Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Echo Festival of Sound and Light!

So that’s Brogues and Anne B. covered on La Terrasse this month, but you will be asking yourselves, what of The Wildhouse? There was this terrific self-review of a gig I missed:

20 minutes one song
all played different songs, i think, total fuckin racket
sheila does not remember playing at all
paul was very angry
pete played most of the gig with a screwdriver
ha ha

They have also been organising a gig / festival on the 9th May, which Mark asked if I’d mention, and – why not? I can’t make it to that one either, so I may as well do a review in advance. Or at least as much as to say that there will be noisy music and shouted poetry, and at least one properly famous person (Malcolm Ross! Only from bloody Orange Juice! And, y’know, the fun ’n’ frenzy filled Josef K), singing a broad Scots ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ in various contexts; there will be atrocious band names – Ross’ The Bum Clocks, Ultimate Thrush, and Tayside Mental Health, whose ‘Le Chic Spastique’ video on the festival website is quite terrifying; there will be Andy and Graeme of The Candy Store Prophets making their first live appearance in absolutely ages; there will be The Wildhouse themselves, doing angry things with screwdrivers.

Clearly the shouted poetry idea could go either way, but this is such an ambitious thing to put on in a city which just lost one mid size venue, and in which there is nothing remotely interesting on at the other one between now and November. Go along and have your ears shredded, at least half of this will be brilliant.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Crayon Fields, The Catalysts and The Motifs, The Twisted Wheel, Glasgow, 23rd April

The second of Brogues’ ‘Foolin’ Around’ nights, this time with an Australian flavour. The Motifs were the band I’d been looking forward to most, on the basis of their lovely Away album, which is full of the tiniest, warmest songs. They are so insular I couldn’t imagine them in a live context at all: outside the bedroom, they sound like they would just blow away. But downstairs at The Twisted Wheel it was dimly lit and intimate, they fitted in well. Apologies for the national stereotyping, but their singer was the second least brash Australian performer I have ever seen, clutching at an outsize guitar, her gaze fixed above our heads. It might have been ‘thanks’ she was saying after the songs, but it was hard to be certain. Two members of The Crayon Fields backed her up on drums, keyboards and harmonies. If I’m making this sound unbearably precious, it wasn’t: Motifs songs somehow avoid that, they just get on with the job. They all sound the same – like the Marine Girls heard from the womb, maybe – and they accumulate into something pretty and comforting. Pyrotechnics were not to be expected, even the set list was written in small writing. They reproduced the sound of the record, harmonies in tact, and that was enough.

The Catalysts (not Australian) were a nice surprise. I knew nothing about them, but their first song, ‘The Girl From New York’, was such a pop rush. Brogues made the link to Teenage Fanclub’s A Catholic Education, and that was about right – big slabs of two / three chord chiming underpinned by a charm as wide as the sky. Their wry comments were good too, the singer introduced one song as ‘not “Femme Fatale”, honest’ (it was pretty similar), and mentioned that their output has amounted to only a few singles ‘over the course of 30 years’, almost daring us to have a problem with that. I don’t, and shall be tracking them down immediately.

The second to last song on The Crayon Fields’ Animal Bells album is called ‘Midnight’, and it’s a peach. All of the elements which benignly inhabit the previous ten songs – Spector echo bass, decorative tremolo guitar, a xylophone played as though it was a steel drum – find themselves with a knockout tune around which to converge, and all is pop heaven for the duration. The Summer Hymns / Beach Boys-on-‘Deirdre’ singing comes into its own too, moving from ineffectual to delicious the moment it finds the right notes. On the evidence of the live show it is the lack of bite to the recorded drums which lets the other songs down. It’s not that they rocked out at all (the singer was the least brash Australian performer I have ever seen, mumbling his intros, never looking up), but the balance was better: the drums nailed down the tunes, rather than pattering away as though they’d been pasted on afterwards. Think of the stop / start drums on ‘God Only Knows’. The way The Crayon Fields use drums is similar: they are texture and punctuation, and their songs worked an awful lot better when they could be heard properly. Set closer ‘Could It Be So Strange?’ was especially fine, it passed the acid test of getting a weary S. to dance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Anti That

The best short record review I have ever seen:

I love the song!
Your singing is dreamy, the electric beat machine sounds electro pop, and acoustic instruments give me heartwarming atoms.
Not that I am totally impartial – the electric beat machine and acoustic instruments that Hiroho is referring to were played by me, the dreamy singing and the song being supplied by Anne Bacheley, to whom that message was addressed. Isn’t the internet brilliant?

