Archive for November, 2007

Sweet Catatonia

Now the I’m a Celeb juggernaut has finally applied the brakes for this year, now seems as good as time as any for another short, nearly pointless list, this time my top five Catatonia songs.

I probably wasn’t the only one surprised to see Cerys Matthews enter the jungle. Indie songstresses don’t usually do reality shows. They stand about looking moody, record solo albums that nobody listens to, or switch genres and start making pop and dance tracks.  Reality shows are something of a novelty,and Cerys came across as lovely, if a little spaced out; much as you’d imagine her to be.

There’s always a lot of cynicism post-celebrity reality shows, especially with singers and musicians, about using the shows to revive their career, and sell more back records. While I can quite happily ignore J’s desperately-wishing-they-were-from-the-ghetto band 5ive, [1], Catatonia deserve a bit more time in the sun.

Unusually, for someone who isn’t renowned as a big gig-goer, I discovered how good Catatonia were when I saw them support Dodgy [2]. Cerys Matthews had a great stage presence and their set was tight, spiky and much better than the headliners. And yes, I did fancy her. She made great indie-pop and was Welsh. What was not to like?

Their debut, Way Beyond Blue, was beautifully twee yet punchy with some great singles that never quite caught on for whatever reason. Mulder and Scully, their breakthrough hit, remains a great slice of indie-pop while Strange Glue wouldn’t be the same without Cerys’ rasping tones. Ok, so Equally Cursed and Blessed was a massive disappointment, but comeback single Stone By Stone was as good as anything the band produced.

So, please radio stations around Britain, play more Catatonia, preferably delving into their back catalogue rather than the big hits. There’s plenty of gems in there, including these five:

1. Bleed.

This is a perfect example of why Catatonia were a great band. Catchy, with a great hook, yet rough around the edges. A charming piece of perfection wrapped up in a three minute song.

2. I Am The Mob

The first single from the International Velvet album, and one that deserved to be the track that propelled them into the public’s consciousness. Er, except it wasn’t. Widely ignored, the single limped to number 40, but is a great example of Catatonia doing what they do best. Loud, yet endearing, and great opening lyrics: “I put horses heads in people’s beds/Because I am the mob.”

3. Stone By Stone

A return to form after the rather rushed and muddled Equally Cursed and Blessed album.  Following their career, a pretty twee, poppy number should have been expected. Instead, there’s a more mature, reflective feel, with the strings adding an almost epic feel. But the spiky guitar from the debut is back, to create a soaringly majestic comeback.

4. Strange Glue

A simple, yet rather beautiful track, with lyrics on a failing relationship written from guitarist Mark Roberts male perspective, but given a haunting frailty by Matthews’ Welsh rasp.

5. Sweet Catatonia

It’s difficult to limit this to five. Mulder and Scully and Road Rage could have both justifiably been included (even if the latter is somewhat overrated), while it’s tempting to squeeze For Tinkerbell in. But Sweet Catatonia, like Bleed, is Catatonia doing what they do best – a ridiculously catchy chorus, in a sweet, enticing song with just a hint of attitude. Much like that shy girl who everybody loves but can really let her hair down when you get to know her.

As a child (well, teenager)  of Britpop, I’ve got plenty in my collection from the mid-90s that rarely gets a listen. Dodgy, for one. If it wasn’t for the existence of the Super Furry Animals, I’d put Catatonia forward for the accolade of Best Welsh Band Ever.

[1] Although, when they line up alongside other boy bands from the decade, some of their music was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. Everybody Get Up and Got The Feeling were fairly breezy numbers. Mind you, this was from the same period that spawned 911. 

[2] Also on the bill: youthful local band Muse. 

Blogging is great but…

1. It doesn’t stop me becoming fat.

2. It doesn’t help me sort out my tax.

3. It doesn’t make the house clean or tidy.

4. It will distract me from Heroes tomorrow night.

5. It won’t help me sort out various things with the insurance company.

6. It doesn’t enable me to tackle the LITERALLY huge mountains of ironing I have to do.

7. It doesn’t make me rich. Yet.

To counteract at least one of these, I’ve joined a gym. A gym where I utterly failed to comprehend how to use their lockers, while later I collapsed in a sweaty heap while the slightly corpulent lady who’d been on roughly the same equipment as me to roughly the same intensity levels looked fresh and ready for another hour. God, I’m good.

I’m hoping to combine 4 and 6 tomorrow night. Housemates have already been warned any efforts to change the channel will result in a Sylar-style execution.

As for 7, I’d really appreciate it if somebody stuffed a large brown envelope through my letterbox in the next few days. Fivers, if possible. I could really do with a new laptop, for a start. Seven would also mean I could stop worrying about the other numbers, as I could largely employ people to do these for me. Apart from 1. I could just about stand being obnoxiously rich (as opposed to just plain obnoxious at the moment). But obnoxiously rich and a fatty? I’d end up looking like Alisher Usmanov.

