Capes In The News!

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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.

 

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Cinema Corner #315: “Dear Zachary” & “Bitter Lake”

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I was doing a bit of Wiki-hopping. You know, where you look at one Wikipedia page, then follow a link to a different page and so on. I bought a used copy of Spiritualized‘s Songs In A&E last week. Running through the other tunes are short tracks all named “Harmony” (with slight variations on the title). I thought I’d check the Wiki page for “Songs…” and discovered that the tunes are named that after Harmony Korine, the actor/screenwriter (most famous for writing the screenplay to the 1995 film “Kids“, a bleak look at da yoof in 1990s New York City). I then looked at the page for Korine and remembered reading about his film “Gummo” a while back. Apparently, it’s quite a difficult film to watch. That led me to one of those list-articles on Buzzfeed, about the “25 Films That Will Destroy Your Faith In Humanity“. Now, it is Buzzfeed, so expect a lot of hype – but some of those films seem to be really draining on the psyche, just from the descriptions. Amongst the violent revenge flicks like “Oldboy” and “I Spit On Your Grave“, is a documentary called “Dear Zachary“. Unlike a lot of the films on the list, it’s available to watch on YouTube. I was curious as to how it ended up on the list, so I gave it a go.

Essentially, it’s the story of Andrew Bagby’s murder in 2001, carried out (or so the evidence seems to show) by his ex-girlfriend, Shirley Turner. Bagby had a relationship with Turner while they were both in medical school. Bagby broke it off and Turner, unable to take being jilted, drove from Iowa to Pennsylvania and (again, as the evidence seems to show) killed him in cold blood after he agreed to meet her one last time. Kurt Kuenne (which he pronounces “Kenny”) was a childhood friend of Bagby’s and Bagby acted in a lot of Kuenne’s amateur films when they were students. There are several talking-head interviews with Andrew’s school friends and work colleagues and even his relatives in England, describing his personality in glowing terms.

Bagby’s parents, Kate (an ex-pat English nurse) and David, are given special focus, as they were the main campaigners to get Turner brought to trial in the States (Turner was a Canadian citizen and fled to her native Newfoundland after Bagby was murdered). Turner then revealed she was pregnant with Bagby’s child (she also had three other children from previous relationships). Bagby’s parents moved to Newfoundland to work on Turner’s extradition and then to get custody of ‘Zachary’, as the baby was eventually named. The Bagbys are awarded (very tenuously) joint custody of Zachary and Kuenne drives up to Canada to meet and film The Bagbys and the child.

Tragedy then happens a second time when, realising that her extradition may be imminent and that another episode involving a man jilting her caused Turner to become unstable – she strapped Zachary to herself and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean. Both drowned within minutes. It’s made obvious that the film, while being a tribute to Andrew and Zachary, is more of a tribute to The Bagbys and their resilience in coping with the loss of a grandson and a son and taking on the caprices of the Canadian justice system.

The film, despite it’s depressing content, is well-made. Kuenne probably could have relied less on the musical score for emotional cues (such as the Bernard Hermann “Psycho”-like music for the parts where Turner is shown). Turner is never really investigated, either – her family aren’t interviewed, her background isn’t researched or presented at all. She becomes mainly a cypher and a villain for viewers to project all sorts of ‘evil’ onto. Now, she was more than likely guilty of murdering a man in cold blood and she took the life of a child in a ghastly selfish way. Still, we never know what motivated her to behave that way. She clearly had mental health problems and was quite unstable. Also, the Canadian justice system seems quite flawed – but was this a case of a small community protecting one of its own? Particularly in the wake of 9/11, was there a broader link between the foot-dragging of the extradition trial and the central Canadian government (vis-a-vis: distancing itself from the U.S. government)? I suppose that may be veering into conspiracy theory, but it could be an interesting avenue to explore.

Adam Curtis, the UK documentary film-maker, announced on his blog a short while ago, that he was producing a doc to be shown strictly on the BBC iPlayer. It was to be about Afghanistan and its relationship to Russia, Saudi Arabia and The West.

