Last Lungs

Lancashire post-rock lovelies Last Lungs agreed to sit around a table for a little chat about their tour, plans for the future, and an unexpected favourite track for the journey home [clue, it’s at the bottom of this entry ;)]

The interview can be found right here

A little slice of their stuff is right here :

Oh, and for a treat, as played on their van home…

((This interview took place at the New Continental, Preston))

2011 – reading tea leaves

It’s the end of Christmas but not quite January, that ‘no man’s land’ between family meetings, food stuffing and New Year champagne popping. You could spend the days watching old Warner Bros cartoons on YouTube whilst dunking Fox’s biscuits into endless rounds of brews (like…ooh I dunno….me) or fall back on that trusty standby of the festive period; the new year prediction game. It’s right up there with the elderly relative favourite, “Guess Which Programmes the Familiar Faced Actors Starred In”, available every Sunday afternoon from ten minutes into the episode.

It would be very easy for me to start with “LibDems will enjoy a massive resurgence in support when the knee-jerk anti-everything reactions die down a bit”. HOWEVER, I have stepped a few paces back to view the picture with a little less bias and have decided instead to predict….

It’s goodbye from Nick, but not the LibDems

Britain’s attitude to the Coalition has been interesting, as this is the first real experiment with coalition governance since the Second World War (it could be argued both cases were created through different definitions of ‘necessity’). There /is/ knee-jerk opposition for the sake of it from certain quarters, the type of “We wanted change from Labour but not this kind of change” blather which fills the comments sections of newspaper websites. The Coalition has achieved a lot since its formation (no, really, look beyond the blather and see what’s been done.)

Unfortunately (and this not going to be a diatribe), all that the Coalition is doing well has been overshadowed by the one big issue it has got completely wrong. On tuition fees for University students, the new Browne report influenced policies will have a detrimental effect on the finances of aspiring students. It’s not quite the Hell and Brimstone “class war” I’ve been hearing, but it’s not quite the place any LibDem supporters wanted to find themselves.

For putting us into Government and threading our fairness agenda through the Conservative-led programme for government, Nick Clegg has to receive a lot of credit. He has taken us supporters somewhere we never thought possible. But, and it’s a biggie, the way he has dragged over our party’s reputation such a large and dark shadow that no further ‘good’ can be completely out of this shadow of ‘bad’. Clegg remains an electoral liability when we need certainty and credibility; we cannot win the AV referendum with a man who called it “a miserable little compromise” leading the charge.

I therefore make the first prediction – that the man who took us into Government will step down before May to give us the best chance of coming out of that process with decent results and a referendum win.

(Okay, so…one-plus-a-bit predictions there, there’s no hard and fast rules about the constraints and such round here…)

Clegg is not the only “Nick” in politics, nor the only one whose leadership is mired in controversy and criticism. Having kept close eyes on the court cases and on-line reactions (always pays to lurk on internet forums), my next prediction has to be…

The slow, certain demise of the British National Party

This is a BIT ‘wishful thinking’ but forgive me. The BNP have been in serious decline for years. Their two victories at the European Elections (Nick Griffin in North West England, Andrew Brons in Yorkshire & Humber) was not followed up by any serious attempt to make hay while the country grumbled. In front of the Question Time audience, Griffin was an embarrassment, firing off his oft-rehearsed anti-everything rhetoric without once hitting a valid target.

The court cases brought against the BNP tell only one part of the story of its certain demise. At the general election, Griffin finished 3rd in the Barking constituency he targeted with more effort than any other. Running parallel to the cases, a general sense of malaise and leadership doubts, has been the upshoot in support for unelected protest groups such as the English Defence League (EDL). Rather tragically for Griffin, his attempts to rebrand his party as electorally credible has been compromised by the attraction of stomping through provincial town centres chanting “You’re Not English Any More” at anyone within ear-shot. The irony can’t be too easy to miss within the BNP.

My prediction therefore is for Griffin to downgrade the BNP to a lobby-group around May (when his party will suffer terribly at the polls, there’s another extra-prediction), though he will remain as an MEP. I suspect the many splinter groups who will come from the BNP before, during and following May will almost all disappear from existence before 2011 is out, leaving the far-right as electorally feckered as the far-left.

