A long weekend in… Warsaw

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Here’s a fact that will make you a pub quiz hero. The population of Warsaw before the second world war was 1.3m people. At the start of the Warsaw uprising, in August 1944, 900,000 remained. In 1945, once the uprising had failed and the Germans had finished their systematic destruction of the city, 1000 people remained and Warsaw was dead.

Human spirit is an incredible thing, because the Warsaw of 2017 is a vibrant, modern city boasting the newest old town in the world and an atmosphere far removed from what you may read in the press about a far-right lunatic government. Oh, that Government, let me count the ways… The environment minister Jan Szyszko said that “human development is not detrimental to the environment” and thought it would be a good idea to allow logging in the primeval Białowieża forest. He somehow squares the destruction of Poland’s wildest spaces with something he completely misread in the bible. He’s an idiot.

Back to human spirit, which Warsaw has plenty of. It’s an underrated city absolutely worth a visit. In a region with the opulence of Vienna, the old town charm of Bratislava, the beauty and stag-dos of Prague and Budapest, Warsaw has had to go back to the drawing board on what it can offer as a city. It has a wealth of history, a history so violent and shocking that much of my long weekend there was taken up in museums, mouth agape at the sheer horrors that Warsaw and Poland has gone through. But, modern Warsaw also has some great attractions for hipster living, and just general fun times. I left Warsaw feeling it struck a note between Stockholm and Berlin, with a mixture of beauty, gritty realism, a lust for life and sitting on deckchairs. Deckchairs were everywhere; outside the front of the Palace of Culture and Industry, up on the viewing platform of the Palace of Culture and Industry, outside the Neon museum, along the river and many places in between.

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Warsaw is a messy bedroom when it comes to architectural styles, there’s a bit of everything scattered around. From the Stalinist wonder of the Palace of Culture and Science, where a New York skyscraper may well have flown into the centre of the city, to the other major communist gem, Constitution Square, Warsaw announces itself as somewhere important. Constitution square is a slice of socialist realist architecture that really captures a moment in time, when the Soviet Union could do anything in its imagination, if not in reality. The square is surrounded by grand blocks that gracefully echo the strengths of the union, sculptures of heroic workers adorn the sides of buildings in a celebration of soviet myth. An updated version might show a bored woman giving you change at a supermarket, but it would somehow lack the power required to carry everyone forward into the light. On the square are three glorious oversized lamps that add a touch of brute elegance. This architecture of power is always fascinating to see, and there’s some irony in the enormous Samsung illuminated logo on the top of one of the buildings, bringing brazen capitalism into view. The square and immediate surrounding remind me of Karl-Marx Allee in Berlin, but more glitzy.

Constitution Square

Constitution Square

If I was to think of glitz and Warsaw, I would be drawn to the biggest building in the country, the eighth biggest building in the EU and a testament to the ways the USSR would wield their power. The Palace of Culture and Industry. Back in 1950’s Warsaw, Stalin was keen to offer Poland a gift. With Warsaw in ruins, you might think a hospital, a university or even somewhere for people to sleep might be a good gift, but as our tour guide said, when Stalin asks if you want something, there is only one answer. It was constructed in three years and in making it, 16 people died, which we were told was pretty good going for the 1950s. A sobering thought for the pointless 2022 Qatar world cup is that over 1,200 have died to make their vanity project. The rush to build the Palace was intense, and construction went on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A benefit of having no neighbours, I suppose. It is, I’m sure, a symbol of the evil of Stalin but the Palace is a marvel and we had a commanding view of it from our rooms in the Intercontinental hotel. Never having to live through communism, I can appreciate the structure, without having to worry about the morals of it.

The building today is a genuine people’s palace, unlike in the days of Stalin where only members of the communist party could attend events, by invitation. It is rumoured that new year’s parties here went on for four days. Keeping that spirit of booziness alive, in 2012, I heard that Roman Abramovich hired a hall in the Palace for Euro 2012 and turned it into a strip club. Today it holds a cinema, four theatres, two museums, a bookshop, a swimming pool and a viewing platform on the 30th floor. You can also go on fascinating guided tours of the building, some taking you down to the basement to see the antiquated machinery and up to the viewing platform.

The Palace of Culture and Industry!

The Palace of Culture and Industry!

The history of Warsaw’s near-total destruction is covered in forensic detailed in the Warsaw Rising museum. By January 1945, 85% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed, with an estimated 40% of the city levelled by the Germans once the uprising was over, with the population gone aside from a thousand people hiding in the rubble. Germans went around the city with flamethrowers and explosives to gut every building they could, focusing on anything of historical value or national pride, with the aim of reducing Warsaw to nothing more than a military transit point. The biggest building in the old town is the Royal Palace, which Hitler wanted destroyed as early as 1939. During the war, the Nazis conducted aerial bombardments of the palace, removed precious artefacts, tore off the roofing to quicken the building’s demise and in 1944 they spent six days blowing it up. All that remained was two small fragments of wall. Today it stands as the focal point of the reconstructed city and is an attraction worth visiting to understand the history of the building, a fascinating microcosm of Poland’s ups and downs over hundreds of years. One room, the Knight’s Hall, was removed and transported to Russia in 1832 and returned to Poland in 1922. It survived the onslaught of 1939, was removed again by the Germans and only returned to the castle in 1984. This is just one of many original fragments of the Royal Palace that through chance, brave Polish workers spiriting away contents in secrecy and the evil efficiency of the Nazis, managed to survive. The Knight’s Hall is a true gem, with a glorious wooden floor, busts, opulent chandeliers and more.

The Knight's Hall

The Knight’s Hall

Similarly, the Conference Room survived by workers managing to remove many features of the room in 1939, including a chimney piece, wall murals, portraits and even a floor made from thirteen types of wood. In our minds, perhaps a war seems very immediate, but history shows it to be something very different, where people don’t flee their cities but do their best to stall the senseless damage. The reconstruction of pre-war Warsaw was partly down to the work of Canaletto, who was commissioned to paint twenty-two street scenes of Warsaw. These paintings, like much in the city, was first nabbed by the Russians, then by the Germans, and they somehow all survived the turmoil, now sitting in one place in the Royal Castle. We visited the Castle on a Sunday, when it is free to visitors.

The old town is so remarkable, it’s hard to take it all in. You see what looks like a fairly standard eastern European old town; buildings painted many beautiful shades of green, peach, yellow, crooked rooflines, enchanting views from all angles. But it’s all of 60 years old, if that. The reconstruction of the city is a glorious act of defiance that stands at odds with how Britain rebuilt after the war, in a festival of concrete and ring roads.

