Friday, 30 April 2010

Liverpool Comedy Festival Preview - Part 1

THE opening two nights of Liverpool’s 2010 Comedy Festival have one of the finest arrays of comics the city must have ever hosted with big names scattered across the arena, theatres and clubs.
On Thursday, John Bishop (above) kicks the big gigs off with a 5,000 seat sell-out ECHO Arena show which just illustrates how a year is a very long time in comedy.
In an interview with Catherine Jones in today's ECHO he explains how he has gone from selling out the 250 seater Unity Theatre last year to selling out the Arena this time around.
At the same time Chris Cairns and Keith Carter debut their specially written one off one hour shows at the Slaughterhouse. Cairns is doing ‘The A-Z of B Movies’ (interview here, Tuesday) about a life watching rank bad films while Carter is bringing his scallydelic musician alter ego Nige back for a musical evening of songs from the stoner King of Park Road’s new album ‘Dark Side of the Meff’. (Interview here Wednesday)
Daniel Kitson, held by many as the best stand-up working in Britain today brings his new one man theatre show ‘66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept Suitcases’ to the Everyman for a week. It’s a clever, literate story of nostalgia and life gone by told from a series of battered suitcases.
But in each of the five main weekly clubs that the city now boasts, there is an absolute welter of quality acts. At Comedy Central at Baby Blue on Thursday the brilliant Paul Sinha headlines while at Rawhide downstairs in the Royal Court, Paul Tonkinson is the headliner. They are both quality acts.
While the clubs normally have some of the best bills anywhere in the country most weeks, next Friday they have really upped their game for the festival.
Promoter Tongue in Cheek Comedy’s three clubs lead the way. At their flagship club in the Slaughterhouse, regular compere Neil Fitzmaurice (Phoenix Nights and Peep Show) welcomes charismatic Canadian Tom Stade who has gone through somewhat of a career renaissance recently.
At their second night at the Slug and Lettuce, TiC have Ste Porter compering the brilliant surrealists Mundo Jazz and Seymour Mace and having taken over Comedy Hell at Lenny’s Bar and Grill the brilliant Nick Revell and Adam Bloom pop in.
At this stage it's not clear whether Mundo is going to be doing his Liverpool inspired hit  'Scally Scally Scouse' but hopefully he will be doing the his touching cri de ceour for racial integration 'Peace Song'.
Rawhide, with more than a decade of putting on brilliant shows is, as ever, a study in comedy club booking excellence. Paul Tonkinson returns for a second night while the glamourous Jonathon Mayor joins him.
At Comedy Central,  Paul Sinha stays on for another night, and is joined by Kevin Hayes and the ever brilliant and energetic Simon Bligh. All bills remain for Saturday.
In an exclusive text message he cut and pasted from the press release, Festival marketing director Iain Christie said: "The Festival comes around so quickly every year and we can't wait to get into this one, With 75 shows in 10 days you won't be able to move for funny stuff wherever you are in the city."
You’ll not get a ticket for Bish at the Arena so get out and see some high quality comedy at often bargain basement prices.

