Friday, June 23, 2017

All quiet noisy on the Western front

One of the major downsides of moving to Cardiff was that it ended my run as a regular contributor to Sounding Bored. As much as I've enjoyed listening to the monthly episodes this year, it's not the same as actually taking part - so it was with great pleasure that I was involved in the most recent podcast, Episode 18, recorded on location with Rob in the Welsh capital.

On what was a sweltering night, we battled against the drone of the overworked air conditioning and discussed Cardiff as the latest in our semi-regular Music Cities series. Hopefully, it doesn't just come across as me attempting to catalogue and give a shout-out to everything that's great about the city from a musical perspective (bands, venues, shops etc) - though there's admittedly an element of that.

The episode was an opportunity for me to wax lyrical about my long-standing love for Los Campesinos!, as well as enthuse about the new Public Service Broadcasting album Every Valley, which takes as its subject matter the decline of the mining industry in south Wales.

Album of the month was Sweet Baboo's Wild Imagination - an LP that struck a chord with me on a personal level (and beyond), even if it left Rob somewhat disappointed.

A big thanks to those who took the time to contribute their thoughts in advance of the recording: Noel Gardner, Mark Daman Thomas and Geraint Evans.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

School of rock

Ed Miliband, well meaning and generally decent though he seems, comes across as a bit of an Alan Partridge figure at the best of times (largely thanks to the voice). However, never has the comparison been more apt than yesterday, when, while filling in for Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, he took lessons in extreme metal vocals from Napalm Death's Barney Greenway. Needless to say, he wasn't very good.

In truth, Miliband has probably already got a bit of credibility within that sphere, given his association with massive gravestones and his niche appeal to the electorate.

So what's next - Ken Bruce collaborating with Squarepusher?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Free love

In 1967, not only did The Beatles release their seminal album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, they also scored a #1 hit with 'All You Need Is Love'. Rather fittingly, as Jon Savage points out, the single occupied top spot in the charts when homosexuality was partially decriminalised.

While popular music and culture didn't exactly have an instrumental role in bringing about change (though The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Pink Floyd all touched on the subject of homosexuality and androgyny), they were heavily influenced by gay visionaries like Beatles manager Brian Epstein and fashion designer John Stephen.

Savage's look at a momentous period in pop and the wider culture, and at how a confluence of progressive politics and shifting public attitudes resulted in a historic legal change, is an illuminating read.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Charge of the shite brigade

How music should be paid for and how music-makers should be compensated for their art is a regular subject of discussion (as it was in Episode 8 of Sounding Bored, on streaming) - but what about reviews and reviewers? It's a thorny issue, one brought into sharp focus by the decision of one website to start charging for reviews.

I must admit that Arctic Drones, an online magazine specialising in post-rock, hadn't appeared on my radar until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention by Dan Salter of Echoes And Dust, formerly a fan of Arctic Drones who profoundly disagrees with their recently adopted paid-for model. Salter's issue is not with the decision to create some revenue but with the way Arctic Drones are going about it: it's not readers who are being charged, but bands.

In response to Salter's online criticisms, Arctic Drones posted a lengthy Facebook post attempting to explain and justify their stance and reasoning, which has provoked a significant amount of further debate.

I'll admit that there are times when I feel uncomfortable for continually providing free copy - but it does mean that I'm able to hear many more albums and go to many more gigs than I could afford to otherwise. But I would never even attempt to equate (even obliquely) the time and effort I put into reviewing with the time and effort musicians put into their art - and how much money they expend in the process.

Even if Arctic Drones' reviewers do feel entitled to receive some sort of financial compensation (for, it should be pointed out, writing only about albums they like - as per another site policy), surely it should be generated through adverts, crowdfunding or some kind of paywall - in other words, generated from readers who think the site's content is worth paying for. Arctic Drones' model is the equivalent of the despised "pay-to-play" model operated by some unscrupulous gig promoters, and removes all credibility from their reviews, which (however you look at it) are now nothing but advertisements. If they want to morph into a site that provides a PR service, fair enough (I guess) - but they need to drop all claims to being reviewers.

While, to me and many others, the decision looks like a misguided attempt to bite the hand that feeds, Arctic Drones have made clear that they don't really care if it results in the demise of the site. Arguably, that's the most damning thing about the whole affair - if the writers have collectively lost the passion for what they do or at least are resentful of the time and cost that running the site incurs, then far better to admit that and close Arctic Drones down than adopt a model that discriminates against the very bands and music scene they claim to love.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Art and Kraft

Wonders will never cease. Not only are Kraftwerk busy dazzling audiences up and down the country  with a (by all accounts) astonishing live show that most probably never thought they'd get to witness, the German pioneers have also granted an interview. In conversation with the Guardian's Tim Jonze, Ralf Hutter isn't hugely forthcoming - his responses are guarded and often somewhat elliptical - but he does talk about technology, politics, his band's origins and their enormous musical legacy.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Hot stuff

It might not be the season for hot drinks, but as someone who can't get through any day - whatever the time of year - without copious quantities of caffeine, I read Buzz's guide to the best tea and coffee places in Wales with interest.

Of the cafes located in Cardiff, I can wholeheartedly endorse Wally's Kaffeehaus, which is styled on Viennese coffeehouses and is situated above an amazing deli, and would also make mention of Uncommon Ground, also situated in Royal Arcade. Outpost in the Castle Emporium, the Plan in Morgan Arcade and Brod in Canton, other places I've discovered while on my dedicated one-man mission to research the capital's cafes, would also be worthy of inclusion.

While I'm not likely to be tempted into venturing into Cathays just to go to Kappuccino's, Little Man Coffee on Bridge Street is very definitely on my radar - it would have been good to visit when it was hosting an exhibition as part of the Diffusion festival, but it does have the work of local artists permanently on display.

Friday, June 16, 2017

"A tragedy, but not an accident"

This is the phrase Ben Beachos rightly uses to describe the Grenfell Tower fire in a Vice article in which he cites "austerity measures, gentrification and a callous disregard for public safety" as the key contributing factors. It's hard to argue with his conclusions.

The Tories have slashed fire service budgets and refused to back legislation that would have required landlords to ensure that their properties are fit for human habitation, with Philip Davies arguing that it would put too much of a "burden" on them. Meanwhile, the landlord operating Grenfell Tower, the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea, and its management company, KCTMO, are being criticised for apparently prioritising external cladding to prettify the tower for the benefit of its wealthy neighbours over spending money on a sprinkler system and other fire safety measures (especially in view of the fact that it may well have been this cladding that spread the fire to all floors so rapidly). Even worse, they repeatedly dismissed or ignored the legitimate safety concerns of residents, leading the Grenfell Action Group to issue a stark warning last year that "only an incident that results in serious loss of life" would result in safety being taken sufficiently seriously. Theresa May has demanded an public inquiry, and the findings are unlikely to make pleasant reading for her party and the landlord.

