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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Back Home

Home in Whitley Bay after an uneventful flight from Tenerife. Uneventful is good. Double-plus good in fact. Why so? Because after spending a portion of Thursday evening and Friday morning in a Spanish police station, I’d had enough of “eventful.”

I was in the police station not because of a long-term abiding interest in the Iberian law and order but because when we returned from our trip to see Mount Tiede, we discovered that we had been burgled. In amongst the haul of personal items such as jewellery, money, numerous cameras and the like were my laptop, and much more importantly, my Olympus digital voice recorder.

The last item contained all my interviews with various musicians and in particular, Mont Campbell and Dave Stewart of Egg. Every morning during the trip I’d been working on the arduous task of transcribing their interviews. I’d completed the article featuring Mont and had begun work on the one with Dave and Mont together. The laptop is just hardware and can be replaced. Those interviews were, for me at least, gold dust and irreplaceable.

Debbie is gutted for her father and his wife, Kath who had invested so much (both literally and metaphorically) in bringing everyone out to the apartment for a unique family occasion. For them, the memory of the trip is marred by the burglaries.

Whilst insurance will cover the cost of some of the items, the thieves took far more than they would ever realise.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Under The Volcano




Garcia Lorca In Whitley Bay

Here's another poem sent to me last week by Keith Armstrong. I like the way our heroes cast shadows from faraway.




GARCIA LORCA IN WHITLEY BAY
‘I’ve come to devour your mouth
and dry you off by the hair
into the seashells of daybreak.’
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

In the rotunda,
your voice lashes out at war.
You
sing
on the crests of the girls,
streaming up the Esplanade.
You
scream under a parasol of gulls,
skimming through the fairground,
on a mission to strangle
flying fish.
Haunting poetry
in the dead ghost train,
the palms of the fortune-tellers,
dust.

Lorca in a broken-down ghost town,
scattering your petals:
Garcia up against the wall
of last night,
eyes shot;
blood from the evening sky,
dripping down an ice cream cone,
down a sweet lass’s blouse.

Saw you on the Metro, Federico,
saw you in Woolworth’s.
Saw you in the crematorium,
on Feather’s caravan site.
Saw you drown
in a sea of lyrical beauty.

Lorca,
like Community,
you are gone;
ideals
torn into coastal shreds.

Still shells
glisten,
lips on the beach
ready
for kissing again
ready
for the re-launch
of childish dreams,
sticky
with candy floss
and cuckoo spit.

Keith Armstrong

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cath And Phil Tyler Dumb Supper




















Supper's Ready...
Dumb Supper Cath & Phil Tyler
NO-FI

For as long as people have been singing the nuances and themes in traditional music have been subject to change as songs migrate across the land and sea. So it’s especially fitting that an Anglo-American couple have evolved a striking interpretation in which, as they say in their sparse liner notes, “we changed some of the words and wrote some of the tunes.”

There’s a mesmerising quality in Cath Tyler’s voice throughout. As Cath Oss she was a member of the Steve Albini-produced American folk-punksters, Cordelia’s Dad. This, and her investigations of the jarring but uplifting harmonies of America’s Sacred Harp vocal tradition (described as a cross between Gregorian Chanting and bluegrass), lends this record a certain harshness that you don’t often hear these days.

The cold-water wash of unadorned voices and instruments is both invigorating and oddly risky. At a time when so many vocalists are dressed up in soft-focus productions, the natural abrasiveness implicit in these tales of woe, devilry and all manner of enforced and unwanted departures makes for a bracing listening experience.

Almost monotone in their delivery, songs such as the sombre "Death of Queen Jane", "Farewell My Friends", and the moving "1000 Years" possess a powerful tension that never fails to maintain attention. Phil Tyler’s accomplished banjo work offers instrumental distraction on the cascading "Yellowhammer" and brilliantly counter-intuitive colour to "False True Love."

The growling fuzz guitar introduced to "Morning" is less of a surprise when you discover the duo supported psych-drone merchant Ben Chasney (better known as Six Organs of Admittance). As it the snarling modernity of this device bizarrely doesn’t sound to dissimilar to dissonant overtones of an overdriven hurdy-gurdy.

The success of Dumb Supper as a whole lies in its straight forward to telling tales without much in the way of extraneous embellishment or redundant, inappropriate shows of flashy technique. The simplicity of this approach is to imbue the music with a timeless feel that is astonishingly potent, raw and edgy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Beach Head

The different parties have split off to do different things. Bill and Cath do some gentle shopping, Dude and Alys do some aggressive bargain-hunting of the clothes and shoe variety, whilst Maldi, Julia, Catherine, Sam and Deb have taken a day trip to a park cum zoo elsewhere on the island. I’ve opted to stay at home and work.

If this sounds a little too Stakhanovite of me please remember that my location is a balcony with a pleasant enough view, in balmy temperatures with occasional sea breezes. All in all, not a bad place to do some work.

I’ve been asked to supply a few words about the Rendezvous Café in Whitley Bay. The fact that I’m sitting in a foreign country waxing lyrical about a café back home strikes me as nicely surreal.

Places we visit as children can loom up at other points in our lives to take on a new significance. As a kid visiting Whitley Bay on day trips with my parents, the Rendezvous was a perfect stopping off point for the adults to sit down, enjoy a refreshing cuppa and for the children to eagerly devour a precariously piled-up ice cream cone. Growing up, whenever I visited the coast the Rendezvous would be part of the itinerary. Years later, and now a resident of Whitley Bay, I bought my own children to the place, only now it was me with the cuppa and them with the still-mountainous ice cream.

When I got married last year we held our wedding reception in the café. We hadn’t booked it and it wasn’t specially decorated for the occasion. We’d simply walked in off the seafront, put some tables together for our party and enjoyed a quiet half hour celebrating the occasion of our marriage in a place that was very special to us.

Little has changed about the Rendezvous since I was a kid. The formica-topped tables and the period 60s / 70s décor might be an interior designer’s retro-themed dream but at the Rendezvous, it’s the real deal. None of it has been placed there with a view to whipping up a bit of nostalgia along with the frothy coffee. This is how it has always been.

Long may it never be “improved” or “refurbished” – a dread word guaranteed to strike cold terror into the heart s of all right thinking tea drinking, coffee gulping, ice cream licking members of the public.

A flashback to June 30th 2007...

Random Penguin 22

1964 cover drawing by John Ward

Monday, May 26, 2008

Life's A Beach...

I’ve established a punishing schedule here in Tenerife: up at my usual time, a shower, and then onto the veranda with a pot of tea, laptop and my book. It’s true what they say about a writer’s life being the hardest there is.


Meanwhile, yesterday…

Holiday reading.

As Deb and the gang head off in search of a market I stay back at the ranch and write. There’s something very conducive to writing here on the veranda in the warm air. The ferocity of the sun as the day moves into the afternoon is brutal. However, sat in the shade as I am tapping away on this laptop, with a glass of chilled mineral water, things are just about as perfect as they could be.

Later in the evening, Deb, Dude and I go for a stroll and find a perfect vantage point for the setting sun. A perfect end to a perfectly lovely day.

Testing For Buzz LXIV 1968 And All That XVIX

My rummaging around in Wallsend's library didn't confine itself to ghoulish accounts of assassination or stirring photographs of the space race. A different kind of space manifested itself in between my ears when I stumbled upon a copy of George Adamski's book. The proof of alien beings visiting our planet in their machines was offered up in a series of photographs. Though obvious fakes to adult eyes, to a kid with a febrile imagination, I was utterly hooked.

Instead of playing out with pals I spent evenings rabidly reading (and believing) Professor Adamski of Palomar observatory and his accounts of being whisked up in a spaceship to meet people from Mars, Venus, Saturn, etc.

Of course, It wasn't until quite a few years later that I discovered that the "professor" was in fact a short order cook at a concession stand near Palomar observatory. What I didn't know back then was that this kind of veracity was endemic to the field of Ufology as it was grandly called.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

South You Are Here


















It’s A Young Man’s Game…
You Are Here
South
Bluhammock

Drawing heavily upon a Beatles/ Badfinger zeitgeist in under a minute of the opening track “Wasted” of their second album could be considered either an act of foolishness or youthful chutzpah by this London trio currently trying to breakout in the States. But then if you’re in the business of making aspirational pop it’s perhaps inevitable such acts of homage will manifest here and there.

On the Kinks-like “The Pain” we get two hits for the price of one via the “Good Vibrations” slice-of-sunshine Hammond organ chords, whilst “She’s Half Crazy” scratches at the surface of Marquee Moon and 77-period Talking Heads. Despite such obvious acts of forelock tugging this is actually a great little pop album.

The boy-meets-girl oeuvre is nowadays peppered now with mucho self-analytical pondering but “Better Things,” the piano-driven “Every Light Has Blown” and the punchy “Lonely Highs” there’s still the requisite sulky nerve of three lads who want to tell the world about their problems in getting a decent shag. And that’s a good thing. Probably.


Once More Unto The Beach Dear Friends

Another lovely morning greets us here in Tenerife.

We’re here because Debbie’s father very generously paid for us to come out and join in a family gathering of the Welsh side of the clan. The villa we are in is commodious and very pleasant indeed, located within a gated enclave, our very own pool and two generous sized balconies overlooking the tennis courts which also come with the apartments. Bill (Debbie’s father) is a seasoned veteran when it comes to Tenerife, having spent many holidays here with his wife Cath.

Yesterday morning we wandered around down to the beach area where we were met with all kinds of hustlers recommending their restaurants or day trips or free draws with fabulous prizes. It seems as though every English tourist on the planet has been scooped up and relocated here. All the signage is in English (ditto menus) and it’s rare to hear anything other than an English accent. Consequently it’s impossible to walk more than a few yards without an extremely enthusiastic but very flaky looking character giving it the hard sell.


Having sat down whilst waiting for Deb and company to emerge from one of the shops, we were immediately caught in the charm offensive of one man determined to bring joy and happiness into our lives - whether we wanted it or not.

By peeling off the scratch cards he handed out to our party we might win something fabulous. I declined to do anything with mine and so the young man did it on my behalf. Lo and behold I had won! Yes, I had won at least €1200. All we had to do was to go to a hotel and watch a presentation and then pick up our amazing prizes. I declined the kind offer of €1200, giving the man my card and telling him he could pick up my prize and spend it on himself. For someone who had just been given €1200 he looked less than pleased. Perhaps he already owns his own fabulous timeshare?


The evening was spent in a local steak house of Bill’s choosing. With a total of 13 folks in our party there were lots of stories swapping back and forth across the two tables the restaurant had parked us on. A lovely evening in the bosom of someone else’s family.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Alison Burns & Martin Taylor 1 A.M




















Late Night Forgetfulness...
1 A.M.
Alison Burns & Martin Taylor
P3 Music

Having received plaudits for his lyrical lead work over the years (not to mention a gong presented to him by Her Majesty for services rendered in 2002) Martin Taylor's silky, accessible tones are often employed as consummate accompanist. Here the clean, clear lines of his formidable technique are harnessed behind the voice of daughter-in-law, Alison Burns, in a slow mooch through a set of late-night standards.

As befits the wee small hours evoked in the album's title, nothing here gets remotely noisome or likely to stop the next door neighbours from getting their beauty sleep. Taylor and Burns elegantly rummage through a songbook that includes many of the usual sepulchral suspects singled out by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Peggy Lee and Julie London. The intimacy of the production suits Burns' languorous vocals which seem to be aimed at blending in with a low-lit lounge rather than standing out from the crowd.

"Because Of You", "The Man That Got Away", "Sophisticated Lady", "He's A Tramp" all have an agreeable well-worn, cosiness to them. Less appealing is "If It's Magic", Stevie Wonder's cheesy ballad from Songs In The Key Life. On this makeover she opts for a slightly nasal delivery reminding one of those X-Factor hopefuls with the volume turned down and 'mellow' setting turned up to 11.

Perhaps the best in terms of performance is her own composition, "True." Written about her brother who died a quarter of a century ago in the Falklands conflict, it's one of those bitter-sweet melodies that you'd swear has been around forever. Burns has said it took her a long time to write it and even longer before she could perform it. In a simple arrangement, Taylor's sure-handed picking graciously supports a heartfelt vocal.

Though Taylor's playing is highly accomplished throughout 1.A.M., it rarely cuts through the largely torpid atmosphere they've created for themselves. And with Burns' voice lacking a distinctive character with which she might stake her claim to some of those redoubtable standards, the overall result is something too smooth to be called truly memorable.

Street Life CXXIII




Thursday, May 22, 2008

Street Life CXXI




1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

My next door neighbour, John, has had a copy of this book for quite a while. I know this because he came and knocked on the door one day and asked if I had a copy of Larks Tongues In Aspic by King Crimson. Wondering why he wanted such an album – John’s tastes veer more toward modern electronica and dance material – he flashed the book in my direction and was said he was intrigued by the description therein.

Another pal in another conversation suggested that I probably had all the records listed and then as if by magic, I came upon a thread about this very tome over on the Progressive Ears website.

Not having the book in question I found a list of its contents here. I don’t know about you but I find it almost impossible to see a list like this and not start the process of mentally checking to see how many of the buggers listed I have.

Well, needless to say I spent more time than was good for me (it’s better than working) going through the albums. Dear reader I was shocked to discover that out of the 1001 titles listed I found I owned about 260. Shocked because I was surprised to have that many.

I haven’t counted up what I score in the way of ownership when it comes to Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 or the Mojo Collection but I’m guessing it’ll be proportionately about the same.

What is it about men and our need to categorise, list, order, calculate, assay and generally scrape up an inventory of things as absurd as my favourite Penguin book covers, revered movers and shakers and so on?

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