Drink’N’Music 2013 – Craig’s Top 10 Albums of 2013 Paired With Drinks

Drink’N’Music 2013

10 of Craig’s Favourite Records of 2013, Paired with 10 Favourite Tipples

Craig Pinhey

It is the end of the year, and time for my annual Drink’n’Music list, in which I pair my top 10 listens from 2013 with an appropriate beverage. I am not saying these are the best 10 records released this year, just my favourites from the ones I have played and purchased.

Go to www.frogspad.ca for previous years.

Here are my top 10 albums of 2013, with recommended drinks.

wiseupghost

 1. Elvis Costello & The Roots –  Wise Up Ghost

Watch: Walk Us Uptown

This is not Elvis Costello playing funk, nor is it The Roots punking out. It is a musical partnership that has resulted in some of Costello’s best lyrics – political and otherwise – produced in a different way, with snappy beats and in some cases funky bass, keys, lead guitar and a horn section…all behind Costello’s unmistakable voice.  My favourite track, and my Song of the Year, is The Puppet Has Cut His Strings, a bonus song on the Deluxe version, a moving ballad Costello penned about his father’s recent passing from Alzheimer’s.  Just try to listen to it without breaking down.

You may like this LP if you like:  Musicians who are not afraid to take risks.

What to Drink: An American/UK hybrid, so how about a Manhattan, but made with Connemara Peated Single Malt from Ireland, $51.59, in honour of Declan Macmanus’s heritage.

2. Bettie Serveert – Oh Mayhem

Check out this amazing video!

This Dutch combo, fronted by a Canadian vocalist and song writer, is in my opinion one of the best rock and roll bands of the past two decades. The lyrics are excellent, as are her vocals, but Oh Mayhem – released in late 2012 but available here in 2013 – is really a guitar lover’s album. It rocks!

You may like this LP if you like: The Pretenders, Juliana Hatfield, Metric, Hendrix solos.

What to Drink: Grolsch, a crisp, refreshing Dutch lager in a swingtop bottle. $3.18/450 ml.

3. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob

Yes, I know, Canada’s indie twin darlings sold out and made a highly produced synth pop dance record, but, you know what? The lyrics are good, the tunes are memorable and catchy, and this is more original and better than the dance music that tops the US charts.  I don’t want all their records to sound like this, but this has found its way into my car’s CD player an awful lot this year.

You may like this LP if you like: dance music with both brains and a heart

What to Drink:  Something fun and bubbly but not too sweet: Segura Viudas Brut Rosé, Spain $16.99

4. Madness – Oui Oui Si SI Ja Ja Da Da

Check out this album preview

Most would say that this British pop and ska band peaked in the late 70‘s and early 80‘s, but this new album was a breath of fresh air in 2013, and as good as any of their early work.  I’m not sure there was a better 2013 LP for hot summer days.

You may like this LP if you like:  old school ska music and happy British pop,  like if the Kinks meshed with Rancid.

What to Drink: a pint of UK-style bitter. My usual choice is Picaroons Best Bitter ($3.80/500 ml)

5. David Myles– In The Nighttime

New Brunswick’s Myles is now a Canadian star, and this latest record shows his maturity as a vocalist and songwriter. These songs have a lot of soul, and he sings them convincingly. The bonus mini-CD produced by Classified is particularly groovy. I love it!

You may like this LP if you like:  Marvin Gaye, nice tall guys.

What to Drink:  I’d love to recommend a wine from Nova Scotia’s Gaspereau Vineyards, as Myles’s brother’s wife is the winemaker, but we don’t have any at ANBL. Jost, owners of Gaspereau, does have a smooth red called Jost Trilogy, though, for $19.99.

6. Wesley Stace – S/T

Listen to Wesley sing When I Knew

Wesley Stace used to go by John Wesley Harding but has reverted to his own name for this self-titled record. His career as a literary novelist (read the brilliant By George if you haven’t already) has perhaps been more successful than his music career, but this new record is essentially a guidebook on the songwriting craft. The Bedroom You Grew Up In, When I Knew, and Wrong For The Part are just perfect little songs.

You may like this LP if you like:  imagine Bob Dylan with a beautiful singing voice and British accent

What to Drink:  Since Stace now makes New York his home, I picked something quintessentially American: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, $36.99, on ice or in an Old Fashioned

7.Prefab Sprout – Crimson/Red

The video for Best Jewel Thief in the World

Iconoclast Paddy McAloon has come back in 2013 with a wonderful album of gorgeous, thoughtful pop songs. It was too long a wait for this new record.

You may like this LP if you like:  Pet Sounds, Steely Dan, Thomas Dolby

What to Drink:  a glass of pretty, aromatic white, wine, with some zip, such as Willm Reserve Riesling from Alsace, France,  $18.99

8. Miles Kane – Don’t Forget Who You Are

Listen to this great track 

A great British rock and roll record with songs co-written with legends like Paul Weller (the Jam) and Andy Partridge (XTC).

You may like this LP if you like:  Supergrass, the more rocking Stones/Kinks/Who/Beatles songs, and the best of Oasis

What to Drink: what is more British than Gin & Tonic? But use local gin Thuya, $29.99.

9. Heavy Blinkers – Health

Like their FB site

A very diverse record, long in the making, but satisfying. Lots of guest vocals, but still unmistakably The Heavy Blinkers, with the lush orchestration we know and love.

You may like this LP if you like:  Pet Sounds, Halifax indie music, Jenn Grant

What to Drink:  This is summer music, and I’m quite partial to a cold lager beer in the summer. This is tasty: Gahan Beach Chair Lager, PEI<  473 ml can/$3.29

10. Lloyd Cole – Standards

Check out Lloyd’s site

This Lloyd album could have come from the early 80’s, and that’s a good thing, as he was one of the best, and most original, singer songwriters to emerge from that age of excess.

You may like this LP if you like:  Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, alt-folk.

What to Drink:  A complex red wine, like a Spanish Rioja. Try this good value:  Antano Crianza $14.99.

Honourable mentions:  Tarmac Adam – The History Effect,Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backwards, OMD – English Electric , Billy Bragg – Tooth and Nail, TMBG – Nanobots, Paul Mccartney – NEW.

Cheers and have a Merry Musical Holiday!

Craig Pinhey is a certified Sommelier and writer who loves good drink and music. Visit him www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as frogspadca.

Drink’N’Music 2012 – Craig’s Top 10 Albums of 2012 Matched With Drinks

Drink’N’Music 2012
10 of Craig’s Favourite Records of 2012, Paired with 10 Favourite Tipples
Craig Pinhey

Do you ever think about what music to play when you are enjoying a favourite drink? I do. I’ve been told that some of my music preferences are strange, which I take as a compliment. If we all liked the same music, TV shows, and drinks, life would be really boring.

I love music even more that booze, believe it or not, and every year for as long as I can remember I’ve made a top 10 list. Starting in 2006 I decided to pair each of my picks with a drink – go to www.frogspad.ca for previous years.

Here are my top 10 albums of 2012, with recommended drinks.

