Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Going solo

Hugh Russell pipped me to the post for Buzz reviewing duties for last week's Bob Mould gig at the Globe, but in truth my report would have been much the same - making mention of the "relentless battery of well-worn numbers hammered home at breakneck pace"; the gusto with which the veteran punk performed, his T-shirt sodden with sweat long before the night was done; and the fact that the highlights of a set that passed in a bit of a blur were arguably the two tracks from Sugar's Copper Blue, 'Hoover Dam' and 'If I Can't Change Your Mind'.

However, as good as it was to see a legend up close and in fine fettle, I wouldn't have been able to stop myself from lamenting the lack of interaction with the crowd (Mould claimed, understandably, to be saving his voice for performing); the relative paucity of material from his latest (excellent) LP Blue Hearts ('Siberian Butterfly' was great, though); and, most significantly, the absence of accompanying bass and drums that would have taken the show to another level. (Ironically, the only previous time that I've seen him, he did have a backing band (and a rather exceptional one at that, No Age) - but on that occasion I was a bit cheesed off because his guest appearance to rattle through some Husker Du classics came at the expense of my favourite No Age song. More fool me.)

All the same, the evening prompted me to dig out Copper Blue and it's been on heavy rotation ever since. As someone astutely put it on Twitter, it's like his Husker Du material given the production quality it actually deserves...

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Variety acts

Credit to the organisers of Rockaway Beach for their commitment to making January a less dismal prospect and ensuring that the spirit (if not quite the sound) of ATP lives on. However, at the risk of coming across like one of those armchair cynics tediously sniping about the Glastonbury line-up, I'm not entirely sure who the festival's target audience is.

The bill for the 2023 bash is bravely eclectic, and it's good to see that Rebecca Lucy Taylor aka Self Esteem - fresh from a triumphant set down on Worthy Farm, Meadowhall-inspired bra and all - has been handed the opportunity to put another Mancunian indie legend in the shade (first Johnny Marr, now Peter Hook).

But there can't be too much crossover between fans of OMD and Big Joanie, for instance - no issue at a multi-stage festival like Glastonbury, where alternative options are bountiful, but perhaps more problematic for a boutique event like Rockaway Beach. By attempting to appeal to a wide range of people, might it actually appeal to too few?

Monday, July 04, 2022

Aussie rules

To think I almost didn't go to the Courtney Barnett gig at Tramshed on Wednesday.

Talking to the Guardian's Andrew Stafford in November about the tracks on her latest album Things Take Time, Take Time, she stressed: "I love playing loud and aggressive and disjointed music, and I love that songs can have different lives. So I'm sure they'll get a bit faster, get a bit more energy, get a bit more raucous." And so it proved, though I still wasn't prepared for just how different - and how much better - they, and she, would be in live performance.

Plus we were also treated to the bonus of a support slot from unique pop oddballs Audiobooks - a pleasant surprise if ever there was one.

Buzz review here.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Mother of invention

As a manifesto for the pleasures and power of (free) jazz, the monologue on 'Thomas Stanley Jazzcodes Outro' - the final track on Moor Mother's new LP Jazz Codes - takes some beating:

"It is a peculiar word, 'jazz'. Its illegitimate origins lost in the murky brothels where it was conceived and birthed. But many observers have told us that 'jazz' used to mean 'sex', and maybe it needs to go back to meaning 'sex', to being identified with coitus and copulation, hypercreativity, fecundity and birth. Ultimately, perhaps, it is good that the people abandoned jazz, replaced it with new musical products better suited to capitalism's designs. Now jazz jumps up like Lazarus if we allow it, to rediscover itself as a living music, a subversive Sutra of inner movement, fertility, tension and release. Released now from the prison bars of metrical stability and the black and white keys of chromatic incarceration, swing becomes a quantum oscillation of invention…"

Jazz Codes positively revels in that freedom. Here's my Buzz review of an album that will set heads spinning.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Shore thing

How nice to see Wales At The Seaside, Jon Pountney's current exhibition at Gallery Ten in Cardiff, getting national coverage on the BBC site. Pountney certainly isn't the first photographer to have felt the lure of the sea, but he has a personal connection to the coast, having grown up near Filey and Scarborough. It's the "nostalgic confection" of seaside towns that pulls him in.

Talking to Emma Garland for Another Mag, Pountney expanded on the attraction, describing the coast as "a metaphorical and literal edgeland" and explaining that "all life is there". Part of the appeal appears to be the inherent surrealism of seaside resort signage and scenery (much as US roadside architecture fascinated John Margolies), but Pountney's also "interested in real people and all the stuff they bring with them". That makes the exhibition quite different from the pictures collected in his COVID fanzine, in which people are conspicuous by their almost complete absence.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Smash hits

When John Colpitts aka Kid Millions aka Man Forever aka drummer extraordinaire was involved in a horrific car accident in Los Angeles in February 2018, it was initially uncertain whether he'd ever be able to walk again, let alone get back behind a kit. But he made a full recovery and, as he told Stevie Chick, has a positive outlook on his brush with death and all that has happened since.

By 2019, on tour as Man Forever, he was channelling his experience into a drums-'n'-spoken-word piece. In truth, I found it a little underwhelming at the Moon in Cardiff that December - but no doubt he was still figuring out how to process the incident, thinking aloud with sticks in hand. Three years on, and it's become a record, Music From The Accident, created and completed with the help of friends - a challenging and painful endeavour but one that he felt compelled to undertake and that has proven therapeutic.

Chick's Quietus article doubles up as a portrait of pre-gentrification Brooklyn (think Sonic Youth's Manhattan of the late 1970s/early 1980s) and a great primer for someone like me who has only ever briefly dabbled in the enormous back catalogue of the band that Colpitts founded, Oneida - as well as a reminder of just how many cult acts he's performed with over the years: Spiritualized, Boredoms, Black Mountain, Royal Trux, White Hills...

It probably only scratches the surface on that front - there's no mention of Ex-Models, for instance, for whom Colpitts was playing when they came to Oxford in May 2008. That show, at the Cellar (RIP), was quite something.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Arts attack

I'm well aware I should know better (perhaps I would if I'd studied a "proper" subject at university?), but I can't help but give a knee-jerk reaction at the sight of clickbait headlines about "Mickey Mouse degrees" and the earning potential of graduates.

