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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Regional Variations

More sifting and sorting and clipping and cutting and snipping and nipping and tucking and sieving hoping and wishing and dreaming of North Stars.

One thing that is clear from listening to the various musicians that are featured in the book (they include Lindisfarne, The Animals, The Shadows, Bryan Ferry, Knopfler, Chris Wilkie (Dubstar), Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Dave Stewart (Eurythmics), Pet Shop Boys, Chris Rea, John Miles, amongst others) is that there is no defining commonality, no shared ethos or manifesto. There is no Newcastle sound in the way that there was a Mersey Sound of the early sixties beat boom.

Of Course there wasn’t really a Mersey Sound either. That was just a loose collection of groups that all happened to sound the same; something to do with the material, the instruments, the technology and the producers, the time.
The Mersey Sound was a bag, a label, a great marketing ploy.

Had it been promoted as such at the time, The Newcastle Sound would have died a death in much the same way that one imagines say, the Norwich sound, might these days. The last great geographical conjuring trick I suppose was the whole Manchester / Madchester vibe of a few years back.

That was a lot to do with provincialism declaring its independence, throwing off the shackles of the Metropolitan imperialism that created and colonised the music industry. Even then, after the heady, speed-induced wide-eyed awakening, that initial chorus of surprise and individuality was replaced with the inexorable sound of the money sliding south once again.

How do we account for this lack of regional variety in pop and rock music? Although nowadays regional voices are now more readily heard on BBC radio, they tend to still be something of an aural novelty. Mostly, what we hear every day is a slightly dumbed-down democratisation of Received Pronunciation, a homogenous Home County blandness spun in the Beeb blender.

Pop and rock’s RP was (and largely still is) cod-American, it’s vocabulary derived from a relatively small gene pool of American musical forms and style.
The most notable pioneers would be the Beatles themselves – thus reinforcing the notion of their music having a regional twinge about it. Having said that, it was fairly sporadic and half-assed.

In his early days, Robert Wyatt can be heard belting out the American accent. Only when he gets more confident (which was as much to do with the music departing from rock per se) does he let his real voice start to slip in. Wyatt’s Englishness is then used to punctures the gravitas of Ratledge and Hopper’s compositions. Caravan’s Richard Sinclair might be another; the Canterbury Sound indeed.

Greg Lake might be another notable early dissident when it comes to letting his native vowels stretch out – ‘Cracked Braass Bell’ and all that. I suppose there are many others but for the most part, a catch-all ersatz American slur was the default setting when it came to getting up in front of a microphone.

I was listening to a fabulous recording of Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Live At The Kingston ABC 1962 is a real gem of an album; a truly great snapshot of a band and singer really hitting their stride. When Hank and Bruce do a couple of stage announcements their Geordie are deliberately diluted and muted. Same with Cliff. Yet after they’ve loosened up and are clearly having a ball, a their accents slip back to something that would be more passable in Newcastle’s West End or the mean streets of Harry Webb’s Cheshunt for the matter.

The other day Dubstar were playing. I love Sarah’s Halifax accent. However as natural as it is, it sounds astonishingly seditious as though it’s deliberately been set up to go against the grain. I guess that’s a measure of how entrenched is the American model of presenting a song remains in our listening psyche.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Forming Bands & Flogging A Dead Horse

Tom has taken to strumming about on my bass guitar in recent times. This is something I wholeheartedly approve of. He’s just the right age to take this instrument up and, along with a couple of his chums, is thinking about forming a band.

Forming a band was something I was forever doing when I was a kid although I quickly learned that talking about it sounded much better than the actuality. And by totally spooky coincidence, Rupert Loydell and myself have exchanged emails about forming a prog band called Future Planes.

The name is based on one of his typos. Mind you, he’s already bagged the silver cape - the fly get!

Tom likes playing along to his favourite album at the moment – Red Hot Chilli Peppers and last night was cock-a-hoop with the fact that he’s managed to throw in a couple of passing notes on the octave.

My knacky old Hohner is too big and ungainly for him to use or even hold. However, if he can grasp the basics on this then there’s hope when he eventually grabs that Fender Mustang on Ebay.

After the glorious operatic glut of yesterday, my mood becomes maudlin. In this frame of mind, one can only reach for the Hammill. In this instance, Easy To Slip Away from Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night was unbearably poignant. “Now time is like cat’s cradle in my hands / and I gather up the strands much too slowly.”

What an old softy I am.

