Friday, 24 November 2017

Piccadilly Records' End Of Year List

A week ago, Piccadilly Records, the mancunian independent store, released it's hotly anticipated End Of Year lists.

I look forward to the Piccadilly Lists because they tend to both tally with a  broader musical consensus as to what have been the musical highlights of the year (both Solange's A seat at the table and Angel Olsen's My Woman scored highly last year) but also wear their heart on their sleeves so far as the consensus in the shop is concerned. Previous Album of the Year winners have been Julia Holter's Loud City Song and Jane Weaver's Modern Cosmology (keeping it local there...) and this years winner is Kelly Lee Owens self titled debut.

I do, dimly, remember their weekly mailout raving about Kelly Lee Owens earlier this year, but I hadn't got around to checking out the album until this morning when I decided, having bookmarked it in Spotify last week, that it was time I did.

While, on paper (or, indeed, on email mailout...), it didn't look as though it was going to be my kind of thing, I'm really glad I 'tasted' it now because I've been listening to it on repeat all day. Once I get paid at the end of the month, I'm off to the shop to buy it.

The main reason I have a Spotify account (aside from a hopeless predilection for playlisting...) is to try out music that I wouldn't normally listen to, some of which I then go on to buy from proper record shops (as much as possible) so as to ensure that the artist in question gets a better sales percentage on my purchase than they would if I bought it off Spotify or Amazon.

I really don't think I would have taken a punt on this album without the option to try it out first on streaming.

It's a mysterious and enigmatic creature, sonically speaking, soothing and calming despite being made up of really quite intricate sounding sonic landscapes. In their own write up, Piccadilly Records peg it's influences as everything from techno to shoegaze to Cocteau Twins. They think of it as a late night post clubbing kind of record, and I can see that it would work that way as it's quite lulling but still very electronic. They also describe it as slightly blurred, which I also got I think, listening to it.



I've been shopping at Piccadilly Records since the mid 1990s, when the shop was still on Brown Street and surrounded by punk shops. These days it's on Oldham Street, part of the hipster central that is the Northern Quarter and where it feels equally at ease as it did on Brown Street surrounded by punk shops. Such is the versatility of the modern record shop.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Henry Green - Stay Here


I love this song. It has that wintry 'I just want to stay under the bed covers feeling safe' kind of vibe to it while being utterly sonically gorgeous.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Jump up and down music

A couple of weeks ago, in the middle of some very hectic personal circumstances, I somehow managed to find time to review Pyro, the debut album by alt rock/punk pop band Rews. I knew it was going to be good because both 'Miss you in the dark' (which features in November's F-Word playlist incidentally) and 'Shine' were fantastic singles, fast and furious, with solid guitars and a professional sheen that didn't get in the way of their musicianship.

What I didn't bank on was just how good it was going to be.

You know when you put an album on and you're expecting it to be OK, and it turns out to be way, way better than you expect? It was like that.

I found myself drawn, incessantly, to rock cliché when writing the review, meaning that I quickly dashed off 800 words, thought it was quite good, then looked at it two days later and went 'No, no, no...' Amended it a bit, sent it off for it's editing, and got it back from Ania at the F-Word with an email along the lines of "Come on now, you can do better than this..." and some suggestions as to how this could be achieved. Which I was very thankful for because, reading it back again, I could see I'd written the sort of thing I used to write for Record Collector and that what was needed was a much more inventive approach.

It is hard to write about very guitar orientated music sometimes when you don't play guitar. I always fret a bit that I'm using words like 'chord', 'riff' and 'hooks' in the wrong context. Not being a musician, I tend to write reviews based on how the music makes me respond emotionally or physically or, failing that, I rely on description of how the actual sound comes across to me. I remember when I wrote fanzines in the riot grrrl period I had a particular series of words I would use to describe the guitar sound on riot grrrl and post riot grrrl records. I think 'skittery' was one, or I'd actually try to write the sound of the riff (?) phonetically sometimes if 'skittery' didn't do it justice. My friend Helen Wray, who wrote Dancing Chicks fanzine in the late nineties before moving to London, becoming a journalist and a London Rollergirl, once memorably described Sleater-Kinney's Hot Rock album as being "Less raaah!" than their previous albums, and I knew exactly what she meant.

