Friday 29 December 2017


...the North Laines being Brighton's token alternative zone. (As much as Yuppie Central has an alternative zone these days.) More... in fact more from the North Laines... will follow some other day. As before, full set on 500px.

This being my third go at posting to 500px. And frankly, it's a pile of crud. Despite marketing itself as the place for the aspiring pro (and constantly trying to flog you photo lessons) it can't get the basics right. As mentioned last time, it arbitrarily sets photos into it's own order. You can rearrange them back into your original order, albeit cumbersomely, but then it sometimes just decides to rearrange them back again anyway.

Plus, when you upload it arbitrarily decides you want certain photos to be 'private'. Why you'd want to upload a private photo onto a photo-sharing site on the internet, I'm not sure. But as it won't even tell you which individual photos it's done it to, you have to go through all of them making them public.

Monday 25 December 2017


“The painting depicts a stable.

“The stable is a grotto with curiously shaped stalactites. The light that breaks – or fractures – through the cave is Chib’s red. It penetrates every object, doubles its strength, and then rays out jaggedly. The viewer, moving from side to side to get a complete look, can actually see the many levels of light as he moves, and thus he catches glimpses of the figures under the exterior figures.

“The cows, sheep and horses are in stalls at the end of the cave. Some are looking with horror at Mary and the infant. Others have their mouths open, evidently trying to warn Mary. Chib has used the legend that the animals in the manger were able to talk to each other the night Christ was born.

“Joseph, a tired old man, so slumped he seems backboneless, is in a corner. He wears two horns, but each has a halo, so it’s all right.

“Mary’s back is to the bed of straw on which the infant is supposed to be. From a trapdoor in the floor of the cave, a man is reaching to place a huge egg on the straw bed. He is in a cave beneath the cave and is dressed in modern clothes, has a boozy expression, and, like Joseph, slumps as if invertebrate. Behind him a grossly fat woman, looking remarkably like Chib’s mother, has the baby, which the man passed on to her before putting the foundling egg on the straw bed.

“The baby has an exquisitely beautiful face and is suffused with a white glow from his halo. The woman has removed the halo from his head and is using the sharp edge to butcher the baby…

“The onlookers are struck in their viscera as if this was not a painting but a real infant, slashed and disemboweled, found on their doorsteps as they left home.

“The egg has a semitransparent shell. In it’s murky yoke floats a hideous little devil, horns, hooves, tail. Its blurred features resemble a combination of Henry Ford’s and Uncle Sam’s. When the viewers shift to one side or the other, the faces of others appear: prominents in the development of modern society.

“The window is crowded with wild animals that have come to adore but have stayed to scream soundlessly in horror. The beats in the foreground are those that have been exterminated by man or survive only in zoos and natural preserves. The dodo, the blue whale, the passenger pigeon, the quagga, the gorilla, orangutan, polar bear, cougar, lion, tiger, grizzly bear, Californian condor, kangaroo, wombat, rhinoceros, bald eagle.

“Behind them are other animals and, on a hill, the dark crouching shapes of the Tasmanian aborigine and Haitian Indian…

“Ruskinson’s red face and scream of fury are transmitted over the fido...


“Why is it such an insult, Doctor Ruskinson?” the fido man says. “Because it mocks the Christian faith and also the Panamorite faith? It doesn’t seem to me it does that. It seems to me that Winnegan is trying to say that men have perverted Christianity, maybe all religions, all ideals, for their own greedy self-destructive purposes, that man is basically a killer and a perverter. At least that’s what I get out of it, although of course I’m only a simple layman, and...”

“Let the critics make the analysis, young man!” Ruskinson snaps. “Do you have a double Ph.D., one in psychiatry and one in art? Have you been certified as a critic by the government?”

From ‘Riders of the Purple Sage’ by Philip Jose Farmer

Saturday 23 December 2017


(aka ‘Should We Screw With Star Wars Lore, That Is the Question’. Another Not A Proper Review At All, which includes PLOT SPOILERS, not just for this film but dragging in some from ‘Rogue One’.)

