Thursday, 15 December 2011

And we'll have it backwards

Hearing, at around the same time, Tomorrow Never Knows and Don't Stop  I remember thinking, "If I ever record an album, I'll do all the guitars backwards".  I was unaware until about a week ago that such an album had been recorded by the Teenage Filmstars.  (But only in 1997, conceptually I was years ahead of them.)  They don't just do the guitars backwards - everything is, except the drums.  It doesn't blow me away to be honest but I salute their er, indefatigability or something.

Teenage Filmstars H.U.M.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

In search of space xmas



It should be one of the hundred things you do before you die - see a Hawkwind gig. And, the other night, that is what I did.


I wasn't sure what to expect really. I've got a few of their albums and obviously I had enough faith to shell out the twenty pounds for a ticket. Chatting to one of my friends the next day he said he'd been worried we were in for a big cloud of dry ice with strange noises coming out of it. And I think that was lurking in the back of my mind.

Anyway, it wasn't like that at all. Instead it was surprisingly full on rock, a decent light show of course and, the first time I've ever seen this at a gig, a couple of gyrating dancing girls. Aside from the inevitable Silver Machine I didn't recognise any of the tunes (my request for Orgone Accumulator went unheeded). But so what. It was great. I think I'll go every year.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Newfoundband

Thinking about all the music that's ever been released you think, "There must be tons of great stuff out there that I've got no idea about". In the past I've been vaguely aware of bands, will have heard what's regarded as their classic track or something but only come round to appreciating their full awesomeness years later.

Sometimes though you find an amazing band of whose existence, like some lost tribe in the Amazon, you'd had no inkling. This happened to me a few months back with The Young Rascals. The "Where have you been hiding this band?" is made all the better, I think, by the fact that they were pretty famous in America.

They're a bit Small Faces, starting off quite straight soul belters, then getting a bit weird and psychedelic and this tune is from round about the time they pop out the other side.

The Young Rascals Easy Rollin'

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Psychedelic warlock

Flipping through the latest Mojo I was most struck by a full page photo of Roy Wood (pg 105). I don't own any of his stuff (might put a bid in for Boulders) but that is one of the most impressive pop star get ups I've ever seen, just look at that hair. And I'd love a top like that. Not sure where I'd wear it though.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Unser Herr Nimmersatt

There are so many great things about autumn - wearing big coats and scarves, crows cawing in bare trees, Bonfire Night, the sharp night air, massive industrial action, several family birthdays, pubs with fires and it all culminating in Christmas.

Yet another great thing about autumn is the reappearance of hearty food, food that just wouldn't seem that palatable during the warmer months. And so, in a slight change to my usual output here's a post on me making bratkartoffeln.

With some obvious exceptions I find myself drawn to German things. When I was young I used to prefer my little model German stormtroopers over their British commando counterparts, whose uniforms looked a bit scruffy in comparison. (My favourite was the one with a shiny flame thrower, what an insane toy.) This preference must have been marked, I remember my mum waking me up one morning with the words, "I've got some good news for you, you've got German measles").

But anyway, the food:

A nice chunk of smoked bacon. A tiny bit carcinogenic apparently, but then what isn't eh?

Cook for about ten minutes in a pan with a chopped onion and then put to one side.

Next in the pan, the main ingredient: potatoes. For the best results you need to have boiled them the day before and kept them in the fridge overnight, otherwise they tend to fall to bits.


Plenty of salt and pepper.


Parsley, certainly adds to the flavour and, at a stretch, one of your five a day.

I started the pan warming with a splosh of vegetable oil but round about now like to add a bit of butter.


The triumphant return of the onion and bacon.

Move it around a bit with a spatula and then just before it really starts to burn serve with bratwurst and I've been eating it with salad with tons of fresh peppers.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Danger falling stars

In my favourite (and consequently top secret) charity shop for these things I acquired Echo & the Bunnymen's Crocodiles the other day (nice copy, original inner bag and all that). I was a bit too young (or uncool maybe) for Echo & the Bunnymen in their original incarnation, I only remember Bring On the Dancing Horses from the time, and I thought that was rubbish.

However when I got my first little record player I thought I ought to get a record to test it out and so popped round to a record shop just around the corner (the short lived Play It Again Sam, it's all about location, location, location). For some reason I picked out a 12" of Seven Seas. It's a good single but I was soon infatuated with the b-sides, acoustic versions of Stars Are Stars and Villiers Terrace (and the Killing Moon but that's not from Crocodiles).

Far better than the album versions, lots of interesting instrument choices: a harpsichord, double bass, a sitar or some other churning, ringing thing. And all somehow very autumnal (probably suggested by nothing more than the lyric about the stars shining so cold).

Echo & The Bunnymen Stars Are Stars

Saturday, 19 November 2011

There was an horse in the early Seventies

I don't go in for compilation albums much but I'm very fond of the first Greensleeves Sampler, for the very straight forward reason that it's got loads of great tracks on it (Ganga Smuggling, Dematerialize and Zungguzunngguzungguzeng for three).

