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Friday, 2 December 2016

A Stooges dog is for life

“I don’t want to be in the glam crowd. I don’t want to be in the hip hop crowd. I don’t want to be with the TV people. I don’t want to be a punk. I just want to be ...”.

No, surely Iggy - you wanna be our dog. Iggy Pop, aka James Osterberg (aka everyone’s favourite peanut butter-smeared real-wild rock-child) has the final word in Jim Jarmusch’s new Stooges film Gimme Danger. And he just wants to be.

But he also wants to talk and talk (something he also apparently does at length for Jeff Gold’s new Iggy photo-book). The loquacious Ig is everywhere all of a sudden.

Anyway, numerous segments from several long interviews are the backbone of Jarmusch’s film. Mr Pop - seemingly relaxed, picking his bare feet and lip-curling into frequent leather-faced smiles - is, I must admit, a very likeable narrator of his own adventures in rock music. He never appears rock-star arrogant and seems quietly relaxed about his achievements. He's also articulate, self-aware and knowledgeable about music. All hail Iggy Pop.

But hang on a minute! What am I going on about here? Why’s the old fool Niluccio rabbiting on about a Jim Jarmusch film in the first place? Good question. First, I’ll admit I’ve long ago given up on Jarmusch’s films, having liked the early stuff (Down By Law, Strangers In Paradise) but disliked his later works. (In something approaching Jarmusch overkill, by the way, the cinema where I saw Gimme Danger is also showing his - rather corny-looking - new film, Paterson). And as I said about a film on Nirvana last year, going to the cinema to see concert footage and people talking about a bunch of musicians isn’t necessarily my idea of an overly-thrilling experience in the first place. But OK, it can work. Brett Morgen’s film about the Stooges-influenced Nirvana proved me wrong and - by and large - so does Jarmusch’s little piece of music cinema. So yeah, I’m seeing this through ...

Essentially, Gimme Danger is a conventional biography of a band. It traces the Stooges’ Ann Arbor origins, tells us how they got together, who knew who, how the musical influences percolated into the mix and how they started to gain momentum. It sort of peaks with Iggy dementedly prancing about onstage or throwing himself into the audience, while the entire band are falling apart through over-indulgence in drink and drugs, as well as a lack of record company support.

Some of it looks like fun but probably wasn’t. (Maybe not no fun, but certainly a period involving more than its fair share of disappointments, problems and outright disasters). One of the interesting things about Gimme Danger is how tragedy and sadness hover over it. When a fragile, stoned-looking Scott Asheton recalls Dave Alexander’s death (aged 27) from drinking-related pneumonia, Asheton’s startlingly blue eyes look like they’re about to cry. Similarly, the super-phlegmatic Iggy looks momentarily moved as he recalls the band’s “reunification” in 2003. At the end of the film there’s a roll call of the fallen: Alexander, the two Asheton brothers, James Williamson. Iggy Pop, the great survivor, is the only one left. Never mind the three stooges, we’re down to one. One of the band comments on the Stooges’ “decay” through heroin use during 1972-3. In this film, decline and death are always lurking.

Still, there’s Iggy. The great iguana himself. Sun-baked, intelligent, amused, drawling away in his Michigan baritone. He's surprisingly interesting on music itself. He mentions learning about the blues first-hand in Chicago, about appreciating the value of “space” from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, absorbing stuff on drones from the Velvet Underground, and wanting to replicate the MC5’s energy and showmanship. He was a fan of things like Sun Ra and reckons the Stooges’ 10-minute We Will Fall showed they were a band “on a different path” to a lot of the other late-60s R‘n’B-fuelled rock outfits. Meanwhile, with Raw Power, he says he had to take his voice a whole octave higher because Williamson’s omnipresent guitar had completely captured that frequency range, which, when you listen again, is exactly right. My first proper exposure to Iggy Pop was the (excellent) Zombie Birdhouse LP, where he’s virtually crooning. The whine of Raw Power was a shock when I first heard it.

What else is there to say about Gimme Danger? Actually, a lot but ... I’ll try to spare you. On top of some pretty good live footage, Jarmusch throws in lots of film and TV clips for texture and ironic effect. There’s maybe a bit too much kitsch TV stuff, but mostly it works. Plus there are dozens of very evocative photos of the band in their 20s. And he also works in some nice goofy animations of the band as gangly teens. It’s quite a dense mix, and culminates in a rapid-fire sequence near the end where footage and images flash onto the screen as (probably) I Wanna Be Your Dog is pounding away. (A sequence where we hear Dog’s intro playing over a nightime cityscape, by the way, is possibly the single most powerful moment in the film).

Two final quotes to bring this riveting blog to an end. One from their champion at Elektra Records, Danny Fields, which is him quoting what the record company boss Jac Holzman said after watching the band play the Raw Power demos: “I didn’t hear anything”. In other words, he wasn’t impressed and the band were summarily dropped. Fields, a true believer in the Stooges, is still incredulous to this day.

The second quote: from Iggy himself. In the Asheton brothers, he says, “I found primeval man”. Their drums and guitar/bass fired and energised the Stooges. And he did the same for them. He mentions that when he went into a “monkey” crouch on stage the brothers stepped up a gear in their playing, feeding off his own out-there behaviour. Iggy Pop, eloquent, self-assured and worldly, understands that the Ashetons’ almost thuggish qualities (monosyllabic, Nazi memorabilia-wearing) were his perfect complement.

Hmm. I haven’t really spared you, have I? I’m still droning on. Iggy Pop probably wouldn’t approve. He mentions developing a lyric-writing approach based on using no more than 25 words in a song (rather snidely contrasting it with Bob Dylan’s garrulousness).

He also says that Andy Warhol once suggested he should just “read out the newspaper” instead of writing lyrics. Good idea! Let’s see - right, the classified ads section. “Wanted: individual willing to be my personal pet”. Ah, I know the very person. Someone who could even be their dog ...

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A song from where the wall is cracked ...

Dave Formula, worried that he's going to be shot by both sides, inspects the latest near miss ...

This, I'm reliably informed, is a core drilled hole. Whatever that is.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Oh America, then and now

Gee Vaucher's newly-topical Oh America, which recently adorned the front page of that esteemed newspaper of record, The Daily Mirror. Yes, really.

I shudder to think what Crass would have to say about Donald Trump ...

Monday, 7 November 2016

Obviously is forbidden, Podcast #135 (Oct 2016)

There are very few acceptable excuses for failing to listen to the latest Niluccio on on noise podcast. You're feeling tired? Pathetic. Your beloved dog's ill? No, not good enough. You've just run someone over in your car and have left the scene of the accident and are now effectively a fugitive from the law? No. Still not good enough. You've got some other music you want to listen to first? Aggghhh! The worst of all. This is most definitely NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Such a flimsy (and downright insulting) excuse obviously is forbidden ... 

