Category Archives: Music

Hello Again!

Standard

It’s been a little while – hope everyone’s been well. I hadn’t had much time or inclination for blogging, as I was dealing with insomnia and anxiety in October and November. I get spells on and off and they last for a couple of months at a time. Maybe sometime I’ll write a longer post on it, but for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I feel better and I’ve been getting more sleep.

We’re now in Gregorian calendar year 2016 – 2015 whizzed by, eh? Sadly, most of the news seemed to be dominated by terrorism, xenophobia, killing and war. I’m hoping that underneath it all, evolution is happening on this boondocks planet. I always try to remain optimistic, but it’s really, really tough sometimes.

Anyway, before I get off on a massive rant about stupidity – I did have some good times in 2015. My holidays in Lyme Regis and Great Malvern were pretty good (though the cottage in Great Malvern left a lot to be desired). The weather in the first half of the summer was lovely – lots of sunshine and low humidity. I didn’t see that many films – in fact, I don’t think I saw any in the cinema. The newest “Mad Max” film looked pretty good and there were a few others, but largely I wasn’t impressed enough by Hollywood’s output. Not much change there, then. There’s a new “Star Wars” film out now. From what I can gather, the plot’s a retread of the original 1977 film, so I’m not too bothered to catch it in the cinema. Maybe I’ll rent the DVD when it’s available – I left my “Star Wars” nerd-dom behind a long while ago. I did watch “Slackers” on DVD, for the first time in years and I still enjoyed it. It’s dated a bit, but I’ll take the 90s hipsters over the ‘millennial’ version – perhaps I’m just getting old. “Toast Of London” and “Horrible Histories” (all five series) were also a mainstay in our house – we’ve had to stop watching both for a while, ‘cos we’d seen them so many times.

Sadly, I didn’t get to many concerts last year – my gig attendance has been pretty shocking. In my slight defense, there wasn’t much on in Oxford that I really had to see. I did see Gryphon at the Union Chapel in London in May, which was a treat and a great show. They’ve since been named as part of the line-up for the 2016 Cropredy Festival, so I may get to see them again – if we decide to go. I wanted to see Matt Berry & The Maypoles in December, but the closest they got was London and I didn’t have the cash. Hopefully, they’ll do an Oxford show sometime. Some ginkus gave their show a negative review, in The Guardian – apparently, they thought they’d be attending a musical comedy gig. Tsk tsk.

Pixie and I also saw the Patrick Marber adaptation of Ivan Turgenev‘s A Month In The Country, titled Three Days In The Country, at the National Theatre in September. The cast featured John Simm, Mark Gatiss and Amanda Drew. I enjoyed it and Mark Gatiss in particular was excellent – a great comic role for him. We lucked out and had a nice, sunny September day in London. There were loads of people out on the South Bank enjoying the weather and the coach ride back to Oxford was fairly relaxing.

There were a load of new albums I meant to buy, but didn’t get round to – here’s some of them:

Unknown Mortal OrchestraMulti-Love

Flying LotusYou’re Dead

Sunn-O))) & Scott WalkerSoused

Fuck Buttons –  Slow Focus (released in 2014)

EarthPrimitive And Deadly

Six Organs Of AdmittanceHexadic

Field MusicMusic For Drifters

The Chemical BrothersBorn In The Echoes

The OrbMoonbuilding 2703 A.D.

There were a load of reissues, too – the four Yes reissues with bonus tracks and surround-sound disc, the deluxe reissue of Jethro Tull‘s “Minstrel In The Gallery”, the deluxe Procol Harum reissues are just a few I’d like to add to the collection. I also bought quite a few LPs, but I won’t list them all here.

I don’t have too much planned for this year – but I may get the Kaleidophonic Stroboscope podcast up and running again, even if just to post the old shows in a new site. We’re having the house re-decorated and getting a new boiler, which is going to soak up most of the cash, so I’ll have to see what I’ve got time for. Stay tuned, kids – I’ll keep you in on the skinny.

The Joys Of RipFork

Standard

I bought the newest Tame Impala album, Currents, recently. I listened to it while filing other CDs and I thought it was pretty good. It’s different from the hazy psychedelia of the first two records, which I think is the point. Kevin Parker, from what I can gather, didn’t want to make another album in the same style, so he’s added synths and took, what seems to me, inspiration from 80s synth pop. So far, so good, right? Well, folks who don’t like the album keep pointing to a review over at Tiny Mix Tapes, by Will Niebergall. This review, to them, sums up what is ‘wrong’ with “Currents”.

