Thursday, 21 December 2006

The year of our laud 2006

1. Overall, have you had a good year?
Yes. I've made a load of new friends, done my job well, had some great nights out, and prepared for what will be an amazing year next year.

2. What has been your biggest achievement?
Saving for and buying a round the world ticket. Getting my purple belt in kickboxing.

3. Did you take any exams, Pass?
I took two kickboxing gradings. For my orange belt I got a B and was a bit rubbish. For my purple belt I got a fucking A! Which is for ace, obviously.

4. Have you had your birthday yet?
In February. I got insanely drunk at Rebel Rebel (well, before I even got in there actually) and vaguely remember giving my female friends lapdances. They loved it. Then I went to the theatre on my actual birthday and saw Blood Brothers. It was crap.

5. Have you been on Holiday?
Much more than I should have, given that I'm going away for a year in January.

6. Where and when(list)?
I went to Brighton for Easter weekend and had lots of sex. Then I went to Kenya in September and saw lots of animals. There was no sex.

7. Have you bought anything expensive?
My round the world ticket. An iPod.

8. Have you had a job?
Of course.

9. Made any big decisions?
Deciding to leave my life, my loves and my living behind to go on a big adventure.

10. Lost a friend or loved one?
Lost him, got him back. I'm not really sure. Ask me again in... the future.

11. Met anyone amazing?
My housemates (and their friends) in Dalyell Road. A press officer at Sky One called Fabian Devlin who not only has a cool name, but told me loads about Thailand last week, and earlier in the year gave me the first series of 24 on DVD and got me hooked. All the people I met in Kenya. Famous people? Just Jack. Chris Cornell. Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje. The Tittybangbang girls. Gordon Ramsay. Julio Iglesias. Sugababes (twice). Scissor Sisters. Charlotte Church. Basement Jaxx. Alesha Dixon. James Morrison. Bruce Parry. Jorja Fox. Justin Lee Collins. Nelly Furtado. Bill Oddie. Tom Jones. Russell Brand. Jo Joyner. June Whitfield. Torvill & Dean. John Simm.

12. Made new friends?
Yeah loads from moving into Dalyell.

13. Moved house?
Twice. Once into Dalyell and then into my friend Jen's so I can save some money on rent before I go away. Moving sucks.

14. Changed college?
Not for a long time!

15. Tried something new?
Loads. Some new men, new food, new places, new countries. Ask me in a year though, I'll be able to give you a list ad infinitum.

16. Been more happy or sad?
An equal balance of both, as always.

17. Made any enemies?
Not that I know of.

18. What music will you remember from this year?
God, loads. Akala, Alesha, All Saints, Amy Winehouse, Arctic Monkeys, The Automatic, Basement Jaxx, Betty Curse, Bob Sinclar (World Hold On), Bodyrox (Yeah Yeah), Captain, Chris Lake (Changes), Cicada, David Guetta Vs The Egg, Delays, Dirty South, DJ Shadow, Eagles Of Death Metal, Faithless, The Feeling, bloody Fergie, Friday Hill, Girls Aloud, Gnarls Barkley, Guillemots, bloody Gwen Stefani, Hot Chip, Jamelia, James Dean Bradfield, James Morrison, Jet, Jose Gonzalez (Heartbeat), Just Jack, Justice Vs Simian, Justin Timberlake, Kasabian, The Killers, The Kooks (Naive), KT Tunstall (Suddenly I See), Lil' Chris, Lily Allen, Lorraine, Lostprophets, Madonna, Massive Attack, Matt Willis, Muse, Nelly Furtado, The Ordinary Boys, bloody Paris Hilton, Paul Oakenfold, Pink, The Pussycat Dolls, Razorlight (America), Rihanna (SOS), Robbie Williams, bloody Rogue Traders, Scissor Sisters, Scott Matthews, Shiny Toy Guns, The Similou, Snow Patrol, Sugababes, Supermode (Tell Me Why), Take That (who'd have thought??), Thom Yorke, Till West & DJ Delicious, Tocadisco, The Upper Room, Veto Silver, We Are Scientists, Yourcodenameis:milo. (Can you tell I just went through my iPod??)

