Saturday, January 31, 2009

Finders Keepers Korrner

Now let me talk about a two Finders Keepers records recently acquired. First up there is their release of Selda's first album (with a couple of tracks from her second thrown in as a bonus). Selda is this Turkish folk singer, known as a voice of leftist protest against the suckass powers that be in that country. She had been on the go for a while before she made her debut record; from the accompanying photographs she looks like she was no spring chicken. Apparently she had been a well-known figure on the country's live circuit, but has never made it into the studio until 1976.

Live, Selda played with just her own acoustic guitar for accompaniment, but in the studio she was joined by a load of Turkish prog-rockers and electronic experimentalists. This should surely have smothered her sound and made her debut a piece of sludgy awfulness, but the combination works really well. You still get her strong voice and guitar pickings, but the accompaniment makes this a record to kill for. I suppose you could, in a very roundabout way, compare it to Nick Drake's Bryter Layter, in that like it the folkie base has a load of ornament added on that actually improves things greatly rather than making it shite.

I recommend this album highly, and not just for 'Yaz Gaztecti Yaz' (or the bop doody doo doo de de doo de de doo track as some might know it), the one you hear a lot at Andy Votel Djing events or on Scott Watkins TOADs. I like it so much that I ended up buying a second copy on CD (so I can rip it to iPod and eventually pass on the love by donating it to Oxfam).

Meanwhile, on my recent food trip to Cork* I decided to buy another Finders Keepers record from the nice record shop down there. This time it was the soundtrack to Valerie & Her Week of Wonders. This is a Czechoslovakian film from the early 1970s, a kind of last gasp of the avant-garde scene that the 1968 invasion crushed. I have not seen the film myself, but I gether that it is kind like Alice in Wonderland meets Emmanuelle, only with more weirdo European stuff thrown in. The music is very evocative, but in retrosepect it might have been better if I had bought this on CD, as it is the kind of thing that would be nice to listen to in one go without having to change the record over. It would also be nice to listen to on the iPod while lying in bed.

Selda image source

Valerie image source

* Another trip to Ireland's greatest restaurant, where I ate more stuff I now cannot remember.

Media Fail

I read in the Irish Times today that the Dublin Event Guide is folding… sorry, it is discontinuing its print edition and will henceforth exist solely online. This is an ominous development. The Dublin Event Guide was a useful listings magazine, covering events in Dublin. I cannot make any claims for it being totally brilliant or anything, but it was a handy way of keeping an eye on what was going on in this city. The last time I looked, their website was not up to much; maybe they have plans to upgrade it, but I would be surprised if they have the money for it. In any case, listings are one thing where print media scores highly over electronic – it is far easier to browse through a listings magazine than to look at a listings website. I found with the Event Guide that the advertisements placed by the venues would catch my eye as much as the actual listings, something that is not really going to happen with some stupid website (and one I will in all likelihood never look at).

So there is nothing for it, I will have to start buying the Irish Times on Fridays, in order to read The Ticket, their attempt at a listings magazine.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Andy Irvine & Paul Brady

As a Christmas present, my beloved got me the album Paul Brady and Andy Irvine did together back ages and ages ago. From this far remove, it is hard to think of Paul Brady ever having been a credible figure on the folk-trad scene; musically he is more associated with stuff like the title song from the Eat The Peach soundtrack or Tina Turner album tracks. Back in the day, though, he seems to have been a serious tradder, having already made a bit of a name for himself before recording this record with Handy Andy. The record (produced by Dónal Lunny, who may also play on it here and there) features the kind of tunes you would be familiar with if you have had any exposure to the Planxty/Irvine songbook. So, lots of songs about soldiers, though not so many about young ladies being relieved of their maidenhead by same (though not for want of trying – see 'Martinmas Time'). There is 'Arthur McBride', which features soldiers but is primarily a tune from the And-Then-We-Beat-The-Shite-Out-Of-Them songwriting tradition. I understand that people sometimes point to the oddness of that song appearing here (sung by Brady) as Irvine had already sung it on a then-recent Planxty album, though the two version are quite different.

I am still only getting used to this record. One thing I find a bit odd is the contrasting voices on it. Brady's voice is quite different to Irvine's, and I have not entirely warmed to it yet. But even on early listens one can see the excellence of this album.

image from Claddagh Records

Undead Music?

So is it all over for the Living Music festival? The RTE Performing Groups website has an entry for the festival, but is still trumpeting last year's Arvo Pärt themed event: RTE Performing Groups: Living Music Festival. That took place on the 15th to the 17th February in 2008. Is there a secret festival being organised for two weeks time? I think not.

Should you be interested in reading my discussions of previous festivals in this series, check out the following:

Living Music 2008 (with pandas)

Living Music 2007

Living Music 2006

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bloglines LiveJournal Unfail

Wow, Bloglines and LiveJournal are friends again. Getting a load of updates on all the LiveJournal blogs I had largely forgotten about means that the problem of conversation in Panda Mansions has been solved for some time to come.

Yes We Can

I have on a number of occasions mentioned the ongoing conflict between red and grey squirrels. Grey squirrels have been in the ascendant for some time, but recently they have faced a number of challenges, both from human alliances with the reds and the emergence of red squirrels immune to the mysterious disease that was decimating their fellows.

