Thursday, 26 November 2009

What's Occuring?


I love Gav'n'Stace. I love the menagerie of characters as if they were my own eccentric kin, I love the witty script, the spot-on regional stereotyping and most of all I love the fact that underneath the bizarre comedy there is real, unmistakable heart.

I got into series one quite late, only this year, and it took me a couple of episodes to get into it. I read an interview with Alison Steadman the other day where she described reading the script for the pilot and being won over by a moment where Pam has been upset by badgers crying on the TV. When Gavin questions whether they were really crying, she simply says 'I know what I saw.' I think we all know that woman.

If you've ever lived in Wales or even popped over for a rugby match, you'll also know a Nessa. And a Stacey. And definitely, definitely a Bryn. Bryn is possibly the purest amount of Welshness you could vacuum-pack into one character. I love his slightly-behind-the-zeitgeist jokes that quickly back up into seriousness (today, the Apprentice: 'Gav - you're fired! I'm only joking I am, I don't have that kind of power.') James Corden as the kind of bloke I'd hate in real life still manages to make Smithy loveable, an unbelievable feat.

Having spent three years in Cardiff, their shift of location from Essex to Wales actually made me long for that easy Welsh charm; London with all its buzz and glitz is still a very isolated place at times. Nothing is more important than a commuter getting that train on time, no time for pleasantries. I loved the un-PC endearment 'lovely', although it took some getting used to. Working in a bar with brassy, loud Welsh girls who gave as good as they got with the rowdier customers made me feel like the most uptight Surrey specimen in the world, but I really enjoyed it.

I adored the nightlife and the lack of posing - cheesy music and body con dresses are as important a part of a Cardiff night out as chips on the way home. There is no underdone, relaxed boho chic; Welsh girls go all out with big hair, big heels and fake lashes. Absolutely fine by me, why should we agonise over whether our look is too much? If you want to wear a sparkly dress, wear it.

If you haven't got into Gavin and Stacey yet, beg borrow or steal series one to get a feel for it. It seems like small snapshots of unremarkable lives in some ways, but it's the real things in life - relationships, arguments, humour, human eccentricity - that make this golden, heartwarming, must-see TV.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Into Battle

Love him or hate him, John Mayer is good entertainment. His sultry guitar-led tunes are at odds with his tabloid presence, cemented by years of high-profile womanizing, and post Aniston he sadly seems to be known only for their on/off amour. He courts the press while trying to remain credible, and is famous for filling them in on his love life and generally oversharing, a trait that doesn't usually go with great songwriting and performance. I actually got into some of his older tracks before he hit the glossy pages of Look and Grazia, and I'm glad because Mayer deserves to be on your cultural radar for his soulful voice and masterful guitar skills, or at the very least, his tweeting (he recently reacted to outrage at Britney's miming on Twitter by posting "If you're shocked that Britney was lip-synching at her concert and want your money back, life may continue to be hard for you.") Follow him on Twitter now (@JohnCMayer) for some hilarious 140-character sparring between him and Perez Hilton.

A cocktail of tracks from his 2002 debut album Room for Squares, 2007's Continuum and his live album Where the Light Is add a range of chilled acoustic sounds and witty lyrics to my iPod which soothe my soul and tingle my spine in equal parts. Which is why I was so eager to download his latest effort, Battle Studies (released 16 November). At the height of his notoriety for all the wrong headlines, Mayer's people have obviously pushed for a suitably heartbroken and chastened album in the wake of the Jennifer Aniston affair, hence the title and slightly overstretched metaphor of love as battlefield. Expecting a feast of sensual pop-rock with real depth and honesty, I was sad to discover that Battle Studies is actually a little dull. Scrap that, 80% of the tracks are unbelievably skippable, with cliched lyrics, forgettable melodies and unremarkable riffs.

Mayer has really taken his eye off the ball here; in an effort to channel his gossip-column status he goes for the sympathy vote on Heartbreak Warfare, All We Ever Do is Say Goodbye and Friends, Lovers or Nothing, but they are so interchangeable it suggests a rushed album made to hit the shelves before the magazine pages cool. Half of My Heart featuring Taylor Swift (WHY?) only layers bland on bland, while attempting a cheeky nod at his womanizing ways.

There are a couple of lifelines; the funky Robert Johnson cover Crossroads adds some much needed tempo with its gospel-spiritual flavour and showcases the soul in his distinctive voice, while the jaunty 'Who Says' is mellow and folky with a witty edge. It harks back to some of the old John Mayer magic as he asks 'Who says I can’t get stoned / Call up a girl that I used to know / Fake love for an hour or so / Who says I can’t get stoned?' You can't help wishing he'd hit the ganja a little harder during recording, because the rest of this sober retrospective of his relationship scars is pretty banal.

Download: Who Says, Crossroads, Perfectly Lonely

From Mayer's back catalogue - Waiting on the World to Change, My Stupid Mouth, Your Body is a Wonderland, Stop This Train, Dreaming with a Broken Heart, Gravity, Slow Dancing in a Burning Room