Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Last Words On 2008

People seemed to enjoy my subjective, personal summary of the year last time around, so I’ve decided to do it again. I hope my memory is good enough to list everything – but I can’t promise it’s going to be in any logical order!

Please note that any loudmouth opinions expressed below are mine and mine alone. They do not reflect the views of my employer or any other individuals I work with.


Coming much closer to discovering what love is about: shared experience, a strong physical connection, empathy and understanding – and that a good friendship can enhance these qualities rather than complicate them. This has helped make 2008 an overwhelmingly positive year – Priya has been loving, thoughtful, encouraging, supportive, intelligent and caring throughout.

A few wonderful days in Paris with Priya.

Being in a strong enough financial position to ride the credit crunch.

Continuing honesty. Finding some newer friendships are every bit as strong as longstanding ones.

Having the courage to apply and audition for music college. Even if completely unsuccessful, this process has given me renewed focus and stopped me feeling that I’m running out of time.

More friends celebrating marriages, engagements or starting families and the chance to observe and share in their happiness.

Leonard Cohen’s long awaited return to live performance – a performer of compassion, generosity and insight gained through experience, accompanied by music arranged with meticulous care, played tastefully. If Bob Dylan treats his songs as malleable objects to be violently remodelled every time, Cohen treats his back catalogue with extraordinary reverence. This doesn’t mean that the songs are tedious facsimiles of their first recordings (far from it), but rather that they must always be performed with the same level of feeling, commitment, clarity and energy. The concerts of the year and worth every penny of the expensive ticket prices.

Finally getting to see Keith Jarrett perform live, even if he is past the peak of his powers now.

The outstanding collaboration between the Homemade Orchestra and children’s poet Michael Rosen – a healthy dose of fun in a musical world that too often leaves humour behind. That it came with highly sophisticated composing and playing was a big bonus, and a great introduction to jazz for the young members of the audience.

Some dependably superb gigs at The Vortex, where quality programming is a given – Oriole, David Torn, Gwilym Simcock’s birthday show, Polar Bear, some extraordinary improvisation from pianist Tom Rogerson.

Tom Rogerson’s outrageously inventive rock band Three Trapped Tigers – with a Gordon Raphael-produced EP now in the bag, surely my prediction for 2008 will hold true for 2009??

Battles, Dirty Projectors and F*ck Buttons at The Astoria – a triple whammy of the highest order but sadly the last gig I’ll see at the legendary venue (how disappointing that the Astoria’s long history will come to an end with Manumission).

Wildbirds and Peacedrums at the Luminaire – an astonishing gig proving the band surpass their already brilliant studio recordings in live performance.

The Dodos at Hoxton Bar and Kitchen – clattering, rampant fun.

Terry Reid at The Borderline – a songwriting legend who deserves a far warmer welcome and bigger audiences when he next plays in this country.

Bjork at the Hammersmith Apollo, a typically energised, sensual and exotic performance.

Einsturzende Neubaten at The Forum – a gig that I expected to be challenging and unforgiving, but which was actually innovative and entertaining.

The Planet Mu 200 night in Elephant and Castle – proving I still have some stamina left in me for the odd rave.

The opportunity to DJ with the JRM project at Bardens Boudoir, getting away with some bizarre musical juxtapositions and remembering how DJing is the best route to a free drink.

The virtues of legal downloading – more music available at more affordable prices.

Finally catching the Orpheus ballet with the wonderful Colin Towns big band score. An invigorating treat!

The CVA Summer Jazz Workshop in Amsterdam – a quite extraordinary and emotional week of music. In some ways, it was highly frustrating, but it provided a much needed dose of motivation and reignited my ambitions. Worth the fee alone for the wisdom and philosophy of Cecil Bridgewater: ‘everyone is a drummer’, apparently. Amen to that! A good few days of holiday beforehand – with Tom Millar’s insightful and encouraging company.

