Sunday, March 28, 2010

BAAS - done it

At last, I can breathe and get on with other things. Having chewed on reading around and absorbing my chosen topic for the last 7 months, I've finally gotten my script together for my 2010 BAAS paper. Hurrah.

Now I can work on becoming familiar enough with it to not read it too much like a script.

Wordle burblings

Yes, I know, BAAS paper. Working on it.

Anyway, distracted by the lovely Persephone in her Hades, busy being the most brilliant blogger for keeping up with the demands of NaBloPoMo, I picked up on Wordle.

Wordle: RullseyGeneral

I really must not get distracted by Wordle. I could end up creating a gaping hole in my conference paper otherwise.


Friday, March 26, 2010

"If Ejlert Loevborg Wrote a Song, It Would Sound Like This..." Theatre Review: Hedda Gabler, Nottingham Theatre Royal 25 March 2010

First things first: Rosamund Pike is stunningly beautiful. And this production of Hedda Gabler is entrancing. Catch it in Nottingham til Saturday 27 March 2010.

I'll confess my ignorance of the play before seeing this production. Yes, yes, I knew OF it, but I didn't know it. And I hadn't seen it. Shame on me. (Though I was relieved to note Kris had also not seen Hedda Gabler before).

Anyway, there is MUCH to praise in this production. The costumes are wonderful - Hedda's dresses are simply breathtaking. The cast are great: Anna Carteret (the petite bourgeois Aunt Juju), Janet Whiteside (the life-long servant Berthe), Robert Glenister (the hapless George Tesman), Zoe Waites (a perfectly hysterical Mrs Elvsted), Tim McInnerny (the duplicitous and ultimately manipulative Judge Brack). Rosamund Pike makes for a transcendent Hedda Gabler: her father;s wilful daughter, longing for stimulation, callous in her infantile emotions, cornered by her own actions, the societal demands and the power structures surrounding women.

Interestingly, it is perhaps the dissolute Loevborg (Colin Tierney) who is hardest to appreciate: it is a thankless role in some respects, someone who has behaved appallingly, has managed to adopt and convince polite society of his worth for re-entry in their ranks (both academic and social), but who easily slips back into his disreputable ways (if he ever really left them). The inability to reconcile the intellectual mind with his own passions is his undoing and in that respect, Tierney convinces.

I'd be interested to read other translations: there certainly seemed lines that jarred slightly, but the direction and performances more than compensated. Very worthwhile and no doubt coming to a London stage this year...

Oh, and in case you were wondering where the post title came from, well of course there's this cracking song by the awesome Broken Records. "Come on Hedda, you know you've made your bed..."

Jamie and Rory - intimate version

Album version - with footage from touring

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Live Music review: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, Rescue Rooms Nottingham 24 March 2010

Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra (previously A Silver Mt. Zion, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Tra-La-La Band with Choir and Thee Silver Mountain Reveries).

Thankfully the name is usually abbreviated to SMZ, though their website goes under the Tra-la-la name. Phew.

We've seen this excellent Canadian band previously - at the Rescue Rooms in fact, quite some years ago at a (frankly surprisingly) crammed gig. Last night was well-attended but was improved by a bit more breathing space.

The band create swirling, stirring noisescapes, with tracks that switch from gentle harmonies and swooping strings to percussive and guitar-heavy walls of sound that wash over you. It is uplifting and exhilarating.

They also feature two rather lovely and utterly compelling female violinists, Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss.

The evening was as ever dominated by the engaging audience-conversationalist Efrim Menuck. Topics ranged from the price of cider (the Swiss have tunnels that steal our apples from the UK), the Jeremy Kyle show ("he's the angry one, right? where the kid on the sofa being shouted at has a different name each time, but the same Umbro pants..."), and whether love is 'cheap' or 'priceless' (depending on which audience member was explaining it). When asking for comments, questions and statements he was asked what was the most amazing thing he had seen this year - Efrim said his son, born approximately 8 months ago and on the road with the band. That cannot be easy.

No encore, since bassist Thierry Amar has a problematic shoulder injury (ouch), but we were fully satiated by the band's awesome performance. Brilliant.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The radio 4 / 6Music intrusion

I was listening to the Radio 4 7pm news last night on our DAB radio, and when The Undertones 'Wednesday Week' intruded, I felt pretty sure this was a 6Music song. Sure enough, a quick flick to 6Music revealed Marc Riley was indeed playing that song.

