Archive for the ‘News’ Category

In addition to doing live gigs, I have been playing on the streets of towns and cities for years, and I have had some interesting experiences and opportunities come my way as a result.

Recently I was approached to contribute a track to an album featuring music by some of the world’s finest buskers. The Busking Project is an initiative set up with the aim of giving buskers the chance to sell their original music online in a similar way to how they earn a living on the street.

TBP release one ten-track album a month on their website, featuring music of many styles.  They currently have four albums available, all of which you can freely download once you donate $5 to the project.

How You Contribute and What You Get – The public are invited to donate an amount as little as $1 to the project and 60% of this goes directly to the artists featured on the site; the other 40% going to maintaining the project. This 60% is a vastly better deal for the artists than any conventional record deal, so you can be sure that you are supporting the producers of the music.

For a $1 donation you are kept informed of the progress of the project, $3 gives you access to videos and blogs but it all gets more exiting if  you donate $5, which gives you a downloads of this month’s album ‘Keep Streets Live’ – FEATURING ME!

VISIT https://www.patreon.com/busk to get involved.

If you don’t want to be kept informed about the project, you can simply sign up for one month and download all the albums (for $5, come on!) then delete your subscription.

This seems like a pretty good deal for the artists and you. How’s that possible? There is no record company involved.

But in case you need further convincing to support my involvement in this project, have a listen here to the track I have contributed, ‘Love’s on Fire’:

 

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Barcode Man

This is a piece that I am currently exhibiting at Arts Hub 47 on Lark Lane as part of Not Just Collective’s new show. The name of the show is ‘Practitioners of the City’ and features work inspired by the experience of urban living. I had previously exhibited video art with the group and this is my first sculpture, although I have always made things…

15241209_10153831565171735_1131450318289429216_nIn my teens I has a phase of making heads out of papier mache and recently went back to the practice, for no particular reason. This rather primitive human-like head was lying around my flat unpainted for a couple of years until this new show came along and I decided to do something with it.

For a while now I have been paying more attention to a spiritual essence that has become obscured by our obsessions with technology and consumerism. I have always been fascinated by evolution and early human relics – just when did we start being human?

15350458_10153831563891735_8096096447571652291_nIt occurred to me to make something that would reflect the impacts upon the human psyche of capitalism. These days, especially as we brand ourselves on social media, there is a tension between a kind of tamed, commodified self that we want to present to the world almost like a product, and a freer, more implusive, ancient human essence that we have almost forgotten.

The ‘hair’ on the sculpture is made of bar codes which I collected from products in my home and the base is a domestic cleaner bottle. The eyes are reflective plastic from teabag packaging – you can see yourself reflected if you get close enough.

I titled it ‘Something Deeper’.

 

 

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bossI seem to have bought one of these; a device that will revolutionise my performances. As I don’t have a band, nor the ability to find one (nor the patience to lead one, nor the finances to pay one) this will be the way to enhance my live sound. What a loop pedal does is to enable you to set up various musical phrases, chords, beats etc. that will repeat (as if on loops of old-skool tape) as you play, adding depth to your music.

I do mostly acoustic gigs, however most of my songs are ‘band’ songs; they’re written with a full folk-rock/indie arrangement in mind. Only in the studio can I fully realise them as I originally heard them in my mind’s ear when they were composed. Some of you will have heard my song ‘Drifter’, performed here with flautist George Roberts:

Here is the recorded version:

So when I play live, there is a bit of a mis-match between what I’m presenting to people and how I actually see myself as an artist. I do have some folky tunes that don’t require extra adornment, but most of my stuff would benefit from some level of embellishment.

The trouble is that extra layers of sound don’t neccessarily add interest to a live set; in fact, for a solo act they can work against it. In ‘organic’ music (as opposed to electronic), the interest is generated by the fact that musician is actually playing in front of you in real time. Layers of recorded sound (even if you’re recording them  yourself during the performance) can detract from the spontaneity and humanity of your performance. If a solo performer’s sound gets bigger and more interesting during a gig, they themselves tend to lose charisma in comparison.

