It might have been a long time in coming, but Kelly Lee Owens' first non-festival performance in her native Wales was well worth the wait. So glad I was there for Buzz to report on a triumphant night for the newly crowned winner of the 2021 Welsh Music Prize.
Saturday, November 27, 2021
Nothing has given me more pleasure this week - or perhaps even this whole month - than hearing Dinosaur Jr's 'Freak Scene' in full at serious volume through cinema auditorium speakers. It - and the song's original video - set the tone perfectly for the documentary that followed, tracing the noisy, chaotic history of one of my favourite bands.
Here's my review for Buzz.
Friday, November 26, 2021
Good news for all those of you who’ve been unable to sleep wondering what would happen if one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary British music were to join forces with a bunch of Finnish prog-metal oddballs fluent in a language of their own creation to record seven songs named after plants that touch on everything from woolly rhinoceroses, the myth of Midas and the ghosts of the recently departed at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. The answer is Henki, and it's quite wonderful.
Aforementioned oddballs Circle function very much as a backing band, allowing Dawson’s unmistakeable Geordie falsetto to take centre stage and lending weight, power and depth to his odd tales. Their influence and input get gradually more pronounced as the album progresses from atmospheric folk ('Cooksonia'), through jazzy meanderings ('Silphium') and sprightly power pop and duelling foot-on-monitor guitars ('Methuselah'), before ending up at a baroque System Of A Down ('Pitcher').
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Henki, given all of the above, is that it’s neither a bizarre curiosity nor an alienatingly eccentric mess, but brilliantly realised and (occasionally) deceptively touching.
(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)
Thursday, November 25, 2021
At first glance, the premise of Lightning Striking has the distinct air of provocative, clickbaity listicle about it: the tale of rock & roll boiled down to “ten transformative moments” in ten (well, eleven) urban epicentres, from Cleveland in 1952 to Seattle in 1991. But in Lenny Kaye’s hands, it’s a rich and stimulating read – a journey through time and place narrated by a beat historian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and boundless passion for, his subject.
“I’ve always been drawn to a scene”, Kaye enthuses in the Introduction, “its shared togetherness, its come-hither weave, its stars, its character actors and bit players. To feel the adrenaline rush of excitement and possibility as convergence coalesces into where-it’s-at.” He’s often writing not merely as an expert witness but as an eye-witness – someone who, as Patti Smith’s guitarist, was at the heart of the CBGBs scene in 1970s New York; who opens the chapter on UK punk recalling watching Zulu round Mick Jones’ flat; who, as a record producer, was passed a pre-Nevermind Nirvana demo.
The “moments” of the subtitle is slightly misleading; the book is arguably as much about the cultural momentum that culminates in rock’s great leaps forwards as it is about those leaps forwards themselves. As Kaye underlines, the Beatles’ story didn’t begin in 1962, and neither did Never Mind The Bollocks spring up out of nowhere.
In a “world of immediate gratuity” globalised by technology, Kaye briefly ponders whether such transformative moments and the vibrant, independent, localised music scenes that birthed them might now be a thing of the past. If so, then Lightning Striking is an evocative epitaph.
(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old fuddy-duddy (even though that particular ship sailed many, many years ago), I'm very much in Team Adele in the Great Spotify Shuffle Debate. While I'm no fundamentalist petitioning for the removal of the shuffle button altogether, I certainly welcome the fact that the company has done away with the policy of playing albums on shuffle by default.
As the singer argued, fighting the corner for artists everywhere, "We don't create albums with so much care and thought into our tracklisting for no reason. Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended."
Also in agreement is the Guardian's Michael Hann. He writes of "the primacy of the album as an entire listening experience", and gives a few strong examples of LPs that were sequenced to perfection by their creators. One very recent record that springs to my mind in that respect is Low's superlative HEY WHAT; not only is each individual song brilliant, it's also enhanced further by careful juxtaposition with its neighbours.
Hann acknowledges, however, that Adele is effectively pop's King Canute, "fighting a losing battle" in trying to hold back the tide. Listener habits are changing - and indeed have already changed, with attention spans shortening and record companies responding by demanding albums that are front loaded with big hitters.
And in any case, as many musicians have observed, the battle for unshuffled albums is hardly the most pressing at the present moment. Scottish singer-songwriter Karine Polwart's response to the news was typical: "Mighty as she is, if Adele thinks the shuffle button is the big issue with Spotify then that's her privilege talking. What about 'the story' of how streaming models systemically underpay music creators?" What indeed. Time to work your magic again, Adele...
Tuesday, November 23, 2021
It feels like an age since I reviewed Brian Wilson's new album At My Piano, but to be honest I'm still no nearer deciding what to make of it: cynical Christmas cash-in (despite the fact there's no 'Little Saint Nick') or proof of the lambent brilliance at the heart of some of the Beach Boys' classics (the stunning version of 'You Still Believe In Me' in particular)? Perhaps it's both.
Monday, November 22, 2021
Salford's Gnod are a nebulous mob, shapeshifting in personnel and style from album to album. They've been known to take the occasional foray into electronics, but latest LP La Mort Du Sens - out as usual on the reliable Rocket Recordings - is very much a rock record, one to make your head spin and your ears bleed. Needless to say, they and those songs were perfectly suited to the Moon last week.
Saturday, November 20, 2021
Following so soon after the death of Tom Stoddart, the passing of Mick Rock is another huge loss for photography. Rock was a rock star photographer in both senses: someone who shot the biggest stars in music and someone who was himself a larger-than-life character with an appetite for excess whose reputation and mythology preceded him.
In a short obituary published by Louder Than War, John Robb comments: "Mick was one of the key rock photographers whose images defined the seventies; classic shots that added art to image and made mortals into stars. Nearly every great band in that flamboyant period was brought to a hyper life by his shots that played with colour and composition and stand as eternal freeze frames of how to take a rock 'n' roll photo." It's an astute observation - Rock's work was critical in enabling musicians to create and cultivate their own image and establishing global icons, including David Bowie, Iggy & The Stooges, Queen, Lou Reed and Debbie Harry.
