Monday, 31 August 2009


BBC DJ Steve Lamacq described Florence and the Machine’s performance at Reading Festival 2009 as a “life-changing” moment. To be fair, any artist that climbs up the lighting scaffolding unaided in a tent in front of thousands of people deserves a bit of praise, but she certainly wasn’t alone in putting on a good show. The headliners were Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead - an excellent trio who were supported by a diverse group of artists such as Jack Penate, Deadmau5, Delphic and Little Boots. I found some great new bands I’ve never heard of before - and also saw some shockers - but had an absolutely great weekend. So I thought I’d tell you all about it...

I got to see 23 bands in three days with a group of five other friends, and it’s difficult to pick out the major highlights as there were so many! But The Prodigy were most certainly the best. Their fast-paced dance and drum ‘n’ bass rhythms were a massive hit for the crowd, who absolutely lapped it up. It was surprising that a band of their style were the fans’ favourite at Reading, considering it’s primarily a rock festival, but I suppose this shows how much of a broad appeal they have. My particular highlight was Warriors’ Dance, from the new album Invaders Must Die, which is such a beautifully powerful and menacing song. So well done to The Prodigy - nevertheless, by the end I think most people were so worn out by the intensity of it all that Arctic Monkeys (who were on next) were a bit of a come-down. Although the Sheffield lads were on top form, they also weren’t helped by the fact that many of their songs were from the new album which few people have heard yet. But regardless of this, I enjoyed their set and pretty much everyone else seemed to as well.

The first thing that anybody said to me upon my arrival in Berkshire was “Hey, you - fancy a f***?”, which - as you can imagine - I was rather surprised by, as that’s not the sort of thing one is usually asked (considering the last four years I’ve attended a Christian festival, Soul Survivor, in the summer)! In fact, this was very much the theme for a group of 17-year-olds in the tent next door to me whose hormones were in full flow. I got just two hours sleep on the last night thanks to their late and loud discussions about what they’d love to do to each other. I suppose it’s their first time away from parents and they were at the experimental stage, but what’s the point in paying almost £200 to get in and then spending all of your time drinking, taking drugs and sleeping with each other? And keeping me awake? I saw over 20 bands so I’d like to say I spent my time more wisely and got my money’s worth!

The weekend would not have been complete without a near-death experience, and sure enough it arrived on Sunday evening. I had just been standing up for Vampire Weekend and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, in order to get nearer the front for Bloc Party with two friends. We made it to within five rows of the barriers and I was very happy with that. Bloc Party are probably my second favourite band behind Coldplay, and I’m seeing them twice in six weeks - next up, Sheffield in October - so I wanted to enjoy it. However the crowd started to surge as soon as Kele and the band kicked-off, and I immediately realised this was going to be a rough ride! I ended up on the floor after being pushed and falling during the second song - as did my two friends - but we managed to get up safely after that. I suggested that we could move back but we decided to stay forward together. Big mistake.

The moments that followed were a bit of a blur now, but from the best of my memory, all three of us ended up on the floor again with about five people on top of us who couldn’t get up. Cue lots of screaming ‘help!’, two people standing on my leg which felt like it was going to break, losing my shoe then finding it again in the melee, both of my friends getting squashed, and for about five or ten seconds it was pretty desperate. But eventually we all got pulled up and got ourselves out of the front as soon as possible. I suppose you play the game if you go up to the front, and nobody is likely to be deliberately trying to hurt you when there’s a crowd surge. It was even more intense than The Prodigy - and that was pretty mental as well. However I was relieved to get out of there without losing anything - including my friends!

Afterwards of course we had a good laugh about it, and everyone there seemed to enjoy the weekend as much as I did. Music is one of my major passions - whether it be watching a rock band in concert, singing in church or playing my saxophone - so I loved spending three full days watching brilliant bands and artists across the board. The great thing about music festivals is that (almost) everyone is there to enjoy music - and I was delighted to share that with a great group of friends. Highly recommended! Just don’t start me talking about the toilets...

