Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The deep blue C

Over on The Art Of Noise, the crack panel of contributors to the A-Z Of Music feature have boinged up and down on the springboard of inspiration before taking the plunge into C. My sincere apologies to Codeine, who would had themselves a champion had I not decided to be a bit cheeky and write about All Tomorrow's Parties.

The piece also features a reference to Icelanders and one-time Fierce Panda hopefuls Bellatrix - a first for the site, and in all likelihood the last.
Quote of the day

From a spam email I encountered today:

"He is available for interview at your earliest connivance".

The wonders of Spellchecker! I don't think he'll get the job, do you? Unless there's some nepotistic subterfuge going on.

Monday, November 28, 2005



The Bizarre Medical World Of Dave Weston, a friend of Del whose newly-established blog chronicles his battle with the debilitating effects of liver disease.

Rullsenberg Rules, a Nottingham blogger who has only just appeared on the SWSL radar.


Robin reflects on George Best's death and the nature of talent and self-destruction - "I’m not going to judge him. I’ll just marvel at Best’s prodigious ability to reduce the vertical to the horizontal; opposing defenders, beautiful women and ultimately himself".

(Robin's piece is by far the best thing I've read on the subject - and there's been an awful lot written - but do also take a look at the responses to Best's passing on By The Sea Shore and Cheer Up Alan Shearer, where debate ignited in the comments box.)


Del underlines the appeal of hunting for vinyl gems in charity shops - "[F]ew things give me more pleasure than filing through a load of battered old vinyl in some forgotten corner of the PDSA shop. Why? Two words, my faithful companion: hunter / gatherer. In this modern world of mobile phones, Nathan Barley and Chocolate Coke, there aren't many opportunities to don a loincloth, clutch a spear in hand and kill some defenseless animal (I tried it once in Luton and was slapped with an ASBO for my trouble. I even had to hand back the scalps. Well..ok... the fake Burberry caps and hoodies. More on that later)".

Mish demands a man for walkies - "If YOU have walking skills and want this EXCITING opportunity of working and adoring in and around the Nottingham area then please contact Miss Mish stating your age and skills. Photo and agent details a must".

Kenny shakes his fist at pesky kids spoiling his enjoyment of 'Flightplan' - "there were not just the inevitable mobile phone calls, but a gang of hoodies marching in halfway through to find their girlfriends; a charming young lady who had what can only be described as a 'Cheryl Tweedy moment' when asked by another girl to keep quiet and a fat lass who tripped over and fell face first into a huge tub of popcorn".

And finally...

Phill introduces his readers to the concept of the Geordiegraph - "The Geordiegraph is a regional variation on the classic polygraph lie detector machine. Featuring the dulcet tones of Jimmy Nail, the Geordiegraph will tell you if the person you are talking to is telling the truth or lying like a dirty faced scoundrel".
Christmas time, mistletoe and whitebait

Hear ye, hear ye! 'Tis the season to be jolly - so if you're in the vicinity of Birmingham be sure to head along to what might well be the final ever A Different Kettle Of Fish night at the Flapper & Firkin on Tuesday 6th December.

The big draw for me are (Hooker), Manchester's answer to Sleater-Kinney, who were forced to pull out of the October date at short notice. The fact that they've played with Katastrophe Wife, Le Tigre, The Donnas and The Gossip should give you a clue as to what they're all about.

Heading the bill are Trash Fashion, who have been described as "serious Fucking Champs type heavy metal guitar action, and some killer Soft Cell basslines" - an intriguing prospect, I think you'll agree.

Also playing are The Pubic Fringe, a Birthday Party influenced punk outfit whose line-up comprises Larry Clitter, Dusty Enclaves, Nazi Sinatra, Anal Ravine and 'Tiny' Gene Pool, and who have been labelled "without doubt one of the strangest bands in Stourbridge" by the Stourbridge News.

Doors are at 7.45pm and it's £3 in.

And if you needed any more persuading, I have it on very good authority that there will also be mince pies. To be honest, I prefer mince and onion, but then you can't have everything.
A tale of two punches

In last night's episode of 'Coronation Street', two punches were thrown in anger - with remarkably different outcomes.

Fiz, fired up into a jealous rage over Molly Compton's stealthy seduction of Kirk, played right into the hands of the baker's daughter by smacking her in the phiz in front of a packed Rovers.

Meanwhile, Nathan (who, like Craig Charles's Lloyd, has been deftly brought into the centre stage from the wings) was sufficiently riled by Ashley's verbal lambasting of his girlfriend Tracey to plant a similar right hook in the face of the butcher's son.

Someone didn't do a very good job with the dubbed-on sound effects, though. Nathan's haymaker seemed to make a dull impact yet supposedly detached Ashley's retina, whereas Fiz's punch was accompanied by a sharp crack yet Molly was left with little more than a bleeding nose and a self-satisfied smirk.

Yes, I know what you're thinking. I should get out more. But at least I wasn't watching 'I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here', that's all I can say.
Quote of the day

"To write one's memoirs is to speak ill of everybody except oneself".

Henri Philippe Petain quoted in the Observer in May 1946.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Three is the magic number


"Why aren't you all at Arab Strap?", comes the question from the stage. I'll admit to wavering in deciding to be here rather than next door in the Bar Academy, and, surveying the exceedingly sparse Monday night crowd - perhaps 30 at the most at present - it's evident that plenty of people have succumbed to the temptation of hearing "a drunken Scotsman shouting about his sexual indiscretions". It turns out to have been their loss.