Despite how wonderful they all are it's only the work of Eek A Mouse that I've investigated further, ages ago buying Wa Do Dem and then last week picking up Mouseketeer (I really liked the cover). It's never been a question of vital importance to me but over the years I'd probably pondered his funny name, but no more.

Eek A Mouse How I Got My Name

Monday, 14 November 2011

In the dark night that is very long

For a quid I'd have bought this for the cover anyway, so imagine my delight when I saw there was a reading in anglo-saxon on there. Read along (from line 304) here.

Unknown Bard The Battle of Maldon

Monday, 24 October 2011

Outbid blues band

I love it when I stumble across the original version of a track that I heard sampled as a youth, and it's even better than the track it was sampled for.

It burns me up when I get outbid on a copy of the album.

Outlaw Blues Band Deep Gully

Sunday, 23 October 2011

How I sleep at night

I have a couple of little notepads that I sometimes carry around with me in order to jot things down in. They often go missing for months on end only to turn up in obscure pockets in lesser used jackets. Anyway, a few weeks ago one reappeared and flipping through it I found the scrawl: O. G. S. Crawford Wessex From The Air. I can't remember how or when this came to my attention but decided it was time to follow it up.

Unfortunately a quick search of the usual internet places revealed a staggering price tag of around £300. So that was that. Not to be completely stymied I ordered instead a copy ofBloody Old Britain a biography of Crawford by Kitty Hauser. If you haven't already scuttled off to check I'll mention now that Crawford was first and foremost an archaeologist, and his day job was ensuring that ancient monuments were included on ordnance survey maps.

At first glance he probably looks just like you'd expect him to look, old school. And he was really, in his notion that, if enough evidence were gathered, we'd eventually know in full what actually happened in the past. I studied archaeology for a bit and loved the scientific side of it, like carbon dating and dendrochronology etc.(not that I actually did any of that kind of thing, but it was very interesting to read about). I remember though that the overwhelming attitude was that we couldn't possibly, really, ever know the past. I found that frustrating and packed it in.

I hadn't really thought about all this for a long time but there's a line in the book, "In their more extreme formulations post modern thinkers see historians as little more than glorified story tellers" . It took me back to an evening visit I paid to a friend some time shortly after I'd finished at college. My friend was still studying and his degree was in media studies. While he was off making us cups of tea I had a read through some of his notes. Very thought-provoking stuff, I remember thinking. And it struck me then that my own degree (in ancient history) was, by comparison, just...a load of old stories. I don't mean to knock it too much, it comes in handy sometimes when I'm doing the crossword (example in today's Observer, "The Queen of Carthage, accomplished nothing").

Anyway, back to O. G. S. Crawford. One of the first things that I noticed was what a close contemporary he was of my old favourite Wyndham Lewis (Crawford 1886 - 1957, Lewis 1882 - 1957). They were similar characters to an extent, bullishly convinced of their own rightness and doomed to suffer for their forcefulness. I wondered if they'd ever encountered one another and a scan of the index did turn up an entry for Lewis. Sadly, it deals not with a meeting between them but an amusing aside detailing Lewis' hatred for the scourge of advertising and his hope that fascism might do away with some of the many nonsenses that offended him, instigating, for a start, a single brand of state soap. I can't decide whether I'm for or against this stance on soap. The fact that it makes me laugh means, I suppose, that I find it ridiculous. It reminds me a bit of Arthur J. Evil's rant against god in Time Bandits ("Forty-three species of parrot...Are we or are we not in the hands of a lunatic?").

So far so not very much on Crawford. Already a competent field archaeologist a stint as an aerial observer in WW1 revealed to Crawford the clear outlines of ancient buildings and earthworks visible from the air, but which at best were only vaguely apparent at ground level. (Later, spreading the word, he would illustrate his point with two photographs of a patterned carpet, one from above, a man's view, and one from a few inches high, a cat's view.) Obviously the archaeological stuff is important and very interesting but the big deal in this book, I think, is that Crawford was a communist.

Parallel to his highly practical application of technology to his field of study he was a massively utopian idealist. His faith in communism staggered on until the end of the Forties but collapsed under the onslaught of revelations of persecutions. Without nailing my colours to the mast as far as communism's concerned (I don't know enough about the details) I certainly go along with his belief in the desirability of a single world government and the pre-eminence of science and rational thought as the basis for solving the world's problems.

The only thing that's missing are details of his personal life, on which his autobiography is apparently silent and so, consequently, is the biography. I'm not sure how important it is to have such details, however having come this far I'm sure I'll pick his autobiography up, just to hear what's been covered in Bloody Old Britain in his own words.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Excerpt from a teenage record collection pt. 3

I like weird dissonant music as much as the next man, more than the next man probably, but Loveless was just a bit too shapeless for me and also had some really naff sounds running through it. I have a copy of course and when I give it a spin the tunes on there affect me, make me feel a bit sad really. However, my great love of My Bloody Valentine is based on their previous album Isn't Anything and its two accompanying eps.

Amazingly, to me anyway, the tracks on these eps are only available on the original issues. The nine combined tracks are all excellent and when Isn't Anything gets its inevitable remastered reissue I'm sure they'll make a lovely disc two. Anyway, here's the track I listened to most, excuse the crackle.

