Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Latitude... or Cinch presents a test event

Latitude sign
It's thirteen years since I first went to the Latitude Festival, three years since I last went. A lot has changed in that period, and Latitude didn't happen last year for obvious reasons. It was back for 2021 though, as a government-approved test event... which meant full capacity, no face masks and no social distancing! All of which felt a bit weird, if I'm honest. Latitude has changed a bit too, I think - it is still a multi-disciplinary festival, but music dominates more than ever - that's a shame, much as I love the music, because the variety of content is what has always made Latitude so special. It's got bigger too - when I first went, capacity was a little over 20,000; it's 40,000 now. And sponsorship? Since when did Latitude become "Cinch presents Latitude"? As in, Cinch the used car retailer whose ads are fronted by the distressingly ubiquitous Rylan Clark-Neal... to the extent that his made-up face gurned down at the main stage crowd from the jumbotrons between acts? I guess it is progress, but it, like the loss of some non-music stages, jarred with me. What has progressed well is the festival app: when I last went, in 2018, the app was terrible and a physical programme was still an essential purchase; this year, I still bought a programme but didn't use it once - the app was near perfect. Other changes? Well, for the first time since 2009, Mrs New Amusements came with me... and for the first time ever Master New Amusements came too. This would change the festival experience in several ways, some foreseen, some surprising. But anyway, enough general rambling: here, in the manner of my old festival diaries, is what I got up to. All crappy photos can be embiggened with a click.

Friday:

  • The Kids' Area. After the long trek in from the day ticket car park, proving our COVID test status (proof of two jabs for adults, negative lateral flow test for kids), getting our wristbands and finally getting onto the main site, our first stop was lunch by the waterside and the Kids' Area, mainly to get Master NA (who still wasn't sure what to expect) on-board with the whole idea of a festival. The Kids' Area has loads of great activities for the younger festival goer, but we were a bit disappointed to see that some were fully-booked by 1pm, not just for Friday but for the whole weekend. Still, there was a tent set up with a variety of musical instruments for kids to try, so Master NA and I sat down and had a guitar jam, which was nice.
  • The Trailer Park. Next we worked our way up to the Trailer Park, a wooded area that was home to an assembly of steam-punk sculpture; I particularly like Carantula, a small hatchback that had been given eight legs and loomed large over visitors to this area. There was also live performance, though we arrived just as a seemingly very popular act ended.
  • Esther Freud : The Listening Post. The fact that there are no longer separate book and poetry tents was slightly offset by the size of the sole replacement, The Listening Post - so big, in fact, that only the most popular authors will fill it, I'd say. It wasn't full for Esther, which is a shame as she spoke well about her latest novel I Couldn't Love You More and her writing process.
  • Jessica Fostekew : Comedy Arena. Whilst the rest of the New Amusements clan had a bit of a breather, I popped into the Comedy Arena to see who was on, and it was Jessica. She had a nice routine about gender stereotypes, on how "to grow a pair" (of balls) is to be strong, and how "to be a pussy" is to be weak. She also took aim at Boris Johnson, guaranteeing a good reaction from the left-leaning, liberal Latitude crowd. And on meditation, Jessica offered the line, "If you've got time for meditation, you're not the one who needs meditation," which, at the time, I felt was worthy of noting down.
  • Colin Macleod
    Colin Macleod : Sunrise Arena. Colin is a part-time crofter, part-time singer/songwriter from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He and his band trade in an agreeable, if slightly unremarkable, brand of Celtic folk rock, maybe with a twist of Americana; unremarkable maybe, but perfect for mid-afternoon in the woods. A lot of the songs seem to have isolation or separation as their theme, not surprising given Colin's remote home and lifestyle. An affable, easy-going frontman, at one point Colin quipped "I've been stuck on an island for two years," to which someone in the audience, as quick as a flash, replied, "So have we."
  • Before Breakfast
    Before Breakfast : BBC Music Introducing Stage. One of the best things about Latitude, or indeed any large festival, is the joy of a serendipitous find. Example: after Colin, we wandered up to the In The Woods area (where I found the best, and cheapest, cup of tea I had all day) and the adjacent BBC Introducing stage, where Sheffield's Before Breakfast were on. Not your average girl band, Before Breakfast feature voice, piano, cello and bass. Close vocal harmonies are clearly important to their sound, as is the strength and performance instincts of their lead singer, Gina. Brush My Hair (and tell me that you love me) seems a very representative track, if you're interested.
  • The Snuts
    The Snuts : The Sunrise Arena. NA Minor and I headed back to the Sunrise Arena next, to take in The Snuts. I'd heard a fair bit about them, mostly from the periodical emails I get from Parlophone, but I was completely unfamiliar with their music <<insert traditional comment about being old and parochial here>>. And what a great surprise they served up! Their lively sound, light show and between-songs interaction (especially from fast-talking frontman Jack Cochrane) all suggest they could, perhaps should have been playing a bigger stage. Whatever, the Sunrise Arena was rammed for this. Definitely worth further investigation, I shall be starting with their chart-topping debut album WL (which apparently stands for West Lothian, from whence they come). This was my personal performance highlight.
  • Women's Prize for Fiction : The Listening Post. We then scooted back to rejoin Mrs NA in the book tent, where a panel session on the Women's Prize for Fiction was in full flow. We'd missed a fair bit of this, obviously, but as an aspiring author I still found the later questions on writing process to be interesting, as well as the book recommendations.
  • Stephen Fretwell
    Stephen Fretwell : The Sunrise Arena. I was really keen to see Stephen, and I wasn't alone - the Sunrise Arena was even more packed than it had been for The Snuts. I think, judging by their reaction, that most of the crowd were long-time fans too. One man and an acoustic guitar is a lot to fill an arena, even one as compact as Sunrise, but Fretwell was equal to the task. Run, familiar to even non-fans thanks to Gavin & Stacey, provided a bit of audience singalong, whilst calls from the audience for the sublime Emily and New York were both granted. Ironic, really, that Stephen apologised for dropping the f-bomb between songs, mindful of kids in the audience, and then ended with New York, with its "Fuck what they say..." chorus. Long-time readers may even recall that I made New York a Clandestine Classic, back in the day, so I was especially glad to hear that get an airing. I may have had a bit of a moment.
  • Secret Artists live podcast : The Listening Post. I left the clan getting henna patterns done and went off to see John Osborne, but got there early enough to catch the tail-end of Annie McGrath doing her Secret Artists podcast live. The gist of this seemed to be that Annie would be in conversation with a guest - in this case, comedian Sophie Duker - whilst they both painted their interpretation of a given title or theme. What I saw of this was fun. Probably not fun enough to make me subscribe to the podcast, but fun nonetheless.
  • John Osbourne : The Listening Post. I've read two of John's books, Radio Head and The Newsagent's Window, and enjoyed both (especially the latter, which is Dave Gorman-esque, in a good way), but he was reading poetry at Latitude, dipping into his previous collection No One Cares About Your New Thing and promoting his new collection, Supermarket Love Stories, in which the poems are aisle-themed. He's excellent, funny, insightful, self-deprecating. I met him briefly afterwards, to buy a copy of No One Cares... and was pleased to see poet Luke Wright emerge from somewhere to give him a hug, before turning to then greet and hug comedian Mark Watson, who just happened to be strolling by. Oh, the author's life I will never lead...
  • Mabel
    Mabel : The Obelisk Arena. I'll be honest, before this I was sceptical - had Mabel done enough, I wondered, to warrant being the penultimate act on the main stage? Would she even be anywhere, I uncharitably hypothesised, if she was not Neneh Cherry's daughter? Well, I still think those are valid questions, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. We were only there as a nod to Master NA's youth, and it's telling that the Latitude crowd noise was more of a scream than a roar, but Mabel put on a really dynamic, lively show, augmented by a well-drilled dance troupe. And she can really sing too, even if it was sometimes a bit Beyonce-lite for my taste. She finished with her bigest hits (ahem, as far as I know), Tick Tock and finally, with confetti canons unleashed, Don't Call Me Up; even parochial old dinosaur me was able to join in with the chorus for that.
  • Wolf Alice
    Wolf Alice : The Obelisk Arena. And so we came to the reason I had bought day tickets for Friday rather than over the weekend. I had seen Wolf Alice play the same stage three years ago, but here they were headlining, and with a new, more mature album to promote. I was excited. Unfortunately, the rest of our little party were less enthralled, finding the band too loud and a bit too strident. Also, NA Minor was starting to flag - it had been a long day on our feet, and we'd covered a lot of ground. The bottom line is that we moved on after twenty minutes, just as Ellie and the band were starting to get on to the new material. What I can tell you is that the new song I heard was darker, slower, less strident... very promising.
  • Hot Chip
    Hot Chip : BBC Sounds Stage. I remember when this used to the BBC 6Music stage ...grumble, grumble, old, old, progress, progress... Anyway, I hoped that a blast of Putney's finest, and the spectacle of a large crowd bobbing up and down in a giant tent, would reinvigorate the New Amusements ensemble. It didn't, sadly, and we lasted a song and a half, which is a shame because the band looked to be warming up nicely. NA Minor is not even at high school yet though, and this was a step too far for him, on a long day - he didn't want the crowd, or the volume, or the chest-vibrating bass. We bailed out, and like the good dad I am I didn't even moan about it. Not aloud, anyway.