1: Giorgio Moroser, Horrific
2: Starkey Banton, I and I saw them coming (Radikal Guru remix)
3: Bearfoot Beware, ? (Old Blue Last, London 23/10/16)
4: Pointe Du Lac, A progressive approach to the lake
5: Obviously is forbidden
6: The Mekons, Where were you
7: DJ Anarchist, ?
8: Echo 106, Blackness (short edit)
9: Bobby Bland, I've been wrong so long
10: maQLu, Dr Jekyll’s mask
11: Get Back Guinozzi, Police and thieves
12: Isabelle, ? (Pop In, Paris 6/10/16)
13: U Black, Natty dread at the controls
14: Bambooman, Stargaze
15: The Cleaners From Venus, Follow the plough
16: Molnbär Av John, Willow sketch
17: Top two joints
18: Screaming Jay Hawkins, I put a spell on you
19: Raez, Hologram jinn
20: Keith Irving, Ride the rhythm (remix)
21: Pulso, Positivo % negativo
22: Little Esther, Lost in a dream
23: Resonancedj, Eyes

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Monday, 31 October 2016

That musician doth protest too much, methinks

Everyone loves a list, right? And if you like music and you like lists, well you're going to adore my 200 best protest songs of all time list, as painstakingly compiled and summarily posted in another - more organised and altogether more meticulous - place.

Almost certainly the Niluccio top two hundred is NOT going to feature that special tune you always summon to mind when people mention protest songs. No, it's not. Don't complain. Don't kick up a fuss. There's absolutely nothing you can do about it ...

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Delivers more than the alternatives #134 (Sept 2016)

I usually marvel at people who, for one reason or another, don't like music. Not that they usually put it that way. They just don't seem to care about it. And it just doesn't, as it were, feature in their lives. It's conspicuous by its absence. But having been exposed to some truly godawful music recently (I can't remember what, where or when, but I remember the depression-like feelings it occasioned), I almost understand the beauty of life without music.

Almost. But then again, I actually don't understand it at all. Because, when you've got Podcast #134 ready and waiting, how can you possibly contemplate a single solitary moment without the glorious sounds of a Niluccio on noise compilation? Rest assured. It delivers more than the alternatives ...

1: Summer, Se meurt
2: Just Blankets, ? (JT Soar, Nottingham 9/9/10)
3: Special Request, Request the style
4: Thee Knaves, (His) breathing artwork
5: ?, Meditational raga of north India
6: worriedaboutsatan, The violent sequence (edit)
7: Delivers more than the alternatives
8: Stiv Bators, It’s cold outside
9: MegaHast3r, Uff
10: Dennis Brown & The Crystalites, Changing times
11: Raving lunatic
12: HiT, ? (Windmill, London 20/9/10)
13: Pretochines, Dark fall
14: Papa San, Big and bad
15: Thurston Moore, Speak to the wild
16: Edmond Hall’s Jazzmen, Night shift blues
17: Stefano Pilia, Ada
18: Oelek, De droes
19: Los Calchakis, Guitarra nueva
20: Chinese apology
21: Langax, The alien party
22: Roy Brown, Hard luck blues

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Al-Qa'ida's drugs, Noisepod #9 (Oct 2016)

With your Dr Dre Beats clamped to your oversized head, swaggering down the street in your expensive togs, you're gonna be cursing my name. Because, when you hear the auditory offerings contained in the latest Niluccio on noise Noisepod, it's going to hit you. This collection is disgusting, depraved and barely worth gracing with the name of music. It's tuneless, witless and hollow. Yes, it's that good. 

But, ingrate that you are, you're probably still not convinced. Not having previously sampled al-Qa'ida's drugs, it's all a little mind-altering. C'mon! Follow this chap's lead. Pull down your hood, turn it up and wait until everything around you becomes a faintly disturbing swirl of blues, greens and yellows. NOS! 

1: G.L.O.S.S., Trans day of revenge
2: Cinderblock, No future
3: Pharaoh, Recease
4: No One Survives, Fuckin' pigs
5: Dagger, Worn away
6: Heck Tate, Battle of pogo
7: Nuclear Witch, Fast to sleep/Poisoned and cursed
8: Like a clown
9: The Damned, Alone
10: Dixie, FRI!! FRI!!! FRI!!!!
11: Flat Sucks, Sorry
12: Occultist, Death siglis
13: Infect, Clarenza
14: White Christian Disaster, Smiling happy people have sex
15: Al-Qa'ida's drugs
16: Death Grips, Feels like a wheel
17: Loffciamcore, Bad touch at the Love Parade (Pink Punk Boy remix)
18: Sex Prisoner, Hard feelings
19: Yaitw, Psychopathy
20: Sex Pistols, EMI (bootleg)
21: If I liked the movie
22: Hinge, How the west was won
23: xDELOREANx, Trash for my engine
24: Congential Haemorrhoids, Concerto for noisegrind Pt2
25: The Fall, Rowche rumble
26: Fister, Antitheist
27: Chain Gang Grave, Autumn cannibalism

Saturday, 8 October 2016

A message from the past

Yes, you heard it here first kids. Punk is not dead and there is no future. The two things apparently not being related to each other. Nice haircut though!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Philosophers, pilgrims & punks

In the Boulevard Beaumarchais in Paris, some optimist has come up with this unlikely threesome ... 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Road to nowhere: the Jimmy Hill Way and other Coventry cul-de-sacs

I'll be popping out tomorrow to get petrol for the car and blow me down if I won't be travelling along the soon-to-be-called Jimmy Hill Way. Yes, that's right! The boring old A444 in Coventry is going to be named after the illustrious football pundit and one-time Coventry City manager.

Yeah, you probably already knew that. So what? Well, as one or two commentators have already observed, it's not everyone's idea of er, a good idea. Hill might be well liked by Coventry's beleaguered football fans, but, apart from thinking "nigger" is a humorous bit of football pitch banter, he's also notorious for his money-spinning tour of apartheid-era South Africa. Organising a tour of racially-segregated South Africa by a group of almost exclusively white British footballers isn't quite the "legendary" behaviour that seems to merit a road being re-named in your honour. Or so I think ...

At which point you're probably wondering why I'm going on about this on my tedious-as-hell music blog. Well ...

Well ... it's kind of obvious. Ask most non-Coventrians to name some famous descendants of the city and they'll soon come up with the Specials. Even football fans. Jerry Dammers, Terry Hall, 2-Tone: it's a huge part of the modern history of Coventry (I blogged about some of this earlier this year). Yes, OK, Hill helped make Coventry a moderately successful football club. Yes, they even, against the odds, won an FA Cup final (I was there). And perhaps understandably, as this once-fairly-big club slips into ever more precarious circumstances, the urge to memorialise a successful figure grows almost irresistible.

But, no. If you're going to start re-naming dull dual-carriageways in Coventry you should have a little sensitivity. The A444 (which I've been up and down thousands of times in my own oh-so-exciting lifetime) cuts a rude swathe through a part of northern Coventry with a particularly high concentration of people of South Asian descent. Did anyone ask them what they think of the Jimmy Hill Way proposal? Fine, maybe some are football fans and like the idea. Maybe they're not but don't care either way. Or maybe some recall that racism has been a real problem in Coventry and would rather that "legendary" football moguls like this one are not accorded some kind of civic hero status.

