Penguin Cafe. A matter of Life

The reviews for this album have mostly been a little patronising and mildly dismissive as if it is some form of PCO lite offering.

I beg to differ.

I am, almost literally, a lifelong PCO fan and have every track they ever recorded, from the experimental Zopf days on the Obscure record label right through their “heydays’ of the 1980’s when their unique musical sound appeared on every second commercial or BBC/C4 soundtrack (most notably I have to say in the Independent’s launch advertising campaign).  So Simon Jeffes’ death in 1987 hit me like a hammer blow.  Ten years later his son, Arthur, began the slow but steady cryogenic rebirth, or perhaps more accurately the creation of a clone with ideas of its own.  This has culminated in the release of this instant classic album, a matter of life, which is, to all intent and purpose, PCO’s 5th studio album.

It has more piano than PCO but other than that it’s broadly the same thing, and certainly cut from the same cloth.

Track 2 (Landau) feature Jeffes and Kathry Tickell on her trademark Northumbrian pipes and its delicious.  Harry Piers, another piano only track was played at Jeffes Sr’s memorial concert and it bears every trademark PCO motif you could ever imagine which is what makes it both a great epitaph for Simon Jeffes but perhaps also a catharsis for Arthur.

The Fox and the Leopard is a carbon copy of a previous PCO song but for me the absolute standout is the minor key classic, From a Blue Temple.

In Penguin Cafe’s second album I’d expect the music to be slightly less of a tribute and to explore more of their own ideas, maybe more of a development from From a Blue Temple; and given that members of Suede and Gorillaz make up the 10 strong ensemble I’m pretty sure there will be new areas aplenty to explore.

For now though, this is a welcome and delightful discovery that I will treasure and hopefully wear out the grooves as much as its four forebears.

Marketing to the yoof. thanks to PHD for illuminating us.

Thanks more especially to The Ad Contriarian and will Atkinson for bringing this piece of utter codswollop to my attention.

Listen to what these horrible little brats are saying.

“Don’t worry, you’ll offset the costs by selling the leads onto those data aggregator type companies.”  Whaaaatttttt?  Just like my 16 year olds talk.

Honestly it’s the funniest script I have EVER heard in my life, but it’s meant to be serious.

Oh man, I feel so, like, out of touch now.

Must get down to see those connected dudes at PHD.

Do you think they are connected with Ogilvy in any way?

Jeez, I’m as stressed out as California’s dolphinarium’s sales Director

It used to be so damned easy to catch dolphins.

The mothers were just leapin’ outa the sea into your net.

But that seemed so Cruela de ville.

But modern life, it ain’t so easy .

The Japanese, they’ve killed so many of them babies that it don’t seem such fun any more.  In fact it creeps me out.

It stresses me.

So, I was kinda pleased to get this little old chill out zone message from Patti.

Patti Rodger.

You might like it too.

You need to focus though…. so let’s get inta character.

I am not sure exactly how this works, but it is amazingly accurate.
The picture below has two identical dolphins in it.
It was used in a case study on stress levels at the Mayo Clinic, then later at Fletcher Medical Center in Burlington and famously at The Priory to determine whether Susan Boyle was experiencing stress.
These closely monitored, scientific studies revealed that, in spite of the fact that the dolphins are identical, a person under stress will find many differences between the two dolphins…
…in fact, the more differences a person finds, the more stress that person is experiencing.

How to determine your stress:

Look at the picture of both dolphins jumping out of the water.
Remember that the dolphins are identical.

Just look at the photograph…

If you find more than one or two differences you may need to take a vacation.

what’s your view on apple’s service? Let me share my latest experience.

I honestly can’t work this one out. But, before I start, I’d give Apple a victory in extra time.

So, here’s the story.

I bought, with excitement, the new Apple TV in October last year.

In fact, I pre-ordered it online. But a week after release it was still on order. No sign of delivery any time soon.

No worries, I was in Glasgow and popped into the Apple store one day,

“Got an Apple TV?” I asked wistfully.

“Actually, yes, 10 arrived about an hour ago, you’re in luck.”

Cautiously I advised that I had an online order, unfulfilled,

“Don’t worry sir you can cancel it.” (I think, in retrospect they could and should have done that on my behalf instore.)

