Thursday, 28 May 2009

Lance Armstrong makes a mockery of sports journalism's Jamie Redknapp Syndrome

LANCE Armstrong may not be flavour of the month with the French (or even flavour of the century), but if he keeps up this kind of performance he may just be a fixture on our TV screens when he finally unclips himself from the Look Keo race pedals. (picture by AP)
Video blogging from the Giro d'Italia, the three week grand tour cycling race happening at the minute (and where he has been riding into some good form over the last five days of racing BTW) he's also been showing people around his team Astana's facilities and talking to team mates.
And what an easy TV presence he has. Confident, as you'd expect, but funny, quick and at times sincere in his shout outs to people suffering from cancer. Surely, he has to be the new face of world cycling, whether journalists and a section of the Continental cycling public hate him or not.
More importantly he's a monumental improvement on the athletes turned TV 'personalities' getting gigs on the British small screen - Colin Jackson, Katherine Merry, Stephen Parry and James Cracknell are all literal personality black holes proving what is now known in journalism training circles as the Jamie Redknapp Syndrome, check out the last two posts here, it's worth it.
The first rule of the Redknapp Syndrome states simply that just because you have done it doesn't mean you have any talent in explaining it.
Chapeaux Lance, like everything else, he rewrites the rules.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Undisputed King of Radio

THE king is back on primetime radio this September - years late - but let's salute Danny Baker nonetheless.
He's taking over the 9am Saturday morning slot that Eamonn Holmes has made a no go zone with his twin inabilities of not being able to read from a script written by the producer or finish a sentence without the words 'so it is.'
It seems BBC Radio 5 controllers have finally worked out that if you want quality radio you hire radio innovators with an inate feel for the medium rather than TV personalities with so-called cross platform appeal.
For this witness the welcoming back of Christian O'Connell while the lamentable radio presences of Holmes and 606's Tim Lovejoy are out the door. (Just Donal McIntyre and Gabby Logan left, the latter is great on TV but so lamentable of a Sunday morning on 5 Live that it's enough to unlapse the most lapsed of Catholic mass goers.)
But Baker's recent sojourn on the Tuesday night 606 Pirate Ship football phone-in (which finished tonight) was a bright, shining beacon of inventive, funny, interactive radio delight.
Baker has always had the ability to conjur radio gold from the smallest of thoughts - what's the wierdest place you've played football*? What are the wierdest things you've used for goals?** What's the most dangerous thing you've ever got into a ground?*** Do you know anyone whose name sounds like a football club?****
Anyone who listens to his Radio London show every day on the net will know how he keeps a cast of returning callers (Keithy Baby et al)and letters from across the globe spinning like plates above his head. Even those of us from outside the capital - hey Beeb there are some of us - are interested in the minutiae of life inside the M25.
His encyclopedic knowledge of rock, befitting an old punk NME hack, saw him get his mate Teletext Alex to do renditions of Bohemian Rhapsody and Slade's Merry Christamas Everyone with every lyric changed to footballers' names.

However, this series, one of his hardy annual questions,(you get used to them after years as a member of the Baker Treehouse listening to his dog and pony shows) got an incredible response. He asked have you ever stolen anything from a football ground and got a story about someone who lifted former Swindon keeper Fraser Digby's tortoise shell comb from his washbag.
He said let's get someone to write a song about that and 29 weeks later a host a parody songs with the title Fraser Digby's Washbag in title were the crowning glory of a show which may have saved the 606 from the banalities of a London-based Liverpool fans calling for Rafa Benitez's head while Alan Green goes off on a sanctimonious rant under the misapprehension that anyone gives a monkey's what he thinks.
Even Mark Lawson discussed it on Radio 4 as did The Word magazine massive.

Oh that radio is always this good, luckily I've now got about a hundred hours of podcasts featuring the Baker which I can listen to over and over again. (Most of the most glorious examples come from an ill-fated attempt at making money from podcasting with the ill-fated download operation Wippit a year or so ago, free downloads here.)
For the motherload of Baker and Danny Kelly's brilliant TalkSport shows from more than 10 years ago (I used to rush home from reporting on Tranmere to hear them) go to this site (more than a 1gb though) to download.
I don't want to let light in on magic but when Danny tugs your coat tail, it's worth listening. The 606 podcasts can be downloaded at iTunes, all 30 hours, you lucky, lucky people.
Roll on 9am on September 5.

* Columbian jungle with cocaine as the lines
** Dead lions
*** An antique blunderbuss and a set of chef's knives
**** Debbie County

The Great Middle Class/ Working Class dilemma

THE working class/ middle class divide is alive and well in many of us.
But tell GM how you simultaneously feel a Trotskyite traitor and a perennial lumpenprole?
Embrace both and reply with your own entries below.

I’m working class because no matter how gourmet a sandwich I have eaten, I’ve always thought it would be better with a layer of Tayto cheese and onion crisps.
I’m middle class because I have often made my own crisps for dinner parties.

I'm working class because I would never cross a picket line.
I'm middle class because I have only ever had to address this dilemma twice, once going into a museum coffee shop. (I am middle class because I use the words 'coffee shop' and 'Habermas' regularly.)

I’m middle class because I know Ute Lemper is well fit and she can sing a bit too.

I'm working class because I see Saturday night talent show TV with the bairn.
I'm middle class because watching ITV feels a bit like voting for Sinn Fein.

I’m working class because sometimes the only thing that’s going to quench my thirst is a pint of brown mix.
I’m middle class because I love the idea of micro breweries.

I’m working class because I have recently drunk Buckfast in my parents’ house.
I’m middle class because I know Shiraz and Syrah are the same grape.

I’m middle class because I absolutely, positively have to have a piano no-one plays in my house but is a great, if cumbersome, display space for some of the Celtic art pieces we got for wedding presents.

I’m working class because I can often feel like a class traitor playing jazz or world music.
I’m middle class because I have seen both Seu Jorge and the Buena Vista Social Club.

I’m working class because I hate people using foreign words in conversation.
I’m middle class because I have recently used the words ‘lingua franca’ to my mates.

I’m working class because I hate twats walking around with (literally) buckets of coffee with plastic lids over the top while out shopping.
I’m middle class because, at home, I grind my own beans (preferably Fair Trade Arabica).

I’m working class because I hate the word ‘movie’.
I’m middle class because I love the working class struggle of Ken Loach movies.

I’m working class because I am insanely proud my granda was an engine driver.
I’m middle class because my parents were teachers and I am a university lecturer.

I’m working class because I love a custard cream/ garibaldi/ Nice biscuit
I’m middle class because I have recently, in a supermarket, used the words: “Those are the same beautiful biscuits we got in that market in Noirmoutier in the Vendee.”

I’m working class because I hate the idea of selective/ private education.
I’m middle class because as soon as we could afford it, we moved into the catchment area of good Catholic schools.

I’m working class because I hate the Tories with every vestige of my being.
I’m middle class because all three councillors in my ward are Tories.

Ultimately, I’m working class because I worry about class.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Writing Merseyside Project

SINCE viewing the addictive silver bullet mainline hotshot of Merseyside and alcohol in the rare oul times that was Awaydays the movie, GM has been in Scouse pride overload.
GM wants to collect the best pieces of recent journalism about Merseyside and publish them on GM. Please, send any great pieces of writing about the People's Republic to us.
So, here are some great pieces of writing about Liverpool and surrounding districts.
We heartily recommend GM's new Liverpool 1 Bureau chief, Paul Du Noyer's New Statesman piece after we snorted coffee through our nose reading it.
Paul Du Noyer on why Liverpool is the capital of the North, and,
The Guardian's Alexis Petridis on why Liverpool music scenes are unlike any of those in other cities
Kevin Sampson, author and screenwriter of Awaydays on new pictures of Eric's
Mike Chapple on why Merseyside pubs are great

Great Movie Soundtracks

AFTER coming home from watching Awaydays at FACT on Saturday I rather enthusiastically decreed that the film has the best soundtrack of all time.
True, it has some brilliant classics (Joy Division) and some highly desirable rarities (Cure outtake, pre-Midge Ultravox) however on second thoughts caling it the greatest of all time may be overstating the case somewhat.
But what are the best movie soundtracks of all time?
Here's 10 to be getting on with.
24 Hour Party People
Grosse Point Blank
La Haine French was the language really invented for rap, or perhaps, vice versa
Do The Right Thing bit dated New Jack Swingy, apart from PE
The Harder They Come
Superfly Curtis, who else?
Shaft Isaac, who else?
This is Spinal Tap
Football Factory (shocking version of one of a great trilogy of books)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Away in some danger

