Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cheers, me duck

It's been a while since I was last out and about in the middle of Nottingham. This LeftLion article detailing 11 "proper pubs" in the city centre has whetted my appetite for a trip back to my old stomping ground sooner rather than later.

Top of their list, as well as top of my list to investigate, is the revamped Angel in Hockley, which now boasts its very own microbrewery. The closure of the Old Angel looked like depriving the city of a classic room-above-a-pub gig venues, so it's good to hear that the refurbishment hasn't come at the expense of live music, with the upstairs room due to reopen shortly.

The Trip and the Kean's Head were both shoo-ins for inclusion (though I've always found the former slightly guilty of trading on its reputation), and I've heard good things about the Cross Keys, handily placed across the road from somewhere else I've yet to visit, Nottingham Contemporary.

Of the others, I'd like to try the Herbert Kilpin and the Canalhouse in particular, and feel duty bound to check out A Room With A Brew too, given the publishing/literary theme of the micropub itself and Scribbler's Ales, the local brewery that supplies much of its beer.

Presumably Brighton has its own equivalent of LeftLion, and if it does, it's a fair bet that any such article about its best city centre pubs wouldn't feature the County Oak, recently reviewed in all its glory by the Pub Spy for local paper the Argus.

Sound advice

If you've ever signed up to do something daft and then faced the incredulity of concerned friends eager to dissuade you from going through with it, then you can probably sympathise with Radiohead's current predicament. For some reason, they agreed to play a gig in Tel Aviv as part of their tour this summer, and now a whole host of artists - from Ricky Tomlinson, Mike Leigh and Ken Loach to Thurston Moore, China Mieville, Roger Waters, Michael Rosen and Robert Wyatt - are attempting to convince them via the medium of an open letter that performing there would constitute hypocrisy, given the band's support for human rights issues and organisations in other contexts.

Backing down at this stage would be a little embarrassing - but better that than flagrantly ignoring the cultural boycott of Israel for which Palestinians have protested.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fun girl three

Not being a believer in the concept of guilty pleasures, I've been loudly proclaiming my love of Bananarama for years - often to incredulous snorts of derision. This Guardian interview feature with the trio - marking their return to action nearly 40 years after they first formed - indicates that I'm actually in good company: "The bassist from the Cure, who had all their B-sides. The Cult. Judas Priest. The Prodigy. The Deftones." Not to mention Terry Hall of The Specials and John Peel.

As the article rightly underlines, Bananarama - Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin - emerged out of the London punk scene, espousing its amateurish, irreverent, anyone-can-be-a-star spirit, if not its sound or politics. Their early singles are largely tremendous, and even some of the fruits of the much-derided Stock, Aitken & Waterman years are worthy of note. Not that Fahey would agree on the latter point - it was the turn towards "absolutely full-on pop" at a time when she admits to "feeling lost and dark and depressed", and "obsessed with the Smiths", that led to her abrupt departure and ultimately the demise of the band.

While I have neither a burning desire to see them live nor particularly high hopes for the mooted new material, it's good to have them back if it means they'll finally get their due.

All hail the Archdrude

Until last week, I was only dimly aware of Julian Cope, his work (in the field of music and beyond) and his status as a loveable eccentric. Thursday night's gig at Tramshed changed all that. The evening found Cope in sparkling (and very sweary) form, delighting the many hardcore fans with a set spanning his whole music career - from 'The Greatness And Perfection Of Love' from 1984's World Shut Your Mouth all the way to a pair of tracks from new album Drunken Songs. Not that those of us unfamiliar with his back catalogue were left disappointed, mind.

Here's my Buzz review of a gig that also saw Patrick Jones, poet and brother of Nicky Wire, on the bill.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The lying game

I'd love to agree with the Independent that the decision of Britain First's Paul Golding to post a video clip of Muslims purportedly celebrating the Paris terror attack on Twitter "immediately backfired", but sadly that's simply not the case. The video may have been long discredited (it's actually of British Pakistanis reacting to a cricket match) but in the current climate, unfortunately, the truth doesn't matter - spreading the lie will have done damage. Golding is clearly a despicable individual - and all the more so if he's knowingly peddling fake news to incite hatred.

Quote of the day

"Having been able to read Mrs Allen's personal manifesto, the people of Garscadden will be able to make their democratic decision as to whether they wish to be represented by her. One of the many fine things about Ukip is that its local councillors are not whipped. It is possible that we might make an exception in this case."

Gawain Fowler, Ukip's head of press, offers a diplomatic response to the batshit crazy personal statement from Gisela Allen, a prospective council candidate for a ward in Glasgow. Highlights included abolishing bus passes for pensioners and golf courses, declaring that World War III is imminent and that it's vitally important that "children work with horses and ride horses", and proposing the reintroduction of the guillotine.

An unlikely assassination attempt

I'm not quite sure how to feel about Brendan O'Carroll's claim that he nearly killed Maggie Thatcher: grudging approval because he tried, or even greater dislike because it was accidental and he failed.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Hit maker

The late Ugo Ehiogu may have been best known as a professional footballer who represented Aston Villa, Middlesbrough and England with distinction. However, as Angus Harrison explains in a lovely obituary for Noisey, he also had a significant impact within the world of music as the co-founder of and principal investor in Dirty Hit Records, the label that Wolf Alice, The 1975, Little Comets, Benjamin Francis Leftwich and Superfood have all at one time called home.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Outsider art

A short visit to Manchester over the Easter weekend proved to be very sweet indeed, as it presented the opportunity to catch the Strange And Familiar photographic exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery before it winds up next month.

