Thursday, March 22, 2018

Be careful what you wish for

The cost of "taking back control" and getting our beloved blue passports back? The loss of British jobs. The irony is almost too delicious. Daily Mail readers' heads must be spinning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Inconsistent bands and unlikely alliances

This month's album reviews in Buzz include verdicts on the new releases by Anna von Hausswolff, Andrew WK, Cavern Of Anti-Matter, Joan As Policewoman and Turbowolf. The Men are justifiably described as "the Cardiff City Football Club of Brooklyn-based rock bands: predictably unpredictable", while my interest in Editors has suddenly be reignited by the fact that 2005's British answer to Interpol have been working with Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons and Blanck Mass. An unlikely collaboration, but it might just work.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Quote of the day

"We had fire in our bellies, we could not be labelled, and we relied on our instinct. We were not about to accept what society had demanded of our gender, to be perfect housewives or secretaries. We were a feral, non-manufactured, unstyled, honest, comical, fearless group of four very different creative girls who faced violence verbally and physically as a band and individually on a daily basis."

Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt, talking to Crack ahead of the release of the documentary film Here To Be Heard: The Story Of The Slits (which is very much on my radar - as is her bandmate Viv Albertine's book). In Rip It Up And Start Again (which I've now finished, finally - review to come), Simon Reynolds suggests much the same thing, making a good case for the band's importance in the post-punk period.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Noisy neighbours

Jools Holland has been complaining about being consistently disturbed by unwanted noise. Good to hear that "the renowned ivory-tinkler" now knows the way that lots of people feel about him.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Riot act

As part of the press they've been doing around the release of new LP There's A Riot Going On, Yo La Tengo have done Pitchfork's 5-10-15-20 feature, in which artists name "the songs and albums of their lives, five years at a time". You could guess at the band's catholic tastes from the sheer diversity of their albums, but features like this - in which they talk about everything from Black Flag to El-P via Bob Dylan, The Residents and Fleetwood Mac - and Ira Kaplan's selection of favourite records for the Quietus just underline it.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Punk in pictures

Back in September, I was fortunate enough to interview David Hurn, the Magnum photographer perhaps most renowned for capturing the essence of 1960s culture - not least behind the scenes of the Beatles film A Hard Day's Night.

In some ways, Denis O'Regan did much the same for the late 1970s. His images of some of the most recognisable faces in punk have become iconic, and proved to be the catalyst for an extraordinary career as a professional rock photographer. There can't be too many people who've got to know the real David Bowie, toured with the likes of Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, and partied with Prince and Bob Marley.

At the recent exhibition The Art Of Punk And New Wave, which also featured photos by his long-term colleague and friend Chalkie Davies, I had the pleasure of speaking to O'Regan about how he got started, the significance of punk and the status of rock photographers today.

The voice of the Valleys

Every city centre has them: colourful, eccentric and utterly unique characters who, over time, earn themselves legendary local status. Nottingham, for instance, had Frank Robinson aka Xylophone Man, one of the people to whom I ended up dedicating my thesis.

When we first lived in Cardiff 12 years ago, Queen Street boasted not one but two such characters. Ninjah remains a very familiar face around the city - on the day of his new album launch in Spillers, I saw him pacing up and down in the bar area at Chapter, wearing his golf visor and what could only be described as a policeman's utility waistcoat, chuntering away about kneecapping people with the Hammer of Thor.

But what of Toy Mic Trev, the cheerful chap who used to belt out crooner classics on Queen Street with the aid of a plastic kids' microphone but had disappeared without trace? The widespread assumption was that he'd died - but after a bit of detective work and a few lucky breaks, David Owens of Wales Online managed to track him down to his home in Pentre, up in the Valleys. The resulting interview and short film are heartwarming stuff.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Quote of the day

"The NHS is in a crisis, and one that has been created by political decisions. These political decisions include underfunding and cuts, privatising services, the public sector pay cap, the new contract imposed on junior doctors, and removal of the student nurses' bursary. Political decisions such as these cause reductions in care quality, longer waiting lists, anxiety for patients and staff, and dangerous staff shortages. Failures in the system of privatised social care for disabled and elderly people have placed an additional burden on the NHS. ... If all that sounds political, that is because the NHS has always been political. It was set up in the face of political opposition. It is Britain's finest public service and a cornerstone of our society, something that binds us together. People value the NHS, and are proud that we treat everyone equally when they are sick. The NHS brings out the best in us. We cannot lose it."

I won't even pretend to understand the nature of Stephen Hawking's legacy as a scientist (I've not attempted to read A Brief History Of Time, and a trip to Jodrell Bank at Christmas left my head spinning), so I'm happy to leave it to others to acclaim its significance. What I can wholeheartedly endorse, though, is his view on the NHS, expressed succinctly and unequivocally in this Guardian article from last year. So, whenever you hear or read a Tory eulogising Hawking's contribution to science, just remember that they're deliberately trying to kill off the very thing that kept him alive to make that contribution.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Playing the Bill

Fresh from the absolute undiluted brilliance of the fourth series of Inside No. 9, Steve Pemberton is set to star in a Sky comedy drama about the Sex Pistols' infamous appearance on Bill Grundy's show in 1976 - with Pemberton playing Grundy himself. In so doing, he'll be following in the footsteps of Peter Serafinowicz, who took on the role for the best sketch of The Kevin Eldon Show, one that also starred Matt Berry and Bridget Christie alongside Eldon himself. Pemberton and his fellow cast members will have their work cut out to better that.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Black magic

Recorded at the tail-end of last week, Episode 27 of Sounding Bored is devoted to discussion of the album curated by Kendrick Lamar to accompany the latest blockbuster in the Marvel franchise, Black Panther - not so much a conventional soundtrack as an artistic artefact in its own right, albeit one inspired by the movie.

