To celebrate St George's Day, GP's SotD will today be the only song I can think of that mentions him: England Half English by Billy Bragg.

england_half_english_sm.jpgFrom an album of the same name that has the cross of St George as its cover, England Half English points out that the current multiculturalism of Britain (curry, cappucino, etc) has always been with us: "Britannia, she's half English, she speaks Latin at home/St George was born in the Lebanon, how he got here I don't know."

(I can't find England, Half English on YouTube so here's the single from the same album that Billy got into the charts in the week of the Queen's Golden Jubilee: Take Down the Union Jack.)

Matt McKenzie reviews The Specials on the first date of their reunion tour at the Newcastle O2 Academy

TERRY Hall nearly ruined it when he started crowing about Man U being top of the league.

Nearly, although he'd have probably got away with most things given the mass, panting delirium that waited for The Specials before they trotted out to a slow, long blast of Enjoy Yourself.

On the Short Story

By Carolyn Jess-Cooke on Apr 21, 09 09:28 PM

short story.jpg

A novel rid of the boring bits? An abridged tale? A narrative poem? Squashed fiction?

The short story has traditionally suffered from much confusion - much of it published - as to what it actually is. You'd think it would be pretty easy to figure out. It's a story that's short. The End. Or is it? Why is it short? Why doesn't something else happen after the final scene that leads on to another plot point and to more characters that complicate things and bring us to an ending some 100,000 words later? Is the short story deficient in something? Does the short story writer have less to say than, say, a screenwriter or novelist? Is it just a glorified scene?

I recently had the good fortunate to meet with Ra Page, editor of Comma Press, an independent publisher with a particular interest in the short story. He described the short story format in terms of what he calls the 'light bulb moment', or the revelation or shift that occurs at the end of the short story. This is where the short story diverges from the novel: loose ends can stay loose. Ambiguities that a novelist might baulk at can thrash their way right to the final full stop. Because in the short story, it's all about yanking the rug from under the reader's feet.

On the website, Page puts it another way: 'Short stories excel through the things they don't tell you, the gaps in information; the darkness that bookends them so narrowly, making what you do get more vivid.' There are many examples of short stories that take this ethos to extremes, with interesting effects: Gerard Woodward's short story, 'A Tray of Ice-Cubes', tells the story of a 40-something bus driver who decides he's pregnant. Following an account of his 'labour', the story ends with his wife leaving out a tray of ice cubes overnight and finding, the next morning, a 'trembling, lively, blood-warm tray of water'. It's an ending that forces the reader to re-read or reflect upon the preceding story with acute attention to plot, characterization, and language, and it's the insights that come from this reflective reading that create the 'light bulb' moment that Page talks about. I can't think of a more engaging way to read.

So, for the avid reader, the short story might be a format to think about next time you opt for the latest Richard & Judy prompt. There's an argument that the short story is more fitted for the Twitter generation, but I don't think it's all about length: it's about the kind of reading experience that a good short story can offer, asking a little bit more of the reader and giving a little bit more in its interactive mode of storytelling. Or in other words: poetry, without a sonnet in sight.

Which reminds me: Biscuit Publishing have £1000 for grabs for the best short story under 750 words. Get cracking.

Image credit: NixieMichelle

Michelle Shocked is an American singer-songwriter whose stage name (it's supposed to sound like "Miss Shell-Shocked") was the identity she gave to police after being arrested at a political demonstration. That sort of thing seemed terribly impressive to me in 1988.

Shocked came to prominence in 1986 when folk journalist and record company boss Pete Lawrence, who recorded her busking on his Walkman and released it as the album The Texas Campfire Tapes.

Anchorage comes from her major label debut Short Sharp Shocked (which had Shocked in a neckhold by police at the aforementioned demo as its sleeve art.)

I saw The Flaming Lips at the City Hall in Newcastle a couple of years ago and learned two things: (1) that Wayne Coyne can't really sing and (2) that it doesn't matter.

The many talent shows that clog up our TV screens - and subsequently the charts - these days can throw up loads of young singers who have wonderful voices but none of them has half the imagaination of Wayne and The Flaming Lips.

That is why they get to release one album that is made up mostly of cover versions while the Lips have produced a string of albums - The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War With The Mystics - that are chock full of great, life affirming pop music. On stage they get members of the audience to join them in animal costumes which might sound rubbish, but is really brilliant!

The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song is just one of those great tunes. According to the Lips website, it is "one of those songs that points the finger at the pettiness of those in power but also points the finger back at ourselves - what would YOU do?"

Owen Marriott reviews Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood's new comedy

MIRED IN the misery of the current season North East football fans could easily forget that they once boasted the best team in the world.

In this play, we are reminded how, almost 100 years ago to the day, one of the region's lesser known clubs - West Auckland FC - became the first team to win the World Cup.

Loosely based on the true story, it follows the team of ordinary mining men, in their journey from the pits of County Durham to glorious victory in an international competition in Italy.

Thomas Hall's reviews of the first of many collaborative concerts between the National Youth Orchestra and The Sage Gateshead

The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain looked perfectly at home in its new venue as 161 young musicians, aged 13 to19, gave the first concert of a recently formed five-year partnership with The Sage Gateshead.

The orchestra prepared its dance-themed programme with two weeks of intensive rehearsals at Durham University - a luxury time-scale professional players can only dream of.

But given the demands of the music and the standard achieved, you can see where the time went.

Imogen Cooper, The Sage Gateshead

By Reviews on Apr 16, 09 09:33 PM

Thomas Hall takes in an evening with a pianist always welcome in the North East

A regular visitor to the North-East, Imogen Cooper was here to play one of the pianos she helped select for The Sage Gateshead in a generously long all-Schubert recital, prefaced by a spoken programme note.

She told of how Schubert was perpetually poor, unlucky in love, frequently moved house in search of the peace and quiet he needed to write his music and broke up the hours of solitary work in drinking sessions with friends.

Folk music, eh? All people singing about 18th century milkmaids, sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "hey nonny nonny".

Except for Kate Rusby, that is, who is very much the acceptable face of folk music as far as I'm concerned. She might even have a song about 18th century milkmaids but if she does, it will be ace.

Little Jack Frost is from her 2005 album The Girl Who Couldn't Fly and is very lovely. (This Youtube clip has someone setting the song to some simple but very nice animation).

Miranda Prynne takes in Al Jolson & Co to see if it lives up to its namesake.

Al Jolson was often heralded as the world's greatest performer.

At his funeral in 1950 George Jessel, a fellow entertainer, proclaimed: "The King is dead. Long live the King!"

And live on he does in Jolson and Co.

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