February 3


Review by Martin Stannard

A Conference Of Voices by Rupert Loydell (Shearsman, £9.95)

Be awake. There is nothing much better a poem can remind you of than to be awake. I don’t know about you, but I don’t care for poems that remind me the poet is cleverer than I am, knows the names of rare and exotic stones, has read everything in the original language, went to Oxford (not only for the shopping, which I gather is the same as elsewhere) or has mastered the shape if not the spirit of some obscure poetic form I can’t name and wouldn’t recognise if it came up and bit me on the nose. In the same way as I ache for music to put its finger lightly but determinedly on that brilliant spot where you know a truth has been told even though you can’t ever say quite what it is, so too with poems: let them, in whatever way is possible (and there are infinite ways, I’m sure) touch that spot, open hearts and eyes, be mysterious and untouchable and indispensable. And let a poem be one of those things that remind you why you want to be alive and play an active role in the pantomime. It isn’t much to ask, and since it’s a set of criteria that lets you out of reading around 90% or more of all known poems, it’s kind of practical, too.

There is (it is obvious to say but I’ll say it anyway) no formula for how a poem might do what I want a poem to do, in the same way as there is no formula for a song to do what I want it to, or a painting. And when it happens it is (and this is equally obvious, I think) very difficult to explain quite how what has happened has happened. And of course, a poem may do this thing for me and not for you. Life is nothing if not various and argumentative. Which is why it’s good to be awake.

Rupert Loydell’s poems say this, and they say this, and they say this: Be awake. Which is not to say they say the same thing over and over again. One might compare the experiencing of them to going outdoors each morning: it is never the same twice, if you care to notice. It is only the same twice if you have your eyes closed. To pluck a poem (almost) at random, “Continuum” begins

This January morning is dark,
bluer and colder than yesterday.
However, the scene will change.

An unusual collection of creeps, freaks
and divinely accented characters
are outside making history.

One thing that strikes me about this is that “bluer” in the second line is an unusual awareness. Another is the phrase “divinely accented characters”, which is a very interesting phrase. And this leads me on to mention what has to be mentioned, which is Loydell’s method of composition. I would like to talk about it in some detail, but since I don’t know what it is I may not get very far. It is no secret that most of the poems are, in some degree, collages. Loydell credits sources. In the case of “Continuum”, for example (which has, incidentally, a further six three-line stanzas), those credits are “CD booklet, Caught Between The Twisted Stars, Velvet Underground; The Other Side of the Mountain, Thomas Merton; Silence, John Cage”. Make of this what you will. There is no way that I, as a reader, either would have known that this stuff is in the poem, or can know to what extent any of it is in there or, for that matter, if it is there at all. (It could be seen as a tremendous post-postmodern wheeze, after all, to name lots of souces that aren't actually sources at all: a joke purely for oneself, I guess.) Similarly, it is somewhat of a lost cause to extrapolate from any of this how the compositional process functions and to what end. As a poet, fascinated by composition and process, I want Loydell to tell me how he does it and to throw open his box of tricks and reveal the magic formula, although I know (a) he won’t and (b) he probably can’t and (c) writing doesn’t work like that so forget it. But I’m intrigued, nevertheless. The reader in me, though, has only the poems that are the end result of whatever process happens. Only the poems! Consider this, from “What To Give The American I Have Never Met”:

It is a crucial moment when you do paint over a part you like
in order to get to the whole work. I have likened it to
a string of pearls breaking: one by one they roll across the floor.
Has to be done tho. Eventually you stop trying to retrieve them.

I’m quite ready to take the loss in favour of the process,
allow language to break apart, be plunged into shadow.
Emotion counterbalances the emptiness left by not knowing,
but I do not know whether I want to struggle any more.

his poem may be read, and perhaps is meant to be read, as a meditation on the artist’s own procedures (“artist” here taking into account how Loydell paints as well as writes). In that sense, it may be a personal poem. On the other hand, the list of so-called sources for this poem is a lot longer than that for, say, “Continuum”. So how personal is this poem? Does it matter? I’m not sure it does, because one of the finest achievements of Loydell’s poetry is that, somehow or other, it combines a sense of the personal with its exact opposite, which I suppose is the impersonal, objective, and in poetic terms a concern with language, and what innovation and risk in its use have revealed as possibilities. And the degree to which these two apparently disparate elements combine, or can be combined as you read, is always in flux. What I am trying to say here, I think, is two things. Perhaps more than two, but two at least. They are (1) there is not a poem here that I don’t want to read again and I’ve read the book twice in full and more than that in parts, and (2) no poem here is exactly the same the next time you read it; and (3 -- I thought of another thing) there is something in this blend of opposites that renders what can often be the cold results of collagist processes as something much warmer. There is a profound sense of thought, humanity and caring here that is, to be frank, somewhat astonishing in that one doesn’t come across it very often.

