Friday, 31 January 2014

Top 5 Favourite Quarterbacks

It's the Super Bowl this Sunday, so I thought I'd take a break from my 2013 top fives to celebrate the American variety of football and the stars of one of it's key positions. More than ever these are my favourite Quarterbacks rather than an indication of greatness (though I'm sure a few of these qualify for that too). I've been watching American football since 1982 and I think I've got a pretty good appreciation of the sport but I don't think I can talk with any authority about the intricacies of the game.

1. Joe Montana - Montana was the winning Quarterback (and MVP) in the 1st game I ever saw. BBC Grandstand showed extended highlights from the 1982 Super Bowl between Montana's San Franciso 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals. I was hooked from the off. The colourful uniforms, the end to end action and the late drama. The following season Channel 4 started showing weekly highlights and Montana was a star throughout my peak interest. He led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins (1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990) and I got to see him play live, albeit briefly, at Wembley in 1992 (beating the Redskins in a pretty poor pre-season game).

2. Joe Theismann - Joe Theismann is in many ways the reason I've ended up a Washington Redskins supporter. Launched in November 1982, Channel 4 picked up highlights for the 1982 NFL season and hot on the heels of that '82 Super Bowl I mentioned above. I was a keen viewer from the off though the '82 season was shortened due to a player strike. After a poor pre-season Washington did really well once the league actually started and finished top seed in the NFC. Theismann grabbed my attention early on, he had a big on-field personality, and didn't seem afraid to run with the ball if the pass options were lacking. He played a big part in taking an unfancied team all the way to the Super Bowl (though John Riggins also played a big role).

Joe didn't have a conventional route into the NFL either. Turning down a contract with the Miami Dolphins, after also being selected to play baseball for the Minnesota Twins, and starting his pro-football career in the Canadian Football League. He joined the Redskins in 1974 where he completed his first season as punt returner, eventually becoming their starting Quarterback in 1978. In the '83 Super Bowl he threw two touchdown passes and made arguably the most important defensive play of the game. The Redskins were trailing 17–13 in the third quarter when Joe made a pass that was deflected & intercepted for what appeared to be a certain touchdown. However, Theismann managed to knock the ball out of Miami lineman Kim Bokamper's hands, keeping the score close enough for Washington to stick to their run-heavy, John Riggins inspired, strategy and claim victory. Theismann also led the Redskins to Super Bowl XVIII the following year, losing heavily to the L.A. Raiders (a game I've still not entirely got over), and would go on to set several Redskins franchise records before seeing his career cut short by injury.

3. Brett Favre - Green Bay are one of the teams I have a soft spot for. They were pretty poor in the 80s when I first started watching football, but I kind of liked them. There was something special about games at Lambeau Field, especially if it had snowed and I began to take more of an interest. I soon found out more about NFL history and Green Bay's sixties heyday and took an interest in their results from then on. Having been regular NFL championship winners before the AFL / NFL merger, Green Bay had gone on to win the first two Super Bowls. When Brett Favre joined the team in 1992 it had been a long time since Green Bay had got anyway near the Super Bowl but Favre, under the leadership of head coach Mike Holmgren, helped change that. Favre led Green Bay to their first Super Bowl victory in 1997 ending a 29 year wait for a third World Championship. Favre was another quarterback with a huge on-field presence. He was very mobile and didn't seem afraid to mix it up with the big men outside of the pocket. At times American Football can seem like a precision chess game but Favre showed it can be more flexible and a lot of fun.

4. Peyton Manning - Peyton Manning has been thrilling this season setting new records for passing touchdowns & passing yards. He's exciting to watch and (apologies to my Fulham/New England pal Russ Goldman) just edges out Tom Brady in my list of favourites. Manning impressed early in his career playing for the less fancied Indianapolis Colts. He got the Colts their first Super Bowl win, in 2007, since the franchise move from Baltimore and took them back again in 2009 (though on the losing side that time). After losing a year to injury in 2011 he was released by the Colts and eventually picked up by the Denver Broncos in 2012. I wonder how much Indy regret that decision now. 2013 has been an incredible year for the Broncos who are back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the days of John Elway.

5. Tom Brady - Much like Green Bay I have also had a long standing soft spot for New England. When I first started watching football they seemed perennial underdogs. When they won the 2002 Super Bowl it re-ignited my interest in the NFL. All the more so as their Quarterback that day, Tom Brady, was only a second year pro and had stepped in to cover for their first choice QB who got injured early in the season. He's gone on to be one of the most successful QBs the league has ever seen taking the Patriots to 5 NFL Championship Games in 11 seasons.