The grim reality is that value for money is increasingly a consideration for young people when choosing a course - inevitably so, given the amount of debt into which any degree will plunge them (unless the Bank of Mum & Dad can bail them out). And it's quite easy for old duffers in my position, who didn't have to worry about fees, to endorse doing whatever you want and grumble about the shifting attitudes among prospective students.

Yet this relentless insistence on measuring the value of everything in exclusively monetary terms is infuriating. Photography courses are not worthless. Neither is any course that opens your eyes, makes you think and encourages you to consider your personal perspective on (and position in) the world. And don't let the Tories - or anyone else, for that matter - tell you otherwise.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Heat, wheat and wonder


Reading The Perfect Golden Circle during a heatwave around the Solstice felt particularly appropriate, given its fictional recreation of the parched summer of 1989, when crop circles were appearing across the English countryside. 

The novel's central characters Calvert and Redbone are not environmental vandals, like the reckless fly-tippers and lampers they encounter; on the contrary, author Benjamin Myers depicts them as craftsmen-artists, obsessed with the creation of enormous artworks that are "a radical and benevolent act". If, as Myers suggests, England's fields are "full of stories, century upon century of stories laid over one another", then Calvert and Redbone are writing their own.

Set against the backdrop of growing dissent after a decade of Thatcherism, The Perfect Golden Circle is many things, including political and historical commentary, a hymn to the natural world and a celebration of the consoling and healing power of friendship and art.

Buzz review here.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Man trouble

Big old country house, local village full of local people, blunt religious symbolism, strange goings-on, suspenseful music: so far, so cliched.

But Alex Garland's film Men is not merely a Wicker Man/League Of Gentlemen folk-horror pastiche - it has a serious point to make. And that point is that men are, by and large, wrong 'uns. Not particularly novel and certainly not nuanced, but a point worth making all the same.

Fleeing horrifying personal trauma in the city, Harper (Jessie Buckley) is seeking solace in the sticks. All she wants is to be left in peace. And yet the locals - a mysterious naked man living out in the woods, a weird teenager in a mask, a seedy vicar, and more - are all intent on intruding on that peace, imposing themselves upon her, relentlessly and exhaustingly plaguing and assailing her with their gaze, their demands, their (mis)readings of her behaviour.

Men's fault is not so much that Harper never questions why all the men she meets have Rory Kinnear's face; after all, it's not the most fanciful thing about a film that moves into the realms of surrealist grotesquery towards the end.

It's more that, as Slant's Keith Watson puts it, she's "largely a cipher": "Harper doesn't really do much in Men beyond standing idly by as things are done to her." She's a stoic victim, but a victim nonetheless. "The film's pithy title turns out to be all too revealing: it may have a woman at its center, but Garland's latest is ultimately much more interested in men."

Probably better to forget the deeper resonances (regardless of Garland's intentions or vision), then, and instead assess it against other low(ish)-budget psychological horror films. Regardless of its flaws, Men is frequently visually arresting, and some scenes - especially those featuring the railway tunnel and the letterbox - are guaranteed to leave an indelible mark on your memory for days afterwards.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Value judgement

Talking to Joe Thompson during a Wrong Speed Record Chat, snooker legend Steve Davis admitted that when he made his first foray into making music, he was acutely concerned that people - including label owners - would instantly dismiss it for its novelty value. He needn't have worried. Rocket Recordings saw the potential in The Utopia Strong, his collaboration with Kavus Torabi and Michael J York, and the trio's new album International Treasure repays that faith.

Buzz review here.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Copy writer

It takes extraordinary chutzpah for a novelist to make unacknowledged borrowings from The Great Gatsby, All Quiet On The Western Front and Anna Karenina in the first place, let alone to offer the sort of bullish justification that John Hughes has: "I don't think I am a plagiarist more than any other writer who has been influenced by the greats who have come before them. I've always used the work of other writers in my own. It's a rare writer who doesn't ... It's a question of degree." He went on to imply that he's one of the "good poets" of T S Eliot's The Sacred Wood, who make what they take "into something better, or at least something different".

The problem for Hughes is that this line of defence simply doesn't tally with the other one he's offered - namely, that the similarities are the consequence of a messy research process for the offending novel, The Dogs, which took place over a number of years. He claims that various passages from the English translation of Svetlana Alexievich's The Unwomanly Face Of War somehow became entangled with his own transcripts to the extent that he came to believe it was all his own work.

So, either he was deliberately making use of the words of others as a creative/stylistic exercise, or he did so accidentally because of an inability to organise his notes -which is it?

It's alarming how regularly over the past few years I've come across academics whose referencing is shoddy (especially given that they're supposedly teaching good citation practice to students), but the inclination in the vast majority of cases has been to give them the benefit of the doubt. It doesn't look as though Hughes is going to be so fortunate.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Care in the community

The posthumous recognition that photographer Tish Murtha has received - and continues to receive - is, inevitably, bittersweet. While ideally she would have experienced acclaim during her lifetime, it's nevertheless gratifying to know that her pictures of Newcastle - grittily realistic, but also empathetic and often capturing resilience and hope - are connecting with people of all ages.

As her daughter Ella says, she would no doubt have been honoured to learn that local schoolchildren have won a competition to name a sheltered housing scheme in Elswick after her - probably more so than to discover that her work is now widely praised and prized within the art world.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Better late than never

Shamefully, Friday night was the first time I'd ever seen a gig in Porter's. The occasion? Clwb Fuzz's relaunch under new name Midding, with support from newcomers Slate, plus an endearingly shambolic solo set from Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard guitarist Zac White. (Buzz review here.) 

Sadly, there won't be too many more opportunities to see live music there, with the building slated for demolition and replacement with (yes, you guessed it) luxury flats when the current lease ends in October. Plans are afoot for Porter's 2.0, and a location has already been found. But, with just 22 days left to run, the Crowdfunder set up to make the move a reality is still a long, long way short of its (admittedly ambitious) target.

