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Written by Tony Kiernan

24 January 2008 at 5:27 pm

Posted in Film, Misc

2007

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The last two years, I’ve gone for a top ten things of the year type summing up. This year, I’m not going to. There are two reasons for this: I would really end up just repeating a lot of what I said those two years and, tbh, it was a strange year for stuff as I’ll hopefully explain. Let’s start with:

Books

As ever, I didn’t really read many ‘new’ books. I don’t mean that in any oh, I only read the classics type way, but that I’m not one for rushing out to pick up the hardback of something. With a few exceptions and this year it’s been old faithfuls Rankin and Brookmyre, both of whom turned out works of the standard you would expect without trumping some of their earlier works. The best thing I read that was published (over here at least) this year was Joseph Wambaugh‘s Hollywood Station. A series of police procedural vignettes that snowball into one of the tensest edge of the seat finales ever. Structural gold.

A special mention, though, for Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country For Old Men. Although two years old, I only got to it earlier this year. Largely this was due to recommendations on the back of my raving about The Road, but when I found out it was the new Coen Brothers movie (more of which later) I was right in there. Sheer genius. I can’t work out where I lost touch with McCarthy’s work, but feel I really must go back and redo it. I remember All The Pretty Horses being a great big slap in the face at the time.

Film

Look at any list of the movies of the year and you’ll more than likely be looking at a list of films I really wanted to see but somehow, despite my unlimited pass and walking past the cinema every day, managed to completely fail to catch (hello The Lives Of Others, Michael Clayton, Control, 3:10 To Yuma, both Grindhouse parts…). I did manage to catch some fairly decent stuff. But, among the usual more ‘interesting’ selection, it’s three relatively major films that have stuck in the memory the most. First up, of course, the Bourne ultimatum, a flat-out object lesson in how to make a thriller. After all the praise heaped on Casino Royale, director Paul Greengrass didn’t even break a sweat as he insisted no, this is how to do it. Simon Pegg and chums did it again (better, IMO) with the very funny Hot Fuzz. Nice to know proper comedies can still get made. And, french thriller Tell No One made me feel like an real adult moviegoer. (As did the rather excellent Zodiac, actually.)

So, lot’s of good stuff, but nothing that completely blew me away. Although, while in Colorado the other week I did go catch No Country For Old Men. But, when I saw it my body thought it was 7am and I’d been awake for around 23 hours. As a result, I kept nodding off and missed about a third of it (in patches). So, can I really class it as a film I saw last year? I don’t think so. But, I will say that I still intend to be stood outside the cinema on the 18th with my nose pressed up against the door waiting for it to open. Oh yeah…

Music

Which brings me to the real repetition bit I’m trying to avoid. Cathal Coughlan had two monumental performances and a pair of reissues this year. I once more made the trip to the US for New Year with Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. The three gigs were awesome, and the new album will be along in March. The
Spookey girls gave us three kick ass (as usual) gigs (one Brighton, two Glasgow – didn’t get round to blogging that, been so remiss this year) and the new and great Cheeky Girl ep. So, by sheer dint of giving us a new record, they’d have got the number one spot under the ‘old’ system. honourable mention goes to The Supersuckers for finally being back in the country. The venue killed them in Glasgow, but they were ginormous in Brum.

I finally get to see Electrelane and am very much enjoying their No Shouts, No Calls album when they announce they are splitting. Bummer. I completely failed to see The Future Of The Left but love the album Curses. And, The Just Joans slipped their second release out towards the end of the year. More brilliance, any fears I may have had about them keeping it up are completely unfounded.

It was also a year of festivals for me. Ranging from the camping in mud and latrine spirit type all the way to the very effete All Tomorrow’s Parties where you have walls and a shower ‘n’ ting.

And, Julian Cope wasn’t playing at all of them. But, how was his year. Well, the metal trio are getting tighter and beginning to seem like a proper band instead of a grossly misdirected conceit. He put out an album where the production quality seemed inversely proportional to the songwriting quality (it sounds like turd). He continued to dress like a fascist, and a lot of his political ranting seemed to suit that. The usual frustrations, then.

Whither my forays into the classical? This year that amounted to the wonderful Proms In The Park, again, and my first opera. It was a big brash (the posters boasted “live horses!”) populist version of Carmen. And, I loved it! There’ll definitely be more of that next year.

There were other gigs, and other records. Some were/are excellent. But, it was still a very meh year all in.

