Category Archives: Reviews

Podcasts I Know & Love

I’ve been asked to write some podcast reviews for my friends over at – always happy to help.

Podcasts that I know and love

Mr Happenstance and I go way back….we’ve known each other for 27 years, although there was an interamicum of 16 years before an unlikely reunion was sparked by a sighting in O’Brien’s “Irish” Bar in Kyiv, Ukraine. It remains one of the most incredible coincidences of my life, as I was talking about him not 10 minutes before I saw him. This is a story for another time. Mr H has asked me to pen an irregular (i.e. when I get around to it, but not too often as I have a habit of going on a bit) posting about podcasts…..I’m here to tell you that your iPod is too heavy with music, that those minutes on the commute could be invested with drama or that the aural distraction from your exercise could be expanding your mind as well as your lungs.

I like to think of myself as half-decent company, but sometimes I like to be the passive partner in a conversation – not in a “tell me about yourself” type of way, or worse still “please, go to the toilet for the third time this half-hour so that you may return refreshed with new angles on the story about how fucking great you were during the sales conference”. I like to be informed, and I’m afraid that sometimes one must turn to the experts. It was during those months I lived in Kyiv that I discovered a love for The Spoken Word. I had no television, and I’m a slut for telly, but I wanted some English language entertainment. So I started to dip my toe in the world of podcasts. The Archers, inexplicably, was the first subscription. Then the Russell Brand BBC show – I’m one of the people that saw that whole furore coming, having listened to the show rather than getting sucked down the drain of moral outrage that 99% of complainants did. For the record, I thought it was beyond tasteless, but I also think it was a set-up; certainly the whole thing had been flagged up in the episode prior. I was tiring of Brand’s rhetoric in any case – the Cockney gentleman schtick only goes so far. Ross is a far more accomplished broadcaster and a piece of my BBC podcast jigsaw I have yet to fill. But, dear reader, and I hope soon, listener (of my recommendations, not of me….yet), this is all far to UK-centric. I want to introduce those of you not yet familiar with the work of Ira Glass to TAL…..This American Life. The formula is simple – take a related theme and build an hour of radio around it each week. Sometimes the show is dedicated to one story, sometimes to four or five.

In the three years or more that I’ve been listening to TAL, I’ve come to understand that Ira Glass is something of a legend; the apparent ease with which the show is put together led me to believe that anyone could do this…even me. One show had a stunning story about a confusing parental situation, put together by Ruby Wright, an Englishwoman. Her web address was given at the end, so I looked her up and sent her a mail. Would you mind meeting me? Of course not, I’m playing a gig in Islington tonight, come down. Sure, why not?

Ruby is way more talented and dynamic than I. We talked for 20 minutes or so, and she pointed out that she’d been involved in radio for a long time, cutting her teeth with the Beeb of all people and she was still struggling to get pieces to air – but most of all, the story of her dysfunctional parents being aired on TAL was a highlight and she left me in no doubt that Ira Glass is a rare talent.

I had a critical failure of my computer at the end of last year – and TAL only allow the free download of their latest podcast, although you can purchase the back catalogue from their website, or stream them for free. So I currently have about 20 episodes backed up. Will They Know Me Back Home about soldiers on the front line facing a return to “normality” is stunning, whilst Starting From Scratch is tender warm and inspiring. The titles are never obtuse or oblique….they do what they say on the tin. Search This American Life on iTunes and learn something about our liberal cousins across the pond.

Updated – I Don’t Know Much About Art

I was watching a natural history programme the other evening; of the type where the out-of-his-comfort-zone Westerner is constantly amazed by the survival skills of the people who’ve lived in the area in question for hundreds of generations. In amongst the subtly patronising comments and sweeping vistas so essential to such a chunk of television (North Greenland in this instance), invariably we are invited to be revolted by the base nature of their eating habits. Bruce, our host, was offered the eyeball of a recently dispatched seal. Whilst it didn’t appear to be valued as a delicacy, it was apparent that one of the Inuit hunters was giving up something he considered special. Bruce didn’t hesitate, and sucked the contents of the eyeball down. And with it, he balled his eyes up, retched a little and generally made sure that his hosts knew what he thought of their little treat. I’ve had dinner guests like that, but I was asking them to appreciate my chicken curry, and they could reasonably have expected their meal to have been edible.

Serve up seal eyeballs to a restaurant critic at any NY restaurant, and (unless they are Anthony Bourdain or suffering from the most serious case of Emperor’s New Clothes) the resulting review will be unfavourable at best, a simple cartoon of spluttering Bruce at worst. You’re wondering what the fuck I’m on about, so perhaps I should cut to the chase; different people like different things, and this is the only truth about art.

