Hard News by Russell Brown

You had to be there

If the Lions play anything like they did against Argentina this morning, it is going to be a very long tour of New Zealand for them. In scrambling a draw against a largely second-string Pumas side they looked short on pace, cohesion, leadership and commitment. And are there really no better opensiders than Lewis Moody? Presumably they'll improve, but that was very poor.

The strangest sight was that of Clive Woodward delivering instructions on what to do with two late penalties via the suspended Neil Back, who was down on the touchline wearing an earpiece. That seemed like a funny way to develop on-field leadership, and it may be that this massive touring party - now nearing 100 individuals - will collapse under the weight of its own management. I keep expecting that any moment they'll add a specialist bootlace-tying coach.

The All Black selectors have meanwhile declined to give Joe Rokocoko any further chance to show some form, packing him off with the sevens squad to learn how to run, pass and tackle again. If they're to pick the wings on form, Rico Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu will start the tests, but we'll see. It also looks like the selectors want to start Muliaina at centre rather than fullback - or at least line him up as cover for centre to give themselves an option of selecting another specialist back (Mehrtens?) in the reserves. Probably not a bad idea.

Great Blend 3 on Saturday night was a step up in a number of ways, but it came off very nicely; which, to my mind, shows the value of preparation. I was mostly concerned with keeping up the pace of proceedings and starting and finishing everything roughly on time. There were a handful of no-shows (including my new business partner, who, um, got the wrong night) but we had about 50 more people than we had seating for anyway.

David Herkt was well-primed to talk about High Times The New Zealand Drug Experience, 1960-2005 and the clips from it were effective, as was the video throughout the night. I think I'll make video a regular part of the events from now on. (And thanks to our man from Oceania, who made a good call in moving and resetting the projector 15 minutes before kick-off.)

Everyone on the panel was good, but judging from the response, Gordon Dryden was the star. He is officially a Cool Old Dude. He and John Campbell hadn't met before, and seemed to bond pretty enthusiastically afterwards. Gordon emailed yesterday to say: "As one who's done a fair number of after-dinner speeches, I was amazed that 280-plus intelligent people could stay interested for an hour or so from 9.30."

Absolutely. In fact several people said afterwards that the panel discussion could have gone on longer, but it had already run about 70 minutes and after two hours on stage and weeks of organisation I was running out of steam myself. I wanted to clock off and enjoy the Phoenix Foundation.

Who were beautiful. I've seen them play three or four times and that was way the best. Favourites from their new album: 'Damn the River' and 'Nest Egg'. You-had-to-be-there sight: Tom Scott giving it maximum jive down the front. (Matt Buchanan has a whole lot of pictures of the band in the gallery accompanying this post.)

"You're such a cultural nationalist," Tze Ming told me afterwards.

Yeah, guilty as charged. But just as much, I'm interested in cultural emergence. I think it would be a suffocating living somewhere where the canon was set in stone.

A gang off us headed off eventually to Shanghai Lil's, where we stayed until they threw us out. It's fair to say I was feeling very fine. It's also fair to say I'm feeling less than fine now that the cold I was fending off all last week has finally come down on me.

Amanda Wheeler from Vortex.net has blogged the evening, and had a great time, apart from those interjections. Robyn Gallagher has a review too. Anyone else out there?

I also chaired a panel on writers in exile on the Friday night at the Readers & Writers Festival, which I found a little strange. The writers were all nice, but we started late, I'm not sure that any of them actually kept to their agreed five minutes' reading (I was told afterwards that no one ever actually does) and I was unused to the sight of members of the audience listening with their eyes shut. The hour was done before we'd really had the discussion we were supposed to have. I felt frustrated, but two people who were in the audience assured me it was perfectly fine as these things go.

I went back up to the green room (where I'd earlier spoken briefly to Alice Sebold and run into my old friend Stella Duffy), forlornly asked whether anyone had a rugby score, then nipped out to catch the second half of the Super 12 semi at Float, alongside boozed, balding men and people thinking about eventually having sex with each other. The Crusaders blew away the Hurricanes and look nigh unbeatable in this competition.

My interview with Anthony Bourdain is in the Listener this week.

As I mentioned earlier, I am currently much taken with the Phoenix Foundation album Pegasus; a bit less so with the Fat Freddy's Drop album, which sort of drifts on by when I play it. Other listening: Arular, the debut album by the British-Sri Lankan dancehall artist M.IA. has some really good tunes, although I suppose to the uninitiated it might just sound like a lot of crashing, bleeping and chanting. And the Lucinda Williams Live at the Filmore double CD sounds quite a lot like Williams' recent albums, which is a testament to the unvarnished nature of her studio work. I like that a lot.

First I was right about Uzbekistan, and now this. Idolblog quotes me from a year ago on the prospects for Ben Lummis with his new record company.

And you might want to watch Paul Holmes tonight. It looks like Alison Mau's blogging report, featuring me and DPF among others, is finally going to air.