December 4, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Christmas songs that are actually worth listening to

Everyone knows that the majority of Christmas songs are awful. Properly, sickeningly awful.

Thankfully however, you can chuck out the Now That’s What I Call Christmas! CD, as it turns out that there are some hidden gems that will help you get in the festive mood without making you want to gouge your eye out with a fork and drown yourself in a boiling hot vat of mulled wine. Here are some of our favourites…


Joni Mitchell: ‘River’

Julian Casablancas: ‘I Wish It Was Christmas Today’

The Sonics: ‘Santa Claus’

Smith & Burrows: ‘This Ain’t New Jersey’

Kate Bush: ‘December Will Be Magic Again’

Best Coast and Wavves: ‘Something For You’

Slow Club: ‘Christmas TV’

Bob Dylan: ‘It Must Be Santa’ (ok, so this one is pretty weird to be honest…)

Have we missed any? Probably. Give us a shout and let us know: @StareAtBooks

Oh, and Merry Christmas etc…

November 28, 2014, Posted by Tom Troughton in Culture, Film & TV

Film Sequels We Could Have Done Without

With trailers released this week for Jurassic World and Star Wars: Episode 7, sequels to our best loved classics are still coming thick and fast. The newest member of the MWSAB team, the lovable rogue Tom Troughton, looks at some film sequels that Hollywood probably shouldn’t have bothered with…

Check out the box office listings lately, and you’ll find an interesting catalogue of hits: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies; even my personal favourite, Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey?!

It seems that Hollywood is sticking to what it knows best, rebooting film series and churning out sequel after sequel. In celebration of this cheery revelation, let me take you through some of the worst film sequels I’ve had endure (no donkeys included…).

The Matrix: Revolutions (2003)

The original film hit cinemas back in 1999 and changed the face of science fiction. I assumed that the second in the series, The Matrix: Reloaded, was just a bad Hollywood mistake that would be corrected by this final instalment. It turns out that the special effects are still terrible, the plot is equally (if not more) confusing than its predecessor, and Keanu Reeve’s wooden acting can only be tolerated for so long. When a tonne of characters die towards the end (SPOILER ALERT!), you’ll just shrug and say ‘meh’.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007)

The Curse of the Black Pearl is genius. Sadly its two sequels aren’t*. As per The Matrix, there’s so much going on in the plot, it might help by talking it out with a friend (‘So there’s a bad guy called Beckett who wants to arrest some other guys … and another bad guy with tentacles on his face … and then Captain Barbossa, the bad guy from the first film, who isn’t so bad after all?’). Johnny Depp’s slurry, drunken performance starts to grind after a while and that scene with the army of crabs just, well, it just makes me sad. Can I ask why a fifth film is scheduled for 2017?

* I would review the whole Pirates series collectively but I gave up on the fourth (On Stranger Tides).

Indiana Jones 4: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Come on Spielberg, you’re meant to be a film genius! I’m not going to pretend like Indiana Jones was a film of my time (I’m a 90’s kid after all…) but I did grow up watching the original trilogy over and over again. I just have one question, really: What the hell are the aliens about?!

 Quantum of Solace (2008)

Casino Royale reinvented the 007 series – Daniel Craig’s James Bond was funny, suave, ruthless (and blonde!). Quantum of Solace kicks off right where the previous film ends, throwing us straight into an action scene. However, it’s all down hill after the opening ten minutes. Craig’s Bond loses his cool and instead becomes a character set on avenging his lover’s murder. This film trades in the usual humour of the Bond series for characters that barely utter two lines before they’re killed off and a villain who is just a jaded businessman in a suit (talk about character development…).

Do you agree with these? Tweet us @StareAtBooks and let us know.

 

November 24, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Chapter and Verse – Bernard Sumner in conversation

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the work of Bernard Sumner. From Joy Division to New Order, via Electronic and Bad Lieutenant, he’s been one of leading figures in British music for over 30 years now.

So when the chance came up to see him discuss his incredible career and brilliant new book, Chapter and Verse, we just couldn’t say no. A large crowd came along to the Tabernacle in Notting Hill to see Bernard in conversation with Ed Potton, rock and pop editor for The Times.