The questioning voice belongs to Josh Pearson. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can with Pearson. Take a look at his appearance: wild unkempt hair beneath a stetson, enormous beard, massive metal belt buckle modelled on a ram's skull, cowboy boots. If you sawed him in half, it would read "Texan" right the way through like a stick of rock. It comes as no surprise whatsoever to learn that not only is he the son of a preacher man, but he's also spent time working as a ranch-hand.

Pearson used to front Lift To Experience, whose LP The Texas-Jeruslam Crossroads - an extraordinary amalgam of thunderous post-rock and Nick Cave's Old Testament fire-and-brimstone rhetoric - he described as "a concept album about the end of the world where Texas is the Promised Land". His solo material follows along similar lines - tales of sin, redemption and too much whiskey sung in a voice like Mark Lanegan's, deep but somehow angelic too. The final song concludes with the repeated lyric "The devil is on the run / Let's have some fun", and he demonstrates a suitably wicked sense of humour throughout, singing to a former sweetheart "It's the thought of killing you that keeps me alive" in one song and interrupting another to talk about eating Mormons.

My one complaint would be that, as with J Mascis's solo performance at the Social in Nottingham three years back, the sheer volume of the distorted passages of guitar-playing mean that some of the subtleties and intricacies of Pearson's songs are lost. Great to see him onstage, though - some compensation for missing out on witnessing Lift To Experience live.

When Dirty Three emerge, it's evident that some of Pearson's cowboy chic has rubbed off on Warren Ellis, who is currently sporting a sizeable beard. With his long straggly hair, smart shirt and trousers, and slick white slip-ons, he looks like the sort of chap who lives in the woods and is accustomed to surviving on scraps of food pillaged from bins, but has been plucked from his predicament and pimped up on some TV makeover show.

He greets the audience - by now swelled to a still-disappointing 100 at most - and explains his enthusiastic grin with reference to the fact that he has two ancestors that came from Birmingham and that this is the very first time he has visited the city (he's been as close as Wolverhampton before, though - as recently as this time last year, when I saw him playing with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds). One of these ancestors left Birmingham of choice, whereas the other "was asked to leave", having stolen a pair of shoes and a couple of silver spoons. Well, Ellis is Australian, after all - it all adds up. There follow a few moments of indecision when the band ponder what to start with, and then they launch into a raucous tuning-up session that gradually coalesces into a recognisable song, introduced as 'Sea Above, Sky Below'.

I've never heard Dirty Three before, let alone seen them in the flesh, but they really are something quite special. Call them post-rock if you must (an inevitability, really, given their vocalless songs), but they draw upon folk, jazz and avant garde traditions, live up to their name by leaving you feeling as though you've got dirt under your fingernails and are perhaps first and foremost a punk band - at how many Godspeed! You Black Emperor gigs would you expect to see a fistfight break out immediately behind you, as does tonight?

That said, unassuming guitarist Mick Turner never once threatens to become animated, while drummer Jim White - whose percussive invention behind the kit, even down to carefully and repeatedly dropping a drumstick to send it skittering across the snare, is amazing to behold - is a picture of concentration, only rarely breaking into a smile.

Nearly all of the energy comes from Ellis, who, though stood in the main with his back to the audience, is a magnetic presence. His frequently furious style owes much to The Velvet Underground and particularly 'The Black Angel's Death Song', and he attacks his violin with such gusto that several bowstrings snap each song while flailing his right leg out as if possessed. At some points he plucks the violin like a guitar, and at others shouts into the strings.

The set features plenty of material from new LP Cinder, their seventh in 14 years: 'Amy', 'Sad Jexy', and their interpretation of Hungarian fiddler Felix Lajko's 'Zither Player'. Josh Pearson joins them for the latter two, contributing bass and mandolin respectively while smoking a cigarette which comes perilously close to setting fire to his beard. Older tracks like 'Hope' and 'Sue's Last Ride' are also dusted down and greeted with cheers.

What is surprising and incongruous (though pleasantly so), given the melancholy and anger inherent in the music, is that Ellis is so affable if not hilarious between songs. He takes pot-shots at everyone from Iron Maiden to Sting, Phil Collins and Mark Knopfler (who he says he'd thought was Swedish), informs us that "Nine point five out of ten girls prefer combing their hair to Dirty Three than to Robbie Williams" and introduces one song as a Gothic number about when "you open the cupboard and you've got loads of eyeliner but no eyes".

The piece de resistance comes when he explains the solitary song which comprises the encore: "This is a song about listening to Donovan - early records - and taking too much speed ... and taking all the putty out of the windows looking for bugs ... and not being helped by your girlfriend who's screaming that they're coming down the chimney as well"...

If Ellis ever comes to jack in the punk-folk malarkey, then a career in stand-up comedy awaits.
Auton-matic for the people


It takes place on the third floor of Portsmouth City Library. The audience is seated in banked rows. There's an interval. There are platefuls of assorted sweets, and it's a bring-your-own-booze event. This, it is fairly safe to say, is not your average gig.

Held as part of Portsmouth's inaugural film festival, the evening features a bill of music and short films from a whole host of local artists - something of a celebration of the city's arts and music scene.

First up are singer / songwriters Chris Perrin (formerly of Thirst, now fronting Zuma) and Josie Watts, who perform one and two of their own compositions respectively. Both are evidently talented musicians, but the spark just isn't quite there. Watts in particular has a stunning voice, but disappointingly mangles and contorts it into a shape which resembles any number of contemporary coffee-table songstresses - a shame.