Given that Mahatma Gandhi's experience of racism in South Africa played a big part in his political consciousness, there's a not insignificant historical link between South Africa and some of the non-white residents who live in close proximity to Coventry City's football ground. Meanwhile, it was (of course) Jerry Dammers who wrote Free Nelson Mandela, that ubiquitous sing-alonger-er that became so associated with the UK's anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s.

Surely this is the legacy that Coventry City Council should be celebrating, not make-a-fast-buck footballers who tour racially-segregated countries.

Actually, it's not that I want Coventry to start renaming roads after musicians (Jerry Dammers Way, Neville Staple Street, Ghost Town Square, Do Nothing Road, Gangsters Close ...). Or that I want it to indulge in a splurge of touristy heritagisation of its music history (the Coventry Music Museum and 2-Tone Village are already doing that). I guess it comes back to priorities. Is football, with its many warts and all, such an important part of Coventry's history? Does the city's very long and complex multi-cultural history not matter rather more than a once-famous football manager who used to be on television on Saturday nights?

The Specials react to news of the renamed road

And so, with the ref about to blow his whistle, here's a last-gasp winner. As someone who's originally from Coventry and still there a lot, I'd like to declare an interest. I used to watch the odd Coventry City game in my mis-spent youth and also liked the Specials (and Fun Boy Three!). It's no contest. While the Specials, their amazing punk-ska sound and the multiracial 2-Tone legacy still matter in my life, football has been several-times-relegated (to a zone of life called "Scandals, big business and media hype").

Forget football. 2-Tone is as much a part of Coventry as its central ring road, its modernist pedestrianised shopping centre and its bombed-out cathedral. But what's that? You say you've been threatened by gangsters? Well, we're busy making new road signs. Call back later.

Friday, 30 September 2016

He ain't got no hustle, Dubpod #15 (Sept 2016)

Having got my many minions to scour the Niluccio on noise dub vaults, I hereby bring you the latest dubpod, all 26 bone-shaking tracks of it.

So, er ... what's that? You don't think I've got any minions and ... no vaults either? Ah, that's sort of true. In fact, it's just me plucking a few tunes from some boring old files on my computer on a Friday night. Right, fine. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking: he's all show. He's hardly even got any decent music. And what he has got is tired and dated. In fact, you're saying to yourselves, he ain't got no hustle ...

1: Glen Brown/King Tubby, There's dub
2: Jah Shaka, Conquering dub
3: Scientist, King Tubby's mandate
4: Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries, Lonely dub
5: Fat Man at King Tubby, Enter in dub
6: Get him a cuppa tea
7: Alton Ellis, I'll be waiting
8: Don Drummond & The Skatalites, Heavenless
9: Horace & Sound Dimention, Every tongue shall tell (version)
10: Black Uhuru, Apocalypse
11: Super Beagle, Dust a sound boy
12: Michigan & Smiley, Nice up the dance
13: He ain't got no hustle
14: Gregory Isaacs All Stars, Black a kill black dub
15: Tippa Irie, Sleng teng finish already
16: Music Intimidator/Tappa Zukie, Every one have their works
17: Roy Dobson/Black Pearl, Rising dub
18: Johnny Clarke, Rocking dub
19: La nuestra epoca
20: Aggrolites, Hot stop
21: The Three Tones, I'm so proud of you
22: Sylvain Chauveau & Konono No1, Makembe
23: Dillinger, Mickey Mouse crab louse
24: Brentford All-stars & others, Capricorn dub
25: Linval Thompson, Don't cut off your dub
26: Bungo Herman/Francis, Immortal drums

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Unpleasant and unnecessary, Podcast #133 (Aug 2016)

Whoops, it's nearly October and I'm only just posting the August podcast. Niluccio on noise - always one (or three or four) steps behind.

Yes, you'll have to forgive me. It's a disgrace and I'm truly sorry. Anyway, when you finally settle down to listen to this 79-minute-57-second masterpiece, I'm sure you'll agree that much (if not all) of it is unpleasant and unnecessary ...

1: Liquid Concept, Before the night
2: Yusef Lateef, Chang, chang, chang
3: Unpleasant and unnecessary
4: Fadeaways, How can I make her mine
5: Jennifer Lara, A change gonna come
6: Severed Heads, Barbara three edit
7:  Ahmed Fakroun, Falah
8: James P Johnson’s Blue Note Jazzmen, Easy rider
9: Suppression, Good squad
10: Ainst Char, Your cellar, my shrine
11: The Cavemen, I’d kill
12: Jabo Williams, Fat mama blues
13: Aglow Hollow, Browulf
14: Fraktion, Replication of a past feeling
15: Jonathan Richman, Roadrunner
16: Dagger, Run down
17: The Last Poets, It’s a trip
18: Lyd, Parameter morphing
19: Mise, Alive (doing it right)
20: Linval Thompson & The Revolutionaries, Boss man dub
21: Golden Teacher, On the street
22: Seclorance, Depths of self-deception
23: Milk Boy, Milk Boy 8
24: Doug Hammond, Spaces and things (lopin’/meno mosso)

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Paix Paix Paix

Chris Marker eat your heart out. Here's Don Cherry, the extraterrestrial trumpeter come among you ...

Friday, 16 September 2016

Calling time on late (and early) bands

How late is too late? And how early is too early? These are the vital questions I frequently find myself pondering as I set off for another of my oh-so-exciting gigs.

Bleeding’ hell. They’ve finished. Missed ‘em again.

Yeah, in recent years I’ve failed to see quite a few bands/artists I’ve intended to catch because I was just too damned slow in getting to the church on time.

Or was I? How do you know when bands are actually going to be starting their miserable little 25-minute performances anyway? Forget the laughably inaccurate “stage times” notices you sometimes see at venue entrances. Nearly always wrong. And don’t pay too much attention to what promoters sometimes (but usually only if you go to the trouble of asking them via Facebook or something) might tell you. Again, it’s nearly always wrong.

No, there’s no reliable way of knowing. So what happens? In my case, more often than not I get it all hopelessly wrong. Arriving just as the band I’d fancied seeing are finished their last song. Or, getting to the sweaty little pub/basement bar to find nothing happening and there still being two bands to go before the one I’d actually come for. At this point, in a typical display of my almost Buddhist powers of rigorous self-control and transcendental patience, I normally go straight back home again (especially if it’s in my local east London patch). Bye. Who wants to wait around while lackadaisical band members drink at the bar or fiddle around endlessly with their equipment on stage before … going away again for another 20 minutes?

Then of course there’s that other variation on lateness … not showing up at all! Twice this year I’ve been to see a specific band I’d had my eye on (ear on?) only to find - on both occasions - they’d “cancelled”. Right, keep that up and no-one is ever going to watch you play your rubbishy songs …

So how late is too late? Good question. I’ll leave the answer to the inimitable Howard Devoto …

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Hum or whistle, Podcast #132 (July 2016)

Breaking my own landspeed record for supernatural behind-the-clockness, I'm only now posting this July podcast late on a warm 23 August evening. Pathetic. And it's not even any good! No, I take that back. It's great. It's got both humming and whistling. Well worth the wait. Hmm, hmm, hmmm ...

1: Natural Snow Buildings, Ectoplasm rain
2: Kim Check, Kim Eun & drummer (Mu, Seoul 23/7/16)
3: IXTAB, Eidesis
4: Hum or whistle
5: Hackjob, A fist full of molars
6: The Jazzfakers, Phantacusia
7: Unknown insects (Gangnam, Seoul 22/7/16)
8: lowercase, Lighthouse
9: Orchestre Poly Rythmo De Cotonou, Mi homian dadalé
10: Sylergic, Babylon shall fall
11: He Jeon Jin, ? (Strange Fruit, Seoul 24/7/16)
12: Mr Foundation, See them a come
13: Moa Pillar, Sun stood still
14: Enslaved Chaos, Spiral youth
15: Obbatuké, Biancamo
16: Nuclear Witch, Forever hell
17: Frak, Radiant dominance (version a)
18: Josh Armistead, Hand of the hunter
19: Remain, Alert
20: Nada Baba, Kangaroo moth
21: Interiors, c.1964, Spring snow
22: False Sacrament, Glouster point
23: T-Bone Walker, The sun went down

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Wealth of the nation, Noisepod #8 (July 2016)

The following took place in a record shop about 30 years ago. I was working there as a shop assistant and, in all my gauche youthful ineptitude, I'm involved in some sort of lunchtime conversation about ... er, music. At one point I happen to mention that I listened to the John Peel programme. Big mistake. Quite angrily, a colleague suddenly rounded on me: "That's not music! It's just noise!". Woah. And this, remember, is a conversation among young people working in a record shop.

Anyway, I hear that thankfully this particular person's now dropped all that mumsy "just noise" nonsense and wised up to the thrill of a good Siberian Ass Torture tune. So I hereby dedicate this podcast to her and anyone else who's ever complained that what they personally don't like is not music, just noise. Because you, dear noise-averse music hater, are the very wealth of the nation ...

1: Enslaved Chaos, Say you love satan
2: Infect, Vocé não é seu passado
3: KlitoriX, Menstruation'z over
4: xDELOREANx, The blacksmith must not die
5: Siberian Ass Torture, Jirre poes!
6: Actual word in question
7: Chain Gang Grave, To the sea
8: Beards, Infinite lawn
9: Condominium, Let's die
10: Corrupt Moral Altar, Whiskey sierra
11: Ilsa 25, Cromwell
12: Dixie, Morbidon spider
13: Perspex Flesh, Black magic
14: Wealth of the nation
15: Kind Eyes, More amps, less angst
16: Like Rats, Russian midnight
17: Good Throb, Psycho disco
18: Negative WorM, I really don't care
19: Fist Of Fury, Fuck the system
20: Starkweather, Bitterfrost
21: Crass, Fun going on
22: Siege Stompers, Loud & clear
23: Slur, Insanity of war
24: A great environment
25: Nuclear Witch, Forever hell
26: Otoboke Beaver, Akimahenka
27: Dyslexic Fudgicle, Fetus hat
28: I Loved, I Hated, Broken homes
29: Ill Fat Liza, Kick in the stomach
30: 100 Demons, Ne desit virtus
31: Help She Can't Swim, Cut the biography

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Very difficult to know, Podcast #131 (June 2016)

After you didn't like the first 130 podcasts I did, what chance is there you'll like the 131st? Answer: it's very difficult to know ...

1: Just Jace, Sidestep
2: Very difficult to know
3: Pale Kids, ? (Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield 24/6/16)
4: Fragile Tom, Just you know
5: G.L.O.S.S., Give violence a chance
6: Golden Grey, Don’t stop running
7: Jherek Bischoff & Konono No1, Kule kule
8: The Cavemen, Swamp thing
9: Casulairs, Satisfied
10: Hack Musician, Reluctant acceptance
11: Gate, IWD4u
12: Rene Hall/Willie Joe, Twitchy
13: Plaza, ? (Victoria, London 16/6/16)
14: Subset, Taganga
15: Asha Bhosie, Dum maro dum
16: Doctor Turtle, I’m what you’d be without her
17: Kode9 & The Spaceape, Nine samurai
18: Nachthexen, ? (Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield 24/6/16)
19: Alireza Mashayekhi, Development 2, op24
20: Full access
21: Patsy & The Count Ossie Band, Pata pata rock steady
22: S.Brinks/M.Cipollone/C.Freshard/G.Fisher, Robot stano
23: Bass Clef & Kasai Allstars, The incident at Mbuji-mayi
24: D Smilez, We are the ravers

Saturday, 9 July 2016

DIY music: death by a thousand sincere announcements

So there I was, at a small gig (about 25 people) in a small venue in Brooklyn, NYC, when ... the singer in the band starts rambling away on the mic between songs. It happens quite a lot. People in bands with "stuff to say". Not necessarily a bad thing - depends what they're trying to say and how they're saying it.

But ... it's kinda dangerous. Long-winded on-stage communications are a sure-fire mood-killer. Ya gotta get it right. Anyway, this was slightly different. He wasn't thanking the other bands (dull), expressing his gratitude to the promoter (also dull) or advertising his band's merch stall (dullest of all). Instead our loquacious New York entertainer began an extended soliloquy on "how great" it was to be part of "DIY indie-rock culture".

For real! This over-sincere Williamsburg dude droned on about "DIY culture" at regular intervals throughout his band's entire set. Even by the very low standards of most stage chat, this was exceptionally cringeworthy stuff. By the third or fourth time I wanted to charge up and grab the mic off him. PLEASE STOP! Was he doing it as some kind of twisted performance art? Tormenting his audience with sincerity until they snapped and caused a scene?

I dunno, people eh? Lest I be misunderstood, I'm the first to extol the virtues of so-called DIY music culture. It's undoubtedly where it's at, and has been for decades. As far as I can tell, there currently seem to be some very good DIY-type venues, promoters and artists in the UK, in New York, in Tokyo, in Italy, and doubtless in numerous other places dotted all over the world. Cool. But no need to shout about it.

Punk, lo-fi, outsider, alternative, squat, community, grassroots: call it what you will, it's a healthy thing and fosters a lot of great music. But phew, it can get suffocating. The Brooklyn gig had one of those hand-written bar signs that - like a lot of chalkboards outside cafes these days - specialised in cloying cutesyness. "Always tip you bartender. Be cool out there. And don't pee on the bathroom floor", said this one. Even worse, a gig I went to in northern England recently had an actual mock "commandment" tablet onto which were written the rules-cum-principles of the venue. Knowingly ironic, but still ... rules for niceness?

At gigs I dislike boorishness as much as the next twee indie rock kid, but ... please stop hectoring or suffocating me like this. Being "shushed" at quiet gigs is bad enough. I think I can just about disport myself in a non-offensive fashion without having to be be reminded that your gig is extra-specially "safe", "inclusive", fully-progressive and just won't put up with bad behaviour. Back off you rule-makers.

No, I'll keep going to these gigs (despite my complaints, they're frequently my favourite ones). But please spare me the ten commandments for "cool behaviour" and stop preaching from the script of "DIY indie-rock". I might be twee and and utterly non-violent but even I have my limit. Cool, yeah?

Monday, 4 July 2016

Jamming with the Taliban

 ... meanwhile, in another place, with newer smartphones and snazzier training shoes, I discuss the Taliban's particular style of music criticism. A clue. It involves AK47s and suicide belts ...

