Sunday, 7 May 2017

Life is unfair. Kill yourself or get over It


""I'm not convinced by this new trend of male public soul-bearing. Time for our gender to get a grip, methinks. Life's tough - man up." - Piers Moron , Twitter, 6th May 2017

There is real Grade-A idiocy at work here  - not just cos anyone who writes 'methinks' and isn't a 16th Century dramatist really needs to have a word with themselves.

Look, we know Piers doesn't care if he's liked, thinks PC has gone mad and does these things purely to gain notoriety. We know he's the centre of his own little universe who he's perfection despite his failures in newspapers, serious TV news and allegedly insider dealing, phone hacking and making us admire a git like Jeremy Clarkson for punching him in the face. He's an odious worm who used his newspaper editorship to settle personal scores and harass anyone who crossed him - granted but his attitude is fairly common and brings nothing but suffering and scorn in it's wake.

Of course he's since back-peddled like Sir Chris Hoy being pursued by angry bears, keen to mention he didn't mean Princes William & Harry and their recent comments about dealing with the death of their mother. Just those pesky "celebrities" who wear it as a badge of honour to be bi-polar or have a spell in The Priory. As if fame somehow takes away all your vulnerability with money, cars, drugs and so on and that similarly makes them fair game for ridicule from celebrity culture leeches like himself.

People who suffer from depression don't need telling that they are weak - they know it every time they look in the mirror, are out in the street, are in the midst of a panic attack, lying on the bathroom floor crippled with nerves, awake in the small hours with head spinning, when they wish they could just disappear. Weakness is at the heart of the problem and we are surrounded by signs that 'manning up' or being more of an Alpha male. At the centre of it all - we keep all this pushed down - it's secret, safe as our dirty little lie, we don't want to parade it or use it to make us out as special. We want to be just like the "normal" people who are able to cope and seem happy and content so we admit nothing. So the stigma and the inability to express the realities of depression and anxiety continue.

I myself have recently had a particularly bad period where I think if I had the bravery to disappear from life that I would have.

I fear my friends have stopped taking me seriously and see it as something that I will just ride out and feel better soon. I'm scared that they are wrong.

And I'm not the only one - that oft quoted stat of suicide being the biggest killer of young men at the rate of three a day - is showing no sign of falling any time soon with 30-44 as the most dangerous age.

When I was at school and my problems began the school welfare guidelines had no way of dealing with what I was going through. Today might have been a different matter with emphasis being put on the mental and physical welfare of students. The Tory party's announcement to place the mental health of young adults t the heart of a new Mental Health bill is encouraging but it's a fucking wreck.

So few beds, so few facilities, so few professionals lead to children in wards sometimes hundreds of miles away from their parents. The Conservative's root and branch destruction of the NHS is only going to make that worse. Decent treatment will be pushed further to just being available to those who can afford private care. Continual cuts and pay freezes will not attract new blood to the organisations, however much your election promises wish it to be so.

However, perhaps the recognition of mental problems from an early age and that speaking out, sharing them with others and recognising that they are not bad, strange, weird or unmanageable will create the cultural change that we need. It's only through blowing apart this idiotic notion that to speak about your inner life is as important to your health as the pills and medicine we would take for any other ailment. Such dinosaur viewpoints like Piers Moron holds should be allowed to die with him. Then perhaps people won't have to suffer literally in silence.









Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Unthanks: How Wild The Wind Blows (Live at Basingstone Anvil, 28th April 2017)



Like mushrooms , which I don’t but that’s another story, I have a preference towards darkness and fretting over the intricacies of life’s bigger questions. Whether it be love, death, time, space or the nature of reality – it’s very much in my wheelhouse. Which is where we find The Unthanks and their latest Diversion, No.4, using the words or Molly Drake, poetess, songwriter and mother to the more well known, Gabrielle and Nick.

Cards on the table I knew very little about Molly before I heard about this project, Actually pretty much nothing apart from being Nick & Gabrielle’s mum. I expect this may be the experience of many attendees of this tour and listeners to the album and I can say that it’s perfectly fine. In fact I had preordered the album and it’s accompanying 8 track mini album ‘Extras’ which had duly arrived 2 days before the show but deliberately delayed listening so I could experience the songs for the first time in a live setting.

For these shows The Unthanks are a more streamlined setup which serves the songs best – Becky, Rachel & Adrian McNally on piano, Niopha Keegan on strings, Chris Price on bass and water effects plus newbie Faye MacCalman on clarinet and sax. The backing to Rachel & Becky’s vocals are at times sparse and atmospheric but also complex and rising with the words.

The songs are often top n tailed with the disembodied voice of Gabrielle Drake, speaking her mother’s words which add a haunting pathos to the evening and the material. The songs themselves often deal with the darker side of existence but that doesn’t mean it is a morose or depressing listen. Ok it’s ain’t no disco but there is hope and sunshine In many of the thoughts expressed – “Never pine for the old love / go out and find the new” , ‘Dream Your Dream’” which is arranged like a valedictory torch song and ‘Poor Mum’ which is a response to Nick Drake’s ‘Poor Boy’ lamenting the lost dreams or chances of her life. ‘Soft Shelled Crabs’ muses on the brittleness of some when weathering life’s storms but with a sparklingly witty lyric.

The stage is simply dressed with wicker armchairs, standard lamps and chintzy d├ęcor, two cloth screens used to display images of Molly, mostly in stark black and white echoing all the images of Nick Drake ever seen but when they burst into colour during main set closer ‘Road To The Stars’ we appreciate this wasn’t a life lived in monochrome. The band return for Becky to deliver a stunningly sultry and wistfully mystical version of Nick’s ‘River Man’ – which stretches like a long lazy riverboat.


It takes confidence to play all new songs and The Unthanks have faith that their audience are grown up enough to go with them on the journey. Through the Unthanks presentation of her work we come to know Molly Drake and appreciate her art – this moving, uplifting and perfectly marvellous show is a great tribute to her and the musical beauty of The Unthanks. Long may their varied diversions continue.

You can get a copy of Diversions Vol.4: The Songs & Words Of Molly Drake & it's companion EP direct from the band before it’s release at the end of May.

Or alternatively, get a ticket, go see this for yourselves and join the heaving throng at the merch table.

http://www.the-unthanks.com/Diversions-Vol-4-pre-order/
http://www.the-unthanks.com/tour-dates/

Friday, 17 March 2017

Nirvana - Sheep LP


So in an alternate 1991 – probably visited at some point by Marty McFly in a DeLorean – Nirvana released their second album for the SubPop label – ‘Sheep’. Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic & Chad Channing select Butch Vig to produce the majority of the release which garners positive reviews in the music weeklies. Due to SubPop’s ongoing distribution and marketing problems, it barely equals the 40,000 sales of ‘Bleach’. Channing quit the band with the remaining members attempting to recruit ex Scream tubthumper Dave Grohl but losing him to Pearl Jam……

Back in our timeline – April 1990 at Smart Studios, Madison, Wisconsin, Nirvana recorded 8 songs for their proposed second album on the SubPop label but these tracks would be used by the band to score a new deal with a major label. Naturally once Channing was replaced with Grohl, the material was re-recorded although the arrangements and lyrics often remained the same. With the addition of other tracks from the period this bootleg album attempts to give a taste of what was lost. All of the tracks are now officially available – scattered across the CDs and box sets – but this track-list is seemingly based on scrawl in Cobain’s posthumously published journals.






The versions here aren’t necessarily “worse” or “better” than what ended up as Nevermind – the whole feel is punkier and looser, it’s more the sound of a band in a room than the airless final NM mix. The performance of Polly actually ended up being used on the finished album as there is real magic at work on that recording. However what is clear is Chad Channing’s limitations as a drummer fail to make the songs really punch through like Grohl does. He often gets the beat but not the feeling, the attack is missing, it’s not just Grohl’s power but his dynamics.

Despite that, ‘Imodium’, or ‘Breed’ as it would become, is a powerful sound – a roaring snarling bugger from the off. Sliver lacks the urgency of the later live versions with Reading 1992 being a particular favourite of mine with Kurt veering from goofing off to primal screaming. You often hear bands talk about their “sound” not being right until they were all in a room together, that magic extra member. Well that in evidence here but also the “loud-quiet-loud” Pixies trick is less in evidence too.

There is a punk 101 conventionality to how ‘In Bloom’ is here as that orgasmic rush is faked. It’s still puzzling how ‘Sappy’ never made it onto a Nirvana release while they were active, only as a hidden track on an AIDS benefit compilation. It’s likely that their cover of the Velvet’s ‘Here She Comes Now’ would probably never have feature on the 2nd SubPop album but its a great version with Kurt doing a spot on Reed drawl. I just find this stuff a fascinating alternate view. Artists hate studio bootlegs or even reissues because it lays their sketches bare (REM voiced such concerns over the ‘Out Of Time’ demo CD) as well as prevents them deciding how their work should be heard. For us obsessive or devoted nutjobs its like seeing a 1st go at the Mona Lisa or a rough cut of ‘Citizen Kane’ – it adds to not subtracts the magic therein.


As I said, all these tracks are available legally but if you do happen to see this particular release floating at a record fair or market near you then I’d recommend it. Well mastered and mixed, ace cover art and the sort of thing you’d expect a record label would have done themselves by now. Lazy bastards.

In that alternate 2017 maybe Krist is working for the UN, Dave is playing with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Kurt a self published poet and outsider artist. The grass is greener over here

Oh well, whatever, nevermind.


Side 1:
Dive
Lithium
Imodium (Breed)
Sliver
Been A Son
Polly

Side 2:
In Bloom
Stain
Pay To Play (aka Stay Away)
Sappy
Here She Comes Now

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Paul McCartney ; 'Flowers In The Dirt' Deluxe Edition



AKA I Saw You Standing There With A Bootleg In Your Hand.

Beatle Paul had a variable 1980's - kicking off with the drugs bust and the death of his teenage best friend \ nemesis \ rival, John within the first 12 months, followed by a technical nightmare live appearance at Live Aid, Ebony & Ivory, Give My Regards To Broad Street, the 'Press To Play album, losing out owning The Beatles catalogue to Michael Jackson, the theme song for 'Spies Like Us' and - no I'm not going to say "The Frog Song" because a) it's called 'We All Stand Together' and b) it's a fucking brilliant children's song.