It finally arrived (called “Bitter Lake”) on the iPlayer in January and I watched it as soon as I had a couple of hours to really absorb the film. It starts with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s meeting with King Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, on an American warship in 1945. The U.S. needed oil to run it’s growing industrial complexes and fuel it’s new-found military might. Abdulaziz agreed to produce the oil, but his condition was that the U.S. not interfere in the Saudi faith. That faith is Wah’habbism, a very conservative branch of Islam. F.D.R. also agreed to a massive dam project in Afghanistan, that would help work to ‘modernise’ that country and create a Western-style democracy in the Middle East.

The film then presents a dizzying lesson in Afghan history since 1945, using archival footage, interspersed with unedited BBC news footage shot after the 2001 invasion by U.S. and UK forces. The West, seeking to create a Middle East idyll in Afghanistan, runs afoul of the Saudis after the U.S. overtly supports Israel in the 1950s. The democratic Afghanistan does well in the the 1960s, but then Western student visitors bring leftist ideas with them in the early 1970s. A few years later, after the 1973/1974 oil crisis, which gave the Saudis even more leverage in world affairs, due to ‘petrodollars’ flowing into their coffers – Communism (with a capital ‘C’) started to flourish in Afghanistan. This didn’t sit too well with the Saudis.

Russian citizens, encouraged by this development, started to move into the country. There was a backlash, however, and soon things started to get ugly. The Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to back the failing Communist regime. Groups of disparate tribal fighters (with Wah’habbists among their ranks) rebelled against the Soviets. The U.S., seizing an opportunity to fight a proxy war, trained and armed (via the C.I.A.) these groups, who came to be known as the ‘mujahedeen’. The roots of what then morphed into the the Taliban were formed in the mujahedeen.

Some of the uncut footage is extraordinary, unsettling and shocking, sometimes all at once. Footage of then-President Karzai’s motorcade wends it’s way through Kabul. Three men sidle up to Karzai’s SUV to greet him – suddenly automatic gunfire rings out and seconds later, the men are laying heaped in the street. U.S. soldiers are shown boasting about being ‘born killers’ and ‘off command’ kills (presumably that means civilians or people the soldiers themselves suspected being Taliban combatants, but weren’t confirmed as such). In one really lovely bit, a British soldier holds a small bird that has landed on his rifle, while a Middle Eastern pop song plays as a soundtrack.

The British presence in Afghanistan, particularly Helmand Province, after 2001 is shown to be largely an exercise in futility, as the soldiers couldn’t tell who were the ‘real Taliban’. Curtis argues that many of the locals were fed up with Karzai’s corrupt police forces and saw the British as backing the police. The locals decided to attack the British, which emboldened the Taliban to return from Pakistan – so essentially, the British were fighting on two fronts at once.

Things changed yet again after the 2008 financial crash, when the ‘bankers and techno-crats’, trusted by the leaders in The West to work out the complexities of the markets, failed to do so. Money was flooded into the U.S., UK and Afghanistan economies in an effort to prop up the system. A lot of the money injected into the Afghan economy was siphoned out to Dubai, further frustrating the Afghan people.

In the end, Curtis argues, despite many different leaders trying to imprint their version of Islam on radical groups, Wah’habbism was still the driving force behind even the newest group of fighters, ISIL (the Islamic State of Syria and Levant), or ISIS. The original strain of Islam that the king of Saudi Arabia tried to wipe out in the 1940s is alive and very much kicking. Curtis also states that The West had to confront the notion that all of its efforts to transform Afghanistan amounted to nothing, but like the lake on the planet in the 1972 film “Solaris”, Afghanistan has left an effect on the Western psyche.

You can watch “Dear Zachary” online here

You can watch “Bitter Lake” here (UK only) and here (rest of the world)

 

Leftovers: January 2015

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Hey now! Well, we’ve all transitioned into a new Gregorian Calendar Year – hopefully your holidays weren’t too stressful. Mine were quiet, which I enjoyed. I wasn’t really up for a busy X-Mas/New Year season.

