The song just keeps on repeatin’, drop the needle again

It seems like every time I post something here I’m apologising for the lack of recent activity, and saying it’s going to be different from this point onwards. And this time is no different – it’s almost two months since I wrote anything of my own (borrowing someone else’s press release doesn’t count, does it?).

Now, it has been a busy couple of months, with birthdays, christenings and anniversaries, not to mention two bouts of chickenpox and numerous sniffles. But with two pre-schoolers in the house pretty much EVERY month is busy, or at least feels like it. Plus, they’re not around when I update the blog (at work), so I can’t really blame them. And all of that stuff should really be fuel for writing, not something that gets in the way. Maybe a catch-up post is in order…

But not today. Today I’m talking music, specifically a few things that have excited me in one way or another recently. So, in no particular order…

The Gaslight Anthem – 45

The first release from The Gaslight Anthem’s upcoming album has been on repeat since I first heard it last night. Gem reckons it sounds exactly like a Gaslight Anthem song, and that’s no bad thing. But it sounds like a progression to me – like Brian Fallon and co. have managed to combine the more grown-up sound of their last album with their earlier punk rock sentiments. Hopefully the rest of the album (due for release on July 24) lives up to the promise of this track.

Eddie Vedder – Skipping

This song is simply beautiful, and the sentiment sums up exactly how I feel about being Daddy to my two girls. Shame the charity album it’s featured on – Every Mother Counts 2012 – will only be available in the US and Canada :(

Listen: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/exclusive-stream-eddie-vedders-mellow-solo-tune-skipping-20120430

She Makes War – Little Battles

She Makes War is Laura Kidd, a London-based “multi-instrumentalist, visual artist and digital polymath” who we saw supporting the wonderful Chris T-T at the weekend. Gem was so impressed she snapped up both SMW albums from the merchandise stall. And since Gem almost never gets into things on first listen, you know this is good. I haven’t heard this enough yet to pick out any favourite tracks, so why not listen for yourself here:

Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio

I got quite excited last year, when I heard the surviving original Beach Boys were reuniting for a 50th anniversary album and tour. But the tour isn’t coming to the UK, at least not this year. And if this first single is anything to go by, the album will probably be a disappointment too. There’s nothing wrong with it, as such, but I guess I was hoping for more than just a re-working of the surf n’ cars n’ girls stuff the band were recording when they actually were boys. 

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Better late than never…

About a month ago, I told my pal Lis I’d plug the shows she’s promoting once I’d written about a special little girl’s birthday. Due to illness (sniffles followed by chickenpox) said little girl has yet to have her first birthday party, and I’ve therefore not got round to writing about it. With the first of these gigs less than a week away, I guess its time to come good and shamelessly cut/paste Lis’s blurb.

I’ve never seen Jim Bob (or Carter USM), so can’t comment there. Chris T-T was great when I saw him in December, so I’m expecting similar this time around. I’ll be at both of these – see you there?

Chris T-T Sings JC to Sleep In Glasgow

Saturday, 28th April, 7pm // The Admiral, Glasgow

The iconoclastic Chris T-T will be back in Glasgow at the end of April to promote new EP The Taking of Clarkson’s Lighthouse, and YOU are invited!

On this solo headline tour, Chris will tell the tragic (made up) tale of a divisive genius TV presenter, a violent island uprising and the last surviving Fraggle. He will be joined by London-based DIY songwriter She Makes War, touring her excellent second album Little Battles on which Chris played piano.

Glasgow’s Lovers Turn To Monsters, also on the bill (and who I’ve been promising a gig for ages), might not be promoting a new album by April but – given his track record – probably will be.

This one is on Saturday, 28th April at The Admiral Bar. As you know I’m a massive fan of Chris’ work and I’m hoping this will be a really special night. Tickets are £6 and available from Eventbrite, where – as luck would have it! – there are still some tickets left for Jim Bob’s book tour in May.

More Chris T-T: http://christt.com/music/
More She Makes War: http://shemakeswar.com/
More Loves Turn To Monsters: http://loversturntomonsters.bandcamp.com/

Tickets available here: http://lastyearsclarksonsleep.eventbrite.co.uk/

Jim Bob: Driving Jarvis Ham (with Gordon McIntyre, 8-Bit Ninjas)

Sunday, 27th May, 7:30pm // The Old Hairdressers, Glasgow

Driving Jarvis Ham’: new novel and live tour from Carter USM singer Jim Bob.

Following on from his critically acclaimed debut novel Storage Stories, Jim Bob’s second novel Driving Jarvis Ham is published by The Friday Project (Harper Collins) on May 10th.

The novel will be available in hardback, paperback and as an e-book. The limited edition hardback edition will have a link to a coded download EP with four all-new Jim Bob songs on. The EP is called “Day Job”.

Tonight Jim Bob will be performing songs from his back catalogue, both solo and Carter USM, and reading from the novel. Support comes from Gordon McIntyre (ballboy) and a first Scottish show from Walsall’s 8-Bit Ninjas

Here’s what Jim Bob’s publisher has to say about Driving Jarvis Ham:

A friend reflects on life with Jarvis Ham: tea-room assistant, diarist, lift-cadger. Princess Di fan, secret alcoholic, relentless seeker of fame, and all-round irritant.The novel is for anyone who has ever found themselves looking across at a childhood friend, and wondering why they still know them. Everyone here who has read Jim Bob’s book has pissed themselves laughing. It is very funny, but very, very dark. We look forward to unleashing Jim on the festivals and bookshops of our nation this summer.

More Jim Bob: http://www.jim-bob.co.uk/
More ballboy: http://www.ballboymusic.com/news/
More 8-bit Ninjas: http://8bitninjas.co.uk/wordpress/

Tickets available here: http://lastyearsjimbob.eventbrite.co.uk/

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Drinking water to stay thin

Or, in my case, to get thin. Well, not exactly thin, just… less un-thin. Yes, I’m on a diet.

I’ve been resisting writing about The Diet until I had hit some kind of major milestone. To be honest I have no idea why that was the case, but it was. Maybe I was scared that by talking about it I might somehow jinx things. But now I am writing about it, so I must have hit that milestone, right? Right!

Since The Diet began, just over six weeks ago, I have lost…… insert drumroll here….. just over a stone! That’s 14lb if you’re American, or 6.35kg if you’re from just about anywhere else. Whichever way you measure it, it’s a significant weight loss, and I’m pretty pleased with myself for achieving it.

But there’s still a fair old way to go. Believe it or not, the weight I’ve lost thus far only just nudges me from obese into overweight, according to the Body Mass Index (BMI). Now, I know BMI isn’t the be-all and end-all, and that various medical folk disagree with various aspects of it, but it’s probably as good an indication as anything of where I should be aiming for.

My ultimate goal isn’t to be in the “normal range” (BMI between 20 and 24.9) – I reckon I’d be a bit too skinny for my liking, and anyway, Wikipedia tells me that health-wise, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Instead, I’m aiming for somewhere in the bottom half of “overweight”. Of course, once I get there I might change my mind, but that’s my long-term goal at the moment.

So what’s my secret? What have I changed? Well, actually not very much. In fact, I think the changes could be boiled down to three things:

  • More Exercise We’ve cracked out the Wii Fit again, and mostly been good at sticking to a reasonable exercise programme. I know it doesn’t burn a huge amount of calories, but something is better than nothing, and it’s cheaper and easier (with 2 small people to think about) than going to the gym!
  • Less beer No more cheeky wee beer(s) with midweek dinner is helping a lot, and at the weekends I’m being much more selective in what I drink – if I’m going to limit myself, I might as well drink something better than whatever is on offer in the supermarket, right?
  • Diet meals Gemma has joined Slimming World, and as a result has learned a lot of ways to make the food we already eat friendly enough to eat on The Diet. And the best part is everything still tastes great, and there’s plenty of it. What more could you ask for?

My next target is a nice round number which modesty prevents me from sharing, but I’m hoping to get there some time in mid to late April. If I keep losing weight at the rate I am currently, I could get there even sooner. Who knows, I might even need a new summer wardrobe!

I should also mention that Gemma, who’s doing even better than me, is documenting our diet journey in much greater detail, over at Greetings from Dietville. Why not head over there, and leave her some encouraging words?

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year: My Super Bowl preview

Super Bowl XLVI

Anyone who knows me will know that football – American, rather than Association – is my big sporting love, and has been for over 25 years now. Which is a very scary number, as it means I’ve seen more than half (56% to be exact) of the Super Bowls played.

