Monday, 29 June 2009

Wimbledon day 8: Murray battles through

Andy Murray booked his place in the Wimbledon quarter-finals after an epic five set win over Stanislas Wawrinka in the competition’s latest ever finish to a day’s play.

It was after half past ten by the time the Scot closed out the match, which was played under Centre Court’s new floodlit roof after a rain delay in an earlier match.

Murray was far from his best for long periods of the game and Wawrinka raced to take the opening set after the Briton failed to acclimatise to the indoor play.

But Murray recovered to take the next two sets with some impressive shotmaking, including a string of his now trademark cross-court winner.

He then broke early in the fourth but lost his way slightly as Wawrinka fought back bravely to break back, and then again to take the set with some thumping play from the front foot.

But it seemed as though the Swiss had nothing left in the tank as Murray raced into a 3-0 lead in the deciding set. But once again Murray tightened up and let the eighteenth seed back in to the match.

Eventually Murray found the extra quality needed to see off his gallant opponent, ironically his practice partner, and broke in the eighth game before serving out the next game impressively.

The world number three sank to his knees in relief as the thousands that had remained at SW19 to see him bellowed their delight.

He will now have a well earned day of rest tomorrow before returning to SW19 on Wednesday to face Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, who he thrashed convincingly in the semi-finals at Queen’s club two weeks ago.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Michael Jackson's dead

Yeah, we all know, we're all bored of it. So no thoughts on me on the subject, it's saturated's his finest moment for you to peruse:

(I haven't worked out how to embed videos yet)

Thursday, 25 June 2009

How the Guardian link-up happened

If you know me at all, I'll have already bored you silly with the tale of how micro-blogging site Twitter helped me to get an article, hopefully the first of a series, published on the Guardian's website.

But for those of you that are new to the story, come in, sit down, brew up.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I shall begin.

It all began around a month ago when I heard about an internship scheme offered by the University of Sunderland (where I've just finished a Journalism degree). I was given the relevant forms and bumf from a lecturer, and if truth be told, it went into my bag and I forgot about it.

A follow-up message from a different lecturer reminded me and I scooted along to the website to fill in the forms. I also tweeted about it, out of habit, rather than expectancy that anything would come from it.

But something did come from it. The word 'internship' caught the eye of the Guardian's Laura-Jane Filotrani who contacted me asking if I'd like to write something about the scheme for the careers section of the paper's website. (Is this a good time to remind you that the Guardian's site is the most used newspaper website in the entire world? It is? Good.)

Obviously I jumped at the chance and after trading a couple of e-mails with LJ I sent her a draft of an opening to a diary style piece. It went something like this:

"Time drags when you’ve just finished University. The sudden change from looming deadlines and pulling all-nighters to hit them to being able to sit around all day in the glorious sunshine is somewhat disconcerting.

And while the weather is this unusually beautiful, it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything tangible about your boredom, or indeed, the rest of your life.

Last week I handed in my final assignment for my Journalism degree at the University of Sunderland. I was expecting a great rush of relief to overpower me, but in reality all I was thinking was ‘What am I going to do now?’ Various ideas and projects mill around in my head, but none of them seem worthy of pursuing further. And it’s hard to know where to start without the structure of lectures to build your time around.

This diary will look at my experiences in the scary place that patronising people refer to as ‘the real world’. Hopefully you’ll find it useful, or at least entertaining."

LJ, luckily for me, approved and commissioned me (paid. I was amazed) to write a full piece. And two drafts later, the final piece, with a few minor adjustments, appeared on the Guardian website. I'd forgotten the rush you get from seeing your name attached to an article, especially one that you were pleased with.

A day that was petering out turned into a rush of whoring my piece around everywhere I could think of to get people to read it. Hopefully it will lead to developing the idea into a series.

And you can help. Leave a comment on the article. Tell us of your experiences post-University, your hopes and fears of finding work in a dead job market. The more conversation I can get on the piece the more chance I have of getting more chances. I'd really appreciate it.


Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Guardian article: part 1

Linky linky.

Can't stress this enough - please leave a comment on the article.



NME Editor quits: what next for the publication?

This morning NME's long-term Editor Conor McNicholas announced his resignation, via everyone's current favourite social networking site, the ubiquitous Twitter.

