Saturday, June 30, 2007

Farewell Fopp

I first encountered Fopp in Aberdeen, and initially thought that it was some local record shop rather than a national chain. Subsequently, trips to some of Fopp's many branches became a routine part of any trip to the Britain. Fopp had a handy business model, at least as far as the punter was concerned - they sold a lot of mid-price stuff for a fiver in Earth money. My well-informed friends tell me that this was based on some cannibalistic business practices, involving buying up the stock of bankrupt retailers in firesale auctions, but I was always too busy picking up records I had never got round to buying before to care. It helped that Fopp branches were always bright and cheery places well suited to record browsing. Famously, the one in Edinburgh even had a bar (even if it was more like what in Budapest they call a Drinks Bar).

And on Friday the 29th June, Fopp closed down all its stores without paying its employees their last month's wages. Cockfarmers. The BBC suggests that internet retailing and music downloading is to blame, though my well-informed friends suggest that instead M. Le Fopp accidentally found himself buying a retailers debts as well as its stock. Uh oh.

There may nevertheless be something to this idea that online retailing and downloading is killing record stores. Apparently London's Berwick Street is in serious decline these days, with there being far fewer shops there then there used to be. If this trend continues, there will soon be no reason to visit London. It is interesting and perhaps heroic that Rough Trade are planning to open a new monster shop in the Brick Lane area, with a view to stopping the Internet, but I fear that they are being a latter day Canute and are engaging in a futile action that will bring down their two existing shops with it.

This is life.

Name of a Pipe!

I saw this great French and English phrase dictionary in London. It was called something like "Name of a Pipe!" and used scenes from a Euro comic to show how translating figures of speech literally is a bad idea. Anyway, the comic from which the scenes were taken looked deadly – all whacky adventures and people doing exciting early to mid 20th century stuff. Some chaps called Mortimer and Blake seemed to be involved.

Later, in Gosh, I stumbled across an actual Blake & Mortimer comic: The Yellow "M", by Edgar P. Jacobs. It is excellent stuff, about a superpowered maniac who starts off stealing the crown jewels and robbing the vault of the Bank of England before going on to kidnap some eminent figures against whom the mysterious villain seems to have some kind of grudge. It does perhaps get a bit outlandishly coincidence driven towards the end, but as a piece of work it is very evocative of a kind of pulp adventurer's London.

This edition comes with so little covering information that I thought for a moment that it might be a modern day work of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style conceit. The interweb reveals that actually Blake & Mortimer comics started coming out in the late 1940s, appearing first in the same anthology title as Hergé's Tintin, with which The Yellow "M" shares obvious stylistic elements.

It is also incredibly wordy, which I like because it spits in the face of comics convention.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Crimes Against Pop

I went to a club called Crimes Against Pop in that London, largely through inertia as other people I knew were going. CAP is one of those pop-music-for-indie-kids clubs. It takes place in a somewhat divey basement club that does not have any beer on draught – the place is cheap in but if you care for a drink then you will end up severely out of pocket. I was reminded yet again of what good value illegal death drugs are.

The music, well it's grand. Things like this are great for getting an impression of what the young people like. I also got to dance to 'WE! ARE! YOUR FRIENDS!'. although it did seem like a somewhat lame remix version. The place got very full as the evening wore on so we lost interest and made our long way home.

There was one great moment, when some piece of insane electropop madness was rocking the floor…. And then I caught a snatch of lyrics and realised the singer was saying 'Let's make love and listen to Death From Above'. So I was hearing Brazilian sensations CSS for the first time. Now I know why people go on about that track, it is awesome. And I heard Amy Winehouse's 'Rehab' song for the first time. I was struck by her voice's somewhat comedic qualities and the derivativeness of the tune, but it seemed to strike something of a chord with the many people present who were drinking to excess. I wonder will alcoholism become the new smoking?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Love "Forever Changes"

I was in a record shop and there was this amazing psychey music being played, so I wandered over to the counter and it was this. So I bought it, but not there and then. I get the impression at times that everyone in the world except me has a copy of this, so maybe talking about it too much is irrelevant. But I will do so anyway, to an extent. The album opens with 'Alone Again Or', a track I think of as the big Love song. It is noticeably less good than the rest of the album, overcompensating in horn flourishes for the lack of a great tune; its being written by the band's minority songwriter might be significant. The rest of the album is excellent, a kind of melodic and polished psyche making much of Arthur Lee's measured vocal tones.

