Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

April 12, 2018

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Festival 23: Convergence of Disco

April 18, 2016

I’ll be doing a poetry set and a talk at this festival (just outside of Sheffield), which I’m also involved in organising. Many acts from the Brighton counter-culture are venturing north for the occasion, including 3Eye, Future Zen, Binnsclagg, Four Manatees, Thee Hairee Kuntz, Daniel WJ Mackenzie, Map 71 and Bloom. It’s a true DIY underground happening; tickets are available here.


Festival 23- Convergence of Disco

 A brand new outdoor festival celebrating Discordian counter-culture

 Taking place on the weekend of July 23 at a secret South Yorkshire location

 Artists confirmed so far include Jimmy Cauty, John Higgs, Alan Moore (film), Knifeworld, Super Weird Substance, Richard Norris, Cosmic Trigger cabaret

Already compared by DJ Greg Wilson to the legendary 1967 ‘Gathering of the Tribes,’ Festival 23 is not just a music festival. Neither is it an arts, literature, theatre, film or poetry festival. It’s none of these things and it’s all of them. It is everything that you imagine it to be. Inspired by the exhortations of the late, great Ken Campbell, organisers Notwork 23 are setting out not to make money or to lose money, but to do something heroic!

Festival 23 is a celebration and exploration of contemporary counter-culture, inspired by generations of radical artists and writers, from William Burroughs to Alan Moore, Alan Watts to Robert Anton Wilson. The focus for these energies is Discordianism; a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke, most famously popularised by Bob Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus! -the ultimate cult novel series- itself adapted into an infamous nine-hour play in 1976 by maverick theatre director, actor, writer and genius Ken Campbell.

As a member of the KLF, Jimmy Cauty re-introduced Discordian ideas to a new generation in the late eighties and early nineties. We’re overjoyed that he’ll be bringing his acclaimed art installation, The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP), to Festival 23.

In 2014, Ken Campbell’s daughter Daisy Campbell brought Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus sequel Cosmic Trigger to the stage, acting as a powerful catalyst for the current Discordian revival. Daisy will be leading Cosmic Trigger’s cast and crew, including poet Salena Godden, in a cosmic cabaret that will take over Festival 23’s main stage on the Sunday night.

Writer John Higgs has also brought Discordian-related ideas to a wider audience with his books The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds, and Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The 21st Century. At Festival 23 John will be delivering a new talk entitled Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming.

 Headline musical acts include psychedelic/progressive rock titans Knifeworld, a full live set from Super Weird Substance (featuring legendary DJ Greg Wilson and Ruthless Rap Assassins/ Black Grape member Kermit, who will also both be performing separately), Richard Norris (The Grid, Circle Sky, Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve, Time and Space Machine, Psychic TV), Pete Woosh (DIY), AOS3 and Cowtown. Also confirmed so far are Barringtone, Bloom, Giblet, Horton Jupiter and Map 71.

Plus: films, rituals, workshops, poetry, theatre, art installations and more, including the screening of an exclusive filmed interview with Alan Moore, Puppet Alan Watts- part of the Future Zen Variety Show- and the Milk the Cow podcast crew, who will be producing a live radio podcast onsite.

 Festival 23 is the creation of Notwork 23, a grass-roots cooperative open to all with over 75 members worldwide. The festival takes place on 22-24 July 2016 at a secret location near Sheffield. There will be on-site camping, a licensed bar, food stalls, wood-fired sauna & showers etc. Tickets are on sale now priced £69 (£55 for Notwork 23 members). These will rise to £86/£72 after April 23rd. The site has a capacity of 500, with roughly 300 tickets on sale to the general public. The first 100 ticket buyers will be allowed on site one day early, on Thursday 21st July.