They covered a wide range of topics, particularly focusing on Bernard’s early career and the foundations on which the legendary Joy Division were built. Discussing his ‘austere’ upbringing in industrial Manchester, he described how his record collection had been the bright spot in his life. Rather than his music teacher at school, it was actually his geography teacher who introduced him to many new sounds and artists. If they behaved themselves, he used to let the students bring in their LPs and play them on his record player during the break that followed his lessons. If only our geography teachers had been so cool…

When Joy Division first got together, Bernard and Peter Hook, the group’s bassist, advertised in the Virgin record shop in Piccadilly to try and find a singer. After receiving lots of calls from ‘weirdos’ at all hours of the day, Bernard was quite relieved when Ian Curtis got in touch – he already knew about him and was a fan of his coat, which had the word ‘HATE’ stitched on the back. Finding a drummer was even tougher, and they developed an interesting technique for sacking those that they tried but didn’t quite fit the bill; they’d go round to his house with a box of Milk Tray and tell him that he was simply ‘too good’ for the band, claiming that they didn’t want to hold him back.

Chapter and VerseChapter and Verse (Bantam Press)

At times hilarious, at others moving, this was a fascinating 90 minutes of discussion. With topics ranging from the tragic suicide of Ian Curtis, to Joy Division and New Order’s financially reckless manager, Rob Gretton (‘He just didn’t give a shit about money…’), via the acrimonious split between Peter Hook and the rest of New Order, Bernard was a charismatic storyteller who had the whole theatre hanging on his every word. His story of corrupting poor little Johnny Marr (featuring a cameo from Seal, bizarrely) whilst promoting the Electronic album in New York was a particular highlight, and the hints that he gave about the current New Order recording sessions suggest they’re creating another classic. Credit must also go to Mr Potton too, who did a great job chairing the event.

The huge queue that formed for the book signing after the event was a testament to what a popular and influential figure Bernard is. A cracking evening with a true legend to celebrate a ruddy brilliant book, every last Joy Division and New Order fanboy in attendance went home happy.

Chapter and Verse by Bernard Sumner is out now, published by Bantam Press. It’s so good in fact, that we picked it as one of 2014’s best memoirs

November 11, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

6 top tunes from Idlewild

We’re big fans of Scottish rockers Idlewild, so it’s rather great news that they’ve just announced their first new LP in five years, Everything Ever Written. Hitting record shops in February 2015, the album will be followed by a full UK tour in March. We’ll see you at the Roundhouse.

February is still quite a while away, so in the meantime here are just a few reminders of why Idlewild are such a ruddy great band. It’s nice to have them back.

American English (from The Remote Part)

Love Steals Us From Loneliness (from Warnings/Promises)

The Bronze Medal (from 100 Broken Windows)

In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction (from The Remote Part)

No Emotion (from Make Another World)

Roseability (from 100 Broken Windows)

The new Idlewild album, Everything Ever Written, is out February 9th and is available to pre-order now. You can also catch them on their UK tour in March 2015…

idlewild tour

November 5, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Books, Culture, Football, Sport

CROSSING THE LINE by Luis Suarez – an exclusive extract

Luis Suarez’s autobiography, Crossing the Line: My Story, is out now, and with Barcelona in the same Champions League group as Ajax, we thought it was the perfect time to share this extract from Luis as he discusses his time with the Dutch club…

Through everything that happened in my three-and-a-half years at the club the fans at Ajax never turned their back on me. As captain, the standard-bearer of the club, I had let them down with the biting incident. Yet, they had also seen that I played to win to the extent that I felt this tremendous responsibility to transmit that desire to win to the rest of my team-mates. There was no excuse for what I had done, but they appreciated that I always gave everything and many felt that I had instilled that winning mentality into the team. They liked me precisely because I was not what they were used to. I had supporters writing to me to congratulate me on how I had played as their captain and I will always carry that in my heart. They sang my name from my first game, and they even sang it after I had left the club. When Ajax were drawn to play Manchester United in a Europa League game in February 2012, I had just come back from my eight-game ban at Liverpool. Around 4,000 Ajax supporters sang ‘There’s only one Luis Suárez’ throughout the game at Old Trafford. When people told me about it I was overwhelmed; it’s something I will never forget.