Inevitably, the panel - featuring regular guest David Cox and the returning Josh Wells alongside host Rob - are unable to pussyfoot around plot spoilers, so be warned. But together they make a good case for the cultural significance of both the album and the film, somehow alluding to Ned's Atomic Dustbin in the process.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Ignorance is bliss?

Meet the most ignorant man in the US, someone who is "shockingly uniformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history". No, not Donald Trump, but Erik Hagerman, who was prompted to avoid learning anything about America - establishing something he calls "the Blockade" - by Trump's election victory.

As has been suggested online, the whole article reads like something out of the Onion: Hagerman is a former Nike exec who lives alone on a pig farm, listens to white noise in coffee shops to avoid overhearing talk about the news and is obsessed with a project to transform an old mine into some kind of landscaped garden or nature reserve.

Sticking your head in the sand to this degree might seem utterly ridiculous - and yet there's still a small part of me that's envious of the fact that he's opted out of having to face up to the unrelenting grimness of contemporary affairs.

(Thanks to Luke for the link.)

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"It's like a cartoon version of a farmhouse as imagined by someone who hasn't been in one."

"[The globe artichoke] has been prepared by someone who either hates globe artichokes or has never met one before: boiled until it is as soft and rank as Grandma's cabbage, only with none of the glamour. It is just so much mushy leaf matter, and smells of a long Sunday afternoon in someone's overheated suburban front room. The damn thing could be disposed of without the aid of teeth or, better still, using a composter."

"'Paola's Market Veggies' arrive in a bowl, with a grainy, deathly 'carrot hummus' thickly smeared up the side, like someone had an intimate accident and decided to close the loo door and run away. At the bottom is a 'cashew aioli', which is the kind of discharge you get when you torture nuts."

"[The tostadas with jackfruit are] a fibrous tangle that gets stuck in your teeth on top of a violent, acidic sludge of guacamole. The jackfruit is described as being barbecued. This means it has been smeared with a blunt barbecue sauce of the kind they serve at pubs with a flat roof."

"After this vegan calamity, this extraordinary display of dismal cooking, I find myself eyeing the Yorkshire terrier, greedily. Just hand him over, give me access to the grill, and five minutes."

"[The turkey schnitzel] is overcooked and has the texture of something Timpson's might one day think about using to re-sole my brogues."

Jay Rayner sinks his teeth into the Farm Girl Cafe in Chelsea with rather more relish than he did with their food. There are few pleasures greater than enjoying him in full flow. This is the sort of review that makes it extremely hard to believe the cliche that there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Shear (and Pemb) genius

As a huge fan of The League Of Gentlemen, both long-term and of the recent 20th anniversary episodes, I don't say this lightly - but Inside No. 9 is the best thing Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have done. Previous series have featured some stellar episodes, but the latest (the fourth) arguably raised the bar even higher.

Take the first episode, for instance, which set the tone through its sheer brilliance. 'Zanzibar' was the duo's take on classic farce, centred on a case of mistaken identity and accordingly delivered in Shakespearean iambic pentameter but bearing their own imprint (not least the recurrent references to golden showers). With all the action taking place in the same hotel corridor, the various characters and narrative threads were superbly choreographed. Of course, the fact that Kevin Eldon was among the ensemble cast only made it even better.

Of the other episodes, the most praise came for 'Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room', a poignant and beautifully observed dialogue between the show's creators, playing the members of an estranged comedy double act. To be honest, though, I thought 'Zanzibar' was just as good - likewise the third episode, 'Once Removed', a murder mystery told in short instalments, each one rewinding another ten minutes. We had to watch it again immediately to fully appreciate its genius, the various clues all set out in plain sight but unobtrusively and without a heavy hand.

After that initial trio of episodes, it was perhaps inevitable that the quality of the remainder would dip slightly. Even then, 'Tempting Fate' was a fine addition to their collection of supernatural horror stories, the plot revolving around the metallic hare prop that has been a running joke throughout every single episode of Inside No. 9 so far. And 'To Have And To Hold' had the most startling plot twist of any of the episodes, suddenly switching from an unflinching portrayal of a wedding photographer's marriage gone stale to something infinitely more disturbing. I'll never look at a Pot Noodle in quite the same way again.

For me, the only letdown was the fifth episode, 'And The Winner Is...', which - in taking aim at TV types and awards panels - felt a bit too much like an in-joke. That might have been excusable had it had the same razor-sharp dialogue as the other episodes or a more successful twist, and for once the big-name guest stars didn't shine (Zoe Wanamaker, as the bitter and superficial American diva, seemed miscast). However, to stress, 'And The Winner Is...' was only really a disappointment in the context of the rest of the series. Judged as a standalone piece and/or by standards of other programmes, it would be an undisputed triumph.

Shearsmith and Pemberton may have been merciless in their satirising of the awards process, but panels are surely going to respond to Inside No. 9 with enthusiasm and generosity (indeed, they've already started). It deserves to win everything going.

Friday, March 09, 2018


As a friend commented on hearing the news that NME was stopping its weekly print edition, "The saddest thing is the fact that I don't care." Couldn't have put it much better myself.

Not that I ever really cared about the publication as much as many other people did. I was too young for its late 70s/early 80s heyday (when, as the recent Chalkie Davies/Denis O'Regan touring photo exhibition The Art Of Punk And New Wave underlined, it performed a vital role in informing and enthusing provincial audiences about punk and what followed), and in the 90s Kerrang! was my mag of choice. It wasn't until about 1998 or 1999 that I started consuming its contents religiously, only to call it quits around 2004 or 2005 when it felt like it had gone past the point of no return in becoming a comic.

Quietus editor John Doran has argued that even in the noughties it continued to commission pieces on genuinely worthy, interesting and out-there acts (some of them written by Doran himself), but these were few and far between, with greater prominence given to articles championing no-marks like Kasabian.

Not only did the quantity of text plummet, but the quality did too, with awful features desperately chasing the youth market and tedious listicles aplenty. It seemed to forget what it was originally supposed to do, a victim of the rise of quality online music journalism (hello Pitchfork, Stylus, Drowned In Sound et al) but also one that almost willingly committed suicide.

The switch to a free ad-funded publication in which music content was almost incidental - the last desperate throw of the dice - failed to generate renewed interest, with the stacks of untouched past issues lying around the university building in which I work a damning indictment of that strategy. It's not as though free music publications can't work, either - see the excellent Loud And Quiet, for instance, or locally focused publications such as The Skinny.

The closure of the print edition left Paul Cheal of NME's publishers Time Inc blathering on about the continuation of the "brand" and an exciting online future. That word "brand" in itself tells you a lot about what has gone wrong. NME is dead, to all intents and purposes.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Close encounters

While many businesses will have suffered significant disruption and financial losses owing to last week's Arctic weather system, that's not true of all. On the contrary, some positively thrived, making hay while the snow fell.

Take Pettigrew in Canton, for instance. While the bread aisles in the local supermarkets were empty, the artisanal bakery kept on producing delicious fare to keep heart and soul together. Our haul of a sourdough loaf, pains au chocolat, croissants, gourmet sausage rolls and an enormous slab of impeccably gooey chocolate brownie saw us through the worst of the weather. They were even able to help out fellow locals Brod when the latter ran out of yeast.

On the subject of community spirit(s), it was also great to see the Lansdowne, almost directly across the road from our house, heaving with people too. After an afternoon of sledging and snowball fights, it was the perfect place for a couple of pints. Despite the elements, the demand and a couple of power cuts, they continued to keep everyone fed and watered.

The Lansdowne was one of four places hosting the Canton Beer Festival at the weekend, together with Chapter, St Canna's Alehouse and Pipes. The organisers may well have feared that the weather would ruin the event, but actually it probably helped, with people much more inclined to stay local and investigate what was on the doorstep rather than venture into what was a strangely deserted city centre.

It all goes to show the value of independent businesses based near customers, with staff who live locally and suppliers who don't have far to travel either - as well as underlining, once again, how lucky we are to have pitched up in Canton.

Not-so-prodigal sons and daughters

No doubt this report on children returning to live in the family home is going to be used by some as a stick to beat young people with - how dare they make their parents' lives a misery? - but it's worth dwelling on the reasons behind the trend. Hopefully there'll also be further research commissioned into the phenomenon from the perspective of returning children, both identifying the key factors that prompt them to head home (*cough* employment difficulties and house prices *cough*) and the effects on their own quality of life and psychological well-being. I'd imagine that for many it's a rather humiliating experience that causes considerable damage to self-esteem as well as impeding their own autonomy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Nice job, Bob

Robert Smith might not be the most agreeable or compliant subject for photographers (seasoned veteran Denis O'Regan described him in some fairly choice terms at the Art Of Punk And New Wave exhibition in Cardiff last month), but the Cure frontman evidently knows how to put together a festival line-up that gets people feverishly excited. The annual Meltdown bash is traditionally a mixture of the legendary and the leftfield, but as this year's curator Smith has chosen a very impressive bill of big-hitters that even had Kerrang! whooping with delight.

Over the course of the event, which takes place in June, there'll be appearances from Mogwai, Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, My Bloody Valentine, Mono, 65daysofstatic, Manic Street Preachers, Placebo and Kristin Hersh. Oh, and The Libertines - but it's probably not fair to hold that against him in view of what else he's laying on.

The great rock 'n' roll swindle

What with notorious pharma bro Martin Shkreli being ordered to hand over the sole copy of Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, bought at auction for $2 million, along with several other assets, and Fyre Festival founder Billy McFarland admitting fraud and facing up to some serious prison time, it's been a pleasingly awful couple of days for odious, bloodsucking leeches attempting to make a quick buck in the music industry.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Savaged by the Beast from the East

What better way to both cure Saturday's cabin fever and take shelter from the arctic conditions than to head to the Moon for a few pints in the company of impeccably noisy bastards Hey Colossus? They were suitably colossal.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Right turn?

"Are we set for a resurgence in right-wing comedy?" asked a recent New Statesman article. The evidence presented to support such an assertion was rather flimsy: the rising star of two unashamedly right-of-centre comics, Geoff Norcott and Leo Kearse. Two swallows do not a summer make.