Some other stuff

Podcasts have still been floating my boat. Two top ones for this year would be Mark Kermode’s Film Reviews from 5Live. Although, sometimes dangerous while sat at work as I do have a tendency to snarl and shout “moron” throughout. And, Smodcast which is basically everything you ever wanted to know about the sex life of movie director Kevin Smith and then some. Childish and puerile but often hilarious, and better than anything you’ll see with Judd Apatow‘s name on it.

Another highlight for me would have to be discovering that Mark Steel‘s columns are no longer pay-to-view at the Indy.

For the first time ever I felt like going to a Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Because it would have been worth it to yell during the sermon: “It’s one thing tolerating the Inquisition and the Mafia and an assortment of paedophiles, but surely even YOU draw the line at Blair.”

Also, 2007 will have to go down in (my personal) history as the first time I did not vote. I realised that there was no party I had any faith in for the Holyrood elections and the independent I was going to vote for on the council didn’t reply to my email asking for clarification on a point of policy. So, no-one. The irony is I was berated for this and told I should have at least gone down and spoilt my paper. (For future reference, if any political party wants my vote, come up with a policy (smug git tax?) that’ll have John Sessions promising to leave the country if you get in.)

Written by Tony Kiernan

07 January 2008 at 10:48 pm

2006

so, another year (properly) over, so let’s take a quick look back at it. Not a bad one really. In fact any period of time that features 2 amazing Violent Femmes gigs and finally getting to see the Reverend Horton Heat – 3 times! – can’t have been that bad.

Again, just one man’s opinion, but here’s some of the (other) things that made it great for me.

Bubbling under: Neko Case
OK, so I’ve already sneaked in two acts that I couldn’t fit in the top 10. but I fel i need to mention Ms Case becasue not only did she give us her brilliant album, but I finally caught her live and comletely forgot to blog about it. Certainly one of the many highlights of the year. Not least becasue she had the amzing (and gorgeous) Kelly Hogan as a ‘backing’ singer. She keeps her plectrums in her bra! How cool is that?

10 The Just Joans – Last Tango In Motherwell
Still the most beautifully original (if dreadfully recorded) scottish album in years. Unfortunately, not having taken the world by storm. Guess it’s no Lily Allen. The world are fools.

9. The Wind That Shakes The Barley
Hugely misrepresented masterpiece from Ken Loach. Especially by him, if you ask me.

8 The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Still making me shiver just to think of it. Not pleasant, but completely unforgettable. I’m sure I’m a better person for having read this.

7 Volver
I caught this mauled and dubbed on the flight to Denver. It was still brilliant. (On the return flight I watched The Black Dahlia. If anything, it was an even greater abomination than I remembered.)

6 Podcasting
If Bit torrent‘s were last years new toy. This year it was the Podcast. OK, the tech may have been about for ages, but it was definitely last year in which it came into it’s own.

As an avid talk radio fan, it’s been a godsend at my desk (reception’s crap in the dungeon here). And, thankfully, the BBC have been dabbling in it quite the thing. (Been really enjoying Mark Kermode‘s reviews from 5 Live. He’s considerably less annoying when you don’t have to look at him. He’s still as wrong, though.) I’ve also found myself being completely engrossed by stuff like the Engadget one, which is odd because I imagine that hearing two geeks debating the relative merits of the PS3 and Wii would have me chewing out my own liver. Alternative TentaclesBatcast has been slowly sucking the money out of my bank account all year. I’m subscribed to tons of the things. However, my favourite is the Penn Jillette show from Free FM in which he sits in his home studio and pontificates vehemently about tons of stuff he has absolutely no knowledge of, and smoking monkeys. By turns hilarious and infuriating, it’s never less than completely engaging. And, my day would now just be whacked without it.

5 Sparks
Ten years on from me deciding I needed to see this band the next time they played here, I finally get to not only see them once (it was their first time back), but TWICE!. On top of that they stuck out one of the most preposterously genius records in years. And, I began filling in the space on my shelves where their back catalogue should have been.

All hail the Mael(s)!

4 Spookey
No new records. But, two gigs from this lot still makes my heart sing.

3 The Host
And talking of singing hearts… The most heartwarming monster movie of all time? If not, someone needs to tell me the others.

2 Scac
Again, I made the pilgrimage to Colorado. And, again Slim Cessna’s Auto Club rocked my world. Christ, I’ve even made tentative inquiries into moving there permanently if my plans (more of which at some point, no doubt) don’t come to fruition. Again, that’s the second choice. Maybe had an album shown, it could’ve swung it. But, once again kept off the top by some sneaky bastard stealing their way into my soul.