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Beyond computer analysis, Dubpod #14 (June 2016)

Blam blam - bam bam. Yeah, shoot 'em down, re-load. Shoot again. Forty per cent of the all the privately-owned guns in the world are in the USA, so they say. Blam blam. Bam bam. Smith & Wesson, Blam blam. Bam bam. Ruger Firearms, blam blam. Taurus Guns, blam blam.

Anyway, Jamaica knows all about gun-toting rude boys. And that worked out really well. Don't understand why it's so important for the world to keep manufacturing deadly weapons? Er ... let's check online. Still unsure? Maybe then ... it's beyond computer analysis ...

1: Mikey Dread, Star sign dub
2: Sugar Minott, Row fast
3: Prince Far I, 354 version
4: Yabby You & Trinity, Jah vengeance (12" mix)
5: It is very quiet
6: Caly Gibbs, Seeing is believing
7: Michigan & Smilie, Rub a dub style
8: The Silverstones, Dub a pum pum
9: Johnny Clarke, Ites green and gold
10: The Shades, Who you gonna run to
11: Go to the tax office
12: Charlie Chaplin, Throw me some corn
13: General Echo, Arleen
14: Sister Nancy, Bam bam
15: Congo Natty, Revolution
16: Almost treated as legal
17: Lloyd & Devon, Cus cus
18: Sir Lord Comic, Jack of my trade
19: Super Beagle, Dust a sound boy
20: Willie Williams, Armagideon time
21: Beyond computer analysis
22: The Valentines, Blam blam fever
23: Randy's All Stars, Guns in the ghetto
24: Jah Lion, Soldier and police war

Monday, 6 June 2016

Quick! Listen to me, Podcast #130 (May 2016)

In these zero-attention-span times you're lucky to get more than a nano-second of anyone else's time. What with their selfies, their Facebooking, their shopping for white trainers - people are busy.  

It's all hustle and bustle in the market place of life. Get ya plums, lovely fresh plums. Make sure your CV's up to scratch, lovely fresh CVs. Anyway, I appreciate all this (no not appreciate, understand, have awareness of, ie dislike and shake my head at, but only in an enlightened-yet-still-kindly-and-definitely-not-superior way). 

Ahem. So I, the great Niluccio, say this to you, mere mortals of the out-of-town shopping centres - stop what you're doing immediately. Repent before it's too late. Quick! Listen to me ...

1: Every Now And Then, The flicker beneath my eyelids
2: Ghost Car, ? (Windmill, London 24/5/16)
3: Tim Held, Dirge:on
4: Death Stuff, Conversations for girls
5: Mikey Gang, Horses can’t dance
6: Wehwalt & Zreen Toyz, Antisymétrique mandala
7: Shark Dentist, ? (Windmill, London 31/5/16)
8: Leisure-B, Remus (Herr Obersturmbahnführer remix)
9: Dirtygirl, Never 
10: Dyslexic Fugicide, Fetus hat
11: Vin Gordon, Fullness
12: Aerologic, Transformation
13: Soda Boys, Doghouse
14: Egg Nebula, Mental communication
15: Bad Breeding, ? (Old Blue Last, London 4/5/16)
16: Supersilent, 13.3
17: Clifton Giggs & The Selected Few, Brimstone and fire
18: Molar, Courage sandwich
19: Ars Sonor & Digital By Birth, Digital soul (Utopia mix)
20: Otoboke Beaver, Akimahenka
21: Winston Flames, In a armagideon
22: Blip Street, You fackin no good cant

Saturday, 4 June 2016

A dawn chorus of music biz noise

A true story, which happened … this very morning.

I’m quite contentedly sleeping (dreaming of the next Niluccio podcast) when, at 5am, I find myself ... awake. Yeah, it’s become a recent habit. Presumably the light summer mornings. I don’t mind - the lovely birds of Hackney are doing their stuff and it’s kinda nice.

Except, what’s this! Voices outside, a mere 40 metres away. Yep, it’s people from an adjoining building out on their roof. In fact, I now realise I’d heard the distinct popping sound of a wine bottle being uncorked (really). It’s what’s woken me up.

Well, well. So they’re chatting away, mere youngsters (compared to me) having a little dawn party in groovy E9. Who can blame them? I’ve done the same myself (though doubtless in far less fashionable circumstances).

Anyway, time ticks on. The chat is getting rather voluble. It’s hard not to tune into what people are saying, especially the loudest one, a woman who speaks in surprising foghorn frequency. She’s blathering on (with total assurance) about some music that can actually also be heard in the background (it’s coming from inside their building). “I LOVE this. Listen!”, she commands. And then other stuff about the musician concerned, who, it seems, she actually personally knows and advises, and possibly even “manages” (I hear her speaking about “being a manager” repeatedly).

Blimey. Early-morning music industry chat. Right outside my window. But … it goes on and on, and the music manager woman is basically a know-all who switches to the EU referendum and the US election with equal self-assurance (and apparent lack of knowledge), talking across other people and generally getting on my nerves.

And so to my point, dear reader. Contrary to received opinion, it’s not loud music that’s annoying when neighbours have their little nocturnal gatherings, but the bloody infernal racket of their nonsense conversations. Give me (even) the Stone Roses at 100 decibels compared to people like my music manager neighbour braying away at 10 decibels.

Many years ago, when I actually lived in the home town of the super-tedious Stone Roses, I once made the mistake of giving in to pressure from my then partner and getting up in the middle of the night to confront our neighbours over their loud music. I hated doing it (shyness, fear) and later regretted it. Who was I to get them to turn down the music? I like music. It wasn’t even bothering me.

No, the noise abatement bores have been focusing on the wrong thing. It’s not music that’s anti-social. It’s people.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Ruining my career, Podcast #129 (Apr 2016)

Listening to Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard's 'Em Are I as I post this fabulous new podcast, I can't help reflecting on how Lewis must now be considered very much NYC "establishment" by the younger musicians of Williamsburg and Forest Hills. Not him!, they must say, as they check out the latest promo murmurings on Brooklyn Vegan. No that tiresome motherfucker Lewis and his boring crew of sing-a-long mates! Yeah, it comes to all of us. We're suddenly old hat. Last year's thing (if we were ever a "thing" at all). Oh dear ...

As it happens, having not liked 'Em Are I overmuch at first blush, I've now warmed to it. Not least to stuff featuring Jeffrey Lewis' underrated brother Jack. Oh no. Having now admitted to retaining a soft spot for the past-their-sell-by-date brothers Lewis, I've probably gone and damaged by transatlantic blogger street cred. Damn it. I'm ruining my career ...

