Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ken's Best of 2008

Well 2008 has almost gone it’s not-so-merry way, but there were cultural compensations a plenty for anyone overly depressed by financial woes.
Firstly, to one of the main reasons we all exist – live music!

Gigs of the Year

Bruce Springsteen
Leonard Cohen

I saw somewhat less concerts than normal this year, but quality made up for quantity, and the reason I only list the above two is that they were head and shoulders above the rest.
For me Leonard was a typical 2nd tier singer-songwriter prior to 2008, probably in my top 20-30 artists, fine lyrics of course etc, but he just didn’t do it for me the way other artists do. But seeing him live has changed all that. The single biggest surprise of the year was just how damn good he is live. And how funny, how warm, how graceful, how charming. Just like Bob, Van and Neil then?! Not.
I saw nights two and three in Dublin, with night three just shading it. Incredible vocal performance and a long powerful well constructed setlist with a terrific band. Rare too, to have audience and critics in agreement as much as they were that weekend. The old argument that his music is depressing was also put to bed, each concert being three hours of the most uplifting music imaginable. Highlights – Anthem, So Long Marianne, Take this Waltz, Hallelujah. Enough said.

Tough to call, but possibly Bruce just shades Leonard. I saw all three Dublin shows, each one better than the last. I never thought he’d top the quality of some of the recent years live shows (including those memorable nights with the Seeger Sessions band), but these were awesome, and surely were at least close to his earlier 1970s/80s peaks? The E-Street Band have never seemed more panoramic yet tight, and the singing and showmanship of rock’s greatest live performer rarely better.

Just to pick two hair-raising moments from these artists – never mind Pop Idol versions, one of the best moments of the year was when Leonard soared in to the chorus of Hallelujah with his three passionate but subtle backing singers and band behind him on a drizzly summers evening in Dublin. Secondly, on the 1st night Bruce came on stage in the RDS, to tumultuous applause, and man and band launched into a searing version of Promised Land – everything perfect; the sound, the volume, the weather, the atmosphere and the performance..

Anyway, I did see some other good concerts in 2008, including three Dylans – an above average performance in Helsinki, an emotional night in St Petersburgh for his first ever Russian show, and a below par night in Tallin.
Tom Waits was quite good despite that ridiculous venue in the Phoenix Park.
Neil Young was very good in Hammersmith in the Spring, but had lost just a little of the magic of this band and tour by the time he brought it to Malahide. Almost one third of the main set comprised ‘No Hidden Path’ – I’m all in favour of long songs if the jamming is purposeful, but this was very trying for a festival type audience.
Speaking of festivals, I went to Electric Picnic for the first time and enjoyed it a lot. The clich├ęs about the wonderful vibes (not to mention food!) are mainly true, lots of interesting cultural activities to enjoy, but, for me personally, way too much emphasis on dance music. However, there were some great performances, such as;
Wilco - the festival highlight for me not surprisingly
Foals – a rare thing for me to like a modern band this much. It’s very clinical mathematical music, I don’t know how they do it but they manage to make music that is both very catchy and yet sounds extremely bloody complicated!
My Bloody Valentine – seeing them live helped me ‘get’ them where I never did before. Normally I dislike music this loud, but they have a wall of sound type thing going on that genuinely is much better this loud! Earplugs definitely required.
Michael Franti and Spearhead – infectious
Franz Ferdinand – very catchy
Candi Staton – excellent old school soul
Conor Oberst – fine band he has these days
Sigur Ros – is it prog rock, are they the new Floyd (or even Radiohead)? - whatever it is it sounded gorgeous on a warm Co. Laois evening
Electric Picnic disappointments;
Sex Pistols – competent, but tame
Nick Cave / Grinderman – tuneless nonsense I thought.. I seem to have very mixed opinions about Mr Cave these days
The likes of Duffy, Elbow, Sinead O’Connor were ok. No strong opinions.

Other enjoyable gigs this year were Al Green, Camille O’Sullivan, The Jayhawks (well two of ‘em anyway, the two that do the harmonies, gorgeous stuff..), Chuck Berry, Lisa Hannigan and Little Feat.
The Dun Laoghaire Festival of World Cultures was also as good as ever, almost as good as Electric Picnic and about 150 euro cheaper (ie free!)

