Saturday, November 25, 2006

What the pop papers say: The coolest time of the year

Something of a scoop in Thursday's Sun, when Victoria Newton "revealed" the details of the NME cool list 2006. The paper, it seemed, was suffering from mental illness:

MUSIC bible NME has had a brainstorm with the mag’s latest cool list.


And the unrivalled king of cool NOEL GALLAGHER doesn’t even make it into the top 50.

But JARVIS COCKER is rated fourth — ten years after PULP’s prime. For the first time, five women are in the top ten, with BETH DITTO from THE GOSSIP top.

Of course, the NME had already been available in London for two days by the time this "story" appeared.

The choice of Beth for number one was - rather than a brainstorm - a rather surprising departure for a magazine which has spent most of the summer trying to shore up its sales against the resurgent Kerrang by writing about the "War on Emo" as if anyone outside of six branches of Hot Topic in southern California cared about it, while giving covers to the likes of Bono and Noel Gallagher and other more Uncut-style "icons". For the paper to suggest that the coolest person in rock was someone making actual indie music with something to say was a surprising departure, and has helped the growing wave of support for The Gossip in the media. Wednesday's Independent, for example, featured Beth on the front of its second section on the strength of her Cool List victory.

There is something slightly awkward about the move of the Gossip into the more mainstream press, though - a sense that, when you read the articles, you come away with the sense that she's famous for being an overweight lesbian rather than a singer; that the embrace of the weeklies and dailies has an element of patronisation rather than celebration to it.

Because if the NME really does believe that Beth represents the coolest thing in rock right now, you don't see much elsewhere in the magazine that represents that. Flicking through the mag in recent weeks, you don't see many overweight people (although, to be fair, there was an article earlier this month which ridiculed the supposedly portly Craig Vines), or DIY indie kids, or feminists, or - indeed - women, come to that, bar an increasing fascination with Keith Allen's daughter, Lily.

More to the point, when Pete Doherty won the 2004 Cool List, he was rewarded for his efforts with a 3D cover. Normally, the Cool List Special Issue is reflected by the coolest person getting the front page. Oddly, though, the paper took the decision this year to lead the Cool List Issue with... a giant picture of Muse, poking the Cool List into a tiny box in the corner, and even then wedging the slightly more conventionally photogenic Lily Allen and Kate Jackson alongside Beth Ditto. If you believe that Beth is the coolest person on the planet rock, NME, why isn't she cool enough to be given a big cover shot?

Unless, of course, you feel that your readers aren't cool enough to cope with genuine cool?

It's not only us who noticed. Yesterday's Sun saw Victoria Newton report that Lily Allen had spotted it, too. First, though, Newton pretended that her story on Thursday had been about "girl power overtakes the NME" rather the actual "NME goes bonkers and doesn't like Serge Kasabian":

Yesterday I revealed that female singers BETH DITTO of THE GOSSIP, KAREN O of the YEAH YEAH YEAHS and Lily appeared towards the top of the magazine's annual list of the coolest people in music.

However Lily feels it is shocking that all-male act MUSE were pictured on the front cover instead.

Good bloody god, we're agreeing with Lily Allen. Newton's story, of course, wasn't the result of any actual journalism - she'd just read it on Allen's MySpace:

"I was approached by them again with regards to the Cool List Issue 2006, five women had made it into the Top 10 and we were asked to pose for photos to be the main feature for the cover.

“The context was so important - a strong female presence in music - so I thought I might as well do it.

"I went to get a copy yesterday, and this is what we got.

"Another fucking MUSE cover."

"CONOR McNICHOLAS, the editor of NME, said: 'From Beth to Lily to Karen, they've brought new energy to a scene dominated by men. They're also living proof that you can still rock a crowd when you're wearing stilettos.'

"I mean how fucking patronising - 'You can still rock a crowd wearing stilletos'.

"Don't make me sick, we've always been here you arrogant prick, this was your chance to actually show you meant it.

"And instead you put Muse on the cover because you thought that your readers might not buy a magazine with an overweight lesbian and a not particularly attractive looking me, on the front.


MediaGuardian carried a free supplement on Monday reporting the winners of the publishing industry BSME magazines awards. Conor McNicholas picked up one for his work on the NME - although it was for "brand building" rather than the quality of the magazine. His week started being garlanded for the very same thing he was being attacked for at the end of it.

