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Saturday, 26 December 2015

Nik Cohn: feel the noise

Tutti frutti, oh rutti / Tutti frutti, oh rutti /Tutti frutti, oh rutti / Tutti frutti, oh rutti / Tutti frutti, oh rutti ...
... reading Nik Cohn's amazing Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: Pop From The Beginning is often a bit like listening to Little Richard's nonsense masterpiece. It's exhilarating, bone-shakingly basic, and genuinely funny. Hey! You KNOOOOOOW what I liiiiike ...

Yes, Cohn's book is really good. It pulls off the unlikely trick of reproducing some of the thrill of good music - especially rock 'n' roll - in the writing itself. I don't quite know how. It's possibly something to do with his unusual stripped-back style: plain language, brisk almost dismissive summaries ("and that's all there is to say ..."), yet all matched to an underlying intelligence and knowingness about "pop" and what makes music really work (he often refers to "noise" for example). Here's a typical sample (on Eddie Cochran):

"Eddie Cochran was pure rock. Other people were other kinds of rock, country or highschool, hard, soft, good or bad or indifferent. Eddie Cochran was just rock. Nothing else. That's it and that's all ... He looked like another sub-Elvis, smooth flesh and duck-ass hair and a fast tricksy grin, the full uniform."

After this Cohn gives a short summary of why songs like Summertime Blues and C'mon Everybody work as quintessential late-50s pop-R'n'R (it's a lot to do with the use of by then classic archetypes: blue jeans, moody youthful good looks, teen rebellion, being American). Cohn clearly appreciates it all but also stands slightly apart - the key phrase is "the full uniform". By '59 Cochran is a package, just like Elvis quickly became, but no less potent for all that.

Anyway (to adopt Cohn's manner), that's just how Cohn does it - using apparently dashed off writing that's better-crafted than it lets on and all the while having a pretty firm grasp of the essentials of the main musical developments from 20s jazz, big band balladeering, crooning, R'n'B, rock and roll, and the whole shebang of the 60s beat, rock, freak-rock and proto-hard rock scenes.

Most of the lineage and influencing stuff is well known and almost over-familiar now (Chuck Berry on the Beatles, Muddy Waters on the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan on the Beatles, the Beatles on everybody else), but it's worth remembering that Cohn wrote the book way back in 1968 (!) so was pretty much a pioneer. I don't always agree with his musical judgements - he dislikes Dylan ("he bores me stiff"), mentions but says almost nothing about the Velvet Underground or Captain Beefheart - but Cohn's many insights into what makes exciting pop music work and his overall lightness of touch are the reason the book is worth reading.

But, enough with all this appraising and pontificating! Here are a few extracts from the great man himself. Here he is on seeing the Rolling Stones arriving at the Odeon cinema in Liverpool in early 1965:

"... I heard a noise like thunder. I went outside and looked around but couldn't see anything ... Finally, after maybe a full five minutes, a car came around the corner, a big flash limousine, and it was followed by police cars, by police on foot and police on motorbikes, and they were followed by several hundred teenage girls. And these girls made a continuous high-pitched keening sound and their shoes banged down against the stone. They ran like hell, their hair down in their eyes, and they stretched their arms out pleadingly as they went. They were desperate. The limousine came up on the street towards me and stopped directly outside the Odeon stage door. The police formed cordons. Then the car opened and the Rolling Stones got out, all five of them and Andrew Loog Oldham, their manager, and they weren't real. They had hair down past their shoulders and they wore clothes of every colour imaginable and they looked mean, they looked just impossibly evil. In this grey street they shone like sun gods."

And on Screaming Jay Hawkins:

"He began his act by emerging from a coffin and he carried a smoking skull called Henry, he shot flames from his fingertips, he screamed and bloodcurdled. At the end, he flooded the stage with thick white smoke and, when it cleared, he was gone. 'I used to lose half my audience right at the start, when I came screaming out of my coffin. They used to run screaming down the aisles and half kill themselves scrambling out of the exits. I couldn't stop them. In the end, I had to hire some boys to sit up in the gallery with a supply of shrivelled-up elastic bands and when the audience started running my boys would drop the elastic bands onto their heads and whisper "Worms".'

And on how Sinatra-esque crooning got pushed aside by brash blues showmanship married to good looks, overt sexuality and teen-flavoured angst:

"Anarchy moved in. For thirty years you couldn't possibly make it unless you were white, sleek, nicely-spoken and phoney to your toenails - suddenly now you could be black, purple, moronic, delinquent, diseased or almost anything on earth and still clean up."

Ha! Anarchy indeed. And of course whole generations of people (my father included) would go to their graves cursing the Beatles for "ruining jazz" or dismissing all rock and roll as "rubbish", when it precisely tapped into their beloved jazz or blues (and even torch song balladeering) to channel a new excitement and energy into modern music. Can you dig it, Daddy-o?

"The lyrics were mostly non-existent, simple slogans one step away from gibberish", says Cohn of the new pop of the 50s, while pointing out that this was deliberate, cutting older generations off from the security of the words, leaving them with the raw beat and the blaring noise. The message was: cope with it or retreat back to your '78s, your sheet music and your Fox Trot at the Hammersmith Palais. (This is not to dismiss decades of music and mass culture attaching to the big band and "palais" dance hall scene, by the way. It might have been pretty staid by later standards, but I appreciate that it still gave millions of people their first thrill of sexualised encounters while the band jived away up on the plush-curtained stage. Sex and music. Who knew they went together, eh ...?)