And then bonus tracks attack. Most of the bonus tracks are actually perfectly enjoyable, but then there is one where the band have an unfunny Spinal Tap style argument in the studio. I never understand why record companies think that releasing this kind of shite is a good idea.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


I've just discovered that things I wrote years ago for Freaky Trigger (in its pre-blog incarnation) are still available online. Around five years ago I wrote this piece about Nordic music: His Wotanic Majesty's Request

And four years ago, I gave them this snippet about John Otway playing at Glastonbury: John Otway At Glastonbury – Beyond The Fringe

Sparks "Hello Young Lovers"

This is a recent album from the crazy Mael brothers. It is very lushly arranged, with loads of strings and keyboards and stuff counterpointing Russell's perhaps somewhat treated voice. On a first listen or two I was maybe a bit confused by this, but it is something of a grower. One thing I thought about it from the word go – this is not an album by a band who had a big hit 30 years ago and are now content to tread water, chase trends, or plod through rehashes of past greatness. Even if you do not like this record you will have to acknowledge that Sparks are still reaching for the prize.

I remember seeing Sparks on Top Of The Pops in the 1970s, though I did not know their name and just thought of them as that-band-with-the-weird-keyboard-player. Much later I discovered that they were the band Sparks and heard 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us' etc. I think it was Frank's APA Andrew bigging these guys up so much that tipped me over into buying their record (er, my beloved actually bought it, but I made her do it using my psychic powers).


I have updated my links to other blogs and deleted links to ones that do not pass muster, as part of my commitment to bring YOU only the very greatest of the world's other blogs. Just in case you are reading this out in blog aggregator land, and thus never actually see Inuit Bikini Scarlet Carwash in all its true glory, I now present you with a list of all the other blogs to which I currently link, and a brief description of each.

:-) means they link to me
:-| means they do not link to anyone
:-( means they link to other people but not to me

LiveJournal Syndication of Inuit Bikini Scarlet Carwash :-)
This is a Live Journal feed of this blog; handy for people who only read things in LiveJournal.

Hunting Monsters :-)
My incredibly interesting other blog.

The Dublin School of International Relations :-)
This is a Spy School group blog. Everyone who writes for it has at least one other blog. This explains its lack of updates.

Extracts of Thought :-)
First blog to ever link to me, hence its appearance in pole position here. Extracts of Thought is written by Idleberry, whom I know from the Internet.

Accentmonkey Is Ainm Dom :-)
Accentmonkey is an old friend from college and a member of Frank's APA.

Percy's Depressed :-)
This is written by Queenie, an OFFC and a member of Frank's APA.

The John Heron Project :-)
This is a group blog written by people who include Wood, a member of Frank's APA and someone I know from the Internet.

Sunshine Pop :-)
I know Sharon from the Internet. She is one of those knitters.

Optimuscrime London :-)
Another person from the Internet. He needs to update more often.

Andrew Sherman's blog :-)
Andrew Sherman is from Chester, though he does not live there.

Conceits :-|
Mr Henry the Cow is a member of Frank's APA.

Carsmile Steve :-|
Carsmile Steve is a former member of Frank's APA. I know him originally from the Internet.

Thinking Outside the Helicopter :-|
Leedy is an OFFC.

Per Stratagem Ad Gaudium :-)
Ammonite is a special OFFC.

Fattening Frogs For Snakes :-)
Paul is a member of Frank's APA and a fellow student in Spy School.

Persis Khambatta Skiing In The Negev :-)
Kealo is a member of Frank's APA and a fellow student in Spy School.

