Kitsch mugs #11


11: The menstruating nurse (August 2012)

Turkey cake

Turkey pie, I’ve heard of. This was new!


Twelve months, thirteen songs (part two)

Still here, then? No sign of dark comets, earthquakes or twin planets appearing out of nowhere?

Right, let’s look at the rest of this list…

8. Karine Polwart – ‘The Sun’s Coming Over The Hill’

I first encountered this song years ago, but it wasn’t until Greenbelt that I got the chance to hear it live. As we sat in the Centaur after a weekend of heavy rain, with mainstage transformed into a bog, Karine sang of love and loss and the darkness that threatens us all – “The nights are long / But life is longer still / Ooh, the nights are long / But the sun’s coming over the hill”. And it really was quite spellbinding.

Available on: Faultlines (Neon Records)

9. Ray Davies – Waterloo Sunset

I basically missed the Olympics. I was on a beach on the Welsh coast, wading in and out of rock pools, trying to catch the sun’s light on the waves at just the right moment and not minding in the least that I was away from all the hype and spectacle. This was largely because I did, at least manage to catch the opening and closing ceremonies – the former witnessed in a frenzy of last-minute packing and trailer checks before we headed off up the M4 before it was fully light, with me marvelling at Kenneth Branagh, the children laughing hysterically at Rowan Atkinson, and every one of us applauding wildly at that parachute jump. A fortnight later I was sitting in the lounge drinking real ale as the Facebook feeds went into overdrive. The opening ceremony was unilaterally great; the closing one was patchy but nowhere near the disaster zone people accused it of being (yes, George Michael chose the wrong moment to plug his new single, but we had the Pet Shop Boys!). My stand-out moment? This. Ray’s not getting any younger, but he carries it with dignity and grace, and hearing eighty thousand people singing along with the chorus brought a lump to my throat

Available on: Waterloo Sunset: The Very Best of the Kinks and Ray Davies (UMTV). But not this version.

10. The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)

There was a point, on Sunday evening at Greenbelt, when something glorious happened: when the clouds broke away and the sun shone, and Charlie and Craig took to mainstage to play a set that was half new album, half classic hits. I have many memories of that evening: the rapturous sing-alongs that were ‘I’m On My Way’ and ‘Letter From America’ (the first song they played that we actually knew); my mother-in-law waltzing with Terry during ‘Sunshine on Leith’…but it was the finale, with Thomas nestled comfortably on my shoulders, watching, rapt, and my brother-in-law just a few yards away, finally present for the song he always seems to miss at parties and gigs, that I shall be taking away with me.

Available on: Sunshine on Leith (Chrysalis)

11. Muse – ‘Apocalypse Please’

After my encounter with ‘Survival’ I delved into Muse’s back catalogue. Their progression over the years has seen them evolve from space rock through to grandiose, bombastic theatricality with mixed success – it seems that these days, for every ‘Starlight’, there’s a misfire like ‘Unsustainable’ (Muse never needed to sound like U2, they’re far more appealing when they sound like Muse). I’ve found that my fondness for them tends to peak around the Absolution / Black Holes and Revelations era, where everything got very commercial without getting silly. There were a wealth of tracks I could have included here, and in the end it boiled down to a battle between this one and the flamenco-esque ‘City of Delusion’ – but ‘Apocalypse Please’, with drums recorded in a swimming pool and the sort of mocking lyrics that fundamentalists are going to misinterpret and take seriously, finally won the day. Well, it is 2012.

Available on: Absolution (A&E)

12. Bellowhead – New York Girls

It was a Monday. Thousands of people thronged Greenbelt Mainstage. There were about a dozen musicians leading the crowd in an impromptu, disorganised ceilidh. It was genuinely wonderful. Seldom have I attended any musical event where there was quite so much raw energy. I’ve got the feeling that the next time I do, it’ll be a Bellowhead gig.

