Sunday, 31 May 2009
It’s over eighteen years since I first saw the Manics, and approaching fifteen years since I last saw them with Richey Edwards, yet his presence looms as large, if not larger, than ever.
They’ve made some fine records since The Holy Bible in 1994 with Nicky Wire making a sterling job of writing all their lyrics since, but the decision to now release Journal for Plague Lovers, a whole album using Richey’s lyrics, magnifies once again both what they’ve been missing and why they stood apart during those halcyon (in retrospect) days of 1991-94. Aside from the fact he looked utterly brilliant and no-one has ever worn a guitar as well, there weren’t lyricists then and there aren’t lyricists now that can cram as much depth and interest into a song like Edwards.
Tonight they play two sets. First up is a beginning to end recital of Journal for Plague Lovers. Despite the welcome addition of 13 new songs, it’s a difficult album to get my head around. It’s so Richey but it’s so not too. It’s 1994 Manics lyrics put to 2009 Manics music, and whilst I like both things, conjoining the two confuses my brain. And if I find it emotionally draining, I can’t imagine how it feels for James Dean Bradfield, Wire and Sean Moore.
Bradfield gives everything to his vocals but there’s a solemn air to proceedings not helped by Wire’s prolapsed disc that restricts his movement and roots him to the spot depriving him of his usual bounce (“I’ve finally become one of those cunty bass players” he says). His discomfort is obvious as he plays through grimaces and gritted teeth. Bradfield looks like he’s carrying the whole weight of Richey’s memory on his shoulders and I’m struck by whether the album and the decision to play the album in its entirety was one of those Manics’ good-idea-at-the-time moments. In interviews Wire has already voiced unease at the release and suggested it would have been better to have remained a mysterious, unreleased, “lost” album. With no singles to be taken from it, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they brush it under the carpet. If some of their previous albums are any measure, not long.
The mood of the audience and band, especially Bradfield – who seems almost apologetic - visibly lifts immediately they return to the safety and familiarity of a greatest hits set. All the big hitters were knocked out and with Wire uncharacteristically immobile Bradfield did his whirling dervish routine with extra aplomb. The set was half Richey era and half post-Richey. The “Motown Junk” b-side “Sorrow 16” being the one surprise inclusion and more than any other evoked memories of those fantastic early gigs where they thrived on confrontation, hostility, and a sky of bottles and beer raining down on them.
There’s no denying it’s a quality hour of intelligent rock music but with only one song less than ten years old, a verse from “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” catches the ear and should sound a warning: “And on the street tonight, an old man plays with newspaper cuttings of his glory days”.
It’s the BBC Poetry Season, and on their website you can vote to decide the nation’s favourite poet. Well, I want to vote for Joseph Ridgwell yet all I’m presented with is a string of mainly dead old impenetrable duffers who say nothing to me about my life. (Thank you Morrissey).
Fortunately, the more discerning folk at Blackheath Books have this week published their second chapbook of Ridgwell’s poems, and if Where Are The Rebels? lined the targets against the wall, Load The Guns blows their heads clean off.
In the way John Lee Hooker can say more by banging a rhythm on a battered guitar than the combined effort of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Joe Ridgwell can capture more in a few direct uncompromising lines than all the flowery metaphor and allegory of Lords Whatnot, Whoever and Whocares put together.
Joe gets directly to the harsh truth that most everything is pointless, faintly ridiculous and ultimately worthless, yet acknowledging that fact affords a position of strength, enabling one to bask in those fleeting little victories life occasionally offers.
Load The Guns is one such victory. Vote Ridgwell.
Published by Blackheath Books, priced £5. Available from www.blackheathbooks.org.uk
Friday, 29 May 2009
A sample of tracks that have graced the lugs during this merry month of May.
1. Lionel Hampton – “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop” (1945)
Jack Kerouac in The Early History of Bop: “Lionel Hampton had made a record called “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop” and everybody yelled it and it was when Lionel would jump in the audience and wail his saxophone at everybody with sweat, claps, jumping fools in aisles, the drummer booming and belaboring on his stage as the whole theatre rocked”. Apart from the small fact Hampton played the vibes, not the saxophone, it’s a neat description. Altogether now, Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop!