Take the case of Damien Hirst. Much like my dinner guests anticipated that eating my food would not lead to prolonged visits to the bathroom, I was expecting the recent Damien Hirst No Love Lost, Blue Paintings exhibition to be challenging and witty. Unfortunately they were mediocre pastiches of Francis Bacon, as if copied for a high school art project. This was compounded by the fact that Hirst had spent a small fortune persuading the Wallace Collection to show the pieces. That these paintings are his own work, rather than the product of his workshops, is telling. The work preceding was the spectacular For The Love Of God; maybe he set the bar too high? The work after is the very similar For Heaven’s Sake which smacks of desperation. Oh, Damien, how confusing. And then, in early June, I was given a glimpse into his new project. Half of me wishes I could share (by the time this is in print you may already have seen the painful fruits of his latest work), but the other half is genuinely excited to have had an “in” before not only most of the world, but the majority of the art world. The project that he is involved in with several other names finally moves the Banksy commercial question into a challenging new direction, something the wall dauber has consistently failed to do. This critic’s mind’s-eye sees the quality graph of his recent portfolio as a heartbeat monitor – at least he isn’t flat lining. But this is all my opinion. Art is subjective, you and I can like what we want. And art critics sometimes forget that.

Robert Mapplethorpe was able to divide opinion like almost no other. In the 1980s it seemed every accessible published word was written by the shocked moral majority; the same breed that delights in taking offence at issues large and small in the 2010s, Twittering horror, emailing outrage and registering digital disgust. It’s true that the photography of Mapplethorpe was challenging, and some of the later work, especially of children, flirted with the very boundaries of decency. However, unless one actively seeks out this work alone, stumbling across the nudes is highly unlikely. Many people will have seen his touching portraits of Patti Smith and developed an understanding of his work as a whole, rather than being wilfully upset by the homoerotic images. I was in San Francisco at Fulsom Fair time, a couple of years ago. There with work for a conference on marine fuels (yes folks, some of us have lived the dream, tasted true manna), three of my colleagues decided to go to the fair; middle-class, straight white girls from London off to gawp and point and whisper at the strange gay men. I declined the invitation to go, as I don’t approve of zoos, human or otherwise. They returned ashen-faced and faux-corrupted. I asked them what they had expected, “Well, not that”, was the reply. Within three minutes, there were 3 digital cameras in front of me, accompanied by a commentary of all the disgusting and vile acts committed in public – all looked like fucking good fun, literally. My opinion was completely different to theirs, but was torn apart as invalid. As the evening wore on, more drink taken, I lost my patience. “Don’t tell me what to think,” was my petulant response, starting in motion an untenable situation that led to my eventual resignation. To be told how to respond to anything – art, life, anything – is to assume a lack of intelligence, a lack of sense. Or, worse, it is the arrogant belief that the critic’s subjective opinion is the only one worth considering.

Jeff Koons’s self-portrait photographs with his then lover, Cicciolina are far less shocking to me than his ambiguous sculpture of Michael Jackson and Bubbles. My mother, my nephew and a legion of fans will most certainly see it through different lenses. No doubt some people see the epic seascapes painted by JMW Turner in his later years as the daubings of a near-blind, over-praised old man – I have sat for an age in front of just one painting, endlessly intrigued by this brush-stroke taking wave to cloud, questioning whether the brilliance of painting with failing sight can be regarded as the true beginning of Impressionism.

You’ll have to excuse me for a slightly UK-centric look at what must be a global occurrence, but such is my frame of reference. We have an annual art award, The Turner Prize, which never fails to get the more reactionary mainstream press hitting the “be outraged” key for the chattering classes. Over the years the media used by nominees has included elephant dung (Chris Ofili); concrete (Rachel Whiteread’s internal cast of a house); bronze (the Chapman Brothers’ Death which was painted to look like the blow up dolls and dildo that they had cast); a bed (Tracey Emin); and pottery (Grayson Perry). Not, “provocateurs” Chapman Brothers. Not, “shocking” Tracey Emin. Not, “challenging” Grayson Perry. I’ll be the one to decide how provoked, shocked or challenged I am by a piece of art.