1 Cathal Coughlan
One tense, but satisfyingly intense gig and one album. Not really much to fill my year. (Especially when you include the cancelled gig in Dublin.) But, Coughlan’s album Foburg is towering work of genius and (nearly) the (solo) album he’s been threatening to make. In a year where Scot Walker was just talking the piss, this was the real deal. I reviewed this for Is This Music? and really lost the plot. It was something straight out of pseud’s corner. And, I stand by every look-at-that-tosser word of it. Yes, the album is that good.

Resolutions? To go see more movies. The amount of stuff I just ‘missed’ out of sheer ennui this year is ridiculous. To try and keep this damn thing more up to date. To learn to play ukulele.

Written by Tony Kiernan

09 January 2007 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Books, Film, Gigs, Misc, Records

2005

Well, seeing as everyone else with be doing their that was the year, that was type thing, I might as well join the bandwagon. However, unlike everyone else, I’ve actually waited until the year was over to get round to it. And, indeed, a year in which I have started a blog.

For me, the most interesting thing about posting this blog has been the correspondence that I’ve received as a result of it. And, the sheer venom of a lot of it. Quite amusing. (There was a time if you type “mysoginistic fuckwad” into Google I came out top of the search.) There must be a fair whack of people out there who just spend the day searching the web for their own names. Seething balls of inadequacy just waiting for someone to validate their existence by telling them they’re as great as they think they are. Well, here’s the news: You’ve got my money, I’ve got your product. Now, fuck off! Assholes. Just because you’ve sweated for years over a frenzied keyboard/fretboard/surfboard (couldn’t finish that) does not mean I am obliged to enjoy your output. And, if I buy said output and it I think is crap I have every right to share this information. Why to het up about the opinion of one lone corner of a very large web?

I also get accused of only ever slagging things off. This, I know is complete bullsplat. But, again, I wonder why you are so bothered.

I have no idea how many hits this site has taken. I have no interest. Although it does always please me to hear from people that have stumbled across it and read something (no matter their take on it). It surprises me to see external links. A surprising number of people I know drop comments on stuff in it. I hope that they’re all getting something from it. My intention in starting this was really a training exercise. To practice putting what I was thinking into clear and cohesive words for others to understand. I’d spent so much time on the internet being willfully misinterpreted (by the kind of person that would sum up this paragraph by picking out the words “I was thinking”) that I felt I needed it. (It is this singular purpose that is the reason for my not including comments on the site, to answer anyone that’s interested. Although, I do intend to have them on the music part if I ever post older music or even make any more – one more resolution buys the farm.)

But, I will say this to all of you: Remember it’s all just one man’s opinion.

And so, without further ado, onto my Things of The Year:

10. Yamasuki – Le Monde Fabuleux De Yamasuki
Pleasant surprise of the year. A record with just so much sheer joy packed into the minutes than most other artists can’t even put into a whole career. A year packed with great Japanese related music.

9. Howl’s Moving Castle
It was tempting to put Sin City in here. Though looking back at what I wrote at the time, I remember just how disappointed I was in it. So, instead we go for the equally visually stunning Howl’s… More making-me-grin Japanese stuff. Is there a theme going here?

8. UKNova
Just about the anniversary of 9/11, I needed to buy a new telly but instead took the decision to chuck the damn thing out. I was spending way to much time lying on the couch watching the same episodes of Frasier over and over again. However, this year there was finally something on that struck me as event telly, a definite must-see: Chris Morris‘ new sitcom Nathan Barley. So, I introduced myself to the wonderful world of bit torrent and in particular the site UKNova. So, in addition to this excellent (and much under-rated IMO) sitcom, I also enjoyed Julia Davis‘ excellent dark Nighty Night. Well, the first series. The second was absolutely awful, sub-Benny Hill gross out. Very sad. Another great new sitcom was Armando Iannucci‘s The Thick Of It featuring the excellent (if currently slightly cloudy) Chris Langham. I got to see the all new Dr Who. Thought Eccleston was excellent and have high hopes for David Tennant. And, at the other end of the scale, the epic adaptation of DickensBleak House – perfectly pitched and cast, the kind of thing that the BBC deserves it’s reputation for.

I did watch some real shit as well, though.

7. Flying Matchstick Men
Decent local band shocker! Three gigs, all terribly exciting. Looking forward to them taking the world in 2006 (and, hopefully supporting Sparks). Which is nice.

6. Kung Fu Hustle
Cartoon madness and overt sentimentality. Oh, and completely hilarious.

5. Ian MacEwan – Saturday
This book blew my mind kinda like tripping of a sign that reads ‘Genius At Work’ and falling into the arms of the woman you love. Since I first read it, themes have kept coming back to me. The main once being that of lives invaded. It’s not a pro or anti war piece, it’s much more humane than that. It just asks questions without taking a stance. Or, if you’d rather it’s deep personal dreams. Full stop.