Because I was reviewing Rews for The F-Word, not Record Collector, the vernacular and description required did turn out to be much closer to the sort of thing I would write for Aggamengmong Moggie in the mid nineties than for Record Collector in the 2000's, and I think I had a lot more fun with the second draft of the review as a result of that.



Monday, 13 November 2017

Louder Than Words, 2017

Friday:

For the second year in a row, I had a works leaving do immediately before Louder Than Words. As such, I headed into Manchester around quarter to five ish on the 191, got off at MMU, and headed over to Sand Bar for the leaving do. There then followed a quick pit stop at 8th Day for food at 6pm, then over to the Principal hotel for the festival.

Chandelier in the Principal hotel, near the post room
I had a slight mix up over where to collect my wristband from, but a lovely volunteer fetched it for me while I waited by the Directors Suite. The anteroom was filled with people drinking wine and I had a nice chat with Bob Follen of Bob Art Models and his partner. He showed me a new drawing he'd done of Siouxsie, which I really liked it.

Karren Ablaze! arrived and we went down the front to wait for Jah Wobble, who was running later having been discombobulated by the Oxford Road Bus gate and the fact that he can no longer drive his car down Oxford Road.

When he did arrive, he was on fine form. Roisin Dwyer was interviewing him but he's such a raconteur that all you really need to do is set him off then try, generally fruitlessly, to steer the conversation back to specific anchors. I found him very funny, and good at creating pictures in my head. He'd recently done a documentary on Sid Vicious in which he tried to get behind the myth and discover the real person, and he made a lot of amusing and pointed comments about Brexit. There was also a surreal but very funny anecdote about being in a Japanese restaurant with Ginger Baker, both eating English desserts, and Ginger Baker going postal because he'd been given treacle tart instead of rhubarb and custard. He also called Jools Holland a "wax faced cunt" which amused me out of all proportion to the original comment.

Karren and I really enjoyed it, and were enthusing to each other at the end. The school kids from Hull on the other side of the room seemed less enamoured. On the way out, I got stuck in the middle of a massing throng of them, and heard one of them exclaim, with the true frustration of someone who's had to sit still for too long, "That was so boring" before being frantically hushed by their teacher. I was trying to keep a straight face at this point because I could imagine the teenage Wobble, having been taken to see some speaker talking about a cultural moment that happened twenty five* years before he was born, being equally bored. Would I have been bored had I been taken to see Jah Wobble do a talk when I was 15? Possibly not because I was into seventies punk by then, even though it was the mid 1990s, plus I am only one generation away from punk, not two, so the experiences are more relatable to. That said, I bet a lot of my friends at the time would have been bored.

After Wobble, I stayed on to see John Robb interview Paul 'Smiler' Anderson about mod. I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this talk as I don't have any special interest in mod, but I was pleasantly surprised. As someone very interested in cultural discussions around Britain's Lost Decade (1945-1955) and how the post war generation reacted against the social mores of the wartime generation (this applies to punk as well, incidentally, from what my interviewees have told me), he had a lot to say that interested me. He also touched on Brexit, pointing out that it symbolised the continuation of that cultural battle: A lot of people in their eighties voted Brexit. These are the people who, after WWII, had no truck with the French, Germans, Italians and Americans. Their children, meanwhile, were very happy to embrace French tailoring, Italian scooters and black American music. His thesis falls down a little given that a lot of people in their fifties and sixties also voted for Brexit, but it's an interesting point nonetheless and references what the Economist newspaper would term the new political divide: Not Left or Right but Open or Closed. Jah Wobble predicts a return to greyness, tedium, narrow horizons and spam after Brexit. Surely the definition of Closed.