Increasingly, the quirky and left-field is starting to recede from the body of the paper, taking comfort in safe spaces like Christians in Stalin's Russia. So while this week's front page promises - alongside the Cool List and Muse - the none-more-Daily-Telegraph line-up of "Foo Fighters and U2 plus Green Day, The Killers, My Chemical Romance, Jarvis Cocker" (if they had a token Senegalese singer in there, you'd be able to hear Jools Holland playing honky-tonk piano as you looked at the cover), the magazine comes with the first of three, free indie-label CDs.

These are rather good - eschewing the usual trick of burying the actual new names under a handful of headline-hogging recordings from Grohl and Gallagher plundered from BBC sessions or live performances, this week we get a bunch of artists on 1965 (followed by Transgressive and Modular). The previous week, Hamish McBain's Classics Albums had suggested that this series was a kind of twentieth-anniversary nod to C86, although that may only be in his head. (McBain's review of C86 was one of those small secret communions, tucked into an albums reviews page which gave the Oasis Christmas compilation 10 and the Beatles Love album an 8.)

If the paper only reflected what it apparently values (if we take the Cool List as a measure) a little more - if it were a world where the Gossip and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were given most attention while Alex Turner and Serge Pizzorno were given some space, but tucked away down towards the bottom. And Bono never featured.

Still, it was nice to see a picture of Serge Kasabian: are we the only people who think he's increasingly looking like an actor less-than-thrilled to be playing Rembrandt in a BBC Schools TV production of some sort?

And, finally, nice to see some evidence of consistent, clear thinking over at Camp All Saints when Nicole Appleton got to do the Guardian Weekend Magazine Q&A feature:

What is the worst thing anyone's ever said to you?

'I hate you.' I hate that word 'hate' - it should be banned.


Which living person do you most despise and why?

Ken Livingstone - I just hate all these rules.

Gwen Stefani tired of being alone

The No Doubt hiatus is almost over - apparently Gwen Stefani has signalled her intention to reunite the band next year, as she's tired of solo working:

"I don't think I will make another solo album. I can't predict anything, but I don't plan on making one of these solo dance project records.

"I definitely feel myself going back to No Doubt after this to do a new album."

We love the implication - admittedly probably not that far off-beam - that the rest of No Doubt have spent the last half decade sat around drawing welfare cheques waiting for the phone to ring.

Rocksicklist: Jamelia

Apparently, it's possible to have a hereditary sort of hernia - an umbilical hernia - and it's been gifted by her ancestors to Jamelia. Hers flared up while performing on "one of" Spain's biggest music TV shows, leaving her doubled up in pain and unable to continue with the performance.

Jamelia describes the pain as being "like a bus had hit her stomach" - although it's not clear if that would be a double decker or a bendybus, or what sort of speed it would have achieved at impact.

She flew back to the UK and had microsurgery at a London hospital.

[Her manager] Jonathan Shalit said [Darren] Byfield was planning to see Jamelia following his team’s match at Nottingham Forest this afternoon.

Nothing shows that you're deeply in love like promising to see your recently hospitalised girlfriend after you've had a bit of a kickabout. Why, sending flowers as well would be overkill.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Virgin got the FM; don't want the AM

The Guardian's Organ Grinder blog spent yesterday at the Radio Academy conference.

Andy Duncan from Channel 4 re-announced his TV channel's intention to shake-up British radio - a declaration that has been announced more times than a Labour Party policy, and one that sounds slightly less convincing when the big ideas so far have been getting John Peel's son to play unsigned bands, reviving (sort-of) The Tube for radio, and a British version of The Daily Show called The Weekly Show. None of it is bad, but there's not really much that would shake Lord Reith.

There's a lot of jibes from the podium aimed at record labels, although there is the enticing prospect that negotiations to allow "clips" of songs in commercial radio podcasts are almost complete. Not clips, eh? Twenty seconds of Justin Timberlake - that'll have the kids powering up their ADSL.

The main news, though, is that Virgin want to stop broadcasting on medium wave:

The station's chief executive Fru Hazlitt, said it would soon be cheaper for the station not to broadcast on its AM wavelength. It also broadcasts on digital and has a number of digital spin-off stations such as Virgin Classic Rock.

"We pay huge amounts of money to Ofcom for the AM licence, within the next year or two we should switch it off," she said.

"It just isn't worth it. I would like to switch it off tomorrow. At the current rate of decline [of AM listening] 2010 would be the outside number for us, but if we could speed it up in two years' time then we would."

