The go-to site for what makes life worth living in and around Petersfield, Hampshire, and some other stuff too. For flaneurs, bon vivants, indeed boulevardiers of every complexion - why go anywhere else?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Vital: 'Ramones', by Nicholas Rombes

As Nicholas Rombes says in his concluding remarks "like all great albums, it resists interpretation. It rejects the tyranny of meaning, whether imposed by the fan or the critic". And so it does; without wishing to make my own attempt, it is one of those very few albums - offhand I would think about only Elvis's first RCA album, the Velvet Underground & Nico and - maybe - Sgt Pepper standing alongside it - which is so unlike anything which preceded it and so influential on everything that followed that almost any kind of criticism risks seeming trivial and irrelevant. But saying that, Nicholas Rombes gives it a damn good go, taking the album - as is appropriate - entirely seriously and devoting less time to the songs themselves than to the context into which it emerged, its influences (largely from writing, film, photography and other media) and its phenomenal impact on the world around it. Refreshing that he respects the amount of thought and consideration that the Ramones themselves put into the album, dissipating any notion that this was a flash in the pan, an accidental catalyst for the emergence of punk and New Wave. You put this essay down very aware that the Ramones knew exactly what they were doing, both culturally and musically. These were no dumb punks.

Nicholas Rombes writes about punk with the benefit of hindsight, but that's no crime - it allows him a tremendously sharp and pungently delivered perspective. If you like this, try 'A Cultural Dictionary of Punk: 1974-1982', which provides a similarly acute analysis of the broader canvas of punk and the new wave.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Before he was fab - 'Nowhere Boy'

What an oddly uncertain and ultimately unsatisfying film 'Nowhere Boy' is. Very good in parts - particularly in the psychological tug-of-war between Julia and Mimi for the soul of the nascent Lennon - but powerfully reminiscent elsewhere of those clunky (if still enjoyable) British pop films of the 70s and 80s (the David Essex vehicle 'That'll Be the Day'which covers almost exactly the same timespan, often came to mind, with certain scenes seemingly almost directly transplanted). It veers rather wildly between somewhat heavy-handed psychodrama (particularly in the less than subtly-suggested incestuous feelings between John and Julia) and stodgily conventional 'biopic' ("John, this is Paul, he sure is square but he knows which way up a tune goes and he can play 20 Flight Rock") but - surely crucially - never really makes one believe that the teenager on the screen is actually a young Lennon as opposed to any other troubled youth in the late 1950s.

Excellent performances from all the leads keep 'Nowhere Boy' afloat (though Kristin Scott-Thomas's cheekbones seemed slightly miscast) but it seemed to need something both a bit more coherent and a bit further off the wall to justify the screen time and I'm surprised that Sam Taylor-Wood didn't deliver it. By no means terrible, and will probably work better on the small screen - just a bit, well... ordinary.

Monday, 7 December 2009

The Brooklyn Boy Done Good: Tony Visconti

Has to be said that Tony Visconti is no great prose stylist, but this is a top life all the same, and more than adequately described. I'd never seen any pictures of Visconti and had always imagined him older - more like the cigar-chompers he regularly disparages - but he's very much Bolan's and Bowie's contemporary and provides a compelling view from the front line of pop life in the late 60s and 70s.

There's plenty of stuff from inside the studio, including quite a bit of technical gen (which worked fine for me), providing a new insider angle on many famous names. Of those, it has to be said (meaning no disrespect), that while Bolan's human qualities come a poor second to his musical ability (not the first time I'd heard that), Bowie comes across as a gent throughout and Iggy, contrary to his public image, as a man posessed of a phenomenal work ethic and professionalism.

Tony Visconti, it's fair to say, changed pop music's soundscape, creating music of a depth and resonance which you simply don't hear any more. This book gives you a good idea of how he did that - it's a significant contribution to the history of those fantastic times and a cracking read to boot.

A gem - Lynn Barber's 'An Education'

Some reviewers have described Lynn Barber's 'An Education' as cool and unrevealing, but I have to say it didn't seem that way to me at all. On the contrary, 'An Education' is refreshingly concise, direct and, yes, cool - but in a good way. A beautifully written, crisp memoir, covering in - oh joy! - fewer than 200 pages the life to date that has made her the great writer and interviewer that she is.

