2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 43,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 16 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

BEST ALBUMS OF 2011

Another good year for music, and with all the Best Of lists around i thought I would do mine again.  So here goes.

THE BEST ALBUMS OF 2011

#1        BATTLES – GLOSS DROP

This was a much looked forward to album and it did not disappoint. If you are a fan of percussion, this is a great album.  I saw them live at Glastonbury this year, and they were one of my highlights.  It was a close run thing but I think this just pips Bjork to the #1 spot!

#2    BJORK – BIOPHILIA

Weird and wonderful, Bjork is at least interesting, even when she miss fires.  A genuine genius and someone always looking for the off the wall idea.  This album takes her music a step forward in linear production.  This one will keep me interested for the months ahead.

#3    ZUN ZUN EGUI – KATANG

This band is a Bristol favourite and much championed new band who have been steadily releasing EP’s over the past couple of years.  I first saw them live when supporting Tinaweren at the Academy.  They were superb.  An eclectic mix of African Rythms, screeching vocals and Hendrix like guitar licks.  Simply unbeatable and unique!

#4    BAXTER DURY – HAPPY SOUP

Alternative Pop at it’s best, this album was a wonderful surprise and with the catchiest tunes.

#5    LYKKE LI – WOUNDED RHYMES

With a moodier persona, Lykke Li has still proven her ability to write a catchy song and to wow her audience.  A more rounded album than her debut, this is again unmissable.

#6    ANNA CALVI – ANNA CALVI

The new kid on the block, much was expected and much delivered.  A unique voice, so powerful, with a unique sound.  Superb. Live review here

#7    JAMES BLAKE – JAMES BLAKE

Innovation is the name of the game with James Blake, pushing the boundaries while still acquiring the fans.  A superb live performer and an excellent album.

#8   YUCK

This is the Indie fans dream album, with wonderful songs to go with the shoe gazing. Full album review

#9    KURT VILE – SMOKE RING FOR MY HALO

Wonderful album finally getting the recognition he deserves.

#10 METRONOMY – THE ENGLISH RIVIERA

I was amazed at how much attention Metronomy got this year, but it is all well deserved, along with the Mercury nomination.  A step on from their last offering, this band is excellent on so many levels.

#11    RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – I’M WITH YOU

This album was received with a lot less fanfare.  With the loss of John Frusciante many have written the Chili peppers off.  Not me.  This album is a grower, and the more subtle sound of Josh Klinghoffer adds to the enjoyment. They are also a live act to reckon with. 

# 12    BON IVER – BON IVER

Another masterpiece from Bon Iver.  A lot more polished than the last album, and perhaps less surprising, but a superb listen for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

#13    THE HORRORS – SKYING

Carrying on from where they left off, while taking on some more 80’s sounds.  An excellent album

#14    THE KILLS – BLOOD PRESSURES

Their sound has been changing over time from their raw first 2 efforts.  With the distractions of side projects this album is a welcome return.

#15    GANG OF FOUR – CONTENT

My my, this album could have been a disaster, however, with this offering, they have finally laid to rest the idea that they could never compete with their first 2 albums.  Having been so influential on so many bands, it is nice to see them come up with the goods again.  A superb album.

#16    WIRE – RED BARKED TREE

Another new wave classic artist coming up with the goods.

#17    PETE AND THE PIRATES – ONE THOUSAND PICTURES

This album passed without so much a whimper in the music press, yet it is remarkably good.  This is one that needs a good listen and you will be going back to it for months ahead.  Live review here

#18    PJ HARVEY – LET ENGLAND SHAKE

The indie darling came up trumps again this year and took the Mercury prize to boot.

#19 RADIOHEAD – KING OF LIMBS

They keep doing it – probably the most innovative popular music band on the planet came up with an offering that was a lot less accessible than “In Rainbows”  – this album needs a bit of love to appreciate it.

#20 – Frankie and the Heartstrings – Hunger

Another great live band with the energy most can only hope to have.