It also, got me digging out some Greame Greene I hadn’t read yet and scouring charity shops for others by him. I fear I may in a year or two have read his complete output. ‘Fear’ purely because I can’t imagine a world without uncovering another that I haven’t. (A bit like when Vonnegut goes.) I also came across (as part of May We Borrow Your Husband? And Other Comedies of the Sexual Life) that wonderful story bout the boy whose father is killed by the pig falling from the balcony. If this was not in your high school reader, I can only recommend searching it out.

Another book that I feel I must mention here, purely because it feels right is David Mitchell‘s The Cloud Atlas, a book with the dubious dual honours of being Booker Prize shortlisted and Richard & Judy‘s book of the year. But somehow that’s very fitting. elegantly structured (and, fairly gimmickily – but you all know I’m a sucker for that) it covers a lot of the same contemprary issues as McEwan’s book, if a little more clear on naming the villains. But, without pontificating. A staggering work of majesty, that would’ve got a much bigger piece had I got round to reading it earlier.

4. Team America: World Police
Released way back in January, and not bettered all year. Crude and rude to just about everyone. Also featuring the best parody of musical theatre since The Tall Guy.

3. Slim Cessna’s Auto Club in Denver.
In any other year – no, scratch that – lifetime both of these gigs would be sat atop any ‘best of’ list. But, 2005 was just so fucken great for live music. With a few exceptions (you know who you are Antony His The Voltas) all the gigs I’ve attended have been excellent. And, these two would be top of the pile – the creme de la creme – were it not for the simple fact of one all-time hero and three new ones.

2. Flannery’s Mounted Head.
Just nudging ahead of SCAC because of the complete emotional force of the night. I’ve heard none of the tracks from this again since, but it all still rings clear as a bell, and sends shivers down my spine. Album! Now!! Or at least a tour…I know a guy that sometimes promotes stuff…

1. Spookey
2005 – the year of the cat: the Spookey Cat!! Har-har. Three gigs, two compilation tracks, and an album. Really that’s what you want all bands to be putting your way in a twelve month period. The perfect embodiment of the if-they-play-go-see rule. Maybe if I’d had one more drink the night before I wouldn’t have grit my teeth and dragged my sorry ass to Stereo on as miserable wet Tuesday night in May. Thank god, I did, though. (What was it George Michael says about corners…) Everything that rock ‘n’ roll is about, a joyous rollercoaster ride. They better be back this year, I don’t think I could cope otherwise.

Written by Tony Kiernan

03 January 2006 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Books, DVD, Film, Gigs, Misc, Records, Theatre

BBC Proms In The Park – Glasgow Green (10 September 2005)

Ah,there’s not enough free stuff about. Actually, there’s probably shedloads of free stuff that I just don’t know about or have absolutely no interest in getting involved with. Not so in this case. Tonight we’re here in a spirit of discovery. I admit to knowing nothing of ‘classical’ music. There’s a few pieces I can identify (quite a few of which are getting an outing this evening), but other than that… I find it amazing that people can discern the difference between conductors, and orchestras. God knows why, I’d have no problem telling the difference between a Phil Spector and a SAW production of the same song, so why should it be amazing that someone can make these judgments on an orchestral piece. I suppose there’s something of these kinda things not being for my kind.

All of which makes me exactly the kind that the Proms are aimed at. ie. Not your usual classical concert goer (and more importantly, one looking for an informal atmosphere and being allowed to drink throughout the event:-)). So, a free knees-up in Glasgow Green, how bad can it be? And at least there’s the taiko drummers (erm, from Lanarkshire) playing.

First up: Shostakovich and the appropriately titled Festive Overture (do you think that was deliberate?). Wow. The sound is amazing. You don’t get anything like that at the May Day celebrations. ‘Spose if you’re the BBC you’re pretty much guaranteed a decent rig. And the Green, twilit looks great; the fountain, carpet factory, obelisk and People’s Palace are lit up. And, there’s still a trace of summer in the air. Why would you want to be anywhere else?

Taiko drumming is one of the lesser talked of economic exports of Japan. In addition to being big money at home (there are Disneyland style holiday islands dedicated to and run by troops), there are also taiko drummers across the world. Seemingly strangest of these – well, to me anyway – is the one from East Kilbride. The Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers are about as Japanese as I am, though. They seem to be exclusively made up of australians. doesn’t stop them making a might noise though. And, when they wheel out a piper (the Glasgow ‘highlight’ that will be broadcast to the rest of the UK), despite the fact it’s very obviously part of their usual set, it does come across as a pretty exciting innovation.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, then return and continue to play to the gods with the Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev‘s Romeo & Juliet. And just to underline it, the lights are red and the projections are stars (no sickles, maybe that would be too much). Awesome.