Someone points out to her that at the moment, Virgin still has 1.7m listeners on its AM frequency, compared with 823,000 listeners on its FM frequency in London, to which Hazlitt retorts:

"That's why I wouldn't switch it off tomorrow," said Hazlitt.

Presumably a different Fru Hazlitt from the one who'd started the session saying "I would like to switch it off tomorrow."

While it's not that important if Virgin switches off Virgin 1215 AM - after all, nearly everybody else has - it raises the question of if this abandonment of analogue radio is such a good idea. Ofcom have indicated they'd consider a switch-off of FM and AM in the longterm, but even they are cautiously suggesting its something we should talk about rather than rush into.

Maybe they should invite Virgin to be a test case?

Esso Club 7

Miles Newman and Isabel Davies, from Aboyne set up a company to search for oil. And - in news which our struggling planet will be thrilled by - found a whole field, all for themselves, off the coast of Aberdeen.

The clue as to what powered their devotion and dedication is in the name of their company, Reach Oil.

Yes, this is the first ever oil company in the world to have been inspired by hearing their children listening to S Club 7.

Oddly enough, their next-door neighbours' kids were listening to a different S Club 7 track at the same time and were also hit by inspiration. The Jacksons didn't make a multi-million pound fortune from fossil fuels, but the sausage rolls Melinda rustled up for the S Club Party they threw that Christmas are still the talk of the estate.

Nelly Furtado: Picture perfect

Pictures of Nelly Furtado naked? You came closer than you might have thought, as she apparently gave a lot of consideration to a half a million dollar offer from Playboy. In the end, she decided she'd say no, to ensure she always had something up her sleeve. Or somewhere:

"It was tempting. It almost plays on your vanity.

"But I like to save a little bit for the bedroom. It's something to be preserved a little bit for yourself.

"But that's not to say that I would never do it. As a pop star, people would love to see you naked every day."

Actually, Nelly, it's not that people nod their head to Maneater and think "that's a great song, I wouldn't mind seeing an upskirt from her", so as much as you're the sort of person people would love to see naked making it a bit easier these days to be a popstar, surely.

Although we might be wrong: if, rebuffed, Playboy carried on working down a list and put in a call to Noel Gallagher, we'll be happy to be stood corrected.

Nelly Furtado: Picture perfect

Pictures of Nelly Furtado naked? You came closer than you might have thought, as she apparently gave a lot of consideration to a half a million dollar offer from Playboy. In the end, she decided she'd say no, to ensure she always had something up her sleeve. Or somewhere:

"It was tempting. It almost plays on your vanity.

"But I like to save a little bit for the bedroom. It's something to be preserved a little bit for yourself.

"But that's not to say that I would never do it. As a pop star, people would love to see you naked every day."

Actually, Nelly, it's not that people nod their head to Maneater and think "that's a great song, I wouldn't mind seeing an upskirt from her", so as much as you're the sort of person people would love to see naked making it a bit easier these days to be a popstar, surely.

Although we might be wrong: if, rebuffed, Playboy carried on working down a list and put in a call to Noel Gallagher, we'll be happy to be stood corrected.

We'll keep the red-head flag flying here

Missing, so far, from the copyright debate has been the champagne socialist perspective. But the rich will not remain silent for long, and so here come Mick Hucknall to speak up for them at last:

Copyright is fundamentally socialist - it is radical and redistributive, subversive even. How else would you describe a form of property that anyone can create out of nothing?

We've always wondered about Mick's politics, and what he exactly believed, but we'd never imagined before that they'd be based on such a fundamental misunderstanding. The whole point of copyright law is to assign ownership of property to an individual and take it out of the public realm - surely Mick must understand that socialism is the polar opposite?

Copyright's democratising effect is seen most clearly in the music business. Anyone who can speak, sing, rap or hum and operate a simple sound recorder can create a copyright song. Imagination is the only limit.

Actually, Mick, you're completely off-beam again. Imagination has nothing to do with copyright - since it is possible for two people to imagine the same thing. Novelty is the only limit.

Having established that he doesn't understand socialism and knows nothing about the basics of copyright, Mick's suggestion that looking at the rigid music industry where most of the sales are dominated by four enormous global corporations shows a "democratising" effect shows he doesn't really what democracy is about either. We'd love to see Mick delivering a eulogy - it'd be a hoot: "I never met Ken, nor know anything of his work or life..."