So what is next for the ailing music weekly?

Public spats with Morrissey (the Smiths legend threatened legal action after yet another NME article labelled him as a racist) and sharply dropping circulation figures mean the paper is rife for a rescue package.

A complete overhaul is needed. This year especially the magazine has suffered from a 'see what sticks approach', throwing various genres, bands and artists into the magazine in the vain hope that one of them proves to be a popular choice.

Another reason the magazine has struggled of late is the lack of a bright new British hope to bang the drum about. The NME quickly hung its hat on the Strokes' revival of rock and roll at the beginning of the decade and got it spectacularly right, as waves of New York bands followed before the most iconic British band since Oasis arrived: The Libertines.

Peter Doherty and Carl Barat's love/hate relationship coupled with regular updates on Pete's health kept the magazine bobbing along until the band's natural successors Arctic Monkeys turned up, but the publicity-shy Northerners haven't been nearly as photogenic or copy-rich as NME would like.

Glasvegas were the latest band for NME to strike lucky with, although their mainstream success has been limited to say the least.

And with pop looking like going through a comeback this summer the NME has been slow to catch up, with its writers more keen on hyping long-forgotten grunge bands.

A lack of competition has also stifled the magazine. The other remaining music weeklies attract totally different audiences so the NME is left with nobody to fight in the circulation wars.

Their closest rivals, Q, have reacted to the economic downturn by attempting to become a one-stop entertainment shop for blokes of a certain age, incorporating films and television into its pages in the hope of attracting a wider audience base, but NME appears to be stuck in a rut of trying to tell their audience what to like, although 21st century kids are more than capable of deciding for themselves before names like Florence and the Machine and the Big Pink have even made it into the magazine.

Whoever takes over has a huge job on their hands and it will be fascinating to compare McNicholas' NMEs to the new Editor's in a year or so.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Wimbledon day 1: Defeat for Robson despite impressive debut display

Britain's Laura Robson was defeated in her debut senior match at Wimbledon after Daniela Hantuchova came from behind to win in three sets on SW19's new court no. 2.

The 15-year-old got off to a flying start and took the opening three games with Hantuchova struggling to deal with the teenager's power.

The Slovakian fought back but Robson held her nerve to take the set 6-3.

The former number 5 in the world rallied, cancelling out the Melbourne-born Brit's early break in the next set, but last year's girls title winner stayed with Hantuchova through a tight period in the match.

But Robson's emotions got the better of her at 5-4 down as she served a pair of double faults to concede the set. She had shown admirable maturity through the opening passages of play, but her youth and Hantuchova's wealth of experience eventually combined to cost her.

And at 3-2 down in the deciding set Robson was again broken after double-faulting at the crucial moment.

Hantuchova took the match comfortably in the end with Robson failing to win another game but the teenager, who only recently finished school, showed enough promise to suggest she will be a fixture on the women's tour for years to come.

Left-handed women are a rarity at the top of the women's game and Hantuchova only coped with Robson's thunderous serve and aggressive play from the back of the court towards the end of the match.

Hantuchova will now face the 16th seed Zheng Jie in the second round.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

What would you do with £25m?

I definitely wouldn't spend it on my sodding allotment, like this chap.

I don't understand the point of entering the lottery if you don't have grand plans. Or a load of debt to pay off. Since I have both, I reckon yon bloke should give me at least half the cash.

Seriously though, there has to be something more he wants to do? He talks about buying houses for his family. Fair enough. A nice new car. A holiday. All pretty obvious. Where's the ambition, squire? You're bloody loaded! Do something mental! It makes me sad.

So what would I do? Something Godlike. I'd want to be in charge of something because, well, I like power. I'd maybe buy a really small football club and see how far I could get them up the football league before running out of cash.

Or I'd even consider blowing my cash on the media. No, not on cocaine and crap suits. I'd buy a magazine (rather than found one, I'm too lazy for all that jazz). Something sustainable like Shortlist, with potential for expansion. That'd be cool. I could put myself on the cover every week. That would boost circulation. And employ former celebrities like Lindsay Lohan to hand out copies. Good publicity stunt, that. Metro would love it.

