Kloot1I’ve seen Manchester’s I Am Kloot twice in my life.

The gig count’s hardly unusual for a live musicker like me – which, thanks to my Dad’s life long determination to make me rabidly musically curious, has had me crushed at The Killers, intoxicated at James and less than mystified at Julian Cope’s pagan altar.

But the following is. I’d left it almost a decade before seeing them a second time.

So why the lapse? After a bit of wandering and head-shaking, I decided today was the day to Figure It Out, using a simple game of compare and contrast. Yes, I have just listened to 2003’s I AM KLOOT and the band’s latest Let It All In back-to-back, to figure out what the hell happened.

First off then, to the self-titled, matt monochrome record of 2003 – I AM KLOOT.

The gig had been back in the days before Guy Garvey elbowed in. Before Sky At Night’s Mercury Prize nomination gave the nod to their worth. When the venue played by the Manchester three-piece was Birmingham’s sticky, beloved Carling, and not the blast-air conditioned O2 Academy, and in a dim and cramped side room that must have felt tauntingly out of the reach of the main pit below.

A creak of the wardrobe reminds me that I did go there and get the T-shirt after all, and the album. And I never have the money for merch, so I must have meant it, but in truth, ’til today, I hadn’t listened to the record since.

Now rectified, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

The millennial I AM KLOOT rings part lo-fi existential crisis – “Could you stand me another drink/ I’m better when I don’t think/ seems to get me through” – part dreamscape (Read “Mermaids”), with up-beat flashes (“3 Feet Tall” as a case in point, though buried at track 11 of 12). To a girl of fifteen the whole package probably felt a bit too hopelessly soul-scraping and melancholic, especially to one who’d accidentally veered into pseudo-gothic territory.

But now I appreciate the blues of “A Strange Arrangement of Colour”; I can hear how a faster-tempo “Sold As Seen” could’ve been the precursor to Oasis’s “The Importance of Being Idle”. For me though, now and back then, it belongs to a darkened room; a letter from a sinking, disenchanted man. Like a stiff drink, best taken in bright spirits.

Fast forward ten years then to Sunday night’s candlelit Warwick Arts Centre, 2013. A mellowed out crowd, at times too unnervingly zen I think for frontman John Bramwell, for the last night of Kloot’s latest tour, parading another Guy Garvey-produced wonder, 2012’s Let It All In.

There, united with Bramwell’s slight bemusement that everyone was just happy sat, it just clicked.

Straight into it then today, I stuck Let It All In into the player straight after I AM KLOOT. And after some pensive pen tapping, I think this is wot won it for me.

In overview, LIAI is subtler and richer: less clamouring light versus shade than I AM KLOOT’s black and white. I think Garvey’s touch has been to help Bramwell and co draw out what really makes Kloot’s, and Elbow’s, music – bittersweet observation, to bittersweet music – more effectively.

What really makes it for me though is that the instrumental is more layered, which live is really noticeable, balancing out Bramwell’s acerbic tones – I say acerbic, but remove if you can the negative connotations of the word.

The only way I can think to describe it is like a burst of citrus cutting clean through some sweet dessert. What I mean to say is that Bramwell was crying out for stronger backing for his one hell of a powerful voice.

Opening “Bullets” is brilliant – a proper folk ballad about the “masked vigilante” of love/ imperfect relationships. “Let Them All In” sweetly accepts how imperfectly life goes, while “Mouth On Me” has learned some lessons from Elbow’s “Weather To Fly”. And on it goes, altogether more melodic; there’s a trumpet!; I listened to “Shoeless” four times over. All in all, Let It All In does greater justice to Bramwell’s outlook, which isn’t all smack-me-over-the-head nihilism after all. Just listen to “These Days Are Mine”.

To conclude then, scant musical maths this exercise may’ve been, but well, it’s done the trick.

I’m sorry for my ten-year remissness, I Am Kloot. Couldn’t happen again if I tried.


What finer way to spend a Friday night than to get down my two-penneth on the Ian Duncan Smith – Cait Reilly spat?

