Friday, June 24, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 7: Monday

My interminable account of the last ever ATP lurches towards its conclusion. Previous instalments (with actual music discussion) can be seen here, here, here, here, here and here

Sunday night ended on a positive note. The bad vibes returned on Monday morning. As we were getting ready to leave we learned that the following weekend's Manchester ATP had been cancelled. I imagined Barry Hogan spending the weekend of the Stewart Lee ATP barricaded into a bunker desperately trying to shuffle money around so that the other weekend could somehow still go ahead. I'm thinking things like "If I don't pay everyone who was playing on Stage 2 I'll have enough cash to put down the deposit on the PA if they give me a discount and some credit…", that kind of thing. Oh well. I heard reports subsequently that he was trying to borrow money from Drive Like Jehu, the Manchester ATP headliners. That's not good. I also heard of artists who found themselves marooned in England because their gigs (and the money they optimistically hoped to earn from them) had been cancelled at short notice.

Since then the Iceland ATP scheduled for July 2016 has been cancelled with barely two weeks' notice. This was a bit of a surprise, as it was reputedly underwritten financially by the Icelandic government, though having seen bad banks crash their economy they were probably careful enough not to let a mismanaged music festival do the same. And it appears that the wider ATP organisation is winding up, for real this time. I wish that ATP had stopped with the one that was originally billed as the last one ever, instead of continuing and pissing on their legacy.

I wish there were still festivals like ATP. The convenience of being able to stay in a holiday camp and see a wide range of bands playing is not to be sniffed at. I noticed on social media that a lot of people reckon they could do a better job of running this kind of festival than Barry Hogan. Maybe it is time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
More astonishing ATP pictures

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 6: Sunday (continued)

Amazing! I am still describing my trip to the last ever ATP festival. Should you want to see previous instalments, they are here, here, here, here and here.

I was very excited about seeing Bardo Pond on the main stage. They are a real ATP band, in the sense that I think playing at early ATPs played an important part in bringing them to a wider audience. There is a heavy rock freak out quality to their music, but their sound is also slow and restrained and less excessive than, say, the likes of The Heads. They include a number of blokes on instruments and a woman on flute and vocals. At previous ATPs I always saw them playing the smaller stages but this time they were on Stage 1, the big one. And while before they always seemed like a small stage band, this time they felt like they had expanded and upped their game to take on the expanse now offered to them. Isobel Sollenberger was fronting the band much more than when I had previously seen them. Her languid blissed out demeanour well suited the enveloping stoner rock sounds.
Perhaps because they have gained so much by playing ATP festivals, Ms Sollenberger actually thanked Barry Hogan from the stage. A ripple went through the crowd. I may even have heard someone saying "Fucking hell", but it was a measure of how the bad vibes of Friday had somewhat dissipated that her thanks were not followed by boos from the audience.

I saw a little bit of a 1970s documentary film about the Sunbury Pop Festival, this being an Australian music festival in the town of Sunbury. It looked like a very well made member of the festival film genre, with great footage of bands performing and then music juxtaposed with things happening in the crowd. As with every film of this type there was an incident where a guy who had taken too much acid had to be coaxed down from an observation tower. There was some interesting interview footage with a guy from a band where he was saying that what was so great about the festival was that it showed there was enough talent in Australia for festivals to be put on without having to bring in second rate American bands (for all that his band sounded like a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute act).

The most interesting bit of the film for me though was all the footage of cops getting heavy with festival goers. As presented, it looked like there were a lot of lads hanging around not really doing too much when suddenly the cops would roll up and throw people into police vans. Anyone who suggested that this might be a bit much was liable to join their friends in the wagon, perhaps receiving a few slaps into the bargain. Cops be cops.

It was also striking how white and British Isles the festival goers all looked. Unlike ATP of course! I read subsequently that Sunbury Pop declined into a festival for beer drinking dickheads. A pre-fame Queen played one year and were greeted with cries of "Fuck off back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs".