The best critics, those that I look up to and hope to emulate (rip-off, plagiarise, imitate, fail to get near to) have forthright opinions that they present to and not foist upon readers – let’s face it, as consumers of their words readers are unlikely to need to be told what to think. Just by being attracted to an article of this nature, the reader is demonstrating a certain intelligence or at least an inquisitive mind – only a pseud needs telling what to think. One critic who often, but not always, pulls off the feat of presenting and not foisting is Jonathon Jones, in the UK’s Guardian newspaper ( The joy of his writing is that anyone can comment – he defends his position, sometimes as an elegant fencer, epee-ing contributors easily. At others times, he snarls and swipes like a cornered tiger. He doesn’t always win, but he never shies away from a fight. I’d suggest searching for his May 2011 article on Mark Leckey. Not only does he defend his current opinion, he also (quite remarkably) has to defend his right to change his mind.

However, even those who like to think they live outside “the system” or recognised art establishment aren’t immune to shouting their opinions at us. Protests about the Turner Prize are not limited to the playfully ignorant press. Happily, this is done with a wit and knowingness that words alone cannot convey. Banksy had one of his finer moments when he stencilled “Mind The Crap” on the steps of the Tate before the prize-giving one year; something which might have already come back to haunt him, in the derivative, dull and ultimately pointless Exit Through The Gift Shop, may mark him down as a hypocrite as he expressed a desire to support his nomination at this year’s Oscars ceremony, or perhaps it’s one more example of his searingly post-modern criticism of art. You decide.

Mighty Samurai Pen – An Interview With Wataru Yoshida

Wataru Yoshida was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1987. In 2007, Wataru chose to pursue an education in design at the Tama Art University, majoring in graphic design and illustration. He enjoys working intensively, and his illustration series “Body” is no exception to that rule. His design interests are not limited to illustration. Wataru’s work has been shown in other related design mediums. His portfolio includes works that have been incorporated into the posters, advertising, photography, designs for T-shirts, manufactured goods, even catalogues. One of his designs of T-shirt, for example, features an illustrated body structure that matches the physical system underneath, when worn. Wataru believes everything starts with an idea. When creating his work, his focus remains on creating images that are new and interesting.

It wasn’t going to be easy, interviewing Wataru Yoshida in Tokyo, Japan whilst I was in the final days of a short chapter in Samara, Russia. I had no teleporter, and despite repeated pleas about the necessity of a face to face interview and a Japanese language implant in my brain (they have those now, right? I mean, as I remember of the sci-fi promises from my dimming and distancing youth, that was coming before the flying car and after the food pills), the editors were having none of it. I mean, business class would have sufficed, and a translator.

I’ve been to Japan once before, and I didn’t understand the place very well; it was a three day stopover and I was confused at every turn. What will I make of Wata? Introducing ourselves over Skype messenger, it became clear that Wata’s English eclipsed my Japanese, but it was not quick enough for a fluent chat…you are about to read a re-jigged version of our Skype/email conversation.

>Hi Mr Yoshida, what should I call you, first of all?
Hi Luke, please call me Wata. Where are you?

>I’m in a cafe on Leningradskaya Street, Samara, Russia. Where are you Wata?
-Russia? Wow! I’m in Tokyo.

>How are things there? Before we start, I just wanted you to know that are thoughts are with your people after the recent disaster.
-Thankyou for being worried about the Japanese people. I am in the bathroom now, please wait for 30 minutes.


>I was just looking at the smoke rising from the chimneys in the “My Laboratory” line drawings – they are the only colour. Are you trying to see the beauty in our industrialised world, or make a comment on pollution?
-No, this work was made trying to imagine my art university. Whilst there is a continual flow of work at university, it is not mass production like a factory, but highly individual. I expressed it by colorful smoke – this work is anti-mass production.

>Sorry for the delay, I was lighting a cigarette, filthy habit that’ll kill me. Are you a smoker? Or is “Lungs” an anti-smoking piece?
-Yes, I’m a smoker. This piece is an anti-theme for “me”. And, I guess this theme is very fun visually. I get out of bed, I smoke a cigarette right away each day. I love “KENT” cigarettes. I started to smoke at high-school. Japanese law prohibits smoking under 20 years old. So, I received attention sometimes. Yes, sometimes I am disgusted by it…but, I can’t stop it…haha Yes! me too. I worry about it. I struggle with my addiction daily too. You and I are comrades..haha.

>What inspired the piece? It’s one of your witty works, like the body T-Shirts.
-My work is purely about curiosity and that is the only spur. My inspiration is it. It occupies my mind.

