Monthly Archives: October 2012

Time-Wasting Alert!

Standard

Remember those album-review sites? You know the ones – not AllMusic or Pitchfork or PopMatters. The ones that cropped up around ten years ago, maybe more. Not blogs, but websites with coloured backgrounds and ratings systems, usually numbered ones or graphics (one dot = crap, five dots = essential). You know, where they review whole catalogues of bands, in chronological order? I did a whole post on them at one of the old blogs – can’t remember if it was “Pond Of Tunes” or “Blog Is Not…”

I found another one of those review sites yesterday, while searching for information about the song “Sugar The Road“, by Ten Years After (the English psychedelic/blues-rock band). I was looking for some insight into whether Alvin Lee, the lead singer and guitarist of T.Y.A., really had sympathies with the counter-culture, or was just band-waggoning it for record sales. I suspect it’s the former, though I don’t know if Alvin ever dropped acid, or even smoked a joint er two. I never did find any solid evidence – but I did end up checking out the review site. It’s called Only Solitaire and the reviews are by a guy called George Starostin. From what I can tell, he’s a Russian linguist who studied for a time in the U.S.

He’s got a passion for the music, I can say that much and his command of English is miles better than my command of Cyrillc (which I suppose isn’t saying too much, as my command of that language is pretty much zilch). He worships at the altar of the 1960s, particularly the “Big Three” British bands (Beatles, Stones & Who), plus the lone Yank in the pack, Bob Dylan. He has a page of his musical ‘creed’, made up of philosophical “superstitions”, where he outlines his taste. Granted, he’s updated most of his tastes since then (I’m guessing around the year 2000, Gregorian calendar) and he’s happy to admit that – but honestly, it seems a bit dangerous to me, to say “The 1960s was the best decade for music”, as it gives already far-too-smug baby boomers another soap-box to declare how much better they are than anyone else. I can see where he’s coming from, as I used to have the same opinion…I just never had a website to give the boomers the opportunity to showboat.

He also uses the word ‘pretentious’ much too much, particularly when discussing art-rock, prog and even psychedelia. I didn’t count, but in the Procol Harum section alone, the ‘p-word’ appears a lot. I seriously want to start a campaign to have that word removed from music reviews. At the very least, have reviewers purchase a thesaurus, so they can find a less loaded and over-used one. Based on what I’ve read of his reviews so far, he can sometimes conflate his opinion into fact, forgetting the subjective nature of reviews…and sometimes he seems to think he knows what was happening with the bands at the particular times certain albums were made. Now, some of that information can be found in interviews, but sometimes it seems it’s just the reviewer talking out of his arse.

For all that, though – I’ll be damned if I’m not reading a lot of his reviews! He doesn’t try to be Lester Bangs, which is a definite plus. He doesn’t get too unbearably academic, though he does seem to approach it at times. Yes, he seems a bit of a windbag, like a lot of muso-nerds – but that charge can be levelled at me from time to time as well. His tastes seem very orthodox (just rock-n-roll, none o’ that hip-hop, avant-garde, jazz and ‘lectronic stuff for him), but he cares about the music he writes about. He doesn’t pull any punches, either – even when dealing with his own sacred cows. He excoriates my beloved Pink Floyd, but in the end, I found myself partly agreeing with some of his observations (though I still love Floyd, for all their flaws) of their early work. I heartily agree with his assessments of both “The Final Cut” and the Gilmour-led band.

It easy to get sucked into the site and spend hours going through the various discography reviews. He may infuriate you, but you can’t help but reckon he’s got a point or two here and there. He also loves Tyrannosaurus Rexs “Unicorn“, which is one of my all-time fave LPs – so he can’t be all bad (heh heh). Anyway, go have a look for yourself, though if you’re a hardcore muso, you may find yourself sucked in for hours as well.

P.S. – Looks like George has got himself a blog now. He’s also discovered Antony & The Johnsons, Animal Collective and Autechre!! See, I was all wrong about him being stuck in the 60s and a rockist….I hope.

Advertisements

Got Those Pre-Election Blues?

