Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Important Cat Adventures

Sad CatI will now recount some further adventures of our cat, Ms Billy Edwards (details of how she came to be named after a Stoneybatter character to be revealed in due course). The world is divided into those who love hearing about the exploits and opinions of our furry friends and people who would rather chew off their left arm than read about some stupid cat, but I beg such people to indulge me and keep reading, for the cat's progress is germane to my own activities. As viewers of my Facebook and Flickr photographs will know, she appeared somewhat downcast following the death of David Bowie. However, it transpired that the main reason why she was out of sorts was an infestation of fleas. Some cats can laugh off flea attacks, ignoring their new friends or subjecting their bites to little more than an occasional scratch, but they caused much greater annoyance to the Cap'n, who may have had an allergic reaction to them. Because we are new to cat ownership it took us a while to register what was happening but the signs soon became unmistakable.

The sad cat lay on my lap one night and whimpered when I moved to get up and go to bed. The following morning my beloved went off to the vet and got some anti-flea medication for her, which we administered, but she then retreated to her favourite box and just sat in there in a state of near despair for the rest of the day. She had stopped eating and because she is one of those cats who does not drink water she was becoming increasingly dehydrated.
Off to cat jail
The following morning the cat was still alive (phew) so we brought her to one of the few Dublin vets that opens on a Sunday. On the way there she whimpered in her cat carrier and then wet herself in the waiting room because of all the scary dogs there. The vet reckoned that she was indeed dehydrated and not eating either because she had picked up a stomach bug from the fleas or because she had accidentally bunged herself up with hair thanks to excessive flea-driven grooming. She had to be kept in and put in a drip.

The vet also checked her for a microchip (at my request), and it turned out she had one. He said they would check the databases to see what came up.

I know from talking to a certain person who works in the Department of Agriculture that a lot of people really do not get that it is not enough to have a microchip in an animal, the chip has to then be registered on a database somewhere. There seem to be a multiplicity of databases on which a cat might be registered and we kept receiving updates from the vet saying that they had not found anything for her but were still searching, until eventually they did find her as having been registered with the DSPCA.

It would surely not be long before the vet tracked down her registered owner. We glumly wondered how we would go about saying goodbye to our beloved cat, while also pondering the etiquette of trying to palm off the vet bill on whoever was going to be taking custody of the Cap'n. But then we had a reprieve. The vet revealed that the cat's original owner was happy to let her stay with us. She had quarrelled with the owner's other cat (her own sibling) and so had struck out on her own. Should she return there the likelihood would be that she would do the same again.

We also learned from the vet that the cat's owner lives somewhere in Stoneybatter. We still have not made contact with her (I lazily assume that cat owners are all women, unless they are popular film critic Donald Clarke or myself) but we have many questions. Like, how long since the cat left her old home was it before she moved in with us? Are any of her various local cat enemies (Backyard Cat and Other Ginger Cat in particular) her estranged sibling?

What we do know is that the cat was born in 2009, making her older than we thought. Further information will be obtained in due course. We also know that when she came back from the vet's she was super affectionate and soon took to sleeping on our bed once more. And eating food. And generally being a happy cat once more, apart from when we play Bitches Brew by Miles Davis.
"Have you put on Bitches Brew?"
But right now I can imagine any cat-hater reading this is thinking "I've been tricked into reading a load of shite about a cat with a vague promise that it would somehow prove relevant to more interesting stuff about Ian, who is not a cat". Fear not readers, I have not led you astray. This important cat news sets the scene for the next post on this amazing blog. Come back tomorrow to read it. It will blow your mind.

Since writing the above we have indeed made contact with our cat's previous owner, meeting her and our cat's estranged sister. Further details may be revealed in due course.

More cat pictures

Even more cat pictures

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Politics of Contraband

Glenn Frey - Smuggler's Blues from Ian Gray on Vimeo.

And Glenn Frey died too. He was in The Eagles. I never liked The Eagles much. I remember hearing 'Lying Eyes' by them on a radio programme on which the listeners had voted for their favourite song ever. It was not just shite, it was whiney shite too. I don't know if Glenn Frey wrote or sang it (I am somewhat unclear as to who did what in The Eagles and I am too busy to go to the Internet to find out) but he must have had some involvement.