Do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of Exposed. You'll be stunned at how many famous photos (some of them album covers) were the product of Rock's camera - and the book also proves that he continued to take fantastic photos long after the 1970s were over. (Though I can't condone the positioning of a picture of Sonic Youth power couple Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon opposite one of bloody Kasabian...)
Here's Rock writing in the Introduction: "I love the camera and its magical reflections. ... I love the access it gives me to an endless stream of imagery. I love the whole process involved in a session: gathering the elements, stirring the juices, finding the focus, building the energy, exploring and expanding all the possibilities within each individual circumstance. It charges my batteries like nothing else. Something happens inside of me - a kind of transformation. I enter the magic garden of the frame. I become the other, the image-maker, and everything is possible. It's intensely therapeutic." The passion for his profession and connection to the artform couldn't come across more strongly.
The last line of Andrew Loog Oldham's Afterword now reads like a fitting epitaph: "a brighter light in a very dark room".
Friday, November 19, 2021
As someone who's now back to working from home on a permanent basis and (mercifully) has few formal Zoom meetings cluttering up the diary, I can be found in a band T-shirt repping my faves most days of the week. The fact that today is 6 Music's annual T-Shirt Day simply meant that I deliberately picked one with a bit of a story.
And as a nostalgic old muso with a habit of investing inanimate objects with personal significance (and hence the owner of a box of worn-out tees that I can't bear to part with), I was delighted to discover the My Band T-Shirt blog, set up by Jude Rogers and Ian Wade more than a decade ago, to which contributors could submit pieces about garments that held special meaning for them. It's a brilliant route into exploring the connections between memories and music - the way certain moments turn out to be personal lightning strikes (to borrow a phrase from my current reading), and the way you find yourself wanting to proudly proclaim your fandom from the rooftops.
No doubt these ideas have fed into The Sound Of Being Human, the draft of which Jude has just submitted - but there's a book project in simply collecting and collating some of these stories, surely?
Thursday, November 18, 2021
While I can't join in with the personal eulogies to the late Tom Stoddart - a fellow Morpethian and, by all accounts, a modest, courageous and generous man - I can gesture in the direction of this Guardian gallery, which is as good a tribute to his professional talents as an acclaimed photojournalist as you're likely to find.
Whether he was recording the Miners' Strike, bearing witness to the fall of the Berlin Wall, capturing the misery and horror inflicted on innocent people caught up in conflict or shooting Tony Blair's 1997 election campaign from behind the scenes, his eye for an image was second to none. The picture of the leaping Chinese gymnast genuinely has to be seen to be believed.
Unfortunately, the pandemic largely put paid to any ideas I may have had of visiting his Extraordinary Women exhibition at the Side Gallery in Newcastle earlier this year - but there's a copy of the accompanying book heading my way for Christmas, so that's some consolation.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
As a big fan of the man and his work and yet someone who feels distinctly queasy about his decision to name a band Rapeman, I was somewhat relieved to read Steve Albini's reflective mea culpa on Twitter: "A lot of things I said and did from an ignorant position of comfort and privilege are clearly awful and I regret them. It's nobody's obligation to overlook that, and I do feel an obligation to redeem myself. A project I've undertaken piecemeal as I've matured, evolved and learned over time. I expect no grace, and honestly feel like I and others of my generation have not been held to task enough for words and behavior that ultimately contributed to a coarsening society. For myself and many of my peers, we miscalculated. We thought the major battles over equality and inclusiveness had been won, and society would eventually express that, so we were not harming anything with contrarianism, shock, sarcasm or irony."
Albini was man enough to admit "I certainly have some 'splainin to do, and am not shy about any of it. ... I'm overdue a conversation about my role in inspiring 'edgelord' shit" - so Mel's Zaron Burnett III took him at his word. The result is a frank and honest interview in which he refuses to shirk responsibility or make excuses, but also avoids performative self-flagellation. The pair talk about the impulse to make confrontational art that flies in the face of convention and popular acceptance, the need to be (or become) aware of privilege, and the difficulty of finding "the balance between listening to others and taking their opinions and feelings into consideration but also not becoming a prisoner to their opinions".
Monday, November 15, 2021
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Just back from a most marvellous (and long overdue) weekend in Nottingham, exploring some of the delights that my old stomping ground has to offer. Hat tips to ...
... the National Justice Museum, where we took part in a recreation of a trial of Reform Act rioters, learned about punishment, execution and transportation, and got lost in the labyrinthine rooms, corridors and stairways of the old County Gaol;
... Hopkinson Vintage, Antiques & Arts Centre, where we were suitably spooked by some of the macabre exhibits in the Haunted Museum, recently relocated to the basement, marvelled/despaired at the fact that a Game Boy is now considered an antique, and came close to buying both a Shangri-Las LP and a Soviet-era gas mask;
... the Trip To Jerusalem, where I enjoyed a pint of house craft lager snug in the Ward Room on an autumnal evening, while we tried not to knock over the suit of armour with our elbows;
... Cave Escape, home to what our seasoned companions went on to proclaim to be the best escape room they've ever done (the Dracula-themed Carfax);
... Ugly Bread Bakery for lunchtime pizza and a special burger focaccia and Oscar & Rosie's for more pizza (try the Checkpoint - as a butternut squash sceptic, I was doubtful, but with cumin, sage and streaky bacon it makes an inspired combination);
... Page 45, the Market Street institution for comics and graphic novels, and Five Leaves Bookshop, the centrally located indie where I picked up a copy of Geoff Dyer's See/Saw: Looking At Photographs.
Thursday, November 11, 2021
So much for revelling in the return of live music. Reflecting on Tuesday night's gig at Tramshed, I couldn't help but be honest, as a firm subscriber to the "call-it-as-I-see-it" school of criticism. Plenty of others present saw it differently, though, and headliners Shame deserve credit for giving it their all, at least.
