Two shorts and the greatest long player of all time

So it appears to be 2014. Unless you are in Nepal where it is 2070. Or you are Jewish in which case it is 5774. However, let me wish you a happy new year regardless of your calendrical preference and I sincerely hope that your next twelve months will be filled with adventure, joy, mild danger and some excellent wine.

2014 feels like a fictional date. You can almost hear the booming American voice-over at the start of some wobbly black and white sci-fi film from the 1950s. “It is the year 2014 and our once beautiful earth has been reduced to ashes by an army of little alien bastards from the planet Haberdasher 4.”. Actually if you’ve looked out of the window in the past few weeks you’d be forgiven for thinking that our planet was indeed under siege from a race of alien invaders whose weapon of choice was WATER and WIND. (Or given the pictures from America at the moment, aliens armed with FREEZE RAYS like in Despicable Me but much, much less fun). However, put your worries aside; we are not being invaded by anyone and these extreme weather events are freakish at best and are not in any way symptomatic of a profoundly terrifying shift in our weather because as our right wing friends will tell you: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLIMATE CHANGE. So please be cheered by this thought as you bail water from your flooded sitting room or dig your car out from beneath a twenty-foot snowdrift: this is all perfectly normal. Nothing at all to worry about. And no, that is not a bear shitting in the woods, he’s just resting on his haunches whilst pondering the political nous of Michael “Don’t mention the war” Gove.

In Long Arm world things are picking up again after a break for Christmas. I spent a very happy New Year’s Eve with Jimmy in Swansea. We went to the beach, played a bit of football, ate curry and then my team beat his at Trivial Pursuit. It doesn’t really get better than that. Look, here we are in one of our now traditional “standing on a beach” poses:

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You will notice that it was my turn to wear the bobble hat.

The edit of our feature film High Tide is progressing well and we’ve had a great time recently listening to drafts of music composed for the film by the brilliant Matt Harding. Gosh, some of it is really, really good. There are various further things that have to be done but you might, and it is just might at this point, be able to see a trailer for High Tide in the not-too-distant future.

In other news we are in pre-production (which sounds very grand but is rather more prosaic in reality and essentially involves making lots of lists and phoning each other quite a lot) on two short films to be shot in February. One of them has been written by Jimmy and myself (and we’ll also direct it too) and is called Ex Libris and is set in a library. The other has been written by High Tide DOP Chris Lang (who will also direct) and is called The Sound of Silence and it involves a pencil. Casting for each, and maybe a few more details to make them sound a little bit sexier and perhaps even watchable, will be announced in the next few weeks. It will be good to be making something again and extra-splendid to spend some more time with our brilliant Long Arm crew who did such an amazing job last summer.

On an entirely unrelated note, I had a few minutes of very minor fame on Twitter last weekend. I say fame, what I mean is that contrary to normal procedure, a few other human beings responded to a tweet that I had released into the electronic wilds. Whilst morosely removing the Christmas decorations from our flat I attempted to lift the funereal atmosphere by listening to one of my very favourite things in the entire world. And so, being modern and daring and spontaneous, I told the world about it. Because I could.

And I stand by what I said. Promenade by The Divine Comedy may just be my favourite forty five minutes of recorded music ever. And I don’t make this claim lightly. I mean what about Parklife? Revolver? Automatic for the People? If You’re Feeling Sinister? The Best of Val Doonican? All wonderful, wonderful albums containing music that moves me in the most profound ways but perhaps none quite matching the genius of Neil Hannon’s second proper album released in 1994 on Setanta records (I can be quite the music geek when I want to be).

Promenade was very well-reviewed at the time of its release but sod all people bought it. I discovered its charms retrospectively having been alerted to The Divine Comedy by Chris Evan’s Radio 1 breakfast show back in the mid-90s heyday of that which became known as Britpop – although The Divine Comedy had as much to do with Britpop as I have to do with posing pouches. However, Chris Evans played Something for the Weekend from the almost-as-brilliant follow-up to Promenade, an album called Casanova. The song appeared to be referencing Stella Gibbons’ superb novel Cold Comfort Farm and it was overblown and silly and Neil Hannon sang with the kind of baritone voice that one associated with music long, long ago and I was hooked. I was sort of in love.

Having devoured Casanova I searched the racks in the now-defunct Solo Records in Exeter for more Divine Comedy and I discovered Promenade and my life was immediately improved – and you may think that is silly hyperbole, you may think it romantic nonsense but I tell you that is true. The album is actually a “concept” (shudder) album and tells the story of the day in a life of two lovers. It is hilarious, moving, pretentious (one track, The Booklovers, just lists famous writers alongside a quotation from Horace and some deeply silly impressions), uplifting and indispensable. It references French New Wave cinema, Chaucer, Atheism (albeit with an interruption from God), nostalgia for lost childhood and the pleasures of drinking too much.

I could go on.

I am sure you have your own equivalents. I love it when you find something that you care about so deeply, whether it be football, food, The West Wing (still the greatest show ever, although having just started Series 6 of Mad Men it is running Jed Bartlett’s administration pretty close) and then you hear yourself become like one of those prophets on the wall in The Life of Brian: proselytising to anyone who will listen, and many that won’t, about how they simply MUST watch, listen, eat, kiss the thing in question. I love it when something like that matters so much and, for me at least, it is when talking about great art that these feelings are the most profound and transformative – and of course it is also brilliant that both “great” and “art” are so damned subjective (although trust me, I am definitely correct in this particular case).

So do give Promenade a listen if you have a spare forty five minutes and I do recommend listening to the whole thing in one sitting. You’ll have to buy a second hand CD on ebay (vinyl copies sell for over two hundred quid) or download it from itunes or failing that pop around to mine and I will make you a cup of tea and we’ll listen to it together. Although you won’t be allowed to talk. Not until afterwards and if you don’t ABSOLUTELY ADORE it then I may well cry, so perhaps itunes is the safer method.

And with that let me leave you with one Promenade’s finest moments: the unsurpassable Tonight We Fly. If you’ll forgive a saucy simile this is a bit like cutting straight to the orgasm and forgoing all the fun of the journey, given that this track is the album’s final musical moment, but hey, it is wonderful in every way and when I die, as I surely will, I want this at my funeral. Just so you know. Not that I plan on holding this event any time soon.

(happy the man and happy he alone, he who can call today his own, he who secure within can say, tomorrow do thy worse for I have lived today).

(Promenade in-joke).