And that was that. Because we set off on the long walk back to the car park nice and early, we even beat the traditional queue of departing day-ticketers, so that was a bonus. But what to make of Latitude 2021? Seventeen months since my last gig, it felt great to be there, even if a little surreal to be amongst such a large crowd of people, and with not a face mask in sight. COVID did have an impact though, with some acts having to cancel at the last minute: Fontaines D.C. and Arlo Parks both had to scrub from the Saturday line-up, after positive test results.

Also, I bristled somewhat at the inevitable commercialisation and sponsorship that is creeping into this, my favourite festival, and the inevitable attendant mainstreaming of the line-up... but it's still a grand day out, even though I didn't get to see everything I would have liked: I didn't see any theatre or film shows, for example, and missing the bulk of both Wolf Alice and Hot Chip seems wasteful at best. Going with my family made it a very different festival experience... my last four visits have been alone, and that's great for seeing exactly what you want to see, but it does make it hard to share the experience. This was better, much better. Master NA proclaimed it a brilliant day. I hope we are all there next year.

Wolf Alice at Latitude 2021
Wide shot of Obelisk Arena headliners Wolf Alice

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Sounds familiar

Remember around the New Year, when I was trying, with very little success, to purge some CDs from my collection? Well, I came across a number of magazine cover-mounted CDs, and a whole load of subscriber-only discs from when I was joined at the hip with Q magazine. These were always a mixed bag, but nearly always had one or two gems on. Anyway, on listening again to these CDs (for the first time in 10+ years, in some cases), one or two tracks stood out enough for me to research them online. Here's one such: Naked in the City Again was side 1, track 1 on Hot Hot Heat's 2002 debut album Make Up the Breakdown. And it's alright, listen:

Now I don't know much abou Hot Hot Heat other than that: (a) they came from Vancouver; and (b) they had a not-so-good name. But something about this track stuck with me - not that it's life-changingly brilliant, but that is sort of reminded me of something else... something I couldn't immediately put my finger on. It came to me eventually though: Burning with Optimism's Flames is a track from my favourite XTC album, Black Sea. And whilst not exactly a template for Naked in the City Again, there's certainly something in the tempo, the rhythms and the vocal delivery, especially during the verses and middle eight. See what you think...

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Monochrome

Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon's surface 52 years ago today, at 2:36 AM GMT... about now, in other words. Still boggles my mind that we havn't been back for fifty years. Anyway, that's all the excuse I need for a bit of The Sundays, and the voice of Harriet Wheeler. From their third album, this recalls Harrier's memory of staying up as a child to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Lovely, isn't it?

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Catching up / emptying boxes

Had a weekend of tidying up and sorting through old boxes of paperwork here at NA Towers. All kinds of interesting ephemera came to light. One such object was a museum brochure, advertising the forthcoming exhibitions and events for Summer 2007 (yes, I'm a hoarder). I'd hung on to it because I really liked the photograph on the front cover, which was lifted from a touring exhibition of contemporary photography from the Victoria & Albert Museum, due to arrive that May. It's untitled and was shot by Corinne Day, for Vogue. Here it is.