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Another day, another handsome doorstop volume from White Rabbit through the post - this time Lenny Kaye's Lightning Striking. But, as JR Moores' Electric Wizards proved, the imprint doesn't quite have a complete monopoly on fascinating music-themed books. Another case in point is Paul Morley's From Manchester With Love: The Life And Opinions Of Tony Wilson, published by Faber, which prompted this engaging interview with Fergal Kinney of the Quietus.
Morley presents Wilson in conversation (as, it seems, in the book) as a complex, contradictory character - as you might expect as someone "who had Factory Records but also worked on the telly". In both contexts, though, he was "smuggling ideas, content and connections to people".
While Morley acknowledges that Wilson's cultural and social legacy extends beyond music and into the regeneration of Manchester and the North, he nevertheless admits to being much more "a fan of that disruptor" - the maverick behind Factory and the Hacienda - than of "the Happy Mondays associate and the guy who set up the In The City conference".
Effectively decades in the writing, From Manchester With Love stretches to an eyewatering 600 pages. But then much more has been written about much less interesting and less deserving individuals, so I'd be inclined to excuse a certain amount of bagginess.
Monday, November 08, 2021
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs won't be alone in having been about to hit the road with a breakthrough album in the bank when the pandemic hit, and so you can be sure they'll be relishing finally having the opportunity to share tracks from the fantastic Viscerals with live audiences. Get yourself along to Swansea's Sin City on Saturday if you want to witness how their journey from the margins to wider appeal is progressing.
Friday, November 05, 2021
Imagine being a seasoned music journalist and ABBA superfan evidently pained at having to deliver a largely negative assessment of the Swedes' new album Voyage (especially following a glowing write-up of the LP's lead tracks), only to receive Twitter comments like this from childish keyboard warriors: "Who hurt you? Do you even actually like music? Are you just being contrary for clickbait? Questions I sadly have to ask you after reading that review." Jude Rogers herself may have risen above it, but I was too irritated on her behalf to resist.
Just to be clear, my own view on the new songs is immaterial - this is simply a matter of principle. No critic deserves that sort of response simply for offering an honest appraisal, especially one that is so clearly and carefully reasoned. (For what it's worth, though, I agree that 'Little Things' is dreadful (and problematic) cack but will wait to digest the rest of the album at leisure before forming an opinion.)
Wednesday, November 03, 2021
A few years back, I went to a fascinating day of talks at Oxford's Wolfson College about obituaries. One of the speakers was from the Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography and revealed how they always wait two or three years after a notable figure has died before publishing a biography. The reason, she explained, was to allow the dust to settle, a degree of consensus to form about the person's character and contribution to public life, and any skeletons to emerge from the closet. It's a luxury that newspapers and websites don't have; they run the risk of hastily cobbling together and publishing gushing eulogies for people who, it subsequently transpires, don't deserve them - indeed, quite the opposite.
I was reminded of that day reading this Guardian article by Poppy Sebag-Montefiore, which reveals how two BBC journalists flew in the face of the predominant "national treasure" narrative circulating in the immediate wake of Jimmy Savile's death - one to which Auntie publicly subscribed, despite behind-the-scenes awareness of his "dark side" - and fought to expose the DJ and presenter for the depraved paedophile that he really was. In so doing, Sebag-Montefiore argues, Liz MacKean and Meirion Jones "helped to change the culture about the way past sexual abuse is talked about, and survivors listened to, in the UK".
The article is a powerful testimony to the importance of courageous, dogged investigative journalism - and to the danger of pre-emptively canonising the recently deceased.
Monday, November 01, 2021
OK, so I should have known that "middle-class McDonald's" would be the pull-out quote from my review of Smokin' Griddle, the latest burger joint to open up on Cardiff's Cowbridge Road. The comment was partly directed at the likes of myself - in other words, those wannabe foodies who sniffily recoil at the sight of the golden arches and yet eagerly leap at the chance to try out any indie alternative - as well as at the restaurant itself. But it was perhaps a touch harsh on a place that could, with a few tweaks (particularly on price), be very good indeed.
Saturday, October 30, 2021
While the Quietus' Baker's Dozen features are almost invariably entertaining, I suspect that some of those interviewed are self-conscious in trying to come across as cool. Not so author and former music journalist Ben Myers, who not only openly confesses to a love of Slipknot but also makes the admission: "I mainly only listen to Best Of compilations. My favourite record shops are also petrol stations. Life is just too short to suffer filler." Hats off for such refreshing honesty - though the revelation that Right Said Fred's 'Deeply Dippy' reminds him of "getting tugged off in an empty rugby stand" is probably one that I could have lived without.
Over the course of the article, Myers expresses his love for folk visionaries Nick Drake and Richard Dawson, early jungle music and The Slits' LP Cut; recalls his experience in a teenage hardcore punk band; discusses censorship in connection with Frankie Goes To Hollywood; offers a spot-on assessment of The Doors that acknowledges Jim Morrison for "the utterly absurd figure that he was" while also recognising his exceptional vocal talent; and, in describing the formative influence that the Manics' The Holy Bible had on him as a writer, makes a statement that I wholeheartedly endorse: "The notion that the mid-1990s was a sunny time of Britpop knees-ups and New Labour is just a revisionist and reductive history, pure fiction."
There can't have been many Baker's Dozen pieces that make mention of "an Alsatian in a knitted balaclava". Neither can there have been many contributors who can claim to have interviewed Swedish indie also-rans The Wannadies on a rollercoaster at Legoland while on a horrific speed comedown courtesy of The Wildhearts.
Thursday, October 28, 2021
Who better to review a film about drumming than John Colpitts?. The man also known as Kid Millions is an extraordinary force behind a kit (as I've witnessed first-hand), and (unsurprisingly) a knowledgeable and astute commentator on the instrument and its history.