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Favourite albums of 2015

December 31, 2015

1. Fuzz- II
2. Viet Cong- S/T
3. Golden Void- Berkana
4. Sextile- A Thousand Hands
5. Minami Deutsch- S/T
6. White Hills- Walks for Motorists
7. The Band Whose Name is a Symbol- Masters of the Molehill
8. Die Wilde Jagd- S/T
9. Dommengang- Everybody’s Boogie
10. Moon Duo- Shadow of the Sun
11. Black Bombaim- Live at Casazul
12. Sonic Jesus- Neither Virtue nor Anger
13. The Soft Moon- Deeper
14. Trembling Bells- The Sovereign Self
15. Lonelady- Hinterlands
16. Hills- Frid
17. Follakzoid- III
18. Baby Dee- I Am A Stick
19. Clowwns- The Artful Execution of Macho Bimbo
20. Taman Shud- Viper Smoke
21. The Lucid Dream- S/T
22. The Oscillation- Beyond the Mirror
23. Graham Parker & the Rumour- Mystery Glue
24. Wreckless Eric- America
25. Dave Heumann- Here in the Deep
26. Susan James- Sea Glass
27. Gold Class- It’s You
28. The Wave Pictures- Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon
29. Wire- S/T
30. Chorusgirl- S/T
31. The Chills- Silver Bullets
32. Lushes- Service Industry
33. Cold Showers- Matter of Choice
34. Teeth of the Sea- Highly Deadly Black Tarantula
35. Six Organs of Admittance- Hexadic parts 1 &2
36. Rocket from the Tombs- Black Record
37. Dave Cloud and the Gospel of Power- Today is the Day that they take me away
38. Marcus Hamblett- Concrete
39. White Manna- Pan
40. Nightingales- Mind over Matter
41. Steeple Remove- Position Normal
42. Anna Von Hauswolff- The Miraculous
43. Death- NEW
44. Hamilton Yarns- Two Coins in a Fountain / The Eye of the Storm
45. Bass Drum of Death- Rip This
46. Black Tempest- Darkness Unfolding
47. The Living Eyes- Living Large
48. Sauna Youth- Distractions
49. Dutch Uncles- O Shudder
50. Axis Sova- Early Surf

Just outside for now: Rats on Rafts, Death & Vanilla, Blank Realm, Eternal Tapestry, Ecka Liena, William D Drake, Kellar, the Lilac Time, Red River Dialect, Dead Sea Apes, Hallock Hill, Wetdog, the Chemistry Experiment, Noteherder & McCloud, Nev Cottee, Alasdair Roberts.

Live review: Ex Hex

February 19, 2015

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Betsy Wright on lead bass. Photo by Guy Christie.

Ex Hex
The Green Door Store, Brighton, Sunday 15/2/15

You know it’s going to be a good show when it’s the first song and the bassist already has one foot up on the monitors. Ex Hex may not deliver anything new, but they do excel at something that’s been missing from the scene for far too long; kick ass rock n’ roll pop music, with great tunes and a sense of serious fun. And pouts and poses aside, it wouldn’t work if the deceptively simple songs weren’t also undeniably brilliant.

With a bare bones power trio like Ex Hex there are no frills or gimmicks to hide behind, and the likes of ‘Don’t Wanna Lose’ and ‘How You Got That Girl’ recall nothing so much as the Go-Go’s- whose debut album, Beauty and the Beat, remains one of power pop’s greatest overlooked classics. Ex Hex also nod to several more of humanity’s finest bands- the Ramones, Cheap Trick, the Runaways and, on ‘Radio On,’ even throw in some metronomic boogie worthy of AC/DC or ZZ Top. But beneath the surface the lyrics are far from good-time froth; songs such as ‘You Fell Apart’ and ‘Warpaint’ deal in alienation and unsentimental regret, born not of teenage angst but years of experience.

At 44, singer-guitarist Mary Timony is already a veteran of American indie rock, having played in Helium, Soft Power and Wild Flag as well as under her own name (the band shares its name with her 2005 solo album). The other two-thirds of Ex Hex- Betsy Wright pirouetting around on lead bass in sequinned hotpants, Doc Martens and a Van Halen t-shirt, and Laura Harris pounding out the backbeat behind a curtain of sweaty blonde hair- are both in their early thirties, and all have paid their dues on Washington DC’s defiantly DIY post-hardcore circuit, with friends and supporters including Fugazi’s Brendan Canty and the Make-Up’s Ian Svenonius.

