileged position. The time, money and effort of thousands of people was evident, while all she had to do was put on her best hat and watch them pass in their little boats with the rain beating down upon them, giving them the appearance of drowned rats. It must have looked like something out of a postmodern Wind in the Willows.

I wonder, as she stood there, undoubtedly bored, whether she was aware of what some of her subjects had to endure to enable this event. The Guardian reported that a number of long term jobseekers were forced to work as stewards without pay during the event. That, in itself, doesn’t count as out of the ordinary in this Tory Britain, but the details revealed a sequence of uncaring treatment that was described as akin to slavery. They were bussed in from Bristol in the early hours of the morning and abandoned, told to camp under a bridge like common trolls, made to change into their uniforms in public and had no access to toilets for the whole day. I don’t expect the unemployed to be treated like royalty, but I’d demand at least they be treated like human beings.

A Celebratory Message for the Queen. Photo: jordi.martorell

Celebrating the Jubilee

I tried my best to avoid coverage of the Jubilee, but the signs and signifiers were everywhere. I reached a point where I swore that, if I saw another Union Jack, I would wrap myself in it and immolate myself in Trafalgar Square. Displays of excessive jingoism only seem to manifest during royal events, football tournaments and wars; the rest of the time, most citizens couldn’t give two patriotic shits about the country. But stores have done a roaring business in red, white and blue tat – from bunting and tableware to clothing and cushion covers – so every home can look like the venue for a BNP rally. The only theme that I’ve found more annoying is constantly being confronted with the litany that I should ‘Keep Calm and Carry On,’ on posters, mugs and T-shirts. In the current political and economic crisis, that’s the equivalent of saying ‘What iceberg?’ when the ship is already sinking. I, for one, will be donning my T-shirt featuring the slogan ‘Time To Panic and Set Fire to Things’ any day now.

I’ve nothing personal against the Queen. As run of the mill old ladies go, I suppose I find her inoffensive enough. If I were in a post office queue, she’s the kind of person I’d rather was behind me than in front of me, as you know she’s going to try to engage the person serving in conversation about her various aches and pains, the doings of her million grandchildren, and what her husband said to the Chinese ambassador this time. I’m also not going to let this article descend into an over-reaching republican diatribe, in spite of that being the general thrust of my opinions. My issue here is with the misplaced and mystifying adoration of her social position.

In 2002 a BBC poll revealed the country’s preferred list of 100 Greatest Britons, which placed Elizabeth II at number 24. Two monarchs beat her: Queen Victoria and her namesake, Elizabeth I, the only crowned head to reach the top ten. But, tellingly of the contrary nature of all of us, Oliver Cromwell, who chopped off a King’s head and briefly turned the country into a republic, beat all monarchs bar one. Three Prime Ministers and a man who tried to blow up parliament with a King in it also placed nearly as highly, or higher than, our present Queen. The rest of the top of the list was completed by notable scientists, authors, explorers, mathematicians, military leaders and musicians – in other words, people who actually contributed to the betterment of the nation and its people, not just someone who got to where they are merely by being born. So do we really love our monarchy as much as all the pomp and trumpeting would have us believe?

Tradition was you’d rid yourself of a troublesome head of state by divorcing their head from their body. Now, any policy passed by parliament must be signed into law by the monarch, meaning they would have to sign the law removing themselves from the constitution, and finding any monarch progressive enough to throw themselves from the royal gravy train is as likely as finding a stone that bleeds blue blood. The truth of the matter is that we still have a monarch because this system is set up in such a way that no government would make so radical and potentially unpopular a proposition as to abolish the monarchy, and no monarch would put themselves out of a job. It’s a classic elephant in the room dilemma. Everyone knows the role of the monarch is entirely ceremonial and symbolic, but no one is prepared to take the steps to cut away the dead flesh. It’s tradition, but that’s just another way of saying we do something a certain way because that’s the way we’ve always done it. I’m not sure that our adoration, bordering on religious idolatry, doesn’t come about largely because it’s expected of one.