In the meantime, I'd suggest giving what you can and getting down to the current premises for gig nights in particular. Free entry, decent sound, good booze - what more do you need?

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

No support act

It's not so much a case of biting the hand that feeds as just cutting it clean off. PRS for Music, who supposedly look after musicians' interests, have decided to cut the funding to the PRS Foundation by 60 per cent - an incredibly myopic move that will have a hugely detrimental impact on the next generation of artists and therefore on PRS for Music's future revenue streams.

What's more, as Annabella Coldrick of the Music Managers Forum argues, the timing couldn't be worse: "Artists have just gone through two years in which they've had no live earnings. The cost of touring's gone up, tickets aren't selling because of the cost of living crisis. And yet their collecting society, which is sitting on enormous revenues, is slashing their funding."

The likely result is an industry that becomes even less accessible to those without financial resources - and consequently less diverse and less interesting.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The final chapter

The Costa Book Awards have been running for 50 years - but no longer. The sponsors announced yesterday that they've "taken the difficult decision" to knock the awards on the head, which makes them sound like a beloved but ageing, incontinent and terminally ill pet transported to the vet for one last visit.

In what sense were the Costas ailing? It's not clear, not least because Costa don't appear to have provided any justification for the termination. Damian Barr, writing in the Evening Standard, suggests that the organising team may not even have been aware that the end was nigh.

Barr - one of the judges for the final round of awards - notes that the public outcry at the announcement has largely focused on the failure (or lack of effort) to find a new sponsor, but argues that in any civilised country sponsorship wouldn't be necessary because the government would provide proper support to the industry.

While he acknowledges that "publishers had to commit some cash to supporting their book if it won" - something that had a disproportionately heavy impact on small presses like Seren - it's undeniable that the Costas "were a good thing": "Prizes raise awareness which increase sales, which helps writers and publishers and bookshops and every bit of the publishing ecosystem." In Seren's case, the prize helped to promote poetry - very much a niche artform these days - by getting it into coffee shops up and down the country. The value of doing so can't be underestimated.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Perfect timing

I could have written reams and reams on here about Angel Olsen's new LP Big Time - but in the end I decided it's such an exceptional record that it was more important to shout about it from the rooftops (aka the Buzz website) and accept the need to squeeze my thoughts into 150ish words.

That meant, for instance, that there was no space to wax lyrical about her talent for delivering dagger-to-the-heart lines like "I'll always remember you just like a friend" (during the climax of break-up-and-move-on anthem 'All The Good Times') with a mixture of sweetness and conviction; to say much about the searing honesty and truthfulness of these songs; to marvel about the seamless and subtle integration of brass into the mix; or to reflect on the fact that the record represents a return to the dust-blown Americana of her early albums - albeit a widescreen version of it.

All told, it's absolutely sublime.

Buzz review here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Great Scots

Today brought the entirely unexpected news that 17 years since their last show, the Delgados - the criminally underrated Glaswegian band behind superb albums The Great Eastern and Hate (and more), as well as Chemikal Underground, the label that first gave us Mogwai and Arab Strap among others - have reformed.

It's a major regret of mine that the one time I saw them, at Mogwai's ATP in 2000, I was unfamiliar with their music and maintained only a passing interest, so the possibility of making amends is very welcome. The few dates announced thus far are nowhere near Cardiff - but they wouldn't reunite just for five gigs, would they?

It seems thanks are due to Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite for inviting the four members to his nuptials. Reassembled for the first time in ages en route to the wedding, they found their connection "effortless, simple" - enough to convince them that "it might be good to play together once again".

I wonder whether Braithwaite also had a hand in Blanck Mass joining Editors as a permanent member, news that had completely passed me by until today, when it caused a proper WTF?! reaction. After all, he's friends with Benjamin John Power (close enough for Power to grant permission for the use of that sleeptalk sample at the start of 'To The Bin My Friend, Tonight We Vacate Earth') and has played with Editors' Justin Lockey in Minor Victories, so maybe connected the two.

The first fruits of their full-time union, 'Heart Attack', definitely carries the DNA of Editors of old, but also possesses a bit of edge and impact that can safely be chalked up to Power's involvement. Sadly, it also makes the likelihood of Fuck Buttons returning all the more remote.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Quick thinking

It seems opportune, on the day that London-based promoter Baba Yaga's Hut announced a Wrong Speed Records all-dayer in October, to link to JR Moores' Bandcamp profile of the fledgling(ish) label, run by Joe Thompson with assistance from his Hey Colossus bandmate Chris Summerlin.

As was the case with the previously profiled Jagjaguwar (and, for that matter, pretty much any indie label you care to mention), Wrong Speed's story is very much one of enthusiasm, amateurism and steep learning curves, which has involved Thompson calling on the expertise and talents of countless friends and associates. The received wisdom is that the past two years have been horrendous for musicians, but Summerlin insists that in many ways "it's been a really creative and positive time for people who have embraced this relatively nightmarish situation".

The article offers the pair the opportunity to talk up their favourite releases - from Hey Colossus' (breakthrough?) LP Dances/Curses and Part Chimp's blistering Drool, to records by Reigns and The Web Of Lies - as well as to put out a call for more variety in submissions: "We need more echoey rave music, because it's a shared interest of ours. People, unsurprisingly, think we're a noise-rock label, so they don't send us their echoey rave projects. We need some bangers!" You heard the man - get to it.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Human remains

In his eccentrically brilliant book on twentieth-century US photography The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer suggests that all empty rooms are, in a sense, waiting rooms: "They wait for us to keep them company, to bring them back to life."

In one respect, the rooms pictured in James Lacey's A World In Ruins are waiting in vain - the buildings in which they are situated having been abandoned. And yet in another respect, they've been waiting for Lacey's lens to "bring them back to life".

What the camera cannot capture is what precisely led to the buildings' abandonment and subsequent decline. Crumbling institutions and decaying grandeur are one thing, but the portraits propped on mantlepieces and personal possessions left behind in what were formerly family homes are more poignant.

