French Open Tennis: Men’s latest

Following on from the previous post assessing the contenders for the women’s singles, we now look at the men’s competition and the form of the leading players over the first two rounds.

Rafa Nadal – seeded 2 – Odds: 4/11 favourite

What can we possibly say – Nadal is the overwhelming favourite for the title in a competition he has dominated since 2005. Last year’s surprise defeat to Robin Soderling showed the first sign of Rafa actually being human on a clay court, but he had been struggling with injuries going in to the tournament.

Nadal is the overwhelming favourite to win his 5th title in 6 years.

A fully-fit Nadal will always dominate the French Open and as long as he stays injury free this year, he should win again. However, Nadal being fully-fit is not a given and he has struggled with injuries lately. His knees are, at the tender age of 23, already creaking and the sheer amount of running he does during a match only adds to this weakness in an otherwise impenetrable armour.

The draw suggests he will have to beat two out of Verdasco, Ferrer and Djokovic, which should be some of the most exciting games of the tournament. But if Nadal is playing at 80% or above, nobody can touch him.

Roger Federer – Seeded 1st – Odds: 3/1

French sports journal L’Equipe recently named Nadal as the best clay courter of all time, with Federer at number 7. Interestingly, since 2004 Nadal is the only man to beat the Swiss star at the French Open. Federer’s title of ‘greatest of all time’ would be indisputable were it not for the man from Mallorca.

Should anything happen to Rafa along the way, Federer will become the clear favourite and the odds suggest a final between the top two players in the world is far and away the most likely outcome.

Federer often appears to adjust his game to the level of his opponent, meaning he looks disinterested in the early rounds before coming to life in the second week. The draw points to tricky encounters with Gael Monfils in the last 16 and Soderling in the quarters, but there is no doubt Federer is in the easier half of the draw.

Novak Djokovic – Seeded 3 – Odds: 20/1

The popular Serb is not a natural clay court player, but is far from uncomfortable on the surface. He is a steady performer at the French but has never looked likely to break the dominance of the top 2.

A semi-final match-up with Nadal looks to be the most realistic outcome this year, although a last 16 tie with Juan Carlos Ferrero could be a long battle and a potential quarter-final with David Ferrer could go either way.

Robin Soderling – Seeded 5th – Odds: 28/1

Having stunned the world with his win over Nadal last year, Soderling proved it was no fluke by going all the way to the final. He followed it up with a good season and worked his way up to number five in the world.

If his serve is going well, the giant Swede could be a tricky opponent for anyone, despite eventually running out of steam against Federer in last year’s final. A rematch between the two is scheduled for the quarter-finals, which is likely to spell the end of Soderling’s campaign.

Andy Murray – Seeded 4th – Odds: 20/1

Murray’s odds are as low as 20/1 with some bookies, which seems like a very poor deal on the face of it. Realistically, the British no.1 will be satisfied by getting to the 2nd week at Roland Garros, with the red dust not exactly his favourite surface.

It all depends on the tactics the moody Scotsman employs; too defensive and he’ll be on an early flight home, a bit more attacking and he could go as far as the semis. His quarter doesn’t have too many dangerous players floating around, with Baghdatis his main obstacle to an appearance in the 2nd week. If he goes as far as the quarters, his likely opponent is Jo-Wilfred Tsonga – which is by no means an impossible task for Murray.

His odds vary from 20/1 to 50/1 depending on the bookmaker, which backs up the view that on his game, Murray could go as far as the semi-finals, but equally he could lose to Chela tonight and be home tomorrow.

Best of the rest:

David Ferrer (seeded 5th, odds: 33/1) and Fernando Verdasco (seeded 7th, odds: 33/1) are both exceptional clay court players who have had to live in the shadows of their illustrious compatriot Nadal. Either of these players could cause an upset along the way but both are likely to come unstuck as soon as they face Rafa.

At as much as 125/1, Tsonga's power and athleticism make him a great outside tip

Frenchmen Jo-Wilfred Tsonga (seeded 8th, odds: 66/1) and Gael Monfils (seeded 13th, odds: 66/1) will slide their way around the Roland Garros courts, providing some great entertainment along the way. Both men are explosive at their best and are the only two players on the tour who can slide equally well on either foot, meaning they are rarely out of position or off balance. For all their respective talents, neither player has the consistency to give the crowd the home winner they crave.


Surely only injury can prevent Nadal from winning a 5th title in 6 years?  The overwhelming favourite will take some stopping and he looks unlikely to be stopped this year. Realistically, Federer is the only man with the tools for the job, but even he will struggle if Nadal is fit.

For an outside bet, Tsonga is as far out as 125/1 with some bookmakers. He has a comparatively easy run to the semis, where he could face Federer. If his power and athleticism can take him that far, things could get very interesting.

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French Open Preview: The Women’s event

So the French Open is finally here and the promise of two weeks of enthralling clay court action has become a reality.  While the men’s event looks as good as a done deal, the women’s draw looks far more unpredictable and enticing.

Here, we look at some of the favourites, their form going into the tournament and their latest odds.