The world’s political scene is messy enough now so I darem’t poke a toe into any prediction waters. There are countless potential flash points – unrest in Korea, Obama’s reputation within and beyond the US borders, how the eurozone breaks out of the economic quicksand, Russia (….pretty much everything related thereto….) I’ll begin with…

Africa is the place to turn…towards Asia

Unrest in Côte d’Ivoire, almost certain unrest in Sudan even before the South Sudanese referendum is put, uncertainty in Egypt’s leadership, continued problems in Somalia and Eritrea….Maybe there is always going to be ‘easy pickings’ from looking at Africa and assuming there will be disquiet and disharmony.

2011 will be different, I think; there is increased international financial investment in African states with much to give (China, of course, being the biggest donating country). The ‘pull’ of northern, Arabic Africa from the rest of the continent must seem immense.

A reshaping of political and economic powerhouses is inevitable, as the move away from ‘the West’ to ‘the East’ continues. Europe especially will struggle to meet the challenges of the tipped balance. I worry that, militarily, the West will be pressed into action where there may not be obvious requirements yet today. Economically, Africa will look east.

Economic and political uncertainty across Europe has already manifested itself in riots and protests. I cannot see these dying down over night. There is fear and there is anger, vocal opposition in Ireland, France and the UK towards their Governments, and across Western Europe generally a mood of change is fresh on the wind.

Protests – but not revolution – will still be on the march

The nation states of Europe brought into ‘the age of austerity’ will continue to battle internal pressure and external economic constraints. Storms of uncertainty and unrest will feed the flames, so I cannot see London or Dublin or Paris or Madrid coming out of 2011 without serious and violent protests. The ‘long term’ view, espoused by some in Britain, that the protests are a curtain raiser for forms of ‘uprising’ are particularly silly (and just as “ideologically led” in their dreaming as the protesters allege are the cuts being proposed by government.)

Change and entrenchment of opinion is on the way, that is undeniable, though it seems still to be much light and little heat. Unions and protest groups such as “UKUncut” must keep public sympathy on their side. Similarly, the police will be under more pressure and scrutiny than before, and need to keep both the politicians and public confident in their ability and behaviour.

My prediction…predictions…That an event next year will fundamentally change the relationship between both protesters and public…and possibly between different elements of the protesters too….Not necessarily for the worse or better, just….altered. I am also very sure the police will make another severe mistake in their handling of the protests, one which changes the relationship between police and politicians, police and protesters, and importantly (most fundamentally) between police and members of the public.

(I am not anti-protest at all, looking with a wider view on the recent London protests shows there’s many subjects being stirred around the pot, from tuition fees specifically to anti-establishment generally. I’m not about to suggest that a National-Anarchist revolution is around the corner, heaven forfend…The amount of antagonism and how it manifests will be highly significant next year)

Right, so we have the politics out the way, what else do we have to occupy our time? Oh yeah, the Internet….

Google buys Twitter, Facebook fades, and as for censorship…

Twitter is what you make of it, just follow ‘slebs and you get what you pay for. Well, indeed, that’s the whole point. For all the real-time reactions and ‘two-screening’ (I’m not making that up) the cost is….nil. Though it’s not likely to increase from nowt next year, the business model missing from the centre of Twitter will need to be filled; I predict Google will realise it is missing out from all that lovely search revenue and put in a serious bid for the 140-character blogging bird before the days get shorter.

Whilst Twitter continues to advance, Facebook stumbles and stutters. There’s something not quite….all there with the social network that has spawned a film and a step-change in how we interact with friends and family. Its constant tinkers, complicated security and privacy settings and never ending hunger for more personal info (“It won’t be long before you can email your Info tab to future employers,” as a friend put it), has turned Facebook from the first visit of the morning to something fast becoming an afterthought. Got a Tumblr yet…? Just asking….(I haven’t, but if there’s anywhere to go after Facebook, there’s one very obvious place next….)

I predict further problems and issues as Facebook begins to lose its grip on the world’s social networkers.

Issues of net neutrality, and tighter whips for ISPs to crack (see what the UK passed prior to the election and proposals to restrict access to pornography show that the State has not yet managed to exhaust itself in the pursuit of greater control of its citizens on-line. China may be the “archetypal” national guard against the world wide web; I predict however that Western countries will put down their collective fists in 2011.

