Friday, September 22, 2023

Love Buzz (and Dale)

By some strange quirk of coincidence (genuinely), I've been playing Melvins' Houdini a lot recently, just as it turns 30. What a magnificently weird beast it is - as this retrospective review by Pitchfork's Daniel Bromfield underlines.

Bromfield talks about it being "both definitive and transitional", and offers spot-on assessments of some of the tracks. For instance, he claims that "[t]he brilliance of 'Night Goat' lies in the way the drumbeat never gets off the ground" - and sure enough, that's what I love about it too, especially when the drums drop out and kick back in around the 3:40 mark. Dale Crover's contribution to 'Honey Bucket' is even better - that track giving way to 'Hag Me', described in the review as "so slow that it feels beatless, almost ambient ... a glacier moving under its own weight", and, as such, a callback to the proto-doom/drone metal of previous albums Bullhead and Lysol.

Bromfield's also right that 'Set Me Straight' is founded on "Crover's most straight-ahead rock beat" and as such comes across as a bit clunky, like a justifiably discarded Bleach demo, and that closer 'Spread Eagle Beagle' is a largely pointless patience-tester.

The second half of the album is generally far stranger, far less coherent and far less direct than the first. It seems as though it's the tracks on that half that Bromfield has in mind when he speculates that "had the Melvins actually spent some time with [Kurt] Cobain or a more reliable producer working this thing out, they might've made a better record". Perhaps - but they've got plenty of form for pissing about, so who's to say? Let's just revel in the fact that what they did produce - on the first half, at least - has very much stood the test of time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

A rambling read

Mortality being what it is, we all ultimately end up at the same destination. For writer Geoff Nicholson, diagnosed with incurable cancer, that destination is sadly approaching - but, for this incorrigible perambulator, it's very much the journey that should be the focus of attention and interest, and indeed is in his new book Walking On Thin Air.

Buzz review here.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Banging tunes

Explosions In The Sky are one of those bands who have settled on a signature sound and by and large stuck with it - and so there's something reassuringly familiar about latest album End. While 2003's The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place remains the most perfectly realised version of their vision, I'm never likely to complain about subsequent iterations. Buzz review here.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Conspicuous consumption

It's frothy, glossy, heavily staged TV, but I nevertheless felt compelled to watch the final episode of the latest series of Channel 4's Remarkable Places To Eat, given that it sees Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers take host Fred Sirieix to taste the gastronomic delights of South Wales.

I could already vouch for the quality of Cardiff's Asador 44, having enjoyed a extremely good-value set lunch there in May, but it was interesting to get a peek into the kitchen and see the purpose-built contraption they use for their trademark fire cooking - and also be reminded of the quality of those red prawn bisque croquetas.

Meanwhile, I'm itching to sample the saltmarsh lamb served up at the Beach House in Oxwich Bay (if it's better than the saltmarsh lamb we have ourselves grilled over an open camp fire, it really will be spectacular), and, given that the Welsh rarebit at the Black Bear Inn is considered a bar snack and costs just £4, it'll be very tempting to sidestep the mains and just order four portions when (not if) we pay a visit.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Keeping it (Mont)real

On an unseasonably hot September evening, Big Brave pitched up at the Moon with Jessica Moss in tow and proceeded to set amps sizzling. Safe to say that there cannot possibly have been any RAAC used in the building's construction - if there had been, it would been reduced to rubble. Buzz review here.

A quirk of fate then presented the opportunity to see the Canadian avant-metal titans and their violin-playing compatriot again a few days later - this time at the wonderful Bush Hall in London, with Dawn Ray'd and Ragana also on the bill. It wasn't one I was going to pass up - and my fourth encounter in the space of a year and a half (pictured) proved to be the best yet.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Unfairly neglected or rightly forgotten?

When it comes to making it big in music, there's no logic or justice. That's the premise of this Louder article in which Paul Brannigan profiles ten 90s bands that (he argues) were primed for or deserved far better than the modest success they enjoyed.

In some cases, Brannigan definitely has a point. The clean, chunky riffage of Kerbdog's 'Sally', for instance, suggests that they should surely have found serious fame among fans of Foo Fighters, especially of their post-The Colour And The Shape albums, and Handsome's 'Needles' is a solid slab of Helmet-lite.

But in other cases, he seems way off the mark. I'd never heard of Into Another and on the strength of 'Mutate Me' have little inclination to know more, while it's a measure of the mad feeding frenzy that ensued after Nevermind that a band as odd as Shudder To Think - outliers even on Dischord - could ever find themselves with a major label record deal.

Elsewhere, the evidence of 'Painless' makes something of a mockery of Brannigan's mouthwatering description of The God Machine as "occupying the hinterlands between Nick Cave, Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails at their bleakest and most downbeat" (I did enjoy Robin Proper-Sheppard's later band Sophia when they supported Mogwai in 2001, though). One listen to the verse of Whipping Boy's 'Twinkle' and you could guess that Fontaines DC were fans even if Brannigan hadn't spelled it out.

I loved The Future Is Medium by Compulsion, the band that spawned uber-producer Jacknife Lee, so it was good to know that 'Juvenile Scene Detective' still holds up - as it was to be reminded of another band I saw at my first festival, Reading in 1996: Girls Against Boys.

Speaking of which, the very male-dominated list - a sorry sign of the times, arguably - does at least include two female-fronted bands. Drugstore largely passed me by, but 'Fader' - sounding for all the world like a bonus track from The Jesus And Mary Chain's Stoned & Dethroned - is a charmer. Cay, by contrast, I knew, loved, saw live and indeed interviewed. Brannigan mentions the trio's dislike of the Hole comparison, but the cap does fit - though revisiting their one and only album, Nature Creates Freaks, for the first time in years does bring home how much of a quirky Kim Gordon Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star vibe they had going on, all too briefly.

Friday, September 08, 2023

"This is like a photographer's dream"

No matter how many times you approach Port Talbot, it's always a striking sight: bisected by the M4, which snakes around hills and above rooftops, with (if you're travelling west) steep-sided green valleys and prominently positioned houses on your right and the enduring architecture of heavy industry on your left - chimneys billowing smoke, and beyond that the sea.

Needless to say, this unique place is also home to some unique characters, and in his new photobook Port Talbot UFO Investigation Club, Roo Lewis has sought to capture the spirit of what makes it so special. One of his aims was to counter negative perceptions, which involved taking the time to look more closely and getting on the town's wavelength: "You really have to understand the feeling and the culture and the emotion there." The images included in this BBC article certainly suggest that he's succeeded.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Expansion and extinction

In a city that has allowed one of its most beloved venues to be reduced to a forlorn facade and then demolished without permission by developers who clearly feel that they can act with impunity, the news that another music hub has announced expansion plans bucks a depressing trend for tales of hardship and closure. Clwb is something of a cultural institution in Cardiff, and has become practically a second home for me, so it's great to see these proposals taking firmer form.

Interestingly, Clwb's chief exec Guto Brychan explicitly paid tribute to Cardiff Council for their support. I've said it before and I'll say it again: they need to do much more for venues of all shapes and sizes around the city if the label "Music City" is to mean anything.

Of course, bricks-and-mortar spaces are only a part of the live music ecosystem. The recent news that Cardiff-based promoter Orchard Live has ceased trading and entered voluntary liquidation is yet another damaging blow. How they and others managed to survive lockdown is a mystery - but it's a sign of how tough times are that their resilience has finally been broken. A more voluminous Clwb is an exciting prospect - but venues are reliant on promoters to help to fill them.