Classical wise, I saw the final night of the Arvo Part festival, which was mesmerising. I’ve been listening to his music on cd for a few years, but to hear this stuff live was another thing altogether. He was in the audience himself and made a nice speech and signed autographs. A la Harold Pinter a few years ago, he seemed overwhelmed yet delighted at such a fuss being made of him in a strange land. Speaking of mesmerising, so was the RTE concert orchestra’s performance of Gorecki’s Symphony of Sorrows, also in the National Concert Hall.

That just leaves my 3rd favourite gig of the year, ie runner up to Bruce ‘n’ Leonard. It was The Waifs in Whelans. They are a cracking alt-country/Americana type band, despite singing in Australian accents a la Paul Kelly! Amazing harmonies between the two sisters, and some really good songs. It was great to see them in their more recent rocked-up incarnation, although the semi acoustic set in the middle was a reminder of how they sounded in their early days. Anyway, it was all good..

Albums

Not a vintage year, so I’ll flit through my top few;

Fireman – somewhat experimental was this Macca/Youth collaboration but it still ranks as a bloody good Paul McCartney album. None of your ‘Dance Tonight’ nonsense either.
Fleet Foxes – stunning harmonies, west coast rock that somehow reminds me of English folk music (at it’s best)
REM – A definite return to form, albeit I have never believed they lost their form as much as some others did. But, this is a rocking little 35 minute affair that has at it’s heart it’s simplicity and Peter Buck cranking out more of those REM defining riffs (much as Keef cranks out Stones defining riffs on THEIR best albums). If you are sceptical – I’ll wager just the first 4 songs on the album will convince you
The Kinks – Picture Book is a great box set. But why does every reviewer say they were rubbish after 1970. They weren’t you know!
Lisa Hannigan – loved the album. But it was more fun live.
The Waifs – Sundirtwater is a very good Americana album. The new Lucinda Williams album nearly is.
Metallica – incredible return to form and to their patented genre defining chug-chug sound. For me it easily joins their impregnable quadrilateral (Lighting, Puppets, Justice, Black album)
Neil Diamond – incredibly this one was even better than his previous effort. Which was also produced by Rick Rubin. A good year, then, for Mr Rubin. Having moved on from Johnny Cash, this year he did two of my albums of the year, Neil Diamond and Metallica. He also did the very solid new Jakob Dylan album. The big questions remaining for him though, are, will he be able to salvage the forthcoming U2 album, and will he get his wish and produce a Bob Dylan album any time soon?

Disappointments this year? Well, the AC/DC and Oasis albums were nowhere near as good as the reviewing sheep seemed to think. The Guns’n’Roses album was not bad though. No masterpiece, but worth a listen. And try as I might, I just can’t get into this Damon Albarn Monkey Chinese opera malarkey.

I’m continuing to download a lot of live music. I usually fall in love with a new genre of music most years, or discover one I’d previously discarded, so this year I’ve been leaning towards choral classical music, especially the likes of Tallis, plus blues and some heavy metal. Other artists getting a lot of rotation on my Ipod for one reason or another include, Sufjan Stevens, The Kinks, David Bowie, George Harrison, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead..

But, the release of the year has got to Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs. A bloody amazing set, and topping most year end polls it seems. Basically it’s outtakes and odds and ends from 1989 to the present day. I know it’s not very original to say it, but his cast offs are indeed often better than the albums they were cast off from! I have made myself a one disc compilation version of the 3 disc released product, and it is seriously one of the best single discs I’ve ever heard. What’s not to like? - Girl from the Red River Shore is just a gorgeous ballad, Cross the Green Mountain also one of the very strongest latter day Dylan songs, a civil war tale well told, all those amazing versions of Dignity, Missisippi, the Bromberg outtakes, the 2 amazing acoustic album rarities. And great to get an insight to how he works, vis a vis the Time out of Mind sessions and all those chopped up lyrics and constant re- arrangements. No wonder he’s never happy with his albums, and has to go out and play them live for 20 years!

