Friday, October 20, 2017

Naming rights (and wrongs)

We haven't yet had to take our new cat to the vet, but I'm not looking forward to having to publicly confess to owning a pet called Sparkles. It's embarrassing enough having to shout it out of the back door each evening, and it really doesn't help knowing that vets like Bradley Curtis make all kinds of (probably justifiable) assumptions based on the monikers of those booked in to see them.

Curtis is right to warn against naming in pairs because "you're setting yourself up for tragedy". When our budgie Vic died, we felt so sorry for poor Bob that we were compelled to go out and buy two more budgies and christen them Rita and Sue - thereby compounding the problem.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Accept yourself

I was already a fan of Chris Packham for his trenchant opposition to the badger cull, attacks on the Countryside Alliance and skill at peppering episodes of Springwatch with the titles of songs by The Smiths, The Cure, The Clash and David Bowie. But this week's documentary Chris Packham: Asperger's And Me, a courageous and intimate portrait of the private struggles of a very public figure, really sealed the deal.

Packham wasn't diagnosed with high-functioning autism until his forties, but admits he'd known for decades that his brain worked differently - starting with his childhood obsessions, which were deeper and more all-consuming than those of others. His descriptions of experiencing the world around him as a kind of hyperreality were fascinating - something that is often draining but can occasionally be savoured.

Given that he finds social interactions so awkward and uncomfortable that he lives alone and hasn't been to a party in ten years, the fact that he's managed and concealed his condition to such an extent that he's been able to work as a TV presenter is remarkable. Now, though, he's decided the time is right to open up about his experiences in the hope of shining a light on a condition that, while universally recognised, remains widely misunderstood.

Perhaps the key misunderstanding is that being diagnosed with autism is some kind of curse. Certainly, Packham pulled few punches about the lows, but he also stressed the advantages of the condition - his obsessive love for and encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife, for instance, which got him to where he is today, or the methodical attention to detail and creative thinking without which Silicon Valley wouldn't exist. It all supports his case that the currently pitiful number of autistic adults in full-time employment - just one in every six in the UK - constitutes an appalling waste of valuable human resources.

Ultimately, the message of this touching hour-long film was that autism isn't something to be "treated" or "corrected" (or zapped like a cancerous tumour, to use one scientist's analogy), as the advocates of such techniques as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) or the horrifying applied behaviour analysis (ABA) would have us believe; on the contrary, it's something to be accommodated and embraced. The problem essentially lies not with the individual but with society.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The politics show

Another night, another tremendous gig: hot on the heels of superlative shows by The Jesus And Mary Chain and Public Service Broadcasting came Nadine Shah's appearance at the Globe on Sunday, with Hull punks LIFE in tow (reviewed here for Buzz). Most of the set was drawn from new LP Holiday Destination, and it wasn't hard to see why - it's a significant step up from anything she's done before (and neither Love Your Dum And Mad nor last year's Fast Food were exactly shoddy). Given my home city's largely heinous contribution to music over the years, it's a relief to find another Geordie artist about whose work I can genuinely enthuse.

This Drowned In Sound interview makes for good background reading if you're just starting to explore Holiday Destination for the first time - and of course the fact that it concludes with her branding Morrissey "a fucking bellend" and saying "he's gonna make me eat meat again" only makes me love her more.

Know Your Enemy

"I don't even like them, but the kind of guys that I like have to be three things: strange, malnourished and sad. Those guys always like Radiohead, so I've been having to pretend to like Radiohead for years to get these men, even though the music is just elaborate moaning and whining for ringtone sounds."

FOX News correspondent Kat Timpf shares her carefully considered thoughts on Radiohead, following their nomination for entry into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame. I can't see them being too bothered, to be honest.

Incidentally, I've been recently enjoying Phil Selway's soundtrack for the film Let Me Go, due out soon on Bella Union - a bleak but also beautiful listen.

It's what she would have wanted?

We've had stories of bands giving away the ashes of former members together with copies of their new album, and I've previously written about the possibility of getting your own remains incorporated into a record. Now IDLES have announced that at the end of the month they'll be releasing a limited edition of 100 records that pay tribute to Joe Talbot's mum in a fairly unusual way.

The vocalist explains: "My old dear didn't have the luxury of finding something that could save her; I've had her ashes pressed into 100 vinyl to symbolise just how important she was to this album, to this band and of course to me and my drive to exist in the most loving and honest me."

I can't say I'd be that comfortable owning a copy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

There is power in a union

After 2015's The Race For Space, Public Service Broadcasting wanted "to do something on a more human level". With this year's successor, Every Valley, a record ostensibly about the coal industry in south Wales but also with broader themes, they've certainly succeeded.

That much was evident on Friday night, when they kicked off their UK tour with a quite remarkable gig here in Cardiff - one during which they expressed their gratitude for all the support they received in creating the album and, in turn, a fiercely partisan crowd saluted their efforts to tell the sorry tale of the industry's collapse to a younger generation. For a band who seem fascinated by the past's visions of the future, they've discovered a talent for bringing people together in the present.

