Welcome once again to this historic 1920’s ex-council semi, and more specifically to the prestigious “Pantry Room”. Until early 2003 this room languished as just a storage space for the hoover, the ironing board and last Christmas’s wrapping paper; but a sympathetic renovation that year saw it transformed into the computer room for the new PC. Since August 2004 it has become the home of The Obscurer, and tonight it is the venue for the second annual Obscurer Awards!
And so without further ado, let us announce the winners.
- Best Single – Razorlight/Somewhere Else. It is quite unusual for me to buy singles, but I bought this one in part because this song wasn’t included on Razorlight’s so-so debut album “Up All Night” (one of those records where you find when you buy it that you know all the good tracks already, although it has grown on me since). Great start to the song with chiming oriental bells, then a strummed acoustic guitar reminiscent of The Beatles “Things We Said Today”, and then the song builds, quietly at first as it tells it’s odd tale of boy meets girl, then gradually growing in volume and intensity as Johnny Borrell’s singing becomes more frantic and raw, throwing out lines of poetic guff about “catching the sparks that flew from your heels” until the song gallops to its conclusion. Just over three minutes of pure pop, the way it should be.
- Best Album – Doves/Some Cities. A fantastic return to form from fellow blues Doves after their previous album “The Last Broadcast” saw them treading water to some extent. This time round rather than get too complicated and write “Lost Souls III” they have developed a far more subtle and simplistic sound, but all the more innovative and sophisticated for all that. It also must have earned them a fortune from its use as background music all over the place, so you probably know half the stuff here even if you don’t realise it. You’ll know you know “Black and White Town”, the first single from the album that hits the ground running sounding like the bastard child of “Lust For Life” and “Heatwave” and was an early contender for single of the year, but the rest of the album is more than a match for it. And it sounds like an album too; I enjoyed Kaiser Chiefs “Employment” (Blur, if they’d been inspired by Freddie and The Dreamers rather than The Kinks) and Gorrilaz “Demon Days” (Blur, but armed with a Casio VL-tone), but they do seem like just a collection of individual songs; on “Some Cities” tracks perfectly flow into one another like they are part of some divine running order, and when listening to the whole thing from beginning to end you feel you are getting more than the sum of its parts, as is the case with the best albums. Standout tracks for me are “Almost Forgot Myself”, “One Of These Days” and “Someday Soon”; best title of a track is “Shadows Of Salford”, because it must be inspired by mishearing the line “shadows of sulphur” from Beck’s song “Lazy Flies” from “Mutations“, as I do every time I listen to that song.
A worthy mention also for The Boo Radleys “Find A Way Out”, sadly not a new album but a fine greatest hits package nonetheless. I was a fan of the band from 1991 when their second EP inspired a trainspotterish devotion in me; they were one of those bands that could do no wrong in my eyes. When they briefly hit it big with “Wake Up Boo!” I was delighted they had developed from minor shoegazers to (almost) pop chart-toppers; when they responded to that success by coming out with the raucous anti-pop of “C’mon Kids” (their finest album) I again dutifully agreed with the path they were taking. “Find A Way Out” has clearly been compiled by someone who knew what they were doing; it includes the obvious singles, but also the finest album and b-side tracks, as well a few songs even I don’t have (a version of “Tomorrow” from Bugsy Malone for Gods sake!). It should find a space in everyone’s record collection.
- Best Book – David Clayton/Kinkladze: The Perfect 10. Some of the biggest names in literary fiction brought out novels last year. I bought “Saturday” by Ian McEwan, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazou Ishiguro and “Arthur and George” by Julian Barnes. Didn’t read them though. Fingers crossed I will deal with them when I go to Cornwall in May (although Ishiguro’s “When We Were Orphans” went with me on about three holidays before I finally dealt with it, and wished I hadn’t bothered. He’s on a final warning). So last years “Best Novel” award has been re-titled as “Best Book”, but unless you have a special interest in the subject then you probably won’t want to read my choice anyway. On the other hand if you were one of the troops of Man City fans who questioned their sexuality during the three years Georgi Kinladze starred for the club (I know lads who sent him Valentines cards) then this book is for you, and me. It isn’t the best written of books by any stretch of the imagination; I can see why the author thought it necessary to include a brief history of Georgia in the book, but it is clichéd and needn’t be there. Similarly, the section on Georgi’s early life and times reads more like a school creative writing exercise than part of a published work (“not long after they returned home (from hospital when Gio was born), incredibly, Georgi began crawling” – bollocks he did. “As soon as he could stand up on his own, Robizon (Gio’s father) rolled a football to the infant and the two year old Georgi trapped it with his left foot” – no he didn’t. And you’re saying he crawled immediately but only stood up at two? “Georgi was also a very good arm wrestler, and whenever the kids in the street would challenge him, Georgi was always the best.” – don’t you mean bestest in the world ever ever?) But once we get Kinky to City either David Clayton’s writing improves or I just don’t care anymore as we re-live all those memorable moments; that first game against Spurs when the new signing with the unpronounceable name seemingly had the ball glued to his foot, until he passed it perfectly with a nonchalant flick; the Southampton goal when the whole of Maine Road seemed to crowd under that stands to watch it again on telly at half time; those other classic goals against Middlesbrough in the league and West Ham in the cup; and the sight of him trudging off the pitch at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke as we went our separate ways, Gio to Ajax, City to the second division. I think that Clayton is mostly spot on with his observations, although he does avoid the fact that many City fans (though not me) were questioning his contributions towards the end, saying he was a luxury when we needed battlers (as if football isn’t intended as a spectator sport). He is also an effective apologist for Kinky’s latter days; arguing that his Ajax career (where he was bought as a replacement for Jari Litmanen) was scuppered first when Litmanen stayed and then when the manager who bought him left; and how his time at Derby was hugely hampered by injury (though he still won a player of the year award) then fucked up good and proper by the outstanding work of some of his many agents. As a Kinkladze fan I am inclined to unquestioningly believe this as being an accurate account of Kinky’s difficulties, but Clayton doesn’t gloss over the infuriating way Gio’s career has turned out, a tragic case of potential unfulfilled, and I think there is enough in “Kinkladze: The Perfect 10” to interest any football fan.
- Best Film – I haven’t been to the cinema at all this year. After last years default win for Fahrenheit 9/11 I think this category is pretty much defunct.
- Best Sporting Moment – 2nd Ashes Test, Edgbaston. Liverpool’s jammy victory in the European Cup was looking good as the most remarkable sporting moment of the year, until the England cricket team started acting up. After the expected defeat in the first test at Lords (another tradition fucked up for no good reason; Lords should always be the second test), the clever money was on an Ashes whitewash to Australia. Sure, perhaps England could be a match for the Aussies in a few years time, after the retirement of Warne and McGrath, but not just yet. And it was McGrath’s intervention before the game had even started that helped swing the match England’s way when he stood on a loose cricket ball while warming up, so ruling himself out of the game; I showed my disappointment at the news the only way I knew, by punching the air repeatedly. England batted first and seemed to treat it as if it was a one-day game scoring a ridiculous 407 all out on the first day, playing Australia at their own game; it was particularly great to see Flintoff and Pietersen together at the crease and getting good scores, twatting the ball all over the shop. In reply Australia made 308, Warne memorably giving his wicket away hilariously by charging down the pitch to Giles, missing with his slog and being clean bowled. England, then, were in the unlikely position of having a first innings lead, but made a poor start to their second innings as wickets tumbled to Lee and Warne and you could see it all slipping away; that is until Flintoff arrived and crashed a rapid 73 off 86 balls, an absurd way to play considering the state of play in the game but it did the trick, and assisted by Simon Jones for the last wicket stand they gave England something to bowl at. Australia made a decent start to their second innings and gradually began to eat into their target, but dropped wickets along the way. It was looking delicately poised, but when Harmison bowled Clarke with the last ball of the third day it looked like England had just about done enough; Australia needed 108 to win with just 2 wickets left and many (though not me!) were already talking of England having levelled the series. In the event the fourth day of play on Sunday was excruciating; while my son watched Cbeebies I listened to the radio as Australia calmly rattled towards England’s total. It was the pace as much as anything that depressed; they scored runs at a steady clip and slowly it began to look inevitable that they would win. Hopes were raised when Warne trod on his stumps for 42, but last wicket pair Lee and Kasprowicz carried on where Warne and Lee had left off, advancing relentlessly towards their target. When my son graciously fell asleep I watched the closing stages on Channel 4 and I was resigned to defeat, watching the TV screen through my fingers as Australia moved within 2 runs of England’s score, thoroughly depressed as I just couldn’t see how England would ever get into such a good position against the Aussies again. I knew the old cliché that we only needed one good ball to win the game but it didn’t look like coming as Australia barely put a foot wrong until Kaspowicz “gloved” the ball high in the air for Geraint Jones to take the catch (for once) and I danced and leapt about the living room, whooping and hollering, looking like a complete knob, whole my son continued to sleep on the settee.
- Best TV Moment – Casanova. I was looking forward to watching Archangel one Saturday; scripted by Ian Le Frenais and Dick Clements, based on a Robert Harris novel a friend had recommended (but which I hadn’t read), it looked like it couldn’t fail. It was all action but totally unengaging, and after half an hour I was fast asleep. It was so bad that the following day I approached “Casanova” with caution, wondering if I could ever find any interest in TV drama again. Five minutes in and “Casanova” changed all that; it was simply fantastic. The script and dialogue from Russell T Davies sparkled, the performances from all were inspired, the whole look and feel of the production was top notch. There wasn’t a lull through all 3 episodes but the highlight must be the final scene when Edith (Rose Byrne) speaks to the old Casanova (Peter O’Toole) on his deathbed. The emotions unfurled as love and death crash headlong into one another in the scene were so powerful that I cried like a baby, great big sobs that caused my shoulders to heave and I burbled “this is ridiculous” as I smeared great wells of tears from my eyes. Now I’m not immune from having a good cry occasionally, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my all time favourite film, but nothing has ever affected me quite like that. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable serial.
- Best Radio Moment – Jonathan Ross on Radio 2. I only really instituted the radio award last year to commemorate the end of Mark and Lard’s Radio 1 show; long term I think this one may go the way of the Film award. I can’t think of a specific radio moment, but this year has seen me listen fairly regularly to Jonathan Ross’s Saturday show on Radio 2. I had meant to listen to it for ages, but three Saturday mornings on the trot spent driving long distances in the car (going to holiday in Perthshire and then the Lakes) meant I had the chance to get a bit of serious radio listening done, and it is a habit I have managed to continue at home. Ross is definitely at his best on radio; while his TV chat show can get a bit irritating and feels staged, everything seems far more natural on radio and the whole show flows better, as if he doesn’t have to try too hard. He also has fewer “celebrity” guests on radio, so the people he does interview are usually all the more interesting as a result. Can you imagine him talking to David Gedge on the telly, or to Nancy Dell’Olio on radio? No, neither can I. I know which I prefer.
- Best Blog Post – The Sharpener/From the Office of Sleazy Intelligence. A new category this year, by a blogger I don’t often read but should (Jamie K) from a group blog I do always read (The Sharpener). This is just an inspired piece of creative writing, as the author imagines a life of espionage in dubious service of these fair isles, engaged in “double crosses, triple thinks and quadruple bluffs”. What do you want to do with your life? Jamie seems to hanker after being a rumpled and sordid Noel Coward figure in a Graham Greene novel; if he never manages it then I hope he can be content with being a fantastic writer.