As I suggest in my Buzz review, A World In Ruins - while not perfect - illustrates architectural disintegration while also hinting at the human narratives that stand behind it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Should get out more

At the risk of sounding like a myopic metropolitan wanker - like the worst kind of Londoner who's astonished to discover that there's life out in "the provinces" - I'm as guilty as anyone of greedily reaping the benefits of living in the Welsh capital but rarely looking beyond the city limits. It's all too easy to coast along in your Cardiff bubble, but the truth is that there are exciting, engaging things going on elsewhere in South Wales all the time - something I've made a resolution to recognise and publicise more often.

Take the various museums and Roman sites in Caerleon, for instance, or - up in the Valleys - the Workers Gallery in Ynyshir. Goodsheds has made Barry a serious draw for those who are slaves to their stomach. The National Lido of Wales has tempted me into several visits to Pontypridd in the last year, and I'm keen to visit Janet's Chinese restaurant in the market and see how the plans for the revitalisation of the Muni Arts Centre pan out.

And then there's Newport, a short journey away but somewhere I'd never really explored until a couple of weeks ago. It took the revamped indoor market and an exhibition of David Hurn's photography (including some previously unseen images) at the newly established Ffoto Newport (Buzz review here) to entice me there. Now I'm aware of just how easy it is to hop off the train and see a show in Le Pub, I'm determined to visit more often.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Goodsheds? Bloodyfantasticsheds, more like


Why exactly did we wait until we had weekend guests to sample the delights of Goodsheds in Barry? A complete mystery, and total madness. No excuse is needed - just get yourself there, take your pick from a host of fabulous street food options and make sure you've got a few napkins to hand. Here's my review for Buzz.

We now need to go back to try Alium (occupying the former Hang Fire premises) and the Shed - the latter not to be confused with the exclusive eaterie that Oobah Butler set up in his garden in Dulwich...

Friday, May 27, 2022

I think I'm in love

At the risk of coming across like a fully paid-up member of the reviewers' union, an astute write-up can really help you to see things in a different light - whether that's souring expectations ahead of hearing an album or really selling a record that has thus far underwhelmed.

A case in point: Ben Cardew's piece on Everything Was Beautiful for Pitchfork. On the first couple of plays, I was struggling to hear Spiritualized's ninth studio album as anything other than overblown self-parody - but it turns out that it's actually a shining testament to ploughing your own furrow, or, in Cardew's words, "getting high on your own supply".

As he argues, the record takes their "habitual influences" (who, it's worth noting, are no one else's - at least not in combination) - "The Stooges, gospel, blues, free jazz, the Rolling Stones, et al." - and "finesses [them] into a hypnotic mixture, capable of both savage intensity and benzodiazepine drift". Admittedly, the chief reference point is "the band's own gilded history" - but that's no problem because they do it "so shamelessly well". As he puts it, the album is "like meeting an old friend and finding new shared memories, the nostalgia not yet worn thin".

Would I have seen through my own cynicism and come to this realisation without Cardew's intervention? Perhaps - though I might have set the album to one side had the review not convinced me to listen again.

Ultimately, Everything Was Beautiful is an immersive, maximalist masterpiece - a deliberate call-back to Ladies And Gentleman... and every bit its equal. And I'm grateful to that review for making me come to my senses.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

"This was just a heavy metal wildman saying wild things, right?"

How to react when a beloved musician with some eccentric lyrical preoccupations falls down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole and emerges a crank no longer merely idly entertaining outlandish ideas but (apparently) actually believing them? Grayson Haver Currin's NPR article on Matt Pike of Sleep and High On Fire is exemplary as the work of a long-time fan attempting to process what's happened.

Currin's suggestion, essentially, is that there's been a "social sea change" that might have left Pike high and dry even if pandemic lockdown and personal circumstance hadn't hardened his convictions to a point that they're practically indistinguishable from those of David Icke and far-right free speech advocates.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Anger is an energy

If you're wondering how my attempts to keep my finger on the pulse and appear down with the kids are going, my latest gig review for Buzz - of a triumphant return to Cardiff for incendiary punk/metal duo Bob Vylan, whose new album has gatecrashed the Top 20 - features cutting-edge references to such contemporary cultural luminaries as Missy Elliott, The Prodigy and Mr Motivator...

Friday, May 20, 2022

Get the picture

If you're in the mood for some easy listening, I wouldn't recommend reaching for Alison Cotton's new album The Portrait You Painted Of Me. If, however, you're looking for a suitably foreboding soundtrack to a low-budget 1970s British horror film, then it's ideal. Buzz review here.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Going out on for a limb

Blame The Plate Licked Clean. As soon as I clapped eyes on his review of La Cuina, and especially the reference to the "sharing-size shoulder of Pyrenean mountain lamb scented with rosemary", the Catalan restaurant leapt straight to the top of the must-visit list. That dish certainly didn't disappoint, and while our evening wasn't perfect, it came fairly close. Buzz write-up here.

(Did I say "Blame The Plate Licked Clean"? I meant "Thank The Plate Licked Clean", of course...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Left cold

Illuminati Hotties called in on Clwb at the weekend, together with tour support Ducks Ltd. Sad to report, though, that the LA-based indie rock/pop punk quartet were less Best Coast and more wet weekend at Weston-super-Mare. Buzz review here.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Fight the power

I guess it's questionable whether there's much point previewing a gig that's already sold out. But then Bob Vylan's visit to Clwb wasn't when I wrote this, and in any case it gave me the opportunity to plug their take-zero-prisoners, give-zero-fucks new album Bob Vylan Presents The Price Of Life.

Here's to a good old singalong on Tuesday night. All together now: "No liberal lefty cunt is going to tell me punching Nazis ain't the way"...

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Circular arguments

As an author, it must be galling to find yourself wilfully misread.

Benjamin Myers' new novel The Perfect Golden Circle, published today, centres on the phenomenon of crop circles, which were particularly prevalent in the late 1980s. In a recent article for the Guardian, he argued for their significance as anti-capitalist artworks that used the countryside as canvas and were created anonymously and "impossible to either move or monetise".

Myers suggests that not only did they have aesthetic value, constituting "an important chapter in the evolution of indigenous British folk art", but that they were made with subversive intent, connected to both the protests over land ownership of the past and the contemporary "rural unrest" associated with New Age Travellers and the so-called second Summer of Love. (Jeremy Deller's Everybody In The Place is useful background viewing, for anyone interested.)

All of this feeds into the novel - and yet Spectator reviewer Maggie Orford begins her myopic, sneering review by claiming that it's "ostensibly about male friendship", before going on to ignore the political context entirely. While it's not exactly surprising that the Spectator should shy away from any engagement with the novel's message, there's an irony (given the subject matter) in the fact that Orford completely misses the bigger picture - as there is in her complaint about a "lacuna at the heart of the book". Pot, kettle, black, etc.

It's not clear whether the photo that accompanies the review - a stock image of a black sun symbol, associated with Nazis - is an embarrassing self-own or an sly attempt to smear Myers and undermine his argument. Either way, he's been moved to distance himself from it. And, no doubt, curse the fact that the Spectator saw fit to "review" The Perfect Golden Circle in the first place.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hot and bothered

If, like me, you've never worked in a high-end restaurant before, Philip Barantini's Boiling Point is likely to be enough to convince you not to give it a try - and, hopefully, leave you with a huge amount more empathy and respect for anyone who does.

The film follows under-fire chef Andy Jones, played (perhaps inevitably) by Stephen Graham - "your go-to guy if you want tight-lipped intensity", as I noted reviewing the BBC's bleak prison-based three-parter Time last year - as he grapples with the stresses of running his own restaurant (financial difficulties, unsociable hours, a minefield of paperwork and health and safety bureaucracy) as well as a messy personal life that's spiralling out of control. His team face challenges, too, largely in the form of the restaurant's clientele, who are demanding, unappreciative and disrespectful.

The drama unfolds over the course of a single evening, during which the visit of Jones' former mentor Alastair Skye (Jason Flemyng) sparks professional animosity (not least because he's brought feared food critic Sara Southworth (Lourdes Faberes) along, unannounced, as his dining guest), waitress Andrea (Lauren Ajufo) is forced to be polite to a racist customer, and a table of entitled influencers behave like, well, entitled influencers.

Much has been made of the fact that the film was shot in a single take, the camera following all of the characters at various points. Not only is this a phenomenal physical and logistical achievement, but it serves a significant aesthetic purpose too, conveying the relentlessness of it all. Respite? None.

Boiling Point is a fiction, of course, so the pressures are deliberately stacked up like a pile of dirty plates as the film moves inexorably to its climax - but that's not to say it's not true to life. Just last week, local eaterie Cora hit the headlines when owner/chef Lee Skeet called out the bad behaviour of a bunch of suits for subjecting restaurant manager Lily Griffiths to verbal insults and unwanted touching. It seems they were of the opinion that the amount they were spending entitled them to act with impunity. Griffiths described it as an isolated incident, but did admit that female staff "experience a lot of power dynamics, particularly with men".

On the evidence of Boiling Point, it's little wonder that the catering industry is suffering a recruitment and retention crisis. The film might well be traumatising for some former restaurant workers, as well as those currently in the thick of it, and it offers no solutions or consolations. Neither would I recommend it to any diners who would prefer to remain blissfully ignorant of what goes on behind the kitchen doors. But as a grimly gripping piece of drama, it's terrific.

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Future of the left

As Fergal Kinney's intro to this Quietus Baker's Dozen implies, Andy Burnham is as close as British politics - and certainly Keir Starmer's Labour Party - has to a poster boy. As Manchester Mayor, his stock is high, not least because "[h]is pragmatic, soft-left regional populism - splitting the difference between Wilsons Harold and Tony - chimed with the demands of the pandemic".

Burnham's selection does him no harm either. The choices might not come as any great surprise - The Beatles, The Smiths, New Order, The Las, Doves, The Wedding Present, Billy Bragg - but wouldn't it be nice to have a Prime Minister who's not only been a regular at the Hacienda but also actually listens to young people (in Burnham's case, his children turned him on to Big Thief)? Given the current incumbent,  I think we could forgive him liking The Stone Roses, including Adam And The Ants in the category "all kinds of rubbish" and hailing The Courteeners as "the best live band I've ever seen".

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Exclamation points

Once upon a time, about a decade or so ago, Holy Fuck lived up to their name all night every night. When they (finally) got the opportunity to call in to Clwb last Thursday, it was evident that they're still capable of summoning up that old magic, albeit not quite so consistently. Buzz review here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Getting personal

When Bob Geldof described "pop music" as "a brutal business", he was talking about its habit of chewing artists up and spitting them out, often prematurely. That much is evident in Nick Duerden's Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife Of Pop Stars. Another newly published book, Ian Winwood's Bodies, paints the industry in an even less flattering light, focusing on the way it "has long allowed abnormal behaviour to become normalised, even celebrated", because doing so is marketable and profitable.

Such behaviour includes the sexual harassment and abuse of female musicians, which was explored in Tamanna Rahman's documentary Music's Dirty Secrets and is once again in the news following the allegations about Tim Westwood. But music is also "a brutal business" for female music journalists - as Jude Rogers spelled out in an article for the Quietus. Writing her own book, The Sound Of Being Human: How Music Shapes Our Lives, caused Rogers to reflect on her own experiences.

Given that women are routinely harangued for sticking their neck above the parapet and daring to express an opinion in any sphere, it comes as little surprise to hear that over the years Rogers has been subjected to much misogynistic abuse from vitriolic male keyboard warriors. Hell hath no fury like a man witnessing a woman brand his favourite artist overrated - especially if said artist is a cornerstone of the tediously phallocentric canon (hello Jeff Buckley!).

What's more alarming, however, is the fact that such misogyny seems to be rife within editorial settings. Rogers details instances of tokenism, of being restricted to interviewing and profiling women artists, and of criticisms of a writing style that she herself came to believe might be "too female".

The Sound Of Being Human is founded on the premise that a love of specific songs and artists is intensely personal, and writing about music is also a subjective enterprise - so the suggestion that doing so "emotionally and personally" is somehow "wrong" is bizarre and nonsensical. As Rogers puts it, "if writing about music doesn't involve the communication of joy and sharing pleasure at regular intervals, then - and I won't mince my words anymore - what is the fucking point?"