Justine Henin – Seeded 22 – Betting odds: 2/1 favourite

After making a sensational comeback to the tour, Henin became everyone’s fancy for the French Open – where she reigned supreme for so long before her retirement – especially without injured rival and fellow comeback queen Kim Clijsters in the draw. Despite being seeded 22nd, the Belgian is the clear favourite of the bookmakers and the fans and relishes the Roland Garros atmosphere.


Henin is the clear favourite for the Roland Garros title

Henin certainly has the game to win the tournament, with the slice backhand able to slow the play down when required and her ability to slide gracefully around the court helping her achieve perfect poise and balance. What could prove most interesting could be a final against Serena Williams, who has the mental advantage of having won the last grand slam final against Henin in Australia.

Deserves to be the favourite and it will take quite an effort for anyone to beat the queen of Paris clay.

Serena Williams – seeded 2 – Betting odds: 5/1

Serena goes into the tournament in the unusual position of being the 2nd favourite, despite holding the world no.1 position and the no.1 seeding.

However, the French Open has never been a natural home for the powerful American, with just the one tournament win in 2002. Her strength is her main asset and although her game is not ideally suited to the clay, she is simply too strong for most opponents.

Despite never being a crowd favourite, you can expect Serena to bang her way through to the second week without too many problems, but with a likely quarter final against Henin could prove to be the end of her challenge.

Jelena Jankovic – seeded 4th – Betting odds: 6/1

In-form Jankovic looked imperious in the first round and has a good clay court game. She has developed the consistency to match her shot-making and could be a good bet for anyone looking outside of the big two, although she has yet to make her mark in any of the grand slams, which is something she desperately needs to remedy soon.

Venus Williams – seeded 2nd – Betting odds: 8/1

With all of Venus’ success over her career, it is easy to forget that she has never won the Australian Open or the French Open. Her form is good coming in to the tournament and with her 30th birthday less than a month away, she knows there won’t be too many more opportunities to crack this tournament.

With her Madrid conqueror Avarane Rezai a potential opponent in the last 16 and Elena Dementieva likely to be waiting should she get to the quarter, Venus is going to have to beat two of the tour’s most in-form players just to get to the semis. Will take something superhuman for her Paris hoodoo to end.

Aravane Rezai

Aravane Rezai is in great form and is a great outside tip for the title

Avarane Rezai – Seeded 15 – Betting odds: 12/1

The young French no.2 came of age in Madrid with a sensational straight-sets victory over an in-form Venus Williams and, at 23, she finally seems to be fulfilling her tremendous potential.

With a coach who is keen to emphasise the simplicity of the game, Rezai appears to be flourishing. Her talent has never been in doubt and if she can get past a potential rematch with Venus in the last 16, she’ll have an entire country’s worth of momentum behind her as she guns for her first grand slam. More than a dark horse, especially if seeds begin to fall.

Svetlana Kuznetsova – Seeded 6 – Betting odds 16/1

The reigning champion is not among the top tier of favourites this year after some indifferent form, but she knows what it takes to win the title, which gives her a huge advantage over almost every player in the draw.

3rd seed Caroline Wozniacki is the main obstacle in her quarter of the draw, but neither player is likely to better whoever emerges victorious from the Dementieva/Rezai/Venus Williams triangle in the bottom quarter.

Elena Dementieva – Seeded 5th – Betting odds 16/1

Of all the Russians hovering around the top echelons of the game, Dementieva comes into the tournament in arguably the best form of the bunch, but will do well to emerge into the semis from a tough-looking quarter of the draw.

Best of the rest:

Australia’s Sam Stosur has been in impressive form this season but is far too close to Henin in the draw for comfort.

Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic pretty much fell apart after winning at Roland Garros in 2008 and her career has never really recovered. She is playing some good tennis going in to the tournament after linking up with Steffi Graf’s former coach Heinz Gunthardt, but is still only 9-9 for the season. The former world no.1 is still only 22, but mental toughness is the main issue. Ironically her coach’s former pupil had the best ball toss in the women’s game – Ivanovic’s ball toss is still her biggest weakness, especially when the pressure is on her second serve. There is a lot of goodwill out there for the young serb, but without a vastly improved serve she will be heading for an early exit.

World no.3 and no.3 seed Caroline Wozniacki is a bit of an outsider with the bookies at 25/1.  She has yet to hit form on the clay and has never been beyond the 3rd round in the French Open. At 19 and with the experience of the US Open final in her pocket, exciting things undoubtedly lie ahead for the Dane with 7 WTA titles to her name already. This year is not likely to be her year though.

Maria Sharapova is still struggling for consistency after a nightmare spell with injuries. The 23 still needs the French Open title to complete her collection of all 4 grand slams, but in reality the clay court is her least favourite surface and her movement is not good enough to trouble the top players on the red dust.


Henin is the sensible choice, especially with arch-rival Clijsters out injured, but as 22nd seed she will have to do it the hard way and take down a few big names along the route. She will relish the challenge though.

Should she vanish early though, Jankovic is overdue a grand slam win and the heart says a victory for Aravane Rezai would be sensational for the crowd, the sponsors and the sport in general.

