Sunday, 28 November 2010

Football related: So what did we learn?

Here's a preview of a Manchester United blog post I've written which should hopefully be appearing on before long.

So what did we learn?
Last weekend I made the trek up to Manchester to watch the home game against Wigan. In many ways the performance and result encapsulated our season so far. We won comfortably but it felt somehow hollow. It was a game that once upon a time would have potential for a cricket score yet the players on the pitch seemed uneasy at the prospect of facing nine men and were it not for the excellent Rafael and introduction of Scholes a one goal victory would have been all we had to show. The dominant feeling through much of this season has been that too many of our players have been playing within themselves and taking the easy option. The number of times we declined crossing opportunities to cut back inside and play in front of Wigan was alarming and in the absence of Scholes we laboured in possession - Nani in particular being guilty of slowing down opportunities to counter attack and Michael Carrick seemingly relapsing to the form that led me to question his future just a couple of weeks ago. It would be grossly unfair to overly criticise a team shorn of the craft of Berbatov, Scholes and Rooney (for the most part) but it had become a worryingly familiar pattern.

Then came yesterday - if I were Dannii Minogue I would do that annoying standing up and waving my hands at the audience thing about now. Manchester United showed up and for the first time in a long while our swagger was back. As the chant joyously celebrates we were Manchester United and we were doing what we want. Gone was the fretting over formation shapes, and even personnel, instead it was a relentless red tide of exhilrating football which completely blew Blackburn away. In light of the scoreline comparisons were understandably made to the destruction of Roma and the style with which players interchanged, sharing the ball like it was a precious gift and seeking out space to unleash yet more damage was certainly reminiscent of that famous night.

So what have we learned?

1 It was only Blackburn - The Guardian match report chose to focus on the inadequacies of Rovers much to my chagrin yesterday, yet it is important to bear in mind that they were poor and in the case of Chimbonda remarkably generous. An eerie sense of de ja vu took over as Michel Salgado produced a superb impression of Gary Neville at Stoke. No attacking threat of any sort was offered and the ease with which players were lured out of position brought back memories of Silvestre at his worst. However you can only beat the team in front of you. Could we have played that way against Chelsea, Arsenal or City? Perhaps not, but after listening to endless odes to Chelsea's ruthlessness against weaker opposition it was glorious to see us hand out a beating ourselves. I actually feel comfortable in our ability to hold a firm shape and retain posession against the bigger sides but what has been missing was the feeling that we can move up a gear and play pure attacking football. Each of Ferguson's great teams, whether featuring Kanchelskis, Yorke or Ronaldo have shown this quality and yesterday was a timely indication that the current incarnation can do the same.

2 We need Wayne Rooney
- He will never win back my affection and will forever be sullied as just like all the other money obsessed modern mercenaries but bloody hell can he play football. The signs he showed midweek blossomed here and his contribution to the performance yesterday should not be overlooked. A hugely underrated quality of Rooney - and the main reason I have often called for his deployment in the traditional Scholes role - is his awareness of when to hold possession and slow the tempo and when to pop off passes quickly or drive at the opposition. As we contemplate a future without the Ginger Prince I feel happier knowing that in his absence we can rely on at least one other player to recognise the importance of moving the ball quickly to exploit space. The best outcome of this is it influences other players - witness Park and even Nani keenly looking to move the ball into good areas at the first opportunity.

3 Berbatov is a luxury we can afford
- We may have to wait another six weeks to witness anything significant from the deft Bulgarian but can any Red really want to see a player of such mercurial talent sold in favour of a more functional alternative? I am not suggesting he be awarded the keys to Old Trafford and picked for every game - like many I have found it hard to defend him at times - yet in two games this season he has brought untold pleasure and quite simply plays the game in a way which epitomises what Manchester United should be about. He is the polar opposite to that tw*t from Argentina and I hope he stays at the club for years to come.

4 Rafael is the real deal
- Call off the search for the right back, what we all hoped has come to pass. Many of us have called for Rafael to be given a run of games and it is amazing the rapid progress he has made when given just that. Like all young players he has and will continue to make mistakes but what has impressed has been how he learns from them. The temptation to fly in on the contemptible El Hadji Diouf is something few could resist. Diouf always wears the expression of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man when under attack from the Ghostbusters and goes out of his way to bait players. Yet Rafael maintained his composure, continued to build the growing understanding with Nani and put the imbecile back in his box whenever the situation called for it. I feel the decision to sustain Neville's inclusion in the playing squad can be justified by his role in the development of the young Brazilian.

5 The curse of South Africa has lifted
- As poor as Rooney had been upon his return from the World Cup a far less high profile but equally damaging slump was afflicting Patrice Evra. It is no conincidence that in the early games of the season with Evra subdued and O'Shea or Neville on the other flank we looked weak both going forward and defensively. Over the last few games Evra has emphatically reminded us of just how vital he is to our style of play - the value of having such a talented natural footballer in the full back position was underlined by his contribution to the sublime Berbatov third which was the finest at Old Trafford for some time.

6 It's not all good news - I was delighted to see Ferguson make the decision to grant our imperious leader a well earned rest and offer a chance for Evans to feature in a great team performance in front of a crowd amongst whom several have doubted his appointment as the heir to Rio and Vida. This should have been a great opportunity yet the ease with which the admittedly monstrous Chris Samba handed off the Irishman before planting a consolation header was more fuel for the view that he lacks the presence to dominate the penalty box. I personally still feel Evans deserves time and hope to see this obvious flaw to his game eradicated over the next couple of seasons but the nagging fear remains that this is a quality that can't be coached into him.

7 What the hell happened in three days?
- The chubby, man boobed substitute that looked to be blowing out of his arse merely from the jog onto Ibrox morphed into a totally different animal by Saturday afternoon. Anderson put in the performance we have been craving since his early promise and it was a tantalising glimpse of what he could become. 94 out of 99 passes completed and a leading role in no less than three of the goals - the stats don't lie. Had this been the statistical report of a Paul Scholes performance you can bet your life Greedy Alan and the Preston Irishman would have eulogised the display on the Match of the Day sofa. As it was he garnered not a word of recognition but those who saw the game genuinely wondered whether he might be a more deserving recipient of man of the match than Dimitar 'Five Goals' Berbatov. That tells you everything you need to know about this display. Doron Solomon posted an excellent and timely blog yesterday morning on the issue of the frustrating Brazilian and let's hope this was the first step on the road to becoming the player we want him to be.

Well a magnificent seven seems an apt place to finish. Please comment and criticise to your heart's content.

and it's LIVE!

Tomorrow I am going to see the brilliant band The National at Brixton Academy. What is especially exciting about the gig is at the time of being offered the ticket I liked rather than loved The National, yet as I've listened to them loads since I have fallen head over heels for them. It promises to be a terrific gig and I might even grace the blog with a review. I have been lucky enough over the years to see countless gigs - the prime time being whilst studying at University in Leeds. I thought it might be apt if I add to the Five series with five artists who are fantastic live. These were certainly not my favourite artists at the time of viewing - in most cases far from it - yet they each massively impressed me and fast became essential parts of my collection.

Picture the scene. Leeds Festival 2006. If I'm honest I wasn't that fussed about many of the bands on show and was kicking my heels waiting for The Raconteurs. By mid afternoon I was feeling the effects of the previous night/morning as the brief adrenalin rush of laughing at the lead singer of The Hair's ridiculous expressions had worn off. So for reasons of not being arsed to move more than anything I hung around to watch Feeder. Now I used to really like Feeder - Comfort in Sound being a hugely underrated album - but had moved on and upon seeing them a few years ago in a support role I had been far from impressed. Enter the band, who reeled off hit after fantastic hit, playing with supreme enthusiasm that infected the whole crowd and awoke everyone from their slumber. By the finale of Just a Day as you looked around the crowd previously weary and tired faces were a sea of beaming smiles and bouncing. A notoriously difficult slot became a triumph.

A grainy video of that very song...

The Dears
No Cities Left was for me the finest album of 2003. So it was with great anticipation and excitement that the Canadian band came to my Uni city of Leeds to play the humble Cockpit. By the time I saw The Dears in February 2005 I had already seen many, many gigs at The Cockpit of varying quality. Quite frankly though I have a great deal of affection for it, as a venue it is pretty rubbish. The acoustics have never been good and clarity of sound is often lost. You can appreciate therefore that although excited I was not expecting much of a show - how wrong I was. The Dears made most of the previous bands I had seen at the venue appear unimaginative and lazy as they transformed a mediocre venue into an atmospheric wall of sound and vision. The light show, smoke and compelling stage presence of all members of the band brought a new quality to the music and it stands alone as the most impressive gig I saw in Leeds during my time there.

The Killers
One of the great melancholic experiences of life is connecting with an artist only for the rest of the population to steal them away from you. It leads to the nauseating 'I liked them before they went commercial' attitude of which I confess to having lapsed into at times in my younger days. Massive success of a band can at times mean you lose that emotional bond you once shared - Arctic Monkeys and Kings of Leon are recent examples. Like a reluctant mother they fly the nest and never seem the same. On the flip side, it can be tremendously thrilling to see a band you first saw show raw potential climb the ladder to gain huge success without compromising their style. Pleasingly the latter scenario describes my experience of The Killers. I dragged my best mate along to see this band who I had heard a single track from late night on Radio 1 and we witnessed an exhilarating performance in a small venue. We both suspected this band were going places and so it turned out when just a year later we saw them steal the audience away from home favourites Franz Ferdinand at T in the Park in 2004. The coup de grace though was to see them just two years after seeing them in a small venue in Leeds play second on the bill with a triumphant set at Glastonbury. It was spectacular to see such a rise yet still feel that same electricity that I felt when I saw them for the first time. On a side note, this was also the last song at my wedding so it ranks pretty highly on the nostalgia scale. Enjoy!

Stevie Wonder

Guns N Roses
My final choice is a classic example of how anticipation and atmosphere can actually contribute to a performance. It would be ridiculous to claim that Guns N Roses of 2002 were anything close to the heady days of Slash in the late eighties. However for a group of lads from Kendal to actually see Axel Rose performing Guns N Roses songs live was something we never, ever expected. Even on the day itself the expectation was that they wouldn't show and as we waited over an hour after The Prodigy it seemed that we would be disappointed. Even when the shady intro video came up still a further twenty minutes passed with nothing happening and spirits fell. The moment captured below when the intro to Welcome to the Jungle comes on and Axel emerges is the single most exciting moment I have ever experienced at a gig. The release of pure, unbridled joy as the realisation dawned that we were actually seeing Axel Rose singing Appetite for Destruction was almost too much to believe. On reflection they were most likely nowhere near their peak musically but it certainly didn't matter that wet night in a field in Leeds.

That's your lot. I'd love to know your own memories of great live moments.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Football Moonlighting

If you follow me on twitter @TomPattison you'll already ne aware that football and especially Manchester United dominates a lot of my primitive thinking. I wrote for an excellent Manchester United blog today so if you feel the urge please have a look

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Melancholy Extra

Good news, you can put your prayer mats away, I am officially now feeling better. To celebrate here are some videos of great melancholic tracks in the spirit of yesterday's blog:

Brick by Ben Folds (live with orchestra)

The River by Bruce Springsteen (on a street in Copenhagen!)

Billy Davey's Daughter by Stereophonics (Live solo acoustic performance by Kelly Jones)

Never Again by Justin Timberlake (yes seriously, great song)

No Distance Left to Run by Blur (live in Paris)

Live It Up by Willy Mason (Live in Brighton Record shop)

Not Dark Yet by Eric Clapton (Live cover of Bob Dylan)

Send in the Clowns by Frank Sinatra (live)

Friday, 12 November 2010

Thoughtful sadness

So without boring you with the details I have had a bit of a crappy run of luck over the last couple of weeks culminating in being laid low with a virus today. Dark times, which in turn leads me on to thinking about that type of song which feeds into this mindset. I confess it to be one of my favourite themes so the five songs are a selection I recommend rather than hailing them as the greatest of their kind;


Wedding Bells by Hank Williams
As somebody younger and cooler than me would say, let's take it old school (actually they would probably drop the apostrophe but I can't bring myself to commit grammatical larceny). This was a track that I only found a couple of years back as I began to explore the roots of country and it stands out in the way Williams expresses the utter devastation of realising something you felt would happen is never going to. The contrast between the jubilation of the wedding guests and the emptiness of the defeated suitor is stark. The saddest aspect is how the fight has completely left the protagonist who can only lament what might have been.

I planned a little cottage in the valley
I even bought a little band of gold
I thought some day I'd place it on your finger
But now the future looks so dark and cold

The issue of lost love is a well covered topic and it would be remiss of me not to mention 'She's out of my life' which I consider to be Michael Jackson's most underrated song.

River Man by Nick Drake
Melancholy can be communicated in several different ways. Hank Williams shows us the most common and direct route - narrative. A more difficult yet no less effective method is to create the atmosphere of melancholy through the music and vocal delivery. Drake is the master of this and I could have chosen several other of his tracks but Riverman stood out for me. It appears to be a sad reality that artists capable of producing the finest melancholy must be afflicted by mental torment and Drake was no exception to this rule. Eliot Smith and Jeff Buckley are other wonderful, creative talents who were unable to reconcile their problems. For examples of their brilliance click their names.

Golden Age by Beck
I simply had to include something from the outstanding Sea Change album from 2002. It is common when an artist takes a dramatic change from what they have been known for - in Beck's case innovative, sample laden, pop-funk - for the results to be less than impressive. Sea Change saw Beck adopt a far more simplistic, stripped down approach as he wrote an entire album about the collapse of his relationship with a long-term girlfriend. Golden Age opens the album and I feel beautifully articulates that borderline moment where you hope the worst might be behind you. It is far from an optimistic song as uncertainty of the future permeates the lyrics.

It's a treacherous road
With a desolated view
There's distant lights
But here they're far and few

Yet the acknowledgement that a dark time has been endured suggests that things might just be looking up.

Not the Girl you think you are by Crowded House
'Weather with you' is both a great song and a curse. Great because it is undoubtedly a wonderful pop song that is loved by millions. Curse because it seems to have led millions more to dismiss Crowded House as 'fun and quirky.' It might make me sound like Alan Partridge but I genuinely consider Neil Finn to be one of the greatest song-writers of the last thirteen years and this song is a great example of that. The lyrics at first may appear positive yet the dark heart of this song is the dream boyfriend is a fiction to cover up the girl's feeling of inadequacy. My Dad has always said this sounds like a great lost Lennon and McCartney song and I'm inclined to agree.

Shadowlands by Ryan Adams
This won't come as any surprise and I will try and set aside the hero worship and focus on the song in question. It comes from the album 'Love is Hell' which as you might guess is a collection of songs very firmly in the melancholy category. There are several I could have chosen from this album and in fact many of Ryan's others but this has a highly personal resonance for me. At the risk of sounding like a therapy session this song essentially soundtracked a very difficult time for my family. In the Summer of 2004 we lost my Uncle. I was not yet 21 and found the whole experience hugely difficult never having gone through bereavement before. I listened to the album a hell of a lot and this song in particular. As a way to try and deal with it as much as anything I decided to accompany my Dad down to the South to help sort out the funeral arrangements. We have a shared love of Ryan so it was natural that it wasn't long into the journey down that Love is Hell was on the stereo. It was then my Dad revealed that when at the hospital waiting for the inevitable to be confirmed he sat in the car park, in the pissing down rain, and listened to Shadowlands. It seemed oddly fitting that when dealing with such a loss both Dad and I turned to the same song. As fate should have it, we saw Ryan later that year perform in Manchester and I don't need to tell you the opening track. Suffice to say that the Pattison men had something in both their eyes for a few minutes that night. Apologies if a twee little story like that is pretty self indulgent but I guess writing a blog means I'm already guilty of that charge of intellectual vanity. Anyway, enjoy and absolutely timeless song.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Come worship at the Church of Dylan.

I could blog about the great Robert Zimmerman all day but I don't have all day so instead have a few choice versions of his songs. Enjoy.

Marianne Faithfull covers Visions of Johanna

Magnet and Gemma Hayes cover Lay Lady Lay

The Roots cover Masters of War

Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) covers Simple Twist of Fate

Jimi Hendrix covers Please Come Crawl Out Your Window

Adele covers Make You Feel My Love

Monsters of Folk cover Girl from the North Country

Norah Jones covers I'll Be Your Baby Tonight

George Harrison covers If Not For You

KT Tunstall covers Tangled Up in Blue

Beck covers Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat

The White Stripes cover One More Cup of Coffee

Antony and The Johnsons cover Knocking on Heaven's Door

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Middle class white boy discusses music from da streetz

First blog in a little while and I'm going to keep on with the Five choices format. Today's choice reveals me as a massive cliché but so be it.

Hip Hop

I'm well aware that arguments continue to rage over whether a distinction exists between rap music and hip hop music. For the purposes of this blog there isn't - as you will notice from my choice I am far from a purist in this area and will happily embrace the mainstream when the results are good. I won't divert to a tangent but quite honestly I haven't heard a genuinely exciting mainstream hiphop album for as long as I can remember. Not even the return of Jay-Z has challenged my view that the genre is in a rut as despite good moments even the 'greatest of all time' has failed to recapture the brilliance of times gone by. In light of this my choices may appear a little dated and undoubtedly reflect a time when hip hop was far more prominent in my musical consciousness than it has been in recent years.

Fu Gee La by The Fugees
This is where it all began for me. A football mad, Oasis obsessed early teen sat down to watch a basketball show and was blown away when NBA 24/7 spent five minutes focusing on a trio of rappers who were making waves in the states. The track they focussed on was Fu Gee La and I was immediately hooked. I remember chatting excitedly at school to my good friend Joe who had long since embraced the hip hop/basketball culture and was good enough to humour me as I rambled on about my 'discovery.' Everything about this song is exciting - the subdued intro crashed into by Wyclef demanding attention, the simple yet hypnotic hook, the complimentary yet dramatically different lyrical delivery and of course THAT chorus which once in the brain never lets go. The crucial element of any rap song is the lyrics and it was the subject matter that most excited this thirteen year old British white boy from a northern backwater. It is safe to say that Brit pop tales of Mancunia or Essex surburbia never included lyrics like 'Stevie Wonder sees crack babies becoming enemies of their own families.' The confirmation that this discovery was going to have a huge impact on musical palette was my Dad's furious reaction when I put The Score on in his car. I am proud to have inherited my Dad's musical taste and was fortunate to have a musical upbringing of Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Despite this though every teenager is keen to find their own identity and distinguish themselves from their parents - Lauren, Pras and Wyclef had shown me the way.

Brenda's got a Baby by Tupac Shakur
As any self respecting teen rap fan it was natural to gravitate towards the big two - Biggie and Tupac. Many a dull technology lesson was spent debating the conspiracy theories that 2pac was definitely alive and I even pathetically dismissed Biggie for many years due to my allegiance to the West side. I'm sure it was of great comfort to Suge Knight locked up in prison to know that the Kendal mafia had his back. It might be frowned upon today but I have great affection for Tupac and feel that unlike many of his contemporaries he was a true superstar. The brilliance of Tupac was how comfortable he was in producing party jams like California Love whilst at the same time writing personal, socially reflective odes like Dear Mama. My choice is one from the latter group, a brilliantly composed narrative tale of a young girl's struggle which is genuinely reminiscent of the masterful Village Ghetto Land by Stevie Wonder.

Break Ups 2 Make Ups by Method Man feat. D'Angelo
I've got a bit of a confession - I've never been that big a fan of Wu Tang. Don't get me wrong I still listen to Enter the Wu and when on form they could be magnificent but I always tended to find their solo projects to be more interesting. Arguably the most commercially successful has been Method Man and although far from the greatest lyricist I have always been an admirer of his flow. He has a delivery which never fails to make a connection with the subject he is focusing on. It is no surprise he is often in demand for guest raps as he has lifted many an otherwise forgettable track (Got My Mind Made Up with 2pac springs to mind). The track I've chosen is a laid back collaboration with D'Angelo which really shows off his talents. Enjoy.

Oh No by Mos Def feat. Pharoah Monche and Nate Dogg
Three of my favourite artists collaborating on one track was always going to end well and this is a classic slice of Rawkus records at their finest. This was featured on the second volume of Lyricists Lounge and was the pick of a very fine bunch. Special plaudits have to go to Pharaoh Monche who lifts a good track to greatness with a quite brilliant verse. So much of rap is polluted with lame verses about how great the rapper is but when PM takes this approach so sharp is his flow and lyrical composition that you can't argue with his claims that he's untouchable.

What more can I say? by Jay-Z/The Beatles produced by Danger Mouse
If you are unfamiliar with The Grey Album by Danger Mouse I urge you to do something about it. In a way this album is a fitting example of how my love of hip hop has developed as a few years ago the idea of splicing Jay-Z with Lennon & McCartney would inspire outrage and cries of sacrilege. I am an unashamed admirer of Danger Mouse and he doesn't disappoint as his love and respect for both artists shines through. I'd go as far as to say this is one of the finest albums of the last decade and I've chosen this track as it beautifully uses one of my favourite ever Beatles songs to make Shaun Carter sound better than I thought possible.

That's your lot, please comment whether praise or criticism.