My night with Stuart Maconie

A YOUNG man pitched up at Edge Hill College in Ormskirk in 1979 with the trifecta of cultural high points of the 80s, leggings, David Hasselhoff and Haircut 100 a heartbeat away but as yet unimagined.
Within seven years he was to see one of the first gigs by The Smiths and be rescued from a life teaching English and Sociology at Skelmersdale College by the NME which whisked him around the world interviewing independent music’s luminaries, including INXS.
Stuart Maconie returned tonight to Edge Hill to help celebrate the now university’s 125th anniversary for a thoroughly enjoyable lecture. It was essentially a pimped-up reading session by one of Britain’s biggest selling travel writers, but no less entertaining for it.
Interspersing a hitherto unseen talent for stand-up style raconteurship with reading extracts from his three books, ‘Cider With Roadies', ‘Pies & Prejudice’ and ‘Adventures on the High Teas,’ he affectionately recounted his life as a student and then indulged in the deep love of England which has been the focus of his literary output.
There’s no ‘Big I Am’ about Maconie, a writer and broadcaster of some considerable stature, he has a lovely problem with the definitions of his work. As he said, although ‘Cider with...’ is stacked in autobiography he had to move it back in a shop recently because he was ashamed it was shelved alphabetically beside Nelson Mandela’s.
Likewise being called a travel writer perhaps overplays him, somewhat, he says: “Bruce Parry chops bits of his own body off and is constantly drinking hallucinogenic potions and falling into comas, I go to chippies.” Nor does he write the kind of books he brilliantly typified as ‘To Azerbijan in a Cement Mixer.’
Maconie, as befitting a man whose favourite gig is still The Smiths at Edge Hill Students’ Union in 1983, is in love with the nostalgic and unthreatening minutiae of British life. He loves half day closing, regional foodstuffs and deeply held love of place and people.
His patriotism is not that of bigotry and slagging off immigrants, his Englishness is one of civic pride and love of people and place. Recounting a phone call from his mum during his first week as a freelancer after leaving the NME, when she asked what he had done, he told her he had written a piece for the Observer, “What, the Wigan Observer?” she proudly inquired.
The kind of love of ‘nostalgic’ Britain, which inspired him to help invent those still de rigeur ‘I Love the...’ talking heads TV shows, allows him to shine a light into England of recent past and say much about what he sees wrong with that of the present.
He loves Britain’s invention of the railway, old public information films, Celia Johnson and Marmite. As he told a café waitress in Burton Upon Trent ‘an uncooked spaghetti stick dipped in Marmite makes a great emergency Twiglet.’
But, he is fully aware of the fact that the Englands of the past he so loves have a different resonance in the modern world. While the first Joy Division album, he says, sounded like Manchester of 1978 - of tyres under rainy overpasses and dodgy lifts in Hulme high rises - Manchester has changed, now it’s all skinny de-caff lattes and loft apartments.
For Maconie, Englishness is Orwell and the non-jingoistic Kipling. It’s the Wigan Casino Northern Soul club and The Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen and Radiohead, it's Nick Drake and Pink Floyd.
Most beautifully, England for Maconie, is the romantic but ultimately tragic moment of English summertime elementally captured by Edward Thomas in the poem ‘Adlestrop,’
‘And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.’
Thomas would die soon after in World War One.
For Maconie, these artists’ England is wistful, elegiac and ‘mustn’t grumble'. Today's Britain, he says, might benefit from a slice of the stoic, pent-up melancholia of Celia Johnson in ‘Brief Enounter'.
Even as an Irishman, Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’ soared in my heart - the Billy Bragg version, mind.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Jimmy Fennessy rocks: Great Joe Strummer street art

THANKS to my mate Jimmy Fennessy for this great pic from New York City of Joe Strummer street art. He took it on the south side of Thompkins Square Park on the corner of Avenue A and 3rd Street. I wish there were more murals of this kind in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Lenny Bruce documentary in narrator #EPICFAIL

WHEN you are doing a documentary about the hippest of hep cats like Lenny Bruce, I think you need a narrator to match the hard hitting script. Maybe Christopher Walken or Dr John or someone who doesn't sound like they have come off the set of BBC1's Doctors or Antiques Roadshow.
I think, with that in mind, this is, in the words of modern social networking, an #EPICFAIL.
So who else would be a bad narrator of the Lenny Bruce story? Comments below, please.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Clash Week: In Their Own Words

I'LL LET this wee audio package to speak for itself. Topper, Joe, Mick and Paul as they saw it. From the great Rockers Galore CD sampler.
Right click on the DivShare logo on the listening bar and download the package to listen to again on your iPods, mp3 players or wherever.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

It really did all sound the same

The Edge of the EightiesI HAVE been listening to this album this week and was struck that a) most of the Chew Lips style new stuff sounds like late 1970s early 1980s electro bands I stupidly ignored and b) may be the rockists were right, it did all sound the same, originally.
This double bill from OMD and Our Daughter's Wedding shows extraordinarily similar thinking from each band. OMD's came first, that's all I am saying.
It's a tremendous album with some tracks I had never heard of (Telex  Moskow Diskow anyone? Brilliant) and which have bridged the generation gap between Mrs GM (undisclosed) and Miss GM (9).