Monday, September 04, 2023

I'm a believer

It took a while to appear due to a delay over the photos and I initially managed to make the embarrassing faux pas of classifying Fontaines DC as a UK act (cheers to my esteemed editor Noel for the quick fix), but my Buzz review of last month's Protomartyr gig at Clwb is now online. Suffice to say I've gone from having a passing interest to being a paid-up convert.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

There's a storm coming

Hear a rumble of approaching thunder? That'd be Big Brave, whose gig with Jessica Moss at the Moon is getting ever closer. Having made the pilgrimage over the bridge to see them in Bristol twice in the last year and a half, I can very much recommend catching them when they pitch up in Cardiff - and indeed have done so, for Buzz, here.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Things we didn't lose in the fire

It's a wonder that Craig Olsen's book PS Burn This Letter even exists, given that the cache of correspondence written by 1950s New York drag queens on which it's founded would have constituted incriminating evidence at the time. That it does is thanks to Olsen's friend Ed Limato, who ignored the instruction to destroy the letters, and left us with a rare insight into a period when being able to pass as a woman was not merely a matter of pride but a matter of survival.

Buzz review here.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Easy journey to other planets: Green Man 2023

Within seconds of arriving on the Green Man site and stepping out of the car to begin unloading, we're accosted by a monk asking for donations for a food programme. Flush with excitement at the prospect of the weekend ahead and feeling suitably generous, we duly part with some cash - and in return receive a book on the yoga of devotional mysticism entitled Easy Journey To Other Planets. It's a phrase that comes to capture our festival experience. Having travelled barely more than an hour from Cardiff, we find ourselves transported to an alternative dimension, in the company of an array of artists eager to draw us into their own unique, weird and frequently wonderful worlds.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? In more ways than one. Green Man began life as a humble folk festival, and remains in touch with its roots through artists like Gareth Bonello aka THE GENTLE GOOD (Walled Garden, Thursday). Bonello curated the bands for the first night in the Settlers' Tent last year but missed out on enjoying the fruits of his labours after being struck down by COVID, so it's good to see him here in person rather than merely in spirit this time around, softly breathing life into the festival.

Bonello's careful finger picking, however, proves no match for that of YASMIN WILLIAMS (Mountain Stage, Saturday). Blessed with a suitably Welsh-sounding name, the Virginian virtuoso is quite simply the most accomplished musician I witness all weekend. And like all the best superheroes, she has quite an origin story, having learned to play after becoming obsessed with Guitar Hero as a 12 year old.

While Williams' songs are instrumental, those of JULIE BYRNE (Mountain Stage, Saturday) are distinguished by a voice that could stop traffic. Her stoned, soulful, heavy, understated Americana suggests that latest album The Greater Wings would be worthy of closer investigation.

But all three are trumped by buzz band du jour LANKUM (Mountain Stage, Saturday), whose LP False Lankum has been bewitching critics and fans alike. Attempting to reclaim traditional Irish song 'The Wild Rover' from raucous wedding disco shindigs was a potentially perilous undertaking, but the Dubliners have made it totally their own, possessed with a dark, droning energy that seems to tune into deeper frequencies beneath the song's surface and holds the audience firmly under its spell. If you want ditties about "why you should never go to sea with a murderous sea captain" ('The New York Trader') and talk of men fucking horses, Lankum are the folk band for you. We can consider ourselves lucky to catch them - especially so, when they subsequently cancel future tour dates on health grounds.

No strangers to drones themselves, at least in their early days, SPIRITUALIZED (Far Out, Thursday) have their own recent magnum opus to perform from, last year's Everything Was Beautiful. But it's the opening trio of oldies - the Velvet Underground melodrama of 'Hey Jane', an appropriately incandescent 'Shine A Light' and the tumultuous rock 'n' roll maximalism of 'She Kissed Me And It Felt Like A Hit' - that hit the highest heights early doors, and a set that was shaping up to be one for the ages seems to drift curiously into anti-climax.

Fear not, though. Ladies and gentlemen are once again floating in space in the same place the following evening, courtesy of the reformed and reinvigorated SLOWDIVE (Far Out, Friday). Powered by that familiar hypnotic drumbeat and accompanied by the trippiest projections of the weekend, these are the sort of transcendental meditations I can really get behind. Suddenly their influence on Mogwai - and Stuart Braithwaite's eagerness to team up with Rachel Goswell in Minor Victories - becomes crystal clear.

Unlike Slowdive, neither reformed New Yorkers THE WALKMEN (Mountain Stage, Saturday) nor reunited Scots THE DELGADOS (Mountain Stage, Friday) have any new material to share, but no one who sees them can complain that, in the words of the former's final song, "we've been had". The Walkmen are taut, tight and invigorating, sure - but The Delgados have quite simply never sounded so good. Undeterred by a pitifully small crowd due to the unrelenting downpour, they perform a greatest hits set that draws gratifyingly heavily on their two stand-out albums, 2000's The Great Eastern and 2002's Hate. 'All You Need Is Hate' is the weekend's bona fide bone-dry-witted anthem, while, of all of their pocket epics, 'The Light Before We Land' is the one that sounds most thrillingly like an orchestra commandeering a jumbo jet. "When we go back up to Glasgow, we promise to take the rain with us", laughs Emma Pollock - but I would happily stand getting soaked for another two hours of this.

This year's festival isn't only about old hands returning to action, though - the newer generation of what us fogies persist in calling "indie" also get a look-in. Take THE ORIELLES (Far Out, Friday), for instance - on this evidence, Halifax's answer to Warpaint (albeit with weak vocals). Or THE BUG CLUB (Walled Garden, Thursday), from nearby Caldicot, who receive a hero's welcome and then proceed to prove that it's thoroughly merited with a set of smart, savvy, rambunctious songs that leave you with earworms in your head and a grin on your face.

Perhaps, however, 2023 is chiefly notable as the year that pop truly arrives at Green Man - and it does so in style. Rebecca Lucy Taylor aka SELF-ESTEEM (Mountain Stage, Saturday) has spent the past two years prioritising our pleasure, so it's about time for a well-earned rest and recharge - but not before a truly triumphant headline show. It's a slick, spectacular, impeccably choreographed visual spectacle, but also one that is never vacuous. 'I Do It All The Time' - guaranteed to bring a lump to the throat in any circumstances - is all the more powerful and poignant for being performed on a stage of this size.

At the opposite end of the scale, Tor Maries aka BILLY NOMATES (Far Out, Sunday) prefers a minimalist approach for her own brand of fierce, defiant, post-punk inflected pop: just herself, a cymbal and a backing track - no band or projections. It's a courageous set-up that risks leaving her nakedly exposed, and her televised Glastonbury performance was the subject of cruel trolling by keyboard warriors. But Maries evidently puts absolutely everything into what she does, the rapturous response from a partisan crowd - perhaps the warmest of the weekend - is richly deserved, and Billy Nomates departs the stage having made plenty of new friends.

For the most adventurous, inventive takes on pop, we're kept waiting until nearly the end. Brittney Denise Parks aka SUDAN ARCHIVES (Far Out, Sunday) - her hair styled like a giant pretzel - is a whirling dervish, a blur of energy, and almost as uncategorisable as the act that follows, YOUNG FATHERS (Far Out, Sunday), whose fractured, experimental gospel-infused R&B is as potent and mesmerising live as I'd been led to believe. Few artists win the Mercury Prize with their debut album, and even fewer go on to make significantly better ones.