Available on: Hedonism (Navigator Records)

13. Florence and the Machine – ‘Shake It Out’

My friend Vikki suggest I do a Doctor Who montage to this. It turns out it’s already been done, and to an extremely high standard: it puts my own work to shame. I’d only given Florence Welch the briefest of glances before giving this a spin one evening, and its joyous fighting spirit and phenomenal textures (Phil Spector meets Annie Lennox meets Arcade Fire) carried such a roaring emotional punch that I burst into tears. Acknowledging the monster within you is never easy, but to take that pain and turn into something so utterly triumphant is an extraordinary thing. “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Florence wrote (in an hour. An hour!), and in the middle of winter, these are appropriate sentiments indeed.

Available on: Ceremonials (Island)

Twelve months, thirteen songs (part one)

Every December, I compile a musical review of the year – the songs I loved, the songs that meant something. There’s a heady mixture of old, new, and a-couple-of-years-old-but-I-only-just-discovered-it. This year, the playlist is a bit shorter than usual (the last couple of Christmases it’s extended to two CDs), because I am scaling back. Less is more.

Anyway: here are the first seven. Part two to follow, probably tomorrow.


1. The Muppets – ‘Life’s A Happy Song’

I got round to seeing The Muppets with Joshua and Thomas one Saturday morning at our local Cineworld. Thomas sat through the whole thing, which is itself a sign that Henson’s brigade were doing something right. I absolutely loved this movie from start to finish: unremittingly nostalgic, strategically dismantling the fourth wall a couple of hundred bricks at a time, and with enough ham to feed a small village for the entire holiday season. Eric Jacobson is no Frank Oz, but the human performers go into it with gusto – Amy Adams, in particular, steals the show in her early scenes. And the songs are wonderful, forming an integral part of the movie’s emotional core – from the wistful lament that is ‘Pictures In My Head’ to the triumphant reprise of ‘Rainbow Connection’, which has one of the most satisfying resolutions in any film in history. This opening number – all brass bands and dancing milkmen – is so irritatingly catchy I was singing it for weeks afterwards.

Available on: The Muppets (Walt Disney / EMI)

2. Jonathan Coulton & GLaDOS – ‘Still Alive’

Joshua and I spent our evenings in the early part of this year going through Portal – Valve’s seminal physics puzzle game where you break out of an underground research facility with the aid of a teleport gun, pursued by a psychotic computer. Then we tackled its sequel, which features Stephen Merchant. Both games feature acidic humour, a hefty chunk of puzzle-solving and some wonderful dialogue, but it’s this closing song – as performed by the artificial intelligence you defeated but failed to destroy – that forms the icing on a very rich cake. (A real one, as opposed to one that turns out to be a lie.)

Available on: MP3 (you can get it at Amazon)

3. Kate Bush – ‘Big Sky’

I re-explored Kate Bush’s back catalogue in the early part of the year, and nearly stopped when I reached Hounds of Love – because as good as Aerial is, she never bettered ‘Hello Earth’. Traditionally, I’ve always preferred the moody, ethereal creepiness of The Ninth Wave to the radio-friendly Fairlight tracks that make up side one (I’m showing my age here), but curiously enough it was ‘Big Sky’ that really got to me this year – it’s been a favourite driving anthem, and the sort of song you can have on full blast when you’re cleaning your house. Listen to when Kate sings “That cloud looks like Ireland”, and you can practically hear her squeal with delight.

Available on: Hounds of Love (EMI)

4. Elbow – ‘Lippy Kids’

John Doran, writing in NME, doesn’t like ‘Lippy Kids’. He loves the rest of the album, but suggests that this one “sees [Guy Garvey] lamenting the shortness of childhood in a manner that threatens to become Hovis ad-esque”. That’s a fair criticism, but I tend to let it go, because emotionally laden tearjerkers is what Elbow do best. If ‘One Day Like This’ was the song that got repeat play on my iPod last autumn, it’s this understated anthem that’s piqued my curiosity for most of 2012 (along with ‘The Birds’, which is similarly wondrous).

Available on: Build A Rocket Boys! (Fiction / Polydor)

5. Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton – ‘Islands In The Stream’

I never had much time for the Bee Gees after the Clive Anderson incident – yes, he took a joke too far but they in turn took themselves far too seriously. Nonetheless they turned in over thirty years of terrific songwriting, and the loss of Robin Gibb in the early part of this year was a blow. It’s a testament to their ability to craft hits for other people, as well as themselves, that this one found its way onto my playlist this year. And who doesn’t love Dolly Parton?

Available on: The Very Best of Dolly Parton (Sony Music TV Projects)

6. Muse – ‘Survival’

Muse were the year’s big find. Just as I inadvertently discovered Elbow one evening last autumn (which reminds me of this), Muse were a band I’d always been aware of but had largely ignored until the night Jo Whiley played their Olympic anthem on her Radio 2 show. This song polarised people – some thought it was great, others (mostly established fans) thought the band had finally jumped the shark.It’s ridiculous, overblown and the Queen parallels are so transparent that Matt Bellamy might as well grow a moustache and wear a yellow jacket on their next tour, but it’s hard not to love this. The morning after I’d heard it for the first time I was playing it for the boys, and Daniel was doing air guitar. I think that counts as a win.

Available on: 2nd Law (Helium 3)

7. LMFAO – Sexy And I Know It

This one’s been following me around. Like Stuart Maconie, I’ve said for years that there are no guilty pleasures in music – just good music and bad music – and I’ve stopped feeling silly about loving it. It’s always nice to see a man who can send himself up – and you have to do something special to have Bruce Springsteen cover your material.

Available on: Sorry for Party Rocking (Interscope)

This just in

Water pistol cameras. Who knew?


Excel Rorschach

While fiddling around with charts and reports on Friday afternoon, I inadvertantly created a Viking longboat. or a dragon. Or even the Loch Ness Monster. You pick.


We’re floorwalking in the air

Well now. There’s something you don’t see every day.


Stupid fat wizard


Yes, well.


Don’t forget the lyrics


Sorry, Bruce. I think the damage is done.

Bright eyes, burning like the fires of Mount Doom

review of The Hobbit in The Independent contains the following text.

“Thankfully, Jackson’s flair for action sequences and bold and complex production design hasn’t deserted him. Huge, snarling dogs and a chase sequence involving a wizard played by Sylvester McCoy being pulled by a sledge of super-nimble rabbits add some bite to the storytelling.”

My initial thoughts ran along the lines of “How very dare you”. Then I sighed with resignation. It doesn’t really matter any more.

When I mentioned this to Laura, she said she was finding it hard to resist the temptation to imagine the scene with the were-rabbit from Wallace and Gromit, or the rabbits from Watership Down. When I mentioned it to Gareth, he said “I wouldn’t mind seeing Sylvester McCoy being pulled by rabbits. I’d just rather see it in Doctor Who.




Then there’s this.


Oh, and this.


The image above is taken from the mother of all cliffhangers, in which the Doctor is seen hanging from a ledge by his umbrella FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL. (There’s a reason in the script, of course, but time constraints being what they were they never got round to shooting it.) It’s the end of episode one of ‘Dragonfire’, which also features a scene which is eerily reminiscent of Watership Down.


You see what I mean.

“It looks like you’re doing something with General Woundwort,” said Emily, in her best impression of Clippy, when she wandered into the kitchen. “Would you like help?”
“No, it’s fine, I was just looking at reviews of The Hobbit today and it talked about Sylvester McCoy being pulled along by rabbits. Then Gareth mentioned the possibility of it happening in Doctor Who. You know…the whole rabbits…Doctor Who connection.”

There was a pause.

“You don’t love me any more, do you?”


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