Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Twisted sisters (and brothers)


At the Yo La Tengo gig a couple of weeks back, I mooted the concept of a Cardiff Indie Scene I-Spy game. Well, tonight would be even more ideal for trying it out.

It's hardly surprising, though. After all, this is the launch gig for a new CD, This Town Ain't Big Enough For The 22 Of Us, featuring 22 representatives of the city's burgeoning music scene, compiled by the scene's spiritual godfather Gary of Twisted By Design and enthusiastically endorsed by Spillers Records and Radio 1's Bethan and Huw amongst others. In honour of the occasion, no fewer than eight of the featured bands are performing, and it's a complete sell-out.

Doors having opened at 5pm, we don't arrive until 6pm, by which time things are already running well behind schedule. Not a bad thing, though, when it means we're fortuitous enough to catch the tail end of the opening set from Little My (And Friends) - the "friends" on this occasion being members of fellow This Town... bands Hornby Pylons and Silence At Sea (plus Tom and Neil of Los Campesinos!), whose songs are also aired. No Guess Who? board percussion this time (at least, not that we're here to witness), and no tell-tale Vaselines cover, but the delicately shambolic songs and kids-in-a-music-shop attitude to composition charm all the same. In any case, you can hardly fault a ten-plus strong band sporting a variety of animal headdresses, can you?

By contrast, The Stray Borders (formerly Tetsuo) come across as rather earnest - not necessarily something I'd normally react against, but it goes against the grain of the playful mood set by Little My And Friends. There's some neat guitar interplay and powerful drumming in their dark predominantly instrumental rock, but not a great deal to get genuinely excited about. Personally speaking, a bit of a disappointment on the night, all told, but there's more than enough on their MySpace page - the list of influences and the recorded version of set- and compilation-closer 'In Case Of Emergency Break Glass' in particular - to suggest that on another day I might be rather more taken by them.

There can't be many guitar / drums / keyboards / viola combos around, and that's enough to arouse my interest in Threatmantics. And unlike many of the other bands on the compilation, the three members are all Welsh born and bred. The trio specialise in a purely visceral in-your-face gypsy punk, showcased to best effect on 'Get Outta Town'. If I have a criticism, it's that, impressive as it is for Huw Alan Davies to combine drumming and keyboard duties simultaneously, the beat becomes a bit wayward at times.

By contrast, there's nothing ragged about The Loves - as might be expected of an outfit who have already released an album with Track & Field and recent single 'Xs And Os' on Fortuna Pop, and recorded a live session for Radio 6 at Marc Riley's request at the beginning of the week. Seven members strong, they describe their influences as "The Velvet Underground and The Monkees. That's it". I'd go for 60s garage rock and psychedelia as seen through a bifocal lens of American power pop and quintessentially English bedroom indie. They may have their critics here in Cardiff (see this review of debut LP Love and ensuing comments from the BBC Wales site), and too often they stray towards shameless thievery ('Louie Louie', 'Wild Thing' and 'Twentieth Century Boy' are all more than suggested during the course of the set) - but there's still an irresistible (for me, at least) swagger about the songs that reminds me of an uptempo Spiritualized on the happy pills.

I've attributed my disappointment with The Stray Borders to their being out of sync with the bands around them. But then how to explain my permagrin during Gindrinker's set, given that - in terms of their performance, at least - they spit in the face of the whole loved-up matey vibe? Violence, anger and misanthropy are the orders of the day. First song? That'd be 'Covered In Bugs', the one about being chopped up and left in bin bags, then. Their contribution to the compilation is impassioned rant 'Hey Greengrocer', nearly as apoplectic as 'Tax Exiles' (about taking baseball bats to the likes of Paul McCartney and Bono), but for my money Jim Bowen tribute 'God Of Darts' is the stand-out. Guitarist Graf launches himself offstage and into the crowd with the very first note of the set, and later sends vocalist and part-time Lesson No.1 quizmaster D C Gates' whisky and soda flying. Gates, meanwhile, looks witheringly down at those sat at the front saying "Stand up you swine", and later replies to a question from the crowd, "What are you going to ask Father Christmas for?", with "World peace, man ... or maybe some socks". And yet he is generous in his thanks to Gary for the whole project. Big softies at heart, perhaps?

Even still, The Wave Pictures can't help but come across as unfeasibly nice. They've got significant form (as associates of Herman Dune and The Jeffrey Lewis Band and one-time backing musicians for John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats), the songs (particularly the last one about sculptures made of marmalade) are pleasant enough in their own melodically chipper way and frontman David Tattersall has a great voice, but I just can't get into it. And what's with all the incongruous Iron Maiden style soloing?

Attack + Defend's songs are like short sharp spasms, twitchy and agitated. At times I'm concerned that, with the matching outfits and predominant disco-punk vibe, they're Johnny-Come-Lately zeitgeist followers (albeit good ones), but then they throw something unexpected into the mix (an element of early Coral-style knees-up, some You & The Atom Bomb off-kilter oddness, a heavy dose of keyboards). Their 'Lucky Dawg' it is that kicks off the compilation, and is dedicated to recently deceased pet dog Biff. Actually, they have a thing for animals, having named their February EP Owl. That'd be why there are T-shirts with pictures of owls on for sale at the merchandise stall, then.

And so, with the time gone 11pm and our legs aching, the evening comes to a head with a performance from Cardiff's undisputed band of the moment, finally signed to Wichita following an A&R feeding frenzy. The group huddle gives the impression of closeness and togetherness - but then so does everything that follows. Los Campesinos! are now a band exuding confidence - and so they should be, given the formidable armoury of songs they have at their disposal.

'Death To Los Campesinos!', 'Please Don't Tell Me To Do The Math', 'It Started With A Mix', 'We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives' – fantastic tunes one and all. ‘Infinite Lives’ is dispensed with tonight to make way for a couple of high quality newies, one (the set opener) featuring a shouted chorus about the “international tweepop underground” and the other described a little ingenuously by Gareth as “a ballad”. There’s also room for a quick Hendrix-esque rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ – just as there was last time I found myself upstairs in Clwb. The best is naturally saved till last – and with Los Campesinos! that means ‘You Me Dancing!’ with added fists aloft for the line about Twisted By Design and then ‘Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks’. Most (myself included) are induced into vigorous bobbing and jigging, and happy grins adorn the faces of everyone else.

The man of the hour takes to the stage for one last time to the chants of "Gary, Gary!", thanking all those involved in the evening and the production of the CD - and us, too. Humble to the last. Gareth Campesinos is right - there IS something special going on in Cardiff at the moment, and this gig (and the compilation) has gone a long way toward proving it. Not all of the bands have quite been to my taste, but that's as it should be - there's no stylistic straitjacket, no rigid uniformity to which bands must adhere. And that can only be a very good thing.