Another reason why the club will always be special to me is because of the way they treated my family. We loved living in Amsterdam. It was a big change from Groningen; it is a much more international city, and one that had a lot of tourists and much more going on. The club advised us that we should be careful when we were out and about – the sort of warning locals might give any young wide-eyed tourists in a big city – but we had a wonderful time. Sofi and I picked out a loft apartment in a converted warehouse on Amsterdam’s IJ lake waterfront and, as busy capital cities go, it was a relaxing place to live. Above all, that was because of the attitude of the people. For a player it’s perfect because you are at a top European club but away from the pitch there is maximum respect for your personal space. No one bothers you for pictures or autographs if they see that you’re with your family. It couldn’t have been better.

The Amsterdam Arena is probably the best stadium I have played in. It has all the benefits of a modern stadium, but because of the supporters you can feel the history of the club when you play there. It makes me very proud to think that if those supporters were asked today about the top players that have played for the club they would include my name. In fact, just having been part of Dutch football is incredibly special to me. If my Uruguayan roots taught me to never stop fighting on the pitch, then my Dutch education taught me to never stop thinking.

Crossing the Line is out now in hardback and ebook. Get your copy here.

And you can read more from Luis about his time at Liverpool in this Guardian extract.

suarez

November 3, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Culture, Film & TV

The Killing Fields 30th Anniversary Edition

Celebrating it’s 30th anniversary with a release on Blu-ray, Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields remains one of the rawest, powerful and unforgettable films ever made.

Set in war-torn Cambodia during the bloody civil war, the real life relationship between American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) and his Cambodian translator Dith Pran (Oscar winner Haing S. Ngor) is played out beautifully by the two leads and shot with an astounding gritty realism by Joffé. Much praise must also go to Bruce Robinson (writer of Withnail and I) for his script adaptation, and to Mike Oldfield for the frantic (and sometimes bonkers) synth score.

The searing heat and the scores of refugees coupled with the life-changing dilemma which faces the two friends all make for the most remarkable 140 mins you’ll likely spend in front of your TV.  Some scenes are truly breathtaking and will stay with you long after the film has finished.

An epic of hope, friendship and the fight for the truth. If the final shot doesn’t bring a tear to the eye, as John Lennon’s Imagine plays, then you’re made of sterner stuff than me. A monumental achievement which has lost none of it’s power.

 

The Killing Fields Blu-ray

The Killing Fields 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is out now

October 31, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Music

Q&A: Life on tour with a rock ‘n’ roll band

What is life on tour with a rock band really like? We wanted to find out, so had a chat with session musician and songwriter Josh Carruthers…

Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you play and who are you currently touring with?

Josh, 24, based in London, touring keyboard player for pop artist Ella Eyre. You may know her as the voice behind Rudimental’s Brit-award-winning No.1 song ‘Waiting All Night’.

Photo 1

How did you end up with this gig?

Many years of hard work playing in my own bands since the age of 13, alongside playing keyboards for a few other smaller artists. Then I guess a bit of luck; being in the right place at the right time when a friend who was asked to put together a band for a new unknown artist asked if I wanted to get involved. 18 months later it is now my full time job.

Walk us through your average day – is it all sex, drugs and rock n roll? We hope so.

We’ve spent a good majority of this year on tour so the average day on tour would be as follows: wake up early, go for a run to the nearest football stadium and take a photo (a habit I am alone on but try and keep up to stay fit), shower, lunch, soundcheck, dinner, pre-gig rituals (huddle, prayer followed by our own take on Matthew McConaughey’s chest beat chant as seen in The Wolf of Wall Street), performance, after party, bus call and set off, wake up in the next city. Repeat!

Photo 4

What’s the best venue or festival you’ve played with this band?

The whole summer has been pretty crazy, so it would be hard to isolate and chose one. Highlights would definitely include performing on the Main Stage at the Isle of Wight and Parklife festivals, plus the MOBO Awards at Wembley Arena. Of course, my lifelong ambition of performing at Glastonbury Festival has to be up there too. The following day however our tour bus was involved in a collision with two other cars in Ireland, catapulting me over the upstairs lounge table and landing with a suitcase dangling precariously above my face. Luckily all involved were merely bruised, a little shaken and released from hospital in under a few hours.