All of this, about 60 years old!

All of this, about 60 years old!

The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a spectacular building, designed by Finnish architects and every bit as adventurous as that would suggest; the exterior is relatively square in shape making the interior’s grand curved entrance even more startling. The building opens up to represent a parting of the seas and is lit from above allowing shadows and shapes to dance over the sprayed-concrete interior. Shapes are everywhere, from the spiral staircases to the slanted doorways. The main exhibition space is below ground and traces the history of the Jews in Poland since the middle ages and it would be fair to say that squabbles and power play have been a constant between the Jews and the Polish, with both sides enacting petty rules against the other whenever it suits. As we travel through history and edge towards the Holocaust, the space feels more oppressive as you get closer to the second world war and the tone is more frantic as history takes one of its bleakest turns. It is important to note that the Holocaust is just one aspect of the museum and the story ends in the modern world, reminding us that Jewish history did not end in the 1940s.

The Museum of Polish Jewish

The Museum of Polish Jewish

 A much smaller museum is the Museum of Life under Communism, which squeezes hundreds of artefacts, photos and tat into a few rooms that imitate a home in communist times. A cheesy record plays on an old record player, with the staff coming along to start it up again. Every room has information in English to tell you about the great time-saving abilities of the commie kitchen – stuff that Westerners will probably look at half in interest and half in amusement, but across the homes of many millions of people would be the same sort of products and the museum is a great time capsule. The house was stacked with Zenit cameras with old film stock, cleaning equipment called Prozek and Wedel Chocolate. Wedel is an interesting company; in the war, the company refused to collaborate with the Nazis and so they were persecuted, with their factory being destroyed in the uprising. Afterwards, the company made attempts to get back on its feet when the communists nationalised it. Since then, it’s been owned by a bunch of global names and now one of Poland’s best- known brands is owned by a Japanese-Korean conglomerate. A history lesson in a bite of chocolate.

A few minutes’ walk more and you’ll find the Neon museum, a celebration of liquefied air that when illuminated, makes everything look immediately cooler. Discovered by Brits, but finessed by the Polish, the neon museum has a heap of Warsaw’s old neon signs that adorned the buildings of the city during the Cold War. Some of the pieces include depictions of bikes zooming off, milkshakes, flowers bursting with colour and the symbol of Warsaw, a Mermaid. The museum also restores iconic neon in their original locations, and it looks like the museum’s work has made Warsaw reminisce for the illumination of old because the city crackles with the sound of neon on many shopfronts.


If the weather’s good, head to the University of Warsaw garden, a huge green space around the university and on top of it. The gardens are separated into two sections; the lower gardens with a pond, many spaces to sit and sculptures by Ryszard Stryjecki. The upper garden is even more impressive as it covers the roof of the university building, with four areas full of paths and differing plants and trees. The views of the riverside and the city centre are remarkable, with clusters of skyscrapers here and there and the familiar outline of the Palace of Culture and Industry dominating.

In the breaks between history and culture, a drink is always welcome and you can’t go wrong if you head to the bars of Pawilony, the cluster of little bars tucked away behind a gate at 22 Nowy Świat. Despite it not being announced by any signs, beyond the gate is pivo enough for everyone. The atmosphere is relaxed yet busy, the clientele a mix of young and older and choosing somewhere to go is really just a lucky dip. As we left the bars, a stag-do came along, singing their songs of fighting and so on. Actually, we had no idea what they were singing but the guttural chanting didn’t sound sweet in nature.

For food, Warsaw packs so much on your plate that you’re going to need elasticated trousers for a few weeks afterwards but it’ll be worth it. A new food outlet is Hala Koszyki, a gorgeously renovated market hall transformed into a grand food hall with tiny bistros nuzzling up to food stands and restaurants. Finding a table was hard to do, so you might find that you eat wherever you can, rather than where you want. Spend some time here checking out the lighting which is an artwork in itself. Just looking around the market is entertainment enough. We had a great brunch at Sam, which sprung up in 2012 and has a deli, bakery, bar, and food through the day. They bring you many, many menus that offer you all sorts of food options, so you can even bring along your fussiest. I’ve noticed this in Poland; some menus will have little arrows telling you that chia seeds are “blah blah good for you” and the omega 3 is “blah blah whatever it does” and that the meat is from some special Polish place with the eggs being from blessed chickens. Menus are turning into little booklets on nutrition and I swear it worked its magic on me when I ordered Shakshuka, which is full of “blah blah all good eggy things”.

We had dinner at Stary Dom, inside an unprepossessing façade a tram ride outside town. The interior is high on rustic charms, with a wooden vaulted ceiling, lots of pictures of old people and generous sized tables with room for all the food and drink you’ll order. It’s genuinely nice to go to a restaurant and have space. It’s not all that fun doing Tetris with your pierogi. Our waiter had a good sense of humour and coerced us into downing shots of the strongest vodka known to man. Clever man. To balance out new Warsaw and old Warsaw, we visited a milk bar. For the uninitiated, a milk bar is a communist-era cheap cafeteria serving up dairy-based food, so expect mashed potato with everything. We visited Bar Sady, where the interior seems little changed from communist times and it’s all the better for it. The extensive menu offers Polish staples like soup, meat and veg with sides of cabbage. I had a mushroom soup with pasta in it, breaded chicken cutlet with potato and red cabbage. The entire meal with a soft drink cost under £5.

Warsaw has many great bakeries, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll stumble over one but here are my highlights. For pastry needs, there’s Vincent where I had an orange croissant. For beautifully structured cakes you can head to Lukullus or Odette but be warned that you’ll not want to eat it because it’s like a work of art. Then you’ll eat it and just buy more.



I went to Warsaw expecting something altogether more grim; after all, I was told it was an “interesting” city with rough edges. Seeing Warsaw in excellent spring weather was a genuine delight. The city might not appeal to those looking for something like Prague, but it has a real depth of character that gives the city a sparky personality. Resilience turned Warsaw from a charred wreck into what it is today, and that’s a thoroughly enjoyable destination I’ll want to visit again.

Many of the photos courtesy of my friend Rokos who has an eye for detail and a head full of 80s pop tunes.