But Cohn gets to the heart of it. It's sex, but it's more than that. It's drive, clothes, rebellion, "flash", cars, "girls", loneliness, danger. And it's very much noise. Cohn quotes Jerry Lee Lewis as saying "You are either hot or cold. If you are lukewarm, the Lord will spew you out of his mouth", which seems fair enough to me.

For Cohn the most exciting performer he'd seen by the time (aged 23) he wrote Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom was Little Richard. I can dig this. Forget your precious Beatles and Stones, your revered Hendrix, The Who or The Kinks. Because ... tutti frutti, oh rutti / Tutti frutti, oh rutti ...

Monday, 21 December 2015

If this brain was destroyed, Podcast #124 (Nov 2015)

When neuroscientists meet at international conferences to deliver their papers, swap notes and have affairs (right side of the brain cheating on the left), they meet in the bar to chat and cool their heels. Sooner or later music comes up and then, suddenly serious, someone will say "Niluccio's brain must be preserved for future generations." "Why?", a junior attendee will inevitably ask. "Because", the rather irritated neurologist with the big Sennheiser phones will say, "we can't afford to lose all that musical knowledge. It must be PRESERVED. At ALL COSTS." Then Sennheiser man will always look upwards, eyes slightly unfocused, a deeply troubled look on his face. "Just think", he will say. "What will be lost if this brain was destroyed ...".

1: Fun Every Friday, Intro 
2: The Rories, Hercules 
3: Joe Biden 
4: Syp, ? (Running Horse, Nottingham 27/11/15) 
5: Paresis, What is love 
6: Venkman, Tony no like 
7: Lungbutter, The Martians aren’t coming 
8: Tod Auf Kredit, Radio unbekannt 
9: Fist Of Fury, Guilty of innocents 
10: The Carbon Manual, Ice sleep (rough mix) 
11: Is/Is, Sideways 
12: xDELOREANx, We must go back to the future 
13: Johnny Osbourne/L.Thompson, Back off (version) 
14: Natural Snow Buildings, Moscow signal 
15: Bad Boyfriends, Don’t talk to her, she’s just the maid 
16: Jarby McCoy, La vérité enfin 
17: MC Lord Of The Flies, The compound eye (Tsetse Redux mix) 
18: If this brain was destroyed 
19: Meatwave, ? (JT Soar, Nottingham 28/11/15) 
20: Andy G Cohen, Don’t you think it’s time? 
21: Callate, Jabba el terrible hut! 
22: R Stevie Moore, Rockets by two 
23: Ras Michael & The Sons Of Negus, Glory dawn 
24: Chemos, Raw frat 
25: Sue White, The oggy man 
26: Mind Spiders, Make make make make 
27: Whodiniz, Hiroko kingdom

Thursday, 17 December 2015

My 20 best gigs of 2015

The other day I heard Kylie Minogue on the radio saying she "literally couldn't imagine a world without music". Emphasis on literally. Well, she apparently hasn't got a very good imagination - I can easily imagine a world devoid of music (especially hers!).

But hang on, I think I know what she must mean. She means she can't imagine life without gigs at the Old Blue Last or Power Lunches (RIP). Rip-roaring affairs at JT Soar or the Windmill. Hey, the diminutive Aussie has got a point. It's these occasions that give our barren lives a little meaning. They lift us, if only temporarily, out of the void, endowing us with a renewed sense of purpose, inner strength. Don't they?

You know I'm right! And though it's still many gig-going days away from the end of the year and I might still squeeze a couple more in, here they are, my 20 best gigs of 2015. They were all literally excellent, and I didn't see Ms Minogue at a single one ...

Shark Dentist: Windmill, London, 10 March
Decent noise-rock stuff from Shark Dentist. If memory serves, one of the band was wearing a Psychocandy t-shirt, another a Stooges t-shirt. Hey, take yer pick! Also, they introduced one of their songs by saying "It's been a while since I was in Brixton. The last time it was on fire." Gulp.

Freschard, Stanley Brinks & others: The Pod, Coventry, 2 April
Not the most scintillating gig I've ever attended, but included in this 'ere top 20 because of the ultra-mellow vibe that - as ever - Freschard and partner-in-lassitude Stanley Brinks created. This was at an arts cafe that does musical therapy and indeed F & SB (plus local guitarist Andy Whitehead) roped in a couple of others who seemed to be there for therapeutic reasons. Then again, aren't we all?

Don't Worry: Power Lunches, London, 21 May
Emo-ish noise-rock - not music I hear a great deal of usually, yet seemingly when I do I can dig it. Here and there they struck a beautiful plaintive note, and married this up to some nice lyrics: "Depressed together/We can be depressed together". Yes indeed.

The Worms: Power Lunches, London, 25 May
Good punk/garage-y sounds from The Worms, who clearly have one or two (ahem) earworm-y tunes up their non-existent Lumbricidae sleeves. They're no-nonsense bash-out-another-tune types who can get quite shouty in a pleasing, tempered-aggression sort of way. All rather enjoyable. Meanwhile this gig also included Das Boots The Chemists. Good name, decent band: ramshackle, shouty punk-pop.

