Journalism gets Groovy

Every year the BBC’s main newsreaders put on a dance extravaganza for Children in Need. This year, Susanna Reid, Fiona Bruce, Sophie Raworth and Kate Sliverton performed a series of Lady Gaga hits in some suitably outlandish costumes.

In the past, the BBC newsreaders have performed parodies of Queen, ABBA and James Bond, to name just a few. Not only are these sketches a real laugh, but it’s a chance for the newsreaders (admittedly, mostly the females one) to show that behind their unflinching daytime personas, there’s a whole lot more to them.

In Praise of an Unlikely Critic

When it comes to films, I like the media I watch, listen to or read to treat me with a level of intelligence. I don’t like it to be too highbrow, like Mark Kermode riffing on The Culture Show (though that is one of my guilty pleasures for everything arts and culture), and I don’t like childish, hype machines that shovel bland analysis on everything they cover either.

Now and again, I’ll have a flick through Empire Magazine, the film authority I respect most in print, but predominately I get all of my film views and opinions from a handful of select critics and presenters. I don’t have the time, or frankly the interest, to go seeking out a huge variety of sources in the same way I do for video games, so I opt for the media personalities that I feel most comfortable with.

When I go to, I’m going there for Alex Navarro’s opinions and insights. And the same goes for the BBC’s long-running Film programme. I’ve been watching it for a number of years with the show presented by Jonathan Ross. Suppressing his usual rude, comic nature, Ross proved to me he was a competent critic with analytical and honest reviews. Following Ross’ departure from the BBC in July 2010, the show has been shaken up with live broadcasts, more features and two new presenters.

Ready to debate the merits and failings of new releases in Film 2010 are presenter Claudia Winkleman and film journalist Danny Leigh. Certainly not known for her film knowledge, Winkleman’s appointment has divide viewers. However, I think the show’s new formula actually works incredibly well. What you have in Winkleman and Leigh is the classic combination of good cop/bad cop (or to put it another way, soft-edged female / hard-nosed male).

Compared to Leigh’s very straight review style, Winkleman’s enthusiasm and desire to speak plainly makes for very accessible critique. She’s supposedly ‘the layman’, but she has a knack for bringing up interesting observations that give a different perspective on the films they discuss.

“At one point, I barked like dog,” said Winkleman as she described her reaction to Due Date. That’s a bizarre thing to admit, and yet I find it strangely endearing, because it shows how incongruous Winkleman is when compared to other film critics. From imitating scenes in films and making light of where her personal affections skewed her judgment to visibly expressing her concern about what others may think of her film views to her off-hand anecdotes, Winkleman literally does everything you’re not supposed to do in the film critics’ unwritten rulebook.

Innocent, oddly relatable and just a little bit self-embarrassing, Winkleman is a TV critic after my own heart.

All Played Out

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

The title sounds like the codename for a Russian covert mission, but it’s actually Gorillaz’ latest single and a darn good pop song.

As I pointed out in previous posts, Gorillaz’ Phase Three singles have received very little radio play and none have even made it into the top 10 charts (I did have high hopes for this single, but unfortunately it only achieved #37).

‘Doncamatic’ is not part of the original tracklist for the band’s third LP. It was recorded earlier this autumn and features Manicunian Daley. To think that this young white northern with a wave of candyfloss hair has such as soulful voice is uncanny.
It’s genre-bending masterpiece from Damon and this newfound talent who could well be a prodigy of sorts.

In addition to download releases, ‘Doncamatic’ is the only single during this phase to be released physically as well, on CD and 7” picture disc with illustrates of the Korg Doncamatic instrument and a spindly-legged ant by Jamie Hewlett. Original B-sides remain elusive as ever though, with yet more remixes taking they’re place.

The promo video for the single is live action and follows Daley as he pilots a one-man submersible through the ocean depths to Plastic Beach. It’s one of the more serene videos Gorillaz’ have produced and suits the mood of the song well I think.

