Monday, June 23, 2008

Gotta get down to the noise and confusion

This won’t be a review of My Bloody Valentine, really. You’ll see oodles of those over the coming days. Instead, I am going to indulge in a bit of back story. This is a story that close friends have heard before, but what the hell, I enjoy spinning a yarn now and then.

It was autumn 1991. That summer, I had failed my A levels and had returned to sixth form college for an extra year. I'd had a miserable couple of years but was beginning to emerge again. I was relatively popular with my peers, although this may have something to do with my being able to drive and having access to a Mark 5 Ford Cortina GL with an ‘I killed Laura Palmer’ sticker in the back window. I hung around with some of the more outlandish of Exeter University's students, some other college students and some of Exeter's long-term unemployed/unemployable. I'm happy to report that a couple of people from this time are still close friends. I hear fuzzily-detailed updates about some of the others, periodically.

My exposure to MBV had started a few years before when I'd bought myself a ‘Melody Maker Top 20 Indie’ two-tape compilation. Included there was their jangly three-minute song Strawberry Wine. This polite three-minute gallop-through with harmonies didn’t really hint at their big-noised efforts to come. The big thing to covet was the 12” copy of Geek! that Hendersons, an Exeter second-hand record shop, had on display. The cost, a cool thirty quid – I couldn’t afford it, and none of my friends could either. On Thursday nights at the Timepiece, Stu would play the songs from the EPs and we would crash and flail about the dancefloor.

Sometime that autumn Loveless was released and I went to see MBV play the University Great Hall. There may have been a support band, but I can't recall who they were. A friend of mine from that time probably said, because he always did after gigs, 'I preferred the support'. He was a lovely chap, but also a terrible bullshitter.

MBV played a horribly fierce show from start to finish, with a strobey light show. The volume was exceptionally high. They had a flautist playing all the top-end distortion/melodies. During the final number, You made me realise, the strobes flashed harder than before and the volume increased, and the band settled into fifteen minutes-odd of noise. The audience staggered in and out to the stairs in the lobby of the building, trying to give themselves a breather from the waves of distortion and feedback. Hardened gig-goers were swooning, holding their heads and crying.

I left the Great Hall disorientated and feeling nauseous, then drove eight miles to a coastal town where my boyfriend at the time lived. All the way there, stuff was flashing in front of my eyes, like ghosts flying at the car windscreen, so I slowed the car to a crawl. The following morning my entire body was so wracked with pain that I couldn’t get up. I slept for hours.

Ten years or so later I got to know Kevin Shields’s sister Anne-Marie. She had been tour manager for the band at the time I went to the gig. I told her about the above experience and commented that although I’ve never taken acid, it was just like I had and the end of the world was coming, to which she said ‘Kevin will be really pleased to hear that’.

So, Saturday night, and I’m doing the same thing, but this time with earplugs, and with the collected hearing damage of a couple of decades’ worth of gigs and nightclubs behind me. At first I was feeling cautious, not sure if I was tuned in to them, but by the time they launched into Thorn I relaxed and started to enjoy it. Thankfully, they were really good. I could afford to go apeshit crazy, like those evenings in the Timepiece, wheeling about, hair thrashing.

One whinge: a bloody typical London audience, you can’t tell if they are enjoying it, and nobody dances. Christ!

So, the holocaust noise section of You made me realise? All present and correct, for over twenty minutes. I’m just beginning to hear properly again.

More on the remainder of the weekend another time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Universal plan

Last night, I listened to Earl Brutus and had a bottle of beer.

'I get up.

Go to work.

Eat my lunch.

Come home.

Cure cancer.

That's it.

It's a beautiful world.'

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Vegan rent boy, you’re a wrong ‘un

I was gutted to hear the news today that Nick Sanderson (Sandy), erstwhile lead singer of the mighty Earl Brutus, has died. See his obituary here.

In all my years going to gigs, I have to say that I have never seen anything like Earl Brutus. My previous post bemoans the precarious balancing act that is art and fun, and I think, at their best, the Brutus managed it. After they did that of course, they poured beer down their front, started a fight and collapsed into a puddle of their own piss.

To me, they were the ultimate good time band. Their music was a lumpy cross between glam rock and techno. They employed a Japanese hairdresser to shout unintelligible stuff over their songs. They encouraged the audience to throw beer at them (and it turn, they threw it back at us). They looked atrocious: on one occasion Sandy was dressed in a 70s tank top and had black panda eyeliner; another time Jamie Fry was wearing a beige puffa jacket/baseball cap/nasty scouser moustache combo.

I saw them live twice, once at the Garage and once at the ICA. By this point they had long since stopped recording, but still commanded a fiercely loyal crowd of fans. I think my favourite of the two gigs was the ICA one. The audience was made up primarily of fans and partly arty types who showed up because the blurb in the listings had intrigued them. The support consisted of two blokes dressed in monks’ habits twatting about, and someone using an electric drill on a portable CD walkman playing their (one and only) Top-40 troubler ‘The SAS and the glam that goes with it’. Within 30 seconds of the Brutus taking the stage, the ICA types had scuttled to the back of the auditorium as a torrent of noise and abuse erupted, and the beer began to fly. That night they had a backdrop of the old British Rail symbol made out of sequins. I remember doing that thumbs-in-your-beltloops dance with toocoolforschool down the front, while being soaked in bar slops.

I feel genuinely sad that I’ll never have the opportunity to witness this carnage again. I beg of you, reader, go to i-tunes and buy everything of theirs that you can today, make Sandy a posthumous Top 10 hit, that'd be one to savour.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What’s Japanese for ‘shooting yourself in the foot’? or, how I learned to stop snoozing at gigs and love Gong

Here are the Meltdown reviews. They would have been online sooner, but the torpor I felt on Sunday evening as I left the RFH put paid to that. More on that in a bit.

Starting with Gong, I was expecting very little. Perhaps that is the best way to approach any gig. They surprised me a lot. Genuinely funny, they are happy to be playful and take the piss out of themselves. They were also very tight as a band. Admittedly, some of the tunes went on too long (some noodling, eight minute jazz flute wig-outs in the middle of songs) and they featured a small old lady (who looked a bit like Gretchen Franklin) warbling and squeaking, but I can forgive them that…mainly because of Daevid Allen. Admittedly I couldn’t make out a word he was singing, but his leaping and dancing about, costume changes and sheer joie de vivre were enough. He’s now in his 70s and to coin a Super Furries song title, the man don’t give a fuck. He was having a whale of a time, and he really wanted to make sure we all did too. I came away with a big old smile on my face. Entertaining.

Preceding Gong was a 40 minute warm-up of sorts by Graham Coxon, who I have to admit I used to have a bit of a crush on many moons ago when he was in his doomed alcoholic phase. He basically played a guitar sampler and lots of riffs across one another, which sounds OK but in fact was both perplexing and bad. I like difficult stuff now and then, don’t get me wrong, but this was just dire. I will give him some credit, though it pains me a bit to do so: he sang a lovely little song that was not unlike Syd Barrett (something to do with ‘road rainbows’ and ‘envelope soaked through’) which I thought was utterly charming. It was the only thing he added vocals to and he has a great voice, folky and whimsical. It stood out like a sore thumb and I just wished he had concentrated a bit more on that kind of thing.

I bumped into Mr Spear outside in the bar and told him about being subjected to Coxon's noodling, to which he said, 'oh bad luck'.

Sunday we were back at the South Bank to catch the Yellow Magic Orchestra. They were supported by a band called Pivot, who were a kind of clever-clever math rock/art rock band. When they said ‘our album is coming out on Warp later this year’ it all made sense. With hindsight I quite enjoyed it, but it left me very confused at the time.

So, YMO. I was really looking forward to this, which was my first mistake. After about ten minutes I started to wonder where the thrill was. Forty minutes in, I awoke with a start as the audience applauded a song. I like to feel many things at a gig, but asleep isn’t one of them. From there it got worse. I began to feel very bored and restless. The auditorium was hot. The front of house staff were aggressively pursuing the ‘no unauthorised photography’ agenda, which was another distraction I didn’t need.

