Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cat Travels By Car

A cat has survived a thirty mile journey trapped under the bonnet of a car. The little fellow has been named Scotty by the Derbyshire RSPCA and is believed to have climbed into the engine compartment when the car was parked. He has suffered some burns to his paws but is otherwise fine.

Scotty is apparently rather friendly and is believed not to be feral. It is hoped that his owner (who did not have the foresight to neuter or microchip Scotty) will come forward.


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Tuesday, March 29, 2011


When I was in Ethiopia this for some reason was being shown continuously on Al-Jazeera.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

"Chico y Rita"

And I saw this animated film too, largely because it is set in Havana and features a lot of Cuban music. It tells the story of a problematic romance over a long number of years between the two titular characters, who are both involved in the Cuban jazz scene. The whole thing is very louche, with a lot of playing away from home and paying and being paid for going on. The animation is great, with the Havana locations being lovingly rendered.

One other thing I loved about it was a bit early on in the present day when Chico turns on the radio and there is some guy (one of the Castros, probably) just droning on; if you have ever encountered Cuban TV or radio this will be rather familiar, as will the way Chico immediately switches to another channel.

image source

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

"The Runaways"

I saw this exciting film a while ago. It tells the story of popular all-girl band The Runaways and how they formed, overcome initial adversity, and then disintegrate as cocaine starts exacerbating existing problems. So plot-wise the story is rather like that of all band biopics, but it is still well done. Kim Fowley (their manager) is endearingly creepy, the young women playing Cherie Curry and Joan Jett deliver great performances, and the music is all reasonable entertaining. But I felt a bit sorry for Lita Ford – this film was plainly not based on her memoirs.

image source

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

John Cage / Cage Against The Machine 4'33"

As you know, there was an Internet campaign to make John Cage's 4'33" the Christmas number one, partly to annoy people who like X-Munter and partly because it would just be funny to have four and a half minutes of awkward silence on Christmas Day Top of the Pops. I downloaded the entire single to play my part in this important struggle, although being in Ireland I was essentially backing Ralph Nader in the Christmas number one battle here between some shitey X-Factor song and 'Horse Outside'* by the Rubber Bandits.

Some of the mixes on this display an astonishing lack of understanding of the basic concept. I mean, it is meant to be a silent piece of music, bar the ambient noise of where it is performed or recorded, so there should not be loads and loads of extraneous noise. Of the ones that kind of get it, the 'Herve Tidies His Studio Mix' is interesting, but he may have been tidying his studio a bit more noisily than normal. The 'Alex Metric Enters The Batcave Mix' is similarly ambient, but with both of these there is the slight suspicion that all the ambient sounds are being made by the people who did the sound effects for Hot Fuzz. 'Fake Blood's Needle Drop Mix' is maybe truest to the basic idea – it sounds like a DJ playing nothing bar the sound of a needle sliding around a blank groove, with occasional very quiet snippets of background sound. So Fake Blood wins.

image source

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* Foreign readers who have not encountered this are recommended to investigate the video on YouTube. Even if you do not find if funny or like the music you will probably find it intriguingly bizarre.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Blue Öyster Cult "Secret Treaties"

A Christmas present. Early impressions are favourable, but then it has a Messerschmitt* 262 on the cover so what would you expect? For a hard rock band, this is surprisingly poppy. More opinions in the future. Maybe.

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* Spell-check recognises "Messerschmitt".

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jane Weaver "The Fallen By Watch Bird"

This is another Bowlie 2 purchase. Jane Weaver was playing but due to a scheduling clash or a visit to the pub or something I ended up missing her but took a punt on her record anyway. It is co-production with the Finders Keepers label and we already have a track by her on their Bearded Ladies compilation, so she has form. Anyway, this record is amazing, living as it does on the boundaries of Sixties weirdo music, modern folk revivalism, and an almost occult level of doom. The latter is particularly apparent on the title track, itself part of a mini-suite with the two songs before it (which feature Finders Keepers favourite Susan Christie on vocal rambling).