Corinne Day's untitled photograph of Kate Moss, for the Vogue fashion story 'Under Exposed', 1993

Now, as you might expect, I have no interest in Vogue magazine, or fashion shoots; I don't have an especial interest in Kate Moss either. But blimey, this photograph struck me (beguiled me, perhaps), enough to hang on to the aforementioned museum brochure for, what, fourteen years, all the time thinking, I must do something with that picture, sometime.

So here I am, doing something, albeit the something in question is just me parking a photograph I like and commenting on the fact that I'm a hoarder who squirrels things away, just in case.

To flesh this post out a bit, here are some links:
Corinne Day | The Vogue feature in full | A blog post on how the shoot was (probably) lit | The photo at the V&A

There, I've done something with it. Guess I can (reluctuantly) put the brochure in the recycling bin now...

Monday, 19 July 2021

More new to NA... and I'm not dead yet

I don't hear much new that I like. I know... parochial, yadda yadda... dinosaur, yadda yadda... guilty as charged, on all counts.

But I'm not dead yet. Heard this on the radio, and quite liked it. Not sure how it will stand up to repeated plays, mind, being so lacking in variations. But now and again... yeah, I think this is alright. I don't know anything about Snapped Ankles. I do know that the rhythm of this, when it starts up, makes me think briefly of Love Missile F1-11 by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, albeit it in a different key.

Anyway, here's the song; just don't overplay it...

Friday, 16 July 2021

Blue Friday: Seasick, Yet Still Docked (cover)

I seem to be developing a habit of posting about songs by He Who Shall Not Be Named, without writing about him. Here's another.

I dont think Alain Whyte gets the credit he deserves. He was Steven's chief (though not exclusive) songwriting partner and lead guitarist from 1991 to 2007, far longer than one John Maher. In that time, he was responsible for large swathes of solo career highpoints Vauxhall and I and Your Arsenal, as well as the comeback albums You Are The Quarry and Ringleader of the Tormentors.

In researching this post, I also just learnt the surprising fact that Alain has also written with Kelis, Cheryl Cole, the Black Eyed Peas, Chris Brown, will.i.am and Madonna! Who knew?

Anyway, Alain has a YouTube channel on which he features new original material, as well as one-man-and-his-guitar versions of his old boss's songs. It's definitely worth exploring, especially if you're able to separate SPM from his music. Here's one such song, beautifully played (guitarists, if you're like me you'll enjoy the left-hand being in shot throughout). Seasick, Yet Still Docked is a lament for the unloved/unloveable, and gets me every time. "Wish I knew the way to attract the one I love ... there is no way."

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Music Assembly: Gayane ballet suite (adagio)

Hitachi CED player
In about 1983, I won a competition in Look-In magazine. The prize was a CED player and two excellent films: Logan's Run and 2001: Space Odyssey. Not a bad haul for a 12-year old, and a pretty mature selection of films. Being a sci-fi fan, I had already read Arthur C. Clarke's novel of 2001 and, if memory serves, had seen Kubrick's film once on television. But this gave me my first chance to watch, and re-watch, Stanley's masterwork on demand.

A quick point of order on CED players: Capacitance Electronic Discs were analogue video discs that were played not with a laser, but with a stylus! Essentially, they were very high capacity records. They were also a short-lived format, overtaken by VHS and Betamax somewhere between their invention (1964) and actually hitting the market as a consumer product (1981). These discs couldn't be handled - they came in a rigid plastic sleeve, which you inserted whole into the player, whereupon the disc would be extracted and you could withdraw the sleeve. I can still hear the droning noise of it all loading up. I think I may still have the player somewhere, along with the films and a CED of Goldfinger that I picked up later. I hope I do, anyway, it's probably quite collectable now. But I digress: back to 2001.

Although Kubrick had commissioned a score from composer Alex North (who had previously worked on both Spartacus and Dr Strangelove), he later rejected it in favour of the temporary soundtrack he had assembled himself from existing classical pieces. Stanley subsequently explained this choice in an interview, saying, "However good our best film composers may be, they are not a Beethoven, a Mozart or a Brahms. Why use music which is less good when there is such a multitude of great orchestral music available from the past and from our own time?" Ouch! But anyway, Kubrick's soundtrack is how I first came to hear the adagio from Aram Khachaturian's Gayane ballet suite. Used in the film to great effect, this achingly sad piece perfectly reflects the isolation and loneliness, the separation of a long space flight. So perfectly, in fact, that it was later referenced in the soundtrack to Aliens, to reflect a similar mood.

There are other more famous pieces in the 2001 soundtrack; indeed, the use of Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra has become iconic, a shorthand pop-culture reference and oft-parodied. Likewise, the inclusion of Ligeti's choral works brought a whole new audience to that composer's work, a fact that certainly softened his initial displeasure to his music being used in an edited, modified form. But, for me, the haunting, contemplative strings of Khachaturian's adagio bring the film to mind as much, if not more, than all of the rest. It is simply beautiful.

Here it is in context...

...and in full.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Would you want to come home?

After the football last night, I drafted a post on the boorish bigots, flag-shaggers, thugs, boo-boys and, most of all, out-and-out racists who somehow feel legitimised by national football success, and how their actions make it so hard for me and countless others to fully support England during a major tournament - how it is easier to feel shame, embarrassed to be English. I also vented about the politicians who, by their action or inaction, enable such behaviour. I was quite angry. Because even though I knew, I just knew what the narrative would be on social media after the penalty shoot-out, I was still incensed (and depressed) to see it play out in real time. The conclusion of the post was, if you were football, would you want to come home? To this?

I've deleted my rant, though, because I prefer to focus on the positive, or try, at least. For here is a manager, a progressive patriot, who knows what it's like to win and lose in an England shirt, who has shown faith in the young stars in his team, who gave the nation something to feel good about after a bleak eighteen months of COVID. And here is a young squad (average age at the start of the tournament: 24.8) seemingly unburdened by the failures of the past, ready and willing to take a stand on things that matter, ready to be a team rather than just a collection of individuals. Ready to stand up and be counted. Ready, for example, to step forward and take the fifth, must-score penalty at the end of a shootout, at the tender age of 19.

