power down II

10 06 2007

Islington Arts Factory

No power. No refrigeration. No lights. Candlelight and drums flickering… a piano in the dark.

Chris Lyons inhabits a spellbinding space somewhere between Regina Spector and the Exorcist, the church in which we stand dislocated in the ether to stand jagged and proud on a glittering moon. Hairs on the back of the neck coruscate as we spin in the night.

Ahuman bring out the shamanistic qualities of When Doves Cry. We strain for every word. They inhabit the space and time so completely it’s near impossible to imagine them in any other context. Post Postmodern Anxiety Blues is a bit Alabama 3. Bowling Shoes is a bit like Just The One by the Levellers while legging it down the Golden Mile.

Portico Quartet sound a bit like they’re soundtracking your day if you’re Michelle Pfeiffer in The Witches Of Eastwick. Or something. The intensity is gone, and so am I, staggering into the sleeting rain.


c30 c60 c90 gone

11 05 2007

I am sick of hearing about the death of the audio cassette. Silly season is obviously on the way because the London and national radio stations are jumping all over the news that Currys is to stop selling blank tapes and stereos with tape decks.

First off: so what? Woolies stopped ages ago but their PR officer obviously didn’t have the nous to tell the press – or maybe they did, but there was some of that, wotchercallit, oh yeah, actual news to report that day.

Secondly, there has not been a blanket ban on the use of tape cassettes punishable by death. Just one shop has stopped selling them. It does not mean that you will have to take all your tapes to the car boot sale. Anyone listening to tapes will have their lives impacted by this in, hmmm, preciselyno way at all.

And third: Currys? Hmmm, not sure… I know, I’ll go over the high street to Dixons and see if I can get better value there. Consumer choice in action. Except oh no, sorry, ‘fraid not, they’ve been the same fucking company since 1984 (oh the irony) hence the Dixons rebrand to currys.digital one year ago.

So actually, when I think about it, that is the essence of postmodern consumer choice: it’s all a fucking illusion.

last acts / all tomorrow’s parties day three

29 04 2007

The first ATP at Minehead, the Nightmare Before Christmas, lived up to its name with tales of huge queues haunting the holiday camp survivors. But the only queue I encountered this weekend was for the water slide, and so we begin Sunday with a long wait into a short blast down a plastic tube and a headfirst crash into a shock of blue. Oh shit, how do I swim again? Bracing… One circuit of the whirlpool and the last vestiges of last night are washed away.

A highlight: we encounter Josh Pearson, now recast as a spindle-shanked shaman of the wave machine, exhorting the bobbing faithful from two floors up. ATP!

Papa M holds a sizeable crowd spellbound with his tender balladeering in the Centre Stage. A gentle start to the day. Back to the penny arcade pavilion for the rough edged majesty of the Dirty Three, curators of the weekend. Warren Ellis is a wild-bearded prophet forging lightning from his violin while Jim White flails thunder from the drums, the gathering storm to end one hundred years without rain.

The storm breaks with Silver Mount Zion Orchestra. They’re billed for a whopping two-hour set, which just might be long enough to get through, ooh, about one and a half Godspeed You! Black Emperor songs, for three of those infernal scions are ascending this silver peak. Apocalyptic drama in this prosaic atrium of white polythene and winking neon, a call to prayer in the dying days, yea! Fiddling while the very heavens burn…

And they’re gone, well shy of the two-hour mark, yet the enormity of an eternity warps around me… although the effect is somewhat diffused by the bilious carpet beneath my brothel creepers and the vvvVVVVRRRRMMMmmmmm of the racing arcade game at my back.

Might as well go see Mary Margaret O’Hara then. A wilful, playful, twitchy puppet with her strings tangled and tied, she reduces lyrics and singing to wails and squawks and throaty glissando, even abandoning words completely on one song, the sounds pulled from inside her to her apparent delight and paranoia. A five minute warning spooks her so much she abandons Year In Song half-way through, and mutters and giggles the intro to a shambolic and smokily delicate version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow that collapses in on itself in a whisper, and then she skitters off stage. Christ. That’s ATP, man.

Tactical thinking (and laziness): eschewing Cat Power gets me in for the start of one of the most anticipated shows in the ballroomesque Centre Stage. Say howdy to Ramblin‘ Bill Callaghan’s gravel-on-a-tomb-lid-throated country’n’wistful, the highlight being a lollop through A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to be a Man. An abrupt departure leaves the crowd wrongfooted, but it’s back to the sticky floor and Carlsberg while we wait for the second show by the golden-haired pixie with the silvery voice, and a weird way of singing out of the side of her face…

The adorable Joanna Newsom conjures wisps of silk and sawdust with her coruscating harp and swirling vocals. We’re entranced by her lilting tales of life and death and whisky and lace. We’re waltzing in a half-finished chapel beside a clear mountain stream, beguiled and bewitched. Well, I am.

After that, Mum Smokes sound y’know, alright, but this may just be the negative reinforcement in my brain of the worst, worst band name ever. It’s the red stage, it’s Sunday night, I don’t want to go home so I don’t. We gather for the last ‘act’ and the last act, the final curtain: Secretary.

Moist Paula Henderson is, by day, a secretary, and by night she is blows her horn… like some kind of crazy indie superheroine. She opens with musical typing, bashing out 100 words a minute of crashing beats. Yeahhhh, actually typing, on a MacBook, actually dressed as a secretary, and, like, when she types beats come out. And that telltale !ding! when she hits the end of the line. We hit the end of the line with this Secretary when she abandons the cute typing thing and pulls out – jaysus anything but that – a saxomaphone.

Chalet. Fast. Beers on board.

My last act unexpectedly screams in about now, a second, third and seventh wind arriving – ATP! – in one giddy rush of denial that this can’t be it! Not everyone has the spirit (the flesh is weak) so only a hardy pair abandon the chalet, and resisting the Tren Brothers‘ attempts to lull the world to sleep, we thrash out indiedisco nirvana in the Crazy Horse saloon for one last time. Thank you Minehead, and goodnight.


Again! Again!

all stars and earplugs / all tomorrow’s parties day two

28 04 2007

Hmm. I’m awake.

How did that happen?

Even feel quite well rested. Blimey I love this festival in a holiday camp lark: a bed! A shower! I made it into the former without really knowing how, but best to ask no questions as long as you made it, I find. And d’you know, I actually feel alright? This morning is one of those mornings after that you creep around, feeling vaguely suspicious, wary of that telltale first throb of hellish hangover.

But I’m still alright. I even eat some porridge. Then I eat a sandwich. Hey, maybe I didn’t have that much to drink last night after a-


I realise now that last night I may not have been at my most discerning. I can’t have been to have actually chosen to drink that much. So maybe it’s no surprise that the driving melancholy of Magnolia Electric Company sounds better this morning than they did last night, blessed with arching vocals and a restless heart. And afterwards, I don’t feel so bad at all. Bless you, ATP.

What comes next sorts everything out. Sally Timms is breathtaking, opening with a haunting and evocative scorched faery tale, buzzing with the weight of wonder. Then a hop skip and a jump of a gearchange to a selection of fractured folk hoedowns, driven by plinky-skippy beats and whispering toys in the dark. Aside from the harsh sound that plagues the Centre Stage, the results are sublime.

Back to the daylight and arcade neon for the unsung heroes of the weekend. There’s a full and devoted crowd in the pavilion for the unassuming magnificence of Low, the dwindling silver driftwood on a sea of silence.

Later, I hear only bad things about Jason Pierces’s Spiritualised Acoustic Mainline, which makes me feel OK that I sacked it off and hit the chalet, and spent some time taking down a brew, eating pizza and watching Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. And Doctor Who. Now that is a perfect Saturday afternoon.

At least until someone took Pat Garrett off halfway through. They did that last year an’ all, an infuriatingly scant ten minutes before the end of the hangover-melting Time Bandits.

So back on the broadwalk for the man we’re all here to see. Nick Cave, the prince of darkness, his satanic moustachio, has arrived. But it’s hard to imagine the crack of doom in a carrier bag propped up into a big top and stuffed with arcade machines. Red Right Hand has a suitably loungy, almost calypsoid feel, but as the classics keep coming, there’s plenty of sturm and drang in this storm.

After a short break, Cave is back for a romp through his Grinderman racket. Depth Charge Ethel rocks, Honey Bee squalls, Grinderman (the dirge) kills the momentum, and Get It On sounds like the Mission Impossible theme played by sex-crazed cannibals.

After that it’s hard to get excited about The Scientists‘ performance. Sure, when they’re going they’re going, a steam piston of bludgeoning blood-red blues. But there’s too much time in between songs, too much standing around.

At some point tonight, I look out of my chalet window and see Deborah sitting in the next chalet over, so I call her up and say “I can see you,” and she freaks out. Heheheh.

On the red stage, and it is red, are Youpi Youpi Yeah, black-clad gallic groovepunks. They’d even be worth a singalong if I’d ever got past GCSE French. Better still are The Drones, the first this weekend to rock the fuck out, hell yeah! Agonised, wrenching, babbling heartbreak, drenched in feedback and fury.