But I had assummed the intrusion was a digital radio only thing: seems I was wrong.

Radio 4 listeners on all platforms, FM included, got a blast of 6Music instead of the end of the 7pm news, and - OH MY GOD, the end of civilisation as we know it!!! - the beloved Archers.


Guerilla tactics?

A cock-up? There have been a few of late....

Oh well, more on the Radio 4/6Music cross-over controversy at the Guardian.

Student Loans Company: what happens next

The report released today by the Audit Commission doesn't seem very hopeful does it? The news coverage is all over this like a rash at present - C4, BBC, Times Higher, etc etc. The Student Loans Company and Student Finance England are in a pickle it would appear. The news reports have not unreasonably focused on the horrendous backlogs of unprocessed applications and the problems of answering phone enquiries (87% at one point not getting through: nice).


Buried in the report, was this particular paragraph that caught my eye:

Organisations representing disabled students have expressed concerns that due 2.21 to delays and changes to assessments in 2009 there have been adverse impacts on students, suppliers and assessment centres. The Company says that while it may have handled cases differently from some local authorities, it is applying existing rules correctly and uniformly; and its requirement for assessment centres to obtain more than one quotation before paying for services has been welcomed by some groups. It remains clear, however, that the Company underestimated the volume of work required to process these applications and did not allocate enough staff to the task. While it increased staffing, from 14 to 25 in August, then to 36 in November, we consider that this is likely to be fewer than the number of experienced processing staff that worked within 130 local authorities. [My emphasis added]

Hmmmmm... 36 staff versus 130 individual local authority departments staffed by individuals who probably had several years experience of dealing with Disabled Students Allowances queries.

Nope, cannot think why the Audit Commission may "consider that this is likely to be fewer than the number of experienced processing staff that worked within 130 local authorities"....

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A belated International Women's Day praising for one of my favourite women

Lisa Jardine has long been a heroine of mine: intelligent, thought provoking, the very model of a public intellectual.

So it was nice to get the hat-tip from Cloud that Jardine was the subject of one of the Guardian's regular 'In Praise of...' slots.

Fittingly, her (main) job title is professor of Renaissance studies, which seems as good a fit as any for a Renaissance woman.

Given the wonderful essays that can come up on the BBC Radio 4 'A Point of View' slot, it would be a shame if these were lost to the website reshuffle.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I Never Thought It Would Happen...: in praise of Smash Hits

Courtesy of the lovely Paulie at Never Trust a Hippy, I've found a site dedicated to that lyrics mag extraordinaire.

I've even been able to remind myself that I could correctly visualise the page from Smash Hits that gave the lyrics to 'Up the Junction' by Squeeze (one of my very favourite songs ever). Although I had always remembered it as the inside BACK cover, not inside FRONT cover. Never mind.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How to be cheered up

Neil just sent me this picture. It has proper cheered me up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Publicising the BBC

Only 1% of the population listen to 6Music - something that could surely be fixed by better publicity and promotion: the TV channels do cross-promotion of what's on elsewhere next, so why not the radio channels? Feedback on Radio4 has been fending queries about the rather nonsensical and increasingly regular use of trailers for the NEXT upcoming programme, due to start in 30 seconds. But if there was promotion of 'if you turn over now to 6Music it's....' or even during the programmes following certain songs 'if you liked that, why not to tune into Stuart Maconie's FreakZone on 6Music...'. This could work for all the music stations: stop being precious and share the love! it would at least make more people aware of the station.

And I know that 6Music had that TV ad a while back. Random shaped animation across a wall. I mean, WHAT the F did that mean? Who on earth was going to get that stuck in their head as being about 6Music? And would they really GET what it was about from the ad?

In Praise of the BBC (3): but I wish they would have people who know what they are talking about...

I love the BBC: I think it is good value for money, I think large parts of what it does could not be catered for elsewhere, and it mostly employs experts to talk about what they are expert on.


