Aren’t Waterstone’s points great?

Where to start? Having spent a week trolling around the South East of England, I have returned with copious new records and a sizeable pile of books. The Great British Holiday – bugger all use if you’re after a tan but pretty reliable for enhancing your CD collection. I’ll start where it ended, which was the purchase of Simon Goddard‘s hugely enjoyable masterwork on Morrissey, entitled ‘Mozipedia‘. Priced at £25, but easily found online for £14.99 delivered, it’s a gargantuan study of all things Moz, with entries for every song he’s been involved with, both as a solo artist and as a member of The Smiths. There are also numerous cultural entries to offer a fuller picture, something Goddard is keen to emphasise in his introduction, imploring readers to draw their own conclusions about Morrissey by piecing together whichever entries seem appropriate. The carefully ambiguous, not to mention beautifully written, overview of Moz with which Goddard opens proceedings does the required job of stirring up a passion for the man and his music and ensuring that the ensuing six hundred or so pages are a delight to dip into on numerous occasions. Highly recommended.*

Speaking of Morrissey, the infamous 1992 NME vs Moz race row was brought back to the public domain this week as a result of some pretty heated debate on the really rather splendid Andrew Collins‘ site. It all came about due to some chronically mediocre reporting in The Guardian about offensive comedians which took as its centrepiece Richard Herring‘s new show, ‘Hitler Moustache’. Whatever your take on the imagery used to promote the show, or indeed some of the material contained within, it would surely be difficult to conclude that Herring is anything even bordering on racist. You’d think. Not if you’re Brian Logan, critic for said newspaper, who had a pretty good go at trying to paint him as a racist, or at least somebody with a great deal of sympathy for racists. Andrew Collins, with whom Herring records an often mildly amusing podcast each week, naturally opted to defend his comedy chum via his blog. As part of the ensuing debate in the comments section, a couple of readers drew parallels with Andrew’s involvement in the NME cover story about Moz, Madstock and the Union Flag (Covered in detail in the aforementioned ‘Mozipedia’. ) This, in turn, led to Andrew posting an additional article on his blog in which he attempted clarify why the two events had little in common. This appears to have simply stirred up emotions further and it has since been removed. Instead, Andrew opted to wade in on a related discussion on the Morrissey Solo Forums, where he encountered both ends of the scale: the intelligent, articulate and thoroughly knowledgeable Moz fans and those for whom Mozipedia will function as little more than a door stop. Still, all very entertaining reading and worth an hour of your time, if you’re willing.

In other internet confusion this week, Live Here Now, the company responsible for doing immediate live recordings at gigs continued to show why they’re not really deserving of anybody’s money. A quick pootle round the web will reveal exactly how many times they’ve delayed issuing recordings well beyond the date stated in the past and so it has proved with Blur’s Hyde Park gigs. I’ve had a negative experience with this lot in the past also, opting for Richard Hawley‘s ‘Live At The Devil’s Arse’ concert CD, which arrived many weeks after the stated date. The Blur gigs were to be available for download a week after they had happened and the CDs would follow a week later. Now, even when I ordered, I was pretty certain that this wouldn’t be the case and simply sat back and waited for them to be crap. They didn’t disappoint. If you ordered the CDs, you were promised the downloads for free, as part of the deal. Those downloads were finally available this Wednesday, July 29th. As I’m sure you can spot, this is not a week after July 2nd and 3rd. Still, at least the downloads were here and grumbling can cease, eh? Well, no, actually. When the shop site first went live, it offered the recordings as CDs or ‘High Quality 320kbps’ mp3s. In addition, as I mentioned earlier, those buying the CDs would also receive the downloads free of charge. However, upon making the downloads available to those who had preordered this week, it became clear that the downloads were only 160kbps mp3s, hardly sufficient quality for a product that is being offered up professionally in 2009. As you might expect, numerous Blur fans opted to complain about this poorly encoded product and were offered the following explanation: “We do apologise for the wording of the download quality on the website and are sorry if this has caused confusion, however as per our help section as linked below the bundled/CD purchases of the shows will have received the 160kbps version of the download.” Fair enough. Except it’s not. This information was only added to the site in the last week or so and thus it is not an excuse for why the downloads are substandard. A quick search of Google, using the cache option, yesterday unveiled the original version of the help page, which simply referred to 320kbps mp3s. Frankly, if you’re going to be utter shit, be utter shit, but to then lie about it and twist the facts is pretty bloody pathetic. I’ll be glad to finally get my CDs whenever they actually emerge, but I won’t be using this bunch of unreliable, untrustworthy cretins again.