Now the grey squirrels face a terrible new threat. As in the world of humans, a new type of black squirrel has risen up and is becoming increasingly oppressive towards its lighter coloured fellows. Scientists have predicted that the black squirrels may soon exterminate the greys completely. The situation is so desperate that some greys are proposing the unthinkable - an alliance with the red squirrel.

image source

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stereolab Live: in Tripod

I found myself facing a bit of a conundrum regarding the night Stereolab were playing, as there were two concerts by bands who have arguably seen better days on that night, with Electric 6 being the other one. I know that Electric 6 are not so kewl with the trend people these days, but they have made some of my most favourite tunes ever (as proven by science (or iTunes play counts)), so I felt like I owed them and was curious as to whether they still had it live or not. Stereolab, in contrast, are a band that I had grown a bit tired of, finding their recent live performances a bit dull and turgid. So – how did I find myself going to see Stereolab rather than Electric 6? Basically, I am a sociable fellow, and a good few of my pals were heading off to the Lab while no one was off to the Six (for my friends too are slaves to the kewl). So I joined them.

And actually, the Lab were great. Like really great. For a band I think of myself as following closely enough over the years, I was struck by how little of the stuff played I recognised, but this was not a problem – the motorik sounds of the Lab washed over me, and it was almost better that the tunes were largely anonymous.

This was my first time seeing the band since poor May Hansen was mashed by a truck. I had heard from some people that they had previously sounded a bit thin without her backing vocals, but this time round they just got one of the other musicians to replicate all her la la la las. Problem solved.

Another great thing about this gig was that Laetitia Sadier seems to have had some kind of personality transplant and is no longer annoying (or maybe the passage of time has made me more tolerant of other people's foibles). She has also become smokin' hot, with separation from Tim Gane obviously bringing out the saucy divorcee in her. For all that, she seems to have acquired an almost endearingly lame style of dancing from the Your Dad School of Boogie, though she did rock out in an amusing manner to 'French Disko'. One of my friends reckoned, meanwhile, that Tim Gane will shortly be appearing in ads for Tony Quinn's patent weight loss programme.

One thing that occurred to me in the course of the concert was that maybe their previously no-fun live appearances were a product of Tim Gane and Laeititia Sadier's relationship sliding into shite. I mean, it must be no fun being in a band with someone you are separating from.

Anyway, that's about the size of it. The concert was so great that I have dug up my old Stereolab CDs and listened to them again. And ripped them to the computer (apart from their best one, Transient Random Noise Bursts (With Announcements), which seems to not like computers). I have also considered posting on the interweb the review I wrote in form of a play many years ago when I first saw them play; it could be my tribute to the late Mary Hansen.

Audiencewatch: there were a lot of stinky people at this concert. Like, really stinky. I remember going to the bar at one point, only to be faced with a reek reminiscent of a meeting of the A.R.E. Weapons fan club. I wonder why this would be so. Stereolab do not strike me as the kind of band that soap dodgers would be drawn to, but the facts cannot be denied. Maybe the then cold weather (the gig was in the middle of an extreme cold snap) meant that a lot of people were not washing as much as usual, and then in the warm environment of the Tripod they were having to remove outer layers of clothing and release their musk to the world.

There was some kind of Finders-Keepers/B-Music night on upstairs after the concert, so we hung around for that and got all excited when Andy Votel played the Selda song. We also watched some plonkers try to balance beer glasses on their heads (with predictable consequences) and waited in vain for the DJs to play the "heepies" song from the Cross Continental Road Trip record. And so to bed.

The next day I listened to the Stereolab tour single I bought after the concert. It sounds like Stereolab.

image source

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another post about "Waltz with Bashir"

This is my most considered response to this film, written for well-known cultural journal Frank's APA.

This was an Israeli-made animated film. It mixes documentary and fiction by being an investigation of the director's own experiences in the Lebanon war of 1982, experiences he is unable to remember. He travels around talking to other people who were in the Israeli army back then, asking them if they remember meeting him in Lebanon and getting them to recount their stories in the hope that it will jog his memory. So you get animated people saying "Well, I don't remember meeting you, though that's not to say I didn't", and then stuff depicting their experiences while invading Lebanon.

The animation style is in some respects reminiscent of that interpolated rotoscoping chap that Richard Linklater used in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. By that I mean that a lot of it, particularly the interviews, looks like they filmed actual interviews and then turned them into animation. At other times, or sometimes even at the same time, the film tends towards the kind of clair ligne style that comics fans always namecheck when something looks a bit like Tintin art. So you get the idea. I reckon that anyone with an interest in animation would find the film fascinating, even if they were not that pushed about its subject matter.

The subject matter, though, is one that leaps out at the viewer. This is not a film based on tricksy and clever stylistic tricks but rather one where style is there to serve the substance. The clear line art is good for suggesting a certain emotional flatness on the part of the interviewees (and, at times, on the part of the director himself, when he appears), indicative of a mental state that is actively suppressing memories of unpleasant events.

And the events are pretty unpleasant. If you are broadly familiar with the events of Israel's 1982 Lebanon invasion then you probably know where the film is going. If you do not, read on. War is an unpleasant business, and many of the people the director talks to have seen or done terrible things. There are a lot of striking scenes in this regard, but one memorable incident concerns a fellow who was able to disassociate himself from all the killing going on around him by somehow seeing it as something he was seeing in a film but not in real life - until his unit reached some stables in Beirut, where crippled and dying horses were crawling around in agony.