The book offers a number of clues to how she came to lead a crowded Fleet Street field - not only is she completely open and frank, with a directness that unfairly earned her the soubriquet 'Demon Barber' but why anyone should want to be otherwise baffles her (the hilarious encounter with Alan Whicker, who tries, and fails, to shame her with her previous life in pornography being a case in point).

Word of warning, though, to anyone who comes to this expecting the book of the film - that episode, though clearly key in her developing outlook on life, takes up less than a quarter of the book. Don't let it put you off though - her adventures at the nascent Penthouse and Independent (and the breadth of spectrum between those two august organs gives a clue to her non-judgemental openness) are equally engaging, warm, funny and, yes, human.

A terrific read and entirely of a piece with her other writing. If you like Lynn Barber at all, you'll love this.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Let it be: Nick Hornby's 'Juliet, Naked'

I really like Nick Hornby. I think he's an astute commentator and critic, I think he has a great take on the modern condition, and for what it's worth I'm pretty sure he's one of the good guys too. We're more or less exactly the same age, we appear to have exactly the same stuff on our iPods (give or take 5% or so either way) we have a similarly enlightened view on the beautiful game... if it wasn't for the fact that he's so far ahead of me on the male pattern baldness scale, I'd wonder if he and I weren't actually separated at birth.

Sadly, I've come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the decent fist he made of `High Fidelity' (not exactly a great novel, but a damned good read all the same) and most particularly 'About a Boy' (his best fiction to date, and, my guess is, the best he will ever write) he's actually not much of a novelist. Having ploughed my way through `How to be Good' (which worked well in parts and was at least philosophically intriguing), `A Long Way Down', which was just plain awful, and now this, I'm thinking that maybe it's time to give it up and stick to what he's good at - writing funny and perceptive stuff about music, the arts and modern life (which he does better than just about anyone I know). I mean, really - go read `A Long Way Down' and then read `31 Songs' or `The Complete Polysyllabic Spree' and tell me I'm not right.

So here's what I think about `Juliet, Naked `: it's not a bad book and if you picked it up before a flight (assuming the horrible chick-lit-style cover didn`t put you off) it would probably distract you adequately for a few hours. It`s not especially funny, or sad, or emotional, or exciting or really especially anything but it moves along at an adequate pace from page to page, eventually reaching a not especially satisfying conclusion. And, you know, it's only 245 pages, so it's not like a great investment is required from the reader.

It's about music, which Nick knows a lot about - specifically, about Tucker Crowe, former musician and newest addition to Hornby's lengthening gallery of feckless wasters, and the nature of art, creativity and fandom. It addresses unsatisfactory, dysfunctional modern family relationships too, about which perhaps he knows a bit. Quite a lot of it (though not nearly enough, in my opinion) concerns how the internet has changed the way we engage with the world. So far so promising - these are interesting themes - but as a novel it just don't work. The main stories - Tucker vegetating in the US, Annie and Duncan likewise in Gooleness - are kind of flat and dispiriting, the way they're entwined is unconvincing, the characters don't really get off the page more than once or twice, the dialogue is all a bit heightened and artificial, in the end, the multiple threads are tied up and dispatched with indecent haste... you know, in the end it's just not that good (a horrible thought crosses my mind at this point - Dickens is mentioned more than once or twice, for no apparent reason - is it all meant to be Dickensian in style? I really hope not).

It's more than this though. All through 'Juliet, Naked', I couldn't shake my sense of Nick Hornby making it all up. Only a few fleeting pages managed to suspend my disbelief and banish the picture in my mind of the author at his desk, chewing his pencil. I know how stupid that sounds - I know a novel is, by definition, invented - but a good novelist, and a good novel, will quickly let you forget that.

I tried to figure out why this was so, and I in the end I think it's to do with the voice which dominates this book as it does so many other Hornby novels. `Juliet, Naked' has a wide range of characters - too wide, maybe - and his dialogue isn`t so bad, but a great deal of the book is taken up with the internalized thoughts of the characters, and here's the thing - they all think in exactly the same way and in exactly the same voice, and I'm guessing that they all think exactly like Nick Hornby, in that elliptical, analytical, self-effacing and in the end more than mildly irritating way. So what I end up thinking is "you've clearly got interesting things to say in these areas, Nick - why do you feel you need to wrap them up in this stupid story?

Nick Hornby has legions of fans and I'll probably get flamed to death for this review when it appears on Amazon, but to reiterate - I like the guy, his ideas and his writing - I just don't think the novel is the right vehicle for any of them. Maybe it's time to let the form go, and focus on crit.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

When he was King: Elvis Costello's country pop masterpiece

Was inspired by twitterpal Nick_Coombes to reinvestigate Elvis Costello's often overlooked 'King of America' album, giving it my undivided attention on a flight from Helsinki this week.*
When it was released in 1985, my feelings about 'King of America' were mixed. There was no mistaking the quality of the songs, but I was raised on the sturm and drang, the visceral barking rage of his early albums and, particularly coming after the muted and poorly received (though secretly, I quite like it) 'Goodbye Cruel World', it felt to me like some sort of decline was in progress. The further that his remarkable back catalogue stretches into the past, however, the more 'King of America' looks like Costello's finest hour. His passion still burned bright, his gift for a tune was undiminished and musicianship hadn't yet pushed the other two elements into the background. From this point onward, the tunes would indeed start to flatten out and soon he would begin to talk worryingly and introspectively about 'songcraft' to the great and inevitable detriment of his art.

But all that was still to come. 'King of America' is maybe the last album Costello made before he started to look downward and inward; a collection of brilliantly realised and passionately, achingly delivered songs (whatever anyone says, without the mannerisms and vocal tics which would dominate later work, Costello's singing at this time was unique in combining both the fantastically committed and the filigree delicate). It's also thrillingly adult in its material and its approach, walking the edgy tightrope of maturity without tipping over into either MOR or AOR. This is more like Bacharach country, but with the roughage left in... you can see why they rubbed along so well later on.

Highlights? It's easier to pick lowlights - actually it isn't - but as I write this I can't get 'American Without Tears' out of my head, 'Indoor Fireworks' treats marital breakup more movingly than anything this side of George Jones, and the closing 'Suit of Lights' and 'Sleep of the Just' deliver a one-two which leaves me on the canvas every time: musically stunning, emotionally devastating.

'King of America' really delivers on every level; one of maybe a dozen or so pop and rock albums to which the term 'masterpiece' can rightly and without reservation be applied. If you don't have it already, the Hipster suggests that you really should.

*undivided other than the time and effort required to open a couple of bottles of BA's remarkably fine New Zealand Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc that is - the thick end of ten quid in your local Wine Rack yet even the cheap seats get it for free on BA). Truly, world's favourite airline, you are spoiling us...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Fact or Fiction? - 'The Damned United' and 'Provided You Don't Kiss Me'

When I first read it I thought The Damned United utterly brilliant. The black heart of football, 70s England, Yorkshire and Leeds Utd in particular, presented through a dazzling first-person novelization of Brian Clough's extraordinary 44-day tenure of the Elland Road hotseat. Marvellous. Football seemed to have found its Heart of Darkness (though whether it was looking for one is another question I suppose). My one grievance was that the end didn't quite justify the bravura performance, rushing toward a climax which never quite arrived. But it seemed a fabulous journey all the same...  

Now I'm not quite so sure. Recently, and particulary in the context of the recent (and by all accounts much more soft-centred) film, David Peace has taken to describing 'The Damned United' as 'fiction', which seems like, excuse me, disingenuous bullshit. If you want to write fiction, it's not a good idea to base it around real names and circumstances which create the very strong impression of fact, and expect people (especially friends and family) not to be offended and upset (justifiably for once). Can calling your work 'a fiction' be a defence for any kind of defamation?

I suppose the irony is that no-one who knew Clough would deny that it's a fiction. I gather they would emphatically go along with that. What they object to is it being presented as a version of the facts. However... I can't get away from the fact that I really liked the book. Around the central Clough story it vividly and viscerally expressed some truths about the 1970s in general and football in that period in particular which chimed with my own recollections. But the more I hear David Peace talk about it, the uneasier I am with the way it presents Brian Clough.