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Beerjacket Revisited

Another of my articles for the Scotsman’s Under the Radar blog.
Since we last visited west coast singer/songwriter Peter Kelly, his Beerjacket bandwagon has been steadily gaining converts on both sides of the Atlantic.

After achieving critical acclaim with his album Animosity, Kelly admits his biggest challenge has been writing material which betters his previous oevre.

“I had horrendous writer’s block and have only just stopped banging my head off the wall. No matter how many times you experience writer’s block, you always think that, this time, you are absolutely finished and will never write another song,” Kelly tells us.

At one stage, there were no live shows for several months and only one song – ‘Island’ – written in the second half of 2009. Kelly even scrapped all his new work in frustration. “However, I then discovered most of what I’d written was great and it was me that wasn’t up to standard,” he says.

Thankfully, Beerjacket is now back doing what he does best.

“Things are now going really well and I’m excited by what I’m producing. I’m starting to piece together the jigsaw of my next record,” he adds.

As a solo artist, Kelly creates introspective songs full of emotion and wonder – this is the essence of his singular vision. But he is still asked about plans to add new members to Beerjacket.

His response? “People never ask bands the opposite – do you plan on losing anyone? Likewise, people never ask a policeman, ‘why are you not a chef’?”

Kelly’s perfectionism may well be the root of his periods of creative insecurity, but it’s reassuring to know that compromise is not on the agenda. When his new work begins to emerge, the benefits of his single-minded approach should be clear for all to hear.

Beerjacket’s next live show – his first in seven months – takes place at Oran Mor, Glasgow on 18 June.

• Beerjacket on MySpace
• Beerjacket on Last FM
• Beerjacket on Twitter
• Beerjacket on Bandcamp

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Boxing: Khan vs Malignaggi preview

Welcome back to the boxing previews on Newsmule. Here lies a very personal view of how the light-welterweight clash between Amir Khan vs Paulie Malignaggi could play out.

Basically, as much as I’ve been a critic of Khan in the past, he simply has to win this fight.

Khan is in good shape for his fight against the big-mouthed Malignaggi

Malignaggi is one of the strangest fighters in the game at the moment – the man couldn’t knock-out an 80 year old woman with Rohypnol. His knock-out record is abysmal – 5 KO wins in 30 fights.

Now, that is not to say that knock-outs are everything – Floyd Mayweather has proved otherwise – but the Brooklyn fighter’s  record is embarrassing.

Under Freddie Roach, Khan has developed his talent and the Bredis Prescott defeat seems a million miles away for a man with his eyes on the sport’s biggest prizes.

Under the pressure of a home crowd, Malignaggi has talked a good fight but he looked very poor against Ricky Hatton two years ago and his lack of power will surely be exposed against the quick and accurate Bolton fighter.

Despite his one defeat, Khan has produced some very good fights since and has established himself on the world level – something Malignaggi has never and will never do.

I suspect Amir’s speed will be too much for the feather-hitting Italian-American with the big gob and – after taking time to adjust his style – the fight will probably end in the 7th with a Khan KO victory.

More interestingly, Londoner Kevin Mitchell – a potential Khan opponent – takes on teak-tough Aussie Michael Katsidis for the WBO Interim lightweight title, which is likely to turn into a match for the full title.

Mitchell has a perfect record of 31 victories from 31 fights, with 23 wins by KO, while his opponent has lost twice in 28 fights.

However, Mitchell has yet to be tested against the best in the division, despite his impressive victory over Khan’s conqueror Prescott in December. All the signs point to Mitchell being on the cusp of something great, but his opponent should not be underestimated.

Katsidis’ only defeats have come against some of the division’s finest and he has a reputation as a fighter who will battle to the absolute end.

He lost a brutal contest to Joel Casamayor and a controversial bout to Juan Diaz, and has been in the ring with the very best.

Looking at Mitchell’s chances, he is undoubtedly in for a tough night against a fighter who relishes a war. However, Katsidis has often struggled with bruising and cuts and the two defeats he has suffered suggest he is not at his best against a counter-puncher.

If Mitchell can maintain a healthy distance from his opponent and use his undoubted boxing skills, it could be a prosperous night for the man from Dagenham.

I suggest a Mitchell victory on the judges scorecards, but don’t be surprised if this one gets stopped on cuts.

Of the two British prospects  in action this weekend, a Mitchell victory will mean a lot more than a Khan win. It certainly won’t attract the same kind of headlines, but it will be a far more valuable and widely respected win against a really tough opponent.

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Withered Hand interview…

The following article was posted as part of my work for the site Under the Radar…
In our profile article last June, we predicted Dan Willson’s Withered Hand was set for big things. Sure enough, the last ten months have completely redefined success for the Edinburgh-based father of two.

Good News, his debut album, was released on SL Records to considerable acclaim, leading to a whirlwind of activity; even Willson describes himself as “almost too busy”.

He has only just returned from an exhausting 15-stop European tour supporting Icelandic marvel Benni Hemm Hemm, and while his travels took Withered Hand to new audiences across the continent, it also resulted in some oddly humbling moments.