Friday, 24 January 2014

Top 5 TV Shows I saw in 2013

2013 was another year when I recorded more stuff than I could possibly watch. Whilst the TiVo makes recording programs very easy it has quickly become the equivalent of having a huge box of videos you never get round to viewing. I'd previously managed to keep things reasonably balanced at around 50% capacity but before Christmas I was well over 65% full and decided to take drastic action. Grimm (Season 2) and New Girl (Season 2) where wiped and Homeland (Season 2) only survived the cull thanks to it's relatively low number of episodes. Despite this I still saw some excellent telly.

1. Parks & Recreation (Season 2) - I picked up on this thanks to Andrew Collins who reviews television for the Guardian (amongst other things). The six episode first season didn't really grab me but I stuck with it and found season 2 got better & better. This was originally planned as a spin-off from the US version of The Office but ended up being a new stand-alone show. I've not seen the US Office but can see how Parks & Rec follows a similar fake documentary style to the UK Office. Amy Poehler's stars as Leslie Knope deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. She is very much the centre of everything that happens but is supported by a very fine cast of characters, especially the marvelously deadpan Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman).

2. Les Revenants - French zombie thriller with a glacial pace that had me riveted from start to finish. I had to include at least one subtitled entry and this was comfortably the winner (though I also enjoyed the 4th series of Spiral). It's beautifully shot and, whilst it might not be everyone's cup-of-tea, I felt the slow build and gradual plot reveal added to the power of the story. Of course, the Mogwai backing music helped get me in the mood considerably. By the time it reached Channel 4, as The Returned, I was already very familiar with the soundtrack album which suited the story and plot perfectly.

3. Community (Season 3) - I'm not sure how I've failed to feature Community in a TV top 5 before. Season 4 came out in 2013 but was slightly under-par compared to the previous shows. It was the first to be made without series creator Dan Harmon on board but still had some outstanding moments (the episode where Pierce locks himself inside the panic room of his mansion and the series finale - both written by previous Guest Top 5 provider Megan Ganz - were both highlights). However, I watched most of Season 3 in 2013 and that was superb. It includes some of my very favourite episodes (the episode where Shirley teaches Jeff how to win at Foosball whilst Annie stages a robbery to cover up breaking Abed's special edition DVD of The Dark Knight & "Digital Estate Planning" where the gang are animated as 8-bit video game characters & have to complete to win Pierce's inheritance). The bottom line is it's very funny and you should watch it as soon as you can.

4. The Enigma of Nic Jones: Return of Britain’s Lost Folk Hero - Nic Jones is a British folk legend. His 1980 record Penguin Eggs is regarded as a classic. In 1982, at the peak of his career, Nic was involved in a near-fatal car crash on the way home from a gig. He broke almost every bone in his body and suffered neurological damage that meant he would never play his guitar in front of an audience again. I'd never heard of him prior to watching this BBC documentary but found this film, which explores how influential his music has been as well as documenting his return to the live stage, utterly enthralling and very emotional. Encouraged by friends and family, Nic returned to the stage to play several festival performances accompanied by his son, Joe Jones, on guitar and keyboard player Belinda O'Hooley. The concerts were a resounding success and for his old and new fans, a moving comeback for their musical hero. I've watched it twice now and, I'll be honest, I blubbed both times.

5. Fresh Meat (Series 3) - Not quite as good as Series 1 or Series 2 but still very funny. As with the two American series at 1 & 3, Fresh Meat has a great ensemble cast who have grown into their characters as the show develops. Greg McHugh, as Howard, gets more of an active role this time round and is one of the few characters to find things going reasonably well. Everyone else seems to be struggling to cope with various mishaps and this does have a bit of a downer on the group dynamics. That aside, Zawe Ashton, as Vod, is still the brightest star and has some spectacular moments, including the episode where her alcohol dependent mother comes to stay and makes a play for J.P.


Friday, 17 January 2014

Top 5 Books I Read in 2013

I didn't read as much last year, I got bogged down in a couple of books and was easily distracted (largely by Twitter if I'm honest). But, I did read some great books including a decent portion of the 2013 Booker Prize short list. Next year the Booker is opening up it's nominations to a global market. That feels a bit wrong to me but I'll still look forward to seeing what novels get selected. Whatever the merits of the prize it has introduced me to some excellent authors I doubt I'd have otherwise read though it has also forced me to read a couple of novels I've really struggled with (Will Self's Umbrella last year and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being this year). I intend to get through my movie backlog this year, so book numbers may well be down again, but if I only finish one book it's going to be Moby Dick which I've been dragging around with me on buses & trains all year without making any real progress.