On the other hand, Duncan Hamilton's 'Provided You Don't Kiss Me' is just excellent, straightforward sports biography, distinguished by Hamilton's closeness to his subject and the resulting intimacy of the portrait. No tricks, no fiction or imagined scenes, just sensitive writing and informed analysis of the Clough career and of a very different time in British football - a big enough story in its own right to require very little embroidery. 

Hamilton makes no bones about how fortunate he was to be allowed unparalleled access to the force of nature that was Brian Clough. The portrait that emerges seems to come from something for which 'love' is maybe the only appropriate word; it's to his credit that it never seems like obsession as, throughout, he is remarkably clear-eyed about Clough's weaknesses as well as his astonishing triumphs. The excellent and detailed accounts of how Clough took not one but two poor-to-middling English clubs to the heights of European glory (a feat that one struggles to imagine being repeated today) are balanced by an understanding of his very human insecurities and frailties, and by an increasingly dominant subtext - a (literally) sobering account of how low even a character as powerful as Clough could be laid by alcohol. 

Film of the year already? 'Man on Wire'.

Documentary or not, my movie of the year so far, for sure. A modest, underplayed film about what was in the great scheme of things a small and inconsequential event - but a film with deep resonance, and not just in the context of what the Towers' would come to stand (fall?) for. Not that this is explicitly referenced in the film, but so many shots lead one to think of their later fate - the foundations of the buildings as they are going up, the frames with planes just in shot, the crowds stopping to gaze up with a mixture of amazement and fear (shock and awe?). And the film itself is really about another kind of assault on the Towers - but one that is entirely benevolent and, as one of Petit's accomplices says 'without wickedness'. Petit himself makes the film, not just with his performances on the wire but with his Gallic vivacity and lust for life, a Chaplinesque 'little fellow', a stone-faced clown, standing up to the authority figures invariably to be found ranged at either end of his tightrope as he conquers Notre Dame, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and finally the ultimate prize. Hugely entertaining, and inspiring too. A gem.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Fifty-Seven, Liss

'Fifty-Seven' is a unique Italian restaurant, pretty much a one-man labour of love which the Hipster's friend Michelle Stainer recommended for "the honest simplicity of the place, the good quality food and the great wine ... The staff come over to your table and tell you what's on the menu (they don't have printed menus), explain how everything is cooked and suggest a good wine to go with the food. It really doesn't get any better, definitely worth a try! " Couldn't have put it better myself. It's not cheap, but the food is handcrafted with a real Italian slow-cooking feel and the experience is unique. Absolutely the only place to eat in Liss (from a shortlist of one), but worth travelling from much farther afield. Open for lunch and deli to take away during the day too. 57, Station Road, Liss 01730894751

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Kind of Loving - The Vic Brown Trilogy

I'm not much given to re-reading - life is truly too short and there are too many books unread - but I recently picked up an ancient Penguin copy of Stan Barstow's 'A Kind of Loving' and glanced through it. Then I started reading it, loftily amused at first by its dated language and attitudes, and tickled by Proustian recollections of first reading it, aged 13 or so, when it seemed to define what adult life was going to be all about. 

So that was two weeks ago, and I've just put down the third in the trilogy, 'The Right True End', with an odd kind of ache - almost as if I've picked up the threads with an old friend after many decades, and now, after a brief re-acquaintance,  won't see that friend again for many years, if ever... 

For anyone who's never come across it, the 'Vic Brown trilogy' describes the travails of a young draughtsman in a Yorkshire town in the early sixties and his search for truth, love and, as with so many novels of the time, escape.  His barely formed plans are quickly torpedoed when lust takes over and he finds himself in an old, old trap, married to Ingrid, for whom he feels little more than residual desire and increasing irritation. 

The first two books in the trilogy describe Vic falling in and out of love, lust and marriage; the third revisits him ten years later, older and, if not wiser, certainly more cynical, more successful, living in London but no more content with his lot. 

Hard to say exactly what's so compelling about these novels, but compelling they are.  It's not that they're so well written - 'A Kind of Loving' is a good and robust 1960s kitchen sink novel which stands up well against, say John Braine, Alan Sillitoe or David Storey, but the quality falls off thereafter - 'The Watchers on the Shore', though good, has nothing like the same narrative drive and the final book is really pretty poor. Perhaps it's the picture they provide of a time which was more simple and innocent, with fewer of today's complexities, shades of grey and complicated moral relativism (though at the  same time crueler and much more judgemental - rules for living were much clearer and much more rigorously enforced and it's to be hoped that todays generations don't live with quite that terror of pregnancy out of wedlock and its inevitable consequences).