I seem to have missed a couple of things in my 2014 round-up. The ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, which started at the beginning of the year, gained momentum and is continuing. Of course, this stoked the press in the U.S. and UK, with many freaking out that the virus might actually, y’know, start killing white people in droves. The BBC showed more than a few info-segments and Faux News bonehead-in-residence (one of the many) Glenn Beck demonstrating how difficult it is to keep the disease contained, even with protection suits, with chocolate sauce and spaghetti substituting for bodily fluids. Keep ’em frightened, Glenn, that’s the F.N. way, innit? There is some hope, though, as a vaccine will be tested and if successful, taken to West Africa.

The U.S., besides having to worry about a possible ebola scare, also witnessed a bad year for police brutality. Incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City compounded African-Americans’ mistrust of law enforcement and lead to near-riots in many cities. It was like 1991 again, except without a Bush in the White House (thankfully). Dreadful incidents, all. There were moments like those during the Occupy protests a couple of years ago, but when African-Americans are being singled out, it brings into sharp relief the precarious nature of race relations in the U.S. and of the increasing militarisation of some police departments.

2015 hasn’t got off to a banner start, either. The Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris was a reminder that radical Islam is alive and well. Both sides of the ideological fence weighed in on matters of free speech and whether faith ‘is’ a matter for satire. I thought about devoting an entire post to the murders, but I suspect anything I could say, someone has put far more eloquently. In the aftermath, the city did hold a ‘Unity Rally‘ and for a moment, the human potential for empathy shone through ideology and religious differences.

One bright spot was the Greek elections, in which left-wing party Syriza was swept in, defying both the far-right hatemongers Golden Dawn and the more moderate, austerity-policy parties. Will Greece give the IMF and the Euro-zone the boot? That remains to be seen, but it definitely seems a step toward something better for that country, which has been mired in mass unemployment and riots for a while now.

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

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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!

The Decline Of The Flaming Lips?

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You may or may not know about the latest blunder release from The Flaming Lips – yet another in their (hopefully ending soon) series of re-makes of entire LPs. They first tackled Pink Floyd‘s magnum opus “The Dark Side Of The Moon” in 2009, which featured guest appearances from Stardeath and White Dwarfs (a Lips-ish psych-rock band from their immediate area, Norman, Oklahoma – featuring Wayne Coyne‘s nephew on guitar and vocals, no less), Henry Rollins and a few others. The results seemed mixed, to me anyway – far less satisfying than the genre-hopper rock-to-reggae version by Easy Star All-Stars. The Lips have (or had) their own brand of psychedelic playfulness which didn’t seem to lend itself to Roger Waters‘s mannered observations. They followed that up few years later with a re-make of King Crimson’s classic 1969 progressive rock album, In The Court Of The Crimson King. I’ve not heard it yet, but The Lips were never really known for their dextrous musicianship (aside from Steven Drozd), so I’m guessing a lot of the K.C. flash has been substituted for more of a ‘mood’. They then decided to try their hands on The Stone Roses‘ debut album. I’ve heard parts of that and while some of the covers seem interesting – the youthful exuberance of Ian Brown‘s gang are transformed into melancholy dirges. Coyne and Co. sucked all the funk and swagger out of the tunes.

Now they’re back (after releasing the possible nadir of their studio records, The Terror) with another covers album, a version of one of the most iconic LPs of the rock era, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The question seems to be: does the world need another one of these? Particularly when you consider the disastrous 1978 film, featuring The Bee Gees and the much-better NME 1988 compilation, “Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father“. A bit more obscure are the “Trance Remixes“, created by someone (or collective) called Nasty Little Dog and the mash-up collection “Sgt Pepper’s Mid-Life Crisis“, released for free on the internet for the 40th anniversary of the release of the album.

In any case, The Lips gathered together the usual suspects, along with members of neo-psych bands MGMT and Foxygen and…uh…Miley Cyrus (??!!!). The record was just released this month and is getting middling reviews. A video was made ‘starring’ Cyrus and a nude blonde girl (Coyne seems big on nudity these days), for their version of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. It’s…interesting, but lacking in the kind of delirious hope that characterises a lot of their earlier work.