There follows Top Of The Pomps, a selection of videos shot by Portsmouth-based bands and artists over the past couple of decades. Cranes, beloved of The Cure, and The Beta Band feature, as do surf-skiffle legends Emptifish, shown larking around on the beach. The undoubted show-stealer, though, is the remarkable short film the American art rock band The Residents made for local avant-garde act Renaldo And The Loaf's 'Songs For Swinging Larvae'. Recently screened at the Royal Festival Hall to an amazed audience, it features sinister childsnatchers, sailor outfits and copious quantities of mysterious red liquid. Your guess is as good as mine, but it's certainly one to polarise opinion.

With that, it's time for the interval, and the assembled throng make their way out of the auditorium to sample some of the mysterious - and very alcoholic - red and orange and yellow liquids prepared by DJ Spangly.

The second half of the evening's entertainment kicks off with a special surprise guest appearance from Maria Szyrtisz & The Pyramids Of Mars. Well, when you're a one-man-band and called John, you could do with an arresting stage name. A veteran of the Portsmouth arts scene who once went under the moniker E-Coli, John not only plays but also makes all of his own instruments and equipment (electronic keyboard aside). The one song he plays tonight - featuring keys, tambourine, drums, chimes (played by jerking his right knee), glockenspiel and vocals - sounds like 'War Of The Worlds' as reinterpreted by Chas & Dave. Visuals man Jez - like me witnessing the live Maria Szyrtisz & The Pyramids Of Mars experience for the first time - vows there and then to shoot him a video.

Headline band Autons include amongst their number Tony Rollinson, curator of the event and author of the seminal biography of the Pomepy music scene, 'Twenty Missed Beats'. His co-conspirators also have form - lead singer / guitarist Dave Jones featured in both Screeper and Reinhardt, and guitarist Leon Tricker is better known as electro-art terrorist Qhixldekx.

'Different Eyes' is their impressive opening gambit, Jones's vulnerable yet insistent falsetto a marvel, but neither 'Lamplight' nor new song 'Watery Grave' quite live up to that level. It's with the slower, more reflective 'Maybe' that everything gradually comes together, and a second new song, 'Conspiracy Theory', with its thundering crescendo, maintains the momentum.

It's the last three songs that best illustrate their chameleon nature, however. First Brian Poole aka Renaldo And The Loaf dons a pair of goggles and joins them for a spectacularly stoned take on The Kinks' hippyish 'See My Friend'; then 'Class Traitor', a reworked Screeper club stomper, raises the beats-per-minute count dramatically; and finally the distortion-laden 'Snakes', a paranoid and confrontational gnashing of teeth, brings things to an abrupt conclusion, Tricker's snapped guitar string ruling out the possibility of an encore. Few bands can shapeshift so adroitly, even if it does make for something of a disconcerting experience for the onlooker.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Kung fu fighting


The gigs are coming thick and fast for fledgling Birmingham band StrangeTime - they played at the Bar Academy barely two weeks ago, and they’ve got another lined up for 15th December – and it’s having a noticeable effect on the performances, this being the slickest and sharpest yet, despite a shake-up to the set and the debuting of a new song, ‘Interference’. No difficulties locating drumsticks this time, and ‘Ex Boyfriend’, performed with gusto, makes for an arresting opening, while ‘Dressing Up’ and ‘Mundane’ (played last) steal the show as usual. Guitarist / vocalist Kate Finch and bassist Tara Hartel might remain static for the most part, but this could easily pass for icy cool as much as for nerves.

Cardiff’s The International Karate Plus, I am reliably informed, are named after a cult classic computer game. I’m imagining it must be quite violent, judging by the evident relish that the threesome set about boxing in our ears. The initial brutality recalls the sadly defunct Mclusky, but as the set gradually calms down (or is it just a matter of acclimatisation?) it’s the unjustly ignored Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi who are brought to mind.* They also look the part – energetic guitarist, tall rangy bassist brandishing his instrument like a weapon, sunglasses-wearing drummer knocking over his mike stand in the heat of the moment but taking the chaos in his stride – and there’s no better lyric than “Everything I like about you, I like about someone else” delivered tonight.

The nominal headliners labour under the moniker I Am Zeitgeist in several ways. Firstly, and most obviously, because it's pretty terrible. Secondly, because there's nothing particularly zeitgeisty or cutting-edge about them. Of course, even if there was, then that'd only be the case for six months to a year, but we could have hoped for something better than competent but rather stale American rock filtered through British (and particularly Manc) indie. It's a shame, because of the three bands they're evidently the most at ease - or perhaps simply the most under the influence of chemical relaxants / stimulants, especially bassist JJ whose grin is just visible beneath his enormous afro.

* Update Since putting this review up online yesterday, I've been in touch with Rich of The International Karate Plus, who informs me that two thirds of the band were once in Mo-Ho-Bish-O-Pi! Meanwhile, Simon of Sweeping The Nation has made the same point in the comments box. Before seeing them live I knew precisely nothing about them, so I guess that suggests my perceptive faculties are sharper than I thought...


Pete’s review of the gig, which was the last of the fourteen in his Going Deaf For A Fortnight endurance test

MySpace pages for The International Karate Plus and I Am Zeitgeist

Purevolume page for StrangeTime
Dumb and dumber

"Mercury ... is in a corner perfectly aligned with my star. Mercury is no good, so if it's not good, I am going to request not to speak. I'll just wait until next year to talk".