First the confession – I was never that big a Star Wars fan. True, when the original, recently rechristened ‘A New Hope’, came out I lapped it up. But I was ten at the time. Such a long time ago it might as well have happened in a galaxy far away. I later came to put away ten-year-old things. Truth be told, every time I see it top a film poll I cringe.

So, before seeing ‘Force Awakens’ I was convinced it would be terrible. Bizarrely, the film that pioneered today’s deluge of marketing campaigns and multi-media tie-ins did have an innocence at it’s heart, which would not be easy to recapture. Star Wars might have been simple, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked. It soon had a welter of copycats, and I’m guessing only the most obsessive fan could now name even a couple of them. Years down the road? Of course it’s going to end up a mere re-enactment, something which looked like Star Wars but felt nothing like it.

Star Wars isn’t just an adventure story, it’s like it’s made up of adventure story concentrate. If I call the series the Coca-Cola of cinema I’m not actually being snarky. Well, not entirely snarky anyway. Like Coca-Cola it’s about being bright and iconic, about being instantly classic, about the experience rather than the taste. And like Coca-Cola the actual taste doesn’t vary much from serving to serving. The very problem with ‘Phantom Menace’ was that it attempted to rebrand Coca-Cola as a drink for sophisticates. Which it wasn’t, and bringing up the notion just spoilt what taste it had.

So the chief criticism of ‘Force Awakens’, that it was just more Star Wars, is actually not it’s weakness but its success. Yes it does deliver the beats of the first trilogy with slight variants, but that’s the thing that makes it Star Wars. After the prequels it was was like bringing back the old Coke. And the result is probably my personal favourite Star Wars film.

Then, before seeing ‘Rogue One’, I was convinced it would be terrible. It ticked all those boxes which were better left unticked. It’s ostensible purpose seemed to be to solve a continuity glitch. How did the rebels get the plans to the Death Star? A question which no-one has ever asked, so it seemed unclear why we needed a whole movie devoted to answering it.

Plus it was clearly applying the Snyder formulation – more grimdark = more mature = better. Well, Snyder formulation, everything you just said was wrong. We have the news for grimdark. Try to make a more mature ten year old and you just lose the ten year old. How to tell if it’s a Star Wars film... Ask yourself the question “can you feel the Force?” In ‘Rogue One’ only one, quite minor, character uses the stuff despite it supposedly being in and around everything.

And truly, it was strange watching a film tesselate so neatly against ‘New Hope’, as if continuity links had been elaborately yet pointlessly made between ‘The Never Ending Story’ and ‘Game of Thrones’.

But what it really was, was a war movie in Star Wars clothing. In the way you could re-use the sets from a sitcom for a brooding Ibsenesque psychological drama. Characters see themselves as parts of a larger struggle, and are not only willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good but actually die as a result. Rather than leaping from the jaws of defeat at the last moment, because the physical laws of their universe reward good deeds. (Jedi don’t count, as they “go to the Force” or some such, and show back up for cameos.) And as a war movie in space it was highly successful.

Whereas Star Wars draws quite a deep line between starring and supporting characters. Ultimately it’s about family not society, even if its stories are galaxy sized. Its leading characters are treated like royalty, even the once who aren’t actually given titles. Like a cosmic version of the pathetic fallacy, the outer world just exists to externalise their thoughts and conflicts.

Hence when Luke opens a Jedi “school”, for all we see Ren is his only pupil. (Though maybe that was just for the funding applications.) Hence when Poe says to Finn “you must have a thousand questions” he simply replies “where’s Rey?” Hence why, when Rey tells Luke she’s bringing him a message from the Rebellion, he responds “why are you here?” Personal motivation is all that counts. Rebellions are just pegs to hang it on.

When Finn tries a dose of ‘Rogue One’ style noble self-sacrifice, he’s derailed by Rose and told in no uncertain terms “I saved you, dummy. That’s how we’re going to win — not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” It’s true she doesn’t specifically use the Force, but it’s so consistent with a Force-centred universe. Finn has simply forgotten the place he’s in, and has to be reminded.

So far, so Star Wars. Yet, bizarrely, it comes shortly after Admiral Holdo has sacrificed herself for the greater good! While it’s a direct sequel to ‘Force Awakens’, ‘Last Jedi’, also comes after ‘Rogue One’. And, like a student of two masters, it struggles to find the balance. Tonally it shifts, caught between a levitating rock and a hard place.