Having mentioned the acquisition of numerous records above, I feel like I should offer some additional comment, but there’s far too much to talk about in one go. Suffice to say, a wonderful time was had in Brighton, particularly in Resident Records – as good a record shop as I’ve been in since my beloved Reveal Records died some 18 months or so ago – but not to take anything away from Rounder, Wax Factor or Ape. A special mention the glorious, and rather charmingly named, The Record Shop in Amersham, at which I stopped en route, where I had an enjoyable compilation about Honest Jon’s compilations as I purchased ‘Marvellous Boy – Calypso From West Africa’ and reduced copies of two of the ‘London Is The Place For Me’ series. Something I don’t think I’m ever likely to get in my local branch of HMV. The inevitable trip to London was conducted and Rough Trade East did its best to lure me in many musical directions, with not inconsiderable success. Berwick Street was rather disappointing, with only Sounds Of The Universe (just off Berwick Street on Broadwick Street) tempting me to open my wallet. Still, plenty of good stuff was found and will be mentioned on here as I get my ears around it over the next few days. Weirdly, the album of the holiday was Maps‘ new one, ‘Turning The Mind’, which won’t be released until September 28th, but which I spent plenty of time with in order to write a review in the next day or two. It really is as good as you might have hoped. I’ll endeavour to say a bit more soon.

Finally, keep an eye on the ‘Special Purchase’ section in your nearest HMV for the next week or two, as some decent stuff has started to appear of late. The Portsmouth branch provided me with four of the ‘Talcum Soul’ series at £2 each, while the Southampton store had the best bargain, with a copy of Lewis Taylor‘s beautiful ‘The Lost Album’ also priced at only £2. Have a listen to that rather wonderful record here.

A curator, if you will

I’m not even sure what radio show it was, back in the day, one of the stations I listened to used to do a music press review on a Wednesday. Actually, it might have been in the early days of 6music when Andrew Collins‘ afternoon show (RIP) was still called ‘Teatime‘. Anyway, I used to love hearing the cherry-picked highlights and treated it as a buyer’s guide. Sadly, there isn’t enough music press to make that particularly worthy these days, but, on this occasion, indulge me.

There are two things I’ve been meaning to share with you. The first is the rather excellent list of ‘Things heard at the Latitude festival‘ in this month’s Uncut.

Some of my favourites:

  • “Pimm’s me up to the power of two!”
  • Heard over a walkie-talkie: “Child control to the Poetry Arena!”
  • “Seriously, I thought it was called Ricky Pedia. I assumed it was a bloke with a really popular MySpace page.”
  • Woman on phone telling her friends where to meet her: “I’m directly below the cloud that looks a bit like Cyprus.”

Splendid stuff.

The second item of note is in today’s NME. Now, I know that every few months I keep saying almost nice things about this magazine but it really has shown signs of improvement recently. For a start, the woefully pretentious letter from the editor – and his picture, for that matter – has disappeared from the third page and the writing just seems sharper and funnier. Mark Beaumont having a weekly column can only be a good thing. Anyway, this week, the main feature is a huge interview with Noel Gallagher. Say what you like about Oasis, and most people do, Noel is fantastically good value when it comes to interviews. Never one to disappoint, this time around it’s regarding Jay-Z.

“I never dissed that guy. But there’s no point going on about it or you end up sounding like Heather Mills.”

Fair point, well made. It’s worth £2.20 to read the whole thing.

And finally, today’s new music mutterings:

They describe themselves as ‘ambient/electronica/pop’, which’ll do for me. That said, one track, ‘Handcuffs‘ is pure indie joy from start to finish. If you’ve already visited the VJ myspace then that’s the track that blares out at you when the page loads. Good, innit? They’re good Welsh boys, are Man Without Country. That’s who I’m on about, by the way. There are delightful moments in the aforementioned track where you’re left in no doubt about the band’s country of origin and I can’t deny that I love it all the more because of that. The other tracks that you can hear on their Myspace and iSound pages have a little more of that ambient feel to them, but if you love innovative, energetic songs then you should give them a few minutes of your time.