So quoth Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sunday, explaining to journalists why he wouldn't answer their questions. I keep on coming back to this, but I can well imagine what Francis Wheen might make of this.

Dubya obviously felt sufficiently threatened in the Village Idiot Of The World Stage stakes, because while on a visit to China he managed to try exiting a press conference through a locked door. Not only that, but he pulled a face that took the whole episode into the realm of high farce. It's OK, George - I think your status is safe.
B is for...

This week's installment of the A - Z Of Music feature is now up online on The Art Of Noise. It's B, but somehow we've all tiptoed around The Beatles and The Beach Boys, which I think makes it all the more interesting. I even resisted the temptation to expound the considerable virtues of Bananarama - not easy, I assure you.
Quote of the day

"Beauty [is that] at which a novelist should never aim, though he fails if he does not achieve it."

E M Forster, writing in 'Aspects Of The Novel'.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Best. Comment. Ever

It's in the comments box to the Sigur Ros review below, but I thought it was worth reproducing in full here:

"You are wise not to mention Sigur Ros's use of performing animals in their act.

Persons of a sensitive disposition, some with handbags, have found their exploitation of manatees to be strangely disturbing.

This is not to suggest that advanced vertebrates are necessarily and in every case discriminated against when placed on the high wire.

It is simply that aquatic organisms do sometimes encounter breathing difficulties at that altitude.

Stick insects would be a happier choice.

Thank you Alcuin, not least because the revelation of the Icelanders' clandestine (ab)use of manatees helps to explain some of the noises they manage to create on stage and on record.

A whole host of gig reviews to come over the next couple of days - a dearth of performing animals to report, unfortunately...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Thinly veiled brilliance


Tonight's support act are four unassuming Icelandic sylphs who waft in from the wings to tinker with an assortment of instruments (violins, acoustic guitars, synths, glockenspiels, brightly-coloured plinkety-plonkety children's toys), in the process conjuring up remarkably arresting instrumental folk-and-classical-influenced avant garde music in the vein of less apocalyptic and more pastoral A Silver Mt Zion upon a stage which initially appears much too large for them but which they gradually come to fill.

A band in their own right, Amina are also Sigur Ros's string section. Being let out to play and having full roam of the stage is obviously the source of some pleasure to them, but after a relatively short set concluding with a short, sharp curiously up-tempo electro tune it's back to the day job.

The best part of half an hour passes - hot and sticky amidst the capacity crowd, ambient noise recurrently fading in and out of the speakers in lieu of a DJ's soundtrack - during which time a thin white curtain is pulled across the front of the stage. Then the background music stops, the lights go up, the headliners emerge, and we're off. The curtain, however, remains resolutely in place. No, not some comical 'Spinal Tap' esque instance of mechanical failure, but a deliberate ploy.

Sigur Ros, you see, could be described as pretentious - prog rock alive and well in 2005, though mercifully without capes, lyrics about wizards or the merest hint of Rick Wakeman's presence. Indeed, their innate ridiculousness has preoccupied me before. So how to explain, justify or defend this tactic?

In dramatic terms it creates a literal "fourth wall" between them and their audience that can be ceremoniously removed at a later point.

It perhaps signifies a recognition on the band's part that they're a fairly faceless bunch of musicians, and that it's the music itself that people are here for.

It symbolically shields the audience from the immensity and power of the first song of the set, 'Glosoli', the first track proper on new LP Takk and one which sounds like nothing so much as glacial frottage.

But perhaps most obviously it allows the band to appear as silhouettes, their form and position constantly shifting as the lights behind onstage change, at the same time as providing a "canvas" onto which additional images can be projected.

As 'Glosoli' dies away, however, the curtain draws back and we're suddenly in more intimate contact with them. That's how it stays for the remainder of the set, which is a near-seamless featherbed of stately, gently undulating, occasionally pompous post-rock illuminated by Jonsi's extraordinarily piercing vocals and his penchant for playing his guitar with a violin bow. At an hour and a half long, it's enough for most of the crowd (myself included) to get completely wrapped up in, but perhaps lacking the spark of sheer excitement that might ignite fervent belief in the atheistic onlooker.

That is, until the encore. As the band walk out onto the stage, the curtain edges across once more and they launch into 'Untitled #8', the final track from 2002's ( ). Eight minutes it takes to build to its explosive climax, all restraint now abandoned in spectacular fashion as the drummer, freed from the straitjacket of the main set, attacks his kit with violent relish and a strobed flurry of projected images strikes the curtain. It's a fireworks display a week and a half too late. It's the sort of all-out sensual assault that would put Mogwai and Spiritualized in the shade. And it's an awesome conclusion to a very fine gig.

Guilty of taking themselves too seriously? Yes. Pretentious? Probably. Mindblowing? Too damn right.


My review of Sigur Ros's Takk on the Vanity Project website.

Mike is nearly bored to tears by Bob Dylan - "I had primed myself for two possibilities. Based on what I had been told about his past form, either Dylan was going to be electrifying, incandescent, converting me in an instant... or else he was going to be an embarrassing sloppy mess. And I was ready for both. Hey, at least embarrassing and sloppy could be interesting, right? Heroic failures often can be. I've seen enough past-it wrecks in my time to know that. But what I wasn't prepared for was polite, efficient, bloodless blandness. Bar-room boogie. Pub rock. The sort of stuff that might have been all right down the Hope & Anchor in 1975. Think Eric Clapton. Think Dire Straits. Well, quite".


