Saturday, September 23, 2006

Here's a photo of Modern Talking. Just look at them.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Czech Republic is a fine place for mullet spotting. I’m not talking about smug, ironic mullets – what a stupid bloody idea anyway – or your painfully fashionable grown-out Hoxton fin, which upon closer inspection is merely a hideous re-hash of the 80s original, and in years to come is assuredly doomed to suffer the same incredulous derision. No, I’m talking about MULLETS. Big, fat, flapping, unreconstructed belters. We’ve got ’em to spare.

This isn’t to say that the Czech Republic is a particularly unfashionable country. It’s rightly noted for its highly presentable womenfolk, and the younger generation of males is now becoming fast drawn in to the cult of the metrosexual. Nevertheless here, unlike in the UK, the mullet remains immortal.

In dear old Albion I remember the mullet being deemed coiffure non grata way back in the summer of 1985 – anyone returning to school in September that year with one still attached was subjected to merciless ridicule. Only the truly gallant and foolhardy made it to October. A few footballers, possibly because they were too old for school, seemed impervious and continued to carry the torch for a few years. The proudest moment in my home town’s entire recent history, is in fact marked by a mullet – when our fearsome captain Brian “Killer” Kilcline, whose indomitable mulletude paralysed the Tottenham defence and forced the deciding own goal, lifted the FA Cup for the Sky Blues in 1987 with blond, poodle-permed locks cascading down his back and a humdinger of a moustache to boot. Them were the days. It couldn’t be sustained though, and when Chris Waddle, a losing finalist in the same encounter and English football’s longest serving mulleteer, cut off his plumage in an act of self-flagellation following his disastrous missed penalty in the 1990 World Cup, the mullet was officially pronounced extinct on our shores.

Not here! When I first arrived in this country in the mid 90s I could hardly believe my eyes. Gangs of mullets stalked the streets. Imagine my sense of cultural alienation when I found that in virtually every pub there were whole tables populated exclusively by them, holding heated debates in a language I couldn’t understand. Going to watch my local football team, Sigma Olomouc, I remember the days when almost every single player on the pitch sported one. Referred to here as the “carp”, thus remaining faithful to the piscine metaphor (quite naturally, as a landlocked country, opting for a freshwater variety), it hasn’t enjoyed quite such auspicious times since, and has beat something of a tactical retreat. Rarely seen these days in the trendy, cosmopolitan centre of Prague, driven back by the invasion of foreign influences and the aforementioned advent of the metrosexual, it has dug its trenches deep in the villages and urban housing estates, where it still enjoys widespread popular support.

Its natural habitat is either the village pub, or in the towns, the all night “Herna” bar – horrendous, smoke-filled dives full of cheesy, flashing-bleeping fruit machines and filthy graveyards for those desperate to carry on drinking. It surfaces in a variety of forms, but the Holy Grail is probably greasy rat tails at the back, tapering up to gelled spikes on top and for that extra touch of class the “reverse sideburn” effect, whereby a triangle is shaved off the temple to make a straight line connecting the top of the ear and the fringe. Important accessories include the quintessential beer gut and moustache, along with shell suit bottoms and chunky gold or silver chain worn over a T-shirt or even skin-tight polo neck for the true stalwarts. And it is this familiar combination of sportswear and jewellery, as well as the predilection for smoking and the basest forms of gambling, that is so revealing. Yes, mullets here are Chav Dads.

Just as their bastard offspring in the UK confounded us by reviving the grotesque 80s tracky botts phenomenon we thought we’d seen the back of when Acid House came along, the chavs’ Czech Dads (and who’s to say they aren’t their real dads?) continue to wage their guerrilla war against taste here. In spirit they are similar to, if a great deal less stylish than the old Teddy Boys, who, now pensioners, still slap on the brylcreem, or white haired ex-skinheads who stay true to the army crop. These fishy characters, for as long as they live, are unshakeable in their determination never to let us forget the golden age when Scorpions, Opus and Modern Talking topped the hit parade.

And a glance at those names provides a clue as to why we’re so uncomprehending and left out in the cold: It’s a Euro thing, you wouldn’t understand.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Having ranted about the tawdriness of the Czech political scene, I feel the rather bathetic political scuffles here have been somewhat upstaged by recent events just round the corner in Hungary. Not quite a clear cut issue here (is it ever?), since the anti-government rioters are reportedly made up largely of opportunistic looters and right wing extremists. And in addition, even if he probably should resign, it’s difficult not to feel a smidgeon of admiration for the paradoxically refreshing honesty of a PM who simply says “we lied”.