(It will be interesting to see how the ‘protest movement’ vibe runs into the ‘restricted internet’ debate, will “UKUncut” take on an additional meaning?)

And finally….There’s the small matter of sport and all that jazz, so in a roundup roundabout sort of way….

I’m assuming the Best Film Oscar will go the way of Inception (no, I’ve not seen it), though a cheeky fiver on Toy Story 3 wouldn’t go amiss for a curveball (no, I’ve not seen that one either). As this year seems to have been ‘the year 3D came back from the dead…again’, next year shows to signs of stopping. I’ll go for a 3D film winning the majority of Oscars in 2012, for a long-term pitch.

This season’s Premier League will be won by Manchester Utd…Yes, I know, it’s a bit obvious a shout, but all credible challengers are having a stumble and Utd have previous in making good when the opposition look away temporarily. So it makes me sound a bit Lawro, deal with it…..

…Right, so 2010 was a right old messy one, for all manner of reasons. Who can possibly predict what will come?

Thanks to all my readers, vistors and comment scribers. Here’s to the Missives still being the place to be next year…

Greater Manchester Parliamentary Boundary Review

The Coalition Government’s proposal to reduce the number of MPs to 600 (the second part of this one), is one I support, if only to cut own costs of representation never mind the question of whether Britain requires so many Members of Parliament as an additional layer of representation.

Those “removed” MPs represent constituencies of thier own, of course, so as a consequence major boundary changes would have to be considered before the next (hopefully fixed-term) election in 2015. I have already given a broadbrush review of my Lancashire proposals elsewhere (though these have been tinkered with since, I’ll re-visit them later).

Greater Manchester had to, in my opinion, be attached to Lancashire for reasons of review. In some places, it seems very natural – Parbold and Appley Bridge are essentially Wigan anyway – though I concede some of my creations may raise eyebrows.

Manchester itself undertakes a massive change – gone is the very word “Manchester” itself from the Parliamentary map – whilst the one-time LibDem constituency of “Littleborough and Saddleworth” returns after 20-odd years away.

It’s not been easy, not least because the new regulations makes “wiggle room” almost impossible, but I present what I think it is a fair crack at the whip under the circumstances.

1. Wigan
2. Makerfield
3. Leigh
4. Westhoughton
5. Bolton
6. Radcliffe and Farnworth
7. Worsley
8. Bury and Heywood
9. Eccles and Prestwich
10. Salford Quays and Urmston
11. Altrincham and Sale West
12. Stretford and Chorlton
13. Piccadilly and Rusholme
14. Wythenshawe and Cheadle
15. Blackley and Newton Heath
16. Middleton, Moston and Failsworth
17. Rochdale
18. Ashton-under-Lyne
19. Littleborough and Saddleworth
20. Oldham
21. Stalybridge and Hyde
22. Stockport
23. Didsbury and The Heatons
24. Hazel Grove and Gatley
25. Gorton and Denton


The Coalition have confirmed the route of HS2, the High-Speed rail route which will drag the UK into the 21st Century [ish] with upgrades to the national rail system which still places us behind European and especially far-Eastern comporable countries in terms of public transport provision. I don’t believe our railways are falling apart – and I say this as a weary Northern Rail commuter – but the drag-heels approach to funding and modernisation is incredibly frustrating. That HS2 will bring rapid rail only to the Midlands and London in a long-term timeframe (the year 2015 to start work seems highly improbable) avoids the question of how Northern and Western England will connect to this ‘capital’ project.

Many questions have dealt with the political aspect of HS2, not least alleged concessions to people living near to the proposed route who may vote Conservative. Disquiet has been reported by those living in the Chilterns who have found their opposition to the route largely ignored.

By way of some alternative point of reference, I asked over on VOTE-UK (a fine website I recommend for all political junkies), to confirm which parliamentary constituencies would be visted by HS2. And an answer there came quickly…

(Colour coding should be obvious…and no, I don’t know how to tables in HTML)

==In Greater London==
Holborn and St Pancras
Hampstead and Kilburn
Westminster North
Brent Central
Ealing Central and Acton
Ealing North
Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

==Outside Greater London==
Chesham and Amersham
Buckingham [Seat of the Speaker, John Bercow]
South Northamptonshire
Kenilworth and Southam
North Warwickshire

==Into Birmingham==

Sutton Coldfield
Birmingham Erdington
Birmingham Hodge Hill
Birmingham Ladywood

UndeReview – Next Stop Atlanta "Next Stop Atlanta EP"

Next Stop Atlanta

Truth be told, the pop-punk scene didn’t half trip itself down the steepest of hills just as things appeared to be breaking out into very interesting times. Maybe the need for mainstream foot-tapping melodies over-balanced the logistics necessary in ‘keeping it real’, the fashion equivalent of bringing two north-facing magnets together?