In my review for Buzz, I couldn't help but allude to Luke Turner's accusations of appropriation - though only to underline how the evening made them seem even more preposterous than they already were. I took issue with those accusations back in July, and it turns out that Craig Austin made all the same points a fortnight later in an article for the Wales Arts Review - albeit more convincingly and more eloquently.

Strong but not stable

After an awful party conference - and an especially awful conference address - Theresa May is in desperate need of regaining some semblance of authority and respect. Perhaps she should take a leaf out of Henry Bolton's book, Ukip's new leader having recently claimed he could kill a badger with his "bare hands". Or maybe not - though at least she knows who to turn to if this autumn's extensive (and non-evidenced-based) badger cull falls behind schedule.

Eyes Ears on the Prize

It's been a while, but Sounding Bored is back with Episode 21, which finds host Rob joined by Maria Ilett and Richie Wildsmith of Oxford band The Other Dramas for a discussion of this year's Mercury Music Prize (and those of the past) and some reflections on an album that most thought would never happen: LCD Soundsystem's fourth, American Dream. (I'll offer my own verdict on that once I've actually properly digested it...)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Quote of the day

"What a punch in the soul that is."

Richard Herring's reaction to the news of Sean Hughes' death at the age of just 51.

I can't pretend to be a superfan - I've hardly seen any of Sean's Show, for instance - but always enjoyed his laid-back style, his music geekiness, his sense of poetry, his gentle world-weariness and surrealism, and the warmth that seemed to suffuse everything he did. He never became a megastar - he was too low-key and self-effacing for that - but the responses from fellow comedians and comedy fans have underlined just how highly thought of he was.

Here he is in conversation with Herring for the latter's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast.

Support act

Last year, Noisey very laudably dedicated a whole series of posts to the issue of mental health and music, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, and the site is now reporting on the establishment of Music Minds Matter, a 24-hour helpline for those working in the music industry, funded by Help Musicians UK. Two years ago, it was worrying to note that even those who would most benefit from the charity's services were unaware of its existence, so moves such as this will certainly help to raise its profile.

It's obviously disappointing that it seems to have taken the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington to bring mental health in music fully to the fore, but hopefully now initiatives like Music Minds Matter and Mental Health in Music (launched at the Moon in Cardiff yesterday) plus candid, campaigning musicians such as Nadine Shah (who also spoke out on the issue in Cardiff yesterday, from the stage at the Globe) can help to keep it there.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The show will go on

This year's Y Not Festival in Derbyshire was, by all accounts, an unmitigated catastrophe - aborted due to logistical problems caused by adverse weather conditions and poor infrastructure/planning. So it perhaps comes as something of a surprise to learn that the festival will return in 2018.

Thankfully, organisers Global aren't so naive or stupid enough to think that they can expect punters to part with their money without addressing the various issues that turned attendance into a nightmare. To that end, they've issued a series of pledges, promising to review and improve everything from security to facilities. Whether those pledges are enough to persuade people to sign up, and whether they're actually kept, remains to be seen - but those responsible do at least deserve credit for appearing to take the situation seriously and to acknowledge that big changes are needed.

That said, there doesn't seem to have been any comparable announcement as regards Truck. The Oxfordshire shindig, also run by Global, suffered its own problems last year and, while they certainly weren't on the same scale as those experienced in Derbyshire, it's not clear that lessons have been learned or that valid criticisms of the festival's loss of identity will be addressed for future events.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Net worth

Michael Kirkham's Urban Goals project is a simple one: travelling the country in search of football goals, whether physically constructed out of metal or wood or painted onto walls and fences, and whether carefully designed or crudely created. The results are richly evocative.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Idiots rule

Regardless of boasts about the size of his IQ relative to that of others, it is beyond all reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is a fucking moron. Barely a day goes by without further damning evidence of his idiocy. But Trump's continued insistence on his own intelligence just goes to prove the point made by Ariel Dorfman in an article for the New York Review Of Books: namely, that the US president is not only uninterested in evidence but openly inimical to it.

As Dorfman's piece underlines, we shouldn't simply guffaw at Trump's brazen stupidity and foot-in-mouth gaffes. The truth is that his anti-intellectualism - his "war on knowledge" - is extremely dangerous. The poisonous cocktail of anti-regulatory legislation, muzzling of scientists and deriding of experts, dismissal of fact as "fake news", and suicidal decisions regarding environmental issues is already putting millions of lives at risk, both within the US and worldwide.

Dorfman concludes: "We must nurse the conviction that we can use the gentle graces of science and reason to prove that the truth cannot be vanquished so easily. To those who would repudiate intelligence, we must say: you will not conquer and we will find a way to convince." He's right, of course - but at the present moment the "conviction" on which those actions should be predicated feels more like a desperate hope.