1. "Empire Of The Sun" J.G. Ballard - J.G. is rapidly rising in my list of favourite authors and this might well be his masterpiece. It actually took me quite a long time to finish, but that was more down to timing than because I found it difficult to read. It's a vivid fictionalisation of Ballard's time in Shanghai before, during and at the end of the second world war and, typically of Ballard, brings a very different perspective to the impact of war.

2. "The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry" Rachel Joyce - This was one of the later books I read from the 2012 Booker short list (a very fine Booker year based on the books I read) and is a genuinely heart warming tale of a man who steps out to post a letter and keeps on walking. Harold becomes something of a cult hero as people gradually become aware of his "pilgrimage". Rachel Joyce tells the tale beautifully, mixing humour with poignancy without ever sounding trite. I think I read all of the 2012 short list, bar Hilary Mantell's winning entry (something of a recurring event since I began reading Booker short lists), and this would have been my choice for a winner.

3. "Harvest" Jim Crace - My favourite of the 2013 Booker nominated novels I managed to finish (you won't be surprised to hear that I failed to read 800+ page winner The Luminaries). I've spoken to a few people who found this tough going which surprised me as I read this one fairly quickly. On the surface this is a story about an idyllic English village that falls apart due to the demand for economic progress and impact of the 18th & 19th Century Enclosures Act. However, for me, the real heart of the book is about how we react to outsiders and change.

4. "Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!" Richard Feynman - 2013 was the 25th anniversary of Richard Feynman's death. I'd borrowed this book from my brother-in-law the previous Christmas but the BBC film about his work on the Challenger Shuttle inquiry spurred me into reading it. And I'm very glad I did, Feynman's character oozes out of every page without ever sounding arrogant or boastful. Ostensibly a series of anecdotes about Feynman's life & work it's an easy book to dip in and out of as time allows though I found I just wanted to keep on reading it. He was obviously academically clever but also seems to have had a very sociable personality as well as a penchant for practical jokes.

5. "TransAtlantic" Colum McCann - I attempted to get a head start with the 2013 Booker Prize so began reading the long list pretty much as soon as it was announced (a big thumbs up to the Library for being able to get these books fairly easily and saving me a fortune). I worked on the basis that if I read the shortest ones first I'd have more under my belt by the time the short list was announce. That worked fairly well though I've still got a a couple of the short list to read. TransAtlantic was one of those I read early and disappointingly didn't make the short list. A little like Harvest, this is another novel with a historical setting, telling the story of three transatlantic crossings in different eras. Of course there are small threads that tie these stories together before a finale that reminds us however hard life may be there is also wonder and hope.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

DIRTBOMBS DETOUR PLEDGE - Bring The Dirtbombs back to the UK

The Dirtbombs are one of the best bands I've ever seen live. It's been ages since they last came over to the UK and I'm really keen to try and do some about that. DETOUR is a relatively new initiative launch by the folk behind SongKick that allows fans to pledge to buy tickets for their favourite acts. This gives bands and promoters a way to gauge how much interest exists and has already successfully seen many bands tour the UK.

If you follow the link below you can add your name to the list of people who want to see The Dirtbombs back in London (or elsewhere in the UK). You can set the price you're prepared to pay and will receive notification if a date is set so you'll be at the front of the queue for tickets

Here's how Detour explain the process - When you pledge, you tell us how much you’re willing to pay to see the band live. This is so we get a sense of what you’re willing to pay for a ticket. When we get pledges for an artist, we work with a promoter to contact the band and confirm a tour date. Once the concert is confirmed, we set a ticket price and notify you in advance with the concert date and confirmed ticket price and the date your card will be charged. You can opt out if you can’t make the date. Everyone is charged the same price, even if you pledged higher. If you pledged lower, you’ll have the option to increase your pledge.

If you're really keen on Detroit based Garage Punk you might also want to pledge to support my other campaign to get the Detroit Cobras back over. They're awesome too.

You can also check out other nationwide campaigns for both bands in the rest of the UK.


Friday, 10 January 2014

Top 5 Gigs of 2013

I was supposed to be cutting back but 2013 turned out not just to be my most frequent gig year since the peak of my addiction back in the early 90s but also the best. I give each concert a mark out of ten with eleven (hat tip Spinal Tap) reserved for the very best. Last year I saw seven gigs I consider worthy of an eleven, which must be a record though did make compiling this top five all the harder.

1. Status Quo at Hammersmith Odeon - Yep, the original frantic four back on stage for the 1st time since I started going to gigs. Quo were the band that got me into music & one of the first bands I saw but this was my first show with Alan on bass & John on drums.

Full gig report at Chopper's Gigs

Best. Night. Ever.