Sadly I missed the sing-a-long Wicker Man. I did catch some of Richard James, a former member of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci who must spend his time denying that he is the Aphex Twin. His music was entertainingly droney.
Rounding off the weekend for me then was the Sun Ra Arkestra. OK, let's get all Van Morrison School of Music Journalism (a phrase coined by one Dave Howarth to refer to music journalists who state the obvious or thoughtlessly parrot unchecked received opinions) on this. The Arkestra are a jazz big band led by Marshall Allen, who is in his 90s. They have their origins in the band led by Sun Ra, who was from Saturn (to where he has now returned). They wear sparkly capes. They have songs about travelling through space. They parade through the audience at the climax of their set.

To be honest, the Sun Ra Arkestra are pretty much the same every time I see them, but they are pretty much the same in a way that always makes me want to see them again. They are the perfect good time end to a festival like this. Friday's Bad Vibes were now definitively gone.

And so the festival ends on a high note… but Monday morning brought astonishing news. You can read all about it here tomorrow.

More astonishing ATP pictures

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 5: Sunday

I continue my long-winded account of my trip to the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival. If you want to you can see previous instalments here, here, here and here.

After my Saturday night perambulations I went to bed, carefully setting an alarm on my phone so that I would be up in time to catch Trembling Bells at 1.00 pm. After a bit I then cleverly decided to turn off my phone to prevent premature awakening from people ringing or texting me (which shows how confused I was, as no one ever rings or texts me). As a result I managed to sleep in till after the Trembling Bells were due to start. Disastro! I thought of throwing on clothes and running down to see at least some of them, given that they were one of the acts I was most looking forward to seeing, but ablutions and breakfast came first. I was still hoping i would catch them playing afterwards as backing band for old folkie John Kirkpatrick.

When I reached Stage 2 however Trembling Bells were still playing! And playing what sounded like their own stuff too. It turned out there had been a change to the running order and this John Kirkpatrick fellow was not playing after all, so Trembling Bells started late.
If you don't know the Trembling Bells, they could broadly be described as neo-folk-rock. They mostly (entirely?) play original compositions but the sound recalls that of folk rock outfits of yore. Their singer, Lavinia Blackwall, has the kind of soaring vocal style & ability of her predecessors in that world. What makes them bit unusual is that they are led by their drummer, Alex Neilson, a man of astonishing percussive chops whose background is in the world of improv and suchlike. In an interview recently, Trembling Bells chafed at the folk rock label applied to them. At a first listen to their music, their chafing is laughable as first impressions have them like something from the Steeleye Span, Comus or Fairport Convention era reborn. But there is something to their sound that makes them their own thing. A lot of this comes from the drumming but their is generally an unusual twist on the folk-rock sound to them.

Anyway, shortly after I arrived at Stage 2, I heard Nigel Tufnell's voice come over the PA to say "And oh how they danced". A load of morris dancers then appeared in front of the stage and did their thing while the band played one of those songs that seemed to be about dancers going into an irresistible maniacal frenzy. I think the morris dancers featured some of the people who just bob up and down to the music while wearing animal heads, though it was hard to see. I heard subsequently that they had been dancing previously outside this venue's Queen Victoria (every Pontins has a shit pub called the Queen Victoria).

After that the band played on, delivering what for me was another festival highlight. I must pay tribute to Ms Blackwall's amazing vampire lady outfit, which showed off her charms to good effect. I also salute her singing and to the drumming of Mr Nielson, something that it always worth being able to see live. I loved all the other members of this great band too.
There was a lot of improv at this ATP. I saw almost none of it because most of it was on up in Stage 3, a place I had resolved to visit as little as possible. I did however catch some Evan Parker, LR Thurston Moore, and some other blokes playing on Stage 2. It was good fun. I also saw a bit of Boredoms, but as I am the one person in the world immune to their charms I wandered off to buy a drink and get myself in pole position for Alasdair Roberts.