Play it for that motherf***ing money, boys: First thoughts on Treme

TREME, the new  HBO show from The Wire's creator David Simon has all the hall marks of one he intends to run and run.
Produced by Simon and Eric Overmyer it is set three months after Hurricane Katrina in the predominantly black neighbourhood of Treme which sits behind the French Quarter in New Orleans, a traditional home for the musicians and Creole community.
After the first couple of episodes those of us familiar with the greatest TV show ever will notice similar narrative and character hints being dropped slowly into a heady gumbo of a drama. Not much of major dramatic impact has happened in the first two episodes, but another large cast of characters has been introduced and plots and themes are emerging tentatively.
Signed up for at least two series by HBO, the experienced among us will know it may take all that time for everything to be tied up, by which stage series three will be taking on another set of injustices.
I'd say this series is going to deal with the institutionally racist neglect of flood victims, the deadly stasis brought on by Federal bureaucracy and the inherently corrupt political systems which allowed the huge humanitarian disaster to unfold down in N'awlins.
One thing already apparent is there's a tremendous cast working their socks off. The Corner and CSI Miami's Khandi Alexander is stressed bar owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams looking for her brother missing in the prison system, Clarke 'Lester Freamon' Peters is the Indian chief Albert Lambreaux looking to get his carnival gang back together, Wendell 'Bunk Moreland' Pierce (above) LaDonna's gifted but priapic trombonist ex-husband Antoine Batiste hustling for work while Steve Zahn plays the middle class white musician and DJ Davis McAlary in love with black music, its musicians and culture.
However, the stand-out character, and perhaps the moral barometer of the show, is English Literature professor Creighton Bernette played by  John Goodman, a man leading a crusade to get the truth about Katrina known. It's not a natural disaster he says, 'but a federal fuck-up of epic proportions, decades in the making.'
The music is incredible, in what has to be one of the best opening sequences of any TV show, a panorama of the city's heritage from ragtime to revival, be bop, rock and dirty south hip hop all comes together before concluding with a full New Orleans jazz band marching the streets of Treme.
British and Irish gobshites, content yourself with this trailer and others like it on YouTube - as yet there are no dates for either a  screening or DVD release in these parts.

Guns of Brixton: Paul Simonon the beating heart of The Clash

GUNS OF Brixton could be the very zenith of the kind of 'wiggerism' many Clash critics point to in their criticisms of the band, and perhaps rightly so.
Bass player Paul Simonon gets a chance to live his roots reggae dreams of outlawism in a cod Jamaican accent while telling a story of police lifting a bandito in the far off flung climes of Brixton.
Well, it may be flawed, but 'Guns of Brixton' has an awe inspiring bass line, some great guitar fills from Jonesy and the vocal is spot on from Simonon.
And the composer is the heart of this debate: there really hasn't been a cooler wielder of the four string rhythm section axe in history than Simonon (right).
I reviewed him in the overblown and overhyped Albarn-helmed four piece The Good, The Bad and The Queen and even 30 years on the man was the essence of rock and roll cool.
And this song has haunting harmonies, is underrated and wsn't even spoiled by the fey shit sandwich that is the Nouvelle Vague cover.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Beware the propaganda: Rock the Casbah

THIS  interview with Strummage would lead you to believe he was the driving force behind 'Rock the Casbah', The Clash's most successful single, but don't be fooled - it's all about multi-talented drummer Topper Headon(left).
1) The original interview I am using was done while Headon was still suffering from the effects of heroin dependency and he had no chance to give his side of the story. He has since got clean and the record been set straight.
2) Strummage, like the rest of The Clash entourage, love the process of myth making, especially while recording sound bites for American radio and especially when needing to promote something. Disappeared front man anyone?  
3) Bar the bloody lyric and a few guitar fills, Topper had written the most successful song the bastards ever recorded.
At least the story has a happy ending - some time ago it was decided the royalties were to be split four ways and there is no rancour among the Last Gang in Town, it's still a great song.
It's still Topper's song despite what Joe says below.

The true sound of the suburbs: Lost in the Supermarket

THE STORY goes that during the Rehearsals Rehearsals years of the early Clash, their first manager Bernie Rhodes urged them to write about their lives, not about America or love songs or the kind of ephemeral stuff that many pop songs were about, but to reflect the often manufactured gritty realism that punk was supposed to have heralded.
So, in the mythology created by the Last Gang in Town,  Strummer, Jones and Simonon adjourned to Jones' nan's 18th floor flat in Wilmcote House high above the Westway motorway flyover in Notting Hill in West London, looked over the tiny balcony (above) and resolved to write about life as it affected them.
It took another two and half years before they found the highest point of their writing about their own lives.
To my mind, the highest point of The Clash as songwriters is 'Lost in the Supermarket' from the London Calling album, a song which almost poignantly pinpoints the alienation many of us in suburbs can feel at various points of our life.
It's easy to forget that in the 1970s the big supermarkets that have become a fabric of our lives were a relatively new concept and that life in high rises and housing estates had been heralded as a new utopian example of communal living paradise by modernist architects only in the two decades before. The terrible reality of the latter lie would only become apparent in the 1980s and 90s.
Mick Jones, Strummer too, often get stick for not being great singers, unfairly in my opinion, but I really love Jones' vocal on 'Supermarket.' It's febrile and light and worthy of the insecurity of the narrator created by  Strummer in his lyric.
And one line is the best: 'I got my giant hits discotheque album/ I empty a bottle, I feel a bit free.' It says it all about getting your kicks where you can when you are feeling lost in whatever isolated reality you are living.
Over to you Mick and Joe...