In a review of Count Me In for Talkhouse that is less than complimentary, Colpitts complains that the Netflix documentary - despite being an "admirable" attempt to "open up the largely white and largely male LA session scene to a number of women's voices" - is nevertheless "riddled with cliches ..., factual errors and reels of filler, and it manages to perpetuate a blithe erasure of the Black roots of drumming". Ultimately, he claims, it "resonates with a toxic drum culture obsessed with status and athleticism". Hardly a glowing endorsement, then.
Sunday, October 24, 2021
As the title might suggest, Dave Grohl's new book The Storyteller isn't really a conventional memoir, in that it's neither remotely exhaustive nor always strictly linear; on the contrary, each chapter focuses on specific formative moments, episodes or periods in his life. When lockdown hit, the same restless creative energy and relentless work ethic that have catalysed his whole career brought him to commit these stories to paper rather than take the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a hard-earned breather.
Recent BBC documentary When Nirvana Came To Britain may have implied that Nirvana weren't always the angsty, troubled grungers that they were often made out to be, but Grohl paints a different picture. Unlike Scream and Foo Fighters, Nirvana, it seems, were no band of brothers - or at least not for Grohl, who only joined the band in 1990 - and so the cracks quickly began to show when Nevermind blew up a year later. He's honest enough to admit that Kurt Cobain's death largely left him numb, whereas it was the loss of childhood pal Jimmy Swanson that really smarted.
The chapters on Nirvana form a small fraction of The Storyteller, though, and cast only a temporary shadow over Grohl's generally cheerful account of encounters and experiences that most of us can only dream of, so it would be misrepresenting the book to dwell too long on them - even if they do hold the greatest interest for me personally.
Anyway, here's my review for Buzz.
Friday, October 22, 2021
As you might well conclude from the fact that we made no fewer than four holiday trips over there this summer alone, we've fallen hook, line and sinker for Pembrokeshire. The beaches are gorgeous, the coastline is spectacular and the crowds are a fraction of the size of those in Cornwall, even in peak season.
Pamela Petro is equally smitten with Wales' most westerly county - but in her recent article for the Guardian, the coast (perhaps curiously) merits barely a mention. Instead, the American's love affair stems from her fascination with the hills and megaliths - Pentre Ifan in particular. No doubt she was an avid viewer of Stonehenge: The Lost Circle Revealed, the BBC documentary telling the extraordinary story of how much of the most famous stone circle in England was actually transported lock, stock, and barrel from a site in the Preseli Mountains.
Petro's misty-eyed tribute to the mystery of the place makes me want to leave the cliffs and coves and venture further inland. The valleys, hills and moors are perfect for exploring at this time of year, I'd imagine - with the prospect of a pint, a warming meal and a cosy B&B at the end of the day.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Is it really four years ago that Public Service Broadcasting arrived at the Cardiff University Students Union to perform songs from Every Valley, their LP about the rise and painful decline of the coal industry in South Wales, and left every single person in the room with a smile on their face and something in their eye?
On Sunday they kick off a UK tour at the same venue, this time in support of a record inspired by a very different location, Berlin. Being a PSB release, Bright Magic draws as much on the city's connection to the history and development of the lightbulb as it does on its rich musical and cultural heritage.
Here's my Buzz preview of a show I (very regrettably) won't be at.
Monday, October 18, 2021
Having written about JR Moores' history of all things heavy, it was about time I actually read it. That I would love Electric Wizards was pretty much a foregone conclusion - and so it proved. Both enlightening and entertaining, it's a book I can see myself regularly dipping back into.
Electric Wizards is just one of the publications that features in this Deep Cuts episode entitled "Music Books You Should Read", alongside the likes of Harry Sword's Monolithic Undertow and David Browne's Sonic Youth biog Goodbye Twentieth Century, which also sit on my shelves. Thanks to Oliver Kemp for not only pointing in the direction of some recommended reading on jazz and ambient, but also reminding me that I still haven't read either Kim Gordon's Girl In A Band or John Higgs' book (loosely) about The KLF.
Incidentally, the premise for Higgs' next book Love And Let Die - that The Beatles and James Bond represent love and death (or Eros and Thanatos, if you'd prefer) respectively, opposed and yet intertwined - holds a lot of promise. Given his reading of 'Helter Skelter', mind, Moores might disagree...
Saturday, October 16, 2021
"Why did it take so long for one of Britain's greatest photographers to get his due?" asked the Guardian's Steve Rose about Charlie Phillips back in March. I'd like to say it's a mystery - but sadly racism seems the much likelier explanation. Hopefully his appearance at last weekend's Northern Eye Photography Festival will have helped to raise his profile.
We've got a drunk GI to thank for the fact that Phillips discovered the joys of photography in the first place. From that early awakening, his life took an extraordinary route that included learning his trade with the paparazzi in Rome, getting backstage with Jimi Hendrix and others at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, photographing Muhammad Ali the following year, having Henri Cartier-Bresson visit his first solo exhibition and finding himself homeless. If there's a greater tragedy than the loss of so many of his pictures (a consequence of moving from squat to squat), it's that between 1974 and 1991, he "didn't take a single photograph".
The son of Windrush immigrants, Phillips captured the realities of the Black British experience from the inside at a time when very few others were. "I think we're not well represented within the culture of England how we should be", he told Rose. "There has been a missing section in our history. Most of our records have been destroyed or weren't there in the first place ... I'm just here to document our side of the story ... It's not Black history; this is British history, whether you like it or not. And we've been sidestepped. I feel that personally."
And yet the Guardian decided to include the interview as part of a series called "Black Lives". Back to Phillips: "I feel sometimes I'm being used as political propaganda when they talk about multicultural Britain. I'm sorry, I don't want to play the colour game. I'm tired of ticking the boxes, because they only call you in Black History Month to show images of Black people, and I'm fed up of it."
Understandably so. Can we just start to talk about him as a fantastic photographer full stop?
Friday, October 15, 2021
How to characterise Dark Mark Vs Skeleton Joe, the eponymous debut from Mark Lanegan and Joe Cardamone? "Gothic death disco"? That label certainly fits opening tracks 'Living Dead' and 'No Justice' as well as it did pre-album appetisers 'Dark Mark Theme' and 'Skeleton Joe Manifesto'. But that only tells half the story of a split-personality record that grew on me and has continued to do so since I submitted my Buzz review.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
Not being much of a fan of tennis, I wouldn't normally be bothered about a book on the subject. But Match Point: Tennis - despite its title - isn't, really. Instead, Martin Parr's latest publication finds him touring the Grand Slam tournaments and doing much what he's always done - observing the spectators rather than the spectacle - and is therefore of much greater interest personally. (In this respect, it's a bit like Harry Pearson's The Far Corner, in which the actual detail of the football matches he reports on are almost incidental.)
But, as Parr told the Guardian's Xan Brooks in a recent interview, life is getting tougher for people-watching photographers: "It's becoming more and more difficult to photograph on the street. People are more suspicious. A lot of them think it's illegal and I have to keep telling them that it's not. ... People are more wary. The general drift is towards suspicion." (This is why he's increasingly focusing his attention on events: "If people are engrossed in what they're doing, they have less time to respond.")
This cuts to the age-old ethical issues that can make street photography contentious and challenging - the desire to capture people behaving naturally and unself-consciously means catching them off their guard, which has implications for privacy and respect for personal space. But it also suggests a changing attitude: an increasing anxiety to avoid being photographed by strangers that co-exists with an eagerness to share selfies on social media. How to square the two? By venturing, perhaps, that in the internet era and a culture that is profoundly visual, both are indicative of an increasing concern to retain control over our own image.
In the course of his conversation with Brooks, Parr also revealed he's only taken 60 or 70 pictures that he would consider to be "magic" or "iconic" (there's not much hope for the rest of us, then) and succinctly summed up a body of work that now extends to more than 80 photobooks by claiming that "my one big project is what the rich Western world is up to in its leisure time".
He also took a swipe at those who see photography as a means of effecting social and political change: "This idea that, 'Oh, I photograph war in order to end war.' But you never will. It's impossible. All we are doing is creating entertainment. Hopefully, it will have a serious message, too, but it's not obligatory. Unless you make an entertaining picture, no one's going to pay attention." He's got a point, to a point. "Entertaining" isn't the word I'd use, and there will be plenty of photographers who bristle at the mocking tone of his comments - but ultimately there does need to be something visually or aesthetically interesting for any message to be conveyed.
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
While a daytime doner might be (or at least seem) socially unacceptable, you can have no such qualms about heading to Maasi's for a lunch-hour naanwich - a kind of open chicken kebab with a Pakistani twist - because they're not open at night. I paid a visit to the latest addition to the Victoria Park dining scene and reported back for Buzz.
Monday, October 11, 2021
Imagine eating and drinking your way around Cardiff and environs and getting paid for it. It's safe to say that Ed Gilbert is now very much living the dream.
Having recognised the quality of his blog Gourmet Gorro, Wales Online have done the decent thing and got Ed on board as a resident food, drink and travel writer. It's refreshing to have decent coverage celebrating the vibrancy of the local culinary scene rather than breathless puff pieces for the latest boring chain to arrive in Cardiff.
Ed's only been in the role for a matter of weeks and has already reported on everything from Milkwood's transformation from small-plate bistro to daytime cafe, to a coffee shop and wine bar opened in a former brothel in Roath by a brother and sister team, to a dog cafe in Llanrumney that also happens to serve a sensational reuben sandwich. He's set his sights beyond the confines of the capital too - for instance, taking note of the opening of street food hall in a rugby clubhouse in Bridgend.
Acknowledging that behind each foodie enterprise there are people with passion and perseverance, Ed has already profiled a number of local food heroes: Leyli Homayoonfar of Bab Haus, who's offsetting the sad loss of Barry's legendary smokehouse Hang Fire by serving up Mexican barbecue street food at the nearby Goodsheds; Lee Skeet, the Gordon Ramsay-trained chef whose intimate supper clubs have delighted diners and helped him to fall back in love with cooking after sustaining horrific hit-and-run injuries; and Mike St Amand, a former Hang Fire head chef now the proprietor of both chicken wing outlet Wingman and burger joint Bun Headz. And then there are suppliers like Olly Woolnough of Meat Matters, whose vital contributions to a memorable meal all too often go underappreciated.
Make no mistake, Ed is performing sterling service for readers and restauranteurs alike - whether that's publicising new openings and closures on Wellfield Road or updating articles that list the best vegetarian and vegan places in Cardiff and all of the restaurants open for business on a Monday evening.
If there's a problem with following him on Twitter, it's that you'll find yourself feeling permanently hungry...
Friday, October 08, 2021
So, the deal is done - remarkably swiftly, at the end of an excruciatingly protracted saga.
Let's get a few things straight.
First, there's no doubting that some of the criticism coming our way is motivated by envy - from opposition fans jealous of our bottomless pockets, and especially from supporters of the so-called "Big Six", whose cosy little party we're set to gatecrash. Most of them would no doubt have no qualms whatsoever if it was their clubs receiving sudden investment.
Second, and relatedly, there are a lot of stones being lobbed from glass houses. Few clubs, especially in the Premier League, have owners that their fans can or should really be proud of (hello Man City, Arsenal and West Ham in particular). Football and ethical conduct have long been like oil and water (if you want morals and principles, you'd be well advised to look elsewhere), and sportswashing is nothing new - whether in the beautiful game or beyond.
But there's a "but". A very big one.
By leaping into bed with the Public Investment Fund (allied to the Saudi state, whatever the legal documents might suggest), Newcastle have significantly upped the ante. The litany of human rights allegations levelled against Saudi Arabia is - or at least should be - horrifying. But, in their (admittedly understandable) haste to be free of Mike Ashley, fans have eagerly embraced the new regime with open arms, unconcerned that we've effectively sold what little soul we had left for a massive pile of magic beans.
The grovelling letter from the Supporters Trust welcoming the new regime is embarrassing - but sadly they evidently speak for most fans, including Alan Shearer, who has pointed out: "It all depends on whether Newcastle win on a Saturday." It does, it seems - to such an extent that those human rights abuses are easily forgotten if not even forgiven. As I said in exasperation years ago of Joey Barton's continued employment on Tyneside, we could have Pol Pot up front and as long as he was regularly banging them in, few fans would cause a fuss.
How to respond to these latest developments, as someone who is clearly in the minority, other than with dismay? By amplifying Amnesty's call for a more rigorous owners' and directors' test that actually mentions human rights and closes up the sort of loopholes exploited in this instance, for a start. And by seriously contemplating whether I can bear to continue backing the team on the pitch, in the knowledge of who is now backing the club behind the scenes.
In the current climate, we could all do with a glimmer of hope and buoyant optimism - and thankfully Efterklang are on hand to provide it in the form of new album Windflowers, out today on City Slang. How do they manage to retain that chipper attitude and childlike sense of wonder at the world in the face of all that's going on? It remains a mystery - though I guess if you come from the land of Lego and bacon you can't have too many complaints.
Anyway, my review for Buzz is here.
Thursday, October 07, 2021
This weekend sees the return of the Northern Eye Photography Festival to Colwyn Bay. Here's my Buzz preview of an event that boasts an impressive array of nationally and internationally renowned photographers speaking for the benefit of in-person and virtual attendees alike.
Blow Up Press is a new (or relaunched?) venture from the folks behind Bluecoat Press, offering prints of iconic images of iconic musicians (I deploy that frequently misused word twice advisedly), each one limited to a run of 250 and hand signed by the photographer who took it. The Beatles, The Smiths, The Rolling Stones and Ian Curtis are among the artists featured in the initial prints available on their site.
Needless to say, as a fan of both music and photography, Blow Up captured my interest immediately, and what looks to be the standard price (£40) seems very reasonable. I've got my eye on Philippe Carly's portrait of Iggy Pop - I've just got to persuade my partner it would deserve a place on our walls...
Wednesday, October 06, 2021
Prompted by its imminent closure, Wales Online's Will Hayward has written a spirited defence of Cardiff's Castle Emporium as "a great example of what makes the Welsh capital great - quirky, imaginative, warm, creative and a bit weird". As he suggests, its demise is symptomatic of a grim general drift towards homogenisation that has also seen the death - and, in the case of Gwdihw, the physical obliteration - of several of the city's music venues. Corporates and "endless student flats that look like they were designed by a depressed six year old from the Soviet Union" take their place.
Admittedly, this trend towards a characterless, identikit city is not something experienced only here in Cardiff; on the contrary, it's a national and indeed global issue. But the local authorities don't have to just stand by passively and let it happen - and they shouldn't. Much more could be done to protect independent businesses from the corrosive effects of globalisation and corporate creep.
In the short term, Hayward argues, Cardiff Council "should be busting a gut to help these independents to find new homes". There's certainly no shortage of vacant premises, especially on Queen Street but even in the flagship shopping mall St David's Two - proof that the strategy of shamelessly courting fickle national and international chains often doesn't pay off.
In the longer term, Hayward rightly points out that there needs to be an acknowledgement that people will only travel into the centre of town if there's a good reason to do so - and that work and big-brand shopping exert even less of a pull now than they did pre-pandemic. Ultimately, that means giving much greater attention to what makes a city attractive and then actually doing something about it.
Hardly rocket science, is it?
Tuesday, October 05, 2021
As someone who often feels as though I've either done an album a disservice with a prematurely lukewarm write-up or, conversely, got too caught up in the hype/excitement and overrated something, I can understand wanting to retract a review - or at least revisit and reassess with the benefit of hindsight and a different context.
Pitchfork's rescoring article - clickbait for music journalists the world over - seems to have attracted a lot of mockery and negative comment. For what it's worth, I'm personally inclined to salute their willingness to publicly admit errors of judgement - especially when that means giving PJ Harvey's Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea the credit it richly deserves but was initially denied, recognising Discovery as the peak of Daft Punk's career, and acknowledging that Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights, while doubtless a fine album, is blighted by the silliness of the lyrics ("there was something about how poetic and dour they thought they were that drove me nuts", writes Jillian Mapes). (What is absolute nonsense, though, is adjusting the scores - not least when, in some cases (Knxledge, Regina Spector), that adjustment is minimal and for little discernible reason.)
Mojo editor John Mulvey, however, has implied (not without reason) that it's a performative, self-indulgent exercise: "Sorry, but I STILL think talking and writing about music is more interesting than talking and writing about music criticism." And the response of former staffer Lindsay Zoladz was more cutting: "honestly the Pitchfork score I'd most like to retroactively change was my starting salary lmao"...
(Thanks to Ian for the link.)
Monday, October 04, 2021
I probably first came across the late Colin Jones' work courtesy of Marc Davenant posting pictures on Twitter, and just assumed that - like so many others - he'd made his name photographing my native north east. However, while his first picture spread for the Observer was indeed of Mackems scouring a colliery waste tip for salvageable coal, his subjects ranged widely (as this Guardian gallery shows) - from the stars of the Swinging Sixties to civil rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama and young, disaffected children of the Windrush generation living in a squat in Islington that became known as the Black House.
His obituary makes for an interesting read - not least because of his unusual career path: he was a ballet dancer before becoming a photographer. Cyber wasn't an option back then, I suppose - for which we should be grateful.
Saturday, October 02, 2021
Not that you'd necessarily have known it (from reading this site as much as any other), but Nevermind isn't the only era-defining, game-changing US rock record celebrating a milestone birthday this year. A decade younger than Nirvana's breakthrough LP, the Strokes' Is This It was better dressed and cleaner cut, but in many ways had a similar impact - at least initially.
Much as it pains me to agree with an article published by the Spectator, but Michael Hann's take on the album, the band and their legacy is largely spot on. Most importantly, he doesn't try to sniffily deny Is This It's quality, describing it as "11 fantastic songs". Revisiting the record recently, primarily for research purposes, I was astonished by how sharp and fresh it still sounds - even to a pair of ears that have now heard Marquee Moon and the Modern Lovers. C'mon - that solo in 'The Modern Age', that ending to 'Hard To Explain', the whole of 'Last Nite'...
What Hann doesn't do (perhaps due to a restrictive word count, let's be fair) is set the scene for the record's release. Britpop was long dead and, while - as is ever the case - there were good things going on on the margins (hello Mogwai!), mainstream rock was in the doldrums. Desperately scrabbling around to find the Next Big Thing, NME had surprisingly but pleasingly thrown their weight behind At The Drive-In and Queens Of The Stone Age, but neither band was really ever going to click with their core readership. That led to the promotion of the likes of Terris and attempts to stoke interest in what they branded the New Acoustic Movement - moves that looked embarrassingly undignified at the time, let alone with the benefit of hindsight. So when the Strokes emerged - practically fully formed and with an album as good as Is This It ready to roll - it's understandable that they were hungrily seized upon by a press starved of excitement.
As Hann suggests, the Strokes proved to be "on the breaking crest of a wave" that saw the likes of the White Stripes, Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (from this distance, all very different bands with a disparate set of influences) come to prominence. But inevitably everything went downhill from there - at first gradually and then rapidly.
Duly anointed as figureheads for this New Rock Revolution, the Strokes themselves descended into ironic detachment and laziness on subsequent albums. Those "11 fantastic songs" became less important than their "sharp cheekbones" and "tight jeans" to Conor McNicholas, the supremely twattish NME editor of the time who shamelessly instituted "a 'good hair, good shoes' policy" that helped to kill off the publication as a serious entity. Meanwhile, the logic of transatlantic one-upmanship and patriotic pride that had seen Britpop boom in response to grunge gave birth to the Libertines - palatable in their very early days, but before long a powerful emetic and directly culpable (I would argue) for the horrors of landfill indie that continue to haunt us today.
The title of Hann's article, "The Real Death Of Rock", might be a sub-editor's doing, but it's not much of an exaggeration - at least as far as the mainstream goes. He argues: "What is apparent now, two decades on, is that Is This It was the point at which rock music's tendency to fetishise the past took over from its ability to look to the future." Some of us would venture that that had already happened with Britpop, but I don't think there can be much dispute with the claim that "at two decades' remove [the Strokes] sound like a stillborn revolution".
While there are sound reasons to be wary of revisionism, it's also true that the longevity and value of cultural artefacts is never established in the heat of the moment; on the contrary, it's important to allow time for the dust to settle before passing judgement. Twenty years is long enough to agree with Hann that while Is This It remains a great record and changed the game, it didn't do so for the better.
Friday, October 01, 2021
How do you follow up an exhibition of work by arguably the most prominent artist working in the UK today? (It's Cold War Steve, in case you didn't know.) If you're Ynyshir gallery the Workers, it's with not one but three new shows - Dale Evans' Terrified And Curious, Lorna Cabble's Funny Little World and Self Worth, featuring the work of Mohamed Hassan among others - that exemplify a commitment to risk taking and diversity.
The doors opened for visitors today, but here's my preview for Buzz.
Thursday, September 30, 2021
Businesses on Cardiff's Womanby Street are no strangers to the threat of closure. This time, though, it's not a gig venue but Castle Emporium, whose tenants have been given just 30 days to vacate the premises.
The word is that the place is going to be taken over by an "independent local brewer". In normal circumstances, I'd be firmly in favour - but not when it's going to have a negative impact on several other independent local businesses. Among those affected are radical bookshop Shelflife, which relocated from the front of Pop'n'Hops, and non-profit anti-depression organisation Heads Above The Waves. Castle Emporium is also notable as the place where suppliers of high-quality caffeine Hard Lines - under their original name Outpost - first found their feet.
While I'll admit to not being as regular a visitor to Castle Emporium as I could/should be, it's nice knowing it's there. Cardiff's Victorian arcades are much lauded and much loved, and rightly so - but there's also a place for a relaxed, low-key alternative arcade that channels some of the vibe of Manchester's Afflecks Palace.
Though it's looking like curtains for Castle Emporium, here's hoping that the building's current occupiers can find new communal premises in a similarly central location - a big challenge in such a short space of time.
First Nightshift returned to the realm of the real, and now Buzz is back in business as a hard-copy publication. With a new editor in place, the October issue is out now, stuffed as usual with listings, previews (two of which contributed by yours truly) and reviews - so many, in fact, that it feels as though a vague semblance of normality has returned, culturally speaking at least.
One significant change is that the magazine and website now cover the whole of Wales rather than just the south - so additional contributors from the north would, I'm sure, be very welcome indeed.
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Like Robert Venturi, Denise Scott and Steven Izenour, the three architects who gave it its name, photographer John Margolies was fascinated by the phenomenon of duck architecture. But in truth he was fascinated by all kinds of roadside structures, including signs and billboards, and made it his mission to record these curious, colourful and often ephemeral constructions for posterity.
While some of Margolies' images made it into books, thousands more languished in an archive. Happily, though, that archive has now been bought by the Library of Congress and, even better, copyright restrictions have been scrapped. You can get a taster of his work - and of the twentieth-century American landscape - here.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
Final Nevermind post, I promise (probably).
I've seen a few people suggest that the album has lost its magic or lustre for them due to overfamiliarity or simply the passage of time. Not for me. Listening to 6 Music's Deep Dive, I marvelled at the fact that it still sounds as fresh and powerful as it did on release, when it blew my 13-year-old mind.
The Deep Dive features various musicians sharing memories of interactions with the band at the time or speaking about the impact that Nirvana, Nevermind and specific songs had on them. Brix Start Smith, then in The Fall, recalls offering Kurt and company a tray of sandwiches from their rider when the two bands played the same Berlin venue because they looked so poor and hungry. Meanwhile, Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley of tourmates Teenage Fanclub describe how they found themselves "in the middle of this phenomenon". Nevermind's producer Butch Vig felt much the same way, realising from the reception the album got when he played it at a party (with Smashing Pumpkins among the attendees) that "this album was going to be a zeitgeist moment".
Nirvana gave the young Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes the confidence to express herself artistically, and the young Wu-Lu "the confidence to not care" and just be himself, while John tubthumper John Newton singles out 'Stay Away' for illustrating "how powerful and potent they were as a band" - not surprising, really, given how incredible Dave Grohl's contribution to that track is.
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Back in the early 1990s, the UK fell head over heels in love with three scruffy punks from Seattle - but, as the BBC documentary When Nirvana Came To Britain underlined, the feeling was mutual. Oh to have seen them live...
Friday, September 24, 2021
Happy 30th birthday to the album that, without exaggeration, changed my life.
I won't add much to the thousands upon thousands of words already written about Nevermind - not least because, back when this site was in its infancy, I summed up its inestimable impact on me personally in a post in the Music Sounds Better With You series. Its cultural importance - both at the time of its release and ever since - is profound and beyond dispute.
Here's the piece John Calvert wrote for the Quietus on its 20th birthday. If you ignore the somewhat tenuous framing within references to Gus Van Sant's film My Own Private Idaho, it's as astute and insightful an assessment of Nevermind as you'll read - bang on the money time and again.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
First things first: if you're a fan of Jay Rayner's ability to deliciously flambe a substandard restaurant, it's previous publication Wasted Calories And Ruined Nights you want. Chewing The Fat: Tasting Notes From A Greedy Life, a collection of Observer Food Monthly columns written over the course of a decade, is the literary equivalent of a succession of unpretentious small plates served up with no garnish (which he brands "the art of the superfluous"): tasty morsels that are easy to wolf down greedily in a single sitting, if not always quite sufficiently substantial to really sate the appetite.
Not that Rayner refrains entirely from expressing spicy opprobrium, railing variously against picnics, buffets, time-limited restaurant slots, what passes for sustenance on trains and at service stations, and gin ("As far as I'm concerned, having a favourite gin would be like choosing a favourite war criminal, only with a greater impact on my life"), among other things. But to counterbalance the Scoville-scale rants are columns in which he celebrates some of the joys of food: messy culinary creation, solo and slow cooking, the way that the addition of a pork product will immediately improve any dish.
Other pieces are more confessional - admissions of guilty pleasures (burnt toast, Mr Whippy ice cream); of how a kitchen cupboard clear-out of unopened and half-used jars "forced me to acknowledge all my unrealised ambitions as a domestic cook"; of the hypocrisy of parents who police their children's diets but then indulge themselves in secret; of his embarrassing inability to leave a dining table "without everyone being able to read, from the Jackson Pollock across my chest, exactly what I've just had for my tea".
There's sage advice too (taking your own sharp knives on a self-catering holiday is a top tip) and even some visionary ideas for labour-saving kitchen gadgets. Sign me up for a fishbone magnetiser, for sure.
(An edited version of this review has been published on the Buzz website.)
Monday, September 20, 2021
"I have always had a big faith in what photography can do", Serbest Salih told the Guardian's Sean O'Hagan in a recent interview. That faith has not been misplaced. For the Syrian refugee children living in Turkey with whom Salih works, it's brought empowerment, confidence and the pleasures of self-expression.
While adult photojournalists document the grim realities of the war-torn region and the appalling conditions endured by the impoverished people who have fled for their lives, the children offer a different, more positive perspective. Of a new book of images selected by the kids themselves, i saw the air fly, Salih said: "People think that if you give a refugee child a camera, the results will be sad, but instead most of these photographs are all about joy. They are small moments of private happiness."
Sunday, September 19, 2021
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Building up to the announcement of a trio of live dates last week, Los Campesinos! declared that they will only play "accessible venues". What they meant was venues that are accessible for all fans - but what about venues that are accessible for all potential performers too? That dimension of accessibility is often overlooked, but it's the key concern of Sauna Youth's Richard Phoenix in DIY As Privilege: A Manifesto, published last year in the Rough Trade Editions series.
As the pamphlet's title suggests, Phoenix questions the concept of DIY culture, so often taken for granted as an uncomplicatedly Good Thing by so many people on the margins (myself included). Being able to blindly ignore everything else and pursue your own path on your own terms is predicated on privilege, as he learned in particular from working with a young pop fan called Jolene: "the ability to say no and to reject mainstream culture often means that you have access to, or the ability to create, your own subculture or scene. If you don't have that ability or choice, then how do you or why would you say no to what surrounds you?"
Phoenix is a firm believer in the social model of disability, according to which disability is not a personal problem or deficiency; on the contrary, it's the social and cultural environment that is responsible for disabling people. The solution then becomes even more obvious: focus on making that environment more accessible and less hostile.
Branding the pamphlet a "manifesto" is arguably unnecessarily off-putting. This is no preachy polemic, but a persuasive, positive and energising publication in which Phoenix draws on his own enriching experience of working with various learning disabled musicians. Being in a band is a way for people to learn new skills, gain confidence and express themselves creatively - and it's an opportunity that should be available to all.
As the Los Campesinos! Twitter thread began, "I appreciate the last 18 months have been very difficult for musicians but it seems like a lot of bands/artists have come back and announced tours like business as usual. Surely now is the time to try to implement a new live music industry? Accessible and equitable." Phoenix would certainly agree, and it would be great if local venues such as Chapter seized the initiative.