Sauna Youth: Old Baths, Hackney Wick, London, 5 June
By far the biggest gig I went to in 2015. This was in a large, zero-atmosphere room (a sports hall?) and - uh-ho - there must have been 200 people there. It should have been rubbish, but instead it was ... pretty damn good. These sweat-beaded youngsters do a revved-up punk-ish groove with excellent female lead vocals. Nicely intense.

Getting sweaty with the masses: Sauna Youth

Prinzhorn Dance School: Tin Music, Coventry, 13 June
I could be wrong but I suspect PDS have been picking up some admiring press along the way - but hey, don't let that put you off. These are a seriously groovy outfit. Nagging basslines, pulsing guitar, hints of early New Order, coolly emotional vocals. Intense, compelling stuff. Excellent throughout at this gig.

No Form: Audacious Art Experiment, Sheffield, 20 June
A pretty immense rock-cacophony from No Form, whose reverb'd-to-death wall of noise sounded like several large buildings collapsing (or was it my brain caving in?). Shades of prime Birthday Party or Arc/Weld-era Neil Young, NF certainly aren't messing about. Also very enjoyable at this gig: Long Limbs, with their very infectious Bunnymen-ish 60s beat sounds.

Vertical Slump: Power Lunches, London, 26 June
Driving, synth-based, hardcore-y sounds, reminiscent of ... oh, I dunno, have a guess yourself. Controlled power, emotional charge - I suppose we're talking Flipper or that kind o' ting. I landed at this gig after a swanky architects' party in central London. It was like arriving at a different planet.

Vertical Slump at the now-defunct Power Lunches

Hideki Hashimoto, Yuichi Asai, Yumiko Yoshimoto & Toru Shimada: Flying Teapot, Tokyo, 30 July
Despite some pretty stiff competition, this was my most sparsely-attended gig of the year - myself and my gig companion plus another three audience members (if you include the barman-promoter guy). As ever, the crowds don't know nothin'. This was challenging-yet-involving improv jazz, with long contemplative sections and pleasing bursts of discordance. The band granted us deep and sincere bows as we left the venue. Can we make this the norm at all gigs from now on please?

Self Deconstruction: Pit Bar, Tokyo, 31 July
Very enjoyable grindcore shenanigans from Self Deconstruction. Lots of long Japanese hair flying all over the place and a guitarist dressed in some kind of crazed Alice In Wonderland/geisha outfit. Also pretty good at this gig: The Fangs with their pop-hardcore, especially the energetic, floor-sliding singer wearing an SNFU t-shirt ("Open your mouth and say ... SNFU").  Meanwhile, I noticed a woman in the audience who had a nice tattoo of a watch next to ... her watch. Those Japanese, eh?

Self Deconstruction smashing things up in Tokyo

Super Lungs: Old Blue Last, London, 20 September
Groovesome beat-ish sounds in a Strange Boys stylee, Super Lungs had me tapping my cowboy boot-shod foot from the off. Some of the guitar lines from a bloke with very big sideburns were particularly nice. Understated yet captivating stuff. The Sunday night audience at this free gig started out low (four, me included) only to swell to ... er, about 14. The rest of London was obviously doing something vital, like watching rugby on television or whatever.

Bellies: JT Soar, Nottingham, 2 October
Complex guitar-drums gymnastics from a duo who often seem to be playing four songs at once. Polyrhythms, super-nimble guitar lines and shrieked vocals - this was really interesting music. I most liked a couple of songs toward the end of their set where they interlaced some nagging rhythms and semi-sung vocals. Groovy.

Estonian National Opera: Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn, 15 October
One of my occasional forays into opera, this was Tosca from the first row in the stalls! Yep, after years of seeing productions in supposedly great opera houses (Milan, New York, Covent Garden etc) here was one that didn't bore or bemuse me. Because, I'd venture to say, opera from 50 rows back is basically a waste of time. Here, I was able to watch the musicians in the pit and enjoy the corny goings on with Baron Scarpia, Floria Tosca et al. Oh, and some really nice arias to savour.

Black Tambourines: Old Blue Last, London, 23 October
Energetic punky beat stuff from these surfin' dudes from Cornwall. A tall bassist-singer went in for some surprising hip shimmies, and a bowl-haircut'd guitarist was prone to getting twitchy and semi-frenzied - hey now! They play pretty fast (kinda Thee Vicars-ish) and with enough intensity and variation to keep it interesting.

Shimmy shimmy shake: The Black Tambourines 

The Red Cords: Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham, 25 October
Supporting the aforementioned Black Tambourines, at this gig the lighter colour outfit won out! Yes, The Red Cords had urgent, rollicking drum rhythms, a slightly new wave crispness to their beat-inflected arrangements and an understated get-on-with-it manner. They kinda rock.

Rat The Magnificent: Windmill, 26 October
Perhaps not exactly magnificent, RTM were nevertheless a powerful entity. They went in for that grinding juggernaut-of-sound neo-rock that bands like Poino or A Clean Kitchen Is A Happy Kitchen churn out. Motorik monstrousness! Maybe best sampled in smaller quantities than eight or nine consecutive songs - still, naggingly memorable stuff.

Syp: Running Horse, Nottingham, 27 November
Sludgey grind-noise from Syp who did all the usual growling and monster-riffing (distinctly "classic rock" in places) but somehow sounded more adventurous with it. I particularly liked the drumming, powerful but also inventive, with splashes and rolls where I didn't exactly expect them. Lots of other distinctive things as well: a guitarist who sat down throughout, a bassist with a massive flop of top knot-secured hair, and a vocalist with his coat on (pictured).

Syp's growler in chief feeling the cold in Nottingham

Han-earl Park, Dominic Lash, Mark Sanders, Caroline Pugh: Lamp Tavern, Birmingham, 1 December
Screeching and scraping in an improv stylee, this quartet assailed the ears with a pleasing melee of noise, some of it vaguely intelligible. Caroline Pugh jabbered away in what sounded like snatches of Greek, while the guitarist Han-earl Park did impossibly intricate yet percussive stuff on his guitar fret. Mad but entertaining. It was in the backroom of a gloomy back-street boozer. When I tentatively asked the elderly landlord "Where's the jazz tonight?", he said "I wouldn't call it jazz. More like a fookin' racket." He was right!

Han-earl Park and others making a fookin' racket

Chastity: Hare And Hounds, Birmingham, 2 December
Not my usual fare - quite a "widescreen" feel to this band's thrash-pop stuff, but oddly interesting. The lanky vocalist - part-Russell Brand, part that bloke out of The Rent Boys - was the main reason. His off-stage wanderings among the dozen or so people in attendance (another of my not-exactly-packed-to-the-rafters 2015 gigs) were always fun to watch. I'm not saying I was ravished by Chastity, but ... er, they're worth another date.

Shit Present: JT Soar, Nottingham, 6 December
Enjoyable melodo-grunge from Shit Present. Mostly mid-tempo songs powered along by some pretty ferocious drumming (snare drum especially). Shades of Martha, Stagecoach, that kind of thing. The singer said the band has only written seven songs - I wasn't counting, but they must have played them all. For me the gig was also enlivened by the sight of a bloke in the audience (looking something like a young Johnny Depp) wearing a nifty combo of a Basque Beret and a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Hey!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

It was so weird, Podcast #123 (Oct 2015)

In a culture where a Christmas advert for a department store is now an "event", I think it's ... er, kind of obvious that popular culture is DEAD. Then again, it always was.

While self-deluding people from my age group reminisce about how there used to be "good stuff" in the charts in their youth - pretending to themselves that Top Of The Pops from 1979 was wall-to-wall new wave and groovy Donna Summer songs (not Village People, Cliff Richard and Dr Hook) - the sad truth, dear reader, is that dross is a constant in our lives.

Quality will out, they say, but ... it won't. It'll be strangled at birth. Nope, just accept it. We're all suffocating to death with nothing more than a new James Bond film or an Adele song to take our minds off our grimly inevitable fate. Once, long ago, I had a dream that everyone had started liking Alexander Sokurov films and Suckdog music. It was crazy man. It was so weird ...

1: Shy Kids, Terminally in love with you 
2: Mr California And The Mr California Band, My generation 
3: The Black Tambourines, ? (Old Blue Last, London 23/10/15) 
4: Oloff, Love is strange 
5: SPCZ, Decrux 
6: Towel, ? (JT Soar, Nottingham 2/10/15) 
7: The hour of toad 
8: Bricks, Worm no flesh 
9: Rat The Magnificent, ? (Windmill, London 26/10/15) 
10: смерть в летнюю полночь, отчего твоя душа болит, Чайка 
11: Prince Buster’s All Stars, Lion of Judah 
12: The Red Cords, ? (Sunflower Lounge, Birmingham 25/10/15) 
13: Gesaederi, Cries from the child cemetery 
14: Jens-Ulrik Kleemeyer, Regardless 
15: Estonian National Opera, Tosca (extract) (Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn 15/10/15) 
16: The Degs, Here they come 
17: Salomé Lego Playset, Seinshuct 
18: Vinnie Paternostro, Vanilla stains the blonde red 
19: Gears, ? (Windmill, London 26/10/15) 
20: Ausgang, Solid glass spine 
21: Grin And Bear It, Rat2 
22: Dave Holland & others, Inception 
23: David Thomas Broughton & Juice, Yorkshire fog 
24: Bellies, Wind your neck in (JT Soar, Nottingham 2/10/15) 
25: Bad Noids, Stop side

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The importance of being earnest about music

Not really having expected to do so, I thoroughly enjoyed Lavinia Greenlaw’s book The Importance Of Music To Girls.

It’s a dainty little excursion through the author’s childhood via the sounds (music especially) and sensations that accompanied and fashioned her. One reason to like the book is that, er, Greenlaw writes extremely well. There’s sometimes a kind of gossamer fragility to her prose and her subject matter, and it’s nearly always carefully expressed and well thought out. This is her description of a photograph of herself aged seven on a family holiday in Wales:

“My dresses are simple shifts, nothing more than rectangles. This dress is a kind of reward, or perhaps a reminder. I am a girl, my blonde hair is scraped back beneath a clumpy black wig which comes complete with a lace veil I want to call a mantilla but it is no more than a nylon shiver, a shadow across my face.”