19. What movies have you seen at the cinema this year?
I don't go as much as I'd like. I've seen X-Men: The Last Stand (not as good as the first two), Brokeback Mountain (stunning), The Departed (intense, loved it). Think that's about it really.

20. What was your best night out?
Recently the Sky One Christmas bash which was held at the top of The Gherkin. Just. Amazing. THAT view, and an oyster bar, and champagne. And very good company. Brilliant. Um, also my first night out with my housemates. We went to Jamm in Brixton, just the four of us, got fucked and had an absolute blast. Mark and Nick's wedding in Bournemouth was great. Richard Ashcroft at Electric Ballroom with Sarah was good, as was The Feeling at Christ Church. Any gig with Sarah is good! The night I had my first threesome was interesting. :) Seeing Robbie play in Cologne was just amazing. The night my sister came up for the weekend was deadly. But it's been a pretty quiet year really. I've been saving!

21. What was your worst night out?
The night I was supposed to see Scissor Sisters in Trafalgar Square when I had my phone snatched and then lost my friend. Well, never found her. (See Shitterday Night blog.)

22. Best Day?
Getting my purple belt in kickboxing.

23. Worst Day?
The last time I saw David.

24. Best month?
This one. I can't tell you how excited I am about going away next month.

25. Worst month?
Last month when I was stressing about all the stuff I had to do before I go away. It's all coming together now.

26. Was summer a good'un?
Not really, was working hard as we were short-staffed and I couldn't spend any money as I was saving. Although seeing Foo Fighters in Hyde Park was fucking ace.

27. Have you made better friends with anyone?
That's an interesting one. Probably Anna by going to Kenya together. Yes definitely, actually. And some people at kickboxing.

28. Lost any friends?
No, I don't think so.

29. How many people have you kissed in the year of 2006?
Loads. You mean as in boys and tongues? Still loads. I've been a right slapper this year.

31. Did you have your heart broken?

32. Made any plans for next year?
Well, I might have mentioned it. I'm going travelling.

33. How many hair colours have you had?
Two. Finding bits of grey now!

34. Got pierced?
Nah, my body doesn't like it.

35. Got inked?
Wanted to but never got round to it. Next year.

36. Changed your image?
No, not really.

37. Missed anyone?

38. Enjoying this survey?
It's going on a bit longer than I thought it would.

39. Know what you want in the future?
Nope, I'll take whatever the world throws my way.

40. Regret anything?
No. I've handled everything to the best of my ability with the information that was available to me at the time. It's all good.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Unknown white male

For a long time I've been wanting to write about my going away. This year I decided to go travelling, you see, leave everything behind and go see a bit of the world. I made the decision earlier in the year after a series of events, or should I say non-events.

Once I'd made the decision my plans formed pretty quickly. South-east Asia was a priority. I've never been to that part of the world and was very curious about it, more so particularly since I've been practicing martial arts. Money was a worry, of course, for the whole trip. But a friend mentioned that her ex-boyfriend was now teaching English in Thailand. The idea fascinated me - what a perfect way to immerse myself in the culture and earn some cash at the same time. Australia would be next. My friend Su now lives there and will be getting married in September, so I wanted to time my travels so I'd be there. Then New Zealand - blame Lord of the Rings etc etc. Fiji came to be part of the plan after talking to the travel agent as we planned my route. (Though this is now up in the air after the military coup. I'll have to keep an eye on that one.) San Francisco would be next. Los Angeles holds no appeal for me, thanks to the descriptions from various friends and actors that I've met, though I may visit it for a weekend, just so I can get a taste of it for myself. Then I wanted to factor Canada in, as I have family there - three half-sisters. When one of them came over in October for my Dad's 70th birthday she invited me to stay for Christmas, which was a relief; I was a little worried about what I would end up doing on Christmas Day next year. Then it would be New York, just because I love it there, and my good friend Eloise lives there.

I've wanted to write about this trip and my feelings about it at various times during the year (but for one reason or another I've not been able to sit down and do so) and I've wanted to write about it for one reason - because a lot of people have asked me why I'm going. At first it seemed like a strange question, as it didn't seem like a big deal to me; a lot of my friends have gone travelling and it was something I'd always wanted to do as well. But I came to realise that it wasn't such an obvious thing to do for everyone. To some people I was giving up a good job, a career I was doing well in, my friends, lots of things, and it seemed like a huge sacrifice. For what?