Searching for the young soul rebels

I've written before about the way that distinctive musical subcultures spring up in a particular place at a particular time. What's even more fascinating is when such apparently place-and-time-specific subcultures travel and take root in foreign soil. That's the case with northern soul, which - believe it or not - currently enjoys significant popularity in underground clubs in Japan. The Independent's Duncan Forgan has been to Kobe to report back on how, in a new setting and time period, it's evolved into something subtly but distinctively different.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The money men

This article by the Guardian's Michael Hann is that rarest of things: a piece in praise of the Beach Boys' Mike Love. Love is widely reviled, but Hann argues that his importance as the group's hard-nosed, business-minded member who held everything together - in contrast to their creative genius, flaky, drug-addicted daydreamer Brian Wilson - should be recognised, as should the similar role played by Mick Jagger, Johnny Ramone and Roger Waters in The Rolling Stones, The Ramones and Pink Floyd respectively.

There's some merit in Hann's argument - not least because their level-headedness, prudence and pragmatism all ensured their bands' longevity, and thus gave us more music to enjoy. But his concluding comments about Johnny Marr are revealing. Marr was able to play this role in The Smiths without being a prick (on the contrary, Morrissey was clearly the wanker in that relationship). By contrast, Mike Love is a petty, money-grabbing buffoon with a hugely overinflated ego, while Johnny Ramone was an out-and-proud Republican who took delight in baiting liberals (including his bandmates) and refused to call Joey Ramone when he was in hospital dying of cancer. Those two, at least, don't get their dues simply because, for other reasons, it's hard to look on them favourably.

A well-chosen target

Talented friends, eh? If they're not entertaining crowds the length and breadth of the country with a daft idea perfectly executed, they're co-writing new musicals that garner the attention of the Guardian. Congratulations to Matt, whose musical, the provocatively titled The Assassination Of Katie Hopkins, is set to open in the spring, at Theatr Clwyd in north Wales.

The importance of being Liam

I had little inclination to listen to Liam Gallagher's debut solo record As You Were, and have even less after reading Laura Snapes' Pitchfork review. As she notes, its sheer existence is pointless - or at least it would be if it wasn't for the fact that the incredibly long build-up to its arrival has given us his thoughts on Brexit, his angst at having to make his own cuppa and an insight into his approach to long-haul flights ("I just sit there and stare out the window. Pure mind control, mate. I'm a Zen cunt, me").

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

William: it was really something

Look who's back with a new album (Ogilala), a new accompanying promotional film (Pillbox) and a new name (William Patrick Corgan). Together with a number of other journalists, Fiona Madden was invited to a theatre in London for a screening of the film and then into an underground vault for a live acoustic performance of some of the new songs - and a few old classics - by the bald-bonced one himself, and has reported back on the experience for Drowned In Sound.

In recent years, Corgan - always a notorious egomaniac - has become an increasingly risible figure: buying a wrestling company, railing against political correctness and social justice warriors at every opportunity (including in conversation with Alex Jones on Infowars), "entertaining" visitors to his Chicago tea shop Madame Zuzu's with "an eight-hour ambient jam inspired by Herman Hesse's Siddhartha". And yet I'd still probably hack off a finger for the chance to see him perform 'Tonight, Tonight', '1979' and 'Disarm' at close quarters.

Jayne's addiction

Heard the one about the Hollywood starlet and the founder of the Church of Satan? If not (or even if so), Mansfield 66/67 - from the makers of the Shining documentary Room 237 - promises to be an eye-opener in detailing Jayne Mansfield's (arguably) unlikely relationship with Anton LaVey.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Mum's the word

When Emma Daman Thomas of experimental art-prog-poppers Islet found she was pregnant, she realised she didn't know a single woman to whom she could talk about what it was like being both a musician and a mother. It was her sense of a pressing need to learn about and share such experiences that prompted her to set up More Baby In My Monitor Please, a panel discussion that kicked off her From Now On-affiliated festival The Future Is Female at Chapter on Saturday.

Currently pregnant for the second time, Daman Thomas took her place alongside fellow musicians Gwenno Saunders (who chaired the discussion) and Lisa Jen Brown of 9 Bach and Public Service Broadcasting. Over the course of an hour, the trio tackled a topic that's almost taboo in an industry in which youth is so widely prized, talking about about the self-criticism and guilt (felt internally but subtly imposed from outside), the (im)practicalities of touring and the impact on creativity, before opening up the discussion to the floor.

Fatherhood certainly affects male musicians in ways that filter into their music: Sweet Baboo's latest album Wild Imagination, for instance, is largely about his young son, while Field Music's last LP Commontime was created in the studio in the very finite time that brothers Peter and David Brewis had in amongst childcare responsibilities. But the three panellists (plus Estrons' Taliesyn Kallstrom, absent but represented by a piece specially written for the occasion) were absolutely right in stressing that society continues to regard childcare as the mother's responsibility, and that fathers who disappear off on tour are never subjected to the same level of implicit or explicit judgement or criticism as mothers. Neither are men often perceived as flaky and unreliable as soon as they mention they have children - something that Daman Thomas has endured on more than one occasion.