The songs from last year’s debut album Rips are still punk rock, but there’s no whining or passive-aggressive nihilism to be heard; just grin-inducing harmonies, air-punching aggressive melodies and a surfeit of snappy hooks. Tonight, Timony and Wright duel matching cherry red Gibsons, facing off like Bowie and Ronson; Timony drops to her knees for a guitar solo, and Wright executes a high kick to signal the end of a jam. It’s appropriate that they close the last night of their British tour with a cover of the Sweet’s glam rock classic ‘Fox on the Run,’ “for all the UK people.” And if not all the UK people seem to recognise the song (number 2 in 1975, pop pickers), then even less knew the earlier cover of Boston band the Real Kids’ 1977 punk nugget ‘All Kindsa Girls.’ But no matter: Ex Hex have just given them the most enjoyable history lesson they’ll ever receive.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.

Mary Timony, photo by Guy Christie.

Book Review: A Guide to Broken Roads, by Jaroslav Kalac (Eleusinian Press, 2014)

December 14, 2014

Jaroslav Kalac’s excellent novel is, as the author admits in the preface, half memoir and half fiction, and though ostensibly an autobiography of childhood intercut with fantastical short stories, it’s harder than you might expect to see where the joins lie.

Young Jaro is the son of a Czech gas fitter whose most common interaction with his infant son is to ask him to smell his fist and to say what odours he detects. When young Jaro confesses his bewilderment at the mixture of gas, grease, working class food and beer he perceives, his father solemnly tells him, “that is the smell of the graveyard.” This is almost as intimate as father and son ever get, and certainly as Jaro gets older they become more estranged; furthermore, the mixture of the gothic and the real, the subtly symbolic and the strangely ominous in the exchange are typical of the whole book’s feel.

Jaro’s closest friend is his “aunt” Sabrina, originally maid, cook and servant to his grandfather before the latter lost his wealth and status to communism after the war. Sabrina was also a nanny of sorts to Jaro’s mother, and remains a family friend. By the time of Jaro’s childhood she is a widow who empties her chamber pot every morning on her violent, drunken husband’s grave, and lives with a family of fearsome and quixotic roosters that quite literally rule the roost.

If Sabrina’s life seems like some Eastern European fairy tale then she is also a font of such tales to young Jaro, and her symbolic stories capture his imagination and distract him from the dour and increasingly disturbing nature of his real life. Jaro’s troubles stem from his relations with his family and schoolfriends on the one side, and from the intrusion of the wider world of politics, ideology and racial tension on the other. These stories- of kings, goatherds and princesses, magic and dramatically changing circumstances- are interwoven with “true” family legends just as odd, resonant, tragic and poetic.

Jaro is six during the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Soviet invasion and Stalinist crackdown on Czech life, western influences and freedoms that crushes it. His Americanophile father decides that they must flee the country, but not, curiously to the States- “full of gangsters, and no place for a child,” the father declares- nor England (“full of homosexuals”), but Africa.

Consequently the second half of the book finds Jaro growing up in an unnamed African country in the 1970s, a white European dominated colony in which the native people do the hard labour then return to their unofficially segregated ghettos at night. When Jaro’s father (now working as a plumber) finds a black man loitering in the white suburbs after dark he beats and apprehends him and is hailed as a hero, for it’s obvious to all that the fellow was up to no good. Jaro of course attends an all-white school, and sees native Africans only from a distance; when he innocently attempts to interact with them by a wave or a smile he is warned that they will think he is mocking them. So the unmentioned apartheid is maintained.

An awkward adolescent and a Czech refugee, Jaro is temperamentally alienated from his peers, his teachers and increasingly his family, and feels an outsider in many ways. But any budding sympathy or identification with the Africans is muted by an awareness of the hatred and resentment he assumes they feel towards him as just another white oppressor. Black and white simply do not meet, and so while it’s regrettable that there are no black voices in a book half set in Africa, it’s also sadly realistic. The racial and political tensions mostly simmer in the background, occasionally flaring up dramatically as when the school bus is caught in the aftermath of a riot, or in mentions of an undeclared war raging somewhere in the north, which gives the book an almost Orwellian feel. The war (they don’t even know who is the enemy) presses closer as Jaro approaches conscription age. Through it all he continues his correspondence with the eccentric Sabrina, an unlikely voice of sanity in a world seemingly gone mad, although another ally appears when Jaro falls in love with a fragile English girl.

The accounts of Jaro’s life, often harsh and painful, often funny and awkward, are recounted in the same measured, carefully weighted tones as Sabrina’s folk tales and romantic parables. If Jaro’s letters to Sabrina seem to display a level of insight, self-knowledge and maturity unlikely in one so young, then it’s an acceptable concession to the poetic realism that unites the book. We allow that events recounted in letter form by the young Jaro are informed by the perspective of the middle-aged author recreating them, just as those events written as remembered by the Jaroslav Kalac of 2014 are tinged with a guileless niavete that denies hindsight and conjures instead the character and limited understanding of the boy experiencing them at the time. That limited understanding is not just a product of youth either; the unworldly Sabrina, living on another continent under a totalitarian regime, knows more of the wars and riots in Jaro’s adopted African homeland than are reported in that nation’s own newspapers.

Ultimately autobiography and fable, memory and missive intertwine as Jaro tries to find his way along the broken roads that must lead him out of childhood towards maturity, and hopefully freedom and self-realisation. A confident, masterly creation, Kalac’s book unites several shameful strands of twentieth century history behind the personal, universal story of a young boy’s growing up. The fairy tales and parables never explicitly mirror the real events, but merely prove that human jealousy, stupidity, greed and aggression are eternal, and not confined to any one time, place, people or worldview. They also suggest that sometimes, with both luck and wisdom on one’s side, good and innocence can, if not triumph, then at least sometimes rise above their always oppressive circumstances.

Wolf People / Diagonal, the Haunt, Brighton

January 20, 2012

For the unconverted, tonight’s show requires a leap of faith; an acceptance that classic, high church rock music still has something to say, stories to tell and an ability to generate an emotional response not based on nostalgia or a longing for eras past. That its codified ritual and romance, its melodic intricacies and primal rhythms are still relevant to our flat screen, hi-gloss, technologically mediated, post-everything 21st Century lives.

Diagonal have shed members and re-aligned their focus since their 2009 debut album, but they remain unashamed purveyors of early seventies-inspired prog rock, albeit shorn of its worst excesses- or perhaps they retain the excesses, the peaks, and lose the troughs between. Nick Whittaker’s saxophone may take lead in their mostly instrumental set, yet the key to the 5-piece Diagonal is their rhythm section, alternately thunderous and hypnotic like Tago Mago period Can, or tight and driving like Pink Floyd in full Formula One mode. Hard-edged yet complex, their final number even jumps the (increasingly arbitrary-seeming) 1977 watershed, evoking Television’s fractured guitar spirals before erupting into squalls of post-Pigbag punk-jazz noise.

Wolf People may also seem to have beamed in direct from 1972, but actually draw on a much older, timeless tradition, as tonight’s pounding re-invention of the courtly ballad ‘Banks of Sweet Dundee’ goes to show. But if the Edwardian revivalists largely remade British folk music as an emasculated embarrassment, then Wolf People give it back hips and a swinging cock, underpinning each electrified folk-rock arpeggio and high, yearning harmony with a driving riff and a hard funk groove. And though they can emulate Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin as well as anyone, these Bedford boys are far too nimble, clear-eyed and fleet-footed to descend into mere stoner-rock sludge.

Reclaiming the mixture of folk, blues and psychedelic experimentation that fed into the best 60s/70s rock doesn’t close Wolf Peoples’ minds to later developments either: the guitar duels on ‘Cotton Strands’ develop into a furious maelstrom that’s as much My Bloody Valentine as Jimi Hendrix, while ‘One by One from Dorney Reach’ betrays a youth spent listening as closely to the Stone Roses as Bert Jansch. But the new songs played tonight find them sounding increasingly like themselves, only more so: heavier riffs, more diaphanous melodies, dirtier beats, unmistakably Wolf People.

In going back to the earliest Brit-rock adventurers, like Peter Green and Jimmy Page, Wolf People have tapped into the essence of this high church rock music, and the secret of its enduring appeal. Its power is less to do with fashion, and more to do with being human; in thrall to grief and ecstasy, sexual longing and timeless mystery, power and beauty and the cross-rhythms of three guitars and a drum set trading ideas and phrases at close quarters. Wolf People do it well enough to make believers of us all.