Truth is there was a long time where I'd become a bit jaded by my job. I've now worked as a feature writer for the Press Association for six years. For at least two of those years I've been looking to move on to something else. A job on a magazine, maybe. But what magazine? A couple of times I came close to what would have been good jobs, but they didn't happen for reasons beyond my control. So I found myself in a situation where I liked my job enough not to jump ship to just any old thing (I've been lucky enough to have a job throughout much of my 20s where I get free CDs, free holidays, a free mobile phone, free parties etc etc, as well as a lot of scope to write about different things, plus I was good enough at what I did that my superiors pretty much left me to my own devices) but also having been doing it long enough to become bored with the process. Part of me was hankering for the next challenge, and the ones offered by promotion within the Press Association - managerial, editorship - were not ones I was interested in taking up. Instead I wanted a new job with new challenges, but one that was as good as one I had. Jobs like that don't come along very often, as I discovered.

So I started thinking about other options. Travelling had always been one. It had always been part of my loose agenda, really. I'd wanted to get at least two jobs under my belt first, get my career going, and then think about travelling. But that wasn't happening. Time was running out. I'm hurtling towards 30 at what feels like a rate of knots and being above that age puts certain limitations on travelling. But it wasn't just my own ageing that was an influence, it was my friends' as well. Marriages, mortgages and motherhood became regular topics of conversation as they became realities for my friends. The pseudo-family I had formed with three of my closest friends when we moved to London, and who I lived with for six years, began to separate as life took us in different directions. One of them fell in love with an Australian who she is about to marry (the aforementioned Su), another went off to have a baby, the other decided to buy a house. So I decided to follow the plan I'd always had in the back of my head - go travelling.

Another reason I'm going is because I can. I have very few commitments. I'm not stepping out of a particular career trajectory to do this, for example. The nature of the career I've chosen means I can just pick up where I left off when I get back. Or even pick it up in another country should I decide to do so. I don't have a mortgage, or a child, and I'm not in a relationship. Now is probably the best opportunity to go that I will ever have.

Of course it's not the case that I'm not leaving anything behind. I have a great network of friends whose support I don't think I'll truly appreciate until it's no longer a Tube ride away. I'm leaving behind an amazing job (although it has only become really enjoyable again since an end has been in sight). I'm leaving a city I love. London may be a hard place to live in - it has a rhythm to it and that rhythm's pretty fast - but once you get into that pace, you get so much out of it. And (the one thing that really makes me not want to go) I'm leaving behind a man I love, a man who I never seem to be in the right place for, nor him me. And just as he has come into a better place, I'm leaving and it's too late to do anything about it. Maybe that's the way it will always be, who knows? It's certainly the way it is now.

So I'm leaving behind good things, but for good reasons. As I've been saying to people, I'm throwing all my cards up in the air. But that's okay, I'm in a good position to get another good hand. There's one really obvious and pertinent reason for me going - because I want to. I love travelling. I travelled a lot as a kid. We never went any further than Europe on our family holidays due to financial constraints, but my parents took us away as much as they could, exposed us to different cultures, food and people in the likes of France, Germany and Spain. And, as I said before, I've been lucky enough to have a job that has enabled me to travel a lot. As an adult I've gone to places as far flung as America, the Maldives, Egypt, Holland, and Kenya. And now I want to go further, do more, and more intensely. The places I'm going are well-trodden, possibly not very adventurous in the eyes of a more seasoned traveller. And I'll admit, I expect many aspects of the places I go will have some familiarity and make my life a bit easier on the way. But what's important is that I've never been there. I want to experience these places myself, and see the broader horizon with my own eyes. I can do the more alien, the more difficult and the more dangerous when I've got a few more miles on the clock. For me this isn't just a one-off adventure, this is just the beginning.

Friday, 8 December 2006

total:spec - Just Jack

You might not know Jack Allsopp just yet, but you’ll know his mate. For Allsopp, or Just Jack to give him his musical moniker, is one of the lucky few musicians who have been given a leg up by that most famous of music lovers Elton John. On the surface (and, to be honest, when you look a bit closer) Allsopp and John don’t look like obvious friends. Allsopp is a Camden-based musician with wideboy looks a geezerish patter who’s lived in north London all his life, working an impressive array of jobs as he’s strived to make it as a musician. John is, well... Well he’s just Elton John isn’t he?