Next Stop Atlanta
take to the stage with this history – albeit not personal – putting its hand on their shoulders. For the best part of their EP is reimagining the past, remembering how everything was and could have been. This is the photo album flick-through which doesn’t involve awkwardly skimming past elderly relatives in bikinis or parental units in states of undress. Smiles and relief all round, not least in the familiar surroundings of breakfree choruses lifted above melodic free-for-alls and snappy surf guitars.

To British ears this could seem positively garish, so thankfully the lyrical content has melancholy and regret whisked into the generally over-familiar streetsmart attitude. Unlike the kind of throwaway “songs with no meaning” referenced in the brilliantly catchy “I’ll Catch Fire”, there are substantial, heartfelt moments throughout, strides away from the playground lowlights from recent years.

Opener and typesetting nightmare “fourteennineeightseven” has more bounce than Freejumpers let loose in a multi-storey, all layers of vocal and runaway drums and the much maligned stop/start ending. In short, these are top songs more “Deathcar” than “Ticket Out of Loserville”.

Lesser publications would make issues aplenty with NSA’s female singer, who speaks assuredly from the heart without vocal trickery or (and here’s the thing) an accent from the Emo Stageschool. When asked to soothe worried souls (“When Perfection is Key”) or put the record straight (“You, Me and the Dance Flaw”), her authenticity far outshines any audacity.

That could well be the best summary for the EP; polished production, and tasty little guitar breaks which are superb and conventional in almost equal measure. There is no threat of history sticking out its leg anytime soon, there’s clearly a lot of Next Stop Atlanta to go round only hinted at here. A fine EP and much promised, even if the ambition of the band name may be a while off yet…

Next Stop Atlanta on MySpace, Twitter and Facebook

NW spending cuts

Eric Pickles has unveiled his council spending and funding cuts, as part of the Coalition’s plan to reduce the deficit within the lifetime of this (hopefully) fixed-term parliament.

(“Unveiled” sounds like a party piece or end of the pier show. What about….”released”, like “the hounds”? Or “the bees?”)

Over at the FT, it is pointed out very usefully that the important figure to look out for is tucked away in the detail;

…[T]he more important number here is the formula grant, which is the £29bn a year given by Whitehall to local government. It is this number which is falling substantially – by 27 per cent – over the next four years as a result of the spending review.

Using a quick combination of Conditional Formatting and basic self-taught graph knowledge over on Excel (and yet, can I figure out how to do HTML tables? Can I jappery), here’s how the “Formula Grant” reductions break down for councils in my area of first interest, namely and naturally, Lancashire:

*Burnley – 13.8% [to £9.1m)
*Chorley – 14.8% [to £6.7m)
*Fylde – 15.8% [to £4.3m]
*Hyndburn – 13.8% [to £7.8m]
*Lancaster – 13.8% [to £13.0m]
*Pendle – 13.8% [to £8.8m]
*Preston – 14.7% [to £11.6m]
*Ribble Valley – 14.8% [to £3.2m]
*Rossendale – 15.8% [to £4.6m]
*South Ribble – 16.8% [to £5.4m]
*West Lancashire – 14.8% [to £7.4m]
*Wyre – 14.8% [to £7.6m]

*Lancashire Fire Service – 4.2% [to £31.3m]
*Lancashire County Council – 12.2% [to £333.8m]

In raw figures, the Council cuts total is £15.3m

Here are selected figures from elsewhere across the NW;

*Wigan – 11.2% [to £134.8m]
*Salford – 11.0% [to £135.4m]
*Manchester – 10.9% [to £354.1m]
*Knowsley – 11.3% [to £118.3m]

*Cheshire West & Chester – 13.3% [to £96.6m]
*Cumbria County Council – 10.3% [to £158.4]

Nationally, the largest real figure for cuts is £78.4m, from Birmingham CC, followed by the £46.3m suffered by Lancashire CC.