In recent years it has increasingly chosen journalists/news reporters/public figures to front a number of its most publicised documentary strands and series. It is a trend that is on the increase. There is still space for experts (BBC4 programmes seem especially able to accommodate expert presenters regardless of their attractiveness or familiarity from other programmes), but on BBC1 especially news anchors have been coming to the fore on documentaries, as the Guardian reported last month.

The problem of expertise is also highlighted in the current debate over the BBC strategy proposals.

I couldn't stand to watch the Newsnight 'debate' last night between Paxo and Thompson about the justification for proposing the closure of two radio stations and a significant proportion of the BBC website. But several have already talked to me about their frustration with the discussion. What irritated me and I knew would wind me up is that patently Paxo is not a pop music fan. He doesn't really get contemporary music in most of its genres and forms. Quite clearly, neither does Thompson, who seems mistaken in his belief that the pop that can be found on 6Music could easily be accommodated into other stations. Given Thompson couldn't even make a consistent argument about why 1Extra should stay and 6Music close, as matched against Thompson's own criteria, that isn't surprising.

And they're not even the first to fall into the mire of talking about things of which they know nothing. Dame Liz Fogan on Broadcasting House last weekend kept talking about pop music as if it was just one thing, easy to slot into the Radio 1 and 2 schedules (when you're not a pop music fan, it seems a classic trait to dismiss it as one thing, failing to see the differences between Heart, Radio 1, 6Music, Absolute and all the rest). This misses the things that make 6Music different.

Live music
I think I read somewhere a figure of how many live sessions the station airs: I cannot locate it right now, but I seem to recall a figure of about 300 sessions per year?[please let me know this if you can] These are predominantly from performers that are new or on the rise. When and where would R1 or R2 accommodate these, certainly in terms of how much time they are given across the whole network? The Marc Riley show alone usually has live sessions most nights with three(ish) tracks per artist. Heck, Tom Robinson has a whole show dedicated to new music!

New music
An overlap with the live music issue obviously, but as was noted in the Guardian letters yesterday, commercial radio leaves 'finding new music to the BBC'. Commercial radio needs to sell advertising - it isn't ABOUT music. So familiarity is everything: stay on the channel, keep listening to THESE advertisements. If it's 10 mins past the hour, it's a Queen song; if it's quarter to the hour it's Beyonce; if it's the next programme make sure we've played the current number 1 song from the charts. I mean no reductive criticism of the named artists, or of whatever is in the best-seller list, but Radio 3 gets to be driven by more than just what is the best-selling and most popular classical music (new recordings, new types of music appear on R3 pretty regularly). So why can't 6Music hold onto its role in presenting new for the non-classical world of music, as James Smith's letter to the Guardian yesterday noted?

Old Music
I don't just mean popular Motown, I mean OLD music from the pop world: blues from the 1920s (Huey Show), ska from the early 1960s (Marc Riley), avant-garde noise jazz from the 1970s (Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone). These kinds of things get accommodated on 6Music. The diversity of what they play is not covered ANYWHERE else on radio and nor would it be: 1 and 2 could not dare to go that far, 3 minorly pulls things in (but really only on Late Junction) and commercial radio wouldn't even be interested. (And don't you dare say it's because the BBC hasn't given them chance. Who would advertise? exactly....)

Defining 'popular'
Cloud raised this point in the car today: if there is one word to describe the music we listen to, it probably wouldn't be 'popular'. Niche, obscure, quirky. As his sister-in-law and niece identified at Xmas with a well chosen badge for him, "I listen to bands that don't even exist yet" (there is a T-shirt too). (Both Neil and the lovely George has T-shirts from Spitalfields reading 'I only listen to unsigned bands'). Whilst neither of these remarks are strictly true, there is a truth to them: ours is a household that enjoys the slightly obscure; we're the musically interested who enjoy the 'not heard much that sounds like that before'. But there are a suprising number of us. And thanks to 6Music we have found a lot of wonderful new and old music that meets our weird and wonderful interests and I have spread the word and bought music for others that I have found through 6Music.

The problem with defining 'popular' though, is it is taken to mean a great number of things by lots of non-experts. listen to those who listen to this stuff; take note of THEIR understanding and the subtle variations and breadth of what is non-classical. It needs a voice!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

In Praise of the BBC (2): generating unique quality content - Radio

The BBC needs the courage of its convictions, not least in the face of those with VERY vested interests criticising it. Yes, Murdochs, Bazelgettes etc I truly AM looking at you.

