Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Old, New, Borrowed, Blue …

Old …

Walking down Oxford Road this morning my MP3 player plucked Kirsty MacColl’s ‘Innocence’ from the depths and my God if it didn’t feel like a breath of fresh air on that dirty old road. As I said to my friend, I wanted to line dance and cry all at once. The video is here and if you think I can get enough of that banjo you're quite quite wrong.

My first brush with the desperately missed Ms MacColl was watching her do ‘Fifteen Minutes’ on French & Saunders in 1989 or 1990. She was wearing a Happy Mondays T shirt and playing her guitar and it all was so effortless with her smart, convoluted lyrics and typically understated voice, just gorgeous. I had it on video for ages. An act of criminal negligence means nobody has posted that particular performance on youtube or elsewhere, at least I haven’t been able to find it, so here, surprisingly, is Cerys Matthews having really quite a good stab at things (before Jools comes along and honkys all over it of course…)

The lyrics are a poem unto themselves, see here:

Seven times in seven days
I've sat and wished my life away
I know the greyness comes and goes
But the sun don't shine
And the snow don't snow

There's Suzy-Ann with her tits and curls
Where mediocrity excels
For those vicious boys and their boring girls
You know it makes me sick but it's a bozo's world

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

City banker looks are in
The heartless heart, the chinless chin
And you'd spill your beans for just a pint of gin
How you got so holy
And became so thin

In Sunday papers every week
The silly words you love to speak
The tacky photos and the phoney smiles
Well it's a bozo's world
And you're a bozo's child

Then there's always the cash
Selling yourself for some trash
Smiling at people that you cannot stand
You're in demand
Your fifteen minutes start now

Then there's always the fame!
Autographs now and again
People who saw you on Blankety Blank
Or in the bank
Your fifteen minutes start now

Warhol and Morrissey could not have said it better. Kirsty was mistress of the re-vamped cover version and sang, to my mind, two of the saddest songs ever recorded, namely ‘Fairytale Of New York’ and ‘Dear John’, which you must never listen to anywhere near a break up.

My favourite Kirsty song of all is the title track from the underrated Titanic Days album (“'Dream on', he says, ‘dream on’ he always says ...”) but I’ll leave you with this classic country ballad. Wry, sad, tough, worn out and fabulous; it’s what she did best.

New …

Now this is interesting. Broken Bells are Brian Burton, whom we know better as Danger Mouse of Grey Album fame (and more of whom later), and James Mercer from The Shins. What could possibly go wrong? Jack shit judging by their first album, click here for Spotify.

It’s an instantly likeable mix of under-your-skin melodics with sad little surprises at every corner, you can even dance to some of it. If you like Cut Copy or Santigold or Hercules and Love Affair you’ll probably like it. Gets better with every listen, go and play it now. Mercer is currently on sabbatical from The Shins, if things keep going this well he might never go back.

Borrowed …

Some people become popstars and some popstars emerge fully-formed from their shells like Venus. Holestar is the second kind of popstar. Her resume sounds like some gorgeous night time butterfly eccentric you’d expect to meet at Billy’s or The Blitz, check it:

“As well as a former solider in the British Army, Holestar is a Central St Martins Fine Art Masters graduate, club promoter, DJ and cabaret artist. With a multitude of performances across Europe, New York, Glastonbury and Loveboxx Festivals, Royal Opera House, ICA, V&A, Vienna’s Life Ball and every London club of note under her belt, Holestar really knows her crowds.

© Adrian Lourie 2010

NyLon Woman, an original electro-pop hands-in-the-air floor shaker, has already been getting audiences jumping. Quite literally. A recent performance of the song at Johnny Woo’s rammed Gay Bingo saw Holestar share the stage with an invasion of trannies whooping and hollering for more.

Holestar’s musical inspiration covers underground disco, early house, ‘80s pop music, British rave and modern electro. Art, comedy and alternative performance also feed her creative juices. Behind two of London’s recent successful club nights (Hot Mess & Lets Get Quizzical) she opens with NyLon Woman to take the party to a wider audience, inviting everyone to raise their hands and dance.”

She’s a girl playing a trannie, it’s like Shakespeare meets downtown New York! 'NyLon Woman' is a fab little ‘lectro gem, listen to it while you can here and be uplifted, the Piers remix especially has me chair dancing while I'm trying to type. Good work.

Blue …

The first Sparklehorse song I heard was back in 1998 and was called ‘Hundreds Of Sparrows’ and it sounded like this …

I sort of skipped over them in my hurry to get to Elliott Smith. Mark Linkous and Smith had a lot in common as songwriters, and now they have one more thing in common because Mark Linkous has sadly, very sadly, killed himself.

As with Elliott there is some un(officially)released material that Linkous recorded with Brian Burton and David Lynch and a host of other quality musos, read about it here.

I’ve been listening to the first album, vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot and there are little refrains that I remember from years without listening to it, they are such beautifully crafted songs. It’s a terrible loss. God bless you Mark.

