Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Everything went dark...

Hey kids, it's my 199th post! Woo!

Bank Holiday Weekend was a bit of an odd one. JJ's grandmother died, so arrangements were made for him to go to Ireland to the funeral. Saturday was set aside for fun...until a blocked sink drain spoiled the party. Instead of having fun, we waited in all day for the leading drain cleaning company in the UK and paid them a pile of money. Crap.

So I've been mostly here, trying to tidy the flat up for the family visit, lounging about and watching DVDs. One thing I did spend some time with was Snuff Box, a recent BBC3 show by Rich Fulcher and Matt Berry.

I can imagine many young Mighty Boosh fans buying this DVD and having the shit scared out of them. It's peculiar and risque. Parts of it I found uproariously funny, and parts quite uncomfortable; some episodes hung together well, and others didn't. As you might expect, there was some extremely creative filth and swearing from the American gentleman. [Just what is it exactly about Rich Fulcher? He never disappoints. He is simply as funny as hell.]

I'm gonna link to a short sketch here, but please don't consider this to be representative. I'd advise you to take a look at this as a series as a complete thing. It's possible you'll be as bamboozled as I was. Whisk-ey!

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Would you credit it?

More Exeter bands on the net!

Look at us! We formed a band!

While googling old friends in an idle moment this morning, I found the myspace site of an old friend of mine. He is still making music, several years on from his first band, the amazing Andy Christ and His Biblical Mice. Dan Cray, I salute you.

Anyway, that reminded me of a time long ago when I too, made music.

After a fashion.


It was 1991, the height of my Tank Girl/Kim Deal mode. I was going out with a metaller from a town in Devon called Crediton. [Before I start on this tale, I want to go on record and say that Crediton is a shithole. It makes the town I was born in, Tiverton, look like a throbbing, sexy metropolitan hub of art and culture. And that’s saying something.]

This metaller and I had a relationship that lasted about three or four months, I suppose, which was an age for me. He had the worst split ends of anyone I’ve ever met (man or woman) – they increased the volume of his hair about fourfold. He was also a guitarist, or so he said.

I’m not sure how I even ended up in the band, really. It may have been because I had a GCSE in music and was having singing lessons at the time. Not that either of these things made a damn bit of difference; because I neither sang in the band, nor had ever really played a guitar up until that point. However, I did have access to a car, which may have ultimately been the thing that swung it in my favour.

The line-up consisted of the metaller on lead guitar, his younger brother on drums (although definitely rhythmically challenged), another metaller on rhythm guitar, and a vocalist/shouter. I was on third guitar. This was because a) we didn’t have access to a bass, b) because we wanted to be a bit Cramps-y and c) because the lads thought that I’d add some novelty value.

A quick word about the vocalist. He too was rubbish, but he had a saving grace: he was cute. We used to flirt a lot. Sadly, his sour-faced girlfriend was a permanent fixture. Their relationship was on and off quite a bit, and I always hoped that one day I’d catch him at the right moment when they were on one of their breaks…it was never to be.

We also had a manager, Roland. He was a fat bloke and a mate of the vocalist. He was a laugh but he wasn’t really a manager in a traditional sense – he just used to like hanging about with us.

In essence, it was pretty much a doomed exercise from the start: two metallers who couldn’t play guitar, a drummer who couldn’t keep time, a vocalist who couldn’t sing, and me. The band was called Trash Culture Cannibals, or TCC for short.

Band practices were fun. There was a rehearsal space near the iron bridge in Exeter that we used to hire. These rehearsals mainly consisted of us trying to play songs, failing, giving up, the second metaller trying to persuade us to play Whole Lotta Rosie instead, me telling him to fuck off because there was no way I was playing any metaller shit, then playing lots of pool.

I played at least two gigs (there may have been more, can’t remember), one at Exeter Arts Centre and one supporting Mega City Four at a memorial gig at Exeter University Lemon Grove. So that’s one thing to be a bit proud of, I have graced the very same stage as Radiohead, Hole and The Fall.

Both gigs were atrocious. I didn’t even know where to plug my guitar in. The metaller and I had broken up along the way and could no longer stand one another. I’m not sure that I’m remembering this right, maybe an old Exeter-ite can confirm, but I remember doing some obnoxious stuff onstage – turning my back to the audience, gurning at the rest of the band, making rude gestures at the metaller, that sort of thing.

It all fell apart, of course. Having given up on trying to work my magic on the vocalist while his girlfriend’s back was turned, I started going out with someone who could actually play a guitar. He advised me to leave the band and keep my dignity (thanks Stu, you were right).

There is a postscript to this sorry tale. A while after I left TCC, they headlined a gig. Their support act were a German blues band who were, according to legend, amazing. They whipped the crowd into a righteous frenzy, then TCC went on and were unbelievably bad. The audience were rightly annoyed that their evening had been spoiled and bottled them off. A pal of mine, Koo, reckoned that they had lost their sense of humour/sense of proportion in my absence. For a while after that, anyone on the Exeter band scene who was out-classed by their support were known as having “done a TCC”.

I never picked up a guitar again.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The truly detestable summer festival

I spent another weekend in Devon with the family in dismal rainy climes. The main event was a get-together for Nephew #2's 30th birthday. This makes me feel a bit old.

My Mum seems to be pretty sparky, or is at least beginning to liven up, after a health scare at the end of last week. Her Dr has taken her off a widely-used anticoagulent, and she appears to be getting back to normal rapidly. She always insisted that she didn't want to take the drug in question. Our now-retired family GP, who sees my mum periodically, refused point-blank to take it (which I think says a lot).

The small children were on good form, especially Small Monkey #3, who was doing his best to be the centre of everyone’s attention - bouncing on the trampoline with Small Monkey Girl #1, trying to "help" me with cooking food on the BBQ, and coming out into the garden wearing nothing but a nappy in the pouring rain.

The older kids were all well too. The only one missing was Nephew #1. We had a go at Guitar Hero on the PS3, which was great fun, but very difficult. My efforts - Holiday in Cambodia and I hate myself for loving you - were dismal and I got booed off stage twice by the electronic audience as well as the audience of real people in the room. Nieces #1 and #5 were very proficient, as was Nephew #3 and his girlfriend. Some long-forgotten grunge-era songs were dusted off and played in a flashy, tremolo-arm heavy style (Evenflow by Pearl Jam! Cherub Rock by Smashing Pumpkins!).

I had forgotten until that point that I once met Billy Corgan, pictured here in pre-slaphead, post-Courtney times, when he signed a copy of my Reading Festival Melody Maker * in 1992. He seemed uncomfortable and shy. Bear in mind that this was Corgan before he was famous, before his legendary ego threatened to crush the Western world. The first Pumpkins album is an astonishing piece of work, it must be said. Much like Bleach and the Sliver EP by Nirvana, it turned my world on its head. Following their initial early promise, I found that they quickly became bloated, a parody of themselves, and I lost interest, cf Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, etc.

I also met Redd Kross at that particular Reading. They were lovely. For those of you who don't know, they were an amazing act, a sort of glam-rock Beatles/less idiotic Kiss/live action cartoon.

Another brief series:

Stuff that happened to me while at Reading Festival (1991 - 1993)

Got sunburnt on the first, very overcast, day
Fell over in the mud within an hour of arriving
Threw myself about in a moshpit to Babes in Toyland
Met several friends from college in the toilet queue and commiserated about bad A level results
Threw mud at The Farm (no-one should mess with Don't you want me!)
Slept in a Ford Cortina instead of a tent (three times) - smell free, sound proof and very comfy, everything you would expect from a mid-80s saloon car
Saw Nirvana at the bottom and the top of the bill, on either side of Nevermind
Was part of a group of about 100 people watching the astonishing Melvins (the incarnation with Shirley Temple Black's daughter on bass)
Danced to Yank Anglophiles the Gigolo Aunts with toocool, was filmed by late-night ITV music programme The Beat, and was subsequently featured on said programme, much to my surprise (although you couldn't exactly miss me - I was wearing an orange t-shirt and a preposterous hat. You could say I asked for that one)

I should say that the only one of the above that I did single-handedly was sleep in the Cortina, although that wasn't for the want of trying...

I gave up going to Reading because I stopped finding it fun. I always said I would never go to a festival again, and only capitulated a couple of years ago when I went to ATP (that was different: chalets instead of tents and everything indoors). Aside from seeing my mates, I didn't really enjoy that either. When it comes down to it, loads of bands appearing on the same bill doesn't really work for me anymore.

