Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sex symbol

There was a lot of controversy stirred up a couple of years back when Damien Hirst's sculpture Verity was erected in Ilfracombe, a move the local regeneration board described as having "huge potential for the regeneration of the town". I wonder how those outraged by an enormous foetus-bearing woman might have reacted if instead they'd got a massive green butt-plug...

If you're feeling sinister

Find a few old photos, take them completely out of context and you've got an incredibly sinister gallery. Gasmasks, shadowy figures and crying children feature regularly. Some of these would make perfect album covers - not least the one with the kids in Disney masks in front of the burning car.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A town called malice

A few days ago I wrote about the South African town of Orania, where apartheid is still alive and well as a noble and honourable concept. If Peter Griffiths had had his way, there would have been apartheid in Britain too. It's now fifty years since Tory Griffiths defeated Labour in a General Election in Smethwick with the infamous campaign slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour". This Guardian article tells the story of that election, as well as of Malcolm X's subsequent visit and of what has changed since.

The "logic" of the racism that immigrants from the Commonwealth faced is completely incomprehensible. They were predominantly brought in to meet the pressing need within the British manufacturing industry and so, far from being a drain on resources or taking the jobs of "natives", directly contributed to the stirringly patriotic task of keeping Britain Great - and yet were rewarded for their efforts with vilification and abuse.

Thankfully all that's firmly in the past, though - right? Not so, according to local film-maker Billy Dosanjh, who's under no illusions as to the current state of British politics: "Characters like Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin are unbelievably similar to Peter Griffiths. In the 60s, immigration was associated by racists like Griffiths with bringing in disease. Now you have the same thing with Farage". Indeed, in some ways, things are actually worse: "The difference is that while in 1964, Wilson dubbed Griffiths a 'parliamentary leper', today Cameron and Miliband are following Farage when they ought to be standing up to him". Dosanjh is right - it's a very sorry state of affairs.

(Thanks to Neil for the link.)

Quote of the day

"Diversify, Bernard. Present some bird watching show. ... Did anyone see Countryfile last night? Countryfile was great. There was this guy out there who drove his camper into the woods with his computer and recorded birdsong. Then he'd imitate it himself, put it in the computer and mix it in with music to create something. The presenter was on about ... what was the man's name? Vaughan Williams. And the music in relation to the country. I thought it was a beautiful programme."

Old punks don't die, it seems - they just start watching Countryfile. The punk in question is Iggy Pop, and the advice came in response to a question from none other than Joy Division and New Order's Bernard Sumner.

Pop had just delivered this year's John Peel Lecture. I had no idea he was now a semi-regular on Radio 6 - looking at recent playlists, he's gone in for a lot of classic krautrock (Amon Duul, Can, Popol Vuh, Michael Rother) and shown The Beach Boys some love, but still found time to give Protomartyr's 'Scum Rise' a plug.

Papery prison

Locked in a branch of Waterstones? I can think of worse places to be. At least you'd have cultural sustenance (a plentiful supply of books), nutritional sustenance (courtesy of Costa) and lots of toilet paper (Dan Brown novels).

That said, I'd much rather be locked in any of these bookshops instead, all of which feature in Jen Campbell's The Bookshop Book. Nice to see that Northumberland institution Barter Books features - and quite rightly so.

Know Your Enemy

"The green blob is holding the line. You had Dr Parr on from Greenpeace yesterday and he skirted round Justin Webb's questions questions on golden rice. Since yesterday, 6,000 people have died from vitamin A deficiency and he batted away Justin's questions on them stopping it. It was utterly wicked that last year Greenpeace activists trashed trials in the Philippines on golden rice. This is a huge problem around the world."

No, Owen Paterson - what's "utterly wicked" is smearing Greenpeace, given that they weren't even involved in halting the trials he mentions. This, lest we forget, is the man Cameron appointed to the position of Environment Secretary - a climate change sceptic who refers to environmentalists as "the green blob". At least he's since had the good sense to sack him.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Vat's your lot

Things I learned: on this day two centuries ago, the London Beer Flood happened, claiming the lives of at least eight people. Well, I suppose at least there are worse ways to go (unless the beer in question was Carling).

(Thanks to Dan for the link.)

Guilt and ... Innocence

What's this - a touch of humility and contrition from Bono? He's apologised for the release strategy for U2's latest album Songs Of Innocence, describing it as "a beautiful idea" but admitting that "we got carried away with ourselves" and that a "drop of megalomania" was involved. Well, at least he has a measure of self-awareness...

Make quilts not war

We're a peace-loving bunch up in the north-east, honest - when we bomb, we do it with yarn. That said, it was no surprise to learn that this happened in somewhere like Prudhoe rather than, say, Ashington or Blyth...

(Thanks to Ross for the link.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"Ariel pinks delusional misogyny is emblematic of the kind of bullshit everyone woman in this industry faces daily."

Grimes was clearly so annoyed by Ariel Pink's latest outburst that she decided to dispense with grammar. Pink had announced he'd been invited to work on Madonna's new album, but then declared she'd suffered "a downward slide" and "a drain of values" since her debut. Amusingly, Madge's manager Guy Oseary has since claimed that neither he nor his charge have even heard of Pink, and stated that she has "no interest in working with mermaids". Ouch.

This isn't the first time Pink has been accused of misogyny - only last month he faced the same charge following some dubious comments made in an interview but remained resolutely unrepentant.

Naming rights

Wolves In The Throne Room, !!!, Yo La Tengo and Fucked Up are among the nine best-ever band names suggested by the marvellously monikered ... And You Will Know Them By The Trail Of Dead. No mention, sadly, of Alpha Male Tea Party or another outfit I came across recently, Badly Timed Acid Flashback. Tsk tsk.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Know Your Enemy

"The rich get the best care. The poor are left to die."

Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, pulling no punches about the lessons to be learned from the current ebola crisis in west Africa.

Checking online, it appears that the only mainstream British paper to have reported her comments is the Daily Heil - are all the rest running scared of upsetting the pharmaceutical companies?

Quote of the day

"At the end of the day, the Internet is all about whatever kind of pornography you happen to be interested in. For me, it was record porn; if I only knew how accessible all those records would ultimately become."

Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, among the musicians Pitchfork asked to talk about their first and enduring experiences with the internet.

Also interviewed for the feature are Brian King of Japandroids, Conrad Keely of ... Trail Of Dead, Marnie Stern, Owen Pallett, Caribou's Dan Snaith, Flying Lotus, Avey Tare of Animal Collective and Bob Mould. Marissa Nadler recalls using the internet to track down Guns 'N' Roses and Led Zeppelin tablature, while Swans' Thor Harris was delighted to discover eBay as a treasure trove of nineteenth-century woodworking tools from around the globe.

Beastly behaviour

While the Danes are preparing to ban bestiality, the Tories are no doubt looking to repeal our own law against the practice - after all, that would fit squarely with their overarching policy initiative Fucking The Vulnerable For A Better Britain...

(Thanks to Owen for the link.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A line in the sand

"I see nothing wrong with apartheid". So says one of the residents of Orania - and he's clearly not in the minority. Indeed, the town was essentially founded in 1991 as a bastion of apartheid against the reality of twenty-first-century South Africa - it's for white Afrikaaners only.

The inhabitants - who are obliged to abide by draconian rules, including having to seek permission to receive visitors - talk of the town as a safe and secure environment. But they actually appear to live in a constant state of fear, adopting a ghetto mentality and particularly afraid of their culture being "diluted". Of course, that's just a thinly veiled fear of ethnic "dilution" and miscegenation, regardless of empty claims like "We are not against black people. We are for ourselves".

It's quite incredible that such places can still exist, but hopefully Orania's determined isolationism will end up starving it of oxygen.

Kool things

French filmmaker and author Catherine Breillat, comedian Louis CK, an American football shirt, "getting licked by a horse on the Lower East Side late one night": all things Kim Gordon lists as influences. The inclusion of Bill Nace, her bandmate in Body/Head, and the exclusion of Thurston Moore is unsurprising.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Medium in big trouble

Woe betide anyone who dares to question "psychic" Sally Morgan's ability to communicate with the dead. If you do, it seems you won't just get the spirit world on your back - you'll get a sustained barrage of menacing threats and homophobic abuse from Morgan's husband/manager. Campaigner Mark Tilbrook recounts his experience here, and footage of the encounter can be viewed here.

