Wednesday, February 28, 2007

First (and not last, I hope) performance

Well, in the end the concert went off really well, lots of people said nice things about my piece, and they can't all have been being just polite, can they? I think the real credit should go to Toby, for putting together a really good programme and playing it so beautifully. I've been listening to the recording I made, and it still sounds good the day after - not always the case with recordings...

Thanks to everyone who came along. We have an idle plan to do the concert in Paris, so if that ever actually happens, it'll be a great excuse for you to have a weekend over the channel.

Monday, February 26, 2007

30 years of thrill power

I can't let 2000ad's 30th birthday pass without a mention. I wasn't there at the start, but it's been a part of my life for a very long time nevertheless. When it hit the newsstands in 1977 it was just the latest in a long line of British comics, cashing in on the renascent popularity of sci-fi that Star Wars was engendering. It built on its immediate predecessors Battle and Action in being a subversive, cool read that your parents didn't approve of. It was also clever - dripping with black humour and vicious satire, as well as out and out weirdness. It lost its way in the 90s, it could have folded (actually, if you read David Bishop's forthcoming history, you'll see it could have folded many, many times), but it came through and recovered, and is still here, after all its competitors have fallen by the wayside, almost the only comic left in this country.

There's been a couple of articles marking the anniversary, in the Independent on Sunday (a strangely apologetic affair) and online by the BBC (which does a better job of capturing the sense of what's so great and enduring about it). It doesn't have the audience it did in its 80s heyday, of course, but what does? Doctor Who is now acclaimed as a massive success for attracting the same sort of audience figures that got it cancelled in the late 80s. All audiences are fragmented these days, there are simply too many things competing for our attention for anything to have that much impact. But it's still here, still great, and rooted deep in British culture, and that's something to celebrate. So raise a glass and wish Tharg many happy returns, and another 30 years of thrills.

Friday, February 23, 2007

One shot

I was thinking about Finnissy, and Feldman, as I often do, and particularly having just written a piece honouring the latter, and having met the former at the same time as I first heard Feldman in Huddersfield in 1996 (a story I'll post here at some point, as it's quite entertaining), and from there about all the new music workshops and the like I've been to or been involved with over the years, and it worries me the attitude young composers are encouraged to have. I remember reading an interview with Feldman once where he said something to the effect that the normal thing for a composer to do is give up composing, it's actually abnormal to continue beyond your university/college years. And there's also the fact that, as 90% of anything in the world isn't very good, chances are if you're a composer you're not very good. And yet composers are encouraged to think of themselves as being on a par with all the undisputed greats, to write for posterity, music which needs many listens to be understood, when the fact is, your piece will almost certainly be heard only once. I've been lucky, I've had one piece played twice. Toby and I have a vague dream that we might repeat next week's concert in Paris, so maybe I'll be really lucky and have a second second performance. And it occurs to me that so much that's wrong with so-called contemporary classical music stems from this. We need to abandon our delusions of greatness, and remember that anything we write will almost certainly have one chance and one chance only to make an impact.

Mostly I think I'm OK, I have some degree of talent. But there's always the voice inside me nagging away: Am I really any good? Am I wasting my time? Why should anyone care? Am I really any good?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stewart Lee - 90s Comedian

Once upon a time, we lived in the 90s. it was a fairly nondescript time - the Pixies had split up, and I'd left university and gone on the dole. Fortunately there were one or two things to cheer us up, one of which was Lee and Herring's Fist of Fun, which began on Radio 1, then transferred to BBC 2, then was inexplicably taken off air. It was superceded by This Morning With Richard Not Judy, another slice of comic genius from Rich and Stew that ran for 2 series on Sunday mornings before also being inexplicably removed from our screens.

Stewart Lee's profile plummeted for a few years, before he re-emerged as librettist and director for Jerry Springer - The Opera, which began in a tiny theatre in East London, and ended up a high profile West End hit, and the focus for raving fundamentalist Christians. Some of these experiences formed the basis for Lee's last stand-up show, which has just come out on DVD. I went to see this show in London in December 2005, and it was absolutely brilliant, although also uncomfortable, which was due to the provocative nature of the last part of the set especially, but also to the fact that at the time I was sat next to my Catholic sister in law. (I also managed, through a combination of trying to say too many things at once and being pissed, to make an utter arse of myself in front of Stew after the show, but that's another story.) Suffice to say the finale to the show is a story involving Jesus that is unlikely to find favour with those of a devoutly Christian bent.

"But what could this tale possibly be, that is so controversial?" I hear you ask. Well, you can find out by buying the DVD. Buy it. It's a masterful and thought-provoking piece of stand-up, with some important points to make about censorship, freedom of speech and the right to offend. And it's only a tenner. Go on, buy it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Look at me! Look at me!