My Bloody Valentine I Believe

Monday, 17 October 2011

Magnificent pagan beast

Julian Cope that is. Until a few months ago I'd got along with just the compilation Floored Genius Vol 1. Throughout the eighties I loved all of his singles that I heard and, I think, came close to buying Peggy Suicide. The only other homage I paid was in my student days when, on trips to the jukebox, Reward featured in my unbeatable 50p triumvirate (the other two being Geno and, slightly edgier, Love is the Drug).

As the years rolled by I'd sometimes give the neighbours a blast of Safe Surfer (still probably my favourite) but he was a relative stranger to my turntable and I never thought to fill the gaps between the Floored Genius tracks. And that might have been it had my interest not been reawakened by his autobiographies Head On and Repossessed, the best pop autobiographies ever written I think. At least the best pop autobiographies written by someone whose music I respected. (As I've said before George Melly's Owning Up is probably the ultimate music autobiography, but I just can't get excited by Bessie Smith). Oh, and that big book about megalithic monuments he wrote. He's an interesting guy.

So yes, I've been catching up with his eighties solo output, concentrating most recently on Fried. That's the cover up there. The record company hated it (Repossessed pg 74). My own position: what's not to like? It's one of those "two kinds of people in the world" thingies maybe, but I just don't get how a picture of a man wearing a giant turtle shell can be deemed inappropriate for an album sleeve.

Anyway, a snippet - this sounds very influential, or is it just so simple that other people were bound to come up with something similar?


Julian Cope Mic Mak Mok

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The right to bear umbrellas

While I own coats with hoods I'll often take an umbrella out with me if I think it looks like rain. At times I've become aware that people (other men, my friends in fact) regard the use of a brolly as somehow unmanly. Naturally, after this realisation I not only continue to use an umbrella to keep the rain off my head and upper body but also in utter defiance of this macho bollocks.

Anyway, my umbrella broke the other day. Or rather one of its spokes did. And then I discovered that it's almost impossible to get an umbrella repaired, the attitude of umbrella vendors is, unsurprisingly, that I should buy a new one. This irks me, considering it seems so minor an injury. I did find a couple of places that'd do repairs, but only if the umbrella was one of theirs. Which it was not.

Forced by this to put the broken brolly to one side (for now) I started to look into getting a replacement. On my lunch breaks I often used to walk past a suitable shop. James Smith & Sons, it looks lovely doesn't it? I should have guessed what was in store for me there. For something that looked just like my stricken brolly I was looking at £75, and you can spend almost £300. Unbelievable.

I found one for £25 eventually (here) and they even threw in a junior hiking stick, which I think I'll give to my mum, it's about the right size.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Despiritualized

I was disappointed by the Spiritualized concert. The performance was, in a word, turgid. Great venue, great back catalogue but on the night the presence of a choir and string section seemed to drag the whole thing down, "Messy", was the wife's conclusion.

After about an hour and a half everyone shuffled off stage and ten minutes later I was relieved when just the band and three backing singers returned. The remaining thirty minutes or so were an improvement but I was still far from blown away. At times I looked around and a few people were slowly nodding along, those whose heads were still were not (judging by their expressions) caught up in ecstasy, just a bit bored.

I don't mind the whole repetitive thing - if it's built right I can listen to the same guitar sound going round and around, with minimal variations, for however long. But as another tune ploughed towards its end in a crescendo of feedback I was thinking "What is the fucking point in this?". And then, to be fair, there was one immense moment - in what can only be described as a blink of the ears the maelstrom of sound ceased and we were listening to the beautifully gentle Shine a Light. The change in sound was matched by as sudden a change from blazing strobes to a still deep purple light. That bit was great, but I'd expected a whole evening of such quality. A final consolation prize was a decent enough run through of Take Me to the Other Side, allowing me to tick off another Spacemen 3 track heard live.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Rethinks

Years ago I gave Geogaddi a try and didn't like it. But recently I find I'm getting quite into Boards of Canada. Maybe it's the influence of liking their label mates Broadcast that has brought me round to giving them another whirl. Since last week I've been mesmerised by this track.

I looked into buying it - but have you ever tried getting their stuff on vinyl? Good Lord! I'd maintained a vinyl only stance for the last few months and paid out what I regard as some reasonably hefty prices, $54 for the Human Beinz Evolutions, 230 Kronor for Gene Harris' The 3 Sounds (only about £21 actually, but it sounds horrendous in kronor). Anyway, I met my match with The Campfire Headphase. I watched another copy go on ebay for just over £64 yesterday morning.

Boards of Canada Chromakey Dreamcoat

Friday, 7 October 2011

Year zero

I was reading the other day about the slight controversy over the use of Common Era and Before Common Era for Anno Domini and Before Christ. I'm not really too bothered about keeping AD and BC, and generally I'm in favour of political correctness (or being nice anyway). But just removing the references to Christ while keeping the whole thing based on his birthdate and then calling it the common era seems worse than keeping it explicitly Christian. If, for whatever reasons, the dominance of the Christian calendar gets up your nose, then having it rebranded as the universal Common Era is even worse isn't it?