There’s a lot that’s well done - fragments of memories, quotations from major writers (Yeats, Woolf, Goethe, Homer, Barthes, Mandelstam, Wilde, Martin Hannett (!)), anecdotes about her liberal, borderline-hippy middle-class parents which often let me a little envious, and, fundamentally, a delicate, bitter-sweet account of her complicated family life and its attendant growing pains (which groups to belong to at school, all the usual acceptance-rejection dynamics, teen angst).

Greenlaw is so agitated

This is all readable enough in its own right. But she threads in a lot about music (more and more as the book goes on) and these parts are especially interesting. Because? Well, partly because she’s fairly skilled at talking about music in the first place (not the easiest task in the world). And also I’d venture to say she has pretty decent taste in music (which helps). Just as usefully (in fact most interestingly of all) she has some fresh insights into what music could mean to a thoughtful, insecure person growing up in nasty old 1970s Britain.

So, OK, the music. She name-checks Joy Division quite a lot, and went to see them a few times in London venues like the Electric Ballroom. It’s new wave that really lights her fire, the aftershock of punk as it (sort of) swept through her backwoods village in Essex in 1976-77. It seems she dropped her dalliance with disco and mid-70s hippy-rock when she was about 14 (already precociously music-receptive), cut her hair, got some drainpipe trousers and … started travelling to see bands like Adam And the Ants, Wire, The Human League, The Pop Group, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Buzzcocks, The Vibrators … There were The Clash and others at the famous Rock Against Racism Victoria Park extravaganza  (she was too far away to actually hear the music), and also lesser-name (but no less good) bands like Swell Maps, A Certain Ratio, and Modern English.

Mostly she doesn’t dwell on the bands or their recordings, just as she doesn’t dwell on anything for long in her light-touch book. But I think the Guardian reviewer Polly Samson’s wrong to say The Importance is “not particularly for music buffs” (whatever a music buff* is!) because this is precisely a book for people who are serious about music, albeit here it’s the emotions that matter rather than the tracklistings.

So she talks about the psychological-emotional effect of seeing Ian Curtis’ freaky dancing or being at a 1978 Vibrators gig where (as she puts it) “most of the other girls there were wearing bin-liners” instead of boring old jeans and sweatshirts. Haircuts are transformatory and she starts trying out DIY styles:

“In the spirit of appropriation, adaption and do-it-yourself, I was constantly on the look-out for something that could be cut up, ripped apart, dyed, bleached, and pinned back together.”

And I also liked her appreciation of colour:

“The colours of punk, like its rumour, set off a vibration and cracks began to appear - orange socks, blue hair, lime-green nails, pink trousers … With punk, it was more as if an old image of the world had been broken down to the four components of colour printing: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These are dead colours.”

There you go - Greenlaw’s Courtauld’s training’s not been wasted, it appears. She says punk “altered her aesthetic sense completely” and it also seems to have filtered deeply into her subconscious, affecting the way she related to the world. (Surely not?, you’re thinking - but why not? This is the sort of deep engagement that fellow travellers like Julie Burchill or Tony Parsons could only imitate).

So it’s really good stuff. While I wouldn’t want to do without Jon Savage, Greil Marcus et al for the expert commentator’s perspective, I don’t think I’ve come across a book before that gets as firmly under the skin of how punk might make a young fan feel. And that’s what it's all about, right?

And Greenlaw does another thing I found quite impressive. She takes us through her early life, from infancy to college days (as well as a peek at herself aged 24), and instead of the usual “oh, but I’ve outgrown all that now” finale, she leaves us with the impression that she still cares about this music (she was about 45 when the book was published).

Yes, she does something that lesser writers (Giles Smith for example) don’t do: she reminds us why it’s sometimes important to be earnest about music.

*My own music buffery means I can't resist quibbling with a chapter in which Greenlaw talks about an adventurous teenage jaunt to the USA, where she stays with a pen-pal in Columbus, Ohio. Here she marvels at the non-punk teenage straights who seem to be from a shopping mall-dominated alternative universe ("Ohio was not the America I had envisaged from Velvet Underground albums and Jack Nicholson films"). Yet if she'd taken a two-hour trip north on Highway 71 to Cleveland she could have checked out the amazing local scene there (Pere Ubu, Devo, etc). We're so agitated ...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Massive career, Podcast #122 (Sept 2015)

This is not a love song sang John Lydon in 1983, and likewise this is not a podcast.

Well, not in the ordinary sense of a "radio show" or something rather elaborate, polished and "produced". No, this is merely another in an interminable line of Niluccio on noise podcasts - none more interesting than the last. They'e all the same! (Though all different).

One thing though must be admitted by all my many listeners. It's increasingly obvious that these seemingly innocuous podcasts could be the start of something significant. They're all leading somewhere, aren't they? This is number 122 and after 121 previous attempts I think this could be the one. The big one. Yes, I feel it in my showbiz veins. This could be the start of my massive career ...

