Please. Just shut. The fuck. Up.
Joey Ramone is the only thing keeping me sane at the moment.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Sunday, January 28, 2007
This is where the real fun in gig-going lies - 7 acts, none of which I've heard before, presented under the aegis of Resonance FM's "Scaledown" programme. It's billed as alternative/experimental - who can say what that'll involve? Could be great, could be awful - but it's free, so why not take the chance? And it's being held in a room above a pub, which automatically makes anything better.
We arrive round about 7, get the first round in, then hang about in the downstairs room wondering if we should wait until there seems to be some action, as there doesn't appear to be anyone going through the door to the upstairs room. Eventually we feel emboldened enough to go up, on the assumption that if we're not supposed to be there we'll be told about it. The room's small, it's almost like being in someone's living room. there are a few people milling about, mostly the organisers as far as we can tell. We sit down and nurse our pints, and people start to drift in. We wonder if we're the only people here who haven't come because they're mates with one of the acts or connected with Resonance in some way.
Two of our compères, Mark Braby and Dan Whaley, start off the evening with a rendition of a Copper Family song, "Babes in the Wood", before Whaley gets things going as the first act proper, under the pseudonym Big Ron Turner (one of many, as you'll see if you click through to his site). It's twangy bluesy stuff, which is the sort of thing I like, but it doesn't quite hit the mark for me. It makes me feel slightly bad to say this, because he's obviously deeply committed in his performing and deeply in love with the music.
Same Actor announces that tonight's a bit of an experiment for him, as he's left his laptop at home. His set divides into two parts, the first of which, he happily informs us, is inspired by the feeling of having stepped in some dog poo, and the second by the elation at having been shat on by a bird (it's good luck, you know). It's a minimalist affair, droning acoustic guitar which for the latter part is looped through some kind of sampler pedal (I assume - he's sat on the floor so I can't really see him) over which he then plays a sitar. it's quite hypnotic, although maybe lacking something - probably the laptop, judging by the excellent tracks on his MySpace page.
The Reactor Core Is Splendid consists of one man and his guitar, playing naive songs that have words that ramble rather than scan, that bring Ivor Cutler to my mind, for some reason. It's kitchen sink music, all about little details, which, while it does raise a chuckle or two, I can't help think lacks humour. On the back of these thoughts we wonder between ourselves whether it's humour or charisma that the performances so far have fallen short on - or whether these two things are connected.
Things perk up with the Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra, whose leader Martin White is the first performer tonight I feel has connected with the audience. (I wonder if it's partly that as the biggest band there, they have more friends in the audience, but I don't think that's it, although the fuller room obviously helps). It's funny stuff, stylistically out of the Weill/Eisler school of cabaret, with a healthy dollop of the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band thrown in for good measure, with settings of Poe as well as a song about John Cage's 4'33" and a heartfelt ballad about Euro-rockers Europe, which are very funny and leave us determined to catch them again sometime.
Nigel Burch is, as the pre-show publicity has it, a big man with a small instrument (a banjolele, to be precise) who rattles through some gleefully misanthropic songs that seem mostly concerned with the idea that people in love should not be permitted to live. It's what might happen to you if you grew old without shedding yourself of your youthful sense of the world's injustice against you. I Thoroughly enjoy it, my companion finds it to aggressive and bitter.
From one man with a tinny strumming instrument to another - Al Duvall look like he's stepped out of a Robert Crumb cartoon, dressed in cream suit and plantation tie. His songs are pure vaudeville, and seem to have a fixation with the act of being beaten up by one's love - "bare-knuckle ballerina" for instance. Lest this sound disturbing, I should point out that it's very funny, and he demonstrates that Americans in fact can do irony when he asks us to buy his album, thereby support the War in Iraq via his tax bill.
The final act is Mike Cooper who's been around since the sixties when he was part of the English blues/folk movement led by Davey Graham and John Martyn, and therefore the nearest thing to a star we've seen tonight. He's come to sing completely unaccompanied, so, he explains, as he rarely does this, he'll only sing two songs. In fact he's coaxed into doing a third, and all of them he sings with a dignity that ends the evening on an unexpected note.
I really enjoyed this evening. There's something in a small-scale event like this that moves me in a way that larger gigs don't. it's not to do with the style of music, or the quality - it's about the passion. These are all people doing what they do for love - the only payment any of them will get for this evening is what gets thrown in the pint glass that's been passed round the audience for donations - and there's a DIY aesthetic to the whole proceedings that's refreshing and inspiring.
There was recording going on, so listen out for some of this stuff on "Scaledown" on Resonance (alternate Friday afternoons), and keep an eye out for the next gigs at The Orchestra Pit. It'll be good for your soul.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Last week I recorded myself playing (badly) a piece of mine for solo cello, partly to check the microphone I borrowed works properly with my mini disc recorder (hey, it was cutting edge technology 3 years ago, and anyway, it's better quality than mp3) ahead of the première next month, and also partly because recordings are always a Good Thing to have to foist upon those who might play your music (the days having gone, apparently, when such people could be bothered to read scores properly and imagine what the damn thing might sound like). You can hear a (badly played) extract here, if it takes your fancy.
So anyway, yesterday, I came across an application form for the SPNM's 2007 shortlist. It was obviously fate, so into the post today went a score and a copy of the recording. Now, I've been here before - I've had 3 pieces shortlisted by the spnm in the past. If I'd had more time to think about it I'd probably have um-ed and ah-ed about it, whether I was happy enough with the piece to submit it and the like, but as time was short and i happened to have the necessary stuff together to send, there was very little thought involved in the decision. Proof of the value of procrastination - decisions are much easier to make if you don't have time to think about them too much. Is it worth the effort? We'll find out.
All this sudden activity reminds me I haven't done much in the way of writing since New Year, just this little thing I scribbled down a couple of weeks ago and never got round to posting. Partly down to the bastards, of course, but as well as feeling like a bit of a self pimping whore today, I feel a bit guilty about my lack of productivity. Must try and get myself into gear.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Maybe it's the Man-Flu making me even more of a grouch than usual, but isn't TV shit at the moment? The odd repeat (Life On Mars, Charlie Brooker) apart, it's wall to wall unwatchable trash that actually makes me wish Torchwood was still on.*
Thank god for the radio. Already today I've heard some great documentaries about memory, Woman's Hour, and some Beethoven. And I've got a Sibelius concert on Radio 3, a documentary on Herbie Hancock on Radio 2, Chain Reaction on Radio 4 and Lee and Herring on BBC7 to look forward to. And that's not even to mention all the stuff you can listen again" to on the interweb (like yesterday's editions of Ross Noble and Down the Line, for instance). And all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff on Resonance FM, where you really do never know quite what you're going to get (which is a Good Thing, of course). There's a ton of stuff there, so switch off the telly and use your ears.
Talking of radio, I've just heard professional shit-stirring twat Norman Lebrecht advertising his show this weekend on Radio 3, when his subject will be blogs. Read this, and then email him, and make him look like an ignorant fool.
*I must confess to a strange obsession with Deal Or No Deal, though. Especially this week, which has an astoundingly camp twat called Bunney on it, who sings a song about whoever's playing that day before he opens his box.
Monday, January 22, 2007
The trouble with illness is that it gives you time off work to do all the things that you never get done, but robs you of the ability to do these things. So I find myself here, struggling to get my head around the fairly simple concept of drawing a new Big Dog cartoon, and feeling vaguely disoriented from lack of sleep and the Man-Flu (which is, of course, very different from a plain old cold). The situation is relieved by the fact that one of the last things I did last night before I succumbed to the lurgy was bake a cake, so I can now test the cold-fighting properties of my Genius Banana Cake. I know that cake is not a subject that normally comes up here, but it's never too far from my heart, and so in a spirit of generosity, I give you the recipe. this cake is the product of many hours intensive research, is a handy way to use up all those over-ripe bananas sitting in your fruit bowl*, and is widely acknowledged to be in the forefront of cakes. If enough of us bake it, it may even End War and Unite all Nations in Peace and Hope.**
9oz. self-raising flour
4 oz. brown sugar
4 oz. butter
2 dessert spoons golden syrup
nutmeg & cinnamon, to taste
Mash up the bananas. Cream the butter and sugar together***. Mix the two sludges together with the eggs and syrup. Add spices to taste, then mix in the flour. Pour the resulting goo into a greased cake or loaf tin, and bake at gas mark4/ 180° for about 40 minutes, or until done. Check with a knife or skewer, and turn onto a rack to cool. Although it's rather nice warm, too.
On a completely unrelated note, may I also commend to you Rachel Mayfield, whose album you should buy, because it's good.
*N.B. I'm aware this is a problem only suffered by sad live-alone types like me.