Inspector Sands offers us a list of sixteen places in London which don't exist.

By The Sea Shore recalls the time he flounced out of a seminar on the late John Fowles's 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' - "Mr C (I can't remember his name) argued I was wrong and that Fowles was talking about his cock. I countered by suggesting that a man fascinated by his cock would do better by having a wank than wasting his time writing a novel, and surely (and, years later, I still firmly believe this) THE IDEA OF AN IMMUTABLE OBJECT REPRESENTING A PERSON'S STATE OF MIND IS A HIGHLY EFFECTIVE LITERAL DEVICE".

Mish discovers NOT wearing heels has been the cause of her recent leg pains - "I stepped into a pair of high suede boots with a three-inch heel. And almost immediately the pain stopped. I could skip around the house, I could dance and frolic with gay abandon once more! It was truly a miraculous healing and I Beheld The Power Of The Boots with awe".

Robin goes for a less than satisfactory meal - "It's a very English thing, not complaining. I'm sure if I had been on the Titanic and a steward from the White Star Line had rowed alongside our lifeboat and asked 'How’s everything for you, then?' I would have replied 'Fine, thanks' and left it at that. Mel would have undoubtedly muttered something about sending a stiff letter to someone, a letter that would have hit a snag somewhere in the planning stages and never darkened a letter box, let alone anyone's desk".

Betty contemplates English holiday resorts - "South east England has a number of seaside towns where the percentage of the population with glass eyes is 430 times above the national average, and the rest of the population looks like the guests on 'The Jeremy Kyle Show'. Many of the town names end in git: Margit, Westgit, Sandgit".

And finally...

JonnyB has yet more skirmishes with East Anglian wildlife, this time mice - "Acting on advice, I buy two 'humane' mousetraps. They are cunning devices - once the animals get in they cannot get out again, like a rodentine direct debit arrangement with a large mail-order book club. I bait them with a generous chunk of nice malty bread, which should lure them in unless I have found one with gluten intolerance. I then climb stealthily up into the loft, like a Norfolk Steve Irwin".
Dis-covered on the flipside

As part of B-sides Week over on Stylus, they've put together a special edition of the UK Singles Jukebox dedicated to B-side cover versions. The piece, which includes contributions by Mike of Troubled Diva and Ian of Fractionals, features The Futureheads, Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Goldfrapp and McFly amongst many others, but the top ratings go to dearly departed Glaswegians The Delgados for their version of ELO's 'Mr Blue Sky'.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A sour note

BBC2's documentary series 'Girls And Boys - Sex And British Pop' ended on Sunday with the final installment, devoted to the 90s, a disappointment to me for a number of reasons.

The main one, perhaps inevitably given my prejudices, was the mostly uncritical reflections on the Britpop period. Justine Frischmann, whose band's self-titled first album I really quite liked (especially 'Stutter'), unwittingly summed the phenomenon up by saying it was inspired by a hatred of American bands and a desire to hark back to the English pop tradition. That's precisely why I disliked Britpop at the time - the narrow-mindedness, the shallow jingoism, the insistence on seeing everything through Union-Jack-tinted glasses. Johnny Marr was one of the lone dissenting voices, commenting (I think very astutely) that he saw it as the final flowering of Thatcher's Britain rather than something inextricably associated with the emergence of New Labour.

And, of course, if Britpop was all about "keeping it real" and asserting one's own identity, then why did the frontman of the archetypal Britpop band, Blur, continually persist in affecting Cockneyisms and indulging in - as one talking head put it - "class tourism", most obviously exemplified in the trips to the dogs and the new-found discovery of football? It was forced. And the programme also completely ignored Graham Coxon's passion for American alternative rock, no doubt because it failed to fit the narrative - a narrative which, incredibly, found some intellectual and artistic merit in 'Country House' and its pathetic video.

I was equally nettled by the dismissive statement that grunge was the preserve of the unreconstructed, macho and overtly heterosexual man - a point illustrated with footage of Pearl Jam performing 'Alive' - whereas the sexuality of British rock and pop, by contrast, was more androgynous and confused. So Nicky Wire wore a dress and Brett Anderson made ludicrous statements like "I'm a bisexual man who has never had a homosexual experience" (for a more positive appraisal of Anderson's contribution to 90s music and culture, see here). But that conveniently ignores the fact that there was another side to grunge - Kurt Cobain wearing a dress, the affiliation and affection he felt with the K Records / Olympia scene and Scottish indie bands like The Vaselines and The Pastels.

Lastly, it would have been good to have had less attention devoted to the Spice Girls - massive though shallow cultural impact that they had - and at least some to the early 90s riot grrrl movement which, if not as significant here as it was in the US (with bands like Bikini Kill and Babes In Toyland), nevertheless mattered at least insomuch as it helped launch the careers of artists like Polly Harvey.

Still, having said all that, it was ultimately an enjoyable and engaging series - a pat on the back for the BBC.
A is for...

Might I be so presumptuous as to suggest that you may be interested in a new weekly collaborative feature that is exclusive to The Art Of Noise? Called The A-Z Of Music, it does exactly what it says on the tin. Go see by clicking here.
Is it just me...