All this is profoundly rewarding, because while one is reading these poems one is also being made aware of ways of reading poems. Of ways language can be used, ways it behaves, and of ways in which as a reader one can work with it. This afternoon I was reading again the poems that make up the second part of this book, and in particular the sequences “Ballads of the Alone”. These poems are much more obviously collage than those I’ve already mentioned. For example:

radio stations as instruments
how we eat our young
telephone scissors perimeter fence
find me some new sounds
re-shape, re-order everything

simmering becomes boiling
from gas to solid to liquid
correction collapse reversal
we all rolled down our windows
as the past rode up to talk

the king of the island
became what had been dream
ladder ocean orchard
the man who brings assertion
stark contrast between dark and light

The poems that make up these sequences all take this form and pattern and I should say, perhaps, that on first glance the poem quoted here may seem to pose more of a challenge to the reader than those in the first part of the book. They are, on the face of it, more disjointed and they certainly eschew any hint of narrative framework. Yet they still, somehow, and somewhat against the odds, retain the warmth and depth and resonances I’ve mentioned previously. I don’t know how Loydell does this, but do it he does. And, this afternoon, I found myself experimenting with reading across from the left hand page to the right, and thereby forming my own (are they my own?) constructions and connections. This was brilliant – not because I was brilliant to think of doing it, but because the poems allow of it. They are open to this kind of attention as they are open to the world to which they pay their own attention. I can’t remember exactly what it was I said I wanted poems to do: I’d need to scroll back up and take a look. But I can come up with theoretical manifesto kind of guff at the drop of a hat. It is also very easy to end reviews with a hearty recommendation or, more often, a "Steer Clear" sign. I have no idea how to end this one. Perhaps this is it: a poem that’s not in the book. At least, not in this form:

painting declared to be dead
I don’t have a camera
blue light snow light twins and trees
striking features drafty halls

chew your fingers suck your hair
jump-rope songs and bawdy rhymes
monuments and steel towers
isolated mausoleum

fantasy is self-comfort
remember the stranger I never met
squinting at the morning sun
magical textures of light engross

(Sources: Wallflower (Ballads of the Alone 3, Parts 1-12), Rupert Loydell.)

Note: There is an interview with Rupert Loydell, by Dee Rimbaud, here.



February 7


I am almost over-gigged, but not quite. Attending three musical recitals in the space of six days is a little much, but the alternative was staying in and doing some work, and figuring out where to put a line-break in a poem can be dreadfully taxing. Anyway, last night was Sunday night, and on a Sunday night a good thing to do is go see The Dears, a Canadian band The Independent on Sunday described charmingly as a "Québécois sextet", which is not only accurate but has a great word in it. Actually, the Independent’s review of the band’s London gig says pretty much all I have to say (that "orchestral pop noir romantique" is a good quote) except that at The Rescue Rooms my one reservation was that the quality of the songs got a little lost in the volume. But some people like very very loud. So do I, but I still think the quality of the songs got lost a little somewhere in the mix. The Dears have a couple of great keyboard players, by the way. And they don’t sound anything like The Smiths. On record they do, at times, but live you forget all about that, because they don’t.

We were pretty impressed, too, by Ambulance Ltd, the support. Mr Butler from work had copied me some songs off the infoweb, so we kind of knew them a little, and they were good. Not great or earth-shatteringly good, but good. They were way better than the support, whoever the hell they were, for American Music Club on Friday. Mr Belbin and I (along with lots of others) had fallen into the trap of being told by the venue that this was an early show, so we got there early, and it wasn’t. So we had the dubious pleasure of hanging around waiting for the support band. After two songs we were in the other bar, out the way. Bad songs badly sung by badly dressed people doesn’t do it for us. As for American Music Club, I admit I was there to be convinced. What I’d heard of them hadn’t made me a big fan, although a few solo things by Mark Eitzel had me pretty interested. As it happened, the solo-ish things he did on the night were much better than anything the band went at full throttle. We figured “under-rehearsed” was one adjective could be used. For me, though, I remain unconvinced by some of the songs, but I’m told they didn’t play their best songs….. Whatever.