In some respects I find myself lumping this record together with the wonderful Me Oh My by Cate Le Bon (who also appears on Bearded Ladies). That is just me being lazy, however, for all that they are both neo-folk records by women. Jane Weaver's voice is a bit more understated than Cate Le Bon's, while The Fallen By Watch Bird has a more avant-garde feel to it. However, if you liked one you would probably like the other, and this is the only serious rival to Cate Le Bon for my favourite album of 2010.

suitably deranged video:

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Belle & Sebastian "Write About Love"

Also purchased at Bowlie 2 for old time's sake, this is the most recent album by Belle & Sebastian. I had pretty low expectations of this, partly following on from the complete irredeemable rubbishness of their last album and partly thanks to the scathing review of one of my pals in Frank's APA. However, it turns out to be kind of alright. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that it is an astonishing return to form or anything, just that I do not feel like throwing the CD case across the room when it comes on. There are even some songs I have become fond of in their own right, notably the title track. With that one I just like the interplay between Stuart Murdoch and guest vocalist Carey Mulligan. But I cannot really recommend this album to anyone but the most hardened completist.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Music Writing At Its Best

Dirty Projectors Bitte Orca
Laetitia Sadier The Trip

Acquired at Bowlie 2, these may require further listening before they can be fully reviewed. They are both pleasant enough and would not send small children screaming from the room if played.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

U2 "The Best of 1990-2000"

My campaign to purchase U2 albums from charity shop, rip them to iPod, and then return them to charity shop continues. This is a collection of tunes from the period that started with the great critical success of Achtung Baby but then arguably saw the band largely lose their way and descend into a world of noodling and poncey music that alienated many of their fans. The tracks from Achtung Baby are the obvious stand-outs here, but I found myself very taken with 'Stay (Faraway So Close)' from Zooropa and 'Miss Sarajevo' from the album U2 released as The Passengers (because it was too far removed from the classic U2 sound). Both of these fan-alienating tunes have an appealing Eno-influenced sound that makes me contemplate spending actual money on the albums they came from.

After that we are into slide into shite territory with a lamer Batman film single and tunes from the rubbish Pop album. Fortunately the compilation is not entirely chronologically ordered, so after all the dullness it finishes with 'The Fly'.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Lady Gaga "The Fame / The Fame Monster"

Yes, I know, I somewhat reviewed this a while ago. What I have to say about it now is this – a lot of the songs are individually great ('Poker Face', 'Alejandro', 'Telephone', 'Bad Romance', etc.) but the album as a whole is essentially unlistenable. Too relentless!

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bobby Farrell, Captain Beefheart

People from the world of music keep dying. I will now talk about two of them. Captain Beefheart gave up making music in the early 1980s but he was a key figure to those of us aware of his existence. Even if I was never an obsessive fan, I was very fond of his work and I would have to hail him as my first introduction to the world of weirdo music. He will always have a special place in my heart. If you have never heard of the good captain then check out this recording of him playing 'Electricity' with the Magic Band on beach in Los Angeles.

Unlike Beefheart, Bobby Farrell of Boney M had continued to perform right up until the night of his death. Boney M were almost ubiquitous at a key point in my youth. While Farrell did not sing on their records (something that even little Ian suspected), he did sing live and was very much the star of the
show when the band made TV appearances. Boney M were one of the great pop groups of my childhood and so Farrell's death probably means more to me that of Beefheart, but they will both be missed.

Boney M had been one of the first western bands to play in the USSR, which may have been linked to their having had a monster hit single with the song 'Rasputin'. By an odd twist of fate, Bobby Farrell died in St. Petersburg, on the very same date that the original Rasputin met his end in that city. My understanding is that Farrell died of natural causes after playing a concert, and was not poisoned and shot by Russian noblemen before being dumped in a river.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Good Dog Helps Children To Read

Children often find it hard to learn to read. Now they are being helped in this important endeavour by Danny the Greyhound. He sits with children while they read aloud to him, without making fun of them if they make a mistake or find a long word very hard to say. Danny has been known to fall asleep while being read to, but then he dreams about the story being read to him.


Non-stop action for people interested in things I write

Over on my other blog, I have posted not one but two posts:

1. Libya's Tantalising Archives: about the fun to be had should Gaddafi's regime fall and his archives become accessible.

2. Modelling Language Survival: about attempts to construct mathematical models to predict whether two languages can coexist in the one place at the same tyme.

Meanwhile, over on FA, the cryptically named comics website, I have written the following:

1. A review of The Devil's Trail, an apocalyptic gothic horror spaghetti western mashup.

2. A review of Grandville, Bryan Talbot's furry steampunk detective comic.

3. A review of #17 of Berlin, Jason Lutes' comic about people living in, eh, Berlin.

4. A review of #60 of DMZ, in which armed far right nutters stage a rebellion against the cockfarmers in the military-industrial complex.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Bowlie 2: Concluding Remarks

I am writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998. This is the last bit.