My music of 2016

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See, it’s not all bad! Here’s my playlist of 2016: 

Radiohead – Decks Dark/Identikit

It was not always inevitable that the band that shaped my musical awakening in 2000 would lead the pack sixteen years later, but Radiohead isn’t every band. With Burn the witch, Radiohead made me aware of col legno, where you purposefully make a screechy sound by smashing away at your strings with a cheap bow. Burn the witch wasn’t the highlight of A Moon Shaped Pool, but it was a stunning attention grabber. The album is by some distance the most subtle thing Radiohead has ever produced, and it is absolutely gorgeous. I would be a fool to say that I prefer Decks Dark over anything else on the album, but it really a very special piece of music. So is Identikit, which easily boasts the most thrilling section of a song this year, when a choir starts to sing “broken hearts make it rain” as the EQ of the track slowly but surely becomes more treble than bass and the dub sounds of the track buckle under the thunder of the drums. Thom arrives back on the scene singing with a Thom army mumbling in the distance. Moments later a muddy but spectacularly Eno-esque guitar solo kicks in. Both of these tracks have been on near-constant rotation since May and for good reason. There’s been nothing nearly as affective or touching all year.

PJ Harvey – The Ministry of Social Affairs

At Field Day 2016 the sun was setting over London’s Victoria Park and PJ Harvey came on stage, like some jazz witch. In absolute control, she eschewed anything like traditional behaviour and barely spoke to the crowd at any point. And she needn’t even bother because she bought her new album The Hope Six Demolition Project with her. The Ministry of Social Affairs is not the most immediate of the albums charms, but it’s the most exciting. It is fitting that she followed this up at the live show with 50 ft Queenie, which may be the most exciting thing PJ has ever done. These two songs might seem to have little in common but both are perversely thrilling in how they showcase PJ’s incredible talent. 

David Bowie – Lazarus

What can be said? The death of David Bowie was a devastating loss to the world. He was once-in-a-lifetime genius, a man so in control of his legacy he fought cancer while making a clutch of new songs that left us all wanting so much more. Lazarus is a masterpiece of misdirection, with the opening lyrics “Look up here, I’m in heaven” suddenly making literal sense two days later. I recall someone saying that instead of mourning the death of Bowie, think how lucky we were to be alive at the same time as him.

Röyksopp – Never Ever

Though no pop song has come close to the near-perfection of Marina and the Diamond’s Froot from 2015, this is a stand-out of 2016. Röyksopp change the fundamentals of their sound with every album, veering from pop to dark grooves. Here, they channel vintage Madonna and use the wonderful Susanne Sundfør as their muse. Evil rumours swirl the universe suggesting Röyksopp have decided to stop making albums. On the strength of this single, let’s hope they don’t give up music altogether.

Imarhan – Imarhan

In April I visited Algeria, a fascinating mixture of exotic and exciting. The people were warm and hospitable, time didn’t run by clocks, but more by some mysterious ability of things to be where you need them when you needed them. This was a holiday where we were not in control of events, but wonderful events happened nonetheless. When we were invited to a wedding, we were welcomed like honoured guests. It was a day i’ll never forget. I was also struck by the music played at the wedding. The urgency of the beats was hypnotic and one of my tasks when I got home was to find out more about Algerian music. Imarhan hail from deep inside the Algerian Sahara, in a town called Tamanrasset. They play music derived from the Tuareg traditions, but add elements of rock, blues and jazz to appeal to the new generation shaping Algeria. It sounds familiar yet evidently foreign. The music coasts along on the exciting beats of the music I heard in Algeria, giving me a chance to  remember what an exhilarating place it was to visit.

Metronomy – Old Skool

After the slow-burning charms of Love Letters, Metronomy came back, but just in the form of Joseph Mount. Old Skool features cow bells and some record scratching, so it’s already onto a winner. The video features Sharon Horgan hosting an old school swingers party, which only improves things further. This is the sound of being at a twisted disco.

Wild Beasts – Big Cat

Wild Beasts discovered the simple joys of sex on Boy King. They’ve never been shy about coital matters in the past, but the world of 2016 is not able to deal with subtlety. Out go the beautifully crafted mini-operas and in come straight-forward stomping bangers. This is both a sad thing and a fantastic thing – a band can’t evolve without some of the best ingredients being thrown out for new ones. If Boy King was an album, it’d have some serious shoulder pads on, and it’d be dancing wildly in a neon-lit club. Big Cat still features the dual vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming, but Hayden’s soaring falsetto is used more sparingly, choosing to sing close to the mic so every breath is part of the fabric of the song.

Ed Harcourt – Loup Garou

Ed Harcourt spoke for an eternity about an album’s worth of “evil songs” he was going to unveil to a horrified world. If Furnaces is evil, then the devil must have some excellent Spotify playlists. Harcourt is a mixture of sweetness and abrasiveness, bringing his trademark melodies and overwrought emotions. Loup Garou, about werewolves, is bristling with energy, from the restless percussion to the tumbling pianos, marching band drunks and Ed’s multi tracked vocals. Put this on when the apocalypse comes, if it already hasn’t.

Jamie T – Power over Men

Jamie T has never really lost what made him so interesting to begin with, but Trick is as slick as Jamie’s hair. Power Over Men is a calmer cut from Trick. Tinfoil Boy is a statement opener, featuring the angry young man stuff that comes across as fairly lazy to these ears. Drone Strike is a festival of skittering beats and rapping; allowing me to realise my music tastes don’t need this.

Warpaint – New Song

Like Wild Beasts, Warpaint have chosen to use 2016 to ditch the complex stuff and embrace the light. Well, maybe that overstates the case, but at the very least Warpaint is singing in a technicolour haze. New Song is a storming and danceable track a world away from earlier classics Billie Holiday which focused on breathy vocals, and Disco//very which still sounded like a band with guitars and a drum kit. New Song uses distorted vocals, a lightness of touch and a clearer sound palette. Their third album, Heads Up, doesn’t abandon their old sound entirely but they are offering an exciting path for where they are headed to next.

Anohni – Crisis

Tickets for the Anohni show in London may as well as sold out before they went on sale, such was the level of demand. And it’s no surprise. The album is completely gorgeous and Crisis is a prime cut, all atmospheric electronics, the beautiful vocals of Anohni and that nagging concern with the state of the world carrying on from the equally gorgeous single Drone Bomb Me.

Sia – Move your body

The world needs pop stars like Sia. She’s like a more fun version of Adele – she even wrote Alive for Adele, who turned it down for something presumably middle of the road. Her vocals are so explosive she is the karaoke enthusiasts worst nightmare. on Move your Body she tackles the dance floor in a song originally meant for Shakira. You can hear the latin influence in the marching drum beat, but despite the song being made for someone else, Sia stamps her authority on this with authority. It has a great chorus, a quiet bit that erupts with some booming drums and a general feeling of elation.