On the other hand - a memorable video for 'Pipes Of Peace', 'Coming Up' with its fab multi-Paul promo, Take It Away, Wanderlust, No More Lonely Nights, the inventive McCartney II album, Here Today, Choba B CCCP and a triumphant live return at the end of the decade off the back of one of his most successful and critically acclaimed albums in years - 1989's 'Flowers In The Dirt'. Paul's reissue projects slightly haphazard sequencing lands there this month with a 2 CD, 2LP and a 3CD & 1 DVD Deluxe Edition with a lavish book stuffed with photos, lyrics and other ephemera. The central feature of all the various editions are the demos and sessions recorded with Elvis Costello in 1987 with the songs ending up on the album, Elvis' own records or remaining unreleased....until now.


Well not quite.





For in 1998, the prolific bootleg label Vigotone who published Beatles and solo Fabs titles a-plenty dropped 'The McCartney McManus Collaboration. a single CD featuring 8 out of 9 demos from that initial 1987 session plus various Paul and Beatle related chunks live and on disc. This includes a rare appearance of the pair onstage performing 'Mistress & Maid', another co-penned song that featured on 'Off The Ground' alongside a fun romp through 'One After 909'. There is some piracy with officially released material making up the numbers but it all helps to give a well rounded picture to their short working time together and Declan's fondness for Paul's 60's band.

Listening to the official release of the full eight 1987 demos next to the bootleg there is no discernible difference, maybe a little tweaking in volume but it's a work in progress guide with all the flaws of what was meant to be a private record. 'Twenty Fine Fingers' works so much better here as an acoustic little bit of rock n roll fluff that you wish Macca had just left as is. 'Tommy's Coming Home's tale of a widowed fresh wartime bride is very Elvis and I've always liked that 'a broker awoke her from a fitful slumber' lyric.


A large section of the interviews for the project discuss how EC and PM wrote together and how they found the experience which is fascinating stuff. Macca often says that critics latched on to a remark he made about how their writing sessions felt like when he wrote with Lennon which made him uncomfortable but it's clear that Elvis wasn't afraid to push at his hero when he felt it was needed.
The handwritten lyrics & doodles in the accompanying book seem to suggest that the songs were perhaps more or less solo written with some small alterations. A letter from 'Elvis The C' to 'Mr Ramone' underlines the former's keenness to continue their collaboration and there is some great detail on how they came to collaborate and how it panned out.

The demo for 'You Want Her Too' has far more bite and bile than the version that ended up on the finished record with Elvis audibly spitting the line 'So why don't you come right out and say it, stupid?' like a snarky Scouse scally. 'That Day Is Done' retains some of that real Aretha tinge that got lost in the production. It is suggested, although not here, that Elvis and Macca clashed over the album's sound with Paul not sharing Costello's vision of a more stripped back approach. Slightly ironic as both of Elvis' albums around this time 'Spike' & 'Mighty Like A Rose' are often criticised for being too 'busy' production wise. Elvis perhaps got the song to sound his way when he recorded it with The Fairfield Four vocal group for their 1997 'I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray' album




One last Elvis mention and then I'll talk about Paul McCartney in this review of a Paul McCartney release. I have never liked 'Playboy To A Man' which eventually surfaced on 1991's 'Mighty Like A Rose'. Costello's vocal is shrill and at times painful and the demo bears out that it's clearly more suited to the Little Richard yelps and scream of the artist once known as Paul Ramon.


Also here are demos of 'Shallow Grave' , the aforementioned Mistress & Maid and 'I Don't Want To Confess' although irritatingly, along with the 1988 sessions with his band alongside Elvis these are only included on the deluxe set and that controversial download only section of the set. All of that would easily fit on a single CD giving the hardcore as well as casual fan a real insight into the making of the album. As it is unless you go all in on this release you don't get the full picture.

The controversy about the b-sides and other previously released mixes being download only (and that bloody cassette) gets in the way of the main issue - who is this for? The devoted may buy it whatever, it looks nice on the shelf next to the rest but they are really getting very little bang for their buck. The casual fan may not have heard the bootlegged demos and may be nonplussed by the slightly low fi quality.
McCartney has mused that it would be interesting if The Beatles session tapes were released in heir entirety so we could hear how those songs came together - wars and all. Yet his own solo output appears to have an eye on creating a blemish free photo-shopped and overly expensive image.

The book that comes with the set has exclusive photos by the lovely Linda that have an intimacy, access and skill that few others could hope to achieve but like the music section there is a lot of wasted blank space. Macca's peace and love ethos doesn't seem to extend to the world's tree population. Yes, I'm sure it's printed on the best recycled paper but I feel the music takes a back seat here.






As an album, Flowers In The Dirt, has a similar feel to another of that year by a fellow 60's survivor, Bob Dylan's 'Oh Mercy' in that it's someone who has been leaning on old familiar ways for too long and a younger artist gives them a kick up the arse. That might be simplistic but if only for the suggestion that Paul dig out his Hofner bass from the MPL vaults, take him back to the beginning of his song-writing then giving him a fresh outlook, the album is a success. Aside from the songs and singles already mentioned - 'Distractions' is the effortlessly wistful chugging ballad with artful arrangements that Paul excels at. 'Rough Ride' tries too hard with it's funky slap bass, electronic drums and whooping to sound down with the Madchester lot. And the album should have finished with the appropriate 'That Day Is Done', the remaining two (or three) songs feel superfluous.

The deluxe version of FITD is currently £135 quid from the Tax Dodgers which for 3 barely half full CDs, a DVD of home movies, mp3 download and a coffee table book is quite steep. In comparison the deluxe version of Nick Cave's career retrospective with similar music, DVD and book count is more than half that amount (or a third if you got in quick). OK it's Paul bloody McCartney and not the Aussie goth king but still.