I decided to go and read the review, to see what insights Will had about the record. Instead, he waffled on about how T.I. ‘are the rock equivalent of Instagram’. I didn’t get the analogy and I don’t have an Instagram account, so the stuff about the settings didn’t make any sense to me. I guess I’m not cool enough to know what Will is on about. On the same Google page as the review, there was a link to site where the Tiny Mix Tape review was itself being reviewed. I visited the site, called RipFork and found myself agreeing with the meta-review. There’s an archive section on the site, so I went back and started reading those posts, too.

The aim of the site is simple – taking the piss out of pompous reviewers on various sites, but mainly Pitchfork, which has gained a reputation for dense, academic reviews filled with jargon and asides completely un-related to the album being reviewed. David Cross, the comedian, posted a really funny Top Ten List of ‘albums to listen to while reading over-wrought Pitchfork reviews’. I’m not quite sure why Cross was invited to do so and even he expresses surprise at being asked to mock the ‘house style’ of Pitchfork.

Matt Wendus, who posts at RipFork, was an online music critic and before anyone accuses him of hyprocrisy, he gives a couple of his own past reviews the ‘rip’ treatment. There’s a list of five ‘writing disorders’ on the site and yes, I recognised some of them in my own writing. I don’t read reviews much anymore, as there’s so many sources of just hearing the tracks on an album before I buy it. Matt makes a good point of this, when pointing out bits of reviews that are confusing. Reviews need to be concise now, because the reviewer is competing with YouTube, with streaming services and download sites. Why read a review which appears to be more of a term paper or doctoral thesis, than someone describing the sounds of a record they listened to? Academic vocabulary and clunky phrasing can’t substitute for genuine love of listening and documenting what you actually heard. I’m not saying that everyone should suddenly start turning into Lester Bangs clones, but is having a bunch of Robert Christgau clones any better? Most of them don’t even have the wit of X-Gau, anyway.

I do occasionally read articles at UK-based site The Quietus and while there are informative ones, the reviews can be as tough of a read as Pitchfork. I suppose it’s a hang-over from the glory days of the NME in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the reviewers were eager to flaunt their knowledge (and degrees in literature and philosophy) by describing records as ‘cathedrals of sound’ and other indecipherable terms. RipFork has tackled a few Quietus reviews as well and I’ve had to agree with Matt’s opinions on them. Seriously, read this review and try and work out what the record actually sounds like, based on what is written in it. I couldn’t – I’ve got no clue what that person was on about.

Inevitably, some people will object to reviews of reviews and some comments on RipFork attest to that. As Matt says, though, he doesn’t have over 200,000 Twitter followers and a festival in his name. Like it or not, Pitchfork has influence and some of its reviews can hurt sales of albums. Sloppy writing and dense language shouldn’t be why an album fails – it should be all about the music. If a reviewer can’t communicate why he or she doesn’t like the music in a concise way, then I can’t see why they can’t be ‘ripped’ for it.

Two Summer Saturdays

Standard

It’s been quite a nice summer here in this patch of the UK. June was lovely – sunny and warm and very little rain. I suppose that’s not good news for farmers, as their crops have been water-starved, but I enjoyed the weather immensely. I don’t know whether I’ve got a form of S.A.D., but I always feel better in sunshine.

The past two Saturdays have been quite nice as well and I spent both (mainly) outdoors for most of the day.

On the first of August, I went to the Oxford Record Fair – I hadn’t been in quite a while (maybe six years?). A co-worker mentioned that it was coming round and I thought it might be good to check it out again. I’ve been buying most of my music off of eBay, so it’s a treat to do a bit of crate-digging, particularly as all of the record shops in central Oxford have shut down, with the exception of the Truck shop on Cowley Road.

The Fair has moved to the St. Aldate’s Parish Centre building (it used to be held monthly at Oxford Town Hall) and it seems to be on every-other-month now. I managed to get out of bed at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, which seems an achievement – well, to me, anyway. It was about 9:30 a.m, when I found the Parish Centre and texted my co-worker to say I’d arrived. He said he’d probably be another hour. From the street I could see a few of the dealers’ tables, but as the official start time was 10, I waited outside. A car pulled up to the kerb and a bloke walked out to talk with the driver. I gathered, from the conversation, that the driver was one of the dealers who was a bit late. I asked him, after they’d finished talking, if it was O.K. to go in, even though it was early. He said it was fine, so I texted my friend, then headed inside.