Alasdair Roberts was playing on Stage 2. As you know, he is a Glaswegian folk singer who plays both original compositions and songs of yore. Some of the songs he sings can be lyrically a bit dark, though he tends to offset that with a relatively cheerful delivery. He is also an astonishing guitar player, which makes seeing live all the more exciting.

He began with 'The Fair Flower of Northumberland', a song about a Scottish prisoner who seduces and then abandons an English girl to aid his escape north. It is odd in that it feels like it will end terribly for the girl, but instead [spoilers] it just become a character-building life experience, with her mother saying "you silly goose, don't do that again!" and the girl saying "I've learned my lesson and probably will not run away with any other disreputable Scot in the future".

The set got very dark later though when Roberts performed one of the 'Cruel Mother' songs. These seem mostly to be a thing from Scotland (land of cruel mothers), typically featuring repeated refrains with the name of a locality. The versions I have heard then follow the same pattern. A woman gives birth to twins in the woods. She suckles them and then kills them, leaving their bodies behind. But then later she sees two beautiful children and says to them "Oh if you were my children I would dress you up in clothes so fine" but they retort "But when we were your children you strangled us and left our bodies in a shallow grave. Now we are in Heaven and you will soon be going to Hell".

What always strikes me about these songs is that there is no mention of who fathered the babies. No one gives birth on their own in the woods for fun and I find it hard not to think that the songs obscure some terrible secret as to the twins' origin. I am reminded somewhat of the Irish folk tune 'The Well Below The Valley' (found on the Planxty album of that name), which is lyrically different but in some ways follows a pattern that makes if seem like it has evolved from a Cruel Mother song. In that one a stranger meets a woman at a well, and reveals that he knows her terrible secret: that the area is littered with the buried remains of the children she has had fathered on her by her brother, uncle and father. In that one too the stranger tells the woman that she is hell bound, though as with the Alasdair Roberts song she prays that she might be spared that fate.

So that is a bit of a digression into folk's dark corners. It is still interesting to compare Roberts to the likes of Richard Dawson. They both sing of unpleasant things but Roberts is much more restrained about it. I could be wrong but I think maybe that Roberts' delivery is more true to the folk tradition, though further research may be required. I definitely recommend that all readers seek out the music of Alasdair Roberts and see him live if they get the chance.
Nearly there! Come back tomorrow for more ATP action

More astonishing ATP pictures

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 4: Saturday (continued) - featuring festival highlight performance

This is fourth episode of my exhaustive account of my visit to the last ever ATP festival in Prestatyn, which was curated by Stewart Lee. You probably don't need to read previous instalments, but if you want to you can see them here, here, & here.

On Saturday evening I saw The Heads on Stage 1, sitting at the back because I was a bit puppy tired. The Heads rock hard and were enjoyably full on. I followed them by a trip back to the chalet. On the way I met a man who was being bitten by his girlfriend. We discussed whether this meant he would turn into his girlfriend and would then go round biting other people, so that everyone present would end up being a version of her.
Then I saw The Ex, who are an ATP staple: I first became aware of them at a Camber Sands festival and have seen them at ATPs on a great many occasions. Perhaps this engendered a certain laziness on my part that meant that I arrived down late for their performance on Stage 1, missing all but the last couple of songs. They're still great though. The Young Lad has settled into his role as replacement for the original singer and the band continue to give the impression of enjoying what they do. In fact their general positivity reminded me that the bad vibes of Friday had by now largely dissipated. That said, they finished by saying that they looked forward to seeing anyone who was going to the Manchester ATP, as they were also playing that; this may have been the ATP equivalent of the guy in a horror film who says, "Just nipping down to the cellar, I'll be right back".
I was planning to see The Fall but they were taking forever to setup. This may not have been their fault as such, as the programme this evening had gone a bit strange thanks to John Cale's late cancelation. But I could not wait so instead I went off to catch The BellRays. They are the band sometimes described as being what you would get if classic Tina Turner found herself fronting the MC5. And they are indeed a powerfully voiced black woman fronting a load of white guys playing music transitioning from late psych to hard rock. An appealing thing about them is that they are all quite old, possibly even older than me, yet they're all still going for it like motherfuckers. Catch them if they come to your town.

