Sunday, 12 December 2010

Good things in N16 during 2010

Here's ten good things that happened in Stoke Newington during 2010. What did I miss?

  • Work on Clissold Park not only started, but really got going in a major way. Looks like the nearly £9m it'll cost might actually be worth it. Photos here
  • The old Town Hall on Church Street finally re-opened. Not that I've been in much, but I will. And it looks great
  • Betty Layward primary school got a good new (acting) head teacher who both teachers and parents like. Phew
  • Homa. Classy eatery that could compete with many better known places
  • Mouse and De Lotz opened on Shacklewell Lane. Probably the best coffee around Stokey
  • Stoke Newington school refurb finished. Really quite impressive now
  • The Lion on Church Street eventually reopened. With bright lights. This time last year i was beginning to think it would never reopen
  • North East London Gymnastics Club took over the old Zoomaround building on Milton Grove and did a fantastic refurb to make it a superb gym and dance venue for children
  • Butterfield Osteopathy opened on Allen Road. Lovely space I hear
  • Albion Road, previously a cyclist death trap due to pot holes, finally got re-surfaced

My next blog post will be ten less than good things about N16. Your suggestions welcome.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Clissold Park update

Quick update on the Clissold Park project. Work is cracking on at a high speed, with workers on site 6 days a week and often until gone 7pm. This is the last week of the old playground, before it closes on November 1st, presumably to be demolished so the space can be incorporated into what looks like being the largest children's playground in N. London. It's pretty much the size of a football pitch. Rumours are flying about how far parents will come to visit. Some are even saying it will increase the demand for flats and houses nearby from parents of young children.

In the last week or so the beginnings of the new "Wheels" skatepark can be seen. The full map of the play area can be found here, but the section below is the detail of the skatepark.

And here's what it actually looks like today, Oct 28th:

Speaking to the construction crew I was told that it was due to be finished by Christmas, although the whole space won't be open to the public until March at least. For Hackney, this appears to be an exceptionally well run project. What could go wrong?

Sunday, 25 July 2010


I used to like the pizza place on the raised ground floor of what was called "Booths" on Church Street. But since the food inspectors found unsavoury things in the kitchen I've been banned from going. So it's a relief that something new, and hopefully good, has now opened up in it's place. Homa, just opened, is a cafe and deli, with a restuarant downstairs. Will report back once I've tried it out.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Clissold Park skatepark

With the restoration of Clissold Park we are promised a new skatepark, due in 2011. Having a son who is skateboard mad, and being an ex-skater myself many years ago, this is a subject of great interest in our house. The new park is going to be built on the eastern end of the grounds of the old redgra all-weather pitch, which as far as I can see was mainly used by dog owners as a dog toilet. Nice.

In recent weeks two interesting things have come to light. Firstly, Hackney Council have published an artist illustration of the new playground area. You can see it here.

Secondly, it seems that a company has been chosen to build it - Freestyle - according to an interview on the newly launched Clissold Skatepark site

I have started taking weekly photos of the space where the park will be built to track development and provide an archive of how it will be transformed. You can see the photos on Flickr, here.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

iPlayer v3 radio console

So after a fairly long wait, iPlayer v3 beta is now public. There's been lots written on it, but mainly from a TV point of view, so here's a brief run down of what's new for radio fans who use the iPlayer console to listen live or on-demand.

Firstly, the pop-out console is a new size and shape. It now most resembles a smartphone... which is clearly not a coincidence!

The main new features are:

1. Favourites: ability to add programme brands as "favourites", which then are available under the Favourites tab. It'll remember them with a cookie, but if you register and log in you it'll work across different machines. This is a major step forward and will make using the console a whole lot better for regular users who know what they like.

2. Recommend: ability to recommend programmes, and for those recommendations to be seen by your friends on Facebook and Twitter, if you've linked your accounts, and in the main iPlayer site. Great if you like telling your friends what you like listening to. Don't we all?

3. Station presets. You can now edit which radio stations you want under the Stations tab, including adding local stations. A pretty basic but essential addition.