The space was a bit smaller than the room at the Town Hall, but there were still about 12 dealers with tables set up. Loads of vinyl to be had – so I started with the tables closest to the door and had a look through the boxes. I found a few LPs that I thought I might buy, but I wanted to have a look at some of the other tables.

I made my way around the room and spotted some other goodies. One dealer had a nice first U.S. press of the “Zabriskie Point” sound-track, as well as a sealed copy of Bong‘s “Stoner Rock“. I was seriously tempted by those, but again, I was only on the third table or so and an hour had gone by. My co-worker showed up, but he was looking for his own finds, so we just said “Hello” in passing. A guy from Leeds was down and he had a table of soul, funk, reggae and dub. A lot of the sleeves were pretty beat-up, lots of ring-wear and sticker removal tears. He had some good stuff, though, with lots of U.S. pressings – I found a reissue of Cymande‘s first album, still-sealed. I remembered the song “Dove“, which The Amorphous Androgynous used on a few of their Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble radio mixes (which seem much better than the official releases, to me). I decided to buy that, along with a sealed reissue of The Rotary Connection‘s final album, first released in 1971, called “Hey Love” (credited to ‘The New Rotary Connection’). I also found a Lonnie Liston Smith LP called “Renaissance“, a U.S. press (on RCA), to boot. I’ve got Lonnie’s “Astral Traveling” on disc and I like his mix of spacey, psychedelic jazz and vibe-y funk, so I decided to take a punt on it. The sleeve’s got some wear, but the LP itself is in really good condition and it’s a promo copy.

I found a copy of The Rolling Stones‘ 1975 double-LP compilation, “Rolled Gold“, for £2 (with a really nice sleeve) – turns out the LPs are in pretty bad shape – lots of skips, particularly on the first record. Luckily, I found a minty set on eBay for cheap, so I’ll have to sacrifice the ones I bought with the sleeve, to the gods of recycling. One table had bootleg LPs of high-priced ones (The Velvet Underground & Nico mono, Floyd‘s mono pressing of “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn“, etc.) priced around £10 to £15, but the sleeves looked cheap – you could tell they were photo-copied scans of the actual sleeves, so I didn’t bite. I did buy a nice original copy of Be-Bop Deluxe‘s “Futurama” (on UK Harvest with the laminated sleeve) and Roxy Music‘s second LP, For Your Pleasure (with the laminated sleeve and the ‘pink rim’ Island Records label). My co-worker had to leave after a couple of hours, but I stuck around as another friend was due to show up. I had another go-round and bought the deluxe 2-CD release of Julian Cope‘s excellent 1991 album, “Peggy Suicide – it’s out-of-print now and I’ve seen copies on eBay for £20 to £25. I got it much cheaper, so that was a nice find! I also bought the first two Byrds albums, “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Turn Turn Turn” on CD (the Columbia reissues, with the bonus tracks). I’ve been meaning to get those for years and finally decided to pick them up.

My other co-workers turned up and after another pass around the tables, I spent the last of my cash on two Edgar Broughton Band singles, “Apache Drop Out” and their classic cover of The Fugs’ “Out Demons Out” – both in very good shape and with the Harvest sleeves. We then were going to go for a drink and food at The Kite pub (it was about 2 p.m.), but it turns out they don’t do lunch on Saturdays. We went to The One Restaurant (I had scrambled eggs with fried tomatoes and egg-fried rice) and then to G & D’s (on Little Clarendon Street) for some excellent ice cream. All told, a great day out – bought a nice stash of music and had a lovely lunch with pals.

The following week, Pixie and I headed into town for a bit of shopping and then to Wadham College to see the Oxford Shakespeare Company‘s production of Twelfth Night. We’ve been to see their shows for the past few years and it’s always been a groovy time. The college grounds make a splendid backdrop for the plays and sometimes the scenes are held in different parts of the grounds, so there’s movement around them.