So what’s happened to a really great band? Damned if I know, but it does seem that Coyne’s had a bit of a topsy-turvy existence the past ten years or so. His parents have both passed away now and Coyne was reportedly close to both. His beef with Win Butler tarnished Coyne’s “nicest guy in rock-n-roll” image – though it wasn’t the first time he publicly trashed another front man. Remember the whole Richard Ashcroft thing, back in 1994 (and again in 2006)? He’s also split from his long-time wife, Michelle Martin (though that was first announced in 2012). To be fair to the guy, he’s had a shocker.

Still, it’s probably no surprise that his extra-cirricular activities are affecting the music of the band. Getting his Instagram accounts shut down for nudity and drug use. The whole tiff with Erykah Badu, over filming her sister nude (I see a pattern emerging) in a tub filled with glitter and corn starch for the video, for their cover of Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face“. His cavorting with pop tartlets Ke$ha and Cyrus makes it seem like he’s desperate to ‘keep up with the kids’, or at the very least, courting shallow pop audiences. Luckily, the rumoured ‘Lip$ha‘ album never materialised, as that might’ve been another nail in the coffin of their credibility. Then, of course, the whopper of them all, the very public exit from the band by long-time touring, then officially studio drummer Kliph Scurlock. Scurlock initially claimed Coyne was verbally abusive and that he (Scurlock) was outraged over Coyne’s friend, Christina Fallin (daughter of Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin), wearing a Native American head-dress. Coyne hit back, calling Scurlock a ‘pathological liar’ and dismissing his hatred of a wide spectrum of bands and Lips friends. To be fair on Coyne, despite the vitriol he expressed about the split in the ‘Rolling Stone’ interview, Scurlock did a semi-reversal and issued an apology days after the story broke.

So where does all this leave the music? Well, again, “The Terror” received mixed reviews and the tracks I heard (“You Lust“, particularly) just didn’t seem to have much going on (for thirteen minutes, as well). Maybe not Lips-by-numbers, but sorta lifeless. Sure, they’re trippy – but sometimes that’s not enough to carry the album. There seems to be a lot of recycling from the past few records. The collaboration EPs, released throughout 2011, were also a bit of a disappointment, even the ones that, on paper, should work really well. Some of them were O.K., like the EP with Neon Indian, but even the best track on it, “Alan’s Theremin“, is eight minutes of a synth arpeggio and two guitar chords.

It’s tough to say where they’re going from here. Hopefully, The Flaming Lips will become more of a balanced project and not just the Wayne Coyne Experience. Sure, Steven Drozd does contribute most of the musical ideas (and musicianship), but lately it sounds as though he’s hit a wall. Michael Ivins, there from the very beginning, seems to have been sidelined in a band he co-founded. Perhaps they’ll take a looooooong break after this “Sgt Pepper’s/Fwends (yes, it actually has the word ‘fwends’ in the title)” business. Wayne may be running away from a role (imposed from outside, of course) as one of the elder statesmen of American “alternative rock”, but I don’t know, it seems like the dude needs to chill for a little bit and pull the group back from novelty and gimmicks (gummy foetuses, songs buried in skulls, cover albums, etc.). I hope they can get it together, ‘cos it’d be a shame to lose a really, really great group.

Busy Week: Mark Thomas – The North Wall, Summertown – 15th Oct./The Orb – O2 Academy, Oxford – 16th October, 2014

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Pixie and I actually had somewhat of an active social life this past week, as we caught leftie comedian Mark Thomas in action at The North Wall theatre, a tiny venue in Summertown on Wednesday night (15th October). The next night, we were at the O2 Academy in Oxford, to see The Orb on the current leg of the group’s 25th Anniversary Tour.

Thomas started his show by praising the hall. “I love this fucking space”, he exclaimed a few times – “I feel like there should be a priest hole somewhere”, he added. After that, he went into a few random riffs on what he’s been up to, while promising that “the second half is fucking great”. He had a competition to find a definition of “Farage” (which he insisted be pronounced “fair-idge”, not “far-odge”, like the media do). He chose the best one – which was the residue you find at the bottom of a food waste bin. He also hawked stickers saying “Daily Mail Free Zone” to place on trains and coaches. The first set was quite short, only about a half-hour or so.