“Apart from being generally very well received, I was totally amazed to meet a handful of people at the shows who already had my records and knew the words to my songs,” Willson says.

Ever loyal to his Fence Collective friends, he describes Homegame as the “highlight of every year, surely”.

Depending on the availability of his musical friends, Withered Hand can be a solo act or a large band ensemble. The turn of the year saw a sold-out UK solo tour, supplemented by an invitation from King Creosote to play at one of his London shows.

As for new material, Willson is approching it at his own pace: “I have more songs that nobody has heard but I need time and space to finish them and then time to decide how they exist in relation to the band set-up. And I don’t have lots of time and space right now.”

Looking forward, there are even more enticing events in store, as Willson plays his “biggest solo show to date” as the special guest of Canada’s mesmerising Woodpigeon at London’s Union Chapel this Thursday (6 May).

Summer dates include Tigerfest in Dunfermline (21 May) and the Wickerman festival (23 & 24 July), as well as an appearance at the World Ceilidh in Knockengorrach at the end of this month.

First things first though… Willson has an entire European tour’s worth of sleep to catch up on.

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The truth, the partial truth and nothing like the truth…

Emergency appeals and the media circus that surrounds them always bring forth an interesting period for media commentators and those who ply their trade amongst the ruins of other people’s lives.

For me, the stories that go unreported by the entity we collectively refer to as ‘the mass media’ always make for a more interesting story than the endless re-runs of the heroic and tragic stories upon which our collective societal watchdogs choose to report.

Never is the inherent bias of the western consensus more apparent than during a humanitarian disaster.  The stories omitted are a story in their own right.

Take, as a classic example of the point in question, the issue of aid given during disaster situations.  Where, in our collective conscience, is the role played by countries not aligned to the Washington Consensus in the disaster response?

The recent Haiti catastrophe and the previous case of hurricane Katrina highlight a fundamental problem with the western media.

When a country such as Cuba defies their position as an ‘enemy of the state’ and provides fantastic humanitarian relief, our collective media lack a schema in which to process their response.

A recent Al-Jazeera report indicated the extent to which Cuba’s response to the earthquake in Haiti has been criminally ignored.

Cuba has provided the highest number of medical staff on the ground of any nation, with Al-Jazeera putting the figure at 930 professionals.

To quote the Al-Jazeera report, “Cuban doctors have been organising medical facilities in three revamped and five field hospitals, five diagnostic centres, with a total of 22 different care posts aided by financial support from Venezuela. They are also operating nine rehabilitation centres staffed by nearly 70 Cuban physical therapists and rehab specialists, in addition to the Haitian medical personnel.”

Cuba has also reportedly sent 400,000 tetanus vaccines to Haiti to aid the wounded.

Why then does this figure not register in the western media? The aid response has come from the US and the UK in the main, if we were to believe reports.

These reports should be treated with deep scepticism. The US wish to control the entire response and the media scrum has seen French aid planes carrying vital supplies turned away from Haiti, according to Medecins Sans Frontiers.

Hurricane Katrina is another case in point.  Cuba were among the first to offer aid and were prepared to send over 1500 medical professionals and 26 tonnes of medicine.  This offer, according to CNN quoting Fidel Castro, wasn’t even rejected – there was simply no response, as the Cuban medical team waited on approval to dispatch.

Put simply, there was no political mileage in allowing a long-term US foe to gain the PR boost associated with such a gesture.  The press complied, as it often does, by refusing to scrutinise this blank refusal, or even acknowledge its existence.

The reasons for these media omissions lie at the heart of the media ownership/bias debates and run deep.

At a time when the US healthcare debate centres on the fact that many people in ‘the land of the free’ find it acceptable to deny 40 million impoverished citizens any form of healthcare for their ‘sin’ of not being able to afford care in the land of plenty, the offer of high quality medical professionals from one of the few nations not bowled over by the flawed model of western capitalism is not one with sufficient appeal.

Cuba stands against the US model which dictates how the world should function.  This economic outlook has run generally unopposed since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  The greatest problem with the end of communism was that it left only one system of government.

Right or wrong, every idea needs to be challenged constantly to retain its validity.

Cuba has always represented a challenge to the dominant mode of western free market capitalism and ‘the young upstart’ governments of Venezuela under Chavez and Bolivia under Morales have pushed South America into the unenviable position of the opposition to the consensus.

In times where US health reforms are resisted and 40 million people are denied healthcare in order to stop the country following what many see as the communist model of Britain’s NHS, hearts and minds are not easily conquered.

The crux of the issue is that the media in the UK and the US have nothing to gain by accurately reporting Cuba’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haitian earthquake.  As a news provider in the west, the worst crimes to be exposed to are charges of sympathy towards enemy states.

For those who wish to separate journalism from PR, a harsh lesson awaits. Each news source will report in line with the needs of their owners.  These needs may be political or economic, but they don’t differ wildly from the needs of any business owner.

