Paperback Rioter’s Review of 2010

December 29, 2010

This is the seemingly obligatory end-of-year roundup. Like this blog, this review does not intend to be comprehensive or systematic, and instead hopes to be personal and idiosyncratic. With that in mind, let’s roll:

Worst moment of 2010: After delivering leaflets and door-knocking until 9.30pm on election night for Elwyn Watkins, and then staying up until 2pm waiting for the result to come in, finding out that Phil Woolas had been elected MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth by 103 votes.

Best moment of 2010: Finding out that Phil Woolas had lost his appeal, and was indeed kicked out of Parliament and barred from standing as an MP for three years.

Subject I have been unhealthily obsessed with this year: Go on, take a flying guess…

Other highlights of my year:
– My two weeks shadowing at a primary school, which I absolutely loved, and I realised that primary teaching was what I wanted to do.
– Finding out that some people actually like what I write on this blog.
– Brad Haddin getting out to make Australia 77-7 in the last Ashes match.
– I also attended my first wedding (congratulations, Becky and Nick!).

I could list many more, but that would get a bit dull for you. Basically, in 2010 I had a great time.

Quote of the year: “Yes we can. But…”  – Barack Obama on the Daily Show.

Ironic fact of the year: The Daily Telegraph and the rest of the right-wing press conducted a desperate smear campaign against Nick Clegg in the last week of the election campaign. Who would have thought that the best way to make him unelectable and discredited was to appoint him Deputy Prime Minister?

My favourite news clip of 2010: The Daily Show coverage of the BP oil spill, back in the days when you thought the leaking would never stop.

The fact that proved Test cricket is still the shizzle in 2010: I had completely forgotten that England won the World T20 cup until Aatif talked about it on Test Match Sofa yesterday.

The biggest Pyrrhic Defeat of 2010: England not being given the rights to host the 2018 World Cup. The build up to this year’s was bad enough as it is. Then when England had not been given hosting rights, the Daily Mail blamed it on the fact that our promotional video had lots of black people in it. All the talk of “passion” and the soft-core xenaphobia exhibited by some England fans after the vote was nauseating as well.

Sobering sporting fact of 2010: I have been punished for my sins in a past life by being made an Oldham Athletic fan in this one. Earlier this year our two owners, who have bankrolled the club since saving us from bankruptcy six years ago, have said they are unable to continue funding the club. Oldham’s annual turnover is less than the amount that Manchester United pay Rio Ferdinand. A striking example of the poisonous inequality affecting English football (and society) at the moment.

My five best discoveries of 2010:

1) Test Match Sofa
I cannot believe that it was only this summer I discovered this online cricket commentary station. I’ve written about them before, so don’t need to drone on about them here. Thanks for keeping me company while I wrote my thesis, chaps.

2) The Shield
I spent most of the first half of 2010 watching this TV series with my housemate John. (John, if you’re reading this, please come back! Question Time isn’t the same without you!) John glibly summarised it as “The Wire for Republicans”, and that isn’t too far off the mark. It’s a police procedural that’s absorbing, entertaining and has some damned good acting. Worth buying with your Christmas money.

3) Twitter
I set up my @goldenstrawb Twitter account last year, but only really started tweeting this year. Since then it’s helped me make some new friends, brought my attention to some very impressive blogs, and kept my sanity during Question Time (just about) by being able to live-tweet it. What’s not to love?

4) Tony Judt
I sadly only found out about Tony Judt and his work after the publicity that surrounded his tragically early death in August. I’ve been making up for lost time since then: I’ve read Ill Fares the Land and The Memory Chalet, read some of Reappraisals, and bought (but yet to read) Postwar. He is a wonderful historian and political thinker, and shall be sorely missed.

5) Tom Lehrer
It was my very dear friend Ed who introduced me to Tom Lehrer, courtesy of this song. I can’t believe I’d lived without his sense of humour for so long.

Album of the 2010: Obviously this is Elvis Costello with National Ransom. Another very impressive album, and his most interesting since The Delivery Man in 2004. Listen to the title track, be impressed, buy the album. Or listen to it on Spotify.

Song of the Year: John Hiatt, The Open Road. I found that Hiatt’s latest album as a whole was a little bit “meh”, mainly because it was all overshadowed by this opening track, one of the best songs I’ve heard in years. 

My favourite Paperback Rioter post of 2010: The Hunt for Raoul Moat did not take place. I’m quite proud of this one.

My favourite blog post of 2010: Probably Laurie Penny’s gonzo-style piece on the Millbank Riots.

My favourite piece of writing of 2010: Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land. I found it incredibly inspiring, especially given the circumstances in which it was written. Buy the book. Just buy it.