Reilly is, of course, the geology graduate publicly targeted by the Work and Pensions Secretary for, in his view, thinking herself too good for shelf-stacking, after the 24 year-old took the DWP to the Court of Appeal, and won, over its legally flawed back-to-work programme.

The debacle’s certainly given left and right some moralistic bones to crunch on. And in response, Irked Ian, addressing Reilly directly, said graduates should get their priorities straight. Stuff your discipline and get thyself to Poundland!

He said:

“The next time these smart people who say there’s something wrong with this go into their supermarket, ask themselves this simple question: when they can’t find the food on the shelves, who is more important: them, the geologist or the person who’s stacked the shelves.”

Yet while IDS may appear to be hammering down some sort of hard-nosed, populist, moralistic line on the supposed “something for nothing” generation, what he is in fact doing is, shallowly, trying to score points over Labour’s record.

And it’s at the expense of young people with massive debt nooses round their necks in the name of esteemed higher education. And why? Because this was the option the incumbents set out for us.

You can imagine what might be going through the Work and Pension Secretary’s head. Driving 50% of school-leavers through university was the last, Labour government’s ambition. The movement made starting out with an excessive debt to your name the done thing; the young’s ticket for passing into adulthood.

So naturally, once in power, the Conservative-led coalition set on dissembling this unsustainable model, this “something for nothing” culture, by passing a hike in the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 a year (obviously to discourage those just going for a three-year laugh and a lager, and, more critically, those from poorer households), while protests raged outside. Although that time Millbank HQ got less of a hammering.

But the fact of the matter is, a hell of a lot of money is still being lent out to undergraduates by the Student Loans Company, on the Coalition’s watch.

Between 2010 and 2011 SLC paid out £5.5 billion in loans and grants to more than 1.3 million students, and £2.7 billion in tuition fees to colleges and universities. And with HMRC it collected £1.3 billion in tuition fee repayments, mainly from the 9/10 tax year, it says.

While by mid-November 2011, SLC stats totted up 948,100 applicants as having been awarded grants, allowances and or loans, to the equivalent of £7,548.7 million, two months into the 2011/12 academic year. As far as I can see, because the SLC’s statistics section is so blighted by confuscating jargon, we’re still waiting on the final figure.

Today’s undergraduates are still putting themselves into tremendous debt before their lives have even begun, because this is the option presented to them. They’re assured that they’ll be better off for it in the long run, because they’ll ultimately be able to earn a bigger wage packet than those who don’t. But who even believes that anymore?

IDS, usually thought to be the mild man of coalition politics, was breathtakingly irresponsible when he made his comments, motivated as he was by a passion for doing one over on the opposition when he spoke out against “smart” graduates.

First, for so crassly trivialising the idea that a graduate might actually want to try and maximise on what is an extremely expensive qualification – yes, paid for by the tax payer and sanctioned by the government, that saddles them with confidence-crushing debt – and take responsibility for that thousands-of-pounds-worth good faith investment.

And second, because if the fact really is that the UK’s institutions, and the way our education system is wired, are no longer applicable to the real world in IDS’ eyes, then well, that’s a far bigger problem to do battle with than that of one defiant geologist dreaming of metamorphism in Morrisons.

With the hothouses of media, politics and business all frothing away with all the testosterone they can muster, today’s Daily Politics turned its focus to The Woman Question yet again. It had been a while.

The Woman Question I’m talking about here, is the Quota Question. Should field chiefs – men, usually – start getting serious about adopting all-female quotas, and make pounding strides to balance out the numbers of men to women in these hyper-competitive worlds?

Yes! And no buts, argued former BBC news reader Alice Arnold, donning her plus fours and hitting the golf course for her feature.

Her point was that, just as in golf, one of Arnold’s favourite hobbies, men’s faces are expected to be seen on the green.

And “even if they’re not very good,” she said. Yet, she often finds herself the sole female golf player among a hundred men in bad trousers.

Arnold’s argument? Bring in all-female quota of “at least” 50% in, and we might just stand a chance of kick-starting a pro-gender equality culture change in business, politics, journalism, panel shows, you name it.

So why not do it then?