The widespread use of these pedals has led to a genre of ‘loop-folk’ where acoustic guitarists layer-up guitar parts, often to a beat that they have laid down by tapping the body of the guitar. Unfortunately, they usually use simple three or four chord sequences that don’t vary. The fact they are usually using the same sound for all their parts doesn’t help. I will have to work out how to drop in and out of loops so things don’t get tedious – dynamics and chord modulation are important to me.

This device will never become my ‘band in a box’. For reasons I’ve already explained, I don’t want to dilute the immediacy of my performance (such as it is), nor do I want to risk a poor imitation of the recorded versions. But it will enable me to feature my guitar technique more, which is more from the rock tradition – soloing over chords – than the folky self-accompanying style, which is what I have been restricted to. It will also enable me to lay down beatbox rhythms  and vocal harmonies, and add tonal colour.

These pedals should be used wisely, like The Force, otherwise the dark side beckons!

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Today BBC 6 music is making a big fuss about the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album because it was released exactly fifty years ago. Well, how astounding. What a perfect opportunity to celebrate a seminal work of popular culture, apart from the fact that Brian Wilson’s alleged masterwork sounds exactly the same as it did in 2015. And I can assure you that next year the notes will all still be in the same place.

The rock industry, like all aspects of mass-market culture – including books, films and wars – now relies almost exclusively on anniversaries to flog its wares to us.

The Beatles industry similarly kicks up a fuss about Sgt Pepper every ten years, provoking a frenzy of fake nostalgia for the ‘summer of love’ as if the whole nation was floating around on acid in 1967. Sure, the album was a hit but middle-of-the-road crooner Jim Reeves actually sold more records that year. The truth is that these albums accrue cultural value gradually, rather than landing like cultural meteorites.

A while back Iggy Pop re-released the Raw Power album (remastered and fucked-about-with no doubt) to celebrate the fact that it was forty years old, as if its original release had been some kind of great cultural moment – far from it, The Stooges were virtually unknown during their early career and Raw Power was one of a clutch of recordings that existed virtually underground, gaining a reputation over time.

All this wayward historiography would not be such a bad thing if it didn’t grab all the attention that could be available to current musicians.

These days it’s not uncommon to walk past a rack of music magazines in the supermarket and see a line of exclusively dead faces pouting at you. How depressing that pop journalists, lovers of an art form that can embody the present-day zeitgeist like no other should find themselves writing for what are essentially history magazines.

David Hepworth, the ex-Whistle Test anchorman, embodies this tendency of backward looking rock journalism. He has just published 1971- Never a Dull Moment, a misty-eyed eulogy to the cheesecloth generation, wherein he celebrates a year that produced enduring classics such as Led Zeppelin 4, Sticky Fingers and Tapestry. I’m sure it’s a great read but if he really wanted to cash in he should surely have waited until 2021…

Anyway, it has been decreed that today we must have a double collective orgasm because not only is this the anniversary of Pet Sounds, but also Bob Dylan’s album Blonde on Blonde was also released exactly 50 years ago. How amazing!

Blonde on Blonde is a great collection of music, but to me it sounds the same (and is equally as good as) his previous albums Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing it all Back Home. They all feature his mid-sixties persona of the acid-beatnick, musically featuring a ramshackle mix of epic folky ballads, mind-blowing lyrics and spiky rock’n’roll. It’s all great stuff, but personally I can’t fit a Rizla paper between those albums. Hang on though, Blonde on Blonde’s a double album – it must be a classic…

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Cultural end-of-year lists are so fucking smug. They’ve already started appearing, and I’m having to avoid the Sunday papers where cultural hacks declare which books, films and albums were the most essential. What a lot of great shit I’ve missed (as usual).
There’s nothing wrong in theory with writers looking back at their personal highlights, but in practice looking over these lists always makes me feel lazy, un-cultural and basically skint. I’m usually lucky if I’ve heard a couple of the year’s “best albums” or seen many of the films. The year’s best music gig? I was probably busking outside.
It’s all very well for Mark Kermode to appraise the hundred or so films he’s seen in the year and boil them down the ten best; he doesn’t have to shell out a penny. Cinema tickets are nudging ten quid these days, and that’s before you’ve made it past the popcorn and Ben and Jerry’s without hemmoraging another fiver. I don’t need to be reminded of all the arthouse classics I can’t talk about.
The best-of-year book lists give me a similar feeling of cultural failure. If only I had the time and application to keep abreast of the latest literary sensations. I’m a slow reader and the lack of anything I recognise on the lists just makes me feel distinctly low-brow. If I didn’t get around to them when they were the ‘hot new read’ I probably never will.
But these lists are not just there to make us feel like philistines; they also have a commercial function. A decent ranking in the end-of-year lists can turn an overlooked book or album into a must-buy christmas gift.
Let’s face it, though nominally independent, arts journalists are as much a part of the marketing machine as the billboard poster. Critics, who get sent pre-release albums and concert tickets, are just the unofficial wing of the advertising campaign.

Often it doesn’t matter if reviews are positive, all the industry cares about is pushing the product into the public conciousness. However, writing favourably about an author, singer and actor means that agents are more likely to grant a journalist inteviews with said star. Meanwhile, with their end of year lists, critics get to bolster their position as cultural connoisseurs, compiling the canons of our times.

The arts pages that specialise in this vanity are really for a small section of metropolitan luvvies with the means to hoover up whatever cultural product they fancy, whether it’s HBO box sets or tickets for the royal opera house. For those of us in the zero-hours trap or the boho bum category, there is much more adventure. Old stuff. Second-hand stuff.
My year’s cultural highlights included reading Herman Hesse’s Siddharta (1922), as well as downloads of BB King’s Live at The Regal (1964) and Mike Leigh’s film Naked (1993).
The arts press has nothing to say about the pleasures of exploring a second hand bookshop or dancing to your mate’s band in a sweaty basement. My idea of a cultural life isn’t just being a recipient for the never-ending stream of over-hyped new content being funnelled at us.

Despite this, I have managed to think of a few things that came out this year that I liked, so I can flag them up and feel like an arts journalist.
Album of the Year: Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Daze*
The American songwriter dashes off a folk-rock classic with his trademark stoned nonchalance. It’s got the attitude of Lou Reed and the sensitivity of Neil Young.

vile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of The Year: Sylvain Tesson – Consolations of the Forest: Alone in a Cabin in The Middle Taiga
The journal of a Frenchman who retreated to the Siberian forest for six months to read and contemplate the wilderness. Full of philosophy and love for nature.

consiolations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film of the year: Pride

Based on a true story, a group of gay Londoners raise money for striking miners in 1984, go to visit their Northern pit village and forge an unlikely bond. Flawlessly done, feel-good, moving and inspiring.

pride

 

Gig of the year: Me, doing poetry at a night called the Secret Cabaret in Liverpool. I performed “Checkout Girl” and “Careless Wispa”, and according to someone who was there, I absolutely smashed it. I agree.


TV moment of the year: Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s interview with Richard Ayoade on Channel 4 News. A hilarious five minutes as he deconstructs the arts interview.


Theatre event of the year: I didn’t go to see any plays, sorry.
*ok, I’ve just found out this was actually released in 2013, but that’s still pretty current for me!

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Rumblings on the grapevine suggest that a new U2 album is likely to appear before the end of the year, in fact according to Rolling Stone magazine it could even be released this month. Love ’em or hate ’em, it’s a significant moment as U2 have now been spent several decades amongst the very biggest bands.

u2I remember when I first got into U2 as a kid in the early 80’s. I liked the imaginative guitar style, the tribal-influenced drumming and the fact that the singer bellowed those impassioned choruses like his life depended on it.

They weren’t megastars at this stage, just one of many great post-punk bands around at the time. Something that marked them out was their Irish background; along with other celtic bands like Big Country and Simple Minds, their music had that bracing, romantic (in a misty-eyed sense) flavour – a sensibility, incidentally, that is incompatible with cool.

I bought their album War, which had an extraordinary cover. It featured a black and white photo of a boy about my age, staring into the camera with a serious expression (the same kid had also appeared on the cover of their debut album, Boy). I identified with him, whoever he was. I was young and indignant and I felt like standing up for something, or at least for myself.

u2-war_a_l

The album seemed to come from a place of conviction – “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was about the troubles still kicking off in northern Ireland; Larry Mullen Jnr’s drums were mixed loud, evoking the rhythms of the marching season. The rest of the album was an object lesson in small-band dynamics, The Edge’s chiming guitar lines interlocking brilliantly with Clayton and Mullen’s driving rhythm section.

I remember Live Aid so well. I sat and watched the whole show in our kitchen from twelve noon until, well…it must have been about midnight when I finally sloped off to bed. One of the highlights of the event for me was U2’s performance when they extended the song ‘Bad’ to about nine minutes, Bono disappearing to the front of the stage, plucking a girl out of the front row and dancing with her. It was an outrageously confident performance from a band who most of the world didn’t even know about at that stage.

We all know what happened after that. In a short time U2 became globally massive, with the epic, mainstream album The Joshua Tree. It was satisfying to see them make it big but I was aware that amongst my friends, no-one seemed to like U2; in fact most of them seemed to hate them.

I couldn’t work it out. For us, originality was the key trait we valued in music. U2 were clearly one of the most original bands around, having invented their own sonic landscape, but something about them was turning off the ‘the cool people’. On the rare occasions I could get anyone to mull over the issue in their minds their complaint was usually with “that dickhead singer”.

Google “I hate Bono” and 2.5 million seperate pages appear. No other rock star has attracted so much bile. Can you imagine any other rock star inspiring a film with a title like “Killing Bono”?

If you examine some of the reasons on internet discussions, you will find people saying “He’s so egotistical” or “He wears sunglasses all the time” or “He loves himself” All of these may be true but are they not also amongst the main criteria for being a rock star? Was Jim Morrison not vain? is Axl Rose not arrogant?

A more compelling criticism relates to his charity work. Ever since live aid, Bono has had a parallel career as a campaigner, working for debt relief, human rights and AIDS projects, setting up charities and foundations, meeting world leaders. His efforts have undoubtedly raised the profile of many issues but they have also raised the profile of Bono.

And this is where the animosity comes in. Bono’s fame and fortune is intrinsically linked to his charity work; there is no way to disentangle the two. To his detractors, the vanity of his persona is all-pervading. He can’t hold a press conference about human rights without sounding smarmy and pleased with himself, or play a benefit concert without basking in the glory of his saintly mission. It all appears to be for the greater glory of Bono.

Then there is the fact that he has often seemed a little too pally with the likes of George W Bush and Tony Blair. To his radical critics, it is always going to look like he is ‘cosying up’ to the powerful rather than influencing them for the good. He should be smashing the system not flattering it.

For other people who have little interest in global politics, all the campaigns just feel like lecturing. For them rock’n’roll isn’t about being responsible, it’s supposed to be the exact opposite. Authentic rock heroes give themselves up to their spontaneous, debauched, animalistic side; and as a result their fans get a vicarious release from the tedium of their workaday lives. Real rockers don’t give a shit. It’s not cool to give a shit.

As someone on a Drowned In Sound discussion board says:
“If Bono had never done any charity work and just set himself up to be an abrasive cunt, we’d probably all think he was a bit of a legend.”

I get that Bono is quite annoying – ok very annoying – but it doesn’t put me off. Like Prince or Sting, he’s one of the artists I regard as a bit of a tit, but I still have affection for. When interviewed in music magazines, his humility and intellect are undeniable; and there are often self-mocking lines in his excellent lyrics.

In his defence, he is one of the few celebrities attempting to use his fame and influence for something useful. And is his approach to campaigning so misguided? Perhaps you have to get inside the powerful cliques to have any hope of changing the system. After all, a kid with AIDS hasn’t got the luxury to wait for a world revolution.

As for his band, I can’t think of another who had such an impact on the sound of music of rock music in the last thirty years, apart from Nirvana. That impact was not all for the good in my opinion; the big, widescreen production techniques of Brian Eno on U2 albums laid the foundation for the blandly-streamlined wash of sound favoured by Coldplay and many others.

The ace in the pack for me is The Edge, who back in the 80’s came at the guitar from a completely original angle, with a range of chiming, percussive, atmospheric techniques that he continues to develop.

Despite that, he’s always been somewhat low on the pecking order in guitar hero terms. It probably has something to do with that worthless currency of cool. Despite his name, Edge has never had any ‘edginess’ around him – he’s never looked particularly iconic, or had any reputation with drink or drugs; he just gets on with being a boundlessly inventive musician who wears a crap little beanie.

As for the new record, I’m not particularly eager to hear it. The last thing I liked by U2 was the single ”Electrical Storm” from 2002 and I think their best work is probably behind them. I’ll keep on listening to their best stuff like this, the title track of what I think is their best album, The Unforgettable Fire.

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Flyingcircus_2

It might have seemed as unlikely as a dead parrot coming back to life, but next month, the team who have been described as “The Beatles of comedy” are set to return to the stage.
45 years after their TV debut, the Monty Python team will be reuniting for ten shows in London.

The five remaining veteran comics (Graham Chapman died in 1989) will not be performing any new material, just well-loved and oft-repeated classics like the brilliant “Arguament Clinic”.

Such pieces have become iconic in the national culture, particularly for those who witnessed them the first time around. My Dad was one of those fans who witnessed the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series, which ran from 1969-1974 and the other day he was telling me about the impact they had on his generation. To paraphrase, he said “we liked them because they seemed like us”.

The Python team, all ex-students with an irreverent attitude, embodied a cultural change in the country. Their lampooning of many aspects of British society and the class system resonated with baby boomers who had grown up in the repressed post-war years.

In keeping with other cultural revolutions of the era, their shows and later their books, records and films exploded the conventions and structures of comedy, creating a kind of anarchic intellectual playground where ancient history and philosophical discourse were wired up to the chaotic energies of surrealism and silliness.

Their impact on comedy, and culture as a whole, was enormous and continues to this day. But do we really want to see a live comeback of pensionable Pythons? And does that old material have anything relevant to say to the Britain (well, the London) of 2014?

It might be useful to compare the Pythons with another group of performers from the same generation. The Rolling Stones are currently on what, depending on who you believe, could be their last tour.

rolling-stones

The Stones have never stopped playing live and Mick Jagger, always a highly physical performer, inspires amazement that at 70 he can still pull it off. Last year’s Glastonbury performance proved that he has plenty of strutting energy and charisma left.

Like the Pythons upcoming shows, the Stones’ live gigs are built around their most famous material. But there’s a big difference between music and comedy. We can listen songs like ”Satisfaction” indefinately and they still sound fresh; a good song keeps on giving. But the impact of a joke is always most powerful the first time around; the humour comes from the surprise of seeing the world from an unexpected angle. The Pythons themselves emphasised this in “The Funniest Joke in The World”.

Of course the Python team don’t do jokes, as such. Their sketch-based comedy is sophisticated and repays repeated viewing, but I suspect there will be more chuckles of nostalgic affection than gut-bombs at their shows next month. Hopefully they will be able to inhabit the characters and material convincingly despite their advanced maturity, perhaps with some ad-libs and asides to freshen up the iconic routines.

Eric Idle has already tested the water for this kind of enterprise with his massively successful musical Spamalot which combines the script of the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail with a selection of the team’s best known songs, although none of the original team are involved onstage.

This will be the last chance to see the much-loved comic pioneers performing together. But any fans hoping to see the silly walk sketch have been told not to expect that particular hit of nostalgia. Following John Cleese’s hip and knee operations, attempting it would be a very silly thing to do.

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