Changing the subject completely, I recently received a heartily encouraging and thoroughly eloquent missive from my former schoolmate Rob, always a pleasure to hear from such a man of letters. Rob works for a bookshop in London and so, in his own words, gets to “flirt with the outer circles of publishing”. Clearly a world which has its ups and downs, and he inadvertently offers up a few words which may be of some consolation to certain parties who are still licking their wounds following skirmishes with the business:

On the plus side, went to the launch party for the new Irvine Welsh a few weeks ago and am going to the Martin Amis one in a fortnight. On the minus side, most of the people
I've met in publishing so far are called Jemima and are vacuous beyond
belief but I do get the feeling that some of them could suck a marshmallow
through a police horse....

Now that’s writing!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Unlikely congratulations this week go to Pope Benedict XVI, who, admittedly through no virtue of his own, has pissed off huge amounts of self righteous, humourless twats all over the place. I have to concede it is a little unfair to portray Islam as a violent religion, as its devotees have proven by taking to the street, screaming and beating their chests. I wonder if they’ll set fire to any embassies, as they did when a newspaper which can be read by no more than a few dozen Muslims worldwide published cartoons depicting the great prophet in that cesspool of sin and vice Denmark (well, they do eat a lot of bacon there). Perhaps they’ll accidentally trample a few of their own kind to death in their frenzied clamour to show just how non-violent they are. Of course, the words “pot” and “kettle” do rather come to mind here – this is the Pope talking, for God’s sake. I think I’ll let history put my case for me, i.e. that a non-violent religion is an oxymoron, you idiots!

Of course, the Pope’s defence (personally I think he’s being a pussy) is that he was quoting another great Christian scholar, whose views he doesn’t necessarily endorse. Why quote him then, Benny boy? And why use that particular quote? Are you telling me that there are no quotes anywhere, in any ecclesiastical chronicles throughout history, which promote non-violence without sniping at other religions? No? Well think up one of your own then.

Easy target I know, organised religion, but when I’m fed a fat juicy maggot like that one I can’t resist rising to the bait. In a Papish spirit I’d like to finish off with a quote. I quote: “The Pope’s a fucking cocksucker”, unquote. Don’t know who said it (might have been Ian Paisley), and it in no way represents my own views, but it’s brilliant anyway.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sodding technology. I apologise for my failure so far to post any video clips on this blog, I’ve been experiencing technical difficulties. After seeking help from that all-round-good-egg, erm, the Impostume (any of that Humble Pie left over at your place mate?) I have been assured that the problem is essentially between youtube (apparently being updated) and blogger, in other words whilst it’s not my fault for being a fumbling technophobe, there’s more or less bugger all I can do for the moment.

Except of course to promise to rectify the situation when or if it becomes possible, and soldier on in the meantime without the light relief of videos, serving you up a gristly menu of concentrated rant.


I’ve enjoyed a good few smirks the last week or so reading about the Labour Party tearing strips off itself. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the reportedly explosive meeting between Blair and Brown – I wonder just how many times the word “cunt” was used. Is there anyone in the world who still believes that these two men don’t nurture nauseatingly sadistic, homicidal fantasies about one another? At least nice Mr Blair has now generously agreed to step aside within a year – no of course he wasn’t pushed, no undignified Thatcher-style exit for this man.

How thoroughly civilised in fact, compared with the departure here in CZ of PM Jiří Paroubek, a half-swaggering, half-waddling tank of a man, whose recent bullying conduct has helped elevate popular contempt for politics to new heights.

For those not in the know, I’ll try to provide a brief background. A general election was held here at the beginning of June. They can be quite tedious affairs, but this year’s campaign was spiced up when the Minister of Health and a particularly stupid political has-been from the opposition Civic Democratic Party had a good, old fashioned (and very public) fist fight. The damage done thereby to both main parties notwithstanding, the result of the election was that the 200 seats in the Czech version of the House of Commons were shared out thus: Civic Democrats (basically Tories) 81 seats, Paroubek’s Social Democrats 74 seats, Communists 26 seats, Christian Democrats 13 seats, Greens 6 seats. Paroubek was thus no longer the leader of the largest parliamentary party, but was evidently buggered if he was going to give up being PM without a fight. To hang onto power, his only option was to cosy up to the trusty political evergreens of the hard left.