>But you must have some inspiration? The écorché of Da Vinci, perhaps?
-I refer not only to Da Vinci but also to more anatomical artists. I have seen other references. For example, Andreas Vesalius. However, I don’t like grotesque things. And yet, I choose this theme.
I suppose I don’t see this theme as grotesque, I merely have pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the anatomy of mammals.

>Do you appreciate the earlier work of Damien Hirst – The Impossiblity of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, for example?
-I wasn’t thinking especially about Damien Hirst when making these works, but I like his works. I have noticed my work has similar motifs when I finished it. There is a chance I was influenced but I probably failed to notice.
Again, I recommend Andreas Vesalius. I have referred to his anatomical works. His anatomical illustration is very good. At first, I didn’t know his name when I started drawing this work, but my friends said “Look at this anatomical illustration by Andreas Vesalius. He is good.” So I got to know his name. Since then, I have referred to the Atlas series. Atlas is a famous anatomical/medical book and even though this is very expensive in Japan, I bought it.
I have been greatly influenced by Oroz Istvan. He is a graphic designer from Hungary. Not only that, he is famous for his animation as well. His work includes copperplate expressions and tromp l’oeil simliar to Escher. It was his copperplate expressions that inspired me in particular. I don’t use copperplate in my work, but I use fine point pens to draw, to emulate it.

> I can imagine you drawing – a young man crouched over some paper, completely involved in his work. Maybe the only light comes from a lamp beside you, and your concentration leads to your tongue sticking out of your mouth. Am I close to the reality? What is your creative process, once inspired?
-Yes, I’m very focused when working on originals. Sometimes I keep drawing for hours on end. It’s just as you imagine. Though I don’t put my tongue out while drawing (haha). And, I take time to look at and to research some reference material. First I draw realistic works, after that I add my original ideas, gradually.

>Let’s talk about the “Brain” series.
-Specifically, it is not a series. I believe everything starts with an idea. When creating the Side Face, my focus remained on creating images that are new and interesting. This is one of the my favorite works. I drew this degisn in my early career, and it took a lot of time and energy. The reason why it is drawn in black and white is that it is easier to copy my original design without being influenced by the function of a printer, because I thought the copies would be true to the original beautiful and attractive design. Brain Light is based on the finding of ideas and hints that came to me during the production, not as you may think from cartoons – even though I liked to draw and paint MANGA as a child In particular, I liked to draw fine/sensitive paintings. So I went to art university this is a natural progression. I didn’t dream of being an illustrator in the future. Simply, it was the first time I was interested in illustration. Brain Quake is an idea that expresses the explosion and radiation in the brain. This work doesn’t particularly refer to earthquakes.

>The earthquake. What was your personal experience of the recent earthquakes and tsunami?
-First, I’m OK after the earthquake and tsunami. I’m in Tokyo and my family and all friends are safe. After the earthquake, almost all the public transportation stopped in Tokyo, which caused a little panic amongst people who tried to make it back home by bus/by car/on foot. The real damage is in Northern Japan, and I just cannot believe my eyes to see views of those areas on TV…Northern Japanese people still need someone to help.

>Do you think your work may be influenced by this in the future?
-Yes, of course. The Japanese graphic design scene will certainly change after this earthquake. Japanese advertising already changed. Many Japanese companies have self‐imposed control in advertising already. I have never seen a large earthquake & tsunami like this in my life. So, I can’t understand the future. But Japan is sure to revive. I believe it.

>We believe it too. Moving on; “Stomach” – what’s the thinking behind the organ being closed by a shell?
-This piece of work does not have any hidden theme underneath, rather my work is done mostly to seek visual appeal. My interests extend to photography, typography and etc. In fact, one of my favorite things is photography.

> It is easy to see your love of photography. “Compostion of Mammals” combines the fine delicacy of high resolution photography with the detailed curiosity of 18th century anatomists. Do you have a love of science or of history – or of both?
-Thank you so much. These are my favorite works, my graduation works at university. The description of this work is;
“A series of Photographs, to show a pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the Anatomy of Mammals. The motive for the series of Photographs, “Composition of Mammals”, is to show the complex and interesting structure of mammals’ bodies. I came up with an idea of an exhibition, “The Composition of Mammals”, which studies the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls. I tried to visually explain the context of the show by incorporating my diagram-like illustrations of bone structures and photographs that I took and edited myself. This project was my graduation work at Tama Art University.” First, the original drawing was done on paper. Then the drawn image was scanned. When necessary, additional drawing was done, then modified to be combined with the original drawing. I took photographs of the mammals at the same time. After taking photos, I modified them. Finally, I combined them. I don’t know science in detail but it interests me. Specially, the universe interests me. I love world and Japanese history too. If I could bring something back to life, it would be men of olden days, and hear about world or Japanese history. I am interested in Japanese and world history. Or I would bring back my ancestors. I will try to trace my ancestry. By the way, my ancestors are Samurai. It is true.