The second set centred around Thomas’s work and protests with the C.A.A.T. (or Campaign Against The Arms Trade). The main subject is a fellow activist called “Martin” – Thomas never says his surname and we were never quite if his first name is even Martin. Martin was a convert to the anti-arms trade cause, after working in the trade for a long while. Thomas talked of how dedicated Martin was and the amount of time he spent organising and helping with protests. He cleverly used videos of fellow activists and ‘talked’ with them about Martin. All was well, until a rumour started circulating that Martin wasn’t quite what he seemed. An audit of C.A.A.T.’s computers turned up evidence that Martin was spying for B.A.E. Systems, the UK’s largest arms manufacturer.

Thomas and a few staunch supporters of Martin refused to believe the allegations and Thomas even went so far as to shout denials to the organisation’s leaders. Somehow, though, to Thomas, something wasn’t quite right about Martin and he was eventually convinced to read the file on the audit. The evidence looked incontravertible and Thomas was forced to change his opinion of Martin. In the end, Thomas, despite many efforts, couldn’t get Martin to admit to what he had done. He closed the show with more videos of fellow activists who had also been spied on by either corporations or goverment agencies. It widened the show’s scope from personal betrayal to the enormous implication of spying going on in society at the moment.

The Orb have been on their 25th Anniversary tour since mid-2013 and the show stopped in Oxford on 16th October. The group, at the moment, is a duo of original member (and the only constant one) Alex Paterson – sorta the Robert Fripp of The Orb, with Thomas Fehlmann, who joined up around the time of “U.F.Orb”, released in 1992. To my surprise, the show was on the upper floor of the O2 Academy. It’s a smaller space and makes for a more intimate setting. We missed the support act – I think it was someone called Nick Hooper. He had the usual laptop/sampler set-up and was winding down his set as we walked in.

After a short-ish interval – Paterson and Fehlmann took centre stage where their gear was set up. I suspect most of the first half were tunes from the latest album (released in 2012), Orbserver In The Star House – a collaboration with dub reggae legend, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. I don’t have “Orbserver…” yet, so I didn’t recognise anything until Pat Metheny‘s sampled guitar notes floated into the mix, signalling their classic “Little Fluffy Clouds“. A nice “Towers Of Dub” followed and a surprise “Toxygene” made it into the set. “Blue Room” was dusted off with a harder-edge beat than the studio version and “Assassin” made an appearance as well.

I also remember a re-working of Pink Floyd‘s “One Of These Days“, mainly using the bass riff and layered sounds. “A Huge Evergrowing Pulsating Brain…” was announced by way of the Minnie Riperton sample, but it wasn’t its usual epic length. The nearly two-hour set wound down with what I think was “Ball Of Fire” off of “Orbserver…” (based on the spoken-word sample in it). Paterson and Fehlmann left the stage and the crowd stamped and shouted for an encore, but the house lights switched on and we all shuffled out into the street. A decent show – fairly stripped back compared to the shows of twenty or even fifteen years ago. The duo kept things moving along nicely and there weren’t any dull moments. The mix wasn’t the best, but then the acoustics in that space have never been, in my experience, ideal. A lot of the spoken-word samples were difficult to hear, so some of the depth of the Orb sound was lost. Aside from that, it was good to see the boys out on the road, bringing a bit of psychedelic ambient dance music to the faithful.

Mark Thomas: Cuckooed – North Wall, Summertown

First set: “What I’ve Been Up To” – including “Farage” & playing gigs in strange venues

Second set: “Cuckooed” (a tale of betrayal)

The Orb – 25th Anniversary Tour –  O2 Academy, Oxford:

Africa

Soulman

(not sure)

(not sure)

Little Fluffy Clouds

Assassin

Towers Of Dub

Toxygene

Blue Room

One Of These Days (Pink Floyd remix)

A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain…

(not sure)

Ball Of Fire

–no encore–

Kate Bush – ‘Before The Dawn’ – Hammersmith Apollo – September 12, 2014

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Thousands of words have already been posted and typed and printed about Kate Bush‘s ‘comeback’ shows in London, her first full concerts since the “Tour Of Life” in 1979. Here’s a few more. When she announced the shows in February of this year – it seemed like a hoax. After all, you never can really trust some stories on the internet. I received an e-mail a little while later, with a ‘pre-sale’ code for tickets. I’ve been a big fan of her music since the early 1990s and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see her live, especially given her reluctance to perform in concert.