They played two songs on the trot about the futility of war. One song would have been fine. It was like being whacked with a ‘war is bad’ placard.

Another thing that grated was an insistence not to play their more popular material. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to go down the ‘Space Invader’ and ‘Tighten Up’ route, but not playing ‘Firecracker’ is just daft. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to encore with that and leave the audience on a positive note. As JJ noted, ‘it would have been like shooting fish in a barrel’. As people were leaving the auditorium, some were wearing similar faces to ours – perplexed. Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?

In their defence – being stuck behind a synth isn’t exactly dynamic and you can’t do a dance/dress up as a gnome, etc.. However, they could have at least tried to engage. There was a barrier between the (very polite) audience and the band, which didn’t seem to be in evidence with Gong. I know it’s like comparing apples with toadstools, but nevertheless…YMO are clearly artistes. It’s art. That’s fine – I don’t mind that. But in comparison to Gong there was no fun. Art shouldn’t have to mean an absence of fun, should it? It should be able to entertain as well as providing food for thought. I don’t think it should send you to sleep.

My Bloody Valentine this week, then. Is it too much to ask for to expect a bit of art and a bit of fun, all mixed up together?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Face it, you're old and out of touch

I just wanted to counteract yesterday's ranty, bitchy post with a link to this blog. It's possible that I may have pointed you in this direction before - you really should read this one, it's good. At any rate, I read this particular post ten minutes ago and that time came flooding back me. This puts me in mind of the time when the only things that mattered were riot grrrl, going to gigs and putting off growing up.

Thanks, Millionreasons!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Arty Satie

Yesterday was grey and miserable, yet I felt up and cheerful. Today there is blue sky and conversely, I’m in a tedious mood. Some of the funk may have to do with a couple of small niggles in my working environment. I’m now six weeks in and there are some hair-line cracks appearing. I should stress that these are nothing serious and it’s probably to do with being new and not knowing my subject area(s) very well.

In general, I’m a fast learner. In the early days of any job I get frustrated at the obstacles that are, knowingly or otherwise*, put in the way of making a good fist of things. The usual scenario is that your new workmates are already over-burdened and don't really have time to think about training you. Happily, my experience at my current workplace has largely been positive in this area. My colleagues are busy, but they are also helpful and friendly.**

On the flip side, sometimes I'm a slow learner. This tends to happen when mathematics are put into the mix, or I come into contact with a procedure that is over-complicated. On both fronts, I am currently doing battle with the purchase ordering system from hell.

Too often in our working lives we find out something that we should have known after the event ('Did no-one tell you that picking up that red telephone would mean unilateral nuclear destruction? Oh dear.'). Without being Doris Stokes, we can't know if we are not told. Why get frustrated with things that you couldn't see coming? In relation to this, my pal Mr Osbourne says, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. He's right, you know. It's the simplest thing in the world, too often it's forgotten.

Having said all that (in a rather inelegant manner, B- at best) on the whole, things are positive – it's just today that I feel disgruntled.

So, last night we went to the RFH to see a Satie concert. It was OK, but overlong; there was also a multi-media aspect to the show which got right on my tits. There were films being projected onto the screen above the orchestra, mostly using black and white footage that was shot recently. It jarred horribly with the music. It was all modern dance/physical theatre or whatever, which has been done to bleedin' death. Two blokes who looked a bit like Satie featured heavily. Phhht. At one point, a girl who was done up to look like a 1920s flapper was dressed only in her undergarments and was cavorting about, while the two Saties looked on (later on, they in turn stripped down to their long johns). It was all unnecessary, in my opinion - why the flip couldn't the music speak for itself? Are we so stunted as an audience that we need to have visuals to accompany what we're hearing, like a turn-of-the-last-century VH1?

Anyway, I should have asked conductor Charles Hazlewood the reason why he was 'indisposed' that time a couple of years back when we should have seen the minimalists concert (see here). From my time at the theatre, indisposed was generally the polite phrase for drunk.

* You may think that people wouldn't be so cynical as to knowingly withhold information about the duties of a role. Feel free to ask me about the first few days of my previous job the next time you see me.
** Again, unlike some other relatively recent experiences.