Or I'd buy myself a fancy throne and ceremonial gear, sit myself in the middle of London somewhere, and employ Charlie Brooker as my personal jester.

Or I'd put it all on red. Be more fun than bloody carrots.

What would you do with all the wonga?

Monday, 15 June 2009

That's it for now...I promise.

Well there you have it. An abridged portfolio of my work. It's pretty varied and I think it represents a fair look at where I am now and where I've come from. I'm happy with everything I've stuck up here but I definitely think there's been an improvement in my writing over the last few years.

I'll now be updating this blog with regular thoughts on pieces in the news, album and film reviews, comment pieces on issues of the day, and also the odd post about me and how I'm getting on in my search for work. There's a poll on the sidebar somewhere if you have a particular urge for one type of post more than another, so go and vote. Otherwise the racists will get in. Or something.

I'll also be trying in future to get some pics and or video into posts to make it a bit more visually stimulating. Because let's face it, it's not very exciting to look at right now.

But I reckon I've earned some crap food and a couple of hours in front of the box for now.



Glasvegas interview

It would be fair to say that the way music hype works is changing. The turnover of hype bands was astonishingly high not long ago, but all of a sudden the landscape has changed and the people in the know are now putting all of their eggs in one basket.

This year, undoubtedly, the basket belonged to Glasvegas. Late last year their signature track Daddy’s Gone crash-landed into NME’s tracks of the year list at number 2, and since then the Glaswegian four piece haven’t looked back, despite the slight hiccup of missing out on a number one album to Metallica.

Not that the band expected it in the slightest. Guitarist Rab Allen says: “We were delighted with number two. Metallica are one of the biggest bands in the world, we knew we weren’t going to beat them.”

Since the album release Glasvegas have played practically every night to increasing levels of devotion from their followers. Indeed, they’ve hardly been off the road for the last few months. Rab explains: “We’ll be touring for about a year. We’ve had two weeks at home since last November.”

The band have developed an almost gimmick of never being seen in any colour than black, with singer James Allan recently taking to wearing sunglasses relentlessly. But Rab says that there’s a less interesting reason for the lack of colour in the band’s wardrobe, “It’s just easier for when we go on tour, for washing! You open the suitcase and it’s all black.”

It lends itself to a startling spectacle in the band’s live show. White light batters your eyes, with the only thing you can see being four near-static figures on the stage, totally lost in the music. It’s a nigh-on religious experience.

Rab adds: “Grown men are singing the songs back at us crying. The music is quite emotional for some people, especially lyrically.”

Glasvegas live is a incredible experience. Rarely is there a second’s respite from the aural blast, emotion pouring from the band into the crowd and back again. When we see the band, in a tiny room in Manchester, it almost, almost brings a tear to our eye. And we’re very, very tough. We ask if the smaller shows are a better way to see the band live.

“We’ve done some massive gigs that have been incredible. We played Brixton [Academy] and the sound was amazing. Anything indoors is good.”

One of the most note-worthy things about the band is that they don’t shy away from dark themes in their output. The album covers, death, divorce, loss, stabbings and desperation, often in the same song.

“James is very good at putting himself in the shoes of other people”, says Rab. “The events in the songs aren’t necessarily things that have happened to us, but things he’s heard about.”

Glasgow is the rough sibling of cultured Edinburgh, more known for council estates and social deprivation, and it is this background that frames the background for the band’s work.

But despite all the critical praise Glasvegas still, to be cliché-tastic, keep it real. The band likes to stay as down-to-earth as possible, employing the now famous Geraldine [the former social worker from the band’s breakthrough hit, er, Geraldine] on the merchandise stall.

But with the world seemingly at their feet, Rab discloses to us that there may not be another Glasvegas album after their upcoming Christmas album, which the band recorded in a Transylvanian church.

“It [the Christmas album] was something James has always wanted to do. But if we don’t feel the material is better than what we’ve already done, we won’t release it,” states Rab plaintively.

DN is gobsmacked. But with James, the band’s chief songwriter, churning out new songs as regularly as clockwork, and the band’s ambition lying somewhere in the stars, the name of Glasvegas is certain to be a familiar one for years to come.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

The Subways interview

It’s three years since teenagers Billy Lunn, Charlotte Cooper and Josh Morgan released their debut album as The Subways.