Yeasayer – I am Chemistry

Another comeback, another ticket I failed to get. Yeasayer shouldn’t be playing venues as tiny as Hackney’s Oslo, not with songs of this quality. I am Chemistry is a fantastic piece of music, where an entire band’s repertoire is crammed into five minutes. There’s guitar, there’s synths-a-plenty, a choir pop up. It’s all brilliant and never feels too OTT.

The Fall – All leave cancelled (X)

As each year passes, I become more amazed at the brilliance of The Fall. Mark E Smith may piss himself on stage and appear to be very much out of it, but he’s a tyrant in the studio and coaxes out tremendously tight performances from his band members. All Leave Cancelled (X) is a relatively subdued instrumental compared to the album track. There isn’t a particular thing this song does to warrant its inclusion here, it’s just somehow very good.

Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate

Goodness me, what a treat this was. I first heard this on 6 Music and thought it was some old gem from the 1970s, but I was delighted to find out this was a young Londoner in the modern world. While mournful, this is also soothing and is a quieter moment on this list, full of beauty. 

Zayn – BeFoUr

It’s always the quiet ones. Zayn may have looked bored senseless when he was in One Direction, but he has also looked bored being a solo star. Thank goodness then that he has his voice, a thing of strength and beauty. On BefoUr his falsetto makes a grand appearance and the memories of One Direction fade away into the background as the sound of an artist coming into his own comes into view. It’d be silly to not mention Pillowtalk as another song of the year. It’s brilliant.

On Dead Waves – California

I love Polly Scattergood, and this off-shoot sounds pretty much like Polly Scattergood being all dark and mysterious. California sounds like she’s having a laugh, and the results are great, even if the lyrics include everyone being dead in California. And the band’s name hardly makes 2016 a more cheerful year. It’s a welcome respite from the gloom, in short.

Foxes – Money

You could argue Foxes really should be more well known and if this wasn’t the topsy-turvy world of 2016, you’d be right. Money is a magnificent pop tune, but if you listen to the Top 40, you’ll realise that quality isn’t a necessity to do well. This is a joyous torch song full of moments precision made to be danced to.

Porches – Be Apart

Kind of dreamy, kind of gloomy, Be Apart is a perfect Sunday afternoon song. 

Patrick Wolf – Islington Assembly Rooms

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Somewhere in the National Portrait Gallery, there’s a picture of Patrick Wolf and Twelve Ballerinas by Tim Walker. It was shot in 2008, when Wolf was making some attempt at becoming a pop star, what with The Magic Position’s glittery intentions being visible from space. The public, as unobservant as ever, didn’t see that he was the next big thing so he went away and made The Bachelor in 2009, a collection of songs in the key of doom. The lead single, Vulture, saw him discovering leather, because that’s the natural progression after pop loses its shine.


This didn’t get the public banging down the doors either, so he went away and came back with  Lupercalia in 2011, the album where Wolf toned down the theatrics and managed to become a pop star on his own terms, producing The City, Time of my Life and House. Each of them was a masterclass of pop writing, of glorious choruses and of a wild soul embracing love and sailing a ship into calmer waters.

Five years later we find Wolf in a position of being able to sell out Islington Assembly Halls to an adoring crowd of 800, but the pretence of Wolf being a serious contender in the charts is surely dead in the water, if being in the charts is even something to aspire to anymore.

His position in the music scene of 2016 is of a consummate performer, with his youthful rage lower in the mix. After all, his debut album is a teenager. Gliding onstage, Wolf retains all of his immense presence and starts with acoustic renditions of Augustine and Godrevy Point. His voice is a magnificent tool, whooping, wailing, deep and resonant and then gliding into a falsetto without a hint of stress. Throughout the show, his vocal delivery hits a note that sets off goosebumps and is always captivating. Soon, he is joined by a bassist and a drummer; the setup of the show is far removed from the early days of him and a laptop, or him and a ukulele. The laptop comes back into use for Bluebells with its firework sounds and his brilliance as a musician is screamingly obvious when To The Lighthouse arrives, full of anxious beats and vocal gymnastics.

His new tracks, Constant Sorrow (seemingly being played for the first time here!), The Watcher and The golden Gate all showcase Wolf’s biggest gift, his incredible ear for a melody that can be sweet and foreboding all at once. His mashup of Jacob’s Ladder and Tristan gave him the chance to have a minor hissy fit, perhaps engineered to appeal to the fans wanting a taste of his dramatic side. A slight hand movement, a firm “no!” and the band stop. “This is rubbish!” and they start again, with Wolf crouched on the floor or gyrating by the drums to the driving bass and insistent drums as he screams “I am Tristan and I am alive!” again and again. As he bangs his chest and pushes his voice further into guttural squeals, I am struck by the thought that perhaps his temper is born out of an artistic perfection and frustration at his limits. Short of an alien exploding out of his chest, there really wasn’t much more he could do to entertain us.

The encore consisted of Get Lost with new lyrics and forthcoming single Wake the Wildsound, which sounds utterly spellbinding with its glorious piano and giant chorus. Even if the commercial acclaim has remained illusive, Patrick Wolf is one of the best pop stars we’ve got. 

Goodbye, David Bowie

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bowieHow do you choose your favourite ten David Bowie songs? With immense difficulty, it turns out. I have put my ten at the bottom of his post (Spotify Playlist here) and I am bereft at how much is left out. Where’s Station to Station? Where’s Five Years? Starman? Ashes to Ashes? Breaking Glass? 

He was an artist for every season and few can hold a candle to him; any attempt at a definitive ten is bound to fail and I know my selection is only how I feel today. But what a joy his back catalogue is, even in the face of the heartbreaking news that he has died.

As I sift through his formidable legacy, I can’t help but smile to myself as each new song starts, because so many are dark, sexy, edgy, ethereal, uplifting, danceable, brilliant pieces of art. And as I catch myself smiling, another tear forms for the loss.

The New Yorker captured the sentiment by writing “This was not supposed to happen. Ever” And why should it? It’s not as if anyone really believed Bowie was one of us.

The outpouring of love, raw emotion and overwhelming gratitude that has been expressed today is hard to quantify. He was a man that changed the world again and again, always in his own image. Scarcely has anyone existed that has managed to affect culture in such a profound way and so many people have so artfully been able to vocalise their feelings; my Mum, a massive fan since she was twelve added that when you put his music on, you could be whoever you wanted to be. How beautiful that this man could have touched the life of my Mum as she grew up, he allowed her to dream of what could be. He let so many dream, though.