This production had a sort-of rock/goth theme in the costumes and hair styles. The cast performed the tale of mistaken and hidden identities well – in fact, it was nearly as good as the National Theatre production I saw about five years ago, directed by Peter Hall (featuring his daughter, Rebecca – who, as ‘Viola’/’Cesario’, didn’t seem to really inhabit the role). Martin Csokas was also lacklustre as ‘Count Orsino’. Simon Callow did O.K. as ‘Sir Toby Belch’. The real stand-outs were Charles Edwards as ‘Sir Andrew Augecheek’, Simon Paisley-Day as ‘Malvolio’ and Amanda Drew as ‘Olivia’.

I not quite sure what happened, whether there was an irritant in the air, or something affected my eyes the night before – but suddenly my eyes became very watery and irritated. It progressed through most of the morning and by the time we were seated for the show, I could barely keep them open. We were sat near the front, as well and I was hoping I wouldn’t distract the actors with my squinty looks, as I was really struggling to watch. Luckily, by the third act, my right eye felt much better and I was able to at least keep that one open, while covering the left one some of the time. It probably looked quite silly, but as I had no eye-drops – it was the best I could manage.

As I mentioned, though, the cast were very good and I always enjoy the musical interludes – the O.S.C. actors also seem to be fairly accomplished musicians and singers. The performances were very good – the actor who played ‘Sir Toby’, played him as a sort of drunken Irish uncle, while the actor who played ‘Malvolio’ chose a very camp style (as opposed to Paisley-Day, who played it in a sinister, arch way). The entire cast sung and played the closing song, then they moved away from the ‘stage’ area and played some more, busking for charity. We stuck around for another song and then dropped by the chemist, so I could get drops for my eyes.

We had dinner at Zizzi’s in town and then boarded the bus for home. I was exhausted from two busy Satudays, but it’s nice to get out of the house once in a while.

R.I.P. Chris Squire (1948 – 2015)

Standard

I was very sad to learn of the passing of Yes bassist, Chris Squire, who had been fighting leukemia. He was only 67 years old.

Squire was often called the ‘linchpin’ of the band and is the only band member to appear on every album that Yes released. He began his life in music much the same as a lot of British rockers – playing in R&B cover bands, with a few Beatles tunes thrown in for good measure. He joined The Syndicate, which shortened their name to The Syn and released two psychedelic 45s in 1967 called “Created By Clive” and “Flowerman” (which was backed with their hommage to the counter-culture event at Alexandria Palace in 1967, called “The 14 Hour Technicolour Dream“). The band split shortly after and Squire joined another psychedelic outfit, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, in 1968. He soon met Jon Anderson and the two decided to form a new group – which was called Yes, after a suggestion from original guitarist, Peter Banks.

Yes released their first LP in 1969 and showcased a longer-song format, with flourishes of classical music and jazz – what eventually became known as ‘progressive rock’. Squire’s bass-playing was unique in that he played it almost as a lead guitar, with fluid lines and hitting notes in the upper register of the instrument. After a second LP, “Time And A Word“, released in 1970 – Peter Banks was asked to leave, as the sessions for the second LP were frought with tension. Steve Howe, formerly of Tomorrow and Bodast, stepped in for the third album (and the one considered to be the first ‘classic’ Yes record), called “The Yes Album“. It was released in 1971 and placed the band at the forefront of prog rock groups. Jon Anderson managed to poach our Rick from The Strawbs (abandoning Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye) for the fourth Yes LP, “Fragile“, which made them one of the top bands in the UK and even got them attention in the U.S., due to the radio-friendly tune, “Roundabout“.

Close To The Edge“, considered to be the best Yes album in the band’s catalogue, was released in 1972. Original drummer Bill Bruford left during the tour for the album and was replaced by former drummer in John Lennon‘s backing band, Alan White. A live album of the tour was released, called “Yessongs” (along with a film of the same name, directed by Peter Neal, shot at a Yes show in London). Back in the studio, they started recording what they considered to be their magnum opus, “Tales From Topographic Oceans“, based on Shastric scriptures that Anderson and Howe were reading. The final album was a sprwaling two-record set and even longtime fans thought it was too self-indulgent. Rick left after the tour and was replaced by Patrick Moraz, for the follow-up, “Relayer“.