Films

No Country for Old Men was as good as people said. There Will be Blood not quite, but not bad. Juno was very funny, extremely well acted and had a lovely soundtrack. In Bruges was very funny, the 2 lads as good as each other. Sweeney Todd was splatteringly good. Quantum of Solace was a competent Bond movie, but was woefully lacking in the comedy and sex departments. Indiana Jones was a decent effort, if not quite worth the wait. Easy Virtue was funny and looked good but very light. Eastern Promises proved, as did Australia, that Naomi Watts is the new Nicole Kidman, and doing it much better. Albeit, Australia was an interesting, if confused, failure.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was a worthy adaptation of a great childrens book, but my top 2 of the year were the chilling Orphanage (produced by Guillermo del Toro so therefore somewhat influenced by The Devils Backbone and Pans Labyrinth) and the top notch Batman film, Dark Knight. I’m not an action movie buff particularly, but this was extremely well done, and very well acted by both Heath Ledger AND Christian Bale.

Plays

I didn’t really enjoy No Mans Land to be honest. Great acting, pity about the play. However, I should point out I do like SOME other Pinter plays, so I won’t feel too bad about putting down the work of a guy who died the day before I wrote this review!
Three Sisters was a bit disappointing too. Just because it has the names Chekov and Friel on the billboard, did not, in this case, a perfect production make. It just didn’t ring true.
So much for Dublin plays.
I saw some great things in London however – humour and poignancy in very affectionate adaptations of The 39 Steps and Brief Encounter and, finally, one of the best things I’ve ever seen – Shadowlands. Sometimes a cold and clinical actor, Charles Dance was just perfect in this as the awkward but deeply feeling CS Lewis, telling the story of the relationship between the Narnia writer and Joy Gresham.

Books

I very much enjoyed ‘What I talk about when I talk about Running’ – interesting thoughts from this Japanese writer, very useful for anyone interested in running, or writing, or life, written in a very simple way.
I’ve also enjoyed dipping in to Tony Ring’s ‘The Wit and Wisdom of PG Wodehouse’. Anyone who’s sat near me while reading a PGW knows he’s my favourite writer. It’s nearly, but not quite, too much to have all these one-liners compiled. Nothing can replace the original novels, but if you need a laugh quickly, this book is your chap.
I’ve also been reading Saki (thanks to a friend for the recommendation) – very droll and dry stuff, hard to believe it was written so long ago.
I’ve come to the conclusion this year that I much prefer Philip K. Dick short stories to novels.
And finally, my book of the year, is Hard Rain. It’s a series of pictures of the world taken by Mark Edwards, all linked to the Bob Dylan song ‘A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall’. Themes include global warming, poverty etc. It sounds po-faced, but is very far from that. I highly recommend going to the exhibition (if it’s still playing in your country), buying the book, or at least looking at the website www.hardrainproject.com

Art

I’ve popped in to the National Gallery in Dublin this year quite a bit, but can’t really remember any interesting exhibitions they had. Unlike the Hugh Lane, which had its fine 100 year exhibition. I really like this gallery, notwithstanding it’s silly exultation of that clown, Francis Bacon!
I saw some good exhibitions in London – the dark, gloomy but powerful Camden Town paintings, the Renoir Loge paintings at the Courthold, and the amazing Hammershoi at the Royal Academy. This fella was new to me, and it was very enjoyable.

Radio

Radio wise, I’m not listening to that much, mainly Lyric FM with the odd thing from Radio 1, Phantom, Anna Livia, Today FM or Newstalk.
Best thing on the radio by a mile STILL, is Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour – Season Three is the best yet. Now syndicated in Ireland on Phantom FM.

TV

I didn’t watch much TV either in 2008. The best two things for me by far were both on the BBC, Sense & Sensibility and Little Dorrit. I quite like Jane Austen, but if you compare her to Dickens she lacks a bit of humour and her characters can seem dull. Little Dorrit was full of everything that’s good about Dickens, a great adaptation, nearly as good as Bleak House from 2006. Having said that, Sense & Sensibility was the best Austen adaptation I’ve ever seen, better even than the Ang Lee/Emma Thompson film or any of those Pride & Prejudice(s). The performance from the two lead girls, especially Hattie Morahan, was top notch.
Otherwise, I watched bits of the occasional drama series, such as the silly but enjoyable Bone Collectors. Never saw the likes of the highly rated Spooks or The Wire.
Not much decent comedy on either it seems, but some good documentaries, and schedule changes notwithstanding the BBC continues to impress with The Culture Show and Later with Jools Holland.

Finally, some miscellaneous highlights of the year – Barack Obama, Padraig Harrington, Dublin Culture Night, your man from the Frames and whatshername winning the Oscar for best song, getting back into listening to vinyl..
Can’t think of anything else, roll on 2009, fingers crossed we all keep our jobs, our houses and our good (?) taste!

Ken.

Article on getting into P.G. Wodehouse

Article on getting into Wodehouse
Published in ‘Wooster Sauce’ quarterly journal of the P.G. Wodehouse Society

Quite a few years ago, shortly after I first subscribed to this journal, the editor, Tony Ring, asked me to contribute an article on getting into Wodehouse. As my writing is somewhat less prolific, not to mention less funny, than our hero, I think I’ve done pretty well in banging out these few hundred words in the subsequent half-decade or so.

I first got into PGW as a child of about 12 or 13. My grandfather, a witty and articulate man, was a Wodehouse fan, and between him and his son (my uncle) they had quite a few of the books. The first one I read was ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’, and I really think I had the exact same reaction to it as I have had to every PGW I’ve read subsequently. I still laugh aloud almost every page and find him as rewarding as I ever did. Like most great comedy, it stands up to repeated reading, in Wodehouse’s case by virture of the cleverness of the sentences. Quite simply nobody has ever written so many funny lines.

My grandfather was a solicitor in a country town in Ireland. I was raised in Dublin, and I’ve always been intrigued by the popularity of Wodehouse in former colonies such as Ireland and India. I think it is probably due to the fact that we recognize the world he is writing about, and despite, or even because of, our disapproval of that world, we find disappearing into it for a few hours to be a great escape. And, of course, as well as having a strong affection for the Edwardian world of his youth, Wodehouse also sends it up fairly unmercifully.

Edwardian England was in many ways not dissimilar to Edwardian Ireland, as we did not get our independence until the 1920s, and even subsequently, have retained a lot of the culture we share with the English. From a literary point of view, the Irish have always enjoyed well constructed English writing, indeed contributing to it ourselves with our Anglo-style writers, such as Shaw, Wilde and Beckett and our more Hiberno-style purveyors, such as Joyce, Yeats, Friel, Kavanagh and McGahern.
I’ve also enjoyed anything Wodehousian I’ve ever experienced outside of the books, with the notable exception of that recent mediocre adaptation of Piccadilly Jim, which if not overwhelming me, certainly left me far from whelmed. I am a big fan of ITV’s Jeeves & Wooster series, and I also enjoyed the West End version of Anything Goes from a few years back. All in all, looking forward to many more years of PGW-related good humour.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ken's Best of 2007

Ken’s Best of 2007

Albums

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky
Bruce Springsteen – Magic
Led Zeppelin – Mothership

Only one real contender for me for my album of the year. Wilco’s new one is still by far my favourite Wilco album, and as they are by some distance, my favourite (current) band, it was no contest. Just a perfect album, leaving behind the slight excesses of its two fine but ambitious predecessors. This is much more rootsy, very country soul in style, with the White Album era Lennon fixation of the Ghost is Born album still in evidence. But it all comes down to the tunes really, and have Wilco ever given us a finer set? Highlights are hard to pick, but Hate it Here, Side with the Seeds, Impossible Germany spring to mind.
Bruces’ album is also excellent. Very breezy and catchy, despite some heavy lyrical concerns. Well produced as ever, and benefiting from a slightly more natural sound than The Rising. Pretty much four classics in a row now from the Boss (Rising, Devils & Dust, Seeger Sessions, Magic) – and apparently he’s currently writing for a solo album.
The only other album I’ve enjoyed almost as much is the Led Zep compilation. It just sounds so good. I don’t have anything new to say about the music itself really.
There were a lot of other decent new studio releases in 2007, all of which have great moments and are very enjoyable, but to a man, are either somewhat over rated, or a bit of a dip in form. These include;
Neil Young, Iron & Wine, Ryan Adams (his best since Gold admittedly), Plant/Krauss, Arcade Fire, Ray Davies.
The Amy Winehouse album is pretty good, and I haven’t heard the new Levon Helm yet.