* For old Maker fans, go to The Quietus for the resurrection of Mr Agreeable!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Spies like us

I caught parts of an episode of Spooks: Code 9 earlier this week on BBC3.

The regular Spooks series is a guilty pleasure of mine. The pot-boiling plots are mostly ludicrous and stretch credibility to the limit. However, it’s well-executed, well-acted and often funny (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not).

Code 9 is a different animal. It’s set in a dystopian future where London has been destroyed in a terrorist attack. As a result of said attack, the Security Services have moved to Manchester and re-structured. This restructure was for, as far as I can tell, to forbid the inclusion of anyone who isn’t good-looking or over the age of 30. Which is fair enough, in matters of national security, eh.

I didn’t really watch for long enough to a real flavour of the programme. However, the bits I did see were populated with some of the most hilariously clunky dialogue I’ve heard since Rosemary and Thyme (the herb-named gardening-based sleuth series) came off-air. I did have the good fortune to catch this vignette, a mot juste the like of which Flaubert would be screaming from his grave for:

Ballsy, female, black boss (about 29) to young, floppy-haired new field operative team leader (about 19):

‘Listen, I gave you this job because I thought you could do it. Just be confident and get on with it. Here’s a word of warning though: don’t make me look like a dickhead.’

I should say that this is merely an approximation/condensed version of the scene – the one word that was definitely used was dickhead – I was laughing too hard to be able to quote the actual wording with any accuracy. It made me think though: I wonder if the target audience (who I am guessing BBC3 are thinking are good-looking and under 30) was thinking the same as me – that they should have used the c-word and bleeped it out?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Wired for sound

Rewinding a bit…

Sister #3’s 50th meal was fun and we spent a pleasant weekend with my mum.

We recently went to visit Shaz at her enormous new bungalow near the river for her 40th birthday BBQ (it was great to see some of the old faces again, as well as eating some delicious food).

I have also managed to catch up with some folk I haven’t seen for a while, which was great.

I saw The Boy last week for an evening of delicious Turkish food. It’s been months since we last met, but it felt like minutes. He told me tales about hiking up a mountain through eight feet of snow outside of Seattle while dressed in unsuitable Soho-type attire, being flown over the Grand Canyon by a diminutive Japanese helicopter pilot, and going to see Russian singers with his grandmother in a concert hall in Haifa, the only man under 50 among a bejewelled and coiffed clientele of middle-aged and elderly women, clouds of perfume thick in the air. I have to say that I have missed the gentleman's special brand of story-telling. We have resolved to meet for a night of camp dancing next month. Fabulous!

I had a pint or two with Afraid of Ducks at a riverside boozer, which was very pleasant. Again, it was just like we had last seen each other yesterday. We talked quite a bit about our experiences at work recently (given that we are both still relatively new in our roles, this isn’t surprising) and gave each other updates about mutual friends. All in all, a lovely evening out.

Recently, I have been thinking about songs I love and that has prompted me to track some of them down. Avoiding the i-Tunes route, which would be far cheaper, of course, I did what I have traditionally always done, that is, go into a record shop to buy what I am after. I recall once going to a user meeting of Mojo.com (before you scoff, they paid me £50, it was the easiest money I ever earnt), and I was almost the only person there who talked about refusing to buy music online. My reasoning for this? There's virtually no element of chance online. You're looking through the racks in a shop and you think - oh, I've been wanting that record for ages, I might as well get as while I'm here.

There are two quality record shops in Kingston. And by record, I mean record - 12 and 7" discs of plastic. Both do CDs of course, but they are well-known for the vinyl. One is called Banquet Records (but shall forever be known as Beggars to me) and the other the Record Collectors Centre.

I popped into the latter this week, which is conveniently lcoated down the road from work and next to my favourite caff. My mental wish-list ran as follows:

The Sugarcubes - for the songs Hit and Deus.
Clor - an album that I used to have on my work PC hard drive that was sadly lost.
Salad - I was reminded recently what great pop songs they write when I heard this on 6 Music.

I left the shop not five minutes later with Clor and the Sugarcubes on CD, which was very pleasing. The only sour note is the English-language version of Birthday included on the Sugarcubes best of - I have never cared much for the English lyrics.