1. Field Music – Plumb (England, Prog/Pop)

I was turned onto Field Music by other fans of UK pop gods XTC. They have some similarities to XTC but are more of a prog/pop band. The band is mainly the two brothers, David and Peter Brewis, who together make complex yet melodic pop songs, with fantastic musicianship. This record was a finalist for Britain’s Mercury Prize this year.

Track to taste online: (I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing

What to Drink: Something complex, refreshing and British, so how about a Gin and Tonic, using Plymouth Original London Dry Gin $28.99.

2. John K Samson – Provincial (Canada, Rock/Pop)

Weakerthans frontman Samson released his solo record to great acclaim for good reason. If you are a fan of Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans, you will find this record easy to love, as it pretty much sounds like their next great album. It is smart, catchy, and eminently Canadian. His lyrics stand alone perfectly as poems.

Track to taste online: When I Write My Master’s Thesis

What to Drink: We don’t get any Manitoba products, so I’ve chosen an excellent western whisky. Dark Horse ($29.99) is the latest offering from Alberta Premium, who are well known for making Canadian whisky from 100% Rye, giving it a spicy, full flavour. This has more oak influence, giving Bourbon-like notes.

3. Aimee Mann – Charmer (USA, Rock/Pop)

Many know Aimee Mann for Voices Carry from her early band Til Tuesday, or for her fabulous soundtrack to Magnolia, but she has continued making very good records since then, and her latest is one of her best. Her unique voice and attractive lyrical phrasing work really well with her fresh pop melodies. No fluff here; just great songs.

Track to taste online: Charmer (it has a hilarious video)

What to Drink: Something smooth but also fresh, so how about the Gustav Lorenz Reserve Sylvaner ($16.79), one of my favourite white wines at the ANBL.

4. John Southworth – Easterween/West Coast Persona/Failed Jingles for Bank of America and Other US Corporations (Canada, Orchestral/Lounge/Pop)

Southworth was busy in 2012. He performed (& released) Easterween, his Brecht/Weill styled musical theatre production with Toronto’s Andrew Downing, then released West Coast Persona, an EP of some of his earlier, lounge-pop songs, then finally Failed Jingles…, a collection of very short, gorgeous pop tunes that were actually written as jingles, but were rejected by the intended corporations. Songs must constantly exude from his pores. Rumour has it he is playing a show at The Barrel’s Head in Rothesay on December 17. See you there!

Track to taste online: Best Foog John, from Failed Jingles…

What to Drink: Absinthe, with cold water added until it turns cloudy (approximately 5 parts water to 1 part Absinthe). Be sure to use New Brunswick’s own Courailleuse, made by Distillerie Fils du Roy ($62.99).

5. Mike O’Neil – Wild Lines (Canada, Rock/Pop)

Halifax’s O’Neil became famous as part of The Inbreds, but his new solo record is a much more mature and satisfying record, all the way through. It is part that Halifax rock sound that will appeal to fans of Sloan and the Superfriendz, but with even stronger Lennon/McCartney influences.

Track to taste online: Henry

What to Drink: Garrison Hop Yard ($12.98/6), a very refreshing hoppy session ale brewed in Halifax.

6. Adam Mowery – St . Joseph’s Mechanical Penthouse (Canada, Pop/Indie)

Though now in Halifax, Mowery is a key component of the Saint John music scene. Mowery’s unique voice and pop sensibility shows through in this short, satisfying record. Hook laden pop tunes with a noisy punk influence.

Track to taste online: Soft Features

What to Drink: Big Tide Seaworthy IPA, brewed in Saint John, available by the Growler or on tap at Big Tide.

7. Kathleen Edwards – Voyageur (Canada, Folk/Rock/Pop)

One of Canada’s best female singer songwriters, Edwards has changed gears and grown in scope with the help of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as a co-producer/collaborator. Much more than country influenced folk, this is a wonderfully varied record, with great lyrics and production.

Track to taste online: Change The Sheets

What to Drink: This enigmatic singer songwriter was born in Ottawa, so I’m drinking one of my favourite enigmatic Ontario wines, Henry of Pelham Baco Noir, $16.99, an oaky, juicy and spicy red.

8. Graham Parker & The Rumour – Three Chords Good

One of my favourite British singer songwriters, now living in the Eastern US, Parker has reunited with his legendary pub rock band for their first LP in over 30 years. It sounds like it was made in the mid to late 70’s, which in this case is a good thing. Also look for Parker in the new Judd Apatow film “This is 40.”

Track to taste online: Long Emotional Ride

What to Drink: this good honest rock and roll deserves a good honest English ale, like Duchy’s Organic Old Ruby Ale $3.99.

9. Joe Jackson – Duke

Joe Jackson is a very diverse artist, excelling at everything from punky pop to jazz. This is his tribute to Duke Ellington, featuring all covers, with lots of guest musicians including Sharon Jones (The Dap Kings), Questlove (The Roots) Iggy Pop, and Steve Vai.

Track to taste online: It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) – duet with Iggy Pop

What to Drink: This is cocktail music, and one of my favourites is the Manhattan, which certainly was one of Jackson’s favourite places until the smoking ban. Make your Manhattan with Forty Creek Barrel Select Whisky from Ontario, $24.99, or their “amped-up” version, Copper Pot, $29.99.

10. Ben Folds Five – The Sound of the Life of the Mind

Ben Folds reunited with his band to make another rocking pop record of piano-bass-drums. As always, the songs and lyrics are strong, but it is the skill of the musicians – especially how they play off of each other – that really makes this band special. It rewards frequent listening.

Track to taste online: Do It Anyway – the Fraggle Rock video is worth watching even if you don’t care for the band.

What to Drink: This energetic band needs a wine with zippy acidity Ben is American, so how about the refreshing Firesteed Riesling from Oregon, $19.99.

Cheers and have a Merry Musical Holiday!

Craig Pinhey is a certified Sommelier and writer who loves good drink and music. Visit him www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as frogspadca.

Drink’N’Music 2011

Drink’N’Music 2011

10 Favourite Records of 2011, Paired with 10 Favourite Tipples

Craig Pinhey

An annual exercise for this Sommelier is to match beverages, not just to a several course meal, but also to music. I started Drink’N’Music in 2006 (go to my website www.frogspad.ca for previous years), matching each of my favourite albums of the year to a wine, beer, spirit or cocktail.

Music taste is personal, just as one’s tastes in food and drink, so I don’t expect readers to always like what I like, but you might give some a try if they sound appealing. Try it yourself with your own favourites. I’m not interested in top selling Billboard pop acts like Rhianna, Coldplay, Katy Perry, and certainly not Maroon 5, but that shouldn’t stop you from finding something good to drink with them.

Here are my top 10 albums of 2011, with drinks!