>The pen might yet be mightier than the sword, Wata. When are you happiest?
-I am happy when I have finished a piece of work. And when these works have made someone happy. It is the same for anyone creative. I try to please someone. And I smoke a cigarette right away each day when I get out of bed. I’m happiest at that time. And I love some coffee. Coffee and cigarettes are a perfect fit..

>Those dangerous smokes again. What is your greatest fear?
-My fear is “time”. Ti me passes quite quickly. The Beatles said “Life is very short!” I agree. I hate it.

>What is your great love, besides art?
-It is my family. And, my friends. And some exciting things that I still don’t know. I love that some people inspire me, spur me on.

>Family. What influence did your parents have on you? What was your upbringing like?
-I had a very strict upbringing, but I was a free and troublesome child that vexed my parents. I think that this upbringing converse to my free nature. But I love my parents. I had a strict upbringing, then again, my parents pampered me. I am an only child. I know now that my parents love me.

>Any final thoughts for our readers, Wata?
-Thank you for you read my bad English. I think it is hard work. I’m studying English.
The many Japanese man can’t speak English. Generally people can speak Japanese only.
and, generally Japanese people don’t go to abroad for a work. The Japanese people end’s my days in my country. I think we should go to abroad. The Japan is very small country. world is very big! I hope so. I hope to know many people.

>Wata, I’m fairly sure you’ll be understood wherever you are. Thanks.

Secret Garden Part 1 y

I’m sure I’m fine, feel a little blue and appear to have cultivated an array of spots around my nose and the other facial creases so detested by the teenagers of our planet. I’ve got sketchy memories of a great weekend, and a firmer belief that my expanding social circle will cane their way into their forties, like a schoolteacher just awoken to his true perversion. I’ve lost clothes, and found paint where it shouldn’t be. I keep smiling at the oft rising thought of Badgers. I missed Tayo and Lisa, but I caught Dreadzone and The Whip. My guts troubled me, but all the time I heard myself ordering more cider and avoiding all food. A camper van housed me in a true caravan of tents whilst Spartacus and Leaf made themselves at home. Ladies and Gentlemen, I went to a festival, The Secret Garden Party. It was Restorative to the spirit.

You’ve got to get there; someone has to bring wheels to the party. Our party started in style at The Willow Tree opposite Langley station. Empty at 11am, J and myself popped across to this Platinum Piss Provider and had Stella 4% (which our barlady charmingly referred to as “childbeater”) medicined with something brightening. Soon we were refreshed to the point that J was making wild claims about his grandpappy having had the plan to avert WW2 (reparations were too harsh, breeding nationalism apparently), whilst my earnest protestations that I had the original ideal for both YouTube and Facebook went unheard. No wonder it makes plants grow. Thankfully Lenny arrived, carrying A & E. I can’t even be bothered to make a joke about that – all I know is that just a few hours and about 17 pit stops later J and I were wrestling a canvas draped over bending legs. (If I’d know then the mayhem inside the festival, and the costs of damaging Lenny the campervan’s awning, we’d have made some kind of covered spider thing under which we could snort, wheeze, dab and gag to our hearts’ content.) Phone calls were made, people gathered around the cream VW and excitement escalated. G & P, three kids flung to grandparents, strolled up having had a mooch about. C & L shook in, R made it with M and I currently look at this screen rather chuffed that no initials duplicate. Very considerate parenting of friends.

Three nights. THREE nights. And yet, there every single last one of us are, getting utterly mortal on night one. By the time we made it to the entrance, things stashed amongst hats and pants and socks and God-knows-where-else, we couldn’t care less about the dogs. I wasn’t the only one who felt like stroking the lovely little buggers. I’ll be honest, my memory starts faltering here. I think we met S (is that free? Can I use that one? YES!) later on, but maybe he found us at the gates. We agreed to meet at the Pink Marquee Beer Tent (almost certainly not its name), and on our way were diverted by an alarming moment. Have you seen someone fall without trying to break it at all? Just going over, backwards, without putting arms out or bending knees? It is quite the funniest fucking thing I have ever seen. I think I managed a castrated yelp of hilarity before I realised he was fitting. Emotionally up and down in a moment, second time my poor heart has had to deal with that this year. Anyway, poor kid was having a fit and got seen to, so we all went on our merry way, down dale and over water. SGP is set in a wonderful valley. In Cambridgeshire. If someone can explain why that’s going on in the Fens, that’d be good. Much in the same way as I hadn’t realised Lenny was left hand drive ‘til we arrived.  Dear reader it’s a cocking surprise that i) you’ve come this far & ii) I can remember.

