Friday, March 24, 2023

Be here now?

Every few years, it seems, there's a new article claiming that Manchester's music scene is finally escaping the shadow of Factory, the Hacienda, the Smiths, the Stone Roses et al. The latest, by Davey Brett, was published earlier this month by the Guardian - the paper's Manc roots showing through, perhaps.

The claim (courtesy of a sub-editor rather than Brett himself, I suspect) that the city is "no longer getting lost in nostalgia" is questionable given the recent online kerfuffle over the opening of a Joy Division theme bar - sorry, "love letter to Manchester music" - serving up gyozas and veg skewers under the watchful eye of an Ian Curtis mural. But credit where it's due - Brett makes a compelling case that there's plenty to be excited and brag about in the here and now.

He begins with the bands and artists, naturally (though appears intent on shooting his argument in the foot early doors by mentioning Blossoms), but rightly goes on to spend much of his allotted space making clear that a thriving scene requires much more than merely musicians.

While it sounds as though Manchester's grassroots venues are battling against the same challenges as their counterparts elsewhere in the UK (including here in Cardiff), there are nevertheless new spaces opening up and existing venues developing a loyal fanbase. The Sounds From The Other City festival is a real boon in terms of supporting small-scale promoters and showcasing a diverse array of talent (though I should flag up that the city in question is Salford not Manchester, before someone picks me up on it...), and the existence of local independent radio stations gives artists a stage much bigger than you'd find in your average DIY venue.

The mayor himself, Andy Burnham, has a monthly show on BBC Radio Manchester, and it helps to have friends in high places fighting your corner - especially ones who see themselves as following in Tony Wilson's footsteps. In the light of all the (far from unfounded) doom and gloom about Tory indifference to/assaults on the arts, it's heartening to read about the various schemes and initiatives in place offering financial backing most importantly, but also skills training, workshops, development opportunities, access to studio space and much more.

All of which makes it even more appalling that the council are trying to shut down one of Manchester's most celebrated venues, while having the gall to declare that "[t]he city's music venues are an important part of the fabric of the city, playing a vital role in the night-time economy and in creating opportunities for new artists". The Night & Day may have been granted another stay of execution, but the fact that it remains under serious threat is a counterweight to the general positivity of Brett's piece.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Cost of live crisis

Practically every week I seem to find myself writing a post about "the crisis facing live music in Britain" - and this week is no exception.

Dave Simpson's article on the subject for the Guardian is worthy of comment because it considers punters as well as performers. His piece goes beyond flagging up the spiralling costs of touring for artists (which are resulting in the likes of LoneLady having to scale back to being solo performers and rely on merch sales to make ends come close to meeting) and also acknowledges that, inevitably, those costs are being passed on to consumers.

Maybe it's just the nature of the gigs I go to, but my recent experience would corroborate the claim that enjoying live music is increasingly the preserve of the middle aged, with young people either forced to pick and choose what they see or priced out altogether. That can't be healthy.

If, in the light of recent debates centred on the Glastonbury line-up, we're genuinely serious about wanting to encourage the next generation of arena-scale artists and ensure diversity rather than homogeneity, then live music - as an inspiring and energising influence - must be accessible to all.

What's more, there needs to be much more support within the industry itself (as well as from national and local politicians and others) for grassroots music. Mark Davyd of the Music Venue Trust argues: "All new arenas should make a financial contribution towards helping struggling venues and developing artists at grassroots level. If they get it right, they won't make a penny less. If we collectively get it wrong, we'll lose a whole lot more." Not for the first time, he's speaking perfect sense.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

"I'm a fucking genius, like one of these Mozart guys"

In a 2016 live review for Nightshift, I set out my rather mixed feelings about The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Anton Newcombe personally. On that occasion, my conclusion was charitable: "[I]n an era of carefully stage-managed plasticky automatons delivering precision-guided product and platitudinous soundbites to a target demographic, Newcombe is arguably just the sort of entertainingly cantankerous, hubristic, uninhibited, unpredictable rock star we need."

While I stand by those words, they came back to me when reading Daniel Dylan Day's recent interview with Newcombe for the Guardian. Wray notes that he is "prone to bursts of boastful proclamations", which is putting it mildly. Sure, he can write a half-decent song and remains an ungovernable maverick - but it must be wearying to find yourself in Wray's position, having to spend a significant amount of time with someone who clearly loves the smell of his own farts and nod along to all of his delusional guff.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Long division

Like his compatriot Ernest Cole, Steve Bloom set out to use his camera to change perceptions of South Africa. As he explains in this piece for the Guardian, his images exposed the abhorrent cruelty of apartheid to the wider world, and meant that he had to remain in exile for more than 13 years until its abolition in the early 1990s.

Not that Bloom is under any illusions that that historic political and legal development brought an end to racial inequality in the country, however: "There's a resonance when people realise that such social and economic differences are still present 45 years later." He sees his pictures as serving a vital function: "They act as a poignant reminder of why history must never be buried or forgotten and how we need to be constantly reminded of such injustices to help prevent them from happening again."

Friday, March 17, 2023

One Day, one night

It had been a while - 13 years, to be precise - since I'd last seen Fucked Up, headlining the short-lived 1-2-3-4 Festival in Shoreditch one day and then laying waste to Truck the next. But on Saturday night at Clwb, it still took every fibre of my being not to launch myself into the moshpit in a manner most undignified for a 45-year-old dad. The mind boggles at what it must have been like in 2009 when they played the same venue with Rolo Tomassi and The Bronx for company...

Buzz review here.

Hope you managed to get yourself some vegan junk food on Chippy Alley, Damian.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Divine inspiration

Having warmly reviewed his two previous novels The Offing and The Perfect Golden Circle for Buzz - and thoroughly enjoyed their predecessor The Gallows Pole too - I was delighted to get my mitts on a review copy of Benjamin Myers' new book, published today.

It was impossible to do Cuddy justice in the space permitted - I only just about managed to squeeze in a synopsis and a few enthusiastic adjectives. A historical novel unlike any other, it's boldly experimental - though, crucially, without being remotely intimidating in the way such works so often are. On the contrary, Cuddy draws you in and holds you tight until the final page.

One request from reader to author: please can we have a Better Call Saul-style spin-off in which fabulously lusty medieval prostitute Scum Gertie - Chaucer's Wife of Bath cast as a Viz character - is given centre stage.

The book's publication has naturally pressed Myers into promotional duty. In an interview with his publisher Bloomsbury, he rolls with an opening question that is a very thinly disguised version of "Where do you get all your crazy ideas from?", talking about everything from setting a work of fiction in the distant past to Shane Meadows' forthcoming adaptation of The Gallows Pole and what we can expect next: "a novella set in Berlin in 1971" that "almost reads like a monologue, a rant, a poem and a nervous breakdown".