The Bashir fellow in the title is one Bashir Gemayel, leader of Lebanon's Phalange militia and an ally of Israel. After invading Lebanon, Israel was able to secure Gemayel's election to the country's presidency, but he was killed in a car bomb before he could take office. Israeli troops then moved into Muslim West Beirut, surrounding the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and sending in angry Phalangists to look for terrorists. As we now know, the Phalangists took a rather broad view of what constituted a terrorist, exterminating something like two thousand Palestinians. At the end of the film, the director remembers what he did in Lebanon. He was with the Israeli soldiers who surrounded the camps, who prevented Palestinians from fleeing them, and who saw the massacres taking place. He himself fired flares over the camps at night so that the Phalange could continue their work around the clock.

You can kind of see why you might try to expunge that from your memory. To ram the point home, film cuts from drawn animation of scattered bodies and Palestinian women screaming as they look for their loved ones after the massacres ended, to actual news footage of corpses and the same screaming women. It is an emotional sledgehammer, reminding the viewer that the nice arty film being viewed is one that covers real, terrible events. I cannot speak for other people, but I was almost in a state of shock when I left the cinema, and even writing about it now I find a sense of horror welling up in me.

Previous Waltz with Bashir action

Waltz with Bashir context

Monday, January 26, 2009

When Aardvarks Walked The Earth

Potentially the greatest ever blog in the world is Laura Hudson & Leigh Walton's Cereblog, in which they are going to read and blog about every issue of Dave Sim's Cerebus. This would be totally awesome if they were reading each issue for the first time ever, but sadly they seem to be broadly familiar with the title.

For those of you not in the know, Cerebus ran for three hundred issues. Dave Sim initially wrote and drew it alone, but later he was joined by Gerhard on backgrounds. It tells the story of Cerebus, and aardvark in a world of humans. Initially it was a light-hearted and somewhat throwaway pastiche of then-popular Conan The Barbarian comics, before gradually mutating into something considerably more ambitious but then annoying everyone by becoming a reputedly unreadable vehicle for its writer's increasingly crankish opinions. In its period of greatness it was one of the best comics ever written, and if it had maintained that level of quality to the end it would be talked about as one of the greatest art works of all time.

With thanks to Popular Tom for pointing me at Cereblog.

Handy Andy

I often think that what Andy Irvine needs to do is ditch all the mopey tunes and Balkan influences and instead re-brand himself as a one-man boy band. I often think this – when I have synthesising my own ersatz crack cocaine out of household cleaning products. When I saw Irvine play a concert just before Christmas such thoughts were furthest from my mind. Annoyingly, I missed the very start of the concert, thanks to the annoying practice in Whelan's of making gigs start and end early so they can have some kind of disco for the young people on afterwards. This gets me every time. It seemed to get a lot of other people too – the place was not that full when we arrived, but became considerably more so later in the evening. Still, we were pleased to discover from friends Lisa and Brian that he was only on his first song when he arrived, so no problem.

Irvine has a lot of songs, and he played a lot of them. He did play a few of his "and then we/I beat the shite out of them/him" repertoire, one in particular being about this guy who beats a Scottish cop to death for making fun of his Irishness. Such other key Irvine themes as regret and nostalgia also reared their head. It is funny for me, I am not *that* familiar with Irvine on record, but from seeing him live I have become quite familiar with many of these songs, so that when he starts playing one I go "Oh yeah, that one". At the same time, it is not like he plays the same songs in every set – the one about Woody Guthrie did not get a look in this time, but he did play the one about the unfortunate gold miner* (never recorded, as he feels that would kill this song for him). He closed the set off with the one about how he started off in music by hanging out in O'Donoghues, played as a tribute to the late Ronnie Drew (though a somewhat backhanded one – this is the song that reveals Ronnie to have not actually been a true Dub**).

There are a couple of things that make Andy Irvine such a compelling live performer. He is an impressive raconteur, someone whose between song anecdotes merge effortlessly into the songs themselves. Talking between songs is something a lot of singers do, and most of the time you wish they would not. But with Andy Irvine, it is no problem. Another astonishing feature of his live performances is his playing – he has a mesmerising skill with the guitar, bouzouki, or any other such instrument, much of which comes from his exploration of Balkan musical traditions. One could happily sit there forever listening to him playing away. For all his skill as a singer, sometimes I wonder if he should not sometime record an instrumental album. The third strength of Andy Irvine is the songs, both the ones he writes himself and the ones he takes from other people. He neatly mixes the jollier tunes with the more introspective ones that are perhaps his forte.

One song I enjoyed greatly was 'The Highwayman'. This is some 19th century narrative poem (about a highwayman) set to music by somebody. I gather that everyone in Ireland except me studied this in school, with friend Brian having previously extolled its lack of virtues. It might not be up to much as a poem, but as lyrics to a narrative song it was most excellent, being an exciting story in which the evil authorities lay a cruel trap to ensnare the bold highwayman. Another was the song 'The Girl I Left Behind', a wistful number in which this guy who has married this seemingly quite nice woman (with bags o' cash) is nevertheless spending his time moping about some other woman back in the village he came from; 'Love the one you're with' it is not.

As I was leaving, I reflected on the strangeness of a world where Andy Irvine plays Whelan's while the Kings of Leon play the Dublin Enormodome. I also bought an Andy Irvine album, Rain on the Roof. If has two total classics on it that I know well from live performances, these being 'The Plains of Kildare' (about a horse race; Andy Irvine can make anything sound great) and the one about Woody Guthrie. I'm not certain about the record's production, but it is great to have those two songs on record.

image source

* He comes into town to sell his gold, but drinks himself into unconsciousness in the company of an attractive young lady of easy virtue. You can guess the rest.

** Foreign readers may not be familiar with Ronnie Drew. He was one of popular Irish folk group The Dubliners, and very much played on being the most heart-of-the-rowl person imaginable, but, according to Andy Irvine, he was actually from Dun Laoghaire. He died earlier this year, after a battle with cancer that saw him lose his hair and celebrated beard to chemotherapy. In his own words, this left him looking like "fucking Nosferatu".

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This Year's Belle & Sebastian Purchase

(actually last year's, as I bought these in December)

Belle & Sebastian BBC Sessions
Belle & Sebastian Live in Belfast 2001

I have lost touch a bit with Belle & Sebastian. A lot of this is down to their last album, The Life Pursuit. No amount of re-listening has raised it in my estimation – it is fundamentally rubbish. There are a couple of songs on it that are not that bad, but these ones are at best only quite good. With B&S, that is not good enough. So it seems like the great band of our times has gone shite and it is time for me to move on. The band's next album will not be finding its way into Panda Mansions.

The recent release of a record of BBC sessions offered the prospect of re-exploring the halcyon days of the band's past, discovering new versions of some of the band's greatest tunes and listening again to some songs only ever heard on crackly radio. The sessions are, unfortunately, mostly interesting rather than fascinating gems of total genius. You are, I assume, familiar with The Smiths. With them, the radio session versions of their songs were wonderful rough diamond alternatives to the more polished studio versions, with each having their merits. With Belle & Sebastian, though, the session versions just sound like unfinished versions of the versions that saw commercial release. They are still worth listening to, but we will never see serious argument over which is best of, say, the session or album version of 'The Stars of Track & Field'. It maybe does not help that the tracks appearing here that never found their way onto proper recordings are a bit throwaway.

There are a couple of exceptions to all this, mind. One track I am pretty fond of is 'Lazy Jane', a Monica Queen-free early version of 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' (official greatest ever ever recorded). This version really goes for the laziness suggested by the title, with the track ambling along in an endearingly sleepy and low-key manner. It does go a bit mental at the end, in a manner reminiscent of the released version, but it is interesting as a valid vision of another way of doing things.

One or two exceptions aside, the radio sessions record is ultimately not all that. I was glad, therefore, that I got the limited edition of the record that comes with a bonus disc recording of a B&S concert in Belfast (just before Christmas in 2001, and I should know – I was there). This is actually a lot more like it, capturing the band at that time when they had not merely got the hang of playing live but had become one of these islands' most kickarse live propositions. What also makes this a great live album is that you get a sense of how raucous and up-for-it the audience was. Deadly stuff.

One great moment in this was when the band launched into a rather unexpected live version of Thin Lizzy's 'The Boys Are Back In Town'. Raw power. Another was when they invited someone from the audience up to join them (something they do not seem to do anymore now that they have gone shite), and some bloke called Barry joined them (crowd: "Barry! Barry! Barry!"; you had to be there). He then led B&S in a rowsing version of the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting for the Man'. Deadly stuff. It must be weird being Barry now and finding a record released with you singing on it. I wonder does he get any royalties. I spoke to him briefly back then, and he mentioned playing in a band called Da Capo, so he had at least some prior experience performing in front of people.

image source

The North! The North! Where we do what we want!

I have just finished reading David Peace's The Damned United, a novel about Brian Clough and the forty four days he spent managing Leeds United in 1974. Back then, Leeds were one of England's big sides, and had topped the league in the previous season. Clough was an odd choice to take over managing the club, as he had very publicly accused them and their previous manager of being a bunch of cheating thugs. The book has two narratives, one following his forty-four days as Leeds manager in almost excruciating detail, the other following his earlier career. So one narrative ends with his sacking (after the team had won only one of their first six league games), the other with his taking the job.

I know next to nothing about football. I am dimly aware of the Brian Clough name, and looking up on the internet produces photographs of some guy who looks vaguely familiar from football commentary programme my dad would watch. I still found the book highly enjoyable. It works by putting you into what Peace imagines Clough's mental state must have been like. The book is basically a novel about depression, obsession, and paranoia, and I reckon anyone interested in such things would enjoy this. If you actually like football, it must be a total stormer.

The other great thing about this book is that there is lots of swearing in it, much of it directed against Johnny Giles. While nowadays Giles is best known as that TV football pundit, back then he was one of Leeds United's more aggressively physical players. He also had eyes on the managerial job himself when it became vacant, so Clough and Giles do not get off to a good start. The book (written in the first person as though by Clough) thus tends to refer to "Johnny Fucking Giles", "that Irish bastard Johnny Giles", "the grinning Irish bastard", "fucking Johnny fucking Giles", and so on. As it happens, the real Johnny Giles took exception to his portrayal in the book and sued for libel, causing references to him seeking Clough's sacking being removed from it. The non-defamatory vulgar abuse remains.