21 – Duke Spirit – Bruiser
22 – Pains at being pure at heart – Belong
23 – Scum – Again into Eyes
24 – Cold war Kids – Mine is Yours
25 – Nicholas Jaar – Space is only Noise
26 – Woods – Sun and Shade
27 – Kate Bush – 50 words for snow
28 – Smith Westerns –  Dye it Blonde
29 – Black Keys – El Camino
30 – J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

DAVID CAMERON USES VETO AND EUROPE CARRIES ON REGARDLESS

David Cameron used the diplomatic equivalent of the nuclear deterrent in his negotiations with the Euro zone nations, yet the results were less than impressive.

There has been a lot of hot air floating around the commons and else where over the last few days, however, as usual Ed Miliband is failing to make any headway over the issue.  His beloved brother however hit the nail on the head.

“This is the first veto in history not to stop something. The plans are going right ahead. It was a phantom veto against a phantom threat”

What has been revealed over the last few days is just how naive, inadequate and unbelievable has been the stance by David Cameron over the Euro zone issue.

It now transpires that there was little if any networking or laying the groundwork before the summit took place.  Indeed even up until the final moments before David Cameron had his fateful meeting, his European “partners” knew very little about the demands he was about to make.

The UK, it turns out were isolated and out of the loop before the summit even started.  There is little wonder, that the other European member states were not in a listening mood.

It appears either David Cameron and his advisers were completely incompetent, or a decision had already been made that a deal could not be brought back to the House of Commons no matter what.

What David Miliband got exactly right, is that you do not “use” your veto unless you will gain an advantage in doing so.  You can “threaten” a veto, but it is something you should not use, if you want it’s effect to benefit you.

In this case we can see exactly why the veto was so badly used.  The other 26 countries will do exactly what they like in any case.  The UK now has fewer friends or allies and very little influence on the way ahead.

WHY THE WORD “SHOULD” IS MY NEMESIS

Author Anonymous

Something I have learnt over many years of mental illness is how the way I treat myself affects my mood and personal wellbeing.

Several years ago I reached a crisis situation with my mental health (or should I say “another crisis!”).  I knew I would find it hard to cope if I slipped into a state of severe illness that has happened to me before, so in an act of desperation I reached out for support to as many agencies as I could.

A part of the help I managed to obtain was being able to see a counsellor.  This was an odd experience for me, who had not got on with “talking therapies” in the past, but I was desperate.

Although I struggled with the counselling, it did achieve something that became a revelation to my way of thinking.

I remember vividly how the counsellor was looking at me.  A puzzled frown would come across her face.  Then she proceeded to ask me why I always used the word “should” when I talked about myself or what I was doing.  I couldn’t answer her.  Then she repeated the words I had used over the past few minutes and it became clear that my low self esteem and self hatred was coming out in my language.  The very language I spoke to myself all the time.

I should do this and I should do that; I ought to do this or I ought to do that.  The negative connotations of everything I said about myself were obvious for an outsider to see, but I was blinded to this punishing trait.

That afternoon was a revelation to me in the way I saw myself.  The way we use language is so important to the way we perceive the world around us and ourselves within that world.  I had been punishing myself in almost everything I had done for years.  Being hard on oneself discourages one’s self development in so many ways.

It creates pressure on us and provides punishment when our standards are simply too high.  It provides the outlet of guilt on our shoulders as we see ourselves failing in the things we tell ourselves we “must” achieve.

I learnt, over time, that by replacing the word “should”, with the words “I would like to” or “I could do” somehow made life seem so much easier.  Rather than piling stress and guilt on my shoulders, it provided a possibility of enjoying what I was doing, and that what I wanted to do or achieve was a positive step rather than a chore.

There are many examples of unhealthy and punishing language and ways of thinking, but for me, the realisation of the way I speak to and about myself has allowed me to change not only the way I think but to challenge the image I have of myself.  To lift the burden of expectation and to carry on my daily tasks by wanting to do them rather than seeing them as something I must do.