PICTURES: Andy Whitton (NME), The Music FM, The Online Ticket Exchange, The Guardian.

Monday, 24 August 2009


The Observer = dying. The Independent = dying. thelondonpaper = dead (almost). News International announced last week that the end is nigh for the popular London freesheet, which has a circulation of over 500,000. Unfortunately it was making a loss and was no longer sustainable. The positives from this are a) less litter on the tube, and b) Murdoch failed in his bid to emulate Metro in the evenings - so maybe he isn’t as superhuman as we once thought. He’s still a top newspaper entrepreneur, no doubt about it, but the London free market never brought the dividends he expected. It’s always been a bizarre situation with the Evening Standard and London Lite competing against each other - despite being owned by the same company until an unlikely Russian got in on the act last year.

But despite the fall of any newspaper normally being no cause for celebration, I’m actually quite pleased with this news. The market situation of having two competing freesheets was never a good idea, and it would have worked much better had they merged. But Murdoch would never stoop as low as to join forces with Associated Newspapers, so it was always going to be survival of the fittest. Goodness only knows what will happen to London Lite, although I’ve always preferred it anyway as it’s the only one with a daily Southend United news section! But for advertisers, they will probably be pleased one paper has fallen, as they can still reach those same commuters - an elusive ABC1 group - by promoting themselves in just the London Lite. Most people read both newspapers if they read either, so it’s important to not get too pessimistic about the fall of thelondonpaper... keep smiling :)

* * *

Many congratulations to Dan Antopolski, the comic who won the ‘Dave Award for the Funniest Joke of the Fringe’ in Edinburgh, after winning 18% of the vote. Here we go: “Hedgehogs? Why can’t they just share the hedge?” Funny? Well I’m sure I could do better, but then again I’m unfortunately infamous amongst some of my friends for awful puns. Monty Python once wrote a sketch about a joke being so funny that it killed anyone who saw it - and whilst this was a very good sketch, I’m not sure mine will ever reach those heights. In fact, I sincerely hope not. However one of my favourites over the years was when I was at a Lapland UK attraction with my younger cousins and a girl dressed up as an elf accidentally bumped into a small child. I noted: ‘Hey, that’s surely an ‘elf and safety risk’.

* * *

I’ve got a good reason for why you should have paid more attention in French lessons at school. A British tourist in her early 30s spent the whole night in an Alsace town hall recently after she mistook the ‘Hotel de Ville’ sign to literally mean it was a real ‘hotel’. Whoops. She got locked inside after going to the toilet and could not get out until the morning when someone noticed a sign she had put on the door, saying: “Je suis fermer ici. Est ce possible la porte en ouvrir?” The local mayor said they would place English and German translations of the ‘Hotel de Ville’ sign on the front door. Probably a good idea, but I can’t imagine that many people would make the same mistake...

* * *

I can honestly say that I don’t really like cricket. I just cannot stand watching it - although I’m obviously very pleased that we’ve won the Ashes because Englishmen have shown they can win a sport we invented. So that’s great, but the less said about it the better. Onto more important and interesting things I’ve already got to 10 games this season since July - two Newcastle and eight Southend matches - and have really enjoyed myself so far. But despite my attendance at Newcastle’s superb win over Crystal Palace on Saturday, it’s Southend I want to focus on now.

According to my (reliable) sources, the Shrimpers hold the Football League record for the fewest draws in a season. I know, how exciting. It was three - a record set earlier in this decade. Well we’ve already failed to get anywhere near it this season after drawing our opening four games in a row. The Blues just can’t seem to win in the league, but at least they are hard to beat. Four draws has only been matched by Blackpool in the three divisions as yet, so it must be something to do with the sea breeze... but hopefully Steve Tilson will have a better excuse than that after we get trounced by Hull City tomorrow night.

NEXT WEEK - Reading Festival 2009: My Review

Monday, 17 August 2009


I remember opening my GCSE and A-Level results very well. I was so concerned about the whole thing that I just couldn’t go into school to pick them up and decided to open the letter in the privacy of my own home. They all came out alright in the end and got me into university without any problems, but the annual ‘dumbing-down exams’ debate has come round again just at the time when everyone is panicking over whether they will get the right grades. I suppose it’s topical, but shouldn’t we be celebrating excellent exam standards rather than criticising students every year? Nevertheless, maybe these critics have got a point.

Now, I must explain that I saw a question in a Maths A-Level that you’ll enjoy hearing about. It was a box-plot and whisker diagram question on the subject of orchestral musical instrument weights, and there was an upper outlier. The question was: “Suggest an instrument for this value.” Ummm, a ‘harp’? That’s what I went for - although this question stumped the most intelligent brains in the class, and I found it quite funny that my knowledge of classical music had come in more handy than any quadratic equation from the past - in a maths exam! My friend who got 100% in almost every maths paper wrote down a ‘cello’, which may well have got him a mark, but I doubt it. OK, so the ‘dumbing down’ evidence is out of the way.

However I’m still a bit disappointed with the Metro newspaper this morning saying A-Levels are so easy that ‘even monkeys’ could be trained to take them, according to a teacher survey. Now come on, that’s just silly. It is true that students are finding out more and more about qualifications before they take them, so they are better prepared, and this has problems. If you’re taught the syllabus and sample questions, you’ll remember it for the exam and then forget it all soon after.

That’s exactly what happened for me in A-Level maths. I got 96% but would struggle to get an ‘E’ if I was to sit any of those papers now. But whilst the preparation for exams is better, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re easier - and we should be thinking more about congratulating students than criticising their achievements. If pass rates fall, we’ll be slamming the education system. If they rise, we’ll be saying it’s easier. But either way, there will always be a picture of two of the most beautiful blonde girls the papers can find posing outside a college clutching their pieces of paper. That’s a certainty.

* * *

Well done to the Daily Star, Daily Star Sunday and The Sunday Times - the only three national newspapers to be recording a circulation rise during the recession, based on last year. Richard Desmond’s Star titles went up by 15% and 1% respectively, whilst Rupert Murdoch’s Sunday Times was up 2%. I like to highlight the positives here, as every other national daily and Sunday has seen its circulation fall over the last 12 months. The reason for the Star to be doing so well can primarily be put down to the price decrease (it now costs 20p Monday to Friday), but also to the fact it is being brought more upmarket by the editor, with less naughty pictures of women on the front-cover and more proper Sun/Mirror-type tabloid stories. The Daily Star Sunday has been doing quite well for a few years, since it started giving away free DVDs - although The Sunday Times seems to be selling itself on good quality journalism for the moment, which is encouraging.

On the other hand, you’ve got papers like The Independent (down 17%) and on Sunday (down 22%) which could well be out of business in the near future if they show no sign of improvement. However, for The Independent, this figure must be realised in the context that their cover price went up from 80p to £1 over this period. So in terms of revenue from newspaper sales they won’t have suffered that badly - and the Daily Star will be losing revenue but gaining ground on competitors. In the long run, that might just be more important. It’s good to see the Star doing so well, as although it’s far from my paper of choice, it is a British newspaper. And if somebody’s doing well, then there’s still hope for everyone else!

* * *

It’s shaping up to be a fascinating season in the Football League after the second matchday of the season, with Coventry City being the only Championship side to have registered two wins so far. It’s been a solid start for Sheffield United and Newcastle United (I’m extremely surprised at the latter!), but these are just two sides who could have a good campaign. The league is so open this year that anybody could go up, and it will be consistency and strength-in-depth that will secure promotion in my eyes. An outside bet for the top six could still be one of last season’s League One sides - such as Leicester City or Peterborough - but there’s plenty of twists and turns still to go.

I hope my prediction of 16th for the Toon will be proven wrong by Shola Ameobi (since when was he capable of scoring three goals in a season, let alone a game?) but am not getting carried away just yet. There are plenty of good players who could still leave the Magpies before the end of August, and we could still be left with youth-teamers filling up the numbers. But hopefully not. I’m off to Crystal Palace this weekend to see the Magpies in action, and am sincerely hoping that it turns out slightly better than their last visit to London - a 6-1 defeat which I witnessed - in E10. If we ever play Leyton Orient again, I think I’ll be hiding underneath the covers...

