Monday, 28 May 2012

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest

I watched the Eurovision song contest on Sunday. It was a ‘likely lads’moment – without the spoiled ending. I had spent the best part of Saturday night and the whole of Sunday avoiding the media coverage – to relive it ‘live’ in the comfort of my front room with Emma as she couldn’t be there on the Saturday. We have watched the Eurovision song contest for some time now. We watched it before we met. Now we watch it together.

I don’t watch it with ironic detachment.And neither does she.

I watch it as a pop show – a popular cultural moment. I know it doesn’t define Europe – or the ever widening boundaries of Europe. I know that Turkey’s charts are not filled with little numbers like their entry – all limbs and eastern Oliver as guys break danced in cloaks and formed boats. I get that – but there is a wonderful blurring of the popular boundaries and a reaffirmation that pop is just pop – ephemeral – a zeitgeist moment of simple melody and other people’s tunes.

Sweden won it.

I missed putting a bet on. I had it tipped. A David Guetta number it seems – with a few hairy dance moves courtesy of the local dance class from around my way. Not Kate Bush as some had suggested. I can see why it won – it tapped into that euphoric ‘club’ feeling but was lit in chiaroscuro and dressed in rags – all very austerity. Germany’s entry was shit though – economic power horse see – thought they could get away with murder.

But the Eurovision song contest has a place in my heart. And as I say it’s not that kitsch thing – or the misunderstanding of kitsch. You have to be sincere for kitsch to work. That’s why John Waters films work – they don’t reflect of revere. They just are. And that’s how I watch the programme – that’s my point of consumption. There’s always a moment in between the final acts and the scoring that sets the creative minds of host countries soaring in cirque to soliel excess. As if Leni Refienstal is back in style and the more pompous and bombastic the ‘filler’ is will result in regime change and the start of a new ‘european’ order. It kind of happened on Saturday/ Sunday as the boyfriend of the President’s daughter sang his new single – that seemed to sound like last year’s winner – amidst the history of the musical heritage of Azerbaijan and lasers. You’ve got to have some lasers. For the dark bits.

Yet on the semi final show [see I told you there is no irony here] on Thursday they brought together the previous five winners and segued into Waterloo. I didn’t need Scott Mills and that professional northerner Sara Cox adding witticisms from the comfort of their broadcasting box to make it work – or see it’s significance.

It was priceless and classy and utterly right.

Still the politics of the show are wonderful – not in a who’s voting for whom way – but in the way the songs reflect the current times. It’s better than Dylan. You get me? There’s lyrics reflecting chances and change and cold times ahead. There’s the frivolous and two fingered. There’s regret and national identity. It’s kind of Newsnight with tunes.

But there was one tune that was missing. Well two if you count the Netherlands – but they haven’t qualified for six years. Shame really. However, I am talking about Israel – all Prince – but more ‘queen’ playing a simple pop tune with integrity and a hint of show bizz. Not as grubby as T-Rex but as tubby when the Bolan was bingeing. These phone votes skew the system see – they rely on the immediacy of technology – of whim. Oh and of course the politics of it all.

Still it was a tune I would like to hear again.

But as ever with the fleeting, transient nature of pop – it bursts and melts into air. Some things aren’t meant to be saved- except they can be now – trawled up and held for prosperity – after the event. It’s not like home taping – but that’s another piece of writing for another day. So here’s to Israel. They didn’t make the cut on Thursday but they were in my Sunday final along with Engelbert – lost in the first flourishes of the final. A Johnny Cash twang to  a simple ballad that deserved more than it got.

Like this tune.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Lincoln Imp and the possibilities of live performance

I have noticed how much of this writing is tinged with the buzz buzz buzz of live performance. Of witnessing [tha fitness] the moment a band, a singer, a this or a that gives you that moment of sincerity and you fall head over heels in love with them again. Or even love them more.

There is a small local public house in Ashby – well not even Ashby – just sort of deposited in a road behind some houses – with a small drag of shops servicing nobody these days. I mean it’s not on Broadway – do you get me? I used to do boxing there – under the bar. All blood, sweat and tears. Leather gloves and Scunthorpe thugs.

I lasted a few weeks.

Head ringing in the ring. All Tom and Jerry birds circling heads – which is something my boys have taken to saying when they pretend or actually hit their heads – ‘can you see the birds, daddy? ‘ Well I have done. Downstairs in that public house. So I packed it in and most likely started listening to Frankie goes to Hollywood on a regular basis. It was always about extremes with me. However, I would venture there again – not down the steps to the ring but across the carpeted backroom – well I think it was a side room – and to the stage – let leash the sounds rehearsed in bedrooms, garages and church halls. All feedback squall, or glitter beat glam and acid modernism – to audiences of ten or more. There was both a sincerity and pomposity in it all. Small time promoters in small town situations – but you felt like Andrew ‘Loog’ Oldham - shaping a scene with a sprinkle of ‘pop’ magic.

It wasn’t just the Lincoln Imp mind you – there was Bentleys, The Crosby, The Royal Hotel, The Bridge, The Wortley or the Baths. There were others as well - local WMCs putting on bands  – all honky tonk C&W and synthesizer duos called ‘The 2 of Us’ or ‘Mirror Mirror’ – our anorak culture from 1985 – 89 wasn’t suited to that really. But I would have my taste at the Snooker club dances held throughout the year as Mandy tottered on heels and I put on a shirt to eat pie and peas and ‘jive’ with the best of them to the latest act booked by Sean Coleman’s dad or mine at a club located opposite a cemetery with my secondary school a stone’s throw away for walks home in the dark.

And each one of us would aim to put on a night of this and that. Some live – some just playing records. Nonetheless the possibility of live performance fuelling our minds with super rock stardom and pure adoration spurred us onward. It was a Scunthorpe scene maaaan. But as I’ve previously stated there is something explosive about sounds happening in the real. When things can fall apart or the edge [not The Edge] in the room gets soaked up in the songs.

I haven’t been to a gig for a while. I was going to go and see The Primitives this week – keep it in the past Alan, keep it tucked right back in the past. And time races by in bedtimes and bottles and kisses and cuddles. I still might go and see The Primitives this week. It’s on Friday at the Borderline – a venue I seem to find myself in once a year – as old artists’ audiences shrink and deplete and only the most ardent are prepared to pay the ticket price. That’s if there any tickets left.

I once followed The Primitives around the North and the Midlands, taking in the heady rush of bass and fuzz, fuzz, fuzz guitar coupled with simplistic rhythms and bittersweet vocals. In an orange Hillman Imp driven by a wonderful friend named Darryl. That thrill of it all – entering a venue – I was 16 at the time all underage and ready for booze and shouting. In a positive manner that is – not a late night Scunthorpe brawl in a tarmaced car park off Doncaster Road. You could smell the cigarettes and spilt drinks worn in from endless nights of energy. It’s what the youth did. Does.

My love of The Primitives live experience stretched to Paul and I hopping on a train down to London for an all dayer at The Boston Arms in Tufnell Park [The Impossibles played too – I think our love knew no bounds for them] Nowhere to stay but up for it anyway – all wide eyed and green – but we managed it – sleeping rough in some school grounds until the first tube trains started running. You do that kind of thing when you’re young – I couldn’t imagine it now – or letting my kids do it. But we did.

And we returned. Safe and sorted.

I would stay out far past my bedtime in this capital city on many occasions since then – but that was the first time. And all of those fears and teenage trepidation where outweighed by Tracy Tracy singing (We’ve) Found a way (to the Sun) just for me. I know it wasn’t - but it always felt that way. And that’s what I get from those moments when the notes collide and the feedback lingers longer than the producer would ever allow. It’s the live ‘feelin’ – it’s being there. From the small stages in steel towns to aircraft hangers we watched The Cure in time and time again there’s a feeling that goes with the territory that you can’t emulate at home. Paul sent me all the Velvet Underground records sometime last month. Buried within the mp3s was a live album that has Lou and co just rocking uptown with the glamorous and fawning. But you can tell this is a band who are at the top of their game – confident – inventive and not feared to take a risk. Switching from the chug and fug of basic guitars whilst feedback howls and things get spiked up to the simplicity of Mo Tucker sticking with you through it all. And in all of that is a super funked exploration of Waiting for my Man – all fluid and loose with rolling bass and guitar licks. It’s incredible – but not Andy’s vision for the album. I know I wasn’t at the gig – but I can feel it. There’s something special taking place in the room. I’m not certain that always happened at The Lincoln Imp – but it has to start somewhere – so credit to the owners of all those local establishments who allowed us to promote and gloat and float our ideas out there. We might not have quite been the velvets but it was all about experimenting.

Should I go to see The Primitives this week? I think I’m convinced already.

Are you coming down the front?

