(no subject)

Saw Roddy Frame at the Bloomsbury Theatre last week, and was so impressed that sarah & I decided to catch his show in the North West on Saturday night. Not in Liverpool or Manchester. Oh no. He wasn't playing Liverpool or Manchester. He was playing Holmfirth; the quaint, charming Peak District town whose main claim to fame is being the location of Last of The Summer Wine. Still, The Picturedrome is a splendid venue; a turn-of-the-last-century cinema, converted to a multi-purpose venue-cum-bar-cum-..er..it's-still-a-cinema-too. You have to buy your tickets from the tourist information bureau, and they look like this. Beat that, ticketweb.
The show, naturally, was wonderful, with plenty of the bonhomie and playfulness that was missing from the London date. Provincial shows y'see: the pressure's off.

During the journey up we decided to make a detour to see Antony Gormley's Another Place. A quite breathtaking piece it is too, and even though every Liverpudlian seemed to be walking their dog across the huge expanse (nearly two miles) of beach that Another Place inhabits, the feelings of solitude & of the passage of time (marked by the tidal change while we were there) were all-enveloping. Photos under hereCollapse )

Difficult Listening Week, part 2: Stockhausen at Billingsgate

Before I rediscovered pop music circa 1984, I really dug Karlheinz Stockhausen. Ralf & Florian were always banging on about his music & theories, and Holger Can was a student of his, so as I was a fan of both it followed that I'd be a fan of Stockhausen. And while I found it a little tricky getting my head around some of his more fruity pieces, there was enough going on in there to make me realise there's more to music than what is actually heard.
Until I heard The Smiths, of course. At which point the tune & the lyric became king once more. Even so, hearing Gesang Der Junglinge for the first time is something I'll never forget.
So it was off to Billingsgate Market on saturday for a "performance" (read "playback") of another of his early pieces of pure electronic music, "Kontakte", plus a more recent work, "Oktophonie". I was a little disappointed that the market had been renovated as a generic conference-centre-style space, but hey, with the lights out, who's to know? Making our way to the front of the auditorium, we realised that...ah.. there's no stage. Joni looked around & mentioned that perhaps we might prefer to sit near the mixing board, where yr man was preparing...

Karlheinz Stockhausen

Oh. I get it. It was like seeing Paul McCartney sitting there. Unbelievable.
The lights were dimmed a little, and after a brief intro spiel from Karlheinz, we were plunged into almost total darkness. And Stockhausen pressed "play" on his tape recorder. Hmm. He had encouraged us to close our eyes, to lose contact with our surroundings, to get enveloped in the sound. Which it was very easy to do. The pieces were presented in surround sound: Kontakte in quadrophonic, and Oktophonie in mind-blowing eight-channel sound. It was akin to sitting in a -ahem- "sound cube", sound coming from every corner: top to bottom, back & forward, left to right, and diagonally. Phew.
As for the music itself, Kontakte is a work I'm vaguely familiar with, and am rather fond of its Radiophonic/Joe-Meek-esque bleeps & bloops. In terms of sheer work, the sound generation & editing must have taken months (checks sleeve notes: yep...), which is all well & good but that's like admiring Eddie van Halen for being able to play 20 notes a second. What's most impressive is the way it makes you *feel*. Which is... out there. Man.
The second piece, while technically even more impressive, was a little anti-climactic. It's odd: I've always felt that avant-garde musicians are at their best when they're striving to create music with tools that are incapable of realising their vision. Thus they have to use their creativity to manipulate the instruments they *do* have to get the desired results. As soon as anyone could sound weird just by hitting a preset, all the fun went out of it (see also The Residents, Laurie Anderson...). This was also the case with Oktophonie, from 1991, which basically sounded like a horror soundtrack. After 15 minutes I was bored. After 45 minutes I was hoping it would end really soon. I got back into it after an hour or so by entering total sensory deprivation mode, covering my eyes and curling up in a ball (such activity was encouraged), but I was glad when it was over. If "Kontakte" was a Miro painting or a Man Ray film, Oktophonie was a Roger-Dean album cover come to life. Urgh. Still, again, it took me somewhere. Not sure I'd want to live there, mind you...

tekno_alice Did you go in the end? Any thoughts?
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Difficult listening week, Part 1: Jandek in London

In the days leading up to last night's Jandek show, his first ever in London, I'd been giving his work a little serious thought. What's it for? Why does he do it? Is the character portrayed in the music an extension of himself or merely a persona? And if the latter, how in Heaven's name can he switch that persona off & become Mr Normal with a white-collar job in the city? Last night answered precisely none of these questions, and threw up a good few more new ones.

I'd never really noticed St Giles Church -tonight's venue- before: it was just that building in between Denmark Street and The Angel. While the building itself is a little austere, it's quite substantial inside, and frustratingly inappropriate for tonight's performance. On entering, we were greeted by the organisers; former neighbours of mine, who were beaming with pride (as well they should) at actually pulling this thing off. Taking our pews next to another unexpected & familiar face (hi chiff_chaff!! What a small world it is...) we absorbed the atmosphere & ..ah.. prepared for the onslaught.

Opening act -a viola and harp improvisation duo- was a little dull, but they didn't outstay their welcome, and their sound -mostly clunks & drones- was far from abhorrent (a serious pre-show concern of mine, believe me). But it was all just marking time while we waited for Janky.

Who eventually appeared. Painfully thin, he slowly, deliberately, set up his guitar and mics, and placed his notes on the stand. For the first few moments it appeared that he was actually playing melodies; straight rhythms, even. I got quite excited: "This'll fox 'em!" But it soon became apparent that this wouldn't be the case. Indeed, having been told "anything could happen", I was rather disappointed at how similar to the records it all sounded. A uniform depths-of-despair death-bed-blues. I began looking round at the building, its architecture and its current occupants. This wasn't really what I wanted. I couldn't concentrate on what was happening onstage, or perhaps I didn't want to. The fellows sitting in the pews in front were recording the show on ProTools, and I kept finding myself following their monitor's display thinking, "hmm, that's a nice waveform". I looked across at Joni, who appeared similarly nonplussed, whereupon we both cracked up & started giggling. And, y'know, it's a church. There was plenty of stuff to distract one's attention. I would have preferred a bare black room with a solitary spot on Jandek. We were in the 2nd row; God knows what the people at the back would have got out of the performance.

Anyway, he continued making this ultra-miserable generic clanky racket for an hour or so, and then he walked off. Again, it wasn't so unpleasant that I felt I had to leave, but it was disappointingly unchallenging. Maybe I should go see Whitehouse.
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Mad House

When I tell people where I work & what I do for a living, they generally respond either with, "ooh, I have a friend who works at the BBC, they're in News Online perhaps you know them?", or "why on Earth did you erase all those Pete & Dud shows/Syd Barrett on Top Of The Pops/Madhouse On Castle Street...?" To which I respond with:
"Well, tv fulfilled a very different purpose in the 50s and 60s: it was ephemeral. It was never intended to be archived and mulled over 40 years hence. Yet it was also progressive. Why bother keeping something when next week's edition was going to be even better? Film recording & videotape were expensive and bulky back then (a 60-minute 2" tape is about the size of a small suitcase), there's no point in wasting money and space on something which people may or may not care about in the future." Which may sound like I'm toeing the party line, but isn't that far from how I actually feel (no matter how much I'd like to see "See Emily Play" on TOTP). And at least it's a good ice-breaker. Even so, the Beeb had a chance to partially redeem itself last night by showing a programme about the making of "Madhouse On Castle Street" (some background).
It was a big disappointment. Endless interminable stock shots of snow, snow and more frickin' snow (I don't know if this was a metaphor -snow is the name sometimes given to the picture produced by blank or erased videotape- or whether the winter of 1962 really was that cold) with occasional interruptions given over to directionless, non-chronological pieces to camera from "those who were there". The one huge revelation in the show, the discovery of a high-quality recording of the four songs Bob sang in the play, was tacked onto the end, together with a 30-second snippet from one song. Thirty seconds!!!???!!! People have been searching for this for years!! the BBC admit themselves that it's "the holy grail of missing Bob archive" (actually they call him "Dylan", but I can't, I just can't....). The least that could be done is to broadcast the whole frickin' recording.

And I don't even like Bob Dylan. Though having watched No Direction Home earlier in the week, I'm warming to the idea. I can't really argue with those live songs in Newcastle, can I? They truly are the most powerful, most ferocious, most purposeful performances I've ever seen.

In other news, here's a song to cheer you up from the forthcoming Fugu LP (thanks to Mehdi for allowing me to put these up):
fugu: you pick me up
and something a little more reflective:
fugu: a bigger splash
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Fugu Fugu Fugu Fugu

This morning I received an advance of the new CD from Fugu. This fella will need no introduction to chiff_chaff (I hope things are well with you in Houston right now, but I imagine you have more pressing issues than reading livejournal. Hope all friends & family are safe and coping well), but in a nutshell: a series of 45s from the early-to-late-90s released on a variety of indies & self-financed labels, all of which sounded unique and none of which sounded like the prior release. And yet there was a unity of feel; a desire to push things forward a little, but in an ultra-melodic, super-harmonic yet willfully uncommercial way. They sounded like how you wish those awful Elephant-6 bands would sound. An LP finally emerged in 2001 to what the press term "little fanfare"; perhaps it was held back by a slightly-too-obvious Stereolab influence.
This new record though...ohmygod it's just super. A little more pop-structured than the previous records (ie it has VERSES! and CHORUSES!), but whew, all those arrangements and hooks from his past are all in place and all over the place, and Mehdi's super-smooth soft-rock falsetto harmonies just ooze over everything. Reaching for comparisons, I suppose it's a bit like Air if they wrote pop songs, or Phoenix if they weren't so worried about being cool.
Yeah, he's French.
Favourite record this year? Well I've not bought the new Sigur Ros yet, but..hmm.. quite possibly...

In the oddest move in an career full of odd moves, Brian Wilson (or melinda, or whoever) has stumbled upon a great fund raising idea for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The premise is this: you send a donation of $100 or more to Brian's manager (to pass on to the Hurricane victims), and Brian will match your donation and (here's the thing) GIVE YOU A CALL AND ALLOW YOU TO ASK HIM A QUESTION!
While the intent is admirable (and the fundraising seems to be going moderately well up to now), I can't help feeling that this is belittling both Brian's talent and the issue itself, and not dissimilar to the auctioning of tickets to the meet-and-greets on the US tour (and how scummy was that?). Don't forget, Brian, you're an artist, you're not a call-centre monkey (apologies to all who work in call centres).
Actually $6000 is a pretty meagre sum: that's, what, thirty takers max? Well, don't look at me...
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We do the Surfer Stomp, it's the latest dance craze.

Of all my guilty pleasures, attending the Beach Boys Stomp annual fanclub convention is one of my guiltiest. This year's event took place -as it always does every damn year- on the same day as open house, the third saturday of september. The unlikely venue -a parish hall in Greenford- is off-the-wall enough, but the day's host is a true one-off. A real stickler for punctuality (interrupting the guest speaker on a few occasions to "move the day along") and rules & regs eg NO PHOTOGRAPHY!!!(every year he makes some threatening remark regarding some guy who took some photos which were later published in Q, after which the photographer mysteriously disappeared), and let's not get him started on mobile phones.... Yet Roy Gudge (for it is he), in spite of his faults, always puts together a tip-top day. Roy, we love you.
Fewer bootleg-and-rarity stalls than ever and the lack of quiz made the day drag a little (I know, I know), but hey, a guest the quality of Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford (Brian's ex-wife, and vocalist on the Honeys & Spring recordings) more than made up for these shortcomings. Over the day, she must have spent two-hours-plus on stage talking about her life, her relationship with Brian and the rest of the band, the Spring LP & the Honeys 45s, her currrent life as a real estate agent and so much more. Always gracious, even to the most trainspotter-y probing ("no, I think you'll find that..."), it was a pleasure to meet & talk to her.
the author with marilyn
Always good to see the same familiar faces too (hi Jonathan, Neil, Kingsley, Val, Alex, Andrew, Chris, John). Such good company. Why should I feel guilty about enjoying this?
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Let! Me! Tell you about Sweden! On! Ly! Country where the clouds are interesting.