1. Ron Sexsmith – Long Player, Late Bloomer (Canada, Pop/Folk)

This Ontario pop and folk singer songwriter has long had critical acclaim but financial success has eluded him for the most part, not an unfamiliar story for talented Canadian artists. For Long Player, Late Bloomer Sexsmith worked with hit-making producer Bob Rock, and the result is slicker, more pop than folk, tighter, with what some would call calculated arrangements and almost too perfect harmonies. This said, the songs are fantastic and the album has done very well, which Sexsmith deserves. Love Shines, which is also the title track of an excellent film documentary about Sexsmith, is a stand out track, but the whole album is hit-worthy.  His lyrics are as good as ever, and perhaps No Help At All tells his story best.

“I’ve been learning all my lessons the hard way
Nursing the exit wound
From a near fatal mistake
You could say it was time for a wake up call
But I never did get that call
There was no help at all”

What to Drink: I’d drink a similarly award worthy Canadian beer, something honest like Picaroons Best Bitter ($3.80/500 ml). Picaroons won Brewery of the Year at the 2011 Canadian Brewing Awards. Regular strength English ale with balanced bitterness.

2. Sloan – The Double Cross (Canada, Rock and Roll/Pop)

Another critic’s darling that has never really made it outside Canada, Sloan put out another solid LP in 2011 to celebrate 20 years of records.  With 4 singer songwriters sharing time, this album might be good or great, depending on which guy you prefer.  I think Jay Ferguson’s songs are the best on this record, including Beverley Terrace and Green Gardens, Cold Montreal. This is a high quality, diverse album that, in a fair world, would make them even richer, instead of just paying the bills.

What to Drink: Being a Nova Scotia band, I’m picking my favourite beer from Halifax that we can get in New Brunswick right now, the quite hoppy but still very drinkable Propeller IPA ($13.45/6 pack)

3. Tim Finn – The View Is Worth The Climb (New Zealand, Pop)

One of the original members of New Zealand’s best ever band, Split Enz, Tim Finn still makes great, thoughtful pop music, much quieter than the Enz, but still full of pop hooks.

What to Drink: A smooth New Zealand red wine perfect for mellow contemplation: Nobilo Regional Collection Merlot $19.99.

4. Penny Blacks – harbour (Canada, Rock/Folk)

One of the more exciting New Brunswick acts, led by singer songwriter Jason Ogden, who is joined by a collection of local musicians, this is an elegant collection of songs, with complex yet singable melodies and refreshing arrangements. Kick off track You’ll Never Know is a highlight, but my favourite is the string infused She’s Losing Herself, which evokes UK greats Squeeze and Billy Bragg.

What to Drink: A local wine from Mott’s Landing, which are not yet available at the ANBL but you can buy from the winery in Cambridge Narrows.  For New Years, try their Cranpagne, a tasty sparkling cranberry/grape wine.

 

5. They Might Be Giants – They Got Lost (USA, Rock/Pop)

After some successful kids albums, this is a true return to form, sounding a lot like their quirky 80’s efforts: edgy pop with lots of humour.

What to Drink: Try a fun, colourful tropical cocktail, Cruzan White Rum ($24.99/750 ml) and pineapple juice, with a splash of lemon or lime juice and a cherry and lime garnish.

6. The Cars – Move Like This (USA, New Wave)

Better than their last album, which was over 20 years ago! This has 4 or 5 really cool tracks (particularly Blue Tip and Sad Song), and the rest is pretty fine. It’s just great to hear this sharp synth/guitar band singing their tight harmonies again.

What to Drink: a clean, cutting white wine like Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, $12.99

7. Nick Lowe – The Old Magic (UK, Jazzy Country Ballads)

Some of the best crooning on record. Nick’s House For Sale gets my vote for song of the year.

What to Drink: A Vodka Collins, made with fresh squeezed lemons, out on the back patio on a hot summer day. I use Prince Igor Extreme Vodka ($25.99) from Ontario.

8. Will Currie and the Country French – Awake, You Sleepers (Canada, Pop)

An energetic new pop band along the lines of Ben Folds, Ben Kweller, and Sloan. Check them out!

What to Drink: Ontario Riesling, from Vineland Estates ($20.99), Cave Spring ($17.29) or others.

9. Tom Waits – Bad As Me (USA, Weird Jazzy Folk Rock Blues)

Waits is back with another record of eclectic sounds.  Hard to describe, but I love it.

What to Drink: Campari ($25.29/750 ml) and soda. This aperitif from Italy is bright red, complex, bitter, herbal and fruity.  Hard to describe, but I love it.

10. Pugwash – The Olympus Sound/ tied with Thomas Dolby – Map of the Floating City (UK, Pop)

Two great pop records, one a newish band, Ireland’s Pugwash, who bring back the Beatles and ELO sound, and the other a New Wave pioneer, Thomas Dolby, who returns triumphantly with a brilliant record, his first album since 1992.

What to Drink: St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and St. Ambroise Pale Ale, two of Canada’s best beers ($14.53/6-pack). Mix them as a Black and Tan or drink separately.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Craig Pinhey is a certified Sommelier and writer who loves good drink and music. Visit him www.facebook.com/Craig.Pinhey.FrogsPad or follow him on Twitter as frogspadca.

Oinky The Pig’s 2010 Pop Culture Predictions

Culture Schlock, Jan 7 2010

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright and other Pop Culture Predictions for 2010,

by Oinky the Pig

Oinky getting dirty, as usualOinky getting dirty, as usual

It’s 2010 and I’m out of the pen!  Yo yo yo my little piglets and runts, it’s time for another year’s worth of couplets and grunts. As we move out of the naughties (it was originally intended to refer to “nought” as in “zero”, but my current boat cruising buddy Tiger changed all that), or perhaps you prefer the “oughties” as in, we ought to have finished those wars, but it didn’t work out that way.

Thaaaat’s right, Oinky’s back and no one’s safe. Even though I’m off in the Caribbean with Le Tigre and his “pals” (yeah, right! There are so many udders in my face I feel like I’m back on tha farm, y’all), I can’t resist taking a shot at him. Last year I predicted that, among other prognostications, Tiger Woods would win the Master’s in a wheelchair. Well, I was close.  He’s handicapped, what with the fat lip that Viking chick gave him, and of course his financial hardships.  Hey, I know if I lost my sponsorship deals with Gillette (“Now with 10 heavy duty blades for guaranteed bristle removal. Bonus – free bacon!”) and Slap Chop (“Zucchini, Bikini, Linguini, Martini, Pigscreamy”), I’d have a hard time affording my weekly jaunts to the continent.   That reminds me. Go to GIOTC2010.com for deets on my “Get incontinent on the continent, 2010” celebrity cruise tour.

Enough self-promotion; here are my predictions and musings for 2010.

TV

Conveyor Belt Of Love (and is the Bachelor still on, really?)

The latest “hook up complete strangers that are coincidentally narcissistic jerks who’ve had lots of work done” show to come along is really, honestly called Conveyor Belt of Love. Potential suitors go by on a belt and you pick one, kind of like sushi.  Something smells fishy, that’s for sure. Other pathetic programs sure to follow are “Who wants to marry a crack whore?” and “The Bachelor: The Garbagemen of Monte Carlo Edition.”

Who wants to marry this swine-stud?
Who wants to marry this swine-stud?

