Inspired by Bill Hicks, who coined the phrase, this was basically roomyrants by any other name. The quality varies considerably but they were only ever written as a form of catharsis so you’ll probably enjoy them better if, like me, you’ve ever disliked Nicky Campbell in the extreme. First up:
The Eurythmics have reformed. Again. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but the greatest respect for Annie Lennox as an overrated vocalist and depressive single mother, or Dave Stewart as a so-so guitarist and organizer of Amnesty benefit concerts, but the two of them combined create an all too common creature: The 80′s Artist Who Refuses to Die.
I blame Bob Geldof. Live 8 was a chance to show the world the best in British music, which is why, obviously, Bob wheeled out Annie Lennox, Sting, and – Christ save us – himself strangling his own greatest hit to which the majority of the Hyde Park audience had previously been oblivious. As a rock star your fame is dead Bob, let it lie. And don’t get me started on Sting solemnly telling anyone with a microphone how he was changing one word in ‘Every Breath You Take’ as if he were tweaking an original Shakespeare manuscript, or McCartney on Jonathan Ross’s sofa, letting it be known that his opening rendition of Sgt Pepper with U2 was the first time he’d ever played the song live – and then, then, he looks off camera, as if clocking some awestruck arse’s jaw hitting the floor, and he goes “yeah” as if only just recognizing himself the culturally seismic nature of his performance. They’re just songs fellas, get over them. Oh, and let’s not forget George Michael preferring not to sing solo at a benefit for the starving because he felt too fat.
Do these middle-aged, middle-class honkies think they’re Gods? Do they think the original Live Aid imbued them with an artistic immortality that transcends public appreciation? Have fawning Mojo journalists so thoroughly convinced them that their every utterance is like liquid gold oozing into the ears of the cognoscenti that they no longer know when they’re gabbling wank? Even Siouxsie Sioux, interviewed in this month’s Uncut, falls for her ‘legend’. “I remember being on Saturday Morning TV with otters,” she squirms, before ruefully adding ‘Never again.’ Well don’t worry love, the chances of Dick & Dom introducing you to several generations who have absolutely no idea who the fuck you are is so insignificantly slim that I have more chance of being caught bumming Patrick Moore atop Nelson’s Column. I can only thank the gods that the anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination has slipped by with only the release of yet another ‘ultimate’ anthology and just the couple of metric tonnes of glossy paper overanalyzing the admittedly peerless – as a Beatle anyway, his solo work being largely toss – musical legacy of a man who was otherwise an unconscionable shit. Fact: Cynthia Lennon claims their son Julian rarely laughs, and why? Because while he was playing with his dad and Sean one day, Julian giggled. Perhaps you or I might coo over such typical pre-teen behavior, but instead John Lennon rounded on his own son, bawling into his face “Stop giggling! I hate your fucking giggle! Never giggle in my presence again!” And lo, it came to pass. What an arse.
Imagine there’s no Lennon. It’s easy if you try. And while you’re at it try to avoid The Eurythmics brand new but no less defunct AOR bullshit when it hits your HMV this Christmas. Your lives won’t be any cheaper for it.
Cirque Du Soleil
Everybody I’ve ever known who’s seen Cirque Du Soleil say their acts are fantastic – gravity-defying trapeze artists, contortionists twisting their spines into Staffordshire knots, human pyramids of a thousand plate-spinning pygmies, etc. Undoubtedly, they’re status as an exceptionally talented troupe of circus performers is without parallel. I just wish they weren’t surrounded by such Sixth Form art project bullshit.
Alegria is currently in London, as if you didn’t know being as the posters are plastered all over the tube. The strapline above the title says it all: “A Renaissance of Dreams”. Let me run that by you again: “A Renaissance of Dreams”. What exactly is that supposed to mean? I’ve tried to strip this statement down to its constituent parts and I still can’t force it to make sense. Are they suggesting we’ve forgotten how to dream and this show will be like some kind of dream dam breaking in our mind, powering a tsunami of sensuous images over the scorched river bed of our barren brains, reinvigorating our unconscious and redefining our terms of artistic reality much like the artists of 15th Century Italy swept away the medieval to usher in ‘the modern’? Really? With clowns?? Cool.