The consensus was that combining motherhood with a career in music can be tough, and it probably pays to be realistic (which Brown readily admitted she wasn't), but that it's certainly not unfeasible with the support of partners, bandmates and venues. Indeed, as one audience member volunteered from personal experience, far from being "harmed" by periods of parental absence or a lack of regular structure/routine, children can actually benefit from having a musician for a mother, in terms of confidence, sociability, creativity and adaptability.

If the session helped to demystify the experience and allayed some concerns or fears, then it will have done its job - but the feeling was that it might actually inspire something bigger: a network allowing conversations and the sharing of experiences to take place on a larger scale. Watch this space.

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the festival's programme of music in the evening, which featured Lone Taxidermist and Charismatic Megafauna among others. Daryl Feehely's excellent photos give a glimpse of what I missed out on.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Sweet dreams

Yes, it really did happen: the man who once released a single that reeled off a list of legal and not-so-legal intoxicants and that had a rather rude animated video turned up on CBeebies on Friday as the narrator of the Bedtime Story (Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's Zog). In truth, Josh Homme didn't look very comfortable and his delivery was more than a bit wooden, but at least we got to meet his toy dragon Snoop Bob Meatball.

Perhaps to mark the occasion, Homme's chum Iggy Pop played not one but two tracks from the first Desert Sessions album on his 6 Music show that night. While I've largely lost interest in Queens Of The Stone Age's recorded output, I'm keen to see American Valhalla, the film about Homme's collaboration with Iggy, Post Pop Depression - though I should probably actually get the album first...

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"That's a cry from somebody who doesn't understand what they're saying - that's what that means. That's when someone has told them something which they don't like, and which they probably don't understand. It's a knee-jerk kind of thing but it doesn't bear examination for a micro-second."

David Attenborough further cements his hero status (if that's even possible) by rubbishing Michael Gove's claim that "people in this country have had enough of experts". The comment came in an interview with Greenpeace website Unearthed, during which he also described Brexit as "spitting in each other's faces" and the EU referendum as "an abrogation of parliamentary democracy".

The Attenborough-narrated forthcoming BBC series Blue Planet II doesn't yet have a confirmed start date, but we have been treated to a five-minute trailer featuring typically stunning images (so stunning it's hard to believe some of them aren't CGI) and a soundtrack provided by Radiohead, who have reworked King Of Limbs track 'Bloom' in collaboration with composer Hans Zimmer just for the occasion.

Dark matter

Louis Theroux's new three-part series Dark States starts on BBC2 tonight, with a programme about the heroin epidemic that's consuming Huntington, West Virginia. To mark the occasion, Vice's Daniel Dylan Wray has spoken to him about his fascination with drugs and those who (ab)use them and how he manages to earn the confidence and trust of some truly confrontational individuals. Wray is probably a sympathetic interviewer, given his own distinctly uncomfortable experience talking to Curb Your Enthusiasm's Richard Lewis.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Introduction service

BBC Music Introducing celebrated its tenth birthday on 4th October, and has been rightly commended for its promotion of new music, both nationally and locally. The truth, though, is that BBC 6 Music also does that job extremely well. Not having a digital radio in either the car or the kitchen, I listen all too rarely, but last night's poker session presented an ideal opportunity to tune in.

Iggy Pop - these days sounding increasingly like the drawling, deep-voiced cowboy narrator of The Big Lebowski - introduced me to the ferocious punk of 'Aging Jerk' by Drug Church (whose name led him into a long ramble about The Stooges being offered smack on a flight in the early '70s, which must have had his producer at the Beeb having kittens). Meanwhile, an airing of Massive Attack's superb 'Inertia Creeps' made me wonder why I never persevered with Mezzanine. Time to give it another try, methinks.

Iggy's successor in the studio, Tom Ravenscroft, played Surfbort's brilliantly named 'Hippie Vomit Inhaler', a very trashy Sonic Youth with Kim Gordon on vocal duties. Better still was a mix put together by Mogwai that featured (most notably) 'Buried Guns' by Out Lines, a very promising new project from Kathryn Joseph and The Twilight Sad's James Graham, and In Aeternam Vale's 'Dust Under Brightness', electro-minimalism from 1983 that sounds like Factory Floor.

All in all, very welcome exposure to things that would otherwise have never appeared on my radar.

Sexual revolution

Only the other day I found myself in the midst of a rambling rant about the so-called "internet of things" and the fact that it's only a matter of time before household appliances take over and enslave us (I may have had a drink or two at this point).

Labour MP Chi Onwurah shares my concerns, though, and thinks that people might finally wake up to the prospective dangers of this new technology now that "screwdriving" - "short-distance sex-toy hacking" - is a thing. As Onwurah says in an article for the Guardian, this might "sound far-fetched", but it's been recognised by Ben Goldacre and demonstrated by security consultant Alex Lomas, "who wandered the streets of Berlin taking control of Lovense Hush buttplugs".