Curated by the brilliant Martin Parr, the exhibition doesn't actually feature any of his own pictures. Instead, it showcases the work of an assortment of international photographers who looked through their lenses at the UK with an outsider's eye and in doing so both defamiliarised the familiar (hence the title) and captured the recent social history and some of the essences and eccentric foibles of the British. A broad range of styles are displayed, from straight, stark, "objective" photojournalism to artfully composed and surrealist images.

Visitors begin with Henri Cartier-Bresson's shots of crowd reactions to coronations and his atypical pictures of holiday-makers in Blackpool produced for Vogue. The whole exhibition is informed by his belief that the value of photography as an art form lies in its ability to capture in-the-moment immediacy, while his keen eye for the significance of apparently trivial minutiae sets the tone for the work that follows.

The exhibition takes visitors all the way from Cartier-Bresson and committed socialists/communists like Edith Tudor-Hart and Paul Strand (both of whom sought to depict the poverty and struggles of the working class) to Hans Eijkelboom's surreptitious snaps of people at the Bullring in Birmingham, meticulously arranged into patterned grids relating to matching items of clothing (Union Jacks, branded T-shirts, hoodies, headscarves) and then assembled into a mesmerising reel that makes a pointed comment on conformity and the illusion of individualism.

London inevitably features most frequently - in Frank Habicht's pictures that encapsulate the Swinging Sixties era, for instance, and in Axel Hutte's stylised images of the architecture of the city's post-war social housing (all rigid lines and beautiful clinical composition, tranquil and yet eerily devoid of people in a way that underlines the fact that the buildings were designed with insufficient consideration of their actual prospective inhabitants).

However, there is also a pleasing geographical diversity, with the exhibition transporting visitors to places as far afield as Liverpool (Candida Hofer's pictures from the 1960s), the Black Country (Bruce Gilden's close-up portraits of battered faces with life stories etched on them, blown up to such hard-to-look-at proportions that every capillary is visible), Belfast and Derry (Akhiko Okamura's dispassionate images of the Troubles) and the Outer Hebrides (Strand's pictures of stoic, resilient islanders).

My personal highlight? Raymond Depardon's series of images taken in Glasgow in 1980. At first glance, they're incredibly grim, depicting a world of darkness and deprivation - so much so that they weren't published despite having been specifically commissioned. From this perspective, the occasional flashes of colour only underscore the bleakness. And yet, looking at the same scenes in a different way (as the whole exhibition and the photographers whose work it features would urge us to do), those same flashes of colour - a pink dress, bright white socks, a pink bubblegum bubble - function to counteract the gloom, offering a small measure of hope. It's surely no coincidence that (in the exhibited photos, at least) the colour is very often provided by children within the setting rather than by the setting itself.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The end of the Day?

It's that time of year again: Record Store Day takes place this Saturday. Forgive me if I don't leap to its support, though. The original intention may have been laudable - a day to celebrate the enduring pleasures of buying physical music in person - but over the years it's become diluted and warped, and now arguably does more damage than good.

I've written before about how Record Store Day has been attacked by distributors, independent record labels and even the owners of precisely the sorts of small independent record shops it's supposed to help, for whom participation means taking large quantities of stock with no right to sale or return. This year, criticism has come from Simon Raymonde, founder of the superb label Bella Union, because the former Cocteau Twin was staggered to discover that his band's final two LPs are set to be re-released by Universal without his knowledge or involvement.

As this underlines, the real beneficiaries of Record Store Day, inevitably, are major labels like Universal, who capitalise by flooding stores with an obscene amount of limited edition and repressed LPs from established and often heritage acts.

Time to call time on the whole thing, I'd suggest - or at very least have a serious rethink and get back to its roots and original aims.

Know Your Enemy

"As with the best products, I can't figure out its name: Banana Surprise? Banana Yumstation? They're both Yewtree-alerting internet search terms, so it doesn't matter. With its selection of catheters, the set resembles My First Urology Kit and is immediately harrowing to use."

Rhik Samadder reviews the Banana Surprise Yumstation in his Inspect A Gadget column for the Guardian. The product and its consequences are perhaps best summed up as "an insult to God".

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Empathy and entitlement

Thought that Stewart Pearson must be a figment of the imagination of the writers of The Thick Of It? Not so. Meet his real-life inspiration, David Cameron's former adviser Steve Hilton, who has been satisfyingly skewered by Decca Aitkenhead in an interview for the Guardian.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Some might say we found a brighter day

Love it or loathe it (and I'm most certainly in the latter camp), Britpop was a genuine pop culture phenomenon, one that extended across music, art and film. Its significance and enduring legacy is the subject of Episode 16 of Sounding Bored, for which host Rob is joined by Tom Sutton and Mike Gibbons, the latter the author of the Britpop-referencing book about England's experience of Euro '96, When Football Came Home.

Each contributor begins by focusing on a different album (Blur's Parklife, Super Furry Animals' Radiator and Oasis' Be Here Now) before they collectively go on to discuss Britpop's origins and influences; both the phenomenon's positive associations with optimism and the celebration of national identity and its negative associations with conservatism, xenophobia and mindless lad culture; and the best bands of the era, as well as those that were unfairly overlooked or overshadowed.

Album of the month is The Big Moon's Love In The 4th Dimension, which harks back to Britpop's heyday and prompts references to pastiche, Shine compilations and the nature of revivalism.

I now need to put together a Spotify playlist to accompany the podcast - please, please, PLEASE don't make me listen to it, though...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Feel good hits of the 17th April

1. 'Strike A Match' - Sacred Paws
Major earworm alert! The sort of song that in a parallel universe would be a globe-straddling smash hit rather than merely the highlight of a subterranean gig in Cardiff in February. Proof that Glasgow's historically vibrant music scene continues to thrive, and hats off to Mogwai for signing them to Rock Action. An avowed passion for Sleater-Kinney and Ex Hex is even more reason to love them.

2. 'Show The Way' - Semifinalists
Hats off to 1p Album Club for reminding me of this lot, who rose from total obscurity to semi-obscurity back in 2006 and then slipped back again just as quickly. 'Show The Way' was the highlight of their self-titled debut, an extraordinary single that, in the course of its sub-four-minute running time, managed to pack in more than many bands' albums: sweetly twinkling indie-pop, a ripsnorter of a riff that rips the song open, some Soft Bulletin-style stargazing. (Mind you, 'You Said' is pretty fucking good too.)

3. 'It Changes' - Amber Arcades
2017 single from recent visitors to Clwb that cements Annelotte de Graaf's status as a Deerhunter acolyte - not that that's remotely a bad thing, you understand.

4. 'Murdered Out' - Kim Gordon
Kim Gordon may be approaching her 64th birthday, but (thankfully) she's still refusing to act her age. That said, 'Murdered Out' is surprising even by her own standards, a collaboration with producer Justin Raisen and featuring Warpaint's Stella Mozgawa on drums that, in its slinkiness, sleaziness and scuzziness, sounds unnervingly like The Icarus Line. Here she is being interrogated by Huck, talking about being haunted by the song's lyrics.

5. 'Monday Morning, Somewhere Central' - Ultimate Painting
This followed Amber Arcades on Spotify the other day, with good reason. It seems like no time ago that I was watching one of their fledgling live outings, with the release of their self-titled debut still some way off. 2016 saw them release their third album, Dusk, from whence this typically slight, gently motorik track comes.

6. 'Big Beautiful Day' - PWR BTTM
Just to reiterate what I've said before, thanks to Donald Trump for introducing me to some great new music. Take PWR BTTM, for instance, whose 'Big Beautiful Day' is a glitterbomb filled with positivity dropped at a time when we need it most.

7. 'Strathcona Slung' - The Delgados
Thanks to Lost In France for introducing me to a fine early Delgados song I'd not heard before. Neither Domestiques nor Peloton are on my shelves, and they both should be.

8. 'Dundee Man' - Spiral Stairs
On which the former Pavement guitarist reveals a peculiar obsession with Scotland. Perhaps it's been unfair to devote all of my attention to the solo efforts of his former partner Stephen Malkmus.

9. 'Oh George' - Peaness
Ignore the name, which hardly marks the Chester trio out for longevity - rebukes to George Osborne and company don't come much sweeter than this.

10. 'The One 2' - !!!
It's been a while since I paid much attention to !!!, and things definitely seem to have taken a turn for the worse judging by this track, the first to be released from new album Shake The Shudder. Any vestiges of punk funk have gone, replaced by (to these ears) uninspired electronic dance pop, complete with guest vocals. That incredible set in the Glade at Glastonbury back in 2007 feels like a long time ago now.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

No belly laughs

Let's be quite clear about this: pork belly can only be a good thing. And yet the fact that it can be pretty much the best thing, when done right, hopefully helps to explain/excuse the negativity of my recent Buzz review of the Deri Inn in Rhiwbina. It was both perfectly edible and a crime against cuisine at the same time.

(I should probably add that my dining companion reckons the overall rating is a tad harsh - perhaps coloured by reading and enjoying Jay Rayner's savaging of Le Cinq.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

It's not a shame about Ray

I wrote a short post about Raymond Pettibon's exhibition A Pen Of All Work last month. Here are the thoughts of Kim Gordon, someone who knows Pettibon better than most and whose album has done arguably as much as anyone to make him a household name. She argues that in an age of myth-making and fake news, his work is as relevant today as it's ever been.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"My lips purse, like a cat's arse that's brushed against nettles."

Just one of the wonderful lines in Jay Rayner's demolition of Le Cinq, an eye-wateringly expensive three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Even his dining companion got in on the act, referring to one canape (that Rayner has already described as looking "like a Barbie-sized silicon breast implant") as "like eating a condom that's been left lying about in a dusty greengrocers".

Hatchet job? Possibly - but Rayner's own photos of what was served up bear little resemblance to the press shots supplied by the restaurant (who snootily refused to allow the Guardian to photograph the dishes themselves).

Either way, it's clearly no Riley's Fish Shack...

