Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pull Down the Future: Lawrence and Go Kart Mozart at The Poetry Club, Glasgow, 23rd February

Davy Henderson began the Q & A after the screening of Lawrence of Belgravia by dedicating his performance to Kevin Ayers. It was news to Lawrence that he had died, which fits a certain idea of the man as disconnected, off to one side. Of Lawrence, I mean, though the obits on the news and the web made Kevin Ayers seem like he might have shared that (must investigate). It revealed a second not-very-surprising thing, too: everything Davy does is a performance. Some interviewers might choose to cede some of the limelight to the interviewee, but that isn’t Davy’s style. And though I’m sure I would find his kind of pseudo mystic mid Atlantic free association unbearable coming from anyone else… This man made Cucumber, so he can do what he likes as far as I’m concerned. Here’s his first question:
Davy: The reviews that I’ve read from the film one was, ‘An enigmatical disclosure of a resplendent world that exists within the frontiers of infamy and dirt.’
Lawrence: Where was that written?
Davy: That was Joseph Conrad that said that.
Lawrence [Suspicious]: About what?
Davy: About the movie. He was reviewing it from his grave.
[Pause, nervous laughter from the audience]
Lawrence [Relaxing]: OK, I know what this is going to be like now.
Actually Davy was pretty well prepared, and got Lawrence talking about the lyrics to ‘Spunky Axe’ (by reciting / singing them to him). Where Stuart Murdoch was genial, respectful and almost excessively well balanced asking the questions last time this film came to Glasgow, Davy showed Lawrence in a different light by being so weird that he appeared perfectly normal in contrast. ‘Weird’ and ‘normal’ are relative terms, of course, but Lawrence of Belgravia is so much about Lawrence’s eccentric ways that it makes it a little too easy to put its subject in that crazy box where he can’t do any harm. I wondered, during the interviews Lawrence does with fanzine writers and bloggers in the film, whether Paul Kelly actually used a two-camera setup, or whether the reaction shots of the interviewers looking dumbfounded are merely sleight of hand, inserted to heighten the ridiculousness of some of the things he comes out with.

It makes a difference that On The Hot Dog Streets, the album made during the protracted (eight year) filming of Lawrence of Belgravia, is out now. It came out last summer, and though I can’t claim to have got totally to grips with it, it’s probably brilliant. It’s such a strange world, and I haven’t put in the listening time, but I can see myself loving it at some point soon. Saturday certainly made me want to. Before the record came out, the film was the story of the afterlife of an ’80s indie legend working through some pretty serious personal problems (drugs, debt, eviction, mental health issues). His claims that On The Hot Dog Streets ‘has all my best songs on it’ and was bound to catapult him into the big time because ‘no-one else has come this far, and failed’ seemed guaranteed to lead to disappointment. But it’s out, it didn’t go to number one, and he doesn’t seem particularly disappointed. Of course, it was always too grotesque, too jokey, to be within a million miles of crossing over, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. The question is, though... Sod it, let’s quote Morrissey, that
Everything depends upon how near you stand to me
How should a listener situate him / herself in relation to On The Hot Dog Streets? If it’s great pop music (and I think it might be), you’re going to have to get so close that you occupy the same space. If it’s outsider music, you’ll need to keep your distance. It doesn’t sound like outsider music to me, it sounds as though it knows exactly what it’s doing. In the Q & A, Lawrence was definitely the one in control: Davy did his best, but in his own sweet meandering way. Several times Lawrence had to interrupt in order to infer a question to answer because Davy was nowhere near one, and it was Lawrence who opened the discussion up to the audience — Davy was too busy looking at the stars from the gutter to be much interested in engaging with people at ground level. And although Lawrence still talked about fame, he didn’t sound delusional about it, or even, really, very hungry for it. He wants to make an album that, like Bridge Over Troubled Water, tops the charts for a year, but on the other hand he doesn’t want to play large venues because they make him feel small. How does he square the two? ‘Charlie Parker managed it’ — a smart quip, but I wondered: mightn’t it be that saying he wants to be a megastar is something that should be seen as part of the pop-reconstruction he does? And shouldn’t we assume that he knows that, and not take it literally?