So much for the pop of the present and indeed future - what of the pop of the past? MICHAEL CRAGG (Babbling Tongues, Saturday) is on hand to talk with Eamonn Forde about his book Reach For The Stars, an oral history that treats the supposedly disposable pop of the post-Spice Girls decade as worthy of serious reflection and sociocultural analysis. Proudly sporting his Girls Aloud T-shirt, Cragg touches on everything from artists' gruelling workloads, racism within the industry and the lack of consideration for physical or mental health, to cynical marketing and commercialism and the significance of a changing retail and media landscape. Heavy topics, for sure, but leavened with a wealth of 24-carat anecdotes: Mutya of Sugababes' habit of going straight from clubs to breakfast TV appearances, Martine McCutcheon insisting she would only do what Barbra Streisand would do, Lee Ryan's infamous loose-cannon comments about 9/11 and elephants inducing record labels to insist on media training for their charges. Cragg laments that he couldn't get Simon Cowell to talk, but Louis Walsh did give a terse ten minutes of his time, during which he donated the book's best pull-quote: "Nobody buys books. No one's going to read this." I'll happily prove you wrong, Louis.

But enough of the chat - back to the music. JOCKSTRAP (Far Out, Friday) are a mystifying conundrum who start out well, pivot into tedious acoustic singer-songwriter nonsense mid-set, before then thankfully veering back to the bangers for the conclusion. Even more of an enigma are SORRY (Far Out, Friday): undefinable sound, random bursts of noise, repurposed Tears For Fears lyrics, a bassist dressed like a monk, and branded umbrellas. Make of that what you will.

In the battle of the after-hours party starters, DANIEL AVERY (Far Out, Friday) is very much the purists' choice, serving up a great light show and predictably dropping 'Drone Logic' at the death. But it's a bit too stop-start, a bit too glitchy for those who - at this time of night - simply want an opportunity to throw their arms in the air. Which means that CONFIDENCE MAN (Far Out, Saturday) - who would in almost any other context leave me stone cold - contrive to steal the crown, the Aussies presiding over an old-school rave-up that has a tent full of night owls losing their minds.

Taking a more oblique, leftfield approach to the dancefloor, SPECIAL INTEREST (Walled Garden, Sunday) deliver pulsating queer punk disco. A faulty mic prompts vocalist Alli Logout to throw a hissy fit, but all seems to have been forgotten by the time they're tearing down the helter skelter later. Better by some distance are SQUID (Far Out, Friday), who have evolved into a far superior band than the one that pitched up in the Walled Garden four years ago. Their protean, elasticated, rhythmically complex, Neu!-inspired songs would be remarkable enough even if they hadn't found a role on guitar for (if my eyes don't deceive me - and they probably do, after a few pints) Neil from The Inbetweeners.

Talking of passable impressions, Dara Kiely of GILLA BAND (Far Out, Sunday) is one of the many contemporary vocalists doing his level best to keep the spirit of Mark E Smith alive, but on this occasion his barked absurdisms are rather lost beneath the terrifying/terrific din kicked out by his Fontaines-gone-feral accomplices. When Alan Duggan starts playing his guitar into his amp, I know I'm in the right place. All they need is Jonathan Ross announcing that they're available for children's birthday parties and bar mitzvahs.

Even more unhinged are one of their former support acts, MANDY, INDIANA (Rising, Saturday), who don't so much embrace chaos as give it a great big bear hug. A guitarist wearing only one shoe (Scott Fair), a synth player who looks like he's fallen through a wormhole from a prog-metal band (Simon Catling), a freewheeling French vocalist (Valentine Caulfield) and a drummer trying and barely succeeding to hold it all together (Alex Macdougall). Total carnage. If it gets Big Jeff's seal of approval, then it certainly gets mine too. It's saying something when GOAT (Far Out, Saturday) - in other circumstances a psych rock fever dream, complete with headdresses - are soothing sonic balm.

But, as it turns out, no one - no one - can compete with LES SAVY FAV (Far Out, Sunday), who prove that punk doesn't have to be po-faced in the most spectacular fashion possible. The four musicians on stage are consummate professionals, coolly carrying on no matter what Tim Harrington gets up to. Dying your hair and beard fluorescent orange and wearing hi vis and multi-coloured feathers is one way to make an entrance, and the frontman proceeds to strip down to his pants, shower himself in punters' beer and wine, lick mud off his feet, enjoy a cuddle from Gindrinker guitarist Graf and attempt to incite the crowd to topple the nearby ferris wheel. At one point he borrows an unsuspecting kid from his dad's shoulders and then barrels around the crowd with the bewildered lad aloft like some kind of crazed child catcher. (I'd still trust him more as a babysitter than the dad I saw earlier run over his own son with a pushchair, mind.) "We were there when the world got grey and we helped make it that way", sings Harrington towards the end. Don't believe him. The world will never go grey on Les Savy Fav's watch.

AMYL & THE SNIFFERS (Mountain Stage, Sunday) have the snotty, irreverent attitude ("Gimme some sugar, cunts!") and scuzzy, rabble-rousing, redneck gutter punk to stir up a moshpit of teens and set headliners First Aid Kit up for a fall - but they pale in comparison to what we've recently witnessed. 

And even then they're not the best punk(ish) band to grace the main stage. Two nights earlier, DEVO (Mountain Stage, Friday) rattle through the semi-hits, dishing out 'Girl U Want' and 'Whip It' early on and pulling off the feat of being stylistically and politically subversive, experimental and enormous fun all at the same time. Their cover of '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' remains sacrilegious certifiable genius and the synchronised jogging and ripping off of each other's outfits suggests that 'Jocko Homo' is right and they are indeed not merely men. Time is catching up with them, though, and 2023 is to be the year they finally hang up their ziggurat hats - which makes the muted reception from a well-doused crowd doubly disappointing.

You could have put money on the veteran new wavers having the most popular, covetable or distinctive headgear of the festival - but they don't. And neither do Sorry's Asha Lorenz (mirrorball cowboy hat) or Slowdive's Rachel Goswell (what seems to be a mourning veil, with coins attached). No, Green Man 2023 is all about the Jolly Baskets baseball cap, advertising the fictional Welsh supermarket dreamt up by MELIN MELYN (Mountain Stage, Friday). "Timmy Mallett meets the Super Furries", ventures a friend, and while all the inflatable props and zaniness sound off-putting on paper, it turns out that, in the flesh, yellow fever is actually highly contagious. Credit to them too for attempting to influence the elements with a hopeful but ultimately futile rendition of ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky'. The Green Man organisers have copped flak in the past for not doing enough to showcase Welsh-language music, especially on the Mountain Stage, but Melin Melyn seize their opportunity and can fully expect to get the call again.

"I swear if we're invited back, there won't be a single 'fuck' or 'shit'." So promises the amusingly potty-mouthed Lindsey Jordan aka SNAIL MAIL (Far Out, Saturday). Gabbling animatedly and largely incomprehensibly in between songs, it's hard to tell whether she's actually trashed or just caught up in the moment. Either way, a delightfully scrappy set that suits her indie-rock-par-excellence songs perfectly wins this fan of Lush around into giving its follow-up Valentine another try.

For once, THE WEDDING PRESENT (Far Out, Saturday) were actually invited from the start. "The stage manager said 'What are we going to do if someone pulls out?'" laughs David Gedge, but it wouldn't be Green Man without them. The self-proclaimed "semi-legendary" perennial stand-ins and coda kings treat us to the controlled, chest-rattling aggression of 'Brassneck' and 'Kennedy', a gruff cover of 'Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)' and the brilliantly titled 'I'm Not Going To Fall In Love With You'.

BOB VYLAN (Far Out, Saturday), meanwhile, are fighters not lovers and come out swinging with the likes of 'Pretty Songs'. One minute they're taking aim at the police, the next frontman Bobby's reporting that there's been a trouser malfunction backstage, the duo are wearing each other's joggers and he's sharing out drummer Bobbie's "pocket scone" like it's communion at a National Trust property. That they come across as a little flat and jaded by their usual standards is excusable given that this is their third of three consecutive gigs in three different countries.

