Thursday, April 26, 2007

'Favourite Worst Nightmare' by Arctic Monkeys

26 April 2007

Stung by your criticism that it took me so long to get around to seeing 'Hot Fuzz', this week, in a desperate attempt to regain some street-cred, I've been listening to the new Arctic Monkeys album 'Favourite Worst Nightmare' (which only came out on Monday!). You may remember I was bowled over by the Arctic Monkeys' debut 'Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not' (reviewed here in February 2006) and I had been eagerly anticipating the follow-up: I wasn't disappointed. With material this creative, inventive and varied, more of the same proves to be the perfect recipe. Loud, fast, catchy, songs that do not outstay their welcome, get-up-and-dance rhythms and the cleverest, funniest lyrics delivered in a strong Sheffield accent: everything rock music should be. Top!

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

'Hot Fuzz'

19 April 2007

I hadn't been to the cinema for ages: perhaps I'm showing my age but our local multiplex doesn't appeal to me - it always seems very loud and littered with popcorn and teenagers. I've missed a few films I fancied seeing recently when the lure of the movie didn't quite overcome the drawbacks of the venue. It would be great if we had a nice little independent cinema nearby but we do have the recently refurbished Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard which shows a limited programme of films once or twice a week. Last Friday we made the effort and ventured to Leighton Buzzard to see 'Hot Fuzz' - the British comedy by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. It was brilliant! Simon Pegg plays a super-efficient police officer from the Met who is transferred to a sleepy Gloucestershire village and brings big city policing to the country. His new partner, played by Nick Frost, is fascinated by American cop movies and wants to know all about Pegg's exciting London experiences - particularly the guns! What follows is a wonderful parody of movie genres including westerns, cop movies and all manner of action thrillers. It is incredibly violent (with plenty of blood and 'look away' moments) but carries this off because much of the violence is hysterically ridiculous. And there is loads of fun to be had in trying to spot the enormous number of well-known British actors and comedians making (often very fleeting) appearances. (There is even a very hard to spot uncredited cameo by Cate Blanchett.) But it is a massively enjoyable film primarily because it is extremely funny and exquisitely plotted. Every casual remark and every seemingly insignificant feature in the background in the early scenes comes back to play a significant part later in the story. And the brooding sense of evil lurking beneath the surface of apparently innocent village society is truly scary. It was quite disconcerting to glance around the middle-aged middle-class audience in Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre and realise how closely we resembled the slightly sinister Neighbourhood Watch Alliance in the film!

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Friday, April 13, 2007

'Cuilidh' by Julie Fowlis

13 April 2007

I'm very much enjoying 'Cuilidh' - the second album by Julie Fowlis, the young Gaelic singer and pipes player from North Uist. (You may remember my discovery of her first solo album in February 2006 - you heard about her here first!) The faster numbers feature some amazing high-speed percussive vocals but it is the ballads that are truly outstanding. She has a beautiful, pure voice and creates peaceful, inspiring music. For a taster you can 'listen again' to her session on this week's Andy Kershaw show at

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'The Big Over Easy' by Jasper Fforde

10 April 2007

Read this book! - I loved it. Humpty Dumpty is dead but did he fall off the wall or was he pushed? This is a case for Detective Inspector Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crime Division - and the start of an elaborate double parody incorporating more nursery rhymes than you realised you remembered and a wonderful send-up of detective fiction. The tone is set early on when the smarmy rival DI Friedland Chymes is giving a press conference to explain how he solved his latest case - correctly identifying the killer as Miss Celia Mangersen, the victim's neice. A journalist asks him what the significance was of the traces of custard found on the colonel's sock suspender and Chymes explains:

"Mortally wounded and with only seconds to live, he had somehow to leave a clue to his assailant's identity. A note? Of course not - the killer would find and destroy it. Guessing correctly that a murder of this magnitude would be placed in my hands, he decided to leave behind a clue that only I could solve. Knowing the colonel's penchant for anagrams, it was but a swift move to deduce his reasoning. The sock suspender was made in France. 'Custard' in French is 'creme anglaise' - and an anagram of this is 'Celia Mangerse-", which not only correctly identified the killer, but also told me the colonel died before he was able to finish the anagram."

Jack Spratt and his new Detective Sergeant, Mary Mary ("Her name was Mary. Mary Mary") pursue an elaborate convoluted plot involving Wee Willie Winkie, Rapunzel, aliens, immortals from Ancient Greece and some magic beans. 'The Big Over Easy' is very silly but incredibly clever and tremendously enjoyable. There is perhaps too much crammed into it - including an enormous number of characters it is quite difficult to keep track of - but if you just give up trying to make sense of it all and just go along for the ride it's a wonderful journey. It's also very well written and cleverly plotted - however silly the story is it has to work as a proper whodunnit, which it does. There are so many fantastic ideas ('Oysters one step closer to vote') but I won't spoil it for you by citing any more here. I couldn't put the book down and read most of it with a big smile on my face. Now I can't wait for the publication of the sequel 'The Fourth Bear' in June 2007.