...or is the pre-programmed tannoy announcement "I'm very sorry for the delay this will cause to your journey", as heard so often at New St Station, the most meaningless waste of words ever? Who exactly is "I"?
Feel good hits of the 15th November

1. 'Milano' - Sigur Ros
2. 'Ode To LA' - The Raveonettes
3. 'Number 1' - Goldfrapp
4. 'Push The Button' - Sugababes
5. 'Welcome To The Jungle' - Guns 'N' Roses
6. 'No Fun' - The Stooges
7. 'White Riot' - The Clash
8. 'Dressing Up' - StrangeTime
9. 'Like A Rolling Stone' - Bob Dylan
10. 'American English' - Idlewild

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Where once was certainty, let there be doubt"

As always seems to be the case, it takes a few half-hearted or botched attempts to catch the intriguing fare on offer at the Rep for me to finally forge ahead and book tickets before the moment passes. Even then, we nearly missed out on Wednesday, only grabbing tickets on Tuesday and discovering later that evening that friends had found themselves out of luck.

The big draw was Bertolt Brecht's 'The Life Of Galileo', translated by David Hare. Well into its two week run it was still selling out.

The play dramatises the centuries-old dialogue or conflict between religion and science by focussing upon a particularly critical phase in the battle, and upon one individual's role in it. Galileo was instrumental in ensuring the triumph of reason over superstition, but such victories must be fought and won in every generation - as Francis Wheen's 'How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered The World' and the current debate in the US about the teaching of creationism in parallel with evolution attest.

Though Galileo's ultimate victory is endorsed within the structure of the play, he is by no means consistently venerated. Early on he is shown to be something of a hack, being told of the concept of a rudimentary telescope and then passing the idea off as his own for material gain, and later his recantation of his view that the Earth revolves around the sun, under pressure from the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic Church, has a devastatingly disillusioning effect on his young disciples.

The play is about more than simply the religion vs science debate, though. It also draws attention to the fact that Galileo's arguments about the solar system had much wider implications - from necessitating an acceptance that human existence is contingent and that we are not at the centre of the universe metaphorically as well as geographically speaking, to the political dimension which suggested that the discovery would liberate the lower classes from the bondage in which they were kept by the Church, subservient to their masters about whom they revolved like the planets supposedly had the Earth. In the early part of the play, too, Galileo's "discovery" of the telescope and the rantings of the University of Padua's Bursar on the need to produce marketable research strikes a particularly resonant chord today, especially for those of us whose research is never likely to reap what is sown in financial terms.

So much for the play - what about the performance? Well, outgoing artistic director Jonathan Church's production isn't that spectacular (neither is Ruari Murchison's set, for that matter), hampered in particular by the inability of the lead actor, the well-established and well-respected thesp Timothy West, to remember his lines - a fact noted by another blogger to witness the production, earlier in its run. Admittedly he carries nearly the whole weight of the play on his shoulders, and at times his mumblings convey a vexed, scatty and bumbling scientist rather well, but they occur far too often for it to be intentional and often it's simply seat-squirmingly awkward to watch. In the second half there was a marked improvement, but for one of my theatre-going accomplices West's performance came perilously close to blighting the whole night.

Monday, November 07, 2005



I Look Ill (via Casino Avenue)

Welcome back...

Agnes, back after a short hiatus

Michelle, back after giving birth (Black Dove has consequently mutated into "Black Dove: The Pushchair Years" - a companion blog to Speaking As A Parent, perhaps?)

Mish, back after an operation and a period of recovery in the wilds of Scotland - "As you may have guessed, I don’t look out upon a vista of green sward with a sigh of bucolic happiness. I stumble and slide around with little shrieks of fear upon un-tarmaced paths and wonder What I’m Treading In. I expect in-breds with shot guns and interesting dentistry to be around every corner and I lie quaking in my bed, with the covers over my head, dreading the darkness, hating the silence and expecting the wolf-red devil eyes to press up against the windows every time I open the curtains".


Pete embarks upon his Going Deaf For A Fortnight project - fourteen gigs in fourteen days - and, in the write-up for last night's Jug of Ale gig, he manages to be even more scathing about local bands than me - "I found myself realising why no-one goes to gigs unless they know the band - you're suddenly find yourself at the whim of people who can play guitar but have no idea what a guitar is really for".

Reluctant Nomad recalls the time he was stopped at customs in possession of a banned book, 'The Exorcist'.

Jonathan begins a new series presenting us with the "sleeve notes" he wrote to accompany a mixtape he made for a friend, "30 Songs - An Indiepop Odyssey". (The series will also be appearing on The Art Of Noise, Jonathan being the newest contributor.)

Swiss Toni goes to see / endure KT Tunstall - "a tiny, Scottish Rowley Birkin" - and somehow resists the temptation to top himself.

Backroads relates an everyday tale of illegal mink immigration - just as well we've got someone prepared to write about this kind of thing given JonnyB's (very quiet) announcement that he'll be leaving the Village temporarily.

JonnyB's Vegetable Delivery Lady gets her own blog and wastes no time in revealing her true feelings for him - "It is important to avoid a scene. Much as I loathe delivering vegetables to this pervert and would love to tell him what I really think of him on my last day, I just want to get out of here alive and not end up locked behind a bookcase or something".

Betty speculates as to what happened to the Famous Five - "I prefer not to detail what happened to the shadowy figures of Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin. Suffice to say that their allegiances during World War Two were rather suspect, and there was a long trial a few years back at great expense to the taxpayer".

Paul contemplates whether his new camera phone has made him a coprophile.

And finally...

Blogwatch not enough for you? Then get over to Troubled Diva, where Mike's started up an interactive Post Of The Week feature. Bigger, bolder and better than anything you'll find here, that's for sure. Good to see SWSL favourites Musings From Middle England, JonnyB's Private Secret Diary and Little Red Boat nominated. The verdict is here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Things I Have Learned From / Noticed In A Two Day Old Copy Of The Independent

Because this site is nothing if not up-to-the-minute and topical.

