Observations. Ideas. Passing thoughts. Likes and gripes. The following blog is something of a random visual and written notebook brought to you by totalcontent. We’ll be covering a wide range of topics, from words and writing, to typography and technology, graphics and popular culture, music and lyrics… and much more besides. Hope it tickles your fancy and feel free to have your say.
There’s something very reassuring about subscribing to a magazine. Particularly of the non-professional variety. Every month, there’s your old friend, waiting faithfully for you in the letterbox. My read of choice is ‘The Word’
magazine, a copiously awarded effort from music publishing stalwarts Mark Ellen and David Hepworth. Word has held the coveted ‘Music Magazine of the Year’ mantle for the past two years, but it’s far more than that… covering everything from books, comedy and movies, to quirky quandaries like which actor gave the most convincing portrayal of Hitler on celluloid. The ‘best and worst’ section is always achingly funny, the interviews and opinion pieces refreshingly lacking in puffery. Word may not be the best-designed magazine in the world, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s wonderfully written, witty and fizzing with character (even the publisher’s letter that comes in the plastic bag). Oh, and you get a cracking free CD of staff-picked tunes too.
spotify the difference.
OK, I’ll come clean. I have a bit of a CD habit. Well, a lot of a CD habit. I visit a music store in Leamington called Head (formerly Fopp) most weekends. The prices range from £2 for old stuff to £10 for chart stuff, which means temptation is never far away. But this may be about to change. Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian about Spotify, a new online music delivery system which is completely free. You don’t get to ‘own’ the music, but you can just play what you want whenever you want. Which is as good as in my book. The Guardian called Spotify ‘a potentially life-changing experience’, and having played around with it for a day, I can see why. You can listen by genre, make playlists, search, shuffle, skip… anything you can do with iTunes except download. But best of all you can be adventurous – check out stuff you’d never normally listen to because you don’t have to pay a penny for it. Is there a catch? Well a very small one. Every 25 minutes you have to listen to a 30-second ad – but I can live with that. (And if you really can’t you can pay £9.99 a month for an ad-free service). I can see my laptop is going to be hooked up to my stereo system any day now and I won’t have to worry about drowning in a sea of CDs.
We went to see the Blow Monkeys
at Cox’s Yard, a small upstairs room above a pub in Stratford-upon-Avon last night. After an 18-year hiatus, all four original members are back together for a tour of small-venue gigs up and down the country to plug their new CD, ‘The Devil’s Tavern’. It was snowing and several degrees below zero, but there couldn’t have been more than 75 people in there. Deb last saw them in 1988 at the Roundhouse in London, playing to around 1,000. At Cox’s Yard, we were an arm’s length away. The once-chiselled Dr Robert had piled on quite a few pounds, and there was a suspicious degree of hat wearing among his fellow band members. But once they started playing, all sense of the poignancy of lost youth faded away. A tight four piece – each holding their own – they blasted through a set of old and new songs, with a surprisingly full style that stands up against the lush arrangements of their earlier studio offerings. Robert’s guitar work was a revelation, his tonsils have stood the test of time, and the BM’s soul-tinged pop still hits the spot. Yes, I’m still digging their scene – wouldn’t have missed it.
It’s been a bit of an Alan Bennett fest this week. I finally got round to watching ‘The History Boys’ on DVD and loved it, particularly the hilarious French lesson scene and the classic movie skits on ‘Now Voyager’ and ‘Brief Encounter’. I also polished off the short but very sweet ‘The Uncommon Reader’ and found the whole conceit of the Queen as a newly converted bookworm (despite staunch and virtually universal opposition by family, staff and even government), rather appealing. The sly digs at the unnamed Prime Minister about weapons of mass destruction lent this slim volume a bit of political edge, until it ends abruptly and entirely unexpectedly, with Her Maj dropping her own WMD to the gathered great and the good.
hello, is it me you’re looking for?
A couple of months ago, I bought the most exquisite set of cordless home phones I’ve ever owned. I’d seen the Colombo Two (named after the Italian designer Joe, not the Seventies mac-wearing detective) in a design magazine, and coveted them them for weeks. I waited patiently for their release, and made a special trip to Selfridges – the only place in the UK you could buy them. The space-age retro curves, the way they fitted in your hand, the dinky blue LED interface, the sleek buttons, even the disco-ish typeface used for the numbers were all spot on. What’s more, these beauties were orange, and as you can tell from this web site, that always does the trick for me. They were just perfect. Except they weren’t. When you made a call, there was always a loud hum in the background, like the amplified strangling of a bumble-bee. For weeks I persisted, in the vain hope that things would get better, and strenuously defended my babies when Deborah dared suggest there was something wrong with them. Finally, I threw in the towel. I went to Robert Dyas and bought a cheap set of black, no-nonsense BT phones. You wouldn’t call them objects of desire, but they work perfectly. The word ‘what?’ is a stranger to me once more, and my clients have stopped insisting we communicate by email. Please get in touch if you’re interested in taking some barely used designer handsets off my hands, and you don’t mind the score Form 10, Function 1.
let us spray.
It’s great that books like this can still get published. ‘Overspray’ is an overview of the golden age of airbrush art. Focusing on four exponents in the epicentre of the genre in Seventies California, it paints a glistening picture of the environment that spawned this trashy yet technically demanding form of illustration. Even if you’re not a fan of airbrush, many of the images on these pages will be surprisingly familiar – from Levi’s ads, to Rolling Stones covers, to movie posters, to Playboy illustrations. The subject matter is wonderfully garish, super-shiny, super-suggestive, super-real. Everything seems to glint and drip – a world of high-camp high-gloss, where kinkiness and sci-fi surrealism rub shoulders. Better still, ‘Overspray’ isn’t simply eye candy – it makes a sterling attempt to contextualise and analyse the work on show, examining the influences, motives and techniques of its foremost practitioners. Oh, and I probably should declare an interest at this point. It was written and put together by my old buddy Norman Hathaway – but don’t let that put you off. You can get your hands on a copy of ‘Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of California Airbrush Art’