Nevertheless, one person who might welcome such a development is Caroline Raphael, who, when she was BBC Radio 4's commissioning editor for comedy, bemoaned the lack of right-wing comics on the grounds that it made striking the required/expected political balance extremely difficult. Stewart Lee subsequently offered an astute analysis of the reasons behind this absence.

When one such comic, Andrew Lawrence, did stick his head above the parapet four years ago, he was swiftly shot down by Lee and Dara O'Briain, among others. Perhaps they might be more positively inclined towards Norcott and Kearse - not least because they haven't come to prominence by mouthing off bitterly and giving vent to a laughable persecution complex.

On a side note, it's interesting to note the BBC's apparent concern to find balance within their comedy output; in view of Nigel Farage's repeated appearances on Question Time, and the comparable absence of (for instance) representatives from the Green Party, there seems to be less commitment to political balance on a programme that's explicitly about politics...

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Under the influence

Some bands and artists very much wear their influences on their sleeves, taking every opportunity to talk up those who have inspired them. Others, meanwhile, attempt to deny any suggestion that their music might have been shaped by anything other than their own creative imagination and ability. They're being disingenuous, though - nothing happens in a vacuum.

The Guardian have asked a selection of writers including Alexis Petridis, Michael Hann, Luke Turner, Harriet Gibsone and Dave Simpson to propose the artists whose influence can be detected most strongly in the music of today. Some of the suggestions are fairly obvious - Bon Iver, Bikini Kill and Frank Ocean, for instance - but others are more surprising (though less so when you read the well-made cases for their inclusion): Shania Twain, Nitzer Ebb, Nils Frahm.

Kate Hutchinson's proposal of Diplo could, I'd suggest, have been made even stronger if she'd mentioned his production duties on Rolo Tomassi's second LP Cosmology, as it shows his influence has extended to rock. Of all the bands and artists named, I'd argue that The XX have made the biggest mark, their influence pervading genres right across the spectrum.

If I were ever asked to contribute to a similar piece, it wouldn't be hard to make a watertight case for a number of my personal favourites: Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Radiohead, Mogwai, PJ Harvey, LCD Soundsystem. There are whole genres, let alone bands, that would barely exist without those acts' pioneering music.

Bring the noise

Since the demise of ATP, Shellac have been in search of a new UK festival to play. They've found one: ArcTanGent. The bill for this year's event, taking place over the weekend of 16th to 18th August near Bristol, is topped by Steve Albini's crew, who will be appearing alongside the likes of Pelican, Rolo Tomassi, And So I Watch You From Afar and Alpha Male Tea Party.

The latter will be playing rather closer to home before then, at a similarly minded celebration of all things noise-rocky in Liverpool at the end of next month. The many highlights of WRONG's line-up include Future Of The Left, Mugstar, Sex Swing, Grey Hairs and Rocket Recordings stalwarts Gnod and Hey Colossus.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Rocket 'n' roll stars

If the weather permits (a big if), I'll be enjoying Hey Colossus in the Moon tonight. The band are just one of several on Rocket Recordings that have helped to raise the label's profile as the godfather of what's been branded "New Weird Britain", encompassing noise rock, shoegaze, psych and krautrock.

It's rather felicitous that Rocket should be going through a real purple patch in the year it turns 20. To mark the occasion, the many jewels currently in its crown - including Gnod, Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation, Goat, Teeth Of The Sea, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs and Gnoomes - are set to feature in a trio of London gigs next weekend, and co-founder Chris Reeder has, at the invitation of Loud And Quiet, selected ten "essential" releases through which to narrate the label's history. It's a great introduction to an imprint that has become synonymous with high-quality releases.

On the same page?

Women remain underrepresented and/or underacknowledged in plenty of spheres (such as music - hence the PRS Foundation's Keychange scheme) but what about the literary world? The stats paint a complicated picture, suggesting that male authors are more likely to win awards and receive reviews in literary publications and that male protagonists are far more common, but also that female authors dominate the bestselling novel lists.

Perhaps that explains the mixed reaction to the decision of Sheffield-based imprint And Other Stories to publish only women writers this year, inspired by novelist Kamila Shamsie's proposal for "a concerted campaign to redress the inequality". Some have criticised the decision, suggesting that positive discrimination is problematic and that there should be a more celebratory focus on successful female authors instead. If Shamsie's correct and there is indeed an imbalance, though, then there's nothing to say that such a campaign couldn't adopt both approaches simultaneously in an attempt to overcome it.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The politics of ostentation and acquisition

As impressive as Kedleston Hall was when we paid a very enjoyable first visit on Sunday (and it certainly was impressive, on an icily cold but beautifully blue-skied day), we left with two nagging thoughts.

The first was that all we got to see was the glitzy decadence of the faux-classical house: a sort of eighteenth-century playboy mansion set in immaculately landscaped grounds, all deliberately designed to dazzle. It was all about the glorification of the great and the good; there was no opportunity to go below stairs and see how the staff lived. This is something for which people often criticise the National Trust, and in fairness the organisation is generally getting better at recognising the existence of everyone who lived at such houses, not just those who owned them - take Tredegar House in Newport, for instance, somewhere else that we've recently visited. But at Kedleston Hall you're simply expected to admire the conspicuous symbols of the Curzon family's fabulous wealth.