1. The front page is emblazoned with the headline "Cracktown, UK" above a picture of a big pile of crack cocaine. "Cracktown"? That sounds like where Big Ears would take Noddy for his stag do. Actually, it's Ilkeston in Derbyshire, a fact that takes on particular significance for me as it's the place that a couple of friends call home. "The majority of clients we see are using crack as a treat on payday", says drugs counsellor Karen Hancock. Though the article might initially seem like Daily Mail type scaremongering, it's not written in the sort of judgemental and hysterical tone you'd expect from Dacre and co.

2. There's evident relish in the reporting of Sun editor Rebekah Wade's arrest for assault (the Sun, meanwhile, managed to keep almost completely quiet on the subject - perhaps they'd been taking tips from MUTV?). The fact that Steve McFadden's ex was also arrested for an attack on him seems rather suspicious - offer her some money to deflect attention away from yourself, did you Rebekah? Or did the BBC offer the pair of you money to get the Mitchell brothers back in the news following their shameless rating-chasing return to 'EastEnders'? Thing is, they don't exactly come out of it with their hard man images intact, do they?

3. Apparently the Pope has changed his tailor and it's caused quite a furore. Fascinating I'm sure, but do that and the aforementioned story about Ms Wade really merit being placed ahead of the piece about Labour's skin-of-their-teeth Commons victory over the proposed anti-terror legislation? I think not.

4. Respect MP George Galloway missed the ballot (which Labour won by one vote) "because he was in Ireland for a performance of his one-man show" entitled "An Audience With George Galloway MP". Far be it from me to suggest that the man's a self-serving egotist. In any case, I imagine "An Audience With Lily Savage" would have been much more entertaining.

5. The MTV Europe Awards were presented by Borat Sagdiyev, "the spoof television presenter played by the risque comedian Sacha Baron Cohen". Risque? Comedian? What year do the Independent think it is? They'll be bigging up Avid Merrion next.

6. If, like me, you live in Birmingham, you can sleep soundly now - Babu the red panda has been found and taken back his home at Birmingham Nature Centre. Looking more like an overgrown tree-dwelling stoat than a panda, Babu was spotted in Holders Lane Woods. No idea where that is exactly, but I'm guessing from the caption beneath the accompanying picture - "Babu the red panda spent four days living alone in the wilds of Birmingham" - that it must be somewhere near Lozells. After four days he was no doubt ecstatic to be returned to captivity.

7. A nauseatingly fawning article about Damon Albarn. "The man who blurs boundaries"? Hmm. Am I the only person who really dislikes Gorillaz?

Yet to read (yes, yes, I know - two days after the event): an interview with New Yorkers The National (much talked up in certain quarters) and a special pull-out feature by Jonathon Porritt entitled "How Capitalism Can Save The World".

OK then, I know what you're thinking: "I should have just stuck with Musings From Middle England for this kind of thing..."
Tainted love

Because Betty has suggested that BBC2's 'Girls And Boys - Sex And British Pop' is reviewed here weekly, and I can't let down my public. Even if I did only manage to catch the second half of this week's installment.

That was a bit of a relief, actually - meaning, as it did, that I missed most of the New Romantic prancing and preening (though a sighting of Adam Ant would have been welcome). As in the two previous episodes of the documentary, the subject was the intersection of pop music and culture with issues of sexuality and the wider political world. Covering the 1980s, the programme flitted from band to band - this week, everything from Divine to The Smiths with the likes of Wham!, Eurythmics, Spandau Ballet and Pet Shop Boys in between - at an unnervingly quick pace, but there was still much to enjoy, not least the focus upon the exploration of gay identity and sexuality (or its concealment) within the pop culture of the 1980s, and the impact of AIDS upon that culture.

It was also well worth switching on for the extraordinary footage of Morrissey playing live and being hugged by a succession of overwhelmed and obsessed male fans who had clambered up onto the stage - extraordinary at least in part because the notorious misanthrope appeared to tolerate it.
Take the rough with the smooth


Early in the evening it may be, but the Bar Academy is disappointingly sparsely populated. It's also very dark. So dark, in fact, that late additions to this Catapult Club night bill StrangeTime run into difficulties before they've even begun their set. "John can't find his drumsticks, laughs vocalist / guitarist Kate Finch, before adding, "They're black". Their goth credentials enhanced, they launch belatedly into 'Mundane'. Thereafter the set takes a familiar shape with which the band are evidently increasingly comfortable, the longer slower songs spiked by the unfussy and brutal PJ Harveyesque punk of 'Dressing Up' and 'Ex Boyfriend'. It's when they have that fire in their bellies and in their eyes that they're at their best.

On their website, Augustine claim to have been influenced by The Smashing Pumpkins. They've got a point. Frontman Jody Wyeth has been so influenced by them that he's the spitting image of Billy Corgan. Unfortunately Wyeth shares Corgan's fondness for faux-naive lyrics about being a "little boy", the sort of lines that make you want to grab the Pumpkins man by the collar and tell him to grow up and stop sucking his thumb. Wyeth's voice is perhaps as much an acquired taste as that of Corgan, though mainly because it's a little off-key. Musically, however, Augustine are quite something - an emo-influenced Bends-era Radiohead, with lashings of deliciously scrawling guitar courtesy of John Wallace. The songs don't always match up to the scale of their ambitions, but those ambitions are laudable, particularly given what comes next.