This year’s installment of America’s biggest sporting event, probably its biggest annual event, takes place in Indianapolis this Sunday. A long time ago I would write previews of big games, analysing each team, picking apart their strengths and weaknesses, and offering predictions. These were then emailed round various friends, and sometimes what I said actually turned out to be on the money. I’ve decided to revive that, in a form that will live on in posterity (unlike those old emails!).

So here it is then, my first annual Super Bowl preview! (Obviously if football of the NFL variety isn’t your thing, you probably want to look away now. That’s fine, I understand. Honest)

New England Patriots

The Patriots’ road to the big game is one we’ve seen them take many times before – since 2001 they’ve won the AFC East division 9 times, and only once in that span have they failed to win at least 10 games. That said, the Pats weren’t the dominant force they’ve been in the past, with narrow wins over the likes of Washington, Miami, Buffalo and even Indianaoplis. Perhaps most significant of all was their week 9 loss to the Giants at Gillette Field – they Pats only home loss of the year. An omen for this Sunday?

New York Giants

While the Patriots road to the playoffs looked fairly assured for most of the season, the Giants was anything but. A four game losing streak in November and early December left them with a series of must-win games in the last four weeks of the season. And win they did, beating Dallas twice to scrape past them and take the NFC East title. A dominant defensive front, coupled with some QB play from Eli Manning have been keys to the team’s  success through the last few weeks of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Giants offense vs Patriots defense

Without a dominant rushing game (they ranked 32nd in the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry) the Giants have relied heavily on veteran QB Eli Manning, and for the most part he’s done the business, throwing for just under 5,000 yards. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz were the team’s leading receivers, combining for almost half (158) of Eli’s 359 completions. Good news for Giants fans is that NE’s defence gave up more yards than anyone except Green Bay. Not so good news is that for most teams those yards didn’t equate to points, as the Pats exhibited a “bend but don’t break” mentality. The Baltimore Ravens found this out to their cost, with four trips to the red-zone yielding just a single touchdown in the AFC Championship game. For New York to win they have to be able to finish drives consistently – field goals aren’t going to be enough.

Patriots offense vs Giants defense

New England’s running game didn’t rank particularly highly either, but with Tom Brady under center, and an impressive array of receivers to throw to, they didn’t need it. Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski led the way, combining for 212 of Brady’s 401 completed passes. Gronkowski’s fitness is in doubt for the big one, though, so Brady may need a big game from the likes of Aaron Hernandez, Deion Branch or even Chad Ochocinco to move the ball consistently. Up against them is one of the most consistently aggressive defensive fronts in the league. The Giants averaged three sacks per game in both the regular season AND the postseason. NY need to maintain this and keep the pressure on Tom Brady to have any chance of stopping the Patriots offense.

Special teams

Neither team has much to write about as far as special teams go, with both having fairly average punting and return games. New England would appear at first glance to have an edge in the kicking game, with Stephen Gostkowski having a better overall success rate than Greenock-born Lawrence Tynes. However, most of Tynes misses have come outside the 40 yard line, so the kickers are fairly even too.

Keys to the game

For New York:

  1. Get pressure on Tom Brady, early and often. Allowing the Patriots QB to get into a rhythm spells trouble
  2. Turn possession into touchdowns. Field goals, or even worse coming away with nothing, will probably not be enough to win the game
  3. Slow the tempo of the game. Give Tom Brady enough chances, he’ll find a way to beat you, no matter how much pressure you get on him. The Giants have to limit how many times #12 gets to touch the ball

For New England:

  1. Establish a running game. If the Pats can move the ball on the ground early, it should slow the Giants pass rush
  2. Spread the ball around. With Gronkowski’s status uncertain following his high ankle sprain, Brady needs his other receivers to step up, and give him throwing options
  3. Don’t give up big plays. The Pats defense gives up yards, but stiffens near its own goal line. What they have to avoid, though, is giving up touchdowns from distance

My prediction

Weighing all of the above up, I’m going for a 23-20 Patriots win. We’ll see if I’m right on Sunday night.

If you’re in the UK, you can watch the Super Bowl in HD, on BBC 1 or Sky Sports, this Sunday. Kick off will be around 11:15pm.

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I’ll ride the wave where it takes me

My love for Pearl Jam is no secret, not least because I’ve written about it before, so when I was recently challenged to put together a PJ starter mix I jumped at the chance. It’s not been an easy task, though, with 20 years and 9 studio albums to choose from. And that’s before taking into account b-sides, live albums etc.

