Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Space cadets

I've liked but never really loved Black Mountain - whether on record or live - so the news that Joshua Wells and Amber Webber had departed didn't bode well, personally speaking, for new LP Destroyer. Webber's voice was a vital asset, though underused; indeed, it's fair to say that I prefer Infinite Light by Lightning Dust, her side project with Wells, to either of the two Black Mountain albums I own (2008's In The Future or 2010's Wilderness Heart) - just check out closing track 'Take It Home' for a taster.

However, the Pitchfork review of Destroyer brought the revelation that among the replacements recruited by main man Stephen McBean were vocalist Rachel Bannan (who set Sleepy Sun apart from the crowd) and drummers Kid Millions (a leftfield legend, member of Oneida and absolute mind-blower on stage) and Kliph Scurlock (the former Flaming Lip now resident in Cardiff and playing with Gruff Rhys and Quodega and appearing in Boy Azooga videos). That cast of accomplices and the reviewer's evident enthusiasm compelled me to give the record a try.

So it's a shame to report that it sounds to these ears very much like previous releases: a faintly (if perhaps self-consciously) preposterous collision of Black Sabbath and the War Of The Worlds soundtrack. Second track 'Horns Arising' is a good example: a hefty, eminently satisfying riff, but the sort of synth sheen and vocodered vocals that Matt Bellamy might unironically think was a great idea. Closer 'FD 72', meanwhile, goes full-on Bowie-in-space. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with Destroyer or their previous records - but, for me, they call for too great a suspension of disbelief.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Support act

When Nick Cave's In Conversation tour came to Cardiff on 15th June, I wasn't there, having been too slow off the mark to grab one of the cheaper tickets and reluctantly deciding that £75 was too steep a price to pay for an intimate audience with the great man. Needless to say, it's a decision I now very much regret, having heard so many effusive comments about both that gig and others on the tour.

Of the many pieces I've tortured myself by reading, this one is the absolute best. Reporting on the Manchester show, Daniel Dylan Wray explains how the format feels like Cave giving something back to his fans after the support he received in the wake of his son Arthur's death in 2015. It's all the more remarkable because of the often violent antagonism between artist and audience back in Cave's Birthday Party days, with Wray recounting some eyebrow-raising incidents.

If I had gone to the Wales Millennium Centre show, incidentally, it would have been a neat coincidence that my previous visit had also been to see Cave's songs performed - though in that instance by Camille O'Sullivan as part of last year's Festival Of Voice.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Amateur dramatics

Among the reviews in the July issue of Nightshift is my piece on The Other Dramas' annual single 'I'll See You Again' - a bit of a disappointment, unfortunately, in comparison to their last two efforts and indeed to its own B-side, 'Fools Like Us'.

Also included are verdicts on live performances by Honeyblood, local legends Young Knives and The Sun Ra Arkestra (at Isis Farmhouse, of all places, as part of the inaugural Oddball Festival); previews of forthcoming appearances in Oxford by Cloud Nothings, Shonen Knife and British Sea Power, as well as this year's Truck Festival; and a cover feature on Julia Meijer.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

"The sound of the album gestating"

So much for the circumstances surrounding the leaked OK Computer-era Radiohead material - what of the material itself? I haven't had the opportunity or - let's face it - the inclination to wade through 18 hours of music (even though it's one of my favourite albums of all time), but Darran Anderson has, and he's written a brilliant piece about it for The Quietus.

Anderson argues that listening to the tapes positions you as a voyeur looking in on a creative process that Radiohead would rather you didn't see - and indeed perhaps one that you would be better off not seeing. In many ways, he suggests, it's "an unromantic revealing of how much of a slog it must be to create such an album. Interminable repetitions, bumbling, revisions, excisions, increments, failed experiments and blind alleys that would dissuade all but the most fanatical completists." The experience sounds rather like that of witnessing a band playing songs you love live and feeling disappointed, as though the secret of a magic trick has been given away, as though they've shown their workings. When you hear how unfocused they can sound, Anderson argues, "you realise how judicious Radiohead's focus normally is".

The received wisdom - wisdom that I very much buy into - is that OK Computer represented a quantum leap forwards from The Bends, which in turn was a quantum leap forwards from Pablo Honey. So it's intriguing to read Anderson's claims that the tapes still contain plenty of evidence of the old Radiohead. Perhaps, then, it wasn't as clean a break with their past as the finished article might have suggested.

Nevertheless, Anderson does give some positive reasons for exploring the material for oneself - not least to eavesdrop on songs in development, to catch snatches of songs as they "evolve and divide". And the mere mention of 'I Promise', a song left off OK Computer, reminded me of just how high the bar was set.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The making of the modern city

Britain's Most Historic Towns might be typical glossy made-for-TV history - oversimplified grand narrative, big-name presenter (Alice Roberts), slo-mo panning shots, stirring music - but I did find the recent episode on Cardiff illuminating, not least because it prompted me to a greater appreciation of the immediate environs of my workplace. In a city lacking in much of real architectural interest or appeal, the civic centre is undeniably impressive - deliberately planned in a grid pattern and developed to project Cardiff's wealth and stature in a style so American as to earn comparisons with Chicago.

However, the programme didn't merely dwell on the great and the good, on those who profited during the boom years (though Roberts did of course visit the Coal Exchange - million-pound cheques and all - and dressed up as an Edwardian lady of leisure at Dyffryn). There was a recognition that Cardiff's prosperity and expansion was built on coal and therefore on the back-breaking, dangerous labour of the Valleys miners. Equally welcome was the acknowledgement that the city's status as a hub for international trade made Tiger Bay one of the first truly multicultural communities in the UK. As such, the episode was a reminder not only of what was gained as a result of the Edwardian expansion but also what has since been lost, in the wake of the razing of most of Butetown and the creation of Cardiff Bay - a subject worthy of a documentary all of its own.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

"We cannot allow what happened at Grenfell to be forgotten"

Since I wrote about the scandalous lack of decisive action taken two years on from the Grenfell Tower fire, it's become increasingly clear that private landlords and building owners aren't the only ones to blame - the government should shoulder a significant portion of the responsibility too. Which is why it was so appalling to hear Theresa May claiming in her resignation speech that her response to the tragedy was something to be proud of.

Photographer Tom Cockram's exhibition Never Forget Grenfell, consisting of black-and-white portraits of survivors, will hopefully serve a vital purpose in energising the community and reminding the wider world of the people who continue to be denied justice. Moreover, it's essential that the campaign for safer cladding maintains momentum in the face of the bewildering inertia that means lives remain unnecessarily at risk.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

"Intricate brilliance"

Secret Name might not be my favourite Low record (that would be The Great Destroyer), but it was the first I heard (courtesy of a good friend) and so for that reason holds a very special place in my heart. It turns out that musician/producer James Chapman aka Maps has a very similar relationship with it. In a piece for Talkhouse, he explains what makes the album so special from a personal perspective, singling out all of the best songs.