Back in 2003 the trio broke out of Harlow, Essex, after John Peel played one of their early songs, and they won a competition to play at Glastonbury festival. But after the success of ‘Young for Eternity’, the next step of their career would be fraught with peril and the future of the band was brought into question .

Billy suffered problems with his voice and had to have surgery, leaving him unable to speak for two weeks and banned from singing by doctors for six weeks. “I was worried for my future, I was worried for my life!” says Billy, reflecting on the tough period.

Then the band lost someone part of the Subways family, their A&R man, the man that had helped them get their record contract and remained a friend of the band through their fledgling career.

And as if all this trauma wasn’t enough for the band to cope with, Billy and Charlotte, who had been a couple for the entire lifespan of the band, split up. But incredibly they seem as close as ever. The sexual tension once present at their live shows may have fizzled but they’ve remained great friends – they had to to keep the band alive.

The pair are as you would expect from their on-stage personas. Billy is passionate, excitable, fidgety and full of perfect soundbites, Charlotte more reserved and thoughtful. It is this balance that frames their writing process and gives the band their shape.

But when asked about their influences, the answer is surprising. Alongside obvious choices like Arctic Monkeys, Nirvana and Biffy Clyro, names like Johnny Cash, Neil Young, The Carpenters and Bob Dylanare mentioned. “Mary’s the perfect combination between Oasis and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles”, states Billy.

And when I ask about current music the pair are enthusiastic about Future of the Left, and surprisingly, The Enemy. But when prodded about the current indie scene Billy is typically forthright, “There are good bands, and there are shit bands with a little bit of grey in between. Obviously Scouting For Girls and The Hoosiers are just shit”.

“I’d rather watch a bad band than a band that’s just completely boring” counters Charlotte.

So then, the album. ‘All or Nothing’ splutters along at a million miles an hour, a sign of the desperation they felt to get the record made and out there after such a long wait. The album title itself points to the situation the band found themselves in. It literally was, as cheesy as it sounds, all or nothing for the band.

And they seem to have pulled it off. The live show is as frenetic as ever - “These songs from ‘All or Nothing’ are made to be played live” – claims Billy, and you believe him. The riffs are thicker, and drum rolls pounded even harder, the vocals screamed louder than ever, the crowd going as mental for the new tracks like ‘Alright’ and ‘Girls and Boys’ just as much as the classics ‘With You’, ‘Mary’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen’, which closes tonight’s set,.

And the lyrics have moved away from the tales of small town life from their debut album. “I just wrote lyrics that I felt compelled to say, that I felt I had to say, more analytical, more observant, because we’re growing up, we’re seeing the world” says Billy.

But the band still feel they have places to go. Billy is open about his desire to write what he describes as a ‘megahit’, citing ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Everlong’ as the kind of musical legacy they want to leave. “We have an obligation to sing out to the world. Fucking hell, I sound like Bono, how sucky is that!” says Billy.

But despite all the Big Statements, the band are just three young people having the time of their lives. “We’re used to having to prove ourselves and being the underdog. I don’t think people realise how astonished we are that people still come to the shows” half-jokes Billy.

But while The Subways are still writing the big choruses, still giving crowds a great time and generally being one of Britain’s best young rock bands, the fanbase will keep on growing. Let’s hope, for their sake, that the third album is a bit more straightforward.

[This feature was written for Degrees North]

State of Play’s call to arms to journalists must be heeded

On the face of it, Kevin Macdonald’s film State of Play is nothing more than an excellent crime thriller, with the interesting foible of being told from the viewpoint of the press rather than the police.

But for journalists, the film represents much more.

Russell Crowe’s lead turn as Cal McAffrey exposes all the problems the industry is currently facing. His newspaper, the Washington Globe, has recently been taken over by a multinational media conglomerate (MediaCorp) and is facing cutbacks.

As the paper’s editor, played gloriously by Helen Mirren, puts it early on in the film: “Our new owners have this crazy idea that we should make a profit.”

And that, in short, is the major issue facing journalists today. Gone all the glory days when Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s incredible painstakingly slow investigative journalism brought about the Watergate scandal that ended the Presidential career of Richard Nixon.