The article comes to a sniggering conclusion - "Walk-by dildo hacking is the sexy end of the growing security risk posed by the internet of things. I only hope the government sees it coming" - but her central point is serious. She's right - if this means politicians and the general public actually sit up and take notice, then it can only be a good thing.

(Thanks to Ronan for the link.)

Naked ambition

Of all the stories to (re)surface in the wake of Hugh Hefner's death, probably the most interesting was that of Herbert Marcuse. When Playboy approached the German philosopher for an interview in 1970, he consented on one condition: that he would be that issue's centrefold. Unsurprisingly, the magazine that portrayed itself as being at the vanguard of sexual liberation decided that a nude, male septuagenarian was a step too far.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Friday, October 06, 2017

A religious experience

If I go to a better gig this year than The Jesus And Mary Chain at Y Plas on Tuesday night, I'll be absolutely amazed. So good I could forgive them for playing neither 'Never Understand' nor 'April Skies', and for interrupting Sonic Youth's 'Kool Thing' with their intro music (T. Rex's 'I Love To Boogie').

And yet, according to Trev of Oddbox Records and Pop 'N' Hops, a veteran of Mary Chain gigs stretching back to 1988, they were only slightly above average on the night. The mind boggles at the thought of what they might be like when actually on form...

Thursday, October 05, 2017

"Bogglingly unsuccessful"

Being asked to cover the Tory party conference would have been an absolutely plum assignment even before yesterday's speech by Theresa May, the very definition of an omnishambles that beautifully iced the cake. Little wonder, then, that the Guardian's ever-wonderful Marina Hyde revelled in the opportunity to tuck in.

Whether she's marvelling at MPs' redefinition of the word "revolution", comparing the party to cowboy builders, drawing parallels between May and Withnail ("We've called an election by mistake!"), branding Boris Johnson "the Tories' Raoul Moat" or describing Moggmania as "clearly a midsummer night's Downton wank from which the party should have awoken by now", her report from the frontlines is a delight from start to finish.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Salvation army

Hot on the heels of the victory for the Save Womanby Street campaign here in Cardiff comes further heartening evidence of the value of people power with regard to the defence of gig venues. The planning application that threatened the Cellar in Oxford with closure has been withdrawn following a torrent of objections from its many fans (myself and the Sounding Bored crew included). Massive congratulations to all of those who poured their efforts into rallying the troops and fighting the proposals.

As has been underlined by Ronan of Nightshift, though, the battle may have been won but the war is ongoing - and it's vital that music fans continue to turn out in physical (and financial) support of their local venues to keep them open and available as places for young bands to take their first steps.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Radio gaga

How long, wonders the Guardian's Stuart Heritage, before Johnny Marr extends his ban on people who are allowed to like The Smiths (currently just David Cameron) to Morrissey? And with some justification. His article was prompted by the latest in a long line of exceedingly dubious pronouncements from Marr's former partner in crime: using the platform handed to him by BBC 6 Music to promote his new LP with a live set as an opportunity to declare that the recent UKIP leadership election was rigged against far-right candidate Anne Marie Waters.

The claim was met with stony silence during the recording and has since been condemned by those of us with half a brain and sense of decency (though we've had to stifle our yawns first). Predictably, though, if utterly incomprehensibly, Moz still has his acolytes and apologists, who have been quick to argue that their hero isn't racist and that he's only being painted as such by the media, who are willfully distorting the truth. I'm sorry, but he's looked, walked and quacked like a duck for some years now, so it's beyond reasonable doubt that he's a duck. Case closed.

Out of the ordinary

A few weeks ago, I reported on the fact that St Vincent was doing press for her new album MASSEDUCTION armed with a Carrie Brownstein-scripted "interview kit". Credit, then, to the BBC's Mark Savage, then, for managing to successfully navigate through his interview with her without asking any anodyne/cliched questions that might have prompted the kit's use.

He did get a demonstration, though, during a meeting that took place inside a bright pink cube that he had to crawl into, having been led there by a cloaked woman - all part of her plan to "shake things up" and put herself and her interviewers "in uncomfortable positions".

She continues to cement her status as one of the most fascinating artists around. I just hope that at some point she'll put out an album that I can truly love in its entirety.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Girls on film

Lizzy Dening's attempt to acclaim Spice World as a feminist film is admittedly bold, and she does make some valid points about the Bechdel test and the absence of a romance plotline. However, her insistence that the Spice Girls "overthrew their creators" is wide of the mark, especially when she then bizarrely seems to confuse fact and fiction by citing episodes from the film to support her case. In truth, the puppeteers were always in control behind the scenes.