Take the introduction of the arms dealers, one per centers who’ve grown rich by supplying both sides. Before this, weapons were either highly significant heirlooms or stuff which just happens to be lying around at opportune moments. Money is just there so we can have a visual symbol of greed; it’s use is accumulating into riches, no-one needs it for living expenses. Now, suddenly, it’s revealed guns and spaceships have to be manufactured and sold.

Sometimes the film seems to be setting up this tonal clash to exploit it. The key line in ‘Force Awakens’, trailered in the trailer, was Han’s “it’s true, all of it”. The key line this time, trailered in the trailer, is Luke’s “this is not going to go the way you think.”

Poe first thinks Admiral Holdo is a gutless coward who’d rather run than fight, whereas in fact she’s brave when brave is called for but also smart when that’s required. Hence his adventurous but uncomprehending plot to go to the place to get the thing with the symbol on it then bring it all the way over there to throw it into the fiery pit at the heart of evil Mordor or whatever it was this time… anyway, that plan… that’s why it goes awry. They get the wrong thing with the wrong symbol, don’t carry it out and make the whole thing worse. A bit like a crazy, half-cocked plan like that would actually work.

Similarly, Rey’s brave plan to bank everything on the good in Ren goes awry. Rey’s parents are just who she thought they were all along. Ren’s claim here might seem suspect, it’s a convenient argument for him to make at the time. But the underground scene, where instead of answers she sees only reflections of herself, suggests he’s telling the truth. 

Contrary to Star Wars, contrary to every fairy story ever, the poor orphan girl isn’t a secret Princess at all. As everything up to now has been to suggest being a Jedi was a hereditary position, this above all things seems deliberately intended to screw with Star Wars lore. (At times it feels like the parallel storylines are channelling ’Force Awakens’ and ’Rogue One’ respectively, allowing us to have both. Yet this structure is set up only to be scuppered.)

But at others the film seems to be being made up from moment to moment. Overall, it feels like, with rival hands from two rival predecessors tugging at the wheel, the car’s going to be careering hopelessly, so they might as well capitalise on that and tell us to hang on for the ride. Necessity becomes innovation, bug becomes feature. As Rey says, you can sense the conflict in it.

I suppose I could finish this non-review by saying I expected ‘Last Jedi’ to be a worthy successor to ‘Force Awakens’ but actually found it terrible. Just, you know, to be neat. But that’s not really the case. I didn’t bother writing about ’Force Awakens’ and did about this film, which says something in itself.

And in fact those arguing the drawback of ‘Force Awakens’ was that it was too neat, too safe, and that this sequel is more compelling…. well, they have a point. Some elements work well, such as the ‘connection’ between Ren and Rey, both assuming they can bring the other over to their side. But ultimately if ’Force Awakens’ worked better ’Last Jedi’ is more interesting. Star Wars may be less classic but livelier for ’Rogue One’ chucking a live grenade in its midst.

Saturday 16 December 2017


This Spotify playlist is guaranteed festive free. Sinister Dada punks the Cravats give us both our title and the accompanying Surrealist sightseeing tour illo. Sights along aforesaid tour include an archetypically melancholic Leonard Cohen strumming a lullaby to an avalanche, Thee Silver Mt Zion predicting Trumpageddon (and, slightly more cheerily, renewal), an unusually reflective Thurston Moore, old-time country pioneers the Carter Family blowing some chewing gum, the Magentic Fields discovering the Book of Love and finding it “long and boring”, and Patti Smith taking on the other wall which divides us. We speak of course of Wall Street. Vive L'anarchie! All culminating in what Can called a "Godzilla", a mighty piledriver riff that just won't quit. In tribute to the sad deaths this year of two Can founders, Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay.

Leonard Cohen: Avalanche
Low: Embrace
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra: What We Loved Was Not Enough
Thurston Moore: Smoke Of Dreams
Martin & Eliza Carthy: The Elephant
The Carter Family: Chewing Gum
Nick Drake: Know
The Last Poets: Black Wish
The Magnetic Fields: The Book Of Love
Wire: A Mutual Friend
The Cravats: Whooping Sirens
Pink Floyd: Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk
Patti Smith: Glitter In Their Eyes
CAN: Bubble Rap

”...but when I get there the scene has been...”