In the interview, Myers admits to musing over whether writing is "actually a form of mental illness": "Sometimes after finishing a novel my brain is like soup and my body feels like it has been run over." Elsewhere, in a piece about Napalm Death's infamous 1.316-second-long song 'You Suffer' for the Quietus, he writes at length about his personal experience of the traumas and tribulations of the creative process.

Finally, Myers' Books Of My Life article for the Guardian is well worth a read. As a former D H Lawrence scholar who also found childhood inspiration in the pages of Danny The Champion Of The World, turns to Jeeves & Wooster for comfort and considers a tatty copy of Jon Savage's England's Dreaming to be a Bible, I could relate to pretty much every pick.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Don't know your place

Given Jason Williamson's combative attitude to criticism and keyboard warriors - of which I have prior personal experience for the admittedly provocative framing of this five-star live review - it was with some trepidation that I submitted an honest review of the new Sleaford Mods album UK Grim to Buzz. Allow me to offer some pre-emptive clarification/justification...

As a reviewer, tight word counts can be your enemy, preventing you from including the level of nuance and qualification you'd ideally want. I'm aware that the review as it stands might seem to suggest that Sleaford Mods should stay in their lane and stick to what they know. That's categorically not what I meant to imply.

My contention with UK Grim is simply that its attempts to broaden horizons are only patchily successful, whereas the more familiar material - minimal, lean, pugilistic - is as strong as ever. This is not the same as saying that they couldn't or shouldn't seek to break new ground; on the contrary, it's vital for artists to continue to grow and develop rather than stagnate.

Maybe the next album will (to these ears) achieve that ambition more effectively. Until then, I'm very much enjoying the title track (in particular) and hearing the Nottingham accent from the mouth of someone other than Lee fucking Anderson.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

The times on Tyne they are a-changin

Nick Hedges' book Home is principally a photographic record of the post-war housing crisis and the appalling conditions in which millions were forced to live, but it also touches on what came after: "new Jerusalems ... created in our green and pleasant land" that in many cases turned out to be little better than the homes that they had replaced.

It is this turbulent period in Newcastle's history that fellow photographer Peter Brabban captured, beginning in 1966 when he was just 18. Cafe Royal Books have recently published a selection of his images under the title The North East: 1966-1982, and this article from the Chronicle gives a flavour of the pamphlet's contents.

Everywhere you looked, it seems, there was dereliction or development, decay or modernisation. As Brabban has noted, at the same time that high-rise tower blocks were under construction, heavy industry remained at the heart of the city (almost literally), anchoring it to its past even as planners attempted to build for a brighter future.

Talking to David Morton, the Chronicle's Nostalgia Editor (!), Brabban fondly recalls how his brother showed him not only how to take photos but also how to develop them: "[t]he whole panoply of chemicals, temperatures and timings." For Brabban, it wasn't so much specific subject matter that inspired him, as the process of physically making a picture: "It was watching the image appear on the print in the developer which fired up my passion for photography, a passion that is still with me." Maybe this is why many higher-education photography courses continue to place importance on darkroom practice, even though it no longer serves any real practical purpose?

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

"I don't like to give too much away"

As one half of Cinza, Marlene Ribeiro was one of the stand-out acts at last year's Cosmic Carnage Almost Christmas All-Dayer. Here she is talking to the Quietus' Alex Rigotti about her solo album Toquei No Sol, how she found a way to connect to her "very stern" Portuguese grandmother through song, becoming a member of Gnod after seeing them destroy a house party, and feeling "energised" by the creative hub that is the Islington Mill.

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Party animals

Aiyush Pachnanda's recent exhibition may have been called Dance Floor Etiquette, but there's no stuffy formality about his pictures of Cardiff's drum'n'bass scene. Quite the contrary: you can practically feel the throbbing bass and smell the sweaty, chaotic delirium.

Talking to We Are Cardiff three years ago about his book Rave To The Grave, Yushy - a graduate of the University of South Wales' photojournalism course - admitted that he initially found the raves "very, very overwhelming". Credit to him for immersing himself in an unfamiliar subculture and putting his camera lens at risk to bring back images from the front line.

Monday, March 06, 2023

"He's a lovely cat"

Happy 25th birthday to The Big Lebowski, which was my first Coen brothers' film - and remains firmly my favourite.

It's mind-boggling to consider that the film - "a detective tale that upended all the LA noir tropes" - initially fared poorly with both the critics and at the box office. As Jeff Bridges, who starred as the eponymous hero, told the Hollywood Reporter, "I thought it was going to be a big hit. I was surprised when it didn't get much recognition. People didn't get it, or something."

(With that "or something", Bridges sounds like he's slipping back into character - and he could certainly see plenty of himself in the Dude: "I thought the brothers must have spied on me when I was in high school.")

But at least critical acclaim and popular adoration have come, albeit belatedly. It's a wonderful, wonderful film - with dialogue and phrases that I still catch myself quoting on an almost daily basis.

Sunday, March 05, 2023

"Every revolution eats itself"

"It was very organic at the start, but every revolution eats itself. All the copycat bands came. It went from being pure and genuine to suddenly becoming like the bloated carcass of Britpop all over again." A succinct and sound assessment of the early 00s indie revival spearheaded by the Strokes, undermined somewhat by the fact that it comes from Johnny Borrell, who clearly and misguidedly sees Razorlight as being among the vanguard of serious artists rather than symbols of what went wrong.

With the film Meet Me In The Bathroom (based on Lizzy Goodman's 2017 book) about to hit cinema screens, Borrell is just one of the people who Daniel Dylan Wray spoke to about the period.

Given that Turin Brakes, Kings Of Convenience and the "New Acoustic Movement" were being touted as the Next Big Thing, and (as Wray notes) beige saps Travis and David Gray were riding high in the charts, little wonder that people went wild for the Strokes, the White Stripes and the Libertines. But, as Borrell says, it soon descended into a cynical Britpop-esque feeding frenzy that resulted in the amplification of countless no-marks - see, for instance, the Others, whose Dominic Masters talks about being "business-savvy and organised" and proudly proclaims that "I had a lawyer before I had a manager".

For the Guardian's deputy music editor Laura Snapes, a teenager following things from afar via the pages of NME, it all seemed enormously exciting - until she made the disillusioning discovery that the reality was rather more prosaic: "When I finally made it to Camden, at 18, I found no indie thrills, just the smell of wee and incense. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Wray acknowledges that, as with Britpop, there were certain bands whose faces didn't really fit - and they were naturally the ones actually worth bothering with. Eddie Argos of Art Brut mentions Mclusky and Ikara Colt, and you could also certainly add the Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster. Argos presents himself as an outsider on the inside, a provocateur deliberately needling the scene's kings and kingmakers in much the same way as the Auteurs' Luke Haines did a decade earlier (as chronicled in his book Bad Vibes). Just a shame that Art Brut were never really any good themselves.