1: Diamond Cuts, Beetlework 
2: Bennett, Bravo, Mehr, Olivera, Traveira, Italiano, Adjetival 
3: Transient, Ain’t no cure for the way you walk 
4: Limbs Bin, Fourth of July 2014 
5: Susto, Vampire (Windmill, London 8/9/15) 
6: Joey Fourr, Newark wilder 
7: Abstrakt, War loops 
8: Sly & Robbie, Shabby attack 
9: Steve Combs & Delta Is, Theme R 
10: Massive career 
11: The Sonics, Walkin’ the dog 
12: Rad Times, Don’t care 
13: Gladstone Anderson All Stars, Supermatic 
14: DSM666, Psicopatia 
15: Gumbel, Killing bosses 
16: Super Lungs, ? (Old Blue Last, 20/9/15) 
17: Ocelote Rojo, Nostalgia 
18: Brown Piss, Intro cheesecake 
19: Jean Goldkette & His Orchestra, In my merry Oldsmobile 
20: I Loved, I Hated, Burying the snake 
21: Mutamassik, Ken in kai 
22: Archers Of Loaf, Strangled by the stereo wire 
23: Sidetracked, Rejuvenate 
24: Yusuke Tsutumi, Hokori 
25: NNY vs Structura, Cybernetics 
26: Hypp Fractal, Vanilla powder

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Rock Against Racism exhibition: a message to you Rudie

I had a quick dash around the Syd Shelton Rock Against Racism photo exhibition at the Autograph ABP gallery in east London the other night. Hmm, photos and music - we've been there before (here and here for example!).

Never quite sure I get all that much out of these exhibitions, but hey, that's probably down to my own (many) deficiencies. But ... yeah, some evocative concert shots of The Specials, The Clash, Misty In Roots, The Beat, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Undertones, Sham 69 and others.

Feargal Sharkey, the whitest man alive

All perfectly fine. There's some stark black-and-white photography, famous people captured in their long-lost youth (Paul Simonon's trying-hard-to-out-Billy-Idol-Billy-Idol's all-pout-and-cheekbones "punk pin-up" look, Terry Hall's lugubrious kohl-eyed clown face), and, as so often with these exhibitions, a melancholy sense of time irretrievably lost.

The background details are sometimes good as well. In one photo - a backstage image of a Barry Forde Band/Leyton Buzzards gig in 1979 - I spotted this daubed slogan: "Dead punks don't pogo". No, indeed they don't. 

With Shelton's work though, I found the images of the fans more interesting than the musicians and their (not very glamorous) surroundings. There's the main promo shot of some black teenagers at a Specials gig in Leeds (one with a look of total rapture on his face), and some excellent shots of identikit punk women with their Soo Catwoman/Siouxsie Sioux eye make-up and Rock Against Racism lapel badges.

We're all individuals, we are

Even better are one or two images of the female skins, who to me often have a tough-but-tender look, androgyny battling it out with the bovver boy stereotype they're playing with and (possibly unintentionally) subverting. 

Skinheads v racists

Or not always subverting. Seeing Shelton's skins/short-haired punks puts me in mind of the photo of Iain McKell's that Dazed recently ran showing the deeply unpleasant side of the late-70s/early-80s skinhead scene. A young woman putting on make-up in front of an old-fashioned dressing-table mirror which is casually adorned with "Send Them Back" and other neo-Nazi postcards. Lovely.

In my own glorious gig-going career, a notable event (my second-ever gig) was me going to a biggish Specials' concert in Coventry in 1981, more or less at the peak of their 2 Tone fame. I went with two people from my old school where The Specials phenomenon had been pretty huge. One of these two (neither particular friends of mine) was a chubby Asian kid (parents from India?) who received plenty of our school's typical oh-so-racially-sensitive treatment ("You fucking Paki! Why don't you go back to your own country?"). He didn't fuck off back to India/Pakistan, though, he went to see The Specials instead. Enjoy yourself ...

Looking back, I wonder how much Rock Against Racism changed anything. To judge from surveys of the great British public's growing "concern" over immigration, there is if anything a lot more racism now than there was in the late 70s, just the racism is differently expressed ("too much immigration" not "the blacks are the problem").

Keeping Britain Two-Tone

I definitely like the way RAR made a point of bringing together punk and reggae bands, and the movement was eminently ... laudable. But, like Red Wedge, I don't really think these musical campaigns quite work somehow. Too predictable? Artistically deadening?

Anyway, Shelton's photos are undoubtedly worth a look and I don't mean to disparage them or the scene they document. I'll even check the exhibition out again now the first-night throngs obscuring the photos themselves (!) have pushed off to the next exhibition opening. But oddly enough I've got two other mini-criticisms of the RAR exhibition.

One: I don't think there are any colour photographs on display - a shame I think, though possibly entirely intended. So there are indeed two tones at this exhibition: back and white.

And second: there's no music playing in a gallery exhibiting photographs ... about a music scene. C'mon! Someone do a reggae/punk/ska mixtape and send it in to the organisers, quick. This is a message to you Rudie ..

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

More prisons, more police, Dubpod #11 (Sept 2015)

To judge by some of the people muttering and declaiming away to themselves in the streets these days, there's an awful lot of obscure chatting going on. God knows about what. These people blathering away to their invisible friends via their dangling mobile mics are the modern street crazies. Latter-day village idiots, with their unintelligible ramblings.