What's not excusable at Green Man is failing to explore and dip into as much as possible. You can pre-plan your movements, sure, but sometimes serendipity comes up trumps and you stumble across something (often literally) that would otherwise have passed you by. The aforementioned Yasmin Williams is this year's prime example, but a close second are JULIE (Far Out, Sunday) - a very sullen, very youthful trio with zero chat but the violent clang and coo of Sonic Youth covering My Bloody Valentine. Special mention, too, for HIGH FADE (Chai Wallahs, Thursday) and their sensational bassist.

There are disappointments, of course. It's been a few years since England football misery tainted my festival experience, but fair play to the Lionesses for distracting me from the opportunity to renew acquaintances with Drahla. (On the subject of football, what's with this youth fashion for wearing random vintage football shirts? It's no help at all when a chap just wants to know what the Man City v Newcastle score was. The rabbit-in-the-headlights look of the lad in the '98 coat-tailed Toon strip suggests he might still be traumatised at being accosted by a desperate fan in his mid-40s with no phone reception and a bellyful of beer.)

A few things I would happily never see again: BRAD STANK (Walled Garden, Friday) - hipster Mac DeMarco streaks of piss doing Barry White in the drizzle; COURTNEY MARIE ANDREWS (Mountain Stage, Saturday) - this year's wafty, non-descript Americana; JAMES ELLIS FORD (Mountain Stage, Friday) - who, my friend points out, appears to have stolen a melody from the Neighbours theme tune; OBONGJAYAR (Mountain Stage, Saturday) - who manage the impressive feat of being much better in soundcheck, before the show-off singer rocks up; and SARAH JAROSZ (Mountain Stage, Sunday) - who has me running for the hills with the announcement "Now it really IS banjo time".

It's enough to drive you to drink. Speaking of which, the weekend's tipple of choice turns out to be Do The Fandango, a Monnow Valley cider that's so dry it makes you feel like your face is folding in on itself.

But man cannot survive on booze alone (though it's fair to say I make a valiant attempt). This year, each meal turns out to be better than the last. Initially, the bar is set relatively low (a tray of stodgy paella to soak up the previous night's sauce), but what follows is a gradual escalation in quality. A lamb harissa wrap. A mezze box from Cardiff refugee charity Oasis. A masala dosa with dips and (most importantly) humungous onion bhaji. And finally, the crowning glory: a Raj Burger from Keralan Karavan, whose spiced pulled chicken has me practically weeping with joy. (Though that may be because it's Sunday night and I'm a wreck.)

As the Green Man goes up in flames and the firework display is accompanied by sarcastic oohs and ahhs, I rue an all-too-brief glimpse of CORY HANSON (Walled Garden, Sunday) kicking out the jams with his band, and catching only 30 seconds of CROWS (Far Out, Saturday) and their supercharged post-punk. I regret missing The Comet Is Coming (weather), clipping. (clashes), The Last Dinner Party (crowd size) and Water From Your Eyes (fucking terrible name that had me making negative assumptions).

But it's time to swap gong baths for real baths, and nights under canvas for home comforts. Same time again next year, though?

Thursday, August 24, 2023

End hits

It's a measure of Sonic Youth's incredible back catalogue, spanning a three-decade-long career, that for what turned out to be their final US show, they could overlook the likes of 'Teen Age Riot', 'Expressway To Your Skull' and 'Schizophrenia' and whole albums such as Goo and Washing Machine, pack the set with many of their oldest, darkest, most cacophonous cuts (and even a Thurston Moore solo song) and yet still triumph on every conceivable level. And now you can hear it, in all its glory, released as Live In Brooklyn 2011.

Reviewing the album for Buzz, it was impossible not to acknowledge that, in retrospect, knowing that Moore's marriage to Kim Gordon was about to implode means that the songs themselves - and Moore's closing declaration "With the power of love, anything is possible" - take on a different complexion. 

Grayson Haver Currin has compiled an excellent companion piece to the record: an oral history of the show, featuring comments from the band's Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley and Mark Ibold plus support act Kurt Vile, others in their inner circle and fans, and quotes from Gordon and Moore taken from their books Girl In A Band and Sonic Life (neither consented to be interviewed). It covers everything from the setlist Shelley assembled, to the pre-gig tensions, to the setting, atmosphere and details of the show itself, to the tragic aftermath.

Monday, August 21, 2023

What's in a name?

Much is still made of authenticity in music, and by and large it's cliched rockist nonsense. But what to make of bands who continue to perform under a particular name despite having no original members left?

Gong? Fair enough - as a self-styled collective, the fact that they're a protean project, always evolving as members come and go, makes sense. And the period when each of the original Sugababes had been replaced could be seen as underlining the importance of pop as being about a brand rather than individual personalities - no one is indisposable. But otherwise pressing on without any founder members runs the risk of looking like a cynical marketing ploy, an attempt on the part of latecomers to capitalise on (and make capital out of) the hard work, creativity and reputation of their predecessors.

That said, that much can also be true of acts that retain one original member. Take Mike Love, for instance, who wrestled control of the touring rights to the Beach Boys name from his former bandmates and has since dragged it through the mud in pursuit of cash.

Meanwhile, though I certainly don't begrudge Greg Ginn from continuing to tour under the Black Flag banner - another name that has been the subject of much dispute and contestation over the years - his current outfit (albeit excellent) do feel a bit more like a tribute act than the real thing.

And then there's Guns N' Roses, whose set at the Leeds Festival in 2002 remains one of the best things I've ever seen. Or, rather, heard - I largely had my eyes shut, savouring all the Appetite For Destruction tracks and trying to block out the fact that of the bizarre motley crew on stage, including Buckethead and the Replacements' Tommy Stinson, Axl Rose was the only person involved in the original recordings.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Lost in translation

Like PJ Harvey, whose new album I Inside The Old Year Dying sprang out of a book of poetry, Orlam, Kae Tempest has also drawn inspiration from earlier work in one artistic form to create something new in another. In Tempest's case, though, the process was the other way around; their debut and to date only novel, The Bricks That Built The Houses, was constructed on foundations established two years previously by 2014's Mercury-nominated LP Everybody Down. Perhaps familiarity with the album would have enhanced my enjoyment of the book? In truth, I found it an underwhelming read.

The novel is notable chiefly for its evocation of a modern, multicultural London, populated by intelligent, bored, anxiety-riddled twentysomethings who find themselves ground down by the daily struggle for survival, desperate for a glimpse of a brighter future. And Tempest - a celebrated poet and playwright as well as a musician - writes wonderfully well about the electrifying frisson and thrill of attraction that draws lost souls Becky and Harry together.

But elsewhere the prose feels indulgent and overwritten, and the plot, which takes a long time to gather pace, hinges on coincidental encounters and connections that seem especially improbable given that the setting is a city that's home to several million people.

Most irritating, though, are the regular sections recounting the backstories of the various characters, some of whom are relatively minor. It's hard to discern the purpose of these sections, or justify their existence, especially as they impede the narrative momentum. It's almost as though Tempest is so eager to show us that they can conjure a fully fleshed-out cast that they forget about everything else - and the reader's attention is prone to wander as a result.

Friday, August 18, 2023

A changed man

First a primer on slowcore, now a long profile/interview with Steve Albini. What's next, Guardian? A 10,000-word review of Sonic Youth's entire recorded oeuvre to coincide with the release of Live In Brooklyn 2011 and the publication of Thurston Moore's memoir? I can only imagine so, given that the paper's music editors currently appear to be tailoring their policy for commissioning features and accepting pitches to my precise interests.

Jeremy Gordon's piece on Albini has been widely praised, and rightly so. The musician/producer - well, musician/recording engineer, to use his own terms - is a polarising figure who has over the course of his career regularly gone out of his way to offend people, and Gordon's gently probing questioning elicits some candid assessments of past (mis)conduct.

