Category Archives: Coffee

Ponyo: subtitles vs. dubbing

With foreign films I guess the assumption is always to watch the subtitled version, not the dubbed version. But with animation I’m only just now realising this is dead wrong. Late to the party, I know. My logic has always been: I want to hear the ‘original’ voices and follow the script on the subtitles, not listen to a bunch of jobbing Hollywood b-listers chew microphones through some kind of Disney-ised, morally compromised script?

But now I’m forced into a rethink, thanks to a conversation with a spectacularly well-informed barman in the upstairs coffee shop at the Duke Of York’s in Brighton. They have posters up for the new Studio Ghibli animation Ponyo, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, which opens in two weeks. It’s profoundly exciting news for anyone into Ghibli animation, and will hopefully rebuild my faith in the studio after the disaster of Tales From Earthsea, where Miyazaki’s inexperienced son Goro was given the film of Ursula Le Guin’s classic pioneering fantasy novels, after Dad had chased them for years. Goro fucked it up big-time.

We’re in happier days now though: the Duke Of York’s will screen both the dubbed and subtitled versions at different times. Mainly, they’ll show the dubbed version earlier in the day, for the kids, then show the subtitled version for artier wonks. It’s part of the Picturehouse chain, so hopefully a bunch of decent arthouse cinemas around the UK will do the same. So anyway, I’d assumed I’d pootle along to the subtitled screening like a grown-up.

Until the fella behind the bar made a couple of powerful counter-intuitive points that have stuck with me: first, if we’re watching a magnificently animated masterpiece, why on earth do we decide to miss out on bits, because our eyes need to frantically read across the bottom of the screen? Secondly – and here’s where the real revelation is – he pointed out that Studio Ghibli aren’t exactly using quality actors for their original Japanese voiceovers. No, of course they hire whoever’s a big name in J-pop or whoever won a national reality show to be their name ‘voiceover’ artists.

Then, funnily enough, when it comes to the North American dub, because the movies are still treated as quality, foreign, perhaps even arthouse product, the talent that’s hired tends to be from the ‘proper’ end of the scale. Primarily this sweetly bourgeois misconception of art versus populism is a measure of just how we can mis-perceive any non-Hollywood films, compared to how they’re seen at home.

We think of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle as arty masterpieces. Yet that doesn’t mean we should be fooled into thinking they’re anything other than huge mainstream blockbusters in Japan. Until Titanic came along, Princess Mononoke was the biggest grossing film in Japanese history. It’s a bit like novelist Haruki Murakami being venerated in the west in highbrow, psychedelic magic-realism terms, when his hip romance Norwegian Wood was such as massive bestseller in Japan he had to leave the country to escape the celebrity. The sexier non-magical books of his are read like classy chick-lit over there. (OK, maybe that’s pushing it but you get my point.)

So for Miyazaki’s Ponyo, the English dub stars Cate Blanchett and Tina Fey, as well as, gulp, a Jonas brother and one of the Cyrus clan (Noah, not Miley). And even these two American teen pop stars are, if anything, appropriate, consistent choices for the younger roles.

The final argument is the experience. Despite Miyazaki being arguably my favourite living filmmaker, I’ve never seen a Studio Ghibli animation in the cinema. So sayeth the man behind the counter filling the coffee mug: first go see the dub, immerse yourself in the spectacular animation and enjoy the story. Then either go back to the cinema to see the subtitled version, or purchase that version on DVD.

Ponyo may not be Miyazaki’s greatest work, largely because it’s apparently aimed at a younger audience than the last few, making a return to the innocence of My Neighbor Totoro. However I hope it’ll still blow my mind. The film is an expression of the director’s obsession with the sea, which he’s apparently personally hand-animated himself, without any CGI. My God. I need to ignore the devil in the details and treat myself.

(a version of this entry was published in the Morning Star this week)

why Vauxhall Astras suck arse

I’m hunting for a new car rental place, ever since Brighton Budget on Lewes Road shut down. It’s sad because they were great lads. I got so regular they used to let me grab a car, drive off, no money or paperwork and I’d pay when I got back days or weeks later. They were a touch, um, UKIP, but never minded me. Much missed to be honest, I got cleared by the Sussex cops to join a gun club with one of them (!) but never found the time to go.

For my tour I’ve rented a Ford Focus from Brighton Thrifty, paid up-front online. Except when I showed up to collect it, they gave me a Vauxhall Astra. The small print said ‘Ford Focus… or similar’ and I was in a hurry, so I didn’t argue, just took it and hoped for the best. Now I’m sure it is ‘similar’ in stature/price-range to a Focus – and I don’t know much about cars beyond driving them – but the Astra is just total clenching shit by comparison to a Ford, regardless of Henry Ford’s nazi history. Fucks me off! All the things wrong are tiny on their own but add up to a fat whole, especially with a lot of driving to do over a period of weeks.

I can’t see the indicators or fuel gauge because they’re obscured by the steering wheel. Add to this the unreliable indicators that sometimes stay on when you think you’ve switched them off, plus a very quiet ‘tick’ and the result? I continually have to scrunch down, every time I accelerate out of a junction, to check whether I’m still indicating or not.

Because I can’t see the fuel gauge I’m habitually using the ‘miles left to empty’ on the digital display menu instead. On the Astra this display menu is incorporated with the CD/radio information but for some unknown godforsaken reason, you can’t switch between items on the menu when the CD or radio is actually on. Why on earth would they do that? Surely that’s extra work for a programmer / electrician to make something palpably worse!?

So I’ve been using the manual mileometer on the dash rather than the shitty digital display to calculate my total trip mileage – which is fairly important on a tour for accounting. But when I left the car unused for a day off, the motherfucker reset itself to zero. I’ll have to ask Thrifty what the overall mileage is when I take this wheelbarrow back.

The seats are another piss-up-a-rope. It’s a 3-door and the front seats fold down and forward easily enough, however to raise them back up to normal again, you have to lean down and pull the lever under the seat to the front as well as the handle on the side. Talk about finnickity, especially when you’re doing it a lot to get gear/people in/out of the car. The seats are an odd shape for the car too, they don’t seem to fit properly, so sometimes they get caught. An utter fucking pain.

The doors are unwieldy, long and low so that even getting in and out is more effortful than the Focus. I have no scientific comparison but it feels like the blindspots are massive compared to the Focus as well. I’m missing people moving in certain places and having to lean around a lot more often.

Initially I liked the tinted rear windows until I realised they’re not tinted enough to actually conceal anything. wtfp.

And the straw that snaps the camel’s cock is, I can’t even fit my guitars in the boot properly. In a Focus, even in a Fiesta, I can squeeze at least the acoustic in the boot, so it is hidden when I park. This tour, both guitars and my borrowed keyboard are having to come into every hotel and can’t be left even for a few minutes because it’s so obvious there’s gear there.

The drink holder (and there’s only one of course – passengers can hold their own fucking coffee) is in the stupidest place I’ve ever seen, right between the seats but really far back so you have to stretch your arm round at a weird double-jointed angle to grab your latte.

Even the fuel cap is pissing me off: it’s an old fashioned loose screw-up one, so you have to put  on the roof while you’re filling up, inevitably resulting in an embarrassing chase across the forecourt if it’s windy and the risk of just losing the little shit. It’s the 21st century and they’ve got the same fuel cap as a 1970s Renault 4.

There’s more, so much more, but I keep forgetting bits. A general point: every time I’ve driven in the USA the car has a digital compass on the dashboard, so you know what direction you’re going in. This massively helps if you’re navigating through a town, even with maps. I don’t want to SatNav and lose all my (already pissingly small) navigational ability, I want to use maps. If cars had a compass in there too, mapreading would be 10x easier… or is that one just me?

So there you go: give the Vauxhall Astra a miss and get the Ford Focus. I’m not being endorsed by Ford, haven’t talked to them or anything (though hi, fancy giving me a free car to drive around Europe in? I’ll shut up about your founder’s fascist past!) but touring solo in a car, you need a haven as well as just an A-To-B device, you need to love it and feel comfortable whatever the scenario. I’ll never knowingly hire an Astra again and if Thrifty – who were otherwise perfectly charming, efficient and good value – can’t guarantee the car I ask for then they’re off the list.

euro tour diary #3 – gone tits

ST GALLEN (calm before the storm)
I forgot to tell you how boss our dinner was, back in Lucerne, in the Fuckhaus, where I had breaded aubergine and polenta – discovering against expectations that I love polenta. Here in St Gallen it’s also delicious: potato-cake things with a rich sauce and vegetables, plus incongruous unsauced pasta on the side, which I ignore. No more pasta til Italy. Switzerland has provided some of the best posh veggie food I’ve tried. 

The hotel is also nice but the shower is in the corner of the bedroom with not even a curtain, so we take turns to sit outside the room while the other jumps in the shower. Would be fun for lovers but a bit annoying today.

Grabenhalle is ace fun. A slightly older, folkier crowd. During the time it takes for Frank and me play our sets, standing in front of a big circular window (hence tonight’s ‘Porthole Concert’ event name), almost two feet of snow falls, totally burying the town. I’ve got lush footage of the sets with fat flakes falling behind us.

The night unfolds messily. Half the audience sticks around and Frank jams tipsy NoFX covers sat on the edge of the stage. We’re alternating appenzeller with whisky thanks to a(nother) forthright bar manager who won’t see us empty-glassed and at the very end I do three uberdrunk extra songs, including a Swiss-German-ised Hedgehog Song. Then we all pile outside, build a massive snowman called Steve in the carpark and have a vicious snowball fight. Frank falls down and cuts his elbow quite badly. That night he’ll leave a disturbing amount of blood on his bedsheets, leading to an embarrassed check-out.

In the morning, covered in snow, St Gallen is an opulent Catholic town but bits of the old town were ruined when a bank bought it all, tore it down and build a ‘red square’ precinct, painting several streets bright red and commissioning a former socialist artist to sell her soul, building massive red-painted installations. It’s gross.

We’ve had a fantastic morning. Then we drive four hours through driving rain and heavy traffic to Geneva and at some point during the journey our karma goes to shit…

GENEVA


The airport straddles France and Switzerland. We need to drop the car off at Avis on the French side of the border, to avoid a massive international surcharge. It’s only half a mile away from the main Swiss airport but somehow SatNav can’t find it and Avis have no address for it. We drive around a bit getting frustrated, then go to the Swiss branch of Avis to ask for help and they kindly give us a hand-drawn map. It’s getting late so we phone the promoter, who will come to the French side to drive us to the venue.

But the Swiss map proves to be utter shit. We drive around Geneva Airport 11 times (I shit you not) adding an hour and 70km to our journey. Meanwhile our promoter Luc got there just by walking through the airport.

We finally find it. At which point Avis stick us for an extra day because apparently we should’ve dropped the car off by 11am. First I’ve heard of it. Also, we slipped over the mileage limit driving round in circles. After a fight, they relent on the mileage and fuel at least. Here’s the beef: according to French staff, the Swiss map we were given is deliberately inaccurate, because the two Avis branches hate each-other and the Swiss side loses money when punters drop cars off on the French side. Or something like that. Anyway, utter smackable fucktards in my book.

So finally shot of the car, we head across town to the venue, at which point we discover we left Frank’s laptop in the hire car. Aaargh! Luc, who is a prince, drives back to the airport while we soundcheck. Tiki’s is a sexy Hawaiian-themed retro bar run by hardcore punkers. It’s fantastic but we’re super-late (and knackered as shit) so just check and play. Luckily it doesn’t affect either show but afterwards I feel so self-consciously stinky and tired, it’s hard to talk to anyone properly.

And then, the worst conclusion to the day possible. Because we’re up at 5am, Luc has just put us up in a Youthhostel and – fuckfuckfuck – we’re in a shared room with strangers! If I’d known even an hour earlier I would’ve happily paid the difference for a private room. We walk into a space the size of my own bedroom at home, but it’s crammed with bunkbeds full of smelly, drunk, snoring and farting Eurofucks. Utterly dismayed but tiredness defeats disgust and I collapse fully-clothed onto an odourous bottom bunk. 

GENEVA – ZURICH – VIENNA
Four hours later, we’re up, unshowered, legging it through dark frozen streets to catch the 6.30am train from Geneva to Vienna, via Zurich: 3 hours to Zurich, 12 minutes to change trains, 8-9 hours to Vienna. Croissant and coffee. Guardian.

What follows, despite kinked circumstance, is the most jaw-droppingly beautiful journey I’ve ever taken. We sleep at first. Then after leaving Zurich we head high into the Alps and cross above a series of snowbound, forested valleys like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We’re in an old-fashioned private compartment of six seats. We have our laptops linked via Bluetooth, so we can talk shit about the various people who come into ‘our’ compartment during the journey. Eventually we get rumbled by two haughty women from Liechtenstein who were offensively blasé about the scenery and don’t react well to being mocked by two scruffy English musicians.

There’s even a reasonable restaurant car, although we have to take turns to go eat because all our luggage is in the compartment. 

VIENNA



We get to Vienna four minutes late, after eight hours traveling, and other passengers are moaning. I wish them all a long British train ride for healthy perspective.

Flying Pig bar owner Paul picks us up. Paul and me lived together for a year at college in the mid-90s but I haven’t seen him since and we’ve only had contact on Myspace. He’s different from how I remember: a quirky bar owner, complete with full-on Austrian accent, married to a Korean action movie star. The bar and gig and whole night are eccentric. The sound is almost impossibly quiet because the speakers are spread through the Flying Pig and there’s no monitoring. Sounds like a truly unplugged show. It’s also very busy with a heavy hardcore contingent but the crowd is weird and can’t decide whether to talk through us or get into it. We both win them over and I begin to think Vienna might have a happy ending.

…btw at this point I realise I accidentally smuggled a (very small) helping of something naughty through seven countries. Moron! Was forgotten in a coat pocket – must be a really common thing to do and I’m just lucky it wasn’t the kind of stuff that a sniffer dog might notice. I’ll leave it behind in Vienna – there were too many armed cops on the train and at the Swiss border… nasty thoughts…

The most interesting people in Vienna are two Stoke guys and an Australian girl living in Budapest offering open house to anyone who strays by (and through couchsurfing.com), making their living by online gambling. They are scarily young, only just out of teens, yet like something out of a hip movie and their leader is one of the brightest, almost eerily composed guys I’ve ever met. I suggest they watch Grifters because they’d make a stunning scam team and they’re currently locked out of half the gambling sites. We would love to party late with these dudes but we’re just too flaked. Pause to add Budapest to the next EU tour city list. 

We stay in Paul’s flat, while he sleeps in the backroom of his bar. Oddly, his flat has a shower in the kitchen. He says he’ll pick us up at 7am the next morning from the flat, to get his keys back and pay us.

We wake up at 6.30am. A second day operating on 4 hours’ sleep. 

At 7.15am there’s no sign of Paul. We phone him and leave messages. At 7.30 we phone again and pack our gear in a panic. By 7.40am we’re wandering the streets desperately seeking a taxi. Forty minutes and €50 later, we’re at the airport. More phone messages: we still have Paul’s keys and he still has all our money! Come on, where are you man!? Fuck! 

We check in and just make the flight, mainly because it’s been delayed by 30 minutes. It’s a tiny prop plane with 20 other people onboard. Coffee and croissant. Financial Times. Flying low over more Alps and across the Adriatic, south-west into Italy, towards Bologna Airport. And as the Italian booker’s assistant Laura meets us at Bologna, Paul is waking up and leaving messages. But we’ll leave him to our agent now to get our money and I’ll tell you about the last three days in Italy when I’m safely home.  

ELECTION NIGHT

Right, I’ve totally failed to finish and publish a tour diary and now it’s election night so our rock’n’roll adventures will just have to wait.