Before I heard the deluxe version, just on the contents listing, I would have recommend you go with the 2CD edition and I still do.  You get the main meat of the set but you deserve more and it's not worth the upgrade. Box sets are moving more towards catering to the uberfan who wants all their pudding at once until they are sick. This just feels old hat - it even has a hidden track on the CD for all you 90's kids - and if this isn't aimed at me (a fan of both PM & EC) then, I ask once more, who is it for?

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Point into the middle distance and howl

 
As a child of the 80's I have memories of this distinct atmosphere that was the lounge after 9pm at night. If you stumbled downstairs, with a bellyache, thirsty or just unable to sleep the television always looked and sounded a certain way - this fuzzy tone to all the scenes as if being played via a cushion and the films (and it was always a film) were lots of talking in rooms. At first glance the opening scenes of this 1978 remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers perfectly sums up that feeling. Weird outdoor scenes followed by 70s young people having conversations while a TV blares sport in the background and a bit of snogging.

I think it's probably really hard to come to this film afresh as it's been parodied and ripped off despite being a remake of a 1956 B-movie itself. The original was (despite claims to the contrary later) a thinly veiled allegory about McCarthyism, reds under the bed, small town paranoia and cold war fearmongering. By reimagining events in a city like San Francisco it perhaps makes the film more relatable but also taps into the alienation and disconnection people in a metropolis can feel.

We meet Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) and her dickhead boyfriend - we know he's a dickhead cos he breaks off some serious lovin' to applaud sporting prowess on the TV and later tries to get down and dirty when she is trying to do some work. He's a total git and we really don't mind that he's one of the first people we see "bodysnatched". Meanwhile Donald Sutherland, all perm and 'tache is trying to raise the quality of the city's restaurants via health inspections. As the film progresses he slyly uses the fact that Elizabeth's boyfriend is a) a dick and b) a pod person to cop off with her a few times. And frankly we can't really blame her.

I think I last saw the film around 20 years ago in one of those student all night horror VHS binges and it has aged particularly well. It has that physical body horror style that David Cronenburg would soon make his staple diet which in these days of CGI have a realism that computers can't quite replicate. Yes it's slightly jerky and basic but it's, well, sticky and ookey too. The scene with a set of pod people being hatched and slowly becoming replicas of the main protagonists is eerie and unsettling stuff.

The sound mix - not muffled and dense like my childhood memories - is superb as is the slightly unhinged and avant garde electronic score that soundtracks fleeing, hiding, hatching and general mayhem.
The 'pod scream' is the stuff of nightmares yet it is the slimy, pulpy sounds of the pods that truly catch the ear.


I'm guessing viewers in 1978 would regard this in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate a metaphor for government surveillance and wrong doing. The authorities seem to be the first to fall under the invading powers sway with the police, politicians and even the refuse workers making the project run smoothly by clearing away the bodies of the original people quickly.

But its also a film about what it is to be human, what makes the self. The old Chinese dry cleaner who knows 'that is not my wife' - it looks like her, talks like her but the woman he loves is missing. The humans once sublimated by the pods lose all individuality and become just vessel, oversized puppets driven by a hive mind. Like insects they swarm after their prey, consume and then revert to type but always watching and waiting.  Sutherland's character has to inflict injury on his close friends but are they still human once they have been overtaken by the pod people? Once we become just part of regular society, part of the rat race, just drones for those in charge, how do we hang on to ourselves?

Yet whatever the social commentary it's still a genuinely unsettling and creepy film. Again am rewatching this via Arrow Blu Ray (£6 from Fopp) and it has some lovely extras including a great "pub table" conversation between Horror dude Kim Newman and directors Ben Wheatley & Norman J Warren.

I highly recommend it but whether buying it online or in store, don't look at the newly designed cover art too closely if you haven't seen the film as it contains a major SPOILER!!!!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Don't ask how I'm feeling unless you have a spare half hour

You know that all is not as it should be when you are googling in the early hours of the morning and this is at the top of your results.


And that's good advice BTW. If you or anyone you know is feeling that way then they will listen and not judge.

It's hard to describe what it feels like in those moments.

I wrote some words down the last time it happened and hope this sheds some light

First we have intense and the super hyper reality of inability to sleep coupled with you feeling everything at once. It's hypochondria where every heartbeat is pounding in your head and feels wrong. And fast. And faster. The fastest it has ever gone. And so fucking loud.
Skin tightens throat tightens and dries, it's painful to swallow feels hard to breathe, ears ring, vision is blurred for a moment, so aware of every movement you make, skin sometimes feels itchy and you feel fragile. These are of course all indicators of a panic attack - not those ones that people say hey have when they forget to watch Strictly but the ones when YOU THINK KNOW YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

I've had a all pervading fear of death for as long as I can remember. I even used to gets the shakes when I thought of how old I would be in the year 2000. When it came around I didn't notice but at 12/13 I literally shook with fear that my life would have got so far towards completion. I guess because at that age being in your twenties was pretty much dead. Now the thought of death brings a primal scream at 3am - the thought that this is it and one day it will be nothing. I have no faith - this is all we got and you'd think I would therefore relax and enjoy it - go nuts. I'd love that to be the case.

I think it's likely I will never have a long term relationship, never have children - not that I've ever wanted them - or any of the other ways that people make a mark on the world while they are here.
So I try and make an impression on those I care about and live on in their memories and what they will say about me.




