Saturday, January 27, 2007
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Bla-Bla and all that

An eventful week at the coal face and elsewhere. On Wednesday evening I was down at the Ancienne Belgique to see Jarvis Cocker on his first solo tour. Jarvis is still a great entertainer (funny, endearing, and able to come up with with a sharp turn of phrase and a catchy tune), but there is something not-quite-right about Cocker without Pulp. I guess it's like seeing John Lennon post-Beatles, or Morrissey post-Smiths: still great but not as great. Irvine Welsh kinda summed it up in Trainspotting (the airgun scene in the movie).
On Thursday, through a friend of a friend I blagged my way into Bruxelles Vibes, a two-and-a-half-hour live telecast from The Bank,
one of the local Irish pubs. The program, which was transmitted live by Internet broadcaster,, was an edition of the Bla-Bla Wilson TV Show, a variety show hosted by Wilson Claude Balda. Interspersing interviews (with architect-designer Antoine Pinto, novelist Alice Jolly, photographer Jock Fistick and broadcaster Benoit Moulin, among others) and music (including Ellen Demos, Rafter, Monday Justice, Swingmasters and Da Hush), and all tied around a vague Burns Night theme (kilted bagpiper and male/female mime duo with tartan scarves and all), the show was fast-moving and enjoyable, even for someone whose French is as moderate as mine. And hats off to the stage manager for sterling work in such a cramped space.
Tomorrow, The Fratellis.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007
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Different Day: In Millman Territory

Monday, January 15, 2007
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Astral meditation

Sad to hear that Alice Coltrane passed away last week. Her Astro jazz recordings from the late 60s and early 70s are great - s0me of the best fusion ever recorded. Journey in Satchidananda in particular is a track I never tire of hearing.

Friday, January 12, 2007
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You don't have to be a 'loonatic' but it helps

Once in a while while surfing the web, you come across a site that is such inspired folly you don't know whether to applaud or call a doctor. One such is, a labyrynthine online ode to bell-bottomed trousers. The detail is remarkable, even extending to a 'linguistic study' that gives the name for flares in more than 50 languages, including Esperanto, Creek, Thai and Cockney (!), as well as the usual suspects. The flare statistics calculator is another feature that puts Big Flares in a whole other league of monomania than the average fansite.

Six pack or wine rack?

Non-native speakers can sometimes inadvertently come up with great new words and concepts in English. Take my Dutch friend Erwin: earlier this evening he accidentally coined the neologism 'wine rack', when he thought that one of my female colleagues who had been talking about 'six-packs' and then started talking about her wine rack, was still talking about abs! Once everyone had stopped laughed, we realized what a great, and wholly appropriate phrase a 'wine rack' is to describe a big belly developed through copious vino consumption.

Sunday, January 07, 2007
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Cardiff's twin selves