Click Opera :-|
I know Momus primarily through the Internet, even though he does not write for it anymore. You might know him through the many records of selective appeal he has released. Of all the blogs I link to, Click Opera is one of the very few that I actually recommend.

Chris Gilmour's Diary :-(
I know Mr Chris Gilmour from the Internet. This is somewhat ironic, as he has been banned from there for some time now.

Doklands :-|
Dok is a former member of Frank's APA. This is one of those MP3 blogs.

This ain't KFC, baby :-|
I have been linking to this blog under false pretences, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. The blog seems not uninteresting, but unless I discover who this person is it will probably be disappearing to the hell that is my Bloglines listing

Popular :-|
Former member of Frank's APA and the Internet is working his way through every British number one single ever.

Old Style Rabbit Tales Of Furry Fury :-(
SebCatLitter is a member of Frank's APA. Joana is not.

PopJustice :-|
This is a blog about pop music… you know, that stuff young people like.

John Moore :-|
John Moore used to be in Black Box Recorder and the Jesus And Mary Chain. He is currently pursuing a number of projects.

Rowan Tree and Red Thread :-|
Myles Corcoran is an OFFC.

Press '1' to Bun Dem :-|
I know whatever the writer of this blog is currently calling himself through OFFCs.

Knut's blog :-|
Knut is a polar bear who lives in the Berlin zoo.

From the Heart of Europe :-(
NHW is the brother of an OFFC. He lives in Brussels and does important things (like watching a lot of Doctor Who).

Cope :-(
James Wallis founded Frank's APA, but is no longer a member of it.

Undersea Community :-)
This is another one of those MP3 blogs, this time by OFFC JMason23 and others.

Masonic Boom :-|
I know Masonic Boom from the Internet.

Meehawl – all that is solid melts into air :-|
I know Meehawl through OFFCs. If you are interested in Female Clown Bathtup Shark Porn then his blog is a must.

Living the Rainbow Nation :-(
I know Riona from Spy School. She is on a field placement in South Africa.

It has taken me an age to compile this. The lesson – that I link to too many blogs.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Charlie Parker [some not obviously titled record from Fopp]

Charlie Parker plays that jazz music. This is an interesting record, and very enjoyable, but maybe it is difficult in retrospect to see what people considered so groundbreaking about Parker's work. But that's not to run these enjoyable sounds down.

I may have always known the name Charlie Parker (wasn't he a friend of Ben Rowlinson?), but it was the Ken Burns "Jazz" documentary that made me interested in acquiring music by him. It made him seem like a kind of doomed figure, almost gothic in his devotion to heroin and music, an image oddly belied by his cheery appearence in any footage of him they had.

What was that tank?

I went to see The Battle of Algiers again on Wednesday night. This is my second time seeing it. I won't spoil the plot, but there is a bit near the end where a tank appears, or a tank destroyer if you are being a pedant. When I saw the film before hand, I assumed that it was a JagdPanther, given the sloping nature of its fixed turret. Watching the film again, I was not so sure, and started wondering if it was something else entirely. Notably, it looked like it had a T-34 chassis, so I wondered if it might have been some kind of Soviet tank destroyer. Investigation reveals that the vehicle was almost certainly an SU-85 or SU-100, Soviet tank destroyers built on the T-34 chassis.

There is a certain irony to my mistaking the SU-85 for a JagdPanther. The JagdPanther was a tank destroyer built on a German Panther tank chassis. As the Panther was in many ways a German knock-off of the T-34, it is fitting that the JagdPanther should look suspiciously like the T-34's tank destroyer variant.