As Allsopp sits down with a beer in Camden’s infamous Good Mixer pub - a disappointingly average bar that has played host to many a drunken night for Britpop nobility such as Blur and Elastica - he looks more like a local painter and decorator (which he has been) than someone who would attend Elton John’s wedding (which he did). But what these two very different people do have in common though is music, and a great love of it.

“He just likes to talk about music a lot,” shrugs Allsopp. “Which is cool because that’s what I like to talk about as well.”

It’s John that has given Allsopp another crack at success in the music industry. Thanks to him, the 31-year-old now has a deal with major label Mercury and should score a big hit with the infectiously catchy Starz In Their Eyes, taken from Just Jack’s second album Overtones. But it’s not been an easy ride.

After the release of his critically-lauded but poorly selling debut album The Outer Marker in 2003, the label that Allsopp released it on, RGR, went bust, leaving the musician without a deal. But thankfully for him, a copy of the album found its way into John’s hands, via an engineer who worked with him at the same studio where Allsopp recorded it. The veteran singer immediately fell in love with it.

“There was a reference to Watford Football Club [the team John used to chair] in one of the songs, which I think caught his ear,” laughs Allsopp. “Even though the lyric was ‘Watford’s run of bad luck’, it wasn’t a positive thing, but I think that was one of the things that drew him to it and he started talking about it.”

Quite publicly, it turns out. At John’s now infamous rant at the Q Awards in 2004 where he accused Madonna of miming during her live shows, he mentioned Allsopp’s album as one of the positive things about music today. He also flagged it up as one of his albums of the year - one year after it had come out - when he guest-edited London listings mag Time Out.

“It was all a bit of a shock,” says Allsopp. “I had people ringing me up going, how do you know him? And I’m like, I don’t know him, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Allsopp, meanwhile, had retreated to Brighton.

“I just wanted to get away from London for a while,” he says. “We were literally a week into recording the second album when the label just pulled the plug. We were pretty gutted obviously.

“But the best thing about it all was that it was a kind of blessing. It meant I could just go away for two years and write music. I went to Brighton and just wrote a load of songs, chilled out, stared at the wall, thought about stuff, and just generally didn’t have to deal with mad London for a little bit. That was really good to do, I wrote a lot of music and really got myself together.”

Did he ever think about giving up on music?

“Well, it might have come to a point where I didn’t have a choice,” he says. “The money wouldn’t last forever. I was getting little bits and bobs from publishing and stuff like that, but if I’d had to get a job I would have done. I’ve never been particularly worried about that. I had a lot of jobs before I started making music. It’s not like I’ve got that stigma of I’ve been a musician and now I don’t know what the fuck to do,” he laughs.

“But, no, I never thought about giving it up. I’d never give it up anyway. If you like doing music that much you never stop doing it, regardless of whether you’ve got a deal or the money or not.”

Allsopp went back into the studio to record an EP, which he funded himself. It was to prove the beginning of a new start for the musician. A friend of his took the EP to a meeting he was having with Elton John’s management. They liked it and before he knew it Allsopp had, not only John’s management on the phone, but the man himself as well.

“Luckily I didn’t go, ‘Yeah, whatever, bollocks. Who is it really?’,” laughs Allsopp. “I can’t even remember what I was doing, probably staggering around in my dressing gown, or something. He just goes, ‘Hello darling, it’s Elton’, and I went, ‘Sorry?’, and he said, ‘It’s Elton, Elton John’, and I went, [long pause] ‘Oh, all right then’.

“It’s funny now because I’ll be sat around with my mates or something and I’ll get a call and I’ll be like, ‘All right Elton, how you doing?’, and they just give me this look. But as with anyone, once you’ve met them and talked to them, everyone’s the same.

“I worked at a TV company for a while and there was all kinds of people coming in, people like Jonathan Ross, Joanna Lumley, Nigel Hawthorne, big actors and stuff. But when you stir someone enough cups of coffee, and talk to them when they come in in the morning, you realise that it’s all a bit of an illusion.”