Saturday 9 December 2017


St. George’s Church, Brighton, Fri 8th Dec

After a slightly mixed response to last seeing Eliza Carthy, I was in two minds over seeing this show. Then more recently, when seeing her in a duo with her father Martin, she thrust a flyer into my hand. While saying “I do hope you can come. My father and I never miss an update of your most splendid blog.” I have, I suspect, made some of that up. But it was still enough to make me go.

It was as different to the duo as grand is to intimate. With Martin, the times the two played together you were abundantly aware the sound was doubling up. While the Wayward Band number twelve, with two … count ‘em!, two accordion players. They line up on the back photo of the CD like the amassed servants of some old country house.

They pile into reels, jigs and shanties, lurching and careering to the point you expect the stage to start tipping. But alongside folk they draw on that other pre-rock music tradition. They can sound like a big band pounding out show tunes, even sporting that most un-folk possession a horn section. Their version of ’The Fitter’s Song’ must be the most big band an Ewan McCall song’s ever sounded. Though they wring musical variety from the multi-lineup, and ’Hug You Like A Mountain’ is as plaintive as any folk song you’ve heard.

It becomes a virtuous combination. You get the oomph and pizazz of the big band, but it never evens out the unruly raggedness of folk. Perhaps partly because the big band stuff veers to the more raucous, less refined end of the spectrum. In perhaps my most lowbrow comparison of all time, I was more than once reminded of ’The Stripper’.

It doesn’t sound much like Tom Waits, but has the same ability to punch out thumping beats or serve up killer tines while still coming from left field. The Wayward Band, I suppose I am trying to say, are wayward and band-like.

Official BBC sessions! (No shonky i-phone footage)...

Royal Festival Hall, South Bank, London, Wed 6th Dec

Stockhausen seems to have had something of a penchant for formal structures, with opening piece ’Zodiac’ divided into a series of mini-compositions representing each star sign. This unfortunately gave it a bittiness, and overall it became something of a B feature. The programme explained it was originally written for music boxes, back in ‘74, and only much later reworked for orchestra. (So much later that there’s only ten movements, him dying before he could complete them.) And perhaps it worked better in that original format.

Anyone foolish enough to follow my infrequent forays into contemporary music will be aware I’m a know-nothing on music theory I just jump straight to the more subjective question of how hearing it makes me feel. Happily, then, that would seem about the best approach to ’Trans’ (1971).

A central conceit is that many of the musicians are hidden. You see the amassed string players, holding a tone not much more than a drone, while the brass are invisible to you. The rock music equivalent would be spotlighting the bass player while the singer and lead guitarist still do their stuff. Like a twist on a film, ideally you wouldn’t know that in advance. But even when you do, you cannot help but keep trying to reconcile what you see with what you hear. And that, somewhere between an interchange and a mismatch, seems where the work is set. The brass would rise above the strings but never quite break away from them, as if unable to finish what it built.

In a piece inspired by a dream, the string tone is reminiscent of the high-pitched whine films often employ to signify dream states. But also, with the many players repeating the same single movement like automata, it became like one of those fairy stories where the people of a land are placed in a bewitched stupor.

To which is added the regularly repeating thud of a loom. In a neat piece of sound design, while all the music comes from the stage this seems to break in from outside. To me it became the voice of the spell they were under, not any commanding individual but the crack of the whip made animate.

Individual players would break away at intervals, like a child playing up in class. They’d be looked upon uncomprehendingly by the blank-faced others, before resignedly falling back in line. It was suggested in the programme this was in part a parody of the workaday world of professional orchestras. Indeed, one player brought sheet music suddenly burst into a flurry of expressive playing, only to stop suddenly as the music stand was snatched away from him again.

In a piece set in a world between, it seems significant and appealing there’s no way to label the piece. The visual elements and sound design are significant enough that merely listening would not give you the full picture. The programme calls it “as much a piece of theatre as… a musical composition”, which doesn’t sound quite right. Instead imagine an installation work which is fixed in duration.

...which makes four Stockhausen pieces in recent weeks, of which three were not only extremely inventive but highly distinct, almost entirely different to one another. What little Stockhausen I’ve heard has suggested to me it runs the full gamut, from sublime to unlistenable. But there’s treasures in there, it seems.

Coming soon! Something other than gig-going adventures...

Saturday 2 December 2017


Con Club, Lewes, Fri 24th Nov

This was my third sight of Faust, legendary Krautrock outfit and (in my humble opinion) credible contender for the most important band in the history of everything, ever. 

Hans Joachim Irmler, as seen with the late great Jaki Liebezeit a couple of years ago, is unfortunately absent from the current line-up. But main men Zappi Diermaier and Jean-Herve Peron remain, with Amaury Cambuzat of Ulan Bator, who’s now played with them since 2005. Between three and five additional figures also appear, depending on the track. (One of whom turns out to be Peron’s daughter.)

A typical track – if there was such a thing – sets sail on a mind-melting, metronomic riff, which finds total intensity while still finding the space within itself to move around. Though there’s also a klanking number with… well, numbers intoned over the top in various languages, which reminds you Faust were doing industrial music before there was industrial music. Another starts with caveman chanting and develops with both guitar and bass bowed, creating an unearthly drone. Plus there’s one – though only one – trademark free-noise freakout, with power tools enlisted as instruments.

They play few classic numbers, with the ones they do pick up often radically reworked. A version of ’Mamie Is Blue’ really takes only the chorus chant. While J’ai Mal Aux Dents’, handed to keyboardist Geraldine Swayne to sing, is less agitated and more stripped-down, hyper-compressed funk. Peron claims afterwards they only decided to do it while backstage. My knowledge of post-reformation Faust is woeful, but they would seem to treat more recent numbers the same way. ’C’est… C’est… Complique’ for example is quite a different beast from the CD I bought from the merch stall.

Which seems essential to Faust, who were the arch-antagonists of the formulaic. ’J’ai Mal Au Dents’ simply has to sound stream-of-consciousness, a flurry of nonsense words, just to sound like itself. The band always insisted even the recorded versions which made it to their LPs weren’t definitive, but just snapshots of a work perpetually in progress. Try to put Faust in a box, and they’d shred the thing from inside while simultaneously making music out of it.

As the night goes on, I start to see the double act of Zappi and Peron as a two-faced coin. The upbeat Peron stands upstage, smiling, engaing with the audience, while the silent hulk of Zappi hunches over his drumkit, samples and electronics. Sometimes the elements he introduces seem to take the rest of the band by surprise as much as anyone, as if he’s a disruptive devil clown, the diabolic figure on the other shoulder. Faust were one of the most Dadaist of bands, and like the Dadists it was ever ambiguous whether they wanted to make music or destroy it. In the sleevenotes to ’C’est… C’est… Complique’ Peron writes of their method as “to make intention and hazard match”.

But tonight at least it seems to be Peron’s face flipping upwards. (I’d say the Peronist tendency, but that might be prone to misinterpretation.) It’s more creative than destructive, in fact the experience is ultimately joyous and exhilerating. In a year which took from us all but one of the founder memebrs of Can, it’s heartening to see Faust still firing on all cylinders.

Part of the legendary freak-out ’Krautrock’

The Haunt, Brighton, Sat 25th Nov

If there’s less for me to say about Metz than Faust, that’s partly because I’ve already blogged about the first time I saw them, five years ago. It may be true they also do less than Faust. But then they do what they do so effectively, repeatedly whacking nails straight on the head. Metz are good old-fashioned, no-nonsense noisy punk rock. They make noise, it’s their choice, it’s what they wanna do.

A few extra thoughts since last time…

Their sound is definitely powered by the furious drumming. It’s not in Lightning Bolt territory where they become the lead instrument. But that no-quit drumming heat things up so relentlessly the guitars can’t do much else other than dance on the hot coals.

They rarely go in for instrumental breaks, most songs are short and punchy. But when they do they work so well, with the guitars coming into their own, you wish they’d go into them more often. And this isn’t a bad example, not from Brighton (unusual though that is) but their home turf of Toronto...

Coming soon! Yes, really... more gig-going adventures...