The other really significant change is that there are no longer full "item" or "episode" pages for each radio programme in the iPlayer site. From now on, to get more programme information, there's one definitive place to go to get it - the radio station site, which should have all the basic programme information and any other rich content produced. This means there is no longer duplication between iPlayer and station site, which is a good thing for users (less confusion about where to go) and for SEO (no more splitting incoming links).

The other features are based in the main iPlayer site, so I won't go into detail about those, but read what Anthony Rose has to say for more.

Overall, this represents a fairly big move forward for BBC radio in iPlayer, mainly because the previous console was feature-lite, to say the least. There are lots more exciting develpments coming later this year with the next major iteration of the console, known as "Radioplayer". I'll blog about that nearer the time.

Check the beta iPlayer here

Music listening, April 2010

2010 is turning out to be a good musical year already, in my book. Still can't get the Laura Veirs "July Flame" album out of my head - this will be one of the albums of the year for sure. Jonsi - Sigur Ros frontman - makes what sounds like, well, a Sigur Ros album, which is not to be sniffed at. Laura Marling comes back with her second album. We loved her first one to bits - really - and whilst the second is taking longer to really get under my skin it's getting there. She's still only 20, which when you listen to the album is slightly scary.

New for me in April were the very acoustic Belgian band Isbells, and I came late to two bands that have been around for a while: The Decemberists (lots of folk think their "Hazards of Love" album was one of the best of 2009) and Danish band Efterklang, whose name had always put me off before.

From the US came Beach House with their album "Teen Dream", and Local Natives' "Gorilla Manor". Both excellent.


1. Go Do - Jonsi
2. Norway - Beach House
3. As long as it takes - Isbells
4. Goodbye England - Laura Marling
5. Wide Eyes - Local Natives
6. The Hazards of Love - The Decemberists
7. Alike - Efterklang
8. Where are you driving? - Laura Veirs

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Is Steve Lamacq the UK Bob Boilen?

Been thinking about why we don't have an equivalent to National Public Radio's wonderful "All Songs Considered", which is a weekly radio programme, podcast and blog that has been made for NPR since 2000. The show aims to introduce the listener to new music from a wide variety of genres that is generally not heard on other radio stations. It works for me principally because of its presenter, Bob Boilen, who manages to be informative, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and opinionated all at the same time - quite a feat. It's a very personal listen, which plays to radio's strength.

Now of course we have plenty of radio shows in the UK aimed at playing new music, such as Zane Lowe, Huw Stephens, John Kennedy (XFM) and many others (please suggest your recommendation below). But somehow they are not the same as All Songs Considered: perhaps because they focus mainly on up and coming artists who you pretty much won't have heard of, but also because of their pace. What I like about All Songs is the relaxed tone which means that rather than simply fitting in as many songs as possible, Bob Boilen gives time to give some context, some history, some musical comparisons and some opinion beyond "this is great". So, rather than a playlist of songs you haven't heard, it becomes a journey you are willing to go on because you value what is being said. I often find myself listening to music I wouldn't normally give ear-time to simply because of Bob's introduction.

Then last night it occurred to me - maybe we do have an equivalent: Steve Lamacq's Radio 2 show, not his 6Music daily outing, is perhaps the nearest we come to All Songs Considered. It's recently moved from late Wednesday night to late Saturday night (clearly aimed at the on-demand listener!). Lamacq sounds relaxed and happy, he takes the time to introduce new music with context, and doesn't only play brand new bands but also introduces you to music from established but generally under the radar artists who are probably never going to be top ten. Sure, it's not cutting edge like Huw or Zane can be, but it's a good listen, and at just one hour in total, is an easily digestible slice of on-demand audio.

Now if only we could make that available in full as a podcast...

If I've missed other programmes which could be described as the UK's All Songs Considered, let me know here.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

What I'll miss if BBC 6 Music disappears

NB these are my own personal views, nothing to do with my employer.