Journalists don’t work to report the truth; they work for the person who pays them their monthly wage.  The news agenda has to fit with the overall aims and business interests of the parent company. When looking at our media, we should never lose sight of this fact.

Journalism is PR and PR is journalism. You work for the person who pays you and invariably, when media companies are involved, those interests are complicated and many.

Reporting on the success of the Cuban healthcare system has been resisted as it is a sore for the US, whose sanctions have failed to stifle a system which attracts student doctors from all over the world and exposes the shame of the United States.

The harsh reality is if any journalist or publication were to extol the virtues of the Cuban health system too vigorously, or mention the Cuban response to emergency appeal which the effort surely deserves, they would find themselves in the worst place imaginable to any news source – out of the loop.

Invitations to press conferences and access to top politicians are hard to come by and easy to lose.  Report the wrong thing too often and you are out. Simple. Gone.

And no news provider can operate without access to government sources.

The truth is out there, but nobody in the west dares to say it out loud.

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When did we forget how cathartic it can be to get really, really angry?

Remember when student protests were a national event?  Nope, neither can I.

I do remember a blissful time, probably in my late teens/early twenties when the world made me really bloody angry, although student protests were infuriatingly useless at the time, mainly as we were far too comfortable, which is quite the opposite problem to today’s selfish, inward looking recession graduates.

When I was 21, we invaded Afghanistan and I was super pissed off at the wholesale abuse of power our government exerted. I simply could not see the logic behind it and would tell anyone who would listen and most of those who would not.

When I was 23, I was in the streets shouting angrily about the injustice of the invasion of Iraq. As a resident of the granite city of Aberdeen, I was denied the chance to march in a meaningful demonstration, most likely due to the fact that a city which had made its name through the exploitation of oil wealth had no appetite for opposing wars in the middle-east.

I also remember the Aberdeen protest for one clear reason, or chronic lack of reason.  With all the protesters gathered at the city’s Castlegate, one key speaker declared that ‘we should not be invading Iraq, we should be invading Israel’ – tragically demonstrating his lack of awareness of the purpose of a peace march.

Now I’m 30 this summer and i’m as insipid and impotent as the next corporate fool, playing it all off as someone else’s war and someone else’s problem. “We tried to tell you and you didn’t listen.  Don’t expect us to mop it up when we have jobs to find”. It is someone else’s war, someone else’s problem.

I have longed for a time of anger and have derided the lack of courage that exists amongst my peers and, most of all, within me.

Then, blissfully, I remembered to watch Charlie Brooker‘s Newswipe and was exposed to the rantings of one Doug Stanhope.

Stanhope - Vitriolic, hilarious, incisive and always ranting

The man is ANGRY and it reminds me of all that is great about rage. I had genuinely forgotten.

We, as a nation, have lost our love of protest and I blame the dreaded ‘credit crunch’.

There is nothing like a financial downturn to make everybody a simmering introverted wimp in the face of all that is obviously wrong in the world.

As we get lost in our own selfish financial woes, we have forgotten what it is like to look outside of our reality and immediate sphere of influence to remember to stick up for the rights of others.

And no, I’m not talking about Haiti.  The western response to immediate disasters is heart-warmingly rapid and sincere, but mainly as there is no complicated political agenda to an ‘act of god’.

What I’m talking about are the tricky, muddled, ongoing sores of Iraq and Afghanistan – two illegal invasions which have caused the death of millions of innocent people.  Just so we’re clear. This is my blog and personal issues will appear.

And, let us never forget, a recession a fantastic excuse for selfish behaviour in the absolute.

My 21 year old self would have punched my lights out by now.  So awash was I with my own need for ‘survival’, as if a slight tightening of the purse strings is in any way comparable to the plight of war-torn nations,  that I totally lost sight of all that I used to be so very bloody angry about.

I have been told so many times by the news that I should be poor that I have almost started to believe it.  Perhaps when the news tells me that the recession is truly over, I shall feel bountifully rich again.   Either way, it is not an excuse.

There is a feeling when you get older that you used to be idealistic and somehow gaining a grander comprehension of the realities of the world as you get older is a suitable excuse for selling out on all that you used to hold so dear.

As a 21 year old, I promised that I would never sell out on my principles.  As I aged, I came out with statements like ‘the world is not black and white, but shades of grey’ and ‘the older you get, the less you know for sure’.

Well, right and wrong is not a transient issue.  Right and wrong will always be right and wrong, no matter how your conscience wishes to disguise it.  The only things which get more complicated are your excuses for inaction.

Douglas Coupland's Generation X was a defining novel for the 'baby bust' era

My copy of Generation X seems grossly underused these days.  Where did it all go wrong?  Douglas Coupland has managed to write a follow up,Generation A – and he’s a lot older than I am; why have I lost my way?

So, against this existential woe, enter Mr Stanhope – an American comedian who resists the ‘new Bill Hicks’ label like Pinochet avoided the Nazi label, but who is inextricably intertwined with the heritage of angry US political comedians trying to make us view the world in a wider context, through tightly gritted teeth and deeply sceptical lenses.

Stanhope’s skits for Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe have been the revelation of my year so far and have reminded me why it is so valuable to absolutely loathe what deserves to be so very loathsome.