Concerts

Bob Dylan – Birmingham
Bruce Springsteen – Belfast
Wilco – Vicar Street 2nd night
REM – Olympia 4th night
Gillian Welch – Midlands Festival
Rolling Stones – Slane
Ray Davies – Vicar St
Camille O’Sullivan – Olympia
Patti Smith – Vicar St
The Waterboys – The Point

Another phenomenal year for gigs. Really hard to pick my favourite, but Dylan’s Modern Times jaunt reached a serious peak in Birmingham. Capping off a fine UK tour, with excellent renditions of the new songs and one of his best bands ever, a return to the old man playing guitar, and some great setlist choices (House of the Rising Son in Newcastle and Working Mans Blues in Birmingham).
But, Wilco came very close. I saw 3 – Shepherds Bush (1st night) and 2 unbelievable nights in Vicar Street, of which perhaps the 2nd was the best. Great setlists, Tweedy in fine form, and the best band of the last 15 years at their peak, touring their best album. What more could you ask for?
Well, how about Bruce and the E Street Band, at (arguably) a peak of their own. I caught the Belfast show, and if I see anything better in 2008, I’ll be very lucky. Funny, emotional, entertaining, swinging –all attributes of the Sessions Band a year earlier, but a more rocked-up E Street Band had all these too, in spades.
Lots of other good stuff too, that in an ordinary year would be gig of the year contenders – fine performances from Gillian and Dave, The Stones, REMs new adventures in the Olympia, a cracking Ray Davies set in Vicar St, and the bones of a musically fascinating new show from Camille in Bray and its continuation in the Olympia. Patti Smith played a blinder too and I also enjoyed Duke Special (boy is that guy talented?), Arctic Monkeys (almost as good as the hype), Manic Street Preachers, John Prine (despite sound problems) and the ever rollicking Old Crow Medicine Show. Classically, Sarah Chang with the English Chamber Orchestra was good and the only other thing I remember was a Sibelius symphony coupled with a very enjoyable performance of Elgar’s violin concerto.
Happy Days. Or, should I say, nights.

Films

Atonement
Pans Labyrinth
I’m Not There
Lives of Others
Stardust
The Counterfeiters
Bourne Supremacy
Apocalypto

I didn’t see too many this year, so this is pretty much my top few, in order. I think I need to see some comedies in 2008!
Atonement more than surpassed my expectations, and easily lived up to the book. Fine performances from Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, not to mention the young Irish girl, Soirse Ronan, this is a measured quiet film to watch again and again.
I can’t overstate how good I thought Pans Labyrinth was. But it’s easily my favourite fantasy film of the last few years, not to mention my favourite Spanish civil war film! If you missed it, get the dvd. Guillermo del Toro is extremely creative; it was an awful pity he turned down the Narnia film.
I’m Not There is also very creative. Definitely an arthouse film, this is not going to trouble the multiplexes. Not all of it works, but no argument that the music does as it is impeccably placed and ties it all together, where the lack of narrative doesn’t. The 6 Bob Dylans don’t all work either, but Cate is sublime (is there anything or anyone this actress can’t play?). Heath Ledger also good. Visually, it is a fascinating film, well edited and for anyone with an interest in Dylan or the 1960s it’s worth a look.
Lives of Others was stunning. Low key and well scripted and acted. A very sad film, it tells a great story and tells it very well.
Stardust is a superb fantasy, extremely entertaining.
The Counterfeiters is another good German language film. Not as good as Lives of Others though. But, it’s a nice quirky take on a little known yet true concentration camp story from WW2.
The Bourne Supremacy was better than the 2nd one and almost as good as the 1st one. As good as thriller as you’ll see. Even better than last year’s back on form Bond film.
Apocalypto was also a thriller of sorts, kind of a period chase movie, set in the jungle, and highly enjoyable.
The Golden Compass was a decent effort, much better than the reviews said, the young girl lead was especially good.