Anyhow, I’ve managed to narrow things down to 16 tracks (I was aiming for 15, but didn’t quite make it) which I thought I’d share here – after all, I was going to write the notes anyway.

1. Release (live)
Pearl Jam’s reputation as a live band is formidable, so it makes sense to feature a few live tracks here. Release, often used as a show opener, was never a favourite song of mine, until I saw the performance in the recent Pearl Jam 20 movie. The setting (the stunning Arena di Verona), the lighting, the performance and even the rain all combined to make me really take notice of the song. It’s a favourite now.

2. Alive
An obvious choice, but how could I not include this? Semi-autobiographical (Eddie Vedder really did find out, in his teens, that “what [he] thought was [his] daddy” wasn’t) and with an anthemic chorus that’s not really as euphoric as it sounds, this is probably the song most folk think of when you mention Pearl Jam.

3. Daughter
Believe it or not, Ten (PJ’s debut album) kind of passed me by. Shocking I know. This, the lead single from second album Vs., was what hooked me first time around.

4. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
One of my absolute favourite PJ songs, and one I’ve written about before. The wordy title was a reaction to criticism of the titles given to other early songs, which were mostly single words.

5. Last Kiss
Originally a fan club single, this 1950s teen tragedy cover became PJ’s biggest mainstream success to date , reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999. Proceeds from the single went to a charity for Kosovan refugees.

6. Spin the Black Circle
Highlighting the band’s punk roots and love of vinyl, this is the band’s highest charting single in the UK to date, reaching #10 in 1994. The album from which it’s taken, Vitalogy, is a real mixed bag, containing not only some of my favourite PJ tracks, but some that are just unlistenable (I’m talking to you, Hey Foxymophandlemama!)

7. Given To Fly (live)
Another live version, this time from my first PJ show, Glasgow SECC in 2000. Midway through, Eddie can be heard asking if everyone is alright – a section of the crowd near the front (including me) had been knocked to the floor in a big pile of bodies. Weeks later, 9 fans died in a similar incident at Roskilde Festival. Chilling.

8. Do The Evolution
Following their initial rapid rise to fame, Pearl Jam made a concerted effort to drop back out of the limelight. Part of that was stopping making music videos in 1992. So it was a big deal when, six years later, they produced one for this song, working with comic book artist Todd McFarlane.

9. Wishlist
I imagine for a lot of people this is a throwaway piece of nothing, but I love the imagery employed. “I wish I was the souvenir you kept your house-keys on” is just beautiful, as far as I’m concerned.

10. Life Wasted
Never a band to shy away from politics, the George W Bush presidency provided a lot of fuel to PJ’s creative fire. It’s pretty obvious what this one, the opener to 2006′s self-titled “comeback” album, was about.

11. Just Breathe
Similar to a track from Eddie’s solo Into The Wild soundtrack album, this is another one of those tender moments that seem a million miles away from the early days. I think I’m right in saying that this is the first time a PJ song has featured strings.

12. Unthought Known
Something Pearl Jam does well is write songs that build and build… and something I really like is songs that build and build. Coincidence?

13. Jeremy
If this was a live set, we’d now be entering the encore(s). Another obvious choice, but one that simply couldn’t be excluded. Best 12-string bass intro ever?

14. Black (live, MTV Unplugged)
One of Ten’s many highlights, this was a song the band fought with their record company NOT to release as a single – and won! A gut-wrenching breakup song which is usually given a slightly stalker-ish edge live, with the addition of the “We belong together” tag.

15. Better Man
Eddie wrote this song when he was 15, and had performed it with an earlier band, but wasn’t convinced it was any good. Fortunately the rest of the band persuaded him that it was, and it became a fan favourite, with the opening verse often being sung just by the crowd.

16. Yellow Ledbetter (live)
Almost every show closes with this early b-side, so it seems appropriate to close this mix with a live version. If you can’t make out the words don’t worry – with the exception of “I don’t know if I was the boxer or the bag” (and even that’s changed at times) they’re rarely the same twice, and the official site says that lyrics are “Not available“.

 And that’s yer lot!

I shied away from including any songs from solo albums (Eddie’s Into the Wild soundtrack is definitely worth checking out) or side projects (Temple of the Dog being, perhaps, the most obvious) because it was hard enough picking 15 16 songs from the band’s own back catalogue that represent the breadth of their output. And hopefully one that leads to further investigation :)

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