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Food to write home about

Ignore the piffle about Pontcanna being "a sort-of Fulham of Cardiff" and somewhere that "feels a safe place to stretch your legs" -  very much the words of a Telegraph writer venturing nervously out into the provinces and discovering it's not all working men's clubs, hoodies, crime and grime. When it comes to describing the food, William Sitwell's review of Heaneys is bang on the money.

Having eaten there for a second time in January, I can personally vouch for the quality of the lamb - though the trout dish we had was arguably even better. Unlike Sitwell, we made the sensible decision to go for the nine-course tasting menu rather than the mere six - who wouldn't want as much of "heavily tattooed Northern Irishman" Tommy Heaney's cooking as they could get? - but I entirely understand his two year old's eagerness to spoon the trademark Marmite butter straight into his mouth rather than bothering to put it on bread first. Such behaviour would probably be considered a bit uncouth of a 45 year old, though.

Meanwhile, Observer critic Jay Rayner - who, lest we forget, once upon a time slagged off the city's gastronomic offerings - has paid us a second visit in less than a year. Last time, he left raving about the Heathcock, and also found space to plug Heaneys, Uisce, Nook, Milkwood and Thomas; this time, he's been bowled over by Matsudai Ramen's "bowls of deep care and thoughtfulness". The quality of James Chant's Grangetown restaurant already felt like no secret around these parts, but it's a measure of Rayner's clout that they received 1,000 bookings in just two days following the publication of his review.

With all this and the premises formerly occupied by La Cuina set to be the new home for Antonio Simone's Poca, Cardiff - or at least our little part of it - certainly can't be written off as a culinary backwater any more.

Friday, March 03, 2023

The north rises again

The news that Olly Ketteringham has parted ways with Lanterns On The Lake (albeit apparently amicably) came as a bit of a disappointment, personally speaking. After all, who wouldn't want to see a childhood chum playing with a Mercury-nominated band?

Let's face it, though: Radiohead's Philip Selway isn't a bad replacement, even if it only turns out to be a short-term arrangement. I guess it helps to have friends in high places - or at least fortuitous connections forged through having a shared record label, Bella Union.

Judging by lead single 'The Likes Of Us', forthcoming fifth album Versions Of Us won't exactly break the mould - but then the world could certainly use more of their understated grandeur.

It'll be interesting to see what Olly does next. Things haven't exactly panned out badly for another former member of Lanterns On The Lake, Adam Ian Sykes, whose band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs have just returned with another corking record in the shape of Land Of Sleeper.

A friend who's into stoner and doom remains sceptical, but I'd argue that Will Ainsley's album review for Pitchfork does a sound job of nailing what sets them apart from the pack: in a nutshell, "they also embody the theatre, camp and sheer fun of all the best heavy music". Perhaps that comes across more obviously live, Matt Baty being a consummate showman in a niche metal genre not known for them, but there are several moments on the new album that raise a grin.

Ainsley observes that "[w]hereas they once prioritised the churn and burn, now their songs are leaner and tighter" - and in that respect Land Of Sleeper does feel much more in the vein of its immediate predecessor Viscerals than an earlier, more sprawling record like Feed The Rats.

Viscerals - while expanding their reach and fanbase - was ill fated in that it was released in April 2020, just as they were building up a head of steam. Fingers crossed that Land Of Sleeper fares better and they're able to continue enjoying sharing the new material with audiences in person.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Are we not Green Men?

Fair play to the organisers of Green Man - they can always be relied upon to pull a great bill out of the bag, and this year is no exception.

Devo following Kraftwerk in the legends headline slot; raucous entertainment courtesy of Les Savy Fav, Special Interest, Gilla Band, Amyl & The Sniffers, Bob Vylan and Crows; forward-thinking music to move your feet and mind from Young Fathers, Jockstrap and Clipping.; Spiritualized to provide some epic grandeur on the Mountain Stage; reformed outfits The Delgados, Slowdive and The Walkmen to delight old fans and win new ones; the tantalising prospect of Daniel Avery performing a late-night/early-morning set on the Far Out Stage.

And The Wedding Present, of course.

Needless to say, I'll be redoubling my efforts to get my hands on a ticket - especially given the memory of how good last year's festival was.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Model behaviour

Guillermo del Toro's take on Pinocchio was frequently bewildering - as a friend commented, that whale swallowed the plot as much as it did the characters - but the best thing about it was undoubtedly the incredible animation. Credit, then, to Altrincham-based studio Mackinnon and Saunders, whose work has been labelled "unparalleled" by del Toro himself.

The BBC's Ian Youngs has been behind the scenes to see the painstaking care and attention put into each and every model - and encountered a familiar story as regards the government's support for the creative arts. In the words of co-founder Peter Saunders, "there is concern that the British animation industry is slowly bleeding to death. That may be an over-exaggeration, but it's certainly under pressure from these countries where there are such generous tax breaks." In other words, this is yet another example of a British success story that needs long-term financial backing rather than merely fine words around awards ceremonies.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Heavier than heaven

Sometimes gushing press releases seem so wide of the mark that you suspect they must be about a different album or even a different artist. Hats off, then, to whoever at Rarely Unable wrote the blurb for Big Brave's new album nature morte. It couldn't be more on the money - much to my chagrin as a reviewer, because it lays claim to pretty much all of the descriptors I would ideally have wanted to use myself: "elemental", "earthen heaviness", "sparseness and density", "eruptions of enveloping tempests", "ferocity and expansive sound", "heft from silence", "songs of unfathomable mass", "so immense and consuming that it possesses its own gravitational pull".

That left me somewhat clutching at straws, marvelling at how far the band have come since their folky beginnings - only to discover, shortly after I'd submitted the review, via Jeff Terich's interview with them for Treble that the recent experience of making a folk album in collaboration with The Body (Leaving None But Small Birds) has actually had a significant and reinvigorating influence on the new record. Doh.

Anyway, here's my write-up for Buzz. Suffice to say that nature morte - their first release for Thrill Jockey - is an unmitigated triumph.

Monday, February 27, 2023

"A band that defied categories, defied expectations, and who were completely timeless and peerless"

Leigh Jones' recent piece for the Quietus may say very little indeed about its purported subject (the new Datblygu anthology Terfysgiaith 1982-2022) but it nevertheless serves a useful function as a primer on the place of both David Edwards and the band in the development of Welsh popular music - and as a critical commentary on the prominence of Dafydd Iwan in the wake of the World Cup and 'Yma O Hyd'.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

The downward spiral

I'll admit to feeling rather uncomfortable to find myself reading Toby Litt's I Play Drums In A Band Called okay - a lurid, largely comic tale about the misadventures (predominantly sexual) of a Canadian indie rock group - at the time that the revelations about Arcade Fire's Win Butler emerged. The novel may only have been published in 2008, but in post-#MeToo 2023, though sexism remains rife in the music industry, the landscape looks very different and the fact that the callous, misogynistic treatment of women by the band's members (including the narrator, drummer Clap) is frequently played for laughs is hard to stomach.

I also at times struggled to understand why Litt felt the need to create a fictional band, given that the narrative arc traced by okay - "lower case, italics" - is one familiar from countless rock memoirs and biographies. But of course it gave him the freedom that comes with invention: no pressure or responsibility to be slavishly faithful to "the truth" - if that can even be uncovered - of a specific band's history, no fear of misrepresenting or defaming anyone alive or dead. (That said, given that they "wear suits at all times", their music is "slow and formal with lyrics about love and guilt" and they "sound like the Velvet Underground on quarter-speed", okay might appear to be modelled on Interpol.)

Though it doesn't present events in strictly linear chronological order, the novel follows Clap, Syph (vocals), Crab (guitar) and Mono (bass) from their teenage beginnings rehearsing in "Crab's sock-and-crotch-smelling attic", when they had principles, "almost a manifesto": "No guitar solos, drum solos. No lighters-aloft moments. No cocaine, no heroin." Needless to say, all that goes out of the window, as the four find fame and start to behave like overgrown toddlers let loose in a toy shop. Indulgence, excess and cringeworthy pretention ensue, as do jadedness, friction, rehab, radical and ill-advised attempts to change direction, loss of dignity, cynical cash-in tours and serious illness.

As this summary suggests, Litt leaves practically no rock 'n' roll cliche unturned, but clearly revels in playing with them and getting his characters to act them out. There are several proper laugh-out-loud sections - the opening scene, for instance, which sees a worse-for-wear Clap spew on a Dutch dog; the point when the alcoholic Crab makes pissing himself on stage a trademark move that is subsequently taken up by copy-cat fans; the blink-and-you'll-miss-them details like the fact that the band okay support on their first UK tour are called John Craven, or that the mere sight of Syph with an acoustic guitar immediately sounds warning sirens. But there are also, by contrast, some disarmingly moving and emotive passages as okay's members grow older and (marginally) wiser, navigating dysfunction and personal tragedy along the way.

However, arguably the greatest strength of a somewhat fractured and occasionally frustrating novel is Litt's knack for pithy, witty observations that seem to nail the experience of being in a band - at least to someone who has always been on the outside looking in. Take, for instance, the comment that "musical differences" is "the threat anyone in the band always makes when they take something so seriously that they are prepared to break up the band over it". Or the comment on how chemistry is a double-edged sword: "Right from rehearsal one, along with the pleasure in knowing we worked, there was a kind of resentment ... We knew that we were tied together." Or the maturing Clap's wry observation that "being the drummer in a mid-level indie rock band was the best preparation for parenthood: the general sense of bewilderment and disorientation, the hours of boredom, the moments of all-redeeming joy, the ubiquity of bodily fluids, the subservience to endearingly unreasonable ego-monsters, the love of exhaustion and the exhaustion of love".

"To be famous is to be put into a position where failure is your only option", muses Clap at one point. That okay's swift ascent to stardom is followed by a long, messy unravelling is entirely predictable, but such is Litt's talent that their story remains very readable.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Everything everywhere all at once

Animal Collective are routinely compared to the Beach Boys, and sure enough founder member Avey Tare's latest solo album, 7s, finds him frolicking in a sonic sandpit like Smile-era Brian Wilson: bursting with technicolour ideas but regularly losing focus and direction.

As with Animal Collective records, there seems to be a constant struggle to strike the optimum balance between obtuse experimentalism and pure gleeful pop. When he gets that balance right, it's glorious - but those moments are sadly few and far between.

Buzz review here.

Local news

It came as news to me that wanting a world in which everything is a short walk or bike ride from home is woke. Yes, apparently there are conspiracy theorists who regard the concept of the 15-minute city as some kind of sinister dystopian plot on the part of the Loony Left and environmentalists that will curtail freedom and increase surveillance.

In a piece for the Guardian, Oliver Wainwright has quite rightly poured scorn on this rabid nonsense, while nevertheless acknowledging that, though the concept seems sound in principle, there are "lots of good reasons to interrogate [its] cute logic".

Tuesday, February 21, 2023


When Jude Rogers asked Mark Lanegan in an interview for the Guardian why he had written such a brutally honest warts-'n'-all memoir (Sing Backwards And Weep), he responded: "Because it means I won't have to answer any questions any more. If anyone wants to know what this experience was like ... it's all there."

But of course what Lanegan hadn't bargained on is that publishing the book wouldn't lay things to rest - quite the opposite, in fact, at least initially. He ended up learning the same painful lesson that Viv Albertine did when she wrote Clothes Clothes Clothes. Music Music Music. Boys Boys Boys: that he would be repeatedly expected to talk about and relive trauma for promotional purposes.

No doubt Rogers herself now knows how it feels, too, having published The Sound Of Being Human, her own very personal book about music, memory and emotion.

All of which made this article, by Rogers' Guardian colleague Terri White, an arresting read. She too has found the experience of publishing a candid memoir to be traumatising rather than cathartic: feeling terrified at the prospect of putting it out into the world, beyond her control; "excavating memories that I buried decades ago"; subsequently finding herself the subject of cruel observations and criticisms from strangers online.

White calls for greater protection and guidance for the writers of such memoirs - but concludes her cautionary tale by urging anyone contemplating exposing themselves in print to first "conduct a thorough, robust self-examination": "Can you write it? Right now? Feeling pain is to be expected, destroying yourself in the process isn't. If it's a no, it's as brave, perhaps even more so, not to write."

Sunday, February 19, 2023

"You do your best to change perceptions"

Many of the striking pictures on display as part of the recent People Power exhibition at the Workers Gallery were taken by members of the UK's first women's photography agency, Format. Back in 2016, Val Wilmer, one of Format's founders, spoke to Vice about why she chose her subject matter and how the agency set out on an ambitious mission: to shift the way that the world was seen.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

"It was like nothing I'd ever heard"

As if the prospect of seeing Mogwai for the first time in over a decade wasn't reason enough to be looking forward to tonight's show in Cardiff, they'll have the reformed Brainiac in tow.

Back in the 90s, the band passed me by, and I'll admit to knowing next to nothing about them other than that there was a connection with Eli Janney and Girls Against Boys. That is, until I came across this Guardian article by Stevie Chick, which serves as the perfect primer.

Chick has confessed to being initially baffled and horrified by his first exposure to Brainiac, but the album soon clicked and he rapidly became a fanboy. As the piece makes clear, he's not alone in regarding them as cult heroes - the likes of Kim Deal and Cedric Bixler-Zavala do too.