'Will The Night' is "simply perfect"? Yes. 'Don't Understand' "shows how dark this band can get"? Absolutely - and foreshadows what was to come, particularly on 2003's Trust. His description of 'Starfire', meanwhile, might just as well apply to all of Low's releases: "The power of this music is in the spaces between the notes, the sparse instrumentation, but also the indescribable beauty of the melodies and harmonies that Alan and Mimi sing together."

Monday, June 17, 2019

Hail to the thief

Last week it was reported that Radiohead were being held ransom by someone who was threatening to leak previously released archival material from the OK Computer era unless the band paid $150,000. As this Pitchfork article explains, however, that's not quite what happened. Most significantly, it was fans of the band who were set to be the victims of extortion, not the band themselves.

Either way, though, it all worked out well in the end - the scam was rumbled and Radiohead invited people to pay a much more reasonable price for access to the material, with all proceeds going to environmental charity Extinction Rebellion.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

"A temporally transcendent statement for our age"

There can be little better testament to the enduring influence and appeal of Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures, which turned 40 yesterday, than this Quietus article. A special Baker's Dozen of Baker's Dozens, it reproduces the thoughts of some of those who have picked the album as one of their favourites over the course of the feature's history, including Bob Mould of Husker Du and Sugar, Suede's Brett Anderson and author Irvine Welsh.

Some focus on the music, with Brix Smith Start crediting the album with inspiring her to first pick up a bass and Verve guitarist Nick McCabe saying he was smitten with the synth drones. (He also claims to want to be "disturbed" by music, "and that's something I haven't really lost throughout my life" - which makes Urban Hymns rather hard to explain...) Some dwell on Ian Curtis and the existential angst of his lyrics - in a memorable turn of phrase, Ian Astbury of The Cult describes the vocalist as sounding as though "he had the finger of God pointing at him". Some praise Martin Hannett's production for giving the songs a sense of space and resonance. Some comment on Peter Saville's iconic cover, which is what induced Mary Anne Hobbs to buy a copy. For Quietus co-founder John Doran, though, the album as a whole is "a perfect gesamtkunstwerk" - "not just in musical terms but in that of photography, production, technology, design, journalism, marketing and fashion".

As the singer in a punk band, novelist Ian Rankin remembers learning of Curtis' death and dedicating a performance to him: "I don't think anyone in the audience knew who Ian Curtis was - we were the support to a heavy metal group who had a laser. I think the only reason people were in the room was to see a laser."

Meanwhile, OMD's Andy McCluskey recalls what he said when his teenage son demanded to listen to Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park on a road trip because he loved the bass and drums: "'We're going to listen to drum and bass music from 30 years ago, and at the end of it you tell me that you want to listen to fucking Limp Bizkit again and I'll kick you out of the car.'"

The consensus is that Unknown Pleasures has aged remarkably well, if at all - and certainly better than McCluskey's claim that the first Glasvegas album is "the greatest rock album ever made"...

Friday, June 14, 2019

Getting on

Another seven years have passed, and 63 Up was as fascinating and affecting as the previous installments - if not even more so. Where once the participants were looking forwards with their whole lives ahead of them, this time they were predominantly looking back or (in the case of Nick and Lynn) facing up to their own mortality. Over the duration of the series there has been something profoundly devastating about watching childhood hopes and dreams get slowly crushed or fade away  - but that has been counterbalanced by the way in which most of them appear to have managed to make the most of things, carve out a niche for themselves and find a measure of happiness or at least contentment.

When the experiment began, in 1956, director Michael Apted's intention was to compare and contrast children from different backgrounds as a way of illuminating or illustrating the consequences of the rigid British class system. In that respect, he has succeeded; some participants have been constrained by the circumstances into which they were born, whereas those with privileged backgrounds have evidently benefited enormously. One of the latter, Andrew, claimed that we now live in a meritocracy in which achievements are more important than birth as a determinant of success - a rather smug comment that ignored the very real social inequalities that still exist today.

As a viewer, there were times when you found yourself passing subconscious, silent judgement on the people that the participants have become and the choices that they've made. If it was discomforting enough to acknowledge that, then it was significantly more painful to consider your own life (as the programme implicitly invited you to do) - to cringe at the thought of what your former self might have said on camera and, perhaps even worse, at the knowledge that there is still some of that person in you.

What's more, since the programme last aired, in 2012, I've become a dad. The way in which it continued to bear out the motto "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man" was faintly terrifying in its reminder of the incredible responsibility of parenthood - and that, even at the age of six, our son's character and future may already be largely mapped out.

One final observation on a landmark documentary series that underscores the fact that there is no such thing as an ordinary life: is it simply coincidence that such a high proportion of the participants have ended up working in education in some capacity (Bruce and Peter as schoolteachers, Nick as a university professor, Sue in university administration, Lynn as a children's librarian), or did their involvement in the programme and having to regularly reflect on their upbringing, development, prospects and hopes for the future subtly influence their choice of career? A question for Apted to put to them in 70 Up, perhaps.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Better late than never

Despite all expectations, it seems as though there might actually be a positive aspect to Theresa May's legacy as Prime Minister: she's committing the UK to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050. The move is in line with the recommendation that the Committee On Climate Change made last month, and sets us in even starker contrast to the US. What's more, the BBC's Roger Harrabin argues that the pledge is unlikely to be affected by the Tories' change of leadership, with most of the hopefuls also behind it.

The decision to set the target is a poke in the eye for Philip Hammond, who recently warned that it could cost £1 trillion to achieve - a figure that failed to factor in the related financial gains but most importantly ignored the fact that the environmental crisis is so pressing as to render economic considerations practically nul and void.

Sceptics and experts are quoted in the BBC article saying that there are significant challenges and impediments to meeting the target, there remains a threat that we'll abandon it if other countries don't follow suit, and May is clinging to the distinctly dubious idea that "a cleaner, greener form of growth" is possible. But in the midst of the Brexit/Tory leadership contest shitshow, let's just take a moment to celebrate the simple fact that a commitment has been made, and what that might signify: a government that is perhaps finally beginning to take climate change and means of mitigating its most damaging impacts as seriously as they deserve.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Screen burn

As I noted back in February, the Tories' decision to duck out of their financial support for free TV licences for the over-75s had (very deliberately, I'd suggest) left the Beeb between a rock and a very hard place: "Either the BBC don't step in and provide the funding themselves, and subsequently receive a kicking from all sides, particularly the right-wing press; or they do, and are forced to axe channels to be able to make the necessary savings."

