Wednesday, 29 July 2009

A Point of Origin

I was away on holiday recently for ten days, during which time I missed three things.

The first was the premiere of Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna at the Manchester Festival. Although I had only heard snippets of the music on TV and radio, I can say that it sounded characteristically florid, and something of a fey departure from the two operas I had most recently seen: The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte. But sarcasm aside, I really like the new beard, even if he, with all his Dorian Gray-like devotion to staying young and hedonistic, can't be too impressed with the shades of grey that are appearing. What's more, he now looks exactly like his dad on the cover of the latter's excellent 1975 album Unrequited. Rufus will need to put on a few pounds before completing the 'bear' look, mind you.

The second was the Lords test match, which on my return from Italy/Corsica I was too tired to give the indignation it deserved or discover what went wrong. Suffice to say, Mitchell Johnson was flayed around to the extent that he resembled Wile E. Coyote on one of his most soul-destroying days of failure with Roadrunner, and now I hear he is going to start at Edgbaston. Something that many, such as Kevin Mitchell here, have noted would be verging on the sadistic.

The third was the final State of Origin game at Suncorp Stadium. NSW won the dead rubber relatively comfortably, alongside some amusing old-style-Origin fisticuffs that resulted in the astonishingly pathetic Queensland actions of putting up a bomb with the last play of the game in order to simply pummel the hapless NSW taker (Kurt Gidley) with all their raging forwards.

This has largely been a disappointing Origin series. Queensland's dominance and NSW's staggering ineptitude in the first two games ensured that the competitive edge of the series has been dented. At the start, I had such high hopes. I drew parallels with 2001, when NSW had a side packed with superstars and proven elite in the NRL, while Wayne Bennett's Queensland side included ten debutants. Queensland crushed NSW in the first game 34-16 thanks to the maniacal Queensland spirit of these fledglings - I remember one try by Carl Webb being particularly galling for NSW, as the current North Queensland Cowboy flung off various more seasoned players like flies to score.

I hoped the reverse might be the case this year, but no. This is only partly down to the NSW players themselves, mind, because of the unforgivable errors made by NSW selectors. This hurts me to say, as Laurie Daley, a childhood hero, is one of them alongside Bob Fulton, one of Australia's most successful ever national coaches. But they really did make a mess of things in three out of the four key positions. Peter Wallace at halfback should have been dropped after the first game, while Terry Campese at five-eighth should not have been picked, but then shouldn't have been dropped so indiscriminately after failing, especially for the largely ineffective Trent Barrett. Robbie Farah might have seemed the answer at hooker based on the City-Country game but anyone paying attention to the NRL would have seen that Michael Ennis was outperforming pretty much every hooker he came up against. Getting rid of Wallace (whose inclusion in the second game was about as mean as, oh, say, Mitchell Johnson playing in the 3rd test) for Brett Kimmorley and Farah for Ennis for Origin 3 was exactly right, if about a month too late. And is it just me, or is it absurd that Matt Orford has never played a single Origin game?

The other mistake was picking Jamie Lyon. The guy doesn't want to play rep footy, so don't make him. There are plenty of alternatives in the Morris brothers, Matt Cooper and others. One could also make a case for getting Jamie Soward involved at the expense of Barrett, especially for the dead rubber, despite the fact that pundits everywhere were spouting he was too young and green for Origin.

On the plus side, I would suggest that Jarryd Hayne is probably the best player in the world at the moment, while the Panthers' very own Michael Jennings should become an Origin regular. Anthony Watmough remains a beastly presence, too. There is talk of getting rid of Craig Bellamy as coach, but as I say, it is with the selectors, not the coach, where the problem lies. One more year. The alternative, they are saying, is Wayne Bennett. But having a Queenslander coach NSW would be an ignominy rivalled only by having a Kiwi coach Australia's rugby union team. Oh wait...

Three songs that are good: 'Going Down' by Blitzen Trapper (who are really good all of a sudden), 'Rapture Of The Deep' by The Witch and the Robot and 'Gandalf' by The Phoenix Foundation.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Baggy Green

The BBC has recently been showing a series entitled Empire of Cricket, chronicling the history of the grand old game in all the major test-playing nations. Obviously, I've become tenacious in supporting Australia in the current Ashes series so it was with some intense interest - not to mention a wistful nostalgia - that I watched the programme dedicated to the game back home. Obviously a lot of the show was in awe of Bradman et al, but it also offered a reappraisal of the decade and a half of Australian test dominance at the end of the 20th century. It convinced me that Steve Waugh is surely the greatest Australian test captain of all time. It is easy to say that his success was mostly down to the fact he had some of the greatest ever players in his team (Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Gilchrist and so on), but they still had to be motivated into performing coherently as a whole. Waugh's capacities as captain can be proven by a comparison with Ponting's captaincy when it was in it infancy.

Steve Waugh would not have lost the Ashes in 2005. While that team still had every superstar in it, the fact was that they and indeed Ponting still needed to be uplifted, motivated and injected with the spirit required to win the Ashes that no other Australian has exemplified as well as Waugh. Complacency lost that series and the wretchedly immovable Waugh would not have allowed it to infect any of his teams.