Le Bateau Jus Viande

Musical Revelations Of The Week:
Cherry GhostThirst For Romance – I was convinced he’d deliver a brilliant album after I heard him do a session for Radcliffe and Maconie. It confirmed for me that ‘Mathematics‘ was not a one-off. A wonderfully wistful album with more than a hint of the Hawley about him. A few upbeat tracks shocked the bollocks off me at the end of the record, but overall it’s the sound of autumnal evenings. Or as we now know them, summer days.
The Chemical BrothersGreatest Hits – When they were good they were fucking brilliant. ‘The Private Psychedelic Reel‘ is just as beguiling now as it ever was, while the glory of ‘The Golden Path‘, ‘Star Guitar’ and ‘Out Of Control’ demonstrate how undervalued this lot are. Not much cop at normal albums, mind.
PrinceNew Earth – Ok, so at times it’s a little Eighties in terms of production, and he still doesn’t know when to end a song, but it’s not a bad little record at all. The slower tracks hint at ‘Older‘-era George Michael while the straight up funk of quite a few tunes hark back to the Prince records that people would actually want to buy in a record shop.

Non-musical Revelations Of The Week:
Grass – The Complete Series – Finally got this BBC3 comedy drama on DVD this week. I refused to buy it as part of an over-priced ‘Fast Show Threesome‘ boxset, as this was the only decent thing in the set. In years to come I genuinely hope that this is held up as a masterwork of its time. I doubt it, because that’s never really the way these things work out. Co-written by Simon Day (of Fast Show stock) and Andrew Collins (general media legend), ‘Grass‘ is a delight for every second that it is on screen. Old Fast Show character, Billy Bleach witnesses a gangland shooting and is required to turn grass for the police. As a result he is placed on the witness protection scheme in a little village in Norfolk. The ensuing plot lines – poetry olympics, a rural pub that only serves Moroccan cuisine and two metropolitan police officers embarking on the senior officer’s first gay relationship, whilst protecting Bleach – are quite beautifully woven around a superlative performance from Simon Day as as the titular grass. The laughs linger at all the right times, and the throwaway jokes are often the best. The local plod is christened ‘Heartbeat’ by Bleach, who himself spends much of the first episode inventing as many possible different identities for himself as possible, not quite realising that he may meet these people again. I cannot recommend this show enough. Click on the piccie above to purchase.
Jekyll – Ok, so I already knew this was great, but the back and forth storytelling of this week’s episode was captivating. Genuinely great telly and a real feather in writer Steven Moffat‘s bow.
The Mail On Sunday – yuk. No, really.

Hear This…

Short but sweet today, as I’m keen to get back to Peter Guralnick‘s ‘Sweet Soul Music‘ book, which I’ve returned to yet again after picking up his biog of Sam Cooke for all of £3 in Fopp today.
Musical Revelations of the week:
MapsWe Can Create – a fabulous electronic album that’s simultaneously blatantly retro and one of the freshest sounding albums of the year.
WilcoShake It Off film – found on the DVD with ‘Sky Blue Sky’ this is a wonderful film with some outstanding performances of songs from said album.
Rufus WainwrightRelease The Stars – now I get it! It’s not so much cluttered as layered. If you’ve already dismissed it, give it one more shot.
Sly & The Family StoneLife – never heard this record before, but it was the only one of the splendid new, deluxe reissues series that Fopp had left in stock. A really engaging soul/funk album that I’m particularly glad I took a punt on.

Non-musical revelations of the week:
Peep Show – so they could maintain the high-standards, with the final episode the stand out for series 4. The pissing scene – ahem – was quite brilliant. Shame about the film, based on what I’ve read and heard about it.
A Bit Of Fry & Laurie – finally bought Series 3 and 4 and am once again enjoying the genius of these two. ‘Hey Jude’ sung with a helium voice was a particular highlight.
Andrew CollinsThat’s Me In The Corner – finished Andrew’s final installment of his autobiography. This one deals with his time at the NME, Q, Empire and the like and while a little lower on the whimsical humour of the first two, is an absolute belter for any media obsessives like myself. There few genuinely feel-good autobiographical works out there, but all three of College’s efforts fit into that category. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The others, should you wish to explore further, are Where Did It All Go Right? and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now
I keep meaning to buy his biog of Billy Bragg, but never quite get round to it. Anyone wish to persuade me to do so?

Till tomorrow.