I am so thrilled that I took Mum to the Bowie exhibition at the V&A so we could share our love for him. Especially good were the moments when the wireless headphones we wore for the show cut off one song and started another abruptly- always betraying Mum singing along just like so many others. Today she told me how she loved it when visiting me at Christmas, I went to my room to wrap presents and played Bowie loudly, keeping that connection we have going. 

Surely we all feel a personal loss today, because for me it’s as if an uncle I was awfully fond of has made his exit.

My boyfriend and I have listened to Criminal World endlessly, I have idly wondered that if we went down the traditional route and had a first dance at our wedding, I’d be thrilled to have it to this. Why? Because even if nobody else at the wedding knew it, it didn’t matter because it’s Bowie and he sort of transcends things like a room full of people going “I don’t know this. Why are they moving about to this?” You never need a reason when it’s Bowie.

This exit is tragic and untimely. Yet Bowie has left behind a body of work that will endure, a body of work fit for a hundred men, not just one. Genius is something we may never understand, but the story of Under Pressure, in my eyes the best song Queen were ever involved with, exposes what genius is. Bowie dominated Queen, as Brian May explained. “It was very hard, because you already had four precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us.” You can read the story here. He called the shots, created a masterpiece that and got his way. Just imagine one man taking on Queen and winning, when one of the members of Queen is Freddie Mercury, who could sing everyone out of the park.

It is fitting that Bowie was able to get his own way to the very last, launching a musical and a beautiful new album as his goodbye gift to us whilst battling the cancer that could only take him when he was done with his business. Like the story of Lazarus, Bowie was a miracle.


Moonage Daydream

Cracked Actor

China Girl

Let’s Dance


The Secret Life of Arabia

A New Career in a New Town

Modern Love

Criminal World

2015 – My top 20 of the year

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2015 has been a great year for music and Radiohead even snuck their Bond theme in when we least expected it, but putting together a top 20 of the year has proven to be an absolute devil to get right. In fact, just a few minutes before I got the list finalised, one song was swapped entirely for a formerly absent track. It just goes to show much much good stuff has been going into my ears.

The Spotify playlist is here

1 Sufjan Stevens – All of you wants all of me

The song that put me through the emotional wringer more than any other this year. In the simple but devastating  line “you checked your texts while I masturbated”, Sufjan produced more heartbreak than Kleenex can comfortably deal with. ‘Carrie and Lowell’ is a rare album that is more than the sum of its parts, one that deserves to be listened to without distraction, repeatedly. Of them all, this track stands tall in an album that has towered over 2015 like a Sequoia amongst shrubs.

2 Marina and the Diamonds – Froot

The greatest pop song of the year by a glittery mile is also a shockingly well produced song. Put on some headphones and be blown away by the warm bed of synths and sounds of a real band working in harmony with Marina’s effortless falsetto ducking and diving into a diva-worthy chorus.

Everything here is a blueprint for how pop songs should be written and performed; Marina needs to get the patent on it. ‘Froot’ is Marina’s most coherent album yet, thanks to her inspired decision to ditch the major label disease of multiple song writers, choosing to write and compose everything herself. It’s paying off.

3 Beck – Dreams

Unbelievably, Beck made this straight-up accessible, funky masterpiece as “something that would sound good live” and I can attest that it sounds good at any time and in any place. Armed with a chorus audible from space, Beck is doing a giant u-turn on his previous album’s introspection, reminding his fans of his incredible versatility.

4 John Grant feat. Tracey Thorn – Disappointing

It’s John Grant. It’s Tracey Thorn. They both sing. That is all that you need to know about this. Well, there’s also the superb video featuring a birthday cake in a gay sauna.

5 Brandon Flowers – I can change

Brandon Flowers has always been a fan of British pop; the Killer’s debut album ‘Hot Fuss’ sounded like the best Manchester 80s band that never existed. Now, Flowers has come full circle as a solo artist, sampling one of the best 80s pop songs on one of this decade’s best pop songs. It is incredibly catchy, mixing the best sort of synths with a beat propelling you ever closer to the dancefloor. And that chorus is a thing of great beauty. I’d wager this song will age gracefully.

6 Tame Impala – Let it Happen

When I first heard of Tame Impala, they were doing some excellent psychedelic stuff, but the opening notes of Let It Happen declare that a major upgrade has taken place and this is a very good thing indeed. Let It Happen seems to gain its magic by being a smooth synth-rock track embedded in a disco track inside a dreamscape. The dream breaks up dramatically around four minutes in when the songs starts to loop itself and then release itself again. It’s headphone music, and for a song pushing seven minutes, it’s remarkably accessible.

7 Carly Rae Jepsen – I really like you

An impossibly catchy pop masterpiece that would feel at home dropped into any of the past 25 years. If you inserted this into an 80s teen movie, would anyone notice? No. Because they’d be too busy dancing along. The video is a joy, with the peerless Tom Hanks dancing about the streets of New York being all Tom Hanksian. What a great combo.

8 Grimes – Flesh Without Blood

I get the distinct impression that 2015 is the year that I fell deeply for warm bass, beats that propel songs endlessly forward and crystal clear production. Flesh Without Blood works because it has so much going on but succeeds in making space for every little note, every unexpected clatter, all of Grimes’ utterances and swooping notes. Grimes’ is in a league of her own when it comes to making layered, complex pop with SCREAM being another notable track from her ‘Art Angels’ album.

9 Everything Everything – Distant Past

Did you know that bands used to make albums full of great songs to be listened to sequentially? It’s hard to imagine now when switching between devices and streaming services is so easy but so perfunctory. There is something almost romantic about putting on an album, deactivating shuffle and focusing entirely on the music and Everything Everything’s third album is one such album to get lost in. From the opening bars of To the Blade, the album’s intent is clear: this will be rock and roll but with added jaggy edges, electronic bleeps and songs you can dance wildly to.

10 New Order – Tutti Frutti

Who knew! The award for the most remarkable comeback of the year goes to New Order with ‘Music Complete’ which I hope isn’t their way of saying this is their last effort. To go out like this would be to go out on a high though. The album is liberally sprinkled with their genius but this is also an album free of New Order trying to keep up with the new kids, or trying to use their past as a springboard – rather, they are refining their signature sound on opener Restless, providing a masterclass in how electronica can merge with rock on ‘Singularity’ and on Tutti Frutti they have produced an outstanding disco track, with a relentless bass that builds throughout the song, some lovely vocals by Elly Jackson and a lightness that has perhaps evaded them in the past. It’d be fair to say the new album is a high watermark for New Order; ‘Music Complete’ is easily their best work in two decades and they sounds reborn.