Here’s what their official website says:
“Alegría is a mood, a state of mind. The themes of the show are many. Power and the handing down of power over time, the evolution from ancient monarchies to modern democracies, old age, youth – it is against this backdrop that the characters of Alegría play out their lives. Kings’ fools, minstrels, beggars, old aristocrats and children make up its universe, along with the clowns, who alone are able to resist the passing of time and the social transformations that accompany it.”
Aha, perhaps they’re suggesting that the show is, literally, a re-enactment of the actual Renaissance by a battalion of hyperactive hand balancers and flappy shoed immortals in baggy trousers? As a friend of mine went to see the show last week I asked him if he could help clarify these themes for me. He just blinked and said ‘The trapeze artists were amazing.’ When I asked him to elaborate further he added that “the hand-balancers were brilliant.” The entire conceptualisation of the piece appeared to have passed him by. Would that be because it’s just wobbly bollocks designed by a mental to repackage the same acts to a metrosexual crowd crowing for more contortionism? And if you take issue with my use of the term ‘mental’ then try to swallow this quote from one of the show’s set designers:
“Alegría came out of a process of questioning the whole notion of power and its abuses. We replaced the circles from previous shows with squares, which are more solid, ungiving.”
Whoa, hold on there Mr Maverick! You replaced the circles from previous shows with squares you crackhead muthafucker?! I’m sorry, but a six year old could have done that. Here’s another sample, this time from their ‘Director of Creation’:
“Alegría, for me, was inspired by history. The Berlin Wall was falling, the old order was changing. We were asking ourselves: what new power structures will replace the old ones?”
So now it’s supposed to be about the surge of Western democracy overpowering old style Communism is it? Christ, I can’t wait for their Ukrainia. And they just don’t limit themselves to kindergarten geopolitics either, oh no. They also dabble in pre-school psychocobblers. Here’s their website’s synopsis of Quidam:
“Quidam: a nameless passer-by, a solitary figure lingering on a street corner, a person rushing past. It could be anyone, anybody. Someone coming, going, living in our anonymous society. A member of the crowd, one of the silent majority. The one who cries out, sings and dreams within us all. This is the “quidam” that Cirque du Soleil is celebrating.”
On those terms Quidam would appear to encompass everyone in the known universe (although in the show itself it’s a headless bloke with rain jetting out of his severed neck, so perhaps not just ‘anybody’ then) For the luvva mike Cirque Du Soleil, how many more ‘ideas’ can you plaster over your phenomenal performers to obscure the fact that they’re just rejigging their routines?? Get your PR department’s rain-sprouting headless neck out of it’s sinisterly sneering clown’s arse and stop insulting my intelligence by boiling every promotional sentence in so much cod conceptualism it spews out my eyes every time I step on an underground escalator. Please. Just say “We’ve got clowns that are actually funny and contortionists who’ll bend your mind, you’ll have a great time” and I’ll come, honestly. Until then…
A Renaissance of Dreams my arse.
[a year later, Alegria returned to the Royal Albert Hall, but this time the tagline was 'The Return of Dreams' so perhaps there is a God]
Let me just show you what started this off:
Yes, it’s James Blunt’s latest album: Chasing Time: The Bedlam Sessions. It’s a cash-in, obviously, but millions of you seem keen to splash cash on bastardised ‘special’ editions of albums you already own, so who am I to argue? If you like the music and want more, fine, just as long as you get reasonable value for money. Yup, an extra track deemed too dire for the original release? Oh thank you EMI! A shitty remix by some ratarsed Russian journeyman DJ? Cheers Sony, here’s another tenner!