One of the things with The Battle of Algiers is its cinema verité look, with the riot scenes at the end in which the tank appears often being taken as actual newsreel footage spliced into the film's narrative. The appearance of a Soviet-made tank breaks the illusion - the French in the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, would hardly be using Soviet armoured vehicles, while the newly independent Algerians would no doubt have been able to acquire some antique tank destroyers from the Eastern bloc, and it is surely one of these vehicles that were pressed into service for the film.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

film: "300"

This is the one where these 300 Spartan soldiers face off against a zillion slave soldiers of bi-curious Persian Emperor Xerxes. As you know, it is adapted from a comic by Frank Miller and filmed in a CGI-tastic manner similar to that used in Sin City. It is enjoyable enough, but maybe not as totally brilliant as it might have been. The whole subplot about the Spartan Queen and the evil Spartan traitor in league with the Persians is grand in and of itself, but essentially irrelevant to the main story and plainly only there to have a hot woman character on screen for a bit longer. The depictions of the combats between the Spartans and the Persian troops are also problematic. Apart from one fight early on, the Spartans do not fight as proper hoplites (in a wall of shields). This is somewhat unrealistic, as it would in practice allow the greater numbers of the Persians to come to bear on them.

Overall though, this is a very enjoyable film set in a testosterone-fuelled age when men were real men, not afraid to hang aroung with other men while not wearing too many clothes. I wonder would Leonidas draw comfort from the thought of his story still being told 2,500 years after his heroic death?

The Cure "Pornography"

Eoghan is always going on about The Cure, so I thought I would buy this classic album of theirs. This one is a bit doomy and features very hardcore drumming that hovers between being programmed and man made.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Pines "It's Been a While"

The Pines are Joe Brooker (the man sometimes alleged to be the greatest living Englishman) and Pam Berry. She mainly sings, he mainly plays instruments. This compiles songs from a variety of sources. Here in Scarlet Carwash Mansions we are currently deriving great late night enjoyment from this, as it is a perfect record to listen to around bedtime.

I first heard of the Pines when the Pinefox gave me one of their CD singles. He was saying that the record is subject to a de facto ban in Ireland, so I might be the only person in the country to have a copy.

Monday, June 18, 2007

First they killed him...

When Bruno the Bear crossed from Italy to Bavaria, he was initially welcomed, then labelled a Problembär, then hunted down and killed.

Now they are cashing in on his legacy by inviting hikers to walk the wild routes that Bruno did, albeit without being killed at the end.

Ladytron "Witching Hour"

Wood was bigging this up. I love Ladytron so I made Irene buy it. It is probably not as good as Light & Magic, at this stage probably one of my top ten albums of all time, but it does the storming 'Destroy Everything You Touch' on it, which I love.

People often talk about how attractive the lady Ladytrons are, but I feel that more should be said about the terrifying moustache Mr Ladytron A has. I couldn't be arsed posting a picture... track down this thing of wonder yourself using the magic of Google.

I think I first heard of Ladytron when Chris "Stramash" Taylor put 'Seventeen' on a compilation tape.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

film: "Letters from Iwo Jima"

This is another one about soldiers engaging in a heroic/futile last stand. In this case they are Japanese soldiers on the godforsaken island of Iwo Jima facing off against the United States armed forces in 1945. After a considerable build-up the Americans finally land and then spend the rest of the film rolling over the Japanese guys. I gather this film was made as a pair with Clint Eastwood's other film about Iwo Jima, with the other one focussing on the American side of things. In this, the Japanese are the stars, and the Americans appear mostly as anonymous robotic figures in the distance, occasionally coming closer to torch the protagonists with flamethrowers. I think the film uses CGI to create the invasion fleet, and while the effect is maybe slightly unrealistic it is nevertheless very effective at making the American forces seem implacable, mechanistic, and unstoppable.

One could argue that not too far into this film you grasp the central point that war sucks and then the film goes on a bit – but real war continues long after you register how k-rub it is too.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Pandas - do they really exist?

I don't think I have ever seen a Giant Panda in real life, so I am not entirely convinced they are real. It would not surprise me to learn that they were genetically engineered in the 1930s in a campaign to produce the cutest possible animal.

More Panda action here

I have seen Red Pandas down in Fota Wildlife Park, but I think the jury is out on whether they are actually relatives of the Giant Panda. They seem to be a lot fiercer.