November 4, 2009

Hi all,

Sorry, I’ve not been here for a while. I’ll get back to it soon. In the meantime, I’ve been writing for the Quietus website, and my first feature- a retrospective on Bowie’s Lodger LP- has just gone online:

Please have a look. You can also check out some album reviews I’ve been doing from there. Feel free to leave comments, etc.

Normal service at Hell is for Hipsters will be resumed as soon as possible. Sorry if I’ve said I’d review your CD and haven’t yet- I will get round to it. Rest assured I sleep uneasily, tormented by guilt. Oh, and thanks for stopping by.



Ghost Dance- Gathering Dust

July 2, 2008


 Ghost Dance: still waiting for the last train…



Another one from the archives…!



Found in a Kemptown charity shop for 99p, this is a compilation of Ghost Dance’s first three EPs, and I already have everything on here, but I’m a completist aren’t I. Plus it’s nice to have everything on one album as my original singles are all quite worn by now, and there are brilliant Spinal Tap worthy sleevenotes from appropriately-named producer Bill Spectre, though the tracks he didn’t produce are the ones that have the best sound on this album.

  What can I say about Ghost Dance? They were I think probably the first band I fell in love with, though I swiftly fell out of love with them after the period represented here, which is only one year. Their second single was one of the first that I bought, early in 1986, and it was definitely a major part of the soundtrack to my early teenage years. It is a source of major regret that I never managed to see them live, though I nearly did twice, but I stupidly gave in to my parents’ 10.30 curfew and so missed them both times. But I painstakingly copied out their logo in felt tip pen, intending to have it painted on my leather jacket if I ever managed to get one, and had a considerable crush on lead singer Anne-Marie Hurst. She had previously been in first generation second-string goth band Skeletal Family, and had left them in 1985 when they signed a major label deal- her replacement was named Katrina I believe, she was blonde and they went rubbish shortly afterwards. Gary Marx- surely the unsung and unassuming ur-guitarist of gothic rock- had meanwhile just left the Sisters of Mercy, and had a load of songs he’d written for that band left lying around. They hooked up with Paul ‘Etch’ Etchell, former bassist with the Citron Girls (no, me neither), and a drum machine called Pandora, Dr Avalanche’s kid sister by the sound of things. Operating out of Keighley, they surfed the second generation goth wave alongside the Mission and Fields of the Nephilim, but were overtly a pop band from the start. Exhilaratingly uncomplicated and shallow, they gave the kids what they wanted- anthemic, catchy tunes you could dance to- and had just enough of a melodramatic, melancholy edge in their music to satisfy the sorrowful, romantic stirrings of the adolescent soul. 

  This collection starts with the lead track of their first single, ‘River of no Return.’ It’s classic autumnal goth-pop, from the high-in-the-mix chiming guitar riff to Anne-Marie’s curiously strident vocals, which almost recall the chick from Shocking Blue, another band I loved around this time. She mutters marvellously meaningless gothic clichés over a minimal bassline, and on the line “I can see you’re getting scared,” a scream rings out in the background. There’s a breakdown section after the second chorus; my copy jumps on this track too.

  ‘Celebrate’ was later re-worked for Ghost Dance’s debut LP proper, the disastrous major label, mainstream-pop crossover bid Stop the World. Here it’s another great combination of, er, chiming guitar riffs, low-in-the-mix vocals saying absolutely nothing and a relentless, less-is-more drum machine beat. There’s a 2-bar distorted bass solo after the second chorus that then gradually builds up again, and the whole song has a perfect chicken-dancing goth two-step rhythm.

  ‘Heart full of Soul’ has a classic chorus-plus-distortion guitar sound and is far better than the Yardbirds’ original in my highly subjective opinion. Everything is deconstructed down to its bare essentials, in a way that owes more to lumpen glam than punk, and as a result is ten times as powerful. Anne-Marie’s straining, yelping vocal is very sexy in a goth girl next door, Kim Wilde kind of way. ‘Can the Can’ is more perfect gothic bubblegum, but done completely straight and deadpan in spite of the absurd “eagle meets the tiger” lyrics- no more absurd than Ghost Dance’s own though, I suppose. Again, Anne-Marie comes over very sexy on the breakdown section, and does a fine scream, though she’s definitely more Joan Jett than Suzi Quatro.