The support on Tuesday night, at The Maze, was I think better than the main act. That was American singer-songwriter A.J. Roach, who was very likeable, but his Tennessee drawl kicked in with a somewhat exaggerated vengeance when he sang, and kind of got on my nerves after a while. I’m not always up for things on a Tuesday evening, I think, and can be hard to please. But the support was a young Welsh singer, Jack Harris. I say young, because he looked like he hasn’t started shaving yet. But he was jolly, and had a good voice, and a handful of good songs as far as one-man acoustic guitar, folk singing goes. It’s not the kind of thing I’d sit around listening to at home, but out on a Tuesday night it was okay.

This was, as it happens, the last night of The Maze at The Forest Tavern: the pub is now shut and boarded up, and the venue closed, and the owners of the building are planning to sell it to someone who wants to wipe it all away and build student accommodation. The gigs are moving to another venue in the city, but there’s a movement afoot to save the building – one reason is that Nottingham doesn’t need any more student accommodation, especially if to get it you obliterate an arts venue. You only have to walk around the corner and you start bumping into empty student digs with “To Let” signs up outside. There’s more in the local newspaper……

So anyway, three shows in six days, and the coming fortnight has a couple more, plus a book launch and a poetry reading to go to. Somewhere I have to fit in time to think about line-breaks, and eat and sleep. The last two shouldn’t be a problem, I guess.



February 8


Once upon a time I was somewhat wary of reviewing or commenting in print upon work by friends. There is always the fear of accusations of cronyism. There is also the worry that happens when you find yourself reviewing work by a friend and you find you have reservations about it. Will you still have a friend? Will you be shunned at the next literary soirée? But I have got over this wariness, somehow or other. I guess I figured life is too short to worry.

My friend Nigel Pickard’s first novel is just published. It’s called “One”. The back cover describes it as “the story of Sol and Kate Roberts, and their struggle to come to terms with their son’s autism….. Love story, coming-of-age novel and exploration of the autistic condition.” This is accurate, as far as it goes, but back cover blurbs only go so far, usually, and this one does exactly that: goes so far but, in a startling twist, not far enough. It actually undersells the book, which may well be a first for a blurb. Anti-hype.

We have had love stories, we have had coming-of-age novels, and we have also had novels claiming to be about “the autistic condition”. We have had, pertaining to the latter, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon, a book I read with my suspension of disbelief going through various levels of suspension, culminating in it being not suspended at all. The main reason for that reaction was what I sort of knew about autism from Nigel. His son, Jake, suffers from the condition, and what I know of it, which isn’t much, comes from what Nigel has told me about how he and his wife, Jo, “cope”. In short, I’m not sure I could do what they have done, and continue to do on a daily basis.

We kind of expect first novels to be autobiographical, and this one is, up to a point, but not wholly, and you would be advised to forget that aspect of things apart from the very important fact that the author knows what he’s talking about when he talks about having an autistic kid. But what I found most remarkable about the book was that it transcends its ostensible subject. Okay, it’s “about” how a bloke and his wife cope and don’t cope with their autistic son, Tom. And it’s “about” how the bloke looks back to see if anything he’d done in his past was to blame for their son’s condition. And it’s handled in the most accomplished manner. The writing is smart and lively, and the degree of insight and the way it is articulated will not surprise those who have read Nigel's first collection of poems, "Making Sense", which was published by Shoestring Press in 2003. I’ve now read the novel twice, and it’s very readable. I would say “un-put-down-able” but I’m not sure it's a proper word.

But a couple of nights ago, as I was walking down the road to go and see a band, it occurred to me that what had affected me most about the book was how it hadn’t really made me think about the autistic condition any more than I'd ever thought about it before. It isn't one of those "jog your conscience, increase your social awareness, make you feel glad it didn't happen to you and your kid, there but for the grace of God, isn't life horrible sometimes, surely there's something we can do, I feel a better human being for having read this and found out about this" kind of books. I don’t think novels should aim to do that, or be that kind of thing, and I don’t think Nigel views writing, whether it be a novel or a poem, as that kind of thing either. What the book had made me think about was what it’s like to try and make sense of things, period. And it's a book that leaves a lasting, positive impression -- not about itself, but about what life is, and what it's like to live it.