Love "Forever Changes"

I was in a record shop and there was this amazing psychey music being played, so I wandered over to the counter and it was this. So I bought it, but not there and then. I get the impression at times that everyone in the world except me has a copy of this, so maybe talking about it too much is irrelevant. But I will do so anyway, to an extent. The album opens with 'Alone Again Or', a track I think of as the big Love song. It is noticeably less good than the rest of the album, overcompensating in horn flourishes for the lack of a great tune; its being written by the band's minority songwriter might be significant. The rest of the album is excellent, a kind of melodic and polished psych making much of Arthur Lee's measured vocal tones.

And then bonus tracks attack. Most of the bonus tracks are actually perfectly enjoyable, but then there is one track where the band have an unfunny Spinal Tap style argument in the studio. I never understand why record companies think that releasing this kind of shite is a good idea.

That's it for my A-sides round-up.

I have not discussed tracks on 7" e.p.s or double A-sides, or embarrassments like the Airport Girl records I bought thinking they were by a different band who did not suck. One thing I did find when rummaging through my 7" collection for things to talk about was an unplayed e.p. by The Go! Team that I never knew I had. It turns out to be amazingly scratchy sounding, but then isn't everything by them?

Coming soon: B-sides.

Wintergreen 'The Magic Road'

Signed by two of the band! I may know of this band through the Internet, but Wintergreen have nothing of the fey about them. It sounds almost like motorik indie.

The Long Goodbye

Why is Tony Blair still Britain's Prime Minister?

Sebadoh 'Not Too Amused'

Wow, this brings me back – remember Sebadoh? They were that kewl US indie band who then disappeared up main guy Lou Barlow's arse when he decided that the band should be all about his whiny songwriting and not crazy lo-fi sounds. This is from when they were still good.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Discordia 'Discordia's Brazilian Ambassador'

You know, I don't think I have ever listened to this before now, despite buying it at an ATP record fair some years ago. It does not really live up to the name or the somewhat bizarre sleeve, being a kind of nicey instrumental track. Oh wait, there is some squawky vocals buried in it, but they are not very discordian.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

why I hate Paypal

I've never been able to tell the difference between genuine mails from Paypal and phishing exercises from identity thieves who are trying to cadge my username and password out of me.

The Battle of Algiers

If you like films, you should think seriously about going to the IFI in the near future, as they are showing The Battle of Algiers from Friday. This is a classic of political cinema, dealing with the struggle between the French and Algerian nationalists in Algiers in the 1950s. The film is wholly on the side of the rebels, but is unflinching in its portrayal of their atrocities, even while viewing them as essentially justified. It also is striking that one of the film's main characters is the hardnut French colonel who arrives in Algiers determined to break the nationalists by any means necessary. A lot of people talk about how there are obvious parallels between the film's events and curent occurences in Iraq and Palestine, but it is maybe best not to labour such points and watch it as a thrilling example of anti-colonial cinema.

It has a score by Ennio Morricone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Canal Dreams

Today I walked across Leeson Street Bridge, and saw a mother duck swimming in the canal with EIGHT ducklings.

I have no photos of this astonishing sight.

The Mountain Goats 'See America Right'

Yer man from ILX rants and raves over an insistently rhythmic backing.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Man, Prince, or GOD?

Nick Squire of the BBC reports from Vanuatu, where some of the locals worship Prince Philip as a God.

"He's a god, not a man," claims Chief Jack, of the village of Yaohnanen.

Could this be why Vanuatu is the happiest country in the world?

Film: "The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)"

I mentioned this previously, when I saw it in my German class. I have seen it again in the cinema, this time with subtitles, so I actually understand everything that happens now. As you know, this is about this guy Wiesler who works for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit. His particular speciality is bugging, but he is also adept at interrogation. At the behest of the sluglike Minister for Culture, Wiesler puts this playwright guy under surveillance. It rapidly transpires the Minister wants the playwright out of the way so that he can have untrammelled access to the playwright's common law wife (an actress), with whom he is having a sordid and exploitative affair. The film follows Wiesler as he spies on the couple, developing a sympathy for them and a distaste for the venality of the regime's hierarchy.