Writers such as Paul Foot, one of Britain’s finest ever journalists, would not be taken on by a newspaper now as they do not produce articles quickly enough.

Newspapers are now seen as more of a business than a service. Rupert Murdoch is probably at fault for this as much as anyone, his huge Wapping production base where the Sun and the News of the World are made taking the first steps to destroying the heart of journalist’s past in Fleet Street.

Now reporters are consigned to telephones and e-mail for interviews and aren’t given the chance to fully develop all the leads on a story. Most important to newspaper bosses now is speed, rather than quality of writing and accuracy of facts.

State of Play also addresses the difficulty journalists face with protecting their sources while still attempting give both sides of the story. Cal is friends with congressman Steven Collins and while he tries to do the best by his college pal, he has to also hassle him for information for his story.

Publishing unedited press releases as news stories is common, and online opinion pieces, seen by many as soft journalism that is only a level up from the humble blogger sat in his bedroom eating Wotsits, are becoming commonplace.

Quantity rather than quality is now the mantra issued by newspaper bosses. If a reporter is not producing the goods on a daily basis it is only going to be a matter of time before they are shown the door.

Kevin Macdonald, the film’s director, has stated in interviews that he intends the film to act as a call to arms to the industry. But journalists cannot themselves do anything without changes filtering down from boardroom level. Journalism in this country is dying a slow and painful death, especially at local level.

Macdonald has opened Pandora’s Box with State of Play. The industry must act.

[Again, this was an original article for Buzz]

Potter films could be great...or not.

British director David Yates has his hands full with the film adaptation of the last of the Harry Potter series. It’s now two years since the final book in the franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was published, and the enormity of the task facing Yates is growing.

Although the trio of young actors that are central to the story, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, have grown into their roles beautifully, each book in the series crams in more plot than the previous. Early on in the planning stages for Deathly Hallows the decision was taken to split the film, but nowhere in the book is there an obvious opportunity to cut it down the middle.

Much of the opening half is spent with Harry, Ron and Hermione on the run from Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Where to, we don’t know. In the book J.K. Rowling’s skill fills the pages with a sense of climbing tension, something Yates will be under pressure to replicate.

The deliberate dullness of this part of the book also poses a tough choice for Yates. If he cuts down on part of that time, the challenge faced by Harry will seem lesser, the helplessness Rowling conveys would disappear, and the film would be in danger telling a story that was too straightforward. In short, it would be another Da Vinci Code, a series of problem-solving missions around a linear plot sequence, and no thrills whatsoever.

Of course, whatever Yates does with the pair of films, they promise to be massive smashes and make distributers Warners a huge pot of cash. The Potter phenomenon has gone supernova, with eleven million copies of Deathly Hallows sold within 24 hours of it going on sale. Indeed, the sheer vastness of the series was probably at least partially behind any decision to make two films rather than one. Two films equals two gigantic piles of cinema receipts.

But it’s more than that. Deathly Hallows has the potential to be a great film. But Yates has many difficult choices to make. The sheer number of deaths in the film will make it hard to be family friendly, and the bloody battle at Hogwarts that is pre-curser to the final showdown between Harry and Voldemort could rival Peter Jackson’s version of Helm’s Deep in the second Lord of the Rings film, if it were to be approached in a similar manner.

But the need to keep the film as a 12A rating is likely to keep bloodshed to a minimum and many of the book’s deaths will probably be brushed over as a result. Even Rowling herself struggled with this, killing off two main characters in the latter stages of the story, Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks, with little fanfare, despite their deaths orphaning a baby boy.

Yates will also need to decide whether or not to include the final scene of the book, Rowling’s epilogue, which ties up any questions about the futures of Harry, Ron and Hermione and some of their schoolfriends, albeit in a rose-tinted, slightly half-baked manner.

No doubt the makeup department could work their magic and make Radcliffe, Watson and Grint look old enough to play parents, and the prospect of a possible follow-up series focussing on one of Harry or Ron’s children’s adventures at Hogwarts would be tempting.

But with the release of the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, coming soon, and rumours already persisting that the film concentrates too much on romantic sub-plots, Yates is sure to be keeping his ear to the ground for any tips.

[This was a wholly original article for my University final project Buzz, which I'm sure will turn up on this here site eventually]