What comes next is Jetlag, and - there's no other way of saying this - they are awful.* Serving up a soporific sub Chili Peppers stodge that starts off badly and hardly improves, they do themselves no favours by including a cover of 'No Woman No Cry' that morphs into a reggae rendition of Green Day's 'When I Come Around' (y'know, from back when Billy Joe Armstrong and co were just green-haired dweebs writing songs about wanking rather than about the political disenfranchisement of youth and US foreign policy). Listening to Jetlag, then - about as pleasurable as suffering from the condition after which they are named.

The Light Era aren't really much better. Much more focussed and slick in what they do, yes, but utterly identity-free and unable to conjure up even the ghost of excitement in yours truly. Airbrushed and Americanised MOR indie songs with titles like 'Gotta Find A Way' and 'She Is Everything' (straight out of the James Blunt School of Profundity) is their thing, and that of many of those assembled. Oh well, I shrug my shoulders and make my way downstairs, bemused by the topsy-turviness of the bill.

* A self-defensive post-script inspired by a recent conversation with Kenny and Andy. Contrary to what you might think, I don't enjoy tearing into local bands, or bands that are just starting out (of course, it's a different matter when it comes to the big hitters - they're fair game to be shot at). In fact, I respect anyone who has the guts to get up on stage and play songs which they have written and to which they are very intimately and emotionally attached, just as I admire anyone with the courage to try their luck as a stand-up comedian in front of an audience demanding to be entertained.

It's just that I'm something of a born critic, and I find it hard to compromise and bite my tongue, honesty all too often getting the better of me. So what remains to be said is that I genuinely mean no personal offence by these sort of reviews - I just call it as I see it. Ultimately it should all appear in parentheses and be prefaced with that old blogger's get-out clause: "in my humble opinion". And, of course, the comments box and email address are there for you to tell me to dismount from my tall steed.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Perfect syncronicity

It's 7.45pm and I'm sat listening to Sigur Ros's Takk and looking out over the city at night as fireworks explode all over the horizon. It's quite something, believe me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A sense of perspective

Sunday night was, as seems to be the way these days, a haven of decent programming. Not only did we have the pleasure of the second episode of 'Girls And Boys - Sex And British Pop' (see below), but C4 offered up 'Great British Islam', another engaging hour-long documentary.

The film, set against the backdrop of the July bombings, followed Sun journalist Anila Baig as she sought to uncover and explore the historical interconnections between Britain and Islam. The fact that close and peaceful relations can be traced back hundreds of years provides some much-needed perspective for the recent opening-up of major fault lines within British society, and this was the programme's most valuable argument. The contribution of Muslims to British history and society was underlined (albeit occasionally superficially), and (amongst other things) I was amazed to discover that there has been a Yemeni community based in South Shields for around the last hundred years.

It wasn't perfect, though. An hour-long one-off, it was consequently rather rushed and glib. What's more, the burning of Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses' in Bradford in 1989 was presented favourably as a self-confident expression of identity rather than as the hate-filled act of "intellectual hooliganism" which it was (I think) rightly portrayed as in certain quarters of the media - such inflexible, intolerant and self-righteous dogmatism is no more laudable than that of Bush and the Christian Right, and is what ultimately stands behind the terrorist atrocities in London.
Quote of the day

"It was a middle class idea with working class actors".

Spandau Ballet's Gary Kemp with a surprisingly insightful and incisive observation about punk in the second installment of BBC2's documentary series 'Girls And Boys - Sex And British Pop'. Presumably brother Martin was too busy flogging sofas for SCS to comment...

As I'd anticipated, the programme, focussed on the 70s, touched on much of what forms the subject matter for one of my two current reads, Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming', in setting punk into its social and historical context (albeit in a much swifter and less sophisticated fashion). David Bowie it was, however, who emerged as the real star, his chameleon-like appearance celebrated as of enormous significance in pushing the boundaries of what pop music could do. Perhaps equally unsurprising was the fact that Rick Wakeman came across as a curmudgeonly up-himself arsehole.
(Nice day for a) white wedding

Soap opera weddings. They fall into two categories - blissful affairs calculated to tug on the heartstrings, or calamitous car-crashes which almost invariably feature one partner being left jilted at the altar. Yawn.

Which is why tonight's second episode of 'Coronation Street' made for such joyous viewing, Cilla and Les's nuptials proving to be anything but predictable. The writers pulled out all the stops in aiming for high farce, and it worked a treat - from Cilla breaking the Barlows' window with Joshua's tricycle to get at a bouquet she couldn't afford to pay for and the marriage party fleeing the "borrowed" church in the nick of time as the vicar arrived back unexpectedly, to Les smashing up all the couple's wedding gifts thinking he was trashing Status Quo's dressing room. The only predictable thing about it was that the whole shebang concluded with the entire room gyrating away to 'Rockin' All Over The World', Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi like Les himself wearing neck braces.

Some of the stuff that has passed itself off as comedy in recent years wouldn't be fit to lick the boots of an episode like that. And the Quo's stoned roadie should be given a permanent role in the soap this instant.
Pretty damn good

My review of The Raveonettes' latest LP Pretty In Black is now up on the Vanity Project site. Once I'd got over the fact that, unlike previous offerings, it doesn't feature any hurricane-strength guitar, it very soon revealed itself to be a joy - one which, it has to be said, has probably proved more lasting than the instant pleasures of Franz Ferdinand's second album.