The Family Guy’s new Spin-off: The Stimpsons

Rather than carry on the charade that The Family Guy is not a bad rip-off of The Simpsons, Seth McFarlane’s new show will be called The Stimpsons, and will feature the exact same characters from The Simpson’s except one: Stimpy (from Ren & Stimpy, ironically, a very funny show), who will replace Santa’s Little Helper.

Dexter Season 5 – The End of Al Quaeda

Just when you thought it was safe to be a serial killer, Dexter will be back for it’s 5th season, perhaps of many more to come (hey, the ratings are good!)  In a surprise twist, Dexter’s sister Debra (his real life wife) will pull her head out of her tiny, hipless ass and clue in that her brother likes to kill people ritualistically.  She will join him in a Bonnie & Clyde-like cross country bad-guy killing spree that will culminate with the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, who, shockingly, will be found working as a saddle hand at George Bush’s ranch in Texas.

MUSIC

Lady Gaga Arrested For Murdering 100 Kermits

As it turns out, the publicity photo of Lady Gaga wearing a Kermit-stole will turn out to be real. She really did kill, skin (and perhaps eat) over 100 Kermit the Frogs.

ladygagakermit

AutoTune Robot Writes Own Songs

A robot created to tour with acts that cannot sing in tune will gain intelligence using “self learning” software to the point where it will start writing and singing its own songs. A new music industry will develop around these singing robots, and one will win the 2010 American Idol Competition, narrowly beating out another Autotune robot that was rumoured to like “its bolts screwed in the wrong way,” if you know what I mean.

MOVIES

Avatar Sequel goes to 4 D

Now that Avatar has set the new standard for movies, James Cameron will feel compelled to take it another step further. Avatar II will come out in 4-D, where you can actually smell the things you see on the screen, including the BO of the 10 foot blue people. When Cameron tries to patent his Smellorama technology, he will be kidnapped and held for the rest of his life by Dr. Tongue in his castle in Scarborough, refusing to do a remake of 3-D House of Stewardesses.

Sherlock Holmes II:  The Shequel

In the next Sherlock Holmes installment, the intrepid detective will reveal that he is in fact, a woman, and actually not all that good at solving murders.  When faced with criticism that he has strayed even further from the original books, Guy Ritchie will shrug and say “You do know that I schtoomped Madonna, right?”

SPORTS

Olympics Hockey Gold Overshadowed By Old Guy Who Can Ski And Shoot Squirrels  At The Same Time

Although Canada will win the men’s and women’s hockey Gold at the 2010 Olympics, media coverage will be dominated by Joe Smith, an 80 year old New Brunswicker discovered by the National Biathlon coach while snowmobile holidaying in Bathurst.  Smith has been skiing and shooting squirrels, albeit with a 22, since he was 8 years old, and he will win the Olympic Gold, only to fall into disgrace 1 week later when he fails a drug test for oxycontin use.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

(adapted from The Tiger, By William Blake, 1757-1827)

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

At least you were until that night

When Elin gave you your black eye

And ruined your lipsymmetry

You’ve hit balls into the skies

That travelled further than the eyes

Could see and now your fans aspire

To extinguish your eternal fire

Your golf game approaches art

What we question is your heart

There’s nothing that you couldn’t beat

Except humility’s dragging feet

Imprisoned by each media chain

What hate is boiling in your brain?

How many throats you’d love to grasp

How many bras left to unclasp

When the press runs out of spears

And your family’s out of tears

What kind of man is left to see?

What will abusive habits cause thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

You will emerge from this dark night

What will appear before my eye?

John Daly’s fearful symmetry!

DRINKS

Light beer goes to zero calories

In a bold move, newly formed beer giant  Millmolbattsbudcoorsapporo will release a beer with zero calories. On reports from critics that “This isn’t beer; it’s f&%#ing carbonated water!” the CEO of the corporation will be quoted as saying “If I pay a billion dollars for ads that say it is beer, it is beer.”

Wine – Dealcoholized Wine Trend Reverses

The practice of lowering wine alcohol levels in hot grape climates using reverse osmosis and other tricks will be stopped, as consumers demand higher and higher booze content. The same trend will hit the beer market, as new brands such as “Punch in the Face” and “Barf!” will be released that hit 35 and even 40% alcohol.  They will also contain triple the amount of caffeine as Coke. As a result, ANBL will report record profits and enforce two price hikes during the year. Why the hell not?

Cheers and Happy New Year!

Oinky is on a boat, and it sure ain’t Noah’s ark. Visit him at www.frogspad.ca

Drink’n’Music 2009

[here] Beer, Booze & Bars

Drink’N’Music 2009

Craig’s 10 Favourite Records of 2009, Paired with10 Favourite Tipples

Once again I find myself shuffling through my CD’s and record (I only bought one piece of vinyl this year), and checking my Iphone (yes, I finally broke down and downloaded a few records this year, out of necessity) to argue with myself about which should make my top 10.

As I get older I buy more jazz, classical & country, while still collecting Beatlesque pop, new wave and punk influenced music with older roots, and singer/songwriter standards.

I listen to a lot of “indie” music, too, online on myspace, on college radio, free concerts at radio3.cbc.ca, and their excellent Grant Lawrence-hosted podcasts. I’ve argued for years that indie is not a type of music: it’s a statement of your career status. It’s as meaningless a word as “alternative” (alternative to what?) Much indie music has little in common with the others in the genre: some is pop, some is punkish, some electronic, some 60’s folk, and some a mix of all those. Yes, I’ve heard Grizzly Bear and Animal Collective, tops on many people’s lists, but if I’m going to pay for indie, it’s most likely to be local. Examples are Halifax’s Brent Randall or Saint John’s Clinton Charlton.

2009 was a very strong year for music, so I’ve added some honourable mentions at the bottom that could just as easily have made my top 10.

1. Pugwash – Giddy (Beatlesque Pop, Ireland)

This Irish pop group has done very well in the UK with their original songs that echo the later Beatles, ELO, The Beach Boys and XTC, but they are virtually unknown in North America. XTC’s Andy Partridge’s Apehouse label is trying to change this, releasing Giddy, a collection of songs from their 4 studio albums, remastered and now available here in North America as well as via the apehouse site (http://apehouse.prevuz.com/tag/pugwash/) Partridge is credited as co-writer on several tracks, and guitarist/arranger extraordinaire Dave Gregory (also of XTC) is involved too. Just one listen to It’s Nice To Be Nice and I was hooked. Find it on youtube for a sample.

What to Drink:

I’d choose English traditional method sparkling wine (a burgeoning industry) because fizz makes me Giddy, but we don’t get any here, so instead I’ll choose a good value sparkler: Freixenet Carta Nevada Cava from Spain ($14.49).

2. Brent Randall and those Magnificent Pinecones – We Were Strangers in Paddington Green (60’s Style Pop, Canada)

Every now and then I hear a new band and I think “Wow! A new track from one of my favourite bands!” That was the case with Halifax’s Brent Randall’s beautiful Strange Love (Don’t Be Lazy). I was sure it was John Southworth, or perhaps an old Kinks song. The album art even looks like an old 60’s British record. This is wonderfully dreamy music from another time, another place, and I can’t wait to see him live.