Today on the lunchtime news I hear that a dead horse has been dumped outside of the Labour Party conference being held in Brighton. The news increasingly gets more and more surreal. Or perhaps it’s just my internet connection. One presumes this is an act by the pro-hunt lobby offering up a rich symbol (flogging a dead horse etc) for the media.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Gluttony Of Opera

There are some days when only opera will do. Nothing else will cut the mustard or clear out the gills as good as a loud blast of, well, orchestrated noise. Debbie would go so far as to say 90% of what lurks on my shelves falls into the category of noise.

Ignoring her cheap shot what do I mean by noise? Well there noise and there’s noise. There’s found noise and there’s scored noise. I am blessed with a substantial collection of both. Albums such as Bill Fontana Koln / San Francisco Soundbridge or the several recordings of Alan Lamb are all stirring in their own way.

The former unites two continents, mixing live transmissions from the bridges of SF and Koln via satellite. The latter takes the sad, lonely sound of wind howling through what Lamb calls the Faraway Wind Organ – half a mile of abandoned telegraph wires in the Australian outback. Both are spellbinding; just noise for noises sake.

Then there’s The Crackling by John Duncan and Max Springer –a toe-tapping classic recorded at Stanford Linear Accelerator Centre, California; surely the found noise equivalent of the Brill Building in full swing. Not exactly easy listening to be sure but (and I know this sounds truly daft) reassuringly bucolic, pastoral even in its own minimal, dog-range frequency kind of way.

I won’t even detail the various manipulations of Max Eastley or David Toop, the microtonal delving of Thomas Koner or the street-sound sculptures of Brian Eno’s White Cube installation soundtrack, or even my own humble ventures in this field, except in passing and to convince you should it be necessary, that when it comes to noise both treated and natural, I have plenty to go around.

But listening to this branch of the noise family is akin to cleansing one’s aural palate. There’s an austerity to it, it can almost be astringent if you catch my drift. No, what I wanted this morning wasn’t to get my palate laundered, what I wanted was just the opposite; to get it positively filthy.

I want the shrill blast that shreds your centre-parting, that stirring thrill as the bass-end rumbles beneath all those busy-busy strings and blaring horns. Above all, I want the tremulous, orgiastic, orgasmic bellow, grunt and moan of the human voice operating at the outer edge of what it can do without shattering. And to get all of this in one big lip-smacking dollop, as I said right at the top, there are some days when only opera will do.

Given that classical music was a significant feature of my childhood days, I grew up aware of light operatic repertoire of Mario Lanza and Harry Secombe (American readers should know that Harry S was better known in this country as a member of the 1950s groundbreaking comedy outfit The Goons without whom Monty Python would not etc, etc).

As I grew older, it was the straight orchestral stuff that caught my ear – Beethoven, Dvorak, Wagner and all of those heavy duty dudes.

Then in more recent years my customer resistance to the fat lady and the equally well-proportioned chappie with the cravat and sopping handkerchief somehow dropped; these larger than life characters with their arias and tiaras unaccountably wormed their way into my affections. The use of the Pavster bellowing Nessun Dorma during the (I think) 1990 world cup probably had a lot to do with it.

The stuff that really began to ring my bell though was the soaring counter-tenor found in a lot of work by Henry Purcell. I just couldn’t get enough of it. Slippery slope stuff really; you know the drill. You get Dido And Aeneas, then the Fairy Queen and it can only be a matter of days until you bowl up to the counter and ask rather feverishly if there’s a complete recording of King Arthur – the highlights just won’t do.

So bits and pieces of other, non-English opera start finding their way onto the shelves until one day you realise that when you wake up needing that operatic gorge-fest, you’re spoilt for choice. ‘Oh Lord, how did it happen?’ you ask yourself like a pie-eyed sot emerging from a particular rancid lost weekend.

Don’t go there. Shut it out. Just slam in the platter, start the spread and bring on the binge. The opulence of orchestration, the trumpery of the broad-brush overture, the gaudy embroidery of interludes and chorus; all of it enough to give any person musical indigestion. But here’s the bottom line; for me it’s the guilty pleasure of gluttony.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Pure Markus Reuter Ian Boddy

Arguably the UK’s leading independent electronic music maestro Ian Boddy has teamed up once again with German touch guitarist, Markus Reuter to create a stunning new album called Pure.
Although Boddy and Reuter have collaborated in concert (at Jodrell Bank in 1999 & the E-Live Festival in Eindhoven 2000), Pure represents their second proper studio outing since their impressive 1999 debut, Distant Rituals.

Radically different from the impressionistic prowl of its predecessor, Boddy and Reuter have explored and expanded a series of pieces into a cycle of intricate, inter-connected compositions; delicate in expression and character, graceful in execution and richly harmonic.

