Monday, February 26, 2007

Impressions of the Oscars

So the two top prizes at the Academy Awards went to actors who were impersonating famous people. Helen Mirren won Best Actress for her fancy-dress Elizabeth Windsor and Forest Whitaker won best Actor for his portrayal of Idi Amin. Ms Mirren paid obsequious thanks to the real Queen in her acceptance speech which nearly made me spit out my cornflakes this morning.

Rory Bremner is also in the news for passing himself off as Gordon Brown to the razor sharp foreign secretary Margaret Beckett. No Oscars for Bremner, mainly because it wasn't very funny and Beckett said almost nothing scandalous.

If however, they ever make a biopic of Frank Spencer, Rory will up there with the Oscar hopefuls.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Hatto Scandal

The classical music world has been in uproar this week as it emerged recordings by Joyce Hatto, a pianist who became famous in the last year of her life, have been proved to be fakes. Gramophone Magazine, who's critics discovered and championed the recordings, reports that by putting one of her CDs into one's computer, the disk is identified as that of Lászlo Simon. The discs mysteriously sound identical.

Audo specialists, Pristine Classical have analysed many of her recordings and found them to be direct copies of older recordings, sometimes digitally speeded up to make them slightly different.

Contacted for his comments, William Barrington-Coupe [Hatto's husband]– who acknowledged that he produced well-nigh all of his wife’s recordings – was at a loss to explain the similarity.


Monday, February 19, 2007

4x4 envy

The Screaming Banshee from Disney's Cars film
If you drive through Yarm in the morning, you will see a procession of 4x4 beasts dropping off their children at school. I was behind a monster truck the other day, as he pulled out of the traffic jam we were in to drop his daughter off on the other side of the road before trying to push back into the queue again. I was reminded of this as I read an article in the Sunday Times about the 4x4 craze. The article was trying to defend the 4x4 owner by saying that:
  • non-4x4 owners are jealous of their wealth
  • They aren't that polluting at all. Not as much as Ferraris
  • They only represent a small minority of the car population
  • They have four-wheel-drive, which is really useful when driving over unpaved surfaces

The piece in the Times was a bit misguided to think that there are not many of these things about. The article's own figures show that more 4x4s (176,000) were sold than Ford Focus's (137,694) last year. And no-one believes that the reason these cars sell is because they have 4-wheel-drive; none of these cars will ever go off-road. It's because they are big and because everyone else has got one. The lack of individuality of the school-run set is to blame here.

I have heard vox-pops on the radio where a 4x4 owner justified their choice of car by saying that the model they have chosen has a clean-air filter, to ensure that their children get to breath clean air. "If I let my child walk to school", they said, "they would be breathing in other people's car fumes". Well quite.

The Porsche Cayenne Turbo weighs 2.5 Tonnes and does 13 miles per gallon while transporting one small child to the other side of the road. That's not really good enough is it?

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shayler and 9/11

David Shayler
David Shayler, the Middlesbrough-born ex-spy, is doing the publicity rounds at the moment by claiming that the 9/11 attacks were not facilitated by planes at all. He claims that they were missiles disguised by holographic projections. It was all a conspiracy, you see, to promote war against oil-bearing nations.

It would seem that Mr Shayler has gone all David Icke on us. In fact, Shayler is mentioned as a supporter of Icke on Wikipedia.

Perhaps it's all a conspiracy. I blame Steve McLaren.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Forgotten Albums #4: Long Gone Before Daylight

Cardigans - Long Gone Before Daylight
The Cardigans, the biggest band to come out of Sweden barring Abba, were known for their quirky pop songs like "Lovefool", "Erase/Rewind" and "My Favourite Game" until they took a break. Their comeback in 2003 was Long Gone Before Daylight and it didn't do too well.

It was a quieter and more reflective album than previous recordings and found the Swedish band in a darker and more reflective mood. The songs simultaneously ooze menace and melody. The production is smoothly slick with a country tinge and Nina Persson's voice is devastating.

Like other Forgotten albums, no other soul on the planet likes this album as much as me. The only recommendation I can recall is high praise from Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers.


The Ape meets Yahoo Pipes and Flickr

Yahoo PipesThe boffins at Yahoo! have created a new tool called Pipes which allows RSS and Atom feeds to be manipulated without any programming ability. You simply draw lines between boxes on a web page. It allows many feeds to be merged together, feeds to be filtered and all sorts of clever things.