Second, on a related note, the source of that wealth is barely alluded to. Given the prominent exhibition of artefacts from India, for instance, you would expect at very least some effort to explain what being the Viceroy of India (a position held by George Curzon from 1899 to 1905) actually involved. You might also expect some acknowledgement of the extent of the British "influence" in India - one that involved draining a vast amount of riches from the country over the period of colonial rule. Instead, the word "acquired" is used on labels repeatedly and euphemistically. Of course, the fact that the family are still in residence probably explains the silence on such things - but it does make admiring the hoard a rather more uncomfortable experience.

Second wave sounding good

While some summer festivals are still busy announcing their first raft of acts, others are already onto their second. Green Man, for instance, has added the likes of Anna Calvi, Sacred Paws, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, The Black Angels, Sweet Baboo and Cate Le Bon to a bill that already boasted Grizzly Bear, Jane Weaver, Amber Arcades, Bo Ningen, DUDS, Juanita Stein, Fleet Foxes, Boy Azooga, Lost Horizons and Public Service Broadcasting.

The latter trio are also playing at Bluedot, the festival taking place at Jodrell Bank in July. The Flaming Lips and The Chemical Brothers had already been announced as headliners, but they're set to be joined by an impressive supporting cast that now includes Hookworms, Nadine Shah, Slowdive, Acid Mothers Temple and Drahla alongside a number of prominent comics and scientists. Acid Mothers Temple are a particularly inspired choice given the venue - much like the extraordinary things that the observatory has revealed about the universe, they baffle and amaze in almost equal measure.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Blots on the landscape

When I was a kid, the mere idea of Toys R Us going bust would have been utterly unthinkable - though the same would have applied to Woolworths. No sooner had it been announced that its UK arm had entered administration than the post-mortems began.

Top of the BBC's list of "Five reasons Toys R Us failed" was the fact that their stores are big-box units located out of town. As this suggests, consumer trends have changed dramatically in recent years - not only in terms of the rapid rise of internet shopping but also the regeneration and revitalisation of city centres at the expense of retail parks situated on the periphery.

In some ways, the possibility that out-of-town shopping might be dying a death should be a cause for celebration - for instance, for the fact that such units are often accessible only by car, whereas city and town centres are well served by public transport.

However, other than the obvious loss of jobs, it's worth reflecting (as I did three years ago) on the damage that such store closures wreak - or, more specifically, what they leave behind: vast, empty and architecturally offensive hangars and deserted car parks that are hard to repurpose. The greenfield sites on which they were often built are gone forever, buried beneath concrete and tarmac, the damage already done. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: big-box stores are fast becoming "the consumerist follies of the twenty-first century".

Hence, while it's easy to have sympathy for the Toys R Us staff likely to lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own, it's rather harder to view their employer in the same way.

Apocalypse (s)now?

While all of the papers have been devoting plenty of column inches to the snow and icy temperatures outside our doors, only one has given serious front-page coverage to the really significant weather-related story to have emerged in the last few days. The Guardian's piece on the record warmth recorded in the Arctic in February makes for deeply unsettling reading. Suffice to say that if it proves to be more than merely a freak event, then we're in big trouble - and certainly have more to worry about than a few cancelled trains and empty shelves in Tesco.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty, just like thousands of seats for the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins reunion tour."

The AV Club's Alex McLevy kicks off his piece on the tour's disappointing ticket sales in some style.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


After a strong if (I gather) slightly disappointingly attended debut last year, it's great to hear that Ritual Union will be back again this year. The festival, curated by promoter Future Perfect, will take place on 20th October at various venues along Oxford's Cowley Road, which is perfectly suited to such a bash. The line-up is yet to be announced, but those in the know - specifically Ronan of Nightshift - have intimated that punters are likely to be in for a real treat.

Meanwhile, the bill for this year's Supersonic in Birmingham includes Gazelle Twin, Daniel Higgs and Wolves In The Throne Room, but the main attraction for me would be the promise of not one but two performances by The Ex, with whom I was instantly smitten at the Godspeed!-curated ATP in 2010. One of the two shows will be the Kids' Gig, for which they'll be perfect - as Melt-Banana were last year.

New festivals are springing up all the time and, having not heard of Citadel before, I assumed it was another fresh-faced kid on the block. It turns out it's actually been running since 2015. This year's line-up features plenty of interest, including Chvrches, Fat White Family, Shame, Hawkwind and Goat - and Tame Impala, as long as they avoid anything from Currents...

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Universities challenged

If you've been hearing about university staff going on strike and wondering what they've got to complain about, this Guardian piece by Vicky Blake, the president of the UCU branch at the University of Leeds, offers a succinct explanation of and justification for the industrial action.

Here at Cardiff, the corridors have been quiet and the lecture theatres and seminar rooms empty since Wednesday. Despite the obvious disruption to their courses (for which, of course, they now pay a significant amount), students generally appear to be sympathetic to their educators' concerns, recognising that the root causes of the problem are the creeping marketisation within the sector and the increasing disdain and disregard with which academics are viewed by their employers.

All of which makes me feel rather guilty for still being in the office. OK, so I work on the professional services side of things, am not (yet) a member of the union and don't have a pension of the sort that is set to be affected by the proposed devastating switch from final salary defined benefit schemes to defined contributions schemes. As someone who works on journals that happen to be based in Cardiff rather than strictly on university services, neither would my downing tools make much of an impact. But that doesn't mean that I don't feel the need to show solidarity with colleagues whose futures are at risk. In the circumstances, helping to spread the word seems like the very least I can do.