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nancy boy

Brian Molko is, by most accounts, a pretty unpleasant character and the quality of Placebo's music fell off a cliff after (or perhaps mid-way through) 2000's Black Market Music. But it's worth remembering - as Noisey's Daisy Jones suggests we should - that in the context of the mid- to late 90s, when we were suffering the boorish, male, lager-swilling dregs of Britpop, Molko's openness about non-heteronormativity and his band's spiky take on glam were "like a neon light in a dark alleyway".

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Bad Good Moon rising?

At last - some genuinely positive news in the battle to save Womanby Street. Former members of staff at the Full Moon have come together under the banner Creative Republic of Cardiff with the aim of reopening the venue as a non-profit hub for music, arts and culture for the benefit of the local community. Here's hoping the landlord is sufficiently impressed by their case - and by the weight of public support for the venture (as well as for the venue in its previous guise) - to make the dream a reality.

One way of showing you back the bid is to contribute to their crowdfunding efforts here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Leaders of the pack

The Full Moon may have abruptly shut its doors last week, but that didn't stop PINS from kicking off their latest jaunt around the country in Cardiff last night. Full credit to Liz for managing to find a new home for the gig at such short notice, as she has for several other shows.

The change of venues meant a third trip to Clwb in a week and a half for me (after Amber Arcades and IDLES), for what was my third sighting of the Mancunian troupe just over a year. The review is already up on the Buzz website, and also includes comments on grungy/Sabbathy Danish support act Baby In Vain.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Liberalism used to be about freedom, but now it's about a kind of warped moral authority that is actually part of the moral superiority movement."

Provocative stuff (as ever) from Bret Easton Ellis, who is no fan of Donald Trump but clearly also no fan of the Left's reaction to him either. In a recent podcast, he mocks liberals for their "childish meltdowns" and "psychosis" in the wake of the election, while (naturally) pointing out his own prescient indictment of Trump in American Psycho. Some liberal responses were indeed cringeworthy, but given how things have unfolded so far, it's hard to see that the hysteria was unjustified. It would be interesting to know how he feels liberals should have reacted.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Indexing, the value of

Indexes are often regarded as insignificant elements of non-fiction books, to the extent that corner-cutting publishers often ask authors to compile them themselves or omit them altogether. And yet, as Sam Leith argued on 30th March (National Indexing Day), a good index can be an enormous help to readers in desperate search of information or passages relevant to their specific topic and requires a skillful indexer rather than a computer algorithm. I'd also second Leith's comment that the indexes in Alan Partridge's two books I, Partridge and Nomad are as amusing as the main text.

(Thanks to Lisa for the link.)

Saturday, April 08, 2017

IDLES: wild

While I remain slightly wary of IDLES, there's no doubting they put on one hell of a live show. Here's my report on Wednesday's gig at Clwb, the final one of their tour, that saw them line up alongside fellow Bristolians Lice and Swansea's People And Other Diseases.

The evening was a pleasing reminder that living in Cardiff will mean I'll not only be able to get intimately acquainted with the local music scene, but can also expect to enjoy exposure to the cream of Bristol's crop as they start to play away from home turf. That said, it's incredible to think that it was the first bill ever to lure the legend that is Big Jeff across the Severn Bridge...

Friday, April 07, 2017

Lunar eclipse

Just in case anyone was complacent enough to think that the severity of the multiple threats to the music venues clustered on Cardiff's Womanby Street was overstated, a sobering development: the announcement on Wednesday that the Full Moon was shutting its doors, with immediate effect.

A statement posted on their Facebook page explained that "our creditors have lost confidence in our long-term sustainability and taken action", inevitably citing "the current air of uncertainty" as a prime reason for the jitteriness - proof that the threats alone are proving damaging. If they do materialise, the results don't bear thinking about.

The statement did however also make reference to "some difficult trading", implying that footfall and bar takings weren't great and the venue could have been better supported. However, judging by the numerous disappointed and horrified reactions to the statement, it's evident that it built up a sizeable fanbase over the course of its five-year existence. The statement ended by urging people to "please support the other treasures we have" - something that is becoming increasingly vital.

I never got the opportunity to go to the Full Moon myself - I was looking forward to paying it a first visit on Monday to see PINS, but that's one of several shows that has had to be hastily rearranged (moving across the road to Clwb).

Of course, the Full Moon isn't the first victim of circumstances this year. On the contrary, the Moon Club was reopened as the Bootlegger in January, while the following month Dempseys closed to make way for Gareth Bale's Eleven Bar and Grill, a sports bar created in collaboration with Brains. Visiting the site recently, Bale chuntered on about "community" while apparently "he has helped put the drinks menu together, even though he doesn't drink, and he will even have his own beer on sale". For fuck's sake.

Mercifully, it's not all bad news. Local MPs Jo Stevens and Kevin Brennan have both publicly declared their support for the Save Womanby Street campaign, backing the call for the street to be given protected status. Decisions remain in the hands of Cardiff Council and the National Assembly - but it can't help that the campaign has a few friends in high places, rather than merely enemies.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

The law of averages

The new issue of Buzz is out now, and this month features no fewer than three short album reviews from yours truly. Of Death Song by Austin Psych Fest founders The Black Angels, Made Of Breath Only by Aussie post-rockers sleepmakeswaves and Jhator by leftfield noise rock titans Zu, the latter probably impressed the most, but none of them are outstanding. Also assessed in the issue are the new LPs from British Sea Power, Blaenavon and Voivod.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Quote of the day

"What has always impressed me the most with this album is that for all the wonderfully dense layers of orchestration, non-standard time signatures, distorted/chopped/warped sounds, and mournful lyrical imagery, it has a flirtatious relationship with popular music. OK Computer is an unintentional pop record, one of those albums that would seem an impossible hit if you broke the components apart. It is this very unscriptable element that makes it so effective; the best subversion in pop culture comes from the inside out."