Personally, I've so far struggled to get my head around second album Bonsai Superstar - described by guitarist John Schmersal as "something more further-flung" than debut Smack Bunny Baby - but suspect they may make a whole lot more sense live, even without maverick frontman Tim Taylor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

(Too) nicely done?

When Jeremy D. Larson's deliciously savage takedown of Maneskin's LP Rush! for Pitchfork went viral recently, it prompted a familiar question: why aren't there more negative album reviews?

Back in 2017, Luke Turner of the Quietus suggested some answers in an article for Crack. These included websites' and magazines' increasingly ingrained aversion to risk caused by a concern not to wreck relationships with labels and PR companies, and a similar fear of upsetting rabid fanbases.

But fellow critic Steven Hyden, writing in the wake of Larson's demolition job, argues that both of these reasons are overstated: "What I never hear mentioned is the simplest and most logical explanation, which (in my view) is also the truest - it's about the decline of the general-interest music critic." For Hyden, "pure, uncut haterism also requires a certain distance from the topic".

It's an interesting contention, and - speaking from personal experience, at least - I suspect it's a valid one. Rightly or wrongly, I rarely offer to review/accept a commission to review anything (whether a gig or a release) that I'm not already predisposed to regard favourably. Bootings are as much a pleasure to write as they are to read - but all the same I'd rather spend time with a record or at a gig that's actually enjoyable, and write about an artist whose work I feel I can fairly engage with rather than someone operating far beyond my critical comfort zone.

This isn't to say that there's no place for negativity, though - far from it. There are always unexpected disappointments, and honesty dictates that I'll still call out the bad and the ugly, however painful, as well as lauding the good (this being a relatively recent example).

As music writers like JR Moores and Emma Wilkes have argued, reviews shouldn't simply be uncritical PR, and bravery is required - something that both writers and publications would do well to remember.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Survival instinct

Like fellow drummer Kid Millions, Janet Weiss suffered significant injuries in a car crash that threatened to derail or even end her career as a musician. As one of the best in the business, that would have been a tragedy. (Just check out her formidable contribution to Sleater-Kinney's back catalogue, and marvel at her guest performance on Real Emotional Trash - it's no secret why it's far and away the most impressive Jicks record.)

But, like Kid Millions, she refused to be beaten, has fought back to fitness and is on fine form in conjunction with ex-husband Sam Coomes on Quasi's new album Breaking The Balls Of History - a playful yet defiant middle finger extended in the face of fate that finds the pair sounding like a more linear Fiery Furnaces.

Buzz review here.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Film adaptation in the Offing

It's shaping up to be a big year for north-east writer Benjamin Myers. Not only is his novel The Gallows Pole being transformed into a six-part BBC series by none other than Shane Meadows, in collaboration with A24, but it's just been announced that the book that followed - The Offing - is also currently undergoing adaptation for the screen.

I loved The Offing - as indeed I did The Gallows Pole - and I know exactly what the film's director Jessica Hobbs means when she says: "When I first read the book, Helena Bonham Carter was immediately vividly present as Dulcie. She is so unapologetically, joyously, who she is, as is Dulcie." It's hard to see anyone else in the role - but it'll be interesting to see who's cast opposite her, as Robert, in what is essentially a dramatic dialogue.

I've currently got my head buried deep in Myers' latest novel, Cuddy, and can say with some confidence that it would be a hell of a lot harder than those two predecessors to realise in visual form...

Friday, February 10, 2023

I'm with Stupid

Yo La Tengo translates as "I've got it" - and the Hoboken legends' new album This Stupid World, released as they approach four decades of existence, underlines the fact that they still have.

If you want a succinct assessment, here's Michael Hann on Twitter: "Every time I review a Yo La Tengo album, I start off thinking: 'Three stars. They've just made the same record again.' And then three or four listens in, I think, 'And what a great record it is.'"

If you want a longer evaluation that repeatedly hits the nail on the head, here's Grayson Haver Currin's excellent review for Pitchfork: "On This Stupid World, Yo La Tengo are ready to sing again, to shake free of [We Have Amnesia Sometimes'] uneasy torpor and charge ahead by reimagining and recharging some of the best parts of their history ... This Stupid World is just a particularly timely chapter in the modest saga of indie rock's most unassuming institution. Its songs capture not only the darkness so many of us feel with each waking day but also the impulse to keep waking, to keep going."

And if you want a necessarily brief appreciation from yours truly, my Buzz write-up is here.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

All at sea

As I've noted before, the coast seems to hold a particular allure for photographers, and in that respect Mark Power is no different. But unlike the likes of Martin Parr, Chris Killip, Marketa Luskacova, David Hurn and Jon Pountney, he was uninterested in capturing the sights, sounds and smells of seaside tourism and instead set out with a particular project in view: taking photos in all 31 of the sea areas covered by Radio 4's shipping forecast.

Speaking to the Guardian's Sean O'Hagan to mark the publication of a new expanded edition of the resulting book, he explains: "It was never about creating the definitive photograph of these places, it's just the fleeting impressions that in some way relate to the peculiar fascination of that mysterious voice on the radio."

Sure enough, Power's black-and-white images seem strangely inscrutable - even more so when you read the captions, which are simply the locations and the 6am forecasts on the day the photos were taken. Rather than offering much in the way of context or framing explanation, as captions might be expected to do, they arguably render the images they accompany even more indecipherable.

Monday, February 06, 2023

Automatic for the people

As someone known for reflecting deeply on the craft of the artist (not least in his recent book with Sean O'Hagan, Faith, Hope And Carnage), Nick Cave was always going to have some strong opinions about songs written "in the style of Nick Cave" by chatbot ChatGPT. And sure enough, his response on The Red Hand Files to one such composition makes for entertaining reading.

Cave's argument is that whatever ChatGPT comes up with - whether now or in the future - can only ever be "a replication, a kind of burlesque" rather than the real thing: "Songs arise out of suffering, by which I mean they are predicated upon the complex, internal human struggle of creation and, well, as far as I know, algorithms don't feel."

Some people will no doubt scoff at Cave's (understandably) defensive, slightly pompous reverence for the creative act - but I think he does have a point, one for which rabid techbros have no answer.

Nevertheless, Cave refers to "the emerging horror of AI", and it's a horror that's dawning for many of us who live by the written word - albeit in less obviously creative pursuits than songwriting.

BuzzFeed, for instance, have announced that they're ramping up their use of AI, having recently ditched 12 per cent of their workforce. That stocks subsequently surged only underlines that it's very likely to be an increasing trend.

Writers won't be entirely redundant in this brave new world, though. No, many will be reassigned the role of editors, tasked with reading through the AI-generated content to check for errors and inconsistencies - and inevitably paid at a much lower rate.

Not that everyone is fearful of the future. Times columnist James Marriott has blithely claimed that the growing use of AI should actually be welcomed because it will knock artists off their "privileged" perch.

Not only does Marriott appear to be under some kind of spectacular delusion about what life is like for your average "creative type" in the UK in 2023, following years of assault by Tory governments, but he also seems oblivious to the fact that his own status as a spewer of bilge for a right-wing publication would be under threat.

ChatGPT might not be able to craft a convincing Nick Cave song, but it (a) doesn't have feelings and (b) is already well capable of knocking out a tight 500 words of rancid boilerplate drivel. Enjoy your unemployment, James.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Culture wars

Anyone appalled at the decision in the Tate Modern privacy case - in which judges ruled in favour of nearby flat owners upset at the Tate's viewing gallery - clearly hasn't been paying enough attention to what's been happening in cities up and down the country for years.

After a neat opening line ("The verdict is in: people who live in glass houses may throw stones with impunity"), the Guardian's Oliver Wainwright makes the crucial point that this is actually nothing new: "The ruling accelerates the long-running phenomenon of new people moving to an area because of particular urban attractions - whether they be pubs, clubs or art galleries - and then relentlessly campaigning to have those very things shut down. It is what destroys cities. The very things that make an area desirable, and prompt the influx of property speculators, are then cast as nuisances to be eradicated. And it doesn't matter who was there first: as the law has it, if someone knowingly moves to an existing nuisance, it is still a nuisance."

I'd suggest that this is a challenge faced far more often by grassroots gig venues than art galleries - most recently the Night & Day in Manchester's Northern Quarter, shamelessly hung out to dry by the city's council.

Nevertheless, let's hope that this latest high-profile incidence has alerted a whole new swathe of people - middle-class art lovers with political and economic clout, who would never set foot in a sticky-floored club - to the issue and mobilises them into doing what they can to reverse a trend that threatens to deaden our most vibrant urban areas.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Road movies

While pretty much any roadside structure in the US caught John Margolies' eye, fellow photographer Steve Fitch seems to have been especially drawn to taking pictures of the nation's drive-in movie theatres - on the evidence of this Guardian gallery, at least.

As he told Bill Shapiro, "There's something about putting up this big rectangle in the landscape, this frame, and projecting American ideals, illusions and fantasies on it."

Shot at dusk in black and white, the theatres - once the cutting edge of cool - now look like gravestones for the American dream, churches without a congregation.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Reality bites

CVC certainly made an impression when I saw them first on the bill at Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard's Late Night City Sermon back in 2019 - but I couldn't have predicted the local lads would go on to release a record that would be named Rough Trade's Album Of The Month.

Here are guitarists David Bassey and Elliot Bradfield talking to Buzz's Emma Way about the recording process for Get Real and getting professional: "[W]e've all got this baby to take care of now, which is CVC. You can't take care of a baby if you slap yourself in the face every day."

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Read it and keep

Hell hath no fury like a Guardian-reading reader scorned, it seems. Given headlines like "Reading is precious. But the cult of book ownership can be smug and middle-class", the right-wing press clearly doesn't have a monopoly on provocative clickbait.

The author of the article in question, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, felt that she'd been thrown under the bus by the sub-editor (a complaint I've made myself, to be fair), and the headline has since been softened ("Reading is precious - which is why I've been giving away my books") - but let's look at the substance of her piece.

The evidence is pretty damning. She does indeed refer disparagingly to "the cult of book ownership" as "smug and middle class", and critiques the "contemporary tendency" of "having a lot of books and boasting about it, treating having a lot of books as a stand-in for your personality, or believing that simply owning a lot of books makes one 'know things'". Does anyone really do this? In her head/world, perhaps.

What's more, Cosslett mocks those who "treat books like totemic, magical objects". Well, they are, to millions and millions of people - many of them neither smug nor middle class.

Even trying to engage with Cosslett's argument is difficult. Owning books is not hoarding; if she wants to see hoarding, I'd have taken her to my mother-in-law's house shortly before she moved out and the house clearance crew swept in. Hoarding is a cupboard full of out-of-date cans of soup that couldn't be accessed because of the years of clutter piled in front of it.

There's also her implication that owning a lot of books - especially books you've never read or will never re-read - is profoundly selfish and deprives others of pleasure (as though there's a very finite number of books in the world), and that giving books away is a grand philanthropic gesture. ("I choose to donate mine to places where there are people who can most benefit from them"? Now THAT's smug...) For someone who acknowledges the value of libraries, Cosslett doesn't seem to consider the possibility that collectors might loan out their own books. There's little I enjoy more than enthusing about a recent read and being able to lend it out - though I also love being able to reach up and pull books off the shelf for reference.

If ever I have to have a "book pogrom" (and it does happen from time to time), it's very much reluctantly and under duress, as it is for Will Self. You won't find me gleefully slinging books into a skip any time soon - or broadcasting about it in a national newspaper.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Back to basics

It's been far too many years since I last saw Stewart Lee live, though not much has changed (including a couple of the routines). But, while Basic Lee doesn't scale the heights of some previous shows, it nevertheless cements his status as the nation's best (and most unique) stand-up.

Buzz review here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The stuff of nightmares

Reviewing Blanck Mass' soundtrack for Amazon Prime's supernatural mini-series The Rig for Buzz, I suggested that "it manipulates your senses and imagination arguably even more effectively than a screenwriter or cinematographer could". Having since watched three episodes (for my sins), I can say with confidence that it manipulates your senses and imagination significantly more effectively than The Rig's screenwriter and cinematographer do.

It's hokum of the highest order - cliched, contrived, poorly acted, full of clunky dialogue and interpersonal dynamics that fail to feel remotely convincing. And certainly not worthy of a soundtrack of this quality.

Anyway, here's the review.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Walked the walk, now talking the talk

When lockdown came, Peter Finch was never going to keep himself cooped up, bingeing boxsets or bemoaning boredom. Instead, he got out and about when he could, finding a way to make profitable use of the circumstances.

The local poet, writer and psychogeographer has already published several books on Cardiff, so it'd be tempting to think that what he doesn't know about the city isn't worth knowing. And yet he found that there was still more to be discovered about the Welsh capital - this time through walking around its fringes, fuelled by nothing more than the contents of a Thermos flask and his characteristic curiosity.

These perambulations birthed another tome - Edging The City, published in 2022 - and last night Finch arrived at Insole Court at the invitation of Cardiff Civic Society to talk about his indefatigable attempts to trace an administrative boundary that often runs up the middle of rivers and into fenced-off private land, and regularly seems to vanish into thin air altogether.

Doggedly pursuing that semi-imaginary line took him through fields, industrial edgelands and amenity-free new-build estates christened with improbable names like Buttercup Fields. What he found prompted reflections on the liminal zones between urban and rural and on the city's creeping expansion past and present (including the ongoing turf war between Cardiff and its neighbouring authorities that appears to be waged principally by welcome sign).

Finch's talk was somewhat circuitous at times, appropriately enough, but as an engaging and genial public speaker he easily carried his audience along with him - whether dissecting Cardiff Council's attempts to deal with gulls, recalling drives up to the summit of Caerphilly Mountain in his dad's blue Ford Cortina or describing how pitching up in some places with muddy shoes and a map around his neck to a welcome of uncomprehending stares made him feel like he'd unwittingly wandered into the wrong saloon in the Wild West.

If you want a fresh look and insightful comment on the familiar as well as being metaphorically transported to places where your own feet are yet to tread, Finch is your man.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Comprehension test

"I like the Bresson quote, 'It's more important to feel the film than to understand the film.'" So said director and screenwriter Mark Jenkin in conversation with the Quietus' Darren Hayman about Enys Men. That explains a lot.

Enys Men is certainly a film that you feel rather than understand. As Josh Hicks noted in his review for Buzz, there is a "fetishisation of texture - the camera regularly lingers on wave-lapped rocks, ivy-covered brickwork and the rusted metals of abandoned outposts". This textural quality extends to the film's grainy visual look (a result of the decision to shoot exclusively on 16 mm) and also its eerie drone soundtrack, composed by Jenkin himself, punctuated occasionally by birdsong and the noise of a petrol-powered generator.

That generator is critical to the connection of the unnamed central protagonist (Mary Woodvine) to the outside world. Stuck on the stone island of the title to record and keep watch over the local flora, with only disembodied voices from the radio for company, she succumbs to delusions and hallucinations. Like The Shining, Enys Men is less a horror film and more a psychological depiction of how the mind copes (or fails to cope) with extreme isolation, its power derived from an overwhelming sense of apprehension and dread rather than gratuitous gore.

To describe it as portraying the character's descent into madness, though, would be misleading, as that would imply a linearity that the film deliberately resists and disrupts. The sequence of events is blurred, and the use of mirror images messes with the viewer's head.

Some films are like jigsaw puzzles that leave you marvelling at the way in which all of the individual pieces neatly interlock at the end. Enys Men, by contrast, is a jigsaw puzzle with no straight edges, plenty of missing pieces and no picture on the box. All you can do is absorb and enjoy its stunning scenes and look out for little clues and connections that might enable you to make some semblance of sense of what's going on. Suffice to say that few films warrant a rewatch more than this one.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Tempus fugit

Sometimes you simply have to believe the hype. When publisher White Rabbit described Unfinished Business, cultural commentator Michael Bracewell's first novel for 21 years, as "quietly devastating", they picked the perfect epithet.

Novelist Anthony Quinn's review for the Guardian is also spot on: "I suspect this Temps Perdu of a melancholy journeyman will reverberate long after the book is closed."

Here, in my own words for Buzz, is a short appraisal of a novel that struck a chord/nerve with a reviewer who is themselves increasingly plagued by "terminal nostalgia".

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

At the end of the day

"There was a dignity and it was about recognising that", says photographer Ian Macdonald in relation to his image of women canteen workers at an ironworks in Redcar relaxing at the end of their shift, recently selected for the Guardian's Big Picture feature. In that respect, and also because the blast furnace closed soon afterwards, there are parallels with Mik Critchlow's photos documenting the last days of Woodhorn Colliery further north, displayed last year as part of the Coaltown exhibition at the colliery itself.

Perhaps it's misguided misty-eyed nostalgia, but it feels hard not to retrospectively impose an elegiac quality on such images. They're a reminder that such sites were critical, at the heart of both the local economy and the local community. The north east may have changed radically over the four decades since Macdonald's picture was taken, and much for the better - but there remains a sense that something was also lost.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Model behaviour

I first came across Liela Moss when she was fronting The Duke Spirit - basically the answer to the question "What would The Jesus & Mary Chain be like if Hope Sandoval had joined on a permanent basis, rather than merely on loan from Mazzy Star for classic Stoned & Dethroned duet 'Sometimes Always'?"

She's since gone solo (albeit with the instrumental support of partner and former bandmate Toby Butler) and swapped rock 'n' roll for electro - insert joke about Moss gathering no Rolling Stones records here. On the evidence of new LP Internal Working Model, it looks like a smart move.

Buzz review here.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Unfair share

If there's one live-music-related phenomenon I hope dies a death in 2023, it's ignorant wankers chatting their way through quiet performances. If there are two, then the second would be venues taking a hefty cut - or indeed any cut at all - of artists' merch sales.

The issue blew up last year following tweets by Peter Hook and Tim Burgess, prompting this Quietus article by Sean Adams, who writes from the perspective of someone who is not only a music journalist but also a sometime tour manager himself. It's an insightful investigation into a phenomenon of which many music fans may still not be aware, exposing the economic realities of touring and sharp behind-the-scenes "non-negotiable" business practices, and featuring comments from a wide range of different artists including Zola Jesus and Field Music's David Brewis.

As Adams takes pains to point out, most of those interviewed for the piece conceded without prompting that times are also tough for venues. But the practice is rife not at grassroots level, where spaces are run on an absolute shoestring, but at mid-level venues and beyond that are brand sponsored and part of a corporate chain. Often a member of staff is supplied (whether wanted or not) to sell the merch, but in some cases the venue takes a cut for doing absolutely nothing other than providing a table. That was the complaint from Spiral Stairs and Holly Ross when their bands Pavement and The Lovely Eggs played at the O2 Apollo in Manchester in October, and The Bug Club and BEAK also had merch-related tribulations when they supported Pavement at the Roundhouse a few days later.

So, what's the solution? Selling merch out of the back of the tour van (see, for example, Zola Jesus) or flogging it in a nearby pub (see, for example, Dry Cleaning) can only be a short-term fix. Credit, then, to the Featured Artist Coalition for establishing the 100% Venues initiative - "a public database of UK venues that charge zero commission on artists' merchandise sales". Fingers crossed this will help bands to book spaces that don't rip them off and enable music fans to see which of their local venues are committed to giving those who play there a fair deal.

Touring post-Brexit and amid COVID and the cost of living crisis is challenging enough without the likes of Live Nation creaming off money for nothing.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

"A crucial moment in the life (or death) of the Wye"

As someone who's spent many a marvellous day wandering alongside its banks or floating along it in a kayak, I find it staggering that the River Wye has been allowed to become so polluted.

The chief culprit - according to numerous sources, principally a Lancaster University study - is poultry manure, and environmental groups, campaigners such as George Monbiot and author Robert Macfarlane have stressed that the situation is now critical.

Natural Resources Wales and the Environmental Audit Committee have at least acknowledged the concerns - yet plans for further intensive poultry farms are still in the pipeline.

Here's hoping that Powys County Council see sense - or are made to see sense by the Welsh government - and the damage to one of this part of the world's finest natural attractions is curtailed before it's too late.

Monday, January 09, 2023

"Affordable, democratic, useful and functional"

I've written in praise of documentary photography publisher Cafe Royal Books on several previous occasions (see here, for example), and make no apology for doing so again, in the course of directing you to this Guardian article by Daniel Dylan Wray.

Wray spoke to not only publisher Craig Atkinson, who succinctly outlines the philosophy behind the imprint as well as underlining how much work it involves, but also two of the photographers whose work he's published most regularly, Janette Beckman and Richard Davis.

Beckman declares herself to be "a huge fan of the series", lauding its anti-elitist ethos. Meanwhile, Davis - whose most recent photobook The Post-Punk Years 1987-1990 (starring Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Fugazi and more) couldn't possibly have been any further up my street - openly confesses "I owe everything to Cafe Royal Books".

Atkinson continues to perform an invaluable role in bringing to light the work of unheralded and often amateur photographers as well as making images taken by more familiar names available for "less than the price of a London pint" - so it's only right that his own endeavours should be given greater exposure and attention in mainstream media articles such as this.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Them crooked vultures

How did Ticketmaster become so dominant - for some, "an all-powerful gatekeeper" maintaining "a very literal stranglehold over live music events"? In an article for website The American Prospect, Maureen Tkacik and Krista Brown carefully explain, alleging aggressive lobbying, acquisitions and legal action plus underhand strong-arm tactics, secretive collusion and political corruption. Cumulatively, it's eye-opening stuff.

Here's hoping - as Tkacik and Brown suggest - that the tide is indeed turning, as "regulators are determined to fully enforce antitrust laws, and public tolerance of monopolistic abuses is increasingly waning".

Monday, January 02, 2023

In contrast

Published to mark a new exhibition in Hong Kong, the city Fan Ho called home and where he made his name, this Guardian gallery of stunning image after stunning image aptly demonstrates the Chinese-born photographer's phenomenal talent.

Working in black and white and absolutely masterful in his use of light and shade, Ho drifted from a documentary style in his early career to photos that were more consciously arty and painterly, reliant on pattern and abstraction.

I'd be hard pushed to choose a favourite here, but 'Approaching Shadow' probably takes it for its sheer elegant simplicity.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

"It gives me hope that we're giving other people hope"

Such are the number of challenges and threats to independent artists at the current moment in time that it might seem perverse to highlight the positives - but in this article for Vice, Emma Garland is no naive ostrich burying her head in the sand.

She acknowledges the myriad difficulties faced by musicians who operate outside of the mainstream - but instead prefers to accentuate reasons to be hopeful: the existence of record shops/community hubs like Pop Recs in Sunderland; the energetic campaigning and support of charities such as the Music Venues Trust and the Musicians Union; the success of bands as politically charged as Bob Vylan, whose 2022 album Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life - as they proudly noted at Clwb in May - is the first to be written, produced, mixed, released and partially distributed by a band themselves and break into the Top 20.

Some will inevitably see Bob Vylan as the exceptions bucking an overall trend and suggest that Garland and her interviewees are rather clutching at straws. But on the first day of a new year, at least, let's share in that optimistic outlook - because if we don't, and dwell only on the doom and gloom, then we might as well admit defeat.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Fantastic or formulaic?

The current "glut" of books about music deserved discussion and dissection in an article - but Michael Hann's piece for the Guardian strikes an odd note.

Rather than celebrating the breadth and depth of recently published works and a genre in rude good health, he complains that a trend for "the music writer's memoir with a twist" has become formulaic and laments a lack of diversity among authors, which inevitably results in a lack of diversity among readers: "the vast majority of music publishing seems to be middle-aged white blokes, writing about the youthful adventures of other middle-aged white blokes, for the reading delectation of other middle-aged white blokes".

At least Hann has sufficient self-awareness to acknowledge that that cap fits very snugly when it comes to his own book, Denim & Leather - but his characterisation of the wider landscape seems unnecessarily sour, cynical and indeed distorting.

Lee Brackstone might accept that his White Rabbit list could and should be more diverse ("That's something I'm really conscious about"), but in 2022 his imprint alone has published well-received books by the likes of Jude Rogers, Sinead Gleeson and Kim Gordon, and Adelle Stripe (in conjunction with Fat White Family's Lias Saouidi).

On Twitter, Rogers - while rather generously suggesting that Hann may have been up against word count restrictions - has justifiably sought to set the record straight: "I wanted to take the chance to shout out others from 2022 to show that diversity which is questioned (which needs broadening, but still - we're here!)."

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Image rights and wrongs

Q: When is a photo not a photo? A: When it's been created by artificial intelligence.

Whatever you think of Siobhan Walker's images of 1980s Glasgow, they're not photographs and they don't make her a photographer.

And even if you choose to credit her as an artist and think that authenticity is problematic or overrated, there's something deeply distasteful and ethically dubious about someone based in London who has visited Glasgow only a few times using this technology to create depictions of working-class life that are deliberately designed to dupe the viewer into thinking they're of real people.

If you want a vivid portrayal of Glasgow in this period, explore the work of Douglas Corrance or  Raymond Depardon - or read (as I currently am) Douglas Bain's Booker Prize-winning novel Shuggie Bain, inspired by Depardon's photos.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Challenge TV

I found it hard to understand all the fuss about Taskmaster when just catching the odd clip on social media or dipping in sporadically - but tuning in regularly to follow the fortunes of Richard Herring in Series 10 totally won me over and I've been hooked ever since.

This Guardian interview with the show's creator Alex Horne - published in advance of Taskmaster's New Year Treat and Series 15 - identifies some of the key reasons for its success: the way you get to see how the comedian contestants' minds work when they're put in pressurised, absurd situations, revealing "something profound about the individual's character or temperament, a trait that they might, in other circumstances, attempt to conceal"; tasks that are "offbeat but not wacky; off-kilter but not bonkers", that have "subjective solutions" and that invite and reward ingenuity and creativity (and occasionally cheating); the on-screen relationship between the capricious Taskmaster himself, Greg Davies, and Horne, "the deferential butler-worm, who appears to take quasi-sexual pleasure in Davies' big-handed bullying".

The article's author Simon Parkin also traces the show's origins and development into a cult favourite, and astutely points out how its influence can now be seen elsewhere in terms of format and the gradual emergence of an "authentic, intimate humour" far removed from traditional satire, cringe comedy and the bearpit of the conventional panel show. There's a charming silliness to it all that makes it ideal comfort TV for our current trying times.