Later today the announcements that we have all known are coming will finally arrive: closure of sections of the BBC will be proposed and put out to public consultation before the Trust adopts the closures anyway (what? does anyone REALLY think that whatever the public say will help? I wish it could be otherwise. It would be nice to think our voice actually matters instead of it being the semblance of listening...).

The Radio 4 Today programme is running a series of reports this week about the BBC changes over the years and today one commentator mentioned that whilst Radio 1 and Radio 2 clearly overlap with the commercial sectors, in terms of providing unique quality content 6Music and the BBCAsian Network both do that. Indeed, with the 'old' BBC attitude hat on, the Corporation itself had only recently said that the problem with 6Music was only that it needed to grow its audience. There was nothing wrong with the content.

But Radio 1 and Radio 2 are BIG BEASTS: no one is going to dare to get rid of them, however much their music and DJ content/style may overlap with commercial offerings (I'm steering clear of what they should be doing and their worth for another post).

So this post seeks to PRAISE the uniqueness and the quality content of the BBC. What is ironic is that its best quality content and uniqueness have come most often from those niche bits that appeal to (relatively) limited audiences, but which mostly deserve better promotion and publicity.

Monday, March 01, 2010

In Praise of the BBC (1): 'minority' and targeted TV channels

The BBC comes in for a lot of flack, and stupidly is taking too much notice of some of it.

So I'd like to praise the BBC.

By way of praising both the BBC4 drama 'On Expenses' and the recent BBC3 season of 'Being Human', I'd like to give some cheers to the BBC for its efforts in trying to accommodate all manner of audiences.

Should BBC4 exist? Arguably, BBC2 used to do much of its work in showing foreign and older classic films; broadcasting and creating adventurous arts documentaries; creating challenging new dramas; and broadcasting (live) plays.

For a variety of reasons, BBC2's raison d'etre seems to have changed, with many of these traits now 'sidelined' to BBC4.

Whilst I wish that the programming that had previously been well catered for on terrestrial TV was still so cherished there, I do nevertheless recognise that this is a digital age and the analogue signal is going SOON (some are still not quite dealing with this). Given that digital is here and will soon be ALL THERE IS, we all need to recognise that channels and their purposes are changing.

So, providing someone can clarify for me exactly what BBC2 now IS for, I'm relatively happy to accept BBC4 as the new place where such things happen. I'm less thrilled it has such limited hours of broadcast, and more especially that it recycles - aka repeats - certain of its products so regularly and easily. But I like what it does. 'On Expenses' was typical of the quality of its output: sharp, topical (given the time it takes to make drama, remarkably topical) and with a fabulous cast. Bravo.

BBC3 is a more tricky proposition; but, since 'Being Human' is such an astoundingly good programme, it is worth unpicking how and why we probably needed BBC3 to be there to garner this triumphant drama.

In the current round of BBC bashing and potential cuts (save 6Music and the AsianNetwork!), many have cited the pointlessness of BBC3, usually in the same breath as mentioning the words 'lager' 'packets' 'crisps'.

It's an easy target, not least because BBC3 was intentionally developed to attract those 'valuable' audiences of under 25s. And apart from Doctor Who repeats, it's hard to think of much that would appeal outside of that demographic - hell, perhaps even WITHIN that demographic since the BBC patently misunderstands that under 25s are not really watching TV in the way the Corporation has previously recognised.

But then there is 'Being Human'.

'Being Human' is everything that Torchwood (pre-Children of Earth, which rocked) should have consistently been from the start.

It's funny, it's adult, it's violent, it's thoughtful. It has sex and blood and a great soundtrack.

Would BBC1 or 2 have felt able to commission BH? I'm not sure. Interestingly, in seeking to create something that worked for a younger - but still ADULT - audience - it actually came up with something that worked more broadly. Excellent. And there are Doctor Who alumni at the heart of the show, proving further that for all his faults we do still have a lot to thank the RTD era for, not least bringing fantasy TV back in fashion in the UK.

So here I am, praising the BBC for two of its least watched channels. But I still think they deserve recognition, and without both we'd certainly be a lot poorer.