Plays

Nothing too extraordinary for me this year.
A nice new run of Uncle Vanya in the Gate, the Brian Friel adaptation. Catherine Walker really impressed in this one.
Anna Karenina was also very good earlier in the year, bookended by a terrific version of Philadelphia Here I come in early December by 2nd Age Theatre company.
Having exhausted the likes of Wilde and Maugham in recent years, the Gate’s summer show in 2007 was Noel Cowards Private Lives, which was as funny as expected. The standout in this was a fantastic comic performance by Stephen Brennan.
I suppose the most notable thing I saw this year was Long Days Journey into Night in the Gaiety as part of the theatre festival. Notable not only for the excruciating length at 4.5 hours, it is a riveting play as you watch this family fall apart. James Cromwell was as good as I had hoped.

Radio

Theme Time

Really only one thing – Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, which continues to amaze and amuse. Nice to see it syndicated on Irish radio, Sunday nights’ on Phantom 105.2
I also enjoyed the JK Ensemble, Jazz Alley and Green Room Cinema show on Lyric FM. Pretty much everything on Lyric is good. I must be getting old.

Sport

Harrington

One thing – Harrington winning the British Open. Very emotional, and not just for him. 1947 was a long time ago.

Art

Hogarth
Canaletto
Polish

The best exhibition I saw was the down and dirty yet moving Hogarth in the Tate, closely followed by his more polished contemporary Canaletto, in Dulwich. Very enjoyable too was the exhibition at The Queens Gallery in Buckingham Palace. The old lady certainly has an art collection to be proud of – e.g. some fantastic Caravaggios. I also enjoyed the current Polish one at our own National Gallery, as it had 6 or 7 paintings that I really liked.

TV

My Boy Jack
Cranford
Room with a View
Sopranos
The Ruby in the Smoke


TV was pretty good this year. Not much good comedy (Extras and Peep Show is about all that springs to mind). Some great period dramas. I thought Cranford was going to be too twee, but it turned out to be in parts, hilarious and heart breaking. Best acting of the year by far.
My Boy Jack was a near perfect 2 hour TV film about Kipling’s son going to the trenches in WW1. The standout performances I thought were actually David Haig and Carey Mulligan, rather than the slightly over feted Kim Catrall and Daniel Radcliffe.
Room with a View was a more than decent new version, with a great breakthrough performance by Elaine Cassidy from Co Wicklow.
Ruby in the Smoke was a drama packed adaptation of a Philip Pullman period yarn.
The final few episodes of the Sopranos maintained the high level of the programme at it’s best. Personally, I liked the ending.
I saw some of the new Poliakoff dramas, and enjoyed them to different extents. My favourite one was the very original Capturing Mary. Ruth Wilson was amazing as usual. Ditto Maggie Smith, and I never knew David Walliams was such a good actor.
Other things worth a mention were;
Extras, Old Curiosity Shop (although it was a bit underwhelming) and Life on Mars.


Books

Again, I seem to get bogged down in newspapers, music mags and old stuff. I hope to read more fiction in 2008. But here are some things I enjoyed in 2007;

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – one of my favourite books now for sure, a wide ranging story, but its depiction of the misery of the trenches is the strongest part.

Atonement by Ian McEwan - best to read it before the film, a fine book.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman – also known as the Golden Compass, very enjoyable fantasy fare.

I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for the first time recently, a surprising page-turner, very atmospheric.

A new Agatha Christie biography by Laura Thompson is pretty good.

..and I’m halfway through the very inventive Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Ken's 2006 Review

Ken’s Best of 2006

Albums

Bob Dylan – Modern Times
The Beatles – Love
Tom Waits – Orphans
Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome, The Seeger Sessions
Neil Young – live at the Fillmore 1970
Johnny Cash – American V
Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People say..

The Dylan album easily tops this poll, prob in my top 15 or 20 Dylan albums already – amazing band performance, much better vocals than we’ve heard recently and every song sounds like a genre piece from the 30s or 40s but not in so subconscious a way as Love & Theft. I’ve listened to it more than any new Dylan album I can remember (even Time out of Mind). Strongest songs – Nettie Moore, Workingmans Blues & Thunder on the Mountain. I just can’t warm to Ain’t Talkin though.
The Beatles Love album mostly works great. Obviously controversial to even attempt to remix what one music writer called ‘the greatest cultural achievement of the 20th century’ (ie the Beatles body of recorded work). Highlights are the Word/What You’re Doing/Drive my Car mash up and the new string arrangement over George’s demo of While My Guitar. I think the album will stand up to repeated listening, but at the end of the day we’ll still go back to the 13 original albums.
The Waits set is extraordinary – who knew he had so many gems tucked away, and the new songs are very good too.
The Neil release is a bit of a tame beginning to the much vaunted archive project – and only 5 out of the measly 6 songs are new to boot. But that said, it is a great document of an early Crazy Horse peak, especially the two loooonnnnggg songs!
The Springsteen album was surprisingly good – even if he did try to fleece us by re-releasing it 6 months later with bonus tracks. I never thought songs associated with the worthy but interminably dull Pete Seeger would be so swingin..
Ok so the Johnny album was obviously recorded over 3 years ago (one presumes, as he died in ’03) so it’s not really a new album. Well the vocals were at least. And then they added the music. Or something like that. Anyway, it’s all good. Esp the last song he ever wrote –Like the 309, but also the great covers of Further on up the Road, Legend in my Time and 4 Strong Winds.

Other albums I liked a lot this year were the Arctic Monkeys and Raconteurs. Esp the A.Monkeys – whatever their 2nd album is like this debut is gonna stand the test of time. Great lyrics, melodies, singing etc. You can’t go wrong with this one..
Albums I heard bits of and quite liked include – Joanna Newsome, Zutons, Sufjan Stevens and many others I’ve forgotten..
Concerts

Dylan – 2nd night Boston
Springsteen – 3rd night Point (Autumn leg)
Ray Davies – Shepherds Bush
Jeff Tweedy – Vicar St
Waterboys – Olympia
Rolling Stones – Twickenham
Camille O’Sullivan – Olympia
Metallica – RDS
Mahlers 2nd Symphony – Nat Concert Hall

Those particular Dylan and Springsteen concerts have seriously got to be in my top 10 gigs ever. I only saw 2 of the recent Dylan tour – and the first of these was somewhat mediocre – but the 2nd was extraordinary. Most people there agreed – with many saying the performance of Nettie Moore the best thing they’d ever seen. By anyone! Ever!
Springsteen’s 2nd Euro leg of the year was incredibly, even better than the 1st. If you think the album swings, wait til you see it live. And he’s even managed to mix up the setlists and add in all sorts of gems from his own catelogue – no small achievement with a band this size (18 musicians!).
It was great to see Ray Davies at last – he can apparently be a bit cantankerous but I thought it was a generous gracious performance – lots of classic Kinks, not just the obvious famous singles, but also stuff from the great studio albums, plus some tracks from his fairly decent new album.
Tweedy was fantastic – the performances seemed even better than on his recent dvd.
The Waterboys were a revelation – never seen ‘em before. Very passionate stuff.
And I suppose the most hyped gig I saw was the Stones at Twickenham. Hugely entertaining, although I’d have my quibbles over a few things – Charlies drum sound, Jagger a bit low in the mix, occasionally looked like going through the motions.
Camille – one or two new songs, but basically the same show she’s had for a couple of years now. Very good stuff – but be nice to see here tackle some different songs – maybe deeper into the Tom Waits category and some more European language songs would be good?
Metallica was unbelievably nostalgic for me – they were really very good, so tight, incredibly well mixed sound – got a few bruises in the mosh pit and was left feeling my age but what the hell..


Films

The Departed
Volver
The Wind that Shakes the Barley
The Prestige
Casino Royale

The Departed was one of the most entertaining and gripping films I can remember. It seemed each cast member was better than the rest. Surely Oscar time for Marty now..
Volver was quirky and funny and sad all at once
The Wind that Shakes the Barley was very good. Who’d have thought an English director would make a film like this.. Ken Loach? And didn’t he make the Queen this year as well? That was pretty good too..
The Bond movie was the best one in a while. Decent plot anyway, as it’s based on the best Fleming book, and cast, action and settings all lived up to the hype.

Plays


Betrayal – Gate
Lady Windemere’s Fan – Gate
The Faith Healer - Gate
A Month in the Country – Abbey
Krapp’s Last Tape – Gate

Betrayal was my highlight of the year. First time I’ve seen a Pinter play and it was a really good production. The Faith Healer was good, if slightly over rated. The old fella who played Teddy was better than Ralph Fiennes I thought. A Month in the Country was good, but for me, paled slightly by being on around the same time as Lady Windemere’s Fan which was hilarious, and the best ‘looking’ play I saw all year. Krapps Last Tape was alright – John Hurt very good admittedly.
I’m going to Anna Karenina and School for Scandal in the next few weeks anyway, so maybe I’ll change my mind about this part of the list..

Books

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let me Go
Jimmy McDonagh – Shakey (Neil biography)
John McGahern – Memoir
Stephen King – Cell
Bob Rotella – The Golfers Mind

Another bad year for reading – just too busy. Just like the cinema – to which think I only went about 5 times.
Mostly I was reading old stuff anyway. Or music stuff. Or newspapers.
Anyway, in terms of new novels – I liked Never Let me Go. Not sure if this one was 05 or 06 but I really enjoyed it. A strange little book.
I only put the Stephen King book in there because it was such a good idea for a book. And the 1st half was amazing. Pity then, that it turned out to have such a bad 2nd half. Disappointing really.
The Neil biog is pretty good – and I haven’t read it cover to cover admittedly.
I re-read Dylan’s Chronicles – and it really holds up. As do John McGahern’s memorirs.
Bob Rotella golf psychology seems to work for me (up to a point). This book is pretty clear..


Sport

Ryder Cup

Obvious really. It was great to be there. But it would have been nice to see Harrington or Monty finish the job at the US Open. Although to be fair, winning the European order of Merit was a good achievement for Harrington.

Irelands Triple Crown and Munster’s Heineken Cup in rugby were enjoyable too..



TV

Bleak House
Housewife, 49
Jane Eyre
The Sopranos

Haven’t caught much TV comedy, not mad about much of it these days, but Peep Show is fairly good. Catherine Tate is alright, but her new series is just more of the same..

Re music on TV, there’ve been a few decent one-offs and documentaries, but Jools Holland’s show is still the best ongoing music show.

Channel 4 seems to be leading the way in history documentaries these days, but there was nothing startling this year that I saw.. 2005 was better.

Bleak House may have been 05 also (?) but either way, nothing came close. Best thing the BBC have done in years. Best period drama ever?, best Dickens adaptation ever? Who knows..
Housewife 49, was a quiet little gem too though (a true story set in WW2) – just about beating Jane Eyre back into 3nd place for me..
The Sopranos was back with a short(ish) series. Good stuff as ever – much more low key than previous series’. I think there’s only 6 episodes to go – it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap things up. I’ve also been watching Lost (why did I ever start!) and ER. Neither is getting better.

Art

Missed most of the major London exhibitions this year unfortunately. Saw one in the Tate which I can’t remember (!) and just missed the Constable one by a day or two.. Saw the ‘2 centuries of Irish Social Life’ at our Nat. Gallery tho which was alright. Also the newly re-opened Hugh Lane gallery is very impressive.
Simon Schama’s Power of Art TV programme was very good and the highlight of my art year (such as it was!) was probably seeing the amazing Boston Museum of Fine Arts – which coincidentally houses Turner’s Slave Ship as featured in the Schama programme. Well worth a visit if you’re in Boston, and I’d scarcely heard of it – it has a lot of old masters, Impressionists and loads of interesting American art I’d never heard of!


Radio

Obviously Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour – this has gone from strength to strength and is one of my all time highlights of the year! 35 or so shows in, it’s great that it’s now gonna be on the BBC. Obviously his presentation is a bit eccentric, but it turns out the big message he wants to impart these days is the enormous treasure trove of amazing music that he loves – most of it American and pre 1960s, and much of it obscure. Very funny show too.
Also, I’ve enjoyed John Kelly’s new show on Lyric FM and good to see Phantom FM go legal.
I’ve been trying to listen to more radio on the internet – BBC 3 (that Composer of the Week slot is very good) and 4 etc, but hope to catch a wider variety next year..


WELL – that’s it, no doubt I’ll change my mind about all this stuff in about 20 minutes! Feel free to disagree/rant/argue/ do your own damm list, or whatever..

Ken.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

1st Blog

This is my first Blog. Technically, my IT skills veer below average, so it will probably be a disaster and nobody will see it..

Anyway, Happy Christmas and 2009, review of 2008 to follow..

Ken