The Communists here, unlike their counterparts in Hungary or Poland, for example, have not reformed themselves since the Velvet Revolution, and are essentially unrepentant about their illustrious history of torture, wrongful imprisonment, treason and murder. Understandably, from the revolution up to now, parties of all political hues have shrunk away from the prospect of bloodying their own hands by forming a government which relies on Communist support (although incumbent President Václav Klaus, arch Thatcherite and former Civic Democrat PM, who loves to portray himself as King Redscourge, made effective use of their parliamentary support in order to win himself his present office – another story). No such qualms however for Mr Paroubek, who, in his unrelenting and voracious struggle to hold on to power, has openly declared that he would quite happily enter into a coalition government with Martians (meanwhile his fellow Machiavelli of the soft left and great buddy in neighbouring Slovakia, Robert Fico, has himself just recently formed a government with the help of extreme nationalist parties). In a recent interview, when questioned on his power-hungry motives and wrecking tactics, Paroubek responded brusquely “I’m in politics, not the scouts”.

Doing the arithmetic then, the post-election situation here is stalemate – Social Democrats and Communists 100 seats, others 100 seats. All kinds of wrangling thus followed the election – involving not only conventional negotiations but also dodgy deals on both sides, including stories of MPs being bribed to defect with large sums of money – but the deadlock remained unbroken. Eventually, perhaps in the spirit of fair play, the task of forming a government was entrusted to Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek, who in comparison with the thuggish Paroubek comes across as a rather nice-but-dim incompetent, a veritable John Major in the making – with the exception that John Major, let us not forget, actually held power for seven years, whereas Mr Topolánek will be lucky if his reign extends to seven weeks. He has now been officially crowned PM, but so far appears to be a lame-duck leader, unable to get the necessary parliamentary support. In addition he has other problems – stories of an affair with another MP plastered all over the press, whilst his wife, with whom he still lives, is standing as a candidate in the Senate elections – for another political party.

Upon the transfer of office Paroubek brashly claimed that he fully expected to be back in the job of PM within a few weeks, and he may yet be right, which in turn means that we may be looking at the first government since 1989 in which the Communists play a part. In the meantime he continues to chuck spanners in the works and snipe from the sidelines whilst waiting for Topolánek’s attempt to form a government to falter, and it’s difficult to believe he’s not enjoying it.

In the midst of all this farcical grubbiness, life here in CZ goes on. The country hasn’t sunk to its knees, the economy, whilst not booming, is relatively stable, and all this in a situation where we’ve been effectively without a government since the beginning of June.

Which makes you think – perhaps anarchy is closer than we ever realised.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It is indeed loathsomely indicative of the paranoid times in which we live, cowed as we are by the fear of lawsuits or simply being misunderstood, that I feel obliged to launch my blog with a spineless disclaimer. Nevertheless, I think it is necessary to provide at least a context, if not a justification for my appearance on the information superhighway, which is that I have been rather rudely prodded into action by that treacherous and malevolent spirit known as the Impostume, who has been maligning me on his blog for nigh on a month now. I demand the right to defend myself, and thus if you object to the content of anything whatsoever that appears on this blog, please remember that essentially the Impostume is to blame.

I have for example been referred to as “Prague’s Most Poisonous Ex-Pat”, despite the fact that I have never in my life lived in Prague. I hate to be a pedant, but the somewhat inconvenient truth (from the point of view of alliteration) is that I have disdained the pleasures of the big smoke and opted to live an entirely different quarter of the Czech Republic called Olomouc – not a miserable, grey, post-communist hole as might befit a miserable, greying ex-communist (yes, I admit it, it was a very long time ago in my early teens I might add) such as myself, but actually a delightful if small university town in Moravia, some 150 miles or so to the east of the capital. “Poisonous Ex-Pat” however may be considerably more difficult to refute – but I shall struggle valiantly in my own humble manner to convince all and sundry that, contrary to everything the Impostume says, I am in fact a jolly nice man.

A vain enterprise no doubt (oh, come on, if a name like Frothing Spleen doesn’t convince you what will?), particularly if you saw my anti-Scritti Politti rant as published on the pages of the aforementioned scoundrel. I can only apologise and protest feebly that it was the content of a private e-mail and not intended for public consumption, but I was savagely betrayed, guv (see what I have to put up with, and he has the nerve to say “with friends like these..”). In addition I was misquoted – I said “treacly” take on reggae rather than “trendy”, but I surmise, perhaps magnanimously, that this particular oversight was due to the fact that the Impostume was as usual too vain to don his spectacles that day rather than the result of calculated malice. Actually, with regard to Scritti, there is a small part of me that lives in fear that I will one day hear something good by them and have to re-evaluate. However, I've successfully managed to avoid that moment for a number of decades now, and with minimal effort.

Anyway, I’ve devoted more than enough time to the Impostume (or possibly not, since other than myself he’s the only person I know of who’s guaranteed to read this page), and in any case would at least like to start off on a positive note rather than a vicious drubbing, just to prove my overall niceness and that. I begin with a belated elegy to a man about whom not a bad word can be said, the late, great Desmond Dekker. Now there, Mr Gartside (oh God, I haven’t descended into sniping already have I?), was a man who knew how to do reggae. Nothing treacly here, just sweet as a nut. Late 60s classics, such as 007, which appears on virtually every bargain bucket reggae compilation down your local HMV, are as brilliant as they are ubiquitous, and simply some of the most life-affirming music ever made.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Desmond Dekker is the way everything seemed so effortless with him, that he didn’t ever try to impress. He doesn’t sock it to ya in the manner of the mighty Toots, for example – he doesn’t have to, he’s enjoying himself too much. His music is a refreshingly buoyant celebration of life as he sees and lives it. Songs about gun-toting rude boys abound, but without any of the machismo of gangsta rap or political/moral hectoring (not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with either of those, you understand), delivered instead in a really quite un-macho, almost falsetto voice, with a wide open smile.

In fact after his recent, untimely death, someone (I think it might actually have been Mark Lamarr) said he defied anyone to listen to DD and not smile. I’d add to that – the reason it’s so hard not to smile upon hearing him is that he seems to be smiling himself whilst singing (no mean feat, by the way). None of your moody, sucked-in-cheek posturing with this man, in fact no posturing at all, although he could be quite a snazzy dresser at times. No supercool, spliffed-out laid-back attitude either, just easy, infectious positivity. Innocent, unselfconscious, life-affirming, celebratory, easy-going, enthusiastic… in fact he possessed all these qualities, which I myself so patently lack, in such abundance that I can only marvel at the genius of the man.

I apologise if all this sounds rather unoriginal, since several thousand obituaries must have been written about him recently, but it would seem like an omission not to state the obvious, i.e. that he, more than anyone else, was the man to bring Jamaican music to a white, British audience, long before the ludicrously overrated token-black superstar Bob Marley, whose name has become interchangeable with the word reggae for terminally lazy dullards worldwide. Desmond, God bless him, was in a different class entirely. I and thousands more overgrown skinheads salute you DD, RIP.

Above (I hope, not quite got the hang of this techno lark yet) is a clip of Desmond a bit later on after his move to the UK, in which he’d clearly fallen under the influence of Benny Hill. Now if that doesn’t make you smile…

All right, now I’ve been a good boy and bored everyone to tears by churning out some cliché-riddled paean-by-numbers to show how nice I am, can I write about something I hate now, Mum?

Boots ON!!

Primal Scream.

I fucking hate Primal Scream. I loathe them. Their existence ranks amongst the many things that I take as a really quite personal affront. This goes way back to my teenage years, and has solidified since into a granite-hard motherlode of disgust. Let me explain.

I’d better start at the beginning, when I was still a reasonably cute and innocent young pup of 14 or 15, circa 1986, and head over heels in love with my recent discovery, “Psychocandy”, which must surely still be a leading contender for The Greatest Album Of All Time. I thought I was pretty cool being into the Jesus and Mary Chain at that age, but alas in retrospect I was not, and it was this that became my downfall. I hadn’t been doing my musical homework (partly because I was too busy with my O Level homework) – I hadn’t yet started reading the “serious” music press (something I ceased to do a very long time ago – does it still exist?) and only occasionally listened to John Peel, not only did I have to be up for school early the next day but also I confess that my young ears baulked at the prospect of trawling through the mire of all the Stupids/Napalm Death/ENT kind of guff he played back then in the hope of hearing something decent.