A little – well, a lot later, after everyone had had several hours to ponder the Lawrence / Jim Lambie collage collaboration* (or do that and get some tea), the band came on at last. ‘We’re Go Kart Mozart and we’re from Birmingham’. They were four: no guitar, but an amazing keyboard player who did all those sequenced frills live, not to mention the harmonies, split to form chords through a vocoder (which worked great for ‘Glorious Chorus’). Drums and bass on the left, and Lawrence in the middle, wearing his usual baseball cap, a jacket and a stars ’n’ stripes glitter tie. The room was shrouded in dry ice, it felt like a laser quest place (the last time I went to one of those would have been in Birmingham, it felt right), and later on there were actual lasers dancing through the smoke and on the back wall. ‘Lawrence Takes Over’ was the second song in, setting out their stall. The set drew from all three albums, and was just wildly exciting, you got a real pop thrill from these fake pop songs. ‘We’re Selfish and Lazy and Greedy’, always a good song, was supercharged by the band, and slotted well into the newer material, and ‘Um Bongo’ was show-stopping in its primal ridiculousness. The audience loved it all so much they ran out of songs and played ‘Donna and the Dope Fiends’ twice. I’d heard mixed reports of Go Kart Mozart live, but on this showing they should be touring their album, not playing a one-off exclusive to 100 people. It was a great thing to see. And followed, immaculately, by ‘Tiger Feet’ over the PA when we finally let them go.

I asked a question at the end of the Q & A, which was why, as he’d been living in London so long, he had called his record imprint West Midlands Records? He said:
It sounds completely… it does not sound like a record label. It reminded me of a bus company, something really horrible. In Birmingham we’ve got yellow and blue buses and they’re horrible, and I thought that, that kind of thing.
You see? It’s all deliberate. There’s nothing wrong with Lawrence’s sensibilities: he knows that Television sound beautiful and Mud sound ugly. Anyone can make cathedrals of sound with a reverb pedal, but it takes a special talent to make something human out of loutish glam.

* The collage was a life / art Lawrence mix: Denim posters, a West Midlands Records poster, censored porn, a poster for a photography exhibition, collected methadone doses, a Steven Wells review of a Royal Trux gig in which they’d rocked but also sucked, various newspaper clippings, handwritten scrawls… all sorts of ephemera. Blown up in size, covering three walls of a room.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Essays, then. I’ve accumulated a small library of them, and thought it was time to get stuck in. Most of the books are pretty compact: George Eliot’s and Joseph Addison’s are on what I find is called ‘Bible paper’, so they are thinner from the side than most paperbacks, as well as being shorter and thinner from the front, too (belying their alarming six and seven hundred page tallies). What is the best way to read books like this? They are pocket volumes, with a permanence about them: they are companions to take on journeys, maybe they are so small because they are unlikely to be the only book you do take. Like an actual Bible, for those that are so inclined, they can be dipped into for moral instruction, but also for diversion, entertainment, a quick fix of thoughtful prose to set you up for the day, or to wind you down from its shrill pitch. If diaries are useful to keep mental cogs turning, Addison’s Spectator pieces have a similar intent: like a diary someone is writing for you, they are enough to refresh and pull focus, without requiring a big investment of time. They inform and entertain, like a BBC which knows the (Greek and Roman) classics. They even allow for feedback: the essays are peppered with letters from readers, some real, some invented. ‘The Will of a Virtuoso’, previously quoted from a footnote in Hazlitt’s Table Talk is here too, and is, I hope, a fake. Another one I liked was a response from one Martha Tempest to Addison’s translation of Simonides’ categorisation of women’s character types, as swine, foxes, dogs, earth, the sea, donkeys, cats, mares, apes and bees:

SIR — Ever since your Spectator of Tuesday came into our family, my husband is pleased to call me his Oceana, because the foolish old poet that you have translated says, that the souls of some women are made of sea-water. This, it seems, has encouraged my sauce-box to be witty upon me. When I am angry, he cries, ‘Pr’ythee, my dear, be calm’; when I chide one of my servants, ‘Pr’ythee, child, do not bluster.’ (Joseph Addison, Essays, p. 324)

Not wanting to read too much Addison all at once, I’ve started on the Penguin collection of George Orwell’s essays, too, and reading today his excellent and provocative thoughts on Charles Dickens I came across an example of Dickens’ tendency to ornament his prose to saturation and beyond which seemed familiar. Orwell recalls reading this Greek story at school:

A certain Thracian, renowned for his obstinacy, was warned by his physician that if he drank a flagon of wine it would kill him. The Thracian thereupon drank the flagon of wine and immediately jumped off the house-top and perished. ‘For,’ said he, ‘In this way I shall prove that the wine did not kill me.’

As the Greek tells it, that is the whole story — about six lines. As Sam Weller tells it, it takes round about a thousand words. (George Orwell, Essays, p.70)

That is another extract I couldn’t resist typing out and putting on the internet when I read The Pickwick Papers a while back — isn’t it glorious?

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