Back in the Daily Politics studio, the debate quickly became tedious. The idea that women’s broad failing is that they simply don’t bang their own drum hard enough, came crawling out, pulling a face.

Women tend to be shy and retiring it said, and cower from the limelight. Men are pushier, and more willing to boom about how F-ING AMAZING they are.

This absence of egotism is shutting women out of the boardroom and the newsroom, and committing them instead to the delivery room. So us lady-folk should all just bloody well get our elbows out and be done with it.

Thank God Arnold piped up at this juncture, because this was just tiresome, sweeping generalisation, head-banging-against-wall, scratched record territory.

“I’m not sure pushiness is a quality that people should particularly encourage,” she said.

“Why should you have to be pushy?… should we not be encouraging people to ask?” she said.

It irritates me too, and I doubt I’m alone in this. Why on earth are we still playing the strings of these lazy social stereotypes? Why aren’t we striving to be more insightful about men and women, as individuals, not cut-outs? Why is pushiness and presentation given prestige over substance? I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but VOLUME doesn’t always equal intelligence. And how many of us even respond positively to so-called all-male pushiness, which in the media, politics, and business, has ‘spin’ for its much reviled younger brother?

If it’s really felt that ‘feminising’ the workplace is going to alter its fine balance of chemicals, then let’s do it. And not because I support this perception that women are the pacifying home-builders, to the masculine hum of hunter-dominator hormones. But because we are individually far more complex than that, and if your companies, your newsrooms, your parties, are beginning to actively strive to better reflect the range of personalities and people who make up the society they sit in, then how can you not be broadening your reach?

Back down to earth with a bump. For the very fact that the quota question was stuck at the tail end of The Daily Politics in the first place, well after the poker-hot topic of how horsemeat is being regurgitated into our favourite foods, felt a bit like a pat on the head from the BBC.

‘Here you go then, thank God we’ve ticked that off. Now let’s get back to the hardstuff.’

What a (distinctly questionable) meaty mess. In the latest leg of the horse meat scandal’s sorry race, Tesco, Britain’s largest supermarket, has been apologising yet again after another of its products, this time portions of its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese, were found containing 60% horse in in-house DNA tests.

Of course, what we know as ‘Bolognese’ has had the good people of Bologna up in arms for decades, because it’s not authentic Bolognese we’re eating but ragu. Which as the Accademia Italiana della Cucina will tell you, traditionally consists of coarsely chopped beef and pancetta, served with white wine, milk, sparse tomato and tagliatelle, not spaghetti.

But horse? Neighver.

Anyway, back at the ranch, 60% is a lot of stowaway meat. Yet still a shade better than the 100% horse pretending to be “beef” in some of Swiss ready-meal giant Findus’s lasagnes, supplied by French company Comigel.

The chief offence, is this jaw-dropping act of corner-cutting and mis-selling, which has household names being dragged upside down in their stirrups through the mud. Concerns over the possible safety risk of ‘adulterated’ meat to consumers – for example, if the equine drug phenylbutazone or “bute” enters the food chain – have for now taken second place.

Which has left Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, daubing the horse meat affair largely an issue of “fraud and mislabelling” rather than food safety, earning him criticism from Labour.

But if it is solely a “fraud and mislabelling” affair we’re looking at, then I’ve got an admission to make. My sympathy for those who may indeed have been eating horse every time they let cheap mincemeat slip into their mouths and down their gullet, is not great.

Here’s why. Do you know how much a packet of liver costs? Try £1.33 for lamb’s liver from Tesco. From Asda, pig’s liver weighs in at £1.00 a kg.

Chicken livers are best. Even Waitrose, home on average to the most expensive weekly shop, sells them at £1.09 for 400g. And they’re amazing fried up with bacon and balsamic vinegar, tossed in spring onions and cooked potatoes and warmed through, with loads of coarse sea salt and black pepper.

It may sound a bit slap-bang Jamie Oliver but it’s really cheap. And I doubt they’d have been injected with extract of horse, because that would be extraordinarily pointless and costly.

But the thing is with liver, however you may wrinkle your nose up at it, is that you know exactly what it is. But the catch is of course that you have prepare it yourself, which means dealing with its bloodiness, and acknowledging the fact that you are about to eat part of an animal.

Mince is popular because it’s versatile. And to those meat-eaters who like to have their meaty fill, it’s also comforting, because you get that tasty iron-hit without the squeamishness of associating it with the once living beast it came from.

And the mince of processed meat products is just ‘meat’, to mould and fry up in whichever shape preferred, no questions asked. Let’s face it, if you’re eating the cheapest on offer, you know they’re not going to be hewn from bona fide 100% prime fillet steak. There is always going to be a dash of tongue and eye and testicle in there. But so long as you avoid reading that crunchy list of component parts on the back of the box, or don’t start considering the possibilities as to why or how, this meat could be quite so cut-price, it’s okay.

I do want to point out however, that what I’m categorically not saying is that, because many people can only afford cheap processed meat products, it’s okay for them to be treated as second-class citizens by food companies. The deception that’s at play here, wherever it originated, is squalid and there’s no way to justify it.

But the point I want to make is that you can choose to have your wits about you. Or go vegetarian in the main, and invest in an uncompromised (non-compromised?) piece of meat,  once or week, for example.

And at least when you’re eating liver and onions you know exactly what it is you’re eating. It’s cheap, it’s lean, and what’s more, it’s an obvious meat. It’s an organ! And doesn’t that phrase have a nice ring to it?

But until you’re willing to acknowledge that, as a meat-eater, you are eating animals, or try something truly offal for your low-cost meat fix, and know exactly which part of the animal you’re munching on, I can’t mourn the demise of Shergar burger, nor feel shocked or angry that this is the gristly truth we’ve got on our hands.

Ladies! Put the trowel down! Liberate yourself of your lip-tint! Cast down the shackles your straighteners have set upon you! Preen no more, I beseech you!

Oh LORD. I’m already struggling with this post, because the thing is,  I’ve completely exposed my neck here. Several times over.

But at first glance I think I’ll pick… endorsing dull, unwitting stereotypes. Alleging that not sticking stuff on your face can set you free. Deigning to pretend I’m not as cack-handed and imperfect as the rest of you. But come on, I was starting in jest, and platitudes really are the best way.

Now I’ve brushed that off, let me explain my measly er, call to arms.

Cosmopolitan, that great stalwart of female paranoia, one of the long, deep roots that weighs down the lore of how to blend in, and how to kneel, yesterday gave us all a tasty treat. A naked photo shoot.

They were all there: the vampiric Kirsten Stewart, Beyonce, Gaga, Thingy Seyfried, that Rihanna chick, letting it all hang out. And by all, I mean the unclogged pores on their fresh, shiny faces.

Evidently I’ve been missing a beat in the pulsating zeitgeist that is the world of celebrity. This beat is the trend of women who usually ‘have’ to cake it on, posting up pictures of themselves sans le maquillage. It’s a statement, d’you hear?

And I get it, I really do. I see the veins of positivity rippling all over it. There’s all sorts to decode. But which interpretation is closest to the bone?

OK, let’s try: mainstream women are finally taking it upon themselves to crush the beauty myth. How refreshing. Holly Willoughby of This Morning fame, et al, are trampling all over society’s too-high expectations! They’re saying, this isn’t the trope we want to perpetuate any more.  Why should we have to make the effort? The important thing is to be comfortable in your own skin. If you let others see you without a full face on, then what else is there left to overcome?

Ahem, objection: the media and women are fetishising this ‘phenomenon’! The ‘circle of shame,’ for one, helped breed a rabid obsession with picking at imperfections ’til red-raw. Read my friend Bonnie Gardiner’s stunner on the exploitation of Marylin Monroe. If you weren’t already aware, because you live in a vacuum, bottling up female essence to sell on, and booting anything which falls fail, is a loooooong tradition.

There’s a tipping point isn’t there. Where does the gesture of really quite famous women, posting up pictures of themselves ‘laid bare’, or being held up as a reference point to take direction from by the likes of Cosmo, mutate from empowerment, through showing off and ego-plumping, to setting up yet another ideal to scrabble after? Another stick to beat those who will never ‘have it all’ with?

I mean, the Cosmo blurb is priceless:

From The Voice to This Morning, Holly Willoughby is constantly on our TV screens looking made up and gorgeous! So when she took this au natural snap of herself chillaxing at home we couldn’t help but feel a pang of jealousy, this woman literally has it all!

Holly W (2)

“Pang of jealousy”? “This woman literally has it all!”?  “Chillaxing”? Get outta here.

And to think, Cosmo, that I was interested in you for a moment. But you are thine own worst enemy. I really have nothing more to say to you.

Who wouldn’t be lost for words? It’s said that British drug smuggler Lindsay Sandiford has barely spoken since being dealt the death penalty at the hands of Indonesian justice this week, in reports since the verdict.

The Gloucestershire grandmother is said to be devastated after country prosecutors decided to upgrade their initial 15-year jail term for the cocaine trafficker by sentencing her to death by firing squad.

Yet for the speechless Sandiford, words are the sole defence at hand, futile as they may seem in the face of a gun.

Which is precisely why those speculating on the facts of the case should choose them ever-so carefully before they let rip.

Gangsters coerced her into trafficking millions-of-pounds-worth of cocaine into Bali, via a suitcase lining, after threatening her 21 year-old son, says Ms Sandiford in her defence.

Her claims have been backed by human rights charity Reprieve, who described her as vulnerable; ripe for exploitation.

And with her appeal due to start in less than a week, and with presidential clemency another avenue for exploration, foreign minister Hugo Swire reiterated to MPs how the UK “strongly object[s]” to the use of the death penalty, and of Britain’s on-going representations to Indonesian law-holders.

But prosecutors have given a three-pronged justification for their sentence.

They argue that Sandiford was at the heart of a drugs ring, had brought shame to Bali’s tourist trade and counter-drug strategy, and shown little remorse for her actions.

Bali crime expert Kathryn Bonella, meanwhile, stoked the fire further when she told The Times that Sandiford was a ‘familiar face’ in the drug scene, known for making trips to India to buy up hashish to sell on.

But whatever the facts of the case, and Ms Sandford’s role in what Cheltenham MP Martin Horwood called “this evil trade,” what is both appalling and fascinating is what has been said in reaction to the plight of the 56 year-old former Cheltonian, by those who knew her or of her.

In yesterday’s ThisisGloucestershire report the overriding attitude of those giving their views on the case, seemed to be an overriding ‘well, she had it coming to her,’ fed by brush-past speculation, that appeared to completely miss the point that this woman could be killed at the hands of the state.

Former co-worker Maria Swift described Sandiford, who was her boss at DTS legal, as being intelligent enough to have known the risks posed to her by entering Bali drug-laden, adding that “the law is the law, and it is there for a reason,” and musing that her once-boss’s ‘I was blackmailed’ defence probably wasn’t the real reason behind the crime – implying that Sandiford was over-egging it.

Meanwhile neighbours from the “quiet” Cheltenham street where the Gloucestershire ex-pat lived levied other criticisms, whether it was that Sandiford “wasn’t a nice person,” that both she and her sons had “caused a lot of trouble when she lived here,” or even that she “definitely wasn’t a normal housewife.”

Another neighbour remarked of how her’s didn’t seem a “very happy house… It’s what I would call ‘disorganised.'”

But again, the final word on the matter was that Sandiford “had to pay the penalty, I suppose,” another commenting that she “probably knew what the risks were to what she was doing”.

To them, the point was that Sandiford had made the mistake of not adhering to the letter of Indonesian law. They weren’t struck by the thought of someone they once knew being blindfolded and shot through the heart. It wasn’t even the general horror of the death penalty as state-sanctioned murder, with its innate danger that an innocent could lose their life, or that further facts could emerge to strengthen her case, or lessen her liability, that halted them in their tracks before passing comment.

The most one interviewee would grant was that it seemed “illogical” for Indonesian justice to serve the former Cheltenham resident the death penalty, given that Sandiford had helped drug squad officers with their investigations.

Cheltenham is the picturesque festival-heart of the Cotswolds. The area, a designated circumference of outstanding natural beauty, is itself known the world over for its picture-postcard looks, all sleepy-eyed woolly sheep, market-town charm, bistro pub grub, and – for now – prettily snow-dusted slopes, veined with coveted Cotswold stone.

Sandiford’s drug-smuggling misdeeds, whatever the truth of the matter, are a world away. Little wonder the plight of an ex-pat, now reported to be living in a cockroach and rat-infested prison, who may end her days at the hands of a firing squad, doesn’t quite register or resonate.

A hurtling crash of burnt orange and black-blue, The Scream, with its sonic wave of mighty pitch, makes you feel like you have been struck by some killer blow.

This skill, of making you sway on the spot with the crass emotion of a lone, unmoving image, is what makes painter Edvard Munch so fascinating, and what Tate Modern’s current Munch exhibition (ending in just over a week) wants to take you through.

Yet as I recounted to a friend or two a few weeks after my visit, I couldn’t even recommend you go along for the ride in your sweetest or lightest mood.

A Norwegian artist, Munch worked across the modernist turn of the 19th-20th century, and is, according to the blurb from Tate curators, ‘often seen as a 19th-century Symbolist painter… often repeat[ing] a single motif over a long period of time in order to re-work it’. Recurring symbols, plus a long-term fixation with camera work, were the coat hooks of his technique.

But then, talking about Munch’s ‘technique’ really seems by-the-by when you’re walking from painting to photograph, one room to the next, because Munch’s finished pieces rarely feel mediated, or created with the distance of artistic objectivity, nor with any sense of ‘thinking time’ between what he wanted to get down and how he went about it, to talk of him as having something as considered as ‘technique’.

Although, boy, does that Munch have style.

So where do Munch’s symbols come from? From life, mainly. He was marred by losing both his sister and mother to tuberculosis as a child; the impact of their sickness and deaths upon him never seemed to ease if this collection’s anything to go by; many of the works featured in the Tate hang there red-raw, as if they died again every day. He suffered a nervous breakdown and was boxed-in by anxiety; felt alien in the world he walked in; was transfixed by the supernatural; plagued by alcoholism and torn-up relationships; and later, his eyesight began to fail in one eye. Tragic milieu indeed.

And where his art’s symbols weren’t cut-and-paste direct from his own experiences, he appeared to take up other subjects simply as another means of carrying his pain across.

As for the repetition of motifs across his career – to obsession, unable to work through or process them – they smack of psychosis. So much of the work that makes up the Modern Eye exhibition, regardless of the content, felt dominated by his mental state, like stumbling upon blaring stream-of-consciousness-style diary entries.

The tragedy is in his lack of care – not because it looks bad, but because it feels wretched. His figures, if they’re not staring out with too-wide eyes and seeing nothing, as with his Murder on the Road (1919), then they deal you with an accusatory glare, or one weighed down with the realisation that your lover no longer ‘sees’ you, sitting along the feather-line crack between madness and sanity.

The painting is torrid, distorted; the colours earthy, then bright, then clashing, as if Munch was trying to expel or dash out the torment with his swipes of paint across canvas.

All these elements – his fixation with the afterlife and the supernatural, his curiosity with photography and playing around with exposure to create half-formed images, with some point about humans as spectres in their own lives – had me wondering out loud how Munch managed to survive a night without dashing his brains out… but then, perhaps that’s where his crashing style of painting came in after all. A plinth for his uneasiness.

Then, you get to a room plastered with Munch’s self-portraits. And when I say self-portraits, I mean, Munch sitting before his Kodak camera and taking shot after shot after shot of himself, sometimes backlit by carefully-selected works-in-progress, sometimes looking down the lens, sometimes clear of it.

Think that MySpace was the birthing of the obsessive ‘this is my face’ style photography? See this as Munch’s album of Facebook profile pictures, and suddenly, the exhibition softens its blow.

So, what else is there to say about Munch, the Real Scream? Not ‘technically’ great, but a man who cut out an altogether different function for paintwork. Go, if you can stand it. He’ll inflict his head and his art upon you.