Since it was confirmed yesterday that they've gone for the first option, the outcry has been entirely predictable, with Piers Morgan droning on about presenter salaries and the Sun and the Express (among others) relishing the opportunity to stick the boot in. What's not being reported is that the move should hopefully help to preserve the diversity of the corporation's programming and output, which will be of particular benefit to younger viewers. But the flipside is that the cost of the licence fee may be unaffordable to many pensioners for whom television is a source of genuine companionship and a vital bulwark against loneliness.

Ultimately, though, whether you agree with the BBC's decision or not, it's worth stressing that they were placed in an impossible position. The real villains of the piece are the Tories for seizing the chance to strike a significant blow in their ongoing vendetta against Auntie by making the BBC the scapegoat for a decision that they themselves took and that negatively impacts their core voters. As Labour's Tom Watson has quite rightly said, the government has "breathtaking gall to blame the BBC for this mess".

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Mint Imperial

IMPERIAL WAX / GINDRINKER / ALEX DINGLEY, 7TH JUNE 2019, CARDIFF CLWB IFOR BACH

"Is it still thundering and lightninging out there?", Alex Dingley asks those of us who've arrived at Clwb early in search of shelter and sanctuary. There is no such grand elemental drama contained within his short, idiosyncratic songs - though 'In The End', a match lit in the dark offering succour and solace to the downtrodden and downhearted, resonates on a more profound level than the others.

Alternating between guitar and keyboard, Dingley forgets the name of one song ('Not Alone In The Dark'), introduces another as being "about a bathroom visit from a ghost at 2am" ('She Just Came By To Say Hello') and explains that the scenario in 'If I Asked You To Dance' takes him back to the indie disco upstairs in the late, lamented Dempseys, a mere stone's throw away.

Most recent album Beat The Babble was recorded with his friend Cate Le Bon and her collaborator Tim Presley in California and only received a belated UK release last year - credit to the Libertino imprint for amplifying a voice that is unique, both literally and metaphorically.

"Unique" is also the word - or one word, at least - to describe local mavericks Gindrinker, who never perform so much as confront. The duo kick off with alleged "pop hit" 'God Of Darts' and follow up with 'Y Chromosome', a song that DC Gates declares is "about men and how I hate them".

The frontman's personal shitlist is extensive, encompassing everything from Katie Hopkins to red trousers, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and the cooking lager on their rider. Placing a can of the offending beverage on the floor on our side of the monitors, he says: "If that's still there at the end, you have impeccable taste."

Still, when life gives Gindrinker lemons, they manage to make a potent lemonade punch - perhaps best illustrated by 'Transit', a hellish trek up the M6 to Barrow in the back of a van narrated by a dishevelled Odysseus who's accidentally sat on his crisps and is torn between playing Whitehouse or Kenny Loggins on the stereo.

Headliners Imperial Wax have their own ode to a memorable journey, 'Rammy Taxi Illuminati', a thrilling ten-minute-long beast about a conspiracy-theory-spouting cabbie that hits the road at turbocharged pace before grinding down the gears and settling into a sludgy groove. It's the centrepiece of their debut LP Gastwerk Saboteurs, recently released on US label Saustex Records on the recommendation of their pal Jeff Pinkus of Butthole Surfers and Melvins, and the high point of a rambunctious set.

Imperial Wax may be a new project, but the foursome are far from wet-behind-the-ears novices. Guitarist/vocalist Sam Curran is the veteran of numerous Leeds garage punk bands (imagine Brian Cox if he joined Oh Sees), while guitarist Pete Greenway, bassist Dave Spurr and drummer Keiron Melling were the tight, brutal backbone of The Fall for the last ten years of Mark E Smith's life, accustomed to ignoring the mercurial frontman's attempts at sabotage and hammering away at their instruments regardless.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's Curran's influence that can be heard most clearly on Gastwerk Saboteurs, a record that reminds me of The Icarus Line's underrated 2004 masterpiece Penance Soiree in the way that it captures and celebrates the unrulier, noisier elements of US rock in all its various hues. Album opener 'The Art Of Projection' and 'Barely Getting By', a mantra made for screaming, are among the best songs that 2019 has had to offer so far, while 'Plant The Seed' barrels along with Crampsian shake, rattle and roll.

Curran is at the heart of the chaos, pushing plugs of paper into his ears and adjusting his errant mic stand with his mouth before swiping it to the floor in frustration with the neck of his guitar, but he takes a step back for the two Fall covers that close the evening. Greenway performs vocal duties for 'Cowboy George', while 'Auto Chip 2014-2016' features a punter making unintelligible noises into the mic, foot on the monitor, refusing to relinquish his spot in the limelight. Somewhere, Smith is raising a glass and smiling.

(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)

Monday, June 10, 2019

Sweet Seoul music

Saying you've been listening to some Korean post-rock makes you sound like the worst kind of hipster. But I have, and - as I reported in this month's issue of Buzz - Jambinai's latest record Onda is really rather good. Less impressive is the debut album from local noiseniks Que Asco!, but Reaper still does have its moments.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

"This sinister interplay of irony and sincerity"

Andrew Lawrence has previously bemoaned the lot of the right-wing stand-up comedian, claiming that simply for expressing themselves they instantly "become the target of a witch-hunt". If only there was a safe space in which these snowflakes could just be themselves without fear of discrimination or abuse, eh?

Well, now it seems there is: the monthly Comedy Unleashed night in London. When Vice's Yohann Koshy paid a visit recently, Lawrence was the headliner of a bill of comedians all enjoying the freedom to say what exactly they wanted, unencumbered by (self-)censorship - which seems to have translated largely as telling stale, trying-too-hard-to-be-offensive non-jokes that punched down rather than up.

The night's co-founder Andrew Doyle, who is also a co-creator of the Jonathan Pie character, took offence at Koshy's article (chortle), insisting that Comedy Unleashed book left-wing comedians as well as those who are right of centre. But when your event is attended by the likes of Paul Joseph Watson, James Delingpole and Toby Young, it's clear the crowd to which the free speech banner is playing.

Lawrence has recommended the night to other comics: "You will get a lot of abuse on Twitter afterwards from some very dogmatic individuals, but you will never perform in front of a more open-minded audience." If by "open-minded" he means "prepared to put up with unfunny material designed to appeal to the 'political-correctness-gone-mad', 'you-can't-say-anything-these days' Daily Mail reader", then he's got a point.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Tuning out

Not so very long ago, the death of iTunes would have seemed unimaginable. But the platform has become clunky and it seems that the stratospheric popularity of streaming has killed it off.

Previously downloaded music won't be lost as a result of Apple's decision - instead, it'll be automatically migrated to the Apple Music app and accessible for no additional cost. But the switch does highlight how little control consumers have over the digital material they own. At least you know where you stand with an LP or CD on a shelf.

