Sunday, 28 February 2010

We're all going to heaven

Nice cover eh? It seduced me anyway - the best songs for the most part being available on their first album. New to my ears though was their version of "May the Circle be Unbroken".

13th Floor Elevators: May The Circle Be Unbroken

A good, spectral version. The mother of all versions though is by the Staples Singers. I think the first I heard about the Staples Singers was that the Stones' "The Last Time" was a retread of one of their tunes. Then over the years they were occasionally mentioned by bands that I liked. Finally I heard "This May Be The Last Time" and realised what all the fuss was about.

I think I've mentioned before that I don't really believe in God, and on top of that I'd add that religion is pretty much poison. But then there's the Staples Singers. They can't get enough of it and they make it sound alright.

The Staples Singers: Too Close

Friday, 26 February 2010


I bought "More" by Pink Floyd the other day, encouraged by how good "Obscured by Clouds" is and curious to fill this gap in my early Pink Floyd knowledge. I've seen it hanging around in various record shops for years but I tend to avoid soundtracks.The truth is it's not that great but I couldn't resist the opportunity of a homophonous post title.

I think "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" is overrated, and I do like their later, more glacial stuff. My favourite Floyd period though is their early slightly ramshackle phase epitomised on the compilation "Relics". This music is at times a bit desolate and cold sounding but palely beautiful. One token track from "More" - "Cirrus Minor" which I already knew well from "Relics".

Pink Floyd: Cirrus Minor

And "Remember a Day" - one of their most potent wistfulness-inducing songs (for me anyway). Also on "Relics" but more properly on "A Saucerful of Secrets", maybe my favourite album of theirs.

Pink Floyd: Remember a Day

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Just recently I was moaning about the lack of cool stuff in Victoria – I completely forgot about the Tate. Probably because I haven’t been to any exhibitions there for a while (that Francis Bacon one would have been the last). When I’m old and living somewhere far less exciting I’ll think back to the days when I could take in an exhibition of one of the world’s greatest sculptors in my lunchbreak.

The exhibition was Henry Moore. I’ve seen his sculptures scattered about here and there in the great outdoors – they had a load in Kew Gardens last summer I think, 20 of them (I found about 15). From time to time you hear about these outdoor pieces being stolen. I always imagine it ending up in some Japanese businessman’s lair. Or will they be going to Russian Oligarchs now?

The first text display states that Moore, like a lot of his contemporaries, was strongly influenced by non western sculpture – the African section of the British Museum providing much inspiration. And almost straightaway I was struck by how much one of his reclining figures resembled a
Chac Mool figure from Mexico.

The most obvious thing about most of his sculptures is their sheer weirdness. In a nightmare these things might suddenly rear up at you Twilight Zone style with a discordant blast of trumpets. After the initial shock though there’s a mournful quality to many of them. Their tiny little eyes look dumbly up at you – none of the statues looks as though it might speak or make any noise at all – in fact I think only one was equipped with a mouth.

There was one statue, one of the full reclining figures that looked serene rather than stoical. Its features consisted of the merest suggestion of some eyes and rather than being unformed they gave instead the impression of having been eroded away. The day before I’d been flipping through a book and had seen a picture of Uluru. It was a close up showing a stream that had carved the warm rock into gently curved basins. It was reminiscent of that. The unsettling nature of Moore's work is attributed to his reflecting the age he lived in so it's perhaps surprising that this particular statue was created in 1938, could there be a more fateful year?

My favourite of the reclining figures is one of plaster completed in 1951. All his statues seem alien to varying degrees but this one looks the most likely to stride down the gangplank of a flying saucer. He must have influenced
Richard M Powers. Maybe it's the finish of the plaster or the etched lines (like circuitry) which make it look more artificial than a lot of his other things. The lines on this were actually string that had been stuck on. This puzzled me a bit as it seemed a fiddly way to achieve the effect - then it occurred to me that this was probably a model for an eventual bronze casting on which the lines would cut into the surface.