I also wonder what the rest of the world thinks when they see the footage on their evening news. Undoubtedly the royals are good for tourism, they’re a spectator sport. But so are the Hunger Games, and if the country needs a distraction in these troubled times I would rather the O2 Arena was rechristened the O2 Thunderdome and the privileged few would be forced to duel until only one was left standing, and in that way at least they would have earned my respect, and any right to parade.

Stuff The Jubilee

Bin the crownIt’s not happening until June, but I’m seriously fed up with the Diamond Jubilee already.

I make absolutely no effort to find out anything about it, yet every time I turn on the TV, browse the internet, walk down the street, read a newspaper, go to a pub or a shop, even go to work, it’s being rammed down my throat so hard it makes me sick.

Ironically, the propaganda churned out by the Royal press machine to brainwash the population that these celebrations are worthwhile has served only to increase my opposition. The more I am encouraged to take part in and enjoy the jubilee celebrations, the less I want to. I’ve always had anti-monarchist tendencies, but ever since the ridiculous charade of the Royal Wedding last summer, my Republican views have grown ever stronger.

But let’s remember that wonderful day last April – wasn’t it just the Wedding of The Century? Britain at it’s best?

Kate’s lovely dress! Will’s dashing uniform! Their kiss! The carriage! The flag waving school children! An extra bank holiday! A nation united!

Bollocks. What a ridiculous fuss over the marriage of two people we don’t know and we are unlikely to ever meet. I can’t understand why there was such adulation over two people, who, if they were not obliged to, would not give a flying fart about 99% of those who profess to love them. Millions of pounds spent on security that could have been better spent elsewhere. The unconvincing attempts to portray a public schoolgirl of millionaire parents as a People’s Princess. The totally one-sided sycophantic 24/7 media coverage. Or the baffling obsession with Pippa Middleton. I wouldn’t. (No offence Pippa, if you’re reading this).

And we’re getting it all again…

The Queen’s wonderful service to the nation! The concert at Buckingham Palace! Kate’s charity work! Harry larking around (he’s such a card)! William protecting the Falklands! The barge parade on the River Thames! The flag waving school children! The community spirit! Street parties bringing the nation together! An extra bank holiday! The economic benefits to our struggling economy!

The last one is rather questionable. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that each bank holiday costs the UK £2.3 billion and the Diamond Jubilee is no exception. Even the government’s own impact assessment for the extra bank holiday states that “inevitably there will be an impact on economic output as most workers are likely to be given the day off by their employer”.

Of course it’s not all about the economy though. In a further attempt to justify the celebrations, the impact assessment gushes that there will be a lifting of national spirit, improved national identity and increased profile of the UK to the rest of the world, extra tourism and trade, etc (it actually says etc). These benefits are naturally all intangible though and are impossible to accurately predict or measure. Isn’t that convenient?

Leaving aside the Jubilee for a moment, the arguments for and against the monarchy have been well documented over the years. For: history/national pride/tourism. Against: cost/undemocratic/inequality.

Much better writers than me have debated these arguments in detail so I don’t intend to discuss them here, but what I do want to do is highlight a few of the many recent royal stories that have attracted my attention.

The first one concerns our Brave Prince William, who was recently sent to the Falkland Islands to fly a helicopter around.

anti-monarchyI quote Rear Admiral John ‘Sandy’ Woodward: “To have a Royal anywhere near the front line is a bloody nuisance for the rest of the front line. You have to take extra precautions that he doesn’t get shot down, that his plane doesn’t fail. You maintain it three times as carefully. If you have a Royal on board your ship it is the end of your career if he gets so much as a scratch. It’s never said, but it goes without saying. He’s not there as a military man, he is there as air sea rescue which is really not military at all. It’s civil. I think it’s pointless, I can’t imagine why they sent him. Maybe they were just trying to wind up the Argentinians, I don’t know.”

My personal view is that this was a marketting exercise ahead of the Jubilee to increase our pride in the Royal Family and for them to highlight their usefulness to the nation – but then I am a cynical bastard.

Without question this episode demonstrates the blatant inequalities created by the very existence of a Royal Family: one man’s life valued much higher than that of the Joe Nobody’s around him, simply because he was born into a family of privilege.