There are two chapters of the novel available online at Exultations and Difficulties: The Annexe. Click here......


“One” by Nigel Pickard, is published by Bookcase Editions Ltd, and NOT, as they would have you believe at Amazon, by Lightning Source UK Ltd, who were the printers. You can buy the book from Amazon, though, here.




February 13


  Plotinus      c

  All-Stars II:  p      Cobb

  Mozart      cf


A note regarding The Postcards…..

The 3 Postcards are by the artist Paula North, and are based on her husband Charles North's "Lineups" poems, the first set of which was published in the early 1970s. An example:

Wittgenstein lf
Heidegger 2b
Aristotle 1b
Kant rf
Hegel cf
Hume ss
Sartre 3b
Plotinus c
Plato p

Another example:

Frog 3b
Lightning Bug 2b
Cat lf
Dog cf
Hamster 1b
Turtle c
Rabbit ss
Alligator rf
Parakeet p

In "No Other Way," his book of selected prose published by Hanging Loose in 1998, Charles explains how he got the idea to arrange all sorts of thing in the world into baseball lineups, which really means locating each item according to two coordinates--field position and position in the batting order. Baseball fans, he writes, have an intuitive feeling for what sorts of players bat, say, 5th, and what sorts of players play, say, shortstop. He adds, "Once after a reading someone I respect complimented me on the three lineups I had included, and then inquired about the “little letters and numbers” following the names. I guess I’ve always known that these list poems can’t possibly make sense to everyone. But for those like me who grew up with indelible feelings and memories connected to baseball, there remains a shape and a tone, a timbre, to the very notion of shortstop, as there is a timbre not only to the lead-off and cleanup hitters but even to the #5 and #7 'holes' in the order." Some of the lineups are wackier than others. The range of things in the poems includes vegetables, diseases, philosophers, parts of the body, Wordsworth poems....

"Lineups II" was published in North's "The Year of the Olive Oil" (Hanging Loose, 1989) and reprinted, along with almost all the other lineups, in his "New and Selected Poems" (Sun & Moon, 1999). A further extension of the idea appears in "No Other Way."

The images are © 2004 Paula & Charles North, and were originally published by Pressed Wafer, Boston, MA



February 16


1I’d been indoors all Saturday and Sunday, reading and writing and watching TV; the goldfish appreciated the company. But by evening time Sunday I was in the mood for a gig, although it needed to be a somewhat chilled and intelligent affair. I didn’t want raucous. Anyway, Dave from work and I had tickets to go and see Giant Sand. Neither of us had ever really heard a Giant Sand record, but we knew they’d fathered Calexico, who are really really good, so they were pretty certain to be in one of the ballparks we like to play in – sort of Americana, rocky alt country kind of stuff with a few other things probably thrown into the mix, and the lead bloke’s name is Howe Gelb, for goodness sake, which is some name. I was feeling incredibly mellow, and Dave announced upon his arrival in the bar that he’d been out the night before and it had been quite a heavy one. He said something about cocktails called Buffalo Orgasmos. He also described what they looked like. Let’s just say they’re not called Buffalo Orgasmos for nothing, and leave it at that. Anyway, he was apparently in the mood for something chilled and intelligent, which is not always the case.

Support was from The Deadstring Brothers. They are from Detroit, as if it matters. There were a lot of them, and they had a girl doing vocal harmonies alongside the bloke on lead, but they were still Brothers. She was also chewing on something all the time, which I found less than appealing. If it was gum it was a very big gum, and she was really busy at it. We thought it was more likely a wad of tobacco. But they were a good band. As Dave said, they had the Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris thing nailed. Original no, good yes, and exactly what we wanted on a chilled and intelligent Sunday evening.

As was Howe Gelb. Howe Gelb was great. He’s a tall thin guy, bearded, and he was wearing a suit looked like it was from a charity shop, and a baseball cap. On top of his suit was something I’d call a body warmer. It was orange and blue, I think. Fashion is not his big thing, obviously. But he is Giant Sand, and he is very good. Anyone on stage with him is just his band at the time, I reckon. He said these guys on Sunday were from Denmark, but I don’t know if he was telling the truth. He was a pretty humorous guy, and I suspect not above the occasional ironic lie or incomprehensible joke. It was a great show. Gelb writes smart, witty and incisive lyrics, and if I could remember what any of them were I’d quote some. Simply, he’s a class act. The songs came over as really strong, and when the whole show is songs you’ve never heard before and they still knock you out I figure that’s really impressive. We came away thinking we’d have to go to Selectadisc and try and find some records. Giant Sand have been around over 20 years, and they’ve made loads of records. But today Dave told me he’d looked, and there’s not much around on the shelves. I guess it’s a case of hunting on the infoweb. But what I meant to say was, if Giant Sand come to a hall near you, remember we gave them 10 out of 9.



February 18


Piece 1.

A magazine called Quid. I’ve got issue 13, which comes in at £4, somewhat subverting the title but that’s probably clever. And for that you get barely 16 pages containing 5 longish poems, albeit beautifully presented. And before you say “That sounds a bit expensive even in the unreal world of poetry fun” it’s worth pausing, because I am just about to say that they are 5 poems worth reading. And one of them is by J. H. Prynne, and it’s the only Prynne poem I’ve ever liked on the very first reading. He must be going soft. Quid is available from Keston Sutherland, Flat 1a, 77-78 Islingword Rd, Brighton BN2 9SL.

Piece 2.

Poetry Nottingham 58/4 is here, because of the postman. Well, not only because of him. And I just realised I have no idea what 58/4 means. Volume 58 issue 4? Is that 58 years of poetry? Crikey. Anyway, this is the latest issue of the vastly improved because it has a new editor Poetry Nottingham. I haven’t actually read it yet, apart from the reviews and articles at the back. I usually have to gird my loins before I can get to poems, and I’ve had a difficult week already so I’m still eyeing them from a distance. But there’s an intelligent review of the Carcanet New York Poets anthology, an even more intelligent essay/review of Tremblestone magazine (actually, this piece is quite terrific), and an excellent article on Basil Bunting by Alan Baker. All this will cost you £2.75 plus 47 pence postage from 11 Orkney Close, Stenson Fields, Derby DE24 3LW. (There is also an American address. E-mail me if you want it.) We are trying to talk editor Adrian Buckner into setting up a Poetry Nottingham website so I don’t always have to type up that address. We say things like Adrian, join the 21st century gang! Be hip and cool! The internet is the new duplicating machine!

Piece 3.

There’s a really interesting review of Tom Paulin’s “The Road To Inver” at Stride. It’s very informed, and very astute. I don’t know much about translation apart from the fact that I figure it’s extremely difficult to get anywhere near right. This review throws light on the process. I had to read it twice. I didn’t understand it all the first time. I’m not sure I understood it all the second time, but it’s still worth going there and getting stuck in.

Piece 4.

I have some what I thought were intelligent remarks online here. (It's in 2 parts: you may have to scroll up or down to get both bits.) I thought they were alright when I wrote them. Then a week later I read them, online. That’s red them, not reed them. Anyway, the thing takes the form of a conversation but it wasn’t, it was responses to questions, but now it looks something like a conversation by the way it’s been arranged. I am also described there as “a professional poet”. There are a number of funny self-deprecating things I could say here, but they’re pretty predictable. Anyway, I first met Ben, whose Blog it is, at a Fiery Furnaces gig last year. I was totally out of it as a result of some very recent emotional turmoil, and I can barely remember anything about the evening at all, except I know he’s a nice chap with a genuine interest in the subject. And he has a busy website, to say the least. He asked me a couple of weeks ago to do this thing, and so I did it. It’s actually okay. I almost make sense at times.

Piece 5.