We drank and met H and his godson. (No ‘H’ yet? Ace.) O & D didn’t turn up until the next day, but I am SO fucking happy that we’re still good on initials that I thought I’d best pop them in now. There was hair stroking, stumbling and to be fair, a lot of lost time. Someone must have spiked my sherbet Dib Dab, because all I can recall is slinging myself around a rope web in the Badger area, talking to trees, searching for a ring whilst trying to second guess the exhortations of its owner as cries of despair or deliriousness, Kafka, a toy hat and it being bloody chilly on the way back. Oh, and The Egg didn’t turn up or weren’t booked. I saw some Industrial Punk (that is how I distinctly remember identifying it at the time) and some hip hop. It’s fair to say I went overboard and watched some shipmates sail away in the distance. I’ve not mentioned our naval theme yet, oops. Seeing as this is for limited eyes, I’ll not edit – we all went dressed under that said theme. There were pirates, cheeky sailors, officers and gentlemen. Next year, I’ll be a perambulating house brick copulating with a fly swat, and feel a bit straight. The costumes were amazing. I salute, or doff my cap or sing the Star Spangled Pan Handlers to those that put in more effort than us. Suffice to say that I needed sparkly make-up to feel at least a little un-normal along with the whispering K-heads, the mong-eyed stoners and pilled-up trance freaks. Badger, Badger, Badger. We loved it.

After much cajoling, J made bacon butties the next morning. I had put not one thing up this delicate nose of mine, yet still I blustered and guffawed like grandpappy. I cursed the dry, warm conditions, that some would say are perfect conditions for a festival. Buggery and damnation, if I want to feel like that, I’ll spend £60 and talk shit for a few hours in a Luton bedsit with strangers. I’ve had just about enough of getting eggshell paint over this keyboard. If you want your memory refreshed via my memories let me know.

A Pint With Gavin James Bower

It would be easy and lazy to review Dazed & Aroused, by Gavin James Bower, as an easily written, lazy pastiche of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. And whilst the similarities are evident, and the author himself has spoken at great length about the influence the book has had on his novel, very few reviews of Orwell’s 1984 began by referencing the fact that it was a direct take on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. It simply isn’t an issue.

But let’s not get caught up in the name checking of the greats. Bower’s book is an accomplished, wry take on the world of modelling. For a debut novel, written in the first person, the simple assumption to make would be that this is more memoir than fiction. Not so, says Bower when we meet in a West End pub to discuss this book and his next, Made In Britain.

“Consciously, at the time of writing it, it wasn’t me. I took a lot of examples as an observer, of the photo shoots and scenarios that I found myself in and creating characters from there.” After two more sentences, and a draw on his pint of stout, Bower continues, “The disposition of Alex and how he views the world is very much a part of me…”

This isn’t as contradictory as it at first sounds. Bower modelled for “18 months, on and off” and never knew the success that Alex enjoys in Dazed. (“I was never a rich or successful model”). I use the term ‘enjoys’ advisedly. The arrogance and ennui that is so much of his character, the unquestioning acceptance of having a successful look always leaves the reader feeling that the best restaurants are not quite enough, and even partying hard after fashion week is an empty experience. Bower impresses on the point, “In all seriousness, Alex is an extension of me in many ways – a parody.” When discussing the limited amount of drug taking in the book, Bower is “making it up”, a charming reinforcement of the fact of the fiction here.

As we sit outside the pub, the day starts to close and the chilly spring evening takes hold. Royal Mail vans return to their nearby base, sirens wail and rubbish bins are seen to. Over Bower’s shoulder I can see a man pleading for a cigarette from one of the patrons that has ventured outside in the hope of an unmolested smoke. I am relieved when the beggar walks past, happily puffing away. This scene is startlingly similar to a repeating theme in Dazed;

“London is always about juxtapositions, always about that horrible clash – checking your Blackberry and emails on the way to work, whilst stepping over a beggar in a sleeping bag.” I mention that it felt close to being overdone. “Maybe remarking on that is not that clever to point out, but it is there.” Alex gets that there is the poverty there, he sees it, but “he refuses point blank to engage.”