The front page of yesterday's Daily Mail posed a question: "How the hell could it happen?" Beach's piece provides answers aplenty, though not ones that the Tory-supporting, health-and-safety-gone-mad Mail and its readers are likely to find easy to stomach. Perhaps aware that the headline left it on shaky ground, the Mail also published both the name and pictures of the resident whose fridge is alleged to have caused the blaze, as if to point the finger of blame. Of all the many indescribably despicable things that the shitrag has done over the years, that's right up there with the most appalling.

Horny devil

Reading Kate Mossman's recent article on Kiss for the New Statesman, it wasn't exactly a surprise to learn that Gene Simmons is a bit of a prick. And now here he is proving it, by claiming that he invented the devil horns hand gesture and attempting to patent it. If he's successful (if that's even possible), I don't know what it'll mean - paying him royalties every time you make the sign? Either way, I've got a two-fingered gesture he can have for free.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Free thinking

One of the few familiar names on the Cardiff music scene from my first stint in the city ten years ago is Stephen Black aka Sweet Baboo. Wild Imagination, released on Moshi Moshi, is his seventh LP - and one I've just had the pleasure of reviewing for Buzz. A thoroughly nice chap (I had a chat with him in a local park the other day, while we were pushing our respective sprogs on the swings), he also gave a short interview for the site.

His tour calls at Clwb Ifor Bach tomorrow night, but frustratingly it doesn't look as though I'll be able to go. However, Wild Imagination will be the featured album on Episode 18 of Sounding Bored, to be recorded on location here in Cardiff and set to be the latest in our semi-regular Music Cities series.

Quote of the day

"To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017 and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible's teaching has felt impossible for me."

A frankly mind-boggling statement from Tim Farron, issued in the course of stepping down from the leadership of the Liberal Democrats. Not only does he effectively concede that being a "committed Christian" makes you a bigot, he's then open about the fact that he's chosen bigotry over liberal values. Come back Nick Clegg, all is forgiven...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The whale truth, and nothing but the whale truth?

Despite being someone often presented as a pioneer and a true original, Bob Dylan has regularly been accused of taking significant inspiration from (i.e. stealing) the work of others and passing it off as his own, sometimes without credit. Often, this is in the lyrical content of his songs, but it's also true of his art - only this January, blogger Diamond Geezer told the astonishing tale of how Dylan had used one of his photos for a painting of a pier that the singer claimed was in Norfolk, Virginia rather than in Blackpool.

But it really would take the biscuit if Dylan cribbed the parts of his Nobel lecture about Moby-Dick from SparkNotes, the online equivalent of the York Notes books. Slate's Andrea Pitzer certainly makes a good case for it. As she suggests, it could possibly be seen "as a sendup of the prestige-prize economy" from someone who initially snubbed the Nobel panel, which would be a pretty punk gesture - but it might simply be evidence that Dylan can't change the habit of a lifetime.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fool's gold

I'll admit that while I've long approved of what Jeremy Corbyn stands for, like many others, I had become unconvinced by his leadership of the Labour Party and was unsure he could deal any kind of blow to the Tories in the election. How wrong I was (happily) - but not as wrong as Observer columnist Nick Cohen. He published a piece in March (before Theresa May called the snap election) that not only denounced Corbyn's leadership and electoral prospects, but also the man himself and any Observer readers "foolish" enough to back him.

At the time, the article drew criticism for its sweary and intemperate concluding message for Corbynites; three months on, its unpleasantly patronising and hectoring tone seems even more ill judged, and the content of the whole piece leaves Cohen looking like the real fool. Presumably he's now on a steady diet of humble pie.

(Thanks to Chris for the link.)

Neu world order

After nearly six months back in Cardiff, it's pretty shameful to confess that Thursday night was my first ever visit to the Moon. But what a visit, courtesy of marvellously noisy bastards Gnod. Inevitably, given the date and the title of the headliners' new LP, my review of the gig for Buzz is crammed full of references to the election that are hopefully not entirely gratuitous. That said, I did leave out one: my idle thought, while Gnod were deep in another repeato-rock beast, that perhaps Theresa May's robotic parroting of the phrase "strong and stable" wasn't evidence of a paucity of political substance and convincing argument but a subtle confession of a love of Krautrock.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The power of pop

I'm not a regular at "big pop gigs", unlike Alexis Petridis, who has attended many arena shows both as the father of pre-teen girls and in his  role as a music critic for the Guardian. His piece on the significance of such shows as an empowering and enthusing experience - a significance that he admits his daughters rather professional experience have taught him - is without a doubt the best response to the Manchester Arena attack that I've come across.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Quote of the day

"Calling @AIannucci. Give it up mate. They're doing a better job."

Ed Miliband tweets his reaction to the breaking news from Sky's David Blevins that "DUP has NOT yet reached any agreement with the Tories. Sky sources: Downing Street issued the wrong statement in error".

However, as amusing as this is, coming from a politician, it's not exactly a revelation to point out that anything Armando Iannucci and the writers behind The Thick Of It could cook up is no match for what seems to be happening on both sides of the Atlantic on a daily basis.

To the extreme

When he's not busy doing the donkey work of arranging guestlist spots for reviewers like me (and then chasing for the promised reviews), Buzz music editor Noel Gardner writes a column for the Quietus on punk and hardcore. Bonus points if you've heard of any of the bands whose albums he reviews in the latest installment - I've barely even heard of any of the bands he mentions as (theoretically) familiar reference points. You can be fairly sure, though, that none of them have much regard for keeping the noise down.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Valleys boys

Having tackled the Second World War, early twentieth-century British history and the mid-twentieth-century space race between the USA and the USSR on previous releases, Public Service Broadcasting have chosen a rather more specific topic for their third album, Every Valley: the history of the coal-mining industry here in south Wales.

In a recent interview with Buzz's Chris Williams, the band's frontman J. Willgoose, Esq. spoke about what attracted him to the subject, despite having no personal connection to the industry or area at all: "I just thought it was an interesting story: something about the strength of the community and the geography of the area - as well as how it came to define those communities and the whole region."