I'm not going to go through the arguments for keeping BBC 6 Music, they have been covered in much detail in many other places, and it probably wouldn't be a good career move to do so here... But I have been thinking about content, and specifically what I'll most miss if 6Music were to disappear completely. My start point is that I see 6Music as an alternative to what's currently of offer - BBC or commercial - so it follows that the programmes that hit home most for me are those that are in very short supply elsewhere.

Firstly, Lauren Laverne. I was one of probably many people who tried to get Lauren onto 6Music for many years through conversations with senior people at the BBC, so was overjoyed when she arrived in late 2009. It's not easy to create a five-day-a-week 3-hours-a-day radio show which still manages to sound genuinely passionate about the music at every turn, and balances the needs of a mid-morning slot with the audience demand for something that doesn't sound too mainstream. But somehow Lauren's show does it. There aren't many daytime shows - in my view - which are of a quality that justify listening to on-demand, but this show is so full of great features, interviews, sessions and Lauren herself that it does. Now that the programme often has chapter points in, you can quickly get to the bits you're most interested in which makes it a whole lot more web-appropriate.

Secondly, Gideon Coe. Gideon has been on 6Music since the start back in 2002. His late night mon-thurs show is terrific. I've often said that Gideon is one of the UK's most skilled interactive presenters; not in a in-your-face "text now" manner, but in a subtle, genuine ability to use audience contributions intelligently. His message board topic - on which he regularly posts - is still one of the best we have. His approach to engaging with the audience is so natural to him that he doesn't need to make a big song and dance about it, which means the show is more two-way than just about any other. But you wouldn't know if you tuned in for 10 minutes - it's too subtle for that. The only downside, imho, is the extended live concert section which is too long for me and should be broken up.

Talking about 6Music programmes you cannot of course not mention Adam and Joe. Saturday morning is a great slot because you have a large potential audience who are not as rushed and busy as they are during the week, but at the same time many stations put on high profile shows at this time so the competition is fierce. But the sheer originality, humour and distinctiveness of Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, combined with a very personal approach to introducing new and interesting music, means that the show cut through the Saturday morning competition and became the stations' most popular slot.

Then there are a bunch of more specialist weekly shows that, combined, sum up the distinctiveness of 6Music for me. Guy Garvey's Sunday night show is required listening. More thoughts on Guy Garvey here. Craig Charles' Saturday evening Funk and Soul show is one of those perfectly scheduled shows that plays a mix of music that could only be curated on 6Music. Stuart Maconie's Sunday afternoon Freak Zone is perhaps the stations most musically unique offering, and truly alternative to any offered on BBC or commercial radio. It is, perhaps, almost the definition of public service popular music broadcasting. Often a challenging listen, sometimes willfully unusual, but you'll always learn something about a range of music commercial radio wouldn't even recognise as music. The same could probably be said of Jarvis Cocker's new Sunday afternoon show, which is shaping up to be another 6Music hit.

Lastly, my favourite part of Steve Lamacq's weekday show, Roundtable. Being old enough to fondly remember the original Roundtable on Radio 1, this is pure joy.

Those are the programmes that I'll miss most if 6Music ceases to exist in 2012.

What did I miss?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Music listening, Feb 2010

Some excellent new music around right now, from Midlake's deep and wonderful second album to Laura Veirs lovely "July Flame" to young trumpet player Matthew Halsall's first full length album. I saw Matthew Halsall play live at the Vortex in Dalston and it was the most fun I've had at a jazz gig for ages, whilst Midlake at Wilton's Music Hall was truly memorable in the most unusual venue I can remember.

  1. Midlake - "Acts of Man"
  2. Laura Veirs - "July Flame"
  3. Vampire Weekend - "Cousins"
  4. The Unthanks - "Here's the tender coming"
  5. Volcano Choir - "Island,IS"
  6. The Dry Spells - "Too Soon For Flowers"
  7. Laura Gibson - "Spirited"
  8. Fever Ray - "When I Grow Up"
  9. Matthew Halsall - "Colour Yes"


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Podcast listening - January 2010

Podcasts were so over-hyped by the media industry 3 or 4 years ago that it seems to me a perfect example of the old cliche: their importance was over emphasized in the short term, but under emphasized in the long term.

