What D’Angelo means to me (summary: a lot)

d-angelo-billboard-650a

I was living in a two-bed terrace just off the Welford Road in Leicester, living with an ageing Italian diplomat called Mr La Barca, who kept the fridge sparse apart from his supply of cambozola, which he used to offer me on a little plate, saying

“You muuuuust! You muuuuust!”

After formal but friendly chit-chat, he’d go back to his desk and his study books, and I’d sit in the living room, reading monumental novels like Last Exit to Brooklyn, wondering if I would ever write something great, paralysed by that

One day in early January, wearing my bomber indoors because me and Mr La Barca (I never knew his first name; didn’t want to know) didn’t like central heating, my friend Lucy knocked and handed me D’Angelo’s Voodoo album; and I don’t know how those hippies felt when they got Sgt Pepper in their mitts, or the punk kids at the first sight of Never Mind the Bollocks, but this was a moment that, even when I’m dribbling in the nursing home, I won’t forget

You might say, “Rich, wasn’t he just another turn of the century soulboy – like R Kelly, with fewer motoring/sex metaphors? Like Sisqo, without the cheerful adoration of ladies’ underwear?

and I’d say, “Hang on.”

Let’s go back to my desolate Leicester bedroom. I stick the CD in my cheap Sony hifi. Mr La Barca is in his bedroom next door, playing one of his English language tapes to which he would repeat

“STEAK AND KEEEDNEY PUDDING”

and other essential phrases to help him fit seamlessly into East Midlands life.

I lie on my bed and listen to Voodoo and, first listen, I knew this album was a work of art. It is a journey from the street, through lust, sex, love and then, when you have been immersed in all that grittiness and sensuousness, to a song, Africa, which is the most powerful evocation of the spiritual I have ever heard.

In Miles Davis’s autobiography, Miles says that he loves the music of Prince because it is both innovative and rooted. That’s how it is with D’Angelo. He has an instinctive grasp of the essence of soul and gospel and funk and manages to coalesce these threads into something new and, in that final song, Africa, something transcendental.

D’Angelo spun out soon after Voodoo was released. Word was he turned to drink and drugs, junk food, put on weight, quite possibly mentally unravelled. There was talk of whole albums written, recorded, and discarded. It was said D’Angelo had problems with his body image. The record business turned him into a sex object (not without justification) and he couldn’t cope with people seeing him as a sort of singing, dancing, six-pack-on-legs.

It took 14 years to get to this week, when another album was released. In that time, me and my friend Patrick have often discussed him in our annual pre-Christmas drinks – is he all right, is he getting it together, will next year be the year.

In 2012, as part of D’Angelo’s re-emergence into the public sphere, Patrick, my cousin Jenny and I went down to Brixton Academy to see him. The show was okay, although not on the level of a concert from his nu-soul contemporary Jill Scott I had seen in the same venue. Despite his frankly enormous arm and chest muscles, he looked strangely vulnerable on stage. And yet, when his over-blown band put their instruments down and D’Angelo was left to sit at the grand piano and play – alone – we saw a glimmer of that once-in-a-generation talent.

When the announcement was made earlier this week, I went a bit mental. I don’t know how Take That fans reacted at news of their reformation a few years back, but if they burst into tears, ran around a bit, babbled incomprehensibly to their housemate and have been smiling ever since, then their reaction was highly restrained compared to my own.

I emailed Patrick, who is on holiday in South America: NEW D’ANGELO ALBUM!!!!! To which he responded: “This is one of the happiest days of my life.”

And if you think we are mad, I would say: “Fair enough.” I’d also say, it’s not just us. At the media launch of the album, one of D’Angelo’s close musical friends, Questlove, spoke to journalists (sparing D’Angelo that burden) and, while he is a lot cooler than me, there was a sense that he wanted to high-five and hug the whole world, when he said:

“I don’t really want to give a hyperbolic or grandiose statement, but it’s everything. It’s beautiful, it’s ugly, it’s truth, it’s lies. It’s everything.”

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My Christmas present failures (and a solution to this misery)

Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas
Billy Bob Thornton enjoying Christmas

If Christmas is about anything it is about unrealistic expectations.

It is a time when we try to turn something immaterial – love – into something material: presents. We are setting ourselves up for a tumble. And rather than increasing the sum total of love, this anxious gift-giving is more likely to turn that love into hate, or perhaps a kind of woollen resentment.

My strike rate for Christmas present success is no more than one in three (by which I mean about one in five). In football striker terms, I am Emile Heskey – capable of the occasional exquisite show of class, but more often a hapless chancer, failing when it is easier to succeed.

People often ask me if I get nervous before I perform on stage. I say, yes, you need to. The nerves don’t get the better of me because I am prepared. I know what I’m doing (more or less). When it comes to the giving and receiving of Christmas presents it is quite the opposite. I am a fearful wreck, seeing danger at every turn. And for good reason, because my catalogue of Christmas present failures is as long as it is confidence-crushing.

Here are some edited lowlights.

A compact disc
Last Christmas, I bought a compact disc for my cousin, Simon. He unwrapped it and gave a look as if to say, “What on earth am I supposed to do with this?” See, Simon lives in the modern age and hasn’t used CDs for the past decade. To him, a CD comes from a bygone era, like the horse and cart, without the anachronistic charm. I might as well have given him a VHS cassette. Or a mangle.

A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it
A compact disc, probably with Dire Straits on it

A steamer
I fall in love every day, in a skittish flitting flirting way, with people in elevators and on escalators, indeed with elevators and escalators, if their lines are elegant enough. But one time I was properly in love. Love love. That love which is all doomed devotion and Saturday nights indoors watching Ant and Dec.

In this context, you might have thought that I would have extended myself when it came to presents.

Not me. Where I should have tremulously rustled up a cliched combination of roses, chocolates and trips up the Eiffel Tower, I bought a steamer.

A steamer.

A household appliance which cooks vegetables whilst allowing said vegetables to retain more of their nutritional content. I was essentially saying: “I love you, but you could really do with eating more curly kale.”

"A healthier, lonelier life."
“A healthier, lonelier life.”

Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits
Back in the mid-90s, back when singers like Toni Braxton and Celine Dion ruled the earth like brutal, multi-octave velociraptors, there was Dina Carroll.

I liked Dina Carroll.

Not in a big way. Not the way I liked Guns N Roses. But as an English Whitney, she was pretty great.

I once said to my sister that I liked Dina Carroll. She said she really liked Dina Carroll too. It became a thing between us. Don’t Be A Stranger would come on Capital and she’d say, “Classic!” and I would fervently agree.

This went on for some months and so, when it came to the annual trip to HMV to selflessly buy music for people who aren’t me, I bought her Dina Carroll’s Greatest Hits, thinking it the safest of safe bets.

On Christmas day, when she unwrapped the CD, she laughed and said that she didn’t really like Dina Carroll. She was only taking the piss.

In my quiet devastation I resolved to never, ever trust blood relatives again. And always to be the most sarcastic person in the room.

Junichiro Tanizaki – Some Prefer Nettles
This is an elegantly written, yet very saucy tale of marital infidelity and lust. An ideal present for a new girlfriend with a love of literature. Me? Let’s just say relations between me and my aunt haven’t been quite the same since I chose this as her Christmas gift.

Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.
Henry Miller was a big fan of Tanizaki, which says it all, really.

Original Source XXX Black Mint Shower Gel For Men
I am a devotee of this brilliant product. It is minty and manly, and when you use it to wash your privates, it makes your balls tingle.

Three years ago I bulk bought this as a side-gift to the men-folk in my family (to lessen my sense of mortification when my main gifts failed).

A few weeks later, I went to see my mum and dad, and noticed that while the shower gel was on display near the bath tub, it had barely been used. When I enquired to my father what the matter was, he said he “didn’t know how to use it.”

My father has two master’s degrees. He is, whenever possible, intellectually sneering. Yet he couldn’t work out how to use shower gel.

Since then, I have had to adjust my view of my father as an all-knowing Yorkshireman with a heroic gambling habit, to a sort of flawed autodidact who, without the presence of my mother, would have long since died in a bizarre hoovering mishap.

A genius product from Original Source
A genius product from Original Source

One that succeeded

A penguin
When my neice, Amelia, was four, I got Santa to get her a stuffed penguin, and when she opened it she said, “A penguin!” She was really happy with that penguin, and so was I.

My Christmas appeal
Amelia told me the other day that while she had over thirty items on her Christmas list last year, this year she only has eleven. She explained to me that she basically had a lot of stuff. She is eight years old yet is already scratching around for material things she actually wants.

This, combined with my lifetime of present-buying torment, suggests it might be better to cut back on the buying and enjoy each other’s company instead.

Do They Know It’s Christmas? #BandAid30 Official Artist Q&A

Spreading joy. Band Aid 30
Spreading joy. Band Aid 30

Who are “they”?
Africans.

What is Africa?
A place where bad things happen.

Do they know it’s Christmas time, at all?
No.

Why not?
It’s not Christmas. It’s mid-November.

Yeah, but if it was Christmas, would they know it was Christmas?
Probably. This song gets wheeled out every few years, which has made a big difference. And, in any case, Christ is pretty popular in Africa. Particularly the countries the British invented/named/colonised.

Which ones are those?
Most of them.

So, if it was Christmas, who wouldn’t know it was Christmas?
The Muslims, probably. They don’t celebrate Christmas.

What do they celebrate?
That’s for them to know and us to find out.

Could we drop leaflets from drones over the Muslims on December the 25th to let them know that it is Christmas?
No.

Why not?
Because letting them know it’s Christmas, at all, is not the point. We are trying to stop Ebola.

What’s Ebola?
Bad.

How bad?
Very bad.

Have they all got it over there?
Not really. In fact, Nigeria contained the virus quickly and easily on their own, without any assistance from white people. But we don’t talk about that because it doesn’t help the “White Man as Saviour” narrative.

Right. So who are we helping again?
Bob.

Dylan?
That’s just the problem. It’s Bob Geldof. And if he doesn’t get on the telly a lot every five to ten years to remake this song, he wouldn’t have a purpose in life. You could say you are making a grumpy old man a bit less grumpy.

What’s in it for me?
You get to do something good for a change. And you get a lot of publicity. It aids your career, basically.

Do I get to meet any real-life Africans?
No! Oh, actually I mean yes. We have got a token African artist for you to meet. Bob Geldof doesn’t like African music or culture, but some fusspots reckon it is important that African musicians should get the chance to meet Chris Martin – to show that we have problems over here as well.

This sounds like a load of bollocks, yet something I can’t really get out of. How much of my time will it take?
About three hours. And your conscience will be salved for the rest of your life.

What does salved mean?
Just get in the recording booth, do your thing and make Bob Geldof happy.

Don't look directly into his eyes - Bob Geldof
Don’t look directly into his eyes – Bob Geldof

Who is Bob Geldof again?
He’s like a sweary Irish Medusa. And before you ask, sweary is when you say bad things to people, Irish is a term used to refer to the people of Ireland, who are similar to the English except they have more boybands and sanctimonious middle-aged rock stars, and Medusa is a less attention-seeking version of Bob Geldof, with better hair.

I’m scared now.
Don’t be. Ellie Goulding is in there. Just hold her hand and everything will be okay. Probably.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Note to reader. Two tips for doing something, whilst avoiding Geldof’s circus. Donate to Medecins Sans Frontieres and listen to some cool African music. Some of my favourites are Konono No.1 and also The Ethiopiques albums. Probably you have your favourites too, so feel free to let me know the stuff you like to listen to, when you aren’t listening to the Boomtown Rats.

One game of football Sainsbury’s prefer you don’t think about this Christmas

Sainsbury's saccharine Christmas ad
Sainsbury’s saccharine Christmas ad

It was with some interest that I watched Sainsbury’s much-hailed Christmas ad.

Depicting the game of football between German and British troops on 25 December 1914, it shows soldiers acting in a conciliatory, noble, sporting fashion during a time of war. It shows that our similarities are greater than our differences. It shows that the great game of football can bring even the most implacable foes together.

Sainsbury’s, of course, would not be so crass as to use that most poignant moment to sell spuds or cut-price bevy. It isn’t doing that. (In fact, I am not going to use ‘it’ to describe Sainsbury’s, even though it is grammatically correct; I am going to use ‘they’ to humanise this multi-billion pound company. Make Sainsbury’s more cuddly for you.)

Kind and caring Sainsbury’s, as the main plank of their corporate social responsibility strategy, are using the advert to get you to go into their stores to buy a bar of chocolate, the profits from which will go to the Royal British Legion.

Sainsbury’s have been roundly praised for their ad. Why? Well, it gives the viewer a warm glow about Our Boys. It also, in turn, softens Sainsbury’s image, and puts them on the moral high ground.

You come away thinking – Sainsbury’s: they really are there for the lads fighting in World War One. What, on the other hand, are Lidl doing for the boys in the trenches? Fuck all, that’s what. On that basis, I shall never shop in Lidl again – despite their chocolate being rather tasty and reasonably priced.

(You’ve guessed it, people. I shop at Lidl. The customer service is dreadful but the cheese-crusted rolls are DAYYYUUMMM! And 25p a pop. On the other hand, their broccoli never seems to go off, which is inexplicable and not a little troubling. But very cost effective.)

Typical fun-loving Lidl customers
Typical fun-loving Lidl customers

Where was I? Oh yes. Sainsbury’s Xmas ad. What did I think?

I thought it was too long, I thought it sugar-coated war (literally) and it made me feel a bit sick. But on the credit side, you have to admit that Sainsbury’s have adroitly chosen which game of football to tickle the British public in its emotional G-spot.

Because they didn’t choose QPR’s stirring comeback to salvage a 2-2 draw at Stoke City earlier this season – magnificent though the Super Hoops were that day under the inspirational and saggy-faced leadership of Harry Redknapp. They didn’t even choose John Terry crying in the rain after the 2008 Champions League final (an image that, six year later, still gladdens my heart and prompts me into prolonged bouts of hedonistic consumerism).

John Terry crying in the rain
John Terry crying in the rain

But there was one game of football which could have made the cut. And no doubt it was a close-run thing.

This game of football was also well-publicised.

It was also informal – no one really cared about a winner.

It was also during a time of war. But the players were not participants in the war. They were children, having a kickabout. On a beach.

Remember those boys? The Palestinian boys on the beach? They got killed by Israelis who mistook children having a kickabout for murderous, foaming-at-the-mouth jihadis. An easy mistake to make and one I’m sure we have all made on the beach in Torremolinos.

“Look – there are some boys playing football.”
“Yes, but are those boys also vicious jihadis intent on annihilating me, my mum and all of civilisation?”
“KEERRRISST! Probably they are – let’s bomb them now and sup freedom cocktails later!”

Of course, Sainsbury’s don’t want small children murdered while playing football. It is unpleasant, and puts people off their shopping.

But they do rather like Israel. They buy and supply Israeli products – products which, depending on if you share the UN’s view on the matter, are often made on stolen Palestinian land. They help prop up a country which is in perpetual war against people living in what has been described as the world’s biggest prison camp.

Sainsbury’s might think that the Israeli state should be supported. That’s their call. But they are a big company. They could continue trading, and also say:

“Hey, Israel. Would you mind, if it’s not too much bother, trying a teensy bit harder to not kill children? You know, by not firing missiles at them and stuff. Lovely houmous, by the way.”

Sainsbury’s could support charities that help the people of Palestine, or indeed charities which support people in countries where our troops so often go to liberate the natives. They could, without a snazzy ad campaign, speak out to steer Israel towards a more humane approach when dealing with human beings living in the Gaza Strip.

If they did try to make a difference, not by romanticising a century-old conflict, but by taking practical action to improve the countries with which they so profitably trade, in places such as Israel, then that would truly be corporate social responsibility. And that would give me a warm glow this Christmas.

In the meantime, however, I’m off down Lidls to buy some of their no doubt questionably sourced chocolate instead.

Pete The Temp’s amusing video on Sainsbury’s and Israel.

A completely unnecessary but lovely image of a bowl of houmous.
A completely unnecessary but lovely image of a bowl of houmous.

5 reasons why Young Fathers are great Mercury Prize winners (not being George Ezra is one of them)

Edinburgh's finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers
Edinburgh’s finest: Mercury winners Young Fathers

I am thrilled that Edinburgh-based rap group Young Fathers have beaten off a particularly strong field to win the Mercury Prize. Their Dead LP is now officially designated as brilliant and I couldn’t agree more. Before I get into my top 5 reasons why their album is great, I want to say: people, listen to the 12 albums on the shortlist, pick the ones you like, and buy them. Young Fathers only got £20,000 for winning the prize, which, by the sounds of the record, will barely cover their annual weed bill. Show some love to the artists, and buy their work.

Okay, here’s my five reasons why Dead by Young Fathers is splendid:

1. Lyrical madness
On the poppiest song on the album, Get Up, one of the rappers says:

“Taking off my clothes at the lido
all I got is my decadent credo”

Which is genius, right? Fair enough, he has to pronouce “lido” leedo to make it rhyme with credo, but when you’ve got that level of mad couplet bubbling up, it would be churlish to quibble about a mispronounciation. Elsewhere on the album, one of the lads starts a rap with the assertive “bish bosh”, rhymes “Liberian” with “Presbyterian” (underlining the band’s Afro-Caledonian roots) and talks about “handing out endorpins to nature’s orphans.” Wordplay is just that – playing with words – and Young Fathers are a rabble playing Scrabble with Margaret Drabble. (This is why I am not a rapper.)

2. They are not George Ezra
Some people, a lot of people, seem to like George Ezra. Why, or even how, I do not know. George Ezra is about as rock n’ roll as William Pitt the Younger. Listening to George Ezra makes me think that he is instinctively in favour of fracking. Not that they care a jot about such chart-topping codswallop, but Young Fathers are the polar opposite of George Ezra. The Mercury judges, in their wisdom, understand this and have given Young Fathers a platform for people to see that there is an alternative to stadium-folk.

The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn't grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra
The old standing in front of graffiti to make it look like you didn’t grow up in a stately home trick: George Ezra

3. They are like Kanye without being complete twats (yet)
On the jollily titled song, War, one of the boys (I have no idea which) starts ranting “you chopping me down like the Amazon” which is the kind of idiotic nonsense Kanye spouts. It’s one of those lyrics right on the borderline between utter shit and utter cool – just like most of Kanye’s. This shows Young Fathers have the potential to be both massive stars and megalomaniac lunatics. I like that.

Note to Young Fathers: it's all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies
Note to Young Fathers: it’s all right copying Kanye, just leave Taylor Swift alone if you see her at awards ceremonies

4. Musically, it is all over the place
Also like Kanye, they take a trawler to the world of music and pick out the bits they like. Hence, the album starts with a bit of squeezebox, which is probably not something P Diddy would have considered.

Other songs sound, in part or in whole, like: The Prodigy; Burial; a particularly violent video game with a moral message like “bad things happen to good people, a lot”; Justin Timberlake after a trip to Guantanamo; Andre 3000; a teenage boy trying to making himself pass out purely through bass noise; gospel without the redemption; Boyz II Men getting mugged at knifepoint, in a sewer, by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; a fat boy farting into a fan. You get the idea. It’s commercial, sort of.

5. It is only 32 minutes long
I am not criticising long rap albums. One of my favourite albums is Redman’s Muddy Waters joint, which is about 70 minutes and has more comedy skits than actual songs. In those skits he comes up with such timeless acronyms as NASWIPP (N*ggas Against Smoking Weed In Public Places) and “IKSRFO” (I’m Knocking Somebody Right the Fuck Out), which my life would be a greyer place without.

That said, there is something pleasurable about a rap album finishing its business at just over the half hour mark. Wu-tang’s knowledge god, the GZA, once remarked, “Make it brief, son, half short and twice strong,” and Young Fathers have taken that advice on board.

Of course, the Wu followed up their first album with the unwieldy Wu-tang Forever double LP, which begins with some shambling old dude named Poppa Wu giving a not interesting sermon about fuck all for six minutes. Therefore, I will stand by Young Fathers if they get famous and obnoxious and think it a good idea to get Frankie Boyle to open up their next album with a lengthy diatribe against the English generally, and George Ezra specifically. In fact, that might not be a bad idea.

redman muddy waters

The BBC and UKIP: the best of friends

The BBC might claim its news coverage is fair and balanced, but what exactly is fair and balanced about this headline on its front page?

ukip

The headline – UKIP’s Farage back on campaign trail – is almost propaganda. Of course Farage is campaigning for the up-coming by-election in Rochester and Strood. But then so are all the other political parties.

The other associated stories develop this uncritical pro-UKIP perspective:

The first gives Farage free rein to say that he could be in government next May. This is preposterous given that UKIP has only one MP. But the claim is made less preposterous by this blanket coverage.

The second, a piece by political editor Nick Robinson, is typically nuanced, but ends essentially confirming the pro-UKIP stance:

“Maybe but maybe the seemingly ever onward rise of Mr Farage will, as he’s long predicted, continue ever onward.”

The third is a long profile of the rise of UKIP, again reiterating how they “defy the odds.” It is complete with the standard and necessary picture of Farage in the boozer. (Message: do you drink beer? Here’s a politician who also drinks beer. See how much you two have in common?!)

farage beer

To my dismay, they print a picture of the UKIP billboard advert which uses Winston Churchill to push its anti-immigration message. Having read Roy Jenkins’ 900-page biography of Churchill, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have been appalled by the small-minded, insular attitude of UKIP.

Churchill UKIP

The fourth article is Ed Miliband’s response to UKIP. The FOURTH article in this UKIP bonanza, and the first in which the Labour leader – the party which has won three of the last four General Elections, is quoted at any length. Miliband says that a party which wants to cut the taxes of rich people (such as Carswell and Farage) could not genuinely represent the interests of the working class. Which makes sense, and exposes the contradiction of UKIP’s public face and private ideology.

Having let Red Ed and his band of radical left-wingers have their say in the previous article, the BBC leaves any semblance of criticism of UKIP to one side in its fifth story, “By-elections leave biggest parties with plenty to ponder.” Again, the rise of this extremist party is talked of in excitable terms. While UKIP has had “hype, attention and victories of recent years” it has “never had a night like it.”

It goes on to quote the new, and old, Clacton MP, Douglas Carswell: “We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other.” This is plainly untrue. No political party can be for all Britons, particularly not UKIP, which is directly offensive to a large proportion of the country.  This minor quibble is not addressed by the BBC.

Let us imagine that in, let’s say, a northern mill town, a militant Islamist party rose up and gained enough popular support to get an MP into Parliament. Would the BBC be talking in upbeat terms about such a party, and quote its leader extensively and uncritically? More likely, it would talk of the troubling rise of Islamism, and would ask Farage, in the pub over a pint of Spitfire, about his concerns.

Finally, there is a glowing profile of Douglas Carswell MP, in which he is described – not in quotes, but as stated fact – as a “free thinker” a “maverick” and a “moderniser.” These adjectives don’t tally even remotely with the reality: an ex-City worker who has dedicated his life to keeping himself in Parliament and immigrants out of the UK.

To add to the cosy image of Mr Carswell, it is noted that he likes swimming, gardening and making quince jelly.

The profile ends with a quote from Carswell’s victory speech: “If we always speak with passion, let it be tempered by compassion.” The reader is not asked whether a politician whose leader does not want people with HIV entering the country could be considered to be compassionate.

This bumper batch of stories from the Beeb would lead any reader without detailed political awareness to make several conclusions:

1. UKIP is a major political force
2. UKIP is a mainstream political party, which does not hold extreme views
3. UKIP has a good chance of being in Government at the next General Election
4. Douglas Carswell is a brave and noble politician, and a family man, standing up for what he believes
5. Immigration is the major issue facing the UK, not housing, jobs or inequality
6. The Green Party, and the Lib Dems, are irrelevant.

There is no doubt that the coverage from some of the national newspapers, and Sky News, has been even more triumphalist. However, the newspapers are explicitly partisan. The BBC, known as being fair and balanced, is at present covering UKIP as if it was the party of government rather than one with a single MP.

We should remember that David Cameron described UKIP members as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.” Michael Heseltine said that UKIP is racist.

If these two right-wing politicians regard UKIP with such horror, why does the BBC give them so much publicity and uncritical commentary? I do not think that the BBC is managed by UKIP supporters. It is, like all news organisations, enamoured by a good narrative, which UKIP provides: the rise of the underdog, triumphing against the odds; the man with charisma who likes a beer; the fight against the existential threat to our cosy, nostalgic way of life.

It is this narrative that gets UKIP its extensive coverage. But if the BBC doesn’t try harder to provide balance, then it won’t be only the Tories or Labour who are under threat. It will be the BBC’s reputation as a trustworthy news organisation.

Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.
Two privately educated men whose only wish is to help the people of Clacton. Carswell and Farage share a joke.

Mercury Prize 2014: the contenders (plus winner prediction)

I have always viewed the Mercury Prize with suspicion. The most salient reason for my suspicion is that M People won the award in 1994 with their soul-sapping soul album, Elegant Slumming. If that is what it takes to win the thing, it raises the question, what were the judges looking for? An album to make children realise there is no hope?

Fortunately, things couldn’t get that bad again. Even in 2007, when the frankly shocking Klaxons won, the British people could rest easy in the knowledge they weren’t as bad as M People.

This year’s nominees have been picked with a caution appropriate to an award sponsored by Barclaycard. (Note to Sleaford Mods: stop being so working-class, and so angry, and you might have a chance.) However, the list of nominees is rather exciting. Yes, there is a fair amount of turgid rubbish – but at least it is turgid rubbish we can hate with some vigour. And there are four or five albums which are very good, two outrageously so.

I have waded through Spotify listening to this stuff, and here is my summary of the runners and riders:

Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Listening to this album is like watching Ryan Giggs play football over the past few years.* Damon’s a bit slower than he used to be, but still better than most, and occasionally spectacular. Here, he has assimilated his work on soundtracks, world music and even opera to potent, if restrained, effect on this sumptuous, sighing, swooning album.

*NB: Not like Ryan Giggs’s private life. That would have been a WHOLE different album, probably by Chris Brown. And R Kelly. And Goldie Lookin’ Chain.

Not a very good cover, but a very good album
Not a very good cover, but a very good album

Jungle – Jungle

The people in this group have named their band and their album Jungle, yet they do not produce jungle music. That’s a devious, deceitful moniker they’ve adopted, like opening a public school and only letting in rich people. In any case, their bland, superficially cool “soul” music sounds like something Huw Edwards would listen to while taking his mistress for a drive in the drop-top on a Sunday.

Anna Calvi – One Breath

Music for people who like Fleetwood Mac, and want to take a bold step into the future.

Anna Calvi: a boring person dressed up as an interesting person
Anna Calvi: a boring person dressed up as an interesting person

Royal Blood – Royal Blood

Murky thud-rock, the sound of a growly fart endlessly shuddering through your bowels. (I’m a vegetarian. I know.)

Despite this, it appears the record industry has decided Royal Blood are the rock band of choice for the next 6-12 months. Therefore, there is every likelihood we will see this witless duo prowling through the UK’s larger live venues, acting with all the subtlety and bonhomie of an underfed, undersexed invading army. Talking of which, I reckon this music would be hugely popular with the Russian army (although, on second thoughts they’re all probably listening to the new one from U2. Or, more likely, Living on a Prayer).

If you think this picture is dull, listen to Royal Blood's album
If you think this picture is dull, listen to Royal Blood’s album

FKA Twigs – LP1

I don’t know what she’s singing about, and I don’t care. FKA Twigs sounds filthy, and weird, like Bjork has gone up to heaven and done an album with Aaliyah. Marvellous.

Praises to FKA Twigs
Praises to FKA Twigs

Nick Mulvey – First Mind

The kind of hellish folk music that makes me want to start a riot in Waitrose and set the Cotswolds on fire. I tolerated track one. On track two he rhymed “sadness” with “gladness”, at which point I switched off, fearing further provocation.

The photographer asked Nick Mulvey to look like he was thinking
The photographer asked Nick Mulvey to look like he was thinking

East India Youth – Total Strife Forever

Brilliant minimalist electro-folk. I don’t have anything witty to say about this. Simply a very good album, with a lovely mix between vocal and instrumental tracks. A proper reviewer might call this an unalloyed joy.

Polar Bear – In Each and Every One

A work of genius from start to finish. The only album on this list I would declare a masterpiece. However, to give some context: that is an electro-jazz masterpiece. Which means, if you like Bitches Brew, Detroit techno, and a bit of freak-rock, then this is right down your alley. If you like tasteful middle-of-the-road rock such as Anna Calvi, this might make you run for the Anderson shelter (and if you haven’t got one, gawd help you!).

Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

Music I would be excited about if I hadn’t heard any other music.

Kate Tempest – Everybody Down

Kate Tempest picks up awards as regularly as I pick up houmous from Londis. That is, about three to five times a week. The woman, while being a poet and rapper with a rare gift for storytelling, has somehow been designated as having a higher purpose: to win awards. I tend to hear about awards because Kate Tempest has won them. I am therefore going to stick my neck out and say, as this is an award, and Kate Tempest has been nominated, she will win it.

There are good reasons for her winning. Her poetry feels urgent, visceral, and vaguely zeitgeisty. She has turned a marginal interest – poetry – into something which can be heard on Radio 1. This is good for everyone, including myself, in the spoken word scene.

Her show, Brand New Ancients, was the best thing I saw on stage last year. That said, I’m not quite such a big fan of this album. It is well above average, but the interplay between words and production is not as seamless as, say, Young Fathers (see below). Over here is the music. Over there is Kate. They are good, but separate. It is still a solid album, however, and, more than likely, an award-winning one.

And the winners is...
And the winners is…

Young Fathers – Dead

If OutKast were from Edinburgh they might sound like this. Young Fathers prove that the Scots are pound-for-pound the best songwriters on earth. This is dark, uncompromising rap music, yet always tuneful, musically fantastic, and often surprising. A welcome antidote to commercial UK rap. And only 34 minutes long.

GoGo Penguin – v2.0

Just jazz. As in Just Juice. It’s Just Jazz.