Further evidence of these inequalities was recently provided by Buckingham Palace itself.

The Royal Household advertised for a trainee butler to serve the Royal Family. The salary is £15000 for a 45 hour week.

The job’s duties include: “collect and deliver tea/coffee trays, breakfast trays and newspapers for Royal and Household purposes in an efficient and discreet manner” and “to be responsible for the valeting of guests and Members of the Royal Household invited to stay with the Royal Family ensuring that clothes and uniforms are cared for to the highest standards”.

Christ, this doesn’t half boil my piss. It’s England in 2012, and we still have people serving other people. Masters and servants. This needs to stop right away. Let them carry their own trays, pick up their own newspapers and wash their own clothes like everyone else.

And they want us to celebrate this shit?


Mindless Vandalism

Mining Family Miners Memorial statue in Concord, Washington.  Photo: Alicia Duffy

On a sunny but windy Saturday 31st March, residents of Washington, young and old, gathered along Concord Front Street to witness the unveiling of the new Miner’s Statue in the heart of the town. With speeches from Councillor Kelly (Portfolio Holder for Safer City and Culture), Sharon Hodgson, Member of Parliament for Washington and Sunderland West, the Chair of the Durham Miner’s Association and the Deputy Mayor of Sunderland City Council it was a day that many had been eagerly anticipating.

I stood with the crowd and watched as the statue was unveiled, people filled with anticipation waited to see what the end product would be and it did not disappoint. The statue was greeted with a warm round of applause and a gentle undertone of genuine appreciation. A few of the comments I overheard included: ‘What a wonderful, traditional statue’ and ‘It has been a long time coming’.

Indeed this statue has been a long time coming!

For a few years now, individuals and community groups have been raising money to get the statue erected in Washington and support has been coming from many different organisations to the cause; from the Durham Miner’s Association to Sunderland City Council. I, like many others, donated money to the Miner’s Family Statue through buying a miner’s lamp key ring a few months ago.

Yet this day of commemoration has been marred by recent events. Not even three days after the statue was unveiled on Saturday afternoon, an unnamed suspect tried to ruin the statue. News broke this morning on Facebook that at around 1AM the statue was targeted by metal thieves trying to hack off the leg of the child – a part of the statue portraying a miner and his family. This news comes as a major blow to everyone who was involved in the planning, fundraising and campaigning to bring this statue to Washington and to all those people who attended the event to see the statue unveiled.

It is sad to think but it was inevitable that some where down the line the statue would be defaced but sadly things like this happen to statues in busy public areas. I spoke with a few local councillors afterwards who had these fears but every one felt that the statue represented something so special to the community of Washington that no one would deface it. How wrong we all were.

Damage to Washington Miners Statue - Photo:Alex Cargill

This mindless criminality is exactly why people feel that doing projects like the Miner’s Family statue are worthless. Why should we spend money on something we know is going to be ruined by some thug? No doubt this thought will cross many people’s minds over the coming days, but we should not have this attitude towards future projects.

Firstly if we let this deter us from future projects then we have let who ever did this win. Secondly, the way the statue has brought people together. The statue represents a sense of community and a sense of worth that we lost decades ago.People are proud of the statue and the past that it represents in a time when people feel that society gives us nothing to feel proud about.

Why should we punish ourselves for one persons evident disengagement from the significance of the statue? Simple answer, we should not.

45 Years Without Hesitation

The label ‘a British Institution’ is too readily applied to our national cultural icons; from the sublime to the ridiculous – from cups of tea or fish and chips to Katie Price’s cleavage. Forty-five years ago, in 1967, a man named Ian Messiter devised a format for a radio based panel game that was so simple and succinct that it has survived, virtually unaltered, since its inception, and on its anniversary is as popular as ever. The premise was this: that its contestants must speak on a given subject for sixty seconds, without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Points were awarded by the chairman, Nicholas Parsons (himself a fully paid up member of the Institution,) for reaching the end of the time period, and for successful interruptions by rival panelists on the grounds mentioned. Unless you’ve been living up a tree and the preset buttons are broken on your digital radio (back at the show’s beginnings, I would have said tuning dial), most people would be able to put name to that program – Just a Minute.