** N.B. this is a wild assertion, unverified by any fact.
***If you have a food processor, you can just bung everything in and whizz it round until it congeals.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
The course of these three albums saw the biggest upheaval in the Fall's line-up yet. First to go was long-time guitarist Craig Scanlon (incidentally, the one sacking M.E.S. has subsequently admitted regret for). So, following her unexpected reappearance on "Cerebral Caustic", Brix appears on the sleeve of this album, perhaps significantly, between M.E.S. and the rest of the band. Is the tile of The Light User Syndrome a suggestion that after the previous few years, when speculation had been rife in the music press about whether his notorious liking for a drink was getting the better of him, we are witnessing a more sober Smith? If you were to suspect that it meant one of the Fall's more easy on the ear moments, you'd be wrong. I didn't think of it like this when it came out, but listening to it now it's striking how minimalist and industrial it sounds, lending it an almost brutal quality. The moment at the end of "Chilinism" where the song apparently winds down, only to stutter into a fierce low-fi riff at the bark of "Chiselers!" is a classic Scary Fall Moment. All in all, it's mostly the scowling, vituperative Smith who's mostly present here. It's a thrilling and often terrifying album. Having said that, it's a typically unpredictable gesture to throw in a brass section at the end.
The Fall do Drum and bass? Well, why not? One of the things that's been surprisingly prominent going through all these albums is how consistently the Fall adapt all forms of dance music, and Levitate does just that. The sound here is less industrial, more cavernous, with not only breakbeats but fierce garage rock and even smooth jazz (!) thrown into the mix, though as ever the result sounds like nothing but the Fall. This album seems to have fallen through the cracks a bit - I suppose that after the previous one had put the band firmly back on track (as it seemed at the time), it seemed like business as usual, and maybe I took it a bit for granted, something you should never do. Coming back to it now it reveals new riches, and is definitely one to spend some time with.
It was at this point that the notorious New York gig happened that saw the entire band sacked onstage in chaotic circumstances. At the time the press reported it as the end of the Fall. Smith simply hired a new band and carried on (memorably asserting that "if it's me and you granny on bongos, then it's a Fall gig"). The Marshall Suite shows no sign of letting up, in fact at the time, after all the turmoil, it was thrilling to hear Smith back on top form. I guess the evolution of the band's dynamic is here complete, anyone who might be thought of as M.E.S's peer is gone, and the band now consists of a group of young musicians under his iron hand. Thus the impression here is very much that of a tightly-drilled garage band, with Smith exuding a resurgent energy, defiant and malevolent. it's also one of the most sheerly loud albums so far!
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
I was starting to formulate a very interesting, thoughtful and provocative post about the state of modern music on the tube home this evening, but it'll have to wait, as such thoughts must make way for this!
And indeed this!
Inspired by pandemian, I've written a Haiku to celebrate this Significant Day in the History of Birmingham City:
5-1! Yes! 5-1!
Enjoy the moment, Bluenose;
We'll be out next round.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Well, it turned out to be a good gig last night, a good time was had by all, a few beers were enjoyed afterwards, and then I went home to find some bastard had broken in and nicked my laptop. I'm now sitting twiddling my thumbs waiting for the police to arrive. There wasn't anything crucial or irretrievable on it, and they didn't take anything else as far as I can see, so it could have been worse, but still: bastards.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
so much excitement to talk about, so little time... so for now you'll have to make do with this (apologies to those not in London):
+++PIMP ALERT+++PIMP ALERT+++
Kensington Symphony Orchestra plays film music of the 80s and 90s
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 15th January, 7.30
And if you fancy a drink afterwards, come to the Mulberry Bush. If you see a speccy bloke with a cello, say hello, 'cause it's probably me.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Last night I watched The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a documentary tracing the career of this singer-songwriter, who's become something of a cult figure, namechecked by many prominent figures in the American indie/alternative scene (you can read about him here). I found it fascinating, but also unsettling. There is one very important fact about Johnston that colours any discussion of him - the fact that he has for many years suffered from Bi-polar disorder, and has had to be hospitalised periodically due to psychotic episodes.
As I watched people queue up to testify to his talent I found myself thinking of two other mentally ill musicians who have been brought to public attention: Wild Man Fischer, who was championed by Frank Zappa, among others, and the Australian pianist David Helfgott, whose story was dramatised/romanticised in the film Shine.
Cerebral Caustic got some decidedly iffy reviews when it came out, as I recall, although I also remember that no two reviewers seemed to agree which tracks were good and which weren't, which may say something. At the time it seemed like an unusually retrograde step, away from the electro influences that pervaded the early '90s albums and back towards the krautabilly sound of early-mid 80s Fall. This may not be unconnected with the entirely unexpected reappearance of Brix.
As it happens, there is a clear return to the pop riffs of Smith(L.E.)'s first stint with the group, but there's a lot more noise and distortion layered over the top, which gives a combative feel to proceedings. I can't help but think that there must have been some unresolved issues between the former Mr & Mrs Smith, as there seems to be a recurring theme of sparring between the two through most of this record, most extremely in "Bonkers at Phoenix", where an out-and-out bubblegum song sung by Brix is overlayed with extreme electronic dissonance and M.E.S.'s barbed comments on the festival scene.
Hindsight's a wonderful thing, and the sense of retreading old ground that made this a slightly disappointing outing first time round has receded with time, so much that I feel inclined to declare this record a Neglected Gem. Not to mention that it has a damn fine title, and an excellent picture on the cover. And how can you not like an album which includes the line "On TV today somebody claimed their dog had been molested by a textile chemist"?
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Fall marathon 7: The Frenz Experiment/ I Am Kurious, Oranj/ Extricate/ Shift-Work/ Code: Selfish/ The Infotainment Scan/ Middle Class Revolt
Frenz=Friendly? The Frenz Experiment seems on the surface to take the Fall sound into a more mainstream, even chart-friendly place (it's even got a hit single on it!). It's not that simple, of course.
This isn't one of my favourite Fall albums, really. Not that it's bad, it just seems a bit too polished for my taste. It's got a vibe that could almost be described as amiable (almost!).
I'm trying (somewhat perversely) to avoid talking about lyrics in these posts, but there's no escaping the fact that Extricate was recorded in the aftermath of M.E.S.'s split from Brix, and there's a bilious quality that comes from that. I see the Amazon review reckons tht the Brix/pop influence disappears here, but I don't think I'd agree with that - it's certainly more abrasive than "The Frenz Experiment", but there are plenty of hooks there. Once again the Fall are ahead of the pack in their collaboration with Coldcut. And there's some wonderful humour amongst the bile, not least Smith's explanation of the origin of the title "I'm Frank". I've always loved this record, and it's still a corker.
The last three albums were released by Fontana, but the label then sacked the band, who responded by scoring a top 10 hit with the first single from their next, The Infotainment Scan. This is where the dance/rave experiments blossom fully, industrial-strength production giving the whole album a meaty feel. It also features possibly their most unlikely cover version, Sister Sledge's "Lost In Music". Probably the nearest the Fall ever came to a party album.
Middle Class Revolt seems to take a step back from the dance influence, there are several songs here (e.g. "Hey! Student") that mark a big swing back to the rockabilly influenced side of the Fall. I remember being slighty disappointed with this at the time, partly due to the version of "M5", which I thought wasn't really a patch on the version they'd done for a Peel session the previous year. It sounds better thanI remember (although I still think the Peel version was better!), but there are moments on the album that feel slightly like Fall by numbers.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Morrissey is apparently in talks to represent the U.K. at the next Eurovision Song Contest. This news fills me with a strange delight, even though I've never much cared for his post-Smiths career. Still, any source of a smile is good after this debacle.
Exciting news! My new viola piece will be performed very soon, details to follow soon.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Today's experiment: Is it possible to filter out the inane twittering surrounding one, or at least abstract it so it becomes an ignorable background noise? It's got to be worth a try, anyway. I suspect this will require either an heroic effort or an heroic passivity.
In other news, I see that new science minister Malcolm Wicks has been busy demonstrating what an ignorant fucking cock he is. I hope all you teachers are brushing up on the real-life science of sonic screwdrivers.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
So, one day of the new scene completed and I'm still sane, just about. I feel bad moaning about these people - it's not that I don't like them or anything. I just wish they'd shut up for 5 minutes. Maybe in time I'll settle down, feel less disorientated and get used to it. Or maybe this is a hint that it's time to find another job. Come lunchtime, I rushed out of the office and tried to find somewhere quiet to eat my lunch, not an easy task. I find myself longing increasingly for quiet, and increasingly aware of how difficult it is to find it. There's something uniquely irritating about unwanted noise, I think it's because you can avert your eyes from something you don't want to look at, but you can't avert your ears. I was looking at one of those mp3 players with noise cancelling headphones on some website or other the other day. Trouble with that is that it's still using music just as a blanket to smother the rest of the world, something I heartily disapprove of on the whole, and also it just cancels out everything. When I'm on the tube, I don't mind the noise of the train and the like, I rather enjoy listening to ambient noise like that (yeah, I know, weirdo). What really grates with me is the tinny hiss leaking from earphones. I suppose it's because it's something imposed upon the situation rather than arising from it. What I need is something that can selectively cancel out the noise I don't want to hear, and leave the sounds I want to listen to.
Id like to be tremendously Buddha-like and decide to choose to accept and listen to whatever sounds happen to reach my ears as simply part of the world. it's not easy to achieve that level of enlightenment on the Central Line at 8.30 in the morning, though.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
I've always thought of This Nation's Saving Grace as being in a continuum with Wonderful & Frightening World, with TNSG being maybe the less poppy side of TWAFW's sound world. However, listening to them now, they sound almost the opposite. WAF has more obvious "pop" elements in its makeup, but the way they're put together, caked on top of one another, drenched in dischord, makes it seem much more abrasive than I remember, wheras TNSG, while it doesn't trade quite so obviously on pop riffs and the like, has a sparser, more warmly recorded sound, that would remind you of Can even if there wasn't a song on it called "I am Damo Suzuki".
Bend Sinister occupies a place somewhere between the two, more pop hooks again, but with the sparser sound of "Nation". And unlikely electro influences in "U.S. 80's-90's". Although I should know by now that nothing's unlikely with The Fall. With the benefit of hindsight, "Terry Waite Sez" seems an unfortunately mis-timed gag, but bollocks to hindsight, it was funny at the time.
This period is probably the most stable the Fall ever had in terms of line-up. It's difficult to know how much this contributes to the consistency of these albums. I suspect there may be a connection between this and the way Smith's working methods changed later, but I'll come back to that on another occasion.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Well, that's that for another year. I find as I get older that I've less and less time for the forced jollity of Christmas, and find myself in the ironic position of really just doing it for the parents, as I guess they once did it just for my sake. It's a week off work, true, but so much time is spent on an endless round of social/family visits that you get no time for yourself, and end up feeling exhausted and enervated from too much crap food, booze and small talk. I also find myself getting more and more annoyed by the whole present thing, the spending of money on things no-one really wants. I used to think getting something that someone had asked for/ had put on a wish list represented a failure of imagination, but I'm increasingly of the opinion that unless you really have a brilliant idea of your own, you shouldn't bother with anything else. I got two books this year that I know I'm never going to read. Not because they're not perfectly decent books, but they're just too damn big, certainly not the kind of thing to be carried on public transport, which is almost the only place I have time to read these days. When I was a student I might have been interested enough to dig my way through Prokofiev's student diaries, but now I can't persuade myself that it matters enough to bother. There seem to be many more important things to occupy my time. Not least actually listening to his music. And while a zipperobe in the shape of the Tardis seemed funny for about 5 minutes, I rapidly found myself reflecting that a) it was going to be a pain in the arse to get home, b) I don't have room for it and c) I don't need it, as I have a proper wardrobe. And at a time when I'm pretty desperately short of money, I can't help but think that the no doubt considerable amount that was spent on what is essentially a joke present could have been more profitably used to get me stuff that I would have got for myself, and kept me a little less in debt.
Anyway, back to work today. We rotate specific duties once a year in my office, and due to the differing space needed by different roles this means I will also have to move desk, where I will be surrounded by the 2 most talkative people in the office. I am now wondering if there's any way I can politely say "Actually, while you find everything your children do fascinating, I don't. I especially don't find them interesting first thing in the morning, when my foremost desire is to drink my coffee and talk as little as possible. I also don't consider the fact that we both own bicycles to be an adequate basis for extended conversation. And I'm not that interested in pictures of rabbits, either. Please shut up."
I think this year I will be mostly wearing headphones. With very loud music coming through them.
Still, mustn't grumble, eh? Happy New Year!
I've always had a problematic relationship with Perverted By Language. It's highly regarded by many, and, hey, it has "Eat Y'self Fitter" on it, which is marvellous, of course. But there's something about it that doesn't quite gel for me. I guess it feels like a transitional album, the stabbing atonal sound of "Hex Enduction Hour" and "Room To Live" is being left behind - rightly, I think, one of the Fall's best aspects has always been their ability to avoid becoming routine - but the poppier sound that emerged once they signed to Beggar's Banquet hasn't really emerged (albeit there are traces, not entirely unconnected to the fact that this marks Brix's appearance in the line-up) and it feels slightly unfocused to me. There's a lot to enjoy, but somehow it comes out less than the sum of its parts. As far as I know I'm the only person who thinks this, mind.
The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, on the other hand, marks a real paradigm shift for the band, with its gloriously skewed take on transatlantic guitar pop. It's all great stuff, though I have a particular fondness for "Bug Day", which is pure bubblegum laced with something definitely mind-altering. "Elves" is clearly a rip-off of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by the Stooges, but it doesn't matter at all. I love that. Plus the CD has a load of singles bunged on too, including the mighty 7'51" version of "No Bulbs", a song I could happily play over and over again, and occasionally have, much to the consternation of neighbours.