Books: “Well the first thing I wanna say is, mandate my ass.” In 1982 the NME gave away a cassette called Jive Wire, which among other things introduced me to Gil Scott-Heron via his ferocious anti-Reagan song B-Movie. Since then, I've seen him live in 1988, cheered his comeback in 2010, and mourned his passing in 2011. Cut to a month or two ago, when I was leaving the recent Tate exhibition Soul Of A Nation and discovered that the accompanying shop was selling Scott-Heron's autobiography, a book which I didn't even know existed up until that point. It turns out that The Last Holiday was assembled after Scott-Heron's death from about twenty years worth of attempts at a memoir, which explains its rather lumpy structure. It's a roughly chronological canter through his life, with special attention paid to the period in the early 80s when he was touring with Stevie Wonder (at the time when Wonder was heading up the campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday). After that, the narrative thrust drops off, and we don't get to hear much about the troubles of his later years: it's hard to tell if this is a conscious omission by Scott-Heron, or just material he never got around to writing. Either way, what we have is beautifully written, and very much in the voice we've come to know and love from his recorded work. And afterwards, you'll want to drag out the records all over again.
Music: "We've managed to be a steampunk band for nearly ten years now without writing a song about Jack The Ripper. This is a song about Jack The Ripper." If there was an award for the best value gigs in London last month, then The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing would have to win hands down: they did three shows in tiny venues (Dublin Castle, Hope & Anchor, and the Sebright Arms), and only charged a fiver to get in. The catch? We were warned upfront that the bulk of the gig would involve them playing several songs they'd never performed in public before, as a warmup for the recording of their next album. And it struck me, watching this, that I used to experience this sort of thing all the time - certainly when I was at the peak of my Pogues fandom in the mid eighties, you'd come to expect that songs would appear in their live set at least a year before they made it onto record. Now I'm an old man, and the gigs I go to these days are largely by artists too big to risk trying out unfamiliar material. So, this made a nice change. We were at the second gig in the run (at Sebright Arms), and the ten or so new songs they played sounded just fine to me: their ode to Marie Curie is particularly poignant given Andy Heintz' recent cancer scare. The album should be out next March, apparently, so look out for that.
Telly: At some point in the next month, there should be a burst of activity on MostlyFilm, which has been a bit quiet for a few months now. Among other things, we'll probably address that quietness. For my part, you should expect a couple of contributions from me, including a piece celebrating the international programming that you find on Netflix nowadays: shows that they've made for a specific foreign market, and then made available worldwide in case anyone else is interested. Unlike the genre I'll be writing about in the piece, it's easy to see why Japanese shows based on manga have been deemed worthy of international exposure. Nevertheless, Blazing Transfer Students is a deranged piece of work and no mistake. A vehicle for the boy band Johnny's West, it features the seven lads as students transferred to the same mysterious school: on their first day, they're suddenly thrown into a wrestling ring and told to fight each other, even though they don't want to. By the end of the pilot episode (the only one I've watched so far), we're a little closer to understanding what's going on, but not much. Filmed in a surrealist comic-book style (complete with sound effects appearing as on-screen text), it starts out daft and gets dafter as it goes, with the trailer suggesting that a whole raft of genre spoofs are still to follow. It's possible that it may eventually get unwatchably ridiculous, but the sheer energy of the first episode is enough to persuade me to keep watching. For now, anyway.
Morgen warned us at the screening that documentaries tend not to hang around in cinemas too long, suggesting we should tell people to see Jane in its first week of release. Well, at the time of writing, we're now into week two, and if the listings at LondonNet are anything to go by the film's actually opening in more cinemas, which is a nice reversal of the trend. So keep an eye out to see if Jane's playing at a cinema near you, and catch it there if you can. If it isn't, don't worry: National Geographic will be showing it on their own TV channel some time next year. (Although the photography and sound make this one you really should see theatrically if possible.)
It's the final month of the year: stuff will be happening on this site, as you'd expect (including that BrewDogging update I didn't quite have time for last month). Feel free to speculate on it in the comments box below.