The smallest real figure cuts is £0.4m, seen by Purbeck, West Somerset, and Christchurch councils.

Interview with Make Me King

Lancashire’s Make Me King are taking their merry brand of melodic alternative rock on the road to promote “The Whisper is a Hint” (RiotPop Records). As their eponymous song says, “every boy needs a score”, and these guys seem to have done that very highly with a polished and professional debut EP.

“Since we started all this, for like three years, all I’ve wanted to do is live in a van touring,” sighs bassist Lewis Clark, his youthful expectation hidden behind thick facial hair which didn’t need anyone shaking Movember sponsorship forms to get going.

Guitarist Jack Mason, having helped Deep Elm Records’ Last Lungs on their national tour earlier this year, nods his head sagely; “There’s nothing better. You’re partying, you’re drinking, you may or may not be doing drugs, and you’re playing gigs. It does me.”

Formed three years ago at a college in Preston, the path which leads the twenty-somethings to publicising their debut appears to have been not merely direct but lined with travelators. The tangible result is an album brimming with attitude, confidence and youthful zeal, one with a coherence which hides the truth of its disjointed origins.

Guitarist Sean Marshall explains, “The thing is, it didn’t all get recorded in one section. It’s more luck, to be honest, if it all sounds like it works together. We kinda put “Every Truth or Dare” in the middle of our set and worked things out from there.”

“We started out pretty pop punk,” Jack chips in, “and now we’ve preferred to write now we’ve grown up over the years.”

“Growing up” strikes as a bold claim for the lads as they snigger, chuckle and wisecrack through the interview, relishing with broad grins the chances afforded them and their highly strung set of songs. In the pop-punk tradition, though notably broadened out and matured, their take on the ubiquitous genre is particularly sharp.
Particularly dangerous territory is this sort of thing, littered with Lost Prophets and Fightstar comparisons. Credit to them for knowing how often to hat-tip influences whilst making a path of their own, even if enquiring about influences sets off minor squabbles and layers of interrupted over-talking.

“Right, Jack, just choose two albums, like when you started out or something, and I’ll think about mine,” suggests Sean in full diplomacy mode.

“I kinda loved the old Panic! At The Disco sound on the first….”
“Bastard! Bastard, you stole my one…”

Lewis goes for the rare trait of answering the question.
“Yeah, there’s kinda different things, I dunno, Brand New, like, were a massive influence. Me especially, that guy [Jesse Lacey] is a fucking genius”.

The MMK sound – “swingy choruses, like dun-de-dun-de…sorry” tries Sean by way of explanation – eschews the over familiar hand-clap-and-power-chords combo for variety and production quirks. Having suggested that the upbeat songs could make it possible to jive to their songs, a short debate lands on the certainty of waltzing if nothing else;

“You could waltz to us, I want to see that in our first video, fact, Tower Ballroom, it has to be done,” table-thumps Jack, to agreeable nods from Sean.

“Would be sick, make it happen someone”. Lewis demands, feigning a call to the producers of Strictly Come Dancing.

The topic of “growing up these past few years” comes back to mind, but too many tangents have been fired off to suggest returning to topic. Whatever that had been…

Having joined together as friends and grabbed attention the modern way – “MySpace, back in the day, was at its height for bands”- Make Me King have spent most of the formative years recording. This may point to the eagerness to get out beyond the clubs of the north-west, having ventured to London for two weeks to essentially live in the recording studio.

“The eight-minute ballad I’m going to write for the next album will be about my getting lost on the walk across London listening to Ellie Goulding,” Jack confidently asserts.

Irreverent they may be, committed they most certainly are. All digital voice recordings of this interview suggests no actual conclusion was determined, the lads talking and gabbling on musicianship – “We worked in time signatures switches, like, to advance what ideas we had. Well, a bloke told us that’s what we had done, to be honest.” – to the ongoing NUS protests – “I want to get a job full time, like,” nods Sean. “I fancy a riot,” offers Lewis.

It is probably the best way to conclude the little chat, for even the formality of start-middle-end during conversations seems a bit much. They are good lads with focus, albeit without total command on concentration, and the promise to turn whispers into shouts if the EP is any reasonable guide.

With or without the ballroom dancing…

You can find RiotPop records right here