Friday, 24 March 2017

My Big Midweek


I only tend to remember this once a year, when Mark E. Smith has a new album out, but The Fall really are the greatest music I've ever heard. 




There's an episode in Steve Hanley's autobiography My Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall where Craig Scanlon, The Fall's longest running guitarist, comes up with this verbal perversity:

'The worse the atmosphere in the band, the better music they make'.

You may think this is absurd, or else a bad joke, but no: it really is what he thought at that point in the 90s when the group ('the band is what plays in Blackpool') was still going strong. I specifically wanted to single out these words, albeit quoted from memory, because they give you a rough idea of the fucked-up mindset of someone institutionalised in The Fall. 

Steve Hanley joined The Fall as a young man back when Mark E. Smith was still singing "Repetition". For a Manchester lad with the grim prospect of a life in a parents' bakery... I mean, what more could you possibly wish? Then came the rest. The rest unfolds here like some fucking thriller.

Mark E. Smith's dysfunctional brilliance is not in doubt, and don't pretend you knew nothing about the bullying and the backstabbing. However, My Big Midweek is unique in the sense that it describes The Fall institution from the inside. Hanley is right. You don't need to be a fan to love this book. You don't even need to like music (though in that case you would miss a million priceless references with varying degrees of snide and affection).

For once, it's beautifully written. With true, unfading passion - but then with love, too, so that your eyebrows are barely raised when Hanley thanks Smith in the acknowledgements. 'For the opportunity and unique life lessons'.

It was 19 years, too.

Hanley has a lot to get off his chest. He has every right to feel embittered, being one of the greatest bass guitarists of his generation and the single most crucial member of The Fall whose name is not Mark E. Smith. What follows is a perfect snapshot of the band during one of their last tours together: 'a feral rogue and his rival, whose soul he's sucking dry, a reluctant guitarist who hasn't faced the audience for five years, a deconstructed dance-head whose bouncy edges are still being sanded-down, a claustrophobic snug-dwelling diva and me, a big, bald, grudgeful idiot from Ireland'. Beat that.

You know by the end of this book (which will leave you battered, though not as much as an average member of The Fall) that, against all common sense, Steve Hanley would never have chosen a different life. Because he fucking cared.

But equally there's a perverted sense of joy in the way he finishes the book: 

'I'm not going to play bass with The Fall again'.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

travelling notes (xxiii)


There's a precious feeling Jarvis Cocker is trying to communicate in Room 29. It's about hotels. Great ones. It's that feeling you have on the second day, having enjoyed the vanilla-smelling bedsheets and the fine wines and the spectacular view from the window. It's when you start thinking, 'well, what if it's ALWAYS like that'. But then you know it isn't. Tragically, or else fortunately, it isn't.


Saturday, 18 March 2017

travelling notes (xxii)


In places which are losing their identity even the birds are singing in tune. And what tune! Average fucking pop music that bores you before you actually hear it. And birds are so easily led.


Friday, 17 March 2017

travelling notes (xxi)


Some cities get swept away by bad weather. A slight drizzle would alter their shape, their colour and even their appearance. This is not true about St. Petersburg. After all, Monet's lady is always there, lurking in the sun, hiding under that small white umbrella. 


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Greatest man in Hollywood


James Stewart. 

Cecily said it best. "There is something in that name that seems to inspire absolute confidence". 

Rear Window, ages ago. It was not the tension that stuck in my mind more than anything else. Not even his acting which was hardly a revelation. Rather, it was his presence that eclipsed, quite effortlessly, the great American beauty of Grace Kelly.

This presence was deadly serious in Vertigo and almost comical in Shop Around The Corner, yet you always knew you were looking at the greatest man in Hollywood. Try setting him against the modern world of half-actors trying too hard to impress. 

The thing about them - they come and go. The thing about James Stewart - he was always going to stay.

Remarkably, he didn't even have to try. He could be the foolish idealist in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or he could be the cynical reporter in The Philadelphia Story. His confidence was always palpable. You could feel its sweat on your forehead the way L.B. Jefferies felt the pressure of the midday heat. 

And then, of course, there was Harvey.




How often do you feel like a kid who's just seen his new favourite film? How often do you stare at a scene that is some kind of an impossible epiphany about a six-foot rabbit leaning against a lamppost? 

And, again, there is no one else there, just him filling your screen from top to bottom, with absolute confidence. 

Ah but do look closely. There is no doctor in that scene. No nurse. No dingy stairs of a dingy back street. Only James Stewart. And, of course, Harvey.


Friday, 10 March 2017

travelling notes (xx)


In a quiet restaurant in the heart of Toledo a booming Italian once told me that there is a difference between wine for 2 euros and wine for 20 euros but there is no difference between wine for 20 euros and wine for 200 euros. I took that as gospel. 


Monday, 6 March 2017

travelling notes (xix)


Everything about those who sleep on pavements - everything about them should remain a half-truth. A half-mystery. If you find it in any way romantic, do not ruin your good story by altering the ending. Walk past, don't say a word. One syllable casually dropped - and there would be no end to bad teeth and petty revelations. The whole city could be obliterated for all eternity. Or even - and this is much, much worse - for you.