The charm of the show is in its simple rules, which allow the right kind of player almost infinite scope for improvisation. To play well, as well as being attentive to an opponent’s errors, it is necessary to be educated, eloquent, imaginative, confident and, most importantly, witty, as bonus points are available at the host’s behest when the audience enjoy an interjection.

The ultimate achievement in the game is the ‘perfect minute,’ where a speaker continues for the entire time period avoiding any challenge. These events are rare and lauded. Try playing the game yourself, and you’ll see just how difficult it is.

The original team of regulars – often supplemented by a carousel of guests – had ample qualifications. They consisted of the writer, restaurateur and former politician Clement Freud; actor, writer and voice of ‘The Book’ in the Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy Peter Jones; actor Derek Nimmo; and Kenneth Williams – he of Carry On infamy. This assemblage was as much a regular fixture on the panel as the self-selecting Arsenal back four of the 1990s. Along with an array of stand-ins to keep the familiar voices on their toes and to add spice, this quartet remained until the death of Williams in 1988.

Each brought something unique to the mix, and played in their own way, whether it was Freud imparting knowledge with paced, monotone delivery, or Williams playing up to the audience. As the original first team departed – Freud being the last, in 2009 – a new generation of talent took their place and continue to keep the show freshly entertaining. Today, Paul Merton, Sue Perkins, Gyles Brandreth, Julian Clary, Graham Norton, Liza Tarbuck, and Ross Noble commonly have their fingers poised on the infamous buzzers, ready to butt in and spoil each other’s flow.

Present at every recording and often, good humouredly, the butt of many panelists’ jokes, is octogenarian master of ceremonies Nicholas Parsons. His steady, unpartizan stewardship has been a major factor in its popularity. Were he to depart after such a long period in the chair he would undoubtedly be missed enormously. But, like Countdown after Richard Whiteley, even without such an integral component, the show is so brilliantly planned that it could function and go on without him. Where its television rivals for staying power, Have I Got News For You, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks have become tired and predictable, Just a Minute enjoys infinite variety.

In celebration of its longevity, Radio 4 broadcast two special commemorative recordings. One, a three hour collection of highlights featuring classic and contemporary players, Just a Minute: Without Hesitation, the other an episode recorded in Mumbai and starring Paul Merton, Dominic Brigstocke and two Indian stand-up comedians. The audience, mostly, you would imagine, unfamiliar with the format, responded warmly and very quickly were playing along, booing, cheering and applauding in all the right places. A testament to this genius invention, that it can transcend cultural and language barriers.

On BBC2 on Monday 26th March 2012, at 6.00pm, Just a Minute will begin a ten episode run as tea-time television quiz fodder. This isn’t the first time it has made the transition, but now it has a chance to win over the radio-shy segments of the British public and it will, hopefully, become an idea on which the whistle will never blow.

The Singing Kettle Fancy Dress Party – A Review

For the uninitiated, the Singing Kettle is a singing group that performs musical theatre shows for children with a focus on traditional Scottish music. The Fancy Dress Party was my sons first concert and my first ‘children’s’ concert.  The group was formed in the 70s and quite a few of the audience members were 30-somethings bringing their kids as an excuse to enjoy the nostalgia of the show.The Singing Kettle promotional shot

The concert was all the more of an experience because it was in the Music Hall in Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful old concert hall and it was a pleasure to see the inside. The outside has distinguished granite columns (because in Aberdeen, what isn’t granite?), and the concert space has a beautifully painted ceiling and massive chandeliers.

The Music Hall was built in 1822 and was designed by architect Archibald Simpson, one of the main architects responsible for Aberdeen’s reputation as a city of granite. Originally built as a series of assembly rooms for the upper class people of both genders, the building was opened as a concert hall in 1859. Despite the grandeur of the building itself, the seating at the Fancy Dress Party consisted of metal folding chairs lined up on floor markers.

Today’s show was called the “Fancy Dress Party” and the audience was encouraged to wear fancy dress, and most of them (adults and children) did – there were cute pirates and princesses everywhere!  I was not planning to dress my son in a costume, but I shoved his train engineer costume into my purse, so when all of the other kids were dressed up I looked like a brilliant mummy having thought of the costume ahead of time.

