So, it’s not all plain sailing for hedge funds

I read in the ever impressive and entertaining blog of BBC’s Robert Peston that Hedge Funds have taken a rather mighty kicking over VW in the last few days. When much of the ire (and now much of the fallout) has been directed at the murky financial behemoths over the last twelve months, it’s refreshing to see some short selling take them the other way for once.

In fact, it’s a staggering 18bn loss in just two days after speculating on Volkswagen. Germany, not known for its predeliction towards funds, will no doubt be chuckling to itself (as will many of the public) but it remains to be seen which funds have taken the hit. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Some schadenfreude for once, amongst the gloom.

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Off with their heads?

I have to admit, I’m hardly a fan of Russell Brand or Jonathan Ross. The former is a whiny, shouty, loudmouth whose primary form of comedy is speaking like a 3 year-old, very fast (he’s actually a decent writer, if the rest of his Dickensian persona didn’t get in the way), and the latter an over-the-hill illiterate whose interview ‘technique’ consists of being nasty to people he doesn’t like and inserting his tongue up the anus of those he does. Hardly paragons of this country’s comic traditions.

But still, the furore over their radio show? I mean, is it really worthy of the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition’s comment? Their original series of phone calls were crass, pathetic, unfunny (most importantly) and actually embarrassing, like a couple of schoolboys egging each other on. I’m sure the granddaughter doesn’t care (in fact, she’s probably offended by being linked sexually to either) but Andrew Sachs deserved an apology. He got one, from bot (the granddaughter has since called for their sacking, though whether this was a reaction to the reaction isn’t clear).

But the shitstorm that’s now calling for their sacking, and being front page news. I mean, is it really that much of an issue? Comedians overstep the mark all the time. It seems more that it’s the BBC, therefore paid for by our tax, and also the disclosure of Ross’ inflated (insane) salary that is the issue here. The skit was recorded, then vetted and passed by a producer, and because it’s the Beeb, it’s now thrown into issues of correct use of taxpayer’s money, broadcasting standards, and the like. The truth is, it was out of line, but that should’ve been the end of it ater an apology, and possibly discipline of the producer that approved it. The fact there were 2 complaints before the press game started, and now there are 10,000 says everything you need to know about how we act as a society.

One thing we shoudl be defending in all of this is the right to free speech. Comedians take risks about all sorts of subject matter, and they should be applauded for it, even when it’s this terrible and unfunny. But if anyone needs sacking, it’s the producer that approved it, on quality grounds alone if nothing else, and not the idiots that said it.

Through the wire….

So, added to the list of things I’ve experienced that I can’t say I’d wish to repeat (along with appendicitis, a broken leg, glandular fever, flying American Airlines and watching Channel 5) is having a broken jaw. Not something I planned, or contributed to, but something that was generously presented to me to two of E17’s less charitable inhabitants last Thursday.

Walking home from the bus (so I can blame TFL for this in part, as had there BEEN a tube, then I’d have been coming home another way) I was passed by a guy on a bike, who then proceeded to block my way, then smack me one. I wasn’t lucky enough to see his ‘friend’, but they were nice enough to kick me in the head twice once they’d got my bag, my iphone and the rest. While staggering around spitting blood out trying to get someone to call the cops (they ignored me, or even switched the lights off….) I thought I was just busted and bruised, but after stumbling home, enlisting my neighbour’s help, and riding an ambulance for the first time since I was 6, I since discovered the cunts had left me with a double fracture.

So, here I am, after surgery (and treatment from some of the best medical staff I’ve ever come across, restoring my faith in the NHS in one swoop) I’m now at home trying to resolve getting by without my two favourite pastimes: talking incessantly and eating. I’m now restricted to occasional slurred mumbling, like I’ve been out on the piss all day, and even then, with painkillers, it aches and throbs. The plates in my jaw and clips and rubber bands holding my head together, while aiding my recovery, aer not condusive to pain-free movement.

And as for food…. well, I’m reduced to porridge in the mornings, then anything I like, as long as it’s either soup, or a normal meal passed through a blender till it resembles that. No bread, no crunchy veg, no steaks (lamb, fish or otherwise), no pie, no rice, no pasta….. in fact anything I can’t eat with a straw or a small spoon without chewing, it’s off the menu. So, I will learn to love soup like it’s my favourite food. It is, now, after all, my ONLY food.

So, while the bonus of being off work is there, it’s outwieghed, outweighed by a long list of shit. In fact, I’ve not been this rested in years. It’s a shame that I’m also in pain, and hoping I can recover without the need for more surgery. Am i scared to go back? Not at the moment. Will I be walking that road again? Not at night. Do I want the little fuckers caught? I’m not too fussed. I didn’t see them, and I’m sure they’re not going to suddenly be so full of remorse to give up a life of crime. I just want to get my life back. The list of things that have been royally ruined by these events is too depressing to comprehend. Whatever’s gone on up to now, it’s the next 6 weeks that are fucked, so time to buckle down, be sensible and heal. I don’t want to be eating turkey through a straw.

A break from the city…

Es Vedra

I can’t think of a better way to unwind from London’s grind than a weekend away on an island that’s better known for its hedonism than it’s history. But there’s a lot more to Ibiza than simply Spare Terrace or the West End. It’s rich history of worship (pagan, catholic, you name it) and social tapestry make it a place full of surprises and steeped in folklore. From the caves in Saint Miquel to the mystery of Es Vedra, and the impressive D’Alt Villa to the fantastic beaches at Sa Caleta and Calla San Vicente there’s more than enough to relax the mind as much as there’s temptation enough to expand it.