On a tangential note, both Gareth and Tom Campesinos have contributed to the Songs To Learn And Sing feature that has been running on Sweeping The Nation all this month, raving about Bikini Kill's 'In Accordance To Natural Law' and Yo La Tengo's 'Blue Line Swinger' respectively. Read, listen and learn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blogwatch: in brief

Fond farewell to...

Speaking As A Parent - Robin has decided to call it a day (though with the tantalising promise that he'll review the decision in three months' time). A sad day for fans of beautifully observed and written blog posts everywhere.

But for every yin there's a yang, so a very warm welcome back to...

Casino Avenue - Inspector Sands just couldn't stay away, as I'd been hoping might prove to be the case.


Andy is part of the Birmingham Complaints Choir whose video has found its way to the YouTube homepage. He's the one with the lines about bananas - of course...
News but no tributes

Sad news: following disappointing sales of their second album News And Tributes, The Futureheads have parted company with their label 679 Recordings.

Not so long ago (Glastonbury 2005, for instance), it seemed as though the boys from the Dark Place could do no wrong. But there's no doubt that, though it has its moments, News And Tributes came as something of a disappointment.

Vocalist / guitarist Barry Hyde's comments smack of someone putting a brave face on it and in so doing protesting too much: "I'm over the moon about it to be honest with you, 'cos I feel like we're free now. We weren't happy as a band on that label. It's good to get out of the shackles of being tied down to something. I think it's put us in a very strong position 'cos we're still a band that people like".

I hope for their sakes it genuinely is liberation, rather than being cut adrift.

And just as they've been set free, another of my favourites have been signed up (see above). Let's just hope Los Campesinos! don't come to see their deal in terms of being shackled.

(Thanks to Kenny for the link.)
If you're feeling sinister...

... or even if you're not, you may like to pop over to The Art Of Noise, where this week's In The Dock feature concerns Belle & Sebastian. Regular readers of SWSL will not be surprised at my favouring the prosecution case...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

"It's just one fucking thing after another"

History, that is - as defined by Rudge, one of Alan Bennett's History Boys.

Set in a northern grammar school in the 1980s and first produced in 2004, 'The History Boys' achieves that key objective of art - namely successfully embodying abstractions in situations which on the whole feel very real and characters who are more than merely two-dimensional. Its central subject is the tension between learning as a means to an end (that end being passing Oxbridge entrance exams) and
knowledge for knowledge's sake.

These two different concepts are personified in Irwin, a teacher drafted in by a pretentious headmaster desperate for the kudos of having Oxbridge entrants, and Hector, an old-fashioned master nearing retirement age and somewhat left behind by the times whose lessons involve everything from brief performances from classic movies to an elaborate roleplaying session set in a French brothel during which the pupil-participants must only use the subjunctive.

As might be anticipated, the play doesn't fall down on one side or the other, mainly because the initially anal and focussed Irwin comes to seem more human and, in his own way, as keen to encourage independent thinking and behaviour as Hector (if only as a kind of gimmick to wow examiners and interviewing panels). The play's final words on the matter go to Hector: "Pass the parcel. That's sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That's the game I want you to learn. Pass it on".

As someone inclined to lament the disappearance of learning for its own sake and the increasing emphasis on all higher education courses being a stepping stone to a career, it was a play that fascinated me from the start. Equally engaging, though, are the frequent debates over the nature and definition of history and the personal drama of Posner (played superbly by Steven Webb), the awkward, insecure and lovesick boy gradually and painfully coming to terms with his sexuality.

Though Bennett's excellent dialogue packs plenty of laughs (not least in the swearing, which appropriately suggests a childish glee in the playwright at having naughty words said out loud in a theatre setting), it's not always comfortable viewing. One theme running throughout is the appropriateness - or, rather, inappropriateness - of intimate teacher-pupil relations. No doubt some members of the audience will have felt uneasy, as I did at times, at being encouraged to sympathise with Hector, whose paeodophilic behaviour is essentially excused as an eccentric indiscretion.

It's perhaps understandable given the play's setting, but the presence of a solitary female, the teacher Mrs Lintott, feels tokenistic - even if Bennett has her draw attention to the fact in a monologue in which she acknowledges she exists as a sounding-board for other (male) characters. The headmaster's secretary, subject of one of the pupil's amorous physical explorations, appears only as a figure on the video screens between scenes. Similarly tokenistic, I felt, are the black pupil Crowther, whose character is one of the least developed, and the "thicko" Rudge (perhaps not surprisingly blessed / cursed with a Middlesbrough accent) who only manages to get into Oxbridge through good old-fashioned nepotism.

But there is far more to enjoy and admire about 'The History Boys' than to quibble with.

So, do I want to see the film? Perhaps, but not just yet - it would be unfair to have both in mind and spend the whole time comparing them.

A final word about the New Theatre. Saturday was our first visit since the move to Cardiff - long overdue. In contrast to the modernity and democratic unsegregated seating arrangement of the REP in Birmingham, the New Theatre is very much a proper old-school theatre, complete with stalls, circle, upper circle and boxes. We had managed to book cheap seats for what was the last night of the run early on, which meant the front row of the upper circle, fairly central. We hadn't bargained on the metal railing which seriously impaired our view, but fortunately, we had sufficient leg room to be able to slide down in our plush not-particularly-comfortable seats and watch through the gap between the railing and the low wall. Not quite the contortionists' act it might sound like, and well worth tickets which were less than a tenner each.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Le freak, c'est chic


Another evening down at the Point, another game of Cardiff Indie Scene I-spy. It's much less busy than last night, so much so that they've got tables and chairs out at the back of the room, but look! There's Lesson No 1's Noel again! And over there D C Gates, Gindrinker's unstable raconteur / frontman! And Carl of Forecast too (after all, this is another of his nights).

Easing us gently into the evening's entertainment are Voice Of The Seven Woods. Or should that be "First up IS Voice Of The Seven Woods"? After all, VOTSW is one man, Rick Tomlinson. Not that you'd guess if you had your back to the stage, though. You see, Tomlinson adroitly and repeatedly samples himself, then replaying back the recordings whilst playing something new over the top. The songs are literally constructed on stage. When you can do this, who needs anyone else? Tomlinson is a one-man-band for the twenty-first century.

His songs are a bit special too, demanding a silence the audience is quick to grant them. Tomlinson, who records for Andy Votel's Twisted Nerve label, deals in a kind of apocalyptic comedown folk - very tricksy instrumentals (aside from one with a lyric about the coming dawn) which are both seductive and vaguely sinister.

All of which sets the scene nicely for Acid Mothers Temple. Or Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., to give them their full title. The prolific Japanese foursome, part of the Acid Mothers collective, are touring in support of their latest LP, Have You Seen The Other Side Of The Sky?. I'm guessing you've already got some sense of what they sound like.

Acid Mothers Temple suggest that Western culture travels very, very slowly to Japan. It seems our 1980s and 1990s certainly haven't arrived there just yet. They are The Beatles of Sgt Pepper's or The White Album gone heavy metal, or Black Sabbath if they were utterly mushroom-fucked rather than just a bit snowblind.

Founder member and guitarist Kawabata Makoto has an even more insanely bouffant barnet than Russell Brand, looking something like former Soundgarden stringsman Kim Thayil after a scrap with a pair of hair crimpers. With his floating pyjama-esque trousers and long grey hair, Higashi Hiroshi (synthesizer / guitar), resembles a wizard who's temporarily misplaced his cape and hat. Drummer Uki Eiji has a tufty grey Mr Miyagi beard. Beanie-hatted bassist Tsuyama Atsushi might ostensibly cut a more sober figure, but then he's the one who performs the water-gargling "vocals" to one song. Put it this way: if they walked into the pub, you wouldn't mistake them for tax inspectors on a night out.

In the technicolour universe that Acid Mothers Temple inhabit, each and every song presents the opportunity for a freakout - and every opportunity passed up is very definitely an opportunity wasted. They are definitely firm believers in wringing the most out of a riff, the opening song (like Yo La Tengo's last night) stretching for a good ten minutes.

This isn't simply about headfuck noise, though. There's plenty of weirdness and randomness during the intervals between passages of aural punishment - monk-style chanting, for instance - and it's at these moments that I feel most disorientingly removed from their plane.

The final song of the set has been going at full tilt for fifteen minutes, when it suddenly scales back down to the opening guitar motif. Surely that must be it? Surely they can't ratchet it up again, louder and more intense? Oh yes they can. Another ten minutes later - during which Makoto presumably gives the venue manager kittens, swinging his guitar round his head and then rubbing it against the back of the amps suspended from the converted church's ceiling - it's finally over. Whither my brain?

When they reappear for the encore, Atsushi is wearing a pair of butterfly wings. It's that kind of night.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

R'n'B: guilty?

I should have made more of an effort to promote the current In The Dock feature we've got goin' on over at The Art Of Noise. The trial of useless crusties The Levellers has been and gone, but if you want to get involved in the deliberations over the guilt or innocence of R'n'B, then here's where you need to go.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

And then everything turned itself inside-out


"37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead In Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster" screamed a newspaper headline back in April 2002. As you might have guessed, the newspaper in question was The Onion, the publication which singlehandedly and repeatedly proves that, contrary to popular myth, Americans can and do have a firm grasp of irony, satire and other subtle forms of wit.

Anyway, it's funny because it's true. It's a safe bet that if fire raged through the Point tonight on the same sort of scale as it did at Brum's last remaining rock club Edwards No 8 at the weekend, Spillers would be a few men and women down. Indeed, the whole Cardiff indie scene would collapse, as a quick game of I-spy confirms: Gary of Twisted By Design near at hand, Gindrinker guitarist Graf just in front of me, Noel of Lesson No 1 and Neil of Los Campesinos! flitting around like ten-year-olds on the Red Bull...

But enough of the assembled throng - what of the bands?

Support comes from Bristolians Minotaur Shock, signed to the legendary 4AD label. A spot of post-gig research reveals that they really only consist of one person, David Edwards, and that the other two only appear live. Research also proves that I'm not mad in imagining he was a purveyor of glitchy Boards Of Canada electronica in the past. If that's a past Edwards is keen to leave behind, then on tonight's showing he's making a very convincing fist of it.

The songs seem to possess some kind of weird groove almost in spite of themselves, a rhythmic funk that approximates Talking Heads, albeit with the addition of flute, oboe and programming. Particularly entertaining are the two tracks on which Edwards is shown drumming along to on a projection screen (a la Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips a few years back), the on-screen figure pausing to drink a cup of tea when the drums cut out and the real-life on-stage incarnation finishes up. It's not easy to get your head around first time (and the crowd's response is pretty muted), though definitely worthy of further investigation.

Confession time. It may come as something of a surprise given my tastes that I've never quite got into Yo La Tengo. 2003's Today Is The Day EP is brilliant, but somehow I've never got round to following that purchase up with more. It's perhaps most surprising because of their similarities to my favourite band. Like Sonic Youth, not only is Hoboken, New Jersey the place the trio call home; they can also boast a long career marked by numerous peaks (they formed in 1984), and share an interest in incorporating experimentation with feedback, dissonance and drones into a relatively accessible indie rock sound.

There are also striking similarities with another American threesome beloved of critics and fans alike: Low. Like the Duluth trio, Yo La Tengo are founded upon a husband and wife duo on guitar and drums respectively - in this case Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley - though the contribution of the bassist, James McNew, shouldn't be underestimated.

McNew it is who is vital to the ten minutes of sheer bliss that make up the opening song, locking down the groove with an insistent bassline to allow Kaplan to venture off into the fantasy world of the unfettered lead guitarist. If that isn't enough to win the crowd over, then the nods to local heroes certainly are - Megan of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci appears to accompany them on the violin, and Kaplan tells us that the acoustic guitar he's using belongs to Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals and has been lent to them for the occasion because "it has a nicer pick guard" than their own.

You want song titles? 'Fraid I can't help you there, really, though they definitely play 'The Weaker Part' from their splendidly titled new LP I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, and I'm pretty certain 'I Heard You Looking' is in there somewhere too. There's a bit of a lull mid-set, I feel, when they overdose slightly on the avant-jazz and lightweight pop-rock stuff - though it has to be said they have a more catholic aesthetic than Sonic Youth, and that these songs do provide welcome textural variation. But the medley which brings the main set to an end is intense, thunderous and thrilling. Don't just take my word for it - how's about asking the hairy young man in the Eagles T-shirt moshing away at the front like his life depends on it?

They return for a low-key four song encore and, although (sadly) 'Today Is The Day' never puts in an appearance, at last there's a song I know and even own, 'Let's Save Tony Orlando's House' from 2000's And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. Two of the others are covers: the first 'The Readymades' by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, whom they are delighted to have seen at St David's Hall the previous night; and the second (the last song of the night) an unnamed Welsh folk song performed with a sublime gentleness of touch.

One of those nights when everything suddenly becomes crystal clear, then. Not quite gig of the year - but certainly well up there.

(Turns out I wasn't the only member of the audience uninitiated in the Church of Yo La Tengo: check out this review from the MusicOMH site.

Oh, and the "Welsh folk song" was John Cale's 'Andalucia', according to Drowned In Sound gig reviewer Will Dean. I'll take your word for it, Will.)


Cultural Snow - named after a Haruki Murakami quote, this is the blog of Tim Footman, a Brit exiled in Bangkok and regular contributor to the Guardian's Comment Is Free.


Pete sets about giving Birmingham what it's been missing, and a great idea it is too. There's always been a strong sense of place about his site, but now he's going to go further and attempt a Diamond Geezer for the second city. Bravo!


RussL's Going Deaf For A Fortnight endurance test ends with a Motorhead gig.

Tim goes weak at the knees over Steven Drozd and Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.

Mike posts his third "Trodicast" (it's the future, you know!).

Jonathan introduces us to the concept of "Cheap Week".

Alan dissects the lyrics to Rainbow's tight-trousered soft rock classic 'Since You've Been Gone' and finds them wanting.

Betty gets a new passport photo taken.

And finally...

The series that's had us all hooked: Bathmatwatch on Salvatore Vincent's Smaller Than Life...
Birmingham: effing great!

Hoorah! The Guardian's Benji Lanyado has offered Jon Bounds of the cracking Birmingham: It's Not Shit site the opportunity to suggest his own Reasons To Be Cheerful. Included in his list - and rightly so - are the Electric Cinema, the Sunflower Lounge and Mr Egg.

(Thanks to Pete for the link.)
Feel good hits of the 16th November

It's been a while...

1. 'Today Is The Day' - Yo La Tengo
2. 'One Armed Scissor' - At The Drive-In
3. 'Sing Me Spanish Techno' - The New Pornographers
4. 'Love Is Happiness' - The Icarus Line
5. 'Cotton Crown' - Sonic Youth
6. 'Hip Priest' - The Fall
7. 'Bombtrack' - Rage Against The Machine
8. 'Mystic Energy' - The Young Knives
9. 'Ramblin Man' - Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
10. 'Country Mile' - Clinic

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Right To Reply #7

It’s been nearly a year since the last Right To Reply discussion / get-together (when the subject of discussion was the change to the British licensing laws). High time for another one, then.

This time the topic is more abstract, much more personal and only vaguely topical, though it was inspired in part by the recent experiences of one of the contributors. And it gives us bloggers a chance to write about our favourite subject: ourselves…

Read on, then – it’s a long one so you might want to grab a cuppa and make yourself comfortable first, but you never know, you might just find out a bit more about the people behind the blogs, this one included…

The subject: identity

The participants:
Abby of Girl With A One-Track Mind
Ben, your host
Jonathan of Crinklybee
JonnyB of JonnyB’s Private Secret Diary
Martin of That Difficult Second Blog
Paul of 1000 Shades Of Grey
Pete of The Whole Wide World Of Fat Buddha! and Bluesblog
Swiss Toni of Swiss Toni’s Place

How do you define yourself? In terms of your job? Your social class? Where you're from? Your gender? Your sexuality? Your interests? What you wear? Or something else?

JonnyB: I honestly am not aware that I define myself. But I probably do, unconsciously. You've got me all worried now. Do I?

Swiss Toni: Do you know what? I really, genuinely don’t think I know the answer to this question. Clearly I must define myself somehow, but I’m buggered if I can put my finger on it. I’m sure that I am defined by all kinds of things: my background, my job, where I live, the music I listen to, the TV I watch, the clothes I wear etc etc. But I don’t think I define myself by any of these things.

Jonathan: I don't find it easy at all identifying myself for the benefit of others, as you may note from the long, rambling and possibly incoherent answers I give to these questions! For instance, I am constantly dissatisfied with the obligatory “About Me” section on my blog, and am constantly tinkering with it to little avail – I keep taking out the bit about being thrilled at meeting people from ‘Coronation Street’ in Tescos, not being able to think of anything better, and putting it back in again.

Paul: I think I define myself by most (if not all) of the things I say and do – be it my job, my place of birth, my faith, my gender and express that identity through the things I say, do, wear and listen to / watch.

Pete: Increasingly, I am coming to define myself as a nondescript middle aged man – Mr bleeding Jones! I don't try and hide the fact that I social work for a living, but I wouldn't, couldn't define myself by that role – apart from anything else, I am a fairly atypical social worker, but every social worker I know would say the same of themselves, so maybe I am typical.

Ben: I’ve never really understood people who introduce themselves by announcing what they do for a living. To someone who’s never had a “proper” job, it always seemed curious – and more than a little sad – that people should feel their identity is determined primarily by their profession. And yet recently, whilst both jobless and directionless, I came to understand and even crave that sense of security and – yes – identity that comes with having a particular job. In many ways it’s understandable – after all, a job occupies a hugely significant proportion of life, and to a large extent determines your daily routine and those with whom you come into regular contact. But then this is probably not the way that many (most?) people would LIKE to define themselves, given the choice. It’s more an identity that is foisted upon them.

Martin: I used to define myself in terms of my job (once I got a decent one, anyway) but over the last few months I've moved away from that so I suppose I'm defining myself in terms of not defining myself from my job! Unless you're doing something worthy, I think that defining yourself by what you do for a living is likely to be misguided. I suppose I define myself more in terms of my interests; what I choose to appreciate and do with my time, as opposed to an accident of birth. Where I'm from only applies to my sporting interests, but even then I can't relate to the idea of painting my face red and white and singing 'Ten German Bombers' every time England play football. In fact I think I tend to define myself as not being like certain people, which might come across as snobbish.

Ben: Self-definition is achieved as much (if not more) through the expression of identification as it is through the expression of difference – and in no instance more obvious than regional identity.

Jonathan: Like many North Easterners, I identify myself quite strongly in terms of regional provenance – and like most people who grew up in Newcastle, I take pride in being able to proclaim myself a native of the regional capital itself (I was going to say “a true Geordie”, but as this debate is being hosted by a Northumbrian I am taking a diplomatic line- and also of course Ben knows I was born in Alnwick, so am strictly speaking less Geordie than he is). And of course I walk around a lot of the time with a Newcastle Utd badge attached to my lapel, which more or less goes hand in hand with coming from any part of the far North East.

Pete: I have lived in South Wales for twenty years and still consider myself a Brummie. I have not set foot in Mayfield Road in Tysley for about 30 years probably, but I bet I would feel instantly at home there in a way I never do anywhere in Wales. The nearest I get to feeling at home now is at St. Andrews. Interesting that, because I feel it more now that I have lived away than I ever did when I lived in Brum and the same is true for others; the football ground becomes a place where they once again feel they belong, not an outsider, or incomer.

Ben: Regional ties seem to assume greater significance when living in exile. For us Geordies it somehow feels more important to assert our regional identity (and, related to that, our affiliations to Newcastle Utd), to the extent that upon spotting a black and white shirt I often have to stop myself from going up to the wearer and greeting him / her like some long-lost comrade. The shirt is worn as a marker of regional pride, at least in part, and when talking about football my (admittedly) very muted accent gradually and unconsciously develops a more recognisably Geordie inflection.

Jonathan: I do define myself in terms other than the predictable ones of regional and footballing affiliation though – or at least I try to. I suppose if I had to sum up my identity in one of those Would Like To Meet adverts it would be something like “working-class Geordie European intellectual one-time floppy-fringed indie-popster, exiled in Manchester, subsisting as lowly clerk but cultivating rich inner life”. And, of course, blogging figures quite prominently in that last bit...

Pete: I no longer know what my class is and I no longer understand WHAT class is. When I was young, I was clearly, unequivocally working class. In my mid twenties I went to university and then completed a postgrad course and then became a social worker. I work hard and I get very little financial reward for it, so, in that sense, I suppose I am working class. But I'm not. The problem is, while I am no longer working class, neither am I middle class. I feel distinctly uncomfortable around the middle classes – the confident, accent-less, affluent middle classes. I don't like them and I don't trust them. I am neither fish nor fowl. Since I was young, though, the working class that I grew up with seems to have disappeared, and been replaced by a chavish underclass, with no values and no interest in finding work, or getting on in life (I know this is simplistic, but there you go) or a more affluent aspirational set of white collar types. I don't think the working class exists anymore; that bottom end of the social ladder has become too disparate. We are all graduates now!

Ben: I think social stratification still exists, although the dividing lines between different strata are perhaps more blurred. Class is still very much with us, but it no longer seems to be a primary or “default” means by which people define themselves.

Abby: Right now, I probably define myself in terms of my gender, my politics and my writing (which I'm hoping is / will be my job): it's the combination of all three that encapsulates exactly where and who I am, at this point in my life – probably more so than at any other point I have lived through.

Martin: Gender wise I've always been resistant to being a “bloke”; I used to think of myself as a “new man” but don't think much of that stereotype either. It's depressing how many people seem to define themselves in terms of their gender. I don't think that either gender has specific character traits but that there are just different types of people. I once walked out of a university seminar on female writers after being told that a friend and I were subverting oppressive partiarchy by him being gay and me having long hair(and therefore being in touch with my feminine side). Simplistic judgements on lifestyle choices that had nothing to do with our gender or sexuality.

Pete: Gender is an interesting and vexing area for me. I am a male, from a particular culture and have grown up according to certain aggressive mores. In the circles I have moved in for about the last 20 years, most people have found the attitudes that I possessed then unacceptable, and, intellectually, so do I. Emotionally, though, it's hard to lose that male working-class shoulder-chip. The instinct is always there, not only to bite back, fight back, viciously if necessary, but at times to get the old retaliation in first. It's not big, it's not funny and it most certainly isn't clever, but there are times when I find it really difficult to suppress that instinct.

Swiss Toni: It might sound idealistic, but I try to define myself on a basic set of core values. I try to be honest and decent in all things. I only really feel like I have let myself down when I violate one of these unwritten principles – when I broke up with a girlfriend of long standing suddenly and without much explanation; when I backed into someone’s car and then didn’t leave them an envelope with my number in it when I saw that their tax disc was out of date… Stuff like that. In each case, I didn’t act according to my own moral code and I felt awful as a direct result.

Do you think your identity has developed and is now stable? Or is who you are always changing?

JonnyB: Reasonably stable. With the addition of a recent child, which is bound to change things.

Martin: I think my identity's always been fairly stable, on the outside, anyway. Change is good just to keep life interesting if nothing else. It doesn't have to be drastic unless circumstances dictate otherwise.

Jonathan: We never really think our close friends and family really change that much over the years, do we? So I imagine that whatever great leaps of personal development and chameleon-like qualities I ascribe to myself, those who have known me well for a long time probably think I'm just the same old Jonathan as ever. And I suppose I don't really mind that too much.

Abby: I think identity is a fluid thing; it ebbs and flows, maybe taking on a stable appearance for an indeterminate length of time, but overall always adapting to one's personal circumstances. Right now my own identity feels strong – I know who I am and I am attempting to assert that within my life – but in actuality I'm in a total state of flux: I don't know what will happen tomorrow – in any sense – and my identity is having to adapt constantly to help me cope with that. I'm finding it scary, but I'm trying to see it as a positive challenge, rather than see it as “oh fuck, who am I, now that so much has changed in my life?” – which I don't think is a constructive viewpoint.

Martin: The way I define myself changes but I would hope it would for most people. Over the last year being single for the first time in nine years has had a huge effect, but it's been positive. I haven't redefined myself but it's been a good opportunity to look at myself more honestly; to reconsider negative traits and decide what I enjoy doing that I stopped as part of the inevitable compromise of being half of a couple.

Swiss Toni: I’ve just done a Myers-Briggs test at work actually. I did it before about nine years ago, and I was curious to see if I had changed at all (or at least if the test thought I had changed). To some extent I have defined myself by the result that came out last time – go and look at my blogger profile and you’ll see that I proudly list myself as an INTP [Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiver]. After I had sat the test and was waiting for my results, I was reflecting that I probably have changed in that time, that my personality now was different in many ways to the person that I was when I was 23. I have changed apparently – now I have to come to terms with what it means to be an INTJ [Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judger]. That’s a whole new box to put myself in, and it might take some time to adjust.

Martin: I suppose a feeling of greater stability comes with age, but I think it's important that age shouldn't fully dictate my identity. When I was a child I used to think that you had to act in certain ways at certain ages, but in hindsight I think some people were just born 50 years old.

Pete: I have changed identity over the years in the sense that people who knew me at 16 would not recognise the man I am now, which is probably the same for everyone. My political views have stayed fairly constant although nowadays I would never dream of involving myself in any kind of party politics; I'm not sure any party would have me anyway; my views are a bit eclectic. I think my defining characteristics are pretty stable these days, after years and years of changing. Some people find me overly assertive. But I really think that has more to do with my accent, and the last vestiges of my class, than any character trait on my part – I might be wrong though.

Paul: I think my identity inevitably changes as I progress through life. I no longer fall into the category “student” and am now technically a “young professional” so that part of my identity has shifted. Where once I was single, now I am not. Looking ahead, I'm currently without children, but it's highly possible that will change in the future, and in doing so my identity will change as I become “a father”.

Pete: As soon as I involved myself with further education, the old certainties crumbled away. People regarded me differently, thought I was some sort of upstart. People I had known and argued politics with for years seemed to take umbrage all of a sudden when I started gobbing my vaguely Marxist vaguely anarchist rhetoric, seemed to think I now thought of myself as better than them. Of course I changed too, I had always read books by foreign authors, always read the Guardian, always watched subtitled films, but now I became less tolerant, less indulgent of lowest common denominator nonsense, became a snob, if you like. Remain a snob, actually, in that regard. I can't watch soaps, I can't watch reality TV shows, I can't watch many Hollywood movies – I find them offensive; so that's me out of the loop.

Jonathan: I suppose that when I was younger I would be much more ready to identify myself along the lines of where I was from, what music I was into, and so on. As you get older you possibly worry less about such superficial categorisations, because you are more comfortable with yourself and happy for people to take you as they find you. I've gotten past the stage, for example, of feeling I've got to have an opinion about whatever new band has just burst onto the scene (although sometimes I can't help myself, and feel obliged to tell you I think The Magic Numbers are an awful pile of shite, whether you want to know or not).