1: Phoenelai, Voices from the fire 
2: Two White Cranes, So much water, so close to home 
3: Oiseaux-Tempête, Nec mergitur 
4: His attacks on inequality 
5: The Hairs, Wild thing (Shea Stadium SK, New York 12/4/16) 
6: Wayne Kinos, Kerberos 
7: DJ Stingray 313, Lurker 
8: Rene Wiegert & others, I went a marvellous party 
9: Cinderblock, Disco killers 
10: Lee Scratch Perry & The Heptones, Three in one 
11: Sean Henry, Everyone was dead (Silent Barn, New York 10/4/16) 
12: My Disco, 1991 
13: Soda Fountain Rag, Oh oh 
14: Ruining my career 
15: Jimmy Penguin, Erupt 
16: Susanna, Burning sea 
17: Box Fan, ? (Silent Barn, New York 10/4/16) 
18: Marrach/Bad Poet/Chtin Mara, Habitus poeticus 
19: Fun-Da-Mental, Dog tribe 
20: Maybe Don’t, Retroactive continuity 
21: Johnny Peinlich, wtf 
22: President Brown, Preserving life 
23: Gregor Thresher, 1982 
24: C Strøm, Dark as a medley 
25: Roger Döring/Konrad Korabiewski, Hof 
26: The Basic Income Earth Network, If not now, when? II

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Rock royalty is abolished. I hereby declare a people’s music revolution

Prince is dead. David Bowie is dead. RIP Prince, RIP David Bowie.

It’s a shame, but there you are. People die. Popular musicians die. Even “god-like geniuses” die. Die die die, human scum …

But what’s this? Prince’s death is the lead item on the BBC radio news at 8pm on the night of his announced death? The lead item?  The demise of the singer of Purple Rain and other tiresome songs from the 1980s is the most significant piece of news in the entire world that evening? (Sorry Prince fans but I could never stand all that Raspberry Beret stuff. Nope, I never understood the cult of Rogers Nelson and his supposed Revolution).

Priorities, eh? When Bowie’s death was announced on that long-ago Monday morning I was listening to the Today programme when the presenter cut short an interview with an aid worker from Turkey who’d been talking about Syrians fleeing from Russian air strikes because … “there’s extraordinary news coming out of New York concerning the singer David Bowie”. Never mind dead Syrians, we’ve got a dead international pop star on our hands …

No, no, NO!, I hear you shriek in your best Prince falsetto. That’s not it at all Niluccio, you fatuous idiot. They’re BOTH important, though important in different ways. There’s nothing wrong with reporting the death of these iconic musicians. They changed lives. Millions of lives. Stop being so superior.

Hmm, now I’m chastened. I should just shut up. Bowie was fabulous. Everyone loved him. Prince was amazing. (Nearly) everyone loved him. What a singer. What a guitarist. What a dancer. What a talent.

Except …well, I don’t share the reverence for either of these (or for other 2016 casualties like Lemmy or Maurice White for that matter). Whisper it here, but I think both Bowie and Prince were hugely overrated. While they certainly did interesting things in terms of image cultivation, I don’t think they compare with less-idolised twentieth-century musicians (Miles Davis, Lee Perry, James Brown, Fats Waller, John Lee Hooker, Captain Beefheart, Reed and Cale, etc etc).

There, I’ve said it. So impale me on a jagged RCA gold disc and throw me to the hyenas of the music press. This is all death-defying heresy and idiocy. A crime against music. I should probably shut up before the Ziggy lynch-mobs come for me or the Prince hells angels on their big Honda motorbikes roll up outside my flat.

Nothing compares 2 over-the-top media coverage of dead pop stars

Funnily enough though, apart from the estimable Kiss and Nothing Compares 2 U (my own Prince faves), I’ve a reason to be grateful to Prince after all. His death came during a day of utterly soul-destroying media coverage of the Queen’s 90th birthday. While I think the media then went overboard with Prince coverage instead, there was at least a pleasant irony in the displacement of the Queen by a certain uppity Prince. Roll on the abolition of royalty altogether though. And that means rock royalty as well …

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Led Zep go shopping

Only in SOHO, New York ...

Brace yourself: here's the worst reggae collection of all time

I've previously railed against meagre music selections on long-haul flights, and here I am again with another thrilling instalment.

On the one hand it obviously doesn't matter in the slightest. Anyone with even a passing interest in music is probably going to have a few tunes on their phone or whatever, so why bother complaining? True. But then again ...

Given that big airline companies go to the trouble of serving up music on these flights (presumably because their market research shows a demand), it's only right that I have a go at criticising their efforts. Right?

Anyway, as we begin our descent into New York City and the captain asks that we refrain from any further walking in the cabin aisle, I want to ask: what the hell is this nonsense I'm currently listening to courtesy of Delta Airlines? The nonsense in question is a compilation called Reggae World. Here's what's on it:

1: Althea and Donna, Uptown Top Ranking (Extended Version)
2: Bryan Art, Rock And Come In
3: The Orb, Fussball
4: The Skatalites, Ska Ba
5: Adrian Sherwood, Trapped Here
6: Soundsci, Rastaman
7: Clinton Fearon, On The Other Side
8: Tessanne Chin, Firework
9: Dub Trio, Screaming At The Sea
10: Earl Sixteen, Trials And Crosses

And that's it. Yep, a whole ten songs are on offer (they really searched high and low for the very best reggae tunes all around the world there, didn't they?). Meanwhile, what tiresome dross is this anyway? Leaving aside Althea and Donna's excellent Uptown Top Ranking (which presumably only got selected because it was a big crossover pop hit in the UK charts in 1978) the remainder are ... either terrible, or just mediocre.

Well no, the Earl Sixteen is a reasonable effort (a mid-tempo vocal skank with some quirky whistle-like sound-effects and a creakily experimental feel to its latter stages), but nothing very mind-blowing. But bloody hell, the rest. Half of them aren't even vaguely reggae songs at all. The Orb? The Tessanne Chin offering? - it's some bog-standard, big-voiced pop-soul "anthem" thing. The Skatalites tune is a Mexican mariachi effort played over a ska shuffle (vaguely interesting perhaps). I could go on ...

All in all this is possibly one of the worst faux-reggae collections ever cobbled together. It's insultingly short and consists mostly of plodding non-entities. Weirdly enough, it actually appears in Delta's genre sections as "Caribbean", like they couldn't even bring themselves to use the word reggae. And needless to say, there isn't anything else whatsoever in this so-called Caribbean section. We're dealing with the most token of token offerings here.

To cap it all, dear reader, I want you to know that the Delta player thing has a ridiculously low volume setting. Even at full blast you can barely hear the tinny-sounding stuff you've foolishly tried to listen to (a blessing in disguise it turns out).

No, I think it's time to switch off, stow away my table, and BRACE BRACE BRACE ...

Thursday, 7 April 2016

I just want you to think, Podcast #128 (Mar 2016)

Great excitement on Twitter this week, as people revelled in the mock-confessional #indieamnesty jokey admissions thread. Loads of fun, o'course. Well, for five or six minutes maybe.

No, I haven't got anything against people joking about their teenage infatuation with Ash or the Strokes, and actually Fred Macpherson does a decent job of seeing the discussion as a backhanded tribute to the underrated mid-noughties scene centred around bands like Neil's Children and the Rakes. But, er, it's ... weak stuff in the end. Quarter funny jokes about mediocre bands. (Or quarter funny jokes about bands that were sometimes quite good, but got burnt by the hype of Britpop or the annihilating venality of the music industry).