So why then do I sometimes feel like I can't go on living?

Because these moments are irrational and maybe they are just self pitying sloughs of despondency - the sound of loneliness turned up to ten. And you never more alone at the centre of anxiety in the middle of a depressed week/month when you feel numb AS WELL as everything - see, makes no sense. Everything means nothing and that nothingness means everything. The desperate feelings cloud your judgement and that ever lasting blackness seems the right option.
The thing I fear the most becomes my fondest wish.

Thing is I'm a coward. So you probably can all stop worrying.

Doesn't mean I won't be in pain, that I won't often sob uncontrollably, that I won't be horrible to be around, infuriating and just plain sad. But I'm not brave enough to be dead.


             



Sunday, 12 February 2017

The Dark Of The Matinee


At the moment the film world is going ga-ga over 'La La Land' : a movie that celebrates the golden age of the Hollywood musical. Awards are raining down on it like Gene Kelly pirouetting in a freak shower proving critics and studios alike love little more than a good navel gaze. Yet in 1993 Joe Dante's 'Matinee' paid homage with equal love and nostalgia to an equally beloved era of film-making: the 50's B-movie that was staple of the Saturday morning matinee.

The film didn't do great business in 1993, critics were lukewarm, the studio wre sure how to sell it and it sort of sunk without trace despite having a similar vibe as Dante's 'Gremlins' with an equally great score from Jerry Goldsmith. The backdrop of the main action is the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis as the world stands on the brink of destruction, adults panic buy Shredded Wheat and boys think "If the world was gonna end, do you think that pretty girl in class would put out?" With such tension and fear in the air, the last of the celluloid showmen sees a chance to revive his flagging fortunes.


John Goodman's cigar chomping director and entrepreneur,  Lawrence Woolsey, is 20% Hitchcock with beautifully observed personalized trailers but 80% William Castle - a true imaginator who took Hitchcock's eye of film promotion and turned it up to 11. Patrons would be given life insurance certificates in case of being frightened to death, nurses and hearses would be on standby, a 'Cowards Corner' bathed in yellow light where

audience members could flee, skeletons on wires, actors in the auditorium and other gimmicks.

Most infamously he placed devices in cinema seats for 'The Tingler' which would be activated whenever the monster appeared on screen, causing random audience members to scream and jump out of their skins. This is just the sort of mischievousness that would fire the imagination of future schlock king John Waters.

At the heart of the film are fantastic performances from a young cast - new kid in town thrilled by Woolsey's tricks, a socially conscious nerdette, a sexually precocious nymphet with psycho boyfriend and wide eyed kid brother. These aren't annoying, smart mouthed brats but well drawn and acted characters with depth and pathos. Dante seems to have a great knack of picking such talent for his films and 'Matinee' is no exception. Even the crowd scenes of cinema going nuts with popcorn flying feel like genuine snapshots of a bygone era.

However the real love letter is to film itself, a wonderful trailer for 'The Shook Up Shopping Cart' featuring a 'Love Bug' type trolley that foils criminals and brings lovers together is taster for it's centrepiece: 'Mant!' - a perfect amalgamation of all those late 50's post war, nuclear paranoia, commie bashing invasion fear B movies like 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers', 'Tarantula', 'The Giant Mantis' and 'Them!'.

Although dismissed as cheap thrills by the major studios, these films have often gone on to be far more influential and remembered that Oscar winners of the era. Dante picks some of the stars of those movies to appear in his spoof 'film within a film' as well as familiar stock footage only adds to the realism. It's tagline 'Mant! Half Man, Half Ant, All Terror' is funny but accurate a bit like the film itself which is played dead straight and all the more amusing as a result.

The themes of young love, nuclear panic, the last stand of a dying era - before JFK, before The Beatles, before the full horror of Vietnam are all woven into a fine comedy film that deserves to be re-evaluated and rediscovered. It's far smarter, sweeter and funnier than it was given credit in the nineties and has just been given a fresh lick of paint by Arrow Video. Their DVD & Blu Ray set features a fresh transfer and great supplementary material both new and vintage. The biggest treat is a 20 minute cut of 'Mant!' including Woolsey's introduction which really makes you appreciate the love and care that Dante poured into 'Matinee'.

Get yourself some popcorn and treat yourself


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bridget Christie @ Leicester Square Theatre 03\02\17




‘I know you probably didn’t come here tonight to hear a rape joke but on the other hand you’ve all come out dressed like you wanted to. ‘
If that quip didn’t tickle you then I guess you’re never going to be interested in checking out this brilliant hour show from Bridget.  Tonight's audience may well be Guardian reading men hating remoaners to a man \ woman \ undecided that would disappoint her as she doesn’t just want to preach to converted. 

The show’s central conceit is she had written a show on how much she loves gardening but keeps getting dragged into using it as a metaphor for Brexit, Trump & feminism. Whether done at high speed, firing off thoughts and asides or using some brilliantly realised comic conversations with well drawn characters this is a deeply heartfelt, angry, exasperated but hopeful set.

Via being mistaken by The Daily Mail for Charles II, love of fuchsias and The Ladybird Book of Brexit used to teach children what happened in simple terms all the main players including the robot Michael Gove (He’s adopted isn’t he? Bit bloody convenient…) are all skewered by their own words and deeds.