There are loads of films to compare this too – Red Road would be a recent example, or that The Conversation film that I have never seen. It is very much a film about voyeurism and about vicarious living (for all their problems, the playwright and the actress love each other, while Wiesler lives alone). It goes beyond Red Road in being about an actual political situation, critiquing the panopticon state in way that Red Road ultimately never does. The film is very evocative of its setting, using Prenzlauerberg and Friedrichshain locations (and actual Ministerium für Staatssicherheit interiors and exteriors) to great effect. I particularly liked that the film ended in the Karl Marx Buchhandlung on Karl Marx Allee, wherein I purchased my Stalinallee boardgame (for which I have still been unable to find English language rules).

The music is great too – you can say what you like about the East Germans, but they made far better non-weirdo music than the BRDs. Most of the music is not on compilations that I already have, so I was pleased to learn on the Interweb that there is a soundtrack album for the film. The track I am most looking forward to is the one playing when the actress comes back to the flat after Wiesler approaches her in a Prenzlauerberg dive bar.

Dire Straits 'Twistin' by the Pool'

Look, we all make mistakes.

The Chalets 'Theme From Chalets'

I am almost sick of this song I have heard it so many times – almost.

Look ma, no hands!

More pictures from Seth & Dee's wedding on Accent Monkey's Picassa page thing.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Sheila B. Devotion 'Spacer'

It is actually Sheila & B. Devotion, but i) Sheila on its own is a rubbish name for a singer and ii) B. Devotion is a rubbish name for a backing band. Anyway, Tom Ewing and/or Alex Thomson persuaded me to buy this for 10p once, on the basis that it is a Chic Organization production. And it is awesome, in its own way as epic as LLPJ, with I suppose the greatest moment being when Nile Rodgers' chopping guitar suddenly switches into this mad wistful solo that never once distracts you from the beat. Once again it reminds me of how I wish there was a compilation of the Chic Organization's greatest hits.

You can download the song from here: Boogie Friday's Greatest Hits. There is also a link from there to a site with the video.

The crazy World of Billy Bragg: part four

In which I continue my account of the Billy Bragg Volume 1 box set…

And then there is The Internationale, from 1990, a mini-album padded out with some bonus features and material from another e.p.. This is the first record where additional musicians are much in evidence, and Bragg's trademark electric guitar sound is not so present, if it shows up at all. The record is pretty much all political stuff, and mostly covers. It is a bit of a mixed bag, with the Bragg composition 'The Marching Song of the Covert Battalions' being both lame and simplistically didactic even beyond what you normally expect from Bragg. Of the covers, one is equally tiresome, this being 'Nicaragua Nicaraguita', sung acapella by Bragg, probably a bad move, given his voice. It also suffers from being a song about Socialist Nicaragua released after the Sandinistas were voted out of office there; it makes me feel like shouting "GET OVER IT! YOU LOST THAT ONE!" whenever I hear it.

'Jerusalem', though, is great, with Bragg's proletarian tones working with his claims that Blake's poem is radical and something to be reclaimed from the Tory bastards by everyone who dreams of a better England. 'The Red Flag' is a bag of fun too, sung to a Jacobite air rather than the more usual 'Tannenbaum'; Bragg claims his spritelier tune is actually the original.

The album's opener is 'The Internationale', the famous socialist song that people from all over the world would once sing as they dreamed of a better tomorrow. Bragg claims here that the song's lyrics were originally badly translated into English, so he writes new ones instead. I gather some have felt that in the process he turned a once insurrectionary song into something that even sell-out Labourite Social Democrats could happily sing, though my parents always find it disturbing to listen to.

The most striking track, though, is perhaps the closer of the original record: a song by Eric Bogle called 'My Youngest Son Came Home Today'. Bogle wrote well-known anti-war song 'The Green Fields of France'. This song suggests that Bogle is hostile to all war, including the struggle for Irish freedom, as it is sung in the voice of the father whose IRA activist son has just come home from the mortuary; the father is somewhat unimpressed with suggestions that the son's death is part of a great heroic enterprise.