Pete: In the end, the older I get, the more I see, the more I realise that none of it really matters. We come, we go, we amuse ourselves the best we can and no one will really remember us; few of us will have achieved any kind of greatness that will cause us to be remembered, so the identities we build for ourselves, the egos we wrap ourselves in are, ultimately meaningless. We may as well just live the best life we can, try and do as much with it as we can, without harming others.

Martin: If I had the chance to talk to my teenage self I'd tell him not to worry about things so much, that everything tends to work out and to stop trying to please everyone all the time. And to get rid of the mullet.

How do other people view / define you? Does this tally or clash with your own self-definition / self-image?

Paul: I suspect you'd have to ask them – although the fact that they don't hear my internal monologue probably means that the way I think and the way I act are possibly slightly out of kilter and affect the way in which I am perceived by others in contrast to the way I might be if they could hear my thoughts.

Martin: As dull as it sounds, most people think I'm a nice bloke. Not very exciting, but it could be worse. I've calmed down in my attitude to life in the last year or so, but I think I'm more irritable than most people think. I tend to come across as intelligent which I think comes from being fairly well-spoken and literate rather than actually knowing what I'm talking about. It's a silly thing but I find that embarrassing at times. I think I come across as more confident than I am. I'm definitely more frustrated and less confident than most people think, but I suppose it's better than their judgement being the other way around. Their judgement has defined me, in a sense; if people think I'm more confident then maybe I should be.

Abby: People probably see me as being more confident than I am; I'm good at channelling fear so possibly appear to be very self-assured, even when I'm shitting it inside. Given this, I suppose many would be surprised at how insecure I actually am; at least, that is how I see myself, most of the time. But I do try to have a positive outlook as often as possible, so maybe that's where the outer me and the inner me tally.

Ben: A while back I was with a group of friends and talk turned to the utterances which everyone most associated the person in question. I was surprised that, when it came to me, there was unanimous agreement on the exclamation: “For fuck’s sake!” I’m well aware I can often get wound up at trivial, petty little things, but this very fleeting glimpse of what others thought of me left in tatters my fairly long-held belief that I generally kept those frustrations inside and came across as a relaxed, easy-going person in public. Perhaps the relatively confident front I think I present to others isn’t as opaque as I imagine either.

JonnyB: I live in a world where the things that perhaps I have “achieved” in a previous life mean absolutely sod all. So I suspect that the inflated sense I have of my own importance and achievements is not reflected in how other people view or define me.

Swiss Toni: I don’t know. I worry that people see me as cold, unemotional and humourless. Perhaps they’re right.

Jonathan: Well none of us can really claim to know the answer to this one, can we? But I think people who know me well – or those who read my blog – would have an image of me that tallies quite closely with my self-image.

To what extent do you think you can define yourself for the benefit of others?

Martin: Quite easily, which I think might not be a good thing. My family and friends know who I am, but I'm definitely a different person with different acquaintances, particularly at work. My job's made a lot easier for the different ways I've presented myself to people. It sounds duplicitous, but I reassure myself that it's a means to an end and that if I spoke to them honestly I'd be unemployed. Outside of work, I'd say I was pretty honest with people about who I am.

Abby: I think the core of me is pretty much unchanged throughout the years; my beliefs and outlook on life is very consistent. So I don't think I have changed or would change for the benefit of others. I'm very much a “take me as I am” type of person, believing in being open and honest about who I am and what I feel and think; if people don't like that, fine. Saying that, one has to be flexible to be sociable, and I will bite my tongue (for example) if I think that it might hurt someone's feelings or be completely inappropriate if I were to speak my mind, so I guess that is adapting my identity for others' benefit to some extent.

Swiss Toni: I like to think I’m fairly constant, but I’m also pretty sure that I’m as much of a social chameleon as anybody else. I have little or no interest in cars, but I can take part in a pub conversation on the subject if necessary. In my quieter moments, I wonder if I am really as interested in things like football and music as I convey to other people. Is it all an act? Do I pretend to be more interested in these things because that is increasingly how other people see me and how they expect me to be? Perhaps.

Ben: Sometimes I get the nagging feeling I do try to be all things to all men (and women), showing different people different facets of my personality with the consequence that hardly anyone really sees the “real me” (whoever that is). Is it duplicitous to suppress certain aspects of your personality with one person and exaggerate them with another? Or is it simply a matter of being sociable and making an effort to meet each person on their own terms? Or, at least, what you perceive to be their own terms – it always comes as something of a surprise when I suddenly discover that someone with whom I’ve only ever talked about football is actually a serious music lover, for instance. In other words, when you suddenly catch a glimpse of someone else’s “other side(s)”, sides which you never knew existed.

Jonathan: I do suppose more and more my blog is an inextricable part of my identity – to the extent that I feel people who don't know about the blog (which usually means people I know through work) don't really have a full picture of who I am at all... I sometimes worry that I must seem like a rather grey and insubstantial character to these people... but then of course I remember that first of all, I don't really care what image Jeff from accounts has of me – and also that everyone who reads the blog knows what a swashbuckling, intrepid and fascinating character I really am, and that cheers me up no end.

Do you ever consider yourself to have changed identity?

JonnyB: I probably “developed” my identity when I started working in a particular area and found myself at nobby social events being asked, in all seriousness, which school I had attended. At that point in my life I thought it more sensible to go with that particular flow. I felt terribly beneath everybody.

Ben: As someone who was quiet, studious and not particularly popular at school, I remember seeing university as a golden opportunity to consciously redefine and re-invent myself for people who would have no knowledge of the “old” me. To a certain extent, I think I managed it too – I certainly feel very different from that gawky 19-year-old now – which was why, for a while, encountering old friends from home and school felt like dredging up a past I had somehow left behind.

How closely does your blog identity / persona match your actual identity / persona? Is it natural and honest or do you exaggerate / suppress aspects of your character when blogging?

Pete: My blog persona is a fairly accurate reflection of me – certainly on Bluesblog I try to be honest, as much about myself as others. It's difficult though, because you don't want to hurt others. The Fat Buddha blog would give someone a reasonable idea of my personality and character too, but I never say much on that. It's different on football message boards, which is where my alter ego lets rip, and I am as stupid and abusive as the next social working politics graduate, but very few people have any idea of who I actually am on those boards, so I can get away with it.

JonnyB: Ah – erm – errrr... well it's all completely honest. Completely. Jonny is what I'd become if there weren't people around me to help me maintain normality. There but for the grace of – etc. Clearly – clearly – I am not the idiot that perhaps comes across. I think. But if you tend to write vignettes about odd things that happen, then the non-odd side of you will be omitted by – er – omission. Jonny's cooler than I am. And nicer. But I am even more sexy.