Despite the ignorant minority, I will be hoping that England make it to the World Cup next year, and do well. I will be hoping they progress far enough in the tournament to give us something to feel positive about again, because god knows we need that. But most of all I'll be hoping that the slogan that ends this closing montage from the BBC, as it has ended every programme of their coverage, still rings true and still holds firm. Hate won't win.

Monday long song(s): The Doors

I've been on a bit of a Doors jag lately. It started with seeing a few #NowPlaying tweets from a virtual friend, which led me to rewatching the Oliver Stone biopic from 1991, starring Val Kilmer. Like many a Stone film, it's prone to a bit of mythologising but, like many a Stone film, it's also very watchable.

Anyway, I've had lots of Doors music ear-worming around my head ever since. I've also been recalling the double-CD Very Best of The Doors that I played to death in my early twenties. I maintain that there is still no better soundtrack to a late-night solo car journey, especially when you are in your early twenties. I've also been musing on what has made the music endure: is it the out-there Lizard King shaman Morrison, or the musicianship of his bandmates? Or their serendipitous symbiosis?

But I digress. They did plenty of terrific short songs, of course, but weren't shy of letting the tape run on a bit too. Here's a five-song playlist of long songs for your Monday that clocks in at a whole side of C90. Enjoy.

And as a little bonus, here's a scene from the aforementioned film in which Morrison discovers that Andy Warhol is, in fact, George McFly.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

Sunday shorts: Hold Me

This, the "mini" version of the song, is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it affair.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Blue Friday: Philadelphia

With all due respect to Bruce's excellent offering from the same film, I think the 1993 Oscar for best original song went slightly astray. Here's the eye-moistening Philadephia by Neil Young.

If you need an extra lump in your throat today, here it is in context, soundtracking the closing scenes of the film.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

The Unewsual IX - outstanding from Denmark

Their footballers may be out, despite Kasper Schmeichel's heroics, but there's more to Denmark than bacon and Lego.

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Music Assembly: The Liberty Bell

When I was at school, Wednesday's assembly was always the music assembly. Quite apart from being later in the morning than other days, for timetabling reasons, it also meant that 650 boys got to listen to classical music once a week. Our unfortunately-named (but who shall remain nameless) camp music teacher would take to the stage, bang on for a bit about the composer, or Glyndebourne, or some such, then introduce a piece of classical music which we would more often than not endure, before staff notices and an assistant head boy announcing that the detention list would be "up by break" and that "all boys should check to see if they are on it."

At this point, I should add that I loved my school - it gave me an enviable education, seven fantastic years, and my best friend.

That said, music assembly would invariably be terribly dull. The aforementioned Wednesday timetabling anomaly as least meant that the music would be playing at 11am so, boys being boys and this being the mid-80s i.e. peak-Casio, some would amuse themselves by ensuring their watches' hourly chime would go off during whatever classical piece was being played. I know, I know... and when the camp music teacher later read a piece from a Glyndebourne programme reminding the audience to switch off any digital alarms, well, that only made it worse, of course. What can I say, it was a different time - a different, wonderful time.

Anyway, all this serves to introduce a new and very occasional series in which I'll introduce a piece of classical music and, since I know very little about that subject, the context by which I came to know the piece. To kick off the first Music Assembly, I'm going to draw on the most memorable actual music assembly from my schooldays, in which there was a guest presenter: one of the French teachers. I won't name him either - let's just call him Board-Rubber. He had been my form tutor in my first year at the school, was still my French teacher, and I thought he was excellent. Board-Rubber took to the stage to give a dry and straight-faced introduction to The Liberty Bell, explaining that it was written by John Phillip Sousa at the tail-end of the 19th Century. Perhaps he also spoke briefly about the bell that gave the march its name, I don't recall exactly. I do recall that it was an uncharacteristically serious presentation. All of which changed as his speech concluded, and with a nod to the sound booth stage-right to cue the music, Board-Rubber pivoted on his heel and marched off in an elastic-limbed silly walk that would make Cleese proud. Here is The Liberty Bell in context...

...and in full.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

What was on your wall?

Recently, I have begun the slow process of scanning and digitising a box of old slide photographs. A lot of them are pretty duff - I had a cheap Halina point-and-push at the time - but there are one or two that shine out of the gloom, tiny windows into a long-forgotten past. One such photo showed me in my teenage bedroom, apparently celebrating a birthday and displaying a haul of presents. And I've got to tell you, reader, it was like time travel. A t-shirt that I used to love but had forgotten owning; having lots of hair; and that bedroom, a small box that I had to share with the airing cupboard, but mine, my space. I've been scrutinising that photo carefully, the details pinging vivid memories. I've particularly enjoyed looking at what I had on the wall or, to be more precise, the side of the airing cupboard. Blu-Tac was my friend, as I built a collage of images, posters, postcards and cuttings to cover the white gloss, and seeing it all again ... well, it's quite the Proustian rush.

Example: in the early 80s, I was a regular reader of Starburst magazine. It was a pre-Internet window into what was happening in the world of science-fiction and fantasy, and I'm very pleased to see it's still going. Anyway, I had clearly kept those magazines, and plundered a couple of pull-out reproduction film posters, for I had these on my late-80s bedroom wall, in amongst the collage:

I quite enjoyed Invasion of the Body Snatchers (though, at the risk of being called a heathen, I much prefer the 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland and, teen swoon, Brooke Adams). I hadn't (and still haven't) seen Attack of the 50ft Woman ... I think teenage me just liked the idea of a giant, scantily-clad woman with impossibly long legs on his bedroom wall. Don't judge me.

So can you remember what was on your wall? Care to share?

Important footnote: aside from the 1978 version, other remakes of Invasion should be avoided like the plague. I suspect the Daryl Hannah-powered remake of Attack should also be avoided.