The one thing I do like by The Eagles is 'Hotel California' (the song, not the album). If everything by The Eagles was like that, I would love The Eagles. But it isn't. And I do not know what exact involvement Mr Frey had with this song either.

Glenn Frey went solo and had songs that appeared on the soundtrack of Miami Vice. There was a song called 'Smuggler's Blues', which was at least pretty good. I also recall an album track that I heard once or twice on the radio called 'The All-Nighter'. It was about how he is known as the All-Nighter, because he can keep at it throughout the night, not that he likes to brag or anything. I think it was more comical than anything else. Rubbish Eagles tunes were always associated with cocaine, but this may have been the most cocainey track with which Mr Frey was associated, as approaching random strangers to tell them about your sexual prowess strikes me as the kind of thing that users of that devil drøg would be inclined to do.

I know other people died too. I should mention Carey Lander, keyboardist with popular band Camera Obscura; I did not know her personally but many people I know did and they loved her very much. I must also mention Robin ap Cynan, known to many as a lawyer who worked in family arbitration stuff. I know him as a contributor to Frank's APA known for his erudite knowledge of classical music. He was either rude or funny (or rude and funny) depending on the observer. I am sorry I never met him.

More people have died since I wrote the above. They will be mentioned in due course. In the meantime you can check out things I wrote about other people who have died here.

image source (Robin Mostyn ap Cynan)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Lemmy: Killed by Death

Lemmy's death over the Christmas period was not particularly surprising as he had been in bad health for some time. I had read many accounts over the last few years of embarrassing concerts where he was plainly too sick to perform properly. It struck me as a bit sad because I feared he was trying to perform out of financial necessity rather than true rock and roll abandon, though of course I had no way of knowing this.

And yet, despite his obvious deterioration there was still this sense that he would be around forever, until he wasn't. Then I regretted the various times that Motörhead had played Dublin without my going to see them. I did however have the pleasure of seeing Lemmy performing live once back in the late 1980s when he came onstage for an encore with Hawkwind in the Brixton Academy. He was very tall (or everyone in Hawkwind was very short; from where I was sitting they came to the same thing).

I was never a massive Motörhead fan. I had/have a compilation of some of their big songs (featuring a novelty dance remix of 'Ace of Spades' that apparently featured in an ad for pot noodles). There are plenty of good tunes on it, notably 'Bomber', 'Killed by Death', and especially 'We Are The Road Crew', though the standout track remains 'Ace of Spades', a tune people like me remember for the time Motörhead appeared playing it on The Young Ones, Lemmy characteristically playing with a speaker situated somewhere above his face.

For someone who appears to have never stopped living a rock 'n' roll lifestyle Lemmy made it to a good age. He was no indestructible Keith Richards but he had a reasonably good innings, all things considered.

My favourite Lemmy anecdote is the one about how when Motörhead were touring Bomber they had a lighting rig done up to look like a Lancaster bomber. While playing in Berlin he reputedly looked up at the rig and said to the audience "Been a while since you saw one of them?"

For more death action, check out my recollections of the life and works of Mr David Bowie.

image source (NME)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

David Bowie and me

Five Years
When I was small I went around to a friend's house. He put on one of his big brother's records. It began with a strange song about people hearing that the world only has five years left. I thought about how sad I would be if there was only five year left to the world.

Ashes to Ashes
'Ashes to Ashes' was number one in the charts. The video was on continuous rotation, or so it appeared. This was in the early days of music videos, when they seemed to have almost no money spent on them but often communicated a sense of wild artistic abandon. So it was with this one, which perhaps had more spend on it than others. Strange figures walked along in front of a bulldozer, a black sky hung above them, a man in a Pierrot outfit unnerved me. And there was a scene where the lyrics mentioned how the singer's mother told him not to mess with Major Tom, the video showing an older woman talking to the Pierrot. I remember feeling sorry for the old woman in the video as she looked very nice but was having to consort with this clearly depraved character.

Let's Dance
This song and the accompanying album came into the world. The album is a monster success, vastly outselling his previous records. Yet perhaps the cracks are beginning to show or the sharks are beginning to circle. A thing I heard said a lot at the time was that as good as the record may be, Bowie is no longer sounding like an innovator: on this record he is just following the musical ways of others. So it was said by some, but listening back now the song sounds strange and jarring, clearly the product of a unique talent.

Space Oddity
When I was in secondary school whenever there was an occasion where people were playing guitars and singing songs someone would always sing this one. The androgynous guy in my class who was most inclined to sing it acquired the nickname "Ziggy". I knew the words of the song by heart long before I heard it on record.

God Knows I'm Good
The local library had a copy of Space Oddity on cassette. I borrowed it and listened to it a lot. Aside from the title track there was a memorable song about a free festival and a song with the desperate chorus "God knows I'm good / God knows I'm good / surely God won't look the other way".

Never Let Me Down
Another friend at school decided to get really into David Bowie. Like so into him he bought records and stuff like that. This was when Never Let Me Down was the latest record. My friend bought it and listened to it a lot and then started telling me how great it was. "But it's got very bad reviews", I said, as though that meant anything. "The critics have always been against Bowie", my friend replied.

Glass Spiders
I think above-mentioned friend may have gone to Slane to see Bowie on the Glass Spiders tour. Somehow I came across a piece in Hot Press, not a magazine I have ever been accustomed to read. The writer started with the pretty uncontroversial opinion that Bowie's current recorded output is not up to much. But then he went on to assert that actually he had never been much cop. The one interesting assertion, one that had a degree of purchase at that time, was the claim that Bowie's crown as the inventive chameleon of popular music had by that point been well and truly taken over by Prince.

Absolute Beginners
There was a film called Absolute Beginners. It was heavily hyped before it came out but it seemed like at the last minute everyone realised that it was a load of rubbish and it tanked without trace (though I have not seen it myself and so cannot confirm or deny any comments about its cinematic quality). David Bowie appeared in the film, as an advertising executive or something like that. He also wrote and sang the film's theme song, a haunting and evocative tune that in retrospect was the last great Bowie single. The video does a great job of making the film look like it would be worth seeing.

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
It is communicated to me that this is the great David Bowie album. I listen to it and cannot but agree.

Hunky Dory
I hear this on any number of occasions but never warm to it.

Tin Machine
I remember seeing a poster for this band made up of these guys in sharp black suits, Reservoir Dogs avant le môt. I thought they looked well cool and thought about investigating their music. Only after some time did I register that one of the band was David Bowie. Then I heard that everyone thought the Tin Machine album was rubbish so I did not bother with it. But I still wonder.

Someone once bought me a book called Letters to a Young Contrarian, from which I inferred that some think I adopt opinions just to be different from other people. I did buy a copy of Low determined to like the largely tune-free material that made up the second side when this was a vinyl album. Sure enough I do just that.

Or maybe it is 1. Outside. This is one of Bowie's 1990s records, in which he is reunited with his old pal Brian Eno. I acquire a copy and have listened to it on and off ever since. It might be one of those records that is at least quite good but entirely lacking in standout good tunes. Having listened to it all again in the last few days I still would struggle to remember any of it, bar the track that is excerpted on the Lost Highway soundtrack. But it has an appealingly claustrophobic atmosphere.

I saw him
At some point in the mid-1990s I see David Bowie play live. He was touring with Morrissey, but while initially the tour was billed as a double-header by the time I saw it Morrissey was very much the support act, which was a shame as he was in the midst of his own second wind. I found the Bowie set a bit dispiriting. He had a great band and was clearly an accomplished stage presence but it was all a bit slick, and not in an ironic way. It was also clear from the stage show and the crowd's reactions that he had become a heritage act. Very few people present had any interest in his current material; they all wanted to hear music from 15 to 25 years previously. It seemed like a sad end to a figure who once was possessed of boundless creativity. In retrospect I might be more forgiving; no one has the muse forever and there may not be anything wrong with giving the paying customers what they want.

David Bowie invents Jungle
There was a record on which Bowie dabbles in drum and bass. Somehow in discourse it gets talked about as the record on which Bowie risibly claims to have invented Jungle, despite him having made no such claim. Bowie going jungle seems like a really bad idea, particularly as this was the time when every dickwad was making a coffee table drum and bass record. I'm not sure I ever heard Bowie's efforts in this regard.

I went to the Glastonbury festival in a year David Bowie was headlining. When I came back someone from work asked me what his set was like and then looked at me like I was insane when I said I hadn't seen it. I try to avoid the Glastonbury main stages.

Oi think Oi moight be of some assistance here
David Bowie appears as himself in Zoolander reminding everyone that he has a strange accent. He is funny.

The Next Day
Bowie abruptly released this album a few years ago after ten years of inactivity. He does not tour the album or appear in the media to promote it. Many said that this and the lyrical themes of the album indicate that he is dying and that this record is his last testament.

But then he releases this album. "All that stuff about him being terminally ill must just be some kind of stupid rumour," I think. "He'll be around for ages." And then he died.

I was surprised how affected I was by Bowie's death.I never thought of myself as much more than a casual fan of his work but it is clear now how much of a one-off he was. We will not see his like again. The only still active figures remotely comparable to him are Kate Bush and Prince.

An edited version of this piece appeared subsequently in Frank's APA.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Dog rescued from armchair

Lyn Kirkwood of Salford was looking for her dog Cagney when she heard a whimper and found the Lhasa Apso stuck head first in a reclining armchair. Cagney was unable to get out and Ms Kirkwood could not extract her herself.

Ms Kirkwood had no option but to contact emergency services and the RSPCA. Firemen were eventually able to free Cagney by dismantling the armchair. A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue reports that Cagney then "wandered off for a drink".

Cagney has not responded to inquiries as to how she came to be stuck in the armchair in the first place.

more (BBC)

Monday, October 05, 2015

[film] "Containment" [2015]

Do not destroy these markers. These standing stones mark an area used to bury radioactive wastes. Do not drill here. Do not dig here. The rock and water in this area may not look, feel, or smell unusual but may be poisoned by radioactive wastes. When radioactive matter decays, it gives off invisible energy that can destroy or damage people, animals, and plants.

I saw the film Containment in an exhibition in the Project Arts Centre called Riddle of the Burial Grounds. The film is a documentary by Peter Galison & Robb Moss. It is about the containment of nuclear waste, in particular the spent fuel of nuclear reactors. Much of the film is about WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. This was set up as a secure storage site in which nuclear waste could be dumped and forgotten about.

A problem with nuclear waste is that it will remain dangerously radioactive for a very long time, longer in fact than the entire span of human history so far. It was decided by US federal authorities that WIPP would have to be marked in such a way that in the far future people would be deterred from digging there and inadvertently releasing the radiation. This is a bit difficult as the people who must be warned away may have no memory of our culture and have no language in common with us. An interdisciplinary team of scientists, linguists, science fiction writers, and various other types (sadly no First World War bloggers) were recruited to try and come up with something that stood a convincing chance of warning off the people of the future. You get the sense that at the end of their efforts they are not really that convinced that they have anything will definitely or even probably work, but still they feel that they owe it to future generations to try.

The film is not just about WIPP, it also looks at where nuclear waste is currently stored. Typically the highly radioactive spent fuel of nuclear reactors is stored at the nuclear sites themselves, cooled in tanks of water to stop them catching fire and spreading fallout all over their surrounding areas. If a typical one of these sites were to lose its cooling waters then the spent fuel would probably render a vast area around the site uninhabitable. The film looks at one site where this almost happened, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The power plant there was severely damaged in the 2011 tsunami and did release radiation; the film shows a farmer whose irradiated cattle cannot be eaten and also looks at trees whose wood is too contaminated to be used in construction. However, the spent fuel rods in Fukushima did not lose their coolant, though at one stage it looked as though the water would boil off and expose the rods. The prime minister of Japan at the time of the tsunami is interviewed in the film; he says that if the coolant had boiled off and the rods had ignited then they would have released so much radiation that an area of Japan in which some 20 to 40 million people live would have become uninhabitable. He likened that outcome as being akin to losing a major war and said that it would have brought an end to Japan as an independent state.

The film also looks at some nuclear sites in the US, in particular the Savannah River Site, a huge complex of reactors and temporary storage sites in South Carolina. This lies on the Savannah river in an area of fascinating swampy wilderness. There is a lovely scene in the film with a camera panning along the lush tree-lined border of the river before a nuclear plant rears up through the vegetation. It is a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and a human construct of destruction.

The Savannah River Site seems to be a bit leaky. The film has a nice sequence showing a place where they keep wild turtles that have absorbed too much radioactive and so have to be taken away from people who might catch and eat them. There were also a couple of radioactive alligators swimming around. One of the locals interviewed bemoans the fact that the signs on the river tell people not to fish but do not say why, so people just assume it is some kind of proprietorial thing and catch the radioactive fish anyway. A thoughtful local clergyman bemoans the presence of the SRS on his doorstep but is powerless to do anything about it.

At WIPP, on the other hand, the locals appear to be quite excited about the prospect of the nation's nuclear waste stored nearby. Simple economics explains this: there is not really much going on in the area and until WIPP opened the local community was in steep decline. People further afield in New Mexico, through whose areas the waste would have to be transported, are a bit less keen on the project, but you can't make an omelet without setting off a chain reaction.

The problem with trying to communicate the warning to people in the future is a difficult one. Think of something like the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls of an Egyptian temple: but for the chance discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 they would be completely incomprehensible to us. It is quite possible that in the future there will be no cultural continuity with our civilisation, so any kind of warning based on writing is potentially unreliable. Warnings based on pictures may also fail as different cultural norms would leave them open to misinterpretation. Another fear is that by marking the site and saying "Do not dig here" they run the risk of creating a gold rush as people rush to find whatever amazing stuff the ancient ones have buried. The suggested marking of the site with structures designed to conjure up unease also looked like they could backfire, as to me they looked like they would be fun places to explore. One proposal in particular may have been modelled on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Berlin, a structure whose design invites people in for inappropriate games of hide and seek or chasing, so that might not be so good for the land above WIPP.

The project involved some people involved in one of humanity's few other attempts to communicate with those lacking any cultural points of similarity with ourselves: the images and sounds of Earth contained on the Voyager probes. I think the Voyager probes are unlikely ever to be found by alien life, but if they are it will be so far in the future that humanity will in all likelihood no longer exist. The Voyager golden records will be all that is left of our civilisation and culture. It is appropriate therefore that they attempt to present a good face of us to whoever or whatever finds them. As one of the people in the film says, the markers at WIPP are more to do with something shameful and shortsighted of our species: the production of nuclear waste with no thought for the danger it would pose to the future. Yet the project is still a noble one, as the team tries to create something that will protect people living so far in the future that they may no longer be human in the way that we are.

I have talked more of the content of this film than the form. The film features plenty of talking heads but also atmospheric shots of the desert landscape above the WIPP site. We also have the swampy wildness of the Savannah River Site and the irradiated landscape around Fukushima. In the latter we see the abandoned towns and houses of humans but again more fascinating is the countryside, a landscape that is beautiful and peaceful in appearance but so contaminated that people are not allowed stay overnight within the zone.

Although the film covers a serious subject, it has a light tone. I particularly liked the animations illustrating scenarios the futurology people came up with for likely future incursions into WIPP, with a succession of jaunty looking people or robots realising too late that they have released the radioactive death contained at the site. I also liked the animation of a suggested attempt to create cultural awareness of the WIPP site through a proposed cartoon character called Nicky Nuke, who would have an associated theme park (Nukeland or something like that), which reminded me of the Mickey Eye Park in the comic Seaguy, in that it was clearly a deranged rip-off of Disneyland.

All in all the film leaves the viewer with a sense that something will have to be done with nuclear waste and that the waste already produced cannot be expected to remain in water cooled tanks for the hundred thousand or more years it will take it to become harmless. That something is probably burying it somewhere like WIPP, in a remote and geologically stable location. Warning future generations not to excavate the site is difficult or impossible to do effectively, but there is no real option but to attempt it.

