February 11, 2015, Posted by Richard in Culture, Music

Elbow: Our Ultimate Playlist – 20 songs to make your heart swell

We saw another masterclass from the chaps in Elbow last night at the Hammersmith Apollo. Garvey was at his bearded, Guinness-supping, sparkly-eyed best, and old and new tunes were chucked about with gleeful abandon. NEW BORN for god’s sake – NEW BORN! Never thought we’d see the day. So in tribute, we’ve put together 20 of our favourite Elbow tracks into a handy little playlist.

Feast your ears upon it, and let us know any songs which you feel we’ve scandalously failed to include…

February 5, 2015, Posted by Tom in Books, Culture, Food

James Wong’s 5 tips to superpower your food

James Wong certainly knows his stuff about eating well. As the author of bestselling books such as Grow Your Own Drugs and Homegrown Revolution, and presenter of programmes such as BBC2’s award-winning Grow Your Own Drugs and Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, he’s the man you need if you’re looking to improve your diet and give your health a boost.

James has got a new book out in March, the rather brilliant Grow for Flavour, and he’s been kind enough to give us a bit of a preview of what to expect. Here are a few simple tips from James to help superpower your fruit and veg….


Simply not boiling carrots, cooking them any other way, can make them up to 25% sweeter and more nutritious according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. If you don’t fancy roasting, baking or steaming, try boiling them whole and slicing them after, to ensure flavour and nutrients are not lost to the cooking water.

Want to go one better? Try growing the almost pitch black ‘Purple Sun’ carrots, whose intense colour stems from the same antioxidant pigments that give red wine and blueberries their purported health benefits. Not only that, but they are also sweeter and just as easy to grow.


Storing these fruit on the counter (instead of in the fridge) for a few days triggers chemical reactions that will make them more fragrant, brighter in colour and higher in antioxidants. In one Canadian study, strawberries stored at 20C for four days experienced a whopping 700% increase in their flavour compounds. Be warned that these reactions will not take place at lower temperatures though, so avoid the fridge at all costs.


Hailed as a ‘superfood’ for their antioxidant content, what most non-geeks don’t know about blueberries is that their content of these health promoting compounds varies dramatically between varieties. The homegrown variety ‘Rubel’, for example, delivers three times the antioxidant payload of supermarket staple ‘Bluecrop’. With these easy to grow plants kicking out up to 6kg of crop a year (worth £80 in supermarkets) its a real no brainer.

The best bit? One trial has found that lightly cooking blueberries (for example in pie) doubles their absorbable antioxidant content. Talk about having your pie and eating it.


Popping store-bought mushrooms on a windowsill for just a few hours can result in over x10 increase in their Vitamin D content. When exposed to the UV light from the sun, a chemical known as ergosterol is converted into Vitamin D2, with just 30-60 minutes anytime between 10am to 3pm capable of making a measurable difference. Placing them with the gills side facing up can spike this even further. A nutritional supercharge for zero work.


Unbelievably spraying a dilute aspirin solution onto tomato plants (we are talking 1/2 a soluble tablet per litre of water) is capable of causing their sugar content to soar one and a half times and boost their Vitamin C content 50%. This treatment can even make your plants more resistant to cold, drought and, not that we’ll ever need it in the UK, heat stress. This works as aspirin is a close chemical copy of the plant stress hormone, salicylic acid, which turns on the genes that regulate their immune system. The more stress a plant ‘thinks’ it is under the more sugars that it sends to the fruit to ensure they are eaten and their seeds dispersed to save the next generation.

Jwong coverGrow for Flavour by James Wong is published by Octopus on March 5th.
Find out more here

February 2, 2015, Posted by Richard in Culture, Reviews, Theatre & Comedy

Daniel Kitson: ‘Tree’ review

Half the drama when it comes to Daniel Kitson performances occurs weeks before, when you are sat at your computer doing battle with the overloaded website server of the theatre you’re trying to buy tickets for. Luckily, this time we were successful in snapping up some seats for his new play Tree, at the Old Vic.

First performed last summer in Manchester, Kitson has revived his two-hander with fellow comedian Tim Key for this short London run. In some ways, if you get rid of the extraordinary tree that dominates his set, and where Kitson spends the entirety of the performance, and lose Key too, this could possibly have been another classic Kitson storytelling show – two strangers slowly getting to know each other, their dramas unfolding, exchanging hilarious, snappy dialogue along the way. Crucially, though, unlike the vast majority of those shows, Kitson swaps sentimentality for beautifully disguised bathos, and hints at the darker side of human nature.

Tim Key’s unnamed character arrives swearing and shouting, thinking he’s late for a picnic date with a long-forgotten girlfriend. A bloke up in the tree (Kitson), works out that he’s actually an hour early due to confusion with daylight saving times, and the stage is then set for the two to spar and question each other. It turns out Kitson’s bloke in the tree moved there as a protest against council measures and, nine years later, is now squatting there.

The characters feel each other out, teasing each other with new revelations and dropping in hints about their real motivations, just as Kitson teases the audience. There are long asides as Key’s character obsesses over the tree-dweller’s toilet habits and eating arrangements, and they bicker about miner details before returning to their respective stories. Of course this is where Kitson’s superb use of language comes to the fore, both with delighting in words such as ‘pollard’ or describing in great detail the appearance of dog shit covered by autumnal leaves, but also with the some excellently timed swearing. Key, in particular, effs and blinds with relish. And only Daniel Kitson could get so much comic mileage with business about a bucket on a string.

The energy does somewhat diminish around the two-thirds mark, but the ending creeps up on you and heads to a darker place than you are expecting, where big questions are asked about the stories we tell ourselves and each other, the things we hide and how we convince ourselves of our own morality in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

 A few extra dates have been added, from February 16 – 22. Try get some tickets here

January 30, 2015, Posted by Tom in Culture, Film & TV

Is Oscar Isaac Hollywood’s coolest actor?

Gosling seems to have gone a bit quiet recently, McConaughey keeps doing terrible adverts, and Bale’s last few films have been rubbish. So the title of Hollywood’s coolest actor is up for grabs, and here are a few reasons why that might just be Oscar Isaac…

He’s in not one but TWO great films at the moment:

You wait ages for a new Oscar Isaac film, and then two come along at once. That’s right, creepy futuristic sci-fi thriller Ex Machina and crime drama A Most Violent Year are both in cinemas now and are getting rave reviews. His unnerving, bearded tech genius in Ex Machina is particularly glorious, and includes a rather peculiar dance scene.


He was in Drive:

The coolest film of the last ten years. And he was in it. Yes, Ryan Gosling got all the praise for being all good looking and whatever, but Standard Gabriel was a more edgy and interesting character, and probably had more lines.


He was Llewyn Davis:

His performance as the titular troubled folk singer in Inside Llewyn Davis was pretty much superb, and he was nominated for a shedload of awards as a result. Proving that he can sing as well as act, it was 100 minutes of 1960s New York-based brilliance from the Coen Brothers. The entire soundtrack is well worth a listen.

He’s going to be in Star Wars!

It doesn’t get much better than that for an actor, does it? Even better, he’s going to be playing an X-Wing pilot called Poe Damoren, which is surely the greatest Star Wars name since Salacious B. Crumb. The Force Awakens hits cinemas this December, so why not watch the trailer again…

Keep up the good work, Oscar Isaac.

January 23, 2015, Posted by Richard in Culture, Music

SENTIMENTAL POST ALERT: Songs for a new dad

You may have seen us tweet that our good friend, colleague and winner of ‘Best Baby in Barnet, 1987′, Beau Merchant, has recently become a dad. We thought a nice little celebration would be to find some tunes written for new nippers, and pop them into a playlist. 

So with tunes from Talking Heads, Elbow, Bowie and many more – here are some songs for a new dad. Now pass us a tissue, we’ve got something in our eye…

Give the playlist a listen:

Here’s to Beau, Jo and little baby Albie!

January 12, 2015, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

5 Classic Johnny Marr riffs

As one of the most influential guitar players in music history, Johnny Marr is a music icon. From The Smiths to Electronic, The Cribs to Modest Mouse, The The through to his recent solo albums – basically every time he picks up a guitar, something good happens. So we thought we’d celebrate that fact.

We’ve taken on the impossible task of picking out just a few of his classic riffs. Don’t get mad if your favourite isn’t on there…

5 classic Johnny Marr riffs

The Smiths – ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’: A Smiths classic and the lead single from their hugely influential third album, 1986’s The Queen is Dead.

Modest Mouse – ‘Dashboard’: One of the highlights from his three-year spell with Washington band Modest Mouse, written on the very first day they started collaborating.

The Cribs – ‘We Share The Same Skies’: Wakefield’s finest + Johnny Marr = gold, as he became the honorary 4th Jarman in the band of brothers. This is just one of the top tunes from the one album they made together, Ignore the Ignorant.

Johnny Marr – ‘The Messenger’: Rather unbelievably, it took until 2013 for Marr to strike out on his own and release a solo album. When he did, with The Messenger, it was well worth the wait. 2014’s Playland is possibly even better.

The Smiths – ‘This Charming Man’: Perhaps the ultimate Johnny Marr riff. There’s not else much to say except grab some chrysanthemums and press play.

Johnny Marr will appear on the closing track of Noel Gallagher’s new album, Chasing Yesterday. Watch the video for their collaboration, ‘Ballad the Mighty I’, here. It’s superb.


January 9, 2015, Posted by Tom Troughton in Books, Culture, Film & TV

7 Cool James Bond Book Covers

Bond fans unite. The twenty-fourth James Bond film Spectre is set to be released later on this year and to celebrate, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the best Bond book covers (after all guys, we need to remember that the films are based on Ian Fleming’s much-loved series…).

Sure, some of you hardcore fans may point out that Spectre isn’t actually an Ian Fleming book and therefore question the purpose of this article? If so – back the hell off. We like books and want an excuse to look at some pretty covers, ok?!

Starring the likes of Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott and, of course, Daniel Craig, Spectre is set for release on November 6th 2015. It’s going to be a long 11 months…

Some of our favourite James Bond book covers:

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 All images © the respective publishers
(Goldfinger: Jonathan Cape, Octopussy: Vintage, Moonraker: Jonathan Cape, Live and Let Die: Penguin, From Russia with Love: Penguin, Quantum of Solace: unknown, Casino Royale: Jonathan Cape)

December 12, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

The 2014 soundtrack: the best songs of the year

Apparently, Mr Probz, Sam Smith and Ariana Grande (feat Iggy Azalea) have had some of the biggest streaming songs of 2014. And we love all of those. However, we thought we sould pick out some more songs that we’ve enjoyed this year.

From the return of Interpol to the first solo effort from Britpop legend Damon Albarn, via classy new albums from the likes of Wild Beasts and The Antlers and the news that vinyl sales are at an 18-year high, it’s not been a bad year for music overall.

So, without further ado, here is the official Men Who Stare At Books 2014 playlist – our pick of the best songs of the year:

And if having the tunes isn’t quite enough, here are some cool videos…



 If we’ve missed any big tracks, let us know: @StareAtBooks