In terms of how did I come to be aware of Billy Bragg – I think it must have been through seeing him sing 'Between The Wars' on Top of the Pops. I have been fond of him ever since, and already had many of these records on vinyl. I have also seen Bragg live, with almost twenty year gaps between each show; given how incendiary he is live it amazes me that I have not troubled to see him more.

The previous paragraph relates to something I have been doing experimentally in Frank's APA: writing about how I became aware of particular pieces of music. This is partly driven by my not reading much in the way of music journalism these days, so I am curious as to where I am picking up information on new sounds. Billy Bragg is of course not a new sound.

And that's it for Billy Bragg for the moment, until such time as I get round to watching the DVD in which Bragg plays concerts in countries that abandoned socialism shortly after his visit.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Belle and Sebastian 'Lazy Line Painter Jane'

Many have said that this is the greatest B&S track, although I have heard it suggested that guest vocalist Monica Queen sounds almost like someone you would get singing at a wedding. I do love this track though, it just builds and builds and builds and is completely epic in a way nothing by the band ever was again.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Marxman 'Ship Ahoy'

Irish rappers… Irish political rappers. In this one they explain Third World exploitation to a nautical musical accompaniment (the song is about ships sailing to enslave people during the great age of maritime imperialism). It should not work, but it does. As music, I mean; the actual socioeconomic analysis is a bit simplistic.

The Sugarcubes 'Birthday'

Björk squawks over nice music by the band, back before she went solo and rubbish. They may have better songs (or they may not), but you can see why everyone loves this.

Man takes up knitting

Look, one of my pals from the internet has taken up knitting!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Are you a former member of Frank's APA?

If so, then maybe you have searched the internet for "Frank's APA" and found this page. And so you might be interested to hear that that the APA's 100th issue is coming out this September. Maybe you would like to receive a copy of it and/or contribute to it? If so, drop me a line. If you are someone who dropped out because I was subjecting you to monstrous persecutions then cheer up, as I am no longer running things. You may be able to find more convivial members of the APA here: Richard Is Stranger Than Judy

(n.b. - my researches indicate that there have been at least two APAs called Frank's APA. I am talking about the one about music founded in the early 1990s by James Wallis)

If you do not know what Frank's APA is, move along. I intended when starting this blog to talk about that august institution in some detail at some stage... still not got round to it.

UPDATE (22 Sept 2007): We are making more concerted efforts to contact the former members of Frank's APA, as the deadline for 100th issue is getting very close now. If you are a former member of Frank's APA, please send a mail to either me (address to the right) or to central mailer William Crump ( his surname and first initial at ) and we can fill you in on the score.

Please also check the list of everyone who has ever been in Frank's APA here. If you have contact details for anyone with whom we have not yet been in touch, can you pass them on to one of us?

Frankie Goes To Hollywood 'Two Tribes'

I remember planning to put this on if they ever sounded the incoming missiles warning. Young people – this is from when everyone was afraid that the world was about to end in a nuclear war.

The Crazy World of Billy Bragg: part three

Talking With The Taxman About Poetry bills itself as the difficult third album, but the record features some of his best work. OK, maybe the political analysis in 'Ideology' is a bit trite, but 'There Is Power in a Union' is very striking. Bragg took the tune to American Civil War song 'The Battle Cry of Freedom' (so catchy that both sides used to sing it) and gives it lyrics about the importance of trade union activism. It is a fists-in-the-air classic, and I hope no members of the boss class find themselves in Carwash Mansions when I am listening to it. 'Help Save the Youth of America' is also interesting. It begins with Bragg talking about how the youth of America need saving from consumerism and materialism (usual lefty shite, in other words), before twisting into a new direction by warning how adventurist US leaders risk igniting a war that will not exist solely beyond the Western hemisphere. As Bragg reels off the names of American cities that will burn with those of Europe, you almost sense that he longs for friendly bombs to fall on Omaha, such is the vitriol that has crept into his voice. Go Billy!

The real triumph of this album, though, is one of the non-political songs, 'Levi Stubbs' Tears'. Bragg uses a jarring guitar chord to express the sense of despair that characterises this song. It is an astonishingly affecting piece of music.