The band took a break in 1975 and a lot of the members released solo albums. Squire’s was “Fish Out Of Water“, referring to his nick-name and to his ‘solo’ piece on “Fragile”, “The Fish (schindleria praematurus)“. It sold well and is reckoned to be one of the better solo outings from members of the group. Yes reconvened in 1976 when Rick re-joined. “Going For The One” was released in 1977 and the band enjoyed a bit of a renaissance, even during the punk explosion. “Tormato” followed in 1978, but was not received as well and Anderson and Wakeman both left the band in 1979. A stop-gap live set, “Yesshows“, was released in late 1979. The band, with Squire, Howe and White soldiered on, adding Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, from new-wavers The Buggles. They released one album together, “Drama“, before a disastrous tour in 1980. It looked like Yes, like many prog-rock bands of the 1970s, wouldn’t make it into the new decade.

Jon Anderson started to work on some new demos in 1981 with Trevor Horn, original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye and eventually Chris Squire and a new guitarist, Trevor Rabin. They were brought in to help fill out the sound. The new project was to be called Cinema – but was changed to Yes, as it seemed a more sound commercial appeal. This version of the band released the “90125” (after the Atlantic Records catalogue number assigned to it) and had a few hit singles. They toured again, playing some of the ‘classic’ songs alongside the new ones. Another studio LP, “Big Generator“, was released in 1987. The band split once again. Anderson reunited with Steve Howe, Rick and Bill Bruford (who had left the 1980s King Crimson line-up after Robert Fripp split that band once again). Squire owned part of the rights to the “Yes” name, so the collaboration was called “Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe” and released one album in 1989. A year later, it was decided to record an album with both of the 1970s and 1980s line-ups. The result, “Union“, was a bit too much of a mish-mash and contained too many tracks. I did get to see them live in Hartford, Connecticut on that tour in 1991 and I enjoyed the show. I preferred the 70s tunes more, but the ‘in the round’ set-up of the show and the revolving stage were pretty cool, too.

Yes continued to release albums and tour up to now – with the line-ups ever-changing. Anderson finally left in the early 2000s, for what seems to be permanent. Squire was the one main-stay and now that he’s passed on, it seems to me that Yes has as well. They are going to tour with Billy Sherwood on bass duties – but to me, it’s just won’t be the same (it wasn’t the same without Anderson, either). Perhaps the remaining ‘classic’ 1970s line-up will re-form one last time and then call it a day. Rest in peace, Chris – thanks for all the music!

Gryphon – Union Chapel, London – 29th May, 2015

Standard

Gryphon, the 1970s, medieval folk-prog band, announced earlier this year that there would be a short tour of the UK. I’m not sure what prompted the tour (they didn’t mention in the promotional blurbs about it being a 40th anniversary of the release of the excellent Raindance album), but maybe they felt it was time to fire up the crumhorns and malleted drums again. They did play a one-off reunion show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 2009 – but I wasn’t fortunate to get tickets to that one. I was determined to see one of the 2015 gigs and ordered a set of two for the Union Chapel show in London.

I met up with another Gryphon fan (Pixie did say that she wasn’t really up for the trek to The Big Smoke) and his missus near Soho and we drank a couple of pints at a pub I hadn’t been to – then grabbed a quick tube journey to Islington. I was hungry, so my friend’s wife and I ordered some grub at a Weatherspoons joint, almost right across the road from Union Chapel. The show was meant to start promptly at eight p.m., so we rocked up just before then.

IMG_1454

No sooner had we chosen a pew (literally, it is a still-used place of worship and the seating is in the pews), then the boys filed out to the stage to generous applause. It’s quite a lovely venue – high ceilings and stained-glass windows give a ‘sacred’ air, but somehow, it’s oddly secular at the same time. The band were arranged in front of the massive pulpit, with Richard Harvey on the right side of the stage, sat at a keyboard and Brian Gulland and drummer Dave Oberle on the left. Sandwiched in between were guitarist Graeme Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Graham Preskett. Bassist Jonathan Davie was a bit to the back, behind Gulland.

They opened with an energetic “Renaissance Dance Medley“, which never appeared on an LP – but was played in a BBC session in 1974. They followed that with a nice version of “The Astrologer“, from the first Gryphon LP, released in 1973. Gulland and Oberle traded vocals, as the characters in the song, and the rest of the group backed them through the tricky melody. A lively “Kemp’s Jig” was next, also from the first album. In fact, as Harvey announced in-between tunes, most of the first set would be from the debut. After a really spooky rendition of “The Unquiet Grave” (the tone of the song heightened by the concert setting), Graeme Taylor performed a guitar solo in a ‘mock-classical fashion’, as he put it, called “Crossing The Stiles” (also, you guessed it, from the first album). “Juniper Suite” followed, with Gulland deftly moving from bass crumhorn to harmonium and back. The first set concluded with “Dubbel Dutch“, the lone choice from their second LP, “Midnight Mushrumps“, first released in 1974.