Oh what a tangled (discussion) thread we weave. Nah mate. I urge you to put aside childish things and ... get serious. What I want you to do is ... think. Forget Jarvis, Liam and Damon. I just want you to think ...

1: Interstitional Praxis, Elsaf rendeg
2: Adrianna Krikl, Sunrises
3: Lucha Eterna, Walter Mercado
4: Dignan Porch, ? (Victoria, London 31/3/16)
5: Prizium, Parameter
6: I just want you to think
7: Hissing Pallas, Last defender
8: Rotten Bliss, ? (Windmill, London 24/3/16)
9: Raul Diaz Palomar, 1607
10: Luciermaga, Behold yourself
11: Unidentified birdsong (Dalston, London 23/3/16)
12: The Room, New dreams for old
13: Drugs Made Me Smarter, Peppermint coffee
14: Drinks, Spilt the beans
15: Birdskulls, ? (Victoria, London 21/3/16)
16: Night Flowers, Sleep (Saif Mode remix)
17: Somewhere very relaxing
18: Nodus1, Desolate distortion blues
19: Windmill, An ordinary man
20: Night School, Night
21: Little Death Machine, ? (Windmill, London 24/3/16)
22: Spandril, Pinch
23: gunctrl, Superfluous hardware
24: Three Mustapha Three, Awara hoon
25: niteffect, Lights off
26: Adam Stafford, Atheist money
27: Mularas Astatki & His Ethiopian Quartet, Shagu
28: Ron & Natas, Backyard mini-ramp

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

All you punks, all you grindfiends, Noisepod #7 (Mar 2016)

If you know where to look (ie listen), there's noise ... er, everywhere.

Emergency vehicles (my bit of east London is alive with them), road works (who doesn't love a pneumatic drill?), car soundsystems (dumpff dumpff dumpff), raucous birds, slamming doors, random shouts and screams (scarily enough) ... yeah, it's all around us. NOIZE.

I was struck recently by Nik Cohn mentioning how "noise" was a predominant quality in the confrontational new rock 'n' roll sound of the fifties. It's not what you immediately associate with Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, but ... yes, that's it. Noise. Along with swagger, sex appeal, and one or two other things. Noise, lovely noise.

And noise is still with us. Only, er, more so. So unplug your filthy ears all you punks, all you grindfiends. Cos this Noisepod is my own particular tribute to Bill Haley & The Comets ...

1: Lucha Eterna, Walter Mercado 
2: Magrudergrind, Incapacity reigns 
3: Tersanjung 13, Global warming 
4: Mr California And The Mr California Band, My generation 
5: Genocide Pact, Experiments in nihilsm 
6: Fundamental, Violent dance 
7: All you punks, all you grindfiends 
8: Dregs, Parallel justice 
9: Callate, Jabba el terrible hut! 
10: White Christian Disaster, A message for a more united middle class 
11: Dixie, Morbidon spider 
12: Amorous Dialogues, Be reasonable 
13: That circus is fucked 
14: Guilty Parents, Nowt 
15: Roseanne Barrr, A thief's journal 
16: Mozart, The tick 
17: Young Offenders, Outta here/Wen Ho Lee 
18: Black Tambourines, I wanna stay away 
19: Moon Hag, Pills 
20: Inky's oak 
21: 100 Demons, Ne desit virtus 
22: Inquiry Last Scenery, Behind the mask 
23: ChopChop, Good ol' shippers 
24: Kill-A-Watts, Can't be told 
25: The Mummies, (You must fight to live) on the planet of the apes 
26: The Ridiculous Trio, Down on the street 
27: 666 
28: Overbite, Cell 
29: Archie And The Bunkers, Trade winds 
30: xDELOREANx, Trash for my engine 
31: Pick Your Side, Bleeding out 
32: Lifeless, The truth of life and death 
33: The Love Triangle, Do you think that you've found love? 
34: Jimmy Dickinson, Red headed woman 
35: Venkman, Tony no like 
36: X-Ray Spex, Obsessed with you

Cruyff flicked to kick and I didn't know ...

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Friday, 25 March 2016

Started to swerve, Dubpod #13 (Mar 2016)

Having just driven through the super-congested rain-sodden streets of Brixton, dodging the maniac bus drivers and the even more maniacal siren-blaring police vans, I was put in mind of Roger Robinson's excellent Walk With Me, his hymn to the fertile subterranean madness of this locale. Yeah, it's a delightfully groovy place. With, as Robinson says, a black and powerful river running deep beneath the tarmac, deep beneath the concrete. Well there was last night, with all that rain ...

And how did I manage to navigate Brixton Road's many obstacles? Easy. I listened to this masterful collection of dub. At least, until I started to swerve ...

1: Rypton Hilton, No wicked cannot reign
2: Prince Alla, Stone
3: Sly & Robbie & Revolutionaries, Chalice man dub
4: King Tubby, Bag a wire dub
5: Big Youth, Notty no jester
6: I started to swerve
7: Val Bennett, Russians are coming (take five)
8: The Dynamic Man, Boss boss
9: King Stitt, Fire corner
10: Count Matchuki, Movement
11: Alton Ellis & The Flames, Rock steady
12: Koranic recitation
13: Revolutionaries, World of dub
14: Moodie, Ethiopia for Ethiopians
15: Prince Jammy, The champion (version)
16: Prince Far I, Gimme version
17: Soom T & Disrupt, Wee rant
18: ISIS are coming ...
19: The Abyssinians, Black man's strain
20: Jah Shaka, Judgement dub
21: Mikey Dread, Jungle signal (dub)
22: Morwell Unlimited Meets King Tubby, Bald head
23: Wad sacrifice
24: The Specials, Ghost town
25: Tommy McCook, African jumper

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Corré’s bonfire of the punk vanities

Quite a few people have been expressing disgust at the supposed wastefulness of Joe Corré and his five million quid’s worth of punk gear pyrotechnics.

Yes, punk is back! He's going to pour petrol over the lot and VOOM! In place of expensive museum pieces there’ll just be a cloud of black smoke (and maybe the faint sound of cackling laughter down the long-since-gentrified back alleys of Holborn and Soho as the ghost of Malcolm McLaren registers the humour of it). Yeah, OK, it’s a funny old gesture. And it seems to be getting a lot of advance media coverage (more than it’s worth?), but, well, I guess it has a trace of something interesting to it. Burn, baby burn.

First off, though, how many tatty old muslin Destroy shirts and bondage trousers must Corré have stashed in his attic if they’re really worth £5m? Bloody crates of them. All that unsold Sex stock, eh?

I've seen some people complaining that instead of torching his punk stash Corré should ... wait for it ... send the clothes to refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Er, right. It’s McLaren and Westwood’s son who should help the freezing refugees in northern France, not the combined state exchequers of two of the richest nations on earth.

No, if Corré wants to burn his punk gear, let him. It is his stuff after all. Like Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty with their burning of £1m, Corré’s “extravagantly futile gesture of provocation” might be strictly nonsensical and self-defeating, but that ... doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

As to whether it’s a meaningful or in any way necessary riposte to the heritagisation of Punk London (“40 Years of Subversive Culture”) is maybe another matter. You might say: why bother? It’s a rather over-obvious target isn’t it? And why pin it all on Punk London and the 40th anniversary nonsense? It’s not just this year. Since when wasn’t punk an inglorious mess of hype and image-retailing? The Sex Pistols themselves were initially another type of boy band designed to help market over-priced clothes. Much of the energy and self-creation of the early punk scene was accidental, a by-product of the involvement of characters like John Lydon and the (genuinely anarchic) Steve Jones.

Shoppers seen bargain-hunting for punk gear in Carnaby Street in 1976

Yes, maybe put the fire-lighters away and cool down a bit Mr Corré. How much does it really matter if the mainstream media and corporate London exploits and lays waste to the supposedly sacred history of punk? For Boris Johnson and like-minded chancers, punk will always get reduced to a few snatches of Anarchy and tired old images of a lip-curling Sid Vicious. So be it. Punk’s real value - musically, artistically, attitudinally - is meanwhile in evidence at DIY gigs most weekends in places like Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham (or Williamsburg, or Houston, or the Bay Area, SF).

As Richard Hell says, punk rock wasn’t ever one band, one song or one set of codified behaviours. To use the old cliché, punk is an attitude, and it can be deadly serious (the Sex Pistols at their most gut-wrenching, the jarring vocals on PiL’s Theme) or light-hearted/satirical (TV Personalities, Wire, Damned), or quite a few other things. It can also mutate into superbly aggressive 80s-90s US hardcore, noughties breakcore, the modern grindcore scene or excellent contemporary noise bands like No Form. Dig it kids!

No, maybe Joe Corré needs to stop poring over the websites of minor annoyances like Punk London, put away the Seditionaries dressing-up box and ... go to see a few gigs. It’ll restore his faith. But if he’s dead-set on his bonfire of the punk vanities, he should definitely throw a few images of the dear old Queen herself onto the pyre. It would at least have a savour of McLarenesque provocation.

And by the way … something even older than punk and an even bigger institution in Britain is of course Corrie, aka Coronation Street! How fitting that McLaren and Westwood’s son’s own name should reflect that, a reminder of all that’s cosy and stifling in British cultural life as well as a nod toward the antics of the Sex Pistols in that jubilee year 1977.

A tourist-ified punk (what you might call Carnaby Street punk) has long since become a sort of cosy soap opera, one that “stylists” and marketeers can tap into whenever they’re short of inspiration. And punk practitioners themselves saw this coming (Part Time Punks, How Much Longer). Yes, hyper-self-reflexive and far more knowing than the stereotypes usually suggest, punk was always about fun as well as aesthetics and social comment.

I reckon Mr Corré should soundtrack his punk auto-da-fé with a certain Skids song, TV Stars, the B-side to their punk-pop hit Into The Valley. Altogether now: “Ena Sharples, David Hunter / Meg Mortimer, Stanely Ogden / ALBERT TACKLOCK, ALBERT TACKLOCK …”

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Noël Coward does not dig bebop

If I’d been able to take a few four-month holidays in beautiful private houses on spectacular hillside locations in Jamaica or Switzerland, I’d probably have been able to finish it a lot earlier. But, well, I ain’t no international theatre superstar and I gotta lot o’ work to do, ain’t it?

So, after about six months of on-off, on-again reading I’ve finally finished Cole Lesley’s pretty massive biography of that sleek peacock Noël Coward.

Phew. For someone who seemed to specialise in lengthy holidays, in hosting huge uproarious parties and having regular evening drinks sessions right into his seventies, Coward was horribly productive. Hundreds of songs, over 50 plays, musical revues, volumes of short stories, screenplays, a triple-decker autobiography, acting in The Italian Job (ahem) … yeah, Coward was a workhorse disguised as a louche high society waster. All very impressive.

But why am I wasting my own valuable time on Sir Noël bloody Coward? On the face of it I ought to hate everything about him - his adoration of the royal family, his ultra-English patriotism, his tax-minimising relocations, his cornball theatrical skits-cum-songs, his anti-intellectualism - the whole cast of his life. And … in a way I do, but I also find myself kind of drawn to him. 

Anyway, since hearing Peter Greenwell’s piano-and-vocals rendering of some of his most famous songs (Sail Away, Mad Dogs, Bren Gun, Mrs Worthington, Mad About The Boy) about 20 years ago, I’ve had ... an interest. (By the way, Greenwell's plainer versions are in fact generally better than the over-orchestrated Coward originals in my humble view). 

So Lesley’s opus magnum …

If you can accept that Lesley (Coward’s personal secretary/valet for over 40 years) was a super-ardent Coward admirer who treated “The Master” as a none-too-minor deity, then The Life Of Noël Coward is a perfectly enjoyable read. In fact, it’s well written, with lots of detail and a crisp elegance to it (which is fortunate, seeing as you've got 500 pages of this stuff).

All well and good, but still why - I hear you wondering - why is the great Niluccio devoting an entire blog post to boring old Noël Coward? Conventionally enough, it’s partly a liking of Coward’s wordplay (“In a bijou abode in St Barnabas Road”; “We’ve got some ammunition / In a rather damp condition”; “Our regular crossword-solver / Has got an excellent revolver”), with the theatrically precise diction always entertaining (in a Quentin Crisp sort of way).

What else? Well, contrary to the received image, it’s not all flippant parlour song humour. Though it’s done with a characteristically light touch, there's real emotion in a song like Sail Away, especially with its beautiful melody. And to me there’s often a wistful lost-never-to-return quality to his best music.

Coward’s not, you realise from reading Lesley’s biography, just one thing. By the 1950s he was generally pinned as a cultural throwback, someone who was still peddling old-fashioned plays set in country houses. But he also championed Harold Pinter’s early work (“Nothing happens except that somehow it does. The writing is at moments brilliant and quite unlike anyone else’s”). He was thought of as a Wildean wit, but he was also very kind and loving to his own close friends.

I must admit there was one moment in Lesley’s biography when I utterly groaned at Coward’s idiotic conservatism. He gets taken by Tallulah Bankhead to a jazz club in Chicago in 1947 and … well, read for yourself:

“ … we drove all around Chicago to a dive where there is a trombonist, a saxophonist, a drummer and a pianist who play the latest swing and bebop. The audience, mostly callow youths, become hypnotised and began to wriggle and sway and scream exactly like a revival meeting. To me, the whole thing was completely abominable. I loathed it. The heat, the violent noise, and Tallulah still shrieking. From there we went to Dixieland music. We were driven back into Chicago to a beastly little club and given a table right under the trumpet whereupon I walked out and came home. I am 47 and sane.”

Bloody hell, Noël! You walked out on one of Miles Davis’ legendary early gigs. You big, bow-tied idiot! (And weird that Coward should be so tin-eared when he obviously drew on the blues for some of his own music). 

No, Noël Coward’s a complicated figure, not always exactly my cup of tea but genuinely interesting and in the end surprisingly likeable. There’s an odd lightness to the way he lived his life. He was talented, immensely fortunate, rich, successful, famous, yet … you still can’t really resent him his life. He somehow deserved it. Even his death occurred quite gracefully. He just woke up one morning at his house in Jamaica, had a heart attack, crawled back into bed, and sailed away ...