Five reasons to be cheerful for 2011:

1) There’s a referendum on the voting system! And you should all vote Yes to AV, as I shall be explaining on this blog in tedious detail. If you don’t, expect me to come round to your house and give you a stern talking-to.

2) The student protests: It’s nice to see some political action rather than political apathy. Keeping it non-violent, and gaining support from outside the student movement, is key for the next year.

3) The implosion of the BNP in the May elections: Obviously the rise of the EDL is incredibly worrying. But let’s just be happy that there was no massive increase in vote for the BNP as some doom-mongers had thought there would be.

4) ENGLAND HAVE RETAINED THE ASHES! We’ll hold the urn until at least 2013. In your face, Australia.

5) The detention of child asylum-seekers will end during 2011: I don’t like a great deal of what this coalition government is doing, but we might as well celebrate the good stuff they do before the cuts hit/while it lasts.

If this is insufficient optimism for you, then go and read the Independent’s 21 reasons to be cheerful.

Two inspiring quotations for 2011: both by Bertrand Russell on the subject of happiness:

The secret to happiness is to face the fact that the world is horrible.


The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible, and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.

Have a great New Year.

Musical Mondays (6) – 5 Political Songs

October 4, 2010

The theme for this week’s Musical Mondays was inspired by an article of Dorian Lynskey’s that appeared in The Guardian last week, entitled “Down with Bono-bashing”:

Armed with a robust ego and a strong faith, the singer can weather the blows. But any young band with political ideals might well compare his experience with that of a band like the Rolling Stones, who moved their business to the Netherlands but without inspiring a fraction of the ire, and take the path of least resistance. Bono’s activism is an ongoing experiment to see how far fame can be used to lobby for progressive causes, and to what degree a musician can act on principles rather than merely voice them. If he is discredited, then so is the whole endeavour.

As most of the commenters have pointed out (and let’s face it, an article defending Bono on CIF is a bit like tossing a cow into a pool full of piranhas) it’s not the fact that Bono is political that annoys most of his detractors. The problem with Bono is his hypocrisy. There’s nothing wrong with putting on concerts highlighting the plight of the world’s poorest and encouraging people to donate: in fact, it’s a very commendable thing to do. But when you then refuse to pay tax, or pay to send your hat by first-class plane, you come across as a monumental hypocrite.

Still, here are five political songs by people who aren’t monumental hypocrites (or at least aren’t anywhere as hypocritical as Bono). Also, they’re far better songs than Bono could ever hope to record:

1) Billy Bragg, Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

This is about Bragg’s life as a protest singer: being interviewed by fanzines, going to picket lines, getting on blacklists. There are, obviously, many more songs that I could have picked of his, but this is my favourite Billy Bragg song.

2) Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Oliver’s Army

I had to choose an Elvis song, and this is obviously the one to pick. It is perhaps the greatest song ever, and it’s certainly in my top ten anyway, with a wonderful bastardised-cousin-of-Dancing-Queen-piano-intro by Steve Nieve and some wonderful, biting lyrics. Because I have a twisted sense of humour, I find it very amusing that David Miliband chose this song as one of his Desert Island discs on Labour Uncut. Given that the song is about sending young, uneducated Britons to fight, kill and be killed in wars that they have no real idea why they are fighting there, I find Mili D’s choosing of this song bitterly ironic.

3) Robert Wyatt, Shipbuilding

I’ve cheated and chosen another Elvis Costello sung, but done by a different artist. I prefer Costello’s later “cover”, which has a wondrous solo by Chet Baker, but this original is also excellent. Like Oliver’s Army, it’s an “anti-war” song. There’s no way I can do justice to the lyrics, just listen:

4) Tom Waits, Road to Peace

The only time that Waits has gone political in his entire career, and it was worth waiting for. It begins with what seem like news reports, and ends with something that could be a Robert Fisk column, and is one of his best songs. Makes a pretty decent point, too.

5) Randy Newman, Short People

A song showing Newman’s twisted sense of humour to the extreme. Naturally, everyone thought he was being serious when he wrote that “We don’t want no Short People around here”. Sigh. He is making a serious point on how ludicrous discrimination is, in his usual idiosyncratic way.

I’m back!

September 25, 2010

After a brilliant week in London, I’m now back and will be blogging again, thesis permitting.

I went around London supported my faithful companion “Wheels”, my wonderful carrying case. Reminds me of this song:

Musial Mondays (4) – 15 Albums

September 13, 2010

There is a meme going around at the moment called 15 Albums, in which people have to name, er, 15 Albums that have stuck with them. I got tagged in this note, and here’s my list, along with a song from said album.