Thursday, April 05, 2007


5 April 2007

We had a lovely break in Wales last week. We were staying in a cottage near Carmarthen with wonderful views of the Towy estuary but spent most of our time walking parts of the Pembrokeshire coastal path. We particularly enjoyed the walk round Stackpole Head and Barafundle bay. We had some great weather and had numerous picnics on beaches. We visited Pembroke, St David's, Narberth and Fishguard but my memories will mainly be of the stunning coastal scenery.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Yasmin Levy

4 April 2007

Last Thursday we were at the Queen's Hall in Narberth to see the Israeli singer Yasmin Levy. It was great to find a familiar name from the world music circuit touring small venues across Wales and Narberth provided a packed and attentive audience. Yasmin Levy sings songs from the Sephardic culture: in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain and many settled in North Africa establishing a musical tradition that combines Spanish flamenco with Arabic, Jewish and Christian influences. Yasmin Levy's father (who died when she was just one year old) was the leading collector of these traditional Sephardic songs - sung in the hybrid Ladino language - and she has reinvigorated the tradition. Her band, featuring two percussionists, guitar and clarinet/flute/duduk were exceptional and there was some breathtaking playing (literally in the case of the circular-breathing flautist!). Levy's vocal style is impressive but sometimes a bit strident for me - these were serious songs sung seriously - though she also gave us plenty of fascinating detail about the music and translations of the lyrics. An enthralling and entertaining performance.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

'The Third Policeman' by Flann O'Brien

2 April 2007

I should both thank and blame David Lack for introducing me to 'The Third Policeman' by Flann O'Brien - a novel written in 1940 but only published posthumously in 1967. I hadn't come across it before but it seems to have had a cult following which has grown recently after references to it in the TV series 'Lost'. Not knowing what to expect I started to read and soon found myself totally bewildered, amused, confused and irritated. After a quirky start the novel soon launches into bizarre realms of surrealism. Our narrator stumbles around a strange world with its own rules and logic, helped and hindered by three policemen with an obsessive interest in dentists, bicycles and the county council. Like Alice through the looking glass everything is recognisable but different. Much of the writing is very funny - I particularly enjoyed the ongoing references to the theologian and mad scientist, de Selby, which appear in a series of footnotes throughout the novel (O'Brien later gave de Selby a book of his own - 'The Dalkey Archive', 1964). But as the dreamlike wandering (which reminded me of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel 'The Unconsoled') continued I grew increasingly restless. It was all very clever and often very funny but what was the point? Then there is an extremely satisfying final twist which made me want to go straight back and read the whole book again! 'The Third Policeman' is a bizarre, indescribable book - funny, puzzling, frustrating and very clever. "Is it about a bicycle?"


'Soap' by Sarah Woods

2 April 2007

The latest home-grown production in the Northampton Royal Theatre's 'Love and Madness' season was 'Soap' - a new play by Sarah Woods. In the first act (Episode 1) we were introduced to two very familiar TV soap operas. In a pub in the East End of London everyone keeps going on about the importance of 'family' before heading off to the cash and carry. Meanwhile on an Australian beach a few beers are being opened and the surf is up. But all is not entirely what it seems: some characters are beginning to question why their ages don't quite add up and why they only ever drink coffee (black with one sugar) and never anything else. Then a barrel needs changing in the East End pub and Lorna goes through the previously unused cellar door and finds herself on an Australian beach. Queue the theme music ... But then we were faced with a real-life soap opera cliffhanger as the curtain failed to rise for Episode 2 and we were told that the revolving stage had failed and the rest of the performance would have to be canceled! Nearly a week later we returned to Northampton to try again and I'm glad we did. As the two soap operas became increasingly intertwined and confused, 'Soap' became a very enjoyable farce in the vein of Michael Frayn's 'Noises Off' with echoes of other works where the protagonists begin to realise they are just characters in a work of fiction such as Pirandello's 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'. I also found myself thinking of 'The Wizard of Oz' as all the actors other than the two leads doubled as characters in both soaps - so when Lorna turns up in 'Oz' she sees a lot of strangely familiar faces. The cast looked like they were having a wonderful time sending up the soap genres and there was some great (over)acting. Authenticity was added by the presence of former Eastender Lucy Speed as Lorna and several other actors who had appeared in Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale. But the temperamental star of the show was undoubtedly the revolving stage!

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