It is easy to criticise Ponting for that series, but I believe his legacy will be made in this Ashes series and in the next few years. The Australian team for the first three years of Ponting's captaincy was still Waugh's team - both a blessing and a curse for Ponting. The team currently competing is the first XI that has been assembled and developed under Ponting's watch, and thus there is a case to be made for the fact his motivation is stronger, as he has watched his young bucks emerge in his image rather than Waugh's. They are firmly his and if his sense of history is as acute as it should be he will see an opportunity to establish a new formidable generation of Australian cricketers. Therefore it is important he sticks around as captain for the next three or so years to see this through.

Empire of Cricket had some fascinating footage of those 90s/00s teams, and I was of course moved to put together a best Australian XI for the time that I have been following the Australian game, which is since around 1990. Batting order manipulated a little to ease selection.

1. Matthew Hayden
2. Mark Taylor
3. David Boon
4. Ricky Ponting
5. Steve Waugh
6. Allan Border
7. Adam Gilchrist
8. Shane Warne
9.Brett Lee
10. Craig McDermott
11. Glenn McGrath

It was difficult to leave out Dean Jones, Michael Slater and Justin Langer (without whom we'd be without the Telemachus Brown song '(I Was Wrong About) Justin Langer), and I'm still unsure of picking Brett Lee in place of Merv Hughes. Apart from anything else, you have to include the blonde-haired shark from Wollongong for this.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Cass McCombs

Earlier this year I was asked by Domino Records to provide the press blurb for their artist Cass McCombs, who was releasing a new album in Catacombs in July. In early 2008 I was totally absorbed by his previous record, Dropping The Writ and on the back of that mild obsession with his songs managed to do an interview with the American, something he usually distinctly reluctant to do. Domino then asked me to adapt the resulting article with the emphasis on Catacombs, jazz it up into a more promotional piece and suddenly it's a press release.

Well now the album is out and I've been keeping a keen eye on reviews. As someone who is on the end of countless press releases it was an interesting exercise to discover the varying extents to which reviewers lift from the release itself - as well as gauging response to an album that is very lovely indeed, if not quite on a par with Dropping The Writ. The review in the current issue of Uncut (which I can't find online) hits the nail pretty neatly on the head, while this one I thought was a little harsh. Dusted Magazine's review is not too thrilled with the album but constructs its criticism well, if calling McCombs a '90s sitcom dad' is a little much.

These were two of four negative reviews of the album on the first page of a Google search results page. The BBC's review, here, is slightly more positive and takes more of a cue from the promotional drivel I wrote, while not directly quoting it. But then we are back to ambivalence with The Fly. These lukewarm receptions are a little surprising to me, given that even the record's weakest moments are more interesting than say, the new Peter Doherty CD that came in the post this morning, or of course, the new Moby album. I also have never been able to understand the often-made comparison between McCombs and Morrissey. Oh well.

That press release can be found here.

Three songs that are good: 'Orange Cymbals' by Nurses, 'My Unusual Friend' by Fruit Bats and 'Yahoo' by Slumberwood.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Website Up

I am moderately happy, I guess, to write that the uploading of articles has finished to, a site that I have created to lure potential employers in as well as act as an archive of my more passable pieces. I owe a large thanks to a friend of mine for designing and developing the thing.

The process of getting the site to this point was a deeply painful one. Not only did it take months to do, but it required going through up to three years worth of writing in order to identify works worthy of uploading. This was humbling to the point of giving it all up and seeing out my days on the sofa in front of the NRL with the homebrew, as has been a common scene recently (or even worse, do a PGCE), as there are some truly awful, cringe-worthy excuses for journalism and criticism in my back catalogue. I am moved to admit I have been lazy, derivative, cliched and downright ignorant in various things I have written. Thankfully, the majority of these faux pas were those articles from a long time ago, and at least I am now in a position to REALISE these deficiencies. Which surely makes me better today and tomorrow.

That said, while I was selective indeed with what articles went up, there are still a few things there that are not top-draw - to my tastes and opinion anyway - on there. As well as showing quality of writing, the site is meant to demonstrate breadth of musical knowledge, which accounts for the presence of things that are merely 7/10 rather than 10/10, in terms of how well they are written. Then again, I have on a number of occasions been complimented by vaguely important people on pieces that I have thought were dreadful, so I am probably not the best judge after all.

But there we are. The crux is it is up and it was embarrassing to confront past failings.

One might have guessed from this I am currently reading The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In other news I recommend a visit here to download a strange, long thing from David Vandervelde and a few friends. Vandervelde released a beautiful album last year in Waiting For The Sunrise, one of 2008's best. That was all lovely soft-rock Americana but this is stubbornly fierce psychedelia, even a bit Hawkwindy at times. I suggest an album of that stuff, David. I thought of him when Jay Bennett died, as I know they had worked together in the past.

And here are three songs I have been liking: 'O Grace' by Magnolia Electric Company, 'I'm A Decent Man, I Kept Repeating' by Mike Bones and 'Sleepy Son' by Sleepy Sun.