KateBushTicket

A guy I worked with has multiple laptops and said he’d scored tickets to very in-demand shows in the past, so I asked him if he could try to get Kate tickets for me. He agreed and to my amazement, got two tickets for the 12th September show!! It cost me a good bottle of wine, but to me, more than worth it. The months ticked by, rumours about special guests were floated around, as well as set list guesses. I wanted everything to be a surprise, so I conscientiously avoided blogs, newspaper articles and teevee coverage – even after the opening show, on 26th August.

Finally, the day arrived – I grabbed the tickets and met my friend in Oxford, for the trip to London. The shows are at the Hammersmith Apollo (or the “Eventim Apollo”, as it’s called now), the very same hall where “The Tour Of Life” show debuted. Kate said she was initially put off playing there, as it had become quite run-down over the years, but changed her mind when she found it was to be completely refurbished early in 2014. We arrived in Notting Hill Gate late in the afternoon and grabbed a quick lunch. We hopped on a bus down to where the venue is, but ended up walking some of the way, as traffic was pretty bad around there.

My friend is partially-sighted and had his guide dog with him. He had phoned the venue to check if they would look after her, while we were watching the show. The staff were quite nice and agreed to do so. We were able to avoid the queue outside and head in to drop off ‘Molly’ (the guide dog). While we were inside, I cheekily asked if we could check the merch table. They said it was fine and so I bought a T-shirt and programme. After that, it was time for a couple of pints in a local pub – then back to the Apollo for the concert!

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Our seats were in the upper circle, nearly at the back. The Apollo’s a small-ish venue, so there’s not really any bad seats, per se. Kate had requested that people not take photos or film during the show and it was good to see everyone around us leaving the kit shut off. The stage itself, for the opening, was fairly sparse – two drum kits, a couple of keyboards and guitar and bass set-ups. Above the stage at the back, diamond shapes were arranged in a triangular pattern. The lights dimmed, the band walked onstage and started playing. Not long after, followed by a line of backing singers, Kate sashayed onstage to the rhythm of the tune, which turned out to be “Lily” (first released on “The Red Shoes“, in 1993 – then re-recorded for the “Director’s Cut” compilation, released in 2011). Her voice is still in fine form, even if she can’t quite hit the real high notes anymore. The reception was rapturous and then she ripped into “Hounds Of Love“, the title track from her 1985 (and most well known) album – the place just exploded. She seemed to relish singing it again and the backing band were top-notch. After “Hounds”, she took things down a notch with a nice “Joanni“, from the “Aerial” album, released in 2005. “Top Of The City“, another “Red Shoes” track re-worked for the “Director’s Cut”, followed – the diamond shapes were used cleverly in that one. They were lit up to resemble skyscrapers at night. Somewhat expected, “Running Up That Hill” (also from “Hounds Of Love”) was next and yet again, the crowd were delighted and the tune cooked. I wasn’t sure what she would sing next – I was still thinking maybe “Army Dreamers” or “Breathing” (from her “Never For Ever” album, released in 1980). Instead, she chose “King Of The Mountain“, the only single from “Aerial”, released in 2005. The end section became a rave-up and the band kicked into high gear. At the very end, one of the drummers got a bull-roarer out and after creating its eerie drone sound, the stage went dark.