And so, after some thought I've decided that the date we should use as year zero is the date of the moon landing. I wasn't alive at the time but apparently the whole human race was united in thinking it was very cool. There might be rumblings that this was a victory for the American industrial military complex, but it was an undeniably big deal and furthermore a magnificent scientific achievement - no gods or prophets involved at all. So, there you have it - Happy Year 42.

It's a bit of a small number that perhaps doesn't do justice to humanity's many millennia of doing stuff but sadly the exact dates of a lot of our most significant achievements (the wheel, writing etc.) are lost in the mists of time.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

So sad about them

The first 15 seconds of this track is, I think, one of the most amazing things ever recorded. Nothing else I've heard comes out of your stereo like this. There are plenty of other Mary Chain tracks that I listen to more often and which are better songs, but as a listening experience this section is unsurpassed in its heavyosity.

I mention this in the wake of the reissues, particularly Psychocandy. Rather than giving us a load of previously released b-sides I wish they'd fling open the vaults and give us a mindnumbingly detailed account of how this singular album and its contemporary tracks were assembled (similar to the treatment that Pet Sounds got). Obviously accompanied by a sixty odd page booklet with tons of unseen photos and an Ian MacDonald style dissection.

Jesus & Mary Chain Cracked

Slight update, this is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about. Apparently Cracked is Taste The Floor slowed down to half speed . And Taste The Floor was the first track on Psychocandy that I really got into.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Er...

I got fed up with EARTH CAPITOL. Like so many of my utterances it was cribbed from the Simpsons (one of Kodos and Kang's exchanges) and the other day I saw they spelled it capital and that was just the last straw.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Living in the past

Not so long ago I bought, for three reasons, Osbert Lancaster's Sailing to Byzantium at Oxfam: it has a nice cover; I like Osbert Lancaster's stuff and, having been to Rome, Istanbul is the city that I most want to visit and (as far as I know in ignorance of this book) I'd got the idea into my head that when I do go I'd like to arrive by boat. I see though, while looking for a scan of the book cover, that it's the title of a poem by Keats. Didn't know that. I love the word Byzantium. Imagine getting it (or byzantine, I suppose) on a triple word score in Scrabble.

Anyway, reading through the book, on reaching page 11 a paragraph on the monophysite controversy hit me like a hammer blow. I remembered it as a lecturer had used almost the exact wording years before. The odd sensation was heightened as a few days earlier I'd been flipping at random through St Augustine's Confessions and had landed on the part in which the pious Alypius is drawn into watching gladiatorial contests at the Coliseum*, which again I'd remembered very clearly hearing from the same lecturer.

My first feeling was a consciousness of walking in his footsteps (twenty years later than he'd have liked really, though I doubt Sailing to Byzantium was on the reading lists, the Confessions probably was though). Another part of me felt, at the discovery of these ingredients, something like disappointment, along the lines of, "So that's how how he came across as so knowledgeable and erudite, he just read a load of stuff. Pah!" . Simple, isn't it?

On a cold winter's night, years after I'd graduated, I walked into my local in Sheffield. It was very busy and as I stood defrosting at the bar surveying the throng I was astonished to see, sat in a corner, the spit and image of this old lecturer. "It can't be", I thought. And it probably wasn't, but as my dope-addled brain grappled with the situation the doppelganger looked across at me, smiled and raised his glass. That definitely freaked me out a bit and, still not certain, I didn't go over for a chat. I don't know, maybe it was him.

*Isn't it amazing what's on wikipedia?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Francophonic Thursday

Davy H today posted Francoise Hardy's Voila, and so I drew his attention to the Voila-sampling Lord Knows Best which by co-incidence I'd bought last night. Meanwhile over on Across The Kitchen Table Drew responded to Davy with Jacqueline Taieb's Sept Heures Du Matin, which in a further co-incidence, I'd also bought last night, along with two other tracks, both of which were also French. Clearly the gods of blogging demand that I post one of those tracks right now.

The Liminanas Funeral Girl

Monday, 15 August 2011

Jazz odyssey

My copy of Taschen's Jazz Covers has not, so far, thrown up any direct hits as far as the music is concerned. The only album featured in the book that I've bought is Monk Montgomery's Bass Odyssey - but I think that's because I was blown away by a couple of its tracks posted over on Aquarium Drunkard (I'm slightly embarrassed about how many records I've bought after hearing them there, I feel as though I'm being spoonfed). I don't think I'd have clicked play if I hadn't seen the sleeve in the book, so maybe we should chalk it up as a victory for Jazz Covers.

The plan is to give anything whose cover intrigues me a whirl and the inclusion of Keith Jarrett's Life Between The Exit Signs and Facing You led indirectly to his Restoration Ruin. I didn't know but Keith Jarrett is a top flight and rather scary pianist (he shouts at people who cough during his concerts). However, back in the day he recorded this album which, as a weird, folk type thing, is a complete aberration in his discography.

The delightfully Sixties sleeve notes describe it as, "Contemporary. Off-Beat. Very NOW". Richie Unterberger thinks it's only so so and the solitary Amazon commentator has some very harsh things to say about it. I, on the other hand, love it. Ramshackle and a bit whimsical he sounds like Arthur Lee a lot of the time and there's even a touch of Syd Barrett about the title track. The whole thing's got a sort of Sesame Street vibe to it.

Keith Jarrett All Right

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Music from beneath the Earth's core

I don't know if I'd heard of Tame Impala before I found myself listening to them last night and I can't remember what prompted me to give them a whirl. I started off with It Is Not Meant To Be, and straight away was thinking, "Nice" then following a chord change (or something changing anyway) at 1' 58" I thought, "This is amazing". After the sub-aquatic guitar solo (from 3' 18") I was hooked. I picked I Don't Really Mind at random next and I'd ordered the album before the track had finished.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Excerpt from a teenage record collection pt. 2

A few days ago I was rummaging through a clothes drawer and my hand touched an item that was incredibly soft - I pulled it out and was amazed to see it was an old band tee shirt that I'd thought had been thrown out years ago. It was so tatty and the material was so thin you could half see through it. The band in question? Birdland. I don't know if you remember them? Obnoxious brummies who were officially deemed uncool a long time ago. The Manic Street Preachers were big fans but they soon shut up about it.

Anyway, I loved their first two eps and saw them live a couple of times. Easily the most ferocious band I ever saw, and not just the speed of the playing - they actually hit members of the crowd with their guitars and after about twenty minutes of playing smashed the guitars to bits. Cool, I thought. I was into the general shoegaziness of the times and they were coming from a different place altogether, I don't think I'd heard of Television or Patti Smith before.

A lot of music I was into (like Ride for instance) featured strummed waves of distorted guitar, in contrast to which Birdland's guitarist was amazingly dexterous. Ultimately though their singer couldn't sing, and when the tunes inevitably slowed down and got quieter this shortcoming was cruelly exposed. The end.

Years later, chatting to the friendly owner of the record shop in Wigan, we'd got onto bands we'd been really into as teenagers (you think Birdland were bad, his was U2). When I mentioned Birdland he raised his eyebrows, he'd known someone who'd worked at their label and said he'd heard some very strange stories about them. Sadly our conversation was cut short at this intriguing juncture, (I forget how exactly, probably my missus storming into the shop and demanding to know how much fucking longer I was going to be). Anyway, the strange, sort of thoughtful look on the chappie's face suggested that these tales he'd heard were beyond the run of the mill decadence of your average touring band.

This track is from their first ep the first side of which has three songs on it which they just run into each other, if you listen to the end you can hear them storming into the next track - still pretty good I think. I wanted to rip the whole side but unfortunately I'm struggling with my USB device at the moment. Instead I've burned it from Gigantic 2, a cd given away with Melody Maker in 1990, which I was delighted to find in a charity shop a few months back.

Birdland Hollow Heart

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Percy Wyndham Lewis


For someone regularly referred to as an overlooked figure Wyndham Lewis certainly has his fair share of exhibitions. The latest ,The Vorticists at the Tate, sees him share the bill with his fellow vorticists though in truth his were the only pictures I was interested in seeing. One other thing did catch my attention for more than a few seconds, a statue by Gaudier-Brzeska - The Singer which is better than anything else I've seen by him, and interesting from every angle.

If you're a fan of Lewis's work it's worth going along just to see his Advertisement for the Cabaret Theatre Club and several others (namely) Kermesse, The Dancers, Design for a Programme Cover - Kermesse all from 1912 and A Feast of the Overmen and Alcibiades from an unfinished series of illustrations for an edition of Timon of Athens (from 1913).

As well as being produced in the same year the first four of these pictures are very similar in content as well as style - smallish black and white (with touches of blue paint) ink drawings of dancing figures, with either blank, dead expressions or fierce grimaces. Incredibly incisive, each has more life in it than the rest of the larger abstract pieces on display put together. Sadly I can't find any decent versions of them on the internet.


My first exposure to Lewis was his Praxitella at Leeds City Art Gallery. Supposed to be a portrait of his lover Iris Barry - I've seen photographs of Iris Barry and don't see the resemblance myself. Maybe it makes sense of the title though, a reference to the story of the sculptor Praxiteles sleeping with his model Phryne. Bit of a long shot maybe, but then there must be a reason behind the name.

It's always tricky to put into words what you like about a painting, but perhaps with Praxitella part of it was a sense of anachronism - a flaking oil painting of what looked just like a sleek android (completed in 1922, ahead of Metropolis' Maria, of which it reminds me, by a few years).


Anyway, it got me interested in Wyndham Lewis - I borrowed a copy of Walter Michel's The Paintings of Wyndham Lewis from the library, had a stab at Tarr, flipped through a facsimile of Blast, went to a couple of galleries in Manchester (Portrait of the Artist as Raphael, the Lascar) and one in Sheffield (a tiny little portrait of James Joyce and a Timon of Athens portfolio). The current exhibition makes a lot of Blast - I've been through it a few times and find it quaint to be honest, but I accept it could have startled at the time.
There are a few photos of the artists involved and while the men's suits don't particularly date them, the dresses worn by the female members of the group really bring home the fact that this was all taking place in what was still an Edwardian world. There's a line in Blast that, ever since I read that Mark E. Smith was a fan, makes me smile - I can almost hear him barking it: DIABOLICS raptures and roses of the erotic bookshelves culminating in the PURGATORY OF PUTNEY.