Monday, 19 April 2010

Turning rebellion into money: White Man in Hammersmith Palais

OF ALL the nonsense that is often thrown at The Clash, the most common criticism is that they were opportunist arrivistes always flying to Belfast for photo ops and using DM shod, biker jacketed revolutionary chic to sex up their meat-and-two veg rockism.
But that kind of cynical critique doesn't allow for the likes of myself who will be forever in their debt for opening my eyes to a legion of great music that I wouldn't ordinarily have heard of. They were a music library waiting to be explored, because unlike many, they always wore their influences on their sleeves - sometimes literally.
Guitarist Mick Jones once described their fabulously eclectic album fourth album Sandinista as 'music for people who work on oil rigs,  a bit of everything,' but I have always seen The Clash as a practical equivalent of those long lists of artists you got in the credits of Def Jam rap records: after listening to The Clash, I had to search out Prince Far I or Culture or Ken Booth or Vince Taylor.
It was more than just music. Through The Clash, I went and read about movie star Montomery Clift (from The Right Profile from London Calling) and photojournalist Sean Flynn (from Combat Rock). (He worked with John Steinbeck's son).    
On Thursday last, I was struggling with a mountain of work and fired on Under Heavy Manners by Prince Far I, you think I would have known about that 20 years ago living in a new town of roundabouts and little else without The Clash? Possibly, but it was thanks to interviews with them that I did.
The Clash back catalogue is like the big revolving racks of tapes that were in Craigavon library when I was an awkward, mostly friendless teenager stuck in his room. I got The Clash from those racks and those racks contained a lot of the music The Clash lionised and covered and I also listened to that.
The Clash, unlike a lot of commercially successful bands had the ability to make other worldly sounding music, stuff a band in their position would usually not make and 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' is perhaps the best example. A reggae tinged story of being an outsider in a black venue, not the stuff of  zeitgeisty, successful figureheads of British punk in 1978.
And that's the point: it is Joe Strummer's story of being an outsider during an evening of the black culture they so loved. It's about people and love and enthusiasm before turning to pointing a finger at the cynical pricks who make life bad.
It also has the best 'Oooh A hooo A oooh' harmonies ever committed to tape. That might be the best thng about it, too.
Listen to the interviews below from Joe and Mick to tell the story.
(I'll hypertext this up soon)

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Clash Week: Let's take humanity back into the centre of the ring

THIS WEEK I will be posting pieces inspired by interviews recorded by members of  The Clash during the production of the wonderful Don Letts' documentary 'From Westway to the World'.
I've been lucky enough to get an audio CD sent out to US radio stations for promotional use after the re-release of the box set 'The Clash on Broadway' near the end  of the 1990s. Much thanks has to be given to my Widnesian mate Tony Dagnall who snaffled said CD in Ed McKay's, the record and book shop he works for in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
The CD looks like it has been sold by someone attached to college radio station of Wake Forest University in Winston Salem.
At the end of the day, humanity is what The Clash, and particularly Joe Strummer, means to me.
Ed Hamell, the one man acoustic guitar wielding colossus, got it right many years ago in his Uncut magazine column when he said anyone who attacks the Clash for posturing or selling out misses the essential humanity at the heart of the majority of their greatest songs.
Joe's spiel here says it all for me, I'll be posting my thoughts and some more interviews for the next seven days.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Libertines and the rule of diminishing music industry returns

PETER Guy hit the nail firmly on the head with this sensationally well written demolition of The Libertines in the wake of news that they are to reform for a festival this summer for a monster fee not unadjacent to 1.5m of your British pounds.
Not bad for two nights work which will work out at about 120 minutes in total stage time. I can't imagine they will overburden themselves with intensive rehearsal to get ultra tight - it was never a concern in the first place.
Central to Pete's thesis is that the cult of The Libertines/ Pete Doherty was based on a slavering music press sycophancy which needed to rapidly create new heroes but which ultimately opened the door for eight years of terrible guitar bands which have failed to light up anything, let alone what passes for charts now.
The continual glut of uninspiring indie guitar bands which still routinely appear to steal time which we, as eternally interested but perennially underwhelmed consumers, will never get back, come directly from the time in which The Libertines emerged.
It was a period of plunging music sales and dwindling music paper circulations in which A&R men and music journalists fantastically sought to battle these twin perils by trying to recreate the last, in every sense of the word, glory time for each industry - Britpop.
So the A&R men headed down Camden way or Old Street or got themselves off to the gritty North in search of some slim hipped rapscallions, but not before gathering up the vintage Epiphone guitars, picked a football team for each band (if they didn't have one), got the Fred Perry polo shirt/ tight jeans/ vintage parka look bang on, signed up the likeliest crews and sent the boys (always boys) out to misbehave just like Noel and Liam had done.
The boated music PR industry, seeing the devastation among the major and big indie labels and the potential losses from their dwindling coffers, got to work polishing a bewildering series of turds.
At the same time, music journalists (myself included) forced to file columns on a daily or weekly basis on the thinnest of new gruel were, at best, forced to acquiesce and cover that which we knew as cack, or, at worst, actually blindly became trumpet majors for a period of utter dross in a bid to cut a diminishing niche in this new media ecosphere of plenty.
It was the hoariest of music industry clusterfucks - no-one wanted to put their heads above the parapets and say that which was going to bring down the bright red beach ball of fun which we all needed to keep floating.
But, it was a singularly depressing time where anyone with any recent historical frame of reference could see all the old joins being imperfectly glued back together by desperate people.
Mod/ Britpop stylings, cool punk/ post punk producers (Andy Gill/ Mick Jones), Union Jacks and Victoriana were utilised to give a communion wafer thin concoction some sense of timelessness and history in the hope that it would not disappear with the same rapidity of the average communion wafer.
The new fads of the internet were also utilised to give this old stew some new seasoning: bands did 'guerilla' gigs arranged on the internet and other acts were signed due to live shows streamed on the emerging phenomenon of mySpace. 'OOOH, look.' we cried, 'Sandy Thom and the Arctic Monkeys were signed due to the new self empowering and utterly democratic spaces of social media.What a story to kick their careers off with.' Mind, we didn't call it social media until much later.
The Libertines held impromptu gigs in whatever needle strewn, shite and blood stained hovel they were inhabiting and there was always a phalanx of journalists and hand held camera 'documentarians' to capture the bohemia for NME TV or BBC3 or whatever. With more channels and new demographics emerging there was always a home for this stuff.
In Liverpool, the Deltasonic label made an absolute virtue out of a post modern retread necessity by simply taking youngsters and telling them what they would sound and look like. The Coral were an identikit scally stoner act, The Zutons a rockier version, The Little Flames a bit the same with a good looking girl singer and The Dead 60s were a former hard core four piece turned into a reggae tinged Clash-a-like who were ultimately upstaged by one single wonder Southerners Hard-Fi.
It really was depressing to see most of them lauded and more pertinently, to be involved, partially, in the lauding.  
I remember one gang of big indie label chancers called The Others who were sold to me by a PR as a potential big thing. The were the apotheosis of this generation's mediocrity: an identikit shower of cack put together like a self-assembly IKEA band - a good looking young fella who resembled Lee Mavers and three session musicians - one of whom looked like a fat member of The Cure. They were dreadful and even for the weekly £60 from the Daily Post, I wouldn't polish the aforementioned doggie waste product.
The saddest thing is that, Arctic Monkeys aside, it's still going on. The Courteeners are at best derivative but more realistically plain bad. Scouting for Girls, Kaiser Chiefs, The Music et al continue to get a few moments in the spotlight thanks to a supposed primacy of indie guitar bands in both Britain and its music press.
The reformation of the Libertines in July or August will hide, momentarily, one simple fact: we need no more British indie guitar bands because that seam has been mined to extinction and we need no more of them.
If we had stopped and looked in 2002-2005 that would have been wholly apparent and we would have saved ourselves a pile of time in the process.