Nowadays some people in the industry seemed to have moved on and forgotten all about podcasts - they didn't kill radio/we can't make money from them so we can ignore them. This seems a mistake to me. Think of podcasts as portable, on demand, personalised audio (or radio), and they seem less like a mid-noughties fad and more like the future of personal media consumption. Don't tell the conference organisers though, or we'll end up with more sessions on how podcasting is the death knell of radio. Which it isn't, because live radio has a long life left in it. The biggest problem remaining is that many people still don't know what a podcast is or why they'd want one, which is a challenge we're tackling head on at the BBC this year.

More to the point, it's time for the annual podcast clear out: I've looked at what I'm subscribed to but in reality don't get round to listening to. Like most people I know who listen to podcasts, the temptation is always to subscribe to more, which means it's inevitable that you end up with a whole bunch which never get heard.

Having just been through this process, this is what I'm left with: some new, some old, all good.

Media Talk from the Guardian. Entertaining, informative and infuriating in equal measure, it's a must listen.

All Songs Considered from NPR. This is my favourite music related podcast. NPR presenter Bob Boilen offers his personal take on the most interesting new music of the week. His thoughtful, paced, intelligent presenting style makes this a laid back listen. The context he gives to the tracks he's chosen makes you listen to the music even if you don't initially like the sound of it. He's become one of my most trusted music guides. Really worth listening to his round up of 2009 with his producer and fellow NPR music folk.

Radio Talk from the Radio Academy. Trevor Dann turns out to be really quite a good host of this weekly half hour radio industry show. Trevor has - in my view - been heavily influenced stylistically by some excellent NPR presenters, which is a good thing. If you work in radio, this is a must.

The Word podcast, from The Word magazine. Most weeks, this is pure joy. Frankly, it shouldn't be, given that it's two or three middle aged men sat round an office who all like the sound of their own voice just a little too much, talking loosely about music matters. But it is. David Hepworth, Mark Ellen, Andrew Harrison and Fraser Lewry, with occasional guests such as Danny Baker or Steve Lamacq, have somehow conjured podcast magic. Addictive.

Car Talk from NPR. Two American brothers - Tom and Ray or Click and Clack - take phone calls from listeners about cars and car related issues. Not, I agree, on the face of it, a rivetting listen. But it is. I reckon this gives more of an insight into American life than any amount of US TV imports. Really quite addictive even if you have no interest in cars, which is quite a feat.

Tech Weekly from the Guardian. The audio counterpart to the paper's extensive technology journalism. It's not particularly professional sounding, mainly because the contributors - Charles Arthur, Bobbie Johnson and Jack Schofield and presenter Aleks Krotoski - have good tech knowledge but lack radio presenting skills. But still worth paying attention to.

Zane Lowe's Hottest Records. A music recommendations mini-podcast. Only about 6 minutes long, this weekly edit from his Radio 1 show is perfect for catching up with Zane's take on music. Yes it only has 30" music clips in, but it really doesn't matter in this context.

6 Music daily music news from BBC 6 Music. I like this principally because it's short - usually under 5 minutes - so fits in with those annoying times on public transport when you don't have time to listen to something longer. Also, it doesn't follow the standard press release driven music news agenda.

Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode from BBC Five Live. Now extended to two podcasts per week, due to the schedule change which means they have a weekly two hour show which soley focusses on film matters. Part two is what i listen to as it includes the film reviews; part one tends to be interviews which are more hit and miss for me. Simon and Mark's friendship spills out making this one of the warmest and wittiest pod listens.

Notable mention should also go to Adam & Joe, Desert Island Discs, Jazz Library, On The Media, Stephen Fry, Bending Corners, and The Bitterest Pill.

As you can see, I haven't made a distinction between podcasts that originate from broadcast radio and those created just for online.

Any recommendations for things I should be listening to?