Monday, January 21, 2008

What is music for?

I have been thinking about music quite a lot recently. I've been inspired by posts at Cultural Snow and My Nut Free Life to think about what music is for.

I was talking to someone other day and they couldn't understand why I dislike so called 'dinner party music'. You see, I hate bland music, I almost prefer something to be terrible than just shoulder-shruggingly OK. At the very least music that is genuinely awful ilicits some sort of response from you.

The whole conversation got me thinking about the moments in my life when a song or a piece of music has grabbed me and forced me to pay attention. They are extraordinary moments that only ever happen once when you listen to that song. Every time you listen to it again, you know what is coming and no matter how arresting it is, it will never have the impact of that first moment.

It may well be pleasant to hear James Taylor, Norah Jones, Damien Rice et al burbling competently quietly in the background but they will never have the impact of the truly great. Great music refuses to stay in the background, it demands your attention. They are musical moments that make you realise what music is for. Moments that I look back on with a bit of sadness because the exact way I was feeling would never be repeated.

When I think about my moments I remember hearing Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit. and Radiohead's Let Down for the first time. Mahler's Tenth Symphony, Bob Marley's Redemption Song and the sheer swagger of Rock'n'Roll Star by Oasis all had a great impact on me.

To illustrate what I mean, here is a more recent song that just blew me away the first time I heard it. This is Glosoli by Sigur Ros. Sigur Ros can be something of an acquired taste with their ethereal meoldies and lead singer Jónsi’s falsetto voice. However, it is a taste well worth acquiring as this extraordinary song demonstrates. I would encourage you to listen to it first before you read what I've written underneath the video.

The song starts quietly and gradually builds and builds before exploding at 4.41 (thats the moment!) into a wall of sound with tumultuous guitars and the skirling falsetto soaring over the top. When I heard that for the first time, it sent almighty tingles down my spine and it may sound ridiculous, but it made me feel 3 foot taller.

In the end, I think that is what music is for. It should make you feel. It should make you feel happy, sad, angry, peaceful or any number of other feelings or emotions. The best music changes how we feel, everything else is just aural wallpaper...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Quiz like its 2008

Last night saw the resumption of my monthly pub quiz in a shiny new venue in East Didsbury. To see posts relating to previous quiz shenanigans click here.

If you are exceptionally lucky, my fellow quizmaster Eyan may post his questions on his blog at some point. I treated a selection of South Manchester's finest to two epic rounds of questioning that are presented below for your edufication.

1) How many stomachs does a cow have?
2) Where on a horse do you find its poll?
3) What is the only bird that is capable of seeing the colour blue?
4) The following adjectives refer to which animals?
a) Vulpine b) Hippocampine c) Chelonian
5) How many claws does a house cat have?
6) What is the name for a group of goldfish? A troubling, a dole or a bloat?
7) How many legs does a lobster have?
8) Which insects account for most human deaths?
9) Who recorded an early description of a reindeer in the 1st Century BC?
10) Why are penguins black and white?

The answers to the following questions each contain the model of a car - past or present
1) What is the only sport where left-handed play is banned?
2) Which one word describes a book title by Frederick Forsyth, a class of British escort carrier and a role played by Diana Rigg in the 1960s?
3) Former Big Brother contestant Jade Goody believed which area of the UK was abroad?
4) What is the word used to describe narrowed attention on a specific thing?
5) Gracie Fields owned a villa on which island?
6) What is the musical term for “quick or lively”?
7) Which one word describes a Yorkshire TV documentary series of the 1970s, a space shuttle, and a number one album by ELO?
8) What name is specifically given to a Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara and reaches hurricane speeds in North Africa and Southern Europe?
9) In rowing, what is the name of the short-sleeved T-shirt with a front opening, where the opening and sleeve ends are trimmed in the colours of the club?
10) Which animal has varieties called trapdoor, yellow sac, and chinese bird?

Answers sometimes next week. Oh, by the way, for every answer you google a fairy will die....

* Update - Answers are now in the comments

I Am Legend ***
The Holiday ***
Night Watch *****
Jason & The Argonauts ****
Star Trek:First Contact ***
Notting Hill **
Heima *****

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Biggest Movies of 2007

Permit me to blow my own trumpet for a moment.

Paaaaaarrrrrpppppp *

Thank you.

Now, I have excellent taste in movies, so I'd like to run through the top ten grossing movies of 2007 with you. As usual I will give a star rating for each one, do let me know if you disagree...

1. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (£49,420,484) ****
Possibly the best of the Potter movies so far with the acting of the young leads improving, a much darker tone and a spectacular duelling sequence between the Order of the Phoenix and the Death Eaters.
2. Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (£42,237,960) **
Flabby dross with very few redeeming qualities at all.
3. Shrek the Third (£38,620,659) **
Forgetting everything that made the first two Shrek movies watchable.
4. The Simpsons Movie (£38,544,114) ***
Some very funny gags - sadly not the masterpiece we were all hoping for.
5. Spider-Man 3 (£33,547,946) *
Indescribably awful in just about every way
6. Ratatouille (£24,716,887) ****
Pixar strikes gold one more time. The dud that was Cars fades away...
7. The Bourne Ultimatum (£23,703,150) *****
Best action film for ages - The setpieces in Waterloo station and over the rooftops and houses on Tangiers were nothing short of breathtaking.
8. Transformers (£22,863,864) ***
Big and very dumb fun
9. Mr Bean's Holiday (£22,142,332) *
Don't even go there......
10. Hot Fuzz (£21,005,064) *****
My film of the year. Hands down

It depresses me greatly that most of the films on that list are either crushingly predictable or utterly dreadful. There were some superb films released this year that were totally ignored by people scurrying to see the latest Shrek film. And in what sane world does the funniest film of the year come one place behind the inexplicably popular Mr Bean's Holiday? Where does that get fun?

I think I can see the problem. People like to go for things that are familiar (I am the same), and frankly, the cost of the cinema is so extortionate that people aren't that willing to take risks on movies anymore. It means that magnificent oddities like Daywatch for example, are shown in cinemas for one or two weeks at best. While tripe like Mr Bean or Pirates are shown for months on end. This leaves no room for word of mouth growth. By the time I have seen a really good movie and let people know about it, its already out of the cinemas.

I just wish that cinema chains would charge less for the offbeat or arty films. They can continue charging outrageous sums for the big blockbusters, people will still lap them up regardless (and I count myself in that number). However, if I could go and see something quirky and off the beaten track for a few quid instead of paying on the unpleasant side of £6, I'd be in the cinema much more often, which surely only benefits the business side of things.

* I know trumpets don't make this noise. I am open to suggestions at how I should represent the sound of a trumpet in text form.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Around this time last year, I subjected the t'interweb to my 2006 review of the year. In the interests of symmetry (I like that word so much, I'd like you to read more about it here), I thought I should do something similar for 2007.

Best Moment
2007 has been a surprisingly good year so there have been many moments to choose from. Completing my PGCE and getting a job in a school and my radio shows on Refresh FM at Easter were both great. However, the winner is this year's Greenbelt festival. This year's festival was probably the best I've been to. The weather was magnificent, the atmosphere was amazing and I had a great time working for the festival radio station Greenbelt FM. The single best moment (in a pure ego trip stylee) was taking part in a live radio show at the YMCA venue whereby myself and radio partner in crime Fat Roland were given license to unleash our Theatre of Noise games Chainsaw Challenge and Sackcloth & Bashes on an unsuspecting Greenbelt. Much hilarity and destruction ensued.

Best Film
There was some great movies this year - some very worthy, some guilty pleasures. In the end, the brilliance and sheer rewatchability of Hot Fuzz gets my vote. Honourable mentions also go to the beautifully shot Sunshine, the fascinating Zodiac, the thrilling Bourne Ultimatum, the brutal 28 Weeks Later and the frankly bonkers Daywatch.

Worst Film
The excreble Spiderman 3. Read my thoughts at the time here.

Best TV
Top Gear & Spooks became unmissable TV for me this year. Top Gear made me laugh like a drain - even though I can't stand Jeremy Clarkson. Spooks was a thrillingly entertaining and slick creation. This year's Dr Who series was a bit hit and miss. When it was wrong (human daleks? come on) it was pretty poor, but when it was right it was glorious (Weeping Angels? Even I found them rather unnerving).

Worst TV
The moment it was announced that Catherine Am-I-Bovvered Tate would be in the whole of the next Dr Who series.

Best Album
Mae - Singularity

Best Book
Even though it was written in 1954, I have only just read it this year. Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is brilliant. Forget the Will Smith film, the book is much darker, much bleaker and much more unnerving. I also liked 2004's The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, mainly due to the sparkling dialogue between Daniel and Fermin, which is a joy to read.

Best Penguin related story of 2007
This marvellous story about Roxy the Rockhopper penguin who turned to the t'interweb to find love. Read it here.

Blogs of the Year
Here are my five favourite blogs of the year in no particular order with links to their latest posts.
Fat Roland - the surreal ramblings of a proper gentleman.
Quinquireme - The erudite Patroclus was considering laying her blog to rest. The t'interweb breathed a sigh of relief when she was convinced otherwise.
Postsecret - PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. It can be funny, disturbing, uplifting and sometimes heartbreaking.
The Manchizzle - an essential Manchester blogging hub....
Cultural Snow - A blog that wears its brain openly on its sleeve.

Also worth a mention are Midnight Candle & Blue Cat.

Here's to 2008 - Happy New Year!