This is not a collection of drifting textures but rather a series of crisply defined vignettes with tight arrangements and close attention to fine detail.

Filled with achingly beautiful melodies and deceptively simple orchestrations, it's the sound of two musicians at the top of their game. Don’t expect to turn on, tune in and drop off. What you get with Pure is an album of sustained reverie; alert, engaged and insightful; totally in the moment and with a warmth and human-touch so often lacking in modern electronica.

This isn’t about wires and interfaces but about contact and exchange; in this sound world nothing is separate or isolated. With Pure everything connects – one idea leading to another
From the first second of the opening track, "Presence", the listener is taken somewhere special, somewhere out of the ordinary.

Moving easily between the diaphanous sound that you’d expect from Ian Boddy and the deft, fleeting guitar work for which Markus Reuter is rightly lauded, the eleven tracks contrast and compliment each other perfectly.

On the twitchfunk pulse of “This Life”, Reuter’s bottomless guitar shadow-dances between layers of muted colouring and surging beat creating something playful and dynamic.

"The Level" is utterly enthralling. Cascading lines jostle and push against an unswerving beat; high notes popping like paparazzi flashbulbs, their ghostly after-trace still with you long after the track has passed by.

In the end though, there’s not much point in worrying about whom does what on this album. Boddy and Reuter have created something What’s important is that Boddy and Reuter have conspired to create a piece of outstanding, seamless irresistible music that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Ballad Of Lucy & Otis

Another meeting with John and BT; after an hour of hard-balling over the paper John had prepared, this elusive “thing”, “idea” or “scam” that has been flitting about at the edge of our vision, moved firmly and decisively into direct sight.

However, once the initial elation has settled down we fell silent; the enormity of the hill that John has to climb is massive.

North Stars heads out from the mean streets of Walker off to the pit mining areas of Washington – I realise that I’m not really nipping and tucking; this is wholesale butchery!

The ballad of Lucy and Otis takes shape thanks to the continuing contributions…

“With naught but their trust funds for comfort, only Burberry 'gainst winter's chill

What chance stood these few that their just cause would be heard by the tyrants so shrill?”


Thank you James Wills for that.

And now from someone who should know better;

It was only a range rover and trailer
she tried to park in the square;
when they cuffed her and led her away
she squealed "life just isn't fair -

those horribles foxes need culling,
it doesn't hurt them and it is such fun.
Blair and his cronies may crow now,
truth is we know we've won."

The judge seemed to part of the hunt
too, or something that rhymes with the word,
for no ticket or summons was issued,
just a minimal fine - what a turd.

or


she was only an old pop star's missus
but she out-foxed us all


Thank you Mr.Rupert Loydell.

And finally, nothing to do with any of the above, this just in from Terry Kalka

My personal title for the Jack Johnson sessions is "John McLaughlin will
kick your ass now."

As in, "Mr. Smith? Thanks for waiting. John McLaughlin will kick your ass
now."


How true, how true!

Minority? For Fox's Sake!

Over on the right. . .Lucy Ferry and Chum

So now we know. After being fined £40 for her part in last weeks anti hunting bill demonstration, Lucy Ferry, the ex-wife of crooner Bryan Ferry and mother to Commons-busting son Otis, has come out and said she intends to bring down the government. When asked by an incredulous reporter on Radio 4s PM programme if she was serious, she replied “Yah.”

The Countryside Alliance and their supporters has sought to turn the foxhunting ban into a question of a prejudice. In this case, the prejudice of a couple of hundred bigoted, loony Lefty MPs determined to oppress a minority – the supporters of foxhunting.

I suppose if you say it quickly enough whilst sticking your fingers in both ears it’s just about plausible. It’s quite a piece of appropriation that puts me in mind of a piece of work by artist Victor Burgin .

Back in 1976, the streets of Newcastle were flyposted with a large professionally printed full colour poster. From a distance it looked like it was advertising a brand of clothes or some new fashion-related product. The young couple in the picture were embracing; she whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

The slogan at the top of the scene ran ‘What does possession mean to you?’ Underneath came the rejoinder; ‘7% of the population own 84% of our wealth.‘

Now there’s a minority if ever there was one. I expect those figures (source: The Economist ) are well out of date but it wouldn’t surprise me if that those 7% owed a bit more than the 84% of the nation’s wealth these days.

Burgin was appropriating the visual language and copy of advertising and commerce, employing them in the service of his own political agenda. The appropriation of the usual notion of what constitutes an oppressed minority by the Anti-hunting lobby is no less breathtaking.

The usual point about oppression is that those being oppressed are generally without power and access to power. Do they really expect anyone to be fooled by this spectacularly cynical wheeze?