  ‘Last Train’ is taken from the third EP, and a change of producer definitely shows in the clearer, crisper sound. This album is generally quite muffled all the way through, and I’m not sure if that’s due to the quality of the vinyl or the recording. Anyway, there’s a single-string Sisters of Mercy guitar riff, a four-square, bass-driven verse, and then the riff kicks back in for the chorus. The “last train” itself works both as mythic archetype and a social-realist reference to the actual last train from say, Leeds to Sowerby Bridge that your average Ghost Dance fan may find himself running for after the show. Indeed, he’ll probably be worrying about missing it while they’re playing this song, and may have to leave early to catch it, cursing his parents- so the hookline “take me anywhere but home” resonates particularly strongly. Going to gigs by train is probably an experience quite particular to growing up in small northern valley towns; incidentally, the Sisters wrote quite a few train songs as well, making it something of a classic northern gothic theme.

  Also from the third EP, ‘A Deeper Blue’ is built around a descending, circular riff and a surprisingly melodic chorus, probably stolen from ‘Blue Turk’ by Alice Cooper, providing more evidence of Ghost Dance’s glam rock roots. The hardcore punk-goth bridge section is definitely more Skeletal Family than Sisters derived. There’s also a fine, almost FM-rock guitar solo, and a neo-psychedelic fade-out.

  Side two opens with two of the band’s earliest numbers. ‘Yesterday Again’ is an old Skeletal Family song, also covered by Jude the Obscure. It’s a classic minimalist goth ballad, built on a pulsing, one-note synthesiser bassline that recalls the Sisters’ ‘Afterhours,’ a heavily echoed, minor-key guitar riff set on repeat and a ‘China Girl’ glam descend chorus. A break-up song that positively wallows in glorious self-pity, it’s wonderfully simplistic, even though by the end you expect it to turn into the Sisters’ ‘Some kind of Stranger’ at any moment- you can easily sing one song over the other… Roxy Music’s ‘Both Ends Burning’ is rendered as a straight-ahead rocker, with the drum machine set on autopilot and Marx playing the same three chords repeatedly over the top, the glam descend once again. It works though, and perfectly illustrates Ghost Dance’s seductive naivety. Despite the various members’ past experience in several successful groups, there’s a local-band amateurishness throughout proceedings, a DIY, primitive ethos that’s almost Billy Childish-like in theory, if not in actual sound. I guess that you could get away with that kind of thing in the 1980s, in a way that you certainly couldn’t now.

  Some- but not all- of that innocence had evaporated by the time of the band’s third single. ‘Grip of Love’ may be the band’s finest moment, a perfectly-conceived pop song with a great galloping rhythm and cleaner production than the previous two EPs. By now Richard Steele had joined on second guitar, and so the chorus-distortion main riff is underpinned by chiming 12-string. Yet its b-side, ‘Where Spirits Fly’ is a curiously charmless affair; driving and dynamic, it’s effective but formulaic. Of course, all of Ghost Dance’s songs are formulaic, but this one is too slick so as to sound almost cynical. It’s not a bad song- it was an old Sisters number that they never recorded- but it’s not one of my favourites. The album ends with ‘Radar Love,’ another cover that surpasses the stodgy original. There’s a driving bassline, a cute squeal from Anne-Marie, a top flight drum machine solo and then one of the great low E down the neck guitar scrapes on record. It jumps at the end though.

  After this, Anne-Marie went blonde, they replaced Pandora with a mere mortal (John Grant), and produced one last great EP- though I disliked it at the time- before signing to Chrysalis and re-emerging in 1989 as an AOR pop-rock outfit denying any gothic connection whatsoever. They lost all their old fans, failed to gain any new ones, flopped miserably and split up- though goth was dead in the water by the beginning of the 90s anyway, killed by the double-whammy of grunge and acid house. Etch briefly joined the Mission, and Richard Steele ended up in big-in-America ‘90s glam-rockers Spacehog, alongside members of cult Leeds fellow travellers the Dust Devils. Anne-Marie has recently been singing with a reformed Skeletal Family, having apparently spent the intervening years living the normal life, having kids and so on. And of the whereabouts of the great Gary Marx, I know nowt.