In response, Sally Morgan Enterprises (!) has claimed that John Morgan's behaviour was "out of character" and that she "can only assume that this was the cause of persistent hounding that lead to this altercation". That'd be the sound of shovels frantically trying to dig a way out of a big hole.

Know Your Enemy

"No one should ever confuse the criminal act of stalking with romance. The trivialisation of these serious crimes, like stalking, should have no place in the entertainment industry."

RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network) react to the video for Maroon 5's 'Animals'. So they've played the shock value card. Well done. *slow handclap*

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Boys on film

Wild Boys: The Story Of Duran Duran was first screened in 2000, but was presumably shown again recently to coincide with the release of Soul Boys Of The Western World, the documentary film about Spandau Ballet - the other outfit who, perhaps more than most, became the musical embodiment of Thatcherite Britain.

In the words of Dave Ambrose of EMI, who signed them up, Duran Duran were "a celebration of 'Let's go out and get it, let's enjoy it, and who cares?'". As the Pet Shop Boys sang, "Let's make lots of money" - and suddenly it wasn't taboo to do so. Consumption had rarely been more conspicuous, and no one - least of all the members of Duran Duran - seemed remotely interested in exercising restraint.

The film charts the band's history, from the early fusion of influences (punk, glam, disco, German electronica) through the heady pop megastar high-life of the mid-1980s to the low points of the 1990s. During that time they got mobbed by obsessed shrieking fans, got pally with Andy Warhol (according to Debbie Harry, "He was very attracted to Duran Duran - I think that they were a picture of pop art come to life") and got to work with Nile Rodgers (who somewhat implausibly claims that 'Wild Boys' could easily have been recorded by The Clash).

Nick Rhodes talks affectedly and arrogantly throughout it all, claiming to have "launched" a sound and sniffily dismissing erstwhile bandmate Andy Taylor's side-project with Robert Palmer, The Power Station, as "very rockist". He'd be well advised to listen to his own band's 2000 incarnation with replacement guitarist Warren Cuccurullo.

Thankfully, Paul Morley is on hand to puncture the pomposity of Rhodes and others, at one point claiming that Simon Le Bon wearing a yellow suit in the video for 'Rio' was like "a lump you'd find in your custard". (Le Bon himself comments that "All that mattered was the image" - call me an old fuddy-duddy, but surely the music should come into the equation somehow...)

In truth, Rhodes does show a sliver of self-awareness, describing covers album Thank You as "another one of our commercial suicide bids" - the mauling of 'White Lines' with Grandmaster Flash and others produced as Exhibit A in the prosecution's case. Lou Reed claims to be "absolutely wild" about their rendition of 'A Perfect Day', though, and Iggy Pop pops up as another unlikely character witness, describing the band as "a group of warm, wonderful and civilised human beings working in today's music industry". Perhaps it's tongue in cheek - it's hard to tell. Duran Duran themselves didn't really deal in such subtleties.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Square deal

Shame on me for not paying attention before, but Richard Herring's Leicester Square Theatre Podcast is now available for free, courtesy of the marvellous Go Faster Stripe (though they would of course be grateful for a donation towards the production costs).

It's a loose format in which Herring acts as a sort of chat show host, with a different guest each week. Stewart Lee and Stephen Fry are among those who've appeared in the past, and the new series kicked off with Katherine Ryan, someone I've never really liked on panel shows but who actually came across quite well.

If you go down to the woods today...

If you disregard the misleading use of the word "discovers" in the title, this article about the abandoned town of Elkmont, deep in the woodland of Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is worth a look - not least for the video footage "discoverer" Jordan Liles shot while exploring the site, which serves as a guided tour.

(Thanks to Dave for the link.)

Friday, October 10, 2014

Quote of the day

"It might seem strange but you find out about characters when you look to see who’s in charge of the music. A young lad might want to put on the latest sound; an older player might say: ‘I’m the senior player’ and put himself in charge. But I noticed none of the players [at Sunderland] were in charge of the music and this was a concern for me. A member of staff was in charge. I was looking at him thinking: ‘I hope someone nails him here.’ The last song before the players went on to the pitch was ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba. What really worried me was that none of the players – not one – said: ‘Get that shit off.’ They were going out to play a match, men versus men, testosterone levels were high. You’ve got to hit people at pace. Fuckin’ ‘Dancing Queen.’ It worried me. I didn’t have as many leaders as I thought."

