Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Separated at birth IV - Team GB and the New Avengers

All hail Team GB!The New Avengers logo. Christ, I had a thing about Purdey.Am I the only one not wondering where the designers got their inspiration for the Team GB Olympic team logo? Right down to the sticky-outy tongue...? I am? Oh. Alright then...

For completists: Separated at birth I, II and III.

Wow. Really glad I didn't waste my 300th post on something fatuous. And since I have probably just used the Olympic rings there without permission, my 301st post will probably be from the Tower... it's been nice knowing you, and all that.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Latitude - all things to all people

It's a bit grainy but that's the Modfather, honestI've missed going to Latitude for the last couple of years. I went in 2008 and 2009, and found it to be the best of festivals, but life changes mean I haven't been able to make it more recently. Even this year I couldn't get to the whole thing, but I did manage a day ticket for Sunday. In the best tradition of my old festival diaries, here's what I saw.

  • Marcus Brigstocke presents The Early Edition : Comedy Arena. A gentle, satirical, panel-based pulling apart of the day's papers. Robin Ince was especially good.
  • Lang Lang : The Waterfront Stage. The classical pianist should have been on a bigger stage, such was the size of the crowd for this. Lang Lang's technical proficiency and dazzling skills were mind-boggling. His ivory-tinkling also drifted over to the burger stall where I later had an early lunch... which was nice.
  • Rufus Wainwright : Obelisk Arena. I'm not overly familiar with his body of work, but I thought he might be worth seeing and I was right. What a voice! He started a capella, singing that the churches had run out of candles, and got more dramatic from there. Better than expected, unlike...
  • Reginald D. Hunter : Comedy Arena. I'm quite a fan of Reg's HIGNFY appearances but this was a bit disappointing, if I'm honest. He didn't really have a set and admitted as much, saying this was just a case of getting into the groove before Edinburgh. Plus he started ten minutes late and finished five minutes early. Still, his riff on idolising Margaret Thatcher was quite funny, and led nicely into...
  • John Pilger : Literary Arena. John strode on stage looking like a statesmanlike version of Paul Hogan, and described the era of Thatcher and Reagan as "the age of regression". He was also illuminating on his early journalistic career, when "tabloid" wasn't a pejorative term, and (predictably) scathing about the terrible impact Murdochs have had on British media.
  • Thomas Dolby : The Word Arena. After a protracted tea-break in the Greenpeace tent (top festival tip: charity tents sell cheaper tea than commercial food concessions), I only just made it to the Word Arena in time to catch the tail-end of Thomas. That tail-end was fine. I'm sure the rest of his set was too.
  • Latitude Contemporary Art : The Iris Gallery. A woodland setting for a variety of artworks, some of which worked better than others. The inflatable lighthouse left me cold (and, if I'm honest, quietly shaking my head). By contrast, Threefold Law by Andy Harper had me reaching for my camera. Each to their own, I guess.
  • Simple Minds : Obelisk Arena. Jim Kerr must get pissed off sometimes - Simple Minds could have been U2. But they're not, and their set on Sunday illustrated why. Yes, there were some hits: Waterfront, Don't You Forget About Me and Alive And Kicking, but other than that? A bit boring. A bit pedestrian. Whisper it quietly but even a bit repetitive. Repetitive. Yes, repetitive. And I'm not just talking about Waterfront's bassline. Plus Jim looked like a Vauxhall salesman about to try selling you an Astra. Having said all, I later got talking to some bloke in the Hurly Burly café who thought that Simple Minds had been brilliant. So, each to their own again then.
  • Bat For Lashes : Obelisk Arena. The day's revelation. I came into this not really knowing anything about Bat For Lashes, or any of their (her) material, but I left as a convert to the cause and with a bit of a new brunette indie-chick crush on Natasha Khan. How to describe her? A bit Florence-esque but better, more attractive and without the minor annoyances.
  • Jack Dee : Comedy Arena. Eventually I dragged myself away from Natasha in time to catch the second half of Jack's set. Some of his material (how kids change when they hit their teens, for example) felt like an oft-ploughed furrow, and a bit predictable. However, he got away with this by being bloody funny. And, being last on in the Comedy tent, he was able to do an encore - a musical number with an eight-stringed uke, which was much funnier than it had any right to be. Plus he over-ran considerably (please take note, Mr Hunter).
  • David Bainbridge : Literary Arena. Because I got to the Literary tent early to ensure a good spot for the next reading, I accidentally caught a fair bit of popular science writer David Bainbridge talking about getting old. I am getting old too, of course, so this struck a chord. He was occasionally quite funny too, so served as a good warm-up for the next act.
  • Dave Gorman : Literary Arena. Dave read, engagingly and funnily enough to warrant a spot in the Comedy tent, from his latest book, DG vs The Rest Of The World. He took a detailed Q&A afterwards, the nature of the questions seeming to suggest that a lot of the crowd were real fans. I bought said book afterwards, then queued to meet my comedy hero and get it signed. It sounds feebly fan-boyish to say that shaking Dave's hand, and telling him I admired his well-reasoned and very public support of the campaign for libel reform, was a real highpoint of the day for me.
  • Paul Weller : Obelisk Arena. Thanks to Dave, I missed the first ten minutes of the Modfather's set (I'll let you off, Dave). And what a set. Maybe it was being limited to 90 minutes, I don't know, but Mr Weller felt like he was straining at the leash to fit as much in as possible. Also, and this is purely supposition on my part, I wonder if Paul's much-reported giving-up of the old demon drink has been good for his vocal cords? I think it might well have been - he was certainly in fine voice, as good as I've heard him. And for all the old mods there (some of whom had set up camp near the stage before noon), there was plenty of Jam material - Start, Art School, In The City, Town Called Malice and, for an incendiary sing-along encore, Eton Rifles. Bloody hell though, Art School? Singing along to that separated the men from the boys. Oh, and unless it was in the first ten minutes, there was nothing from the Style Council era - shame. All in all though, this was right up there among the best Weller performances I've seen, only really dampened by a new habit of playing guitar whilst sat behind his keyboard (we can't see you then Paul) and letting Steve Craddock over-indulge his inner fret-onanist during Foot Of The Mountain. But, you know, generally brilliant!
  • Simon Day : Literary Arena. As a coda to the day, I dropped in on Fast Show alumnus Simon's reading from his, at times painfully honest, autobiography. I'll be honest too, I was tired and feeling a bit leggy, so nearly gave this a miss, but I thought (correctly) that it would give the other day ticketers time to clear the car park after Weller. I'm glad I stayed. In addition to searing honesty, Simon was very funny, with a caustic wit and deadpan delivery. I hope he would find it complimentary if I described him as the anti-McIntyre.

So there we are. A packed festival programme, in a day. Anyone jealous? Things I would have liked to have seen, with more time and fewer timetable clashes, included Slow Club, the Levellers' acoustic set, Mark Thomas's latest offering and the series of short films from record label 4AD. But there's always another year. I hope...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Clandestine Classic XXVII - Hey Dude

Kula Shaker. Control yourselves, ladies.The 27th post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I'm in two minds what to say about today's featured act, Kula Shaker. It would be easy to dismiss them as ridiculous indie fluff, slipstreaming in the wake of the Britpop behemoth. Even back then (then being 1996), I was a bit cynical. The whole "we're so into Indian mysticism we've got songs called Tattva and Govinda" seemed a bit contrived to me, a bit deliberate. Maybe unfairly, I thought this was little more than a ruse, an attempt to have a USP that would get them in the NME. And as if that wasn't enough, much was made of lead singer's Crispian Mill's showbusiness lineage - son of Hayley, grandson of Sir John - as if that in itself was enough to warrant press coverage and record sales. I scoffed. I tutted. I probably rolled my eyes. And then I heard today's Clandestine Classic and went out and bought the album.

And it - K, from 1996 - is not bad. Not bad at all. Yes, there's plenty of that "we're so into India" stuff that felt contrived but, for the most part, the sitar, tabla, tamboura and the rest all work. Today's classic doesn't feature any of them though. I guess you'd say Hey Dude plays it straight, relying on phasing and guitar effects to achieve some moderate psychedelia. And the punters loved it, with Hey Dude soaring to number 2 in the UK singles chart (some might say that's too successful to be clandestine, but I make the rules). I loved it too, and here's why.

Those first twenty seconds, the intro - it really rolls! There's an excellent, driving bassline which suddenly breaks off leaving a tingling guitar which you just know means something percussive is headed our way. And then bang, that something arrives and it's a fast, pedal-to-the-metal rock and roll riff with slightly trippy lyrics and a singalong chorus. It belts along, this song, and more than most post-Britpop indie of that period, it's a song that yearns to be cranked up loud in the car (provided your ICE can handle plenty of bass). It will make you drive faster, this song.

At about 2 minutes 45 there's a proper guitar break too, about as close to rocking out as jangly Britpop could get. And then the ending, in which rather than just stopping of fading out, the whole song is allowed to change down through the gears, get it's breath back, and roll to a dignified stop.

I can forgive a lot for this song. I can certainly forgive any mystic pretensions. It gets trotted out occasionally at my local 90s indie club night (Britpoppin', that's called, accurately if somewhat unimaginatively) and it still sounds bloody great through big, bassy club speakers. But you don't have to drag yourself clubbing to hear it - you can pick up the album here, or maybe download something of interest here. And then there's always YouTube. The video has worn alright too, don't you think?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Radiohead's artist-in-residence

Stanley Donwood, Radiohead's artist-in-residence, has a lovely new book out featuring some of his incredible line art. There are two launches, one of which is next week, in Norwich at the inestimable and irretrievably cool Bicycle Shop (not an actual bicycle shop). Stanley discusses the book in some detail on his website. Anyway here, as I believe the kids say, is the skinny:

Holoway by Stanley Donwood - Norwich launch