IMG_1457

There was a 20-minute interval for people to head to the bar, or the toilets (or both). We got back to our pews in time for the second set to begin with “Midnight Mushrumps“, the entire 18-minute piece. It was so great hearing it live and almost note-perfect (actually, it may have been, as I’ve only listened to it a small number of times). Gulland again switched between crumhorn and bassoon and Harvey would swap his keyboard for a tin whistle. Spell-binding stuff! An ‘unreleased’ song followed. It’s called “Ashes“, written by Graeme Taylor during the “Raindance” sessions in 1975. Transatlantic Records decided it didn’t fit the album and it was cut from the LP. It was eventually released on the “Gryphon – The Collection II” CD. A nice wistful tune, Brian explained that Graeme wrote it on a nice spring day near to a river, where the recording studio was located it definitely has that vibe to it. It was then “Red Queen To Gryphon Three” time, which I was excited about, as it’s my fave Gryphon LP. First up was a really nice “Lament“, played beautifully, then a “muddle-y” (Harvey’s word) of “Red Queen…” themes. It was great seeing the interplay, particularly between Gulland and Harvey. I didn’t quite catch the title of the final tune in the set, I heard Harvey say something about “our roots” and thought he announced the tune as “Yulattis“, but it may have been “Estampie“, from the first album. No matter, ‘cos it was a great little jam.

The encore was an extended version of “Le Cabrioleur Et Dans Le Mouchoir“, from “Raindance” – it had a nice little rave-up at the coda, with Gulland firing out blasts from a trombone. The crowd (including myself) were on their feet for an ovation. So glad I was able to see them live! The fan I attended the concert with is an old friend of the group and he was able to get me into the after-party in the upstairs floor/bar of the chapel. I said “Hello” to Brian and Graeme and had brief chats with Dave Oberle and Jonathan Davie. Richard Harvey talked for a moment with the bloke I went to the show with, but I didn’t get to talk with him. We left quite late and the tubes had all finished by then, so I got a cab back to Victoria Station, and a coach back to Oxford. All in all, a brilliant show and night! Here’s to hoping they’ll do it again soon (with maybe an Oxford show thrown in).

Set-list:

First Set

Renaissance Dance Medley

The Astrologer

Kemp’s Jig

The Unquiet Grave

Crossing The Stiles (Greame Taylor solo)

Juniper Suite

Dubbel Dutch

Second Set

Midnight Mushrumps

Ashes

Lament

“Red Queen To Gryphon Three muddley”

“Eulatis” (Estampie?)

Encore

Le Cabriolet Et Dans Le Mouchoir

Capes In The News!

Standard

This story is a couple of weeks old now, but hey, it’s possibly the biggest cape-related item for quite some time. I really ought to start checking for other capes in the news.

It seems Madonna suffered a mishap at the Brit Awards, when the cape she was wearing, as part of a matador-themed outfit, failed to come untied from her neck and as one the male dancers (dressed as bulls, or maybe minotaurs?) pulled the cape and she tumbled off of the stage steps and landed square on her arse.

She was promoting her new record with the single “Living For Love” at the award show. The video of her fall went ‘viral’ and she quickly tweeted “thanks” to those concerned for her. Tell you what, the name sake of this blog wouldn’t have had that happen – the most he would’ve done is got indigestion from a dodgy curry.

 

Gregorian calendar year 2014: R.W.C. stylee

Standard

You’ve probably got used to me typing this, but jesu crisco, did this year zoom by! It’s been a bit of a weird one, to be honest – not particularly for me, but world events-wise. I’m not sure what anyone’s got against various Malaysian airline companies, but they’ve lost not just one plane, but two, in the space of 8 months – not counting another which was shot down over Ukranian air-space (which was either the fault of pro-Russian rebels, or the Ukranian government military, depending on who you talk to). The only thing I can be certain of is that the insurance affiliates of those airlines are going to busy with claims for the next five years.

Things kicked off again in the Middle East: the Syrian civil war is still raging, with thousands of refugees fleeing to Turkey and Jordan. Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, which has been left as a power vacuum, after the botched invasion and occupation by U.S. and UK forces, a curious army of hard-line Islamic militants managed to defeat the ‘trained’ Iraqi military, seize a lot of their equipment and rampage through most of the towns and villages in their wake. Calling themselves the ‘Islamic State’, they threatened the Turkish border and moved into parts of Syria. Once again (as in Libya) – a Western coalition was formed to “bomb the crap out of them” (in layman’s terms). Has that been effective? Time will tell. Meanwhile, Pres. Obama authorised 1500 more U.S. troops to head back to Iraq in the fight against I.S. – hmmm, I suspect it’ll be “Iraq Invasion – Part III” in 2015. Happy Happy Joy Joy. Israel also had its own conflict in the summertime, as it’s government decided to launch another attack on Hamas. As always, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed, along with some Israeli soldiers. Most of the human rights abuses appear to be on the Israeli government’s hands, as shown by an Amnesty International report. There seems to be a cease-fire on at the moment – how long it will last is anybody’s guess.

Back in Blighty, things looked pretty grim as well – the coalition gubberment continued its austerity bullshit. Scotland had a vote to determine whether the people wanted to remain in the UK. Both sides campaigned fiercely – even “Dave Scameron” had to make a grovelling speech, sounding like a jilted lover. In the end, the Scots said they’d stay…for now. That bunch of clowns UKIP gobbled up air-time and web-space for winning a parliamentary seat in a by-election. It almost became impossible to look at anything without seeing Nigel Fart-age’s rictus grin plastered on it. The fact that some critters are entertaining an ex-banker’s notions as their own (as ‘one of the regular folks’) just shows how much that ‘this shit just got real’. I just hope people get some sense for the general election in May. We shall see…

I don’t want to be a total downer, so here’s a list of things I enjoyed this past year:

I had a brill holiday in Amsterdam in April – my first trip to mainland Europe. The missus and I stayed with a friend, which saved loads of cash, so we were able to check out the Reijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Hash Marihuna and Hemp Museum and a few more. I walked by the famed Paradiso (didn’t get to go inside, however) and I saw the Concertgebouw, too. We checked out the Cat Houseboat, which was a highlight (well, if you’re a cat person, it is) and did a boating tour of the canals and the harbour outside the city. I met up with my MLA pal Steve Fly at the 420 Cafe and we had a laugh. I was even allowed to do a bit of record-shopping and I picked up a few goodies. We covered so much in a week that it was actually quite exhausting. I loved it, though, and I want to go back sometime soon.

TV: I didn’t watch many series this year – I haven’t seen any Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones or Boardwalk Empire. Other than a few BBC Four history docus, the only show I watched regularly was the excellent Toast Of London, with comedian/musician Matt Berry in the title role. The second series was shown in November and December and it’s even more surreal than the first series. Nice to see Berry’s Garth Marenghi cast-mate Matthew Holness in a bit part in one of the episodes. I also watched the Black Mirror X-Mas special. I didn’t catch the second series (still want to watch it sometime), but when I saw an ad for “Black Mirror: White Christmas“, it looked intriguing enough to me to see it. It seemed quite clever to me, with the three stories intersecting each other, though that wasn’t fully revealed until the very end.

Music: There were loads of albums released this year which I haven’t checked out yet. Hell, there’s still albums from 2013 I haven’t added to the collection. Flying Lotus released “You’re Dead” and Sunn-O))) teamed up with Scott Walker and released “Soused“. Mike Oldfield returned with “Man On The Rocks” and Beck‘s “Morning Phase” was rumoured to be pretty good. Karl Hyde (out of Underworld) and Brian Eno released two collaboration albums, but again, I haven’t heard anything from them. Pink Floyd (or ‘Pink Three’, really) released “The Endless River“, culled from sessions in 1993 and ’94 – it’s the final recorded appearance of Rick Wright and, according to David Gilmour, the last P.F. album ever. Peter Hammill (of Van der Graaf Generator and a long and varied solo career) and Gary Lucas (mostly known for being a member of Captain Beefheart‘s Magic Band and Jeff Buckley collaborator), got together and produced “Otherworld“. Those are just some of the albums I meant to buy. I did buy the newest Mastodon record (on disc – I don’t have the space to buy everything on LP), “Once More ‘Round The Sun“. I’ve only listened to it once and the verdict so far is pretty good, but I need to give it a few more spins. There were also the usual hundreds of reissues, but the ones that got the most attention were the release of the complete “Basement Tapes“, by Bob Dylan and The Band and the massive Led Zeppelin box set reissues, for each Zep album (the first five have been released so far). Luckily, the albums are also available in 2-disc sets, so you don’t have to shell out for the super-deluxe boxes, to get the extra tracks. The Quietus website published an excellent article on what they consider to be the epitome of psychedelia at the moment, which led me to check out The Cosmic Dead, Demdike Stare and UK stoner/doom merchants Electric Wizard. There’s a great D.S. DJ set from the Boiler Room in 2012 that you can watch here. I’m going to listen to more from those bands in the new year. Concert-wise…well, I saw Kate Bush in September – ’nuff said there. I also saw The Orb in November, which was a treat as I hadn’t seen them since 2001. I hope to see more shows in the coming year, provided I can afford tickets.