I also left the film thinking that if the USA has all that waste and is having problems working out what to do with it and how to store it safely in the meantime, what about more ramshackle countries that have also decided to go down the nuclear road. I'm thinking of Pakistan in particular here, but you would also have to worry about the long term safety of nuclear waste in the likes of Kazakhstan, Russia and Iran. And when you are talking of stuff that takes over a hundred thousand years to become safe you do have to think of the very long term.

Containment Trailer 1 from Robb Moss & Peter Galison on Vimeo.

image sources:

film stills (Containment)

nuclear power plants map (Maps on the Web)

Voyager Golden Disc (Wikipedia)

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Wikipedia)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Two contrasting festivals: Glastonbury 1992, Counterflows 2015

I wrote recently about my first visit in 1992 to the Glastonbury Festival and my recent first visit to the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. The post about Glastonbury has attracted more interest, which is not too surprising as most people have heard of Glastonbury and very few people have heard of Counterflows.

Even in 1992 Glastonbury was a big outdoors festival, albeit one considerably smaller than it is now. Counterflows is a small festival, taking place in a number of indoor venues, mostly featuring experimental artists unlikely to ever appear on prime time television (big exceptions: Noura Mint Seymali, a Mauritanian artist with potential crossover appeal and Sacred Paws, possibly your new favourite band).

Glastonbury 1992

Counterflows: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday
The Flexibles

Glastonbury image source

Counterflows image source

Friday, June 26, 2015

My First World War blog, one year on

I started my First World War live blog a year ago. The first post described a pleasant visit made by Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the markets in Sarajevo. This was two days before the Habsburg heir's more eventful return to Sarajevo.

I have found the Great War blog much more time-consuming than I expected, which partly explains the lack of activity here; there are a lot of important animal stories that I have not had time to share here. I must confess to often thinking that the First World War blog is something of a pointless time-sink for me and that I should consider giving it up in favour of something more productive. But I soldier on. Posts will keep appearing there for the foreseeable future, barring adverse circumstances.

Birthday Panda (The Virginian Pilot)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Flashback: Glastonbury 1992

In a Facebook discussion on this important topic, Mr Scott Watkins suggested that he would far rather read about my visit to the Glastonbury Festival 23 years ago than whatever current stuff I might otherwise write about. Because I believe in giving the public what they want I will go ahead and do this.

I have previously written about this festival, but unless you are one of the few people in the world with a complete leather-bound collection of Frank's APA mailings you will not be able to read what I had to say on the subject. This I am writing from memory, so Frank's APA collectors will be able to see how my version of history has changed over the years. Because I cannot really remember too much about what I actually saw at the festival I am going to deliver an impressionistic ramble through my memories of this event rather than a ponderous list of all the things I saw in order (if you like ponderous lists of things seen in order, check out my review of Counterflows).

It begins:

Van Morrison - I was not the rich man then that I am now, so when my friend Mark said he was going to Glastonbury I was not at all sure that I would be able to afford to go. I was listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks when I did the sums and realised that I somehow had enough cash to make the journey, with the result that Van Morrison for me will forever be associated with the festival. He played at it but I did not go to see him.

Couples of yore - I went in a group of three couples: Mark & Lisa, Sara & Pete, Katharine & myself. To the best of my knowledge, none of these couples still exist.
Trousers - Our departure from London was delayed because Pete had no trousers to wear to the festival and had to go and buy some. I was waiting for the others on my own in a train station and they had to ring the station and have my name called out over the tannoy to report to the information desk for this important message. This is how we did things in the pre-mobile phone era.

Friday - We arrived on the Friday. Rookie's mistake. Always make sure to arrive before the Friday.

Cheroot - A friendly man chatted to us as we arrived with our rucksacks looking bedraggled and unsure as to where we were going to camp. He gave me a cheroot and I thought "OMG this festival is amazing, random strangers just hand you drøgs" before realising that a cheroot is just a type of cigarette.

Midway Still - They were fairly big at the time. We did not see them but as we made our way through the festival site looking for somewhere to camp we heard them playing their cover of 'You Made Me Realise' off in the distance.

Shady Customers - In the campsites shifty looking blokes would walk around saying "Es? Acid? Speed?". I think they may have been vendors of these contraband products.

Crusties - Crusties were big back then. When we saw some we were very excited. I was totally amazed once I spotted an actual dog on a string.