John Baizley of Baroness on Radiohead's 1997 masterpiece.

Baizley's comments appear alongside similarly enthusiastic appraisals by the likes of Marissa Nadler, Benjamin Power (Fuck Buttons and Blanck Mass), Will Butler and Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) and DJ Shadow in this Pitchfork article, one of a series of pieces marking the album's twentieth anniversary. Of the others, Barry Walters' reminiscences of first hearing and then reviewing the LP for Spin is worth a look.

Unsurprisingly, Pitchfork isn't the only music site to pay tribute to OK Computer. Here's Louder Than War's Simon Tucker on the album's forward-thinking approach and predictive powers: "OK Computer was the right album for the right time and maybe that time is now."

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Glasgow kiss

Lost In France is a celebration of the historic fertility of Glasgow's music scene, but Chemikal Underground head honcho Stewart Henderson's gloomy ruminations on the current challenges facing bands and labels might lead you to believe that the contemporary picture is bleak. Likewise, our focus on the city's rich musical past in Episode 2 of Sounding Bored might imply that there's little to get excited about in the present.

So this piece by Clash's Hayley Scott is a timely (and encouraging) corrective, arguing that "Glasgow's bustling underground has rarely been in such rude health". Among the bands she singles out are Sacred Paws and Spinning Coin, whose recent tour together stopped off at Cardiff in February.

The price of pedantry

Anyone who thinks being fussy about punctuation is pedantic and ludicrous might like to consider the case of Maine company Oakhurst Dairy, who have recently discovered that the omission of an all-important serial comma could cost them up to $10 million. Here's the New York Times' Daniel Victor to explain.

(Thanks to Adam for the link.)

Monday, April 03, 2017

Noughty boys

Another episode of Sounding Bored, another new panellist. Episode 15 sees regulars Rob and Niall joined by debutant Tom Sutton for discussion of indie rock in the Noughties. Tom once pulled together one of the best mixtapes I've ever had the good fortune to receive, so his opinion is definitely worth listening out for.

Focus initially falls on three bands/artists prominent during the course of the decade, each hand-picked by a different participant (Interpol - Niall, Smog/Bill Callahan - Tom, LCD Soundsystem - Rob). Incidentally, Rob has recently written a brilliant piece about James Murphy and company for Toppermost, and is spot on when he praises the incredible trio of songs on Sounds Of Silver, 'North American Scum', 'Someone Great' and 'All My Friends'. My preference, though, would still be for the first LP (if you take it as a double album), which I adore more with every spin - and it's not hard to see 'Losing My Edge', which first surfaced in 2002, as the single most defining song of the Noughties.

Back to the podcast, and there's also discussion of the growth of online music sites and blogs (and the corresponding decline in the influence and readership of print publications), post-punk revivalism, indie/dance crossover, the rise of Americana, and the centrality of Brooklyn in the stories of many of the decade's most significant bands.

The featured album, appropriately enough, is the self-titled eighth LP by one of the Brooklyn scene's leading lights, Dirty Projectors, which sees Dave Longstreth reacting to his break-up with partner and former band member Amber Coffman and fully embracing hip hop/r'n'b production values. Personally I've given the supposed stand-out track 'Up In Hudson' a try and was taken aback by quite how much I loathed it. Each to their own, I suppose.

Amber? Gold

It's pretty shameful that it took me three months of living back in Cardiff to get round to revisiting Clwb Ifor Bach. The band that drew me back to a favourite haunt? Amber Arcades, who were just as good on Thursday night as they were in Oxford back in October. My Buzz review of the evening, including thoughts on local support act Tender Prey, is here.

It won't be quite so long until my next visit - I should be back there for Idles on Wednesday...

Sunday, April 02, 2017

"We were just a train wreck"

Last week I posted about a writer who claims he could live without books (but not music) - and today I'm posting about a musician who declares "I fucking hate music".

Ben Graham of the Quietus spoke to Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary about the band's history and in particular the creation of their fourth album Locust Abortion Technician, "the sound of a band operating on the edge of madness", for which the itinerant band randomly chose to relocate to the outskirts of Athens in Georgia.

It won't come as a surprise to anyone who saw them live (or has read the chapter on them in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life, the most entertaining in an extremely enjoyable book) that they were "just a train wreck". Unique though they were in many ways, their "screaming absurdist noise catharsis" and extremist performance art inspired by punk, Dada and Fluxus connects them to some of the more intense, out-there manifestations of post-punk, particularly the freakish output of late 1970s San Francisco and the likes of Throbbing Gristle in the UK (both as detailed by Simon Reynolds in Rip It Up And Start Again).

The more I read about the infamous 1985 show at New York's Danceteria, the more I wish I'd been there. One to tell the grandchildren about. Or, on second thoughts, maybe not.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Know Your Enemy

"Just... no.

You might think that Music Venue Trust as an organisation is inherently against development. You'd be wrong. We have no problem at all with sensible, thoughtful, cleverly designed residential spaces coming into our towns and cities. Modern design means you can build them right next to music venues, working with the venue to ensure that residents can enjoy peace and the venue can enjoy new customers right on their doorstep. You can write covenants into the use of the new residences that protect music venues from complaints. You can build spaces which are appropriate to city centre spaces and attract exactly the type of people who would want to live right in the heart of a vibrant city centre to live in them. You can float residential spaces to avoid vibrations, create access away from entrances, triple insulate windows, mitigate noise transference, insulate the nearby venue, support the venue with a bespoke designed sound system which reduces noise leakage, and about a dozen other incredibly easy to do things which would make development possible.

What you can't do with any chance of it ending well is drop a poorly conceived and inadequately designed set of luxury flats right in the middle of one of the most important live music streets in the country and hope for the best. 

Just... no."

The full statement of the Music Venue Trust in response to the proposals to construct a seven-storey apartment block right next to Clwb Ifor Bach on Cardiff's Womanby Street.

Coming hard on the heels of the closure of Dempseys, the rates increases, Wetherspoons' proposed hotel above their Gatekeeper pub and (most recently) the noise abatement order served against Fuel, it really does seem as though Womanby Street is under attack. The Save Womanby Street campaign appears to be fighting a battle that gets harder but consequently more vital by the day. At least it's receiving a lot of backing, including from those with (hopefully) some clout.

Telling tales

Children's illustrator: "Does anyone know anything about eggs?"

Five-year-old girl: "You can use them to make a delicious carbonara."

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of children's literary festivals.

(Thanks to Alison Brown and Jonny Lambert for keeping Stanley and I occupied and entertained with crafty book-related activities last Sunday afternoon.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Glasto goodies, soured Milk and local delights

Yesterday saw the announcement of the first wave of acts to appear alongside headliners Radiohead, Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran at Glastonbury - and as usual the bookers have supplied ample evidence to challenge the sneering naysayers' claims that the festival is not for the music fan of discerning taste. Angel Olsen, Run The Jewels, Mark Lanegan, The National, Ride, The Flaming Lips, The XX, Solange, Sleaford Mods, Goldfrapp, DJ Shadow and Kate Tempest are among those set to pitch up at Worthy Farm for the enjoyment of those fortunate enough to have tickets. Clean Bandit and Shaggy are also on the bill, but then you can't have everything.

Meanwhile, it's a case of deja vu as the inaugural Safe As Milk - previously talked up on this site - has been cancelled. The festival, which boasted an intriguing line-up, was due to take place at Pontins in Prestatyn towards the end of April but disappointing ticket sales have forced the organisers to pull the plug on the grounds of financial viability. Following the undignified collapse of ATP, it always looked like a bit of a gamble, and this sorry situation would appear to sound the death knell for holiday camp weekenders - or at least ones that aren't a recreation of mid-to-late-90s Britpop purgatory.

There's better news here in Cardiff, where it's been announced that From Now On, the experimental pop festival organised by Mark Daman Thomas of Islet and Shape Records, will return to Chapter in May. The line-up is as yet unknown, but given that last year's event featured Julia Holter, my hopes are high. Given I'll be missing out on both Wales Goes Pop and Green Man, the announcement is very welcome indeed.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Acid house

It's a pretty extraordinary story, and no mistake: how 60 per cent of the global - yes, global - supply of LSD was once manufactured in the basement of a rural Welsh mansion, before Operation Julie, involving 800 police officers from 11 different police forces, shut it down. Little wonder that it's been the subject of books, a TV drama, an audio play and a radio documentary.

Here, one of those behind the latter, Carolyn Hitt, tells the tale of highly educated, loveable rogues who believed fervently in the positive, mind-expanding powers of acid - and the police officers who went undercover and worked tirelessly to catch them.

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

No pussy blues

I'd never heard of the fiendish (possibly real, possibly hypothetical) seventeenth-century instrument the Katzenklavier, or cat organ, but discovering that Nick Cave had narrated an award-winning short animated film in which it stars made me want to find out more.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Off: the Wall

In terms of both the stature of its headliners (Pet Shop Boys, The Libertines and Mark Ronson) and the location (Heddon-on-the-Wall, just to the west of Newcastle), Festival On The Wall promised to be an interesting new addition to the festival calendar. But now the plug has been pulled on the inaugural event by the organisers, who have done so "with an incredibly heavy heart", citing "several significant operational challenges".

A classic case of attempting to run before you can walk and underestimating all of the conditions that need to be satisfied/hoops that need to be jumped through before an event of that size can be staged, especially in a rural area? Quite possibly - but as long as those who had bought tickets are quickly and fully recompensed, then it's better that the festival was cancelled at this stage, with more than four months to go, than only a few days before (hello ATP!). Better too than it going ahead and turning into a damaging farce that might have impacted on the festival industry more widely.

Meanwhile, there are no such concerns for Green Man, who have just announced that Ride will fill the new slot of Thursday night headliner. Daniel Avery, whose 'Drone Logic' has been a recent obsession of mine, is another eye-catching addition to the bill, but by some distance the most striking new name on the line-up is that of the reformed Lift To Experience, whom the organisers have said they saw at Guy Garvey's Meltdown last year and simply had to book. Given my enthusiasm for The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, the diary clash preventing me from going this year is now an even greater source of chagrin.