The upshot is that when I heard through the grapevine that Bobby Gillespie had left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front a band called Primal Scream (AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!), I was unprepared. Woefully musically uninformed as I was, I expected them to be magnificent, a mighty, misanthropic howl along the lines of “You Trip Me Up”. So I got on a train to Birmingham (there were no half-decent record shops in Coventry in the mid 80s) and spent my hard-earned wages from my paper round on a copy of their single, “Crystal Crescent”. You can imagine the scenario when I got home after a seemingly endless return train journey and rushed straight to the turntable. It was the musical equivalent of Christmas morning, when the shiny new bike you were expecting turns out to be a rusty old scooter. What do you do? You try and hide your disappointment, do your utmost to somehow accommodate, even like the despised object, whizzing around on it in a few despondent circles before plopping yourself down on the floor and bursting into tears. I gave it two, maybe three spins, but… I was bewildered and gutted. Had anything ever sounded less like a primal scream? Appallingly meek, bored schoolgirl vocals, tinny, jangling guitars, an oddly jarring lack of rhythm and not even a hummable melody, let alone the Reidesque majesty I’d been expecting. The B-side, Velocity Girl, though quite a pretty little tune, offered little consolation. Pretty little tunes, after all, were not what I wanted from a band called Primal Scream, fronted by the man who had bashed the skins with such ferocity on Psychocandy.

This, for me, was a revelation, a rite of passage of the most unwelcome kind. It would be tempting to say that a shadow was cast over my youth, but that would suggest menace and foreboding, whereas the reality was more like an infuriating smudge you just can’t get rid of. I suddenly became aware that all that glittered was not gold in the world of alternative rock n roll, and in addition of the existence of an entire other genre I’d up to then been blissfully ignorant of – that of “Indie Pop” – more on those bastards later.

OK, I accept that I’ve whinged for long enough about personal traumas I really should have got over by now, it was an inevitable process we all have to go through and if it hadn’t been Primal Scream it would have been someone else. However, the juxtaposition with my favourite band, the Mary Chain, seems particularly cruel, and when all’s said and done, Primal Scream have always been shit, haven’t they? After a number of such poxy singles they released an album called “Sonic Flower Groove” for God’s sake, a title of such stultifyingly unimaginative 60s-throwback naffness that they richly deserved to be crowned the Spinal Tap of Indie there and then.

But did it happen? Did it my arse! Instead they went on and rubbed salt into the wound by becoming absolutely huge. Jumping on the bandwagon of the Madchester indie-dance crossover, they lazily grafted a shufflingly pedestrian dance beat onto a looped Stones bassline and called it “Loaded”. Huh, you mean like, on drugs, man, cool! There was absolutely nothing about this single that wasn’t an utter rip-off. Even the quote at the beginning had been used much more effectively, with glorious abandon a year or so before by the then upcoming Mudhoney – and that led to countless embarrassed scenes up and down the country that year as the grunge kids got up on the dancefloor, their expressions turning from joyful, poised-to-headbang anticipation to consternation when the quote went on for longer than it should, and then to outright dismay when the Primals’ stuttering shower of tepid diarrhoea started up. But they got away with it. Initially people smirked and noted dryly how much it resembled Sympathy For The Devil (and didn’t it just), but after a while to mention this became passé, even bad form. Whilst somehow it didn’t become passé or bad form to play the bloody track… how come? At this point I began to suspect a conspiracy.

My rancour and paranoia continued to ferment whilst these Jacks of All Trades, Masters of None excelled at neither indie nor dance but continued to amass a huge following from both camps. The few of us who were left unmoved grumbled that this was merely evidence that they represented the lowest common denominator, but were forced to revise even that opinion with the release of Screamadelica, which incomprehensibly managed to get the hitherto unconvinced critics on their side. Could our shrinking band of unconverted have been that wrong? Sure, it contained a few references, hinting at their cool taste in music, but it all seemed so contrived, so unoriginal, so clumsily pieced together, and all this after rock and dance had already been combined much more successfully and joyously years before on AR Kane’s criminally overlooked “I”, amongst other things. They got away with it. Again. I hate them.

Mercifully they went quiet for a while after that, and not too long after they returned I left the UK, which made it easier for me to ignore them. Perhaps mellowing with the years, I wish to state that I have nothing personal against the individual members of the band, and was pleasantly amused by Bobby Gillespie’s recent prank of changing a “Make Poverty History” poster to “Make Israel History”, a sentiment I heartily endorse. This story even has a happy end – after the Primals had become huge, their early work fetched quite a bit of money, preciously cutesy as indie kids are about 7 inch singles, and so as a poor and hungry student I was able to sell my copy of “Crystal Crescent” for considerably more than I bought it for. I daresay if my business skills had been better I could have sold it for a lot more, but nevertheless I made a tidy profit (thanks Bob!). Still hate their music though.

There. Aren’t I so much more eloquent when I’m being horrible than when I’m being nice? YES!! shout all my ex-girlfriends in unison.

Oh, Christ, don’t let me get started on THEM!