Monday, 10 August 2009


Comment is free but newspapers aren’t. Strong rumours are now beginning to circulate that the Scott Trust is looking at closing The Observer. It seems that there is some distance in what is being said, as the oldest Sunday newspaper in Britain is proving to be a financial strain on Guardian Media Group and they could well do without it during a recession. There are plans to maybe produce a weekly supplement in Thursday’s Guardian called ‘The Observer’ to maintain its legacy, but this is a far cry from a Sunday newspaper. I’m a big fan of The Observer (mainly because it’s the only Sunday paper which does a student discount!) and would be sad to see it go. Two weeks ago I wrote about the potential closure of another national title, The Independent, but the first title to go from that stable would be The Independent on Sunday. So we could be looking at a situation where by the end of the year we will have lost two Sunday quality broadsheets.

Whilst Rupert Murdoch might be pleased by the closure of competitors, his paper The Sunday Times is doing very well and is likely to be the first national title after the Financial Times to charge for online content when it’s website is re-launched soon. I’m working for the paper next spring, and it’s going to be very interesting indeed. It also cannot be forgotten that some of the Sunday tabloids - such as The People, where I worked in 2005 - are still making money. So it’s not all bad news, but the loss of two Sunday broadsheets would not only be terrible for the journalists working on them, but also for plurality in our nation. The Observer has been around for hundreds of years and been a benchmark of quality journalism over this time, but it could well be the end soon. I’ll be disappointed for sure if it goes, but we may well see the launch of a Guardian on Sunday in the future, which does seem pointless if you close The Observer, but it could happen. One thing’s for sure - only the fittest will survive.

* * *

Five News has always been a benchmark in alternative news, and has done this very successfully over the years. Now I hear from Digital Spy that the much-hyped ‘Five and Friends’ news show concept is going to be launched as ‘Live From Studio Show’. This idea for a magazine show was first cited by Channel Five controller Dawn Airey in a Media Guardian interview a fair few months ago, so I’m pleased it is finally coming to fruition. But the line-up for the early-evening show, billed as a competitor to The One Show on BBC1, is what has raised eyebrows the most - Kate Walsh from The Apprentice, football pundit Ian Wright and the wonderful Melinda Messenger. It’s going to be produced by Sky News - who currently produce the output of Five News - and could well be a great success.

All three presenters are much-loved figures on television for different reasons, but Five themselves have been very good at connecting with a younger audience and bringing news to people who never watch news on any other channel. It’s bright and fresh, and has featured such great presenters as Natasha Kaplinsky and Kirsty Young over the years. I’ve had the good fortune to work for Five News, and they are an absolutely fantastic team who are genuinely succeeding in trying to do something different. The alternative graphics and presentation of their bulletins is exceptionally thoughtful and is something to be proud of. I’ve loved spending time with a superb team. But I think I should leave the last word to Ian Wright. He said: "Melinda and Kate are great girls and I love the banter we already have. I struggle to get a word in when those two get going!" Can’t wait...

* * *

It was certainly an interesting opening weekend across all three divisions. Starting in League Two, Notts County opened with a 5-0 win over Bradford City, suggesting the influence of Sven-Goran Eriksson could well be more than just for good publicity. His ambition to get them into the Premier League may well eventually happen, although it’s important they don’t get carried away just yet. Elsewhere, in League One, Norwich City suffered an absolute shocker at the hands of Colchester United - losing 7-1 - and it was 5-0 by half-time. When we heard the score come in at Roots Hall during the Southend game, nobody could believe it and everyone was checking their phones for verification! Gillingham also had a good start, beating Swindon 5-0 in the early kick-off, so they would have been disappointed not to finish the day top of the league.