I must say, though, Warners have excelled themselves with The Bedlam Sessions. What would you expect from that title? Outtakes, maybe, from the recording of Blunt’s seminal debut? Salvaged musical gems previously trashed for being just too damn daring and ‘out there’? Perhaps Blunt racking his soul in a prolonged primal scream over a nutbox of psychopathically choppy cellos, or Blunt channelling the dead voice of his great grandmother amidst a surround sound recreation of The Somme trenches or some other slab of brainmashing horsepiss that makes Pink Floyd’s The Wall sound like Pinky & Perky sing The Osmonds.
Sorry, but no. I’m afraid The Bedlam Sessions is just another shoddy ‘live’ album covering the soppy original in its entirety with a crappy Crowded House cover tacked on for that extra wet look. Warners, I salute you! I salute you for successfully shovelling this pap back down our throats, its back-to-basics cover and groovy typeface sugaring the shitpill just enough so we can’t stop grinning as we chug it down, even as it meets the original on its way back up, because – let’s be honest – is there anyone alive who isn’t pig sick of Your Beautiful?
My life is brilliant.
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.
Of that I’m sure.
She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won’t lose no sleep on that,
‘Cause I’ve got a plan.
What plan James? ‘I don’t know what to do’ Is that it? Well not quite, because in the video he shows us exactly what his plan is. He’s going to top himself, just because he sees some bint on the tube with a fella. Christ, I challenge any woman reading this to defend the James Blunt portrayed in this song. Do you love him for cashing in his chips after seeing you for all of a split second with some bloke you might think an utter shit once the honeymoon period wears off? Don’t you think Jim might have stuck around for just a teensy bit longer to try to earn your adoration, rather than sodding off to some clifftop to strip semi-naked and cast himself into the freezing waters just because he lacks the imagination to win your heart from some runt who might have Rohypnol in his pocket (stick around Jimbo, people change.)
But hey, I know I’m wasting my breath, because I know you’ll all love James Blunt till the end of your sad sentimental days, and why? Because he saw you – he knew, with just one glance, that you were special, that you were the one, that your uniqueness made his life worthless without you because he caught your shining soul in a single second and was blinded, and I know because I’ve been there. I was young, saw a girl, fell in love at first sight and was gone: poetry, flowers, the whole nine Byronic yards bubbled from my rabid teenage mind. Seven years later I woke up having moped through university – supposedly the most fun-packed years a boy can have spent largely waiting for her letters to drop on the doormat – and meandered through various dead-end jobs thinking of so little but her that, when she finally gave me a shot at a relationship, my life was so impoverished I had nothing to offer but a massive overdraft and a moody silence – oh what a disappointingly wet bastard I was, but the lesson, ladies, is this: there are drawbacks to every romantic soul, and right now no-one knows that more than the real-life lady who inspired Your Beautiful.
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.
Of that I’m sure.
My arse, because you’re dumped love. Yes, James Blunt has dumped the angelic love of his life for – wait for it, it’s a classic – Tara Palmer Tomkinson! Now I’m not going to evacuate myself all over z-list consumer whore & nineties ‘It Girl’ Tara because she’s had a rough enough time of it already, poor love, what with her eternal struggles with cocaine addiction, extreme weight loss, and Darren Day’s semi-tumescent member, plus the fact that even her best friends call her ‘plank’. She does some great work for drugs charities and, apparently, is a concert level classical pianist, so let’s leave the sour-faced moo alone and concentrate instead on the fickle speck of lying arselint that is James Blunt.
Of course, everyone knows Blunt was originally called Blount, and that he was a commissioned officer in the Army’s Life Guards regiment (fact: Tara was once introduced to another officer in the Lifeguards, to whom she replied “Which beach?”) but does anyone know that Blunt was on duty during the Queen Mum’s funeral? Or that Gareth Hunt can finally sleep the sleep of the redeemed in his Nescafe cash stuffed bed because James Blunt has supplanted him as official cockney rhyming slang for an undesirable individual resembling a lady’s front bottom?