In the same room, and for me the best piece in the exhibition, is Warrior with Shield. There's something so satisfyingly solid about its amphibian head and the way the shield hooks over the arm and is gripped by its strap. It's a bronze but unlike many of the others its surface is rough - it looks as though it's hewn from wood. Finished in 1954, with its raised shield and hacked off limbs it's the most obviously post war thing in the show.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The Novilara Stele

A post inspired by Davy H’s recent encounter with the unfathomable past. When I was young I had a book called Adventures in Archaeology. I think I was probably persuaded to buy it by one of the illustrations, a fearsome Mayan altar. Anyway, I found the story of Champollion deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs and of the similar decipherment of cuneiform the most interesting chapters. This sparked a general, and not vigorously pursued, interest in ancient languages and years later I bought a book (In Search of the Indo-Europeans) that featured the following inscription:

mimnis edut gaarestades
rotnem uvlin parten us
polem isairon tet
sut trat nesi krus
tenag trut ipiem rotnes
lutuis thalu isperion vul
tes rotem teu aiten tasur
soter merpon kalatne
nis vilatos paten arn
uis balestenag ands et
sut i akut treten teletau
nem polem tisu sotris eus

It was found in a place called Novilara in North-east Italy and is thought to date from the sixth century BC. During my inglorious academic career I learned a bit of Latin and Greek, so some of the word endings look tantalisingly familiar but according to the book, "scholars are generally agreed that there is not a single word in this inscription that can be confidently translated".

If you work it out let me know, straight after you've presented your findings to the Philological Society.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Keep on running

Strictly speaking I'm not a mod. My appreciation of jazz is rudimentary, I haven't got a scooter (and if I had, it'd be an Aprilia Habana Custom) and I really, really can't dance.

But I am a real fusspot when it comes to clothes and footwear. I could never wear bowling shoes (except when bowling of course) but the trainers over there I regard as a work of art. It breaks my heart to contemplate the first beer slopping over them, the first squirt of ketchup from a drunken burger. They're Clarks and they don't do them anymore. The quality of the shoes seems to have gone downhill a bit in the last few years - the leather seems a bit plasticky - they never use nubuck anymore.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

One million years EC

I was over in Holborn the other day. I used to work there, took it for granted and really miss it. I’m in Victoria now and there’s no comparison. In Holborn you’ve got Leather Lane featuring the Soho bookshop, I used to go in nearly every lunchtime (not down to the basement you understand) – such a chilled out shop, Nick Cave on the stereo, I think he’d had a joss stick on the go. Strutton Ground over in SW1 does alright for books with a very good Oxfam and a bargain books type place (both also tend to play good music as it happens).

Back on Leather Lane I didn’t notice if Farina’s cafĂ© was still going – though I think it must be, its closure would have caused a noticeable disturbance in the Force. Up past Farina’s is Peter’s, which I suppose is another institution. I went there a few times but gave up in the end. The last time I’d given the barber (the man himself?) quite detailed instructions and he paused before giving a Gallic shrug and saying “What is this haircut? I don’t know this haircut?”. Life’s too short to get into disputes with barbers.

Right next door though is Bamalama Gallery. This excellent, and far less uptight shop is run by (at least) two very nice blokes. Every house should have a psychedelic concert poster on the walls and I’m going back very soon to sort out a copy of the Pink Floyd one there that I fell in love with. I’ll treat myself to a burrito at Daddy Donkey’s burrito stall as well – I had to pass it up the other day due to a lunch date at Poppin’s – not one of the all time greats, nice location (down an alley), nice big window, run by a fierce-until-she-gets-to-know-you-east-European lady. It's let down a bit by the food though.

I don’t want to completely run down SW1, while I’ve said previously that I prefer Farina’s I’m a very happy eater at the Regency. On the non-edible front there’s Wippell’s on Tufton Street. Utterly amazing garments, check out the Episcopal Regalia catalogue. Looking through the shop window (I’m not brave enough to go in) it looks like a shop for wizards. I’m not sure but are these outfits the only examples of clothing from antiquity still in (admittedly rarified) everyday use? It’s a pity we’re all too uptight to go around in embroidered cloaks.

And there’s The Prisoner’s house in Buckingham Place (the one where the man in the top hat gets him with the knock out gas) – I’ve been on a little pilgrimage there. But other than that there’s not much going on.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Campfire vampire

Lagging behind as always I only got into this after seeing Juno a few weeks ago. This led to an album entitled just "The Moldy Peaches" and then "Antsy Pants" by Antsy Pants. Both brilliant. You think they'd be perfect for kids but they're strewn with x-rated language. Anyway, I can't stop listening to this.