Paul: I think I'm largely the same, although I suspect I censor areas of my life. I try and avoid saying anything which is likely to cause upset / offence to people I care about (in much the same way as I do in life) and generally avoid subjects which require me to talk about the impact they have had on other people's lives. I'm certainly not about start blogging about work or my love life.

Martin: It's too soon to tell with my new blog, but the last one was fairly accurate. I tend not to talk about things in my personal and professional life as much as I'd like because blogging can be cathartic but with an unfortunate audit trail. On the whole I think I was honest in my previous blog which is why I ended up deleting it which was probably a mistake that I try not to think about. I think my blogging reflects my conversational style, more so with friends than family members.

Ben: I learned very early on the perils of being too liberal with what you are prepared to commit to your blog – it’s a very public place, after all. Silent Words Speak Loudest is predominantly a cultural / arts blog because I don’t think I have a particularly interesting personal life, and if I don’t think that then why should anyone else? If I could write as brilliantly about the minutiae of daily life and human interaction as some of my fellow contributors here, then that might be different – but I can’t, so it isn’t. This piece is probably about as personal as I’m ever likely to get – though of course aspects of my personality inevitably come through in what I write about and how I write about it.

Abby: My blog persona is me, but an extended, exaggerated version of me. She is more confident than I am, and more brash too. Offline, I worry far too often about what people think of me, or if I have said something to offend; online, I have the freedom to express myself how I want and not worry or care so much about the consequences, which is why I have loved blogging so much. However, my online writing is honest – I don't make stuff up – so the veracity of it is in tune with how I live my offline life: true to myself, and others.

Martin: I have exaggerated in the past for the sake of a better read, but never to the extent of distorting the truth to a great degree. Mostly it's just to include the humour that comes with the benefit of hindsight. Nothing's grossly exaggerated. I'd prefer to read about why someone's life is interesting / funny / tragic rather than just the fact that it is, and that's where story-telling comes in. I think the fact that you can't see the person behind the blog in many cases is why the medium encourages criticism.

Jonathan: I think of my blog persona as a kind of cartoon version of my real-life identity. Nothing substantial is absolutely made up (in fact, whenever I do invent little details, I generally feel immediately guilty and have to take them out again) but some grey areas are removed, and aspects of reality are certainly heightened for dramatic effect. For instance, I recently managed to get two separate 1000 word posts out of a pair of slightly awkward but essentially inconsequential encounters with a local shopkeeper – and these were possibly my favourite posts ever. And I suppose you would get a better picture of who I am by reading either of those posts than you would by wading through that awkwardly-phrased “About Me” page I was talking about just before. You would certainly get a clearer idea of my various neuroses.

Swiss Toni: I don’t blog under my real name, but my real name is not terribly well concealed. It’s a figleaf of anonymity at best. If you are determined, it would take all of about ten minutes to work out my real name (in fact, if you asked me, I’d probably just tell you). The two personas are very closely matched, and in many ways I am more open on my blog than I am face to face. Beware though, my blog persona is not me. There are several subjects that I just won’t touch that form an important part of who I really am. Their exclusion on my blog means that you cannot truly know me. I don’t think you can ever truly know anyone purely from their blog. Hell, I’m a historian by training – a blog is by definition an entirely subjective source and thus slanted and probably unreliable. If you think you know someone from their blog, think again.

If you're not quite the same as your blogging persona, how do the two differ? And was that persona a conscious creation? To what extent is your blogging persona a protective / defensive mask?

JonnyB: Yes, it is a conscious creation. I'm not sure about the mask thing. I have no interest whatsoever in telling people about my personal life, and even less interest in people who know me reading about what a gormless idiot I am.

Paul: I suspect that the advantage of blogging anonymously is that you are free to talk more openly about [personal] matters – although I suspect Abby would have plenty of anecdotal evidence of how losing your anonymity is a deeply unpleasant and awkward experience.

Abby: Due to the subject matter I write about, I created an anonymous online identity because I was trying to protect my and others' privacy: I didn't want people to be able to identify me or others from reading the blog. Whilst my blog persona was based on me, I had tried to change certain details to uphold my anonymity, so it was there as a shield to protect me, I guess. Now that my real identity has been revealed, I have felt very exposed – quite literally – and have had to accept the reality that the protection I once had, no longer exists. It's weird to lose one's defences – especially when it happens without choice: very scary actually. I'm slowly learning how to cope with it, and have begun the task of embracing my online persona, in the offline sphere: an odd task, after two and a half years of keeping them separate, but I'm getting there – I think.

Jonathan: One obvious way in which my blogging persona differs from my real identity is that the blogging Jonathan doesn't talk a lot about his work – at least not in a way that would allow the person behind the blogging “mask” to be readily identified. This is a conscious and necessary decision, and one, of course, that a lot of bloggers make. One result in my case is that the “blog” Jonathan possibly has a much more colourful and less drudge-filled life than the “real” one… which may be quite marvellous for all of you who read the blog, but I'm sometimes not sure how healthy it is for the real-life me!

Swiss Toni: My blog persona is my outlet. It’s how I externalise a lot of the things that are going on in my head that I would otherwise never say. If I may generalise for a moment, I think that blogging is an activity that enables introverted people appear extrovert. Is my blogging persona a mask? Partially, but it’s probably nearer to the truth to say that my real life persona is a mask that my blog partially pulls away.

Jonathan: The creation of the comic-book version of myself that inhabits the pages of Crinklybee has been, I would say, a semi-conscious decision. That is, I didn't exactly set out to reinvent myself in any way, but I can quite see how that has happened to an extent... and I am very glad to have made the acquaintance of myself. I can't imagine life without me in fact... and we both hope both versions of ourselves will be around for a good few years yet.

Martin: I'm more cavalier, taller and physically attractive in real life. Something like that, anyway. It seems that I might meet some other local bloggers in the near future, and I'm not concerned that I'll come across as a completely different person. I'm just hoping that they're not 50-year-old truck drivers from Bolton who've been grooming me for the last couple of years.

* * * * *

Thanks to Abby, Jonathan, JonnyB, Martin, Paul, Pete and Swiss Toni for their thoughts. The comments box is open and ready for yours…

Thursday, November 09, 2006

20/20 vision

Out now: issue #20 of Vanity Project. And what does this milestone issue of the fanzine contain? Well, amongst other things...

Interview: Robots In Disguise

Album reviews: Mercury Rev, Howling Bells, Milburn, James Yorkston, Plaid & Bob Jaroc, Tapes 'N' Tapes, Envy, Wolf Eyes, His Name Is Alive, Anathallo, Spotlight Kid

Single reviews: Dirty Pretty Things, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, DJ Shadow, The Pipettes, The Long Blondes, The Broken Family Band, The Horrors, Tuung, Klaxons, Albert Hammond Jr, Juliette Lewis and the Licks, Psapp, Piskie Sits, Blackbud

Live reviews: Creamfields, The Young Knives, The Gossip

For details of how to get your mitts on a copy for the cost of postage alone, click here.
Quote of the day

"Who benefits when 'No.5, 1948' changes hands and is shunted from Malibu to Martinez's fortified Manhattan eyrie? I'm not sure that we should all own the means of production, but I do think that art belongs to us all, not just to the rich men who consider it, like their planes or their wives, as a bauble".

Peter Conrad in the Observer on David Martinez's record-breaking $140m purchase of Jackson Pollock's 'No.5, 1948' from David Geffen.

Monday, November 06, 2006

A day in the life of

On Saturday I woke up in Cardiff, took part in an environmental protest march and rally in central London, caught the last 25 minutes of a televised defeat that was spectacularly ignominious even by my football team's usual low standards and wound up at a party in Nottingham at which the concept of "housewarming" was taken too literally when a misdirected firework ignited a large hedge and the fire brigade had to be called, and which concluded at 5.30am with two guests convincing the hostess to drink vodka that had been warmed in a kettle.

How was your Saturday?
"I'll be there for you..."

My contribution to Simon's Songs To Learn And Sing feature - on the sublime gothic pantomime of The Black Heart Procession's 'A Truth Quietly Told' - is up now on Sweeping The Nation.

Also possibly of interest on the music front: the most recent two In The Dock features from The Art Of Noise, on The Eurovision Song Contest (for which voting has ended) and songs with associated dance moves (for which voting has only just begun).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Fright night


Upstairs in the Model Inn tonight it's Hallowe'en F.A.G.-style - and that means superb costumes (making me feel woefully underdressed and unimaginative), apple bobbing, neck sucking and some fine musical entertainment.

First up are local cult duo Gindrinker, and it takes them less than a song to reveal quite why they're thought of in those terms. They are, to all intents and purposes, a stripped-down Fall plus drum machine fronted by a misanthrope on a gin bender.

Certain songs are - as the band's Vic Reeves-esque raconteur recognises - suited to Hallowe'en (particularly the one about being chopped up and left in bin bags in the woods), while others are less so (the anti-greengrocer rant and 'God Of Darts', a wonky shouty hymn in praise of Jim Bowen and 'Bullseye'). There's no finesse or polish, just scabrous wit in spades. Let's just say I like the cut of their jib.

There follows a brief piece of barely-rehearsed performance art featuring members of Drunk Granny and Gender Fascist which takes the form of a theatrical song about suicidal female authors. You can't help but appreciate lines like "My name is Sylvia Plath, so please don't let me near the gas" and the rousing climax of "O what a thrill to be mentally ill!"...

After the charming chaos of the evening's first two performances, Drei are very different. The Brighton trio, for whom Cardiff is a stop-off on a short UK tour, are evidently very accomplished musicians who share an intuitive understanding with each other.

They specialise in a sinister form of post-rocky jazz with the occasional fluttering of electronics, though the final song - a rousing footstomping Cossack-style jig - marks a significant departure from that blueprint. By the end of their set, I'm left cursing myself for having allowed my attention to be swayed barwards for the early part of their set.

Drei's cellist Bela Emerson isn't finished there, though. The night ends with an improvised collaboration between her and Lily Green, fresh from making her Clwb debut two days earlier. With Lily locked in the zone, pounding away maniacally at her keyboard with stunning verve and aggression, Bela's contribution is often overpowered and overshadowed. Nevertheless, the fruit of their efforts is gripping in its intensity, and conjures up dark images appropriate to the occasion.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Meet the parents (and the brother and sister-in-law)

Before Sunday, the last film I'd seen Alessandro Nivola in was 'Goal!'. Let's just say that 'Junebug' is rather different...

It's one of those films in which nothing much happens, but which nevertheless captivates from first minute to last. It depicts a visit paid by George Johnsten (Nivola) to his family in North Carolina in the company of his new wife Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), an art dealer. Over the course of their stay domestic dramas play themselves out and husband and wife learn more about each other. What sets out as a warm and brilliantly subtle comedy actually becomes something more poignant towards the end.

If the actual events are unremarkable, then the characters certainly aren't - particularly George's sharp-eyed and sharp-tongued mother Peg (Celia Weston) and irrepressibly effervescent sister-in-law Ashley (Amy Adams, who deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her performance).

It's a very simple, uncluttered film. Rather than cramming every minute with dialogue and action, director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan let things unfold slowly of their own accord. And that would be my only real criticism - at times it was perhaps too slow, even for this viewer who had a raging hangover at the time and was thus in the mood to appreciate a sedate narrative pace. Sometimes events and exchanges were burdened with an excessively weighty significance in a manner that was a bit too heavy-handed.

Other things to recommend it, though: the occasional music from Yo La Tengo (of whom more next week) and the early cameo from Will Oldham.


Mike, whose consistently excellent blog Troubled Diva - a continual source of inspiration for Silent Words Speak Loudest - celebrated its fifth birthday on Monday. If you're unfamiliar with Troubled Diva (and let's face it, you really shouldn't be), then Mike's produced a very handy condensed overview of the blog's history - just look for posts referring to The Five In Five Days Project.


The Policeman's Blog - self-explanatory, really. The discovery of this site (via a national newspaper) has led to the realisation that there's actually a whole host of cop blogs - just take a look at the sidebar...


Two fantastic music features to have kicked off in the past few days:

On Oh! RussL is in the process of undertaking the Going Deaf For A Fortnight endurance test pioneered by Pete - fourteen gigs in fourteen nights...

And on Sweeping The Nation, for the whole of November, Simon is inviting one blogger or musician a day to write about a song they feel is criminally underrated and deserves to be more widely known. He's kicked it off himself with David Ackles' 'Waiting For The Moving Van'.


As if pre-emptively partaking in Simon's Songs To Learn And Sing feature, Del enthuses about Spiritualized's splendid 'Stop Your Crying'.

The Overnight Editor goes undercover.

And finally...

Betty offers her readers a glimpse into the future - "HRH Elizabeth II dies unexpectedly at the age of 94 after a gin binge. A disgraced Prince Charles lives in exile on the Isle Of Man with his long term girlfriend, Beyonce Knowles, so Prince William ascends to the throne".
Get lost

My favourite term of the past week: the "Buckfast Triangle". Apparently it's "an area east of Glasgow between Airdrie, Coatbridge and Cumbernauld" where Buckie - the under-fire tonic wine made by monks in Devon and beloved of Mogwai, amongst others - is quaffed as if it was water.

Rather like the Bermuda Triangle, I imagine people are frequently lost in the Buckfast Triangle. A bit like a K-hole, but cheaper?

(Incidentally, the Buckfast-inspired Chemikal Underground theme party mooted here a couple of years ago hasn't happened - yet...)