I think you may have gathered, by this point, that I dislike James Blunt, and that it’s not a subject on which I am reticent. But even this scorching hatred bubbles into insignificance next to my rank loathing of Corinne Bailey Rae. Well, not Corinne Bailey Rae per se – she seems quite jolly in her videos and has a pleasant enough voice – no, I’m talking about her typeface. I despise her typeface. Here it is:
Don’t you just hate it too? Surely you must. The infantilism implicit in those apparently doodled letters, with their pre-school filled-in holes that scream ‘Look at me! Look at me! I am pure, I am unsullied by adult cynicism and self-consciousness to such a degree that I can fill the holes in my letters like a retard and make you love me as a sexualised child artist!” Christ I haaaaate iiiiit! Aaaaaaargh! And when I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and picked up her album in Sainsbury’s, the first thing I saw when I opened the CD case was a postcard directing me to ‘check out the Corinne Bailey Rae WAP shop’ Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! By all that’s holy just let this woman make music EMI! Stop trying to sell me this contemptuous construct that you’ve wasted hundreds of hours of human life tweaking to satisfy some arseheaded ideal of middle-class consumerist perfection you fuckpig pimps!
I hate you all.
[One year down the line and we're on 'The Deluxe Edition' of Blunt's follow-up 'All the Lost Souls', which has gone double platinum in the UK (and Canada, Australia and Germany) and five-times platinum in Ireland, even though it's spawned no singles of any significant popularity. That said, although it would seem that Mr Blunt is going to be one of those album artists who sell by the bucketload to not-so-young lovers without every scratching the singles chart, 'Lost Souls' has actually only shifted a quarter of the units managed by 'Bedlam', and if that trend continues into his third album you may yet see Mr Blunt in a Tube station near you. Oh, and in case you're wondering, 'The Deluxe Edition' features a live DVD concert rendition of the original album, some Japanese bonus tracks, and a shite-sopping Supertramp cover. Many thanks again Mr B, but I'll still be pocketing my penny when we next meet down Covent Garden way.]
Five Live News
Somewhere in the Middle East a child is weeping for her daddy, lost in a suicide bombing. This very second, a freezing pensioner wheezes her final breath, her puny ribcage heaving as she stretches for the two-bar fire. As we speak, a mother is sobbing into her whisky chaser, one eye on her malnourished tot in its grubby cot, waiting for the bailiff’s knock. Perhaps in a distant galaxy a world dies screaming in the burning wave of a supernova, the death cry denied us by the infinite vacuum of space. All these sounds and more can seize the heart in an iron grip, but they’re Morecambe & Wise singing ‘Give Me Sunshine’ on a carousel of cooing babies compared to the voice of Nicky Campbell.
Every time I get back from holiday it’s the same. I burst through the door full of bouncy, continental bonhomie, throw my suitcase on the floor, pour a nice glass of Squash, and then sit at the kitchen table to simply bask in the joy being alive. Then I turn on the radio and am instantly transported into the twisted heart of the ball-busting car wreck that is Five Live Breakfast with Nicky Campbell & Shelagh Fogarty.
This morning Shelagh was interviewing a spokesman from Virgin Airlines, who’d just announced an eco-friendly method of saving plane fuel by having their fleet towed to their take-off points rather than having to use their engines (ok, it’s not much, but at least it’s a start.) Shelagh’s response?
“But what if the tow trucks break down? It’d be chaos wouldn’t it?”
Yes, Sheila, it would be chaos. And if the wings on every plane inconveniently snapped off on landing, that’d be chaos too wouldn’t it? I wonder what you’d say to the doctor who’d just found a cure for cancer? “But what if you lost all your syringes? It’d be chaos wouldn’t it?” Christ, the sheer bloody worthlessness of Shelagh & Nicky’s arguments can be infuriating enough. That they’re often delivered in a withering tone of condemnation that suggests every interviewee is engaged in a selfish folly that’ll ultimately be a waste of taxpayer’s money, is just the Angina icing on the blood-pressure spiralling cake. And they’re not the only culprits.