Sun - It was bloody hot that year. No subsequent Glastonbury for me has ever been such an unadulterated scorcher. Even so I think of scorchers as the normal Glastonbury state and the other ones as aberrations.

Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine - Although they were subsequently airbrushed out of musical history they were a big band at the time. They headlined the Friday night on the Pyramid Stage. We went to see them. They were amazing! I think this may have been the first time I ever saw a band putting on a big stadium show with screens and stuff like that. Despite being just two guys on stage I remember them as astonishingly good showmen. See dog rough footage filmed from crowd of this performance here.

Controversy - But not everyone was on the same page. There were some disputed incidents after the previous Glastonbury and this was the first one where New Age Travellers were not admitted to the festival for free. Some of them took umbrage at having to buy tickets or climb over the fence like everyone else. Jim-Bob from Carter took umbrage on their behalf on the Pyramid Stage, saying that it was a facking disgrace that they were not getting in for free. It is nice to know that from my first Glastonbury people were complaining that it had lost what used to be great about it.

Stone Circle - Dude, they had their own stone circle!

"My menstrual egg timer" - It was an artwork.
The NME Stage - Back then the Other Stage was called the NME Stage. And it was in a different place to where it is now.

John Peel - He MCed one or other or both of the Pyramid and NME Stages. At one point he read out a message for some named person who was attending the festival. "Your mother says that if you do not sit the exam on Monday you will fail your Finals".

Curve - It has been said that I saw them. I have no recollection of this, your honour. They do not strike me as being a very outdoor festival band.

Lush - I do remember seeing them. This was around the time of their first album. I remember them being enjoyable but not life-changing. Again, they may not have been a very outdoor festival band.
Blur - I saw them too, playing in the afternoon. They were not the all conquering colossus they would subsequently become and were instead a mid-table faux indie band popular with girls. I do not recall whether my antipathy to Blur had kicked in by this point but I certainly remember them being unremarkable. Memory is a funny old game, as my fellow attendees remember them as being brilliant. Mark reports that Damon Albarn climbed up on some speaker stacks and then fell off and chipped some bones or something; I have no recollection of this incident but its sounds like the kind of twuntish thing he would have done. Someone recorded this important event for posterity; you can watch it here.

P.J. Harvey - I saw her too, playing with the early power trio (herself, Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughan). I think I liked them but I was not that familiar with her work at the time and not much of the detail stuck with me.

Memories, eh? - You may be wondering what exactly I do remember of the performances I saw at the festival.

Television cameras - There were few to none of them. This was in the halcyon days before Glastonbury allowed in the cameras and started selling itself to the people at home. That said, there was a documentary made about that year's festival which produced some footage, and there seems to be several recordings of complete performances on YouTube.

The Shamen - We somehow found ourselves in a field full of speeded up Antos when the Shamen came on. Mr C had just joined them and it seemed like every song was about how they were the Shamen and they keep coming on. It put me off the band for a long time and it was only the success of 'Ebeneezer Goode' that got me interested in them again.

Shit Caberet - There was plenty of good cabaret but I remember being fascinated by this amazingly awful cabaret act. Sadly I just remember that they were awful, not who they were or what was awful about them. But I was so fascinated by their awfulness that my friends thought I actually liked them. Good God no!

Toilets - I was afraid of the toilets.

Ian Moore - Wizard - In the New Age Mystic Healing Field there was a sign for someone called "Ian Moore" who was a wizard. You can see what might be his website here.

Loreena McKennitt - I think we were sitting somewhere when Loreena McKennitt came on and sang a song that was a setting to music of the Yeats poem 'Stolen Child'. It was a stunning moment of great musical beauty. Then my friends were going off somewhere else and I went with them. To this day I have never heard anything else by Ms McKennitt, fearing that it could never live up to my memory of this moment.

Heat - Seriously, it was bloody hot. I think on the Monday as we were making the long walk to where the buses pick up for the train station I really felt what it must have been like for those blokes in the war. Unlike them I was able to buy an over-priced ice pop from an enterprising local, which was nice.

And that was that. Even if my memory is not up to much about the event as a whole it was totally great. I don't know how it took me so long to go back there again.

1992 was the first Glastonbury I attended. The last time I was there was in 2005. If you want to read about that at great length, click here.

image sources:

Attendees' photographs: here & here


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Counterflows 2015: Sunday

I am belatedly posting about my time at the Counterflows festival in Glasgow. You can see all my posts on this here and the previous day's here.

I woke up to the sound of motorbikes. A convoy of motorbikes were heading off somewhere past the flat I was staying in. Many of the bikers were wearing strange costumes. I think it might have been a charity thing. Then a parade of Sikhs went by, headed by a load of blokes carrying swords, followed by some carriages and a great mass of their co-religionists: more indeed than I have ever seen in one place. I was curious as to what would come next along the road. A parade of Orangemen perhaps, or a gathering of the Ancient Order of Scottish Highlander Cliches, but instead the road went back to its normal Sunday usage. Nessa's friend Stewart made us a mushroom breakfast, which was tasty. After that we began a long journey down to the wilds of south Glasgow where Counterflows events were taking place. We visited a park and climbed a big hill and looked off in the distance at mountains. I was also excited to see the remnants of the Red Road flats. The park was fun but eventually we forced ourselves to leave it to head down for some music action in the Glad Café.
Red Road
The first thing I saw here was a performance by Andrea Neumann who was doing something with an Innenklavier: some kind of inside-out piano thing. Once I forced myself to perk up and engage I realised that this performance was one of the best things ever. As it progressed the set became more programmed and involved less physical interaction with the Innenklavier. Programmed music can be dull in the live context but Ms Neumann made things visually interesting by making it look like she was triggering the music by gestures and moves of her body. So you would get her reaching up to grab something out of the air to time with a burst of electronic noise. It was fun. Everyone liked it.

Richard Youngs was on next, playing a solo acoustic set. Apparently he is as well known as a maker of neo-folk music as for avant-garde conceptual stuff, so it was interesting to experience this string to his bow. He had young master Sorley playing with him for some songs and also he revealed that one song (called 'Fireworks' or something) was all about how great it was to have a son. If I had a son who can reliably take part in conceptual art music productions I would probably think that too.

A sudden hunger meant I missed Raymond Boni's set while I ate a tasty Glad Café meal. Then I had a small piece of cake and the nicest macchiato I have ever had outside Ethiopia. I did manage to catch the last performers: a jazz trio comprising Daniel Carter, Fritz Welch and George Lyle. Unfortunately I was stuck over to one side of the venue at the back and so had a restricted line of sight, which led to a certain alienation from proceedings. And anyway, jazz trios are best appreciated in a seated position.
Sacred Paws
That was it for the Glad Café, but there was still more to come from Counterflows. We crossed the road to enter the Langside Halls were two more acts were ready to entertain us. First up were Sacred Paws, who are two women (drummer and guitarist, both doing some vocals). They were only thing on the bill of the entire festival that could be loosely classed as "Glasgow Indie", though they were more unique than that makes them sound (as are all of the Glasgow Indie bands anyone has ever actually heard of). The guitar playing was very jangley, suggesting more Congolese players than Johnny Marr, while the overall thrust of the music was angular. I enjoyed this a lot and think their music would repay further investigation.
Noura Mint Seymali
The last act was Noura Mint Seymali and her band. She is a singer from Mauritania and her musicians were playing desert guitars music broadly reminiscent of the likes of Tinariwen, Group Doueh, Mariem Hassan's band and the like. The combination of striking female vocals and that kind of accompaniment is something I always love listening to, particularly in the live context. This lot seemed to be particularly good exponents of the form, managing to work the crowd up into a dancing frenzy. During Sacred Paws I was thinking that their music was the kind of thing that would be great to dance to but I was too tired to do any grooving. Then during Noura Mint Seymali's set I found myself dancing like a madman to the irresistible rhythms.

Pretty quickly the crowd found themselves joining hands and dancing in a great circle, charging around with frenetic abandon. One funny thing was watching people divesting themselves of drinks, bags, outer clothing and other stuff so that they could dance more freely. It was all complete brilliance, one of the best musical experiences of my life and a great end to the festival.