Perhaps the pair will be martyrs to the cause of fighting oppression wherever it rears its ugly head? The Ballad of Lucy and Otis might be immortalised in some kind of Sloane Ranger protest songbook.

I can hear it now; “She was only a stockbrokers daughter; a poor lad from Eton he. They fought bravely ‘gainst oppression and prejudice, and Gov’ment illegaliteee.”

Crack open the Bolly! Send your contributions to the second verse to the usual address please.

Out of the blue today came an email from Tom Phillips inviting me to take a look at his website. Many Crimheads will want to go straight here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A Night Out With John McLaughlin

While watering the yard this morning I think I've discovered the cause of one of our plants difficulties...

I checked in on Barry Stock’s dairy and the guestbook and discover that John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra are under discussion.

Well, here too. As Barry said to me in an email – there must be something in the air. The door and windows were rattling in their frames yesterday as I listened to the first, second and Emerald Beyond albums. Stunning stuff all of it. I saw the original line-up and the Emerald Beyond tour and was profoundly stirred by what I heard.

And today, the Johhny Mac theme continues with oodles of Jack Johnson takes pounding about the woodwork and those little hairs inside my ears. Oddly enough, I’ve never liked looking at John McLaughlin – never could get away with all the face pulling.

When my son was one year old, my then wife and I, celebrated the special event by staging a party for family and friends. About half way through the day, my brother in law casually mentioned that the John McLaughlin trio were playing in town that night. I hadn’t seen him for years nor had I kept up to speed (how apt) with what he was up to. But, as my old mate Nod used to say “an idea grew in my mind like a carrot.”

Faced with the choice of offending my wife and invited guests or missing JM in performance I’m afraid I chose the latter rather than the form. It’s not big or clever and I’m not proud of it… BUT as soon as I got Tom off to sleep I said ‘tara’ to the gang and broke the land speed record from North Shields to Newcastle, parking my lardy ass in a seat at the city hall seconds before the JM trio came on stage.

This would have been 21st June 1992 and I suppose the album at the time must have been Que Alegria. Trilok Gurtu was a revelation to me that night. Of course, my early flight from the party didn’t go down well but I’m glad I got there.

Did I ever tell you my ‘the day I stalked John McLaughlin’ story? Hmmm, thought I had. If you haven’t heard it Phil T, you better email me for the dirt. No "apotheosis," "plangent," "pellucid, "hieratic" – honest.

North Stars veers into the darkest depths of Walker today and digs deep into the world of Eric Burdon. When they came onto the scene The Animals didn’t just sing about the House of the Rising Sun, they looked like a bunch of regular customers stepping outside for a breather before going back in for more.

There was an edgy quality to their act – largely captured on their first album recorded with Mickie Most. Rough and ready it may be but this music stands up incredibly well. Burdon and the original Animals were only together for a couple of years but they are all marked by their time in the group; resentment, grudging appreciation, pride and nostalgia are all recurring themes in the Animals story.

And now back to Johnny Mac – he grew up in Whitley Bay you know!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Narc

It’s the old good cop who’s really a bad cop but is really a good cop who turns out to be bad routine with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta in Narc.

Low budget to the point of wondering whether there was going to be enough money to buy the stock for the next days shooting, writer and director, Joe Carnahan pulls off an exceptional feat. The opening ten minutes of this movie are about the best I’ve ever seen in terms of establishing character and the inciting incident.

Ray Liotta proves himself as an actor of real depth in his role as Henry Oak, the big man stepping over the line in order to do the right thing. It’s a shame he can’t get more scripts like Narc because he thoroughly inhabits the role, pulling off a major performance that I haven’t seen since Goodfellas. Here was a big character in every sense of the word (Liotta put weight on for this beefed-up part) and whilst he plays it hot and loud, Patric provides the necessary ice playing an intense outsider drawn back into the work that repelled him and set his own life spiralling into freefall.

The movie explores loyalty and trust in surprising intimate detail without recourse to manno a manno cliché and keeps the tension all the way to the dénouement. Strong characterisation, rollercoaster pace and superb visual flair and design make this one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Joe And The Dragon

Following the trail of the North Star. . .over the weekend I left the world of punk behind and moved onto the gentler environs of folk music. Mind you, what with all the tales of deflowering, doom, disease and departure hidden in the folds of the collective Arran Isle Sweater of the folk fraternity, I’m beginning to think the punk rockers were a bit on the soft side.

Kathryn Tickell and Eliza Carthy’s music does a merry jig or two around the yellow room and I feel compelled to join in. Eliza C has the edge somehow although it seems unfair to compare them; chalk and cheese and all that.