And that was almost that. We regrouped in the chalet (or in a chalet) for a bit of relaxation. There was still one more thing in the programme for that night, the enigmatically named Charlotte Church's Late Night Pop Dungeon. It was generally assumed that this would be the Welsh singer DJing some pop records: potentially fun. But when we drifted back to it we discovered that it was something else entirely, for this was none other than Ms Church playing with a full band on Stage 2.
For the benefit of foreign readers, Charlotte Church came to prominence as a child performer of lovely songs that showed off her considerable vocal talents. As she has grown up she has pushed against the musical straitjacket of her youth and started trying to explore pop and art-pop directions. In her Late Night Pop Dungeon she sang a good few pop classics and a few songs she has had hits with herself. A stroke of genius was throwing in versions of 'Hometown Unicorn' by popular Welsh band Super Furry Animals and 'Holland, 1945' by Neutral Milk Hotel. This could be dismissed as indie tokenism but readers of a interviews with Ms Church will be aware of her liking for these bands. The actual highlight for me though was her cover of 'Don't Let Go' by En Vogue, with 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life' running a close second.

There can be something a bit terrifying about adult former child stars. In the case of Ms Church I think we see the upside, someone of youthful years who nevertheless has the polished stage presence of an experienced performer. Her set was a highlight of the weekend and one of the greatest ATP performances I have ever encountered.

That should have been the end of the day for me but I had certain responsibilities to fulfil. Friends were arriving late on Saturday from Dublin for complicated reasons. They were not going to be in my chalet but as a responsible adult I was tasked with making sure their chalet-mates remembered they were coming. So I had to bring one to the camp's entrance so that she could bring in the new arrivals. Then we had a party in their chalet which went on into the small hours. Eventually I had to make my way back home, though on the way I met some confused people who couldn't find their chalet. I had a map with me but it turned out their chalet wasn't on the map. They left me and may be wandering around Pontins Prestatyn to this very day.

Come back tomorrow for more folk horror ATP action.

More astonishing ATP pictures


Monday, June 20, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 3: Saturday

I continue my account of the last ever ATP festival. Previous installments here & here.

I went for a stroll into sunny Prestatyn and saw none other than folkie sensation Alasdair Roberts wandering around. This was very exciting as he was on the bill for Sunday, so if he was here this meant that at least one more act I was looking forward to seeing was still going to be playing. I thought of saying hello but I did not want to be that guy who annoys famous people. Afterwards though I wondered whether Roberts might be at that level of fame where randomers saying hello to him is still exciting.

I was in Prestatyn to do some shopping (including trying to pass a prescription for "stuff" in a local Boots), so it was fitting that the first things I saw back in Pontins was the last few minutes of Shopping, who played angular music suggesting a Congolese influence. I did not see enough to have an informed impression but reports were positive. I saw more of Wolf People, who could lazily be described as a late 1960s folk-rock revival outfit. They're good at what they do, though I think further investigation may be needed to determine just how good.

I wandered along to The Raincoats in a spirit of some trepidation. As you know, they emerged in the punk era and were considered strangely novel by all being women. Their career ran its course then but with the passage of time they have experienced several revivals of interest in their work. I am a great admirer of their cover version of The Kinks' 'Lola' but when I saw them at a previous ATP I found the experience dispriting; to me they were the wrong kind of ramshackle, coming across as amateurish and incompetent.

