Filed under: Bookshelf, Reading | Tags: Coen Brothers, Patrick deWitt, Sisters Brothers, Tub the Horse
One of the best novels I’ve read in ages. A picaresque Cormac McCarthy, a gold rush Don Quixote, an adventure and a yarn and a meditation on life and morality and family. Funny as fuck, grotesque in places, sparsely but brilliantly written. Reads like a fable, and the film – and there *will* be a film, you can bet your life on it – will be great.
Filed under: Bookshelf, Reading | Tags: brickdust, Laura Oldfield Ford, Savage Messiah
Curious book, affected me in all sorts of ways. Primarily, it made me very sad, and nostalgic, for a life I had in a city that’s not really there any more. I’m far from in touch with the London Underground these days, but in my last couple of years in the city it seemed the world Laura Oldfield Ford describes was nearly gone (indeed, that’s the point of the book, in many ways). The parties were fewer and uglier, the squats rarer and farther flung. I miss those days of staggering from demo to squat to warehouse to pub and around again, miss them very deeply, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never stand in squat juice again.
The book’s not without problems: it probably read better in instalments, it tends to become a bit repetitive taken in bit chunks (although that drifting repetition is also part of the point, I guess); Ford’s relationship with her circumstances and with those around her occasionally gave me pause for thought – in some ways she struck me as a smarter, artsier version of how Laurie Penny / Penny Red comes across these days, a little in love with the drama and violence of it all while still crying foul. Ford (who I’d be surprised if I haven’t met or at least stumbled over at a party) definitely liked a boot boy, and seems overly impressed with violence for its own sake. But then I’ve got fired up watching a cop car on fire on the TV enough times to know sometimes politics isn’t everything…
There’s stuff here I found problematic. But as a romantic evocation of a life I miss it was pretty vivid.
Filed under: Miscellaneous, Narc | Tags: Bridgit Hayden, Bridie Jackson, Field Music, Josh Rouse, Mausi, Meschiya Lake, Narc
February’s revamped Narc has hit the shops and venues and ting. Obviously not any shops I can get to (our local shop is a strictly cat food, bin bags and penny sweets kind of deal) so I’ve yet to see my pieces. But anyway, here’s what I submitted (the edited version may be different, I’ve no idea! )…
Quite a busy month for me..
1) Bridie Jackson Live Review
Bridie Jackson & The Arbour – The Sage 2, January 12th 2012
From the moment Bridie Jackson arrived on stage you knew it was going to be a special evening. A capacity home crowd helped, but it was more about the atmosphere Jackson creates, working up magic from seemingly simple elements.
The haunting first song, We Talked Again (also the opener on the Bitter Lullabies album) was electrifying, just Bridie’s rich, clear vocals over a delicate, spine-tingling bell plate pattern, harmonies and a pulsing cello. The impact was astonishing and from thereon in, she had us.
Instruments came and went, and what was essentially folk music managed to take in flamenco, blues, gospel and much more, but the night was ultimately all about the voices: the wonderfully arranged chorus around her, of course, but primarily Jackson’s voice itself. A thing of rare depth and power and control, equally affecting as a murmur or a full throated roar. After the main set ended with Jackson showered in rose petals and bouquets – which did bring a little grit to my eye – she closed with a couple of solo acoustic songs, one witty and charming, the other sadder and more reflective, and 500-odd people left the Sage entirely spellbound.
2) Meschiya Lake Interview
Whereas most interviews tend be with some lads who met at college and are “really looking forward to recording our first album”, very occasionally you get to interview someone like Meschiya Lake, an extensively tattooed former circus performer who fetched up in a pre-Katrina New Orleans and reinvented herself as a jazz singer. Ahead of her two dates in the north east, we caught up with her at home in New Orleans.
Lake took a very indirect route to the music she makes now, having grown up surrounded by country and taking in punk and hardcore along the way. “I didn’t really listen to jazz in those days, but I do remember giving my mother a Billie Holiday record one year for Christmas, and listening to it more than she did. New Orleans is most definitely the reason I am so blessed to do what I do today. It first started with a couple of 1930s blues around a campfire on Chartres St and I threw myself in head first from there”.
Although getting started wasn’t always easy (there were some “lean years, food stamp years, but at least I was doing what I loved”), she’s gone from busking and selling home-made CDs to fronting her own band – The Little Big Horns – in a few short years, and is winning increasing acclaim in New Orleans and beyond. Of the city’s music scene she says “most of the musicians were extremely supportive. I remember the Jazz Vipers and the Palmetto Bug Stompers asking me to sit in back when I didn’t even know what a key signature was, let alone what key I sang in. Their kindness and openness is really where I got my start.”
Her debut album Lucky Devil, a beguiling, swinging, sexy mixture of jazz standards and originals, showcases her incredible voice and totally sympatico band and demonstrates how deep her love for this music goes. Lake mentions some fellow travellers we should look out for, such Tuba Skinny and The Royal Roses, but to UK ears the most familiar comparison might be CW Stoneking. These musicians aren’t engaged in pastiche or homage; it’s a living, breathing love affair with the music and the city.
“It’s always been a beautiful, vibrant place, full of contrast and extremes, and people here are very proud of the uncanny uniqueness of this place and its art forms.” says Lake, explaining “it was more necessary than ever after Katrina. When the government and insurance companies turned their backs on the people of New Orleans after the storm, the people formed organizations to help each other… Music was a very big part of it. It’s the sound of people’s heartbeats and unbeatable souls. It’s how people celebrate life, and release sorrows when life bares its teeth. It was more necessary than ever after the storm. I think as a result, it’s enjoying an even bigger renaissance now.”
Music as good as Lake’s will always find a way of getting heard, but the fact that her emergence has coincided with a renaissance both in this style of jazz and its related scenes has definitely helped. Lake says she’s discovered “an audience for this kind of music all over the world, even before I knew about the vast and ever expanding lindy hop scene. Several times, after a performance, people have come up to me and expressed how they didn’t even know that they liked this type of music, simply because they’ve never been exposed to it. It’s joyous, and infectious. It takes, often times, very sombre subject matter, and executes it in a very happy, colourful way. People hear this music, and see how much fun people are having dancing to it, and can’t help but want to learn it for themselves. The dance is the physical interpretation of the music. It’s how this music looks. We are taking a certain musical form and improvising to it, just like the dancers are doing with movement.” To illustrate the point, Lake is bringing two champion Lindy Hoppers on the tour.
As for her circus past, “I keep some skills I learned in the circus with me, but don’t ask me to eat glass ever again! It’s alright by my insides, but I’ve had dental work since then, and can’t put my pearlies through the things I did when I was younger. Although now that you mention it, I may be ‘lighting up the night’ where allowed on this tour!”
Meanwhile, although a hernia-beset brass section has delayed things, album number two is taking shape. “I’m shooting for recording in March – after we return from our UK tour, and after the craziness of Mardi Gras. It will have mostly the same feel, originals alongside classics, but more arrangements, and some surprises! I may even throw in an original 60’s R&B/Motown tune. We’ll see! Look for it round September!”
Meschiya Lake brings her horns, her dancers and her wonderful tattoos to Saltburn Community Theatre (Feb 8th) and Jumpin’ Hot Club at Newcastle Cluny 2 (Feb 9th).
3) Singles Reviews
Something about the first pile of singles of the year makes you hope for something really fresh, which is why Allo Darling’s Capricornia gets things off to such a dismal start. If you really want to sound like The Popguns in 2012 you better have great songs. Allo Darling don’t, so we’re left with a dated, jangling mediocrity. Cupid by Rocketeer seemed more promising but never really moves beyond an unremarkable plod and what had potential as a scathing commentary on sex and relationships turns out to be someone confusing vocabulary with poetry.
Things pick up considerably with some local heroes: Mausi are a lovably shiny electro-indie-pop outfit who on wonderful – really, really wonderful! – new single Sol manage to sound a bit like The Notwist and are therefore indisputably excellent. All of a sudden, summer doesn’t seem so far off. Styles Make Fights’ All The Things I’ve Done Wrong isn’t reinventing any pop punk wheels but it’s a cracking tune, while We Are Knuckledragger’s Mr Son Of A Bitch is a blistering 2 minutes of hardcore with fire in its belly and some impressively larynx shredding vocals. I’ve no idea what they’re upset about but I suspect they mean it. Keeping it gnarly, Blacklisters remind me of Mclusky (a very good thing) and new single Trickfuck is warped as fuck (also a very good thing).