I've just returned from a -I believe they're called- "City Break" in Stockholm. My diet had been going quite well up till this point, but gosh you forget how delicious beer is, don't you? Particularly when it costs £6 a pint.
Won't bore you all with the details of "and then we did this...", but if you happen to visit Stockholm anytime, I can heartily recommend the following:

Staying at the Nordic Sea Hotel. The Ice Bar is a bit of a rip-off at £15 for a Vodka cocktail, but what an atmosphere.

Eating at Bakfickan, round the back of the Opera House. The Biff Rydberg is easily the most beautiful meal I've eaten this year. Simple, yet...I dunno, the taste just exploded in my mouth.

Stopping off for coffee & apple crumble at Konditori ValandCollapse ) an achingly authentic (er...because they've never bothered redecorating) coffee house in the north of the city. The owner was the only person I encountered during the weekend who didn't speak English (she spoke German), but phew that decor.

Walking around a lot (goes for any holiday).

Comparing the shades of orange/brown/tan/rust with which *every single building* is painted. Such beautiful uniformity-yet-diversity.

Taking a day-trip to the archipelago. The advantage of building a city on a bunch of islands is that it's possible to incorporate so many different environments into quite a small area. In the city itself, it's almost as if each island has a role: Sodermalm for studes & trendies, Gamla Stan for olde-worlde tourist vibe, Norrmalm for shopping & business.... but just a short ferry-ride gets you out into the Baltic for a different experience again. It felt like the Isles Of Scilly.

Shopping at Nostalgiepalatset on St Eriksgatan. The most well-stocked record shop I've visited outside the USA; and not only for records, but for vintage hi-fi, books, mags, '60s ephemera, the lot. If you're looking for that elusive Shanes LP or The Hep Stars' "We And Our Cadillac", this is the place to find it, and at a bargain price too.

Wondering if you'll see a member of Abba, and then ACTUALLY SEEING ONE (Benny, just nipping downstairs in the otherwise disappointing Prinsen restaurant).

Visiting Skansen; on the face of it a not-very-inspiring combination of theme-park-and-zoo, but the 15th-16th century buildings were a revelation (no, they were!!), and come on: bears, bison, owls, wolverines are more entertaining than most people I know.

Not flying BA. No food (obviously), but a frickin' 2 hour delay on a 3 hour flight is a disgrace.
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Ooh! Another music me-me!

I think I did one of these not so long ago, but at the request of steviecat, here's my Pick seven songs that you're into right now. List them. Pick seven friends who have to repeat this process. List them.

Carlos Mendes: Penina. In late 1968, Paul McCartney spent some time on holiday in Portugal. One night he returned to his hotel somewhat the worse for wear to find a band playing in the hotel bar. Being Mister Music, Macca joined them for a few numbers, improvising this number which he later gave to local Portugese singer Carlos Mendes. The song itself is *exactly* the kind of thing you'd expect Macca to write in 1968 if he were drunk and carried away on the thrill of the moment. Melodic and meaningless, but casual genius written all over it. "Let's go home...thank you all...love from Paul."

Merry-Go-Round: Pardon Me. From RevOla's new comp.

The Nerve: It Is. Somewhat obscure Van Dyke Parks composition for UK freakbeat-sters, produced by Reg Presley. Van Dyke Parks: Reg Presley. Two names that rarely occur in the same sentence.

Tan Sleeve: Maria Bartiromo. Ultra-shiny Fanclub power pop, from a stack of CDs just sent to me by Brian at Bus Stop. Brian's great, so is this. A hymn to (google tells me) the stock market reporter at CNBC. Thus, it's the song I always hoped Josh Gennet would write.
(searches google a little more...) Hey! She's kinda hot!

William Campbell & Kevin MacNeil: Local Man Ruins Everything. Fantastic bit of spoken-word thing about growing up in the middle of nowhere (Stornoway in this case). "Failure is like nostalgia, just insincere. It happened there. It brings us here. There is nothing but: we're here, we're here." Ivor Cutler if he were signed to Sarah Records.