This isn't the first time that Albini has held his hands up in apology - he did so on Twitter and in conversation with Mel's Zaron Burnett III two years ago. But repeating that message remains a significant gesture, not only because he used to be such an incorrigible edgelord, but also because he accepts the error of his ways without making any attempt to fall back on feeble excuses or justifications - a rarity given the prevailing trend for public non-apologies.

Interestingly, there are parallels with Nicky Wire of the Manics, who worked with Albini on Journal For Plague Lovers. In his recent chat with Quietus co-founder John Doran, the one-time motormouth was strikingly contemplative and contrite. Albini too seems to have become less abrasive, or at least much more sensitive to the implications of what he says and does, newly conscious of his privileged position as a white, male musician.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The hard sell

Pity the poor publishing lackey at Penguin tasked with perusing the reviews for Jordan Peterson's book Beyond Order in the hope of finding sufficient positive scraps to stick on the back cover of the paperback edition. To avoid coming up short meant being somewhat economical with the truth, it seems

My sympathies here naturally lie with the reviewers whose comments have been taken out of context and pruned to create unequivocally enthusiastic puffs. One of the unfortunate perils of putting your work out there, whether it's creative or critical, is that you leave yourself exposed to misrepresentation - and in this instance, the misrepresentation appears to have been particularly calculated and unscrupulous.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Reality bites

After a period of stability, significant change is afoot in the Victoria Park Gastronomic Quarter (as absolutely no one's calling it).

First, there's the extremely sad news that after seven years Dough Thrower will be shutting its doors. While their pizzas are among the priciest around, they're also created with thought, care and high-quality ingredients, and the Best Restaurant in Cardiff title that Dough Thrower scooped in last year's Cardiff Life Awards was well deserved.

Massive thanks to the team for giving us something to look forward most Saturdays during the dismal days of lockdown, and for the Korean chicken Detroit-style special (pictured above in all its magnificence) that was perhaps the best pizza I've ever had the pleasure of chowing down on. At least there's the consolation of knowing that their takeaway outlet in Cathays will remain operational.

Meanwhile, two doors down, the owners of Nook have decided to take the radical step of concentrating on oysters and fried chicken. It's a curious move in many ways. If competition is genuinely the reason for pivoting away from the small plate menu with which they've made their name, then it's not as though no one else in the vicinity is also specialising in what they're now proposing to offer. What's more, the restaurant's veggie fans, formerly well catered for, have expressed understandable dismay at the move.

But in the current climate I guess they've got to do what they feel is right to ensure survival, and introducing a narrowly focused menu - a tactic also recently adopted by the Lansdowne on Mondays (pizzas) and Tuesdays (burgers) - will ease the strain on the kitchen staff.

Perhaps Nook is feeling the heat from Poca, the latest venture from chef Antonio Simone which recently opened in the premises previously occupied by La Cuina, on Kings Road at the other end of Canton. I've not been yet, but the reviews are very enthusiastic, and those crushed new potatoes with roasted garlic aioli and parmesan have got my name on them.

It's not proving all plain sailing for Simone either, though, with the announcement that a "perfect storm" has forced the closure of Alium in Barry, in what was Hang Fire's home, with immediate effect. Fingers crossed that Poca - a smaller operation in a prime location in the capital - enjoys greater longevity.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Hung jury

Despite the slightly misleading heading given to my Buzz review of Deliverance, it isn't Andrew Hung's first solo album since Fuck Buttons drifted into an indefinite hiatus that has since become final. It is, though, the first on which he sounds truly comfortable being himself. Personally speaking, the jury is still out on the vocals, but the confidence behind their delivery is unmistakable and there's plenty to enjoy about the record overall.

Friday, August 11, 2023

"A prayer to the wild"

There's something magical about The Lost Words, the new exhibition at St Davids' Oriel y Parc. Growing out of the much-praised book of the same name, it's a collaboration between author Robert Macfarlane and Pembrokeshire-based artist Jackie Morris, with Welsh-language translations by Mererid Hopwood, that celebrates the connections between language and the natural world. Buzz review here.

Visiting with PJ Harvey's new LP fresh in my ears seemed particularly apt, given that I Inside The Old Year Dying - challenging and inscrutable though it is - finds her communing with nature through evocative terms drawn from Dorset dialect. Macfarlane would approve.

My visit also served as a reminder that Macfarlane's Landmarks is still sitting on my shelves waiting to be read.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Collage rock

"Complex ideas in an apparently simple format": that's Jon Savage's succinct description of the style of artist/graphic designer Jamie Reid, who's died at the age of 76. Through his work with the Sex Pistols, Reid became synonymous with the first wave of British punk, which was arguably as much a visual/aesthetic phenomenon as it was a musical one.

Ben Beaumont-Thomas' piece for the Guardian echoes the statement issued by Reid's gallerist John Marchant and his family, referring to him as an "iconoclast". Of course, the irony is that in defacing a portrait of the Queen (and more), he created work that would in time itself become iconic.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Birthday bash

I've sung the praises of Lisa Meyer only recently but make no apologies for doing so again - this time not as the instigator of Birmingham's Home Of Metal project but as the founder (with her Capsule crew) of Supersonic. With the festival set to mark its 20th birthday next month in the company of Lankum, Deerhoof, Big Brave, Divide & Dissolve, Silver Moth and many more, Kerrang!'s Nick Ruskell has spoken to her about the experience of organising a "unique, unconventional, ear-to-the-ground celebration of stuff you can't find anywhere else".

Meyer talks about naivety and steep learning curves, the festival's ethos ("I feel like now, I have a duty or mission to really try and champion female artists as well. We've always been a female-led organisation, and I feel like the line-ups need to be reflective of that, and how diverse modern Britain is") and taking inspiration from Godspeed You! Black Emperor's disappointment.

I've still only been to Supersonic once, in 2007, but it made an impression: Mogwai headlining, memorable first encounters with Wolf Eyes and Chrome Hoof, David Yow on the loose, Fuck Buttons' volume making a glass shop unit wall flex. With any luck, I'll make it back again soon - and definitely if she manages to pull off the dream of booking Mike Patton and Lionel Richie to duet on 'Easy'...

Monday, August 07, 2023

The customer isn't always right

Restaurant owners and staff are regularly forced to be accommodating and diplomatic in response to complaints from disgruntled customers - so it's only fair that they should be given the opportunity to turn the tables and call out the irritating habits of those they serve. The Guardian's Tony Naylor has done just that.

Needless to say, no-shows feature prominently, as do less extreme variants on the theme of guests who "see a reservation as a loose outline, not a fixed arrangement". Also in Naylor's list are impatience, requests to venture off-menu, and fabricated allergies and intolerances.

It seems that no-shows are not the only form of bad behaviour to have discernibly worsened since the pandemic. Prices are increasing in keeping with rising costs, but is this trend also inducing customers to act with a greater degree of entitlement?

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Slow progress

Not so very long ago, the mere suggestion that Codeine - as magnificent a band as they were, and indeed still are - might be the principal subjects of a feature published by a mainstream UK newspaper would have seemed absurd. And yet - thanks to Stevie Chick - that flight of fancy has become a reality, in the form of a crash course on slowcore, the musical genre for which they became (unwilling) poster boys.

For me, as for many others, slowcore's other cornerstone Low were the gateway drug - in my case, their 1999 album Secret Name. That the Duluth band centred on the partnership of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker transcended their sonic and stylistic roots, particularly on astonishing final LPs Double Negative and Hey What, is undeniable and explains why they don't feature more heavily in Chick's article.

That's not to imply, though, that Codeine are inferior simply by virtue of the fact that their albums don't trace a similar trajectory. I was smitten the moment I heard the stark, spare, devastatingly powerful LP The White Birch, and soon picked up its predecessor Frigid Stars from my favourite hunting ground of the time, the Nottingham branch of Selectadisc (RIP).

