Children of the Echo

We are children of the echo. Born just after some kind of explosion, and doomed to spend our lives working backwards to try and get as close as we can to the moment of that Big Bang. (..)

But the whole point of the Beatles is that they were ordinary. Four working-class boys from Liverpool who showed that not only could they create art that stood comparison with that produced by "the establishment" – they could create art that pissed all over it. From the ranks of the supposedly uncouth, unwashed barbarians came the greatest creative force of the 20th century. It wasn't meant to be that way. It wasn't officially sanctioned. But it happened – and that gave countless others from similar backgrounds the nerve to try it themselves.


People of my generation felt this obscure pang – this feeling that we'd somehow missed out on something amazing. So we tried to make it happen again – but exactly the same. You cannot do a karaoke version of a social revolution (good fun trying though). What changed in the interim? Why was Br**pop doomed to failure? Too many factors to go into here, but one was: too much information. Too much reverence. Wearing the same clothes and taking the same drugs will not make us into Beatles. It will make us fat and ill.


We, the children of the echo, should get a life. We, the children of the echo, should know better. Time to move on. Imagine that.

Jarvis Cocker on The Beatles is a very, very good read.

Making My Mind Up - 2012

It is that most wonderful time of the year again. The time of the year when my thoughts turn towards geo-political alliances, sequins, unfortunate dance moves, and mangled English. Yes, it is Eurovision time! I have already aired a few opinions on the ESCInsight Juke Box Jury podcasts but nothing beats a proper blog run-down. So, fasten your seat belts, turn up the volume and grab some popcorn (maybe not in that order). The Eurovision Contest 2012 will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Six countries have pre-qualified for the finale (Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the UK and Azerbaijan) and thirty-six countries will be battling it out in two semi-finales. Juries will vote. TV viewers will vote. That is all you need to know, really, although it is entirely possible to speculate on the basis on where in the draw in which semi-finale countries are placed.. but let's not go there. Instead there are some pretty major trends:

Recession Has Hit Eurovision:

  • Ukraine has evidently decided to save on songs (and song-writing). So, Gaitana's Be My Guest will not just infest Eurovision but probably also the European Football Championships later this year. I think it'll fare better as a footie theme than as a ESC song but it's a catchy (if dated) dance number.
  • Greece has been an enthusiastic ESC participant this past decade (winning in 2005). This year they are sending a girl performing in a shopping centre. I bet they hope they won't win.
  • Montenegro has gone one better and is fielding the splendidly absurd Rambo Amadeus with his snarky Euro Neuro funk-rap about the Euro crisis. "Euro neuro don’t be sceptic hermetic, pathetic.." It is a dreadful song, sadly.


Haven't I Seen You Before? Plenty of repeat performers this year. Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Iceland, and Ireland are all sending acts who have been there before either as headliners or as backing vocalists. Some might argue that some of the songs have also been submitted before, but that is an annual concern.

The Year of the Ballad: Maybe the recession is not just to blame for Rambo Amadeus but also for the general air of gloom hanging over this year's Contest. It is a year of gloomy, dreary, never-ending ballads. Listen, I sat through all forty-two songs so you don't have to, and I actually fell asleep several times. Dullness alert: Finland (whose song is actually called "When I Sleep"!), Estonia, Belgium, United Kingdom, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Lithuania, Germany, Portugal, and Serbia. You will need caffeine to keep you awake during these heartfelt songs.

What songs are noteworthy this year?

  • Oh, Spain is a ballad too but it's pretty good as ballads go.  If Pastora can hit the notes on the night and emote well on TV, this could do very well for a Spanish entry. Their strongest entry for years.
  • Albania has sent a ballad too. They have surprising good Eurovision form and this is another quality entry. "Suus" is possibly too good and weird to do as well as it should. The juries will vote for this.
  • France looks great (hello Jean-Paul Gautier), it is upbeat and if Anggun can sell it on the night, they could be looking at a very good result. One for my iPod mix.
  • Earlier this year I dismissed Iceland's chances but the song has grown on me. If the staging is epic and they hit the notes, this is a dark horse. Where on earth would they host the contest, though?
  • Another track destined for my iPod comes courtesy of Israel's charming ditty. It reminds me of Latvia's 2000 entry (geek alert!) mixed with early Blur. Total earworm and it stands out.
  • And finally, Russia. This will get all the press in Baku and get the novelty song vote. Will "Party for Everyone" win? I don't think so (partly thanks to the voting system) but it will do very, very well.


So, Who Do You Think Will Win? I have three songs that I think will do massively well.

  • Azerbaijan is the host country and traditionally the host country does really well the next year (with a few exceptions). Azerbaijan has sent a powerful ballad (*cough, cough* not dissimiliar to an old 1980s hit) and if Sabina can hit the notes, they will get votes. They will get a lot of votes.
  • Italy came close last year and they could easily do better this year. Nina Zilli's "Out of Love" is catchy and effortlessly classy in an Amy Winehouse-meets-Duffy mode. It is really, really good. Any other year and this would be the obvious outright winner.
  • But then you have Sweden. From the moment you hear that "Inception"-style boom at the start, you know you are in for something pretty special. As my partner-in-Eurovision-crime once said to me, "Imagine Rihanna singing that? It would be number one forever and ever." Loreen's "Euphoria" is the song to beat and everybody knows it. I have not been this emotionally invested in a single song for a very long time.