Tonight we’re (obviously) staying up to watch the results and I’ll be blogging live here anything that strikes me. You are more than welcome to comment, argue, or whatever. I’ll also be on Twitter and joining Dean’s group blog HERE

Cheers, see you on the other side.

saving the economy in one go / last night

Yesterday I realised the ultimate right-wing dream: a one-step solution to the global economic crisis that doesn’t involve scary socialism. Just make a big (cost-free) ethical shift instead of these crazy-expensive fiscal shifts… here we go: let’s legalise the black markets. Drugs, the sex trade, the movement of labour and suddenly some of the world’s biggest, most stable and profit-making trades become a sizeable chunk of the ‘official’ economy. All the resources currently spent fighting them can be channelled into their development and the deregulators get to crow victory. A shot in the arm, if you like.

Really enjoyed yesterday’s Manchester jaunt. Marc Riley is a total gent, his team are lovely and we rocked it. It’s dangerous having a bar so near the studio though – especially with gaps between each performance – because the band has a swift one after get-in, another swift one after soundcheck and then one between each song.

Not me, I was driving.

Only bummer was, we adjourned to a highly recommended curry house, where everyone else had a delicious meal but I had a shite one. My floridly-described main course was just sag aloo with an onion. Asked for it mild, got it medium-strong. The tarka dal was viciously hot as well and even the pilau wasn’t much cop. And they forgot my mango lassi (though it was the nicest bit when it came). So I don’t care that the rest of the party was raving, I was gutted. Then three hours down the motorway I nearly lost my rag in Welcome Break, where it took thee different attempts to score a pathetic excuse for a coffee. Both Coffee Nation machines in WHSmith were bust and the staff were a bit ‘confused’. Especially once the milk started running and running. So I was forced into Coffee Primo, Welcome Break’s pretend café brand. It’s the worst! The staff can’t make hot drinks for shit, you get a filthy lukewarm milk’n’dirt mess and you don’t realise it’s undrinkable until you’re back on the road, doing 80 miles an hour with nowhere to throw it. The canteen was full of flies as well. God I hope their IT department tracks back!

the fetishisation of words, in all their glory

We’ve got damp-proofers in tomorrow, to replace our out-of-date coursing along the front of the house. This means clearing all our shite out of the living room, which turns out to be mostly books. I hate books, especially thousands of them, when you have to carry them up to the attic and they’re dusty and you sneeze on the stairs and the 40 books you’ve got piled up in your arms go flying everywhere. Little fucktards, books.

On the way to Moseley Folk Festival, I helped Ben (drummer) move house from Brighton to West London and, while loading up the car, discovered he’s published a book of poems. It’s excellent and extremely complex stuff, that I’m having to work hard to get my head around. I’m trying to persuade him to sell it on the merch stall in October – how cool, the drummer’s poetry book!? Best of all, it’s a small book and doesn’t weigh much when carried between rooms.

An amusing thing happened to my Morning Star column this week, where they’ve slightly edited one of my favourite sentences.

What I wrote:
Face it: cocaine is everywhere. It’s at the BBC, in Parliament, the police force is full of it, it’s in all the media companies, most bog standard offices and I’d be massively surprised if there’s not a fair wodge floating around the Morning Star HQ right now.   

What they’ve published: 
Face it, cocaine is everywhere. It’s at the BBC, the police force is full of it, it’s in all the media companies and most bog-standard offices and I’d be massively surprised if there’s not a fair wodge floating around in Parliament right now.

lol – understandable really!

I’m going to have to write a big bad Billy Bragg blog (say that fast 5 times) – or possibly Morning Star piece – in the next couple of weeks and find a way of confronting an old issue face on: although it’s almost three years since 9 Red Songs came out, this week I got yet another pair of nasty emails from rabid Bragg fans, still harking on about (and still totally misunderstanding) the line about him in my song ‘Preaching To The Converted‘. And literally on the same day last week, a Myspace friend sent me a Youtube link to the Imagined Village roots supergroup’s updated version of ‘Hard Times Of Old England‘, where the lyrics seem so close that they could well have been directly inspired by ‘Huntsman‘. Anyway, this sort of stuff (the aggressive emails I mean) does my head in and needs a new considered response, so I’ll have a think and get something down. 