This time I only caught the last few songs of The Raincoats' set (something I seem to have done with a great many of the performances at this festival). But either they were more on top of their game or (more likely) I was in a more receptive mood, because this seemed like strikingly good stuff. It was still a bit ramshackle but it was good ramshackle, the kind of thing that is the opposite of slick. And there was a droney element to their music that I did not recall from the last time. I came away from this thinking that I should re-engage with this band's recorded oeuvre.

I also saw the last few songs of Bevis Frond. They were like a 1970s softy rock band who had somehow travelled forward in time to the 2010s. To me they were fundamentally inessential but they might appeal to others.

So I went to see Richard Youngs on Stage 2. I know him just from some performances he gave at Counterflows in Glasgow last year. He somehow manages to straddle the disparate worlds of folkie music and conceptual art music, which means that on any given occasions when you see him you never know quite what you are going to get. In this case he came on stage and did some kind of odd a cappella piece. Then he did a song where he would sing a line and then shout "HEY!".

I like to think of myself as a broadminded individual open to new experiences, but this was all a bit too in your face artwank for me, so I wandered off. I heard subsequently that I left just before it all got interesting. Apparently he sang a line and shouted nothing, whereupon someone in the crowd tentatively shouted "Hey?". After that the concert became a bizarre event based on unpredictable performer-audience interaction.

But I saw none of that because I was making a daring raid upstairs to see Laetitia Sadier. The last time I saw the former Stereolab singer (at a previous ATP) she was playing solo. This time she had a band with her, made up of young gentlemen. The whole thing was OK but again I found it somewhat inessential. Still, I did find myself standing beside curator and TV funny guy Stewart Lee for a bit. I thought of giving him a thump and saying "Who's having the last laugh now?" except he is well known for his skill at the arts of fighting so I decided against it.
Back downstairs I caught the set by late 1980s indie sensations The Blue Aeroplanes. They are one of those bands who weren't involved in shoegaze and never went seriously indie-dance, so now they are somewhat forgotten (but not, presumably, by Stewart Lee). I did not hear much of their stuff back in the day but always had the idea that they had an interesting art-rock quality to them, so I was keen to check them out. Now their line-up is made up mostly of younger musicians but there are a couple still who are or could be original members. The drummer is of somewhat advanced years but the two key oldsters are Gerard Langley, the beat poet inspired vocalist, and Wojtek Dmochowski, dancer.

That's right, readers, they have a dancer. Some have described Wojtek as the original Bez but I think there is a different dynamic to his efforts here. Bez basically shuffled backwards and forwards in a confused haze, but Wojtek is more of the interpretative dance persuasion. Lord knows what the musicians in the band though of him, but for me his presence was a key part of what made this a great performance.

Another great thing about the Blue Aeroplanes was how up for it the band were. Sometimes one finds with long-running or reformed bands where past members have been replaced by young people that you end up with detached session musicians, but here we had a load of excited players who gave every impression of being very invested in the music (and there were even a couple of songs that did not have Gerard on lead vocals). The last song they played was a particularly mental all hands on deck tune that would have been a great encore piece, if bands in the middle of a festival bill got to do encores.

Come back tomorrow for more ATP action!

More astonishing ATP pictures

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 2: Friday

So yesterday I gave you some background on my amazing trip to the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival… now let me discuss some of what transpired there.

The first band I saw was Ex Easter Island Head. Or rather they were the first band I tried to see. They were playing in the minuscule Stage 3. The crowd of people there meant that when I arrived I could see little or nothing of the band. They seemed to be some kind of percussive outfit, possibly Gamelan influenced, and it was interesting to see their drum sticks rising above the heads of the crowd. From where I was though I was doomed to have the alienating experience of seeing little or nothing and having people pushing by me as they arrived or left. FTS, I thought, so I made my excuses and left, developing an antipathy towards Stage 3 that I retained for the rest of the weekend.

By now unpleasant news was permeating among the festival-goers regarding further organisational and other failures. Some people had dropped off the bill, notably Shirley Collins and vintage outsider comedy act Ted Chippington (both from illness, though possibly not the same illness). John Cale, a relatively late addition to the bill, had cancelled at the last minute and was tweeting about having been let down by the organisers (by which I think he meant that they were not paying him money he was due). This news contributed to escalating bad vibes in Prestatyn, as people wondered who else would suddenly turn out not to be playing after all.
One lot who were still playing Shonen Knife. These are the Japanese pop-punk sensations who have been going for ages now with an ever-evolving line-up. Naoko Yamano remains the one constant, but she is joined tonight by another founding member, her sister Atsuko (who has switched from drums to bass). Naoko and Atsuko are both even older than I am (some might say too old to still be singing about capybaras and amusement park rides), but they are joined by the much younger Risa on drums.

In a festival where the bad vibes were rising it was great to have a band as relentlessly positive as Shonen Knife on the bill. They radiate such good cheer that they could not but lift the mood of gloom. To an extent anyway.

Festivals are great for checking out bands you have heard of but don't really know much about. Thus it was I went to see Sleaford Mods with an air of excited curiosity. Their name is a bit misleading, as anyone expecting them to be a Paul Weller tribute act would be somewhat disappointed. Instead they are two blokes, one of whom stands in front of a computer drinking beer while the other talks into a microphone. The talking hovers between rapping, toasting and verse-free invective. You could think of them as being like an art-rock version of Goldie Looking Chain (except with one rapper, so the analogy does not really work). I thought they might well repay closer attention but also suspected that they would be better live than on record.

I caught a bit of Richard Dawson, who was performing on Stage 2. He had been recommended to me. He is one of those neo-folkies and comes from a region. His songs are a bit in your face and often involve violent death. In between two of the songs he started telling a joke and then said, "You know what's a fucking joke? The organisational abilities of someone who isn't a million miles away from here".

Dawson did one song about some guy dying in an industrial accident or something, accompanying himself by stomping on the ground, but when he launched into a particularly in-your-face song about some guys taking forever to kill and butcher a horse I found myself thinking that there is only so much negativity I can take in my life. I'm not sure why murder ballads and songs about human death are manageable while I can't take songs about cruelty to horses (a class of animal I am not that pushed about generally), but I decided to skip the rest of Richard Dawson's set. The venue was also extremely warm, and in my tired Friday evening state it did not occur to me that maybe I could cool down by taking off some of my clothes.

I was getting very tired indeed by now but I decided to force myself to stay up to catch Friday night headliner, Roky Erickson (legendary frontman of legendary 1960s psych band 13th Floor Elevators). He is quite old now and has seen better days, as evidenced by his playing the gig sitting in a chair. He also began by saying that he almost did not play due to fuckwittery on the part of the ATP organisation but in the end he went ahead to keep it real for the kids. We appreciated the gesture. I heard it said subsequently that before playing Roky Erickson and his band were still waiting for ATP to cough up cash for a gig they had played in London earlier in the week and had packed up their stuff and were about to leave when Deborah ATP (Barry Hogan's business partner and wife) successfully begged them to stay. I was struck by how the 60s acid casualty turned out to be more professional than the festival organiser.

I was too tired to really enjoy Mr Erickson's set and can't but think it was a mistake to put them on so late on the first day when many people would have had a long day of travelling to get to the site. But I was impressed by his singing and his band (who recreated the classic Elevators sound by having a guy blowing into a whisky jug). 'Slip Inside This House' was a particular highlight, with this astonishingly being my first exposure to this song other than its recording by Primal Scream on Screamadelica. This version had a considerably more epic quality and lacks an early 1990s shuffle-beat. It felt like it could have gone on forever and in the moment it seemed almost to. But it come to an end and then Erickson followed it with some slow ballad that wasn't going to keep sleepy me awake, so I went back to the chalet to score some ZZZZs.