I went home to cancel , only to find it had been despatched, when it arrived I had to take it back to the Apple store, unopened, for a refund.

It was refunded. Without a great deal of grief, although unbeknown to me they took back the shop sale, meaning the receipt I had was for the online product.

So, moving on. I now have a shiny new Apple TV.

But, every time I tried to demonstrate the wonder of this amazing invention to my pals it took, like, at least an hour to load my computer library.

I never actually used it, not once, because it’s, frankly, crap if you have a big music or photo library on your mac.

I have both.

Two days ago I gave up, phoned the Apple store and asked if I could take it back for a refund.

“yes” the manager said, I could. For cash.

So I did.


Thereafter ensued a bit of a trauma. It took over half an hour for me to establish that the return had been approved by the manager, for cash.

At first the sales assistant disbelievingly went to check with the manager and came back to say I could get a gift voucher to the value of the product.

“No, sorry.” I said.

Cash, my cash, had been spent on the product, and as, in my view, Apple TV is not fit for purpose I demanded it back.

He crumbled and relented (for me that suggests that the manager had gone for an initial fob off on the gift vouchers).

Thereafter, many, many attempts (and many, many staff) were involved in disentangling the fact that my receipt was for a purchase from the Apple Store online at the same price as the Apple Store on terra firma.

In the end the deed was done.

I was, ultimately satisfied.

So, what does this say about Apple?

Actually, in my view, a lot of positive things.

Despite the shambolic process they honoured an agreement to replace a four month old technology purchase without any real gripes. They accepted that the customer’s view of the efficacy of the product may be wildly wrong, but he is actually the customer.

They, reluctantly, and with great difficulty, crossed distribution channels, albeit the same price, product and firm. But they did.

Overall, I feel good about the Apple attitude, but the experience was pretty rank.

Ah, the Penguin Cafe (orchestra)

I don’t know if moving is the best word to describe the two and a half hours I spent with my wife in The Usher Hall; because I never cried.

But I’ll tell you what; it was emotional.

First up, The Portico Quartet; a jazz/modern classical “combo” who totally blew me away but were right on the cusp of Stuart Maconie’s Freakzone playlist (the sort of stuff that ordinarily Jeana would shriek across the house at me “turn that fucking shite off”).

She put up with them.

I adored them.

However, we were there for the Penguins, as we had been, 20 years ago, before we’d ever borne a child into this world. And I reckon it is the only “band” that Jeana has ever seen twice, albeit 20 years apart.

Before I comment on them I have to congratulate the sound engineers for both bands and probably the The Usher Hall itself – in forty years of listening to live music I have never been so aware of how good the acoustics were in a performance.

Now, The PC(O).

Simon Jeffes died in 1998. And we all thought the PCO had been snatched away with him; no posthumous recordings (although plenty of compilations).

And so it has been until his remarkable son, Arthur, decided to take up the reigns and form an entirely new ensemble with the name stripped down to the, perhaps more fashionable, Penguin Cafe.

Tonight they both reinterpreted his beloved father’s music with a Joi de vivre that even Simon could not muster and created new music, in the vein of the original PCO, that was jaw dropping.   In, particular the encore, a solo piano piece that Arthur performed at his father’s memorial service, Harry Piers, and Landau would have been career highs in Simon’s day.

All the favourites were there.

Particularly pleasing were Music for a Found Harmonium, Perpetuum Mobile and Telephone and Rubber Band, but what was most incredible was the quality of musicianship, the ownership they had taken over the material and the added zip that they injected to Jeffes original music.

It truly was on the verge of a religious experience.

After playing for over an hour and a half Jeana said to me ” I never stopped smiling from start to finish.”

I concur absolutely.

Thirty something rerun on Sky Atlantic

It’s quite scary how the world dates. This advertising based drama series was, unquestionably, Jeana’s and my favourite TV show back in the late 80’s and now it has returned on Sky Atlantic.

And, oh God, Mad Men it is not. Now, in its defence, it was capturing the zeitgeist of the time, not looking at history, and it does that perfectly.

The zeitgeist was quite clearly; how to be a total tosser.

Horrible, embarrassing in so many ways; in the fake Joi de vivre; in the competitiveness; in the dress; in the pursuit of money.

The whole thing reeks of pish and ham and the office based hoop shooting just makes you cringe.

This is pond life, cliched TV from hell.

How did we love it so?

Perhaps we were pond life competitive shit ourselves.

Deary me.

Oh and the theme tune fucking sucks now. (loved it then.)

Oh, and I wore specs like those fucking dorks.

Let England Shake by PJ Harvey

A career highpoint

PJ Harvey used to be so strident that you had to take valium before slipping one of her discs on.  She was hard work.  But as she’s matured her work has become much less strident.  That’s not a bad thing and her latest offering, Let England Shake, is no less challenging than in her stridency days.  It’s a sort of concept album, certainly it’s all about war and it’s stunning.  Beautifully written and produced it shows off Polly at her most innocent almost, questioning and challellenging the point of it all with a beauty and charm that is totally affecting and engaging.

A must buy and early contender for album of the year in a field that has yet to really emerge so far.

Look at this crazy performance of the title song.  I mean Jesus wept, when did you last see a “rock star” do a solo performance with a zither!

And this, this video leaves you stunned.

Or this.

Another “odd” show at The Lyceum.

Sorry guys, it's not a bodice ripper.

Just as Stanley Townsend playing Eddie Carbone frequently accused Rodolpho to be “not right, just not right” in the previous Lyceum production of A View From The Bridge, so a central plank of Muriel Romanes’ joint production with The Lyceum and Stellar Quines is the notion of homosexuality that cannot be said by it’s name; here Lesbian ladies are merely “odd”.  But it amounts to the same.

In “A View” Rodolpho’s homosexuality was imagined by Eddie as a construct with which to castigate his foe; here it is a celebration of the two lead characters, Rhoda Nunn and Mary Barfoot who despite being a generation apart in age are Victorian entrepreneurs with a taste for each other as more than just business partners.

This could have made for a truly shocking dramatic premise but it’s shrugged off as “odd”, perhaps, but really nothing to get one’s knickers in a twist about.

Although I said previously ‘Our two leads’ this is in actual fact as ensemble a show as one could imagine, they are backed by a chorus of gaggling Macbethian sisters played outstandingly by Alexandra Mathie (truly amazing) and Molly Innes as the older, hopeless spinsters and Hannah Donaldson as the “pretty” sibling with a chance.

“Overbred” by 500,000, out of a population of two million, Victorian Britain needed women to look good if they were to have any chance in a male buyers’ market and the only two women in our cast of six that would have any chance are “pretty” Monica Madden and committed Dyke, Roda Dunn.  The fact that they both fall for the same man makes for intriguing developments as the play unfolds, and surrounded by six women of exquisite talent Jamie Lee as Everard Barfoot has his work cut out to fly the flag for us blokes.  That he succeeds with panache, wit and charm is testimony to his excellent performance.

This is a play that is richly and deeply textured; interestingly realised with beautifully subtle sound, video and lighting design and costumes (designed in a third year project by Edinburgh School of Art Students) that for me were the best I’ve seen on the Lyceum stage in a long time.  Interestingly, my wife hated them.  I’m so much more in touch with my feminine side it would seem.

This is an absorbing two hours of entertainment with a feisty and often hilarious script that batters along holding you firmly in its thrall throughout.

It’s a gem.

And it’s a real thought piece too; at its centre is the debate over the role that “work” played in liberating women from the shackles of domesticity.  The arrival of the Remington typewriter to UK shores, and made centrepiece of this show, both physically and stylistically is a clear metaphor for women’s emancipation.  But is it all good?  Has it served its function.  After all, by the 1960’s the typewriter was the focus for feminist ire as it had created exactly the opposite effect that this late 19th century passport to freedom so obviously delivered.

Motherhood and child rearing is examined too, suggesting that perhaps domesticity is not so bad.  But in the play it’s wrapped up in sexuality and the power women (still) hold over hapless men who can’t see further than the end of that organ that so drives so many of us.

It’s complex indeed (just look at the number and variety of tags I’ve used in this post).  And I’m not sure you’ll get all the answers or unravel all the themes in one sitting  Certainly it’s more than worthy of second helpings.  So, go, indulge yourself and maybe you’ll be back for more.

