Saturday, 27 November 2010

My 50 Favourite Songs Of The Year: 50 – 41

I decided to really drag things out this year, so every Saturday between now and Christmas Day I will post ten tracks in reverse order from my sweat-drenched and tear-stained list. It’s a Christmas countdown!
I might say this every year, but this was DIFFICULT. My ‘short list’ had a hundred songs on it so I have spent the last few weeks essentially pushing dear friends off the side of a boat. Usual rules apply, only one track per artist allowed, remixes and covers don’t count (they get their own category of course). Oh and POKE the usual disclaimers about my penchant for crap-pop. What is a bit of Islet without some Katy Perry on the side, know what I mean? Trust me it wasn’t The National who kept the lid on the Diazepam this year. As Emerson said, 'Evermore in the world is this marvelous balance of beauty and disgust, magnificence and rats.’
He also said , ‘POP! POP! POP! …’
So here we go …

50. I Am Kloot – Northern Skies
A sterling highlight from their swooning Elbow-produced album, Sky At Night. The lyric ‘You take the coast-road back through your life…’ still brings a lump to my throat even after umpteen plays.

49. Islet – We Shall Visit
Warning! Experimental! The avant-garde is alive and kicking in Cardiff’s Islet: numerous verses, barely a chorus, tempo-changes, all things that might otherwise rile you combine to make this song a triumph of sophisticated noise. Watch them very closely in 2011.

48. Erykah Badu – 20 Feet Tall
She became the sedate soul sister to Janelle Monae in my summertime listening. This song at dusk makes you breeeathe deeeep. Terrific album behind it too.

47. The Vaselines – I Hate The Eighties
It wasn’t all Duran Duran Duran Duran Duran …’ If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, say The Vaselines, and hurrah to that. This slow-punk antidote to nostalgia was my big shower song this year, and that plaintive outro, ‘Where did that girl go? What did that boy know?’ is vintage Vaselines. Comeback album Sex With An X was a gem to boot. Fantastic gig at Deaf Institute after which I got to meet them backstage. What a night and what lovely people. Long live The Vaselines.

46. (We Are) Performance – The Living
Down a member they may be, but the Lazarus-like Performance rose again with Red Brick Heart. This, the lead single, should blatantly have been Number One. (Do we still have those?) Superb video. ‘You had the best night, it’s all on your website …’ I know right?

45. Hole – Skinny Little Bitch
She returned. I could not love Ms Love more than I already do. Sometimes it’s hard to believe she lived through the nineties with us, let alone the noughties, but not only did she survive, she came through to write some of her best material yet. This track was raw old-school Hole while other album tracks, like ’Pacific Coast Highway’, toughened the Bangles vibe from Celebrity Skin and matched it. Live shows divided audience opinion but so what, she remains the absolute queen of fuck you.

44. Vit Päls – Odysseus
Relentlessly catchy outtake from the Swedish Vit Päls’ indefinable carnivelesque jittery indie electro kaleidoscopic long player Nu Var Det I Alla Fall Så, which may or may not mean Now It Was In All Cases. Whatever, it’s full-on magic.

43. Katy Perry (feat. Snoop Dogg) – California Gurls
Just blame Bannatyne’s gymnasium. This chunky helping of corporate slut-pop might have sounded like a validation of white supremacy were it not for the inclusion of ‘the Dogg on the stereo’. Addictive, like my antihistamines.

42. Drive-By Truckers – Birthday Boy
The Big To Do was a storming LP from hick-rock’s finest and smartest and this was the standout track for me. Lyrics never play second fiddle to DBT’s raw country rock. This is the tale of a young guy on a birthday jaunt to a lap dancing bar. ‘Got a girlfriend don't you boy? Nervous hands can't lie. Married men don't ask how much and single one's ain't buyin'...’ Perfect.

41. The National – Anyone’s Ghost
So much to choose from on a spectacular album from that band you can’t quite believe aren’t from England. This was the one that, for want of a better word, haunted me the most. Puts you in mind of Tindersticks at their very best.

Get your (incomplete) Spotify playlist here. I’ll add it to every week. But, you know, I’m doing this to support the arts. So support ‘em …

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

After Hours Athletes @ Deaf Institute

Bit of a wet dream this, two of the best nights in Manchester, Clique and Gold Teeth, having a play-off under the roof of the best bar in Manchester, The Deaf Institute, all supervised by The House of Hot Breath ('we put the 'care' in 'karaoke').

