Friday, 27 February 2009

Thank God for Lloyd Cole

BEYOND the now continuous loop of The Wire I am involved in, few things make me more glad and happy to be a human in this depressing age than the knowledge that a new Lloyd Cole album is available.
So imagine my unbridled delight when three albums and six CDs worth of brilliance came out this month.
First up, and perhaps purely for the completists, is the box set Cleaning out the Ashtrays: Collected B-sides and Rarities 1989 – 2006, four CDs described by Cole as: “A 59 song collection of b-sides, album outtakes, alternate mixes and pretty much every studio recording from 1989 until 2006 which was intended for commercial release, but which did not end up on an album.”
These recordings span his solo contracts with Capitol and Polydor records and his later solo works with a variety of indie labels.
It also comes in a beautiful package and a chunky booklet complete with four essays from Lloyd. It is more than an equal of the wonderful Complete Recordings, the 2001 box set which is my favourite box set bar none.
Most interesting on Ashtrays is the Stephen Street mixes of the 1995 masterpiece Love Story, which, thinking about it, should be in the Top 6 albums I could never do without.
The other two albums Folk Singer: Vols 1 & 2 are the long mooted holy grail of Cole-traners, live shows which showcase Lloyd’s brilliant solo gigs (this time for Radio Bremen and at Whelan’s in Dublin).
Among the great versions of his own songs, there’s some great Tim Hardin, Kris Kristofferson and Bacharach & David covers to go with the relatively recent, brilliant re-workings of Bob Dylan (You’re a Big Girl Now) and Karen Black's Nashville (from the Soundtrack of the Robert Altman movie) on Complete Recordings.
Lloyd Cole makes the world a better place for me and he ain’t even a project slinger from the low rises.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Top 10 Northern Soul songs?

Northern Soul is the only possible reason why I would have wanted to have been born in Wigan in the 1970s. Great music, great club and great clothes, apart from the big kecks.
So, in no particular order other than my iTunes most played, here's my favourite Northern Soul songs:

Move on Up – Curtis Mayfield
Do I Love You (Indeed I do) – Frank Wilson
Uptight (Everything's Alright) – Stevie Wonder
Wade into the Water – Marlena Shaw
Backfield in Motion – Mel & Tim
Eddie’s my name – Eddie Holman
Sweetest Feeling – Jackie Wilson
I Can’t Help Myself – Four Tops
Just My Imagination – The Temptations
There’s a Ghost in my House – R Dean Taylor

Notable absences:
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted: Jimmy Ruffin
Blowing My Mind to Pieces - Bob Relf
The Snake - Al Wilson
This Old Heart of Mine - The Isleys
Sweet Soul Music - Arthur Conley

Saturday, 21 February 2009

What are the six albums you could live with forever if music stopped now?

Excluding soundtracks, Best ofs and compilations, what are the half dozen albums you could never do without?

Thursday, 19 February 2009

'Je Suis Authentik': It's French rap, la

I have written this for Pete Guy's great Liverpool music blog
Some great writing up there every week. Please bookmark it.

Around 1995/ 1996 French hip hop went very slightly overground. On the back of the soundtrack to Mathieu Kassovitz’s award winning movie La Haine, Anglophone audiences were introduced to IAM, Raggasonic, Assassin and became reacquainted with the wordy poetry of MC Solaar.

And then, as quickly as the film and music came, it went away again until 2005 when, among others, the now French President Nicolas Sarkozy partially laid the blame for the riots in the Paris suburbs at the feet of a new generation of rappers.

French hip hop is amazing, a real barometer of what is going on in the ‘immigrant’ communities of ‘les banlieues’ and exists as the kind of urban history project commercial US hip hop has failed to be for many years.

Older bands, like the once peerless Supreme NTM (‘nic ta mere – f*** your mother), mix the hard driving beats of Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, while La Rumeur are a kind of multi-media, academic activist group, mixing albums, newsletters and philosophy with a social justice agenda. (Two of them have MA’s in modern culture, and none of the four seem to be particular fans of les police).

La Rumeur’s ridiculously good Best of, ‘Les Inédits’ illustrates the political nature of their work.