Take his comments this week (episode 4), about how population control is at the core of the environmental debate.  We can all recycle, drive hybrid cars (if they manage to stop) and buy fair trade goods, but the best thing we can do is NOT REPRODUCE.

As Stanhope says, it is not a popular viewpoint and even the most ardent environmentalists like Al Gore don’t want to share this information with us, but the most harmful thing we can do in our lifetime is to have offspring.

“Sodomy is eco-friendly” – the best quote I’ve heard all week.

The world has passed the point where our population is manageable in comparison to our resources, but nobody has the balls to say ‘stop reproducing’ (apart from China of course and I’m not suggesting their model as a template. Images of discarded foetuses in the street will haunt me forever).

I admire Stanhope immensely, mostly because of his outspoken rants rather than in spite of them.  He may have gone a little far when he told an Irish audience that ‘Irish men f**k kids because Irish women are so very ugly’, but the man has a forceful way of getting his point across.

Agree or disagree with his standpoints, this anger has deserted us in our selfish credit crunch days.  Being angry at the world is healthy and, I would say, necessary.

Fair enough, Bill Hicks galvanised a generation like no other, but that generation has moved on and the current generation needs a champion who says ‘you are right to be pissed off, celebrate it but use it to achieve something’.  Dissent is a vital part of any democracy.

Doug Stanhope is not Bill Hicks and, for every heckler who suggests that he is treading on coattails,  he is at pains to point out that he doesn’t want to be another Bill.  He does however remind us of a vital function of being a citizen in a democracy and the importance of holding up to ridicule the things which simply should not stand.

Afghanistan and Iraq are two such issues.

Let us get really angry because, looking around, there is so much to be terribly angry about.

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Saving Face: A life without Facebook

On December 28th, 2009, I pre-empted one of my new year’s resolutions and did something remarkable – I ditched my Facebook account.

For most people, this may seem decidedly unremarkable; it’s just a social networking site and you are free to leave any time, right?  Well, no, not really. Not once you are hooked.

Some of my profile pictures were getting ridiculous

I wasn’t just a casual user of the site; I was what could be termed an ‘avid user’.  In other words, I was getting horrendously addicted.  In just over a year I had amassed nearly 400 ‘friends’.  I would think up a status update when I was out and feel the need to write it down so as to not forget.

Then I discovered I could use Facebook on my mobile phone, and my every waking thought only seemed to be real once it appeared on my profile.  If it wasn’t on Facebook, it didn’t exist.

I took great pride in knowing that some of my friends would log on mainly to see my status updates, declaring them the funniest things they had read.  My ego loves a bit of polishing.

What I didn’t realise was that whilst there may have been a core audience of 30 or so people who appreciated my incessant banter, there were many more who blocked my updates or removed me as a friend because of the sheer volume of comments which had no bearing on their lives whatsoever.  So what if Stevie hasn’t been paid this month?  In fact, who the hell is he anyway?

My work in general was being impeded by the frequency with which I was returning to Facebook.  My daily thoughts were also needlessly occupied by it.  The excuse was that, as a journalist and general media type, I needed Facebook.  It was a vital tool in my armoury, I insisted.

During a long walk up the hills on what had been another miserable snow covered day, the peace and tranquillity of the landscape allowed my mind to put 2009 behind me and attempt to find ways to make 2010 the successful year that the previous 365 days had failed to deliver.  I knew Facebook had to go, for the good of my sanity.

Incidentally, the seed had been sown barely two weeks earlier, when a friend accosted me at my part time job (wine shop) asking, “Shouldn’t you be at home updating your Facebook status?”.

Dear Lord, had it really come to this?  I could no longer ignore the fact that more people now found my online omnipresence to be an irritant than a source of entertainment.  As soon as I got off that hill, I was hitting the cancel button.

Upon deciding to undertake this deletion process, the Facebook infected part of my brain started to bite back and immediately identified a total of 9 key areas of concern.  Here, in no particular order, are the problems I faced:

1)What about all the photos I have on the site, as well as great photos of me taken by other people?

2) Will my friends think I have removed them as friends, and how offended will they be?

3) Are there people who I am only in touch with through Facebook and how will I address this?

4) How will I publicise my work if I can’t use the links via the site?

5) Having 400 friends is very useful as a journalist.  How will I cope without these contacts?

6)Work aside, will I miss the social interaction of the site?

7) My work in music journalism relies heavily on the events and invitations through Facebook.  Will I suffer without these and thus be cut out of the loop?

8 ) How will I remember people’s birthdays?

9) What was it that led me to get so addicted in the first place, what need did it satisfy and how will this part of me react?

To deal with the facile ones first, people tend to tell you when their birthday is, so simply writing it in my diary will be enough.

Even unsavoury pictures of me stealing children from playparks made it onto the site

The ‘social side’ was replacing a genuine social life, where people used to leave the house to catch up with friends.  A return to this antiquated way of life will be most welcome.

As for pictures, well I prefer to live in the present and have never been one for pictures.  My mind remembers things for me; often more favourably than the original event, and that is fine by me.