Antsy Pants: Vampire

Thursday, 11 February 2010

We are the village green etc.

It's taken me a while to come round to the charms of Kingston, but one I've known about for years is Banquet Records. A very decent record shop, certainly the equal of most to be found in central London. I never seem to buy anything there though for some reason. The other day I was leaving the shop empty handed yet again when I noticed the cafe next door. It was about lunchtime so I thought I'd give it a go.

I'm so glad I did. It's called the Eden Cafe and it's an absolute classic. A pine clad cavern, quite dingy, orange molded plastic chairs, a games machine that nobody plays, menus with apostrophes all over the place, a slightly grumpy woman behind the counter (bound to have a heart of gold). The food pops out of a little service hatch at the back of the cafe. That's my usual up there - totally standard greasy spoon sausages, absolutely fantastic chips (and lots of them too, I think they like me), and the egg. I've been back twice and the eggs do have a tendency to have that transparent runny bit in them. But that is the only weakness. Sadly I read somewhere that it might be in danger of closing down.

I visited a blog somewhere dedicated to documenting cafes and they had a little audio sample, which I thought was a nice touch. So I've copied the idea.

Cafe Noise

My only other Kingston find is the coronation stone. I was kicking my heels one day when I stopped to read the inscription - pretty mindblowing. Of course it might all just be a load of bollocks. Not my first encounter with unexpected Anglo-Saxon significance though. I used to cycle a lot and one of my favourite routes took me through a place called Dore, a nice but pretty boring suburb in Sheffield. It was a bit of a surprise to read that King Eanred of Northumbria submitted to King Egbert of Wessex there in 829, arguably bringing about the unification of England for the first time since the Romans left 400 years earlier. That deserves a statue I think.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

They walk among us

For a change this lunchtime I headed into Soho to pick up a gift for a friend. On my way through Piccadilly Circus I looked up into a face I thought I knew - the bristling moustache, the haunted eyes, the old fashioned headgear - yes, it was none other than Billy Childish.

I know he's only a cult hero but as they go he's right up there. So I was surprised to see him walking so blithely through the west end, utterly unmolested by any of the Japanese tourists. Momentarily fazed, I looked back over my shoulder to see him striding manfully across Shaftsbury Avenue, immaculate old school explorer's rucksack on his back.

I've mentioned before how highly I rate his one time protege Holly Golightly but I don't actually own that many recordings by the man himself. This hardly matters though as, quite unexpectedly, he played my favourite ever gig. I struggle to find the energy to get to many gigs but he was playing a pub on the other side of Richmond so I couldn't not go.

I normally prefer studio versions of songs but the casual energy with which he ripped through two dozen or so songs was riveting. It was extremely loud but somehow, magically in such a confined space, the sound was incredibly clear. Before my eyes there were three men in Victorian military coats banging out some of the most businesslike punk rock I've ever heard.

Due to the lack of Billy Childish here's Mudhoney doing one of his numbers - very good on the car stereo.

Mudhoney: She's just 15

Monday, 1 February 2010

Subterranean gnomesick blues

I'm not sure where this has popped up from (I watched "The Man Who Fell To Earth" the other day, maybe that's it). I never listened to the radio much when I was a teenager. I don't know why not. It's not like I was outside playing football or being popular - I'm sure I was as alienated as all those people who tuned into John Peel. But I never did. I think I lacked the patience to be fiddling about with radio dials.

When I was a kid though when this song used to come on the radio I absolutely loved it. I probably heard "Starman" and definitely "Space Oddity", oh and "Ashes to Ashes", but I don't think I connected them. The first time I really became aware of Bowie was with "Let's Dance", which I loved. I didn't understand the vilification (I still don't).

Back to "The Laughing Gnome". It's silly but no more so than "The Yellow Submarine" and it's stacks better than "Effervescing Elephant". The NME's campaign to get him to play it on his greatest hits tour was typically mean spirited but I do wish he'd just ripped into a stomping version of it rather than scrap the idea.

David Bowie: The Laughing Gnome