Listen to ‘Anti That’ at Anne’s MySpace page.


Post MySpace update: ‘Anti That’ is now here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ray Rumours & Frànçois, The Bowery, Edinburgh, 13th April

The barmaid came around to let the two or three pockets of people know that the doors were open. We sat for a further ten minutes in the fire / water themed room (red lighting and baubles down one side, blue down the other against a wall sized print of the surface of the sea) before heading off to look for them. Upstairs seemed the obvious place, and there were plenty of doors, but they were all locked. We had a similar problem at a Ray Rumours gig last year, it fits the band’s name quite well. Pssst! There might be a show here somewhere, pass it on! That show was spoiled by its audience, I’d been really looking forward to seeing them without those distractions. Back to the bar: ‘You know this door you said was open – where is it?’

Through an unmarked and closed white door on the ground floor was a dimly lit room with a small table of records at one end, and at the other coils of fairy lights on the floor marking the front of the stage area. I overheard someone say, ‘I don’t think Frànçois is very happy’, and looked around to see him at the back of the stage sitting at one of those large wood effect organs, tinkering away, accompanying Rough Trade’s Indie Pop compilation which played over the PA. It had got as far as The Popguns’ ‘Waiting for the Winter’ by the time we arrived. He stood up to check the settings on a splendid looking sequencer / sampler – a grid of buttons lit in red, I want one – and Chris whispered in surprise, ‘He’s even shorter than Stephen Pastel!’ Short people make good pop stars. Marc Bolan, Björk. Frànçois’ singing voice resembles Bolan’s quite a bit. What you can’t see from the records is that he shares some of his stage presence, too – both seem locked in their own imaginative world, you can’t help wanting in.

‘Hello, I am Frànçois. I’m going to start playing now so you can stop talking.’ Though it soon filled up, there were at this point about six people in the audience, there wasn’t much of a hubub. The dim lighting was perfect for him to cast his mood, this self-contained intensity, calm but sure. To begin with he accompanied himself on a gently plucked Spanish guitar (‘My first time using a proper one. There are no dots on the neck, it’s a bit like playing blind’), then a white triangular instrument he called a harp, slung around his neck as he moved, lost in the rhythm of the song. Most of the set was unfamiliar to me, but he did a great ‘The Way to the Forest’, back on guitar, building up big Echoplex loops over which to sing. That kind of thing can so easily sound disjointed, I think because there is a temptation for the player to listen back to the loops and not really be a part of the sound – but Frànçois was in there, lost, it was was as fluid as you could want. To finish he jumped over the fairy lights and played ‘The People to Forget’, unamplified, three or four feet from me. He could as well have been on another planet, but it was a pleasure to visit.

Between sets I went to an empty bar for more drinks. The barmaid was theatrically snogging someone, but stopped when she saw me. ‘I didn’t see anything,’ I said. ‘It’s OK, he’s a homosexual,’ she replied, before dashing off, leaving him to get the beer.

Ray Rumours are decidedly more of this world than Frànçois, but their appeal too is largely down to the mood they cast. New album Le Pont Suspendu (at last! A whole album!) expands their sound, taking in some paired down drums, a trumpet and some translucent sun piano. But it doesn’t expand it too much – its songs are small scale and friendly, though they tramp the world while they’re at it. Theirs is the sound of a light, tripping freedom. ‘If everybody wanted to be famous, all the songs would sound the same’ sings Ros on ‘Berlin to Poznan’, which sums it up pretty well: she would rather travel and talk to people, and this is where their current sound comes from.

For this gig Ray Rumours were Ros and Frànçois (though Ros introduced herself as Ray Rumours on stage, so maybe it’s more an alias than a band name), and they opened with a brief ukelele instrumental which may or may not appear on Le Pont Suspendu (it sounded rather like the intro to ‘The Turtle’). ‘That song is about a cup of tea,’ said Ros / Ray, provoking much laughter. ‘Well, it is!’ she protested, before going into ‘Meaningless Words’, with its blissfully naïve seduction: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being honest with yourself / There’s nothing wrong with waiting around for someone else / But I’m standing here in front of you.’ I like it when they do things like that. Another favourite line (from ‘Close the Door’, which they didn’t play) is ‘I like your T-shirts, but I like them best when they’re lying on the floor.’ The overt sex of Lesbo Pig’s songs has become something fonder, but it’s still mischievous.

Ros repeated the ‘cup of tea’ trick with ‘Mr Bear’, and guess what? ‘It’s, um, about a bear.’ Then, before ‘Si Me Das A Eligir’ she checked with Frànçois, ‘Have you got your egg?’ He shook his right leg to demonstrate that he did, and it made a noise like a rattlesnake. More laughter – it was a funny gig. Standing on one leg and shaking the other, he played the intro on his trumpet, Ros supplying the flamenco inflections on guitar. It is remarkable how, even at their lightest and most fun, they don’t sound frivolous. It makes sense too: why not take fun seriously? It’s important. It may have been straight after this that they played ‘Looking for You’, by some distance their darkest song. It was chilling, full of deadpan tenderness and longing: ‘...if you stick your head in a bucket of water / You’ll see the one you love / I’m under the water looking for you’, a rare admission that affection can become overwhelming. But mostly, that sort of thing can be avoided if you go places, meet people. Ray Rumours make everything seem possible.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

E. C. Segar – ‘Popeye Vol. 1: “I Yam What I Yam!”’

Of course, you would expect Popeye to travel to an island, being a sailor and all. The back of this book claims: ‘Popeye was an accident’, and he does seem to emerge from the plot point that Castor Oyl needs a crew to sail him to Dice Island, but is too mean to pay more than one man. He has reason to believe that luck is with him, and aims to make his fortune shooting craps. For the first thirty pages of daily strips there is no Popeye at all, which should be more disappointing than it is: Chapter One (the daily strips are divided into chapters) is called ‘Bernice the Whiffle Hen’, and introduces the divertingly un-killable bird, otherwise known as an Escape Hen, who will eventually lead to Dice Island and Popeye. It happens like this: Uncle Lubry has brought Bernice back from Africa as an egg (the only way an Escape Hen can be transported without it escaping), and he has fun betting Castor that Bernice is in this box or that vase – Castor always loses, the hen always escapes first. Uncle Lubry then offers him $1,000 to kill Bernice, knowing that this is impossible. Castor shoots at her, drops her from a cliff tied to a boulder, tries to shoot her from a cannon, and he fails every time. Bernice detects no malice in this at all, and is soon deeply attached to Castor, following him around contentedly saying ‘whiffle’. Soon there are crooks on the scene, trying to steal Bernice – which is pointless because she keeps escaping back to Castor. Eventually they realise they’re going to need to have him on side, and give him $10,000 to come to Dice Island with them, bringing Bernice. Who as well as being a Whiffle and an Escape Hen, is also a Luck Hen. ‘Ah ha!’ thinks Castor, gives them the slip, and sets off to make his fortune with Popeye.

This kind of convoluted nonsense logic is all over the place in the daily strips: they meander endlessly, their plots built like farces, complication upon complication. They tend to revolve around making money – Castor always has a get-rich-quick scheme, and these often clash with Popeye’s less profound outlook. Not that Popeye dislikes making a quick buck – in one of the Sunday strips, boxing opponent Kid Jolt offers him $10,000 ‘if you’ll promise to drop your guard and let me smack ya on the chin in the first’. Popeye is shocked, but only for a second: ‘WHY YOU BIG CROOK – Gimme them ten thousand bucks I acceps’ (p. 173). But when he has money, he will either lose it instantly shooting craps, or feel sorry for someone and give it away. This particular $10,000 gets handed to a homeless family he comes across: ‘Here’s ten thousand bucks lady – buy yourself a home an’ take the kids to a show’ (p. 176). Popeye has a big heart. This must be why it’s so funny when he hits people all the time. It shouldn’t make sense – he is almost never the underdog, often the bad guy (he’s forever knocking Olive Oyl’s other boyfriends unconscious) but you’re always on his side. There is something charmed and un-erring about him, with his unvarying catchphrases (‘Blow me down!’, ‘I socks ’em pernament’) and entirely predictable reactions (e.g. ‘All right – I solemny swears never to hit nobody again no more – blow me down!’ leads within three panels to: ‘So ya won’t take me hand, eh? Then take a smack on the mush!!’ (p. 165)). Segar is inventive enough to keep it fresh, with subtle variations in the Sunday strips, and wild rambling stories in the dailies. There are more socks per square inch (and more laughs) on the Sunday pages, but the dailies are stranger, with better stories: it makes sense to have them published together.

My favourite retort:

Hank: Got your will made, fella?
Popeye: Don’t need a will, Hank, I’m goner give you all I got right now.
(p. 141)

Then he socks him. Pernament.

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