Today, yet more discussions with Martin Ellis regarding publication dates, copy editing and the relative merits of Ant and Dec as a musical force worthy of inclusion in his North Stars tome. I’m not convinced. Canny lads though Ant and Dec undoubtedly are (and they are), their contribution to music as Byker Grove’s PJ and Duncan is slight; think flies around the steaming dunghill of the music industry.

I suggest that they should not be featured in Martin’s tome. I have suggested this several times before. And I will suggest it again before Martin goes off to Frankfurt where he will be putting the final shape to the book. My mission in life is now to save this publisher from his own inherent sense of fair play.

I received a copy of the new album by Markus Reuter and Ian Boddy at the weekend. I’ve had a rough mix for several weeks now but this is the final version. It sounds uplifting. I wrote some words for Ian’s press release and will put up a link to the DiN website again once the album goes public.

And now – a tenuous folk rock link courtesy of Joseph and his broken finger. . .

Friday, September 17, 2004

Farewell The Blog That Rings My Belle

Joseph spent the morning in the local hospital having his left hand examined after a speeding football at school connected with it at a velocity that would have certainly given him a black eye had his hand not been raised to deflect it. Sure enough he has broken a finger and has to have it strapped up for a month. He’s not in any pain and of course he got today off school – so he’s well-pleased!

The offer of joining a group comes from an old friend of mine who has the annoying ability to play just about any instrument he cares to lay his hand on. Given my pathetically arthritic capabilities I find it hard to believe what use I could be in such a venture. He is insistent that it would be good to do some playing. I’m not so sure. We’ve arranged a time to chat next week.

Today involved more meetings with remarkable men; John Sargent and Brian Topping. The two of them are old colleagues of mine from the days of local government. John is consulting Brian and I on issues of great important and high culture! We sank a pint of tea and put the world to rights. We liked it so much we’re going to do it all again a week today.

I am aghast and all at sea. One of my favourite blogs has come to an end. So, goodbye belle de jour My days will be darker as a result. On the plus side, I might get more work done!

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Don't Dictate!

There’s a lot of brouhaha in the press today regarding the lapses in security around places like Buckingham Palace and the House of Commons. In particular the activities of one Otis Ferry excite the ire of many commentators. It’s a shame people can’t get angry about the things that really matter in today’s world such as why Otis’s dad is making such crap albums these days.

Those nice people from EMI have sent me some punk rock to help my musings on Penetration. There is of course an irony about a hotly tipped punk rock group being produced by arch-hippy Mike Howlett. And let’s not even mention the fact that the album was first released on Virgin home of such punk divas as Henry Cow, Mike Oldfield, Gong et al.

However the music is good and surprisingly engaging. I pad about the house humming lines such as “Don’t dictate, don’t dictate, dictate to me!”

Joseph is highly excited about the weekend. He netted more birthday money than I have in my current account. When you’re a kid there’s nothing worse than a sum of dosh burning a hole in your pocket; as I type he is planning the various shops he intends to visit.

In the meantime I find my attentions being diverted by Tom who has declared he wants to learn to play bass and I take a call asking me if I’d like to join a band!

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Happy Birthday Joseph

Joseph was eleven years old today! A birthday meal of his favourite calzone recipe was followed by opening his presents and general merriment. Joe has moved into that age where he doesn’t get presents as such but rather envelopes full of money as requested.

Being a beast, I make him work for his cash and so present him with a box bearing the title of “The Joyous Jobs of Joseph.” Therein eleven tasks await completion before the Dadcash is coughed up; lots of running about, lots of laughing. When it was all done Alys presented Joe and the assembled ensemble with a chocolate cake to die for!

Later in the evening, Tom opens a can of whupass on me while we play chess. Not once, not twice but three times in a row. Blimey. My kids are growing up.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Ginger Bob Hates You

"You're a big man, but you're out of shape. With me it's a full time job. Now behave yourself."

Friday, September 10, 2004

21st Century Schizoid Band In New York

Sometimes when you know a song really well it’s hard to be surprised by it. Although I’ve never actually counted them up I must have dozens of versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man sitting on the shelves here in the yellow room. Something of a signature song for the group, repeated listening has probably taken the shine off it a little bit for me. Put it this way, if I want a blast of KC, it’s not usually the first track I reach for.

Just when I think I can’t be surprised by the song, a version turns up in the e-post courtesy of Jakko. Taken from the Schizzie’s second set at B.B.Kings in Time Square N.Y at the end of April earlier this year, this is a frankly astonishing rendition; their best to date and certainly better than a lot of versions by Crim themselves over the years.