If the article as a whole makes for depressing reading, it is at least also a valuable reminder of just how many amazing, intriguing music books written by women have already been published this year - from Rogers' own, to Sinead Gleeson and Kim Gordon's edited collection This Woman's Work, to Adelle Stripe's collaboration with Fat White Family's Lias Saoudi. Let's share in Rogers' hope that this heralds genuine change in the way that women music writers are treated, both by editors and online.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

"What a brutal business pop music is"

So says a rueful Bob Geldof, as quoted in this Guardian article, which serves as an appetiser for Nick Duerden's book Exit Stage Left: The Curious Afterlife Of Pop Stars, published today.

Duerden explains how Viv Albertine's superb memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys provided the necessary inspiration: "I wanted to know what it's like when that awkward next chapter begins, where anonymity replaces infamy, and the ordinary reasserts itself over the extraordinary." After all, he observes, "falling back down to earth, in this business, is an inescapable certainty. Like sportsmen and women, [musicians] peak early". Some artists may breathe the rarefied air of sustained success for longer than others, and never have to crawl back to a job in Starbucks, but even the biggest stars endure protracted periods in the critical and commercial wilderness.

The difficulty, Duerden suggests, is twofold. Not only do artists struggle to cope with the gradual or sudden loss of status and adulation, they are also very often not "the best people to operate the heavy machinery of adulthood". The implication is that being cocooned inside the pop bubble permits a naive Peter Pan-type existence, and so being outside it leaves musicians in limbo, forced to grow up and confront daily realities.

In the article, Geldof, Suzanne Vega, Kevin Rowland, Terence Trent D'Arby, Lisa Maffia and more talk about their experiences of finding themselves no longer in the limelight. It's possible to discern bewilderment, frustration and sadness, as you might expect - but also, Duerden notes, a striking stoicism. Many of those he spoke to continue to feel a compulsion to write, record and perform, even though few people are listening anymore. There's something commendable and cheering about this blind, dogged commitment to creativity and sense of hopefulness in the face of indifference and countervailing trends - even if it is Robbie Williams we're talking about.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Shadow puppets

Slanted And Enchanted may have just turned 30, but it was Pitchfork's oral history of the other bookend to Pavement's career, the much less celebrated Terror Twilight, that caught my eye recently.

Stuart Berman begins by drawing a parallel between the Fab Five and the Fab Four that at first glance seems audacious but actually makes a lot of sense: "What the Beatles were to '60s pop, Pavement were to '90s indie rock - the definitive, pace-setting act of the decade who underwent many surprising and substantial evolutions in a tidy 10-year lifespan". I'm not sure the latter's evolutions were anything like as substantial, and the suggestion that the slacker gods set any kind of pace raises a smirk - but Berman nevertheless has a point. Terror Twilight, he observes, is their Let It Be - a swansong recorded by a band falling apart that has the "fancy fingerprints" of a bigshot perfectionist all over it.

The oral history that follows essentially confirms the existing narrative about the album: that it was blighted by tensions between Stephen Malkmus and the other members over songwriting responsibilities and dedication, and between the band and producer Nigel Godrich over the recording process and finished product.

Unusually for Pavement, the record began with Malkmus delivering a bunch of demos and the band then slowly fleshing them out. This seems to have led to jadedness, irritation and resentment on Malkmus' part - as Bob Nastanovich puts it, Malkmus "was the only person who was doing serious homework". By now, the others were scattered across the US, and to the frontman, their continued commitment to the cause seemed questionable. The result wound up being more like a Malkmus solo record than any of their previous LPs, not least because Scott Kannberg aka Spiral Stairs was too late in bringing his own potential contributions to the table - though he did at least get his way over the track sequencing.

In such circumstances, an outsider's influence may have helped to heal the wounds, but sadly Pavement's relationship with Godrich - established after Domino's Laurence Bell played matchmaker - appears to have been somewhat fraught from the off. The English producer - fresh from working on Radiohead's masterpiece OK Computer - is by his own tongue-in-cheek admission "a horrible egotistical control freak", and the band chafed against his methods, which included demands for repeat takes.

While no one seems in any doubt as to the fact that Godrich genuinely was a Pavement fan, the terms in which he describes them - "delightfully shambolic" - ring alarm bells. It's a patronising perspective, as though he saw them as a quaint little project he could work on and polish. Sure enough, Steve West talks about him taking "a little bit of the ol' slack out of the slacker band" and claims diplomatically that "I think Nigel did a fabulous job in getting us as tight as we could be". The problem was, of course, was that they weren't all that keen on being tight. Nastanovich's comment about the songs is revealing: "I knew once we got them in a live setting [in other words, out of Godrich's reach], they would take on their own life, and would very much sound like Pavement: semi-professional and filled with imperfections". His implication is clear: Terror Twilight is not really a Pavement record.

More than two decades on, Mark Ibold remains lukewarm about it - "I think it all sounds all right - I've grown used to it" - and Malkmus and Nastanovich are not much more enthusiastic. No doubt the difficult circumstances of its creation and the subsequent split still make it hard for them to listen to. But, while it's not my favourite (that would be its predecessor Brighten The Corners), I agree with Kannberg and Godrich that ultimately Terror Twilight has stood the test of time well - certainly better than many other records of that period.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Sit down, shut up

With the welcome return of live music has come the unwelcome return of chatting gig wankers, and restaurants have also been plagued by no-shows since the various lockdowns have been lifted. According to Bristol-based comedian/compere Dani Johns, bad behaviour is also increasingly blighting the stand-up scene.

Some may dismiss her complaints on the grounds that punters showing signs of positive engagement, at least, should surely be considered acceptable. Others might go further, suggesting that Johns is being overly precious and insisting that stand-up is an inherently interactive type of performance. Should artists be able to dictate the "right" way to respond to their work? However, the sort of behaviour that Johns describes - aggressive verbal intrusions, uninvited physical manhandling and general disrespect - clearly oversteps the mark.