As for the rest, I badly need to stop procrastinating, so every time I post something on here, please shout at me to remind me I need to shout at the Inland Revenue, and another such assorted administration necessities. And if that fails, send somebody round to slap me with a wet haddock, or something.

Rehash the Voltaire misquotes

This freedom of speech issue is starting to become somewhat tedious, whirring round with depressing regularity as soon as anybody finds something they disagree with. And let’s face it, Nick Griffin and David Irving are two of the most disagreed with men in this country. But it doesn’t mean they’re not as entitled to their views as anyone else is. Now by all means, object to their views which are rather, well, objectionable. But if somebody asks them what their views are, they’ve got a right to say so, even if what comes out if ill-educated, nasty bilge.

Harry’s Place asks if fascists should be given free speech when, given half the chance, they’d deny others. The Devil neatly replies:

“Because we are not fascists.

Next.”

It doesn’t stop the usual idiocy being trotted out. I’ve no problem with MP Dr. Julian Lewis resigning his membership of Oxford’s debating union over the matter, but this quote verges on the daft.

“I think there are people who are confusing this with an issue of free speech. It’s not an issue of free speech to offer someone a privileged platform from a prestige organisation.”

Er, no. This is precisely an issue of free speech, and they’re being invited to speak at a debate on free speech. This couldn’t be more about freedom of speech if it chartered a hundred helicopters, hovered them above the venue, and waved 60ft high banners with the words: “This is about free speech.”

It honestly feels that, from people of all political persuasions, freedom of speech is actually read as: You’re free to say what you what providing I don’t disagree with it or find it offensive. Then you’re just being irresponsible and it stops being an issue of free speech, and starts being an issue of why you shouldn’t be allowed to say these things.

Honestly. Grow up.

Antonia Bance is another who seems to have gotten the highly confusing idea of free speech and not free speech mixed up.

“But I would just point out that having the right to freedom of speech doesn’t mean having the right to be invited to speak at a private members’ club.”

And Tim, as usual on topic such as this, is spot on:

“Indeed it doesn’t, even I would insist that it doesn’t.

I would insist however that freedom of speech absolutely includes the right of a private members’ club to invite whoever they should wish to come and speak to them. Which would appear to be what Ms. Bance is off to demonstrate against this evening.

Ho hum.”

Swiftly followed by Chris:

“It took a Cambridge Professor of Modern History weeks on the stand to rebut Irving’s assertions to the standard required in a court of law. Hardly the same, is it?

Personally I’d love to see the cream of the UK’s students rubbishing BNP plans to spend a fortune to encourage every last non-white person to leave the country.”

And I’ll leave the final word to Max Hasting’s surprisingly good column in today’s Guardian.

“Student debating societies have always been foolish, self-indulgent and irresponsible. We should cherish their right to remain so. Tonight’s Oxford audience has things to learn from listening to Griffin and Irving. We should possess sufficient faith in its intelligence to believe that they will be the right ones.”

UPDATE: Oh, ok then. Not quite the last word. Matthew, in his own indomitable style, has possibly the best take you could ever have on tonight’s storm in an industrial sized teacup. Somebody make that man Prime Minister.

And who actually who gives a toss really? Who but the protesters going to argue against precisely the thing they’re arguing for? Tonight I’m going to punch myself in the face and film it for youtube, but does that mean the moral decay of Great Britain is stopping you from drinking Calpol and watching Eastenders? No it does not. And if you don’t like it, don’t look at it.

And though as it goes I think they’re both tremendously wrong, they’d possibly afford me the chance to say so. And they’d think I was wrong, and I wouldn’t care because I’ve nearly finished Guitar Hero 3, and we’d all fetch a taxi home. I’d put an Arnie film on, they might do the crosswords, we’d all go to bed and the first thing we’d think on waking wouldn’t be, ‘Oh, my word, I can’t believe that guy, what an unendingly disgusting man he was.’

It’d be, ‘What’s for breakfast?’

Dan Hardie: Iraqi employees update again

 Following on from this, this, and this:

“I’ve had emails from three people who claim to be – and who almost certainly are- Iraqi former employees of the British Government. All three say that they and their former colleagues are still at risk of death for their ‘collaboration’.

 We’ll call the first man Employee One. He worked for the British for three years: ‘I started in the beginning of the war with Commandos (in 30 of March 2003) then continued with 23 Pioneer Regt, and in 08 / 07 / 2003 I have joined the Labour Support Unit (LSU)’. His British friends knew him as Chris.