A film of a man calling the coast guard about a ship in distress started up and then I realised she was going to perform the entire “Ninth Wave” section off of ‘Hounds Of Love’. The song cycle takes up side 2 (of the LP), or the second half of the CD, if that’s what you’ve got. A screen at the back of the stage showed Kate floating in water and the image would ‘mime’ with Kate’s actual vocal, which was quite clever. During “Under Ice“, a frozen sofa, lamp and TV appeared on-stage. The back-up singers wore fish-skeleton costumes and at one point, ‘workmen’ walked out and pretended to cut a hold in the stage. “Waking The Witch” featured a priest and the fish-people. I couldn’t tell if the vocal was live, as I suspect getting that ‘stutter’ effect would be difficult in a concert setting. Before “Watching You Without Me“, a surreal living room set glided onto the stage. It looked almost like the cutaway of a ship’s cabin, and it would bob slowly back and forth, as if it were on the sea. A domestic scene was played between a father and son (with Kate’s son Bertie playing the youth). Kate suddenly appeared in the room and then the song commenced. “Jig Of Life” was a rave-up, with the crowd clapping along with the Irish rhythm. Kate’s brother John‘s face appeared on the frozen TV screen to recite the poem that features at the coda. A life-size buoy prop became the centre-piece for “Hello Earth” and for the extended coda, she was carried from the stage, down a ramp, by the fish skeleton people. “The Morning Fog” was simply stunning, the whole band lined up across the stage and when Kate sang “D’you know what…I love you better now“, the crowd roared. The interval was announced and I was still processing what I had just seen. It was incredible – one of my favourite pieces of music performed in concert – worth the ticket price alone.

The second set was also an extended suite – this time “A Sky Of Honey“, the second disc (or LP, if you’re lucky enough to have a copy without paying £200 for it) of “Aerial”. The props for this set included a massive wooden door, lowered to the stage, a wooden puppet manipulated to act like a small boy and a screen made to look like a large painting. While it’s not quite as dynamic as “The Ninth Wave”, the tempo does pick up during the “Sunset” section, which builds into a flamenco-flavoured jam and Kate even let out an “Arrrriba!”. Bertie, who played the part of “The Painter” (originally voiced by Rolf Harris on the album – but as he’s had his….troubles lately…), narrated an extra bit about the moonrise. “Somewhere In Between” picked up the pace again and then the final two sections brought back the ambient feel. The final part, the title track, was another build-up. The band donned bird masks and moved around the stage with Kate. She was chased away, then the stage went dark with the band still chugging away. Suddenly, the panels of the door opened and there was Kate, floating, with huge black wings on her back. It lasted a few seconds and the stage went dark again.

The lights came on, Kate and the band shuffled off-stage. She walked out on her own and to prove she can still do the “girl-and-her-piano” act, played a lovely “Among Angels“, the only song from the “50 Words For Snow” album in the set list. The band returned for the final tune of the night, a rousing version of “Cloudbusting“, first released on “Hounds..” The house lights came on after the ovations and applause died down and we all made our way out of the venue.

The verdict? Well, I enjoyed the show immensely. I’ve seen films of the “Tour Of Life” show in ’79 and while Kate is far less ‘active’ on-stage these days, she still has loads of presence and mostly lets her voice carry the music. She’s retained her sense of the theatrical, as amply demonstrated in the “Ninth Wave” section. For those who showed up to hear the very early stuff – you’ll be in for disappointment – there’s nothing in the set from the first four albums…that’s right, no “Wuthering Heights” or “Wow” or “Babooshka“. I suppose I can’t blame her – her voice can’t really hit the higher registers needed for those tunes and she’s probably sick to death of W.H.

I’m just glad she took the plunge and decided to play live again – mostly by encouragement from Bertie, so hats off to him! it seems to have gone well, so hopefully it won’t be another long stretch of years to see her again.

Set list – 13th September, 2014:

“ACT I”

Lily
Hounds Of Love
Joanni
Running Up That Hill
Top Of The City
King Of The Mountain

~”The Ninth Wave“:
And Dream Of Sheep
Under Ice
Waking The Witch
“Domestic Interlude”
Watching You Without Me
Jig Of Life
Hello Earth
The Morning Fog

“ACT II”

~”A Sky Of Honey“:
Prelude
Prologue
The Architect’s Dream
The Painter’s Link
Sunset
Aerial Tal
Somewhere In Between
“Moonrise Introduction” (Bertie McIntosh solo)
Nocturn
Aerial

Encore:
Among Angels (Kate solo on piano)
Cloudbusting