But having the ability to hole myself for 2 days in the north of the island (I wish it were a week) was the best option I had to unwind from the stresses and strains of financial meltdown and the bustle of the City. While the irony of having flu when you’re in 20 degrees isn’t lost on me, there’s no better place to recover. I just wish I was here longer. The clubs may be on the wane and the government seemingly willing to tread on and crush its hedonistic element, but it’s still a place of magic and majesty.

In case you think ID cards aren’t enough….

The government now plans to introduce a database to track every email, text message and phone call made by anyone in the UK in order to ‘combat terrorism’. This is because terrorists used it to plan attacks. They also use speech, to one another. Will this soon be monitored too?

On Question Time, renowned hawk Geoff Hoon went further to justify his colleagues’ plans. Not monitoring it would be “giving a licence to terrorists to kill people”. I’m pretty sure an email didn’t fly the planes into the WTC, but I may be wrong. Police and security services already have powers to monitor phone traffic, but this is on a case-by-case basis, and not a wholesale right to watch every single communication we all send and receive. It makes the ID card scheme, when the government has already proven itself to be far less than competent in managing our personal data, look like a molehill.

Responding to Lib Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy who likened it to “something I would expect to read in [George Orwell’s book] 1984”, and asked “How much more control can they have? How far is he prepared to go to undermine civil liberties?”, he continued: “To stop terrorists killing people in our society, quite a long way actually.” Seemingly, by any means neccessary. “If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don’t have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.” Hardly. Why don’t we just lock everyone up and then no one will be able to kill anyone.

Thankfully, the bill has now been put back to 2009, when hopefully, given the reaction of pilots and students to the first wave of ‘voluntary’ ID cards, it will be defeated in both the house and the Lords. It really isn’t hard to understand that this sort of invasion of our human rights to free discussion and being innocent until proven guilt are being undermined.

Leaving the last line to Hoon: “The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist.”

Clearly bigger than every other one, in Labour’s eyes.

The lost art of the frontman…

Elbow, The Roundhouse

Rock and roll may still be with us, but where are all the frontmen these days? And when I say that I don’t mean screaming, diving into the mosh-pit, swearing your way through an hour of music. It’s about connection with the audience, those masses that have paid their way to be enthralled by the delight of live music. In days where album sales are dwindling, and the live circuit is an ever-more lucrative, bands that rise above the rest can make their fortune as well as securing their musical legacy. And one such act that is firmly head and shoulders above the mass of soundalikes and NME next-big-things is Elbow. With a solid trade in down-to-earth observation and sardonic northern wit, their music has been a beacon of soaring and atmospheric emotion for nearly two decades. They are a band that can make alcoholism, death and depression sound appealing. It’s as a live act that they truly set themselves apart.

And at their centre is Guy Garvey. The hang-dog expression is familiar, but there’s humour behind the sadness, despite the often bleak subject matter. And their current UK tour, following up their latest (and Mercury-winning) album The Seldom Seen Kid stopped off at the Roundhouse for three nights in October. Live, Garvey comes into his own. The often-gravelly voice is a note-perfect nucleus to Elbow’s soundscapes, from current favourites Mirrorball, Starlings and Some Riot, to a walk through their back catalogue, revisiting Forget Myself and Leaders of the Free World with tubthumping vigour, and dedicating Newborn (and leading the audience to change ‘corpse’ to ‘duck’) to a pregnant fan sat in the circle. It’s as much between the songs as during them that you realise why Elbow are so loved by fans from first timers to those that have been around since the late 90s, when Asleep At The Back (arguably their best album and a more worthy of the Mercury than their current offering) surfaced.

From quips and question-response banter with the floor, to dry sarcasm, Garvey’s skill is making everyone in the room feel like you’re simply witnessing a jam with him, his mates and a few members of the public down the pub. It’s only at the end of each song that you remember you’re in amongst a couple of thousand people, applauding to the rafters. It’s only the music that snaps you out of it eventually. And, for all their image as quirky and introspective northern charm, their music is towering, simultaneously feeling at home up against any bands of the last ten years and also comfortably away from any other pigeonhole the press would care to invent. It evokes emotion, and the concert feels like much more like a communal moment of happiness as much as it does a band onstage for close to two hours.

And for me, who only came to them when their last album, the Leaders Of The Free World, came out, I scratch my head and wonder why I never cottoned on before. It wasn’t for lack of being prompted. Sometimes though, it’s good to be able to discover so many great records years down the line and make them part of your life. And, like most of Camden that night, wish you could go for a beer with Garvey and Elbow, because, if they’re as thoroughly likeable and entertaining over a beer as they are onstage, it’ll probably be the best night out you’ve had for a while. And to think Johnny Borrell is still getting away with all-white ensembles and tired iggy Pop (in his eyes) pastiches. He could take a few lessons from Elbow, and realise he’ll never get close.

Frankly fantastic

It’s been a while since I’ve written about music or an artist, but there’s an album out now that’s worthy of praise, and it’s nothing flashy, glitchy, minimal, but just 14 tracks of beautifully prepared, groovy, perfectly-crafted house. Who is it? It’s Lee Jones. You may not have heard of him, but you deserve to have. He’s been slowly building a catalogue of fantastic records over the last few months: As You Like It, The Icetrain Cometh, Aria, but this is the confirmation of his talent.

Some may find it on the slow-paced side, but it’s clear that the detail and attention paid to the oft-neglected songcraft. Every track is so well put-together, and it builds slowly through the measured pleasure of Soon and Roadwork, through the whimsical and wonderful It Is, Isn’t it. But the highlight is the daftly and brilliantly-named MDMAzing. It’s a fitting end to a great record. It won’t get the fanfare, or the press it deserves, but it should, because it’s brilliant. Listen.