Saturday, June 25, 2011

Deaf, Dumb, Blind

Eighteen months ago, I got excited about the debut gig by Hookers for Jesus, a duo consisting of my friends Andy and Graeme, who used to be in the Candy Store Prophets. Beleaguered by a cold night, an unhelpful venue and a paper-thin crowd, they pulled out an urgent set which had S. and I slack-jawed with amusement. I mean amazement. No, I mean both. Things were slightly out of control, and something mighty fine emerged as a result. I didn’t see them play again until this February, at a Dylan tribute night, and they confounded me again. Thoroughly in control this time, and granted a packed house, they turned in a ramshackle burlesque of Dylan’s earlier, folk-singer style (‘I’m a poet / Don’t you know it / And the wind / You can blow it’), and a ridiculously assured full text version of ‘Hurricane’. About as ambitious a cover as could be attempted, I’d have thought, in terms of maintaining momentum through the corridors of its (potentially) interminable verses. They return to a Dundee stage this Thursday, I can’t wait to be surprised by them again.

Edinburgh School for the Deaf are the headliners. They put in an anarchic rumble of a set in support of Vic Godard a few months ago, spilling backwards off the stage with their wireless guitars like itchy zombies, and making a pop-inflected scuzz racket which seemed a million miles from their more earnest parent band, Saint Jude’s Infirmary. It will be good to see them again too.

All this and more at Dexter’s, Dundee, Thursday 30th June. Doors 7.30, tickets here or from Groucho’s. Hookers For Jesus’ full Dylan Uncovered set is below, and there is also an interview over at Manic Pop Thrills, along with a review of Edinburgh School for the Deaf’s new album.

Hookers for Jesus at Dylan Uncovered by steamboatbill

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tenniscoats, Muscles of Joy & Tangles, Garnethill Multicultural Centre, Glasgow, 18th June

Six days is far too long to have left it, but here are some things I remember about last Saturday’s gig by the Tenniscoats.
  • True to the (Tracer) Trail, it wasn’t in a conventional venue, but a community hall with chairs stacked for if you wanted to use them, and a wooden floor if not.
  • Brogues nearly couldn’t make it, but then J. insisted (phew!)
  • Tangles, on first, was a chap dressed exactly like the rockabilly one out of the Sexual Objects, making strung out Robin Guthrie-isms from a guitar and a loop pedal. Brogues winced and said ‘King Crimson’, but I thought he was very good.
  • A.’s new-ish fella W., whom I hadn’t met before, was taken aback by Muscles of Joy, asking ‘you liked them?’ Chris agreed, conceding good rhythm but accusing the one on the left of drowning out everybody else’s good bits.
  • There was, for the first time, a male member in Muscles of Joy. Ahem.
  • High up on the wall opposite the stage area was a shelf of large Chinese dragon heads. To the right were the Tracer Trails banner, and a board filled with Chinese writing.
  • There were no stage lights, hence the lack of photos. There was a stage, but Tenniscoats were the only ones to use it, and then only to sit on the edge before wandering forward.
  • Because they are wandering minstrels, after all.
  • They played with no amplification, just the two of them, opening with ‘Mou Mou Rainbow’ and ‘Baibaba Bimba’.
  • Ueno played a Spanish guitar, of which I approved, because I have one of them. He shook it and raised it and moved to the left and right to get tremolo and stereo panning effects, except that they weren’t effects at all, but real.
  • Saya stood and sang, with a smile and a slight forward movement. This, somehow, was love.
  • She sang ‘(They Long To Be) Close To You’ from an exercise book.
  • She introduced ‘Tamashi’, from new album Tokinouta, in halting English, as being ‘about spirit’. Ueno sang too for this one, it is my favourite song at the moment.
  • They faded out the last song, slowly reducing the volume of the singing and the guitar playing, to a whisper and a caress of the strings. It was hard to tell when the song finished and silence began. Maybe it is still playing somewhere, maybe it always will be.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Simon Reynolds – ‘Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past’

Excuse me for giving away the ending, but here is Retromania’s final sentence:
I still believe the future is out there.
It jars because it is at odds with virtually everything else in this book, which takes on the vexed question of what is happening to what used to be called pop music, in an age when anyone who wants to can access practically all of it (if ‘it’ is the recordings), and anyone who doesn’t can ignore it completely. Tom Ewing wrote in a Guardian piece this week, ‘With pop I think the hidden article of faith is that music can take over public space, stamp itself on a moment. If a pop single can't do this, then what is it?’, and Reynolds would be unlikely to argue. He provides many examples of the way in which pop’s past has been recycled in the last decade, but readily admits that there has been no surge forward; nothing, content-wise, to challenge the iconography of the technology through which it is distributed:
Napster Soulseek Limewire Gnutella iPod YouTube Pandora MySpace Spotify … these super-brands took the place of super-bands such as Beatles Stones Who Dylan Zeppelin Bowie Sex Pistols Guns N’Roses Nirvana …
Note the decade-proportions there: ’60s – 4, ’70s – 3, ’80s and ’90s – 1 each. Reynolds has written about this before, arguing that fragmentation is responsible both for the disappearance of these super-bands, and the creation of a lot of great music, increasingly consumed by niche audiences. In the book, he puts in a stirring section on his beloved hauntology (littered with bad puns – ‘Seance Fiction’, ‘The Groove Robbers’), which is the closest he can find to an era-defining genre, but admits finally,
in lots of ways figures like Ghost Box, Oneohtrix Point Never et al., are postproduction artists too, rummaging through the flea market of history and piecing together the audio equivalent of a junk-art installation.
Hauntology sounds like the dying gasp of pop, even as it fascinates.