I've written before in dismissive terms about the Spice Girls' alleged feminism and particularly Geri Halliwell's cringeworthy claim that Maggie Thatcher "was the first Spice Girl, the pioneer of our ideology". For me, there seems little doubt that "girl power" was at root about Simon Fuller and his associates getting their paws on the pre-teen pound rather than anything to do with awareness and equality.

But, I have to concede, Dening is nevertheless right in arguing that this cynicism didn't register with or impact on the experience of young fans like herself and Kate Nash. As frivolous as the film and the Spice Girls' whole career were, if they served as an introduction to female empowerment, however facile, then that should be acknowledged.

(Thanks to David for the link.)

Question time

Vice writer Oobah Butler's obsession with Eggheads - the Eggheads themselves, especially Chris; the teams ("Half-UKIP, half-guy who volunteers his Saturdays to keep score at junior cricket"), Jeremy Vine, with a voice "like an upset bear cub" - led him to apply to be on the show "just to fuck with them". However, as he reports in his behind-the-scenes account of the experience, he found that the shoe ended up being on the other foot.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Grand designs

Abandoned buildings feature regularly on this site - but it's not often that I post about such places that are set to be brought back into use.

As this BBC article explains, the train station at Canfranc, in the Pyrenees on the French-Spanish border, is a huge and extraordinarily grand construction that has seemed like a mad folly ever since it opened in 1928. Having fallen into disuse in 1970 and subsequently into disrepair, the building may now be restored, with plans afoot to reopen the lines on both the French and Spanish sides. If it's to be given a new lease of life, though, it won't be resurrected as a station but reincarnated as a hotel, with a new station built adjacent to it.

Much the same has happened in Cardiff, with the historic and impressive Coal Exchange building, which had been disused since 2013, recently reborn as a glitzy hotel - though, in truth, there's no real need for a building that fulfils its original function these days.

Comic riffs

Satire about politics may be suffering from the fact that truth is very definitely currently stranger than fiction, but satire about music remains alive and well. Pitchfork's Marc Hogan has picked out the best 19 Onion music-themed articles, plus one other from ClickHole.

I'm glad to see the inclusion of "New Music Festival Just Large Empty Field To Do Drugs In", "Avoiding Popular Songs Somehow Accomplishment For Local Man" and especially "37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster".

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Piss artists

As arresting claims go, "a river of piss runs through art history" is a good one. The New Yorker's Dan Piepenbring substantiates it with reference to Claude Lebensztejn's new book Pissing Figures, 1280-2014, which details the recurrent depictions of urination in fine art. In so doing, it traces a transition from the innocent, cherubic pissing boy of Renaissance frescoes to the eroticised pissers of twentieth-century art, and the actual use of urine in the creation of artworks. Nevertheless, it just goes to show that an obsession with bodily functions and bodily fluids isn't only a contemporary one, or that it is confined to so-called "low art".

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Good for my soul

It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally going to get to see The Jesus & Mary Chain on Tuesday night (assuming they don't implode between now and then, of course). Here's a short preview I wrote for Buzz.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

In tribute to a tribute

Back in May, the Guardian's Thomas Hobbs wrote a piece explaining "why Elvis's posthumous popularity is plummeting". He should really get himself along to an Elvana show.

I'll be honest - as someone who's been friends with members of the band for more than 20 years, I'm getting some serious vicarious pleasure from seeing them do so well. When we first met, they were performing in a Nirvana covers band - it's funny how these things come full circle (albeit with a twist).

Elvana have taken what might initially seem like a dumb idea - the sort of thing scrawled on the bag of a fag packet after far too many shandies - and thrown themselves into making it work. Their sound is perfect, the stage show is impeccably tight and frontman Paul plays the wayward Elvis/Kurt Cobain impersonator brilliantly, having developed a stand-up's sense of comic timing along the way.

Having caught the shows in Oxford and Birmingham last September, I had the pleasure of seeing them on the current tour in Nottingham (shamefully, my first ever visit to the Rescue Rooms). It was wonderful to watch them completely winning over an initially hesitant crowd and going down so well in another city close to my heart. There was something poetic about meeting up for a post-gig pint around the corner in the Horn In Hand, a venue at which two of them played back in 2006, in what now seems like a former life.

It's evident that Elvana's star is very much in the ascendancy, with ticket sales for the Oxford gig well over the 300 mark - a significant increase on last year, thanks no doubt in part to their show-stealing appearance at the Common People festival in May. They also won a lot of new friends at Camp Bestival in July, including (I gather) CBeebies' Mr Maker...

Far from resting on their laurels, though, they've already announced a new tour for next autumn, including (for the first time) a date here in Cardiff, at the Globe. What else might the future hold? An appearance at the Porthcawl Elvis Festival? A support slot for Foo Fighters? Watch this space.

In the meantime, though, tonight sees them playing their biggest show to date, upgraded to the main room at the Academy venue in their hometown of Newcastle. With a few surprises promised, it's gutting not to be there - but I know plenty of people who will.

Very best of luck, chaps. Take the roof off.

Friday, September 29, 2017

A flat no

The Save Womanby Street campaign scored another notable victory yesterday with the news that the planning application for flats that sparked it off has been withdrawn. No reason was given for the withdrawal, but the scale of the public and political opposition must have been a key factor. The pressure exerted by the campaign had already resulted in the Welsh Assembly government's adoption of the agent of change principle, as well as the possibility of the street being afforded protected status.

The victory was somewhat bittersweet for many of those involved in the campaign, though, coming on the day that it was announced BBC Radio Wales presenter Alan Thompson had died. While I can't comment on his show, having never listened, it's clear from the tributes - which were led by former colleague Rob Brydon - that he was a much-loved figure who, like the venues on Womanby Street, did an enormous amount to promote the Welsh music scene.

Yesterday was also a significant day as regards venues over in Oxford, as the final day to lodge formal objections against the proposals to turn the Cellar into a retail space. There has been a hugely encouraging groundswell of support from punters, musicians (some of significant stature), fellow venues and influential councillors, and I was only too happy to register an objection on behalf of myself and my two fellow founder members of Sounding Bored, given that between us we've both enjoyed watching and playing numerous gigs there over the years.

Meanwhile, the Music Venue Trust - who continue to do sterling and essential work in defence of the nation's gig spaces - have announced that Slaves are among its new patrons. I'm almost inclined to shelve my dislike of them - almost.

Manna from heaven?

Not quite. Californian psych troupe White Manna's appearance at the Moon in Cardiff on Monday was much anticipated (though, it turns out, by far fewer people than might have been hoped), but unfortunately they never really scaled the heights of their records. The gig also saw outings for Deep Hum and fellow locals Infinity Forms Of Yellow Remember, the latter playing only their second show together.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

A questionable attitude

He might not have been flicked in the testicles and threatened with a fake gun, as Alexis Petridis was by Marilyn Manson, but Vice's Daniel Dylan Wray still found his most recent interview something of an ordeal. His interviewee, Richard Lewis, was supposed to be talking about the new series of Curb Your Enthusiasm and his relationship with Larry David, but over the course of an uncomfortable phone conversation he came across as unpredictable and prickly, and seems to have spent most of his time insulting Wray and finally threatening to track him down with a bunch of "classic rock guys" from the Rolling Stones and Procul Harum.

Old dog, new tricks?

Words I never thought I'd ever write: Thurston Moore has recorded a techno album. The revelation came during a conversation with LCD Soundsystem's Tyler Pope for the Talkhouse podcast, shortly after he'd jokingly dismissed the genre as "a braindead exercise of plastic sound" and then clarified "I actually really like a lot of techno, I think it really needs to be discussed in a more academic way than just as music for ding-dongs who like to snort coke and try to get laid".

The album, when (if?) it sees the light of day, won't bear his name, though: "I don't want anyone to come to it with any preconceived idea. Like: 'This insufferable idiot just made a techno record?' Forget about it."


Twenty years ago today, I was listening to Dinosaur Jr's Where You Been while unpacking my stuff in my room in halls at university for the very first time. Where have those two decades gone?! It's fair to say that the album has aged rather better than me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

No easy solutions

The six biggest "gig gripes" recently identified by 6 Music listeners - mobile phone usage, touts, talking, admin fees, cloakrooms and access - probably won't come as much of a surprise, though the resulting article is nevertheless worth a read for its consideration of possible solutions.

Talking through sets (particularly quiet ones) and exorbitant admin fees are two real bugbears of mine, but I'm slightly more conflicted as regards mobile phones. On the one hand, it's immensely irritating to have your view blocked by someone filming a show when you've actually paid money to be there in person - but, on the other, I do regularly enjoy watching fans' footage of gigs on YouTube (which was presumably gained to the annoyance of the punters nearby). While I don't actually film shows myself, I guess that makes me a bit of a hypocrit.

Touts are an obvious scourge, but I disagree with the suggestion that tickets should have names and photos printed on them - after all, this would discriminate unfairly against people who have bought tickets in good faith but then find themselves (for whatever reason) unable to go and simply want to recoup all or some of the money they shelled out. The last thing the live music scene currently needs is another reason to make people hesitant about buying tickets.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hail to the King

The idea of 35,000 people flocking to Porthcawl seems somewhat improbable - but such is the appeal of the world's largest Elvis Festival. On the eve of this year's bash, which took place last weekend, Wales Online's Abby Bolter traced the event's exponential growth since its humble beginnings in 2004.

Sadly, we didn't make it along to soak up the madness, but Buzz photographer Morgan Devine did a good job of capturing the revellers enjoying what is clearly a much-loved celebration of the King (and those who impersonate him).

Monday, September 25, 2017

RIP Screaming Eagle of Soul

In recent years, there haven't been many songs that have knocked me for six in quite the same way as the cover of Black Sabbath's 'Changes' by Charles Bradley, who has succumbed to cancer at the age of 68. He had beaten the disease once and had even went so far as to announce new tour dates - but it then transpired that it had spread from his stomach to his liver.