There's trouble brewing

It's safe to say that the Guardian won't be on the Christmas card list of BrewDog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie. Not only did the paper cover the story of the heavy-handed legal threat the firm ill-advisedly issued to the Lone Wolf pub in Birmingham and the consequent social media shitstorm and embarrassing climbdown, but it's now unearthed further evidence of BrewDog adopting the bullying tactics of the corporate big boys.

The earlier threat saw the self-styled punks trying to claim the use of the word "punk" constituted a copyright infringement - oh the irony. If Watt's hasty excuse in the case of the Lone Wolf - that the suits got "trigger-happy" - looked decidedly suspect, it seems even more so now.

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

"The vital importance of knowing better"

Jessica Shattuck's New York Times article on how she had to come to terms with her grandmother's Nazi past is thought-provoking in its own right, describing how she maintained her love and affection but refused to allow it to cloud her judgement and induce her to accept her grandmother's protestations of ignorance as an excuse.

But, perhaps inevitably, it's also impossible not to read the piece in the light of the current political climate, and in particular the election of Donald Trump - a parallel that is left unstated but certainly implied: "My grandmother heard what she wanted from a leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to."

(Thanks to Lyndsey for the link.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

You can't stop the rock

Stop me if you've heard this one before: popular Cardiff music venue under threat of closure following the complaints of a lone disgruntled local resident. Yep, what's currently happening to Fuel is exactly what happened to the Point, which ultimately caused the latter to shut its doors for good.

It seems that a new resident in one of the nearby flats has taken exception to the city centre rock club, first moaning in person to staff and then taking his grievance to the council, who have taken the resident's side and issued Fuel with a noise abatement order. I remain utterly dumbfounded that people can knowingly move into a vibrant area and have the sheer pigheaded gall to immediately set about trying to shut it down. Fuckwits. It would be like if we had moved into our new house at Christmas and immediately demanded that the train line at the bottom of our garden be unused between the hours of 11 and 8.

Needless to say, Fuel owner Rob Toogood is making use of the advice and expertise of the Music Venue Trust in preparation for the fight ahead, while the news makes the establishment of the Save Womanby Street campaign all the more timely and important. With Wetherspoons set to develop a hotel above their Gatekeeper pub, which backs onto Womanby Street, and no sign of the "agent of change" principle being adopted any time soon, the likelihood of further threats to Cardiff's music scene and nightlife look imminent.

I'm not a regular visitor to Fuel, but it's certainly the club I've been to most in the last few years (not saying much given my advancing years, admittedly...). It has the same cheerfully sweaty, friendly, lively character as Rock City had back in the day, and as such it would be a terrible shame to see it shuttered.

A bitter taste in the mouth

At what point do small, independent, self-styled "cool" companies jump the shark and become corporate behemoths? BrewDog have just found out, having got themselves embroiled in a PR catastrophe that has left them with a bloody nose and fewer friends.

It all kicked off when the company threatened legal action against the recently opened and family-run Lone Wolf pub in Birmingham, which shared a name with BrewDog's new vodka brand. The resulting social media outcry, not to mention a Guardian article publicising the incident, led to some hasty backpedalling - though even then they dug a deeper hole for themselves, co-founder James Watt attempting to shirk personal blame by claiming their lawyers got "a bit trigger happy", as if lawyers don't take instructions from their clients and regularly go rogue.

To make matters worse, BrewDog have long defined themselves as fearless Davids taking on the corporate might of Goliaths like Diageo, or (in their terms) as punks challenging the drinks industry establishment, represented by the staid, reactionary Portman Group. Accusations of rank hypocrisy with regard to the Lone Wolf episode are impossible for the company to avoid, given pronouncements like the one they made last year when themselves issued with a legal threat for exactly the same transgression: "Here at BrewDog, we don't take too kindly to petty pen pushers attempting to make a fast buck by discrediting our good name under the guise of copyright infringement." Ouch. Talk about your words coming back to bite you in the arse.

Of course, some of us (ahem) have harboured suspicions about BrewDog's claims to be a "renegade craft brewer" set on "burning the established system" for some time, in light of a strategy that appears as aggressively expansionist as that of Tesco and Starbucks. How they respond to this incident will be interesting - perhaps they won't care about losing former friends among the craft beer community, given their increasing access to the mainstream market, but either way their self-image as punky upstarts will no longer wash.

"This is not OK"

Speaking from personal experience, life as a PhD student (particularly in the humanities) can be tough enough even when you don't suffer from any mental health issues. But when you do - like my friend Cat, who has struggled against anxiety and depression for some time - the specific institutional context and increasing demands and pressures of being a doctoral student within the academic machine can be particularly severe and damaging, exacerbating pre-existent problems.

Having completed her thesis and passed her viva, and with the benefit of a bit of distance and perspective, Cat has written about her own experience and drawn some conclusions for the Mindyourhead blog, in the hope that being open and speaking out will be of help to others going through similar situations.

Monday, March 27, 2017

"A fight we need to keep fighting"

Braids' 'Miniskirt' is already an extraordinary song even before you learn that it was inspired by the real-life abuse that Raphaelle Standell-Preston suffered at the hands of her stepfather. Bravely discussing the subject for Pitchfork last year, she explains how the process of writing and performing the song wasn't cathartic, actually making "the memories grow louder and louder" - but that the reaction of those who've experienced similar trauma has ultimately convinced her that it's important to speak out.