Before the show started, the staff threw giant balls into the crowd and the kids pushed them up to float through the air with their hands, which was a huge hit.

The stage decoration consisted of a giant box (big enough to hold a person) surrounded by cut out backdrops of giant articles of clothing including bow ties, a cowboy hat and a fez, as well as a clown face with a light-up nose and two white-gloved Mickey Mouse hands that could swish back and forth on mechanical arms.  When the show started, the singers taught the audience a party song with actions that repeated throughout the show, as the stage fact lit up and the mechanical arms swished.  My son loved it!

The premise of the show was that the Singing Kettle group and audience were having a fancy dress party and hoped that the Mad Hatter would attend.  Throughout the show different guest characters would poke up out of the giant box in the middle of the stage and some would leave behind coloured kettles.  When a kettle appeared, this rhyme was chanted: “Spout, handle, lid of metal, what’s inside the singing kettle?” and the kettle would open to reveal a clue about what song to sing next. I can’t tell you if the Mad Hatter appeared (no spoilers here) but I will say that the audience was not disappointed…

What distinguishes the Singing Kettle from other children’s performers is their cheek. The songs are sometimes politically incorrect and there are moments of very childish physical comedy in the stage show. The show is for children, so this makes sense. To me, they are easiest to compare to a sillier than usual combination of the Wiggles, Raffi and Fred Penner. The themes of their songs are sometimes naughty, for example the lyrics of “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny”, but it’s all in good fun.

During the show there was an hilarious rendition of “Drunken Sailor” where they showed the sailor’s hair belly (a costume) and his anchor-tattooed nether regions.  I’m not sure other children’s performers would be so daring…perhaps they would not even sing about how to sober up seamen. I think this is the best part about the Singing Kettle – the silly fun that is not tempered by pointless positive messages.  That being said, there was a long skit about a gassy goose that I thought was only moderately funny and far too long.

During the show Bonzo the Dog made an appearance.  I have to say that I am not a fan of Bonzo, but I was in the definite minority. Bonzo sang the male part in a spirited duet version of “Oh Soldier Won’t You Marry Me” where he dressed up in all of the clothing mentioned, including ladies knickers.  Jock and Jeremy, the two chefs also made an appearance.

Overall I really enjoyed the performance and my son thought it was amazing but I think that many of the children in the audience were not old enough for a show that was 2 hours in length (including the intermission).  Quite a few people in the seats around us left at the intermission because their kids where whiny, crying or sleeping, just from sheer exhaustion. The pre-show excitement high seemed to catch up with some of the younger kids about 45 minutes into the show.

Being the Next Big Thing is Old News

It must be hard living up to a label like ‘the next big thing.’ There’s a weight of expectation engendered by the title that nothing can possibly live up to. In terms of popular music, so many next-big-things have fizzled out or else failed to ignite altogether that after a while you stop paying any attention.

Predictions of this kind are common, and made in the expectation of scoring ‘cool-points’ for being the first to make the correct call. But being tagged and branded in this way has its disadvantages.

I have a slightly scattergun approach to new music. I don’t go to a specific magazine or website; I don’t rely on a radio station. That’s too prescriptive and I never get to hear enough of the kind of music I like. Word of mouth, specifically through the internet, is the best source, and it’s easy, with the use of YouTube, Spotify and the like, to adopt a try-before-you-buy approach.

One artist about which you should believe the hype is Blackpool born singer-songwriter Karima Francis. Radio One DJ Edith Bowman named her one to watch in 2012 in an article in the Mirror, describing her as having ‘a voice that spits emotion.’ She also claimed her to be ‘something totally new,’ and that’s not strictly true. Labels of this kind have been applied to Karima before. In 2008, the Daily Mail called her ‘the next big thing,’ and the Guardian put her on their list of the best new acts in 2009. So why, in spite of this high praise, is her name not yet on the lips of every music lover in the UK?Karima Francis Singing - Photo: saintupnorth

Those kind of unhelpful labels often play no insignificant part in that, although Karima told The Camel’s Hump she doesn’t really feel the pressure. “I’m just excited to have the support of a label like Vertigo,” she said.

People are smart and discerning enough to make up their own minds what they do and don’t like. The music press do play an important part in informing and sharing opinion, but if informed by, say, the NME, that something is hot or upcoming, I automatically disregard it. That’s partially because I don’t trust many opinions other than my own, but mostly because I don’t like to be told what to think. The unfortunate down side of that stance is that sometimes something genuinely good passes right over your radar, and you don’t hear about it until it’s already gone beyond new and cool into the realms of the vulgar mainstream.

Her first album, The Author, was released on her old label, Kitchenware, in 2009, to mixed reviews, receiving almost universal praise for her vocal performance but with many critics citing some weaker songs as its main flaw. But one thing commonly agreed by critics is that where she makes the greatest impression is live.

My first experience of Karima as a performer was as support for King Charles (another artist bubbling under on many of those annoying ‘artist to watch’ lists,) where she not only blew my socks off, but blew them right out of the building, and all the way home to my wash basket. As insubstantial as she appears on stage – a nervy looking, dark-haired dandelion-like thing – she projects more passion and spirit with her performance than you could believe possible. “I feel alive when I’m on stage,” she says. “It’s the only place I want to be.”

Karima is still very young, and not yet fully grown into her talent. She needs the chance to flourish at her own pace. Her incredible ability and potential have been recognized by the industry people who make those kind of calls, but, in this time of transition for the music business, they’re too eager to drop something into the pool of artists then act surprised when it doesn’t make the expected splash. It’s abundantly clear to anyone who hears her just how good she could be, but these things take time and can’t be forced.

Her upcoming second album, The Remedy, is due for release early in 2012. Of it, she told us “this album is so much better than the first; more mature and more about the things that are going on in my life right now.” If that’s true, and her new label give her the support this kind of young talent needs, then 2012 really could be the year in which she becomes the musical prodigy she deserves to be.

Why I Don’t Do Reviews (Warning: Contains Reviews)

It was bound to happen just days after I post my only review, in which I clearly state I don’t normally do reviews, that I get sent a number of CDs to pass my judgement upon. Although not a dedicated music site, many releases have landed on the desks of The Camel’s Hump*, and, for one reason or another, we feel inclined to write about them.

I never feel so inclined. Without wanting to discourage or dismiss the efforts of reviewers, to be frank I find them a little too easy. They’re a bit of an excuse to avoid actual writing and, when uninspired, they’re little more than filler material.

They can also become the causes of very ugly arguments. Someone, somewhere, will be offended by your opinions, even if you’ve been relatively nice, and take it upon themselves to dissent in the strongest terms. Reviews are potential cans of worms, and I prefer to steer well clear.

That said, the selection I’ve received have made my job easier. They’re neat little four or five track EPs, and neater still all pretty good.

Hello Bamboo – Garçon

You’d be forgiven for believing the four slabs of hairy, testosterone pumped man meat that grace the cover of Garçon were the members of Hello Bamboo. Their riffs are beefy enough and their sound sweats manly juices. As it happens, these prime examples of the male beast are their fathers, and families are clearly a subject of concern to the band. As are the subjects of life after death, David Gest and cheap clothing retailer Matalan, if this collection of recordings is anything to go by.

It seems the only way to legitimize more traditional heavy guitar music in the post-rock era is to play with a sense of irony. Although by no means a novelty act, they do not take themselves too seriously, which only adds to their charm. For example, on The Cycle of Domestic Abuse, probably the best track, they juxtapose dark imagery of an abusive patriarch (“Daddy, why did you fuck Mummy up?”) with a ridiculously over the top, old fashioned guitar solo, and make it work surprisingly well.

Fighting – Thriller II

Calling your band Fighting and your first release Thriller II (presumably to be followed by Led Zeppelin IV-A) suggests its creators are either geniuses or idiots. Or both. Whilst not in itself punk in its stylings, it follows punk sensibilities – keep it fast and grimy and no one will notice or care if you’re rough around the edges. Their sound is reminiscent of the sadly defunct Test Icicles and the emerging Pulled Apart By Horses, but with less art college pretentiousness, and a distinctly northern no-nonsense edge.