Spent an enjoyable couple of days back home in Wales between Xmas and the New Year. One of the highlights was an afternoon recording voice parts for some new episodes of Grammarman comic, the brainchild of my school friend, Brian Boyd. Brian, who lives in Bangkok these days, created Grammarman and his retinue of friends and enemies as a fun way of teaching English to non-native speakers. I played several parts in the latest episodes, which are due online shortly, including the villain Luther Lexis. Other parts were taken by several old friends and acquaintances, with another old mate, Jules Davies, providing the sound engineering expertise. That we had a blast I hope will be apparent to all listeners.
Later that evening we all headed down to the centre of Cardiff. Stepping out of the taxi on Mill Lane, I didn't recognise where we were for a couple of seconds, so greatly has the street changed in the last few years. For years, virtually the only business premises on Mill Lane was a sex shop. Today, that Private Shop remains (owner David Sullivan won't give up his freehold), but it is surrounded by a dozen or more bars, pubs and restaurants. We ensconced ourselves in the comfortable upstairs corner of the Iota Bar, later heading to a Hippo Club Reunion Night at Wish (Hippo's was a popular haunt in the late 80s/early 90s) for a selection of classic house and trance fed to the floor by DJs including John the Dentist.
Cardiff's status as one of the UK's coolest cities (Dr. Who, Millennium Stadium, the bay, etc) is a far cry from the city I knew and grew up next to. Fifteen years ago, there was one half-decent record shop (Spillers), one goodish club (Tom Tom's), the occasional quality band at the Students' Union, and that was about it.
Although rougher round the edges and significantly less fashionable, for a small town boy like me, Cardiff was still the big city and a trip there was a day to be savoured. One of the small pleasures of an otherwise hellish one hour journey on the X51 bus was seeing the names of Cardiff's twin cities at Culverhouse Cross (home to the HTV Wales studios and little else during my teenage years, rather than the retail behemoth of today). Those places - Nantes in France, Stuttgart in West Germany, Xiamen in China, and Voroshilovgrad in the USSR - seemed impossibly glamourous and remote. Having visited Stuttgart twice, I have to say that it is one of my favourite German cities (the place where the grape meets the grain); Nantes and Luhansk (as Voroshilovgrad once more became in 1990) remain mere dots on the map, but a few months back I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to visit Xiamen.
Located in Fujian province in sub-tropical southeast China, the city's climate certainly doesn't compare to that of southeast Wales (even if you can also spot the occasional palm tree in Cardiff and environs). Like Cardiff, however, Xiamen has a fabulous harbour. A trip on the ferry over to Gulangyu Islet is well worth the effort. The islet houses 20,000 residents, a couple of museums, some beautiful small beaches, a traditional Chinese garden and a wealth of colonial architecture (In 1541, Xiamen, then known as Amoy, became the first port in China to trade with Europeans, giving the English language the words tea and ketchup in due course. Later the city was one of five ports opened up to foreign trade by 1842's Treaty of Nanjing). Gulangyu also has a very large statue of Zhen Chenggong ('Koxinga'), the general who captured Taiwan from the Dutch in 1662.
Surprisingly, given Xiamen's proximity to Taiwan, and the noted antipathy between the PRC and the Republic of China, I saw no signs in the city or its surrounds of a large military presence. Likely the sabre-rattling in which the 'Communist' government occasionally indulges is simply that: sabre-rattling.
Like its Welsh twin, Xiamen is a dynamic city (in 1980 it became one of the first places in China to be declared a Special Economic Zone). There are few signs of the city's Cardiff links, but I did spot one in the Hollywood Snack Bar at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Hotel Harbourview: A Welsh flag on the wall, signed by visitors from the principality. For a photo of this and other images of Xiamen, click here.


Saturday, January 06, 2007
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On a train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal station, I overheard a very funny conversation between a young man and woman from Yorkshire about guys who wear jeans and denim jackets. The bloke started recounting the tale of an acquaintance who liked to wear denim shirts as well, a style he called 'triple D'. Is this the non plus ultra of denim fashion? Not quite, beyond 'triple D' lies another dimension. And what is 4D? Jeans, denim jacket, denim shirt and 'Denim' aftershave. Truly only for the headstrong!

Thursday, January 04, 2007
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Anoraksia Nouveau, sir?

Yesterday I bought Sally Shapiro's album, Disco Romance. Really rather wonderful, the Swedish 'disco princess' combines a classic 80s-style electronic backing (think Modern Talking meets Inner City) with the sort of winsome, lovelorn pop beloved of post-C86 low budget indie groups such as Tallulah Gosh, Shop Assistants and the complete roster of Bristol's Sarah Records. She even has a song called Anorak Christmas, ffs! Canada's fabulous Russian Futurists mined similar territory on his recent album Me, Myself and Rye (although with added Breakbeats and a hint of Elton John's 1970s take on '50s Americana, particularly on my favourite track, Let's Get Ready to Crumble). Two's company, but is it a movement? Your thoughts on the back of a Field Mice t-shirt.

The Hardest Working Legacy in Showbiz

The death of James Brown will mean a glut of reissues and tracks such as Sex Machine, Papa's Got a Brand New Bag and It's a Man's, Man's , Man's World back in the charts. It will likely also inspire other performers to offer their take on Brown's legacy, whether through straight covers, pastiche or a reinvestigation of The Godfather's well-documented influence on hip-hop and dance culture. Expect to hear new acts working in Funky Drummer breakbeats and Say it Loud samples throughout the next 12 months. With New Rave rockers, Klaxons already touted as one of the bands to watch in 2007, new versions of Brownian motion will be all the rage this year.


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