I'll be live-tweeting throughout the two semis and the finale - hopefully you won't catch me crying into my keyboard over Sweden's result.

You Little Wonder You

I am currently re-reading Dorian Gray. Happy 65th Birthday to a man with a portrait of his own hidden away in the attic.

Honourable mentions: + The iconic performance of Rock'n'Roll Suicide at Hammersmith Apollo, 1973 + Five Years performed on the Old Grey Whistle Test 1972 + I adore Slow Burn, such an underrated song from Heathen. Live 2002. + And "Heroes" always did sound better in the German version.

Desert Island Discs: Day 1

I enjoy listening to Desert Island Discs on my iPod as I make my way to work. The people you think will be interesting rarely are; the people I don't know or feel indifferent towards end up my favourites. Lady Caroline Cranbrook's episode was an absolute joy, for instance. And so for my own pleasure (and indulgence), I decided to make my own Desert Island Disc iPod playlist. I added far more than eight records to my playlist, of course, but for your listening pleasure I shall stick to eight records (one per entry) and even add a few words.

I grew up in a very large family filled with people obsessed with (mostly American) pop culture circa 1940-1965. This recent Guardian article on so-called superfans rattled me because I had no idea that this sort of behaviour was in any way unusual. I grew up surrounded by pop culture memorabilia: big murals of Sinatra et al on the walls, concert tickets carefully curated, mountains of carefully sourced vinyls, autographs, signed photos, VHS tapes of 1940s musicals, and handwritten databases detailing when this or that song was recorded. What do you mean your childhood wasn't like that?

Over dinner my uncles would toss out the first names of stars, as though they knew them personally: Frank, Dean, Bing .. Occasionally they did know the people they gossiped about. My dotty aunt T. briefly dated Gustav. My other dotty aunt A. semi-stalked Otto for four decades. Looking back, I can see that this approved pop culture was predominantly white pop culture. It was also two or three decades out of sync with contemporary pop culture.

My gran has always loved Fats Domino. I remember her playing Blueberry Hill, Ain't That A Shame and I Hear You Knocking whenever my uncles weren't around ("Fats is okay, but he's no Frank, if you know what I mean" - oh, I can hear them). And for me Fats Domino is about happiness, about feeling loved and about a tiny glimpse of freedom: there is a world beyond my large, chaotic family and so many things to discover.

I am the product of my family, of course. I had a phase of obsessively hoarding bootlegs, travelling to foreign countries for concerts, subscribing to mailing lists and knowing the name of certain musicians' dogs - but unlike my uncles it did not turn into a lifestyle. To this day, I have a thing for 1940s MGM musicals and I'm still on a first-name basis with Frank - but it is Fats Domino that I keep coming back to.

Lovely Things

This has to be my song of summer 2011. It's so lovely in all its pomo pop glory.

Other lovely things right now:

  • I find this picture of David Tennant in the Fright Night remake strangely compelling. I always did have a weakness for almost-Glaswegian men wearing eyeliner.
  • "Not since Bowie before him had anyone been as responsible for raising awkward questions between parents and their sons as Brett Anderson." Suede is back in fashion here in the UK - so the media say. Suede fell hard from grace when fey, lithe men wearing girls' shirts were displaced by laddish beer lout music (i.e. Oasis). I particularly liked the quote: "Apparently it wasn't just me who'd been sat at home in 1995 doused in glitter and eyeliner watching Performance on repeat" .. oh no, dear journalist, oh no.
  • I should rewatch Velvet Goldmine soon too.
  • Moving on from eyeliner and glitter, how about a Warhol Spock? Okay, so it's Leonard Nimoy wearing makeup but it's slightly different..
  • My beloved kiwi band The Phoenix Foundation is being championed by the mighty hipster godfather himself, Jarvis Cocker. Going Fishing is always on my iPod. Kiwi music is the best, honestly.

And with that, I am off to back my bag. Not-so-sunny Aberdeenshire awaits and I have books and knitting to pack.

Boom! Boom! Chaka! Chaka!

This is one of my favourite weeks of the year: the Eurovision Song Contest week. For my non-European readers, imagine American Idol with 45 different countries competing. Then add xenophobia, bad blood, neighbourly love, dubious ethnic costumes, weird instruments, and mangled lyrics. The combination is oddly compelling. The first semi-finale took place yesterday with the second one happening tomorrow and the finale is on Saturday. Here are some selected highlights:

(* I have heaps of ideas of who to represent the UK at the ESC. Alexandra Burke, Little Boots and The Saturdays would be fabulous if completely unlikely competitors.)

Just to finish off, some of my recent ESC favourites: Turkey 2008Bosnia & Herzegovia 2008 (which included knitting ladies!), Romania 2006 and France 2007. For sheer WTF-ness, try Azerbaijan 2008. For cuddliness, try Norway 2009 (which won).

And Sweden 1983 which spawned a life-long Eurovision love.