Friday, 2 July 2021

Blue Friday: a Nowhere Fast two-fer

Double bonus. Two songs about going nowhere fast, and proof that songs can be blue without being slow/quiet/minor-key.

 

Yes, the Gedge number has been a previous Sunday short. Oh well, too late now, repeating myself. Anyway... which idea of going nowhere fast do you prefer?

And because I spoil you, here's God, sorry, Johnny teaching us how to play the latter:

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Why is it so hard to get by?

I don't know, Jez from Doves, but good question, well asked.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

A potentially expensive new hobby

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a keen (but very amateur) road cyclist (think sportives, not races), and that later this year I will be cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats in nine days. Well, as part of getting my kit together for that, and to help with fundraising, I designed myself a custom cycling jersey for the event; it arrived last week, and I am pleased to report that I'm very happy with the result.

So much so that I got to thinking... I could put literally anything on a jersey. Anything! This could be the solution to not being able to find many jerseys that I like. Designs like these, for example:

Yes, I did put the Reception Records rose logo on the sleeve of the George Best jersey. And yes, that is the vinyl run-out etching message "The Impotence of Being Ernest" on the sleeve of the Hatful of Hollow jersey.

I could get carried away with this, I really could. There are so many album sleeves, book covers and film posters that would make great jerseys. But these aren't cheap. They are custom-printed one-offs and ship to the UK from Germany. I could very quickly spend a lot of money...

...or I could just take orders?

Monday, 28 June 2021

Manic

A recent Instagram post from everybody's favourite Bangle and 80s crush, Susanna Hoffs <<insert obligatory sigh here>> who, in case anyone has forgotten, was born on January 17th, 1959. That's right, maths fans, Susanna is 62, and must have some kind of a portrait in her attic, I reckon.

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Sunday shorts: Face in the Crowd

A frantic, joyous 117 seconds of late 70s Mod revival from The Merton Parkas, with a certain Mick Talbot on keys.

Friday, 25 June 2021

Blue Friday: Camera

There's been a lot of R.E.M. doing the rounds of our blog bubble, lately: firstly, JC at T(n)VV ran an excellent 58-part series on the band's singles, after which The Robster at Is This The Life? picked up the baton with his exceptional Imaginary 7"s series. Then Craig at Plain or Pan wrote an excellent piece about Catapult too.

All of which has prompted me to revisit some of Athens' finest's albums, and in particular Reckoning and Murmur, which are probably my favourites. I was introduced to both these albums in my first year at university by, well, I've mentioned her before, an American girl who moved into our hall at the start of spring term. We hit it off immediately, and remain firm friends thirty years later, despite physical separation and, you know, life.

If this was an upbeat series, I would post We Walk from Murmur, and recount how La Américaine would recall singing it in her freshman year with friends when boozily returning to campus. But this is Blue Friday, so instead I will play, for perhaps the first time in nearly thirty years, Camera from Reckoning. Whenever we would listen to that album, in one or other of our rooms, we would fast-forward past this song (a habit I have retained), for it reminded her too keenly of a close friend who had died just weeks before she, my friend, had come over to England to study. I remember most details of the story - seeing her friend in an open casket, for one. I cannot imagine that. I also remember that a car was involved in the girl's death, adding an extra layer of resonance to this song, since it was written about Carol Levy, the band’s frequent photographer and close friend of Michael Stipe’s, who died in a car accident while the band was touring.

I'm lucky, I guess. Even into my sixth decade, I've never really had to face death like that; sure, extended family have died, but no-one I've felt especially close to, no-one whose departure has left me bereft. It will happen, of course, inevitably. I don't know how well I am equipped to deal with it, but we'll find out, I guess. Until then, here's an achingly sad song from early-period R.E.M.

Post script: completely coincidentally, Swiss Adam at Bagging Area has also written a "there's been a lot of REM on the blogosphere lately, which has got me thinking" post today, about Murmur. It is excellent, definitely worth a read, and it's right here.

Monday, 21 June 2021

Monday long song: Confessions of a Pop Group

The title track from The Style Council's unfairly-maligned swan song album, Confessions of a Pop Group is, in many ways, an update on the previosuly featured Money-Go-Round (and not just the bassline similarities). Paul and Mick were not happy with Thatch, nor her '87 general election victory, nor the general direction of the country ... and they weren't afraid to say so.

The album from whence this comes wasn't for most people, with an A-side leaning towards jazz and classical influences. I remember being a tad disappointed myself, wanting to embrace the new direction but finding it hard. The B-side was better, I thought at the time, but still not the Weller I wanted, and I wasn't alone in my thinking: it charted at #15 but only stayed on the chart for three weeks. The band recorded another album after this, but Polydor wouldn't release it, and that was effectively that for the Councillors. With more mature ears though, I can truthfully say that there's a lot to appreciate on Confessions, both sides of it.

Anyway ... here are the lyrics for today's song. Sad, isn't it, that so many of them still seem so relevant.

Cheap and tacky bullshit land,
Told when to sit don't know where you stand,
Too busy recreating the past to live in the future.

Poor relations to Uncle Sam,
Bears no relation to the country man,
Too busy being someone else to be who you really are.

Shitty plastic prefab town,
Mind where you walk when the sun goes down,
Too busy hating others to even love your own.

Bobbies on the beat again,
Beating blacks for blues again,
It's one way to get involved in the community.

Love me, love my jeans,
I must buy shares in Heinz baked beans,
Too busy buying up, selling out, selling off.

3,2,1, in others terms,
Win a life sentence and a queen mum perm,
The individuals that state, in a state of seige.

Do pop and press and mix, do tits and news stew,
The next one in the poor house could be you,
Too busy saying "thank you" to say what for?

No time to spare - "spare me a dime",
The Great Depression is organised crime,
Their confessions are written in your blood.

Kiss your ass an' dreams goodbye,
Come back when you've learnt to cry,
Too busy tryin' t'be strong to see how weak you are.

Wave your flags and waive your fate,
The freedom you claim is the one you hate,
The victory you seek will never come.

Brutal views through brutal eyes,
See no future, hear no lies,
Speak no truth to me or the people I love.

When I grow up I want to be,
All the things you've never been,
And your opinion will count for none.