As Chick notes, "[t]hey shared their feel for space and tension with Slint, then laying the quiet/loud foundations of post-rock over in Louisville, Kentucky - but Codeine had little interest in the loud part". The band's original drummer Chris Brokaw (also of Come) acknowledges that "[t]here was an austerity to what we were doing". However, the suggestion that they were "almost anti-catharsis" and (in the words of bassist/vocalist Stephen Immerwahr) "anti-epic" is more contentious - The White Birch is, in its own quiet, measured way, as cathartic and epic as albums come.

Codeine imploded shortly after the album's release in 1994, but - as is so often the way - their reputation grew and grew posthumously. Chick detects slowcore's influence on acts as disparate as The For Carnation, Cat Power, Daughter and Lana Del Rey, and I can hear Codeine specifically in metal bands such as Big Brave and Kowloon Walled City.

I'll remain ever grateful to one of Codeine's biggest fans, Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite, for persuading them to reform for the 2012 ATP-curated event I'll Be Your Mirror, which led to a string of other dates, including a show I savoured at Primavera in Porto. And now, with the vinyl reissue of their albums and fresh interest from a new generation of people who've first encountered them soundtracking Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, they're back performing again. However you discover Codeine is irrelevant - what matters is just that you do.

There's a neat coincidence in the fact that it's a cover of Joy Division's 'Atmosphere' that's brought them to wider attention, given that slowcore contemporaries Galaxie 500 contributed their stupendous version of New Order's 'Ceremony' to recent shoegaze compilation Waves Of Distortion. I barely know Galaxie 500 beyond that song, and I don't know Bedhead (another band at the heart of Chick's article) at all - but if they're fit to be talked about in the same breath as Codeine, then it's abundantly clear that I should.

(Fun fact: my introduction to both Low and Codeine came courtesy of a current member of the Eggheads squad. And no, it wasn't Chris Hughes.)

Saturday, August 05, 2023

"A muddy, joyful miracle"

The news that the YHA are selling off some rural youth hostels was already unwelcome enough before we pitched up at YHA St Davids a couple of weekends ago to discover that that too is destined to be flogged. This, after all, is somewhere we regularly refer to as our favourite place on earth. David Wilson's black-and-white photo of the hostel, dwarfed by the imposing backdrop of Carn Llidi, hangs in our hallway.

Inevitably, then, John Harris' appreciation of youth hostels' social and cultural value repeatedly strikes a chord. He cites their affordability, the communal spirit they embody and engender, their critical role as emergency facilities and places where everyone - most importantly disadvantaged inner-city children - can discover the joys of the countryside. Where else can you make the most of being in a National Park while on a budget and finding yourself vying with Bridget Christie for the last veggie sausage at breakfast (as we did at YHA Castleton in April)?

Of the hostels already up for sale, I've enjoyed a couple of nights in Haworth many years ago and a few days at Poppit Sands post-pandemic. But my personal connection runs much deeper than that. We got married at YHA Ilam Hall, and I did a six-month stint working as a seasonal assistant at YHA Malham in my youth. The loss of so many of these cheap, cheerful national institutions - which sadly looks likely, barring an improbable intervention - will be keenly felt.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Behind-the-scenes scenes

One of Eve Arnold's celebrated filmset photos of Marilyn Monroe was a focal point of the National Museum Wales' show Women In Focus in 2018, and so it's little surprise to learn that several of them star in a new exhibition of her work entitled To Know About Women.

Guardian reviewer Claire Armitstead points out that while Arnold "became the photographer of choice for many stars, her portraiture was never just about celebrity. It was about image construction as a necessity of survival among her predominantly female subjects." This explains her enduring fascination with women backstage, off duty though obviously not quite off camera.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

Suspicious minds

I've long been cynical about the cult of mindfulness/wellbeing, seeing it as a means for unscrupulous quacks and grifters to cloak their capitalist greed in a tie-dye T-shirt and exploit the anxious, the vulnerable and the desperate.

But, as James Ball explains in this Guardian article (and in a new book, The Other Pandemic: How QAnon Contaminated The World), the phenomenon is significantly more troubling when you consider the evidence for what he calls "the wellness-to-fascism pipeline". Look closely, he argues, and alternative healthcare comes to seem like a gateway drug, the first formative stage in the development of right-wing conspiracy theorists.

The suggestion that a spot of yoga can lead to fascist sympathies seems faintly ludicrous at first, but researchers are finding evidence to support that case. Ball suggests a number of cogent reasons why this should be so - primarily, because those entranced by holistic therapies and the like see themselves as on the fringes of society, and are simultaneously suspicious of the mainstream and naive/gullible when it comes to alternatives. Little wonder, then, that they're susceptible to swallowing conspiracy theories of all hues.

It can be a disconcertingly short hop from environmental concerns to ecofascism, from a belief in alternative medicine to full-on tinfoil hat ravings about 5G. Sadly, I've seen as much reasonably close at hand - a friend who started buying into homeopathy prior to the pandemic became a fervent anti-vaxxer.

One of Ball's interviewees, Caroline Criado Perez, warns that we should be wary of pointing the finger at women "for turning to alternative medicine, painting them as credulous and even dangerous": "[T]he blame does not lie with the women - it lies with the gender data gap. Thanks to hundreds of years of treating the male body as the default in medicine, we simply do not know enough about how disease manifests in the female body". As a consequence, conventional treatments are regularly ineffective, leading to a natural inclination to seek out alternatives.

However, as significant as the connection with the wellness fad is and whoever is to blame, Ball's article hints at the fact that the sharp rise in conspiracy theories and theorists is a bigger issue. He talks about the perceived need to "fill a void", given the decline of religion, and I'd also suggest a parallel or even a correlation with the way in which right-wing populist movements have emerged out of a growing disillusionment with traditional democratic processes.

And then there's the prime accelerant, the pandemic. Stringent lockdown measures, governmental incompetence and the Partygate scandal have quite understandably made people more resentful and distrustful of authority. Ball's interviewee Jane cites the impact of lockdown isolation, though not the way it forced people into living their lives in the virtual realm. A few friends of mine have certainly suffered as a result of both isolation and being terminally online, disappearing down conspiracy rabbit holes from which I can only hope they'll somehow escape.

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

"Timeless rituals"

With this year's Wimbledon done, dusted and fast disappearing in the rear-view mirror, I'd better post about this Defector article by Giri Nathan sooner rather than later.

Finally granted the opportunity to witness the world's most famous tennis tournament in person rather than on screen, Nathan reflects on everything from formality and exclusivity to stringent security measures, the climatic delights of the Great British Summer, the pleasure of downing the remains of your strawberries and cream, and polite umpire requests to the crowd not to pop open bottles of champagne when players are about to serve.

Whatever your views on tennis, Nathan's turn of phrase is sparkling, whether he's writing about the wear and tear suffered by the grass courts over the course of the fortnight or the astonishing skills of French player Ons Jabeur: "She seems to do with a tennis ball what a mildly tipsy Brit can do with the English language; bending it in ways I could not anticipate, following arbitrary whims to a colorful end."

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The age of uncertainty

I'll admit to knowing next to nothing about The Durutti Column but can see why Daniel Dylan Wray's recent Guardian interview with Vini Reilly was widely praised and circulated. The reclusive Reilly - who has endured much, including homelessness, bankruptcy, mental illness and even very close shaves with Mancunian gangsters - spoke frankly about his musical career: "It's done. I've already expressed everything I needed to when I was playing it." No doubt the physical effects of his three strokes are a major factor behind the way that he feels, but it's nevertheless unusual to hear a musician reflect in this way, belittling their own achievements and effectively drawing a line under their career.

