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Give me music and give me noise....

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 ...

Sunday, 6 March 2016

The wilderness years, Podcast #127 (Feb 2016)

Shockingly, there was a time, long long ago, when I almost forgot to go to see any bands. It was during those dark and depressing years of my higher edukashun. Slaving away in the university library, I only manage to look up from my books once or twice, remembering that I liked live music, and ... then I managed to trot off to see Spaceman 3 or Bikini Kill (both of these at that house music madhouse The Hacienda, oddly enough).

Though it might well have been because I was half-deafened by The Hacienda klaxons, this was a worryingly barren time for live bands. Just a rubbishy James gig or some Malcolm X-inspired nonsense from Public Enemy to tide me over. Unlike the poor suckers these days, I didn't leave university with £30,000 of debt, but I'm sorely afraid I did miss out on a properly well-rounded musical education. Dear oh dear. It's taken me years to get over it. I'm probably still (over-)compensating for it now. Ugh, those were the wildernesss years ...

1: Dregs, Strange glue pt II
2: SPCZ, Gatria
3: Radical Boy, ? (Sebright Arms, London 25/2/16)
4: HHY & The Macumbas, Gysin version
5: The Holy Innocents, Down, down, down
6: The wilderness years
7: Raw fun, Till the end of the song
8: Ryan Little, Not a swan song
9: White Christian Disaster, Going to the mall just like mum and dad
10: Black Saturn, Cool breeze
11: Brain Queen, ? (Old Blue Last, London 10/2/16)
12: Kuxan Suum, Kinich ahau
13: Mongrels, Half moon (dub)
14: Ben Vida, Damaged particulates XII (unsound/subpac test)
15: Fickle Twin, ? (Stuck On A Name Studios, Nottingham 5/2/16)
16: Miranda Taylor & MikeHunchback, Fuge number one
17: Eyryx, Madness in the fast lane
18: Fruit Bomb, ? (Old Blue Last, London 19/2/16)
19: Michael Howard, The tallest man in Idaho
20: Pencil, NotEnoughNoise