Archive for August, 2010

Avoiding expensive transfer market mistakes

30 August 2010

I’m a Sunderland fan, and there’s been much complaining on the Blackcats fans’ list I read about the sale of the striker Kenwyne Jones to Stoke for £8m without an apparent replacement on the horizon. I like Jones, and one of my fond memories is of him scoring the goal against Fulham which ensured that Sunderland stayed up a couple of seasons ago. He also has a flamboyant goal celebration. But I recently read Why England Lose, which devotes a chapter to why football clubs waste money in the transfer market, and one of the rules of how to avoid doing this is “Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth”. Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, the book’s authors, suggest that Lyon’s rise in France is almost completely down to managing the transfer market well.

And since there is still about 36 hours to go before the summer transfer window closes, by way of a public service here’s their 12 rules in full:

  1. A new manager wastes money on transfers. Don’t let him.
  2. Use the wisdom of crowds (get groups to assess transfers)
  3. Stars of recent World Cups or European Championships are over-valued. Ignore them.
  4. Certain nationalities are over-rated.
  5. Older players are over-valued.
  6. Centre-forwards are over-valued; goalkeepers are under-valued [except by Sunderland]
  7. ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes’; identify and avoid ‘sight-based prejudices’.
  8. The best time to buy a player is when he is in his early twenties.
  9. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth.
  10. Replace your best players even before you sell them.
  11. Buy players with personal problems, then help them deal with their problems [Brian Clough did this brilliantly].
  12. Help your players re-locate.

The picture is from the Modern Anthology blog, and is used with thanks.

Brecht, Dave, George and the cuts

29 August 2010

I’ve been in eastern Germany on holiday (“the former DDR”, as the Germans seem always to refer to it) and so my thoughts turned to the bard of East Berlin, Bertolt Brecht. I took with me a second-hand copy of a slim volume of Notes from the Calendar, a collection of stories, poems and anecdotes which Brecht had assembled on his return to Germany in 1947, and which seems now to be out of print. It includes some of his more famous poems (for example, “Questions of a Studious Working Man“) and some which deserve to be better known (“Legend of the Origin of the Book Tao Te Ching on Lao Tzu’s Way into Exile”), as well as “The Augsburg Chalk Circle”, a story which is the forerunner of his play The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

But the reason I bought it was for the “Anecdotes of Mr Keuner”, a set of paradoxical stories which I was first introduced to years ago by the critic and provocateur Albert Hunt. One story in particular, “Form and Substance”, reminded me of the present government’s economic programme, and I hope that Methuen, its pubishers, will forgive me for reprinting this Anecdote here:

Form and Substance

Mr K contemplated a painting in which certain objects were given a very arbitrary form. He said: “With some artists it’s the same as with many philosophers when they look at the world. In striving for form, they lose the substance. I once worked for a gardener. He gave me a pair of shears and told me to clip a laurel bush.

The bush grew in a tub and was hired out for festive occasions. So it had to be in the shape of a ball. I immediately set about cutting off the untidy shoots, but however hard and long I tried to make it ball shaped I did not succeed. First I trimmed too much off one side, then too much off the other. When at last it was a ball, it was a very small one. The gardener was disappointed as said: “Yes, that’s a ball, but where’s the laurel?”

Mixing the 80s

1 August 2010

My colleague Stacey Yates is also a photographer, and she inveigled me into an interesting project that’s recently been published in the magazine Under The Influence, in their ‘Thatcher’s Children‘ edition. The project was to ‘mix the ’80s’ – to produce a mixtape that reflected my experience of living through the heady days of Thatcherism. Of course, you can’t make a mixtape without a recipient, but she and her journalist collaborator Nina Hervé had thought of that. They matched me up with Phil Adams, who works for Rough Trade; we’d not met before, but having exchanged some light touch autobiography, he made a tape for me and I for him.

One of my conventions when I used to make mix tapes in the ’80s was that I’d write a letter with it, to explain the choice of music, and (partly to my surprise) Under The Influence published all of my mixtape letter and all of Phil’s. The pdf of the letter, with the tracklisting, can be downloaded below. I’ll be honest; I didn’t realise that it was going to be published when I wrote it.

Of course, the business of trying to replicate in a largely digital era the essentially analogue experience of the mixtape wasn’t straightforward – one of the conditions was that it had to be delivered on a cassette. I still have a record deck, but the cassette deck that used to be plugged into it packed up a couple of years ago. So, of course, I cheated, and made the tape on my computer and copied it via a portable CD/tape/radio unit. Phil, who sometimes DJs, seemed more at home rewiring his equipment to make it work, and sent us a photo afterwards. (It took him all day.)  And at least I had an old TDK C-90 to tape it on. TDK were the best, by far, and I still have some thirty year old TDK tapes in my house (even play them sometimes, if that doesn’t seem impossibly retro) when the Maxell, BASF, and Boots tapes have long shedded their oxide or wrapped themselves around the tape capstans.

But it all brought back a sense of why the analogue mixtape is inherently a more personal, intimate experience than the digital playlist, and, without going all Walter Benjamin on you, this is essentially because it’s a lot more work and much harder to copy – in other words, precisely because it’s analogue. (Coincidentally, Russell Davies was blogging about this recently). And oddly, although it’s clearly easier to shuffle tracks around in iTunes, it’s harder to get the same level of control over the music, whether that’s about the gap between different tracks (some need less space, some more) and it was impossible, at least on my equipment, to get the right fit of music to length of tape (they never were exactly 45 minutes on each side). The digital equivalent of the tastefully judged ‘fade to zero’ exists technically, but without the tape counter it’s impossible to know what you’re aiming at.

Once we’d made the tapes, and listened to each other’s, Stacey brought Phil and I together in a cafe to talk tapes and talk the 80s. She thought we’d talk music, but actually we got more excited by the mechanics of mixtapes. So here are Phil and Andrew’s rules for making mixtapes; who knows, they may even come in handy in some future ‘powerdownpost-digital world:

  • The first three or four tracks on side one really matter. Get those right and the rest will flow.
  • Side two also needs to start well.
  • The flow matters – always sacrifice a favourite song if it wrecks the flow
  • The texture of the music matters as well as the rhythm
  • Don’t waste space – try to close within seconds of the end of the cassette

Stacey took a portrait of each of us – and some pictures of the tapes – to go with the article. She’s just put them up on her blog. And I should add – as someone who lived through the ’80s as an adult – that the edition of the magazine, largely written and photographed by people who were barely in nursery school at the time of Thatcher’s Iron Pomp – is a fascinating take on the decade.

The picture at the top is one of mine – published here under a Creative Commons licence. The track list and letter can be downloaded here: Heart Meet Head-the 80s mixtape.