More likely though, it's the character of Vic which, for all his faults (and by the final book, when he seems well on the way to becoming one of the pub bores he so derided as a young man, these are many) really rises off the page. His simple yearning for something better which will lift him out of the proscribed lives of his parents and friends, his refusal to accept the ordinary and expected, turns what could have been a provincial small town story into something bigger, more universal and in a small way almost heroic.  

Looks like all three books in the trilogy are out of print, which seems a shame as I've read little that so accurately and resonantly captures a lost time and place. Perhaps some books should have preservation orders attached. 

Saturday, 7 February 2009

The Star and Garter, East Dean

15 miles east and south of Petersfield, equidistant Midhurst and Chichester. Great menu which majors on fish but makes room for some interesting sounding game too. Big seafood platters caught our eye as we sat at the bar enjoying a glass of Ballards drawn from the barrel, as did several ways to enjoy mussels and a game grill featuring venison, pheasant and rabbit. Pub has been blasted back to bleached wood and brick in an appealing manner. Good-looking wine list. Much more a restaurant now than a pub but retaining lots of character - food report follows. Garden and rooms too. Get there: head east from Singleton on the Midhurst/ Chichester road, about a mile or so past the Fox Goes Free. 01243 811318 More here.

Loch Fyne Restaurant

Midhurst, seven miles east of Petersfield. A chain, as the name might suggest - you won't be enjoying a walk round the loch before your lunch - but a good one. A small door on Midhurst High Street opens, tardis-like, into a big, stylish and surprisingly light space. Big french windows at the back lead onto a parasoled terrace which will be a treat when global warming properly kicks in to West Sussex. As for the food - fish and shellfish of course, with a few token gestures in the direction of carnivores and vegetarians. Well presented from an interesting menu, lots of specials and an £11 set two course menu which is decent value but disappointingly restricted - whatever your intentions going in, you're likely to be choosing from the carte. Reasonable wine list. For more imaginative ways with fish, the Star and Garter is a better bet, but if you're in Midhurst, where even half-decent places to eat are at a bit of a premium, this is comfortable and family-friendly (in a good way) and likely to ht the pescatorial spot. Bottom end of North Street, Midhurst, 01730 716280.

The Lickfold Inn

12 miles east of Petersfield. Pukkah joint, a little too Goodwood for the hipster's tastes but under new celebrity ownership may be worth another look. Good food, (but not that good; be prepared for your credit card going home a good deal lighter than you) excellent wines, many by the glass, in a lovely old pub. Nice terrace garden, Veuve Clicquot parasols provide that special 'Cowdray' feel. Upside: very smart, characterful, decent food. Good chance of rubbing shoulders with Argentinian polo players at the bar, then enjoying the company of the celebrated in the restaurant. The knowlege that 50% of profits go to local charities. Downside: no better than it ought to be at these prices, food service can be a bit amateur. Perfect for: lunch in the garden on an unexpectedly warm early summer's day. Or in the bar on a sunny winter's day. Avoiding the rush hour advisable. Get there: Lickfold signposted off the A272 between Midhurst and Petworth, close to Half Way Bridge. North of the A272 a couple of miles. 01798 861285. GMAP More here.

Sha La La La Lee

Switched on the wireless tonight to be amazed anew by the exhilarating chords of The Small Faces' 'Sha La La La Lee' - still a fantastic sound and, in combination with the first lines - 'Picked her up on a Friday night (sha-la-la-la-lee, yeah)' - arguably the greatest opener of any pop record. 

I'd always assumed this was the work of the Small Faces pocket genius Steve Marriott, and was amazed to learn sometime last year that it was actually written by B-division showbiz trooper Kenny Lynch, the scouse Sammy Davis Jr to Brucie and Tarbie's  Frank and Dino. I'd love to hear his version. 