(Thanks to Cat for the link.)

A level playing field

Largely women-free line-ups have been the norm ever since festivals began but are becoming increasingly indefensible with each passing year. With the likes of Reading/Leeds showing depressingly little interest in remedying the situation on their own initiative, it was evident that something more needed to be done - so credit to the PRS Foundation for proactively establishing the Keychange scheme, which aims to establish a 50/50 gender split for line-ups by 2022, and to the likes of Swn for signing up to it.

Keychange's stated objective is to "accelerate change and create a better more inclusive music industry for present and future generations", and it will hopefully do so in conjunction with another PRS Foundation scheme, ReBalance. Effecting serious and long-term change is a tall order, perhaps, but this is a significant step in the right direction nevertheless.

The support act takes centre stage

It's not your average local music mag that finds itself the subject of a whole-day discussion event at a university - but then Nightshift isn't your average local music mag. The event, due to take place on 27th March courtesy of Oxford Brookes University's Popular Music Research Unit (PMRU), will feature contributions from academics, Nightshift writers, promoters and musicians, culminating appropriately enough with a Q&A with founder and editor Ronan - a man rightly named in WeGotTickets' INDIE50 two years ago for his services to the city's music scene over the past three decades.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Quote of the day

"On 19 February 2018 I made a seriously defamatory statement on my Twitter account, 'Ben Bradley MP (@bbradleymp)', about Jeremy Corbyn, alleging he sold British secrets to communist spies.

I have since deleted the defamatory tweet. I have agreed to pay an undisclosed substantial sum of money to a charity of his choice, and I will also pay his legal costs.

I fully accept that my statement was wholly untrue and false. I accept that I caused distress and upset to Jeremy Corbyn by my untrue and false allegations, suggesting he had betrayed his country by collaborating with foreign spies.

I am very sorry for publishing this untrue and false statement and I have no hesitation in offering my unreserved and unconditional apology to Jeremy Corbyn for the distress I have caused him."

Tory MPs issuing grovelling public apologies - Schadenfreude doesn't come much better than that. You'd think that someone recently appointed as Vice Chair for Youth would have a firmer grasp of how social media works, as well as more sense than to attack the politician who has done more than any other for years to invigorate and engage with young people - but then this is the Tories we're talking about.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Dead good

A kids' film all about death and preserving the memories of the departed: let's face it, on paper Coco doesn't exactly sound like the most obvious movie pitch of all time. Add to that the fact that it immerses viewers in a culture that will be, for most cinema-goers in this country at least, very alien, and you surely have the recipe for box-office disaster (however laudable the aims).

But, with Pixar at the helm, we needn't have worried. The two worlds they create (those of the living and of the dead) are spectacular feats of animation in terms of colour and texture, while the exposition of the Mexican tradition of Dia de Mertos, central to the plot, is achieved effectively without giving the impression of heavy-handedness.

Perhaps unusually for this sort of film, the writers don't seem to have been convinced that the heavier moments should be immediately counterbalanced by comedy, and - aside from skeletons continually falling apart and reassembling themselves, and Dante the dog's tongue - slapstick incidents are in relatively short supply. This, I'd say, is without doubt to their credit.

Coco being a Disney film, the fact that the overall themes are following your dreams and the importance of family ties (and the tension between the two) doesn't really come as much of a surprise. Nevertheless, the movie offers a novel treatment of the subject matter and manages to stay the right side of cliched schmaltz. If you find yourself with an unanticipated lump in your throat at the end (as well as an immediate and irresistible urge to eat tacos), don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The borrowers

As the heavy hints implied, Yo La Tengo's return to the limelight this year isn't limited to just the live environment - they've also got a new album called There's A Riot Goin' On coming out next month. Will borrowing the name of Sly & The Family Stone's seminal 1971 LP prove to be an inspired decision or an act of folly? Naturally, here's hoping for the former.

Certainly, that choice of title does imply that the record will be rather more feisty and raucous than their last, 2013's Fade, which was on the whole a soothing aural balm. According to Pitchfork, though, "it's a sprawling, self-produced collection that glides between blissful record-nerd indie rock and stretches of meditative drone". Sounds like business as usual, then - though if it is, I won't be complaining.

Yo La Tengo are far from the first band to appropriate the name of a celebrated album for their own ends. As this article notes, the likes of The Replacements, Galaxie 500, Lana Del Rey and Lambchop have all done it, and indeed Yo La Tengo's contemporaries Superchunk are about to follow suit by releasing an album named after Drake/Future collaboration What A Time To Be Alive.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Falling through the cracks

Reading Ted Jackson's story about one-time Super Bowl player Jackie Wallace recently, I was struck by a passage describing how Jackson's photo editor Kurt Mutchler "noticed a homeless camp beneath the Interstate 10 overpass near South Carrollton Avenue. From the interstate ramp heading west, he had caught a glimpse of a living room of sorts, with men resting on ragged couches and old easy chairs circled around a camp stove and rickety tables." The reason this passage in particular resonated with me was that at the time I was reading J G Ballard's Concrete Island, which also describes life lived amid urban detritus by people who have fallen through the cracks.