In overall terms Bowlie 2 was one of the better ATP events, with lots of fun music and way more girls than beardies attending. In that respect it was like the original Bowlie Weekender, which was also a largely chin-stroker-free event. However, in one respect my experience of attending it was rather different than with the first Bowlie. The original featured a cornucopia of new sounds available, and I came away from it with a load of new favourite bands that I had never heard of before the weekend. This time round, though, it was mostly old familiar artists who impressed.

It was also poignant to consider the passage of time since the first Bowlie (which took place in 1998, if I remember things correctly). Almost none of my friends who were at the original weekender were at its sequel, for various reasons (B&S apostasy, age, children, other commitments, etc.). This made me think again about how I stay the same while everything else changes around me.

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Bowlie 2: The World Crashes In

Yes, I am still writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998.

One great thing about ATP events is you get the ATP TV channels playing weirdo nonsense into your chalet, so if you fancy staying up all night watching mentalism then this is the place to do it. Likewise if there are no good bands on. I saw very few of the following in their entirety.

The Banana Splits – I remember this from when I was small. It is nice to see that it really does seem to have been primarily made by drøggies for drøggies, attracting a child audience largely by accident.

Respect Yourself – the Stax Records Story – You know, Stax, Southern Soul, big brassy music, that kind of stuff. I am still a bit vague on the difference between Stax and Tamla Motown, but I know that Stax is cooler. From this documentary I was fascinated by the details on racism in the South – like one of the (white) Stax musicians talking about what a social nightmare it could be touring in those bits of the South where diners were segregated, meaning that he could not eat with his (black) fellow musicians.

Permissive - This was a film from the Sixties in which some woman moves up to London and starts hanging out with bands, soon becoming the Boris Bike of her era. It is an odd film – at one level it is like a shocking indictment of the loose morals of people in the music business, but at another it is a bit "Get a load of those tits". It struck me as being a bit like a British film version of those Men's Adventure Magazines I mentioned some time back. The various musicians seem to have been actual members of Comus and bands like that; they look like real catches.

Jadon the Gangster – This was a Nigerian gangster film about a midget gangster (played by a terrifying child). There was another plot about this rich guy whose daughter was secretly having an affair with another midget (also played by a child, making love scenes a bit creepy). It was all pretty cheaply made, and the sound recording was particularly poor, making the dialogue (in heavily accented English) largely incomprehensible. But the acting was rather impressive, and the film seemed well able to roll with its technical limitations. The kid playing Jadon was amazing, turning up the menace big time for the obligatory scene where he reveals to his henchmen that one of them has betrayed him and is about to pay the ultimate price.

Do any readers know anything about Nigerian films? I dimly remember an article in the LRB once, and this film makes the genre worth exploring further. There is also an interesting piece on Nollywood in the Christmas Economist, but it focuses more on the business side than on any must-see films.

Alchemists of Sound – This was a BBC documentary about the BBC Radiophonic workshop. It was great seeing actual footage of Delia Derbyshire talking to camera, though I do sometimes wonder if her greater fame compared to her colleagues comes from her funny name and her rowrness.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Bowlie 2: Sunday

I am writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998. I have italicised the names of artists who played at the original festival.

On Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed at some ungodly hour in order to catch some of Stevie Jackson's set. Steve "Action" Jackson is the guitarist, co-front man, and shy sex god from B&S, though we could not but notice that (like the rest of us) he has chubbed out a bit over the years. His solo stuff was amusingly whimsical – enjoyable to listen to but possibly not something you would ever bother spending money on, unlike some of the underappreciated classics he has written for B&S. However, I was unimpressed by the song he finished with, a song about popular artist Vincent Van Gogh that built up to a lamer pun that only works if you use the incorrect American pronunciation of the artist's name.

Folk sensation Vashti Bunyan was playing upstairs. As you know, she recorded one album back in the 1960s, no one bought it, and she dropped out of the music business to bring up children and stuff before being rediscovered and having a second career. She sings a bit shyly but is nevertheless an endearing stage performer with many attractive songs. She was also saying that this would be her last concert with her current band line-up, which I hope does not mean that she is going back into retirement.

After that we went into Minehead to meet people in a pub for lunch. Originally this was going to be a mini-Frank's APA meetup, but then someone who shall remain nameless remembered that his chalet mates were doing a hog roast for him, so he made his excuses and did not show up. The rest of us went to not to the nice pub in the CAMRA guide but the easy to find one in the harbour. However, we were informed that due to a spike in demand it would be an over an hour before we got any food, so we left too – much to the delight of the inbred yokels drinking there. We had a nice cream tea in a nearby tearoom, but this had the odd feature of not having toilet facilities available for customer use, which seemed like some kind of breach of health and safety regulations.