Which brings us neatly to the subject matter of his current single Starz In Their Eyes, a sunny look at the dark side of fame, namely the fast track to household name status people get on by appearing on shows such as Big Brother and The X Factor. More catchy and memorable a pop record than Shayne Ward will ever record, it warns those that are attracted by the lifestyle of the not so rich but very famous that they’re likely to come unstuck.

“It’s not seeing fame in a terrible light as such, but it’s a bit of a cautionary tale,” says Allsopp. “I’m not particularly judging it that much - I think you take a risk complaining about a lifestyle, sometimes, because you know it’s happened and it’s kind of inevitable.

“But the song is about X Factor and shows like that, and it’s also generally about the media and the industry and celebrity and all that kind of stuff, without it being about one particular thing.

“But I think with those kind of programmes a lot of people get trampled on. Although they go into it willingly, and they know what’s going to happen, they still do, it’s a weird thing. Like with Big Brother, you could say that seven years on people shouldn’t be doing it if they don’t want to be in that position, but people still do.

“At some point, though, maybe the people that make those programmes need to be a bit accountable for what happens to the people when they’re all washed up and discarded afterwards.

“It almost annoys me when people who are really talented do go on shows like that, like X Factor. I saw a girl on it the other night, I just happened to skip through it, and she was amazing. I thought, God if only she had done a couple of gigs or something locally, got a manager involved to get interest and then you could bypass all the shit and actually do it in a proper way.

“It’s so hard, I think, to go from those kinds of things into a sort of career with some sort of integrity, because you’ve already lost your integrity, in a way, by going on there. It’s a strange thing.”

Despite all you’ve been through yourself, you’re still a supporter of the old-fashioned way of doing it?

“Well most people do it that way. I just think that people don’t take you that seriously. If you think about the people that have come from those shows, only Will Young has done it.”

Girls Aloud?

“Yeah, I suppose,” he laughs. “I’m not sure people take them seriously.”

They’ve got a greatest hits out, they’ve obviously done well.

“Yeah they have, that must mean something,” he laughs again. “No comment,” he adds with a grin. “I’m just not a big fan of pure pop music, but a lot of people obviously like it.”

Thing is, Allsopp himself creates pop music. While he’s compared to Mike Skinner of The Streets for his talk-style rapping and everyday subject matter, he has as much in common with that other artist he’s been compared to, Lily Allen, again for the witty lyricism but also for his knack for writing instantly catchy pop melodies. Mike Skinner could never be accused of that.

“Yeah,” agrees Allsopp. “But what I do is not pure pop music in that it feels like a bunch of marketing men sitting down and writing a big list of things that will definitely sell to a particular group of people, and then carrying it out. It’s not like a military operation at all.

“The pop element of my music comes virtually by accident because I just happen to write hooks and choruses that have a catchiness to them. I hope, anyway. It quite surprised me in the first place when it veered towards that. I never really planned that.”

Did you fight against it?

“I did at first. I was a little bit concerned about it. I just didn’t see myself in that area. But I think there are people who do go into the pop area and manage to keep their sanity. It’s about integrity isn’t it?

“As long as you keep doing what you set out to do, I think that’s cool. If you get swayed by things, or try and repeat bits that worked, or if you get too many A&R men telling you what to do, it’s a problem.”

Allsopp says that, even though he’s now on a major label, the A&R people have pretty much left him alone to do his thing. You can hear that’s the case on new album Overtones - it feels very much like a follow-up to The Outer Marker in terms of sound and lyrical style.

But the first album was dominated by songs about relationships, with only the occasional foray into other subjects such as the problems of living up to the ideal of being a ‘lad’ on Lesson One, and a nostalgic look back at the 80s on Snapshot Memories. Allsopp alludes to the fact that this was because his own relationship experiences were preying on his mind at the time.

These days Allsopp says he’s in a settled relationship, though he’s shy about talking about it. But the varied subject matter of the songs on Overtones certainly suggest he’s no longer mulling over that aspect of his life as much.

“On the first album every bloody image was from my memory,” says Allsopp. “Every lyric I could connect with a particular time. The second one, it’s all stuff that I connect with, taken from people I’ve met, or had friendships with. But it’s much more general.

“It’s much more about how people are in general, rather than saying my life’s this or that. I’m saying, we’re all kind of like this really. I’ve always tried to look for the truth in things. That’s what songs are about, trying to find the essence of something, whatever that thing may be.”