Here’s the Velvets. It takes a while to get going. But stick with it. This is a faster version than the one on the bootleg album I was writing about above but I think it rolls particularly well.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

If it all disappeared

I was reading Ed Vuillamy’s piece for Record Store Day in The Observer last week or even weeks ago – after Emma had finished the crossword [I might be able to recall the various Rephlex releases but I can’t do crosswords – that’s a real mental activity] and in it he details that his attempt to ship his record collection back to ‘dear old Blighty’ ended in disaster. The shipping company having failed to fill in the necessary paperwork pretty much gave the US customs department a right to destroy everyone of his 1600 records [and his books as well – but here we’re just talking about the music].

And in this piece of Sunday filler was an attempt to communicate the essential pull these pieces of plastic have on us. He was replenishing the stock – long player by long player – the same versions – the same labels – not swapping for a digital age – and obviously this chimed with the whole record store day vibe. And it set me [stinkin’] thinkin’ about all that vinyl upstairs, in no particular order and gathering dust – how I would feel if it simple disappeared one day. It’s not that I’d forget it – it would just be gone – not tangible – like the tunes on my phone.

There and not there.

In some ways those tunes up there [in the house – not in the ether] are not physical anymore – they exist in memories and snatches of sounds lodged [way] in my brain [way in my brain] and the act of playing them is lost in the day to day of living. If I am honest I even missed Record Store Day – I forgot amidst the Saturday playing out and the relevant madness of fatherhood – although I had made time for a stop in Reckless Records on Wednesday as I strolled back through Soho to Charing Cross. It was a glance at the racks and weighing up the odds of releasing some of my stock back to the river.

But I had those pangs – that only hoarders feel. It’s hard to give them up. Even the ones that I cringe at when I see a front cover and memories come flooding back of mis-timed dances and chances and unbearable angst and romances. Odd how plastic makes you feel. And part of me couldn’t imagine having to re-build it all – I guess I like to think that I’d just accept it and move on. But deep down I’d be gutted if I lost all my records.

So with it comes the question of what you would save [family accepted – and the cats]. That dilemma of saving the few over the many – hey – we’d all burn together. As Buffalo Springfield melted into LFO and dripped down over My Bloody Valentine and Denim. A whole heap of new genres emerging.

So today I am going to pick one. A simple tune to be plucked from the burning shack or the hands of the US customs. I have always had time for hip hop headz – for listening to beats and the bile that MCs be spittin’. And Gang Starr where clearly way up there in terms of their hip hop credibility – incendiary – you get me? And around the turn of the nineties through G&Ts and Acid Jazz emerged Guru’s take on the Blue Note era – this back to the beginning approach to reconstructing the songs – through risk and improvisation.

And Jazzamatazz at the time was seen to be a whole new way of mining the lineage – the joining of what was hip to the hop of the 90s. Hepcat callin’ from around tha way. On that album is a tune with him, D.C Lee and Ronny Jordan – by rights its call to an obsessive work ethic shouldn’t be a tune worth saving – but somehow it resonates and transports to days sat in The Honest Lawyer and smoke filled rooms and blissful dreams back in that steel town. Of flat fronted trousers and loafers. Loafers – bought on the cheap in Leeds – snakeskin tops with a patent feel, square toed and light. Ankle cut beige slacks a with a Ben Sherman short sleeve red plaid shirt topped with a wrangler press stud untreated denim jacket – no vents – fitted with no real room or movement – so no punches being thrown.

Just a simple expression. No more – no less.

And that’s what resides inside No Time to Play

The simple – honest rolling guitar ‘lick’ – kind of endlessly looping back in on itself – just gets me every time. It isn’t quite jazz – I found that hard going to be honest – but maybe when Paul and I started with Love Supreme – it was always going to be a struggle. Nowadays – I get Jelly Roll Morton and the gang – but Coltrane’s strains where a learning curve from the chord changes of the Stooges.

Guru offered that ‘in’ without the spin and for some reason reading that article brought me to saving this tune. It isn’t my favourite – I could most likely live without it. D.C Lee offering up the refrain that we’ve got to keep movin’ everyday. A call to do stuff – make things happen. I guess the physical existence of the thing means it carries some sentimental worth – an object. If I’d just downloaded the code I wouldn’t care so much. I could replace it with a click. However – I know it’s there – upstairs with the rest of the ‘collection’ – running the gamut from mainstream to downstream.

They’ve just released John Peel’s collection online - all ‘Nathan Barley’ and hyperlinked in THE SPACE – amidst home videos and talking heads. We all collect records here – they fascinate us for the sounds on them – not the notes we make about them. Although that’s what I’m doing here – pouring words over sounds. Ultimately we want the music to affect us and no matter how many words we chose to discuss and explain it – you know you just want to put the record on and make up your mind.

But as I said sometimes listening is not enough.

I wonder what John would have saved?