The Championship is shaping up to be a fascinating season this year, with almost every team able to get promoted if they put a good run together. Even newly-promoted Peterborough’s manager Darren Ferguson said he’s not there to stay up but get his side into the Premier League. I remember when Southend said that after back-to-back promotions and we ended up going straight back down. Newcastle started better than most people were expecting, with a solid 1-1 draw, but there’s a long way to go yet. However, I was certainly convinced by Sheffield United’s performance on Friday night, and reckon they should make it up this year. There is a lot to play for in the Championship this season at both ends of the league, but after the first 10 games we should have a better idea of how it’s going to work out...

Monday, 3 August 2009


I am so ridiculously excited about the new football season that I can’t quite put it into words. But I will try. Last season I spent £590.65 going to see 36 games and this season I expect that figure to go up. But the fortunes of the three clubs I lend my support to - Newcastle United, Southend United and Sheffield United - could all be very different. One has player revolt, another has got no money, and a third has lost its best players. Well, in fact, you could apply most of those labels to every one of those clubs! So here we go...

The 6-1 humiliation to Leyton Orient which I wrote about last week marked a new low, and I’ve been relieved that our last two friendlies since then have created just two goals and we haven’t lost either. There is a hope that somehow the tragic death of Bobby Robson last week could actually galvanise the players and remind them of what a great club Newcastle United is. It would be fitting that they go out at The Hawthorns this Saturday and play for the shirt, forgetting all of the backroom turmoil. But keeping that going throughout the season might be a bit trickier. The loss of players such as Obafemi Martins, Michael Owen and Mark Viduka has created gaps on the frontline, and nobody has come into replace these forwards. The defence is still weak - which will be punished at any level - and the midfield is too easily getting found out in games, rendering the whole team helpless.

There is one thing that has to be sorted out promptly, and that is the manager. I would like to see Alan Shearer return, but most Geordies have wanted to see that since the end of last season, and nothing has happened. I do appreciate Mike Ashley is trying to get a good price and then leave the north-east for good, but he has simply taken too long. He tried to sell the club last year but failed primarily because of the recession, but now has little excuse. At £80m it’s a good-buy if you can get it back in the Premier League. But it’s a good-bye if nobody comes back in. I honestly think Newcastle are going to have a terrible season because the players don’t want to be there, no players want to go there, the fans are rightly disillusioned and the club has become a laughing stock once more. It would be a miracle if they got immediate promotion back to the Premier League, and I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Southend might have brought in three more players than Newcastle, but they are all on loan, one was at Roots Hall last season and the other two are from Colchester United up the road. The side is pretty much the same as finished last season, but there are three notable exceptions - none of which have been replaced. These are Peter Clarke and Theo Robinson, who both moved to Huddersfield Town, and Dorian Dervitte who returned to Tottenham Hotspur after a superb loan spell. A few years ago Southend were a real force in the lower leagues, gaining two successive promotions and appearances in the LDV Vans Trophy final, and the team was going places.

But now it seems the chairman is happy to sit for a few years in League One whilst the new stadium is built. I am happy to take no progress for three years in order to get a Championship-quality stadium and build on that, but the ground has been delayed so many times and nobody is quite sure when it will be finished. It was originally supposed to be ready for the start of next season, but that is never going to happen. The team we have got is good enough to keep us up, but the management have never replaced our best wingers of recent years in Mark Gower and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, and without width you will get few goals. So a bunch of average defenders, midfielders, forwards and an average goalkeeper. An average season on the way - unless the chairman decides he wants to challenge for promotion. It’s up to him really.

It was horrible for the Blades to go all the way to Wembley last season and then lose in such nonchalant fashion against hoof-ballers Burnley. It had been a great season with some notable submissions from Kyle Naughton and Greg Halford. Both have now gone, although there is still much quality in the side from the likes of Chris Morgan and Darius Henderson, and the manager has brought in some decent acquisitions which should help.

I have no doubt Sheffield United will finish the highest out of my three supported teams, and I fully expect them to be challenging for a top two spot. But this must be matched with two Steel City derby wins, as we cannot have what happened last season repeat itself! But it would be great to see both United and Wednesday finish in the top six - and what a play-off final that would be. But I think the Blades will have enough quality to make second spot this year.