Monday, 27 March 2017

Carnage

I'm not a vegan. I'm not even vegetarian. You'd think that if The Smiths couldn't persuade me, nothing will, and maybe you'd be right.

But I've been watching Simon Amstell's Carnage on the BBC iPlayer, and it's really got me thinking. I'm not going to lecture - how can I, given my current omnivorous status - and besides, one reason Amstell's film works so well is that the imagined future perspective makes a powerful point without preaching. Instead, here's a trailer, a review from the invariably-excellent Mark Kermode, and some links to the programme. Have a watch (skip the trailer and review if time is tight) and then, like I am, have a bit of a think. Maybe have a bit of a change, even if only by few degrees rather than 180; after all, an end has a start.

Simon Amstell: Carnage - programme website - watch on iPlayer

Friday, 24 March 2017

Be cynical if you like...

... be cynical about television as charity, charity as television and "celebs" getting involved to promote their own careers. Be cynical about where the money goes, how it gets spent and who gets paid what. Be cynical about Comic Relief, Sport Relief, this relief, that relief, Children In Need and the short-lived, now defunct Thames Telethon1 of my youth. Be cynical about the button-pushing videos that get shown over and over again in the course of the evening ahead.

But...

(and it's a bit but)

...don't let that stop you donating. The net effect is worthy enough to gloss over even the cynicism of a bitter old git like me who has had, basically, a pretty shitty day today, all told. Yes, I sort of despise myself for vaguely looking forward to the video trailered below... but I've still donated. Hope you do too.

1. The Thames Telethon was actually a thing, wasn't it, in the 80s? I haven't just imagined it, have I?

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

You'll like this... not a lot, but...

Saw this guy doing close-up magic at an event last weekend. All I can say is, even though cynical me was looking for the tricks and the slight of hand throughout, I couldn't pick any. I know a lot of this is prop-based, and that there is slight of hand going on, plus distraction techniques, but even so... this is a testament, not to any magical powers, but to the power of practice.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Clandestine Classic L - Sleep With Me

The (...drumroll...) fiftieth (hooray!) post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

The obvious problem with writing a series like this is that it is very hard to feature some of the most influential, most pivotal, more important acts in my personal musical history. How do I come up with a clandestine classic from The Smiths, for example, when 90% or more of this blog's readership is already very, very familiar with The Smiths' output? Ditto Morrissey solo. Ditto The Jam, The Style Council and solo Weller. Ditto REM. This is something I'll be looking to remedy in future posts (assuming this blog limps on), as it's important to me that the aforementioned all feature. And whilst I have managed to get Blur, Pixies, Gene, Travis, Pulp and The Wedding Present in, there are other important acts for me (Radiohead, Billy Bragg, Suede, The Blue Aeroplanes, The Small Faces, The Who and The Kinks) who are also notable by their absence. This became very apparent when I was preparing an index of all the tracks that have featured as clandestine classics thus far, in readiness for this, the landmark (!) fiftieth post in the series.

So a change is coming, of sorts. But not yet. For today's classic is by an artist you probably don't know, from an album you probably haven't heard, and a time (1990) that seems almost unimagineably long ago, despite feeling like yesterday in so many ways. 1990... a time when the great indie hopes of the mid-80s had collapsed under the weight of Stock-Aitken-Waterman chart dominance. C86 was long gone, done. The Smiths had left the building. Madchester and grunge had yet to bring hope to the indie kids. Blur and Suede had yet to pave the way for Britpop proper. Aside from the first Stone Roses' album, it was, generally speaking, a pretty fallow time musically.

Not for me though... in October 89 I went to university. A new city, a diverse campus, living in halls with new people from an array of countries, there was so much to experience, new music included. And then, in January 1990, a new person arrived on our hall for the remaining six months of that academic year. She was from the US, a crucial couple of years older than me and, if I'm honest, quite unlike anyone I'd ever met before (and seldom since). Maybe it was because we both had that six month deadline hanging over our friendship from the start or maybe it was simply that we clicked on a level that was unprecedented for us both, I think; whatever the reason, it very quickly became apparent that we were cut from the same cloth. A link was formed that persists even now, and a crucial part of that link, of that effortless commonality, was music. She introduced me to a lot of new music, primarily American, I reciprocated, on behalf of the UK, and there were some bands and artists that we already had in common. One such artist was the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg. Imagine our delight, then, on learning that he would be appearing on campus that May. In my cash-strapped first year, it was the only gig ticket I bought - that's how important it was for me to go.

Billy was touring to promote his new mini-album, The Internationale, still his most consistently and overtly political release in a lifetime of political releases, and worth picking up for the title track alone, let alone the brilliance of The Marching Song Of The Covert Battalions and the heart-rending My Youngest Son Came Home Today. But I digress; brilliant though he is (and was that night, especially), we're not here to talk about Uncle Bill. As I recall, there were two support acts that night - a band puntastically called The Coal Porters (which featured Sid Griffin), and a solo singer-songwriter with nothing but a guitar with which to promote her own mini-album. Caroline Trettine had, like nearly everyone from Bristol who'd ever held a guitar, previously featured in The Blue Aeroplanes but was now ploughing a solo furrow. Her debut album, Be A Devil (pictured above), had been released on Billy's short-lived Utility record label, and here she was to promote it.

On the album, Caroline is occasionally augmented by fellow Blue Aeroplanes-alumnus Ian Kearey but that night she played alone. Her voice soared faultlessly over a delicate acoustic finger-picking style and an uncommon hush feel over the venue. She was captivating, and a lot of copies of Be A Devil got sold on the merchandise stall that night.

I could have picked any of the tracks from Be A Devil, as they are all excellent, but I've gone for Sleep With Me. It's beautiful, heartfelt, intimate, direct - it presses a button somewhere in my chest. What never ceases to amaze me is that Caroline wrote this song, I once read somewhere, when she was just fifteen. What were you doing when you were that age? I know what I was doing, and it wasn't as good as this.

When I wrote about the gig some time ago, in my top ten gigs post, I gushed slightly by saying "support was great too, from Caroline Trettine, with whom I sort of fell in love for the duration of her twenty minute set." Hyperbole, maybe, but that button in my chest was pushed so hard, it never quite sprung back to its original position.

If you can hunt down a copy of Be A Devil, you should - you won't regret it. You can stream it from Amazon here, if that's your thing. I have it on Utility CD, which is pretty hard to find these days, so lucky me. But in the meantime, here's today's clandestine classic - it's so old/obscure/niche I had to resort to Myspace to find an embeddable version. I know, Myspace! Who even knew that was still a thing. In fact, hurry up and listen whilst it is still a thing...

Monday, 6 March 2017

New to NA

I wrote about IDestroy in passing last month. Well, they have a double A-side coming out this month which you can preview on Soundcloud right now. If I could embed it, I would, but I can't, so here's a link:

soundcloud.com/idestroy/sets/annie-98-double-a-side

Now I know I'm not their target market, but to me this sounds like equal parts PJ Harvey, Pretenders and Elastica, if performed by three women from Bristol in their mid-twenties. It's great, I think. You might like it too.

Plus, they're touring as well. Get yourself a ticket...

Memory card housekeeping - II

Another old pic from another old camera phone (Sony Ericsson C510).

EXIF metadata suggests this was taken in December 2011, which seems possible. I seem to recall it was from some exhibition or another on the Southbank. but if you're going to ask me where exactly or who the artist was, I'm going to come up short.

Sorry about that.


It's not the first day of summer either, but at least it's sunny out...

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

For a limited time only

Three years ago, I started another blog. Let me explain why.

During the 1990s, BBC Radio 1 ran an annual mini-festival called Sound City (not to be confused with Liverpool Sound City or the Dave Grohl movie – if it wasn’t branded “Radio 1” then it’s not relevant here). The idea was that every year they would occupy a series of venues in the city of choice, and broadcast gigs live every evening. I used to tape (look it up, kids) some of these gigs off the radio, despite the fact that home taping was killing music. And occasionally tracks from various Sound City gigs would make their way onto magazine cover-mounted CDs or tapes.

Anyway, the purpose of the new blog was to pull together various recordings and other memorabilia from those gigs, highlighting the quality and, if truth be told, ignoring any dross. I only started doing this after trying to find a track from Sound City 1993 online and being unable to – it was twenty years ago, after all, and how many people were digitising live radio broadcasts back then?

The trouble was, I featured a Manics track, and got DMCA'ed. Thinking I was smart, I moved the whole shebang from Blogger to Wordpress ... and promptly got DMCA'ed again, for the same live Manics track. Realising corporate behemoths have the resources to be smarter than me, I mothballed the whole lot.

Except I don't want to deprive the Internet of that one track I couldn't find anywhere else online (The Frank And Walters doing an acoustic cover of The Vapors' Turning Japanese - I eventually found my old taped recording and ripped it), or any of the other gems I found. So, for now at least, The Sound City Sessions is back up, minus that Manics track and the songs I'd sourced from Grooveshark, which has since ceased operations (a shame, as I had found some Pulp, Oasis and, er, Jamiroquai live tracks on there).

I won't be adding anything new (unless something exceptional turns up) but for now, assuming the DMCA police don't get upset again, the Sound City Sessions blog is back up for your listening pleasure at:

https://soundcitysessions.wordpress.com/

Here's a sneak preview of the sort of thing you'll find there:

And the limited time only bit? I'm thinking of re-mothballing it all again this time next week. So hurry, hurry, hurry...

Monday, 20 February 2017

Especially for you

We've gone from The Cardigans and James Brown, to singing this together in the car. I don't need an excuse to play it but if I did, today's the day.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

(Re-) Introducing the band

By my reckoning, The Blue Aeroplanes formed in 1981. Their first album followed in 1984. They flirted with success around the time of their most famous album, Swagger, were buddies with REM, and released a Paul Simon cover in a blatant chart position chase. They nearly made it ... but not quite. Their brand of art-rock has perhaps always been a bit too "art" for some and not enough "rock". Labels came and went. Most critically, I think, vocalist and band kingpin Gerard Langley's spoken-word delivery may have held them back a little, despite being their USP. It's hard to sing along with a singer who doesn't sing, if you get my meaning.

Now I should counter these criticisms by saying that I am a massive fan, and have been since buying their World View Blue e.p. as an undergrad in 1990. I own an unhealthy number of their records, some now quite valuable if the resale values on Amazon are to be believed. I've been to Aeroplanes gigs where the stage has groaned under the weight of guitarists (sometimes co-opted from the supports acts) and the manic dance moves of Wojtek Dmochowski (the pre-Bez Bez, if you like, but much more energetic). This is a band I have loved. And they're still, I'm happy to report, plugging away, as the picture of their latest album, Welcome, Stranger!, illustrates above. Not only that, they've just recently completed a tour in support of the album that was anything but a nostalgia exercise.

So how does a band that is knocking on 36 years old keep going and stay fresh? That is the question.

Bec Jevons, more than holding her own on the Blue Aeroplanes front line
The answer seems to be in having a transfer policy. Now the number of people that have been in The Blue Aeroplanes at one time or another is something of a running joke. If you come from Bristol and play the guitar, there's a good chance you've been in the band. Indeed, the band themselves play to this joke with a t-shirt on their merchandise stall that poses the question: "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of The Blue Aeroplanes?" On a more serious note, the band also maintain a line-up history on their website which is comprehensive if not necessarily complete. Anyway, a certain turnover seems to have kept things fresh. Yes, Gerard and Wojtek are ever-present, but every other slot is up for grabs. In HR speak, there is churn. And this is a good thing. It means new ideas, new styles, new sounds are always coming into the mix. In turn, this means that, well into their fourth decade, the band still sound fresh.

The latest round of churn has also introduced a bit of youth into the mix, in the shape of Bec Jevons. In a band comprising lots of men of a certain age, she stands out, being in her mid twenties. She brings youth, vitality, energy and, most importantly, a real rock presence to live performance. Clearly honed in her other band, all-woman trio IDestroy, Bec has a stagecraft that belies her relative youth. Crucially, she also brings a bit of power to The Blue Aeroplanes, moving them back towards the "rock" end of the art-rock spectrum - personally, I think it is no coincidence that her involvement has coincided with The Blue Aeroplanes making their most accessible album in many a moon.

Chatting to Bec after a recent Aeroplanes gig, she's clearly loving her involvement with the band, and can't wait to start on the next album. She seemed very enthusiastic, genuinely lovely and happy to talk to fans. She signed my IDestroy CD too, which was nice. But I digress. What I should be saying is this: check out Welcome, Stranger! - it's excellent - have a listen to IDestroy, and keep an eye on Bec Jevons - the music business is a capricious world but if there's any justice, she'll go very far indeed.