2. Swans at the Concorde 2 - My first brush with Mr Gira & my first gig wearing earplugs. This was an astonishing assault on the senses but also a fantastic gig.

Full gig report at Chopper's Gigs

3. The Breeders at The Forum - The whole of Last Splash followed by the whole of Pod made for a magical evening that will live long in my memory.

Full gig report at Chopper's Gigs

Kim Deal photo courtesy @substandardnerd

4. Japandroids at Dingwalls - I love Japandroids but wasn't expecting this to reach the heights of previous shows. Turned out it was another absolute blast and also their last London show for some time.

Full gig report at Chopper's Gigs

5. Pixies at Hammersmith Odeon - Rattled through more songs than you could resonably expect to fit into 90 minutes and were as good as any time I'd seen them before. I also think this was their last ever show with replacement bassist Kim Shattuck. Shame, I kind of liked her.

Full gig report at Chopper's Gigs

And, seeing as it was such an amazing year (and I've already posted this on Twitter), here are the rest of my top ten.

6. Low at Cambridge Junction - Just misses out. A 3 hour drive to get there but worth every second. A simply stunning set that confirmed I must ALWAYS go and see Low in future.

7. The Jim Jones Revue at The Sebright Arms - Always amazing live & doubly so in a tiny pub in the East End of London.

8. Bo Ningen at The Scala - An explosion of colour & elbows & huge riffs. Totally blew me away.

9. Euros Childs at Boston Music Rooms - Great set from Euros with added Laura J Martin in his band and as support. I also laughed more at Euros' between song chat than at any other gig I can remember.

10. Desaparecidos at the Electric Ballroom - A blistering set from Connor & pals at their much delayed (10 years after their only album came out) 1st UK gig.


Friday, 3 January 2014

Chop's Gig reports - December 2013

In keeping with my New Year resolutions there's no top five today but I am going to link more regularly to my gig review blog (you might not want to read it but that won't stop me banging on about it). You also get to admire my frankly appalling iphone gig photography.

Here are the last three from last year that I finally got round to finishing off between Christmas and New Year.

Thursday 12th December 2013 - Clarabella & The Cryptkicker IV at The Alleycat Club - First stop of my first ever two gig night.

Thursday 12th December 2013 - Neko Case at The Forum - A wonderful set that breathed life into the latest album and the second stop on my two gig night.

Friday 20th December 2013 - The Wonder Stuff / PWEI / Jesus Jones at the Shepherd's Bush Empire - Slightly disappointing three band bill.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Top 5 New Year Resolutions 2014

I wasn't sure I was going to bother with resolutions this year. My track record has been pretty poor to be frank but I thought I should at least update you on my successes & failures of last year and if I'm doing that I might as well set myself some new ones. Though I'm aiming a little lower this time round.

First the failure report; I did post less top fives but probably ended up blogging more due to my gig reports blog. I did OK with the exercise but struggled to keep things going during the summer holidays. My knowledge of flags, country capitals & the periodic table hasn't improved a great deal, so that appearance on Pointless is still on hold. I cooked a little more often but didn't really expand my recipe collection and I bought two hats, though not sure either could be considered cool.

1. Dryathalon - Exercise and diet will continue to be a top priority and to get 2014 off to a good start I've signed up to take part in Cancer Research UK's Dryathlon. No alcohol from the 1st to the 31st January, it really shouldn't be that hard and I might help raise a bit of money along the way. If you feel like sponsoring me, even the smallest amount can make a difference.

2. Go to less gigs - I love gigs and I find it really hard to resist the lure of an exciting new band but really need to cut back for financial and home improvement reasons. Last year I managed 26, which is the most since my early 20s, and that's a little high when I'm also going to Football. I've already got 5 booked in for 2014, so things don't bode well, but I am going to try and focus on the must see shows.

3. Watch more films - I love films too but with music and football and gigs all taking up time I don't get to watch very many. My TiVo is currently bulging at the seams so I'm determined to make this the year I clear the backlog and fill in a few gaps in my film experience. I might even blog about it, though that might conflict with resolution 4.

4. Blog less - I'm going to try and fell less dictated to by the once a week schedule I've tended to follow. If I blog about gigs (or movies) I'll let them take the slot of a top five. If I write a top five I'm going to try for quality over quantity.

5. Work on the cool hat thing - Of the two hats I got this year I don't feel I really nailed the cool thing. I love the flat cap but haven't quite come to terms with the trilby. I'm not sure I've quite found the occasion to wear it, and if I did I'm not convinced I wouldn't just look like a goon. Might have to find something more suiting to my 45 years, or give up on ever being as cool as Cary Grant.

Anyway, a very Happy New Year to you all. Hope 2014 is a good year for everyone.