With ‘Doncamatic’ receiving more attention, the planned release of ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ and its promo video has been cancelled by EMI. This is a terrible shame as each video is part of a wider story this phase and I would really like to see the whole thing as the creators intended. We’ll just have to see where things go next year.

I’ll take the next one…

Why does everything seem to take far, far longer than originally intended?
In the words of John Steinbeck: “The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.” That’s precisely how I feel right now.
This week, I returned to London for what I hoped would be 10 days of rest and relaxation. Well, not really relaxation as I’ve been doing work all week as usual, but at least rest.
I had a rapturous, euphoric time seeing Gorillaz live at the London O2 Arena. But this has been the one bright spark amid a sea of pressing deadlines and unfortunate setbacks.
Working through the night, I managed to miss one of the driving lessons I’d booked. I barely submitted my dissertation progress report before the online deadline on Friday, and I still haven’t gotten as far as planned with it yet. And to top things off, the replacement 60GB PS3 which I got in July has stopped reading discs entirely!
I feel more and more like I’m dragging a huge boulder up hill. Yet, try as I might, I’m still getting no closer to the summit.
Sorry to be so negative – just seem to be filling this space with angst. I’ve been planning to find the time to blog for weeks as so much has happened. I will find the time… eventually.
I’m going to crack on now, and listen to some Aloe Blacc to get me through. Peace.

Gorillaz @ London O2 Arena

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

Did this really happen? Looking back I can’t quite believe it. It was the night I’d been waiting for all year: to see Gorillaz, and their many guest artists, live on tour.

Following my blissful first time seeing the band play live at the Camden Roundhouse back in April, I immediately jumped at the chance to see them again when they announce their first ever world tour. I snapped up tickets for one of two dates at the London O2 Arena. Originally scheduled for September, the concert itself was switched to November 16 to fit in with the rest of the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Contrary to having to rush down from Nottingham, it was reading week at my uni so I’d already come down for the week to find the tickets waiting for me (and would you believe it, I received ticket numbers 33 and 34). I had planned to take my brother to see the band this time, but literally and hour before we were due to leave he said he was feeling ill, so I had to ring my main man, Dee, to take his place.

Though I’ve driven past it on many occasions I’d never actually been inside The O2 (or Millennium Dome as it was originally called) until now. Making our way toward the gargantuan structure from North Greenwich tube station its 12 yellow support arms dazzled against the night sky, illuminating the oversized marquee like a spaceship that had landed right in the centre of the city. Inside the thing itself was a myriad of restaurants, cafés, bars and entertainment venues all packed together in one of the most inventive architectural feats I’ve ever seen.

During our exploring, Dee and I ran into two fellow Gorillaz fans, and their friends, that we’d met back at the Roundhouse in April. When the time came to make our way into the arena, we had to pass through no less than three ticket and security checks only to find that there was no cloakroom for standing audience members to dump their bags. On to the music…

Gorillaz in the Midst

Or not quite, as we had to wait nearly two hours before Gorillaz took the stage. Fortunately, support act Little Dragon (who appear on two tracks on Plastic Beach) energised the crowd with a number of hypnotic tunes. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was rocking a long oriental two-piece dress and twisted and danced her way across the stage like she was summoning some mystic bird from beyond the sea.

Speaking of which, when the accompanying orchestra played the band in during the island intro the whole place erupted with excitement. I’d brought my compact camera along to get a few shots, but I decided early that I wanted to enjoy this experience to the full and not spend half of it viewing the magic from behind a digital display – the shots you see here are the best of the small amount I took.

For the second time this year, it was a buzz to feel the presence of Damon Albarn and the rest of the musicians standing some five metres above me on stage. The band had played at The O2 just two days ago, but had to fly to Amsterdam the day after. Honestly, it felt so rewarding to hear Damon expressing his relief and gratitude that his home fans had come to show their support. It was by no means a sell-out gig. Why more people don’t feel the magic I feel from this band, and its many associates, is something I will never know.