One anti-Minehead rant out of the way and we were back in the Butlins for more concert action. This time round we were in the swish upstairs venue for a concert by Ethio-jazz sensation Mulatu Astatqé. This was a considerably more satisfying concert than when we saw him playing with some other Ethiopian jazzers and the Either Orchestra in London. The Either Orchestra guy was slightly annoying, but tonight we had what seemed very much like Mulatu leading his own band. The upstairs venue was the perfect place for this, as we were able to sit at tables and sip cocktails while listening to that sophisticated Addis Ababa sound. For me this was very much one of the festival highlights.

And then The Vaselines. These were a band from back in the late 1980s fronted by a man (Eugene Kelly) and woman (Frances McKee) who used to make sexy time with each other. They recorded one album and then they split up, both musically and sexually. But now they are back together, at least for the music. In their first run The Vaselines were a pretty obscure outfit, but the passage of time means that they are now very well known as key players on the Glasgow indie scene, so they were playing at the festival on the largest stage and to a lot of people. I am not sure the change suits them, as they are very much a small venue kind of band, but they still managed to do the job.

Now, if you know the band on record you will know that some of the songs are a bit rude (e.g. 'Rory Ride Me Raw', various lyrics to other songs). Some of this works particularly because Frances McKee has the kind of voice you expect to hear singing nice folk tunes. They really played up to their saucy rep with their between song yap, with a great many allusions to their former sex lives with each other. It was all a bit much, frankly – these people are in their forties, so they have no business to be talking about bunga bunga. Small wonder that I saw several aghast and blushing sailors fleeing from the venue.

Laetitia Sadier probably did not go on about her sex life, although she was often singing in French so it is hard to be sure. The sometime Stereolab singer was playing solo, accompanying herself on guitar. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would – she seemed to have less of the hauteur that sometimes marred her appearance with her old band. Her guitar playing seemed a bit basic, but the uncomplicated lines seemed like a good minimalist accompaniment to her impressive voice.

And that, dear readers, was the last musical performance I saw at Bowlie 2. We have inexplicably turned against indie-pop stalwarts Camera Obscura so we did not stay to watch their set. There were other bands playing later (notably Them Beatles, a Beatles tribute act who were, I suspect, friends of people in the other bands or else people in the other bands moonlighting), but sitting in the chalet playing a train building game with my chalet-mates seemed a bit more appealing.

I did venture back to the venues to hear a bit of the Finders Keepers / B-Music DJs, playing where How Does It Feel? had been packing them out the night before. Their tunes were excellent, but sadly they were playing to almost nobody. There was another disco on in one of the other bars, playing tunes that could only be described as lamer faux alternative wankerboy music, but this one was completely rammed in a not particularly pleasant way, so we called it a night.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Bowlie 2: Saturday (Part 2)

I am writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998. I have italicised the names of artists who played at the original festival. Read on as I continue talking about artists I saw on the Saturday.

And so to Belle & Sebastian themselves. They were pretty good, but the magic is basically gone for me now, and the stage they were playing on was too large too rekindle it. I was also a bit disappointed that they did not take advantage of Isobel Campbell's presence to do a Spinal Tap and have her join them onstage for a cello solo.

The Great Debate triggered by this particular B&S performance was whether Stuart Murdoch has become sleazy or whether he was always a bit that-way-inclined. At one stage he got some young ladies up from the audience to clap their hands and dance onstage, and he was only really one step away from saying "Now girls, how about if you all jumped up and down a bit? And aren't those sweaters a bit warm?". What do my many B&S fan readers think?

For one reason and another we then missed Jenny and Johnny – Jenny Watson from Rilo Kiley and Jonathan Rice from Jonathan Rice playing together. I gather that it proved very popular, possibly because of the "Hello sailor" photo of Ms Watson that appeared in the programme.

We also missed almost all of the Super Secret Special Guest Artist known to everyone to be Franz Ferdinand, as there was too much of a queue to get into where they were playing. But I did get in to hear their last song, which was 'Jacqueline', one of my favourites. And guess what, Franz Ferdinand seem to be a great live band. Does anyone know if their third album is an improvement on their rubbish second?

I caught a bit of the ever reliable Justin Spear DJing his pop psyche sounds and also a track or two by Crystal Castles, who seemed to be amazingly ravey and not what you would expect at a B&S-curated festival (then again, 'Electronic Renaissance' suggests that Murdoch and co. have at least some familiarity with the world of mad mental electronic music and the drøgs that go with it).