11 Duran Duran – Pressure Off

Hurrah, for it’s another wondrous return to form! Duran Duran already did a great comeback record with ‘All you Need is Now’ but ‘Paper Gods’ somehow doesn’t hit the same heights. Pressure Off is a taste of what could have been if Mark Ronson had stuck with production duties. With Ronson and Nile Rodgers on board, magical things happened. If another act was to release this, it’d have been a huge radio hit but regardless, this is sublime pop. I was touched to find out that the album’s main producer, Mr Hudson, is a Birmingham resident, nicely reflecting the band’s association with the city.

12 The Wkend – I Can’t Feel My Face

A pop song that ate the competition, with Tom Cruise lip-synching it on the telly, perhaps not grasping that he was miming along to a song about cocaine. But this song is the sort of thing that stops wars, brings tribes out of the Amazon and into the clubs and induces people to write drivel like this about it. It’s as if Michael Jackson has come back with a hell of a tune. Woah, mama! Video’s a bit crap though.

13 Chairlift – Ch-Ching

An afternoon power-walking through Stockholm with this cropping up regularly embedded this in my head for the back-end of the year. A heady mix of pop and RnB that demands you dance along.

14 Ghostpoet – Off Peak Dreams

One of Britain’s best lyricists who also spent lots of time living in the West Midlands, thus scoring highly in my books. I’ve been following Ghost Poet for quite some time and his third album moves his sound into interesting corners, all the while still focusing on everyday struggles, running out of cash and “mugs of tea and bacon sarnies”.

15 The Chemical Brothers – Go

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that an act releasing some of their greatest songs 15 years after their heyday is a rare thing indeed. Go is that rare thing; an absolutely rollocking blast of sound that shows the Chemical Brothers have lost none of their skill at making dance music that is both complex and fun.

16 Django Django – Giant

I find myself bored of guitar bands for large chunks of most years. Giant is the sort of music that draws me back to indie bands. Guitars, drums, singers wooing and aaahhing, piano and a build up that dreams are made of. This is superb.

17 Foals – Lonely Hunter

Foals tend to come back on the scene with a massive beast of a song – they did that this year with What Went Down which is as raucous as they’ve ever been. But noise fades where beauty flourishes and Foals are so much more suited to songs like Lonely Hunter that highlight Yan’s warm vocals and the wall-of-sound-chorus.

18 Will Young – Promise Me

I bloody love Will Young. His last album, Echoes, stood out for the chilly electronica and stunning vocal performances, and his latest effort, ’85%’ can’t reach those heights, butt does have a clutch of tracks that show a more adventurous side to Young that he’d be wise to pursue. Brave Man, Love Revolution, U Think I’m Sexy and Thank You all redefine his sound but none so much as Promise Me. There’s a fast tempo, clattering drums and keyboards that hint at acts like Disclosure and some serious falsetto work going on.

19 The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

Included purely because it sounds like the band went to the seaside, took out the Wurlitzer organ and played all their instruments incredibly fast and loud. Believe me, it works.

20 The Wombats – Greek Tragedy

I’d always had a soft spot for The Wombats, but their third album, ‘Glitterbug’ offered a more nuanced take on their ever-chirpy pop. I suppose it’s called growing up, and on tracks like Greek Tragedy, it works really well because the band have evolved their sound but haven’t forgotten why people liked them in the first place. There is first-rate song writing going on here and other tracks like Emoticons manage to pack in a sense of excitement and urgency into four minute gems.

2015 – The Year in Films – August & September

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50: The Prestige – In which Christopher Nolan makes his best film ever. Christian Bale is, as per usual, fantastic and Hugh Jackman is cast to perfection as the showman who hasn’t got as much show as he’d like. The Prestige feels like a wonderful cinematic treat and on what is perhaps the fourth viewing, the magic is still very much there.

51: The Squid and the Whale – As films about dysfunctional family break-ups go, The Squid and the Whale is among the more toxic. Jeff Daniels is suitably vile as a husband who finds his fame in and out of the household is fading, while his wife, played by Laura Linney, is finding her feet as a writer. Jesse Eisenberg plays a son without any ideas of his own, parroting whatever his dad says. It renders him a detestable soul but perhaps the most interesting person in the film as you can so clearly see how the negative family life is ruining his own chances of ever growing up to be a good person. The script is at times vicious and a reminder that break ups are hard, and everyone’s best intention to be the bigger person in a break up is veneer-thin. If you watch this and think there are similarities with your own life, run.

52: Myth of the American Sleepover – Clearly, It Follows is one of the gems of 2015, and in the debut film by David Robert Mitchell, you see his style developing. The plotlines that don’t really go anywhere, because they don’t have to, they’re here. Young people that may be on multiple medications that make them bleary, yup. The film revolves around a bunch of parties – some wild, some not – and a cast of teens that sorta, wanna, y’know, make out and stuff. It is in these moments, these parties, where we grow up and find out who we are. There are fallings out, unrequited loves and it’s all more important than anything else, for a moment. And then the moment is gone. This film captures some of those moments and does so beautifully. It is wonderful to see a director come along who seems to have such a pronounced style that he could immediately be described as an auteur. A marvellous thing indeed.

53: Volver – I’m drawn back to the films of Almodovar often, for the style, the stories and that chance to slip into his world that is as full of madness as it is heart. If All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Bad Education could be seen as one distinct trilogy, then Volver, Broken Embraces and The Skin I live in is the next cycle. From Volver onwards the same themes are in play – women, betrayals, visitors from the past – but there is a renewed sense of purpose here that really appeals to me and the central characters are all compelling. It helps that Penelope Cruz’s performance here is a perfect blend of woman on the verge and strong mum who will do anything for her daughter. Volver is among my favourite films for the use of colour. Here, Red is used repeatedly and the whole film is steeped in glorious technicolour. The story twists and turns, leaving a dead body a mere side note in a film that is really about the interaction between women and it’s all the better for it.


A little trip to… Wendover

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I am thankful for many things, but one thing I gain immeasurable satisfaction from is the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. By forming the green belt, it helped contain London and the cities of the UK into manageable shapes so we didn’t end up with endless urban sprawl. And so upon finding myself in Wendover, less than 40 miles from the centre of London, one of the first things I saw was a thatched cottage in a row of houses so picturesque I was expecting the cast of Morse, Midsomer Murders and Downton on tour to make an appearance. The Chilterns, where Wendover is nestled, is well known for its beauty and is  home to many varied landscapes from chalk streams to beech woods and chocolate box villages.