New song Hold On is a thoughtful musing about getting older, one of the few songs on Overtones that is from Allsopp’s point of view. The lyrics see him watching his youth retreating into the past as he and his friends settle down, and he’s not sure what to make of it. He sings, ‘Everything’s changed but I can’t complain, ’cos I’m doing pretty well all told’. At 31, it’s an experience he’s continuing to go through.

“Three of my best mates are about to have kids, one his second kid,” he says. “Two of them are getting married, one of them next year. Everything is changing and you have to come to terms with it, I guess. You can’t carry on being a teenager forever.

“Everybody goes through it and not a lot of people write about that kind of thing. I’m like, shit, I will probably soon have kids, I might soon get married, have a mortgage, all them kind of things. I won’t be able to just drop everything and fuck off when I want to. It’s a thing I think about quite a lot, definitely.”

Are you planning on having kids soon?

“No,” he laughs. “I’m not about to have kids at all, no.” He thinks. “Er, no.”

What about marriage?

He smiles. “No, not that either.”

You’ll do that when you grow up.


It doesn’t look like you’ll ever be able to take the boy out of Camden either. Allsopp has lived in the north London borough all his life and it’s clear this Mecca for lovers of alternative music has had a huge influence on both Allsopp the man and the musician, even though he himself says he was unaware of it

“I used to go down Camden Palace a lot, which is now called Koko,” he says. “I used to go there every Friday for rave things there, when I was like 15 or 16. But that was about the only thing in Camden that I can remember I liked doing.

“People always say it must have been an inspiration growing up in London, but you don’t really notice the things that specifically inspire you. It’s just your life at the end of the day.”

Rave was the musical movement that really inspired Allsopp, in particular the bedroom studio mentality that it cultivated. It got him recording his own music at home, and as such he is a staunch supporter of the claim that rave was the last big influential musical movement this country experienced, and not just the debauched, illegal party it was portrayed as by middle England media.

“I always get pissed off with people thinking that it wasn’t important to music, and to people’s lives,” he says. “The sad fact is a lot of people think of glowsticks and dummies and neon clothes and smiley faces and all that shit.

“But before all the fucking paraphernalia, there was just a normal kind of thing going on that was amazingly exciting. People were making this music in their bedrooms, a lot of the time for the first time. They were sticking it on a dub plate and playing it that Friday. It was the first time where things happened that quickly, and every week there was a new tune that you could hear that would be amazing.

“The crudeness of it as well, is what I really love about it. A lot of the stuff wasn’t amazingly sophisticated or that well put together, but at the time a lot of the speeded up breakbeat stuff that I was listening to, I thought was absolutely amazing. I never thought I would listen to anything else.

“I think it was very important. Out of that scene came drum’n’bass, bands like The Prodigy, and you wouldn’t have had jungle or UK garage. A lot of music came out of rave.”

Do you think there’s been anything as influential since?

“Not really. Some of rave music was absolutely amazing - really interesting noises and really strange things going on. It wasn’t just music to party to. But I’m still very nostalgic about it. It was just a great, great time, and it felt as exciting, I’m sure, as it did for people who went to the first punk gigs, or people who went to rock’n’roll shows.”

But that’s very much Allsopp’s past and he’s very much looking to 2007 when he’s hoping to win over the masses and follow in the footsteps of fellow Londoners Lily Allen and Jamie T in making likeable pop music without the whiff of cheese. As Allen has found, however, with pop success comes fame and all kinds of attention, some unwanted. Given Allsopp’s own views on becoming famous, how will he cope with it himself?

“I don’t know how I feel about it really,” he says. “It’s part of it, isn’t it? If you make music and other people like it and you want it to be a success, then it’s kind of a by-product of it. You have to deal with it, I suppose. I don’t think anyone’s that happy with it, unless you’re a hungry attention seeker and love it for some psychological reason. I can’t see why you’d like people constantly recognising you and shit like that.

“Hopefully it will never get that silly. I think a lot of people who actually get to that level are courting it a lot anyway. I think they’re saying that they’re pissed off with it, but they’re publicist is still calling the papers and telling them so and so will be at this place at this time. If you want to stay out of it you can to a certain extent. But we’ll see what happens.”