Drink With: Gin & Tonic, definitely, on the lawn while watching the kids play, a cricket match or actual crickets. I’m using Gin from the small Myriad Distillery in PEI at the moment as well as New Amsterdam Straight ($28.99).

3. David Sylvian – Manafon (Ambient Jazz, England)

It is difficult to classify Sylvian since he has been everything from a Velvet Underground aping rocker and Asian/synth pop star in the band Japan, to a crooning (think Bryan Ferry) acoustic solo artist, prog rock duelist with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, and now ambient jazz experimentalist. With the changes, two things stay the same: his deep, vibrato-affected, perfect voice, and his poems, turned into lyrics. Though still a difficult first listen, Manafon, recorded with an array of international improvising session musicians, is more approachable than his last record, the angular, almost atonal Blemish (now THAT was a breakup record!) By the third listen you will be either addicted or simply bewildered. I like that kind of challenge sometimes. Try Small Metal Gods and go from there.

Drink With: One of my favourites for those odd times when I feel like something weird is Campari (a bitter Italian liqueur often mixed with soda) and Orange juice, making for, like Manafon, a bittersweet experience.

4. Elvis Costello – Secret, Profane and Sugarcane (Country/Bluegrass/Music Hall, England/America)

Ever the genre hopper, to some folks’ dismay and others’ delight, Costello’s latest, a Grammy nominated LP, is a mostly acoustic record with some of USA’s most respected musicians, including the “World’s Best Dobro player,” Jerry Douglas. The album is a bit of a mish-mash; some is straight ahead Bluegrass & Country, including collaborations with Loretta Lynn and Emmy Lou Harris and there are a couple of odd covers (extended version has Femme Fatale by the Velvets), but the highlights are complex pieces he wrote for an opera about Hans Christian Andersen. She Handed Me A Mirror and How Deep Is The Red are moving music hall pieces, among the best songs he’s ever written.

Drink With: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, an American beer, but influenced by good European beer. It has a hoppy personality ($2.36/ 355 ml bottle)

5. Robbie Fulks – 50-Vc. Doberman (mostly Country, USA)

Robbie Fulks embarked on an ambitious project in 2009; he successfully recorded 50 songs, mostly his own, for release in a “digital download only” format (you can buy tracks at itunes or amazon.com). Although known mainly as an acerbic, disgruntled country artist, this talented Chicago singer songwriter has many musical styles on this release: heavy metal, soul, gospel, Broadway tunes, straight ahead pop, Zappa-ish stuff, and old time country. Next year he hopes to release a full album of Michael Jackson covers. I’m sure it will top the charts. His cover of Beyonce’s Irreplaceable sounds like a surefire country soul hit, It Was Love That Ruined Me sounds like John Hiatt or Nick Lowe at their best, and Pretty Girls is a hilarious country tune that would be a hit for someone famous: “The world is full of pretty girls, and pretty girls are full of themselves too.”

Drink With: whatever straight whisky you prefer. Maybe it should be Bourbon, but I’m partial to Single Malt, but I’m cheap, so I usually buy Vatted Malt, a blend of Single Malts, like Famous Grouse 12 Year Old, a blend that includes Highland Park and The Macallan for $35.29.

6. John Southworth – Mama Tevatron (Electronic Pop, Canada)

Southworth is as indie as anyone, by my definition, as his 6 records and 1 EP r over his 14 year recording career have come out on a bunch of different small labels. This latest was only available as a Digital Download until recently when it was released on CD by Dead Daisy/Outside music from the USA. It can now be purchased at MapleMusic.com. His videos are always conversation pieces, and arguably works of art; First of May http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ik_069zpxA from this record is worth a look. Southworth is known as a whimsical guitar and piano playing singer-songwriter, so his decision to do this as pretty much a synth record came as a bit of a surprise, but the results are refreshing. The single Get It Now is receiving lots of internet play on CBC Radio 3, which should help him reach the right demographic. Also, his regular performances as part of Toronto’s Art of Time Ensemble’s live classical/pop hybrids have been memorable. You can link to these things at his http://sud-de-valeur.blogspot.com/ site, including his Christmas song called Space Age Santa.

Drink with: a floral, complex, idiosyncratic white wine that ages well, much like his music. My pick at the ANBL is Donnafugata Anthilia for $17.99 from Southern Italy.

7. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone (Country/pop/rock, USA)

Neko Case is a superstar, debuting high on the Billboard charts, and garnering a Grammy nomination this year (up against Costello, actually), but her records are nothing like typical modern American popular music. An honourary Canadian (she sings with the New Pornographers), Case can write and has written “real’ country, but most of the songs here straddle 60’s and 70’s pop, country, and rock genres; they’re very “Brill Building.” Middle Cyclone is a varied, high quality release with great lyrics and performances. Right from the stellar opening track This Tornado Loves You, her powerful, pure voice dominates the record.

Drink with: Neko Case’s music is retro in only good ways, and it make me want to match her with something out of fashion that deserves more attention: oaky Chardonnay. It’s not an everyday wine, but sometimes I want rich and creamy, flavour packed wine. My pick is Bonterra Chardonnay, from California, for $21.99. And, like Neko, it’s organic!

8. Regina Spektor – Far (Piano pop, USA)

Branded by some as another in a line of piano playing sirens/Kate Bush clones (Sara McLachlan, Tori Amos, Sara Slean, etc. ), which is by no means an insult, Spektor has now made three consecutive records of bright, sometimes beautiful pop tunes. I was worried when I saw that Jeff Lynne (ELO) had produced 4 tracks because, although I like a lot of ELO’s music, I don’t like the way he overtakes other artists (Dave Edmunds, George Harrison). My concerns were unwarranted; the Lynne produced songs sound nothing like ELO: Folding Chair is a chirpy, radio-friendly tune. I love the record, especially the quirkier tunes like Eet and Dance Anthem of the 80’s.

Drink with: high quality vodka and soda with a lime wedge, pure, fresh & clean. I use Kittling Ridge Prince Igor Extreme ($24.99), Citadelle ($31.29) or Iceberg ($24.79).

9. Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella (Pop, USA)

I love Ben Folds and I love Glee, and I believe Ben’s work on this record predates, or perhaps foretells Glee. Note also that he is a judge for the popular new “The Sing Off” TV show on NBC. Folds held auditions for university singing groups to perform a capella versions of songs from his catalogue, selected some and recorded them professionally, adding a couple of his own versions. The result is a joyful, gorgeous record that you might not want to listen to every day, but will surely pep you up on a down day. Folds is one of the best songwriters of the past 20 years and this record celebrates this. The Spartones’ version of Not The Same, about a friend who finds God, is transcendent, hymn-like in its anti-religiosity. Folds’ version of Effington is simply brilliant.

Drink with: Premium rum, a capella. For value, I love Havana Club 7 year old ($28.48).