More astonishing ATP pictures

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Stewart Lee All Tomorrow's Parties, Part 1: Introductory Yap

What's that, readers? You would like to read an account of what we now know to have been the last ever All Tomorrow's Parties festival? Well then, you've come to the rights place, for now I present part one of an account of my recent visit to sunny Prestatyn, where ATP was taking place in the Pontins holiday camp just outside the town. By now most people are broadly familiar with the All Tomorrow's Parties drill - it is a festival in an out-of-season holiday camp featuring left-field bands of today together with a smattering of musical artists of yore. The events are curated by someone, usually a band or musician though not always, who sets the agenda and has a major role in picking the acts who play. This year the curator was the popular comedian Stewart Lee.

People who get their news about the world solely from this blog may now be somewhat confused. Wasn't there an All Tomorrow's Parties a few years ago that was the last ever ATP? Yes there was, it was curated by Mogwai. I was there and so were many of my associates. So how was there another ATP happening in April? Well one might wonder about this question. It seems as though Barry Hogan (Mr ATP) decided that the world needed more holiday camp festival action. There was a winter ATP (officially a Nightmare Before Christmas) in Prestatyn last November and then two festivals were announced for May this year, the Stewart Lee curated one and another curated by Drive Like Jehu (a band).

The ATP have a well-deserved reputation for organisational and financial failure, with previous festivals cancelled or postponed at short notice. This made me a bit wary of signing up to this Stewart Lee ATP. This was the first all-new ATP that anyone I knew was going to and I was thinking that maybe it would be better to let them test the waters before I started trying to attend one myself. After looking at the tasty line-up however I decided to take the plunge. Given that anyone who buys ATP tickets on credit card can get a refund if the event is cancelled, all I would have to lose if it went south was the cost of getting to Prestatyn, which is not very much if you travel by boat and train from Dublin and are rolling in cash like me. Nothing ventured nothing gained.

And then in March, about six weeks before the festival date, signs emerged that it might not take place. There were reports that ATP had missed a payment to Pontins and lost the holiday camp in which the festival was due to take place. People became rather irate, but eventually ATP were able to pony up some cash and secure the site for the Stewart Lee weekend. Drive Like Jesu fans were less fortunate: it was announced that their festival would definitely be taking place, no problem, but was being moved to Manchester, with ticket holders being put up in hotels.

That pretty much was that until it was time to head over to Wales for music fun. There were a lot of us coming over from Dublin, because Prestatyn is basically the most easily accessible ATP venue yet for people from our fair city. The ferry brings you across the Irish Sea and then the train brings you to Prestatyn, in easy walking distance of the holiday camp. I was on the Stena ferry with a number of exciting people. We stopped for lunch in Holyhead and then travelled on to Prestatyn. There we had some time to kill before we could enter the camp site (bureaucratic reasons) so we grabbed a quick pint in a local hostelry. This proved to be a mistake, at least for me, as the hearty ales consumed meant that my early start began to catch up with me, making me a bit *tired*. Worse, when I met one of my abstemious American friends and his no-doubt equally abstemious chalet-mates I had to make great efforts to hold it together and not come across as some drink-addled lush. I think I managed, but one can never tell.

When you go to an all new site for a festival there is always the fun game of compare and contrast with previous venues. The Prestatyn camp is a Pontins, which means it is part of the same chain as the Camber Sands site where the fun began all those years ago. The chalets looked eerily familiar, clearly having been cut from the same cloth as their friends in Sussex. The camp seemed a bit smaller, with the chalets more compactly arranged, though I might just be thinking that because our chalet was closer to the venue.

One odd feature of this ATP was that there was a sniffer dog at the entrance. I presume it was checking for drøgs but who knows, maybe he was one of those dogs who can sniff out people who are secretly ISIS cultists. As is the way of these things, he soon had his own Twitter account.

That sets the scene. Come back tomorrow for more amazing ATP content, featuring actual music talk.

More astonishing ATP pictures

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)