Seeking reasons for the rise in such incidents, she points the finger at a loss of social etiquette due to lockdown and expectations of gladiatorial combat raised by the countless YouTube clips of comedians locking horns with hecklers. Another factor, I'd suggest, is that particularly contemporary sense of entitlement that leads some boorish individuals to believe they should be able to behave however they like, with impunity, once they've paid.

Such conduct is not to be tolerated, and not only for the safety and wellbeing of the stand-ups themselves; audiences suffer too, the minority ruining the experience for the majority. As Johns puts it, "it's like reading a book and ripping out half the pages, except it's a library book and now no one else can fully enjoy it".

Here's hoping that Johns' plea for common courtesy and respect doesn't fall on deaf ears.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Forward thinking

Apologies to Crows - my lukewarm response to their recent LP Beware Believers was at least partially coloured by the fact that I'd been listening to Fontaines DC's Skinty Fia a lot at the time, my Buzz review of which has gone up online today to coincide with its release. The Dublin quintet's record sees them moving further away from their post-punk Sprechgesang roots, getting out of the game at just the right time - and becoming all the more interesting and engaging for it.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

"Let's rock it up!"

Do I make any apologies for reviewing yet another Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard gig? Absolutely not. The evening segment of Sunday's double bill at Clwb showcased the consistently high quality of the tracks on debut LP Backhand Deals and demonstrated why they're the best live band in Wales.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Bread of heaven

Despite having enjoyed Alex Gooch's bread on numerous occasions, I'll admit to being sceptical about whether the selection of plant-based savoury and sweet offerings at his new Whitchurch Road cafe could compete with the best baked goods the city has to offer. But, while I'm not about to renounce allegiance to the devilishly buttery delights of Pettigrew's just yet, the efforts of Gooch and his team certainly come highly commended. Buzz review here.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

"I'd rather introduce people to some albums that don't get enough credit"

Given his book Perfect Sound Whatever and associated podcast, a personal crusade to convince the world that 2016 was the best ever year for music, it was only ever a matter of time before the Quietus invited James Acaster to share his Baker's Dozen.

His selection is fascinating in itself, featuring as it does albums by everyone from Songs: Ohia, Joanna Newsom and Of Montreal to Madvillain, J Dilla and Brazilian singer Elza Soares (whose A Mulher Do Fim Do Mundo he really sells). But it's the way he talks about the chosen records - and his general views on music - that genuinely struck a chord.

I know, for instance, what he means when (with respect to Jim Sullivan's UFO) he says "I don't listen to much country music, but whenever stuff is inspired by country music and mixes it with some genres that are a bit more to my taste, that can become my favourite album quite quickly". After all, I'm a huge Angel Olsen fan.

I too had an emo phase around the turn of the millennium and (for a brief while) felt that Get Up Kids' Something To Write Home About was indeed something to write home about. He admits that "[t]here's a lot of other stuff I got into around that time that I do feel cringey about that I wouldn't be able to go back to, because it's too on the nose with its emotive and earnest lyrics". To be honest, that's pretty much how I feel about this record now, as well as the likes of Very Emergency by The Promise Ring, but at the time it really mattered.

dEUS' The Ideal Crash prompts him to make the point that "[e]xperimenting and eventually finding something new and amazing is hard, but staying within the confines of a genre and still being able to be better than everyone else and create an album that stands the test of time because your songwriting and your musicianship is that good almost boggles my brain more". Very true. (And why did I buy the Belgians' 'Sister Dew' single and never follow up by listening to the album?)

Best of all, though, is his assessment of Fiery Furnaces' mad, maddening magnum opus Blueberry Boat, which absolutely nails what makes it such a remarkable record - the way it combines "their far-fetched absurdities and the relatable side of them", and the way this split personality is shaped by the creative tension between Matthew Friedberger's flights of fancy and sister Eleanor's more grounded pop sensibility.

And that's not even to mention the fact that At The Drive-In's Relationship Of Command is one of his favourite albums...

Thursday, April 14, 2022

"I had an intimacy with the bands that no one else had"

Little gets photography buffs more excited than the prospect of an enormous stash of undeveloped films, and candid backstage photos of legendary musicians at the peak of their powers are catnip to music fans. Little wonder, then, that Charles Daniels' unseen collection has aroused considerable interest.

As DJ at gig venue the Boston Tea Party, Daniels got to hang out with Jimi Hendrix, the Small Faces and the Rolling Stones - finding himself Annie Leibovitz's sworn enemy along the way. Here's hoping that Film Rescue International can salvage his archive.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Pay to play

Extolling the joys of live music recently, I've admittedly been very much writing from the perspective of a punter. You've got to feel for musicians who were itching to get back to doing what they love, only to come up against the cost of touring crisis.

In the face of paltry streaming revenues, travelling around and performing live was seen as the means of making a little bit of money, but now - except for the few acts at the top of the tree - touring has become a painfully/prohibitively expensive or even loss-making business. 

Secretly Canadian band Wednesday sparked the debate by sharing details of their SXSW expenses. A bunch of alleged music fans responded to suggest ways that they could cut corners and costs, but Zachary Smith Cole of DIIV and Ella Williams aka Squirrel Flower were among those rightfully irritated at the implication that artists should be expected to suffer for their art.

The pandemic is clearly a significant contributing factor. Not only is there the cost of testing, there's the ever-present danger that one of your party is going to come down with COVID. Low's tour is just one of many to be derailed by infection, despite their plea for audiences to wear masks. As Zola Jesus has pondered, is this just a new risk that musicians are going to have to live with?

Belfast band New Pagans' European jaunt in support of Skunk Anansie may have been cut short by COVID, but bassist Claire Miskimmin has emphasised that Brexit as well as COVID has "truly done a number on small bands". Charges, regulations, ridiculous bureaucracy - everything is fucked. It's fair to say that White Lies would agree, having been forced to cancel a Paris gig because their equipment was wrapped up in red tape.

Without an end to the pandemic or the removal of Brexit-related barriers in sight, the outlook is bleak - a future in which only privileged artists with independent means are able to survive and tour? Let's hope not.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Failure to survive the crisis was never an option"

By all accounts (and on the basis of my own brief taster), last weekend's 6 Music Festival was a real success, shining a spotlight on the Welsh music scene and bringing fans to Cardiff's venues both in person and via the airwaves - a much-needed cultural and economic boost after an extremely challenging couple of years.