The Manic Street Preachers 'Slash 'n' Burn'

This is a good example of how turgid and uninteresting most of the Manics' musical output was. In retrospect, what did people like me see in this band?

Trailer Trash

I went to the cinema last night for the first time in an age, seeing Black Snake Moan, of which more later. It it perhaps not quite as weird as the poster suggests.

I also caught trailers for the following films:

Atonement - based on the Ian McEwan novel. This looked very overblown and features Keira Knightley, a mark of quality.

1408 - not a film about the the Prince of Wales' capture of Aberystwyth from Own Glndwr, but a film about a haunted hotel room. The trailer suggested the film would be rather scary, but in a somewhat by-number kind of way.

Edith Piaf - the trailer carefully hid any suggestion that this film features people talking in foreign.

Vacancy - a film in which a young married couple check into a bracnch of Bates Motel empire and discover the hard way that the inbred locals plan to have them star in a DIY snuff movie. This looked UNBELIEVEABLY SCARY. One great thing about the trailer was that it scared the audience into silence.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Crazy World of Billy Bragg: part two

Brewing Up With Billy Bragg comes I think from after the Conservative government's landslide re-election. Maybe the sense that Thatcherism is not going to be a passing fad drives Bragg towards some striking political tunes, notably 'It Says Here' (about the British press) and 'Island of No Return', a searing piece on the Falkland's War.

'Island of No Return' in lyrical content is not that dissimilar to Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding', though musically it is much harsher. It is striking, though, that the short Falkland's War produced these two great songs, while nothing really seems to have come out of the Iraq occupation or the War on Fear. I wonder why this is the case.

The bonus CD with this one includes the Between The Wars e.p., covers of two older political songs and the title track. 'Between the Wars' is like a distillation of all Bragg's political ideas – angry, hopeful, naïve, nostalgic. Of the other two, 'The World Turned Upside Down' evokes radical groups of the English Civil War period; if you are a folkie then you may have heard Dick Gaughan sing this.

The Wedding Present 'The Queen of Outer Space'

This was the eleventh single they released in 1992, and like so many songs by the band it seems to be about how David Gedge is in love with someone who does not love him back. There is some great guitar riffola and screaming action in this one, making this song very different song to everything else the band released.

World of Irony

If you have ever flown through Ben Gurion Airport in Israel and are not Jewish, then you will be roffled by this article in which an Israeli citizen complains about the security procedures in San Francisco airport: 'I was put in a gas chamber,' says Israeli doctor

(thanks to Brian Ulrich for this awesome article)

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Crazy World of Billy Bragg: part one

My beloved and I recently bought a boxed set of Billy Bragg's reissued first four albums, with a DVD of live performances in East Germany and Socialist Nicaragua. These records cover the years when he essentially played and recorded on his own, with no band. Many would suggest that with Billy Bragg what you want is just him and his electric guitar; these recordings mostly give you just that.

Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy is Mr Bragg's first album, from the early 1980s when the UK was in the grip of the Thatcherite revolution. Although one tends to think of him as mainly a political songwriter, most of the tracks here are love songs, or songs about love. The most striking of these is 'The Man In The Iron Mask', an oblique account of one locked into a dependent relationship with an unfaithful partner. The most overtly political track ('To Have and to Have Not') is very evocative of the early 1980s – factory closures, mass unemployment, a sense of futures closed down.

Shakin' Stevens 'This Ole House'

Shaky is weird, quintessentially 80s despite his pastiching of an earlier rock and roll era. He also invented that whole "cover a song in a completely different style" thing that is so popular with the young people today.

This record is, of course, awesome.

Pyongyang Mythos

I've been asked to assist with the DJing at some friends' wedding next week. This is a worrying prospect, as there will be very high proportion of serious musos present, many of whom are on record as thinking all the music I like is rubbish. Fortunately, Boss DJ is talking about putting me on right at the end of the night, by which point I will probably be a few sherries the worse for wear and decide that there is nothing people ought to hear more than Radio Pyongyang on endless shuffle.