JJ’s voice sounds like it’s at the top of the game; his fire-fuelled solo likewise. It’s good. Very good; the building tension is remarkable as the sax break draws near. Suddenly the band turn on a sixpence and launch into a strange place; cymbal work, Wallace fanning flames with wafting, skittering cymbal work; this is edgy stuff – not what was expected yet more than can be hoped for. I swear I just heard Tony Williams walk in.

Mel C peppers the glistening metal with hot notes as he takes the A Train – quite literally. This is the group confidently scooping out the insides of the tune, tossing it about, relaxed and loose. They’ve got the grasp and reach to go wherever it might take them. Giles stokes up on the dark stuff, grinding those notes into thick wedges that groan simultaneously of menace and promise.

By the time Ian McDonald comes in, they swing a left; scraping the atonal splinters off the thing. You can hear they’re enjoying themselves. You can hear the smiles. When it goes back into the tight unison section it sounds like this is how it should have always been played.

The running lines belonging to be-bop more than rock. If you want to think about what jazz rock could have sounded like then this is a good a primer as you’d get. By the time it howls to a stop, I’m almost relieved. I’ve worked up a bit of a sweat just listening to it. Lord knows what it must been like playing the damn thing.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

The Man From Room 274

Research:

I’m sitting in the café attached to a fashionable hotel near Newcastle’s quayside. I pull out a little black notebook from the Denver bag and settle back in the huge padded chair, making notes.

After scribbling a couple of sentences I trail off; black lines into white space. The words don’t make sense, I can’t focus. I’m a touch skittery about this, nervous if truth be told.

I take a sip of the hot tea Michelle has just delivered. I watch her drift away to other tables in this cavernous space. She clearly wants to be somewhere else, as do most of her colleagues.

Actually, nervous isn’t the right word; apprehensive is what I’m feeling. Apprehensive goes deeper than nervous. It’s sharper with a slower edge as it slides in and slices across your perceptions.

I’m here to meet someone who takes things from people. The Showman had set it up after our last meeting. I was going to meet Choosy Pete (as he was known in the trade). I’d naively thought it would be in some dark and dingy dive rather than the airy smoked glass and palm-tree foyer in a hotel whose nightly tariff is more than I’ve earned in the last month.

As I stare at the lifts, the doors open and a thin man somewhere in his mid-forties (younger than me) strides over. He smiles and extends a welcoming hand. He shakes my hand firmly, holding for a second longer than might normally be polite for people who don’t know each other.

Cashmere sweater – bright red – draped over his shoulders. Cream coloured slacks. Slacks! Who wears slacks these days? He’s bald – the shaved head baldness rather than the loss and regret variety. He’s got that same confidence that the Showman and the Connoisseur had; a sense of power held in reserve.

Michelle wanders back, he orders cappuccino – graciously enquiring if I want anything else(I don’t) then he asks for the tea and the coffee to be billed to his room, 274. He notices my Denver bag.

“Nice bag. Is it heavy?” he asks, already picking it up and giving it a little shake. “Where’d you get this?” I tell him I bought from a mall in Boulder, Colorado a few years ago. Knowing what he does for a living, I’m keenly watching him as though he were a magician pulling a trick. His fingers; long and nimble; purpose-built to go into places they shouldn’t.

If he’s taking something from the side-pockets of the bag then I can’t see how he’s doing it. The bag goes back on the floor. I know later on, probably as we’re parting, he’ll hand me the item, proof of how good he is.

The coffee arrives and he signs for it. Heads up here we go. It’s a clinical description of how he parts people from their possessions. Choosy Pete plays the con game; short and long. He’s proud of his work and tells me the background dirt on a very public news story up here to do with a company director who squandered the firms money on, shall we say, services.

Choosy Pete had of course provided those services but had left a false paper trail so there would be no comeback on him.

He tells me the story with professional pride. Entertaining it might be but I feel queasy. Isn’t their a moral dimension to this? The company might well go to the wall, people could lose their jobs. Didn’t he feel responsible? Not at all. He only hits marks who deserve to be hit. “Never once did I force him to do anything he didn’t want to do. He gave me the money. His staff would be up Shit Creek whether he’d been around or not because the director was greedy. Greedy people get what they deserve.

Forty minutes fly past and our time’s up; places to go, people to see. We shake hands, walk to the smoked glass entrance. Outside people are passing by. We can see them but they can’t see us. I’m expecting him to peel back to the lift and up to his room but he keeps walking and talking. We push outside into the sunlight. We keep walking. I wonder where we’re going.