By reaching out and trying many different ways to help my mental wellbeing, one of the most valuable lessons has been the language I use and the way I see myself and the daily tasks ahead.

I now avoid the use of these punishing phrases and I can even laugh when I do use them.  It has taken a long time, but I can now recognise when my language becomes negative and punishing and I can challenge my thought process.

This wellness tool, of challenging the way I use language, has been one of the most useful lessons I have learnt.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS – Live Review with support from Fools Gold – LG Arena Birmingham 2011

The last few years have been quite a learning curve for the Chili Peppers.  With the loss of John Frusciante as their guitar player, to some it would have been felt like the loss of a limb.

All their classic albums have been made with John Frusciante who has been a prolific guitarist and creative force inside the band.  Last year he was voted greatest guitar player of the past 20 years by 6 Music listeners.

However, the new album “I’m With You”, showed that this was simply not the case.  The “new” guitarist Mr Josh Klinghoffer, long time friend of John Frusciante and former touring partner, backing up Frusciante on the last Chili Pepper’s tour, has brought a more subtle sound to the proceedings, but no less engaging.

With a less than enthusiastic response to their latest album, a 3 star (out of 5) rating being the most common, the consensus is that it is a good album but not their best.  However, as time has gone on, the album sinks into the veins of the listener proving that longevity may be the album’s key ingredient.  A return to their roots, of 70’s funk, is the theme of the album.

The real test for many Chili fans is of course the live performance.  Can Klinghoffer live up to the antics of Frusciante?

The venue was the LG Arena, Birmingham, 19th November 2011. 

Now I am not a fan of arenas at the best of times, and the last time I came to the Birmingham NEC was some 15 or so years ago.  It was always a soulless place.

On this visit I was pleasantly surprised.  Much has been done to take away the feeling of entering a large shed, and extra thought has now gone in to preventing the overcrowding and toilet queues of previous years.

Fools Gold support act

Fools Gold I must confess are a band that has largely passed me by.  However, the evening started well with us getting inside the venue in time to catch their set.

Their music is most entertaining, with much audience participation. Their sound very much reminding me of a northern African feel to it. Upbeat and and happy sounds was the theme of the day.  The woven melodies throughout the African themed percussion and Rhythms was great to hear.

It was a fitting support band that got the crowd going and was very much appreciated by the Brummie gathering. As was the impromptu collaboration with Josh Klinghoffer halfway through the set.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

They appeared on stage just before 9pm with a packed out crowd.

The last time I saw them play was their very last performance with John Frusciante at the Leeds Festival in 2007 and he was on superb form that night.

They opened to the opening track on the album Monarchy of Roses.  A superb opening, with a brand new track along with their new guitarist. The crowd went mad and the band seemed really up for it.

No sooner had we been treated to a new track than they went into a crowd favourite – Dani California.  It was clear even this early on that this there would be a lot of crowd singing this evening!

The set continued with new material being interspersed with the old favourites, and the new songs never appeared out of place.

The band were clearly enjoying the night and were very tight.

The evening went incredibly quickly.

My personal favourites being Can’t Stop, Under the Bridge, By the Way, Give it Away, The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie and Higher Ground.

After over an hour they went off stage and then came back with an extended encore.  The crowd loved it and even my friend thought they were amazing, and she has seen them a dozen or so times.

Klinghoffer was outstanding all evening. The jamming was as good as ever and he stamped his authority on the set.  The new songs were all received well, and although the old material, and the solo guitar work had a different slant, with Klinghoffer’s personality in his guitar playing, it was still amazing to watch.

What this gig showed, was that of all the bands around at the moment, as a live force, the Chili Peppers are still a must see.  They left the stage after an hour and 40 mins with the crowd still wanting more.

Simply superb.

Track listing for gig.