Headed for the breakdown (repeat)

Friday, 18 June 2021

Blue Friday: Let Me Kiss You (cover)

Depressingly, it's probably only a matter of time before Steven turns on the laughable GB "News" channel.

Until then, here's a great version of one of his songs, an ode to unequal love. The images are from Jean Cocteau's 1946 film La Belle et la Bête but you don't need to watch them, just listen to the song.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

About being timeless

I found this postcard of Sophia Loren in my stationery drawer this afternoon. When you've recovered from mocking me for having a stationery drawer (in fairness to myself I should point out the drawer contains lots of things, stationery being just one of them), take a moment to consider that this photograph was taken in 1966 by Milton H. Greene (best known for his work with Marilyn Monroe).

1966. Fifty five years ago. And yet it looks pretty contemporary, doesn't it? Not hard to imagine a current star, maybe Mila Kunis, striking a similar pose, with similar results.

Is that the definition of timelessness, then? To age, whilst remaining contemporary? Or is it rather that fashion has gone around so far as to be back where it started?

I think I prefer the idea that this is timeless...

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Step back

I knew Step On by the Happy Mondays was a cover. I expect you did too. But I'd never heard the original, until Monday afternoon, when Simon Mayo played it on his commercial radio drivetime show. It was written and recorded by one John Kongos, and I think it's brilliant. Here it is.

Now I'm not down with the kids, but aside from the occasional proto-T-Rex glam chords, I don't think this sounds 50 years old. 50! Imagine this coming out of your radio, over crackly old Medium Wave, in 1971. Your ears would have been blown. No wonder it peaked at #4 in the singles chart.

Some (including the folk at the Guinness Book of Records) also suggest that this was the first commercial release to include a sample, but I don't think that's true, I think it's just some skilled use of a tape loop... but what do I know? The Internet loves a theory though, right, even when it's wrong. Maybe especially when it's wrong.

The Mondays cover reached #5, but over time has become a landmark track, a staple of the collective memory, a definition of the whole baggy/Madchester thing. Certainly their addition of a high, chiming piano helped, as did melon-twisting lyrical additions and a bit of whistling. It (along with Kinky Afro) was their own chart highpoint, and maybe they felt they owed Kongos some more royalties, because they also covered his only other significant hit, Tokoloshe Man, for the compilation album Rubáiyát, ostensibly to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Elektra Records. Kongos's original of Tokoloshe Man is far superior though, and it also reached #4 in the UK.

Wikipedia tells us that Kongos released two albums, and that there were other singles after Tokoloshe Man but they failed to chart. After those, he concentrated increasingly on studio and production work, supplementing that income by writing music for jingles and TV themes. Apparently he programmed the Fairlight for Def Leppard when they were recording Pyromania ... which is about as far from the Mondays as you might want to get.

Anyway, both the tracks featured here, the other singles and a selection of album tracks can be scooped up in one hit via the 1988 compilation Tokoloshe Man Plus, should you so desire. But these two are the tracks you need.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Thursday, 10 June 2021

All things must cost

I get a regular email shot from recordstore.co.uk that highlights interesting new vinyl releases. I don't buy much from there, but it's often an interesting read.

Today's email flagged a number of new releases to commemorate the 50th anniversary of George Harrison's rightly lauded post-Beatles triple LP, All Things Must Pass.

Forgetting the CD releases, here are your vinyl options:

All things must cost

So if the standard triple disc isn't enough for you, at an already eye-watering £56.99, there's the "Exclusive" package with green and black splatter vinyl, bizarrely. A bargain at just £66.99. And if Exclusive isn't enough for you, there's the "Deluxe" package at £78.99, for which tidy sum you get five slabs of plastic instead of three. "What's better than Deluxe?" asked a marketing man, somewhere, sometime. "Super Deluxe", apparently, at a barely credible £174.99.

"What's better than Super Deluxe?" asked the marketing man's accountant. "Uber Deluxe", it seems. And it also seems that you can charge £859.99 for a record if you have enough rabid Beatles fans and you throw in a wooden box.

Yep. You read that right. Eight hundred and fifty nine pounds and ninety nine pence. Mother of God. And you still have to pay seven quid to have it delivered. Pah! Judge for yourself if you think it's worth it.

It's hard not to wonder what George would have made of it all. As for me, I borrowed this album from the university library way back when, and taped it. That'll have to do for me.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Caught beneath the landslide

Sonya Madan of Echobelly
For more than a decade Kevin Cummins was chief photographer at the NME - sounds like a dream job, right? Hanging out with cool bands, creating iconic images, being backstage at gigs, being ahead of the curve for whatever was coming next, being "in". Sounds fantastic, doesn't it? I'm not at all envious...

One collection of his 90s/Britpop photography has already been published, as While We Were Getting High, and now there's this, Caught Beneath The Landslide, a small hardback book that includes a few more photographs but this time bundles them with CDs, with sleevenotes from all manner of sources. It's a four CD collection which, if I can borrow from the promotional blurb, "brings together artists that topped the chart and set the agenda, some who were lauded one week and laughed at the next, and others who were just along for the ride. From an era of Lad’s mags and Girl Power, “football’s coming home” and chart battles making news headlines, it brings together Oasis and Blur, Pulp and Supergrass, Sleeper and Suede, Elastica and Echobelly, Gene and Menswear, and many more." But as Kevin himself makes clear in his intro, this is a broader take on indie music in 90s Britain, rather than just another Britpop coal-raking exercise.

Jarvis Cocker
More interestingly for me, as someone who already owns a lot of material that this compilation focuses on, it also claims "71 classic tracks, lost gems, live and alternative versions, b-sides and single edits", together with "in-depth sleeve notes exploring the bands, their influences, the labels and the individuals who defined the era"... so I treated myself, basically. Early orders, like mine, came with a signed A4-sized print of the cover art too. Guess I need to find a frame.

I'm still working through this, as we speak. I already know what my favourite photos from the book are, but I'll spare you more Louise Wener and Gene photos (it's not like either of them are strangers to this blog) and instead choose one of Sonya from Echobelly, in which she has SUCK MY EGO written on her fingers, and one of Jarvis Cocker, in which he looks like he should be teaching English at a selective boys' grammar.