Film: The only film I watched in the cinema was Wes Anderson‘s latest, “The Grand Budapest Hotel“, which I enjoyed, possibly even a bit more than “Moonrise Kingdom” and definitely more than “The Darjeeling Limited“. I’m not usually a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, but I thought he was excellent as ‘Gustave H’. The supporting cast were great as well, including Jeff Goldblum and a very sinister Willem Dafoe. I meant to watch “Gravity” in the cinema, but I waited too long and the run finished. “Interstellar” looked interesting as well – a decent sci-fi flick amongst the usual Hollywood dross. One cool thing I discovered is that The Filthy Critic is back in business. I used to read his reviews all the time in the early 00s – but a few years ago, he seemed to give it all up. I happened to check his site a couple of months ago and found he’s back at the movies – seeing a lot of shitty Hollywood films, so I don’t have to (though he and I disagree about “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). Good times!

Theatre: I only watched a few plays this past year. I saw “Strangers On A Train” at the Gielgud Theatre in London in February. It was pretty good, though Hitchcock‘s film still seems the definitive version. This stage adaptation covered more of the psycho-sexual aspects of the story and characters. Jack Hutson was especially good as ‘Bruno’. I also saw “Dial M For Murder” at the Oxford Playhouse in March (yet another Hitchcock connection). The staging was quite clever and the cast were competent and didn’t try to be slavish to the film. The Oxford Shakespeare Company put on another of their brill outdoor productions this year at Wadham College. It was “As You Like It” this time and we watched it in early September, on the final night of the run. I also caught “Electra” at the Old Vic in November, featuring Kristin Scott Thomas in the title role. She did pretty well, though the cadence of some of her line-reading seemed a bit strange. The rest of the cast were quite good, too (though I would have rather seen Amanda Drew as ‘Chrysothemis’, but Liz White was O.K.), aside from Tyrone Huggins (as ‘Aegisthus’), who seemed to want to be a bit too “actorly” in his part.

Books: I started the massive published version of Philip K Dick‘s “Exegesis” (whittled down to 1,000 pages from a much, much larger archive) – but the sheer volume of ideas and concepts in it caused me to put it down a few times, to let my brain process what I had read. In between, I read a crime thriller (“The Bat” by Jo Nesbo), an atheist call-to-arms (“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins) and several weirdo/speculation books (Charles Fort‘s “The Book Of The Damned” and John Michell‘s “The Flying Saucer Vision“, among them). I actually finished more books than I thought I would this year, which I’m happy about – squeezing reading time in between work, making mixes and internet time. I even read a couple of online ‘books’ on my phone on the work commute: Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” and David Keenan‘s “England’s Hidden Reverse” (which, like the Quietus article, turned me onto a few artists I hadn’t heard of and re-introduced me to Nurse With Wound). I’m looking forward to starting on David Mitchell‘s “The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet” and “The Bone Clocks“, Nick Awde’s Mellotron” and my friend Matt Bartlett‘s “Gateways To Abomination“. If you want to see all the books I read last year – check the Goodreads widget in the margin of the blog.

Well, kids – that was my 2014 – as a last note, I’d like to shout out to my pal, Singing Bear, who’s also a co-author of this blog. He had a pretty rough year. I won’t go into detail, but he had a shocker. I wish him the best for 2015 and I’ll try and cajole him to maybe post once or twice here in the next twelve months. In the meantime, check out his own blog, Grown Up Backwards.

Onward and outward, friends!