By now the Carlsberg is copping it’s toll on my critical faculties so the rest of this review may be a bit of a bit underdeveloped. We Ragazzi are, kind of, like, quirkpop, or something, and have the fittest drummer. See? Top critical form.


scenesters by the sea / all tomorrow’s parties day one

27 04 2007

Woke up in Woking. Pile in the car. Soundtrack: Paul’s ’90s tapes. Me: Who’s this again? every song, remembering every word. I sleep through the worst.

Skinny jeans are everywhere in Tesco. How much beer can we carry? Actually quite a bit, as it turns out.

Butlins, Minehead. Lacks the faded seaside glamour of Camber Sands, spiritual home of ATP. The stages are in the Pavilion, a bizarre cross between a big top and a motorway services. Can’t get our heads round it. There’s an Irish pub. We beer up. ATP!

Ian Wadley opens the festival, although it’s hard to tell when he stopped tuning up and actually started playing. “Is this what the music will be like?” asks a bemused Butlins barmaid. Ain’t heard nothing yet love. ATP!

Then Wadley gets going, pull back to reveal it’s the end of the world, Ry Cooder wailing atop a mountain of skulls. Wadley turns his back on the crowd to rock out, then it’s back to stage front, down on one knee, things briefly go a bit Cairo. I get out.

Fuck me, Nick Cave is standing right there! As close as I am to you… Nobody believes me.

It all starts to make sense when we hit the centre stage for The Only Ones. They’re late. We forgive them. It has been 26 years.

The contrast couldn’t be more marked between Peter Perrett’s emaciated frame and the muscular sound the Only Ones belt out. Perrett’s scuttling vocals sound great, and they’re so tight. Bit weird seeing them in what feels like a shopping centre. Hairs on the back of the neck time.

Meticulous timetabling goes out the window as beers get sunk.

Art of Fighting? Art of Pillow Fighting maybe. They only seem to remember they have an audience halfway through eachsong only to then forget again. Magnolia Electric Company are a bit country and that’s it.

Snapshots: Dancing to My Bloody Valentine in a room that feels like a wedding reception. Trying to get into our chalet without a keycard. Buying another pint. Where the fuck am I? Autopilot on. All goes black…

another richizzle trenizzle producshizzle

24 04 2007

What is the deal with record producers popping up in music videos? The charts seem awash with fat Yanks in 3xXXL white T-shirts contributing to the energy, rhythm and vitality of the song by, er, barking their own name, or doughy-faced Dutchmen in shellsuits pulling faces.

Timbaland may be a master of jittery, skittery beats, but in the looks and charisma front he’s no Pharrell, lurking apologetically around his own video for Give It To Me, with him and Justin Timberlake like a bizarre race-swap version of the Easy Lover video where Phil Bailey dances all cool and then makes a sweaty, embarrassed Phil Collins dance like a balding little troll.

Jay-Z’s one of the worst for dribbling meaningless nonsense over perfectly serviceable intros. On Thriller, the (terribly-named) opening track of Fall Out Boy’s latest album, he spouts some nonsense about this album being dedicated to “anyone who said it couldn’t be done.”

Um, yeah, because there were loads of haters who were convinced that a hugely successful bunch of gauche emo whiners would never conquer the insurmountable odds to punt out another album of overproduced, vaguely hummable pop-punk supposedly produced by a coasting tycoon as a cynical gimmick.

calling all the indiedisco heroes

26 03 2007

Whatever happened to the Longpigs, Bennett, and Joyrider? Where are all the indiedisco heroes?

Well, to be brutally honest, they didn’t exactly light up that many indiediscos back in the mid-to-late 90s, but they were just three of the bands on heavy rotation in my halls of residence bedroom.

I’ve forgotten more bands from that time than I could name now, but as I sit here ripping my CD collection, wandering song by song through my halcyon youth at the wrong end of the country at the wrong end of Britpop, I’m listening to the Warm Jets and lamenting that my copy of The Longpigs’ Blue Skies has vanished.

I miss the Liverpool Lomax. The first time I went there was to see Silver Sun, if I recall, and Satellite Beach, or maybe it was Carrie, or both, supported, and became the first in a line of going-nowhere outfits bashing away in dingy half-full venues to me and my going-nowhere friends. Who are now engineers and policemen.

Which is a clue: as my boss, at the Tower Bridge office where I work, is a former member of Tiger. So that’s what happens to the denizens of the indiedisco, and the lords of the pub backroom. We grow up and get jobs.

Looking back, I can honestly say that was the last thing I expected.