Buzz's Laura Fedeli recently invited the owners of four grassroots performance spaces around the country - Le Pub in Newport, the Lost Arc in Rhayader, Ty Pawb in Wrexham and the Moon in Cardiff - to explain how they managed to survive lockdown and navigate the ever-changing COVID-19 regulations. What is very clear is that without the robust support of both the Welsh Government (via the Cultural Recovery Fund) and the Music Venue Trust, the picture would have been very bleak indeed.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Space is the place

LCD Soundsystem may have blotted their copybook to a certain degree in recent years, but personally speaking, at least, they remain an extremely important band - the gateway drug that got this long-time dance-phobe to begin to understand and even appreciate club culture.

If it wasn't for James Murphy and company, I doubt I would ever have got obsessed with the analogue techno of Factory Floor's 'Fall Back' and the album from which it came, and subsequently actively requested a review copy of FF founder Nik Colk's solo LP. Bucked Up Space is some considerable distance outside my wheelhouse, to borrow an Americanism, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. Buzz review here.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Rock hisherstories

Inviting Kim Gordon to pull together a book of writing on music by women was a no-brainer, but White Rabbit's Lee Brackstone still had to convince her to do it and then hope she could identify a suitable editor partner. Thankfully, she agreed and she could, and the resulting volume This Woman's Work - co-edited with Sinead Gleeson - publishes today.

Jude Rogers of the Guardian spoke to the pair about the project, for which they each selected eight contributors - critics, authors and musicians, including Boredoms' Yoshimi of battles-the-pink-robots fame - who were then given completely free rein as to what to write about. The book sounds predictably wide ranging in its subject matter, though it understandably steers clear of what Gleeson refers to as "dude stories". In her view (and I'd definitely agree), "[t]he best music books aren't just about music, anyway. They are about the human experience - grief, politics, loss, family. Music leads us into myriad things."

The Guardian have also published an excerpt from one of the chapters, in which Megan Jasper reflects on the behind-the-scenes chaos of Sub Pop's early days, when she was an intern/receptionist, paychecks regularly used to bounce and blind faith was essential: "The good days were great but the stressful ones were unbearable. Quitting never felt like an option though. Something was going to happen and we were all determined to find out what it would be."

Something certainly did happen. Jasper would go on to fool New York Times journalist Rick Marin by inventing grunge slang on the spot and now, more than three decades on, finds herself the chief executive of the legendary label.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

This charming woman

On Sunday evening, I finally made it to a 6 Music Festival event - better late than never, for sure. The eclectic bill - Johnny Marr, a living legend for his work with The Smiths and Electronic; the nation's new favourite pop star Rebecca Lucy Taylor aka Self Esteem; and Britain's buzziest band Wet Leg - may have raised a few eyebrows, but ultimately it did what the station does best in introducing artists to audiences who might otherwise miss them. Taylor in particular picked up some new fans - including yours truly. 

Buzz report here.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Caveat emptor

Reacting to Fergal Kinney's evaluation of Yard Act's debut album back in January, I mentioned my "growing jadedness with respect to bands of this ilk". That jadedness was, sadly, confirmed by Crows' Beware Believers.

The LP's emphasis is more on the punk than the post-, and its heart is in the right place, but it didn't move me much - more reflective of my own fatigue than of the album's merits, quite probably, but personal opinion is the bedrock of any review and it was impossible to listen to it with fresh ears, blanking everything else out.

Buzz review here.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Energy bill

The upstairs room in Clwb has long been my happy place (or one of them) - and never more so than over the first quarter of this year. First Pom Poko, then Melt Yourself Down and most recently Dream Wife have all come to Cardiff and created chaos of the most joyous kind. Here's my review of the latest feast of fun.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Let the Good Times roll

It seems Angel Olsen got her urge to cut loose and just have some fun out of her system with the Aisles EP. New single 'All The Good Times', the teaser for forthcoming LP Big Time, represents a return to her roots - perhaps not the folk of the very early days, but certainly the perfectly crafted Americana of breakthrough album Burn Your Fire For No Witness. As with the tracks on that record, it instantly feels like a timeless classic, starting off low key before building to a stunning climax. Heartbreak never sounded so damn good.

Accompanying news of the single and album were details of a tour, which will see her playing the Forum in Bath in October. It may be further to travel than Bristol was last time around, on the All Mirrors tour in February 2020, but seeing her live is worth a journey of pretty much any length.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Community spirit


Having Tish Murtha's images in books on the shelf is all well and good, but when the opportunity arose to see a selection of her best hanging on the wall, I couldn't resist. Hence yesterday's whistlestop trip into Manchester city centre to catch the exhibition A Woman's Work, which opened on International Women's Day (8th March) and runs until 30th June.

In stark contrast to their site of display - the spectacular, opulent Refuge bar in the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel on Oxford Road - Murtha's pictures were taken in Elswick, the deprived area of Newcastle in which she was born and to which she returned after graduating from David Hurn's documentary photography course in Newport. That personal connection comes across clearly in her sympathetic portraits of siblings, friends and strangers, living amid the wreckage of a broken social system.

Murtha's focus on kids is striking. As with many of the pictures in Nick Hedges' Home, those chosen for display here are poignant in the way that they show their youthful subjects as victims of circumstance. These childhoods are not pregnant with possibility; on the contrary, the bleak future that they face is already mapped out.

The only real hope, Murtha seems to suggest, lies in the bonds of camaraderie and community - something that Anne Worthington also recognises in her work, which brings the issues of decline and regeneration closer to home for local visitors through its focus on East Manchester. Worthington's images may be in colour rather than black and white, and taken two decades after Murtha's, but they are animated by the same tension between togetherness and disintegration - portraits of people and places abandoned and in imminent danger of being swept away in the name of a form of "progress" from which they would not benefit.

All credit to the wonderful British Culture Archive for staging the exhibition and continuing to promote the work of Murtha, Worthington and many, many others. Hopefully, it won't be long before the organisation has permanent premises - a dream you can help to realise through buying prints or simply making a donation to the coffers.