When it came to arranging album launch gigs, it made obvious sense to hold them on location - and so it was that this bunch of Londoners played a pair of sell-out shows at the Ebbw Vale Institute the last two nights. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it along to either, but it would be fascinating to know how the music was received - I'm imagining it might have been something like when Grayson Perry presented his artworks to the people who inspired them in his three documentaries, In The Best Possible Taste, Who Are You? and All Man.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Clenched fists and bloody noses

Afternoon, saboteurs. Feeling crushed? Thought not.

In terms of the actual number of seats, the Tories may still have won, but in terms of Theresa May's own stated objective in calling a snap election - to get a confirmed mandate to push through a hard Brexit - they lost in spectacular and hilarious fashion. Bloody noses rarely come bloodier than the one she's just suffered - which should be a lesson to anyone so full of arrogance and hubris that they think they can make presumptions about the electorate (as if the EU referendum wasn't lesson enough).

Pundits last night - many of them Tories, including a rather gleeful George Osborne - were rightfully scathing about May's election campaign and manifesto. As one commented, running through a wheat field is now relegated to being the second naughtiest thing May has ever done, after wrecking her own party from a position of complete dominance. Meanwhile, mercifully much of what I'd foreseen with regard to Labour (the popular appeal of Jeremy Corbyn, the mobilisation of the youth vote) came to pass, enabling them to secure a result that was utterly unthinkable only a few weeks ago.

Before I made an unprecedented switch from BBC to ITV in exasperation at the bloody awful Laura Kuenssberg, she did make one good point - perhaps saying the hitherto unsayable by suggesting that the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London contributed to Labour's strong performance. As much as the right-wing media sought to smear Corbyn by claiming him to be a terrorist sympathiser, it did seem as though the attacks worked more against May and the Tories because they flagged up her failings as Home Secretary and her party's cuts to policing and poor grasp of security.

Rather than now doing the decent thing and stepping down in embarrassment, though, May is apparently determined to carry on regardless, deaf and blind to the fact that she's lost the confidence of the public. She's got a new catchphrase too, chuntering on about a "government of certainty", lest anyone throws her "coalition of chaos" epithet back at the awkward relationship that the Tories now need to form with the DUP. It will now be much harder for her to do what she wants, or at least to do it with any real legitimacy, but I think we can expect another general election sooner rather than later.

On another extraordinary night for British politics, there was much to celebrate - including the ousting of Tory Nicola Blackwood in my old constituency of Oxford West & Abingdon, which saw Lib Dem candidate Layla Moran overturn a majority of more than 10,000. Of the handful of disappointments, one was the halving of the Green vote (they did, however, retain their one MP, Caroline Lucas) - always likely, though, given Labour's return to the left. The other was Nigel Farage stating that if Brexit is in doubt, then he will feel there is no option for him but to return to politics. The Tories' losses, Ukip's humiliating performance and the subsequent exit of Paul Nuttall (who looked like "a penis in a suit", according to one of my friends, himself a candidate in the election) makes that look like a depressing inevitability.

But let's not end on a negative note, for once. For those of us on the left of the political spectrum, who've taken blow after blow in recent years, this was a hugely encouraging set of results - one that offers more than a glimmer of hope for the future.

Not so mellow yellow

I think it's fair to say that going on one's own to see a Japanese noise rock/grindcore band and Cardiff's answer to Big Black do their thing at the Globe is not the customary way to spend one's wedding anniversary - but in my defence Jen completely forgot about the date too and forgave my disappearing act. Good job, really - otherwise I would have missed out on another corker of a gig, courtesy of Melt-Banana and Gindrinker.

It was particularly nice to reacquaint myself with the latter, a band whom I saw several times during my first stint living in Cardiff and who continue to soldier on in delightfully messy, idiosyncratic and provocative fashion.

Monster myths

I started reading this Caught By The River column by Helia Phoenix to be entertained by tales of the River Taff's afanc - "some sort of terrible beastie from the deep" that has been represented "as anything from demon crocodile to barbarous beaver". However, I ended up being more interested in the history than the myth, learning not only that Cardiff was overrun by pirates in the sixteenth century but also that the river used to run down the route of Westgate Street and was only diverted to its current course in the nineteenth century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. These days (and particularly on the Champions League final day that she mentions), Westgate Street is renowned for the flow of beer rather than river traffic.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Judgement day

You might be wondering why there's been a lack of politics posts on this site in the run-up to today's election. There are several reasons: I was conscious of sounding like a broken record - or, to use a more apt comparison, like Theresa May; the loathsome nature of the Tories and their policies should need no commentary; I haven't watched the various debates and episodes of Question Time for fear of hearing Paul Nuttall speak and consequently putting my fist through the TV screen.

Just to be clear, the Tories are hell-bent on cutting and killing anything. They have shown contempt for the electorate and indifference - or even vindictiveness - towards the less fortunate and the free-to-access public services absolutely essential to a civilised society. They have aroused the ire of teachers, doctors and nurses, and police officers. They have scoffed at Labour's "magic money tree" while helping to grow one for the already wealthy. They have failed to deliver on their pledges, whether on the economy or immigration. Their response to recent terrorist atrocities has been to propose curtailing civil liberties rather than admitting they were wrong to slash police budgets. They have run a campaign that has been relentlessly cynical and negative, avoiding solid arguments and instead blathering on about Jeremy Corbyn's "coalition of chaos" as opposed to May's "strong and stable" leadership as if repeating the words often enough will somehow make them true.

It should really be about parties and policies rather than leaders, but as Tories both in the party and in the media have sought to denigrate and smear Corbyn, let's look at what they're proposing as the "strong and stable" alternative: someone who has performed several U-turns on manifesto pledges before the election has even taken place; someone who has perfected the art of saying absolutely nothing of substance in interviews; someone who looks like a rabbit in the headlights when put on the spot; someone who goes out of her way to avoid contact with ordinary members of the public, whom she seems to regard as ghastly; someone who has apparently considered any debate with other leaders to be beneath her, instead leaving minions like Amber Rudd to do the job.

Labour, by contrast, have run just about as good a campaign as could have been hoped for - especially considering their disarray for the last two years. They've emphasised that May and the Tories are a threat in a whole host of respects, but have also sought to make a positive case for a more caring, inclusive and equal society. Their manifesto is much more in keeping with the Labour Party of old, offering the genuine alternative that they didn't under either Tony Blair or Ed Miliband.

Corbyn, meanwhile, has been the polar opposite of May: cool and collected under pressure and in the face of smear attempts, passionate and careful in his explanations of the ethos behind his party's policies, eager to engage with ordinary voters of all ages and all backgrounds at every opportunity - and rewarded with huge crowds at rallies up and down the country.

I'm naturally a Green voter (as was illustrated by taking the Vote For Policies survey) but will going with Labour this election - for the reasons above and because Kevin Brennan is the most likely to keep the Tories out in our new constituency, Cardiff West. Presuming you want to do likewise where you live, head to Not The Fucking Tories for advice.

Another reason for my reluctance to post about politics recently is an awareness of the echo chamber phenomenon of blogs and social media. My impressions of how the last few weeks have unfolded have inevitably been coloured by what I've been exposed to. While it seems abundantly evident to me (and many others) that the Tories' policies and shambolic campaign should make them unelectable, I'm conscious that any optimism about their defeat may well simply be the result of living in a bubble, insulated from the views of those who buy the Sun and Daily Mail in their droves. To me, a Tory victory would be unfathomable - but then we've had unfathomable victories in the last two major elections in this country, and the last one in the US.

One final point on that note: however fuck-awful it would be if the Tories are returned to power again, and however low they stoop, they probably won't go as far as stealing money from kids with cancer. We can at least console ourselves with that thought - though, of course, hopefully no consolation will be necessary.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The resurrection of indie rock royalty

The fact that Episode 15 of Sounding Bored, recorded at the tail-end of March, focused on the indie titans of the noughties was rather prescient, given that so many of them are now back on the scene with new music.

Let's start the round-up with Arcade Fire's 'Everything Now'. It was very much not a case of love at first listen, but ever since getting my head around the fact that it's like ABBA making a Suburbs-era grand statement on the zeitgeist, I've been a big fan - to such an extent that I'm even prepared to overlook the presence of fucking panpipes. The song is certainly far superior to their last offering, the collaboration with Mavis Staples 'I Give You Power'.

'Everything Now' will be appearing on an album of the same name, with production duties handled variously by Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, Pulp's Steve Mackey and Portishead's Geoff Barrow. There'll also be an accompanying tour, which will see Grandmaster Flash, Wolf Parade, Angel Olsen and Broken Social Scene sharing support duties.

The latter have also announced their return with a new LP, Hug Of Thunder, the long-awaited successor to 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record. Personally speaking, the burning question will be the same as ever: can they finally release an album that matches their brilliance in the live environment? It's a brilliance that Manchester got to enjoy the day after the Arena bombing in what was, by the sounds of it, a profoundly cathartic experience.

In the time that Broken Social Scene have been away, LCD Soundsystem formally called it quits only to stage a comeback. New track 'Call The Police' is absolutely superb (all sinuous bassline and gradual build), and 'American Dream' isn't much less impressive, so I've got high hopes that their next LP will be a significant improvement on what had looked to be a disappointing swansong, 2010's This Is Happening.

And then, of course, there's At The Drive-In (even if describing the post-hardcore firebrands as noughties indie rock royalty might be a bit of a stretch). I've not yet fully got into new album In.ter, but there's enough in 'Hostage Stamps' and 'Call Broken Arrow' (both performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live) to suggest that it's only a matter of time.

It's good to have them all back.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Tribute to a tackler

While Peter Sallis' death yesterday at the age of 96 was saddening, it couldn't be described as tragically premature. The same could not be said of the passing of former Newcastle player Cheick Tiote, who collapsed and died following a heart attack suffered during a training session in China. Shockingly, our former midfield enforcer was just 30.

The Ivorian's arrival at St James' Park in the summer of 2010 was instrumental in ensuring we comfortably stayed in the Premier League after promotion and then pushed on with an impressive fifth-placed finish the following season. Tiote formed a formidable partnership with Kevin Nolan and then Yohan Cabaye, doing the dirty work so his central midfield colleague could grab the headlines. He had an insatiable appetite for tackling and disrupting - so much so that he was inevitably a magnet for yellow cards and had to be told to go easy on his teammates in training.

Two of the best tributes have come from Independent journalist and author Martin Hardy and the Telegraph's Luke Edwards - the latter flagging up how the "wrecking-ball midfielder" was also fond of perilous pirouettes on the age of his own penalty box while in possession. The picture that emerges from such pieces, as well as from the countless eulogies tweeted by former colleagues, is of someone who was as shy and retiring off the pitch as he was combative on it, though always on hand with a joke or an encouraging comment for a youngster.

Though the one-time £25 million Chelsea and Man Utd target became more and more of a peripheral figure as his Newcastle career wore on, he will be fondly remembered on Tyneside - not least for the only goal he ever scored in his 156 appearances, one that made Premier League history. He should have had two, though - the home defeat by Man City in January 2014 will be recalled for his disallowed screamer. We should also celebrate his key role in the 3-0 win over Man Utd in January 2012 - a game in which he was immense and in which, needless to say, he picked up a booking.

My favourite Tiote story? That would be the one when the injured midfielder apparently headed home to consult "his favourite witch doctor". So much for sports science and physiotherapy - though the ferocity with which he tackled suggested someone who didn't have much time for the fripperies of the modern game.

"A unique character"

Farewell to one of the most distinctive voices of British TV and film. For many, Peter Sallis will be remembered for the role that thrust him to national prominence: Clegg in Last Of The Summer Wine. For me, though, (as someone unamused by the antics of pensioners and bathtubs), he should be celebrated as the person who brought Nick Park's Wallace to brilliant life. There surely can't be any more adventures for the bumbling Yorkshire inventor and his canine companion without Sallis on hand to voice them - more's the pity.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Get your nose in a good book

In my old job in book production, on any given day you would spot at least one production editor opening a box of advance copies direct from the printer, taking out a volume and having a surreptitious sniff. In truth, it was genuinely one of the perks of the job. So it comes as no surprise to learn that research into the smell of books is revealing powerful emotional associations and connections to cultural values that go beyond merely what's on the cover or printed on the pages inside.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Lakes: superior

You know when you find out about a mouthwatering gig within walking distance of your house with one day's notice and end up being treated to your favourite LP of the last decade in its entirety?


Saturday, June 03, 2017

Club: class

It was 50 years ago today - well, last Thursday - that Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released. And, for my money, it's an anniversary entirely deserving of celebration.

I won't rehearse at length all the reasons why Sgt Pepper's is great or all the factors that contributed to the creation of a groundbreaking and enormously influential album (Lennon and McCartney's songwriting maturity and embrace of the studio, George Martin's genius, experimentation with LSD, the arms race with the Beach Boys that had stepped up several gears with the release of Pet Sounds). Suffice to say, simply, that it's the best Beatles album. OK, so that might not be "cool", but it's the truth. Admittedly, 'When I'm Sixty-Four' briefly threatens to throw a spanner in the works, but 'She's Leaving Home' is enough to outweigh pretty much any musical sin on its own.

Rolling Stone have published articles telling the story behind every song on the album - well worth a read. Certainly more so than this piece from the Guardian's John Higgs, who makes some reasonably astute points about the record itself but then tries to assert its relevance to Brexit Britain in a rather grating and laboured way.

Of course, it should also be remembered that 1st June 1967 also saw the release of the debut LP from one David Bowie - even if it was a record he was quick to disparage and disown.

Know Your Enemy

"It's deeply disrespectful to assume that we're either being misinformed or that we're so retarded we can't make these decisions ourselves ... It's really upsetting that artists I respect think we are not capable of making a moral decision ourselves after all these years. They talk down to us and I just find it mind-boggling that they think they have the right to do that."

Thom Yorke, talking to Rolling Stone, is clearly not a happy bunny about the open letter signed by numerous musicians and cultural figures urging Radiohead not to play a gig in Israel this summer. He clearly sees the gig as a means of building bridges and pulling out of it as something that would create or at least perpetuate division.

Is Yorke right? It's hard to say. There are persuasive voices on both sides of the debate - but the fact that so many people he admires (including the likes of Roger Waters and Ken Loach, both of whom he singled out) signed the letter has evidently really riled him.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Cheers and tears

In years to come, Stanley will hopefully be proud to proclaim that the first ever professional football game he went to was a Champions League final, but he actually spent much of the second half of last night's match playing a jigsaw game on Jen's phone.

In truth, the women's final between Lyon and PSG, at the Cardiff City Stadium a mere ten minutes' walk from our house, wasn't exactly thrill-a-minute stuff - more a cagey affair in which the passing was crisp and the defences were impressive (with Lyon and France captain Wendie Renard exceptional) but the pace was a bit laboured and there wasn't a great deal to get excited about in either penalty area over the course of 120 minutes.

However, the penalty shoot-out - which took place at our end - was worth the bargain £6 entry fee alone. At 6-6 in sudden death, PSG's Polish 'keeper Katarzyna Kiedrzynek - who had saved her side's bacon several times during the game and had then made a stunning save to tip a spot kick onto the post and bar - skewed her own penalty horribly wide and was then unable to prevent her opposite number Sarah Bouhaddi from scoring to win the trophy.

Lyon's achievement is astonishing: a second successive treble, and only a fortnight after they beat PSG in the French Cup final - also 7-6 on penalties. But they perhaps didn't receive the acclaim they deserved from the crowd, because those of us in the Grange Stand had sided with underdogs PSG and their raucous fans down in the lower corner, and it was the sight of an inconsolable Kiedrzynek collecting her runners-up medal and approaching the PSG supporters drew the biggest applause of the night.

Quote of the day

"As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future."

Bill Peduto responds to Donald Trump's comment "I was elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris" in the course of announcing the US' withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. He also pointed out that 80 per cent of the city actually voted for Hillary Clinton.

Peduto is among 61 mayors of US cities who have publicly vowed to ignore or actively defy Trump's stance. The decision to pull out is appalling, but it's encouraging to see such resistance to Trump's presidency within the US.

Spreading the word

Oh look, Brewdog are at it again. Encouraging shareholders - sorry, "equity punks" - to flypost on the company's behalf could perhaps be construed as "punk" behaviour in its disregard for law and order - though perhaps not if you consider that they're exploiting those with a vested interest in their success as a way of avoiding actually paying for advertising.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Be yourself - if you dare

Another day, another trip to the city centre presenting an opportunity to soak up more of the delights of the Diffusion photography festival. Last time, I stumbled across exhibitions by Edward Barber and Sebastian Bruno at the 'Stute; this time, I actively made a bee-line for the Angel.

Sadly, time restrictions prevented me from enjoying any of the three short films hand-picked from the archives of the Iris Prize, but the pictures in Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh's Delhi: Communities Of Belonging generated a positive image of being gay in India. Individually, the photos were perhaps unremarkable, showing domestic scenes of contentment, warmth and intimacy - but it was knowing the context of legal persecution and bigotry in the wider culture that gave them their subtle power.

Tatiana Vinogradova's Days Of Melancholy dealt with similar subject matter but painted a far more bleak picture. Her subjects - young gay men growing up in Putin's Russia - were shot in shadows or glanced by shafts of light in their bedrooms, caught in silent contemplation with hunted/haunted looks on their faces, facing both daily existence and the future with anxiety. The compositions had a stark yet elegant beauty that resonated long after leaving the temporary gallery.

The Angel also hosted Kathmandu Girl by Catrine Val, an exhibition showing an assortment of young Nepali women dressed up in vibrant, brightly coloured finery, literally outshining their dull, dirty, prosaic environment in the background. As a metaphor for self-expression and defiant self-determination (and a refusal to conform to narrow cultural expectations), the conceit worked well.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Racket from Russia

Kiss were once banned in Russia, but - 44 years into an improbably successful career - they're now playing for 15,000 people in Moscow. The New Statesman's Kate Mossman went behind the scenes, trying to discover what lies beneath the make-up.

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are an odd couple, seemingly united solely by the band but sharing a common background, both being the sons of Jewish women who fled Nazi persecution in Europe. While Stanley seems relatively quiet, distant and thoughtful, Simmons comes across as a rather unpleasant individual, a domineering loudmouth who is unrepentantly reactionary in his views. There can't be many iconic male rock stars who started out as a temp at Glamour and Vogue.

(Thanks to Sean for the link.)

Monday, May 29, 2017

Late greats

Lo, the cry of the music snob: "I prefer their early work". We've all been guilty of it - even if it's motivated by a genuine enthusiasm for the singles/albums in question rather than merely as a means of suggesting we were somehow ahead of the curve. Contributors to the Quietus - who've earned (with some justification) a reputation for perhaps willfully perverse judgements - have put together a list of 40 albums from the twilight of artists' careers that are exceptionally good, if not necessarily better than anything that went before.

Among those artists featured are The Beach Boys (Keepin' The Summer Alive), Alice In Chains (Black Gives Way To Blue), Can (Saw Delight), Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band (Bluejeans & Moonbeams), The Fall (Sub Lingual Tablet), Iron Maiden (A Matter Of Life And Death), Manic Street Preachers (Postcards From A Young Man), Mudhoney (The Lucky Ones), Pet Shop Boys (Electric), Pink Floyd (A Momentary Lapse Of Reason), Pulp (We Love Life), REM (Up), Smashing Pumpkins (Zeitgeist) and Neil Young (Le Noise).

I can't comment on any of those, other than to say that Up is a good album within a sizeable back catalogue with which I'm not sufficiently familiar. I'd quibble with the inclusion of Dinosaur Jr's I Bet On Sky, Mogwai's The Hawk Is Howling, Queens Of The Stone Age's Era Vulgaris and The Jesus & Mary Chain's Munki, though - while all of them are decent enough, none come close to the heights of their finest efforts.

Nevertheless, it's nice to see Quietus editor John Doran making a strong case for the qualities of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds' Push The Sky Away, and I'm in complete agreement with Patrick Clarke's assessment of Sonic Youth's The Eternal as "one of their very best" and "the worthiest of send-offs" - though, of course, as he says, "There's not really such a thing as a bad Sonic Youth album".

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Disowned designs

Creative types aren't always satisfied with the realisations of their visions, and architects are no different. The Sydney Opera House is the most famous of these six projects disowned by their creators - though the fault, in their view, very often seems to lie with cost-cutting compromises rather than with the original design.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Aural delights for the autumn

It's bloody typical that as soon as I swap Oxford for Cardiff, the latter's Swn Festival takes a gap year (with no guarantee it'll return in 2018) while the former will host not one but two new one-day smorgasbords of music in the autumn.

First up, across three stages at East Oxford Community Centre and Fusion Arts on 2nd September, will be If Not Now, When?. A collaboration between promoters Divine Schism and Idiot King, the festival sees Alpha Male Tea Party and Tellison on the bill alongside a host of the city's finest including Slate Hearts, Kid Kin and Flights Of Helios.

Then, on 21st October, it's the turn of Future Perfect's Ritual Union, a multi-venue event taking place on Cowley Road that will hopefully pick up where Gathering left off in 2013. Josefin Ohrn + The Liberation, Flaminggods and local porch-folk duo The August List have already been named on the line-up, and Nightshift editor Ronan has hinted that the yet-to-be-announced headliners will be a significant coup. It's already sounding like a good excuse to head back to my old stomping ground.

Quote of the day

"Described as 'semi-connected short films chronicling the lives of the mutated women, men and children of Los Angeles', the movie includes such sights as a man having sex with a woman's talking boil and George Clinton birthing a giant cockroach from his anus."

Flying Lotus' film Kuso, set for release this summer, sounds like delightful. Perhaps take an empty pick-'n'-mix bag into the auditorium with you, just in case.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Of synths and synthesis

Episode 17 of Sounding Bored finds a panel consisting of host Rob, returnee Brian and debutant Pete aka Kid Kin chatting about rock's embrace of (and resistance towards) electronics.

Each panellist begins by choosing a band/artist with a foot firmly planted in both camps, with Brian choosing Japanese maverick Cornelius, Pete enthusing about 65daysofstatic and Rob deliberately looking beyond the narrow Anglo-American field to select Russians Gnoomes. (Personally, I would have been tempted to choose Battles, but I can't think of a much better example of the complete synergy between acoustic and electronic elements than Holy Fuck.)

Other bands/artists discussed include Bon Iver, Muse, Radiohead, Mogwai, David Bowie and Animal Collective. As a practising musician himself, Pete's observations about the joys and challenges of working with electronics, and the opportunities that new technologies bring, are particularly interesting. (If I'd been on, I'd have mentioned looper pedals, which in around 2006/2007 seemed to me to be a complete game-changer with regard to solo musicians like Voice Of The Seven Woods and Ill Ease.)

The episode's featured album, Forest Swords' Compassion, blurs the boundaries between acoustic and electronic elements, though edges more towards the electronic end of the spectrum, and gets a unanimous thumbs up from the panel.

Meanwhile, in the news section, there's reaction to the death of Chris Cornell and anticipation for the forthcoming soundtracks to the revived Twin Peaks and the Netflix film War Machine, the latter created by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

Episode 18 is set to follow towards the end of June - and, if all goes to plan, will see me clambering back in the saddle to record a Music Cities episode on location here in Cardiff.

Friends in familiar places

You can take the boy (well, nearly fortysomething) out of Oxford, but you can't stop him writing for Nightshift. OK, so I can't easily cover gigs there anymore, but I can still review the odd local release - such as the new self-titled LP from False Friends in the June issue. Its stylistic restlessness results in a record that isn't exactly coherent but is nevertheless intriguing in its ambition and scope, and on occasion genuinely successful in execution.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ultramega OK

It's now a week since the news of Chris Cornell's death broke, and a good time for further reflections.

What struck me the most was the fact that tributes came pouring in from right across the musical spectrum. Last year, the deaths of both David Bowie and Prince prompted such a reaction, but I hadn't expected it for the former frontman of Soundgarden and Audioslave. Few will have been surprised at the tributes paid by the likes of Jimmy Page, Tommy Iommi and former bandmate Tom Morello, but it's hard to imagine another musician also being the subject of eulogies from everyone from Elton John, Brian Wilson, Nile Rodgers and Timbaland to Best Coast, Wavves and Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley.

Inevitably, I found myself revisiting Soundgarden's back catalogue - admittedly, for the first time in a long while. First port of call was 'Jesus Christ Pose', but after that it had to be Superunknown, rightly hailed on its twentieth anniversary as "the platonic ideal of what a mainstream hard rock album should be" by Pitchfork's Stuart Berman. It's an incredible album: complex, deep, multi-faceted, utterly engrossing. In the wake of Cornell's death, Berman has also written a piece for Noisey about the five different dimensions of Soundgarden - and all five of them are perfectly exemplified on Superunknown.

From there, I moved onto Down On The Upside - an even more diverse album that proved to be their last until reformation and 2012's King Animal. It's a record that, for me, never really gets its due - and, sure enough, none of its tracks featured in Stevie Chick's list of Cornell's ten most definitive songs. Admittedly, its two highest points (in my view), 'Zero Chance' and 'Switch Opens', were both written by Ben Shepherd - but Cornell's vocal performance is inevitably front and centre throughout.

That list did include Audioslave's 'Cochise', though - a song that I subsequently revisited and that, in conjunction with its firework extravaganza video directed by Mark Romanek, is a real tour de force, thanks largely to Cornell's full-throttle vocal performance.

While I wasn't hugely keen on Audioslave otherwise, and while much of his post-Soundgarden work was dreadful, Cornell nevertheless deserves great credit for his "refusal to stand still artistically", as the Guardian's Alexis Petridis put it. Many musicians of Cornell's stature would be tempted to settle into a comfortable groove, every now and again knocking out albums that feel instantly familiar, but he continually sought to challenge both himself and what was expected of him. Scream, his Timbaland-produced solo record released in 2009, is by all accounts awful (I can't bring myself to listen to more than a couple of tracks) - but I'll defend his right to try something completely different. Ultimately, he should be celebrated not just as a great rock vocalist but as someone who retained creative ambition to the end.

"A bias towards truth"

As if Infowars being granted White House press accreditation on Monday wasn't bad enough, the Trump-supporting far-right conspiracy theorists/propaganda merchants (and friends of Billy Corgan) then mocked the inevitable outcry, showing off their jaw-dropping levels of self-delusion in the process: "tiny cracks of truth topple even the most colossal of lies - and that's why major, corporate media is scared of small, independent press with a bias towards truth".

Alex Jones then promptly showed the organisation's true colours, spouting off about the Manchester Arena attack: "a big bomb goes off at a pop star's rock concert bombing a bunch of liberal trendies ... [the] same people, god love 'em, on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in." Yep, you read that right: teenage girls are "liberal trendies" who only have themselves to blame for their deaths.

What's worrying, of course, is that Jones isn't a lone despicable cunt shouting into a vacuum, but a despicable cunt with a sizeable following and sphere of influence. Trump is a fan of the alt-right sites that helped to propel him into the White House, having gone so far as to appoint Breitbart's Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counsellor. When the likes of Breitbart and Infowars have the ear of the president, we really do live in dangerous times.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Safe spaces?

It hopefully goes without saying that I spent most of yesterday feeling bewildered and profoundly saddened by the terrorist atrocity in Manchester. As heartening as some of the stories were (the dedication and compassion of the emergency services; the offers of emergency accommodation and free taxi rides; the generous support of the public in terms of medical aid, provisions and blood donations; the statements of unity, solidarity and defiance from around the country), unfortunately it wasn't only the best of humanity that was brought out by the bomb - inevitably, there was political point-scoring and the deliberate circulation of fake missing persons images on social media, and a characteristically controversial outburst from Morrissey.

Above all (and in spite of myself), I felt a deep sense of anger. How fucking dare someone specifically target children (as the bomber surely did, by picking an Ariana Grande concert)? How fucking dare he (ab)use a live music event - a source of such pleasure and enjoyment - as an opportunity to kill and main en masse?

Naturally, my thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones. I'll leave it to others to recommend what measures should now be taken to prevent similar atrocities from occurring in future, but, as someone obsessed with music, I've found myself speculating gloomily on what this might mean for arena gigs, and gigs in general.

First, security will inevitably be stepped up. Not only will more intensive and rigorous checks mean longer waiting times to get into venues, they will also push up costs. Those costs, you would imagine, will ultimately be passed on to fans, and tickets for shows like this will become even more prohibitively expensive. As a result, more young music fans will be deprived of the opportunity to see their heroes in the flesh - an experience that might have led to a lifelong love of gig-going.

Second, even if children can afford to go to gigs, they may not be allowed to. While I agree wholeheartedly with the concluding sentiment of Tshepo Mokoena's comment piece for Noisey, urging that we should continue to go to arena gigs in defiance of the terrorists, parents may well not feel the same way when it comes to their children. Those whose kids went to Monday night's concert are now either grieving, enduring the horrible anxiety of hospital visits or living with teens traumatised by the event itself and the thought that a faceless stranger might have wanted them dead. No matter how defiant I might feel personally, as a parent myself I can understand why some might now be reluctant for their children to go to concerts - and certainly to go to concerts unaccompanied.

Third, musicians might be deterred from touring - especially those of sufficient stature to tour large venues like the Manchester Arena and the Bataclan in Paris. It goes without saying that no blame or responsibility can be attached to Ariana Grande, but that's unlikely to stop her from feeling guilt at the knowledge that 22 people wouldn't have lost their lives if they hadn't gone to see her perform. It's a horrendously cruel burden to bear (as it was for Eagles Of Death Metal in November 2015), and one that might prompt more than just Grande to reconsider playing live. Given that it's sales of gig tickets rather than records that now keeps the music industry afloat, such decisions could be damaging to the industry as a whole.

I sincerely hope that none of this comes to pass - though sadly that seems unlikely. These three developments would spell bad news for the music industry and music fans, at the exact moment that the positivity, collective enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that live music can generate are most needed.

This charming man

It's often debated who was the best James Bond, but, as a child growing up in the 1980s, there was only ever one 007 for me: the late, great Roger Moore - a suave, calm hero always ready with a raised eyebrow, able to charm his way out of tight situations and deliver one-liners once he'd done so.

So perfect was he for the role that even his name sounded like an Ian Fleming character who might star opposite Pussy Galore (either that, or appear in a Carry On film or in the pages of Viz). I can't say I've kept up with the Bond franchise in recent years (far from it), but A View To A Kill remains my absolute favourite - thanks in no small part to Moore's presence (though, admittedly, Christopher Walken is the real star of that one).

Moore is also synonymous with The Saint and The Persuaders, but - as the statement from his three children noted - it was actually his work as an ambassador for UNICEF "that he considered to be his greatest achievement".

Marc Haynes' recollection of meeting Moore on two different occasions separated by a number of years is a fitting testimony to a British icon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The lady's for turning

The problem with describing yourself as capable of providing "strong and stable" leadership of the country is that you then have to live up to it - as Theresa May is now finding out to her cost.

As Andrew Neil pointed out to her on the day that she performed a U-turn on the so-called "dementia tax" but then vigorously denied having done so, the enormous lead in the polls that she enjoyed relatively recently - the lead she was hoping to use to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn and, in the words of the Daily Mail, "crush the saboteurs" - has been whittled down to very little. For someone very much left of centre like myself, it's extremely encouraging to see her floundering so badly in the face of questions from an interviewer naturally disposed to look favourably on Tories.

There's some way to go yet, of course, but suddenly backing a party other than the Conservatives is looking like much less of a lost cause; on the contrary, it's May and her cronies who are increasingly all at sea.

Quote of the day

"Each weekday evening between about seven and 10pm he leaves his office to sit on the paper's back bench and remorselessly rehash that day's offering, all the while delivering what staff call 'the vagina monologues', heated critical assessments of his journalists' efforts, with scattershot use of his favourite word, 'cunt'. Though the Mail's website, with its sidebar of celebrity shame, is the most visited news site in the world, Dacre has little interest in technology. He edits with a blunt pencil, often apparently with enough vitriol to shred his page proofs."

Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre really does come across as a charmer in this Observer piece by Tim Adams, which (through the analysis of front pages from the last year) traces the way that Dacre and his paper have managed to manipulate the public and orchestrate Brexit and the ousting of David Cameron. The rag's power is truly scary.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Protection racket Racket protection

Since moving back to Cardiff, I've been loudly and regularly lamenting the plight of the city's gig venues and Womanby Street as a whole - so it's only fitting that positive developments should be shouted from the rooftops.

On Friday afternoon, it was announced that Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs in the Welsh Government, has agreed to revise the national planning policy so that it makes explicit reference to the agent of change principle. This puts the onus for soundproofing and noise reduction onto new developments rather than pre-existing venues. It's good news for Fuel, though sadly ten years too late for the Point.

What's more, Griffiths has said that the policy will also be updated to make it possible for places like Womanby Street to be given protected status as areas of cultural significance for music.

Needless to say, news of the two revisions has come as music to the ears of those behind the Save Womanby Street campaign, which was explicitly named by Griffiths as a factor in the decision. It just goes to show that sometimes the weight of public opinion and the power of well-coordinated and passionate protest can prevail.

Forces of darkness

Back in 2008, Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli joined forces as the Gutter Twins for an album (Saturnalia) and a live experience that didn't quite live up to high expectations. This year, the pair - the legendary frontmen of Screaming Trees and Afghan Whigs - released new records within a week of each other.

First to land was Lanegan's solo effort Gargoyle, which was an instant hit around these parts. That rich, low voice is always a delight and the gloomy lyrical subject matter is no surprise, but the album continues where 2012's Blues Funeral left off (there's a hole the size of 2014's Phantom Radio in my collection) in its use of electronics and synths, thanks in large part to the influence of regular collaborator Alain Johannes. The gothy 'Nocturne' is great, but 'Beehive' is even better - it must be galling for Jim and William Reid to know that not only have they not released the best album this year, they've not even released the best Jesus & Mary Chain song.

Meanwhile, Dulli's offering - In Spades, the second LP released by Afghan Whigs since they reformed in 2011 - has taken much more time to sink in, to the extent that I was almost ready to write it off. But the glut of enthusiastic reviews like the one written by my fellow Nightshift scribe Sam Shepherd for MusicOMH convinced me to persist - and I've been rewarded. The sleazy, black-hearted 'Demon In Profile' is classic Whigs (and the video - featuring women in gold jumpsuits, bloody knives and spider eating - answers the question "Whatever happened to Har Mar Superstar?") and there are several other very good tracks, particularly 'Copernicus' and intense album-closer 'Into The Floor'.

For Lanegan and Dulli, then, it's a triumphant return apiece.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Grohl lotta love

It's perhaps hard to remember now, but once upon a time Foo Fighters were actually a really good band - specifically around 1997 and their second LP The Colour And The Shape. While I love the rawness of their self-titled debut, its more polished successor is more varied and texturally interesting as a collection of songs. To mark the twentieth anniversary of the album's release, Rolling Stone's Dan Epstein has listed "ten things you didn't know" about it.

That the songs' subject matter largely concerned Dave Grohl's divorce and that the recording process resulted in tensions with drummer William Goldsmith, culminating in his departure, are hardly the revelations that Epstein presents them as. I also knew that 'My Hero' - Grohl's first song explicitly about his former bandmate Kurt Cobain - had been knocking around for a while before finding its way onto the album - I first heard it on a bootleg live cassette from 1995.

However, I wasn't aware that Pat Smear's exit was also already assured (he eventually left four months after the album's release, in September 1997, between me seeing them at V97 in Leeds and at the Sheffield Octagon shortly before Christmas that year), that producer Gil Norton had such an integral role (in terms of the tracklisting and lyrics) or that Grohl was initially planning to bin the riff for 'Everlong' because he thought it was a rip-off of Sonic Youth's 'Schizophrenia'.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Treasure trove

Despite what you may have thought from posts appearing on this site over the last few months, Cardiff's Womanby Street isn't home to music venues alone. New since I left Cardiff in 2007, the Castle Emporium stands opposite (in both literal and metaphorical senses) to Elevens, the recently opened sports bar collaboration between Brains and Gareth Bale. Inside, you'll find a coffee and vinyl shop, vintage clothing, a comic stall, a skate shop, a bitcoin ATM and plenty of beards. So far, so hipster.

But the cafe in question, Outpost, does do extremely good coffee and play decent music while you're enjoying it; The SHO Gallery & Shop, on the upper balcony, is well worth a browse; and Heads Above The Waves - a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to raising awareness of depression and self-harm - has a shop there to support its invaluable work.

I've long thought that every city should have its own equivalent of Afflecks in Manchester - and it seems as though Cardiff, at least, does.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Peace in the heart of the city

The beauty of Diffusion, Cardiff's annual photography festival, is that it is literally diffuse - spread across a host of venues city-wide. You can of course seek out specific sites, or alternatively find yourself stumbling across them by happy accident. Such was the case last week when, getting off our bus by the Central Square development, we spotted a vacant shop unit/office (the 'Stute) that had been converted into a temporary exhibition space.

Inside, on the ground floor, was Peace Signs, an exhibition of pictures taken by Edward Barber. Shot between 1980 and 1984, they fit in squarely with this year's festival theme of revolution, showing the protests against the US stationing nuclear missiles at English RAF bases. The peace/anti-nuclear movement is often associated with young hippies, so Barber's pictures are enlightening in revealing the cross-generational nature of opposition. There's also a very DIY feel to the protests and the protest materials, underlining their relatively uncoordinated and spontaneous nature.

The best pictures show the political/cultural/ideological clashes: a group of police officers engaged in conversation, apparently oblivious to the female protesters lying at their feet; a dapper gent with suit and briefcase crossing a City street, with protesters lying across it in the foreground and crowds of bemused onlookers gathered on the pavement in the background.

It seems like a different age - which it was, I suppose, being more than 30 years ago - but the photos are more than merely a valuable chronicle of the anti-nuclear movement. Personally, at least, they felt like a reminder of the power of protest, and even a call to arms at a time when policies and developments both in this country and across the Atlantic require vigorous and robust resistance.

Upstairs, a collection of photos by Sebastian Bruno takes the visitor behind the scenes at the Dynamic, a local newspaper set up by two friends to cover the Abertillery, Ebbw and Usk Valleys. The evidently ramshackle nature of the whole operation, as well as the recreated office - complete with piles of paper, spilt Doritos and rancid half-drunk cups of coffee - transported me back to my days working on the student magazine. All that are missing are overflowing ashtrays and stacks of promotional CDs from indie no-hopers put to good use as coasters.