Bradley had an incredible voice, lived an incredible life (as this Guardian obituary underlines) and was, by all accounts, an incredible man.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"I grew up in Kentucky. I sold insurance door-to-door. I sold ladies' shoes. I worked at an all-night liquor store. I would buy suits that were too big and too long and cut the bottom of the pants off to make ties so I'd have a tie to go on job interviews. I grew up understanding what it was like to not have health insurance for eight years. So this idea that I'm somehow the 'Hollywood elite' and this guy who takes a shit in a gold toilet is somehow the man of the people is laughable."

George Clooney on Donald Trump (of course).

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Feel good hits of the 23rd September

1. 'Loops In The Secret Society' - Jane Weaver
Weaver's breakthrough album, 2014's The Silver Globe, garnered a lot of attention, but this year's Modern Kosmology is arguably better: English psych whooshed off on a magic carpet of retro-futurist synths. 'Loops In The Secret Society' is the standout track, the stupendous answer to the question of what a Sonic Youth and Stereolab collaboration might have sounded like. Definitely one for fans of Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation.

2. 'Silver' - Waxahatchee
Gawd bless good ol' indie rock. I wasn't hugely keen on Katie Crutchfield's breakthrough album, 2013's Cerulean Salt, and haven't heard the follow-up Ivy Tripp, but this track is one of the reasons why newie Out In The Storm has won me over. (It's also prompted me to listen to her sister Allison's band Swearin', who were very good at the Gathering festival in Oxford a few years back but who've since split up. Here's the rather good 'Dust In The Gold Sack'.)

3. 'Nothing Ever Happened' - Deerhunter
Every now and again I find myself listening to this as a reminder of how utterly, utterly magnificent it is. Not that I ever really forget, mind.

4. 'Everyday' - Sacred Paws
Sacred Paws were back in Cardiff last night, for what was (I think) their third appearance this year. With songs like 'Everyday', and on that kind of form, they can come back every week.

5. 'Pretend We're Dead' - L7
The news that "the LA-based feminist grunge punk pioneers of the 90s" are set to release two new singles this autumn naturally prompted me to watch their legendary performance of this song on The Word in 1992. They certainly don't make 'em like that any more.

6. 'Clear Blue Skies' - Sweet Baboo
The gorgeous centrepiece of Sweet Baboo's latest LP Wild Imagination is an invitation to get away from it all, complete with an ambient passage deliberately crafted to sound like something by Brian Eno.

7. 'I'd Kill For Her' - The Black Angels
While I'd generally stand by my original assessment of Death Song - "solid enough, but unlikely to bend minds or scramble senses" - repeated exposure has led me to conclude the album is probably better than that would suggest. I particularly like Alex Maas' impersonation of Jim Morrison in delivering the line "She took us to the killing fields" on this track.

8. 'Deny' - King Woman
King Woman will probably have to live with the tag "hipster doom" and thus face the same opprobrium as Deafheaven, but they're far more interesting than that. 'Deny' and the album from which it's taken, Created In The Image Of Suffering, are cathartic attempts on the part of vocalist Kristina Esfandiari to come to terms with her experience of being raised within the narrow confines of a Christian quasi-cult.

9. 'Pan' - Ty Segall
Does the guy ever sleep? This is from the Sentimental Goblin EP, released in March - two months after his previous release, a self-titled LP. 'Pan' isn't his best, in truth, but it'll tide me over until the next new material. C'mon Ty, pull your finger out - it's been several months now...

10. 'Jimmy Mack' - Animal Collective
Seven months since it was released, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this Martha & The Vandellas cover - but I'm erring towards dislike. It's certainly not as good as 'Kinda Bonkers' from the same EP (The Painters) or 'FloriDada' from previous LP Painting With (insane seizure-inducing video here).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Apocalypse averted

You may not have heard of Stanislav Petrov, whose death at the age of 77 has just been confirmed, but his name should be much more widely known. After all, how many people can claim to have pretty much single-handedly averted nuclear war? In an obituary for the New York Times, Sewell Chan has reported on Petrov's extraordinary courage in deciding that, when the Soviet Union's anti-missile defence system warned that the US had launched an attack in September 1983, it was a false alarm.

With the world once more on the brink of nuclear destruction thanks to the childish, boorish gamesmanship of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, it's appalling to think that the lessons of the past simply haven't been learned.

Occupational hazards

Getting flicked in the testicles, asked if you're "a poop man, a scat guy" and ambushed in the dark by a man pointing a very realistic fake gun at the back of your neck: all in a day's work for the Guardian's Alexis Petridis - or at least it is when his interviewee is Marilyn Manson.

While he's always engaging in conversation, I can't say I've given much time to Manson's music since Mechanical Animals. That said, his description of new record Heaven Upside Down as "hard, punk rock, Killing Joke, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Scary Monsters" does sound intriguing.