Regarding the photography, Kevin has this to say: "I wanted the artists I worked with to look as cool as they sounded. That was the difference between working for the NME and other music publications. We approached our time with the bands as some kind of art project, as opposed to the chance of a pub crawl around Camden."

It's quite the art project...

Here's the song that CBTL picks for Echobelly; they feature an excellent live version, but that's not on YouTube. Must be rare then, right?

Caught Beneath The Landslide isn't cheap, but it's a nicely assembled item that would grace many a bookshelf. Here's the tracklist in full...

Tracklisting

Which track catches your eye? And which would you never want to hear again?

Oh, and did I mention the sleevenotes...?

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Not C86

Exploring Bandcamp again, as I have been a fair bit lately, I stumbled upon a collection entitled Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground 1983 - 1987, which apparently "aims to shed light on this forgotten era of jangly, melodic rock music that emerged from the ashes of post punk and helped kick start the indie rock boom of the early ‘90s that continues to this day." Not only that, the compilers "guarantee it’s an essential listen for any fan of classic ‘80s indie bands like the Go-Betweens, Felt, the Church, the Bats, Shop Assistants, and the like."

An American C86, basically.

What this means in practice is that it features a lot of college-rock bands trying to plough the same furrow as early REM and others, with results that can mostly be described as ... well, neither under- nor overwhelming. Just whelming. Here's a couple of the better efforts.

All fine, but I can't help but return to the subject of margins: those fine differences that elevate some to greatness and condemn others to obscurity. We all know who REM were, and they and their music will be listened to and talked about for years to come. I would challenge you to know any of the 28 bands on Strum and Thrum. Yes, these margins are fine. but you can hear them, can't you?

That said, there's enough to enjoy about this compilation, should you be a Bandcamp tourist like me. Enjoy.

Friday, 4 June 2021

More new to NA ... and more reasons to be grateful for 6 Music

This is Sand Fight by the splendidly named Folly Group. I heard it on the always-interesing 6 Music; Nemone, filling in for Shaun Keaveny, played it this time yesterday, as I had my lunch.

I hadn't heard this track before; indeed, I hadn't heard of Folly Group either. But this is excellent, I think. It puts me in mind of what The Cure might sound like if they were just starting out now, taking their late-70s teen sensibilities and influences, and transferring them wholesale to a 2021 landscape. There's something of The Blue Aeroplanes in the spoken word delivery too. Anyway ... see what you think.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Monday long song: New Amusements

Not that I ever need an excuse to post Gene, but here's the song that gives this blog its name, from 1997's Drawn To The Deep End: a long song for your bank holiday Monday, if you will.

You're welcome.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

You can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear...

Lipstick is a piece of generic pop pap that Jedward sang to represent Ireland in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest. They came eighth with it, the sort of dizzying success that UK entrants can only dream of these days. But still, Jedward and Eurovision: hardly a ringing endorsement, right? I'm not going to embed it, on principle, but if you must watch the twins' ESC performance, knock yourself out.

Now imagine you are a one-man band quietly plying your style of alternative rock online. You've got a bit of an Electric Six/Dick Valentine obsession going on, maybe, but that's okay. Maybe you hear the Jedward track and think, hang on a minute...

So this is Lipstick by Norwich-based alt-rocker Molten Vole. Bonus points to him for squeezing a Delia Smith reference into the lyrics, and for the extra verse.

That this is quite such an ear-worm speaks volumes for the original three-man songwriting team, I think, but fair play to Molten Vole for taking the bare bones and turning them into something more.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Is it really just me?

Yahoo's UK home page had a poll on with a poorly worded question asking whether Britons should refuse to pay the television licence fee. The options were: Yes, it's not worth it; and, No, it's value for money.

Quite apart from the poorly designed questionnaire (yes for a negative, no for a positive), I broke a longstanding habit of not voting in onine polls, because the Beeb is important. Yes, I voted No, because the licence fee is value for money. And here are the results at the time I voted this morning:

That's depressing, isn't it? That only about 1 in 8 people thinks the BBC is good value, when it provides ad-free television of a very high standard, fulfils a public service broadcasting remit, delivers national and local news, offers a fantastic range of national and local radio, gives us the iPlayer and Sounds app, and has one of the best websites in the world? All that for £159 per year. Yes, Netflix and Prime might be cheaper, but offer just a fraction of what the Beeb does. As for Sky, you don't really want to line Murdoch's pockets, do you?

Am I alone in thinking this? Am I so out of touch with popular opinion?

Here's a song in praise of the BBC... with bonus Susanna Hoffs.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Monday long song: Spandrels

From last year's comeback album The Panglossian Momentum by Thousand Yard Stare, this is Spandrels. And here's a link in case you were wondering what a spandrel is. Can't help you with how that relates to this song though, sorry.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Sunday shorts: See My Way

Here's a rarity for you, a Who song written by Roger, not Pete (I think Roger contributed four songs to the entire Who discography). And to make it even rarer, I've gone for a BBC Sessions recording, rather than the original from A Quick One, just because I think it sounds better - brighter, cleaner, a superior recording. Well done, the BBC.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Blue Friday: Please, Please, Please... (instrumental)

Ripping yourself off

You know when an artist or band re-uses either their own lyrics in another song, or recycles a tune and sticks new lyrics on top? For example, when The Style Council took With Everything To Lose, from their excellent second album proper Our Favourite Shop, swapped out the lyrics and turned it into Have You Ever Had It Blue? for the Absolute Beginners soundtrack? Or when REM took 7 Chinese Bros from their excellent second album Reckoning and, in a moment of madness or inspiration, overlaid lyrics that were read by Stipe from a record sleeve, to produce Voice of Harold, for the B-side of So. Central Rain. You get the idea, right? So you also get the jolt that comes from recognising a track when it starts and suddenly realising it's not quite what you thought it was.

Well, I had another such jolt yesterday. I was doing the washing-up and, apropos of nothing, had asked a smart device to serve up songs by Simon & Garfunkel. After the random/not-random predictable first offering (Bridge Over Troubled Water), this was next up: Somewhere They Can't Find Me.