Then I realise it’s time for the pay-off. He wants to show me the item he’s lifted from the Denver bag; except he doesn’t. We stop beside a clutch of municipal shrubbery that collects wind-blown litter.

He delves underneath the foliage retrieving a shoulder-bag then says goodbye, heading off up to Hanover Street. Then it dawns on me; it wasn’t the Denver bag thing at all – it was the tea and the cappuccino. He didn’t have a room at the hotel although it looked that way. I thought he did and so did Michelle. When whoever was in room 274 checked out, they were going have a couple of extras on the bill they’d not bargained for.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Why Penetration Is Better Than Slide It In

After enduring the rigours of Slide It In, Lovehunter and other tracks lubricated by “twin-guitar attack” and copious amounts of hair dye, hair spray and other associated hair care products, I have moved onwards to Penetration.

This is not, as you could be forgiven for thinking, yet another double entendre-bender from the Coverdale camp but rather the name of a band from Ferryhill in County Durham.

They emerged as part of the punk movement and recorded a couple of albums on Virgin. Not too long after that they imploded, regrouping with the less ideologically rigorous but more interesting musicality of Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls.

Now as you may know I’m a self-confessed fat bastard, boring old fart kind of guy. So why is it that I feel more affinity with the rough-edged bash of Penetration than the likes of Whitesnake?
I recall at the time when punk was pushing itself onto the pages of Sounds and the NME et al, although I didn’t care for the yobbish veneer that punk appeared to present, it did I have to admit feel invigorating. It was also curiously democratising.

For many young people, punk rock wasn’t so much about gobbing on the person on stage nearest you, as empowerment; it was as though you’d just been given the vote. And of course the first time you vote you feel you’re making a contribution or a difference to what’s going on.

In punk I heard (and hear) naïve ambition, some anger and a lot of aspiration. In the hard-rock, hard-on world of men in tight trousers and big hair, I heard (and hear) a tired misogyny, cliché and (Lord help us) a prissy self-regard bordering on dandyism.

OK so I know punk in places can be just as bad as rrraaawk and roll! Backstage excess, tantrums and free-range egos are not exclusive to the big boys with the big toys; there were (and are) plenty of punky prima-donna.

And don’t even get me started on the supposed working class credentials that allegedly make punk somehow more authentic-sounding than say, prog rock. Please, let’s not mention the eye-rolling humbug on the part of the movement’s kingpins as they clip a couple of years off their ages and push their Van Der Graf Generator albums to the back of the cupboard.

But. . .

Despite all of that and all of punk’s other failings I’d still rather have their shortcomings than the crass shareholders of the Marks & Spencer’s sock department.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

David Coverdale Speaking In Tongues

David Coverdale talks to me about time as a loon pant salesman and then life as a rock star. The whirlwind rush of transatlantic crossings has blown David’s East Cleveland accent way off course into uncharted territories.

Sometimes there’s the north-east inflection, curt and tailing upwards at the end of sentence. Then, it slowly transforms into a sun-drenched drawl, as languorous as a tall drink by a baking hot poolside. And before you ask, no I don’t know where he’s going either but I sure know where he’s been.



An altogether more conducive company comes to call in the welcome shape of John Sargent. John’s energy is infectious. Creative sparks fly when he’s about. It's a good way to spend an hour. Even better is the Schnittke album that John donates to the yellow room collection. In exchange for this aural delight (In Memoriam and viola concerto) I contribute an idea or two to John’s grand plan for global domination.

Of course John is too gentle and generous a person to want to control the destiny of the planet’s swarming masses but he is one of those rare souls who makes it a better place to live.

For some reason Lou Reed keeps popping up. A week or so ago it was the raggy-ass New York. Today it’s the sombre Berlin.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Photos Of Ghosts

Bright moments; a sense of otherness infused in the air as I walked along the landing from the yellow room. A ghost? A memory? A taste recalled? A scent remembered? It was something flitting at the edge of perception but definitely there and very real.



I’d been looking at old family photographs and had been listening to an old tape recording of sounds I had made at the very end of the 70s; an aural scrapbook. Perhaps I’d accidentally opened myself up to the moment; a reverie of kinds, a suggestive state. Whatever the trigger, whatever the cause, something was passing through on its way to somewhere else.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Review: My Hotel Year by Tim Bowness



















No reservations necessary

My Hotel Year
Tim Bowness
Burning Shed

Though each of the eleven songs on this debut solo are bathed in a subterranean, cosseted glow, there’s nothing soft or dull about Tim Bowness’ ability to cut to the chase and get to the heart of the matter.

His lyrics employ the pared-back directness of a screenwriter rather than the flamboyant exposition of a novelist. Bowness sings them up close; whispering for fear of breaking the intimate spell. There are times when one almost feels like an eavesdropper rather than a listener.

This concern for precision and economy applies equally to the music; nothing is overstated or effusive. Indeed, this simple brevity often borders on the functional. Yet the gift of the true artist is the ability to create striking, memorable details with the most meagre materials.

“Intense” might be the most accurate one-word description of The Me I Knew but it wont convey the drop-dead gorgeous, heart-stopping beauty of the track. Every beat, breath and sigh is filled with the desperate ache of hope and loss. Never was so much conveyed with so little.

Written and recorded between England and Germany, the title and sleeve conjures a weary traveller looking out from the inertia of a drab hotel room. Markus Reuter’s pin-sharp touch guitar percolates throughout I Once Loved You, restlessly pacing up and down, wearing out a groove in the confined psyche of the narrator.

The track Hotel Year snares the channel-hopping torpor to perfection, only it’s the bitter-sweet memories of a person travelled too far that flick back and forth; Roger Eno’s harmonium approximating the eerie dialling tone of a call cut short.

Making A Mess In A Clean Space engages the rough cutting buzz-saw of Hugh Hopper’s famous fuzz bass to provide a makeover from Hell; samples of screwy sax are scattered around, swatches of bold Mellotron stapled to the walls. The place is transformed, turned upside down, made vital; definitely somewhere worth a visit.

Seasoned travellers will be familiar with Tim’s ability to decorate melody and create atmospheres and moods of sustained reflection in locations as diverse as No Man, Centrozoon, Henry Fool and Samuel Smiles. Newcomers are urged to check in with My Hotel Year as soon as possible.

Friday, September 03, 2004

The White Room Martyn Waites

The Fog On The Crime

Lauded by the broadsheet critics and the likes of Ian Rankin no less, ex-pat Geordie, Martyn Waites is touted as the next big thing in British noir. His fifth novel offers a guided tour around the mean streets of Newcastle; from post-war privation to 1960s boom. The only real boom heard back then was the sound of T Dan Smith tearing the old town down. This Trotskyist chancer who ended up running the council, is just one of many period politicians and pop stars who populate this stylised tale of abuse, corruption and slaughter.

Having factual and fictional characters rubbing shoulders is a gamble. The worthy but dull hero, Jack Smeaton, frankly isn’t as interesting as the real-life great and good he mixes with in the book. Waites also takes a huge risk invoking the spirit of Michael Caine when sharp-suited psycho, Ben Marshall returns to his native north east after several years strong-arming in Soho. Raising Caine as directly as he does only reminds the reader that Get Carter definitely has the better lines.

The inevitable clash between Smeaton’s ethics and Marshall’s grave new world ends not with a bang or even a whimper but more of a glum shrug. Waites is on surer ground with the tragic composite that echoes Scotswood’s notorious child killer, Mary Bell. Mae Blacklock’s almost tangential story is the sad, dark heart beating at the centre of it all; evil is something learnt, meted out by generations of remorseless instruction. Grim up north? Bloody grim.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Review: The Thrill Of It All - The Story of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music by David Buckley

Another Tame World

Brash and inventive, Roxy Music weren’t so much the future of rock n’ roll but seemingly materialised from the future itself. David Buckley’s compelling account reminds us just how thrilling, alien and utterly dangerous Ferry and co were when they first appeared. Nobody made a sound like those first two albums.

The rot set in when Ferry’s time machine got stuck going backwards. Aping his celluloid heroes, Ferry becomes something of a bit-player; a diffident Peter Lawford on the margins of a Bowie-led Rat Pack.

As time goes by, the cool white dinner jacket becomes a straight-jacket restricting his musical reach merely to the anonymous and anodyne.

Buckley hints that the use of sleeping pills to tame Ferry’s frequent bouts of insomnia coincides with the artistic indolence of his solo years. Here, Ferry teeters uncertainly, haunting his own career; a sleepwalker, present and visible but somehow not all there. When Ferry rings his manager in the middle of the night with the news that his son’s budgie has died it should be a touching moment. When the distressed singer then inquires if a replacement can be found and substituted before his son wakes up, we realise to what extent the pained artist has simply become a pain.

At their best, Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music were an inovative clash of ideas and imagery. Once style triumphed over content, what was inspirational became insipid. Buckley is respectful of his subject but doesn’t pull punches. Peter Sinfield, the bands first producer, offers this telling tag-line - “They supported Bowie at the Astoria, and have done ever since.”

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