Monarchy of Roses
Dani California
Scar Tissue
Can’t Stop
The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
Parallel Universe
Hard to Concentrate
Look Around
I Like Dirt
Universally Speaking
Goodbye Hooray
Under the Bridge
Higher Ground
Californication
By The Way

Encore

Chad Mauro Jam
Around The World
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Give it Away

This live set can be downloaded from the Red Hot Chili Peppers Web Site here 

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IS SUICIDE SELFISH?

After the carefully thought out philosophical comments by Jeremy Clarkson this week, it made me think further about the stigma in society that we face about  suicide and those in mental distress.

The common preconceptions that suicide is “selfish” appears to still pervade society’s public houses and homes throughout the UK.  After all this time, can mental illness ever lose it’s stigma, or will it remain the acceptable butt of people’s jokes and prejudices.

Something in the region of 1 in 4 people suffer mental distress each year and suicidal thoughts can be a regular occurrence for those in extreme distress.  Suicide is the biggest killer in the “world” of all young people (under 25), while each year more people die in the UK from suicide than they do from road traffic deaths and homicides combined.    Yet despite this, people are loath to talk about this subject or to acknowledge it’s significance.

This cultural attitude is exemplified by the ignorant and over bearing like Jeremy Clarkson who are happy to comment on subjects he knows little about in order to garner more kudos from his “fans” and of course gain himself a “little earner” – (did you know he had a new dvd out? )  – I’m sure being racist would be on his radar if he thought he could get away with it.

Unlike many, I have to say I am not a Clarkson hater.  I find his pithy vaguely funny remarks in a sometimes overbearingly politically correct world sometimes entertaining. However, what many episodes along the way have shown is that his ignorance and willingness to offend for monetary gain, gives his game away.

Suicide is selfish

An interesting statement, and many believe it.  The cognitive thought process that goes into this statement

Suicide is selfish

Is easy to understand.  We see the individual.  We see the consequences.  We see the son, daughter, mother, father, wife, husband, lover, family, home – left behind, seemingly to pick up the pieces.  To carry on, with the cloud that suicide leaves in it’s wake darkening the lives of those left behind.

I hear the call that it is an “individual choice”, surely we all have a choice.  People who commit suicide have a choice to commit the act of suicide or not to.

All of this makes sense to many people.  It’s obvious isn’t it?

Over the past year, I have volunteered for a charity called CHANGES BRISTOL which provides support groups for those in mental distress.  The subject of suicide comes up all too frequently.

Many who have suicidal thoughts are never allowed to articulate these thoughts in society, due to the stigma and taboo surrounding the subject.  Yet in a safe and non judgemental environment people can and do open up.  Sometimes, to ask someone if they feel suicidal, or if they have ever thought that suicide was an option, the relief they experience is tangible to see.

Suicide is real.  It is committed by the old and young; black and white; male and female.  It cuts across boundaries and those suffering from mental distress can be found in every corner of our society.

For those who attempt suicide, it is often a transient feeling at the depths of despair.  For those who fail in their attempt at suicide, most when asked 12 months later are happy they failed.  Their life has moved on and things change – they are now in a better place.

The more we can help those with suicidal thoughts get past this moment of despair, the more chance we have of saving lives.  Not just the lives of those who commit the act, but of their families and friends.

The truth is hard for many to come to terms with, but for most who attempt suicide, their cognitive functions are diminished. That is at the moment of attempting suicide, they are in so much pain, that they cannot think through their actions or what it would mean to their families.  Indeed many reach the     cul-de-sac of thought where there is no other option – their family would be better off without them.

This is not a thought process that could be described under the heading of “selfish”.

There are others, who have been so ill and in so much pain for so long (decades in some cases), that they do come to a decision that to end their lives is the only option for them.  In these minority of cases, who are we to judge their “selfishness”.

“Every year, around 200 people decide the best way to go is by hurling themselves in front of a speeding train.”

“In some ways they are right. This method has a 90 per cent success rate and it’s quick.”

“But it is a very selfish way to go. The disruption it causes is immense – and think what it’s like for the poor driver”

“Change the driver, pick up the big bits of what’s left of the victim, get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away or hard to find.’