Nicky Wire's fascinating conversation with John Doran of the Quietus was tinged with similarly downbeat sentiments. As ever, Wire seemed to have few qualms about running the risk of being regarded as pretentious, quoting Kierkegaard at one point, but the famously mouthy Manic pointedly avoided making any pithy, poisonous comments about other artists, instead ruminating on ageing, melancholy and regret. Might it be that the formerly cocksure Wire is growing increasingly less certain and secure as he gets older, and becoming a more complex and thoughtful artist as a result?

That much also seems to be the case for PJ Harvey, who has described new album I Inside The Old Year Dying as being "about searching, looking ... and seeking meaning". The bold, brash brightness of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea - a record that simply exudes confidence - feels like a long time ago.

In conversation with the Guardian's Laura Snapes, Harvey came across as guarded and self-deprecating, venturing that she isn't a natural musician (god help the rest of us, then...), recalling her experience of imposter syndrome when sharing work with poets and suggesting that she's often wracked by self-doubt: "I definitely go through times where I wonder if I still have the ability to write the songs I dream of writing. Am I still any good? Have I still got it? But I'll keep having a go. And usually, if I persevere, I can get there." (The only time she got remotely bullish was in her defence of her poorly received last LP, 2016's The Hope Six Demolition Project.) It's remarkable (to me, at least) that an artist of her stature and track record can suffer from such anxiety - but I suppose we're all human.

I Inside The Old Year Dying represents yet another twist in the tale of Harvey's career - an eccentric folk album that, as usual, has a robust internal logic and coherence but that contrasts with pretty much everything she's ever done before (White Chalk and Let England Shake are its closest relatives, but even they are cousins once or twice removed). The critical consensus seems to be that it's both hard to fathom and strangely immersive - and one certainty is that it's a record that demands effort and patience on the part of the listener.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Getting personal

Last year, Michael Hann wrote a strangely sour piece about the boom in music books for the Guardian (a boom to which he's an active contributor) and now it's Alexis Petridis' turn to tackle the subject, albeit with narrower focus on memoirs.

Seeking to identify the reasons behind the trend, Petridis cites "the existence of three music imprints at major publishers - in addition to the output of longstanding specialists such as Omnibus". But people willing to publish music books is only part of the equation - the boom also relies on people willing to buy the books, and on people willing to write them in the first place.

Petridis suggests that a generation of musicians have aged sufficiently to have reached a vantage point from which they're now able to take stock of their careers with a bit of perspective. To that, I'd add the fact that pandemic lockdown and the enforced break from performing live not only afforded a lot of artists the practical opportunity to write a memoir, but also naturally inspired the reflective thoughts conducive to such a project.

As for the book-buying public, all of Petridis' interviewees agreed that "their success is linked to the decline of the traditional music press". Those fans who grew up with the likes of NME, he argues, still have a hankering for long-form music writing and a craving for context (rather than just the music), and so constitute a readymade readership.

What spoils the article somewhat is the fact that it's peppered with slightly sniffy comments about some of the "cultish musicians" who've published surprisingly successful books. Petridis sees this, somewhat uncharitably, as simply a reflection of the scale of the boom. If there's interest in books by Lush's Miki Berenyi and Will Carruthers of Spacemen 3, the logic goes, then it must be because of something other than the books themselves.

I, however, would point out that there's not necessarily any correlation between the relative stature of an artist and their ability to write or to engage a reader. Dave Grohl's The Storyteller, for instance, is an easy and largely entertaining page-turner, but it won't win any awards for depth or style. By contrast, Sleevenotes by Hey Colossus bassist Joe Thompson - capturing the frequently grim slog of a life spent making music and touring with a low-profile band - is much more widely relatable. Similarly, listening to Adelle Stripe on White Rabbit's Songbook podcast raving about Nico: Songs They Never Play On The Radio, written by her keyboard player James Young, instantly made me buy a copy, and Viv Albertine's unflinchingly frank Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys thoroughly deserved its success. It's not so much who you are, then, as what (and how) you write. 

Neither, as a reader, is there any particular need to be a fan of the musician-author in question. It's a given that I'll read Kim Gordon's Girl In A Band and Stuart Braithwaite's Spaceships Over Glasgow at some point (shamefully, it hasn't happened yet), as well as Thurston Moore's forthcoming Sonic Life - but I also devoured Bad Vibes by Luke Haines, someone whose music I generally have little time for but whose savage dissection and demolition of Britpop made me cackle with delight. Berenyi's Fingers Crossed sounds very much in the same vein, and as a result it's firmly on my reading list.

Ultimately, though, the precise reasons for the current boom are arguably unimportant. Let's just enjoy being able to dive headfirst into an ever deepening pool of great books.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Beat connection

Jeanie Finlay's fantastic documentary film Sound It Out (trailer here) was a heartwarming ode to the Stockton shop of the same name, its proprietor Tom Butchart and its colourful cast of customers, as well as a love letter to independent record stores in general.

In the wake of Butchart's tragically premature death at the age of just 51, who better to pay tribute to her "bones-deep friend" than the filmmaker who brought his humanity and passion to wider attention? Quietus founder John Doran has also contributed to a piece on someone who was clearly "the social glue in a community focal point", and who, equally clearly, will be sorely missed.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Display case

As grateful as I was for the opportunity afforded by yesterday's open day to wander around Amgueddfa Cymru's National Collections Centre in Nantgarw, it was hard not to feel frustrated that the building's contents aren't on permanent public display. And all the more so when I learned from a fellow visitor about the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum.

The museum opened in Butetown in Cardiff in 1977 but closed its doors in 1998, just one of many victims of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay - the building bulldozed to make way for Mermaid Quay. The National Waterfront Museum was subsequently established in Swansea to house some of the exhibits, and a few other items seem to have gone to various sites including the Museum of Cardiff and St Fagans - but so much remains on shelves, unseen and gathering dust, in the Nantgarw warehouse.

The plight of all of this industrial heritage - what modern Wales was founded on, essentially - is all the more infuriating when you consider the planned relocation of the Museum of Military Medicine from Aldershot to the Bay. How can Cardiff Council justify actively courting that move when they shut down not only the Welsh Industrial and Maritime Museum but also the Butetown History and Arts Centre?

Friday, July 21, 2023

Sea views

Not content with reporting back on the Wales Coast Path exhibition at Cardiff's Oriel Canfas in April, I've now reviewed Drew Buckley's new coffee-table book Pembrokeshire: Discovering The Coast Path, which takes its readers on a guided photographic tour of the 186-mile stretch around the wild fringes of Wales' most westerly county.

Buckley's images had me instantly wishing I was there, looking from clifftops down to golden beaches, secluded bays and clear blue water, as I was in late May. Thankfully, I haven't got to wait long - just until this weekend, in fact, when I'll be back at St Davids intent on walking some of the route. Fingers crossed the weather is kind...

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Pressing issues

It would be easy to sneer at this Guardian article about the current state of book publishing - as indeed the likes of David Quantick have - and talking of "an industry-wide mental health crisis", as one of Alice Kemp-Habib's interviewees did, arguably exaggerates the scale of the situation in an unhelpful way.

But the experience of that interviewee, Imogen Hermes Gowar, should nevertheless be taken seriously. There is a duty of care towards authors, especially debutants, or at very least a responsibility for expectation management that falls on publishers. If the industry is serious about diversifying, then there has to be solid support in place for those who, like Gowar, suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar world and "treated like the most important person in the room" for the first time in their lives. This is precisely why so many musicians go off the rails, having been unprepared for the level of attention and exposure that success in the public eye brings and having no boundaries or roadmap to work with.