While I'm a huge fan of 'Dancing Queen' - indeed, I'd stand by my ranking of it as my favourite ever British #1 - I can see why Roy Keane might feel otherwise. Thanks to him for publishing this comment in his new autobiography to help make the Mackems even more of a laughing stock - and no thanks to the Guardian for including enough appetite-whetting snippets in this article to make it hard to resist buying the bloody thing.

Titanium Paperback expose

"At the heart of the book is the examination of what partnership means - and what happens when it dissolves." As painful as it's going to be to dwell on the demise of Sonic Youth and Kim Gordon's marriage to Thurston Moore, her memoir - out next year - is a guaranteed must-read personally speaking.

You are what you drink

So it seems as though the US doesn't have champagne socialists - they have "latte liberals" instead. Here's the BBC's Jon Kelly to explain the association between the drink and the political ideology. Me, I'm more a cappucino Commie...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Paradise lost

How upsetting to discover I've missed Snobs' last night in its old home at Paradise Circus in Birmingham. The semi-legendary club - which really should have had the honour of featuring in the original Reasons To Be Cheerful series - wasn't exactly aptly named, given that the clientele (myself included) weren't exactly the most discerning. But hey, everyone should be happy with a cheap beer in their hand and someone spinning Stooges songs in the corner.

Snobs will live on, though the images of the new larger and swankier venue on Smallbrook Queensway suggest that it will do so in name only. Still, I suppose that if they install a few vending machines stocked with cans of Carling and liberally spray the dancefloors with vomit, then it might start to feel more familiar.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

They wouldn't let it lie

As hesitant as I am to have a pop at someone who's just revealed he's been undergoing treatment for cancer for the last 18 months, I can't help noticing that Morrissey remains characteristically bitter - this time getting his band to deliver a blunt message to former label Harvest from the stage.

He's not the only curmudgeonly solo artist who's unable to let anything lie, though. Take Mark Kozelek, for instance - who's followed up on his promise of writing, recording and releasing a song called 'War On Drugs: Suck My Cock' that references his recent on-stage slatings of both The War On Drugs and his own audience. Still, unlike Moz, at least he seems to have a sense of humour, having invited The War On Drugs themselves to perform the song with him - an invitation they haven't taken up, yet.

A touch-up of class

Spanish pensioner Cecilia Gimenez's botched attempts to restore a frieze of Jesus in her local church may have met with horrified reactions, making it look like "a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic" - but, hey, at least it inspired this tribute site.

(Thanks to Matt for the link.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Annus mirabilis

Last Saturday marked one year since my last day in the office. Time flies when you're wiping bottoms (well, repeatedly wiping the same bottom) and trying to rediscover the self-discipline required for working from home. Wouldn't have had it any other way, though.

Baker: street

Thanks to the BBC website for introducing me to the work of the late Shirley Baker, who chronicled a period of rapid social change in Manchester and Salford in the 1960s and 1970s. You can browse a collection of her photos on the Mary Evans Picture Library website. It's street photography at its best - natural, opportunistic, beautifully composed, valuable documentary evidence of places, people and a past that might otherwise have gone unrecorded.

The site can also be credited with bringing to wider attention the work of fellow photographer Edwin Smith, whose sensitive use of light renders otherwise mundane scenes extraordinary. The article was prompted by the fact that an exhibition of his work is currently taking place at RIBA - I might try to pay a visit when I'm down in London at the end of the month.

God only knows how they came up with this line-up

It's not quite up there with Tinchy Stryder teaming up with the Chuckle Brothers, but the BBC have somehow managed to drain Dave Grohl of much of his remaining credibility (nice guy though he seems to be) by having him rub shoulders with the likes of Jamie Cullum and One Direction on a cover of the Beach Boys classic 'God Only Knows'. Grohl's already been involved in an unlikely collaboration with Elton John, of course, in that they both appeared on Queens Of The Stone Age's ... Like Clockwork.

The single marks the launch of something called BBC Music, a hub for all of the corporation's music-related output, and is being sold in aid of Children In Need. Heaven help its chances in the charts, then...