Odd that!

It’s our twenty first wedding anniversary today (actually it might be our twenty second but who’s counting?)

So I got (made as it happens) the old dear a lovely card because I am the old romantic.  (See below.)

And she just called, as I write, to ask me to tape the first ever episode of Thirtysomething on Sky Atlantic.  Series link of course.

Remember that?

I’m sure I got to fourth base (in our winching days)  during more than one episode.

the arsenal got out of jail free.

Not a bad match, but not the best ever.

First half was better than the second.

The fact is that Arsenal were miles worse than Barcelona who totally overran them.

Sure Arsenal took their chances when Barcelona dropped their concentration for ten minutes or so. But there really is no comparison. Messi is just amazing.

However the comparison to the travails at Easter Road and pretty much anywhere else on Scotland’s embarrassing football soil was quite monstrous.

The Brits

Funnily enough, The Brits was good tonight.

OK, so some/most of the music wasn’t great.

I like that big Tiny Tempah song, “Pass Out” (I suppose) but everything else he does bores me to tears.

But 17 million YouTube hits is kind of impressive

Mostly what was good about the Brits tonight was that it genuinely was a celebration of music.

Adele was wonderful, as were Arcade Fire; Cee lo Green was cool as…

Mumford and Sons nearly pulled off one of the most amazing acapella performances ever (but Adele beat them to it and she was better).

James Cordon, mostly, didn’t try to be too funny.

All in all a good show.

What’s more, Arcade Fire won best international; album to follow up their top billing at The Grammy’s on Sunday night and now we (Me , Jeana, Ria and a n other) are going to see them at Edinburgh Castle Esplanade on 1st September.

Surely the world’s best band at the moment. Equivalent, whether you like them or not, to Radiohead, U2, REM, Bruce and The E Street Band, The Clash and Bowie in each of their days?

We are blessed.

The Rain before it falls by Jonathan Coe

Jonathan Coe has had me rolling in the aisles in his previous books (The Rotters Club, House of Sleep and What a Carve up) and I’m grateful to Ian Dommett for pointing me in his direction; so The Rain Before It Falls really took me off guard.

For a start, it’s not funny, not funny at all.

And then, I’m not entirely convinced it’s well written.  Or is it brilliantly written?

Let me explain.

It’s entirely narrative, in the style of a memoir from an ‘ordinary person’ (persons actually) and so is not about flashy prose.

I cannot honestly work out if this is the book’s great strength (it held me and it was a page turner from start to finish) or dissapointed me in the extreme. (It’s kind of so banal.)

So, I’d welcome elucidation.

The premise is interesting enough; dying old lady reveals life of lesbianism and occasional fostering of neices and blind kids, her life is unfulfilled so she tops herself but not before instigating a mini detective story searching for a strangely loved potential benefactor.

It’s odd.

Is it good?


Did I enjoy it?


Super Gran fact is stranger than fiction

Ok, so you’ll have seen this by now.

What I can’t get over is how utterly inept the robbers are.

They can’t weild hammers.

They can’t fend of grandmothers.

They can’t even see her coming in her bright red duffle coat.

They barely avoided a white van man.

They can’t ride scooters.

They can’t fight off a skinny, late on the scene, non-gran superhero.

They can’t choose clothes.

They can’t see what style in the 21st century is like.

They can’t live a life free of humiliation from here on in.

(It might be a hoax.)

The Son(s)

Karlossus, a pal of mine, has been noodling and doodling for years in his bedroom as his wife Victoria looks on. But he’s recently turned up the volume and the commitment (You can checxk out his advanced noodling and doodling on SoundCloud if you have the wit and wisdom) and that has resulted in the release (steps back in amazement) of an album called, I think, The Son(s).

Here’s the cover. It’s his Grandad, I’m told.

Now, we all have pals with talent, (I’d like to think with my connections I am above averagelyqualified to make this statement) but their “projects” don’t all turn out to be stuff that makes your heart skip a beat.

This is most certainly an exception.

I know a musical star.

I have discovered an album before any of the critics got there first, because Karlossus’ record is sublime.