That said, the rise of streaming suggests that music ownership in any form - physical or digital - is an alien or quaintly old-fashioned concept to a very large number of people. As someone who still believes in the idea of a record collection, I'm clearly an outlier.

"My life will be over"

Like a lot of brands, the Tories have been quick to fly the rainbow flag and only this week, following the attack on a lesbian couple on a London nightbus, Theresa May insisted "We must work together to eradicate unacceptable violence towards the LGBT community". But if you suspected that their eagerness to jump into bed with the DUP indicated that they're only paying lip service to LGBT rights, you'd have been right.

As Ken Macharia notes in an alarming article for the Guardian, the Home Office continues to deport gay men and women back to their home countries despite clear evidence that their lives will be at risk as a result. And Macharia should know - after all, that's the fate he fears lies in store for him if he's sent back to Kenya, which looks likely now that it's been decreed that he does "not qualify for leave on any basis".

That this appalling scandal - and the Tories' rank hypocrisy - is more widely reported is both essential and urgent.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Quote of the day

"There was a circle around Bungle and we had an email about whether or not Bungle is a person or an animal. I said 'Does it matter?' It's someone in a giant bear costume selling tea!"

Cold War Steve on the protracted negotiations that followed a commission to design the cover and additional collages for Time magazine.

They're great (of course) - though the recent composition labelled "Shitehawks" remains my favourite thing he's ever done.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Striking the right balance

Primavera won plenty of plaudits for the gender balance of its line-up this year - rightly so, set against a backdrop of depressingly male-heavy bills. Guardian deputy music editor Laura Snapes was one of those full of praise: "it felt so natural yet radical to see 95% women all weekend in such a vast array of genres".

Back in 2012, when I went to Primavera in Porto, the festival could have been justifiably referred to as ATP By The Sea. I loved it, but have to concede that the bill was both phallocentric and not especially varied, even with Rufus Wainwright and Suede among those rubbing shoulders with Shellac, Yo La Tengo, Codeine, Explosions In The Sky and Afghan Whigs.

Skip forward seven years, though, and it does seem to have become a much more musically diverse festival - indeed, there appears to have been a bit of a pop takeover. Can this change be connected to the presence of more female performers? Not necessarily - the likes of Julia Holter, Courtney Barnett, Julien Baker, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Liz Phair and Lucy Dacus would all have fitted in seamlessly in 2012. But it's significant that the most prominent pop acts were almost all women: Solange, Cardi B, Miley Cyrus, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lizzo, Robyn, Charli XCX.

The rockist old fart in me had a bit of a knee-jerk grumble back in December when the line-up was announced, but the existence and emergence of more diverse festivals (both in terms of acts and attendees) should be welcomed. And in any case Shellac were still on the bill to appease moaners like me, along with a whole clutch of indie-rock-nerd magnets: Low, Built To Spill, Guided By Voices, June Of 44 and Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. Primavera's character may be changing, but it's becoming more inclusive rather than less.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Comic relief

Back in 2007, for this very site, I interviewed Chris Evans (not that one) of Go Faster Stripe, at the time a still relatively wet-behind-the-ears film production and distribution company specialising in stand-up comedy DVDs.

So it was a real pleasure to speak to him again in the course of putting together a preview of GFS' fourth comedy festival, which takes place this weekend at Chapter in Cardiff (their "spiritual home") and which just goes to prove they're still going strong 12 years on. (I should add that since the preview was written, they've added a sixth show, courtesy of John-Luke Roberts.)

Allow me to also take this opportunity to once again wax lyrical about Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast (or, as all the cool kids are referring to it, RHLSTP), in which Evans and GFS have a big hand. More than 200 episodes have now been recorded, so Herring's YouTube channel is real treasure trove. Tune in, be entertained and bung him and GFS a bit of cash for the pleasure.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

People and planet first

While our politicians are taking a break from totally fucking up the country's future by prostrating themselves at the feet of a racist orange turd, a government on the other side of the world has quietly announced a budget focused on well-being rather than economic growth.

According to the New York Times, "Under New Zealand's revised policy, all new spending must advance one of five government priorities: improving mental health, reducing child poverty, addressing the inequalities faced by indigenous Maori and Pacific islands people, thriving in a digital age, and transitioning to a low-emission, sustainable economy". While one academic quoted in the article questions quite how radical Jacinda Ardern's government is, this particular move is nevertheless hugely significant, not least as a tacit acknowledgement that sustainable growth is a myth.

The contrast with the UK couldn't be much more stark. Here, ideologically motivated austerity measures continue to have an enormously detrimental impact on mental health and child poverty, and have recently been blamed by the Institute for Public Policy Research for causing 130,000 preventable deaths. And yet, despite all the evidence, Chancellor Philip Hammond has refused to accept the conclusions of Philip Alston's UN report: "I reject the idea that there are vast numbers of people facing dire poverty in this country." The level of wilful ignorance is astonishing.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Family values

Whatever you think of Fat White Family - and I, for the record, remain unconvinced about the quality of all of their albums, latest effort Serfs Up! included - there's no disputing that they give good interview.

Patrick Clarke's conversation with Lias and Nathan Saoudi plus Alex White for the Quietus might not have been quite as explosive as Alexis Petridis' recent meeting with Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema of Royal Trux, but it nevertheless exposed much of the creative tension and simmering resentment that (still) exists just beneath the surface, particularly between Nathan and Saul Adamczewski but also between the two brothers. Clarke noted that at one point the interview became "akin to a marriage counselling session as the brothers air[ed] their grievances indirectly through me" and later "descend[ed] into incomprehensible bickering" but concluded with the trio in broad agreement and Lias claiming, "I like to think of myself as a flaccid Mark E Smith".

Meanwhile, when Quietus founding editor John Doran spoke to them for the Guardian, part of the interview was conducted in the sauna and swimming pool of the band's local health spa. Doran also picked up on the continued tensions between Nathan and Adamczewski, and outlined in more detail the extent to which drugs have impacted both positively and negatively on inter-band relationships and creativity. Meanwhile, Lias expressed his fury at being branded a racist for using a racial slur that has often been directed at him, and Nathan couldn't resist another opportunity to take a pop at IDLES ("We should crush them").

Thanks to the Sunday Times, Fat White Family now find themselves receiving flak for some of their previous comments on Tories. Given that the other band singled out by the Times, Killdren, have now had their Glastonbury appearance cancelled, there will no doubt be considerable pressure on the organisers to pull the plug on Lias and chums too. Whatever happens, they're unlikely to remain quiet on the issue.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Going back to those gold soundz

In a recent podcast appearance, Stephen Malkmus described the prospect of a Pavement reunion as "realistic": "Anything's possible. If there's interest, then that's always a factor. If people are really psyched about it, I'd be psyched about it too. So we'll see."