Standard

Not sure whom to vote for? Tired of the two-sides-of-the-same-coin race? Neither candidate seems worth it to you? Well, then – how about writing in Aleister Crowley as your choice??? He may be dead and British and not actually running for office, but so what? He can’t be any worse than Mittens R.Money and Barack “I said I’d close Gitmo” Obama*

More info on Uncle A.C.’s campaign here.

*Though, as Noam Chomsky said, if you live in a swing state – it’s probably best to vote for Obama, ‘cos the alternative seems much worse.

Julian Cope – The O2 Academy, Oxford – 12th October, 2012

Standard

I’ll tell ya’s – I’ve been a regular social butterfly the past couple of weeks. Caught “Love And Information” in London and then, just last Friday, Pixie and I saw Julian Cope at the O2 in Oxford.

I’d never seen him live before, so I was looking forward to the show. Copey’s not as crazed as he was back in the late 80s/early 90s – still, he’s one of those guys where you don’t really know what to expect. He could do a drone-metal show with a full band, an ambient show with a few keyboards, or an acoustic folkie-type show. This tour it’s the latter, we found out when we got to the venue. The stage was pretty bare, aside from an electronic keyboard sat on a mellotron (a real one!), a few mic stands and a huge bass drum with the inscription “You Can’t Beat Your Brain For Good Entertainment” on the front.

The support act was Anton Barbeau, an American psychedelic folkie (and cousin of actress Adrienne). He played a nice little set and with his elfin stature and springy hair, reminded me at times of Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Marc Bolan. The highlights for me were the set opener, “This Is Why They Call Me Guru 7” and a country-ish tune with “Trouble” in the title (should’ve written them down). The songs are well-crafted and the Robyn Hitchcock lyrical comparisons seem pretty spot-on, though Barbeau’s songs seem far less exploratory (psychologically) than Hitchcock’s. I kinda wish he knew a couple of extra chords as well – two of the songs he played (in a row) had the exact chord structure. The final tune, “The Banana Song“, has a catchy melody and Barbeau did an amusing bit where he sang between two mics – one of which had an echo effect, so his voice would almost pan around the room from the echoed mic. He’s also playing with ex-Soft Boys (to further the Robyn connection) members Andy Metcalfe and Morris Windsor in Three Minute Tease. Barbeau announced that they were playing an in-store gig at the Truck Records shop the following day, but I didn’t make it down there.

The Cope took the stage with an acoustic guitar, after an introduction by a bloke called Fido-X of Cope’s side-band, Black Sheep. Fido’s a tall, biker-looking dude who could double as a Motorhead roadie. Cope was dressed in his general’s cap, leather vest, aviator shades, khaki shorts and leather boots. His hair is cut short at the moment and with all the rest of the gear, he looked like Douglas MacArthur on the set of a Mad Max film. He tore into the opening tune, a cracking version of “Raving On The Moor”, from his newest album, Psychedelic Revolution. His voice was in fine form and he had a cool, feedback-y/flange-y effect on the acoustic which gave it a growling tone. For the rest of the set, he would play a few tunes on the acoustic, then amble over to the mellotron/digital keyboard set-up for a tune. The set covered songs off of “Psychedelic Revolution”, but surprisingly he dipped into various places in his back catalogue – even his former early 80s new-wave psychedelic band, The Teardrop Explodes (a nice, droney version of “The Great Dominions“, played on the digital keyboard). He also played a couple of songs from his (arguably) best solo record, Peggy Suicide and one from the 1992 follow-up, Jehovahkill. He even dipped back into his first solo album, Fried, with a spirited version of “O King Of Chaos” – another keyboard excursion.

Cope still likes to interact with the punters, too. He’d talk about what he’s been up to and any shouted asides from the crowd would be met with a witty riposte or a quick assent. Of course, there’s always the uber-fan who has to try and out-do everyone else. There was one guy who was almost trying to have a conversation with him, while he was on-stage, throughout most of the show. I kept waiting for either Cope or someone near to the uber-fan to tell him to shut the fuck up, but it never happened. The best bit of Julian’s on-stage chats was when he was discussing the “Droolian/Skellington“-era and he was at the Island Records offices. He ran into Paul Morley, journalist and half-owner of the ZTT label and Morley asked Cope: “How are you puttin’ out all these fookin’ records?” Cope imitated Morley in a near-perfect Manc accent. Had me laughing for ages.

The final tune in the main set was “Robert Mitchum” (from “Droolian”), which featured a funny dig at Axl Rose (who, according to Cope, ruined the whistling solo forever). He re-appeared shortly after with Fido-X and Doggen (another Black Sheep member) and played a short encore. The highlight was a rocking version of “Out Of My Mind On Dope And Speed“, which got the crowd singing and bopping along. The Cope then waved goodbye and the house lights came on.

I would recommend that you catch any remaining shows, but Julian announced that it was the final night of the tour. He is doing a couple of appearances for his Copendium project – but I don’t think he’s doing any more gigs for the rest of the year. Glad we caught this show – it was well worth it!

Set list (Julian Cope):

Raving On The Moor

Soul Desert

Cromwell In Ireland (with Fido-X on bass drum)

Mother, Where Is My Father? (David Peel cover – with Fido-X on bass drum)

As The Beer Flows Over Me

The Great Dominions

Autogeddon Blues

Double Vegetation

I’m Your Daddy

Pristeen (with Doggen on bongos)

Stone Circles ‘N’ You (with Doggen on bongos)

Psychedelic Revolution

Screaming Secrets

I’m Living In The Room They Found Saddam In

Jellypop Perky Jean

Julian H. Cope (with Doggen on bongos)

Unisex Cathedral In D (with Doggen on bongos)

O King Of Chaos

Head Hung Low

Sunspots

Greatness & Perfection Of Love

Robert Mitchum

Encore:

Out Of My Mind On Dope & Speed

“Love And Information” – The Royal Court Theatre – October 4, 2012

Standard

Pixie and I made a trip to The Big Smoke last week to see Caryl Churchill‘s newest play, “Love And Information“. It’s being put on at the Royal Court Theatre, until 13th October.

We checked out the Museum Of Natural History for a couple of hours, grabbed some dinner at Pizza Express on King’s Road, then got to the Royal Court with enough time to get our seats…

…except I booked our tickets for the afternoon matinee show, not the evening one. Yep – shoulda checked my confirmation e-mail, but I was sure I booked for the evening show. Panic ensued – but luckily, enough people didn’t turn up for us to grab a couple of spares. We had to pay for the spares, as the show was sold out, but the seat I got was in the front row – so that was a sweet upgrade!

I’d never seen a Churchill play before this and this one’s a bit of a non-traditional work. The play doesn’t have a narrative structure as such. It’s set up into seven ‘blocks’ of scenes, or vignettes. Each block does seem to have a theme, about either love or information, or sometimes both. I didn’t get a program for the show – so there are possible names for the scenes. Some reviews I’ve read have attributed names, but I’m not sure if that’s the reviewer’s suggested titles.

The set resembles a white-tiled box and all of the action takes place inside of it. The vignette lengths vary, from under a minute to about five minutes. Some are set outdoors, some in offices or homes. The 16-strong cast all play various roles and none of the characters have names or recur in the work. A vignette will finish, the stage goes dark, some sound effects or music plays, and then new characters appear in the space. It’s almost like channel-surfing, or watching YouTube clips on a tablet. You don’t get any background on any of the scenes and it leaves you to try and work out a possible back-story. A few of the them don’t require it, as it is plain what the circumstances are.

Amanda Drew and Rhashan Stone in one of the scenes from Caryl Churchill’s “Love And Information” at the Royal Court Theatre

There’s a lot of humour throughout the play–in one scene, an old woman is told the number of words for “table” in various languages and concludes with “Well, it still feels like a table.” In another, a man and a woman are in a gym and he is expounding on another woman he knows. His female friend in the gym grows more exasperated as the conversation continues. It turns out the man is talking about either a computer, or a virtual ‘girlfriend’ he has online. One vignette has people playing a word game with a phrase in a book, utilising the words “door”, “mountain” and “girl” – the concluding phrase one of the characters says is “The girl couldn’t get through the door because she’s as big as a mountain.”