Anderson was also good as regards discussing the long term view of mod, including the mod revival in the eighties via bands like The Jam. He really brought alive the precise, particular, exclusive nature of mod and the escapism of mod in 1984 under Thatcher when wearing three button suits and listening to rare groove was considerably more attractive to him than engaging with modern day realities or dancing to Wham!

Saturday:

The two 10am/10:15am events were a writing panel discussion, which I figured would be more aimed at popular music studies/journalism students than me, and an Unconvention discussion on the theme of good music/making the world a better place, which I had thought about going to but decided against. I did attend one of the Unconvention discussions two years ago and found it all a bit hardcore and, on a personal level, slightly frustrating in that that years discussion ('Is The Enemy Really Free' on the theme of unpaid work and being ripped off in the music industry) had gone in a different direction than I expected, leaving me with lots to say but no way of getting to say it. I wrote a blog post about it all in the end instead. On this occasion, I opted for a lie in.

It was 10am by the time I finally got out of the flat, and onto a 192 where the heating/air conditioning was making a noise like a whistling kettle and I had a bus mutterer on the seat in front. The combination of the two was a bit nails down a blackboard, to the extent that I considered getting off at the Apollo and taking the scenic route down Booth Street to the Principal, but somehow managed to hold on for three more stops. It was worth it for the moment when I was walking down Whitworth Street and someone threw open the windows of their tower block apartment and called out  in a light tenor: 'GOOD MORNING MANCHESTER!' in a tone somewhat nearer to the 'Who will buy?' musical sequence from Oliver! but with the overall spirit of Good Morning Vietnam.

I had originally intended to go to 'Vinyl Revival and the shops that made it happen' at 12:15 but I had an epiphany while sitting in the room that it wasn't going to be for me, and headed off to 'Eye Witness Punk Power' instead. This was David Nolan, Jonh Ingham and Mick O'Shea talking to John Robb about punk. I was feeling a bit punked out, but this was a good discussion - very funny at times and good on local scenes, outside London. I could tell that Ingham, as an Australian who had been at the heart of the London scene in 1976, was gently bemused by the whole area of discussion that boiled down to rest of the UK vs London, but he went along with it. As someone who has done a lot of research into punk, I didn't come away from this having really learnt anything, and if you want to learn about the Manchester punk scene then one of the best ways to find out about it is to put in the hours at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford with the (almost) entire run of City Fun (also available via MDMDA), but I did find the discussions around the whole area of authenticity interesting.

Old and new Oxford Road scenery, side by side
After the punk panel, I went to 8th Day and had dinner, passing, for the second year running, small but very noticeable groups of (mainly) young women dressed like female characters from Japanese anime/manga. Which begs the question: Is there an annual manga/anime convention that coincides with Louder Than Words each year? (Google says 'Yes, it is the Doki Doki festival which takes place at Sudden Sports Hall') If so, is there some kind of mash up event potential? In a Kamikaze Girls kind've style? No, just me then...

After that, I headed back to the Principal and met up with a seething Karren Ablaze! who was peeved that the women and subcultures panel clashed with Paul Morley, and that there was a distinct lack of women on panels at Louder Than Words. She'd been at the MDMA discussion on Black Female Voices vis a vis the Manchester scene, and while enjoying it, had come away with the horrible feeling that all of the black women at the festival had been gathered together in one room as a sort of ghettoization. It would be nice to think this had happened by accident rather than design, but it wasn't a good feeling.

Personally, I definitely feel that the women and subcultures panel discussion was a better choice than Paul Morley, and this was borne out for me by the fact that, despite taking place in the smallest room, venue wise, the room was so packed that volunteers had to keep on bringing in more and more chairs to seat everybody. Clearly this was an event, and a subject, people really wanted to see discussed. I spotted Daniel Rachel in the front row, and Maxine Peake a couple of rows back.

The discussion was chaired by Lucy O'Brien, and she had with her Chardine Taylor Stone of Big Joanie and Celeste Bell, Poly Styrene's daughter. Because female representation in subcultures gets so  little space or discussion, culturally, I feel that this was a very important moment, Louder Than Words wise, and I'd dearly love to see more of this kind of programming as I tend to get more out of events that I feel a personal connection to in terms of experience, as I did with this one. This doesn't mean I'm not capable of enjoying and listening to people talk about scenes and bands beyond my personal experience as well (and God knows, I'd go to precious few cultural events if that weren't the case), but it is nice to feel catered for all the same.

What I especially liked was that Chardine talked about her experiences as a black working class woman within the punk and rockabilly scenes in the 2000's, and that this dovetailed with the kind of battles Poly Styrene had faced in the 1970's. I liked this simply because I don't feel that these issues get discussed enough, God knows women and subcultures barely get discussed anywhere, so it's almost like every other variation and complication of the Woman Question doesn't even get a look in. There were some good examples provided by Chardine and Celeste of black punk activism and decolonisation, which I'd definitely check out. Afropunk and Decolonise Fest, along with Chardine's Black Girls Picnic (inspired by Ladyfest) particularly. I also felt Chardine handled the (these days inevitable) question about riot grrrl being too white and too middle class well, by pointing to Kathleen Hanna's love of bell hooks and Audre Lorde, and how it was weird for her, as a young black woman, to be being introduced to black feminism by white riot grrrls.

I probably should have joined in on the Q&A but I was enjoying the discussion too much to want to.

It was back to the world of seventies punk after this, and upstairs to the Directors Suite where Jordan (as I had to explain to Paul on the bus the other week, "No, not THAT Jordan!") was talking to John Robb. She is going to be writing her memoir soon, and she talked very sensitively about her relationship with Adam Ant, who she managed in the early day of Adam and the Ants, and with Derek Jarmon. I knew Jordan had been in Jubilee, but I hadn't realised she'd been in Sebastiane as well. I liked the bits where she was talking about ballet and how it had impacted not just in terms of how she carried herself, but also in terms of her style - she wore a lot of leotards and tights for example, and there was a great image on the screen of her wearing a tutu and block ballet shoes, but with her full punk makeup and hair, staring right at the camera in a nail you to the wall kind of way.

Celeste Bell was in the Directors Suite after Jordan, talking about the film and book she and Zoe Howe are making about Poly Styrene. I'd seen the trailer already, but it was still a lovely thrill to see it again. Unfortunately the talk was rather poorly attended, but Celeste talked very movingly about her mother and her life. There was a lot of interesting stuff around the theme of mother daughter relationships across three generations. Zoe had been originally intended to be Celeste's interviewer but she was ill so Roisin Dwyer stepped in and, despite being fairly last minute, did a wonderful job.



Sunday:

I dragged myself out of bed at half seven, had a prolonged fight with a bottle of cider vinegar while making honeygar, had my porridge, put my makeup on, and was out of the flat just after 9am. I stood at the bus stop crying involuntarily because I'd managed to get powder foundation in my eye. I had decided that morning, following on from a day and a half of listening to festival attendees and the occasional panel member bemoaning the state of modern music, that I was going to do a slight 'Fuck you' on this theme by wearing my Florence + The Machine t-shirt to Sunday's events. I don't think anyone noticed, but I felt better for dong so.

I got in relatively early as there wasn't much traffic, just a more or less empty bus and no interesting street theatre.

Pop and Politics was the first panel of the day, chaired by Roisin Dwyer and comprised of Daniel Rachel, Lucy O'Brien, Chardine Taylor Stone, and Dave Randall. I liked this panel a lot, it was like all my favourite people were in one room on one panel. I think the strength of this panel came from the four panellists having a wealth of different experiences across different eras, and that two of them (Rachel and Randall) had written books specifically about music and protest. It meant that a wide area of music and eras could be covered and discussed expertly, from a number of different perspectives, drawing on a range of different personal experiences.  Chardine Taylor Stone spoke about Solange's A seat at the table, Dave Randall spoke about the personal impact 'Free Nelson Mandela' had had on him, and about the debates around BeyoncĂ©'s nod to Black Lives Matter with 'Foundation'. The cultural boycotts of South Africa and Israel were discussed, in regard to the 1980s and Paul Simon's Graceland album, and more recently bands refusing, or not refusing, to play in Tel Aviv. Daniel Rachel spoke about Rock Against Racism, he, Dave Randall and Lucy O'Brien spoke about Red Wedge and Chardine Taylor Stone spoke about #GrimeforCorbyn. Lucy was asked about sexism in the music industry in the context of the Harvey Weinstein uncovering and fallout, which led on to brief mention of Kesha and the horrific situation she is in, work wise.

I had intended to ask a question about the re-invigoration of the protest song in the age of Donald Trump, but I didn't in the end, mainly because I could see Karren had a whole series of things she wanted to say about issues such as quotas, safe spaces, and how these issues related to Louder Than Words itself. It was noted at this point that this was a panel of two women and two men, with a female chair, which is very unusual.

I sympathise with Karren's take on it, and we discussed it at length throughout the weekend. I began to wonder why I wasn't angrier about feeling unrepresented at Louder Than Words and, having thought about it since, I've realised that part of it is that I've got used to moving in areas of the music industry where I'm thoroughly unrepresented and, while not at all happy about that state of affairs, I have a really long list of cultural battles that I'm fighting, some on my behalf, some on the behalf of women who have come before me, and I simply do not have the time or the mental resources to fight all of those really important battles all at the same time, continuously. As such, I do perhaps choose to pick my battles a bit more than I maybe feel I should. It is a compromise, and not necessarily a happy one. Some of the issues Karren raised relate to the music industry at large, also to academia (as another person at the music and protest Q&A pointed out, very eloquently) and I have, in a way, written about issues of gender, representation and the music industry at length a few times now, most notably in my piece for The F-Word on women and the UK music press in 2012, and more recently in summer 2017 on the theme of women and music festivals, an issue regular readers of my blog will know I did a lot of work on this summer. The whole range of related issues of hidden histories, cultural representation, and alternative cultural narratives are, inevitably, at the heart of a lot of my writing work. And will no doubt continue to drive it.

I wasn't sure what to do with myself for most of the rest of Sunday as there wasn't really anything else on the bill that day that I had strong feelings about attending. This worked out quite well in the end in that I spent a lot of time in conversation with various people and actually only attended two other events, the first of which was The Unsung.

For some reason, I'd got it into my head that The Unsung was going to be an Unthanks esque gentle folk affair, but it wasn't at all. Instead, this "funeral party for the forgotten fallen heroes of music" was a spoken word performance by Genevieve Carver and her band. The concept is brilliant: Poems celebrating the lives of those forgotten men and women who have died in music related circumstances. From Sandor Feher, a musician on the Costa Concordia ferry who helped passengers escape when it was sinking but drowned when he went back to try and rescue his violin, to Asumi Nagakiya, a steel pan player who was raped and murdered during or after Carnival in Trinidad, to Scott Johnson, a drum technician working for Radiohead in 2012 who died when the stage he was working on collapsed on top of him. I think the two strongest pieces, for me, were 'The Eagles of Death', for the 89 victims of the Bataclan concert attack in November 2015, and 'The Unsung' for the victims of the live music ban in Mali, 2012-13.



In a lot of ways, some of these pieces chimed quite nicely with both Dave Randall's book and with wider debates around music and protest, also with the treatment of women in music: 'The Lady In The Car' tells the story of Anne Naismith, a concert pianist who, much like Alan Bennett's Lady In The Van, fled her life to live in her car. Similarly, Lina Prokofiev, much mistreated wife of the composer, is the subject of 'The Fiery Angel'.

I was very impressed by The Unsung, it's a neat and innovative concept, beautifully executed and well researched.

My final talk of the day was Malcolm Boyle talking about Hoppy, aka John Hopkins of sixties counterculture and UFO fame. He is making a film about him, and showed lots of clips of the almost finished film to illustrate the talk, which is always a good way to add an extra vivid edge to a talk. The film does look really good and I found out quite a few things about the London countercultural scene that I hadn't known before, which is always nice.

I think I may have been the second youngest person in the room (there was a bloke there who looked younger than me), but I do have a gleaming of the counterculture, as I've read up on it at particular times, particularly recently as I had to do a lot of reading up on the underground press for my punk women and fanzines chapter for MUP. That said, neither of my parents were involved in the counterculture (though I suspect my mum might have quite liked to have been) and my main idea of UFO, I confess, probably comes from reading Jenny Fabian's Groupie when I was fifteen.

At the time, I thought that book was fiction, it was only about three years later when it was re-issued and Fabian was interviewed about the book that I realised it was thinly disguised fly on the wall. That said, even when I thought it was fiction, I still had enough awareness of the sixties counterculture to know it was based in fact, I just didn't appreciate how much. My friend Sara, who is much more clued up on that scene, got it immediately when she read it, and reported back at the end of chapter one "I just knew it was Syd Barrett". For the record, while I have since worked out who most of the cast of Groupie are, I still don't know who the pot bellied journalist she shags is. A quick google search seems to suggest Fabian is still with us and, while I'm hesitant to see women represented in cultural discussions purely as groupies, I do still really, really want to know who that bloke was, so maybe Louder Than Words could book Fabian to talk about her book and I could find out?

I could probably come up with a list of other suggestions for speakers and events, just as I could definitely compile a reading list as regards the whole massive issue of women and subcultures. I might do that. Off the top of my head, things I would have liked to have seen at Louder Than Words this year would have included a discussion of the nineties Glasgow scene, as documented in this years film Lost In France, and Helen McCookerybook and Gina Birch talking about their film Stories from the She Punks. I think both would have pulled in a big enough crowd, having seen Helen and Gina pack out the British Library conference centre last year for their talk on it, and Lost In France had a pretty sizeable Scottish premiere earlier this year, plus screenings around the country.

I'm not sure how much the literary link is enforced when booking people for Louder Than Words, and it's possible Lost In France may or may not qualify, but there's enough literary links to the She Punks project for that one to qualify.


*In my original posting, this said '40 years before he was born'. That would have made the kid 0 not 15, hence correction!


Sunday, 12 November 2017

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Playlisting

It's been a bit of a hectic few months here.

Back in late July I agreed to take on my old job of editing the music section over at The F-Word. It will be for six months initially while regular music editor Jo Whitehead takes her turn as the F-Word's rotating editor, then we'll see what happens.

I've already had the pleasure of commissioning some very talented writers, have been showered with promo emails, and have now compiled two playlists for the site.

Given that I have a strong tendency to deploy music (and books, and films, and radio...) to try and make sense of what feels like an increasingly horrific world, it should come as no surprise to discover that I used this approach when compiling both the August playlist and the November playlist.

This approach goes beyond music as a form of protest (though I have used some of the music in both playlists in that context) and more towards music as an intelligent and therapeutic soundtrack to the distressing realities of everyday life.

I hope you enjoy both playlists, as I feel they can be listened to without being aware of the wider socio-political context in which they were created, even though there is that extra dimension to them as well.

Making a playlist will never change the world, but if it helps people to try and make sense of things, and draw strength, inspiration and courage from music, then it's a good thing.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Ferris & Sylvester - The Room (Official Video)





A very timely song, with a deceptively simple but very effective video. Understated and stylish.

Ferris and Sylvester are Issy Ferris and Archie Sylvester. As the song suggests, they are a London based duo and they will be playing some London dates this month, which you can find out about at their website.