The Ape In Pictures

I thought I'd give it a go so I took the Atom feed from The Ape which lists the most recent postings and makes a Flickr search for photos matching the blog post titles to produce a range of Flickr photos that embody the Ape's current postings. The results can be seen in The Ape in Pictures which takes this feed from Yahoo Pipes and makes it into a web page. As of today, they seem to photos of skulls, Kylie, art galleries and cats. Obviously the range of pictures will change as The Ape is updated and as photos are posted to Flickr.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Forgotten Albums #3: Apple Venus Vol. 1

XTC Apple Venus Volume 1 ArtworkIn 1999, XTC released the first volume of a double album entitled Apple Venus Volume 1. I bought it because of a favourable review in a newspaper having almost no experience of XTC other than their singles in the 1980s and Andy Partridge's production of a Lilac Time album in the 90s.

Apple Venus Volume 1 is a very peculiar record indeed. Beginning with the distinctly odd and circular "River of Orchids" and with more than a nod to the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the album unfolds like a discordant, pagan garden party. It's lush arrangements, weird song structures and melodic eccentricity make it a tough first listen, but repeated plays reward the listener with the glow of having done a good thing. And the smugness of knowing that almost nobody else shares your fondness for this record.

The second volume of the Apple Venus series, "Wasp Star", was released the following year and is more of a standard XTC album and I've never really liked it. In 2003, XTC released "Homespun" which is the same album as Volume 1 but with demo versions of each song, recorded in Partridge's shed. For fans only.

A man must have a shed to keep him sane


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Learning to draw

Regular readers will know that I am an accomplished artist in a variety of media: Fuzzy Felt, Felt-tip pens and, most notably, post-it note art. Artists like myself are on a continuous improvement programme and I continued my training with a series of "Learn to Draw" books. The books show you step by step how to draw dinosaurs, flowers, animals etc. I decided to start with a couple of cats:

Taxidermy Cat

Although this cat wasn't supposed to look like a stuffed cat, I think I brought a mangy, vacant quality to it.
Taxidermy Cat

Dog-like Cat

This was supposed to be a lean siamese cat but looks more like a dog.
Dog-like cat


Charlotte Hatherley - Behave

Charlotte Hatherley - Behave
Charlotte Hatherley, the ex-guitarist of Ash, has a new single out called Behave. It's a rather quirky pop song which reminds me of XTC.

Her debut album, "Fade to Grey", is worth a listen. She was still the guitarist in Ash at that point but she left to pursue her solo projects. The video for "Bastardo" features Simon Pegg and David Walliams who are off the tele, and it was directed by the guy who did "Shaun of the Dead".

The video for Behave is a stylish, science-fiction piece featuring Charlotte's rather smart cartoon hair:

Video for Charlotte Hatherley's 'Behave'


Monday, February 05, 2007

Kylie is single

Kylie Minogue
As Valentine's Day approaches, diminutive pop-princess Kylie Minogue is single again. She has split from her long-term boyfriend Olivier Martinez after persistant rumours about his fidelity.

At times like this, it is crucial that married men wear their Anti-affair badges at all times. Failure to do so could leave you exposed to an extra-marital assault from an antipodean seductress. Since I started wearing my badge, I have never been sexually propositioned by any famous Australians, thus proving its effectiveness.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Forgotten Albums #2:Either/Or

Either/Or is Elliott Smith's third album, and following on from the preceding two, is broadly minimal and acoustic. Released in 1997, the album received favourable reviews but didn't sell well. A couple of the tracks from Either/Or supplemented by a few more Elliott Smith songs, formed the majority of the soundtrack to the Gus Van Sant film Good Will Hunting. Smith was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song for "Miss Misery" the following year - he lost out to Celine Dion for her Titanic ballad.

Smith suffered from depression and led a troubled life, blighted by alcohol and drug dependence. He met his end in 2003 with two stab wounds in the chest, believed to be self-inflicted. I remember the day well.

Although the vast majority of Elliott Smith's work stands up to repeated listening, it is the delicate minimalism of Either/Or that finds Elliott at his best.


Mima Opens

mima and fountain
I visited the mima yesterday, Mima is Middlesbrough's modern art gallery and sits behind the library with views of the registry office and the Cleveland Centre (The Mall as it is now known). The area around mima has been tidied up with a steel and grass walkway leading to a dynamic fountain which is all quite pleasant.

Inside is a exhibition of drawings over three floors, a viewing terrace on the top and a cafe. It's all jolly pleasing.

My only disappointment is that, as a renowned local artist, I wasn't asked to provide some works for an exhibition. I was thinking that Post-it note art could have been a good starter. I might have to have a word with Roy Mallinson.