But, like those people with mental health problems they so resemble, perhaps these over-talkative 20-somethings on their smartphones are actually ... you know, prophets. Yeah, could be. They're not "talking shit" to their hung-over mates but talking about the Evil One. Cussing the devil. Chanting down Babylon. They've all been listening to Dubpod #11 and they've realised that ... no, actually it's true, we don't need more prisons, more police ...

1: Big Youth, Give praises
2: Johnny Clarke, Stop tribal war dub
3: Moodie, Untouchable dub
4: Barry Brown, It ago dread
5: Tough-minded
6: The Upsetters, Roots train dub
7: Channel One/Barry Brown, Creation version
8: Cornell Campbell, We a boobling dub
9: Al Campbell, One room shack
10: Addis Ababa Song, Well dread version 3
11: Biafra
12: Earl 'Chinna' Smith, Dub it!
13: Chessey Roots, Rambo salute
14: Sir Collins And The Black Diamonds, Black panther
15: Junior English, Sicked & tired
16: Wayne Wade, Lord of lord
17: More prisons, more police
18: Misty In Roots, Viva Zapatta
19: Augustus Pablo, Arabian rock
20: Black Uhuru, Sodom
21: Dennis Alcapone, 1234567 live it up
22: Eek-A-Mouse, Wa-do-dem 12"
23: Par for the course

Sunday, 20 September 2015

May cause death, Noisepod #5 (Sept 2015)

It's what you leave out that counts in music, or so they say.

Yeah, quite possibly, but this old saw about the virtues of "space" in music gets mighty dull through repetition. Seems to me it's almost impossible to read half a page about dub or reggae without some tiresome space cadet droning on about the value of absence, the what's-not-there, the "_____" in music.

The notion's everywhere. Just this weekend I came across it in a review of The Killers, the film noir adaptation of an Ernest Hemingway short story, the one the self-congratulatory old bullfighter said was probably his story with "more left out of it than anything I ever wrote".

Right, right. Less is more. Fine. Got it. But do please put a sock (empty) in it, I say. No, sometimes we need the opposite. A full-to-the-brim, absolutely-everything-thrown-in sound. Welcome, then, dear half-deaf-already listener, to Noisepod #5. It may cause tinnitus. It may cause total deafness. And, just like those hitmen hunting for the jaded, despondent and semi-suicidal Burt Lancaster in The Killers, it may cause death ...

1: Warstate, Excration 
2: No Form, Side B 
3: Unit Pride, Atoms for peace 
4: Pissing Contest, Muzzle 
5: May cause death 
6: Sham 69, Borstal breakout 
7: Sick/Tired, Dried up corpse 
8: Calories, Every day is a school day 
9: Guilty Parents, Nowt 
10: Seven Sisters Of Sleep, Ghost plains 
11: Lake of fire 
12: Dune Witch Trails, White pickets 
13: Moontrash, Teenagers 
14: Music Blues, 91771 
15: Starkweather, Bitterfrost 
16: Woolf, Jane 
17: Dixie, Massacre madcarne 
18: A most wonderful sight 
19: Larvae,Ruled by the state 
20: Toxin III, Numb 
21: The Guilt Of ..., Election of the severed hand 
22: The Dirtbombs, Vixens in space 
23: Condemn The Infected, Deny existence 
24: Welcome to lab 257 
25: Sunn O>>>, It took the night to believe 
26: A389 Recordings, High fells 
27: Iggy Pop, Bulldozer 
28: Mr Mitch, California girls 
29: Not Right, Balls 
30: Unholy Majesty, Compliance

Friday, 4 September 2015

That lonely, Podcast #121 (Aug 2015)

Well, well, Bob Geldof says he'll take in some refugee families, while Bono's made a pile out of his investment in that glutinous selfie-album, Facebook. You just can't keep these erstwhile Irish punk rockers out of the news, can you?

But hey, we need to know what these people are up to. They're our lifestyle micro-settings, slide-rules that compute where we are in our own lives, ensuring we can re-map our trajectories, pin down our hopes and fears. Reconsider our thwarted ambitions. "Oh, so that's what Geldof's doing now. Right. Right". And so we'll be able to plot the rest of our lives, helpfully jolted into action by that flashback to July 1985, with mental slippages across to Midge Ure on Top Of The Pops miming Vienna, interstitial interference courtesy of fat-cheeked Orson Welles running down deserted noirish Austrian streets in his big overcoat ... zither zither zither ...

Yes, the Geldofs, the Bonos, where would we be without them? Incomplete. Empty. Lonely, even. But not that lonely ...

1: Roger Robinson, Walk with me 
2: Melge, Tape monster 
3: Acre & Filter Dread, Blood artist 
4: Seep, ? (Windmill, London, 17/8/15) 
5: Electrician, The tree line receded 
6: Unit Pride, The choice is yours 
7: CM & Tha Silent Partner, What’s it all for 
8: The Byrds, It’s all over now, baby blue 
9: Vex, Turn off da TV set 
10: suRRism, Abend des nichtes! 
11: That lonely 
12: Bloodgod, Bloodgod 
13: Joey Fourr, Newark wilder 
14: Morwell Unlimited Meets King Tubby, Swing & dub 
15: Map 71, Laced 
16: The Sting-Rays, Come on kid 
17: Kayla Guthrie, Blue 
18: Girls In Love, Fizzle out 
19: Campbell Burnap, St Thomas 
20: Toah Dynamic, Search for arsonists aged 8 
21: Krestovsky, A mile high and circling 
22: Women in Colombia 
23: The Cravats, Precinct 
24: Alan Cuckston, Handel Harpsichord Suite No7, Andante

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Cicadas near Hibya Park, Podcast #120 (July 2015)

You're walking along the street, mouthing the words and gesticulating with your hands, swaying backwards and forwards, acting real cool. Yeah, you've got your big headphones on and you're a musical STREET WARRIOR. You cool, dude!