In addition to Tarr I started The Childermass a couple of times and there's a copy of The Revenge for Love at my parents somewhere. Otherwise Julian Symons' Essential Wyndham Lewis left me decided that his writing was rather dense to the point of being, in the words of somebody whose name escapes me, unreadable. I remember reading somewhere Anthony Burgess's comparison of Mervyn Peake and Wyndham Lewis as alone (together) in the British cultural landscape as masters both of drawing and literature. While I do find Peake's writing dense (at least the Gormenghast books), it is also brilliant, somehow more controlled than Lewis's language. But I can't say I think that much of his illustration.

With Lewis it's the opposite, for me he's foremost a visual artist. I think I'll always prefer his pre-WW1 drawings but I find pictures from all his periods attractive and wish a career-spanning exhibition could be staged in the UK at some point. As it is, with his work scattered about here and there, each exhibition has its treats - this one brings the Cabaret Theatre Club poster and Kermesse from Cornell and Yale respectively. And the Portraits exhibition a while back saved me from a trip to Durban that I was never going to make to see his famous portrait of T.S. Eliot.

My opinion of Lewis's writing (based unfairly perhaps on a relatively small sample of his output) and Lewis himself changed when, most unexpectedly, I came across a copy Blasting & Bombardiering in a bookshop on a rainy day. Prior to this my take on Lewis had been formed mainly from Jeffrey Meyer's sympathetic biography The Enemy which I first read as a callous teenager, going through it again more recently it strikes me as one of the saddest stories I've ever read.

While I thought Meyer's exculpatory take on the allegations of Lewis' anti-semitism and fascism were probably fair I'd come away from the book with the impression that Lewis was a formidable character and a bit too full of himself. This was dispelled within the first few pages of Blasting & Bombardiering, by a self-deprecating comment on his book the Lion and the Fox:

Take the Lion and the Fox. That was a big book, too, all about Shakespeare's politics. You can imagine how many people read that!

This, of course, seriously makes me want to read it. Despite the fact that a large part of the book deals with the insanity of World War One it's extremely droll and, given his absence from my Penguin book of modern quotations, were I compiling entries for a book of quotations here are a couple from it that I think are worth having:

Need I say that there is nothing as romantic as war? If you are 'a romantic', you have not lived if you have not been present at a battle, of that I assure you..If your mind is of a romantic cast, there is nothing for it, I'm afraid. The likelihood that you will get your head blown off cannot weigh with you for a moment.

Lewis was part of the artillery and not on the actual front line, though on one occasion he accompanies a gung ho commanding officer into the unsettled No Man's Land immediately after a battle:

We met an infantry party coming up, about ten men, with their earthern faces and heads bowed, their eyes turned inward as it seemed, to shut out this too-familiar scene. As a shell came rushing down beside them, they did not notice it. There was no sidestepping death if this was where you lived. It was worth our while to prostrate ourselves, when death came over-near. We might escape, in spite of death. But they were its servants.

But they were its servants - what a line.

I never studied WW1 at school (at least not for O level or A level) so I don't know if Blasting & Bombardiering is generally on reading lists. It should be. While it seems to be his doom to be of marginal interest only every now and again, to have produced such a riveting (and uncharacteristically straightforward) eyewitness account of one of the seismic events in world history should ensure that every school child knows his name, if only through this one book.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Two nines clash

The other day Ally at Dusty Sevens posted Get Up And Use Me by the Fire Engines. Because she doesn't like it. I think. Anyway, I thought it was great and one thing led to another and I discovered Nectarine No. 9. This is what I always hoped the Apples in Stereo or the Lilys would sound like: laidback psychedelia (those whoopwhoopwhoop bits). Throw in the fact that nine has always been my lucky number and it's all totally irresistible.

Nectarine No. 9 I Love Total Destruction

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Lord Sitar

Turning over the pages in today's little Guardian supplement I was almost startled by the stark elegance of Ravi Shankar. Given this and his cultural contribution I'd say he was an excellent candidate for a statue. And sitars are such beautiful looking instruments as well, it'd be great.

On a final note: what man looking at that picture could fear the onset of baldness?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Campaign for real record shops


A while back I wrote of my joy at discovering a cafe in Kingston (the Eden Cafe, sadly now defunct). Fantastic though that experience was it was as nothing compared to finding, in the same town today, the Collectors Record Centre. A proper second hand record shop. It's been there twenty years apparently. I've been coming into Kingston for ages and had absolutely no idea. There ought to be a little directory or something.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Hall of mirrors

The latest track that I'm playing to death, from the excellent Saigon Rock & Soul, Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968 - 1974. An album (and label) that brings home how vast an ocean of music there is out there.

Thanh Mai Long, Uneven Hair

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Le Top Cafe

I've been seeking out and visiting new greasy spoons on a fairly regular basis for the last few months, the only reason I haven't mentioned any of them is that none have been that great. Thinking back I should probably have given H's Cafe on Blackshaw Road in Tooting a write up, it was perfect as far as layout and decor go, and with a nice relaxing view of a graveyard - but the chips were a bit dry. With hindsight though I'd say it's a safe bet that I'll be popping in again whenever I'm over that way.