It turns out that he was being a coy tease and knew more than he was letting on, with the announcement that the band will mark their 30th anniversary with shows at the two Primavera festivals in Spain and Portugal next summer. Don't go expecting any further dates to be announced, though - according to the festival organisers, the appearances are exclusive.

I had the good fortune to see them the last time they reunited, back in 2010. The shows were good, but no new material was forthcoming and the reformation proved to be temporary - there's little reason to expect that this time it'll be any different, sadly.

Political party

Evidence that we live in strange times is not exactly thin on the ground, but that doesn't make it any less remarkable that Vengaboys' 'We're Going To Ibiza' has topped the charts in Austria after its adoption as an anti-far-right protest song. The band's Captain Kim claimed: "They could've picked almost any Bob Dylan song." Except that Dylan never sang about Ibiza, which is where the scandal that has brought down the government took place.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

"Plenty to be getting on with"

The Tory leadership contest: a bunch of famous, infamous and utterly anonymous grotesques jockeying for attention in the hope of becoming an even worse prime minister than Theresa May. For Marina Hyde, however, it's manna from heaven.

In her latest piece for the Guardian, Boris Johnson is "that flytipped sofa", Dominic Raab has the look of a flustered white-collar guy who's accidentally killed someone and Brexit is "a mass Tory sex game that's gone badly wrong". She concludes that "a 'new face' is going to solve the Tory party's underlying problems about as much as a 'new face' used to solve Michael Jackson's underlying problems" and that the only rational response to it all is to drink oneself into oblivion "until the mid-2030s". It's hard not to agree.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Back to The Futureheads

Few things have given me more pleasure this year, musically speaking, than seeing Barry Hyde back on stage with The Futureheads. My review of Tuesday evening's gig at the Globe (including excruciatingly bad support act Novacub) is now up on the Buzz website. Now back to waiting (im)patiently for the release of the comeback album...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Noise annoys delights

I'd thought that going to one day of this year's two-and-a-half-day Cardiff Psych & Noise Fest would be better than nothing - indeed, it proved to be vastly better than nothing. Sunday highlights included ILL, Sly & The Family Drone, Raketcanon and locals Perfect Body, but Haiku Salut were probably my pick of the bunch. Thanks to I Heart Noise for inviting me to review the day for them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Praying for easy prey

It comes as little surprise to learn that televangelism remains alive and well in Trump's America. Who would have thought that staggering hypocrisy, moral bankruptcy and the cynical pursuit of personal enrichment at the expense of the poorest people in the US - all dressed up as something called "the prosperity gospel" - would be continuing unchecked on his watch?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Practise what you preach

As a long-time supporter of Amnesty on the strength of the invaluable human rights work that they do around the world, it's profoundly disconcerting to learn that the charity have themselves been blighted by a "toxic" culture in which bullying of junior staff members by managers has been alarmingly commonplace.

The departures of five of the seven members of the Senior Leadership Team are being cited as evidence that the findings of the independent review are being taken seriously and that a cultural shift is underway. However, there is clearly a significant amount of work to be done and I can't be the only person to be reassessing my regular financial support. Instances of charities being unable to get their own houses in order are all the more infuriating because they give ammunition to the likes of the Daily Mail, who hardly need any encouragement to spout self-centred, anti-charity sentiments.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Burger me they're good


The problem with being a parent of a young(ish) child and following a bunch of local food bloggers on Twitter is that you're always hungry, constantly confronted with images of amazing-looking dishes being served up on your doorstep, but agonisingly aware that you'll only very rarely get the chance to actually sample them for yourself. So, when the opportunity does present itself, you have to be sure to seize it with both hands.

As soon as I realised we'd be in the Brecon Beacons for a long weekend at the end of April, I knew I simply had to engineer a Friday lunchtime visit to HILLS. Suffice to say we weren't disappointed.

Rather like Spit & Sawdust, it's a burger joint in an unlikely location - next to a campsite on the outskirts of Brecon - and the sort of place that depends on word-of-mouth recommendations (and rabidly enthusiastic food blogger reviews) rather than passing trade. As it turns out, the location is one of its key selling points, with the large windows offering amazing views of Pen Y Fan, Corn Du and friends even on a changeable day.

While proximity means that it does cater for those committed to spending the night in a caravan or under canvas, HILLS is certainly a lot more upmarket than that might imply. The decor is smart and stylish, and Jen can vouch for the quality of the cocktail menu (she kicked off with an excellent espresso martini).

A big appetite is essential, given that a double patty comes as standard. Jen devoured her Mexican chicken with indecent speed and, despite being listed in the "Classics" section of the menu, my New York was a fresh twist, coming with a layer of pastrami and (best of all) sauerkraut providing all of the crunch of iceberg lettuce but contributing far more in terms of flavour. The onion rings were excellent, the skin-on fries liberally sprinkled with rosemary salt were perfection and Stanley's kids' meal - cheeseburger, chips, miniature copper saucepan of beans, followed by locally made ice cream - was superb value.

HILLS claim to serve up the best burgers in Wales - and on the strength of one visit it's hard to imagine anyone else bettering them.

However, you don't have to leave Cardiff in pursuit of a better-than-decent burger, though, as Bwydiful have proved. The need for quick sustenance before a gig at Clwb earlier this month prompted a first trip to Sticky Fingers. Situated within the building formerly occupied by Chiquitos within the Old Brewery Quarter, it's a cross between a food court and a street food market, giving fledgling and small-scale pop-up restaurants the opportunity to take up semi-permanent residence right in the city centre.

Mr Croquewich has moved out (temporarily?), but that's handed a space to vegetarian specialists Dirt, while seafood, filled pizza dough and Malaysian dishes were also on offer courtesy of The Two Anchors, The Original Goodfillas Company and Makasih respectively.

There was only ever going to be one place for me to start, though, and that was at Hoof. The Mighty Hoof, complete with bacon and liver pate, sounded like gout in a bun and though the beef ragu in the Dirty Hoof offered brief temptation, the fiery promise of the Sweaty Hoof's pickled chilli and nduja mayo was just too appealing to resist. Like HILLS, Hoof have the good taste to use Alex Gooch buns - and they score bonus points for toasting them in beef dripping, clearly of the opinion that bread isn't sufficiently meaty.

There could perhaps have been a bit more burger for my buck, and the service system was somewhat chaotic (admittedly during the street food equivalent of rush hour) - but it all worked out fine in the end and there was certainly no disputing the quality of the components or the care with which they were put together.

By all means go to Five Guys around the corner if you're in need of a £5 milkshake to lob at a fascist, but if it's a burger you're after, hot-foot it to Hoof.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Frijj magnets*

2019: what a time to be alive, when you can enjoy headlines like "Nigel Farage 'trapped on Brexit bus by people armed with milkshakes'".

Even before Farage's milkshaking in Newcastle (my people did me proud), the New Statesman's Anoosh Chakelian wrote a piece explaining how a simple drink "became a tool of protest". Of the academics she spoke to, Dr Benjamin Franks pointed out the relative convenience and also the maximum amount of mess and embarrassment a milkshake can cause, but noted that the weaponisation of a drink that had previously failed to arouse suspicion has now made people on the far right very wary. Meanwhile, Dr Ivan Gololobov sees lobbing a milkshake "as a 'highly captivating non-violent alternative' to a punch", a valuable form of direct action.

I particularly enjoy the way in which the alt-right's adoption of milk as a symbol of racial purity and white supremacy is being chucked back in their faces. However, it's unlikely that the choice of weapon has been deliberate - on the contrary, it's simply a case of resourceful members of the public making use of what came to hand.

(I can't take credit for that title - it's all Twitter user Gavin Curnow's.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful."

Sympathy for Theresa May has been in pleasingly short supply on my Twitter feed today, with her resignation announcement waterworks failing to distract people from passing judgement on her general incompetence and the utter shitshow that has unfolded on her watch, often accelerated by her decisions and those of her party - from the desperate skin-saving pact with religious fundamentalist loons the DUP, to the Windrush scandal, to the worsening levels of inequality and poverty brought about by ideologically motivated austerity measures.

Perhaps most damning, however, were the above comments from Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. As Ben Beach observed in an article for Vice, Grenfell was "a tragedy, but not an accident", and something of which there had been plenty of prior warnings - and yet, nearly two years on, staggeringly little has changed.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Stock response

Let's get this straight. As countless incidents have underlined (most recently his decision to wear a For Britain pin badge), Morrissey is a horrible old bigot these days, far more likely to wave a flag for the far right than a bunch of gladioli. And it's the prerogative of Spillers owner Ashli Todd to decide what she does and doesn't stock, and to have her own reasons for doing so.

The (non-)story was picked up by Wales Online and has now gone national with the Guardian - all of which has resulted in a torrent of criticism and abuse on social media directed at someone who has done and continues to do more than most for Cardiff's music scene and the independent record store sector in general. Perhaps explicitly mentioning her decision online (rather than just quietly implementing it) was a mistake, because it's helped attract the negative attention - but she's perfectly entitled to make the decision and doesn't deserve the flak that has been coming her way.

Of those who actually collaborated with Moz on his new covers album California Son, only Broken Social Scene's Ariel Engle has spoken out: "I feel like I've been had, but it's my fault". Nothing from the likes of Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong or Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste.

Meanwhile, Interpol apparently have no qualms with supporting him on a US tour in September and October. Peter Katsis, who currently manages Moz and has also worked with Interpol, has argued: "I manage his artistic career and sometimes I have to deal with the things he says, but it's not for me to comment". There you have it - some people just don't care who they work with.

Quote of the day

"[Use] as few words as possible as well as possible."

The late Judith Kerr on her writing philosophy.

Few authors create one classic, let alone several - but Kerr wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea and then the Mog series, primarily to entertain her own children. The daughter of Jewish members of the Berlin intelligentsia forced to flee Germany by the Nazis, her story is a fascinating one, and the semi-autobiographical When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is very much on Stanley's reading list.

(Incidentally, I'd still maintain that there's something rather sinister about that tiger...)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"The bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos."

Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty, pulls absolutely no punches in his report into poverty in the UK. The key word there is "deliberately" - he is in no doubt that ideology is the prime motivating factor behind the austerity measures that have led to the "systematic immiseration" of a large sector of British society, and warns that the combination of poverty and savage welfare cuts has created a "highly combustible situation" that will have (and indeed is already having) "tragic consequences".

Given that Amber Rudd responded to Alston's preliminary findings by denouncing "the extraordinary political nature of his language" and Iain Duncan Smith dismissed Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake as a work of fiction, it's hardly surprising to see that the Tories have reacted not by being chastened but by criticising the full report as "barely believable" and as "paint[ing] a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty". That phrase alone - "our approach to tackling poverty" - is laughable; their "approach" to poverty is at best to ignore it and at worst to proactively create it.

Nerd-rock nirvana

Who, back in 1994, would have thought that 25 years later we'd be hailing Weezer's self-titled debut aka The Blue Album as a classic? Not me, for sure - but here we are in 2019, and I've got to admit that it deserves the acclaim.

Neatly describing the record as "perfect Beach Boys harmonies and finely crafted bubblegum hooks [pumped] through megawatt amps and crunchy distortion pedals", Rolling Stone chose to mark the anniversary by publishing a list of ten things you didn't know about it (if you weren't a total fanboy, that is). These included: Brian Bell doesn't actually play a note on the album despite being credited as the rhythm guitarist; that awful cover was inspired by a Beach Boys compilation; 'Buddy Holly' was initially called 'Ginger Rogers' and only just scraped onto the album after much persistence from producer Ric Ocasek; 'Undone (The Sweater Song)' was an attempt to sound like The Velvet Underground but ended up being a rip-off of Metallica's 'Welcome Home (Sanitarium)'; and, perhaps most bizarrely, Rivers Cuomo's vision for the follow-up album was a sci-fi rock opera called Songs From The Black Hole.

For their part, Consequence Of Sound canvassed the thoughts of a range of artists for whom Weezer was life-changing, including members of Real Estate, Wavves, Saves The Day and Tokyo Police Club. Their comments make a mockery of Michael Hann's suggestion that "Weezer never really influenced anyone"; on the contrary, they were the catalyst for emo and (together with Green Day) for late-90s/early-00s pop-punk - whether Cuomo liked it or not.

That odd claim aside, Hann's article (for the Quietus) is an excellent read. He argues (rightly, I think) that the album is more squarely in the lineage of Cheap Trick than grunge and that its appeal lies at least partly in the comprehensibility of its pop culture references and the fact that Cuomo's angst is relatable rather than extreme.

Hann goes further, though, in asking what went wrong - how did Weezer become "the most crushingly disappointing rock band of their generation"? It's with some justification that he points the finger at Cuomo - at his apparent disinterest in making music (it's merely something he seems to do "out of weary duty") and his troubling attitudes towards women. In truth, Hann notes, those attitudes were already evident in 'No One Else' and were writ larger on Pinkerton, the rough, noisy and (in my view) equally fantastic follow-up that played In Utero to Weezer's Nevermind. But he's right to conclude with some certainty that there will never be another brilliant Weezer LP, and it's fair to say that no other album of theirs will be the subject of articles commemorating its release a quarter of a century later.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

"Dumping children in a twilight world"

It's all fine and well the police cracking down on county lines operations up and down the country. But that work is undermined by the chronic failings within the care system that are leaving vulnerable teenagers "abandoned to organised crime gangs" and thereby creating the perfect conditions for county lines to flourish. Yet another example of how the Tories are ignoring the adage that prevention is better than cure.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Know Your Enemy

"Once you're aware of the tricks Strauss has deployed to get you acclimatised to certain themes - the reckless destruction of life in pursuit of hedonism, garbage ironically venerated as art, financial gain seen as the primary function of the creative process, the continued normalisation of the sexual humiliation of young women as a legitimate pastime - there really should be a period of readjustment. So technically, Strauss may well be a good writer but he is also clearly either a very bad or a very weak person, and The Dirt is nothing but a terrible book - albeit one that has played a neat trick on many readers."

The Quietus' John Doran on Neil Strauss' Motley Crue book The Dirt. It was only a few weeks ago that Andy Falkous gave both barrels to the Netflix adaptation of the book in an article for Talkhouse. Doran recently made mocking reference to Falkous' band Mclusky as "the pound shop Shellac", but it seems they have at least one thing in common.

Doran's comments preface his review of the new Sleevenotes book by Joe Thompson, bassist for Hey Colossus, which he argues should be "core curriculum reading for those just embarking on the path of rock music today, and is essential nourishment for those who have existential concerns about the point or the viability of doing such a thing in 2019".

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Portraits of a city


The title of Martin Parr's recent exhibition, Return To Manchester, could be considered to be somewhat deceptive - in truth, the Surrey-born photographer has returned to the city numerous times since first living there as a student at Manchester Polytechnic between 1970 and 1973. It was there that his passion for photography was truly ignited, it was there that he held his first exhibition, and it is the city that has since been the most regular focus and beneficiary of his talents.

Return To Manchester was a new project commissioned by the Manchester Art Gallery, but exhibiting the results handed the gallery an excuse (as if one was really needed) to give visitors a flavour of Parr's previous work in and around the city.

That meant the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable June Street portraits, taken in Salford in 1972 when Parr and fellow student Daniel Meadows went in search of the real Coronation Street, which had been demolished - families posing happily and proudly in living rooms that now look impossibly kitsch. It meant a selection of portraits from his time visiting Prestwich Mental Hospital in 1972, and of photos from the 1982-3 project that saw him shoot daytime drinkers in every single Yates's Wine Lodge, their austere interiors seeming "clearly designed for the determined and joyless business of taking the quickest route to oblivion". And it meant some choice images from Point Of Sale, his 1986 project capturing shifting shopping habits as supermarkets and department stores started to outmuscle small, local and independent shops - a trend that is arguably now in reverse.

For Return To Manchester itself, Parr was set the formidable yet mouthwatering challenge of creating "a portrait of the city and its people in 2018". He responded with hundreds of images that took visitors everywhere: into hipster coffee shops, on a night out in the gay village, among the stalls on Bury Market (you could buy his picture of pies printed on a tea towel in the gift shop), behind the scenes on the CBeebies set at Media City (needless to say, these proved the most popular images with my six year old). Parr has regularly been lambasted for a supposedly sneering and superior perspective on his subjects; it's a grossly unfair characterisation and there's certainly no evidence of it in these latest pictures, which capture the life of the contemporary city in all its richness and diversity. In a fascinating interview with the Independent's William Cook to coincide with the exhibition, he said "You're never part of what you photograph. You're always an outsider" - which perhaps explains why several of the new photos are taken through glass, Parr (and therefore the viewer too) peeping in from outside.

If you were to pinpoint Parr's skill, it would be in making the ordinary seem extraordinary. The Last Resort, which focused on working-class families making the most of leisure time on the rubbish-strewn beach at New Brighton on Merseyside, had such a profound impact primarily because it depicted ordinary life and ordinary lives that were (at the time) either routinely ignored or metaphorically airbrushed so as to be palatable to middle-class audiences.

Therein, unfortunately, lay the problem with Return To Manchester: it didn't show much that was truly unfamiliar or remarkable to a contemporary audience. It's a fundamental truth about photography that most pictures get more interesting - more extraordinary - the older they get. This is what makes the June Street portraits so fascinating. It's what now makes the Point Of Sale project seem so visionary on the part of both Parr and the Documentary Photography Archive, who commissioned it; as Cook puts it, the pictures captured "a side of life we all recognised but had never scrutinised" and today provide a revealing portrait of a very specific moment in time.

By implication, however, this is also what means that the Return To Manchester photographs will become increasingly interesting, increasingly extraordinary over time. It's only with the benefit of perspective, distance and hindsight that their value will truly become apparent. Here's hoping for an opportunity to return to Return To Manchester in a couple of decades.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Flower power

Last year, in response to an episode of Sounding Bored, I named Faith No More's version of The Commodores' 'Easy' in a selection of ten remarkable covers, arguing that anyone who views them "merely as the godfathers of nu-metal does them a gross disservice". The fact that Mike Patton is about to release a collaborative record with Jean-Claude Vannier, the septuagenarian French musician and producer of Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire De Melody Nelson, just proves my point.

The Quietus are among those who have shared the first taster of the album. Let's just say that the chorus of 'On Top Of The World' alone is enough to suggest that Corpse Flower will sit nicely with Patton's other work and the rest of the Ipecac roster...

Thursday, May 16, 2019

"Systematically flawed"

The East Coast train line, the cervical cancer screening process and now the supervision of offenders on probation: all public services outsourced to private companies but now brought back under control of central government. At what point is the concept of privatisation sufficiently discredited as to be abandoned?

This latest example is particularly damning. Probation unions, professionals and experts in the field all counselled against the move to part-privatisation, made in 2014, but Chris Grayling - for it was he, of course - decided not to heed the warnings and not only arrogantly and pig-headedly pushed ahead but did so without any trial period or pilot scheme. Needless to say, those whose views were dismissed or ignored have proven to be entirely vindicated - though their relief at renationalisation is tempered by the fact that it will take years for the probation service to recover.

Privatisation is so often trumpeted as both more efficient and more cost-effective than state control, so it should be the source of considerable embarrassment to the Tories that not only did the community rehabilitation companies perform far worse than the National Probation Service in meeting their targets, but the National Audit Office has revealed that the botched scheme cost the taxpayer almost £500 million.

Meanwhile, anyone who dares to suggest that Grayling is a talentless imbecile is clearly wide of the mark. He has two very particular talents: cocking up and squandering our money.

Goals and assists

Two years ago, I helped The Two Unfortunates mark Mental Health Awareness Week by writing about mental health in football generally, and then about mental health and retirement specifically. Yesterday the BBC reported on the Professional Football Association's finding that "a record number of footballers are seeking mental health support".