2. Bobby Bland – “Farther Up The Road” (1957)
What a nice documentary that was on BBC4 this month. When I get to curate the Meltdown Festival, he’s booked.
3. King Coleman – “The Look-Key, Doo-Key” (1960)
Coleman cut a bunch of records using James Brown’s band. The mashed potato lunacy of “Loo-Key, Doo-Key” being one of them.
4. Ike Quebec – “Blues For Ike” (1961)
It takes a certain person to wear a beret and get away with it. Tenor blower Quebec not only wears it well, but looks like he’d knock seven shades of shit out of you if you even gave it a second glance. He puts in a suitably sturdy showing but its Freddie Roach’s penetrating organ that steals the show.
5. Albert King – “Cockroach” (1969)
I’m no big fan of showy blues guitarists but King effortlessly flits between smooth and sleaze on this Stax flipside.
6. The Jam – “Private Hell” (1979)
Young Weller was such a misery guts it’s no wonder he now seeks to let his mullet down in such bacchanalian fashion. This depressing tale of cynicism and repression boiled over and scorched his badger bowling shoes as 21 year old lad.
7. Camera Obscura – “Honey In The Sun” (2009)
I was told Tracyanne Campbell is the daughter of Clare Grogan. Oh, how I was that were true. It’s not but should be.
8. Jeffrey Lewis and The Junkyard – “Broken, Broken, Broken Heart” (2009)
The happy-clappy skiffle shuffle fails to camouflage poor Jeffrey’s broken heart. Sorry, his broken, broken, broken heart. That’s pretty broken by anyone’s standard.
9. The Horrors – “Who Can Say” (2009)
Any move toward a shoegazing revival should be stomped out immediately, and every Eighties synthesizer should be landfilled rather than recycled, but I’m gradually thawing towards Primary Colours and “Who Can Say” in particular.
10. Manic Street Preachers – “William’s Last Words” (2009)
Nicky Wire’s vocal attempts always make him sound like one of those sad, deluded, forty-something freaks that get wheeled out for public ridicule during the auditions of X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. “I fink I can be as big as the Beatles”. A shaky stab at would could be interpreted as Richey’s suicide note (although reading the original text, I don’t think it’s that simple) almost brings a tear to the eye for different reasons to normal.
Sunday, 24 May 2009
Issue number 58 of Beat Scene is out now for aficionados of the Beat Generation and their offspring.
Jack Kerouac features heavily, as does Gary Snyder, Lew Welch and Hunter S. Thompson. There’s a look at Joan Vollmer’s life before it ended with a bullet in the brain from hubby William Burroughs. It doesn’t though mention one of my favourite stories concerning the pair. According of Bill – and newspaper reports seem to back up his claim - he and Joan were drunk and decided to pull their car over to the side of the road, got out, and started fucking whilst son Billy sat on the back seat. Of all the mental images of Burroughs’ behaviour, a randy young man doing it with a woman isn’t one that immediately springs to mind.
The magazine may not be the most beautiful girl at the fair, and is overdue a makeover, but what she lacks in looks she makes up in heart and passion. It’s a labour of love by Kevin Ring who earns extra kudos for doggedly resisting the pressure to publish any articles on-line. If you want to read them, you’ll have to buy the printed version. With decent articles and a comprehensive round-up of new books and reprints, I suggest you do.
For subscription details and beat news: www.beatscene.net
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
If you’ve ever considered a junkie’s life as a career choice, it’s probably best to do some research first. You could try engaging in conversation with a wizened, toothless, street corner whore, or perhaps saunter into your local crack den and say “Excuse me dear boy, but would it be an awful nuisance to teach me how to shoot up me sphincter?” Or you could take the easier and somewhat sissy way and read Tony O’Neill. The 2006 debut novel, Digging The Vein, gave a thinly veiled and disturbing (to my squeamish mind) graphic account of his Los Angeles years in the late Nineties as a heroin addict, in and out of bands, including – surprise, surprise – the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Down and Out on Murder Mile now takes up the story with his return to London. It’s much the same routine – drugs and rock ‘n’ roll - albeit with an increased dark junky humour than Vein and a more optimistic tone.