DJs from How Does It Feel? delivered a crowd-pleasingly tarty set of indie-pop classics and likeable sixties tunes, sound-tracking a reunion of those of us who used to post on the Bowlie Forum. It was so tarty that they even played B&S songs the band themselves had played earlier in the evening. Mad buzz.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I have posted some daring political commentary on my other blog.

Bowlie 2: Saturday (Part 1)

I am writing about the recent(-ish) Bowlie 2 festival in Minehead, curated by Belle & Sebastian, the people who brought us the original Bowlie Weekender back in 1998. I have italicised the names of artists who played at the original festival. Read on as I talk about artists I saw on the Saturday.

Isobel Campbell* and Mark Lanegan performed songs from the dark country records they have made together (of which I particularly recommend Ballad of the Broken Seas). Gravel-voiced Lanegan is a wonderfullly expressive singer, playing well against Campbell's somewhat weaker vocal chords. It was odd, though, how statue-like the two of them were onstage, singing their parts with very little obvious interaction. I found this a bit alienating, given that the songs are duets and suggest a relationship between the narrative voices; Irene thought it was impressively austere. The aural reproduction of the records was certainly impressive.

Edywn Collins is arguably the man who invented indie pop (so future hataz will no doubt send a terminator back to take him out before he founded Orange Juice). He is also well known for recently having had a massive brain haemorrhage that limited his ability to speak or walk and apparently meant that he had to re-learn how to sing his songs from scratch. I had never seen him before, but there is a wonderful triumph-over-adversity quality to his performance** – these are great songs and for all his problems he can still sing them well. Having Teenage Fanclub as your backing band makes this almost the perfect musical experience. I was also struck by how well 'A Girl Like You' sounded alongside the Orange Juice tracks, for all that various people have accused it of being the crassly commercial big hit from an otherwise credible artist. But whatever, Collins received some of the most appreciative applause of anyone playing that weekend. I feel lucky to have seen him.

I love Julian Cope but I do not really like him when he plays live solo. The music seems a bit thin without the accompaniment of a band. Furthermore, playing on his own he has a worrying tendency to just stop the music and instead start yapping on about pixies and ley-lines. So I was a bit disappointed to find that Cope was indeed playing solo, especially after seeing him with a full band at the Portishead ATP two years ago. He largely stuck to playing the music, but it was not really working for me. Inertia meant that I stayed when I should have left for another stage.

Eventually I tore myself away from the baleful influence of the arch-drude, making my way to the upstairs venue where Dean Wareham*** was playing the tunes of his former band, Galaxie 500. This was amazingly good, and for all that I kicked myself for arriving so late that I only caught the last few songs, they are still among the best live performances I have ever witnessed. Wareham was playing with a band, but he could almost have got away with playing solo, as the power of these songs comes from the interplay of his soaring yet brittle guitar-playing and his slightly strangulated yet emotionally charged voice. Highlight #1 was the cover of New Order's 'Ceremony'****, while highlight #2 was Britta Phillips singing Nico's 'I'll Keep It With Mine'*****. Highlight #3 was 'Don't Let Our Youth Go To Waste', which I have recently discovered was also a cover (something that may well trigger some [special voice] comments in the next issue of Frank's APA).

We were eating a pizza downstairs while Dirty Projectors were playing. They seemed interesting enough, so we stayed for a bit to get some sense of them, even though we were expected elsewhere. On a first pass, I like them – they seemed to combine being experimental with also being unproblematically pleasant to listen to. This seemed partly to derive from their having nice lady singers, as opposed to the tuneless squawking more usually associated with the avant-garde.

But we had to rejoin our friends to see some of The New Pornographers (or did we?). I did not see enough to fully judge them, but they seemed pleasant enough. However, they had the misfortune to be playing just before B&S started on another stage, so we (and almost everyone else) flooded away from them before they had finished their set.

*As you know, Isobel Campbell used to be in B&S, before romantic differences hastened her departure. I remember her as a key feature of original Bowlie, walking around Pontins with a striking presence that left me certain that she was more than just an average punter (this at a time when I had no idea what any of B&S looked like), and not just because of her stunning good looks.

** Then again, what else is he going to do – live off disability benefit?

***At original Bowlie Dean Wareham performed music from his then-current band Luna while Irene and I sat at the back of the venue eating veggie-burgers. It was one of the highlights of the weekend.

**** Reader's Special Voice: "I think you'll find that actually it is Joy Division's 'Ceremony' ".

*****Ken Maher's voice: "This was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan".

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