A lower-profile novel than its companion-pieces Crash and High-Rise on account of their film adaptations, Concrete Island tells the story of successful professional Robert Maitland, who crashes his car off the carriageway and finds himself trapped, no one heeding his pleas for help. That he has both a wife and a mistress and that they know of each other's existence means that neither raises the alarm or organises a search party, each automatically assuming he's with the other. (Though the scenario of the book, first published in 1974, might seem rather contrived to the modern reader, rendered improbable by the prevalence of mobile phones, it's worth remembering that even today such situations aren't as implausible as you might think.)

The Sunday Times hailed the book as a "brilliantly original fable"; I'd agree to the extent that its brilliance and originality lie in the way that Ballard took the powerful trope of the desert island from Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and transplanted it into an urban context. As for Crusoe, Maitland's primary task is simply survival, which he manages through a similarly desperate resourcefulness and ingenuity.

But Ballard also draws on William Golding's Lord Of The Flies in chronicling Maitland's swift descent from a civilised and wealthy architect to a debased savage who seeks domination not merely over the island but also over the others who live there. The novel concludes with Maitland's triumph over both - an empty triumph that celebrates isolation rather than community and that brings him no nearer to being rescued.

What makes Concrete Island particularly striking, however, is that - unlike Crash and High-Rise, as well as other Ballard novels such as Super-Cannes and his debut The Drowned World - it can't be faithfully described as a fantasy, a dystopian vision. Like the homeless people living under the Interstate 10 overpass, Maitland is effectively hidden in plain sight. He can even see his own office block from the island (and there is a sharp irony in the fact that, as an architect, he could be seen as having helped to construct his own prison). Beyond the island, life carries on as normal, the near-constant stream of traffic apparently oblivious to his predicament. The picture that Ballard paints, then, is not one of a horrifying alternative reality but one of the reality we inhabit now - and that is infinitely more horrifying.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

For the sake of appearances

Jasper Wilkins' Buzz review of Paramore's recent gig at the Motorpoint Arena seemed to me to be innocuous enough - but not everyone agreed.

On the contrary, a clutch of enraged fans seem to have taken exception to Wilkins' contention that "Paramore has always been the Hayley Williams show". While I can't comment on the validity of such a claim in connection with this particular outfit, it's certainly the case that some bands, especially in the live environment, owe their appeal and reputation almost entirely to their frontperson.

Some of those who have left angry comments have gone further, though, branding the write-up sexist on the grounds that Wilkins dwells largely on what Williams was wearing and how she behaved. For my money, he's entitled to do so if (as he argues) she is the focal point for attention and as long as (as I think is the case) he never oversteps the mark or says anything offensive or personally derogatory.

This does raise an important and rather vexed issue, though. On the one hand, performers should be judged primarily for their performance rather than for their appearance. Certainly, gig reviewers resorting to body-shaming as a means of scoring cheap points is unacceptable. On the other hand, however, surely reviewers should nevertheless be entitled to talk about appearances, rather than automatically debarred from doing so? After all, the visual aspect is a vitally important component of performance; to ignore it and concentrate solely on "what they sounded like" would be to fundamentally misunderstand the difference between a gig and an album.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The future's bright not apocalyptic

According to David Davis, who is allegedly the man in the know, post-Brexit Britain won't "be plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction". I'm delighted to hear it - though can't help wondering how exactly we got from "There'll be £350 million more for the NHS and everyone'll be better off" to "It won't be utterly apocalyptic". Impressive levels of expectation management (downwards) going on here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Not too cool for school?

The Velvet Underground have a (well-earned) reputation as being the epitome of cool - but previously unseen photos taken at a gig in April 1966 and published by the New York Times last year suggest that that wasn't always the case and that their beginnings, like those of most bands, were fairly humble. Sure enough, the group themselves (pre-Moe Tucker) look pretty darned cool - but the venue (the Dom in downtown New York), the folding chairs and the smartly attired attendees make the gig seem like a battle-of-the-bands show in a school hall.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Standing the test of time

Happy twentieth birthday to the Angel Of The North. Today, the sculpture enjoys iconic status as a symbol for the north-east, always a welcome sight when it comes into view as you approach Gateshead and Newcastle heading north on the A1 - for me, a sign that I'm almost home. Hard to believe, then, that it originally faced fierce opposition from local politicians and press, art critics and members of the public alike - as this BBC piece recalls.

Antony Gormley's vision was only approved by Gateshead Council by a quirk of fate - the fact that councillors opposed to it were absent from the deciding vote proving critical. That was only part of the battle, though. Gormley, "not wanting to force his work on a local population who did not want it", was on the verge of throwing in the towel (he had to be persuaded to persist by councillors), while there were also significant engineering headaches to deal with.

The challenges were overcome, though, and the Angel was finally erected in February 1998. Gormley has identified one particular incident as marking or effecting "a real cultural shift" as regards public perceptions of the sculpture: its temporary clothing in an Alan Shearer shirt by Newcastle fans ahead of that year's FA Cup final. Gormley claimed, rather patronisingly, that this indicated "it was all right to talk about art" in the football-mad, masculine culture of the north-east; I'd prefer to see the act in more straightforwardly symbolic terms as signalling acceptance and claiming the Angel as one of our own.

It never looked back, and Gormley's own bond and affinity with the region was further cemented through Domain Field, a project that was created in the north-east, directly involved local people and was one of the first major exhibits at the Baltic in 2003.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Park and recreation

When Rob, my fellow founder of Sounding Bored, commented on Twitter that the line-up for Common People "knocks Truck into a cocked hat this year", he wasn't wrong. The Saturday, dubbed "Disco Day", will see The Jacksons, Prince's band The New Power Generation and Sparks perform in Oxford's South Park, while on the Sunday Maximo Park and Ride have prominent places on the bill.

Thanks to the involvement of Ronan of Nightshift, the latter won't be the sole representatives of the city in which the festival will be held, either. Over the course of the two days, the cream of Oxfordshire's current crop will be on show, including The August List, Ghosts In The Photographs, Lucy Leave and Self Help.

Meanwhile, set for another appearance at the bash are my old muckers Elvana, whose summer itinerary also includes Bestival and Camp Bestival. Safe to say that Rob da Bank is a fan, then.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Guerrilla gig

A collection of photos from the punk era taken by a couple of seasoned snappers and exhibited in ... a car showroom?! I'll admit it took me a long time to get my head around the concept (in fact, I'm not sure I even have yet) but the taster I saw in the course of putting together this preview for Buzz suggested that the images displayed as part of The Fine Art Of Punk & New Wave - for one night only (20th February) - will be of sufficient quality to assuage any doubts.

Know Your Enemy

"I wasn't aware of a lot of the crazy stuff, like he supports Trump. What? The shapeshifting thing, I honestly think he may have a brain tumour. He's always been insufferable."

D'arcy Wretzky on the man now known as William Patrick Corgan. That's a reunion of the full original Smashing Pumpkins line-up scuppered, then.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Happy Ending

Some festivals appear to have been vying with each other to name the worst line-up of the summer (Truck and Kendal Calling, I'm looking at you), only for big hitter Reading/Leeds to offer some seriously stiff competition (Kendrick Lamar currently standing out like the sorest of sore thumbs). But End Of The Road's bill is as reliably good as ever, boasting St Vincent, Yo La Tengo, Hookworms, Idles, Shame, Oh Sees, Fat White Family, Julia Holter, Protomartyr and DUDS, as well as Welsh trio Gruff Rhys, Sweet Baboo and Gwenno plus Nilufer Yanya, one of the artists singled out during Episode 25 of Sounding Bored as a real prospect for 2018.

One of these days I might actually make it...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The no-shows must not go on

Ever bristled slightly at being asked for a phone number when booking a restaurant? Ever felt a bit irritated if asked to confirm a booking on the day? Consider it from the restaurant's perspective: no-shows are a costly business, in terms of wasted food, wasted labour and the disgruntlement of those who are turned away.

Spare a thought for Cardiff's Bar 44, which suffered from an incredible 16 no-shows last night on what should have been one of the busiest nights of the year. Owner Owen Morgan is understandably fuming, pointing out that the consequences can be devastating. As he notes, the city has already suffered from a spate of closures since the start of the year, and people's thoughtless attitude is hardly helping.

How hard is it to pick up the phone or send a quick email if you can't make it? No harder than it was to make the booking in the first place. No one wants to see restaurants starting to take deposits for all types of booking, whatever the size - but sadly that looks to be inevitable.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Know Your Enemy

"In sum, the lyrics at issue ... are too brief, unoriginal and uncreative to warrant protection under the Copyright Act."

US judge Michael W Fitzgerald's dismissal of the claim that the phrase "Haters gonna hate" is plagiarised is something of a double-edged sword for Taylor Swift.

Reading week(end)

As a regular contributor to Buzz, it was only right that I took the opportunity to give a plug to Cardiff's inaugural poetry festival, given that it's being organised by my old chums Seren, the publisher for which I worked for the best part of a year. Fingers crossed it proves to be a success and follows the Cardiff Book Festival in managing to establish itself as an annual event.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Quote of the day

"What this crisis must not be allowed to do is undermine the case for generous aid spending as both a moral obligation and as pragmatic policy. The Oxfam case involves fewer men than can be counted on two hands. The courageous and dedicated efforts of thousands of its employees have saved millions of lives in the most gruelling and dangerous circumstances. They and their peers in other charities deserve the best defence. That means honesty and transparency, and a conspicuous determination to root out anyone who threatens their reputation for it."

The Guardian's editorial comment on the Haiti sex parties strikes exactly the right note: it acknowledges the severity of the allegations and the seriousness of the failings in the way those allegations were handled, while stressing that the situation shouldn't be used as ammunition for those on the right of the political spectrum who relish any opportunity to attack foreign aid policy. Put simply, it's vitally important that not everyone is tarred with the same brush.

That said, the Guardian have also published a piece by Shaista Aziz, a former aid worker, who claims that the allegations aren't all that surprising and that bullying, racism and discrimination are endemic within NGOs like Oxfam. Nevertheless, even she stresses that cutting off government funding "is clearly not the answer" - whereas an independent regulator armed with the appropriate powers to be able to properly investigate such allegations certainly is.

"Equidistant between chitchat and analysis"

As if the prospect of Alan Partridge returning to the BBC wasn't already exciting enough, the revelation that he'll be doing so as the presenter of a One Show parody is even better. The randomness of the magazine show format, the bizarre mixture of the serious and the silly, and the enforced and often awkward bonhomie between the presenters and their guests (and between the presenters themselves) couldn't suit Alan's character better. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, and filming has only just begun - but you have to feel it's another inspired decision on the part of Neil and Rob Gibbons (and Steve Coogan too).