They take their message seriously, the website of the brilliant podcast says, they: “prefer to use the term ‘rap made by sons of immigrants’. Their rationale is that many rappers are not even French citizens and that there is nothing ‘French’ about the musical identity of French rap, kind of like there is no such thing as ‘French kung-fu’. Likewise, some bands like Lunatic prefer to say ‘rap in French’ instead of ‘French rap’, to differentiate language and nationality.”
Now picture Jay Z philosophically dissecting US hip hop in the same manner.

What unites them with a new generation of stars like Disiz la Peste, Kalash L’Afro, Diam and Sniper is the united need to starkly illustrate life in the suburbs among North and West African immigrant communities in Paris, Marseilles, Lyons, Toulouse, Le Havre and beyond.

My favourite, Disiz la Peste’s insanely catchy ‘C’est ça la France’ juxtaposes a vitriolic rap against tourist Paris, the establishment, the National Front and the lives of those in the banlieues with a backing track of traditional French accordion. No description can do the song justice and it is also the only rap song which name checks impenetrable structuralist philosopher Michel Foucault, although I could be corrected.

Disiz (or is it la Peste?), born in Amiens to a Belgian mother and a Senegalese father, is also a vocal figure in the community. After calling for the end of the riots in late 2005 because of the damage they were inflicting on the inhabitants of the banlieues, he added: “First of all France must learn to say sorry – for history, for the colonies because there is no equality of opportunity.”

He has also followed the well trodden path of successful rappers moving into film and TV taking roles under his given name of Serigne M'Baye

Moving a bit more underground, the recent bumper album of collaborations ‘Ecoute la Rue Marianne’ (2007) from Marseilles threw up the incredible partnership of Kalash L’Afro and Le Rat Luciano on the title track.

The album, which came as a reaction to riots across the country, demands that the establishment (Sarkozy is forcefully denounced as ‘raciste’ on several occasions) listen to the music and disenchantment coming from the banlieues. The driving refrain ‘Ecoute la Rue Marianne’ pulses and crackles throughout the track. Al Peco’s ‘Tu Te Trompes’ (You’re Wrong) takes apart the arguments of those who believe Islamic immigration is over running France – hear anything you recognize from Britain, Mr Daily Mail?

But my great pleasure in French hip hop is the detective games you have to play to understand it – translating lyrics through crummy internet translation sites, getting the dictionary out and consulting news websites.

Just like travelling to Belfast in 1989 to buy books about Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey after constantly listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back for about six months, I have found a similar commitment to working out French rap pays equally rich dividends. You have to invest a bit more time and effort in it than with ‘99 Problems (and a bitch ain’t one)’.

Like the London grime scene, the French rap community is amazingly fruitful and new things are appearing like wildfire. As ever youtube, and are excellent places to sample the lyrical delights, as is the website of the French hip hop radio station Skyrock FM.

But, it’s still difficult to keep up with, so the aforementioned is invaluable.

An infrequently appearing podcast (it was once a month for nearly three years) produced by Switzerland-based Parisian native Thomas, it is a veritable treasure trove of songs and interviews (particularly on Kalash L’Afro). Shows on political rap, religion, rap from Quebec have been the stand-outs for me – hell, he even did one on German rap.

Ultimately one thing which really attracts me to French rap is simply the sound – the language and the l’invert back slang of the ghetto are wonderful natural rhythmic companions to hip-hop beats. French DJs are also, I believe, much more imaginative in their sampling and mixing.

Ultimately, many of the artists sound urgent and vital. NTM, effectively disbanded since 2000 (apart from some massive live shows at the Paris Palais des Omnisports a couple of years ago), still sound as fresh as they did when their debut album Authentik was released in 1992. Prodige Namor, Kalash, 113, La Rumeur and Disiz la Peste produce music that sounds dangerous with powerful messages – you just have to work a bit harder to get them.

C’est ça le rap de France mes amis.

Websites to watch

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Flight of the Conchords - finally back on form

The new series of the New Zealand digi-folk parodists Conchords has been slow moving with a couple of great songs so far. But surprise surprise, episode 5, entrusted to indie cinema legend Michel Gondry, was where it really took flight.
Jemaine, who accidentally slept with an Australian after an extended Kylie Minogue video-style sequence filled with luminous cod pieces in a dance club, is filled with guilt when he falls for the earthy Aussie, Keitha (the off-spring of a prostitute and a rapist).
Truly superb, it epitomises the hatred between the Aussies and the Kiwis.
The best exchange is between Murray and Jemaine.
"What about your kids," says Murray, "They'll be aberrations."
"They'll be called aborigines," says Jemaine.
The best show of this series by an Aussie mile.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Jon Stewart and Colbert show why British topical TV satire is dead

It's long been the fascination of the British quality press that Comedy Central's twin pillars of satire, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and its spin-off the Colbert Report manage to satirise American affairs with a clarity that British programmes don't.
The last two weeks have shown, with pin point simplicity, just how far ahead of the game these two vehicles are.
On the day Obama shut Guantanamo Bay, Colbert released the Islamic terrorist Mohammad, imprisoned under his desk for four years, with words 'Be free and don't forget to waterboard yourself twice a day!" Of course, he wasn't a terrorist and was Greek and had been delivering kebabs when arrested.
Stewart went several times better last week when he likened the Israeli election to two children's party entertainers, Tzipi and Beni, battling for the house in a segment called 'Jews or Lose'. But he topped everything when he debated former New Hampshire Republican senator John Sinunu over Obama's recovery bill.
And here's the thing, Stewart could address the debate from the position of intellectual equality while having a tonne of great gags; gags which simplified the issue for the viewers.
As John Oliver, the Daily Show's lone Brit cast member said recently in an interview in The Word magazine, Stewart is committed to current affairs and making a difference with his comedy.
Stewart is in effect a hugely funny and combative comedic Paxman, able to battle with any public figure. The glory is that he even tries to.
Now, picture Mock the Week panelists getting into a debate on fiscal stimulus and not resorting to cheap attacks and feigned vitriol while picking up thousands doing corporate gigs on the side.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Boyle (25K a corporate, reportedly) and his brilliant attacks on Thatcher, but Brit satire is little more than Clarkson-style shock focussed abuse, as David Hepworth pointed out recently in Word.
Maybe Spitting Image ruined everything for us - point out physical or character abnormalities and failings and that does the job. It doesn't.
From Bruce to Hicks, the States throws up comedians who challenge the status quo on its level and have a go. Instead, Brits either decide to fight with Clement Freud over a digression or crack a gag about Charles Kennedy and boozing for students on BBC2.
With the exception of the now politically insightful but unfunny documentary impressionist Rory Bremner and the righteous Side Show Marks, Steel and Thomas, who really takes on the establishment on it own turf in Britain?
The BBC tried its version of the Daily Show with the Marcus Brigstocke-fronted Late Edition and when not rehashing huge sections of the format he resorted to tired gags about Scousers, looking down on the working class and all but rimming Richard Dawkins on air.
Luckily Brigstocke's doing his bit for the credit crunch by running a comedy festival for British skiing tourists in Verbiers. Right on, brother.
Meanwhile Stewart, to quote Hunter Thompson, is beating the opposition like dog with mange.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The world's best pub juke box

My mate Tony's from Widnes but lives in Winston Salem, North Carolina. In itself that's nothing exceptional, but he had one great observation to make on his recent trip to Blighty to see Magazine. That was: The Edinburgh on College Road in Crosby has the best juke box on the planet. What say you?
Tell me the best juke boxes in Ireland/ Britain/ USA

These replies just in:
"Pauls Bar in Antrim, sadly long gone. It did not have much, but what it was eclectic. Mary Coughlan singing Ride On, Iggy Pop with The Passenger, REM Ghost Riders, Fire by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. It played 7 inch singles and wouldn't take 20ps"
Michael Donoghue

The Bug juke box is a gift from God.
Simon Reid

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Things I saw and heard in Liverpool today

* A woman so artificially tanned she looked emblamed
* A lad with a Scouse accent so strong he sounded Spanish
* Two girls who didn't have enough time to get dressed in anything other than Ugg boots and pyjamas but who had had enough time to apply immaculate full make-up
* A group of North Face floppy cap clad teenage lads who communicated with the words 'Izrite, lid' for nearly a whole minute
* A scally with the least scally name in history - "Eh Tobias lad, let's get a Sayers, lid." Tobias?
* A group of disingenuous creationist idiots

A Tribute to my favourite Sub Editors

‘You have to be mad to work here and it doesn’t help’
Barrie Mills

Today we mark the passing of those sisters and brothers who have kept us right and proper – in terms of news anyway – for more than 150 years. In Paul Allison’s case that’s wholly true.
Let us salute the sub editors of daily and weekly newspapers on Merseyside, for today they cease to exist and will we ever see their likes again?
Many are now multi-media production operatives and never more will they beat their heads in very early morning ire writing headlines for the page four national briefs column nor will they grumpily drag in the shares for the city edition.
It’s been some time since they corrected Granty’s spelling but they still laugh at Riley’s pomposity and eradicate the numerous (extraneous) brackets from Shennan’s paeans to Everton.
They will never again tell newsdesk that Tilson Road is not in Norris Green but Aintree (maybe Walton at a push) nor will they ever again refer to the James Bulger investigator as ‘Hot Dog/Jumping Frog/ Albert Kirby’.
Sure, they were the men and women who wrote brilliant headlines like ‘Haughty Culture’ and ‘Crosby, pills and hash’ but they were those who wrote stinkers like ‘Expensive lunch break: sat on a Ming,’ and also misspelled dyslexia in a headline.
They shortened Hillsborough to HBORO and knew that the phrase ‘flip flop wearing tiny nun’ should simply read ‘FUCKING MOTHER TERESA’, but without the caps and the first word.
They knew that the word ‘over’ should be ‘more than’ because an over is something you bowl in cricket; they always subbed out the words ‘plumped for’ from a restaurant review and replaced them with ‘chose’ and they knew that a bastard measure wasn’t just the personal quality that got you up the corporate ladder in journalism.
They revelled under savage soubriquets like the Jim Reaper and sometimes argued about what was better: Horlicks or Ovaltine (crrct, I witnessed it). But they always knew that the last two products needed a cap H & O because they were trade names.
Amongst the greatest of us, we took the Mirror shilling, won awards for our writing on pubs or were the cover boy for the NUJ’s Journalist magazine. Other greats played chess on deadline, edited the ritual madness that was putting out a Pink ECHO by 5pm on a Saturday and knew every single member of the Merseyside cricketing fraternity (especially on deadline) or were the best horse loving/wine critic/ features designer around.
They were fellow travellers and today marks the passing of some of the best journalists to have served this city, region and nation state. It is up to us to mark their passing.
We will, of course, do so by getting fish/ chips/mushy peas on a Friday and tell everyone loudly on the way back from the canteen: ‘Those knob head youngster reporters are shit and wouldn’t it be great to work on a PROPER newspaper.’

Monday, 2 February 2009

Don De Lillo blogs for the Onion

The Onion's brilliant piss take on Don De Lillo blogging on the US Presidential election passed me by in November, but jaysus I'm glad I spotted it the other day.
The best urinary extraction for a very long time.

Things to hate

Managers/ coaches of underage football teams having their initials on tracksuits.

The magic of Springsteen - he makes the Superbowl worthwhile

THERS'S 80,000 people going bananas over a truly rubbish game and the general of the armed forces is doing the toss (feck's sake lads, even we've stopped the cardinal throwing the ball in at the All Ireland Final) and just when it could all become laughable - Bruce lands in.
Accompanied by a group of 60-year old lads behaving like young fellas, the wee Joisey lad himself launches into Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, landing on his knees playing out James Brown fantasies like he's playing the Stone Harbour Tavern in 1971.
Then he's launching into a fist pumping, booty shaking Born to Run, followed by the new single (gospel choir backed) Working on a Dream and ending up with Glory Days where himself and Silvio van Zandt play the rock and roll shtick to the full.
Few left wingers can get away with the craic Springsteen does because few entertainers like him have that most cliched of qualities - the common touch.
Springsteen speaks to us all, even when our mouths are full of pizza, crispy corn snacks and under strength beer.
Crucially, he doesn't look down on us if they are.
God love him.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Can rock and roll change your life?

One man punk orchestra Ed Hammell, perhaps the best rock and roll scribe out there, posted a great blog this week. Like a lot of great writing it poses as many questions as it answers. Oh, and there's a great story about Iggy Pop and a grown man crying, what's not to like about that?