Sunday, November 14, 2004

Something From The Weekend Part One - Amy Of One

Amy Winehouse, Birmingham Carling Academy, Friday November 12 2004.

For the album publicity photos we were presented with images of strong eyebrows and calves, a post-pubescent Ava Gardner for the 00s, you might say, but tonight Amy Winehouse arrives on stage like a Bollywood princess with long cascading dark hair and a striking cleavage gaping out of a dress slashed dramatically to the waistband. It wasn't like this in Cleo Laine's day, I tells ya, so let's be honest, she's won over (the male) half of the audience without opening her mouth, which is perhaps just as well given that her speaking voice has that curious South London sub-patois which suggests she still harbours ambitions to be a yardie's moll.

So why go and see Amy Winehouse, I hear you sneer. Well, I actually like most of her debut album 'Frank', particularly 'In My Bed' where the judicious use of samples creates a dramatic tension with the melody and bold lyrics, recalling to mind Grace Jones in her ZTT pomp. Whereas in a few years time the likes of Katie Melua, Joss Stone and Jamie Cullem will be reduced to curio spots on 'I love The OOs' type programmes, Amy has the voice and personality to ensure a long and interesting career: in short, nobody's putting any words in her mouth. Young enough to be pre-occupied with boyfriend troubles, the album captures her on the cusp into womanhood where she is becoming assertive about the sort of man she wants or feels she deserves: even a woman with her strength and resolve still needs a man who can wear the trousers, it seems. Post-feminism anyone, or was I right first time about being a wannabe yardie's moll?

Halfway through what is her first major headline tour, Amy and her band are in confident form, and the Winehouse voice successfully makes the transition into the live arena. Minus the backing singers and studio trickery of the album production, we're not presented with carbonated fascimiles of the album tracks either, Amy re-interpreting the songs to some extent, and 'In My Bed' in particular gets a back-to-basics rendition which brings out a certain Spanish flavour: unusual, but not altogether unsuccessful. She comes back for a couple of encores (just about falling out of her dress in the process), but having included a few b-sides and rarities in her set, she then announces she's run out of songs, which is perhaps why we get a rehash of 'Help Yourself' while she introduces the band (the band? there was a band?).

Something From The Weekend Part Two - Hayden Muggins

If anyone could do with a great pair up front these days, it's certainly West Ham United who barely managed a shot on target against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday, despite dominating possession pretty much throughout what was undoubtedly a poor quality game. Brighton looked a neat and organised team and they defended like demons at times (swarming around Marlon Harebrain like bees around honey) but they lacked ambition and were only ever going to score through a set-piece. Cue an unnecessarily clumsy shoulder-barge from Tomas Repka, to set up a free-kick which got converted by ex-Tottscum twat Guy Butters.

Some say the free-kick was harsh, but instead of a nudge Super Tomas Repka decided to showboat to the fans and gave the ref a decision to make where one shouldn't have been needed. Of course, the moronic element of our fans cheered him like a hero, just as they did when Hayden Mullins retaliated to a bad tackle from some Brighton grunt and got himself sent off in the process. So instead of being a man up for the crucial remaining minutes, Hayden Muggins tossed away the advantage just so he could look a bit hard. What a tosser. And these are experienced been-there, not-quite-managed-that pros as well, not callow academy graduates: both players should be fined a week's wages, in my view.

Some of our fans need to bloody grow up, as well: instead of cheering on counter-productive thuggery they should be urging the team on, and not drifting out ten minutes before the end, either. The Hammers are a bit shit at the moment and we do seem to be going backwards slowly but surely under Pardew's stewardship, but this is no time to be feeling sorry for ourselves: fans of Leeds United and Nottingham Forest are suffering with much more dignity and realism and their teams (with more successful recent history, let's not forget) are in much worse positions. God knows what's going to happen if we fall into the bottom half of the table, although on today's performance, we won't have long to wait before we find out.

Something From The Weekend Part Three - Getting Wood On Public Transport

Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood has been resting on my bookshelf for so long (about three years, I reckon) that I'd pretty much assumed I'd read it, even though I hadn't, if that makes any sense (?). But at 380 pages long, I worked out it was just about the right length to cover me for the overnight stop in Brum and journey to London and back, and wanting to travel light this was preferable to taking two shorter books. And lo and behold, I turned to the last page frustratingly just at the point I arrived back at Telford Central.

The book is quintessential Murakami: allegedly semi-autobiographical, the novel's narrator recalls his student years between 1968-70 prompted by hearing the old Beatles tune 'Norwegian Wood' many years on. Not all books named after Beatles tunes are rubbish, though, and what follows is an intoxicating romantic fiction about a young man torn between his love for solitude, literature and whisky and his longing for a series of mixed-up Japanese student girls with pixiecuts and complex mental health issues. Needless to say, I related to it quite a lot and it's a book that makes you want to write rambling, passionate letters to all the women you ever felt anything for in your life. Which is to say, it's a very fucking dangerous book indeed and all copies should be hunted down and summarily burned. Luckily, being on a train, I didn't have pen and paper to hand. Whew! Close call.

Norwegian Wood has probably become too popular for it's own good, and some Murakami snobs don't like it much, considering it lighter and more literal than his other books which are more surreal and more blatantly political. I personally felt that there was more going on in this book than was immediately apparent - there is a political and social agenda present but it's subtle stuff that appears to flow naturally from the plot rather than smacking you across the face. There's at least one too many suicides, though: when a minor character is revealed to have topped herself it just seems like a casual resolution to a subplot which doesn't really make any sense. Other than that, though, it's beautifully written in that wistful, bittersweet but undeniably sensual way that is the Haruki hallmark.


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