The duo take turns on vocal duties, although I can discern little meaning from the indirect lyrics, except that on the opening, and best, track Keelie Needs Practice, someone called Keelie needs to practice. Their main raison d’etre appears to be the acquisition of girls, booze and their due amount of fun. Although let down by the song Guest Appearance Bruce Springsteen, they deserve respect too on the strength of this promising recording.

Stephen James Buckley – Patchwork Guilt

I can’t listen to these four tracks, probably the best selection from those on offer in this article, without thinking of Beck, which, for me, is a huge compliment. Although bearing little vocal similarity, the sound, achieved with a mixture of samples and live instruments, combined with the whole being a solo effort, is reminiscent of the artist, whom I consider one of the most inventive and distinctive recording artists of the past twenty years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also a pint or two of the Eels influence pumping through this CD’s veins.

A trawl though the bandcamp back catalogue of Stephen James Buckley reveals a series of short studies that sincerely chronicle a life by the instalment plan. Previously more of a troubadour, his heart worn on the strings of his acoustic guitar, this is an evolution in his sound – a maturing – although he still sings with emotion, irony and wit, such as on She Drove Me Like She Stole Me, one of the highlights here.

*Not physically, of course, as we are a loose collection of writers, with our respective desks scattered all over the world. Some of us don’t even have desks, just laps.

Quick Reviews: Lana isn’t quite the Rey of sunshine that we’re searching for.

Every week, one of our writers will be given five tracks – they could be unsigned, they could be international superstars.  Any genre could be included, and the writer gets one week to give their verdict on each song in under 100 words.  This week, Sam Lawson takes his turn.  If you like what you hear, click on the band names to visit their website, and if you want your music to be included in the future, send an MP3, picture, short bio and link to

Thomas Truax holding a gramaphone.  Photo: Chris Saunders

Now I don’t know if I’m ignoring the clique by including a foreword here, but I always think it’s nice when writers introduce what they’re about to say. Isn’t it nice? Isn’t it? Yeah. It is.

This week’s five tracks aren’t anything to rave on about in particular. There are some good tracks. Some. But 50% of the tracks I’m about to review are horse shit. Well, not horse shit. But they’re certainly close to being part of the dungheap. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m trying to be honest, and as an avid, avid fan of music I will stay true to my opinion. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope what is said doesn’t ruin any careers!
Deep breath before the plunge, here goes.

Thomas Truax – Beehive Heart

As soon as I heard this, the Mighty Boosh theme song began playing in my head. Think of the ‘crimping’ that they made famous, and then think of this song. They sound alike, yes? Yes. They do. Compare the two until you agree. I think this song is very much the sound The Ting Tings would make if their front person was of the male gender. Although this song lacks in melody and singing, it isn’t without a tune. Very toe tap inducing, I’d expect to hear this in a teen angst moment on UK Drama Skins.

Lana Del Rey  – Born To Die

I’m hearing violins. Violins? From the girl who’s meant to be the next Lady Gaga. First impressions are that it would fit in well at a funeral or some other sort of bereavement event. Obviously, the song is about death and being prepared to die, but perhaps you could play this at the burial of one’s pet? If you’ve ever heard Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, this will not sound unfamiliar. While the whispering is reminiscent of “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” introduction from Frankie’s Christmas classic(?). The song is extremely pessimistic, just look at the title. I will not buy the album.

Azari & III- Reckless (With Your Love)

Obviously I’m far too young to have experienced the 80s, but this song reminds me of that era immensely. It’s the type of house beat that I’d expect to hear in a nightclub at the beginning of the rave scene in 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this thumping from my local social club while they attempt to be gay-friendly. The introduction is very reminiscent of that famous beat Insomnia by Faithless. Repetitive, but not annoyingly so. Vocals wise, think Cee-Lo Green in his Gnarles Barkley era. I highly recommend this to anyone.