KEVIN Sampson’s 1999 novel Awaydays was a firm favourite in Miscellany Towers on its release and indeed we interviewed the author (for the late and much lamented Liverpool listings mag Bigmouth) on its release at the arse end of the last century.
Even then, interviewed in the now closed Letters pub in Birkenhead (a key location in the novel) and before the massive success of Awaydays and his subsequent books, Sampson was intent on turning it into a movie.
And now a decade later he’s managed it and what a great success it is.
Centred around the quest for acceptance from working class football hard knocks of slightly posh 19-year-old West Wirral junior civil servant Paul Carty, Awaydays is ultimately a touching tale of unrequited love(s).
Written by Sampson, produced by David A. Hughes and directed by Pat Holden it is a beautiful evocation of Britain in the bleak early years of Thatcher’s Britain. (I think I may have written almost the same sentence in the original interview.)
Carty, a music and fashion obsessed suburban lad, wants to escape his humdrum existence after the death of his mother by integrating into The Pack, a gang of North End Birkenhead scally Tranmere Rovers hooligans who travel away to matches across the North of England looking for rucks with the skinhead gronks of Huddersfield, Crewe and Doncaster.
Carty’s entry into this world is via the friendship of Mark ‘Elvis’ Elways, a member of The Pack who hides his love of Ezra Pound, Syd Barrett and Sylvia Plath under a façade of Stanley knife drunken thuggery.
He also barely hides his love for Carty under the twin schizophrenic and anachronistic fronts of football violence and gig going in the small bohemian enclaves of late 70s Liverpool.
The film really works in that it ultimately improves the original novel by giving the relationship between Carty and Elvis an emotional depth that wasn’t there in the first place. Given the space to interact dramatically on screen, the dynamics of the relationship become heartbreakingly real and ultimately tragic.
Sampson, a master of Merseyside dialogue who drew favourable comparisons with Irvine Welsh when Awaydays came out, may just have found his real metier in scriptwriting.
The film also takes the book away from the then (in 1999) modish obsessions with the forensic detailing of 1980s Adidas trainers, trackie tops and the finer points of wedge haircuts which became the stock in trade of the legion of copycat hooligan publications that followed it.
It realises the hugely powerful human relationships which drive the story: Carty’s need to find a (good looking) girlfriend to fill the void of his mum, his sister Molly’s hurt at him not giving her more time in their grieving period and Elvis’ tragic inability to come out as gay in the macho confines of the working class environment in which he has grown up.
As Dr Mark Kermode pointed out yesterday on the Five Live film podcast it also works because it seems to have been shot on dull late 70s film which captures the mood of the era perfectly. Claustrophobic and washed out, it captures the bleakness of both the urban deprivation of the North End of Birkenhead, an area of Merseyside which has struggled to escape the pogroms of Thatcher’s social policies to this day.
It also captures the period without any of the knowingly ironic nostalgic tedium of the BBC's Life on Mars/ Ashes to Ashes franchise - the ultimately unrewarding and nonsensically cryptic televisual version of those Spandau Ballet/ Bananarama/ Curiosity Killed the Cat/ ABC reunion packages which routinely plague the arenas of Britain's largest cities.
However, it is in a handful of great performances where the film really succeeds. Nicky Bell and Liam Boyle as Carty and Elvis respectively are a brilliant double act and the latter really captures the torment of crisis stricken working class aesthete headed for smack addiction.
Stephen Graham as The Pack’s leader John Godden could have phoned his performance in from the set of a Guy Ritchie picture, but instead shines once again with a sure handed charisma few actors are blessed with. He is a hugely underestimated actor and holds The Pack together convincingly.
However the best performace is by Mancunian actor Holliday Grainger as Molly. She is just the correct mixture of vulnerable, loving and angry required from the original novel. Incredibly, she looks exactly like I imagined Molly when I read the book first.
Finally, the film has the best soundtrack of any movie, ever. The Bunnymen, early Ultravox and the Cure form the core, and drive the movie in much the same way as Public Enemy did Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.
But, the combination of Nicky Bell looking uncannily like Ian Curtis, and the inclusion of tragic singer's music means it’s going to be solid Joy Division for a week or so at Miscellany Towers.
Now that has to be a great outcome of going to see any movie, even one you have waited 10 years for.

Loop's upside your head

IT’S been a testing time at Miscellany HQ recently with work and other issues meaning there's been no writing but we are back in the journalistic saddle today with a glorious two films/ two cinemas/ eight cups of coffee day.
First up was the second viewing of Armando Iannucci’s In the Loop which is a veritable feast of spot on satire and inventive verbal filth. There’s lots of lubricated horse cocks in purviews, policies being fisted to death and the best abuse of a fax machine by the angriest man in Scotland in any film of the year.
In terms of tight plotting and sub plotting there’s not a great deal of depth, it is an extended version of the TV show that spawned it The Thick of It, but in characterisation it is superb.
Peter Capaldi as the astoundingly foul mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker really comes into his boggle-eyed own, bullying Government ministers, ambassadors and journalists in an almost show stealing turn. Chris Addison and the ever wonderful Gina McKee as Government information officers Toby and Judy also qualify for honourable mention.
US improv veteran Zach Woods as the incredibly ambitious and obnoxious Washington state department junior staffer Chad is another revelation, his portrayal of an arse licking, backbiting Ivy League ingrate is spot-on.
Paul Higgins as Jamie, the aforemention angriest Scot, may just reprise his show stealing iPod hating spin meister, but he's still brilliant at it.
However, Tom Hollander as the hapless, ambitious career (New Labour) politician Simon Foster, is the real star of the movie. A vacillating eejit over promoted to Secretary of International Development who helps start a war by spouting metaphoric platitudes on Eddie Mair’s PM programme on Radio 4 is so realistic that it shows that as a satirist Iannucci remain’s the market leader in Britain.
Unable to deal with either his constituents or world leaders, he is an idiot who doesn’t recognise how his ambition to schmooze at the highest levels of the power structures is slowly killing his career.
But then, with Iannucci, his long term collaborator Tony Roche and Peep Show creators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, this film was always going to be a wonderful, tightly scripted pitch perfect denunciation of the political classes.
The elected politicians are ineffective idiots bullied by unelected spin doctors and in the current climate of Smear-gate followed by Expenses-Gate, surely no film can have come out at a better time. Man oh man, but its prescience would be laughable if it weren’t so serious.
GM has seen this film twice in a week and there may be another visit in the not so distant future.