If I am only in touch with someone because of Facebook, chances are they are not very close to me.  With my workload this coming year, my social circle is going to have to contract significantly, not expand, so this is an ideal opportunity.  I certainly didn’t spend £12k getting a journalism MA so I could expand my social circle.

As for the work related elements, such as the contacts, the events and the usefulness of being able to publicise my links through the site, I will have to wait and see how this pans out.  There are ways round these things, but many of them are long-winded and will probably cost me more time whilst being less effective.

Facebook is a very compact and concise site which generally functions very well for people with something to publicise.  My reasoning though, is that Facebook never put any money in my pocket.  I need to impress employers, not my friends and certainly not the distant misanthropes with whom I had the misfortune to attend school.

In general, and especially work-wise, it is far too early to know how my self-imposed removal will work out.  One of the earliest and most alarming outcomes, as well as the most surprising, was the number of close companions who could see no reason for my disappearance other than some catastrophic personal slight.

A fair number of people, including many who really should know better, sent text messages enquiring as to why I had ‘defriended’ them (a delightful new verb).  These, of course, are the ones who actually sent a text.  I can only speculate as to how many have simply taken umbrage in silence.

The final unanswered question brings me neatly to my conclusion: What was it that caused me to get so addicted in the first place?  Well, most likely it is my compulsive need to communicate constantly.  My career choice as journalist/radio presenter/podcaster seems to back up this assertion.

In fact, what is this article if not a replacement form of communication from a man whose life is no longer published via Facebook?


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My top 10 albums of 2009: Part 2 – The top 5

Following on from the previous post, here are the final five selections in my list of the top 10 albums of the last year, in descending order…

5) J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

More west coast americana here, this time from Seattle’s husky voiced Fleet Fox member J (Joshua) Tillman.  Vacilando Territory Blues sees him in typically thoughtful form, with the track ‘James Blues’ an example of his piano and guitar backed husky storytelling style.  ‘First Born’ is another treat on this album, which was one of two released in the last year and which peaked at just #191 in the UK album charts.

This album is patient, delicate and if you loved Bon Iver in 2007 but have been disappointed by his subsequent work, then Tillman’s your man.

4) Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up and Smelling of Strangers

Hinson’s aching, cracked voice on swooping string backings have long since won me over.  My Fresh Air radio show and associated podcasts almost turned into a one man homage to the Texan with enough angst in his soul to make me cry.  This year though, he decided to release a double CD covers record, which I anticipated and worried about in equal measure.  Covers records are fraught with danger and I can think of very few which are actually any good.  However, in Hinson we trust…

The result was a mixed press, with many of my fellow bloggers panning the record, with his cover of George Harrison’s ‘While my guitar gently weeps’ coming in a for particularly hostile reception.  For me though, Hinson succeeds because he makes the tracks his own, rather than attempting to out-do the original.  He shows respect to the original recordings and selected them because they are songs he loves.  His cover of John Denver’s ‘This old guitar’ is my pick of the lot.  Covers albums will always be divisive and I would rather have seen an album of original Hinson material.  Still though, it is bloody good.

3) The Low Anthem – Oh my God, Charlie Darwin

A fairly new addition to my record collection, ‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ has barely left the CD player since its arrival.  Incidentally, I don’t really like the title track or the album’s centrepiece ‘To Ohio’ (which the band seem to like enough for it to appear twice on the record), but once these two opening tracks are over, the US alt. folk trio’s album comes into its own with the superb Cohen-esque ‘Ticket Taker’.  There are more than a few nods to Tom Waits too, with ‘Home I’ll never be’ giving the writing credit to Tom Waits and Jack Kerouac (him again).

This album harks back to an America of old, but also deals with the contemporary issues to which its title alludes; namely the conflict between Darwinism and religion in modern America.

Having recorded the album in a desolate cabin (Bon who?), the band have recently acquired recording space in an abandoned pasta sauce factory, and regular updates from their new home are posted on their website.

‘Oh my God, Charlie Darwin’ is an album with no spaces in between the sound.  Rich and lush, with layered harmonies and a vast array of instruments, this is an album full of tales and imagery and is one I shall return to time after time.

2) Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More

So, all the bloggers get together to lavish praise on a little known act emerging out of London’s indie folk scene.  Then they become successful and have an advert on the telly with the dulcet tones of Jo Wiley telling everybody to buy it for Christmas.  No we are supposed to shun them yeah, cause they’re not cool anymore yeah, they’ve sold out yeah?  Well, no.

When I first heard ‘Little Lion Man’ in late 2007, I was blown away.  I played it on my radio show just about every week and stated then that if Mumford and Sons could back this up with some other memorable tunes, they would have an album to be reckoned with.  Well, they only went and managed that.  ‘Sigh no more’ is superb from start to finish and has rightly put them in the spotlight alongside fine scene contemporaries Johnny Flynn and Noah and the Whale, along with the somewhat questionable Laura Marling (who I saw put in a rather shockingly dull performance at Edinburgh’s Queens Hall a few months back).