Later, on Drive, Jane Garvey’s pitifully misguided tenacity and Peter Allen’s near-pathological scepticism often make for a teeth-grinding afternoon, particularly when they engage in a tit-for-tat battle to see who can most effectively eviscerate their guests. One afternoon Peter completely tore into the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, undermining his every defence with a fantastic grasp of the facts. It was, in short, a brilliant interview, but oh dear, it left Jane with a quandary. How could she possibly top it?
This was around the time Richard Reed, the shoe bomber, was arrested, and Jane had to gently quiz the ex-headmaster of Reed’s school for a bit of background. The resulting ‘chat’ was appalling, with Garvey battering the man with pointless blame: “Why couldn’t you see he was going to go off the rails?”, “Why didn’t you spot the danger signs?”, “Surely an idiot could have seen them?” etc, even though Reed had only been eleven at the time and this poor sod had only come on to do them a favour.
Both Drive and Breakfast rabidly follow the same edict from their editorial superiors: “We need a quote for a headline so you must get an exclusive, even if it means blowing up the slightest story into a globe-juddering event”. Remember when Prescott was caught playing Croquet while Blair was on holiday? Oh how Nicky & Shelagh loved that story, coming, as it did, right off the back of Prezzer’s affair with a secretary and the subsequent loss of his cabinet post in a hasty reshuffle. It was really such a non-event as to be laughable, and yet the media still wanted his head for it. I remember Shelagh pinning down a government mouthpiece with the piss-poor line: “Yes, but he’s been left in charge of the country, and he looks like he’s playing.” That’s right Shelagh, he’s playing Croquet. Is he not allowed a minute of repose? And is he not allowed to play anything as genteel as Croquet within that ‘relaxing’ minute? What else do you expect him to do? Spend every living breathing second utilising his bluff northern wisdom & pie eating brilliance to broker peace in the Middle East?
Of course, attacking the government at every turn is a given here at the Beeb, and rightly so. Ministers need putting on the spot. I’m just pissed off with reports being railroaded by blatantly biased interviews. Only this morning a leaked Department of Health memo suggested that the NHS probably wouldn’t meet their target of halving MRSA cases by April 2008, and so the target should either be revised or dropped completely in order to effectively ‘handle’ the negative PR impact. Shelagh was grilling Health Minister Andy Burnham and, god bless her, she was comparatively restrained. “This memo talks about how to handle media response, and of course you have to give people the right facts, but to be concerned with what it looks like seems a bit facile doesn’t it?”
“Well, while you say that media impressions are not important, actually I think they are, because I think this issue goes to the heart of public confidence in the NHS. I accept that; that’s why it’s important; it’s why it’s important we tackle it; and I think it’s really important that people report this in a fair and balanced way. It is coming down, but we need to do more, and that’s what we’re doing.”
A fair response to a pertinent question. Nice one Shelagh. She then, however, wound up interviewing an NHS patient whose mother had tragically died of MRSA. “It was a horrible death, a horrible death,” the poor woman said. She then recounted her own battle with breast cancer. “I haven’t a bad word for the NHS,” she said. “The hospital was spotless. I was quickly diagnosed and had my operation in just three weeks, but I’m still terrified of MRSA.”
Now it’s not that I begrudged the lady her right to recount her experience, it’s just that, as a member of the public who is in no way representative of the majority of NHS patients, her very presence shat away whatever objectivity the piece might have possessed. And it happens all the time. Story about rail safety? By all means get a transport minister to let us know how much the government’s investing in track maintenance this year, but let’s give the last word to a woman whose father died in the Potter’s Bar train crash. That’ll give us a balanced view. Care in the Community? Get a Home Office spokesman on the line to give us a decent angle on how sadly deranged these mentals really are, but oh, make sure the last thing we hear is the near-tears testimony of a widow whose husband was beaten to death by a nutjob who’d just been released that morning. That’ll reassure the public that the government’s doing its best to tackle the problem. Do you have a highly personalised account of an event that happened several years ago? Text or email the BBC and we’ll use your barely relevant opinion to colour a current issue
And then there’s Nicky Campbell.