  This stuff has aged surprisingly well. It owes more to Kim Wilde, Joan Jett and the Sweet than Joy Division, and could still show the likes of The Killers a thing or too. It’s just classic pop music, gothic bubblegum indeed that still has me in the grip of love.


(edit: Etch also played in minimally-monikered and mightily-mulletted, but actually quite good on their day Bradford Metallers Loud, while Gary Marx can be found here:

And see also: )

Side Trips #1

May 9, 2008

Former Fall guitarist Ben Pritchard was a contestant on Ken Bruce’s Popmaster quiz on Radio 2 this morning, phoning in as a regular member of the public rather than as any kind of a celebrity. However, in the way of informing listeners of callers’ interesting jobs or hobbies, Ken did bring up the fact that ‘Ben from Bury’ had been a member of The Fall, and offered the opinion that his six-year stint was pretty good going, considering.

The guitarist, who played on Are You Missing Winner, County on the Click and Fall Heads Roll between February 2001 and May 2006, diplomatically described his time in the band as ‘an experience,’ which enabled him to meet ‘a lot of cool people’ and see parts of the world he wouldn’t otherwise have visited. Pritchard was actually sacked from The Fall in 2004, then swiftly re-instated, before resigning due to ‘irreconcilable differences’ with Mark E Smith, then re-joining, and then walking out along with the rest of the then-current line-up four dates into a disastrous 2006 US tour. When asked if he was currently playing in a band, Ben stuttered anxiously in the manner of a traumatised survivor of the Somme being asked if he was going to re-enlist, muttering something about playing along with records in a special room at home and trying to ‘improve himself.’

Choosing ‘this, that and the other’ as his bonus subject over ‘the Electric Light Orchestra,’ and despite being unable to identify the final hit by New Kids on the Block and wrongly guessing the year that ‘Puppy Love’ was a hit, Ben successfully answered questions on Imagination, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Manic Street Preachers, Yazoo and ‘The UB40’, among others. He won the contest, but failed to bag a state of the art digital radio when he was unable to name three chart hits by The Animals in ten seconds. ‘We gotta get out of this place!’ he cried in the dying moments, no doubt echoing his words on that fated US tour, almost two years ago to the day.

A Last Dance among the Ruins

February 9, 2008

I was already fifteen by the time I became passionate about pop music. Before, I had liked it, but indiscriminately; it was just something to laugh at on Top of the Pops, to sing along to on the radio, to dance to at the disco. It was background sound, entertainment, be it Kim Wilde or Adam and the Ants, Madness or the Jam, ’99 Red Balloons’ or early Madonna. It was great, but it wasn’t central to my existence. It didn’t affect the way I dressed or styled my hair, and I certainly didn’t spend my pocket money on it. But then, something changed.

Maybe it was just hormones, and becoming a teenager; I wanted to be cool, and in my adolescent awkwardness, music gave me a way to reinvent myself, to create a new identity quite distinct from that foisted upon me in childhood. It was a way to be creative, to live in my imagination, and to have a social life and hopefully a sexual one as well. It was a world where being an outsider misfit meant that you actually belonged.

Me and millions of others. But part of that process of reinvention was that I started reading the music press. And isolated and poor out in the sticks, there was a sense that NME, Sounds, Melody Maker and zines like Jamming and Tongue in Cheek were just as important as the music itself in opening up a new world to me. I discovered the music through the press, which by explaining and analysing, celebrating and criticising, alternately mythologising and deconstructing, opened my eyes and ears to rock and pop’s place within a broader cultural, social and political context, and made me realise that the music, at its best, was more than just entertainment. It meant something.

The idea that music is more than just entertainment is not one that holds much currency these days. It smacks of the discredited spirit of ’76, or worse, the naive hippy idealism of the drug-addled ’60s counter-culture, and we all know how that turned out. Now, everything is available, and nothing is special. It’s all equally disposable, entirely utilitarian, IPOD fodder for a distracted, ADD generation.

The 1980s were a low and treacherous decade, filled with bad music and worse haircuts. They began with the assasination of Lennon and the suicide of Ian Curtis, and went downhill from there. Nevertheless, those of us who were young in those godforsaken times still look back on them with a certain bittersweet fondness. There were still some fine records released among the slurry, and as I grow older even the worst of them sometimes seem preferable to the dreck that passes for pop music today, indie, mainstream or otherwise.

But let’s not fall for nostalgia. It’s a drug as deadly, insidious and addictive as crack, and just as prevalent within the music business. The ’80s are gone and I, for one, wouldn’t want them back. Certainly not as some kind of hideous, ironic, re-animated po-mo zombie half-life of ZX computer fonts, Flock of Seagulls fringes and smirking Thundercats t-shirts worn by gormless goons who were barely born when the Thatcher decade ended.

No, the ’80s were a wasteland, something that even Wayne Hussey and Frankie goes to Hollywood eventually realised. But the thing about growing up in a cultural wasteland is that when you do finally stumble across something that matters, it really matters, to the extent that it can change your life. But who has the time to have their life changed by a pop song these days? Who would even want to? There are DVD box sets to watch, and Facebook applications to enjoy. Now, everything is just more stuff, and we download our music by the ton, without ever asking what it means.       

These days, every aspect of the music press is ruthlessly aimed at a specific target audience, whose preferences, likes and dislikes are systematically assessed by crack teams of market researchers, and all content and tone is determined accordingly. But there was a time when papers like the NME set out to challenge their readership, if not to alienate them completely. As a typical white, lower middle-class indie-goth NME reader in the mid-eighties, I fully expected a weekly helping of contempt, scorn and vitriol to be directed at me for my narrow, parochial, predictable taste and lifestyle, and for generally being the enfeebled, reactionary rump of a pampered and complacent ruling elite. I was treated like a dog, and the NME was right to do so. It was character building.

Nobody would buy a music paper to be abused and sneered at these days, and who can blame them? They will stay in their comfort zones, happy to be segregated and niche marketed to, buying the publication that tells them about the kind of music that they already like. Music journalism has become just a product guide, giving you a CD’s technical specifications and rating it according to how well it performs on those terms.

And why not? Why should we stop people from getting what they want? We are all rocking in the free world now after all, and we have fought long and hard for our 24-hour opening, instant gratification, all you can eat consumer society, where we are guaranteed as much choice as we can handle, if not more.

I don’t know. I sometimes wonder if music journalism is really something for a grown man to aspire to. Leave it to the kids, or the dogs, whoever gets to it first. Sure, some of the greatest pure writing of the latter half of the Twentieth Century happened to be about pop or rock, but those days are over, and does anybody really care? The NME, as is well known, is a joke, a disservice even to the sixteen-year-olds it so blatantly patronises. Q, Uncut and Mojo are just toothless marketing rags, consumer guides promoting the product and keeping the record company back catalogue steadily rotating in the public eye. Their writers, in the end, are just artful advertising men. And as for the music sections of the broadsheet newspapers- well, no-one buy the Daily Telegraph expecting to be blown away by its gonzo rock coverage. 

Nowhere anymore is there any sense of rock as a separate culture, to be treated with the savagery and passion we would expect from anyone who genuinely cared. There is practically no distinction between the articles and the adverts. Look closely at either Mojo or NME and you’ll find ‘promotional features’ that are indistinguishable, but for that discreet caption, from the supposedly serious interviews beside them.

But maybe it doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe the music doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all just processed information and noise after all, and maybe it’s some kind of neurosis of capitalist society to fall in love with the product and to care so much about its form. Much healthier and more realistic to see it for what it is, to stop pretending that it has some kind of higher significance, to swallow our soma and dream on. 

And yet… pop music, rock music, often in its dumbest, most debased form, still says more to me than almost anything else. Not when it aspires to be high art, or when it starts to take itself seriously, but when it reveals vast depths of meaning and profundity almost in spite of itself. Music is an unfinished art form- it requires that you bring something of yourself to it, your own life, your own experiences and emotions, in order to complete the circuit. It is different for everyone, but sometimes it comes close to being the same. That is why I still like to read about how other people respond to music, especially if they write well, with feeling and insight and sensitivity. And that is why, in spite of everything, I still want to write about it myself.

Someone once said, notoriously and disparagingly, that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Well… I’m asking.

Even though the once-mighty flying buttresses are now so much rubble, and the other jivers have long since left or are just going through the motions…

Let’s have one last dance among the ruins.