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Hawkley Inn, Hawkley

5 miles west and north of Petersfield. Everything you want a country pub to be: walking boots, wellies, horses and bikes by the door, great beer and cider, rib-sticking pub grub, fire, moose, big garden. All this and power showers too, if you're minded to sleep it off in some very smart accommodation. Seven beers on tap - they change every week - and decent wine too. Always plenty of local ales, (the Hipster has personally never had a bad one and would walk several country miles any day for Alton's finest, the fff Moondance). Music at weekends, beer fest every year. With a big garden out back and a covered verandah in front, an excellent pub in any weather, crowded at weekends, however, when food service can be on the slow side - get there early or late would be our advice if waiting a while bothers you - and the number of untethered children may occasionally test your tolerance (though this seems less of an issue since new space opened up in the pub at the end of 2006). A great place, just about hanging on to its greatness through a period of transition (the Hawkley has seen off two landlords and any number of barstaff since the long reign of the legendarily grumpy and still much-missed Al). Get there: Follow signs for Hawkley from West Liss (Hawkley Road runs up the side of the Spread Eagle). Pococks Lane, Hawkley. Liss 01730 827205, more at

Snow blind... 'Transsiberian'

Pretty much your standard location thriller, but still, two hours decent entertainment from a strong cast in a skilfully exploited setting is not to be sniffed at. Atmospherically capturing the claustrophobia of the train (in a way that at times recalls Konchalovsky's great 'Runaway Train' and the gnawing anxiety of Americans out of their depth in a culture that's foreign in every way. For me, Woody Harrelson takes the irritating American rube shtick a bit too far - I can't have been the only one who cheered when he got left behind in Irkutsk and booed when he showed up alive further down the line - but Emily Mortimer is luminescently great and Ben Kingsley's practised badman routine is pretty failsafe these days. Shame that some unlikely twists and turns in the plot let it down a little - it's hard to avoid being distracted by 'wait a minute..' moments - but otherwise a solid if undemanding piece of work that, for all its horrors, still leaves you thinking 'I fancy a bit of that...'. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

You could even grow to love it... the Asus eee pc 901

I've been an early adopter and user of new technology for getting on for 20 years - it kind of goes with the day job, which, not to overcomplicate matters or lose you in the very first sentence, is somewhat concerned with IT and telecoms. Notwithstanding - or perhaps because of - this familiarity with the territory, I've never felt a great deal of affection for tech and least of all for the primary tool of every techworker's trade, the laptop PC. Mostly heavy, slow, ugly, often narky... the laptop has always been for me the utilitarian tool of the working shill, not an accessory suited to the debonair hipster-about-town whose preferences naturally tend to the small, perfectly-formed and discreet. Admittedly, them Apples look pretty cool, but most are still big and anyway, like most non-media, low-grade technocrats, I've always had Microsoft PCs thrust on me.

My ambivalent-at-best attitude to the laptop may have turned a corner however, because exciting new things have happened in their design over the last year.
I got one of these here little devices for Christmas - I'd coveted one for months since my pal Marchant had got one and had finally decided the purchase was justified (or as justified as a tech purchase can ever be) - and I have to tell you it's been my boon companion ever since. What is it? Technically it's the snappily named Asus eee PC 901 (I know, will they never learn?), but what it really is is a baby laptop with a bright 9 inch screen, a usable keyboard, all that Windows stuff, a good battery and a lovely piano-black finish. To cut to the chase for anyone who's in a hurry, it's a terrific little machine and I have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants a good personal PC that can almost be carried in a pocket, and is prepared to work with relatively little onboard storage (stick with me as this needn't necessarily be a problem).  