10. John Doe & The Sadies (Country rock, USA/Canada)

Doe has had a mildly successful solo career since his seminal West Coast punk band X called it quits, but he’s never sounded better or more comfortable than he does on this set of standards and his own compositions, playing alongside Canadian country rock legends The Sadies. Always a fan of country (he made two country records with wife Exene Cervenka of X and other bandmates under the name The Knitters), this record shows how perfect his easy drawl is for classics like Husbands and Wives, and Help Me Make It Through The Night.

Drink with: a beer. Your choice. I’ll take Pump House SOB.

Honourable Mentions:

Joel Plaskett – Three (Folk/Rock/Pop, Canada), Sondre Lerche – Heartbeat Radio (Jazzy Pop, Norway), Brian Setzer – Lonely Avenue (Jazzy Rockabilly, USA), Ben Kweller – Changing Horses (Country, USA), Cheap Trick – The Latest (Power Pop, USA), Clinton Charlton – Parade (Folk/Country, Canada).

MISSED FROM 2008: Molly Johnson – Lucky (Traditional jazz, Canada)

STILL NEED TO TRY FROM 2009: Madness – The Liberty of Norton Folgate (Ska-pop, England)

Craig Pinhey thinks that everyone should make their own top ten list. Visit him at www.frogspad.ca.

How I Met Your Mother – Today’s Best Sitcom Hits Season 5 Milestone

[here] Culture Schlock, October 15, 2009

I generally don’t like today’s sitcoms. I won’t name names, but most are predictable, unfunny, lowest common denominator schlock. I know, I’m all about the schlock, but even I have my limits. I’ll listen to simply fun pop music occasionally, but I’ll always return to more complex tunes crafted by bespectacled wordsmiths.

Same with TV. Back in the day I enjoyed shows like Happy Days (before Richie left and the rise of the incredibly unlikable Chachi) and Three’s Company, mainly for John Ritter’s physical comedy (and, let’s be honest, for Chrissy. Hey, I went through puberty during that show), but my real faves were seriously clever shows like Barney Miller and WKRP. There have been few since then that I’ve followed religiously, not for long, anyway…I had a brief dalliance with Married With Children’s first few seasons, and That Seventies Show…and my tolerance for mindless sitcoms has decreased in my middle age. I tend to look more for hour-long dramas that challenge my mind, at least a little bit, while also providing quirky humour.

This said, there are only two Fall sitcoms that I make a real effort to watch these days: The New Adventures of Old Christine (on which she is as funny as she was in her best moments on Seinfeld), and How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), the latter more than the former.

HIMYM is what they call a sleeper, in that it really crept up on me. When it first came on, 5 seasons ago, believe it or not, I thought it was just another mindless sitcom, but it has grown on me, like mould, but a really funny, sweet mould, with great writing.

It was actually an endorsement from a fellow New Brunswick TV fan that caused me to try HIMYM again. I liked it. Also, the fact that Neil Patrick Harris completely blew me away with his comic talent and singing on the web-only Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog (now available on DVD) didn’t hurt.

I started watching HIMYM whenever I happened to be home when it was on, and eventually I started making a real effort, including watching online at watchhowimetyourmother.com, to see EVERY episode. I missed the first few of this, their 5th season, while away in Spain, so last week I caught up by watching Episodes 1 through 3. It’s just a great, involving, sitcom.

What do I like so much about the show? Well, that’s hard to explain. It is often hard to explain why you like one show (or band, or wine) and hate another, to someone who doesn’t get it. It can be very frustrating. You are tempted to say “If you don’t see why, don’t watch, you soulless idiot.” But that is not going to get any more fans for the show. And what you want, if you are a big fan of a show, is more fans, so that the show will stay on TV.

My favourite part of the show is the writing. They keep it fresh and funny, and they surprise me sometimes. As far as characters go, I think Barney is hilarious, although his season 5 steady relationship with Robin is kinda cramping his “lady’s man” style, which was made ironic (and I mean REALLY ironic, not pretend, that is, Alanis, ironic) when Harris came out a while ago. He is brilliant, and I really want to go see him in a musical in New York before I die.

My favourite characters, though, are Marshall and Lily, the couple played by Jason Segel (who you may remember from Freaks and Geeks, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall at the movies), and the quite charming and cute Alyson Hannigan, a favourite from Buffy The Vampire Slayer and those crappy American Pie movies. They are an innocent, loving couple, naïve, sweet and really endearing. I’m not sure there’s ever been a better onscreen (in terms of TV) couple. The episode about them showing up at the airport to meet each other, armed with microbrew, is probably my favourite HIMYM moment.

The main guy, Ted, played by previously unknown to me Josh Radnor is good, but I wish they would have used his own voice for the narrative parts instead of Bob Saget. Not that Saget does a bad job, but, well, this is THE freaking Bob Saget, people, source of some of the worst TV of all time (America’s Funniest Home Videos, and, oh my gosh it is hard for me to even write these words, Full House). Robin, the token Canadian character on the show, is played by, um, Cobie Smulders (let me check that…yep, that’s her name, alright). She is actually FROM Vancouver, which gives her regular “in” jokes about Canada a bit of weight. It is admittedly nice to hear the word Canucks on mainstream American TV.

Don’t get me wrong, HIMYM is not an amazing work of film art, nor is it necessarily ranked amongst the best sitcoms of all time, but, right now, I think it is the best 30 minutes of comedic fiction on American TV. You can catch it on Monday nights at 9 pm on CBS (Channel 15) and CITY TV (133).

Craig Pinhey is still waiting for the next WKRP. Visit him at www.frogspad.ca

Getting Gleefull – Glee Is More Than Just Guilty Pleasure

[here] Culture Schlock

Issue: Sep 17, 2009

Glee is one of the most buzzed about new fall shows this year. This hour long comedy/drama (dramedy? coma?) from Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy premiered on Global TV last Wednesday, September 9th, and the first episode is available for viewing, albeit choppy on my internet connection, at GlobalTV.com for free.

The show revolves around “New Directions,” a glee club at a high school. My first impression was great, especially since the “bad guy” (actually, bad girl) heading up the cheerleading squad is played by the hilarious Jane Lynch, who you probably remember as the horny boss in “The 40 Year Old Virgin” or maybe from “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” Early on in the episode her character, Sue Sylvester, tells the glee club leader Will (played by Matthew Morrison, a virtual unknown) that he needs to recruit more members to go to the regionals. That starts the story rolling.

I got even more excited when the first number performed by the ultra nerdy Glee club was Freak Out, my all time favourite disco song, originally recorded by Chic, the slick outfit headed up by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards in the 70’s. I then got supremely pissed off when the nerdy glee clubbers dissed the song, saying it sucks. They’d rather sing a Kanye West song. Okay, so the main heroes of the show have bad taste. That’s Black Mark # 1.

Glee reminds me of several other shows from the past. It has some elements of Fame, a show about a special school for performing artists. I loved that show way back when but it really looks bad when you watch it now. It is way too schlocky. Glee also has elements of Freaks and Geeks, a brilliant Judd Apatow show from 1999 (available now on the Tech channel) that focused on a group of high school nerds at a high school in the early 80’s, featuring now famous actors Seth Rogen and James Franco. Put those two shows together and the premise is promising.

Canadian connections in Glee are provided by Jessalyn Gilsig from Montreal, who plays Terri Schuester, Will’s nutty wife, and Calgary born Cory Monteith, who plays the conflicted jock/glee club member Finn Hudson.

The show has snappy dialogue and good acting. The music is great too, although, and here comes my main criticism: it is far too staged and produced. Rather than have perfectly prerecorded and professionally performed songs, with the cast lip synching, they should have used realistic live performances by talented young musicians. That would have given viewers a feeling of authenticity. Instead it feels like a Milli Vanilli convention.

You may consider that a small flaw, but for me that’s a big Black Mark #2.

Glee is a super fun show, and the humour running through it really helps its likeability. I could see people really getting behind this show, especially if they are High School Musical fans (in other words, they like really fake sounding music). The show is two faced. It is a real crowd pleaser, a guilty pleasure, but is also laced with an underlying quirkiness that makes it something more. I might just keep watching it, but if the music continues to annoy me, I’ll probably give it a pass after a few episodes.

Craig Pinhey loves going to live musical theatre, but hated High School Musical. Visit Craig at www.frogspad.ca.

Fall Favourites – Craig’s Picks for Returning TV Dramas

[here] Culture Schlock

Issue: Sep 3, 2009

It is hard to believe that summer is almost over, but the good news is that means it’s time for some new shows and returning favourites.

I’ve been partially satiated this summer by True Blood, the southern US based vampire series on HBO that has escalated to the point of ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong; this is still entertaining stuff, and the cast is generally great, but this “whole town is completely nutso evil” plotline doesn’t fit in with where the show started last year. The attractive premise of the show when it began was that vampires were coexisting relatively well with humans, and could drink commercially developed faux-blood called Tru Blood. Vampires appeared on TV and companies marketed products just for them. It was almost like they were an immigrant culture integrating into America. It was a darkly comedic parody of the current state of race relations.

But now it is just all apeshit crazy. I’ll watch the rest (Sundays and Tuesdays on HBO and Bravo, respectively) but I may give it a pass next season if they don’t pull back a bit. I have not read the books the show is taken from, but if this is the direction they go, I won’t bother.

The returning shows I’m awaiting with the most anticipation are Dexter, Supernatural, and Dollhouse. So, if you are like me, and actually pay for regular cable AND the specialty channels so you can see the best that the boob tube has to offer, or even if you watch online, download them or wait and buy the season DVD’s, here’s what to look for this season for my favourites.

Dexter (premieres September 27 on HBO)

When we last saw our favourite vigilante serial killer, he had escaped detection yet again, and was in the process of fathering a child with his new wife, who is still oblivious to what Dexter gets up to at night. If you can suspend reality for a moment, which you must do to truly enjoy my favourites, then you can get past the fact that Dexter should have been busted several times, and has the proverbial luck of a shithouse rat. They need to end this show this year, in my opinion, which means Dexter either gets caught, killed, or ends up icing himself. When great shows go on too long, they dishonour themselves. This season sees Dexter having to get used to life with a newborn child of his own. Will this baby be born with the serial killing gene too? In the meantime, a serial killer returns to town making for new prey for Dexter.

Supernatural (Premieres September 10, 2009)

This show has advanced several levels in quality and complexity over its 4 seasons. Now we are approaching the supposedly last season, although, if the sponsors love the results, it may be extended. After last season’s exciting conclusion, “Lucifer Rising,” where the devil was apparently released from hell onto earth, the show’s producers and writers must have found themselves in an awkward position. “Um, where do we go from here?” Or maybe it was all part of a well planned out 5-season plot. Who knows? In the season premiere, “Sympathy for the Devil,” we’ll get to see where they go with this Devilish plot. I’m curious, but concerned.

I’m hoping that they spend at least half the season doing old fashioned Sam and Dean shows, where each episode is a self-contained story in which they go to a town and solve a supernatural mystery, and humour abounds, with Ben Edlund (The Tick) writing the funniest, quirkiest episodes. This integrated, complicated “hell plot” can wear on you at times, and it’s pretty serious stuff. It reminds me of how X-Files deteriorated into that government conspiracy mess. All we X-Files fans ever wanted was more Scully and Fox dialogue.

Dollhouse (premieres September 25 on FOX/Global)

Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly) had a slow start with Dollhouse’s first season, but it picked up steam and is a highly anticipated show this fall, at least if you talk to his legion of acolytes (I’m one). Great news is the addition of Summer Glau (River from Firefly and the only half-decent part of last year’s terminated Terminator TV series) to the cast. The wiry Glau plays Bennett, a recurring character at the Dollhouse who somehow knows Eliza Dushku’s equally wiry Echo from their past. I’m not sure if Dushku will appreciate the hot chick competition, but I’m sure fans will.

Craig Pinhey likes weird shows and is therefore weird. Discuss. Visit Craig at www.frogspad.ca.

English Premier League Football Is Back! – Playing in Pools (and drinking beer) Makes Watching Sports More Fun

[here] Culture Schlock

Issue: Aug 20, 2009

The English Premier League kicks off this weekend, which should help distract me from the sting of Canada’s disappointing performance in the Gold Cup and our disastrous World Cup qualifying attempt before that. The EPL kicks off for regular cable subscribers at 11 am on Sportsnet with Aston Villa against Wigan, and I’m ready. I’m ready, that is, in that I have my pool picks done. Whether that makes me truly ready is questionable, because I am a Canadian with limited footie cred participating in one of the largest free internet sports pools in the world, at fantasy.premierleague.com. There are currently over 1.4 million participants, and most are English. The odds of me doing well are low. I’m happy if I check the stats each week and find I’m in the top half. If I end up in the top quarter at the end of the season I’d be proud, and thrilled to be in the top tenth percentile.

I’ve played soccer my whole life, mostly in the playground until university, then in minor leagues ever since. I was never coached, and it shows, and I rarely watched it on TV as a kid, but I love it more and more every year, even though I’ve had my nose broken twice in this gentleman’s game played by thugs. Maybe it is my English heritage (my grandfather was a farmer in Devon) or the fact that UK real ale is my favourite beverage, but I think my increased interest comes mainly from playing in the EPL pool, and in World Cup pools. This has sharpened my obsession and honed my knowledge a little bit. Now I watch high-level football on TV whenever possible. I don’t pay the extra $14.99 a month for SETA (Ch 429), the ultimate EPL specialty channel, but we are served pretty well by Sportsnet (Ch 22) with its Saturday games and Soccer Saturday pre-game show, and I enjoy The Footy Show on The Score (Ch 34). I also get good football on GOLTV (428 on digital cable) and FOX Sports World (415) with my current cable package.

So yeah, I love football, but the English live it. I usually call it soccer by the way, but I should call it by its proper name, because there are far more of those football fans than there are fans of North American football, which is an orchestrated war game using human playing pieces. I like our game too, but it is small compared to football, the only true “world” sport. This is evidenced by the growing international excitement and tension surrounding the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It is a genuine world event and I can’t wait.