The British Government has announced that he can apply for help if he can transport himself to the British base outside Basra, or to the Embassies in Syria or Jordan. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that there might be problems with this.

I can email and telephone this man: so can any Foreign Office official. It should not be impossible to verify his story and then send him the funds he needs to get to a less unsafe Arab country. But that is not happening.”  

Read the rest at Dan’s blog.

You may be at each others throats, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the grooming products on the neck and hands

Ooh, journalists versus PR people: the eternal debate. It’s possible the Middle East problem could be sorted before the two ever come to some kind of reconciliation. Somebody send in Tony Blair, quickly.

Hannah makes some good points in her two posts, although I think slightly simplifies and does the humble PR guru a disservice.  That said, I’d share her despair about the PR person who suggested mixing up the names on a school photograph to protect the kids from paedophiles. That has to be the barmiest idea I’ve heard in a long time, and I’d like to know exactly what the hell was going through that person’s mind when they thought up the idea. Something along these lines, perhaps…

“Right, the parents are scared about paedos. They’re evil, and they’re everywhere. But the local rag want to publish a picture of them. I know, lets mix the names up. That way, if the paedo sees a child they fancy, they’ll call them the wrong name, the child will instantly get suspicious, and we’ll have protected the kids. Hurrah for us.”

In the unlikely event the paper did acquiesce to the request, they’d get it in the neck from anybody who knew the kids – if a paper can’t get simple things like names right, then it damages their reputation in the rest of the community. As Steve McClaren utterly failed to learn in football, get the basics right and you can build on that.

I’d also share her despair at the PR person who made a very clumsy lie. One piece of advice dispensed in my direction from public relations professionals in different walks of business, is not to lie. If you lie, it can get found and. Easily. Journalists don’t build their reputation on being inquisitive little beggars for fun, you know.

And yes, if there’s one thing journalists don’t appreciate, its PR telling them what, when, where, when and how to run stories. But equally, if there’s one thing PR people don’t appreciate, it’s the journalist who treats us as idiots,and who also tell lies to get what they want, whilst hassling, harrying and generally making unreasonable requests. Nobody working in PR likes to be told how to do their job by a journalist.

But I do think Hannah’s being a tad simplistic when she says all PRs don’t like bad news to get out. Well, in part this is true, but the press department aren’t usually the ones who make the mess but they do have to clean it up, and anybody working in press and publicity who can manage a story and prevent it getting any worse is worth their weight in gold. That most definitely doesn’t have to involve lying, it just requires being across a story, having all the facts to hand, and being able to spot potentially troublesome areas, much like a chess grandmaster. There’s ways of giving the journalist what they want while minimising the damage caused. Although some messes are just lost causes.

Journalists and public relations can work very well together. I had some very good relationships with some press officers and PRs, and usually this involved a fair amount of honesty and respect on both sides. If the journalist gives the PR a fair hearing, makes it clear what is running, but doesn’t muck them about afterwards, the respect will be reciprocated. I’ve dealt with some press officers who spin a good line, but don’t take you for a mug.

I often found the PRs I had good professional relationships with always came through when I needed something important, was on a tight deadline, or were more inclined to try harder when there was a potentially damaging story. Those who didn’t, I could usually find ways to bypass, if needs be, or just tended not to deal with them full stop. It works both ways.

Ultimately, PR doesn’t come down to some dark art. The majority of the time, we’re not spinning lies. Similarly, journalism doesn’t come down to us deliberately laying banana skins for the press officer to slip up on. You’ll get idiots in either profession but if you’re going to make any relationship you need respect. Perhaps Aretha Franklin can succeed where Tony Blair will probably fail.

We are Sky. We have a helicopter. We are NEWS!

Andrew Marr takes a sideswipe at Sky, saying they’re “frequently right”.

There’s a lot to admire about Sky, especially if you want multi-angle coverage plus an almost frenetic feel to it. If Baz Luhrmann was a news channel, this would be it.

But, on the few occasions I’ve reported on items that have made it onto the rolling news channels, Sky have invariably got something wrong, or rushed something to air without necessarily checking, before correcting later. That’s not to say News 24 haven’t either, albeit less frequently.

That’s also not to say I haven’t either in the past. Breaking news stories are notoriously difficult to cover, and I reckon its rare any broadcast journalist will get it 100% right if they’ve got regular bulletins or live reports to feed.

But – and this is only on a few occasions, so is a completely unrepresentative sample – every story I’ve worked on there’s always one instance of them snapping with something I’ve left alone, on the basis there’s a very good chance it won’t be accurate. Of the four instances I could think of, once they were right, the other three the story either veered off elsewhere or the information had to be clarified.

I could certainly see their reasoning for running all four, though, and I wouldn’t go as far as to call two of them bad judgment calls. So I’d say Andrew Marr’s frequently right here.


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