Seafood hero

Along with Frank Robinson aka Xylophone Man, cockle seller Dave Bartram was one of the most legendary figures in Nottingham during my time living there. So it's bittersweet to hear that he's suffered injury at the hands of aggressive robbers, only for the consequent medical examination to reveal a cancerous tumour at a sufficiently early stage for it to be dealt with by chemotherapy. It's characteristic of the man - a cheery, hardy soul who treks from pub to pub flogging his wares - that he was able to say his assailants "did me a favour".

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Unseen Eye

Brass Eye turns 20 years old this year, and while it doesn't look as though there'll be a new episode or series to mark the occasion, there will be a documentary featuring previously unseen footage, compiled by the show's director Michael Cumming - arguably the next best thing.

Given the critical reputation and rabid fandom that has grown up around the series (and The Day Today), it's surprising that this material hasn't seen the light of day before. Perhaps Chris Morris was actively suppressing it - if so, he's clearly relented, as Oxide Ghosts: The Brass Eye Tapes has his seal of approval.

The film is due to make its screen debut at the Pilot Light TV Festival in Manchester in May - but, with any luck, will be shown further afield afterwards.

Know Your Enemy

"In 1985, there was a kind of frustration about the status quo in music. Today, all I know about the music scene is when my kids play Heart FM and it's dreadful. Pop music is dreadful. I mean, you find a radio now, switch it on, and I guarantee it'll be garbage coming out. That still pisses me off."

Jim Reid of The Jesus & Mary Chain, in conversation with the Guardian's Alexis Petridis, adopting that classic promotional strategy of savaging everything else rather than merely talking up your own latest release. The release in question, Damage And Joy, is their first LP since 1998's Munki and came out on Friday to generally warm if not rabidly enthusiastic reviews.

If there's ever a new series of Grumpy Old Men, then the brothers Reid would be far more welcome participants than Rick Wakeman.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rankin, Rebus and music's muse

"I can imagine living without books, but I can't imagine living without music." An unlikely comment, perhaps, coming from a celebrated writer - but, as Ian Rankin recently confessed to Mary Anne Hobbs, he remains a "frustrated rock star" at heart.

An early love of music (especially Alice Cooper and Hawkwind) inspired his first creative endeavours, dreaming up an imaginary band called the Amoebas, and he even went so far as to front a couple of punk bands in his youth.

Then, when it came to creating Inspector Rebus, Rankin decided to make him a music fan, using his fictional detective's particular favourites - the Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen - as a form of shorthand in subtly defining his character for the savvy reader.

Joy Division and The Cure - neither of whom would appeal to Rebus - have lent two of Rankin's novels their names (Dead Souls and The Hanging Garden respectively), while music seems equally important to the actual business of writing, with the likes of Brian Eno, Mogwai and Blanck Mass all providing a backdrop that is both unobtrusive (largely by virtue of being instrumental) and yet capable of hermetically sealing the author away from the outside world.

Rankin is a longstanding fan of Mogwai in particular - I recall him talking animatedly about them to my friend Olav when being interviewed for the university magazine back in 2001. I'm also reminded of the time I was in a pub in Edinburgh chatting about Rankin's love for the post-rock poster boys and his uncanny knack of capturing the darker side of the Scottish capital's past and present in his fiction when I realised that Stuart Braithwaite and company were actually sat at the next table. Just a shame it was in the World's End rather than the Oxford Bar, but then you can't have everything.

Friday, March 24, 2017

"A dream of dark and troubling things"

As this article by Danny Leigh makes clear, Eraserhead was released to very little fanfare and received stunned reactions, but over the last four decades David Lynch's directorial debut has come to assume huge importance - both in the direction that Lynch's career and work subsequently took and in the way it inspired filmmakers and freaks alike.

I've seen it once, late at night (of course), and let's just say that it's not conducive to a good night's sleep. It was disturbing enough then, but watching it now, as a father, would probably be seriously traumatising. It's certainly not a great advert for parenthood...

(Thanks to Simon for the link.)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

New York state of mind

A new Thurston Moore record? Well, go on then - if you insist... Rock 'N' Roll Consciousness is out on 28th April, recorded in Crouch End (near his Stoke Newington manor) by Paul Epworth and with his now established accomplices James Sedwards, Deb Googe and Steve Shelley.

It comprises just five tracks, three of which feature lyrical contributions from London poet Radieux Radio, with whom Moore's collaborated on a 7", previous record The Best Day and most recently a residency called Watch The Sky at the Islington Mill in Salford.

The first of the songs to see the light of day is the largely (and perhaps surprisingly) understated 'Smoke Of Dreams', electrified only by a section of chugging guitar over which Moore solos like J Mascis. It's a wonder six-string pyrotechnician Sedwards was able to restrain himself for four minutes. Meanwhile, the lyrical subject matter indicates that while you can take the boy (well, nearly sixty-something man) out of New York, you can't take New York out of the boy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

When Esther Honig sent a natural, make-up-free portrait photo to Photoshop artists in 25 different countries with the simple instruction "Make me beautiful", the results underlined the fact that ideals of beauty are culturally and geographically relative.