the upside, of which there is plenty:  
  • looks great, nice finish, build feels very solid and classy despite being so light, keyboard and buttons very professional - everyone who has seen it wants one.
  • screen brightness and usability - visibility - are good 
  • battery life seems to be at least five hours - the best I've had from any laptop or notebook. Some people claim to get much more.
  • general responsiveness is excellent - it just feels fast, and I'm told a cheap and easy memory upgrade makes it faster still.  
  • wi-fi access seems particularly good too - I can go from a cold start to online and wasting time in less than a minute. Compared to the conventional Dell laptop with Vista I bought for Chez Hipster a year ago, (which, no matter what I do to it, runs like a sick donkey with two broken legs) this is fantastic.  
the downside, which honestly, need hardly concern you:  
  • everything is good but there's no getting away from the fact that it is also small. It's a fabulous bit of kit for working on trains, planes, the back of taxis, especially for quick internet access and emails and so on. But you wouldn't want to be squinting at it all day and you wouldn't really want to write a novel on this keyboard, not unless you have the dearest little pixey fingers. However: plug it into a keyboard (I'm writing this on a nice basic Logitech keyboard which cost me nearly £10) and a monitor and you won't know the difference. In fact, from this point of view it's better than a standard notebook as it takes up so little deskspace.  
  • there's not a lot of storage for documents and programs and so forth. However, you can add more as easily as inserting an SD card, just like the one you maybe have on your camera or phone (I immediately added 16gb at a cost of around £20), and you can get into the habit of using external storage for stuff you're not using every day - I have mine plugged into to a big external hard drive type of thing when I'm sitting at my desk. Personally, though, I find that more and more of the stuff I do is web-based anyway, from Google Mail and Docs to Flickr and Blogger, so the problem is starting to disappear anyway.  
In conclusion, if you're prepared to work around its natural limitations, this is a great, truly portable and even stylish personal notebook. I never thought I'd say this about a laptop, but I'm damned close to feeling some affection for it!

Monday, 5 January 2009

Could do better: 'Shine A Light' (The Rolling Stones)

There's a handful of good bits in this (if you will) rockumentary, over which 'All Down The Line' from 1971's 'Exile on Main Street' stands head and shoulders; it's taut, driven and, apart from Jagger's peculiar vocal stylings, of which more anon, pretty fabulous, and reminds you why the Stones were was once considered the planet's greatest rock and roll band - and, unfortunately, when they were last considered genuinely vital, in both senses of the word. In addition, there's a great cameo from Buddy Guy, who stalks on stage and immediately looks like the real deal, shouting, singing and playing up a storm, reminding people what the blues sound like and making Sir Mick seem suddenly lightweight (though in fairness he does play some pretty decent harmonica on the track in question). There's Keith singing 'You've Got The Silver' with some feeling, backed up by Ronnie's better-than-efficient slide. Interesting that it's one of the few times in the film when the Stones look and sound like a band (rather than journeyman backup to a barely-tolerated frontman).

Unfortunately there's an awful lot of bad stuff. To name but some: Jagger's endless prancing and queening and shaking his scrawny tush about (OK, you're 65, Mick, we get it) Keith still pretending to be able to smoke a fag while playing (because it's, like, cool) and looking (I can't take the credit for this, unfortunately) like something that's been pulled out of Brian May and Anita Dobson's plughole. Ronnie still looking like the hired hand after 30 years or whatever it is, Charlie looking like he's all ready to smack Mick one (again) at any time.

Most of the playing is average-to-deplorable. 'Faraway Eyes' in particular is an almost unlistenable combination of Jagger's 'singing' (for which, on this song at least, 'mannered' is too small a word) and Ronnie's pedal steel (which he plays, or rather tortures, like a man who'd only been introduced to the instrument in the dressing room). Lots of really duff songs ('She Was Hot', I ask you....). Pointless cameos by Jack White and Christina Aguilera. Gushing encounters with Bill Clinton. And Hillary. And Hillary's Mum. Very rock and roll, I'm sure. Pointless and randomly introduced archive clips, most of which are tediously familiar. Fatuous 'what's the setlist' drama at the start to give Marty 'di Bargi' Scorsese something to emote over.

To say it's a curate's egg would be a kindness. Why is nearly all Rolling Stones output like this - not to be rude, but so tawdry and half-arsed, so redolent of the faint odour of 'can't really be bothered'? Too many egos involved (and that of the knight of the realm in particular) perhaps? I guess at their advanced ages, a really great music film like 'Stop Making Sense' or 'Sign o' the Times' would be too much to hope for, but given their longevity, and the affection with which both they and their really rather amazing back catalogue are still regarded, not to mention the resources available to them here, why couldn't this have been the Stones 'The Last Waltz'? It surely ain't.

Avoid (again), and try instead to track down a copy of '25x5' which will remind you that there was once a really great band here, and one which could still, even at this late stage, do so much better.