Friday, 5 March 2010


They swim right up from my subconscious, whales, and I can’t stand it. People ask why I hate them so much but really I don’t, I just hate the way they make me feel. I have some curiosity about them, I respect them a great deal, I am a vegetarian and environmentalist after all, but somewhere along the way reverence has tipped over into fear. I am terrified of whales.

It began ten years ago with the same recurring dream in which I am standing on a girder a couple of feet above a choppy sea at the side of an oil rig in the dead of night. The water is swelling round my ankles and it is raining and I am desperately trying to keep my balance. Up from the inky depths comes the whale and scrapes its back across the girder to try and dislodge me. Its back goes on forever. I shout into the night. I am so frightened I cry. The whale scrapes some more.

The fear in this dream spread into my waking life. Remember those old Athena posters with the whale tail disappearing into the water? I once had to move to the other side of a waiting room to avoid looking at it. I can recall vivid images that have troubled me: the closing scenes of Attenborough’s The Blue Planet with the aerial shot of mother and baby blue whale swimming side by side is one. Various whales eyes are fixed in my mind. Worst of all is the scene from Castaway where Tom Hanks is on a raft adrift at sea and a whale surfaces alongside him. I wanted to illustrate this point with a still from the film but I couldn’t find one and the prospect of seeing it again was making me sweat. I found the script instead. Here’s the scene:

Chuck lies on the raft, sick and weak.

Suddenly, from the depths beside him, silently rises a huge

A SPERM WHALE, still mainly submerged. The blow hole is near
Chuck, wet and pulsing like giant lips. The eye of the whale
is only a few feet away. It looks upon Chuck out of an
intelligence deep and alien.

He slowly comes to his knees and stares at it.

The blow hole opens and WHOOSH, out shoots a geyser of fine
spray which settles on Chuck in a mist.

The whale rises farther, dwarfing the raft. From the whale
comes a deep sound like a foghorn.

Startled, Chuck jumps back, rocking the raft. He catches
himself, slowly reaches out and touches the whale.

The horror is as much in the diction as in the scene: ‘silently rises a huge shape’, ‘submerged’, ‘blow hole’, ‘pulsing’, ‘eye’. And this most of all: ‘an intelligence deep and alien’. Therein lies some of my terror of the whale. In the paranoid depths of my phobia I believe the whale has some kind of agenda: why must it be so big? why does it swim for miles and eat only plankton? What is the whale for?

Here is ‘The Kraken’ by Tennyson:

Below the thunders of the upper deep,

Far far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides: above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant fins the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages and will lie
Battering upon huge seaworms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by men and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Even though I might sound deranged, I am not alone. I have two friends who have come out about their cetaphobia (oh yes, it has a name) and
there is a website which, given the necessarily irrational nature of phobias, can’t help but pinball between hilarious and deeply frightening. Here is the introduction:

‘Some sufferers report very dire fear of whale-attack, while others are frightened only of the sounds they make. Some report a suspicion of malevolence or predatory intent, while others see whales as benign but unpredictable. Their sheer size intimidates some, as well as their inky domain in the deep sea. Some fear the gigantic Blue Whale, while others fear only the Orca.’

Regard some of these quotations from other cetaphobes that I could so easily have written myself:

‘I think it is the combination of the ocean and the whale that makes the terrifying scene. I mean, the size of the whale makes it intimidating but the ocean itself is overwhelming as hell ...The worst scene I can't stand is a whale in the ocean at night.’

‘[Whales] just seem like they're up to something. How could they not be? They have the largest brains on the planet, and you want to tell me that all they do is swim around and sing?’

Just so you know,
when the killer whale Tilikum dragged his captor under the water and drowned her in front of the viewing windows at SeaWorld I didn’t feel vindicated, but I wasn’t in the least surprised.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Girls played at the Deaf Institute in Manchester in March 2010

He is about the same size, shape and weight as his bleached-wood Rickenbacker. He wears bright orange flares with pale green Doc Martens and a hugely oversized patterned woollen jumper. His hair is an outrage. Even though Girls is his baby, Christopher Owens occasionally looks to bassist Chet White for some kind of reassurance, but White plays with his eyes closed. When Christopher looks at me I smile. He smiles too but at his fretboard.

I’m wriggling with anticipation over ‘Lust For Life’, my song of 2009, but just as much for ‘Morning Light’, which is more or less how My Bloody Valentine would interpret Sonic Youth’s ‘Mote’. It can only have been curtailed when it was committed to the album, it is hard and lurid and psychedelic. ‘Lust For Life’ is such a touching piece of music, live it is grimier and lovelier than the record. At this point I want to buy Christopher a whiskey. Christopher drinks whiskey for his throat. Last time he was in Manchester he drank too much whiskey and then too much of everything. He met Mike Joyce and was deeply excited. Lucky Mike Joyce.

‘Morning Light’ goes right under my ribs and stays there, it is the loudest, densest, wooziest thing you can experience that hasn’t anything to do with techno and ketamine. I consider it amongst the finest things humanity can do with electric guitars.

Here is the set list: