The Obscurer Awards 2008

Firstly, my apologies if this site is intermittently running slow for you; I have looked into the problem and have narrowed it down to being something to do with computers. If you find it annoying then pity me, because all my WordPress admin stuff is running just as slowly. Hopefully it will resolve itself in time, but for now my only option seems to be to grin and bear it.

Secondly, welcome to the contractual obligation that is the Obscurer Awards. When I first did one of these, some three years ago, it seemed like a great idea. By last year is had become more like a chore, but something inside me still makes me want to write this rubbish, even if no-one wants to read it, so I will just try not to waffle on quite as much this time around, although I will probably fail in that endeavour. Any road up, here we go.

  • Single – Arctic Monkeys/Brianstorm. For me the year’s best single should be more than just a good song, but something you hear all over the place and that is not simply the latest track released from an already familiar album. This makes picking my favourite single tricky as I hardly ever listen to chart music. My largest dose of the stuff comes around May when I tend to go on holiday someplace that has a pitiful medium-wave reception and I end up listening to more Radio 1 than I would choose. Fortunately last year my holiday in Cornwall more-or-less coincided with the release of the Arctic Monkey single that preceded their 2nd album Favourite Worst Nightmare, so there was much singing along in the car to Brianstorm as we pootled to Praa Sands and Mousehole. And a very fine thing it is too; not as good, perhaps, as their more recent single Teddy Picker, but a muscular number all the same that dispelled any understandable fears that the Monkeys would be a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, Brianstorm’s evil twin was Jamie T’s Sheila, which I heard far too many times on my holiday; a painful number sung in the sort of mockney drone you associate with an alumnus of Reed’s School. But hopefully I won’t have to endure that crap ever again.
  • Album – Radiohead/In Rainbows. This is a far easier category to award, as there were a number of good albums out last year. The aforementioned Arctic Monkeys LP showed a nice developing sound, while Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, if lacking the other worldly brilliance of their debut Funeral, was still an excellent collection of songs; but I think Radiohead’s album pips them all. I have already covered In Rainbows in some depth here, so suffice it to say that a few months on I can now put names to all the tracks and I am still listening to it regularly. Christmas also brought the £40 discbox featuring a second CD with six further tracks, all of which could easily have made it onto the album proper. They really have spoiled us this time.
  • Book – Magnus Mills/Explorers Of The New Century. When I finally, finally finished the Mao biography, I began a new regime of trying to read at least a chapter of a book a day in order to make inroads into my reading backlog, and it has been a great success. Of everything I have read Magnus Mills’ latest novel stands out. Written in his usual spare style, and in a tone reminiscent of his novel Three To See The King, it was great to be back in Mills’ strange and unsettling world as we discover the story of two groups of adventurers setting off with their packs and mules to see who can first reach the Agreed Furthest Point. Wonderfully bizarre as usual, it comes as a shock around three-quarters of the way in as the truth about the mules hits you like a thunderbolt, and the whole piece becomes that bit darker. Stiff competition, but I think this slim tome is Mills’ best novel yet.
  • Film – Pan’s Labyrinth. Every year I apologise for not having seen any of the previous year’s films, and this year is no exception. So I’m going to cheat by picking a film that was actually released right at the end of December 2006, which is as near as dammit last year, give or take, so I’m having it. Anyway. The story of a young girl who escapes into a fantasy land to get away from the cruel reality of her life with her stepfather, an army captain whose job it is to crush the resistance in the early years of Franco’s Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth manages to be both magical and brutal, a stunning tale that is visually magnificent, and which stays in the memory for days after you have seen it.
  • Sport – Manchester United vs Chelsea: FA Cup Final. Commonly regarded as the worst FA Cup Final for some years, the reason I have picked it as my sporting highlight is because of what it represents. In the lead up to the match all the talk in the media was about how epic the match would be, with the nation’s two top sides battling it out at the new Wembley. I personally wasn’t that bothered; what with United and Chelsea having so dominated the league all season I had no enthusiasm for the game. Little did I realise I was not alone. I was in Sennen on the day, and decided to pop to catch the last 10 minutes of the game at the Old Success pub; coincidently, I had watched some of the previous year’s final at the same pub. On that occasion the place was choc-a-bloc with people watching Liverpool defeat West Ham; this time the place was deserted, apart from a couple of blokes and the barman. Not exactly scientific I know, but for me it seems a striking example of how football’s trend towards monopoly means that the sport seems to be losing its way and its grip on the imagination, even while the media, clubs and FA continually talk it up.
  • TV – Frontline: Afghanistan. Much as I may moan that the telly is shit, I still end up with loads of stuff on my PVR that I have to wade through, and at this time of year as I try to pick a favourite I realise just how much good stuff there is amongst the dross. I should say a special thank you to In The Night Garden and Pokoyo, the Calpol and Calprofen of children’s television, for their hypnotic effect on my daughter, who can go from screaming teether to compliant angel in a blink of an eye the moment they come on. Elsewhere I enjoyed Channel 4’s anniversary, re-showing A Very British Coup and Dennis Potter’s interview with Melvyn Bragg; Flight Of the Conchords deserves praise for being the best new comedy show in ages; Screenwipe and TV Burp still beautifully mock the medium that feeds them; and Doctor Who continued its erratic but generally fine form – I thought the Christmas special was crap, but one episode in particular, Blink, was the best bit of drama all year (and which, if you read this in time, you can watch tonight at 7pm on BBC3; failing that, you can borrow my son’s DVD.) But for me the stand out piece of work was Vaughan Smith’s film for Newsnight as he was embedded with 12 Brigade of the Grenadier Guards in Afghanistan as they went on an operation with the new Afghan army in Helmand province. Newsnight’s films can be quite hit and miss, coming as they do from a variety of sources, and I had no expectations when I started watching the film, but I was soon gripped as I witnessed what the troops out there have to deal with. It was humbling stuff; and you can watch the whole 16-minute film here.
  • Radio – Radcliffe And Maconie. Mark Kermode’s demolition of Pirates Of The Carribean 3 on Simon Mayo’s show is one highlight of last year, but the combination of Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie on Radio 2 has given me a great listening alternative between 8 and 10 of a weeknight. I don’t know how they came together, and in fact they often aren’t together as one of them may be on holiday or covering another show, but either way they are always good value. A highlight for me would have to be the serendipitous moment when I turned on the radio just as they started playing Madder Rose’s Beautiful John, a song I hadn’t heard for years but still love, made all the more special for Mark’s admission that he only played it because he stumbled upon the LP while clearing out his records. It jogged his memory, and in turn mine, as it took me back to when I first heard the song, at a time when I would alternate between Craig Cash on KFM and Mark Radcliffe’s old evening show on Radio 1. So that’s rather neat, isn’t it?
  • Blog – Chase Me, Ladies, I’m In The Cavalry. Late to the party as ever, Chase Me Ladies was just one of the many blogs that I had heard about but never read, until I came across it one day and realised what I had been missing. Harry Hutton has a wonderfully wry sense of humour and each brief and pithy post is a joy; what’s bloody typical is that since I have become a reader he posts less and less frequently, but when he does it is well worth the wait.