Matt Monro: We're Gonna Change The World. Early Bowie-as-Tony-Newley-style heavy protest statement from the English Frank Sinatra. "Come With Us! Run With Us!" How can you resist?! The sound of Radio 2 playing in the kitchen in my pre-school years.

Ricardo Montalban: La Campanilla. Another spoken word thing, this one's about remote Chilean villages, church bells and children getting lost in the hills. What makes this one outstanding is the incredible orchestration (an early Randy Newman job: he wrote it too), a homage to Charles Ives and the Hollywood composers of the 40s and 50s. Effortlessly evocative, it basically indicates that Newman's progress between this (1968) and ...I dunno, Toy Story 2 has been precisely nil.

C'mon, let's here from Augstone, Backtomono, Bubblegumpurism, catbo, fatsothewombat, my_name_is_anna, teknoalice. You're it!

In other news, I guess we're all up for the Stockhausen at Billingsgate concert. Anyone found any tickets yet?
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(no subject)

Wandered around London doing chores yesterday, and in St James's Park I had my first encounter with armed police. I say "encounter". I mean "I saw two policemen armed to the gills with AK47s (I'm guessing)".

Went to Fopp for the Magic Numbers single launch. There are some photos behind hereCollapse )
Delighted to read this on the BBC's website, regarding TMN's non-appearance on Top Of The Pops over the weekend. "Rock band The Magic Numbers walked out of an appearance on TV show Top of the Pops because they thought the presenter made a joke about their weight."

Walked over to The Rosemary Branch via the Gainsborough Studios building which looked simply beautiful this evening:

Came third in the pop quiz, in spite of the return of Ben Clancy to the team. I dunno, we're falling apart.
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Jandek In London

I first encountered Jandek back in the mid-90s at one of Kieron's musical evenings. I remember him removing this huge stack of LPs from his shelves and saying "take a look at these & tell me what you think." Well...hmmm..these are interesting looking records...great titles...."Six And Six"..."Telegraph Melts".."Ready For The House"...wow...he's kinda scary looking though. Who is this guy? Can we hear some of this? "Oh, you wouldn't want to listen to any of it" he replied, but filled me in on Jandek's schtick (check the link). It didn't really sound like my kind of thing, so I quietly forgot about him. Until a few years later when I played a session for WFMU in NJ, and found myself flicking through their house magazine which included a feature on our hero, penned by Irwin Chusid. It included one of my favourite musical descriptions of anyone ever:

"Did someone say 'rock and roll'? Jandek's neither 'rock' nor 'roll'.
He's not even 'and'."

My interest was piqued again. Irwin's feature was later republished in his Outsider Music tome "Songs In the Key Of Z", which accompanied a CD containing...gasp..at last, an opportunity to hear some Jandek.
It was pretty much as I expected: depths-of-hopelessness sub-blues; tuneless, formless, meandering, barely-there...a repellent dirge. As Irwin implies, his music honestly can't be compared to any other, but if pressed I'd say Palace Brothers extrapolated to the nth degree. Well, I guess I was warned. And yet...there was still something strangely attractive about it. Just the idea of one guy hiding at home in this darkened room, churning out these unlistenable LPs two, three times a year and sending them out into the void to be heard by...basically no-one. C'mon, who wouldn't be intrigued?

Then a year or so back Jandek On Corwood appeared, a film which attempted to tell his story. Given that no-one really knows who he is or why he does what he does, it was a remarkably compelling film, even though it basically consisted of a bunch of record collectors theorising about a load of really bad music (yes, very cinematic). The most surprising aspect of the film was that some of Jandek's music was actually astonishingly good. "Nancy Sings", for example, is easily the equal of any UK "acid folk" (pih!), and there are some other remarkable atmospheric pieces in there. Time to dig a little deeper, I think...

Then over the weekend, news of a live apperance in London seeped out. The story of Jandek's odd relationship with the live arena can be found in the link above; one unannounced show in glasgow in 2004, followed by a couple more earlier this year. Suffice to say it's unique. I'm still not sure about this, but I couldn't resist buying a ticket.

C'mon, it can't be any worse than the TVPs...
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