Mick then goes on to compare, somewhat modestly, the internet with the Frantic Elevators:

The opportunities offered by new technology remind me very much of my own early experiences as a musician.

The ability to hold a face-to-face meeting with people in space, or instantly search a billion documents to find a name, a face, a fact, or to crunch data on global warming at the rate of a million calculations a minute is so much like a cover of Money's Too Tight To Mention we wonder how we never noticed before.

The do-it-yourself attitude of the punk era encouraged me to release Holding Back the Years on our own label when no record company was interested in it.

Actually, Mick, didn't you release Holding Back The Years in 1986, some seven years after you'd formed the Frantic Elevators, and not really as an "early experience", then? You're not trying to shave some years off your cv by any chance?

Internet distribution promises creators and independent companies freedom from the stranglehold that major record companies and publishers have enjoyed for decades over music distribution.

Hang about a moment... if there's this "stranglehold" over music distribution, what happened to "copyright's democratising effect [...] seen most clearly in the music business", then?

Mick, of course, is in something a sticky position here - as a rich artist, he's long had the hump with the majors - to the extent that Simply Red re-recorded their entire back catalogue in order to be able to release it rather than the version held in record company vaults. But he also benefits from the cash raised in the name of copyright.

So, faced with demands from the music industry for longer protection for recordings, who will Mick side with, do you suppose?

The new musical entrepreneurs will increasingly include songwriters, performers and their close advisers, liberated from the boom-or-bust economics of the current record business, and able to earn a reasonable living from their art. As George Clinton said, "Don't fight the system - create your own."

In this environment, arguments against the extension of the copyright term in sound recordings from 50 to 95 years are retrogressive and misconceived.

Unsurprisingly, he's gone with the majors on this one, then.

Mick doesn't explain how an argument for preserving the status quo rather than changing the length of copyright period is actually "retorgressive" - it's unclear if this is because he doesn't understand that the word suggests "returning to an earlier, less satisfactory position", or if he does and just wants to make it sound that leaving the copyright term unchanged would be like some sort of journey back to Dickensian times. When, of course, honest singer-songwriters had to whore out their own children to even be able to afford to die of consumption.

Copyright is not a monopoly restricting the free flow of ideas.

A man who thinks that private ownership is the most socialist thing there is now suggests that the ownership of an idea or concept by a single person isn't a monopoly.

Allowing valuable sound recordings to pass into the public domain does not create a public asset: it represents a massive destruction of UK wealth, and a significant loss to the UK taxpayer as exploitation moves offshore or into the grey market.

Mick... if it's possible to make compilation albums of old songs and sell them perfectly legally in the UK, why on earth would anyone want to "move offshore" or go to a "grey market"? Not allowing copyright free access to songs recorded before the Suez crisis might, perhaps, persuade pirates to start pressing hooky Best of Al Martino collections in their garages to sell round the boot sales; but if K-Tel are knocking 'em out for a couple of quid down the street legitimately, why would they bother? It's a move which makes piracy irrelevant, rather than encouraged.

(Aside from which, when did the BPI last report they'd raided a car boot sale and found 50,000 illegal Glen Miller albums?)

Of course allowing these records to pass into the public domain creates a public asset - by it's very nature, it's creating an asset. You might argue, Mick, that it's not a valuable asset - but you'd be wrong. Unsurprisingly. Given the chance to do something with recordings that are now mostly left sat on shelves, the British people with all their creativity and imagination that you champion may come up with a dozen surprising ideas before lunch-time. Or possibly you'll just find that the over 70s get a chance to buy the songs of their youth all over again and remember happy times of first kisses and first shags and broken hearts, and still have change from their pensions.

Copyright extension is partly about equality for performers, with other creators and with those in the US and elsewhere.

Okay. But... why? Why is it important or even desirable that copyright terms in the UK and the US are equal? And if it is, why do we have to lengthen ours to match their arbitrary term?

It is also about maintaining the cultural value of works by controlling their exploitation.

Well, it's not exactly a socialistic idea he's expressed, but there is something charmingly Stalinist about that one. You can't let someone market a range of birthday cards which play fifty-year old songs when you open them, dammit, it's undignified.

Does Mick really think that "cultural value" of a piece of music is something that should be guarded by statute? Further, a statute which makes attempts to do something else with the tune illegal for a century?

Does Mick really believe that if you allow someone to offer a free download of a song recorded while bananas were still on the ration, the cultural value of that song is somehow diminished?

Does Mick really want us to agree that, yes, the best way to promote the cultural value of a recording is for it to be locked in a dusty room in the vaults at EMI, for making it available on a cheap CD at your local newsagent would be like drawing a crude cartoon cock on the Laughing Cavalier?

But, most of all, it is about nurturing the development of a truly revolutionary explosion in small-scale grassroots creative businesses.

Besides from sounding like the sort of thing you'd read in a Pathways Framework Proposal by a Multi-Disciplinary Funding Regime, it's just not true. Here is a scene, portrated by actors, to demonstrate why Mick is being ridiculous:

Boy: [singing] Lalalalala ding ding blaah...
Girl: That's a great tune. You should record that and release it as a download - 79p a time, you'd make a fortune
Boy: Yeah, I would but... not worth it, is it? I mean, sure, I could be making money off it for the next five decades but why bother? In 2056 someone will come along and make a ringtone based on it and that, effectively, will mean all the money I've made up until then will disappear in a flash...
Girl: Like Cinderella's coach?
Boy: Exactly like that. I'll be living in the mansion with my four Britney Spears clones I've bought with the money, and then - poof! - the copyright will expire and so will all my wealth
Girl: Are you sure it works like that?

Copyright is the sole economic foundation of the "knowledge economy".

Not quite - after all, there are companies that do very nicely out of open source software, for example, by providing support to users.

Strong copyright protection is not only compatible with future digital business models: it is an essential pre-condition of their success.

Yes - look at iTunes: Apple could have a lovely little business there, but who would pay 99 cents for a song when everything available in the store was somewhere for free on the internent? What did they sell in the end - seventy-three downloads before they went out of business, wasn't it?

It would be bitterly ironic if hostility towards certain practices of major corporations were to destroy the opportunity that new technology offers creators to challenge the hegemony of those major corporations, and establish a direct independent relationship with their consumers.

Yes, if you read that slowly, it does say: We have to defeat the RIAA and it's stranglehold on music, and we can only do that by increasing its stranglehold on music.

But he did use the phrase "challenge the hegemony", so maybe there is something of the old Living Marxism in him after all.

The benefits of extending the copyright term will last a long time.

Erm... forty five years, isn't it? Curiously, this 45 year period is a "long time", then, while the current 50 year period isn't long enough.

We should not be deterred by the perception of where the current benefit will chiefly fall.

Yes we do, Mick.

If need be, those who receive windfalls can be persuaded to share them, just as the future cultural and economic benefits will be shared across all of society, for generations to come.

That's right. The RIAA will share the windfalls. This would be the same RIAA who, when caught fixing prices and ordered by law to provide free recordings to schools and libraries dumped their unsaleable back catalogues, would it? I shan't get too excited waiting for my goodie bag from them.

But let's say you really think that - in order that you (sorry, everyone) can keep raking in money for the next century for an afternoon's work - it would be very simple to change the law in a way that assured that. Indeed, since it's supposed to all be about the starving artist, why not gift the extended term of copyright to the original performer? Or say that the 95 term only applies to recordings made from today onwards - making truly not retrogessive?

It is a bold decision, but the right one, and one that anyone who calls themselves a supporter of Labour values, old or new, should be very proud to take.

Well, a few rich people cutting themselves a larger slice of the cake - certainly new Labour should be able to throw their weight behind that.

So, one minute you're sat with Vladimir Putin having lunch, and he's showing you his new sea-salt pepper mill... then you wake up in a hospital bed

And we're (slightly) back...

I'll spare you all the gory details - if I tell you there was foul puss which nearly choked me I'm sure you won't want to hear anything further - and instead just thank everyone for their kind wishes and words, both posted here and sent by email over the last few days.

Also - amongst many other things I have to thank her for - thanks to Shawndra who, alongside having to run round collecting slippers and bath things and sundries had the extra chore to cope with having a blog post being dictated to her

And very, very public and heartfelt thanks to all the team at the Ambulatory Care Unit at Milton Keynes General for their prompt and perfect treatment, especially at the moment where it mattered an awful, awful lot.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Up To Our Eyes In Drugs and Nurses

Sorry... we know we're slacking off here.... But we're in hospital sampling some of the few drugs Pete Doherty has left available. Normal service will -dirty scalpels permitting- return later this week.