Jeremy Clarkson

It appears the “gooey” bits that he should be concerned about are that which is not functioning to it’s full capacity between his ears.  Or maybe the problem is that it is functioning to it’s full capacity.

In truth the only way society can move forward is when we can have a sensible and level headed debate about suicide in this country.  To reveal the inadequacies of our mental health services and to be honest about the extent of the problems we face.   Suicide must no longer be the taboo that we should never discuss, but a reality.  The less stigma and prejudice we have in society against mental illness the more people will get help for their problems and the fewer suicides we will have.

This new attitude and the end to the stigma of mental illness should please Mr Clarkson, after all, this would mean for him – fewer delays on the trains, and less of his precious time “wasted” .

EURO ZONE DEBT – are we looking at this from the wrong perspective?

The Eurozone has many problems which appear to be further highlighted with every day that passes.  The markets are getting themselves into a tizzy at every rumour or politician’s sweaty brow, while the car crash which is the Euro zone crisis continues to play out.

The problems are familiar now.  We have:

  1. Countries who should never have been allowed to join the Euro in the first place
  2. A lack of a decision making framework that would encourage financial stability
  3. 17 different economic policies
  4. 17 central banks
  5. 17 finance ministers
  6. 17 heads of government, many of which lead and have to satisfy an array of coalition partners
  7. A bureaucratic and long winded European decision making process
  8. One interest rate set for 17 different economic regions
  9. No convergence of economic indicators
  10. Fiscal divergence
  11. Different tax regimes
  12. Cultural differences regarding the role of the state
The list could go on, but really it doesn’t need to.
My opinion on the outcome of the Euro is based on all of these factors and there are 3 main options
  • Jettison the weaker economies often referred to as the “southern economies”, leaving a core Euro zone of a few northern European countries and continue tightening fiscal and political union.
  • Split the Euro into 2 currencies – a northern Euro and a Southern Euro if you like
  • Quick decision making bringing rapid convergence of fiscal, tax and political union, taking economic decisions away from the peripheral economic zones and a larger role for the President of Europe and the European Central Bank (ECB) – ensuring the knowledge that there will always be enough money to keep the Euro going
The first option appears to be by far the most likely at the moment, but is still unthinkable although the rumour went round earlier this week that Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy were considering just that.
However, maybe we have all got it wrong.
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ARE WE LOOKING AT ALL OF THIS FROM THE WRONG PERSPECTIVE? 
The Euro is meant to be one currency with the benefits and flaws that this entails.  When we look at the USA, we never really look at the micro economic factors of each state, only the USA as a whole, over 300 million people making a whole.
The Euro zone has 317 million people and 17 countries.  Our fixation has been on the debts of particular nation states, but is this the way we should be looking at it?
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If we take deficit levels, they are rising out of control in Greece and Spain, but as a whole, the Euro zone has almost half the deficit that the UK  has. The UK has a deficit of 10.4% of GDP, while Greece  has a deficit of  10.5% and Spain 9.2%.  But  the Eurozone has a deficit as a whole at 6% of GDP.
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If we look around the world we can see that the USA has a deficit of around 1.3 trillion $ which is about 8.6% of GDP.
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Debt is the next problem which contributes to the instability of the economy. Japan has an enormous debt at over 220% of GDP. The USA has 94.3% debt, Greece 142% and Italy 119%.
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Crucially the Euro zone has a debt of  85.1%. (source)
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If we were looking at the Euro zone as a whole entity rather than it’s individual parts, a bit like looking at the USA as a whole rather than it’s states, or the UK rather than it’s regions, would we be so worried?
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This perhaps indicates just how important it is to show the markets and onlookers that the Euro zone is one economic and political entity, and if people had confidence in the model of governance, then the crisis would never have got this far.
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Maybe for the sake of our sanity, we have to look at the Euro zone as a whole rather than at it’s constituent parts, or face the economic Armageddon that is surely to follow.