There are better songs on the latest King Creosote album than John Taylor’s Month Away but you can see why this is the single – it’s a radio-friendly near-anthem, which is no mean trick for heavily accented accordion folk. Also aiming for the anthemic is Missed You At The Show’s Pretty Riddle, which I flat out hated but I suspect its epic indie gesturing will find an audience. Much better is Days by The Drums, more infectious Anglophile indie out of Brooklyn.
Talk about saving the best till last: Year Of The Tiger is the latest Chinese New Year-themed single from the untouchably brilliant Fucked Up, and it’s 15 minutes of beautiful, ambitious, utterly unique hardcore that stands my arm hairs on end and makes me think 2012 might be a great one after all.
4) Josh Rouse Live Review
Josh Rouse / Matt Stalker’s Fables – Sage 2, 22nd January 2012
It’s the second time in ten days I’ve seen Matt Stalker’s Fables and I’m afraid I still can’t think of anything positive to say about their polite, accomplished folk-pop. Creeping Mumfordism…
Unfortunately and surprisingly, Josh Rouse didn’t fare much better. Judging by the reaction he got from a packed Sage 2, I’m probably on my own with this but it was a pretty dispiriting affair. His recent immersion in Spanish music seems to have omitted all the passion and melancholy and left his recent material sounding equal parts ‘cruise ship Girl From Ipanema shuffle’ and ‘2nd rate Me & Julio Paul Simon-isms’. Rouse himself is a strangely stiff, uncharismatic performer, so much so that even his older, stronger songs (1972, for example) actually suffer from seeing him play them live. I’m struggling for positives: I’ll concede that opener Hots Full Of Love had an Orbison-esque charm, and To The Clock at least tried to be innovative, even if its unusual structure wasn’t married to a particularly memorable song.
His Spanish backing duo were far more impressive, especially the guy on banjo, guitar and percussion who managed to invest some real feeling in his playing. Otherwise, a flat and unengaging evening all round. Seriously, if you want to listen to an American musician who really ‘gets’ Spanish guitar music, go straight to Jonathan Richman and cross your fingers that Rouse remembers what he’s (quite) good at next time out.
5) Bridgit Hayden Preview
Tempo Tempo presents:
Bridget Hayden (ex-Vibracathedral Orchestra) @ Star & Shadow Cinema, Friday 10 February, 2012. 8pm, £5
If your idea of the blues is closer to the music of Bill Orcutt or Carla Bozulich or even Swans, rather than the Jools Holland sanctioned likes of Seasick Steve, then Bridget Hayden – formerly of the much missed drone / noise outfit Vibracathedral Orchestra and a sometime member of The Telescopes – may be just what you need.
With a début album (A Siren Blares In An Indifferent Ocean) out on Kraak and picking up a lot of acclaim (not least from the Arch Drude himself, Julian Cope), Hayden’s self-described “fucked up blues” might be the perfect complement to a bleak, melancholy February. Performing solo using just her voice, guitar and effects, Hayden manages to bring to mind everyone from Glenn Branca to the early, sparse Polly Harvey, but still sound totally original. With support from Jazzfinger and Obey, this is one hell of a bill.
6) Field Music Album Review
Field Music – Plumb (Memphis Industries)
You have to admire Field Music’s fearless ambition and singular vision. Sadly, as so often in the past, ambition and vision can lead to prog, and that’s what we’re dealing with here. Inventive and restless and accomplished, sure, but still prog. At its best, Plumb brings to mind late-80s XTC, at its worst Camel (man, those guitars can sound ugly). One track’s even a ringer for Eclipse by Pink Floyd. I’d still rather listen to this than any number of plodding landfill indie bands, but the Brewis brothers do appear to have made The Lamb Lies Down On Teesside and that’s just a bit worrying.
© Narc Magazine, Feb 2012
Well that was disappointing. I’d been meaning to read this for years, and I’m afraid it was a bore. No idea if the translation was to blame, but the writing was leaden and the endless exposition of the science underpinning the narrative was unreadable (it feels weird to skip so much in what is already a fairly short book). The core idea was interesting, and the planet was quite vividly portrayed but in the end it felt that what might have been quite an impressive short story (30 pages, say, with more enigma and none of the theory) was dragged out far beyond interest. Dammit.