I gather that Brian Clough's widow does not like the book. I do not know what she dislikes about it – the swearing maybe, or the depiction of her late husband as someone consumed by self-doubt and other demons. To each their own; the book is a fiction, and it is still so bound up with its protagonist that the reader that he comes across as a giant in a world of pygmies.

There is a film of The Damned United coming out later this year.

image source

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More "Bad Vibes"

I recently wrote a long piece on Luke Haines' book Bad Vibes before completely finishing it. Now that I have read it all, let me return to it with a slight re-evaluation. I still recommend it highly, and I still find much of the book very funny. One noteworthy incident in the latter part of the book is the time that some American pal of Haines brought Metallica around to visit his tiny London flat; they were a bit "Woaahh dude". Or then there is the bit where he is visiting some friends in the country and, after a few drinks, home trepanation comes onto the agenda.

What I was more struck by on reading more of the book, though, is how un-self-serving it all is. OK, it is self-serving in the sense that Haines does a lot of talking about how he is way more talented than everyone else on the scene back then, but he is nevertheless conscious of having acted like a total cunt. There is a wonderful moment when the Auteurs are returning home from a tour in Japan, where he had been playing horrific mind-games on the various members of his band. As the plane touches down at Heathrow, Alice Readman (the band's bassist and Haines' girlfriend) starts crying – because the other people are coming home to people who love them or can at least get away from Haines for a while, but she is stuck with him. And you only know this because Luke Haines tells you the story. I am curious as to whether the whole experience, and reflecting back on it, has made him a less repulsive individual. Listening to his more recent records suggests that if it has then it has not made him any less creative.

Moroccan Adventure

I have not yet written about my time in Morocco, but AndrewNFlood has.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Culinary Science

I shun meat. In general, this is no great loss, but there is one type of meatfood I sorely miss - the doner kebab. It turns out that this most excellent meal was invented by one Mahmut Aygün in Berlin, back in 1971. The first doner kebab was served then in his restaurant, Hasir. Mr Aygun has however just died, at the age of 87.


hat tip


The BBC seems to have adopted that suckass Guardian style-guide that leads to people writing acronyms in lower case letters if they are pronouncable. So they have an article here referring to something called Eta: Eta warns rail workers are target. This nonsense has long afflicted the Irish Times (probably so that they can more seamlessly lift stories from the Guardian), but I expected better from the heirs to Lord Reith.

Comics Roundup 22/1/2008 SPECIAL STAR SPANGLED ISSUE

I know, I have been neglecting comics roundup. In fairness, there have been some weeks recently when no good comics were published, so it is partly the industry's fault. Anyway, let me continue!

The Amazing Spider-Man #583

Yes, I am a sad individual. Two stories in this. The first is about this female friend of Peter Parker. One often hears it suggested that Mr Parker might bat for the other team; this story lends credence to that point of view, with Parker declining to have his go on his attractive female friend, even when she is drunkenly throwing herself at him. The other story is about Peter Parker going to the inauguration of Barack Obama as US President and then having to intervene as Spiderman when not one but two Obamas show up to take the oath of allegiance. This is a shameless cash-in of the so-crap-it's-brilliant type – at one point Obama even says "Chill the fuck out – I got this!" (only without the swearing or bad grammar). I am hoping it appreciates in value like that Pope John Paul II Marvel comic did, as are all the other people who bought this.

I would love to say that it ends with President Obama and Spidey engaging in dance-off, but sadly...

Air #6, by G. Willow Wilson & M.K. Perker

I think I may have failed to read the previous issue. This one sees vertigo-suffering air hostess Blythe teaming up with Amy Earhart, who is revealed not to have died back in the 1930s but to have travelled through time thanks to unusual psychic powers. I had started thinking that maybe this strip was losing its way a bit, but this issue suggest that actually it is going to mutate into an enjoyable make-it-up-as-we-go-along romp. Maybe G. Willow Wilson wrote it all during NaNoWriMo, in which case I am hoping that a load of furries show up next issue.

100 Bullets #99, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

OMG second last issue. I didn't really like the last issue (unreviewed here) – the mix of eroticism and violence seemed a bit too much like what you would get in a European perv comic. This one is more like it, and for once even features a semi-comprehensible storyline. Various shady characters are getting together and have decided to settle their differences etc., but now it looks like all the second string bad-ass characters are going to come and kill them. Or something. It's not really about the story, it's about the art, the general noir feel, and the implacable bad-assness of all the characters. Anyway, this is all very exciting, but I suspect that more or less none of the characters will still be alive by the end of the next issue.

image source

More Spidey-Obama team-up action.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Music Fail

I came back from Morocco to the suckass news that Road Records is closing down: Road Records - A message from the staff (on Thumped). Road Records is a likeable indie record shop in Dublin, probably the shop here for which I feel most affection, though I feel a certain guilt at how most of my recent purchases have been in Tower, Spindizzy, and Claddagh.

I had hoped that all this death of the record store stuff would actually mean that big chains died and the niche stores lived on, but it looks like maybe the indies are going down too. This is a shame, obviously. I can't speak for the young people, but I foresee losing a lot of engagement with music if there stop being record shops in which to look at records.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Christmas Books! (slight return)

I managed to forget two of my Christmas books.

Ronnie, by Ronnie Drew

Forgetting this, the memoirs of Dublin's most famous blow-in, is nothing other than a dirty rotten shame. As you know, after arriving in the big smoke, Mr Drew eventually joined the folk group The Dubliners and over the years managed to become a national treasure. This book seems to be only partially his actual memoirs, as most of it appears to have been constructed from notes and interviews before his death, while much of the rest is various people telling stories of the Ronnie Drew they knew.

It is a shame that Ronnie did not live to complete his memoirs himself. It would also be great if this was an audio book – read by the great man himself. Wheh wheh wheh.

Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin, by Brian J. Showers, illustrated by Duane Spurlock, foreward by Pat Liddy

I have had my eye on this for a while. It is a guide to olde stuff in Dublin, using three writers of gothic fiction as McGuffins for an exploration of the outré. Conveniently, all three writers are out of copyright, so the book is able to reproduce some of their spooky fiction. Just so you know what I am letting myself in for, the three writers are Charles Maturin, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and Bram Stoker. Maturin is not so well-known these days, but his novel Melmoth the Wanderer (about the eponymous character, who has entered into a pact with the Devil, selling his soul in return for a greatly extended life) is highly regarded among those who like gothic literature. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is maybe a bit better known, as his long short story Carmilla invented the lesbian vampire story, that crucial genre. I recommend Carmilla highly – it is nothing like as schlocky as you might think, and presents its vampire lady as something to be pitied as much as feared (perhaps also inventing the emo angst vampire genre of which sulky teenagers everywhere are so fond). Bram Stoker, meanwhile, created one of the most famous fictional characters of all time.

One great thing about this book is that it does not assume you have a car, so it does provide such key information as how to get to the Hell-Fire Club through a combination of walking and public transport. I think this is something that other guidebooks could learn from.

I was coincidentally today in Mount Jerome cemetery, a site featured in this book. With its rows neglected graves, covered in sad angels and obelisks, it gives good gothic bang for its buck. I also see from a map in the book that it has one particular site of gothic interest located oddly near to my own home, in which I am now typing these words. I wonder where exactly they are talking about and what is reputed to have happened there. Let me just check the page… My God! The address! It is not possible, it.. Wait, what is that noise? No! It cannot be…

Another DEAF event

Along with a number of people we went to this DEAF event at which The White Noise were going to be playing, together with DJing from Broadcast and the lads from the Finders Keepers record label (or maybe it was the lads from the B-Music club; these are the same lads). What we were not expecting was a performance by some ladies called Pollyfibre. Wearing very tight silver spandex costumes and robot masks, they came onstage and did things to bits of fabric with scissors, irons, and stuff. All of this made unusual noises as they seemed to be heavily miked up. Their performance tended more in the direction of electronic art rather than music, making it all one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen. Deadly stuff, I hope they play again sometime.

The White Noise were billed as going to play their 1969 album An Electrical Storm... but they confounded explanations by doing no such thing and serving up instead some electronic music that owed more than nothing to contemporary dance music. I think a lot of people were a bit pissed off by them, but I found them rather enjoyable. I was rather amused by the way they performed 'Firebird', An Electrical Storm's standout track. They just played the original recording off a laptop while David Vorhaus sang over it. Awesome.

As you know, David Vorhaus is the man who recorded the ORCH5 sample for the Fairlight Synthesiser, this being that VOMP! noise you get on a lot of hip hop records and Kate Bush albums. He took it from the bit in Stravinsky's Firebird where the full orchestra comes in, and tonight he got his money's worth out of it by throwing it into a few of the tunes.

I can't remember what tunes the Broadcast people played, but I remember liking them; Stereolab music may have been involved. Andy Votel of B-Music / Finders Keepers played loads of that Turkish psych loved by all right thinking people. One track in particular had me saying to Irene "Wow, this one is brilliant" and she said "It's Selda, Scott put it on one of his compilations". I resolved to track down a copy of music by this woman. For a backdrop they had some Japanese erotic horror film; it looked amazing.

This concert was all on in The Sugar Club. Annoyingly, they no longer serve Brandy Alexanders, but we were able to relax back in plush seats and watch the action. Sadly, this meant that getting up to dance to the DJs was not an option, as the seats were too comfortable to leave.

Electronic Pandas

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Christmas Books!

So what books did I get for Christmas? And which ones will I have read by next Christmas?

The books follow. These include also ones I bought for myself in post-Christmas sales, or ones I bought for other people and decided to keep.

Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945, by Tony Judt

This is a bit of a brick. As the title suggests, it is a history of Europe since the Second World War. It covers both eastern and western Europe, so a lot of it is about the travails of the communist countries and their subsequent breaking free of the Soviet yoke. I have started reading this one, and I am enjoying Judt's magisterial tone. One thing I am curious about, though, is whether the book will tell me anything that, fundamentally, I did not already know. We will see.

The Smiths : Songs That Saved Your Life, by Simon Goddard

As you know, The Smiths were the greatest band of all time. It is still the case that every album by The Smiths is better than every album by every other band. The approach of this book seems to be to document recording sessions and live appearances, so that you can deduce any thematic structure to The Smiths career from this narrative history. Plainly this is a work that all right-thinking people will enjoy greatly.

The Very Best Men: The Daring Early Years of the CIA, by Evan Thomas

This is a funny one, possibly problematic. It is all about spies, and so inherently interesting. Unfortunately, it is all about shifty CIA spies from the early years of the Cold War. And in particular, it is all about CIA operatives in that period when the agency switched over from gathering intelligence to interfering in other countries' internal politics. The book also seems to see this as the CIA's golden age – so the period when it was assisting maniacs into power in Guatemala and the Congo are some kind of big party and a time to look back on with pride and nostalgia. For all that, it is based on the CIA's own now declassified files and on interviews with retired shady characters, so it should at least be of interest in casting light on how this organisation worked at a key period in world history.

The Damned United, by David Peace

Leeds are a load of rubbish, tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la. That's what we used to sing back in primary school. This was probably at the time this novel was set. It is about some guy called Brian Clough (famous in the world of football) and how he became manager of Leeds United in 1974. Unfortunately, the fans, board, and players (including "that Irish bastard Johnny Giles") all hated him, so it all ended badly. I am not really that engaged with the sporting world, but I have heard good things about this book, and I want to see it before the film comes out.

As you know, I am somewhat fond of the music of Luke Haines, so while reading this I will have his song 'Leeds United' playing in my head.

Elizabeth's Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England, by Robert Hutchinson

This is about Francis Walsingham, who was the spy master of Queen Elizabeth I, and how he saved England by waging a secret war. This particular war was directed against Elizabeth's external enemies (the Powp and the King of Spain), but also against the enemy within – recalcitrant adherents of the Catholic faith. It seems to have been one of those wars where the Queen's servants were happy to use torture and similar black arts in the servants of their mistress. I will be reading it to learn more about espionage and related endeavours back in the Elizabethan age.


It was a time for Metal, so we also went to see these fellows with my old friend and quaffing partner "Eoghan". As with every gig in Whelan's (for it was there that they played) we arrived late, missing NECROTISING PORK PRODUCT and VOMITORY EXECRESENCE completely. We did however catch the trail end of BELPHEGOR. They seemed pretty hardcore and straight down the line, I salute them.
NILE, meanwhile, made music that I found enjoyably metallic, but they themselves seemed a bit cheesey with their continuous exhortations to us to give them some devil horn action (and why does no one do the goat anymore?). I think they would have been better if they had worn capes – you know what they say: No Hood, No Good. And I did not really get much sense of the whole Egyptological thing they are meant to have going. Would it not have been better if they had been dressed as Pharaohs?

The t-shirts NILE had on sale also spoiled the mood somewhat. The designs on the front were nice enough, but the back bore the somewhat charming message "ANNOINT MY PHALLUS". But the design proved popular, and many a grunty young fellow was gamely looking for his manhood's anointment by the end of the night. I was not one of them.

Metal Pandas

Monday, January 05, 2009


from Fruits and Votes

Los Campesinos: FAIL

My beloved and I went to see a triple header of bands in Whelan's, but because of that venue's new improved suckass early gigs policy (and not our being too slack to get down early) the band we wanted to see had already been on, and the second band were finishing. Even our pal Eoghan who had arrived at the crack of dawn only managed to see the last song of the first band (who had, seemingly, started before the venue opened). That meant there were only Los Campesinos left. My beloved and Eoghan split for the pub, but I stayed in an effort to see if maybe they would turn out to be awesome this time. Who knows, maybe I was just having one of my turns when they underwhelmed me last January?

But no, they're still not up to much. This is kind of a shame, as they have loads of elements that appeal to me – large line-up, funny instruments, attractive ladies, boy-girl vocals, shouting, etc. But it doesn't really come together. Maybe they need some decent songs, I don't know. The high number of total wankers in the crowd didn't help either.

It was therefore not long before I too was drinking a refreshing pint of Guinness in my favourite local hostelry.

re-used image source

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Social Event of the Year

And it's only January! Sadly I am unable to attend - not because I am a facist, but because I will be away in Morocco.

image source

Comics Roundup 4/1/2009

I have somewhat fallen off the Comics Roundup wagon. My own literary endeavours are a factor here. Although I did not stop reading comics in November, I did find myself a bit stuck for time to write about them. Once NaNoWriMo was over, I was then a bit torn between going back and trying to write up all the comics I had read in November, or starting with a clean slate. As is the way of things, I did neither. But now we are in a new year, so I reckon this is a good a place to climb back on the wagon as any. So on with the show.

Madame Xanadu #7, by Matt Wagner, Amy Reeder Hadley, and Richard Friend

The eponymous immortal fairy lady is now in late Victorian London and trying to stop Jack the Ripper from claiming any more victims, largely without success. This is pretty good, but Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell basically own Jack the Ripper now. Anyone else having a crack at the subject would need to be bringing something very new to the table, and I am not sure if the Madame Xanadu really do.