There’s also confusion, depression, madness and fear. Another vignette, which I thought was about a politician, has a man and his wife holed up inside a house. The press are outside and are badgering him for a quote. He finally relents and says some nonsense, but doesn’t feel any better for saying what he did. A family watch a wedding video but discover they can’t actually remember anything about the actual day – only what is on the tape/CD. In both a sad and somewhat funny scene, a woman stops taking her medication and tells her boyfriend that the traffic lights at the end of their road are giving her signals that he is evil. A man and a woman are playing a memory game and she suddenly has a memory, perhaps long suppressed, of her late father.

Laura Elphinstone and Justin Salinger in another scene from Caryl Churchill’s “Love And Information” at the Royal Court Theatre

Each ‘block’ is assigned a number, except for the very last scene, called simply “+”. The entire cast are assembled in what looks like either a waiting room, or departure lounge of an airport or bus station (I thought it was the latter). A man is testing a woman on trivia, and slips in a question about her loving him. At first, she pretends she didn’t hear it, but a few minutes later responds in the affirmative. While it’s not the smoothest summing up of the play, it’s a lovely moment and lets you go out on a high, after the heaviness of some of the scenes.

The cast are all excellent, given that they’ve got to create believable characters, sometimes with only a few lines to work with. I especially liked Rhashan Stone, Susan Woodward, John Heffernan, Linda Bassett, Amit Shah and Amanda Drew (natch!). I thought the scene transitions were clever and the co-ordination involved in swapping props and actors in “the cube” seemed impressive to me.

If you’re into unconventional theatre, you will probably enjoy “Love And Information” – if you’re looking for straight-forward narrative, probably best to look elsewhere.

Things I Don’t Get: Golf

Standard

There seems to be a lot of excitement today over the European team staging a come-back to win the Ryder Cup yesterday. Now, I understand there’s a skill involved in hitting a small spherical object a few hundred yards, then hitting it again to make it fall into a hole not much larger than the object. I just don’t get all of the adulation and money that gets poured into the ‘sport’.

Golf always seemed to be something that my parents, or at least my father, played. The idea of buying a set of clubs and trooping to a course on a Saturday morning with co-workers is anathema to me. I remember having to learn the basics of golf in a high school gym class – which I was miserable at, but somehow the instructor gave me a passing grade for that portion. I tried again, in my early 20s, agreeing to go with my father to play nine holes one Saturday in late summer. We ended up being paired with two strangers, which caused me more embarrassment when my crapness at the game was on full display. Seriously, trying to hit an initial drive and watching the ball roll about ten feet from the tee can be will-sapping. I pretty much avoided golf after that, except for a few rounds of crazy/miniature golf here and there.

My father sometimes would ask when we would go again, and I’d say “Oh, I don’t know…sometime.” I think eventually he caught on that it wasn’t really my thing. I even considered going to a driving range a few times, but couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. When I found out some of my old high school friends were taking it up, I was gobsmacked! “Not us” I thought “We can’t be turning into our fathers…”

So far, I’ve managed to avoid turning into a golfer, even a very, very amateur-ish one. I admit to watching bits of tournaments about ten years, only ‘cos it was on teevee in my folks’ house and I couldn’t be arsed to change the channel. It bored me, except for the putting – that’s when the game can spark some real tension. As I say, some of the drives can be impressive, but if you’re going to watch it – just watch the putting on the greens.

I’ve never been to a tournament and I would never pay to go to one. When I was younger, there was a mini-tournament in Conn. called the Greater Hartford Open. My parents went to “Celebrity Day” a few times, when some famous players of the time and a few actors and that would show up. I never went myself, save one year, when I was temping in the summer and was working at an office furniture warehouse. Our team was supposed to go the site and set up tables or something. The supervisor on the job was a massive twat and I only remember unloading trucks and sitting in a huge marquee for a while. That and the supervisor’s shit jokes – oh yeah, and chuckling to myself watching him try and chat up some woman who was also working at the tournament.

O.K., so perhaps I haven’t made the best case against golf, except to say that walking around a field, albeit a pleasantly mowed one, with a bunch of white sales exceutives, hitting small spherical objects with metal clubs isn’t really my idea of a fab time. I’ve gotta side with the late, great George Carlin on this one: