A fat, ten song nostalgia bomb that has nothing to do with filmmaking (until I scrape together a tenuous link right at the death)

Facebook will be the death of us all. It won’t be long until our collective insecurities, voyeurism and hubris will be cranked up to such obscene levels that we rupture at the seams and explode in myriad clouds of brilliant blue and stained, mucky white. This will then be shared with the world on Facebook.

(Naturally, this post will also be publicised on Facebook).

However, amongst all the nonsense and one-upmanship there are occasionally moments of interest on the old blue and white bastard. A few weeks ago people were sharing their lists of the ten songs that they liked the most. I think the phrasing may have been more elegant than this, songs that defined them perhaps, but this was the gist. I was “tagged” and asked to contribute my own list to be read by a few desperate souls and then forgotten about. And I really meant to get around to it. But I failed. Until now. And given that I’ve got a bit of time on my hands this holiday (I am currently sitting at one end of a long table in a house in the middle of France, nursing a cheese hangover, whilst my French housemates sip coffee and talk about I am not sure what but IN FRENCH) and given that the only thing that I allowed to say about our forthcoming feature film High Tide is that I CAN’T SAY ANYTHING UNTIL MID JANUARY) I thought I might crack on with my list. But in long form. A bit like Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs but not as good.

So here goes.  Actually, before I leap off into the seas of whimsy I’d like to lay a few ground rules for myself:

1. Be honest. Don’t invent choices to make yourself look cooler than you are. As Ben Folds (sadly omitted from the following list) correctly sang: there is always someone cooler than you.

2. Don’t fret about the order. Life is too short. These are the ten songs that mean the most. Their sequence is unimportant.

3. In a recent interview on American television (they have that there) Michael Stipe said that he “despises nostalgia”. So for the first time in recorded history I am forced to contradict the wisdom of Stipe. I am sure no good will come of this and I will soon be begging his forgiveness and complimenting him on his beard.

1991 version

For many of the artists featuring on this list it was a tricky task alighting on just one of their songs, however in the case of James the choice was virtually involuntary -it had to be Sit Down. That is not to say that they didn’t write a host of other excellent songs, Come Home, How Was it for You? (about shagging), Laid (also about shagging), Sometimes, Just Like Fred Astaire, and even their most recent album La Petite Morte (a reference to, guess what, shagging) is also really good. However, Sit Down so perfectly captures a moment of time that it is rendered timeless. It is both of its moment and for all time. Not many songs achieve this.

It is structured in the most conventional of ways – verse, bridge, huge, repetitive chorus, verse, bridge, huge repetitive chorus, middle 8, huge repetitive chorus, end, plus Tim Booth’s vocal is far from his best – he’d yet to really experiment with the falsetto noodling that would become his trademark and yet this relative simplicity is why the whole thing works so damn well. The song is a perfectly designed sonic athlete, with no waste, no flab. It is Blake’s Tyger – a creature of such poise and efficiency that it is proof of the existence of God. Not that I am claiming that Tim Booth is divine. Ace, but not divine.

I had a tape of a set by James recorded from Radio 1 in the early 90s. They had been touring the world with Neil Young and playing acoustically (I can’t remember why) but it was a superb set. Their acoustic sound honestly revealed their folky roots and the songs in this exposed form had a depth that had sometimes been obscured on the albums. Once it came to the inevitable version of Sit Down, Tim Booth introduced the song as “an old English folk song” and I can’t think of a better description.

I discovered James, like most people at the time, via this song. Sit Down was the gateway drug to a very pleasant addiction to their music. A lot of my friends at the time suggested that the only reason that I chose to be a James fan was that I could walk around Exeter wearing a t-shirt with my name emblazoned on the front and for this not be a problem. There may have been truth in that. However, there was something about that font with its type-writer “a” and the image of the enormous daisy (especially when worn in combination with cherry red DMs) that made me deliriously happy. There was a satisfaction that even though I was a spotty, slightly awkward and arrogant teenager, I belonged to a tribe that gave me great strength. We wore daisies. And we were happy.

I will happily admit that when James played in Torquay and the whole audience sat down during Born of Frustration Sit Down then I cried real tears and supposed that life really couldn’t get much better. And who knows, I may have been right.

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Broadly sunny with extended spells of Michael Stipe

During the chorus of REM’s cynically titled “Pop Song 89”, the opening track of “Green” the band’s first album for Warner Bros, Lord Michael of Stipe (to give him his full baronial title) sang the following over a heady mix of jangling guitars and soaring harmonies, “Shall we talk about the weather? Shall we talk about the government?“. Well after the past week in British politics I am going to steer well clear of all things governmental (although if you do want a refreshingly honest and humane account of you know what then you would do well to read Mark Thomas’s article published in the Independent last week) and instead revert to the stereotype and enthusiastically take up Stipe’s invitation to talk about the weather.

Although before I do, let’s enjoy REM’s wonderful (and as yet officially unreleased) Unplugged performance of the song.

Stipe looks so young. And they were already over a decade into their career. If this were a national border of cool and you were a burly customs official rifling through my cultural satchel I would have to declare a very longstanding and profound love for REM. At some point when I have a little more time (and this may be about a decade from now) I will write a blog entry reviewing every REM album from “Murmur” all the way through to “Collapse Into Now” in meticulous and irritating detail. Bet you can’t wait. (Should this never happen, I will give you a couple of hints now – “Reckoning” (1984) is as close to a perfect album as you are ever likely to hear; “Automatic for the People (1992) IS as good as you remember it, assuming that you do; “Up” (1998) is an underrated gem of an album; and “Around the Sun” (2004) is as terrible as everyone thought at the time, perhaps even worse).

So Michael, let’s indeed talk about the weather because today it is absolutely glorious and in true British fashion the entire population of the UK seems to have gone absolutely insane as a result. In fairness, the weather is a national obsession, the de facto topic of conversation with family, lovers and indeed strangers. This is partly due to the fact that as a nation we will go to great lengths to avoid talking about anything remotely consequential (and last week’s national braying at the death of you-know-who is evidence that we perhaps should never be allowed to talk about anything that matters) and we do have A LOT of weather in the UK so the subject never tires. I suspect if you lived in the middle of a desert then you’d find other ways of passing the time (counting camels, refining oil, making hourglasses) such is the invariance of the climate. However, in London yesterday it poured with grey rain (which admittedly is the usual colour, don’t go thinking that sometimes we have green rain, or orange rain or, avoiding the all-too-inevitable reference to Prince, mauve rain. For us, Prince means William and he is too posh to be rained on in any colour – the Royal Family carry around small immigrants on sticks who spread their little limbs as far as they can so as to avoid any moisture whatsoever collecting on the brows of our entirely “saved” hereditary monarchy) and today the sun is bright, the wind is warm and sweet and when I was putting the bins out earlier I saw a man walking down my street wearing a tiny pair of shorts and no shirt, his pasty white flesh presumably confusing pilots of passing aeroplanes looking for the landing lights on their approach to Heathrow.

The weather in the UK has been particularly insane for the past few years and so we have more to discuss than ever. Earlier this month we had snow. Snow in April. In London. Exactly a year earlier it was 24C (or 75.2F for American viewers). We have had no summer whatsoever for the past two years save for three days last August when I was in Devon on the beach, along with every other single human being for a radius of 100 miles (160.935KM for the French), all of us kneeling on the sand, in wide-eyed obeisance towards this yellow god who’d finally got his bloody hat on; “hip-hip-hip hooray” we yelled, achieving a level of lyricism that would make even Lord Stipe wince in jealousy. By the way, if you ever forget how to kneel or indeed are a little hazy the reasons why one would want to then help is at hand from the ever-essential Wikipedia:

Kneeling makes it easier to reach the ground.

How ever did we manage before the internet?

So we are a sun-starved, rain-sodden, cold and tired nation. Climate change is undeniable by anyone apart from hardcore pillocks (good word), the economy is still tanking and we are being governed by a set of overly-priviledged, self-serving bastards who seem to see no contradiction between slashing welfare, hacking into the public sector and then ensuring that the richest in our society are made even richer with a series of tax cuts. But at least today the sun is shining. It will most likely be rubbish again tomorrow so let’s carpe our diems and join the rest of the nation outside, trying to ignore the stiffening breeze and frolicking like we lived in Barcelona.

Back the world of Long Arm Films we have had a busy couple of weeks as pre-production for “High Tide” continues. We went to France for a spot of cheese-eating and location-scouting (both of which went very well, especially the cheese bit); we made some more lists and we stood in front of yellow crane. This is us standing in front of a yellow crane:

big yellow crane

I am the one in the middle.

After our French adventures, we have THREE exciting Long Arm Films announcements in the offing over the next week:

1. The name of the band who are going to appear in a sequence of scenes towards the end of the film. They are amazing and we love them. And you will too. (but they are not REM).

2. The name of our utterly brilliant and unbelievably well-connected producer.

3. The very first CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT for the film. An announcement that is so ball-bouncingly exciting that I can barely stop myself from blurting it out right now . . . . but I mustn’t. I must tease you a little longer. But we promise that it is, for once, brilliant and profound news for Long Arm Films and Jimmy and I have to keep pinching ourselves (although that is for entirely different reasons).

So there I will leave you, as I make haste towards the front door in order to enjoy these golden rays of pure Vitamin D . . . . oh balls, the sun’s gone, the wind’s got up and I think there is rain in the air. Better stay in and watch old REM videos on youtube instead. Here’s one from the VERY early days and it is glorious: