we’ve all been there, right?
I’m thinking of starting my own regular music/performance event here in Brighton.
There’s a lot of smug, cosy, middle-of-the-road bullshit for grownup children – and very little that’s genuinely got any darkness or challenge to it. Something has to be done, and soon. Therefore, I propose:
(Although I back-pedalled later on the “we don’t want yr money” bit, when someone – quite rightly – pointed out that making it free was, in its own way, just as blithely bourgeois as the stuff I was railing against… and meant the bands couldn’t get a share of the door. I stand corrected… And from now on, you pay!)
yeah, this is my fucking “critic” face
Just for a change, and because everyone loves a pundit, I fancy writing about local bands encountered recently who didn’t make me want to puke.
Well, not so much “writing” like a reviewer, more listing them in no particular order, without spoon-feeding – so you can discover their brilliance for yourself. Also, lists are how we communicate nowadays:
Man Ray Sky – incredible layered guitar/electro soundscapes and vistas
Lutine – spooky anti-folk from the dark, dark ages (their debut gig in a church was stunning)
Thee Bald Knobbers – absolutely indescribable. This link is live footage. It’s terrifying.
Shonalika Tilak – a superb singer with some extremely dark, absorbing music
Stevie and the Nobodies – crunchy guitars, smart tunes, humour
Prissy Lips – utter fucking exotic trash glam
Plurals – drones and transcendence
Broken Ears – punchy, hard-edged acoustica (fairly new outfit, but already very strong)
& the marvellous Junkboy
An interesting mixture, and that’ll do for now – apologies to any I’ve missed out, although doubtless there’ll be more… There were three very good acts at my recent launch gig, for example – check them out too. In fact, check em all out.
Because the New Year finds me light-hearted and clearing out a ton of sentimental &/or forgotten crap, to dance laughing round a giant freedom pyre, I thought it’d be nice to share something with you. Going through the accumulated debris, I found this thing written years ago for a compilation album called The Return of Generation Toyracer (TOY004), featuring a track by my then-band Empty Vessels.
And what better way to celebrate the future than by wanking over the past?
The idea was to do a short piece for the inlay booklet, describing my best-loved record. So I made one up:
‘My favourite album is by 80’s combo Joie Extreme. The Sound of Whipped Dogs Miaowing has a literally unbearable atmosphere of foreboding and dread, with great hooks and singalong choruses. This voluptuous fog is testament to the genius of Des Essence and Vyv Feast. Whereas Essence was a protest singer distinctive for high-pitched shouting over primitive piano chords (ultra-rare early single “Dead Hill-Farmers Long Ago”), Feast wasn’t. So each song on their classic LP was recorded twice – once at half-speed, then with frequencies added that Feast claimed caused “spiritual violation”. Drummer Stifford was forced to hold his breath for each take; listen carefully and hear him sobbing on track three.
Recording took place in a haunted factory in front of a crowd of wax dummy children in Victorian clothes, and Feast deprived the band of sleep by flashing a blue light in their eyes (while showing, says bassist Miranda Poe, “a full stem”). The song “Eyeflaps Turgid” – possibly the only ever to feature an acoustic guitar filled with shit – reflects this. It was all downhill from there. The band scattered into obscurity to become music journalists, but their album lives on and I’ve got all the copies.’
…The work of a cocky, sleep-deprived and possibly quite drunk young man, but damn it was fun.
So… live session on Thursday (25th) went well – Under The Table on BHCR. Despite technical problems at the start of the show cutting into the timeslot (handled with aplomb by presenter Nigel Staley… truly, the man’s unflappable), it was a good programme and a buzz to perform on. The time issue meant I didn’t get to play a couple of pre-recorded tracks – from Glow in the Dark – but did manage to fit in:
Monkey – an old song recorded by my band Empty Vessels in 2006 (on the Parlour 9 Sessions album)
Phantom Party – from the Episodes EP
Undertow – from 1st album This Mucky Age
…Plus live versions of Wet Dream Disaster, Face of Stone & Larkin. I got these recorded, and will no doubt find a use for em soon. A freebie, perhaps. Did a spoken word piece and talked a load of shit about nudist beaches in Brighton, John Peel’s disembodied essence, that kind of thing, and selected tracks by Lou Reed (Waves of Fear) and The Fall (Ladybird).
Yeah, tech issues aside it was pretty sweet to have almost a whole programme to play with. Other than that, I’ve been offered a local gig – details very soon – and am hatching schemes and plans enormousfold.
It’s been a while, but then this time of year’s rarely very dramatic.
Lately, the focus is on improvising, found sounds and field recordings – for instance, a spoken word piece I just did with a sound artist named Jamie Sturrock.
He’d produced a very eerie soundscape called water ghosts, based on noises obtained by dangling a mic into an underground cavern in Scotland. I wrote a response after sitting in the dark with it, then recorded this with him. The results, when finished, may be released at some point – but that’s out of my hands, and part of a larger ongoing project. More news on this if/when I have it.
Anyway, it’s very exciting so far; Jamie’s website (with water ghosts toward the bottom of the page) can be found here.
2012 was bipolar – but I’d do it all again
Well, that was a… colourful year. And who could ask for more? Rather that than the alternative, which is a dreary thought. Death!
So what happened? (I’m still asking myself that, so this summary is as much for my benefit as anything else.)
1) Released 2nd album. Got more, and better, reviews than #1 – which was kind of the idea.
2) Did a brief and eventful tour after release – pretty much broke even: another first. Played a fair few other gigs, mostly solo, some with…
3) A band, which orbited around the songs for roughly 8-9 months and then exploded. With hindsight, it was never going to last, but during that time we played…
4) Live on BBC Introducing: The South (and the single got a little air-time too). This was exciting.
…Besides these bare bullet-points, I’ve just kept on doing it, “it” being more songs. Met some potential collaborators in the last couple of months, had a few tantalising overtures; again, I’m not going into detail yet for fear of The Jinx; in this game, so many promising set-ups tend to evaporate without warning.
But it’s promising just the same. And it’s been a blast – on a gross venal level, the trickle of royalties makes filling in an income tax Self Assessment form such a thrill.
Joking aside, I’m still fuelling off the highs and regret none of the lows – hope you (whoever you are) likewise. Happy New Year.
Below is a piece I wrote some years ago for a fanzine (on actual paper, yet). Explanation follows.
I arrived at 221B Baker Street to find my friend Sherlock Holmes deep in consultation with a well-to-do lady of middle years, her pale worried features a sad contrast to the richness of her dress. ‘It’s my son Francis,’ she said in a voice cracked with weariness. ‘Ever since he joined this.. “rock band”, he’s been like a perfect stranger. He comes and goes at all hours, refuses his dinner, and seems to detest my husband and I – but worse yet…’
Here Holmes interrupted with a brusque gesture of his nervous fingers. ‘This band. What do they call themselves?’
‘I blush to tell you, Mr Holmes, but they are known as The Fucking Cocksuckers.’
‘Quite so. If you will permit me – ?’ Holmes stretched out a long arm and reached into the jumble of documents and periodicals on the mantelpiece. ‘Hmm. Yes, here we are – this week’s New Musical Express.. Watson, what a catalogue of horrors is here! The lubberly scum of London, the very dregs of the opium dens.. Where was it.. Ah! I quote: “spotted by yr excited reporter picking their noses in a darkened toilet with the Damp Socket Scuzz Collective (formerly We Luv Public School Records) – anti-music – anti-quotes – they wipe their arses on the smug corpse of the Old Previous Cunts – doing it for The Kids, man – tired rhetoric – I play guitar like I’m flogging my old PE teacher – drums like a scotch egg full of Iggy’s spunk…” Enough!’
‘But Mr Holmes, this is not the worst of it!’ the good lady interjected. ‘I listened to some of their.. music.. only this afternoon, and my own Francis was,’ she coughed with embarrassment, ‘..singing, after a fashion, about “snorting bones”. In somebody’s garden shed.’ Her face was ashen with horror. ‘Bones, Mr Holmes!’
Holmes looked grim indeed. ‘Mrs Glendinning, I shall be most glad to rescue your son from these villains. Watson, I would be grateful if you’d pass me the inhaler of benzedrine cough remedy.’
‘Why, have you a cold, Holmes?’
‘Just do it.’
Suitably refreshed, my friend bade the dowager Lady goodbye and stepped out to hail a cab. I found him prostrate with nervous exhaustion a few feet from the porch, his athletic frame splayed on the cobblestones. ‘Quickly Watson – the brandy,’ he croaked, gesturing feebly toward the inner pocket of his greatcoat, ‘and you’d better have some too if we’re to stand a chance of surviving the ghastly work that lies ahead of us. I trust you’ve brought your revolver.’
‘Holmes, you surely cannot anticipate any danger from these noisy children?’
My friend smiled thinly as I helped him to his feet. ‘No. But I might feel like shooting someone.’
We arrived in a swirling fog outside the lowest kind of tavern. The noises from within are beyond my power to describe – and over it all a nasal, tortured yelp as of a man crying out in mortal crisis.
We pushed inside through the heat and throng, eyes watering in the murk, minds assaulted by the din. My cheeks burn as I write it, but the music began to work within me in strange ways – my moral fibre was shaken – my resistance wavered.. I plugged my ears and pushed on, seeing the lithe form of my friend leap onto the stage!
What a scene I beheld: the preening figure that had once been Francis Strathbogie Glendinning, beloved heir of a respectable family, twitching and cursing in language that must not – must not – be repeated. Surrounding him were a group of haggard, perspiring louts, sneering in practised ennui as they mishandled their instruments; a glassy-eyed stare and a shrug was their only reaction to Holmes’ appearance. He grasped Francis’s skinny shoulder and pushed the repulsive figure aside, seizing the microphone – howls of protest rose from the crowd – with his other hand Holmes picked up a guitar and lifted it high above his head, then dashed it to the floor!
I felt a thrill of fear as he snarled, ‘Right you lightweight little shits.. I’ll show you something..’
TO BE CONTINUED
(Except it wasn’t, nor was it intended to be. It was a dig at the then-prevalent mid-00’s fashion for bands made up of crackheads and public-school wankers pretending to be ex-rent boys, weird as that seems now. Anyway, I rediscovered it by accident and thought it might be a laugh to stick it on here.)
notes from waaay underground, Sept 2012
It’s hardly an original observation, but we’re in an unprecedented place with music right now. And that’s leaving aside the hopelessly blurred question of illicit downloads.
What we’ve got is an ever-more-entrenched top tier – the trad music biz – with a chokehold on all outlets still, despite everything. Shrinking but sucking up all the gravy, digging in, skimming off as much short-term profit on karaoke, lukewarm EDM and career-path indie as possible… (The money nowadays is in being a middleman – a 360-degree platform, or whatever… basically smoothing a load of unexpected bumps out of this level playing field, or claiming to.) And then there’s practically everyone else. Okay, there are exceptions when someone interesting somehow gets over the fence, but you know what I’m saying.
“Everyone else” being the huge semi-pro DIY mass, squashed in a corner, playing the long game. Doing it for the love of it, waiting for a break, gambling on longevity – or persistence – or bloody-mindedness… (If the volume of ever-accumulating stuff out there on the internet hasn’t made a nonsense of ideas like “back catalogue” and “posterity”, for unknowns anyway.) This in itself isn’t a new thing; it’s the extent of the lower tier that’s new. There simply aren’t enough outlets that pay – either in terms of making a living, or the finer commodity of sustained visibility. Of course the situation could eventually stabilize, even improve; something unexpected might come along and change the game again. Until then, though…
They believe in what they’re doing, these hidden musicians, so they roll the dice and carry on regardless.
As will I, despite the discouraging recent experience of having a band blow up on the launchpad. Discouraging, not fatal – with 20/20 hindsight it’s best in the long run, for reasons I needn’t go into here. Gave me ideas on how I’d like to continue, which is something; time now to get on with it.
Another year, another gamble: thankfully, the work is its own reward. Clearly lots of other people feel the same.
I haven’t fronted a band since Empty Vessels on 14th Dec 2006 at The Montague Arms (SE15): so what’s changed? Happily, very little.
Solo acoustic is a totally different animal – I’d forgotten how charged the atmosphere at a real gig can be. The New Cross Inn on Friday was vibey as ever; I, Ludicrous sounded good – well, their soundcheck did, we’d buggered off back to Brighton in the van by the time they went onstage, I’m ashamed to admit – and the sheer power and physicality of the experience was… well, there aren’t any words. I just love feeling the drum-cracks and noises blast my spine, and aiming my voice right… through… the middle; worth every second, every minor discomfort and expediency.
It went over well, too; nice crowd. It’s good to be back.
oh, and many thanks to Andy Clarke, without whom…
The BBC Introducing: South live session we played is up on their site for the next 5 days, here.
We’ll get a recording of our songs, which were spread out across the broadcast, so I’ll probably upload it here &/or to Soundcloud at some point… Till then, check out the programme. It includes an interview, which I think went okay – the top of my head was spinning off somewhere in the upper atmosphere at the time. Managed not to swear or otherwise disgrace myself – can recall that much.
In all, sounded nice and crunchy; in fact we were ear-splittingly loud. No idea how the sound engineer made sense of this tidal sheet of fuzz, but what went on-air was magicked into something very tight and coherent, more so as we progressed. The fact we were lean, ready and up for it must’ve helped too.
Abiding memory? How swift and efficient the whole operation was – totally hassle-free, nice people to deal with – and, uh, playing with a big cardboard cut-out of Beloved National Treasure (and in my book, twat) David Jason as Del Boy, right in my eyeline. That and the chundering monotony of football, everywhere, inescapable.
No, seriously though: it was a pleasure. Had thought I was shackled to the acoustic guitar forevermore… Happily, I was wrong.
those who complain on messageboards that a not-for-sale CD clearly marked PROMO ONLY which they had no business buying is in fact a CD-r… I salute you
By and large, as a musician I expect to get ripped off occasionally; it’s an occupational hazard. This is why I’m not too bothered about torrent sites or other internet-based free music distributors beyond my control. While I might find the principle behind them bogus and annoying, it’s just about possible to accept in return for the (theoretical) publicity it can generate. And let’s face it, other options are limited.
Just before This Mucky Age was released, a ton of pirate downloads appeared on the net; one of the promo copies was ripped by a journalist. The only objection I could think of was that it messed up search results for this site; otherwise it was vaguely flattering, in a creepy sort of way… but begs the question, Why?!? Some sad bastard even went to the trouble of photographing the packaging. It’s a decent pic, too; so ironically enough, I’m going to steal it (see above).
While checking this out, I found bands begging to be pirated – either from wanting the extra exposure that these sites supposedly offer, or to be seen as inside the great big inclusive internet tent, maybe, instead of out in the rain. And to an extent, there’s something in the righteous notions the… pirates?… bandy about, of Opening Up Music’s Furthest Horizons Without Hindrance or Limit For Everybody, of sticking it to The Man, etc etc (when they bother to make excuses, it’s usually some kind of incoherent bid for the moral high ground).
Still, it would’ve been nice to be asked. At one point there were 80-odd leaked versions out there; not many in the scheme of things, but enough to be taking the piss. It can be remedied with a little effort, though: get a DMCA takedown notice issued, and the dark grapes of villainy wither on the vine. Eventually.
This is why the US House of Representatives’ proposed Stop Online Piracy Act & Protect Intellectual Property Act are disproportionate and inappropriate. The main argument against is that these pieces of legislation are so vague and potentially all-inclusive that, as the proposals stand, they could be extended to mean censorship (by blocking) of pretty much anything. All this in the hands of a closed group of private interests. But so what?
…After all, it sometimes feels like the www could do with a good purge; times when it seems to consist almost entirely of 2nd-hand crud – endlessly-circulated photos of dogs in fancy dress, people who can’t spell screeding out massive reviews of long-forgotten 80’s horror films, regurged gossip and contention, whatever.
Yeah (that’s quite enough devil’s advocacy), then what? What’s left, other than scorched earth and Adele? The brute fact is, I have no idea where any of this is going, and care less; it was just an excuse to put that picture up at the top. Which makes me just as bad – will the circle of evil ne’er be broken…?
Last night’s Interrobang gig was great – good atmosphere and venue, receptive audience, lots of interesting stuff going on.
So – a good place to stop for a week or two, and think about how best to carry on. There’s only so much an acoustic guitar can do, after all; it’s kind of limiting the options. Might be good to try putting a band together… (Although ironically, the new material written for album #2 suits solo acoustic much better, so who knows? The last thing I want is to end up with yet another by-the-numbers indie band.)
With all kinds of as-yet unformed ideas, I’m taking time off from live stuff for a couple of months to try out different approaches. Last night was good enough to make me regret the decision, which proves it’s the right one – if that makes sense.
…and all who sail in her
Thanks to everyone who sent in comments to the BBC Introducing programme this evening. Very much appreciated.
It can be heard on iPlayer for the next week, here:
…And Hands Up starts off the programme.
(In fact, I was disentangling myself from some internet admin guff and very nearly missed my own song. Was in that mix of frantic busy-ness and frustrated inertia that only technology can create – watching lots of coloured bars creeping toward fulfilment, only to be thwarted by tiny circles and error messages… I shudder thinking about it.)
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. The whole programme was great – if you didn’t get a chance to hear it on broadcast, give it a listen on iPlayer.
That screen test debacle in full
Ah well – best stick to music, eh. Thought things were going rather too smoothly and a humbling was due; got one in full measure. Can laff about it now, as they say; even at the time it was kind of funny, in a gruesome way. I mean, how likely is it that a complete novice can just walk in and bag the lead in a film…?
Anyway, as detailed below I breezed through the initial audition a while ago – largely because I was cocky and didn’t give much of a shit – and the feedback was good, very enthused. A problem occurred to me once the buzz wore off, in that I didn’t particularly care for the male lead on paper; he seemed a bit drab and it was hard to care whether he got the girl – who was free-spirited, kooky, and kind of irritating, truth be told. The script was almost too acute in its characterisations. (Personally I’d’ve banged their heads together; that film I’d pay to watch.) Big stumbling block if you’ve never acted before and aren’t sure how to get past this pop-eyed scorn and make the guy come to life. This is where the actor’s craft, the actor’s training, the actor’s eerie capacity for self-hypnosis comes in. It’s certainly not something you can pick up in an afternoon on-site, as I discovered.
So I showed up despite my misgivings (or, okay… prejudices), was made welcome, and within five minutes was sitting under two burning pillars of light with an actress I’d never met before, trying to pretend I wanted to charm her pants off with my creepy, earnest smooth talk. Thing is, despite my reservations about the characters, it’d all been a bit of a giggle before; now the sudden sharp knowledge that This Is It, It’s All Real, boosted anxiety right across the spectrum into catatonia. Within six minutes, I knew I’d blown it; within about eight, I’d sweated right through my clothes. Knowing this incredible flop sweat was being picked up on camera didn’t help me get into the moment, to put it mildly; it was about all I could do to speak my lines in the right places, in English, in a robot’s monotone.
I can truly – and happily – say I’ve never died on my arse quite so graphically before. The shittiest gig I’ve ever done has nothing on it. It was an incredibly strange feeling: any small ideas about how to emote convincingly just sieved out of my brain like a bladderful of piss, to be replaced by… nothing. Utter vacancy. What really threw me, I think, was the awkwardness and weird, artificial feel of the situation; a strong sense that whatever happened, almost none of it was under my control. Musicians, as a sweeping generalised rule, have a fair bit of say in how they present themselves and their music. This, however, was like stepping into an uneasy dream where everyone’s smiling and smiling and speaking and you’re following suit, hoping they don’t notice you’re not one of them by some fatal slip, and still they’re smiling, and you’re sitting there wanking. Or in my case, in a pool of sweat.
Thing is, the director still seemed to want to give me a chance – so he gave me some more stuff to do, improv games, different scene with different actress, that kind of thing. This effectively prolonged and deepened the agony, but by then I was so numbed that I just didn’t care, couldn’t even summon the initiative to slink away. (The other guys up for the part were all professional actors, and while pleasant enough I felt they began to look at me a little askance; like, who let this clown in? And how come he’s still here? I may have imagined this, though.) After about a year, I was dismissed – kindly and politely enough – and thought, WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? But not in quite the same way as the first time.
But I remind myself, it was only ever extra gravy. And the actor’s mindset is fluid and strange and difficult to acquire… etc etc. The short films I’ve made in no way prepared me for it – how could they, I’m using my own words in my own time, on my own planet.
And tomorrow, I’m going to be making a video for Hands Up – a real one with proper crew and everything, which’ll involve running round Brighton with gasmasks and shit. You don’t get that in a romcom.
Started on recording the 2nd album. Apart from the vocals being tentative – and therefore weak – it was a pretty productive session. Once I’ve got all the basic guitar tracks down I can re-record the singing, then start fleshing out the songs; meddle with them till they’re unrecognizable, even. They’re all very new, haven’t been aired live (hence the uncertainty), so I’m not tied to them emotionally; if it feels right, they could be stripped down again, completely re-structured, lose the guitar… Well, it’s a possibility.
Good to be back in London – knowing I could leave – and good to catch up with friends, to be doing music.
So – a rich harvest indeed. The projected new album doesn’t even have a title, and there’s a lot of work still to do. The timing may seem a little odd, given that album #1 hasn’t yet been released; but it’s also satisfying to remind myself what all this is an aid of, namely music and all that shit. (Yeah… I’m not just stroking my own bloated ego here, it’s about laying a pure and pristine offering on the altar of the muse… right?)
Anyway, sounding good so far.
Talk about worlds colliding. Last Monday, gigged the legendary rock oubliette Hope & Anchor, N1. I’ve a lot of affection for that place – my old band played it loads of times, and I’ve had some great nights there. It’s an old-school rock sweatbox in the best sense – the power of crowd and sound focus into a great wave of energy, driving you effortlessly, till you feel Olympian and mellow like a 1920’s crooner – even while screaming your fucking head off. Entranced!
Deliberate headlined and I guested on a few songs with them; and as before, Chris added laptop noise during my set to The Black Membrane. This time it was phenomenal – the whole room immersed in surging fog, floes and crackles. I love this shit, I truly do.
Then during the week I met up with a director about a lead part in a film. It was just one of those random things that falls into your lap out of nowhere, and would be foolish (and ungrateful to Luck, Chance, whoever) not to investigate. It seemed to click, so a few days later I went for the audition.
Not something I’ve ever done before. Daunting and alien. A very heightened experience, an atmosphere superficially informal but charged with intent: a camera, lights, a row of people sat watching, and a script I had 5 minutes to look at. I will never, ever take the piss out of actors again.
Anyway, must’ve done okay, because they want me back to screen-test with potential female leads.