On the surface, this doesn't sound like good news - but concluding that the dramatic increase since 2016 is indicative of a worsening problem would, I think, be overhasty and probably misguided, as the PFA's Michael Bennett suggests. On the contrary, it is more likely that the figures can be attributed to a range of positive factors: players now being more self-aware and equipped to diagnose the symptoms, feeling more comfortable to talk about them (rather than to simply suffer in silence) and knowing that sources of help and support are close at hand.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The birthday party

The Cure's Robert Smith has shown off his exemplary taste in music before, with the line-up he put together for last year's Meltdown, and he's continued in the same vein with the bill for the band's own Pasadena Daydream Festival, set to take place at the end of August to mark their 40th anniversary. Mogwai and Deftones will again be on duty, and this time Pixies, Throwing Muses and The Twilight Sad will be among those joining them.

Might The Cure yet announce a British leg? Fans will be keeping their fingers crossed, but it seems very unlikely indeed, given that Smith and company are the Sunday night headliners at Glastonbury and already threw an anniversary party in Hyde Park last year.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Snap judgements

The problem with having to write album reviews to tight deadlines is that you never get the opportunity to really live with a record for any length of time, and so permanently run the risk of making judgements that, with hindsight, seem hasty and ill-considered. Which is a roundabout way of saying that both Drahla's Useless Coordinates and Imperial Wax's Gastwerk Saboteurs are probably deserving of more than just the three stars I gave them in the latest issue of Buzz. While Drahla didn't come across brilliantly at Clwb on Friday (largely thanks to the sound mix), I strongly suspect that Imperial Wax - the last line-up of The Fall, minus Mark E Smith (obviously) - at the same venue on 7th June will be a different proposition.

The May issue also saw me assessing Wheeltappers And Shunters, the long-overdue return of Scouse psych weirdos Clinic, and In Plain Sight, Honeyblood's third LP and the first since Stina Tweeddale dispensed with a collaborator and struck out on her own.

Quote of the day

"Democratic capitalism is broken."

Damning stuff from Professor Sir Angus Deaton, who is set to chair an Institute for Fiscal Studies report into the devastating impacts of widening inequality in the UK.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Untypical girl

"I wanted a Jane Austen-esque first line", laughs Viv Albertine, talking about the opening of her 2014 memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys during a recent episode of Loud And Quiet's Midnight Chats podcast. The line in question? "Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke. I'm a bit of both."

Shamefully, I've still not read the book, but listening to her conversation with Stuart Stubbs certainly whetted my appetite even more. The autobiography was extremely well received - but, as she discovered to her chagrin, whatever you put into a memoir will then determine what you're asked to talk and think about for weeks, months and even years after publication.

On the podcast Albertine speaks about the enormous influence that her mother had on her - a post-war woman straitjacketed by society and history but determined to live vicariously through her daughter. It's little wonder that someone who was raised to be acutely aware of the injustices of life, particularly for women, grew up to become a punk.

Not that her career (if you can call it that) was a happy or easy one. Stubbs expresses his astonishment at the number of times the book records her being bluntly put down (mainly by men), which prompts her to talk about the exhausting cost of engaging in creative endeavour and the damaging personal effects of having to put your art first. She also rubbishes the romanticised view of the punk era, which ignores the fact that being a rebel is very often a lonely business, and points out that choosing to present yourself in that way in the late 1970s made you a very visible target for abuse.

To Albertine, The Slits felt revolutionary at the time and yet she readily admits that by 1982 it seemed as though times had moved on and nothing had changed. Interestingly, it's only with the advent of the internet that the band have been rediscovered and recognised as a significant cultural force. Even then, she remains justifiably frustrated that focus so often falls upon The Slits' message and image, with little acknowledgement that their approach to form was equally radical.

Were she a young woman today, Albertine says she wouldn't pick up a guitar - she would instead choose to be an activist or a lawyer, someone making a material difference to people's lives. But in the 1970s, she had little choice - however tough the life was, being a punk gave her agency and identity.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

A popular choice

Congratulations to Simon Armitage on being named as the new poet laureate. Damned with faint praise by the Guardian as "one of the UK's bestselling poets", he's right in thinking he's cut out for the position: "I feel I've been writing the kind of public-facing, public-occasion poetry that this role will require for quite a long time now."

Encouragingly, Armitage sees the role as that of "a kind of negotiator between what inevitably is something of a specialist art form, and the people who want to read it and respond on occasions with poetry" and feels that climate change is the most critical subject matter of our times: "it's the obligation of all of us and every art form to be responding to this issue. It shades into all our politics, so I want to find a way of recording and encouraging poetry's response to that situation."

I was surprised to learn that the position "comes with no formal requirements, and individuals can choose whether or not to write poetry for national and royal events". It's good to know that Armitage won't be forced into writing things he doesn't truly believe in or that aren't "up to it" - hopefully that will spare us from anything as cringeworthy as the awful rap that one of his predecessors, Andrew Motion, wrote to mark Prince William's 21st birthday.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Rise and shine

"They'll be thrilling much bigger congregations than can fit inside Clwb before long, I guarantee it", I wrote of Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard on Wednesday, following the joyous chaos that was their inaugural Late Night City Sermon. And sure enough they will. Not only have they been added to the bill for Noel Gallagher's gig at Cardiff Castle at the end of the month, but they'll also be composing the official song for the Homeless World Cup, which takes place in the city in late July.

Also on the High Flying Birds bill are Boy Azooga, the band Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard's Tom Rees has referred to as the second best in Cardiff. Davey Newington and company could be forgiven for being rather more excited about another support slot they've got booked for later in the summer: on 12th July, they'll be joining Cat Power in providing support to Bob Dylan and Neil Young at Hyde Park.

They'll both have come a long way since shows at the Transport Club - which is a timely reminder of the truth in Minty's comment on the inestimable importance of grassroots music venues: "Bands do start at the very bottom, and people forget that."

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Safety first

The revelations in this BBC article about developments (or lack of them) in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy are absolutely scandalous. Most notably: "166 private residential buildings out of the 176 identified with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding - the same type used on Grenfell Tower - are yet to start work on removing and replacing it." It's only been two years, for fuck's sake. Incredibly, the owners of some of the buildings have tried to push the cost of remedial work onto residents, who are already traumatised by the knowledge that their homes are unsafe.

Such has been the level of inaction that the government has now decided to step in and foot the bill - or at least provide £200 million towards it. The Tories should be held responsible for an awful lot of things, including introducing and then enforcing legislation that ensures such tragedies can never occur in the future, but I don't see why they - or, ultimately, the taxpayer - should have to bail out these despicable individuals and companies to whom lives matter far less than profit margins.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Sunday service


Praise be for an incredible inaugural Late Night City Sermon at Clwb on Sunday evening. Supporting cast Shoebox Orchestra, Rainn Byrns and CVC all entertained - as did the dancefloor boxing match - but there's no doubt whatsoever that headliners Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard were the stars of their own show. They'll be thrilling much bigger congregations than can fit inside Clwb before long, I guarantee it. Hallelujah!