At Moseley Folk, I clocked Martin Carthy, nosing through vinyl on his own at a record stall – so he must’ve been on site for my performance of ‘Huntsman’ only 20 minutes before. I wish I’d had the guts to go up and say hello, partly to shake his hand and say how staggeringly wonderful Signs Of Life is but also partly to ask whether ‘Huntsman’ came up when they were developing ‘Old England’. I bottled it, sadly, because I was hanging with friends, drinking coffee and eating a messy falafel. But it would be fascinating to know if they acknowledge or are even aware of the song.

Culture Show… oh god.

Quick preamble because it’s a red letter day: Monmouth Coffee has finally reached Brighton, albeit in a small way. Coffee@33, so fresh on Trafalgar Street they don’t have a business card or website yet, is using Monmouth’s espresso blend and – joy of joys – they reckon they can sell me a kilo of any Monmouth single estate beans/grind without a mark-up, if I give them a week’s notice. Trafalgar Street is notoriously tough to crack, so if you’re a Brighton coffee ponce and want to taste something to compete with Red Roaster (well, better than really, though in not such nice surroundings), check it out and, once you’ve seen the light, encourage them to train down the whole range.

I know I’ve got on the Culture Show‘s arse before in The Morning Star about their overall turdiness but this week takes the fucking biscuit. I was so excited about the David Simon interview. The Wire sits alongside The West Wing as my favourite TV ever and those in the know will agree, Simon is not only one of the finest television writers but has revitalised the whole art. Well…

“…he now stands accused of breaking the laws of writing for TV. David Simon has been detained by The Culture Show for questioning.” 

Geddit!?

Yes, Lauren Laverne does the eight-minute interview (with heavy clips, so less than two minutes of actual insight from the subject) in a mock-up Police interview room, using a cassette of ‘controversial’ statements and challenging him on ‘breaking TV writing laws’. For fuckedy-fuckedy-fuck’s sakes!

Laverne: “We’ve intercepted a few of your communications… That is your voice on that tape… Can you explain yourself?”

Cripes chief, can someone put the programme-makers out of my misery?

Simon patiently plays along (“This may be something you’ll have to lock me up for…”) but, Christ, I wish he’d pulled rank and told them to fuck right off. The man had fascinating, probably important themes to develop, if they’d only let him.

“Wherever an institution has been given free sway, it has devoured individuals.” 

Yesterday I watched the first episode of Generation Kill, new HBO mini-series based on the book by Rolling Stone journo Evan Wright, who was ’embedded’ with US marines during the invasion of Iraq. Adapted by Ed Burns and David Simon, it is vivid, downbeat, realistic, without over-embellishment and, so far, bloody brilliant. They are reaching toward truth – and can TV drama do any more than that? 

Surprise, no mention of this series in the interview. And since the only actual Wire plug was Season 5 starting on the FX Channel, it makes me wonder if the BBC has bought the rights to show the whole of The Wire from Season 1 in the near future and was getting some early familiarisation in, without telling us. At least that would be cash well spent.

The thing is, like Mark Kermode, who is one of the best critics on telly, Lauren Laverne’s no gimp, she can run a show and pull off a heavyweight interview when needs be. The Chris Addison chat in the same show is absolutely fine. Now she has to face whichever monkeys are throwing out shit idea after shit idea and stand them down. It’s time to climb off the gimmicks. This was the first time I’ve seen David Simon on British TV, though admittedly I haven’t gone looking. Now wouldn’t it have been fantastic if it was a straightforward lengthy and detailed interview. I’m tired of your weak shit!

By the way, same programme: if you take a talented folksy sounding new band (Clare & The Reasons) and give them their first TV exposure, please give us a teensy bit of background and PLEASE let them sing one of their own fucking songs, instead of a Tears For Fears cover given a sub Michael Andrews acoustica treatment. And could we have more homegrown bands please, instead of obsessing with already-signed American acts?
Honestly, someone should give me a TV channel.