For a night of 'games, music and booze', get signed up here.

The games, in case you're wondering, include: Handbag Heavyweights, Pizzaface Challenge and Simaese Twin Pool. What could possibly go wrong??

Info here.

Get in.

The Deaf Institute, 30 November, 8pm - 12pm

Friday, 19 November 2010

New fiction endeavour in Manchester: The Hidden Gem Press

Manchester has a small but formidable publishing output. Carcanet has made its home in the city for forty years as one of the foremost independent poetry publishers in the country. Manchester University Press has been publishing leading academic research for a hundred years, third only to Oxford and Cambridge in terms of output. In the world of fiction, Comma Press continues a fruitful love affair with the short story, unearthing talent and winning awards along the way. And now joining the fold is The Hidden Gem Press. About to be launched by husband and wife team, Brian and Sherry Ashworth, the press has a perfectly simple and ambitious remit, ‘to publish good quality novels from the best of emerging writers – and we have a distinctly north-west flavour.’

Manhattanchester spoke with Sherry Ashworth ...

How long has your idea for a Manchester fiction house been incubating?

Sherry: Forever. My experience as a writer has typically been that of long trips via Virgin down to London to be lunched by Camillas and Chlamydias who have no idea of life up north. It struck me as a real pity that there wasn't a fiction house here in this far more exciting city. But also more recently it's becoming very clear that the publishing industry is going the way of the music industry – away from big labels/multinationals towards indie – indie publishers all over the country are scooping awards and selling books – and we want a piece of the action. And also as a creative writer tutor at MMU I see so much talent and don't want it to go to waste.

Do you think it’s harder than it might have been in the past for new voices to find their way into print?

Yes it IS harder for new writers to break through – in these recessionary times the big publishers aren't taking risks. Or they need to make megabucks in order to justify themselves to the men in suits – hence the great success of Susan Boyle. But indie presses will change all that.

How will The Hidden Gem fit in with your day jobs?

Easily. Brian is retired so he actually WANTS to dash here, there and everywhere in the interests of promoting good fiction. I just love reading new writing and shouting about the good stuff I find – this isn't work – it's fun, fun, fun!

Whose idea was the name, it’s terrific!

The name was my idea – came to me in the middle of the night. It IS a nod in the direction of the church, but will also describe out books and our writers.

Are you optimistic for the future of The Novel as a form?

Yeah – while people are still literate there'll always be an audience for a good read. They may be reading on their Kindles, but they'll still be reading.

What will be the first title from The Hidden Gem stable?

Our first title is *ta dah* Hungry, The Stars and Everything by the wonderful Emma Jane Unsworth. Emma is a freelance journalist who's had her short fiction published in a number of places. Hungry is her debut novel. It's stylish, funny, and absolutely delicious. The heroine – Helen Burns – now where have we heard THAT name before?? – is a restaurant critic, with a loving partner who cooks her gourmet meals and now she has an assignment to review Manchester’s latest and best new restaurant, tipped for a Michelin star. But who is the mystery chef? And how come each morsel on the tasting menu is so exquisite, and triggers Helen’s memories of a not-so-perfect past? Hungry is not so much chick-lit as chic-lit – and I know it will be to everyone's taste.

The Hidden Gem Press will officially launch at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Thursday 25th November at 6.30 pm. Admission is free and the bar and café will be open for the duration. Emma Unsworth will be reading from her novel Hungry, The Stars and Everything alongside Zoe Lambert, who'll be reading from her new short story collection The War Tour.

Hungry, The Stars and Everything will publish in 2011.

International Anthony Burgess Foundation, The Engine House, Chorlton Mill, Cambridge Street.

Map here.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt

‘I haunted the Upper West Side …’

The protagonist of Siri Hustvedt’s The Blindfold is, for the bulk of the story, aged about twenty two, a period of life in which certain things – art, lust, ideas – can seem to needle more prominently at your conscience. This is one of the things Hustvedt’s debut does well, outlining the youthful need to define things and be defined. The novel rings with the urgency of conversations, events and thoughts, but equally frustrates with inertia and the inability to make things happen, which of course is just as youthful.