Some people’s egos are large enough to change the fate of nations – Franco, Stalin, ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, etc. Other people’s egos are like a force of nature, pulsating around them like a perverse Van Allen belt, attracting cutlery to their eyebrows and causing televisions to moiré as they pass. And then there is the ego of Nicky Campbell, which is sufficiently powerful to generate temporal rifts in the time-space continuum, allowing conversants access to a parallel universe in which our Nicky really is a superhuman hybrid of Paxman, Frost, Humphreys, and Mayo. And perhaps he is, albeit one that’s been lobotomised within an inch of catatonia, because whenever I listen to Five Live Breakfast I tend to come away with the overriding sensation that there’s no subject on which Nicky Campbell doesn’t know sod all.
No, that’s unfair. Naughty roomybonce. “Sod all” is a tad too strong. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “not quite enough.” Part of me thinks Nicky Campbell prides himself on not knowing ‘quite enough’ about virtually everything, because he thinks that maintaining such a woeful shared level of knowledge keeps him in touch with the common man. He’s convinced he’s got his finger on the public’s pulse, and that it’s his job to be their champion in the ongoing battle with the dark forces of power.
For example, after the publication of Lord Stevens’ report on ‘corruption’ in the Premiership, Nicky interviewed a suit from the League’s PR department, and it was obvious from the off that our Nicky would be unshakeable in his everyman belief that corruption was endemic in football. ‘Endemic’, was, in fact, the buzzword for the entire interview.
“Surely the bung culture has become so endemic in the ‘beautiful game’ that every transfer must involve a little brown envelope in some shape or form?”
“Well no, the report clearly states that out of the 362 transfers Lord Stevens’ team investigated, only 17 were found to be ‘questionable’. That is a relatively small percentage and in no way indicates that the game itself is corrupt. Lord Stevens himself, in fact, went out of his way to say that the game was clean.”
“But the fact that it’s so endemic, that so much goes on under the table, so much is unaccountable, with no records kept….there’s no way this report could possibly have complete access to all the facts, is there?”
That’s what I like about Nicky. He never lets ‘facts’ get in the way of his instincts. It’s what makes him such a woeful sub-paxo arse-babbler, but it’s also what makes him the God of the Phone-In. I still remember ‘Central Weekend Live’ and Nicky’s faultless ability to unleash the blow-dried hoards of chav hell on each unsuspecting guest. Oh yes, his savvy handling of topical debates was why he was brought to the station in the first place, so c’mon bigwigs, yank Nicky off brekkie and put him back where he belongs, corralling the telephonic cretins of the nation beneath his flag of feckless outrage. “Was Diana murdered?”, “Is eating fruit really better for you than eating sausages?” The hot topics just keep coming, and who better to lob those boiling news babies into Joe Public’s slavering, clapping seal-mouth than Nicky Campbell, the man with his mucky fingers in the moral conscience of the nation.
At least then we’ll be spared the doomsday machine that is Victoria Derbyshire. “Today’s phone-in is about the sun: it rises in the morning, and sets in the evening, but is it good for you?”
I’m going back to bed.
[As of Monday 5th january 2009 Nicky Campbell is now back on the 9am phone-in. Oh praise Him! Jane Garvey has since been replaced by Anita Anand, who genuinely appears to have a sense of humour, with which she pricks Peter's pomposity at every opportunity. And thank God for Simon Mayo, surely the best non-music broadcaster on this island. And viva The Good Doctor while we're at it. Meanwhile, for more on Nicky C, have a read through the brilliant opening chapter of Charlie Brooker's column compendium 'Dawn of the Dumb' the next time you're browsing in Borders. It's a hoot.]