These Reigning Days – Changes

Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Except that it’s very good, and I like it a lot. I extremely recommend buying this as soon as it released on whatever platform is popular in February. The song is a sort of love-triangle-come-bigamist-marriage between Coldplay, Bullet For My Valentine, Editors and Glasvegas. Though frowned upon in some societies, this marriage works extremely well, and I can’t get enough of it. It creates a relaxing atmosphere that is simultaneously very upbeat and catchy and damn I just can’t get enough. (Turns out I did have a lot to say).

Zenon – Love You Forever

I’m trying to listen properly and drown out the ringing sounds of Irish heartbreak pop, but all I can hear is Westlife. The singer’s voice doesn’t particularly suit the genre, the melodies are mismatched with the vocals and there is too much versatility concerning the verse and chorus. If this was placed in line with 1000 other love songs, it wouldn’t particularly stand out. Trying to be unique but failing. That’s not to say that he cannot sing well. Unoriginal but not unpleasant. Top marks for trying, though.

Turning Forty …

A recurring topic of conversation among a number of friends recently has been around turning 40.  Is the age just about the number, or does it mean more than that?

For me personally, the number itself isn’t that important.  I’m 38 now; one day later this month I’ll wake up and I’ll be 39 … but nothing will have changed.  My friends who turn 40 this year will be 39 until the clock turns to midnight on their birthday and in a split second, they’ll be 40 … but nothing will have changed.  Their bodies won’t suddenly morph into something else, their lives won’t change, there is no concrete template for what a 40 year old person should be … everything will still be the same.

Or will it … ?Turning Forty

I think that for some people, their beliefs around what it means to be a particular age really do cause them to change once they approach that particular birthday.  If someone believes that turning 40 labels them as middle-aged, and for them, ‘middle-aged’ has certain behaviours or ways of being attached to it, then they’ll no doubt rapidly change.  For those people who still believe that ‘life begins at 40,’ then they’re more likely to enjoy entering their fifth decade and make the most of the life they’re living; it might even give them permission to begin enjoying life.

Forty, as an age, does carry some significance however.  It’s near enough the mid-point of average age expectancy.  People tend to have established their careers or have some career experience behind them along with families, marriages, divorces and significant deaths.  By 40, people do have a lot of life experience behind them and it can be a time to reflect on the years that have been lived and to evaluate life up until that point.  It’s a time by which childhood ambitions have maybe been fulfilled or recognised as childish dreams.  Or it can be a time to take stock of life and to make plans for the ambitions yet to be fulfilled.  And this is where the so-called ‘mid-life crisis’ (which it is said can take place anytime between 35 and 55) steps in.

In Jungian terms, the mid-life transition is simply part of the maturation and individuation process that we all experience as we become more true to our inner selves.  And for me, this is an exciting, sometimes scary, and  important part of our life’s journey.  It’s not necessarily a comfortable process, but it can be hugely rewarding as the ego is left behind and one’s Self or Soul comes to the fore.

For me 40 is an exciting age and people are at such different life stages.  Some people have 1, 2 or more marriages behind them whilst some still remain single. Some people have grown up children, whilst others are still raising theirs, and even others, have yet to have their children.  Some people have made their name in their career; others are still climbing their particular ladder, changing careers, or simply happy where they are.

It’s an age at which we’ve experienced a lot, have learned a lot, and have made many mistakes.  But there’s still potentially a lot of life yet to be lived.  And as we take the lessons and learnings from our first forty years in this life forward into the future, we have the potential to create our own unique greatness and individuality.

Everyone is unique.  Everyone’s life experience is unique.  And so, everyone’s experience of turning 40 is unique.  I’ve enjoyed being in my thirties, and I intend to make the most of this decade’s final year, but I’m also looking forward to turning 40.  For me, it’s the year I hope to complete my PhD and that will hopefully be an opening to a whole new world for me.  And at 40, I hopefully, have lots of years ahead of me to continue developing my skills and knowledge and sharing that information in many forms for the benefit of others.

For myself, my age is just a numeric symbol of how many years I’ve been alive.  It’s a number that has no other meaning …

 Wishing you all a happy 40th birthday, whenever it happens, and whatever it means …


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