Iris is a grad student, an eye through which we see New York and its difficult parameters, where she attempts to bring herself to life in a number of guises. Iris is also the author’s first name reversed, inviting an autobiographical reading of the text and, told in four temporally-fudged parts, the story does operate as a convincingly fragmented exploration of the way memory and recall work, and how slippery they can be. The migraines that trouble and eventually hospitalise Iris add another veil of frustrated perception to her tales.

Whether posing for a photographer or translating an obscure German novel, interactions with art and artists colour Iris’ sojourns through a city that’s often masterfully indifferent. She is negotiating not only the streets and their heavily masculine terrain, but her identity. She attempts to forge some kind of rewarding path there, all the while striving to obtain a self-image she can trust. This is almost always done in relation to difficult and inappropriate men. Set in the late seventies, it’s possible this is a woman who literally does not know what to do with her own liberation. In fact, the possible liberating effects of fluid personalities means reality itself is frequently wrong-footed. At one point it seems a posed photograph of Iris has taken on a life of its own. The power of self-image can be too great.

Hustvedt interrogates a number of female stereotypes in The Blindfold: woman as model, as muse, as student smitten with older male intellectual. These scenarios aren’t subverted as you might anticipate, rather our protagonist is left sprawling and helpless beneath their sheer accumulated power. The subversions she does undertake, such as cross-dressing for the purposes of safely bar-hopping in the small hours, liberate her in terms of social barriers, but come at the cost of her own body; she literally begins to wither away. When negotiations with identity break down, so eventually does Iris. The last and most affecting of the female tropes the novel deals with is of women gone mad. The scenes set on a female hospital ward, with its array of bedraggled outcast women, showcase best what a terrifically powerful writer Hustvedt can be.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

“Can you squeeze me into an empty page of your diary …?”

It’s Morrissey and The Smiths season here in Manchester. What fine fare the city has to offer to the discerning apostle over the coming weeks …

First up is the return of ‘Maladjusted’, the Morrissey/Smiths evening to be re-launched with alacrity and panache at that glorious drinking emporium, Gullivers of Oldham Street on Friday 19th of November.

As ever, the playlist will be primarily Morrissey/Smiths, supplemented with other Morrissey-endorsed music including …

The Courteeners - The Strokes - The Libertines - Angelic Upstarts - The Slits - David Bowie - T.Rex - Roxy Music - Siouxsie And The Banshees - Buzzcocks - The Marvelettes - The Crystals - Dusty Springfield - Shangri La's - X-Ray Spex - Sandie Shaw - Lou Reed - James - New York Dolls - Elvis Presley - The Ramones - Sparks - Magazine - Iggy Pop - The Stooges - The Velvet Underground - The Cookies - The Kinks - The Jam - Mott the Hoople - Eddie Cochran – Gene … and more.

That would be something of a dream do even without Steven Patrick.

Entry is an insultingly meagre £2 from 9pm till 2am. Facebook page right here. Come and dance your legs down to the knees ...

Next up it’s only the publishing event of the year. Remember I mentioned that very special book? Well we’re having a launch party and you’re all invited! The event is on Friday 26th of November at Waterstone’s Deansgate, and will be chaired by local DJ, author, musical luminary and all-round good egg Mr Dave Haslam, plus very special guest Simon Goddard, yes he of Songs That Saved Your Life and Mozipedia. And even I will say a little something too. 'Hello and welcome' mainly. (I’ll have it written on little cards, don’t worry …)

The evening will include:

• Drinks from 6.30 pm in Waterstone’s plush newly-refurbished bar

• Panel event to commence from 7 pm

• Readings from contributing authors

• Panel discussion on the book, pop culture, and all things Smiths and Morrissey

• Audience question and answer session

• Opportunity to meet authors and have books signed

• Post-panel drinks in Waterstone’s bar with Smiths-inspired soundtrack

• After party in TV21, basement bar, Thomas St

Entry to the event is a mere £3 + booking fee. Facebook page here. Tickets are essential and are available now right HERE.

Look forward to seeing you all there!

And there’s time for one more fix before Christmas. Viva Morrissey, the world’s only musical tribute to Morrissey as solo artist, will take the stage at Moho Live for one of their trademark emotionally enriching and exhaustive sets. A fantastically tight band with the dextrous and faithful vocal talents of singer Paul up front. The gig will be followed by dancing to Moz/Smiths music and the like till the early hours at no extra cost.

For musical links and fan page, go to Facebook, here.

Get your tickets for this rabble rouser here.

And remember ...

“Nothing is important, so people, realising that, should get on with their lives, go mad, take their clothes off, jump in the canal, jump into one of those supermarket trolleys, race around the supermarket and steal Mars bars and kiss kittens ...”

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Twelfth Night at The Lowry

Chaos and music are foregrounded in Filter Theatre Company’s ruthlessly abridged (ninety minutes, no interval) version of one of Shakespeare’s most fun and farcical plays. Most people on stage play at least two roles and at least one instrument. Misrule and tempo are the order of the day, rather than any musings on power, identity and love. It’s LOUD, there are FUNNY DANCES and RED NOSES. It’s ideal for the coachload of fifth formers in attendance tonight, they love it. It’s actually really good fun, if a touch Legz Akimbo on occasion. Personally, I live in fear of audience participation (with good reason, I might add), and there is plenty here: borrowed clothes, onstage games, shots of tequila, pizzas passed around the audience and more. We were two rows from the front and I was at the end of the row so my stomach was knotted with tension as I watched three ‘volunteers’ catch balls on stage with Velcro hats. An intense hour and a half with some genuine belly laughs to be had. And some of the best lines were not only saved, but sung ever so sweetly ...

Come away, come away, death,

And in sad cypress let me be laid;

Fly away, fly away breath;

I am slain by a fair cruel maid.

My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,

O, prepare it!

My part of death, no one so true

Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet

On my black coffin let there be strown;

Not a friend, not a friend greet

My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:

A thousand thousand sighs to save,

Lay me, O, where

Sad true lover never find my grave,

To weep there!

Friday, 5 November 2010

I hate the autumn

I hate the autumn. It’s a season which belongs to the countryside. I’d like to be able to experience it entirely from behind glass if I could, ideally from behind my enormous Grade II single-glazed oculus which can never be double-glazed and so starts to gather condensation in October. In the city a falling leaf is only pretty until it lands, and then it’s litter, and soon after that it’s a slippery obstacle. Mulch. Piles of rotting leaves smell to me like the sweat of unhealthy men. On Oxford Road, the only road I ever seem to walk down these days, they’re pulling up the Victorian sewers. The smell is of bad teeth and ripe egg mayonnaise. Toilet roll is strewn across the street, not from the sewers, from Halloween. I missed Halloween. I’ll miss Bonfire Night too. The sewer renovations intrude on the pavements so everyone is walking shoulder to shoulder at mismatched speeds, clammy in clothes inappropriate for the weather, because everything you wear in autumn is inappropriate for the weather. The weather is inappropriate. When I was a kid I ploughed my bike through an enormous pile of dry leaves at the side of the road. There was a pile of bricks waiting in the middle for me and I went in a perfect arc over the handlebars and landed on my back. Autumn is full of surprises. How I hate it.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Band On The Wall

Manchester City Council usually can’t wait to sell the pavement from under you, but not everything has succumbed to their greedy wrecking ball. Band On The Wall’s refurb was a triumph of good sense, not to mention dazzling kitsch design. A long-time stand-alone beacon of good music at the top end of the Northern Quarter, the neighbourhood is rapidly getting more popular and/or gentrified en route to embrace this old stalwart. Needless to say, they do proper good gigs up there now. Forthcoming are these two beauties to check out …

Hafdis Huld is an Iceland singer-songwriter with sweet cut-glass vocals, adventurous tale-telling lyrics and live shows that are never the same twice. Her new album is on Spotify and is a slow-burning gem, perfect for autumn nights. Settle into the season. Tickets here.

Hafdis Huld

Sleepy Sun peddle a big lush mix of garage rock, psychedelics and guitar crescendos. It’s like early Verve with the reverb even higher and some girl vocals to freshen things up. This one is mint, it has whistling in it:

Live is definitely the place to get the best out of their wall of sound. Tickets here.

Sleepy Sun

Get some scran from the Picturehouse Café Bar beforehand. Support this legend of a venue.