Somebody sometime is going to have to explain jazz poetry to me. I mean, actually, poetry about jazz – which is a different thing. Sure. At The Flying Goose on Tuesday there was a bit of a jazz theme: John Lucas was understandably promoting the Shoestring anthology “ Paging Doctor Jazz”,4 which is apparently the only UK published anthology of “poetry about jazz” in the entire universe. The two main readers were our friend Clive Allen and (all the way from Hounslow near London but even nearer Heathrow) poet and jazz musician Paul McLoughlin. Clive’s a good reader, very witty and entertaining, and his poems I think are getting stronger by the week. McLoughlin was too prosey and anecdotal for my taste. When someone asks, Why is that a poem? it’s this kind of ordinary prose telling that should really stand up and try to answer the question. Both poets are featured in the jazz anthology and read from it, although neither write much “about jazz” otherwise. John Lucas and Derek Buttress, another local contributor, also read a couple of poems from it. I think it was jazz night. Anyway, all I’m working up to is – why do poems about jazz always seem to boil down to saying that the jazz said the ineffable unsayable, or something similar? “Beyond words”, or such like. Perhaps I was mis-hearing and am mis-remembering. I guess I should just shut up and get back to work on my poem about Gerry and The Pacemakers. Freddie and The Dreamers. Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas. Well, some pop group, anyway.

Piece 6.

Here’s a picture of Freddie and The Dreamers. Weren’t they dreadful? Sadly, I am not quite old enough to remember. It’s just reliable hearsay. Tomorrow night I'm going to see The Magic Numbers, who I'm told are very good. And very hip.

Piece 7.

Finally, although not leastly, I have enjoyed having this back up and running. Heaven.



February 20


This is a Press Release. It’s a record label Press Release, so it’s possibly a little biased. Here goes:

Your first must-go gig of the year? Hal are heading out on tour rotating the headline slot with their compadres in sound, the similarly magnificent The Magic Numbers – a guaranteed evening of blue eyed country soul and pure pop love. As if these paragons of socialist co-operation and musical one-ness weren’t enough to drag your detoxing posterior off the sofa, every night the first 50 people through the door each night will get a very limited and beautifully exclusive double A sided 7" - one side is the beautiful HAL track KEEP LOVE AS YOUR GOLDEN RULE with HAL artwork, the other side is The Magic Numbers track ANIMA SOLA with their own artwork. Record geek heaven and believe us, future ebay gold dust. Gig now, invest later!

I’m sorry, but call me an old cynic….. Well, I’ve heard a couple of Magic Numbers things on record, and they sound interesting. Not gripping, but a couple of tracks isn’t enough to base a firm judgement upon. But anyone interested in music that nods in the direction of things like Mercury Rev, and older American stuff that acknowledges the power of harmony and melody, like The Mamas and the Papas and The Lovin’ Spoonful, and which has apparently even been called "folktronica"..... well, you’re going to give them a chance, I guess. They played Nottingham last night, and we were there. This is them: Or these are they.

On stage, they are all smiles and hair. They are also nearly all bass, guitar and drum. The musical invention and diversity puffed up in their publicity, and apparent on the couple of snippets I’ve heard on record, is left to one of the girls banging a tambourine and occasionally grabbing a melodica. But she’s drowned out in the general hubbub. Only in the one-song encore did they display any significant finesse. Here, the vocals took precedence over the guitar, and it sounded fine, but by that time I was too bored to care much. We had, after all, also had to listen to Hal. Hal is a pop group. They might be a very hip and cool pop group but they are a pop group with pop group looks who wouldn’t be out of place on next week’s "Top of the Pops". I think they probably also had some okay pop songs, in a fey whiney kind of a way, but the couple in the front row of the audience and just in front of us who spent all evening snogging each other were much too distracting and amusingly entertaining. If the music had been anything worth writing home about I might not have spent so much time wondering if Acne Boy was actually going to chew his girl’s face off before the night was through. You can see the mood I was in, can’t you? My friends arrived early enough to each snap up a copy of the free single. I didn't, but I will learn to live with my sadness.



February 22


My pal Jez is flying to China tomorrow to take up a 6 month post teaching English as a foreign language. Over the past year or so we’ve been in the habit of going to see movies, some of which we had been led to believe were good, some of which we knew we were taking a chance on. “Pirates of the Caribbean” was almost a success (from my point of view, anyway, but I just like pirates), though it was way too long and a little too silly; “Sean of the Dead” was dreadful; “Team America: World Police” was not quite as bad as that but it was bad; I’ve forgotten some of the films we saw because I try and forget bad things. Oh: “Lost in Translation”. I forgot all about that. We've seen some pretty rotten films, in truth.

Sunday night we went to see “Sideways”, because “Spongebob Squarepants” was only on during the daytime for kiddies and we don’t go out before dusk.