English football fans make us Canadians look like occasional hockey dabblers. Sure, some of us love hockey, and we cheer hard for our team, especially in the playoffs or at a bar after a few “pops,” but we won’t die for it. Not on purpose anyway.

Just thinking about this Saturday’s kickoff helped me decide what to have for supper. I have one bottle of Fuller’s London Pride bitter, and the fish and chips are heating up in the oven. I’d even add a side of mushy peas if that weren’t so disgusting. Pubs, beer and football go hand in hand in the UK, of course, although I’m a bit disturbed by the fans sometimes. I remember being in Chelsea around 15 years ago at a nice pub drinking real ale, and they closed up and booted us out in the afternoon for no apparent reason. But there was a very plain reason – there was a match that day, and no pub in the area of the stadium can afford to stay open. The place would be destroyed. I saw a similar scene in Newcastle after a big FA Cup game that they lost down in the south. The Geordies got back home and tore up the town centre.

Another sad aspect of the football hooligan/thug phenomenon is that these louts don’t even like good English beer. They swill back large volumes of terrible lager. They don’t care. They are drinking just to get drunk and in trouble. Now, these folks are not representative of the average Englishperson, or football fan even, but the one bad apple rule applies.

I recently read an excellent book of short stories called The New Kings of Non-Fiction, edited by Ira Glass. One story was an extract from Bill Buford’s Among the Thugs, his true account of traveling with Manchester United fans. Just reading the extract scared the crap out of me. I don’t want to read the whole book.

I’m no lager lout. I love watching “the beautiful game” on TV, and I’d love to watch an EPL or World Cup game live too, but I admit I’m a bit nervous. I was at a Toronto FC game in Toronto a month ago; I was never in danger, although those fans are very wild compared to anything I’ve seen at NFL, CFL, NBA and NHL games. Wild for Canadians, but tame compared to football fans on the world level.

I’m happy to watch the EPL on TV at home, with a good beer in my hand and my computer opened to a screen from the online pool. I’m in a few sub-pools, including a “Canadians” section, and one full of Elvis Costello fans (what would those nerds know about football?), with smaller numbers of pool competitors, so I do have a chance to win one of those. There are no prizes for these, though, just honour, but that’s a compelling reason to watch every week. Come on, join up!

Now, who do I have from Villa and Wigan?

Craig Pinhey used to be fast and score the odd goal, but time wounds all heels. Visit Craig at www.frogspad.ca.

Virtuality Could Be The Best Show That Never Happened – Did FOX really reject the creator of “The best show on television”?

[here] Culture Schlock, July 8, 2009

I missed the Friday, June 26 premiere of Virtuality, a “Sci-Fi TV movie” (it was actually a pilot for a TV series, not a movie), and thus had to catch up and acquire it after the fact. Why did I miss it? Hmm, let me think… Could it be that there was virtually NO PUBLICITY?

And now the rumour is that FOX has decided not to pick it up as a series. Instead they hid the movie on a Friday night with practically no buzz. Nice one.

It’s a small wonder that Virtuality did not score high in America’s far too powerful Nielsen Ratings – no one knew about it. One has to wonder about Fox TV sometimes. Here they have a glossy new, high budget, high quality pilot made by the current god of TV Sci-Fi, Ronald D. Moore, and they don’t promote it. He should be rubber stamped for a new series, for frack sake. This guy can do no wrong. He was the main man behind Battlestar Galactica, arguably the most successful Sci-Fi of all time, in terms of its double whammy of popularity and critical acclaim. And before that he headed up a couple of series for an obscure franchise called Star Trek. Heard of that one?

Moore brings along his bud Michael Taylor (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager) and director Peter Berg from the critically acclaimed Friday Night Lights and immensely entertaining Hancock.

It seems like a no-brainer, as much as choosing a TV series could ever be easy.

People might be surprised that I love Virtuality because it is about a reality show, and I generally cannot abide those. But it isn’t a REAL reality show. The premise is that 12 astronauts go off on a 10 year mission (sound familiar?) to save earth from global warming (okay, that part I thought was silly), but the twist is that much of their lives are filmed, then edited and beamed back to earth as a reality TV series called Edge of Never: Life on the Phaeton.

An integral extra level to the show is that the crew has access to virtual reality entertainment, a nice throwback to Moore’s work with Star Trek’s Holodeck (although you could argue that some of the worst episodes of Star Trek: the Next Generation involved Number 2 and his pathetic fantasies). As the Virtuality Pilot progresses, the role of virtual reality increases, even to the point where…well, I won’t spoil it for you, but the show is called Virtuality for a reason, and it isn’t so that smarmy pop culture writers can make easy puns.

The cast is not well known, but are very competent across the board. The special effects are very good, but that is no surprise. There are hot looking cast members + the requisite cranky oddball. The writing is very strong, with some sexiness, lots of conflict, a bit of humour, and the plot is, dare I say, original. That seems impossible, since just about every permutation of space travel TV has been tried, but this show is extra fresh.

The direction and pace are both excellent. In fact I can’t see anyone complaining about the quality of this show, and I haven’t seen any remotely bad reviews by anyone who is worth reading. It is probably the best drama I’ve seen on network TV in the last couple of months.

It is a real head-scratcher why Fox did this, the kind of thing that causes conspiracy theories, like “Moore wanted too much money,” or “Barack Obama didn’t like the Pilot in a pre-screening,” or “Michael Jackson died, so the show simply HAD to be canned,” or, and I just thought of this one and maybe this is the kicker: “There is an openly gay astronaut couple so NASA shut it down.” Yikes, that one could be the real reason, and that’s too bad, because they made a cute couple. Their cooking scene, and the running gag about too much salt in the food, was one of the memorable parts of the pilot.

So the show has been cancelled before it even started, and already we are seeing Firefly-like grouping of disgruntled fans that want the show to be picked up, perhaps by the Sci-Fi channel (Space, here in Canada). There’s an official Facebook site (there will be Webisodes, apparently) and a site dedicated to the show that gives you emails for all the evil Fox executives to harass. http://virtuality-tv.info/Renewal/ is a good place to start. It leads with the quote:

“There are some people online saying, “Write to Fox, write to Sci Fi,” and I totally encourage that.” – Michael Taylor, Co-creator/writer/exec. producer.

Further on, Ronald D. Moore is quoted, saying: “this will always be a pilot. I know that Fox calls it a movie, but this is a pilot. It ends with the setup for a series. That’s how it should be viewed.” “It depends on ratings, demographics, word of mouth,” he says. “Sometimes these things have a bigger life that blossoms after broadcast.”

I’m getting a wicked case of deja vu all over again with this, so I know there’s virtually no hope for Virtuality, based on past disappointments. The weird thing about this one, though, is that it seems like Fox Network Execs are throwing away a sure thing. They already hit the ball out of the park when Phaeton snapped around Neptune and headed for a distant star. All they had to do was let it happen. What were they thinking?

Craig Pinhey still pines for Firefly. He even buys the comic books. It’s not the same. Visit Craig at www.frogspad.ca.