Then we get a sequence of show tunes. Posh ones, of course. Mainly from West Side Story. I’ve never really bought into the opera thing. Again, it’s that technical ability equaling quality thing. Best exemplified when Somewhere is sung. The version of this I am most familiar with, and fond of, is the beautifully melancholy cover by Tom Waits. In the hands of a diva, it misses the point like Yngwie Malmsteen playing Dick Dale. IMO, of course. Which I know most of the audience here would completely disagree with.

Back to the home of the hits. Firebird! The audience go mad. It’s staggeringly moving. I still couldn’t hum you a bar of this (I lived with a CD of this and Rite Of Spring for a few months). Sabre Dance!! Hmmm. Not as amazing as the version I have been trying to hunt down that I heard on Grace Notes, recently. Mind you, that version was described as frantic and idiosyncratic. Hey, maybe I am picking up on the nuances, here. Still fabbo.

Next up, Dougie Maclean (obviously some concession to folk). Creaming himself with an orchestra bringing up the rear. I’m told he’s a great picker. This comes from the two best guitar players I know (with well differing styles) who are both there to see him, mainly. Have I mentioned how technique and prowess don’t really do it for me? Actually, his band are pretty good and work well with the orchestra. Particularly the bodhrans. Enjoyable .

Step up for the biggy. Live medley with other locations. Which, actually is worth commenting on for the sheer technical prowess in holding it all together. This even manages to eclipse the fact that it’s the tedious jingoistic part of the last night.

I’m sure there’s an Old Lang Syne shoved in there somewhere and two of the cheesiest compere’s ever, but who cares. A brilliant night. Did I feel any more spiritually nourished than had I been to see Napalm Death or someone? Of course not, don’t be silly. But, no less.

Now, to actually fork out some money for a ‘proper’ recital…

Written by Tony Kiernan

11 September 2005 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Gigs, Misc

Chinese State Circus – King’s Park, Stirling (29 June 2005)

I’m sure that I’ve been to the circus, previously, at some point in my life. It’s just I can’t remember. Could it be that we are bombarded with so many images of them through childhood that they just become part of the collective consciousness. I have no tangible memory of one (and can’t really imagine my folks taking me to one), but for some reason I know I’ve been.

Of course, in this day and age, traditional circuses are pretty much out of fashion. In addition to concerns over animal welfare and rampant coulrophobia, people want chainsaw juggling tattooed maniacs with their circus these days. Or, something they can regard as exotic. Hence the success of the likes of the (frankly, well creepy) Cirque Du Soleil and The Chinese State Circus. Why either of these should be any more credible than a homegrown one, I have no idea. (And, as far as I’m aware, it’s only Billy Smart’s Circus that still uses animals – and the most recent was to be their last tour with them.)

This isn’t really my kind of thing, but a combination of good weather and a promise of the Shaolin Monks taking part, I was convinced it would be good. (A picnic and beers in the park beforehand sealed the decision.) Must say, I was very disappointed at the candy floss and hot dog stall there. Where’s the noodle bar? Not even as a gimmick..?

Oddly enough, the Monks are the dullest part of the night. Maybe I’ve just seen one too many martial arts movies, but I kept thinking ‘yeah? Do something impressive’ with stuff that actually should have been. That said, we all know the breaking boards and arrows stuff is bullshit. On the few occasions that they actually did a bit of exhibition fighting it got exciting for a moment. Especially the chick (in Shaolin?) that kept kicking their asses.

For the rest of the show we are presented with tumbling, juggling, wire-walking, climbing, bouncing, balancing and contorting all loosely disguised as classic tales from the Peking Opera (from whence comes the name Beijing Opera – obviously – where Jackie Chan ‘studied’). So, the main acts are ‘linked’ with some traditional dance (which is all very nice indeed), including a magnificent version of the Chinese Lion Dance.

On paper (or screen) this all sounds pretty awful (in the newest sense) to me. But, I spent the entire show completely spellbound and grinning like an idiot. There were some amazing feats of agility, and some marvelous spectacles (although the UV lit dragon isn’t great on a very sunny evening). Great fun for all the family.

And, they had the coolest looking stagehands ever. Had those Vietcong style pyjamas been on sale…

Written by Tony Kiernan

29 June 2005 at 10:53 am

Posted in Misc