Filed under: Bookshelf, Reading | Tags: Brain Dead Megaphone, George Saunders
Big props to Joel “Dirty Martini” Smith for introducing me to George Saunders via Civilwarland In Bad Decline – some of the most genuinely funny short stories I’ve ever read. Saunders is a curious guy – a civil engineer with a past as a full on Objectivist / Rayndian who now renounces this utterly (the politics, not the engineering) and writes with humour and insight but a refreshing lack of indignation and judgement: he’s happy to let you work out where the fickle finger of blame is pointing for the most part.
The Brain Dead Megaphone isn’t perfect – there are some fairly unfunny short pieces that should have stayed in whichever magazine first printed them. But there are also a handful of longer pieces which are unfailingly fantastic. Whether talking about how discovering Kurt Vonnegut helped him become a writer, or exploring the tensions along the Tex Mex border with some almost loveably clueless Minutemen or writing a powerful and moving introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (with its apparent racism and derided final reel), Saunders nails it. Wonderful stuff.
Filed under: Gigs!, Miscellaneous | Tags: Faux Hawks, Lady Gaga, Rockist Nonsense
I’m not by any means a big Lady Gaga fan, but I still reckon she’s ultimately a force for good, relatively speaking. She doesn’t seem to use sex to sell her music, or at least does so in a more interesting and nuanced way than Beyonce et al, and while nobody ever lost money working hard for the Pink Pound, she seems sincere about her gay rights stance for example. And let’s face it, Bad Romance is a work of genius.
So I found myself watching some of her Monsters Ball show on TV on New Years Day, hungover to hell. And there.. there he is again: the obligatory shirt off, leather strides on, longhaired faux-metal guitar God. Probably not actually plugged in but throwing sweaty rock shapes anyway.
What the fuck?
Any mainstream stadium pop / R&B act I can think of – from Madonna to Beyonce to Kylie to Gaga – hasn’t been able to resist this rockist nonsense. Even the Prodigy roped in a comedy punk rocker to similarly embarassing effect. What’s the thinking? Is the idea that all previous stadium acts HAVE featured some Frizz-Ease addled twunt knocking out riffs from a laser-guided plinth and therefore pop needs one too, to keep it ‘real’? I don’t watch Lady Gaga for ‘real’, I want utter artifice – dancers and lasers and dumb costumes and no tipping of the hat whatsoever to hoary old rock cliches.
It’s always SO badly done too: like the punks in a 1980s US cop show, the faux-metal musicians are always a kind of John Galliano idea of what a metal musician looks like, but instead of bringing anything witty to the table, it just looks SO naff. A guy with a faux-hawk in a leather trenchcoat and bad sci-fi make-up; someone playing some cheesy keytar whilst dressed as that woman who used to pop up playing bass at David Bowie gigs.
For fuck’s sake, PACK IT IN.
Not bad, I guess – the furry costume story was quite sweet, the Juliette Lewis interview fun – but all a bit meh. He’s no George Saunders.
A bit like The Grapes Of Wrath, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee is another book I re-read this year for the first time since I was a kid. And a bit like The Grapes Of Wrath, Dee Brown made me sob and rage and want to right some wrongs and… and… and…
Brown avoids the kind of Dancing With Wolves revisionism that makes the native Americans into universally peaceful, pastoral, Glastonbury Green Fields types. There were collaborators and bastards there, as anywhere. But his laborious (but never laboured), detailed, humane, heartbreaking book really does make it clear quite how comprehensively the settlers robbed, lied, cheated and slaughtered in the name of greed and evangelism (or ‘Manifest Destiny’) and all this only a handful of generations ago. By halfway through, I wanted to stop reading, couldn’t face another account of an Indian chief accepting the white man’s word, only to see his people starved, imprisoned and slaughtered. But I finished it because I felt like I had to. And you should too.
“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate; but when, at length, they found it was was their destiny too, as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms and as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity, and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect – feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm”
General ‘Star Chief’ Carleton. The shit.