I’ve been osmotically ingesting this wonderful sound for a few weeks now and didn’t want to jump in too soon with an ill considered point of view.  So, after a good deal of listening (time pressure has limited this) I can confirm that Scotland has a new talent that will engage those who know what good music is all about.  It will not trouble the Pepsi Max charts any time soon, but it will add a little bit of greatness to your life if you choose to let its loveliness wash over you.

So, reference points?  Not too many, although I think his near falsetto singing style resembles Jeff Buckley in places.

It’s, in truth, a little patchy (well, it’s a first outing and perfection would be too much too expect).  But “You belong to no one” justifies the purchase price alone.  It’s a stunningly trance-like wash of finger picking acoustic delight with multi-layered vocals that is quite simply beautiful.

Radar, the single, is also a great multi-layered wash.  And, you know what, it sounds like nothing other than The Son(s).  There’s not many artists you can say that about.

You can buy it here.  And I suggest you do.

Freedom by Jonathan franzen

Just as the Millenium was turning and as we moved into a century that might unveil more change, some might say progress, than any other Jonathan Franzen put the finishing touches to the novel that sits proudly amongst the great American novels so far in this unnerving first 11 years of the third millenium.

It wasn’t visionary, there was no great insight into what lies ahead. Instead it was a heartfelt and deeply moving story of a dysfunctional American family circling around the gravitational pull of their poor Althzeimic patriarch as he gradually fell to bits. Utterly tragic and morbidly beautiful, it remains one of my favourite American novels.

Almost a decade later Franzen returns with his new magnum opus, a dark and brooding, heartfelt story about an American family, in this case a stoutly Democratic one – but more on that later, that circles around the gravitational pull of their poor politically correct patriarch as he gradually falls to bits. It will remain one of my least favourite American novels.

This is a deeply disappointing piece of writing. Smugly anti Democratic, or at least a branch of Democratic practitionership that in the UK smacks of the sick lovechild that Tony Blair and Nick Clegg might conceive. A child that you’d just want to slap, and slap hard until it came to its senses and realised that the real world with its real issues and lack of self obsession needs to be listened to and not lectured at.

I spoke to my friend Victoria about this turd of a novel when I was two thirds done with it and she’d long consigned to the bin marked “fuck you pseud!” Like me she hated every single character with the exception of super cool lothario and musician, Richard Katz, Dick Katz I say.

It’s a story about the ebbs and flows of a very profound relationship between PC Eco warrior Walter Berglund, frankly a dork, and his hateful self obsessed emotional tram-smash of a wife, Patty. Whilst their love IS deeply profound they both find the time to have lengthy, disruptive and very meaningful affairs with equally caricaturised protagonists in this tedious tale. One dies, suddenly and unexpectedly towards the end; you know what, I didn’t give a flying fuck. See ya, wouldnae wanna be ya (anyway, you’re lucky, you got shot of creepy Walter this way). The other, well he just loses interest and fucks a few more groupies.

The son Joey becomes a raging Republican and tries to fuck the most beautiful WASP in the world, but being of lower “stock” fails miserably while turning his girlfriend (nay wife) into a depressive wreck, like his mother, whom he despises (yawn). The daughter Jessica is a cold hearted bitch who’s character is least well resolved despite having a mammoth 562 pages in which to do so. (562 pages that are strewn with typos which really made me laugh because Franzen is a known perfectionist – Walter, meet Jonathan. Jonathan meet Walter. Oh, you already have? Ahh, that’s presumably because you are one and the same I assume.)

I mean, 562 pages, does this man not have an editor for chrissakes? The section in the first part of the book where Patty is psychoanalysed for 70 pages is at least 30 too long. But that’s because, I think, Franzen has disappeared up his own publicity.

In short, Franzen has created a monster. It’s cliched, it’s unpleasant, it’s a nihilistic book with none of the passion and real insight of The Corrections, and it feels like a formula. I don’t know what went wrong. But I feel sure that under the watchful eyes of a more challenging editor Franzen could have turned this into a more believable and engaging read.

(Now, don’t get me started on John Irving. Of late.)

And, so to the ending…SPOILER ALERT…they all live happily for ever fucking after. Jesus give me a break.

“It’s me” she said “Just me.”

“I know.” he said, and kissed her.

And, in that, half a lifetime of emotional abuse was resolved, In an instant.