If you are of the belief that name calling and the like helps no one and just builds division then certain gags in the set might not sit well but this is a comic routine not a lecture. Bridget also goes out of her way to make people from all sides of the argument feel welcome but then unleashes a brilliant joke about pedophiles in terms of those voting leave. The political classes and media come in for as much criticism as anyone and it’s all done by such an engaging and incisive person that it’s hard to resist loving her message.

Anyone who thinks she’s one of those unfunny moaning feminist types that the tabloids like to create are missing a very warm, funny, intelligent and cutting piece of art. She is awesome.

Stewart Lee - Content Provider @ Wycombe Swan 10\02\17



Stewart Lee seems to enrage people so much so that I have opted to review his latest tour show here rather than on the blog where I usually dump my opinions.

Stage decorated with the books and DVDs of other comedians , bought for 1p on Amazon 'making them the cheapest building material currently available' he's raging against the dying of the world he knew whether it be record shops, physical live releases, bookshops and one not populated by iPhone waving selfie young idiots. 'By young I mean anyone under 40 and I hope they are not in this audience'. His childish rage at the signifiers of that generation is heart-stoppingly funny, stretched out and exaggerated. 

Of course Stew has his fall-back stand-up devices - dividing the room between a) the stalls who got tickets early so are his real audience, get the more nuanced jokes and laugh at the right things v b) the circle who will just go and see anything, don't get him and he doesn't want their repeat business because they often bring friends who have never heard of him and resent every moment. On the way out I heard one such friend ask "Is he always so angry with his audience?".


It's an approach that you'd think might get tiring if you've seen him a couple of times but it does make you doubt yourself nonetheless. Seemingly an improv piece is cut short by someone leaving their seat, he admonishes us as an audience saying there is no point carrying on with that bit but he then admits that routine doesn't have an ending and so he never does it. Doesn't make the routine any less funny but again unbalances your expectations. It's that uncertainty and ironic balancing act that led to his infamous claim - "No-one is equipped to review me".

He jokingly trumpets his "four \ five star reviews" for this show as a warning that if it doesn't go well then he's not the one at fault. He is genuinely annoyed when a couple leave 3 minutes before the end of the set, wrong-footed by a piece of audience participation doesn't go as it should but then using that to riff off for 10 minutes. Those are the bits that he probably looks forward to the most and knows he is in a position where he can make us wonder if its all part of the plan.

If you can do all of the above and make it damned funny too (I have a sore throat today from laughing) then the world is your oyster.

I'm not good at life

That Stephen Fry line about feeling you missed that one day at school where they explained to everyone else how to cope with life and do the simple things that everyone else finds so easy but you struggle with - well, the older you get the more you realise that many people must have missed that day too.

But it doesn't help.

It's ok telling your close friends and family about your depression and anxiety - well it isn't, it takes time but the worst thing is how you think that impacts everyone else.


When you meet friends of your friends you stack the deck so high against yourself that you just close down. Your lack of eye contact, your inability to talk openly about your life, your feeling that they have been "pre-warned" about your mental illness which makes them wary of you or suspicious. You know you will seem weird and distant because you can't just relax

This is not reality but it's my reality.

Each time you go into a new situation you try and hold your head up and make that important first impression but end up mumbling, looking at your shoes and stabbing yourself in the brain over and over again.

I never said I was a nice person so don't be surprised when I come off callous, catty, rude or just plain dumb. But I am also kind, considerate, thoughtful and tactful.

I'm still here through luck more than judgement -terrified of death and petrified about life



Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Great music TV moments #2: Letterman In London (May 1995)


When the king of late night paid a visit to the UK in 1995 the shows were perhaps not vintage Letterman but they possibly contained the greatest entrance to a stage by anyone as Peter O'Toole rode in on a camel. Blowing cigarette smoke from his nostrils, the slyest of grins on his face, he dismounts and gives his "noble steed" a can of beer which it necks in one and then throws away.



David's chat show often was the place to see exciting and unique live music performances - think Dylan & The Plugz ripping through 'Don't Start Me Talking' & 'Jokerman', The Beastie Boys emerging from the subway, strutting down the street performing 'Ch-Ch-Check It Out' ending up on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Theatre, Bjork kicking 'Hyperballad' into the stratosphere, that whole Warren Zevon episode and frankly any time Tom Waits showed up or Darlene Love showed up to sing at Christmas.

So in when in London he had three musical performances that were  in turns unique, baffling, confrontational and great TV. And two by Elton John and Mary Chapin Carpenter that made no impression on my whatever)

Elvis Costello had been a regular visitor chez Letterman since 1982 and in the future would actually host the show when Dave was ill. This probably gave him a taste for presenting which led to the 'Spectacle' chat show and it's awesome musical guest roster.
Sitting in the house band on 16th May 1995 was one Richard Penniman aka Little Richard (as well as Chuck Berry). Elvis had just released his long delayed covers album 'Kojak Variety' which had been taped by an all star sessions line-up in 1990 at the height of "the beard years". The song he was performing on the show was Little Richard's 'Bama Lama Bama Loo' with its author sitting in front of him, just off 6ft to his right. A ballsy move I'm sure you'd agree.

Elvis gives it full throttle , backed by the reformed Attractions, Marc Ribot and other Elvis' sideman, James Burton who are doing he heavy lifting whilst EC, legs splayed like on the cover of his first album just howls the song. Ribot gives a blistering solo early on but Burton is effortlessly on the money when its his turn to shine. Steve hammers away at the keys, safely hidden from the Richard gaze at the back and under Emo Phillips style barnet. Bruce and Pete just keep things tight but loose. It easily surpasses the tepid studio version and Elvis is visibly giddy with delight at the songs end - putting his head on Letterman's chest. Dave's remark that "this isn't the first time you've played the guitar is it?" shows that he clearly wasn't paying attention to who was doing what but EC quickly gives credit where it's due.


As I said, Elvis had just released a new \ old album and was to perform selections from it with the same band as a worldwide radio broadcast. from the Shepherds Bush Empire. Unfortunately his enthusiasm whilst rehearsing and playing in front of Little Richard had got the better of him. The resulting concert featured the same rough vocals of his 1991 MTV Unplugged session and was dubbed 'The King Hoarse Show' by fans. While he was onstage, just up the road at the BBC studio things were getting weird.





Now we all know that Van Morrison can be an odd fella, enough to freak out Spike Milligan on one infamous occasion. The prospect of him singing one of his most well known tunes (raised in the general public's consciousness by a Rod Stewart cover) with Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftains - Irish music royalty must have been music to the producers ears. Didn't quite work out that way.



Now I would suggest he's either had a few liquid liveners backstage or is just being a bit of a sod. Sinead is clearly nervous, clutching onto her in ear monitor for dear life. The waving at the band during the instrumental section as if telling them to stop, the overbearing scatting, the 'blah-blah-blah' etc. The Chieftains are used to continuing in the face of anything but gunfire. When it ends with a comedy bump into the mic and O'Connor doubling up with laughter we see that rarest of sights - a broad grin across the face of Van Morrison. He's clearly been having a right old lark up there.
The astonishing thing is that the performance later appeared on a CD of music highlights from the show so all were clearly happy with how it went. And despite it all - it remains one of my favourite live music performances because its so bizarrely unique

The third and final performance may fascinate and annoy in equal measure but I love Annie Lennox. She's always been about the performance, the moment and a strong visual sense. Just think of that Sweet Dreams promo video, how alien that looked in the early 80s - a woman playing with gender, empowerment and above all that incredible voice. She performed her biggest solo hit 'No More I Love You's' on the last show from London and is such a perfect fit hat it was years before I discovered it was a cover of 'A Lover Speaks' song.


It's such a beautifully controlled performance, the grand entrance with crystal cut falsetto swooping into soulful prayer, the tight camera shots showing the joy, as she silkily sways like a diamante Minnie Mouse as her male backing singers similarly be-eared mime that distinctive vocal refrain. The spoken word \ acting bit may raise hackles and put teeth on edge but I'm just reminded of similarly barking bits like in Bowie's 'All The Madmen' and am of the opinion that here is no song that cannot be improved by a spoken interlude. Everything about this is what pop music should be - weird, celebratory, soulful and fun. She also attempts to stop Dave doing his usual 'shaking hands with the artist whilst looking anywhere else but AT them' shtick .

So there we are - a trio of unique music TV moments that YouTube need not preserve ecause they were burnt into my memory in 1995.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Daylight Music: Union Chapel Islington 28th January 2017



Union Chapel 28\01\17 (l to r: Michele Stodart, Emily Barker, Adem)

It's difficult to call the Daylight Music events at Union Chapel in Islington a hidden gem as when you walk up to the doors at noon on a Saturday, the queue of people is already stretching down Compton Terrace.

Even for a heathen child like me, the Union Chapel is a supremely relaxing and safe place to hide from the hustle and bustle of London on a Saturday afternoon.

This particular event had been created by Emily Barker and its theme was collaboration which meant the acts chopped and changed instruments and shared the spotlight when playing their songs. On a recent Afterword podcast, our guest Kathryn Williams, talked about how she had opened herself up to collaboration, how it effected her songwriting and many of today's artists had met at one of Kathryn's writers' retreats.

I'll just pick a few highlights from the 2 hours of warm, embracing music - Sylvie Lewis' imaginative idea of selling 'A Cup Of Songs' a hand crafted mug which gives the purchaser access to a folder of songs from Sylvie on the interweb. The track 'If Tears Were Like Diamonds' that she played set the tone for the afternoon perfectly with a gentle deep vibration that both soothed and moved the listener.



Romeo Stodart & Ren Harvieu
Ren Harvieu and Romeo Stodart admitted that they weren't used to daylight in general but they gave us a song so fresh that even sister Michele hadn't heard it before. 'My Little Raven' a song about depression and trying to gain understanding and appreciation of how tough life can be. The pair are due to go into the studio soon to put down these songs so I hope that particular one which hit pretty deep makes the cut.


Talking of unreleased songs that I loved from the moment I heard them, Michele Stodart's set opened with 'Tell Me' which she wrote & first played at one of the aforementioned writing retreats. Michele made one of my favourite albums of 2016, possibly only 2nd to Bowie's 'Blackstar', and live, she, if you'll excuse the technical term, emotes the fuck out of her material. The audiences you get at these events are terribly well behaved, whether through hangover, tiredness or good old fashioned politeness. Families are welcome but everyone of all ages sat in rapt attention. You can view Michele's performance of 'Come Back Home' here *




Michele Stodart, Adem & Sylvie Lewis
and if that don't get you kicking yourself for staying in to watch 'Saturday Kitchen' and 'Big Bang Theory' repeats then I can't help you.