“Sideways” is marvellous. Once you accept it’s a buddy road blokes approaching middle age possible crisis post-divorce depression pre-marriage nerves one last fling dare I get involved again feel bad feel good movie then I figure you have to accept it’s a marvellous movie. Sharp writing, sharp direction. “Beautifully observed": another cliché. It's very funny, too. Very.

An alternative view might be that it’s too much a male movie, that the entire set up is all about men, and panders to a male-centric (is that a word?) view of life. It’s okay to see it that way, because I expect it’s true in the same way lots of things are true if you look at them from a certain perspective. I saw it as saying, in among the entertainment, what self-absorbed dorks men are. But I already knew men are that. Oh, and the women fell for them, dorks or not. It happens. So it goes. I think the film nailed things pretty well. Anyway, I don’t go to movies for the meaning of life, unless the movie happens to be called “The Meaning of Life”. My point is, Jez and I finally got to see a good movie. Even perhaps a great movie. I hope China is good, too.

The Sideways website is a pretty good site, considering as how it's a movie website.



February 23


We saw The Mounted Stairs. It was clear
The moment they came on stage why they’d risen
To the almost stars. Why that tall girl outside
Tried bribing me to sell her my ticket. But no,
I didn’t want to have her car, or shampoo her
After the show, and fatherhood is something happened
Long ago and twice was two blessings Thank You
But they were enough. The Mounted Stairs deserve
Signing by a major label before they break up,
Fine marble smashed by a pickaxe. Melody and beauty
Is manifest in their Oh! the keyboard player. Icy stares eyes
See more than man can know. Frosted marriage.
Arkansas Pete brought his one-man band to town.
Town is only a short walk from out-of-town, so we walked
In and sat down on three-legged stools and drank
Half-baked beer while Pete did his Arkansas thing.
It’s a shame they’re closing this venue down. It’s a shame
They’re going to demolish it and build a hospital,
Or an airport if they have to fall back on Plan B. This is
The traditional home of lost causes; we’ve always
Enjoyed ourselves here. Quietly comfort zone alliance
Teachers’ night out. And shall I ever set eyes on my
Favourite ever barmaid ever again before I depart this life?
We started to think we were going to too many
Shows. Did we not have other things to be doing with
Our free time? Dan his badge-making, Steve his fire-
Starting, Mary’s protest marches, Rover fetch his stick.
But our encroaching uncertainment was put to flight
By Colourful Parrots In Exotic Locations.
“The Standard Lamp of Very Niceness” is my record
Of the year so far not counting that one by Keats. But
They are not fey, as has often been claimed. Identity
Theft is one of their variety of themes, which explains
The frocks and the headgear. Also I am delighted
By the way they use ancestry to add authenticity to
Their songs of happiness handed down from generation
To generation. Randy’s father is wheeled on stage
And joins in the chorus of “I Told You So”, and
Great Aunt Mab raps the break on “Garbled”.
Also I have never seen such tremendous dancing on
Top a Roland keyboard. Mandy looks heavy but must be
Filled of feathers. Rapture bird wire ballad skill.
Is a bad night to go into town. Bald thugs
Take over the marketplace, their women hurl lovingly
Hand-crafted spit-soaked insults at passers-by.
But we had to see The Thinking Men at The Social
Because this is their farewell tour: the drummer
Is going for an astronaut, and the lead singer
Has realised his future is with poetry and not song.
These people had to be seen, freak show,
Insane move career decision bad choice catalogue.
They were good, very good. Some of their songs
Were made of plastic and some of them were
Wood and steel. Occasionally music wafted from
The stage although nobody was doing anything
Except drag on a cigarette. Later that night I barely
Slept for thinking of the questions they had placed
Inside my head, like a modeller putting a tiny pilot
Into the cockpit of a tiny Harrier Jump-Jet, like
A suspicious gardener sowing a seed of doubt in
What he suspects is not a real garden, my kids
Putting their hearts into my hands and their faith
Into my proven cloudiness. On Sunday morning
I awoke when a door slammed somewhere in
My building, and the sun was shining through
The window. Then the phone rang and I lay in bed
Wondering who it was, but I didn’t get up to find
Out, I stayed there, thinking about the questions
The Thinking Men had placed inside my head,
If I would ever be able to put them into words.



February 26



I have a fondness for landscapes, particularly if within the landscape one can see sheep. I like sheep and their wool, 1perhaps because my mum is a very keen knitter, and I grew up in a post-war British working class family where if it couldn’t be knitted you couldn’t have it. On the train to Sheffield on Thursday, when Dave from work and I were on our way to see Low at The Leadmill in Sheffield, we came across a landscape with sheep in it. Not outside in the world, because it was dark and we couldn’t see anything out of the window except reflections of inside. But inside the train, the lady who was pushing the food and drinks trolley up and down was wearing what Dave described as one of the most hideous items of clothing he had ever seen. It was a kind of fleecy jacket, and the bottom half of it all the way around was an embroidered landscape of a field with trees on the horizon and sheep in the field. Or almost in the field. Problems with perspective (or whatever the technical term is) caused many of them to appear as if they were flying, or hovering serenely several feet above the ground. The woolly coat of one of them was tartan, which was interesting. When I said I have a fondness for landscapes I meant to say I have a fondness for most landscapes. When I said I like sheep I meant I like real sheep in real fields.


The weatherman had said to beware of "significant accumulations" of snow, but Dave and I weren't going to let that put us off going up north to see Low, who are currently in the UK touring their wonderful "The Great Destroyer" record.
I really like The Leadmill. It always seems to have a cool, relaxed atmosphere. And the audience always seems to be there to listen to the music, which is not something you can always say about Nottingham's Rescue Rooms, where often people seem to be there to see their friends and talk all through a band's set. Of course, I may just have been lucky with the shows I've seen at The Leadmill. I saw Sparklehorse play a year or so ago, and there were times during that show when a song would end, and there'd be an absolute awed silence of near religious intensity until someone remembered to clap, and thus set off a bout of thunderous applause. If someone plays music to be listened to, with words they wouldn’t mind you hearing and notes they would quite like you to notice the difference between, which perhaps is not always the case, it must be very rewarding when the audience so obviously is there to listen.

That was how it was with Low on Thursday. They're a trio, which is why there are three people in their photograph. Mimi Parker plays drums and sings, Zak Sally plays bass, and Alan Sparhawk plays guitar and sings. Mimi and Alan are married, and have two kids, one of whom I think is still a baby. I don’t know if this final bit of information is at all relevant. But when Mimi and Alan sing together you understand what the word 'harmony' means. It's pretty near perfect. Low are famous for being the great exponents of slow-fi, or sad-fi, or just very slow very quiet stuff, although the new record has them breaking into new territory and turning up the amps and introducing some louder (produced by Dave Fridmann who does wonderful things with The Flaming Lips) sumptuous edge into things. But the quiet is still there, and their live show juxtaposes moments of magical beauty and almost whispered tenderness with solid walls of guitar noise, which is never less than articulate and clean-cut and perfectly managed. The sound at this show was excellent. You could hear more or less every word that was sung, you could pick out every note that was played. This contrasted markedly with The Magic Numbers show at the weekend, when everything was swallowed up in some thrashy messy mix, in spite of which the band had seemed inordinately pleased with themselves. I think if Low had found themselves immersed in a mess of noise like that they’d have walked off until it was sorted out. But they’d got it dead right, which was a testament to their care, and a compliment to the audience who’d come to listen. There's a great track on the record called "When I Go Deaf" which is a very quiet affair, just guitar and voice, until the whole thing suddenly erupts into a wall of sound, and the live version was, arguably, even better than the one on record. But the wall of sound was perfectly controlled and, as walls go, thoughtfully constructed. This was one of those gigs you tell people was stunning. Because it was.


When I got home I picked up the mail, and Tim had sent me a couple of copies of records I’d asked him to do. One was Low’s “Christmas” mini-LP, which was a great and very appropriate way to end the day. “Christmas” was released in 1999, and is a mix of original Low Christmas songs

on our way from stockholm
started to snow
and you said it was like christmas
but you were wrong
it wasn't like christmas at all

by the time we got to oslo
snow was gone
and we got lost
the beds were small but we felt so young
it was just like christmas

and some standards (Little Drummer Boy, Silent Night and Blue Christmas given the Low treatment). It’s a delight, and it doesn't have to be Christmas to enjoy it. But the snow this week has been sort of Christmas-y so things were almost perfectly co-ordinated.