Except, I can hear that tinny stuff leaking out of your nasty red headphones. It's ... dire. Take my advice. Throw away those 'phones and just start listening to the music of the streets. The horns (cars), those high-pitched wails (emergency vehicles) and, of course, the cicadas near Hibya Park ... [link now taken down; leave a comment for a re-up].

1: Die Goldenen Zitronen, If I were a sneaker 
2: Cicadas (near Hibya Park, Tokyo, 28/7/15) 
3: Yoonkee, Bones of Queen Nottingham 
4: DJ Dougernaut, A troop of echoes loses control 
5: The Fangs, ? (Pit Bar, Tokyo 31/7/15) 
6: Janne Nummela, Chanting money 
7: Baconhead, Foreign or domestic 
8: The Moles, We are the moles (part 1) 
9: Public speech (Takadanobaba, Tokyo 29/7/15) 
10: Warstate, Grind discharge massacre 
11: Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, Golden slippers 
12: Tien Dat, Huynh de tuong tan 2 
13: Tense Men, ? (Power Lunches, London 16/7/15) 
14: Ray Rude, Oblique strategies 
15: Teddy & Marge, A good man 
16: Vibronics, Blessed is he (Blessed remix) 
17: Rachel Mason, Nightmare 
18: Hideki Hashimoto, Yuichi Asai, Yumiko Yoshimoto & Toru Shimada, ? (Flying Teapot, Tokyo 30/7/15) 
19: Dixie, One hand dragon pt3 
20: King Khan, The ballad of Lady Godiva 
21: Marie-Claire Alain, Vor deinen thron tret ich (JS Bach) 
22: SJ Mellia, Musicvyle 
23: The Milkshakes, Out of control 
24: Pas Musique, Clara has no clarity 
25: Dubfront, Zion high 
26: Salmo, Eclosion

Friday, 31 July 2015

Self Deconstruction-ing

Derrida eat your heart out: Self Deconstruction at the Pit Bar, Tokyo 31/7/15

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Music for when your flight crashes out of the sky

As I write this I'm listening to Joy Division's Isolation on the in-flight entertainment package of a Lufthansa flight 34,995 feet above the Ob-Irtysh River in the Khanti Mansi autonomous okrug of the Russian Federation.

Let's all sing along: "I'm ashamed of things I've been put through / I'm ashamed of the person I am." Er, OK! Ian Curtis's wonderfully uplifting lyrics there. Speeding us along.

So what's going on? I said, WHAT'S GOING ON!? A Joy Division "album" (Total: From Joy Division To New Order, Rhino 2011 to be precise) nestling alongside infinitely cherishable music from Kylie Minogue, Coldplay, Dire Straits and Biffy Clyro.

Jeez. Let's storm the cockpit or something. What's happening! Where has my world gone? If we've now got the likes of Transmission and Ceremony available to us on tinny speakers between the complimentary wine/beer and the foil-packed food on a plastic tray ... er, it feels like we've turned a corner. Gone down the wrong road. Or something.

One's tempted to ask: where's the mystery, that ineffable Factory aura, the strange otherworldliness of the JD/NO sound haunting the railway arches and underlit passages fanning out from Whitworth Street West and the crazed egomaniacal empire of Tony Wilson, Peter Saville and their gang? Gone! All gone!

Have we lost something precious ("my precious, my precious")? Hmm. It's certainly jarring to see that things have come to this, but it's not really surprising. We're (ahem) decades on from Joy Division now, many many years on from New Order's Balearic beats period, and of course also many years on from the deaths of Martin Hannett and Tony Wilson. Bands lose their way and crucially lose control of their music (they've lost control again ...). I doubt Joy Division would have wanted their music regurgitated as "press-here" inboard entertainment (or would they?), but commerce trumps all and the saleability of a few JD/NO tracks is of longlasting "value" to those who get to decide these things.

Total control: Joy Division coming to a headrest near you

As it happens the selection being offered for consumption to Lufthansa passengers is a pretty lukewarm version of the oeuvre: Transmission/Love Will Tear Us Apart/Isolation/She's Lost Control/Atmosphere/Ceremony/Temptation/Blue Monday/Thieves Like Us/The Perfect Kiss/Bizarre Love Triangle/True Faith/Fine Time/World In Motion/Regret/Crystal/Krafty/Hellbent.

But I guess this is the fate of any body of work when it chances to venture into the marketplace. It's cut to ribbons! Chopped up, sanitised, served up with the salty snacks ...

No, I'll try to forget this little airborne encounter with Joy Division's "dark, brooding sound" (Lufthansa copy writers) and return to Unknown Pleasures and Power, Corruption And Lies as if it never happened. Meanwhile, let's see what other gems they've got on this flight's music selection ... ah, that's better! Brian Eno's Music For Airports ...