Anyway, my cafe dry spell well and truly came to an end today with a visit to The (or Le) Top Cafe on Richmond Road (on the run up to Richmond Bridge on the Middlesex side). I've been passing the place for years but never had the time to stop in the morning and it was always shut by the time I was heading back.

Above, my standard sausage, egg and chips - at first glance the chips look a bit soggy perhaps and they've done that weird sausage slicing thing. It was however extremely tasty.

As well as serving great grub it's a lovely, unspoiled cafe environment - lots of potted plants and walls adorned with an eclectic selection of pictures in rickety frames. Also, though I was in a hurry today, I'd imagine it's better than your average cafe for people watching, having a longer front along the pavement than other similar establishments.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

I reach that

I discovered this the other day, I can't quite remember how, other than through the track Love is Everyone.

It sounds straightforward enough in its own weird way, although apparently the instrument (a tiple) is quite tricky to play. Just strumming and a voice - I suspect the simpler music seems the harder it's been to pull off. Maybe the secret ingredient is soul.

Ed Askew Peter & David

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The twang's the thang

From Magic Alphabet a seventeen track album using only the humble jews harp (with a bit of tambourine sometimes). Like the tampura track I posted ages ago it's hard to believe such a simple instrument can make such an otherworldly and somehow futuristic sound. I know it's highly repetitious but I find it such a fascinating noise, conjuring up an image of a ravenous pan-dimensional worm gnawing away at the fabric of the universe. Just me? Anyway, a bit reminiscent of Spacemen 3's Suicide or, in places, some of your more minimal acid house (my favourite kind).

Daniel Higgs Cosmic Equinox

Still on Daniel Higgs but this time from the snappily titled Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot. A good one for the walk to work I used to find, stick with it for the all too brief stretch of chiming harmonics from 4'24"

Daniel Higgs Spectral Hues

Monday, 28 March 2011

More twee vicar?

Dead Jazzmen, unhinged rockabilly, French sci fi comic illustrations and dub reggae - time, perhaps, for something of a more obvious beauty.

Magpahi. Probably at the top of the list of artists that I want to see play live. The main draw is her voice, but also the interesting instruments: xylophone, recorder, harmonium (or variations on). I posted her song Seed a while back. Brisk and a little bit twee (it contains the phrase,"not even a small bumble bee"). I don't mind twee and I love that track but it took me a while to follow it up with her six track ep - mainly, I think, because I thought it was only available as a download. Anyway, this is from that.

Magpahi Horses In The Night

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Flook


Browsing the shelves of Oxfam the other lunchtime I saw, and immediately snapped up, a copy of I, Flook. On the face of it an autobiography of the eponymous star of the long running cartoon strip in the dreaded Daily Mail, though (as I knew), really written by the always interesting George Melly. I've never read any of the actual strips (albums of which go for about £30 each when they're available). Flook is a funny little creature from the Stone Age, possibly a woolly mammoth, but it's not clear. He (I think he's a he) has lots of skills and attributes that you wouldn't normally attribute to a mammoth, and he gets into lots of quite amusing adventures.


Anyway, my curiosity was aroused by the fact that this book was written by Melly during the period of his life covered in the first part of his autobiography, one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. In common with that book it also has excellent illustrations by the cartoonist Trog. Having read Owning Up to death a bit I thought I, Flook might provide some further scraps of insight into the great Melly's life. This view was encouraged when I saw that pictures of a character named Scoop were blatantly based on Melly (see below, and what nice shoes!).

As I scanned the pages a description of bleary eyed gamblers stumbling into the dawn to see Albert Bridge gilded by the morning sun jumped out at me. "Aha", I thought,"clearly informed by the years the author spent living in Margarette Terrace", and felt quite pleased with myself. At one point Flook refers with fondness to the decor of his flat, a feature of which is a phrenologists' head - while over in Owning Up George recounts his own joy at turning up just such an object at a junk shop in Grimsby.

Perhaps not staggering revelations, but little pieces of a puzzle nonetheless. As it happens the author takes up three pages in Owning Up on Flook, admitting that his lifestyle was all grist to the mill or, as he puts it, "Flook meat".

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Bad case of the snakes

Dan Sartain was possibly the last act I got into through hearing on MTV. Off the back of Walk Among the Cobras I bought his first album and then his second when that came out. Both are excellent.

Dan Sartain Walk Among The Cobras

I don't know why it occurred to me to post this now, I certainly didn't know he had a new album coming out. But he has and the first single off it is called Fuck Friday, Fuck Saturday, Fuck Sunday. It's 58 seconds long and is a work of utter genius, single-handedly rendering the Ramones' entire back catalogue redundant. I especially like the line about the barbecue.
Listen here.

I promise I have not been bought by One Little Indian.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Moebius

Back in January I commented on how much a piece of Egyptian sculpture I'd seen reminded me of the work of the French illustrator Moebius. I was, it turns out, actually thinking of La Foire aux Immortels by Bilal, another French illustrator. But anyway, I thought it was Moebius and when I looked him up on the internet my brain was flooded by his vast body of intricate and mindblowing work. The best site I found was Quenched Consciousness which, I don't know if you've noticed, I put in my links.