I have started thinking that one problem with this title is that it is all moving along a bit too quickly. This is the #7 and already the fourth change of time and place. I think maybe they might be better letting the stories breathe a bit more. They are also going to find themselves up in the present day very quickly, and it will seem a bit strange spending (presumably) for-e-v-e-r in the present time period after scooting through so many past episodes so quickly. Another problem with this title is that it seems to be a falling into a very generic storytelling mode – Madame X finds herself in some time period while some interesting historical phenomenon occurs, the strange fellow with occluded eyes shows up and says enigmatic things, and then Madame X moves on once more. I can see this getting very tiresome.

For all that, I enjoyed this issue a lot more than the two set in the French Revolution, so maybe the creators are able to do good stuff even within the constraints of their story's structure.

Incognito #1, by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

This is however more like it. Brubaker and Phillips are the creators of Criminal, a wonderful comic about criminals and low-life types. I have mentioned it previously and recommend it highly. This new title is in a similar vein. In some ways it is a bit like more normal superhero comics, but it is like an entryist title in which the creators have managed to sneak some of their ideas into a superhero-y setting. The main character in this story is a bad-ass former supervillain who testified against his old crime boss and is now in witness protection. The Feds have given him some shitey job as an office drone and are pumping him full of meds to keep his superpowers offline. You get a bit of flashback to his life of crime, and then by accident he discovers that his powers are back. "Wa-hey!" he thinks, but as with Criminal, the reader knows that this will not end well.

Incognito #1 comes with an interesting essay on pulp character The Shadow. If they follow the pattern set by Criminal, this will probably not make its way into the collections.

Live & On Record: Nurse With Wound

Nurse With Wound were playing in the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, supported by Stephen O'Malley of Sunn-O)))). I was there to check out the action. Stephen O'Malley did stuff not unlike what he would do with Sunn-O))), only without the capes or dry ice. He then joined Nurse With Wound, who seem to be a bunch of musicians, one of whom may be Mr Nurse With Wound. The music was hard to describe, but it was load and discordant and not the kind of thing your ma would like. They also had a nice picture show, and on some of the songs someone from Nurse With Wound would sing, usually in a somewhat challenging manner. One of the sung tracks went from being a dialogue between God and the Devil (sung by one guy switching between a low and a high voice) to a disturbed version of Sheena Easton's 'Nine To Five'. Another was a cover of 'My Lovely Horse' from Father Ted, a rendition unlikely to win the Eurovision. All deadly stuff.

I liked it all so much I bought TWO Nurse With Wound albums. Resisting the urge to buy the limited edition €50 double albums the merchandiser kept trying to foist on me, I instead went for two random records on the strength of their cover. One of them is called Salt Marie Celeste, and is one single repetitive track. It is long and doomy, and I like listening to it when I am in that kind of mood. I suspect it might be good for the Call of Cthulhu games. The other is called Huffin' Rag Blues, and I bought it because of its "Hello sailor!" cover. It is kind of like mutant swing music – or like music from between the world wars but played by a bunch of weirdos trying to make it sound as disturbed as possible. And it features the God-Devil and 'Nine To Five' song, which is here scrunched together and called 'Black Teeth'. Result.

I should also mention the free double CD they were giving away with the programme to the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival. I think it includes acts who played at festival events, plus some local chancers. It is good stuff, but essentially the kind of thing you listen to by the yard, so I cannot recommend any individual tracks.

DEAF is famous for its programmes, which are typically so over-designed as to be completely illegible, or else are so big and/or oddly shaped as to be near useless as a handy guide to what's on. This time round, the programme could be read, but it was both huge and oddly shaped and so impossible to carry around. But the CD it came with made it well worth picking up. Away draw.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


On Internet messageboard I Love Everything, the most crucial question in the history of humanity is being debated - right now. Make sure your voice is heard. Polls close January 19th.

Divine Justice

The BBC reports that a burglar broke into what he thought was an unoccupied Edinburgh flat on New Year's Eve. Unfortunately for him, Mr Torvald Alexander was at home, and he confronted the intruder. Mr Alexander was also getting ready to go out to a fancy dress party, and was dresses as THE MIGHTY THOR. This might explain why the unnamed intruder jumped out a first floor window to escape, losing his shoes in the process.

Mr Alexander denies actually being the Norse God of Thunder, and asserts that he was just wearing a costume he had made himself out of tinfoil.


image source

Friday, January 02, 2009

Odd iPod Moment #4

I was listening to my iPod on shuffle recently, when some track with multilayered percussive sounds came on. "Ah, Moondog!" I thought, "Excellent". But actually it was the Fun Boy Three and Bananarama.

I know, I know, I have already mentioned this story. But some readers were not paying attention.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Film: "Burn After Reading"

This is the most recent Coen Brothers film. I found it a bit disappointing. Oh sure, there are a lot of funny gags in it (mainly involving Brad Pitt, a comedy genius), but it doesn't really go anywhere, and is a pale imitation of any of the Coens' previous funny films. It hurts that the film is largely devoid of likeable characters. Still, many of the jokes are funny. Never underestimate the comedy power of self-important stupid people. Appearances can be deceptive.

So is it all over for the Coen Brothers? I think this disappointment is their first original film (i.e. neither an adaptation, remake, or from some someone else's script) since the far superior Man Who Wasn't There. They are very different films, but in comparing them you can see how the mighty have fallen.