1) King of America, by Elvis Costello

This album was the first present my dad gave my mum. It’s therefore one of the most important items of my existence. I genuinely believe that had my parents met a couple of years earlier, and my Dad had bought her Costello’s previous album, the pretty mediocre Goodbye Cruel World instead, I probably would never have been born.

2) The Very Best of Elvis Costello

Strictly speaking, this should be the songs on “Elvis Costello: The Man” which was a VHS (remember them?) that I watched almost every day from the age of eighteen months to three years. All the eighteen songs on it are scattered throughout the two discs. As an Elvis Costello freak, I’d obviously say you should buy all his albums. But this introduction is a good way of seeing which side of him you like the most. My first thought after watching this video two decades later was, “Bloody hell, they all look really drunk”.

3) Get Happy!! by Elvis Costello and the Attractions

The last mention of Elvis Costello, I promise. This kind of obsession is inevitable when you’ve been listening to him since, well, forever. And this album is his finest hour (well, 48 minutes) which means it’s the finest album in popular music history. Check out the dancing on this video:

4) Basher: The Best of Nick Lowe

I found this gem in a charity shop for £2.99. It’s easily the best bargain I’ve ever bought. So It Goes is a wonderful breath of fresh air into anyone’s life. I was hooked on Lowe from then on. Basher is out of print now: buy Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe for a more complete introduction to the Jesus of Cool.

5) Seconds of Pleasure, Rockpile

Discovering Nick Lowe at the end of first year led me to obsessively seek out and collect any music remotely connected with him. That’s how I discovered Paul Carrack, Graham Parker, and of course Dave Edmunds and Rockpile. A Musical Mondays post on Rockpile is inevitable, and I’ll spare you from a lecture now, but I’ll just say that this is a rollickingly good album. I remember walking around campus listening to “Heart” after first year exams had finished:

5) At My Age, Nick Lowe

This album came out in 2007, towards the end of second year at university. I’m not sure if Nick Lowe has got better as he’s got older, it’s just now he’s a different kind of awesome. At My Age is a collection of wonderfully crafted songs, and here’s one of my favourites:

6) Walk On, John Hiatt

Like At My Age, this album has helped me through some pretty tough times. I was going through a particularly rough patch a couple of years ago, and Walk On – and this song especially – kept me sane:

7) The Picture, Buchanan

Buchanan are a part-time band: it’s a group of school teachers and police officers who play music in their spare time. Officially they are thought to be a “Country music” band, but the mainstream country scene in Britain ostracises them because Buchanan write their own songs: most C and W fans here would rather listen to a bar band play Willie Nelson covers all night. They’ve released three albums, of which The Picture is the best, and here’s a song from it. Check out for more details.

8) Vauxhall and I, Morrissey

This album always seems to get overlooked in Morrissey’s solo career; not quite sure why, because there isn’t a single bad track on it.

9) Martin Simpson, Prodigal Son

Most of the albums on this list are here because they remind me of times with friends or family. Martin Simpson’s albums are no exception. We will listen to them as we play bridge or are in the car on family outings. He’s exceptional, especially live. True Stories is a great album too, but I had to choose Prodigal Son simply for this song. I defy you to listen to it and not cry.

10) Tom Waits – SwordFishTrombones

This is the first Tom Waits album I bought, and listening to it was like entering another world. It was very different to anything I’d heard before. The funny percussion sounds, and the voice, well, I’ve not read a better description of it than this one: “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car”.

11) Sail Away, Randy Newman

Like Tom Waits, Randy Newman opened up a new world to me. These weren’t just songs about “Girls, Girls, Girls”, these were songs about slave owners, fathers, even a monologue from God. I also share his twisted, cynical sense of humour. This is one of my favourite songs from this album, that sadly has got more grimly ironic as the decades have gone by.

12) ‘Til The Wheels Fall Off, Amy Rigby

Another of my favourite songwriters. I get the impression that Amy Rigby does little more than set her diary down to music, but what a diary it is. This is probably the best break up song ever.

13) As you were, Show of Hands

What do you mean, you haven’t seen them live? Do it, now. Go to their website, find out when they’re playing near you, and book a ticket. Just watch this song first:

14) Home and Away, Clive Gregson and Christine Collister

Two people, one angelic voice, one guitar playing maestro, one brilliant acoustic album.

15) Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan

Like Vauxhall and I, this is an album Liam and I would often listen to whilst playing together on the Playstation, Nintendo, or whatever. It’s the only Dylan album I’ve really listened to properly. This song is my favourite from it:


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