Though it trips up a little trying to see a vital future in a backward-looking present, Retromania spends most of its time charting how we got to this point. Divided into the sections ‘Now’, ‘Then’ and ‘Tomorrow’, it kicks off with a visit to the ghastly-sounding British Music Experience museum (predictably light on the ’90s / ’00s), and ponders the appropriation of the word ‘curate’, which has now made it all the way from ATP to the Oxford Dictionary of English* (‘select to perform at (a music festival)’; a decade ago, it would have applied only to exhibitions). How does all this gentrification sit, he wonders, with Julie Burchill’s 1980 snarl, ‘anything that can fit into ROCK’S RICH TAPESTRY is dead at heart’? But it turns out that old punks aren’t immune from curation, and his next stop is Mick Jones’ Rock ’n’ Roll Public Library, a ‘cosy clutter of souvenirs and keepsakes, the detritus of a life spent rock and rolling’. It sounds, simultaneously, as though it might be worth a visit, and as though it should not be there at all.

Just as he is detached enough to encompass Burchill and Jones without getting polemical, Reynolds’ comments on the way the web changes the behaviour of music fans are well balanced about some fairly unbalanced tendencies. He coins a word, ‘franticity’, which is a ‘brittle mood of impatient fixation’, in the context of the internet and its unencompassable content. All the music’s there, but when are you going to find the time to listen to it? ‘I think my record was to have thirty simultaneous downloads streaming into my computer at once’, he admits. ‘Like the proverbial kid in the candy shop, […] I got lost’. It is interesting to compare this to the later section on Northern Soul, of which he is refreshingly un-enamoured: ‘Motown itself – yeah, fabulous … But fetishising the sub-Motown wannabes?’ There is certainly something frantic in the movement’s quest ‘for new old songs’, and the way DJs would disguise their rarest records by covering the labels (with other, misleading ones) in order to stop others identifying them, either to play in their own DJ sets, or to devalue by re-pressing.

There is a surprising comparison between Northern Soul fans and Grateful Dead fans, both being ‘style tribes whose members travelled to particular clubs or one-off events’, with a ‘fixation on a particular moment in the sixties’. Retro is shown to have sprung up in many places at once in music, and in other areas of culture over a longer period (the foundation of the National Trust in 1894, and English Heritage in 1983). Fashion’s interest in retro and vintage is noted, along with an accusation of change without progress. But then what does progress mean?
There is an argument that the linear model of progress is an ideological figment, something that should never have been transposed from science and technology, where it does apply, onto culture.
Maybe people don’t want culture to progress ‘in the face of capitalism’s reckless and wrecking radicalism’. This fits with the ’80s indie scene in general (and with Lawrence-from-Felt’s career path in particular), described here as
a retreating edge, looking to the sixties and rejecting synthesizers and sequencers for the traditional line-up of guitar–bass–drums.
It is easy to forget that.


* Turns out I actually mean the New Oxford American Dictionary, which had somehow crept back to ‘default’ on my Kindle. The British one doesn’t have this definition.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tchotchke Table 2

Following up on last year’s post, here is what my table looks like at the moment. Mostly this is stuff accumulated this year, going back to last December. Quite a bit of back-filling going on, really I haven’t even dipped a toe in 2011 yet, which is pretty terrible. Or is it? My big ‘discovery’ lately has been Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, via Joe Boyd’s White Bicycles, which I got non-tangibly from Emusic, but related to that is the Boyd production, Nico’s Desertshore, at the bottom. Next door, illegibly, is Panda Su’s I Begin EP, which I like a lot, having found its predecessor Sticks and Bricks a little humourless compared to their gigs. I Begin isn’t stuffed with jokes, but it has a lovely light feel to it, and captures their charm much more effectively.

Top right is a Kate Bush single my sister didn’t want, and her new Director’s Cut album, the only thing I have managed to buy from HMV this year (suggestion: make that temporary Scottish indie section you did last year permanent), about which I was deeply ambivalent to begin with, and which I’d have avoided entirely had I seen the new ‘Deeper Understanding’ video first. But I love the new versions of ‘This Woman’s Work’ and ‘Moments of Pleasure’, almost as much as I’ve loved going back to The Sensual World, thoughtfully included in this edition, along with The Red Shoes. Obviously Kate has steered clear of re-interpreting the latter’s ‘Big Stripey Lie’, in the light of Planet Sunflower’s definitive reading. Beneath the single is a book of William Henry Fox Talbot’s photographs, bought mostly because I remember my grandfather taking me to a museum about him sometime in the ’80s. I don’t remember very much, just this enigmatic image and the name, but it is a beautiful book. Travel down and to the left as far as you can go to find The Orchids’ The Lost Star, which is quite brilliant, and well worth the trip.

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