At the same time, though, the article acknowledges that publishers themselves are under severe strain. That those working in trade publishing are overworked and underpaid came as little surprise to someone with experience on the academic side of the fence. New measures and resources are on their way to help authors, but the pressures that publishing staff are under should not be forgotten either.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Dairy queen

If you find yourself in Hay-on-Wye today or tomorrow, gasping for a restorative cuppa in between bookshop browsing, I recommend calling in at Shepherds Parlour - and not just for the coffee and cake. It's also a final opportunity to see local photographer Billie Charity's current exhibition, which focuses on dairy farmer Dean Goodwin-Evans who - as his alter ego Boo La Croux - also happens to be Miss Drag UK 2021.

As Charity understandably enthuses, "[t]his man, in all his multi-colour glory, is a photographer's dream". It can't be often that a project like this seems to simply fall into your lap.

If you can't make it along to see the images chronicling Dean's transformation into Boo aka the Queen From No Scene, then this online gallery will have to suffice.

Friday, July 14, 2023

No fun

"Pop music should be the fun bit of life, the bit that eases the daily grind of work, the general horror of the news cycle or the combat of social media comments." The operative word is "should". As Kate Solomon reports in this piece for the Guardian, the experience of trying to get tickets for the forthcoming Taylor Swift tour was an "exhausting slog". Factor in their eyewatering cost and the online jousting of uberfans trying to outdo each other, and it's little wonder that pop fandom has left her and others feeling like "overwhelmed and manipulated" cash cows.

It's only fair to note, though, that the increasingly bureaucratic nightmare that is buying gig tickets - pre-registration, presales, promotional codes, queues on online platforms groaning under the weight of demand etc - isn't a phenomenon that's exclusive to the sphere of pop. I still harbour hopes of one day going back to Glastonbury after more than a decade away - but it's such a ballache to get tickets that I'm not sure I've got the patience. Even Green Man seems to be going the same way.

Still, for Solomon, all will apparently be forgiven and forgotten the moment Swift sets foot on the stage: "the payoff of actually seeing her will certainly be heightened by getting through this rigmarole". Personally, that experience and the fact that it's cost a fortune would make me set the bar for enjoyment significantly higher, perhaps to such a level that I couldn't help but feel disappointed/cheated. Each to their own, though. I'll stick with Clwb and the Moon, thanks.

As if the ticket-buying ordeal wasn't exasperating enough, it turns out that some Swifties - well, one, at least - have made the traumatising discovery that, owing to a manufacturing cock-up, their vinyl copy of the re-recorded Speak Now is actually a pressing of a new compilation featuring industrial pioneers Cabaret Voltaire.

Admittedly, I'm not Swift's target demographic, to put it mildly, but (at the risk of enraging the poptimists) what I've heard of her music is dull, formulaic fluff. If this introduces some of her fans to something a little more challenging, then all good. Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder certainly thinks so: "It's possibly the most subversive thing we've ever done."

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

"It was a little oasis"

Beneath the riotously entertaining tales of wild nights (Swans' show in 1987 sounds particularly special/sonically traumatising), Harry Sword's Guardian article on legendary Birmingham boozer the Mermaid underlines the way in which grassroots gig venues can be both creative hubs and safe havens of inestimable value to their local music communities.

In doing so, the piece helps to make the Music Venue Trust's case that a proportion of the cash harvested by arenas (and, I should add, ticketing companies) should be redistributed to keep places like the Mermaid and Cardiff's very own Moon afloat.

I've previously written in praise of Lisa Meyer of Capsule/Supersonic for setting up the project Home Of Metal, which seeks to recognise and celebrate the connection between metal and Birmingham/the Black Country. Drawing attention to the region's musical heritage and the Mermaid's integral part in the story of Napalm Death, as well as the grindcore/punk scene as a whole, through a four-part podcast and a publication fits the project's remit perfectly.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Forget no wave and new wave - this is neigh wave

I've heard of the concept of "nose to tail" in gastronomic terms - but avant-garde composer Matthew Herbert has brought it into the sphere of music with his new album The Horse. As he explained to Daniel Dylan Wray in the Guardian, the instrumentation on the record includes "thigh-bone flutes, bows crafted from ribs and horse hair, a gut string stretched over the pelvis" and - perhaps most remarkably - shakers made out of solidified semen balls. Talk about flogging a dead horse...

The article also covers other like-minded experimental artists who've found sources of sound in unusual places. I knew about Einsturzende Neubauten's drills and cement mixer and Matmos using recordings of liposuction and noses being broken for A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, but Wray also mentions Scott Walker's meat percussion, the work of Katie Gately and Daniel Blumberg's new album Gut.

Is it all just gimmicky novelty, though? Herbert suggests that novelty is indeed a factor, but in a positive sense: "You end up with little sonic surprises and it's far more invigorating and exciting from a compositional point of view to be playing those kinds of noises rather than instruments that have existed for millennia ... Music making is so full of laptops, plugins, screens, black plastics and very shiny perfect surfaces. It's nice to turn all that off and pick up the leg of a horse and pass air through it." Fair enough - it certainly makes for an interesting experience for the listener too.

Friday, July 07, 2023

"I knew at the time how lucky I was"

Few good things ever happen in Milton Keynes. It will be forever associated in my mind with painful waits for coach transfers, crimes against football and a thoroughly miserable afternoon traipsing around IKEA.

But for three nights in 1983, the city - typically a cultural wasteland - played host to David Bowie's Serious Moonlight tour. To mark the fortieth anniversary of those shows, the BBC's Vanessa Pearce - herself an attendee - spoke to some of those who were there.

One interviewee is Denis O'Regan, who - as Bowie's official photographer - was fortunate to see him perform in numerous other cities all around the world, and have backstage access. When I talked to him five years ago for this Buzz feature, he spoke fondly of the time he spent on the road with Bowie - and in conversation with Pearce he says more about what it was like to be in the daily company of a global superstar who he came to consider a friend.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Two sides to every story?

As a hard-copy fetishist who still clings to a deeply unfashionable belief in playing albums in their entirety, in the order intended by the artist, I was slightly embarrassed to realise only recently that two of the albums I've been blasting in the car - Fuzz's III and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs' Land Of Sleeper - have obviously been specifically designed for the double-sided vinyl format.

Suddenly, the structure and track sequencing made perfect sense. Both have eight songs that split neatly into two halves, with each side kicking off with a rager ('Returning' and 'Mirror' on III, 'Ultimate Hammer' and 'Mr Medicine' on Land Of Sleeper) and ending with a sprawling monster ('Time Collapse' and 'End Returning' on III, 'The Weatherman' and 'Ball Lightning' on Land Of Sleeper).

In my defence, my format of choice is CD rather than vinyl - but even still, this does make me wonder how many other modern albums have been deliberately sequenced with a Side A and a Side B in mind, and how many times this has totally passed me by. Has the vinyl revival had a significant impact on the way tracklistings are put together?

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Brave new world

Bdrmm's debut album, released in the midst of the pandemic turmoil of 2020, won them plenty of admirers - but follow-up I Don't Know feels like a significant step forward, away from the shoegaze blueprint and into more ambitious and varied territory. Buzz review here.

The band's Jordan Smith and Joe Vickers told Rhys Buchanan of NME that it's all about having the confidence to push in different directions, while also talking about feeling like "outliers" and having the ear and patronage of luminaries such as Ride and their new label bosses Mogwai.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

"Crumbling and unwelcoming"

Luton Town are improbably back in the top flight for the first time since before the Premier League era, and inevitably much of the talk has been of their home ground. With its small capacity and away end entrance between houses, Kenilworth Road is a real blast from the past for fans used to soulless, identikit out-of-town stadiums.

While work is frantically underway to ready the ground for the new season, it will still be one of the very few stadiums recognisable and largely unchanged since the late 1980s (albeit without the plastic pitch), which was when Giles Goford and his dad Jeremy set out to visit every one of the 92 league grounds. The images that Goford Senior took to chronicle their adventures are a reminder of how far football has come in the last 30 years, for better or worse.