That night I was treated to a rapturous harmony of music from all corners of the globe, from the Lebanese National Orchestra for Arabic Music to De La Soul. Music from all three of the band’s studio albums – Gorillaz, Demon Days and Plastic Beach – was played, including some favourites I witnessed live for the first time, ‘19-2000’, ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ and ‘Demon Days’.

And as if seeing the core band – Paul Simonon, Cass Brown, Mike Smith and the rest – wasn’t enough, the sheer number of guest artists left me delirious with happiness: Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, Roses Gabor (who kindly signed my tour book after the gig), Kano, Bashy, Yukimi Nagano, Hypnotic Brass and the legendary Bobby Womack. What’s more a special appearance by none other than MF Doom during ‘Clint Eastwood’ was a real shock. They should have brought him on to do ‘November Has Come’ live. Daley, too, was in the house to perform newfound pop gem ‘Doncamatic’, and I have to say that boy has some pipes.

Veikko’s Blur Page has a rundown of the setlist, as well as all the other live dates from the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Seeing Gorillaz and their guest crew live, for the second time this year, was a tremendous experience that will stay with me long after these years are behind me. EMI could help though by putting out a tour DVD so I can relive the memories of this gig in crisp AV quality.

Platform Online’s First Anniversary

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

Somebody pop those champagne corks and order us a dozen large pizzas, because Platform Online has now been live for a full 12 months.

The site has undergone several changes and updates in its first year, the most significant of which was the implementation of category boxes that pull the latest posts to the homepage. It’s been a real struggle to keep everyone on the same page with regard to publication style and technical considerations for the website, and it’s something I don’t think I’m going to conquer this year either, try as I might.

When the section editors should be seeking out fresh, entertaining stories to be published weekly, it’s a sad state of affairs when our Featured posts banner has been dominated by bad news about Platform’s print status or pleas for student to “get involved.” We’ve just lost our music and fashion editors!

It would truly make me happy if all of the section editors were more professional and actually filled their quota. Not to disrespect the fellow editors I’ve worked with (especially Alex Britton, Andy Trendell and Danielle Almond who did pull their weight), but the fact that I’ve published over half the website’s posts to date – that’s more than 460 out of 838 published post on 11/11/10 – is saying something. OK, so clearly I love writing too much! But being an editor is also about grabbing hold of opportunities at a moment’s notice.

After a full year, I believe the post that has still received the most traffic happens to be my opinion piece on Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary. That was just something I got inspired to write in between revision. It was cool and I wanted to share it with people, the fact that it gave us a huge reader spike was a happy accident. But it’s this mentality of writing lots and writing often that some of the other section editors I’ve worked with tend to miss.

Moving on from my continued complaining, Platform Online has had a number of huge achievements that have made me very proud of the site and the dedicated writers who’ve helped us. Again, not to blow my own trumpet, the gaming section has been brimming with big pre-release reviews and features, such as Heavy Rain, FFXIII, hands-on with Move and PS3 in 3D, and interviews with gaming greats like Louis Castle and Charles Cecil.

Spearheading the music section for his four year, Andy Trendell succeeded in getting a series of insightful interviews with the likes of Ellie Goulding, Beverley Night and Frightened Rabbit, not to mention keeping up with album and singles releases. Definitely one of my big highlights this year is getting more involved in music writing, so cheers Gorillaz, Tinie Tempah and Trendell. Keeping a watchful eye on the health section was Danielle Almond with posts on US health care reform to a student giving up alcohol for Lent.

Without a doubt, this year’s surprise stars were Alex Britton and Nick Charity, who took the arts section, one that requires a specific level of understanding and expertise, and gave it an identity. From live music, to books, to TV, to performing arts and fine art, Alex has put his best foot forward since day one, and went from an unknown editorial replacement to a writer and friend I greatly respect.

I’m ecstatic about what we’ve achieved this year with the website. I know there’s some much room for improvement though – not least in my own organisation of contributors and communication with other team members. The site should be getting a much needed nip and tuck soon, so look out for that early next year.

Most of all though, thank you for reading!