Photo 2

This was the start of our ‘curse’, including the following…

  • A tyre on the bus falling off in the middle of Belgium (totally different driver) and arriving at Pukkelpop Festival for our stage time by mini bus with seconds to spare.
  • Being stranded in Ibiza because of an overbooked flight.
  • Forgotten passports by various band members and crew.
  • Realising swimming pools and mobile phones don’t mix on three separate occasions by three separate members.
  • My keyboard falling off its stand on the last song of our Sundown Festival performance, one of the biggest crowds of the summer. I somehow managed to get it back on its stand and finish the song.
  • My personal favourite: our tour bus pulled away from UK customs at 4am with one of the backing singers still inside the building in her pyjamas! Luckily we didn’t get too far before realizing.

Photo 6

And have you met anyone along the way you’ve been particularly star struck by?

After playing Glasto Ella was invited back personally to Worthy Farm by Michael Eavis to perform at a party thrown by himself to thank the local residents. He spent our whole set stood about 2 feet away from my keyboard, clapping his hands and dancing away. That was quite nerve wracking! Also, performing in front of Harry Shearer from Spinal tap live on Sunday Brunch, and in front of the legend that is Lionel Ritchie on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man were pretty scary.

Photo 5

Away from this band, do you have other music projects on the go? How do you balance these with life on the road?

I’m currently working on my own project, and every day off I have I’m in the studio writing with different people. We’re about to embark on an arena Tour of the USA supporting Bastille which will take us through until the end of November with Ella, and after that we’ve been given some time off until the end of the year. The plan is to hit the studio hard and release some of my own stuff early 2015.

To keep up to date with on tour goings on and my own stuff, check out my
Twitter @JoshCarruthers_ and Instagram @joshcarruthers_

October 29, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Food

London’s best beers and pubs

Des De Moor is a beer expert, and has compiled the UK section of the Pocket Beer Book, 2nd edition: The indispensable guide to the world’s best craft & traditional beers. So he knows his stuff. Luckily for us, he’s picked out some of London’s best beers and pubs for you to enjoy. If you’re not based in London, you should be able to pick these beers up from your local beer specialist. Over to Des…

London has retained its place as one of the greatest cities in the world for many centuries, but until recently the envious inhabitants of the English provinces could still look on us Londoners with pity when it came to beer.

150 years ago, London was the international beer capital, the place where industrial brewing was pioneered and where the first two global beer styles, porter and India pale ale, were invented. But in the 20th century the fortunes of London brewers plunged, nearly all the historic breweries closed, and new microbrewers struggled to establish themselves.

The last few years have witnessed an unforeseen and quite astonishing turnaround. The closure of Young’s, one of the capital’s two surviving historic independents, in 2006 spurred a few new entrants to fire up their mash tuns, while a handful of enterprising licensees started reinventing the specialist beer pub .

This coincided with a growing consumer interest in localism and good quality, flavoursome local products from small producers, and the appearance of a younger generation of beer explorers inspired by the innovative and eclectic approach of US craft brewing.

From 2011 the trickle of beer-focused startups began to grow into a torrent. Now, rather than the nine commercial breweries operating in London in 2006, there are over 60. Countless new specialist beer pubs and bars have opened, existing places have expanded their ranges, and restaurants and boutique wine shops have been stocking up on London-brewed ‘craft beer’.

London beers are now appearing on London bars with a ubiquity and frequency unseen since the 1970s, and the quality and variety on offer is almost certainly the best it’s ever been.

As the author of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, I’ve had the rewarding challenge of chronicling this expansion. The first edition was published in 2011, just as things were starting to change, and I’m currently working on a second edition for 2014 – which will pretty much be a complete rewrite.

Picking just five beers and five places to drink from London’s current abundance has been a tall order, so this is a sampling rather than a definitive list, with the venues focusing primarily on beer range.

I agonised over leaving out Partizan, Truman’s, Fuller’s pubs (the Red Lion in Barnes and the Star in Belgravia are my recommendations to enjoy their cask beers in top condition) and Antic and Barworks venues. The lists are in alphabetical rather than merit order.

Five great London beers

Beavertown Applelation 8.7%

Founded in 2011 in a pub kitchen by Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin’s Robert, this is a continually improving cutting edge brewery that’s already outgrown its premises twice. A wood aged, naturally conditioned strong ale made with saison yeast and local apples and packaged in big bottles, Appelation is one of their most extraordinary beers, full of yeasty and fruity complexity with notes of rhubarb tart and cream.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale 8.5%

London’s last remaining historic independent is a keystone of the city’s brewing scene: it far-sightedly supported new startups rather than viewing them with suspicion. Picking just one of its many beers was hard – dry-hopped cask session bitter Chiswick was a strong contender. But the annually issued bottle conditioned barley wine Vintage Ale is truly a world classic, rich with earthy and peppery English flavours when young, and maturing over several years into a luscious, port-tinged delight that will raise your expectations of how good beer can get.

The Kernel Export Stout 1890 7.8%

Kernel became a key player in the London beer renaissance by challenging ideas of what London brewing could be about back in 2009, and founding what’s now a cluster of new breweries in Bermondsey. It built its firm reputation on the twin pillars of US-style pale ales fresh with floral hops and strong porters and stouts based on historic recipes, like this one. Based on an old Truman beer, this is a nod to London’s brewing heritage as well as a stunning beer with weighty coffee, chocolate, blackcurrant and liquorice flavours and pursing bitterness on a long finish.

Redemption Trinity 3%

Alongside Kernel one of the early leaders of the new generation of London brewers, founded in 2010, Redemption has proved adept at satisfying both traditional cask ale drinkers and more youthful craft beer fans with its approachable but distinctive range. Pale cask ale Trinity is a minor miracle, with three malts, three hop varieties and a wealth of flavour packed into only 3% ABV: chaffy grains, chewy bitter resins and hints of rose and tropical fruit.

Pressure Drop Wu Gang Chops the Tree 3.8%

Opened in a shed in Stoke Newington in 2013, this brewery soon moved to bigger premises in Hackney – with good reason given the quality of beers like Wu Gang, an unusual and very drinkable wheat beer with locally foraged herbs. There’s no room here to explain the Chinese legend behind the name, so you can google it while enjoying the beer’s herbal, citric and fennel-like aroma and soft spicy palate with delicate and refreshing orange notes.

 

Five great London beer pubs and bars

Cock Tavern 315 Mare Street E8 1EJ, thecocktavern.co.uk

I could have picked the celebrated Southampton Arms NW5, groundbreaking when it reopened in 2009 as an ale and cider house dedicated to small and often local producers, and still well worth a visit. The Cock, a long-neglected wood-panelled former Truman’s pub, was reinvented by the same management in 2012 and is just a good – as well as being less crowded, offering a wider range of beer and having its own brewery, Howling Hops, in the cellar.

Craft Beer Co Islington 55 White Lion Street N1 9PP, thecraftbeerco.com/pubs/Islington

Another early entrant among the new guard of beer bars was the Cask Pub and Kitchen SW1, which gave birth to a small chain of beer specialists under the Craft Beer Co name. All of these offer a dazzling range of cask and keg beer and fridges full of rare delights from Belgium, Scandinavia and the USA. Of London’s five branches, each highly recommendable, I favour Islington’s as it’s the most expansively pubby and relaxing.

Hope 48 West Street SM5 2PR, hopecarshalton.co.uk

Bought out in 2010 by a community interest company formed by locals to prevent it being turned into a restaurant, the Hope has gone from strength to strength. It has expanded its beer range to encompass regularly changing craft keg and bottles as well as more cask beer, and has won numerous awards. Yes, it’s in the suburbs, but near a station with a good service and well worth a visit for its mix of beer interest and the atmosphere of a proper community local.

Rake 14 Winchester Walk SE1 9AG, @Rakebar

Opened in 2006 in a former greasy spoon caff, this tiny Borough Market hangout is now something of a veteran. While new arrivals have long since eclipsed its beer range, it holds its place as an essential drop-in on the international craft beer circuit thanks to expert and well-connected management. Check out the star gallery of brewer autographs on the walls as well as the always-interesting range.

Wanstead Tap 352 Winchelsea Road E7 0AQ, thewansteadtap.co.uk

Upending the image of the traditional pub as the most appropriate environment for enjoying great beer are places like this: a family-friendly bottle shop, bar and events venue among car repairers in a railway arch round the corner from Wanstead Flats. Mother Kelly’s E2 is doing something similar but more slickly in a bigger arch at Bethnal Green, and almost made this list, but the Tap boasts a more personal touch and a great local selection in an unexpected location.

pocket book beer

As well as writing London’s definitive beer guide, Des compiles the UK section of The Pocket Beer Book, writes for numerous other publications, hosts tutored tastings, leads brewery history walks and judges beer in worldwide competitions. For more visit http://desdemoor.co.uk, like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/londonsbestbeer or follow him on Twitter @desdemoor.

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