‘Sigh no more’ has more plays on my iTunes than any other record and if their reward for success is a TV advert and more record sales, then I say well done.  More please more please more please…..

1) Tom Waits – Glitter and Doom

To be fair, any Tom Waits release is pretty much guaranteed to be my top album of the year, such is my love of the gravel-voiced man whose career has spanned nearly 40 varied and glorious years.  The only real problem came in 2002, when he released Blood Money and Alice at the same time.  The bugger…

Glitter and Doom is made up of live recordings from his European tour of 2007.  The pain of being too impoverished to see him when he came to Edinburgh will live with me until my dying day.  This album has gone some way to alleviating that pain, but in some ways it has only served to highlight what I missed.

Waits has always been a supreme live performer; part barfly crooner, part balladeer, part stand up comedian.  CD1 contains 17 live tracks spanning his entire career and Tom is on particularly grizzly form, even by his own formidable standards.  The jewel in the crown though is CD2, a staggeringly funny and insightful collection of his chat between songs, edited together and lasting 36 phenomenal, side splitting minutes.

Did you know you can get 14 omelettes from one ostrich egg?  Well, Tom does.  He also claims to have purchased Henry Ford’s last breath from Ebay.

True or not, thank you Mr Waits.  Yet again, you have made my year.

Having just turned 60, Tom Waits sounds as good as ever.

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My top 10 albums of 2009 – No. 10-6

Yes folks, after finally getting some time off from my various jobs, I too have cracked and felt the need to produce a list of my top albums of the last year. 2009 was the year I took my first tentative yet clumsy steps into the world of music journalism, writing for the Scotsman newspaper’s Under the Radar blog, covering unsigned and under-represented bands in Scotland.

Those just missing out on the top 10 include Blue Roses, Monsters of Folk, Bowerbirds and my pal from Glasgow going by the name Beerjacket (Although I doubt I make it into his top 10 either).

Here then, in descending order, are my top ten albums of 2009:

10) Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – White Lunar

This superb 2 CD selection of work from Cave and his partner in crime is comprised mainly of selections from film soundtracks, most notably The Assassination of Jesse James and this year’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation The Road. It is a soothing, classically influenced listen and couldn’t be much more different from their previous work on the ear-drum punishing Grinderman.  Cave also released another darkly hysterical book this year, entitled The Death of Bunny Munro and his performance at the Picturehouse in Edinburgh was far and away my gig of the year.  Proof indeed that no matter the genre, Nick Cave is capable of utter genius.

9) Bombay Bicycle Club – I had the blues but I shook them loose

Summer festival favourites Bombay Bicycle Club produced a really fun album that, whilst it is certainly the most mainstream choice in my ten, does not deserve to suffer simply because it became popular.  Far too often people in my line of work turn their backs on a band once everyone else catches on, which seems peculiarly self-defeating if the purpose is to bring bands to a wider audience.  2009 was certainly a great year for these guys and their album managed to be both intelligent and popular.  They deserve credit for both.

8 ) Richmond Fontaine – We used to think the freeway sounded like a river

An excess of Kerouac and Burrows in my 2009 reading list fuelled an interest in US west coast alt. country bands; a genre which is still going strong despite the dominance of New York acts on the international scene.  Portland band Richmond Fontaine’s 9th record sounds as spare as the pacific coast highways but has moments of homage to the Seattle scene which so flourished in the 90s.  It is a classic road album, rich in imagery and full of the kind of storytelling you would expect from lead singer and accomplished novelist Willy Vlautin.  Their best album to date, this is an involving and rewarding experience.

7) Withered Hand – Good News

Dan Willson, the man behind Edinburgh act Withered Hand, has been charming Scottish audiences all year with his shy demeanour and wry, quasi-religious pop songs.  In September he released the highly anticipated ‘Good News’, to an excitable local scene.  He is the classic example of the whole being worth so much more than the individual parts; his voice isn’t great and neither is his guitar playing (Neil from Meursault had to tune his guitar for him at one gig!). However, through a combination of self-effacing charm and lyrics which should be made into a book, Dan has produced a blinding album, aided by the production talents of Kramer, who has previously worked with the likes of Daniel Johnson, Low and Galaxie 500.

What will 2010 bring for Dan Willson?  I think he should write a book of children’s stories.  Very, very dark ones…

6) Small Town Boredom – Notes from the Infirmary

Paisley’s Small Town Boredom are not in the least the type of band you’d let you would play at a gathering of friends and are not the kind of band you’d feel comfortable passing on to a depressed friend, but whilst their music is what some would unfairly dismiss as depressing, I prefer to think of it as contemplative.  The duo have clearly been through some rough times, but ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ finds beauty in adversity and hints towards optimistic times ahead.  The tone is predominantly low key but builds to some pretty extreme crescendos, not least on the album’s standout track ‘World’s Most Unwanted’.  Never likely to break into the mainstream, Small Town Boredom’s aversion to playing life is also unlikely to endear them to potential new fans.  They deserve an audience though and anyone prepared to give ‘Notes from the Infirmary’ a few listens will be richly rewarded.

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