And there it is. Graffiti, clothes, even the silent models are more interesting to Alex than people.

Bower started writing at university in 2002, which led to journalism jobs for Dazed & Confused amongst others. In 2007, suddenly unemployed, he set to paper the story that had been gathering momentum in his mind since his move to London, two years previously. He’s modest about the success of Dazed, and optimistic about writing the screenplay for it, and the forthcoming publication of Made In Britain, his second novel.

Made In Britain is the story of three 16 year olds set in Every Town. Charlie, Russell and Hayley are dealing with their issues, reacting to the world about them. Was it difficult writing about kids of this age? “I don’t know why I’m writing about 16 year olds, maybe it’s a fucking big mistake,” he laughs. There’s disarming honesty to this phrase, but clearly a confidence too. A sneak peak of Made In Britain is available here. Have a look around the rest of the blog; Bower is no Bret Easton Ellis, what he is, is a writer finding his own voice, in his own time.

“That’s good, Bad.”

The Date has a thing for Jeff Bridges. So it was that last night we took ourselves Haymarket way to take in the latest, acclaimed role by The Dude, The Starman, The Baker Boy.
I don’t visit the cinema too often; I get restless and prefer the comfort of home. This little nugget can be used as evidence that the place studying film at Southampton Institute of Higher Education, through clearing, all those years ago, was more a leap away from administering enemas to constipated adults liable to bite at any time, than a true love of celluloid. One thing I did learn in my truncated stay on the south coast was that cinema is an experience in itself. (I also learnt that the films of DW Griffith may have been ground breaking and all that, but they were dull and occasionally racist. That was the sum total of my year, although off-syllabus I tucked a couple of ultimately pointless skills up my sleeve.)
We draughted a couple of drinks away in the Tom Cribb over the road from the picture house, and stole in with some contraband Maltesers and sours. Big screen, big auditorium, big seats and a great big muttering nutter behind us.
Crazy Heart has seen Bridges nominated for an Oscar, and it invokes the spirit of last year’s sentimental favourite, The Wrestler. ‘Bad’ Blake is a washed up country star, sustained on one record, contstant cigarettes and a dangerous relationship with McClure’s Whiskey. “Sometimes Fallin’ Feels Like Flying” is the ancient, oft requested hit. A beautiful song which affords Colin Farrell a strong moment, in a fine short performance as Tommy Sweet. The small gigs are punctuated by one night stands with middle aged fans, until he is introduced to Jeannie, played by the more-beautiful-than-the-sum-of-parts Maggie Gyllenhaal. What follows is a love story of sorts, and its inevitable colouring by the booze.

He looks a bit like this in the film. But with a beard and a guitar.

What surprised me most about the film was the artistry of it. The soundtrack by Bridges’s friend T Bone Burnett and vistas caught by Barry Markowitz are woven well by first time writer/director Scott Cooper, and Bridges plays the lead with a weary lightness. Dropping the phone to dry heave his tattered guts into the toilet is bleak, and one of the low points of the film. The crazy behind us thought is was hilarious. This is no work of genius, but it is a good film, with fine performances and excellent music.
To end our experience, we retired to the Criterion, and sipped some bourbon. We raised a glass to the excellent ‘Bad’.

Shunt @ The Vaults, London Bridge Station

As it is such an unusual night in a terrific location, it’s going to be as difficult to write about Shunt as it was to capture some photos on my underpowered, flashless cameraphone – where on earth (in this flat) have I left my camera? My date suggested bashing out a few vignettes, as varied and separate as the high-roofed rooms, candle-lit in the vaults below London Bridge station. This is not to say that the place has a discordant feel; one is led deep into the bowels of the building in wondrous harmony. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I got there just after 8 and straight away was struck by the queue of people. Not commuters reinvigorating Oyster cards, nor weekday day zombies seeking the panacea of coffee. “Arty” is the crowd lining up for Shunt. My trilby, to my consternation, is ubiquitous. I snaked against the tide of the achingly hip and windily arty. There was the date, gorgeous as ever and after catching up, she informed me that inside her bag was a bottle of fizzy, chilled contraband. Without the intention of taking it inside to drink, honestly, we plodded slowly to the entrance and proffered photo ID. It was required of all; this had nothing to do with our supernaturally youthful looks.