The North Sea Jazz Festival – perhaps the only festival serving oysters, Indian cuisine and gourmet burgers. It’s extravagant, expensive, and set in what would appear to be a giant airport terminal, but the music was varied and frequently sublime. This time Wayne Shorter’s latest leap into the unknown really worked for me. Also sublime were performances from Abdullah Ibrahim, Kenny Wheeler, Pat Metheny with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez and Charles Lloyd.

On returning from Amsterdam, organising some private drum lessons again – realising that my lack of understanding of the correct technique has been holding me back, breaking things down to the fundamentals and the beginning of a long process of improvement and progress.

Tim Whitehead’s residential jazz course in the wonderful old Mill in Yarmouth – for Tim’s inspiring philosophy (once again a reminder that life can be so much more than we often settle for),some fun jam sessions in the pubs, the rare chance to play with Liam Noble, meeting some more superb young musicians in Ida Hollis and Leo Selleck.

The Alexander Technique

Performing gigs with the constantly improving Adrian Roye Band – Adrian’s voice and songwriting becoming more confident with every step – now almost commanding. The recording of a quite outstanding EP, which should help take it to the next level.

Working patiently on some new musical projects which ought to come to fruition in 2009 – Arklove,The Night Climbers, JRM.

A more regular supply of well-paid function gigs and teaching opportunities.

WAC Performing Arts and Media College still going strong at the point of its 30th Anniversary.

More recording projects with Ricky Mian, Cai Marle-Garcia and Ozzie Rodgers; the far-too-gradual progress on my own set of songs. Some progress is still progress!

Massive Attack’s Meltdown and the London Jazz Festival – two remarkably well-programmed events. Highlights of the former included a triumphant double bill featuring Elbow and Fleet Foxes, plus the remarkable resurrection of Grace Jones. Highlights of the latter included Courtney Pine defying the laws of physics and passionately supporting UK Jazz and the free Jazz on 3 launch gig with some fiery spontaneous interaction between Ken Vandermark, Barry Guy and Mark Sanders, as precocious a free improvising trio as I’ve yet seen.

Bruce Springsteen at the Emirates – the first and last time I’m likely to set foot in that particular stadium! Later in the year, Springsteen once again proved his unerring ability to capture the American mood with ‘Working On A Dream’.

Kurt Wagner’s solo show at The Borderline and the Lambchop show at the Union Chapel – proof that Wagner is one of the most idiosyncratic and original of singer-songwriters.

Deerhunter at The Dome in Tufnell Park.

Shiva Feshareki’s ‘Critical Distortions’ collaboration with Natalie Clein – a further sign of Shiva’s originality and courage as a composer and yet another step into the intriguing world of contemporary music for me.

The extraordinary, dense, hypnotic guitar playing of James Blackshaw.

The emergence of some genuinely interesting and novel British guitar bands – Late of The Pier, Wild Beasts, School of Language/The Week That Was – challenging the orthodoxy of what has now become known as ‘landfill indie’.

The return of the B-52’s and Was (Not Was), the more acceptable face of 80s nostalgia!

Elbow’s Mercury Music Prize victory – it wasn’t even their best album and certainly not the album of the year, yet still this result seemed like one of the Mercury Judges best decisions in the prize’s history.

The continuing mining of the life and work of Arthur Russell – more beautiful recordings collated on ‘Love Is Overtaking Me’ and Matt Wolf’s exquisite documentary film ‘Wild Combination’. The film managed to cover so much more than simply the music – capturing the conflicts and dichotomies which exist in many human beings – the urge for risk pulling against safety and security, the excitement of the city versus the comfort and calm of the country, the desire for perfection damaging the hunger for success.

Terence Davies’ return to the cinema with the extraordinary ‘Of Time and The City’ – a reminder that subjectivity in documentaries, often seen as a heinous crime, is actually a valid means towards artistry.

More impressive new cinema – XXY, Hunger, Waltz with Bashir (its switch to ‘real’ news footage at the end was an essential and devastating juxtaposition crucial to the film’s success, not an artistic compromise as some have argued), WALL-E, The Dark Knight (at last a blockbuster with real intelligence), The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, The Man From London, The Edge of Heaven – the year began with Ang Lee’s masterful Lust, Caution, No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. I’ve not been to the cinema that much in 2008 – but this list does make it look like a quite exceptional year for film.

King’s Place: OK, it looks like a hotel lobby when you first enter, but it is so great to have a dedicated, sensibly programmed arts venue in North London.

Finding the time to read some heavy tomes. My literary year began with Norman Mailer’s ‘The Executioner’s Song’, continued with Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ and is ending with David Foster Wallace’s bizarre and visionary ‘Infinite Jest’.

J.M.G. Le Clezio’s surprise Nobel Prize win.

Toni Morrison’s great reading and discussion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall during the US Presidential Election campaign. Her willingness to give unpredictable answers to predictable questions made her seem warm and open-minded.

Some outstanding books about music and history – especially Alex Ross’ ‘The Rest is Noise’ and Michael Gray’s ‘Hand Me My Walking Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell’.

David Thomson’s ‘Have You Seen? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films’. On the surface, it’s simply another list book – but it’s a gargantuan one written by a man who is as passionately in love with language as he is with the cinema. It’s opinionated and audacious but always brilliantly argued. One of the best books ever published about the cinema.

The Antiques Roadshow – thank goodness for its continuing popularity – a TV institution where you can find out so much more about the real lives of real people that on any of the so-called ‘reality’ format shows.

Acquiring The Wire on DVD and finally starting to catch up – intricate and masterful TV drama, possibly my favourite TV series since Northern Exposure. It’s hard to be original with the Police drama format – but just when you think something has been repeated ad nauseum, David Simon and Ed Burns up the game substantially.

I’ve not caught much in the way of other TV, but sporadically moments of the following caught my attention: Outnumbered, Flight of the Conchords, Peep Show, House, the BBC’s drama Criminal Justice, with Ben Whishaw proving he is our most promising young actor. For a more informed and comprehensive overview of the year’s TV, head to John Kell’s blog, always a useful pointer as to how to spend your viewing time!

The appearance of some great hard-to-see films on DVD – The Saragossa Manuscript, Tropical Malady etc.

Some bloggers proving that the journalists with innate suspicions of amateur online writing simply aren’t reading the best blogs – John Kell, the return of False Dichotomies, Really Rather, Mapsadaisical, Sweeping The Nation, Audiversity, Free Jazz, Raven Sings The Blues, Spy Blog highlighting New Labour’s restrictions on civil liberties, many others too numerous to mention…

The US elections ending in a result with symbolic significance and considerable expectation. Joe Bageant’s irreverent, quasi-Marxist analysis of US politics for once proving pessimistic!

Vincent Cable, again – the voice of reason and the man who should have been running our economy for the past ten years.

Lewis Hamilton’s World Championship victory and the whole championship in general – mostly very exciting but I must confess to feeling real sympathy for Felipe Massa, who may well now have missed his golden chance.

British sporting success at the Olympics.

BBC 4 – Sometimes you can turn on and find, say, some unexpected footage of Count Basie’s Orchestra or a very fascinating documentary. Radio 3, in spite of the changes, for similarly provocative and challenging schedules.

Performing Magnetic Fields songs with Jeremy Warmsley and the Little Words at Cargo – a rather lovely conclusion to my live music year. Great to play on the same bill as the Broken Family Band too.


The overwhelming positivity of this past year has been dented significantly by death – particularly the tragic and premature deaths of friends, friends of friends and family members of friends. It’s been a reminder of how vulnerable everything is.

Frustrating impasses to any kind of career progression.

Expensive automobile problems although the gear linkage failure a mere mile after coming off the car ferry at Lymington was, in retrospect, quite funny.

Attempting to play chess for the first time in many years in Amsterdam and discovering, with crushing inevitability, that I still find the game incomprehensible.

The continuing failure of western powers to act decisively in areas where their interests are not at stake – still, little has been done for Zimbabwe.

Boris Johnson’s election as London Mayor – the only surprise seems to be that he hasn’t done anything truly disastrous yet. The banning of alcohol consumption on public transport was merely a token gesture that failed to recognise broader problems.