The final section featuring Adem at the fore of the group was perhaps the most intriguing as it really showed the beauty of these spontaneous and dare I say it, under-rehearsed collaborations. It gave the songs a freshness and energy that would not have been there if it had been practiced to gain precision and perfection. Adem had to be schooled before the show on how to play the Chapel's organ, forgetting his tutor's advice to take his shoes off, but the sound created by musicians perhaps outside their comfort ones was hypnotic. I have rarely seen a xylophone player display the levels of sheer concentration that Michele gave throughout. It would be remiss of me to mention the role of bass player Lukas Drinkwater adding a depth an colour to all of the songs performed.

Summed up perhaps by Adem's 'These Are Your Friends' it really was a great example of people getting together and doing what they feel. I have attended quite a few Daylight Music events but this one shot straight to the top of my experiences there.

You'd be happy to pay six or eight times the suggested £5 donation to gain entry to see a show as good as this. So don't just lie in bed on a Saturday watching Netflix (not a euphemism), get out and live.


Emily Barker & Adem
  

* The Daylight Music Youtube Channel is yay close to getting a proper web address if a handful more people subscribe so please do so. They have videos from each of their events so you can get an idea of the wide range of music they present all year round.

To find out all about Daylight Music, What's On & how you can volunteer - go to to their Facebook page 
or here

Friday, 27 January 2017

T2 or Not T2?: That's the question, pal

HERE BE SPOILERS YA BASTARD


"Does the sequel have a lust for life?" you'll read and you'll want to be out there, pounding down the pavement with store detectives breathing down your neck, arms flailing - direct into the newspaper offices where they write about leisure for your pleasure. Throwing a glass Begbie style into the face of the hack who wrote that "Yous the kind of whiny faced CUNT who says "Costello's Aim Is Still True" a the end of live reviews." you'll be screaming. "it was the sub editor" they'll whimper but it's too late. The damage is done - your twentysomething memories have been shat on by a wee fucker.

OK Trainspotting may be better seen as a product of its times and where the audience that put the posters up on the wall were - at uni also purchasing Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Prodigy Fat Of The Land and Taxi Driver or Italian Job from the stall in the atrium every Wednesday. It's soundtrack was a nigh perfect mix of old and new with Pulp, Blondie, Brian Eno, Lou Reed, Leftfield and of course, Iggy Pop's with Bowie acolytes the Sales Brothers and Carlos Alomar kicking it skyward from the opening moments.

Maybe this could only disappoint but it seems after 20 years of rumour and rejected scripts the film is summed up in a line from Veronika (a poorly drawn tart with the heart, Eastern European of course, it is Brexit Britain after all) to 40 something Renton and Sick Boy as they eulogise about George Best - "You just live in the past, you are clearly so in love with each other its awkward spending time with you, you should just get naked and fuck each other". You can't deny a warm feeling seeing the old gang back together but I'm not sure there is much else here besides.

The plot is fag paper thin - Sick Boy is surviving by getting his girlfriend to bugger Absolutely's Gordon Kennedy, film it & then blackmail the public school headmaster with the film getting several airings in case the brain bleach is working too well. He then decides to open a brothel in his ailing pub with the recently returned Renton and dopey loser Spud. There are a few nice set pieces - Renton and Sick Boy being forced to sing anti Catholic songs at a club they are fleecing the wallets and handbags of is great stuff and Ewan Bremner still excels at slack jawed clowning.

But that's about it. Of course the spectre of Robert Carlyle's fearsome Begbie is hanging over the film as he escapes prison, seeks revenge on Renton who scarpered with the drug deal cash at the end fo the first film and trying to train his teenage son in the ways of the underworld. The best scenes in the film may well be those between Carlyle and Scot Greenan as Frank Jr as the former struggles with the idea his son wants to go to college to study hotel management - a phrase he spits like phlegm. Unfortunately their plotline also contains an arse clenchingly awful cameo by Irvine Welsh who must be so glad of the cheque. The conceit throughout the film that Spud is in fact, once off the smack, writing the novel Trainspotting is corny as hell.

The film recycles and refocuses scenes or shots from the first film and perhaps knowingly resorts to "Oh you want a bit of nostalgia, d'ya, well ya remember when?" as dialogue between characters but that's simply not a good enough excuse. You know that tension in Radiohead's 'Creep'? That feeling you have before Johnny Greenwood plays those exasperated broken guitar slashes and its all explodes beautifully into a million perfect sunsets? Well the film often builds up the suspense, characters slowly drawn together and then leaves you hanging. The climactic showdown with Begbie goes all Jack Nicholson in The Shining and almost a direct repeat of the endings to T1 and Shallow Grave.


All the cast put in great performances even if any real development in their characters is slight. he female characters really aren't given much to do with Kelly MacDonald given a cough and a spit alongside the aforementioned Anjela Nedyalkova  as Veronika who just stumbles off into the distance. She's the Renton of the piece but the act is given no build-up and scant motive other than the oft repeated - for the hard of understanding - "First comes opportunity, then a betrayal".
The original is not a perfect masterpiece by any means but it's is a great time bubble and really should have been left well alone. It's cheap nostalgia in other people's misery and if you don't expect any more than that then its fine. The final shot of Renton back in his bedroom dancing to a slight remix of 'Lust For Life' says something about the trap that these characters find themselves unable to escape before it pulls away into the distance a la Time Bandits. It's a rare visual flash and imaginative touch that put Trainspotting on the map in the 1990 but like a university reunion party, you realise your memories are preciously rose tinted and you've gone and fucked it all up