Which, if you'll pardon the modern vernacular, prompted an actual WTF moment for me. For these are the lyrics to one of my favourite S&G tracks, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. At least the verses are - see for yourself:

Not only that, the music bears more than a passing resemblance to another of their recordings, Anji, listen:

Am I the only one who didn't know about this?

Monday, 17 May 2021

Monday long song: Stereotypes/Stereotype Pt 2

A bit of a cheat, maybe, because it's two songs segued together, but the join is seamless, it's listed on the album as one track and, most of all, it's excellent and I want to play it. So here, direct from 1980, are seven and a half Special minutes. Ever drunk your ages in pints?

Sunday, 16 May 2021

Sunday shorts: I'm Amazed

Yes, alright, I know that picking early Pixies as a way of finding good short songs is like shooting fish in a barrel, but that's about all I'm good for at the moment. And blimey, it would be even shorter if not for Kim Deal prefacing the song with the tale of a former teacher who was "into field hockey players"...

Saturday, 15 May 2021

I don't want to join your revolution, so leave me alone...

A serendipitous Bandcamp find, this is the archly titled The Record Player and the Damage Done by The Reds, Pinks and Purples, aka Glenn Donaldson. This and the whole parent album Uncommon Weather are quite listenable. I will explore further. He certainly has a way with a melody, and a natty line in Morrissey-esque song titles (I Hope I Never Fall In Love, A Kick in the Face (That's Life), I Wouldn't Die For Anyone, that kind of thing).

Monday, 10 May 2021

Twenty-one in '21: Flowers for Algernon

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading twenty one books in 2021. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

5/21: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The blurb: The classic novel about a daring experiment in human intelligence Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper and the gentle butt of everyone's jokes - until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental tranformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.

The review: Brooklyn-born Daniel Keyes was a merchant sailor before finding his calling as a university lecturer and, eventually, professor or creative writing. He wrote four novels, apparently, but Flowers for Algernon is far and away the best known. Originally a Hugo Award-winning short story, Keyes expanded it to a novel whereupon that won the Nebula Award. He also adapted it for a 1968 film, Charly, which landed an Oscar for its lead actor but - spoiler alert - the film has not aged as well as the book. Oh, and it also got the TV movie treatment, twenty odd years ago, and that starred Matthew Modine and is well reviewed, so I'll be taking a look at that when time allows.

So what of the book? Well, the Hugo and Nebula awards should be telling you this is a science-fiction story, and it is... but it's a question-raising morality play too. What is more important, this novel asks, to have a brain or to have a heart? To care or to be aware? And, less directly but equally effectively, whether mankind should play god, in the grand tradition of everything from Frankenstein to Jurassic Park and a whole lot more besides. In this case, and to paraphrase, the scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could turn Charlie into a genius, they didn't stop to think if they should.

It's also a heartbreakingly sad novel too. Protagonist Charlie leads a simple but happy life but, as his intelligence grows, he realises that his life has not been, and is not, happy - that people he thought were his friends were actually just laughing at him behind his back. Also, as he gets smarter Charlie is able, for the first time, to examine and understand the troubled family history that saw his parents abandon him. And, most painfully, as he grows he realises that he can love, but cannot give himself over to that love until it's too late - his spiralling IQ means that he has left his sweetheart behind intellectually.

The real kicker comes in the book's final third, and is hinted at in the blurb. It's a hard read and left me wondering whether it is better to have been smart and lost that, than never to have been smart at all; it also left me wondering, not for the first time, what I would want to happen to me in the event of suffering a traumatic brain injury, or developing some form of dementia. To know, to be all too aware you are losing your mental prowess must be terrible.

There are also some neat writing tricks at play here from Keyes. The novel is written in Charlie's first-person narrative as a series of progress reports that he keeps as part of the study, and Keyes has great fun with this, varying his protagonist's writing style subtly yet progressively to demonstrate a growing intelligence. And having digested Charlie's linguistic up-turn at the start of the novel, this reader was hyper-attuned to subsequent variations; it was all the more saddening to see the first signs of deterioration creep into Charlie's writing (apostrophes were the first thing to go) because you know what had gone into the intial improvement. Watching a tower crumble is bad, but doubly so if you had invested in it from the outset.

There's also another theme to be discussed here, I think, about the burden of intelligence, the separation it can cause, the loneliness. Which would you choose: to be a sad genius or a happy imbecile?

The bottom line: don't be put off by the SF tag; this is a gripping, emotional read that raises a lot of questions and lingers long in the mind; only deprived a full complement of stars by a slight narrative lag in the middle third.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Monday long song: This is Hardcore

Great (long) song and a great video too.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Minding the gaps: The Liar

Way back in January 2018, I posted about this song - The Liar by The Fernweh, and said that "when the single is released and there's a full embeddable version somewhere, I fully expect to darken your door with this again." So here I am, two and a half years later, to darken your door. Finger on the pulse, me...

I also said, "It's sounds like... 1969, I think." See if you agree.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Blue Friday: Possibly Maybe

This popped up at random recently, and gave me a bit of a "time flies" moment as I reminded myself it is 26 years old. Twenty-bloody-six. Still sounds terrific, I reckon; maybe the key to ageing well is to be timeless.

And if you're wondering why this qualifies for Blue Friday, well, it's a break-up song, isn't it? Check the lyrics, especially the last three verses. "I suck my tongue in remembrance of you" indeed...

Great video too. 26 years may well have slipped by, but there's still no-one quite like Björk.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Monday long song: Babe, I'm On Fire

I still have, and will probably always have, a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Nick Cave, but this is a powerful, wrecking ball of a song.

Monday, 26 April 2021

Monday long song: Travels in Nihilon

If, heaven forbid, there was a fire at New Amusements House, and I only had time to grab, say, twenty albums, Black Sea by XTC would be one of them, I think. This is probably the weakest track on it... but it is long, so...

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Every home should have one VIII

Prompted by a recent post by Charity Chic, it suddenly occurred to me that I'd omitted Fannies masterpiece Songs From Northern Britain from the EHSHO masterlist. What was I thinking?