Other than the work itself the most interesting thing I turned up was that the largest exhibition of his work ever put on was currently running. The only thing was it was in Paris. However, I was feeling saucy so I booked myself a Eurostar ticket.

I suspect the first drawing I ever saw by Moebius was the third panel of this cityscape from The Long Tomorrow,
which I think was included in some long forgotten sci fi anthology I borrowed from my school library. I'm a big fan of dense, vertiginous future cityscapes and this depiction is possibly the most simply satisfying I've ever seen. The original artwork (in black and white) was on display.

This coloured version is well done - most of the art on display was just black ink on white paper and the lines were so sharp. The addition of colour to most editions of his work seems to bland them out. Seeing the crisp, original pages in the subterranean gallery at the exhibition came close to bringing on sensory overload - it was all I could do to fight the urge to run, gibbering, between all the immaculate little masterpieces. I nearly wore my eyeballs out staring so intently at a picture entitled Chaoma (detail in the second column below) and three pages from Incal Book 4 (detail in first column top).

It's tough finding good images of the pictures I wanted on the internet, and even harder to get hold of copies of paper editions (Moebius should never be out of print). Sadly, I can't find any images at all of his depiction of Jimi Hendrix's disembodied head making its haphazard way, on ectoplasmic tentacles, down some freaky highway. Again, like all the best stuff on display, done in black and white - and somehow, despite how utterly clean the lines of the illustration were, managing to give an incredibly powerful suggestion of motion.

The exhibition catalogue cost 49 euros but having had a chance to look at it I decided it was worth every cent. While I was flipping through it though a bloke came up to the counter, asked about it (in French) and after a short conversation went away looking a bit disappointed. There was a little sign on the counter about le catalogue. I could only make out the last sentence which said "Thank you for your understanding in this matter". Hmm, the preceding sentence all seemed to hinge on this word epuise. After a bit of lurking I strode towards the counter and launched into my spiel: "Je suis anglais. Je ne parle pas francais". The attendant was very good about it but it was clear in about half a second that he didn't speak English. "Le catalogue...", I continued. "Ah, epuise", he said. I pulled my best puzzled face. "Er...sold out", he managed. "Ah, merci". And that was that. Bummer.

I had about four hours before my train so I went for a wander. I remembered from a previous visit a particular book shop and set off to find it. I didn't and drifted to a halt outside Notre Dame. After a refreshing slice of pizza I turned back into the Latin Quarter and immediately hit the motherlode, which, if you're ever comic shopping in Paris, is Rue Dante. Reprints were available in most of them but they were a bit too glossy.

The last shop I went in had a load of slightly earlier, slightly less glossy reprints. I nearly bought the first Humanoides Associes anthology but decided, after about 30 minutes, that I shouldn't really shell out about thirty quid for the sake of the four pages of artwork that I loved. Of course now I'm kicking myself. This was one of the pages that tempted me so.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Frequencies

Moving chronologically forward into the realm of dub, a couple of things from Tunes from the Missing Channel. Despite being a classic this album seems to have dropped off the map a bit. Well, it's not available digitally in any of the usual places. "One of the most upfront dub albums ever recorded" pontificated one of my friends at the time. He was not wrong. It's all very good but here's side one, track one - I'm not sure what the instrument is that comes in at 41 seconds but if you've had a couple of hot knives and you're playing it loud enough, it might just rip your head off. I imagine it'll have quite a nice effect on your graphic equalizer as well.

Dub Syndicate Ravi Shankar Pt1

Side one, track two is This Show is Coming which, much as I love it, is showing its age a bit due to some overly snazzy keyboards. So I've ruthlessly swapped it for a younger model - a version from Pay It All Back Volume 2 featuring Lee Scratch Perry spouting his inimitable cosmological, messianic stuff over the top of it. Rather a long intro, the track proper kicks in at 57 seconds.


Lee Scratch Perry Train to Doomsville

Friday, 25 February 2011

Buzz feeling

Inspired by the general reggae goings on around Reggae Britannia (which I didn't watch) and by an article I read yesterday about Rastamouse, here is one of my favourite reggae tunes. Though is it reggae? It's very slow - but it's Bob Marley produced by Lee Perry, so it must be reggae.

Weirder than your average though, it certainly seems to be the odd one out on my copy of The Best of Bob Marley 1968 - 1972 on which it's credited to B. Marley - the most rudimentary of searches reveals the writer in fact to be Glen Adams. Over the years I've probably spent a few minutes pondering the meaning of the lyrics. I can't remember if I'd come to any conclusions, but if I had they were wrong.

Bob Marley Mr Brown

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Minor public building

Cleland House. Until recently the home of the prison service. It looks more like it should have been the headquarters for the British Interplanetary Society, I think. I was often distracted by its jutting profile while on my way to work and made several mental notes to myself to take some snaps. So when I saw it was going to be demolished I made sure I put my camera in my bag. I'd have liked to have gone to the top of Millbank Tower and taken a photo from there.