Unnecessary media chaos – Brand/Ross, Sargeant etc.
The Christian Churches’ obsession with sexuality – which is, for most people, essentially a private matter. A religion based on love, grace and forgiveness seems to be forgetting its core purpose.

The Max Mosley affair – almost ties in with the above. A matter of public interest only in the sense that some voyeuristic members of the public appeared to be interested.

The fact that prejudicial and discriminatory views still exist in 21st Century Britain.

Apparently we live in a service economy, but I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get anything even approaching acceptable service, be it from poorly trained, ill-informed call centre staff, hopelessly unaware waiters and waitresses in restaurants or from the presumptuous and snooty door staff at Ronnie Scott’s club. The corollary of increased confidence is being unafraid of embarrassment – I’ve had my fair share of Larry David moments this year.

The ubiquity on magazine covers of Oasis – why is anyone still interested?

The return of The Verve for similar reasons to the above. Was this really 2008 or did I step into a time machine? Ashcroft was also responsible for the biggest lyrical howler of the year: ‘And did those feet in modern times?/Walk on soles that were made in China’. Urrrrgh.

The ludicrous and offensive furore over Jay Z’s Glastonbury appearance – more minds need to open….

Spiritualized in lacklustre form, both on record and in live performance.

Stevie Wonder at the O2 – too slick, too cheesy.

The continuing prevalence of corporate sponsorship in live music, particularly as O2 now have a near monopoly on venue sponsorship, offering advance presales to their own customers.

The reluctance from the UK Government to do anything about ticket touts. This combined with the point made above made it increasingly difficult to obtain tickets for major event concerts. Leonard Cohen’s shows were supposedly sold out, but there were many good seats at the Albert Hall left empty. The number of my friends who ended up cheated by cowboy ticket agencies this year was striking – how are you to know who is legit and who isn’t?

‘Serious’ concert venues varying their policies depending on the artist performing. If it’s a seated venue, then people should stay seated. Clearly it’s not acceptable to leave to buy beer and return during a concert by Keith Jarrett or the London Sinfonietta – but apparently all concerts in the Meltdown Festival (also at the Southbank) rendered this infuriating habit acceptable, even during Terry Callier. If you want to get drunk and converse go to a pub – the artists performing deserve more time and respect.

Keith Jarrett’s pompous onstage hissyfits.

The Heathrow Terminal 5 shambles.

Spurs’ shambolic start to the season – although I suppose the Redknapp Revolution should be one of my ‘pros’. I’ll reserve judgement until we’re safe…

More generally, Premiership football has seemed mired in the absurd expectation that any team can and should win all the time, and the constant switching of managers has proved a tedious circus detracting from the game itself.

The non-sporting circus surrounding the Olympics.

This extraordinary comment made in November by Olympics Minister (!!) Tessa Jowell: "Had we known what we know now, would we have bid for the Olympics? Almost certainly not.” Another example of the government’s extraordinary lack of awareness of the consequences of their economic policies.

A recognition of the significance of 1968 in its anniversary year, but a lack of any kind of comparable contemporary protest, despite the faltering western economies.

Sarah Palin – although perhaps in light of the election result she should be in the ‘Pros’ section for her comedy value. The idea of her as the controlling figure in a US administration was frankly terrifying.

The Russia-Georgia conflict and its macho posturing.

The big anticlimax of the Large Hadron Collider.

The UK government continuing to press ahead with ID cards, despite the need to make savings and the considerable evidence that the policy, far from making us more secure, is actually a disaster waiting to happen. The very suggestion of the super-database tracking every single move and transaction we make is so uproariously offensive and anti-democratic that it seems extraordinary that it has even been considered – where are the concerted objections from free citizens and our free press?

Why can we afford the above, in addition to the bail-out of various mismanaged financial institutions, but not universal education, healthcare and transport?

Gordon Brown’s uncanny ability to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes – even if he were the best man to get us out of the recession, this should not blind people to his primary role in getting us into it. In fact, he demonstrated a substantial talent for performing rescue acts on his own problems – see also the 10p tax madness. He talks about long-term decision making endlessly but has been unable to see beyond short term goals. Far from being intellectual or shrewd, he actually lacks judgement or common sense. Oh, but apparently by bailing out various banks he has ‘saved the world’, so we can all sleep easy in our beds. Mind you, the prospect of a Cameron government is hardly more appetising.

The financial crisis and the subsequent move to what Brian Eno aptly called the ‘socialism of cowardice’ – consisting of ‘privatising the profits and nationalising the risks’. How ironic that Labour now feels it is appropriate to initiate a great public works spending spree, having rejected this approach to public policy when it would have been more appropriate. More broadly, the ‘crisis’ should offer a great opportunity to rethink and reshape global capitalism – instead, it seems we will carry on much as before with minor adjustments, at considerable cost to the public purse.

The lack of original, creative thinking in energy policy: instead of worrying about the pros and cons of nuclear energy versus renewables, how about initiatives promoting energy conservation and self-sufficiency? Loft insulation, home solar panels etc – these are not ludicrous hippy ideas at all.

Terrorism and the unimaginative response to its threat. The horrific events in Mumbai.

The near-collapse of Zimbabwe and the failure of Western powers to do much to aid the situation.

The effect of the financial crisis on the arts, specifically the collapse of Tartan films and Pinnacle Music, two major distribution networks.

A deterioration in programming in London’s independent cinemas. There’s been little to attract me to the Phoenix in East Finchley, usually one of my favourite haunts, and the BFI Southbank has focussed disproportionately on heavyweight directors whose films are readily available on DVD anyway.

Despite some key works becoming available – why is the UK so slow to make the catalogues of major world directors available on DVD? Why, when you can obtain the films of Edward Yang, Theo Angelopoulos, Tsai Ming-Liang etc easily in the US, are so few of them available as Region 2 discs in the UK? I was expecting more of the films of these directors to appear in 2008.

The Evening Standard’s partisan and misleading handling of the London Mayoral Election campaign – journalism without accountability or responsibility.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith proving she obtains her knowledge on London from the tabloid press with her rather ill-judged comments about Hackney.

The extraordinary resurrection of Peter Mandelson.

The Damian Green affair and a strange confusion over what might constitute illegality in the world of Parliamentary privilege. Whatever you conclude, the use of the counter-terrorism unit was inappropriate and disproportionate and I fear how all this legislation may be used in the future, particularly as it was also used to freeze assets in Icelandic banks.

Natural disasters in China and Burma, continuing human-engineered catastrophe in the Congo.

I should credit Kat Kennedy for this judgement, but it’s worth underlining that she’s absolutely right. 2008 has seen the release of some of the worst singles of all time – that unbearable Kid Rock Werewolves of London/Sweet Home Alabama hybrid and the Cascada mauling of Because the Night being just two examples.

Strictly Come Dancing vs. The X Factor?? – Neither, thank you very much. Simon Cowell and Alexandra Burke imbuing ‘Hallelujah’ with so much bombast that any sense of human feeling is bulldozed. Call me a snob – but hearing this brilliant song bellowed by a drunken fat man outside the Jolly Anglers in Wood Green is a nightmare made real.

Heroes and Survivors – overrated, overhyped TV tedium.

Philip Roth’s ‘Indignation’ – a slight, rather dull and indulgent book – perhaps the least essential work in an otherwise compelling canon.

Bernie Eccleston’s proposed medals system for F1 – I’m sceptical of its benefits!

Columbia’s baffling price for the deluxe edition of Bob Dylan’s ‘Tell Tale Signs’. Have I ranted about this enough?

The campaign to save Titian’s Diana and Actaeon did much to raise awareness of the importance of arts issues, but why does it take so much to keep such valuable treasures available to the general public?

Gone but not forgotten, including a saddening swathe of deaths towards the end of the year: Jerry Wexler, Miriam Makeba, Isaac Hayes, Bo Diddley, Esbjorn Svensson, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Studs Terkel, David Foster Wallace, Odetta, Levi Stubbs, Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, legendary drummer Earl Palmer, Danny Federici, Anthony Minghella, Humphrey Lyttelton, Harold Pinter, Freddie Hubbard

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