Apart from O’Neill’s fine writing chops, it’s the dispassionate and unsentimental description of addiction that impresses. There’s no My Drug Hell or Just Say No moralising bullshit; just this is this. But but but, it's a terrible thing to say, yet I'm often kinda disappointed when "artists" get themselves together and start harping on about how the love of a good woman and having kids somehow "saved them". I feel let down. Let me continue enjoying taking "cheap holidays in other people's misery". Gosh, that's so wrong...
It may not sound like a barrel of laughs but it’s a positive rib-cracker compared to Songs From The Shooting Gallery: Poems 1999-2006. Now that’s a downer. If you want 154 pages of grim, near-unrelenting misery, then spend an hour or two with that baby.
Down and Out on Murder Mile by Tony O’Neill is published by Harper Perennial, priced $13.95.
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Ah man, I can't write sensibly about that Dolls gig, so here's the footage instead. The sound doesn't do it justice but it gives a sense of the rocks-off atmosphere of the night.
"Pills" was the Bo Diddley cover and the ragged "Personality Crisis" the encore. Enjoy.
Friday, 15 May 2009
You don’t find an atmosphere like this very often. The whole upper circle are out of their seats, dancing, clapping, and chanting “Ruuuude Boys” and “Ska! Ska! Ska!”. And this is a full half hour before the Specials even materialise. Old ska chestnuts, “Israelites”, “Uptown Top Ranking” and, my word, the place went mental for “Geno”.
With a 2009 Monday night crowd partying like 1979 Friday night revellers - even down to two fat baldies having a scrap - the curtain raises to strains of “Enjoy Yourself” and the band launch into “Do The Dog”, “Dawning of a New Era” and “Gangsters”, running around like kids breaking up from school for the summer holidays. What a start.
From there they play everything you’d want: all of Specials (minus “Stupid Marriage”); much of More Specials; the other singles and various odds and sods. Pick of the bunch being “Monkey Man” (I’m not just saying that) and “Little Bitch” is a personal favourite.
As for the Jerry Dammers situation - being ousted Brian Jones style out of his own band - that’s something for the collective conscience of Hall, Staples, Golding, Radiation, Gentleman and Bradbury. But does it make any difference to the gig? Not really. Whatever their motivation, the other six plus bogus Jerry (particularly Staples, Golding and Radiation) put the graft in. A few moments of wonky timing don’t detract from a full blooded, committed performance. If money was the carrot, I don’t begrudge them a full vegetable bag.
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Art Brut don’t - or rather can’t - do cool. They’re a right ragbag of odd-balls (Rodney Trotter on guitar, someone from eighties pomp rockers the Alarm on another, shy looking Goth girl on bass, a camp German golfer on drums, and a pasty alcoholic reporter from the Dorset Echo singing), who’ve plundered the music cupboard, learnt enough chords to get by, and leap on the nearest stage to blast out their punky confessionals before someone susses they’re not a proper band and kicks them off. All the while making it look like it’s the most possible fun you could ever have (“Formed a band/ We formed a band/ Look at us/ We formed a band”).
In lesser hands this could be irritating, juvenile nonsense but in the sweaty palms of ringleader Eddie Argos, it’s a warm, funny and engrossing spectacle. You can’t afford to take your eyes off for a moment in case you miss some antic. Art Brut aren’t five people with heads down, knocking out their latest album and buggering off with little interaction with their audience. That interaction is a major part of their act with Argos orchestrating events on and off stage. “Ignore the set list, Art Brut, ignore the set list!” whilst throwing in adlibs in the middle of songs that already are choc block with ridiculous rhymes. Whilst lyrically fun, they keep the right side of novelty or deliberate comedy – it’s more Argos’ mocking self depreciation and willingness to reveal stuff most would sooner keep hidden, even if he unconvincingly tries to pass off the inability to get it up on a band mate.
Argos scissor kicks his lumbering carcass, rolls around, jumps in the crowd, uses his microphone lead as a skipping rope and star jumps like Iggy Pop with a cake habit. They even share a song title, but whilst Pop’s “The Passenger” is infused with dark brooding, “I ride through the city’s backside”, Art Brut’s everyman appeal sees them bellowing the joys of public transport with unbridled glee, “I love public transportation/ Train or bus, they’re both amazing!”.
Musically its bash-bash-bash, the Brut don’t go much on subtlety. Even “Slap Dash for No Cash” which is meant as a tribute to their current favourite current acts, the decidedly lo-fi Wave Pictures and Jeffrey Lewis, but turns into, in their own words, “Spinal Tap meets Motley Crue”. The rest of the set is divided between the new, return to abrasive form Art Brut vs Satan and the still-fresh sounding 2005 debut Bang Bang Rock ‘n’ Roll. The disappointingly flat It’s A Bit Complicated is only represented by a couple of songs but “Direct Hit” is one of the frequent highlights.
Live performances should be just that – performances. Saying “it was just like the record” shouldn’t be a compliment to anyone. They should be a unique, one-off events that offer something in addition to the actual songs. In Art Brut there’s a positive banquet of additional reasons to leave the house and see them. And if I wasn’t so long in tooth, I’d form a band too.
Between 1961 and 1966 Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s asked 300 jazz musicians their three wishes. These are now finally published in, appropriately enough, Three Wishes. Predictably most answered wealth, health and happiness, usually in that order, whilst others had desires more related to their profession: “To be able to play exactly what I have in my mind” (J.J. Johnson), “Somewhere to play – not a cellar. A place with dressing rooms” (Hank Mobley), and “Complete acceptance and recognition of this music as a pure art form” (Elvin Jones).
If you dig the look, if not the sound, of jazz then the hundreds of accompanying snapshots of greats and long forgotten sidemen chilling and playing in Nica’s hotel suite are hipness personified. Such was the partying that hotels would double, then treble, the rent in an attempt to oust such undesirables; not that such monetary issues concerned Nica - a Rothschild heiress - who paid up, so Monk, Mingus, Blakey, Davis et al had somewhere to hang out after gigs.
Those post-show sessions must’ve been something else. David “Fathead” Newman only had one thing on his mind: “To get high... right now. Tell you the rest tomorrow”.
“Three Wishes: An Intimate Look at Jazz Greats” by Pannonica de Koenigswarter is published by Abrams Image, priced £9.99
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
"The record buying public shouldn't be voting" exclaim Art Brut on their new Art Brut vs. Satan album.
Whilst I wouldn't usually give a hoot nor holler to chart positions, there's some satisfaction in seeing Together Through Life become Bob Dylan's first UK number one since 1970. For once, the record buying public got it right, even if they didn't buy many actual records.
Not that it's brilliant, but where do you pitch your expectations? I aim low and work up. For accordian-led, blues-based songs, the playing is sprightly and breezy which counters Bob's deathbed croaking and wheezing. If you lined up all his 33 studio albums in order of merit, this one would probably come about (finger in the air) sixteenth. There's nothing amzing but no clunkers either, and it sounds like something Dylan would listen to even if it wasn't his.
No sign of Art Brut's chart position but more about them soon.
Sunday, 3 May 2009
Isn’t it great when you discover something unexpected and exciting?
I’d gone to the Hayward Gallery to see The Russian Linesman exhibition curated by Mark Walinger (it was shit) and fortunately stumbled across Annette Messager’s The Messengers retrospective.
Got to admit that I’d never heard of Messager before (French, work from early 70’s to present day) but now I’ve a new favourite artist.
"Articulated-Disarticulated" is a room full of mutilated, clockwork, soft toy animals that twitch and silently moan like one of William Burroughs’ more gruesome scenes brought to life by an acid crazed Jim Henson.
There’s a display case of dead sparrows wearing knitted hats and scarves; a skull made of children’s gloves with sharp, stake-like coloured pencils jabbing out in every direction; photographs of babies with their eyes scratched out; and, a terrifying hawkish mechanical skeleton called "The Exquisite Corpse". Cheery stuff it wasn’t. Although a photograph of a penis with a cat’s face drawn on it and close-ups of men’s crotches did bring a chuckle.
Loads of different styles, loads of different forms, loads of imagination and that creepy tingling feeling that grips the back of your neck and shoulders. Loved it.
Annette Messager: The Messengers @ Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London until 25 May 2009