But the real draw for me in these parts is Wendover Woods, over 800 acres of deeply wooded landscape and many well-signposted walks all designed to shake off the stresses of the city. Living in the woods is the Firecrest, Britain’s smallest bird. You’ll find it much easier looking out for the Red Kite which has become a familiar site in the Chilterns since the re-introduction of them started in the late 1980s. From the station, we walked down Hale Lane and within minutes the village falls away to be replaced by open fields and parcels of woods. The path follows a gentle incline and soon enough the views behind you take on a grander form as more and more gently rolling countryside becomes visible.


After ten minutes walking down Hale Lane you will find a left turn into Wendover Woods itself, giving you an option to take on one of the circular walks within the woods. Head north and you’ll find yourself at the Cafe in the Woods, or just wander about. Either way you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a sporty kind, then you’ll find the woods to your taste with its fitness assault course scattered throughout.


When our walk led us back to the centre of Wendover we ate at the Shoulder of Mutton which is reliable, affordable and has an enormous garden. You can’t go wrong with a day trip to the Chilterns and Wendover is so easy to access, it is just crying out to be explored.

Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 

Wendover Woods forestry commission website

Shoulder of Mutton Wendover


Skåne – It’s Swedish for beautiful

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Skåne, pronounced like this, is the most southerly county in Sweden and stretches from Malmo in the West to Simrishamn in the West. Absolut Vodka lives in Åhus where you can tour the factory for free, and the region is one of the richest areas of farmland in Sweden so is famed for its food scene. The endless flat fields, calm orchards, green landscape and beautiful coastline led me to put Skåne on my to-visit list a long while back but Sweden’s biggest-ever selling TV show The Bridge as well as Wallander have put Skåne on the global map, but for different reasons. Where Wallander revelled in the beauty of the region, The Bridge was much more gritty, with little need for gently waving fields of rape. If anything, this photo from the BBC Wallander could neatly sum up why I wanted to visit.



The bright colours and endless blue skies look so inviting, even grumpy Kenneth Branagh couldn’t deter me from wanting to see it. After Wallander’s Ystad charmed everyone senseless, visits by British tourists increased by nearly 20% so I’m far from alone in wanting a slice of Swedish life. From spending two days in Copenhagen where flights are far cheaper than to Malmo, we took a train to Ystad. Our accommodation was Our House, a fifteen minute walk from the centre of town. It’s a great choice in a quiet location – the rooms are well sized and spotlessly clean with our shared bathroom being shared by just us and our travelling partner. Breakfast in the morning allowed me to go overboard on eggs and coffee.

Just twenty minutes stroll away was the sea – when we went in late May it was empty but I doubt it’s ever overcrowded – and the Ystad Saltsjöbad Spa hotel and fantastic restaurant. We ate in the smaller, American-themed diner called Vitas and the burger was so good it destroyed my strong belief that you can’t get a good burger outside of London. Perhaps I’m unfair as it was Bristol that let me down with the world’s grimmest burger or as it should be called, a rubberised disc of meat. Bread and butter accompanied the food and it was a novel touch to have the bread skewered on a spike. While the cocktail cost upwards of £10, it was worth every kroner.  With the choice to sit in the gorgeous bar or out on the terrace hearing the water lap against the shore, you can’t go wrong.

For our other meals, we weren’t so lucky, mostly because we were stuck with the notion that eating past 9pm is a thing. I can tell you, it’s generally not a thing in Ystad, even less so on a Sunday night. At Broderma M we ate pizzas from the posher end of the menu, but the service remained indifferent. When I asked a waitress if she had any local beers she flatly said “no” and poked her finger at the menu. Huh. But it was fine and stopped us from starving to death. It also had the bonus of having some genuinely hideous furniture that seemed like a hipster attempt gone horribly wrong. A real gem of a cafe was Soderberg and Sara, near Ystad train station. The cinnamon bun was outstanding, but even better was the cardamom bun which could only be described as life-changing. With this king of buns came a fantastic flat white. I was in paradise.

Ystad is a very pretty town that doesn’t need to have any outstanding features to make a visit worthwhile. Simply being in Skåne itself is treat enough, but the town and surrounding area offer plenty of attractions. If you’re a fan of Wallander, there’s the film museum and guided tours as well as this website of locations used in the films.


Tim models the hell-chair range

Around Ystad

Forty minutes along the coast is Sandhammeren with beautiful white sand. Some say this is Sweden’s finest beach and pictures from there look more like a Caribbean coast than one facing the Baltic Sea.


Sandhammeren Beach

We headed to Simrishamn on a grey day to pick up bikes and cycle around the coast and orchards. The first cycle place was closed but luckily Hotell Turistgården had plenty of ladies bikes with baskets we could use. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I loved that basket and the staff made hiring the bikes the easiest experience possible. No booking fee and a fee of 130 kroner per day (about £11) is a very fine deal. We headed north of Simrishamn towards the coast and found a stunning spot about 3km from the Hotel. The beach was completely empty, the sand soft and bright yellow, the waters freezing but intensely blue. I’d happily have spent the day here if time had allowed. Here’s our journey to the beach:

bike route


Sweden is home to some of the most peaceful moments of my existence, and this beach was no exception. Lying on the sand, looking up at the big sky I was getting into the relaxed state that almost always leads to falling asleep. Once I slept through a ferry dropping passengers off on a small island and setting off again.This time, I managed to move from the beach to the rocky outcrop round the corner where I spotted some picturesque boats and a deserted house.












After about 90 minutes of lazing about, we headed further north. I imagined that Vik would have a cosy cafe so we cycled onwards with grumbling tummies to find Vik was a beautiful village lacking any food whatsoever. As luck would have it, about half a mile north of Vik is the Österlens Golfklubb with a glorious cafe. Ok, I had half a pint, a banana and a cinnamon bun but it beat eating sand. The cafe served sandwiches but despite my numerous trips to Sweden, no sandwich sandwich with mustard, cheese or fish in is getting past my lips. Which is most sandwiches.

We took a more taxing route to Simrishamn, via back roads to Gladsax and onwards to the Hotel. Away from the coast, we were in a world of trees, open fields and the occasional tractor spraying muck on the fields. Yet again, the variety of the countryside in Sweden reminded me why my love affair with the place doesn’t weaken over time. I don’t think it’s possible to have a bad trip in Sweden.



Skåne is an ideal place for a short break, easily accessible from Copenhagen, one of Europe’s finest capitals and just 40 minutes from Malmo. It offers a different taste of life to what you might know from Stockholm or Gothenburg where the pace is slower but the pleasures of life are savoured. A long lunch, a brisk walk, idling on the beach are all enhanced by the natural beauty of the area.


Edinburgh Fringe day 4 – ever more comedy

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Stewart Lee is the focus of the day and anyone expecting an easy ride from this apex predator in his natural habitat has already been told where to go. Critics and fans alike are told they are “not equipped to review me” and the audience are grouped into fans who are “cackling sycophants” or those dragged in by friends who are the enemy. Blessed anonymity is Lee’s future and his ideal audience will soon be his again. His ideal audience? One that never laughs at anything he says but can form break-away discussion groups.

Those days of small rooms aren’t coming back, and no amount of snarling at 4-star Telegraph reviews bringing in “all cunts for the rest of the month” is going to derail the success Lee is experiencing and nor should it on the face of his new show, billed a work in progress, as they always are. Today’s show had a tight half hour about the insanity that comes from chasing awards and centres around Graham Norton winning a BAFTA over his Comedy Vehicle. In true Stew style, he builds up a small annoyance into a hurricane of vanity and bitter rage. Why is Norton allowed to accept the award and why aren’t people stopping him getting to the stage? What begins as Lee seeming a little bemused that his show didn’t win ends with him outraged that a show where people mostly just go “yeah, I am in a film” and is it possible that chatting can be funnier than he, a proper comedian? It’s excellent stuff.

Even better is his discussion of the prostitutes behind his house and the ways in which he needs to become creative in telling his kids what the condoms at the bottom of the garden really are. He weaves this into a narrative about money and how it changes everything in life. Without his and his wife’s run of success, they’d not have a garden for prostitutes to throw condoms into, so the story has a partially political slant as he counts all the ways that his sources of income are all being demolished by our evil government.

For the second half, Lee recycles some jokes about Islam – which are of course hideously politically correct. We find Lee showing real outrage towards Quakers and the way they live their lives. The point being that you may as well be angry at thee Quakers if you’re going to pick on a religion, surely? Nobody seems to care about those guys.

Where Lee has excelled for a long time is in his ability to make us look at our own prejudices and even better, helps us see how his repetition of themes and flashing the inner workings of comedy at us help create something so much more nourishing than simple stand up. On this showing, he might not be the funniest comic in the UK, but he’s untouchable in intellect and narrative form.

Stewart Lee – A Room with a Stew at Assembly Rooms until 31st August – 2.15pm



My biggest Fringe surprise was Simon Munnery’s Fylm School, held in a smelly pub reminiscent of the pub from Trainspotting…


Lovely loo

The surprise wasn’t just how awful the venue was, but how brilliant the show was. Munnery has a great mind for the absurd and instead of appearing on a stage, chooses to have us seated facing a screen. He is projected from the back of the room, using a camcorder that he skillfully alternates between his face and the many cartoons he has drawn on the table. It is a strangely effective way of communicating to us – even though he is not performing directly to us, we all see an exploded view of him, giving a sense of intimacy. The contrast to this, of course, is the absence of comedians at venues like the 02 where all the video screens in the world can’t make them appear anything but very remote and distant.

Lolly Adefope has gained rather a lot of attention at Edinburgh this year, all totally justified on tonight’s showing of her character Gemma – a first-time stand up who has drinks “Red wine no ice” and is a study in tragic comedy. Gemma is all wide-eyed wonder at the world around her, desperately trying to find out what a Vajazzle is and confused as to why “women have to sit down to pee but men never call you back”. We’ve seen these comic characters plenty before, but Gemma feels like a fresh creation, partly down to the sheer exuberance of the performance. Lolly’s full show is based around 5 characters who all are hitting the stand up circuit for the first time and reviews suggest each is fully formed and worth seeing. I can’t wait to see the rest!

 Rhys James is apparently all over Twitter and uses the form of Fylm Show well by imagining famous last words on Twitter. It is said that Oscar Wilde’s last words were “either those curtains go or I do” but here, it’s suggested that Wilde repeated this phrase non-stop for 12 years, so mad was he. Twitter gives you the perfect way to have your final word and James hits on a great idea in his short segment. There’s an air of cockiness and vulnerability in his set and alongside Munnery and Adefope is very funny.

 Flym School is something I will be returning to again. It was genuinely the funniest hour I had at the Fringe.

 Simon Munnery’s Fylm School at Heroes @ The Hub until 31st August at 19.40

For just a fiver, you can catch some of the best acts at the Fringe perform short sets from their shows. A seriously good two hours showing just how many talented comics are at the Fringe.

Best of Hub at Pleasance Dome Aug 26 at 22.00

Edinburgh day 3 – it continues!

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So many things. So many worries that you’re missing this and everyone is having the best time. .. But by day three it’s possible to get a grip on these absurd worries and just enjoy the festival.

So, Austentacious, the Jane Austen improv group are first up. Selling out the Udderbelly most days, it’s a show you should get booking up because it’s an hour of comedy brilliance. The premise is simple: the audience come up with a title for a new Jane Austen play and the team work out the story. For what it’s worth, mine was Jane Austerity – Poverty in big floaty dresses. But it was never chosen, tragically.

Improv is fascinating to watch, being able to notice the communication between the players and how no ego can get in the way. Today’s show was no different and the story revolved around an art gallery being closed, a prominent wealthy man being likened to a tree, a poor girl offering to dive into a jar of formaldehyde for her love and a meal topped off with endless oregano, Parmesan and hundred and thousands.

Armed with incredible timing, Austentacious is top-drawer improv that needs to be seen.

Austentacious at Underbelly until 31st August.

The second show of the day was the super entertaining Max and Ivan’s The End, where they cunningly change the lights to be different characters taking us on a walking tour of a horrendous town by the sea, with the slogan “Don’t go on the beach!” giving you an idea of the town and its charms. Enormously influenced by the League of Gentlemen, there are many moments of brilliance in the show with comic timing a particular strength.

We are guided through the town and its nuclear power plant and a melee of weird characters all fighting for our attention. The father and returning son duo works well as a central storyline, with callbacks to some blood curdling arguments they’d had in their past always raising big laughs. For me, I found an unexpected but vicious (and no doubt illegal) sex scene to be the high point, intercut with other key moments in the day of the town.

The ending itself seemed to go on for too long – returning to characters we’d just seen, but it’s slick, sick and a lot of fun.

Max and Ian: The End at Pleasance Dome until 30tj August