Date’s bag was checked on the way in, and whilst fairly big, we were stunned that security failed to spot the Lanson (dahling). Our original intention to drink it by the river was abandoned. In fairness, the light is very dim, as the photos illustrate, and I’m not complaining. Partly due to this darkness, it’s difficult to get a handle on the layout of The Vaults. We wandered towards the back, taking the odd detour sideways. Large rooms with a few tables, a poetry space, a cinema with airline seats and a stand alone cube stage made of pallets, all served by bars. Live contemporary violin resounded through the halls, relayed by an efficient sound setup.

By the time we’d found the back, our eyes were acclimatised to the light. And we found a door out to the road behind, a chance to smoke, and reflect on just what in the name of God was going on in there. We agreed that it was pretty enchanting.

We crushed our cigarettes into the asphalt and showed our red-stamped wrists for re-entry. We’d identified a room with a candlelit table away from the growing crowd, and in the haze I popped the cork and poured two plastic glasses of champagne. This was all very civilised, I must say. I felt like Jay Joplin channelling Terry Thomas at a Sisters of Mercy concert. Well, I can say that now, because I’m a bit of a ponce; truth is I was simply having a great time.

In fact, the great time feeling meant we finished the bottle in double-smart time. Firstly, it was good, chilled and thoroughly drinkable, but more tellingly, we just didn’t want to get thrown out. Despite the meagre light and our secluded location, we felt highly visible. The photos posted here were taken in the most brightly lit areas. As we sat at the table, the violin played out, and a parade of sorts took past us. At its head, a broad white performer, dressed as a gentleman pirate from the 18th century, was spitting ragga rhymes. He climbed another of the temporary pallet stages and his poem played out over a few minutes, the audience flowing around him.
The story complete, a strange force drew us back out to the station entrance; a Cornish pasty seemed perfectly at home with our hunger and a stroll around strip-lit London Bridge station an interesting opposition to the vaults.

Sat once more with drinks in hand, new music floated through, influenced by The Doors from the L.A. Woman era. Drawn as if by sirens to yet another stage, we watched as the guitar wielding soloist plucked and strummed songs ranging in style from beach bum love songs to tormented blues.

Whilst not as cheap as our naughty sparkles, the drinks are pretty reasonably priced, and once our VAT and Organic Lager were drained, we dropped some tequila shots back and headed once more towards the entrance, this time to take in the art of Bob Aldous. With a central motif of cave paintings of deer, Bob’s work was not immediately accessible. However, the repetition bangs like a drum, the lighting no stronger than a campfire; the occasional candle casting shadows and the rippling reflection of water maintained the charade of Neolithic times. Date is vegetarian (the pasty was tomato, basil and herb, and bloody good too), so she was not as taken with the boar skins as I was. The deer motif is picked out on the hide of one Italian boar by smoking around it, a powerful yet simple device. Whilst Bob was probably a little irritated by my commercial concerns, a hangover from a previous life as a gallery owner, I found his passion and enthusiasm engaging, and the works should be seen.

There are two small cinema areas. We took some time to watch the collage of fact and fiction space scenes in a perversely intimate yet open space. This feeling of separation infiltrated us during our visit; there are many people around, but somehow the experience is so personal.

By now we were nearing our last train home. Another quick short and we took our leave of the place, high on liquor and the excitement of the new. On reflection we agreed we should have stayed, and next time we will, lost in the condensation streaked walls and high arches of a forgotten part of London.

Why Haven’t You Eaten At The Paradise By Way Of Kensal Rise?

In my opinion, there aren’t enough gastropubs named after GK Chesterton poetry. And in the opinion of many others, there simply aren’t enough gastropubs that would satisfy a gastronome.

The Paradise (as it is more simply known) does more than satisfy, certainly if the monthly dinner club is anything to go by.

The concept is simple. Once a month the first 22 people to reserve a space dine in the upstairs private dining room, which is decorated with tiara-wearing taxidermy. The table is long and you sit in the seat allocated by the excellent hostess, Zoe.

My companions were a fashion designer to my right, a banker across the table and a music producer at my left. My new friend the music producer was particularly generous with her food, so whilst I wrapped a mouthful of the bresaola around its accompanying celeriac remoulade (its strong bite a greater counterpoint than horseradish) for her, she gave me a spoonful of her pumpkin and parmesan soup.

The sea bass main melted in its sweet and sour jus and the venison was as pink and tender as one could wish for. Even with generous portions, there was just room for the delightful sticky toffee pudding with coffee.

All this, with a couple of glasses of wine, was only £25. At that price, a tip of less that 20 percent seemed mean. Eat there as soon as you can.

The Paradise, 19 Kilburn Lane, Kensal Green, London, W10 4 AE

Tel. 020-8969-0098