I'm second on Google! That's "the web", too, not your poxy old "pages from the U.K.".

Googling your own name is of course a vile sign of self-obsession, and I shall probably feel thoroughly ashamed in the morning.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A journey begins with a single step

I did something I haven't done for a very long time today: picked up a copy of the Guardian and had a look at the job pages. it's the result of a lot of thinking over recent weeks, especially last week when I was laid up sick, and actually feeling glad about it because it meant I wasn't at work. the job's become a terrible combination of boredom and stress, and I increasingly feel like I don't belong, and I'm wasting my time when I'm there.

I have a disadvantage that I don't really have any idea of what I'd like to do instead, but sometimes you reach a point where you need to shake things up, and I think that time is coming.

I had a lovely weekend in Devon, and standing on a beach in grey winter felt like a little glimpse of freedom.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Judge Ignatz

When you're nobbled by a virus (again! I never used to get ill at all) what better way to distract yourself than to do a valentine's mash-up of two of your favourite comics?

What do you mean, you don't recognise them?? Go here, here and here, then.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Fall marathon 11: Reformation Post TLC

When I was a lad, there was one irrefutable proof that you were a true fan of a band. When talk turned to a classic record, you would know that you knew and loved this record better than anyone if you could declare: "I got it on the day it came out".

Of course, as age encroaches and the matter of bills and other such mundane use of money envelop our souls, we realise that it doesn't really matter what day you get a record on. It'll still be there next week, and it'll sound the same. And so we slide into a gentler relationship with our bands, and they slowly cease to be ours.

Sometimes though, you have to say to hell with maturity and keep the flame of obsessive passion alive, to keep a faith that this incidental luxury called music can be a transformative, vital part of life. So, here is the new Fall album, and I got it on the day it came out.

This is, of course, a brand-new lineup since "Fall Heads Roll", and there's a certain feeling of the band bedding in. Initial impressions: this year's style is minimalist - I'm reminded of the Monks album I was listening to the other day in the pounding, aggressive, repetitive riffing on display through much of this album. There's a lengthy and testing collage-y track ("Das Boat") the like of which hasn't been seen on a Fall album for a good while, and this seems one of MES's more belligerent outings of recent years. Plenty of sly humour if you want to find it, though - "I think they've over-done the Trout Mask thing" comments Smith at one point, only to quote "Veterans' Day Poppy" from that album a few tracks later. And "The Wright Stuff" offers a very funny lambasting of Celebrity culture, all the better for being delivered dead-pan by Elena Poulou (aka Mrs Smith) to an unexpectedly synth-pop backing. And the cover of "White Line Fever" is surprisingly affecting.

You need a few listens of any Fall album to get your head round it, really, so who knows what I'll make of it next week? That's the joy of it - knots to unravel, puzzles that twist and turn and shape-shift with every new look. As John Peel said - always different, always the same.

This is the end of the Fall marathon... for now. It's also my 100th post on this blog. I didn't plan it that way, honest.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ups and downs

Some days are just awful. You force yourself out of bed, you drag yourself into work, you remember the stuff you forgot to bring just as you get there, you're surrounded by blithering idiot jabber, there's little of import to do and you spend the whole day thinking "WHY AM I HERE?!!".

Fortunately there are other days, which start with an evening out after the shit day, seeing funny stuff with cool people, then a night and a day and another night with someone special, with visits to arty places and seeing cool looking fire escapes and the cooking of roast dinner and Miyazaki films on the DVD player. the trips to hear a new piece you wrote, which sounds really cool and fill you with confidence that it'll be great at the performance, followed by too much beer for a Sunday afternoon, accompanied by jazz and talk of art and music, and plans involving such things.

And looking forward to the new Fall album tomorow!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The British Library needs you!

Read this:
http://arts.guardian.co.uk/art/news/story/0,,2000823,00.html

Then go and sign this:
http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/library/

Oh, the weather outside is frightful... (2)

Ooh! Snow in winter! Who'd have thort it, eh?
Annoyingly, my trains seemed to run slightly better (or less shitly, to be more accurate) than normal. I can't even rely on the buggers to be unreliable.

it's already disappeared from W12, though patches of white still cling to the wild northern climes where I live. In Birmingham all the schools are closed again. Lucky sods, I'm sure it wouldn't have happened in my day.



The London Eye's gone all red. It's rather pretty, but disturbing as I suspect it to be a marketing gimmick to do with one the bearded twat Richard Branson's dodgy ventures.

Today seems to be Mad Fucker Day. I can't decide if it would be easier to have the lot of them carted off in a van, or just to have myself carted off. Surely if I got hold of a gun and went postal there's not a court in the land that would convict?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fall marathon 10: The Unutterable/Are You Are Missing Winner/The Real New Fall Album/Fall Heads Roll

The Unutterable gives the sense of a well-drilled band who are probably shit-scared of their leader. At the time it came out I thought it was one of the Fall's best albums for many a year, even more satisfying for coming after a period when many in the press speculated that it was all over. Little things like "Das Katerer" - effectively a re-write of "Free Range" - give a sense that MES has to some extent reconciled himself to his past, and I guess from hereon there's a sense of the band being more willing to draw on its own history, less worried about pointedly refusing to revisit old ground. Especially welcome is the humour, more evident on this album than it had been for quite some time.



After "The Unutterable"'s fairly flash production, Are You Are Missing Winner contrarily reverts to a resolutely lo-fi sound. I remember being disappointed by this album when it came out, but time's been kind to it - the hyper-garagey tone stands up well, even if this isn't one of their best. There's probably a lesson about the perspective of hindsight to be had here.







The Real New Fall LP (Formerly "Country On The Click") is a step up again, though. Xyralothep sounds a convincing Lovecrafty name, but extensive research (i.e. a few minutes on Google) suggests that the name is MES's own creation. It's an opportunity to note the sci-fi element to the Fall, though. "Sparta FC" is brilliantly belligerent, how they got away with using this as the theme to Final score I'll never know.

And so to Fall Heads Roll, the most recent (until 12th Feb) album. It seems almost like a meta-Fall album, embodying the quixotic (beginning with an extended country-reggae number?!) the relentless grind (the wonderful and frightening "Blindness"), a reference to an old song and a tribute to Bo Diddley.

after 30 years, it's remarkable simply that The Fall are still around. It's positively astounding that not only is MES still here, but he's still at the top of his game. Having gone through all these albums over the past couple of months, I can honestly say that, some variation in quality aside (perfectly natural over such a long time) there isn't a single one that isn't good. I can't think of any other band of whom that can be said over thirty years.

These days it's very easy to think of the Fall as existing in some sort of separate time continuum, where each individual album fades into one huge welter of sound. it's nice to have been able to remind myself of each record's individual merits, and make some surprising connections. Who'd have thought that one of the constant threads that seems more and more prominent with the passing years would be dance music? Mark E Smith, for one, probably.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Monks



The Monks were a group of GIs stationed in Germany in the 60s who decided to form a band. Nothing very strange about that, except that they shaved tonsures into their heads, wore black robes and nooses as ties, and eschewed the standard R&B repertoire of 60s garage bands in favour of such self-penned ditties as "I Hate You" and "Shut Up". They produced one album, the excellent "Black Monk Time", and imploded, although in recent years they have resurfaced and even played a few gigs. They were punk 10 years too soon, basically. Oh yeah, and they had an electric banjo, which is very cool, obviously.


I mention them because the album is the perfect listen if it took you three hours to get to work this morning (bastard trains, bastard buses, bastard everything) and then found yourself surrounded by people who wouldn't shut up. Oh, there were delays on the tram in Croydon this morning, were there? Did it take you 3 hours to get to work? No, didn't think so.

After a session in the downstairs store with "Black Monk Time" on VERY LOUD INDEED I guarantee you will feel much better, and able to move on to a different, more relaxing type of monk.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A short ride in an alternative machine










A spontaneous moment! As we leave the office, L tells me she's off to the Barbican, where ahead of the LSO concert of John Adams works there's a free performance of an arrangement of Mr Adams' "A Short Ride in a Fast Machine" for Gamelan, of all things. Well, I'm a sucker for free stuff, and there's bugger all on telly, so I tag along.

It's great, and when you hear it, it all makes perfect sense, of course - the pulsing rhythms and post-minimalist repetitions of Adams' style transfer very well indeed to the Gamelan. They play it twice, and it's better second time around - people have drifted away and it's easier to get a good view of the players. That ringing, metallic sound is captivating, a sound I know well from second hand imitations by numerous 20th century composers, and (somewhat to my shame) rather less so from hearing the genuine article. It's nice to hear the distinctive tonality, too - when you're surrounded by the western scale, as we all are, it's good to be reminded every now and again that there's always a different way to do things.

At work today, in the middle of researching something else entirely, I came across a review that I didn't realise existed of a piece of mine that was performed in 2001 (I already knew about the one in the Guardian). According to David Harrison of the Manchester Evening News, "The world premiere of Peter Nagle's Infinite Breathing proved a spectral sort of affair with attenuated chords in the violins and violas."

I suspect this is the sort of thing a reviewer writes when he doesn't like the music, but doesn't want to say so.